§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Lord Edmund Talbot.]
§ Sir A. WILLIAMSON
I find myself to-day placed unexpectedly in a position of some responsibility. Having, by the approval of the House, been one of those who took part in an investigation of a long and arduous character, the Report of which has now been presented to this 2310 House, I must ask the indulgence of the House if I discharge the responsibility which is cast upon me to-day of defending the Commission against some of the attacks which I think have somewhat wantonly been made against it. The Commission, indeed, finds itself in the position of a criminal in the dock rather than in the position of a body investigating and reporting upon occurences at the request of the House. The Foreign Secretary, indeed, stated to the House that the Commission was on trial rather than those who had been referred to in the Report. It is not very difficult for a clever man to pick holes or to condemn isolated sentences in a long Report of 178 pages. It took the Commission eight months to arrive at their decisions. The House can hardly expect to do justice to the Report arrive at their decisions. The House can and the Commission in seven hours and without having the evidence before it. With regard to the evidence, the Commission would have no objection to that evidence being printed. On page 7 of the Report the House will find these words:There is no legal obligation upon us to publish the evidence which we have taken. We therefore leave to the discretion of His Majesty's Government the question of its publication.So far as I am concerned—and I think that in this matter I speak for the whole Commission—we have no objection whatever. Indeed, we would be very pleased that the evidence should be published, and we feel confident that, when the evidence is published, it will but serve to deepen the sad impression which was left upon the mind of the Commissioners themselves. There has been yesterday in the Debate an effort to discredit the Commission. Apparently from what we heard nothing very much occurred, and no one is to blame. While passing eulogies, most of which I do not deny were well deserved, on the distinguished services of statesmen and soldiers, we must not forget the grief of the parents who have lost their sons in Mesopotamia, of the widows and fatherless children who have suffered for the sins of omission as well of commission of those who were referred to.
Do not let us forget that this is not the only Commission which has inquired into the medical breakdown in Mesopotamia. There have been two Commissions. The first, commonly called the Vincent-Bingley Commission, was appointed at the instance of the Government of India, and was composed of three 2311 gentlemen, one Indian general of distinction, another well-known Indian Civil servant, and Mr. Ridsdale a well-known representative of the Red Cross. These gentlemen took evidence upon the spot, not long afterwards, but very shortly afterwards, while the matter was still red-hot, and while those who had taken part in the various matters were available to give personal evidence. The Report of that Commission was in the hands of the Government before they appointed the Mesopotamia Commission. The Report apparently did not give the Government satisfaction, for they did not publish it. They took the further step of appointing this Mesopotamia Commission to go into the whole matter anew, and added a wider term of reference which gave the Commission power to inquire into other matters as well as those relating to the breakdown of the medical service. With regard to the Vincent-Bingley Commission the Mesopotamia Commission found that the circumstances described by the Vincent-Bingley Commission were fully confirmed by independent evidence. Not only so, but they found that exactly the same persons were responsible, so far as regards the medical part of the inquiry, as those which the Mesopotamia Commission found to be responsible. Yesterday a number of accusations were made against the Mesopotamia Commission, and against their manner of conducting their inquiry, the Attorney-General referring to it as if it had been unusual. The law of evidence was referred to. The House of Commons, however, well understands the proceedings of these Commissions; it well understands that a Commission of Inquiry has no accusation before it. It has to set out de novo to inquire into the whole subject referred to it, and it must build up the case little by little from evidence and from reports made to it by various individuals who appear to give evidence.
There were hundreds of witnesses who came before the Vincent-Bingley Commission and the Mesopotamia Commission. It is inconceivable that all these witnesses could come to make their statements accompanied by lawyers, and that the exact proceedings of a Court of law could have taken place in this Commission. I am perfectly certain that the House of Commons, when appointing the Commission, never dreamt of ap- 2312 pointing a Court of law. The House of Commons appointed the Commission as business men, as men of ordinary intelligence and common sense, to inquire into what had happened, and make a report to the House, on which the House of Commons, in its wisdom, might take action. It is unfortunate that in this Debate this Commission should be held up to obloquy throughout the country, as if it had gone out of its way to do injustice to the men who came before it, and to conduct its proceedings in some illegal, improper, and inequitable way. I think it is only right that the Government should defend the Commission, appointed at its own instance in the House of Commons, against such an impression getting abroad. It is said that no charges were framed. Surely it is known to the House of Commons, and surely it ought to be known to the public, that it is not the business of such a Commission to frame charges. It is said that officers and officials who came before the Commission were unaware of the nature of the allegations which had been made against them. With regard to that, the officials chiefly concerned, and the soldiers chiefly concerned, were no doubt aware from the public press of the nature of the inquiry, and of the nature of what had been said with regard to the conduct of operations. More than that, it was impossible for anyone to have conveyed. As to the medical men, every one of them was fully informed of the allegations made before he appeared. The Commission took particular care to supply every one of the medical representatives with a copy of the Vincent-Bingley Report previous to his appearing before the Commission.
It is further said that the witnesses had no opportunity of replying. Most of the findings, I may tell the House, are based on the words of the witnesses themselves. There was a rule in the Commission that when a serious reflection was made by one witness on another, that other witness was informed. Some of those other witnesses were recalled; others could have been recalled if they had requested us to do so. The Commission did not refuse, so far as I am aware, to recall any witness who asked to be recalled. In reference to the Commander-in-Chief in India, and to the Secretary of State, they were both supplied with the whole of the evidence as and when it came out. General Nixon, Surgeon - General Sir 2313 William Babtie, Surgeon-General Hathaway, Surgeon-General MacNeece, had all evidence which appeared to be relevant supplied to them. It is further said that no attention was paid by the Commission to India's large effort.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
When the evidence was sent to me, I was told that I must not refer to it. As a matter of fact, I was very busy with other things and very urgent war business. I never read the evidence. I read the statements of Lord Crewe and of Lord Hardinge, and necessarily I corrected the proof of my own. That is all that I have yet seen.
§ Sir A. WILLIAMSON
I am not imputing any blame to the right hon. Gentleman, who could not be expected to read the whole of the evidence, which it took us eight months to hear. Still, the allegation is made that this Commission did not inform the persons chiefly concerned, when, in fact, they were supplied with what had been said by other witnesses regarding them. It is further said that the Commission paid no attention to India's large effort in the general field of the War. It is perhaps true that the Commission did not write an essay upon the subject of India's part in the War. After all, that was not part of the reference to the Commission, but on page 11 of the Report there is a paragraph which shows that while the Commission did not write such an essay, they had well in mind the part India had taken in the general conduct of the War. In paragraph 30, page 11, the Commission reports as follows:Before passing on to the consideration of the Mesopotamian Expedition, we think it right to draw attention to the demands made which, in their totality, the Overseas Expedition have imposed upon India. Lord Hardinge has told us that that 'approximately 80,000 British officers and men, and 210,000 Indian officers and men, were dispatched overseas, inclusive of drafts and reinforcements. In considering, therefore, as we shall proceed to do, the Indian Government's responsibilities in Mesopotamia, it is fair to remember that the Mesopotamian Expedition was only part of a larger effort, which involved not only the maintenance in India of a considerable Army for interior and frontier defence, but also the dispatch overseas of troops approximating in number to the total Army maintained in India before the War.I think, therefore, that while it is quite possible that we might have elaborated still further, this is conclusive proof to the House that those considerations were not out of the minds of the Commission, but that they considered the whole subject. It is further said that the Commission omitted altogether, or gave very slight attention to, Lord Hardinge's 2314 other difficulties arising from the internal condition of India. There, again, the Commission certainly did not lose sight of that, although they did not labour it at any very great length. It is referred to in two places in the Report, on page 105 and page 115. I will not read both those extracts, but let me give that on page 115 to show how very much this matter was before the Commission. Paragraph 23 states:In the information laid before us by high authorities as to the military requirements of India there was constant reference made to the ever-present risk of invasion on the North-West Frontier, and the danger of simultaneous internal disturbance. We are satisfied of the reality of such dangers and of the necessity of keeping mobilised a large force on this frontier. There is little doubt that on more than one occasion since the outbreak of war the Indian Government passed through a period of grave anxiety which they successfully surmounted. The preoccupation caused by this anxiety—I would ask the House to note these words—must not be forgotten in blaming the Indian Government for the inefficiency of the management of the Mesopotamian Campaign.I submit to the House of Commons that we have done justice to the difficulties which Lord Hardinge found in conducting the internal affairs of India without having written a long account of such duties. It was not our duty to investigate that question. Our reference was to investigate what happened in the Mesopotamian Campaign. Another stricture has been made, that Lord Hardinge's illustrious services to the Crown have not received proper consideration. I submit to the House of Commons that very proper consideration should be given to those services, but it was not for the Commission to give it; it is for the House of Commons and the Government to consider and give effect to such consideration and not for the Commission. There is another matter I should like to refer to. I would call the attention of the House to the fact that the conclusions of the Report and the conclusions of the newspapers arc entirely and totally different. I defy any man with balanced judgment to read the Report carefully and to read what is said by the newspapers and to find the same result from the two readings. The country are taking their impression of the Report from what they read in the newspapers, and it is well it should go out from this House that that is not a correct version of what has been said by the Commission.
With regard to the Secretary of State for India, I regret deeply that he has 2315 taken the course he has seen fit to take. I have every sympathy with him in the remarks he made yesterday on account of the difficulties in which he found himself placed. First of all there were the paraphrased telegrams. The Commission is not to blame for that. The telegrams were paraphrased in the India Office and not by the Commission. With regard to the quotations from the telegrams given in the Report, the Commissioners were left in this great difficulty, they were informed that any reference to political matters, such as those affecting Persia, Afghanistan, and Russia in particular, would have to be excised from any telegram quoted by the Commission in their Report. Unfortunately the excision of those words in one particular telegram has given a handle, of course unintentionally on the part of the Commission, to certain newspapers in this country to identify political interests at home with political interests of an international kind. The words left out refer of course, as was pointed out by the Secretary of State, to affairs in Persia, and Russian movements, rather than to any political matters concerning the Government. The Secretary of State threw some discredit on the Commission's account of what had taken place in connection with the orders for river craft to be sent out to Mesopotamia. One complaint ho made was that Sir John Biles was not called before the Commission. I do not think the Commissioners would have had any objection to call Sir John Biles, but their view of the placing of those orders was this: The orders were sent home from the Government of India, as indents to be fulfilled by the Government at home—that is, by the India Office. We looked upon it that it was the India Office was responsible for the proper fulfilment of the orders, and not subordinate people from outside, whom the India Office employed in placing the orders. For that reason we did not follow down the scale. We could have called Sir John Biles, but then there is no reason why we should not have called a clerk who forgot to send a note of the contents of the shipments.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
May I point out that whilst the Commission did not think it necessary to call Sir John Biles, they did think it permissible to call in question his professional conduct?
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
There is a reference to the use of the plans, and taking the plans from the builder, which is a distinct reflection on his professional conduct. That is made without ever calling on Sir John Biles to give evidence, or to answer questions on the subject.
§ Sir A WILLIAMSON
A statement of fact is made as to the obtaining of these plans, but beyond the fact we do not make any comment. I think the feeling of the Commission was that it is at least a very unusual proceeding, not known in the business world, to take the plans of one ship-owner and to get them copied for another.
§ Sir A. WILLIAMSON
At any rate we stated the fact, and it really is not a very important affair. The question is who was responsible for the errors in placing those orders. The Commission felt that the responsibility must rest upon the India Office for the placing of the orders. The India Office I may say adopted an unusual course. They had sent to them certain indents. Those indents were bracketed together with the condition, or rather with the strong recommendation, that the advice and experience and assistance of people who had run steamers on the river and who were the only people who therefore knew thoroughly what was required, should be obtained before the placing of those orders. The India Office in its wisdom and undoubted right, with which I do not quarrel, thought otherwise. They did not employ those people. They did not go to get their advice and assistance, and they appointed this other gentleman, about whose professional ability I make and suggest no question. They employed him to provide something for them, and they had only before them a skeleton indent which was intended to be clothed with flesh and blood by Messrs. Lynch Brothers, who had plans and experience and knowledge of the river. In departing from that recommendation to use this advice and experience and knowledge and plans, the India Office took the responsibility, and not Sir John Biles. Therefore we thought it would be unfair to place upon him responsibility which we believed rested elsewhere. I suggest that under the circumstances all these plans, advice, and assistance ought to have 2317 been obtained. In addition, the indent sent home was rather obscure, and even inaccurate and contradictory. Let me give the House an example. It stated that the steamer had to carry sufficient fuel for a voyage to Bagdad and back, which was about a hundred miles; whilst everybody knows that the voyage is not a hundred miles but more like eight hundred or nine hundred miles. Another apparent mistake was that it stated that the width of the "Medjidieh" was 25 feet instead of which it was 35 feet. This may have been an error in typing or writing, but, at any rate, these obvious errors were there. However that may be, it seems to me that to go on placing these orders without going to the people who knew, or without cabling out to ascertain what was wrong, and so clear it up, was taking a great responsibility, and it cannot be avoided by endeavouring to place some of the responsibility on Sir John Biles.
Sir John Biles employed one of Messrs. Lynch's employés who was said to have the necessary local knowledge. It is true that Sir John Biles did engage a Mr. Jefferys, a former employé of Messrs. Lynch Brothers. When the difficulties arose he called in a second employé, a Mr. Thomas. Then Mr. Jefferys, unfortunately, did not prove very satisfactory. He was sent out to Mesopotamia, but he had not been out very long when he had to be dismissed. Sir John, therefore, was relying upon a broken reed. The fact that he had this ex-employé in his service did not give him the necessary information to overcome the difficulty inherent in placing orders for a river so peculiar as the Tigris. It is said—I think it was said in the House of Commons by the Secretary of State—that the new boats were doing very good work. Somebody wrote that they were most comfortable and most suitable. New boats are, in my experience, most comfortable boats. The cabins are the best, and for any ordinary passenger the newest boat is the best. But that is not the criterion to be applied to boats for the Tigris. The criterion is whether they are suitable for their work at all times of the year, and under all the conditions that might be expected. These new boats have, we are told, been sent out with excessively high power— three times the power of the boat of which they were supposed to be the duplicate. This excessive power cannot usually be made available owing to the sandbanks, and twists and turns in the river. Then they were of deeper draft. Their engines 2318 put them down into the water further. They had deeper draft than was asked for —and this is an all-important matter on the Tigris! The desired draft, I may say to the House, unloaded, is put at no greater than 3 ft. 6 ins., in order to enable the boats to pass the Narrows at all times of the year. Boats with a much greater depth, perhaps even up to 5 ft. 6 ins., can go through the Narrows in floods, but in the low season of the year, from June to November, the draft, unladen, should not exceed 3 ft. 6 ins. Above Kut there are always difficulties of the same kind. Boats cannot always go from Kut to Bagdad if they draw more.
Then to deal with the defects. The first defect was that there was three times the engine power required, the second was the deeper draft, the third was that the rudders were unsuitable and had to be changed, and the fourth that the capstans were unsuitable for hauling the boats off the sandbanks, and they also had to be changed. When the House is informed that these boats which were supplied, instead of what was ordered, were really as good—so the Secretary of State I believe thinks, and honestly—I can only remind him of the fact—he must be aware of it—that the Government has offered these boats to Messrs. Lynch to replace boats which have been lost in the Government employ and they have refused to accept them. The valuation was not the difficulty. Messrs. Lynch have refused the boats on account, they say, of their deep draft and the excessive power to which I have referred. So that people who know most of the river, people whose advice was available, cannot accept these boats to replace the boats lost. This question of high power and deep draft had already been tested in the river before these orders came home in connection with a boat built by Messrs. Lynch. The steamers can be used. The Secretary of State was quite correct in stating that. They can only be used, however, in the low-water season between Amara and Kut. They cannot go through the Narrows when it is dead low river. The boats were only completed last autumn, consequently there has not been a trial of them during the bad time of year.
Let the House picture the position of a general dependent upon transport. He has to get his troops down in the case of retreat with the Turks pressing upon him. Remember that these orders were sent 2319 home in August of 1915. We had not got on top of the Turks. There was a very powerful body in front, and it was very doubtful who was going to be on top. Supposing the general had to depend on these unsuitable boats to get his troops down the river and could not pass the Narrows, what condition would the forces have been in? In regard to the barges not quite so much dispute arises, because the Secretary of State, I think, admits that the barges were not all that could be desired. It has been said in the Press that these barges were condemned before they were tried. They were condemned before and after they were tried. At the moment those there knew they were wrong; they telegraphed home that the barges might be altered to the usual type. The hon. Member for Greenock went down the river on a steamer with one of these barges attached. What happened in the Narrows? The barge, as foreshadowed, stuck in the bank. It threw the ship athwart the stream and had to be cut adrift and left behind. The danger to the steamers from such barges was very great. The River Tigris, in the Narrows, narrows to 120 ft.; that is the full width that you have available in places. These barges were condemned, not only by the Commission, but by various generals, Commander Hamilton, Sir Beauchamp Duff, and Mr. Cheetle, the hon. Member for Greenock, and the Admiralty. So that the chorus of condemnation, I think, is pretty unanimous.
I have already indicated to the House what might have happened in the case of disaster. I do not think I need answer the Secretary of State further except to assure him that the Commission did not take up their task in these matters lightly. They went into it very seriously, and as responsible men. They looked into this whole matter and came to the unanimous conclusion that the placing of the orders for barges and steamers was unsatisfactorily performed, and that the responsibility for the placing of these orders did not rest upon the professional men engaged, but upon the India Office, who allowed plans to be altered and did not follow the recommendations sent to them. I regret that the Commission were unable to bring in a whitewashing Report. It was expected, apparently, in a certain section of the Press that that was to be the result of the Commission. It is unfortunate, and I very much regret, and I think we all 2320 regret, that we were unable to come to such conclusions. The gravamen of the findings of the Commission, I think, is really unshaken by yesterday's Debate, although there has been a great deal of defence of individuals. As for asking for trials, the Commission has certainly no objection on principle to trials. It was not a tribunal to inflict punishment; it was only requested by this House to ascertain to the best of its judgment the correct facts. It is for the House to follow up these facts if it sees fit to do so. I do feel that the blame, the individual responsibility, which is brought out in this Report is very serious. I admit it is very serious, especially to the individuals concerned. But, however serious and however grave it is, it is an ephemeral thing compared, as I hope, with the permanent results of the investigation. A great deal will have been achieved if the Report of the Commission draws attention to the need for reform of Indian administration. That is what the Commissioners kept always before them, that they might leave behind them not alone a record of mismanagement and a record of blame, but might leave behind them a record that they found the condition of administration in India unsatisfactory. I think it is high time the Government, the country, and the House took this matter in hand and brought the Government of India up to modern standards.
§ Captain AUBREY HERBERT
I think we all heard the speech of the hon. Member who has just sat down with a great deal of sympathy. I am sure that on one point he will have the universal sympathy of the House, and that is when he referred to the attitude of a certain section of the Press with regard to the Report. I myself have very rarely seen anything meaner than the perversion of that Report by the "Daily Mail" for its own purposes. Just about a year ago, or rather more, I came back from Mesopotamia, burning for the punishment of certain men, and even more anxious for the salvation of our troops out there. Having listened very carefully to this Debate, I have come to this conclusion, that if you could put before this House the alternative of punishment or of introducing reforms that were going to save the lives of Englishmen, they would abandon retribution and they would go for salvation. I think that what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hull 2321 (Colonel Sir M. Sykes) said last night was true. During our Debate here how many men have been killed in France? What are we doing by this Debate to help on the War? I believe that in the past it has been a national habit, or almost a national habit, with us, that when we have got into difficulties, to increase those difficulties by starting these Commissions. We did it in the Walcheren campaign, and we incidentally lost that campaign. We did it in the Roebuck Expedition, when a verdict was found against certain officers, which finally was revoked, and it was stated that they had acted in a perfectly honourable manner.
There are people who, like myself, from one point of view, welcome the declaration of the Chancellor of the Exchequer last night as to the inquiry that is going to be instituted. We may be right or wrong, but, roughly, we come to this sort of conclusion. We would welcome any inquiry which we hope that at the very least may get rid of Sir William Meyer and Sir Beauchamp Duff. We would welcome any inquiry that would punish Surgeon-General Hathaway and Sir William Babtie, if the findings of this Commission were found to be true. We would welcome any inquiry that would restore the late Secretary of State for India to his own place, because this House knows his only fault is loyalty to his colleagues and subordinates. We would welcome anything that would, I will not say exonerate Sir John Nixon, but give to him the honours he deserves as a very gallant, fighting Englishman; and I think that most of us who know how much training counts, how much special qualification counts, would be very glad to see Lord Hardinge returned to that career for which his training and qualifications suit him so admirably. My real point is this: All this means loss of time, and when you are having a war loss of time means loss of lives, and I will go further, and say that the whole tendency of this really is to paralyse responsibility, to diminish initiative, and if you are going to say to your generals, "If you fail in health, or ever make a mistake, you are going to be dismissed," it is not a three years' war you will have to prepare for, but a thirty years' war.
What actually has happened? To put it in a few words, this has happened: At last the general public here have become acquainted with the terrific difficulties our 2322 men have had to encounter in Mesopotamia. They have seen the unspeakable sacrifices that have been asked of them, and the unspeakable reward that has been given to a number of those troops. The consequence has been indignation like a fire and an outcry for punishment. But we have always been a fair race. Let it be punishment, but not blind punishment. Fair play is a jewel, and I think we still keep that jewel. I believe this House would admit that the responsibility for all that has happened is a responsibility that is very widely shared. Before this War we had a policy of peace, retrenchment, and reform. All those are very nice things, but they are of very little use when you come to fighting Germany. We went into that War, and then the people of England looked at reality in the eyes, and the people of England, helped by Lord Kitchener, raised an Army of 5,000,000, and they made France their battlefield, and built railways. We could do that in France, but we could not do that in Mesopotamia; for between this country and that land you have the Mediterranean, you have the Red Sea, you have the Persian Gulf, and, more than that, you have the system of the government of India. That system is an inheritance, but, none the less, it is an impediment and an encumbrance, and the result has been these disastrous things that have happened in Mesopotamia. But if we are going to-be fair-minded, we remember that this responsibility is widely shared. A great many people forget what their own attitude in the past was. The hon. Member for North Somerset (Mr. King), in his questions, has been calling for the punishment of Lord Hardinge. I wonder how he would like to compare any of his speeches of, say, June, 1914, with his indictment now! Another reason for some of these disasters in Mesopotamia, I think, is that as a nation we are still individualists. There has been a sub-war all through this War of one Department against another Department, and you cannot fight Prussian organisation or even Turkish organisation on such lines.
The Royal Army Medical Corps has been criticised. It has been my fortune to be on many fronts, and no man has a greater admiration than I have for the Royal Army Medical Corps officers in the field. Their sacrifices are without limit. But I make a distinction. I say that the Royal Army Medical Corps in the past has suffered from the aggressive Depart- 2323 mental spirit. There has been a very great spirit of jealousy in that Department, and I should like to say, in passing, that in Mesopotamia it was generally considered that the Indian Medical Service was more broad-minded and more tolerant. We know we have improved vastly. We know that Sir Alfred Keogh has introduced far-reaching reforms, and made the system in France almost as perfect as it could be. But he could not do that in Mesopotamia. He had not the chance, and out there there was no getting rid of the red-tape and no possibility of fumigating that Departmentalism. I say, then, a Department under ordinary conditions may be forgiven if it puts itself before anything else, but when you come to this one Department that is entrusted with the most sacred trust of all—the healing of wounded men who are wounded in the service of their country—if that Department puts itself before its duty, then I say it is unforgivable. Not only in Mesopotamia, but in the Dardanelles and other places where things have been wrong, where there have been deficiencies, where there have been mistakes that have affected the lives of our men, the people responsible have said that all was well, that nothing was wrong, and that there were no deficiencies. Where you have that lack of frankness, it seems to me as bad as treason in the field. Where you have any jealousy that prevents you summoning every possible help you can to save the lives of men, that seems to me to be as bad as treachery in the field, and it should be punished as such. Most of us, I think, feel with regard to General Sir Beauchamp Duff and Sir William Meyer they did not play the part you might expect from an English soldier or an Englishman. There are a few things I should very much like to say with regard to Sir John Nixon. The Report goes out of its way to say that he was always solicitous where the wounded were concerned, and I will not deal with that question. One does not blame the Commission because they have not spoken of all the factors of which they might have spoken, and inevitably a certain number of factors have been left out. The Commission speak of Sir John Nixon's mistaken optimism being responsible for the advance to Bagdad and our subsequent misfortunes. I do not think that optimism was mistaken, and I would point out that 2324 the indication in Sir John Nixon's orders was perfectly clear. He was told to occupy the Vilayet of Basra, which extends to Kut and make a plan for the occupation of Bagdad. Why should he make such a plan unless he was to go to that district? The implication is that he was to go. Although there was confusion between the Cabinet here and the Government of India, I do not think there was any confusion in the mind of Sir John Nixon. He made his report as a soldier and as an instrument of the policy of his Government. But if there was a mistake, is Mesopotamia the only place in this War where the mistake has been made? Have there been no mistakes in France or in East Africa or in the Dardanelles? Why is Sir John Nixon to be the only man to be punished? I do not think there is any man in this War who has done more for us than Sir John Nixon. I remember when I was in the Dardanelles and things were not going very well either there or in France, the feats of the troops under Sir John Nixon were the one star we had in our sky.
I should like to put one or two other points. I say that his optimism was justified for this reason. We had fought 400 miles up the river. We had taken 8,000 Turks prisoners and won five great victories. We fought at Shaiba against 12,000 Turks and an unlimited number of Kurds and Arabs. We fought at Nasariyah and Kurna, and we won battles under General Gorringe at Ahwaz, when thirst was as bad an enemy as the Turks. Was it unjustified optimism, when we had done all that, to believe that we could go on to Bagdad? I hold it was not, because the Turks were then broken. It was only when we reached the Es. Sinn position that the Turks showed their capacity for recovery. There were many other reasons for that campaign which have not been given, and if I appear to be too lengthy in my speech it is because I have seen no statement of them and they were not referred to by the Commission. Yesterday the Secretary of State for India said that Persia was crawling with Germans. So it was. At any rate, Sir John Nixon kept Persia quiet while we were fighting in Mesopotamia. You had two great Sheikhs—Ghazal of Muhamerah and Mubarah of Koweit—who were very old allies, but they were in a very precarious position. Sir J. Nixon made it safe. Central Arabia had not prepared itself. After his successes Sheikh Ibn Saud felt his hand so strengthened that 2325 he could defy Ibn Reshid and the Turks. Is that not a very great work for our soldiers to have done? I say that Sir John Nixon did more. I say that a great deal of credit for the capture of Erzerum must be written down to him because his magnificent defence drew off two composite divisions of Turkish troops from the Caucasus. Was that doing nothing? Of course, Sir John Nixon took risks, and in war you have to take risks. Did anybody blame General Townshend when with twenty-three men he captured 1,300 Turks at Amarah? Of course not. He remains a hero of his country. The thing we should not forget is that during the whole of 1915 Sir John Nixon kept the East quiet and Lord Hardinge kept India quiet, and those were very great services to this country. If you want to do anything in war of course you must take risks. It will be remembered that at the battle of Plassy the General Army Council were unanimously against sending forces across the river, Lord Olive was undecided for a moment, and then he decided to fight, and he threw his forces across the river and won the Battle of Plassy. Of course, if he had failed he would probably have been treated as some people wish to treat Sir John Nixon to-day. We all realise in the abstract what the horrors of war are, but we do not all realise in the concrete this great truth, which is perhaps the most brutal of all, that on certain occasions everything has to be sacrificed to victory. I was present at the final attacks which were made under General Lake when we tried to free General Townshend. We were much better off for doctors then than we had been, but if General Lake had not had one doctor or one bandage I do not think he would have refused to do all he could to relieve his comrades in Kut. We see a very ignoble spectacle of newspaper trials of generals to-day when they come back to the country they have served. What does it mean? It is irresponsibility trying responsibility, and responsibility that has already been tried upon a very honourable field. What happens? Take the case of Sir John Nixon and, let us say, the "Daily Mail.'' Sir John Nixon went to Mesopotamia under unparalleled conditions, and he won unparalleled victories. When a general wins a victory it is a triumph for him and for his troops. We all know that what the Duke of Wellington said is true. There is only one thing more sad than a victory, 2326 and it is a defeat. Generals are only human, and they know when they have won a victory—there is any amount of pride at home, but sorrow, mingled with pride, for those who have fallen. When Sir John Nixon wins victories, that brings in halfpennies to the "Daily Mail," and when he suffers defeat that brings in pennies to the "Daily Mail," which during the meantime has gone up in price. Sir John Nixon returns broken in health. The "Daily Mail" assumes him guilty and calls for his punishment. I say that that is an extremely ignoble spectacle. What has happened in the case of all these accused men? They are all being judged at the bar of subsequent events. The real truth about those soldiers is this. They have found themselves in very difficult circumstances. They knew that the Empire needed them; they were called upon to help in any way they could, whether they had the proper equipment or whether they were without the proper equipment, and they did their best as Englishmen. I fear that I have trespassed on the indulgence of the House too long; but there is one other thing I should like to say, and it is this: In this Report obviously some mistakes have been made. I know, for instance, in the evidence of Sir John Nixon, one rather serious mistake has been made (page 77), and I hope that it will be put right. In conclusion I should like to say this. I suppose it would be invidious to discriminate in the courage of our various Armies where all have behaved so magnificently, but, if one did try to discriminate, and if one were anxious to put the courage and devotion of one Army above those of others, I believe you would have the same verdict from every front. They would say that the men who fought at Kut and finally were captured at Kut, that the troops under General Lake who went to the relief of Kut, and that the men who, unded General Maude, won Bagdad, have accomplished the greatest achievements in this War of any force we have had. What I should have liked to see this House do would have been to occupy itself in a scheme of reform of India and of the Indian Army, and to put in the forefront of that scheme double pensions for the Indian troops who have answered the call of their Empire in the finest possible manner.
§ Mr. CHARLES ROBERTS
I think I understand the defence of the Commission which has been made by 2327 the hon. Baronet who spoke first to-day, but I still think that its proceedings have landed us all in great difficulty, and I could almost find it in my heart to say that a Select Committee might well be appointed to consider the proper procedure of Royal Commissions in the future. At least, I hope that we shall not have this kind of result produced again. No one denies the trouble the Commission have taken; no one denies that there was the deplorable breakdown which they have revealed; no one denies that they have had a very invidious task to accomplish; but I think what is the real ground of complaint against them is this: They began most certainly by giving themselves the airs of a judicial inquiry. They say that they were invested with certain powers, rights and privileges of a High Court of Justice, and they have exercised them to the best of their ability in obtaining evidence. They are careful to tell us that all written statements before them were sworn to and turned into affidavits. Reading it through, I never for a moment dreamed that their findings were not verdicts after a hearing. I thought that in these inquiries you were always extremely careful, where the reputation of individuals was at stake, to give them every kind of protection, that you proceeded according to the rules of legal procedure, that you offered them the aid of counsel, and were careful to point out to them the position in which they were placed.
§ Commander WEDGWOOD
Does the hon. Gentleman really think that the Commission could have carried on with about forty different lawyers perpetually in the room watching the interests of everybody whose name was likely to be impeached?
§ Mr. ROBERTS
If that was the case, I think the Commission should have been extremely careful in the judgments they have made. I agree that those have been distorted and exaggerated by the megaphone of the Press, but the Commission must realise that when there is this hot feeling that the facts they have revealed must call forth in every one of us, and where you get decisions and findings which really blast men's careers—because whatever we may say here and whatever distrust we may have of those findings, with whatever caution we take those findings here, out in the country they are regarded as verdicts—they are only, after all, the primả facie impressions of the Com- 2328 mission before a proper hearing, subject to any modifications that may be made after proper explanations are given. I do not think, therefore, that I can refuse to say that there is a certain element of unfairness on the part of the Commission, land they have landed us with those findings that you cannot use or act upon. There are some points where I should very much like further investigation to be made. For instance, the hon. Member who spoke last referred to what the Commission calls, euphemistically, the misuse of official reticence. That does seem to me a very serious matter if it is true. Where there are miscalculations, breakdowns, and military blunders, that we can understand; but if there are attempts by subordinates to cover them up by reassuring statements which do not correspond with the facts, I think that ought to be probed much further. If in the future the House of Commons wish to set up a Commission of this kind, as we cannot apparently rely on the Commissioners proceeding according to what I think are the elementary principles of justice in giving that reasonable protection to everyone they examine, I rather think the House must see that these Commissions are tied down to giving the protection which I think this Commission has failed to give. Otherwise the Commissions will really be a source of injustice to individuals.
Their findings may be right for all I know, but we cannot take them as proved at the present time, and if they are not right I do not believe it is possible now for the Commission to remedy the injustice which they may have committed, and about which we cannot help having a doubt. It is not merely in reference to the individuals. I think the Commission has been unfair in many ways to the Government of India. I will give one illustration of that. Throughout, I think, they lay serious stress on what they call the atmosphere of economy—on the ruthless way in which the military estimates of India were cut down before the War. I should very much like to know whether they had the Report of the Nicholson Committee before them. Did they ask to see it? Here after all, was a Report by the experts, field-marshals and military experts. It was a confidential document. They could have had it, but I presume they did not get it. It had fixed the amount of money that had to be spent on the Army at £19,500,000, out of a net 2329 revenue of £55,000,000. Throughout they are always proceeding on the presumption that the Government of India unjustifiably cut down these military estimates, and their theory of the failure of the Mesopotamia Expedition is really based on the view that it was starved by the pre-war economy of the Government of India.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
My point is that this Commission which had access to confidential documents could have had this Report, and I do not think they paid sufficient attention to it. If this accusation against the Mesopotamia Expedition is made I think the answer is twofold. It is said the expedition was ill-found on the ground of economy. The answer is, I think, the answer of the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just spoken (Colonel Herbert). If it was ill-found, at all events it was equal for the first six months, or year, to the task it was set to do. The Commission itself recognise that. It speaks of "the suddenness and secrecy which ensured its original success." "It was always numerically strong enough to cope with the Turks." "It was so extremely successful up to November, 1915, that it had engendered a spirit of optimism," which was reflected in the quotation from the late Prime Minister which was read last night in the House.
During those first months, whilst it was limited to its original objects, there was no medical breakdown, there were few casualties in the successful actions which were fought, the river transport, which the generals required, was supplied, and Lord Hardinge himself while Viceroy in February, 1915, paid a visit to Basra—a proof that he did not neglect the expedition. That is the first answer. The second answer is, that if it was ill-found, it was ill-found because this 2330 great Empire had bled India white, and it was not to be surprised after that there was a difficulty in equipping this particular campaign. I think here again we have no right to criticise the administration of 1914 by the standard of 1917. The Commission suggests, I do not know if it exactly states, that the Indian Army should have been developed before the War in order to take part in the battlefields of Europe. That is an extraordinary theory for 1914, and let us remember what the conditions were in the South African War. That was a war in which it was contrary to our prestige that our Indian troops should be engaged. If that unregenerate race prejudice was broken down it was largely owing to Lord Hardinge, and it was he who suggested to the Government at home that great military effort of India, which practically meant the evacuation of India by British troops at the opening of the War.
I regret the result of this Commission. I regret that the result of their action should have been the resignation of the Secretary of State for India. I am not anxious to see His Majesty's Government weakened, and I regret it also for the sake of India and for what might come. I cannot refrain from saying that I fail to see how the responsibility of the Secretary of State can possibly be distinguished from the responsibility which rests upon all the Members of the War Cabinet at the time. It cannot be that the Secretary of State is responsible for the breakdown of the medical supplies; that is a military matter. You might make him responsible, in the ultimate constitutional sense, for the miscalculation of the advance to Bagdad. But in that they all share. If it is said that his administration is liable to be investigated by the new Court, if it is to be established, well, the Court can pursue its inquiries into the responsibility of all the members of the War Cabinet. We are in this extraordinary position, that in the case of the Dardanelles Commission you have the case of a civilian imposing his views on the military—that is the accusation, and you condemn him; in the case of Mesopotamia you have the civilian accepting the judgment of the military experts and you equally condemn him. In fact, the only test which is applied is not whether he has followed the proper constitutional procedure, but the test is that of mere success or failure.
§ 2.0 P.M.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
I think critics should take one line or the other: either they should say that the statesman must follow the advice of the military experts or that he should override it. It seems to me they take a different line on each occasion, just as it suits them. It is not fair they should have it both ways. At the time at my disposal I only want to say just one word in reference to the criticisms made on Lord Hardinge. There is one part, it is a mere technical criticism, in which they say he ignored his Council. On that Lord Hardinge's defence in the House of Lords was that under the Act he and one ordinary member of his Council—and Sir Beauchamp Duff's was that because he was the Military Member as well as the Commander-in-Chief—he and one ordinary member of the Council could exercise all the functions of Governor-General in Council. Under Section, 39 of the Act of the Governors of India, so far as that is concerned, he is within the letter of the Statute. In reference to the private telegrams, and as to whether the Secretary of State is supposed to have ignored his Council, I should like to draw the attention of the House to the fact that last year, by an Amendment of the Government of India Act, the powers of the Viceroy and the Secretary of State to send these private telegrams were definitely enlarged and increased, and Section 13 of the Government of India Act was enlarged to give them powers to send these private or secret telegrams. Therefore, on both those points—it is a technical matter I know—but on both those points the fact remains that Lord Hardinge was absolutely within the strict letter of the law and so was the Secretary of State. What I think the House of Commons may do is to remember that at the beginning of the War Lord Hardinge did great service to the Empire which I think the House of Commons ought not to forget at present. Leave out of sight, if you will, past years of service and the record of Viceroyalty. At all events we must leave out of sight in criticising him any action which he may have taken in Ireland, which I think has affected public opinion in certain quarters in this House. I think the House of Commons ought to recognise his signal act of courage at the outbreak of the War. It is easy enough now to 2332 minimise the risks which he had to face. The Commission itself refers to the view of Lord Kitchener that it "was worth while risking another mutiny in India in order not to lose the War in France," and the Commission rather censure Sir Beauchamp Duff for feeling an anxiety. Considering the denudation of the troops which was going on in India I should have been very much surprised if he had not been anxious under the circumstances. It is said that this policy was forced upon Lord Hardinge by the home authorities. I do not think that is the case. It was he who instigated the employment of Indian troops in Europe. It is true that he may have protested against certain demands made upon him from home which he thought were reducing him below bedrock level, but he is being censured to-day for a bold act of courage and for an adventurous policy which in the case of Bagdad went wrong. Do not forget his act of courage in facing possible risks in India. He was right in ignoring them and in running them. He was right in trusting to the loyalty of India.
§ Commander WEDGWOOD
What Lord Crewe said before the Commission was:From the first the Government of India kept complaining, almost bitterly, of the demands that were made upon them.Lord Kitchener took precisely the same view.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
Yes; but when almost the whole of the Indian Army had been taken away, when 80,000 British officers and men and 210,000 Indian officers and men, with 500 guns, and 70,000,000 rounds of ammunition had been taken away, and when, I think, all the spare rifles and almost all the Cavalry had gone, I am not surprised at occasional protests coming that the needs of India could not be totally ignored. After all, the House should be fair. Supposing the judgment of Lord Hardinge had been wrong, supposing some action had occurred on the frontier, supposing the German plans had been less bungled than they were, supposing there had been some outbreak which had endangered British interests and the lives of our fellow countrymen, what would the House have said then? We should have had a Commission to inquire into the failure of Lord Hardinge's administration, and I am quite sure that the condemnation would have been a great deal hotter than it is now. I say that Lord Hardinge's 2333 signal act of courage revealed the loyalty of India. It raised India from a position of dependence to a position of partnership, and it would be an act of black ingratitude on the part of the House of Commons, of which the House would afterwards be ashamed, if they forgot that fact in the midst of any criticism which they may make, and legitimately make, upon the course of the campaign in Mesopotamia.
§ Mr. A. K. LOYD
Will the right hon. Gentleman deal with the refusal of the authorities to accept Red Cross medical supplies for our sick and wounded when they know perfectly well that the men were dying like flies for want of such aid?
§ Mr. ROBERTS
I do not think Lord Hardinge can be held responsible for that. That is the responsibility of the medical authorities. I will only say one word of caution on another point. I notice in some quarters a tendency to base a claim for the development of self-government in India on the breakdown of the bureaucracy. I agree, if you are going to mobilise the military resources of India, that you have to make great changes in the military system. A great mobilisation of all the military resources of India is not possible unless you revise the rule excluding Indians from commissions in the Army, because you cannot get an adequate expansion of officers knowing the languages at a moment's notice. I would advise the critics who take this line not to base their suggestions for the extension of self-government to India on the possible breakdown of the bureaucracy in this matter. I am inclined to think that they would find that the bureaucracy would have a reply based, at all events, on the original success of the Mesopotamian Expedition. The whole of the circumstances have to be borne in mind in accounting for and understanding the horrible breakdown which did occur, and they would widen the issue and say, "We claim to be judged, not on the breakdown merely in an isolated campaign, but on our whole record in India." I say that not to discountenance changes in civil administration in India, to which I look forward, but because I think that they should not be based on grounds which are likely to break down or on a foundation which will not bear the superstructure which it is attempted to build upon it. The real case for self-government in India does not depend 2334 upon whether there were sufficient hospital ships on the Tigris or whether there were sufficient medical supplies in the campaign. It must depend and must be justified on those broad considerations of statesmanship which have been a thousandfold vindicated in this War, and which convince us more than ever that liberty is the sole trustworthy basis on which our Empire can rest.
§ Mr. SWIFT MacNEILL
Two things have struck me very forcibly as the result of this Debate. One thing is that it is a most ungracious thing and an ungrateful task to be a member of a Commission. Lord George Hamilton is one of the most experienced Indian administrators that ever sat in this House, and is one of the best and most capable of officials. I remember perfectly his almost enclyclo-pædic knowledge in reference to Indian affairs. He sat on the Commission and was at the head of it. It must have been pain and gall to him to have had to pass anything approaching censure upon anyone connected with an administration with which he himself had been associated. It must have been pain and bitter gall to him to have had to pass anything approaching censure upon honourable and gallant and high-minded soldiers. He and his fellow-members of the Commission did that most painful thing. After eight long months' consideration they produced this Report, and because they did not prophesy or report smooth things, the same fate has befallen them as has overtaken everyone who has been asked to report and has reported not according to the wishes of the persons appointing them. From the days of Balaam downwards they have been the subjects of attack and abuse.
§ Mr. MacNEILL
Without a chance of replying. My hon. and gallant Friend will have a chance of replying.
§ Mr. MacNEILL
Are we to have a Commission on every Commission that sits? I really could scarcely believe my ears when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs got up and said that this Commission was itself on its trial. The members of this Commission, appointed by Statute, appointed by this House, are to be like those celebrated 2335 people with whom the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Education is so familiar, who used to make laws with ropes round their necks. That is the first thing that has struck me. The position of a Commission is a most ungrateful one unless they report in accordance with the wishes of the Government. If the Commission had only done like the Piggot and like the Birrell Commission, how grateful the Government would have been! It is a nasty thing to say, and I regret to have to say it, but the conduct of the Government in this Debate shows that they are differentiating between the case of the gallant soldiers who, if indiscreet, at any rate risked their lives on it, and these gentlemen in easy chairs in their studies who are allowed to remain in their offices while the soldiers are suspended. That brings me by an easy transition to the matter I wish to raise. I wish the Prime Minister were here, because I want to speak to the House of the unconstitutional, utterly abnormal, and improper position of Lord Hardinge. We saw in the Debate last night two curious things. We saw the late Secretary of State for India (Mr. Chamberlain), who has come best of all out of this transaction, a high-minded Gentleman who would not allow even a shadow or a shade to rest upon his name even technically, and who, like a true-hearted man, has resigned his position, although absolutely innocent. Of him it might be said that although the gates of promotion are shut—I hope only for the present—the gates of glory and uprightness are open to him. What was the contrast? He was in England at the India Office. Lord Hardinge, in India, was over the whole administration of India. The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs said that the Commission should be put on one side, and that he would induce Lord Hardinge to stay in another position to which he had been promoted while this shadow was over him. If the Government wished to shelter Lord Hardinge, and create public opinion in his favour, how could they do better? These things are fresh in our memories. For eighteen months we have heard of these things.
How are the Government employed in reference to Lord Hardinge? They make this man—a man against whom there is this charge of maladministration in India —a Daniel come to judgment over Irish administration. Was Birrell asked to resign in order to get another office? Was 2336 he asked and asked again to stay? Not at all. The Gentleman who accused him, who was in the shadow all this time, and whose faults and indiscretions as compared with those of Birrell's are as mountains to a little heap of sand, came fresh from his glories as an administrator in India to be a Daniel come to judgment in Ireland, and was then asked to become Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office. It is one of the most serious things that ever happened in constitutional history. There has been no precedent for a man under the shadow of a great accusation being made a member of a Commission to try as honourable and a far abler man than himself, and whose Irish administration has won him such an honourable name and endeared him to the Irish people. He has given us this precious document. He then goes to the most difficult position in the world, one that requires the absolute impartiality and discretion, a high diplomatic position of intense difficulty, especially because, as we all know, Parliament is excluded from effective control over foreign policy. What occurs? He is already a Peer. No Peer has ever held that office before. No Peer who has been created a Peer, as a Peer, has ever held an office in the Civil Service. No Peer—thank God, really, for it—has ever made a maiden speech in defence of himself and in sacrifice of his officials. His speech amounted to, "Please, sir, I did not do it; it was the other boy." What a contrast between him and the late Secretary of State for India. I asked questions of the Leader of the House in reference to Lord Hardinge's position. In those questions I incorporated a statement that his position as a Peer of the Realm and a member of the Civil Service, with a seat in the House of Lords, is without precedent; likewise, that it is contrary to the traditions of the Civil Service, and that it is a wanton rupture of long-established practice. On whose authority did I make those statements? It was no less a personage than Lord Curzon himself. There was a Committee appointed in 1894 in reference to the Vacating of Seats. It was considered of some importance that a Gentleman in this House, on succeeding to a Peerage, by not making the ordinary communication to the Lord Chancellor that he had succeeded, and bringing proofs of it, could remain in this House, because, although he might be a Peer of the Realm, he was not a Lord of Parliament. I was a member of that Committee, and I am 2337 glad to say that I was not afterwards censured by superior persons in this House. Lord Curzon was also on that Committee, and I am sure I got my good manners from being associated with him for so long. Here is what Lord Curzon said in reference to this matter:There are the cases of Lord Tenterden and Earl of Iddesleigh, who refrained, for some years after succession to the titles and dignities of the Peerage, from applying for a writ of summons to the House of Lords, in order that, they might continue to hold office in the permanent Civil Service.Lord Tenterden was the Permanent Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Lord Iddesleigh was Chairman of the Board of Inland Revenue. A memorandum was given to the late Prime Minister, who was Chairman of the Committee, and it was sent round to the members of the Committee, in which it was said that the holding of those offices was believed to be incompatible with a seat in Parliament in accordance with Constitutional usage, utterly irrespective of the well-known lines of the Civil Service. A Member of the House of Commons could not accept that post. He would be barred. Members of the House of Lords ought not to accept it. The answer the Leader of the House gave me yesterday was that a Member of the House of Lords should be allowed to speak on matters that did not affect his office and, perhaps, to give a personal explanation. I think the House of Lords are jealous of their privileges and that no man in that Assembly will be asked to speak or not to speak according to the behests of the Executive Government. I wish distinctly to traverse the statement made by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, who denied that Lord Hardinge is in any way a Minister of the Crown or a Member of the Executive Government. I can prove it. His return, after being in the supreme position of Governor-General of India to a Permanent Secretaryship in the Foreign Office shows that he was there in a unique and extraordinary capacity.
It shows he is there possibly as a master of details. It shows likewise that he will, and does affect the foreign policy of this Empire, and such a man, who has been in association with Russia at the worst period of Russian despotism, is the gentleman who is made permanent Secretary of the Foreign Office—a post which he abandoned for the Governor-Generalship of India to be really the Foreign Office itself. He has had a very bad Press in reference to his appointment. The 2338 "Times" regrets that he took it. The "Morning Post," with which I rarely agree, goes a step further. It is little short of a scandal that a man who has been incompetent in India and in other administration should be in reality the Foreign Office itself, and that is what he is.
I wish to say in the most distinct manner that Lord Hardingels presence at the Foreign Office as permanent Under-Secretary is a kind of bogus arrangement between the actual Minister and the servant of the State. Lord Hardinge when he was at the Foreign Office the last time must have been very prominently affecting foreign policy. It is an old story, but so far back as June, 1908, I drew attention to what I regarded as the high impropriety of Lord Hardinge, then Sir Charles Hardinge, when he was permanent Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, accompanying the late King Edward to Reval with the Czar of Russia, at a time when the Czar would not dare to have shown his face in this country. Lord Grey, who was then Secretary for Foreign Affairs, did not accompany the King, nor did any other responsible Minister, but Lord Hardinge alone. I asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs:In what capacity did Sir Charles Hardinge, the permanent Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, accompany the King on his visit to Russia, and what provisions, if any, had been made for the discharge of his duties at the Foreign Office in his absence from this country?Sir Charles Hardinge was Ambassador at St. Petersburg during a very bad time of despotism.Sir E. Grey: Sir Charles Hardinge, formerly Ambassador at St. Petersburg and now permanent Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, will accompany the King to Russia as a member of His Majesty's staff. The same arrangement will be made for the discharge of his duties at the Foreign Office as has been made on previous occasions when he has been absent abroad on leave.That is not a permanent official. That is a Minister acting independently of Parliament, dependent only on his master and acting not on behalf of the Crown, but exercising the functions of a Minister of the Crown when he had no mandate and no power from this House to do it. One word more, in reference to the late Secretary of State for India. The wife of an officer, a very dear friend of mine, came to me in Dublin and said she had heard her husband was badly wounded. She could not tell any of the circumstances of it. I went over that evening from Dublin to London and saw the Secretary of State for India. I shall never forget his goodness, his kindness, his sympathy, and his 2339 endeavour to see that she got all the information that he could give. He even telegraphed for it, and what he did for me, a political opponent, he would have done surely for any man in the Kingdom. I am delighted in his absence to backbite him in this way, and he is a very great honour to the country and to this House in all things, politics only excepted.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
We have still two and a half hours before this Debate ends, and I think the House will want to know exactly where it stands. We have had the most extraordinary proceedings. We have had a Commission appointed by the Government and sanctioned by this House, which has taken evidence and presented a Report. The Government has taken upon itself to publish the Report, and no sooner is it published and we are asked to discuss it, than we are told the Commission itself ought to be tried and that the Report is not worthy of credence. I have been a few years in this House, but my experience is not very wide. I hope this is the last of such an experience. If the Report has been so bad, why was it published? If it has been published in order to be thrown over, was it not necessary for the Government, before it was published, to protect the public servants who are criticised in the Report? But what was the Commission? When the Foreign Minister was speaking last night I really felt that the most charitable thing one could think about his speech was that he had not read the Report and that he was not aware who the Commissioners were. Who were they? There is an ex-Secretary of State for India. There is also a Minister, a right hon. Gentleman who at the present moment is at the head of one of our Departments, a colleague of the right hon. Gentleman himself, who ought to be tried by this House according to the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman. When the Secretary of State for India resigned, why did not the other Minister resign if he is so incapable of examining and weighing evidence and of producing or criticising a Report that is being produced as was made out by one of his most important colleagues in this House? There were, moreover, several Members of the House. We will say nothing about that.
§ Mr. MACDONALD
There was an ex-Director of Naval Intelligence, a man who, at any rate, so far as those of us who are merely interested as outside amateurs are concerned, is held in high respect. We read what he writes with respect and take time to try to understand him. He is a man whose services has been very conspicuous and very varied, and has been proved by Government after Government— I mean Admiral Sir Cyprian Bridge. Finally, we have got a gentleman who from time to time has held high commissions. He has seen service in various fields. He has combined military with political service, and when he returned from South Africa he occupied most important positions at our own War Office, one of them being chief of the General Staff. That is the composition of the Commission. What title has the hon. Gentleman who recently addressed the House from that box to talk of that Commission in the way he did? It may have made mistakes, but, nevertheless, this is a Commission which does carry weight, and which is bound to carry weight, and which with the greatest exercise of even a prejudiced imagination I cannot imagine would be capable of producing a Report of such low value as some right hon. and hon. Gentlemen have tried to make out. When I find a combination between the two Front Benches on an occasion like this I am bound to confess that I believe there is more in the Report than appears to the eye.
We ought to understand precisely from the Government what it proposes to do. I feel that the Commission might have gone a little bit further in the distribution of praise and blame. I think the Government itself has been let off far too lightly by the Commission. The Mesopotamia Expedition was designed at home. It was not Sir Beauchamp Duff who suggested it. It was part of a great Imperial policy, justified as the Secretary of State for India justified it it yesterday, and as the hon. and gallant Member who preceded me did to-day—a piece of this magnificently wide and extensively intricate mosaic of Imperial military policy which had to be carried on. The Government knew perfectly well, and everyone who has taken intelligent interest in Indian affairs knew perfectly well, the condition of the Indian Army. We did not know it in detail, but we knew it in substance, as shown by the Nicholson Report. We knew what the 2341 effect of that Report was. We knew perfectly well that the financial arrangement upon which the Indian Army was built, namely, the relations between Indian taxation and home taxation, was bad. We knew that it was the cause of political discontent in India. We knew that even with the best will in the world, whoever was the finance member of the Viceroy's Council would be faced by this tremendous problem of how far you could increase Indian taxation and yet help the Viceroy to depress the revolutionary and anarchistic tendencies that had been growing in India, unfortunately, for a good many years. Anyone who is aware of the political problems in India knows how indirectly Indian finance was mixed up with these dangerous elements in Indian policy, and no one knew better than the home Government itself. It is their responsibility for what has been called by the Commission "the cheeseparing policy in India." They knew the strength of the Indian Army. They knew its organisation and they knew its medical equipment, and if there is anybody supremely responsible, responsible in the last resort, for the way in which that Army took the field, for the variations of the plans placed before it, for the unconscious growth of its programme, for the indefinite objective that again and again appeared only to disappear before its military commanders, the home Government is pre-eminently responsible for the whole affair. I do not think that is made sufficiently clear in the Commission's Report. The fault of the Commission—and I think it is a very excusable fault—was that it perhaps did not know enough of Indian politics and Indian administration to enlighten it with regard to some things.
Whatever Lord Hardinge may have done in other fields, in Russia—and no one opposed his policy there more than I did— in Ireland later on, and at the present moment in the Foreign Office, I maintain that anybody who has got any sense of Indian difficulties, Indian policy, and Indian administration, must say that Lord Hardinge is not fairly dealt with in this Report. I regret very much the great blemish, at any rate to me, in the speech of the hon. and gallant Member (Colonel Herbert) when he said, "I am willing to have a committee of inquiry provided Sir William Meyer is censured." That is not judicious.
§ Captain HERBERT
I do not think the hon. Member is repeating my words quite 2342 correctly. I was stating what I believed to be the opinion of a number of people like myself. I think I said we had no certainty that this opinion was arrived at on true grounds, or scientifically, but we believed that both Sir William Meyer and Sir Beauchamp Duff had not done their duty as Englishmen and soldiers.
§ Mr. MACDONALD
It is not judicial to appoint a committee of inquiry and to announce your decision beforehand. Whoever has followed Sir William Meyer's career in India, from beginning to end, will admit that he is an exceedingly efficient Civil servant. If you put a man in a position to live the life of a Civil servant and you make him conform to a machine, and if the result of his conforming to a machine in the end is that he acts like this, then it is the machine and the system that is to blame and not the man who had accommodated himself to it. I would like to elaborate that but I cannot. Other hon. Members desire to speak. I think it is very unfair to charge Civil servants for carrying out machinery for which this House has been responsible and has urged upon them.
§ Mr. MACDONALD
I was referring to the attitude of the hon. and gallant Member (Colonel Herbert) and to a speech which was delivered yesterday by the hon. Member for one of the Scottish Universities (Sir H. Craik). What is the position? Lord Hardinge is accused by this Commission of certain faults. He is defended by the Government. A Court is going to be set up and the Government which has defended him is going to supply the Attorney-General, who is to lay the complaint against him? Is that the position? If that is the position, I think it is a most unfortunate one. I think it is a position that ought not to be pursued at all, and that another course ought to be adopted. What confidence can the people outside have in that method of procedure? They cannot possibly have confidence in it. Even those whose minds are not at all tainted with prejudice are bound to feel lack of confidence. If the Government is going to follow the course indicated by the Attorney-General at the beginning, or by the Foreign Secretary afterwards, and is going to make itself responsible for the laying of the information, whatever form it takes, then at once you do a grave 2343 injustice to the accused men, because if the Court is going to acquit them, people will say it was all arranged beforehand. You publish a Report which the Government, we are told, believes to be wrong and unfair, and which does great injustice to servants of the State. That Report is thrown upon the world, and a blackguardly, dishonourable Press takes that. Report, without a sense of honour or a sense of decency, twists it, contorts it, and presents it as if it had come to conclusions to which it never came at all; and a great mass of eredulous readers outside, take the Press, or not even the Press but the Press headlines, and imagine they know all about it. They condemn those men, and they have got ideas of the Commission's Report which are absurd.
The Press has been doing that for two or three years. The Government must have known perfectly well that the moment this Report was published then those people would be attacked, and then they come down and they suggest a procedure which to begin with is condemned, because it is so imperfect, and they throw these men over to the tender mercies of a Court, the decisions of which, owing to the Government attitude and the attitude of the Front Opposition Bench, are bound to carry suspicion to the mind of every fair-minded person. I hope that the Government will make some clearer statement about what they propose to do. I hope, in addition, that the revelations of this Commission's Report will lead to such changes in the Government and administration of India as will make this sort of thing absolutely impossible in the future. The Secretary of State for India stated yesterday that he had a Report making recommendations about the Amendment to the Government of India. I beg the authorities at the India Office not to allow that Report to be discussed finally by Civil servants. They are worthy, able people, but they are working a machine, and the man who works a machine is bound to accommodate his whole mentality to the machine. If you are out in India for twenty or thirty years and have got to work the machine of the Indian Civil Service, then it does blind you, even if it sharpens you in its own direction. My hon. Friend (Sir J. Jardine) is a rare exception, but if he works out a percentage he will find that my statement is not incorrect. I do not make any accusation. Nine hundred and ninety-nine out of every 2344 thousand men would be bound to accommodate themselves in these circumstances. But now that we have discovered that the whole system is not nearly elastic enough, and cannot protect the country, do not allow us to reconstruct a new machine by the mentality of the old which has broken down. I hope that that Report is going to be considered by some body which has a somewhat more elastic mind, and while you may indeed ask old tried Civil servants to get their minds to play upon it, do in addition to that have a wider political outlook to draw upon for criticism and advice, because only in those conditions will the Imperial Government of India be remodelled in such a way that it will meet the modern conditions which it has got to face.
§ Mr. R. McNEILL
It is not often that I find myself in agreement with the hon. Member who has just spoken, but I must confess that, though I do not agree with everything he has said, I do agree with him that the House is very much in need of coming to a clear understanding as to the exact position with regard to the whole question in debate. If we were to depend upon the general broad outline which has been presented in the speeches made by members of the Government, I think that we should arrive at the conclusion that the Mesopotamia Expedition on the whole has been one long series of successful triumphs, distinguished by particularly good and efficient management throughout, that nothing had occurred which was in any way blameworthy, and that so far from there being anything to find excuse for, the conduct of the operations in all particulars called for almost unqualified praise. I do not say at all that right hon. Gentlemen could not defend themselves against any idea of making any such suggestion, but at the same time the attitude of defence into which they were driven did produce some such picture as that. The true view which the Report presents to us, and which I think the facts present to us, is a very different one. It is a story of some very successful operations undoubtedly, interfered with by very considerable disaster, and tainted throughout by gross mismanagement in some particulars. The question which the Report presents to us, and which the House has to decide, is whether anyone is responsible for these shortcomings, and, if so, whether he can be held responsible and whether he can 2345 be punished or ought to be punished. Those are, roughly speaking, the questions with which the House has to deal.
The members of the Government who have spoken have laid great stress upon the eminent and distinguished services which have been rendered by all the officers and statesmen who have been criticised. I do not think that anyone is prepared to deny the services of those men, but the question which the House has to decide is whether or not their past services, however eminent and distinguished, are to be brought forward as a sort of set-off by distinguished officers who in the hour of trial and national crisis, notwithstanding their past services, have broken down with results very disastrous to the country, and with results which have been deplorable to the very last degree to large numbers of individuals. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, speaking last night, not only told us that in the exercise of his discretion he did not allow Lord Hardinge to resign—that was within his right, though personally I must say that I should have preferred as an admirer of Lord Hardinge to know that he had been allowed to follow the example of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State: I think that was on the whole the better example—but the Foreign Secretary not only did not allow Lord Hardinge to resign, but he almost indignantly scorned the very idea that there could be any reason for his resignation. Of course, if the right hon. Gentleman put it entirely on the grounds that in time of War the services of Lord Hardinge at the Foreign Office are practically indispensable, I should not have a word to say. I think that in time of War, if you can get valuable services, you should take them wherever you can find them—take them from Newgate if you can find them there. I do not think that we need be particular about that. But I do not think that my right hon. Friend paid quite sufficient homage to the principle that when men in very high positions have been held up by a responsible Commission as being answerable for very grave disasters and shortcomings, there should be put forward some substantial excuse for continuing them in high employment. I think that is a principle which it is well to keep in view.
A great deal of the defence that has been raised in respect of these various officers is characterised by a very ingeni- 2346 ous method. Certain of the aspects of the case against them have been separated one from the other, and circumstances have been put forward to show that on each one of these separate cases a good defence can be made. There was the question of the advance to Bagdad. I think that on the whole a very strong defence has been made of General Nixon in regard to whether or not an advance to Bagdad should have been made. Another aspect of the defence of these officers turned on the question of the lack of transport and the lack of medical appliances. They say that while there was quite sufficient transport and quite sufficient medical appliances if the expedition had remained within the limitations which were originally intended, it was impossible to decide what the expedition required for the larger operation. The only true way of looking at the matter with regard to the advance on Bagdad was this: If the advance on Bagdad was defensible on general grounds—and I think perhaps it was on military grounds— it surely ought to have been conditioned by the question whether or not there was sufficient transport and supplies to make it not only possible but a moderately safe operation. If the persons responsible, with complete knowledge at their disposal, thought there was likelihood of a serious or lamentable lack of transport, then that should have entered into their calculation, and if, in spite of that, they insisted upon going on with the larger military operations, they ought to be held responsible. The hon. Member for Leicester expressed a doubt as to where we stand. The Attorney-General, I understand, has said that a Court is to be set up, a statutory Court, to deal both with soldiers and civilians. I think that was the expression of my right hon. Friend. But I have not heard from any member of the Government what the Attorney-General means by dealing with civilians. For what are the civilians to be dealt with? So far as I understand, no one has suggested, at all events so far as civilians are concerned, that you can frame an indictment. No one suggests that these civilians have been guilty of any ordinary criminal offence. My Noble Friend the Member for Oxford University has brought it out that what the Commission had to deal with was administrative inefficiency, and I think that is the proper view. The facts that are to be brouht to light are not matters of crime, are not matters which can 2347 be amenable to our ordinary Court of law; they are questions of whether or not there was incompetence, whether there was muddling, whether there was neglect, whether there was concealment of the truth by officers. And these are questions which no Court of law can deal with at all. I should have thought that they were questions which the Government themselves could have dealt with, after the facts had been ascertained, as they have been by the Commission. I cannot myself feel at all in agreement with the tone of some Members, on both sides of the House last night, who seemed to think that any suggestion that action of any sort could be taken without further inquiry was tantamount to saying there is a right to condemn innocent men. I have always understood that questions of administrative efficiency were questions for the Executive Government, dealing with them on the broad ground as to whether there had been competence or incompetence. It appears to me that there are ample grounds in the Report of this Commission for saying that there is a considerable number of officers not guilty of any criminal offence, but after having rendered very great services under great trial and stress in the course of their lifetime have broken down. We know that in the course of the War a great number of the officers of our Allies, after brilliant services, and after having broken down, were removed from their commands, and I should have thought that action of that sort would have been quite sufficient on the part of the Government, without anything more of the sort now suggested, if that be not so, and if the Government decide that there would be serious injustice, and that they would sin against our conceptions of what is right in this country if they acted upon that plan, then I say they should drop the whole thing. The idea, after all that has occurred, that you are to set up another Court to investigate, as the Attorney-General told us, at great expense, involving the bringing of witnesses, who may be doing valuable service elsewhere, from all parts of the different spheres of the War to London to give evidence, and all this merely to produce another Report about questions of administrative inefficiency, seems to me to be a game not worth the candle. If that is the only 2348 alternative which the Government can see they had very much better drop the thing altogether.
The right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary has said in the course of this Debate that it is the Commission who are really on their trial. If the Government really take that view of the Commission, then they ought really not to allow the Report to remain where it is now. If the Report of this Commission, set up by Parliament, and if the work of this Commission, are found to be so badly done, if their conclusions are so faulty that Members of the Government find it necessary to, get up to denounce and repudiate them, I should have thought that it was the duty of the Government to take some formal method of setting the Report aside. That might be done in more ways than one. I understand that the usual practice is to put down a Motion thanking the Commissioners for their services, and if the Government, after reading the Report, felt that they could not do that, it could very well have arranged with some private Member to put down a Motion—and, in fact, the Member for Pembrokeshire did put down such a Motion—and it would have been perfectly easy for the Government to move an Amendment to it expressing their dissatisfaction with the Report, and thus apprise the country in a formal and dignified way, and not merely by the individual speeches by right hon. Gentlemen, of the fact that the labours of the Commission did not meet with the approval of the Government, and that it was unable to support their findings. It appears to me that is the course that the Government ought to have taken. As they have not taken it, we are left in a rather curious position. I think the moral of the whole thing is, do not let us have any more Commissions of Inquiry. The country felt that in a Commission of Inquiry they had at their disposal a very valuable piece of machinery. There is the classic example of the Court of Inquiry in the time of the Crimean War. We have always felt when a Commission has been set up, care being taken as to who are appointed on it, that after taking an immense amount of evidence, the conclusions of such a body were materials on which Parliament, with a certain amount of safety, could take action. We have been disabused of that illusion, and it appears we cannot do so. I do not at all wish to imply that there is not a strong case. On 2349 the contrary, I think it is very likely the Government are right. I am not saying it is not, but it is very disappointing to find it is so. If the Government are going to leave it where it is now, I think the conclusion we will all draw is that it will be perfectly useless to have these inquiries in future. As regards the present, I hope that the Government will think better of it, and that there is no use in yet a further inquiry, and with reluctance we shall have to admit that these disastrous and deplorable events must be laid past into oblivion and that we cannot make anybody responsible.
§ Commander WEDGWOOD
Will the hon. Gentleman kindly say why he has not referred to the Motion of which he has given notice referring to this question?
§ Mr. MCNEILL
The hon. and gallant Gentleman is quite entitled to say that, and I will tell him why. I have not referred to it, because an intimation was conveyed to me from a high quarter that it was hoped I would not occupy very much of the time of the House, and I have endeavoured to act upon that. If I were at liberty to pursue the matter further, I am perfectly willing to develop the case of the Notice of Motion. If there is any other way in which I can give satisfaction to the hon. and gallant Gentleman on any other occasion I am perfectly willing to do so.
§ Commander WEDGWOOD
On a personal explanation, may I say that the Motion which had been put down was taken off the Paper yesterday.
§ Commander WEDGWOOD
I was told I would not be allowed to speak until after the hon. Member had spoken. I have a right to demand why he has given it out to the public that my report is intemperate, and I invite him to explain.
§ Mr. MCNEILL
The hon. and gallant Gentleman is in error about the Motion being taken off the Paper.
§ Mr. McNEILL
It was not put on the Order Paper for the reason explained in reply to the point raised by the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge), but it still remains on the Paper for an early day.
§ Mr. HOGGE
What I want to say shall be said as briefly as possible and by means of a number of points. I am astounded to find the point of view which is now taken up by the Government. When this Commission was appointed my right hon. Friend, along with a number of us below the gangway, objected very strongly to the members of the Commission, especially the Chairman, and said that Lord George Hamilton and Lord Cromer were too old for the posts to which they were being appointed by the Government. At that time the Government defended both those old officials in their warmest and most generous fashion. To-day, when those men have reported on the facts which have been submitted to them, the Attorney-General and other members of the Government have got up and said in various cadences of criticism, these men's Report is of no use. The worst case of that, of course, was last night, when the Foreign Secretary suggested that my hon. Friend (Commander Wedgwood) and the other members of this Commission were really criminals who ought to be put on their trial. I think the House ought to take note of the change of attitude on the part of the Government when the Commission was being formed and was criticised, and the attitude they take up now towards it. The second point I would mention is this. Why should the House of Commons go on creating Commissions and wasting all this money and time after the free choice, by the usual channels, of men to represent all the parties in the House and upon whose opinions they could rely, and then when they report refuse to accept the decisions of that Commission. My third point is this, Why cannot the Government, having got the Report, make up their own minds as to what they ought to do? Why should the Attorney-General suggest to us a method which is nothing more or less than an endowment of the legal profession for the next two or three years? I am very glad my right hon. Friend the Attorney-General agrees with what I have said. If we set up what is suggested by the Government, we shall probably spend anything from £100,000 to £250,000 of public money, and we shall not be one inch further on than we are to-day. It seems to me that the Government are the body who ought to take the decision; the Government, having 2351 had the Report of this Commission, ought to decide what they are going to do, and do it. The evidence has been read by the Government, not by us. I have got quite enough faith in the Government, if they say they have read the evidence, to believe that they are capable of taking a judgment upon it. I give my right hon. Friend the Attorney-General fair warning now that if he does introduce the Bill for the purpose of giving effect to this decision, I shall oppose it on the' Second Reading and on Committee' and every other stage to prevent what I consider to be a waste of public money and that which will be detrimental to all concerned and which could not come to a proper decision.
Fourthly, I want to say that I think we ought to fix the responsibility upon the proper quarters. The newspapers to-day are saying that the resignation of the Secretary of State is a matter of secondary importance. I do not think it is. The Secretary of State is a member of this Government. The primary responsibility for everything that has occurred with this expedition to Mesopotamia lies upon this Government and the Government that preceded it. They are responsible for whatever took place. We have got rid, by methods which I need not go into now, of some of the members of the late Administration who were responsible for this muddle in Mesopotamia. I would have liked to have seen the House of Commons take a clear issue as to whether, having got rid of some of the muddlers who took part in this Mesopotamia business, we should not now get rid of the others. The Prime Minister is responsible, in the last resort, for this muddle, and I do not think we should shirk the responsibility of fastening it upon the Prime Minister of the day. I remember, when the Prime Minister was Secretary of State for War, he issued an Instruction, at my own request, to recruiting boards in this country, asking for a fair examination of recruits who were being taken for the Army. That was published in this House and broadcast in the newspapers; but while that was so there was a secret Instruction issued by officials of the War Office contrary entirely to the wish and the direction of the Prime Minister. It is the Prime Minister's business, as head of this Government, to see that the undertakings of this country are carried 2352 out efficiently, or to know the reason why. The man who is responsible for this muddle is the present Prime Minister. We ought to have had the opportunity in this House, on the occasion of this Debate, to have indicted the conduct of the existing Government, and, if we considered what they had done was right, to have passed a vote of confidence, and if what they had done was not right, a vote of censure. One other point only. We have talked a lot during these Debates about the people concerned. It seems to me that a great number of these people concerned are going to get off, and going to get off very lightly. There is a young lad, nineteen years of age, who was a soldier in Mesopotamia. He fell asleep at his post while on sentry duty. He is now serving ten years' penal servitude in Winchester Gaol. Are any of the other men mentioned in this Report, either civilians or soldiers, going to do any penal servitude? Have they fallen asleep or are they even now wideawake? Will they remember that the point of view of the country in this matter is that the men who have fought have hallowed the East with the sacrifices they have made, and that the Government have harrowed the feelings of right-thinking people by the incompetence with which they have dealt with this inconsequent muddle!
§ Colonel YATE
I do not wish to touch upon any personal questions. But I think I may say that the whole of India will very greatly regret to hear of the resignation of the Secretary of State for India when that fact becomes known to them. I think that the late Secretary for India in all his relations to India has shown himself kind and sympathetic. In this country he has shown himself kind and sympathetic to all who have ever had any dealings with him, and I confess that I think the whole feeling of India will be that they are sorry to lose him as Secretary of State, I acknowledge that on various official questions the Secretary, of State and myself have not always looked at things alike. Take the one question to which he referred last in his speech—the question of the Councils of the Viceroy and Secretary of State for India. We have had various opinions given regarding these Councils. First of all, the right hon. Member (Mr. Montagu) urged the complete abolition of the Council of India. Then the Secretary of State said he retained his Council, but he claimed 2353 the right not to consult it. I differ from both. I consider the abolition of the Council would be a disaster. Personally I should wish to see both Councils strengthened, and more consulted. In the Report it is recorded that the Commissioners did not attach any share in the responsibility of the decision to advance to Bagdad to the Councils of the Secretary of State for India or of the Viceroy. They say this:We have been unable to ascertain from the evidence laid before us that the advance on Bagdad was over brought before them (the Councils) in such a manner as to allow them to give their personal advice and opinion upon it.Members of the Councils of both the Viceroy and the Secretary of State, I claim, are the constitutional advisers of both the Secretary of State and the Viceroy. They are appointed by Statute, and the fact that the Viceroy's Council was not only not consulted, but as the Report says, "was not even privy to the campaign in Mesopotamia," without doubt "dispossessed the Council of functions which by Statute they were entitled to exercise." I mentioned this subject on 15th August, 1916, when the Government of India Bill was introduced in this House. I then brought forward a Motion to improve the status of the members of the Secretary of State for India's Council at the India Office and also to secure the greater independence of the members of the Viceroy's Council in India by ordaining that members of that Council should not be eligible for further promotion in India. At present members of the Viceroy's Council in India look forward to promotion to Council as a step towards a lieutenant-governorship of a province. I contend that it ought to be just the other way about. A lieutenant-governorship ought to be a step towards membership of the Council. In my opinion a man who has held the independent appointment of the governorship of a province has not only had experience, but has acquired strength of mind, and these qualities will make his work far more valuable as a member of that Council than the man who has not had that experience. Further, he would not be in the position of a man looking forward to promotion to a lieutenant-governorship. The Secretary of State opposed my Motion. In view of the further experience we have had from this Commission I trust that the matter will again be reconsidered.
There is another point connected with the Council I should like to touch upon, 2354 and that is the question of the military secretaryship at the India Office, upon which the Secretary of State dwelt so much last night. He laid it down that the military secretary at the India Office was the principal adviser of the Secretary of State in military matters. I entirely disagree from what he says, and I challenge the Secretary of State on that subject, both legally and practically. The military members of the Council of India are the constitutional and statutory advisers to the Secretary of State. The military secretary is simply the head of one of the departments of the India Office. He is part of the office establishment. He has no constitutional status or authority to give advice to the Secretary of State on military matters. I can remember the time when the military secretary at the India Office was selected from the Pay Department or some other Department of India on account of the knowledge he possessed of Indian rules and regulations. The military secretary at the India Office is burdened with all sorts of routine work, etc., he has to look after, and he has no time and no proper authority to give advice in military matters to the Secretary of State. Questions of military principle and policy, I contend ought, by law and statute, to go to the military committee of the Council of the Secretary of State. They alone are the responsible officers of the Secretary of State in all military matters. This principle of consulting the military secretary at the India Office has only arisen of late years, and I trust that the time has come now when this will be put a stop to. On 7th August, 1913, I spoke in this House on the subject of the Secretary of State's Council at the India Office, and the necessity of proper representation on that Council of members of the Indian Army, Perhaps I may be allowed to quote what I said on that date, although it was four years ago, as I think it is pertinent:At the present moment there is only one military member of the Council of the Secretary of State for India. Hitherto, I believe, it has been the custom to have two members. When you have vital interests, not only in India, but the Empire as a whole, of just and sympathetic treatment of the Indian Army, it seems to me that there should always be at least two officers of the Indian Army, fresh from actual command in India, as military advisers to the Secretary of State for India. The term of service at the India Office has now been laid down at seven years, and when we have two military members of the Council it could then be arranged every three and a half years to have a new officer from the Indian Army, fresh from the command of the Indian troops, appointed. I do most respectfully ask the Secretary of State to take this question into his favourable consideration.There is still only one military member on the Secretary of State's Council. We 2355 gather from the Report that the Secretary of State did not consult him. There is nothing in the Report to show that the military member of the Council was consulted any more than any other members of the Council. I condemn this, and I trust the matter will be reconsidered, for the full and proper representation of the Indian Army on the Secretary of State's Council is a most important thing. I trust that as a result of this Commission provision will be made for two military members to be appointed in the future.
We have had the Report of the Commission discussed from various aspects, some pleasing and some the reverse, but I am sure that the House will agree with me that the most pleasing thing that we have had is the testimony that runs through the whole Report to the magnificent courage, bravery, endurance and pertinacity of the troops engaged in the Mesopotamian Campaign. As an old Indian Army officer I read with pride of all that has been done by the troops in Mesopotamia. We have been shown that in every brigade of four battalions one was British and three were Indian. It is stated in the Report thatin many a hard-fought field these Indian soldiers had proved themselves worthy of standing shoulder to shoulder with their British comrades.Again it is said:Rarely, if ever, have greater courage or pertinacity been shown by British and Indian troops than is recorded in the operations of the Expeditionary Force, both during their successes and reverses.When it comes to praise of troops in their reverses, I say no praise can be higher and none better deserved. I ask the House to think of these poor men advancing against the Turkish trenches, with no heavy artillery to cover their advance, no high explosives to break the wire entanglements and destroy the trenches, no proper bombs or grenades—
§ Colonel YATE
There has been a great deal said in this House about the unpreparedness of England for war, and that India was equally unprepared. But think of the difference! Here in England we, at any rate, did one thing—we took measures to remedy the deficiencies. The Report says that India failed to rise to the occasion, and did not take the necessary measures to remedy the deficiencies. Take the question of munitions. Now I 2356 myself in this House on 11th November, 1915, and again on 22nd March, 1916, called attention to the deficiency of munitions in Mesopotamia, and I urged on this House the necessity of the appointment of a Minister of Munitions in India just in the same way as our present Prime Minister had then been appointed Minister of Munitions in England. Yet the Report tells us that nothing was done by India in this matter until after the War Office took charge in 1916. Sir Thomas Holland long after that was appointed Director of Munitions. Consequently for a year and a half or two years, as the Report says—The troops in Mesopotamia had without adequate preparation by heavy Artillery, to attack across the open strongly fortified trenches at the cost of heavy casualties.Then, again, as regards recruiting, I would ask the House to remember that I urged the appointment of a Director of Recruiting for India, just as Lord Derby had been appointed Director of Recruiting in this country, and I urged the enrolment of local tribesmen as irregulars to take the place of Regulars for service abroad. The Army authorities at Simla treated all such ideas with contempt, and said that my proposals were not feasible, while the Foreign Department of the Government of India said there "was nothing in the situation to justify the adoption" of my suggestions. It was impossible, I think, in 1915 and 1916 to get anything done by the Government of India, not even compulsory military service for Europeans in India, and it was only last Saturday that we saw by the papers that at last a Director of Recruiting had been appointed in the person of Sir William Meyer.
There is one point to which I should like to call attention with regard to the medical breakdown, and that is the unanimous testimony of the Commission to the energy, kindness, and industry of the executive medical officers. The executive regimental medical officers and personnel are stated to have devoted themselves with unremitting kindness and attention to the sick and wounded with such means as they had at their disposal. I rejoice, as all will, that the Indian Medical Service come out of this trying ordeal with such flying colours. In the retreat from Ctesiphon they had no means at their disposal, and could only give their own personal labour, and right well they gave it. No praise, I say, can be too high for those men, and I do think that to those men the thanks of this House should go 2357 out, and that they should be specially recommended. There is one point I have not understood yet and cannot understand. It is stated in the Report that Sir William Babtie, Director of Medical Services in India, was away from India for six weeks in February and March, 1915. It is customary in India that whenever a man leaves the country, or vacates his office, another, and generally the next senior officer, is appointed to officiate for him during his absence. Why was this not done in the case of Sir William Babtie? I drew attention in this House on the 27th June, 1916, to this, and I was told that during Sir William Babtie's absence the routine duties of his office were carried on by a junior officer, who dealt with no questions of policy. And that was at the very time when adequate provisison for the expedition in Mesopotamia was most urgent. Some junior was left merely to carry out the routine of the office. I think grave responsibility rests with the Government of India for permitting Sir William Babtie to leave the country in February and March, and again, I believe, in June, and not appointing another man to officiate in his place. That is one of the things which ought to be cleared up.
The Commission have also referred to the Royal Indian Marine. I think the Government of India were much to blame, or, at any rate, committed a great error in making no provision for the erection of repair shops either at Bombay or Busrah. A century ago the shipyards of Bombay were famous, and manufactured ships of war in those days, and I fully expected to see those ancient shipyards resuscitated in all their pristine vigour. Skilled men, money, and materials for a good marine dockyard at Busrah were all available, but the Government failed to make use of the opportunity, and, as the Report tells us, it was not till the War Office took control in 1916 that 7,000 tons of plant for this were sent out to Busrah from England. I think that was a great error on the part of the Indian Government. I entirely agree with the suggested reorganisation of the Royal Indian Marine, and I should like to see it reorganised as the new Indian Navy and given the status that is its due and its full and proper staff.
There is one more point I should like to mention, and it is in reference to the statement made by the Foreign Secretary last night, who told us of the deliberate 2358 policy of the Indian Government that military expenditure in India should be reduced to the lowest possible limit practical with Indian safety, the said that that was the deliberate policy sanctioned and, indeed, carried out on the initiative of a Commission appointed in this country who reported as to military expenditure adequate for India's needs. The hon. Member for Lincoln also referred to that Commission, and the Report tells us that in 1914 the Secretary of State for India, Lord Crewe, in a dispatch to the Government of India, pointed out that the majority of the Army in India Committee had recommended thatthe normal standard of net military expenditure should be retained at 19½ millions.That Committee, if I remember right, was composed of four members, Lord Nicholson, Sir William Meyer, Sir Robert Scallon, and Sir Percy Lake. We are told that that Report was confidential, but it has been referred to by two hon. Members, and I think it was common property in India. The two India representatives, Sir Robert Scallon and Sir Percy Lake, it was said, both dissented from the Report of the Commission entirely, and consequently the majority on that Committee on which the Foreign Secretary based his statement was a bare casting vote majority given by Lord Nicholson himself. I cannot help thinking that the majority of such a Commission cannot be quoted as deliberately sanctioning the starving of India financially. I hope this will be brought to light, and the responsibility brought home to whoever is responsible.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
It is clear from the Debate and the general opinion of the House that it would be unjust, as well as inexpedient, that any disciplinary action, without further opportunities being given to the individuals affected to have their case presented, should be taken upon the Report of the Commission. That opinion involves no disparagement whatever to the members of the Commission, who have given their time and their service to the public; and have spent many months in the assiduous discharge of a peculiarly thankless task. As my Noble Friend the Member for the University of Oxford (Lord Hugh Cecil), who is one of the Commissioners, pointed out last night, their province was to inquire into a number of questions about administrative efficiency, both civil and military, and their censure of particular officers was an 2359 incident, perhaps a necessary incident, of such an inquiry, and was not intended to be, and in the nature of the case could not be, in any sense a judicial pronouncement. Let me say at once that I am glad the Government frankly abandoned the method of procedure which was so ably and persuasively advocated yesterday afternoon by the Attorney-General. I am satisfied that it was wholly inappropriate to the purpose, and if there is to be a supplementary inquiry of a general kind, the creation of a special tribunal, although attended by many difficulties and drawbacks, would, as compared with that, on the whole be preferred.
But, Sir, the creation of such a tribunal is attended by grave and serious thought. Let me indicate, without going into the matter in any detail, one or two of the difficulties which lie upon the threshold. In the first place, what is to be its composition; and in the second place, equally if not more important, what is to be the basis and what the scope of the inquiry. To my mind it is obviously absurd, and even more than absurd, that you should submit to two or three judges or persons of judicial experience the question whether, in the conduct of a great war, this or that statesman or body of statesmen, this or that soldier or sailor, formed and acted upon mistaken judgment of policy. Where can you find a tribunal suited to determine a question of that kind. I know only one, and that is the House of Commons. The House of Commons is the only tribunal which is competent to say, in my judgment, whether such men in such a case have forfeited its trust or deserved its censure. It follows that any judicial investigation, if it is to be held, should be carefully limited, and should be made the subject of precise and specific accusations to be supported by legal evidence, upon which a direct verdict of guilty or not guilty could be based. I am not saying it is possible to set up, but I have revolved the matter a good deal in my mind, since the Debate yesterday, and on the whole the balance in my judgment is adverse to it.
I do not wish to say that in any controversial or in any definite sense. The matter is one of very great difficulty, and I cannot imagine a more difficult question to decide. Having said so much, I am quite content to acquiesce in any decision which the Government may propose to us 2360 after full consideration, but I hope they will, before the Debate closes, give us their view on these two points. First and foremost, whether upon the whole they think it in the public interest that such a tribunal should be set up; and secondly, if so, what are to be—the most difficult, and at the same time the most important question to be decided—the limits of its reference and of its jurisdiction. I think that is a matter upon which we should be very glad to be guided by the considered judgment of the Government.
I pass from that to say a few words on one or two of the wider issues which have been raised in this Debate. First, let me say that I listened with profound regret, profound and deep-felt, to the announcement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary for India of his resignation. With all deference to him, and with the fullest possible recognition of the fine and chivalrous spirit which has dictated the decision, I think the step he proposes to take wholly uncalled for.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
As I read this Report, it does not contain one word of personal censure, expressed or implied, on my right hon. Friend. On the contrary, it acknowledges cordially and gratefully his ceaseless interest in and solicitude for the proper care of the troops, particularly of the wounded and sick, and I can bear my own testimony—I am glad to do it, for my right hon. Friend and I frequently discussed these matters together—that from the month of August, 1915, long before the advance to Bagdad was in contemplation, right down to the end of the campaign, this was a matter which constantly engaged the thoughts of my right hon. Friend, and to which he lost no opportunity of calling the attention of the Indian authorities. All that the Report says or suggests that can be construed as in any way reflecting upon him is that it gives him the first place in the allocation of general responsibilty of Members of the Home Government for this phase of the War. I am glad to see that some of his present colleagues, who shared that responsibility, do not propose to follow his example. If I were in their place I should act as they do, unless and until the House of Commons thought fit to censure my conduct. Let me add that I speak from full and intimate knowledge, 2361 that from the first moment when my right hon. Friend entered the India Office, in the month of May, 1915, he discharged its most difficult duties with vigilant assiduity, great and rare administrative power, and with unfailing tact and kindness. I can imagine few more difficult tasks than that of selecting an adequate successor.
I come now to say something on the question raised in this Report as to the responsibility of the late Government, of which I was the head. I would say at once, in the clearest and most explicit terms, that I cannot recall any step taken in this War which was more completely warranted by every relevant consideration of policy and strategy, and which was more strongly fortified in advance by an absolute concurrence of expert authority, than was the order to advance on Bagdad. I may, perhaps, speak with a little more freedom, because it so happens that when the actual decision, and the final communication and deliberations which preceded it, was taken I was not, through no fault of my own or my colleagues, a party to it. On the 18th of October I find, by looking at the records of the past, in the middle of all this, I was taken ill. I spent an unique experience of my life, some three or four days in bed, and after that a few more in the country, not returning to duty until the 27th. I was away ten days, and during that time I was debarred by superior orders from all participation in public business. I recall this, not, as the House will soon see, with any disposition to dissociate myself from what was done; on the contrary, when I got back and learned what had passed I fully and whole-heartedly approved. But I am so frequently cast for the part of the leading villain by those who may be described as the "playrights of the gutter" that it seems a pity, and I am very sorry for them, that I should have for once to be content with the relatively inconspicuous, though still highly criminal, role of an accessory after the fact. What was the situation?
In the first week of October the home Government received from Sir John Nixon an urgent request for permission to advance from Kut to Bagdad, it being represented, not by the Commission, I think—it made no such charge—but by a wicked and mendacious perversion of one or two citations in their Report, that the Cabinet at that time were anxious for what is called a "political success"—by which is meant political success to restore their waning 2362 fortunes here at home—and, therefore, what followed—that they deliberately subordinated military to political considerations. That is a calumny; it is a vile calumny; and, what is more, it is known to be a calumny by those who in the first instance put it forward with characteristic effrontery, though now with equally characteristic cowardice tacitly withdraw it, for it is refuted on the very face of these documents. My right hon. Friend yesterday quoted a telegram sent on the 21st October. Take the telegram as it stands, and as it is printed. I will just read the material part to the House:At the present moment it seems the German attempt to break through to Constantinople will succeed, and our position and prospects in Gallipoli are moat uncertain.Then comes the omission:The Arabs are wavering and will probably join the Turks unless we can afford them more inducement. We are therefore in great need of a striking success in the East.What becomes of this base charge that we were animated by some regard for our political fortunes at home—this very document proves it to be a lie. What were the political considerations? Who is going to say political considerations ought not to come into account when you are discussing the conduct of a great war like this? Political considerations are sometimes the dominant ones; they are always relevant, sometimes they are actually dominant. Who is to say they are to be left out? Are we to hand over the whole thing to the soldiers and sailors? We, who bear the responsibility to the State, we who are accountable to this House and to our Sovereign, are we to avoid all responsibility, and hand over everything to our expert advisers? That is the part of cowardice, not of statesmanship.
The only considerations which entered into our minds—I speak not only for myself, but I know also for my colleagues —were these, which were strictly relevant, namely, the effect of this proposed step, the advance to Bagdad, on the general situation, and especially on the Turkish, the Arab, the Persian, and the Indian world. It was explained last night with lucidity and cogency by my right hon. Friend—I do not wish to retraverse the ground which he so well covered— what were those considerations. Were those considerations to be ignored? The Commissioners do not say so, nor would any sane man unless he were ignorant or malignant, or both. Let me add this— 2363 which I do not think has been quite drawn out yet in the course of this discussion of my right hon. Friend—at that particular juncture—I am speaking now of the early days of the month of October, 1915 —the Cabinet had the strongest motives for caution, and for abstaining from anything in the nature of a novel or hazardous adventure. The position in the Dardanelles, though not desperate, was menacing. The demands for the Army from France and Flanders were steadily increasing day by day and week by week, and we were at that very moment. as my right hon. Friends there know well, discussing with our French Allies new developments of activity in the Balkans. We had, therefore, every possible reason for scrutinising any new demand with almost suspicious care. What did we do? The first step ordered by the Cabinet at the meeting on the 4th of October was to direct an immediate consultation between the representatives of the India Office, the War Office, the Foreign Office and the Admiralty to consider—I quote textually the exact terms of reference—" whether in all the circumstances, including the local situation in India and Persia, an advance upon Bagdad is strategically and politically expedient."
Someone has given me a passage from an article in a paper this morning commenting upon the Debate of yesterday. I think the paper is called the "Morning Post"; it deals with the subject of my right hon. Friend. "His opinion," says this writer, "was against the advance on Bagdad; he failed to maintain that opinion. The political villain of the piece was again Mr. Asquith, who engineered a decision to advance by the appointment of an Inter-departmental Committee." An Inter-departmental Committee as an instrument of villainy has hitherto, I imagine, been undreamt of in the annals of crime. Then he goes on, "Mr. Chamberlain apparently had not the subtlety to detect or the strength to frustrate the manœuvre." Poor Mr. Chamberlain! "Therefore he was thrown into an impossible position, from which the only refuge was resignation." Let the House observe the carefully developed sequence of cause and effect. This Inter-departmental Committee was engineered in the month of October, 1915, and my right hon. Friend's consequential, resignation was deferred to the month of 2364 July, 1917. The mills of God grind slowly. I think that is worth quoting as showing the kind of stuff which these instructors of public opinion think good enough for their customers. At a later stage I was disabled. My right hon. Friend told us yesterday that before any final decision was come to there was an addition to this Inter-departmental Committee, or a supersession of it, by the General Staffs of the War Office and the Admiralty, who were directed, in consultation, to inquire what reinforcement would be necessary for Sir John Nixon, not for the taking of Bagdad—nobody had any doubt whatever that his existing force could have taken it—but what reinforcements were necessary in order not only to take it, but to hold it securely. The telegrams which were read by my right hon. Friend yesterday show clearly what was the result. All these authorities agreed, and the advance was ordered. What was the actual position of the Government on the 23rd October, when the order sanctioning the advance was given? Of the political advantages of the capture and retention of Bagdad there was agreement from the first. The home Government and the Government of India were entirely at one on that point. Both Governments were equally clear that the advance should not be attempted unless it was thoroughly and whole-heartedly supported as a feasible military operation by expert, and particularly by Army, opinion. I see my right hon. Friend, in a telegram he sent on the 8th October to the Viceroy, says this: "The Cabinet are so impressed with the great political and military advantages of the occupation of Bagdad that every effort will be made by us to supply the force that is necessary. We do not wish to attempt it with insufficient forces." That was our attitude throughout.
The Government took exceptional and even elaborate steps to obtain that opinion, and to make perfectly sure that in the formation of it the expert authorities were subjected to no kind of coercion or even of intimation as to what view they were expected to take in order that no relevent aspect of the case should be ignored. After prolonged investigation, by the 23rd October the opinion had been given, and it was, as the House will remember, that with reinforcements of Sir John Nixon's Army for that purpose, within the course of the next two months, 2365 by two divisions sent from France, Bagdad could not only be taken but held. I cannot remember, as I say, any case in which there was such a complete concurrence of political and strategic authority. I have omitted, so far in what I have said, to deal with Sir John Nixon's own correspondence. As appears from these telegrams, he was eager from the first for an advance. He had no doubt, nor had anybody, that he could take Bagdad with his present force. He believed that he could hold it with one extra division, not two divisions, and in his telegram of 5th October, which is here, he implored that "we should not let the opportunity slip."
We have heard a great deal lately from the critics, who in the light of accomplished facts find the faculty of foresight so delight fully easy, of Sir John Nixon's "confident and reckless optimism." Who was Sir John Nixon, and what was his record when he pressed this advice upon the Government? I do not hesitate to say that at that moment Sir John Nixon was easily the most successful general in all the theatres of war. Just let us see what he had done. Some words of eulogy of mine uttered early in November have been quoted. I adhere to every one of them. They are not in the faintest degree coloured. Between the time when Sir John Nixon took command of the Army Corps of two divisions and Cavalry in the month of April, he had led his troops from one brilliant victory to another. He and his gallant subordinates, General Townshend and General Gorringe, had fought their way without a check or even a mischance. Barjisiyah, Shaiba, Ahway, Nasariyeh, Amara, and Kut were to their credit, and General Townshend's Cavalry on the 4th October had actually reached Azizyeh. All this had been achieved, often under the most trying conditions, far more trying conditions of climate than were confronted on the advance to Bagdad—several of them had been achieved in the height of summer, when climatic conditions were most unfavourable — without one single error either in calculation or in execution. If ever a general, speaking to a Government at home from the battlefield at the head of an undefeated army was entitled to be heard as to the future military conduct of what up to that moment had been a campaign of absolutely uninterrupted success, that general was Sir John Nixon in October, 1915.
2366 What of the Government? The Government had then the undoubted opinion of the general on the spot, supported by the consentient and the unanimous authority of all the experts, military and naval, both at home and in India. The question I want to put is this: Does anyone inside or outside this House maintain that the Government ought to have overruled it, and vetoed the advance? My right hon. Friend last night asked what would have been said of us if we had. Suppose you had a Mesopotamia Commission after we had done that. I do not mean what would have been said by silly and malignant people like the writer of the precious passage I quoted a minute or two ago, but what would have been said by fair-minded and well instructed people like the members of this Commission. They would have said, and said with irresistible force, justice and truth, "Here, at a most critical moment in the War, when a golden opportunity, as your general had told you, had presented itself, and when you were advised by every authority that Bagdad was within your grasp and that it could not only be taken, but that it could be held— you, a set of timorous, pigeon-livered politicians"—one knows the vocabulary quite well—"here at home, cowardly, pusillanimous, fearful to take risks, afraid of the initiative, thinking only of your own skins, you interposed your veto, robbed your gallant Army of the crown of its campaign, and refused to strike what might have been, what would have been, a fatal blow at the prestige and the power of the Turks." What answer should we have had? None whatever. Talk about impeachment! There would in that case, at least, have been something not quite grotesque in the use of the word!
I have purposely confined myself to this one aspect of the case. My right hon. Friend the late Secretary of State dealt, as fully as, in view of the suggested inquiry, it was fair and right to do, with the animadversions of the Commission on the subject of the breakdown of the transport and of the medical supplies. If personal guilt can be brought home by proper evidence to individual officers, however highly placed, for the deplorable and horrible sufferings to which our troops were exposed, no one will have a word to say in arrest of judgment or of sentence. But I should not be doing justice to what I and many others in this country and also in this House feel, if I did not add 2367 that the manner in which this Report has been travestied, perverted and exploited, is one of the most scandalous chapters in the history of the degradation of the Press. We politicians are accustomed to these things. They have long since ceased to excite or to surprise us. It is a melancholy thing to see all the canons of decency and fair play trodden in the mire in the case of men who have grown old in the service of the State, and who, by the very necessities of their position, are in many cases unable to defend themselves. Even if it were fair, all this retrospection is apt to have an injurious effect on the conduct of the War, to damp the spirit, and even to cripple the initiation of those who are serving the State. An unknown correspondent sent me a few days ago a passage from Burke's speech to the electors of Bristol in 1780, which seems to me to be so apposite that I will conclude by reading it to the House:It is not to be imagined how much of service is lost from spirits full of activity and full of energy who are pressing, who are rushing forward with great and capital objects when you oblige them to be continually looking back. Whilst they are defending one service they defraud you of a hundred. Appland us when we run, console us when we fall, cheer us when we recover, but let us pass on—for God's sake let us pass on.
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Lloyd George)
May I say how completely I associate myself with the eloquent words which fell from my right hon. Friend about my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for India? It was with the most profound regret that I heard of his decision. That regret is shared by every colleague of his, and I am perfectly certain by every late colleague of his, and I am sure that it is regret which goes far beyond those who have been associated with him entirely in executive work. It extends through the House of Commons and the multitude of people who appreciate his great public service in the country. It is not merely a matter of profound regret to his colleagues, but also a matter of great surprise, because, as my right hon. Friend (Mr. Balfour) said last night and as my right hon. Friend (Mr. Asquith) said to-day, we feel that there was nothing in the Report of the Commission which would Justify him in feeling that he ought to have resigned office. The references in the Report to him were of a commendatory character, and therefore it was with the deepest regret, as well as surprise, that I heard his announcement. I have had a more unique experience of my right hon. Friend 2368 in public life than almost any other politician. For at least seven years I held an office which he had also held, and during the whole of that time I was confronted with his criticism in this House. I have had seven years' experience of him as an opponent, under very trying conditions, in some of the most hotly contested measures which have ever been passed through the House of Commons, and I have had two or three years' experience of him as a colleague. In both capacities I have not merely admired his ability, but respected the high sense of public duty and sensitive honour which always animated all his actions. Therefore, it was with peculiar regret that I heard that he had decided to sever his connection with the Government of which I have the honour to be the head.
I should like to say a word about the Commission. This Commission was appointed by Act of Parliament. The Commissioners were chosen by this House, at the instance of the Government of the day, and I think that not merely is it the duty of the Government, but, if I may say so, of the House of Commons itself, to thank them for the great services which they have rendered. Their labours were of a most difficult, delicate, and invidious character, and took weeks and months of their time. It was an exceedingly complicated task—I should have thought a very unpleasant one—and it is the duty of the House of Commons as well as of the Government to thank them for the services which they have rendered under these circumstances.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
My right hon. Friend has very properly said that there has been a good deal of suffering in consequence of acts of neglect on the part of someone. I do not think anyone reading the Report of the Commission can doubt that there was undoubted mismanagement, and that as a consequence of that mismanagement thousands of gallant lives were lost under conditions of unspeakable torture. No one can doubt for a moment that, as the result of mismanagement, there was suffering which is indescribable. Someone or something is to blame. It is either the system or the individuals working the system, or perhaps both. If the system is to blame, then it ought to be remedied. Such steps as could be taken in the middle of a great 2369 war to improve the system have been taken, and I do not think anyone denies that at the present moment the administration of the Mesopotamia campaign is everything that can possibly be desired. Whatever lack of transport there was has been more than made up. The medical appliances are not merely enormously improved, but I have had no complaints that they are not completely efficient at the present moment. Those are the temporary remedies to meet the actual conditions of the campaign, and those have been applied. But undoubtedly there are permanent remedies which are essential in order to improve the system itself. My right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Montagu) delivered a very eloquent speech on that topic last night, and I understand there have been one or two similar speeches in the course of today. Those matters must be looked into. The only thing I say to the House, and to those outside the House who are specially interested in the matter, is that before you can introduce changes and reforms, and improve a system, it must be recollected that we are working under the limitations of a great War, and that reforms and remedies which might be introduced if the Government were at liberty to apply its mind to the question, and the House of Commons had the time or the disposition to think of it, are reforms and remedies which cannot be introduced when the whole thought of the country is fixed upon the prosecution of a great War, in which its life is involved. So much for the system.
I now come to the question of the individuals. Did they make the best use of a bad system? That is the point so far as they are concerned. The system was a bad one. They suffered in common with others from the deficiencies of the system; but, if the Report of the Commission is to be accepted, there is no doubt at all that the system, bad as it was, was not worked to the best advantage. Then comes the question of the actual relative culpability of those who were working the system. Did they do so in such a way as to produce these terrible disasters in Mesopotamia? If they were guilty, proper punishment ought to be meted out to them. Otherwise, unless that is done, it is, I will not say impossible to secure efficiency; it is an essential part of efficiency, and if the statements related by the Commission turn out on investigation to be true, then I think that, certainly in 2370 some cases, not merely should there be punishment, but that the punishment should be severe. But before you mete out punishment to individuals, they are entitled, as my right hon. Friend the Attorney-General said yesterday in his eloquent speech, to a fair, impartial, and judicial investigation of the facts. So far as the soldiers are concerned, not merely are they entitled to it in justice, but they are entitled to it by law, and that is the first fact which I should like to get well into the minds not of Members of the House of Commons, because they understand it fully, but into the minds of the public. I see suggestions in the Press to-day that the Government ought to have acted on the Report of the Commission without any further inquiry. I say without hesitation that that would have been grossly unfair to the individuals against whom serious charges are made in the course of this Report, and if punishment were meted out upon those terms, they would be entitled, by all the regulations of their profession, to claim a judicial inquiry in the form of a court-martial or an inquiry under the Army Acts.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
That is true. There is no legal right, and if it were to involve drawing men from the task in which they were engaged at the time, I can understand that in a time of war you cannot grant it. It is impossible. There are hundreds of cases, may be thousands of cases, in the course of the War. But here it goes beyond that. There are statements of fact here which, if they are true, would not be dealt with adequately by the mere suspension of a man from his present occupation; and if you go beyond that, even in time of war, there ought to be a judicial inquiry before you deprive a man of his occupation, and turn him out of the Army. That is the most severe punishment you could inflict upon an officer. In any profession, if you turn a man out of his profession, it is a degradation, and no profession has ever done it without full judicial investigation beforehand, in which the person implicated has a full opportunity of obtaining a hearing and tendering his evidence. That is why I make no distinction between merely depriving a man of his present occupation and depriving him of his position in the 2371 Army, and the pension which is associated with it. As far as the soldiers are concerned, can anyone doubt for a moment that they are fully entitled to a complete investigation? Does anyone doubt that, if there are accusations against civilians, they ought to be entitled to the same protection as the soldiers under these circumstances J We proceeded in examining this case upon that assumption. What are the methods by which you could investigate the matter? The House of Commons is not without some experience of Commissions of this kind—I do not mean recently. The Attorney-General referred to the case of the Crimean War. What happened in the Crimean War? You had exactly the same charge of mismanagement, and exactly the same charge that, in consequence of that mismanagement, thousands of lives were lost. You have the House of Commons intervening in exactly the same way by appointing a roving committee. They condemned, I believe, certain officers by name. What happened?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
This Government was not in existence at the time of this Mesopotamian matter. Let us see what followed in the Crimean case. The next step was that a court-martial was set up to try these officers. The Army Council felt that they had a right to be heard, and the court-martial decided that it was not the officers who were to blame, but, I think, the Secretary to the Treasury. What was the result? Not merely the officers but the civilians escaped, and nothing happened.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
But why was that done? The reason was this: First of all you have the body of civilians blaming the soldiers, and the soldiers blaming the civilians. The soldiers set up their court-martial, and blamed the civilians. That is the very reason why the Act of last year was passed—in order to set up a mixed tribunal of civilians and soldiers. [An HON. MEMBER: "Oh, oh!"] That is exactly why the Act was passed last year, for which I was responsible. I knew the whole of the facts, and I refreshed my memory by reading the whole of the Debate, including the speeches on both sides, and there can be no doubt, as my right hon. Friend says, that it was a case 2372 in which soldiers and civilians were both implicated. Instead of going through the process of having one trial for civilians and another for soldiers, when one might have seen the soldiers acquitted by one Court and the civilians by the other, we had an Act of Parliament setting up a mixed tribunal, which would investigate the whole of the circumstances. Upon that tribunal was a learned judge and a Member of this House, and that was a tribunal, I am perfectly certain those who had read the whole of the circumstances would agree, which was adequate to the facts of the case. There is no trial in the ordinary sense of the term. In either case what happens is that if a civilian is involved in the circumstances of the inquiry into the conduct of officers, there is the same investigation into the conduct of civilians as into the conduct of the officers, and that is what actually happened in that case.
§ Sir J. SIMON
In that case, was it ever contemplated that punishment was to be administered to civilians?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
That is a totally different thing. I am certain if the right hon. Gentleman will see what the conditions were, he will realise that that is not a pertinent question, for this reason. No punishment was meted out by the Court of Inquiry at all, and as the result of the findings of the Court of Inquiry, the punishment in that case was meted out in one case by the Army Council
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I really forget what it was. There was punishment, but do not let us try two or three cases at the same time. With regard to civilians there was no punishment, because there was no offence known to the law of the land. The same thing applies in this case. What I say is that it was a complete inquiry into the conduct both of the civilian and of the soldier. The Court could not mete out punishment, but it found the facts, and stated what was the relative position of each of the parties. I have not the faintest doubt but that that is exactly what would happen in this case, if you are to have a properly constituted tribunal for finding out the facts, and for giving a full opportunity to all those concerned to state their case. The reason why the Government took that course was this. There is no other tribunal known to the law of the land by which you could 2373 investigate upon oath the whole of the facts relating both to civilians and to soldiers. My right hon. Friend, speaking as I thought on behalf not merely of him self but for those associated with him, said he preferred the second alternative. As far as the Government are concerned all they can do is to recommend this course to the House of Commons. That is their view, after as much time as it is possible to spare to consider a case of this kind in the middle of the prosecution of a great war. That is the course, after consulting all their advisers, which we thought desirable to recommend to the House of Commons. My right hon. Friend said he preferred the other alternative. The other alternative is a statutory tribunal appointed by the House of Commons. I think that the first course is still preferable, but if the House of Commons take the other view as they did yesterday—and that is now the view that my right hon. Friend takes to-day—
§ Mr. DILLON
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I addressed a question to the Leader of the House before the Debate opened to-day, in which he informed me that he was satisfied that the House preferred the second alternative, and that the Government had decided on that course?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
That is perfectly true, and that was my impression till I came to the House to-day. All I say is that, as far as the Government are concerned, if the House of Commons prefer the second alternative, we are perfectly prepared to submit proposals to the House to carry it into effect. If they think that that is the best method of getting at the truth, then, certainly, we are prepared to submit these, proposals.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
That we will consider. But I want to put quite clearly to the House why we recommend the first, and not the second. Of course, if the House should consider the second course better, we shall be perfectly prepared to assent to it. We want to make that perfectly clear—that so far as the Government are concerned, we have no desire to shield anyone who is culpable, or is the least to blame for the terrible catastrophe of Mesopotamia.
Just one word on the lines of the last appeal of the right hon. Gentleman. If I may say so respectfully, are we not in danger of losing our sense of proportion? [Interruption.] I am going to give my reasons. Here is the most critical stage in the world war. At this moment we have 20,000,000 of men interlocked in a deadly conflict. [Interruption.] I think I am entitled to a patient hearing.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I am making an appeal to hon. Members on a very important matter. I think I am entitled—
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I say there are 20,000,000 of men at this hour interlocked in deadly conflict for the future of the world. What has happened during the last few days? I am bound to tell the House. For two or three days you have had the Army Council, the chiefs of the Army, the War Cabinet, the House of Commons, and the House of Lords, all those who are engaged in the direction of this world-war in which the life of this country is concerned, discussing the method of dealing with the findings of the Commission which has nothing to do with the practical prosecution of the War.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
My hon. Friend has no right to say that to me I say it is true. I know what has happened. Twice a day the Army Chiefs have discussed this question—[An HON. MEMBER: 2375 "You have told us that before!"]—during a struggle in which the most momentous issues are involve. Let us take what has happened during the last fortnight? Two great events have happened in the last fortnight, upon which perhaps the fate of the world may depend. One is the great military revival in Russia. No one can tell what the meaning of that may be! What is the next? The next is the great struggle that is going on inside Germany for the democratisation of that country. Yet you might have imagined these were nothing! You have only to look at the columns of the Press, or the discussions going on, to think that there was one great thing on which the world depended, and that was the setting up of the tribunal for dealing with three or four men who undoubtedly may have been involved in this mismanagement, which, as my right hon. Friend said, is past. I will tell the House of Commons why I say this. I do not know whether it is a secret. But yesterday we were in the middle of a discussion. The shipowners of the country were meeting the heads of the Admiralty to discuss the whole question of protection against submarines. Never was there a more vital issue to the country, but in the middle of it we have to postpone it because there was a question of this sort. All I can say is that that is absolutely indefensible. I say so as one who has got a leading responsibility for the conduct of the War, and who, so far as I can, am thinking of nothing else. Why do I say this? There is another Report coming of another Commission. I do not know what it is. I do not know whether it is prepared, and I do not care. It has nothing to do with the conduct of the War, but in a few days it may be upon us. Are we again for a whole week to get the mind of every man who is prosecuting the War to consider questions of this kind? I do beg the House of Commons, for the House of Commons is responsible—I do not care about these comments in the Press The Press has no responsibility; the House of Commons has—I do beg the House of Commons to rise above these things, and to say to the Government. "Get on with the War!"
§ Commander WEDGWOOD
I think the Government is in a sense responsible and not the House of Commons. They initiated the discussion, and they turned it on to this question of what sort of tribunal should be set up to try people for offences with which nobody charges them. He 2376 says the Report of the Commission has absolutely no value for the carrying on of the War. I do not believe he has yet read the recommendations which were directed towards the better prosecution of the War. So far as I have heard the Debate, there have been one or two speeches on these benches—I refer particularly to the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Colonel Sir M. Sykes) and the hon. and gallant Member (Captain Herbert)—as to how the lessons learnt in Mesopotamia might be applied in other ways, but none has come from the Government. Of course, they have no time to read recommendations. When we get a Report brought forward everyone turns to the personal issues, and as to how it affects party. The question is, How can we set right the things that were wrong? That side of the Commission's Report is absolutely disregarded in the whole Debate. I am sorry to break off from that issue for a moment to deal with the insulting Motion on the Paper in the name of the hon. Member for St. Augustine's (Mr. R. McNeill). The hon. Member had an opportunity of making that charge against me in the Debate to-day, but he ran away from it. He has neither withdrawn his insinuation nor seen fit to substantiate it, and I say that is not correct conduct for a Member of this House.
§ Commander WEDGWOOD
The hon. Member had that Motion on the Paper, and runs away from the base charge he has made against me.
§ Commander WEDGWOOD
Besides the recommendations of the Report, and besides the charges which the newspapers and the tittle-tattle have seen fit to mock at, I believe that a Report of this sort is of real value in the conduct of the country's business. Hon. Members will remember that at the beginning of this War if you had anything to do with the War Office you found every member of that Department was condemned to prepare his dossier in case of inquiries which were to come after the War, They remember that in 2377 the South African War we had an inquiry. They remember that finance was the difficulty; that they had to be scrupulously careful as to how they carried on their financial business, and the result was that that inquiry has had its repercussion on the conduct of the War Office to this moment. I want this Report to have repercussion not only on the War Office, but on the general attitude of all our officers all over the Empire towards any future crisis that may come about. I think everyone will agree that the difficulty with which we have had to contend is that officials even in the War Office itself are tempted to look at every question that comes up from the point of view of how it will affect their position. That is a thoroughly bad way of looking at any vast problem which comes before you in time of national crisis. I think the Report of this Commission will tend to impress upon the people the importance of looking at these questions, not from a personal but from a national point of view. I am confident that if Lord Hardinge and Sir Beauchamp Duff had looked upon the matter in that spirit instead of the somewhat niggling and mean spirit which they employed, you would have had a far better co-ordination between England and India, and you would have had the effort made before which you have seen started only this last year. I want to refer particularly to what arose in India at the time of the advance on Ctesiphon. At that time the Government were willing to send a couple of divisions to help to hold Bagdad. Remember that the whole genesis of the advance on Bagdad came from India, and when they found that they could get assistance from the Home Government they immediately shut down their own efforts to help. As showing the spirit which had sway in India, I will read the following message from the Military Secretary to the Commander-in-Chief to the Military Secretary of the Viceroy. He said:It is proposed by the Chief that the forces he has named should be assembled for eventualities, but that the Home Government should not be informed of this. The Home Government are very anxious that Bagdad should be taken, and they will send us the required forces if we hold out, but they will give us nothing if the least sign of willingness to find reinforcements is shown by us.They showed not the least sign of willingness to do anything, and they held out while our last troops were being put in at Loos, and while Serbia was being overrun. That is the spirit we want to stop for all time. It is impossible to bring a criminal 2378 charge against an unnamed Military Secretary, who writes to another unnamed secretary. What we want to do is to so change public opinion that a man would be ashamed to put his name to a document like that in time of national emergency.
It is that spirit illustrated by the bureaucracy in India during this War which is, to my mind, far and away the most serious question brought forward by this Report. The spirit of putting India first—my own job first—and the nation second, is a spirit which will lose us every war in which we enter. I think that the spirit of bureaucracy in India has been peculiarly vicious, and I believe that the bureaucracy in India has had its views and has carried on this War in a way entirely different from the way we have conducted this War by bureaucracy here, sclely because they have been absolutely exempt from public criticism. If they had had a Press in India which would have been capable of saying to Lord Hardinge, "Why are you not organising munition works, and organising industries to supply the needs of Mesopotamia? Why are you not looking after medical comforts for the troops? Why has not Sir Beauchamp Duff gone to Basra"? If there had been a Press or public opinion in India capable of saying that and of exercising any sort of critical influence upon the Government, you would have had a very different result in Mesopotamia from what we have to-day. It is because that Government is entirely independent of criticism that they failed, and to my mind the most important thing is that we shall see in future that there is criticism— effective criticism—in every part of our Empire, just as there has been in England, in Australia, and in Canada. It is only by free and frank criticism you can ever make the bureaucracy live up to the efficiency for which it is given credit. Efficiency cannot come from bureaucracy alone; it roust be a bureaucracy which is checked and stimulated. Before I close I propose to say something about Lord Hardinge's criticism of me in the House of Lords the other day. He said that I condemned him unheard. I, of course, read with great care his examination by the rest of the Commission. I could not be present when he was examined because I was in America, but I read his examination and cross-examination and all the Blue Books he put before over forty in number. I felt that it 2379 would be possibly an injustice to Lord Hardinge if I made a Report which dealt with him in any way and did not state that I had not cross-examined him, and I therefore took the only open and proper course, in my opinion, by stating so in ray Report, so that those who read it would be able to attach to the fact that I had not cross-examined Lord Hardinge, proper and correct importance. Why I did not cross-examine Lord Hardinge was because until the Report of the majority was more than half way through I had not made up my mind to write a separate Report and I was working with the rest of the Commission. When I found I had to write a separate Report it was too late to recall Lord Hardinge. That is the explanation, and I thought it right to say that I had not done so; therefore any Report must be taken to that extent with caution, but anyone who will read my Report will see that it is not based in any way upon what other people say about Lord Hardinge. It is based absolutely on extracts from his telegrams, with the exception of those of Lord 2380 Crewe and Sir William Meyer; from Lord Hardinge's speeches and the measures he did not take to secure, Indian reform, but which were taken sub sequently to his leaving the Viceroyalty. There is nothing there which is not taken out of his own mouth, and I hope that those hon. Members who have read that Report will believe me when I say that against Lord Hardinge himself I have absolutely nothing. I do not know him, and I have absolutely no personal animosity against him whatever.
It being Five 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.
§ Wherepon Mr. SPEAKER Adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3.
§ Adjourned at Two minutes after Five o'clock