§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Lloyd George)
Mr. Speaker,—Four years ago the British Empire decided to throw the whole weight of its might into the greatest War which the world has ever witnessed. It did so not because British soil was invaded or even threatened with invasion, but because of an outrage upon international right. Had it not been for that decision, the whole course of the War would have been different. The history of the world for generations to come would have followed a different course. I do not wish in the least to exaggerate the part which the British Empire has taken in that conflict. But a mere glance at the events of the last four years will show how great and how decisive its influence has been upon the turn of those events. When the War began we had the most powerful Navy in the world. It was as powerful as the three next Navies of the world, and, when unity of command is taken into account, it was more powerful than the three next Navies. We had, however, the smallest Army of any great Power in Europe. We had a compact with France that if she were wantonly attacked, the United Kingdom would go to her support.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
There was no compact as to what force we should bring into the arena. In any discussion that ever took place, either in this country or outside, there was no idea that we should ever be able to employ a greater force than six divisions. Whenever there was a discussion in this House about the British Expeditionary Force the maximum was a six-division limit. Whatever arrangement was come to, I think history will show we have more than kept faith.
1413 4.0 P.M.
I should like to say one word about the part which the Navy has taken in redeeming that pledge. I do so because there is a real danger in the more minutely and constantly-described events on land to overlook the part which the British Navy is playing in this conflict. There are two great struggles being carried on—one on the land and one on the sea. One is carried on almost before our eyes. The incidents are pictured from day to day by men who are detailed specially for the purpose of describing them. Every turn in events is portrayed. Take the other struggle. Events there take place in the vast wilderness of the sea, over hundreds of thousands of square miles, with no one to witness them or to describe them except those who take part in the grim struggle. That struggle has been prolonged for four years without a break. No darkness arrests it. No weather, no winter stops it! The Navy never goes into winter quarters! The fighting is going on without ceasing, and I do not think many realise that that is the decisive struggle of the War. Upon its issue the fate of the War depends. If the Allies are defeated there, the War would be over; until they are beaten there, Germany can never triumph. And in the main this momentous deciding struggle is carried on by the British Navy. There is a disposition even here to take the British Navy for granted, exactly as you take the sea for granted; and thus there is no real attempt to understand the gigantic effort which is involved in constructing, in strengthening, in increasing, in repairing, in supplying, in maintaining, and in managing this great machine.
When the War began the British Navy was the largest in the world, representing a tonnage of 2,500,000 tons. Now it is 8,000,000 tons. That includes the Auxiliary Fleet, and were it not for that increase the seas might be barred to the commerce of the world. What is its task? Every trade route in the world is patrolled by its ships. Take its functions—take the blockade alone. From Shetland to Iceland, from Iceland to Greenland, from Greenland to the coast of Norway—the most savage waters in the world, always angry, resenting the intrusion of man by every device known to nature—for four years these seas have been incessantly patrolled by the British 1414 Navy. They have set up an impenetrable barrier to Germany. Elsewhere British ships are convoying, patrolling, mine-laying, mine-sweeping, escorting, chasing submarines over vast and tractless areas. They have destroyed at least 150 of these ocean pests—the submarines—more than half in the course of last year.
I will give one figure which indicates the gigantic character of the work done by the British Navy. In the month of June alone British ships of the Navy steamed 8,000,000 miles. To that must be added the efforts of the Mercantile Marine, which has now become a part and branch of the British Navy, and is facing the same dangers with the same daring, carrying for the Allies as well as for ourselves. Most of the American troops, who have so valiantly acquitted themselves in France in recent conflicts, were carried in British ships.
It is difficult to make those who do not understand ships comprehend the very gigantic effort it means to keep this immense machine going. There is rather a tendency to divide our efforts into two branches—men for the Army and ships for the Navy, I wonder how many people understand the number of men required to man and maintain the British Navy and the British Mercantile Marine. At least 1,500,000 for the manning and maintaining, and probably 800,000 or 900,000 of them men of military age. We have made every attempt to comb out when there was great pressure, but we found it was impossible to do so without letting the British Fleet down; and to let the British Fleet down was to let the Allies down. In order that at home and abroad this should be thoroughly understood, I will give one illustration of the importance of not in the slightest degree impairing the efficiency and strength, and, if necessary, the growth of the British Navy, and I am including the Mercantile Marine. The Germans during the last two years have made two definite attempts to force a decision—one at sea and one on land. They attempted the land offensive, because the sea offensive failed. They knew the sea offensive would have been the more final of the two. The land offensive was dangerous; the sea offensive deadly. The land offensive might have been disastrous; the other, had it succeeded, would have been final. If the submarines had succeeded, our Army in 1415 France would have withered away. No Americans could have come over to assist the French troops, and munitions could not have been sent across. We could not have sent across the necessary coal and material to enable France and Italy to manufacture munitions. France, Italy and Britain would not have starved, because the War would have been over before that stage was reached.
I mention these facts in no spirit of boastfulness about the British Fleet, although its achievements fill us with a national pride, and I am certainly not minimising in the least the great assistance rendered by the Fleets of America, of France, of Italy, and of Japan. But the British Fleet is so incomparably greater, and its operations are on a scale of so much greater magnitude, that I dwell specially on this, because it is desirable that the immensity of its efforts and its importance in the War should be realised. The American Naval Mission which came over here the other day saw a good deal of the efforts of the British Navy, and was immensely struck with the vastness of the work which is done. They were specially anxious that steps should be taken to make known not merely here, but in America, the gigantic character of the task which it had undertaken. That is why I have devoted these sentences to the subject. Unless the Allies had been completely triumphant at the outset of the War at sea, no efforts on land would have saved them. The British Fleet is mainly responsible for that complete triumph. It could not have been secured and maintained without its gigantic efforts in men and material. Any distribution of our resources which would impair in the least its efforts would be ruinous to the cause of the Allies.
I should now like to say a few words about our efforts on land. What was the problem that confronted us when we came to the Army? We had the greatest Navy; we had the greatest Mercantile Marine, and the maintenance of these two were the first charge upon the resources of this country. Then there were essential supplies of coal and other commodities, which we alone provided for the Allies, and our military efforts had to be subject to this first obligation upon our resources in men and material. We had other difficulties to confront. We were not 1416 a military nation in the same sense as were all the nations of the Continent. Britain had not, since a remote period in her history, had anything like military service for the whole of her population. We were unaccustomed to the idea of universal military service. Even the United States of America, within living memory, has had Conscription. That is not true of this country. British soil was not invaded; it was not threatened, and we were not afraid of it. Therefore, we had not the same visible, direct, appealing call to sacrifice which always arouses the manhood of any country whose soil is threatened with invasion.
We had a small Army. What have we accomplished? Since August, 1914, including those who were already with the Colours, this country has raised for the Army and the Navy, in Great Britain alone, 6,250,000 men. Most of them were raised by voluntary recruiting—the most unexampled feat in the history of any country in the world. I met to-day a distinguished statesman from am Allied country, and he was telling me what an impression that had made and how there was nothing in the history of any land which would bear comparison with the great voluntary effort made in the first two years of the War by this country. In order to give an idea what this means, if the United States of America were to call to the Colours the same number of men in proportion to population, it would raise very nearly 15,000,000 men. The Dominions have contributed 1,000,000, and may I say here, before I leave the Dominions, how valuable has been the aid of the Dominion representatives, especially the Prime Ministers, in our councils during the anxious months through which we have passed. They have taken part in all those deliberations and in all great decisions which have been come to; and, although I know how the nations they represent are anxious to have their leaders back to take part in the business of those Dominions, I trust it may be possible for them to remain here some time longer, inasmuch as there will be very great decisions in reference to the coming winter and next year, when their presence will be invaluable. India, as my right hon. Friend (Mr. Montagu) in his very remarkable speech yesterday, said, has raised 1,250,000 men since the beginning of this War.
With regard to the present military situation, the essential facts are well 1417 known, but perhaps I may be permitted to summarise them as they appear to one who has been working inside in reference to the great endeavour which has been made in this country during the last four months. What was the position on the 21st March? The enemy had been relieved of all apprehension on the Eastern Front by the peace of Brest-Litovsk. He had brought all his best divisions from the East, and was combing out the best men from the remaining divisions, and bringing them to the West. Most of those men had enjoyed a long rest on the Eastern Front, and had devoted their time to training and preparing specially for the great blow which was to be directed against the Allied Armies.
On the 21st March we had in front of us the flower of the German army, rested trained, and especially equipped for the campaign. Our troops were tired by a prolonged offensive in the most exhausting conditions under which any troops ever fought. Practically the whole British Front was new ground, which had been won from the enemy, where there had been no time to set up defences, and these tired troops, instead of enjoying rest, or instead of having time for training, had to make defences. What other facts were there? Considerable American forces had been expected by the spring, but as a matter of fact, on the 21st March, there was only one American division in the line. There were three or four American divisions behind the line, and they were brought up after the attack began. The weather conditions were the most favourable that the enemy could have possibly chosen. The united command was not an accomplished fact, in spite of all endeavours to achieve it, and each general was mainly concerned with the perils of his own front. So that when the blow came the reserves of the Allied Armies as a whole were not available to meet it where it fell. These were the conditions under which a long-prepared and carefully-prepared blow by the picked troops of Germany fell upon the British Army.
What was the object? It was to obtain a military decision this year, before the American Army could come up. How was that to be achieved? First of all by severing the two armies—driving a wedge between them, and then having separated the British and the French forces, to overwhelm the British Army and afterwards deal at their leisure with the French Army. That was the plan, and we have 1418 to realise the plan in order to see what the valour of the British Army has accomplished. If the first of the two objects had been attained, that is the severing of the British and the French Armies; if the second object had been attained, the overwhelming of the British Army, the American Forces could not have arrived in time to save the French Army. That was the German calculation, and let us not forget, in the light of what happened afterwards, that it was not such an impossible estimate. But how did the German plan prosper? There has been four and a-half months of such fighting as has never been seen on the face of this globe. The magnitude of the armies, the ferocity of the conflict, the losses inflicted and sustained, the valour displayed by the men who took part in the contest—such fighting has never been witnessed on the face of this globe—and not merely in all that, but in the issues which hung in the balance of that fighting.
What has happened? At first the German Army achieved considerable success. We had anxious moments—very very anxious moments, and those who knew the most were the most anxious. The losses were considerable in men, especially in the number of prisoners captured, I regret to say, and in material, far beyond any anticipation that could have been made, and for which we could have been called upon to provide, and had they not been immediately made up, the second German blow might very well have overwhelmed the British Army. Before the battle was over, in a fortnight's time, 268,000 men were thrown across the Channel—one of the most remarkable efforts of British shipping, and of organisation of our British transport, and let us say, of the War Office. In a month's time 355,000 men had been thrown across the Channel. A fresh gun had been put back for every British gun and every machine gun that had been lost, and not merely had the deficiency been supplied, but increased; and at this moment there are more guns and more machine guns than the Army in France ever had.
This was the first German miscalculation. They calculated that we could not do it, and let me say that we owe a debt of gratitude to a section of the Press for misleading the enemy, who was foolish enough to believe it; and if you observed there was no Minister here who knew anything who ever contradicted it. Why? Because we knew perfectly well that it was 1419 the greatest service which they could render to this country to go on letting the Germans believe we had no men to make up the deficiency. The enemy made his plans accordingly and attacked. They hit here and they hit there: they hit South, they hit in the centre, and in the North. Why? They thought they were destroying the British Army, and that there was nothing behind it. In six weeks they were hurled back, and fought to a standstill by the British Army. They were defeated in two or three of the most sanguinary battles of the War, and they were left in unhealthy salients, under the fire of our guns, with extended lines. Their purpose was to overwhelm the British Army; they declared it, and they announced it in their inspired Press—"We are doing it," they said. By the 1st of May they had left us to go South, to make another attack. They knew it could not be done. It is one of the finest achievements of tenacious valour in the whole story of the British Army.
Let me say a word here about one special class. The losses were great, and we had to make them up wherever we could find trained men. We took a step which only the emergency could have justified, and that was, sending the lads of eighteen and a half, who had received five or six months' training, into the line—
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I remember coming at nine o'clock one dark night to Boulogne, after I had been to see the generals, and I met these boys coming up by torch-light from the boat, and they went straight to the front. No sooner were these boys in France than they had to face veteran and victorious troops. No veterans ever fought with greater courage and with greater steadiness than those lads. They hurled back these legions who had vowed to destroy the British Army, and we must all be proud of the boys who have so upheld the honour of their native land, and helped so valiantly to save the cause of the Allies from disaster.
1420 After the experience of this six weeks of fighting, it is a remarkable fact, when you know what was the German plan, that they left the British Army alone for three or four months. They may, and probably will, come back, but that is because they have failed elsewhere. Before I quit the part which the British Army played, let me recognise the assistance we had from our gallant Allies both on the Somme and in Flanders. No one knows better than those who took part in that conflict how invaluable was the aid received from the gallant French Armies in both these great battles. I only dwell upon the part the British force took because, in the main, the fighting was theirs, and the losses were, in the main, theirs.
After the 1st of May the Germans turned off to attack the French. There has never been since the 21st of March an offensive conducted by forces of the same magnitude. That was the biggest attack which has been made up to the present in numbers, in forces, and in concentration. After the 1st of May, they attacked the French Army, and here again they won a preliminary success on a considerable scale. What has happened since then? Not merely have they been fought to a standstill, but General Foch—Marshal Foch, if I may, with permission, for the first time call him by his new title, and I am sure that everybody here will join with me in sending a message of congratulation to him on a title which he has won by such skill, by such resource, and by such genius—by his counterstroke, which is one of the most brilliant in the annals of war, has driven the enemy back, and the enemy—who avowed that he was to capture Calais, perhaps Paris, by dates which vary according to the temperament of the prophets from May till August, August being the latest, who was to capture Paris, destroy the British Army, and overwhelm the French—is now retreating. The danger is not over, but he would be a sanguine man on the Gorman General staff who would now predict that General Ludendorff's plan of campaign will succeed in its objectives, and enable Germany to obtain a military-decision this year.
I do not wish to go beyond that, but I should like to say one or two words about the elements of success, because they have their bearing upon the future. The first was the rapidity with which all losses were made up. I need not 1421 refer to that. The second was the rapidity with which the American troops were brought over. These two are essential parts of the German miscalculation. The first German calculation was that we could not make up our losses. Their second calculation was that the Americans could not be brought over. They looked at what had been done. In February the Americans brought over about 48,000 men. I think, in January, there were still fewer. The German General Staff, which seems fairly well informed, came to the conclusion that if what was said in the British Press about our having no men was true, if what they knew about troops being brought over in American ships was true, and if what a certain section of the Press said about our having no ships was also true, then the destruction of the Allied Armies was a certainty. That is one of the uses of a good Press. It is a mistake to contradict it, and that is my complaint about questions put here. It is very difficult not to contradict them. That was the German second miscalculation.
Soon after the blow of 21st March, the British Government made a special appeal to President Wilson to send men over, even if they were not formed in Divisions, so that they could be brigaded with British and French formations. President Wilson responded by return. It was prompt, it was decisive, but he stipulated that we should do our part of the carrying. It was true that we had no ships to spare, but we impressed upon the Shipping Controller the enormous importance of getting every American soldier over, and we pulled ships out of trades which were quite essential. Do not let anyone imagine that we had ships to spare. In order to carry over American troops, we have had to sustain a loss of 200,000 tons per month in essential cargoes, which means 2,500,000 tons per annum. But it has been justified by the result. I forget how many thousands,—800,000 or 900,000, troops—have been brought over since the date of the battle, mostly in British ships. In the month of July 305,000 American troops were brought over, of which 188,000 were carried in British ships.
That was the second element in the restoration of the situation, because everyone knows how valiantly these troops have fought. It is not merely, as I have repeatedly said here, that they have fought with courage 1422 —everyone would have expected that of the American Army—but that they have fought with a trained skill which no one had a right to expect. The men are brave, but the officers, who, after all, are not trained officers in the ordinary sense of the term, have shown a skill, a knowledge, and a management of men under trying conditions which you could hardly expect from men who have not had years of training, and who have not had a good deal of experience of war. That is one of the most remarkable facts in the fighting of the American troops at the present time.
What is the other element that has made for success? I am not sure that I would not almost put this first. Unity of command is at last achieved, but after a long struggle. The word "Generalissimo" is a misleading word. There is no Generalissimo in the real full sense of the term. A Generalissimo is a man who has complete command over his army, who appoints generals and dismisses generals, and who controls not merely the fighting in the field, but the troops behind the lines. That is not the position of Marshal Foch. It is not the position to which he aspired. In the ordinary sense of the term that has not been attained, and I am still of the opinion that it is not desirable that it should be attained. No one has claimed it; no one has argued for it. What has been established has been unity of strategic command, and that has answered every purpose, as the Germans know too well, and to their cost.
Our first experiment in this direction was last year with General Nivelle. General Nivelle was the Commander-in-Chief of the French Army. It is right when you have two great armies in the field that he who is in command of the greater army, other things being equal, should command the whole; but, apart from that, you were fighting on French territory. General Nivelle was an exceedingly able and experienced officer. He it was who in the main commanded in the great struggle round Verdun, which resulted in a disastrous defeat for the German Army. He had a great strategic plan for a combined attack upon the German Army in April of last year, and he was the first general in this War who devised the plan of an attack upon a wide front, which the Germans have since followed with such success. When that attack took place unity of command was established during the battle. It was to come to an end after 1423 the battle was over. That was the experiment. There has been a good deal of controversy about the French part in the battle, and into that I shall certainly not enter, but I have always thought that even there great results were accomplished. Even in that battle, taking the battle as a whole, 50,000 prisoners and from 400 to 500 guns were captured. Large tracts of territory, some of the first strategic importance, were captured. The British were to attack on the left of the Allied Army, and the main attack was to be on the heights of Vimy. The British part of the battle was the biggest success won by the British Army since 1914. Hon. Members will recollect that it ended in sweeping the German troops from the heights of Vimy, from which prolonged attacks by the French Army in 1915 had failed to dislodge them.
If hon. Members want to realise how important that is, they have only to look at the part which the Vimy Ridge has played in this great battle. Look at the map, study what has happened. The Vimy Ridge has been like a great bastion, which the Germans could neither capture nor turn. Every effort they have made has ended in the most sanguinary repulse, and yet as long as it was in British hands it made it difficult and even impracticable for them to carry out their great operation of severing the British Army, and ultimately destroying it. Think what a difference it would have made had the summit of the Vimy Ridge been in the hands of the Germans on the 21st March. It would have made all the difference in the world.
That was the first experiment in unity of command, and it achieved great results especially for the British Army. Then came the various efforts at Versailles and afterwards. Unfortunately, the controversies which raged round the decision to bring about such unity of command in February of this year were so prolonged that we had no time to reap the benefit of it before the great blow fell—controversies, I am sorry to say, not merely in the House of Commons, but in the Army itself. But the Germans succeeded by their blow in convincing the most obdurate as to the essential need for unity of command, and from the moment that Marshal Foch assumed the strategic command the fortunes of the Allied Armies were restored. There have since been, perhaps, mishaps, like the Chateau-Thierry disaster, but 1424 the masterly handling of the reserves—French, Italian, American, as well as British—gradually baffled the German efforts, and ended in this disastrous retreat from the Marne; which has produced such a wave of confidence and enthusiasm in the Allied countries and such depression, throughout the enemy lands.
It is too early to predict that the German effort is exhausted, and it would be a mistake for us to imagine that. It is no use fostering a false optimism. The Germans have still powerful forces in reserve, though not so many as they had. But although it is too early to say that their efforts are over, it is not too early to say that the chances of the 21st March will not come to them again. Those conditions cannot now be reproduced for the German General Staff. The Americans have already a powerful Army—a tried Army, and a victorious Army in France, equal to the best troops in the field, growing every day and there will be no break in the increase of that Army until America will have an Army not far, if at all, short of the German Army itself. On the other hand, Germany can never maintain the same number of divisions. They have already been reduced since the 21st March. They are now begging for Austrian supports—rather a humiliation for the great German Army, when one knows what is their opinion of the Austrian Army! Begging for the support of the Austrian Army—the great army of Germany, which was to destroy the British Army by May!
The German Allies are rather disconsolate over the Piavé failure. Some of them are becoming a burden to Germany rather than a support. They are now beginning to be disillusioned as to German invincibility. Germany promised great things to her Allies this year. We can see the effect. Suddenly there was a withdrawal of all peace tentacles. When you probed, you found they were not there. Why? What had happened? What of the great promise?—"Do not you worry about peace; we can dictate it in a few months. We mean to have a great offensive in the West, which will destroy the Allied Armies." The peace talk suddenly ceased! You could not hear the whispers. The tinkles of the telephone bell stopped. The great promise has failed! Economically, the position of the Central Powers and of their Allies is one of despair. Their harvests 1425 are not too good, and they are short of many essentials. They know that they have failed. Russia has been a complete disappointment to them. She has become a tangle to their feet.
I should like to say one word about Russia. It has broken into a number of confused and ill-defined entities. That makes the path of diplomacy exceedingly difficult in relation to that vast country. There is no de jure government there. They attempted to set one up by election. No sooner had the election taken place than the Constituent Assembly was dispersed by force. The idea that we are behaving hostilely towards free democratic governments has nothing in common with the facts of the case. There is no Government in Russia now, whatever its professions, which is not a Government by force. Our only policy was to deal, where we had to have relations, with de facto Governments, and that is not so easy. It is impossible to decide or to ascertain who, from day to day, is governing even a single village in the vast territory! of Russia. We have not the slightest desire to interfere with the Russian people, and we certainly have no intention of imposing upon them any particular form of government. That is a matter entirely for themselves. But when we see Germany imposing her authority on large tracts, and exploiting them, or attempting to exploit them, to the detriment of the Allies, and against the will of the people themselves, we feel, at any rate, that the Russian people ought to be free to decide for themselves. They more and more resent the usurpation of Germany, and recent events, violent as they are, demonstrate that. They regard the Germans as marauders. Under these conditions the Russian people are more and more seeking Allied assistance, and we should not hesitate to render every help in our power to enable them to emancipate themselves from this cruel oppression wherever we are within reach.
I must also refer to the Czecho-Slovak movement in Russia a very remarkable movement. The only desire of the Czechoslovaks was to leave Russia, and to go to the West to fight for the Allies. They stipulated that under no condition would they take any part in Russian politics on one side or the other. All they wanted was to get away. They asked us for ships. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and myself, 1426 at the Supreme War Council, came to an arrangement to do our best to get the ships to take them away, and when we returned—this is some time ago—we made arrangements to secure ships to bring them away. I want to say this in order to make it quite clear that we are not exploiting the Czecho-Slovak business, in order to interfere with Russian internal affairs. We were prepared to get the ships. We took the ships away from very important and essential work elsewhere, in order to send them to Vladivostock for that purpose. What happened? Acting undoubtedly under German duress—something like dictation—the Bolshevik Government refused to allow them to get through to Archangel and Vladivostock.
If the Czecho-Slovaks have now become the centre of activities which are hostile to the Bolshevik Government in Russia, the Bolshevik Government have themselves and no one else to blame. The Czecho-Slovaks were anxious to get away. What did they do? First of all, the Bolsheviks tried to disarm them. The Czecho-Slovaks would have been lunatics had they handed over their arms. What has happened since has proved their wisdom in refusing to comply with that demand. The result has been they have only made for themselves that great movement in Russia which centres round the Czecho-Slovaks. You cannot blame the Czecho-Slovaks for getting assistance wherever they could in order to save themselves. Who is attacking them? We are told that Siberia is Bolshevik, If it is, why do not the Siberians support that Government? They could not get a sufficient number of men amounting even to a decent sized Army, and they have had to employ German and Austrian prisoners in order to attack the Czecho-Slovak forces, and prevent them getting through to Vladivostok. It is idle to call that a "free democratic Government," so far as Siberia is concerned. I wanted to make that perfectly clear, because there has been some criticism of the decision which the President of the United States has taken, in conjunction with the Japanese, to send a force to Vladivostock, in order to rescue the Czecho-Slovaks from the plight in which they were put by the organisation of German and Austrian prisoners of war as a force to intercept them and capture them.
1427 What about peace? The longest war must end in peace. There are people in every country who regard any effort to make peace as in itself dishonourable and a treason to their country. That attitude must be steadfastly discouraged. But is this the moment—I put this to all those who only want an honourable peace—is this the moment when such a peace could be made? Why did we go to war? Because that instinct which is a compound of experience and conscience taught the British people that something which is fundamental to human happiness and human progress was put in jeopardy by the great military power of Germany. That will remain in jeopardy as long as the caste that made the War is in supreme command. Has there been any change in that respect?
Let us take three recent events. I mention these because they are real tests. The first is the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, when some of the statesmen of Germany went in, I think, with good intentions. I believe they were prepared to negotiate a peace which, according to their lights, would be on fair lines. What happened? As soon as there was any indication that there was to be anything except a most humiliating and drastic peace imposed upon Russia, the German High Command swept on one side Count Hertling, Von Kuehlmann's and Count Czernin, and imposed their own terms. What is the next test? The humiliating and enslaving peace imposed upon Rumania. The third is what happened after Baron von Kuehlmann's speech in the Reichstag. He said things which I should have thought would have been perfectly obvious to anyone who had witnessed the course of the War from the point of view of the Germans. In a few days he was swept away. What did that mean? The people who made the War, for the purpose for which they made it, are still there prosecuting the same sinister purpose. You cannot have peace as long as they are predominant in the councils of our chief enemy.
I believe in a League of Nations, but whether the League of Nations is going to be a success or not will depend upon the conditions under which it is set up. Some of us have been members of representative assemblies for a generation. I hope I shall say 1428 nothing which will offend the susceptibilities of my colleagues. But everyone knows that when there is any great decision here, what really determines it is not so much what is said in the course of the Debate as the fact that there is some power behind which takes a certain view, and has power to enforce that view. It is the electorate here. In the League of Nations let us take care it is not the sword. The same thing might conceivably happen in your League of Nations, unless you start it under favourable conditions. You might enter it, the Germans saying, not in words, but in their actions, "We invaded your lands. We devastated them. We trampled you under foot. You failed to drive us back. You made no impression upon our Armies. They were absolutely intact when peace was declared. Had it not been for our economic difficulties, you would never have won. We will take good care next time to prepare, and not to be short of rubber, corn, cotton and other essentials." Every time you came to a decision the Prussian sword would clank on the council table. What is the good of entering into a league on such conditions? We all want peace, but it must be a peace which is just and which is durable. We do not want to put this generation again through the horrors of this War. Peace must be durable, it must be just, but it must be more. There must be a power behind that justice, a power which can enforce its decrees. All who enter that Conference must know that, and when we have demonstrated even to the enemy that such a power does exist on earth, peace will then come—but no sooner.
§ Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL
The whole House has been deeply interested in the Prime Minister's wide survey of the naval, military, and political situation. It has been an encouraging survey. He has wisely warned us not to be unduly optimistic It is plain that we are still far from a decision, but the fact remains that at this moment the prospects of the Allied cause are bright. The House has been grateful, and I think the country will be grateful, for the items of new information which the right hon. Gentleman has given us with respect to the naval and military position. After all, this is the nation's war. It is not the Government's war. It is not Parliament's war. It is the war of the whole people, and the more 1429 fully and the more frequently the Government can place the nation in possession of the facts relating to the situation, the more they will be able to maintain the interest and the enthusiasm both of the people at home and of the troops in the field. There are two points arising in the right hon. Gentleman's speech which, I think, are likely, though they were mentioned incidentally, to attract very considerable attention. The first was the statement that at the time we entered this War we had a compact with France which required us to come to her assistance if she were wantonly attacked. I think the Prime Minister, if he reviews the facts, will find that his memory has deceived him as to that. Our hands were entirely free. The matter was made perfectly clear by my Noble Friend Lord Grey in his speech which he made in this House on the fateful 3rd August, in which he dealt specifically with that point, and as the point is one of very great importance, first, for the sake of the accuracy of historical record, and, secondly, to prevent misunderstanding with regard to our relations, not only with France but also with Belgium, I think it is necessary to read one or two passages:I come first, now, to the question of British obligations. I have assured the House, and the Prime Minister has assured the House more than once, that if any crisis such as this arose we should come before the House of Commons and be able to say to the House that it was free to decide what the British attitude should be, that we would have no secret engagement which we should spring upon the House and tell the House that because we had entered into that engagement there was an obligation of honour upon the country.Further, he said:In this present crisis, up till yesterday, we have given no promise of anything more than diplomatic support.Further, he said the French Government earlier had said:'If you think it possible that the public opinion of Great Britain might, should a sudden crisis arise, justify you in giving to France the armed support which you cannot promise in advance you will not be able to give that support, even if you wish to give it, when the time comes unless some conversations have already taken place between naval and military experts.' There was force in that. I agreed to it and authorised those conversations to take place, but on the distinct understanding that nothing which passed between military or naval experts should bind either Government or restrict in any way their freedom to make a decision as to whether or not they would give that support when the time arose."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd August, 1914, col. 1812, Vol. 65.]1430 Then he quoted the correspondence which had taken place between the two Governments which was afterwards presented to Parliament in a White Paper at the beginning of the War which substantiated that statement. The remark into which the Prime Minister was led may, I fear, give rise to a somewhat false impression. It is essential that the country should not think there was anything in the nature of a secret treaty or any private compact which obliged us at the beginning of August, 1914, to enter this War. It was our sense of duty, our obligation under the treaty that safeguarded the independence of Belgium, and our sense of duty to safeguard the reign of public law and the freedom of Europe against the wanton aggression of the moment, and that alone, and no specific contract with the French Government which required us at that time to enter this War.
The second point to which I think special reference should be made was the statement of the Prime Minister that the reverse of 21st March was due to the fact that unity of command had not been established and that the reserves were not ready. That was a very grave statement.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I made a series of statements. The right hon. Gentleman has overlooked them. I gave three or four reasons why the Germans were in a superior position. The first was the fact that they had had rest and training, and that they had been able to bring back troops from Russia. That was the first, and I gave two or three others. I only put that among the number.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I know. But there is a great difference between saying it was attributable to lack of unity of command, and saying that was one of the reasons.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
The right hon. Gentleman said it was partly attributable to the lack of unity of command, and to the fact that reserves were not ready to be thrown into the field at the strategic point at which they were necessary. The House of Commons, which will remember the Debates which took place last November, will have heard that with much surprise, for at that time the Prime Minister assured the House that the arrangements which he had made at Versailles were 1431 such as to secure adequate co-ordination of the forces of the Allies and to ensure that, should any dangerous blow be struck, it would be effectively parried by the forces which were available in the country. While we rejoice that it was possible to send from this country 268,000 men at such short notice, and while we cordially congratulate the Government and the War Office on the rapidity with which they were thrown across the Channel at the crucial moment, the House will feel that if those large forces had been available on the spot and had already been dispatched in anticipation of a blow being struck, the battle might have taken a different course.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Had the right hon. Gentleman known something about it, he would not have made that statement These were drafts to fill up gaps in divisions which were already in existence.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
Were there not a considerable number of units which were sent over? The right hon. Gentleman suggests that I do not know very much about armies. But I had the advantage of sitting as chairman of a Sub-committee on expenditure at the War Office for several months, and in that connection we repeatedly had drawn to our attention the very large forces which were being kept in this country, and we drew the attention of the House to the matter on more than one occasion in our Reports.
The House will, I am sure, join with the Prime Minister in his expression of profound admiration for the really wonderful achievement of the American Government and people in sending over in so brief a space a million and a third of men across the Atlantic, in spite of difficulties of shipping, in spite of the, perils of the submarine. It is the most marvellous achievement in transportation. 1432 I suppose no such large proportion of the human family has ever been transported by water in so short a space of time since the Flood. The American Army through its numbers, through the bravery of its troops, and the skill of its leaders, is likely to prove the decisive factor in this War. The right hon. Gentleman, and the House will join with him, has expressed the admiration we all feel for the gallantry of the armies of France which, after cruel losses and in the midst of a terrible strain, showing all the vigour of the first days of war, with their capital in danger, have repelled the dangerous blow directed against them. Italy is also entitled to our congratulations for her striking success on the Piave.
A few days ago the Chancellor of the Exchequer, speaking on questions relating to Italy, said that the Italian Minister of Finance had expressed some regret that the opinion seemed to be prevalent in some quarters in this country that Italy was animated by Imperialistic ambitions in her participation in this War. If such views are held, I am certain they are held by a small proportion of our people. To suggest that Italy, in desiring to re-unite to herself the Italian population at present under foreign domination, is animated by a spirit of aggression and a spirit of annexation is, I think, as unreasonable as it would have been to suggest that Garibaldi was an Imperialist or Mazzini an annexationist in the days when they were seeking to unite with Italy the plains of Lombardy then under Austrian domination. The House views with satisfaction the fact that the Italian Government has been able to unite her policy with that of the Jugo-Slavs with whose aims and desires we cordially sympathise. If, after the War, we are to see established a new world order under the auspices of a League of Nations, I, for one, feel perfectly convinced that we cannot leave these questions of nationality unsettled. The difficulties which stand in the way of a League of Nations are indeed great, but they will merge into impossibilities if these territorial matters are left unsettled or if they are settled wrongly. If peace comes, still leaving large bodies of Frenchmen under the rule of Germans or of Italians under Austrians, of Czechs and other nationalities deprived of the right of choosing their own governments, then a League of Nations, which will be required to keep the peace of the world under those conditions, would be very little 1433 better than the Holy Alliance of a hundred years ago under another name. It is only by removing old wrongs that you will be able to lay broad and firm the foundations of new rights. And with what the Foreign Secretary on that point said when in dealing in a recent Debate with a League of Nations I wholly agree.
But the House felt some disappointment with the Foreign Secretary's speech on that occasion. He dwelt at considerable length with all the difficulties, and we know there are difficulties, which stand in the way of a League of Nations, and at the end of his speech he declared himself one of its enthusiastic advocates. It was a negative speech with a positive peroration, and I fear that the longer and more negative part is likely to attract more attention than the concluding words. We were gratified to hear from the Prime Minister that he is a believer in the League of Nations. I could wish that he, on behalf of the Government, would strike a clearer note in that connection. Many of the speeches made by members of the Government give an impression that there is, if not a division of opinion, at least no great driving power behind this movement to establish a League of Nations. The tones which ring from Washington sound very differently from those which come from Downing Street, and I could wish that the Prime Minister and others would declare in unmistakable language that they, too, regard the establishment of a League of Nations, next to the winning of the War itself, as the greatest and highest task that lies before the statesmen and the peoples of the world.
There are some, and the Prime Minister referred to them in the concluding passages of his speech, who consider that the moment has already come when we might possibly enter into negotiations with our enemy for the conclusion of this prolonged struggle, that if our war aims were restated and if steps were taken to enter, at all events into informal conversations, there is a prospect of a speedy ending of the War. Let the House recall what the facts are. In January last the Prime Minister made a statement, clear and specific, of the war aims of this country and its Allies. It previously had been shown to and approved by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Fife and Lord Grey. It was soon afterwards followed by a statement not dissimilar in terms by the Labour party of this country and then by 1434 another from President Wilson. To all those there has been from Germany no response—a few generalities, but no specific statement on general lines of the war aims of Germany and the conditions upon which she would be prepared to enter into peace. On the contrary, as the Prime Minister has reminded us, there have been, first, the treaties at Brest-Litovsk and with Roumania in which they trampled under foot all the great principles for which this country entered the War; and there was another significant incident when the German Foreign Minister, who ventured to suggest that the War would not be ended only by the sword, was dismissed from office, and his place taken by an uncompromising German militarist. It appears to me, speaking for myself alone, that Lord Lansdowne and those who think with him carry us no further by declarations suck as those which have recently come from that quarter. The spirit which has plunged the world into this catastrophe is still dominant in Germany, and it is clear that the prospects of an early peace are not bright. In this connection, I would like to call the Prime Minister's attention to a speech delivered in the last two or three days by his colleague in the War Cabinet, the right hon. Member for Blackfriars. It Was an interesting address to a gathering in Cambridge, in the course of which he used these very significant words. And the context shows that he means that it is a proposal for the present time:I should like to see an International Hague Conference arranged by the Entente Powers at which there should be representatives not only of Governments but of peoples. I should like to see at such a conference representatives of organised labour, religion and commerce drawn from America, France, Great Britain, Italy and the Allied countries generally. At that conference the Governments might revise their peace aims.I should like to ask the Prime Minister, or any of his colleagues who may speak later in the Debate, whether that statement made by a member of the War Cabinet, not a Departmental Minister, represents the considered opinion of the Government, whether it was made with full Cabinet responsibility, and whether it is the policy of the Government to summon such a conference at an early date, and, if so, whether it is intended at that conference to revise the war aims of the Allies?
1435 I believe that the Resolution of this House and the people with regard to the prosecution of the War remains the same as it was four years ago, but that is because our war aims remain in all essentianls at the same high level that they were on when we entered into conflict. Anything which tends to lower them, to make it appear to the nation and the world that we are engaged in a struggle which essentially is an economic struggle, and that the settlement that we wish to see is a settlement which must deal primarily or largely with trade questions—any such tendency as that would degrade the whole conflict on to a lower level, and would, I believe, lessen the unity of the Allies and decrease the enthusiasm of our Armies. When we ourselves invest in War Bonds and ask others to do so, or pay our taxes, we are accustomed to say, "What, after all, is wealth compared to the lives of our men? When they are risking their very existence it would be a shame for any at home to refuse to give all their goods, if need were, in order to carry through the cause for which that great sacrifice is made." But the converse has also to be taken into account. What is wealth compared with lives? Nothing! What are lives compared with wealth? Everything! I do not think the nation would be prepared to prolong this struggle for any purposes of trade advantage. Germany makes it the object of her propaganda continually to represent the British Empire and America as being engaged in a mercenary struggle, that our real purpose is to destroy Germany's economic power and to make ourselves the trade masters of the world. It is absolutely untrue. Those who really know the spirit of these two countries are well aware that this is a calumny, but let our public men beware that they do not give colour and substance to that propaganda by the speeches and declarations that they make.
I, for one, agree that if at the end of the War we are faced by a Germany still militarist, still aggressive, still formidable, then it may be necessary to use every economic weapon in our power in order to prevent her recovering her strength. But that would mean that we had in essence lost the War, that we had failed to achieve the objects which we set out to attain. Our trade measures then would not be economic measures, but measures of 1436 defence. They would not be regarded from the standpoint of national wealth, but from the standpoint of national security. There are those who put in the forefront those questions of economic warfare after the War to be carried out regardless of the terms of peace, and whether we have achieved or not achieved our war aims, and the most vehement advocate in this country at the present time of what I regard as the counsel of despair is the Prime Minister of Australia, Mr. Hughes. Any man is, of course, entitled to enter the arena of political controversy in this country, and to make violent attacks upon political parties here and upon political leaders, but I would venture to suggest that before Mr. Hughes did so be ought properly to have divested himself of his character of Prime Minister of Australia. The whole nation, irrespective of party or of opinion, would wish to treat with profound respect and deference anyone who speaks here as the representative of one of our great Dominions. All the more necessary is it that he should not advance in such terms, a policy which, by a very large proportion, and many of us think the majority, of the nation, is regarded as being calculated to keep the world in a state of continual animosity and armed conflict—above all, he should not, speaking with the character and in the position he occupies, accuse those who disagree with him as being consciously or unconsciously agents of Germany.
The Prime Minister's survey dealt mainly, indeed entirely, with the issues of the War. He did not touch upon matters of domestic policy, but I cannot refrain from reminding him that the one weakness in our position in this country arises from the condition of Ireland. I do not think this House should separate for the Recess without a word of warning, and a very earnest warning, being addressed to the Government in respect to the measures they might take in October, possibly before the House meets, with respect to military service in Ireland. I do not propose to dwell upon this matter, but I cannot refrain from recalling the words used very wisely by the Chief Secretary a few days ago when he said:The Germans want trouble in Ireland. They want that species of trouble which will keep our troops in Ireland instead of sending them to the front.That is very true, and I would ask him to bear in mind his own words before he 1437 comes to decide with his colleagues the course to be adopted in regard to enforcing compulsory military service upon the Irish people against their declared will. We have, in regard to Ireland, thrown away a powerful resource of military and moral strength by our handling of the Irish situation, which I do not say by this Government, but by all Governments during the War has been the greatest failure of British statesmanship during the course of this straggle.
There is another very important matter to which I sincerely trust the Government will give their earnest attention in the Recess, and that is the position in regard to shipbuilding, which remains disappointing. I am sure the House in all quarters is very dissatisfied at the results that have so far been obtained in respect to British shipbuilding. The amount of British tonnage which is available for all the purposes upon which the War makes great call is still declining. Although the sinking have decreased, and the building has increased, the fact remains that in the first half of this year the tonnage of British shipping has decreased by half a million tons. That is a loss which we can very ill afford. Although the month of June shows better figures, our mercantile tonnage is still decreasing at the rate of 300,000 tons a year. It is the case, as we gratefully acknowledge, that the stupendous efforts of the American shipbuilders are increasing very largely the tonnage of the Allies, but I believe it is the case that whatever new tonnage they can put into the water will be needed to feed and supply the immense increases of American troops that are being sent, happily, month after month to France. The policy in regard to the national shipyards has been a deep disappointment. It has involved so far vast expenditure with no ships, and I feel certain that when we come back again in October one of the first matters to which the House will direct its attention will be this vital question of shipbuilding, and there will be deep disappointment if the figures in the meantime do not show a great improvement.
I should like to refer to two other matters of domestic policy. One is the Ministry of Health, in which many of us are keenly interested. There is disappointment in regard to that matter. We have had promises month after month and week after week that the Bill, which has been long under deliberation, will at once be produced.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I did not enter into this question, because I did not know that it would be in order to discuss questions of legislation. If it be so, I must invite some of my colleagues who are in charge of these various matters to address the House.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Whitley)
I do not think it will be in order to refer to matters which require legislation.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
I was not criticising the right hon. Gentleman for not having dealt with this matter. I said no word of criticism because I did not expect him to do so. I was not in order in referring to the Ministry of Health because that does require legislation, and it is not in order on this occasion. This is the first time I have fallen into that slip during the sixteen years I have been a Member of this House. There is another matter which I think it is necessary to deal with to-day because this is the only opportunity we shall have of doing so, and it is one of urgency; I refer to the question of the plans of the Government for dealing after the War with problems of housing—a very urgent matter and one of profound national importance. There are some of us, Members of all parties of both Houses, who have been meeting together for some weeks past to examine the Government's proposals in regard to housing, and we have come deliberately to the conclusion that they are inadequate. I think that most Members who have taken a close interest in this matter are of the opinion that the proposals of the Local Government Board and the Government with regard to housing after the War are not satisfactory. The terms are not such as to secure the building of houses upon an adequate scale, there are no measures to secure the enlistment of the assistance of public utility societies and private enterprise; and there is insufficient security for economic building and management. In fact, the Government have not taken hold of this question with big enough grip. I suggest to the Prime Minister, who has done me the honour to listen to my speech, that the Government ought to deal with the question of housing with something of the spirit and something of the grasp with which he dealt with the question of munitions of war, and that they should take steps to provide the nation with the building materials necessary and with the houses essential for the people with something of the same energy 1439 with which they provided themselves with munitions of war; but with a somewhat closer regard to financial control. On that depends the health of the people, temperance, industrial efficiency, agricultural development and social contentedness. All these things are bound up with the housing question, and those of us who are specially interested in this subject desire to warn the House and Government in time. We believe that unless they change their present policy there will be grave disappointment, and that the measures which they take will not be adequate for the after-war conditions. Unless these steps are taken now we believe it will be too late to take them later. In conclusion, let me say that the House will disperse for the Recess much cheered and encouraged by the Prime Minister's survey of the War situation.
§ Mr. T. P. O'CONNOR
As one who has been absent from this House for some time there is a sense of remote echo in some of the speeches I have listened to. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Samuel.) has spoken of Ireland. That brought me back to 3rd August, 1914, when Sir Edward Grey made a speech which really brought my late friend (Mr. Redmond) to his feet and elicited from him his historic declaration in support of the policy of this country in the War. My right hon. Friend did not draw a very agreeable picture of Ireland at the present time, and quite rightly. I cannot help recalling that on 3rd August, 1914, Sir Edward Grey described Ireland as the one bright spot on the horizon. The Prime Minister has described the very dark hours of March last, which recalled me from scenes far away from the scenes here. I was in San Francisco at that moment. I considered it to be my duty in America at moments of darkness and menace to encourage my American friends and my American audiences with confidence as to the victory of their arms with regard to those who were fighting with them. I recall the welcome and even the enthusiasm with which my words were cheered by those American audiences. I was recalled from San Francisco by the right hon. Gentleman at a very unfortunate moment for me because at that moment the generous citizens of that wealthy city were contributing very largely to a fund I was raising, and I had good promises from other parts of the great State of California; but when the right hon. 1440 Gentleman proposed Conscription I thought it necessary to leave San Francisco and California and to get to Washington, which is the intellectual and political centre of America.
I hope the House will allow me as one who has exceptional opportunities of studying the position in America, to give the House some impressions which I got from my visit. The conditions were somewhat exceptional in my case, because on all previous visits to America I practically confined my intercourse to those of my own race in America. My own race was not quite so cordial to me as on previous occasions. Instead of meeting the vessel with a green banner and a loud band and with a deputation outside the quay, I landed one Sunday morning on an empty quay without a single person to give me a welcome. That to a large extent, for the time at least, meant that I had closer intercourse with men of other races than my own, and in that way I had somewhat exceptional opportunities, and very instructive opportunities, of getting at what I may call the soul and mind of the American people.
With what objects did I go to America? I was sent there by the late Mr. Redmond, and my mandate was renewed by the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) when he succeeded the late Mr. Redmond. My mission was to obtain financial support for my party, but I was sent with an even greater purpose, and that was to advocate to the people of our own race and to the American people generally the policy for which Mr. Redmond stood and for which my hon. Friend (Mr. Dillon) in as full a sense stands to-day. That policy was an unswerving support of the cause of the Allies in this War for what we regard as the principle of freedom. That was an attitude which I very soon found out did not commend itself to a large number of my race. I was assailed, for the first time in my life, by as well organised and as unscrupulous and mendacious a campaign as ever was waged against a public man. I do not suppose the gentlemen who propagated the lies about me believed them themselves, but I suppose that this sort of thing is regarded as a legitimate political weapon. For instance, I was described as a paid British agent, if not a paid British spy. One gentleman in Dublin was even kind enough to name the salary that I received from the British Government—£1,000 per week. As I have been 1441 away fifty-two weeks, I have made the largest income in one year that I have ever made in any one year of my existence. Fifty-two thousand pounds, according to this report, is my salary from the Government—a claim which I will be willing to exchange for a very small sum. I was described as having been brought over in a special British cruiser. I went over in the "Andania," which has since been torpedoed.
I was favoured with a large amount of correspondence. I will not repeat the terms in which these letters were couched. They would not be quite acceptable to the ears of the polite, but I may say that when I was only addressed as Judas Iscariot, who ought to go back and get his thirty pieces of silver, I felt that that was not the worst that had been said. I was prepared for some hostility from my race in America, but their hostility was even more envenomed than I expected. I was also faced by an extremely well-organised, widespread, powerful conspiracy to prevent my appearance without interruption and disturbance on Irish platforms at public meetings. This, remember, was in June. I landed on 22nd June, and war had been declared by America in April. The period of America's intervention in the War was, therefore, one of some duration. Yet I found a state of opinion, at least on the surface, in America which was a surprise to me, and an exasperated state of opinion among men of my own race.
One always forms a somewhat misleading impression of the city of New York when one lands there coming from our grey buildings and grey atmosphere, and after the sinister solitude of the steamer. For several days it appeared to me to be a great white city, in which there was not merely a love, but a mad pursuit of pleasure. I saw a long, unbroken stream of motor cars bringing men with their wives and children to all the pleasure resorts of the city, and in that procession was a large number of coloured men, who, with their motor cars, gave evidence of their prosperity. Within a few blocks of the hotel in which I was living there was nightly a number of addresses to large crowds by orators who are known in America as soap-box orators, and I need only mention that in all such orations I was dealt with very faithfully. That is of very little importance except to myself. The point on which I dwell is that in these speeches there were violent attacks on 1442 the policy of the President and of the intervention of America in the War. And in the public Press there was a torrent of protests and criticisms with regard to the War by pacifists, by factionists and German agents, and one of the most odious of these statements was that this was a war which had been made by the Morgans and the munition workers. That statement to many people was so grotesque as to destroy itself the very moment it was uttered, but it was not so grotesque as it may seem to ordinary hearers. It was one of the very best forms of propaganda that could have been invented. That was the state of American opinion last June and the state of Irish opinion. In these circumstances, what was I to do? My friends were, I think, a little ashamed of sending a man within a few months of seventy years of age to America to face the fatigues of such a journey, but the journey was to be confined to three or four weeks in America and to a visit to two or three cities. I found that if I was to do any good in America either for my party or for the cause they represent—namely, the cause of the Allies—I had to be patient and to remain there. I offered the late Mr. Redmond to remain there for some time, to try to secure better results and to create a better opinion in America. He asked me to do so, with the result that my intended visit of four weeks was a prolonged one of thirteen months. It was not altogether a pleasant time, I must admit, but I do not think that for the causes which are dear to me I could have spent my time to greater advantage in any other place than in America.
Finding so many avenues of approach to the American mind the American people closed to me, I got into touch with the great propaganda organisation, the National Security League. I did so at their request, and under their auspices I addressed, two or three times a day for nearly four months, meetings of all kinds in the city of Chicago. I do not desire to repeat any of the compliments which my friends bestowed upon me, but, at least, I can accept the compliment that I had done great service to the cause of the Allies by informing and stimulating opinion not only of my own, but of other races in Chicago. One of my hon. Friends has made a rather favourable contrast between me and some British missionaries who went to the United States, but I must candidly say that any compliment which he pays to me is not nearly as well deserved as it would 1443 be by Lord Reading, the present Ambassador to the United States, who has done incalculable service. I need scarcely tell the House that I never, in spite of the attacks that were made on me and the disapproval of my own race, wavered in the policy which I was sent to advocate, and which I advocate to this day. That is, that the place of Ireland in this War was at the side of England, America, France, Italy, and the other countries fighting, as I believe, for the freedom of the world. At that time perhaps American opinion required some information and some stimulation, because America is 3,000 miles away from Europe. One must never forget that. It is the central fact of the situation. But while I found so many people in America proclaiming the gospel of the success of Germany and the righteousness of Germany, my voice was heard for the opposite policy, and was heard by all the American people, and friends of mine in America have been kind enough to say that I did something for the people of our race. I believe that if I had remained long enough in America, and if I had been helped by the Prime Minister, I might have achieved even better results. I did not attend any great open-air meeting of the Irish race, though I attended scores of tumultuous, crowded meetings of Americans; but I believe that I would have been able to do so, and I believe that by what I may call a war of attrition, aided by the entrance of America into the War, I was gaining converts every day from those who are our opponents in America, as they are our opponents in Ireland. The Prime Minister threw a bombshell into my camp when he brought in his policy of Conscription for Ireland At that moment I knew that there was a weapon placed in the hands of the enemy of the policy which I advocated which it would be futile of me to attempt to confront.
I would like to explain to the House what is the exact position with regard to Conscription in America. In these tragic moments no man has a right to speak at all unless it is with perfect candour. When first that proposal was made by the Prime Minister there was in some parts of the country, in some newspapers, among some sections of opinion, a rather strong tide against the position which Ireland took up, and very naturally. The Americans had submitted to Conscription without a 1444 murmur, their sons were going to fight, and some of them had already died in the War, and it was a primâ facie suggestion to their minds that if their sons went to the War it was not unreasonable to ask that the sons of Irishmen should go and do the same thing. And I do not take the position—and I could never take the position—that if Ireland be given the determination of her own destinies she could afford not to send to this fight for freedom her own sons, just as the sons of other nations are being sent. But what I did hold and I do hold is this, that no Power has any right to impose enforced enlistment on any nation but a Power created by the voice and the electors of that nation. In these circumstances, as I have already said, I went to Washington, and I had any number of interesting experiences there. I addressed a meeting in the auditorium of one of the public Departments. I was helped by the generous friendship of my friend the Secretary of the Interior. The call for my meeting was issued by a well-known senator, who is not only one of the most distinguished and one of the ablest, but also one of the most conservative members of the Senate of the United States. It was also signed by Senator Phelan, the son of Irish parents, and by two Congressmen, one a republican and one a democrat. I addressed what I was told was one of the most influential audiences that ever assembled in Washington, including a Cabinet Minister. I would have had all the Cabinet Ministers except for the rival attractions of a Red Cross gathering—six members of the Senate, eighteen members of the House of Representatives and most of the foreign missions.
I mention those things not by way of self-glorification, heaven knows, but for the sake of showing the interest that was attached to this subject, and on the case of Ireland against Conscription I got a unanimous verdict from that audience, and I believe that the imposition of Conscription without Home Rule, Conscription by an alien Parliament, will meet with the combined opposition of all men and of all parties in Washington and of all who are responsible for the public opinion of the country. Articles have appeared in the "New York Times" making attacks upon Ireland, as representing the views of journalists and of men in America; but that is not true, because at the very moment that the "New York 1445 Times" was making these attacks upon Ireland the "Chicago Tribune," the greatest paper in Western America, and scores of other American papers were defending the cause of Ireland, a cause that they understood, and I repeat this as a warning to the Government, that if they attempt to carry out Conscription in Ireland they will break the moral unity of the American people. Perhaps one of the reasons why I carried so much American opinion on my side was that I was able to quote the speeches of my hon. Friends around me, that I was able to quote the speech of the Leader of the Opposition, the speech of the Leader of the Labour party, the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnard Castle, and the speech of one who I am sorry is not here to hear me say that it was a speech of great, interesting, and a most touching vindication of the position of Ireland and of reprobation of the position of the Prime Minister and the Government, namely, the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hull; and I was able to quote the opinion of another hon. and gallant Member of the Conservative party, and further to quote the unanimous verdict of the Liberal Members of this country against Conscription, and no Government, however powerful it may be, will dare to put in operation against Ireland a measure which is condemned by all the moral opinion of all the world. Never was feeling more bitter—I might almost say so frenzied and anti-English—among my countrymen in America as it is now.
I can speak with some little experience on this matter. I have been going to America since 1881. I have always preached the same gospel during these visits, as I have preached all my life, and it is one of the tragedies of political old age to see that the gospel that one has preached during all that time, the gospel that was to secure on the floor of the British Parliament the rights of our country, and to which I looked confidently to reconcile the two democracies of England and Ireland—it is one of the tragedies of political life, I say, to see these hopes disappointed. During these visits I recounted the palpable fact, as true to day as ever it was, that we have behind our demand all the representatives of organised labour in this country. Over and over again I called attention to the fact, more familiar to me than to my hon. Friends on the Labour Benches, that I 1446 saw the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Morpeth, one of the most respected as well as the oldest Member of this House, and the late Mr. Alexander Macdonald, take their seats here as the first of the direct Labour Members. I have seen in the repeated changes which take place in the membership of an Assembly like this, hundreds of Labour Members in this House of Commons, and of all those hundreds I never heard of one who was not an avowed friend of the liberties of Ireland. I hope I shall not be considered anecdotal if I recall the speech I made in 1880 on the policy of Mr. Gladstone, which had just been rejected by the electors of this country. A new Conservative administration had come into office, and a member of it was Sir Henry Matthews, in the position of Home Secretary, who afterwards became Lord Llandaff, and is now dead. Among the passages in the career of this Tory Home Secretary was one where he won the election of Dungarvan as an opponent of the Liberal Attorney-General of that period, and he found it convenient to form an alliance with the Fenian party, which had sworn to destroy the Liberal Attorney-General who had sent so many of their comrades to gaol.
Strange alliances are not confined even to that period of Irish history. I remember reading out a series of resolutions that had been carried at the Chicago Convention of Americans of Irish descent—every resolution having been proposed and carried unanimously—offering to the democracy of England full reconciliation with the Irish at home and the Irish in America. I remember saying, on that occasion, that perhaps this did not go quite as far as the then Home Secretary, who must recollect something of his friends of the Fenian party, though, at the same time, there never was carried a series of resolutions of more drastic nature. Take it from me that up to this War, and up to the execution of the rebels, there was a growing reconciliation, among the Irish in America, as there was in Ireland itself, between the people of Ireland and people of Irish blood in America, and the people of this country. What is the explanation of the Irish mind in America to-day? We who live in Ireland, and we who are of Irish birth living in England, have recent events constantly crowding our minds, but you must take it from me that there is only one permanent factor in the 1447 minds of men of Irish blood, and that is the emigration and the horrors of the famine suffered in 1846. In America they get most of their modern information about Ireland from newspapers, and that is a somewhat unsatisfactory method of following historic events. Irishmen in America are the descendants of those who left their country during the period of the emigration. Their grandfathers and their grandmothers, whole Irish families, left their country and landed upon the shores of America, and the men who have descended from these poor Irish men and women, driven to the American shores by famine, look back to that period of 1846. And when they get back to that there is no reasoning with them. Theirs is a frenzy, a justifiable frenzy, at the hideous treatment to which their forefathers were subjected. In Quebec there is a monument raised to the memory of 6,000 Irish men, women, and children, lying under the sod there, uncoffined. They recall that these poor Irish men and women fell by the wayside and died of hunger. It takes the imagination of an Irishman to realise the resentment with which the Irish in America view the result of conditions in Ireland that compelled these emigrants to land on the shores of America in rags, starving, and suffering, coming from a country whose industries were destroyed by English legislation, a country which is able to supply, if necessary, half of your food, and would have supplied it if the people had been given proper legislation, because the famine of 46 was an artificial famine.
Above all, Americans of Irish descent resent the fact that their forefathers, who were driven to that country by the misgovernment of their native land in 1846, were an unlettered people. Irishmen of to-day whisper about the sad happenings of the past with tears in their eyes, and tell you how their fathers and mothers could not read and write. These descendants of the early-Irish emigrants have themselves attained to positions of wealth, of respect, and of power in American life. These men are the descendants of emigrants who came to America unable to read or write, and whose children, handicapped for two generations in the battle of life, were compelled to be hewers of wood and drawers of water. It is the descendants of these people who have become men and women of culture, controlling great businesses, 1448 and holding high positions in the life and business of America. That is the temper of Irish Americans, and I warn you that by injustice to Ireland you will bring back the men of our race to that background of hate. It may be asked, and quite rightly, Does that mean that America will not fight in this War to the very utmost of her strength? No; of course not. I do not think I ever saw a change more astounding in my life. Assuming that my first impressions were right, and that there was at first a certain apathy in some of the American cities, I saw in three months' time one of the most extraordinary transformations of the American mind, and perhaps my intimacy with many Americans enables me to trace the psychology of that change. The American character, like other characters, is very various, and, like every other temperament, it has self-contradictions. I do not know any man who has more generosity than an American. I do not know any man who has more patience than an American. I think their patience under the necessities of the War is one of the most marvellous things I have ever seen.
I do not know whether it is because Englishmen feel themselves entitled to remain loyal to their racial and century-old traditions, but whatever the reason, the restrictions placed upon their food and other things in England excited, to put it mildly, some grumbling. When they established Conscription in America I never heard a man complain. When they established a meatless day in America, I never heard a man complain. When they established a liquorless State, I never heard a man complain. For loyal acceptance of the necessities of the War and the wisdom of the measures of the Government, the American people stand foremost among the peoples of the world. While the American is the most generous and the most patient of men, he is also, when he has made his resolve, the most ruthless. I came over with a number of American soldiers on a transport, and they were quite unlike our soldiers. I went across from Folkestone to Boulogne once during the War, and I intended to have a little sleep on the boat by way of avoiding seasickness, but I could not sleep a wink because, from the first second to the last of the journey, our Tommies sang at the top of their voices. It was the same song and the same words, but it seemed to give them every satisfaction. 1449 They sang, "Don't bury me at all, but put my head in alcohol," or some such inspiring lyric as that, and no sooner had they completed that refrain than they went at it again. The American soldier is quite different. He is much grimmer. I do not think he is a bit braver. The American is coming into this War as a matter of grim business, as a job he is going to finish. If I could conceive this country—and I cannot conceive it—by pacifist agitation, by division of opinion, by mistakes on the part of the Government, being ready to drop out of the War and accept an inconclusive peace, I am convinced that America would go on if she had to do it on her own. There is a kind of temperamental difference between the American and the Englishman in their view of this War, and, as an illustration of that, I will mention that when I was last in New York I saw that every wall was covered with a placard on which were letters ten feet long descriptive of a cinema show. I may, perhaps, keep within the bounds of Parliamentary expression when I say that the legend ran, "To H—with the Kaiser." They visualise the Kaiser, they embody this War in the person of the Kaiser and the Junkers, and they are determined to twist their necks, metaphorically at least, before they give up this struggle.
Do I say that the Americans of Irish blood feel differently from the Americans of the other races? Not a bit of it. They feel it more. There is no man so ardently American as the man of Irish blood. America has done more for him than she has done for any other race in the world. I do not want to make comparisons, because all races in America, not excepting the Germans, at least of the second generation, are unanimous and fervent and ruthless in this War. But, if I am to make comparisons, I think I can say that the Irish are at least as numerous as any other race in the Army, and I believe in the Navy of the United States, which is manned by voluntary recruiting and not by Conscription, and, therefore, which is the Service that most appeals to voluntary and ardent patriotism, 40 per cent. are men of Irish blood. The War will not last for ever. It seems to me that there is a fundamental mistake in the point of view with regard to this War, which some people take. Their minds very naturally are so concentrated on the fortunes of the battle front, they are so full of and inspired—and I am with them, of course— 1450 with the idea that they must and are going to inflict a crushing defeat in the field upon the German armies, that they forget that the War does not last for ever, that there is something as important as a victory in the field, and in some respects more important, and that is the kind of peace you make afterwards. You may give away every single advantage you have won by the most crushing victory in the field by unwise counsels here or unwise counsels there. What are we to get out of this War? I think of the sacrifices that have been made, and by no country more willingly and more gallantly than by the people of England, and I sit in an assembly of men, including men on my own benches, inside whose lintel the angel of death has passed. Nine hundred men have died of my own Constituents. I look at France, and I think how her families have been darkened for all time to come, and the question I am always putting to myself regarding peace, which is just as important as the War, is this: Is all this precious blood to be shed in vain? It is shed in vain, even if we get a victory on the field, if we do not make the proper kind of peace. And what is the proper kind of peace?
I have heard allusions made to-night to the League of Nations. I must confess that I have not had time to go into any study of that proposal, but I am in favour of anything that will help to preserve the world from future wars. But what will mean that the precious blood of our sons has not been shed in vain will be, whether you call it a League of Nations or not, the creation of a power that will be able to strike down the German Junkers and the German Kaiser if they ever dare to try to repeat this experiment upon mankind. That is what I call a real peace, and anything that does not give us that is not a peace at all. I wonder if hon. Members ever ask themselves—if that guarantee for the future of the world, if that real pledge of our victory in the field and of our security in the future is to be obtained—I wonder if they analyse the question how it is going to be obtained? Must we not obtain a guarantee by such a close combination for the future between the Powers now fighting Germany as exists at present? If France is going to pursue a purely French policy, regardless of England—I do not think it is in the least likely—if England is going to pursue an English policy, regardless of the policy 1451 of France; if America and England are going each to follow their own lines, commercial and otherwise, without the least regard for each other's interests, where is the guarantee of peace? Does not that mean that, of all the things necessary to prevent all this precious blood being shed in vain, and to prevent a victory on the field being turned into a defeat in the future, every man who is conscious of the true interests of the British Empire and of the true interests of America must do his best to bring these countries into the friendliest relationship? It is as clear to any reasonable man as a problem in Euclid.
And now I put my next point. To-day there are no hyphenated Americans. I have never spoken of Americans of Irish descent as hyphenated Americans. I always speak of them as Americans of Irish descent, which is really the proper way to describe our people in America, because, above all things, they are loyal American citizens who happen to be of Irish blood, but who never put the interests of Ireland above the loyalty to the country to which they belong. There is no other possible course for any man of any race. Therefore, if America demands any sacrifice of their feelings, they are making it to-day. We shall not always be at war. Supposing the War is over within twelve months from now—and we still have to contemplate the possibility, as we shall have, of an uprising again of the German Junkers to prepare for the fight, and to renew the fight—how are we going to meet it? The American soldier of Irish blood is fighting in the trenches to-day. He was one of the first to fight in the trenches. The ancient historic regiment, the 69th (New York), were the very first regiment, I believe, sent to the front, and another Irish regiment, the 9th (Massachusetts), was also one of the first. Do you think that, because they are willing to fight and die for America now, they cease to listen to the call of the blood, and that they will not give to Ireland, as every liberty-loving man of every country in the world gives to Ireland, sympathy in its aspirations? After the War Americans of Irish blood will still be of Irish blood, and will still open their hearts to the call of the motherland of their race, and I tell you in language that is unmistakable that, unless you reconcile Ireland you will never reconcile the American race of Irish blood, and if 1452 you do not reconcile them, you will never have the whole heart and soul of America with you in upholding the peace of the world.
What stands in the way? I see my right hon. Friend, my old Friend, the right hon. Member for the Blackfriars Division (Mr. Barnes). I am sure he does not stand in the way. An hon. Friend below me says he does, but he is an Englishman and I am an Irishman, and I perhaps take a more charitable view. I am not sure that the Chief Secretary is not anxious not to stand in the way. No, no! I have not had the advantage of hearing him yet, but I have heard of him. I do not know where the Prime Minister stands on this, or, indeed, on any question except the winning of the War and the maintenance of unity. But what stands in the way? Is it the people of England? Is there any man here, whatever his political party may be, who would declare that it would not be a measure of relief and of joy to the English people that Ireland by self-government should be reconciled to England? Is it the opposition of the Liberal party? To a man that party is in favour of self-government for Ireland. Is it the opposition of the Labour party? To a man both here and in the ranks throughout the country it is in favour of giving self-government to Ireland. Is it the opposition of the Conservative party? There is a strong current in the Conservative party in favour of self-government—and I find strong confirmation of that in the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Trinity College (Sir E. Carson)—and the most eloquent possible desertion of the Orange cause by some members of the Conservative party.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
I never expected the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London to have sense on any question where Ireland was concerned, but I will soften that observation, which is not in the least intended to be ill-natured, by saying that his heart is no harder against the people of Ireland than it is against the working classes of England. What stands in the way? The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Trinity College! I want reconciliation. I want re-conciliation of all parties in this House and in the Commonwealth. Therefore, I am not going to make anything, I hope, approaching to personal or offensive observations 1453 with regard to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Trinity College. Indeed, really, I found myself in the rather curious position in America of being a little on his defence. Lawyers and men in Wall Street declared they could not quite understand why he had not been shot or hanged. I do not want him to be shot or hanged; I want him to be converted. I do not know whether I can be described as devils advocate for fighting his battles. I did not find a single man in America who was not astounded and shocked by the policy of the right hon. Gentleman, and shocked and astounded by the policy of successive Ministries. I think I am entitled to eulogise the right hon. and learned Gentleman as one of the most remarkable figures even in the history of the Irish race. A Chinese Ambassador was once seen running out of a diplomatic gallery, and, when asked where he was going, said he was going to Ireland because it was the only country where Irishmen did not rule. If he came to the diplomatic gallery here, he would see an Irishman ruling the British Empire. During my voyage across the Atlantic I occupied some of my time in reading a remarkable book, Sir George Trevelyan's "History of the American Revolution." Its analogy to the policy of the Government is most uncanny. Sometimes I thought I was reading contemporary documents and contemporary speeches and contemporary articles. Let me give you, as an example, the words of Franklin on the re-enactment of the Stamp Act, one of the wildest follies of that time:I hope nothing that has happened or may happen will diminish in the least our loyalty to our Sovereign, or affection for this nation in general. I can scarcely conceive a King of better dispositions or more exemplary virtues, or more truly desirous of promoting the welfare of all his subjects. The body of this people, too, is of a noble and generous nature, loving and honouring the spirit of liberty, and hating arbitrary power of all sorts. We have many, very many, friends among them.Cannot I use the very identical language of Benjamin Franklin with regard to the English people to-day, and with regard to men who stand in the way? On the 4th June, 1766, after the repeal of the Stamp Act, the health of George III and Benjamin Franklin were drunk in Philadelphia. He fought for the reconciliation of England and the American colonies as long as he could. The great body of the Quakers, who were not only the wealthiest but the most powerful thinkers in Philadelphia, where the conference 1454 was held, and in Pennsylvania, fought against separation to the last moment. But the folly of George III. beat down the efforts of the friends of England in the American colonies. Chatham, William Pitt, Edmund Burke, Charles James Fox, Lord Rockingham—every man in England at that time who was unpurchasable—was for keeping America and England together. Lord North, although he was the author, or, at least, had to be the sponsor of the policy, said in private that he was against the policy. When I went to America this last time and saw and realised, as I had never done before, often as I had been there, its vast potentialities, its railway stations and great buildings, one of its great companies, the United States Steel Corporation, having a revenue every year as big as the taxation of this Empire before the War—when I say I saw all these abounding signs and spaceless potentialities of wealth and strength, I thought, had it not been for George III., Lord North, and other lunatics of that kind, the British flag might to-day have been flying from New York to San Francisco. But the thought continued, and I was not surprised that even to-day folly and weakness are again imperilling the existence of the British Empire. I complimented, I hope in no unfair language, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dublin University on his achievements, but I did not tell them on the other side all that I might have said: that he had precipitated this War. I might have said that he precipitated, if he did not create, rebellion in Ireland. I might have said that he broke up one Ministry, and, if I am not mistaken, he tried to break up another. But there is one man who still has a bigger record than the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and that is George III.
The story is not yet told. Let me tell you that if you do not settle the Irish question and if you do not reconcile the Irish race in America by arguments and facts, you are threatening the future of this Empire as much as George III. threatened to destroy the British cause in the days of the American revolt. God knows we have done our best to save you from your own folly! We fought the Sinn Feiners in Ireland. The only policy we have pursued in relation to the War is that of the late John Redmond. I never wavered for an hour in putting that policy forward in America. When I heard that the right hon. and learned 1455 Gentleman the Member for Trinity College had stood up to call attention to the seriousness of the situation I am bound to say that the irony of the situation stood revealed. He warned us against any potential breaking-up of the British Empire. I do not know whether I heard of his language with more stupefaction than terror. What must be in the minds of men who think it good to threaten the break-up of the British Empire rather than to join with other Members to help his fellow countrymen to govern their own country? The Prime Minister has returned to his place. I am going to make a suggestion to him. There are many men of English birth in the United States. Mr. Friend, Mr. Samuel Insull, a great Chicago friend of mine, is one of the most successful men there. He was born over Westminster Bridge. He has the respect of all in his adopted country. He is a great public man. He is strong and enterprising, and works sixteen or eighteen hours a day. He is a man of business genius, the head of various companies, with a capitalisation amounting to 300,000,000 dollars. What does he think of this situation? There are correspondents of all the great papers in America, every one of them, as far as I know, Englishmen by blood and birth. Ask them concerning these things. Ask your Ambassador at Washington—one of the greatest Ambassadors you ever sent there. Inquire from them as to the situation in America. Ask any intelligent American where the present policy of the Government leads. I can refer to private representations and to public statements which demands that in the recognition of small nationalities that the small nation of Ireland shall be recognised. I urge the reconciliation of Ireland and of the Irish race. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister has the choice of two alternatives. He cannot have it both ways. I tremble for the future of the British Empire if the Irish people unliberated, and the Irish race all over the world unreconciled, continues. I pray that he may make the right choice.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Mr. Speaker, perhaps I may be permitted to offer a short explanation of the statement which I made in the course of my speech. I was dealing with the military and naval effort which this country has put forth, and demonstrating that whatever expectations 1456 that we had ever raised, we had exceeded them. In doing so I referred to what I called the only "compact" we had ever entered into with France. My right hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Herbert Samuel) challenged the word "compact," and I say at once that I think the word "compact" was much too strong to describe what had actually passed. I think it is very important that any misunderstanding on that point should be instantly put right. I was alluding to the speech of Viscount Grey, then Sir Edward Grey, and referring to the letter which passed between Sir Edward Grey and the French Ambassador. This letter was written on the 22nd November, 1912. Sir Edward read the letter in the speech quoted by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. It says:My dear Ambassador,—From time to time in recent years the French and British naval and military experts have consulted together. It has always been understood that such consultation does not restrict the freedom of either Government to decide at any future time whether or not to assist the other by armed force. We have agreed that consultation between experts is not and ought not to be regarded as an engagement that commits either Government to action in a contingency that has not yet arisen and may never yet arise. The disposition, for instance, of the French and British Fleets respectively at the present moment is not based on an engagement to co-operate in war. You have, however, pointed out—And this is what I desire to come to—if either Government had grave reason to expect an unprovoked attack by a third Power, it might become essential to know whether it could in that event depend upon the armed assistance of the other. I agree that, if either Government had grave reason to expect an unprovoked attack by a third Power, or something that threatened the general peace, it should immediately discuss with the other whether both Governments should act together to prevent aggression and to preserve peace, and, if so, what measures they would be prepared to take in common."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd August, 1914, col. 1813, Vol. 65.]I think the word "compact" was too strong to use in that connection. In my judgment it was an obligation of honour. It was an indication that if there were an unprovoked attack—I used the words "wanton attack," practically the same thing—if there were an unprovoked attack, then we were prepared to discuss with France the method of coming to her assistance. I think the phrase "obligation of honour" would be a more correct description of what actually took place rather than the word "compact," and it certainly was not a treaty. I had nothing 1457 in my mind except that letter when I spoke, and I think the matter ought to be put right at once.
§ Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL
May I point out that Sir Edward Grey on that occasion said that this Government and Parliament were perfectly free, and that the position of the Government was that we hadNo secret engagement which we should spring upon the House and tell the House that because we had entered into that engagement there was an obligation of honour upon the country."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd August, 1914, col. 1810, Vol. 65.]The opinion of Sir Edward Grey was that there was no obligation of honour. After reading that letter, Sir Edward Grey continued:I think it makes it clear that what the Prime Minister and I said to the House of Commons was perfectly justified, and that, as regards our freedom to decide in a crisis what our line should be, whether we should intervene or whether we should abstain, the Government remained perfectly free and, a fortiori, the House of Commons remains perfectly free. That I say to clear the ground from the point of view of obligation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd August, 1914, col. 1814, Vol. 64.]
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
The speech of the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) to which we have just listened was extraordinarily eloquent, and I would willingly have sat here till eleven o'clock listening to him. But I confess I do not agree with many of his conclusions. I wish to say this with regard to his speech: he made an abundance of assertions in reference to American sentiment, and he spoke as if the "New York Times," which has given a version of American opinion about Ireland and Conscription hostile to his own views, was the only newspaper in New York, whereas nearly the entire New York Press has had its version telegraphed across to this country, and it is clear that the general attitude is hostile to that taken up by Irish Members in this House. I have collected a few of those extracts of American opinion, and I should like to have the opinions of others who have been in America—for instance, that of Major Ian Hay, who has lectured all over the country—
§ Mr. DEVLIN
Was the hon. and gallant Member here the other night when I proved that nearly every assertion made by that author in the book which has been circulated was false?
§ Commander BELLAIRS
I do not propose to enter into a controversy on that 1458 point. I did not hear the speech of the hon. Member, and all I wish to say is that the statements which have been made here to-day about American opinion have been ex-parte statements. It is necessary for us to have other opinions, and I quite agree that the Prune Minister ought to inform himself of the opinions of gentlemen like those named by the last speaker. I think, too, it is practically the unanimous opinion of this House that night and day the door stands open to Home Rule for Ireland on the basis on which it is possessed by every State in the American Union, and when that fact becomes known throughout America then all American sympathy with regard to the position of hon. Members below the Gangway disappears at once. The hon. Member referred to President Wilson. He spoke of past history and of Franklin's views, but if he would look up President Wilson's own history in regard to the seceding States in the American Civil War he will see that President Wilson pointed out that the seceding States were unanimous in their opinion, unanimous in favour of secession, but he also pointed out at the same time that government by popular consent was subject to that fundamental law of the Union. I do not believe that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Trinity College, Dublin (Sir E. Carson) would dare to challenge a Bill brought before this House on the basis of Home Rule all round for the United Kingdom, which would give to Ireland the same rights as are possessed by States in the American Union or by one of the provinces of Canada.
I listened with great interest to what the Prime Minister had to say. His subsequent explanation relieves me of the necessity of quoting what Sir Edward Grey actually said in reference to the honourable understanding with France. What struck me in the right hon. Gentleman's speech was how true is the saying of Emerson that no man understands a truth thoroughly until he has contended against it. The Prime Minister was, to my mind, a great apostle against preparedness before the War, and I would say, like St. Paul, he is now the greatest of apostles in advocating the necessity for preparedness in regard to this War. We really look upon him as the personal embodiment of our cause in this War. In these days of optimists and pessimists—of friends and enemies of this country—the Prime Minister's speeches are eagerly 1459 read, and in regard to his flowers of rhetoric, some will gather honey like the bee, while others gather poison like a spider. Therefore it is necessary for him carefully to survey the situation as a whole. Although I have seen him found fault with in the past for not referring to the Navy, I have never doubted for one moment that that was because he has absolute confidence in the Navy and in its success in this War. I am glad that to-day he put the Navy in the forefront of his speech, because it will give great satisfaction to men who are doing arduous duties afloat. I was also glad he made so generous a reference to the mercantile marine. It is perfectly true that the Grand Fleet is the key of all the activities of the Allies, and that if it collapsed the whole campaign would collapse. Therefore, it is right that the Lords of the Admiralty should be perfectly determined on the point that they will not hazard the Grand Fleet. Some people are inclined to cavil because an enormous force of destroyers and other small craft is kept locked up with the Grand Fleet, waiting for the day when the German Fleet comes out. It would be stupendous folly even if on one occasion, although it be for only one day in this War, we were to divert any of these craft for work against the submarine. But some of us have contended, and we do contend, that there is a large surplus fleet beyond the key fleet which is not being used for any vital purpose, and we also contend, and will continue to contend, that it is possible for the Navy to engage in large offensive operations. I am glad to see we are being urged to do so by the French Press. When the Prime Minister speaks of the immense results which have flown from the unity of command on land, I ask him to consider this, that the sea is much more one than the land. You get much more rapid movement. You are entitled to ask for unity of command on the sea, and that I contend is the first condition for our offensive operations, just as the one condition of General Foch's offence was that he should have unity of command to enable him to wield the Allies as one force.
When the Prime Minister told us that the Navy had steamed 8,000,000 miles in June, I could not help thinking of those splendid operations which Sir Roger Keyes carried on at Zeebrugge and Ostend, for which the Navy did not need 1460 to steam even 800 miles. This steaming 8,000,000 of miles by the British Navy alone, apart from the Allies, is all carried out for the sake of one gigantic defensive, and when I say that it is possible to carry out larger offensive operations, I am thinking of places like Heligoland and Wilhelmshaven. We contend there is something which holds the Navy back at the British Admiralty. We ask that it should engage in larger offensive operations. It is impossible to believe that places like Heligoland, which could all be compressed into a 600 yards square, is not susceptible of surprise attack from the great surplus Fleet, or to operations by smaller craft or by gassing. Sometimes ideas float to us by accident. We heard of the destruction caused at Halifax by the explosion of a single ship. Does it not suggest itself to one's mind what could be achieved in a somewhat similar way at Heligoland, or at German ports, seeing that one single ship with a quantity of explosives aboard destroyed a whole city? I think, therefore, there is every ground for the suggestion that it is possible to engage in, larger offensive operations when we have these ideas floating to us from what has happened in the past. I put that forward because in this House we are always finding that the Government is criticised for sins of commission and never for sins of omission. Take the Reports of the Select Committee on Public Expenditure. I have looked through those Reports, and I have never found a single criticism on sins of omission; they have all been on sins of commission, and the result with regard to Ministers and sailors and soldiers is to affect their operations. It is to create a generation of safe men—men who will jump not quite so far as the House of Commons wants them to jump and who therefore land on the safe side. You get in the administration of the country and in the conduct of war a tendency to abstain from any offensive in which is involved risk and unless there is a fair certainty of success offensive operations are not engaged in.
I may take as an example the occasion when the German Fleet came out to the Baltic. I have contended there never was such an opportunity as that for our Navy. There is no harm in saying anything now. It gave the Navy an opportunity of a double objective. The German Fleet, according to the Admiralty's own statement, would have come back from Riga 1461 in order to bar our entrance through the Great Belt. What did that mean? It meant that they would have abandoned the operations against Riga, and that would have saved Russia. They would have been deployed opposite the minefield, would therefore have become targets for our submarines. It also meant the German Fleet, being in the Baltic, that the whole Heligoland Bight was uncovered and we could have blocked the channel to the Elbe, which goes for fourteen miles out to sea, and the Germans would have had to come out at the Baltic entrance and fight an action with the Grand Fleet. The Prime Minister said that until the Navy is defeated the struggle goes on. That is not perfectly true, and he showed that it was untrue later on when he came to survey the services of the British mercantile marine. It has been my contention right through that in this War the British Navy and the British mercantile marine are one. It is possible for the British Navy still to be holding out, still to be supreme, and yet for this country to be defeated by the sinking of its mercantile marine, in which case there would be starvation. The same operation which sunk the British mercantile marine would have prevented American troops coming across, and the cause of the Allies would have collapsed. Therefore I welcome the statement of the Prime Minister that the British mercantile marine must be regarded as part of the British Navy. Since the British mercantile marine brought so many American troops across one sees the overwhelming importance of that mercantile marine. I was, therefore, somewhat surprised when the Prime Minister told us that the Government had made every effort to comb out the men in the mercantile marine, and those who were working in the building yards. That leads me up to what I believe to be a true statement, that the mercantile marine in this way has been bled white. The Navy and the Army between them have taken out the best of the mercantile marine officers and very many of their men. This matter was not of much importance while the mercantile marine of the Allies was dwindling, but now has come the time when the mercantile marine of the Allies will be expanding at a very rapid rate. What preparation is the Government making for this state of affairs? The Americans will have a tremendous task, and they are meeting it with characteristic thoroughness. They 1462 have established ten training ships, and they are training men for the mercantile marine in the Navy, so that every ship has double crews. We are doing practically nothing. The number of our training establishments has actually been reduced. There is the "Worster" and the "Conway" for training officers, and the boys are waiting four deep to join them. There is no other method of training officers for the mercantile marine. I know we have a few apprentices, but they receive no training, and they are mere messenger boys on board merchant ships. I have represented, and I will go on representing, that it is the duty of the Government to try and meet this emergency by joining America and Japan in treating this as one front and one question. We have jointly to solve it. Otherwise we shall not be pulling our proper weight. The only step which I can see that the Ministry of Shipping has taken is that they have prohibited our captains of merchant ships joining the American mercantile marine. It stands to reason that America cannot give the experienced training for captains of ships, and that is one direction in which we could give vital assistance.
The Shipping Controller contends that the Americans are going to produce their own men, but I think we ought to do all we possibly can to treat this matter as one front, and where we can most vitally help the Americans is by giving them at once a certain proportion of our mercantile captains, and endeavouring, through the establishment of training ships, to meet this question of expansion which is going to loom so largo in the future in the mercantile marine. I am not going to recount the countless difficulties which captains, chief officers, and engineers of the mercantile marine have had to meet, but I do say that owing to inefficient manning the ships are not getting their proper speed, and they are more subject to the submarine menace than they need be. There is no systematic signing on, and sometimes the men do not join up, or insist on absenting themselves ashore, the result being delay. In the American ports the men go on leave the moment the ship gets in port, and they demand half their pay. If they do not get that pay the American magistrate comes on board and says the men are to be discharged, and to be given the whole of their pay. The result is endless difficulty. And how can you in 1463 time of war get ships properly manned under this voluntary system of signing on? A man may refuse as an A.B. because he dislikes having the watch or the wheel. I mention these matters as examples of a few of the enormous difficulties which the captains of the mercantile marine have to encounter. They have not proper authority. The Mercantile Marine Act was framed for the purpose of peace, and we need one framed for the purpose of war, and I do not think the men would have much reason to complain. As the Prime Minister said, we have never applied Conscription to our Armies. We used to have it for the mercantile marine, with the Press-gang for manning the Navy, and now we have the most absolute freedom and laissez-faire. Surely we might stiffen up the manning a little bit. I contend there is no real authority at the Shipping Controller's Department in St. James' Park which is looking into the manning of the mercantile marine in conjunction with our Allies. There is a National Wages Board consisting of thirty-two members, but that only adjusts wages. There is a Departmental Committee which occasionally meets, and which has to produce co-ordination between the four Departments of the Government. It is purely insular. There is no body which is intended to deal with the American effort, plus the British effort, plus the Japanese effort, in order to man that great expansion of about 10,000,000 extra tons which will come from the splendid shipbuilding efforts which America is putting forward. Instead of doing that, we have a vast body of inspectors going on board harassing the ships of the mercantile marine. I heard of one ship on which six inspectors came on board at different times. The first was an inspector of crow's nests, and he ordered them to move the crow's nest higher up the mast. The second was an inspector of masts, and he ordered the masts to be hinged and lowered down, so that the crow's nest went. The third was an inspector of scuttles, and he ordered them to get the cargo out and paint the scuttles inside. The fourth was a Board of Trade inspector, who said, "Your headlights, according to the Regulations of the Board of Trade, should show 4 miles." The fifth inspector said the headlights were to be obscured, because he was an Admiralty man and had the safety of a convoy at heart; and the sixth was an 1464 inspector of bedding. I think the shipping company's own superintendent could have fulfilled all these functions, and reconciled them with advantage. Unless some Member of this House is going to take up the question of the mercantile marine we shall go on with our laissez-faire system, because there is practically a conspiracy of shipowners and men in favour of the system. It gives the shipowners more profits than any other system. The ships are all insured. The men like the laissez-faire system because they are not subject to irksome discipline like the Navy. For these reasons I hope that the Government will give this matter their most urgent consideration. I have no desire to meet them in 1919, when I believe this Parliament will still be sitting, in spite of numerous prophecies to the contrary, by the statement "I told you so," or any humbug of that kind.
§ Mr. P. A. HARRIS
The hon. Member who has just sat down has performed a very useful function in keeping before the House the important question of the Navy and the mercantile marine, and it was highly satisfactory to me to hear the Prime Minister give so much prominence to the Navy in his survey of the naval and military position. I think it is the first occasion where in any of the general surveys of the military disposition the Navy has had its due and proper position, and that is owing largely to those who have constantly kept before this country the fact that, after all, it is on the Navy that depends the ultimate success of the Allies in this great War, and without the Navy all the efforts of our soldiers and of our armies would come to naught. The Prime Minister, in his most interesting and instructive and inspiring outline of the efforts of the nation during this four years of war, made a passing reference to What I am afraid must be called a disaster at St. Quentin. The public have short memories, and in the joy of victory it is common to overlook set backs to their armies, but the St. Quentin incident has been kept fresh in the mind of the nation because of the measures that were found necessary to repair and restore our military position.
I was rather sorry that the Prime Minister could not go into more detail. There was a time during the first three years of the War when it was customary to publish the dispatches of the Commander-in-Chief, and give explanations and also give credit where it was due 1465 to the various phases of the military campaign. In recent months that custom has been departed from. It may be that the pressure of the last four and a-half months has made that impossible, but I think the time has come when the nation should be satisfied by some more detailed expression of the set back to the Fifth Army than up to the present has apparently been possible. I am not saying this in any spirit of complaint. War necessarily has its ups and downs. No nation can enter a war without realising that it has to take risks, and we must be prepared to face set backs. Anybody who studies the attitude of the people during the four years of this great military struggle must-agree that the nation is not discouraged by bad news, in fact it only stimulates them to fresh energy, and braces up the nation to put forward its greatest strength when such a misfortune as the St. Quentin incident is sprung upon the country.
The disaster to the Fifth Army has impressed itself upon the mind of the nation, all the more because the Prime Minister had told the nation that the Armies of our Allies were actually in a majority over our enemies, and therefore the tale of the reverse is all the more serious. What has brought this incident still more home to us has been the remedies that were found necessary in order to meet the situation. Those remedies were approved of by the House of Commons and were generally accepted by the nation. First, of course, was the passing of the Military Service (No. 2) Act, 1918, that brought into the realm of compulsory service for the first time men between forty-three and fifty. Although it was seriously going to affect the well-being of a large section of our people, the measure was approved and accepted as necessary to meet a serious military disaster, and in order that we might restore the position of our Armies and again get the initiative into our hands. It was pointed out and generally agreed that it was going to cause untold hardship and great social and economic injuiry to thousands of homes, many of which would be destroyed in the process, but the Prime Minister assured us that it was only intended to take 7 per cent. of the men for the Army. As far as one can gather, it has not meant a great addition to our military strength, but the uncertainty of this liability on the part of the older men is a very serious matter, and I would ask the Prime Minister or the Under-Secretary 1466 to give us some assurance that now that the military situation is improved it will not be necessary to call up a very large percentage of the men, at any rate over forty-six, who have not yet been touched by the Ministry of National Service. If he would do that, it would reassure these older men and enable them to go back to their ordinary occupations and improve the feelings and sentiments of the civil population.
That disaster did not only result in this particular measure. The Prime Minister. I think on 8th April, had to came down to the House to tell us that in addition to having to pass legislation to bring-fresh ages under the Military Service Acts, the Army Council had found it necessary to abandon their policy in the training of youths under nineteen. The Government had pledged themselves to the House and to the nation that, although they were going to call up lads of eighteen, those lads would only be trained and would not be sent overseas until they had reached the age of nineteen. That was a most solemn pledge. Owing to a military emergency and to a situation largely unexpected, due to a military disaster, the Government had to depart from that policy and rush these boys, half-trained and unprepared, over to the fighting line. The Prime Minister has given a graphic description of how bravely they faced the situation and how splendidly they fought. No veterans, he said, fought with greater courage than these lads. One cannot blame the Government for their action at that time. The crisis was so serious and the position so difficult that they had to meet it with emergency measures and rush any soldier that was available across the seas. But I think the Prime Minister would be the first to agree that this particular measure was most undesirable. Any medical man would say that lads of eighteen are not physically fit to stand the strain of a modern campaign. The average lad at that age is not fit to stand the heavy strain of carrying the big pack of paraphernalia which is necessary for the modern soldier, and with that pack to undergo the ordeal of a big military effort. It very often means a permanent breakdown and the undermining of their health. The Under-Secretary for War would bear testimony that three months is not enough training for boys who have had no previous military training. No doubt it has been said 1467 that many young officers have gone over to France and have done yeoman service, although they have not reached the age of nineteen, but very often those lads have had the advantage of training in an Officers' Training Corps. To take lads from homes as absolutely raw recruits, only give them three months' training, and send them overseas is not doing justice to them or to our Army. It is a sacrifice of our potential man-power. Military experts will agree that there is no better soldier than the fully-trained youth or young man of nineteen and a half, the young man who has had six or nine months' training in this country, who has been through camp life, and who has had the advantage of good food and proper care, but to take them before they are trained, and before they are fully grown and send them overseas is a profligate policy, and must ultimately injure the fighting strength of our Army, If, unfortunately, this War should drag on right through the winter.
Perhaps even more important than these reasons is the moral point of view. Modern war is Hell indeed. There has been nothing like it in history. In ordinary times there were lulls and periods of comparative quiet. Modern war means that the soldier has to go through an ordeal which involves a terrible strain on his nerves. It is bad enough for fully-grown men to have to go through it, but it is not fair to ask boys, immature and untrained, to stand the nerve strain. I do not think that I shall be contradicted by my right hon. Friend when I say that these immature lads are more liable to shell-shock and nervous breakdown than fully-grown men who have had proper training. Perhaps the most important argument in favour of a return to the methods followed before this year is the policy pursued by both the enemy and our Allies. The Germans have been very hard pressed for man-power, and they made very great efforts this year; but even the Germans, not inspired by any principle, but only guided by expediency, have not thought fit generally to put into the trenches their 1920 class, which is equivalent to boys of eighteen. Our Allies up to the present have consistently kept these lads in the reserve. It is true, according to an answer to a question of mine, that Italy last autumn, under the pressure of the Austrian offensive and the 1468 disaster that followed it, put in lads of eighteen as an emergency measure, just as we did in April, but as soon as the emergency had passed they reverted to their former policy, and they do not now utilise in the front line youths until they have reached the age of nineteen. France, with her years of experience of compulsory service, France who is fighting in grim earnest and is prepared to make every sacrifice, has persistently pursued the policy that it is not wisdom to take these boys of eighteen and send them into the front line.
The other day I read an account of a debate in the French Chamber, where the whole subject was discussed. I believe it is now contemplated to call up the 1920 class, but the responsible Minister in the French Chamber gave a guarantee that they were not to be utilised in the front line, but were to be kept in depots and trained. That is the policy that I ask the Government to adopt in this country. I ask them, now that the emergency is over, to toe the line with our Allies, and not to send overseas boys until they are nineteen. I say that in no spirit of criticism—I am not complaining about the past—but I think the House and the nation have a right to ask, in the interests of these young men and their parents, that the policy, which was well thought out and well considered by our military authorities, of not utilising lads until they are nineteen, but of keeping them and training them in depots, should be again followed. Apart from the question of expediency, there is the very strong sentiments of the nation on this question. I have had letters from all parts of the country, not of complaint, but letters from men who are keen on the War and who are prepared that their sons should do their share and take their part, representing that it is not right that their boys should be sent to fight before they are physically fit and before they are properly trained. I would ask the Under-Secretary of State for War to put this matter before the Army Council on the ground that as a matter of public policy we cannot afford to disregard public sentiment, on the ground of military effort, and on the ground of the efficiency of our Armies overseas.
§ Sir HERBERT NIELD
I should like very warmly to recommend the course which the last speaker has suggested. I have not only been deluged with letters, 1469 but I have had personal contact with many cases in which application for exemption has been made for boys of eighteen and, although here and there a boy is unusually developed, no one for a moment would suggest that the ordinary boy of eighteen, except under exceptional pressure, should be incorporated in the Army and should still less be sent out to fight. I have only recently received a piteous letter from the parent of a lad who is in danger of being sent, if the policy which has prevailed for the last two months is to be persisted in. I hope that the Under-Secretary will bring the question before the Army Council and cause the position to be revised, and I hope that never again in the course of this War will it be said that boys who have not reached nineteen years of age have left these shores to fight.
The point I particularly desire to bring to the notice of the Under-Secretary of State for War is the wastage of manpower that is going on within the Army. There must be a kind of Nemesis which follows the decisions of men who have the right to dispose of other persons among the various units. My complaint is based upon the absolute want of anything like reasonable discretion being exercised as to men who are unfit for the full duties of military service but who are exceptionally fit for other work, either in connection with civilian employment at home or even in connection with special duties in the Army, and insisting upon keeping them as ordinary soldiers and dealing with them in such a way as to make them unprofitable from the point of view of the country. The case to which I would particularly call attention is illustrative of a great number of cases, not precisely the same but of a very similar character. It is that of a young gentleman who at the outbreak of War was an undergraduate at Cambridge. His case is so illustrative of what I am complaining of that I will deal with it in detail. He was an undergraduate at Cambridge. He was the son of a clergyman and was intended for the Church. He was then in the early twenties, just the kind of man to make the right kind of chaplain. When war broke out, he promptly enlisted and obtained a commission. He was attached to the North Hants Regiment. He joined up in November, 1914, and remained in his battalion until April, 1915. In infancy he had been afflicted with a peculiar nervous disease which had been so severe that it had caused double hernia from his 1470 birth; it had shortened his left leg, and affected the whole of the nerves of the left side of the body. Notwithstanding that, he was accepted and passed by the military medical officer and allowed to take his commission, which he held from the time he joined his battalion until 19th April, 1915. It was then found that in consequence of his lameness it was utterly impossible that he would be able to discharge his duties effectively, and his commanding officer was compelled to suggest to him the desirability of sending in his resignation. I will read the letter from the commanding officer:I am very sorry for many reasons that you have been invalided out of this regiment. You are a very pleasant fellow and always willing to do anything you are asked to, but your nervous lameness quite unfits you to be an officer, as an officer should be able to march not only as well but better than his men. I know it is a disappointment to you, but you have the consolation of knowing that you have done all you possibly could from a patriotic point of view, in joining a service battalion, and it is not your fault if the doctor who first examined you passed you fit for active service when you were not. I am much obliged to you for the willing way you have worked while in this regiment, and I wish you every success in the calling you have chosen to follow.On or about the same date the commanding officer was bound to report him as not likely to make an efficient officer, and the result was that his commission had to be surrendered. He promptly returned to Cambridge to take up his calling, and he took his arts degree. Then, in accordance with the programme which his father had laid down for him, in order that he might qualify for the life he intended to follow, he entered Ridley Hall, Cambridge, as a theological student. He remained at Ridley Hall until December, 1917. He was then on the eve of ordination. He had actually sat for his ordination examination and had passed. I should say that in the meantime, feeling that he would try again to see if he could not be useful to his country, in March, 1916, he applied to go out as a member of the staff of the Church Army, but I understand that that was refused by the Ministry of National Service. In December, 1917, being ready for ordination, he received a notice to join up under the Military Service Act and requiring him to present himself for examination. He accordingly presented himself for examination. He was then passed in the old Category A, which meant general service, notwithstanding the fact that he had had to resign his commission on account of his 1471 lameness and the infirmity from which he suffered. He was then sent into the Royal Garrison Artillery, although he was on the eve of ordination as a curate. When he got to his depot he was put first to one thing and then to another, because it was always found that his old infirmity prevented him from marching and making an efficient soldier. The House will hardly credit it, but this man of an exceptionally devotional spirit, who was marked out as of great value to the Church, was actually, in default of anything else, put to cleaning out the latrines in a garrison town in the West of England, and remained there for some time. If that is not wastage of material I do not know what is. He was then drafted into Cornwall to take part in duties rather more fitting than those which he performed previously. An application was made to get him permission to be withdrawn.
This is the position of affairs: There are two Bishops of the Church who, knowing this young man, are most anxious to ordain him. There is an Archdeacon—I am not going to mention names—of one of the largest churches in the country, who is so impressed with the usefulness of the clerical career that lies before this young man that he has said he shall have a curacy the moment he is at liberty and qualified to take it. Added to that, while he was engaged in battalion duties in the West of England, the chaplain allowed him, although it is contrary to all order, to conduct services as acting chaplain. The highest possible credentials can be given to the young man in relation to the vocation he has set himself to follow if it were not for the Ministry of National Service and the Army authorities. The Chaplain-General has offered to give him a chaplaincy the moment he is qualified to take it. Although in that career to which he is devoted he has already the promise of an opening, either as a priest of the Church or as chaplain, which he would prefer at the present time, because he has a most extraordinary influence over his fellow men, yet that man is kept in the Army. At the moment I believe he is relegated to a lonely, dreary place on the North-East Coast, where his duty is to look after his gun. I understand it is proposed to send him in a draft to Malta. All the time the Church is waiting for men of this stamp, either in the Army as chaplains or in the Church 1472 at home, while the authorities stand between this man and the useful career that lies before him. He has been classified B1, notwithstanding the fact that he was previously classified A, and that he was compelled to give up his commission on the ground that he would not make an efficient officer. If he cannot make an efficient officer he certainly cannot make an efficient private. This ease is only typical of many others, and I hope the Under-Secretary of State for War will take steps to see that greater discretion and more common sense is exercised by those persons who have the right to dispose of men in the various units of the Army, and that men who are so fitted as this man is should not be thrown away on the ordinary routine duties which they either can or cannot perform efficiently, and that in this case he should be enabled to use the exceptional ability which his training and his inclination give him, so that the country and the Army may receive the full benefit of the man's services, given in circumstances and in a way which very few could excel, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman to see that this man is removed and returned to civil life, so that he may proceed at once to his ordination examination and take up his useful career.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Sir J. D. REES
The President of the Board of Education will remember a schoolboy who was asked in an examination paper to describe the horse, and who said, "The horse is a noble animal, but will not always do so." I will not take five minutes over a grievance of those who make him do so—the officers and men of the Remount Department—who receive the raw material from an island whose grievances have this day been aired in this House, so rich in horseflesh, almost a latter-day Colonus, and who turn the raw material into a useful artillery horse or a useful trooper, good in his own groove, hard in the mouth, resentful of a civilian rider, and apt at the sound of the trumpet, regardless of his wishes to rejoin the ranks. I do not, however, desire to make any disquisition upon the horse or horse mastership, but to urge upon the Under-Secretary of State that those engaged in transporting horses of this character across the Channel—both horses and their half-brothers or hall-caste brothers, the mules—should have permission to wear war service chevrons. The House may wonder 1473 why I do this. I am doing it because I have been asked to do so on behalf of gallant officers who cannot be here because they are on duty. It is a fact that these chevrons are given to branches of the non-combatant service, even, to my indignation, to conscientious objectors engaged in non-combatant units, to civilian members of the Censor's staff, to war correspondents with the British Forces, to those in the Inland Transport, to the personnel of the Indian Army—here I should rejoice—to all Regular troops serving outside the United Kingdom; also to all soldiers enlisted or re-enlisted in the Imperial Forces abroad, although many of these are far removed from the sphere of actual military operations. The service on which the Remount officers and men are engaged is a service of great danger. They cross and recross the Channel, braving the torpedo and all the other dangers that now infest the seas. Early in last month the "Hunscraft"—an unfortunate name—was returning from France after taking over horses, and was torpedoed, but the boat and the lives were saved, solely owing to the gallantry of the officers and men of the Remount Department. I do not expect my right hon. Friend to give an unconditional promise to grant these chevrons. Of course, if an officer or man has been once or twice during the period of two or three years across the Channel, he might not have a proper claim, but my right hon. Friend could deal with that. He could draw Regulations which would fairly deal with this matter. I am sure that he, who sympathises so much with the soldiers with whom he is so intimately acquainted, will favourably entertain this request which I am endeavouring to put before the House in the briefest possible manner—far more briefly than its importance and the gallantry of those I am representing deserve. I shall be glad if he will try to give the right, under such conditions as he thinks fair and proper, to wear chevrons to the officers and men of the Remount Department engaged in this dangerous and essential service.
§ Mr. JACOBSEN
I desire to support the plea which has been urged on behalf of these young men on account of the very strong representations which have been made to me by my Constituents. The parents are not unpatriotic, but they feel that their sons are being sent to fight the 1474 Germans on unequal terms. I do not know if it is true, but I have seen it stated that boys are sent into the front line with six weeks' training. I hope it is not true. Sending boys of that age at all can only be justified by very stern necessity, of which I admit the War Office is the best judge. I hope the War Office will consider seriously the position of these young boys and do its very best to withdraw them at the earliest possible moment.
§ Mr. McKEAN
I myself put a question on this subject some time ago, pointing to the extraordinary number of young lives which have been lost in this War. Only the most urgent necessity could justify this holocaust of young men—officers and soldiers. There is no necessity for this holocaust, and at no time during the War was there a necessity for it. I believe the military records of the enemy nations have no parallel whatsoever to it. It is scandalous that a young officer, nineteen years of age, should be, in accordance with military etiquette, required to lead his men into action. I do not know much about military matters, but I feel certain the Germans have a much better and more scientific way of doing the same work. I believe enemy officers, instead of leading men into action, are in the ranks. They are not made a target for our fire. Now that the matter has been brought forward publicly, I hope the Under-Secretary will bring it to the notice of the Higher Command, as I suggested to him some months ago. I have had a number of letters from different parts of all these countries supporting the view I put forward.
I rose to call attention to certain acts of the military in Ireland which, to say the least of it, call for investigation. The first case is one in which a civilian has died, as the result of bayonet and gunshot wounds in my Constituency on 4th June last. The best way to set forth the facts, and the way most favourable to the soldiers is to read some of the evidence at the inquest. The names of the two soldiers who put this man to death are Sleight and Rodgers. It is Rodgers who, it is supposed, shot the man. I will begin with Sleight's evidence:Private Sleight said he was sentry at Carrigartha Bridge on the night of 3rd June. He heard footsteps coming up the lane leading to the railway bridge and saw a man coming over the footbridge. 'I challenged him,' said witness, and called out, "Halt, who goes there?" I had my rifle with the bayonet fixed. When challenged the man made no answer, but sprang at 1475 me and seized my rifle with both hands and said, "Now kill me if you can." He struggled to get the rifle from me and I was trying to get my whistle. Eventually I got my whistle and shouted for help.'Mr. Rearden (to witness): 'Did you bayonet him during the struggle?'Witness: 'I decline to answer.'The facts as stated by Sleight show very clearly that this man who was put to death was the aggressor, but the evidence of Rodgers shows that although he was the aggressor the circumstances were such and the condition of the man was such that certainly the death penalty was too severe for the fault that he committed. I will read Rodgers' evidence:Private Rodgers stated that on the night of 3rd June he was in the camp when he heard the whistle and the call for help from the sentry. He was the first to reach the sentry and pulled deceased off the sentry. He went on a few yards to look around. Witness declined to answer whether he fired or not.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Mr. Macpherson)
Rodgers is at present under trial and the case is sub judice. I feel sure the hon. Member would not like to proceed, when I tell him that, to discuss the evidence which will be brought forward on the proper occasion, at the trial. I am quite willing to deal with the other case he has in mind, but it is not wise, indeed I question if it is fair, to discuss the evidence which will be produced at the appropriate time against a prisoner now awaiting trial.
§ Mr. McKEAN
I should be very sorry to do anything which was unfair, but this case happened as far back as 4th June last. There has been ample time for inquiry since then. I put a question about the matter as far back as 27th June. The first paragraph in the answer by the Attorney-General for Ireland wasI am informed that Patrick Duffy died as the result of rifle and bayonet wounds, but whether inflicted by the soldiers mentioned I had no evidence before me.This is the last opportunity I shall have of bringing the matter forward.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
If this is a case for trial this would not seem to be the proper opportunity to raise it here. It is very unusual. The House has always denied itself the duty of discussing matters which were sub judice, and if this man is going to be put upon his trial it would be unfair for the hon. Member to discuss the case here before the evidence is heard before the proper Court.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I have just informed the hon. Member of that fact, and the Under-Secretary informed him. Therefore, with that knowledge before him, I hope he will not continue to discuss the case.
§ Mr. McKEAN
I am not discussing the case. I am discussing the circumstances attending the case. I am discussing the point that the Under-Secretary has taken.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I do not think so. I ought to have explained that the trial has not taken place, because a most material witness is at present in hospital suffering from wounds. I hope with that assurance the hon. Member will leave the case and deal with the other.
§ Mr. McKEAN
That puts a different complexion on the case altogether. I was suspicious of the delay. I thought it was a case which, on the face of it, required urgent and immediate investigation. It is not the same as if the case was before the Courts of Law. I take it this soldier is to be tried by court-martial, which is a totally different thing, and the term "sub judice" is not usually used in that relation. However, under the circumstances, I will not proceed with the case, but by the time an opportunity will be afforded of alluding to the matter again it will have passed into history. It will be really futile to discuss it after the Recess. If this were an isolated case I should not wish to make any capital out of it, but it is not an isolated case. It is a piece of the whole conduct of the military in Ireland. I have personal knowledge of it. If there is any one absurdity that it is possible for mortals to be guilty of, I will back the military to perpetrate it. Talk about recruiting in Ireland, I wonder there is a man got in Ireland to join the Colours at all, having regard to the conduct of the military authorities!
I will read the particulars sent me by a solicitor from Belfast of another case which also happened quite recently, on 20th June last, during the East Cavan election. It, too, is typical of a number of 1477 other similar cases. This is the statement of Patrick Foy, Annsfoot Mill, Lisnagowan, county Cavan:I was passing along the road between Shercock and Cootehill with two other men when a military motor van passed and the soldiers there shouted, 'Up O'Hanlon!'O'Hanlon was the Irish party candidate. Arthur Griffith, one of the Sinn Fein leaders, was his opponent.I shouted, 'Up Griffith!' The officer then ordered the car to be pulled up; seven or eight soldiers with fixed bayonets rushed at me and told me to hold up my hands. I did so. The soldiers searched me, and whilst doing so the officer held a revolver up to my face. The officer struck me on the side of the head with some weapon he had in his hand and knocked me down. He told the men when searching me that if I resisted to pin me to the ground with their bayonets. When on the ground the officer told the men to whack me to my feet. They did so, and then threw me into the motor van. The officer then directed me to be put in front of the motor and ordered four soldiers to cover me with their rifles, and if I moved to shoot me, and if anyone attempted to rescue me to shoot him. Four soldiers with their rifles levelled at my face sat in the front of the motor van. In this manner I was brought into Cootehill to the police barracks, taken from Cootehill by the same road back to Shercock, thence to Kingscourt, then to Bailieborough and finally to Cavan military guardroom. The distance I was carried in the military motor van was over 50 miles. At Kings-court the police were called upon to get my name. I gave them my right name and address, and a constable named Deering said there was no such place as the address I gave. I was kept in the soldiers' guardroom at Cavan for two nights and a day and a half. I was brought on Saturday evening from the guardroom to the police barracks in Cavan, whence I was taken to Belfast Prison. No information of any arrest was conveyed to my people, and it was only by accident that they heard where I was.As I have said before, what I want to impress on the Under-Secretary of State for War is that these two cases are typical of the general conduct of the military in Ireland. I could cite several other cases not dissimilar from and not less serious than these. Take the case of the shooting of Sheehy-Skeffington. I suppose, in the whole histories of wars and outrages, you would get nothing worse than that case. There are innumerable cases which are not brought to light. I myself, from my own personal knowledge of the military at Kingstown, where I live, can testify to the arrogance and insolence of the military. If the Under-Secretary of State for War wants any proof of that I will give it to him. It is a notorious fact that the military patrols and sentries of Kingstown arrested the late James Chambers, who was an officer of His 1478 Majesty's Government before he died, on some trivial and futile pretext, and detained him for two hours at the military station in Kingstown. This was the late Mr. James Chambers, the Member for South Belfast, and Solicitor-General for Ireland before he died. I do not speak in the least as an enemy of the military. I am not opposed to recruiting. I would be delighted to see all the surplus population of Ireland, if there be any that could be spared, joining the Colours to-morrow. But I say, having regard to the insolence and arrogance of these people in authority in the Army and to everything connected with the Army, that the wonder is that you get one single recruit from Ireland. Talk about Prussians. We hear eloquent denunciations of Prussians, but I tell you there is nothing worse than the Prussianism we have in Ireland. I have heard stories from other parts. I could cite other cases. A gentleman was here the other day and he told me that civilians visiting Rome are subjected to all sorts of persecution by the military there. However, that is another matter. I do not want to do more than refer to it, but what I do want to impress on the military themselves and on their representative here is that the whole system of military administration in Ireland needs to be revolutionised. That is the first step if you are going to make any progress whatever with recruiting in Ireland. This is a matter which ought to be taken in hand at once, and if something practical is to be done, I hope it will be done in the near future.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I should like, if I may, to answer the four or five points which have been so succinctly raised in the Debate which we have just had. The first point, and I think a most important point, was one which was emphasised by three of my hon. Friends and colleagues, including the hon. Members for Market Harborough and Ealing. As the Prime Minister said on 9th May of this year, and I have said on many occasions since, in answer to questions, that the War Cabinet had decided that an emergency-had arisen so great that it was absolutely necessary to send from this country every officer and man who was available. Unfortunately within that category came boys between eighteen and nineteen years of age. It is not true to say they were boys of eighteen, nor to say that they were untrained. I think I am right in 1479 stating that no boy went to France who had had less than fourteen weeks' training. In the ordinary course these boys would not leave these shores until eighteen and a-half, and there was a guarantee that none would go into the firing line until they reached nineteen. That was the original regime. I need hardly say that both the Army Council and the War Cabinet came to that conclusion with the greatest reluctance and the greatest possible regret, and I am happy to inform my hon. Friend the Member for Market Harborough, who has taken a very great interest in this matter, that we have now decided at the end of this month that we shall return to the old regime. I need hardly say that we personally were only too anxious to have an opportunity of returning to that regime, which seems to me to meet with popular favour, and which guaranteed in any case that no young boy would be ruthlessly sent from his home or training ground in this country to the battlefields of France.
The second point which was raised was a smaller one. It was raised by the hon. and learned Member for Ealing. He talked at considerable length, and quite properly, about the wastage in the Army. I am not of course, prepared to admit that there is wastage in the Army, but it would not be surprising if there were. You cannot collect 6,500,000 men from all sorts of occupations, and many of them from the same occupation, who might all be fit for the same job, without having a certain amount of wastage. But I do promise my hon. and learned Friend that I will look sympathetically and with due consideration into the particular case which he brought before the House to-night. The third point was that raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, in a felicitous speech. He asked me whether I would not consider the grant of chevrons to officers and men of the Remount Department who have, since the War began, been plying, whether in bad weather or good weather, in storm or in sunshine, between Ireland and this country and France and the other theatres of war. As the House knows very well, the chevron was originally given for services abroad, but I understand that quite recently, particularly in the Naval Service, the grant of the chevron has been extended to those officers and men who have been consistently doing the journeys between these shores and the shores of the various 1480 theatres of war. I must confess that my hon. Friend appeared to me to make out a very good case, and I promise that I will, under certain conditions which are fair and proper, and which will not make the chevron which is valued by the men too cheap, grant chevrons to these men in certain cases. The House will not expect me now, nor will my hon. Friend expect me, to consider the case of a man who has crossed, let us say, two or three times, or even four or five times, a year and who has come back four or five times a year. I imagine what the hon. Member has in mind, and certainly what I have in my mind, is the case of the man who may have gone for two solid years backwards and forwards, almost weekly, in all sorts of weather and has done his work, as my hon. Friend pointed out, admirably and faithfully. That is the type of man I should like to consider. I do not think the House will expect me to consider the case of the other man who, on some haphazard occasion, has had to go across. I hope that that will satisfy my hon. Friend. I will take immediate steps to see that certain conditions will be laid down, and if these men conform to what I hope will be fair conditions, they will be entitled to chevrons for the work which they have done.
The only remaining point was raised by the hon. Member (Mr. McKean), and I should like to take this opportunity of thanking him for the courtesy which he has shown in letting me know that he was raising these two cases, and also for refusing to continue a discussion on a subject which, technically, is sub judice. I do not think he can expect me to accept the statement that the outstanding characteristics of the Army in Ireland are insults and arrogance. That view is not held amongst the Army in any other part of the country.
§ Mr. McKEAN
I could have given the right hon. Gentleman another case from England, but I did not want to occupy too much time. I could have given several other cases.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I cannot help reminding the House that the Army of to-day is the nation. One remarkable thing I have found in my long experience of the War Office is the extremely few complaints that there are about the conduct of officers and men of the British Army to-day. I should not be surprised if when the military, as they have to do in Ireland, 1481 have to carry out what is practically martial law upon the civilians of Ireland, that they are unpopular.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I strongly resent the general condemnation of the Army as being men who are guilty of insolence and arrogance. I do not think that is the view of any other hon. Member who is now present in this House. I will not deal with the first case, but I will deal with the second case, which I will call the case of the Cavan election. My hon. Friend read a statement, if I remember rightly, of the accused person. The facts which I have are not the same facts which my hon. Friend read. If the facts were as my hon. Friend read them, I do not think the accused person would have been convicted. As it is, he has been convicted by court-martial and sentenced to six months' imprisonment, and Smyth or Smith sentenced to eighty-four days' imprisonment. During the Cavan election on 25th June last the man Fay was observed in company with other men, one of whom drew a revolver on a motor car containing military in charge of a lieutenant of the Berkshire Regiment. The lieutenant jumped out of the car, presented his revolver, and covered the party while his men searched Fay and his companions. In Fay's possession were found two revolvers, one loaded, and twenty-one rounds of ammunition. Another man named Smith had a loaded revolver. Both were arrested, and subsequently tried and convicted. The facts which the hon. Member has presented are not at all in agreement with the facts put before the court-martial when the conviction took place.
§ Mr. McKEAN
I gave the facts not from my own knowledge, but as I received them from a respectable solicitor from Belfast, and everything that comes from Belfast is right and good.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I am dealing with the facts that were placed before the court-martial, and not with the facts stated by my hon. Friend. It was upon the facts I have stated that the conviction took place, and if the facts are as I stated them, I do not think the sentence was excessive. It is a serious thing to have ammunition and loaded revolvers, and I do not think my hon. Friend would say that under the circumstances it was an 1482 excessive sentence. What he does complain about is that the military should have taken any action at all.
§ Mr. McKEAN
I complain of the extraordinary action they took before there was any trial. They harried this man about from pillar to post and treated him as if he were a dog.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
There is no evidence of that. All I know is that he was duly tried by the court-martial and sentenced, very properly, I think, for this offence. If I am right in the statement I make I do not think the hon. Member can complain. I think I have dealt with all the points that have been raised with regard to my Department.
§ Colonel Lord HENRY CAVENDISH-BENTINCK
If I had had the fortune to catch your eye before the right hon. Gentleman rose I should have associated myself with the appeal made by the hon. Member for Market Harborough. There is a very strong feeling about employing boys of eighteen in the firing line, and I am sure the House will be glad to hear that the old regime is to be restored. I came across a battalion of boys leaving London the other day, and though they were as excited and pleased as possible at the idea of going to France, one could not help but be struck by their extreme youth. Very few things have brought the War more home to me than seeing these boys being shipped off to France. The point which I want to bring to the attention of the House is the deplorable condition of our prisoners, British and Indian, in Turkey. There is great and growing uneasiness as to their deplorable condition, and public feeling and sympathy is being more and more aroused as the people more and more appreciate the deplorable state of these men, more particularly the garrison which surrendered at Kut. It is no exaggeration to say that the fate of these gallant men is one of the most pathetic and tragic pages in the annals of the British Army. More than half of the men who surrendered at Kut are now dead. I do not want to traverse the ground and harrow the feelings of the House, but perhaps the best way to illustrate what the high death-rate has been is to give the figures for different regiments. For instance, of 700 men of the Royal Artillery who were left when Kut surrendered, only 150 are now alive. Of the Hants Territorial Artillery only 14 men are alive; of the Norfolk 1483 Battalions only 89 are alive; of the Oxfordshire and Bucks Light Infantry Battalion only 77. It is said that the mortality is not so heavy as it was, but it is still deplorably high. For instance, there were 4,815 British prisoners taken up to 30th June. Of that number 1,655 have died, and since January, 1917, 518 have died. Of the Indian prisoners the death-rate is even higher. Of the total number, 1,358, the deaths since January, 1917, number 732.
What have you done to relieve the conditions of those poor men? Take, first, the officers. The Turkish Government allows each officer 4s. 6d. a day, but owing to depreciation of the Turkish currency that is only worth about 6d. The British Government allow up to £18 Turkish a month, but owing to depreciation that is only worth about £3. Therefore, the British prisoners are receiving something like £30 Turkish, which amounts to £4 sterling, a month. I am told that in Constantinople it takes at least £7 English to keep body and soul together. That is a definite loss per month, to each British officer, of £3. One hears most pathetic instances of the straits to which the families of these officers are put to send enough money for them to live on. One hears also of officers spending the whole of their life's savings in order to keep themselves alive. These officers did not surrender through any fault of their own. They surrendered by order of the British Government, and it is monstrous that they should be put to this enormous expense merely to keep body and soul together. I would ask my hon. Friend to tell the House whether the Government is not prepared to make a little more generous money allowance to these officers. The men, of course, get no money allowance. They get the same ration as the Turkish soldier gets, and it is no exaggeration to say that since they have been taken prisoner they have lived in a state of semi-starvation.
Unfortunately, we have been able to do very little to relieve their condition. For the last seven months I do not think that more 10 lbs. of food per man has reached Turkey. I am not blaming the Prisoners of War Department because the Austrian Government put an embargo on the transmission of parcels. However, I am thankful to say that that embargo has been removed and it is now possible to send parcels, and I am told that the Prisoners 1484 of War Department have agreed to send per month 60 lbs. of food, and clothing for the winter, and one blanket per man. But what I would like to know is what steps the Prisoners of War Department have taken to ensure that this amount of food and clothing shall reach the prisoners? Have they commenced negotiations with the Austrian Government? I would suggest that they should authorise a representative to do so. I believe that General Andrew Wilson is now in Switzerland. I would suggest that it should be arranged that he should meet somebody representing the Austrian Government to arrange for truck accommodation for this extra amount of food and clothing to be sent. I hope that the Government will take very vigorous measures in this matter, because it is a terrible thought to think of these poor men, in a semi-state of starvation, being left without food and clothing, with winter coming on. I would like also to press the Government on the question of the exchange. I am afraid that this is rather a depressing question, and when we think of the possibility of getting these men I am afraid that the outlook is rather depressing.
The Berne Agreement is what soldiers call a complete wash out. It depended upon the sailing of a relief ship from Alexandria, but the sailing of that ship depended in turn upon the Turks getting the permission of the Germans for that ship to sail. Otherwise it would be torpedoed. Neither this Government nor the Turkish Government has yet been able to obtain the consent of the Germans to the sailing of this ship. I am afraid that it looks as if there were very little chance of this consent being obtained and of the ship ever sailing. When a colleague of mine, a Member of this House, raised this question of the exchange last Thursday, my hon. Friend who represents the Department here said that it was not very helpful to suggest a new exchange when the old exchange remained not carried out. That may be a satisfactory attitude from the point of view of the Department, but it is certainly not satisfactory to me and will not be satisfactory to this House, I am sure, or to the country to be told that there is nothing more to be done. I am perfectly sure that there is more to be done, and that the country will not be satisfied unless the Department shows a great deal more initiative and resourcefulness in this 1485 matter than it has done in the past. I cannot help feeling that more might be done. Why, for instance, should not the Government get once more into touch with the Turkish Government and arrange an exchange overland? Possibly they might be sent viâ Switzerland or over the line through Palestine.
We were told that the Prisoners of War Department would take this question up when Lord Newton returned from The Hague. Lord Newton has been back more than a fortnight, and, so far as I know, no decision has been reached as to whether the Government will make fresh proposals to the Turks. Whether this proposal has got stuck in the Prisoners of War Department or in the Army Council I really do not know, but I think it is high time there was some decision on the matter. There is great uneasiness in the country on the question. We were told that the Government is quite satisfied with the expert assistance it had at the Berne negotiations. The experts might have been quite skilful and well acquainted with Turkish conditions, but from what I am told I think they did not carry much weight among the Turks. I should have thought it would have been possible to get men in this country who have not only knowledge of the Turks, but also have weight and influence with them. I would submit that it is the duty of the Government to try and see if experts could not be secured in order to get into touch with the Turks-men who know the mentality of the Turks and have some weight and influence with them. There is another question to which I should like to refer, and that is the need of a Ministry for Prisoners of War. There is a feeling that we shall never do much good under our present regime. I am no critic of Lord Newton, or of my hon. Friend (Mr. Hope), who sits on the Front Bench. I have always thought that Lord Newton was very unjustly treated in the newspapers some few weeks ago, because as a matter of fact, the failings of the Prisoners of War Department are by no means due to Lord Newton. I must say that he holds a most impossible position. It is not possible for any Minister to be responsible for prisoners, to be really responsible, if he has got no power, if he is not master in his own house, and is merely a subordinate. We know that in war-time the last word about prisoners of war must remain with the War Office and the Admiralty. I should have thought that it would be possible to devise some 1486 system whereby a Minister should be made responsible for prisoners in this House, who would be able to speak with some authority and who would have some policy of his own and be able to carry it out. As I said, I do not want to say anything unkind or unfair of Lord Newton, but I must say that I think the country and the House really ought to insist upon effective measures being taken with regard to these prisoners of war, and a policy adopted which will lead to practical results.
§ Colonel Sir CHARLES SEELY
I wish very briefly to support the remarks made by the Noble Lord with regard to the condition of the prisoners in Turkey. I do not think it is necessary for me to add anything to the very long and detailed statement which he has given to the House as regards their present condition. I think it is well known to the House that this condition is extremely serious, and I think the facts and figures which he gave must have brought conviction to all those who heard them, and all who will read them to-morrow in the Press, of the importance of this subject and the urgent necessity there is that His Majesty's Government should lose no time that possibly can be helped in dealing with it. I wish to press upon the Government the necessity of not allowing any opportunity to be missed in regard to this question. The right hon. Gentleman told us the other day that the condition of the prisoners in Turkey was improved and the heavy death-rate which has been referred to was due rather to the original conditions. I would point out two things: One is that owing to the early conditions nobody was left, save the exceptionally strong men; those who were at all weak died under the early conditions, and it does not quite follow, because the death-rate has diminished, that, therefore, the conditions have very much improved. I would further point out that probably some of the conditions were due to the cruelty of the Turks—I do not know to what extent it is deliberate or partially unintentional—as shown in the march of the prisoners from Kut. The condition of Turkey is becoming such that we are very anxious to know whether they treat the prisoners properly or not.
I cannot help thinking that the life of anyone in that country during the coming winter may become extremely unpleasant, extremely unhealthy, and extremely 1487 dangerous. If that is the condition of large numbers of the population in the country, you cannot help realising that the condition of a prisoner in that country is very dangerous indeed. I do hope that His Majesty's Government will realise that, great as was the mortality at the beginning, serious as it has been since, there is a possibility, if matters are left as they were a month or two ago, and unless the efforts the Government are now making meet with more success than their earlier efforts, that we may find, during the course of this winter, many of those who have fought for us so bravely may not return to their homes to receive thanks for their courage and sacrifice. Obviously the best plan is to exchange prisoners, and I wish to associate myself with what was said by the Noble Lord in regard to Lord Newton. I do not blame Lord Newton. I think he has done his best under very difficult circumstances. The French and Germans arranged and carried out an exchange of prisoners a long time ago, and although no doubt everything has been done in accordance with the usual diplomatic methods by our Government, I do feel that it is urgently necessary to deal with prisoners in Turkey before the winter, and I should have been glad if the Government had commenced to make similar arrangements in Turkey to those which were made by France and Germany rather earlier than they have done.
I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman will be able to tell us whether actual proposals are now being made for some exchange of a similar character, and whether any efforts have been made to arrange negotiations for that purpose. It may be the case that those negotiations are still stopped by the fact referred to by the Noble Lord, that the Department over which Lord Newton presides has no actual authority of its own, that before it deals with any question it has to consult innumerable other Departments, and that, therefore, the grave question, on which the lives of our men depend, is still being delayed, not by the difficulty of negotiations abroad, but by the difficulty, which is sometimes just as great, of the negotiations between the different Departments at home. I do not know that I can add much more to what I have said in that respect. I know that the Department are anxious to do their best, and I do hope, if they cannot arrange for an exchange, 1488 that they will see that food and clothing are sent to our prisoners in Turkey. I know the difficulty, and that it has been stopped for some time by the Austrian Government, but that difficulty has for the moment been removed, and I trust that that will enable provisions and food and clothing to be sent to them. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consider carefully the suggestion made by the Noble Lord of a meeting in Switzerland to expedite and arrange for that proposal, and I hope also that they are making arrangements to provide that when this food and clothing get to Constantinople it will be distributed properly, and as ex-peditiously as possible, to the different camps concerned. I should like also to recommend that the Government should take into serious consideration the proposal to have a Ministry of Prisoners. I do not mean definitely a Ministry, because I care not what the name of the thing may be, but what I do think is important, and what I think would have saved much misery to many of our men, would be that the authority, whoever they are, which deals with the question of prisoners should have greater power in dealing with other Departments than they have. One of the most important things in private life, in peace-time with Governments, and in war time with Governments, is that when they make arrangements with other people those arrangements should be carried out quickly, expeditiously, and completely, and the more the people with whom they are dealing are dilatory and careless the more important it is that the Departments themselves should be the exact opposite.
The arrangements which at present exist with regard to prisoners of war make expeditious dealing with any question practically impossible. The hon. Gentleman and Lord Newton go over to The Hague and to various places, and they or their Departments make arrangements. They ought to have the power the moment they have made an arrangement with another man of saying at once to every Department concerned, "This arrangement has been made, and it is to be carried out, and if we say it is to be carried out at once it must be carried out at once, and other matters which the other Departments think are more important must not be allowed to stand in the way of us carrying out at once the arrangements we have made." That, it 1489 seems to me, would be the real value of a Ministry of Prisoners, and I do not care whether it is done by appointing a Ministry or whether it is done by giving the existing Department greater powers than it has at present. Something of that kind ought to be done if our prisoners are to be properly treated, and of all the prisoners concerned the ones for whom it is most important are those in Turkey. There is one other matter connected with the Prisoners' Department which I should like to mention, and that is the condition of our prisoners at the Interneerings Camp, Groeningen. I have had a somewhat serious complaint as to the food which the prisoners get there, and I think I might read the hon. Gentleman what is said about it—Very often it looks as if it was made of sawdust held together by paste. Sometimes, but not recently, tobacco has been found in the bread, and once, a few months ago, a dead mouse. The bread is generally received in a very pasty condition.9.0 P.M.
The serious thing with regard to this is that I hold also a letter from the English commodore in charge of the camp, who says, "The men here get quite sufficient good and wholesome food." I think that the Prisoners' Department should take care that their officers give rather better information as to what is actually happening than that, and should not report that the men have good and wholesome food when the men who happen to come home give this account of the bread which I have read to the House.
§ Mr. JAMES HOPE (Lord of the Treasury)
Is my hon. Friend quite sure he is referring to the same camp, because there have been two different camps at Groeningen, one for civilians and one for naval prisoners?
§ Sir C. SEELY
This is the one for naval prisoners, and both letters refer to the same camp. I shall be very pleased to give the hon. Gentleman a piece of the bread, which I think he will agree is not "good and wholesome food." I hope the hon. Gentleman will be able to give me an assurance that that matter will be looked into, and I beg to press again upon him the very grave and important question of the prisoners of war in Turkey.
§ Colonel YATE
As the last speaker has said in connection with our prisoners of war in Turkey, it is not the slightest good our making arrangements unless they are carried out. The Berne arrangement 1490 was come to, I believe, in December, 1917, and four months elapsed before we got that ratified, and another four months have now elapsed, and nothing has been done. Consequently, we are in a position which is absolutely the same as it was before. Eight months have been wasted, and nothing has been done. We were told that in making that arrangement in Berne experts were employed, but we have never heard who those experts were, where they came from, what they did, or anything about them. If you are dealing with people like the Turks, you require to have a man of responsible status to deal with them. It is no good sending under-strappers or uninfluential men of any sort to undertake any dealings with the Turks. You must have men of high position and recognised standing, and also men of great experience in dealing with Orientals. The Berne arrangement has proved a fiasco. We have got nothing out of it, but is there any reason why we should limit our negotiations to Switzerland? No stone must be left unturned, and we ought to try every possible means. We all know that there are lots of Turkish prisoners in Egypt, and is it not the natural thing that we should be able to arrange an exchange of those prisoners in Egypt with the Turks in Palestine? We have an enormous number of Turkish prisoners in Burmah. Is it not only natural that we should exchange them for all the Indian prisoners in Mesopotamia? We urged it, but no real attempt has been made to open any one of those doors. We must have a man who understands how to get to the door and open it, and he should be sent out there to try to do it. What we have got to do is to get a real man, one who thoroughly understands his business, and put him in full and complete charge of the whole arrangement.
I fully agree as to the necessity of our having a proper, responsible Minister in charge of prisoners of war both at home and abroad, with full authority over all prisoners of war, subject, of course, to the War Cabinet. Until we get it, I honestly believe we shall never get any forwarder over this question of the release of our prisoners in Turkey, the state of whom, we have just heard, is so deplorable at the present moment. The Minister, or whoever may be placed in charge of the Prisoners of War Department, should be a man able to give his whole time of it, and be absolutely free and 1491 unhampered by the work of any other Department. It is full-time work for any man, and until we get that it is hopeless to expect anything to be done. We do look forward, therefore, to having a Minister appointed with full power to make arrangements. Time is going on. Before we know where we are, the winter will be coming in the mountains where those prisoners are working. Unless something is done within the next few days the winter will be on us, and we shall never see these men again. I do, therefore, appeal to the hon. Member in charge of this Department to urge the Government to take this thing up and settle it without delay, appoint someone to do the work, give him a free hand, and let him get on with it without any further loss of time.
§ Sir J. BUTCHER
I think this House would be devoid of the ordinary feelings of humanity if it did not, before separating for the Autumn Recess, record in the strongest way possible our deep, our most grave anxiety as to the fate of these unfortunate men who are prisoners in Turkish hands. I can conceive nothing more deplorable for brave men like those who formed our garrison at Kut, who fought with determination and gallantry until the very last, to have to fall into the hands of the enemy and remain in a condition almost of servitude until the end of the War. But the condition of these men who fell into Turkish hands is aggravated tenfold by the deplorable conditions under which they live—starvation, the absence even of the ordinary and most common comforts and needs of life. I doubt not that the Government share to the full the anxiety which every Member of this House feels. I doubt not the Government, like we ourselves, have the deepest sympathy, not merely with the men themselves who suffer, but with their relatives at home, who, with anxious eyes, watch for and scan news—even the scanty news that comes—as to the welfare of those who are dear to them. But sympathy and anxiety are insufficient. There is an urgent and an absolute necessity for taking active and immediate steps. As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Melton (Colonel Yate) has pointed out, the winter is coming on, and unless these men, before winter overtakes them, are either repatriated or are furnished 1492 with adequate food and clothing, their fate will be indeed tragic, and I doubt whether the already grievous mortality referred to by my Noble Friend (Lord H. Cavendish-Bentinck) will not be exceeded during the coming winter.
What is to be done? There are three aspects of this question—three urgent needs which I should like to press upon the Government. The first is the need for taking steps to effect repatriation. The existing Berne Agreement only deals with the wounded men; it does not touch the unwounded. Even that has not been carried out. But if we were able to carry out the existing Berne Agreement as to the wounded, that is not enough. What we want is a new Berne or other agreement by which there can be an exchange of prisoners. Might I suggest to my hon. Friend, who, I know, is doing his very utmost to ameliorate matters, that when this conference is held, as it probably will be, with the Turks, it is extremely advisable to get someone who understands the habits and the minds of the Turks, and who will know how to influence them in the most effectual way. The ordinary negotiator is somewhat at a loss when he negotiates with a person of so different a mentality from our own as the Turk, and therefore it is extremely desirable that we should have someone who knows the East and the Turkish mind, in order to bring the best service to bear upon it. We are told—and I have no doubt it is perfectly true—that the difficulties of repatriation have arisen very largely from the action of the Germans and Austrians in refusing safe conduct to the ships which are to take back these men. Cannot some new avenue of approaching Germans be found by my hon. Friend? Cannot he find some new method of bringing home even to their minds the essential humanity and decency of giving safe conduct to wounded prisoners and others exchanged between us and the Turks? Let us explore every means, every possible method, of influencing the Germans in this matter before we give it up as hopeless.
The second point is the necessity of sending parcels of food and clothing at the very earliest possible moment. I think it was announced by my hon. Friend on the 29th of last month that it was hoped to arrange for the despatch of clothing, and, I presume, of food, overland to Austria. Yes; but what guarantee 1493 have we that if this clothing does pass through Austria and does reach Constantinople, it will ever get beyond it? Who have we at Constantinople who is going to visit the camps and see that these parcels reach them? I believe at the present moment the Dutch Minister is not permitted to visit the more distant camps in the Taurus, but surely it is not beyond the power of persuasion, through the agency of neutral Ministers in Constantinople, to induce the Turks to send those parcels and to see that they reach their destination? We shall be glad to hear what progress has been made in the negotiations which have taken place for that purpose. Then there was the point made by my Noble Friend as to the amount of money which officers require to keep body and soul together. Many of these officers, we know, have not the actual money in their possession if they were to pledge everything they had in their power to pay for the bare necessities of life. If that be so, surely it is the business of the State to supply them with money to keep them in bare existence, and I doubt if there is any man in the House of Commons who would object to a Vote, however large it might seem, for the essential and humane purpose of saving these brave men from absolute starvation and ruin.
The last point is one which has been touched upon by every speaker who has intervened in this Debate, and that is the question of getting all the threads of this business relating to prisoners of war into one hand, as far as possible. I do not know how many Departments deal with the matter at the present time. There is the War Office, the Admiralty, and, I suppose, the Foreign Office, to a certain extent, and the Prisoners of War Committee. These authorities are all more or less co-ordinated, but there is not one authority which has taken the lead in this matter, or can take it, and say: "This or that must be done." There must be consultations going on between a number of people of co-equal authority and persuasion must be exercised upon one Department and another. I know my right hon. Friend does all in his power—I think everyone is agreed on that—but surely decisions might be arrived at much more quickly and much more effectively, and, having been arrived at, might be carried out much more efficiently? If we had the representative of one Minister armed with 1494 authority who could go round the different Departments and say to one Department or another: "It is the desire of the Minister that this should be done, and it must be done," it would be much better. Therefore, I do beg my hon. Friend to represent to the Prime Minister, or in the proper quarter, the strong views which have been expressed in this direction, how many Members in this House, at any rate, probably everyone who has considered the matter thinks that if you had one authority you would have much more likelihood of getting things done than by having half a dozen authorities, or more, sometimes, in conflict with each other. This is an urgent matter. It is a necessary matter. It is a matter which no man with a heart or conscience can refuse to look at without the gravest and the deepest anxiety. I do trust that before we separate for an interval of a couple of months we shall get some satisfactory announcement of what is being done, and what will be done, to save the lives of these brave men.
§ Mr. STEWART
The urgency of the matter which is now being discussed, and the misery of our prisoners of war, especially in Turkey, induces me to say a very few words by way of backing up the Noble Lord in his effort to get, if possible, an exchange of prisoners. What has happened in regard to this question to-day confirms, I think, the contention that it would be a good thing if one separate person or authority were established to look after the prisoners of war. I put a question down to my hon. Friend the Member for Central Sheffield (Mr. Hope) yesterday as to the prisoners in Turkey, as to whether our military authorities could get into direct contact with the Turkish military authorities, so as to effect exchanges between Jerusalem and Damascus. That question was transferred to the War Office. I asked it to-day, but when the question comes now to be discussed the hon. Member for Central Sheffield is left as the responsible Minister to answer inquiries. He will, of course, understand that the interests of our prisoners could not be put into more sympathetic hands, but it is noticeable that the questions are transferred from one Department to another, no particular Department accepting responsibility, the matter ultimately being left to be dealt with by my hon. Friend. The answer 1495 I got from the War Office was that my proposal had been referred to General Allenby, and he had replied that it was an impossible one. But it must be remembered that this proposal was made last December, and it is now August; and a very great deal has happened between last December and now.
If we really are earnest and energetic in this matter, we might surely begin again to see whether the new conditions which have arisen since last December might not open the door, and that we could then push it still further open. There is no doubt about it that the feeling between the Turks and the Germans is not nearly so friendly at the present time as it was last December. They are getting a bit tired of each other. It might be possible to utilise that feeling and perhaps make it work out, if we use the occasion wisely, to benefit the men whose cause we are now advocating. We used to idealise the Turk and consider he was an honest and chivalrous fighter. We made a mistake. A great deal of what they have done of recent times, especially to our prisoners, shows that we gave them a higher standard of character than they really deserved, though perhaps what they have done has been done under the influence of Germany. Now that German influence is less in Turkey we might avail ourselves of that fact. I understand that the treatment of officer prisoners in their camps is not altogether bad. The Turks are civil enough to them. But the conditions of our officers and men, and what they suffer, generally, is daily getting worse, and there is no doubt from the reports that come through that there have been cases of brutality. We have heard a great deal about the mystery ship which is supposed to sail between Alexandria and Turkish ports, and of its being prevented sailing because the Germans would not give us a free pass. If we could make arrangements to exchange man for man, or something of that sort, and, seeing we have some Germans and Turks in our hands, if we put them on the ship together with food and clothing, I think that would be a fair guarantee that the ship would get to its destination. I do not think the Turks, when the steamer arrived in Turkey, would attempt to pillage the cargo in view of the possibilities of retribution following on quickly. I am certain that if any British soldier had 1496 the chance of being put aboard that ship with the risk of being torpedoed, he would fact that risk rather than remain a prisoner in a Turkish camp.
I fully back up what an hon. Member said a few moments ago that if we sit down and do nothing we shall presently have no prisoners at all to release. I most earnestly appeal to the hon. Gentleman who is to give a reply to this portion of the Debate. I ask him to use whatever influence he has with the Government to see that a little more activity is exercised in this matter. In respect to the Turks, surely the resources of diplomacy and finance still leave certain possibilities of negotiations, for there are many clever people in the East, and it may be a reasonable suggestion that if we supply the money, and if we offered a personal reward to an agent treating for the release of British soldiers, some good might be effected. I would ask the hon. Gentleman, when answering to consider whether, because General Allenby said last December he could not do anything, that that is any reason why he should not be asked to look into the matter now! I would also like to ask the hon. Gentleman, to whom I addressed three questions to-day on the subject of mercantile marine officers interned in Holland, to look carefully and immediately into this matter. These men are subject to great hardships. Their lot is not a satisfactory one. Allowances made to them are totalled up against them for repayment at a future date. They get no pay. They have faced the risks of the sea. They have wives and children in this country. I would ask that something should be done to mitigate the hardships of incarceration in view of the great domestic trouble and financial ruin that these men seem to have in front of them.
§ Mr. HOPE
I want to allude to two matters which have been raised by the last speaker, and by my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Sir C. Seely). I can give the last-named hon. Member the assurance he has asked for. With regard to the charges made upon our mercantile marine prisoners, this is primarily a matter for the Board of Trade, but I will make a special note of it. I have been asked questions about the cost of repatriation. I am glad to be able to tell him that at this moment the Treasury are considering the matter. It is a Treasury matter, which can only be dealt with in accordance with the Treasury Regulations, 1497 but I have an assurance from my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he is having the question looked into, and it is being examined sympathetically at this moment. With regard to the question of the food supplied to prisoners interned in Holland, that is a matter which has given us great anxiety for some time past. It is pitiable to think that when our brave men have got away from Germany, their material conditions should be in any way worsened. The matter has been urgently pressed on the Dutch Government, and a definite proposal has now been made which will, I hope, put everything right. We have every reason to believe it will be accepted, and I am authorised to say that a special officer, who is expert in such matters as wholesale catering for soldiers, is being sent out. I believe, grievous as this matter has been, it will be put right almost immediately. That, at any rate, is my hope.
With regard to Turkey, the question of an extended Turkish exchange has been pressed on the Government for some weeks, but I think I was right when I said on a previous occasion that until our negotiators have returned from The Hague it would be useless to attempt to deal with the question further, as we did not know what shape The Hague negotiations might take, and, secondly, because the negotiators were experts in dealing with these questions with enemy Powers, and it was unreasonable to start negotiations until they were free to give attention to the matter. As far as the Prisoners of War Department are concerned, I may say at once they have already formulated proposals for extending the exchanges of prisoners with Turkey and Bulgaria, and these proposals are now before other Departments of the Government. They are being considered, and as far as the Prisoners of War Department is concerned the active steps asked for have already been taken.
§ Mr. HOPE
That is a matter of procedure on which obviously I cannot express an opinion at this moment. I think it is extremely probable that, in regard to these Powers, no formal conference may be necessary at all. As regards the present guarantee with Turkey, the agreement on paper is most satisfactory as far 1498 as it goes, and the machinery for carrying it out has been thoroughly thought out. If a general exchange were agreed upon to-morrow the machinery for carrying it out is already there. A ship has been arranged for, and all the necessary arrangements made. But I am afraid there are difficulties with Turkey not merely as to means of communication or as to whether the exchange shall be by land or sea. I fear the decision does not depend upon the one method being more convenient than the other. As far as the agreement on paper goes, I do not think there is anything to find fault with, but whether it be owing to some sinister influence or other forces which may be at work, there is difficulty in carrying out the existing agreement, and it makes me a little doubtful as to the success of any wider proposal. Knowing what I do, I cannot be very sanguine of the success of any wider proposals, although that is no reason why they should not be put forward. At any rate, as regards the Prisoners of War Department, we have done all we could in that direction. It has been suggested that the failure has been due to our not having employed experts for the negotiations. But it is quite a mistake to suppose that experts in Turkish ways were not employed. Two gentlemen who took an active part in the negotiations were certainly experts, and it was very largely due to their knowledge that the agreement was come to. We are asked to try other means. When I invited suggestions the other day as to any possible steps to be taken, I received only one which had not already been before us, and that is being explored and followed up at the present moment. More I cannot say. We are more than anxious to receive and explore suggestions which may offer any chance of being helpful to the prisoners.
But in the meantime the burning question of providing for these prisoners of war next winter has to be considered. Whatever may be the result of our present efforts, we cannot overlook the possibility that they may fail. We are doing all that can be done in the way of pressing forward the supply of food and clothing for them. In case the exchange goes on we have accumulated four months' supply of food at Alexandria, and there will also be complete sets of clothing and blankets for every man to go with that food. In case that fails we have 1499 alternative supplies to go viâ Switzerland. The difficulty hitherto as regards overland transit has lain with the Austrian Government, but that has been removed and we are arranging to send not only complete supplies for our prisoners, but we are taking steps to ensure that there shall be no further delay.
§ Mr. HOPE
I do not think so, but obviously we must try this method, and if we do not send an escort of course there would be no security. In these matters we must do our best. We have two plans, one shipping from Alexandria and the other transport through Europe. At any rate we have done all that seems to us physically possible, and all that has been suggested. We have arranged in case these consignments fail that the Dutch Minister at Constantinople shall have power to order if he can a supplementary supply, so that is another string to our bow.
§ Lord H. CAVENDISH-BENTINCK
Are we to understand that the arrangement with the Austrian Government is complete or only in course of arrangement?
§ Mr. HOPE
I cannot say it is complete, but the Austrian Government have agreed to allow supplies for our prisoners to go through to Turkey. Of course, in these matters we must depend on the good offices of the Dutch Minister, and here I should like to acknowledge the great part that before the entry of the United States into the War, was played by the American Ambassador there, and I wish to state how much we regret that his services are no longer available to us. I have no reason to suppose that the authorities of the Ottoman Government will not do their best in this matter. They have men specially charged with this particular work, and it will be their duty to see when the supplies get to Constantinople that they are sent over to the Asia side, and forwarded to the various prisoners camps.
With regard to the question of money for our prisoners in Turkey we have devised a new arrangement to meet their wants which I cannot explain now, but I shall be glad to explain to any hon. Member who would like to approach me on this subject. As to the actual condition 1500 of our prisoners in Turkey undoubtedly there has been a great improvement in the mortality. I have had figures of the deaths of all ranks in camp during the last year and for the first six months of this year. In January last year the number was 91, and in January this year 10; in February last year 85 deaths, February this year 11; in March last year 46 deaths, March this year 7; in April last year 63, April this year 7; in May last year 68, in May this year 1; in June last year 23, and in June this year 1. Of course, all these figures are not absolutely vouched for, but they are the best we have been able to get, and they do show a very marked improvement. I do not want to insist too much upon this, because I do not wish to minimise the sufferings of our prisoners, but I think it necessary to say that there has been this improvement, for the sake of the relatives of the prisoners.
I may add that the figure which an hon. Member gave the other day as to there being a mortality of 50 per cent. among the prisoners is not borne out by our information. I have not the figures about certain battalions which have been mentioned, but the information in my possession does not come to anything like that figure. The known deaths are about 20 per cent., and if you add those that are not traced you may get as high as 40 per cent.; but we have very good reason to suppose that a great many of those returned as untraced have never been brought into the prisoners' camps at all, but are working on the Bagdad railway, and we have some reason to believe that they are better off, if only because the German contractors find it to their interest to keep their men in a decent physical condition. I do not deny that there is a very serious problem to face in the future, or that we should not try to improve the position, but the statement that 50 per cent. have died is not in accordance with any of the facts we have been able to get.
With regard to the general administration of prisoners' questions, of course, that is a matter upon which I cannot speak with any authority. I do not think you will solve the difficulty by creating a new Ministry, for you would require new buildings and a large staff; but, even if you got over those difficulties, there is the further difficulty that questions affecting prisoners necessarily concern a large number of Departments and they could not all be embodied in one Ministry. The exchange question, 1501 for example, is largely a matter of transport, and in this the Admiralty is concerned. Then various questions as to pursuing a policy in common with our Allies arise where obviously the War Office and the Foreign Office must come in. Therefore, even if you did create a special Ministry you would still have to deal with these other Ministries. Undoubtedly, there have been great delays in consequence of the number of Departments concerned, but I do know that the Government as a whole are seeking to find a remedy. Personally, I think that one can be found, though possibly it will not be a complete remedy. I know, however, that the Cabinet are considering the question, and I do believe that a solution can be found which will at any rate very much hasten and quicken up the settling of these questions which are so vital to the unfortunate prisoners whose sufferings are always before our minds.
§ Captain SHEEHAN
We have listened with interest to the speech of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. There is nobody in this House who does not wish to see the utmost effort made to lessen the sufferings entailed by this War. We are grateful for any manifestation of anxiety to improve the conditions of our prisoners of War, especially when it comes from one who has shown such praiseworthy zeal in the matter, and we should all like to see him move a little higher up. To-day I put a series of questions to the Financial Secretary to the War Office, and I regard—and, I think, rightly regard—the replies which I received as unsatisfactory and insufficient. I recognise that the right hon. Gentleman is uniformly courteous and desirous of giving the utmost information in his power and of according fair treatment to all parties. I cannot hope at this stage of the Session to continue a persistent course of questions or an enforcement of my view, but if to-night I establish a case for reasonable inquiry I trust that the right hon. Gentleman, with his usual courtesy and sense of fairness, will give the matter which I raise that amount of attention and personal regard which I believe it deserves. In the course of three questions to-day I raised practically the whole matter of the Infantry equipment of our Army serving in the field since 1914. It concerns a question of administration, a question of payment to a large contracting firm, and a question of the treatment of an individual 1502 officer in the Army. Personally, I regard the question of the treatment of an individual officer as important as any other question involved, because if you are to have loyal service and good work and if you are to stimulate the inventive genius of those men who are going to serve the State, the least you can do is to give them due and suitable reward when their merits are established. The Infantry equipment in its later and most modern aspect was designed originally in 1903 by Major (now Colonel) Burrowes, of the Royal Irish Fusiliers. He placed his ideas, as he was bound to do, absolutely at the disposal of the War Office. He was in active service at the time, and he had no option in the matter, for every officer and soldier who is serving has to place any inventive genius that he has absolutely at the disposal of the War Office, and, subject to whatever reward may be made by those in authority, his design becomes the absolute property of the War Office. The right hon. Gentleman referred me to the reply to a question which he gave to the hon. Member for East Leeds (Mr. O'Grady) on 4th July, 1916. He admitted in that reply that the design of Colonel Burrowes was adopted by the War Office as the most suitable, and he added:It could only be satisfactorily carried out in web material by employing a special weaving process belonging to the Mills Equipment Company.It is an extraordinary thing that the Mills Equipment Company, I think, five years later took out a patent for the design of Major Burrowes, but they never mentioned in that patent the special weaving process which belonged to them alone. Then the hon. Gentleman stated:Colonel Burrowes was allowed to enter into arrangements with the Mills Equipment Company under which he was remunerated by them in return for the right to use his design.There has never been any question raised by the War Office of the Mills Equipment Company having designed this equipment themselves. They admitted that it was Colonel Burrowes who designed it, and they admitted also that Colonel Burrowes was allowed to enter into personal relationship with the Mills Equipment Company for its use. They stated:The royalties payable to this firm are partly in respect of Colonel Burrowes' design and partly in respect of their special weaving process."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th July, 1916, col. 1363, Vol. 83.]1503 The royalties, if payable at all, are payable in respect of Burrowes' design, because if the right hon. Gentleman will study the terms of the patent, he will find that the special weaving process is never mentioned. I would draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that the Patent Laws provide that unless the name of the real and first inventor is given the patent is void. The Mills Equipment Company for one reason or another, when they sought a patent for the design of Colonel Burrowes, never used his name in connection with it. Therefore, the patent is not in accordance with the Patent Laws, and they have no right of any sort or kind to royalties under it. That is incontestable. If the War Office authorities investigate the matter in the spirit in which I am bringing it before them, they will find the statements I have made are indisputable. Major Burrowes invented the design. The Mills Equipment Company took up his invention; they patented it, but never used his name, although we have the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman himself in July, 1916, that Major Burrowes, by reason of the fact that he was the original inventor, was allowed to enter into private pecuniary arrangements with this company. I asked to-day what was the nature of these arrangements, but I could not be told. I asked, further, what sums in royalties had been paid to the Mills Equipment Company in respect of their patent of 1908, and the right hon. Gentleman told me that he was not in a position to give this information, which involved much research. One can imagine that the amount of royalties paid to any company in respect of an invention would not be beyond the power of the Department to state.
The fundamental fact is that the Mills Equipment Company have no right whatever to this patent or to the royalty they have been drawing for ten years. Furthermore, when it came to a question of evolving an Infantry equipment for our soldiers in 1914, it was found that the equipment which the Mills Company had been manufacturing was for many reasons, which I do not now develop, although I could do so, unsuitable. There was an officer named Major Honey, in the Army Ordnance Department, who gave many years of study and thought to the question of improving this equipment, bringing 1504 it up to date and making it suitable for modern requirements. Major Honey made a claim on the 13th August, 1915. It is a remarkable fact that it was previously admitted by the right hon. Gentleman that the whole of Major Honey's spare time was spent in trying to design a new equipment. He gave the following reasons in his claim: First, to overcome serious defects that were coming to notice in the 1908 equipment; secondly, to produce an Infantry equipment that would not infringe the patent rights of the Mills Equipment Company, and so enable the War Office to secure competitive tenders from numerous competitors instead of their mainly being confined to two companies, the Mills Equipment Company and Messrs. Wright and Sons. Although the right hon. Gentleman stated in his reply of 1916 that there was only one company who had a special process for manufacturing web equipment, in fact there were two others who could do it equally well, one being Wright and Sons, who were Government contractors. Major Honey added:The success of the efforts I have made have been strikingly illustrated during the last twelve months as over ninety firms supplied the War Office alone….with 1914 equipment.10.0 P.M.
It is obvious that if the manufacture of equipment for the Infantry were confined to one or two firms it would be impossible to turn out the quantity of sets of equipments required. Owing to the efforts of this officer, who was serving at the time in the Ordnance Department, it was found possible to distribute a new, improved, and entirely original equipment, and to give the manufacture of that to no less than ninety firms. The equipment was so simple that no preliminary tests were required, and the orders were given. If this equipment had not been available when war broke out, we should have been in the position that we should have been in the hands of this one company for the supply of the sets of equipment required. I submit that the officer who was able, in that position of emergency, to come to the service of the State, should at least have the tribute paid to him that his services should be rewarded by some suitable recognition. What actually happened? The Mills Equipment Company came along and although they only manufacture a very inconsiderable quantity of the new equipment—the right hon. Gentleman knows better than I do how much 1505 it is; I want to ascertain to-night, I have not been able to find out, but I am told it is very little—I am told that four million sets at least of new equipment have been issued since 1914 of the new patent and that the Mills Equipment Company, although they have not manufactured them, have claimed and secured a royalty amounting to £250,000. That is the point I want to have cleared up. I want to know why this firm, who, as I contend, have no right to the patent whatever, should have secured a royalty of this kind without a full investigation of their credentials and of their right. I am told that Major Honey took to the War Office all the facts and asked for an investigation. He is an equipment expert. I may say in passing that I knew this officer for many years before the War broke out. He was a personal friend of mine, and I feel I am only discharging a duty to him in trying to secure that his efforts in this matter shall be fairly and equitably recognised. I know that there is not a matter in regard to equipment which he does not thoroughly understand. To prove that his claim was supported by his own immediate authorities, I can quote from Colonel Wortham, his commanding officer, who in sending forward his claim said:Major Honey worked on this equipment during the time that he and General Butcher were C.I.E.S. He spent much time on the subject and I understand that it was due to his efforts that the present equipment was evolved.Brigadier-General Butcher, reporting on it, says:It is within my personal knowledge that the production of this web equipment was due to Major Honey's efforts as stated by him. He has devoted himself in his leisure time to solving a most difficult problem.Nothing could be clearer than that. His own colonel and brigadier-general have both testified to the fact that the 1914 equipment is due to Major Honey. What happened? Was there any recognition of his work? It conflicted with the claims of the Mills Equipment Company for a royalty. The Mills Equipment Company got their royalty and Major Honey has got his retirement after forty years' honourable service as a ranker and officer in the Army. On another occasion I will possibly develop the circumstances of his retirement. For the moment the larger issue is the one upon which I would rather dwell. That is, that without investigation, without inquiry, without any heed being paid to the representations of those who knew the facts 1506 that the 1914 equipment was no infringement of any previous patent, and certainly not an infringement of any patent to which they have any right, they have been given a royalty all the time since then. When the hon. Member (Mr. O'Grady) raised this question the hon. Gentleman made certain representations to me. I am in a position to give the reply of the hon. Member (Mr. O'Grady). He said, amongst other things—this was written to the hon. Gentleman, and he will have it in his file:I have been supplied with certain information regarding the company, and the fact is that the design submitted by an officer on the active list of the War Office has been handed over to a private firm which is now receiving great financial advantage therefrom.A quarter of a million of money in royalties for a thing they do not manufacture themselves is a very considerable financial advantage:I am not concerned about what Colonel Burrowes has received.Neither am I. Colonel Burrowes designed the equipment, and he was entitled to remuneration. What I say is that the War Office should have made remuneration, whatever was fair and reasonable, to Major Burrowes, and should not hand over the manufacture of this equipment and the design to a private manufacturing firm:You state that the Burrowes' design could only be satisfactorily carried out in web material by a special weaving process belonging to the Mills Equipment Company. It is a fact that other firms supply the same article at present—Hepburn, Dale and Ross, and Wright and Sons.Does that mean that other firms are supplying a special weaving process or are they doing it without it? They have been doing it without it. The other firms which have supplied them have been doing it without it. But the one firm which is drawing a royalty on the whole thing is the Mills Equipment Company. Is that going to continue without inquiry or investigation of any sort? I hope the hon. Gentleman will make further inquiry into this matter and will give Major Honey, who has been, in my view, unfairly treated, an opportunity of establishing his right, if he has one. If he has no right, I shall not press the matter in the least degree on his behalf. If he is able to prove to any independent Court of Inquiry that he did really, as his Colonel and Brigadier-General testify, evolve the 1914 patent equipment, I claim fair treatment for him, and I ask that 1507 the royalty shall not be paid to the Mills Equipment Company for a design to which they have no claim in the world.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the WAR OFFICE (Mr. Forster)
I was very sorry at Question Time this afternoon that I was not able to give a detailed reply to the hon. and gallant Gentleman. He hardly realises what an immense amount of information was called for in the series of questions which he addressed to me. I looked into it myself this morning, and I found that in the forty lines of print in which his series of questions were expressed there were no fewer than twenty separate questions. In a matter of this kind one has to be careful to ascertain the facts precisely. The question is one of great importance, involving intricate questions of Patent Law and matters upon which a layman like myself is naturally unable to give judgment. The officials of my Department gave me clear proof that it was impossible in the time at their disposal really to frame a full and satisfactory answer. Under ordinary circumstances I should have communicated with the hon. and gallant Gentleman and asked him to postpone the question to some later date, but I realise that the end of the Session is at hand. I threw myself upon his mercy, and I have no reason whatever to complain that he has brought the matter up now. I do not think anyone realises what the pressure of work in the War Office is at present. Our staff has been combed out very drastically, and during the past six weeks we have had a very strenuous committee we have had a very strenuous Committee questions involving the examination of a large number of old files and involving many points of detail are to be put down, we shall be compelled to ask for a longer measure of notice. It is really impossible 1508 for us to deal with them in the time at our disposal with the staff we can command. I am not in a position to deal seriatim with the points which the hon. and gallant Gentleman has raised. Major Honey's claim to a patent was investigated.
§ Mr. FORSTER
I have made frank acknowledgment that I am not in a position to go into the details of the matter. I will make it my business to go into it in the near future, and I hope I shall find, as the result of detailed investigation, that the situation is not so alarming as the hon. and gallant Gentleman appears to regard it.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the third time, and passed.