HC Deb 19 February 1918 vol 103 cc633-707

Order for Committee read.

The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Lloyd George)

I beg to move, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair." In moving that you do now leave the Chair, I have a statement to make to the House on a matter in which not merely the House of Commons but the country are very deeply interested. In doing so, I would like to say that I hope, whatever may be said to-day, this matter will be treated as a question of policy, and not of personalities. If there has been any delay or apparent hesitation in the announcement of any decision by the Government it is not because there is any doubt in their minds in regard to that policy, but because they were very anxious that the decision, when it was announced, should be free from any element of complication about personalities. The Government were extremely anxious to retain the services of Sir William Robertson as Chief of Staff as long as that was compatible with the policy on which they had decided, in common with the Allied Governments, after prolonged consultation at Versailles. It is a matter of the deepest regret to the Government that it was found to be incompatible with that policy to retain the services of so distinguished a soldier. If the policy be right, no personalities should stand in the way of its execution, however valuable, however important, however distinguished. If the policy be wrong, no personalities and no Government ought to stand in the way of its being instantly defeated.

What is the policy? I have already explained to the House—I am afraid rather imperfectly on the last occasion, but to the best of my ability—what is the policy of the Government in this respect. It is not merely the policy of this Government. It is the policy of the great Allied Governments in council. There is absolutely no difference between our policy and the policy of France, Italy, and America in this respect. In fact, some of the conclusions to which we came at Versailles were the result of very powerful representations made by the representatives of other Governments, notably the American Government. That policy is a policy which is based on the assumption that the Allies hitherto have suffered through lack of concerted and co-ordinated effort. There was a very remarkable quotation in yesterday's "Manchester Guardian," which, if the House will permit me, I will read, because I think it gives the pith of the whole controversy: Some great soldier once said that to find the real effective strength of an alliance you must halve us nominal resources to allow for the effect of divided counsels and dispersed effort Our purpose and our policy has been to get rid of that halving of the resources of the Allies, so that, instead of dispersion of effort, there should be concentration and unity of effort. There is a saying attributed to a very distinguished living French statesman, which is rather cynical—that, The more he knows of this War, the less convinced he is that Napoleon was a great soldier, for the, simple reason that Napoleon had only to tight coalitions all his life. I ventured some time ago to make an excursion into the general history of the War, in order, without blaming anyone, to point out what the Allies have suffered in the past from lack of co-ordination of effort. You have only to look at 1917, to find exactly the same set of circumstances inevitably affecting, or rather diminishing, the power of that concentration which otherwise would have been possible, in order to counteract the efforts which were made by the Germans, and to counteract the collapse on the Russian front. Anyone who examines closely the events of 1917, as well as the events of the previous year, will find plenty of argument for some change of machinery in order to effect greater concentration than has hitherto been achieved in the direction of the Allied resources. That is the reason why, after the Italian defeat, the Allied Governments, after a good deal of correspondence and of conference, came to the conclusion that it was necessary to set up some central authority, for the purpose of co-ordinating the strategy of the Allies. At the last Conference at Versailles it was decided, after days of conference, to extend the powers of that body.

In discussing the action at Versailles, I am necessarily hampered by the Resolutions arrived at, not merely by the military representatives, but by the separate Governments, that it was not desirable to give any information in regard to the general plan which was adopted. But I think I can, within these limits, make quite clear where controversy has arisen, and ask the judgment of the House on the action of the Government as to the merits or demerits of the dispute. The general principle laid down at Versailles was agreed to whole-heartedly by everybody. I will come later to where controversy arose. There was no controversy as regards policy, but only as to the method of giving effect to it. This obviates the necessity for me to discuss the plan itself, because the House may take it that as far as the plan itself was concerned, there was, and there is now, as far as I know, the most complete agreement. Had there not been, I am sorry to say I could not have gone into it; but it is not necessary. There was agreement as to policy. There was agreement that there must be a central authority, to exercise the supreme direction over that policy. There was agreement that the authority must be an Inter-Allied authority. There was complete agreement that the authority should have executive powers. The only question which arose was as to how that central authority should be constituted. That is the only difference. There was no difference about policy; no difference about the plan; no difference about executive powers; no difference about it being necessary to set up an Inter-Allied authority with control; and no difference about its having executive powers. The only difference was as to how that central authority should be constituted. That was the whole issue. In my judgment—and I will give the facts later—agreement was reached at the Conference, even in regard to that.

4.0 P.M.

Let me give the stages of discussion at the Conference. Several proposals were put forward. We sat for days, and examined those proposals very carefully. I am sure that no one went there with a preconceived plan in his mind. Everybody went with a full desire to find the best method, and not to advocate any particular proposal. All these various proposals were, one after the other, rejected, until we came to the last. I will explain these various proposals, because I can do that without in the least giving, away the plan of operations. The first proposal was favoured in the first instance by the French and the British General Staff. I do not think the American— that is my recollection—or the Italian Staffs took quite the same view; but the French and British Staffs were in favour of the proposal by which the central body should be a council of chiefs of the Staffs. That was the first proposal. I want to show that the very proposal over which controversy raged later was examined at that Conference, and it was the first proposal examined. It was most carefully considered, and I will give the House the case put forward for it, as I want the House to hear on what grounds it was recommended.

It was essential that each of the representatives should be in intimate touch with his own War Office. He must know the man-power, the state of morale, the-medical equipment, shipping, and Foreign Office information, and nobody could know this so well as the Chief of the Staff. Therefore, the new body ought to consist of the Chiefs of the Staffs. It was also naturally felt that there were serious constitutional objections to any system which implied that an Inter-Allied body was to come to decisions affecting the British Army. That is the case which was put forward for a body consisting of Chiefs of the Staffs. The Council examined that very carefully, and discussed it; and let me point out to the House of Commons that this was not a discussion between politicians, but a discussion where all the leading generals were present. The Commanders-in-Chief were there, except the Italian Commander-in-Chief; the French, British, and American Commanders-in-Chief and the Chiefs of the Staffs, as well as the military representatives at Versailles, and the representatives of the Government. It was a free discussion, where generals took part with exactly the same freedom as Ministers. There was no voting; in fact, there was no question of voting. I have no hesitation in saying that, on examination, the proposal completely broke down, and was rejected on the ground of its being unworkable.

I will give the House the reasons why it was regarded as unworkable. The first reason was that the members of the Council felt that the members of the new Executive body which was going to have this great control over co-ordinating the forces of the Allies must not only know about their own armies and their own fronts, but must also be informed of the conditions on all fronts and in all the armies of all the nations, because you are not dealing merely with the British Army, you are dealing with four great armies, and you have to get information from every quarter. Versailles has become a repository of information coming from all the fronts—from all the Armies, from all nationalities, from all the Staffs., from all the Foreign Offices—and that information is co-ordinated there by very able Staffs; and I have no hesitation in saying that they have information there for that reason that no single War Office possesses, because you have information from all the fronts co-ordinated together.

What is the second reason? We felt that this Executive body, in face of the serious dangers with which we have been confronted this year, must be in continuous session, in order to be able to take decisions instantly required. Nobody could tell where a decision would have to be taken. The men who take the decision ought to be within half-an-hour's reach. Eight hours, ten hours might be fatal. We felt it was essential that whatever body you set up should be a body of men who were there at least within half-an-hour of the time when the Council would have to sit, in order to take a decision. Nobody knows what movement the Germans may make, There may be a sudden move here or there, and preconceived plans may be completely shattered by some movement taken by the enemy. Therefore, it was essential that the body to decide should be a body sitting continuously in session.

The third reason was this: Not merely have they to take decisions instantly, but they ought to be there continually sitting together, comparing notes, and discussing developments from day to day, because a situation which appears like this to-day may be absolutely changed to-morrow. You may have a decision in London, and telegraph it over to Versailles, but by the time it reaches there you may have a complete change in the whole situation. Therefore, we felt it was essential that these men should be sitting together, so that whatever change in the situation took place they could compare notes, discuss the thing together, and be able to come to a decision, each helping the other to arrive at that decision.

There is a further reason. A Council of Chiefs of the Staffs involved the creation of another and a new Inter-Allied body conflicting with Versailles. This point was put by the American delegation with very great force, and it became obvious to everybody there the moment we began to examine the proposal—although on the face of it it looked very attractive—that the functions which the Executive body was to exercise could not be properly performed by a body of Chiefs of the Staffs stationed" in the various capitals. On the other hand, if the Chiefs of the Staffs sat in Paris, it meant that the Governments would be deprived for long periods of their principal military advisers, at a critical time, and at a time when action on other vital matters on other fronts might be required. Therefore, I have no hesitation in saying that the moment it came to be examined— although we examined it with the greatest predisposition in its favour—it was found to be-absolutely unworkable, for the simple reason that the moment the Chief of the Staff went to Paris, he would cease to be the chief military adviser of the Government, and either Versailles would have to be satisfied with a deputy who could not act without instructions, or the Governments would have to be satisfied with a deputy who was not their full military adviser. For that reason, the Supreme Council rejected that proposal with complete unanimity. I think I am right in saying that the proposals were withdrawn. It was felt even by those who put them forward that, at any rate, without very complete changes, those proposals were not workable.

Then it was suggested by the French Prime Minister that it would be desirable for each national delegation to think out some other plan for itself, and to bring it there to the next meeting, and that was done. It is very remarkable that, meeting separately, and considering the matter quite independently, we each came there with exactly the same proposal the following morning, and that proposal is the one which now holds the field. I hesitated for some time as to whether I should not read to the House the very cogent document submitted by the American delegation, which put the case for the present proposal. It is one of the most powerful documents—I think my right hon. Friends who have had the advantage of reading it will agree with me—one of the ablest documents ever submitted to a military conference, in which they urged the present course, and gave grounds for it. I think it is absolutely irresistible, and the only reason I do not read it to the House is because it is so mixed up with the actual plan of operations that it will be quite impossible for me to read it without giving away what is the plan of operations. I only wish I could. I hesitated for some time, being certain if I read that to the House of Commons, it would not be necessary for me to make any speech at all, because the case is presented with such irresistible logic by the American delegation that I, for one, do not think there is anything to be said against it, and that was the opinion of the Conference.

What happened? We altered it here and there. There was a good deal of discussion. It was pointed out that there was a weak point here, and a weak point there. Then someone suggested how to improve it. It took some hours, but there was not a single dissentient voice so far as the plan was concerned. Everybody was free to express his opinion —not merely Ministers, but generals. The generals were just as free to express their opinions as the Ministers, and as a matter of fact Field-Marshal Sir Douglas Haig did call attention to what we admitted was a weak point in the proposal. I think he called attention to two points. We soon realised that there were weak points, we promised to put them right, and some of the time occupied was time occupied in adjusting the arrangements arrived at at Versailles to meet the criticisms of Sir Douglas Haig. They were points in regard to the Army and the Army Council, constitutional points, not points that went to the root of the proposal itself. I want the House again, at the expense of repeating myself, to recollect that this passed the Versailles Council without a single dissentient voice as far as all those who were present are concerned, and, as far as I know, it was completely accepted by every military representative present. I reported to the Cabinet as soon as I returned the terms of the arrangement. I am not sure that it had not been circulated beforehand. I rather think it had, and then I made my report to the Cabinet. Sir William Robertson was present, and nothing was then said or indicated to me that Sir William Robertson regarded the plan as either unworkable or dangerous.

Therefore, I think I was entitled to assume that, although some of the military representatives at the beginning of the Conference would have preferred another plan, that they, just like our-selves, had been converted by the discussion to the acceptance of this plan. There was nothing to indicate that anyone protested against the plan which was adopted at Versailles. During the week— that is, the week after I returned from Versailles—the Army Council considered the arrangement, and made certain criticisms from the constitutional point of view. I considered these very carefully with the Secretary of State for War, who has throughout put Sir William Robertson's views before the Cabinet with a persistent voice, and I considered very carefully with my colleagues all these constitutional points. Having considered them, we made certain arrangements, with a view to meeting the constitutional difficulties of the Army Council. I will give substantially the arrangements which we made, and which I understood from the Secretary of State for War completely removed the whole difficulties experienced by the Army Council in the carrying out of the arrangements. I was naturally anxious that this arrangement should be worked whole-heartedly by the whole of the military authorities, whether here or in France. I was specially anxious that the Commander-in- Chief, who is more directly concerned in the matter than even the Chief of Staff, because it affected operations, perhaps, primarily in France, should be satisfied that the arrangements that were made were such as would be workable as far as he was concerned. Therefore, before I arrived at this arrangement, I invited him to come over here. I had a talk with him, and he said that he was prepared to work under this arrangement. I will give the arrangement: The, British permanent Military Adviser at Versailles is to become a member of the Army Conicl— That is, in order to get rid of the constitutional difficulty that someone may be giving an order about British troops who is not a member of the Army Council. He was, therefore, made a member of the Army Council. That was agreed to on all hands.

He is to be in constant communication with the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, and is to be absolutely free and unfettered in the advice he gives as a member of the Board of Military Representative; at Versailles. It would be idle to send a man there simply with instructions in his pocket that he is to agree to certain things and to nothing else. If he goes there, he must go to discuss with his colleagues, who are equally free and unfettered, to consider the facts, and to give advice according to what he hears from the others, as well as on the facts submitted to him— He is to have the powers necessary to enable him to fulfil the duties imposed upon him by the recent Versailles decision. The Chief of the Imperial General Staff is to hold office under the some conditions and with the same powers as every Chief of the Imperial General Staff up to the appointment of General Robertson, remaining the supreme military adviser of the British Government. I want the House to take in that fact. It was part of the arrangement that the Chief of the Staff was to remain the supreme military adviser of the Government— He is to accompany Ministers to the meetings of the Supreme War Council as their adviser, and is to have the right to visit France and consult with any or all of the military representatives of the super me War Council. What does that mean? It means that the representatives at Versailles must have the most perfect freedom to discuss plans and to recommend plans. If the Commanders in Chief do not approve of them—because, by the arrangement they were to consult, and be in constant communication with, the Commanders in Chief—or, if there was any difference of opinion among the various representatives, the Governments were to decide. There is no derogation of the power of the Government—none. In that case, who is to advise the Government? The advice to the Government would be given by the Chief of the General Staff, so that if there were a meeting of the Supreme War Council to decide differences of opinion between either the military representatives or the Commanders -in-Chief, the Government decide upon the advice of the Chief of the General Staff. Do not let anyone imagine that differences of opinion are going to begin now. I do not want to go into the matter, but difference of opinion is inevitable. It is no reflection upon them. They are men of independent mind, they are men of strong character; they are men of definite opinions, and, of course, there are differences of opinion, and when there are differences of opinion now, there is no one to decide but the Government, and the Chief of the Imperial Staff is still to be the supreme adviser of the Government in any differences that may in these circumstances arise. That is the position as far as the decision at Versailles is concerned.

We were under the impression that all the difficulties, the constitutional and technical difficulties, had been completely overcome by this document, which had been shown to Sir Douglas Haig. Sir William Robertson, unfortunately, was away at the time—I think he was at Brighton—I am sorry now to learn that he was ill. At any rate, he was away, otherwise he would have been present at the Conference. We were under the impression—I certainly was under the impression—that the last of the difficulties had been removed, and, having been removed, as I was under the impression that Versailles had become the more important centre for decision, the Government decided to offer the position to Sir William Robertson. It was only afterwards that, at any rate, I realised that Sir William Robertson was unwilling to acquiesce in the system, and that he took an objection, not on technical grounds or on constitutional grounds, but on military grounds, to the system which Versailles had decided unanimously to adopt. I certainly had not realised that he took that view. We offered him, first of all, the position at Versailles. He could not accept it. We then offered him the position of the Chief of General Staff, with the powers adapted to the position which had been set up at Versailles. That, I am sorry to say, he also refused. He suggested a modification of the proposals, by making the representative at Versailles the Deputy of the Chief of Staff. We felt bound, after consideration, to reject that proposal, for two reasons. It involved putting a subordinate in a position of the first magnitude, where he might have to take vital decisions, under instructions given him beforehand, before the full facts were known, before either had heard what the other representatives had got to say, before he even knew what alternative plans might be put forward by the representatives, or by altering those instructions after consultation with the Chief, who was a hundred miles away, and who was not in touch with the every- day developments, or with the arguments that had been advanced at that particular Conference — an impossible position for any man to take up.

The second reason is this: If you send a deputy there, the representative of the British Army would be in an inferior position to any other member of the Council, and he could not, therefore, discuss things on equal terms. We felt it was, essential that the British representatives should be equal in responsibility and authority to the representative of any other country on that body. I know it is said that General Foch was put on that body. General Foch is within twenty-five minutes of Versailles, and, if any emergency arose, within twenty-five minutes he could be present. That is not true of any other Chief of Staff. He can be at his office in the morning, and in twenty-five minutes he can be at Versailles. There is no other Chief of Staff to whom that would be in the least applicable. Travelling under any conditions from here to Paris involves time, and it is not so easy to do it now. You have got to consider a good many things when you consider what time you can go. You cannot say, start now and be there in eight hours. In a war that makes all the difference—it is vital. Therefore, we considered that it was a totally different position.

The French felt so strongly that you cannot do your business by deputy that they took away the man they had, and put General Foch there. They knew that you cannot have deputies acting on the Board. You have to get the man himself, whoever he is, to take the position. I am sorry to take up the time of the House, but I want to give a very full explanation, as full as it is compatible with not giving away information to the enemy. Sir William Robertson came to the conclusion that, under the conditions laid down, he could not accept either position, and the Government, with the deepest and most genuine regret, found itself obliged to go on without him. We had to take the decision, and it was a very painful decision, of having to choose between the policy deliberately arrived at unanimously by the representatives of the Allied Powers, in the presence of the military advisers, and of retaining the services of a very distinguished and a very valued public servant.

When it came to a question of policy of such a magnitude, we were bound to stand by the arrangement to which we had come with our Allies. Let me say at once that I do not wish in the least to utter a word that would look like a criticism of the decision of Sir William Robertson that he could not see his way to carry out the arrangement. There is not a word to be said about the decision to which he came. It is better that it should be carried out by those who are thorough believers in the policy concerned. With great public spirit, he has accepted a Command which is certainly not adequate to the great position he has occupied, and I wish there had been something else that would be more adequate to his great services. I would like to say just one word about Sir William Robertson. He has had a remarkable and a very distinguished career, and he is now in the height and strength of his powers; in fact, they are only in the course of development. He has great capacity and great strength of character, he is a man of outstanding—and, if I may say so, as one who has been associated with him for two or three years—not merely outstanding, but a most attractive personality. During the whole of those two years, so far as our personal relations are concerned, not merely have they been friendly, but cordial. During the whole time of this final controversy not a bitter word has been said on either side, and at a final interview—where I did my best to urge Sir William Robertson to take one or other of these alternatives—we parted with expressions of great kindliness. It is a matter of very deep regret to me. All the hesitation that has taken place has taken place because the Government were trying this and trying that, in order to secure Sir William Robertson's acceptance; and although I knew it was laying the door open to the criticism that the Government did not know its own mind, I preferred that to anything which would lay us open to the charge that we were in the least hustling Sir William Robertson. I do not regret that the delay has taken place.

I have always recognised the difficulties in the way of securing co-operation between Allies. There are practical difficulties— genuine practical difficulties. You have to reconcile the unity of the Allies with the unity of the Army. There were some friends of ours who undoubtedly had honest misgivings that the arrangement we made, whereas it might secure the first, was imperilling the second. That would be a misfortune. You would not help the former in that case, and I fully realised that. Let me say this, if the House were to accept the Government's explanation to-day, I would not regard it as a mandate not to take all the necessary steps compatible with the main purpose of Allied unity to remove every legitimate cause for anxiety on that score. Quite the reverse. I propose to invite from the highest military authorities suggestions for the best means of removing any possible anxiety in the mind of anyone that in any scheme put forward in order to secure concert and combined action between Allies, you are not doing something to impair the efficiency and command of your own Army. Therefore, we shall certainly pursue that course, and if any suggestion comes from any military quarter to make the thing work even better from that point of view, certainly not merely shall we adopt it, but we shall seek it, and we mean to do so.

There are other difficulties, not merely practical difficulties—there are difficulties due to national feeling, to historical traditions. There are difficulties innate in the very order of things. There are difficulties of suspicion—the suspicion in the mind of one country that somehow the other country may be trying to seek some advantage for itself. All these things stand in the way of every Alliance. There are also difficulties due to the conservatism of every profession—I belong to a profession myself, and I know what it means—the conservatism of every profession, which hates changes in the traditional way of doing things. All these things you have always to overcome when there is any change that you make, and they ought not to be encouraged too much on these lines. I agree that reasonable misgivings and reasonable doubts ought to be removed. If there be real difficulties, those ought to be examined and surmounted. But suspicion, distrust— those ought to be resolutely discouraged among Allies. Trust and confidence among the Allies is the very soul of victory, and I plead for it now, as I have pleaded for it before.

We have discussed this plan, and re-discussed it with the one desire that our whole strength—our whole concentrated strength—should be mobilised to resist and to break the most terrible foe with which civilisation has ever been confronted. I ask the House to consider this: We are faced with terrible realities. Let us see what is the position. The enemy have rejected, in language which was quoted here the other day from the Kaiser, the most moderate terms ever put forward, terms couched in such moderate language that the whole of civilisation accepted them as reasonable. Why has he done it? It is obvious. He is clearly convinced that the Russian collapse puts it within his power to achieve a military victory, and to impose Prussian dominancy by force upon Europe. That is what we are confronted with, and I do beg this House, when you are confronted with that, to close down all controversy and to close our ranks.

If this policy, deliberately adopted by the representatives of the great Allied countries in Paris, dose not commend itself to the House, turn it down quickly and put in a Government who will go and say they will not accept it. But it must be another Government. But do not let us keep the controversy alive. The Government are entitled to know, and I say so respectfully, to know to-night whether the House of Commons and the nation wish that the Government should proceed upon a policy deliberately arrived at, with a view to organising our forces to meet the onset of the foe. For my part—and I should only like to say one personal word—during the time I have held this position, I have endeavoured to discharge its terrible functions to the utmost limits of my capacity and strength. If the House of Commons to-night repudiates the policy for which I am responsible, and on which I believe the saving of this country depends, I shall quit office with but one regret—that is, that I have not had greater strength and greater ability to place at the disposal of my native land in the gravest hour of its danger.


There was an observation made by my right hon. Friend in the middle of his speech in which I hope and believe we shall all concur— that is, that in the discussion he has initiated we shall regard such matters of controversy, if such there be that arise, not as in any sense dependent upon personalities, but as dependent upon policy. Sir William Robertson, he has truly said, has set a great example, for at this moment, after all that has happened, he has, in the spirit of a loyal soldier, placed his services at the disposal of the Government, and accepted a post which for the moment—so I assume from my right hon. Friend—is the only one, however inadequate to his great ability and talents, which they had at their disposal. I trust we shall be all ready in our different degrees to imbibe his spirit as far as we can.

I cannot help wishing that the speech which we have just heard from the Prime Minister had been delivered a week ago. Exactly a week ago, on the first night of the Session, on what seemed to me an appropriate occasion—the Debate on the Address—I put two questions to the Government. The first was in what respects and to what extent the functions of the Versailles Council had been enlarged; the second was whether any change had been made, or was contemplated in the status and functions of the Commander-in-Chief or of the Chief of the General Staff. To the second question I received no answer; and in regard to the first, I was told, beyond the vague admission that the Council had assumed executive functions of an undefined kind it was undesirable to say more, inasmuch as any further disclosure might give useful information to the enemy. I may add—because it is an illustration of the spirit and the methods by which in some quarters even now, with an acute crisis in the War, political controversy in this country is carried on—that it is in the knowledge of everybody that for my temerity in putting these questions I was assailed, not, indeed, by my right hon. Friend, but by some of the most strident organs of the Government in the Press, as sounding a note of national dissension, as importing in a crisis of the War into our proceedings of the House of Commons a taint of party controversy, as a pacifist without the courage so to avow himself—and, indeed, as a Bolo in a thin disguise. Such is the fashion in which some important and, I believe, widely circulated organs of the Press are now conducted under the auspices, if we are to believe current rumour, of those, or some or those, who, since the Debate last week, have become the trustees and custodians of our propaganda.


Rewards for services!




I am glad to say all that is now changed. A week ago humble, obvious, relevant inquiries of mine were brushed aside, in the public interest, but they are now answered by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, at any rate with a welcome increase of implicitness and lucidity. All these things concern the House of Commons. There is another matter in regard to which I also feel bound to point out the contrast between last Tuesday and to-day. I think I am speaking in the. recollection of the House—of the whole House and the country—when I say I gathered the impression that in what had been decided on and set on foot at Versailles, and was being carried into effect here, the Government had the full approval and assent of its military advisers. We now know that in what was going on in this country at that time with regard to the carrying out of the policy, so far as Sir William Robertson was concerned, that was not the case. If I am wrong, I shall be corrected.


I certainly never knew that Sir William Robertson had any objection in principle; quite the reverse. I thought that they were purely constitutional difficulties connected with the Army Acts and Army Orders, and that we had met them. I certainly thought,.and so did ray colleagues, that we had completely removed all those difficulties, and that there was nothing else left. It was only afterwards that I understood Sir William Robertson regarded the whole arrangement from a different point of view.


I am very much surprised to hear that, and since my right hon. Friend has made that interruption, may I ask is it not a fact that on the Monday Sir William Robertson intimated that he could not possibly assent to the proposals which were then put forward, and that Sir Henry Wilson had already been sent for, with a view to suceeding to his place?


That was only a proposal made on the Saturday, when Sir Douglas Haig came over. The proposal made on Saturday was that Sir William Robertson should, under the new-arrangement which I read out, be the representative at Versailles, and Sir Henry Wilson should be Chief of the Staff, and I believe that Sir Henry Wilson was seen by the Secretary of State on Monday. I knew nothing about that interview till a day or two afterwards, but that was the proposal.


Of course, I know nothing of these matters. Certainly my right hon. Friend will agree with me here that the impression on my mind and on the mind of the House, and on the mind of the country—and reflected, I think, in every section of the Press—was, when the right hon. Gentleman made his speech on Tuesday last, that there was complete agreement between him and the military advisers of the Government. Am I to understand that to have been the case?


I have really stated the whole of the facts. We really thought, when we met the Army Council on these technical and constitutional points, that the last difficulty had been removed, and it was a great surprise to me that resistance developed rather on the ground of policy upon which Sir William Robertson finally refused this position.


I will come to that presently. My right hon. Friend said on Tuesday last that he had complete agreement.


You are not a cross-examining counsel.


Men are dying at the front while this is going on.


There is another point which I wish to mention with regard to last week's Debate. I pointed out then that, when the proposal and plan of the Versailles Council was presented to this House in November, it was presented as a body which would have no executive authority, and we gather from the speech of the Prime Minister that it has now clothed itself, for certain purposes, with executive functions. I am not going into the question whether the Council was or was not right in doing so. I am quite prepared to accept their decision on that point, although I think the reason which was given and the only reason—namely, that the European situation had in the meantime changed by the collapse of the Russian Army, and by the consequent transfer of large forces from the East to the West—was a consideration which might have been foreseen in November, when the Council deliberately agreed to renounce all executive functions. But I am not quarelling in the least with the decision unanimously come to by the Council in that respect. I think it is a relevant question and a matter of general and, indeed, international interest to point out in passing the remarkable statement—I do not know whether it is true or not—which appears in the Press to-day as coming from Washington. This is the exact substance of it: The United States will refrain from political participation in the Conference, and will confine itself to sending a political observer, who will express no opinion and take no action, but confine himself 'o reporting on its proceedings to the Government. I presume that is the case as far as the United States is concerned. [An HON. MEMBER: "In what paper was that?"] I take it from the "Times."


The Commander-in-Chief and the Chief of the Staff are there.

5.0 P.M.


But this is a question of policy, as distinct from the question of administration. I understand so far as questions of policy arc concerned, that the United States will not now or, as at present advised, hereafter participate in the Conference, but appoint an observer, who will report to them. As I have said, I am not in the least degree concerned to quarrel with, or even to discuss, the decision of the Council for certain purposes—purposes, I imagine, speaking only, of course, from conjecture, mainly relating to the operations of the War, and securing that there should be a greater degree of joint action and farther executive power in the Council than there has been before. They may have been perfectly right in that contusion. The only question with which we are here concerned to-day, arising out of the statement which has been made by the Prime Minister, is our own position in relation to that matter. I gather from him, and I have no doubt it is the case, that everybody is agreed upon what I may call the question of policy, and that the difficulty which arose, whether at the moment or shortly afterwards, was as to the machinery by which that concerted action should be exercised. That, I think, is agreed. In regard to that I venture to make two observations. In the first place, that it is essentially a military question; and, secondly, that it is essentially a domestic question. I am speaking now of the machinery.

My right hon. Friend has pointed out to us truly that the position in France is a totally different thing from the position here. General Foch, the Chief of the French Staff—who is also, I think, not only a member, but the President of the permanent military body at Versailles: it does not matter whether he is at Paris or Versailles, because they are practically the same place—is in complete daily and intimate contact with his Staff, with his Cabinet and with his Council. He has, therefore, incidentally this double part—that, in the Council itself, he speaks both as Chief of the French Staff and as the French representative there, and in giving orders to his commands it does not matter to them whether the orders proceed from him in the one capacity or in the other. It is quite clear that to carry out the arrangement—and I am assuming that it is an arrangement which everybody wants—our position is a totally different one.

The Chief of the General Staff here obviously cannot transfer himself and his Stall and the whole of his apparatus to a foreign country. Obviously he cannot do that. On the other hand, if you had in the Versailles Council, charged with these new executive powers, a British representative who is neither the Chief of the General Staff nor his deputy, nor representative, you may be—and this I imagine must have been in Sir William Robertson's mind— running this risk, that for a purpose which we all agree to be of supreme importance, namely the unity of control among the Allies, you might be purchasing that advantage at the sacrifice of unity of control in the British Army. Our relations with the French always have been, and I hope always will be, of perfect amity and reciprocity. It is not even a question of principle, in the sense that the principle is a matter of policy. It is a question of workability and military efficiency, of which, after all, in the long run perhaps the soldiers are better judges than the politicians. But if I am right in assuming that Sir William Robertson took the view, in accepting the principle of the Council altogether, that it was a workable arrangement, it being impossible for the Chief of the General Staff to be permanently located at Versailles, that he must in fact do his duty to the Government, and carry out his duties here, then a proper method of carrying the thing out was that the British representative on the Versailles Council, when the Chief of the General Staff could not be present, as obviously he could not always, should be a deputy responsible to him.

The contention which seemed to have appealed to him at first sight as possible and reasonable was that in that way you could avoid any of the evils of dual authority in the councils of the British military organisation. The right hon. Gentleman has not told us, and I do not. question his not having done so, whether Sir William Robertson's position in that respect had the support of other military authorities here. If he does not like to answer the question I certainly will not press him, but it is a matter of common knowledge that it has a very wide support among eminent military authorities in this country and elsewhere. I cannot help thinking that in a matter of this kind— which does not in the least degree impinge upon what the Prime Minister has truly, and I think forcibly, said is of vital importance, namely, the complete co-ordination and the constant intercommunication in regard to military policy of all the Allies at the Versailles Council, and I will develop the argument, if you like, though no one has had anything to say to the contrary—it is a purely domestic concern for us what is the best mechanism, and that you should not have two kings of Brentford with a nebulous indeterminate line of demarcation between their respective functions and authorities. If, as my right hon. Friend has said, the Chief of the General Staff must be in the long run the supreme adviser to the Government, the person who represents us at this permanent military junta at Versailles should be a person subordinate to him—his deputy and his representative. There is no question here to be decided on polemical grounds, and I hope the discussion will not be conducted on those lines. It is simply a question of administration and of military administration, and, as I think, it is mainly a domestic question as far as we are concerned. Sir William Robertson, as far as I understand it, took that position, and it is because he would not abdicate from the position that the Government felt, I am sure with the greatest possible reluctance, obliged to dispense with his services. I think I have stated the position fairly as far as that is concerned.

I do not ask the House—for though I have every respect for it, I do not think we are an adequate tribunal to determine matters of this kind— I do not ask the House to pronounce its opinion one way or the other on this question; but I am sure the Government realise that they are taking upon themselves a great responsibility in discarding, on a question of that kind, a system which has been devised with the greatest strategical and technical authority.

I see that this question is represented in some quarters as though it were a dispute between civilian and military authorities. That I consider to be totally untrue. As far as I am concerned, I have always maintained, and shall always maintain in the highest possible degree, that the civilian authority must be supreme. We had a very critical moment, when I was Prime Minister and encumbered by an exceptionally heavy burden of difficulties and responsibilities. I felt it my duty to take upon myself the office of Secretary of State for War, for the very purpose of establishing that civilian authority must be supreme. It was supreme, and I am glad to think that I never had one moment of friction or difficulty with the military authorities themselves. It is not a question, and ought not to be a question, as between civilian and military authority. Whatever be the position of the Chief of Staff, he must in the long run take his orders from the head. Whatever the decisions of this Versailles Council may be, they must in the long run, as far as this country is concerned, be subordinated to the considerations of policy and determinations of policy made by the British Government.

I do not believe that in any quarter there is any disposition whatever to sacrifice or to surrender our ultimate freedom of action. But I must admit that there is a certain amount of not unnatural, but indeed of legitimate, disquietude in the public mind with regard to these affairs. In the course of the last two months, or a little more than two months, we have lost, from the chief posts of strategic and technical advisers and authorities in the Navy and in the Army, two men like Sir John Jellicoe and Sir William Robertson, both of whom enjoyed, as everybody in this House will admit, in a pre-eminent, a rare, and even a supreme degree, the confidence both of the country and of their own Services. One of them is now, as far as we know, altogether out of State employment; the other, carrying with him vast strategic knowledge which is probably hardly rivalled by any other officer in the Service, has gone to the Eastern Command. In both cases, as we understand, the withdrawal was an enforced retirement. I am speaking subject to correction. In both cases, though of course it may be a coincidence, it was preceded by a hostile Press campaign, virulent and unscrupulous. I am not sure that the country will feel that such losses have adequate compensation in the fact that Lord Derby remains at Whitehall, and that the conduct of our propaganda at home is entrusted to Lord Beaverbrook.

I have done nothing to embarrass those in power in the vigorous and effective prosecution of the War, with a view to the earliest possible attainment—I am in entire sympathy with my right hon. Friend —of a peace which will secure the high purpose of the Allies, and adequately protect the future of civilisation. But it is in the best interests both of our country and of our cause that the voice of Parliamentary criticism, at once animated and restrained by patriotic anxieties, should not be silenced. In that spirit only, and with that object entirely, I have spoken as I have to-day.


I am sure the House will have listened to-day with unfeigned satisfaction to the statement made by the Prime Minister. It would be quite idle to attempt to disguise the fact that, both in this House and outside, last week has been a week of something like national anxiety, when the minds of all of us have been disturbed by the rumours and the uncertainties of a complicated and obscure situation. My right hon. Friend will doubtless himself feel that it would have been better that a week ago, and on the first opportunity, he should have taken the House more fully into his confidence. I do not say that every doubt which may have passed through our minds is or could be removed by the much fuller and much more convincing statement that we have heard to-day, but I say for myself, and I think I shall express the general opinion, that after hearing the considered statement made to-day not one of us would take the responsibility of challenging the decision which the Government have come to. Some of us might possibly think that had we been in their places there is yet some other via media, some alternative, which was not fully explored and which might have been examined further with perhaps fruitful and beneficial results; but no man with any responsibility, after hearing to-day's statement, after seeing the care and unanimity with which these arrangements were reached, would do anything to imperil the understanding arrived at among the Allies or make the task of the Government more difficult in giving effect to it.

Having said so much, I want to say something to which I find it more difficult to give expression. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Asquith) has alluded to attacks in the Press upon distinguished officers serving the State, either in the Navy or in the Army. Such attacks are not only deplorable in themselves, but they are cowardly, and the men who make them are not only acting in a way in which a patriotic citizen would not act in war-time, they are acting in a way in which gentlemen do not act at any time. I feel most strongly that it is the duty of my right hon. Friend, or of anyone, to do his utmost at all times and in all cases to protect the men who are serving under him. We recognise, as the right hon. Gentleman has asserted, that the Government has a responsibility which it cannot devolve upon any adviser. If I may say so, that is why I am here and not there. The House has asserted that a civilian Minister must take the responsibility for accepting the advice which the military officers give, and it is not sufficient, if that advice is subsequently disapproved by the House, to say that he acted upon military advice. It has been laid down that he is entitled to reject the advice. I accept that position. The Government is entitled to reject it. I think they will not ever do it lightly, but they are entitled, if any soldier or sailor, however high his position, however great his service, is unable willingly to accept and loyally to pursue the policy which they think necessary, to dispense with his services. That is no reflection on the officer. It is the plain duty of the Government, and as long as they retain him in their service there must be no ambiguity about their support.

Let me say one word on the other side. That imposes a corresponding obligation upon the soldier and the sailor. I do not want to hear rumours started at the expense of some high officer, which public report attaches in some way to Downing Street. I think it deplorable that such things should be possible. But neither do I want to hear rumours that military officers disapprove the policy of the Government which they are serving, which public opinion attaches to Whitehall, and no one could listen to the speech of my right hon. Friend, and the particularity and the persistency with which he questioned the Prime Minister, without wondering where my right hon. Friend got his information, and whether such a brief ought ever to have come into his possession. There is a corresponding obligation for loyalty and secrecy in the War Office and the Admiralty. Although it is painful to me to say it, the War Office does not observe the obligations of secrecy as faithfully and as completely as every other office of which I have experience. It is the duty of the Government, on the one hand, to see that there shall be no ambiguity as to their own support of the. officers whom they have chosen and maintained in power. On the other hand, it is also their duty to see that there is no ambiguity about the loyalty of the service which the Government and this country expect from those who discharge high functions in any service in the State.

I now come back to the position of the Government, and I am going to say to my right hon. Friend, quite frankly, where I think half his trouble lies, and what is at the root of half the anxiety, the uncertainty, the disturbance of and which has affected the country for the last week or ten days. The Government has a great function to perform at any time, and most of all in war. The Press have a great function to perform at any time, and a function of special responsibility in war. But the functions of the Press are not the functions of the Government, and the functions of the Government are not the functions of the Press, and it is not possible, without misconception and misunderstanding, that they should be combined in the same person. What is the function of the Government? Three great newspaper owners are members of, or are intimately associated with, the Administration. Their papers are found from time to time to contain matters which the Government repudiates with energy; and I, for one, say at once, with truth and with sincerity, you will never persuade the public that a member of the Government or a person connected with the Administration can conduct a campaign in his newspaper contrary to the policy of the Government of the day. It ought not to be possible for him to do it, and you will not persuade the public that it is possible. My right hon. Friend and his Government have surrounded themselves quite unneces- sarily with an atmosphere of suspicion and distrust because they have allowed themselves to become so intimately associated with these great newspaper proprietors. I tell my right hon. Friend what everyone is saying in the Lobbies, outside the House, where men meet, but what I think it is now time for someone to say publicly and as a responsible man in this House. You cannot escape misconception, you cannot escape trouble of this kind as long as you try to combine in the same person the functions of a director of a Press which asserts its independence and a member of a Government who owes loyalty to the Government. You cannot do the two things. As long as you have the owner of a newspaper as a member of your Administration you will be held responsible for what he writes in the newspaper. You would not allow a colleague not the owner of a newspaper to go down and make speeches contrary to the policy of His Majesty's Government or to attack men who are serving His Majesty's Government You cannot allow them, instead of making speeches, to write articles or to permit articles to be written in their newspapers. My right hon. Friend and his Government will never stand clear in the estimation of the public, and will never have the authority which they ought to have, and which I desire them to have, until they make things quite clear, open, and plain to all the world and sever this connection with the newspapers. There is time to do it. It can be done without offence and without reflection on any of the gentlemen who are concerned. They have undertaken public work at the request of the Government, but in my opinion the Government ought never to have requested men who are already pledged in another direction and who could not abandon their old positions to take upon themselves new ones. It is no reflection on the gentlemen themselves to say, "We are going to relieve you and the Government of a quite impossible situation, in which it has been shown that misunderstandings and misconceptions do arise and in which it is clear that they will arise again and again. You will regain your freedom, and we shall cease to be held responsible for that in which we have neither part nor lot "I beg my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the members of this Cabinet, for it concerns them all, to take in good spirit the observations that I make.


Hear, hear!


As I say, it is not very easy to express without offence to anyone and not partially or one sided— I have offered my criticisms and advice pretty freely all round—the things which needed to be said and which, I repeat, men are saying and will continue to say with increasing force unless you cut away the root of the evil. If you do not cut it away, then I say to my right hon. Friends on that bench, "This lurking suspicion, these ambiguous double and incompatible obligations, will slowly sap your influence and strength and destroy the Government which we wish to see strong to wage this War and to carry our country through to a successful issue" I have finished all that I wanted to say, but there is perhaps one question that I might ask before I sit down and which has not been put by my right hon. Friend opposite. It is whether the Government have yet made any appointment to represent us at Versailles, and, if so, whether they are in a position to give us his name?


I quite forgot to mention in the course of my observations that Sir Henry Rawlinson has been appointed to represent us at Versailles. We consulted the Field-Marshal with regard to the best man, in his judgment, to hold the position. It concerns him very materially, because most of the work will be work in connection with his forces in France. Very largely on his recommendation Sir Henry Rawlinson has been appointed, and he has to-day accepted the position.


It is nearly three years since I had the honour of addressing the House, and I feel like asking for that indulgence which is given to new Members. For nearly the last two years I have been at General Headquarters in France, and I hasten to say, whatever else I do, that I do not represent—and Heaven forbid that I should ever attempt to represent— the Regular soldier. I cannot help hearing what they are saying, and I cannot help knowing their views about this House. The Prime Minister, who has just gone out, has obtained from everyone at General Headquarters gratitude for what he has done, and they realise the patriotism which has always been at the bottom of all his actions, but I can assure right hon. Gentlemen opposite that when on Sunday the news came of the dismissal of Sir William Robertson there was an outburst of angry indignation such as was certainly quite new to anything that had happened at Headquarters for two years. It was not merely an outburst against the policy of the Prime Minister. Neither they, nor I, nor anyone there could tell what was the reason that actuated the dismissal of Sir William Robertson The outburst was entirely owing to the way in which the thing was carried out. I believe I am right in saying that everybody was convinced that it was started by an intrigue. They believed that it was helped by a discreditable and dangerous alliance with the Northcliffe Press. I believe the opinion was expressed in a phrase used to me by a distinguished general yesterday in France, "It looks like a dirty business." And I agree.


Like the last speaker, I owe an apology to the House because I have not listened to its Debates or opened my mouth in it for nearly two years. I am, therefore, necessarily out of touch with personalities and with currents of opinion, but I want to say how this matter looks to us who are in France. First, I should like to endorse what the last speaker has said as to the extraordinary indignation which was felt at what was considered in France to be the dismissal of Sir William Robertson owing to an intrigue. I think that indignation was very largely ill-founded, because in France we do not know the facts. The Government, however, have only themselves to blame. They have brought it on themselves by this extraordinary Press campaign, at which they must have connived, because otherwise they would have stopped it. On the merits of the case, after what I have heard this afternoon, I think that Sir William Robertson's resignation was probably inevitable. It seems very generally to be forgotten that the Inter-Allied War Council, whatever it may have been in its inception, is not now merely the concern of this country, but stands for what is left in the world of civilisation and liberty. In view of the inefficiency and the waste of effort from which we have suffered owing to the division of our resources and the inconsistency, too often, of our plans in the past, it seems to me indisputable that in some way greater co-operation and closer liaison had to be produced.

If in our military alliance one partner, by its resources and sacrifices, had stood out beyond the others a generalissimo would have been possible and desirable. This, from the first, has been the case with our enemy, owing to the predominance of power possessed by Germany, but with us it has been otherwise. Each one of the four great Powers of our Alliance is doing its utmost to win the War, and no one Power, by its military resources and effort, has been singled out for predominance or for leadership. In our case, therefore, the identity and the very nationality of a generalissimo would have had to have been a deliberate creation and not a natural development. Under these circumstances, a generalissimo inevitably would have created jealousy, from which the German unity of command is absolutely free. If singleness of person in command is unobtainable, unity of purpose and pooling of resources can only be obtained by a permanent Council with plenary powers. The decisions of such a Council necessarily must bind the General Staffs of the Governments which are bound by them, and to that extent curtail their powers and freedom. Per feet unity of military control which we sometimes see demanded in this country is irreconcilable with proper co-operation whether you have a generalissimo or an Allied Council to deal with, and the fact that General Foch can fill a double part is merely a geographical accident, and does not apply to any other Chief of the Staff, because it is obvious that the Versailles Council can only sit in one place at once. In the War the democracies which are paying the price must have the ultimate control of their objects and ends, and if Sir William Robertson felt that he could not work smoothly under these conditions, then the House and the country at large, and I am sure the Army when it realises it, must see that his resignation was inevitable, and reflects in no way either on him or on the Government.

I have inflicted these views humbly on the House to show that in what I now want to say I am not actuated by any hostility to the objects of the Government, very much as I wish to criticise their methods. The feeling which undoubtedly exists throughout all ranks of the Army in France to-day, and I believe also among the public in England, on the subject of Sir William Robertson's resignation is due to the previous attacks upon him in the British Press. They remember the attacks on previous victims. They, remember that those attacks took the form of a balloon to see how the wind was blowing. They knew if the wind were favourable that the result would be the same in this case, and as they had foreseen this ever since tine Northcliffe Press started this campaign, there is a very natural feeling of disgust at what is believed to have been caused by a newspaper intrigue. I believe that this matter has brought about a good deal of unrest and uneasiness in the Army. Remember what has happened in the last few weeks. First of all, we had an attack on the policy of concentration on the West Front, and we were told that our efforts should have been diverted to cutting the Anatolian communications of Turkey. There may have been reason to break down Turkey when she barred the way to the Black Sea and when the Black Sea ports were urgently needed for the shipment of wheat from Russia and for the unloading of munitions of war for our Allies. Under present conditions, in the Ukraina the elimination of Turkey from the War has become so secondary an object as to be almost negligible as compared with the all-important task of smashing Germany on the Western Front.

Our Army in France, which has to fulfil that task, is undermanned and overworked. That is why the fruits of the Cambrai offensive were not reaped, and, though the Army does not complain of being undermanned and overworked, it is filled with disgust when it sees that it is proposed still further to divert our forces apparently in response to a newspaper agitation. Then we read an attack on the War Office, because all those employed in the War Office are not cripples. This may be good journalism and appeal to sentimentalists who do not have to be administered by the War Office, but I think that most of as will feel that the best brain is not always found in a mutilated body, and that it is fitness of mind, and not inefficiency of body, which we must look for in Whitehall. Then we had the last of all, and, I think, perhaps most mischievous of all, an. attempt to stir up feeling between the old professional Army and the New Army —the Territorial. It was actually stated that there had been a rule that no New Army or a Territorial soldier could ever become a general, and after this statement had been written up for some time it was asserted that the War Office at last, no doubt in obedience to the Press campaign, consented to waive this restric- tion. That is absolutely unfounded and most mischievous. It has caused a lot of feeling between various classes in the Army in France, and it is absurd, because it is absolutely untrue, to the knowledge of everybody serving in France, who knows that from the beginning of the War there were brigadiers promoted out of the Territorial Forces in the New Army, and it is most mischievous if it means that in future men are to be promoted not according to efficiency or qualification, but merely according to what particular category they happen to be in.

Most people who have been both in: Gallipoli and in France will not question which force was more efficiently run. I do not think that there is any question; that in Gallipoli, generally speaking, the rank and file were fully equal to the drafts that are going out to the Army in France to-day, and if the Army in Gallipoli was mismanaged and squandered and muddled' away, as it was, it was not because of the human material, but because of the leading, because of the battalion commanders and the senior officers in the Territorial Forces which very largely went out to Gallipoli. I say this as a Territorial myself, and I think that if you want proof that you must have professional control, and cannot learn soldiering in a few months, as seems to be the idea of those who are agitating in the Press, you have only got to compare what has been done by discipline and organisation in France with the new levies with what was done in Gallipoli with equally good material less well organised and led. The lamentable effect of all this ill-informed newspaper attack and the unreasonable criticism of the General Staff is that they have distracted attention from the real issue, and it is hardly realised that the question at issue is not one between personalities, but one between rival policies, either of running our alliances in watertight compartments or of pooling our resources and our control.

I urge most strongly, in the interests of discipline in the Army, that these attacks on individuals and on classes of our Army should cease, and, if this cannot be achieved by the spontaneous action and loyalty of the Press, I urge, that it may be brought about by the strong hand of the Censor. This House is vitally affected in this matter. The Army judges the House of Commons by the distorted accounts which it reads of our proceedings, and it judges the politicians by the mischievous newspaper intrigues which are still allowed to take place. You never hear the word "politician" mentioned in France except in conjunction with a very opprobrious epithet, and when one reads in the newspapers accounts of the proceedings in the House of Commons one gets the impression that we are a collection of freaks, because certain newspapers, for their own ends, magnify the speeches of the mischievous, and the public wrongly takes those opinions as being not merely the accidents of public election, but as the general mentality of the House. I hope that no more will be heard of these newspaper campaigns against individuals. Above all, I hope that no more will be written of the rival personalities and military qualities of Sir William Robertson and Sir Henry Wilson. What the Army in France ask is that they should be left alone, that they should be allowed to work out their own plans—not interfered with more than is unavoidable by public clamour in this country. The country will remember the generosity and the patriotism which prompted Sir William Robertson to accept his new post rather than continue his old responsibilities under conditions to which he could not agree, and this patriotism makes it certain that he must wish with all of us that nothing may be said or done to-day to add to the difficulties of his successor at the War Office.


I wish to ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of War whether he will consider a proposal, which I think would meet with the general acceptance of the House, that he should defer his statement on the Army Estimates to-day and make his statement tomorrow, when the question, as I understand, will be proceeded with, because I think that I am not misinterpreting the views of the House when I say that, after the very important statement by the Prime Minister to which we have listened, ton. Members are not so ready to adapt themselves to matters of administration to-day, and would prefer not doing so until to-morrow. If my hon. Friend would agree to that course, I think that it would fall in with the views of hon. Members.

The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Mr. Macpherson)

I am glad to be assured by my right hon. Friend that it is the general feeling of the House that I should postpone my statement until tomorrow. I, of course, assume that the House will agree to the Speaker leaving the Chair to-day, and, if that be so, I shall be most happy to consult the wishes of the House and make my statement tomorrow.


I wish to add one word to what fell from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham. He spoke very much in the same position as I, as one who on the whole believes that the Government have adopted the right policy both at Rapallo and at Versailles, but that on more than one occasion they have risked the success of that policy by entrusting its advocacy to the meanest instruments at their disposal. That has a very close bearing on the. relations of the Government to this House. If the Government desires the confidence of the House it must show that it is prepared to throw itself on the support of the House, and that it is not relying upon the unseen but none the less great power exercised by certain organs and certain syndicates in the Press. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer the other day professed some scepticism as to the alleged public displeasure which had been aroused by the recent appointment by the Minister of Propaganda. I think, after hearing the speech of one of his predecessors in the office of Chancellor of the Exchequer, he can hardly believe that that was a mere idle illusion of mine. For I am quite convinced that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham was expressing an all but universal feeling in this House and throughout the country that the Government is engaging unworthy servants to carry out its services, and that the more it relies upon the unseen influence of the Press the less it will be able to rely upon the open confidence of the country and of the House of Commons.

I say that because I believe in the Rapallo and Versailles policy. I hope to see it carried out to a success, but it is not surprising to any of us, who have watched the course of the intrigues which have so often besmirched our policy, that so many people in this country who otherwise would have been its supporters are found now to be its opponents. And in another respect the Prime Minister seems to be unaware of the power which his policy in itself carries with it, apart, from any extraneous support that he may receive from other instruments. Take, for instance, his general declaration of war aims. That, as we know, achieved a unity of public opinion in this country which, perhaps, no public declaration has achieved since the original simple declarations made by our Government at the very outbreak of War, and yet with that unanimity still before us, with that achievement of having all public opinion, with the most insignificant exceptions, in favour of the declaration which he made of our war aims, he proceeds to entrust the propaganda of this country to two agents who are the objects of universal distrust throughout the country. Let there be no mistake as to what I mean on this point. I do not suggest that there are not large sections of the country who believe, and perhaps rightly believe, that Lord Northcliffe, in the "Times," has done the country great service at one time or another throughout the War, but, as was pointed out by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, the kind of service which a newspaper and its proprietor can render is totally different from that which we ask of a Minister of the Crown, and when those two views are confused by the appointment of a great newspaper proprietor to a public office, then the Government is inviting trouble, both for itself and for its policy, and it is because I believe that the Versailles policy and the declaration of war aims of the Government are proceeding upon the right lines that I appeal to it to drop these most unworthy instruments.

6.0 P.M.


I wish to say one word, and one word only, upon one part of the statement made by the Prime Minister. I am not going to touch upon personal controversies, which have been the subject before the House, but I do want to say a word upon the question of the executive powers of this Supreme Council of War. When in last November the Prime Minister stated that they were not to have conferred upon them any executive power, he was stating what I am bound to say, having read the almost synchronous declaration of M. Painlevé who was then the French Prime Minister, either a fact or an opinion, which was in contradiction to the fact of the opinion stated by the French Prime Minister, because in words which were quoted in the Press of this country Monsieur Painlevé stated that the powers of the Conference would be expanded, not by the appointment of a generalissimo, but they would be expanded so as to realise, by other means, powers. which had been apparently denied to a particular generalissimo. To-day we know that the Conference is to have executive power, and I want to know what is the meaning of executive power. I take it that executive power means the movement, disposition, and control of troops, or some of the troops. The Prime Minister has told us, not to-day but the last time he spoke, that this executive power was to be exercised by nominees of the Supreme War Council—not by a generalissimo but by the nominees of the Supreme War Council. That, I take it, means that there are to be four, one for each Allied power, sitting side by side— four nominees of the Supreme War Council, and those four men are to exercise executive control. Whether or not the General Staff of this and other countries have agreed to a proposal of this sort, I wish, speaking as I am, after a constant study of military questions and with some personal knowledge of military subjects, to at once put in a caveat against any command by a committee of men, however experienced and however able. I do not think that there is any great military commander known to history who has not, at some time of his life or another, called together a council of four, and who has not subsequently expressed his regret that he had called that council of four together, that he had listened to the advice of such a committee, and that he had never put on record that he had made a mistake in accepting their decision. No committee can act save by way of compromise between individual opinions. In civil life government by compromise is possible, and is easiest and quickest, but compromise in military affairs is impossible, because the result is immediate, it is decisive, and it is irretrievable. If you take the mind and method of one man, and set against it the mind and method of somebody else, you court disaster, and it is better to have a bad plan vigorously carried out, than a better and a good plan carried out with hesitation.

What is meant by the proposal is, I think, that the power shall be exercised by the nominees of the Allied nations sitting, or who will sit at Versailles. I am quite certain that you are depriving, by that means, the Commander-in-Chief in France, either of the French or the British line, of half his resources, and you will leave him, at a moment when he. and no one else, can and must take a decision, and he will not be certain whether his decision will be supported with the forces necessary to carry it into effect. There is, of course, one alternative. You may appoint a permanent chairman or head of your committee of nominees, and, if you do that, it is almost certain that the person to be so permanently appointed as chairman of this body will be the French military representative. He will be, as we know, the head of the French General Staff, having his offices within twenty-five minutes of Versailles. You could not appoint anybody else, if you are to have a head; and you will then have arrived at what the French have always looked for, namely, the appointment of a French head to lead the forces in France—who will, indeed, be technically generalissimo and will have supreme power. There is no alternative between any such appointment but chaos and disaster. I do not know whether the representative of the War Office feels that he is in a position to answer the question which I have put to him. I do not believe that there is any escape from the dilemma which I have presented to him, and I am quite certain that if such a course is proceeded with, if it is adopted by the Government now and proceeded with, hereafter it will inevitably lead us not merely in France, but on other fronts where our forces are disposed, to irretrievable defeat and disaster.

There is one other word, and only one other word, I wish to say. Our position in this War is quite different, from the military point of view, from that of any other nation engaged. We have three fronts separated from each other by such conditions of distance and climate as to make it essential that all the reinforcements or reliefs should be provided in advance of any possible accident in the campaign of the particular front. If you have an officer in France either supreme over or representative of the Imperial General Staff, he will be hampered in his consideration of the Eastern Front by his want of knowledge of what is happening upon the Western Front, or the subordinate at home, who is in charge of these Eastern Fronts, will not be able to give him that assistance which he ought to have, because his superior in France has already commandeered all the proper resources and reserves. None of the other Allies can have this difficulty and dilemma presented to it. In France you find a single Commander-in-Chief. [An HON. MEMBER: "There are the forces of America!"] The forces of America are not large comparatively. [An HON. MEMBER: "There are the French in Italy!"] In. Italy there is the French force, but it is easily reinforceable from France. It does not serve under the conditions of a month's journey to Palestine, or perhaps two months' journey to Mesopotamia. That is the real difficulty. You must provide your reinforcements in advance and before accident or any possible disaster occurs, otherwise you cannot reinforce in time to prevent what may from a defeat become a disaster. These seem to me to be considerations to be taken into account in setting up this new official body in France, and I would beg the Under-Secretary, when he makes his reply, to give an answer to the question which I have asked in the first part of my remarks, and give consideration to the suggestions which I have made in the second part.

Colonel C. LOWTHER

It was not my intention to take part in the Debate, but I am induced to do so because of the speech delivered by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain). It was a speech of which the House approved. It was a sincere speech, an honest speech, a speech, let me say, delicately and most happily handled, but I think, none the less, that from the very beginning it was a dangerous speech, and if the House will allow me I will explain why I am of that opinion. The right hon. Gentleman said that the Prime Minister himself and the Government were in a hopeless position when they gave high office to two controllers of important newspapers. He argued that the Prime Minister could never possibly allow any of his colleagues to go to their constituencies, or to any constituency, to make speeches at variance with his own opinion, and therefore, for the same reason, he could not allow newspaper proprietors either to write articles or to inspire articles contrary to his (the Prime Minister's) opinions. Why? Does the right hon. Gentleman mean to say that all the colleagues who differ from the Prime Minister have never held views at variance with those of the Prime Minister, before they became his colleagues, and before they accepted office under him? The Chancellor of the Exchequer has made a most interesting speech in my own Constituency, which was totally at variance with the opinions of the Prime Minister, and with many of the opinions he holds to-day. It will be in the recollection of the House that Lord Northcliffe only a few weeks ago refused office, as he could not honestly bring himself into line with all the colleagues of the Prime Minister at that time. He expressed great admiration for the Prime Minister himself, and for a. great deal of his general policy, but he could not find himself in harmony with every member of his Administration. Surely, now that Lord Northcliffe has accepted high office under Lord Beaver-brook, they will act with all the loyalty required, and not only in their newspapers, but in their speeches, they will write and speak in accordance with the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Why not? Does the right hon. Gentleman disagree with that?


My hon. and gallant Friend is proving my point. He fails to see my point, which was that it was impossible for the Government to dissociate itself from articles which appeared in the Press owned by a member of the Government.


The right hon. Gentleman mistakes my point, which has no reference to articles which have appeared in the Press already, and before these Gentlemen had accepted office. I think the right hon. Gentleman misunderstood me. What I meant to point out was that, of course, Lord Northcliffe and Lord Beaverbrook would not be responsible in respect of articles contrary to the policy of the Prime Minister which appeared before they held office, and from the very moment they accept office what happens to the Government is that the Government is stronger, provided that they have the whole-hearted loyalty of those two members. I see no reason why newpaper proprietors should not take office. I do see a reason, however, for dispensing with the services of a colleague who fails to support the Prime Minister either by word of mouth or by newspapers.


I should like to say a word in reference to the policy of the proposal of having an International Council which will give orders to our Commander-in-Chief in the field, for that is what has now developed from the establishment of the War Council at Versailles. The history of this proposal really dates from the battle of the Somme. During that battle there was a proposal to place all the British forces under the command of a generalissimo—I believe, General Nivelle—but at the time that policy was not adopted. It was very much objected to, I think, by the Army Chiefs, and at any rate it was not adopted. When in November the Italian forces were driven back the Prime Minister went to Paris and made the speech which the House will remember in which he more or less deprecated the work carried on by the British Army and suggested, if he did not actually say so, that the generalship of the British Army was inferior to those of our Allies. He himself suggested, I believe, the establishment of a War Council at Versailles which should act as a better means of liaison between the Armies. At the time that War Council was established the House will remember that there was an agitation in this country against it upon the very ground which I am now speaking about, namely, that this Council would have executive authority over our Commander-in-Chief, but the House was assured, and the country was assured, that this Council would not have those powers and that it would be merely of an advisory character. The next suggestion is that the Council must have executive authority, and we are informed to-day that executive authority was actually passed at a meeting of all the Powers. We are not informed, and it is quite impossible for us to find out, whether the Commander-in-Chief of the British Armies in France was whole-heartedly in favour of having executive powers conferred on this Council.

Merely as a member of the public I should like to say that it seems to me that the establishment of executive powers and the handing over of the supreme authority over our forces to any Council or Committee, the majority of whom are composed of friendly Allies but at the same time not British people, is entirely wrong. I cannot believe that that is the right policy, and I believe that there are large numbers of people in this country whose faith in the Government has been severely shaken by the adoption of that policy. If a decision is taken by that Committee and if they have, as they are currently reported to have, control over the whole Reserves of the French and British Armies, that decision as to where to employ those Reserves will be come to by a Committee three-fourths of whom at least do not belong to our Army. I do not believe that is a good policy, because I believe that our Army has always fought far better under their own Commanders-in-Chief than under the command of any outside person. This is the first time, I believe, in our history that our Army has been placed under a Council or Committee. I, for one, think that that has shaken the confidence of a very large number of people who have hitherto, like myself, supported the Government.

One other point has been brought up in this Debate, and that is the question of the appointments of Lord Northcliffe and Lord Beaverbrook. I do not know anything of Lord Northcliffe, but I do know that Lord Beaverbrook was responsible for making the statement that the British troops had deserted the Canadians at the second battle of Ypres, and that that statement was circulated in Canada by Lord Beaverbrook and I believe—he told me so himself—that General Sir. S. Hughes came over to England on account of that statement. I say that to make a man capable of making a statement like that, which I venture to say was a gross libel on our troops, and absolutely inaccurate, Director of Propaganda in this country, on top of having been smothered with honours before, is to my mind also a matter which does not inspire one with trust in the Government. There are several other things which I regret to say make one's trust in the Government considerably shaken of late. There are the very fluid ideas which the Prime Minister seems to have upon war aims, and also the way in which we are recognising and allowing the Bolshevist Government to be represented in this country, and by doing so are alienating, I believe, what will be the best opinion of Russia in the future.


There are three questions for consideration in this Debate. There is, first of all, the question of the expediency or desirability of setting up a Supreme War Council at Versailles, and, secondly, the position of Sir William Robertson in relation to the plan which had been adopted, and, in the third place, the methods whereby the existing critical political situation has been produced. Very little has been said in the course of the Debate upon the first of these questions. A number of very relevant and pertinent questions have been put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol (Sir C. Hob-house), and I am surprised that there is no member of the Government present to offer a reply to the very important interrogations which he has put as to the position of that Council in relation to the British Forces. I hope myself to elucidate the position somewhat. The Prime Minister's speech was a great advance in the matter of lucidity on anything that he has previously said in relation to this. subject, but still he has left a number of important questions obscure. In the first place, he spoke in a very vague and indefinite way as to the procedure which would be followed in case of differences. He did not dismiss as improbable the possibility of differences arising on the Council, and, indeed, said that they are bound to arise, because you have on it men of independent minds and of strong character. He went on to tell us how the differences are to be dealt with. If such differences arise, then the matter is to be referred to the respective Governments, and they have to decide the matter, apparently in consultation with the respective Chiefs of the Staff of those Governments. Is this a possible method of waging war at all? Has anybody ever heard of such a method of waging war out of Bedlam, because that is really what it amounts to.

There is a case for a generalissimo, undoubtedly there is a case for a generalissimo. You then do get unity of command, and even if this War has failed to produce a Napoleon on the Allied side, that is no reason why, for the purpose of securing unity of command, you should not appoint the best general available. But you have failed to agree upon a general, and, having failed to agree upon a general, you have set up machinery for the purpose of controlling warfare, a thing such has never been set up in any country before, and such as I believe will prove in practice to be absolutely unworkable, and which, as my right hon. Friend opposite said, is bound to land us in ruin and disaster. I want to know whether this impression which I gathered from the Prime Minister's speech is a true account of the method of the working of this body. This is not substituting for your Napoleon an executive committee, but it is substituting an executive committee subject to an appeal to four other Governments, who may also disagree. That is not securing unity of command, and by no stretch of imagination could it be so described. If the people of this country and the House of Commons are going to allow this to pass now without expressing any opinion upon it, then I think the House of Commons is going to be false to its trust and is committing a deliberate breach of duty, and that it will deserve all the condemnation of politicians which have been visited upon their heads, as we have been told by the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite, by the mass of the soldiers in the field. This seems to me to be the capital question involved. Probably no notice will be taken of the questions put by me, but I hope that some responsible statesman who sits on the Front Bench opposite will rise and put these questions and endeavour to secure an answer from the Government. I have shown from the Prime Minister's own admission that these differences, which may be frequent, will necessitate an appeal, and we are entitled to know whether the situation will be as it is thus described, for if so, you are certainly going to have chaos instead of unity.

There are one or two other questions which I think are of some interest. When the Prime Minister was dealing with the offer which was made by the Government to Sir William Robertson, he said that they offered this post to Sir William Robertson because it was the more important post. Is that the view of the Government? Are the appointments which they have now made to the respective posts of a military member of the Versailles Council and the Chief of the Staff based upon the Government's view of their relative importance? Are we to understand that General Sir Henry Rawlinson holds a relatively more important post than General Sir Henry Wilson? I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary can answer this question. I think we are entitled to know whether it is so from some member of the War Cabinet.


I think what the Prime Minister did say was that Sir Henry Wilson was supreme military adviser of His Majesty's Government, and Sir Henry Rawlinson would have a position of great individual responsibility at Versailles.


I do not think my hon. Friend has met my point. When the Prime Minister was dealing with the position of Sir William Robertson he said that the Government offered the post at Versailles on the ground that that was relatively the more important position.


May I remind my hon. Friend that the Prime Minister said the military representative in Paris would prepare plans and recommend plans independently of the Staff in England?


If I may intervene, the Prime Minister, I thought, wished the House to infer that General Sir Henry Rawlinson was to have a most important post in Versailles, with independent responsibility.


I quite agree it is a very important post. It is important in dealing with a situation of this kind to determine the exact scale in the hierarchy which each individual officer holds. Undoubtedly the Prime Minister made his statement with reference to Sir William Robertson with a view to giving the impression in this House that they were conferring a great honour upon Sir William Robertson. It is a simple question now which is the greater post?


He had the choice.


That is not answering the question, and I know well my hon. Friend is not in a position to answer the question. [An HON. MEMBER: "Then why do you ask it?"] I thought I said that I did Dot think he was in a position to answer the question, and I opened my speech by a protest against the absence of any person who could really give us information about this series of important questions. I think, in the course of the Debates on the Army Estimates, the House is bound to insist on knowing what the exact position is. There is another question. We have been told by the Prime Minister in a mysterious way that the powers of the Chief of the Imperial General Staff are going to be reduced, that they are going to be restricted to the powers formerly enjoyed by all other Chiefs of the Imperial General Staff except Sir William Robertson. Well, naturally, we want to know to whom the powers withdrawn from the Chief of the Imperial General Staff are going to be given. These are very important powers. He has not said to whom they are going to be given. Are they going to be given to Sir Henry Rawlinson or this body in Paris, or are they going—and Heaven forbid !—to be given to Lord Derby? I do not believe for a moment that anybody in this country would sanction the granting of powers to Lord Derby which had to be withdrawn from Lord Kitchener. I think we should get an answer to this question from the Government. I do not wish to enter in any detail into the exact position of Sir William Robertson in these transactions. I am perfectly impartial with regard to the position of Sir William Robertson, because I do not know Sir William Robertson. I have never seen him, except when he "was under the Gallery of this House, and have absolutely no relations with him. Consequently, I cannot be subject to the reflection made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, that some people were acquainted with War Office secrets through official channels.

I do not think the position in regard to Sir William Robertson has been made clear to this House. I have endeavoured to ascertain it, first of all, from the statement of the Prime Minister, and, secondly, from the criticism put forward by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife. We gather that Sir William Robertson objected very strongly to the plans adopted, on account of the objectionable or the impracticable machinery whereby they were to be carried out. Now obviously that was in its essence a military question. It was not a question of policy. I believe that on all questions of policy the civil authority should undoubtedly be supreme, but here we have, upon a technical question—and I think the House should realise it—Sir William Robertson, who is a soldier, and who naturally has high ideas of discipline, holding such strong view-s that he prefers; to sacrifice his high position of Chief of the Imperial General Staff rather than assent to a change in machinery which he believes to be disastrous to the prosecution of the War by this country. I think that is a very serious situation, and it if a situation into which the House of Commons is bound to inquire further than it has yet done. It is not sufficient to say that the responsibility is the Government's. The House of Commons has itself a responsibility. It has the responsibility to inquire into the decisions of civilian Ministers, and if it is not satisfied that they have given true and complete ex- planations of what has been done, then it is the duty of the House of Commons to withdraw its confidence, and if the House of Commons does neither of these things —neither insists upon information nor withdraws confidence—then the House of Commons shares in all the responsibility to the full in what has been done.

That is the situation, and no denunciation of Press campaigns will get you out of that. To my mind, we have had no real explanation of the crux of the trouble between Sir William Robertson and the War Cabinet. Hints have been given, but nothing more, and the House of Commons has been content to be bluffed by the irrelevant rhetoric of the Prime Minister's peroration. That is the situation. I think there are some people who are not so content. I think there, are some who desire to make a protest, and we wish to say that, so far as we are concerned, we have no part or lot in that decision—a decision which, we believe, is going to have disastrous results. We have heard a great deal about attacks, but it is useless for the right hon. Member for West Birmingham to get up in this House and speak as if this were a new thing. It is not a new thing. It has been the fundamental vice of this Government since it began. It was the vice of this Government when the right hon. Member for West Birmingham was a member of it. He knew the manœuvres by which the present Prime Minister was able to eject his predecessor. He was present at the Unionist meeting on the Sunday in Edward Square, when a resolution was passed about the action of the Press. He knew all these things. He knew the disgraceful manœuvres whereby the late Prime Minister's position was undermined, and it is idle for him to rise now in an attitude of indignation and speak as if it were new. It is old to everybody who has watched the current of tendencies in this House. I say it is a disgraceful situation. We have been governed by a system of Press intrigue outside, and corruption in the House, and the sooner it ends the better. It is all very well for hon. Gentlemen to talk here about the ability of the Prime Minister. We all recognise that he has magnificent Parliamentary tactics, that he has great energy. He has all these things, but there is one thing more important, and that is that in this great crisis of our country's fate a man of character should be Prime Minister of the British Empire.

Commander BELLAIRS

The Leader of the Opposition in his speech referred to the loss of services and enforced departure of Sir John Jellicoe and Sir William Robertson. But this is not the first case during this War where there has been an enforced departure and loss of services. Under the right hon. Gentleman himself we changed the First Sea Lord three times, we lost General Murray, we changed the High Command in France, and we changed the Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Fleet. In regard to the point which has been raised by nearly every speaker, the criticism of distinguished officers, in the main I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham, but there are limitations to his argument, for there is all the world of difference between the criticism of a Commander-in-Chief of an Army in the field and the criticism of an officer serving at the War Office who is responsible for giving advice to the Government. There is all the world of difference between the criticism of an admiral commanding a fleet and the criticism of an admiral serving at the Board of Admiralty. This was so well recognised in the House that up to the 'sixties in the last century the admirals at the Board of Admiralty used to be Members of this House. In nearly every case the Sea Lords were Members of this House, and subjected to criticism at all times. But if you criticise the Commander-in-Chief of an Army, or the Commander-in-Chief of a Fleet, you undermine the discipline of that Army and the discipline of that Fleet. At all times, I am afraid, in the history of this country Commanders-in-Chief of Fleets and Commanders-in-Chief of Armies, whether we have a Press or not, were subjected to very strong criticism indeed.

I think that deals with the chief substance of the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham. He then passed on to the Press. There are, of course, three great newspaper proprietors in this Government now—Lord Rothermere, Lord Northcliffe, and Lord Beaverbrook—but I do not see why those newspaper proprietors, if they are chosen on personal grounds, cannot divorce themselves from their position in the Press. At any rate, it is the claim of Lord Northcliffe, very much like a claim once made by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, that he did not read the newspapers—that he did not read any of his own newspapers when out in the United States. He was too busy. At any rate, in theory, I do not see why it should be an impossibility for the proprietor who has his newspaper as a going concern to divorce himself from inspiring that paper. Now, where is the limitation to be drawn? I believe Lord Harcourt is part proprietor of the "Morning Post."


That has been disproved by Lord Harcourt's owe statement. He was only in the position of a trustee. He has no personal interest whatever.

Commander BELLAIRS

I accept that, and withdraw my observation. I only used it as an illustration of what may easily occur. There are a number of proprietors of the "Times" newspaper. I believe Lord Northcliffe is only the predominant partner, and, in fact, many people, despite Sir John Ellerman's disclaimer, will believe he is a great financial backer of that newspaper. I am certain that it will be impossible, or if it were possible it would not be desirable to exclude newspaper proprietors from the Government of the country. I want to get to the chief point connected with the newspapers which revolve around the personality of the Prime Minister. At one moment he is charged with being dominated by Lord Northcliffe, at the next moment he is charged with inspiring the Northcliffe Press, and therefore of dominating the Northcliffe Press. Those who make those charges must agree upon which horse they are going to ride; they cannot ride circus fashion on two horses going in opposite ways. It is certain they ought to agree upon that point.

The Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil), in his speech the other day, toyed for some time with the suggestion that the Prime Minister was inspiring the newspaper Press. Hs then went on to formulate a very remarkable doctrine. He said it was the duty of the Government to control the newspaper Press—more than ever when the newspaper Press happened to be in the right, because otherwise the charge would be brought against the Government that they were being controlled by the newspaper Press. That is a very remarkable doctrine. I have the quotation in my pocket. It simply means, I think, that we are to sacrifice the liberties of the Press altogether, that they should have no part nor lot in criticism of this War. In another part of his speech, which showed the mentality of the Noble Lord, he proceeded to argue that whenever there was a difference of opinion between the Government and their chief military advisers the Government ought to resign. What would be the upshot of that? No Government would dare to have a different opinion, and we would be under a government of generals. I quite agree that at certain times in the history of the world the government by generals has been very good. In the last days of Athens and Rome a government by generals was good; in the Cromwellian period the government by generals, except where hampered by the Parliamentarians, was good, but that was because there was a certain type of general who was also a statesman. That type has been reproduced very remarkably in South Africa in General Smuts and in General Botha. These, however, are of a type which has entirely passed away except in their case. We now specialise. The people who form the Government of the country serve long apprenticeship except when they perhaps happen to come from Balliol, or belong to the prolific progeny of the great Sir Robert Cecil, better known as Lord Burghley.

My argument mutatis mutandis applies to sailors as well. If the Government must resign when they have a difference of opinion with their chief advisers, it must also apply in the case of the Navy. Only a few days ago we had a very remarkable speech from Lord Jellicoe. He said the sailors were handicapped because they were unable to express their ideas in council, and he had suffered from that handicap. I do not know which is most to be pitied, the statesmen who, sitting in council round a table endeavouring to extract ideas from a sailor unable to express his ideas, or the sailor in great labour in the council chamber bringing forth nothing The statesman must endeavour to extract ideas from that sailor, because the statesman is ultimately responsible. That is the position. If we accept the idea that sailors and soldiers are solely responsible, we get back to the position taken up by Sir Robert Walpole, who in 1741 pleaded in this House that as he was neither admiral nor general, had nothing to do with either the Army or the Navy, he therefore could not be responsible for the conduct of the war. That is a position we could not possibly accept from a democratic Government.

In reference to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Lanark, I want to say two things. I followed him in the Debate in November. I then said that inevitably executive power would have to be given to this Supreme War Council and their Staff at Versailles. I think the Government might just as well have frankly met the situation then. It has now. My hon. Friend asks: "Are we to be under the control of a council?" The hon. Member for West Bristol asked the same thing. My answer is that General Foch must have the ultimate decision in regard to what is done at Versailles. That is absolutely inevitable. We cannot fight under a council of war. We had to set up a War Cabinet. As it only meets at intervals of one month we had to have people with the power of executive decision sitting continuously because war changes just as the moon changes. If we had refused to do this, what would be the position? We should have been at loggerheads and had a severe difference of opinion with America, with Italy, and with France—all three. We would have been saying to the world that we agree that after this War we shall have what they call a Council of the Nations, with perhaps one armed force, but we will not pool our armed resources under one general while we are at war. That would have been an extremely illogical position! In reference to what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Central Finsbury said—he is not here now—we have fought under a Council, which is a bad system. I believe Marl-borough had the disability of fighting under a Council. We have actually fought under a German general in China during the Boxer Rebellion. We pooled our resources with those of the other nations under a German commander, Field-Marshal Waldersee. So it would be rather extraordinary if we were not willing to put our forces at the disposal of a French general with such a record as General Foch. I am curious about the mentality of those who are opposing these proposals of the Government. Do they think the original system was perfect? Can they suggest a better system than the one I have mentioned—of the Allied War Staff, with General Foch having the final decision in his hands? In 1915 we had a speech from the Leader of the Opposition in which he pointed out the difficulties under which they laboured, and which had been much accentuated by the increase in the number of the Allies. He referred to the advantages which the Germans possessed in having Hindenburg, or whoever was the general then, as the supreme adviser of their War Council—because the Germans have a War Council, too. The right hon. Gentleman then said: With the Allies, on the other hand, every important step has, naturally and necessarily, been taken in consultation and concert between three, and latterly four, different Powers. With the best good will and the most genuine common purpose there must be differences of angles and in points of view in an operation of that kind. What is the position to-day? We have, I think, six nations fighting on the French Front. We have three nations fighting on the Italian Front. We have seven nations, including Greece, fighting on the Salonika Front. It is obvious that to reconcile them we have to have some such body as this Allied War Staff under the Supreme War Council.

If I may say so, the public are sick and tired of having the War in Europe sacrificed to peace at Westminster. That is what has been done in the past. I know that the Leader of the Opposition models himself on Sir Robert Peel in believing in compromise. As, however, a speaker pointed out earlier in the Debate, war has nothing whatever to do with compromise. It is the most extreme of all courses. Sir Robert Peel played his part during peace for the preservation of internal peace, whereas we have to play our part in a war which has nothing whatever to do with a particular faculty in "which Sir Robert Peel was supreme. There is only one admission I desire to make in connection with the Prime Minister. There was a lack of frankness in his statement in November. There was a lack of frankness in his speech last week. There was no lack of frankness from the French and from the American sides. Had he imitated their method of dealing with the matter he would not have been cast into the difficulties in which he was involved. He would have won out very easily at the very outset—I am certain of that—as he has won out to-day. I do, however, contend this, that his mistake has been a mistake in the choice of words—in believing, perhaps, that language was given to conceal thought. But a mistake in the choice of words is as nothing compared with a mistake in the choice of the means of action. He has done the right thing if he used the wrong words !


I only desire to ask the indulgence of the House for a, very few moments whilst I refer to a matter connected with Army administration arising out of an incident which took place to-day at Question Time. I have myself frequently acknowledged, and have always been very sensible of, the extraordinary patience and courtesy which the Under-Secretary for War displays in this House and the tact with which he discharges the very exacting duties which fall upon him. I hope that he will not think, on this occasion, that I have altered my view in that respect when I say that I think that at Question Time to-day he did me less than justice and himself rode away very easily on the excitement that it is possible to call forth in this House—rode away without really making clear what the point was that I was putting to him. I will endeavour, in order that no misconception may remain in this matter, to make clear what I tried to put to him in the form—perhaps the unsatisfactory form—of a question in this House. The House will remember that a discussion was taking place, and questions were being addressed to the Under-Secretary in regard to the procedure observed in cases where soldiers were condemned to death for cowardice, or desertion, and were executed, who had at some previous stage in their history been, invalided as suffering from shell-shock. The hon. Gentleman said—I am sure quite truly—that the most careful investigation was made in all such cases. Then I put the question to him, "Why, under such circumstances, are the men executed who have suffered from shell-shock?" The question was quite brief, but the hon. Gentleman at once repudiated, with great heat, what I assumed he had taken to be a general allegation that no proper care was exercised in these matters, and that soldiers were shot under such circumstances without proper inquiry being made.


indicated assent.

7 0 P.M.


The hon. Gentleman confirms that point. I immediately rose and at once repudiated that I intended, by my supplementary question, to make any general allegation or insinuation of that kind. I think I made that clear. I then went on to put a question— I hope more clearly—how it was that, in certain cases, where a man had deserted and had been executed, it was possible for that man to be executed when, at some previous period of his military career, he had been invalided home suffering from shell-shock? My object in putting that question is not only to make my own meaning perfectly clear, but to ask the representative of the War Office whether a Regulation cannot be issued under which it would be impossible for any soldier to be sentenced to death who has previously been invalided home suffering from shell-shock? I only wish to remind the hon. Gentleman of one case which made a great impression in this House, and it was the case of a private in the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers, who at the age of twenty-one Buffered the death penalty, while five months previously he had been invalided home.


What was the reply given to that question?


It was a case put by the hon. Member for Blackburn.


Were the facts stated in the question put to me?


The question was put by the hon. Member for Blackburn, and the hon. Gentleman will remember that it has been the subject of discussion since. Replying on that day, the Undersecretary for War said, after having been asked if he would have an inquiry made into the case, No, Sir, I am not prepared to interfere with the discretion of the Field-Marshal Commanding-in-Chief, who only confirms the proceedings in cases of this character after the fullest consideration.


The hon. Member infers that the statement contained in the question was a matter of certain fact, and I beg leave to dispute that.


Why did you not dispute it then?


I only cited the facts set out in the question, and I have given the reply of my hon. Friend, so that I am in no way misrepresenting him. I want him to make such things impossible even after the most careful and sympathetic consideration. On the 14th December my hon. Friend was asked whether he would take steps to secure that no soldier would be executed by order of a court-martial for cowardice who has been seriously wounded or invalided on account of Shell-shock? and his reply was as follows: If my hon. Friend will refer to the Rules of Procedure governing courts-martial held in the field, he will realise that I am not in a position to give effect to this proposal. I can assure him, however, that it is within my personal knowledge that the most careful consideration is given by the Commander-in-Chief to all the circumstances, and especially to those suggested in the question." For my own part I did not make before, and I do not now, any suggestion that these cases are not subject to the most careful inquiry. The point at issue is a very simple one. I believe that such cases should never occur, and that where a soldier has been invalided home suffering from shell-shock or other serious illness, if on a subsequent occasion he is sentenced to death it should be made impossible by regulation for that sentence to be carried out. I hope my hon. Friend will not read into my inquiry anything except what I have stated.


I have listened to this Debate with profound discouragement, not so much from any sense of disappointment as to the manner in which the case was put forward either for the Government or for the Opposition, but for a reason which lies very much deeper. It is that I recollect that these discussions, are so much of the nature of Byzantine quarrels which were taking place while the Turks were beating at the gates of the city; and now, when this very capital is endangered, we are having these futile discussions between men whom I declare to be incapable men. Months ago it was clear to most thinking men, or at any rate it was clear to me, because I was the first to bring it up in the House, that unity of command was an essential to success. The Prime Minister some months ago in this House also said that unity of command is essential to success; but mark the true import of that word ''essential." If unity of command did not obtain, then since it is essential, success will not be attained. Want of success means failure, defeat, and eventually this country will come under the heel of German domination. That is a clear and logical issue, and logic in this sense has no other meaning than the foreseeing of the march of events.

The Prime Minister, in opening his speech, quoted from a French statesman, who expressed the whole matter in the witty and epigrammatic way of which the French have the secret, when he said that his opinion of Napoleon had successively declined, because he now saw what it meant to fight against coalitions. Those witty words should have warned the Prime Minister. He ought to have seen that he is reversing the conditions under which Napoleon was successful, because, whereas that great genius won because his opponents were guided by an Aulic Council, the right hon. Gentleman has been busy setting up an Aulic Council in Versailles. While the Germans have been acting, pressing forward their well-thought plans, the Allies have been debating, discussing, hesitating, drifting, setting up an Aulic Council. I will, in order to shorten my remarks, as well as to point a moral, refer to one great historic instance of a leader who could lead. Recently I looked back again into the book with which we were all familiar—" Cæsar's Commentaries. "My idea in reading that book again was that I should have the opportunity afresh of appreciating the character of that man, and comparing him with our great ones, the Prime Minister and the Loader of the Opposition, and I was struck by this fact, which I have also noticed in reading the words of Napoleon, that all their plans seem mere common sense, and also by this fact, that, having determined that a certain course was the best, they proceeded to put it into execution. Common sense! Yes; but by comparison we rise at once to genius. Contrast this with what we have done. After months of hesitation the Allies have arrived at a decision which they believe to be just and yet they hesitate and tremble and drift, and separate with no definite decision at all.

The Prime Minister to-day said that at first it was intended by the Allies to set up a Council which should be supreme in executive power, and he said that the arangement at first seemed to be good, but afterwards it had to be set at naught because of the powerful arguments advanced by the Americans. We all have great respect for the practical genius of the Americans, but on this particular occasion I am inclined to think the Prime Minister must have done the Americans some injustice in translating their reasons for our benefit, because if one supreme rule were necessary in Versailles the next logical step would naturally be that that principle must be laid down just as the cardinal point of an engineer's plan, and all the other details made to swing round that as the fixed point. Instead of that, when he meets with difficulties, he revises his plans and removes the essential, and the ground on which he abandons the plan which he built up and which alone could have brought that unity of command which is essential, was that the Chief of Staff in London would either be subordinate to the Chief at Versailles, or the Chief at Versailles subordinate to the Chief in London. Was there ever a campaign in which the Commander-in-Chief exorcised the command of armies abroad in which that problem has not been presented. Has there ever been any campaign where victory has been obtained where that problem has not been solved? In this matter the difficulties which has cropped up and which has Seemed mountainous to the Prime Minister and the Government are mainly difficulties of their own creation, just as the timid voyager along a road sees ghosts at every step and becomes terrified by the, creatures of his own imagination. I will not say to great minds, but to minds of ordinary calibre, honest in their makeup and accustomed to clear and definite decision, none of these problems are things of first-class magnitude.

It has been decided to obtain unity of command. That is essential. Therefore every consideration should naturally have gone by the board until that was definitely and unalterably fixed. "But in the solving of this problem difficulties crop up on questions of amour propre, questions of procedure, question of reputation, questions of vanity between officer and officer. Faced with these petty difficulties the Prime Minister ha? fallen and failed. A man fit to lead, finding himself in that position, would have said to these recalcitrant generals, "We, as representing the Government of this country, have decided upon that course, and you as the very repository of discipline must either obey or go. "If the Prime Minister had adopted such an attitude even before these bolstered-up reputations of Sir William Robertson, or Field-Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, the country itself would have rejoiced, feeling that it had a leader who could lead and who did not seek to know the cue of his policy by reading the leading article of the paper that leads him. The Leader of the Opposition, correctly as I think, criticised the policy of the Prime Minister upon that one vulnerable point, but when he proceeded further and gave an indication of the policy which this country would have if he were again to succeed to office, I disagreed with him. If this country is so bankrupt of intellect and leading power that there is no other alternative than ringing the changes upon two sets of incapable men, then in that case, as I have said over and over again, it matters little what decisions they come to, the Germans will take care of the future.

We must get completely out of that atmosphere of hypnotism, of minds tied up in the meshes of Parliamentary intrigue, of backstairs politics, of the chicane of the corridors, and of all that which may be considered Parliamentary ability, but which in face of the great exterior problem inevitably means defeat. As an alternative the Leader of the Opposition threatens us with this policy. His policy would have been to retain Sir John Jellicoe, and to have retained Sir William Robertson, in face of failures tested in the best way, tested in the only possible way by men who are really practical— tested by actual results. Instead of getting rid of men who have proved themselves either to be expensive or disastrous, we would, for the sake of certain party loyalty, or in order to keep the country in a kind of false optimism, sacrifice the true, real, and deep interests of the nation, merely for the susceptibilities of these great men. Nothing could be more fatal than the pursuance of that policy, and nothing could be more fatal than to resolve on the other alternative of superseding the present Prime Minister by the Leader of the Opposition. But our problem lies deeper than these mere questions of tactics, these mere questions of party, mere questions of Parliamentary cleverness which is so different from real masculine ability, which tells in history. We must find the leaders who are capable of solving what I insist on again and again is not the problem of this House, but the great external problem—leaders, both military and political, who will form for us great, real, valid plans, and having formed them, in the character of engineers will proceed to realise them with iron determination, and carry out their plans step by step, meeting every difficulty, not by reference to the motives which have governed us here, but by reference to the real essential character of the external problem. In that way alone lies victory.


I intended to wait until I had heard what the Under-Secretary for War had to say upon the question which has been raised by my hon. Friend (Mr. Whitehouse), but perhaps it would be more convenient that I should make my remarks now before he speaks. I desire very respectfully to make a protest against the way in which the Under-Secretary treated my hon. Friend this afternoon. This question of the death penalty is, as we all realise, most difficult and most controversial, and a question which necessarily arouses strong feeling in every direction. I can make allowance for any strong feeling which the Under-Secretary may have experienced as the result of a question of which he mistook the meaning this afternoon, but he went further than showing strong feeling. As I understood the hon. Gentleman, he deliberately used his position in order to excite prejudice and clamour against my hon. Friend. I desire to protest against his action in doing that. It seems to me intolerable that Ministers when they are asked perfectly proper questions by a Member of this House—and my hon. Friend was asking a perfectly proper question—should reply, or refuse to reply, in the way the Under-Secretary refused this afternoon My hon. Friend explicitly got up and said that he withdrew any general insinuation. He merely asked for information. The Under-Secretary, with every expression of indignation and in order to excite prejudice and clamour, and with the utmost insolence, refused to answer that very proper question.

Having expressed myself on that point, I should like to say a few words upon the. general question in regard to which I, like many others, have taken a deep interest. There is an impression abroad that in the past, at a certain stage of this War, death sentences were carried out with frequency at the front. There were a great many. I am not now accusing anyone of inhumanity; far from it; but when such an impression exists in the country, as I know of my own certain knowledge, it is the duty of Members to make inquiries on the subject, and I will never admit the attitude of the Government which says that this is no concern of ours, as the Under-Secretary has said.




Yes, the hon. Gentleman said that these matters are no concern of Members of this House, and that we have no right to make inquiries into them. It is suggested that we are in some way reflecting upon the humanity or wisdom of the Higher Command when we do so. We make no reflections upon the humanity of officers of the Army. I am certain that every sort of care is taken under the Regulations to see that humanity is shown where humanity ought to be shown. Of course, everyone admits the humanity and wisdom of the great mass of officers of the Army; but there is the system, and we are entitled to call attention to it, just as we were entitled to call attention to the question of field punishment. I remember the sort of controversy we had with regard to the question of field punishment No. 1. He took up exactly the same attitude—"It is not your business. I refuse to answer the question." He took up the same attitude that he took up this afternoon.


Absolutely untrue !


The hon. Gentleman says it is absolutely untrue. I can prove it from the OFFICIAL REPORT. I can prove that when I put questions to him on this matter he replied to me in the same sort of attitude, and I regret very much that he did so. We made full inquiry into these cases. There were serious cases, and then at last, when there had actually been a case of death occurring as the result of field punishment, we had the. Regulations altered, and a great improvement was made. The hon. Member to-day suggested that there was no truth in the statement that men had been executed at the front after they had been wounded or had suffered from shell-shock. He suggested that because the cases which had been put forward by the hon. Member for Blackburn had not been officially admitted that, therefore, the cases were untrue. If the cases were not true, why were not inquiries made into the facts and denials given at the time? These cases were put forward with the greatest particularity and detail. They were cases on which the hon. Member for Blackburn had personal information. What was the reply—I am sorry that the hon. Member could not be here to-night, otherwise he would have dealt with the matter himself, and would have borne out what I am saying—the reply of the Under-Secretary was, in effect, "We cannot make in- quiries into these cases. "There was one case of a soldier of twenty-one who had suffered from shell-shock and who was afterwards shot on active service for deserting. He was executed on the 29th August last. He was only twenty-one years of age, and five months before he had been invalided home suffering severely from shell shock. Those were the allegations made.


That is the same case.


It is only one of a great many cases. I do not know why the hon. Gentleman takes up that attitude. It is an extremely offensive attitude, as if we were not making a fair case against him. He really does us an injustice, because this is a very serious matter. He need not sit there making these remarks of an offensive character in an undertone. I will give him another case which was referred to by the hon. Member for Blackburn on the 6th November. This was the case of a private in a Lincolnshire Regiment, who was only nineteen years of age, who had shown great gallantry in the field and who had been over the top twice just prior to desertion. Those were the facts alleged by the hon. Member for Blackburn. At the time of his desertion he was undergoing field punishment No. 1 for two hours daily, and the allegation was that it was in a place which was exposed to shell fire, and because of this exposure he ran away. The question was asked whether the hon. Gentleman would ascertain if this boy was sent to France the week before for court-martial, and, in the event of sentence of death being passed upon him, would the hon. Gentleman see, in view of his youth and past fighting record, that the death penalty was not carried out. What was the reply of the Under-Secretary? He said he could not intervene in any way. His words were: It is impossible for me to attempt to influence the Court. …The extenuating circumstances suggested would probably form the subject of a plea in mitigation of sentence which would receive the due consideration of the Court and of the Field-Marshal Commanding-in-Chief.…" —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th November, 1917; col. 1954, Vol. 98.] Then he went on to say that all these cases were investigated by the Field-Marshal Commanding-in-Chief. Those are two cases out of the numerous cases which are known to have occurred. I can give the hon. Gentleman personal knowledge, because I have spoken to soldiers about it. Everybody knows there have been cases and that there may be cases again in which men suffer the extreme penalty who have in the past been invalided home in consequence of shell-shock. No doubt they are examined by the doctors and that the medical evidence is carefully weighed, but even doctors, especially in cases of this sort, are liable to err. I think we may ask two things at least. They have been frequently asked of the Government in this matter. I will make two proposals to the hon. Gentleman and ask him to bring them before the proper authorities instead of taking up the attitude he does now. In the first place, we are entitled to ask that in no case shall a man suffer the extreme penalty who has previously been found to be suffering from shell shock unless under completely exceptional circumstances and after special inquiry, different from the ordinary inquiry and trial by court-martial. That is the very least we can ask. What hitherto has been the answer given on that point? My hon. Friend the Member for Hanley (Mr. Outhwaite) asked on the 14th December for an assurance that no soldier shall be executed by order of court-martial for cowardice who has been seriously wounded or invalided on account of shell-shock. What was the answer he received? The Under-Secretary said: If my hon. Friend will refer to the Rules of Procedure governing courts-martial held in the field he will realise that I am not in a position to give effect to his proposals."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th December, 1917, col. 149D, Vol. 100.] The suggestion was that the rules of procedure governing courts-martial should be altered. That is the point we are entitled to bring before this House and ask that the matter should be inquired into. I ask the Under-Secretary again whether he cannot hold out the hope that the rules of procedure governing the courts-martial may not be altered in the way I have indicated, so as to see that where a man has been previously wounded or invalided home through shell-shock he shall have exceptional treatment before he is liable to suffer the death penalty, as so many men have hitherto suffered it. The hon. Gentleman seemed to suggest this afternoon that there were no cases in which such men had suffered the death penalty. This is what he said on the 14th December: I had occasion the other day to look into one particular case submitted to the War Office, and I was pleased to see that before the trial, and after the sentence and before execution, the man was examined by a medical board."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th December, 1917; col. 1499, Vol. 100.] That, at any rate, is an admission that this, was a case in which a man who had been invalided home suffering from shell-shock was executed in the way suggested. The request we make is that there should be an alteration in the rules in that particular. There is a second request, which seems to me more important than the first. It has often before been made, but we have never hitherto had a satisfactory answer. The Under-Secretary has promised to inquire into it, and if he tells me that he has inquired into this matter and that the Regulations have been altered, I will not pursue the question. The point is this: Again and again the Government have been asked to give some assurance that where a man is on his trial for his life at the front he shall always be entitled to have his case presented for him by a soldier friend; in other words, that he shall not be left alone to stand his trial without advice in this supremely critical moment. A question on this was put to the Under-Secretary on 14th December, and he said: I am in communication with General Officers Commanding Overseas with regard to this matter, and I will, in turn, communicate with my hon. and gallant Friend as soon as possible."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th December, 1917; cols. 1498– 9, Vol. 100.] Has he communicated with him? Has anything been done in this matter, and can he give us an assurance that no man will suffer the death penalty except after a trial at which he is to have the same benefit of advice and help as every prisoner has at a civil trial for his life in this country? It is a very grave matter that a man who is on trial at the: front for his life, for whatever cause, should have to conduct his own defence without any help and without any support, as I understand soldiers may have to do under the present Regulations. I have been present at courts-martial myself, and I am far from saying that there is any deliberate unfairness—of course there is not. Everybody knows how the trial is conducted, and I admit that every attempt is made to treat the prisoner fair. But I can well understand how a man at a court-martial would be cowed or alarmed at the situation in which he found himself, and that owing to the military discipline which is observed by a military court-martial, it would be very difficult for him to put completely before the Court the extenuating. cricumstances. The least we can ask is that in this supreme moment affecting a man's life he should have the advantage of the help and support of a prisoner's friend who knows the rules and who knows what may be said on the man's behalf. There are the two practical points I put to the hon. Gentleman. I ask him to-night not to put us off with the sort of reply, the unworthy tone of reply, with which he answered my hon. Friend this afternoon. I ask him, seriously, whether on these two important matters affecting this great and difficult question he cannot give sonic better reply than he has given hitherto?

Colonel YATE

We have heard a great deal lately in this House about death sentences at the front. If the question of the rules and regulations regarding courts-martial at the front is to be reconsidered, I would ask the Under-Secretary to consider whether power should not be given to a court-martial to inflict corporal punishment, in cases where it is fit to do so, instead of the death sentence? All punishments at the front must be deterrent and must be quick. At present courts-martial can only in these cases inflict the death penalty. Cases might arise in which the court-martial, if it had the power to inflict corporal punishment, would do so.


The hon. and gallant Member (Colonel Yate) has used a phrase which is at the bottom of a great deal of our concern in this matter. He says that sentences at the front must be quick.

Colonel YATE

Deterrent and quick, or rapid.


They must be deterrent and they must be rapid. It is the rapidity with which the trial takes place and the sentence is carried out that is the underlying cause of the concern some of us feel in this matter. I will show presently why that is so. I am very sorry that the Under-Secretary should have in any way prejudiced this question by his replies to-day. At any rate, on one occasion in the past he did not adopt that attitude. I asked him a question on the subject, and, if my memory serves me right, he said he would be glad, if representations were made on this subject as to what could be done, to consider them.


Hear, hear!


It is only fair to the hon. Gentleman to say that. I am sorry that he has fallen from grace. In the past it has been the custom of this House—because I have asked questions on the subject—to howl down the Member who raises it. That is a monstrous thing to do. I can tell the hon. Gentleman and the House that there is no question among the people as a whole to-day upon which they feel more concerned and more strongly than the carrying out of death sentences, not because of anything said in the House, but because of the stories told by the soldiers themselves,. and because of statements made by the men who have to carry out these death sentences—the horror of them ! So it is peculiarly a question which must not be dealt with in any spirit of acrimony at all. When the hon. Gentleman made the statement that he would be glad to consider any suggestion, I spoke to an hon. Member of this House who is a great medical authority and asked him what could be done. He said there was one thing that can be done. The medical history of the man can be inquired into. The hon. Gentleman spoke of the case being submitted to a medical board. That seemed to me, from the conversation which I had, to be useless. What my Friend said was that it is essential, in a case like this, that a neurologist should be consulted, and that the past history of the man should be gone into. I asked him whether there is a certainty that if a man has once suffered from shell-shock and has been turned out, apparently cured, having got over the symptoms, there will not be a recurrence of these conditions at any moment when the man comes under the same circumstances again under which he suffered shell-shock before? He said, "No; a man may become involuntarily—we will use the term, although it is not the correct one— a coward. His nerves have gone; there is a recurrence of all the symptoms, and he will desert and run away." Therefore, it seems to me that the only way in which this matter can be solved with, safety is to determine that no man who has suffered from shell-shock shall ever be executed by sentence of a court-martial. The number is so small that I cannot understand, except for the cast-iron Regulations of the War Office, why this should not be done. The number of men who come before a court-martial who have suffered from shell-shock and returned to the front is not a very great number, and the exercise of this discretion—I will not call it humanity—cannot surely affect the discipline of the forces.

Yesterday, I had a letter from one of my Constituents, who gave the case of his son. He had been suffering from shell-shock. In the father's belief he has not recovered properly, but he is now ordered out on active service. There is the case of a man, it seems to me, who is likely, as soon as he comes under shell fire again, to revert to his old condition. He is no coward, but he may be quite well sentenced to death for cowardice, and I want to know whether in a trial of that kind the medical history of that man in this country is inquired into, or whether, in accordance with the dictum laid down by the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Colonel Yate), the whole thing has to be deterrent and quick, without any such examination and inquiries being made. It is very wrong, it seems to me, for the War Office not to recognise in this matter the new conditions that exist, the greater strain there is on the nerve system under modern warfare, and that the old Regulations must be revised, particularly in this matter. We have not had, I think, from the War Office, or the hon. Gentleman, sufficient assurance that this has been done, and this matter must be pressed until we get that assurance. It is particularly terrible, I think, that boys of nineteen who have suffered from hell-shock should be executed. I do not believe any British lad should be executed by sentence of a court-martial at all, so long as we are fighting in the interests of an Ally—that is to say France—who does not send her soldiers to the trenches until they are twenty. Why we should not have the same concern and exhibit the same consideration for British youth as the French exhibit in this matter for French youth I have not been able to discover. Youths are the bravest and recognise danger the least, but at the same time their nerve system has not been thoroughly established, and they are most likely to suffer an absolute derangement of nerves through the conditions imposed upon them, and which they have to undergo in a modern war. I know one case which has been brought up before this House of a boy being shot by sentence of court-martial within a month of being turned out of the hospital to which he had been sent, suffering from shell-shock, after being blown up by a mine. It was the case, the hon. Gentleman will remember, of an East End boy.

I do hope, therefore, the hon. Gentleman will not think this matter is raised in any contentious manner without there being evidence fully to justify it, and I am constrained not to attack the hon. Gentleman because I bear in mind that he did ask for proposals to be made. For that reason I particularly rise to support the arguments used, and the proposals made by my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Morrell) who brought forward specific proposals, to which I hope effect will be given. I desire to support him also in the question of the proper representation at the court-martial of an accused man. I cannot imagine a more difficult position for a boy of nineteen to be placed in than to be under trial by court-martial, with the penalty of death hanging over him for cowardice, having to conduct his own case and base his case upon the condition of his nerves, and the fact that he has been suffering from shell-shock. If ever there was a case that required expert advocacy and evidence it was that, and I should say the position of such a boy or man would be almost hopeless under present conditions. I would remind the hon. Gentleman of a statement he made at the time the Military Exemptions Bill was before this House, when he said that one of the reasons why it was necessary was that in the past a number, and I think he said a large number, of officers who had shown themselves, we will say, not to have the nerves necessary for their position had been permitted to resign or retire and return home on the grounds of being medically unfit. That shows that concern and some sympathy was shown towards one section of the Army, and I think an extension of that proper humanity and recognition of facts can well be shown as regards all members of the Army without in any way influencing its discipline. As a matter of fact, I think it will make for discipline, because it will remove a feeling of wrong, and injustice, and inhumanity which certainly has been aroused as regards these executions that have taken place.

8.0 P.M.

Major HUNT

I want to take this opportunity of bringing up the case of Lieutenant-Colonel Browne, as I think the hon. Gentleman refused to answer any more questions about it. I want to point out to him that his statement that Colonel Browne would not have been given a commission if it had been known who he was is really no more nor less than absurd, because he was actually gazetted as late lieutenant, Royal Irish Fusiliers. In addition to that, the doctor he saw at the War Office knew him perfectly well, and General McCready himself, when he saw him in France, sent him from transport work into the fighting line. The hon. Gentleman's other statement that Colonel Browne's actual fighting career did not extend much more than a year is surely disposed of by the fact that he was actually fighting from May, 1915, to June, 1917, and I would really call the hon. Gentleman's attention to his sneer at Colonel Browne when he said that Colonel Browne has not been otherwise than wounded when on duty. I do not see how he could very well be wounded except when he was on duty. The accusation, or implied accusation, that he was wearing four gold bars to which he was not entitled can be met by the fact that if he was not entitled to those gold bars it is the duty of the War Office to put a stop to it. As a matter of fact, when an officer is put into the casualty list he is compelled by Regulation to put a gold stripe on his sleeve. I was rung up by a very distinguished officer purposely to tell me this, and to say that the officers in France were very much annoyed about it, because they thought that some of them might very well be sneered at in the same way, and told that they had no right to wear gold bars because they had been only slightly wounded. As a matter of fact, Colonel Monteagle-Browne was wounded five or six times altogether, and, I suppose the hon. Gentleman will admit, he went on fighting and refused to go back because there were so few officers in the regiment when he had been wounded. I think, therefore, that was a very mean sort of sneer to make against an officer who, according to the general's account, whatever else he is, is a gallant man. As regards the report of Colonel Browne being unfit to command in the field, so far as I am able to make out— at all events he never saw that report—it really comes to be boiled down to General MeCready's letter that Perhaps Browne may not be quite up-to-date in his training, He had not joined long then, and it is possible that he may not have been quite up-to-date in his training, but it certainly looks as if they know he had served before. The War Office had to go back eighteen years to bring an unproved charge of cribbing in an examination which was not competitive. What happened was that some figures fell out of" Colonel Browne's pocket, and they were not anything to do with the lessons that day. The charge of cribbing was never proved. Lieutenant Browne, as he was then, saw General Abadie about it, and he was quite satisfied, and said nothing-more was to be said about it. I think it shows how very weak the case must be against Colonel Browne if you have to go back eighteen years in order to produce an unproven charge of cribbing. I wonder how many Members of the House of Commons have never done any cribbing. But the most serious charge that the hon. Gentleman made against this officer was very unfairly put by him. If he had put it fairly the House would have seen that there was nothing in it. The cheque of which the Under-Secretary makes so much was cashed before the date fixed, and that was due to the delay of a telegram. If that delay had not occurred nothing of the sort would have happened. Even the solicitor who was employed to-get the money from Colonel Browne wrote to say that that officer had been unfairly treated, while the officer to whom the money was lent did his best to help Colonel Browne and told the colonel commanding that the letter was a private one and ought not to be shown. Added to that, the colonel of the regiment had to admit that Colonel Browne had no dishonourable intention. So that really the only charge against Colonel Browne is that he borrowed £25-from another officer at a time when he was hard-up Surely the mere fact of borrowing £25 does not justify turning an officer out of the Army. How many other officers have done it? Why should a man's life be ruined in this way on such a flimsy pretext? Here is a man who served right through the South African War. He gained both riband and five bars and Was praised for his work during the two years of that war. It must be admitted that the report of his general could not have been more favourable, and it was not until he went into rest billets, after two years' fighting, and when he came under a new brigadier that he got these adverse reports. Even the general who sent him home, and who inspected his battalion, pronounced it "well turned out." Yet after a few minutes' conversation between three generals this officer was sent home, and instead of the War Office taking the trouble to go into the case and give him another chance they summarily kicked him out of the Army, for that is what it really amounts to.

There is no Commander-in-Chief now to whom any officer can go to make a personal appeal as was the case in former days. But I really cannot see why the present Secretary for War should not go into these matters for himself and endeavour to see that justice is done. I quite admit that the present Secretary for War does not try to teach the Field-Marshal strategy as Lord Haldane did. But there is no reason why he should not do his best to have justice done in these cases instead of allowing himself to be bound by the red-tape of the Adjutant-General. I think I am justified in reading a letter sent to Colonel Browne by a man who served under him as sergeant-major and who is now an officer. It is to the effect that it is with extreme regret the writer has heard of the action of the Army Council in removing Colonel Browne from the Army, and he adds: I had the pleasure of serving under you in the 9th Munsters as Sergeant of C Company and Company Sergeant-Major of A Company, and I am sure I am justified in saying that during that time you showed the greatest consideration for your N.C.O's and men. With regard to the charge which suggests that you were intolerant to Roman Catholics, I am a Roman Catholic myself, and I have never known you to put the slightest obstacle, either in my way or in the way of any of my co-religionists in the practice of our religion. Whichever way the case goes I am certain that in the hearts of the old 9th Battalion you will always be remembered by the title you so excellently deserved, "A fearless leader of the fighting Munsters.' That shows that the imputation against Colonel Browne, that he could not get on with his men, is far from true. This officer has not been allowed any inquiry into his case. That is all that is asked for. Surely it is only fair that an officer with his record should be granted an inquiry into alleged offences which have been raked up by the Under-Secretary for War and which I submit have been shown to be untrue. I cannot understand why an officer should be treated in this way. If a man murders a woman he has a chance of a fair trial. Yet this officer who has risked his life in War for his country has no such chance! I do not believe the War Office would dare have done this in the case of a Canadian or Australian. It it very bad for the Array that this sort of thing should be allowed, and that an officer should have no chance of proving that he has been unjustly punished. The men hear of these things, and how do they reason? Is it not natural they should say, "If you treat a colonel in that way and with this sort of injustice: what chance has a mere sergeant or a private? That is the way the men look at it. I am not blaming the Under-Secretary, because I know he has to do what he is told, but I do blame the Secretary for War, because he has the power to see that justice is done, and he ought to give an officer a chance when there is any doubt as to whether he has been fairly treated. It is all very well to stick tight to red tape and to show the iron hand, but it is only done in cases where an officer has no powerful friends. Look at the case of the general who was sent home from Palestine. I suppose he was inefficient, or he would not have been sent home. But it has never been proved that Colonel Browne was inefficient; on the contrary, he is known to have been an efficient and gallant officer. Yet compare the way in which he is treated with the treatment of the general sent home from Palestine. I think this is a very bad case, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will try and see that something is done to give this officer a chance of proving that he has been unfairly treated. All we ask is that his case should be reconsidered.


I should like to make a few observations, in answer to one or two of the points which have been put forward this evening. I told the House earlier in the Debate that I proposed tomorrow to deal at greater length with same of the points that have been raised, and the points which, I understand will be raised later on in the course of the discussion. But my hon. Friend (Mr. Whitehouse) took the opportunity of getting up to make a personal explanation, and I feel that I ought to stand up as soon as possible and accept that explanation in the spirit in which it was made. Of course, I have no desire to think that he meant what I thought he meant at the time, and I am only too willing and anxious to accept the explanation which he has just given. It is perfectly true there is a great deal of feeling with regard to the point which was the subject of question and answer, namely, the death sentence and execution of boys who are serving at the front. I think when you say boys you are apt to introduce prejudice because, although there may have been one or two who were under the age of twenty, so far as I can gather you could not properly describe those who have been so unfortunate as to meet this unhappy fate by the name of boys. The hon. Member (Mr. Morrell) took me to task because he thought that in my answer or my refusal to answer the question of the hon. Member (Mr. Whitehouse) this afternoon I was attempting in a full House to introduce prejudice and clamour. I can assure him that I had no such intention. I feel just as strongly as he does on this point. I feel that the officers who sit upon the courts-martial, the Judge Advocate-General who deals legally with the case, the various doctors who may be summoned at any given moment when any plea of insanity or shell-shock is put forward, and the Field-Marshal Commanding-in-Chief and his advisers who ultimately decide the fate of these unhappy soldiers are just as humanitarian as any hon. Member who sits upon that bench, and they feel these implications of in-humanitarianism made in a place where they, cannot contradict them, and the Field-Marshal Commanding-in-Chief detests nothing more than to have to sign the death sentence of any man. The imputation which has been running through the series of questions which have been put on this point is that we give no quarter to a man who may at any time have happened to suffer from shell-shock. I have made, and shall continue to make, investigations with regard to the facts stated in the various questions, and I have not yet been able to come across a single case where a. man who was proved in the past to have suffered from shell-shock, or was proved to have been wounded, has suffered the death penalty after being sentenced to death. I make no imputation against the hon. Member. I should think he has found me more cases than any man in the House, and I have always found him, so far as those cases are concerned, to be eminently reasonable and anxious and willing to verify his particulars, but with regard to these cases about which he has put down a question, I dispute the facts. However, if I can find an opportunity within the next week I shall personally investigate those two special cases. The hon. Member went out of his way to take me to task for the rude and offensive way in which I answered questions.


Not all questions only one question. I was referring to the answer to the question of my hon. Friend this afternoon.


I an) very glad the hon. Member makes the position quite clear. I explained to the House in his absence that I was more than willing to accept the explanation which the hon. Member (Mr. Whitehouse) had given. The hon. Member (Mr. Morrell) went back into ancient history and recalled the time when there was a discussion in this House about field punishment No. 1. I am sorry the hon. Member (Mr. O'Grady) is not in the House. I think his version of my part in that transaction would have been entirely different from that which the hon. Member (Mr. Morrell) has placed before the House. I have no recollection of his taking any considerable part in the alleviation of this particular form of punishment.


The hon. Gentleman's memory is quite at fault. I may have made no impression on him, but I addressed the House at considerable length two or three times. I took as much part as the hon. Member (Mr. O'Grady).] think I took it up before, and he will find that again and again and again I asked questions on the subject.


I can assure the House that the hon. Member with whom the War Office was in closest touch through myself and General Childs was the hon. Member (Mr. O'Grady).


That is not true either. I went to see General Childs on that very subject with the hon. Member (Mr. O'Grady).


In any case, the hon. Member (Mr. O'Grady) was in more direct communication with the War Office and with me than the hon. Member was. I am glad to hear that the hon. Member (Mr. Outhwaite) took a temperate and very moderate line this afternoon. He quite probably sees the difficulty, and I think he would be the last person who would wish to see the whole of the French system of recruiting adopted in this country.


Can the hon. Gentleman give me an assurance with regard to nerve-shock, and with regard to prisoners' friends?


I can give an assurance with regard to the care with which we examine men who are suffering from shell-shock, and my understanding, and I am sure it is the understanding of the whole Army, is that any man who requires treatment will always obtain it. It is that sort of suggestion which is so cruel and so hard when made in this House against men who have no opportunity to defend themselves, and who are just as humane as those who sit upon that bench. I know how bitterly and sorely those fellows feel these nagging suggestions that they are not capable of any feeling of humanity at all. Their humanity would compare favourably with that which is perfectly prepared to keep back men, conscientious objectors or otherwise, in this country—


Is not this raising prejudice? I repudiate that suggestion. It is one which ought not to be made.


— and are perfectly prepared to see one man go five times into the trenches, having been five times wounded.


That is not true. It is a base suggestion. You ought to be ashamed of yourself!


You ought to be ashamed of yourself as well!




I Leg to move to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words "the treatment of soldiers suffering from shell-shock and neurasthenia has been and remains inadequate."

I shall endeavour in my remarks to keep my temper. It is rather difficult in these days, but, on the whole, I believe, whatever I have succeeded or failed in in this House, I have not often lost my temper. I do not deny that I may have had very good ground for losing it, but I am going to try not to fall into temptation. I have had the good fortune, though I drew no number in the ballot yesterday, to find my Amendment the only one which can be moved to-night. The Debate to which we have listened is very good evidence that the treatment which is given to our soldiers who have suffered from nerve or shell-shock, whether before or after they get into hospital, is inadequate. I am not at all sure that the hon. Gentleman, who I understand will give us a full statement upon this subject to-morrow, would not agree that in the past our provision for shell-shock cases has been inadequate. At any rate, I must say a few words on the subject, to which. I have given considerable attention, in. the hope that something may arise out of it to better the state of affairs. It is perfectly obvious from the Debate, from the admissions made from that bench, and from the tone taken up on that bench— in some respects it is quite admirable, though in others it is irritating—that we have not understood the terrible conditions of men who suffer from this unbalancing of the nervous system and the brain function which we call shell-shock In support of what my hon. Friends have said, I beg to refer the Undersecretary to the case with regard to which I have had some correspondence with him, and which I have mentioned in questions and speeches in this House. It is the case of a young man who volunteered at the very outset of the War, went to France a year later, and went through several serious battles, and who eventually was sent to hospital with. what was considered a slight attack of shell-shock. He was returned to duty, and though he reported sick, he was sent back to the line. When ordered to go into action—this is the charge made against him—he left the ranks and got into a dug-out where he was found some hours afterwards. It is admitted that he had been suffering from shell-shock, and that he had applied to the doctor, who sent him back. He was taken and charged with desertion, and he was condemned to death. His sentence was promptly reduced to ten. years' penal servitude. When he began to serve that sentence ho broke down and was placed in hospital. Now he has been brought to the 1st London General Hospital, and on two occasions his parents have been summoned because he was thought to be in extremis. He has been in the mental ward and in the padded room, and they are now offering him his free discharge. It would have been offered to him in the presence of his father, but his father, quite rightly and with the support of the head of the institution, protested that if anything was said to recall to him the terrible conditions through which he had come it would be probably disastrous to his existence.

I have verified these facts, having seen all the papers. He is unable to remember anything that happened at his court martial. When he was in a better state of mind than at present he wrote to his father, and said that his mind was a blank on the subject. He does not know whether anyone was there as his friend or his defender, or what evidence was given. That man was condemned to death. I do not want to make any accusation of inhumanity, but that one story alone has convinced me that we have to grapple here with a terror of war which is beyond us in its difficulty and its horror and its possible effect. The matter was brought to the mind of several Members the other day when a soldier came and was received by certain persons in the Lobby. He was a soldier on leave, and apparently healthy, but he began talking in a strange way, saying that he must see a Member from Birmingham before five o'clock, because he was ordered to go into the line at five o'clock to fight the Germans. At one moment he seemed reasonable and sensible, but the next moment he was giving signs of mental aberration. I say without passion that the method of treating these cases, whether at courts-martial or when men report sick to the doctors, has been in adequate, and you must do everything you can to prevent injustice, scandal, ill feeling, and discontent. I pass from that aspect of the question simply with the request that, if possible, the hon. Gentle man will again reconsider what pre cautions should be taken, on what lines men suffering from shell-shock should be treated, and whether they should be sent anywhere near the firing line until they have been under observation for a very considerable period.

I will now say something about the treatment of shell-shock cases in hospital. Here, again, you come upon a problem the gravity and difficulty of which it is impossible to exaggerate. I make every allowance for the baffling circumstances surrounding this problem. There are hundreds of cases, and there will, perhaps, be thousands of cases on your hands before the War is over. How has the War Office treated this matter? They provided far too late special hospitals for treatment. In too many cases they have been treated with ordinary patients or as special cases in general hospitals, and they are still being treated in that way to a far too large an extent. Then there is a number of shell-shock men still in hospital in London, where they are subject to the disconcerting influence of air raids, by which they are likely to be thrown back seriously. At any rate, as far as possible, shell-shocked men should be treated in hospitals outside areas where air raids may take place.

The present policy of the War Office in a large number of cases is practically that of putting these men into lunatic asylums and treating them with the staff of the asylums and making them in most respects lunatic asylum patients without the security and the privileges which lunatics and their friends possess. There is very strong feeling in the country against these men being in lunatic asylums at all. Of course, there would be a still stronger feeling if they were certified as lunatics, but the War Office will not be a party to certifying them as lunatics without the very strongest reason, yet they are treating them in the same way and putting them in lunatic asylums on the certificate of one medical man and the commanding officer. I would like that the hon. Member, if possible, should refer to-morrow in his statement to this point, to which I attach great importance. You do not send even a pauper lunatic to an asylum on such evidance as suffices in the case of the soldier. The pauper lunatic and his friends have the right under the Act of approaching the Commissioners to get the lunatic out, and the right to have constant reports so as to safeguard the liberty of the lunatic. The patient has rights under the Act which prevent him being kept in beyond the time that is absolutely necessary, but in the case of the shell-shocked man who is still under Army discipline there is no process by which he can be got out. This complaint may be raised in quite a number of cases, because the shell-shocked men who may be mentally deranged have lucid intervals, and the periods of delirium and delusion and profound exhaustion and depression are recurrent, just as the symptoms of lunacy are not always constant, but are recurrent. Therefore, the liberties and rights of these men must be thought of. As one who believes that even in wartime there is some sense in the liberty of the subject, and in the right of freedom I do appeal to the hon. Gentleman in this connection.

One more point. There has recently been a Conference held in the War Office at which a section of the medical profession was represented, and there was a proposal in reference to this system. These men should be handed over as soon as possible to the Pensions Ministry. That is the right policy. I know what the feeling in the War Office is— these men may get well and go back to the Army, do light work, gradually get on to heavier work and the War Office will always be against letting men out of their clutches if they can avoid it; but as to shell-shocked men I say give them first a chance of getting well. That can be done by sending them out of the Army to the Pensions Ministry and allowing the Pensions Ministry to do the work which already they have begun, though it has not progressed far enough, of putting these men into convalescent homes in the country, where work appropriate to their faculties and health can be obtained, and where, under conditions not of asylum life but of home life, with work on the land and open-air treatment, they would be restored to civil life much more quickly, with much less cost to the State and with much greater happiness and success for the poor patients themselves. I trust that the hon. Member may give me some assurance on these points in the course of his statement to-morrow.

Amendment not seconded.

Original Question put, and agreed to.