§ 4.0 P.M.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL (Sir Frederick Smith)
I beg to move, "That this House do now adjourn."
I rise under circumstances known to the House. The reason why that task has fallen upon me is because it was believed it would not be disagreeable or inconvenient to the House that before any larger statement of policy that may become necessary is made, the House should be informed of the legal or technical considerations which have led to the advice given to the Government, and for which I am responsible, and which they have accepted. In the course of the last few weeks it has been my duty, and a very difficult one, to make myself acquainted, in the midst of a number of other public engagements, with the immense mass of the evidence given in the recent Mesopotamia inquiry. The House will, I think, need no assurance of mine to satisfy them that that task is an extremely formidable one. The Commission, to whose industry and in zeal in the work which was committed to them by Parliament no one can deny the fullest tribute, held, as the House is aware, very many sittings. They examined, under circumstances as to which I shall have more to say presently, a very large number of witnesses. Their Report itself, if one is to master it, is a formidable document, and the amount of evidence upon which that Report is founded is immense in bulk. I think that the present difficulties—and they are very great—in which the Government has found itself can only be properly understood in relation to the history of this matter. It will be necessary for the House of Commons, in order to decide what is the exact position to which I had to apply my mind to advise the Government to consider the evolution of the Mesopotamia affair from its origin. It will be remembered by the House that throughout the whole Mesopotamia campaign, culminating in the battle of Ctesiphon in November of 1915, strange and even terrible rumours became aroused in this country as to the sufferings of the wounded and the insufficiency of medical and other provisions. Those rumours produced great alarm, anxiety and indignation in the country and in this House. 2154 Side by side with those there grew up a volume of criticism against the whole inception and conduct of the campaign. As letters from Mesopotamia multiplied, the indignation grew constantly, both in the House and out of it, more articulate, and it became obvious that neither the House of Commons nor the country would tolerate any delay in investigating the complaints that had been made.
No one who was present in the House in those days and who heard those complaints, made and often supported by detail, will have forgotten that the Government were pressed every day in the House of Commons for immediate inquiry. My right hon. Friend, the late Prime Minister and his colleagues, of whom I was one, decided that such an inquiry, under the circumstances I have briefly and generally indicated, must take place. I think I may be allowed to say that the decision was a courageous one, because anybody who studies the history of the effect upon Governments in time of war, of the creation of Commissions to report upon formidable matters, often affecting executive conduct, anyone who so reflects upon, or studies that history, will not find the I results very encouraging to governments to set up Commissions of this character. My right hon. Friend, showing, I think, as I have said, considerable courage, so decided, and the feeling in the country of those who had lost relatives, of those whose relatives had suffered, as they thought, preventable agony in circumstances which were disclosed and set out in private correspondence, I say such was the pressure of those cases not only without the House of Commons, but within the House of Commons, and perhaps particularly in the House of Commons, that it was decided it was necessary that this Commission should be appointed. The House of Commons, which insistently urged this inquiry upon the late Government, shares the responsibility for the Commission, and I have no doubt at all that every Member of the House of Commons who took part in the representations and the arguments and the pressure as the result of which the Commission came into existence, is as ready as the members of the late Government, of whom I was one, to accept responsibility for the view, that I think I can show if it becomes necessary was a demonstrable one, that at the then state of public opinion there was no 2155 other immediately available form of inquiry which could have been used for the purpose of quieting public opinion, and bringing, if possible, solace to those who suffered, or confirmation of the wrongs under which they were labouring.
The reference to the Mesopotamia Commission, which again received the sanction of the House of Commons, and which was discussed here, and from which the House of Commons, in common with the rest of us are responsible, was in the broadest possible terms. And when it is suggested that any reasonable man and any humane man, or any man who understands first principles of justice as it is administered, would be content to allow the findings of this Commission to be decisive of the career of any public servant, he would do very well to begin his inquiries with the reference under which the Commission commenced its labours, and which will prove the necessity of a discussion in the House of Commons. The reference sets out the names of the Commissioners, and then it recites the functions for which the Commissioners are appointed:For the purpose of inquiring into the origin, inception and conduct of operations of the War in Mesopotamia, including the supply of drafts, reinforcements, ammunition and equipment to the troops and Fleet, the provision for the sick and wounded, and the responsibility of those Departments of Government whose duty it has been to minister to the wants of the Forces employed in that theatre of war.So that if anybody is disposed to criticise the Commission, and I certainly am not one of that number, in respect of the treatment they gave to individual officers, it is an injustice to the Commission. The terms of the reference under which they acted were not such as to impose upon them the duty of investigating charges against any particular officer, nor, indeed, were they such as to render them specially competent as a tribunal to deal with cases, when one is dwelling on punitive proceedings, of any individual officer. In fact, the terms of reference were so couched by Parliament and by the Government as to invite them to report upon these various matters, and the only responsibility on which they are invited to report is:The responsibility of those Departments of Government whose duty it has been to minister to the wants of the Forces employed in that theatre of war.I say no more of that reference at this stage but this, that no one could have conceived, and no lawyer 2156 could have drafted, a reference less calculated to bring home to the minds of the Commissioners that they were sent there as a body one of whose functions would be to pronounce final and un-appealable judgment on any individual. That this was the view taken by the Commissioners themselves is shown in the fourth paragraph of the preface which precedes their Report. I would call the attention of the House to that paragraph, because it throws considerable light upon the observations I am now addressing to the House. Paragraph 4 is as follows:Early in our proceedings, allegations against an officer of subordinate rank were made which, in our judgment, required investigation. We felt that our primary duty was to adjudicate upon the conduct of the higher authorities responsible for the campaign. We were most desirous to prevent our energy and attention from being diverted from this task by inquiries into a number of minor complaints against subordinate officers—I beg the House to observe this statement in that paragraph—and we felt that we were neither intended nor well-fitted to undertake the functions of a number of courts-martial or military Courts of Inquiry. We therefore decided that in such cases we would forward the evidence tendered to us to the military authorities, with a request that they would themselves take such action in the matter as, in their judgment, seemed necessary. We adopted a similar procedure also in the few instances where the tactical manœuvring and dispositions of generals under the rank of divisional commanders were seriously called in question.The House I hope will appreciate what the result of that prefatory observation is. It means this, that the Commission took the view, and rightly, having regard to the terms of reference, that their primary duty was to adjudicate upon the conduct of the higher authorities, and that they were not constituted in such a manner as to render them a suitable tribunal to undertake the function of courts-martial or military Courts of inquiry. They therefore adopted, with great propriety as I think the House will consider, the course of sending all matters which concerned officers of a lower rank than divisional commanders to the War Office. What happened when those proceedings were sent to the War Office is quite obvious. Until the Report of the Commission was presented, and until, in other words, the view of the Commission was ascertained as to the responsibility of the principal officers who were concerned, it was obviously quite impossible for the War Office to institute independent inquiries, often covering the same ground and field of responsibility, of general officers. Therefore the House will readily appreciate that it 2157 was under those circumstances decided that until the Commission had reported Courts of inquiry or courts-martial, functions which the Commission rightly deemed themselves incapable of undertaking, could not be undertaken by the War Office. That is the second observation which it is important to make.
It would, I think, be convenient at this point if the House would consider what were the terms of the Mesopotamia Act, because as far as my responsibility was concerned, a responsibility which I must and do fully accept, it is a responsibility which was limited to the statutory creation of that Commission. The view which the Commission took afterwards, and took very sincerely I have no doubt, as to the discharge of their functions is obviously a view for which they have the responsibility. But Parliament has a responsibility which it cannot avoid for the terms under which that Commission undertook the discharge of its duties. There are one or two sections of the Act which constituted the Commission which will particularly repay the attention of the House of Commons in case they should have escaped their memory in the time that has elapsed. In the first place, let me remind the House of the duties and powers of the Commission, as those are very relevant considerations. Under Section 2, Sub-section (1),(1) The Commissioners appointed under this Act … shall have all such powers, rights, and privileges as are vested in the High Court, or in any judge thereof, on the occasion of any action in respect of the following matters:What does that mean? It means that Parliament, when it set up this Commission, quite obviously intended that the Commission should not be deprived of any opportunity of usefulness by the inability of taking evidence as evidence is commonly taken in a Court of law, and the Commission was expressly provided with all the coercive powers which 2158 are enjoyed by Courts of law in order that they might make effective the power given to them to take that evidence. That was quite evidently contemplated. Consequently, in Sub-section (3), the following provisions was made:
- (a) The enforcing the attendance of witnesses and examining them on oath, affirmation, or otherwise, and and the issue of a commission or a request to examine witnesses abroad; and
- (b) the compelling the production of documents; and
- (c) the punishing persons guilty of contempt."(3) The Commissioners may authorise the representation before them of any person appearing to them to be interested by counsel or solicitor or otherwise, if they consider that any injustice would ensue if that person were not so represented.I need hardly point out to the House that where you are dealing with the case of professional men whose careers are involved, who have never been accustomed to present cases for themselves, who have no knowledge whatever of the arts or the relevance of cross-examination, it may be that it is a very vital consideration that they should be represented by counsel if it is contemplated that any action is to be taken to their prejudice—certainly if it is contemplated that any grave or irreparable action is to be taken to their prejudice upon the findings of such Commission. In point of fact I believe I am rightly informed when I say that the Commissioners took the view— and I can well understand it—the nature of their inquiry, the scope of their inquiry, and the object of their inquiry was such that they would not be justified, owing to the very great addition to the time involved in their labours, of inviting the parties—whom no one will dispute were greatly affected—to be represented by counsel. The fact that the House of Commons, at any rate, must face—and under the circumstances it is a very grave one—is that no single person of all those who were affected by the findings of the Commission had the advantage of being represented before that Commission by counsel. So it may well be that if a certain view were taken of the powers of the Commission, and of the duty of the Government on the findings of the Commission, that all their careers would be irreparably ruined by those findings.
§ Mr. DILLON
Did the Commission refuse any application by any of the parties to be represented by counsel?
§ Sir F. SMITH
My hon. Friend asks whether the Commission refused any application for counsel. I am not in a position for the moment to inform him.
§ Admiral of the Fleet Sir H. MEUX
Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman inform us whether any single one of those officers was warned that under English law they were not bound to incriminate themselves?
§ Sir F. SMITH
I am afraid I must again say that I was not present at the Commission, but the Noble Lord was a member of the Commission, and he tells us that no application was made by any officer to appear by counsel. That is an observation I am glad to hear by the Noble Lord, for I can found another upon it. Here were these officers taking the view—and I am certainly satisfied that the House themselves will, and must, take that view when they know all the facts as to the functions and powers of the Commission—that none of them thought that the conduct of the Commission, under its terms of reference, were of such a character as to make it worth their while to incur the immense expenditure, for a poor man, for an Army officer, to apply to be heard by counsel. I do not quote this Sub-section with the object of finding any complaint against the Commission. I quote Sub-section (3) with the object of showing that it was the intention of Parliament, at the time this Act was passed, that these men, if any injustice was to follow upon their not being represented by counsel should have the opportunity given them of being so represented, and we know that no single person of those concerned was represented by counsel, or solicitor, before the Commission.
§ Sir F. SMITH
All I can tell my hon. Friend on that point is that at the time no statement had been made either by the then Government or the House of Commons. The next Clause of the Act is very important; it is this:4 (1). A person examined as a witness by the Commissioners shall not be excused from producing any documents or giving any information on the ground that such documents or information is secret or confidential, or is entitled to be withheld under Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act, 1911.I pause here for a moment. It may be that some of those officers were in 2160 possession of documents which they were entitled in any process of the criminal law, or any procedure before a court-martial, to say: "I am not compelled to produce these documents, and I will not produce them in any Court of law." They would be upheld in that refusal by Parliament—and, I think, rightly—failing that the Commission, in regard to the public interest was acting considerately, for it would be very unfortunate if any officer or other person was prevented from producing a document helpful to the inquiry by apprehension that its production might hereafter be injurious to him. Therefore, the House of Commons gave these officers, by Act of Parliament, this assurance, that if such a document was produced in no case would it later be produced against him.or from answering any question put to him, or from producing any document on the ground that the answer thereto or production thereof may criminate or tend to criminate him.So that if any officer was asked a question by that Commission he would not be able to say, in answer to that question, "If I answer that I am not represented here. I incriminate myself, and I refuse to answer it." The lowest criminal in the land would have had the power of making that answer. Parliament, by its action, deprived these officers of the opportunity of making that answer.
§ Sir F. SMITH
The right hon. Gentleman says it was a proposal of my Government. I have already made it perfectly clear that I was a member of the Government at that time, and I was responsible for that. I said then, and I say now, it was a right proposal in the interests of justice, but it is not right that you should turn round on the witnesses, when these men have relied upon the protection assured to them by the House of Commons, and have produced all these documents and have answered all the questions—it is not, I say, right for us to turn round and say, "On that you shall be judged."But any answer so given shall not be evidence against that person in any criminal proceeding (including a proceeding by court-martial) at any time thereafter instituted against him, and any documents so produced shall not be 2161 evidence against him in any such proceeding unless the production of that document could be enforced in those proceedings or evidence of that document could be otherwise obtained in any such proceeding.What follows from that Clause 4, which I have read as a whole? There can be no mistake about it. The expressions are of extreme lucidity. Parliament, for public purposes, desires to obtain from these officers, of whom I shall have a word to say afterwards, the frankest and fullest statement. It said to them in effect: "Throw yourselves practically and amply upon this Commission, and upon the protection given by this Act of Parliament, and we, on our part, give cur assurance to you in return that nothing which you say at this Commission shall be used against you subsequently until it is supported and proved. As I have said in the House of Commons there was not, so far as I remember, one single voice raised against it, and if there had been a single voice raised against it the answer would have been immediate. Such were the circumstances under which these officers appeared before the Mesopotamia Commission. I say frankly that I think the Act contemplated that the Commission would take evidence judicially; that is to say, should take evidence with the exception contained in Section 4—to take evidence according to legal rules. I remember making the observation at the time the Commission was appointed that there was not a single lawyer upon it. That objection did not seem a serious one, and I am not sure that it was treated as a very grave objection by many Members of the House of Commons. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear !"] I still think that it was a great pity that one judge of position was not a member of it. After all, the rules of evidence have not been suddenly evolved as the result of caprice. They are due to long deliberations and the experience of a century of wise men, whose chief preoccupation was to see that the innocent man should not be found guilty. They have evolved as a result of the intellectual labours of the ages, of the greatest judges of the English law, and of the British Senate to give the maximum of security that justice shall be done, and that an innocent person shall not suffer. Although in a given case there may be great temptation to adopt the facile course of saying, "Oh, it really establishes the 2162 propositions: why need we trouble to use the process of law," it is never right in grave matters, and when the interests of public servants or any witnesses are concerned, to break the general rule founded upon a sound principle in order, as you believe, to take a short cut. What happened? The officers were called, and, as the circumstances indicate, no attention whatever was paid by the members of the Commission to the rules of evidence. Anybody who wished could ask any question of any witness, and ask it quite irrespective of the consideration whether or not any such question would be allowed in any Court which had the power to inflict any penalty.
§ Sir F. SMITH
My hon. and gallant Friend said there was no charge. No, but the whole Press of this country, I will not say that, but a great part of the Press of this country, has insisted, since the findings of the Commission, that Parliament and the Government should act as though there had been a charge and proved charges. My hon. and gallant Friend says truly there were no charges. The fact that there were no charges has not prevented verdicts of "guilty." I am sure the hon. and gallant Gentleman will not dispute it that the Report is simply a cemetery of reputations. It may be that the conclusions contained in the Report are well founded. The only complaint I am making now is that that has yet to be ascertained and proved. My hon. and gallant Friend, who very opportunely reminds me that there were no charges, makes it necessary for me to point out to him once again that Parliament had gone out of its way to give these officers and these witnesses the security that if they on their part deprived themselves of the protection which the common law of this country entitled them to, they should not be deprived of the protection which was the correlative of this arrangement with the House of Commons. That is the true position. What really happened? The procedure before the Commission has, I think, escaped the attention of the House of Commons. But the view taken, and perhaps necessarily taken on military grounds, is that the evidence before the Commission cannot at this stage be published. But it has been my duty to read a great part of it, and, as some of 2163 the Commissioners are Members of the House, there are no disadvantages to them in what I am about to say, because, having regard to the reference to them, and the functions which Parliament intended them to discharge, what I am about to say does not amount to a criticism of them, but it amounts to a criticism the moment it is supposed that the results of their findings should be used for a purpose never intended by Parliament.
What is the position in that respect? Here we have distinguished officers, or officers of great reputation—officers who up to that time had been universally accounted valuable public servants and distinguished soldiers. Now, these men were put into the witness-box. It is no exaggeration to say that they were cross-examined by every Commissioner who cared to ask them questions, and practically on every subject which occurred to the minds of the Commissioners who were asking those questions. They were asked those questions under the protection which I have already indicated and explained. That was their case. Having been examined by the Commission, they left the box. They left the box in many cases with no conception of the real and true case against them, and in one or two cases with no conception of the Statute under which they were condemned, and, in many cases, never having heard the evidence of most weighty witnesses of which they did not have the elementary right of cross-examination, and of which they were even denied the knowledge.
Le me give the House one or two illustrations of this general criticism, because it is not right to fall back entirely upon generalities in these matters. I begin first by a more general observation. I say that on questions of responsibility— and I make this as a general comment, and not, for the reasons I have given, of general criticism of the proceedings—the evidence is almost invariably based upon hearsay. A favourite method of eliciting a conclusion upon this matter is to say to a witness in the box, "Now, tell me, who do you think is responsible on the whole for this?" It is a convenient but an unusual form of question.
Sir H. DALZIEL
On a point of Order. Is it right that a member of the Government who has had special privileges of seeing this evidence, should be able to come here and make arguments out of the evidence which he has seen but which is denied to the House? I submit that if, as he has now said, that took place, we are entitled to have the evidence before us.
§ Sir F. SMITH
On the point of Order. As there are at present in the House, and listening to us, members of the Commission, I submit that the point of Order has no bearing on the matter now raised.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
If the right hon. Gentleman purports to quote from the evidence, then, of course, he will have to follow the usual rule and lay the evidence. [HON. MEMBERS: "He has quoted it !"] But if he summarises it, then there is no necessity.
Sir H. DALZIEL
May I, on a further point of Order, submit to you that before I raised the point of Order I asked the right hon. Gentleman whether that took place in the Commission, and he said "Yes"?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I did not understand that he was quoting from the evidence. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, yes !"]
§ Sir F. SMITH
I think if the hon. Gentleman had reflected a little more he would not have made such a statement. The Government and the late Government have done what hardly any Government in the history of the country has done. When grave complaints have been made and inquiry has been challenged they have appointed Commissions. [HON. MEMBERS: "It was always done !"] Always done in the middle of war? I assure my hon. Friend he is quite wrong. I am well aware of cases in which it has been done, and of cases in which it has been refused, but I say there has seldom been a case where a Government more regularly and frequently than the last Government have consented to inquiry, and when we say the evidence cannot be published, the only answer I have is that we are advised by the military authorities, whose opinion must be final on such a point, that the evidence must not be published, and advised not only by our military advisers, but by the Commissioners themselves. Is it then fair to say to the Government that we dare not publish it?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I did not hear those words. I was listening very attentively. He said, in answer to a question, that certain things occurred.
§ Sir F. SMITH
I understand the limitations which your ruling, Mr. Speaker, has imposed upon me, and I will deal, therefore, far more generally, as, of course, I must. I can assure my hon. Friend that what I was about to say was not in any way intended to misrepresent, because it could very readily have been dealt with if misrepresented. I therefore make the observations I have to make in a perfectly general way, and I say this, that in any Court of law elementary justice demands that the person, at whose expense you are going to pass a sentence, shall be present in Court when the case against him is made. That is the first proposition. I suppose no one will dispute that elementary proposition of law. The second proposition is that, being so present when the charge is made, he shall have the opportunity of asking questions of those who have made that charge. The third proposition is that, having had that opportunity, he shall himself be able to put forward positively his own case, and reply to the charges made against him. The fact that the Commission did not in all cases insist that that should be done is not a proof that the Commission was so inexperienced as not to know what the proper course was in any criminal matter, or in any legal or quasi-legal matter, that is to say, in a matter which was going to carry, as the result of its own report, penal consequences. I do not suppose for a moment that the Commissioners were unaware of that, and the mere fact that they should have adopted the course they did adopt, shows that they did not take the view held in some quarters.
Let me give one other instance of a very general kind. I have found that the course adopted by the Commission—I do 2166 not use the word "habitually," because I am anxious not to overstate it—but the course taken very frequently by the Commission was to call an officer once for all. That officer gave his evidence, and any members of the Commission who wished to ask him questions, asked him questions. He then went away, and in many cases was never recalled. In the meantime eight or nine other witnesses were called and laid blame on his conduct in the matter, but he was never recalled, and never given the slightest opportunity of making any reply to the charges. That happened not in one case, but over and over again. Under the circumstances, what was the duty that was thrown upon the Government when they received the report of the Commission? And I will ask this question: Can anyone suggest that you can properly punish on the strength of evidence taken in this way? Is there anyone in the House who will go so far as to say that you can inflict a most grave punishment upon a man when the evidence has been taken in the manner which I have described? I say quite plainly that no fair-minded man would punish a convicted thief without giving him the opportunity I have described. The permanent deprivation of an honourable office with the loss of a pension in the declining years of life is not only an extreme form of punishment, but is one of the heaviest punishments that could possibly be inflicted on anyone.
Take the case of General Nixon. I say nothing of many of the charges brought against him, but, after all, he was an undaunted soldier, grown grey in arms in the service of his country, one of whose faults was impetuosity in the face of the enemy in the darkest days of the War. Is there really anyone bold enough to say that you should tear the uniform off General Nixon's back on the strength of evidence taken in his absence, and which he never enjoyed the right of rebutting?
§ Sir F. SMITH
If there is no proposal on the part of anyone that any of these officers should be deprived of their commission as a result of these findings, then I agree my observation is irrelevant. Certainly not the criticism I have heard in this House or suggested by questions 2167 in this House indicates that. On the contrary, the claim has been clearly and repeatedly made that, on the strength of the evidence of this Commission, disciplinary action should be taken in relation to the officers. I am told—I cannot say, because I have not seen it—that there is a Motion on the Paper to that effect. If it is not conceded, then I say at once that the Government had only two courses open. One was to say—because it might be convenient to say at the moment—"We will throw all these men, soldiers and civilians alike, to the wolves. We will meet a little the outcry of the nation at the moment by the sacrifice of every person who is reflected upon in the terms of this Commission." So far as the civilians were concerned, this would have been, perhaps, legally possible, though I have never heard it suggested that civilians should be less well treated than soldiers. The view, I suppose, is that they should be, so far as difference in circumstances permit, treated in the same way, but we could not take this course in the case of the soldiers. Soldiers have statutory protection.
§ Sir F. SMITH
Let me remind the right hon. Gentleman, if he thinks it worth while to remind me that we have suspended them, that that is merely incident to trying them before the Court of inquiry.
§ General Sir IVOR PHILIPPS
Surely the right hon. Gentleman does not suggest that these officers are going to be tried by a Court of inquiry? Those are the words he used.
§ Sir F. SMITH
I am well aware of the words I used. When I said they would be tried before the Court of inquiry I think the whole House understood perfectly well that I was not professing to use ultra-technical language. When you have a tribunal partly composed of generals and partly composed of judges, with those involved represented by counsel, and those who present the facts also counsel, then I say it is no injury to anyone to say that in substance you have a trial.
§ Sir JOHN SIMON
Is what the right hon. Gentleman is sketching out a plan 2168 by which a charge will be formulated before a trial takes place? He told us that that is the essence of every elementary proceeding of justice.
§ Mr. SWIFT MacNEILL
Is the right hon. Gentleman the gentleman who has himself to frame the charge and pursue the charge before the inquiry against these persons whom he is now defending in the House of Commons?
§ Sir F. SMITH
I do not think that is at all relevant. Nobody in the House of Commons will be more relieved when the time comes than I shall be if he assures me that I can conscientiously ask somebody else to undertake the task. I was pointing out that in the case of officers, even if the Government desired to rest contented with the findings of the Commission, the law would not have allowed it. The rule of procedure, which possesses statutory force, lays it down in express terms, and I think the House of Commons may wish to hear it, that:Whenever any inquiry affects the character or military reputation of an officer or soldier full opportunity must be afforded to that officer or soldier of being present throughout the inquiry and of making any statement and giving any evidence he may wish to make or give, and of cross-examining any witness whose evidence in his opinion affects his character or military reputation and of producing any witness in defence of his character or military reputation.That is the statutory charter of the officer in the Army given to him from days immemorial by Act of Parliament, and the result is that whatever you may wish to do, unless the House of Commons in the year 1917, after this inquiry is concluded, is prepared to pass a new Act abrogating the conditions and safeguards under which officers join the Army, there is no choice at all except to say this was not such an inquiry and to treat the findings of this inquiry as if they have no effect at all for punitive purposes. Such was the position of these officers, and it must be observed here that a very clear distinction has to be drawn between the cases of the civilians and of the soldiers.
Le me remind the House how serious some of these charges were. The charge against Sir Beauchamp Duff was of suppressing the truth, failure to communicate to Sir John Nixon information received as to the possible concentration of 60,000 Turks at Bagdad, censuring General 2169 Cowper respecting his demand for river transport; and the charge made against Sir John Nixon was, amongst others, of suppression of the truth of the medical breakdown at Ctesiphon. The House is also very familiar with the charge against General Hathaway, of not exhibiting due care and diligence in estimating and considering the medical provision which was necessary. This important to notice that every one of these charges is a charge which is an offence under the Army Act. Everyone of them is a charge in respect of which, in the ordinary course, if the Judge Advocate-General, or one of his representatives, were asked to advise the military authorities as to whether a case could be brought against the officer at a court-martial, he would undoubtedly reply, "Every one of them is." That establishes the fundamental distinction between the case made against the officers and the case made against the civilians. No one would wish in any way to attenuate the gravity of some of the conclusions of this Commission, so far as civilians go; but if we are to maintain a just and fair prospective of the situation, it is essential to remember that the charges made against the officers were charges which in a court-martial could be made the subject of proceedings, whereas the charges against civilians are of an entirely different character. I hope the House will bear that in mind.
If the evidence before the Commission was, as I hope I have shown the House, taken in such a way that it would be unfair and illegal to take action against the soldiers on the strength of the Report of the Commission alone, should a different course be taken in the case of civilians? I think the answer must be equally plain. If it be the fact—and I understand it is almost universally agreed —in the light of the considerations which I have ventured to place before the House, that no one would be justified, on the strength of the Report of the Commission alone, in recommending that punitive action should be taken in regard to soldiers, then I think it must be equally conceded that no action could be taken against civilians on the strength of the Report alone. What is the solution? These are the dilemmas through which we have had to grope our way to a decision. It may or it may not be that we have chosen the wisest course, but no labour has been spared to bring us to a right conclusion, and I shall be glad if our 2170 critics, recognising that, will indicate what alternative course could have been adopted. We had to discover a procedure in which both soldiers and civilians could be heard, and, if necessary, before which they could both be represented. That was the problem. I do not think anybody can dispute that we were bound to find a tribunal before which both soldiers and civilians could be heard. These proceedings will be lengthy and costly, they will involve the attendance of witnesses from abroad, and they will involve the absence from military duties of many persons who perhaps in time of war might be more usefully employed in discharge of military duties. But, make no mistake, when once it is conceded what the character of the Mesopotamia Commission was and the limitations under which its inquiry was conducted, you cannot, in justice and fairness, take punitive action upon the Report of that Commission.
Is there anybody in the House who will say that the Government ought to have taken the course of duplicating these costly and inconvenient proceedings by having in one Court the trial of cases of soldiers and having side by side another Court for the examination of civilians? We should have been mad if we had recommended any such course. We should have been exactly doubling the cost and inconvenience, and in the end I venture to say we should not have obtained so complete and logical an examination of all the facts as will be obtained by the course which we propose. Therefore, eliminating that course of holding two inquiries side by side, what were the other alternatives? It may be said that as far as soldiers were concerned there was the alternative of courts-martial. My answer to that is twofold. In the first place, if you had tried these officers by courts-martial, you could not have tried the civilians before the same courts-martial. You would have had the same fatal objection of duplication, and the more fatal objection referred to by the Chancellor of the Exchequer last night, namely, that, bearing in mind the immensity of the ground covered by the inquiry, the prodigious number of witnesses, the time which was consumed by the Mesopotamia Commission, it would be necessary under Section 161 of the Army Act that these proceedings should be commenced within three years of the acts or omissions complained of. That would make it necessary to commence the courts-martial in the 2171 month of November next, and, sorry as I am to weary the House with technicalities, I must ask their indulgence in informing them that no court-martial can be held until a summary of the available evidence has been taken and the officer to be charged enjoys a right of having a summary of the evidence of every single witness who is to be called against him at the court-marital. Considering the labour and time involved in obtaining from every part of the world the witnesses to be summoned before the court-martial, and before the ease is finally developed of taking a summary of the evidence, I think the House will realise that I had no other course open to me except to advise the Government as I did. Therefore the course of court-martial can be dismissed.
What are the other two courses? I say there were two courses open and two only, by a successive elimination of the alternative. The only other two were these: In the first place a special tribunal might have been created by Act of Parliament, which would have had its jurisdiction precisely settled by Parliament, to deal in some way or other with the liability of the soldier and in some way to deal with the liability of the civilian. That would be one course; but, on the other hand, we have in existence a machinery which was itself the creation of an Act of Parliament which was passed only last year, and I ask the leave of the House to remind it of the circumstances under which that Act was passed. There was a case in which, as the Prime Minister said in introducing the Bill, which afterwards became an Act, the honour of soldiers was involved and the honour of civilians was involved, and it was not conveniently practicable that the case against soldiers should be separately tried and the case against civilians should be separately tried, because all the circumstances and considerations were too involved to make division possible. In these circumstances the present Prime Minister, when recommending that proposal, which I will remind the House of in a moment, expressly pointed out that one usefulness which followed from his proposal was that it could be used for general application whenever circumstances rendered it desirable that a Court of inquiry should be able to call civilians before it or to reinforce its judicial strength by the presence of civilians. May I remind the House what was the position of a Court 2172 of inquiry before that Act was passed? I will do it very briefly. A Court of inquiry consisted of soldiers only; nobody but a soldier could sit on that Court, and it had no power of calling civilian witnesses before it; therefore it was helpless in any case in which questions affecting soldiers were mixed up with the conduct of civilians. Convenience and common sense alike dictated that such cases should be dealt with by one tribunal. My right hon. Friend reminds me that under the Army Act there are two methods provided for dealing with offences alleged to have been committed by officers; one is by court-martial and the other by a Court of inquiry, and the Court of inquiry, which was directed by the Army Council, the reference was so framed that the Court must consist exclusively of soldiers and no civilians could be compelled to give evidence before it under any circumstances. The Bill to which I am referring was introduced to this House and accepted by it as a matter of general convenience for dealing with cases of a more or less similar kind. The position here is that there are certain definite charges which are made against officers concerned—charges of definite offences which can be brought forward and substantiated before such a Court—whereas charges against civilians, grave as they are, could not be so dealt with by such a Court of inquiry. May I remind the House of the fact that in the Court of Inquiry Act, 1916, it was provided that,The rules as to the procedure of Courts of inquiry under Sub-section (5) of Section 70 of the Army Act may, in cases where the Secretary of State certifies that the evidence of persons who are not subject to military law will be necessary, make provision for compelling such persons to attend as witnesses to give evidence and to produce documents before the Court, and the rules may for that purpose apply, with the necessary adaptation, Section 126 of the Army Act (which relates to the attendance of witnesses not subject to military law before courts-martial), and the rules may further, where the Secretary of State certifies that the evidence before the Court is likely to affect the character of persons not subject to military law, provide for the inclusion as members of the Court of one or more persons nominated by the Secretary of State who are not officers.2173 What are the necessary steps here? What are the conditions precedent before any proceedings can be taken? First of all the Secretary of State must certify that the evidence before the Court is likely to affect the character of persons not subject to military law. In this case the Secretary of State either has certified, or is prepared to certify, that the evidence before this military Court is likely to affect the character of persons not subject to military law. What follows? When the case is heard and the Court is made cognisant of the facts it must necessarily emerge that the case of the soldiers reflects upon other public servants—administrators and politicians. Let me explain to the House how it is clear even in the Report that that must arise. Take, for instance, that paragraph of the Report which deals with cases attributing errors of judgment and shortcomings on the part of responsible authority. It will be found on page 107, in the last paragraph but one, which reads:It seems from this letter that Lord Hardinge had complained to Sir Beauchamp Duff of the tone of several recent telegrams from Mesopotamia to Simla. And doubtless this complaint partly accounts for Sir Beauchamp Duff's annoyance. But, in our judgment. Lord Hardinge's complaint was altogether unwarranted, and the reprimand which it led Sir Beauchamp Duff to address to General Cowper was both intemperate and ill-advised. We fear, however, that it must be regarded as an extreme but characteristic illustration of the attitude of the authorities at Simla towards demands which they did not like or did not consider necessary.Let the House consider for a moment how that works out in practice. I want to make quite sure that each case is absolutely fully examined against any person who is involved in this Report. That is what we are aiming at in substance. Anything else is a mere form and does not matter provided we get the substance. Sir Beauchamp Duff is entitled to be heard before the Committee relative to this particular complaint as to the telegram which he sent to General Cowper. He will say that he received certain telegrams from Lord Hardinge, and is it not quite obvious, when he is asked upon the matter, he will justify the sending of the telegram, the terms of which exception is taken to, on the ground that Lord Hardinge complained to him of the tone of the telegrams he had been receiving at Simla from the seat of War? You will find it inevitable in every case of charges against soldiers—and I am not expressing any opinion as to who is right or wrong—in every case there will be a tendency on the part of the soldier to lay 2174 the blame on other shoulders. Take the case of the failure to provide sufficient medical comforts, mentioned in the Report. I know nothing about the facts of the case, but we shall be told by the soldiers that they were not to blame for the deficiency, and that the real liability rested on civilians who. through undue parsimony or other causes, failed to provide the necessary supplies. It is quite clear that cases will develop in that way. When a soldier is called upon to meet a complaint which has been made against him by the Commission he will say at once, "It was not my fault; I was not the officer responsible for the supplies." We shall probably be told that it was impossible for the military authorities in India in three months allowed to properly provide the Expeditionary Force for which they were asked, because they had not the material at their command, and that it was the politicians who were responsible for the absence of the supplies. No tribunal could refuse to hear such a case, although in the course of the hearing it would, in the language of the Act of Parliament, reflect on the character of civilians.
This Court is to be entitled to call before it civilians as witnesses, and it will be bound in its Report to indicate whether or not the soldiers have made good their defence. If they make good their defence, then it follows inevitably that the Report must say that other persons are to blame; and when it is said that a Court consisting of soldiers cannot possibly sit in judgment upon the case of politicians, I reply that wherever charges are made against soldiers and are tried by court-martial and are repudiated by the soldiers who claim that the politicians or the administrators are to blame, then it not only becomes practicable, but it is the plain duty of the court-martial to try the conduct of the politicians.
§ Sir J. JARDINE
Will the right hon. Gentleman explain what are to be the powers of this Court? Does he mean that it shall deal with matters of errors of judgment, which are not criminal offences or misdemeanours? May it deal with cases of deficiency of intellect, for instance?
§ Sir F. SMITH
I have said that the inquiry in any case will be a protracted one. I was trying to deal with the objection that such a tribunal would have to report on the conduct of highly-placed administrators and politicians. At the time 2175 of the Crimean War a great controversy arose between the Treasury and the military authorities as to on whose shoulders the responsibility for much of the mismanagement in the Crimea ought to rest. At that time the Treasury was responsible for the ordnance, and a great conflict took place which was solved by a less convenient method than that which the Government is now recommending to the House in this case, It was solved by holding separate inquiries. The Treasury authorities met and unanimously decided that the blame for mismanagement must be placed entirely on the shoulders of the soldiers. Thereupon the War Office met and held a Court of inquiry, and, after examining at very great length the case against the Treasury, unanimously decided that the whole fault rested with the Treasury.
The House will have observed, from one or two observations which I have made, why this is proposed. My right hon. Friend asked me to inform him what was likely to be the procedure before the Court. He will understand—no one more readily—the limitations within which I can answer that question. It is quite obvious that the right to make the rules of the procedure must rest with the Court itself, two of whose members will be very experienced judges, and therefore it will be somewhat unreasonable to ask me to indicate precisely what form the inquiry will take. If he asks me for my impressions as to the course which the Court will probably order that is at his disposal, and I speak with some experience on this subject at the time of the Barrett inquiry. That case was dealt with in this way: There was certain correspondence which disclosed the guilt, if there was guilt, and this was to be pronounced upon by the Court. The correspondence was somewhat lengthy. The method adopted of acquainting the Court with the issues to be tried was to read to them the whole of the correspondence. That correspondence raised quite clearly the issues in the case. There were various parties affected, and all these parties were represented by counsel, and it was a mere matter of convenience as between the two conflicting schools which should begin. This question was happily adjusted, and it was decided to begin with the party on whom the onus had fallen, and they formulated their case against the other side. It is obvious that that procedure is only partially applicable, 2176 for this reason, that it would, in the view of the Government, be inconvenient that there should not be some person undertaking the duty of stating plainly and clearly to the Court the relevant parts of the Report itself, and such portions of the evidence as were available, having regard to the conditions and any other evidence by which it might be desired to supplement it, and, taking the story of the Report as a whole, make an examination of the evidence as a whole, taking the specific allegations made in the Report. Of course, the precise details by which it will be worked out have not received quite as much attention as might be given to them. The right hon. Gentleman is quite entitled to ask what will be the position of the civilians who are concerned in the course of the inquiry, and he is entitled to the clearest statement it is in my power to give on that point.
§ Sir J. SIMON
He has not quite answered the question which I put to him. In my understanding, a Court of inquiry, as hitherto understood, does not proceed to investigate actions at all, but to inquire into matters and report. What I wish to know is whether, in regard to persons who have been accused, the charges will be formulated before the inquiry begins, and not when somebody presents the matter?
§ Sir F. SMITH
The right hon. Gentleman is not quite correct in describing the functions of the Court of inquiry. The functions are defined in the rules of procedure under the Army Act. It defines Court of inquiry as "an assembly of officers directed to collect evidence, and, if so required, to report with regard to any matter which may be referred to them under Regulations which are to be made by the Secretary of State for War." The function of a Court of inquiry being to report in regard to any matter which may be referred to them, it will be for this Court of inquiry themselves to indicate the method by which they desire that these matters shall be referred to them in order that their decision may be given. If I may make it clear, I should advise that the Court should acquaint itself in any manner which it judges most convenient, either by statements or the study of the Report itself, to make themselves acquainted with its general character, and then inform the parties what was the evidence which they required in order that they might arrive at the conclusions they thought themselves called upon in the 2177 reference to arrive at. I cannot see the slightest difficulty with regard to such a Court of inquiry, and such a Court of inquiry would reach just as fair a conclusion as was reached in the Barrett case and in dozens of other cases.
I think I can make that point clear. I read the Act which shows that such witnesses could be called by the Court in cases where their character could be affected. If these persons are affected by the evidence of soldiers and are called before the Court, as they will be and as they must be, what will happen, in practice, is this: The soldier makes his statement, he makes his case, and that case reflects in almost every instance upon the civilian. Then the Court says at once, "This is a grave reflection upon a civilian; whether you call it a charge or not he must come here, and he must be represented either by himself or by somebody else," and that civilian is represented. The soldier's case and the civilian's case is heard, and can anyone doubt that the report which is made is what really determines the decision. The more my hon. and learned Friend reflects upon that the more certainly he will see that it is quite impossible, and I am confident there is not one of the charges which the House of Commons desires to see ventilated against civilians which cannot be fully ventilated by this procedure.
§ Sir F. SMITH
That will be entirely for the tribunal to decide after they have read the Minority Report. The whole of the Report will be read by the tribunal, and the tribunal will act, and they will have Lord Hardinge before them. I may point out that when Lord Hardinge came before the Commission my hon. and gallant Friend did not cross-examine him.
§ Sir F. SMITH
I am not so sure about that. I think that is a very strange doctrine. My hon. and gallant Friend in the Minority Report has made reflections of a very grave character upon Lord Hardinge's discharge of his official duties. Lord Hardinge goes before that Commission, he is compelled to attend for the purpose of being cross-examined, but my hon. and gallant Friend did not cross-examine him when he was there. In fact, he made no effort at all to get Lord Hardinge there to cross-examine him, and then he made his Minority Report.
§ Mr. MONTAGU
My right hon. Friend says that the reason the Government has suggested this tribunal is that it may deal both with cases of civilians and soldiers. So far as I read the Act is it not true that the civilian only comes before the Court as a witness, whereas the military person involved is the subject of the Court of inquiry. Is it not, therefore, true that unless the military subordinate chooses to defend himself by making a charge against the officer, the officer's conduct will never come before the inquiry.
§ Sir F. SMITH
My right hon. Friend has asked a question to which I thought I had already given an answer. I have told the House plainly that there is a difference in the positions under the present proposals of the Government between soldiers and civilians. I have also made it clear that in cases where there are reflections made by soldiers upon civilians, those civilians will be called as witnesses and will be entitled to be represented. I indicated the alternatives which were open to the Government. I stated that there were two courses; one was to have a special tribunal and the other was to hold a Court of inquiry of the nature suggested. I said at the outset when I came to the alternative that there were two, and two only, by which to make such inquiries into the case of soldiers and civilians. I hope no one will make the mistake of supposing that the Government is wedded to either one of these views, but what the Government is absolutely committed to is that under no circumstances will they sanction punitive action as the result of the Report of the Commission. We will not make ourselves responsible for what would be the scandal of dual and simultaneous inquiries dealing with the same circumstances. On those two points our minds are made up. It is not a question of merely giving a little, extra time. 2179 Our one object in this business is to elicit the truth and do justice to soldiers and civilians alike. We wish, after the legal evidence has been taken, that conclusions should be reached fair to both parties. If it is the wish of the House that on the whole a fairer solution would be reached by a specially constituted tribunal, the Government will certainly not decline that course. Before that conclusion is reached, and knowing now that that offer has been made to the House, I would ask hon. Members very carefully to consider whether there is not in fact a certainty in every case that the matters alleged against civilians would under the procedure in the first case recommended by the Government be fairly investigated. Of course, if the House takes a different view, the Government will acquiesce.
§ Sir F. SMITH
Yes, I am very much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. The terms of reference are:Whereas a Report has been presented to Parliament under the authority created by the Act entitled 'Special Commissions and Dardanelles and Mesopotamia Act, 1916, andWhereas the Army Council have resolved to institute a Court of inquiry with reference to the allegations contained in the said Report reflecting on certain officers mentioned in the said Report, andWhereas the Secretary of State for War has certified that the evidence before the said Court is likely to affect the character of persons not subject to military law,The Army Council have decided to appoint a Court under the provisions of the Army (Courts of Inquiry) Act, 1916, to consist of two persons who hold or have held high judicial rank, one of whom shall be President and three military officers of high rank, the following to be the terms of reference:
- 1. The Court are required to inquire into the allegations contained in the Report of the Mesopotamia Commission adversely reflecting upon the conduct of any military officer and to report upon such conduct.
- 2. The Court are at liberty, when in their opinion the circumstances justify them in so doing, to deal separately in advance with the case of any officer or officers and to make a separate report with reference to such officer or officers.
- 3. The case will be presented by the law Officers of the Crown or by counsel nominated by the Attorney-General.
"What about the civilians?"4. All evidence shall be taken on oath.5. All parties interested will be entitled to be represented by counsel.
§ Sir F. SMITH
I think, if the hon. Member had listened carefully to what I 2180 had said, he would have seen that the terms of reference can be no surprise to anyone. There can be no ambiguity. From the very first, I put it forward that there was an obvious difference between the case of soldiers and the case of civilians, and I said it was for the House of Commons to determine whether the certainty that the civilians would have to reply and to give evidence is sufficient security that they will be brought before the tribunal. It is essentially a matter on which the House is entitled to its opinion and if it does not take that view we will gladly accept the other course. The only claim I make is that in accepting the other course we shall set up by statute a tribunal which will deal with the Acts both of the soldiers and of the civilians. If the House prefers that course, then as I have said it is a course which the Government are ready to adopt, but I do hope that anyone who realises the immense tangle through which we have had to work our way in arriving at any conclusion at all, whether he agrees with the recommendations made in the first place by the Government or not, will recognise in the readiness we have shown to accept the second course that our one desire, which we inherit from our predecessors, is that this matter shall be properly investigated and investigated with the maximum of fairness to all persons, both civilians and officers, affected.
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
I only desire to say two or three words by way of explanation about the procedure adopted by the Commission. I quite recognise that the right hon. Gentleman did not intend or desire to criticise the Commission, but it is important to explain exactly what the procedure was, why that procedure was adopted, and what bearing it has upon the present discussion. It was certainly the view taken by the Commission that it was a Commission to inquire into what may be called, broadly, a question of administrative efficiency. It was not a criminal Court of justice. It is obvious if Parliament had intended it to be a criminal Court of justice that they would not have nominated the Commissioners they did nominate, but that they would have nominated judges and others, accustomed to administer criminal matters. On the contrary, they nominated distinguished ex-administrators, like Lord George Hamilton, Members of Parliament, and persons familiar with military and naval administration. Therefore, it was clearly an administra- 2181 tive inquiry. It is quite true that Parliament armed the Commission with certain judicial powers, but having considered that matter at an early stage of its deliberation the Commission came to the conclusion that the governing section was the first section of the Act which says that certain persons "are hereby appointed Commissioners for the purpose of inquiring into the inception and conduct of operations," and so on. The whole function of the Commission was governed by a direction to inquire. They were primarily and essentially a Committee of inquiry, and not a Court of justice. The other powers that were added to these powers of inquiry were, in the view of the Commission, given them to get over any difficulty which might arise incidentally and which might be an obstacle to their arriving at the truth.
I hope it will be seen that if it had been attempted to. proceed as a Court of justice their inquiry would have been altogether barren and useless at that stage. To begin with, a Court of justice would not have been a suitable body to inquire into general questions of what reforms were desirable or into any general questions arising out of the origin and inception of the Commission. Secondly, a Court of justice proceeds with its work after a vast amount of preliminary inquiry and apparatus of inquiry which the Commission had not at its command. When a man is prosecuted at law there is, I suppose, a Crown Solicitor who, through the police, makes a vast quantity of preliminary inquiries and gets up the case against the man. There is a preliminary magisterial inquiry, and finally the issue is tried on definite charges before a judge and jury. All that was quite inappropriate to the functions of our Commission. We did not know what was the nature of the charges, if charges there were, would be. Therefore, we proceeded throughout as an inquiry into a question of administrative efficiency. Where people were to be blamed we blamed them, precisely as a Minister blames his subordinates, or as Parliament blames persons responsible to Parliament. The whole matter, in the view of the Commission, was to be conducted on the plane of a question of administrative efficiency and administrative responsibility. They never approached it from the point of view of criminal responsibility or criminal justice. I do not think it desirable that Commissioners 2182 should enter into any dispute in these matters, but, as I have intervened, contrary to my original purpose, perhaps I might draw the attention of the House to the paragraphs summing up the criticisms on the Indian Government which appear on page 116 of the Report. These show clearly enough how the Commission did regard the matter entirely from the point of view of administrative efficiency and responsibility. They say:The criticisms which it has been our duty to make upon the Government of India divide themselves into two categories:Those relating to the error of judgment shown by their advocacy of an advance on Bagdad in October, 1915. In this mistake other authorities participated, and we are not disposed to say more on this matter than that, lamentable as were the consequences, the blunder was one which is not uncommon in a protracted campaign.It will be seen that we speak of "an error of judgment," and "a mistake," and "a blunder." That is not the language of a Court of criminal justice. Then it proceeds:Our second criticisms are of a different character.I will not read the whole paragraph. The crucial sentence is this:It is impossible to refrain from serious censure of the Indian Government for the lack of knowledge and foresight shown in the inadequacy of their preparations and for the lack of readiness to recognise and supply deficiencies.That, again, is plainly a question of administrative efficiency. I venture to express the very earnest hope that in so far as appeal is made to the authority of the Commission, our language will be taken to mean what it says and neither more nor less. I have been amazed to see that we are supposed to have recommended that the War Committee should be impeached. What we say is that they are not immune from responsibility for a political miscalculation. I earnestly hope that our language may be taken to mean neither less nor more than it says, because in all the passages reflecting upon any individual the language was most carefully chosen and deliberately framed to say exactly what the Commission honestly believed to be the truth, and anyone who reads more into it and makes it something much more severe and a much graver censure than the words warrant certainly misrepresent the mind and purpose of the Commission. If there is anybody in the course of the discussion who desires to ask any question on which it will be possible for any member of the Commission to enlighten them, I shall be glad, with the indulgence of the House, to reply; but it is not, in our view—I believe I 2183 speak for the Commission as a whole— desirable that we should enter into any controversy that may arise.
§ Admiral of the Fleet Sir H. MEUX
Was it in the mind of the Commission that there would be another inquiry?
§ Lord H. CECIL
I cannot say what was in the mind of the whole of the Commission, but it certainly was not in my mind that anyone could suppose that there would be any question of punishment in the criminal sense of the word.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I submit that the procedure, now that it has been explained by the Attorney-General, his manifestly not the procedure of which the House of Commons will approve. My right hon. and learned Friend has explained to us what was meant by the proposal mentioned to the House yesterday by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The proposal is that this matter should be investigated further by a Court of inquiry under the Army Act. The very conditions which the Attorney-General has now laid down as essential to be observed are not conditions which will be fulfilled by a Court of inquiry under the Army Act, and I think it is plain to the House, after the explanation of the Attorney-General, why that is so. In the first place, it is really a mistake to suppose that there is any analogy between the case now contemplated and the Barrett case. In the Barrett case there was in the proper sense of the term material for a military Court of inquiry. It was a question directly connected with the position and the treatment of one of His Majesty's officers, and it was a perfectly natural thing for the Prime Minister to come down and say that in order that this Court of inquiry should be properly conducted you must give power to compel the attendance of civilian witnesses. That was all that the Act of Parliament did. It was not an Act of Parliament which authorised Courts of inquiry to be held into the conduct of civilians at all. It was an Act of Parliament which provided, when you were holding a military Court of inquiry, under the authority of the War Office, into the rights of some matter which it was the business of the War Office to find out, that you should have the power of compelling 2184 civilians to attend as witnesses to give evidence. That was what happened in the Barrett case.
§ Sir F. SMITH
In the Barrett case the tribunal in express terms was required by the Army Council to make a Report on the conduct of civilians.
§ Sir J. SIMON
If that is the case, it will be within the recollection of the House that the terms of reference just read out by the Attorney-General for this Court of inquiry do not involve inquiring into charges against civilians at all, and we quite understand why. It is nobody's fault, and it is certainly not the fault of the Attorney-General. Nothing could have been more candid and patient than his explanation. It is not contemplated that a military Court of inquiry should be appointed for the purpose of investigating charges against civilians. That is the plain English of it. Once that is thoroughly understood, it is obvious that the method of a Court of inquiry does not serve the purpose in hand. I will say one further thing about it. It is a complete mistake to suppose—I speak subject to correction by the Attorney-General and others—that a Court of inquiry is a sort of alternative to a court-martial in the case of an officer. It is nothing of the sort. A Court of inquiry is constituted, in proper cases, by the Secretary of State for War in order that evidence may be collected— I use the actual words—and, if so required, to reportwith regard to a matter referred to them. That is not the same thing as condemning a man by court-martial. It is within the knowledge of most of us that, in cases where a Court of inquiry has been held and the result of the Report has been to cast grave discredit upon one of His Majesty's officers, so far from that being treated as the same thing as a court-martial, the officer has demanded a court-martial with all his might, and in ordinary practice, very often gets it. The truth is that a Court of inquiry, although a very useful instrument, is not, as a matter of fact, a judicial tribunal for trying any charges whatever. It is useful for the purpose of investigating facts, collecting evidence, and making a report upon those facts. So far as I can see, this Court of inquiry now proposed will do nothing more than the Commission itself has done, subject, I agree, to this one difference, that a Court of inquiry would proceed according to the rules of evidence, and 2185 therefore a certain amount of matter which, in my opinion, was most properly considered by the Commissioners — because it would be considered by any body investigating historical questions— would not be available before the Court of inquiry. Therefore, I submit that the statement of the Attorney-General is quite sufficient to show that the method which must be followed here is not the method of adopting a Court of inquiry with the modification of the recent Act, for the modification of the recent Act merely compels the attendance of civilian witnesses and the production of documents; that the terms of reference which my right hon. Friend has just read out show quite clearly that the Court of inquiry which is contemplated, however it is constituted, would not be directed to inquire into charges against civilians at all, but would be directed to inquire into charges against military officers, and that the only way in which civilians would come before them would be as witnesses with, it may be, such indulgence in the matter of being represented by counsel and the like and dealing with reflections which might be cast upon them as the members of that Court of inquiry thought fit to assign to them.
The House will observe, further, that it is a mistake to suppose that a military Court of inquiry under the law must provide that witnesses who are reflected upon should be represented by counsel. That is no part of the functions of a Court of inquiry. It was done in the Barrett case, I understand, in which my right hon. and learned Friend represented the Crown. I suppose that was a matter of concession— I believe a most reasonable concession. But it is no part of the law connected with a military Court of inquiry that witnesses should be represented by counsel. It is no part of the law connected with military Courts of inquiry that witnesses shall stay there from the beginning to the end in order to hear what the other witnesses said. It is just a form of investigation which, in proper cases, is adopted by the War Department under the direction of the Secretary of State for War in order that evidence may be collected about some military matter and, it may be, in order that the Report made by them respecting evidence may be before the Secretary of State for War. My submission is that that will not carry this matter materially any further. I can understand, although I do not sympathise with, the claim being made that everybody should be treated as con- 2186 demned on the basis of the present Report. The Attorney-General has given an absolutely unanswerable reply to that. He has shown perfectly clearly that to deal with distinguished public servants as though they had been tried and found guilty is entirely to misunderstand what was the task which the Commissioners in the ease of the Mesopotamia Inquiry conducted. I would only say in passing that perhaps it is worth remembering that the task of the Mesopotamia Commission, owing to the nature of their duties and the limitations under which they worked, is precisely similar in all respects to the task of the Dardanelles Commission. In neither ease were the Commission trying an accused person on a formulated charge and finding him guilty. I quite understand—here the Attorney-General was quite right in what he said—that suspending public servants from duty does lie within the discretion of every Administration in a proper case, and must be part of their functions. That is the responsibility of every Government and every Department. I am not speaking of suspending people from duty, but of treating people as if they had been tried and found guilty.
If I were to select from the three or four points made by my right hon. and learned Friend, the one which I think carries the most plain conviction to all fair minds, it would be this one: Never mind about the formulation of a charge, about which too much technicality is sometimes shown, but before you can treat a man in this country as having been tried and found guilty you must have made certain that at least he knows what the evidence is upon which he has been condemned. I understand that the procedure before this Commission was that these distinguished public servants were called in to give evidence, they gave it, they passed out of the room, they were not in some cases recalled, they were not provided with the evidence, and they had no opportunity of answering what might have been said behind their backs against them. They woke up one morning to find some people regarding as a conviction a Report by a body which was not acting judicially. It was a body which did not possess the first element of justice in connection with a conviction for a crime, namely, that before a person is found guilty he shall have heard all the evidence and have an opportunity of answering it. The first element of justice does not consist in having him in a room, ask- 2187 ing him such questions as occur to you, without telling him what it is of which he stands imperilled. It is of the essence of justice that he should be heard before he is condemned, and that he should have an opportunity of hearing what is said against him and of replying to it. That obviously cannot be said of this Commission. That is not in any way to reflect upon the way in which the Commissioners did their duty. Their duty was not to try people on charges. There were no charges formulated for them to try. Their duty was to address themselves to the terms of reference, and to make that report which they thought the material before them justified them in making. Therefore I accept without any reserve the argument the Attorney-General has put forward, that we should be doing an intolerable wrong if we treated those who are reflected upon in the Mesopotamia Report as if they had been tried by some judicial tribunal and found guilty.
With equal emphasis I would submit that we shall go gravely wrong if we think that what is now required to be done can be done by the method of a military Court of inquiry. It will not operate fairly as between soldiers, who are proper subjects of such an inquiry, and civilians who are not. It will not, so far as I could follow the Attorney-General, really proceed so as to satisfy his own condition of formulating a charge. It will be only by the favour of such a Court of inquiry that the persons who may find themselves reflected upon can be represented by counsel. The whole function of a Court of inquiry is not as here intended. The Attorney-General pointed out, and he was well entitled to do so, that anybody who objects to the procedure suggested by the Government ought to supply an alternative. I do not say that it is the duty of critics to find an alternative. He himself submitted an alternative, one which I trust is not going to occupy any longer time. When I hear some people talk of how long these inquiries will take, I am afraid that the Statute of Limitations will run out. It is not only in the public interest, but in the interest of the public servants upon whom at present a most grievous burden of suspicion undoubtedly does fall, that it seems to me the other suggestion put forward by the Attorney-General was the right one. If there be general agreement in the House that we ought not to countenance treating what 2188 has been reported by the Commission as amounting to the finding guilty of these distinguished public servants, the obvious alternative is that the Government should take the responsibility—after all, it is their duty—of saying how far they think it necessary in the public interest to suspend these servants from the public service in the meantime, and that they should determine, in the exercise of their proper discretion, to apply this or that disciplinary measure; but that if they are not, the Government should propose a method by which, under a short and agreed Statute, the necessary charges can be formulated for the purpose of those charges either being met or overcome, or even proved in accordance with the-ordinary principles of plain justice.
Colonel Sir MARK SYKES
It is difficult for one who has little or no legal experience at all to follow the speeches which have just been made. One thought that passed through my mind while the Attorney-General and the right hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down were speaking, and during the two hours and a quarter which have been occupied in the speeches we have heard was, how many men have been killed at the front and how much we have done towards preventing them being killed or towards helping on the War? If the result of these Debates is to set up permanent Courts which go on inquiring and inquiring into one scandal after another, with fresh questions raised, with further depreciation of our prestige in the eyes of our Allies, I do not see how we are helping on the War in any way whatever.
§ 6.0 P.M.
Sir M. SYKES
I will come to that. I am not overlooking that. May I suggest to the House that the questions we have to deal with are not really legal questions, nor is this War, as my right hon. Friend seems to think, a rehearsal for another war or a preparation for other fights at a future date? The question is, What can we get out of this Report, here and now, which will give us useful information and enable us to carry on the War from this day forward? We have not to go looking for scapegoats and making preparations for wars which will never take place, but to-see what we can learn from this Report which will help us on with the War at once. I hope I shall not be offending the House if I suggest that there are three points 2189 upon which we may get valuable hints from this Report as to the way in which we should carry on in the future and the way in which we can improve our immediate administration, or, if we have improved it, to improve it still further. The first thing we have to consider is the administration of India. There has naturally been, as the result of this Report, and in this Report, a great deal of criticism of the Indian Administration. The first thing we have to do is to try to understand. India at the beginning of this War was vast, isolated, and it necessarily is and always must be preoccupied in her own affairs. The Indian Budget is very small and the poverty of the people and the smallness of the Government in personnel necessitate low taxation. The Indian Government must have low taxation. Not only are the people poor, but the form of government is one which can only exist under low taxation. India may proceed to higher taxation later on, but not as things are at present. Also the Indian Army was calculated for what we may call practically local emergencies. From the starting of the Entente and the settling of our differences with Russia, India's military ideas were practically for a small local emergency, and whether the emergency in India was great or small, for social, religious and geographical reasons, India's recruiting must be restricted to a very small area. In view of India's previous preparation and ideas of what war meant, her contribution was immense. As to what the War actually was from a European standpoint, it is true that her actual contribution was very small indeed, but I do not think, as a purely military contribution, it could have been greater.
When we come to the 75 per cent.—I think the Chief of the Imperial General Staff described it as 75 per cent.—of non-military effort—that is, the civilian resources for war purposes—there it must be admitted that the Indian Government failed to a great extent. The civil resources of India were not concentrated on the War in the way they might have been. Again, I think, we must try to understand people's points of view. If it took us nearly twelve months, perhaps even more, with Zeppelins overhead and the wounded in the streets, to realise what the War was, how can you expect a small handful of Indian civilians, with famine constantly in their minds, sedition 2190 always before them, the frontier to preoccupy them, and thousands of miles of distance between the actual scene of war and themselves, to jump to the conclusion that the time has come to concentrate every resource at their command? I think this explains Sir William Meyer's speech, much as I censure it personally. It was a dreadful speech. Also, you cannot be surprised, taking all circumstances into consideration, that "business as usual"— a vicious cry—continued in India for a much longer time than it did here. Things, I have no doubt, are better now in India, but I am sure not enough is being done. I am sure more could be done, and the real lesson of this Report is that India must devote every ounce of mental energy, every ton of stores, supply, rails, wheeled vehicles, ships, anything that she can lay her hands on, for war uses on her immediate front, and put them under a master hand here in London for use upon the front. What I say with regard to India is equally applicable with regard to Egypt. We have in Palestine and in Mesopotamia the civil war resources of a population of about 17,000,000 up against us. In Egypt we have the civil war resources of 12,000,000, and in India the civil war resources of 300,000,000, very poor people but not afflicted by the War, to switch on to the immediate front in support of our Armies. We cannot look to those countries to supply us with man power in a fighting sense further than they have done, but we can look to a great deal in stores and in civil resources. The way to get them is not to expose the Government of India to the ridicule of the whole world, but to give a rousing call, and I am certain, once they realise what the situation is, and what is wanted, while they have in the last few months done a great deal I am sure they could treble and quadruple it.
There is another point of value, I believe, which we can learn from the Report of the Mesopotamian campaign. If there is one thing more than another which it is necessary for us British to learn—perhaps we may not have learnt it yet—it is to define our objective, to know where we are going and what we are going to do. Take the case of the whole of this Mesopotamia campaign. We landed at Basra. We went on to Amara to hold Basra, and we went on to Kut to hold Amara. We sent a representative to Bagdad in 1798, and we have had one there ever since, and we landed on 22nd November, 1914. We had 120 years to 2191 consider what we should do if we landed in Mesopotamia, and we had ten months to decide whether we should go on or not— 120 years to think it over and ten months to decide. But when Kut fell, and General Nixon—I was there at the time—telegraphed to know what was to be done, a committee of distinguished gentlemen was appointed to inquire into whether we really ought to go on to Bagdad or not, and then began that game of baseball or rounders between the Cabinet, the committee, the Viceroy, the Secretary of State, and the General Officer Commanding, and three weeks were wasted in that way. Certainly we ought to have known the day before the battle as to whether we were going on to Bagdad. I am sure any General working for a Continental army would have known very well before the battle of Kut what was to be done if the battle was won.
That is a very good example of random methods. And even with victory in our grasp it is easy enough to lose the War by random methods when you have anything but clearcut ideas at the back of your mind. The Turco-German combination is very simple, and I think persistent in victory and even in defeat. The German, whether he be industrial, capitalist, militarist, Junker, whatever he is, he knows that the Bagdad railway is there, and he knows it is built for pushing the British economically out of Asia and bringing the submarines down the Persian Gulf. That is the German economic side. The Turkish side has worked in with that on the political side, that is to say, while the Bagdad railway is to bring the German goods and the German forces it is also to carry on Turkish political influence in Central Asia, and even in Northern Persia and to Afghanistan. The German has the economic idea, and the Turk has the political idea. Together, they work with one purpose. It was suggested by Lord Hardinge in another place that India did not know, when the War began, that Turkey was coming into the War. One may well excuse anyone in India not knowing, but it seems to me to have been pretty obvious to anyone who watched the situation. With the Germans building the Bagdad railway through Turkey, then | appointing a German general as military governor of Constantinople, and then sending German battleships into the Golden Horn, it shows an absolutely wrong diagnosis, and is another example 2192 of random methods of reasoning not to see that it was certain that the Turks not only would come in, but would be obliged to come in. The lesson we must learn from the Report in regard to that matter seems to me to be that we must understand clearly what the enemy aim is, define our objective, and then carry on. But we cannot carry on to any useful purpose unless we know where we are going, and why. When one puts it on ideals, the object of the Germans is dominion, ours is liberation. Having ideals behind us like that, perfectly opposite ideals on both sides, it is not difficult for us to work out our definite objectives and not to wait, as I fear we may do, till some crisis, military or political, suddenly comes upon us. You may be faced with negotiations or with fighting. In any case, anticipate the event, and do not, when the crisis comes, have to appoint a committee to tell you what to do, because the committee will not succeed any better than the Government.
There is one other lesson which may be learnt from this Report, which is more useful even than the other two, and that is not to fight the War in watertight compartments. The thing is very obvious. This Mesopotamian Commission's Report is a very good example of watertight compartment campaign. I am in no way blaming the Commission. They saw a host of witnesses and heard many pages of evidence, but no one will suppose, reading their Report, that this campaign was a part of Armageddon and was closely linked up with the Caucausus, with Persia, with Afghanistan, and Constantinople — that it was the Middle Eastern theatre of war. No better proof is needed than this. Look at the Index of the Report. You will not find any reference to Russia, the Grand Duke, or Bulgaria. I am not blaming the Commission because these things did not arise; but it only shows the state of mind pervading the whole of the Mesopotamian campaign. That was one theatre, and it had no relation to the War as a whole. That is a very good example of the thing which I am sure has in the past—it is improving, no doubt, with time—hampered our operations, and that is that people, soldiers and civilians alike, have tended to get into various schools of thought—the Eastern school and the Western school. That produces rivalry and absolutely wrong impressions as to the importance of one theatre in relation to another, and 2193 it produces a considerable amount of ignorance. I should like to give one example of watertight-compartment war which is shown in this Report. On 3rd October General Nixon telegraphed that he had the road open to Bagdad. Then a committee was appointed, and circumlocution took its course. On 23rd October 'General Nixon was told—I think by the Viceroy—to go on if he could. That is a space of nearly three weeks. During that time a thing took place that is not mentioned in the Report at all, and that is that about 14th October Bulgaria finally declared war, bringing with her an additional army into the middle Eastern theatre of war of about 450,000 men. Not 60,000 men, as mentioned in the private telegram. It was a colossal affair. Four hundred and fifty thousand men come in in the central theatre of war there, with the result that at least 150,000 Turks must have been released from the Turkish general reserves at Constantinople. I do not say that these Turks at Constantinople would get there at once. I know that it takes months for them to get from Constantinople, but on the day Bulgaria came in the Turkish general staff would immediately begin an undulation, passing their troops in a south-easterly direction. That is to say, that if the Turks had three battalions, 200 or 300 miles nearer to Bagdad, those battalions could come down the next day, because they knew that three other battalions would come trickling down the line later on. What is the reason for that not having been taken into consideration? It evidently was not taken into consideration, because the 60,000 mentioned is by no means sufficient to cover a great military event like that of Bulgaria coming in. The 60,000 telegram was a very unimportant telegram. It had no relation to this great affair.
Who is to blame? You cannot blame the Viceroy in Simla for not taking into consideration a matter on the map, which perhaps he has not thought of. He is not asked. You cannot blame him for not thinking about Bulgaria when he is at Simla. It is not his business to do so. You cannot blame General Nixon, with his eye on his immediate front. He says, "I see Bagdad. I think I can get it." He is away in Mesopotamia. I do not think at that time you can blame the War Office, because it had no relations with India. I attribute the root of the Kut 2194 disaster to local points of view dominating all round, and there being no central point of view and consequently no cohesion. Everybody who knows what is going on now knows that most of the War, so far as we are concerned, is in one master hand. The lesson is that all the War ought to be in one master hand; and not only that, but that master hand ought to have a call upon all the resources that can be put at his disposal. Do let us try to get everybody away from these local points of view. The man who has his eye on Brussels, the man who has his eye on Gaza, and so on, has a local horizon, and the War to him must be distorted. The man in the centre sees the War as a whole and wants to win the War, not to win a given battle for which he is responsible, and you want to give that person the greatest assistance you can, and put as much power in his hands as you can, so that he can put his forces where he wants them and when he wants them, without undue criticism, and in order that he may strike a blow at a decisive point. These are, I think, the three lessons that this Commission really teaches—concentration of local reserves on local fronts at the call of the central authority; definition of objective and anticipation of military and political crises before they arrive and the knowledge of what you are going to do when they do arrive; and, lastly, to treat the War as a whole from Zeebrugge right away to Aden and from Ypres to Bagdad. The last thing we ought to go in for is revenges, raising more dust and more scandal, and exhausting energy which ought to be reserved for the enemy.
There is one last word that I should like to say. I know not what may be said later in this Debate with regard to those who have been censured in moderate and mild words by the Commission. There is one person who stands in a very difficult position of whom I should like to say a few words, but not with regard to what he has done in this particular case. Lord Hardinge has made his defence in another place, and if these things go on he has ample opportunity of stating his case. I do not want for one moment to enter into a discussion as to what he did or did not do in this particular case, to to ask the House to consider what he has done in other ways. First of all, let us consider what we owe to Lord Hardinge. It must not be forgotten that Lord Hardinge was Minister at St. Petersburg—it was not Petrograd then— 2195 at the time of the North Sea incident. The slightest faltering then, the slightest mistake, or the losing of his head, and there would have been certainly, early in this century, a devastating war between England and Russia. That, by his prescience, he avoided, and he saved Europe so that the Entente could be built up. That prevented a terrible catastrophe overtaking us in this century. He did much towards building up the alliance which is now fighting Prussian militarism and working for the liberation of mankind. And lastly, just before the beginning of this War, he introduced many reforms into India, and if India was loyal at the outbreak of this War its loyalty was displayed after some years of Lord Hardinge's office there. Immediately on this War breaking out remember what he was going through as a man. I say this because he never can say it. His life was attempted in a dastardly manner, and remember that an attempt at assassination is a worse thing for the nerves and mind of a man than many days in the trenches. I say that from those who have been in the trenches. Immediately after that, his wife was cruelly taken from him in a most tragic way, and then immediately afterwards his son fell in the War in Flanders. But Lord Hardinge went on with his duty. I think the things I have mentioned ought to be considered when you are considering the work he did in regard to the Mesopotamia Expedition.
§ Sir H. CRAIK
It does not seem to me that this new Commission which it is proposed to set up will do anything but repeat in more or less vague form the same inquiry that has already been carried out. I agree with the hon. and gallant Member (Colonel Sir Mark Sykes). What is the good we are doing in the War by these more or less vague inquiries, with more or less vague objects, and more or less indirect and unsatisfactory results? It used to be said by Voltaire in the last century that we were in the habit of shooting an admiral occasionally pour encourager les autres. Is it likely that we shall encourage the officers of our Army or those responsible for it by having a whole series of inquiries one on top of another which can. have no effective result and which only attach to their name a stigma which lowers their influence amongst their comrades and lowers their good name in the country which 2196 they have served for so many years. It is only in regard to one particular branch of this Report that I wish to speak. I happen to have a very large number of my Constituents who are in the medical profession, especially in the Indian Medical Service and in the R.A.M.C. I want to speak about what the Report has said in regard to the medical profession. I cannot find, after carefully studying the Report, anything in their conclusions that are not vague and indiscriminate, and even contradictory. I would like to illustrate my point by quoting some of the contradictory references from the Report. In paragraph 111 they say:There are passages in the evidence of Lord Hardinge, Surgeon-General Hathaway and other responsible witnesses which might lead to the inference that the medical breakdown in Mesopotamia was due to the shortage of ordinary river transport, for which, of course, the medical authorities were not responsible. If this were true, it would follow that the medical authorities must be relieved of blame for the results of the breakdown.One would have thought that, but how do they go on? They say:We cannot agree with such a contention.On page 113 of the same Report they says:The defects of medical provision caused avoidable suffering to the sick and wounded, and during the breakdown in the winter of 1915–16 this suffering was most lamentably severe.The deficiencies, which were the main causes of the avoidable suffering of the sick and wounded, were in the provision of the following:
In the other part of the Report they point out that if the medical authorities were not responsible for the ordinary river transport they must be relieved of all blame, and in another part of the Report they say:
- (a) River hospital steamers.
- (b) Medical personnel.
- (c) River transport.
- (d) Ambulance land transport."In our opinion the known shortage of ordinary river transport, if anything, aggravates rather than palliates the omissions of the medical authorities.Surely we have a right to ask how are we to reconcile these ridiculous contradictions between different parts of the Report. The real fact is that there seems to be a sort of determination to find some scapegoat for that which has attracted more attention than any other part of the Report in the public minds—the lamentable, scandalous, and dreadful way in which our sick were treated during that campaign. There seems to be a desire to find in some way or other a scapegoat, and I think they have found him anywhere except in the right direction. What 2197 has been the long history of the medical service in India? It has been a fight against the most miserable cheese-paring by the financial authorities in India. That is not a new condition of things. I would far more trust to the conclusion of the Vincent-Bingley Commission than the more sweeping conclusions of this Commission. The report of the Vincent-Bingley Commission over and over again urges that the evil has come from the way in which the medical service has been starved. Here is what they say on page 151. They give an officer's opinion:In my opinion the Indian system is more to blame for the breakdown of the Mesopotamia medical arrangements than anything else. A system which allows officers to think, whether rightly or wrongly, that there is more merit to be gained by keeping quiet and not worrying the higher authorities for what is necessary; that keeping down expenditure is more meritorious than efficiency; that nothing new is likely to be sanctioned unless a corresponding saving in something else can be shown; and that even in small matters anything asked for will certainly be cut down by half.Yet we are told that the blame rests on the medical authorities because they did not with more insistence than before urge what they had been asking for for years. In 1908 there was a Medical Commission appointed. It recommended a large additional provision for medical needs, including provision for station hospitals, which was urged by all the medical authorities, and was proved by independent inquiry then to be necessary. The Report of that Commission was pigeon-holed, and it was not until three or four years later that a Medical Commission was sent out, under Field-Marshal Lord Nicholson, who from the beginning to the end of their inquiries made it perfectly clear that their one object was to curtail expenditure upon the Army Medical Service, and it was in consequence of the Report of that Commission, which had been sent out animated with the object of making financial savings, that further expenditure was not in curred and better provision was not made. It is said that certain medical authorities perhaps did not take a serious enough view of the situation, but there is this fact, that one whose reputation stands very high, who cannot speak for himself in this House, who has a reputation for service which is, I think, unequalled by anyone in the Royal Army Medical Corps—I refer to Sir William Babtie—who has won the Victoria Cross—
§ Sir H. CRAIK
Who has won the very highest military decoration that any com- 2198 batant can ever gain—this is the man who, because he happened to be for some nine or ten months in India, we are told is to be blamed. He sat down too easily under the financial restrictions imposed on him. For two months of that time he was Chief Medical Officer in India. He was recalled to Egypt for very important work, and kept there; but because in these nine months Sir William Babtie did not reconstruct the whole Medical Service, did not break through the bonds and shackles of cheese-paring that had been imposed by years of service, he is to blame. I say, without fear of contradiction, that even this single reflection by a Commission constituted like this on a man with the record of Sir William Babtie is an absolute mistake on the part of the members of this Commission. The result is that in the case of Sir William Babtie, who for a few days acted at the War Office as one of the chiefs of the Royal Army Medical Corps, because an unthinking reflection, an ill-calculated reflection has been imposed upon him, we are deprived of his. services now. We are not deprived of the services of Sir William Meyer, a man who has risen in the service by constantly ingratiating himself with the financial authorities through cheese-paring, who must not be taken—I say this with all careful consideration—as a specimen of the Indian Civil Service of the better type, a man who has in every case injured and done his best to injure and curtail the usefulness of the Medical Service. We are not deprived of Sir William Meyer's services because of any reflection cast upon him by this Report—indeed, I think he is appointed to some new, higher, and more important post. But we are deprived of the medical services of Sir William Babtie simply because he did not overturn the bad tradition of the Indian Government for years in fostering this miserable, narrow, financial cheese-paring, which is really solely responsible for the miseries endured by our sons and brothers in this wretched campaign.
§ Sir J. D. REES
The hon. Member seems to forget that the Commission expressly exonerates Sir William Meyer.
§ Sir H. CRAIK
I have nothing to do with that. So much the worse for the Commission; it only confirms what I say. The results of the Commission fall precisely upon those whose services are most useful to the State, and whose services are lessened by the reflections cast upon 2199 them, and such a proposal as that announced by the right hon. Gentleman the Attorney-General, which, after having suspended all military officers and medical officers belonging to the Medical Corps, leaves it to Sir William Meyer to enjoy the benefits of still further promotion, which he has obtained by ingratiating himself with those financial cheese-parers who have ruined the Medical Service. I wish to enter a protest against some of the conclusions of this Commission in reference to a great medical service to which we owe so much, and I think that the indirect and inconclusive reflections made by this Commission, instead of benefiting, will directly injure the cause of the country.
§ Mr. MONTAGU
I think in the first instance that I should ask the occupants of the Front Bench if they would, at some convenient time, give us some explanation of the absence from this Debate of the Secretary of State for India. I feel quite certain that there must be some good reason.
§ Mr. MONTAGU
The first consideration which I would like to address to the House is that we are discussing the second occasion which has arisen during the War in which politicians, soldiers, doctors, and Civil servants come in for severe censure. This country, which started at the beginning of the War wholly unprepared for, and wholly unexpectant of a conflict of this kind, has, despite the atmosphere of self-criticism in which we live, somehow or other through all these mistakes and muddles, developed into the terror of all our enemies, and the most conspicuous enemy and the most successful enemy that Germany possesses. It does seem to me that that is a remarkable fact. When we consider the Reports of Commissions of this kind, after all, we are now discussing one phase in the most successful campaign of the War, the one campaign in which the objective has been achieved. To-day the British flag is flying at Bagdad. Where else has there been any comparable success? And these are only the early 2200 stages which played a preliminary part in that great success which has been won by General Maude. I agree with the hon. Gentleman who spoke last and my hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Sir M. Sykes) who spoke from the Back Bench opposite-There are many grave disadvantages in the appointment of these Commissions. As my hon. and gallant Friend said they are bound by their terms of reference to act exactly as the Allies have acted throughout this War, and to consider separately little bits of the picture rather than bring it into true perspective with all the other events which are happening in other parts of the world After all, if our conspicuous success had been continuous, if General Nixon had reached Bagdad without a reverse, would there ever have been a Mesopotamia Commission? And yet there is no comment upon the fact that just after the battle of Ctesiphon—I think I am right in the date —Gallipoli was evacuated and the whole picture was changed by the liberation of the Turkish forces in the Peninsula. That is my first criticism on the Commission, that you cannot get a true perspective by examining as an isolated thing one theatre of the world War; and the second point that I make against these Commissions has been rendered obvious by all the discussion which took place in the early part of the afternoon. As a result of the publication of the Report, necessarily without evidence, serious charges are made against individuals, who have never had an opportunity of learning the evidence against them.
The result is that if you wish to take action against these individuals you are confronted with difficulties with which my right hon. and learned Friend dealt earlier this afternoon, and I submit that if you are going to have any further proceedings it would have been far better to postpone the question until your sittings are completed, because now whatever Court sits, it must not only have the prejudice of this discussion, but the prejudice of the public discussion upon the Report. I join with my right hon. and learned Friend beside me in his suggestion that of the two alternatives offered that of the right hon. Gentleman the Attorney-General is much the more satisfactory. My third complaint against this Commission is that in the terms of reference they are asked to attach responsibility to departments of the Government, but what the Commission did was to attach responsi- 2201 bility not to departments of the Government, but to individuals. The House and the country are sapping in that way the whole service of co-operative effort and departmental responsibility in this country. Men are asking for instructions in writing, men are safeguarding themselves by letters and by minutes, men dare not give advice because they are afraid of a Commission sitting upon their action. Under the old system the Parliamentary Chief of the Department was responsible for what occurred, and under his rule he cloaked with his authority all those who worked for him. Has that gone by the board? This man and that man may come to be censured, although working seriously and courageously to the best of his endeavour. I believe that by that means you are doing irreparable injury to our system of government; and you want to weigh that well against any good you can acheive on the other side.
After all, do not let us pass a verdict upon the share of these men in this story because of the fact that we know now that in this part of the campaign, at all events, they were defeated. Do not let us punish men for failure. After all, when was it that the serious defects in the equipment and the plans of the advance on Bagdad really became obvious? I do not say that there were not serious shortages, horrible shortages of necessary supplies, before they could be successful, but what I do say is that if there had been no defeat at Ctesiphon, and if General Nixon had succeeded in getting to Bagdad, most of the evils which overtook the Army in retreat would not have occurred. Therefore, the greatest charge that you can bring against General Nixon is that he failed to obtain success and took serious risks. I do not believe that you will ever beat the Germans unless you take risks, and I think at any rate that the Press atmosphere, if not the House of Commons atmosphere, on this Report is a direct invitation to everybody to take no risks at all. Supposing— which God forbid !—we should have a similar Commission on affairs in Palestine; in the one case it would be that the advance was too quick, and in the other that the advance was possibly too slow. After all, has anybody read paragraph 9, page 18, of the Report, where it describes General Nixon going in the direction of Nasariyeh. The paragraph says:The heat was terrific; still General Nixon deemed it expedient to carry on the enterprice. 2202 Major-General Gorringe, who was in charge of this column, succeeded in capturing Nasariyeh on 25th July, with 950 prisoners, seventeen guns and. much booty. These operations were initiated by the General on the spot, supported by the Commander-in-Chief and Viceroy of India, and acquiesced in by the Secretary of State. They appeared to us to be sound from both a military and political view. Our casualties amounted to 533 of all ranks.In that cold and colourless language is described one of the most courageous and brilliantly executed exploits in all war, accomplished by General Sir John Nixon, who has served his country well, who has served it with distinction, and who has played a vital part in the greater successes of his better equipped successors, and certainly he ought not to be censured and punished, and driven out of the Army on the isolated circumstances after the battle of Ctesiphon, but we should acknowledge the incomparable services which that same soldier has rendered to his country.
From Sir John Nixon I will turn to Lord Hardinge. There can be no doubt in the mind of anybody who is acquainted with recent occurrences in India, that Lord Hardinge when he left India left it, by the universal opinion of all Indians, certainly by the overwhelming majority of Indians, people and princes, as the most popular Viceroy of modern times. There have been strong predecessors of his, but when he came to India irritation was rife, public opinion had been slighted and ignored; he showed himself from the beginning to the end of his viceroyalty to be a Viceroy upon whose sympathy and assistance Indians could rely, not only in India but in the whole world, and, as my hon. Friend has said, through personal bereavement and attempted assassination, he stuck to his post to the end of his prolonged term, never faltering, never losing courage, and he left having achieved much for India, and now he is censured by this document for what, for the fact that he relied too much upon those who had been chosen to give him military advice. Among many things we have never decided in this country are the relations between politicians and soldiers. On the same day you may read two newspapers: sometimes, I think, you will read in one newspaper trenchant criticisms against the Government for overruling or disregarding or attempting to hamper the action of their military advisers, and on the other hand you will find peremptory demands that they should hamper, overrule, or criticise their military advisers. The two accusa- 2203 tions are not in harmony with one another, and the true relation of the responsibility of politicians and soldiers has never been satisfactorily decided in this country, so far as I know, by any Government. But the mistake that Lord Hardinge made, if it be a mistake, is the same mistake as my right hon. Friend made when he relied upon Lord French -and Sir Douglas Haig, and the same mistake which I presume the present Prime Minister is making when he relies now on the advice of Sir Douglas Haig. May I give an analogy of what I mean? When we were told the other day that the defence of London against air raids depends upon the number of aeroplanes wanted At the front, who says how many aeroplanes are wanted in France?—the Commander-in-Chief.
Supposing a committee of inquiry sitting afterwards discovered that in a particular month—I do not make the allegation for one moment—that there was certain aeroplanes which might have been used for the defence of London lying idle in a particular part of the front, would the responsibility be that of Sir Douglas Haig or the Prime Minister? What is the alternative to a politician relying on his military advisers? If he cannot trust them, let him choose others. All I say is that Lord Hardinge's reliance upon Sir Beauchamp Duff is not different from that of my right hon. Friend opposite. Lord Hardinge in this regard cannot be treated as an isolated figure. I think the real charge against the Indian Government is a charge in which I want to include Lord Hardinge and my right hon. Friend opposite and his predecessor in office, Lord Crewe. It is so easy to be wise after the event. The real charge against the Indian Administration seems to me to be this: At the beginning of the War I believe there was too great doubt of the loyalty and co-operation of the Indian people. The "Times" newspaper, day after day for sessions and months past, had articles pointing out that sedition was supposed to he rife. It loomed certainly much too large in the discussions of this House. It misled the Germans into thinking India was disloyal, and the deliberate policy of the Government in regard to India during the War seems to me to have been, let us make the least contribution as we dare as far from India as is possible. Keep the War away from India; we will take Indian soldiers 2204 and put them into France, and lend Indian civilians to the Home Government. India geographically as a country should be content with defending its own frontiers, and in maintaining order—a very great responsibility—inside, the. continent of India. Apart from that, it was to do nothing near itself in the War. The people of India were even not asked to contribute to the War, although they asked Parliament that they should be allowed to contribute. I am told that volunteers were asked for in Bengal for certain purposes, and afterwards were told they were not wanted. I am talking now of the beginning of the War. The policy was that we did not know whether India should co-operate in this War or not; we did not trust them; we dare not trust them—I am not criticising them from that point of view—let us keep the War far from India. Then events proved that the Indian people were anxious to co-operate, and the share of the Indian people in this War, from the beginning to the end, has always been greater than the share of the Indian Government in this War, and always more willing than the share of the Indian Government. When this atmosphere had been created, when Indian troops had been sent to France and Indian civilians sent here, and when India, as Lord Hardinge said, had been "bled white," suddenly there comes a change of policy, and we have this expedition to Bagdad, a complete reversal of policy, unaccompanied, so far as I can see, with any big enough effort to put the Government and organisation of India, which was then on a peace footing, on a war footing, for an aggressive war comparable to the change in policy. Therefore, the machinery was overturned; there was no equipment for war, and when expeditions were sent abroad they ought to have been equipped in a way comparable to the equipment of the expeditionary forces in this country and in our Dominions. As a matter of fact, here comes what I regard a true reduction from this source. The machinery of government in it, this country, with its unwritten constitution, and the machinery of government in our Dominions has proved itself sufficiently elastic, sufficiently capable of modification, to turn a peace-pursuing instrument into a war-making instrument. It is the Government of India alone which does not seem capable of transformation, and I regard 2205 that as based upon the fact that the machinery is statute written machinery. The Government of India is too wooden, too iron, too inelastic, too antediluvian, to be any use for the modern purposes we have in view. I do not believe that anybody could ever support the Government of India from the point of view of modern requirements. But it would do. Nothing serious had happened since the Indian mutiny, the public was not interested in Indian affairs, and it required a crisis to direct attention to the fact that the Indian Government is an indefensible system of government. I remember when I first came to the House, when my hon. Friend opposite, he will perhaps forgive me for reminding him of the fact, and I were members, of one of those Committees which Members of Parliament form themselves into, and he spent the whole of his time in trying to direct his colleagues' attention to the necessity of thinking about India. He urged people to go to the Debates about it. I was one of those whom he got to go to the early Debates, when Lord Morley took charge of its affairs. Was he successful? Does anybody remember the Indian Budget Debates before the War? Upon that day the House was always empty. India did not matter, and the Debates were left to people on the one side who their enemies sometimes called "bureaucrats," and on the other side to people whom their enemies sometimes called "seditionists," until it almost came to be disreputable to take part in Indian Debates. It required a crisis of this kind to realise how important Indian affairs were. After all, is the House of Commons to be blamed for that? What was the Indian Budget Debate? It was a purely academic discussion which had no effect whatever upon events in India, conducted after the events that were being discussed, had taken place. How can you now defend the fact that the Secretaries of State for India alone of all the occupants of the Front Bench, with the possible exception of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, are not responsible to this House for their salaries, and do not come here with their Estimates in order that the House of Commons may express its opinion?
§ Mr. MONTAGU
I know, and I am not blaming anybody for it. What I am say- 2206 ing now is in the light of these revelations of this inelasticity of Indian government, however much you could gloss over those indefensible proceedings in the past, the time has now come to alter them. Does the hon. Member resent my advocacy of a change?
§ Mr. DILLON
For twenty years a small group of us have been demanding that the salary of the Secretary of State for India should be put on the Estimates and the two Front Benches always solidly combined against us.
§ Mr. MONTAGU
The tone of those Debates was unreal, unsubstantial and ineffective. If Estimates for India, like Estimates for the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and the Colonial Secretary were to be discussed on the floor of the House of Commons, the Debates on India would be as good as the Debates on foreign affairs. After all, what is the difference? Has it ever been suggested to the people of Australia that they should pay the salary of the Secretary of State for the Colonies? Why should the whole cost of that building in Charles Street, including the building itself, be an item of the Indian taxpayers burden rather than of this House of Commons and the people of the country? If I may give one example of the inconvenience of the existing system, I would refer to the Indian Cotton Duties debate which occurred in this House this year. The Cotton Duties had been imposed and there was no possible way of undoing that. That is the attitude in which we always debate Indian affairs. You have got no opportunity of settling the policy. It has been sometimes questioned whether a democracy can rule an Empire. I say that in this instance the democracy has never had the opportunity of trying. But even if the House of Commons were to give orders to the Secretary of State, the Secretary of State is not his own master. In matter vitally affecting India, he can be overruled by a. majority of his Council. I may be told that the cases are very rare in which the Council has differed from the Secretary of State for India. I know one case anyhow, where it was a very near thing, and where the action of the Council might without 2207 remedy have involved the Government of India in a policy out of harmony with the declared policy of the House of Commons and the Cabinet. And these gentlemen are appointed for seven years, and can only be controlled from the Houses of Parliament by Resolution carried in both Houses calling on them for their resignations. The whole system of the India Office is designed to prevent control by the House of Commons for fear that there might the too advanced a Secretary of State. I do not say that it is possible to govern India through the intervention of the Secretary of State with no expert advice, but what I do say is that in this epoch now after the Mesopotamia Report, he must get his expert advice in some other way than "by this Council of men, great men though no doubt? they always are, who come home after lengthy service in India to spend the first years of their retirement as members of the Council of India. No wonder that the practice of telegrams backward and forward and of private telegrams, commented upon by the Mesopotamia Report, has come into existence.
Does any Member of this House know much about procedure in the India Office, how the Council sits in Committees, how there is interposed between the Civil servant and the political chiefs the Committees of the India Council, and how the draft on some simple question comes up through the Civil servant to the Under-Secretary of State, and may be referred back to the Committee which sends it back to him, and it then goes to the Secretary of State, who then sends it to the India Council, which may refer it back to the Committee, and two or three time in its history may go backwards and forwards. I say that that is a system so cumbrous, so designed to prevent efficiency and change that in the light of these revelations it cannot continue to exist. I speak very bitterly, and I speak with some feeling on this subject, for in the year 1912 a very small modification in this machinery was attempted by Lord Crewe, and a Bill was introduced into the House of Commons. On the motion of Lord Curzon, it was thrown out on Second Reading in another place. Its authorship was attributed to me, and I was supposed to have forced it on my Noble Chief, because I found that the machinery of the India Office was not good for my own purposes. My only de- 2208 sire then, as it is now, was to try and find something which had some semblance of speedy action. Government offices are often accused of circumlocution and red tape. I have been to the India Office and I to other offices. I tell this House that the statutory organisation of the India Office produces an apotheosis of circumlocution and red tape beyond the dreams of any ordinary citizen. I will come to one particular detail of the India Office administration before I pass from this subject. I think the Mesopotamia Report stigmatises the conduct of the Stores Department as in one respect unbusinesslike. The Stores Department of the India Office is a Department whose sole function—a most important function certainly—is the purchase of millions of pounds worth of equipment for the Indian Army, clothing and such like. It is presided over by a Civil servant. In the year 1912 or 1913 a vacancy occurred in that office, and it was suggested then that the proper man to superintend mere purchasing operations of that kind was a business man—an institution of the policy always associated with the Prime Minister. Great difficulties appeared in the way of the appointment of a business man, and a Civil servant was appointed. But it was agreed then that the next occupant of the office should be a business man. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State told me yesterday that a Civil servant had again been appointed.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for INDIA (Mr. Chamberlain)
I never heard of any such agreement.
§ Mr. MONTAGU
My right hon. Friend is not responsible for any agreement come to by his predecessor. I say it was then agreed as a policy that a business man should be appointed to succeed the Civil servant. I am only giving this history to point out that now, after the Report of the Mesopotamia Commission, I would suggest to him that the time has come to abolish the Stores Department of the India Office, when the work that it is doing of clothing the Indian Army is comparable entirely to the work which is now being done by the Ministry of Munitions and the War Office for equipping our own Armies and the Armies of our Allies, and that the sooner all these multifarious supply Departments are abolished and the whole business concentrated under one roof and under one office the more efficient, will the supplies be.
2209 I come now to the question of the government of India from India. I think that the control of this House over the Secretary of State ought to be more real, and I would say further that the independence of the Viceroy from the Secretary of State ought to be much greater. You cannot govern a great country by the dispatch of telegrams. The Viceroy ought to have far greater powers devolved to him than is at present the ease. When I say that I submit that you cannot leave the Viceroyalty as it is. Are there four much more busy men in this country than His Majesty the King, the Prime Minister, who sits opposite, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and the Speaker of the House of Commons? Yet the analogous positions of these four posts are held by one man in India, and he is expected to be responsible and closely to investigate the conduct of a great expedition like this ! You cannot find an individual who can undertake the work. Your executive system in India has broken down because it is not constituted for the complicated duties of modern government. But you cannot reorganise the Executive Government of India, remodel the Viceroyalty, and give the Executive Government more freedom from this House of Commons and the Secretary of State unless you make it more responsible to the people of India. Really the whole system has got to be explored in the light of the Mesopotamian Commission. It has proved to be of too much rigidity. My hon. and gallant Friend opposite in his Minority Report, I think—certainly in the questions he has asked in this House—seems to advocate a complete Home Rule for India. I do not believe there is any demand for that in India on a large scale. I do not believe it will be possible, or certainly be a cure for these evils.
§ Mr. MONTAGU
As a goal ! I see a different picture ! I see the great self governing Dominions and Provinces of India organised and co-ordinated with the great Principalities, the existing Principalities—and perhaps new ones— not one great Home Rule country, but a series of self-governing Provinces and Principalities, federated by one central Government. But whatever be the object of your rule in India, the universal de- 2210 mand of those Indians whom I have met and corresponded with is that you should state it. Having stated it, you should give some instalment to show that you are in real earnest, some beginning of the new plan which you intend to pursue that gives you the opportunity of giving greater representative institutions in some form or other to the people of India, of giving them greater control of their Executive, of remodelling the Executive—that affords you the opportunity of giving the Executive more liberty from home, because you cannot leave your harassed officials responsible to two sets of people. Responsibility here at home was intended to replace or to be a substitute for responsibility in India. As you increase responsibility in India you can lessen that responsibility at home.
But I am positive of this, that your great claim to continue the illogical system of government by which you have governed India in the past is that it was efficient. It has been proved to be not efficient. It has been proved to be not sufficiently elastic to express the will of the Indian people; to make them into a warring nation as they wanted to be. The history of this War shows that you can rely upon the loyalty of the Indian people to the British Empire—if you ever before doubted it ! If you want to use that loyalty you must take advantage of that love of country which is a religion in India, and you must give them that bigger opportunity of controlling their own destinies, not merely by councils which cannot act, but by control, by growing control, of the Executive itself. Then in your next war—if we ever have war—in your next crisis, through times of peace, you will have a contented India, an India equipped to help. Believe me, Mr. Speaker, it is not a question of expediency, it is not a question of desirability. Unless you are prepared to remodel, in the light of modern experience, this century-old and cumbrous machine, then I believe, I verily believe, that you will lose your right to control the destinies of the Indian Empire.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I am not going to follow my right hon. Friend through the major portion of his speech, for a reason which will be immediately apparent to the House. I would venture to urge the House not to follow his example, and not to make the discussion of the Report of the Mesopotamia Commission, or what 2211 punitive or other action is to be taken upon it, the text for a great Debate upon the future of the Indian Empire.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
It is within the knowledge of the House, as it is of the Indian public, that the Government of India have sent home a dispatch dealing with the reforms in the political system of India which they recommend for adoption at the close of the War. That dispatch is receiving the careful attention of His Majesty's Government, whose many other preoccupations have necessarily interfered with their giving the fullest attention to it. I hope that it will be possible before long to make a statement to the House on the subject. I am certain that nothing but injury can come to National, Imperial, and Indian interests by mixing up a Debate on a military breakdown, or alleged military mismanagement, with the question of the whole future fabric of Indian government. One other observation on the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. I listened, may I say, with gratitude, to the words in which he spoke both of General Sir John Nixon and the late Viceroy, Lord Hardinge. I would like at once to associate myself with everything that he said. I hope that appeals like his will do something to secure for great servants, when their conduct comes under discussion, that patient hearing and fair judgment which is given to the meanest man before a jury of his fellow countrymen.
For myself, I speak to-day under circumstances of some difficulty. It is quite obvious that the Report of the Mesopotamia Commission cannot be left where it stands. There may be differences— there were differences—in this House as to the tribunal to which should be remitted the decision as to whether or not action should be taken against any of those named. The whole House thinks that a judicial tribunal must try that question. That decision I do not for one moment dispute. It necessarily, however, carries with it another decision for me. It is not possible that I, who am named in the Report apart from my colleagues in matters in which I acted in common with them, and whose responsibility is sole and undivided in other matters where the Commission administers rebuke or censure, should continue 2212 as the head of that office in which my conduct has been censured while such conduct might at any moment be called in question by the judicial tribunal to which you are going to refer these matters. Accordingly, Sir, my resignation, my final resignation, is in the hands of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, and I only speak from this bench at this moment because, owing to His Majesty's absence from London on public work, it has been impossible to take His Majesty's pleasure upon it. With that personal explanation of my position, I will proceed at once to deal with some of the matters on which I think the House has a right to call for a statement from me.
I cannot traverse all the issues raised in this Report. I may omit matters to which hon. Members attach importance, but there are some matters on which clearly I ought to make a statement, and I will make it as directly as I can. In the first place, I should like to explain what was the part played by the India Office in this War. The Commission find thatThe division of responsibility between the India Office and India was unworkable.I should like the House to realise exactly what that division of responsibility was. The Secretary of State for India, whether the office was held by my predecessor or by myself, acted in relation to the campaign in Mesopotamia as the spokesman and mouthpiece of His Majesty's Government. His Majesty's Government reserved to themselves the right to control the objects and limit the scope of the operations. But the India Office is not organised—no one ever pretended it was organised—to conduct military operations, and it never attempted to do so. Accordingly, while the supreme control was exercised by the Secretary of State on behalf of and by direction of His Majesty's Government, the management and the conduct of the campaign and of the forces was entrusted to the Government and military authorities in India. I have said that in my judgment—and I can imagine in the judgment of everybody—it would have been better if from the first the control exercised on behalf of His Majesty's Government had been vested in the General Staff or the Army Council. They have skilled advice, an organisation, and resources which were not at the service of the India Office. The House must remember, however, that in the early months 2213 of the War the General Staff was not constituted as it is now. It was disorganised. There was much less reason for making a change then than at a later period. I am not going to dispute for one moment that it would have been better that the Home control should have been exercised through the General Staff and the Army Council. All I am concerned to say at this moment is that control of that kind must be exercised by somebody, and that it was impossible to permit an outlying Administration of the Empire to conduct a campaign in the midst of this War without any central authority to co-ordinate its efforts and its undertaking with the efforts and the resources available elsewhere. Somebody has got to do that work. In the circumstances of the time it fell to the India Office to do it on behalf of His Majesty's Government.
With that preliminary observation, I turn at once to the military operations themselves. I am not going to dwell upon the earlier part of the campaign. The initiation of the campaign is not challenged. The operations of that time are not criticised by the Commission. On the contrary, they say that in the operations up to Kut-el-Amara, the campaign had been brilliantly executed and extraordinarily successful. Yes, Sir, under whom? Under General Sir John Nixon, who, taking risks, marched from success to success, and deserved every word of praise which, amidst the cheers of the House, the late Prime Minister gave to him and the gallant forces under him. It is not necessary to say anything about those operations; but one observation I must make in regard to the part played by a distinguished general officer who served under Lord Crewe and me at the India Office—General Sir Edmund Barrow. My Noble Friend the Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil) begged the House to distinguish between what the Commission said and what other people said they had said. The Commission has not charged, but elsewhere I have seen it charged, that the Secretary of the Military Department of the India Office went outside his proper functions and obtruded himself and his advice upon the Secretary of State in the Papers which he laid before my predecessor and myself. I observe that under any circumstances it was in this early part of the campaign, when the operations were described by the Commission to have been brilliantly and successfully conducted, that 2214 the influence of Sir Edmund Barrow was most felt, for it was during that time, as the Commission say, that the initiative rested with the authorities at home.
I wish I could lay before the House all the appreciations submitted by General Barrow, which the Commission cover in a couple of lines, for they would do honour to the judgment of Sir Edmund Barrow, and they would earn him, not censure, but praise. I can only say for my part that I am grateful to him for the assistance that he gave from first to last, and I count myself fortunate in having had such an adviser in these very critical times. And the idea that he was going outside his functions in so advising me is preposterous. The Secretary in the Military Department of the India Office is not the Military Secretary in the narrow technical sense of the term as used by the War Office; he is the responsible adviser to the Secretary of State for India on military matters, and he was bound to offer advice on those matters even if it had not been, as it was, expressly called for by my predecessor and myself, in order that we might first inform ourselves and then inform the Cabinet.
But it is not that part of the operations which interests the House, or in which the action of those concerned is challenged. The gravamen of the charge—the point upon which I imagine the House wants explanation—is as to the advance from Kut-el-Amara towards Bagdad, the great advance which ended at Ctesiphon. I am going to give the House as clear an account as I can of the advice which the Government received, and of the steps which they took, and I am then going to submit to the judgment of the House the conduct of those who ordered the advance to take place. But if I quote the opinions of military officers, I beg the House to understand from the first that I do not quote them to criticise them; I do not quote them to throw blame upon them for the advice which they gave. They may have been mistaken, or they may not. If they were, they were mistaken with a singular unanimity, but at any rate I am not to be held as throwing the slightest blame on any one of those officers if I tell the House exactly and fairly what was the advice that we received from them.
Sir John Nixon had been authorised to take Rut. His instructions limited his advance to that point. Kut was occupied by General Townshend on 28th September, 2215 and he at once pushed on in hot pursuit of the beaten Turk. I do not for a moment question the propriety of his action—he was right in making the utmost use of the success he had won—but on 2nd October Sir John Nixon reported that the column had been beset by navigation difficulties throughout the day, and on 3rd October that there was no more chance of stampeding the remainder of the retreating Turks.
The Commission have lost sight of the date of this telegram and they appear to have divided it into two and have given the latter part of it as if it were a distinct telegram sent earlier than the statement that there was no chance of stampeding the retreating Turks. That statement was made on 3rd October, but in that same telegram Sir John Nixon added that he considered he was strong enough to open the road to Bagdad, and that from a military point of view it was highly desirable to do so. For that purpose he proposed to concentrate at Aziziyeh. On receipt of the earlier message, but I think before receiving this later telegram, I telegraphed for information as to Sir John Nixon's intentions, stating that if, on account of navigation difficulty, there was no probability of overtaking and smashing the retreating enemy, there was no object in continuing the pursuit, and that the orders limiting the scope of his operations to Kut still held good. I issued that order on my own responsibility, understanding, and acting upon the understanding, that no reinforcements could be made available for Sir John Nixon's Force, and believing, and being advised, that it would be unsafe to proceed further unless reinforcements could follow. On the same day I reported the matter to the Cabinet. The views of the Cabinet were conveyed in an official telegram printed on page 22, paragraph 11, of the Report, where, however, it is given in an incomplete form. As printed, it runs:If forces available are sufficient to take and hold the place, political reasons were thought to make occupation desirable.….Here the House will see a blank. I must fill in the missing words, in order that the House may know what those political reasons were. I paraphrase, of course, all these telegrams:Political reasons are thought to make occupation desirable because it would isolate the Germans in Persia.I beg the House to note the effect of the omission, and the use which is being made 2216 of it. At this time the Russian Army had suffered a severe reverse, and the situation in Persia, where German emissaries were active, gave rise for grave disquietude. I need not press on the consideration of the House the effect which the situation in Persia might have had on events further East, The Cabinet them appointed—and again I call attention to-the date—an Inter-departmental Committee to consider the situation.
On 5th October Sir John Nixon replied to my inquiry as to his intentions in a long and reasoned telegram, which I must say is very imperfectly represented by the few lines extracted from it in the Report of the Commission in paragraph 12 on page 22. He repeated the opinion that he was-strong enough to advance; he stated that he had overcome the navigation difficulties which had detained General Towns-hend, and he believed that he could destroy the Turkish force at Ctesiphon, where it was concentrating and constituted a threat to his force. He urged that this was clearly desirable on military grounds, and that he could see no reason, which would justify us in failing to make use of such an opportunity. He added that in a military point of view — the Commission omitted this—and apart from all political considerations, it was vital in order to deprive the Turks of the resources of Bagdad, which was a focus of their lines of communication and a great centre of supplies. Anyone who will compare that with the brief extract given in the Report will see that the Report does justice neither to its force nor the-cogency of its reasoning.
On 6th October, the next day, the Government of India, in an official telegram not alluded to in the Report—which mentions only a private explanatory telegram from the Viceroy of the same day, and it is strange that they should choose a private telegram which they dislike so much and not give the official telegram— repeated a further message from Sir John Nixon, in which for the first time he inquired whether his force could be reinforced by another division from France, in order that when he had occupied Bagdad he might be in a position to hold it. The Government of India expressed their concurrence in the importance of capturing Bagdad, in view of the German activities in Persia, the increasing pressure on Afghanistan, and of conditions in the Balkans and the Dardanelles. These were the political considerations which pre- 2217 occupied both them and us. They were, therefore, in favour of authorising the advance, provided that "at least an additional division" could be dispatched to Mesopotamia from the European theatre of war, in order to make good the position when captured. It will be observed that Sir John Nixon had asked for one additional division, not in order to enable him to take Bagdad, but in order to make it certain that he could hold it after capture but that the Government of India, in expressing their general concurrence with his views, stated that "at least one division" would be necessary for this purpose. However desirable we might think the capture of Bagdad, we had no wish to authorise the operation with insufficient forces. In order, therefore, to make sure that the force at General Nixon's disposal was adequate to the task on which he proposed to employ it, I sent a telegram to him on 8th October, which is printed on page 23 of the Commission's Report. Again I must draw attention to the wording of the telegram, for the paraphrase printed in the Blue Book gives a wrong impression. It is there printed:To both occupy and hold Bagdad what addition to your present force are you confident will be necessary?In other words, the stress is laid on his confidence that what he asks is necessary.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I think that is so. I believe it was paraphrased by someone in the India Office. I do not suggest the Commissioners themselves were personally responsible, but I never saw the paraphrase until it had appeared in the Report, whereas I presume the Commissioners did see it when they signed their Report. The Commissioners had before them in original every telegram as far as I know. Nothing that was available in our office was withheld from the Commissioners. I cannot of course give the exact words of that telegram, but I will give their real sense, and my Noble Friend will know that my correction is right. Their real sense was this—not "You must be confident that you require these numbers before you ask," but "What addition to your present force will make you confident of your power both to take and hold Bagdad?"
That is the real message that was sent. I repeated this telegram to the Govern- 2218 ment of India, and on the same day I telegraphed privately to the Viceroy, as stated in the Blue Book, that the Cabinet was so impressed by the great political and military advantages of the occupation of Bagdad, that every effort would be made to supply the force that was necessary, adding that we did not wish to attempt it with insufficient force, and that I should be glad to know whether he was satisfied that one division would be sufficient. In reply to our inquiries Sir John Nixon repeated that he was confident of his power to take Bagdad with his then forces, but that to hold it he would require another division and a regiment of Cavalry, if the Turks thereafter were to concentrate large forces against him.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
One division, not to take Bagdad, but to hold it thereafter if the Turks concentrated large forces against him. The Viceroy stated that he and the Commander-in-Chief thought that the general on the spot was in the best position to judge what force was necessary, and they accepted his view. At this stage, therefore, the position was as follows: The General Officer Commanding in Mesopotamia, the Government of India, and the authorities at home were all agreed that the capture of Bagdad would have most important military and political consequences. Reviewing the situation, the Cabinet decided that if an additional division would suffice, Sir John Nixon should have it. On the 14th the position was further discussed by the War Council, or the Committee, of the Cabinet. It had been the intention of the Government to make the two Indian infantry divisions in France—not one, but two— available as a reinforcement for Sir John Nixon, but a question was raised as to the sufficiency even of this force to enable him to hold Bagdad securely. In these circumstances the "War Cabinet decided to obtain a report from the combined General Staffs—the highest and most skilled military and naval advice which they could get. Observe, that at an earlier stage, when political considerations had greater weight, an Inter-departmental Committee was appointed by the Government to look into the question, on which the offices immediately concerned and the War Office and the Admiralty were represented; but as the military problem became the more important, and as it was clear that the decision must really turn upon the mili- 2219 tary question and the adequacy of the reinforcements the Committee was superseded by this reference to the General Staffs—supplemented and practically, I think I may say, superseded.
The Commission deal at great length with the Inter-departmental Committee; they pass very lightly over the Report of the combined General Staffs. That Report was received on the 20th October. It was considered by the War Committee on the 21st. It stated that the occupation of Bagdad within the next few weeks should be a perfectly feasible task. The question, they said, was not one of getting there, but whether we could remain there, and the problem to be examined was not so much what the opposing belligerents could effect in this theatre of war at the time, as what they could effect from the following December up to the end of the present War. They estimated that Sir John Nixon had only some 9,000 Turks and some irregulars to deal with for the next few months; that these forces might be somewhat increased by the end of the year, and might conceivably reach a total of 60,000 at the end of January, and even larger figures during 1916, They held, therefore, that whilst the capture of Bagdad was a perfectly feasible military proposition, it would, from a military point of view, be unwise to occupy it unless the military authorities had power to withdraw the troops, without regard to political considerations, if military exigencies should at any time make this necessary.
This appreciation was, as already stated by me, considered by the Committee on the morning of the 21st. While the Committee was sitting, I learned that a telegram, giving the full and considered opinion of the Viceroy and the Commander-in-Chief, had just been received, and the discussion was adjourned until the afternoon, so that it might be before the members. This telegram discussed the various courses open. The Viceroy stated that the Government of India were in complete agreement with the Government here as to the importance of capturing and occupying Bagdad, and that they saw no difficulty in this, provided that the reinforcement of two divisions reached Mesopotamia within two months. Sir John Nixon considered that even without reinforcements, his army would be safer in and north of Bagdad than at Kut, and 2220 the Commander-in-Chief, though opposed to the occupation of Bagdad, unless reinforcements were forthcoming, felt that the military situation was such that it might at any time become necessary to take the risk and to occupy Bagdad even without reinforcements. The Cabinet then decided that reinforcements of two divisions of Infantry and a regiment of Cavalry should be sent, the Cavalry being supplied from India, and that General Nixon should be given orders to advance.
The Viceroy, in the telegram to which I have already referred, had spoken strongly of the disadvantages of giving up Bagdad, after once occupying it. That this was a possibility which must be taken into account was shown by the report of the General Staffs, and under these circumstances the Cabinet authorised me to put that point to the Viceroy explicitly, before giving the final order. I did so in the private telegram of 21st October, which is printed in paragraph 18, page 24, of the Report, and which has played a good part in the criticisms and comments. It is the private telegram which deals with 60,000 Turks. I have seen two-main criticisms upon that communication. The Commission themselves say that the information thus conveyed of the possible concentration at the end of January of 60,000 Turks introduced a new factor into the situation, and one which ought at once to have been forwarded to Sir John Nixon, and they blame both the failure to convey the information to him, and my use of a private telegram in this connection for conveying it to the Viceroy. I will say something about' the use of private telegrams later, if the House will allow me, but I must say at once that it was not, and never was supposed to be, the duty of the India Office to convey military intelligence to India. That was done by the War Office, who had their own organisation for the purpose of doing it, and from first to last no military intelligence has ever been sent by the India Office at all; that has been left to the people entrusted with the task—the proper people, the War Office. But I want to call the attention of the House to the fact that this was not information of any known or reported movement; it was an estimate of what might conceivably occur three months or more after the time with which we were dealing. A possible concentration of these forces in January could not affect the success or failure of the immediate operations for the capture 2221 of Bagdad, which actually took place in November. It could only affect our power to retain possession of Bagdad at a later time. The estimate was not, therefore, material to the question of Sir John Nixon's advance, but only to the question of the reinforcements which he would require thereafter, and if the War Office—I have not thought it worth while to inquire whether the Intelligence Department did or did not send this particular estimate out to Mesopotamia—if they did not, it was because it was not intelligence. but only an appreciation of a possible situation hereafter which there would be time enough to check before ever it arose, and which did not affect the operations in which Sir John Nixon was then engaged.
Another criticism has been suggested in some quarters, though I need not say that it finds no support from, the Commission. It connected itself with the criticisms made of the other telegram, of the omission of words from which I have already indicated. If Members of the House will look at the telegram as printed they will see that there are blanks in it. The phrase, "We are, therefore, in great need of a striking success in the East," breaks off abruptly. That is on page 24, and on those two sentences mutilated in the Report of the Commission, people have thought it decent in the Press outside to rest a charge against my right hon. Friend opposite and his colleagues, dishonouring to the meanest man—a charge that we, for political considerations, which affected our own positions, because we were needing a great success to restore the shattered fortunes of the Government, deliberately sent men on a hazardous gamble. I think the House has quite made up its mind that it is not going to hang anyone on the Report of this Commission—[An HON. MEMBER: "The journalists !"]— and that no man can be safely charged on the mere passages which, for other purposes, the Commission have included in their Report. Let me read to them this telegram, as it ran in the original, paraphrased, of course, but filling in the gaps left in the Report of the Commission. I begin a little further back:They —(that is the War Office)think Bagdad can be easily taken and held for some time, but it may become untenable later as explained above. At the present moment 2222 seems that the German attempt to break through to Constantinople will succeed and our position and prospects in Gallipoli are most uncertain.A blank, which I fill—It would seem that Persia is drifting into war on the side of our enemies. The Arabs are wavering and will probably join the Turks unless we can offer them a great inducement. We are therefore in need of a striking success in the East, both to prevent Persia being carried away and to secure the support of the Arabs.
§ Sir A. WILLIAMSON
I think the right hon. Gentleman wishes to do justice to the Commission, and that he should remember that some of these references to Persia it was impossible for the Commission, with the information before them, to publish.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I admit the great difficulty in which the Commission was placed. I myself have hesitated long before filling in the gaps, but still there are times when you have no choice. When excisions lend themselves to gross charges against the honour of public men, and when the country is told, in consequence of these excisions, that Ministers from any party, or however chosen, gamble in the lives of soldiers to restore their political fortunes, it becomes necessary to take the risk and to supply the words that are missing.
§ Lord H. CECIL
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman does not mean to suggest that the Commission intended to impute this conduct to Ministers.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I expressly said not, and I beg the House throughout will distinguish, as my Noble Friend asked them to do, between what the Commission said and what they are said to have said by other and more irresponsible people. The House will see that all our preoccupations were entirely in the East, where we had to face the possibility of a new conflagration spreading from Constantinople to the very frontiers of India itself. Those were considerations which it was not only our right, but our bounden duty to take into account, and which it would have been criminal in us to have neglected.
The House is now in a position to measure the information in possession of the Government, and will see what is precisely the question which they had to decide. The, General Officer Com-manding-in-Chief in Mesopotamia had first suggested he was in a position to open the road to Bagdad, that to do so was 2223 of the highest military importance apart from any political considerations, and that he could see no excuse, on military grounds, for letting slip such an opportunity. The Government of India concurred in his view, holding that he was in the best position to judge as to the troops he required. Sir John Nixon thought that, even without reinforcements, he would be safer north of Bagdad than anywhere south of it. The Commander-in-Chief in India, while not accepting that view, thought that the military situation was such that at any moment it might be necessary to accept the risk and occupy Bagdad, even if reinforcements were not forthcoming. The combined General Staffs, naval and military, had advised the Cabinet there should be no difficulty in the operation, but, in common with all the other military authorities concerned, they were of opinion that General Sir John Nixon would be unable to hold Bagdad without reinforcement, and even if he were given the two divisions instead of the one he asked for, a situation might still conceivably arise in the future at some date in the following year when it would be necessary for him to withdraw. There could be no question of the importance of the capture of Bagdad. Such a success might be, and at that time looked as if it would be, the decisive factor in preserving peace in the Middle East and up to and on the Indian frontier. The Cabinet were told by every military adviser whom they consulted that the operation was perfectly feasible. No one of these authorities questioned the sufficiency of the force under Sir John Nixon's orders for the purpose, nor was any doubt suggested as to the capacity of his supply and transport departments to sustain the operations. The problem, therefore, which the Cabinet had to consider was whether the possibility of an eventual withdrawal outweighed the advantages of an immediate and apparently assured success. They decided that it did not, and after ascertaining that the Government of India concurred in this view, the orders by His Majesty's Government for the advance were issued by me.
I have endeavoured to tell the story as shortly and as plainly as I could. I thank the House for the indulgence with which they have allowed me to use notes. Words are important, and I could not trust my memory. The Commission, 2224 reporting after the event, and with all the knowledge now available, say that this was an offensive movement based on political and military miscalculations, attempted with tired and insufficient forces, and inadequate preparation. I must pause for one moment to observe that, speaking of the battle of Ctesiphon, they say that the manner in which the troops fought "did not indicate any lack of moral." They had apparently recovered from the fatigue referred to by the Commission at an earlier date. The Commission had before them a private letter from Sir John Nixon to the Viceroy which I do not think was in the possession of the Viceroy, certainly not in my possession, at the time the orders were given. The only information His Majesty's Government had as to the condition of the troops was a telegram from the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, after the occupation of Kut, that "the health and spirit of the troops were excellent." The Commission, describing the operation in the words I have quoted, distribute the responsibility among all concerned, from General Nixon to the Viceroy, the Commander-in-Chief in India, the Military Secretary to the India Office, the Secretary of State for India, and the War Committee of the Cabinet. It is true that they go on to say that the War Committee and the Secretary of State—I think they might have added, for it is true, the Viceroy of India—acted upon the opinion of their expert military advisers, but they add that "as long as the system of Departmental administration exists in this country, those who are political heads of the Department in time of war, whether civilian or military, cannot be entirely immune from the consequences of their own action. They have the option and the power of accepting or rejecting the advice of their expert subordinates." I do not for a moment dispute the accuracy of that statement, but I would ask the House to consider what the Commission would have said if the Viceroy, the Secretary of State, and the members of the Cabinet Committee, instead of accepting the unanimous advice of their military experts on a military question, had done the reverse; if we had overridden that advice on a military issue, and had set up our own opinions in opposition to those of the general officer on the spot—"Trust the man on the spot !"— the Commander-in-Chief in India, and the combined General Staffs at home. We 2225 should not for one moment have thought of giving orders for the advance if we had not been satisfied by the concurrence of military testimony that it was on military grounds alone a proper operation. The political considerations to which reference has been made were, as I have shown, those connected with the situation in Persia, the pressure exercised upon Afghanistan, the situation on the Indian frontier, the peace of our Indian Dominion, and the whole of the central East.
The operation was tried, and failed. I do not wish to excuse any miscalculations for which I may have the responsibility, but I venture to say that, viewed as we had to view it before the event, the operation could not have been so foolish or so rash an undertaking as the Commission now find it to be, since success was considered certain by every military authority whom we could consult, and the Commissioners themselves record that had it not been For the reinforcements which reached the Turks before our attack took place, it was clear that they would have been defeated. Sir John Nixon himself has told mc that the reinforcements which turned the scale actually arrived only on the day of the battle of Ctesiphon itself. That is all I have to say on the subject of the military operation.
I must say something on some of the other features of the Report. I do not think, after the announcement I have made, and in view of the further proceedings which are contemplated, the House will expect me to go into the whole question of the supply of transport and equipment. But I have the honour to hold the high office of Secretary of State, and I hope I am as jealous for the honour and reputation of those men who have served under me as I am for my own. The Commission condemned in unsparing terms the Stores Department of the India Office, and the then Director of Stores, not the present holder of the office, and those who were concerned in the ordering of certain paddle boats, certain steamers and barges for the Expeditionary Force. The India Office are not expert shipbuilders, and do not possess such among their staff. They had to take advice as to specifications which in themselves were incomplete, and could not be put straight into the hands of shipbuilders. We asked the Admiralty and they advised us to consult our naval architect, Sir John Biles. These steamers and barges were designed 2226 by him. The Commission condemn the paddle steamers as "unhandy and otherwise unsuitable," and they declare that the barges were a complete failure and were scrapped at heavy loss. I should have thought that before they expressed a verdict of that kind they would have summoned Sir John Biles before them. Would it be believed that from first to last, although they censured Sir John Biles's design, and hold him up to condemnation, they never asked for his evidence, and never heard his defence? I am not prepared to go into technical questions of this kind on the floor of the House, but I understand Sir John Biles is prepared to defend the advice he gave. What are these steamers? They are the steamers now in use on the river. Sixteen more have been built to Sir John Biles's design for the War Office since they took over the conduct of the campaign. Six of them are already working on the river, and are doing excellent work. Sir Arthur Lawley, after his return from inspecting hospital arrangements, in a letter addressed to me spoke of travelling on one of these boats:I was lucky to find myself on one of these P. boats of newest design, and admirably adapted for the purpose for which it is wanted.It is interesting to observe that this description is of a vessel running alone as a passenger boat, because the telegram to which I have referred said that they could not navigate without barges. As to the barges I frankly admit that an error was made. It was corrected as soon as it could be. It was not made without taking great care, and not without consulting people who were experts in the navigation of the Tigris. But I do not think these barges were useful for the purpose for which they were then needed. It is not true to say they were perfectly useless and were scrapped. They are in constant use. I asked the War Office to telegraph out the other day, and inquire whether they were working and with what results, and whether they had ever been given a fair trial. The answer is that they are in constant use, and are very useful, though not suitable for towage by passenger boats through the narrows. That is not now a serious drawback, and as I say they are very good things, and they are in full use at the present time.
I turn from supply and transport to speak for a moment of the hospital arrangements. I cannot say one word to excuse or to palliate the horrible breakdown which occurred. I think nearly 2227 eighteen months ago, fifteen or sixteen months ago at least, before I was in possession of a tithe of the information which is now available to the House and the whole country, I said that in my opinion a lamentable, and I thought inexcusable, breakdown had occurred. From first to last there was no attempt made by me, or by any member of the Government, to pretend that things were going well when we knew that they were going ill, or to hush up any maladministration which had taken place. The Commission speak in generous terms of the letters and telegrams which I addressed to the Viceroy on this subject, but they want to know why I did not send a public dispatch at some time in the year 1915. Will the House forgive me if, in a few minutes, I tell them what was the information I had in 1915? Ctesiphon was fought at the end of November, and Sheikh Saad was fought on the 6th of January. It was after these two actions that the suffering was greatest, and that great calamities and horrible miscarriages took place. I searched my papers before going to the Commission, and I cannot find that I had any information except three extracts from letters written by Second-Lieutenant Palmer, Lord Selborne's son, which were sent to me by Lord Selborne, and a single letter, written by an officer who was killed at Ctesiphon, and which reached his family after his death. How could I have founded a dispatch on material such as that?
What put me first on the alert was the statement by Lieutenant Palmer that he thought the sanitary arrangements in India were bad compared with what he had seen in South Africa, and he subsequently wrote a letter, in which he described a statement I had made in this House, on the authority of the information received from Mesopotamia, as to the supply of comforts for the hospitals at the base as "eyewash." That is all the information I had, and I had no conception of a breakdown such as we now know had taken place. What I was anxious for was to see that all the ordinary precautions had been taken to guard against the special dangers of a tropical climate I did not know of any shortage of equipment or personnel, and I was only anxious to take those special precautions which tropical climates might require. It was not until the middle and close of February that information began 2228 to reach this country in streams, in letters from Mesopotamia, showing what awful conditions had prevailed. I do not think there was material for a dispatch at the earlier time.
I regret that the warnings which at my instance Lord Hardinge conveyed to the Commander-in-Chief were not sooner acted upon, and were not more seriously received. I wrote direct, and telegraphed direct to the Viceroy because, in the first place, I wanted it to go to the highest authority in India and go direct, and not have it intercepted in the bureaux, and the reply sent by, I knew not whom, without the Viceroy or the Commander-in-Chief knowing anything about it. I telegraphed directly by private telegram, because I wanted both those officers to know that the Secretary of State was personally concerned. I telegraphed to Lord Hardinge, because I thought in matters of this kind the heart of the civilian is more tender than the heart of a soldier, and that he is less ready to accept those hardships as the necessary incidents of a campaign. Sir, I was right, and if action had followed Lord Hardinge's representations, at any rate the evils would have been redressed much earlier than they were.
There is only one other subject with which I will deal, and it is my relations with my Council. The Commission appear to think that I acted unconstitutionally or irregularly in not consulting the Council before sending out instructions in regard to these military operations. I have already stated that I acted in this matter as the mouthpiece and on behalf of His Majesty's Government, who had control of the whole of the operations and who, unlike the Indian Council, were in possession of all the information bearing upon the subject. The Commission complain that there were already too many authorities consulted, and as a remedy they say that after the Cabinet had decided I should have gone back to my Council and asked them, who had none of the information before the Cabinet, whether they wanted all these things done or not. That would be nonsense. But the Act specially provides in Section 13, Sub-section (1):That where an Order concerning the levying of war or the making of peace is not an Order involving an expenditure of money, for which a majority of votes at the meeting of the Council is necessary, and is an Order which, in the 2229 opinion of the Secretary of State is one which requires secrecy, the Secretary of State may send direct to the Governor General in Council or to any Governor in Council or officer or servant in India, without having submitted the Order to a meeting of the Council or deposited it for the perusal of the members of the Council and without giving notice of the reasons for making it.If I had marked these telegrams "secret" instead of "private," the whole criticisms of the Commission on telegrams would have gone and the result would have been exactly the same at this end; they would never have gone before the Council. The result at the other end, however, would have been different. A "secret" telegram in the Indian service has the technical meaning that it is business on which I am not obliged to consult my Council, and when my order got to the other side there would have been no secrecy about it whatever. I was giving the Viceroy, as far as I could, not merely the orders of the Cabinet, but the mind of the Cabinet, so that when the Government of India got the orders they should understand them. It was natural, and I think necessary, that I should use some form of communication which, by reaching the Viceroy and the Commander-in-Chief directly, would give me the greatest security for secrecy and confidential communication.
I tell the House quite frankly that when I used this so-called "private" form of telegram I was not aware that it was the practice of the India Office and of India that private telegrams should be regarded as the personal property of the official who sent or received them, and could be carried away by him when he left. We constantly use private telegrams to convey secret information directly one to the other, and then make them official afterwards, by which means they are placed on record. It is always within the competence of the Viceroy at the other end, or myself at this end, to place any private telegram on public record if we wish, but I was not aware of that partiular procedure, and I only discovered it by accident on the day Lord Hardinge was leaving India. Had I been aware of it I should have made a number of these telegrams official after they had been sent as private.
I am sorry, as the Commission commented on this practice, and suggested that if it was to prevail legislation was 2230 required, that they did not take some evidence as to the practice in the past. I am afraid that they trusted to the memory of the Chairman, and I am not sure that the memory of the Chairman altogether justifies them. There was one operation in the past which, though a much smaller operation, is comparable with the operations which have been going on in Mesopotamia. It is the Expedition which was sent at the time of the Boxer trouble in China. In that case it was decided that the entire executive control of the military operations undertaken in China by the Government should be vested in the Government of India and the India Office. The War Office was to give every assistance, and the Government of India was to have full responsibility for the equipment of the force and its maintenance in the field, but instructions as to the locality and the nature of the operations were to be given from home. I think that is as good an analogy as one can expect to find. I do not pretend for a moment that the Secretary of State at that time, who happened to be Lord George Hamilton, used private telegrams with anything like the freedom that I did, but he sent the first warning to India to be prepared as a private telegram, and he sent orders to move troops as a private telegram, and I cannot discover that on any occasion he consulted the Council before he acted, though he occasionally informed them after he had acted. I think it is a pity the Commission did not take any evidence before forming that opinion.
I have dealt mainly with my own office and with myself, but I cannot leave the subject without saying something also about the high officials of the Indian Government who have been the mark for every kind of attack, and even for most scurrilous abuse in the campaign of invective which has followed upon the publication of the Commission's Report. Among them is Sir William Meyer, the Finance Minister of India, a man who has given long years of service to the Crown, who was trusted by the late Viceroy and is trusted by the present Viceroy, who has piloted the finances of India so far with success through times the anxiety and the difficulty of which I think few Members of this House probably realise, and who is now held up to public odium and contempt Why? Because when the construction of a railway was suggested to him on political, commercial, and military grounds, he said that he did not believe 2231 in the commercial success of the railway. He left the Government of India to decide upon the political grounds, and he said that if the Commander-in-Chief thought it necessary for military reasons it must be referred home for the decision of His Majesty's Government. What else could he have done? If it were a military necessity it was not for him, but for the military authorities, to say so, and to put it forward on that ground. If it were recommended as a commercial speculation, then I agree with Sir William Meyer. He was right. I do not think that it was a good speculation, and, at any rate, it was not the time for building commercial railways in Mesopotamia or elsewhere.
The task of a Finance Minister in this country or any other is never a very easy one. He is never popular when he refuses money for any object. He is still less popular if he has to raise the taxes to provide the money for which others have asked. If you are to make the Finance Minister responsible every time that he criticises a demand, and if you are to teach him that when a soldier or a sailor Asks he must say "Yes," at the risk of impeachment, and that there is nothing more to do, then you have not seen the end of taxation. I have been in a great spending Department. I have been Chancellor of the Exchequer. Everyone knows that the Finance Minister is bound to question financial propositions that are put before him. If he accepted them all, any country in the world would be bankrupt. If by an error of judgment he refuses to meet what in the opinion of the military authorities is a vital military demand, then they have their remedy. The Secretary of State for War can take the question to the Cabinet. In India the Commander-in-Chief, if he thought these things were vital, could, and he ought to, have taken them to the Governor-General in Council. He had the right to have the matters discussed there, and to have the decision of the Governor-General in Council upon them. I am bound to say that it is not General Sir Beauchamp Duff who gives any reason for these attacks on Sir William Meyer. On the contrary, he authorised me to say that he considered himself most fortunate in the assistance which he had received from him, and that nothing which he had put forward as a military necessity had been refused by Sir William Meyer.
§ Sir J. JARDINE
Is he not one of six on the Council, and could he not bring the matter before the Council?
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
See the unfairness ! "Did he not refuse medical necessities?" Supposing he did, did those who asked for them take his decision as final?
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I want to take what my lion. Friend (Sir H. Craik) says, because that is really the way in which Sir William Meyer is being condemned: "Did he not at some time or another refuse something which is now proved to have been necessary?"
§ Lord H. CECIL
(reading from, the Report of the Commission):It is quite true that no evidence has been produced to show that any urgent demand put forward by the military authorities was definitely refused by the Finance Department. The blame for inadequate attention to the special wants of the expedition must be attached to the military authorities rather than to the Finance Department.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I say again: Suppose the Finance Minister did refuse something which was necessary, he is not the final court of appeal. I am told by the Commission that there has grown up in India, and there is widespread throughout the Service, a feeling that to ask is to get a black mark placed against your name and to injure your career. What authority has the Minister of Finance over the career of any soldier? How can he put a black mark against his name? If a black mark is to be put against a soldier's name, or if a man's career in the Army is to be injured, the injury must be done and the black mark must be put by another soldier. It is not fair to them, when they do not take the question to the Cabinet here or to the Governor-General in Council, to turn round on the Finance Minister afterwards and to try and make him responsible for everything for which the Army may have asked.
2233 One other thing I must say, and then I have done. I hope that the temper of the House to-day and the speeches which have been made will have done something to bring our countrymen outside to a juster appreciation of the great character and the great services of Lord Hardinge. The Viceroyalty of India is not the only office that he has held. He has spent a life in the service of his country. He has rendered great and exceptional services in the high posts which he has filled. He was taken out of a career which he had made his own, and at the request of the Government of the day was appointed Viceroy of India. He went there at a time of difficulty, of disturbance and of danger, and he very nearly paid with his life for his acceptance of the post. He piloted India through these stormy years; he piloted her through the dark early months of the War. He stripped the country. He and Sir Beau-champ Duff stripped their own resources to make good our deficiencies here at home. They gave of their troops more than it had ever been supposed they could have parted with. They reduced the British garrison to a lower point than safety had always been held to demand. They gave rifles, guns, military equipment of every kind, and at one fell swoop over 500 of the officers of their Army were taken to officer our new Armies here. Then, Sir, because, there has been a breakdown in military administration, Lord Hardinge is to be held up to public odium and contempt, his great services forgotten, and the most popular Viceroy that India has ever had—one who won not merely the respect, but the affection of her Princes and peoples in a measure that had never been accorded to any of his predecessors—is to be denounced and hounded down, and you hear people say that in no other capacity during his life is he fit to serve his country or his King.
What was Lord Hardinge's fault? Just remember for a moment the controversies that raged around military administration in India ten years or more ago. Up to that time the Viceroy had two military advisers. If he was not satisfied with the advice of the Commander-in-Chief, he could turn to the Military Member of Council and could check, as he did check, the advice and recommendation of the Commander-in-Chief by the advice and recommendations of the Military Member of Council. That gave rise to friction. 2234 It was declared to be an intolerable system. The system was put an end to, and the Military Member was abolished with the deliberate intention of forcing the Viceroy to accept the advice of the Commander-in-Chief and not to loon elsewhere in military matters. After all, the gravest charge which the Commission have to-bring against Lord Hardinge is that he trusted too implicitly in military affairs to the military adviser who had been given him and did not use his high authority and his great position to overrule and to go behind him. It would be an evil day for this House and for this country if, because of any errors of judgment or of any miscalculation for which others are as much responsible as he, some of them more-responsible, a great public servant is to be hounded out of public life, without a trial and without a hearing, in answer to the clamours of an ill-informed and a passionate mob.
§ Colonel Sir MATTHEW WILSON
I very much regret that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Chamberlain) has tendered his resignation. I have read through this Report very carefully, and I am sure hon. Members will agree with me in feeling that he bears little or no blame. These Commissions are very dangerous things to have started. I believe you will never get a, military officer in a high position to take on his shoulders any initiative if you elect to try men by court-martial because they have failed to obtain the success which was hoped for at first. We want to look at this matter from a different point of view altogether. After reading the Report of the Commission and fully realising that lack of preparation and foresight has led to these lamentable results, I cannot help thinking that the country would feel reassured if it is made clear that nothing of the sort can occur again. All the just indignation the Report has aroused is mere Dead Sea fruit if it is not to safeguard us against similar evil in the future. The past stages of the campaign have been painful and terrible. The present stage is good, we are assured, but have we any justification for believing it will remain sol The Germans have openly stated they will retake Bagdad for their Turkish allies in the fall of the year. Last Tuesday the Russians officially announced that they had evacuated Penjvin, Khanikin, and Kasir-i-Shirin. The position of General Maude's forces must be seriously affected. There are 2235 rumours of the probable concentration of 200,000 Turks to operate against our forces early in the autumn. If these are all hard facts, they must be reckoned with. The Turks are not discouraged; their recent achievements in Palestine have had very much the reverse effect. We have never dealt a sufficiently hard knock to a nation dominated and goaded on by German determination to dishearten them or give them any option but to continue the War. If we succeed in dealing a knock-out blow to the Turks in Mesopotamia, we shall have defeated at least one of the principal objects for which Germany embarked on this War. Much of the past evil we brought about by deplorable lack of imagination and incurable optimism. Let us take long views this time, lest in our anxiety to correct the past we do not pay sufficient heed to the necessities of the future.
§ Sir J. JARDINE
I have several motives in rising this evening. I have no inclination to be hard upon officers down on their luck. I have no wish to weary the patience of hon. Members to-night. I have personal and family reasons for taking a great interest in all that goes on the rivers in Mesopotamia and the treatment of the Army, and I am not particularly sorry at what we believe is going to be the result of this Debate. I entirely concur with the Attorney-General in some of his remarks, and certainly that we cannot treat this Report as if it were the solemn findings of a competent Court of law on the guilt or innocence of the officers, many of them of the higher rank, with whom that Report deals. We know very well, without having been told at such enormous length, that there was no judge on this Commission, there was no opportunity of cross-examination and there was no charge formulated. Under these circumstances the findings are valueless as a judgment. Of the people accused some are military and the rest are civil. As regards the military there are the well-known Courts of inquiry to collect evidence, and the court-martial. The military man is judged by his peers—that is, by other military officers. No military man that I know of objects to that sort of Court. If he does not get that, he is entitled to demand trial before a competent civil Court used to taking evidence. If the military man falls between those two and does not get either, he stands a chance of his career being ruined, often 2236 through some mistake of fact or some misconception as to what has occurred. Therefore I would deprecate any wholesale dealing with them unless the usual method of court-martial is employed.
The military man, and largely the civil officer, dealt with in this Report, stands a chance of his possible defences not being raised and not being known. I have tried to find out before this Debate, by plain and pointed questions often repeated, some of those things that ought to guide the House in dealing with the culpability, or, if you like to call it the incapacity, of the generals in Mesopotamia. Surely it would be a good defence for any inferior general if he could plead that one of the greatest living generals, who had conducted an expedition up the Nile, was of opinion, agreeing with him, that he ought to have advanced to Bagdad. I have put the question twice as to what opinion Lord Kitchener had given but no answer was given me. There are other defences which might possibly be put forward by anyone who is arraigned by this Commission. There is the question about some of these high officials. I could not make out, when I put the question as plainly as I could to the Attorney-General, whether he meant to bring up before this new Court that has been suggested these officers who have been mentioned in the Commissioners' Report and arraign them as criminals merely for errors of judgment or want of foresight, or whether he meant to confine what are substantially criminal proceedings to criminal cases—different things altogether. Here are no misdeeds like what appeared in the Barrett inquiry, where the findings of the Court were that injustice had been perpetrated against a subaltern. That is a bigger charge as regards moral obliquity than anything alleged against any of these people arraigned in this Report.
There is the question of the private telegrams and dispatches. It is for the Law Officers to give an opinion as to what the law is in this matter. It is a pure question of law, and arises out of the recent Act codifying the laws about the government of India, the previsions of which seem to me to be clear. They mean that both the Secretary of State and the Governor-General in India shall work through their Councils as a general rule. There are exceptions, as the Secretary of State has mentioned. I do not 2237 deny the particular exception that he referred to, and he may have had good enough reasons for sending those secret telegrams after consultation with the Cabinet and on its advice. Section 6 of that Act says that all powers of the Secretary of State in Council are to be exercised at meetings of not less than five members of the Council present. Section 5 says that the Council of India shall, under his direction, conduct the business in relation to the Government of India, and all correspondence with India, and every order is to be signed by the Secretary of State. That seems to me to make it as clear as can be that that is to be the usual procedure—that he is not to act as Secretary of State alone, but as Secretary of State in Council. We who have been in India know that is the usual way. To make it clearer, it says that one meeting at least shall be held every week. I think it is of great importance that I should mention this, because it is a bad thing that the Statutes of Parliament should in any way be overruled, whatever be the motive. Then comes the Governor-General in Council. There are to be five or six members of the Governor-General's Council. One of them may be an extraordinary member—that is, the Commander-in-Chief. Section 39 says that "the Governor-General and one ordinary member of the Council may exercise all the powers of the Governor-General in Council." They put in language which is familiar to all of us who are justices of the peace that two of them, the Governor-General and one other, make a quorum, but that one is not to be the extraordinary member, the Commander-in-Chief. He is to be one of the other five. I have known on previous occasions that if one of these great authorities began to act in an unconstitutional way the others followed, and therefore I draw the attention of the House to the fact that the Act is a very recent one. The law was lately codified by a Joint Committee of Lords and Commons. All the law of Parliament has been put into one Statute, and it is from that recent Statute of 1916 that I am now quoting.
The question was raised when I heard Lord Hardinge say, first, that there was no judicial person on the Commission, and, secondly, that the evidence was not being published while the opinions in the Report were, and that in these two ways he was prejudiced before the public. I wanted 2238 to clear up this matter and find out if this was a possible defence that he could rely on something in the law to justify him in acting by these private telegrams and letters. I put a question, but was met with a refusal. I asked the Government if they would consult the Law Officers, but they said they would not. We are left without, any material to judge about it. Even the evidence relating to this naked question of law was refused, and a blunt refusal was given even to ask the Law Officers what their opinion was. Possibly Lord Hardinge has a good defence under the Statute. For the sake of bringing matters to an end I hold that the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown ought to be taken. This is the usual course; it has been followed in a great number of cases collected in Forsyth's Constitutional Law. The War Cabinet is attacked and the Secretary of State for India has been attacked, and we have heard him making his fine defence to-night. When high authorities are concerned in this way I think the opinion of the Law Officers ought to have been taken on the question of law as to whether the Secretary of State and the Governor-General acted constitutionally in resorting so constantly to private correspondence.
The question arises as to what course we should adopt now. Here is a proposal of the Attorney-General to have what I may describe as a magnified court-martial, I suppose ho means to start over again all these charges before that Court, the constitution of which is doubtful. It is like those Bills that we get in this House sometimes, which we call hybrid Bills. We do not know exactly what to do with them; they are not public Bills and they are not quite private Bills. What is this newfangled Court to be? In the interests of justice as regards the military persons accused, how is that sort of tribunal better than the ordinary military Court? As regard the civilian persons accused—and they are persons of the highest position, Ministers of the Crown, including members of the War Cabinet and the Secretary of State for India and his. Council and the Viceroy of India—how can they come before such a Court? Are we going to change the whole system of this country and to send before a Court of that sort Ministers of State and Viceroys of India to be tried, and to be tried—for what? Is there any suggestion of crime or misdemeanour in the Report? I say there is not, so far as I have been able to see. It 2239 is merely want of judgment, want of foresight, some of them getting old, some of them not using the requisite activity, and some of them losing their heads. Under the old system, when great officers were accused, we had to prove in this House that they were concerned in high crimes and misdemeanours, and then we could deal with the matter by impeachment. There is nothing that can be called high crime and nothing that can be called high misdemeanour in this Report. There is another procedure known to the law which is called criminal information. Mr. Justice Fitzjames Stephens, one of the greatest authorities on the criminal law, says there is no doubt that procedure can be used, and it has been used at times in Indian cases. For instance, in Rex v. Stratton, in the State trials, there is a case where Lord Piggott, Governor of Madras, was suspected by the Commander-in-Chief and one member of the Council of using a policy as regards some war with native chiefs which endangered the safety of the British Settlement, and they took some soldiers and seized him and shut him up in a bungalow in the hot weather, with the result that he became ill and died. The accused, General Stratton, was ultimately charged under English law at Westminster, on a criminal information for misdemeanour, before Lord Mansfield and a jury, and fined £l,000, and the affair was over.
I think we ought to set our face against reviving charges a second time immediately after they have been well dealt with, and subjecting the officers concerned to serious anxiety. To say that the State would pay for it means it is putting the expense on the taxpayer, which I think is bad enough. I cannot see that in the tribunal proposed there is any advantage for the soldier over the tribunal to which he has been accustomed so long. I think there is danger when a civilian is brought before such a tribunal, and the higher his rank—I am speaking of great officers of State—the more dangerous. He is to be brought before a military tribunal for what is not a military misdemeanour. If we want to arraign these officers of State we can do it here by discussion and by bringing forward Resolutions, and getting at them one by one. We are the great inquest of the nation, and we have a right to inquire into everything that goes on in all parts, even in the Courts of law, and 2240 certainly in the councils of the Governors and those who superintend other men. As to military officers, courts-martial can deal with certain offences, such as negligence in military matters. If that is the case, I think it would be better to go to the ordinary Courts that are understood and not set up new sorts of Courts that are not understood and are not required.
As to the demand on the part of the public for something more than inquiry, for the conviction of some of these men, because of the dreadful things caused by the want of transport not having been realised soon enough, I can quite understand the feelings of those who have lost those most dear to them and who are anxious for others who are dear to them. I speak not without feeling on this subject, but at the same time we should not give way to feelings when dealing with public servants. I do not pretend to any great knowledge of military affairs, but I was quite satisfied to hear General Nixon defended on the ground that the general who is not ready to take risks is not very likely to win a battle. We do not want to depreciate that particular quality in those who lead our forces. It is a different thing if the Army Council said that General So-and-so was hardly fitted to command a division or anything of that sort. The Army Council has to deal with these matters as purely military matters, and I do not think that there has been in these campaigns in France and Flanders any great blame attached to the way in which the Army Council has exercised its powers in dealing with generals in reference to their military work in the campaign. I have heard that the Secretary of State—and I can vouch for the fact—has for months being paying particular attention to the health and comfort of the troops in India, and I know that he was taking this matter up vigorously and that he meant to make special appointments to find out whether the troops were getting the particular comforts, medicines, and other things of that kind that are not easy to find in so dreadful a climate as Mesopotamia.
Then I come to Lord Hardinge. I will not dwell on some matters, because so much has been said about them by other Members, but there are some parts of the reflections against Lord Hardinge that have not-been noticed here, and that are hardly known to those who have not served in India or who have not, like myself, been 2241 a Secretary to the Government of India at Simla, and know something about the duties of the different members of the Government. The Viceroy of India has the assistance of councillors who make up what we may call his Cabinet, and as regards these reflections on the Finance Minister, Sir William Meyer, I may say in parenthesis that if the Commander-in-Chief or the Governor-General thought that he was saving money that ought to be spent on the Army they had full opportunity of stating and insisting on their views. In dealing with the various branches of the business that had to be looked after the Governor-General usually takes what is called the Foreign Department. That means foreign relations with the various countries round about India, and with the native States of India. Some of them are very large. I think that about 70,000,000 or 80,000,000 are under the government of the native States. Their loyalty is of immense interest and importance. I have with me the traditions coming from the time of the mutiny. When I went out there were lots of men, civil and military, who had been in the campaigns and had much to say, and it is known to all the historians that in those days there were tracts where our Government had entirely disappeared, and where the Indian Princes kept up the Imperial cause against the mutineers, and held the country for us when our Government was clean gone. It has always therefore been a matter of the utmost importance to understand the native States, and, of course, that means a very large amount of work that the Governor-General has to deal with.
I would like to mention what has been the fruit of those years of careful effort and careful attention to this matter. Hon. Members may remember that as soon as the War began we had what I remember in a speech at the time calling the astounding loyalty of the chiefs who flocked in and offered all they could, men and money, horses, camels and regiments to help us in the War, while the people of all religions in the different towns showed their loyalty by meeting in their temples and offering up public prayers and sending loyal messages to the governors of the land. That was the immediate result that was shown and was something to my mind altogether very astonishing. I think that this result is due largely to the policy and influence of Lord Hardinge, and I 2242 think that those who have been lately in India and have come home will agree with that view. It used to be one of the commonplaces of our talk in India, when three or four of us met in a tent or a bungalow, or something of that sort, to discuss what would happen to us if there were a grave European War. We used to say that in the event of a grave European War the British Government would take the British troops away and leave us to fight the best way we could without much British Army. I remember Sir Robert Phayre, who was Quartermaster-General years ago, telling me that he took care in those days not to let a single British soldier leave the country until he was certain that next morning there would be another British soldier in. What has been the record of Lord Hardinge? He has sent out 210,000 native troops and also some 80,000 British troops, and he was left in the country with only about 15,000 British troops. I think that is a very remarkable achievement, and shows the loyalty of the people in general. He war Warden of the Marches, where he had to keep forces, and it was not an easy thing to do. We know, too, that the Germans were wandering about the frontier countries like hyenas trying to start rebellion in the adjoining territory; and we know that they conspired in other parts of the world as well as in the Punjab and Bengal. The Commission's findings absolve from crime and misdemeanour, but points only to lack of judgment, lack of energy, or lack of grip. The House of Lords, in a judgment, once said negligence is often extremely like fraud, and a learned judge of long experience said it was sometimes difficult to tell whether a man was a knave or a fool, and I repeat that we do not find anything but lack of judgment and error, except it might be as to the private letters amongst friends, which, I should think, could be disposed of right away. It is a maxim of law and justice that people ought not to be vexed twice for the same thing if it can be helped. It is right that soldiers and civilians should respect the institutions under which they are brought up, and it is well that generals should not be discouraged by embarrassing criticism after every mishap. That is of vital consequence. Here we are dealing not so much with particular acts of misfeasance or nonfeasance; we are dealing with things which are very much matters of policy on which even members of the Cabinet might differ, and 2243 to treat these as crimes is the very opposite, I think, of good statesmanship and extremely dangerous to our position in India. The Viceroy of India, representative of the Sovereign among the millions of people there, ought always to be treated with the utmost ceremony and respect.
§ Sir J. D. REES
The news of the resignation of the Secretary of State will be generally regretted. He had endeared himself to the people of India by his courageous action recently in regard to the Cotton Duty, and to the Army for the justice he has done to officers and men, and to those who have had business with him, and have been won by his courtesy and careful attention. I also cannot help regretting that on account of the merely technical censure in the Report he has thought it necessary to insist upon his resignation. I think it is perfectly clear that it was the policy of retrenchment and reform that really was at the root of all the troubles and unpreparedness for the campaign in India. Still, as this Report has been made, I really think it is very difficult to hold any other conclusion than that it is of no use having great officers of State like the Viceroy and the Commander-in-Chief if, when things go wrong, they are not to be held responsible. I do protest with all my might against any endeavour—and in this I differ from the Majority Report of the Commission— to fix blame on subordinate officers, who acted within their instructions and for whose deeds their military or civil superiors were really responsible. In that respect I adopt the Report of my hon. and gallant Friend behind me, the Minority Report, as regards the allocation of blame, but while doing so I must carefully dissociate myself from his suggestion that the Commander-in-Chief and the Viceroy in India were committing anything except what was honest error, and I feel sure that they were, in fact, anxious to help to the utmost of their power to bring the campaign in Mesopotamia to a successful conclusion. I am absolutely certain that they did all in their power, that they were misguided and unsuccessful, but that they failed in anything in that respect, I for one totally disbelieve. I think that the announcement made today from the Government Bench will be disappointing to the country. In point of fact it opens up a vista of endless inquiry. A great inquiry has just been held. I admit that nobody could be hanged, figur- 2244 atively speaking, on that Report, but if it is to lead to another Report with no power to punish, the matter will go on to some-further tribunal, be it Parliament or any other, and there will as I say be an endless vista of inquiries and no end, no placing of responsibility upon the proper quarter at once. I believe the right end to it would be to recognise the findings of the Mesopotamia Commission, to recognise what I believe is the indisputable fact that the Viceroy is head and responsible for everything, and that the Commander-in-Chief is responsible for all the military officers. That covers everything else, and, I believe, would bring to an end a difficult and disagreeable situation.
I cannot believe that the announcement made can possibly be considered satisfactory. It appears that civilians can only be brought before this Army Inquiry Court as witnesses. It will be a strange thing if a witness also partakes of the character of an accused, and the inquiry will be rather ineffective as they are to have no power of punishment. Shall we be any further on the expiry of the second inquiry than we are now? I am not seeking to have the head of the Viceroy or of the Commander-in-Chief on a charger. I think they have been punished for any errors of judgment they may have committed by the position in which they are now placed, but it is useless to disguise, the fact that the public looks to bringing home responsibility to somebody, and, I believe, all over the country there are visions of impeachment, like that of Warren Hastings. I know that cannot happen, but I know that this prolongation and perpetual inquiry will give rise to considerable feeling. My hon. Friend behind (Sir J. Jardine) referred to the position and action of the Government of India. I should like to confirm what he says from my association with that body of which I was an additional member and to say that it is utterly unconstitutional for the Governor-General in concert with the Commander-in-Chief who is only an extraordinary member to carry on the functions of Government at a time when all the members are actually available and anxious and willing to participate in what goes on. It is for this reason I think responsibility must be brought home and almost confined to—I say it in no spirit of animosity—the Viceroy and Commander-in-Chief, who are the real heads, by their action in disposing of matters upon private telegrams from 2245 home without bringing them before the Council. The Viceroy has no authority except as Governor-General-in-Council, and if he does not bring everything before the Council then even more is he responsible for everything that goes wrong in India. I am very conscious that the Viceroy displayed great courage, and that he rose superior to domestic and physical ills, and I admire him for it, but of course I discount all the statements about his being the most popular Viceroy who ever was in India. I never knew one who was not the most popular Viceroy that was ever in India. Nor can I accept what has been said about this particular Viceroy being possessed of any special sympathy more than others with the people of India. I believe all of them have that. I protest against this sort of assumption that one only understands and sympathises with the people of India. We used to hear a great deal of that from the Benches opposite.
It is extremely difficult to speak on the subject before the House since it happens to be the whole field of Indian administration. My right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Montagu) reminded me of the indiscretions of my youth. He said that I had attempted to teach him the right line in Indian politics. He has lived to prove my unsuccess. While he is an eminent statesman and I am not, I continue to disagree with him most thoroughly in what he said to-day, and think that change is not by any means necessarily a change for the better nor progress invariably beneficial, because a man may be progressing towards a precipice or the Bankruptcy Court either publicly or from the private point of view. I will not say anything concerning the constitution of the Court, though I think the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer is extremely ambiguous. He said that there would be a Court constituted under Section 70 of the Army Act, and that the case would come under the Army Courts of Inquiry Act. That refers to two inquiries. What I understand, subject to correction, is that the Act created in the Barrett case will be used for the purpose of carrying on the inquiry under the Army Act for the purpose of bringing civilians as witnesses before that inquiry. I am not quite sure that is right. It seems extremely difficult to get at exactly what was intended. I gathered from the length of the Attorney-General's speech that there was something 2246 that required a great deal of explanation, or he could have told us much more rapidly and more clearly exactly what was intended. Lord Curzon, who is as invariably clear in speech as he is courageous in action, said in the House of Lords as regards the conduct of individuals no restriction will be placed on what may be said by any Member of that House except what was imposed by a general sense of equity and fair play.
I believe that if nothing is said in this House to-night on this subject it will not be very satisfactory to the country. I believe the country would expect something to be said on this particular point of the conduct of individuals. I do not go into any detail concerning that. As a civilian, my opinion, of course, would be no value as regards military officers or their action. Nevertheless, there are very many painful failures on the part of the Commander-in-Chief, Sir Beauchamp Duff, resulting from his having been all his life a man of office and not a man of action. The Commission in one place describes an act of his as a gross dereliction of duty. I am convinced he was never even guilty of the smallest dereliction of duty. I believe him to be the most industrious, the most conscientious officer possible. I believe his action in regard to this matter from first to last was most disastrous. It would hardly be possible for anybody who had not been brought up upon minutes to have sat at Simla instead of moving about in Mesopotamia where these things were going on, and that he should never have visited Bombay at this time seems to me a most amazing circumstance. I think the responsibility should be brought home to the military head for all the officers, and if any other individual should be censured it should be General Hathaway, who certainly most deplorably misrepresented the facts. But the officer who occupies the great position of Commander-in-Chief and enjoys its emoluments and honour and glory must, I submit, bear the blame if his subordinates fail him. I think it is want of courage not to say so. When it became necessary that an advance should be made, first of all to Basra and then to Bagdad, the usual course should have been taken to call together the heads of Departments and to say, "What equipment, what troops, are required for this operation?" When Lord Dufferin was Viceroy, and he had 2247 to deal with a far lesser affair in Burmah, he called together the heads of Departments and said to them, "Be not afraid, but tell me what is required for this expedition. Open your mouths and tell me." They did tell him, and then he said, "I will take what you say and then treble it, and then you shall start." He took the estimate and trebled it, and then it was not sufficient. How different was the attitude taken by Lord Hardinge and Sir Beauchamp Duff ! It seems to me that a great blow will be dealt at the splendid office of Viceroy and at the great office of Commander-in-Chief if any endeavour is made in this business to distribute the blame over smaller officers, with whom the great officers could have dispensed if they were not satisfied with their performances !
There are officers whom I hold to be most unjustly attacked. Perhaps I should not say unjustly attacked, but I refer to the conclusions of the Report as regards, I think, the means of transport in relation to Sir John Nixon. Sir John Nixon had no sooner taken charge of the Expedition than he demanded three paddle-steamers, three stern-wheelers, eight tugs, forty-three barges, and insisted upon the necessity for this amount of river transport. His Chief-of-Staff forwarded a full memorandum to headquarters, in which he said, "In this crisis insufficient river transport may lead to a breakdown and more than serious consequences." He did not get these things. On another occasion he appealed again for help. What is a gallant officer to do who has represented his requirements and says, "I want these men, these steamers, these barges," and he does not get them? I believe that nine officers out of ten would then say, "I have made my application, I have stated my case—I have not got the help to which I was entitled. I will go on as I am." I am sure Lord Olive used to do that, and other generals in India. But I do deeply regret that General Nixon should have been so severely censured when everything he did was done under the orders of the Commander-in-Chief, or with his concurrence and sanction, and when his own demands for transport were not accepted. I know, too, that the Viceroy, in telegraphing home to the Secretary of State, omitted an allusion to certain doubts which Sir Beauchamp Duff expressed as to the sufficiency or otherwise of the river transport. 2248 There you have the Viceroy again—only an error of judgment, but a grievous one !
In July, 1915, General Kemball drew up a most comprehensive memorandum, detailing the things that he required. A great deal has been made of General Nixon having stated in one telegram that he had overcome the difficulties of river transport. It was, I should have thought, perfectly obvious to anyone who read the context that he referred to a particular individual occasion; not that in his expression of opinion he considered the provision of transport satisfactory, which would have been at variance with the opinion to which he had already most properly committed himself. The shortage of river transport was the cause, everybody knows it, and so says the Commission, of the failure to relieve Kut. The shortage of river transport was not due to General Nixon, who applied for it. He did not get it up in time to allow an advance on Kut. It was no use having reinforcements at Basra when General Nixon was at Kut, or hundreds of miles further up the river. Some of the remarks I have just made about the responsibility of the soldiers acting under General Duff applies equally to all that has been said about the Royal Army Medical Service and the Indian Medical Service. Here I wish to make one remark, which I think it becomes me to make, although I have no connection with the Indian Medical Service. It was not the Indian Medical Service that failed. The officers referred to are all officers of the Royal Army Medical Service. I do not complain of this latter fact, but the Indian Medical Service produced Major Carter, who is the only man who seems to have had sufficient courage to speak up as to what were the actual conditions. Therefore, the Indian Medical Service critics are completely in the wrong; the heads of the Department, as has been pointed out, were British. My hon. Friend opposite (Sir J. Jardine) whose competence as a judge in these matters is obscured by his modesty, referred specially to the habit of sending private telegrams. I believe that is a most unfortunate habit among those at the head of affairs, and unfortunate in only a less degree in the case of other officers in India. We have had "semiofficial," "private," and "secret" communications, and it is most deplorable. It leads to a sense of great injustice on 2249 the part of the officers who are reported on in this manner. It leads to perpetual difficulties like that of the telegram referring to the 60,000 Turks being concentrated. That telegram was put aside— it was a private telegram ! There is no possible excuse for this. If matters are of sufficient importance to send a cable out to India about, they are of sufficient importance to be filed and to be treated as official communications. We have important communications labelled "private," so that they become the private property of the Viceroy, or the other officer concerned, who perhaps puts them into his waistcoat pocket, and in changing his waistcoat does not see the telegram again, and so there comes to pass a dereliction of duty ! I associate myself with my hon. Friend, and I sincerely hope this habit will not be continued.
The Secretary of State said in an answer which I put to him it was his intention to regulate his correspondence and his relations with his Council and his correspondence with India in strict accordance with the law. He did not tell us what was the law. His dealing with this subject was, I think, less convincing than the rest of his speech. The right hon. Gentleman said that these private telegrams escaped the Censor. Is there no other means, I would ask? Cannot the Secretary of State correspond with the Viceroy of India without these letters coming before the Censor? It is quite news to me. I see something of the action of the Censor in my capacity as director of the Prisoners of War Information Bureau, but I had no idea that these officials were so all-embracing in their action. I really do not understand it. He then said, I understood, that there was no need to communicate with his Council on these matters, because he acted as the representative of the War Council. That is an attitude I do not quite understand in the Secretary of State for India, and I cannot think it really a satisfactory explanation. He also said that these private telegrams got more quickly to the Viceroy and the Commander-in-Chief. That ought not to be so, and I really think the Secretaries to the Government of India, directly they get a telegram, lay it before the Department concerned, that the Viceroy will see it immediately, and there will be no such delay as he anticipates. The fact is the Secretary of State for India is not responsible for this system. It has grown up, and it is a most pernicious system.
2250 So much has it grown up that in official documents like this Report of the Commission they speak of the Viceroy and the Secretary of State, whereas they always ought to speak of the Governor-General of India in Council and the Secretary of State for India in Council. On this point of the individual action of the Viceroy, in a. most important telegram, when it was decided to proceed to Bagdad, he telegraphed to the Secretary of State privately:I am glad of the Cabinet's decision.I submit it ought to have been, "The Government of India is glad." The Government of India should have been consulted, and had they been consulted I do not believe these troubles would have happened, because it was when the Viceroy, Lord Curzon, and his Council were overridden and the military member was abolished that action led to most of these troubles, and piled on the Commander-in-Chief in India a mass of duties which no one man could perform, and which even Lord Kitchener, had he remained there, could not have performed satisfactorily.
Here is another matter, for it is perfectly useless to get up and say a word regarding this Report unless one takes the most salient features in it. In August, 1915, the Secretary of State for India, most solicitous for the comfort of the troops, telegraphed a comprehensive inquiry as to the need for doctors, nurses, medicine, and hospital comforts in Mesopotamia. The Viceroy replied:My Government arranged for doctors and medicines.Some months later the Viceroy telegraphed home to say:At last I have succeeded in persuading the military authorities that the medical arrangements up the Tigris are as bad as can be.These two telegrams, to my mind, place in a very unfavourable light the position of the Viceroy as really taking no view himself upon this subject, and therefore being bound, after a short interval, to go back totally on what he formerly said. They also exhibit him, not in the position of a strong ruler who should keep the Commander-in-Chief in order, for the Viceroy can change the Commander-in-Chief himself if he likes. If he knew that things were bad up the Tigris, it was not a question of persuading the Commander-in-Chief, but it was for him to act upon that conclusion as soon as he arrived at it, and had he done so what afterwards occurred would have been prevented.
2251 I do not want to enlarge upon the medical aspect of the case, but it is that one in which the public takes the greatest interest, and I notice the Commission—I think unjustifiably—proposes to exempt Sir William Babtie from blame on the ground that he had to act in an atmosphere very unfavourable to innovations, but had not everyone else to act in that atmosphere? Then, as regards Sir William Meyer, I want again to say that "Indian officialdom" has not broken down. There is no proof that it has broken down. Sir William Meyer never refused this strategic railway. On the contrary, it was because Sir Beauchamp Duff did not endorse General Nixon's opinion as to the necessity of this railway that it was not made. The Commissioners go on further to add that Sir William Meyer never refused any request put to him for anything connected with the Expedition, and I submit it is a most unjust thing, because a public servant happens to have, most unfortunately, a German name, that therefore censure should be passed upon him for that for which he is in no way responsible, he being expressly exonerated by the Commission. I will say no more about that. The Secretary of State has sufficiently exonerated him.
There is another matter of which I wish to speak. The Commission refer to Simla and say that the Government of India is isolated from public opinion, and so it is, but so long as they were there six months in the year and then came down to Calcutta I have nothing to say. I believe it is true that officials, especially those of a certain age, work better in the cool hills, and I do not join in the attitude of those critics who say, "Look not for salvation to the hills; trust not in the multitude of the mountains." But I do think that, so long as they go six months to the hills they ought to spend the remainder of the year in one of the great capitals, and not fly to Delhi, in an atmosphere subservient if not sycophantic, and the reverse of that independence so good for men individually and for Governments collectively. I gather from the movements of Ministers on the Front Bench that I may be intervening between the House and some Minister whom it is extremely anxious to hear. I will, therefore, bring my remarks to a close, merely repeating what I said before at the beginning, that it is no use having a Commission of this sort if it is 2252 merely to end in one way, and if you are not to accept any recommendations now made. I submit that the allocation of blame in the Report is not only wrong and unjust, but that it is I extremely detrimental to the public service, be it military or civil, to bring home the blame to any man who acts honestly within the scope of his own instructions and within the ambit of his own duties; and that all responsibility must centre upon the heads of the Departments, and if they were not satisfied with their agents they should have changed them, and if they did not change them they should shoulder the results of such mistakes as they made.
§ 10.0 P.M.
§ Mr. KING
I think the public outside, when it reads the account of the Debate which has taken place here this evening, will be very dissatisfied. It will be dissatisfied in many ways. With one thing, at any rate, I ought to say it will be not dissatisfied, and that is with the dignified way in which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham has resigned office. I am sure he carries with him from office the sympathy and respect of all of us, and I am sure that, quite irrespective of party and personality, we all desire that he may long be a Member and ornament of this House. But, apart from that exception, I feel profoundly dissatisfied with the course which this Debate has been taking. To put the matter quite plainly, there has been a great deal too much whitewashing here. The House seems to have resolved itself, for the time being, into a great whitewashing company. From the various parts of the House, for various reasons which have been alleged, with respect to various aspects of the Report or in regard to the eminent men concerned, there have been splashes, or let me say daubs of whitewash, put upon the Report and upon anything that might come out. I am perfectly convinced that the feeling of the country generally is of a very different kind. They want to know how we are going to proceed in this matter. To have had, as we did at the beginning of this Debate, a long speech of an hour and a half, telling us that some peculiar kind of Court of inquiry would be set up, which might deal in a certain way with the military persons affected and censured by this Mesopotamia Commission Report, but which could not properly deal with the civil persons implicated in a similar way—to have had a speech of that 2253 length and in that tone from the Attorney-General—is entirely unsatisfactory, and I am perfectly sure that that is not what the country wants. It is not what the country wants—to get on with the War— when it is demanding that at this time, above every other time, we should have efficient men in power and authority. It is not what it wants when we are faced with great revelations which have alarmed, shocked, and horrified the whole nation. I appeal to the Government strongly, in the first place, to throw over this miserable scheme of a Court of inquiry, and to have some more direct, more fair, more clear, and more expeditious method of inquiring into the cases of men who have been severely censured by this Report, and to decide, by the same authority, what punishment or treatment should be allotted to them.
§ Mr. KING
I am not quite sure that a Star Chamber would not be quite as welcome to the country as this ridiculous Court of inquiry, which nobody understands. But the remarks which I want to make are upon a line which I do not think has been sufficiently followed up in the course of this Debate. In fact, I think no one has really touched upon the fact that the Report of the Mesopotamia Commission has given us a number of revelations, and established a large number of facts which are in direct contravention and contradiction to the statements which were made by Ministers, on their solemn faith— I might almost say on the solemn oath—as being facts, when they gave to us what we took to be reliable information. During the whole of 1915, up to the last two months, there were great complaints in the House on the lack of information on the Mesopotamia operations, and it was not until the 2nd November of that year that the Prime Minister made a considerable statement on an Adjournment Motion. He ended up that statement on Mesopotamia with the famous words thatGeneral Nixon's force is now within measurable distance of Bagdad. I do not think that in the whole course of the War there has been a series of operations more carefully contrived, more brilliantly conducted, and with a better prospect of final success.These are the words of the right hon. Member for East Fife, at the time when Nixon's force was going practically to its destruction. Reading these words now, in the light of the Report, it is perfectly 2254 appalling and astounding for us to conceive how ever they could have been uttered. What an amount of incapacity there must have been somewhere, whether up at the top or down below I even now do not understand. But that the Prime Minister should have made that solemn statement to the House on that occasion, in the light of the history now revealed, is simply a national humiliation. A month later a very similar episode occurred in this House, when reports of the medical breakdown were beginning to come in. One or two notices had actually appeared in the Press; one or two questions had been asked in the House; and on the 8th December, 1915, the right hon. Member for West Birmingham, then Secretary of State for India, was asked a question about the medical equipment of the Expedition, and this was his answer:The condition of the wounded is very satisfactory, and the medical arrangements have worked well under difficult conditions.And he added a short time after, when asked to give more information to the House on the Expeditions generally:I am unwilling to give the House any information as to the accuracy of which I cannot absolutely vouch.He was, therefore, absolutely vouching, when the wounded and the sick were suffering such trials and such horrible conditions as we have read in the Report, that:the condition of the wounded is very satisfactory and that the medical arrangements work well.That is one episode of this miserable story which I think the House and the country ought to bear in mind. We have been misled, we have been shamefully misled, and are we not in justice able to say to-day to the Government that if you have misled us so solemnly in matters like this, telling us what has been proved to be the utter reverse of the facts, how can we believe you in other things, how are we to accept your words when the words we can prove are shown to be so misleading and so false?
There is one other point to which I wish to call the attention of the House in connection with this Report, which seems to me to be rather misunderstood, or placed in the wrong light. Hon. Members on both sides have referred to the delinquencies of officials and Ministers as if they were crimes and misdemeanours, and as if they were capable of being brought to a Court of law, and being established there as crimes, misdemeanours or offences according to the criminal law of 2255 the land. As I take it, no criminal charge has been brought or been imagined by anybody. It is not a question of whether a, man has been guilty of a crime; it is a question of whether the men we have entrusted with enormous powers, who have had immense confidence placed in them, have proved worthy. Have they proved capable, have they done their best, have they used the ability and imagination, the industry and the courage, which we expected of them? I believe on those points these men stand convicted. The evidence indeed has not been published, but extracts of it have been published, and there is the story as put together by such unprejudiced men as Lord George Hamilton—a man who, having lived so much in official life, is certain not to have taken an unfair view towards the officials, a man who has been Secretary of State for India himself, and naturally from Conservative instincts and record might naturally be expected to be exceedingly kind to the traditional methods and achievements of the English Government. From that point of view we ought to consider that we have a right to complain. These men have been judged by their equals. They have been judged by men sympathetic to them. It has been no hostile Court before which they have been brought, and these are the men who have condemned them. I say, believing I have the feeling of the country at large with me, that unless the Government get some method, more direct and more effective to deal with these cases than the proposed Court of Inquiry, they will be committing a very great mistake, and they will not have the support and confidence which they ought to have.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Mr. Balfour)
The hon. Member who has just sat down expressed a great desire that we should have a body capable of dealing with the problems raised by the Mesopotamia Commission and that the body should not be in the form suggested as one of the two possible alternatives by my right hon. Friend the Attorney-General. My right hon. Friend fully explained to the House the broad principles on which the Government propose to act and the principles from which we cannot depart. I am not aware there is any pressure from any side that we should. We think it is quite clear, and I think the House and the country and probably the hon. Gentleman 2256 will agree that to condemn anybody or punish anybody or remove anyone, merely on the strength of the Mesopotamia Commission Report, might be to inflict a grave injustice upon individuals, and we do not propose to do that under any temptation or pressure. When the hon. Member says the country is behind him in asking for stronger measures, I must remind him that the country is naturally acting under a keen sense of the horrors of the Mesopotamia Report, and it is natural and unavoidable, when those deplorable occurrences happen, that under such circumstances there should be a passionate desire to find somebody who is responsible and to punish. But it is our business in this House to see that this natural desire never exceeds the bounds of strict justice. It is our business not to be misled by the stream of public opinion, however natural, and to be thrown over some cataract of public immorality: that when the present fighting is over we may all see that we have been grossly unfair, and involved in one of those hasty transactions, which nations commit in moments of excitement, and which for ever afterwards are matters of painful comment to the generation itself, and the historians who follow after. There are two alternatives before us, from which the Government ask the House to select. Since the speech of my right hon. Friend the Attorney-General we have made it our business, to the best of our ability, to find in which direction the general feeling of the House would desire us to move. Both plans are legitimate, both plans follow as we think, the general canons of justice we have laid down, both I think reach precisely the same results, therefore the difference between us is a difference not of substance, but of form, and if the House prefers, as I think they do, the second form to the first, we are quite ready to meet them, and I am authorised by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to say on his authority to-night that we shall gladly accept the second suggestion of the Attorney-General, and in deference to the criticisms passed upon him by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Waltham-stow (Sir J Simon), supported as I believe he is by the general feeling of a large portion of the House, we shall be very glad to accept the second alternative. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down seems to regard both alternatives as a means of bringing criminals to justice or meting out a deserved punish- 2257 ment. I do not regard them in that light at all. Although that may be one of the results, another result would be to show that some men have been most unjustly attacked by the Commission, and it would give them a much-needed opportunity of vindicating their character before the public. It is in their interests quite as much as in the general interests that I rejoice to think that some opportunity will be given in which they can lay before a tribunal their views, and thereby laying them before the country.
I must frankly admit that I am in many respects very little moved by the Report of the Commission. Nothing can exceed the feelings of horror with which everybody must read of the tragic events which followed the retirement of the British force, but the general character and the manner in which the Commission have approached this question is not the proper method of dealing with these great State affairs. Anybody who listened with attention, as I am sure most hon. Members of the House did, to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary for India must have felt that the Commission, after that speech, is quite as much on its trial as any of the gentlemen whom it has arraigned. Let me, as I have mentioned my right hon. Friend, express what I know is the universal feeling of the House, that the speech which he made this evening, not only in the greater part of it, is a most able oratorical effort, but in the earlier part it is a most dignified statement of the course which he thought it right to pursue. Everybody must have listened to it with sympathy and certainly no Member of this House listened to it with more sympathy than his colleagues who have worked with him in uninterrupted and profitable friendship during all these months of strenuous labour. But, Sir, I must frankly add that I profoundly dissent from the expediency of the course which my right hon. Friend has thought it right to pursue. I believe it to have been wrong, although right in intention, in my opinion, in substance. I do not believe, personally, speaking for myself, merely on the ground that this Commission has casually imputed some share of responsibility to my right hon. Friend or anybody else for their share in these transactions, that they are right in withdrawing themselves from the service of the country. Something has been said by the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down (Mr. King) and by others about the 2258 case of Lord Hardinge. Lord Hardinge, as soon as the Commission reported, tendered his resignation to me. I did not accept it.
§ Mr. BALFOUR
I apologise. The hon. Member was indulging in general invective, and I confess that I thought he included Lord Hardinge.
§ Mr. BALFOUR
I read them with quite as much care and much less interest. The hon. Gentleman will hardly deny that Lord Hardinge has been made the target of the most virulent and persistent attacks, reflected perhaps more in questions which have been asked by hon. Gentlemen, including, I think, the hon. Gentleman himself, but I am glad to see that they have sensibly diminished in virulence since we entered upon this Debate this afternoon. I wanted to tell the House, and I think it is fair that I should state it, that Lord Hardinge offered his resignation to me quite early in the stages of this controversy, and I declined to accept it. He offered it again and pressed it on me in a letter which I received yesterday, and I again refused to accept it. I refused to accept it on the broad ground which I think ought to move everybody who really feels what the country requires of its citizens in a time of war. Those who want Lord Hardinge to resign or want him to leave his present place, want him at this crisis in this nation's history to give up all efforts towards carrying on the great struggle in which we are engaged. That is a liberty which we do not give to anybody in this country. Many of the Civil servants in my Department have desired to go to the front and take their part in the fighting line. They have been refused, and they have been told that their duty to their country requires them to stay in the Foreign Office. Am I to be told that the head permanent Civil servant at the Foreign Office—
Twenty-one generals were sent home from Mesopotamia as failures. Why should not the same law apply to the Viceroy of India?
§ Mr. BALFOUR
I do not know what the hon. and gallant Gentleman means. I wholly fail to follow his reasoning. Does anybody suggest that Lord Hardinge is incompetent to carry out the duties on which he is now engaged?
§ Mr. BALFOUR
If a Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office is to be dismissed from his place because his superiors pursue a particular policy, how are you going to carry on the Civil Service of this country? Why is Lord Hardinge responsible for Lord Grey's policy? He is not responsible. Nobody knows better than the two hon. Gentlemen who interrupted me just now that if you were to accept these principles your so-called permanent Civil servants would go out of office as often as your political heads of Departments. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Of course they would. If they were to be made responsible for all that the heads of their Departments do, how can it be otherwise?
§ Mr. MacNEILL
May I for one, moment courteously interrupt the right hon. Gentleman? He knows perfectly well that Lord Hardinge was responsible for foreign policy when he went with the King as the King's Minister to Kiel to hold a conversazione with the Czar.
§ Mr. BALFOUR
Although I was not in office at that time but was a member of the Opposition, I am perfectly certain that if the hon. Gentleman cares to inquire of the many distinguished persons who were Lord Grey's colleagues at that time, they will confirm my statement that the hon. Gentleman is labouring under a profound delusion.
§ Mr. BALFOUR
Those are, broadly speaking, the grounds on which I do not 2260 propose to accept Lord Hardinge's resignation, the ground being that Lord Hardinge is an excellent permanent head of the Foreign Office. Therefore, even if he did not do his duty in India, in my opinion that is no reason at all for telling him that he is not to do something else that has nothing to do with India.
§ Mr. BALFOUR
If the Generals are occupied in some service to their country quite unconnected with the military profession, I do not see why they should do it, simply because as military men they have failed.
§ Mr. BALFOUR
Does not the hon. Gentleman see that he is suspended from doing the kind of work in which he is supposed to have failed? That is the point. Why should you suspend a man who is supposed to have failed in India from doing work which has nothing to do with India, and which is connected with a wholly different sphere of public activities? I do not think that Lord Hardinge has been fairly treated by the Commission. Even if he had been I should refuse to accept his resignation, but he has not been fairly treated. I do not suggest for a moment that the Commission, whatever blunders and mistakes they have made in the course of their investigations, ever intended to do anything but strict justice, but their method of dealing with these great questions makes, in my opinion, strict and fair justice almost impossible. What did we want from the verdict of such a Commission? We wanted, if possible, to anticipate the views which an impartial historian, fully acquainted with the facts, would take of recent transactions. That is not the way they looked at this question. Would any historian, trying to estimate Lord Hardinge's services to India in general during his administration there, or his services to India and the Empire during the War, occupy himself, as the Commission have very much occupied themselves, with 2261 matters of such relative triviality, such as whether the telegram was an official or a private telegram? [Interruption.] I beg your pardon. That is one of the things. The chief cause of a private telegram being sent to Lord Hardinge and not used by him has been entirely disposed of by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Chamberlain), and the criminals there are not Lord Hardinge nor the Secretary of State for India. They are the Commission. Does anybody doubt that statement? Can anyone doubt it after what my right hon. Friend has said?
Then it is alleged that Lord Hardinge did not consult his Council sufficiently and that all the work was done by him and the Commander-in-Chief. I do not pose as an authority on Indian administration. It is the last thing I should think of doing: It may be that the work in war matters would have been better done if, in addition to the Viceroy and the Commander-in-Chief, you had introduced the gentleman in the Indian Administration who is responsible for legal matters or for agricultural matters or for financial matters, but I am informed that Lord Hardinge and the Council met every week, that they were acquainted with every official telegram that passed and with every private telegram of importance, and that at the meetings of the Council it was in the power of any member of the Council to raise any question he liked connected with the War or any other matter of public interest. I quite agree that is not the same thing as dealing with everything through the Council nor do I see how, if the Council only met once a week which I was informed is far more often than it met in the time of Lord Hardinge's predecessor, it could do the work. It was a matter of daily intercourse between the officer and Commander-in-Chief, and it could only have been at intervals that the Council was assembled. However, again, is not that a small matter? Lord Hardinge, if he is to blame—I am no judge of that—was far less to blame than his predecessors. I have the evidence of Lord Hardinge.
§ Mr. BALFOUR
I did not say that. What I said was that Lord Hardinge never suggested that he did deal with Mesopotamia with the help of these gentlemen, who had nothing whatever to do with military matters. What he 2262 asserts is that the Council met every week, that it had before it all the official telegrams and all the private telegrams of importance, and that they had the power, when they met, of raising themselves any questions they desired to raise and discuss. I do not say that is the same as managing the War through the Council, if that be a good way of managing it, but it is absurd to say the Council was brushed aside in the way in which I understand they have been brushed aside by Viceroys previous to Lord Hardinge. To make such a serious charge against the Viceroy is utterly absurd and utterly out of proportion. You are dealing with great events, in which such incidents as that scarcely deserve mention. As for the lecture given by the Commission to Lord Hardinge over the 60,000 Turks, that has been blown to pieces by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for India, and I need say no more about that. What are the big things with which Lord Hardinge is charged? They really are two. One relates to the advance on Bagdad, and the other to medical management or mismanagement. With regard to Bagdad, that, again, has been dealt with in a very complete and, I think, wholly satisfactory manner by my right hon. Friend, and I am not going to traverse again the ground that he so well surveyed. That is quite unnecessary, but this I am bound to say, that if Lord Hardinge is called into question for that, if he is to be hailed before a tribunal, if he is to be prevented from serving his country in the office which he now holds, because he advised the advance on Bagdad, all the most important Gentlemen on the Front Bench opposite and on this Front Bench also deserve precisely the same treatment. [HON. [MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I have no doubt the hon. Gentlemen would be glad to take our places. [An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear!"] I have no doubt the hon. Gentleman would most admirably perform the duties of his new office. The hon. Gentleman may have heights of genius as yet unrevealed, surpassing the late Prime Minister, the present Prime Minister, and various other dignitaries in office who were responsible for the advance on Bagdad. As to the new tribunal, I do not know whether we shall all in turn go before it. Personally I should be quite ready to do so when it comes, but I do not propose on that account alone to resign my present office. The other point of importance—a point of 2263 more tragic importance—is in regard to the medical arrangements. It is impossible to deal with that in a light spirit. That, as it seems to me, you must divide into two branches. One is the general lack, as far as I am able to judge, of adequate medical equipment, quite irrespective of the great tragedies of the retreat, and the other branches of the question are the tragedies which are the really heartrending parts of this Report. I do not suggest that there is any sufficient explanation or excuse for the general deficiency of medical stores except this—and it is worth while for the House to remember it, bearing in mind that we want to do justice—that we in England and in India entered this War unprepared. It certainly was not Lord Hardinge's fault, broadly speaking, that India entered it unprepared, still less was it his fault that Great Britain entered it unprepared. Remember what the deliberate policy of the Indian Government was, sanctioned by this House—that the military expenditure in India should be reduced to the lowest limits campatible with Indian safety from external land attack and from internal revolutions. That was the policy. It was a deliberate policy. It was a policy sanctioned, and indeed carried out, under the inspiration of a Commission appointed with this country over which a field-marshal presided. That Commission resolved that it was adequate for India's needs that a sum of, I think, £19,500,000 should be its military budget. Lord Hardinge never conformed to that in any year. Speaking in round figures, I believe that the average expenditure since that Commission exceeded Lord Nicholson's proposals by nearly £2,000,000. But even with that India was unprepared for what it was never asked to prepare for. It suddenly found itself appealed to by this country to come to this country's assistance in a great European war. Did India refuse? Did Lord Hardinge refuse? Did he show himself reluctant to give everything which India could contribute to the great cause for the assistance of the Home Country I Sir, India made an effort such as India neer made before. India, under Lord Hardinge, risked, as my right hon. Friend most admirably told us, everything in the nature of outside aggression, frontier warfare, internal dissension. India reduced her white troops at one moment to 15,000.
§ Mr. BALFOUR
And that was done under Lord Hardinge's administration. India was bled white for war purposes before the Mesopotamia Expedition began; and then are you going to look with too critical, too microscopical an eye upon the fact that a country which had sent men, guns, officers, medical stores, and rifles was not fully equipped for dealing with the situation in Mesopotamia? You may hunt through the pages of the Report of the Commission and you will never find there broad considerations brought in.
§ Lord H. CECIL
My right hon. Friend evidently has not read the Report. He discusses these matters with only an indolent attention to fact. My right hon. Friend can see, if he looks, that these facts which he has himself stated, most properly, as important facts, all appear in the Report.
§ Mr. BALFOUR
My Noble Friend does me, I think, some slight injustice. Will anybody who has read the Report of which he speaks say that the kind of proportion which I have ventured to indicate is the kind of proportion which appears in the Reports, and will my Noble Friend, who is a master of style and arrangement, say that, if he had read that, Report as the work of another, it did justice to the great efforts made by Lord Hardinge in connection with the War? No; what the Commission does is to enumerate a lot of facts, not all correctly, but most of them correctly, and then to put at the end, so and so more responsible for this or that transaction. That is not the way which the impartial historians of the future would ever think of looking on a question of this kind. They would say, and say truly, that on India, as on this country, came this tremendous struggle, as an absolute surprise to India as to this country, and that mistakes and errors, losses without end came at the beginning of the War on account of imperfect preparation. As the War went on these defects were gradually removed, though the unhappy losses which they caused would never be repaired. That is a true history of the War in this country, and a true history of the War in India. If anybody will take the trouble to draw a parallel between these difficulties about medical supplies, and about shells, guns, and 2265 munitions on the Western Front, they will find that the parallel is a very close one. If you can imagine another Commission of the same type appointed to look at every letter, study every telegram since August, 1914, down to the end of 1915, if anybody thinks there would not be a stream of people responsible for this and that—and a very large number of them doing glorious work for their country at this moment—well, then, I think they know very little about the history of the gradual rising of Britain and the British Empire to the height of this great argument. You cannot find a defence for these defects of preparation. Who is responsible for them? This House comes down with an air of enormous virtue and says, "Why were not all these defects cured; why was it that the country was not in a perfect state of preparation for an emergency, very great and very unexpected; and if you propose to the same House the necessary expenditure for making those preparations you are turned out of office?" I was out of office all the years in which those preparations could have been made, but I am perfectly certain that if the right hon. Gentlemen opposite, when they were in office, had proposed that sort of expenditure either for India or here which we now see to be necessary for all this War, they would not have got the country to accept the sacrifice for one moment. I take the further point that when this War is over, in a very few years you will find that what I think the Commission called "an atmosphere of economy" again creeping over us, and they will be equally unable to imagine that a new catastrophe will require as great efforts from them and the taxpayers they represent. As regards the deficiency of medical stores during the whole period of the Mesopotamia Expedition, and the great horrors which make one's blood run cold, were largely due to a different set of causes; at least, I think so; I state this with all modesty and diffidence, but I think it is correct. General Nixon was making a great invasion of a barbarous land, and thought to gain a great and relatively easy success. He was wrong in his opinion, and he met with a great reverse. Where you have a great reverse in the course of a war in a savage country, where your wounded cannot be left behind for proper medical treatment, these horrors must occur with an army which is in retirement.
§ Mr. BALFOUR
My hon. and gallant Friend does not see the point. It is perfectly true that at the time his means of communication were on a very low scale, but on a scale that might have been sufficient, and I suppose would have been if General Nixon had had the success he anticipated. It proved to be quite inadequate when a disaster occurred which compelled his retreat. But that he was going through, he thought, and the number of casualties he would have to provide for would be somewhere about 500, while it was 3,500. So that an Army which, had it been successful, would have had ample means of carrying back the wounded through all these hundreds of miles to the base had not got them when the number of wounded was multiplied manifold, and when they had to be carried back in the face of a triumphant enemy.
§ Mr. BALFOUR
No. The great fault is not merely the absence of hospital ships, but the fact that there was no accommodation for the wounded men. My hon. Friend must not suppose that I am saying that the preparations were adequate, They were not, and I am explaining the character of the appalling catastrophe, the catastrophe that always happens if you advance far into a savage country where you cannot leave the wounded, when you meet with a serious reverse, to the tender mercies of men who may cut their throats as soon as they reach them, and you so endeavour to carry them back, with imperfect success, to the base. Those are the actual facts of the case. I am not suggesting it does not show that there was great miscalculation, but it was not the kind of miscalculation which produced inadequate medical stores, which I described as the first of the two branches of the medical deficiencies to which the Commission justly called attention. I deny altogether that you can treat Lord Hardinge as if he was responsible for those catastrophes. It really is absurd. I am told that he is responsible because being Viceroy he was responsible for everything that happened in India. India is a country of 300,000,000 inhabitants. The Viceroy, as my right hon. Friend (Mr. Montagu) pointed out, in his own person combines the duties of at least half a dozen of the most hard- 2267 worked Ministers in England. [HON. MEMBERS: "He said four !"] He would not be wrong if he said half a dozen. To say that Lord Hardinge or any Viceroy is, because he is Viceroy, to be made responsible for every deficiency which may occur in any Department seems to me, from my British experience, utterly absurd. Beyond that, I think he trusted apparently too much to his expert advisers. But what choice has a Minister but to rely upon those who have the expert knowledge in which he is deficient? The time may come—it did come in this case ! —when Lord Hardinge thought it necessary to go beyond these expert advisers and to say that he must have independent information upon the matter. He would say, "Rumours come to me; you expert advisers give me these rosy accounts of all that is going on at the front; I hear different stories, and I must have an independent inquiry." The idea that this inquiry was very greatly delayed is really untrue. In the middle of September Lord Hardinge had word of the matter, and by the end of the month the inquiry was started.
Let me, in conclusion, say this: Lord Hardinge is now engaged on matters which have nothing whatever to do, as I have already pointed out, with Indian administration—the work of the Foreign Office. That is a continuation of what, after all, is his life's work. His Indian experience was merely an episode, but a most useful one, in his life. Broadly, his experience has been at the Foreign Office and in diplomacy, and both at the Foreign Office and in diplomacy he has done work for which this country ought to be grateful. In the course of carrying out that work he has accumulated experience of an invaluable kind. Nobody will suggest that his work is not of advantage to the Foreign Office. If that be true, the suggestion that he should give up that work is perfect folly. I assure the House that at the Foreign Office we are not overmanned. The work there is enormous and responsible, and has reached a degree of elaborateness which never occurred before. Lord Hardinge has the confidence of the Office. He has the confidence of the Diplomatic Service. He is useful to his chiefs. He is not, of course, responsible for policy. He is responsible, and has great responsibility, like the permanent heads of other Offices. This responsibility he carries out quite admirably. I do not 2268 think that I should be serving the best interests of the country in a great crisis when the country has need of all that her sons can do in every sphere, because, forsooth, of some comments there described in the Report of the Commission, or because those comments are going to be revised and reviewed by a tribunal that has yet to be appointed, to agree that Lord Hardinge should retire into private life and give up that admirable work that he is carrying on, that he, by training and ability, is most excellently suited for, and so deprive the country of the services that I can assure the House at this moment we can ill spare.
§ Sir A. WILLIAMSON
It seems to me that it is the Commission that is on its trial to-night. We have listened to a series of very eloquent defences of the various gentlemen associated in this matter. I have every sympathy with the Foreign Secretary, who naturally does not wish to lose a colleague who is valuable to him. We have much sympathy with the Secretary of State for India when he complains of the difference between what the Commissioners say and what the newspapers have said they say. There is no doubt whatever that if the public read the Report of the Commissioners they will come to very different conclusions. One must have every sympathy with the Secretary for India and others on that account, and one has also sympathy with the right hon. Gentleman in regard to the telegrams which have had to be paraphrased and the omissions in those telegrams. No doubt these were causes of difficulty to the Secretary for India. But I would remind the House that the paraphrasing of telegrams was not done by the Commission, but by the India Office itself. With reference to the omissions in those cables and telegrams, we were instructed by the India Office and the Government that reference to complications in Persia, and matters connected with Russia, must be omitted from any telegrams quoted by the Commission. Consequently the Commission were unable to do otherwise than they did.
§ It being Eleven of the clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.
§ The Orders of the Day were read, and postponed.