§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now Adjourn."—[Lord Edmund Talbot.]
§ Mr. ASQUITH
The sad intelligence that has just been communicated to us fills us with a sense of the sacrifices of war, and I hope it will bring to every one of us, as I am sure it does, a feeling of deep responsibility that we shall be worthy in our own way and our own degree, of the great examples which have to-day been set to us. The occasion of this Debate was the announcement to us, last week, of the proposed establishment of a new body, the Inter-Allied Council, and the arguments and considerations which were advanced by the Prime Minister, in his speech in Paris, in explanation of what he described as a new departure.
I should like to preface the observations which I am about to make by two general propositions which I hope and believe will secure, in this House and outside, universal assent. The first is that, in war, the ultimate responsibility for what is either done or left undone must rest on the shoulders of the Government of the day. They define the aims and the policy of the country, and it is the business of their expert advisers at home and in the field to counsel them as to the best strategical methods by which those aims can be achieved and that policy carried to a successful issue. If alternative methods are suggested by the experts, the statesman must choose between them with such judgment as he has, and, under our system of government, the joint judgment of himself and his colleagues. The cases are rare, very rare, when a statesman so situated will feel himself justified in adopting the plans which the experts condemn. There are such cases—cases when and where, at a particular moment, or in a particular situation, strategical considerations, important as they are, must be overridden by, and give place to, considerations of policy. But subject to these qualifications, politicians and members of the Government, who are lay persóns, are obliged, on technical points, to follow expert advice. 884 On the other hand, any attempt on the part of sailors or soldiers to dominate or deflect the policy of the country it is their duty authoritatively to veto. For the rest, the most they can do, indeed, all they can do, is to get the best men available, both to advise at home and to command on the seas and in the field, whose counsel will be given with the knowledge that if it turns out to have been ill-founded they may be brought to account.
My second proposition, like the former, is one which verges on the commonplace, and will, I think, be as widely accepted—that it is of vital importance, in a war such as this in which we are now engaged, that we should have intimate and frequent consultations between both the statesmen and the soldiers of the Allies, and as complete—I do not say unity, for that is a misleading word—but as complete co-ordination as the conditions of the case allow. That is a thing which is easy to say, but very difficult, as experience shows, to put into practice. The Allies now number, since the accession of the United States, six of the greatest Powers in the world. When the War began there were only four, and in Europe only three—France, Russia and ourselves. From the first, speaking as far as this country is concerned, and I know the same thing to be true of our Allies, from the first, and growingly, the importance of free and frequent consultation and concert was realised and in practice regularly acted on. As between ourselves and France, the situation comparatively has been an easy one. The distances are small, negotiations were easy. When it came to personal consultation with the representatives, either political or military, of Russia, spacial and geographical considerations came in and created difficulties. When in the spring of 1916 Italy joined the Allies, of course those difficulties correspondingly increased, and it is relevant to the subject we are going to discuss to-day to bear in mind that our enemy in this respect has had the advantage, and will continue to have the advantage, of which not even our best contrived schemes can possibly deprive him. It is not merely that they work upon interior lines, although that is an important consideration; it is not merely that, but, in point of fact, distinguishing reality from appearance, their movements are determined and governed by a single 885 authority. Austria and Turkey, one a great Power and the other the semblance of what was once a great Power, have no effective voice in the determination either of the political or of the strategic policy of the enemy. They have, therefore, complete unity to all intents and purposes, both of control and of command.
The fact that the enemy possesses that advantage makes it the more necessary and urgent that we should develop, by every possible means, certainly by every practicable means, our machinery of concert, consultation, communication, and co-ordination, and we should, therefore—and I believe I am speaking here the unanimous view of the House—welcome any scheme of rearrangement which provided—I will give an illustration—for more frequent personal meetings between the Chiefs of the General Staffs, both Naval and Military. That is not enough. Those Chiefs are busily preoccupied with the daily business of the War, and any arrangement of that kind, therefore, ought clearly to be supplemented by the appointment of liaison officers of high service rank, who in the intervals of such meetings between their Chiefs would maintain, and maintain continuously, free and constant intercourse, would serve as a permanent and an active clearing house for the interchange of information and comparison of plans, for the elimination of possible misunderstandings, and, above all, for the prevention of duplication and delay, and for the maintenance of coherent and interdependent strategy. But let me add, after the experience we have had of the War, I myself, I believe many others, and I am quite sure the Government, would strongly deprecate the setting up of any organisation which should either supersede or interfere with the unfettered activity and independent position, ris-à-ris their several Governments, of the General Staffs, or, again, which would in any way derogate from either the authority or the ultimate responsibility of each of the Allied Governments over its own forces and to its own people. I do not believe that anyone will contest any of the points which I have just ventured to lay down.
I will now, with the permission of the House, briefly look first at the plan which is proposed in itself, and then at one or two of the reasons which were urged by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in Paris for adopting it as a matter of vital, and I might almost say desperate, necessity. The first criticism 886 that appears to be relevant is that in a scheme which is to set right the errors and shortcomings of the past, and to secure complete unity of design, with due concert in direction of all the strategic resources of the Allies, there has been from the first, so far as we know, no place for any representation of naval opinion. We may be told—perhaps we. shall be told—that that can be and will be set right hereafter, but this is a very serious matter. The naval contribution to effective strategy cannot be treated as an afterthought or a postscript. It ought, in my opinion, from the very start, to colour, and in many most important aspects to dominate, the strategic methods and purposes of the War. This has been so from the beginning. There never was a war in which the interdependence of sea and land forces was more clearly demonstrated. There never was a war in which it was more apparent that you could not separate naval and military considerations into watertight compartments. And if that was the case—and it has been since the beginning of the War—I venture to think it is even more clearly the case now with our great kindred nation the United States, on the other side of the Atlantic, have happily come into the struggle. If anyone will try to imagine what the state of the War would have been by this time without our superiority on the sea, or if there had not been throughout, as I am glad to say there has been in this country and I think among the Allies generally, the closest consultation and concert between the naval and military authorities, he will realise the seriousness of these considerations.
A great deal is talked about the relative importance of the different theatres of land war. It is no exaggeration to say in a war such as this that the Navy enters, and enters often as a commanding factor, into every problem of strategy. A council of advisers consisting purely of a military staff is, I think, an imperfect authority, and with an impaired prospect, a necessarily impaired prospect, of real and effective coordination of resources. I hope we shall have some reassuring statement on that point. Apart from that omission, which I think as it stands is a grave one, I have endeavoured, as I hope I need not say, to look at these proposals without any bias or prepossession, but simply with the object of seeing how far the new machinery in the form proposed is likely 887 to conduce to the increased efficiency of the Allied prosecution of the War. In France I observe it has been hailed in some quarters, and very authoritative quarters, as the first and only the first step to a much more drastic change. Unity of control in their view is soon to develop into unity of command. I desire to read no such ulterior purpose. If I were compelled to do so I should be able, I believe, to submit to the House overwhelming arguments against it. I accept to the full the statement made by my right hon. Friend, in answer to a question I put to him last week, that the Council will have no executive power, but that the final decision, in all matters of strategy, will continue to rest with the Allied Governments. There are, however, still questions of an eminently practical kind about which there is, perhaps, necessarily for the moment, a good deal of obscurity. Let me illustrate that by putting two or three specific points. Is the military adviser of the new Council at Versailles to have an expert staff of his own, or is he—as is rather suggested in the answer which was given to me last week—to be dependent for his information upon what is communicated to him by the Intelligence Department here? That is a very important question. If there are to be two staffs, are they to cover the same ground? If not, how are their several territories or spheres to be demarcated? However cordial their relations, and however close their co-operation, how will it be possible in such a case to prevent duplication and delay? I need hardly point out in this connection that the staff here at home—I am speaking both of the Naval War Staff and the General staff of the Army—in perpetual, daily, and personal contact with the Departments, must always be in the best position to provide full, authentic, and accurate intelligence, and when, as is surely sometimes the case—it must happen so—the military adviser at Versailles and the General Staff, or the Army Council here at home—whichever it may be—come to different conclusions, which is to give way?
§ Mr. ASQUITH
I thought I heard my right hon. and learned Friend give an answer to that question. I think he said the War Cabinet. Quite true, of course! 888 The ultimate decision must be given by them, but in that case they would be in the position of a Minister or a Cabinet—it does not matter for this purpose which—who has two sets of expert advisers, giving two sets of expert advice. That is not a desirable, nor is it a very businesslike situation. I am certain, I need not say, that the eminent soldiers who are at the head of our Army would do their best loyally and successfully, and certainly without personal predilection or antipathies, to work out any scheme that the Government and Parliament may approve. Of that I am quite sure. But surely our governing aim should be that a new organisation of this kind should be simple, direct, and of such a kind as to avoid from the first all possible opportunities of friction or misunderstanding, and, above all, confused or divided responsibility. On all these points there is a genuine and widespread misapprehension, which it is one of the objects of this Debate, as I understand it, to see, if possible, dispelled. It cannot be disputed that some of those apprehensions are due, not so much to the scheme itself, as to the arguments and language with which it was launched last week in Paris. In substance—I do not think I am exaggerating when I say—they amount to a severe indictment of the general strategy of the Allies on the ground that it has been, in several capital instances, dilatory or misdirected, and that the valour and devotion of our soldiers, which I agree was fully and eloquently acknowledged, was used at the wrong time or in the wrong place. That is so serious a matter—and I think the House knows that I have eschewed, as I shall continue to eschew, all unnecessary controversy—that I think I would be failing in my duty if I were to pass it by.
The Prime Minister selected by way of illustration and in support of his charge, I think, four cases. Two of those cases were Serbia and Roumania, which happened when he and I, in our different degrees, were jointly responsible for the Government. The other two cases were those of Russia and Italy. They belong to the present year, 1917. In regard to Serbia and Roumania, I gather that the Prime Minister seems to think that if the Allies, instead of being immersed in the particular campaigns in which they severally had a special interest, had taken a larger view, and had withdrawn troops from other theatres of war to the Balkans, those two gallant little countries 889 might have been spared the catastrophes—I will not say catastrophes—but the calamities they have suffered. That is not the view which, in any case, was taken, so far as I know, by any military authority of weight in this country; nor is it the case, particularly in regard to Roumania, that these matters were not carefully, fully, and confidentially discussed between the four General Staffs of the Allies concerned. The proposition that there is only one front is a perfectly sound one. No one subscribes to that more heartily than I do; but one of the corollaries to that proposition is that you may often render the best service to an Ally at one end of the line by using for the moment your maximum force at the other end of the line. The experts may have been wrong. I do not claim any infallibility for them. I myself think they were right. That is a point that only history can decide. But to describe the decision come to, and the action taken, as it was described, as "an inconceivable blunder," I use temperate language when I say, is doing less than justice to the statesmen and soldiers of the Allies. Both Serbia and Roumania are still fighting—indomitably, magnificently, undefeated. And it will be one of the most sacred and imperious trusts laid upon the shoulders of the Great Powers, when the War comes to an end and the terms of peace have to be considered, to see that their future freedom and security is adequately assured.
My right hon. Friend went on to deal—and here I speak with a detachment almost as great as his own because I had ceased to have responsibility for the 'Government—with the year 1917. I must call attention to this matter, because I want information. I must also call attention to the language he used on this point. He said:When the military power of Russia collapsed in March, 1917, what took place? If Europe had been treated as one battlefield you might have thought that when it was clear that a great army which was operating On one flank could not come up in time, or even come into action at all, there would have been a change in strategy. Not in the least. Their plans proceeded exactly as if nothing had occurred in Russia …Whose plans? Who are "they"? I should like to know.Their plans proceeded as if nothing had occurred in Russia. Why? Because their plans were essentially independent of each other, and not part of a strategical whole.I should like some elucidation of that position, and I should like to ask this: 890 Supposing this new scheme had then been in operation, supposing we had had in the month of March, sitting at Versailles, an Inter-Allied Council of Prime Ministers, each accompanied by a colleague and by a military expert, supposing this thing had been in full operation and equipment in the month of March last, what could it have done, what would it have done either to prevent the outbreak of the Russian Revolution or to mitigate its consequences? The right hon. Gentleman has said he was not for the moment thinking of the Inter-Allied Council. I should be sorry myself to accept, or even to entertain, the hypothesis. If so, for the moment at any rate, he was regaling the good people of Paris with irrelevant rhetoric. I think he said earlier in his speech that it was time to come from rhetoric to reality. Then he went on — I am in an interrogative mood, and only want to know exactly what it means—he went on to deal with the case of Italy, and in regard to Italy he said:Russia had collapsed: Italy was menaced. … The Italian Front is just as important to France and to Great Britain as it was to Germany. Germany understood that in time. Unfortunately, we did not.Who are "we"? Apparently the Allied Powers, including Great Britain. Why did we not understand? It was not apparently for want of conference and want of consultation. A sentence or two afterwards my right hon. Friend tells us that he went to Rome and submitted a Memorandum—[An HON. MEMBER: "The usual Memorandum!"]—and apparently the very thing that was desired—the absence of which is alleged as the secret of all the errors and shortcomings and blunders of the. War—that very thing took place. There was a conference. I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman, Did the Italian Government, did the Italian General Staff, ask for assistance which was not given? Was there anything which they demanded which we were reluctant, or unable, to supply? Is it not the ease—I speak, of course, without any inner knowledge of the facts, but only from current report—is it not the case that up to the very eve of the German-Austrian attack on Italy, General Cadorna was full of confidence and serenity, and perfectly assured that he would triumph? I do not ask these questions in any controversial spirit, but I ask them in order to test these illustrations—to see whether or not the allegation that, throughout the War, and particularly in the early part of the 891 year 1917, the Allied strategy had broken down through the absence not only of foresight, but of consultation and conference with the various countries. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say:It is no use minimising the extent of the disaster (that is, the Italian disaster). If you do, then you will never take adequate steps to repair it. When we advance a kilometre into the enemy's lines, snatch a small shattered village out of his cruel grip, and capture a few hundreds of his soldiers, we shout with unfeigned joy. And rightly so, for it is a symbol of our superiority over the boastful foe, and a sure guarantee that in the end we can and shall win. But what if we had advanced 50 kilometres beyond his lines, made 200,000 of his soldiers prisoners, and taken 2,500 of his best guns, with enormous quantities of munitions and stores?It is new to me—it is a revelation to me—that the value and importance of a battle or a campaign can be gauged by kilometric scale. What is the implication of language like that? The suggestion surely is—and in that sense the language has been universally understood—that British blood and British bravery—and when I say British I, of course, include our Overseas Dominions—has been relatively squandered. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!" and "Hear, hear!"] Yes; relatively squandered on aims of minor moment—I shall be very glad to be corrected—when, with better strategy and a larger vision, and more complete co-ordination, it might have been more profitably spent elsewhere.
Now let me for a moment examine that hypothesis, and I will take for an illustration what my right hon. Friend calls "the bloody assaults on the Somme." Remember, this was a most critical moment of the War—the most critical moment certainly in the fortunes of the Western campaign. If Verdun had been permitted to fall, the results were simply incalculable. Talk of co-ordination! I assert, and I assert with knowledge, there never was a set of operations more carefully concerted than Sir Douglas Haig's aggressive on the Somme and the later stages of the French defence of Verdun. And they succeeded in their purpose. I agree, there is not very much to show for it in point of acreage, but if you look across, as you can now, the blasted woods and the cratered fields, dotted here and there with small graveyards of British soldiers from Delville to Bethune—these are not matters of arithmetic or mensuration—it is not too much to say that these bloody assaults saved the whole situation, and did at least as much as—I am not sure I should not be right in saying they did more than—anything in the whole of the War to damage the prestige of the German com- 892 mand and the morale of the German army. I do not doubt—though, as I have said, I have no inner knowledge—that there has been a similar co-ordination of effort in the latest phase of the campaign this year, which has resulted already in the capture, first, of Messines and Wytschaete, and now in the occupation of practically the whole of the Passchendaele region. We know that a fine French army under General Antoine has actively shared in these operations, and, unless I am very much mistaken, those operations have been intimately and directly connected, not only in point of time, but in point of purpose, with the seemingly independent and highly successful advance of our French Allies further south in the region of the Aisne and Chemin des Dames.
I cannot see in these instances—which, after all, are only symbols and illustrations—any proof that we are now called upon, for the first time, to realise in action the essential unity of the Allied front. Certain I am of this—certain as I stand here to-night—that if there had been an Inter-Allied Council, such as is now proposed, which was rightly guided and advised, it would never have presumed to veto either of the two great Western aggressives in favour of any adventure, however attractive, in any other theatre of the War. I say this, not in any spirit of wanton controversy—I say it because it is all-important that our soldiers—and not our soldiers alone, but the soldiers of our Allies—should not get the impression that, through carelessness, or indifference, or obstinacy on the part of their Chiefs, whether military or political, their lives are being wasted, their sufferings needlessly prolonged, and their heroism spent in vain. I am not suggesting that my right hon. Friend intended that, but, at any rate, it is an impression which ought not to get abroad. It is not so. They have done great things under great commanders, whom they, and we, trust. Greater things are in store for us.
Let me add one thing before I sit down. We do right—perfectly right—in good British fashion to acknowledge and profit by our mistakes, to be critical of our methods, to learn by experience, and to concentrate all the resources of the Allies by closely concerted counsel and action upon a common purpose. But let us, without undue boasting, at the same time recall the fact that we in this country have no reason to be ashamed of the contribu- 893 tion which we have made. We have kept the seas by our Navy, and maintained an ever tightening grip upon our enemy's supplies. We have here at home—and I am not now speaking of the Dominions—we have here at home expanded our fighting forces to seventy divisions. The original Expeditionary Force consisted of six. We have suspended voluntary service, we have taken on this very Western front, as we were told one day last week, in the course of the last twelve months more than 100,000 prisoners. We have placed freely at the disposal of our Allies our ćredit, our arsenals, our munition factories, our merchant shipping, and, in not a few cases, we have kept their armies and populations from actual want. And so we are ready to continue to the end.
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Lloyd George)
My right hon. Friend's speech divided itself, quite naturally, into two parts. The first was the practical, and therefore the more important question. The other half was the presentment of the case. With regard to the first, he examined the proposals in a calm and dispassionate way. I shall follow his example in that respect. I shall deal, before I come to the second part of his speech, with one or two criticisms which he offered on what, after all, is the most important part of what this House has to consider to-day, and that is the question as to whether it is desirable to secure greater unity of action amongst the Allies, and, if so, whether we have taken the right method to do so. That is far more important than anything I may have had to say either in Paris or anywhere else. With regard to the first part, I am glad that my right hon. Friend has made my task very much easier by practically accepting the premises upon which we based our action. He admits that there is a need for greater co-operation. I do not think he has denied that the mere machinery which has been adopted up to the present, the machinery which was adopted when he was Prime Minister and which I subsequently also adopted—and therefore there is no question of applying any particular blame to any particular Government—the machinery of conference and consultation between the Allies, has proved to be inadequate. What he does say is—and to that I shall come later on—that although the present machinery is inadequate, he does not accept my proposition that the Allies have suffered substantially for that reason. There I shall 894 join issue with him later on. I think we have suffered. We have suffered grievously. We have suffered, as I repeatedly stated in Paris, from no fault of any individual or any staff, but owing to the defects of the system, and that is the reason why I thought the time had come when we ought to effect a complete change in our methods of co-ordinating our business. My right hon. Friend stated that the enemy had an advantage—an undoubted advantage—from the possession of interior lines. That is a reason why we should do our best to overcome that by co-ordinating our efforts. Germany has won once through lack of co-ordination among the Allies. In the case of Frederick the Great his success, in spite of the overwhelming mass of material and men hurled against him, was attributable, in the main to the fact that the Allies never co-ordinated their campaign. It is essential that we should avoid these mistakes of the past, whether in this campaign or elsewhere.
May I just say, first of all, that any criticism which I directed against the past, any criticism upon which I based the action of the Government in proposing a change in our methods of common action, was not directed against any Staffs or any Commanders-in-Chief, either in this or in any other country. It is the business of the Commanders-in-Chief to look after their own particular fronts. It is riot their business to survey the whole field of operations throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa. It is quite as much as they can do to look after their own particular fronts. And what is true of General Sir Douglas Haig is true of General Petain, of General Cadorna, and of other Chiefs of Armies in the separate nelds of operations. May I just point out that the illustration upon which I dwelt most is the illustration of Serbia. That took place in 1915. Sir Douglas Haig was not then Commander-in-Chief; Sir William Robertson was not Chief of the Staff. There was a totally different Commander-in-Chief and a totally different Chief of the Staff, and there has been no suggestion that I was making any attack upon them. I was simply using the illustration in order to show the same common defect throughout the whole campaign of the Allies during the past three or four years, without any reference to individuals, but purely in order to prove that the lack of co-ordination amongst the Allies had 895 brought disaster on one or two occasions without any blame being attached to any particular Staff or Commander-in-Chief. For that reason the Allies, after a good deal of consultation, decided that it was desirable to take a step forward in the way of co-ordinating their activities. Who was the first to suggest the idea? It is rather important that I should inform the House, because there has been a good deal of suggestion—my right hon. Friend has not made himself responsible for it here—a good deal of suggestion outside that this is an attempt to interfere with the Staffs—an attempt on the part of civilians to interfere with the soldiers. Who was the first to suggest a Council of this kind? Lord Kitchener. I have taken the trouble to look up the records. In 1915 Lord Kitchener proposed it, almost in the very terms in which I recommended it in Paris. That was in 1915, and I have no hesitation in saying if his advice had been carried out—I admit there were difficulties then, and it is easier to do it now than in 1915—but if his advice in 1915 had been carried out by all the Allies, I say, without any hesitation, we should have been further forward. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why was it not?"] I do not want to go into that. Again I say it is easier to do it to-day than it would have been in 1915. After all, the Allies met with difficulty and disasters, which came out of a lack of common action. That is really what has made possible now what might have been utterly impossible in 1915.
The second time it was proposed was in July this year, at a meeting of the Commanders-in-Chief. I forget whether all were there, but all the Chiefs of Staff were. At any rate, Sir William Robertson, General Pershing, General Cadorna, and General Foch were there. They recommended, as a means for dealing with the situation, the setting up of an Inter-Allied Council. Their proposal was "the realisation of unity of action on the Western Front by the help of a permanent Inter-Allied military organisation, which will study and prepare the rapid movement of troops from one theatre to another." When it is suggested that all this is a device on the part of civilians to get control of strategy, I am glad of this opportunity which has been afforded me to quote the authority of these great soldiers, as proof that the initiation of the suggestion came from them in the first instance, and not from politicians.
896 5.0 P.M.
I come to the second point. Having agreed that it is desirable to get some sort of central authority, in order to co-ordinate—I use the word my right hon. Friend used: there is no better—what is the best method of doing it? He examined three alternatives. I am in complete agreement with him in his views with regard to the first two. The first has been put forward in very responsible quarters, and that is the appointment of a Generalissimo—a Generalissimo of the whole of the forces of the Allies. I agree with him. Personally I am utterly opposed to that suggestion, for reasons into which it would not be desirable to enter. It would not work. It would produce real friction, and might really produce not merely friction between the Armies, but friction between the nations and the Government. The second suggestion is a suggestion which finds favour, not merely in France but in America. America, Franc?, Britain, and Italy, have agreed to join in this Allied Council, but as far as I am able to gauge American opinion, by the criticisms which have appeared in responsible newspapers, America would have preferred a Council with executive powers — with greater powers. That is a criticism in France—the criticism is not that we have gone too far, but that we have not gone far enough. There has been no criticism in any Allied country on the ground that we have gone too far; it has been entirely for a different reason. There are reasons why I think it would be undesirable to set up a Council with full executive authority unless the Allies are absolutely driven to it by the failure of the present experiment. It is undoubtedly a delegation of power from Governments to representatives of theirs sitting, perhaps, in France. I think it would be a mistake to go so far, unless it is found that difficulties are placed in the way of the working of the present experiment; and with good will, and that is essential, with co-operation on the part of all those concerned, with the readiness to throw everything over, to submerge everything to the one desire to win victory for the common cause, I have no doubt that if the first should fail, we should be driven to the second.
What is the last alternative? The last alternative is the one we have adopted, a Council representative of all Allied countries with technical advisers drawn from all the Allied Armies to help the various Governments to co-ordinate their efforts. 897 That is the present proposal. What are the advantages of the present proposal—what are the advantages of this proposal over the present and existing system? The first is that the information which is at the disposal of each of the Allied Staffs would then be at the disposal of this central council. Nominally that is so now, but it is only nominal. You have a system of liaison officers. My right hon. Friend suggested that you should have something in the way of liaison officers. That is the present system, and I do not believe that any General Staff would say that it has at its disposal now all the information which is possessed by every General Staff even with regard to their own front, let alone with regard to the enemy. This central body will have distinguished representatives of each Army upon it. Each of these representatives will be supplied with information from his own General Staff. They will, therefore, be able in the first instance, to co-ordinate information, and information is the basis of good strategy.
What is the second point? They would sit continuously; it would be a permanent body. If the House will recollect those are the very words used by the soldiers in that document which I have read to them, when they recommended the setting up of a central permanent organisation. Permanency is an essential part of it. Why do I say so? The present system is a sporadic one, where you have meetings perhaps once every three or four months, barely that—there is only one meeting a year between the whole of the staffs; that has been the rule—for the purpose of settling the strategy of the Allies over the whole of the battle front, which extends over thousands and thousands of miles of front, with millions of men in embattled array upon those fronts. A single day, with perhaps a morning added! No generals, however great their intuition, no generals, whatever their genius, could settle the strategy of a year with a sitting which will only last over five or six hours. Utterly impossible! Therefore, it is an essential part of the scheme that this body should be permanent, that they should sit together day by day, with all the information derived from every front before them, with the view to co-ordinating the plans of the General Staffs over all the fronts.
The third point is that it will be the duty of this central body to survey the whole 898 field, and not merely a part of it. It may be said that each General Staff does that at the present moment Well, in a sense they are bound, of course, to consider not merely their own front, but other fronts as well, but it is a secondary matter. They naturally do not devote the same study to it, and there is always a delicacy on the part of any General Staff when it comes to interfere with the sphere of another General Staff and another general. It is quite natural that they may say, "It is quite as much as we can do to look after our own particular front." There is a delicacy even in making suggestions. I could give an answer about the Italian Front. It is very difficult to give answers about these matters without saying something which will hurt perhaps an Ally, but my right hon. Friend asks me questions about what General Cadorna had said. I am not sure that I can answer him unless he presses, and I do not want to be pressed about it. I would rather not, because there is a good deal to be said about that, and a good deal to be said about our view regarding the position of the Italian Army, and that is much more important from the point of view of this Council—what we thought, not what General Cadorna thought—but it was a view which we could not press. We were not responsible for the Italian Front, and that is exactly the advantage of a Central Council. At a Central Council we should have had just as good a right to urge things we knew or suspected or believed about the Italian Front as we would about our own—not my view, not the view of the politician, but the view of our soldiers. The Italian Government knew something about it, but, naturally, Sir William Robertson could not go pressing things in respect of another front beyond a certain point.
If there were a Central Council sitting at Versailles, Sir William Robertson could press these considerations through the representatives of the Governments, and force the consideration of them. We got consideration of them, but it was rather late; and that is one of the difficulties of the whole system. You could not do it. There was a sort of feeling that that front "is not my business." That must come to an end if you are going to ensure victory. And what proves it is this: The Italian Front is important to our front. See what has happened. There is a collapse on the Italian Front. We have to rush off there, and the French have to rush off there, in order to retrieve the disaster. 899 Does not that affect our plan of operation on our own front? Of course it does. So that, therefore, our concern with the Italian Front is not merely with the Italian Front alone, because whatever happens there affects our front as well. That is why we have come to the conclusion that the mere machinery of liaison officers, the mere machinery of occasional meetings of Ministers, of occasional meetings of Chiefs of the Staff one or twice a year is utterly inadequate, utterly inefficient for the purpose of securing real co-ordination, and that you must have a permanent body which would be constantly watching these things, constantly advising upon them, constantly reporting upon them to the Government—whether it is our front, the French Front, the Italian Front, or the Russian Front.
I come to the next point put by my right hon. Friend with regard to the Navy. I quite assure my right hon. Friend that the representation of the Navy here is not an afterthought. It is essential that all the information with regard to naval operations and co-operations—it is essential that these military advisers should have someone there constantly in touch with them to inform them about that. It is a different thing from a Naval Council to co-ordinate naval strategy. There is a good deal to be said for that. We are suffering even in that sphere, as anyone who knows what has been happening in the Mediterranean can tell. There is as great an argument for setting up similar councils for dealing with naval strategy as there is in the case of the Army, but that is a different thing to having a naval representative present to inform the military advisers upon all naval questions bearing upon military operations. That has already been provided by my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty (Sir Eric Geddes), and that is one of the first things I saw him about when I came back from this Conference.
My right hon. Friend (Mr. Asquith) wanted to know whether they would have an expert staff of their own, or whether they would be dependent upon information supplied by the staff? I think they are dependent upon the information supplied by the individual staffs. You cannot set up there a rival organisation; it would be utterly impracticable and thoroughly mischievous. We have about the best Intelligence Department probably in Europe, with one of the most 900 distinguished soldiers in the Army at the head of it, and I have no doubt at all that they have got a very fine organisation of the same kind in France. I do not knew so much about the organisation in Italy or Russia, and America has had no time probably to work out a similar organisation. At any rate, the information will be supplied by the staffs—I mean by the national staffs, by the Chief of the Imperial Staff in our own case, by the French, the Italian, the Russian, and the American staffs. The only staff you require there will be the staff necessary to co-ordinate the information which comes from the various staffs. One man could not possibly do that, because the information is gigantic. It is not the collection of it, but when you have got it you have to sift it. You have to apply it to the problems in front of you, and you have to co-ordinate the information from one staff with the information which comes from another staff
My right hon. Friend said, "Supposing you get different advice?" That is a danger which you are now running. After all, my right hon. Friend knows perfectly well that he does not get the same advice from every Army, and that Governments have constantly to reconcile things of that sort. I could recall to him—but I do not want to do so—two or three cases where he had to do it with the aid of the Cabinet, where he had to overrule, to coordinate, and to modify repeatedly. That is not a new problem. If you have separate staffs already in practically the same great campaign, there are constantly questions of that kind which require co-ordination. The advantage of this body is that, instead of the Cabinet doing it you have a body there that helps them to do it. It is to remove possibilities of friction, because there you have a body sitting at the centre, with information that comes from every General Staff. If there are any differences of opinion among the various armies—I do not mean our Armies, but between our Armies and the advisers of other armies—then you have a body there that helps the Government to co-ordinate questions, to smooth difficulties, and to work agreement among the various views submitted for consideration, not to this Government, but to every other Government I have seen sitting in this War. But, as my right hon. Friend said, the final decision must remain with the Government. That is the case now. There will be no change after this has 901 been done. Now I think I have answered the three questions addressed to me by my right hon. Friend.
Let me now come to the more controversial part of my right hon. Friend's speech. He has challenged some things I have said in Paris. Let me say at once about that speech that I considered it carefully. I see it is suggested that I was assisted by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Munitions (Mr. Churchill). As a matter of fact, that speech was written and handed over to be interpreted before I saw the right hon. Gentleman. I never altered a comma after I had seen it, and he never knew what I was going to say until he heard me at that particular meeting. He happened to be there, that is all, and naturally this has been worked up into a sort of web of suspicion. He had absolutely nothing to do with it. But let me say this. If that speech was wrong, I cannot plead any impulse. I cannot plead that it was something I said in the heat of the moment. I had considered it, and I did it for a deliberate purpose. I have seen resolutions for unity and for co-ordination. Where are they? You might as well throw them straight away into the waste-paper basket. Lord Kitchener tried it on the 28th of January, 1915. I have seen other schemes by Monsieur Briand and my right hon. Friend. Somehow or other they all came to nought, because naturally you got the disinclination of independent bodies to merge their individualities in a sort of common organisation. It is inevitable, and I was afraid that this would end in the same sort of way.
We went to Rapallo with a document most carefully prepared, and may I say also, in order to explode another myth, that it was submitted to the Cabinet before I left. The document which was passed was hardly different—of course we had to discuss things with our Allies—but in substance it was a document prepared here, discussed line by line in the Cabinet, which I had in my pocket after the last Cabinet meeting held a few hours before I left. But I was afraid of this, that here was a beautiful drafted document in which you had a considerable number of men, including distinguished soldiers—for a member of the General Staff was one who was most helpful to me in drafting the document—prepared, and carried by the Allies at two or three conferences. Nothing 902 happened. Simply an announcement in the papers that at last we had found some means of co-ordination. There has been too much of that, and I made up my mind to take risks, and I took them to arouse public sentiment, not here merely, but in France, in Italy, and in America—to get public sentiment behind, to see that this document became an Act.
It is not easy to rouse public opinion. I may know nothing about military strategy, but I do know something of political strategy, and to get public opinion interested in a proposal, and to convince the public of the desirability of it is an essential part of political strategy. That is why I did it, and it has done it. I might have gone over there and delivered a speech—passing eulogies upon the Armies, upon generals, upon Governments, and upon peoples; and they would have said—probably civility would have made them say it—"That is a-very fine and an eloquent speech." But it would not have had the slightest effect. So I set out to deliver a disagreeable speech, that would force everybody to talk about this scheme. They have talked about it, throughout two or three Continents, and the result is America is in, Italy is in, France is in, and Britain is in, and public opinion is in—and that is all I wanted. Of course, it is suggested: "You are blaming your own country." But I was not.
My right hon. Friend said there were four illustrations. Very well; I take the four—Serbia, Roumania, Russia, and Italy. France was just as much responsible for that as we were—just as responsible, but no more. Italy is surely responsible. It was not a pleasant thing for Italy for me to remind them that they had lost 2,500 guns. It was more pleasant to us to say that we had captured a kilometre than to say to Italy she had lost 200,000 prisoners. It was disagreeable all round, but it was absolutely necessary. Otherwise you would not have got them to think about it, and to give the necessary impetus and force to it which has been given, as the result of the discussion which has taken place throughout the whole of this country. They would not have discussed the Rapallo agreement. It would have just passed, and I know what would have happened to it then. I did not want that to happen. I wanted this thing to be a reality; otherwise it was no good. All this talk about "Easterners" and "Westerners" is balderdash. The field 903 is north, south, east and west, and our business is to bring pressure upon the enemy from every point of the compass, and to inflict hurts upon him where you can. That is our business, and that is why we want a Central Council which will examine the whole field of operations, not merely a part, where the advice of England and her generals can be given when required, and the advice of others can be given to us. We need every brain; we need all the experience; we need all the help, and they need it, and their need is greater than ours at the present moment. We want victory as soon as we can get it, but I do not want the whole burden to fall upon Britain; and I therefore want an Inter-Allied Council that will so order the whole field of battle that the whole resources of the Allies shall be thrown into the conflict, in order to bring pressure to bear upon the enemy.
My right hon. Friend has challenged my history. Well, that will be decided one day. I am not afraid of it. Serbia! If the troops that we sent out had been there six weeks earlier, we would not have had the Balkan tragedy. But I do not want to discuss that. I have already said what I have to say about it, and I do not withdraw one single syllable. Let me say one other thing, and I say it, not because my right hon. Friend said anything, but because his Friends have been saying it. Really, when I see in certain quarters, "Hands off the Army!" it makes me feel as if I were crossing the Channel in a torpedo-boat destroyer on a choppy sea. I will lay down two propositions, and I defy any man to challenge them. The first is this: No soldiers in any war have had their strategical dispositions less interfered with by politicians. There has not been a single battalion, or a single gun moved this year except with the advice of the General Staff—not one. There has not been a single attack by British troops ordered in any part of the battlefield except on the advice of the General Staff—not one. There has not been a single attack not ordered. The whole campaign of the year has been the result of the advice of soldiers. Never in the whole history of war in this country have soldiers got more consistent and more substantial backing from politicians than they have had this year. What do I mean by "backing"? I do not mean "backing" 904 in speeches. I mean backing in guns, backing in ammunition, backing in transport, shipping, railways, supplies, and men. Speeches are no substitute for shells.
I have only twice during this War acted against the advice of soldiers. The first occasion was with the gun programme. I laid down a programme which was in advance of the advice of soldiers and against it. They thought that I was manufacturing too many and was extravagant. They thought that they would not be necessary, and that they could not man them. I took a different view, and there is not a soldier to-day who will not say that I was right. I was told that I was mad. That, I think, was the word used. There were the same attacks in the Press. What was the second occasion? The second case where I pressed my advice on soldiers against their will was in the appointment of a civilian to re-organise the railways behind the lines—my right hon. Friend (Sir E. Geddes) —and I am proud to have done it. There is not a soldier now who will not say that he is grateful that I pressed my advice, in spite of the attacks in the Press that I was "interfering with soldiers." That is when these attacks appeared first. Apart from the great and matchless valour of our troops—and, in spite of everything that has been said, no man has used warmer or more deep-felt words of gratitude and admiration for them than I have—and the skill in the disposition of our soldiers, what are the two most conspicuous features in the great attacks in Flanders? The first is the overwhelming mass of artillery and ammunition. The second is the fact that the whole of the supplies are running right into the firing line by the arrangements made by my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty. I am the last man in the world to deprecate those great achievements on the Western Front, because, humbly, I claim a small share in them.
I am not going here to define what the function of the politician is, and what the function of the soldier is, but do not make any mistake. You want both—policy and strategy; they are inextricably interwoven. There are things which belong purely to the sphere of the soldier, and the politician who meddles in them is mischievous, absolutely mischievous. He is meddling with things that he cannot possibly understand, because it takes a lifetime to under- 905 stand them. There is a sphere which is purely political, and the soldier who meddles with it is just as mischievous as the politician who meddles with strategy, because he is meddling with something which requires years of training. Everybody thinks that he can edit a newspaper and become a statesman without any training or experience. Everybody says, "I could show these politicians how to do things." I should like to see some of those gentlemen here for five or ten minutes. We would show them that even politics is an art that requires experience. But there is a vast sphere in war which is partly political and partly military. Supplies, transport, shipping, distribution of man-power, diplomacy—surely a vital part of your war considerations—the morale of the people—all these things are political even more than they are military, and to sort of divide people into politicians and soldiers in war is unscientific. It is stupid. It shows a lack of knowledge of what war really means. What you want is the co-operation of both. Let them work together, and the men who would try to separate them, to divide them and to foster disunion among them, are traitors to their country. I care not whether it is done for personal rancour or for political ends. It is equally treasonable. We have got to go on, and that is one reason why I am looking forward to co-operation not merely between civilians and soldiers, but between Allies and Allies.
Here again I utter one word of warning. I see paragraphs written by people who write recklessly, without knowing the mischief that they are doing, "You are doing this in order to put us and our Armies under France," thereby fostering suspicion of France. Why, Germany is lavishing money to create suspicion, distrust, and jealousy of England in France, Italy, Russia, and America. There is one country where they have conspicuously failed to move a single peasant to anything but heartfelt gratitude for what this country has done, and that country is France. Are we to tolerate men in this country who, without fee or reward, but purely for political or personal reasons, are disseminating distrust and jealousy of France in the breasts of Englishmen? I say we ought to stop that business. Since I have been in this War I have striven to get not merely co-operation between Allies, but something more—friendship, goodwill, comradeship. I have 906 done my best to make those people our friends. That is the secret of our success. [An HON. MEMBER: "How about Russia?"] Certainly with Russia, at the risk of a good deal of misrepresentation from the friends of the Army down there [pointing to the Opposition Benches below the Gangway]. It is essential that you should have this perfect good will. The idea that poor France, trampled upon, with so many of her sons lost to her for ever—more than I care to tell this House—with her richest provinces torn from her, should want anything except emancipation from this deadly menace that has threatened her for fifty years! That is all she seeks, and I do hope, whatever happens to this controversy, that at any rate they will keep their hands and their tongues and their pens from trying to foster suspicion, jealousy, and distrust between France and ourselves. If we act together, I have no fear of what will happen. I saw anxieties on the horizon, and I never concealed them, because it is better to tell the people what is going on. But I see no anxieties that would modify for one moment my confidence. There are but two fears, two things that can defeat us. There was the submarine menace, which might have done it. I agree that the command of the sea which we have won is what enables the Allies also to win. If that had been wrenched from us by the submarines, then, indeed, our hopes would have been shattered. But I have no further fear of the submarine. We are on its track. I am glad to be able to tell the House that on Saturday we destroyed five of these pests of the sea. What is the other fear? Lack of unity is the only thing that could distress us. I support every scheme that brings unity, every scheme that will help unity. It is the only road to victory, real victory, lasting victory—a victory that will bring peace, and that will bring healing to a world bleeding and grief-laden.
§ Admiral of the Fleet Sir H. MEUX
Any hon. Member of this House who read the Prime Minister's speech in Paris will admire the rapidity with which he has taken up a very different position. The Council which we were told was to be a Supreme Council is what everybody objected to, because a Supreme Council would be given real power. The Council of which we are told to-day nobody can object to, because it has no power at all. It cannot go behind the backs of the Army Council, and it is a totally different thing 907 from what we were told it was going to be. What has all the magnificent political talk we have had in the last ten minutes to do with the original scheme? Do you suppose that Lord Kitchener would ever have approved of a scheme for a Supreme Council which could order him about? Never! Everybody will be very glad - to hear that the idea of putting our Army under other generals, or other Armies under our generals has been given up. You have only to consider such a proposal to see that it is absolutely impossible. What we require is not unity of command, but unity of purpose. I am sure the majority of Members of this House and the country were surprised to gather from the speech that we have not had that unity. Why are Ministers continually going over to Paris? Is it because there is more petrol? I will now speak about the Navy. The Prime Minister is very unfortunate indeed; he is always forgetting the Navy. He did not mention the Navy in his speech in Paris.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I beg the hon. and gallant Gentleman's pardon. That shows that my hon. and gallant Friend is criticising something he never read. If he will only look at it, he will find that there is an allusion to the Navy and the command of the sea there.
§ Sir H. MEUX
I am in the recollection of the House that the Prime Minister to-day did not mention the Navy. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] The House will recollect that when the right hon. Gentleman made his great speech when he assumed his present high office he spoke for two hours and never mentioned the Navy at all until I drew his attention to it. I was sitting behind him. He will remember that. His omissions in regard to the Navy are very unfortunate in that particular. In his speech a few weeks ago praising the Army and Navy he mentioned General Haig and somebody else, I think, but he never mentioned either Sir David Beatty or Sir John Jellicoe. I would ask, Was that an intentional omission? What made it more curious was that the omission—I think I am correct in saying this—was also perpetrated by the Leader of the other House. It was only when the late Prime Minister drew attention to the omission that the Prime Minister applauded. Whatever operations are undertaken in any part of the world by the Army must depend to a very large extent on the assistance given by the 908 Navy. Operations in Mesopotamia, Palestine, and Greece depend altogether on what tonnage the Navy can spare and the protection afforded against submarines. Even in Italy the naval assistance in the Adriatic is not to be despised. I imagine that everybody in the House must admire the gallant manner in which the troops of King Victor Emanuel are withstanding the hordes of the Emperor of Austria, and those who remember their Shakespeare will recall how the Orlando, in a celebrated encounter, defeated the wrestler Charles and sent him slinking and limping back to his own country. I know it is against the old tradition, but in war-time men are more important than measures. What has been upsetting the Navy very much is the Press campaign that has been inflicted on the First Sea Lord. This would not matter very much, but that the papers who have been prominent in attacking the First Sea Lord are well known to be friends of the Prime Minister. He informed us just now that political strategy required the assistance of the papers. I should like to know whether the Prime Minister approved of these attacks on Sir John Jellicoe?
§ Sir H. MEUX
Did the Prime Minister disapprove of them? If so, why did he not stop them? The First Sea Lord is not a member of this House or of the other House; he cannot answer when he sees these attacks on him from day to day. Where is the Defence of the Realm Act? Why do you not stop these things? They are cruel, cowardly and contemptible attacks—contemptible because they were untrue and founded on ignorance, and cowardly because he could not answer them. What was the cause of these attacks? Because he would not support mad schemes, such as entering the Baltic Sea and attacking the coast of Flanders. The Prime Minister told us that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee (Mr. Churchill)—I am sorry to have to mention his name, because he is not here—had nothing to do with this written-out letter. [HON. MEMBERS: "It was a speech!"] It was a written-out speech. We have not seen the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee just lately, but in war-time it is just as well to speak the truth, and the whole truth. The Prime Minister tells us we should tell the people the truth about the War. I propose to do it—it is not usual here—it is 909 too important to mince matters. It is well known to the Army and the Navy that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee is in close personal friendship and contact with the Prime Minister. It is also well known in the Army that he is not a "Westerner," as it is called, and it is also well known in the Navy—too well known—what his ideas on naval strategy are. It causes the gravest alarm and distrust of the Prime Minister that he should be supposed to be influenced by the right hon. Gentleman. With regard to entering the Baltic, the hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs), who, I believe, is also in the Prime Minister's confidence, wrote the other day that the opportunity to attack the Germans in the Baltic was a God-sent opportunity that was missed. It is on the grounds that the First Sea Lord would not submit to these things and because, unfortunately, at first he was not able to entirely destroy the submarine menace—nobody could ever do it—that he has been scandalously attacked. Does anybody give him any credit for the fact that there were five sunk last Saturday? Nobody. But there are some who try to turn him out.
In my opinion this House is tired of the intrigues that are going on and the newspaper intrigues. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. A. Henderson) told the House some months ago—I suppose he knows, I do not—that the Prime Minister worked the Press. It is a very bad thing for the country. It is all very well, but the people do not want a Prime Minister who is also working the Press. The best way he can treat the English Press is to trust it, not to toady to it or attempt to tamper with it. All these intrigues and interferences with the Army and Navy, which I have no doubt were attempted, whatever may be said, must cease. To set the Army and the Navy against politicians is not in any way my intention. I thoroughly agree with what the late Prime Minister said as to the functions of the Army and the Navy, but I do not think we could possibly say that any of the admirals or generals have in any way attempted to affect the policy of the War. The Army and the Navy are absolutely and always loyal to their political chiefs, and I do not think it is too much to ask that their political chiefs should be absolutely and thoroughly loyal to them. We 910 hear of nothing to-day but the beauties of democracy, and real democracy, yes; but what a word to use! There was a great man who once said that patriotism was the last refuge of a scoundrel. I believe it might equally be said that democracy is the ante-room of a tyrant, and remember that tyranny is the mother of injustice.
I hope my hon. and gallant Friend will forgive me if I do not follow him through the fields of naval strategy. I think even he, although he has failed to appreciate the Prime Minister's remarks, will have appreciated them by contrast with what I gather he found more faulty, namely, the right hon. Gentleman's remarks in. Paris. I only wish to make a few observations first upon what I think is the frame in which the House has been called upon to consider the two matters which are before it. Those two matters, of course, are the coordination desired and the machinery devised to produce it. And this is the difficulty of the situation, that each has to be considered in what I call the frame or the Paris speech. With regard to coordination, the Prime Minister was, of course, preaching entirely to the converted. I do not suppose there is a single Member in the House who disagreed, or would have been the least tempted to disagree, with any one of the arguments with which he urged the supreme necessity for us all doing whatever we could to practise as well as preach and make effective coordination. It is the machinery which may be questioned, and it is, the perspective of the speech in Paris which has given cause for anxiety, and, as I know from personal communications, caused a considerable amount of disquiet to the troops serving in France. But no unprejudiced person would fail to make allowances, in spite of what the Prime Minister said as to the precise effect produced upon different people often in opposition to what the speaker at the moment desired. In the Prime Minister's view the disasters from which we have suffered have been due to lack of military co-ordination—in other words, to faulty strategy, in so far as he has told us this afternoon, and to the fact that we failed to see the War whole. Without any claim to special knowledge, I should have rather felt—and I think many would agree—that a great many of our worst disasters have been due to lack of political rather than of military 911 co-ordination. It might quite truly be said that while on the military side the attack on the Western Front in 1915 saved Russia and the Russian offensive in the early summer of 1916 was accelerated and had the effect of relieving the pressure on the Italians, and, as we heard this afternoon, the Somme directly saved Verdun, against that, on the political side, it is not untrue to put Serbia as a charge against politicians; and Roumania, as I have always heard it described, against political influences rather than faulty strategy on the part of the soldiers, and, in my own mind, I have no doubt that the Russian collapse and the disaster in Italy were far more due to faults of statesmanship in those countries than to any faults of military strategy. That, I think, most people would accept.
There is a great danger—I feel it more and more every day in this War; perhaps more since one has been home than when one is abroad—of anybody in a responsible position lending any colour to the public demand for a victory every morning. This War is of such a type that it is not easily understood of the people—a war of attrition, a slow thing, without anything spectacular or dramatic very often about it, and we must all be on our guard against doing or saying anything which makes it more difficult for the ordinary people to appreciate the real work that is going on when there is nothing much spectacular to show for it. But it is exactly what I call the perspective of the Paris speech that has made ordinary people, and not intriguers, doubtful of the wisdom of the precise form of the machinery that the Prime Minister proposes. I take it that it is unarguable that as the politicians are responsible to the country for the conduct of the whole War, so, of course, their military advisers are responsible to the politicians who are entrusted with government for the advice that they give as to military policy, and the only true doctrine for the politicians—I repeat this, as it is as well to be repeated and made clear—is that if they cease to think their military advisers are giving good advice they have no alternative but to get other military advisers, whom they can trust and work with. There is, and there can be no such possibility—I know it is not intended now—as having two sets of military advisers. If on the military side this policy appears to contain elements of doubtful reasoning, and if it 912 is mainly (as I think) political co-ordination that we lack, and have lacked, I should have preferred very much to see this Council in its composition maintained and kept frankly civil—mainly the Prime Minister and his colleagues, accompanied by responsible officers of the General Staff—and on the military side a responsible liaison between the responsible staffs and the allied countries once a fortnight, or once a month—whatever might be thought necessary—which would altogether give you what you want, and it would have to my mind this advantage, that it would save all the redundance which, in spite of what the Prime Minister said, I suspect will be found to be unavoidable between intelligence and liaison; and it will also save all the possibilities of mischief which appear to me to be latent or potential in the scheme as it at present stands. From the Army point of view the point of the present scheme is that it seems to have the effect of putting junior officers in the position of reporting direct to the politicians over the heads of their superiors in the field; and it would seem at least essential—this may be intended—that it should be cleared up: that at the same time that these military advisers make their reports to the Supreme War Council they should also make them directly to their own military superiors. That is a point which should be made clear, in everyone's interest.
We are all agreed upon the essential desirability of co-ordination. No one needs to remind anyone who has thought about it of the difficulties with which that task is surrounded, for an alliance, and most of all an alliance such as ours. Everything comes back to the method by which we can do it. What is it that has produced this so-called political crisis in the last four or five days? It is not really what has been proposed, it is not really the method in which it was proposed to carry it out, but it is these two things together, aggravated by the use to which in irresponsible quarters they have been put. I had not been in the House of Commons for an hour the other day before I was made grimly aware that there were two sections actively at work. One was at work with some subterrannean influence, using the cry of "Better co-òrdination," to attack the responsible military advisers of the Government, and there was another using the cry of "Trust the soldiers" to attack and undermine the position of the Prime Minister. I find myself in the 913 curious position, which I hope is shared by a good many people, of wanting to keep at once the Prime Minister, my Chief of the Imperial Staff, and my Commander-in-Chief in France, thereby reconciling the two opposing sections. I only mention that to show hon. Members who are not familiar with it already that the most honest motto may cloak a very dishonest motive, unconsciously very often with many, but consciously sometimes with some. And do let us keep this in our minds. At this moment we are, perhaps, in the period of the greatest strain of the War. That demands your greatest effort. Is not any dispersion of energy absolutely hopeless and perfectly indefensible? And, when unity is essential, the influence of some of our journalistic friends who divide men, wittily enough but unfortunately, into those who fight and those who talk, otherwise those who think and those who do not, as they put it, is essentially mischievous. Really, when the country is fighting for its life, when it has need of the support of every man, woman, and child in the country, it will not easily forgive the intrusion of any of the lesser interests by whomsoever put forward. The House of Commons, as I see the situation, would be doing a great public service by making it clear to the country that no smaller interests than the interests of the whole country would be allowed to have any influence at all.
§ Major DAVID DAVIES
I have listened with great pleasure to the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend, and I think the line which he has pointed out is one which we might very well follow. I should like to draw the attention of the House again to the real question which appears to me to be the issue at the present moment, and that is as to whether the Allied War Council is to be a really executive body, capable of bringing about unity in the conduct of the War, or whether it is to be merely an advisory body set up for advisory purposes. The speech of the Prime Minister at Paris has been criticised this afternoon, and so far as I can make out from the tenor of that speech he intended to go very much further than the sense of the Resolution which he afterwards read in this House. It now appears that we are only to have in this new body about to be set up an advisory secretariat. I have had a little insight into the workings of secretariats and I feel bound to confess that I am not convinced that they are the best means of 914 carrying out what we all have in view, and that is the co-ordination of effort amongst the Allies who are fighting in this War. I should like to quote passages from the Prime Minister's speech in which he shows what was really in his mind. In the first place he said:In spite of all the resolutions there has been no. authority responsible for co-ordinating the conduct of the War on all the fronts, and in the absence of that central authority each country was left to its own devices.Then he went on to say:That is why we have come to the conclusion that for cumbrous and clumsy machinery of conference—'now are we to understand that instead of conference he proposes to make it a secretariat—'there shall be substituted a permanent Council, whose duty it will be to survey the whole field of military endeavour with a view to determining where and how the resources of the Allies can be most effectually employed.He went still stronger:That is the meaning of this Superior Council. If I am right in my conjecture, then this Council will be given real power, the efforts of the Allies will be co-ordinated, and victory will await valour.I should have thought that if this Military Council was to have real power that its tenor and its real meaning is at variance with the Resolutions which were eventually read to this House. If we turn to these Resolutions we shall find that they are sketchy, ill-defined, and bewildering. In the first place, it is not made clear who, are the people who are to be responsible for the initiation of affairs and warlike operations. Clause 2 provides that the Supreme Allied Council is to prepare recommendations for the decision of the Governments, and to keep itself informed of their execution, and to report on them to their respective Governments, whereas in Clause 4 we are told that general war plans are to be drawn up by the competent military authorities, and are to be submitted by them to the Supreme War Council. I submit that it is not at all clear who is to initiate these plans of operations. Are they to be initiated in the Advisory Council, in the Supreme War Council itself, or are they to be initiated amongst the Staff chiefs of the different Governments and then submitted to the War Council for their approval? Apparently the procedure is that the plans are first of all to be elaborated by the Chiefs of Staff after having submitted them to their War Cabinets, and then they are to go to the Allied War Council, where they are to undergo the process of tailoring, which was incidentally condemned by 915 the speech of the Prime Minister, and then, after having been patched together, they are to be sent back to the respective War Cabinets of the different Governments, and, if they approve of them, they will be executed by their General Staffs. Here we come up against the question of responsibility. I can quite understand that in the case of a General Staff having submitted their plans, which have been sent to the Supreme War Council, changed by the Supreme War Council, and sent back, the General Staff would be compelled to execute a plan of which they may not approve, and they will be held responsible for success or failure in the execution of that plan. I do not think that is fair to the Chief of the Staff, and it certainly does not conduce towards the elimination of friction and unity of control that this method should be the one which it is said is going to give us the best and most efficient results.
I should have thought that as the French Government and the American Government have already decided it is essential that the Chief of the Staff of all countries, our own country included, should be represented on this Supreme Allied Council, otherwise they will be placed in a most anomalous position. It makes unity almost impossible, and we shall have the spectacle of these plans of operations bandied about from the respective War Cabinets, then on to the Allied War Council, and then back again, which must result inevitably in delay and confusion. Surely it is the duty of the Government to decide who is to be the responsible Chief of Staff. You cannot have two military officers, one as Chief of Staff and the other our representative on the Allied War Council, and if we are to achieve success the Government must make its decision and determine who is the right man to occupy the position. It is quite easy to see that this proposed arrangement may result in delay. The Prime Minister told us in his Paris speech, as he has told us many times, that our failures and disasters have been caused because we have always been too late. In war it is essential that there should be swift decision. The other day we found, when the Italian front was pierced, that it was necessary to dispatch troops at twenty-four hours' notice to go to the assistance of our Allies. Therefore, it is absolutely essential in the interests of efficiency and in the interests of getting a swift decision 916 that this matter should be regularised, because we cannot run the risk of friction or delay in regard to the military section of the War Cabinets and of the Allied War Council. If this dual control is to go on we know perfectly well frou the experience of the past that there is bound to be a certain amount of friction between the military authorities of the War Office and our military representatives in France and on the Allied Council on the point of getting the necessary information. We find that in Clause 2 one of the duties of the Allied Council would be to get information as to the execution of plans, and reports are to be made by them to their respective Governments. I suppose that means, if anything, that the War Council will have to pass judgment upon the execution of its plans by the Commanders in the field, and unless at the same time they have the Chief of Staff of their respective countries on the Council there is bound to be a great deal of feeling and friction which will not make for the good working of the scheme.
We are told that there would be great difficulty if this Allied Council was to be the supreme body on the point of responsibility. Personally I cannot see why that difficulty should not be overcome. Prior to this Government coming into office the Cabinet consisted of twenty-three persons. Subsequently that number was reduced to five or six. So far as the conduct of the War and decisions about strategic questions were concerned, the Ministry delegated its powers to the War Cabinet, and if that is still further applied there is no reason why the War Cabinet should not delegate its powers to the representatives whom it appoints on the Allied War Council. As the War Cabinet is responsible to the Ministry and to this House, this House would still retain the means of directing the general policy of the country and would still be able to exert an influence upon the representatives who attend the Allied War Councils on behalf of the War Cabinet. Whether it is an advisory body or an executive body, still it is a very proper change of responsibility and there is no reason why it should not be endowed with executive power. We have been told by various people, and in fact the Prime Minister told us the same story to-day, that this scheme as outlined in these Resolutions was a stepping-stone to the bigger policy—that is to the making of the Allied Council a real executive body, and giving it the 917 proper function of control. This question was mooted for years, but it required a terrible catastrophe to happen before any action was taken. Here we are invited to sanction a scheme which we are told is going to develop into something better, but are we to be asked to wait until another disaster occurs before these full powers are given to this new War Council? That is a most extraordinary position.
These Resolutions as they stand are so badly defined, and the scheme has so many flaws and there are so many loopholes for delay and friction of all sorts, that it would be almost better to go on as we are doing at present unless we still further enlarge the powers of this Council and give them the full powers which they ought to possess. Then the great question which we have to decide is whether we are prepared as a nation to pool all our resources of men, munitions, and brains for the sake of the common cause. If we are, then we must logically come to the conclusion that this War Council should have the necessary powers if it is going to be efficient. The opposition to this proposal, as far as I can gather, comes from political wire-pullers, who are concerned chiefly about losing a certain amount of power and control, and from the military hierarchy, who are also concerned, and we have this effect of inflaming national egoism and pride to make this Council of no effect. Right hon. Gentlemen and Ministers have talked very fluently about unity. They have told us that it is, and the right hon. Gentleman opposite says that he considers it, no mere Utopian dream. That being so, it would be extraordinary in these days of disaster and days of trial if the free democracies of the world could not come together and pool their resources for a common object. If at this time, when we are fighting for our lives, we cannot put this principle into application, based upon universal good will and upon the foundatiton of efficiency, so as to bring speedy victory to our cause, then there is a very dark prospect before us. It is quite true, as we were told by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, that the Central Powers have complete unity because they are able to enforce their views and their schemes and strategy upon all their Allies, whereas the Allied strategy is based on collaboration, not only between the statesmen of the Allied countries, but between the military chiefs as well. It is perfectly true that on the whole the War Office has 918 not shown, up to now, an attitude towards these problems which it is necessary to have. In this connection we must remember that one of the chief qualities, not only of the politician but also of the soldier, must be an aptitude to grasp the points of view of those who are our Allies to-day, and of their military chiefs, with whom they are endeavouring to co-operate, and to see that those plans are carried out. But there is nothing to make up for this good will and mutual trust, and I sincerely hope that public opinion in the country will insist that these will be the basis for more complete and universal co-operation than we have seen in the past.
Then, as to the constitution. We have been told, and rightly so, both by the Prime Minister and the hon. Gentleman, that civilians direct the policy and the general strategy of the Army, and I think that it will be a great calamity if, consciously or unconsciously, we drift into a controversy which makes this a question between politicians on the one hand and soldiers on the other. The word "strategy" has numerous meanings, and everyone twists the meaning to suit his own purpose. But, so far as I understand, strategy is concerned not only with military operations, but we have also to take into account political, economic, financial, and diplomatic considerations which affect the whole question of what ought or ought not to be done. Therefore the main point for us private Members to remember is that the person who is responsible for the success or failure of any particular strategy is the Prime Minister with the War Cabinet. He cannot divest himself of that responsibility, nor can he place it upon the shoulders of other people, whether they happen to be soldiers or civilians. It follows that the Prime Minister has the unfettered freedom to choose for himself the Ministry in whom he has confidence. No one can gainsay that. If the Prime Minister and the Cabinet are responsible to us we have to give them a free hand as to the military, financial, and diplomatic advisers in whom they have confidence. What we want, as the Prime Minister said in his speech, is action and not words. The country expects an efficient Allied War Council, with power to carry out the decisions at which they may arrive. No doubt the Prime Minister may have his difficulties, for all we know, with some of our Allies, who may not be anxious to see this Council, but, as far as we can make out 919 from the way in which the proposals have been received in the Paris Press and, this morning, in the American Press, both of our Allies appear to view the proposals with the utmost good will. Then the other question arises, Is there the same good will on our side? Is the Prime Minister sure that he has the support of the country behind him? Is he master in his own house? These are the questions to which the House of Commons has a right to know the answer. At the present moment we want to know that the Government realises this responsibility. We want to see proper leadership, and I feel sure that if there is united, strong, and vigorous action, then the Prime Minister can be certain that the country will be behind him.
§ Colonel CLIVE
I think the way in which the House emptied itself when the Prime Minister sat down is perhaps the best testimony to the strength of the Government and to the strength of the Prime Minister as its Leader. It shows that no one wishes to criticise seriously the proposals, debatable though they undoubtedly are, and I have no wish to criticise them seriously either. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his Paris speech. I congratulate him on the speech which he has made just now. The object of both those speeches, the object with which the Central Council has been established, is one which all must think a good one. The Central Council does not seem the final solution of the problem which the right hon. Gentleman has, I think, to tackle. The mere fact that America, as I understand, already suggests that this body should have executive powers, whilst the Prime Minister declares that the powers are only to be advisory, shows that there is not entire unanimity in favour of his proposal. There is a very great objection on the part of soldiers that the military appointments to the Council are the only appointments which are not to be made by the War Office—the holders are to be the nominees of the Prime Minister; that they are to be his own selection, and as such must have influence with him that must compete with the influence of the Chief of the General Staff. I wish to ask the Prime Minister why he dismissed, of the three, the first of the alternative proposals for unity? The right hon. Gentleman the late Prime Minister mentioned two great sources of the enemy's strength—first of all, the strength derived from 920 interior lines, and, secondly, unity of control. It is very remarkable that such Powers as Germany, Austria, Turkey, and Bulgaria, with such different interests and objects before the War, should be able to subordinate all their interests and to agree that their Armies should serve under one head. Is there anything inherently impossible in the Entente Powers doing the same thing? Of course we do not like the idea of our Army serving under a foreign general, and equally no doubt the same feeling animates every other country of the Entente. Is it not possible to subordinate these feelings sufficiently so that our leading generals might agree together upon one general effort? I do not suppose that Italy would put forward a claim to supply the Generalissimo for the greater Powers, yet, after all, we have already served in this War under General Joffre, and, I think, with complete satisfaction. The argument that America might bring forward is that they have no particular bias for one particular front over another, and they would take a more detached and, perhaps, a more complete view of the situation. Further, I dare say that before the end of the War the Powers will be putting forth their greatest strength, but, however that may be, this proposal is not, I submit, to be dismissed without argument. It ought to certainly be taken into consideration and studied, in order to ascertain whether it is not possible for the different Powers to so far act unselfishly as to pick their generals, and, whoever is selected to agree loyally to serve under one Generalissimo at the head of all. I know of no other final form of complete control. Committees and councils will not do, and a Dictator is what we want, and one whom those under him will loyally serve.
§ Commander WEDGWOOD
I understood this afternoon was to be the funeral of the Prime Minister, and that we were to be his principal mourners, the "Nation" arm-in-arm with the "Globe," and the "Morning Post" with the "Daily News," but I am bound to say, having listened to the Prime Minister's speech, he strikes me as being an extremely wakeful corpse, and I hardly think the funeral we came to witness is likely to take place on this particular subject. I am, indeed, rather sorry to see that the Leader of the Opposition also joined in what I cannot help thinking is a most unfortunate attack from the Liberal point of view, because as a matter of fact the proposal made in the Paris 921 speech, which was perhaps exaggerated in tone, was one which we in this House ought unanimously to support. It is that there are certain subjects which must be judged by the politicians, and that from the soldiers' point of view it is necessary to have an inter-Allied Council. There you would have the Prime Ministers, with the best technical advisers, to decide the policy of the whole of the line—a combination of politicians and soldiers essential for the conduct of the War. Until now we have been too much in the hands of the General Staff of each country, who have advised their particular politicians, and, acting on that advice, each country has gone its own particular way. That seems to me to be an undemocratic way of carrying on the War, a way suitable enough for the eighteenth century, but singularly unsuitable for the war which we are now waging. We have seen during the last week, after the explosion over the Paris speech, going on before us a desperate conflict between the two rival ideas—one that no politicians must interfere with the decisions of the General Staff and that no campaign shall be interfered with, and the other that there should be co-operation between the politicians and the Chief of Staff, and that this co-operation should be carried on by all the countries concerned, and not merely in Paris or London. I am bound to say that though the corpse has shown a great sense of liveliness this afternoon, I am afraid that, after all, a good deal of the right hon. Gentleman's speech was mere camouflage. One would imagine that there was similarity and identity between the two speakers, but between the Paris speech and the attitude taken up on Thursday night, and what has been said to-day, there is a somewhat important difference unfortunately.
What is this Inter-Allied Council going to be now? Merely an advisory body, without any staff whatever? If you go back to the Paris speech and read it again, and if you read the opinions in the French papers in regard to it, you will find they used the word "Imposé." They were to impose their views on the Allies. The inter-Allied Council was to decide. But now we are coming down to merely giving advice. That seems to be a lamentable change, and I can see that when the Prime Minister brought in his scheme he meant this inter-Allied Council to be an executive body. But listening to his speech to-day, I realise that we will have 922 to wait for another long period. If the Prime Minister honestly thinks that it should be an executive council, then the Inter-Allied Council should have executive powers, and, for goodness sake, do not let us bother about any jealousies between different soldiers. Let us get what the Prime Minister thinks is necessary, in spite of mere jealousies. Every speaker to-night has emphasised, in this House, at any rate, that what is wanted is a Council with executive and not merely advisory authority. It is obvious to any man who thinks this problem out that we must have some definition of the powers of the Council—whether the Chief of the Imperial General Staff is to be supreme over General Wilson, or whether the Chief of the inter-Allied Council is to be supreme over General Sir William Robertson. It is all delightfully vague, and it is a disaster. It is for the Prime Minister to say that this is one man's job, and not two men's job.
Where you have two Chiefs of Staff, each with staffs under him, you are bound to have friction and jealousy, as sure as human nature is human nature. We have heard enough about the Robertson party and the Wilson party. There ought to be only one party, and that should be the Allied party. I am willing to believe that both General Wilson and General Robertson will be animated by the best of motives to each other; that they will do their very best for the national welfare; but we know perfectly well that, however willing the heads of staffs may be, the staffs under them always bicker, or keep back information, or crab the other party. That seems to be inevitable, not only in war-time, and not only among soldiers, but civilians also. Two bodies doing ostensibly the same work are bound to come to loggerheads. It must be obvious to everybody that the proper person to be on this Inter-Allied Council, and representing virtually the opinion of this country is the Chief of Staff himself. If Sir William Robertson is not good enough to be on the inter-Allied Council, then somebody else ought to be there; but no man should be in both places. Then you will get, without duplication, jealousies, or obstruction, an Inter-Allied Council, which, whether advisory or executive, would, in fact, have executive powers, and would be the final voice of the military powers as represented in this country. That seems to be what we ought to go in for. I for one regret deeply that, partly owing to the foolish 923 attitude of the Press of this country, and partly owing to the use of the Press in attacking the Prime Minister—not everywhere popular—we have lost the chance of getting this unified control, and that we have got to wait for another period of months, until the inconvenience of this arrangement proves obviously the need of that solution which the Prime Minister and every thinking person knows is the right one. That seems to me to be a thoroughly deplorable state of affairs. It is obvious from the support which the Prime Minister got to-day and the support which he will get to-morrow in the country, that he could have carried the whole scheme. I for one deeply regret that he has seen fit to compromise with these more or less underhand petty forces, in order to support a scheme which goes part of the way, but not the whole way that he desired. There is one other thing that I desire to say. The Prime Minister, in his Paris speech, although it may be said that it was made in the heat of the moment and exaggerated for political purposes, did indeed speak more to the heart of England as it is to-day, than any of the other speeches we have had from the leaders in politics. The soldiers themselves are coming back to this country in greater and greater numbers on leave, and they bring back the realities from the trenches so that the knowledge of the reality is spreading among the people of this country, and as it spreads the people of this country get more and more tired of the sort of orations to which we are accustomed. It is no use politicians going round and saying that all is well in the best of all possible worlds, and no use in pretending that we never make mistakes, or that the Huns cannot fight, or that they are at the end of their tether. The soldiers know and they are telling the people what is going on in Flanders to-day. When the Prime Minister asks us to compare the capture of a metre or a village, it is a far more pertinent thing for him to observe than to talk to the people of this country about our aims and the purity of our aims in the War.
I habitually travel third class, I suppose most people do nowadays, and as one travels up and down the country one talks to the soldiers and one hears a great deal of their conversation. Their conversation is becoming very painful, it is becoming 924 more or less monotonous. "They do not care what happens to us," they are saying, "or whether they sacrifice us unnecessarily." I do not know who "they" are, it may be perhaps the "brass hats," or it may be the Government they mean. But then again I remember it is not the Government, but we here whom they mean, and that we are the people responsible for the lives of those soldiers in Flanders. We are responsible for them, and you know we are rather afraid of saying anything about the War. I think some of us have got to take our courage in both hands for the sake of those men over there. There is no use talking in the Lobby, or over the dinner table about these things; we had better say them out here and risk being thought foolish or unhappy. The fact of the matter is that if somebody does not say something about what is going on in the mud in Flanders we are responsible for the lives that are lost, and I hope that this Inter-Allied Council in Versailles will do something to stop it. After all, what we have got to measure in every military operation is whether the sacrifice is worth the gain, whether, for instance, the sacrifice of getting Passchendaele is worth Passchendaele, or whether the sacrifice of holding Passchendaele is worth it. We have got to consider those things, and I cannot help thinking that a body which is not directly responsible for that particular push is more capable of judging the advisability, or inadvisability, of such a measure as that. The generals in actual command on the field have, as it were, a parti pris, a vested interest in the success of that operation, and a certain amount of progress, and they may feel that their reputation is bound up with the ultimate capture of a certain position. With that feeling they cannot judge as impartially as a body which is not directly responsible as to whether that particular business is to go on.
I think any of us who have seen and watched the casualty list during the last six weeks will realise what it has meant going on with this offensive in Flanders while the mud is on. We have been butting our head into the mud. In ordinary times when the wave goes forward over the top our men manage to get along at perhaps two miles an hour, but with the mud as thick as it is now it is impossible to move more than half a mile at the outside. That means that mathematically there is now four times as much chance of getting killed in going forward. If we 925 killed Germans man for man in the May, June, and July operations, and if in these pushes in the mud the possibility is four to one against us, we have got to face more casualties. How can you attack in ground which is a sort of pea soup, with shell holes and crater holes, and every trench filled with water? The conditions of fighting in the mud during these last six weeks have been more terrible than anything in the previous history of the British Army. They told us at the time of the Somme operations that though the casualties were heavy there was a large number of light ones. The awful thing about this recent fighting is that the men are neither killed nor wounded, but missing, and very often they are drowned. We hear stories of men moving forward along a little lip of earth outside the shell craters and slipping over the edge into those pits. Think of what it means to the wounded man who is shot down and cannot get back, and gradually slips off into one of those pits. We are responsible for this, we who let this sort of thing go on, afraid of saying what we think because perhaps generals may be changed.
An inter-Allied Council at Paris would be more likely to judge whether it is necessary that our troops should suffer these losses. If we are afraid in that way we shall not only sacrifice these particular men in vain, but we shall shatter the morale of the British Army. You know how, six months ago, these men came back and were all perfectly confident of their superiority over the Germans, of their overwhelming gun-power and man-power. I remember one Canadian saying to me in a railway carriage, after describing his fighting at Messines, "At any rate, I would rather be killed than not meet Fritz." Mud and cold and frozen mud take it out of the men quicker than anything else. If we had only held our troops back like the French and used them like General Pétain, in an offensive-defensive, we should not only have them alive for next year, but have finer fighters as well. It is possible that one can save their morale still, but it is not possible as surely as we sit here to save their morale if these abominable pushes in the mud go on much further. Our losses are out of all proportion to the losses we inflict, and if you had to work forward through mud, and soft mud, against other men sitting in concrete surroundings would you not know that the losses were greater? Think of Passchendaele to-day and getting 926 guns up and concrete and timber. The deeper the mud and the colder the winter the more terrible must be the effect on our troops in attack. It is for that reason, above all, I welcome the Inter-Allied Council sitting in Versailles, because I believe they will look after our troops better than it is being done at the present time.
§ Colonel Sir HAMAR GREENWOOD
In rising to address the House, I take the first opportunity I have of protesting against the suggestion made by the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just spoken that this House should be constituted the judge of generalship on any front. If there is anybody more than another I should have thought would not have been the body to judge generalship, it is the Members of the House of Commons. I quite agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman that the House is particularly the custodian of the lives of the health, of the pay, of the pensions, and of the dependants of the gallant men whom we have all, or most of us, helped to recruit to the Colours. But it is a different thing to suggest that the House of Commons can for a moment interfere with strategy or with tactics when they cannot possibly have the data on which those great movements are based. Although many hon. and gallant Friends have served in various capacities, none of us have the experience that is essential for generalship on the various fronts. I also would like to make a protest against the suggestion of the hon. and gallant Gentleman that the operations that have gone on on the Western Front are operations that are not justified because of the mud and wet of the past six weeks. I must say one's heart bleeds, so far as I am concerned, at the sight of the suffering one sees on any front at any time, and the House of Commons, I am sure, has never been wanting in sympathy with the frightfulness of this War or wanting in gratitude towards the men who go down in upholding the liberty and honour of our race. But, however much we have suffered, the suffering is part of a great plan under the command of great commanders, and those commanders are responsible not to the House of Commons but to the War Cabinet. If they have wasted lives, it is for the War Cabinet to change the command. That is a vastly different thing from asking the House of Commons to criticise the generals or from condemning the recent advance because 927 of the weather. The War Cabinet is alone responsible for the appointment of those great commanders. I, for one, although I have spent my life in soldiering, would condemn utterly the criticism of individual generals, or small movements, comparatively, on any front, because the losses have been great here or the losses have been great there. This War cannot, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife (Mr. Asquith) said, be measured by arithmetic or mensuration. I should like to refer, also, to the statement of the hon. and gallant Gentleman that we are losing more men than the Germans. How can he know that? It is impossible for him to tell. I admit the general principle that the offensive loses more than the defensive. In the old text-books before the War it was reckoned that the offensive would lose from two to three times as much as those who were on the defensive. But I take the position that I do not know what the German losses are. I certainly should hesitate to say—indeed, could not say—that they have not lost as many as we have lost of our gallant fellows in taking these recent strategical and tactical ridges. However our men have suffered, surely it is better for our own soldiers to be on the high lands and to have the Germans in the ridges and flats than for us to be where we have been previous to this year, below them in altitude! The hon. Member the Brigadier - General (General Croft), who can glory in more active service than any other Member of the House, will bear me out when I say that before these ridges were taken the British Front was always below and under the vision of our German enemies. All these advances have meant, at any rate, taking ridges which for this winter will keep our men in dry quarters, and doing work which, I hope, will have great results.
One thing I should like to say: nobody can be satisfied with the position of the War at the present time; nobody can be other than burdened with grief and depression at the thought of the hundreds and hundreds of thousands of casualties on the Western Front. When I say that I mean killed, wounded, and missing. But I repeat here that if this House of Commons, or the Press, as it is inclined to do, start championing various generals and condemning others, as we have seen in the last week, you are not only going to humiliate the House of Commons in 928 the eyes of the Allies, but you are going to destroy the proper function of this House—namely, criticising, condemning, and outvoting, if it be necessary, any Government of the day if the commanders fail to do their duty. They are responsible to the Executive of the country, not us. Our responsibility is to see that the executive has suitable commanders. I myself think that there have been cases in the past—not dealing with any commanders of the moment—where the Executive has been too slow in changing the command, especially when I remember that everybody below the rank of Commander-in-Chief, especially regimental officers, are never given a second chance. However personally courageous, however splendid their career, one failure, however slight, and they are sent home. The regimental officer takes this as part of the frightful struggle of war. I think the same sort of justice should be meted out to the great commanders who fail to obtain those objectives they say they can attain when the War Cabinet gives them everything they ask for.
I ask myself, Why have we had this Debate to-day unless it was to give an opportunity to the Prime Minister to make a most excellent speech and to present to the world the great advance in Allied strategy and co-operation? This Rapallo agreement apparently meets with the approval of the whole House. It certainly has the support of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife (Mr. Asquith). The Debate, however, in my opinion, gives us only an idea of what is going to be in effect a great Allied Supreme Council. I do not for a moment believe this Council, now set up at Versailles, will remain merely an advisory body, but that ultimately you will find our greatest Generals, our greatest Chiefs of Staffs, our Prime Ministers, or their representatives, seated at the Supreme Council of the Allies, which will control the units of the Allied Armies throughout the world. I know how difficult it is for all of us to accept, on whatever ground it may be urged, the position of putting our troops under foreign generals, but we have been doing it since the War began. We are doing it now in Italy. We must do more of it. We are doing it at Salonika, were there is one case. I hope this Council at Versailles will dewal with it at once. In that Salonika morass there is the greatest condemnation of the want of co-operation amongst the Allies that has occurred since 929 the War began. This Council at Versailles will ultimately be the supreme executive body, and I am reinforced in that opinion because American opinion is that way. We cannot deny, as the War goes on, the expense grows, and our own man-power weakens, that the United States will become day by day the paramount Power in the Allied Councils. I cannot imagine that this country, the other great Power of the Anglo-Saxon race, hesitating to work under an American General if one is distinguished enough to command respect and support. We have applied the principle of the Rapallo agreement to Salonika? What have we there? We have Montenegrins, Serbians, Italians, a few Russians, French and English—the most cosmopolitan force ever gathered together under one commander since Napoleon started for Moscow. All that great command is under a French general. That French general has been condemned in terms by the commander of our own Forces in Salonika. That enormous force is, I am told—I do not know particulars—now in actual danger if the Germans with their Austro-Hungarian Allies, and the Bulgarians, start to march towards Salonika. We are told that cannot be done in winter time. I do not believe those statements at all. That force at the moment is in danger, and everybody, who has dealt at all with the subject, knows it. I hope that the new Council will deal drastically with the Salonika question. Do not let us have another most humiliating and disastrous reverse for lack of seizing the opportunity while there is time.
I know of no area of the War where the Versailles Council can more immediately direct its operations than to that Salonika area. That is the only real danger zone which the British troops have at the moment to fear. I myself wholeheartedly congratulate the Prime Minister on having got into actual working a Council which must immediately deal with that particular front, and do, something to avert what might be a very great disaster. I am sure I carry the whole House with me when I congratulate the Prime Minister on making clear the great objective he has in mind in this Rapallo agreement. Whatever the terms of his speech in Paris may have been, I must confess that the great objective he had in view justified the terms he used. I do not believe he intended, and he has given us in specific terms that he did not intend, to cast any reflections upon our generals or personali- 930 ties. However, after all is said and done, the man who sits on that Front Bench as Prime Minister of this country represents us, and he is responsible for the commanders if soldiers are sacrificed. He is responsible for the soldiers of our great Dominions who have come over here in numbers that the House of Commons never dreamt of, who have never had independent command, but who were subjected to the generals who have been removed because of their failures in Gallipoli. I should like to see the Prime Minister speaking out, if he feels like it, in reference to any general. I wish it were impossible to have generals speaking in this House or through the Press. It would be better for the Army and for the generals if they were restricted entirely to their military duties. From what I know of the Army, I think the generals themselves would be prepared to be judged on their merits, and not by newspaper or political criticism.
§ Sir CHARLES HOBHOUSE
My hon. and gallant Friend who has just spoken asked himself and the House why this Debate has taken place. I have found, as an individual Member of this House, great benefit from the discussion to which we have listened this afternoon. I will tell my hon. Friend why. Until the Prime Minister spoke this afternoon the House was, I think, in very considerable doubt as to what were the functions of the Allied Council and military staff attached to it at Versailles. We were also in very considerable doubt as to whether, whatever its functions were—to use the phrase of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme—the Conference would be able to impose its will upon the Allied Governments. The general unanimity displayed by the House at the present moment would not have been attained unless we had had the explanation from the Prime Minister which he gave us, and unless in the course of that explanation it had come out that there was a very considerable whittling down of the scheme from the appearance it presented after the Paris speech. It is because there has been a very considerable whittling down of the scheme—I do not see even an Under-Secretary present at the moment to represent the Government—and it will, perhaps, be necessary—
§ Sir E. CARSON
May I intervene for a moment to refer to what the right hon. Gentleman has said about whittling down? There has been no whittling down.
§ Sir C. HOBHOUSE
Perhaps that will be more apparent when I put my questions to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who doubtless will be good enough to answer them. My hon. and gallant Friend opposite (Commander Wedgwood) said there were parties of soldiers and civilians concerned in this Debate. I do not think there would have been any party, as between one soldier or another soldier, or as between the opinions of soldiers and civilians at the Paris Conference if the announcement made in Paris of composition of the military staff had not been conditioned by the nomination of a particular officer who was supported by the Chief of Staff in this country. I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend in thinking that the enormous addition which might perhaps be reached by the military coordination of information would be attained if you got the Chief of the General Staff in each country present as military representative; and I am quite sure you will not get satisfactory military co-operation unless the Chief of Staff is present, but he must not at all events be present as a member of this particular conference. Now I come to the question which the right hon. Gentleman has, I think, undertaken especially to answer.
§ Sir C. HOBHOUSE
Perhaps it is no good putting my question. I thought that was the purpose of the intervention of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Sir E. CARSON
I only intervened as to the statement of the right hon. Gentleman that there had been whittling down of the scheme. There was no such whittling down.
§ Sir C. HOBHOUSE
May I ask why no representative of the Government is interested in replying to my questions? The right hon. Gentleman is himself not apparently willing or able to answer.
§ Sir C. HOBHOUSE
Those are the questions There are certain questions which are assigned either to the Council or to the military staff attached to that Council, and those functions are contained in the eight Resolutions which were read out in this House, and form part of the OFFICIAL REPORT to this House. They are 932 these: First, to watch the general conduct of the War; secondly, to watch the execution of the decisions of the Council; thirdly, to consider various proposals of the staff, with some power to modify them; and, lastly, to consider schemes submitted to them. We had the case of Italy instanced to us this afternoon, in which the presumption was that the decision of Italy and the decision of an Allied Conference, had it existed, would not have been in harmony the one with the other. The question I want to get answered, and which I do not think has been answered in any way by any speaker, is this: How is the decision of the Allied Conference to be imposed upon that member of the alliance which is not disposed, of its own volition, to accept that decision? Let us take the case of Italy. I think the public believe—and I think they are justified in believing—that before the Austro-German attack on Italy the other day, the Italians were not merely in a position to repel any attack, but that they were in a position themselves to conduct a successful offensive, which, indeed, they had done, as I myself could see, for a considerable number of months. The Prime Minister gave us to understand that certain responsible people in the alliance, who, presumably, would be members of the Allied Conference, had held for a long time that the Italian defence was not strong enough, and, I suppose, had the Conference existed; they would have represented that opinion to the Italian Government. The Italian Government would have replied that, in their opinion, they were strong enough, and that no Allied assistance need be deflected from any other front for the purpose of assisting in their defence.
This is a practical question, to which, I hope, some answer may be given—how, against the Italian wish, against the Italian need, and against, perhaps, Italian pride, the Conference would have forced resources on the Italians which the Italians themselves did not desire to have? That seems to me to be a dilemma which must arise whenever you find a particular member of the Alliance not agreeing with the wishes or the decisions of the Allied Conference. Therefore, the power of the Conference, in my judgment, cannot be that which my hon. Friend who last spoke desired to see—a plenary power, a decisive power. It can only be an advisory power, and, of course, it must be at the peril of the particular Power which refuses to 933 accept the advice and decision of the Allied Conference that it refuses to accept the advice and decision; but, if it does refuse it, I see no power in any Conference to force upon it the acceptance of assistance which is repugnant to that Power. It is in that respect that I hold, in spite of all the denials of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, that the scheme outlined in Paris has been whittled down by the pronouncement made by the Prime Minister to-day. In Paris, the power of the Conference was to be plenary, absolute, and decisive. To-day the Staff which is attached to that Conference is not, as in the Resolution—and I would remind the right hon. Gentleman of this—to have at its disposal all the documents, all the papers, all the information possessed by the Allies, to be supplied actually to the Conference, but it is merely to have a collated version of the information. [An HON. Member, dissented.] I have the actual words of the Resolution here:The military representatives receive from the Government and the competent military authorities of their country all the proposals, information and documents relating to the conduct Of the War.It would not be possible to take to the Allied Conference all the documents relating to the War. Some of them would be so confidential that it would be very difficult to take them out of this country at all, to risk their loss or capture or perhaps accidental leakage, which might occur in connection with them. We have defined to-day the powers of the Military Staff as practically restricted to the collection and collation of information for the use of the Conference itself, and because of that, and because it will not impinge on the authority of the General Staff here, and upon the Chief of the General Staff here, or of any other country, I for one accept with satisfaction the announcement made earlier in the afternoon.
§ Sir EDWARD CARSON
I had no intention of intervening in this Debate, but in view of the direct challenge to me by my right hon. Friend who has just sat down, I desire, out of courtesy to him and the House, to answer the points which he has put. The right hon. Gentleman said that there has been a great whittling down of this scheme since the Paris speech. He is under an entire misapprehension. He has shown no grounds for that assertion, which, I think, is a mischievous assertion, because it is proclaiming to France and to Italy that we are going back on that to which we solemnly pledged ourselves in trying 934 to bring about closer co-operation in the conduct of the War. Does the right hon. Gentleman know the history of this document? Really, from what one reads and from the observations that are made, one would think that the Prime Minister hurried away in a panic to Italy and to France, and that the whole of this was done out of his head, while he was in the train, or something of that kind. The business of the War Cabinet is not conducted in that way. The whole of this document was carefully considered by the Cabinet as, I suppose, the House will assume. It was gone through, as the Prime Minister said, line by line, argued out with many divergent views from time to time, and altered from time to time, as, of course, any document would be in developing a new scheme of this kind. The Prime Minister went away armed with this document and with the full confidence and concurrence of his colleagues, there being not a dissentient. I think it is well that that should be thoroughly well understood. He went to Italy, having seen on his way, I believe, our Generals and Chief of Staff, and various other officers and officials, and taking with him another member of the War Cabinet, General Smuts—not at all unacquainted with the methods of war. They met solemnly with similar Staffs from Italy and France, and they framed this agreement. And the agreement stands; and the agreement is not going to be altered; and the agreement is not going to be whittled down, no matter whether the right hon. Gentleman or the Press, or anyone else, thinks it is going to be whittled down. It is going to be rigidly adhered to as one of the most sacred documents that could be entered into by the Allies in the course of this horrible War. The right hon. Gentleman puts to me a, conundrum, as he thinks. He says, supposing Italy had refused assistance before the debacle which, unfortunately, occurred there, would we have forced that assistance upon it? Does he think we ought to force a particular policy upon one of the Allies to which it did not agree?
§ Sir E. CARSON
The object of this Supreme War Council is that the Staff of each Government is constituted their permanent Staff, and argue between themselves, and thrash out to the last 935 degree what is essential, not for one part of the front or another part of the front, but for the whole front. And one of the very things expressed on the face of the document, and which the right hon. Gentleman seems to have entirely overlooked, is that in the ultimate resort, when they have thrashed it out, not with hostility towards people at home, but in co-operation with people at home—really, one would think that the Council there and the Council here were like two belligerent Governments; nothing of the kind—in absolute friendliness and with one main and only object to do the right thing, if there is a decision come to, or if there is a divergence on a scheme come to, each Government will take back what is decided there to its Staff at home, and to its political leaders at home, whatever they may be—the War Cabinet in this country —and the War Cabinet, or whatever represents it, will be advised by the Staff at home. Really, these things seem to me so practical and so leading to union instead of to friction, that I cannot understand what is the object of people parsing the document line by line to try and get people adverse to each other, so that they may not work out this scheme loyally between man and man. If the right hon. Gentleman thinks that the wrong scheme, I put this question: If some of the Allied Governments were to put forward a scheme which involved the moving of a large number of our own troops, and that this Government and their advisers, and perhaps the advisers in the Allied Council, were to think that that was a dangerous thing, does he not think we ought to have an ultimate word in that? Of course we ought, and that is what the scheme provides. I really do not know what this kind of commentary means. I see no object in it. He said something or other about General Wilson. He said there would not have been this, that, or the other if General Wilson had not been appointed because he was junior or subordinate to the Chief of the Staff. Really, that is nonsense. I decline to believe for one moment that our great men in the Army are constituted with this jealous disposition, that they cannot shake hands together, meet together, and give the best of their brains to the interest of this country. If I thought so, I would despair of the country.
§ Brigadier-General CROFT
Not very long ago I lost some of my political friends 936 because I took a somewhat detached attitude with regard to the state of affairs, and I fear I may lose a few friends in the Army now because of the view I take upon the present situation. But before I deal with that question I desire to say one word with regard to a point which has been mentioned this evening, namely, the appointment of a supreme military commander or generalissimo for the Western Front, to include apparently Italy. I disagree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Herefordshire and the hon. Baronet opposite that it is desirable to have a supreme generalissimo for the Western Army. Some sort of an attempt was made not very long ago, but I am very glad it was abandoned for very good reasons. I do not believe it could possibly work. The first reason is that these armies are so vast and great that it takes all the ability of one single man to. command, say, such a vast machine as the French Army or the British Army. It is almost inconceivable that there is anyone in the world at the present time capable of commanding those two great armies looking at the tremendous difficulty of bringing them into one absolute military whole. In this connection the Prime Minister put the alternatives before us in an admirable way. He advocated unity of council, and I for one rejoice to think that he has had the courage to come out and speak in such startling language upon the necessity for that, because it is perfectly obvious that you do want to get closer unity amongst the Allies if we are to get "forrarder" at the rate we all desire to go.
But having said that the Prime Minister was absolutely right in the main object which he has in view. I am bound to say he was absolutely wrong in some of the arguments he advanced to prove its necessity. There is a great danger that we might get a wrong idea as to what unity of control is going to bring about. Having once committed ourselves to the Gallipoli Expedition, I do not think it would have been possible for us to save Serbia. It was perfectly right that we should try to cut the German eastern road at one place, but it was not possible to cut it at two places while at the same time we were trying to hold Belgium against the attacks on Ypres in 1914, which might have continued throughout 1915. We started the War with available forces which were insufficient to enable us to uphold such a policy. Having once embarked on the Gallipoli 937 Expedition, the Government ought to have gone through with it, even though it might have involved the loss of many ships and many men, and having set out upon that policy they could not have gone to the help of Serbia. It was impossible for them to have done both. Then again with regard to Roumania. It is true we might, by going to Serbia, have saved Roumania, but we should have lost probably 500,000 men, and even then would not have ultimately saved Roumania, because the communications are such that unless you were prepared to work out a scheme that would have taken at least a year you could not have gone far enough.
We now come to Italy. I say as regards that country the argument used by the right hon. Gentleman was not a good argument to use, for the simple reason that the Italians were in such a condition and had such good positions that if only all had gone well with their internal morale they would be holding those positions at the present moment. I do not believe anyone ever seriously considered sending Allied troops to Italy to take up a defensive role up to that time. There appears to have been no need for that, and it seems to be almost inconceivable that any council that could have been formed could have had a better view of the morale of units of the Italian Army than the Commander-in-Chief of that Army himself. Still, although his arguments are bad arguments, it does not alter the fact that the Prime Minister is on the right line; it does not alter the fact that we owe to him our gratitude once more for what he has done for the country, equally as much as we owe him our gratitude for what he has done in the past with regard to munitions and with regard to National Service. It does not alter the fact that he has done great things for us, and that he is making it patent to the world that it is necessary to have a minor earthquake which is going to alter the perspective of the peoples of the Allied countries.
I want to pass to a completely different subject which really does arise out of this question—one which has been worrying the Government and the Cabinet in recent days. Knowing as I do large numbers of soldiers, I believe I am right in saying that sir Douglas Haig and sir William Robertson have the absolute confidence of every officer and private soldier in the British Army at the present time. I say that in all sincerity. But 938 it is equally true that there are certain generals who are inferior to the Commander-in-Chief who do not possess that confidence. It is much better the truth should be told now, because when you are face to face with serious problems it is simply childish to attempt to hide the facts. Let me give one or two instances in this connection. Various great offensives have been mapped out, and, as far as we can judge, the whole administration of bringing Armies up to the scratch for those great offensives has been carried out brilliantly and wonderfully. But what is not realised is this, that once the great offensive has developed, the tactical handling of the troops devolves upon Army and corps commanders, and the Prime Minister should know that time and again while we have had great and brilliant successes in these tactical operations, there have also been failures. I suggest to the War Cabinet that if it is known that a general officer has failed not once or twice, but perhaps three times, that officer should be got rid of. It may seem a paradox, but I may say this in connection with that fact: Although the Army has absolute confidence in the supreme command in France, there is, I would suggest, something wrong in the internal intelligence of the Army itself if the Commander-in-Chief has not discovered that some of these general officers no longer possess the confidence of the troops under them. It is obvious that they have been failures. Mention was made by the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyme (Commander Wedgwood) of casualties. We should not be too much influenced by a statement made in such a dramatic manner in the House this evening. The hon. and gallant Member pointed out what trials our soldiers have to go through in the mud, but he did not add that it was necessary to go through the mud to get to the Passchendaele Ridge, which dominates the whole situation, for our future offensive, and that if we had not got it now it would have been necessary to go through the whole thing again next year. His criticism would have been a little more legitimate if he had said that in certain parts of the offensive quite enough attention had not been paid to local failures. It is the case that if a regimental officer makes a single mistake he goes home. I think it was the hon. and gallant Member for Sunderland who said that. In the Navy, if an officer fails once he has finished. In war I submit a general 939 officer ought not to fail more than twice. It is conceivable, in modern warfare, that there may be some faulty intelligence, or that in advancing one may come across wire the existence of which was not known, but it is inconceivable to the average soldier that officers should be allowed to remain in command when they have failed not merely once or twice but even three or four times.
This is due no doubt very largely to the fact of the traditions of the Army, absolutely magnificent in peace times. As regards the expansion of the British Army, it has been a great administrative feat which reflects the greatest credit upon its commanders. But it is a fact that since the 1st July, 1916, not a single Army commander has been relieved of his command, and not more than one corps commander has been relieved. It is inexplicable, and if it is suggested that the senior commanders have been successful we know that it is not the fact. I am going to ask the Prime Minister to consider this question. He has had the courage to make a very remarkable speech in Paris, a speech which I approve in spite of his clear mistakes with regard to arguments. I ask him to go further into this question of the senior commanders in France. The commander-in-Chief, I repeat, has the confidence of the troops. Some of his immediate subordinates have not got that confidence, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider that very seriously.
I have one other point I wish to make. Ought there not to be more conferences in the Army? We have heard the principle expounded that there should be more conferences among the Allies. One tradition of the British Army in times of peace and perhaps in savage warfare, a very good one, has been that an officer has been discouraged from giving his views. But the only way of getting to learn in modern warfare as it progresses and as its teachings come home to one is to try and get the pick of the brains of the Army correlated so that those in the higher commands may learn what is going on. I believe that is done even more in the German Army than in our own. May I give one or two instances to show what I mean? I know the case of an officer in France who made a very special study of the effect of artillery and mortar fire, and he drew up a report thereon. But his senior officer declined to send the report in, remarking that he had been sending up papers and 940 they had never gone forward. The officer happened to be home on leave and mentioned his conclusions while in conversation with a Cabinet Minister when they were talking about the War giving him the general facts he had drawn up. This eventually became known to his senior officer, and the officer who had drawn up the report was in the end censured. That seems to me very unreasonable. You want to try and get the views of your officers, and you want to have them sent forward.
I know the case of the captain of a battery of Territorial Artillery. This officer had a most admirable battery at home. He went out to France, and was immediately attached to some staff, but when he went to take charge of a battery the Artillery general told him, without testing his ability, that he would have no Territorial officer commanding a battery. I myself have heard a general officer say that he would have no Territorial officer—no officer who had not had staff training prior to the War—promoted to the higher rank. I venture to think that the days for that kind of thing have gone by. It is necessary to get the best possible out of the Army, which now contains all the brains and all the energy of our civil life. All our young men are gathered together in the Army, and it would be as well to try and establish a newer tradition. No man ought to be considered an advertiser of himself by sending his views to his senior officer. But ought not the senior officers to invite far more frequently than they now do the views of the junior officers of the Army? If we do that, shall we not get the real experiences which senior officers have never had under the modern conditions involved in the barrage, in modern shell-fire, and in modern warfare generally? I am afraid that these few words will not be very popular in certain quarters, but I do think it is well to mention these things at the present moment. The Prime Minister's speech this afternoon has been one of frankness and great courage. It is well to take the country into our confidence. If the new Council is to be a real thing and not a sham, the right hon. Gentleman by establishing it will have earned the gratitude of everyone, and if by any possible chance its success is to be prevented by the jealousies of officers on the ground of seniority, or matters of that kind, then I think the Prime Minister 941 will have a very clear course before him. The House of Commons supports the Cabinet, which has to win or lose this War, and the consequence is the Prime Minister knows where he stands when the House of Commons is behind him with regard to this policy of unity of command. If there is any jealousy or small-mindedness his course is equally clear. He must get rid of the soldiers who do not pull together, and he must try other men. I think if this is adopted, and the Prime Minister realises how strongly the country is behind him on the subject, much good will have arisen even from the somewhat unfortunate speech he made in Paris; more good will arise from the frank discussion that has occurred here to-day; and more good still will arise if we find that the great soldiers, as I am confident we shall, are ready to subordinate all minor questions, to come together, and to carry out the War in a new spirit in which the Allied brains will be pooled for the Allied victory.
§ Mr. BUXTON
I think the Prime Minister has done us a great service by pushing forward the policy of the supreme Allied Council, and I am glad he has been in this House to hear some views favourable to his plan, and the view expressed, in which I desire to join, that there shall not be any cutting down of the strength of the proposal, but, as the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyme (Commander Wedgwood) said, a stiffening up as time goes on. The Prime Minister adduced some very interesting tests of the value of his proposal, and the Debate has ranged over the tests which he laid down in regard to the probabilities of success; but he adduced others derived from the experience of the past, and in particular he adduced one taken from the war history of the Near Eastern field of the War. He said that in the later days of 1915—on that crucial matter of war policy, the struggle for the support of the Balkan States and the attempt to secure the Berlin-Bagdad corridor—if a decision could have been come to to send a force through the Balkans six weeks sooner than it was sent we could have prevented the linking up of the corridor, and we could have saved Serbia. That is a point of extraordinary interest, and one which ought not to be left undeveloped. It would be inappropriate to this Debate, if it is to cover the ground, that a word or two should not be said as to that vital 942 illustration of the value of co-ordination. I think the Prime Minister understated the case. I think much greater results than he said would have followed might have been adduced by him as evidence of the value of a Supreme War Council. The question of sending troops to the Balkans was of earlier date than six weeks before Serbia was overwhelmed. It arose, as the Prime Minister will remember, as early as Christmas, 1914, and, in January, 1915, I remember being asked myself for news, which I was able then to bring very fresh from the Balkans, as to any point bearing on the value of an expedition to Salonika. I remember saying that whether the purpose were the diplomatic purpose of securing unity among the Balkan States, or whether it were the purpose of putting simply military pressure on any particular State, the effect of the appearance of British troops in the Balkans would be electric.
There were three possible values in the sending of an expedition. One was, as the Prime Minister suggested this afternoon, that it would constitute a menace to the State which was likely to go against us, and it would probably have been a deterrent exactly as he said; but there were other probable values in the method which he had not time to dwell upon. One was; suggested two days ago by that eminent statesman, M. Venizelos. He was showing how, if the Allies had been able to formulate their policy quickly and state it clearly, the Greek Army might have been employed in service of very great value. It seems to me there was a third plan for dealing with the Balkan situation which was not military alone, but mainly diplomatic. I believe firmly that if the Allies had been so closely co-operating that they had decided to send a force early in 1915 it would have placed our diplomacy—co-ordinated alongside of our military action—in a position to dictate a compromise to the Balkan States, which was the best solution, and in that case the practicable solution, of the Near Eastern difficulties. What were the difficulties which made co-ordination so necessary, features of Allied action in the Balkans" Just let me give one illustration from the situation at Bucharest. In the autumn of 1914 I had the opportunity of seeing some of the inwardness of Allied action in that part of the world. At Bucharest the Allies were, up to late in 1914, taking no joint action at all, but before they took any joint action the Russian Government— 943 the Czarist Government, as it was then, and is now superseded, is one about which we can talk, although we must not say what we know from official statements with regard to other Governments—the Czarist Government had quite soon after the beginning of the War made promises to the Roumanian Government in regard to the acquisition of Transylvania which were the object of no diplomatic action by the Allies as a whole. The trouble there was variation. There was no harmonious voice at all among the Allies, and could there be a clearer case for co-ordination? In Sofia the difficulty was, among others, that when the Allies after immense delay did make a communication to the Government, again the Czar's Ministry, through M. Sazonoff, sent subsequent special communications which created deep distrust of the sincerity of the Allies in their Joint Note. There you have both variation and delay, and delay was fatal to success because the very fact of long delay gave rise to an impression of insincerity and of indifference which was extremely unfortunate, and which was readily used by the German diplomats, who were working against us with all the advantages of unity of voice and rapidity of decision.
Those being the features of the diplomacy of the Allies as it was, the Prime Minister's illustration is very well within the mark. There cannot be the slightest doubt that if by hook or crook co-ordination could have been brought about as early as that in the War the whole situation would have been different, and obviously the War would have been over long ago. I only rose to expand the point the Prime Minister made. It seems to me to be one of extraordinary interest. Diplomacy has lost its chief chances, but others may arise, and one cannot distinguish closely between military policy and diplomatic policy. The Foreign Office and the War Office have to work together, and we ought, indeed, I think, to congratulate the Prime Minister that even at this late date there is every probability that unity of direction and of counsel will be of supreme value. I think that the decision which the Cabinet took, and the action which the Prime Minister took, has been more than justified, and that if there is any criticism to be made it is solely on the ground that the step was not taken very much sooner.
§ Colonel YATE
I would just like to say that I think every student of war, and one 944 might say almost every man of common sense, will most unhesitatingly endorse the efforts of the Prime Minister to secure the co-ordination of plans and unity of action among the Allies that he is now endeavouring to effect. Lack of coordination, I think we must all acknowledge, means dissemination of forces, and dissemination of forces goes a long way towards spelling disaster in time of war. I myself welcome most cordially the agreement now come to by the Prime Minister for the creation of this Supreme War Council, and, like the last speaker, the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Mr. Buxton), I personally have always regretted that the Allies were not able to take more effective action in the direction of Serbia than they have been hitherto able to take. The hon. Member spoke of what had happened from his own personal experience nearly three years ago. More than two years ago, on the 11th November, 1915, speaking in this House, I used these words:I hope we shall be strong enough to go on holding up the Germans in France and Flanders and to send every man we can spare to sweep the Germans out of Serbia. I see no reason myself why a successful sweep in conjunction with our Allies in the East may not be one of the great dominating factors of the whole war." [OFFICIAL. REPORT, 11th November, 1915, col. 1447, Vol. LXXV.]Looking at this now in the light of subsequent events, who can deny that if we had been successful in sweeping the Germans out of Serbia at that time it would not have been one of the dominating factors of the War? If we had retained our hold on Serbia we should have been able to join hands with Roumania, we should have cut off Bulgaria and Turkey, and we should have held control of Greece.
The Prime Minister asked in his Paris speech,Why was this incredible blunder perpetrated?The answer is simple:Because it was nobody's business in particular to guard the gates of the Balkans.With a Supreme War Council this sort of work will be made everybody's business, in fact it will be the business equally of all the Allies. Objection may be raised to this or that detail, but the one thing that stands out before everything else is that without this Allied War Council nothing whatever can be done. This is the first real step towards co-ordination as opposed to dissemination, and what we have to do is to welcome the principle now initiated and to try our best to solve the details.
§ Mr. LYNCH
We have heard a remarkable speech from the Prime Minister, and the one from the Front Opposition Bench. One portion of the Prime Minister's speech which to me was particularly encouraging was that in which he showed the effective force of disagreeable remarks, citing his own Paris speech as an example. That speech was certainly a great change from those optimistic utterances which had become fashionable, and it seems to me that amongst reasonable men the attitude of mind should not be either optimism or pessimism as a set sentiment, but rather a calm and steady regard for the external problem and a desire to obtain a solution of that problem in terms as cogent and scientific as it is possible to frame. In listening to the ex-Prime Minister's speech I was struck by this fact, that not once during the course of his remarks did he touch the pith of the question at all. And from first to last it was a lawyer's speech, the speech of an advocate. He denied or seemed to deny that there had been any dilatoriness in the movement of the Allied arms, when three years of blunders tell eloquently the opposite view. He showed that same fatal state of mind which was one of the causes of the disasters to the Allied arms in the War, and he sheltered his responsibility behind the phrase "military authorities of weight." That is the system of appointing men of big reputations. Because that was the real meaning to his mind of authority, and then in spite of blunders and disasters the most obvious, the right hon. Gentleman hides his own responsibility behind these military authorities of weight. All that, he said, will be tested in history. Unfortunately, there is a nearer test. A man standing in the position he did had the right to test that authority not by waiting for history, but by actual results in this War. Another point was that in which, under the charge of insufficient results for the huge expenditure of force of treasure and men, he made the lawyer's appeal to prejudice. He spoke about the valour of the individual soldier, the necessity of holding the glory of British arms high, and so forth, covering his own responsibility again by that appeal to prejudice which again masks the reality of the facts. Only once did he seem to get home on the Prime Minister in his attack, and that was in the play he made on the word "their," instead of "our," insinuating that where there was glory to be claimed the Prime Minister 946 said "our," and where responsibility was to be shirked he made use of the word "their." If an intelligent inhabitant of another sphere completely unwarped or swayed by our prejudices, passions, and hopes came into this great deliberative Chamber of the whole nation, and listened to such a speech, he would say that a nation guided by men of that calibre was destined to fail. Never once in the course of that speech was there a firm looking at the external problem in the face, but rather a delivery of a lawyer's attack on superficial and really inessential points. Let us consider the speech of the Prime Minister himself. The right hon. Gentleman was in his great form to-day, and the majority of those who heard him went out of the Chamber when he sat down, saying, "That was one of his great Parliamentary triumphs." Yes, it was from the point of view of a rhetorical display, uttered in the face of exterior problems of the most menacing kind. He did not give us a scientific exposition, but he led us through all the various emotions of a revival meeting, putting up a number of objections which were not material, and not cogent, and knocking them down in slashing style. He reminded me of a distinguished fellow countryman of his, Jimmy Wilde, in an exhibition of shadow boxing.
Although that speech pleased the majority, and even pleased myself, in so far as one might admire it as a great emotional effort, a great rhetorical appeal, yet it grieved me to think that that kind of mental calibre and intellectual power was what we had to depend on for winning the war. There you come to quite another region of problems. You come to something which demands quite another quality of mind, a quality that, during the whole of that speech seemed never once to have been exhibited. The crisis demanded a Themistocles; the Prime Minister has given us a Cleon. Or, if those classical allusions sound pedantic, and as we all recognise the great part which America has to play in this War, I will put my point in more homely style. I say that the speech "don't cut ice." We wanted the Prime Minister to persuade us, not to sweep us away in gusts of emotion and passion, but persuade us that the exterior problem demanded the constitution of an instrument of a certain kind, and then to proceed—not by emotion and, passion, but by logic and reason—to show 947 us that the structure of the instrument he set up was the best adapted to meet the needs.
We are all aware that at the present moment General Mackensen is making a furious attack upon the Piave and menacing Venice. Remember that he is making an immense concentrated drive like those which in the past have proved again and again victorious. What are we placing in his path? We are placing in his path a machine of consultation and delay and ineffective action. The circumstances demand that at the head of the Allies there shall be clear thinking—a definite, determinate, well-thought-out plan, rapid decisions, consistent effort, and a determination from the beginning and at every point to realise the plan that has been formed. Will this instrument which the Prime Minister has set up accomplish that purpose? He ought to have been warned by historical illustrations referring to that very field of action which we are now contemplating. In the days of Napoleon, when he invaded Italy, the Austrians were superior in actual forces, and yet he beat them again and again, because he was acting with unity, and with that rapid decision, concentrated effort, and definiteness of purpose which the crisis demanded, and his enemies were governed in their action by the Aulic Council. It is such a Council that is being created to guide the destinies of the Armies on the Western Front. Speed in execution is of the very essence of any resistance to the Germans to-day. Consider for one moment how this Council will work. I ask you to try to visualise the whole of the circumstances. There will meet at Versailles a committee of men. I do not know exactly how many there will be, because I do not know how far the claims of Belgium or even of Portugal, both of which have forces fighting on the Western Front, will be considered. At any rate, quite apart from those, there will be two members from each of the great Powers to begin with, and they will be attended by their military advisers. You will, therefore, have a body of men too numerous at the very beginning to secure anything like unity of purpose. There is, however, in addition, the General Staffs of the respective Armies.
The Supreme Council, with access to all the knowledge, does not devise and elaborate its own plans and give them to the respective Armies for execution. It 948 seems to wait until plans are delivered to it from each of the General Staffs of the separate Armies. Each one of these Staffs, it must be noted, is attending to its own problem, and therefore any plan which it can devise and elaborate must refer to that problem in its isolated condition. The Supreme Council is supposed to co-ordinate these plans. It is one thing to co-ordinate a number of plans which have no relation whatever to the whole, and another thing to devise a plan from the beginning which shall survey all the factors and all the elements which enter into the problem, and then to proceed to impose the plan laid on that foundation. The system adopted means delay. It means discussions, perhaps of a very dangerous character, involving postponements when quick and rapid action may be vital. Again and again, even when there have been councils and unity of action might have been thought to arise from their very constitution, we have found, by reason of the existence of discussions and studies and consideration of different plans, that time, the most vital of all considerations, was lost sight of. Even an inferior plan may at one moment be successful, whereas a few weeks later the most elaborate and perfected plan may be useless. Consider this again. If at length the Supreme Council does arrive at a plan which by virtue of its co-ordination is the best plan, it does not for one moment follow that the plan will be executed, because there is still another stage. This plan so elaborated must be submitted to each of the General Staffs of the repective Armies, and it is entirely optional with them whether they accept or reject it. If it be not in accordance with the original design which they sent up, their tendency may be to reject it. You may not have unanimity on the Supreme Council. The natural tendency of the General Staffs then would be not to select the plan of the Supreme Council, but rather each to side with the representatives of its own Government. On the other hand, there may be a case where there is unanimity on the General Council, but in spite of that unanimity the plan may come to naught.
Surely if it is necessary to set up this Supreme Council for the co-ordination of all the movements of all the forces, then once having elaborated its plan that plan should be decisive and the fullest power should be given to carry it out. It is that which seems to me to be the fatal 949 blot in the scheme of the Prime Minister. It is not that I attack him as he has been attacked for setting up a Council tending to give unity in action; it is rather that his plan does not secure unity of action. And if it did, there would not be the swiftness, the decision, the consistency of carrying out one great, well-considered plan, and the determination to ram home that plan to its final issue, which would be attained by a smaller body, which even by the very fact of its smaller number would go further to secure the unity of action desired. That is the gist of the criticism which I have to offer. The plan as indicated by the Prime Minister, and taken in conjunction with his Paris speech, seems to be not the result of clear, definite, hard thinking upon that exterior problem that we must always have before our eyes, but rather a plan brought forward, as so many measures of the Government, not to meet and solve that problem, but to meet and solve the Parliamentary problem and the clamour of the Press. That vital defect seems to me to run through its entire conception and its entire elaboration. We do need unity of plan. It is a need far more pressing than even the Prime Minister has contemplated Without that unity of plan there is nothing but a succession of disasters in store. It is because I regard that unity of plan as so vital that I think this scheme of the Prime Minister will require to be radically revised. The Supreme Council will require to be made smaller, eventually resulting in one man having supreme control and his decisions being given mandatory force, so that they have full weight of confidence and power and so that the least possible delay should be interposed in carrying them out.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
There has been a considerable difference of opinion in the course of the Debate as to the exact nature of the proposals which the Prime Minister has described to us on three different occasions—first, in the Paris speech, secondly, in reply to a question on Thursday last, and, thirdly, in the course of his speech this afternoon. In the course of the discussion to-day many hon. Members have been bold enough to say that the Prime Minister has made the matter perfectly clear. I envy those Gentlemen their acuteness and perspicuity, because, so far from adding clarity to the situation, it seems to me that the Prime Minister's speech has tended rather to confound confusion. There was one 950 illuminating phrase in that speech. In the course of it he was constrained to defend the Paris speech, and he defended it in a single phrase, describing it as political strategy. That is the key of the whole situation. We all know that the Prime Minister is a master of political strategy. The speech which he made this afternoon showed that the old Parliamentary hand has not lost its cunning. But in these grave times, when serious issues are hanging in the balance in relation to the cause of the whole Alliance, what this country must look for, and what the whole of the Alliance must look for, is something more than political strategy. The right hon. Gentleman is a master of the strategy of politics. If he had been equally a master of the strategy of war, the War would have been won long ago There was a number of other observations in the speech which were equally interesting. He professed great horror at any attempt, on the part of persons unnamed, to create disunion, suspicion, and mistrust between the soldiers and the generals, and the horror which he himself expressed awoke a responsive echo throughout the House.
How has this situation arisen? The whole of the suspicion and mistrust in regard to the General Staff has arisen through a campaign, carefully organised, in a Press which is closely associated with the Prime Minister. The General Staff may have succeeded or may have failed; the General Staff may have been prosecuting the right strategic ends, or it may have been giving totally wrong advice to His Majesty's Government; but, whatever their position, it is not right for those associated with the Government to stimulate a political propaganda against the General Staff. If the General Staff has failed, then it is the duty of the Government to get rid of the General Staff and to set up a new General Staff, not to seek to get rid of the General Staff by a side wind, as it were, but to do the thing honestly. It is honesty in our politics and in the management of our country that we must seek above all things. We have had a series of autumn manœuvres in every autumn of the War. In 1915 there was the downfall of Serbia. Then there was a skilful campaign in the Press against Lord Kitchener. We all recollect how he was sent to the Far East and how the "Globe" was suppressed for disclosing the true reason of his being sent, and we remember the share that the present Prime Minister had in that manœuvre. 951 That is not all. The failure then was made the excuse for the reconstitution of the General Staff. sir William Roberston was brought in, and we were told, "It will be all right now. We have now a General Staff. There has been no General Staff since the beginning of the War, but now that we have a General Staff under the capable guidance of Sir William Robertson, the strategy of this country and the Allied strategy will go forward on right lines, and no such disaster as that of the autumn of 1915 will occur again. "Then we came to the autumn of 1916, when another disaster befel the Allied cause. This time it was Roumania that was overrun. We had the same Press campaign. It was said that the late Prime Minister was unable to come to decisions, that we had seen so much of the régime of "wait and see," that we must have a Government that will "do it now," and that it was all due to the paralysis of government under the late Coalition Government that Roumania had been overrun by the German armies. We were told then that if we could only have a small War Cabinet of five, I think it was, to superede the twenty-three, and if, instead of the late Prime Minister, who was represented as a gentleman who sat in his chair and waited on events and whose only motto was "wait and see," we had at the head of this vigorous War Cabinet a man of energy, a man of initiative, a man of imagination, then the whole Allied cause would prosper and victory would be inscribed on its banners.
This autumn has brought another disaster, and it was necessary to evolve a new explanation. That was the reason for the Paris speech. It was political strategy to persuade public opinion that, as in the case of the Serbian collapse of 1915, it was due to Lord Kitchener and the present Prime Minister had advised against it, that as in the case of Roumania it was due to the plethora of the late Cabinet, and that as we had a new War Council it would be all right, so now we have another explanation to prove that, whatever failures and disasters befall this country, the Prime Minister, who is the only man who has been in power throughout this War, is the only man who has never been to blame. I predict that we shall probably be hearing speeches of a similar kind this day twelve months. It is not improbable that there may be still further failures for the Allied cause during the next twelve months. We 952 may see mistakes made if this Government survives—which is a very considerable "if"—and we shall have the Prime Minister, if the House of Commons still exists, saying once more, "If my advice had only been taken, and instead of setting up a central advisory committee you had set up a Supreme War Council, all these things would have been avoided. Everything would have turned out better. Once more I am not to blame." That is the only justification for this further adventure in political strategy which the Prime Minister has made.
It is well to examine this proposal. The only people who really support it are people who believe that it should be something else and that it is meant to be something else. They believe that it should be a supreme War Council—what it pretends to be in its title—and they pour contempt on an advisory committee. Of course, everyone is agreed that in carrying on any war the greater the unity you can attain the more cordial and harmonious co-operation which can be secured the greater are your prospects of victory. The Prime Minister gave us one of his excursions into history. They are always delightful. His history is usually combined with the French Revolution, but this afternoon he went a few years further back and explained to us why Frederick the Great succeeded in the Seven Years War. Of course, it was obvious he had unity of command and the Allies who were opposed to him had not. Certainly; but he had throughout another factor, which the right hon. Gentleman forgot to explain, and that was that Russia went out of the war altogether, which is rather an unhappy omen. But we do not want to labour this analogy. There is no doubt that greater unity is a matter of the greatest consequence. The question really is whether this new device in the Rapallo agreement is going to secure greater unity. Will it diminish the friction which has occurred in the past or will it tend to increase that friction? There are a number of questions which have not been answered and which must be answered before any reply can be given to that question.
The first question one puts is this: Why is the Chief of the British General Staff not on this military advisory committee which is to sit permanently at Versailles? No answer has been given. We know that the Chief of the French General Staff is to be on it. We know that the Chief of the American General Staff is to be on it. But, 953 instead of putting the Chief of the British General Staff on it, you are putting a subordinate, a man who during recent months has been relegated to the comparative obscurity of the Eastern Command and therefore in a somewhat subordinate position. He has the further distinction of having been a member of Lord Milner's mission to Russia, which brought back such totally baseless and useless information to the Cabinet and led them to believe that there was no revolution coming. I do not admire his credentials from the point of view of the Russian mission. We want to know whether on this new Council he is to be subordinate to Sir William Robertson or that Sir William Robertson is to be subordinate to him. Unless we know that, we have no security for the harmonious working of this body, and we are likely to have continual friction between the General Staff here and this Allied body in Paris.
There is a further question which I should like to put, but apparently there is no one here who has any power to answer any questions or who has any knowledge of these things. There is no one here who is able to take a note, and it is treating the House of Commons with less than the respect that is due to it. After all, the Prime Minister makes a mistake if he believes that he gains anything by a triumph like he had this afternoon. It is easy to have a Parliamentary triumph when you have people ready and anxious to cheer you on both sides of the House His Parliamentary triumph to-day will be a very futile victory when this country is up against the facts, as it will be very shortly, and all that cheap rhetoric, savouring rather of the chapel than of the Senate, will avail him little. I do not know whether anyone, even the Junior Lord of the Treasury, will take a note of this, but it is a relevant matter. The question is, when the Prime Minister, and the other member of the Cabinet unnamed, go to the monthly meeting in Paris, are they going to be accompanied by the Chief of the Imperial General Staff or are they not? There is no one on that bench who has any knowledge. The Chancellor of the Duchy is overburdened with looking after the revenues of the Duchy. The President of the Local Government Board has to square the insurance agents regarding the Ministry of Health, and the Minister of Pensions is so busy thinking of the answers to the conundrums propounded to him by my hon. Friend (Mr. 954 Hogge) that he also is incapable of answering it. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend (Mr. Towyn Jones) is probably acting as the Bolo of the Welsh Press. In these circumstances it is rather futile to go on with the Debate, but I think one of these Gentlemen at least should take a note of the questions which I have put.
This new Council, misnamed the Supreme War Council, is really an advisory committee, a kind of wait-and-see advisory committee, and we are told it is to watch what is going on, to see what happens, and then report. We are told that it makes recommendations, and that the decision regarding those recommendations is to lie in the hands of the War Council, advised by the Imperial General Staff. Surely it is impossible for the Chief of the Imperial General Staff to give sound advice based upon knowledge to the War Council unless he has a knowledge from being present at the sittings in Versailles of the arguments and considerations which had weight with the representatives of the Allies. Unless he is in that position, how is he to be able to give the required guidance to the Cabinet? If he is not to go to Versailles he is not in a position to give advice to the War Council. The only advice which is available for the War Council is advice based upon knowledge. I was not able to hear the words of wisdom which fell from the Chancellor of the Duchy, but if he has anything to say which will be helpful I shall be glad to give way to him.
§ The CHANCELLOR of the DUCHY (Sir F. Cawley)
As I take it, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff here will look at the proposals which are made from this country's point of view rather than from the general point of view. The decision come to by the War Council at Versailles will be taken, and the decision by the Imperial Staff will be taken, and then the Government will come to a decision, and they will come to that decision having the views from both sides.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I am sure the House is very much indebted to the right hon. Gentleman for the clear statement he has made. He informs us that first of all the representation will come from the Allied Council in Versailles, then the Imperial General Staff will be able to state its views to the War Cabinet, and if those views are in conflict with the views put forward at Versailles, then the War Cabinet will decide between them.
§ 9.0 P.M.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
The only case in which they would need to decide between them would be where there was conflict. If there is no conflict then all they have to do is to ratify the proposal. Obviously the only time when the War Council will have to exercise its judgment is when there is a division of opinion on strategic objects. My right hon. Friend, in his anxiety to deal with this matter, has overlooked one very important point, and that is that the Chief of the General Staff here while looking at the decisions or recommendations from the British point of view will not have in his hands the information and the arguments which led to the decision at Versailles. Consequently in every case in face of opposition the tendency will be for the War Cabinet to decide against him. He will really have no chance, and if the explanation of my right hon. Friend is correct, then it proves up to the hilt that this is really a device for superseding Sir William Robertson by a side wind. It means that he is no longer to be supreme in determining the strategy of the Army of this country; but there is to be another body, with greater authority, with more information, and in a better position to survey the whole situation, whose decision on all points of conflict will in every case be accepted by the War Cabinet. It may be desirable to bring that about. I am not expressing any opinion as to whether it is desirable to supersede Sir William Robertson or not, because I have not the information regarding the course of the campaign and I do not profess to express any opinion upon strategy or upon the success of any general in the field leading British Armies at the present, time; but I do say that if you want to supersede Sir William Robertson, you ought to do it honestly and straightforwardly and not in this way.
This is not a method which is going to make for quickness of decision. Surely if this advisory body is to act with speed, and speed as we all know is of the essence of importance in all warlike decisions—it was speed that was, put forward as the real justification for having a small War Cabinet—you are not going to have speed by this method. You would certainly secure speed in your decision if the Chief of your General Staff was also a member of the Imperial War Council in Versailles. 956 If you are going to have all this reference and cross-reference there is a possibility that some War Cabinet may be prepared to accept Sir William Robertson's views in preference to that of the Allied War Council. If so, the matter will have to be referred back to Versailles for the purpose of having further opinion and argument by the Allied representatives there. All that is bound to make for slow decisions and for vacillation instead of that quickness of decision which is absolutely necessary for success in war I do not believe that this machinery in its present form is going to make for success in the War. I sympathise a great deal with the contention of an hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite that what was wanted in this War was a Napoleon, but instead of a Napoleon or a Hindenburg we are to have an Advisory Council. Such a position is grotesque, and is bound to lead to failure and to further mistakes. I believe that the present loose system of informal conferences is likely to work far better than having a permanent system in which you are likely to have constantly recurring friction between individuals. Therefore, under these circumstances I think this House ought not to allow this decision to be taken in the light-hearted way which it has shown this afternoon.
There is more involved in this matter than simply a display of pyrotechnics on the part of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister has saved his Government. That is a small matter. It is more important that we should save the Allies. I can understand a genuine effort to secure unity of control such as has been advocated by the hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyne (Commander Wedgwood) and the hon. and gallant Member for Montgomeryshire (Major David Davies); but that is not the proposal put before the House to-day. The proposal put before the House is a halting, hesitating, half-way house to such a unity of control, and it is because it is halting and hesitating that I believe it is likely in practice to be worse than the existing system. The Prime Minister has told us that we are going to have harmony and co-ordination. We have heard similar stories about conferences held in Paris and elsewhere. The Prime Minister came back from Rome in January. It was a triumphal progress that he had in Rome. A cartoon appeared in one of our evening papers representing all the Liberal Members of the late Cabinet as captives in his train. But 957 what was the story that the Prime Minister told at the Mansion House? That he had never been at a more businesslike and successful Conference, a Conference which had yielded the most fruitful results, and from which every member departed in a state of the most serene confidence.
There was a different account of the Rome Conference given in his speech this afternoon. He told us that at the Rome Conference his whole ideas of strategy had been turned down. I think that he put in a memorandum there. It is a favourite device. He has put in a memorandum about everything. But he put in a memorandum, and we are led to believe that his piece of strategy somehow or other corresponded with that described in an American newspaper which was subsequently quoted in the "Times." It is very extraordinary how it should have got into the Press—the American Press—but these things do happen. We are aware from the right hon. Member for Barnard Castle, who has been at 10, Downing Street, that there is the most efficient Press Bureau there that is ever known. This was the great scheme of sending a British Army to Laibach and Vienna. I think the right hon. Gentleman had been reading a popular history of Napoleon's campaign, and he had read up the campaigns of 1797. He found that Napoleon had forced his way into Austria and compelled Austria to conclude the peace of Campo Formio, and he thought, "Why should not we do this?" and he wrote a memorandum on the subject. But, after all, there were some people who knew about strategy there—it may have been an accident—and about the conditions on the Italian front, and apparently it was turned down. Now the Prime Minister tells us that the cause of all our woes is this Conference in Rome in January, which at the Mansion House in the same month he described as the most businesslike and successful Conference that he had ever attended. Are we to believe him to-day? How long is this country going on believing in this assurance that, whatever disasters occur, this man has had no hand in them? This scheme is likely to secure the ends which the right hon. Gentleman has in view. If it succeeds, he will take the credit of it—"I suggested it, I concluded this." If it fails, he will say, "I wished to go much further, and it was simply because the Allies were so timorous 958 and so faint-hearted that they did not take my advice that these tremendous catastrophes have fallen upon us."
We are going to have a great deal to pay in this War. This country has suffered much for it. It is going to suffer a great deal more. It is fifteen months since the celebrated interview was given by the right hon. Gentleman to the American Press. He knows how to get to the Press. It was the interview in which he spoke about the "knock-out blow." It was an interview which he subsequently defended in this House. He told us here, standing at that box, that Germany was squealing for peace. Was Germany squealing for peace then, or was he a false guide then? I maintain that, however valuable in many ways the initiative and the imagination and the enterprise of the right hon. Gentleman may be to this country, nevertheless on all questions of high statesmanship he has been a false guide, and it is because he is a false guide that the sooner this Government falls the better for this country. There is only one ray of hope in all this. I notice with great pleasure in the Press this morning that in a message President Wilson has asked Colonel House to join this Allied Council, and that he has suggested that the American Chief of Staff should join it with a view to securing unity of control. I think that the accession of America to it is going to tend to sanity. Lord Northcliffe said one illuminating thing in a recent notorious letter. That was, that probably America would take charge later on. In view of the way in which the War has been managed in this country, I say in God's name let America do so. It would be a good thing for this country, a good thing for Europe, and a good thing for the world if America does take charge, because if America takes charge of the War you will see it managed on somewhat different lines from those to which we have become accustomed during the last twelve months, and we shall see, what is even more important and what, I believe will contribute more than anything else to the good of the world—an American peace.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
We have listened to an exceedingly clever speech from the hon. Member. While I disagree with much of what he said, I cannot pretend that I can controvert all of it at the moment, but I would like to deal with one or two points which he raised. He asked why Sir William Robertson, the Chief of 959 the General Staff, is not to be in Sir Henry Wilson's place, while, on the other hand, the Chief of the French Staff and also the Chief of the American Staff were on this Council. The French Staff is necessarily on the spot and the American Staff is necessarily on the spot. You could not have the American Staff, 4,000 miles away, attempting to co-ordinate the work of its armies. The French Staff is only responsible for two fronts, the French front and the Salonika front. The Chief of the General Staff in London has an extremely responsible position which he could not possibly leave to be a permanent representative on this inter-Allied Council. He has to co-ordinate the work of the British Armies, not only in Great Britain, where there is a huge Army, and in Ireland, where there are 50,000 troops; but he has to co-ordinate the work of the British armies in France, Salonika, Palestine, Mesopotamia, and in British East Africa. It stands to reason that anyone who is responsible for such a gigantic task could not possibly be on the inter-Allied Council in Versailles.
The hon. and learned Member also asked will the Prime Minister be accompanied by Sir William Robertson. I should think that was almost inevitable. I do not think that there can be any question but that Sir William Robertson necessarily will go with the Prime Minister whenever the monthly conference, or whatever may be the case, may take place. Then he asked will it be a Supreme Council. It is officially described as the Supreme War Council, but not in speeches and explanations here. It may not be in theory a Supreme War Council, but in practice it will be a Supreme War Council. What will happen? Inevitably the War Council will delegate its functions to the Prime Minister, and what ever Minister accompanies him to Versailles. I take it that will be done by other countries as well. We all know what those delegated functions are. The late Prime Minister was keeping up the fiction that the whole Cabinet was responsible for the conduct of the War.
The late Prime Minister's Cabinet consisted of twenty-two or twenty-three members, but we know that there was an Inner Cabinet, and the rest of the Cabinet were told nothing. In fact, the Dardanelles Commission in their inquiry found that a number of members of the Cabinet particularly asked that they 960 should be told nothing, showing, at any rate, that there were wise men in that Cabinet, since Shakespeare said that "he was a wise man who, asked what he would of the King, said that he desired that he should participate in none of his secrets. "In precisely the same way we will have delegated responsibility to the Prime Minister and General Smuts or whoever accompanies him to Paris. I welcome the fact that at last a Parliamentary duel has taken place in which things have been said which have often been said in private before. There has been a constant duel of criticism between the present Prime Minister, and the ex-Prime Minister. It began at the beginning of the War, when the present Prime Minister said that we were the worst prepared nation in the world for this War. When the Liberal Government came to an end the Leader of the Opposition gave it a handsome testimonial. He said that in his deliberate judgment no body of men could have done better, and that no body of men could have done more; whereas the present Prime Minister declared that it was the worst prepared nation in the world for this War, and as we all know the Liberal Government; of which he was a member, had prepared for this War according to their lights. I am glad that that duel has now been fought out in public, because it will clear the air, and I think that the Prime Minister has scored hands down. We have had evidence to-day that the difference in our methods from what took place in France years ago, when Mazarin displaced Richelieu, and energy gave place to craft. In my judgment the present Prime Minister, in the new Government of lawyers instead of priests, energy has displaced craft, but the present Prime Minister is a child in Parliamentary craftsmanship as compared with the late Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, who is an old Parliamentary hand.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
I am not prepared to admit that either of them is dishonest; but we all know that the Prime Minister has not given all his intellect to Parliament. He has thrown himself body and soul into this War, whereas the ex-Prime Minister gave himself body and soul to Parliament and only the dregs of his intellect went to the conduct of the War.
961 He was here in this House, whereas the present Prime Minister has been devoting himself to the conduct of the War.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
It is my view—though, of course, there may be a difference of opinion—that the late Prime Minister devoted his attention to Parliament and not to the conduct of the War, whereas I contend that the present Prime Minister rightly devoted his attention, or nearly all his attention, to the War. We have heard a great deal about that blessed word "co-ordination." It is not a new word; it is a word that was constantly in the mouths of critics long before this War. The Hartington Commission in 1890 reported on the administration of the Army and Navy. "They said that the want of co-ordination showed an unsatisfactory and dangerous state of affairs as between the Army and Navy. The Esher Commission in 1904, fourteen years after the Hartington Commission, used these words in reference to the fourteen predecessors of the present Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs as Prime Minister.Few of your predecessors since 1815 were qualified either by temperament or by training for the purpose of co-ordinating the functions of the Army and the Navy.If we find it so difficult to co-ordinate two fighting Services belonging to the same nation in peace, how much more colossal a task it is to co-ordinate the efforts of the magnified Armies and Navies of all the Allies in the middle of a vast war. They cannot be treated as a side-show through Conferences assembling at long intervals, but they must be treated by a staff, as proposed by the Prime Minister, and as proposed by the United States and by France, which is in permanent session. A General Staff here, as in other countries, only co-ordinates the efforts of its own Armies, and what is required now, especially in the United States, 4,000 miles away, is something that will co-ordinate the efforts of all the Armies and all the Navies in every theatre of the War. The Chief of Staff, in the case of the United States, must necessarily come to Europe, because he could not possibly manage to be on the staff in Washington and yet co-ordinate military effort with that immense distance separating him from the Armies and from the Allies. They are entitled to say what Lord Curzon pointed out at the Lord Mayor's banquet, 962 that there are twenty-six nations against Germany, seventeen of which have declared war against Germany, and ten of which are actually fighting in Europe against Germany, and by no machinery that man can devise can you co-ordinate the efforts of all those nations, whether in regard to war aims, strategy, or supplies, unless you set up an inter-Allied Staff, and I should not be surprised if inter-Allied Staffs are set up for the three issues of war aims, strategy, and supplies. One criticism which I heard from the hon. Member was made also by the "Morning Post." There are strange bedfellows in this campaign against the Prime Minister. They say that delays will result from this system. On the contrary, I think delays will be prevented; and I do so for this reason. If Sir William Robertson forms plans, as he does he necessarily submits them to all the Allies. They are not only considered by our War Cabinet, but considered by all the Allies. Now, instead of submitting his plan to all the Allies, he will submit them to the British War Cabinet and to the inter-Allied Conference sitting in Versailles. Instead of multiplication of work there is diminution of work, by reason of which we will get decisions on the spot when the Conference assembles.
I have been told that earlier in the Debate I was referred to by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Portsmouth (Sir H. Meux). I do not know what he said; but I think he spoke of me as a "satellite of the Prime Minister." I am a very obscure one. I do not think I have had two or three words with the Prime Minister since I came into the House. I would be proud to be considered a satellite of the Prime Minister in this war; but, if he thinks that I influence the Prime Minister he is greatly mistaken. I am told that the gallant Admiral of the Fleet said we were in agreement about the Baltic. I have never urged—as the First Lord of the Admiralty rather inferred, concerning some critics (who they are I do not know)—that the Grand Fleet should be sent into the Baltic. What I did urge repeatedly, again and again, was that the German Fleet would come out into the Baltic, that they would be accompanied by transports, and we ought to send a large number of submarines into the Baltic to deal with them. Well, the forecast was verified. When I heard the First Lord of the Admiralty's speech the other day, in which he said that if our 963 Fleet were to try to enter the Baltic we would find the German Fleet deployed the other side of a mine field, it made me almost a convert to sending the Grand Fleet there, provided that the American Fleet was over on this side, which it is not; because if the Germans were to resort to such strategy or tactics as to deploy their Fleet, it would be well worth our while to make a feint of entry, in order to cause them to deploy, and we would be able to turn our submarines on to them while they were hemmed in by a mine-field on one side and restricted in manœuvre. I wish to refer to what the Prime Minister said about the necessity, as I gathered, for an inter-Allied Staff for the Navies. I believe that the Americans attach enormous importance to it.
I will give some instances of what it means by way of illustration. A French journalist, M. Rousseau, has had revealed to him things which had not been revealed to us or to any British journalist. He has been able to speak for the first time of what are called the "Hush-hush ships," ships, by the way, which, I think, were intended to play a part in the scheme which the First Lord of the Admiralty derided as based on schoolboy maps, but which Lord Fisher intended for an invasion of the Baltic, the very thing that the First Lord derided. M. Rousseau proceeded to say that some more of these great big, speedy "Dreadnoughts" were being built. What does that mean? Those ships take at least 15,000 men apiece to build if she is to be built rapidly. We know every ship in this War is built fast. Eight of them, therefore, would take more men than were being employed on the whole aeroplane industry a very short time ago. That is a very serious factor when you think that on the other side of the Pacific there are four Japanese battle cruisers which do not consume oil and which are quite useless where they are for this War, but which some effort on the part of an Allied naval staff might bring over to this country. They would burn coal, and therefore there would be no question of oil. I do think it is a very sad reflection that we should have this great American fleet over on the other side of the Atlantic, and that we should have these four Japanese battle cruisers in the Pacific quite useless for the purposes of this War, when, according to M. Rousseau, we are still going to divert labour to build these enormous battle 964 cruisers in this country, and when the number of German battle cruisers is very small. That is one illustration I give. Another is this. I want to ask, What is the use of suppressing the fact that American naval, opinion is unfavourably impressed with our Naval Staff arrangements? There is a joke passing through the Navy where these things are talked of about an American officer saying, "Your Navy is splendid, but your thinking-box is a dud." That is a criticism made in regard to the War Staff of the Navy. No man, no critic that I have seen, has ever said that the Navy has not done splendidly, but they have criticised the Admiralty and have criticised the Staff arrangements of the Admiralty, and they have been justified, for only recently two military officers had to be brought in to teach the Admiralty how to organise the Staff, and I think quite rightly brought in. That is the criticism which is made and that is why so many of us welcome the idea that we shall shortly be reinforced by American naval opinion on the great inter-Allied Staff.
I said, What is the use of suppressing these facts? Mr. Pollen, a great naval critic, a great civilian critic who has made a lifelong study of the Navy, wrote an article for "Land and Water," in which he referred to American naval opinion. That article was suppressed. What is the good of suppressing it? I saw the article and half a column of it consisted exclusively of praise of the British Army, without one word about the Navy, and showing that American opinion was most favourably impressed by the British Army and by the Staff work of the British Army. Is it a crime to praise the British Army and yet half a column is suppressed by the Naval Censor although it consisted simply of praise of the British Army? I want to draw attention to another point which ought to come before the inter-Allied Staff and would necessarily do so. We are putting forward a prodigious defensive effort against submarines, and, owing to recent inventions, I am glad to say in some directions in highly successful effort. But it is a defensive effort and any defensive effort we make, apart from offensive inventions, will necessarily come to failure because other methods of attack will be devised. Sir John Jellicoe told us that he has 3,300 patrol boats. Add to that the destroyers, and add to that the armed merchant ships and the similar efforts of the Allied Powers, and I do not think my estimate of three months ago is far wrong, 965 that we have got 10,000 armed vessels to meet 250 German submarines at the outside, of which only 50 probably operate at a time. That is 10,000 against 50 operating at a time, or 200 against 1. It must occur to men's minds that if some equivalent to this prodigious effort were concentrated, instead of meeting German effort on their own hunting grounds behind a barrage stretching from Denmark to Holland, about three hundred miles or so and another across the entrance to the British Channel of twenty-one miles, we should get much greater results. So far as I can make out from what was said by the First Lord of the Admiralty the other day, in one single month our war vessels and auxiliary war vessels in home waters steamed 7,000,000 ship miles, or 84,000,000 ship miles in the year. We consider that if that effort were more concentrated in the suggested 321 miles of barrage of which I spoke, with all the latest inventions dealing with the submarines in that barrage, we should get ten vessels to the mile at a steaming rate of 50 miles per vessel per day, with 1,100 vessels to spare for offensive purposes. That 7,000,000 miles per month mentioned by the First Lord of the Admiralty is solely confined to home waters, and besides that immense effort there are all the millions of miles which our own and the Allied forces abroad steam. I cannot help thinking that if we got a naval council on similar lines to the Versailles Council it would show that a huge part of this defensive element had much better be concentrated in an offensive close by the enemy's coast, and that we should get immense results from that. Let me say in conclusion that we are all safe in making forecasts like my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Lanark as to some failures in regard to the future. The Prime Minister has a very hard task, which is only made harder by criticism. There is not the slightest doubt that an immense number of divisions from Russia are being released by Germany to come to the other fronts. That must tell, but I do believe this, in spite of the criticism of the hon. Member, that the Prime Minister, in giving us this inter-Allied Naval Council and the inter-Allied War Council at Versailles, will do more than any other step which has been taken in the War to solve the difficulties which confront us.
§ Mr. KING
The hon. and gallant Gentleman. the Member for Maidstone who has just sat down, at the beginning of 966 his speech, was an out-and-out defender of the Prime Minister. When he came really to deal with the question which he understands, that of navies and naval strategy, it seemed to me he gave some very severe and strong criticism of the policy of the Government. He told us in conclusion that the Prime Minister has a hard task, but that that task is only made harder by criticism. The criticism that he made upon the naval strategy and the use of our magnificent and superabundant forces was criticism indeed; and, as I had looked upon him as a very great authority on naval affairs, I must say it has done a great deal to shake the little confidence I had remaining in the Prime Minister, for he showed how bad the whole strategy and use of the Navy had been. The course of this Debate, to which I have listened from pretty nearly the beginning, has struck me, as all other Members must have been struck, by the very little support which the Prime Minister has received. Apart from the short speech delivered from the Treasury Bench, I think two Members only have really whole-heartedly supported the Prime Minister. One of those was the hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone, who, of course, upon the subject that he really does understand—that is, naval policy—does not support the Prime Minister at all. It is very remarkable, I think, that in a Debate like this, begun on a day when we were told that the Government might be in some danger—[An HON. MEMBER: "Oh!"] Yes, we were told that by the Press. Certainly many of the notable organs of the Press that generally support the Government are now crying out for the Prime Minister's head on a charger. These include the "Spectator," that great, wise, and dignified journal.
Seriously, however, surely the Prime Minister, if he had been here during this Debate, or if he takes the judgment and the candid opinions of those who have listened to it—like the Pensions Minister, who has listened so patiently and long to, these criticisms—they must inform him to-morrow morning how very little moral support he has had. I expected, after having heard the speech of the hon. Member for North-West Lanark—and a more powerful indictment and cogent indictment of the Government I never listened to—that at any rate some Friend of the Government would have attempted a reply. The only reply that we have had 967 is a very important one from the hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone, though it was somewhat modified in its defence. I wish to say, what has been so admirably stated by the hon. Member for North-West Lanark, that the real reason why we had the Paris speech, the Rapallo agreement, and the new inter-Allied War Council, is that the Prime Minister is in a difficulty. I see that the "Morning Post" describes his position this morning as being "an awkward mess." That is not a very elegant expression, but it certainly does describe the position in which the Prime Minister is at present. The Prime Minister is a wonderful man. He has an ingenuity, a power, and a charm to make you forget everything but the one thing he wants you to think of at the time. There is nobody in the world like him. There never was. I pray there never will be. Such consummate powers of misleading the people and obscuring the real issues that ought to be put before the nation are a danger to the State at all times. I felt they were rather dangerous when I was a member of the Radical party that followed the right hon. Gentleman, and I think they are still more dangerous at the present time, when we want wise judgment and careful leading.
The real fact is that the Prime Minister, like a quack doctor, has always got some specific medicine for the case in point. Early in the War, if we had only all become teetotalers, we should have conquered an enemy stronger and more dangerous than either Austria or Germany, and we should have won the War very speedily. Now, his policy is more beer, and for it he takes a largely increased amount of barley from the food of the people. A little later the workers were slackers. He therefore appealed to the patriotic people of the country and the patriotic Members of this House to let him have the Munitions Act. A more egregious and bad bit of legislation, and a greater failure in many respects than that piece of labour policy, it would be hard to imagine. Then, of course, as soon as he was made Minister of Munitions there was the lack of munitions, which arose before his time, and for which really he forgot to tell us he was mainly responsible himself. That was the third quack medicine that he introduced to our notice. I will not go through them all, but let us remember a year ago we were told that the small 968 Cabinet, and the Government which would not "wait and see" but would" do it now" would soon put a different aspect upon the War. Well, no statesman ever had a greater chance of doing it now than the Prime Minister. He had practically the whole of the country behind him; he had practically the whole of the Press; he had everybody who had been previously his political opponent ready to give him a chance and support he had never deserved. And then he had his genuine political opponents, the Front Opposition Bench, absolutely effacing themselves; and, finally, he has been patiently listened to by people who have been blinded by a censored and engineered Press. He has had all those chances, and now he tells us that if we only had had unified control of the War we should have won long ago, and if we only had it now we should begin to win.
I really wonder why those hon. Members—there are many in this House—and many patriotic men in the country, who were not previously dazzled, infatuated, and fascinated, as we Radicals were, by the Prime Minister, should not now understand that they have been fooled by him for the last year, for there is no other word that you could properly apply to the state in which we have been during the last year than that we have been fooled by the Prime Minister. I, therefore, greatly welcomed his speech, because it was really a confession of faith, and rather more—it was a desire to reform, and when any sinner shows signs of repentance, I, as a good Christian, greatly welcome the signs; but, instead of showing any signs of repentance today, he speaks in the pride of sin, and in the confidence that there is no judgment to come. I am surprised and disappointed with the House of Commons that it does not see through the miserable subterfuge which has now been palmed off upon it. I shall not go into the real issues—[HON. MEMBERS: "GO on!"]—because they have been so admirably taken up by various Members, especially by the hon. Member for North-West Lanarkshire (Mr. Pringle), who put such searching questions to the Government that they all sat there mum. But this I would like to say about the Allied War Council. We ought to know very soon whether it is really going to exercise united control. Advice is not control, and I do not believe a United War Council will be any good unless it does 969 exercise actual control, and if it does exercise actual control we ought to know the form and the method by which that control is exercised. The head of the American Mission, the special representative of President Wilson now in Europe, Colonel House, in his communique, tells us that the President has emphatically stated by cable that the Government of the United States considers that unity of plan and control is essential in order to get a just and permanent peace, and then he goes on to request Colonel House to confer with the heads of the Allied Governments with a view to achieving this end. I shall not be surprised if, on the lines which were emphasised by the Prime Minister to-day, that really the control would be very general, and that there would be many steps of consultation and reconsideration, and going back, and taking the Imperial General Staff into consultation—that if these various steps are to be brought in, why, then, there is going to be delay, and I do not think there is going to be efficient control. I should not be surprised to see the United States standing aside until there is real unity of control. That would be a most unfortunate thing at the present time, but it is eyident from Lord Northcliffe's letter, published in the papers on Friday—and it is a letter which, however sensational in its way, cannot be entirely ignored—that the United States is decided and clear, and was so before even the announcement was made in this House, that there must be a harmonious and united control, and that the United States would have to come in and assent to that control. Lord Northcliffe says in that letter that the United States will take into its own hands the entire management of a great part of the War unless there is swift improvement. That is a very omnious statement indeed, and, coming as it does from the Noble Lord who has recently been sent to the United States on a special mission, and who, as was said at Question Time to-day, may still be sent back there, because it is under consideration—I say, under those circumstances, the words of Lord Northcliffe cannot be ignored, and if any words of mine could reach the Prime Minister, and if, which is more unlikely, he would give a moment's real consideration, I should say, for the sake of our unity with our American cousins across the water, do come to an understanding with them, and go further than you have 970 announced already in the way of direct control of the whole of the forces of the Allies.
I believe myself that, much as the country respects and honours Sir Douglas Haig and Sir William Robertson, they are far from perfect. I have criticised them several times. During the past two years I have criticised the policy of their higher command frequently. I shall not repeat those criticisms to-night, but I believe these men are patriotic enough to stand even some suspicion of their pride being injured by some intimation being given to them that we cannot rely entirely upon them. I should even think it would be better to risk their resignation than to risk getting complete unity and accord with our American Allies, and if there is a choice between these two alternatives—the alternatives of turning them down or of risking the enthusiasm of our national lives—then I would choose the American support first. In the remarkable letter which Lord Northcliffe wrote he uses language which I think ought not to pass without some comment in this House. Returning from America and speaking as he did what he rightly or wrongly believed to be the trend of American opinion—certainly it was the opinion expressed by many American newspapers—he said:You have men in various positions of authority who should have been punished but have been retained and in some cases elevated.If there are men who ought to have been punished but who are retained and elevated, we ought to know who they are. If there are men in office who ought to have been punished but have been elevated, we ought to be told their names. One or two names do occur to me. I should designate Lord Hardinge as one. I will conclude by appealing to the Government here again, if my voice can reach anybody in power who will listen to it, if there men in office in high places of authority who ought to have been punished and have been retained and elevated instead, there ought to be a different policy adopted. We ought to turn down incapable men, and not refrain from doing so because of their past reputation or because degradation or retirement might hurt the susceptibilities of certain people, or because it might give rise to unpopularity. A country which is actuated by such considerations is not going to win this terrible War. I appeal again to the 971 Government here to give us some enlightenment on these points and thus prove that they are sincere and wholehearted and prepared to institute great changes.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.