The Third Beading of the Consolidated Fund Bill affords an opportunity for a survey of the whole field, not only of the organisation and multifold activities connected with the War, but also of the policy which governs the further progress of the War. We have had some interesting Debates during the last few days on this Bill and the Vote of Credit, and the House has considered many aspects of the various activities connected with the War. But I think it is also the duty, more especially of this House, to give very careful consideration to the governing factor, which is the policy that is being pursued, that being the mainspring of all our activities. We have voted colossal sums of money, sums that are so large that even the greatest financial experts cannot realise what their true significance is—sums so large that to most of us they really only appear as figures, figures to which during the last two-and-a-half years we have grown accustomed. But we are about to spend also the nation's greatest wealth; when I say the nation's greatest wealth, I mean the young manhood of the nation; for the future of this nation, our welfare and our prosperity, depend on the young manhood which is about to be expended in a very costly way. We are entering upon a new phase of the War, perhaps a more dangerous and a more critical phase than any of those that have preceded it, and I think it is very necessary that this House should give careful consideration to this point, namely, the governing policy which is directing all our action.
Before I come to any sort of criticism of that policy, I should like to say just a few words with regard to the form of government under which we are now fighting. This, of all other moments, is one in which it is necessary that the whole country should feel general confidence in 1178 the Government. Obviously it would be very unfair to criticise any of the performances of the Government, seeing that they have not yet had time to carry out any of their projects for the prosecution of the War. But I, for one, cannot help-having some misgiving at the tendency which has been growing now for some years past—it began before the commencement of this War—and that is the growing tendency to the divorce of the Executive from the Legislature, and more especially from the House of Commons. There were signs of it before this War began—but now it has gone further—and we have the House of Commons with the main Executive, the chief Executive, entirely removed from its control. I think this is a dangerous innovation. The Government in form is very different from any Government that has ever preceded it. There are over eighty-one members of the Government, and there are various Controllers that are being continually appointed. I saw this morning that a new Controller has been appointed, the Controller of Timber, and yesterday the appointment of a Controller of Food Production was announced. You may multiply your Controllers as much as you like, but that does not get the essential control, which is, the control of the House of Commons over the Executive. In fact, this very large form of bureaucracy rather prevents the House of Commons from exercising its control as it did in former days. But we have not only this vast bureaucracy, we have this War Cabinet, which consists of five members, but to all intents and purposes of three, two, or one. There are people who believe a benevolent autocracy is the best form of government, but the difficulty is to find the benevolent autocrat. As to whether he has been discovered I do not know; it is too early to-gay. But I felt from the very first that the withdrawal of the Prime Minister, chief of the Executive, and two other members of the War Cabinet, from our deliberations here, is likely to lead to a great deal of confusion, and, more than that, to a want of confidence in the Executive. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, who, I think, I may say very respectfully, has earned the gratitude of the House for the courteous way in which he pays attention to all sections of it, has got a very heavy burden 1179 on his shoulders as head of his Department, Leader of the House, and a member of the War Cabinet. It is not, however, a matter of individuals, but the matter of a new system, and I must say that I regard with some misgiving the inauguration of a new system just at the moment when the country is about to pass through one of the most critical stages of its whole existence.
I want to pass on to a review of the situation in regard to the War as we find it now. This new period has been inaugurated by a German Note, and that German Note has plunged the warfare deeper down into the depths of barbarism. I regard with the greatest loathing the fresh steps taken by Germany in prosecuting the War with such savage methods. But when I read the terms of the German Note it appeared to me that Germany was driven to desperation, and I then turned to the Note of the Allies to President Wilson and analysed it more carefully. Before I examined the terms which the Allies set out in the Note to President Wilson—and I for one am very glad that at last the terms were definitely stated—I should like to call the attention of the House to the professions which have been made from time to time by leading Ministers in this country with regard to the aims of Great Britain in this War. The Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the House (Mr. Bonar Law), in his speech on the Second Reading of the Vote of Credit, said thatthis country bail no selfish motives in going into this War.On 22nd December last the same right hon. Gentleman said even more emphatically:We are not fighting for territory, we are not fighting for the greater strength of those who are fighting.The Prime Minister, in an interview which was recently published by some American newspaper—the now recognised method of expressing views to the world— saidWe are not fighting a war of conquest.And the late Prime Minister, at the beginning of the War, said at CardiffWe have no desire to add to our Imperial burdens either in area or in responsibility.I am perfectly sure that these emphatic statements, that this is not a War entered on for selfish motives, that it is not a War of aggression, and that it is not a War of conquest, express the sentiments of the 1180 people of this country when we entered on this War, and most emphatically described the feeling of the country at the outbreak of War in 1914. But I go further than that, and I will say that they really describe the motives and feelings of the people of this country at this moment. The people of this country do not wish this War to be a war of aggression, of aggrandisement, of supremacy, or of selfish motives. They were disinterested when they entered on it; they are disinterested now, and my complaint is that our general professions in this country not merely do not correspond with, but are in direct contradiction of our actual proposals. Let me just examine what some of those proposals are, because, after all, the terms we laid down in the Note to President Wilson are matters of the very highest moment and of the very greatest importance, and the War is continuing, it is being waged because those are the terms of the Allies, and the Germans have refused them and have taken desperate measures because they cannot accept them. Therefore it is the business of this House, if it is going to have any control over the policy being pursued, to examine the terms with some care.
We have made clear, not only in the Note to President Wilson, but by comments from the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and further comments from the Secretary of State for the Colonies, and from the Solicitor-General, what we actually mean. By our Note we declare that Constantinople is to be taken from the Turks, and we know that an agreement has been made with Russia by which Constantinople and the Straits are to go to Russia. We know further, by the Note and by interpretations that have been put upon it in high quarters, that the German Colonies are not to be returned to Germany. We know also that the continued endeavour which is being made with such gallantry and at such great sacrifice in Mesopotamia means that that region will fall to the British Crown. Egypt and Cyprus, in the course of events, have fallen to us, and, therefore, it means, when you sum up the whole territory, that something like 1,500,000 square miles will be added to the British Empire. That may be good policy, or it may be bad policy. I, for one, when I see the map on which the British Empire is painted red, feel no sort of pride at all—none whatever. I only feel an overwhelming sense of responsibility that this 1181 vast Empire which is placed under us should be well and properly and justly administered. I agree, too, with the late Prime Minister who saidWe have no desire to add to our Imperial burdens, either in area or in responsibility.4.0 P.M.
But whatever divergence of view there may be between myself and hon. Members opposite with regard to adding territory to the British Empire, I want to know how it is to be made clear that this is in conformity with the declaration that we have not entered on a war of conquest, aggression, or selfish motives. There is, in my opinion, a direct contradiction, and when that goes out to the world it is not surprising that interpretations have been put upon it meaning that we are indeed out for a war of aggression. In addition to this, it has been made clear that we do not desire in this War to dismember enemy countries. But again look at our terms. Constantinople is to be taken from Turkey. Armenia is to be taken from Turkey. Very likely that is an extremely good policy, but I am not now dealing with merits, I am only trying to show that there is a direct contradiction between our professions and our terms. A very prominent Russian statesman, a leader of the Liberals of Russia, a man of great responsibility, has also given his interpretation of the terms of the Allies. He goes further and gives Syria to France, Arabia to Great Britain, and Western Asia Minor and the territory round Smyrna to Italy. I am not quite sure where he expects the Turks to live, but anyhow proposals of that sort, put forward in high quarters by responsible statesmen, must be interpreted as meaning the dismemberment of Turkey. It may be a good policy, but do not let us say we are not out for the dismemberment of enemy countries. Then we have heard recently a great deal about the Czecho-Slovacs, and very few people, I find, have the remotest notion who they are, and I cannot help feeling that those responsible for foreign affairs in this country are also a little doubtful as to the territory occupied by the Czecho-Slovacs and the aspirations of the Czecho-Slovacs. Behind this to many in this country incomprehensible item in the terms of the Allies, there lies a very deep meaning, and that is that this, taken with other proposals in the Allies' Note, means the break-up of Austria-Hungary. The break-up of the Austria-Hungarian 1182 Empire may be a good policy, or it may be a bad one, but do not let us say that we are not out for the dismemberment of enemy countries when in our own Note it is clearly shown that the break-up of Austria-Hungary and the break-up of Turkey are objects for which we are fighting.
I do not know to what extent the particular items that are placed in the Allies' Note were drafted by the British Government, but it has seemed to me all along, and more especially in this last pronouncement, that when we have conferences and councils with the Allies we play a second fiddle, a minor part, and that our Allies are able to insert various proposals which have not been considered by our Government and which may greatly add to our embarrassments as time goes on. The Leader of the House made reference in his speech on the Second Reading of the Vote of Credit to the enormous advantage that conferences had been during the prosecution of the War. He said that a great many difficulties had been overcome by the personal relations that had been set up between the various leading Ministers in the Allied countries. I am very glad to hear it. I must say that I have some misgiving as to the part that our Ministers play. It does not seem to me to be always a leading part, but I hope this method of conferences will not only be a practice adopted in time of war, but that the old ridiculous idea that our Foreign Secretary must remain locked up in the Foreign Office and never travel in foreign countries and never communicate with foreign Ministers will be broken down, and that conferences between individuals meeting in various capitals may in future be one of the methods by which difficulties and misunderstandings may be overcome. I hope the Leader of the House may find an opportunity during to-day's Debate to reply to some of the points which I am making, and which were made by two hon. Friends of mine last week. I do think it is very important that this should be cleared up, and that this contradiction which undoubtedly exists between our proposals and our terms should be disposed of.
We entered this War most undoubtedly for the protection of small nationalities, and we seem to be prosecuting the War now for the extension of large empires, and that does not add to our prestige, nor 1183 does it add to the favour with which we can be regarded by foreign nations, and even by our own Allies. We have often been accused of being a nation of hypocrites. It is most untrue. The people of this country are not hypocrites. They are perfectly clear as to what they want. The splendid spirit that has been shown from the very beginning, and the sacrifices that have been made, have been made most emphatically with a disinterested motive, and I think the Government ought not to degrade that motive by turning it into a desire for domination and supremacy. But it is often objected that even if we laid down terms which could lead to negotiations, a negotiated peace would not be satisfactory, but that we must have a dictated peace, and the two chief arguments for that have been mentioned in this House. The hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Wardle) in his speech the other day laid great emphasis on a point which is often made, I notice, in the Press, and that is, that Germany must be punished. He laid great emphasis on the chastisement of Germany. May I say that Germany is being punished. But who in Germany is being punished? The people of Germany are being punished— the workers of Germany. You are not touching the Government, you are not touching the Junkers, the militarists, or Tirpitz, or the Kaiser. As the War continues, you are punishing the people, not only of Germany, but of France, of Russia, of Italy, and of this country also. Therefore, this idea of punishment is a very misleading one, and, if I may say so, I think this vindictive idea, the desire for punishment, which can only be fanned up by hatred, is a very low motive for continuing a War.
A further argument is brought forward that if the War were to end by negotiation, you would leave Prussian militarism triumphant. I think my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Commander Wedgwood) said that the other night. In so far as militarism is an aggressive policy, it seems to me that the aggressive policy of Germany has been done for already; but I, for one, I have never believed that you can kill militarism by force of arms. Militarism can only be killed in the country by the people themselves, by the growth of an independent and free democracy, and 1184 what are we doing by this War? Instead of crushing Prussian militarism, we are destroying the one weapon that can crush Prussian militarism, and that is German Liberalism, because our extreme demands, like all extreme expressions that have been used since the beginning of this War, have had only one effect in Germany, and that is to crush the moderate party, to prevent them from, being heard, to unite the whole nation together, because they are told that a war of aggression and dismemberment is being waged against them. I feel that it is of the utmost importance, considering what is before us, that we should make clear beyond the possibility of misunderstanding that those are not our objects, but that these general professions that we make are genuine, and that our terms should be made to fit in with them. I feel that it is important that some declaration of this kind should be made. I know that Great Britain entered this War with clean hands, and a country that enters a war with clean hands should come out of the war with empty hands. That is what I believe, so far as possible. Otherwise a suspicion will attach to their motives. I do not want to see my country come out of this War a mere winner in a struggle for supremacy. I want to see my country the chief agent in the establishment of a new order founded on international justice and framed to promote a durable international peace.
§ Mr. R. MCNEILL
I should like to say a few words with reference to the speech we have just heard, and I think that when the hon. Member speaks in this House we, at all events, have one advantage from paying close attention to his speeches, and that is that we are almost certain to get, in, if I may say so, a lucid and able form, an expression of views which are generally repudiated in the country outside, and it is certainly an advantage that we should have these very peculiar views which we know from all sorts of circumstances find no support in the country. The hon. Member himself docs not even represent his own constituents at the present time.
§ Mr. McNEILL
I understood that to be the case, because I thought I had seen in 1185 the papers that the hon. Member had been called upon to resign his seat by the association he professes to represent.
§ Mr. MCNEILL
Then I withdraw. I was mistaken; I thought it was so, but I will take it then that the hon. Member still represents his constituents. All the same, I think we may assume that the views he has expressed here to-day find very slender support, and really it is very natural that that should be so. The real gist of the hon. Member's speech was that it was devoted to showing that there was an inconsistency between the declarations of Ministers both of the present and of the late Government in regard to our purposes in this War and the declarations that have recently been made in a communication to President Wilson. I venture respectfully to say to the hon. Member that that discrepancy arises entirely from the fallacy with which he has confused his own mind. He is confusing two things which are totally distinct. He is confusing the objects with which we went to war with the results which will follow from our victory—a totally different thing! The hon. Member might almost as well get up in his place and say that we did not go to war for the purpose of spending £2,000,000,000; that we did not go to war for the purpose of losing the flower of our manhood. Of course we did not! Those are the unfortunate results which follow from the War. They were the very last things we desired. In the same way it is true to-day, and was true when the War broke out, that the very last thing this country desired was that we should increase our Imperial responsibilities, or that we should acquire territory. It does not, however, in the least follow from that, that in order to carry out the objects which the late Prime Minister and the present Prime Minister have announced, it may not be necessary to make a transference of territory from the enemy, not only to ourselves or the Dominions under our Crown, but also to the Allies with whom we are fighting. It is clearly necessary to do so if we are to carry out the very objects which from the first have been announced as our purpose, and to which the hon. Member himself called attention.
It was the late Prime Minister who at a very early stage of the War pointed out 1186 that the peace which must result from this War, which we did not in any way promote, which we would not have fought even for the objects which we are going to attain now, that one of the principles of the settlement must be the rearrangement of the map of Europe upon the basis of nationality. In a sentence in his speech the hon. Member said, that, although we professed to go to war, or to be fighting this War for the defence of small nationalities, that it seemed likely to end in the extinction of large empires. We have a declaration from the Russian Government that it is their purpose to re-establish in some shape or form—the exact shape or form not being determined—the ancient kingdom of Poland. Does the hon. Member think that that is adding to the present extensive empires, or does he not rather think that it is a defence of small nationalities and a return to the state of affairs obtaining before the partition of Poland, which has been for 150 years or more regarded as one of the chief blots upon the history of Europe?
What will the hon. Member have in the way of rearrangement after this War? He apparently objects to the Russians obtaining Constantinople, yet he is a member of that party which for generations has pledged itself to the policy of the "bag and baggage" expulsion of the Turks from Europe. The moment, however, that it seems likely that the possibility is to be attained as a result of this War the hon. Member denounces it as if it were a crime against humanity. For my own part, I think that the results which have been already attained, and the objects which have been announced as ours, are entirely consistent with the declaration of the late Prime Minister at the very beginning of the War as to that for which we were fighting. The hon. Member said that we were proposing the dismemberment of the empire of our enemies. I cannot recall that at any period of the War a responsible leader ever said that there would be no dismemberment of the country of our enemies. I can recall the phrase used by the present Prime Minister at a comparatively early stage of the War, in which he spoke frankly of the breaking-up of the ramshackle empire of the dual monarchy. For my own part, notwithstanding that of which the hon. Member accuses us, I think that a rearrangement of that ramshackle empire will be very much for the 1187 advancement of freedom in Europe and for the protection of small nationalities. In one respect I am inclined to agree with the hon. Member. At the close of his speech he said, "We do not destroy militarism by a military victory." I agree. You cannot destroy militarism by a military victory alone. I also agree with him that the effective way of destroying it is by the extension of democratic principles and democratic rule. But how, I would ask the hon. Member, and the House, are you going to induce, or encourage, or develop either democratic sentiment or democratic institutions, either under the Prussian monarchy, or under the Austro-Hungarian monarchy in the Balkan States? How are you going to do that unless you first bring military victory home, and bring it to such a pitch that the people themselves will lose confidence in their military leaders, and under the influence of humiliation and defeat overthrow those rulers themselves? Over and over again that has been the one way in which democratic rule has come to Europe.
We have other examples. We have the example of the democracy in America, which was the result, of course, of the Civil War. We have the establishment of modern democracy practically throughout Europe based upon the French Revolution, which was really the result of the war overthrowing the military and monarchical despotism which had hitherto obtained. We have in France itself a Republican democracy at the present time as the result of the overthrow of Napoleon by those very Prussians whom we are trying to defeat. In the same way, if we can bring to bear upon Prussia and upon her Emperor the same species of Prussian defeat which she herself brought against France half a century ago, the result, I believe, will be the uprising of the people themselves and the destruction if that military' rule which will be wrought to an end in no other way. Consequently it appears to me that even on the hon. Member's own showing, if he wants to establish that democratic rule by which alone you can have freedom amongst the small nationalities, he ought to be at one with the Government and the rest of the country in saying that the only method by which that can be achieved is by a final and crushing victory over the military machine up against which we find our- 1188 selves in the present War. Perhaps the hon. Member's desire is really not so much out of harmony with that of the rest of the country as it seems to be. If he will only bring himself to examine a little more closely and candidly the methods by which his own objects might be obtained he would not be so hostile to the rest of his countrymen as he is at present.
§ Mr. TREVELYAN
I am very glad that my hon. Friend has raised this discussion to-day. I am perfectly aware that he and I, and a certain number of other Members, are in a minority in this House, and that our views are in a minority in the country. That, however, is not a reason why these things should not be discussed in the House of Commons. May I say that one thing I have regretted during this War is that in this House there has not been ample and full discussion such as has been carried on between my hon. Friend and the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down—ample discussion of the real objects of the War, putting forward not only unpopular views, if you like to call them so, like ours, but popular views which are not all in one simple strand, but of which there is a great variety in this House, and which ought to be fully discussed. It is in accordance with the traditions of this House that they should be so discussed. During the great war against France and Napoleon there were constant Debates in this House. It was not only Charles Fox and the unpopular Members who were the speakers. The Government was constantly discussing its own policy—not merely the way in which it was carrying on the War, but the policy for which the War was being carried on. I am bound to say that I do wish that the Government and those who are in favour of what is supposed to be the general view discussed the matter more fully—discussed what it is they think the country is really out for, and how it is they wish the War to end.
We are in a different position to what we were before. I and my Friends are the first to acknowledge the great advantage to this nation and to the world in having the terms at last stated on which the Entente Governments would be ready to make peace. For eighteen months there were some of us who were saying that that was the duty of our Government and of our Allies. For eighteen months 1189 we kept on saying that there ought to be a definite declaration of policy. It was deplorable lack of patriotism on our part. I am glad, however, that when, on the invitation of President Wilson, the same demand was put forward, it was put forward by a person who could not be disregarded. The Allied Governments have thought fit to do better than even the German Government, and to say what they feel we are fighting for. That statement has been made. I do not think I go quite so far as my hon. Friend in saying quite definitely that the interpretation that we ought to put upon the Allied Note is necessarily one of aggression. I am rather disposed to say, after studying the terms which have been put forward by the Allies, that there are certain ambiguities and uncertainties in those terms which are vital and which ought to be cleared up. I noticed that very soon after the Note was issued the French Premier said that the terms of the Allies were marked by frankness and clarity. I agree that certain terms are. It is quite clear what the Allies ask for in regard to Belgium, France, Serbia and Montenegro. It is quite clear what they intend in regard to Poland. But frankness and clarity are not the characteristics of all the terms, especially when read in connection with the Government commentators who have endeavoured to elucidate them. I want to deal with three of the ambiguities. What is the intention of the Allied Governments in regard to Austro-Hungary? The words used are that they want "the liberation of Italians, as also of the Slavs, Roumanians, and Czechoslovaks from foreign domination." That phrase is capable of a dual interpretation. It may mean complete disruption of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It may envisage five independent States—Germany, Austria, Hungary, Czech-Bohemia, South Slavonia, and Transylvania. That is the interpretation universally put upon it by the Central Powers. What our people have to consider is whether, in order to accomplish that, it is worth while having to go on until you occupy all the enemy capitals, and until you annihilate all the enemy armies—until you defeat them so completely that they are ready to accept the complete break-up of one of the Empires against which you are fighting.
1190 This interpretation, however, carries with it another consideration. One immediate result of the Note has been a declaration from several directions, from Russia, from Switzerland, and elsewhere —by groups of people representing the various nationalities of the Russian Empire. The Prime Minister has spoken of these principles being applied—I forget the whole phrase—from the Atlantic to the Urals. If there is to be complete independence for all the various nationalities of the Austrian Empire, is there to be complete independence for all the nationalities of the Russian Empire? If there is to be independence for all the nationalities of the Austrian Empire—if the separate nationalities are to be independent—no conceivable argument exists against the independence of Ireland and Finland, as well as the independence of Czscho-Slovakia or Jugo-Slavia? But there is another and a much more moderate interpretation. There is the interpretation that self-government guaranteed by the various Powers of the world would be capable of satisfying both the Czechs and Irish.
A little time ago the Chancellor of the Exchequer made a speech in which he said that President Wilson was longing for what we are fighting for. I notice that in President Wilson's speech the way in which lie deals with this question of subject nationalities—for, like us, the Americans have a passionate belief in the freedom of smaller nationalities—is as follows:Henceforth inviolable security of life, of worship and of industrial and social development should be guaranteed to all peoples who have lived hitherto under the power of Governments devoted to a faith and purpose hostile to their own.It sounds as if what President Wilson had in his mind was not necessarily complete independence, but guaranteed Home Rule. And I venture to suggest to the House that universal Home Rule for the component nationalities of great empires may be worth continuing this struggle for, but the disruption of one great empire which is not applied to others is a wrong thing for which to ask our soldiers to go on fighting another year when there is the alternative.
I want to come to the second ambiguity, which has been referred to by the two hon. Members who preceded me in this Debate. There are not many who disagree 1191 with the desire of the Allies to see the "bloody tyranny of the Turks" turned out of Europe. No one by tradition or by conviction thinks it more a blunder than I do that we in this country have fought one war, and nearly fought another, in order to defend the Turks; but I do not jump from that conclusion to thinking that, 100,000 British men having been killed in 1854 in order to keep the Russians out of Constantinople, it is therefore necessarily a good thing that 250,000 should be killed in 1917 in order to get the Russians into Constantinople. You cannot obscure the issue by abusing the Turks. It is not necessary, in order to get a decent international government in Constantinople, that the Russians should necessarily go there, and my hon. Friend is perfectly right when he points out that to continue this War in order to conquer Constantinople for Russia turns this War into a war of conquest for the Allies. I am bound to say that I was rather surprised at the Chairman of the Labour party giving a hesitating—I agree, a hesitating— but a definite approval of the policy of getting the Russians into Constantinople.
§ Mr. WARDLE
I did not say T accepted it, and I say that the hon. Member is not entitled to say I gave a hesitating approval to it, because I did not.
§ Mr. TREVELYAN
I will not press the hon. Member. I am glad to hear it, because I protest that there is no proof that the continuance of the War for such an object finds any echo in the mind of the ordinary Briton, and I am quite sure President Wilson has shown no indication that he is "longing for" the Russianising of Constantinople any more than for the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Then there is the third ambiguity in the Note which results from its omissions. I think we really ought to know whether the Note represents the whole policy of the Allies. Is it the whole policy, or is it not? Here, I think, we must turn to the commentators. The first general interpretation in almost all the papers was that the Note by omission implied the dropping of all the more extreme views which we have heard in the Jingo Press of this and other countries—that, by omission, such ideas were repudiated as the dethronement of the Hohenzollerns, the disarmament of Germany while other countries remained armed, the Rhine boundary, and 1192 the retention of the German colonies by this country without compensation. Then came the commentators. First of all, there was the Solicitor-General, who told us that the Note represented the minimum and not the maximum terms of the Allies; and then the Colonial Secretary, who informed us that we intended to keep the German colonies. No one tails to understand the difficulty of restoring the countries which the colonies have helped to conquer, but neither ought anyone to fail to understand, after declaring this is not a war of conquest, that on our honour we are not out for anything for ourselves, the impression that is likely to be created by the Ministerial announcement that we intend to keep this enormous "booty"—as it was felicitously described by Mr. Masterman—for ourselves. If we are out for a war of conquest, our people ought to be told, and told by the Prime Minister. The world ought to be apprised of a radical change of intention, and our people ought to discuss and sanction it.
I want for a moment to point out the double effect which this ambiguity is having, both on our enemies and ourselves. Except for this ambiguity I do not believe the German Government would have found themselves in a position to take the last mad, abominable step they have done in sending the last Note. I cannot imagine that, considering the state of general opinion in Germany, they would have been able to justify a policy which was bound to drag in the chief of the neutrals against them unless they had been able to appeal to their people on grounds of their very existence—on grounds that they were threatened with political disruption and economic strangulation. Every section of the German people believe—it may be wrong—that the Allied Note means the complete disruption of Austria-Hungary. There is in Germany a very large section of minority Socialists—I put aside the majority Socialists for the moment-—who have been praised in this House by Ministers, who have voted against supplies in the Reichstag. Even these people, through their newspapers, say that the Allied Note has "banged the door"—a phrase of one of their newspapers. I only cite that because, beginning with the most peaceable Germans, you find they all regard this as a Note which has banged the door, and so it goes on up to Reventlow and the worst of the jingoes.
1193 The next thing I should like to impress upon the House is what a pity it is that such an impression should have been created in Germany at a moment when the growing peace feeling in Germany was as intense as it has been during the last few months! I do not think, perhaps, we fully appreciate that. It is true we were told by the Prime Minister that the Germans were squealing for peace. We have seen in the newspapers in the last few days reports from the Americans who have had to leave Germany with their Ambassador, unanimously saying that the Gorman people are sick for peace. That is one of their favourite phrases. I should like to read a couple of quotations to the House, because there is no doubt about it the great mass of the' German people want peace, and want it desperately. Speaking in the Reichstag, a Socialist deputy gave this description of Dresden:On Thursday the people spoke in Dresden. Eighty-thousand men marched to the Home Office and to the City Hall. A deputation went to the Minister and said: 'We want food: we want peace' The heads of the local Social Democratic Party went by order of the masses to the Minister and called his attention to the seriousness of the food question. The masses are at the end of their patience.I want to read another quotation which, I think, will interest the House. This is a Resolution passed in Frankfort at a meeting attended by 30,000 people. I read it because it shows how anxious the great mass of the German population in that great town are for peace; and it also shows the humour in which they regard the situation—that they are not peace-at-any-price people. [AN HON. MEMBER: "What is the newspaper?"] It is taken out of the "Arbeiter Zeitung." I do not think there can be any doubt about its genuineness—We have in our midst men and women of all classes religions and parties. What has brought us together is the thought that it is not a natural law that differences between nations must he settled by sanguinary wars. That, on the contrary, it is the task of higher civilisation to submit the relations between nations to a common organisation for the maintenance of peace and justice. The War, which has broken all ties between the peoples of Europe, and thus has brought a dark fate over Europe, has taught us that anew. Germany mustnot be violated, and we stand united against all efforts of the enemy to crush us. But neither do we want to humble an enemy people; we want a lasting peace in Europe, which can only be brought about by equal respect for all peoples for each other. May the peoples free themselves from the spirit of conquest … and let us all stand up for an understanding that may further the cause of peace. It is our wish that the whole of Germany and the peoples who are with us and against us in this War may hear the voice of this assembly and realise the seriousness of our attitude.I want to impress upon the House that there is a double effect in Germany, an 1194 utter sickness of the War, such as we do not realise here. But it is not a sickness of the War which is going to make them ready to make peace at any price. In Germany it is exactly the reverse, for there is a determination which will make them go on indefinitely, unless they can get terms which will leave their national existence and national prosperity unimpaired. I will give one other quotation generally in the same sense; it is from Mr. Philip Scheidemann, the leader of the majority of the Socialists who have supported the War. This is what he says:The six economic Unions have invented silly demands, and these demands are passed off abroad, as the demands of the German Government—Those are the Jingoe unions who have demanded from the Government that they should keep Belgium—The German Government has never supported such mad projects, but rather if has repudiated them. … There would be no advantage to Germany in our possessing Belgium. On the contrary it would be a terrible misfortune for our country. … Is there it single reasonable human being who really imagines that one group of Powers can so crushingly defeat the other as to be in a position to dictate the terms of peace? … One word more about the soberness of the other side. They demand Alsace-Lorraine, East Prussia, Galicia, Bukovina, Constantinople, the distribution of the German ships, etc. What would the realisation of only a small part of these demands involve? For Germany it would be as great a misfortune to lose a province as to acquire one. For every act of coercion upon a nation carries in itself most certainly the seed of a new war. In Germany the same cry for revenge would arise as arose in France forty-four years ago.There speaks the leader of the Socialist party, which now practically unanimously wants peace, and they will not have it on terms of the crushing of Germany—that is the situation. I do not believe that now anything would induce the German people to go on fighting except the belief that their national existence was imperilled. That is the way they interpret that Note, and that is why it is important that our Government should make it clear what that Note means. But there is another reason, if I may say so, why I dread the ambiguity and the consequent continuation of the War. It is difficult for me to took forward to the slaughter which we all know is in prospect in the spring with the same confidence that so many people express. This, it is said, is to be the new supreme effort which is to lead to success. Yes, they were all of them great supreme efforts, each push, each offensive. It is always the same before it begins. The same prophets who now prophesy great things were always so far tragically 1195 wrong. One thing, however, is quite certain, and that is great losses, while the great uncertainty is whether anything more will be accomplished than the aquisition of a little more battered, burned, and disfigured French and Belgian soil.
I do not dispute that Sir Douglas Haig may be right. It may be that we shall break through the German lines. That may be possible. But the question is whether, after having done that, and having taken, say, 50 or 100 miles, that is going to make the War essentially different from what it is now. You will not be able to dictate peace, even then, and you will still have to negotiate after the second or third lines are passed. But turn it round the other way. What has happened in Rou-mania? There the Germans had a great military success. It was splendidly spectacular, but it leaves Germany no more able to dictate her terms to all Europe, or to impose her will upon Europe, than when her lines were drawn on the Carpathians. The War for Germany militarily is a deadlock until she enters either Paris or Petrograd, and she can do neither. It must end for Germany in a negotiated peace. The same thing applies to us. Unless we enter—and nobody now believes it is possible—Vienna or Berlin, we too shall have to settle by a negotiated peace, and not by a dictated peace, and why, in Heaven's name, are we not negotiating now? The moral that I wish to draw to-day, whether the hon. Members agree with me or not, is that there never can be a negotiated peace at all until we ourselves, as well as Germany, have definitely made it clear that we are not in any way out for a war of conquest or aggrandisement, and the same in regard to all our Allies. I think it is very tragic that a million of my fellow countrymen should be liable to be killed or maimed this spring in order to obtain a victory, or the semblance of a military victory, which cannot alter the main situation. Though with no hope now of staying it I wish to record my protest against the slaughter which I believe to be incapable of changing the essential situation, while it will leave the world the poorer of these countless youthful lives.
§ Colonel Sir HAMAR GREENWOOD
I think something ought to be said on behalf of the British Empire before we are broken up by submitting to the terms of peace which would meet with the approval of the hon. Member who has just sat down. 1196 As far as the military situation is concerned I am bound to face it, and although I have spent all my life soldiering as a teen amateur I am not in a position to express any opinion, least of all such an emphatic opinion as that expressed by the hon. Member opposite, against what has been laid down by our senior generals as to an ultimate victory in the field for our arms. If that victory does not come, the hon. Member will be right thus far, for the slaughter of life from now onward is a tremendous responsibility on the generals and the Cabinet, and I will support the Government, and through them the generals, who I believe can carry us through to a triumphant victory. Let me also say to the hon. Member in passing that he need not take to himself alone credit for feeling grieved at the inevitable loss in the coming offensive of the most heroic men we produced in the Empire. I am bound to say that nothing weighed upon me more than the feeling that, however triumphant the victory, the bitterness and the bereavement of those who suffer losses must inevitably go with it. All of us must feel that that is the most oppressive thing that can come to us in our day hours or at night, but the Government, our generals, and British soldiers would be unworthy of the name if they were not prepared to face the inevitable results. An expression used by the hon. Member for Stirling Burghs (Mr. Ponsonby) is one that emphasises the complete divergence of opinion between him and the small minority who agree with him, and the overwhelming majority of the opinion of the people of this Empire. The hon. Member said that whenever he saw a map of the world and the Empire painted red, he felt no pride.
I never said that. I said that I felt no pride, but was overwhelmed with a sense of responsibility.
§ Colonel Sir H. GREENWOOD
The hon. Member says that he felt no pride, but was overwhelmed with a sense of responsibility. [An HON. MEMBER: "That is a Liberal doctrine!"] A Liberal doctrine, indeed! What sort of Liberals advocate that doctrine? I am as strong and as old a Liberal as any of the hon. Members who have spoken, but it is absurd to suggest to me that a man can be called a Liberal who adopts a miserable doctrine like that, lacking pride in the Empire and too timid to assume responsibility for it. Is that Liberalism? I 1197 for one would rather be any "ism" than that sort of Liberalism. That, at any rate, does not reflect the Liberalism of the distinguished Leader of the Liberal party. He, at any rate, has always set a high standard of responsibility in Imperial affairs, and he has never shirked that responsibility, or felt any limited pride in the Empire. I say that the remarks made by the hon. Member for Stirling Burghs emphasise the great cleavage between the small minority which I think is dangerous in many ways and the great majority of the people of the Empire. I, for one, feel a pride whenever I see the Empire painted red on the map. As one who knows the Empire as well as either of the hon. Members who have spoken, I myself never felt any overwhelming feeling of responsibility, because I know that wherever the British territory has been extended it has been better for the people over which the British flag has flown, and there is no part painted red that has not benefited by the coming of the British. That is the great glory of this race, and I wish hon. Members appreciated it here as much as the people do overseas. It is the great glory of our race that wherever we have extended the Empire we have carried there benefits unheard of by the peoples over which we govern, and we have carried to them a sense of justice that no other race possesses, a sense of honesty and incorruptibility of administration which every other country in the world envies and endeavours to emulate.
Such speeches as we have heard to-night do nothing to cheer those brave men in the trenches. There is nothing to cheer them. The speeches we have heard do nothing to keep close together that alliance on which the whole of our success depends. Such speeches encourage every eccentric thinker in this and any of the Allied countries, and I deplore the fact that two hon. Members of this House, men of capacity as we all know, should be willing to stand up at this crisis of our history and give utterance to views which can do nothing but depress those most interested in the well-being of our country, namely, our soldiers and sailors. Speaking so far as I may to the Overseas Dominions, I say most emphatically that the expresions used by the hon. Members who have spoken do not reflect the opinions of those great Dominions. In regard to those Dominions, let me say that in so far as they have conquered territory 1198 with their own troops at their own expense, there must be some reason that has not yet appeared before they will ever be willing to give back those possessions to the German Empire, which never brought peace, contentment, or civilisation in any form to a conquered possession, and to my mind has been dispossessed, not because our Government have led us into this War or because any subsequent Government wanted an extension of territory, but be cause as a result of the War these territories have been placed upon us, and we assume the responsibility, not with feelings of overwhelming responsibility, but with a pride of race and determination of purpose that has put us where we are, and which, I hope, will continue with us to a great conclusion.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Commander WEDGWOOD
I, for my part, have a Feeling that the hon. Member for Elland (Mr. Trevelyan) and the hon. Member for Stirling Burghs (Mr. Ponsonby) really perform an extremely useful function. Their speeches are not at all as unfortunate as the last speaker would like to make out. In the first place, they give us a sense of pride that our political institutions are so free that they can be listened to with perfect politeness and meet with a certain amount of support. After all, that is a satisfactory thing to recollect, because there are hardly any other Houses of Parliament in all the countries engaged in this War where a Debate can be carried on as openly as it is here to-day. Then, too, they perform a very useful function by giving an impression of moderation to the Germans, and that is a thoroughly desirable impression to convey. I sometimes think that if only our own secret service organisation knew as much about Germany as the hon. Member for Elland we should really be much better informed than we are at the present time. Still, it is desirable that there should be some sort of link between the pacifists of the two countries, and it does not do the troops at the front any harm to know that all views are being voiced here. If they in the trenches are not on perfectly friendly terms with the Boches over the way, it is known that the War is not likely to be carried on with entire disregard of the men at the front.
I did not rise, however, to enter into this somewhat acrimonious Debate, but in order to ask the Government to give special attention to, and possibly a reply 1199 to-day on, the question of man-power. We know from that rather unfortunate interview the other day that the whole world has been informed that there is to be a great attack on the Western front. I am not at all certain that great attack may pot be anticipated by a great attack from the other side, but, after all, that will be the main thing so far as man-power is concerned. The Government know very well the position of our reserve power. They know it better than I do, but I am also acquainted with the position of the substitution scheme by which they hope to make the recruitment of men for our Army more possible. That scheme of substitution which has been handed over to Mr. Neville Chamberlain, and which is to find substitutes for men otherwise irremovable, men who are engaged in useful occupations and who are of Army age, that scheme, as everybody on that Front Bench knows, has hopelessly broken down. There is no opportunity of getting any substitutes under this voluntary scheme, or merely a handful of people who are volunteering, who are old retired admirals and colonels and people of great organising ability, but who are unable to take the places of men of military age. That substitution scheme has not only broken down, but the Secretary of State for War, and most people connected with recruiting, knew that it would break down when it was introduced four months ago. The sooner the Government recognise that this very expensive scheme has broken down, and take some alternative method of raising men for the Army, the better.
I have already advocated in this House—and there has never been any effective reply made to me—that by far the best way of getting the necessary recruits for the Army is to say, first of all, that after a month's notice given to the factories concerned, all men up to twenty-two years of age must be taken, whether they are skilled or indispensable or not. That system of recruiting for the Army would, in the first place, cause a great deal of satisfaction from the point of view of those people who have seen their sons sent away, while other people's sons are still remaining behind. It would, in the second place, give a sense of justice all round. I have talked this matter over with several Members of the Ministry, and I know that there are no real difficulties in the way, provided sufficient notice 1200 is given that these men have got to be taken. I should say, if you took all available men up to twenty-two years of age after a month's notice, and then arranged subsequently, say, three months afterwards, to take those up to twenty-four or twenty-five, you would in that way not only get the men, but the Army would know that you were going to get them. You would get a constant stream, which you could measure beforehand and with which you would know you could deal.
Up to now you have been living from hand to mouth. You have had various fancy schemes put forward and they have all broken down. The Army has been misled as to what they could get, and at the present time your generals over here and in France are entirely ignorant how long they will be able to carry on and how long the reserve of man power of the country will hold out. This is a question to which the Government should pay immediate attention. They should make inquiries and no longer slur the matter over as to whether this substitution is worth going on with. If it is not worth going on with, then change your plan at once, and go in for this hard and fast line by which after certain periods all men will be taken whether they are reckoned as indispensable or not. At the present time you know perfectly well the degrees of skill that count for exemption from military service. It is notorious, if you ask an employer whether he can spare any men who are not skilled in his works, that he will make out in some sense or other that every single man is skilled and cannot be spared. It is human nature. But it is also human nature that as long as that goes on you should have a great deal of heartburning and jealousy. I would urge, from the point of view of getting men for the Army in a constant stream and also from the point of view of doing general justice throughout the country, that a hard and fast line should be drawn and drawn as soon as possible.
§ Mr. DILLON
I desire to draw the attention of the Government to a very different matter of the very utmost importance. On 12th October, when the last Vote of Credit was before the House, I drew attention to the fact that there had been given no explanation or statement as to the general position in Roumania and the Balkans. We were told that the coming in of Roumania was going to turn the whole tide of the War, and it was bailed in this country as one of the happiest possible 1201 auguries. It was perfectly obvious, apart from the evidence that I have since collected, that Roumania had come in under the urgent invitation of the Allies and, as I have been informed, under the specially urgent invitation of Russia and of this country. I was taken to task very severely by Colonel Repington, the military correspondent of the "Times," and by the ''Times" newspaper for drawing a pessimistic and alarming view of the situation in Roumania. Colonel Repington honoured me by writing a special letter to the "Times" in reply to the short speech that I made. He pointed out that all I had said was perfectly absurd and ill-founded arid that Roumania was carrying all before her and nobody could have the least anxiety as to the result. We all know what happened.
The Prime Minister stated the other day in a speech that it had always been his principle to let the people of this country know all the truth about the War, and, as I understood, he totally differed from the policy of the past which was to keep as great a cloud of secrecy as possible above any reverses or anything that went wrong with the War. He at the same time told us in this House and at Carnarvon the other day in that great speech which he delivered there that the Balkan muddle— that was the very word he used—was the most deplorable series of blunders. There was no use in going back over that or distributing blame, but the coming in of Roumania was a horrible blunder. There was no purpose to be gained by going back or inquiring what the nature of the blunder was or who was to blame for it. The question and the only question was to consider what ought to be done in the future. That is all very fine if it was the first blunder in connection with the War, but, when we look back and see how from the beginning of this War we have passed from one disastrous blunder in the Balkans to another until the situation there has reached the lowest depths of adversity and apparently hopelessness, I think it is a somewhat large order and inconsistent with the principles laid down so often by the Prime Minister himself to ask us blindly and without any explanation or information of any sort or kind to trust that this series of blunders will not be continued, and I would respectfully ask the Government now to give to the House, perhaps not tonight, but on some early occasion, if not now, a considered statement, giving as 1202 much information as can be given without injury to the public interest and an indication what their plan is for the future as to the prosecution of the War in the Balkans.
I wish at the outset to give to the Government an indication of the evils that arise from the present system of secrecy, and in order to do that I will place before them the information which has reached me as to the situation which existed in October last and before that, in September, at the coming in of Roumania, and the consequence of the disasters which have followed since. In the first place, how did it come about that Roumania came into this War under circumstances and at a time when every single strategist of repute m Europe, as I am informed, was of opinion that it would result in disaster? How-did it come about that Roumania came into this War unfurnished with the heavy guns which were absolutely essential to give her any chance of defending her frontiers, with a totally insufficient supply of ammunition, as was known to our Government, and without any aeroplanes, so that for weeks after Roumania entered the War enemy aeroplanes circled over Bucharest long before the enemy army had crossed the frontiers of Roumania and dropped bombs on men, women, and children without hindrance whatsoever? So much so that a British officer on the spot at the time told me that every day the German aeroplanes circled over Bucharest, exhausted their bomb supply and flew away to their own headquarters and reserve stores across the Roumanian frontier and returned in three or four hours with a fresh supply of bombs which they deposited on Bucharest, with the result that long before the Germans reached Bucharest, and months before they even crossed the frontier, as many as 2,000 persons, including hundreds of women and children, were destroyed by the bombs from German aeroplanes. The Roumanians at that time were in a hopelessly defenceless situation, as they had no proper antiaircraft guns and no aeroplanes, with the exception of two or three of ours and a few of the French which flew over from Salonika to come to the rescue. I say how can it be defended, under those circumstances, that Roumania was not only invited and encouraged to come in, but, according to the only statement which appears before the public, was even pressed to come in? Here is a example 1203 of the danger and the mischief caused by the veil of mystery which is systematically hung over all these transactions. The Germans do not make any mystery of the matter at all. They take care to send out detailed accounts to the world of their version of such transactions, and inasmuch as we give no version at all on the other side, their version holds the field, although it may be perfectly inaccurate in many directions, as I hope it is. Here is the German version given in the Reichstag by Bethmann Hollweg. He said:Six days before the War the King declared to our Minister that he knew the great majority of the Roumanian people did not want war. On 6th August, the day before the Roumanian declaration of war, he said to the Austro-Hungarian Minister that he did not want war. I mention it as a curious thing that M. Bratiano on the same day assured the Austro-Hungarian representative that he was determined to maintain neutrality.He added that on 23rd August the Entente Powers themselves were not certain as to whether Roumania would come in, andRussia suddenly presented an ultimatum to the effect that she would cross Roumania's unprotected borders if Roumania did not come in before 28th August.Is that true? I hope for the sake of the credit of this country and that of Russia that it is untrue, and I trust that Roumania came in without any pressure. But here are we under this stupid system which, in my opinion, has done untold mischief in connection with this and many other matters throughout the whole course of this War, this stupid system of hiding our heads in the sand and covering all the operations with a veil of mystery which does not hide the facts from the world, but which does to a largo extent from the people of this country, because these things are talked of abroad and only leak in in very limited accounts to this country. The result is that this account given in the Reichstag at Berlin holds the field and has never been denied or challenged, so far as I know, and the world, therefore, is left under the impression that we dragged in Roumania into this War when we knew that she was unprepared, and that we brought upon ourselves this fearful punishment; because there cannot be the slightest doubt that the coming in of Roumania under those circumstances and the disasters which followed have been a terrible blow and have unquestionably prolonged the War far beyond the period which it would otherwise have reached. I believe myself, if the Balkan Campaign 1204 had been properly conducted and if the Salonika Expedition had been allowed to-be put by our War Office in a fit condition to support the attack of Roumania, that the War would have been over by now owing to the condition in which the Germans would have been thrown. That is one point on which I want to ask the Government for information. Here, now, is another account of what occurred, from a correspondent, and until it is proved to be untrue or officially contradicted I must accept it as correct. I believe it to be true:Before Roumania entered the arena (writes this correspondent) I wrote an article stating in clear terms that to my knowledge Germany was preparing a campaign against her under Hindenburg and Ludendorff, and that measures had been devised already to scrape together' (that was the term employed troops adequate in number and supplied with heavy artillery enough to conquer the country, and that they would succeed unless Russia's armies were ready to) cope with them. That article was suppressed by the Censor, and practically every Press organ in England and in France affirmed, with the Censor's approval, that the Germans could not possibly find the men necessary for that expedition.''Foremost to assert that was Colonel Repington and the "Times" and all the newspapers with which he is connected. I say that it is a monstrous thing that this correspondent, from whom I am reading, and whom I declare to be one of the best informed men in the whole of Europe, and a warm friend and supporter of the cause of the Allies, having written from his own knowledge, and he is a man who has a more intimate knowledge of these matters, and particularly of the Balkans, than almost any other man, having written this warning to our Government and to the people in England, should have his article suppressed, an article clearly in the interests of the Allies, whereas Colonel Repington and the "Times" are allowed to pursue their course of deception which has led us into this ruinous catastrophe. I think the Government are bound to give some explanation of the work of the censorship in suppressing those warnings? He goes on to say:Well, we have seen how that forecast was realised.And listen to this, as it bears out the warning which I gave here on the 12th of October last:When Sarrail was asked to take the offensive which was promised to the Roumanian Government he was unable to do so for lack of men.That is a most serious statement made on good authority. Was it promised to Roumania that General Sarrail would take an effective offensive and that he was unable to do so from lack of men? 1205 He was not able to do so, not only for lack of men but for lack of ammunition, guns, roads, railroads and all the materials which ought to have been supplied to him during the whole of last winter when we had this Salonika Expedition, which has been the subject of discussion in this House, tied up at enormous expense in Salonika, and when, owing to the deliberate policy, I charge it here to-day, of our War Office acting in conflict with the Cabinet of the country and defying the policy of the Government, they kept from General Sarrail and refused him supplies of all kinds which he again and again demanded, and deliberately immobilised and paralysed him so that he would not be able to make an advance. I more than once raised that point in this House and I have never got any contradiction from the Government or any statement about it. I believe the Government cannot contradict it because the documents are in existence and they can be produced in due course, and it can be taken as a piece of absolute fact, according to the information at my disposal, General Sarrail again and again addressed remonstrances to his own Government and this Government, that if he was not furnished with those necessaries he would be wholly unable, when the summer came, to take the offensive, which, in fact, he was unable to do. If it had not been for the extraordinary gallantry of the Serbians, the remnant of the Serbian people, who with the assistance of the French captured Monastir, there would not even have been a pretence at attack, whereas if General Sarrail had been furnished with the materials which he frequently demanded, I am convinced it would have been perfectly practicable to cut the railways and cut off Turkey from connection with Germany, which would have gone an immense distance towards ending the entire War. That is the indictment I make as regards the position of the Government towards the Salonika Expedition.
I have this further to say. Is it or is it not true, and I have very good ground for what I am now stating, that during the whole of last year the War Office was in conflict with the Government on this matter? They had one policy at the War Office and the Government had another policy. The policy of the War Office was to starve out, discredit and kill the Salonika Expedition. Of course, it stands to reason that the Government ought more than a year ago to have made up 1206 their minds one way or the other. They ought to have taken the expedition out of Salonika and abandoned the whole thing, a policy which I am entirely against and which I believe to be the wrong policy, or they ought to have made that expedition an effective expedition, and the course they pursued cannot be defended by anybody, namely, to leave two hundred thousand troops in a shockingly unhealthy position, which is a marsh. As I was told by one of the officers who served there, it is a place from which the inhabitants fly when the month of May comes to the neighbouring hills because they cannot live there. Our unfortunate troops were held there for the whole of the summer doing nothing when sixty thousand of our men were down with dysentery and Greek fever and ague, which I believe is one of the worst forms known in the world. That was because, as everybody knows who has heard the talk of officers who were in Salonika because, while the town is fairly healthy the surrounding country is more or less marshy, with two large rivers, the Vardar and another, flowing down from the mountains so that the whole place is turned into a marsh, and our troops, our sick troops, had to be placed on steamers at enormous expense.
That is the position of affairs which prevailed at Salonika during the summer, and this is a further charge I have to make. Is it or is it not the fact that our Government and the Russian Government presented a demand to the French Government for the recall of General Sarrail, because General Sarrail insisted, as he was bound to insist, that if he was to remain in Salonika with two hundred thousand men, steps should be taken to render the force an effective force, able to strike a blow when the hour came? The purpose was to discredit his expedition and discredit him. When that failed, as I am informed, a demand was then sent to the French Government for his recall. I understand that General Sarrail is an officer of the highest possible distinction and an extremely capable man. His position has been one of extraordinary cruelty and injustice. He has been put in the' position with the eyes of the whole world turned on him that he has an army of over 200,000 men under his command. He was exposed to continuous attacks and to the most terrible danger, because at one time, owing to the Greek difficulty, he was in grave danger of either losing his whole force or 1207 being forced to submit to an ignominious surrender by having his communications cut off. I think the Government are bound to tell us what is their policy with regard to the Balkans or to indicate what is their policy with regard to the Balkans and the Salonika Expedition. Here in this House I have heard two or three Members ask questions as to the object of maintaining the expedition in Salonika. No answer was ever given. I would remind the House of this extraordinary fact, that about three weeks ago, shortly before the Session opened, there appeared an article in the "Daily Mail" headedWhat are we doing it Salonika?Of course, anybody who has made a study of the "Daily Mail'' knows what that means. That means a campaign, and we all looked for the following up of that campaign. I thought it was to be the regular "Daily Mail" campaign for the opening of Parliament, and that the leading article in that campaign was to be the withdrawal of the Salonika Expedition, which the "Daily Mail" had been attacking, belittling and paralysing throughout the whole of the previous year. But there was sudden pause and blank. When on the first day of the Session the hon. Member for North-West Lanark (Mr. Pringle) attacked the Salonika Expedition and stated in this House that the newspapers had been forbidden to discuss the Salonika Expedition at all, the Government on the Front Bench was still silent. They said nothing. The "Daily Mail," however, was not silent, and on the following morning the "Daily Mail" said that the hon. Member for North-West Lanarkis perfectly right. The newspapers have been forbidden to discuss the Salonika Expedition.So that apparently now—this is one comfort in a time of anxiety—we have at last a Government that can muzzle the "Daily Mail." That is a remarkable new departure in the history of this War. Surely the House of Commons is entitled to know whether this expedition is going to be kept at Salonika or not, and, if it is going to be kept at Salonika, whether it is going to be made a reality. Are the Government really contemplating the maintenance of 200,000 men—I believe that is about the strength of the Salonika Expedition, or over 200,000—are they to be kept there throughout the whole of next summer facing all the outbreaks of sickness of last summer, to do no- 1208 thing and to be there not with the idea of doing anything? Now Roumania is overrun, Bucharest has fallen. Serbia is wiped out, and we have no friends in the North to meet the enemy. I am not sufficiently a military man to know whether it is possible, without any diversion from the North, to cut the railway and justify the existence of the Salonika Expedition. But surely this is a subject which ought to be discussed in the House of Commons. Are we to keep a vast fleet of transports, at enormous expense, at great loss of life —because some of them have been torpedoed and a vast number of lives have been lost—are we, at such a time as this, to keep a vast quantity of our commercial fleet demobilised, and are these men, including 150, 000 of our own Army, to be kept at Salonika for no purpose at all? It is obviously there to do nothing. I gather from the papers hints that the War Office and Colonel Repington are satisfied that their policy has prevailed, and that General Sarrail is securely chained up and will not be allowed to do anything.
The question I respectfully put to the Government to-night is, what is the future intention of the Government as regards the Salonika Expedition? I ask, further, what is the policy of the Government as regards the Censorship? The Prime Minister made the remarkable declaration which I have just quoted, that his view always had been that the people of this country should be allowed to know-all the truth about the War. It gave me the greatest possible satisfaction, because I think a good many of our misfortunes in this War have been due to the policy of silence. The Prime Minister himself held that view, and many people knew it. He was in conflict with the military authorities from the beginning when they attempted to throw a cloud of silence over their proceedings, and he held it was far better to let the country know whether we were winning or losing and also what our intentions were. The question I put to the Government is, how do they reconcile that declaration of the Prime Minister with the fact that since the new Government has been formed the censorship has enormously increased in severity? That is an undeniable fact; there is no question about it. I have here extracts which I will read. I have no hesitation in telling the House the name of the writer of these extracts, because I know that everybody who has taken an interest in foreign affairs during the last fifteen years will 1209 recognise that he is one of the best informed, if not the best informed of all the Press agents in the world. That is Dr. Dillon. He is a namesake of mine, but he is no relation. He is a very old friend of mine. I do not hesitate to say that there is not a more widely or profoundly informed Press correspondent in the whole of Europe than Dr. Dillon, and I can further say that there is not a more ardent and sincere supporter of the Allies. Up to the date of the formation of the new Government Dr. Dillon's letters were published in the "Daily Telegraph" from time to time. I am certain they were read with intense interest and great benefit by the public who saw them. They were full of information—information which I am not very surprised the Government should be annoyed about, because it often showed that the Government were wholly misinformed, as subsequent events had proved. He wrote this letter from which I quoted a passage warning the Government in good time against bringing in Roumania at that particular period. He explained the position of the Salonika Expedition, he explained the condition of Roumania and the objections to asking her to come in. That was suppressed. I could understand the grounds for suppressing it at that particular period when the whole question of the Balkan movements were under consideration, and when the facts given in his statement might have been supposed —though I do not agree with that view at all—to have given information to the Germans. As a matter of fact, the Germans, as they have shown, knew everything about it. They were accurately informed as to the position of Roumania and as to the position of our force at Salonika. Greek spies took good care of that, because our Army has been riddled with spies ever since the expedition to Salonika took place.
Therefore the idea that the publication of Dr. Dillon's warnings would have given information to the enemy is grotesque and absurd. The only people to whom they would have given information were the people of this country and to the Government who persistently shut their ears for months to all the warnings he gave. I have made a close study of his letters and I have had private conversations with him. I find that he was infinitely better informed as to the position in the Balkans than the War Office or the Government. What has happened? Before this Government was formed Dr. Dillon's letters 1210 appeared from time to time, but now —it is almost incredible—the whole of the Press of this country and all the magazines have been forbidden to publish anything at all from Dr. Dillon. What is the meaning of that? Is that calculated to encourage us to give a blank cheque to the Government and to-accept the invitation of the Prime Minister, who confessed he had for two and a half years passed from muddle to muddle and from blunder to blunder, through, ignorance—it must have been through ignorance—of the conditions of the Balkans? He said there is nothing to-be gained by going back into these matters and inquiring as to who is to blame and the question is, What is to be done in future? Yes! but has the past no bearing on the future? If it be true, as I imagine, that the Government have fallen into these blunders one after another—the Serbian blunder, the Grecian blunder, the Roumanian blunder, the Salonika blunder, not to speak of Gallipoli and the Dardanelles—when they have fallen into all these blunders and prolonged the War, as I maintain they have done by the repetition of these blunders, are we to be told, if we believe and have good grounds for believing that these blunders were due to the fact that they closed their ears against valuable information and scouted it when it was sent to them, and nursed themselves in their ignorance—I believe our own Foreign Office was deplorably ignorant of the whole condition of the Balkans during this period—are we to be told that the past has no bearing on the future and that there is nothing to be gained by investigating all these blunders? I put to the Government this question: On what ground has the censorship been tightened up in this extraordinary and utterly indefensible way, and particularly tightened up against Dr. Dillon, who is one of the best informed men in Europe, and who has persistently placed his opinions at the disposal of the Government, who have treated him with unmitigated scorn? I have had a good opportunity of studying the letters. They were far more valuable, truthful, and far more borne out by subsequent events than was anything, as far as we understand, that was at the disposal of the Government.
So much for Roumania and Salonika. What about Greece? Hon. Members may have noticed that the Grecian situation, which used to occupy columns in the newspapers up to Christmas, has now com- 1211 pletely disappeared. We were told in the House the other day that at the Conference in Rome the Grecian situation was settled. I do not believe it. I am convinced that the censorship has been brought to bear on that question also. Why is it that we see nothing of the Grecian situation in the newspapers today? The Grecian situation, in my opinion, is quite or nearly as bad as ever it was. The King of Greece is playing for time, as he has always played for time. He has his Reservists armed, he has his Press at this moment inflaming the people of Athens and denouncing the Allies. It is true he saluted our flag. That does not trouble these Greek gentlemen very much. As long as the salute to our flag got him, as he had hoped, a relaxation of the blockade, he did not mind about saluting our flag. So far as we have been able to ascertain, or anything we have been able to get from private information is concerned—it is very hard to get any information at all now; it is harder than ever it was—the Greek situation is threatening in the extreme, and the King of Greece is still playing for time. No doubt, as we saw in the newspapers the other day, the Germans, having completed their conquest of Roumania, and having dug themselves in along the line of the Sereth River, are now moving back vast bodies of troops to the Western front. I wonder how the gentlemen who are described as "Westerns" will like that. They always held the view that we ought to ignore the East altogether, give it over, apparently, to Germany, and to concentrate all our forces in the West. What the Germans did, while we were waiting quietly on the West, was to conquer the East and get hold of the wheatfields of Roumania. Not like our Government, who are leaving the grasslands of Ireland untilled. I lay any wager that if the German Government had millions of acres of magnificent tillage land in their own country they would not leave it untilled for fear of the graziers of Ireland. Unlike our Government, the German Government, of course, is tilling the wheatfields of Roumania, and if they can only hold out till next harvest, your blockade will do very little harm, because by that time they will have the greater part of the oil fields of Roumania in full working order and the wheat fields. They have settled that. They have strengthened their frontier in the East enormously, and I suppose they are 1212 now ready for the Russian onset. Accordingly they are bringing back hundreds of thousands of men, which they can easily do by rail, to the Western front to get ready for this push which we have announced to the world that we are going to make, why, I do not for the life of me know. I think the country and the House are entitled to a frank statement, both as regards the future of the Salonika Expedition, the policy of the Balkans, and the condition of Greece.
Now I want to say a word on the question of the interview. I fully recognise that it is a very difficult matter to deal with. In my judgment, and I have heard it expressed as the judgment of men who belong to different parties and who are connected with military matters, it is a most deplorable departure from the settled traditions of the British Army. I put it in two ways. It is not the custom of British generals—I do not think it has ever been allowed—to announce beforehand to the world that they are going to attack the enemy at a certain point, smash him to pieces and rout him. The general custom of generals is to do it first and talk of it afterwards. I only hope that the extraordinarily optimistic fore east of this interview will be borne out by the results. I do not think the chance of it being borne out has been materially increased by the publication of this interview. What was the object of it? It must have had an object. It is undoubtedly a flagrant violation of the Kings Regulations. A military officer is strictly forbidden to express an opinion upon any military operation without the consent of the War Office, therefore, there must have been some strong motive to induce a general to violate the tradition and practice of the British Army, which is very different in these matters from the Prussian army and I hope we are not going to change all along the line. Very few British generals have ever indulged in boasting beforehand of the tremendous victories they are going to win. I can sec only one object in publishing such an interview and that is to butt into the controversy between East and West. To anyone who knows anything of the nature of the controversy which has been going on behind the scenes for the last year between what are called the Westerners and the Easterners, it is in the highest degree unfortunate and reprehensible that the Commander-in-Chief 1213 of the British Army should take newspaper correspondents into his confidence and issue what is practically a political manifesto.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
The hon. Member (Mr. Dillon) has made a most grave statement and a very serious indictment on the policy of the Government, or of the Allied Powers, in regard to Roumania, Salonika, and Greece, and he has also referred to the increasing censorship and the remarkable interview which the Commander-in-Chief published a few days ago. One would have thought that he was entitled to an immediate reply from the Government. I hope the failure of the Leader of the House to rise at once does not mean that he intends to leave the hon. Member's speech altogether unanswered, as he did last week the speeches of several of my hon. Friends who dealt with certain aspects of the War. I should like to associate myself with what the hon. Member said in regard to the interview with Sir Douglas Haig. I believed, very strongly, before the answer to my question this afternoon, that the interview was a fabrication. I could not bring myself to believe that a man in the responsible position of Commander-in-Chief of the British Forces could have been guilty of such a blazing indiscretion as that. But now we know that the interview is substantially correct. There are several matters which arise out of that confession. One is the violation of the explicit instructions of the King's Regulations. Nothing could be more definite than the prohibition of any statement by an officer of the Army of military plans or of comment upon political matters. Sir Douglas Haig in that interview not only dealt with military questions, but also with matters of high politics. Under that head several of the observations were of a most deplorable character. I failed to get from the Leader of the House any reply to my definite question as to what the Government intended to do. I think there must be other people in this country who feel as I feel in regard to this matter, that their confidence in the judgment, discretion, and common sense of the Commander-in-Chief has been very seriously shaken by what has taken place.
I pass now to make an attempt to resume the Debate as it was left after the speech of the hon. and gallant Member (Colonel Sir H. Greenwood). All the speakers who took part in the earlier part 1214 of the Debate upon the general policy of war and peace taunted my hon. Friends with representing what was described as a negligible minority in the country. When I spoke on this question just upon a year ago the Prime Minister, who followed, made a similar statement, and said that the opinions that I expressed were not shared by any considerable body of opinion in this country. I am not going to claim to-day that these views are held, much less expressed, by the overwhelming majority of the people of this country to-day, but I claim that we represent, in giving utterance to these views and in making these demands, something far larger than a negligible minority. We had last week a by-election in Lancashire, and it was somewhat significant that the result was hidden away in an obscure corner of those daily papers which published the result of the poll. That is the second by-election which has taken place within the last few months in which a candidate has appeared before the electors definitely and exclusively standing for peace by negotiation. At the by-election in Rossendale last week the candidate standing for peace negotiations polled nearly 25 per cent, of the votes. I and my Friends are doing in the country what we are doing in the House of Commons. We do not hesitate to face large audiences of our fellow-countrymen and state these views, and we are in a far better position, in consequence of that experience, than many Members of the House of Commons to know what is the measure of support in the country for the opinions that we are now expressing, and I am quite sure that the 25 per cent., roughly, of the electors of Rossendale who made the demand last week that the Government should try to bring this War to an end by negotiation represents certainly not less than the average of opinion of all the constituencies in the country. If the number of people who think as the minority of electors of Rossendale think were proportionately represented in this House we should have more than 150 Members making this peace demand upon this Government.
The hon. Member who leads a section of the Labour party made reference last week to what took place at the recent Labour Conference in Manchester. The frequent references which are made by members of the Labour party to the doings of Labour conferences seem to indicate that in their opinion the House of 1215 Commons attaches a great deal of value to what Labour Members think. I can assure him that neither this nor any Government I have known attaches the least importance to the opinions of the Labour party. All they care about is what the Labour party will do, and they are always perfectly sure that whatever the Government ask them to do the Labour party will obediently do. That Labour conference discussed this question of bringing the War to an end by negotiation.
A similar question was discussed when the Trade Union Congress met at Bristol, eighteen months after the outbreak of war, and on that occasion the policy of the Government in continuing the prosecution of the War was approved by a show of hands vote by 87 to 1. The Resolution submitted to the Labour Conference about a month ago was defeated on a card vote by a majority of less than 6 to 1. Nobody knows better than the Labour Members who sit on the benches opposite that that vote did not represent either the individual opinions of the delegates at that Conference or the individual opinions proportionately of the rank and file of the Labour party. One trade union cast 650,000 votes in support of the Resolution for continuing the prosecution of the War, although not quite half, but not far short of half, of the delegates at that Conference, representing that trade union, had voted against the Resolution in their meeting. If it were worth while to supply further evidence I could supply it. Therefore, we do not apologise for continuing to raise this question in the House of Commons. We represent not only a large but a rapidly growing volume of opinion. The Leader of the House has not yet thought fit to answer the speeches which have been made. I remember that the hon. Member for Elland spoke on this subject in the House eighteen months ago.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
The Leader of the House was then Colonial Secretary, and he replied at once to the speech of the hon. Member for Elland. He said that the time had not yet come when speeches like that ought to be answered, but he believed that the time would come when they would have to be answered. He 1216 evidently thinks the time has not yet come, but I say that the time is rapidly drawing near when the Government cannot ignore this question, in the last few days our newspapers have been publishing leading articles about the seriousness of the present situation, both in the military sense and in regard to food and the economic position. The position will continue to be progressively serious. When I spoke twelve months ago I asked the Government if at the end of another twelve months the military situation remained what it was then, and the outlook was no more promising, would the Government still take up the attitude of continuing the prosecution of the War in the hope of bringing it to an end by a decisive military victory? I submit that the position in every material sense is to-day what it was twelve months ago, and yet we are still unable to get a definite reply from the Government. I do not want, however much aversion I may feel, to be provocative, but we all know how keenly everybody feels on this question. Therefore, it is a very difficult thing to avoid raising these issues. I want, if I may be permitted, to deal with what I conceive to be some of the reasons why the Government are indisposed to encourage peace negotiations and why, hitherto, the majority of the people of this country have supported them in that policy. The hon. Member for Stirling in his speech this afternoon said that the people of this country went into this War with clean hands. I have often made that statement, but in that respect I distinguish between the people of this country and the Government of this country, just as I always distinguish between the people of all the countries of Europe and the Governments of the countries of Europe.
This has never been a people's war in the sense that the people ever desired it, or that the people made it. It may have been a people's war in the sense that the people supported it. Indeed, I think there has been nothing more magnificent in history than the way in which the young manhood of this country rose in response to a moving impulse at the beginning of this War. [An HON. MEMBER: "No thanks to you."] They believed that they were going to save civilisation, and they were honest and sincere in what they believed. I submit that Belgium was never the real cause of this War. The present Leader of the House, who was Leader of the Opposition at the outbreak of war, and Lord 1217 Lonsdale, wrote to the then Prime Minister pledging their support to the Government in the event of war, days before the invasion of Belgium took place. On the Saturday before the invasion of Belgium, Sir Edward Grey sent a dispatch to the French Government, which was practically a commitment of this country to war in certain eventualities. That dispatch, as it was quoted in the French Chamber by Monsieur Viviani, had this addition, that the sending of the British Fleet to proteect the shores of France would be a declaration of war against Germany. We had in the "Times" newspaper, only a few months after the outbreak of war, a leading article stating that Belgium was not the reason why we were at war. That article went on to say, "We are fighting this War for our material ends. We are in it for the reason for which we have fought every European war, namely, to maintain the balance of power in Europe." I want, in support of what I am saying now, to quote an authority which certainly will be accepted as conclusive by certain hon. Members opposite. On the 5th August, 1914, the day after Sir Edward Grey made his famous speech in this House, and after Belgium had become an issue in this War, the executive committee of the Labour party met in London to consider the whole circumstances of the situation, and passed resolutions, which were subsequently endorsed at a joint meeting of the Parliamentary Labour party, and also endorsed unanimously by a national conference of this party. I quote these resolutions, because after Belgium had become a factor in this War, we have the executive of the national Labour party, and the Parliamentary Labour party, stating what they conceived to be the causes of this War. They said:That the conflict between the nations in Europe, in which this country is involved, is owing to foreign ministers pursuing diplomatic policies for the purpose of maintaining a balance of power; that our own national policy of understandings with France and Russia only was bound to increase the power of Russia, both in Europe and Asia, and to endanger good relations with Germany.That Sir Edward Grey, as proved by the facts which he gave to the House of Commons, committed, without the knowledge of our people, the honour of the country to supporting France in the event of any War in which she was seriously involved, and gave definite assurances of support before the House of Commons had any chance of considering the matter.That the Labour movement reiterates the fact that it has opposed the policy which has produced the War, and that its duty now is to secure peace at the earliest possible moment on such conditions as will provide the best opportunities for the reestablishment of amicable feelings between the workers of Europe.1218 That was the statement of the Parliamentary Labour party and the executive of the Labour party, after this country had gone into the War.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
If those were the causes of the War on the 5th August, 1914, they are the causes of the War now, and those members of the Labour party who have taken up the line that I and others have adopted, have simply been conforming to those resolutions, which were then declared to be the official attitude of the Labour party, and which remain to-day the only declaration of official policy in regard to the War which has ever been made by the Parliamentary Labour party or the executive of the Labour party.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
I said a few minutes ago that this subject was one which might be provocative, and I said I had no desire to be provocative; but I want to remind the hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Booth) that if he wants me to be provocative, I am quite capable of indulging in provocation.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
I want to state what I consider to be the reasons why the majority of the people of this country are continuing to give their support to the Government in the prosecution of the War. My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald), in that weighty speech which he made in the early part of last week, referred to the fact that in this War there has been no new phrase coined. There is not one of the phrases used so repeatedly by the newspapers to-day which has not done service in every former war in which this country has been engaged. If you read the war literature of the Napoleonic times, for instance, you will find such phrases as these, "a just and righteous war," "a necessary war," "a war to kill militarism," "a war to destroy 1219 the lust of domination of the enemy." The people have always been warned about the dangers of a premature peace. They have been told that unless the war is fought to a decisive victory they will have to fight it over again in the future. We must continue the War to save our children and our children's children from having to endure such sufferings. We are told that peace cannot be made with the enemy, because the enemy is too unscrupulous to observe his engagements. We are told that we must continue the War for the sake of those who have perished. These are the catch phrases and the subterfuges by which the people are blinded as to the real purpose of the War.
A friend of mine, a very keen historic student, who was at one time a Member of this House, has done a great deal of research into war literature, and it would be interesting if I were to give two or three quotations which he discovered in the speeches of the statesmen of this period and in the newspapers of the time when the Crimean War was being waged. I am quite sure that every one of these extracts will be quite familiar in their phraseology to every Member of this House. [An HON. MEMBER: "Who was the man?"] If my hon. Friend will wait for a moment he will see that it is not material who the man is. I am giving the facts, and I shall give the source of every quotation which I am giving. [An HON. MEMBER: "He was an Englishman, at any rate?"] The fact that he was formerly a Member of this House is no proof that he was an Englishman. On the 30th January, 1856, the "Times" wrote of "Russia's glittering vision of universal empire," and Lord Clarendon, who opposed Mr. Gladstone's plea for peace, charged Russia with aiming at universal domination, and said:Every Russian is inspired with the conviction that his country is one day to conquer the world. The meanest peasant of Russia is impressed with the belief that Russia is destined to subdue the world.For Russia substitute Germany, and those are phrases which we have heard repeated thousands of times during the last few years.
Then in regard to the claim that each belligerent is fighting for the liberties of the world. Mr. Roebuck, in 1855, in this House, said, "In crippling Russia we fight the battle of mankind." No sooner was that war ovrr than liberty was 1220 in danger in another quarter, and we find the "Times" menacing France, who was our Ally against Russia for her attack on the freedom of the Belgian Press. There, again, we have the phrase by which people are deluded into supporting a War of the real origin of which they are ignorant. Another favourite device for preventing a war from flagging is to postulate "dishonour," "humiliation," and "indecisiveness' of any approach to peace that falls short of the absolute surrender of the enemy. Any other peace is denounced as offering no security for the future. In the "Times" of 1st December, 1855, it is said:Let us have security that we shall not have the same bloody work to begin over again some ten years hence.The Commander-in-Chief last week altered that phrase. The "Times" went on to say:With what hope could the English Government face Parliament and the English people if they were to give us no other return for the blood of our friends and for the vast amount of treasure we have lavished on this War than a peace which would leave us to begin again when another human crop was ripe for the sickle of the Czar.And so we might go on with a number of these war comments. "We cannot make peace with the enemy because he will not observe a treaty." The Foreign Secretary makes a point of this in the dispatch which he addressed to the President of the United States. He said that no State can regard its rights as secure when they have no better protection than a treaty. Without being in the least desirous of giving offence, I want to ask what nation is there whose hands are clean in this matter of treaties? Is there one nation on the face of the earth? Would it not be more correct to say that there is hardly a nation on the earth which has not broken its treaties when it considered it to be in its own interests to do so?
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
May I remind the House that in 1869 France, now our Ally, in alliance with Prussia, went actually to the point of promoting a treaty for taking away the independence of Belgium, and that that attempt was only frustrated by the intervention of Mr. Gladstone? I have no desire to pursue this point at very great length, but it is important, in connection with the argument which I am following. Then I might refer the hon. Gentleman opposite to the Congo. Take, for instance, our action in reference to Egypt. There are 1221 many causes of this War. The policy of ourselves and France in Africa is by no means in a small measure contributory to this War. There is the question of Morocco. In 1911 we were on the brink of war with Germany in regard to Morocco. All the great European Powers were guarantors of the territorial integrity of Morocco. Yet we know now, what we did not know at that time, that while there was this treaty which guaranteed—to use the words of the treaty—solemnly the independence of the Kingdom of Morocco before Almighty God, there was another treaty, a secret treaty, by which, and with the knowledge of Great Britain, France and Spain had agreed to divide Morocco between themselves. And then in regard to Russia's treaty obligations with England, what about Persia? My hon. Friend behind takes a great interest in Persia. He spoke of the rigour of the censorship which is being most rigorously exercised in regard to the state of affairs in Persia. A week or two ago the Press were ordered to make no comments about the internal condition of Persia, and a further communication was sent out that they must not publish a report of the speech delivered at the annual meeting by the chairman of the Anglo-Persian Bank. So far as our information goes to-day, Persia has been practically divided into two spheres of influence, one to be controlled by ourselves and the other to be controlled by our Ally, Russia.
Then in regard to Japan and China, Japan is another of our Allies in this War. What about our own secret commitments with France? Surely it is a serious matter for the Government to make treaties behind the backs of Parliament and to keep it outside the knowledge of the country. Is the Government which breaks its pledges to its own people likely to be very scrupulous in the observance of its treaty obligations with a foreign Power? Why the very first piece of legislation which the Government enacted on the outbreak of war was to pass the Defence of the Realm Act making it a penal offence for any man to give expression to views about the War provided that they were objectionable to the Government. We had a few weeks ago an ex-Member of this House prosecuted under the Defence of the Realm Act for the publication of a pamphlet which contained nothing that I and some of my friends have not said fifty times over But I call attention on this matter to a 1222 statement made by the Recorder in that case on appeal. He said:it did not matter whether these statements were true or not. That was not the point. Whether they were true or not, they ought not to have been made. They might prejudice recruting.That is to say, that a man only volunteers for the Army if he believes that the cause for which he volunteers is just and righteous. That was the real purpose of the Defence of the Realm Act, to hide the truth from the nation, and to prevent those who believed that they knew the truth of the genesis of this War from declaring what they believed to be the truth.
It is said that the enemy prepared for this War. Of course the enemy prepared for the War. I read yesterday an article in one of our leading newspapers which stated that while all the other nations of Europe had been innocently pursuing their peaceful avocation without any idea of war, Germany had been secretly and constantly preparing for war. A statement like that is either grossly ignorant or criminally misleading. Of course Germany prepared for war. But there was no secret about its preparation for war. We knew that Germany was building a great fleet, and we in this House knew too that we had increased the expenditure upon our own Navy in the eight years before the outbreak of war by something like £20,000,000 per year. All the great nations of Europe were preparing for war. Why, within five years after the close of the Franco-Prussian War France had so far prepared for the next war that she had collected together a larger army than Germany. The Foreign Secretary, in the dispatch to which I have already referred, stated that Austro-Hungary and Germany had been long preparing for the economic domination of Europe. Of course, we know that Germany was preparing for something like forty years, that she was desirous of pushing her trade with the world as much as possible, and that she had become so successful that the party formerly led by the Foreign Secretary were extremely anxious that the economic policy and methods of Germany, and her lust for economic domination should be copied. The "Times" explained why Germany had attained to such a condition of commercial prosperity. Germany gained her position by her work, skill, enterprise and industry. I do not want to apologise for Germany. I am not a pro-German. I know 1223 that when one is putting these points one is likely to have the interpretation placed upon one's statements that one is in sympathy with the enemy, and not with one's own country. I should be glad to support my own country, but if I believe her policy to be wrong, I could not imagine a more immoral policy than to support what I did not think was right. If it be unpatriotic not to approve what I believe to be wrong, then I am unpatriotic. But I want my country to be always right. As to this statement about preparedness for war, the right hon. Member for Dundee (Colonel Churchill), formerly First Lord of the Admiralty, stated that he went to the Admiralty two years before the outbreak of war in order to get ready for such a war. Lord Haldane, in a public speech, stated that five years ago Lord French considered military strategy in view of the possibility of such a war. [An HON. MEMBER: Of course he did."] And yet the newspapers referred to the enemy making all these war preparations, while the Allied countries were following their peaceful avocations, and making no preparations for war. I have one quotation bearing on this point. The hon. Member opposite may ask who it is from, but if he will restrain himself until I have read the quotation, I will tell him:Look at the position. Her Army is what our Navy is lo us—her sole defence against invasion. She has not got a two-Power standard. She may have a stronger Army than France, than Russia, than Italy, than Austria, but she is between two greater Powers who, in combination, could pour in a vastly greater number of troops than she has. Do not forget that when you wonder why Germany is frightened at alliances and undertakings, and some sort of mysterious workings which appear in the Press, and hints in the 'Times' and 'Daily Mail.' Here is Germany, in the middle of Europe, with France and Russia on either side, and with a combination of their armies greater than hers. Suppose we had here a possible combination which would lay us open to invasion— suppose Germany and France, or Germany and Russia, or Germany and Austria, had fleets which, in combination, would be stronger than ours, would we not be frightened? Would we not arm? Of course we should.That speech was delivered by the present Prime Minister in the Queen's Hall, on 28th July, 1908. In the twenty years before the War Germany and Austria's expenditure on preparedness was £477,000,000 less than the corresponding expenditure of the Russo-French combination. With regard to the lust of domination, there, again, the Foreign Secretary raised the point in his Note to America, that Germany's desire was 1224 for extension of territory. Is Germany alone in that desire? Surely it is an argument which ought to come last of all from a people associated with an Empire like ours. With reference to the hon. Member for Sunderland, I remember a statement by Max O'Rell to this effect, that you could tell a Scotsman by the way he put down his feet, for it proclaimed, "I am a Scotsman"; and anyone who looks at the junior Member for Sunderland knows that he is proud of his association with this Empire. This lust for domination has not been very unsuccessfully exercised by the British people. To-day the British Empire comprises one-fifth of the whole surface of the world. This domination, or lust, for domination, is not confined to Germany or the British Empire. What of our Ally, Russia? Her lust for domination is not yet satisfied, and she has already succeeded in appropriating half of Asia and more than half of Europe. What of France? Has France never shown any lust for domination? Has she never desired acquisition of territory? France has a declining population, and she has not the need of expansion which is experienced by a country like Japan or a country like ours. France cannot plead for expansion, because she has all the territory necessary for her people, and hers is not an increasing population. Yet since 1871 France has acquired no less than four and a half million square miles in Asia and Africa. In the same period, Italy has added 591,000 square miles to her territory. In the same period, Germany has acquired one million square miles, by agreement with European Powers. All the other Powers have fought wars in order to extend their colonial empire. Germany has engaged in one war, and joined in the escapade in China.
I come to another matter that always does very great service in support of a War; whether it be done deliberately or not—I do not think it is done deliberately —but at any rate the effect of it is to accentuate the ill-feeling between the belligerents, and to make peace, if not impossible, at any rate much more difficult. I will read a quotation from Dr. Johnson, dated 30th November, 1758. He wrote:In a time of war the nation is always of one mind, eager to hear something good of themselves and ill of the enemy. At this time the task of news writers is easy; they have nothing to do but to tell that a battle is expected, and 1225 afterwards that a battle has been fought, in which we and our friends, whether conquering or conquered, did all, and our enemies did nothing. Scarcely anything awakens attention like a tale of cruelty. The writer of news never fails in the intermission of action to tell how the enemies murdered children and ravished virgins, and, if the scene of action be somewhat distant, scalps half the inhabitants of a province. Among the calamities of war may be justly numbered the diminution of the love of truth, by the falsehood which interests dictates and credulity encourages. A peace will equally leave the warrior and narrator of news destitute of employment; and I know not whether more is to be dreaded from streets filled with soldiers accustomed to plunder, or from garrets filled with scribblers and accustomed to lie.In reference to cruelties that are practised, I do not know if there are many-Members of this House who recollect the dispatch which appeared in the "Times" newspaper during the Chino-Japanese War, in which the writer described the atrocities which had been committed. I wonder that dispatch has not been unearthed and referred to, for it gives an account of the most revolting forms of cruelty that has over been penned.
I have been reading lately a book by a 'Russian writer, in which there is a story of the sufferings endured by Russian peasants following in the wake of a Russian retreat. It is the most touching and pathetic story of the cruelty of war that has ever been written in the course of this campaign. I do not like to have to state these things, but one's regard for the truth compels one very often to do things which are not altogether agreeable. I do not want to talk about what took place in the Boer War. I have no desire to revive old stories like that, but surely hon. Members of this House will not forget the Proclamations as to the burnings of farms or the horrors of the Concentration Camps. Surely, too, they will not forget the phrase used by Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman when he was referring to these things. Sir Henry askedWhen is war not war?And the reply he gave wasWhen it is carried on by methods of barbarism.May I remind the House, too, of what I believe to be the most awful atrocity story, well authenticated, which I regret to say stands to the discredit of this country—the story of the Denshawi outrages. I am not blaming anybody for these things. My point is that they are the inevitable concomitants of war, and I Submit that the people who have a right to condemn atrocities first of all are the people who are opposed to the War. 1226 Therefore we, being opposed to the War, have a right to insist it shall be brought to a close and these atrocities ended thereby. I agree with every word said by my hon. Friends who spoke in the earlier part of this Debate in condemnation of the latest methods of warfare adopted by Germany. They are said to be a violation of international law. But what is international law in time of war? I can understand what it is in time of peace. There cannot, however, be such a thing in time of war, because war itself is an abnegation of all law. Hon. Members express dissent to what I am saying. Evidently they are not in agreement with Lord Fisher. I had not intended to quote him, but I am induced to do so now. Lord Fisher, in an interview published in February, 1910, said that as to talking about the humanising of war, one might as well talk of humanising hell, and he continued:When a silly ass at The Hague got up and talked about the amenities of civilised warfare and putting your prisoner's feet in hot water and giving them gruel, my reply, I regret to say, was considered totally unfit for publication. As if war could be civilised. If I am in command when war breaks out I shall issue as my orders: 'The essence of war is violence. Moderation in war is imbecility. Hit first, hit hard, and hit anywhere.'Without knowing that Lord Fisher had used that expression, I have very often said one might just as well talk of Christianising infidelity or humanising hell as of humanising war. This War has been going on for two and a half years. Why is it to continue? Sir Douglas Haig has told us it is to continue until the German Army is annihilated and until Germany is broken up. If the War is to go on until those objects are attained, I think that those who have been prophesying that the recent Loan is a Victory Loan will be gravely disappointed. You will want many further loans before you can achieve that impossible object, and the longer war goes on the more unsatisfactory will be the terms of settlement. The history of all former wars tells us that the longer a war goes on the less likelihood there is that terms satisfactory to either party will be finally agreed upon. I believe I am stating a fact when I say that better terms could have been obtained eight months ago before the intervention of Roumania than could have been secured only two or three months ago; and our experience of the wars connected with the Spanish Succession, the Napoleonic Wars, the Crimean War, and 1227 even the Boer War goes to prove conclusively that better terms could have been secured long before war actually finished, than were obtained when peace was declared.
The hon. Member for Stirling Burghs devoted his speech mainly to the various Peace Notes which have been passing during the last few months. I do not propose to deal with the points upon which he spoke. But why was the German Note issued? We have had two versions. We have been told that it was because Germany was at her last gasp, and the people who have said that have also said that the German offer was hypocritical and never meant to be genuine. Both these things cannot be right. May I venture to offer what I think is a plausible explanation of the issue of the German Note? Those who have been following German politics during this War know that the conflict between the more Liberal school in Germany and the military school has been very acute, and it was in the hope of securing a triumph, I believe, that the Liberal school in Germany made this proposal. Unfortunately it was not successful and the effect has been to throw the Liberal school in Germany entirely into the hands of the military school, and the whole of Germany, I am afraid, is now under the domination of the most extreme military class, unrestrained by any Liberal element. There is one thing quite clear which has happened already. A very large minority of the German Social Democrats who had for a long time been agitating for peace have been silent since the Allies' Note was issued. I frankly confess that if I were one of them I should find it very difficult to advocate peace in Germany after the statement of claims in the Allies' Note.
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Stirling Burghs into all he said as to the aggressive nature of the aims of the Allies as indicated in their Note. But there are two points to which he made no reference. I was amazed that the speaker who followed him in Debate differed from his conclusion that there was no desire on the part of the Allies, and no declared intention on their part, to dismember enemy countries. The hon. Member for St. Augustine's (Mr. R, McNeill) said that no British statesman has ever said that it was not the intention of the Allies to dismember the Central Empire. But I have a distinct recollection 1228 that when the late Prime Minister was speaking at a dinner given to French journalists he amplified his definition of Prussian militarism and definitely stated that we had no desire whatever to dismember Germany or to break up Germany.
I think the German reply to the Allied Note was a very great mistake. It would have been better if they had taken a dignified course and if they had responded to President Wilson's appeal to state their terms. I think they ought to have done that, and if they had done it, the prospects of ending the War would have been much more hopeful. If they had given a reply in which they stated that they would evacuate Belgium and the conquered territories of France; if they had made it known they were willing to agree to peace on those terms, it would have been difficult for the Government to have secured the support of this country in going on with the War in order to give territory to Roumania and Italy, the greater part of the Balkans, including Constantinople, to Russia, and a great part of Asia Minor to France. I have always said that the minimum terms should be the complete restitution of Belgium, the evacuation of French territory, and adequate compensation, and if these could be secured now without further prosecution of the War, the people of this country would not be willing to give their treasure and their blood in order to secure the aims declared in the Allied Note namely, the liberation of Italians, of the Armenians, and of the Slavs from foreign domination.
The terms set forth in the Note are said to be not the maximum but the minimum terms. What about the German colonies? No reference was made in the Allied reply to them, but the Allied Note was supplemented by a speech by the Secretary of State for the Colonies, which was promptly repudiated by the Prime Minister. These are monstrous terms, and I very much doubt if there be any sane man in the country who believes that the Allies will ever be able to enforce them even in the event of a very improbable decisive military victory. I can assure the Government that I have plenty of colleagues who are quite ready to continue the Debate, because they are going to have this question thoroughly discussed, and not even the silence of the Government upon it will induce us to renounce our right to discuss it. The Foreign 1229 Secretary, in the Note to which I have two or three times alluded, laid it down that we must remove the causes of war, that there must be no aggressive aims, and that there should be international sanction. I quite agree with all that, but I submit that the continuance of the War in the hope of gaining a military victory is the worst possible way to lay the foundations of an enduring peace. I will conclude by quoting something that was said in this House more than sixty years ago by the grandfather of the present Secretary for War. It was said in the course of a Debate similar to this, when Mr. Gladstone and others were urging the Government to enter into peace negotiations. The Earl of Derby, then Lord Stanley, expressed confidence in the people of England. He said they might be mistaken at times of passion or duped by political parties, but in the long run the sound and good sense of the nation reasserted itself, and he believed the year would not end before the country would ask with one voice: "Tell us for what we are fighting; tell us, if we are victorious, what will be the results of victory; tell us what recompense we may expect." In spite of the taunt that we represent only a negligible minority in the country, I conclude, as I began, by asserting that we represent a very large volume of public opinion, a volume of opinion which is growing in force and in numbers, and unless the Government are prepared to take advantage of every opportunity of entering upon peace negotiations, then they may depend upon it that at no very distant date public opinion upon the question will become so strong as either to drive them from power or to compel them to carry out the popular behest.
§ The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Bonar Law)
The hon. Gentleman has quite unintentionally proved the incorrectness of all the attacks he has made on his own country by the speech to which we have just listened, for he has proved conclusively the real desire not only of the country, but of the House of Commons for peace and freedom by this fact, that his speech has been listened to for more than an hour—somethng which I venture to say could hardly have occurred in any other country in Europe. The hon. Member began by telling us that he represented a very considerable fraction of opinion in this country.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
And the proof he gave of it was that at a recent by-election—Rossendale, I think—a candidate who more or less represented his views received 1,800 votes, I think it was, out of an electorate of 15,000 or thereabouts. I do not question that. I will even go the length of prophesying that when the opportunity is given to the hon. Member he will receive an equal number of votes. The interesting part, as it seemed to me, of the speech of the hon. Member was the calm and impartial way in which he proved that there was no difference between right and wrong, that everybody is equally right, and that everbody is equally wrong. He went, I think, a little beyond that degree of complete impartiality which he intended, and he has certainly proved to us that he was not only right in saying that he is not prepared to support his country, right or wrong, but that according to him his country never is right, but is always wrong. He gave us a great many quotations intended to show that the same sort of feeling which has been created in this War has existed in all previous wars. There is a great deal of truth in that. He gave quotations about the Crimean War. Well, I think most of us, looking back upon it, are inclined to think that, with better statesmanship, that war might have been avoided. I think so. But the same thing was said with much greater strength at the time of the Napoleonic War, and, looking back on that, I think the majority of the people of this country are of the opinion that there was no way in which the liberty of this country and of the world could be secured except by fighting for it, as our forefathers did. We have got to judge this question on the same grounds. We have got to judge it now not by analogies with the Crimean War, but by an examination of the facts, and by asking ourselves this question, "Is there any other method now by which we can save the liberties of our country except by fighting for them?" That is the question.
One of the hon. Members who spoke from that bench in a very different tone, if I may be permitted to say so, put this question to the House, "Are we prepared to sacrifice the lives of a million perhaps of the best of our people if there is an alternative?" I am not. But what is the alternative? It is precisely because I fail to see any possible method of 1231 securing peace without fighting for it at this moment that I fail absolutely to comprehend what is the motive of speeches such as that to which we have just listened. The hon. Member said that what we have done has put Germany completely under the control of unrestrained militarism. Yes, but was it under any other control at the time the War began, or is there any way known to man of putting it under any other control, except by breaking the military machine, on which the German people have learned to rely? I know of no other way. Both these hon. Gentlemen spoke, in a kind of criticism which I do not think it is worth while to follow, about our terms of peace. They found fault with them. Yes, but what about the terms of peace of their friends and our enemies? We have at least laid down terms of peace which, in spite of what these hon. Gentlemen have said, I do not think are in any way unreasonable. The Germans wore asked, or at least the invitation was definitely given to them by President Wilson, to name their terms. They have not named any. Their terms were clearly based on a German victory, which meant the continuation of that military machine, with its force unbroken, and of a danger to the world at any moment of a recurrence of the same horrors from which we are now suffering; and these hon. Gentlemen actually had the folly, I think I must call it, to suggest that this last outburst of German crime was due to our peace Note. How can they say such a thing in the face of the public utterances of the German Chancellor himself? In a speech in the Reichstag, I think it was, he made this statement. He was justifying himself for not having tried this ruthless submarine warfare earlier, and he said:We did not begin it before, because now we have many more submarines, and are in a much better position to carry it to a successful conclusion.The hon. Member said that there is a manufacture of atrocities in all wars. Of course that is true. When passion runs high, people do make the most of any admitted atrocity committed by the enemy; but is there any human being who doubts that in this case it is not an example of bad on both sides? Is there anyone who doubts that, from the outbreak of the War to this hour, the Germans have deliberately acted on this principle—that they are to win the War, not merely by fighting enemy soldiers, but by terrorising the civilian population, 1232 and by terrorising neutral countries? But we do not need to go to proved facts to justify what I have said. We get it again in the utterance the other day of the German Chancellor. In justifying this submarine warfare, he said that the true humanity is to take the quickest method, however ruthless, for ending the War. There you have the admission of every possible atrocity. To them humanity and murder mean the same thing. It is a declaration of "Evil, be thou my good! We abandon all claims for humanity, or anything else, putting first and alone the one object, at all costs, of bringing the War to a close."
Why is it that we have to fight out this War? The hon. Member for Elland, I think it was, said that we had made a claim that we did not enter upon the War with any desire of aggression. That is certainly true. I remember saying in this House—when I sat on the Bench opposite —that the British Empire was large enough, and that I had no desire to see any addition to it; that our business was to develop what we had. We all hate war—every one of us! We entered into this War, as I think every man in this House in his heart knows, with great misgiving, and with the strongest desire to keep out of it. Some hon. Member quoted a letter signed by Lord Lansdowne and myself. I well remember that before sending that letter I had the feeling that every war which had happened to this country had been accompanied by so much misery and suffering, and so little real gain, that if there had been, in my judgment, or in that of Lord Lansdowne, any way or method by which we could have kept out of the War, we should have kept out of it. What is the position? We are not fighting for additional territory. We are not fighting even to secure a glorious victory which would reflect credit upon our arms. The hon. Gentleman said that I, in a previous speech, asked if there was to be no punishment for the greatest crime that has ever been committed in the world's history. He said that that was a petty motive. I do not think so. Is not our whole society based upon that principle? It is not vindictiveness alone that in our social life makes certain offences to be followed by certain punishments. It is the same between nations. Punishment is necessary to make nations that commit those crimes find that they do not pay. That is what we are fighting for.
1233 One of the hon. Members who spoke referred to President Wilson's proposals for a league of peace which would secure the future peace of the world. I shall be glad to see such a league. I should be glad to see quarrels between nations settled as quarrels between individuals are settled. Everyone would like that. But this is not to us an abstract question for the future. It is a question of life or death for us now. We know— perhaps the hon. Members opposite do not think they know, but we believe, and I think most of us feel that we know—that this War was forced upon the world with a calculation as cold-blooded as that of a man who moves a piece on a chessboard. What guarantees have we to-day, if the War ends to-day—with the Prussian military machine unbroken, and with all the prestige of victory still surrounding the power of Germany—that in the next two decades it will not be in the hands of the same men as in the past twenty years, and that it will not be used for the same purpose; that the same preparations will not be made again, or that we shall not once more have to defend ourselves under worse conditions?
I happened to notice—and I think I referred to it in a speech the other day—in reading an extract from a German newspaper that the writer made a comparison between Great Britain and Germany upon the basis of an analogy between Carthage and Home. I have often thought there was a great analogy between the two. Our own Empire depends for its strength on commerce and on the sea. Empires in the past have gone down before great military Powers, but they have gone down because the people of those commercial nations were so sunk in luxury that they could not defend their rights and their position. That has not been the position of this country in this War. We have shown that we can defend our own rights with our own blood. But the very blood which has been shed in this struggle makes a demand upon everyone who is responsible for the government of this country to see that it shall not have been shed in vain, and that if we can help it there will be no second Punic war. Let me say only this in conclusion: I do not understand how our own citizens can begin putting life into this sort of agitation at the very time when the greatest of neutral nations has itself recognised that there is a difference between right and wrong—has itself recognised that the excesses of our 1234 enemy have reached a limit which makes civilisation impossible, and are intolerable even to any neutral State.
§ Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL
The right hon. Gentleman has given so ample and complete a reply to the speeches which have been made by hon. Gentlemen below me that I am sure hardly anything is left for anyone to add to what he has said. It is simply in order that the silence of this bench should not for a moment be misinterpreted that I rise on behalf of those of us who sit opposite the Government to say that they wholeheartedly agree with the principles and policy which have just been propounded to the House by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Now, as in the past, so in the future, they pledge themselves to give a wholehearted support to the Government of the day in the stupendous effort which will still be necessary to carry our flag and the principles for which this country stands to a triumphant issue.
§ Mr. BUXTON
I prefer to limit myself to one single item of policy and that a very circumscribed one. It is a very, very burning question to which I desire to refer —namely, the question of whether the Germans shall be allowed to recover any of those colonies which have been taken from them by ourselves or our Dominions with so much sacrifice and so much skill. We are all professedly supporters of the present Government. I am one of those who strongly wishes, above all, to urge that in the task of international reconstruction as well as social reconstruction, the right hon. Gentleman should keep in touch with public opinion. That is why I raise this question of war aims. As one who desires to sec him succeed, I want above all to urge that public opinion should be regarded by him as including Army opinion. None of us can have failed to observe in the last few weeks the great change in army opinion. Those of us who see many of the soldiers—I myself have seen many—know that there is a marked change, especially in staff opinion, and a much greater prevalence of a state of doubt as to the war aims and the future of the War than there was before. The Army is silent. An enormous section of public opinion is withdrawn to a place where it cannot speak on the other side of the Channel. I think we ought to recognise the duty of this House to observe the opinion to which I have just referred, because an issue of the highest importance 1235 is just now in the balance. When I refer to this question of the colonies I mean the question as to whether the American Government will decide to enter the War or not. We want to see America become one of the Allies, and to avoid causes of coldness towards the Allies in America. I would further advance this point, that it is not merely a question of whether America comes in, but how much America comes in. There are four degrees of American assistance. There cannot be any doubt that the degree to which America does come in—if she comes in at all—will depend very much upon the sympathy felt by President Wilson and those who work with him in regard to our war aims. That surely should be borne closely in mind.
In regard to that point, it seems to me that the Allies scored a great moral victory by their clever handling of the American demand for terms. Our Note was accepted for what it said, and also for what it did not say—especially the latter, because it was taken to mean that we had given up various aims which went beyond the originally stated aims of the Allies—as to restitution and guarantees. Things then, it seems to me, stood very well. A few-days later the Foreign Secretary, in that brilliant letter of his to Sir Cecil Spring-Rice, said that our stated terms only referred to Europe, implying that we had further aims not yet denned. We then had a speech from the Colonial Secretary which was so reported as to appear to show that under no conceivable circumstances, and whatever else we abandoned of our aims, would Germany be allowed any colonies anywhere. I trust that the Colonial Secretary will say something to reassure public opinion, and especially to silence the anti-war party in America. That party is utilising the report of our aggressive aims as to colonies to discredit the policy of going to war on the side of the Allies. It is true that the Prime Minister a few days later said that the question would not be settled without the Dominions taking their share of the responsibility for the issue; not, he said, as a separate issue, but as a part of the settlement of great world problems. That was not sufficient to remove the chill that was caused on the other side of the water. I am sure that the Colonial Secretary was, in effect, misreported, and that he will prove to-day in agreement with the Prime Minister.
1236 The argument already used and discussed on this Colonial question is that the Dominions must decide; again, that it would be cruel to the natives to restore them to their German masters; and, again, in effect that Germany ought to be punished by the total loss of all her Colonial Empire. On the first point, what is it that the Dominions claim? It seems to me that the whole truth of that matter was admirably put a few days ago by General Smuts. He said, "no one could say" what would be the destiny of the African Colonies. He said, "the Union would have a say"—obviously, everyone-cordially supports that—and he drew a distinction between German South-West Africa and German South-East Africa when he said that in German South-West their interests would be even more intimate. Of course, there is a proposition to which, I suppose, we all agree, and I do not see why any other doctrine need be-advanced than that advanced by General Smuts. I am more familiar than some Members of this House with feeling in the Dominion, because it was my lot to spend a good deal of time in Australia, and I understand perhaps more than some that, in every Dominion opinion is markedly and sharply divided. All Australians, for instance, are agreed that the Dominions-are partners in the Empire, not dictators, or even senior partners. They claim the rights of numerical importance and no-more, and of course their Acts of Parliament affecting foreign questions—for instance, in regard to the immigration of Asiatic labour—have frequently been vetoed by the Home Government on Imperial grounds. Colonial opinion recognises that Australian or African interests, as the case may be, must be harmonised with other Imperial interests. No doubt, the claims of South Africa to German South-West, or of Australia to German Pacific territory, are overwhelmingly strong. But it must be remembered that the Dominions specifically disclaimed any absolute right to annex the conquered Colonies before the campaign was undertaken. The Equatorial Colonies are obviously on a different footing from German South-West Africa, and will form part of the general bargaining material.
Then, I do think we must remember that the Allies will also have to be considered. Are the French to have no right to say that their claim comes before our claim to German East Africa, or, in the-balance of bargaining, are Italy and 1237 Russia to be compelled to waive their ambitions because we demand colonial annexation for ourselves as the one thing we will not abandon—we who declared we sought no territory? The argument as to the natives is used, and I think no one will deny that I probably am as much interested in the natives as other Members, but surely that argument is not really advanced by any who are looking at that question alone, but is advanced by those who use it as a stalking-horse to advance other aims. I would just like to quote a very unbiassed authority, Canon Scott Holland, who, writing in that admirable magazine of his, "Commonwealth," which ought to be more widely known than it is, says:Our University Mission has lived so well with German Rulers until now, and Bishop Hine has borne steady witness to the good points of the German Government over the natives. It is a little hard, but it keeps admirable order; it works in with our Mission in matters of discipline; it organises general life with great efficiency. We cannot say that we have a case against it to take up on behalf of the natives.At all events, I think we should not profess to shed a tear on behalf of the natives, unless we have cared for them before; otherwise we shall be called hypocrites.
As to the larger argument—the necessity for punishing the Central Powers by the loss of her Colonies—it seems to me we want to walk warily. This is a point which ought to be considered with the greatest care and the most far-sighted regard for our own interests. If I were a non-resister or a true pacifist, I should not take this point up, because I should have no sympathy with the ambition of any people to own colonies inhabited by inferior people; but I do not happen myself to be of that school, and all those who, like myself, believe in the white man's burden and are, properly speaking, Imperialists in that sense, ought to realise that for vigorous commercial nations the Colonial instinct has come to stay. If we left Germany (or France) without Colonies, it is certain that national ambition would take an aggressive form at the first opportunity, just as it would be if we humiliated them by holding their provinces in Europe—as certain, in fact, as it was that Prussia would fight for her recovery against Napoleon's humiliating conditions a hundred years ago, or that France would attempt to recover Alsace and Lorraine. German militarism, which has brought the world to such disaster, was rooted, perhaps, in many causes, but not the least of the materials on which it fed was the sense of being cut off from the Colonial 1238 world. Some of us have been in Germany when Colonial questions were on foot, and have seen the maps of the world in the shop windows, designed to call attention to the minute specks of German land compared with those of France, Russia and this country, and have seen how the militarist leaders utilised the lack of Colonies to make converts for militarism. I am certain myself they will do it again. It is we, the disciples of Kipling, who taught the world that Colonial Empire, properly used, with due responsibility, is a great and noble thing, and if we are to rely on the democratic influence of the German masses—and I was glad to hear Members in all parts of the House say that it is on the German people we must rely for security in the future—it will be sheer madness, defeating our own ends to a certainty, if we leave this mass with a burning sense that an ambition which is not unrighteous, in which other great Powers may indulge, is denied to them. It may, of course, prove best that the German sphere should occupy entirely different territories to those which were German before the War. The Prime Minister's statement has done something to reassure feeling in America, but if our diplomacy is to be clever and efficient we need a further word from the Government to set matters right.
I am genuinely concerned that the Prime Minister should keep in touch with public opinion of a permanent kind on this point. The element that the Prime Minister needs to rely on seems to me to be the element that Gladstone relied on—the thinking people, the more enthusiastic and reforming section of the people. The Prime Minister knows that I am one of those who have made efforts and sacrifices for him and his policy, both before the War and after the War began, and I reflect on what will be the position if in a few months he should get out of touch with public opinion. If I may be allowed a moment's metaphor, his position reminds me of the choice that one often has when salmon-fishing. You want a good stand from which to throw, with a heavy rod, and you often have to-choose between a large rock on a level with the water and a smaller rock above it. The former is attractive, but the footing may be insecure, and unless you keep a sharp look out the water may rise and make it dangerous. The Prime Minister is relying on a basis for his authority which may be submerged. The volume of reflection and reason is rising 1239 in the country, and the smooth rock of mere feeling which now supports the Government may soon disappear. The Prime Minister is appealing—and I believe he regards himself as appealing—to some of those ideas of nationality and the right of small nations which moved Mr. Gladstone. Let him rely on those elements in public feeling on which Mr. Gladstone based his power. I want to urge this 'Colonial point not only in the interests of efficient diplomacy, but also because the Government may easily find themselves in this way out of touch with public opinion.
I do think the result of the Rossendale election is a very extraordinary one. If I am not mistaken, the history of this War will show it to have been a turning-point of great importance in public opinion. I have heard a Member describe it as the writing on the wall. At all events, it is a sign of the times. I am one of those who welcome the increase of energy in many Departments from the new Government, and I have felt that its great strength lay in the universal desire for a knock-out victory; but it seems in this respect we are living in a fool's paradise. If public opinion were what we supposed it was, the anti-coalition candidate would have done well to poll a couple of hundred cranks, instead of which he mustered virtually a quarter of the poll. I think it is so extraordinary that I personally have made inquiries about this election, and find that he was pitted against a local candidate of immense and well-deserved popularity, hacked, of course, by the organisation of both great parties. He had not the support of the Labour organisation and there had never been a Labour candidate, so that no political Labour organisation existed. He was himself unpopular— peculiarly unpopular—and a violent atheist, and he belonged to a set of men disliked everywhere—the conscientious objectors. In spite of this, he received a very respectable poll and stood at a moment when the supreme demonstration of savagery had just been announced by the enemy, and when the enemy had refused even to state their terms. To run a candidate appeared to be madness, and still greater madness to run him on a programme with but one plank—deliberate negotiation with the enemy.
The result is so extraordinary that I have been at pains to inquire what topics were discussed. One can imagine that 1240 discontent or distress would produce votes against any Government, regardless of political issues, but no such criticism appears to have been advanced, and the Division, far from experiencing distress, is enjoying extraordinary prosperity, largely because it has acquired the trade in shoes and slippers which was formerly supplied from Austria. It seems to me that, under such circumstances, things will from now wear a very different aspect. We are all familiar with talk about a possible General Election. It appears to me that after Rossendale a General Election is incredible. The Prime Minister surely does not want to nail his flag to a policy which will be unpopular in a few months. He is too clever to get a new Parliament and then find that the public is against him. Yet it seems to me that this result points to a very rapid change in opinion. I inquired further, and was told that war policy was discussed in considerable detail. It seems that down in Lancashire we Londoners are rather behind the times. There was at this election a definite objection apparently expressed at every meeting to three proposals—first, the boycott after the War. Lancashire and Yorkshire live too much by trading with Central Europe to desire the fiscal impoverishment of those regions. Secondly, there was much talk about the Turkish Straits, and what is regarded as fighting for Russia. But chiefly it was urged that our Colonial policy is a mistake. One thing must be realised, and it is that this feeling, whatever it is in Lancashire, is not a matter of a desire for peace at any price at all, and such a large body of electors must include men who supported conscription, and who have definite ideas of the necessity of fighting for our avowed ends, as expressed by the Prime Minister. They may possibly find these people insisting on those ends when noisier militarists have become tired of the War, because the former have a definite belief in national rights arid the necessity of defeating aggression. It seems to me a question of militarism with common-sense against militarism without, of rational war policy against mere excitement, of long views against short views. There evidently is a doubt in Lancashire as to whether the policy of carrying out the offensive this year is sound. It is thought that we might secure our real terms now. We have not tried to do so, because we 1241 want to get a military knock-out first, or to go on trying to get it until our forces are exhausted.
An impression has got about in Lancashire that if only our terms were sufficiently drastic we might get them now. I have been trying to find out upon what Lancashire men have based their opinion. Personally, I have been at some pains to find out what is the truth, and on this point there are no better authorities as to what we might obtain than the American officials who have been in touch with the highest personalities in Berlin. It is true that in the opinion of these men the Allies—if Germany were to buy the Belgian Congo—could get complete restitution, including Belgium, with Antwerp, and also Serbia, which cuts the corridor to the East, and also that we could get great concessions in the Trentino, Bosnia, and Transylvania, and, above all, Lorraine, including Metz. It does seem to me that if you want to discredit militarism we have only to picture the position o£ the military leaders in Berlin on the day when Von Bissing is withdrawn from Brussels, and the greatest German fortress is given up to France. If you went no further, and did hot give the Germans other grievances to think about, such as loss of her colonies, you would leave them with the maximum of undiluted animosity against the military party. When we talk about discrediting militarism, that surely is the situation we want to arrive at. We are always forgetting that every country is sharply divided into two parts. We all agree that the great problem is one of German psychology, but some of us, in a very easygoing, shallow, sloppy fashion, I am afraid, think it is an easy problem. In Lancashire, apparently, they do more thinking about this matter, and whatever the truth may be, it does appear to be certain that the belief that we are fighting to leave Germany without a colony at all did a great deal to turn public opinion in this recent election against the Government.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the COLONIES (Mr. Long)
I propose to intervene for a very few moments. Reference has been made to a speech of mine, and I think it is desirable in a very few sentences that I should dispose of that part of the Debate. I venture to express the opinion very definitely that my hon. Friend opposite who quoted a reference 1242 of mine and one or two others are not remarkable for the enthusiastic way in which they have supported the cause of the Empire and the Allies during this war. I do not associate the hon. Member for Norfolk (Mr. Buxton) with this remark, because he has taken quite a different part, and has been a consistent supporter of this Government and the last Government in everything they did in their efforts to pursue the War vigorously and I recognise that in raising the questions he has done he has not been animated with a desire to attack the Government, or to throw any obstacles in our path, and he has said what he has stated to the-House because he believes it is in the interests of the Empire, and because he thinks it will conduce to victory that there should be no misunderstanding on this subject. At the same time, I must say that what has been said on this point is really making a mountain out of a molehill. The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden) referred to the language I have used, and said I had been repudiated by the Prime Minister. There is really no foundation for any such statement. The hon. Member was incorrect in quoting me as saying that on no consideration should Germany ever have any colonies. Of course, I never used any language of that kind, and anyone who will read my speech will see quite plainly what it was I stated. I said that I was speaking as Secretary for the Colonies, and I was expressing the opinion of those I am specially bound to represent, namely, our Dominions and our Colonies in different parts of the world, as well as the opinion of many people here, and the language I used was used solely as representing the Dominions, and I think there are many people here who share that view.
The hon. Member said language of this kind has caused some difficulty in the United States of America. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that he is entirely misinformed. Naturally I have the best means of knowing what is going on in different parts of the world, because through the Foreign Office we are in constant communication with all parts of the world, and I can assure my hon. Friend that there has not been the smallest criticism in any corner of the world mentioning the language I used, or the attitude the United Kingdom has taken up with regard to the final settlement of the terms of peace. You cannot ignore the fact that the whole settlement when peace comes to be declared is dependent upon the terms made 1243 by those who are called together to take part in the Peace Conference. Upon what do those terms depend? Not upon language used here, in America, or anywhere else, although I do not think my language was really misunderstood here. Upon what really does all this depend? Not upon the individual language of Ministers, however great they may be, or the language of individual Ministers, such as the Leader of the House, to whose language much greater importance is naturally attached, and properly, than anything I may say. It all depends upon whether you are determined, without throwing obstacles in the path of the Government and raising difficulties where they do not exist, without criticising when criticism hampers and does not aid, to throw your whole strength into the completion of this struggle, and secure such a victory as will give us not aggrandisement of territory, not any extension of our Empire, but will give us the right to ask for ourselves along with our Allies for such a peace and a conclusion as will make the repetition of this War impossible. The whole thing turns on that, and I submit with very great confidence that my hon. Friend is really making a bogey, where no bogey exists, when he tells this House that any language of mine has created difficulties which will prove obstacles when the conclusion of tile War comes, and a peace settlement has to be made.
My hon. Friend is not one of those, although there are some in this country, who forget when talking of the War the immense sacrifices which have been made by our Dominions and Colonies, and the part which they have played in other campaigns, besides the French theatre of the War, Mesopotamia, and the Dardanelles, because those great campaigns have figured largely in the public eye. We have read of them, and we know of the great doings of the Anzacs and of our Colonial troops in France and elsewhere, and we have given them all the applause to which they are entitled, and they have had a great measure of our applause and gratitude. But many of the Colonial campaigns have been fought with hardly any recognition by the general public, either here or elsewhere. They have been fought without popular attention being drawn to them, as has been the case with regard to other victories, and therefore it is not out of place that the Minister speci- 1244 ally called upon to represent them should put what they hold very dearly plainly before his countrymen, and when the time comes for settlement this and other countries will be affected by the action of the Allies and those who are going to come in this settlement. I do not propose to add anything more now. I believe hon. Members on the point I have dealt with have been raising a difficulty where no difficulty exists, and I am confident that the feeling which I express is shared not only by those for whom I speak in distant parts of the British Empire, but also here, when I say that the only way in which we can secure such a settlement as can be satisfactory to all of us will be not by indulging in criticism, but by throwing all our strength into a combined effort to secure a real and lasting victory.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
May I say at the outset with what great pleasure we have heard the speech of the right hon. Gentleman opposite to-night. It is a most profound pleasure to listen to a contribution made so seriously and calmly, and with such good humour as that made by the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken. What he has said I believe will be a source of great reassurance to the people of this country, because I think he was misunderstood. Last week I made a statement not for the purpose of criticising the right hon. Gentleman, but for the sake of drawing from him such a statement as would make his own position clear, and such a statement as we have had from him this afternoon, I think, justifies the intervention of my hon. Friend opposite. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman includes me in what he said about those who hamper the Empire in time of war. With most profound regret I am not able to share his opinions, but it has always appeared to me from the first day that this War broke out that there were two methods before the country. The first, was to do what the right hon. Gentleman has done with so much success, and if I may say so, with so much sacrifice; and secondly, that those who had to stand a little apart from that particular sacrifice should do their level best as honest men to see to it that the political issues of the War were satisfactorily solved when the War was over. Whatever misunderstandings there may have been, I have tried to serve my country in the second phase, and that is the only reason why I intervene in this Debate. I know perfectly well, and we have felt it as 1245 the afternoon has gone on, that the latitude granted to the hon. Member for Blackburn was very conspicuous, and when the Leader of the House referred to it we cheered as heartily as any behind him. At the same time, we must remember that it is not confined to this House. There have been Debates held in France just like this. Opinions have been expressed by those who share my hon. Friend's views more or less. But the most conspicuous case of all is the Russian Duma. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has any leisure at all to peruse some of the speeches delivered in the Russian Duma, but, strong as were the statements made by my hon. Friend this afternoon, and provocative as some of them were, they did not approach either the strength or the provocation of some of those speeches in the Russian Duma. I have always preferred British liberty to any other, and I was therefore very sorry the right hon. Gentleman, in the reply that he made, did not refer to a small but somewhat important point, the suppression of Dr. Dillon as a newspaper correspondent and as a writer to the British Press. I believe that the people of this country will go on defending their country and fighting for the ends that they have placed before them even more effectively when they knew them than when kept in ignorance and darkness. This can be said for Dr. Dillon's writings. They have warned us. They have told us where we were drifting, and they have given us suggestions how to avoid disaster Surely the man who can contribute that to the problems which the country has to face to-day is a man whose freedom of speech should be protected by the Government and not suppressed. Therefore, when the right hon. Gentleman reflects upon the liberty of this country, I think he will see that in neglecting to meet that point about the suppression of the liberty of the Press, he forgot a very important point in his reply.
The right hon. Gentleman somewhat sneered at us about our constituencies. He has been in a minority, and I would think very much less of the right hon. Gentleman than I do if in those days when he was a Tariff Reformer and we were on the other side with the great battalions behind us, he had deserted his principles because he was afraid of his seat. No; to his honour be it said, he did nothing of the kind, and I hope when these hot days are over the right hon. 1246 Gentleman may see us sitting in the same boat as himself as men of independent thought and determination resolved to risk our seats in order to tell the truth as we see it. I think he also said something that had better not have been said when he referred to my hon. Friend's friends. I do not quite know how accurately he meant to make that reference. The German friends of my hon. Friend are those who are opposed to this War. Their programme is a programme that would secure an enduring peace for Europe, and on reflection I think the hon. Gentleman will see that, after all, we are trying to keep up the international spirit of reasonable co-operation between the various nations, and we are really doing a great service to Europe and not a disservice of any kind to humanity. That, at any rate, is our view. I think his somewhat sneering remarks were not quite justified even under the circumstances. So far as minorities are concerned, supposing we had any system of proportional representation in this country, our ranks would not be reduced; they would be increased, and very substantially increased. If this House is going to be merely representative of majorities, I quite agree that we have no business to be here at all; but if this House is going to contain Members who represent minorities, even temporary minorities, then we are entitled to be here, because we do represent a volume of public opinion outside altogether out of proportion to our relative numbers here. We are, therefore, representative, whatever sneers may be thrown at us regarding our relations with our Constituents. I would warn the right hon. Gentleman not to prophesy too soon about the constituencies. In due time our Constituents will speak, and I can assure him that the longer he delays sending us there the less hope he is entitled to entertain that we will never come back again. I think I hear the right hon. Gentleman saying that he has some friendly feelings for us.
§ Mr. MACDONALD
I think, again, that is a statement which, on reflection, the right hon. Gentleman would hardly like to repeat. Does he want to snatch a tricky victory? The right hon. Gentleman did not reply to the speeches made regarding the point where we are in disagreement about the making of this War the final European 1247 War and making it the foundation upon which real peace will be established. That is the whole point at the present moment. I wish to summarise the objections to the Note. First of all, it unites Germany against us. Nobody can deny it. It may have been necessary, but nevertheless there is the fact that even our friends, the people whom I do not object to being called my friends, the German Socialist minority, who have fought militarism from the very moment the War broke out—they in their official papers have declared that this Note cannot be accepted from their point of view. If we are going to fight this War successfully, we must keep our attention upon German public opinion as well as upon the German Army, and if we recklessly throw away the support which a divided German public opinion is going to give to this nation, both during the War and after the War has come to an end, we may have cause to regret it. That is my first objection.
The second objection to the Note is that if it is made the only condition of the ending of the War it gives us no guarantee for a future European peace. I wish some time or other that the right hon. Gentleman, or somebody on that Front Bench, would really give us a chance of discussing the Balkan situation. My hon. Friend behind me (Mr. Dillon) earlier in the afternoon made a very valuable speech of a nature which was not provocative and not critical, except in the sense that it laid the facts before the House of Commons. To that speech no reply has been made. Why not? Does the right hon. Gentleman and the Government think that they are going to settle the Balkan difficulty simply by smashing either Germany or Austria or anybody else in Europe? They cannot think so. They must know as well as I do that there is no solution of the Balkan difficulty except by some kind of international commission or committee. If the right hon. Gentleman is acquainted with the literature being issued in Italy today—and I am sure he must be—he knows perfectly well that in Italy at the present time there is a tremendous controversy raging between Italian national opinion and Jugo-Slav opinion. Whoever reads that literature knows perfectly well that the whole difficulty about Dalmatia and the Eastern Adriatic is up in an aggressive form. Russia is mixed up with it, Serbia is mixed up in it, Greece 1248 is mixed up in it, and Italy is mixed up in it. There are declarations being made in Italy just now that practically amount to official declarations, though not quite official declarations, which mean that if we were to accept them both Russia and Serbia at any rate would suffer. I do not want to put it more than that. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly-well also that the problem which he had to face early in 1915, before he became a member of the Government, regarding-Constantinople was an exceedingly complicated problem. It was not a question of black on one side and white on the other. It was not a question of a clear road going the one way which was open to him. It was a question of a complicated set of international entanglements. It was considered by various authorities, and then the solution was suggested, "Let Russia have Constantinople, but do not tell the people of this country that the agreement has been come to." The Note only intensifies these, too.
The third point is this: As a matter of fact, in some respects the Note is going to destroy your guarantee, and I refer again to the position of Constantinople. The right hon. Gentleman did me the honour of listening to what I said a week ago about that, and I will not repeat what I said then, but there is the case plain to everybody who can look and see and think. Constantinople in the hands of any great hostile Power, and the Dardanelles fortified by that Power, create a problem of military defence which will make it absolutely impossible for this country ever to pursue the road of unarmed peace. It is as plain as a pikestaff to anyone who can see it. We cannot assume that the present division of European Powers is going to last for ever. It has not lasted very long. I hope it will last and be extended until we have an international agreement which will enable us to put armaments on one side. Those three points made against the Note have not been answered. The House has not had a chance of discussing the Note. The House has not had a chance of discussing the Government's foreign policy. The House has not had so much information given to it as the Russian Duma. We have not had Committees, as the French Chambers has had representatives of all parties in that. Chamber, to which information is given regarding foreign commitments, foreign 1249 relations, and so on. As a matter of fact, of all the Allies this House and the Members of this House know least about the War, about the Government's policy, and about the Government's commitments. That is the case which has not been answered, and that is the case which I think ought to be answered. If I would make one final appeal to the Government, it is this: Do at any rate, and if the condition of the nation will not allow you to make this statement here, accept a proposal to set up a Foreign Relations Committee composed of members of this House who are not only interested in foreign affairs, but have great knowledge of foreign affairs, and get them to help in devising policies which are not merely the things that are suitable for the day, but policies which will afford a reasonable guarantee that this War once ended will not break out again.
§ Mr. WARDLE
The matter to which the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. R. Macdonald) has referred in the final part of his speech is one with which I have very great sympathy, and which I have myself advocated many times. I certainly think that, as regards foreign policy and foreign relations generally, a Committee of this House in touch with the Government would provide many safeguards which are not at present in existence. At the same time, I am not so sure that this present moment in an opportune time for the establishment of such a committee. I am not going to follow the hon. Member through his whole speech, except to remark that I cannot quite understand his statements as to this War being ended by a final European peace. I quite agree, and I am quite sure there is no difference of opinion in any quarter of the House, that everything that we can do ought to be done, when the terms of peace do come to be settled, that they shall be of such a nature as to make it possible that peace will be kept for as long a period as we can vouch, and that we should do all we can to secure that the peace is firm. But we cannot bind the future. We can neither bind this country nor other countries. Therefore, as to the demand to see that the peace we are going to make should be a final European peace, that appears to me to be language without meaning. The terms of the Note sent to America have been criticised. That Note was sent on the invitation of President Wilson, and sent after repeated applications on the part of hon. Members 1250 opposite that this country should state its terms. That application which they made was granted, and I venture to think that they have no right, therefore, to complain of the sending of the Note.
§ Mr. WARDLE
The hon. Member says that this House has not had the opportunity of debating it, but surely we were debating it last week, and we have been debating it to-day, and, therefore, it is not fair to say that it is not debated. With regard to the question of whether that Note should have been debated before it was sent, that is not a point of criticism. On the question of whether they are final terms, or whether they cover the whole of the ground, they are a jumping-off ground, and the same would have applied to other terms if they had been stated. If the enemies of this country had stated their terms, and put them in contradistinction to our terms, there would have been some ground for some of the criticisms which have been made during the course of this Debate today. I do not propose to discuss those terms at the present time. I do not think the discussion of them would serve any useful purpose of any kind, because there they are—they have been stated. The other side has neither put forward any terms nor will they apparently accept those which have been put forward. We come to the one point of criticism made against the Note with any degree of validity, and it does not seem to me with much validity, and that is that this Note is supposed to have united all Germany against us. It may be true that a few Socialist Deputies who have been inclined to be critical of their own country have turned over in view of that letter, but that is a very small proportion, and it is a very small matter indeed in comparison with the issues at stake in this War, and with the question of public opinion in Germany. Hon. Members opposite seem to claim to know what public opinion in Germany is saying, and what public opinion in Germany is. I do not believe we can get to know what public opinion in Germany is.
§ Mr. WARDLE
Why should we try? The by-elections are merely passing waves. As a matter of fact, whatever public opinion in Germany may be, it does not make any difference in the conduct of a war of this kind. After all, Germany went into this War, and my hon. Friends cannot get away from this fact, provoked the War, started the War, and compelled us to defend ourselves, and to defend Belgium and France at the same time, and that to me is quite sufficient. So long as those facts remain, and so long as facts remain as they are, and when they conduct this War in the cruel, ruthless way in which they are conducting it, those are sufficient for me to say that while that state of things continues I shall, whatever the consequences may be to myself, continue to support the country in the War which it is waging. I am glad that hon. Members opposite have taken a different line to-day. They are entitled to their opinions, and to express them. I do not begrudge them the opportunity of expressing those opinions here. I am one of those who thinks that every honest opinion honestly held ought to be given the opportunity of being stated. Therefore, I have never had the slightest objection, so far as I am concerned, to that. It is only when they claim to speak for the Labour party, or attack the Labour party, as has been done this afternoon, for the course which it has taken, that I feel called upon to get up and say that they do not represent the Labour party of this country in this matter, and that they are a minority of the Labour party. [An HON. MEMBER: "And a very small one!"] I therefore say, when they make their position perfectly clear for whom they speak and the opinions they hold, I have nothing more to say. I have a right to differ from them, and to express my opinion. Last week, when I spoke, I was the subject of a great deal of interruption. I listened very, very carefully to my hon. Friends opposite, and I do not interrupt them unless it is a matter in which I am personally concerned. So long as my hon. Friends opposite allow those of us who are in the majority to express our opinions as clearly and as candidly as they do without any attack on us for the right which we exercise then I shall have nothing more to say on that score. My grave complaint against them is that they seem to think they are in a position of having some special information or some superior intelligence which gives 1252 them the opportunity to pose as being superior to ourselves. It may be so or it may not, but we claim to have as much intelligence as they have, and as much right to exercise our judgment upon all the facts we can get as they do, and, having exercised that judgment and made up our minds, we have the same right of expression as themselves.
With regard to the question of peace by negotiation, the one subject which has been to the fore in this Debate, that subject was started a week ago by the hon. Member for Leicester. It has been followed up to-day by his hon. Friends and himself. I associate myself with the position of the Government in this matter. I do not see how it is possible, in the circumstances, things being what they are to-day, with a fight raging and with the submarine menace, to even consider how negotiations can be begun or be continued, or come at the end to any such thing as a permanent peace. The illustrations given by the hon. Member for Leicester a week ago seem not to bear out the conclusion which he put forward. I believe that where a great Power like Germany sets out, as it has set out, as the whole of the facts prove, to control and dominate the world and to dominate Europe by its military power, the one thing you must do before you can have a permanent peace such as the hon. Member desires is to inflict a military defeat upon that Power. It is a costly business, but we did not seek it. We never sought it, and if Germany had not sought it the position would not have been what it is to-day. I do not believe that Germany can be talked into peace. That is really what it means. We have to fight until we have won a victory, therefore I want to see them beaten soundly, because that is the only way in which we shall ever be able to secure a permanent peace.
§ Brigadier-General CROFT
The speeches to which we have listened this evening from the Benches below the Gangway opposite raise one or two points which it is our duty not to ignore. I was in the House when the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden) addressed it in a very lengthy speech. He was perfectly entitled to state his views, but he made certain suggestions which it is my duty to refute to the best of my power. He suggested that when war occurs atrocities must necessarily follow. I challenged him to give a single instance of British soldiers in France or elsewhere during this War having, been guilty of anything which 1253 could be described as an atrocity. In reply he went back some twelve or fifteen years and tried to re-hash some ancient stories which I do not think had very much effect upon the House; but he could not say, although he is usually so well-primed in these matters, one word to justify his statement with regard to British troops in the present War. I should like to take this opportunity of saying that, whereas it is sometimes suggested that fighting has a deteriorating effect upon those who are engaged in it, after a lengthy sojourn amongst the British Army I can state my opinion that from every point of view the British soldier has proved himself to be a noble citizen of a noble Empire, that his courtesy to those who are in distressed circumstances throughout France has been something amazing, and that his unselfishness of character has been a joy to all those who have had the honour of being associated with him. When the hon. Member for Blackburn makes his general charge to the effect that any man engaged in war must be guilty of atrocities, it proves once more how little he knows of his countrymen, and especially how little lie knows of the British Army. I wish the hon. Member were here.
When we hear from him that our enemies the German people are really such simple folk that they are not really responsible, and when the suggestion is thrown out that it is only a small section of the ruling class in Germany which is responsible for the character of the German people during this War, I should like to mention to the House one or two incidents which came to my knowledge of that character. First, I had the deplorable experience of meeting numerous refugees from Lille returning to somewhere near their old homes just behind our lines. I can assure the hon. Member for Blackburn that if he had been there at the time he would have desired to enter this War, I could not hope that it would be on behalf of his country, but on behalf of violated women with their lives ruined; he would have desired, for the first time in his life, to fight for a worthy cause. I should also like to tell him a few incidents which I saw with my own eyes. The first morning I woke up in the trenches, after a big attack had taken place by the Prussian Guard at Ypres, there was a wounded Prussian crawling about in great pain between the lines. We watched him crawling for several 1254 hours, and then two men in my regiment volunteered to go out and fetch him in. They went out with a stretcher, but they had not got more than a few yards beyond the trench before they were fired upon. That was in trying to save a German's life. On another occasion, on the Somme, after some heavy fighting, a message came down to me to ask if we could not permit the Germans, who had shown the Red Cross flag, to come out and gather in some sixty or seventy wounded who were lying in front of us as a result of the attack they had made. I immediately said, "Do everything you can to assist them to carry in their wounded." As a matter of fact, they carried away during that day no less than eighty of their wounded from just in front of our lines. That same night there was a very intense bomb attack. In the early hours of the morning I was visiting the line when an officer came to me and pointed out the exact place where bombs were bursting all round our wounded, who were so badly wounded that they could not get away. And here was the contrast. Where we had endeavoured, as we have endeavoured from the very start of the War, to carry it on in a civilised manner, where we had been ready to grant them every facility and treat them like civilised people the whole day long, the very next morning they were bombing to death our wounded who could not move. I only put it to these Gentlemen who are so anxious to see peace before a decision has been come to. I ask them whether they really desire to see that kind of thing continue and whether they really believe there can ever be any peace in the future if the German nation is permitted to go out of this contest at present considering that she is a victorious people.
There seemed to be a doubt amongst hon. Members opposite as to who was really in the wrong at the commencement of this quarrel. I am going to ask hon. Members to carry their minds back before the War. I ask them to remember all the efforts which were made, some of which some of us thought were dangerous, proposals for naval holidays and such like, which were received with absolute scorn by the Germans. We in this country, far from being a militarist people, permitted Lord Haldane, when Secretary of State for War, to reduce our fighting battalions and to reduce our Artillery. He permitted certain munition factories to understand that their services would never be required again, and the consequence was that a very few 1255 years before the War they destroyed plant which would have been extraordinarily valuable to us. Lord Haldane was well aware of the fact that the Germans were armed with enormous guns, the like of which we had not got, and he was aware of the enormous number of machine guns with which they were equipped. I am not mentioning this fact in order to praise Lord Haldane, but to show, what the Germans also knew, that this country, far from contemplating war, was recklessly disarming its people and destroying its munition plant and was ready, even in regard to the Navy, to make any suggestions for common disarmament. What is the other side of the question? Look at the German point of view. At the time when Bernhardi was writing his doctrines, to the delight of the whole German people, it is not generally known in this country that in the same year 700 other books came out in Germany on exactly similar lines, and the sale throughout the length and breadth of the country was enormous. It is also not generally known in this country that every single school in Germany was lectured by the German Navy League and that the Cinema slide which was put before the German youth invariably depicted the sinking of the British Fleet [Laughter.] The hon. Member laughs. He was laughing before the War, and that is why he has helped to destroy our power and we find ourselves landed in a war in which our very weakness was a temptation to Germany to prosecute her policy of blood and iron.
By every possible test you like to make, history will record that this country above all others in the world was neglecting the military tendency. We had six divisions alone which we could send on our Expeditionary Force. The Territorial Army was formed solely for Home defence. The Secretary of State for War himself declared that one of the reasons why he did not determine to do any more was because the Expeditionary Force was to be our foreign army of six divisions, and if a war of aggression came we should have to rely upon the great mass of the people to take their place. He forgot, incidentally, that in relying on the great mass of the people to take their place he had not a single rifle to put in the hands of the people, but that is by the bye. The fact remains that our preparations for European war on anything like this scale were 1256 nil, whereas the German preparations during the whole time had been thorough, complete and deliberate, going on ever since the Franco-Prussian War. It was their next step. I read last week an article in a German newspaper explaining that one of the reasons why the German people must retain Flanders was because it was essential to them in their next war with England, which was inevitable in a very few years. When we recognise these facts, I submit that the speeches to which we have listened are unworthy of this House. The fact that they have been listened to is a great tribute to our character, but I ask those hon. Members whether they are really helping their countrymen who are fighting in the trenches and on the seas by criticising their Government and by making most Utopian suggestions which they know can never come to anything. Would it not be better for them, one and all, to try to back the Government through thick and thin now as patriots and then when the War is concluded bring in their great schemes for peaceful work. I notice it is stated that the mere publication of our Note had united the Socialists in Germany to the German Government. I put it to hon. Members opposite to consider what effect such a Note from Germany would have had on their minds. I put it to them that if a ruthless submarine warfare, with its avowed intention of sinking hospital ships at sight and sinking women and children without any warning on any ship of any country in the world, did not unite hon. Members to our Government, is it likely that our Note would have united the Socialists of Germany to the German Government.
When we hear Debates on the lines followed by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden) and the hon. Member for Stirling Burghs (Mr. Ponsonby) I would ask those hon. Members to consider the effect such speeches would have upon the Dominion soldiers who, in many cases, have come 13,000 miles to fight for our common ideals. They have thrown up everything. I always think their sacrifice is so much greater even than the sacrifices, noble as they are, of the mass of the poor in this country. The very distance makes the sacrifice so much greater. They are leaving their wives and their children somewhere where there can be no contact with them for months and months. They have come over here, not with the same personal views, out of contact with Euro- 1257 pean politics altogether, yet because they can distinguish between right and wrong they have come that great distance to fight for hon. Members opposite as well as for themselves, and when they read these hon. Members' speeches it must sometimes make them wonder whether all is well with this Old Country. I venture to say to them that all is well. The hon. Member for Leicester asked the Leader of the Labour party, when he was speaking, "What about the by-elections?" I cannot understand why we have not had more by-elections, because hon. Gentlemen opposite are all high-minded Gentlemen, whose conscience is never idle. The pacifist believes that he is a righteous person and would not willingly do anything which is unrighteous. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Outhwaite), who is getting tired of what I am saying, that he does not represent his constituents, and I am going to suggest that there is not a single Member I on that bench who, if he went to his constituents to-day, would get anything but a negligible majority of the electors to support them. If the hon. Member has any doubt about it, I am prepared to make what I hope he will regard as a sporting offer. Either I will resign my seat and he can come and fight me there, or, if he will resign his seat, I will resign my seat and go and fight him in his constituency. I think it is absolutely intolerable that such views should be put forward m this House by hon. Gentlemen opposite.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
I would be quite willing to accept that offer under one condition, and that is that for a month previous to the by-election you suspend the Defence of the Realm Act in this country so that we can have liberty of speech.
§ Brigadier-General CROFT
I quite understand that if the hon. Gentleman wanted to make any of his speeches in the country he would have to try to get the Defence of the Realm Act revoked.
§ Brigadier-General CROFT
What the hon. Member would say would no doubt have a most deterrent effect upon those to whom he was speaking, though I do not think they would take very much notice of Mm. He has avoided my challenge, and it is no good pursuing the matter.
§ Brigadier-General CROFT
If the hon. Gentlemen opposite really believe that they have any considerable support in their constituencies at the present time, will anyone of them test it? If they do not think that they still have the support of their constituents, I ask them if they are really taking a great course, a noble course, in a country which is built up entirely on ideas of representation, in coming down to this House night after night and doing everything they can, not to support, their country, but to trip up the Government? I ask them to consider, in these circumstances, apart from the fact that they are drawing salaries which their constituents are paying, whether they ought to continue such conduct without appealing to their constituents first to find out whether they have their support? I believe there is one way of securing peace, and one way in which we can support the men who are suffering pains and hardships for us, and that is that we should be more united, and that this House should not become day after day, as it is at Question Time, a sort of cock-pit where people are throwing questions about simply in an endeavour to detract support from the Government. I believe that the way to end this slaughter is for this nation to be united and to put out greater strength in the future than it has done in the past, and I earnestly hope that the hon. Gentlemen opposite will not persist in a course which is not in the interests of their country, and which does not do them great credit, even in the country of their friends, because I do not believe they are freely reported in the German papers.
§ Mr. R. LAMBERT
We have just listened to a rather extraordinary constitutional doctrine as to the methods which ought to be employed by Members whenever they have doubts as to whether they actually represent the opinions of their constituents. I do not propose to follow the hon. Member into that question. Speaking for myself, I think I may claim that I have never at any time—I should certainly be very sorry to think that I ever had done so — done anything detrimental to the interests of this country in waging the War. I accepted this War at the start, and I assisted at a good many recruiting meetings, and I have never, so far as I am aware, done anything other than help this country in what I believe we all desire, and that is the winning of the War. At the same time I do not feel that I am necessarily prevented from giving 1259 utterance to that which I believe it is necessary to say in order that we may secure after the War a lasting peace. The Leader of the Labour party, who preceded the last speaker, made a speech with one point of which I was particularly struck, and that is the extraordinary impression which seems to have been made upon him by the speech delivered last week by the hon. Member for Leicester. The Leader of the Labour party replied to that speech a week ago, but he seemed to think it was absolutely necessary to reply to it again to-day. He takes a somewhat unfortunate position when he says that it is utterly impossible to obtain a final or lasting peace by negotiation. If you are not going to obtain peace by negotiation how are you going to obtain peace? You are bound to negotiate sooner or later. While I am not perfectly in agreement with many of my hon. Friends opposite, I do not share the opinions of some of my Friends on this bench that it would be possible at the present moment to obtain a satisfactory peace. I do not think it would, but that does not prevent us from advocating with all our might the adoption of what I may call a reasonable attitude. What we are apt, perhaps, to overlook is the real cause of this War. I think it is important that we should consider that, because if we are ever going to have a lasting peace we must get to the real cause of the War. The immediate causes we all know. They were, of course, the invasion of Belgium—utterly unjustified, an abominable outrage—the attack on France, the attempt to overthrow the liberties of the small nationalities of Europe. I admit all that. But those are not the real causes of the War. For the real cause we must look further back.
We talk about German militarism. Those of us who have had the fortune, good or bad, of travelling in Germany know what German militarism was in the old days. But German militarism must have been caused by something. They could not impose German militarism upon a whole nation and get them to accept it unless there was reason for their accepting it. Why is it that this German militarism was accepted by the people of Germany? Why is it that it found acceptance among the professors and teachers and those people to whom the hon. Member for Christchurch (Brigadier-General Croft) referred, the Bernhardi's, 1260 and others, and that it found such ready credence among the people of Germany. I think it is because, somehow or other, the German people were afraid, and I think that fear was put into their minds, deliberately if you like, by the ruling classes of Germany for their own ends. I believe that the German people were led into this militarism because they were afraid that if they did not accept it very serious consequences would follow. Now if you look back into the history of the last four or five centuries we see that wars have taken three successive phases. First, you have the era of wars of religion, culminating in the Thirty Years' War. That period only came to an end when the world realised the necessity of toleration. Then you had what we may call the period of dynastic wars. That came loan end when the world realised that the peoples of the world were not the mere playthings of kings, but had rights of their own. Now we are living in what I may call the age of economic war, and I believe that economic causes are at the root of this War just as they were in the case of some other wars that preceded it. The Crimean War was an economic war; so was the Austro-Prussian War; so certainly was the Boer War; and if you look at the late Lord Cromer's book on modern Egypt you will see the very first lines of the book beginning with the sentence,The origin of the Egyptian question in its present phase was financial.The whole of the Egyptian question began in an economic question, and really when one comes to analyse the matter, and to see what the system has been which has been pursued by the great nations of Europe for a considerable time past one begins to understand a little better, I think, the position of the German people.
I am not saying this in any sense to exonerate or make any defence of the German militarists. Nothing is too bad for them. But, after all, it is an advantage sometimes to try to understand your enemy. An American admiral, Admiral Chadwick, has referred in a very able article, which I was reading the other day, to the system pursued by the nations of Europe for the past hundred years. He says:There has been developed a great exploitation of the weaker nations of the world in the interests of finance, and the result has been war.9.0 P.M.
Just look at the position to-day. If you take Great Britain we have 22 per cent. of the land surface of the earth and 26 1261 per cent, of the population; Russia has 15 per cent, of the earth and 10 per cent, of the population; France has 9 per cent, and 5 per cent., and a great deal of this territory has been seized as spheres of influence. Syndicates, chartered companies, and various associations for exploiting the more backward parts of the earth have been formed, all in the interests of the particular State which has happened to acquire those countries. In fact, we have got a proverb, "Trade follows the Flag." That means to say, that it is to the interests of each particular nation to acquire dependencies, protectorates, and so on for the purpose of giving its own people trading advantages. I quite admit that so far as we are concerned, in the recent past at any rate, we have had almost entirely clean hands. We have observed the open door, but other nations have not. France has not, particularly in Morocco, and I would like to draw the attention of the House to this, that Germany had considerable reason to believe that before very long a change might take place in the policy of this country. There was a very large party in this country which openly declared that if it had its way it would inculcate and establish a system of Colonial preference, which was going still further to keep German goods out of this country and out of the Colonies. I am not in the least suggesting, and I do not want to be misunderstood in this matter, that it is possible at the present time after this War for the nations of the world to adopt a system of universal free trade. We know that that is not so. I know that for a great many years to come it will be absolutely necessary, for revenue purposes if for nothing else, to put on heavy duties, but I do think that it is worthy of consideration whether it may not be possible for all the civilised nations of the world to combine together to preserve what is called the open door.
§ Brigadier-General CROFT
May I ask the hon. Gentleman whether that question should not be addressed to Germany, the guilty party?
§ Mr. LAMBERT
I quite agree that so far as Germany is concerned, we should address it to Germany as well. I do not in the least desire that Germany should not adopt the same policy. So far from that, I think that it would be a very good thing if we could all adopt it. What I want to do is to draw the attention of this country, and of 1262 our Allies and of Germany, to the absolute need, if there is to be a permanent peace, of doing away with the necessity of and the temptations to have these economic wars. So long as you have these protectorates developed in the interests of particular nations, so long will there necessarily be a thirst on the part of the nations of the world to acquire those kinds of protectorates and territories, and until you have taken away the temptation by giving the open door to all nations in all these territories and protectorates, I maintain that it is absolutely impossible to hope for permanent peace. We had a most interesting speech the other day on a league of nations from my Friend the Member for Northampton. I am as anxious as anybody can be to see something in the nature of a league of nations set up in the world. It is agreed upon by every one of the belligerents, and practically all neutrals have accepted in principle the league or nations. I Believe it would be a sareguard for the future of the world, so far as it goes; but even a league of nations, unless you have in it at the same time the policy of the open door, will not be successful in preventing war. The hon. Member for Christchurch, and I think the hon. Member the Leader of the Labour party, repudiated the idea that there ever could be an end to all war or that this ever possibly could be the last War. I suppose that so long as humanity remains humanity we must expect to have disagreements and strife, but at all events we can do this—when we find something which is absolutely certain to lead to war we can do our best to remove that cause. Until we do that I do not think we shall be justly able to say that we have done our duty in trying to keep the peace of the world.
I thought it was necessary to say just these few words upon the question of the open door. I do hope that the Government are keeping this matter in mind, for I believe it is of vital importance when peace comes to be settled. We must try, if we can, to understand the German point of view. You cannot expect any nation of the size of the German nation, hemmed in as it is on all sides, deprived as it is—for the moment, at any rate—of its colonies, and with a population of 70,000,000, to do anything else but to continue to work for war unless and until you are prepared to meet its reasonable demands in a reason able way. That is the only position I want to put. People talk about fighting to a 1263 finish and getting a decision in this great cause. Certainly I hope—we all hope, I am quite sure—that the coming push may be all that is expected, or, at any rate, that it will be the success that Sir Douglas Haig apparently thinks it is going to be. Whether that is so or not, whether we do succeed in smashing through the German line, do not let us make any mistake, do not let us get led away with the idea that by a military decision alone we are going to secure the peace of the world. The Germans did not secure it after the Franco-Prussian War. The Leader of the Labour party the other day, in his speech in reply to the hon. Member for Leicester, quoted the Napoleonic wars, and led one to suppose from his reading of history that the result of the Napoleonic wars was that when they were over everyone sat down as comfortably and as happily as possible; they were good friends, and never thought of war. The very fact of the down-trodden condition of Prussia, and the effect of the Napoleonic regime in Prussia and Germany, an effect which lasted right along till 1870, were a cause of war. The result is that if you have one war it will breed another war, which in turn will be followed by another war, and so on ad infinitum.
The only possible way in which you can hope to achieve what we are all aiming at, to bring about permanent peace and good will among the nations of the world, is to try first of all to understand your adversaries' point of view, and to take a common-sense view of the rights and the wrongs on both sides, because, after all, however great patriots we must be, however much we believe, as we all do believe, in the righteous cause for which we are fighting, yet I do not suppose there is anybody who will say that Germany has at least some sort of grievance which she feels. I want, with a view to getting a permanent peace for the future, the nations of the world to put their heads together, and try if they cannot come to some rational means of settling these quarrels without war. But if anybody thinks a military success, even a triumphal entry into Berlin, is going to produce the end of all war, and bring about permanent peace—if anybody thinks we are going to get that by a triumphal entry into Berlin or Vienna, or anything of that sort, then I am very much afraid he is labouring under a most terrible delusion. The only possible chance is a firm and just peace. 1264 You talk about punishment. If you could punish the right people, I am entirely with you; but I do not think it is a very fine thing or a very noble thing to talk about punishment when you know that the punishment is going to fall upon the women and children, the helpless ones of the country. I for one, at all events, while I do not suggest that the Government could at the present moment secure the peace that we all desire, yet I do earnestly hope and beg of them not to shut their eyes to the possibilities that may from time to time occur, to seize the first opportunity that arises of 'ending this horrible struggle in a fair and righteous manner, and, if they can, by adopting the principle of the league of nations, backed up by the policy of the open door, to lay the foundations for a better world and a more enduring peace.
§ Mr. TOOTILL
I speak as a member of the majority of the Labour party, who hold strongly to the view that the first object that this House and country should have in view is the winning of the War. From that position I cannot and will not depart, and I regret very much indeed that members belonging—officially, at any rate—to the party should show to this House and the country the serious cleavage of opinion which exists. I noticed particularly to-day that the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden) seemed to make a strong point of the fact that opinion in the country was growing very largely in favour of the views he has expressed in this House and outside, and he quoted as evidence of that fact the Rossendale Valley election. I think that, for him and for the cause he is seeking to propound, that was a very unfortunate reference, having regard to all the local circumstances which affected that election. I believe that if he had been amongst us there he would have realised the great advantage accruing from the fact that the candidate was seized at the very moment when excitement in the contest was growing. That seizure had a wonderful effect among the rank and file of those particular friends of the "Peace with Negotiation" candidate, and if the hon. Member had realised that, I do not think he would have referred as he did to that election.
I have been associated with the Labour and democratic movement, directly and officially, for the last forty-five years, and I have, therefore, some knowledge of the 1265 minds of the workers in this country. I feel I am justified in expressing here and now the opinion that the great bulk and vast body of opinion in this country does not agree with the view represented by the hon. Member for Blackburn and expressed by him in this House this afternoon. Let me illustrate that in this way: Since the War began it has been, I will not say my good fortune, but my privilege, and I have regarded it also as an honour, to address inside the workshops of this country over a million workmen at their benches, and I have never, in one single instance, met with a scintilla of opposition during the whole time. I am prepared to challenge the hon. Member for Blackburn to this extent. Let him go into any of the large workshops in this country and place before the men there the views to which he has given expression here to-day. Let him ask the opinion of those men upon them. Let him allow me the privilege which he claims for himself, and I will undertake that the vast body of these men will support most enthusiastically and vigorously the prosecution of this War to a finish.
I want to ask where are these people going to begin in their negotiation policy, especially at this moment? Can they propose a suitable, practical, possible alternative to the present condition of things? Do they suppose that we are not just as eager and just as anxious for peace as they are? Do they suggest that the men who occupy these benches are not as eager and desirous as themselves to bring about a peace which shall be satisfactory and complete and in accord with the opinion of this country? When the hon. Member for Blackburn read to the House the resolution that was arrived at by the Parliamentary Committee of the Trade Union Congress, as well as by the Parliamentary Labour party—a resolution which he claims was adverse to the policy that the Government were then putting before the country, did he forget as a leader of democracy—at any rate, he ought not to have done so—that the general body of representatives which met in Manchester came to a very sound and relatively important resolution in favour of the prosecution of the War till victory had been achieved? Does he deny that? Ho was there at the time, he had an opportunity of stating his views, and, in spite of that, the conference by a huge majority declared against the policy he was enunciating. How, then, he can come before this House 1266 and before any responsible body of people from time to time and give utterance to the views he does, when he has never lifted a little finger in favour of helping to bring about peace, passes my comprehension.
I do not know whether he has done any recruiting; he may have done in a quiet way, at any rate, he has not done it in any public way. I want to ask him this: When these soldiers and when the parents of men who have lost their lives in this War ask him what he has done to help in this great and terrible struggle, will he be able to give a conscientious and satisfactory explanation of his position? The attitude of mind assumed by these Gentlemen is that this country has been wrong from the beginning and that our people have carried on this War simply for the sake of carrying it on! That is his position, and I say it is an entirely insane suggestion. Does he think we here would not welcome the approach of peace? He was very careful to go into history and to bring up indictments against this country for having committed certain wrongs, but did anyone hear him condemn the unthinkable and unspeakable atrocities that have been committed by the Germans? Why did he not? I do not want to have it suggested that any member of the Labour party is a friend of Germany. In the interests of my fellow representatives I feel that such a charge should not be possible, and therefore, when the hon. Gentlemen were practically making this country responsible for this War, I felt that neither by history nor by anything else could such a position be upheld by any responsible person.
As a Labour Leader I feel it my duty to disown views such as those that have been set forth by the hon. Member for Blackburn and the hon. Member for Leicester, and I can only regret again that they did not see their way, even at this late hour, to withdraw from the position they have hitherto assumed. If we had been a united party and could have gone before the country feeling that we were one solid body in favour of crushing Prussian militarism, what a different state of things there would have been. It would have been well if we could have said to the Government that we are united in the great War in favour of right against wrong, in favour of the general opinion that we did not provoke this War, that we were forced into it, and that we were determined that our policy should be to make free the peoples of the world, to 1267 bring about a state of democratic internationalism that would make for the permanent peace of the world in the future. But I have regretted from the very first that we were not united in this matter. Those hon. Gentlemen choose to take their own course, and we cannot be held responsible for them. They appeared to be unconvincible, and therefore we left them to their fate, and they must take the consequences. The majority of the people of this country and the majority of the trade unionists are determined to see that this War shall result in favour of liberty and freedom and justice and righteousness and honour for this nation and for the future of the peoples of this country.
§ Sir J. SPEAR
Like the hon. Member who has just sat down, I very heartily support the Government m their determination to bring this War to a successful issue, and it is because I believe that a necessary step in the accomplishment of that purpose is the maintenance of our food supply that I do appeal to the Government to avoid taking any more men from the land. The calling up of the 30,000 men by War Office order recently, men who had been temporarily exempted by the tribunals, has largely paralysed food production in this country. I notice that the President of the Board of Agriculture, who I am sorry is unable to be present because he is not in the very best of health, said, in speaking here some ten days ago, that only about 6,800 of the 30,000 had then been called up. Since then many more have been called up, and I do appeal to the Government in the interests of raising food for the people to avoid calling up any more at least until after the spring tillages are completed. I am confident that if more men are taken from agriculture, not only shall we not be able to produce that increased amount of food which we are all anxious to do, but I very much doubt if we shall be able to maintain the normal output of food, and the consequence of that certainly would be that we should have scarcity as well as high prices. Whilst farmers, I am sure, will make every possible effort to grow as much food as they can under any circumstances, I believe, and I beg to emphasise this, that u more men are taken the normal quantity of food will not be forthcoming.
The difficulties of the position just at present are acute. The heavy rains of last autumn prevented much wheat being 1268 sown which would otherwise have been put in, and farmers looked forward to open weather in January to be able to put in spring wheat to make up the deficiency. As we all know, however, the land has been frost-bound, and consequently the spring wheats have not been sown. Further, the wet autumn delayed other agricultural operations, and the frost has delayed any recovery from that position, so that at present it is extremely difficult to find men enough to till the land, and if the Government persist in taking the remnants of the first 30,000 men, I am very anxious as to what the result will be. The War Office have argued that these men are only lent to agriculture. They have pointed out that they have only been temporarily exempted, and they have argued from that that the tribunals evidently thought the men could be dispensed with. I venture to say that that in altogether an erroneous conclusion. The tribunals refused to confine their exemptions to temporary ones, because they thought these men could be well dispensed with, but they did it under the direction of the Local Government Board, whose conditions were forwarded to them. Therefore it is not reasonable to contend that the intention of the tribunals only to give temporary exemption justifies the Government in taking away these men. Circumstances have altered much since then. At the time those instructions were given by the Local Government Board, and the decision of the tribunals were taken, we had no information before us which showed that last year's wheat crop in the eighteen wheat-producing countries of the world was some 25 per cent, below the average, neither were we aware then of the great submarine menace, nor the difficulty to which I have just alluded of the frost-bound land. Circumstances thus have so altered from when the tribunals gave temporary exemption that I do appeal to the War Office to alter their conditions and their demands in accordance with the new set of circumstances.
There is another point which I wish to raise, and that is the treatment of the tribunals by the military. The tribunals, as a whole, have done their work well. No doubt mistakes have been made. But the way in which the military are overriding the decisions of the tribunals is very irritating indeed. About a month since, at Tavistock, some twenty men who were working on farms were given temporary exemption until 1st May. The military 1269 representative appealed against this decision, and the men had to go to Plymouth in response to that appeal, at considerable expense and considerable perturbation of mind. I hope the House will bear with me for a moment or two if I give four examples of the result of what this action has meant, of what has occurred, through the interference of the military. I had four examples sent to me yesterday morning of farms from which it is proposed to take these men. Farm No. 1 has an acreage of 133, and has on it forty-five cattle, 126 sheep, with 38 acres of corn, 30 acres of grass for hay, and an engine for driving the farm machinery. On this farm there is only one man, the Bon of the farmer. Notwithstanding the decision of the tribunal, who knew the circumstances of the ease, that lie should not be taken up and called to the Colours until 1st May, when the corps were sown, the military representative overruled this, brought the appeal before the Appeal Tribunal, and substantiated his point. This farmer has two daughters to help him. I ask any business man present how it is possible for this man with only two girls to carry on the farm and deal with the different demands at which I have hinted. Farm No. 2 is near my place in Devonshire. It has an acreage of 145, and has on it 30 cattle, 70 sheep, with 38 acres of corn and 25 acres of grass for hay. Farm No. 3 has an acreage of 158, and has on it 40 cattle, 70 sheep, 30 acres of corn, and 25 acres of grass for hay. There is only one man on these two farms, and if the military persist in their action there will only be the farmer left, his son having been taken in each case, for all this acreage and the general conduct of the farm. Farm No. 4 has an acreage of 250, and has on it 60 cattle, 180 sheep, with 50 acres of corn and about 30 acres of grass for hay. This man has another man, his son, a portion of the time. It is proposed, notwithstanding that, to take that son. I venture to say that this policy is destructive of the object which we as farmers have, to patriotically produce upon the land in the interests of the country the utmost amount of food it is capable of producing.
I appeal to the War Office to discontinue this denudation of the land of necessary labour. To secure even the 30,000 men specified would make very little difference to the Army, which is now millions strong, but the food-producing activities of these men are of the utmost value. 1270 We are told that substitutes will be provided. I believe the farmers will do their best to utilise the substitutes so far as they can, but everyone with a knowledge of agriculture knows that a man coming from the town without experience of work on the land, which requires a very considerable amount of experience, will be some time, perhaps a long time, before he can really be of service in food production. We remember that these men who have been taken—and there are many other cases that I could quote—these sons, these young men, are thoroughly qualified for every department of agricultural work. In busy times they work from twelve to sixteen hours per day. Taking away these men and sending substitutes who have no knowledge of the work does seem to me destructive of the great purpose we have in increasing the food supply, which is necessary if we are to win this War. Naturally I recognise the importance of finding men for the Army and the Navy. But I do, with respect, submit that it is also of great importance to provide food to keep and maintain the men and the country. The high prices of the necessaries of life are becoming very serious indeed for the poorer members of the community. It is as patriotic a work to develop our own land and to produce the most we possibly can do from it as it is to go into the trenches. Therefore I do ask the Government to look very seriously at this question. I am satisfied that if they continue to take more men from the land, then the country will be in dire straits not very far ahead owing to lack of food. I want to say a word or two with reference to the question of the fixing of prices for agricultural produce. I cannot say the Government has been happy in their action in this direction.
§ Sir J. SPEAR
The only point I would submit to your ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, is that I was trying to show that the action of the Government is not conducive to raising more food, and I was going to submit that the error of fixing a price was deterring production, and thereby increasing prices and menacing the food supply. But I will not, of course, pursue that if I am out of order. If otherwise, I would suggest that the best way to encourage a full development of agriculture and the growth of more crops 1271 is to fix a minimum price that will secure a fair remuneration to the farmer and encourage him to grow all he can, and if it is an abundant crop, then lot that minimum price become the contract price. But if there should be a deficiency, then the contract price should be of a character that would give fair remuneration to the cultivator of the land. I am not here to claim for the farmer excessive prices in this time of national crisis and danger, but I do say that he is entitled to fair treatment, and I argue that, unless he has fair and considerate treatment, naturally he will not be able to put forth that enterprise and exertion which he would otherwise wish to do, and if he has not got the men he cannot grow the crops.
There is one thing more I would like to say. Farmers are in very considerable trouble at present through the difficulty of getting their corn threshed. Men are taken away from machines, and many a farmer is unable to get his corn threshed because the machine owners have not men to go with them. This is not mentioned in hostility to the Government, but with a desire that, whilst doing justice to the agricultural community, we should, above all, develop to the utmost the native food, that we may be able to secure some reduction of prices, and, at any rate, plenty of food. The question of the supply of milk is in my judgment a very serious one, and should give the Government much anxious thought. The production of milk through the high prices of foodstuff and the high cost of renewing cows has unhappily of late been unremunerative, and the difficulty of getting the cows milked is another thing that has led a good many people to give up keeping milking cows. If there is one thing more than another among articles of food that we want it is plenty of milk for the children, especially at this crisis. When, through the ravages of war, we have lost so much manhood, we want to take especial care of our children. Therefore, the Government policy of fixing the excess price at 6½d. a gallon on the summer price, instead of the winter, has resulted in a good many giving up keeping cows. I hope the Government will speedily alter that, so that a fair encouragement may be given to people to produce milk, and thereby a very necessary food for the people will be more abundant than it is at present. I feel very strongly on this, not merely from the farmers' point of view, but from the 1272 nation's point of view. I recognise the importance of getting men for the Army and Navy. It is equally important that we provide food to keep the men going, and to keep the people contented. Farmers are prepared to do their utmost, only we ask the Government to do their part, and not take away men who are absolutely essential for the maintenance of the normal food supply, and indispensable, indeed, if we are to produce more native food for the people. I do ask the War Office to consider that very anxiously, and I believe they will come to the conclusion that it is a more valuable contribution towards winning the War that those men should be left to grow food, rather than be taken into training for military service.
§ Mr. D. MASON
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down raised a very interesting point, and no doubt it will receive due consideration from the Government. I should like to refer to something which fell from the lips of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House in reply to my hon. Friends opposite. The right hon. Gentleman made two statements which, I think, really contradict each other. He stated very specifically that if anyone could show him how an honourable peace could be achieved just now, or any alternative to the present War, he would be glad to have such alternative put before him, and then in the latter part of his speech he stated that this War really was a war of punishment. These two statements surely contradict each other, because if, on the one hand, he is open to peace by negotiation, if it can be shown a suitable opportunity has arrived, that obviously contradicts his other statement that we are proceeding with this War not because we desire an honourable peace provided we get satisfactory terms, but that we think we have some God-given destiny to exercise the policy of punishment. I think those two statements contradict each other. If I understand the right hon. Gentleman, I believe he is actuated in his conduct by the principles of the Christian religion, and I would, therefore, remind him of the text which says, "Vengeance is mine. I will repay, saith the Lord." Therefore, to constitute himself or the Government as having some Heavensent destiny to punish or to set out on a policy of punishment is, I think, presumption which cannot be borne out. Surely the aims which have been adumbrated with regard to Constantinople and 1273 other questions of high policy connected with the Balkans come within the statement which has been made at that box. We must be consistent in these matters, and if the right hon. Gentleman stands for that policy and advocates it, and if Germany is prepared to agree to that policy, he should be prepared to make an honourable peace by negotiations if the enemy is prepared to accept his terms.
It seems to me that is the ground of many of the speeches made by hon. Gentlemen opposite Those speeches have been made because hon. Members stand for a peace by negotiation. Considerable reference has been made this afternoon to the recent election at Rossendale. The Leader of the House referred to it, and it was also alluded to by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden). I should also like to say a word or two with reference to that matter, because I took part in that election. It has been said that that was a very significant election because a large; vote was cast on behalf of the peace candidate. The Leader of the House stated that 1,800 was not a very largo proportion out of a total vote of 13,000. One would gather from that statement that ail the 13,000 electors had voted, whereas the total vote polled by the present Member who won the election was 6,019, while the total vote polled by the peace candidate was 1,804, although he never made a speech during his candidateship. The total vote was therefore 7,823, and not 13,000. But even then any fair-minded man must admit that when a candidate takes no part in the election, and when there are many things which probably retard him and are not likely to make him popular, if a candidate, without addressing any meeting, polls 1,800 or 2,000 votes in a total poll of about 8,000, it seems to me that that is really a significant vote which may possibly appeal to those who are influenced by popular opinion. It is said that my hon. Friends opposite do not represent a considerable volume of feeling in the country, but that is controverted by the statement which I have just made. I attended an election meeting at Rossendale at which there was a local Liberal in the chair who made an admirable chairman, and at which some 600 or 700 people were present, and I think I may say that with one or two dissentients the meeting was a great success. It was an enthusiastic meeting, and was one of many held throughout that contest, although I do not attach a great deal of 1274 importance to that fact. While the electors may not believe in giving way on any of the objects for which we entered the War, I believe there is in the country a strong feeling in favour of seeking the first opportunity of bringing the War to an honourable and speedy conclusion. There is another matter which comes within this particular Bill and that is the War Loan which has recently been raised. I should like first of all to offer my congratulations to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Financial Secretary to the Treasury upon the success of that great operation. When we remember the enormous calls which have been made upon the great resources of this country, and recall that we are now in the third year of the War, that this country should contribute something like £700,000,000 of new money is a financial feat of which any Government may feel proud, and I feel sure the whole House will accord to this Government, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Treasury officials, and everyone connected with it a generous mead of appreciation for the way in which that great financial operation has been handled. Of course, we all know that something like £900,000,000 of Treasury Bills are outstanding, and the total is only £700,000,000, and while we have every reason to congratulate the Treasury on that financial feat, it prevents any undue elation as to our financial position at the present time. The particular point I wish to draw attention to is something that appears upon the prospectus and which is a provision that I contend is unsound. I refer to the sinking fund provision of the Loan. This is a provision to provide against the depreciation of the market price of the Loan, and the Treasury undertake that a sum equal to one-eighth of 1 per cent, of the amount of each Loan is to be set aside monthly to form a fund to be used for the purchase of stock whenever the market falls below the issue price-and whenever the unexpended balance reaches £10,000,000 the monthly payments for the time being will be suspended. I believe that provision is unsound. I have purposely refrained from making any criticisms upon this matter, became I have been anxious not to criticise the Loan when it was before the public until it was closed, and, secondly, because I did not think any useful purpose could be served by attacking that provision at that time- 1275 All those who regard this provision as unsound and pernicious can do now is to make our protest known to the Treasury with the object of having it repealed. It may be asked upon what grounds do I make such an assertion. I can only refer to the great authorities on sinking funds, like Professor Robert Hamilton and Ricardo, who are regarded as the greatest authorities on this particular provision; and it is a curious fact that we do not seem to learn anything from history. If anyone takes the trouble to read these authorities they will find it laid down that the only real sinking fund is where you have a surplus of revenue over expenditure. No one who has even a slight knowledge of finance would argue for a moment that just now we are anything like in a position of having a surplus revenue over expenditure. Therefore such a provision in the prospectus in a sense deceives and misleads many people who are tempted by it to invest in the loan into believing, as the First Commissioner of Works in his enthusiasm—and proper enthusiasm— for the Loan stated in a speech he made, that this is a security which is bound to rise and cannot possibly depreciate. Anyone who discovers such a security is a very wonderful man. The terms are very specific:With the object of supporting the price and for the purpose of providing against depreciation, the Treasury undertake to set aside monthly a sum equal to one-eighth of 1 per cent.Supposing with the Exchequer Bonds and other conversions you have £2,000,000,000 as the total of this Loan, you will require a sinking fund of about £30,000,000, and we shall see the Treasury incurring brokerage and other expenses just now during the War, when obviously our expenditure far exceeds our revenue. We shall see a sort of financial jugglery going on, and the public being made to believe that some financial operation is possible which will always maintain the Loan at the issue price. I believe it to be utterly unsound and purely illusory. I should like to quote what some of these great authorities say. This is what Professor Robert Hamilton says in his book of "Inquiry into the National Debt":Various schemes have been proposed by means of sinking funds for diminishing and in course of time discharging our national encumbrances … If they be adopted to the relief and ultimate discharge of our national burdens, let us enjoy the comfort. … If they be in whole or in part deceptions, it is proper that the deceptions should 1276 be pointed out, and that we should know the hazards and the limits of our financial system. If we shut our eyes to the national dangers of whatever kind, we are most likely to be overwhelmed by them. If we see them in their true colours, we stand the fairest chance of encountering them with success.That is ample justification for anyone drawing attention to this fallacy and most pernicious obligation which the Treasury have undertaken. He says further, as a general principle:The excess of revenue above expenditure is the only real sinking fund by which public debt can be discharged. The increase of the revenue and the diminution of expenditure are the only means by which the sinking fund can be enlarged and its operations rendered more effective.Then he further goes on to say:And all schemes for discharging the National Debt by sinking funds operating by compound interest or in any other manner, unless so far as they are founded upon this principle, are illusory.I hope I have quoted sufficient to show the fallacious character of this provision, and, I hope, to show its pernicious character. It will involve during its operation on a £2,000,000,000 loan an additional charge on the taxpayer of about £30,000,000. I believe it will fail in its operation for the very good reasons mentioned by my authorities. Perhaps I may quote something further to show exactly what I mean by the illusory character of this operation. It has reference to the same provision made at the time of the Napoleonic War, and Hamilton goes on to say:Much has been said by Dr. Price and others of the advantages which a sinking fund produces in supporting the price of stock.That is precisely what this provision pretends to do to-day. It was put into the prospectus for the purpose of supporting the price of the stock.We apprehend that it is incapable of producing any such effect. The price of stock, like that of most commodities, depends upon the proportion of supply and demand. Whatever sums are brought into the Money Market and applied by the Commissioners for the purchase of stock equal sums are withdrawn from the Money Market by the additional loans required to replace what is invested in the hands of the Commissioners … The purchases made by the Commissioners no doubt support the funds at a higher rate than they would stand if there were no such purchasers in the field and the loan for the year the same, and this advance takes place at a time when a his price is disadvantageous to the public. But the additional loan which the sinking fund requires must have as great an effect in depressing the funds, and that depreciation takes place at a time when a low price is disadvantageous to the public.Supposing that I or any other hon. Member went into the market to sell stock, and the Treasury officials, through their representatives, were bidding the price for the moment, the particular individual who happened to be selling might certainly secure temporarily a higher price, 1277 but the real test of a sinking fund is the permanent effect which it has upon the price, and if this is a sinking fund which is used for getting funds from the market when there is always a deficiency, as there must be in a time of war, you can see how pernicious and unsound the system is. It simply means so much business for bankers and brokers without any benefit to the stock, but with an increased charge upon the taxpayer for the maintenance of the operation. It is a very serious matter, and involves a very heavy charge at a time when we wish to save everything that we can. I believe it to be most pernicious, and to be a fallacy in every sense of the word. If the hon. Gentleman can defend it, I shall be very pleased to hear what he has to say, and if ho can controvert the authorities I have quoted he will have accomplished a great financial feat.
I want to say something further with regard to another question which is now before us, and to which I understand the Prime Minister is going to refer very soon, namely, the proposal for a drastic prohibition of imports. When we consider what the Prime Minister intends to do, we must realise that his object has reference to our financial position as it exists to-day. We find ourselves, and we have found ourselves for the last two years, with an enormous excess of imports over exports, more particularly with America. I forget the exact figures, but they are something like £316,000,000 for 1915 and £345,000,000 for 1916. We have to add to those figures the undisclosed Government imports which possibly may be anything from £50,000,000 to £200,000,000 for munitions and so forth. I think, therefore, that it is a fair estimate to say that we have had something like an excess of imports over exports of from £400,000,000 to £500,000,000, and particularly from the United States. To meet that we have had the various schemes put out from the Treasury from time to time and not approved by many authorities, banking and otherwise, of mobilising foreign securities for the purpose of maintaining the exchange. I ventured myself, among others, to criticise those schemes. I said that I thought they would do the very opposite of what they were intended to do for the reason that while you purchased munitions a little cheaper they would accentuate the export of American manufactures. The proof of the pudding is in the eating of it, and I think the facts 1278 go to show that since that policy has been adopted it has unquestionably accentuated enormously the export of manufactured articles from America. It is quite easy to see how that is so. One of the ways in which exports are checked when there is an excess of exports is that a number of traders come forward with drafts to sell and the rate of exchange falls, which tends to check exports. The Treasury, instead of allowing that financial check to take place, have come forward and artificially supported the rate of exchange, guaranteeing the American manufacturer a rate of exchange almost steady. The result has been to enormously stimulate the export of everything that the American trader and America have to sell. You have eliminated one of the principal risks of business, and at the expense of assets of our great insurance companies and banks you have played into his hands and unduly inflated the position over here, and accentuated the very evil the Treasury set out to correct. The Prime Minister, faced with that enormous difficulty, is going, by some drastic method, I presume, to arbitrarily shut off certain imports, and is to make a statement on Thursday, and armed with these facts tell us that it is necessary in the interests of economy and owing to the financial position being what it is, to thrust a crowbar into the delicate machinery of international trade and commerce and arbitrarily shut off certain imports because of the space they occupy in our ships. That seems on the surface very sound. We all recognise the submarine menace, but when the import is paid for by the export and when you interfere with the import trade by this drastic and rather crude method you probably will interfere with the exports, and if you curtail the import which is paid for by the corresponding export you enormously interfere with the very important export trade which you are anxious to develop to meet this indebtedness. You may upset the whole of your machinery.
It may be asked what is my alternative method. I have suggested over and over again that there is only one method by which you can really compel economy, that is, heavy taxation, which will reduce the purchasing power, and therefore the consumption. That will bring about the reduction of imports which all your methods of artificially supporting the exchange will fail to secure. The method proposed by the Prime Minister will 1279 probably fail also for the same reason, that it is a clumsy and crude interfering with the delicate machinery of international trade and commercial relations. I hope that the Government and the Treasury will seriously consider what I am putting before them. The proof of what I have been contending for during the last two and a half years is found in the facts. We have had the various methods of raising money, of requisitioning securities, all for the same purpose. It is like a bottomless pit. First, you try to encourage people to sell securities, then you penalise them if they do not sell, and finally, you requisition. That does not improve the position here. There is just as much extravagance. The expenditure is just as huge all through the country, for the very reason that you do not allow the position to alter itself. If all classes, from the highest to the lowest, were compelled to bear, as they ought to bear, much heavier taxation, then you would not have to rely so much upon the success of a Loan. I quite agree that a Loan is advisable for refunding of the Floating Debt, which might get into the hands of our enemies.
Many of us have fought the battle here that in this War a much larger proportion of the expenses ought to be drawn from taxation rather than being raised by Loans, Loans simply postpone the payment. They lead to extravagance. Many of the people who have been induced to go into the Loan as a result of operations through their bankers will increase their incomes. They have been told that it is patriotic to do so, and up to a point there is something to be said for it, but it tends to lead to extravagance. People who increase their incomes very seldom reduce their expenditure. We shall probably see no step towards that economy which the Government and the Treasury are anxious that people should practise. I submit that you will get no economy to speak of in this country until you increase materially and much more than has already been done direct taxation. It can be done by a tax on wages, which was suggested by a former Leader of the Labour party, who is now a member of the Cabinet. If you had a graduated tax on wages, going down to the very lowest, the working classes of this country, who were loyal to you particularly at the beginning of the War, would have agreed to that proposal. Such a tax would have fallen hardest upon those in receipt 1280 of incomes rather than, as it does now, upon old age pensioners, Civil servants, and others in receipt of fixed incomes, who are undoubtedly very hardly used and penalised by the increase in the cost of living. I hope the Government will consider very carefully the proposals they are going to submit with regard to this drastic interference, the prohibition of imports. I should like to see a reduction in our imports, but I believe it can be brought about, and the effect of bringing it about by a sound and healthy method of procedure is more likely to be permanent and to effect a cure than by ill-considered schemes of undue interference with the delicate machinery of trade.
§ Mr. BALDWIN (Lord of the Treasury)
I am very glad the hon. Member has made these remarks, because if so much confusion of thought can exist in so clear a brain as his, how much more must confusion exist among those who have not his knowledge or opportunities of gathering the facts of the case! I think we must consider how this sinking fund, as he calls it, or as I should prefer to call it depreciation fund, came to be put in the prospectus of the War Loan, and then we will see whether his remarks are really applicable to the circumstances. When the War began it was perfectly obvious that for the time being the Sinking Fund had to be suspended, both the Old and the New Sinking Fund. When the War Loan came to be issued any question of a Sinking Fund in the true sense of the word was an impossibility. The question was what could we do to protect temporarily and as far as might be possible the capital value of the investment for those who put their savings into it. This matter was debated by the Chancellor and all the leading authorities in the City, and the scheme which has been so unkindly criticised by my hon. Friend was adopted unanimously as the best scheme under the circumstances which could be devised.
§ Mr. BALDWIN
That controversy there may have been, but the decision to do what was done was unanimous at the time it was adopted. I want to point out where my hon. Friend has gone wrong. He thinks that by the creation of this fund on this occasion we are asserting the principles of Dr. Hamilton and are going back to principles which have been discarded by all authorities since his death, 1281 but that is not so at all. The principles which animated Dr. Hamilton animate us to-day as much as they have done the financiers in this country at any time for the last century, and the moment we have a peace Budget in this country one of the first things the Chancellor of the Exchequer will have to do will be to organise the state of the finances of the country with the utmost care, and decide what provision can then be made according to principles which were put in force in 1875 by Sir Stafford Northcote in founding what is now known as the New Sinking Fund, and make such provisions as will cover the interest and charges of the debt, and may leave us something to go annually towards the reduction of the debt. This comparatively small fund, which has been proposed in the prospectus of the War Loan is not a sinking fund at all in the true sense of the word. It is not a fund for providing for redemption of debt. It is simply a fund to be used as far as is practicable for the steadying of the price by coming into the market as may be found desirable. When we get the sinking funds re-established in time of peace they will come on in addition to this smaller proposal which has been made. We hope very much that when peace is declared and we get to a more normal method of working again that the necessity for this provision will have disappeared, and we shall be able to rely then, as we have done for generations, on the working year by year of the old Sinking Fund and the new Sinking Fund. I think we do not deserve the charge of having been unsound in our finance.
§ Mr. BALDWIN
I think I could prove that. The hon. Member can assume that the whole thing is going to be a failure. I hope very much that the provision that is made will tide us over until, what we all hope, will be a short time, when we are able to resume our normal finance. I think the House will agree with me that on the whole, in a very difficult situation, the Government have made the best provision that has been in their power to meet an absolutely unparalleled situation.
§ Mr. KING
This has been an extraordinary Debate, and for me, who have listened to the Debate almost from the first to the last, certain features of it stand out as 1282 things I shall always remember. In the first place, the speech of the hon. Member for Stirling Burghs (Mr. Ponsonby), is probably the best pacifist speech that we have ever listened to in the course of this War. I am sure that he must have made many think seriously of the position and arguments he raised. Another factor that struck me was the very remarkable speech of the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon). Pursuing a very different line, he took a very wide field of operations, and surveyed them, and made it plain that the Government had deluded the country as to the facts of the operations in the field; that they had neglected the claims of our Allies, and ignored their calls for aid, and that by their incapacity and mismanagement of the War in the Balkan area they had largely destroyed our hope of victory in that field. The hon. Member developed his argument, as I thought, with great wealth of fact, with singular clarity of argument, and with a cogency which made me expect that when he sat down the Leader of the House would at once rise to reply. No reply to that powerful speech has been attempted. Not one word was said by the Leader of the House, who is also a member of the War Cabinet, on what I think is one of the most powerful indictments made against the Government for lack of capacity, lack of energy, lack of foresight, and lack of candour in the course of this War. I have previously gone as far as I could go into this question of the Balkan position, and especially the position in Roumania. Though I share the conclusions in many respects of my hon. Friend, I am not like him an Easterner. I believe if we can finish the War in the East we can all the sooner gain a complete victory in the West. I believe that so long as we continue to send futile and footling expeditions to Gallipoli, Salonika, Mesopotamia, and elsewhere, we are and we shall remain unable to obtain a complete victory on the real decisive field of battle, which is the West.
Now I wish to call attention to the fact that the Ministers who are now in power are more responsible for the Roumanian position than their predecessors, and of all men in this country and in all probability in any country who are responsible for the miserable and humiliating position of Roumania at present, the Prime Minister and the Chief of the Imperial 1283 General Staff are responsible above everybody else. To establish the responsibility of the present Prime Minister above everybody else I must go back some period of time. When the War broke out in the East of Europe the Roumanian Government were approached by the Austrian Government and informed of the circumstances of the treaty under which the Austrians claimed that the Roumanians ought at once to come in on their side. The Roumanians had made the treaty which was as well known as the Triple Alliance, but they urged that as Italy was not coming in they also were free to remain neutral. Later on, popular feeling in Roumania developed very strongly against Austria and Germany, and it went to such lengths that the Allies approached Roumania with the object of bringing Roumania into the War, and in January, 1915, over two years ago, it was confidently asserted that Roumania would shortly enter the War. On 13th January, this appeared in the "Times":Roumania will shortly take part in the War, and will enter into hostilities on the side of the Allies.A few days later a map was published in the "Times" of the coming field of action by the Roumanian Army, and an elaborate account was published by the military correspondent of the lines which the Roumanian forces would shortly pursue. On 2Sth January, 1915, an announcement appeared in the "Times" that an arrangement had been made for £5,000,000 to be advanced by Great Britain to Roumania for the purposes of the coming war, and the fact that that £5,000,000 was received by Roumania has never been denied. Shortly after that time, in the month of February, when the House met I approached the Foreign Secretary, now Viscount Grey, to ask him that a statement should be made in the House upon this very important matter. I was extremely surprised at the explanation which the Foreign Secretary then gave me. With great friendliness he explained the matter. Though I do not feel justified, without his consent, to state all that he then said to me, yet I am in a position to say that the loan of £5,000,000 to Roumania announced in the "Times" on the 28th January, 1915, was not negotiated in the usual way through the Foreign Office, but through the Treasury. The head of the Treasury at that time was the present Prime Minister, who 1284 therefore, I may say, was the author of our policy of bringing Roumania into the War. I go further, and I say that he was carrying on a policy, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, which was not carried through in the ordinary way by the Foreign Office. I have kept my counsel upon this subject from that day to this, but when I was told by a responsible Minister of the Crown about two years ago facts which showed that there was disunion, lack of cohesion, and different policies being pursued by members of the Cabinet at that time, the House can very well reasonably see that lack of cohesion, lack of decision, lack of unity, and lack of proper control are not a surprise to me. That is the first point, that the present Prime Minister is himself the author of our Roumanian policy. The next stage of our Roumanian policy was to attempt to get Roumania into the War when Italy joined in May, 1915—the same time that the Coalition Government was formed, and when it was asserted again and again that Italy's coming into the War would bring Roumania in. Yet for some reason or other Roumania still remained neutral. The third fact— which those who want to understand the Roumanian question well ought not to forget—to which I wish to call attention is very important in connection with the whole of the Roumanian problem. Roumania, more than any other country in Europe, produces a surplus of foodstuffs—cereals—and Roumania during 1915 and the early part of 1916, sent large consignments of cereals to Germany and to other countries also; indeed, she was selling her cereals at very high prices to both sides. At that time a proposal came from our own Government to buy large amounts of Roumanian wheat, and we put down, I believe, in ready money £8,000,000. The figures were never stated in the House, but I believe the amount was between eight or twelve millions. We supplied Roumania—and again this was when the present Prime Minister was at the Treasury—with between, eight and twelve millions of ready money for wheat, which was to be delivered to us after thee War, at a time when we could get it from Russia. It is very important to know that, because it was quite obvious it was a good deal for Roumania. The prices paid were very high, and the money was to be handed over at once. Indeed, it was understood privately that ammuni- 1285 tion to the value of several millions had been sent on the wheat deal both from this country and from France.
All these facts were known to the public. Reference was made to them in this House and in the Press, and consequently Germany must have been fully aware of them. Indeed, they are referred to in the Austrian Red Book regarding Roumania. Consequently, for over two years before Roumania actually came in both Austria and Germany were well aware of the strong popular Roumanian feeling against them. They were so afraid of Roumania coming into the War that they lined the whole Roumanian frontier with troops ready for the outbreak of hostilities. They were aware further of the strong advances to and pressure being made upon Roumania by the Allies, and that millions of money were due from this country and were being sent to Roumania in the form of munitions. These being the facts, what was obviously the case? The Austrians and Germans must have been prepared for a campaign at any moment, and the letter of Dr. Dillon, the correspondent of the "Daily Telegraph," which has been quoted by one of my hon. Friends, falls completely into line with that story.
What happened? Suddenly, at the end of the Roumanian harvest last year, the men who had been engaged in gathering in the crops were called to the Colours. Preparations of all kinds were made by the Roumanian Government for war. The Germans and Austrians had full and fair warning that in a short time Roumania would enter the War against them. It could not be said, therefore, there was any lack of preparation in the event of Roumania coming into the War on either side. Both sides were fairly warned. But which side was really prepared? Alas, it was not the side of the Allies. In fact, we have made an example which I take to be a decisive example of the relative efficiency of the General Staff of the Allies and of the German General Staff. We find that our Imperial General Staff is absolutely at fault in its information, in its preparations, in its intelligence, and in its results, and we find that the German Staff simply walks over our officers. This is a very serious matter, and I want briefly to show that our Imperial General Staff has mismanaged disgracefully this Roumanian business, and I should say equally the whole conduct of the War in the Near East.
1286 There is one thing above all others that appals me when I consider the future of our operations, and that is the utter incompetence of the men who are directing our military affairs. I am going to prove that in this way. Anybody who reads the military correspondence in the papers will know that there are one or two military correspondents who evidently are and have for long been in the confidence of the General Staff. My hon. Friend pointed out that Colonel Repington, the military correspondent of the "Times," is one of them. He is simply a voice or an echo of what is being thought and determined by the Imperial General Staff. I do not know, of course, exactly how it is managed, but there cannot be any doubt about it that what you read from the military correspondent of the "Times" one day becomes actually the military policy of Sir William Robertson a day or two afterwards. At the beginning of the War the military correspondent of the "Times" was against Conscription, but gradually he came round to favour Conscription, and, of course, very shortly afterwards the War Office came round too. And many other instances might be given to show the very close relationship which exists between the military correspondent of the "Times" and the Imperial General Staff. When Roumania came into the War in August, 1916, the military correspondent of the "Times" and those other persons like Colonel Maude—who has recently appeared in the Law Courts, and who claims that his views are always those of General Haig and Lord French; in fact, he openly boasted only two days ago that though he had been unfortunate in some of his predictions yet he knew that his views, General Haig's, and Lord French's all coincided, as much as to say that he got his ideas from them—the point these men were making for about a fortnight from the end of August was this, that Roumania coming into the War with a million men fresh and in good preparation, with ample munitions supplied to them for the millions which had been given from England, was going to be such a decisive factor in the War that within six months the War would be over. This week, on Saturday next, I think, it is just six months since Roumania entered the War. Where are the confidence and the prophecy of Sir William Robertson to-day?
I wish the hon. Member opposite who has played no ignoble part in stimulating this 1287 Government at any rate to some show of greater capacity and energy in carrying on the War would direct his attention to General Haig, who gives boasting interviews, quite against the King's Regulations, and who is not even defended by a single Minister sitting on the Front Bench. That is another thing which has been brought up in discussion by morn than one Member to-night by this question of the interview with General Haig. I must say that that has filled mo with alarm, amazement and dread to think that the leader of the greatest Army that we have ever had in the field should so humiliate himself by vulgar boasting, and by open and flagrant defiance of the King's Regulations as to give that interview. It is humiliating and shameful in the extreme.
Another very serious accusation has been brought against the Government during the Debate in regard to the censorship. The Prime Minister went to Carnarvon the other day, and in his boasting, demagogic style, took the people into his confidence, and told them that under his regime that we were really going to know the truth about the War; he was going to toll them what really was happening. It is a perfect scandal, and the assumption of my hon. Friend is quite right, that since the present Government came into power there has been more restriction than before by the Censor, and more direct and indirect influence brought to bear upon the Press, whether it was independent of or dependent upon the Government, and that in fact unless there was debate in this House, and the OFFICIAL REPORT was occasionally read by a few people outside, there would be no knowledge of the facts of the War. I am going to give another instance which has not been alluded to in Debate, and which is, surely one of the most significant in the whole history of the War. I refer to the great Debate that took place in the Russian Duma on the 1st or 14th, as you take the different calendars, of November last year. Russia was making history in a way that, I think, future years will recognise that occasion as one of the landmarks of her political development. The Duma had assembled after the Recess and a great speech was delivered by Professor Milyukov. A report was not allowed to appear in any English paper for five or six weeks. Professor Milyukov denounced the Russian Government, and declared that M. Stuermer, who was then Prime Minister, 1288 was one of a band of plunderers who were conducting the most vital affairs of State interests. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House made a brave boast which, I venture to say, was highly hypocritical, that the moderate speech made from this bench by the hon. Member for the Stirling Burghs would not have been listened to in any other Parliament of the Allies. Now if he knew what he was talking about he was saying that, with his tongue in his cheek, which was false. If he did not know what he was talking about, he ought to be ashamed of himself, because he does not know what the course of political events connected with the War is in Russia at the present time. M. Milyukov not only declared that the Prime Minister of Russia was a corrupt man plundering his country, but also that he was in league with his country's enemies, and he called attention to several facts and public utterances which, he declared, showed that M. Stuermer was negotiating for a separate peace with Germany, contrary to the Pact of London, and contrary to the wishes of the Russian people. In fact, he openly in the Russian Duma protested that the Prime Minister of Russia was a traitor to his country. That speech was not only listened to patiently; it was enthusiastically cheered, and the next day it was announced in the papers that for this speech M. Milyukov was to be prosecuted. Why was it that he never was prosecuted, and why was it that a fortnight later M. Stuermer himself resigned1? Why was it that M. Stuermer retired with leave from the Government to the Caucasus on the ground of ill-health? Why, shortly after, was the notorious Rasputin assassinated, and why are the men whose names have been given in all the Russian papers as having assassinated Rasputin all at liberty, and not one of them, we are told, is to have any legal process initiated against him? These are facts of the very highest importance, and, unless we in England realise that there is at the present time in Russia a divergence of opinion, that there is a corrupt and disloyal Ministry capable of getting into office, and utterly opposed to the loyal, patriotic aspirations of the Allied people, we do not realise the Russian position at all. We ought to be told more about Lord Milner's prolonged stay in Petrograd. Why did Lord Milner go to Petrograd? When 1289 did he go to Petrograd? When is he coming back from Petrograd? What is he saying in Petrograd? What is he doing in Petrograd? Has he got anything he can say he has achieved in Petrograd? These are important questions, answers to which might, in a proper sense, greatly encourage the Allies, but if no information is given on these points, and if the Press censorship does not allow reference to them at all, what can we only assume? We can only assume that matters there are bad, and if matters are, as I fear, and it is not denied, very bad indeed in Russia, how are we to redeem the position in Roumania? If we cannot redeem the position in Roumania, how are we going to cut the German communication between Constantinople and Vienna? If this War is going to be carried on well, it ought to be carried on very differently and by very different people from those who are carrying it on at present.
I say now that the man who is more responsible for the Roumanian muddle and the misery which has come upon our brave Roumanian Allies is the present Prime Minister of England. I am not surprised that he does not care to come down to this House, for he has so mismanaged affairs and humbugged his colleagues and the House and the country that there is plenty of reason why he should stay away as much as possible. I have spoken plainly upon this matter, and I feel strongly. I have spoken clearly and not on the spur of the moment, because I have been at least three weeks thinking over the line I should take. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I say that because I do not want hon. Members to think that out of some sudden irritation or lapse from the right path of discretion or silence I have been led to make this speech. I believe that I have read every official document which has been published upon the Roumanian question, and I certainly have collected all the information I could from every hand, and I say again that the Prime Minister of this country is the man who has put Roumania in its present position and his policy of suppressing vital facts is not going to see us through to a victorious end.