|Royal Parks and Pleasure Gardens||44,000|
|Houses of Parliament Buildings||19,000|
|Miscellaneous Legal Buildings, Great Britain||24,000|
|Art and Science Buildings, Great Britain...||25,000|
|Diplomatic and Consular Buildings||16,000|
|Ministry of Labour, Employment Exchange, and Insurance Buildings, Great Britain||220,000|
|Public Buildings, Great Britain||637,000|
|Surveys of the United Kingdom||55,000|
|Harbours under the Board of Trade||4,000|
|Rates on Government Property||500,000|
|Public Works and Buildings, Ireland||85,000|
|United Kingdom and England: —|
|House of Lords Offices||20,000|
|House of Commons||85,000|
|United Kingdom and England:—|
|Miscellaneous Legal Expenses||22,000|
|Supreme Court of Judicature, etc||135,000|
|Police, England and Wales||50,000|
|Prisons, England and the Colonies||420,000|
|Reformatory and Industrial Schools, Great Britain||170,000|
|Criminal Lunatic Asylums, England||25,000|
|Law Charges and Courts of Law||30,000|
|Scottish Land Court||3,000|
|Register House, Edinburgh Prisons||15,000|
|Law Charges and Criminal Prosecutions||25,000|
|Supreme Court of Judicature, and other Legal Departments Land Commission||45,000|
|County Court Officers, etc.||40,000|
|Dublin Metropolitan Police||65,000|
|Royal Irish Constabulary||675,000|
|Reformatory and Industrial Schools||60,000|
|Dundrum Criminal Lunatic Asylum||4,000|
|United Kingdom and England: —|
|Board of Education||8,000,000|
|National Portrait Gallery||2,000|
|Imperial War Museum||8,000|
|Scientific Investigation, etc.||32,000|
|Department of Scientific and Industrial Research||65,000|
|Universities and Colleges, Great Britain, and Intermediate Education, Wales||110,000|
|Intermediate Education, Ire land||1,000|
|Endowed Schools Commissioners||400|
|Science and Art||30,000|
|Universities and Colleges, Ire land||50,000|
|Diplomatic and Consular Services||350,000|
|Cyprus (Grant in Aid)||49,000|
|Superannuation and Retired Allowances||360,000|
|Hospitals and Charities, Ire land||16,000|
|Ireland Development Grant||180,000|
|Government Hospitality Fund||10,000|
|Old Age Pensions||5,000,000|
|National Health Insurance Joint Committee||300,000|
|National Health Insurant Commission (England)||1,825,000|
|National Health Insurance Commission (Wales)...||117,000|
|National Health Insurance Commission (Scotland)||267,000|
|National Health Insurance Commission (Ireland)||142,000|
|Ministry of Labour||400,000|
|National Insurance Audit Department||50,000|
|Treatment of Tuberculosis (Special Grants)||100,000|
|Highlands and Islands (Medical Service) Board||1,000|
|Ministry of Munitions||100|
|Ministry of Munitions (Ordnance Factories)||10|
|Ministry of Pensions||100|
|Ministry of Food||100|
|Ministry of Shipping||100|
|Ministry of National Service||100|
|Ministry of Reconstruction||100|
|National War Aims Committee||100|
|Revenue Departments: —|
|Customs and Excise||1,400,000|
|Total for Civil Services and Revenue Departments||£45,864,000"|
§ Mr. KING
On a point of Order, Mr. Whitley. I would like to know whether you intend to follow the course which, I understand, is of recent initiation, namely, that when discussion has got on to a number some way down the list you will not allow discussion to go back to any subject or Vote which has a previous number? If that is the course you intend to pursue—it is obvious that it has advantages—will you 'allow hon. Members to convey to you privately, beforehand, the Vote or subjects upon which they wish to raise matters, so that you may be able to call upon them, and not prevent them from speaking by skipping over the Vote on which they wish to speak?
The hon. Member is mistaken in saying that the Rule is a recent one. It is a very ancient Rule; how far it goes back I do not know. It is obviously an arrangement for the orderly conduct of discussion, and I certainly propose to follow that custom. On the second point I have already informed myself, so far as was within my power, of the subjects that hon. Members desire to raise, and I propose, as far as I can, to see hon. Members in an order which will ensure that no one will be shut out from speaking on a subject which would come at an earlier stage.
My object is to maintain the old liberty of the House, and not to restrict it. I think this Rule was devised for that purpose.
§ Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL
The observations I would like to address to the Committee relate to Vote 2A., Class 2, in respect of the War Cabinet, which enables a number of questions of large importance to be raised. In the first place, I would like to address, briefly, a question to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which refers to a matter to which great importance is attached, both in this House and in the country, namely, the presence of great newspaper proprietors as members of the Government, or in quasi-Ministerial positions. I think the general feeling of the House was expressed admirably by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain), in the Debate which took 1410 place recently. He stated the case so fully and so well that it is quite unnecessary for me to add a single word to what was then presented. I would only ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he is in a position to say what steps the Government propose to take in response to what, I think, is undoubtedly the almost unanimous feeling of this House, which has received a widespread response outside. I observed a leading article in the "Times" newspaper on the day following the last Debate, suggesting that the Prime Minister would be well advised to take into account the views that had been expressed by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham. In this connection I would like to make an observation on the fact that a public announcement has been made that the Government have appointed a Director of Propaganda in enemy countries, and that this Director was to be Lord Northcliffe. I am not now raising any question of Lord Northcliffe's fitness or aptitude for that particular work, but I desire to suggest to the Government that surely it is a most inadvisable thing to make a public announcement to the whole world and to the people of Germany that we have appointed a Director who is to carry on propaganda within their own frontiers.
Possibly the Germans may regard Lord Northicliffe, the proprietor of the "Daily Mail" and "Evening News," in much the same light as we may regard Count Reventlow. What should we think if we heard that an official announcement had been made by the German Government that they had appointed Count Reventlow as the Director to carry on propaganda in the United Kingdom and in other Allied countries? We should, in the first place, be somewhat amused, and next we should be amazed. We should say: "What strange people these Germans are, announcing to us and to the world that they intend to carry on propaganda in the United Kingdom and other Allied countries, in order to influence opinion, and, above all men, they have appointed Count Reventlow to direct it." The next effect would be that whenever anyone in this country, no matter how pure his motives might be were to advocate what the Germans would be disposed to regard as a reasonable attitude, say, an attitude tending towards peace by agreement, at once those in this country, taking the other 1411 view, would say: "Ah, here we have the first fruits of the announced appointment of Count Reventlow as the Director of Propaganda in the Entente countries. Your speeches, your letters no doubt are always at his instigation." One can imagine at this day that anyone in Germany who showed a disposition to accept terms that we should regard as reasonable would immediately be attacked by the other school, and would be accused of being in touch with or directed by the Director of Propaganda in enemy countries whom the British Government had publicly announced that they had appointed. Surely this is not the way to carry on operations of that sort. If such operations are necessary, I would suggest that the announcement—again I am not criticising at the moment the individual appointment—of the appointment itself shows an amazing lack of common sense.
A fortnight ago I addressed a speech in this House, I am afraid, at undue length, of which certainly I shall not be guilty to-day, with respect to the work and achievements of the War Cabinet itself. It is a Vote for the War Cabinet which is before the Committee at this moment. I hold very strongly the view, and have held it for some time, that the War Cabinet, as an instrument of government, has not been successful. We have had a new experiment made in methods of administration, and it has not borne the fruit it was expected to bear. The War Cabinet as at present constituted is, in my opinion, a bottle neck, through which an immense amount of Government business has to force itself, with the result that there is prolonged delay. A great part of the work of the Departments is unable to receive adequate attention, and in the words of the Secretary to the Ministry of Food, which I quoted the other day,The few men who are responsible for the conduct of the War have not the time to attend to problems until the acute stage has been reached.Indeed, it seems to me that the six members of the War Cabinet have taken upon themselves a burden of work which the human brain is not competent to cope with. They have to deal at one and the same time with all the problems of the War, military and - naval problems, strategy, foreign policy, negotiations, relations with our Allies, and at the same 1412 time they have to deal with all our domestic problems, man-power, shipbuilding, food control, food production, Ireland, and the conduct of affairs in this House-—all are thrown upon these six men. That is an impossible task to undertake, and I suggested that while those six men, or some of them, undertook the work of conducting the War and naval and military matters, and foreign affairs, the domestic affairs of the United Kingdom and the others which I have mentioned should be in the hands of another body simultaneously, the two of course being in constant consultation and sitting together when occasion required.
Holding that view, I regarded it as my duty to state it to the House, and no suggestions that are made, either here or outside, of ignoble motives will for a moment deter me from doing what I regard as my duty to my Constituents and to this House. Believing that it is essential to state this, it was not enough merely to lay before the House general impressions or vague reports. It was necessary, if the case be a sound one, to prove it, and to prove it by facts; to take the programme which the War Cabinet had set before it at its inception, to go through it point by point, and to see how far, after fourteen months, it had fulfilled that task. I claim that I have shown that in almost every province of work, man-power, food production, shipbuilding, ironstone mining, brewing, and finance in addition, the prospects which were held out have not been fulfilled, and that the performance is very far short of the promise.
The Leader of the House was good enough at once to offer a comprehensive reply to my speech. That reply has been regarded in many quarters as a complete one, and as disposing, if not of the whole, at all events of the greater part of the case. To-day I would venture to recur to the matter, and to examine briefly whether that really is so. I have had a little time during which I have been able to examine closely and carefully the right hon. Gentleman's speech. In the first place he said that, after all, it was not of very great importance whether or not the original programme was fulfilled, and for his part he would rather have a Prime Minister who was an optimist and set things rather too high at the outset than one Who was a pessimist and who was lacking in energy, or words to that effect I think that would be a very un- 1413 happy dilemma for a country to be placed in if it were limited to such a choice as that. Let us come, however, to the right hon. Gentleman's specific answers to my specific points. In dealing with man-power, he said:By Government machinery we placed in employment in civil life at home 731,000"—These are, I suppose, men—and we placed 804,000 women in industrial life at home."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th February, 1918, col. 133.]That of course implies, and was generally understood to mean, that the Government had been able to draw upon sources of labour in the country, and had brought in afresh about 730,000 men and 804,000 women to add to the productive capacity of the country, and that that had been the result of their efforts in man-power. Since the right hon. Gentleman spoke, the February number of the "Labour Gazette" has been published by the Labour Department, which gives the work of the Labour Exchanges for the year 1917, and I find that the figures given correspond almost exactly with those given by the right hon. Gentleman. In case I am wrong in saying that those are the figures which he was quoting, I should be greatly obliged if he would correct me, but I gather that he said that they were. We all know that the Labour Exchanges have been in operation for many years. They bring into employment a small number of additional persons, recently chiefly women, who have not previously been in industrial work, but their chief work, and a very useful function it is, is to transfer workers who leave one employment to some other employment. They enable a man to go, say, from a shipyard on the Tyne to a shipyard on the Tees, or, in these days, from a Government Office in Whitehall to a Government Office, say, at Millbank, and the Labour Exchange figures for last year show that "the number of vacancies which they have filled was 745,000 men and boys and 810,000 women and girls, or a total of 1,555,000. In the previous year the figure was 1,557,000, which is almost precisely the same. So if the right hon. Gentleman had said, "With respect to man-power, the Labour Exchanges last year were working as they worked the year before, and have filled within a thousand or two the same number of vacancies," he would have given the House and the country a correct impression, but as he said, 1414We placed in employment in civil life at home 731,000 men and 804,000 women,'I suggest that he gave to the House and to the country a wrong impression.
With regard to the Army, the figure, I think, on the whole, was remarkable and satisfactory—820,000 had been placed in the Army. It is true that that is only about two-thirds of the number that was placed in the Army the year before, but that was to be expected, because, naturally, as the War proceeds the number available for service in the Army necessarily decreases. The figures which he gave with regard to the production of guns and aeroplanes, neither of which matters I had raised, must be regarded as very satisfactory. With regard to food production, and the work that has been done by the Ministers of Agriculture in the three countries in bringing additional land under cultivation, he was able to give us additional figures, showing that there would be a further increase this year. But still the figures he gave show, even if they are realised, that we shall be very far short of the 3,000,000 additional acres of land which the Prime Minister told the country, some time ago, was the programme which the Government desired to see carried out. When we come to shipbuilding the situation is far less satisfactory, and nothing that was said by the Chancellor of the Exchequer has been able, unhappily, to put it in a more favourable light. I quoted the speech made in April last year by the Prime Minister, and then I quoted the speech made in this House in August. In that second speech he said that we should build in this country, in the second six months of 1917, 1,100,000 tons of shipbuilding, and should purchase from abroad 330,000 tons. The actual production was 679,000 tons, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave us the purchases from abroad as 170,000, which was only half what it was anticipated would be bought. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that if we had been able to buy all the shipping which was expected to come from America the figures would have been much nearer to the original estimate. But the original estimate given by the Prime Minister at the Guildhall did not relate to purchases of ships at all; they related to ships built in this country. He said, "We are building ships," and he gave the figures. When the Chancellor of the. Exchequer, in answer to my criticism, said that America had come 1415 into the War, and was now retaining her own ships instead of sending them here, I suggest that he was giving no answer at all, but was contributing something that was really irrelevant.
In this connection I would like to quote a recent statement of the First Lord of the Admiralty, which was made to the Associated Press of America, and was printed in the "Times" of February 2nd, and will be within the minds of hon. Members. He said:All the curves continue to bend in the right direction. The destruction of Allied shipping decreases steadily; the construction of merchant shipping increases steadily; sinking o£ German submarines is steadily rising.That was a very reassuring statement which was welcomed generally, as showing that matters with regard to the submarine campaign and shipbuilding were in a satisfactory state. But let us see what the situation is. With regard to sinking, take the number of ships of 1,600 tons and over, the figures, as published and as amended from time to time by the Admiralty, show that in the month of October there were sunk thirteen per week; in November an average of 10.5 per week; in December, fifteen per week. In January we had, comparatively, a very good month, and sinking declined to 7.5. For the week ending 9th February the figure was thirteen, and for the week ending 16th February it was ten. So there is no steadiness about the curve at all. If you look at the actual curve, which was printed in the "Manchester Guardian" a week or so ago, you will see that it shows the most amazing fluctuations up and down all the time. As a matter of fact the figure of the last two weeks is precisely the same as the average for the period of four months, ll½per week, so that while we should have very much rejoiced, if it were the case, that the curve was going steadily down, as a matter of fact it was, on the average, really a straight line.
With respect to the construction of merchant shipping, the First Lord of the Admiralty said, on 2nd February, that the construction of merchant shipping was increasing steadily, but the Secretary to the Ministry of Shipping gave us some figures in the House on the 19th February, in answer to a question by the hon. Member for Liverpool. He gave the figures of vessels of 1,600 tons gross and upwards completed in the United Kingdom and 1416 brought into service for the previous three months, during which time, presumably, the First Lord of the Admiralty said that the curve was steadily increasing. The figures were for November, 130,000 tons (gross): December, 115,000 tons; and January, 55,000 tons. And we were told yesterday by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blackfriars, in a very frank speech, that in February the indications were that it would be no better. That is a most grave state of things, that in three months the production of tonnage completed should go steadily down from 130,000 tons to 55,000 tons. In February we are told by a member of the War Cabinet that there would be no appreciable improvement, and, at this very time, on the 2nd February, the First Lord of the Admiralty published to the whole world that the curve of shipbuilding at home is steadily rising. It is perhaps not very surprising that shipbuilding should have proved so exceedingly unsatisfactory during the last few months for this reason, that the matter has been transferred to one Department after another. In December, 1916, it was supervised by the Board of Trade, who had the whole matter in hand. Then it was transferred to the new Ministry of Shipping, and, after a few months, it was transferred again to the Admiralty, and put in the hands of the Controller of the Navy; so that, within a period of less than twelve months, this vital matter, full of complications—having relations with many other Departments dealing with a score of different problems—has been in the hands of no fewer than three Government Departments, of which two, at least, had to learn the whole of the conditions of the problem. In these circumstances it is not very surprising that the Prime Minister's guarantee—for that was the word he used—in April, 1917, has not been fulfilled, and that the shortage is very great. What the country resents most of all is being continually misled by unduly optimistic speeches. We are very eager, naturally we all are, to hear things that are comforting, if they are true; but I think the House and the country have grave reason to complain that the First Lord of the Admiralty, the man responsible for this, should publicly tell us, as he told the American Associated Press, that the curve of the shipbuilding is steadily increasing, when, as a matter of fact, it is steadily decreasing.
1417 I next come to the point in the right hon. Gentleman's speech on shipbuilding where he said that not only was shipbuilding increasing,, but a better use was being made of the ships. He said that in three months, September, October, and November, we actually imported precisely the same amount as we were able to import in February, March, and April earlier in the year. He went on to say:Let me give the House two facts to show the result of what has been done in the use of ships. In spite of the diminution of ships, in spite of the fact that we have lent 1,500,000 gross tons to the Allies for their use, in the three months—I have not the figures for December—but in the three months, September, October, and November, we actually imported precisely the same amount as we were able to import from February, March, and April earlier in the year. Before the War every 100 tons net of shipping which came into this country brought 106 tons of goods. Now, by the arrangements which have been made to utilise every inch of space, and by taking the best method of loading, the average for every 100 tons net of shipping into this country is 150 tons of goods. When you look at all these things, I am not praising myself nor the War Cabinet, when I say that any fair-minded man looking at the difficulties will say that, on the whole, what has been achieved is more remarkable than the failures which have been met with in the attempt to achieve it.The impression left on the mind of every one of us was that the Ministry of Shipping—and we all have very great confidence in the Controller of Shipping, and we are not blaming him in regard to the shipbuilding programme, as the mutter was taken out of his hands in the early part of last year—the impression left on the mind of the House was that under the arrangements of the Ministry of Shipping 150 tons of goods were brought into the country, whereas previously only 106 tons were brought in. We were very greatly impressed by that. My attention was drawn to a letter in the "Times," a few days ago, from the Chairman of the Liverpool Shipowners' Association, Mr. Harrison Hughes, who stated that this process has been going on from the beginning of the War, and that it was quite true that before the War each 100 tons of shipping brought in 106 tons of goods, but that by 31st January, 1915, it was bringing 138 tons; by 31st July, 1915, 142 tons.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
I am coming to the point. On 31st January, 1916, the figure was 147 tons. I asked Mr. Harrison Hughes to give me the later figures, and he was good enough to send them to me. Up to 31st July, 1916, the figure was 152 tons, and for the following six months 143 tons. Although the right hon. Gentleman quoted the figure of 106 tons being the figure before the War, his statement in justification of the War Cabinet and of the Ministry of Shipping undoubtedly left the impression that these figures had been, if not wholly, at all events mainly, quite recent. Let me put it again in this way: If the right hon. Gentleman had said that all through the War the shipping had been put to much more profitable use, and that already in 1916, it was carrying 150 tons to each 100 tons of shipping, and that this same figure was now being maintained by the Ministry of Shipping, he would have given a correct impression, but it would not in any way have been an answer to my contention; but having stated only one figure of what we are doing, namely 150 tons for each 100 tons of shipping, and not saying anything about what happened in between, I am afraid I must say again that he gave quite a wrong impression. My next point was with respect to the production of beer. I quoted the Prime Minister, who spoke in this House in February, 1917. He said, speaking of the number of barrels brewed, that we had to cut down the 18,000,000 barrels then in contemplation. He said:It is absolutely impossible for us to guarantee the food of this country without making a further and very much deeper cut into the barrelage of the country, and we must reduce it to 10,000,000 barrels. That means that you will save nearly 600.000 tons of foodstuffs per annum, and that, is nearly a month's supply of ce'cals for this country.I pointed out that instead of reducing it to 10,000,000 from 18,000,000 the figure was 15,500,000. I find that I was wrong, because a later figure was given by the Ministry of Food, which showed that it was 16,133,000. While the Prime Minister said that it was essential to reduce the amount from 18,000,000 to 10,000,000, and that he could not guarantee the food of the country unless that was done, we find that the reduction is only from 18,000,000 to 16,000,000, or one-fourth of what the Prime Minister said was essential. What was the Chancellor of the Exchequer's answer to that? It was the only answer that could be given to it—silence. His silence gave consent. He said not a word in his speech from beginning to end with 1419 respect to brewing, and similarly with respect to the production of ironstone. I quoted the Prime Minister as having said that he had made such arrangements that we would get 4,000,000 tons of ore in addition to what we were then getting out of the country, thereby saving an equivalent amount of imports. I pointed out that, comparing January of this year with the month of January in 1917, the output showed an increase of about 1,000,000 tons. I mentioned that in my own Constituency after the Prime Minister's speech that £75,000 or £70,000 had been spent on building huts for some 2,000 miners, and that not one of these huts had been inhabited from that day to this by any miner. The whole of that money, therefore, has been pure waste, while the output of ironstone has been increased by calling from the Colours 500 men, though several hundred others were not released. Here, again, the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave no answer of any kind to the contention that I advanced. Lastly, in regard to finance, I pointed out that on the figures last given there was shown an enormous increase in the daily expenditure of this country during the period of fourteen months. To that the Chancellor of the Exchequer replied that after all estimates were frequently wrong. He said:The erroneous estimate in the year before I undertook this office amounted to something like £350,000,000. I doubt very much whether the error this year will be much in excess of that. It will be in excess, but I doubt if it will be much in excessWhat are the facts? I asked my right hon. Friend the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, and he told me that while he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, when only two-thirds of the year had elapsed, I think 253 days had elapsed, the increase on the estimate had been £140,000,000, very nearly entirely due to the advances to our Allies having been more than had been anticipated when the estimate was put forth. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has to make his estimate on the basis of the circumstances of the time, and my right hon. Friend had to provide for an additional £140,000,000 during the time he was Chancellor of the Exchequer mainly in consequence of unforeseen demands by our Allies. If that rise had continued the addition to his estimate would have been £200,000,000 for the whole year. It was, in fact, £372,000,000, so that the additional 1420 £172,000,000 was due to the time of my right hon. Friend opposite—about four months. This year the Budget Estimate was £2,290,000,000, and my right hon. Friend has told us that it would be exceeded by more than £350,000,000, and if we say that it is exceeded by £400,000,000, that will bring the total this year to £2,700,000,000. The expenditure for the previous year, at the rate of expenditure which was going on at the time that the change of Government took place, was £2,016,000,000 for the year. Those are the two figures which are comparable so far as we at present know the figures for the present financial year. In the last financial year the expenditure of my right hon. Friend the late Chancellor of the Exchequer was at the rate of £2,016,000,000 per year, while the present expenditure is at the rate of £2,700,000,000 per year, or thereabouts. What we asked was, What were the causes for this colossal increase in expenditure in so short a period, an increase of about a third in fourteen months? About £100,000,000 of it is clearly justified and necessary, as, owing to the increase of the National Debt, my right hon. Friend, as I stated in my previous speech, has to provide for a considerably larger debt, and the additional interest may be regarded as about £100,000,000; but the other £600,000,000 is quite unaccounted for, particularly in view of the fact that we no longer have to maintain the financial and military effort of Russia. If we had we should be all the more pleased and not grudge the expenditure, but as it is we should expect that the expenditure would go down. The only explanation given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer was that the ration strength of the Army had been increased by 17 per cent. That certainly would not account for an increase of 30 per cent. on the whole of our expenditure. If the right hon. Gentleman had been able to say that the fighting strength of the Army had been increased by 17 per cent., I think the House would have received that with even greater satisfaction, for one of the chief defects of our military organisation is the great disproportion between the ration strength—that is to say, the whole body of men enrolled in the Army who have to be paid and fed—and the number who are able to be put into the fighting line. The two cannot, of course, coincide. The ration strength must be much larger than the fighting strength, but from figures that 1421 have been given in this House, I think usually in Secret Session, the House is well aware that there is a very great disproportion. If the right hon. Gentleman had said that, without increasing the ration strength, he had been able to maintain or increase the fighting strength, we should all have been very glad. But the fact that the ration strength has been increased by 17 per cent. may only show that there has been laxity of administration, and that men have been brought into the Army who ought not to have been brought into it, and that men are still being retained in the Army who unquestionably, in the interests of economy, ought to be discharged from it.
I have traversed again the ground which I followed the other day and over which the right hon. Gentleman pursued me. I think I have said enough dealing with the several points in answer to the Chancellor of the Exchequer's speech on man-power, and shipbuiding, and brewing, and ironstone, and finance, and other matters, to show that the Chancellor's reply was, perhaps, not quite so complete or so conclusive as at first sight and before examination it may have appeared. In conclusion, I desire to turn very briefly to an entirely different matter, and again merely to put a question to the Chancellor of the Exchequer which I hope he may be able to answer. It is to ask him what steps the Government propose to take in respect to a matter of great importance, namely, the supply of petroleum in this country? I know that there is a great deal of scepticism in many quarters as to the actual existence of petroleum in these Islands, and whether it is worth while pursuing it. On that I have, of course, no expert knowledge at all, but I believe it is the case that a great firm, with probably a larger knowledge of this question of oil, or at any rate as large a know ledge, as any firm in the world, have advised—
Mr. PR INGLE
On a point of Order. I do not desire to interrupt my right hon. Friend, but I wish to have it made clear as to whether it is in order, on the War Cabinet Vote, to raise a question of this kind, because it has been indicated earlier that other questions cannot be so raised?
The right hon. Gentleman is perhaps letting his illustra- 1422 tions overbalance his text. On this item of the Vote we should only discuss questions to which the Leader of the House can reply. Departmental matters to which other Ministers than the Chancellor of the Exchequer are the persons competent to make replies should be raised on the items dealing with the Departments. I understood that the right hon. Gentleman's interrogatories were by way of illustration of his criticisms of the War Cabinet, but it will be quite clear that any Departmental answers to those questions must wait, and any Debate on those questions must wait until we reach the actual items for the Department concerned.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
Perhaps you, Sir, oar the Chancellor of the Exchequer, can tell me to whom this question should be addressed, if not to him, as representing the War Cabinet? I do not know what Department is dealing with this question of petroleum. We have had speeches on it from the Secretary of State for the Colonies, from the Civil Lord of the Admiralty, and, I believe, from the Ministry of Munitions. Six months have elapsed and nothing in fact has been done. If you could tell me on what Vote it would be proper to raise the question, I should not, of course, detain the House any longer on it now, but I should have thought it was a matter for the War Cabinet and for the Leader of the House. If there is any Departmental Minister who is responsible, then I can address the question to him.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
If I reserve my remarks on this subject until we reach the Vote for the Ministry of Munitions, I do not want to be told that they cannot decide these matters, and that they are questions of policy which have to be dealt with by the War Cabinet. In all probability that is the position in which the Financial Secretary may find himself. If he can rise now and assure me that that is not so, and that he will be able to speak as to the course to betaken by the Government, I will sit down.
In so far as the decision of the War Cabinet is concerned, the right hon. Gentleman is quite right in putting his question, but the details must be dealt with on the Vote of the Department affected.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
Every Departmental question is really now decided by the War Cabinet, and would it not be better to take the whole discussion on the Vote for the War Cabinet, especially in view of the fact that so many of these questions are dealt with inter-Department-ally?
I really do not think that that would be to the advantage of hon. Members. We can, I think, dispose of the relations of the War Cabinet to the other Departments of the Government on this occasion, and we can then proceed to take each Department in its turn.
This question of petroleum was dealt with by a Bill which was introduced by the Government and not proceeded with. Can anyone answer on that point as to why the Bill was not proceeded with, except the Leader of the House, and that is the point, I presume, which the right hon. Gentleman was about to mention.
That is with respect to legislation, but I am informed that the question of administration lies in the hands of the Ministry of Munitions.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
Last night I raised a question on the Ministry of Munition's Vote relating to priority, and I was told that there was a War Cabinet Committee on priority which dealt with all these questions. If I desire to illustrate my arguments in that way, will I not be in order in asking the Leader of the House, as representing the War Cabinet, for a reply?
§ Mr. PRINGLE
Priority in regard to all sorts of materials for war purposes, for national purposes and ordinary purposes.
In that case the hon. Member would be entitled to put the matter to the Leader of the House.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
This discussion on the point of Order precisely illustrates my main contention. We have always been 1424 accustomed to have Ministers in this House who are responsible for the policy of their own Departments. Now none of the heads of Departments, except the Chancellor of the Exchequer, is a member of the Cabinet, and all of them have to yield on questions of policy to the decisions of the War Cabinet. Continually when we have raised questions here and asked the Minister, who in the old days would have been responsible, and would have been fitted and able to reply, we are told by him that he is unable to answer as the matter is before the War Cabinet, or that the War Cabinet is deciding the question of policy. This question of petroleum, to which I am now coming, is precisely one of those which I think undoubtedly must come before the War Cabinet for its decision. I was saying that a firm with probably as large, or even more expert knowledge than any other in the world, had advised, and that very distinguished geologists were convinced that there are large deposits of petroleum within these islands. Not only are they convinced of it, but they are prepared to support their opinion by risking some hundreds of thousands of pounds of their own money in the effort to obtain it. That being so, the Government recognised, particularly in time of war, that it was desirable, and, indeed, necessary, to take steps to enable this oil to be obtained, especially in view of the present difficulties of transport and the great dearth of petroleum for many purposes. [An HON. MEMBER: "Which is the firm?"] Pearsons. The Government thereupon introduced a Bill, and told the House that it was a matter of urgency that this oil must be obtained, and that it was very essential to avoid competitive borings, which in America and elsewhere had proved extremely wasteful, and that the whole thing ought to be in the hands of the Government, or the licensees of the Government. They proposed, therefore, to take the power to declare oil to be national property, and to limit boring to the Government and their licensees. They also proposed to pay a royalty to the owners of the surface of 9d. per ton for petroleum, which should be got or obtained.
The Bill was introduced as long ago as 15th August, 1917. No attempt was made to progress with it until October, when a financial Resolution was rejected by the House on the question of royalties. An Amendment was adopted by the House 1425 against the payment of royalties to the surface owners who had done nothing to obtain the oil, who did not know it was there, and who had risked none of their own money in the getting of it. The Financial Resolution proposed that there should be an unearned increment of 9d. per ton on the oil obtained by the Government and its licensees paid to the surface owners. The House would not accept it, and was of opinion that oil ought to be treated like gold, silver, and saltpetre, the property in which rests in the Crown, save that with respect to saltpetre the landlord has a right of digging if he wishes to do so. After that Amendment to the Financial Resolution in October nothing was done for two months, and in December the Bill was dropped. It is now six months afterwards, and still nothing has been done to ascertain whether oil does exist in this country and can be obtained in commercial quantities. I want to ask the Government what their proposals are in respect to this matter, which is of very great national importance. In my own view, no satisfactory steps can be taken under the Defence of the Realm Regulations, because they will lapse at the end of the War, and the money which has been spent in digging the wells will, of course, then be in a very precarious position; the surface owners might perhaps obtain the benefit of it all. An hon. Friend reminds me of the Acquisition of Land Act, but I am not sure that that Act applies. If it does it would meet my point. There is another point, and that is that nothing would be done to stop that competitive boring which has been so enormously wasteful in America. Whenever one property owner finds oil his neighbours spend their capital in sinking oil wells, and five wells are sunk in order to do the work which one would be well able to accomplish. All experts, including Government experts, are strongly of opinion that whatever is done that fatal mistake should not be made, and that the evils which have occurred in other countries should not be repeated here. Under the Defence of the Realm Act that cannot be prevented. It is not in order now to discuss legislation. I made a suggestion to the Government some months ago that the original Royalty Clause should not be put into the Bill, and that we should see whether the measure could not be allowed to go through as uncontroversial legislation, a Clause to be put into the Bill declaring 1426 that the question of royalties shall be held over for determination by Parliament when the War is over, but neither asserting nor denying the right to royalty. Such a Bill, I think, could have gone through with the almost unanimous assent of the House. These are the points on which I hope the Government will be able to give me some reply.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
My right hon. Friend began by saying that he did not believe in the present system of Cabinet government, and that in spite of the charges which he believed to be made against him, because of his speech the other day, he felt it his duty to make the same criticisms again. But I never made any charge; I never complained; I only pointed out with regard to his previous speech that the whole tone of it —and, I think, the same applies to this speech—indicates a complete want of confidence in the Government in the carrying on of the War. If that is so, I think it right to repeat what I said before, that, in a time of war, this is not the right method. If the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends really hold the view which he has expressed to-day, then it is their duty openly, not to be willing to wound and afraid to strike, but openly to declare it, and try and get a change in the Government. I will say this further, that, until they do that, if they recognise, as I am sure my right hon. Friend does, that this country is in a very dangerous position, and that there must be someone to carry on the Government, until they are prepared to openly challenge the existence of this Government and to change it for another, they should not indulge in criticisms intended to weaken it. I really do not want to be unduly controversial; it is a matter of opinion. If the criticism is intended to encourage the Government to do better, well and good; but if it is intended to suggest that the Government is incompetent and ought to be changed, then this is not the right way to go about it. My right hon. Friend's speech to-day, as that on the previous occasion, reminded me of an experience we all had when we were boys, although, perhaps, some were lucky enough to escape it. That experience was that when a certain measure of discipline became necessary it was the frequent habit of the teacher in charge to say that it hurt him more than it did the boy. I believe that 1427 has been rather abandoned in modern schools, and I think it was wise to abandon it, for the boys never believed it. In listening to my right hon. Friend I had a feeling that he, like the schoolmaster, was rather enjoying the chastisement which he was inflicting. The House will see at once that it is rather difficult to deal with a great variety of subjects like those in regard to which the right hon. Gentleman has had plenty of time to prepare his case. It is rather difficult to deal with them effectively in answer to a speech like that, but I will do my best. I am sure I will be guilty of one offence charged against roe, and that is silence, because I cannot hope to cover all the ground which has been dealt with by him, but I will cover as much as possible, and will take the subjects, as far as I can remember them, in a definite order.
I will begin with the one he referred to last—the question of petroleum. It is not the case that the Government are doing nothing about that. It is perfectly true that we believed that the most effective way to deal with it was by legislation. But the Government were defeated on their Bill in a House of fewer than one hundred Members. We should not have regarded that as decisive at all, but there was undoubtedly a strong feeling about the use of the word "royalty," and a fear that we were starting a new principle of royalties. We appointed a Committee—a very competent Committee it was—to decide what was the best method of dealing with the matter. That Committee, in the end, came to the conclusion that, for the period of the War, what was wanted could be obtained under the Defence of the Realm Regulations and without legislation. If legislation is necessary, I would like to point out to my right hon. Friend that it is not so simple a proposition as he puts it. His suggestion is that a Bill be introduced giving no royalties now, but leaving the. question of royalties to be settled by the House of Commons subsequently. When this was discussed by the Committee to which I have referred either by my right hon. Friend himself or someone was consulted by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. All that we wanted was, if possible, to get some agreement which would avoid controversy and enable this work to be done. What was suggested by my right 1428 hon. Friend was that the question of legal right, whatever it was to-day in this matter, should be left over to be decided by a Commission of Judges at the end of the War. That obviously is a not unfair proposition. If there is no legal right, of course the judges would so decide, and if there is a legal right, it is a rather strong measure to destroy it by the action you take now. So far as the Government were concerned, all we wanted was to get this through without controversy. It is not the kind of question on which the Government would wish to raise controversy. The Bill would have been equally difficult to carry through the House, either in the form we suggested or in the form suggested by my right hon. Friend, as it would have raised great hostility in either case. If, of course, there had been no other way of dealing with it, we should have had to face it, but this Committee to which I have alluded came to the conclusion that, for the period of the War, we might get the work done without legislation, and I am still convinced that that is true. My right hon. Friend speaks as if there has been a great loss of time. I do not think that is the case. There is in this country now no machinery suitable for boring, but the machinery is being brought here and by the firm to which my right hon. Friend alluded, leaving the question by whom it is to be employed to stand over. Personally I have not had an opportuniy of having any conversation with representatives of that firm, who, I believe, are probably the most competent to deal with the matter. I do not believe that they will refuse to act as the agents of the State, in trying to find out whether this oil is there or not, when it is explained that that is the way in which the work ought to be done, but if they were to take that attitude, however good they may be—they are not the only people—and by other means we will find out whether or not the oil is here and if it is we will get the benefit of it. I do not think there has been any delay for which we are greatly to blame. Let us look at the other subjects raised by my right hon. Friend. He found fault with what I said about man-power. He does not deny that the words I used were absolutely accurate, but he complained, because the work was done by the Labour Exchanges, that I had no right to speak as if it were done by the Department of National Service. The House knows that 1429 for this purpose the Labour Exchanges are now being used by the Department of National Service.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the DEPARTMENT of NATIONAL SERVICE (Mr. Beck)
About eight months.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
It is obvious I cannot be informed on a detail like that. All that I said with regard to it was that it had been done by Government agency, and that these numbers of men and women had been placed. Afterwards I made inquiries as to the methods adopted, and I am convinced that the Labour Exchanges are being used more effectively for this purpose than was the case before. I should like to say this to the House: My right hon. Friend assumed that in every case where I made a comparison, and that comparison was between now and the pre-war period, that I was therefore making a charge against the previous Government. I was doing nothing of the kind. All that I was attempting to do was to show that the Government are doing their best and that on the whole that best is not bad. I did not go beyond that. Now we come to the question of food production. My right hon. Friend was good enough to say that he rather praised us for what we had done. He also said the figures are not going to come up to the estimate given by the Prime Minister That is true. Our hopes have, to some extent, been disappointed. I am not going to repeat the figures, but I am going to state to the House that ' whatever our expectations may have been, however high our hopes may have been, the result is a great result, and is one that this country has reason to be proud of, whatever the agency which has brought it about. I will say also to my right hon. Friend that you cannot have the criticism all on one side. I ask the House to remember what was the attitude of that bench when the Bill which he is now praising was going through. Did they help us? And when, later on, we found that the production of potatoes had been so successful that the price was well below the guarantee, all the assistance we got from that bench was not to point out that we had produced this food, but to hamper us with all sorts of criticism 1430 about the way in which the price was being dealt with. I come, again, to the question of shipping. The right hon. Gentleman does not deny that the result is pretty good. His case is that it falls so far below the estimate of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. I think that is really unfair to the right hon. Gentleman who is sitting beside him (Mr. Rumanian). I quoted, in a previous Debate, an estimate made by the right hon. Gentleman in November, 1916, as to what the output of ships would be in the second half of that year. The right hon. Gentleman gave his estimate then in November as 500,000 tons.
The right hon. Gentleman is wrong. What I said in November was that I hoped by the end of the year it would approach 500,000 tons. The error in the estimate, if there was one, was an error of 160,000 tons for the whole twelve months, while the error made in the estimate referred to by the right hon. Gentleman was one of over],000,000 tons.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I do not quite accept that. I have the exact words here, and I will read what the right hon. Gentleman said in the House:I do not Bee any reason why our six months' output should not approach-—
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
500,000 tons, which is a very large advance on what we expected.As a matter of fact, the output not for the six months but for the whole year approached 500,000 tons, and was, I think, 516,000 tons, or something like that, whereas the estimate for the six months was very much below the figure of the right hon. Gentleman.
If the right hon. Gentleman wants to make a comparison the actual output for the six months, as given by the Ministry of Shipping, was 340,000 tons. What I said in November was that I hoped it would approach 500,000 tons, an error, if there was an error, of 160,000 tons, in comparison with something like 1,000,000 tons in respect of the right hon. Gentleman's estimate.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
An error of 160,000 tons in an estimate for a period which had less than two months to run ! An error of 30 per cent. ! I think it is very unfair of the right hon. Gentleman to compel this 1431 sort of criticism. Everybody who is responsible for the Government knows that estimates of that kind are given by Departments which are very likely to turn out far wrong—and I think it is very much like hypercriticism to look at every word a minister says—and when the results do not come up to expectations to turn round and say, "You misled the House." As regards the actual result, let me remind the House what it was. In 1916—remember, any far-seeing man would have known that our danger was going to be in having tonnage, that if the War lasted that was going to be our weak spot—in 1916 our total production of ships was only 516,000 tons.' In 1917 I asked the House to remember that there was a far greater shortage of men, a far greater shortage of raw material, a far greater need for steel in every direction, and in 1917 the production rose to over 1,100,000 tons. That surely is not ground for com plaint against the Government that was existing in 19171 Then the right hon. Gentleman talked about some figures given by the Prime Minister, in which he spoke of the ships bought and built abroad. The right hon. Gentleman spoke to-day as if I referred to ships we were going to buy abroad. It was nothing of the kind. We had arranged in America for the building of a very large tonnage of ships—I am speaking from memory, but I think I am right—of something like 700,000 tons. That would have been added to our Fleet but for the fact that America came into the War and naturally took them for her own service, and they are now available for the whole of the Allies. Then the right hon. Gentleman said something which really surprised me. He found fault with the present First Lord of the Admiralty because he had given too optimistic statements to the House. It is a fact, as I am sure anyone who looks into it will find, that the First Lord of the Admiralty has felt his responsibility in the. matter to the full, and that in every statement he has made to. the House he has warned us of the dangers and has tried as far as he could to put the exact facts, and by no means to put an optimistic colour on them. The right hon. Gentleman refers to a speech that the First Lord of the Admiralty made on the 2nd February
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
—an interview— and he finds fault with the result of that, 1432 not by what the position was on the 2nd of February, but by what it has become now. My right hon. Friend made no prophecy about the future. [An HON. MEMBER: "Yes, he did!"] He gave the facts as they were, and let me tell the House what those facts are. It is all very well to say you are not to be too optimistic, and I agree with that. I would like the people of this country to realise how serious it is, and not to realise too much the efforts we have made to meet the difficulty, but what are the facts? What my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty stated was that over an extended period the curves, taking into account the destruction of our ships, the destruction of the submarines, and the replacement by new ships, were tending in our favour. That is literally true. The worst month of last year was April. From that time there was a gradual and, on the whole, a steady falling-off in the loss of British ships. It is quite true—and the First Lord of the Admiralty has more than once warned the House and country not to judge by short periods—that a period of two or three good weeks is often followed by a period of two or three bad ones, but at the time the First Lord spoke he was justified in saying that, looking at the general position, the curve was tending in our favour. Let me give the House the best proof, without giving figures, of the truth of the statement I have just made. If you take the last four months of 1916 and compare them with the last four months of 1917 and remember that in 1910 the intensive submarine warfare had not begun and that in 1917 we had it in full blast, when I tell the House that taking the losses of merchant ships and in addition the new ships which were constructed, the net loss was less in the four months ending 1917 than in the four months ending 1916, then it will see what has been by the Admiralty in this respect.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
Tonnage. The right hon. Gentleman dwelt on the falling-off in shipbuilding during the present year. The House saw by the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackfriars (Mr. Barnes) that the Government recognise that, and are not trying to conceal it in any way. It is quite true that the output of shipbuilding in January and, to some in February, has been very disappointing. It has been due largely to labour trouble. It has been considered both by the Admiralty and by the Cabinet, 1433 It is partly due, in addition to labour trouble, to this: that there was a larger amount of repair work going on in these months than had been contemplated. I saw that this was so relevant to the question that I obtained the figures, and, as a matter of fact, the percentage of men and material employed in repair work last month was nearly 40 per cent. greater than six months ago. That accounts for part, but it does not account for the whole, and we had already in the Government come to the conclusion—with which I am sure the House will agree— that one of the best methods to put this right—and it is vital that it should be put right—and perhaps the only method, is to let the people of the country, and particularly let the men in the shipyards, know the real position, and how serious that position is. As the House knows—I do not think I am saying anything which I ought not to say, or which has not been said before—one of the main reasons why the losses
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the ADMIRALTY (Dr. Macnamara)
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
Yes, the tonnage losses—because tonnage is the only thing which really matters—have not been published, is that in all this we have to act with our Allies, and in this matter they take the view that it is better not to publish that. We are taking the matter up again, but in any case, whether we find it possible to give the losses in full in tonnage or not, we do intend to take such steps as will bring home to the men in the shipyards that what they are doing now, and will be doing in the next few months is as vital as what is being done in the lines at the front, and I am convinced that if we can make them realise that we shall have the same result that was produced in the munitions factories, and that there will be no further complaint of falling-off in shipbuilding because the men are not working as hard as they might.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
Not at all. Far from men being taken out, more are being added every day. Do not let the hon. Member or the House imagine that these vital things are escaping the notice of those who are responsible. Let me point out as an example—it has just occurred to 1434 me, after what the hon. Gentleman has said—of the constant effort on the part of the National Service Department, that they have made arrangements for housing miners in Northumberland and Durham, so as to enable them to work in the shipyards on the Wear and the Tyne. That has already been done to some extent; I can assure the House that everything that can be done in that direction is being done, and that it is not the fault of the National Service Department or the Admiralty if the full output of ships is not secured. The right hon. Gentleman praised the work of the Shipping Controller. There is nothing more to be said in that Department. The right hon. Gentleman found fault with me, as I have pointed out, because I referred to the increase in the amount of cargo imported now and before the War. I really did not attach much importance to that. It is due to many causes, but it is one of the facts of the situation which it is surely right to put before the House. If the House wants something which gives more definitely the effectiveness with which our ships are being controlled, I can give figures which I think will do it. At the end of last year the British tonnage available was reduced, as compared with the previous year, by no less than 20 per cent. Yet in spite of that reduction the imports into this country last year, as compared with the previous year, and with the tonnage available reduced by 20 per cent., were only reduced by 2 per cent.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
Weight. All I ask the House to do is to realise that all that kind of thing means a great deal of hard, work. I have had a very good opportunity of watching the way in which this Department has acted, and, so far as I can judge, every ship now under the British flag is being put to national use as if it were part of a fleet of an owner who is running the fleet for his own advantage, and more than that I cannot say. The question of beer was raised. There is no mystery about it. Not only the Prime Minister, but the whole of the Government thought that we ought to reduce the barrelage to 10,000,000 barrels. We may have been right or wrong, but we told the House over and over again what was the reason. In spite of the strong views of many of my hon. Friends who think that beer is better not 1435 drunk at all, the information which reached us from every quarter indicated to us that the difficulty of asking men who have been accustomed to get beer and found they could not get it was one of the causes of the unrest in the country.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I really do not know what the Commission's Report was. I think my hon. Friend is wrong.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
At all events, I am giving the House what influenced the Government. We were of opinion that it was a dangerous thing, from the point of view of unrest among the working classes of this country, to prevent their getting something to which they were daily accustomed. Whether rightly or wrongly, that was our view, which we are not ashamed to admit, and we are not ashamed to admit the decision which up to now we have come to. Then my right hon. Friend found fault because I did not talk about shipbuilding. I would remind the House once more that nobody can be expected to have details of this kind furnished him quickly at the time a speech is being made. I do not know exactly the form of the erroneous statement made by the Prime Minister. He held out the hope that there would be 4,000,000 tons at the end of last year.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I am surprised to hear that. At all events, my right hon. Friend beside me will have to deal with that in detail; but I would remind the House we did turn out last year more than 1,500,000 tons more than we did the year before, and, whatever the promise given, that was something worth doing, and of which we have no reason to be ashamed. Now we come to my own Department. I am surprised that my right hon. Friend bothers with that now, as he had many opportunities on Votes of Credit, and that, I think, would be a more suitable occasion. This is really the position. The present Government came into office in December, 1916. The financial year ends, as everyone knows, on 31st March. The total estimate for that year was wrong by about £370,000.000.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I am sure my right hon. Friend the late Chancellor of the Ex chequer would hardly agree that the moment I became Chancellor of the Ex chequer expenditure was so profligate that it at once ran up. I do not think that is probable, even if he put the worst construction on my powers of keeping down expenditure. What is the real explanation of the increase of expenditure? It was largely due, both in the year for which my right hon. Friend was in the main responsible, as in the year for which I was responsible, to advances to the Allies being heavier than were estimated. What my right hon. Friend has left entirely out of account in his statement to-day is some thing which, if the House does not under stand it, is not because I have not tried to explain it. It is a complete change in the system of doing business which has taken place during this year. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food this day, in giving answers to questions, pointed out—to take one item—that the whole of the butter coming into this country comes through the hands of the State. It is the same almost with every article of food consumption. What does that mean? The Government has become a great trader. It is paying out money all the time, which will only be recovered later when the sales are made, and that in itself accounts, I venture to say, for by far the larger part of the increase in the expenditure. I come to the beginning of my right hon. Friend's speech on which it is difficult for me to say anything I have not said already. He finds fault with the system on which the present Cabinet is run. If that came from any ordinary Member of the House I could quite under stand it, for he would be comparing what he sees happening with what he thinks might happen if things were better done. But I must say it surprises me coming from my right hon. Friend, who has to compare it, not only with what is being done now, but with what was being done under another system for which he, like myself, was responsible. I took down the words used by him. They are worth quoting to the House. He said that the Food Controller—I have not got them; I thought I had—but he said that the Food Controller—
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
That the Parliamentary. Secretary to the Ministry of Food 1437 had said the other day that things were not dealt with until they came to an acute stage. That is quite possible. Will my right hon. Friend say of the Government of which he was a member that things were not sometimes dealt with long after they came to an acute stage? The system of Cabinet government which prevailed in this country was a system which was absolutely impossible in war. It could not have been continued. My right hon. Friend talked of a want of co-ordination. What possible co-ordination was there under the old system 2 I pointed out last year that in six months the Cabinet— leaving out the War Council, which dealt, or was supposed to deal, with matters affecting the War only—met, I think it was, eighteen times. That was the only opportunity of co-ordination, and how is it possible to co-ordinate? I do hope the House does not imagine that I am attacking my right hon. Friend the late Prime Minister. He was dealing with a system, and I have never said anything, and I shall never say anything, which will imply that in my opinion he did not on the whole do the best he could, and he did not do so badly. I have never said anything else. But this is what happened: When those eighteen Cabinet meetings were held every one of us was interested mainly in the War. The first thing we discussed was the military situation. Everybody was eager to discuss that. The Cabinet could not last more than two or two and a half hours. I ask the House how much time was loft for co-ordination in those eighteen Cabinet meetings in those six months after that subject had been discussed? What happens now? I do not say it is the best possible system—far from it. I hope that as we go on better arrangements will be developed, but, of course, everybody sees the weakness of this system, as of any other working under high pressure. What happens now? With Cabinet Ministers, with the exception of myself, having nothing else to do, there is a Cabinet meeting almost every day of the week. I am generally able to attend—in fact, nearly always. We try to discuss there the big questions of policy, and then differences between the Departments. In nine cases out of ten what we do is to delegate to one of the Cabinet Ministers the duty of going into this matter of difference of opinion between Departments with the Departments concerned, and to try to make a. working arrangement.
1438 It may well be that my right hon. Friend's suggestion that there ought to be two Cabinets is a possible one. It was suggested at the end of the last Cabinet. I was myself against it, and on the whole I am still, and I will tell you why. At that time specially, what I thought was absolutely necessary was that for the conduct of the War there should be more of a central authority which could act quickly. If you set up two small Cabinets, unless you say that one is to be subordinate to the other, it is almost impossible to define what is war policy and what is not. Take, for instance, the Board of Trade. It comes up at every point in the war policy. What I imagine would happen would be that these two bodies would clash with each other, and, instead of having the work done more quickly, it would be done more slowly. All that I say about that is that this Government, like any Government working during the War, is working under extreme pressure. I do not deny that we have not time to sit down and think out in a scientific way the best form of conducting the Government. We have not time to do it. What must be done is something that is evolved by the necessity of the case. On the whole, though I hope to see it improved, in looking back on the year in which this War Cabinet has been at work, I think the system has been such that decisions have been come to more quickly, and that on the whole better decisions are arrived at than under the old system.
The only point remaining is one which, I confess, I have great difficulty in speaking about at all. I hardly know whether I can say anything. My right hon. Friend referred to the appointment of representatives of the Press in the Government. The House will understand, as appointments are made by the Prime Minister, as by every other Prime Minister, that is something on which I am not at liberty to say anything without consultation with him. He has been absent from town since that Debate, with the exception of one day. I have had no opportunity of consulting him personally, and I think the House, therefore, will not expect me to say much. I intend to express my own opinions, and the one thing I would ask the House to remember is that when you see something wrong, or what you think is wrong, make sure that in trying to remedy it you do not lay down principles which are absolutely unworkable. I think that is what has got to be kept in 1439 mind, and it is all I will say on my own account. I am going to say nothing about the individuals concerned, though, as many hon. Members know, one of them is a personal friend of mine. I am not going to say anything on that point, but I do wish the House to keep this in mind. If propaganda is necessary at all—and the idea has been that it is not—the only people really competent to deal with it are the people connected with the Press. There are no others. As regards what my right hon. Friend said about Lord North-cliffe—and with this I will close—that since he was to be the Director of Enemy Propaganda, it does not seem very wise to advertise the fact that he has been so appointed to the Germans. I agree with my right hon. Friend. [An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear!"] Yes, but you have to look at it from the other point of view. Suppose somebody had come down to the House, say the hon. Gentleman behind me, a week or two after the appointment had been made, and had found out that Lord Northcliffe had been appointed to this post, and had asked me a question about it, and I had replied that he was so appointed, what would my right hon. Friend opposite have said about it then? It is quite true that the Germans would never make an announcement of that kind.
Let me tell the House that though there are advantages and disadvantages in every system, in carrying on a war the House of Commons is not altogether an advantage. I say there are advantages and disadvantages, and so far as I am concerned, I do not wish him to think that I am trying to prevent what information can be given, for I know that this country cannot see this War to a successful end unless the people are in favour of it. I for one would never desire, in any shape or form, that the views or the feelings of the people of this country, either inside or outside this House, should not have the opportunity of being expressed. But it is not all advantage. The Germans would not have done this; but we cannot imitate them. We have got to say a good deal, that they would never say. I am going to say nothing on the merits of the case. It is really a question as to who is the best man to do this work, if it has to be done. I would remind the House that it does not much matter what you say to the Germans. Nobody imagines that Lord 1440 Northcliffe or anybody else is going to set up a Press agency in Berlin, and so try to carry through his propaganda. If anything can be done, let me say, speaking for myself, and looking at what has been done by the Germans in enemy countries, I think a great deal of good might have been done in the past which would have made our path much easier. If anything can be done--what we have to do is to get the best man to do it. Whoever he is, the work will not be done by advertisement in Germany. It will simply be a question of the best man and the best machinery by which you can get the views which you want disseminating, disseminated in enemy countries. I am sorry to have spoken at such great length. I hope I have not shown any heat in this matter. Really I feel none. But the House of Commons is very suspicious about many things. It has the idea for instance—especially those who have not been in office—that everyone in office loves to stay there. That is not always true. My own honest feeling is at the moment the House of Commons thinks there ought to be another Government, it ought to try to get a change. Till it does, it ought to do what it can to help the work of the Government.
I cannot allow the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House to pass without making some comment upon it. In the first place, I entirely disagree from him in his new doctrine that, in a time of war, once a Government is in office, it should be entirely free from House of Commons criticism.
The right hon. Gentleman started his speech by saying that rather than criticise and then leave the Government alone, it was the duty of my right hon. Friend who opened this discussion definitely to challenge the existence of the Government. There is only one interpretation to that, and that is that the Leader of the House resents any form of criticism which is not put in the form of a Vote of Confidence.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I cannot allow that to pass. What I said quite clearly was that nobody could object to criticism which was made to help the Government. I did. however, object—and for ten months as Leader of the Opposition I endeavoured to 1441 follow out the plan—I did object to criticism which would in any way make the position of the Government more difficult, and would not help the War.
If that is the doctrine which my right hon. Friend is going to follow, and preach in this House, I agree with him; but if he is going to put the interpretation upon it which obviously was taken by the House, when he opened his speech—
Mr. RUNCIMAN—and which was at once met by protest, not only from this side of the House—[HON. MEMBERS
"Hear, hear!"]—I am sure he will see that it will be impossible for the House of Commons to perform its duty to the Government.
If that be clear, then I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will not resent any of the criticisms which were offered by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Samuel) made a perfectly fair statement. I do not know that anyone ever objected to my right hon. Friend on the ground of his being unfair. Such criticism as he offered was all directed to one point—that was, whether or not the War Cabinet, as at present formed, was the best instrument for the prosecution of the War. In meeting that the Leader of the House made some comparison as to what happened in the Cabinet of which he was a member before December, 1916. He remarked that during the last six months of the existence of that Cabinet there had only been eighteen meetings of the Cabinet. He entirely omitted from his narrative of the work of that Cabinet the innumerable Cabinet Committees sitting every day in the week—a Committee sometimes sitting twice or thrice in the week. In giving a picture of eighteen Cabinets in the course of six months my right hon. Friend opposite was doing—I am sure inadvertently—an injustice to the Government of which he was a member. Moreover, when the War Committee itself which assumed responsibility—which, he will well remember, was not shared by any other members of the Cabinet—when the War Committee was set up it was expressly stated by some of his own right hon. Friends that they did not shave the same responsibility as it for the prosecu- 1442 tion of the War. That War Committee itself not only had the meetings to which he referred, but also met in Committee, and on mornings and afternoons throughout the whole of that period with one interval, when, I think, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife (Mr. Asquith) was ill. Either that Committee, or the other Committees, or the Cabinet itself, was then meeting every day. That is the fact. I am sure my right hon. Friend opposite must have, inadvertently, omitted a very essential part of what was then the mechanism of our time.
I am not prepared to lay down what is or what is not the best means of conducting the War or governing the country. No matter who had been Prime Minister or what Government had been formed, it would be necessary from time to time to overhaul the machinery and to see whether or not it is coming up to expectations. Modifications have from time to time taken place from the very first week of the War. Even during the period when my right hon. Friend opposite was a member of the late Government he will remember that there must have been at least four modifications made in the machinery under which we worked. I presume that throughout the present year, just as there was last year, there will be more modifications of the machinery under which we are governed. But what is justifiable now is to measure the achievements of the present machine and to compare them with the prospectus which was issued when the machine was set up. That is the point whore. I think, my right hon. Friend has not met the real gravamen of the charge; or, indeed, gone into the grounds for the anxiety which is felt, not only in the House, but in the country. The point is not so much as to how many hundreds of thousands of acres have been ploughed up, how many ships have been built, or how many men have been passed through the Labour Exchanges; the point that agitates a great many people now is that when an assurance is given by the Government as to what they intend to do, that that assurance will be made good. There have been optimistic speeches made—I was going to say by the dozen; certainly in very large numbers—by the principal members of the Administration. These optimistic speeches have not, in any single case, been justified by the events afterwards. That has led to an estimate of the value of the speeches of Ministers which can only be 1443 to the detriment of this country. My right hon. Friend beside me referred to a speech on shipbuilding. I am not going over that well-worn ground again, but I do say that it was a great pity that at the Guildhall, in April, the Prime Minister should have given the impression that the output of our yards would not only surpass anything during the War but anything in pre-war times; or that again, in August, he should have informed the House that the figures to be reached would be up to the record of pre-war times. It is now well known what exactly the output of the yards have been in 1917. A great many people who are agitated about the tonnage question realise that they cannot place faith in Ministerial assurances as to the future achievements of our shipyards. I believe that some very large figures have been made as to the output for this year. I do not believe that anybody in a responsible position in the shipbuilding world will declare that we can this year exceed the record of pre-war times. The effect of these promises is not only dangerous to the faith which the public have in speeches made by Ministers, but there is an injury done when it spreads to the various classes of workmen throughout the country which is not justified by the facts.
Take next the case of food production. The Leader of the House strayed for a moment or two from his customary coolness into a degree of warmth on the last occasion, and again to-day, when he dealt with the Food Production Bill. Has he forgotten the attitude adopted by us on that Bill? I am sure he has not. He will remember that we on this side were prepared to agree to the bonus being given on all new land broken up. That bargain was offered again and again across the floor of the House, and it was made privately to the Minister. If it had been accepted the same amount of land would have been ploughed during the last six months as has been ploughed now. What is more, the increase in the amount of land ploughed was not due to the Corn Production Act, for in the previous season there was an increase of, I think, about 600,000 acres extra ploughed up. It was not due to that Act, which had not been dreamt of; it was due to high prices. If my right hon. Friend is going to suggest that anything we have done is interfering with the activities of the Government in the matter of food production, I say he is treading on very unsafe 1444 ground. The efforts in this direction have been more local than national or central, and the way in which the county war committees have taken up their work has alone made possible the extra amount of activity in our rural centres.
The matter of brewing was very lightly passed over by the right hon. Gentleman. I refer to the extra amount which has been brewed for the year above the promise made by the Prime Minister. This is not a mere matter of satisfying the feelings or the thirst of certain sections of the community. It is, again, purely a matter of tonnage. My interest in it is for the moment purely that of tonnage. At a time when we find it almost impossible to make ends meet, and after we were assured that there would be a saving of something like 600,000 tons by reducing brewing in the coming year, surely we are entitled to say that we are disappointed when these 600,000 tons have not been saved, and that the Government, for some reason or other—not justified by their Unrest Commissions—have allowed the barrelage to go up to the abnormal figure—I mean in comparison to the promise made. There, again, the assurance given by Ministers has not been met by the fact. I will not go into the question of finance, but I must say a word about the Labour Exchanges. When the Leader of the House referred to the work of the Labour Exchanges, and said what an achievement it was to have found so many individuals for the work in hand, he cannot have had in mind that in the previous year, without the Ministry of National Service, and with no great effort made by advertisements or otherwise, the Labour Exchanges passed through 2,000 more, almost exactly the same number of men as in the normal course of their work. There were 2,000 more in the previous year. Therefore, my right hon. Friend is not justified in looking at that as a new achievement, when the Labour Exchanges last year did even more. The same is true of some of the other Departments referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland (Mr. Herbert Samuel).
My main reason in rising is to make a request to Ministers, and we have just heard that they will listen to criticism which is helpful. I think the best help they can give themselves and the country is in every case when making an estimate to add no percentage of exaggeration, and let us know exactly to what we have to look forward. Do not have the figures 1445 doubled, or have a margin put on, because some Ministers are more optimistic than others. Let us know exactly what we are to expect. The absence of hard facts and deliberate truth in Ministrial statements has made a large section of the community blind to the situation in which we are placed. I will refer to one main governing factor, and then I have done. The Leader of the House stated the immense achievements of the Ministry of Shipping, and I give every credit to Sir Joseph Maclay, who has done his work most admirably from the very first day of his appointment, and I have never said anything else, and he has fully come up to expectations. In making a point of the work of the Ministry of Shipping the right hon. Gentleman said there had been a reduction in our imports of something like 2 per cent. Surely he could not have been aware of the fact that the year before the War they amounted to 58,000,000 tons dead-weight.
Let me take the whole thing, because you cannot separate them. In the year before the War the total deadweight imported into this country was, roughly, 58,000,000 tons, as far as can be estimated. In the year 1917 the total deadweight imported was only 38,000,000 tons, a drop of 20,000,000 tons dead-weight in a single year. In face of that fact, what is the good of talking about 2 per cent.?
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
The argument I was using was to show the. efficiency of the British control of British ships.
But the Shipping Controller also deals with a very large number of neutral ships, and he has a considerable number under charter. When he took charge there were a large number of neutral ships under time charter, and I presume that he has himself increased the number of neutral vessels now running in our service; consequently, the 2 per cent. was an absolutely fallacious comparison. We have to bear in mind the needs of our country, and once you have provided for the imports of food and necessary food, even on the lowest ration that is contemplated, and when you have provided for the import of munitions and raw material for munitions, I say that there will be practically no tonnage left in the year 1918 for any other service that can be named. What is not realised when making this comparison is that if there is only a 2 per 1446 cent. reduction, somehow or other we are suffering from a shortage in regard to nearly every article of food.
But the right hon. Gentleman cannot separate the two. When we have provided for the programme based upon the tonnage under our command this year, we shall have practically no margin to deal with any of the other requirements of trade, and we must keep up some of our exports. That is a very grave state of things, and it is a great pity that the country itself does not realise how grave it is. The mere fact that the Government having kept these figures undisclosed has had a great deal to do with the spread of industrial unrest in some districts which are just as patriotic as any hon. Members of this House. Many people have been buoyed up by the optimistic speeches they have read, and this has prepared them to take risks in their trade quarrels, which, if they knew the real facts, they would never have undertaken. The men on the Tyne, the Wear, the Mersey, the men in Belfast and Barrow should be told the truth, and they should realise that around tonnage more than anything else will hang the fate of this country and of our Allies. My right hon. Friend referred to the statement made by the First Lord of the Admiralty, that the position in the last four months of 1917 was really better than the position in 1916. Yes, Sir, that is true as regards British tonnage, but the great difference is that we have always depended, I think to the extent of very nearly one-third of our services, on foreign tonnage. We have reduced the amount of foreign tonnage coming to this country, and, consequently, our straits have become more severe.
It is true that the margin of construction may have been less than the last four months of 1917 and 1916, and I have had no opportunity of comparing them, but, accepting that statement, the fact remains that in 1917 submarine activity has been just as much concerned with neutral and Allied vessels as with our own, and it is notorious among everybody who has to do with the shipping world that the losses of foreign vessels and neutral and Allied vessels have been enormous during those months; and if they had been taken into account, the right hon. Gentleman would 1447 have had a totally different story to tell, and he could not have said that the margin was less in 1917 than in 1916. We know-that it is worse, and we have the figures; we know it is worse in regard to neutral and foreign tonnage. When the Germans started their intensive submarine campaign, it was soon realised how important neutral tonnage was, and when making our calculations we must take that fact into account. I have frequently asked that the Admiralty, in publishing the list of losses, should give us a list of the Allied and neutral tonnage as well.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dublin University (Sir E. Carson) on one occasion made an interruption to say that the neutrals and the Allies would not agree to publish their tonnage. I understand that that is correct as regards the Allies, but I am told it is not correct as regards the neutrals. I have seen the figures published in Denmark of the Danish vessels lost by enemy action, and the same figures are obtainable in Norway and Sweden, although I do not know about Holland. If these three Scandinavian countries can publish their figures, I see no reason why we should not publish them here. I think the public should know these facts because it is a matter of vital interest to us that we should come to a true understanding of the real tonnage position. I will conclude with one word, and it is this: if the Government wish to carry the public opinion of this country with them they must make a much fuller and more accurate, disclosure of the facts. We must not be fed merely on promises and prophecies, but we must be told the real situation, and the Government can never get the full effort out of the country except by a full disclosure of the facts, nor can they carry public opinion with them, without which I think they may find it impossible to make peace.
§ Mr. LYNCH
The speech of the Leader of the House has been listened to by me with attention and a peculiar sort of admiration. During questions day by day we have the opportunity of admiring his activity of mind and invariable courtesy; to-day the right hon. Gentleman exhibited in the course of his speech a Machiavellian cleverness in covering up a difficult situation. One could say of him, as Milton said of Belial, that he excelled in making "the worse appear the better reason": and yet one could also say, as 1448 Milton said of Belial, "Yet he pleased." I will refer later on to one point where the argument was most telling in this House and most convincing, although it was fallacious in its real essence. It has already been touched upon by the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. Before coming to that point, however, I would like to say a word on the subject to which he referred, and that is the appointment of the Directors of Propaganda. In this respect I will say what, perhaps, is unpopular with my own Friends: I think those appointments are excellent. I happen to be a personal friend of at least two of those who have been appointed. I have known Lord Northcliffe for a number of years, and I have for him, personally, the greatest esteem. From the first day of this War he has, by methods which have at times offended the susceptibilities of this House, forced upon successive Governments his own policy, and no better proof could be given that his policy was right than the fact that that policy has been point by point accepted. Either Lord Northcliffe was wrong in forcing the Governments to adopt his own views and they were wrong in not resisting him, or else Lord Northcliffe was right at the beginning and the Government ultimately right in submitting to his guidance. In either case he showed power, and his appointment is entirely justified.
Another of these appointments is that of Mr. Robert Donald. He is conspicuous among the journalists of this country as being not only a highly capable man, but an exceptionally well-informed man—one, indeed, who combines great ability with tact—and that appointment is excellent. With respect to Lord Beaverbrook, after all, he has had a highly successful and honourable career in this House, and I look forward confidently that that appointment will be also justified by success.
I now propose to make a criticism upon the Leader of the House himself. Note this point. In trying to reassure the House with respect to the submarine campaign, he brought forward this argument: If the last few months be compared with those of 1916, the net result shows in favour of 1917. The argument so presented is plausible, but it has been somewhat damaged already by what has been let fall by the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down (Mr. Runciman)—namely, that instead of placing all the 1449 facts on a proper basis, namely, that of the amount of sinkings of ships bringing food to this country, he has cleverly selected merely British vessels. One begins to see already the fallacious nature of his argument, but the fallacy lies deeper even than that. He has compared the net figures of 1917 with those of 1916. By balancing the sinkings of 1917 and the new construction of 1917 and taking them together with the corresponding figures for 1916, by selecting merely British ships, which is a partial view of the whole problem, he is able to produce what he considers an encouraging proposition. But he omitted to state an essential fact which vitiates the whole reasoning. The figures of new construction in 1916 were not only the worst during the whole progress of the War, but they hardly reached to more than one-third of the shipping construction before the War. With very much diminished shipping construction in 1916 and a high rate of sinkings, the prospect was alarming in 1916. In 1917 there was an increase in the shipping programme, not in excess of that of pre-war time, but comparing well with the most disastrous year of all. Although the sinkings were greater than ever, yet, comparing the bad year of construction, 1916, with its alarming sinkings and the comparatively good year of 1917 with sinkings not less alarming, the balance between those two years was rather in favour of 1917.
After all, the question which the House and the whole country has to consider is not a mere juggling of one year against another. Looking at the situation as it now stands, the House is entitled to ask, Is that situation on the face of it encouraging? I say distinctly, "No." We have had from time to time optimistic statements in this House, in the course of which the rate of sinkings was minimised as much as possible and the rate of shipbuilding was grossly exaggerated. But note this. Even with those optimistic statements taken at their face value, if one examines into them one is forced to find that the situation is still untenable, untenable to such a degree that on that basis alone the termination of the War could be almost calculated, and that termination would be disastrous for this country. What, then, can you imagine to be the state of mind of a Government whose own figures, though bolstered up optimistically of set purpose, yet exhibit as a logical conclusion from those figures a policy of ultimate defeat, when that 1450 Government present the situation to this House as the beat which they are able to produce. A Government which has no other programme than that declared on its own terms to lead to defeat is a Government which is not fit any longer to exist than this House can endure it.
I will now deal with another matter equally important. We had sometime ago a Secret Session. I do not intend to reveal any secrets of that Session, but we are entitled to say that the main fact which was impressed upon us, and which remains perfectly clear to my own recollection, was that—we were given to understand it on the basis of figures—if the shipping continued only for three months at the rate which then prevailed, the position with regard to food was so reassuring that we could continue for almost two years with the same rate of consumption. In other words, if during a period of two years we had only three months' shipping at the then prevalent rate, no rationing, and no further reduction of food consumption would be required in this country. That has not only not been borne out by the facts, but the facts are entirely different from the statement then made. I have to ask the Government for an explanation. Was the Prime Minister deceived by his subordinates when he came here, figures at hand, and gave statements to reassure us which were false, or was the Prime Minister accurately informed by his subordinates and was he, carried away by his own optimism, or of set purpose thinking that we were unable to stand the truth, deliberately deceiving us? One of those alternatives is necessary. I demand to know which is the truth.
I will proceed, however, to another question. I refer to unity of commands, as indicated by the right hon. Gentleman himself, and I will show how untenable and even absurd that policy is. Months ago in this House I raised the question of unity of command. To any thinking man it stares one in the face as a cardinal point. Months later-—remember in this War, where everything is marching with accelerating pace and where swift decisions are so important—the Prime Minister came down to the House and announced that unity in command was essential. The only meaning of the word "essential" is that if that element is not provided then the whole programme becomes dislocated; if an essential element be missing and the programme becomes dislocated it is not 1451 possible to obtain victory. If it be not possible to obtain victory, then the only alternative is defeat. In other words, unity of command was necessary to save us from defeat.
After months of discussion, hesitation, delay, and that style of drifting, which above all has badly impressed the people of this country and has been the chief factor in producing that war weariness which undoubtedly exists, a certain scheme was at length evolved. The Prime Minister himself told us that the original plan was that the Chief of Staffs of each of the great Allies should form a Supreme Council at Versailles. That was the proposal which seemed to him and to many of the Allies the best, but after consideration it was rejected. He gave us the reason for that rejection, namely, that the Chief of Staffs acting as a member of this Supreme Council must necessarily always remain at Versailles so as to be in hourly contact with the facts of the War, so as to be able to, if necessary, concentrate upon the War problems, and give a decision upon new facts that might arise at any moment, and also so as to be able to act in continual concert with those in like position, representatives of the other Powers. The Chief of Staff, he said, could not be spared for that work, because he is the adviser of the Government upon whom the decisions of the Government depend or upon whom they rely. For that purpose he must be in Whitehall, and being in Whitehall, he could not possibly be possessed of all the facts on which to form a proper judgment with regard to the features of the War in France or in Italy. That being so, the proposal to appoint the Chief of Staff as the representative of this country in a War Council at Versailles was overruled, and another proposal was adopted.
I would say, en passant, that the Prime Minister's first notion was not only the best, but the only possible solution of that problem. But another proposal was adopted, and note the arguments by which it was backed up in this House. A certain high authority was appointed as the representative of the Allies at Versailles, and another was appointed as Chief of Staff. The representative at Versailles would necessarily be the man, from his situation and from his close contact with the representatives of the other Allies, who would be absolutely immersed in the study of the great 1452 strategical problems of the War. He would see its changing features day by day, and even on some occasions, for battles are being fought, hour by hour: He would have at his disposal all the information which all the Allies could bring, and it would be his opportunity, as well as his duty, to survey the whole field, and to see each one particular problem in the setting of the whole of the problems involved in that immense line in Flanders and France and in Italy. Furnished with all these multitudinous elements, and being immersed in that continual study, he would be able to weigh the relative importance of events; he would arrive at his decisions in concert with others of like functions as himself; and that decision would be, or should be, decisive with regard to determining the operations of the War. The Prime Minister also laid great stress upon this—sometimes in war two hours are of importance. Sometimes a delay of six hours or of eight hours, he said, might be fatal to a plan of campaign. Many of the elements on which these men would be required to form their decision might be uncertain. They would have, from various indications, to divine the plan of the enemy. They would have to separate, by an exercise of judgment, demonstrations that were meant to deceive from the actual valid plans which the enemy intended to put forward and drive home with the utmost vigour in his power, surveying there from the situation, which might change, not only from day to day, but on some occasions, as in actual battle, from hour to hour. The Versailles Council should find their decisions realised with corresponding promptitude.
I said that it is upon the decision of these men that the operations of the Allies will depend. No, it is not! That ought to be the logical conclusion, but, by the arrangement set on foot, that is not the conclusion. The representative who is so exceptionally placed, who should be the most competent man available for such a position, who is the only man entirely well informed, who is the only man acting in concert with the Allies—this man is liable to have his decision questioned and, if need be, reversed, by the Chief of Staff in this country, suffering from that very disability which the Prime Minister declared to be fatal, namely, that he would be unable to form a proper decision at all times, 1453 because he would not be seised of all the elements on which that decision should be based. On the one hand, he gives forth an argument which to any man of common sense should be conclusive, that it is impossible that the Chief of Staff in Whitehall should decide upon such a momentous question as that of the direction of the Army on the Continent, and then, in the next breath, tells us that that man is placed in such a position that he is empowered to override the decision of the man who is competent and who is informed. The absurdity goes still further. The Chief of Staff has not full powers of decision. In case of a conflict between the Chief of Staff and the representative at Versailles, the Chief of Staff refers to the War Cabinet. We have already heard some of the duties of the War Cabinet described to-day, and we have had their incapacity excused on the very ground of the multiplicity and complexity of their duties. Yet it is upon the decision of this little coterie of perplexed and weary gentlemen, not one of whom has shown —except perhaps one—exceptional aptitude and tact, not merely for war, but for any great and bold decision in times of peace or in matters referring to peace —it is upon the decision of this little coterie of perplexed and weary gentlemen, who, by the nature of their own functions, must be ignorant of many of the points which have helped to form the mind of the representative at Versailles, that the movements of the Army must depend.
In regard to the movements of the Army, still another absurdity looms up. Remember that the original decision of the representative at Versailles has been taken in concert with the Allies, that the plan of campaign must be one of organised plan, and that it is not" possible to disarrange and dislocate one important feature of that campaign and simply, as it were, subtract it and leave the rest of that organised plan valid. By the fact that an important portion falls out, the whole plan necessarily becomes disorganised. So that the sum total result of this process which I have described is that there must be a further reference to the Council at Versailles, that they must form a new plan, that the representative who has already been discredited must co-operate with them in forming a new plan which, by its very terms, must in their opinion be a second-rate plan, that 1454 same plan, however, must be adopted so as to secure unity of command and that plan again must be referred to the Chief of Staff and to the War Cabinet and be referred back to Versailles again for endorsement. I ask the Committee to visualise that. They have only to cast it before their minds as a reality to see how deep is the absurdity. I wonder how a man in the position of the Prime Minister can come to this House after due reflection and have the audacity to stand here and put forward that plan as the summit of wisdom at which he has arrived. If one knew nothing about the Prime Minister except that a man in his position, leader of this nation at this stage in the crisis of its history, could come to this House and propose this plan for its acceptance, that, I say, ought to be sufficient to condemn him as showing his incapacity.
Remember, too, that even if the better plan had been adopted and that all these impossible circumstances which I have described—not exaggerating or inventing anything of my own, but simply pushing home to their inevitable conclusions his own arguments—even if the better plan which he at first adumbrated had been developed and adopted, even then unity of command would not have been secured, because even under that plan you have a council to decide, not one single commander, as in the system which gives such great advantage to the Germans. Some time ago I asked the Leader of the House if he was not alarmed by the suggestion that whereas Napoleon beat the Austrians on the Italian field by the fact that while he could act at once on the indications of his genius, the Austrians were forced to refer all their movements to an Aulic Council sitting in Vienna, and he said that neither that proposition nor the words "Aulic Council" alarmed him. That reply saddened me. Even while it made me sympathise with him, it made me understand the cause of the many blunders of this country and of the Government since the beginning of the War, such men in responsible positions, on whose decision such important results depend, are unable to press forward their powers of logical thought to see the conclusions of the propositions which they accept. The Aulic Council of the Austrians meant defeat. Here the position has been reversed. It is the Germans who have the advantage of the unity of command. I was going to say that the Allies have an Aulic Council, but, 1455 as a matter of fact, it is something far more inefficient than an Aulic Council. The original proposal would have given an Aulic Council, but in place of that, through this disease of polities, which is really the vice that is ruining the nation, they have substituted for their Aulic Council a mere plan to deceive or to satisfy this House, a dislocated machine, far beyond in inefficiency anything which an Aulic Council could produce. A Council sitting at Versailles, composed of representatives of the Allies, entrusted with the power of putting their decisions to immediate effect would be an Aulic Council, whereas we refer from them to the Chief of Staff, from him to the Cabinet and back again to the representative at Versailles, producing delays, hesitations, and doubts even in the most favourable circumstances, that is to say, where all were agreed, and where all were not agreed, producing dislocation and disruption of plans in regard to which perhaps the most important fact might be that they should be put into operation at once.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Sir Donald Maclean)
I have allowed the hon. Member, perhaps, to stray further than I should have done. We are now dealing with the Civil Service and Revenue Departments Vote on Account. He is now dealing with the whole question of the Council at Versailles. Perhaps it is my fault that I have allowed the hon. Member to stray beyond the bounds of the Vote. There is a proper time to discuss that matter, that is on the Vote of Credit, not on the Vote on Account.
§ Mr. LYNCH
I bow to your ruling, Sir. I thought that this Vote dealt with any work of the War Cabinet, and that in criticising the Versailles Council and its operations I was using an argument against the policy of the War Cabinet itself. However, I have said enough on that subject and it is useless to elaborate the matter further. Before I sit down, perhaps I can say a word or two with regard to a suggestion as to the reconstruction of the War Cabinet. Various proposals have been put forward in the Debate to-day. One was the suggestion that there should be two Cabinets. The proposal I wish to make is in quite a contrary direction. Even yet we are far from having secured unity of direction. I would lay down this—it may seem an audacious proposal, but I think it will 1456 commend itself to hon. Members when they reflect upon it—that so far from subdividing functions, the Prime Minister himself, or a man capable of leading the country in the capacity of Prime Minister, should assume not only the functions of Prime Minister, but the functions of the Chief of the Army, the Chief of the Navy, and the Chief of the Service of Foreign Affairs—
§ Mr. LYNCH
We should regard those three separate Services as being so linked together that they become capable of being wielded in his hand as one great striking force, which he uses for the purpose of carrying out a clear and definite policy. That would not necessarily place an undue burden of work upon the Prime Minister. Organisation is not the same thing as incessant meddling with detail. I- believe that if all these general functions were placed upon the shoulders of the Prime Minister it ought really to lessen his work, because if the organisation were properly carried out it would be his function not to interfere with the thousand and one details, which could be better undertaken by the experts whose sole business it is to arrange these details; his mind would be free and clear to see the great, bold, main lines of the whole problem. He could give clear directions to his assistants in each one of the subordinate offices so that they could carry out the policy which he would clearly map out, and which he could arrange in concert with those who would occupy in France and America a corresponding position to his own. That position is not one of mere experiment, because it represents in great part the position occupied in America by President Wilson himself. In other words, I think that the War has now come to this point: that the one chance of salvation is that there ought to be a sort of Council of three—President Wilson, the Prime Minister of France, and the Prime Minister of this country—acting together, always in close correspondence, in easy touch, and elaborating the main lines of policy upon which they wore all agreed, and which would be given forth to the respective countries with an added weight as being the policy of the whole combination of the Allies. If this were the basis, the proper organisation of the details and the actual execution of their plans and policy could be 1457 left to the subordinates whom they would regard as their experts, and with whose particular work, within their own domain, they would refuse to interfere. That seems to me to be an approach to obtaining unity of direction which would give far better organisation than now exists, which would save the Cabinet from immersing itself and losing its clearness of vision in 10,000 details which could be quite well, perhaps better, handled by the men who are actually immersed in the business round which those details hang, and having achieved in this way unity of general direction of policy the next step would be to obtain definite unity of command, not in an Aulic Council in Versailles, but by selecting amongst the military representatives of the Allies the man best fitted to command, such as General Foch, and giving him supreme command of all the armies.
§ Mr. HOLT
A fortnight ago we had a Debate on foreign affairs, in which the Foreign Secretary made a speech which, I think, everyone must have felt was anything but satisfactory. I cannot believe that that speech was wholly satisfactory even to himself, and the circumstances of the Debate, of course, were of such a character that it was not possible for him at the time to make any rejoinder. It appears to me that on this occasion, when we are voting money towards the salary of the Foreign Secretary, it might be a convenient opportunity if he were called upon again to speak on the same subject, and if he were given some opportunity of rectifying what, I think, many people have thought were the sins, both of omission and of commission, in his speech. I want to draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention particularly to two or three of what appeared to some of us the most remarkable passages in that speech. I will first deal with the passage regarding the Conference at Versailles. The right hon. Gentleman told us:Neither was this country equipped at Versailles to deal with this class of question. If peace terms or questions connected with diplomacy had been the subject of the Conference, necessarily and obviously the Foreign Secretary of each country would have had to be present. I was not there, nor was any member of my office, and the reason was quite obvious. That was not the business for which the Council met.I do not quarrel with the right hon. Gentleman's statement at all, except that if the Conference were not fitted to deal with foreign affairs, though his Department was 1458 not present at it, that Conference proceeded to deal with them for themselves according to their Report on their proceedings—The Supreme War Council gave the most careful consideration to the recent utterances of the German Chancellor and the Austro-Hungarian Minister for Foreign Affairs, but was unable to find in them any real approximation to the moderate conditions laid down by all the Allied Governments.''The point which I want the rght hon. Gentleman to explain is how it came about that the Council at which certain British Ministers were present, which on his own statement was quite unfit to do the work of his Department, took upon itself to do that work. When we are discussing the right hon. Gentleman's salary I hope he will not think it an unfriendly way to put things if we say that we would like him to do the work which he is paid to do and not allow it to be done by other people who appear to be very much less competent for the purpose. Perhaps he will at the same time explain why, if this Council was not fitted to do this work and nevertheless thought it necessary to do it, showing apparently that it was important that the work should be done, it was not possible to have the Council properly equipped to do the work and to do it properly.
The next very important question to which I want to turn is the right hon Gentleman's extraordinary misrepresentation of Count Czernin's speech, which has given some people to suppose that perhaps, after all, he has not read the speech at all. He says:I understand the interruption as signifying that Count Czernin made some pronouncement of acceptance of President Wilson's War Aims. If that is so, there is no doubt that the Versailles Council were profoundly wrong, and there is no doubt this Government at this moment is also profoundly wrong.That is what the Foreign Secretary said in the Debate a fortnight ago. It seems to me absolutely indisputable that Count Czernin did make a speech which went a very long way towards an announcement of acceptance of President Wilson's aims. I think, at any rate, the Committee and the right hon. Gentleman will agree that President Wilson himself is the best judge of how far the speech went towards being an acceptance of his statement of war aims. President Wilson said:Count Czernin seems to see the fundamental elements of peace with clear eyes and does not seek to obscure them. He sees that an independent Poland, made up of all indisputably Polish 1459 people who lie contiguous to one another, is a matter of European concern and must, of course, be conceded; that Belgium must be evacuated and restored, no matter what sacrifices and concessions that may involve; and that national aspirations must be satisfied, even within his own Empire, in the common interests of Europe and mankind.That is what President Wilson said with regard to Count Czernin's speech. He looks at it as something which at any rate is going a very long way towards meeting his views. I would invite the right hon. Gentleman to explain how it is that he escapes the conclusion that the Council of Versailles were wrong and that the Government are profoundly wrong at this moment? That appears to me to be the inevitable conclusion from his own statement taken in conjunction with President Wilson's statement.
There are one or two minor misstatements which I will not go into, but there was the extraordinary statement that diplomacy was out of court:The view of the Government is that at present the attitude of the Central Governments shows that diplomacy at the present moment is entirely out of court so far as they are concerned."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th" February, 1918 col. 174.]That seems to me a very extraordinary view for the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to take, because if the attitude of some of the enemy Governments is thoroughly unsatisfactory, that does not seem in itself to be any reason for putting diplomacy out of court. On the contrary, it appears to me that if, for instance, the attitude of the Austrian Government is much less unsatisfactory than the attitude of the German Government, there is the very greatest possible opportunity for diplomacy in strengthening the attitude of the Austrian Government and weakening the German Government. In fact, I can hardly believe it is proper that at any time during the conduct of the War diplomacy should be out of court. Since that speech was made we have had a very important event—a very long speech by the German Chancellor delivered last Monday. I hope we may assume that the Foreign Secretary has read reports of that speech. Count Hertling in that speech deals seriatim with the four propositions laid down by President Wilson in his speech of 11th February. I quoted those four propositions a fortnight ago, and asked the right hon. Gentleman these two questions: 1460I wish to ask the Government specifically whether that is their policy. I wish to ask them specifically this question. Is that the policy of all our European Allies?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th February 1918, col. 153.]To these questions the right hon. Gentleman gave no answer whatever. I hope it may yet be possible to get an answer to them. Let us see what Count Hertling has to say with regard to these four propositions. He accepts the whole of them almost without demur, but I will read from the report we have in the Press—the best information I have—exactly what he said. With regard to the first of the four principles which in the President's opinion must be applied to the mutual exchange of views, he says:Each part of the final settlement must be based upon the essential justice of that particular case, and upon such adjustments as are most likely to bring a peace which will be permanent. Who will contradict this?In other words, the first proposition is accepted without reserve. Then we get to the second:The second clause desires that peoples and provinces shall not be bartered about from sovereignty as i£ they were mere chattels and pawns in a game, even the great game, now for ever discredited, of the balance of power. This clause, too, can be unconditionally assented to. Indeed, one wonders that the President of the United States considered it necessary to emphasise it anew.The third clause—according to which every territorial settlement involved in this War must be made in the interests and for the benefit of the population concerned and not as a part of any mere adjustment or compromise of claims amongst rival States—is only the application of the foregoing in a definite direction or a deduction from it, and is, therefore, included in the assent given to that clause.Now the fourth clause:Here, also, I can give assent in principle, and I declare therefore with President Wilson that a general peace on such bases is discussable. Only one reservation is to be made. These principles must not be proposed by the President of the United States alone, but they must also be recognised definitely by all States and nations alike.These are the comments, according to the report, which Count Hertling made on President Wilson's four propositions. I think we are entitled to say that they do, in fact, amount to an almost unreserved acceptance. If that is so, I think it is the duty of Members of this House to insist upon knowing whether His Majesty's Government give an equal acceptance to these four propositions and whether the Governments of our Allies give an equal acceptance to them; because, if the answer to these questions is in the 1461 affirmative, we are then in this position, that the whole of the belligerents have accepted the American President's basis for discussing peace. When this matter has been discussed on previous occasions we have been told—I remember it was put very strongly by the right hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Asquith) that we must have a specific answer from the German Government as to what their policy is in regard to Belgium. Did they intend to evacuate Belgium] Count Hertling, on this occasion, commits himself quite definitely to the evacuation of Belgium. He said: "It has been repeatedly said from this place that we do not desire to stay in Belgium, but Germany desires to be safeguarded from the danger of Belgium being used in future as a jumping-off ground for Germany's enemies. That is, so far as I know, the first time the German Government have definitely said that they will evacuate Belgium. It is quite true that they include in that some rather ridiculous phrases asking for security as to Belgium's conduct in the future. I, personally, am inclined to think that there is very little in that. Supposing that Count Hertling had stated that under no circumstances would he ever negotiate with the right hon. Gentleman by reason of his known bad character, and that at some later stage he said, "I will think it over. I am quite ready to negotiate with the right hon. Gentleman provided he will give a satisfactory assurance that he has not committed and does not intend to commit bigamy." If such a proposition as that was put forward it would mean that Count Hertling was inclined to climb down, and that would be a way of saving his face. I think it is not an unreasonable proposition that when he puts forward an obviously absurd proposition, as he had done about Belgium not being used as a jumping-off ground for Germany's enemies, that he is also trying to save his face, and to climb down at the same time. It might not be an unwise thing to receive the proposal in that spirit.
Is it the case that the German Chancellor has accepted the four points of President Wilson and given some sort of undertaking to withdraw from Belgium? If so, why is it not possible to try to work out those principles to their proper application. Of course, we all know you cannot have any sort of bargain on a mere matter of abstract principle. It all depends upon the particular application of those 1462 principles to facts. When the German Government profess these principles, and have advanced so far that they accept this principle of the Allied statesmen, why are we to assume that they do so in bad faith I Surely it would be far wiser to assume that they profess these principles in good faith, and to make an attempt to see whether those principles can be converted into a concrete proposition acceptable to all of us. I see it stated in the Press that we are bound to conclude that the Germans are acting in bad faith because of their conduct on the Eastern frontier. I am not sure that there is not a good deal to be said for some of the things which the Germans are doing. I am not quite settled in my mind that the Bolsheviks and Mr. Trotsky are the sort of people that are represented by my hon. Friends below the Gangway. I would never have spoken the eulogy upon them which the hon. Member for Elland (Mr. Trevelyan) spoke the other day. If you take the view of the Bolsheviks, and of Trotsky and Lenin, which I am inclined to think are generally held by the people of this country, it is very easy to understand that the Germans may not be very anxious to have them for their neighbours. If anything like the stories of revolution, robbery, and murder that we hear are anything like true, I very much doubt whether any civilised State would be found to evacuate territory if it was likely by that evacuation to be exposed to such treatment as we are led to believe would be likely to be experienced by those parts of Russia adjacent to Germany if the Bolsheviks obtained control there.
It is quite obvious that this speech of Count Hertling does not represent the irreducible minimum. I think we ought not to forget that apart from all the terrible losses of human life which is involved in this War, it would be quite impossible to get the Germans out of France and out of Belgium by force without producing the physical destruction of that country. No one can have any doubt that the forcible expulsion of Germany from France and Belgium will materially ruin for many a long day both those countries, and it would be a very great advantage to those countries if the Germans could be got out by peaceable means. I will state quite frankly what it is that I want the right hon. Gentleman to do. I want first of all some explanation of matters in his speech of a fortnight ago to which I referred, and I want, if I may 1463 ask for it, a categorical answer to two questions I put to him then, Whether the British Government do or do not agree with the four principles of peace laid down by President Wilson, and whether our Allies do or do not agree with those four principles of peace; and finally, if the answers to these two questions are in the affirmative, whether the Government are ready now to take any steps to see if it is not possible, when all parties are agreed upon the conditions on which peace might be concluded, to translate that into concrete terms which would satisfy us all?
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Mr. Balfour)
My hon. Friend (Mr. Holt) has dealt with two speeches, one delivered by myself a fortnight or three weeks ago—already, therefore, fading into the past—and the other delivered by the German Chancellor the Chancellor in the Reichstag. As far as only wish that the hon. Member had dealt as kindly and as gently with the speech of his colleague in the House of Commons as he did with the speech of the German Chancellor in the Reichstag. As far as my own humble effort of three weeks ago is concerned, the main complaint of the hon. Gentleman is that I observed that the Versailles Council was not very well equipped, in my opinion, to deal with these difficult diplomatic questions, and to that opinion I still hold. Let me observe that a great deal of criticism levelled at the Resolution of the Versailles Conference is based upon a survey of the work of the Versailles Conference which is wholly out of perspective. I do not say that the hon. Gentleman or the House itself is wholly to blame for that, because in the very nature of the case the real work performed by the Versailles Council at its last meeting was necessarily private. It has never been wholly communicated. Their real work was concerned with military procedure. A communiquéwas made, as is customary, of certain things in which the public might be interested, and which could be safely stated, but from that communiqué it was quite impossible to judge of the work of the Conference. This particular statement to which the hon. Member refers was no doubt the result of some discussion, but it in no sense represents the mature work of a long debate upon the diplomatic situation in the various countries of Europe. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that an adequate defence of 1464 my speech I should be happy, but if he thinks it is inadequate I can only deeply regret that it is the best I can offer. To the substance of my observations on that particular utterance of the Versailles Council I entirely adhere.
The hon. Member is very angry because he says I misquoted Count Czernin's speech. If I had had any idea that Count Czernin's speech was to be discussed I would not have laid myself open to the charges which have been made against me of verbal inaccuracies. I do not think that I really did misinterpret the substance of Count Czernin's speech. I do not believe that he meant in the least to separate himself from the statement made by his German colleague at the same time. They had been together in council, and the information which I have received on the subject induces me to believe that these speeches were made after consultation and with consultation, and I do not think that I did any very substantial injustice to Count Czernin. If I did I greatly regret it. I think the hon. Member has misinterpreted one very important statement of Count Czernin's about Poland. That was an ambiguous statement of Count Czernin, and I am not at all sure that President Wilson has not also put a much more favourable interpretation upon that statement than it deserves to receive. The hon. Gentleman talks as if it was the desire of Count Czernin to establish the ancient kingdom of Poland as far as that really was a Polish nationality upon an independent basis. The words he used might cover that interpretation, but I do not think it was his meaning, and the reason that I do not think it was his meaning is this: You cannot confidently, completely or adequately carry out any policy of that kind without restoring to Poland those provinces ravished from her by Germany at the time of the partition or since, and which are to a very great extent at the present time inhabited by Poles. I do not know whether the hon. Member thinks that, that is Count Czernin's policy.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. BALFOUR
I thought it was Count Czernin's which he questioned. Apparently it is not. That being so, I will leave the point. I really think that in substance I have answered it. If any hon. Member thinks not, there may be an opportunity of explaining whether in his opinion Count Czernin really did 1465 intend to indicate that he desired to restore the ancient kingdom of Poland. The hon. Gentleman's last criticism upon my now rather ancient speech was directed against my statement that for the moment diplomacy was out of court. It is quite evident that diplomacy is out of court in so far as negotiations between belligerents are concerned—and that is the only point with which we are dealing at this moment —unless there is that measure of potential agreement between them which would make diplomatic conversations fruitful of good results. I am afraid, and I say it with the profoundest regret, that all the indications show that we have not as yet reached that happy stage. It is this conviction which makes me feel that the clouds of war are still lowering heavily over the whole civilised world, and that there is no clear and obvious direction in which the sunlight of approaching peace can make itself felt. May that time come soon. But I think that we should be deceiving ourselves in face of the statement to which I shall come now, the statement to which the hon. Gentleman referred—in face of Count Hertling's speech—I am afraid that we should be sanguine if we took that view.
I am aware that in saying this I separate myself widely from the hon. Gentleman. He is of opinion that Count Hertling's speech is a thoroughly satisfactory basis of negotiations, and he has formed that opinion apparently on the ground that Count Hertling has accepted the four propositions of President Wilson. He turned to me with an air of challenge and asked whether His Majesty's Government were prepared to go as far? I think that President Wilson was most well advised to lay down those broad propositions of international equity, but President Wilson would be himself the first to say that though it was necessary to lay them down there was nothing in them novel or paradoxical, and it never occurred to me that I should have to get up in this House and say that with the spirit of all those four propositions I was in thorough agreement. Perhaps it might be as well, indeed I think that it is absolutely necessary, that I should examine the precise value which we are to attach to Count Hertling's assent to President Wilson's propositions. Before I come to that, I think it right to say something about what fell from the hon. Gentleman with regard to Belgium. He, and he alone, as far as I know, 1466 in the world, outside the precincts of Germany, would regard Count Hertling's statement about Belgium as satisfactory. There are besides Belgium a great many questions which now divide the nations of Europe and which have to be settled at a peace conference. Though Belgium is very far from being the only one, though there are perhaps other questions of equal importance, there is no question which is a better touchstone of the honesty of purpose of Central European diplomacy, and especially of German diplomacy.
The hon. Gentleman knows well enough that these are things which we are all weary of saying, which are horrible to think of, but he knows, as everybody in the House knows, that the German attack on Belgium was unprovoked. He knows as well as everybody knows that it was not merely an unprovoked attack upon a small and an unoffending nation, but that it was an attack carried out by one of the nations which had guaranteed the security of that small and unoffending nation. Those are the commonplaces of the situation. Those are historical propositions which everybody knows by heart. There is only one course for the offending nation to pursue in those circumstances, which is to say, as they have said, "I have sinned." That they have said through the mouth of the former Chancellor. The next thing to do is to say, "Having sinned, I make reparation; I restore again what I never should have taken, and I restore it necessarily without condition."
What does the statesman who now meets with the unqualified approval apparently of my hon. Friend say on this subject? He says, "By all means restore Belgium. We do not want to stay there. But we must take care that it shall not become a jumping-off ground for enemy machinations." When was Belgium a "jumping-off ground" for enemy machinations? Why should Germany suppose that it is going to be a jumping-off ground for enemy machinations? Belgium has been the victim, not the author of these crimes. Why is it to be punished because Germany was guilty? What sort of conditions is it that Count Hertling contemplates when he says that Belgium must no longer be the jumping-off ground for enemy machinations. The hon. Gentleman appears to think that Count Hertling is a master of explicit statement. It is a pity that he did not state explicitly what he meant by that.
§ Mr. BALFOUR
The hon. Gentleman can be a harsh critic of Count Hertling as well as an unkind critic of myself. In some cases he does more than justice, but in this case he does something less than justice to that distinguished statesman. We know the sort of thing that Count Hertling has in mind. We know what a German always does mean when he talks of economic freedom and frontier security. He always means imposing some commercial trammels upon a weaker neighbour, or appropriating some of his territory in order to strengthen his own frontier. I am perfectly certain that if the hon. Gentleman will take the trouble to look back through the various speculations on the question of Belgium, of which the German papers have been full ever since the beginning of the War, he will see, and he will always see, that by the phrase used by Count Hertling, as to making use of Belgium as a jumping-off ground for enemy machinations, when they deal with those sort of problems, they always have in their minds the restoring of a Belgium which shall be subject to Germany by various new conditions, either territorial or commercial or military, which will prevent her having an independent place among the nations of Europe, of which Germany has tried to deprive her, but which Germany and ourselves are pledged to preserve for her.
I now turn from this particular example of the method in which Count Hertling carries out the general policy which the hon. Gentleman admires to the four principles on which he asks my specific opinion. What we have got to consider is how far the lip service which Count Hertling does to these four principles is really exemplified by German practice. The first one deals with the principle of essential justice. Count Hertling gives warm approval to that doctrine and quotes St. Augustine in its favour. Does the hon. Gentleman think that essential justice is the leading policy of German foreign or military policy? Just consider the frame of mind which Count Hertling shows about Alsace-Lorraine. I want to be perfectly fair. It is imaginable that a German would take a different view from that which is taken by the French, the British, the Italians, and the Americans on the subject of Alsace-Lorraine, but I cannot imagine a man who is discussing these principles of essential justice saying: "There is no 1468 question of Alsace-Lorraine. Alsace-Lorraine is so obviously, so plainly out of court, that we refuse even to consider it when the Council of Peace comes." That is the declaration made by this advocate of peace whose recommendations the hon. Gentleman is pressing upon the benevolent attention of the Committee. Take the second great principle:Peoples and provinces shall not be bartered about from sovereignty to sovereignty as if they were mere chattels.We have got quite recently, within the last few weeks, an exact specimen of how Count Hertling interprets in action the principle of which he approves so glibly in theory. Without going into the other conquests or territorial arrangements which Germany has made or is in process of making in Russia, the hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that when they settled the boundaries of the Ukraine they handed over a. portion of undoubted Polish territory to the new Republic. It is perfectly true that the result of that was a burst of Polish indignation, which, however they might neglect it in that part of Poland which is subject to Germany, made itself felt in that part of Poland which is subject to Austria, and the result of that indignation was that a concession has been made, and the frontier settled under German inspiration is apparently going to be modified. When they settled that frontier I presume they had President Wilson's principle in mind, and I presume they gave it that whole-hearted adhesion to which the hon. Member referred. How came they, then, to make this gross violation of their own principles, and that within a few weeks of the moment of which I speak? You cannot have a better example.
§ Mr. MOLTENO
Was not that area largely in the occupation of Ruthenians, and was it not to meet the wishes of the Ruthenians, who were in the majority?
§ Mr. BALFOUR
I am talking of the Polish part. Then we come to the third principle, and here Count Hertling, I observe, makes an historical excursion, or a semi-historical excursion, into history, and says with, I think, a great measure of truth and justice, that the balance of power is more or less an antiquated doctrine. He goes further when he observes that England has been the great upholder of the doctrine of the balance of power, and that England has always used it for the purpose of aggrandisement. These are the exact words:It is only another expression for England's domination.1469 That is a profoundly unhistorical method of looking at the question. This country has fought once, twice, thrice, for the balance of power, and it has fought for the balance of power because it was only by so fighting that Europe could be saved from the domination of one overbearing nation. It is because we fought for the balance of power that we saved Frederick the Great from destruction and the Prussian State of that date; it is because we fought for the balance of power that we enabled Prussia to recover that independence which had been squeezed out of her by the triumphant armies of Napoleon, and it ill becomes German statesmen, looking back on the past, either to deride England's efforts for the balance of power or the gratitude which Germany owes to England for the efforts she has made in that connection. I go further. I say that until German militarism is a thing of the past—until that ideal is reached for which we all long, in which there shall be an International Court, armed with executive power, so that the weak may be as safe as the strong—till that time comes it will never be possible to ignore the principle of action which underlies the struggle for the balance of power in which our forefathers engaged. If Count Hertling really wants to render the balance of power an antiquated ideal of international statesmen, he must induce his countrymen to give up that policy of ambitious domination which overshadows the world at this moment, which is the real enemy, and without which alone, if it were destroyed, peace would come upon us now and for ever. This was a parenthesis apparently of Count Hertling, and I answer it as a parenthesis. I return to the third and fourth principles laid down by President Wilson—What ought to be regarded in all peace arrangements are the interests and benefit of the populations concerned.I wish the House to consider how Count Hertling desired to see that principle carried into effect—translated from a paragraph in his speech, and embodied in the policy of the world. Consider for a moment. He mentioned three countries which he desires to see restored to the Turk—Armenia, Palestine, and Mesopotamia. Does the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Holt) consider that the interests and benefit of the populations in these areas are going to be consulted by transferring them back to their Turkish masters? Count Hertling accuses us of being animated by purely ambitious designs 1470 when we invaded Mesopotamia, when we captured Jerusalem, and I suppose he conceived that former Russia was animated by purely ambitious designs when she occupied Armenia? But Turkey went to war and picked a quarrel with us for purely ambitious purposes. She was promised by Germany the possession of Egypt. It was in order to get Egypt, and animated largely by that bribe, that she joined her forces with those of the Central Powers. What happiness, benefit, and interests of the populations concerned would have been consulted by the Turkish conquest of Egypt? The Germans, in their search for the greatest happiness of these populations, would have restored Egypt to the worst rule that the world has ever known; they would if they could have destroyed Arab independence; they would if they could have put the country which is the centre of so reverential an interest—Palestine—back under those who rendered it sterile for all these centuries, as they have rendered every place sterile on which they have imposed their domination. How can hon. Gentlemen treat seriously a profession of faith about the interests of populations when, in the very speech in which that profession of faith is made we have this evidence of the manner in which Count Hertling would like to see it carried out. I do not know whether the Reichstag is an assembly with much sense of humour, but, if it had any sense of humour, it surely must have smiled when it heard its Chancellor dealing in that spirit with the Realpolitik, which has been the true and dominating doctrine of every important German statesman, German soldier, and German thinker for two generations at least. So much for the four principles which the hon. Gentleman says Count Hertling accepts, and which he thinks His Majesty's Government are backward in not accepting. I hope the result of the short analysis I have made may be to convince him that there are two sides to that question.
I cannot, however, leave Count Hertling without making some observations upon his Russian policy, which he defends. For that, also, is not an infelicitous illustration of German methods, or the exact degree of importance which we are to attach to Count Hertling's verbal agreement with President Wilson. He tells us that the recent invasion of Russia was solely taking place on urgent appeals from the populations for protection against the 1471 atrocities and devastations by the Red Guards and other bands. They are, therefore, undertaken in the name of humanity. Of course, we all know—the poet has told us so—East is East, and West is West.But I cannot, even with that aphorism ringing in my ear, quite follow the distinction between German policy on the East and German policy on the West. German policy on the East, it appears, has been recently entirely directed towards preventing atrocities and devastation, and carrying out military operations in the name of humanity. German policy on the West is entirely occupied in performing atrocities and devastations and in trampling underfoot not only the letter and spirit of treaties, but the very spirit of humanity itself. Why is there this difference of treatment of Belgium on the one side and of the Baltic provinces on the other? Why does humanity appeal with such an overmastering force to Count Hertling when he talks about Russia, and why is it brushed aside as a negligible quantity by him and his associates when he is talking of Belgium? I know of no explanation except one, which is, that Germany pursues her method with remorseless insistency, or she varies the excuse that she gives for her policy. If she wishes to invade Belgium, it is a military necessity; if she wishes to invade Courland, it is the dictates of humanity and the desire to prevent outrages and devastations.
It is impossible, in the light of facts like those, to rate very high the professions of humanity, international righteousness, equity, and regard for populations which figure so largely in speeches like, that which the hon. Gentleman has required me to consider, and which show themselves in so strange, in so inconsistent a guise in the actual practice of those who have been making those interesting professions. I confess myself frankly unable to follow what is called the German mentality in these cases. I am quite unable to understand how any man can get up and say in the Reichstag, as Count Hertling said, that the war Germany has been waging is a defensive war. It was provoked by Germany, it was carried, out in accordance with doctrines perfectly well known before war broke out. and universally approved in Germany. It was no sudden outburst of passion that made them 1472 drench the world in blood—it was no doubt a miscalculation, because they thought their ends could be obtained without the sacrifices which they have forced upon themselves, and, unhappily, on the rest of mankind—but the plan itself, as we all know now, was an old plan. Nobody can even at this stage make themselves acquainted with the tenour and speculations in German newspapers and German reviews without seeing that the old doctrines remain unaffected, dominating the intellectual life of a very large and by no means the least able portion of their population. It is not merely the doctrine of a few ambitious soldiers.
It is a profound mistake to suppose that German militarism means simply the domination of a military caste in isolation. On the contrary, it is the deliberate intention of a large and an important section of intellectual Germany to use all weapons, military and economic, to give to their country that dominating position which they think is its right, and they cannot understand why the rest of the world does not agree with them. They are quite ready in that great cause not merely to spend their blood, treasure, life, not merely to undergo great sacrifices, but to decorate the idol of their ambitions with every sort of fine phrase about a "defensive war" and "economic independence," and all the rest of it. When you get to the bottom of those phrases you always find a defensive war means a war which is going to extend your territory, and economic security is an economic policy which is going to put some other nation in economic fetters for your advantage. It is a most deplorable and most unhappy condition of things.
I have spoken quite openly and frankly about an eminent contemporary statesman and about a great nation. I have the less remorse in doing it, as Count Hertling did not hesitate to use very strong language about the British Empire and the nation of which we are citizens. There is nothing in the world I am more certain of than this, that the impartial historian, looking back critically at German theories and German practice, and comparing them with British theories and British practice, will say that while both created great Empires, it has not been the object and it has not been. the. result of the British Empire to squeeze out the individual life of the nations concerned. Where the British Empire has gone, liberty and local 1473 interests and the cultivation of local culture have not been neglected. We have not tried—I think we are incapable of doing it—to force our own culture upon India or upon Egypt, or upon any nation or group of nations—India is not a nation, not as yet a nation—upon any group of nations which have come under our protection. Germany has pursued, and is pursuing, and always has pursued, a different path. Her policy has been more deliberately ambitious than that of any nation. Leaving out certain episodes in the history of France, she has been more ambitious of domination than any nation since Louis XIV, However that may be, it really is absurd to compare the results of German expansion and those results which have made the British Empire what it is. We therefore can listen to those criticisms of Count Hertling with perfect equanimity. We are ready to stand our trial at the bar of history. To say that we never made mistakes, to say that we never have committed errors and injustices, it may be. against those whom we are connected is, of course, what no wise man would think of saying. I am talking of the broad facts of history, and, looking at the broad facts of history, what I say I am confident will stand the test of examination.
Everything that I read with regard to German expansion gives me the impression that a German can only conceive expansion as being carried out at the cost of somebody else, and it always is carried out at the cost of somebody else. It is that combination of passion for universal expansion and domination, combined with the deliberate intention of Germany not merely to be a great and growing Empire, but to have the rest of civilisation creeping at its feet—it is that determination which makes it so difficult to carry out those diplomatic conversations which must be the prelude to peace, and which nobody longs for more than I do, or than is done by my colleagues in the Government. Those conversations must take place, but how can they take place at this moment if Count Hertling's speech represents the extreme high-water mark of German concession? Does the hon. Gentleman, if he has done me the honour to listen to what I have said, really think if Count Hertling were able to carry out that conversation of which he spoke in the earlier part of his address, if he could meet round a table my right hon. Friend whom he quotes as 1474 desiring that conversation, does he really at this moment think, with the doctrines contained in this speech, that the conversation could end in anything like agreement? Does he not think a conversation which is begun and which ends in discord is worse than no conversation at all? [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] Well, that is my deliberate opinion. I am convinced—and I beg the House to weigh my words—that to begin negotiations unless you see your way to carrying them through successfully would be to commit the greatest crime against the future peace of the world. Therefore it is that I have to differ from my hon. Friend who spoke last. Therefore it is that while I long for the day when negotiations may really take place— negotiations which must be a preparation in bringing ideas closer together— much as I long for that day, I believe I should be doing an injury to the cause of peace, which is the cause I have at heart, the great cause I have at heart— if I were either to practise myself or to encourage others to practise, or to hope myself or to encourage others to hope, that there was any use in beginning those verbal personal communications, until something like a general agreement was apparent in the distance, and until statesmen of all countries concerned saw their way to the broad outlines of that great settlement, which it is my most earnest hope will bring permanent peace to this sorely troubled world.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
I would have preferred to have spoken before the right hon. Gentleman addressed the House, because the particular point I wish to bring before him was only somewhat distantly connected with Count Hertling's speech. The right hon. Gentleman has made it difficult for anybody to follow him "without introducing the extraordinary speech to which we have just listened. The right hon. Gentleman is always interesting, and never speaks in this House "without exciting our intellectual curiosity and spurring us on to consider problems which he has a facility for raising. I cannot help wondering how long this War is going to go on if Count Hertling from the Reichstag blackguards the British Empire and the right hon. Gentleman from that box defends it. Nine-tenths of what the right hon. Gentleman said could have been read with the greatest pleasure and satisfaction at our own firesides if he 1475 had contributed it to the "Nineteenth Century" or the "Edinburgh Review," or some similar publication; but raising these points in this way and telling Count Hertling that he has got a wrong theory about the British Empire and a wrong conception of the genius of the British people whilst men are fighting in the field and dying, and whilst we all want to hear, not about historical theories, but about war diplomacy, is, if the right hon. Gentleman will not object to the expression, really trifling with the very serious position in which this nation and Europe finds itself. The right hon. Gentleman was not always accurate. I do not know if he thinks it is a small point, but it seemed to me to be a very significant point in Count Hertling's speech. The right hon. Gentleman told us, for instance, that Count Hertling said that Palestine, Mesopotamia, and Armenia would require to be restored to the Turkish Empire. Count Hertling said nothing of the kind. I do not want to push the point, which seemed to me a very significant point in Count Hertling's speech, but what Count Hertling said was that Palestine, Syria, and Arabia should be restored. That is something totally different from Mesopotamia and Armenia. It might have been a slip of the tongue and quite unintentional, but it is one of those points which one who has followed with strenuous attention every word, every phrase, every qualification, and every admission made by Count Hertling, would at once have seen the importance of and would not have made the mistake which the right hon. Gentleman has done.
I am glad to agree with the right hon. Gentleman on one thing—to agree with him, without reserve, that we are going to have no humbug about Belgium. It must be restored as it was before the War. If it is not so restored it is not restored at all. With Germany either in territorial possession of Belgium or in possession of Belgium's economic life it is bound to be a menace, and if the right hon. Gentleman were going to conclude a peace with Germany in possession of Belgium in any sense whatever the peace he would conclude would not be a peace at all, it would be a patched-up affair, and it would be absolutely impossible for Europe to remain at peace under those conditions. I do not want to go into details, but I do want to press on this House, and on the Foreign Office, the importance of leaving all these 1476 controversies on one side. German professors will write about the British Empire in one way and British professors will write about it in another, and this will possibly go on until futurity, when perhaps the rival claims of schools of thought and political policy may finally be judged. But do not let us allow Hertling's phrases, or military sections, or professional sections making statements in reply to the right hon. Gentleman's speech with the intention of cementing the German people more and more around their military authority. I have no faith at all in the German Government. The one hope we have of establishing a secure peace in Europe is to get the German people to speak apart from the German Government, and everything that we say and do, which enables the German Government to go to the German people and say, "We told you so,"—of course, they will do that in any event as we are doing it—must be avoided. We must be careful, because there are scores of points made by the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon that can be quite easily turned to that evil purpose by the German Government.
§ Mr. MACDONALD
I quite agree. But if I might, I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he should not carry it on. He knows quite well that when one sets a bad example the virtuous gentleman who follows it has no excuse in the eyes of anybody if he says, "I followed the lead, which I quite admit was a bad lead." But I do not want to press that point any further. I say let us get back to real war diplomacy. Let us deal with real politics and leave all these debating and justifying points as to whether Germany started it or not, and as to how far Russia was to blame, to the final verdict of the historian. After peace comes we can go back and discuss all these things, if we like, and thrash all these points out. I expect some of us will agree and some of us will not, but if we are successful in securing a permanent peace, a guaranteed peace, a peace established by the voice of the people, then we shall have cause to congratulate ourselves upon it. What I really rose to speak about, and what would have been the sole subject of my speech had I had an opportunity before the right hon. Gentleman rose, has reference to another problem which the Foreign Office will have to handle with more care than it has done. I find, in speaking to foreigners—it is not so 1477 much the case among our own people, who do not quite see what is going on outside —but in speaking to French, Belgian, Italian, and Russian people—I find there is a very unhappy feeling that, after the War, there is going to be a good deal of recrimination about the position this country has held during the War. In Paris you will find they have a grievance about coal, and there are certain military opinions which are very candidly expressed there. In Belgium you will hear criticised our position regarding the German colonies, and our statesmen will have to put every ounce of their energy into securing that when peace comes this country is going to be in friendship with its present Allies.
I want it also to be in friendship with the democracies of the world, because the strength of this country has been the sympathy which foreign democracies have always had for us. It has been one of the most touching things to read the introduction written by Louis Blanc to the "History of the Revolution of 1845." There is no Member of this House who could have failed to read those magnificent sentences in regard to what England has done for democracy without feeling his blood coursing faster through his veins. I want to remind the right hon. Gentleman, therefore, that in dealing with Russia at the present moment we ought to show that we are not influenced so much by what is going on in that country. We are men of the world, and as such we ought to be careful, whoever maybe in power in Russia, not to put their backs up against us. One of my hon. Friends has spoken with considerable force about the murder going on there. He ought not to have fallen into such an obvious pitfall. There is murder, and blood running, of course. You cannot have a revolution without it. But still the fact remains, and it is a simple objective fact, that the Government of Russia has to be settled, and when the War is over it is going to be a very bad thing for us if Russia is going to be thrown into the arms of any Power which is not co-operating with us in peace. I would sacrifice much in order to prevent that.
The matter I wish to bring before the right hon. Gentleman is this: We have, I understand, got a system of couriers by mutual agreement. We send couriers to Petrograd and Petrograd sends couriers here. It is what I may call an ad hoc arrangement. It is very suitable, and 1478 very wise it should be so. In the second place, we have an official representative in 'Petrograd, not an Ambassador, and I do not know that he can be quite accurately placed in the category of Plenipotentiaries, but there is a person there who is in touch with the proper-authorities here and also in touch with the proper authorities there. Here there is a gentleman not fully authorised, I presume, as a Plenipotentiary or Ambassador. A gentleman came over from Petrograd and was to go to Paris as a Plenipotentiary in much the same position as M. Litvinoff occupies here. The Foreign Office knew all about it. His passports were got in the ordinary way. His mission was perfectly well known. There was nothing surprising about it. He arrived at Aberdeen on Saturday, and he says quite frankly that he was very anxious to inform the Foreign Office about the position of affairs in Russia. He was one of those Intellectuals who have associated themselves with the Left Wing of Russian politics, and although one does not want to make too much of this, I will assume that if the Foreign Secretary had an opportunity of getting first-hand information as to what had gone on at Brest-Litovsk he would avail himself of it. This gentleman, having been present there, could have given it. What happened is this: The man arrived with all his passports and with the full knowledge of the Foreign Office at Aberdeen. His luggage was immediately seized. His personal belongings were seized. The valise in which he carried his official documents under the seal of the Foreign Office of the Russian Government was seized. His money was taken. Even the matches which he had in his pocket were taken from him, and he adds, with a humorous touch, that a bible which he was conveying to a Russian friend was taken from him as being possibly a book with somewhat suspicious contents, and therefore dangerous. He had a cheque in his possession drawn upon a London bank. It was partly for his own personal expenses, partly for a charitable fund from which relief is given to Russians in distress in this country, and partly for the cost of the London office which the existing Petrograd Government has been maintaining for some time. That cheque was taken from him and he has been informed by Scotland Yard, or, at any rate, by some Government official, that it cannot be cashed in London, but that when he gets 1479 to Paris it will be handed to him so that he may keep it, I suppose, as a reminiscence of the hospitality of Great Britain. He has been told that when he leaves for Paris he will get his papers back. This gentleman quite naturally—I think hon. Members of this House will take this view—regards all this as an insult. He is met in this way in a country where he expected, at any rate, to receive plenipotentiary treatment, and regarding which he has got' the most affectionate ideas, and with which he wishes to have the most friendly relations. The result is that he has decided to go straight back to. Petrograd, and hon. Members can understand what the effect of all this is going to be. A mere muddle, a tremendous blunder, an insult! An important person, let his opinions be what they may, charged officially by his Government to go to Paris, treated in such a way here that he has made up his mind to go back and to decline the condescending offer that the Government makes to him, as to what is going to happen to his belongings when he starts for Paris. During the whole time he has been here, he says, his footsteps have been dogged by police agents and spies.
That is not all. I have given his case pretty fully, but there are the cases of the other two. Mr. Zalkin, who is going to Berne, in Switzerland, and will take up the same position there that this gentleman, M. Kameneff, is going to take in Paris, has been treated in precisely the same way. Then there is Mr. Savitzki, a courier, properly accredited from the Russian Government to Paris. He has been treated in exactly the same way. They were, I believe, allowed to leave for Paris to-day, or will be to-morrow, but they have been told that when they leave their hotel for the station they must be accompanied by some detectives, who will remain with them till the train starts. These things sound very trivial, but only those who know how foreign minds work can imagine what the influence is going to be. in Petrograd, and upon Russian democratic opinion as a whole, and can understand what a tremendous result can happen from this comparatively insignificant blunder. [COMMANDER BELLAIRS: "Democratic!"] To my mind a Government can claim the term of "democratic" when it gets the assent of the people for whom it is speaking, and all the evidence goes to show that in spite of what is said 1480 here the existing Government in Petrograd can hold its own. It has held its own, it is the only Government that wanted to stand by this Government. [COMMANDER BELLAIRS: "What about the Russian Parliament? "] I do not. want to be drawn into that. Really the elementary A, B, C of the question, I presume, is known to hon. Members of the House. What they said was that the Parliament was elected under the old condition of things and under registers that were so made up that the Parliament had no chum to that consideration which a representative assembly has. I do not know if the hon. Member is able to reply to that argument. I confess I am not, but the fact is there and it has nothing to do with this question at all. That is the Government in Petrograd, and all the information coming from Russia shows that the Soviet form of government is the only government that is likely to be permanent there. Whatever change may take place, whether you get the Bolshevik or any other section in power, no government can succeed unless it is the Soviet form of government. When this story goes the round of the Russian democracy, the Russian people who are behind this Government, hon. Members can readily understand what their impressions will be of the intentions and spirit of the British Government.
There was another case I wanted to raise. I wanted to ask the right hon. Gentleman who is now on the Government Bench what the position is with regard to Mr. Litvinoff? Under ordinary circumstances he would be a sort of ward of the Foreign Office if he was fully recognised. If he was an ambassador fully recognised the Foreign Office would regard his honour as its honour. It would certainly not allow vile accusations to be made without feeling it was if self involved, and would do its best to defend him. I do not know how far the Foreign Office considers itself in that relation to Mr. Litvinoff now, but the other day in this House it allowed another Department—I am going to raise that matter to-morrow—through the mouth of the Home Secretary to countenance a vile slander against this man. In fact, an hon. Member of this House used the Order Paper to slander him and the Home Secretary never lifted his voice in protest against it, but as a matter of fact rather encouraged people to assume it was right. The Foreign Office —I do not know that I am pressing it too 1481 far—I should think even in the present loose relationship ought to have seen that the Home Office did not give circulation to that slander, for it is nothing less than a slander that was uttered against Mr. Litvinoff. He is supposed to have been connected with a bank robbery in Tiflis, but he has never been to the Caucasus in all his days. He is supposed to have been known either as Buchmann or Finklestein. He never used those names in all his existence. He is supposed to have been known as Mr. Harrison. He was once approached by a firm of publishers, Messrs. Williams and Norgate, and was persuaded to call himself Harrison Litvinoff, but he was never known as Mr. Harrison. This I can say from personal knowledge, that he came to me ten years ago with an introduction from a most important leading man in Belgium, a gentleman who is a member of the Brussels municipality and also a member of the Belgian Chamber of Deputies; and when Mr. Litvinoff came to me then his name was Litvinoff, and I have never known him under any other name since. That was ten years ago. On the question of difference of name, everybody knows that in Russia some of the most honourable Russians have had half a dozen names. Everybody who knows the political conditions of Russia knows that is quite true. Maxim Gorky? Is anybody under the impression that that is his name? Whose proper name in Russia is the name by which he is known? Nobody who has any political importance in the country. Everybody of political importance has two, three, four, or half a dozen or sometimes more names on account of the prosecutions and the persecutions under the old regime.
I raise these two points because I think the Foreign Office should do something to remove the roughness of the treatment of these gentlemen. My experience of our Foreign Office has been that it has always tried to do that. If I may, I would beg them again to try and overcome this difficulty, and do something which will enable these representatives of a Government to go back to Russia, if they must go back to Russia, with something like friendly feelings in their hearts towards us, so that when they go back and speak of us they will not speak of us with hatred, but with affection, or at any rate not with contempt. The future of Russia is to be a great future, revolution or no revolution, 1482 and it will be in the interests of this country if we associate ourselves heartily with the struggles of the people of Russia to be free.
§ Mr. NOEL BUXTON
I desire to say just a brief word on the point, which is of greatest interest, and to which the | Foreign Secretary first devoted his attention, namely, whether the moment has arrived for diplomatic work. He to-day, as he did a fortnight ago, contested the idea that the two sides had sufficiently approached accord of view to make diplomacy possible of success. He said to-day that it is still out of court. He said a fortnight ago that it was no use, because there is no evidence that the Central Powers mean to come to terms. I only rise because, on this point, which is really the most vital of all, I endeavour to keep in touch with neutrals, who have better means than we of knowing what currents of thought prevail in Germany, and what is the situation of parties and the strength of rival factions. On this I would like, with your permission, to say a word. The Foreign Secretary, of course, contradicted on this point President Wilson. President Wilson, for a long time past, has made definite endeavours to appeal over the heads of the German authorities to the mass of the people. I understand that the Foreign Secretary thinks in effect that that is not worth doing, and that President Wilson, therefore, is not contributing to success, because the moment for diplomatic action has not really arrived. That difference of opinion is perfectly legitimate, but it is a marked difference of opinion. I notice that an important American organ, the "New Republic," dwells very often On this fact—the contradiction between the principles behind our diplomacy and the diplomacy of President Wilson. I would like to quote a neutral authority, a high authority, a neutral diplomat, whose opinion I sometimes receive, whose authority would be recognised as great if I were able to indicate more exactly. On this point he says there is absolutely no particle of doubt that if the Entente Powers were prepared to accept peace on a "no annexations, no indemnity" basis, the German Government would be forced by internal pressure in a very short time to agree, whether it was itself favourable or not.
1483 What I could not help noticing in the Foreign Secretary's speech was that he never once alluded to the two forces, the distinction between the governmental force and the other force in Germany, and I could not help fearing that the hon. Member for Leicester is right, and that that fact will be made very effective use of by the Junker parties in conducting their propaganda in Germany. Secondly, he says—this is much more easy to argue from his point of view—that it is no use approaching the German Government, that there is not now sufficient harmony to make diplomacy worth trying. I venture to think that there is more to be said on that point than the Foreign Secretary has alluded to. At all events, the best information I can get from those who have better means than we belligerents of knowing what is happening in Germany is that the German Government itself is markedly divided in the opinion of the German political world. Kuehlmann is regarded by those forces which are called the Liberal forces, which are markedly anti-Hindenburg-Ludendorff and Tirpitz, as the hope of those Liberal forces, and, rightly or wrongly, they attempt to make use of Kuehlmann, and they have in Kuehlmann a very powerful force, which is a governmental force. Count Hertling, perhaps, is between the two forces, but we, at all events, have helped to choke off the possible increase of force of that Kuehlmann section of the Government in two ways—one by the statements of the Government on aims, and another by the action of the Government in appointing, for instance. Lord Northcliffe to be Director of Propaganda. It cannot be denied, as was pointed out to-day, that such an appointment strikes the whole German public as the appointment of Count Reventlow would strike the English. I would just like to quote this opinion from the neutral diplomat to whom I alluded:Kuehlmann's attitude in regard to this is that he has already indicated (' Alsace Lorraine is the only obstacle" of peace, etc.') that Germany was prepared to meet the Entente demand in Belgium, and since these indications had met no favourable response abroad, it was useless to state it categorically in view of the internal furore which it would occasion.That may be an accurate and a truthful representation of the case. But in this country the Government, as at present constituted, rejects altogether the possibility of approaching the German Government or the German people. 1484 Now the basis of that I take to be the fact that the Government is not at all prepared for any peace of which approaches a peace of restoration. It is really still bent on victory. It is bent on a series of terms which represent decidedly a humiliating result to the Central Powers. We have only to remember the fact that in demanding self-determinations detrimental to the Central Powers, the Allies do not hint at any possible quid pro quo in the colonial world or elsewhere. We have distinctly gone back on the utterance of the Prime Minister last summer, when he said that given willingness for restoration, we should then be willing to talk. He put his words in a kind of parenthesis—" Restoration, and then we will talk." He now, in fact, holds out for a humiliating settlement. But the best evidence, I think, upon what would be the effect in Germany of a humiliating settlement, even if we could get it, is that we should not thereby achieve our ends. Not only would humiliation be a mistaken object, but it is now an impossible object. It is no good blinking that fact. Restoration of our present Allies may be a perfectly accessible object, and it is, I think, in the best opinion the best basis for a stable peace. One more quotation I would like to give on that point, in evidence of the fact that, in spite of recent events, a peace of that kind may be accessible—not less accessible, but more accessible:Kuehlmann may have made an agreement with the less rabid military opinion for a ' strong ' peace in the East on the chance of (retting the Allies to accept a status quo in the West. He was reported to have leanings towards such a settlement.I am not going to take further time. It seems to me that there is a great deal to be added to what the Foreign Secretary has said on this absolutely essential question of the material at hand for diplomatic action. Nothing has really happened to show that a good settlement—a settlement based on successful defence—is not within reach of the Allies. if they want it. But they have not yet shown evidence that that is the settlement they want.
§ Mr. D. MASON
Before. I turn to the question under discussion, I should like, with your permission, Mr. Wilson, just to make a passing reference to a statement made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Cleveland Division. Of course, I know it would not be in order to go into it at length. He said 1485 that the enormous increase in the cost of the War was due to the bad management of the present Government. Now the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his reply, offered some explanation, and I should like, as it is of public interest, to make this remark, because—
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Mr. J. W. Wilson)
It is not the custom of the House to go back on a previous argument, which necessarily cannot be replied to.
§ Mr. MASON
I was not proposing to go into the merits of the question, but I thought I might offer an explanation of a kind which neither of the right hon. Gentlemen had given. I know it is not quite in order, but I thought it might serve a useful purpose. However, as you rule it out of order, I will defer any remarks upon it until the Vote of Credit. With regard to the speech which we are now discussing, namely, Count Hertling's speech, I ventured to address a question to the Prime Minister yesterday regarding the first part of the speech, in which, referring to the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dewsbruy, Count Hertling was reported to have said,I can only agree with Mr. Runciman that we should be much nearer the subject if the proper responsible representatives of the belligerent Powers would meet in conclave for discussion. That would be the way to remove the intentional and unintentional misunderstandings, and to bring about an agreement on many individual questions."I ventured to ask the Prime Minister the question as to whether His Majesty's Government, in view of this invitation on the part of the German Chancellor, would take steps to meet the representatives of the belligerent Powers in conclave, believing, as I do—and I think most people would agree—that only by so coming together in conclave or conference are we ever likely to get beyond those indeterminate discussions as to what each particular Minister means by his adumbration or statement with regard to war aims. I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs that some measure of agreement is certainly necessary before such a conference would be of any use or service. I do not agree with him when he states that it would serve no useful purpose unless you had a very large measure of agreement, or almost complete agreement, before enter- 1486 ing into such a conference. I would remind the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, and the Minister of Blockade, who is now present, that there was an occasion in the Crimean War when a conference took place which certainly did not bring the war to a close. I think, however, that the right hon. Gentleman would be the last to deny that it had a very material service in bringing peace nearer, and, by enabling the belligerents to exchange views, arrive at some common ground on the way of finding a durable peace. This instance the Secretary for Foreign Affairs forgets. This conference of plenipotentiaries undoubtedly advanced the cause of peace, although not at that particular time, though it helped the peace which ultimately followed.
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down (Mr. Buxton) made, I think, a valuable contribution to the Debate when he drew our attention again to the very distinct difference which President Wilson has over and over again referred to of appealing to the people of Germany as against the autocratic rulers of Germany. If I may, I should like to congratulate the Labour party of this country on the statesmanlike action they have taken in advancing the idea of an international conference of Labour representatives. I believe, in fact, that their action and their ultimate decision to press for a certain international conference will tend to make it possible and have, a very material effect in advancing Count Hertling's anxiety for hastening this conference—what he calls the proper representatives of the belligerent Powers in conclave. I regret that the Secretary for Foreign Affairs did not meet this invitation in a more sympathetic spirit. After all, it is quite true that German history is not altogether an ideal which we should endeavour to emulate, but, as the right hon. Gentleman admitted, the history of all the Powers—ourselves included—would not stand the strictest investigation in regard to particular statements as to what we intended to do and what we ultimately did in many of the wars in which we hare been engaged. When he was speaking I was reminded of the statement of his distinguished uncle when we were engaged in the South African War, that we "neither sought gold nor territory," yet it is well known now that there was forcible annexations subsequently in South Africa. I am not going into the merits of this question, but we are anxious to bring this horrible 1487 tragedy to an end. Surely we ought to try to avoid recriminations, and seek rather to find common ground of agreement between us and the enemy, than to go into past history with the view to score debating points upon statements that may have been made by the belligerents themselves.
In his speech the Imperial German Chancellor again referred to the statement, which has been also touched upon by various speakers, of his agreement in considerable measure with President Wilson. We know from a study of the speeches, particularly that of the Austrian Foreign Minister and the President of the United States, that they are very nearly, almost we might say, in complete agreement, while, on the other hand, the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Foreign Affairs said that he again adhered to his original statement that there was no difference in substance. Of course, he is perfectly entitled to adhere to that statement. I confess, however, that when President Wilson draws a very definite distinction between the two speeches, and when Count von Hertling now very emphatically comes out into the open and admits his agreement with four of the fourteen conditions laid down by President Wilson, to say there is no difference in substance between these two Ministers in their previous utterances really is to trespass too much upon the simplicity of the House of Commons. There is no question that there was a very decided difference between the original utterances of Count von Hertling in his brusque and non-possumus attitude with regard to the points upon which Count Czernin on the occasion in question agreed. Count von Hertling's attitude seems to indicate a great advance which might have been more sympathetically met and better welcomed by the Secretary for Foreign Affair.
There is another point on which I should like to say a word before I sit down, and that is the very reasonable request on the part of the Imperial German Chancellor for unity of statement on the part of the Allies. That should commend itself to the Governments—that is to say, we ought to have a joint declaration by the Allies of what they really desire—as to what are their aims. I attach immense importance to the idea of a conference as being superior to all these statements, because of the great difficulty, whatever any 1488 Government may say, or whatever may be said of war aims in any joint statement of the Allies, of the difficulty of getting the world to interpret that document in a single sense, particularly in a war of this kind, which ranges over nearly the whole of the habitable globe. It is almost impossible for any living Power to say really what it is aiming at, or to desire, without raising controversy and debate, to explain itself, and thereby getting further from the end that we all desire. I therefore come back to what I originally ventured to ask the Prime Minister, and which I was asked to postpone until Monday of next week:To ask His Majesty's Government if they will not, particularly in view of the very many valuable speeches which are now being delivered, take into consideration the supreme advantage— even if there is no measure of complete agreement as to belief in that Conference—the supreme advantage of meeting this invitation of the Central Powers to have a Conference for the interchange of ideas for the purpose of arriving at some common ground towards that peace which we all desire.
I desire to bring before the Committee a point which I think is important. I do not want to enter into criticisms of the Foreign Secretary's speech, although it offers many opportunities in that respect. I hope the Noble Lord opposite, if he refers to my remarks, will not think it necessary to adopt the usual terms of sneering and abuse in regard to those who sit on this bench. The point I wish to bring to the right hon. Gentleman's notice is that we are reaching a stage when, whatever may be said to the contrary, we must recognise that negotiations have begun, although they are being conducted by perhaps the most unfavourable possible methods for reaching any sort of fruitful conclusion. So long as the statesmen of Europe are going to shout at one another across Europe with all the difficulties and misunderstandings which arise from newspaper reports, under these circumstances it is hopeless to expect that anything like a basis can be reached upon which the more official negotiations can be carried on. The newspaper reports are not always quite trustworthy, and it usually takes two or three days before you can realise what is the full meaning of a speech.
Under the influence of rhetoric speakers are far more apt to indulge in recrimination. As an instance, this afternoon the Foreign Secretary obviously came down to the House prepared to make a speech on 1489 the subject of Count Hertling's declaration, but under the influence of the atmosphere of the House of Commons he made several very serious slips and inaccuracies. One of them was pointed out by the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Macdonald) when he mentioned Armenia and Mesopotamia quoted by Count Hertling as instances of what we wanted to detach from Turkey. The second important inaccuracy was when the right hon. Gentleman said that Count Hertling had stated that there was no Alsace-Lorraine question; but he did not say that. What Count Hertling said was that there was no Alsace-Lorraine question in the international sense, which means that he did not admit that it was a question for the Powers as a whole, but a question between Germany and France. It is just a question of what interpretation you put on the words. There are other points in the right hon. Gentleman's speech in which he rightly pointed out the inconsistency of the principles enunciated by Count Hertling, and the instance he gave of the way they had been carried out with regard to the Ukraine Republic, and that was a very telling point.
On the other hand, if Count Hertling asked how we carried out our principles in the Treaty of London he would score a point on his side. So long as we encourage recriminations and debating points of this kind by the statesmen of Europe in their own assemblies, it seems to me that we are kept from the real goal which we all desire to reach. I would ask the Noble Lord whether the future declarations of the Government might not be made in considered written documents which should be communicated to the belligerent Powers through some neutral Government, and at the same time published in the country from which they emanate. Statesmen in council round a table considering point by point the various phases of a question, and the emphasis that is laid on particular problems and tabulated statements will come to a very much more sober and moderate judgment considering written documents rather than sending their representatives into a heated and excited chamber where they lose themselves in a maze of rhetoric. The one statesman who has adopted this advice and this method which I am advocating is President Wilson. I do not approve really of the enormous powers he possesses, but I thank Heaven that it is President Wilson who 1490 has those powers. At any rate he writes out very carefully, after consultation with those in whom he has confidence, the documents by which he verbally stands. We have the Foreign Secretary coming down here and explaining points in his last speech and re-interpreting and apologising for phrases in his present speech. At a moment like this when the whole world is bleeding, surely such a method as I suggest might well be adopted.
§ Lord R. CECIL
The hon. Member who has just spoken has made an appeal to me which I can assure him I do not wish to treat in a combative sense. No one who has been inside the Foreign Office can doubt the extreme difficulty of anybody connected with that office replying to criticisms. The hon. Member who has just spoken very justly says that every word we utter is watched, and I can assure the hon. Member that it is not the wish of the Foreign Secretary or myself that Debates on these very delicate questions should be raised; but they are raised, and I do not see what course we are to take except to reply to the questions and to the points put to us. It is impossible for us to write our speeches on those occasions.
§ Lord R. CECIL
Perhaps he did it when he was going to make a great declaration of policy, but not when he had to reply to questions put in the House, and I very much doubt whether he did write out any speeches on those occasions. He certainly did not do so on all occasions, because several times I sat upon this seat when he spoke. The hon. Member is perfectly aware, when there comes to be made an important declaration of policy, or a considered declaration of policy, that it is written. I agree with him that there are great dangers in this system of speeches delivered in the German Parliament and replied to here, but, after all, you have got more than that to consider in democratic forms of Government. The people of this country are entitled to know what you say in reply to a speech of this kind. That 1491 must be considered, and we must take the first opportunity of saying it, and we must run the risk of it.
I do not propose, as my right hon. Friend has made a speech on the subject, to go into the question of Count Hertling's speech. I will not, at any rate, run the risk that the hon. Member has pointed out. All I want to say about it is this. I agree with my right hon. Friend that to enter upon negotiations until there is a reasonable prospect of a successful issue is a foolish thing to do. We do not want to repeat the experiment of Brest-Litovsk. That is an important consideration. We must, as trustees for this country and the Empire, take reasonable precautions to avoid the attacks of the enemy, and I do think that my right hon. Friend was perfectly justified in saying that before we enter upon any such negotiations we must have a guarantee that the enemy is really sincere and genuine in trying to meet us in our essential demands. The hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. R. Macdonald) said with great force that there must be no humbug about Belgium. I entirely agree with him. I do not say that Belgium is the only issue, but I do say that it is a test issue, and I think we are entitled, and before we consider any question of negotiations we are bound to be satisfied that the Central Powers really do mean to restore Belgium absolutely as it was and to do their best to repair what was the greatest international wrong that has been committed for many years, if not for a century. I can find no trace of that in Count Hertling's speech. Some Member in the Debate has said that there was a difficulty in the way of German statesmen making such a statement. They have never conveyed to us in any form or shape that they are ready to restore Belgium and to repair the wrong that they have done. Until they have done that, I do not think that we can be asked to consider any offer of negotiations.
That is all that I desire to say about that subject, which has been dealt with already by my right hon. Friend, but the hon. Member for Leicester asked me several questions about the action that has been taken with reference to the Russian envoys, to use a perfectly neutral term, that are in this country. The hon. Member must look at all the circumstances of the case before he decides what we ought or ought not to have done. Let me explain in passing that, of course, 1492 the Foreign Office docs not direct what action should be taken in these matters. It is a matter which rests entirely with the Home Office. They take whatever action they think is necessary, and my right hon. Friend (Sir G. Cave) no doubt will answer as to the details of what he did. When you come to the broad principle how these gentlemen ought to be treated you must look at it from a common-sense point of view. I do not want to weigh too much on the question of their technical position, but either they are envoys of a foregin Government or they are not. If they are envoys, they must behave like other envoys. They must not try and intervene in the domestic affairs of this country. No Ambassador or Minister of any Government would be allowed to do that. We know quite well that for merely expressing an opinion in the most casual way one of our Ambassadors to America was asked to withdraw from the country. All he did was to say something, I forget what, perfectly casually, but the United States Government thought that it was an attempt by a foreign envoy to interfere in the internal affairs of the country, and, having arrived at that conclusion, they said, perfectly rightly in my judgment. "He is not an envoy we can consent to receive."
§ Lord R. CECIL
M. Litvinoff has not acted on those lines at all. I do not want to discuss the exact path that he has taken. I do not want to weigh on that too much. He has taken undoubtedly a very active part on more than one occasion in matters entirely outside his province as an envoy of any country. He has done more than that, and the attitude of the Government that he represents ought to be considered in the matter. After all, it is very difficult for me to make this case without offence, but it is essential that it should be understood. The Bolshevik Government has made no secret of its intense hostility to the Government of this country. It has published attack after attack of the most violent kind on this country. It has made no secret of the fact that its policy is social revolution in all countries. If its envoys are going to advocate and promote social revolution in this country— by social revolution I mean what I say, 1493 and not constitutional change—it is the duty of the Government to protect the people of this country against its advocacy, just as if it were undertaken by natives of this country. I do not say that you can treat them any different than the natives of this country. They must not be treated worse; they must not be treated better. In these circumstances, when these gentlemen arrived, the Home Office, in the exercise of its discretion, thought it desirable to take the precautions which they would take in the case of anybody whom they had reason to think was engaged, or likely to be engaged, in that kind of enterprise, and thought it necessary to search the lug gage and to search to some extent the persons of these gentlemen. I think that was a precaution which was a reasonable one in the circumstances, and I do not think there is any ground upon which that could be regarded as insulting. I have not the slightest doubt that if we had sent envoys into Russia in the same way, openly anxious to restore, let us say, a monarchical form of government, or something of that kind, which I should think equally insane and equally reprehensive —
§ Lord R. CECIL
Yes, indeed, I should think it so for us to send envoys, more or less accredited—I do not care about technicalities for the moment—to the Russian Government pledged to restore what is called Czarism in that country, and if they went in with pamphlets, or were suspected of having pamphlets for the purpose of spreading that idea, and were suspected of carrying on that object, I cannot believe for a moment that the Smolny Government would not on the instant have searched them; and I am perfectly certain that if they had found the slightest kind of suspicion that that was their object, the envoys would have been very lucky indeed if they had merely been sent back to this country. In all these cases the only safe line is to act reasonably and justly. If the hon. Member could show that we acted unreasonably or unjustly, I agree we should have been grossly to blame. In my judgment in this matter we have acted neither unreasonably nor unjustly. I am perfectly certain that is the safe line to take— neither to look either to the left hand nor the right hand, but to look at justice and reason. In the end that is far more 1494 likely to conciliate the good opinion and the respect of the Russians themselves than any course which is less defensible. I quite admit that it is a very difficult position. The hon. Member—I do not complain of what he said at all—admitted it. I quite admit it is a delicate position to be put into. All I can say is that we have acted in the same way as I believe any Government would have acted in the same circumstances.
§ 9.0. P.M.
§ Lord R. CECIL
I would rather that the hon. Member should put the details of this matter to the Home Secretary, because I might not be saying everything he would wish to say. All I can say about the cheque is that there was no intention to steal it. I suppose the idea was that until we were satisfied as to the purpose for which it would be employed, we were entitled to take the money into our custody. The cheque was a considerable one merely for expenses. I think it was for £5,000. It is a very useful thing for an envoy to come into a country with a cheque for £5,000, particularly if he is suspected of any desire to overthrow the existing Government of the country to which he is accredited.
§ Mr. MACDONALD
As the Noble Lord has mentioned the sum, will he allow me to say that the explanation of the £5,000 is that the expenses of the Embassy have been going on for a long time now, and have never come into this country before, and this was the first contribution to pay them?
§ Lord R. CECIL
I do not want to go into a discussion of the details. I think the hon. Member is misinformed on the facts. I think there has been an arrangement for allowing the payments to be made for Mr. Litvinoff's expenses. If that had been put to the British Government, and they had been asked to allow the payment of expenses in any way, obviously no difficulty would have been raised. That is the position. As to Mr Kameneff going back to Russia, the explanation is that the French Government have decided that they cannot admit these gentlemen into France. I really think that to charge the British Government with acting unreasonably or unjustly is-altogether unfair. The position is a diffi- 1495 cult one, and I am sure the right thing is not to give any treatment to these gentlemen better than we give to our own subjects. So long as we do that, they are not entitled to say we treat them unfairly or unjustly.
§ Mr. KING
I wish to welcome the tone and manner exhibited by the Noble Lord. I do so all the more because, on the last occasion on which I spoke, in a Debate on foreign affairs, his tone was very different from that which he has assumed to-night. I cannot, however, congratulate him on the candour or consistency of the explanation he has given of our attitude towards the Russian Envoy. He has said that if an Envoy goes to a foreign country he must behave as an Envoy, and take no part whatever in the internal affairs of that country. In the last speech I remember from the Noble Lord that is just what he plumed himself upon, because Sir George Buchanan had actually done it in Russia, for he told us—it was an open secret—that Sir George Buchanan had offered his advice to the ex-Czar as to what Ministers it would be welcome to us for him to chose. Therefore, what is the rule for a Russian Ambassador here, is evidently not the rule for a British Ambassador in Russia. That being so well-known a fact, which has been quoted in the French and Russian papers, as well as admitted by the Noble Lord here, I think that if his explanation is telegraphed to Petrograd and published in the papers there, they will recognise that it was a perfectly insincere defence. Moreover, I contend that M. Litvinoff has not interfered in our internal affairs. I did not hear him at Nottingham, but I read an account of the speech, and it was an explanation of what Socialists and Labour men were doing in Russia, and it was an appeal to the Socialists and Labour men of this country to act in sympathy with them, but I must admit that it is not fair to say that that speech was in any way an interference in our internal politics. The same applies to his speech the other night at the Central Hall. I listened to every word of it most carefully. It was really a lecture upon the Russian Revolution and the Bolshevik policy. It was not in any sense, either by way of advice or exhortation, an interference with British subjects as to their internal affairs. On the following day, a week ago yesterday, 1496 when I asked the Noble Lord whether he had read M. Litvinoff's speech, he very proudly said he had not read it, and when I asked him if he would read it he declined to read it. Admitting that he has not read it, and will not read it, he yet accuses this man of interfering in our internal affairs. Certainly, the Noble Lord does himself scant justice if he thinks we can take his replies and excuses here as candid and straightforward. I am sorry to attack him in any way, but he ought not to lay himself open to obvious retorts.
I am going to make; an appeal to the Foreign Office, to the Government, and to this House, to treat more sympathetically the Russian Revolution, and the ground of my appeal shall be, in the first place, a very sordid one. We have lent Russia in this War £700,000,000, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he gives us his statement on the next Vote of Credit, will leave us with the happy hope—I trust it will be a very real hope—that some day or other Russia, understanding and realising what we have done for her in this War, will be ready to pay the interest, and eventually the capital of that sum. Moreover, we have invested, by private companies and private trading firms in Russia, a sum of certainly £60,000.000, and probably £70,000,000 or £80.000,00. and I want to see that property secured and preserved. I want to see a Government in power in Russia which will not repudiate foreign obligations, even though they were undertaken by a cruel Tsar. I want a Government in power in Russia which will respect the capital brought by foreigners into the land and give security and opportunity for that capital. But, if I were a Russian at present, and saw how my country is being despised and libelled and how its Envoys are being insulted and called criminals in this country, I should think twice before I supported a Parliamentary candidate for Government which began by saying: "Though these Englishmen have insulted us and abused us, and misunderstood us. and villified us, yet we are going to pay their debts." When we think of the poverty and the disorganisation of Russia, I think some patience, some consideration, and more generous treatment might, be shown by the Government of this country towards the youngest democracy in the world.
But I put my claim upon another ground, which, though it may not appeal 1497 to the Noble Lord, yet I think, will appeal to most sensible men. It is that President Wilson. himself and the American Government are treating the Russian Revolution in a very different spirit, and with much greater patience and fairness. Our Government is, in itself, by its own Ministers, repeating what are little less than falsehoods concerning the Russian Government. Only recently, by one Minister, Lenin and Trotsky were declared to have been bought by German gold. [An Hon. Member: "Name!"] I will not give an advertisement, even to an ignorant Minister, but that is the sort of thing that is being done recklessly and ignorantly, by Ministers here. What do we find the Americans doing? A certain Colonel Thomsett was Military Attaché in Petrograd, and he has lately returned to New York. He is himself a rich banker, as well as the Military Attaché to the American Embassy. He says the Bolsheviks are not, and never could have been, pro-German. and he goes on to say:It is astonishing the degree of order which they have maintained in Russia. In Petrograd during the first months of the November revolution, I can say from my own personal observations that there was better order than at any other time during my four months' stay in Russia.These Bolsheviks, who are being represented by our Government and by the Jingo press and oven by the Foreign Secretary here, as weltering in blood, as spreading outrage and disorder, are declared by the attaché to the United States Embassy straight from the spot to have maintained in the very hour of revolution greater order and safety to life and property than there had been at any time in the previous four months, and of course the same judgment has been given by all the most experienced correspondents of the papers—the correspondents of the "Manchester Guardian" and the "Daily News," about the only two daily papers which gave us warnings of the coming revolution and gave us the truth of the revolution when it did come about.
§ Mr. KING (resuming)
The words of President Wilson have been quoted before, but they will bear quotation again, because they give a warning which it is not too late to profit by. He said, speaking of the Russian Revolution, that if the Allies had made their ideal war aims plain at the very outset the sympathy and enthusiasm of the Russian people might have been won and enlisted on the side of the Allies and suspicion and distrust swept away and the real and lasting union of purpose effected. I will not say more about Russia now, but I do want to appeal on other grounds to the Government that they should bring their policy into closer touch and accord with the policy of President Wilson. Our hope in this War, in a military sense, rests on America. In a diplomatic sense, an economic sense, and a financial sense, our hopes are based upon the support and sympathy of the great American nation. I must insist on our acting diplomatically in the closest contact and agreement with President Wilson.
It is, to my mind, lamentable that in another way the difference of point of view between ourselves and President Wilson is most marked. I refer to the treatment of the Pope's Peace Note. The Peace Note of His Holiness the Pope was dated August last, and it was conveyed from our Minister at the Vatican to the various belligerent countries. It was promptly replied to by President Wilson, and when, on the 18th of October, I asked a question in this House whether any reply would be sent by this Government I received the answer that the clear and powerful reply of President Wilson was not the result of any consultation with the Allies, and it was added thatThere seems no reason for any reply being sent beyond the acknowledgment which has already been conveyed.When I asked whether this Government was in full accord with everything contained in President Wilson's reply, the answer given was that they were unable to say "Yes" or "No." Though there have been repeated attempts on the part of others besides myself to get a more 1499 sympathetic reply to the Pope's Note, or at any rate a statement that President Wilson's reply was fully endorsed and accepted by us, nothing of that kind has been given. This is a serious matter, because the Pope's Peace Note—
§ Mr. J. O'CONNOR
I desire to raise a point of Order, and to point out that the Foreign Office on this important matter is not represented on the Front Bench, and having regard to the fact that this is a very important matter in which we are all interested, more or less, I beg leave to move "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."
§ Mr. KING
As the hon. Member has asked that you do report Progress and you are unable to accept it from him, as I was in possession of the House, I beg to do so. I beg leave to move that you do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again. I do so because I was invited by the Foreign Office to signify to them whether I had any wish to speak, and I-did so. They asked me what I desired to speak about, and I said the Russian Revolution and the Pope's Peace Note. Therefore I have given them an intimation that I desire to raise these matters. I had a very friendly conversation with the representative of the Foreign Office, and I expected that he would be here in his place on his promising me that my suggestions would be fully considered. I, therefore, beg to move that you do report Progress and and ask leave to sit again.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
So far as I can see the Standing Order, I should not feel justified in accepting that Motion on this occasion. I must point out to the hon. Member that I was quite ready to call him before the Noble Lord (Lord R. Cecil) rose. I looked towards him, but he did not rise. I had him down on the list to speak, but an hon. Member beyond him rose, and the hon. Member did not rise, so he sacrificed an opportunity which would most certainly have given him the chance of speaking before the Noble Lord replied.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
On a point of Order. It may have been that it was arranged that the hon. Member should catch the Chairman's eye, but the Committee has some rights in the matter- The Committee is not bound by any arrangement made behind the Chairman's chair, and the fact that the hon. Member did not choose to look at the Chairman and the Chairman did not choose to catch his eye does not do away with our privileges in the matter. If the Department is not represented in a matter with which the Committee is very much concerned, the Committee ought to insist on its privileges.
§ The CHAIRMAN
Standing Order 23 leaves it entirely within the discretion of the Speaker or the Chairman to rule whether or not he accepts such a Motion as this. I have already ruled that I do not accept it.
§ Mr. KING
This matter of the Pope's Peace Note is a very serious matter because it has had an enormous circulation in this country. It has been published by hundreds of thousands and it has aroused, especially among the Catholic section of the population, the greatest interest and discussion. Therefore, the fact that it has been practically ignored by the Government of this country, who do not even see their way to agree with President Wilson's answer, is a matter of grave concern. Of course, the explanation is obvious to anyone who has read the Italian Secret Treaty, Article 15 of which imposes the obligation upon the Government to support in no way any advance made by the Pope towards peace.
§ Mr. KING
The text of this Treaty has been read out in the Italian Chamber. It has excited the greatest amount of discussion, and it has become there a matter of clerical against anti-clerical. I do not wish to import that controversy here, but there cannot be any doubt whatever in any reasonable man's mind that the opinion is very strong in Catholic circles, and even the hon. Member for Perth if he has read the speeches and responses 1501 of Catholic divines, including a cardinal, will see that the opinion in Catholic circles is practically unanimous in believing that owing to our secret treaty with Italy we are prevented from replying to the Pope's Note. That is the position, and it is essentially a position which President Wilson does not take up. He recognises, and I think that every reasonable man ought to recognise, that in a time of war, when nearly all the nations of the world are involved, the spiritual and extraterritorial position of the Pope give him a singular opportunity of bringing warring elements together. I consider it a grave error on the part of our Government, and a grave misfortune for some reason or other—I believe the reason which I have given—that we are precluded from replying to the Peace Note of the Pope.
As the Noble Lord (Lord Robert Cecil) has returned, I want to appeal on another ground for more cohesion and harmony between the diplomatic policy of this country and the United States. In doing so I call attention to the very serious fact that President Wilson is not represented at the Versailles Supreme War Council. When, after the Paris Conference, the Versailles Council was established it was done with great approval from America, and the statement was made in the "Times" that this would bring us much more closely into touch and harmony, not only with the military operations on the Continent, but with our American Allies. The fact is that to-day at the Versailles Council President Wilson has an observer to report to him what passes there, but he has no representative there to express views or note. I consider that that, again, is a grave misfortune and probably a grave error on our part. It is, I believe, largely connected with the existence and maintenance of so many secret treaties. The secret treaties which have been published at Petrograd have caused the very greatest interest and disquietude and distrust in so many lands. I have lately addressed two public meetings myself, and in reference to secret treaties you get a response from the audience and a quickened interest which are very impressive. I am quite convinced that our diplomacy, the strength of our cause and the harmony and determination of the people, would be increased immensely if our Government would do what it ought to do, announce at once that it would revise all the secret undertakings and publish them with their revisions. I believe that it is 1502 because of the secret treaties President Wilson moves in a different diplomatic orbit from ourselves, and until we remove this cause of difficulty we shall have, as we have to-day, America refusing to enter into the pact of London, and President Wilson refusing to put a representative on the Versailles Supreme War Council, and taking the opportunity, not once but twice, to be the first to reply to peace statements and political pronouncements by the Central Powers; and we may have a really dangerous position if we get, instead of increasing harmony and practical unanimity, at all events of diplomatic aims and method and procedure by the President and our Government, increasing divergence.
I will conclude by quoting from the last issue of the American paper which I suppose has more influence than any other American paper, as it is understood to be in closest harmony with and even under direct inspiration from the views of President Wilson. I refer to the "New Republic," which is the last journal to reach me. The issue which I have here is very remarkable for its repeated insistence, in more than one article, on the misunderstanding by the Allies of the aims and objects of President Wilson and the American nation. In the course of one of the articles it speaks of the unfortunate conditions which are laid down in the Italian secret treaty. It goes on to point out that we on this side, or our statesmen—for I do not include the rank and file—or our orthodox statesmen, did not take, in 1915, and does not take to-day, seriously the one policy, above all others, for which America is fighting—not a military victory, but the establishment of something different from the precarious equipoise amongst the Powers, of which we have heard to-day, as to the establishment of a League of Nations. In another portion of this paper there is the strongest condemnation of the line taken by M. Clemenceau in regard to the League of Nations, and it expressesthe greatest wonder and disappointment that the repeated attacks upon the League of Nations by the French Prime Minister have not been condemned, and even caused a serious crisis.Then it ends with these words:The policy, lately dismissed by M. Clemenceau, is the only possible alternative to the old competition for territory and power, which involves annexation of unwilling provinces, armament, militarism, secret diplomacy, and the frustration of democracy.1503 I will quote just a few lines more which sum up the situation:To take President Wilson seriously, to convert his idealism into the common policy of all the Allies, is the price of victory, as it is the promise of permanent peace.I believe those words should especially convey to our Government and the Governments of our European Allies, and to out-Foreign Office, above all, a very grave and earnest warning. The warning is clear that we are not maintaining, we are not seeking, we are not achieving that exceedingly close diplomatic touch with President Wilson which we ought to maintain, and until we do so I believe that the War will drag on, possibly drag on from bad to worse. If that diplomatic accord could be achieved, and could be pressed home, I believe it offers a greater chance of victory and success than in any other form.
§ Mr. CAUTLEY
The Board of Agriculture is included in this Vote on Account, and it asks for a large sum of money. It is, therefore, not unfitting that I should call attention to the wasteful way, the extravagant manner, in which they spend some of the money with which they have already been provided. I wish to call the attention of the Committee to a matter deeply affecting the question of food, as well as the farming industry, in the practice and provision made for the raising of beef and mutton. The Department of Woods and Forests have an estate in the county of York, which consists of 2,363 acres. It is situate more than twenty miles from the town of Hull, and very near to Spurn Point, a tongue of land running out into the Humber. The district is sparsely populated, and hardly anybody ever goes there. The land is heavy and strong land—fertile, it is true, but very difficult to manage. Everybody who is acquainted with the situation and everybody who has examined it will have seen that such a place is unsuitable for small holdings. In 1916 the Government decided to turn out their existing tenants to the number of four, two of whom were the very best farmers in the best part of Holderness. Having turned them out, they set up a farm colony to provide holdings for fit Service men when they came home from the front. They advertised their prospectus, in which they said they were going to provide fifty small holdings of about 35 acres each. They obtained possession of this land in April, 1917, and, 1504 in carrying out this scheme, they had, as the President of the Board of Agriculture informed us in answer to a question, up to July last spent £25,000 in the provision of houses, and also live and dead stock—very little live stock. There are at the present moment thirty-two houses completed, and eight of them are occupied by farm labourers, but not a single soldier has been put into those houses. Those who have gone down there with a view to becoming small holders found that those houses were built without any outbuildings or conveniences of any sort or kind, and they were told that they would have to provide those themselves at an expenditure more than equal to the cost of the houses.
The Committee will not be surprised to find that the Board of Agriculture has discovered that the land is totally unfitted for small holdings, and, in answer to a question put by the hon. Member for Attercliffe the other day, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Agriculture said they had scrapped the whole scheme, and that they were now going to put a scheme on foot by which the men were to go there and join in farming it, and they are to share the profits that may be made. In the meantime, the Board of Agriculture have been farming this land. I know from my own knowledge that the land is the best corn-producing land almost in the country. I know that one of those farmers who has been dispossessed had 200 acres of wheat growing there in 1915 which yielded over six quarters to the acre The Board of Agriculture on getting possession grew about 900 acres of corn out of 1,720, and I venture to say, without fear of contradiction, that they have not grown as much on the whole estate as was grown on this one farm. During 1917 this land was one mass of weeds and thistles. That was the case in September, October, and November when the Board of Agriculture was sowing this land full of thistles with wheat, and they had very little chance of getting any crop at all. They have neglected the ordinary provisions of agriculture which they had at hand. The old tenant left some thousands of tons of good farm yard manure which ought to have been used on the land this year, but which has been washed away or spoiled, while at the same time they have been buying artificial manures and thus depleting the stock already small enough. I am told that for many years past, and I have the informa- 1505 tion from a trustworthy source, that there have been wintered every year on this land on an average no less than 700 steers, that is cattle for making beef, whilst under the management of the Board of Agriculture there have been only seventy-four. Prior to the land coming into the occupation of the present owners, there were each year on the average 1,240 ewes, but since the Board of Agriculture got possession that number has been about 240. That is the way in which this farm has been managed. I ought to have mentioned that in addition to the corn they grew 260 acres of other crop. I am told that here again there were more weeds, and that the return from this particular crop will not pay enough for the labour. I do ask that this should stop. The whole thing is really a fiasco, and though I do not want to use too strong language, the efforts of the Board in this particular venture of farming are the laughing stock of the whole district.
May I call the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary to the powers possessed by war committees, and of which no doubt he is perfectly well aware war committees have the power to take possession of land that has been farmed in this way, and to see that it produces its proper amount of food in this present critical time. When you find here that this estate is producing not a fourth of the corn and so much less of wheat and of other crops, and when you find that the ordinary work of the ordinary farm is not carried out, and that the person fanning is too neglectful to spread the dung that is left there. then I do ask that this expenditure should cease. Lastly, when they have not stocked the grassland during the whole of the summer, they are now proposing to plough about 1,200 acres of grass when they have not the horses to do so and have not the means to cultivate it. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to see that this War Committee in this part of Holderness does its duty and takes possession of this land which has been so badly farmed by the Board, or if that is too strong a step for any Board to take, I ask him to consider whether, in the interests of producing the food that the country wants at this time, if it is not desirable that this farm should be properly farmed. When it is admitted that the scheme of having colonies for ex-soldiers cannot be carried out, and that the land is not suitable for small holdings, then I would suggest that even now the 1506 Board should let the farm for the duration of the War to some practical farmer who will cultivate and make it yield the produce which ought to be obtained from it.
I turn to a matter of wider interest and ask the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary to the great fears and apprehensions which agriculturists all over the country are feeling at the proposed changes about to be introduced by the Food Controller into the selling of live cattle and live sheep. Before I do that I would like to make my own position perfectly clear as to the attitude which I take up on this particular matter. I quite recognise the importance of having food and the importance of having the price controlled so that the consumer may obtain his food, and his meat in particular, at the lowest possible price. But our experience now is that there is very little meat to be obtained by anybody, and when we have got the Food Controller controlling scarcity I wish to see him devoting his energies rather to production than to making good food scarcer than it is. I have spoken once or twice before on this matter, and I repeat again that it is no good controlling the price of a commodity unless you can ensure a supply of the commodity which you are going to control. I feel very strongly that we have arrived at the point that unless something is done to stimulate the production of beef and mutton in this country then even the microscopic amounts we have now to deal with and control will get less and less. I feel perfectly convinced that farmers to-day are not producing from 10 to 15 per cent. as much food as they might do, and this is entirely due to the unsympathetic attitude adopted by the Food Controller and the many Orders he makes involving the continual harassing of the farmers' business. I would urge the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board to use all the influence he can with the Food Controller to get the Orders drawn up and worked in a more sympathetic fashion towards the farmer. We do not want continual changes in the methods by which the Orders are being applied—Orders which affect the manner in which the farmers conduct their ordinary business.
I remember the last speech made on this subject by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Food Controller, when he said that all Orders made affecting the prices of cattle and sheep had had the assent of the President of the Board of Agriculture. 1507 If that is so, and I believe the President does not admit it, then that right hon. Gentleman is particularly interested in what I am venturing to point out to this Committee. As those who take any interest in this subject must be aware, the Food Controller in December last introduced a different method of selling cattle and sheep in this country, and, instead of there being any freedom of contract, free dealing and free sale, was put an end to by the Order which was made for the producer or owner of any animal, steer, heifer, or cow, which was to be sold for slaughter, or of any sheep to be so sold, to send them into a market. There the cattle were graded into three classes by a committee consisting of one farmer, and one butcher, with an auctioneer to settle any difference that might arise between the other two. The animals were graded according to the percentage of meat that might be expected to be produced by the animal when slaughtered on its live weight. If an animal was estimated to produce 56 per cent. of beef on its live-weight, it was put into the first grade to be sold at 75s. per cwt. of live-weight. Cows were treated in the same basis, but at a different price. The sheep were estimated by this grading committee according to the dead-weight that might be expected of them. It was a matter of judgment and experience on the part of the men forming the committee. That system has been in operation since the 27th December last, and, on the whole, it has worked well. At any rate, it gave this security to the farmer, that as soon as the animal went to the market he received the money for it. He went before an impartial committee constituted as I have described, and, although the method might not have been perfect, although mistakes may have been made, it was possible they would be as much in favour of the farmer as against him; so matters were evened up. As I say, the system had worked well and the administration was improving as people were getting accustomed to it. But it had not been in operation two months when a new scheme was brought forward by the Food Controller, a scheme which has simply been received with consternation by all agriculturists. The new scheme is this. The Food Controller is going to set up slaughter-houses, all over the country—using of course, existing establishments— 1508 and every farmer is to send his animals, cattle and sheep, to a given slaughterhouse. It may be a considerable distance away, and he is to receive payment on the dead-weight of that particular animal, slaughtered by somebody he knows not whom, selected in a manner he knows not how, and he has not the slightest security that he is going to be paid for his own animal or that the weight on which he is paid is accurate. I venture to tell this Committee that this is likely to cause a great diminution in the production of meat. There is not a single farming association which is satisfied with the proposal, and I have received a copy of a resolution passed only to-day at the annual general meeting of the National Farmers' Union, which is the recognised association of the farmers of England and Wales, and which speaks more definitely for farmers as farmers than any other body that can be mentioned. The resolution was forwarded to me in a letter stating that it was unanimously passed this afternoon at the annual general meeting of the National Farmers' Union, a meeting attended by a very large number of farmers from all parts of England and Wales. It is in terms which I would commend especially to the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Agriculture. It runs as follow:That this meeting, convinced that the new system of selling fat stock on a dead-weight basis will inevitably result in decreased production, protests against the adoption of any such system, and calls upon the National Farmers' Union Executive and all branches to join with them in emphasising such a protest, and in asking the Prime Minister to receive a deputation at the earliest possible moment.I put it to the Parliamentary Secretary that this is a matter of urgency. I do not know how far the Food Controller's Orders have gone or what preparations have been made for putting them into effect, but I can say that the new Order will meet with most strenuous opposition from everybody engaged in farming. There is no security of any sort or kind that the farmer will be paid for his own animal, and you can imagine the confusion which will arise in sending to a large abattoir a considerable number of sheep. The individual farmer may be sending only one, two, or three, and it can be well realised that he will feel that in the confusion he is not getting paid on the right weight or for the right animal There is no provision made for the owner to see them weighed, and there cannot be. 1509 If there were, look at the expense the individual farmer would incur, and I defy any scheme to be suggested by the Food Controller by which these difficulties can be got over so as to work satisfactorily! Look at the difficulty in hot weather of transmitting these meats from the abattoirs to the various meat areas! It is opposed by the local butchers, and by the local farmers. The local butcher feels he is going to be ousted from the trade and put in the hands of the big wholesaler. One fact to which I have not called attention is that these abattoirs are going to be under the control of the wholesale butchers, who are going to get the whole trade into their hands. I do ask the Parliamentary Secretary to use the best efforts he can to prevent this being carried out, because it is going to deplete still further in the future the amount of beef and mutton in the country, which is already short enough.
There is one further matter with which I should like to have dealt rather more fully, but, having regard to the lateness of the hour, and the desire of other hon. Members to speak, I will deal with it very briefly. This is even more general still. Is this Committee aware that the policy of the Food Controller to-day is to purchase the whole of the food of the country; are they aware that he is carrying out operations which, on his own statement in another place, he estimates will amount to a turnover in his office of £700,000,000 of money; are they aware that he is taking powers and buying up the whole of every article of food, whether imported or home-produced, is selling it out to the retailers, and is, in fact, himself making a huge trust? Is this Committee aware that, on his own statement, he had already in his office a staff, I think in December last, of some 3,500? Goodness knows what it is now we have this rationing scheme ! He has 3,500 people on his staff in London alone; the cost for the staff for December was something like £43,000, and he tells us that this cost is continuously increasing. I have raised this question, but I cannot fully explain this vast operation. I only mention it with the view to raising it on some further opportunity, because I think it is of vital importance that the country should know what is being done at this vast office of the Food Controller.
May I just ask a question? Have the authorities found that the esti- 1510 mated weight of animals when killed has not, under the new scheme described by the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Cautley), come up to the estimate made by the butcher, farmer, and auctioneer?
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of AGRICULTURE (Sir R. Winfrey)
With the permission of the Committee, I will confine myself to replying to the first part of the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Cautley), leaving the question of the dead-weight price for meat to be dealt with by the Parliamentary ' Secretary to the Food Controller.
§ Mr. BOLAND
On a point of Order, Mr. Wilson. I was going to ask a question regarding munitions, and if the Parliamentary Secretary to the Food Controller replies on that point, should I not be cut out?
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I do not think so. The two Votes are so nearly connected, food production and the question of agriculture, that, so far as I am advised, the hon. Member will not be cut out for that reason, at any rate.
§ Sir R. WINFREY
I will be as brief as I possibly can, but I welcome the opportunity of making a statement to the Committee with regard to this small holdings colony. The hon. and learned Member (Mr. Cautley) who has criticised the scheme has done so in no unmeasured terms. He has told us that we have selected the last place suitable for small holdings, that we have turned out two of the best farmers in Yorkshire, and that since we have done so we have not produced one-quarter of the corn produced by the previous tenant. I think the Committee ought to have the history of this colony. It is well aware that an Act of Parliament was passed in 1916 giving the Board of Agriculture power to secure up to 6,000 acres of land for the purpose of starting colonies for our discharged soldiers, to get these colonies ready for demobilisation. I may say we acted on the Report of Sir Harry Verney's Committee, and in the early part of 1916 Lord Selborne, who was then at the Board of Agriculture, asked the hon. and gallant Member for the Wilton Division (Captain Sir Charles Bathurst) whether he would take up this duty of looking out for land for these colonies. In consequence, he visited a great many districts, and amongst them he visited this Crown estate at Patrington, in Yorkshire. He 1511 afterwards took Lord Selborne to see this estate before it was finally settled upon, and I do not think the Committee will dispute that the hon. and gallant Member for the Wilton Division is a pretty good judge of land, and of land suitable for small holdings purposes. At any rate, they settled upon this Crown estate, of course with the advice of the experts of the Board. There are 2,360 acres of land, and we have leased it from the Crown at a rent of £3,277 a year, which is practically 28s. an acre.' That was about the rate paid by the previous tenant. A director was appointed to occupy the central farm, to prepare his colony for the soldiers on demobilisation in October, 1916, and we did not take possession of the estate until April of last year, 1917, so we have been in possession about nine months. We have started to build twenty-three pairs of houses, and, as the hon. and learned Member said, it is quite true that up to the present we have fifteen pairs erected and ready for occupation. The hon. and learned Member said we had not put up any outbuildings. That is quite true, and the reason for this is that we hope after the War to get from the Army some of these hutments, and to put up much cheaper outbuildings than we can do at the present time. I believe that is a very sound policy, to wait until alter the War to put up these outbuildings, in order to do it at a lesser cost, and consequently to be able to charge a lower rent. We have spent already upon cottages and repairs to buildings a little over £19,000.
The hon. and learned Member talked about a waste of public money. We, at any rate, have got the cottages to show for our expenditure, and we have got all the buildings and farmhouses put in a proper state of repair. Until demobilisation takes place we are farming the land practically as a whole, and any soldiers who go upon it before that time we propose that they shall go upon it as working men with a share of profits. We have put into this farm of 2,300 acres a working capital of £28,000, of which £4,700 has gone out in wages since we took possession in April, so that really the working capital-of the farm is practically £10 per acre. That is not an. extravagant sum for a working capital in these days. I may say we have sold to the end of January £5,500 worth of produce, and a great deal more still remained at that time. I have myself 1512 paid two visits to this farm. I paid my first visit in February, 1917, before we took possession, and I found that there were four farmers in possession who had notice to quit. All these farmers were obviously farming to leave. The hon. and learned Member said that two of them were the best farmers in Yorkshire. All I can say is the rest of them must be a very bad lot. There was only one farm really well farmed. There was another farm of 700 acres that was practically derelict. It was overrun with rabbits, the banks were all eaten away and the ditches were let in. I never saw a farm in a worse condition than that farm of 700 acres, which was one-third of the estate. There was one field of oats never harvested at all, and on the farm that was supposed to be the best farm, the farmer, before he went out, had to take thistles out of the standing corn with a fork, because they were so numerous. So that I must confess I do not know where the hon. and learned Member got his information from, but he got it from a tainted source I can assure him. The tenants, defying their covenants, sold off practically all the hay and straw, and that was the reason why we had to have more than the normal amount of land lying fallow during the past year. But, as a matter of fact, the corn crops we grew this year were 870 acres, while the corn crops grown by the four tenant farmers in the previous year were 1,130 acres, so that there was not a vast amount of difference, and this year we have sown, and are preparing to sow, no less than 1,250 acres of the land in corn. My next visit to the estate was last September. I was just in time to see the conclusion of the harvest. I saw excellent crops of wheat, which, I am sure, will thresh out at five to six quarters per acre. I saw 20 acres of peas, and I would particularly call the attention of the hon. and learned Member to this, for they have since been sold for £1,000, or £50 an acre. I think that is not bad farming, at any rate. I challenge any expert to criticise the farming which has been carried out by our director since he took possession of the farm, considering the bad state of the 700 acres of land, and considering the other farms had been farmed by the tenants, who knew very well they were going to leave. The hon. and learned Gentleman has criticised us because we have not the amount of stock there that the previous farmers had. There is a very good reason for that. We did not think it advisable with the high prices of stock to buy a 1513 great deal of it to put upon the farm during the first twelve months. But we have spent £9,700 in the purchase of horses, cattle, sheep, and pigs. We did what we did from a deliberate policy— with which I entirely agree—that we should leave some of the grass land for grazing purposes. The surrounding farmers were glad to rent it, and may be so again if they have the opportunity. Perhaps I have said enough to show that that sweeping criticism of the hon. and learned Gentleman in regard to this estate is really unjustified.
In regard to the land not being suitable for the purposes of small holdings, I do not say that it is so suitable as we could have wished. It is rather on the heavy side. Personally I should have preferred a lighter soil. But there are successful small holders on the Crown land near. I was taken to see one within 500 yards of the Patrington estate. The Crown had let the man have a small holding of 40 acres "I visited him in his farmhouse and saw him at work. He is one of the most successful small holders I have visited, and if he can make a success of the matter as a practical man, the men who are placed upon the land near to will be able, or should be able, to do the same, especially as they will have the advantage of the advice of the director, who will live on the central farm and render them every possible assistance by way of co-operation, and so on. In regard to the criticism of there being no discharged soldiers there at the present time, the answer to that is that we are not anxious to fill all the places in these colonies until demobilisation takes place. That was the object we had originally in view in getting these colonies ready. There are a few discharged soldiers coming along. I am quite willing to give the figures to the hon. Member who asks for them. I can make a perfectly straightforward statement. we have had a dozen men come down. Four of them have had to go out owing to ill-health; the fact that they were broken in health made them that they could not stand the life. The fifth was partially paralysed, and never really took up the actual work on the colony. One man left to better himself by taking up a good situation offered to him. One man was called up again for military service. Another man had to go home to his father's farm because his brother was called up. There are two men at the present time still working down there. 1514 We have had two unsatisfactory men. One came one night and left the next morning. There was not much chance to see what he did. I assure the hon. Member that he must not listen too much to the farmers who have left this estate because, naturally, they feel rather aggrieved. I believe we shall make this estate a success, and so long as I am at the Board of Agriculture I will give it my personal. attention to see that it is not a failure.
§ Mr. WATT
I wish to raise a point which; was put by the hon. Member for East Edinburgh regarding the Civil Liability Department. The President of the Local Government Board was asked by my hon. Friend whether Grants given by the Civil Liability Department were being reduced on account of the increase of pay to the soldiers, and the answer given was to the effect that no such reduction was taking: place following upon the advanced wages of soldiers. I have since been handed this letter from the Military Service (Civil Liabilities) Department, signed by "G. R. Ferber":I am directed by the Military Service (Civil Liabilities) Department to refer to their letter of the 15th August, 1916 (written to Private Greig), notifying you that, subject to the verification of your Army pay and allowances, a grant would be paid to your representative at the rate of £14 10s. a year. Upon receipt of further particulars from your Regimental Paymaster, from which it appears that your present rate of pay enables you to make a larger allowance to your family from your pay, the Committee have reconsidered your application, and decided that, the grant must be reduced to £7 a year beginning from the 1st January, 1918.This soldier has had his grant reduced from £14 10s. to £7, and that reduction has taken place because of the fact that he has had an increase of pay, which has enabled him to send his people at home a larger payment. That is in direct contradiction of the statement made here last Monday. I think the Committee will agree that that is a reprehensible condition of affairs, and it follows from the definite promise made earlier in the Session from the same right hon. Gentleman that no such reduction would take place. This letter is a definite concrete case, showing that in one instance £14 10s. has been reduced to £7, and I hope my right hon. Friend will be able to tell us that system is not going to continue. I hope that there will be no further deductions from soldiers' allowances under this Commission because of their increase; of pay. I hope further that the right hon. Gentleman will see that where deductions 1515 have taken place, as in this instance, there will be repayment and restoration of the sums of which they have been deprived. It is a shameful condition of affairs that in face of the increase in the pay of soldiers, regarding which there was a great flourish of trumpets, they should be deprived by various Departments of the Government of part of that increase. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman does not desire that result to accrue and will take what action lies in his power to see that the system in no longer continued by the Civil Liability Commission, and that the sums that have been deducted are restored to the soldiers or their representatives.
§ The PRESIDENT of the LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. Hayes Fisher)
This matter was raised by a question put by my hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) on Monday last. He asked the President of the Local Government Board—Whether Civil Liabilities Grants have been reduced as a result of the recent increases in Army pay notwithstanding that it was explicitly stated, at the time that such pay was increased, that it would not affect the Civil Liabilities Grant?I replied:No grants have been reduced as a result of the general increase of soldiers' pay. Where reductions have been made these have been in view of special rates of pay in individual cases." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th February, 1918, cols. 1088-89.]Later that day my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the War Office (Mr. Forster) said:The position, as I understand it, is that there is to be no general revision of the Grants made by the Civil Liabilities Committee on account of the recent increase in pay, and that, I think, has been conveyed to them. I have no doubt they will act upon it."—[Official Report, 25th February. 1918, col. 1152.]I have no reason to suppose that they have not acted upon that principle which has been laid down by myself as responsible for the working of the Committee and also by my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the War Office, and I have every reason to think that they will act upon it. My hon. Friend raises the question again on a case so long ago, I think, as 15th August.
§ Mr. FISHER
Would the hon. Gentleman inform me the date of the notice of the reduction of the Grant?
§ Mr. FISHER
The Committee will see that very much turns upon the date when the notice was given of the reduction. I can assure my hon. Friend, from the best information that I can obtain, and I have gone very carefully into this question on more than one occasion, that I have every reason to believe that the Committee are adopting the rule that this general increase in the rate of pay of the soldiers shall not affect the Grants that have been made, and that no Grant shall be reduced because of the fact that this general increase in the rate of pay has been made. That is the rule on which I understand that the Committee is acting. It is the rule upon which I desire that they shall act. It is the rule upon which my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the War Office desires that they shall act. If the hon. Gentleman will supply me with the facts of this case and the dates, I can assure him that I will have it reviewed, and if, after the process of reviewing, it is proved that the rule which I have laid down has been broken, I will, to the best of my ability, see that it is remedied.
§ Mr. FISHER
If my hon. Friend will send me the particulars, I will have the case carefully inquired into and reviewed, and if there is any grievance that ought to be redressed, I will see that it is redressed.
§ Mr. J. O'CONNOR
I desire to offer a few observations with regard to Class IV., Vote 8, Public Education, for which there is an Estimate in one column of £1,250,000 required on account, the total Estimate being £3,041,545. This looks a very small matter in the Vote on Account, but it affects a class in Ireland that are carrying on at the present moment a very serious agitation. I regret exceedingly that the right hon. 1517 Gentleman the Chief Secretary is not in his place this evening, because he has taken a very great interest in this subject. He has proposed to this House a measure that has caused not only a great deal of comment in Ireland, but also a great deal of agitation in the class that it affects. Since I had the pleasure of speaking to the Solicitor-General for Ireland, who represents the Administration here this evening, I have had the opportunity of seeing a Dublin newspaper, from which, with the permission of the Committee, I will quote a passage. I ask the Solicitor-General to pay attention to this:It has been decided by the Executive Committee of the Teachers' Association to take a ballot immediately on the question of withdrawals from the schools until such time as the Government agree to concede the teachers' demands.Let the Committee imagine a strike among the teachers of a whole country, because that is what it amounts to ! That is what has been threatened for some time. I desire most seriously to draw the attention of the Irish Administration to the fact that the teachers are threatening in the newspapers to strike, backed up by the managers of the schools, who are the parish priests; backed up by many of the bishops; backed up even by one of the bishops who is a Commissioner for National Education himself, my own bishop, Bishop Foley of Kildare and Leighlim; and that their demands are recognised as just demands. Now we are passing a Vote which includes a sum of £384,000, which is being given to relieve the situation. To relieve what situation. To relieve distress. We all know there is distress in the country, especially among those who are receiving regular salaries, and that these salaries are not at all in proportion at the present moment to the increased cost of living. It has, therefore, been acknowledged by the Chief Secretary that it has been made for the relief of distress. I am not going to elaborate the argument, but the day will come when I shall have to inflict upon the House a long and elaborate speech on the subject. That shall not be now, but let me quote from the Chief Secretary a speech in July last year:This is known to be a time of exceptional financial stress. … This is a Grant to meet the necessities of the time and its difficulties. … I could not consider at this moment any question of increasing high salaries. I have to consider the immediate necessities in war-time of the Irish educational system."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th July. 1917, col. 784, Vol. 96.]1518 We quarrel with the distribution of this Grant. It is wrong. We quarrel with the grading system, and we quarrel with the system of what are called averages Averages mean that from the teachers' point of view the chief defects of the Government proposal are that it affords the least measure of relief to the one whose necessity is greatest and vice versa. It retains the grading system in an aggravated form, and it makes no attempt to remove artificial barriers to promotion. The proposals made by the Chief Secretary are unsatisfactory. An agitation exists in the country, backed up by the most influential people in Ireland, on behalf of the teachers, that a reconsideration of the manner in which the Grant is to be distributed shall be made. No opportunity can be allowed to pass without making a protest. The present arrangement will not be allowed to exist. The teachers have decided that they shall go on strike, and that would be a national misfortune. Why should children be deprived for a day or an hour of the attention of their school teachers? Why should schools be closed for a day or an hour? Surely it is a most serious matter when the teachers, men of education, and men who are devoted to their work, according to the admission of the Chief Secretary, should have to be driven to such an extreme course as a general strike? I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that their demands are most reasonable. In drawing the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to the agitation which is going on in Ireland I insist that this matter should be attended to. I promise the right hon. Gentleman that at the very earliest opportunity a strong demand will be made from this side of the House for a consideration of the teachers' case, and I point out that having regard to the decision already come to by the executive of the teachers in Ireland something ought to be done at once in order to satisfy their admittedly just demands, backed up as they are by the most influential people in the country, so that you may have their demands satisfied and have no further disaster with regard to education in Ireland.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL for IRELAND (Mr. Arthur Samuels):
Everyone who is acquainted at all with Irish education is very well aware of the troublous situation with regard to primary education. I myself, and my right hon. Friend 1519 the Chief Secretary, have received a very large number of representations from the bodies referred to by the hon. Gentleman, and I can assure him that they are receiving most earnest attention. The question of the distribution of the additional Grant of £384,000—which is made not to relieve distress, but as a permanent addition to the salaries which have hitherto been received by the national teachers—is of great importance and has been the cause of a considerable amount of dissatisfaction. I assume that my hon. Friend does not think that this is the proper occasion to give such full consideration to the matter as he would like, and I am sure he will facilitate the passing of the Vote now. There will be other opportunities of considering with the Chief Secretary and otherwise the question of the methods of distribution. I think everybody must sympathise fully with the position of teachers in Ireland who have for very many years been struggling under very great difficulties and very inadequate salaries, and we must hope that in the future their conditions will be very much improved.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I am anxious to get some information as to the relationship between the Ministry of National Service and the Ministry of Labour, with regard to the utilisation of the labour of discharged sailors and soldiers. I read in the Press that there has been opened this week a certain number of centres for dealing with the employment of sailors and soldiers by the Ministry of National Service, and I would like to understand the relationship between the two Departments in placing these men in civilian and industrial occupations. Obviously the Department concerned with this important subject has a very important function to perform, because, owing to certain concessions given by the Government to discharged sailors and soldiers it is absolutely necessary to see that proper provision is made for those men getting civilian occupations. I understand that in reply to a question asked to-day, it was stated that the Ministry of National Service have issued instructions dealing with the period of time within which discharged sailors and soldiers could be, if they chose, placed in an occupation of national importance which would relieve them from the necessity of answering the recall to the Colours, which, in the ordinary course, under the Review of Exceptions Act, 1520 would be sent to them. I understand, though I have not seen it, that the date mentioned is the 16th March. That date is enshrined in the instruction which, I understand, has been issued, and unless those men receive this offer of work of national importance before that date, it may be that they will be recalled to the Colours. I take it that the House of Commons has already determined, as a result of previous discussions, that no discharged man, whether he has served overseas or not, shall be recalled to the Colours unless he, first of all, has the refusal of work of national importance. The schedule of work of national importance which has been issued has not, so far as I know, been presented to this House. It is one of those many instructions "which have been issued by various Departments, either without the cognisance of, or without consultation with, Members of this House. I myself am very dissatisfied with the range of occupations which has been announced in this House. The list of occupations which has been announced so far in the House of Commons includes only such trades— there are no occupations— as require the utmost physical and manual labour on the part of those men. Anyone familiar with the subject knows that a very large number of the men who have served either abroad or in this country are so disabled as to make it physically impossible for them to engage in the so-called list of works of national importance which so far has been issued. That means that unless there is very large elasticity so as to allow of those men being given occupations of a sedentary nature, a large number of them may still be outside the concession which has been given by the Government to those men. Before we agree to this Vote. I think it is right and proper that we who stay here late should —
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Sir Donald Maclean)
A count was taken no very considerable time ago, and I have every reason to believe that there are more than forty Members within the precincts of the House.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I appreciate the anxiety of my hon. and learned Friend that I 1521 should have a larger audience. The main point of significance involved is this: After all, whatever this Government does, it cannot afford to neglect the large body of men who have served this country. These men are obviously dissatisfied, and. will remain dissatisfied, with the provisions which so far as the Government are concerned have not yet been adumbrated in public. I put it to the remaining Members and the Government 'who have had the courtesy to remain in the Committee until this late hour—there are one Law Officer of the Crown and three members of the machinery of this Government present— that they have to take the responsibility which should be borne by the shoulders of their intellectual chiefs. I hope they will communicate to them the feeling on the part of those Members who do remain in order to see that the Government of this country is properly carried on in this House, even although there are not forty Members present either in the Committee or in the precincts of-the House. In order to make a House an excursion would be required to St. Stephen's Club to conduct the business of this House. It should be impressed upon the chiefs that they will not get the business of the House of Commons through unless they are prepared to pay some attention to the opinion of Members as expressed in this House. Members of the Government and others talk about the sacrifices that are made in saving their salaries —
|Division No. 2.]||AYES.||11.0 p.m.|
|Agg-Gardner. Sir James Tynte||Jones, J. Tewyn (Carmarthen, East)||Samuels, Arthur W.|
|Baldwin, Stanley||Joynson-Hicks, William||Stewart, Gershom|
|Balfour, Rt. Hon. A. J. (City, London)||Larmor, Sir J.||Talbot, Rt. Hon. Lord Edmund|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord Robt. (Herts, Hitchin)||Law, Rt. Hon. A. Bonar (Bootle)||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton)|
|Dalziel, Rt. Hon. Sir J. H. (Kirkcaldy)||Lewis, Rt. Hon. John Herbert||Toulmin, sir George|
|Denman, Hon. Richard Douglas||Lindsay, William Arthur||Waring, Walter|
|Fell, Sir Arthur||Malcolm, Ian||Williams, Aneurln (Durham)|
|Finney, Samuel||Pennefather, De Fonblanque||Wilson, Rt. Hon. J. W. (Wore. N.)|
|Fletcher, John Samuel||Peto, Basil Edward||Wilson-Fox, Henry|
|Gibbs, Col. George Abraham||Pratt, J. W.||Wing, Thomas Edward|
|Guest, Hon. Frederick E. (Dorset E.)||Pryce-Jones, Col. E.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Mr|
|Gulland, Rt. Hon. John William||Rees, G. C, (Carnarvon, Arfon)||J. Hope and Mr. Parker.|
|Havelock-Allan, Sir Henry||Roberts, Sir J. H. (Denbighs)|
|Jacobsen, Thomas Owen||Samuel, Samuel (Wandsworth)|
|TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Mr. Hogge and Mr. Pringle.|
§ Whereupon the DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Resolution to be reported To-morrow; Committee to sit again To-morrow.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.1522
§ It being Eleven o'clock, the DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN rose, pursuant to Standing Order No. 15, to put forthwith the Question necessary to dispose of the Vote.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
If the hon. Member looks at Standing Order Number 15, he will see that the Vote on Account has to be put at Eleven o'clock.
§ [The Deputy-Chairman proceeded to put the Question.]
§ Question put, "That a sum not exceeding £45,864,000 be granted to His Majesty for the said Services."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes. 58; Noes, 0.
§ Whereupon Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Sir Donald Maclean), pursuant to the Order of the House of the 13th February, proposed the Question, "That this House do now adjourn,"
§ Adjourned accordingly at Ten minutes after Eleven o'clock