§ The MINISTER of NATIONAL SERVICE (Sir Auckland Geddes)
I beg to move "That leave be given to introduce a Bill 'to repeal Sub-section (3) of Section 3 of the Military Service Act, 1016, and to provide for the cancellation of certificates of exemption from military service granted on occupational grounds.'"
The subject with which I have to deal to-day is complicated. The figures to be given are numerous—so numerous that I am afraid I cannot trust my memory accurately to remember them all in the circumstances of this my first speech to this House, so important that I dare not let inaccuracies creep in. I hope, therefore, that I may be permitted by the House to follow closely the full notes which I have prepared. No man in my position would, I think, be other than deeply impressed with the responsibility which rests upon him. I realise fully that if I have made any substantial miscalculation or error in preparing the estimate and statements which I have laid before the Cabinet, and upon which they have arrived at their decisions, the consequences must be serious. Before I enter upon any details descriptive of our present positions or of cur plans for the future, I think that it is desirable for me to define what is meant by the man-power problem. People speak as if it were something which could be solved by some dramatic stroke if only the Government could summon up courage to do something. Nothing could be more misleading. The man-power problem is the central problem of the War. It means everything—ships, armies, munitions, food, light, heat, coal—everything. No dramatic stroke less than a divine miracle would simultaneously solve all the problems which are loosely called one problem and labelled Man-Power.
The problems change from day to day. Now we have to swing our man-power in this direction, now in that. At one time the provision of men for the shipyards may 'be the most urgent need, at another 59 the provision of men for the Army, at still another it may be men for the land. These problems are being met every day and successfully dealt with on a scale of which few outside the central ring of administrative officials have any conception. It is my hope that before I sit down I shall have been able to show this House something of the gigantic work that goes on from day to day. At the moment our most anxious problems are not those concerning the supply of men for the Army. What we seek to do is to take steps now against the time when they will be the most anxious—a time which I believe I can see coming at no very distant date.
I have seen it definitely stated that recruiting has broken down and that the Armies at the front are melting for lack of recruits. Plain facts do not support that statement. The British Armies in the field in December, 1916, were stronger than in December, 1915, and stronger again in December, 1917, than in December, 1916—stronger not only in establishment, but in ration strength. It is true that some units were short of drafts. That is a matter which concerns only the military authorities. They knew so long ago as February, 1917, approximately the number of recruits they might expect to receive in the course of the year. If they decided to make new units, to develop new arms of the Service, that was a matter wholly within their sphere. Recruiting has not broken down. I shall have some figures to give in a few minutes which will, I think, dispel any doubts on that point. But armies in these days are something far more than men in the field. In the old days of spears and swords and slings and stones, clubs, and battle axes, that was true. But, to-day, an army is a body of experts handling the most wonderful machines, guns, and machine-guns, trench-mortars, aeroplanes, telephones, electric lights, gas—I know not what. And all these things have to be made by men and women and transported to the front, with hundreds of thousands of tons of shells and bombs and high explosives. There is the whole vast army of rearward services extending from the mines through the factories along the lines of communication right to the hands of the men who use the weapons. All that long chain of human beings has to be maintained as well as the fighting units, and we have greater numbers to-day employed supplying our Armies than ever before.
60 In some ways supply is outstripping demand; we have to keep the balance right, for until we are sure that it is right we cannot be sure that we are developing our utmost hitting force. Every day the hitting force of Britain becomes of greater importance to the Alliance. Russia no longer strikes for freedom. France has poured forth her strength in the struggle and cannot sustain the full burden indefinitely. America is not yet in the field, and months must elapse before she can advance with full stride; Italy has suffered grave misfortunes. On Britain and on the skill with which she handles her man-power in the months to come everything depends. It is clear that we must prepare to play a larger part on the field of battle until America conies in, and that means more men for the Army. But not men regardless of the vital industries which support the Armies, and not men or munitions for the Armies regardless of the Navy, on which all else depends, nor men regardless of food, upon which the health and endurance of the people depends. What we require is a sane, carefully considered, carefully balanced programme, steadfastly pursued. We must avoid being led away by the thought of Continental Powers, to whom their Army is their all-in-all. We are an Island, not a Continental nation. Ultimately it is on the. control of the seas by us for our Allies that all depends. Since August, 1914, we have trodden some strange paths, and they have brought us little profit for the treading. Let us return to the faith of our forefathers, and recognise that on the sea and by the sea we live. Do not think that this means that we can afford to weaken our effort on land. That we cannot do. I will tell you in a few minutes what it is we have to face this year, but let us keep our sense of perspective, and remember that at sea we must be supreme, in the air we must win supremacy, and on land we must do the best we can to fill the gap that Russia has made until America can take her place, and all the time we have to keep our vital industries going. Industries not vital to the War may have to suffer. It is a pity, but what is the alternative?
It is impossible in a single statement to describe fully all the activities of the State with regard to man-power. I must select and omit or I would never finish. I propose to deal with the international military man-power position first, but the 61 House must realise that this cannot be considered apart from the naval situation and from tonnage and industrial requirements, for all are mutually independent. The Government have examined in great detail the strength, character, and composition of the forces of ourselves, our Allies, and our enemies, in the light of the situation which has arisen on the Eastern Front. They have considered in each case the present fighting strength of the forces in the field, the reserves now in the Armies, and the potential reserves still in civil life. The results of this examination are not unsatisfactory. Wholly excluding Russia and Roumania, we and our Allies have a substantial superiority both in fighting strength and in ration strength over the Armies of the Central Powers. Regarded, therefore, from a purely statistical point of view, the strength of the opposing forces gives no cause for anxiety that the enemy, owing to the Russian collapse, will be able to bring such forces to bear on the Western Front as to overwhelm us by sheer weight of numbers.
Figures, however, are not an accurate index of fighting capacity. This depends upon many conditions, some of which vary from time to time, and all of which vary between different armies—e.g., the system and quality of command, organisation, maintenance, and communications, the stability and solidarity of public opinion and Governments. As an illustration of the importance of not being led away by figures, it is only necessary to refer to a comparison between the enormous man-power of Russia and the part she played in the War in 1917, and to the strength of the Italian Armies and recent events in Italy. Those considerations, which compel a statistical review to be regarded with caution, are extremely difficult to weigh as between the enemy and the Allies. By the possession of a unified system of command and an interior position with good railway communications, the enemy possess an undoubted advantage over the Allies. But in stability and solidarity of public opinion the enemy possess no corresponding advantage. War-weariness in Austria is certainly very great. In Germany it is surely greater than in England. Turkey is utterly war-weary. On the other hand, public opinion carries less weight in the enemy countries than in the more democratic Allied countries; but the Allies have the inestimable advantage of the accession of the United States 62 of America, a nation which, though still inexperienced in modern warfare, is of great tenacity and of immeasurable strength, which will prove a material and moral support of the greatest value.
Nor must we forget the age composition o] the opposing Armies. Already the Germans have had to place lads of eighteen in the trenches on the Russian Front, as compared with the British age limit of nineteen for service overseas, the French limit of twenty for service in the field, and the American age limit of twenty-one. Not only are our enemies employing younger men than we are, but in Austria the upper age limit has been raised as high as fifty-five. These considerations point to the conclusion that the enemy reserves of man-power are of inferior quality, and are more nearly exhausted than those of the Allies. I am sure it will be of interest to the House to know, approximately at all events, what the withdrawal of Russia from the War means to the Central Powers in terms of man-power available for service on the Western Front. If we assume—and it appears to be the only safe assumption—that the Germans will be able to withdraw the whole of the German divisions which were on the Eastern Front when the armistice began, and are suitable for offensive operations, and to entrust the defence of their Eastern Frontier to Landwehr and Landsturm formations, they will he able to bring to the Western Front some thirty-eight divisions. Nor is this all. The remaining divisions, though unsuitable for active fighting in the West, can undoubtedly be used to supply individual men as drafts to replace casualties on the Western Front. This process has in fact been in operation for several months past, seasoned soldiers having been transferred from regiments on the Eastern Front to units on the Western Front, their places being taken by the youngest class of recruits, who, in turn, are made into seasoned soldiers on the Eastern Front. We cannot count that less than 950,000 men will be made available in these ways. They will comprise fighting personnel of all kinds—Infantry, Artillery (heavy and light), machine-gun teams, aeroplane squadrons, gas companies, and trench mortars.
In addition, it is necessary to make allowance for the cessation of the war wastage in the German divisions remaining on the Eastern Front. Similarly, we 63 must count that a considerable number of Austro-Hungarian divisions, containing a majority of Germans or Magyars, might be transferred to the Italian or the Western Fronts. Further, if all the remaining Austro-Hungarian heavy artillery and march-battalions were transferred, a considerable force might have to be reckoned with in the West. This would leave an ample force of Austro-Hungarians to hold the Russian-Roumanian Front. It is also possible that some of the Slav or Rouman Austro-Hungarian divisions might be transferred from the Russian Front to the Italian Front in order to set free for service in France or Belgium some of the German and Magyar divisions now serving there.
Taking all these factors into consideration, the secession of Russia from the Allies has added to the potential enemy strength on the Western Front, including Italy, possibly as many as 1,600,000 men, without taking into consideration the reserves which would otherwise have been required for service on the Russian Front.
It is right that the House and the country should realise what the event in Russia means to those nations which came into the War as a result of Russia's action in 1914. It seems, had Russia remained constant to the Alliance, she would not only have saved her own possessions, which now are in Prussian hands, or lie open to such terms as Germany will dictate, but she would have been insured a speedy and complete victory, in common with all the nations who have entered the War, against the Central Powers. Notwithstanding her defection, however, the supreme issue should be in no doubt. The resources of the Allies and America actually mobilised in military units or in reserve in civil life are sufficient to assure victory. Nothing but a psychological catastrophe in our own or an Allied country, such as that which has befallen Russia, can save the Central Powers.
It is obviously impossible for me to state precisely the strengths in the field and in reserve of the Armies of Britain and her Allies, but I can assure the House that they are at present in relative numbers and morale in a position to face at least on equal terms the forces of the enemy at present opposed to them, and that, if the necessary reinforcements are found during the present year, as without doubt they can and ought to be found, 64 having regard to the resources of the Allies, they can face any additional forces which the enemy can bring into the field. As the full force of America comes into play the endurance of the Allies will be justified by the establishment of a superiority which should prove the sure herald of complete and final victory. Till that superiority is established—and in this I am sure the House will agree with me—it is our duty to husband our human resources, and whilst maintaining our Armies at their appointed strength to see that no casualties which can rightly be avoided are incurred.
The Government has gone most carefully into this question of casualties. While seeking not to hamper the action of our Commanders in the field by judging their actions by the casualty returns alone, it is determined that carelessness with regard to human life and thoughtlessness with regard to casualties shall be stamped out wherever it appears. May I, for my own part, say that if I were not convinced that the War Cabinet were determined to secure proper consideration at all times for the men in the ranks I would have neither part nor lot in the unpleasant, but none the less urgent, duty of raising men for the armed forces of the Crown.
I do not wish to be misunderstood. We are accusing no admiral or general of recklessness or of disregard. for human life. The Government is laying down a perfectly plain, general principle which I am abundantly clear ought at all times, and more especially at this time, while we await the coming of America, to guide the Government in its supervision over the action of the Commanders whom it has appointed. In dealing with the question of casualties there is one point to which I wish particularly to refer, and with which I am sure the House will sympathise whole-heartedly. It is the desire of the Government to give special consideration to those men who have been severely wounded more than once; and it. is our ambition that no man who has been severely wounded more than once shall be sent back to the fighting line, but will, so far as possible, be returned to civil life and civil work to replace in some essential industry some young man who has not yet served his country in the field. It is our intention to watch over and safeguard the interests of the men who have fought 65 and suffered. This will mean an increased demand for recruits to be drawn from civil life; but it is an increase which I am sure the country will willingly accept.
Before asking the House to consider the demands for men for the armed forces of the Crown, which must be met during the present year, I wish to lay before them a statement of the effort which we, the British League of Nations, have made, so will they view in the right perspective the requirements for 1918. In August, 1914, the total personnel of the Navy was less than 150,000. The Regular Army, including Reserves and Special Reserves, amounted on mobilisation to about 450,000 men. The Territorial Force contributed some 250,000 more. Of one sort or another, therefore, there were available 700,000 soldiers, of whom over 100,000 were serving in foreign stations, leaving something less than 600,000 men, at least half of whom were only partly trained, available both for the defence of the United Kingdom and for the Expeditionary Force. From the outbreak of war to the present time, the expansion of our armed forces has continued. The Navy from 150,000 in August, 1914, stood in October, 1917, at 400,000. The British Army to-day has on its rolls over 4,000,000 men.
As an instance of the expansion, it is of interest to note that the combined Air Service, from a strength of 2,000 in August, 1914, on the 1st August, 1917, stood at over 125,000. Since then it has been further largely expanded, and the limits of its expansion are not yet in sight. The actual strength of the forces to-day obviously only represents a part of the call that has been made on our man-power. To it must be added our losses in killed, died, missing, prisoners, and in maimed and invalided men who have been discharged. Taking these into consideration, we may say that the effort which the British nations have made under the one item of "Provision of Men for the Armed Forces of the Crown" amounts to not less than 7,500,000 men, and of these-4,530,000, or 60.4 per cent. have been contributed by England; 620,000, or 8.3 per cent., have been contributed by Scotland; 280,000, or 3.7 per cent. have been contributed by Wales; 170,000, or 2.3 per cent., have been contributed by Ireland; 900,000, or 12 per cent., have been contributed by the Dominions and the Colonies. The remaining 1,000,000 men, composed of native fighting troops, labour 66 corps, carriers, etc., represent the splendid contribution made by India and our various African and other Dependencies.
Such figures, vast as they are, fail wholly to indicate in any way our total effort. They take no account of the manufacture of munitions, of ships, naval and mercantile, of aircraft, of our increased production of food, iron ore, of oil, of supplies of all sorts with which we have furnished our Allies. Above all, they take no account of the enterprise of that great company of gallant men, the officers and men of the Mercantile Marine. This is an effort of which the British nation may well be proud, but if this effort is to be carried on and the sacrifices which inspired it are not to have been in vain, our Armies which have been created and supported through three and a half years of struggle must be maintained during the present year. Their demands can be met from two sources. The first is the reserve now in the Armies at home and abroad; the second is the men still in civil life. During the past twelve months the Armies abroad have undergone a strict scrutiny as a result of the reports of inspecting officers. Although much has already been accomplished, further accumulation of fit men and the need for even more strict economy make it necessary that a constant watch should be kept to prevent the waste on subsidiary work of officers or men who in age and physique are in every sense battle-worthy.
There are considerable reserves in the home Armies, and these must be made fully available. To secure this the composition of the Armies at home is being so readjusted as to enable the greatest possible proportion of the demands of the Armies overseas to be met from within the Army itself. This means not only a readjustment of the present basis on which the Home Defence forces are organised, but also in many cases in the Navy, Army, and the Air Force, the employment of women enrolled in corps. But when all this is done, if we are to expand the Navy and the Air Force as we propose, and to maintain the Armies in the field, it is necessary to proceed immediately to raise in His country 420,000–450,000 men from among those now in civil life. These figures must be regarded as the absolute minimum, and it may well be that the exigencies of the military situation will in 1918 necessitate the withdrawal of a still larger number of men from the ranks of 67 industry. Simultaneously, however, we shall be returning a large number of men from the forces to civil life, so that the reduction of our industrial strength will be much less than the the total number withdrawn.
The Government have considered very carefully whether the situation necessitates at the present juncture any far-reaching changes in legislation. Three obvious possibilities have been considered. The first is to lower the military age. The Germans are already taking into the Army boys of seventeen. The lowering of the military age below eighteen is, however, except as the last resort, not only contrary to natural instincts, but also economically unsound. In view of the heavy weights which the soldier in the field has to carry, and the serious hardships to which he is exposed, the fighting value of the average boy under eighteen is small, and is not commensurate with his value in civil life. We have therefore decided for the present not to lower the legal military age.
The second possibility is to raise the military age. As we have seen, in Austria-Hungary it has already been raised to fifty-five, whereas ours for all practical purposes may be placed as forty-three. Economically this is open to less objection than the first alternative. But although many men between forty and fifty could undoubtedly render useful -service in the Army, particularly in the auxiliary services, the actual fighting value and staying power of a normal man of forty-five is considerably less than that of a normal man of twenty-five. It must further be borne in mind that a large number of men of between forty-three and fifty have voluntarily enlisted in the Army, and the raising of the age even to fifty would in fact yield fewer men than is generally believed to be the case. But above all the Government feel most strongly that it would be contrary to the interests of the nation to raise the age limit so long as there are notoriously large numbers of younger men fit for general service, still in civil life, who can be released without seriously endangering the output of essential industries and the maintenance of essential public services. In this resolution they are confident that they are supported by the full force of public opinion of all ages and all classes in the country.
68 The third possibility is to apply compulsory service to Ireland. With regard to this vexed question I can only say that the Government have carefully considered it from the point of view of finding the most effective means of prosecuting the War, and they are satisfied that the reasons which led to the exclusion of Ireland from the scope of the original Military Service Acts have lost none of their cogency. They have decided for the present not to ask this House for powers to introduce compulsory service in Ireland. [AN HON. MEMBER: "Why not?"]
The Government would not hesitate to adopt any or all of these measures, if the military needs of the situation could not be met in other ways. The War Cabinet is, however, satisfied after investigation that it is not necessary to adopt any one of these obvious possibilities at the present time. They are determined, however, to make available for military service a very large number of the young men now engaged in essential industries and to take all steps necessary to maintain those industries after the young men have been withdrawn. Many of these young men have acted as if they thought that their protection from recruitment was due to some peculiar privileged position which was theirs by right. So far as it is possible to secure it they must share fairly with their fellow countrymen, their contemporaries in age, the burden of defending their own interests and the nation's before we proceed to draw their fathers into the fighting ranks or continue to re-send to the front and re-send again the men who have fought and bled. This decision of the Government will leave in civil life a large reserve of man-power, which our enemies will not possess. It will remain available to throw into the scale, should the fortune of war make such a call necessary.
In his speech on 20th December the Prime Minister referred to a series of pledges and undertakings which had been given to certain trade unions by the right hon. Member for Barnard Castle on behalf of the Government. He stated that the conditions in which those arrangements had been made had materially changed, and changed through circumstances over which no Government has any control. He made it clear that it would be necessary for us to take action which would enable us to call fur service men who at the present time are protected under such arrangements. At the same time he under- 69 took that I should meet the trade unions who were parties to those arrangements. and place before them the circumstances which had necessitated their revision. This I have done. A series of Conferences have been held, commencing with general meetings, at which representatives of all these unions were present, and followed by sectional Conferences of representatives of the various industrial groups. This has enabled me to lay before the representatives not only the general position in relation to man-power and the present needs. but also to explain to them in considerable detail the precise way in which the Government proposals will affect each industry. I have received from the representatives material assistance on many points of detail.
The constitution of the groups for the sectional Conferences was discussed at length in the general meeting, and was settled in accordance with the wishes expressed by the Conference itself. The Amalgamated Society of Engineers expressed the wish to meet the Government separately from the other unions in the engineering group. The sense of the Conference was very strongly opposed to any such proposal. The Government entirely shared the view thus generally expressed. The circumstances are such that the Government cannot give preferential treatment to any organisation. I regret that the Amalgamated Society of Engineers did not accept the decision of the general Conference and did not accept the invitation of the Government to the sectional Conference of the engineering group. The invitation is still open to them, and I shall be pleased to summon a further Conference of the engineering group if representatives of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers decide to avail themselves of the opportunity. The series of Conferences afforded a happy opportunity for the Prime Minister to make his statement upon war aims. The unions have expressed the desire that after the conclusion of the sectional Conferences the representatives should again assemble in a general Conference, and this we are doing.
I wish to take this opportunity of placing on record my great appreciation of the spirit which I have found to animate the leaders of organised labour with whom I have discussed the nation's needs from day to day. I hope that the country can count on the same spirit of fair-mindedness in the rank and file that has been 70 shown by their leaders on this as on other occasions. Efforts are now being made by pacifists to stir up strife in the munition factories; but I hesitate to believe that in this, the last phase of this great struggle, any of the young men engaged in the vital industries will claim for themselves privileges, exemption, and immunity opposed to the urgent needs of the nation and rot accorded to their fellows of the trade unions of the less vital industries, or, indeed, to any other section of the community—an immunity only to be purchased at the price of the men who have fought and been wounded, at the price of sending their fathers to the trenches, and of limiting, if not stopping, the leave of the soldiers from the front. That is what their claim for immunity amounts to. These young men are now threatening to take what they call drastic action; in plain language, they are threatening to hold up the output of ships and aeroplanes in order to force the Government to send out the wounded men again and again, to force the Government to drag out their fathers, and to force the Government to stop the leave of the men at the front. [HON. MEMBERS: "Traitors!"] I believe that ill they do they will meet such a blast of hatred and contempt that will surprise them. Think of the monstrosity of the claim of these young men—that we should send out the wounded again and again to fight for them while they draw high wages, that we should take their fathers and send them out while they stay at home and draw high wages, and that we should stop the leave of men from the front while they stay at home and draw high wages.
§ Sir A. GEDDES
That is their claim. and they are going to take drastic action to enforce it. We shall see. Before I quite pass from the subject of the Conferences, I desire to inform the House that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade has at my request undertaken to arrange for me to meet a representative gathering of employers in order that I may discuss the details of the application of the measures that we propose with them just as we have done with the trade unions. The main object of the present proposals is to distribute fairly the burden of military service and to secure, so far as is practicable, equality of sacrifice. It would be idle to pretend that the Military Service Acts have borne 71 equally upon all sections of the community, but it is the intention of the Government to remedy such inequalities. To secure this certain comparatively small legislative changes are required. For these provision is made in the Bill which I beg to introduce to-day. It is a short measure of two Clauses.
Clause 1 is designed to abolish the automatic addition of two months' exemption at present enjoyed by certain men who were in certified occupations or in occupations subject to the provisions of Section 7 of the Munitions of War Act and the addition of two weeks in the case of other men. With regard to applications for a renewal of certificates of exemption, it leaves the period within which application for renewal must be made to be decided by Regulations made by Order in Council. At present an application for the renewal of a certificate under the Military Service Acts has to be made within fourteen days of the date on which a certificate ceases to be in force. The two months' provision has for long been a cause of grievance and, indeed, an injustice to many men, for it did not apply to attested men or to men in possession of a protection certificate whether attested or not. Its original object was to meet the difficulty created by the provision which existed in connection with the "leaving" certificate, under which a man, if he left his employment without obtaining a certificate, was not entitled to be re-engaged for a period of six weeks. As the "leaving" certificate and the provision attaching to it have now vanished, there is no reason why a consequential safeguard should continue. Quite apart from the intention of the automatic addition of two months to an exemption, it is necessary to consider the practical results. These too often were that a man, whose continuance in civil life was unnecessary in the national interest, found in the two months opportunity of concealing his identity and of obtaining, perhaps under an assumed name, in some distant place, civil occupation possibly of quite an unimportant kind. The difficulties which the two months have introduced into administration have been legion, and the inequality of treatment which they produced have done much to create dissatisfaction with the statutory provisions with regard to military service, and with their administration. If the Clause as drafted be- 72 comes law, I anticipate that administration will be simplified, and that men who are intended to join the Army will do so not only more rapidly, but also in larger numbers than has been the case in the past.
The second Clause of the Bill is designed to give to the Director-General. of National Service power by administrative Order to withdraw any certificates of exemption granted on occupational. grounds, either under the Military Service Acts or to voluntarily attested men. In the Bill a certificate granted on occupational grounds is defined as one which is granted wholly or partly on the grounds that it is expedient in the national interests that a man should, instead of being engaged in military service, be employed either on civil work in which he is engaged, or in which he wishes to be engaged, or, if he is being educated or trained, that he should continue to be so educated or trained, or which in the case of voluntarily attested men is based on similar grounds, or a certificate which is granted by or under the authority of any Government Department.
It is proposed that the administrative. Order may be applicable either to individual certificates or to certificates granted to any class or body of men, and that the Order may be made applicable only to men falling within such limits of age or fulfilling such other conditions as may be specified in the Order. The object of this provision is to meet the greatest of all the imperfections of the present Military Service Acts. It is a fact that at the present time there are in civil life a large number of men holding certificates of exemption on occupational grounds who are engaged in work or practically no national importance. The whole history of these certificates of exemption on occupational grounds is, in fact, a tangled story. Many of them have in the past been granted by agents of Government Departments without full appreciation of the needs of the position. It is current gossip, and I have had from time to time evidence that. the gossip was not all ill-founded, that many of these certificates were obtained by their holders through influence. Some of them, indeed, have been proved in the Courts of Law to have been obtained by corrupt means. But quite apart from that, it is necessary in equity that some such provision should exist, for there are at the present time a 73 large number, over 1,000,000 men, who hold administrative protection certificates from military service which can in fact be cancelled by order of the Director-General of National Service.
The intention is to assimilate the position of all other men who hold exemption on occupational grounds to that of the men holding the protection certificates to which I have just referred. It is necessary that I should at this point make it plain that there is no intention to ask for powers to cancel certificates of exemption granted on personal grounds or on grounds of conscientious objection, or on any other grounds except that of occupation where it is alleged that it is in the interests of the nation that the man who holds the exemption should remain in civil life. It is impossible for any individual or body of individuals who have not all the facts before them to decide what is the national interest with regard to the occupation of any man or any body of men.
In order that the Members of this House may understand what the proposed provision would mean in practice it is necessary for me here to describe at some length the theory which, in my opinion, must underlie any scientific system of recruitment. To begin with, I desire to make it clear that, keen as I am for the young men to go, it is impossible to conduct recruiting on the undiluted principles of "youngest first" and "single men first." It is obvious that at the present time few, if any, men regardless of their age or marital state who are engaged in the vital industries of shipbuilding and ship repairing can be withdrawn from civil life. It is equally obvious that a bathing-machine keeper should not be exempt on occupational grounds, even though he be a married man of thirty-five. We require a system of recruitment based on occupation, conditioned by age, and, if you will, marital state. It is such a system that we now propose to introduce. Under it, if we obtain the powers for which we now ask, we shall be able to proceed with recruiting on an easily understood system of clean cuts by age, by occupation. The way in which we propose to administer the system may be briefly outlined. Let us suppose that we have a series of occupations which, for our present purposes, I may describe as occupations A, B, and C. The production effected by occupa- 74 tion A may be extremely vital and just equal to requirements; that of occupation B may be to some extent equally vital, but may be one-third in excess of minimum requirements; whereas that of C, although equally vital, may be one-half in excess of minimum requirements. We propose in such cases to leave industry A alone; to draw from industry B roughly one-third of the men engaged in it; and from industry C half the men engaged in it; taking from really vital industries only those fit for general service and securing the number required by a clean cut determined on an age basis for that particular occupation. In no other way that I know of can the highly complicated business of recruiting for the Army be carried on in a modern highly industrialised State without leading to what may well be a disastrous disturbance in the production of essential munitions of war.
As a result of past methods of recruiting, it is not possible now to apply this system in its cleanest and most simple form. Our action must to some extent be complicated by the presence of men of little skill in industries into which they were drawn when the industry was being diluted. It would obviously be unsound to leave in civil life the unskilled who are fit for general service until we had taken all the younger men possessed of a high degree of skill and training. The need for considering such matters, although complicating the administration, does not in any way modify the general theory underlying the procedure which we propose to adopt. We intend to reinforce our Armies with the youngest men (not boys) we can get; we are going to take the young men out of the essential industries and we are going to substitute them by men of those trades who have fought and been wounded, if male substitutes are necessary at all. For this purpose we ask for powers to make our action coincide with our intention.
§ Sir A. GEDDES
In asking the House for the further powers which I have indicated in connection with recruiting, it is only fair that I should give some account of the recruiting machinery as it has been reconstituted. It is not necessary to recall, except by reference, the several stages of voluntary enlistment. the Group System associated with the 75 name of Lord Derby, with its accompanying machinery of tribunals, and the successive Military Service Acts, through which we have approached our present system. Of the Military Service (Review of Exceptions) Act, 1917, to which the Royal Assent was given on the 5th April last, I would just say this: I am determined that it shall be administered with great care and consideration. Indeed, by the concession already given to men who, having served overseas, have been discharged from the Navy or Army on account of disablement, the Government has refrained from exercising the full powers given to it by Parliament. I can assure the House that so long as I am responsible for the administration of this Act the powers conferred by it will be used with a due regard for all men who have served their country in the field overseas. It is unfortunate that such an Act should have been necessary, but without its powers it would have been impossible to deal with the large number of cases in which men had been either discharged or rejected on quite insufficient grounds.
Until recently recruiting was regarded as purely the duty of the military authorities. It is now a civilian duty, and the change has been, in my opinion, in every way beneficial. I sometimes wonder if this House realised for a moment what a risk was run in taking the decision to effect transfer of the control of recruiting, with all that it implied, in the middle of a great war. The risk was run, and Great Britain is now, for the purpose of recruiting, divided into ten regions, each under an officer responsible for the due administration of recruiting within his region, and everything, I think I can say, is running smoothly and well. The old machine has been taken to bits, the new one created. The story of how it was done will be quite worth the telling some day. I wish it were possible to tell it now, but I must hasten on.
In addition to the work of recruiting in this country, a very considerable amount of work has been done in the way of recruiting British subjects resident outside the United Kingdom, elsewhere than in the self-governing Dominions. A special mission was sent to the United States, where it was received with great friendliness and cordiality. It has been successful in securing a large number of 76 British subjects, both for the British Army and for the Canadian Forces. Concurrently with this, appeals were made to British subjects in neutral countries to enlist for service in the forces, and arrangements have been made for the medical examination of the men who have volunteered. In accepting such men for service, the necessity of safeguarding the commercial interests of this country has not been lost sight of. Mutual arrangements have already been made, or are now being arranged, with the principal Allied States, in which an interchange of liability to military service is feasible. A. Convention was made in the summer of 1917 with Russia, and Conventions have since been made with France and Italy. Negotiations are proceeding with the Government of the United States and have reached a point at which the two Governments are practically in agreement. I wish to-day it were possible for me to describe the reforms which have been introduced in the system under which recruits are medically examined. Suffice it to say the old system has been replaced by a new one which, though it still shows a few raw edges, is a vast improvement on the old. I wish, too, that I could stop to tell of all the work that has been done to co-ordinate the demands of Government Departments for medical men, and to ensure an adequate supply of medical practitioners to meet the nation's needs in 1920, 1921, and the years following.
We must recognise, however, both in connection with recruiting and in connection with the Army, that the efficient working of the recruiting and medical machines rests finally upon a complete and accurate system of registration. My right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board has to-day introduced a measure which is designed to complete that work, and I feel that both he and I can recommend that measure to the House with confidence, in view of the enormous amount of work already done in connection with registration, which has proved exactly what further powers are necessary to complete the work. There is one point in the Bill to which I wish to refer, namely, the provision with regard to the registration of discharged and demobilised soldiers. This is not designed to make them more available for military service, but to make it easier to provide them with work of national importance.
§ Sir A. GEDDES
Registration is necessarily a difficult and complicated business. We have, since August, reconstructed and reorganised the whole registration machine. The new system reduces to a minimum inconvenience and annoyance to the general public caused by the improper issue of calling-up notices, and by applications for information, through the police or otherwise, to men who have not yet joined the forces, or to relatives and friends of those who have. Moreover—I think this is an important consideration—it will be possible to arrange for a 50 per cent, reduction of personnel, with a corresponding saving of public money.
As I pass from a. description of the work of recruiting I desire in a few words to refer to the development of Women's Corps for work with the Navy, Army, Air Force, and on the land. My Department is responsible to the War Cabinet for the general control of recruiting for these corps, and I am glad to be in a position to announce that Lady Mackworth has accepted the appointment of Chief Controller of Women's Recruiting. Perhaps I may be allowed to take this opportunity of contradicting emphatically rumours which have been in circulation as to conditions which are alleged to obtain in certain units of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, reflecting adversely both upon the members of that corps and upon those who are responsible for their supervision and welfare. I can best do so by giving the figures for discharges overseas and at home. These figures are limited to the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps. I have no knowledge of the position in some of the irregular, non-official bodies. I am speaking of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, about which these rumours are existing. Out of the thousands of women who have joined that corps, the only discharges for misconduct overseas have been two, and at home four. There have been a few discharges on other grounds. That, I think, is an answer to the accusations which have been made about the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps.
Before passing to a consideration of the work of that Department of my Ministry which I took over from the old National Service Department, I should like to pay a sincere tribute of respect to Mr. Neville Chamberlain. Much misunderstanding still exists with regard to his position and actions. The problems of National Service 78 are varied and manifold, and Mr. Chamberlain's personal contributions to the solution of the man-power problem were both solid and valuable. To him, I think, is due the credit of finally convincing the country of the need of a Ministry to work out the problem of the strategical use of man-power; and when he had done this he resigned and left to his successor the work of building up such a Ministry as his pioneer work alone had made possible.
While the establishment of a Ministry of National Service with the necessary powers was essential in order that the Government might be presented with a complete review of the man-power position from time to time, and to assure the co-ordination of action on the lines laid down, it would be impossible for the Ministry to carry on the whole of its work at a central headquarters in London. I have, therefore, decided to decentralise to the greatest possible extent the vast amount of administrative work of the Ministry, while at the same time retaining control of policy. The men who have hitherto acted as Directors of Recruiting—that is to say, the distinguished civilians who came two months ago to help us as Directors of Recruiting—will become Regional Directors of National Service, each in charge of a region, and will exercise in that capacity wide powers in connection with all branches of the work of the Ministry, thus ensuring prompt action and full consideration of all local conditions.
I now return to the other vast side of my multitudinous duties, and propose to review the industrial situation in relation to man-power. I shall indicate to the House some of the means by which the needs of the essential trades and industries can be and are being met. But in doing so I wish the House not to picture the work of the Ministry as a centralised undertaking in Westminster, but as a dynamic force working throughout the country. In developing the necessary machine, two guiding principles have been always present to my mind. The first, as I have said, is to retain the control of policy at the centre, while decentralising the administrative work, and affording wide scope to those responsible in each region for devising suitable plans to meet local conditions. The second principle has been to make the fullest use of all existing organisations, whether instituted by Government action or private enterprise. Full use has been made not only of Government organisa- 79 tions, such as the machinery of the Employment Exchanges of the Ministry of Labour and the Labour Supply Departments of other Ministries, but also of the trade committees representing employers and workmen in various industries, for the formation of which I have much reason to be grateful to Mr. Neville Chamberlain, and of the local advisory committees of employers and workmen which have been and are being established throughout the country. These and many other organisations, formed either for general or for specific purposes, co-operate in the work of the Ministry in different localities. Wherever machinery exists for carrying out the work which is to be done, that machinery is used, and it is only to bridge gaps in organisation that new machinery is formed.
While developing the necessary organisation for dealing with the industrial side of man-power, it was of the first importance to obtain a complete and comprehensive review of the labour demands, not only those of the moment, but also the whole requirements for this year for the execution of Government work. Arrangements were made with the Government Departments for their immediate demands to be notified through the local Employment Exchanges, in order that they might be dealt with locally so far as possible, and the balance submitted to the Ministry of National Service for examination arid circulation throughout the country after being graded for priority. The demand for men actually ascertained in this way amounted to over 90,000, and consisted of actual vacancies for which men were immediately required. A large number of these have been filled, but by reason of the conversion of part of the prospective demand into current demand, and the normal wastage, the actual demand to-day stands at approximately the same figure. The relative urgency of current demands necessarily varies, and the National Labour Priority Committee, consisting of representatives of all the principal Government Departments concerned, under the chairmanship of an officer of the Ministry of National Service, was constituted on a representative basis to grade all Government demands for priority, subject to general rulings on policy given by the War Cabinet. The existing demands have been examined by the Committee, and some 20,000 have been accorded different grades of priority; and it is now possible, 80 week by week, to follow up the supply of men to meet the different demands, and to determine, week by week, how available labour has been disposed of. The prospective demands have been examined. They amount to 439,000 persons in all, of which 320,000 were for men (70,000 skilled and 242,000 unskilled) and 119,000 for women. As I have stated, some of these have already materialised and now form part of the current demand.
Further, in order to be able to deal with subsequent variations in the demand, it has been arranged that all new programmes or alterations in existing programmes of the Departments shall come under the review of the Ministry of National Service, so that the labour position as a whole may always be before it. The prospective demand for men, amounting to 320,000, may be roughly divided into three parts. Rather more than a third is for the requirements of the Ministry of Munitions, rather less than a third for the Admiralty, and the remaining third is divided among the other labour - employing Departments, namely, the War Office for aerodrome construction, the Board of Trade for timber production, the Board of Agriculture for Food Production, the Office of Works for various forms of Government constructional works, and other minor requirements for various other Departments. The demand for 119,000 women is almost entirely for the Ministry of Munitions, and it is additional to the demands which will be made for the various women's corps.
Of all these demands, the most important is that for shipyard labour font the construction of merchant tonnage. I am glad to be able to say that the appeal for labour for the shipyards has met with a most gratifying response, and at the present moment men are coming forward in larger numbers than can be absorbed, at, all events in some districts. Some 10,000 vacancies were notified to the Employment Exchanges for shipyards during the month of December. The Exchanges have in the last four weeks (which include Christmas and New Year holidays) submitted over 5,500 men in respect of those vacancies, and about 2,100 of these have started work; and no doubt numbers of men have also been engaged direct. Temporary difficulties have been experienced which have prevented in some districts the absorption of all those who have come forward As soon, however, as 81 those difficulties have been overcome, more men will undoubtedly be wanted, probably in the near future.
It is of the utmost importance that all actual vacancies in shipyards should be filled as they arise. Every ton of shipping built, every ton of shipping saved from submarine attacks, every ton of shipping economised by the substitution of home production for imports, means a ton of shipping available to bring the forces of America into the field. This is the vital problem. Upon our failure to solve it our enemies are staking everything. Our success in solving it means certain victory. On the construction of an adequate amount of merchant tonnage depends our supply of food, timber, iron ore, oil and many other essential commodities which we cannot produce in sufficient quantities to satisfy the national need. The production of these commodities in this country is being stimulated, and additional supplies of labour for them have been included in the figures of demand already quoted. But, even if all these labour requirements are met, we shall still need a very large number of men for the shipyards, and priority for these demands over all others has been accorded by the Government Committees dealing with this question.
Although the demands which I have summarised will almost certainly be reduced in some cases by rulings of the War Priorities Committee, directing the discontinuance or postponement of certain work, particularly in relation to constructional work, and although it is anticipated that some part of the demands which remain will be met by readjustments in the use of existing labour under the control of the Departments concerned, and by the absorption of labour now employed on contracts which are nearing completion, it is certain that a very large demand will remain to be met by reinforcements from other sources. A good deal has been already accomplished. Thus during the last month (including the Christmas holidays) 47,000 vacancies for men and 36,000 vacancies for women have been filled. But it must be borne in mind that the vacancies to be filled in the ordinary course include vacancies for work of every kind and description—for example, vacancies to fill the normal wastage due to death and other causes—whereas the figures given in the demand refer to the net increases in direct Government work, on new or extended programmes.
82 The first point which it is necessary to ensure is that all programmes put forward by Government Departments are carefully scrutinised to see that any part of a programme which can safely be postponed or eliminated is so dealt with. This work is being continuously undertaker. by the War Priorities Committee. This scrutiny enables us to determine with reasonable accuracy the exact demands which must be met. In meeting these demands, the first obvious source is the men and women who, from time to time are thrown out of employment in various industries. The restriction of imports and exports which has been necessary in order to save tonnage has involved a corresponding restriction in the supplies of raw material available for the loss essential industries; and the curtailment of these industries and consequential unemployment, is bound to increase during the present year. Every effort is made to employ persons so thrown out of employment in their own locality, not only by their absorption in other factories in those localities, but by the adaptation of factories for the production of munitions of war. In order to secure that this policy is carried out to the fullest extent, the Government has instructed all Departments who are contemplating the erection of new premises to make full investigation as to whether existing factories can be used instead of building new factories. I may take the example of the cotton industry in Lancashire. As the House is aware, the imports in raw cotton have been considerably restricted. Preliminary arrangements have already been made for the utilisation of certain factories in Lancashire for the production of aeroplane parts, and it is hoped that other factories there may be used for the assembling and manufacture of aeroplanes. Similarly, on the East Coast I am at present trying to arrange for miners, who are only partially employed in the getting of coal, to secure employment in local shipyards within reach of their homes. But in all such cases there must necessarily remain a comparatively large body of labour which it is impossible to absorb locally. To all these men and women who possess the necessary qualifications, or who can be trained to new work, it is our duty to afford the opportunity of transferring to work of national importance in other districts; and the co-operation of the Trade Committees and Trade Unions is of the 83 greatest value in this work. Again, owing to the system under which shipping now reaches this country, there is unavoidably a certain amount of dock labour only partially employed in some ports, while other ports are short-handed. A scheme for the transfer of such labour from port to port through the instrumentality of the Port Labour Committees is at the present moment under consideration, and it is hoped that, if successful, it will tend materially to the better utilisation of dock labour and the more expeditious handling of dock work. In order to meet the frequent cases of men with dependants. moving to work away from their homes, a subsistence allowance has been sanctioned, and is incorporated in the War Work Volunteer Scheme instituted by the Ministry.
Another source of labour supply, and one in which I know hon. Members will take special interest, is discharged soldiers. The Army has established seven discharge centres, and I felt it my duty, both in the interests of the discharged soldiers themselves and in the national interest also, to see that the fullest opportunity is afforded to these men of filling the vacancies which exist in work of national importance. In this I have received the greatest assistance from all the Government Departments. The Ministry of Labour has arranged to establish an Employment Exchange at each discharge centre. The Admiralty and the Ministry of Munitions will have representatives at these discharge centres, and the War Office have arranged that soldiers about to be discharged shall have the opportunity of going on leave in order to be tested for suitable vacancies in employment. In this- way an opportunity is to be afforded to every discharged soldier of securing employment of a kind which is suited to his qualifications and previous civil training in so far as such vacancies exist in civil life, and also his employment on work of national importance.
§ Sir A. GEDDES
Of course, the hon. Member will not expect me to make a definite statement now as to what may happen if the War continues for, say, 84 another two years. Not only are we arranging to supply work of national importance to soldiers who are going to be discharged, but also we are arranging to get men released from the Army for work of national importance—men who are of lower grade at present in the Home forces, whose work as soldiers is not of the greatest importance and who are not, therefore, immediately required for service in the Army For these men we are finding jobs before they are released, then we are asking the War Office to release them, and the War Office is allowing large numbers of them to come back to civil life. It is in connection with this work which I have just described—the work of the discharge centres in the provision of work for the soldiers who have been discharged and the finding of men in the Army to fill jobs which exist in civil life—that we look to find the great majority of the substitutes who will be required to fill the place of the young men whom we shall' remove from the essential industries. In other words, we are looking first to the interests of the men who have fought for their country and who in fighting have suffered some loss of physical capacity.
In connection with one-man businesses there is a point to which I wish to refer, and it is this: We have found by experience that it is possible to arrange, through the Federation of One-man Business Associations, to get a large amount of part-time work undertaken by the men of lower categories who are owners of one-man businesses, and that work they are undertaking to help the men of higher categories whom it is impossible for us in the present position of our man-power requirements to leave in their own businesses. To protect them the War Cabinet has given authority for a Defence of the Realm Regulation to be passed which will limit the establishment of retail businesses to those cases in which licences have been granted—that is to say, new retail businesses to be established only on licence. That is being done to protect the one-man business where the owner has had to join the forces and where some stranger, possibly an alien, opens a business beside his shop and tries to take his business away from him.
§ Sir J D. REES
Is that in addition to, or in variation or cancellation of, what is laid down by the circular recently issued by the Local Government Board?
§ Sir A. GEDDES
It is in addition. Besides, I am increasing the opportunities 85 for using the services of Allied and neutral aliens on work of national importance. After full consultation with the Foreign Office, the Home Office, and the Ministry of Labour, it has been agreed that an Article shall be obtained under the Aliens Restriction Act, providing that aliens shall not in future be employed in certain restricted occupations of an unessential character without a permit. A permit will, however, be granted in all cases where suitable employment on work of national importance is not available. I have established a Committee to advise me in this connection, and I am glad to say that Lord Burnham has consented to act as Chairman. The constitution of the Committee, containing as it does representatives of the principal Allied nations, will be of great assistance. I have arranged also that, so far as possible, enemy aliens who are uninterned shall, if they are physically capable of undertaking work of national importance, either do so or be interned. In this my Department has acted in close cooperation with the Local Government Board, and has received great help from the Home Office.
There is one point further in connection with the employment of aliens to which I have to refer, namely, the prisoners of war. The Government has entrusted to the Ministry of National Service the allocation of prisoners of war, and I am glad to state that the Secretary of State for War has expressed his willingness to relax the stringency of the conditions which have hitherto attached to their employment. In these circumstances, I hope that considerable use may be made of them in assisting the programme of the Board of Agriculture. We are also taking steps to provide labour for our essential industries through part - time schemes—through schemes which are developing in connection with the employment of schoolboys and in connection with the employment of Boy Scouts. I should like in passing to refer to the most excellent part-time scheme which has been evolved by the Part-Time Committee in Liverpool. This is being brought to the notice of our Regional Directors of National Service as a model of what can be achieved in the way of getting work done by part-time employment.
But when we have taken all these steps there is still going to remain an urgent need for workers to reinforce our vital industries, and to save tonnage. I have explained that the Government does not 86 intend at the present time to raise the age for military service; but I wish to make the strongest possible appeal to able-bodied men over military age, who are not employed in essential industries, to place their services at the disposal of the State to fill the specific vacancies which are made known from time to time. There are two classes of men to whom I would particularly appeal. First, there are a large number of men with adequate private means who, with a little inconvenience and a little sacrifice—small, indeed, compared with the sacrifices which have been made by younger men in the Army — could easily leave their homes and take up work in a shipyard or munition factory, at timber work, or on a farm. Secondly, there are many men over military age and of good physique who depend for their living on the work which they do with their hands, and who are now indeed employed, but not on work of first-rate national importance. To both these classes of men I would appeal to come forward and undertake work of national importance, because to meet the large demands I have indicated—demands running up to 420,000 persons—we cannot as a nation afford to have any wastage of such human material on work of compratively small importance. I am afraid I have kept the House a long time with this review of the labour side of the work of National Service, but it is essential to any understanding of what our proposals are with regard to raising men for the armed forces of the Crown that the labour side should be kept steadily in view, because National Service is not a question only of raising men to fight—it is a question of maintaining an even poise and a balance between all the activities of the State, all those activities which are essential to the winning of the War.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
The right hon. Gentleman who has just addressed the House has presented a very comprehensive survey of the needs of the country in respect of man-power both for military and industrial purposes. I am sure that the House congratulates him upon the comprehensiveness of the survey which he has given. Unfortunately, however, the proposals which he is laying before the House and the Bill which he has asked leave to introduce are by no means as comprehensive as the survey. I think it well now in the month of January, 1918, when we are invited to discuss this question of man- 87 power, to remind the House that it was precisely in order to deal with this problem that the present Government came into existence thirteen months ago, and it may be within the recollection of the few Members who now remain in the House that on the 16th December, 1916, the Prime Minister, in making his first declaration of Ministerial policy, stated that for the first time the Government was going to take in hand the whole question of the mobilisation of the man-power of the country. He then indicated that a new Department of National Service would be set up and that in three weeks' time, when Parliament reassembled, proposals would be placed before the House which would provide for the scientific organisation of the whole man-power of the country. I remind the House of these things so that we here may be in a position to judge as to how far the performances of this Government square with the promises with which they entered upon office.
Obviously the subject has been treated in the same hand-to-mouth way as had marked the Wait-and-See methods of their predecessors. We had the Review of Exceptions Act last year, an Act for which the right hon. Gentleman has made an apology to the House. He has told us now that he intends to administer that Act in a careful and considerate way—a real admission that that was a measure which should never have been introduced at all and which it was a disgrace to both Houses of Parliament ever to have placed upon the Statute Book. I had hoped, indeed, that, recognising all that, we would have had an announcement from the right hon. Gentleman that it was forthwith going to be repealed. We are gratified indeed to know that now severely wounded men are not going to be sent back time after time to the trenches. It is a gratifying and welcome announcement, but we got no such undertaking six months ago when this proposition was put to the House. I remember on the adjournment for the Autumn Recess raising this very question of the cruelty with which the War Office was dealing with severely wounded men, hustling them out of the hospitals in order to send them to the front, and I read an instruction of one of the military directors to hospitals actually laying it down that the test of the efficiency of the medical officers of hospitals was the speed with which they returned men to the front. I 88 am glad to hear from the right hon. Gentleman that these methods are no longer going to be employed. That is one of the announcements which will gratify everybody, not only here, but outside.
But there were one or two observations which seemed to me to be irrelevant in the right hon. Gentleman's speech, which, in a considered statement of that kind, were rather surprising. In one of them he reviewed the origin of the War, and in the second he gave by implication a new theory of the conduct of the War during recent months. In the first place he remarked on the position of the Allies, who had come into the War on account of Russian's action in August, 1914. That is not a theory of the origin of the War which we accepted in this country, and I am surprised to find a Minister of the Crown, after three and a half years, attributing responsibility and culpability to the Government of Russia of that time. When the right hon. Gentleman speaks about pacifists interfering with recruiting I should have thought that the weapon which he has delivered into their hands by that statement would be invaluable for their purpose. I hope that without loss of time this strange statement from a responsible Minister will be promptly disavowed by someone representing the Government. But there was a second implication. He made a statement in regard to casualties which was a veiled and implied censure upon the Commander-in-Chief in France. He said that during the present year no casualties had occurred which could have been avoided, and he went on to say that carelessness and thoughtlessness will be stamped out. If that statement means anything it implies that in the past there have been both thoughtlessness and carelessness. If that is the considered view of the Government they are adopting and accepting the case made from this bench last month by my hon. and gallant Friend (Commander Wedgwood), and if that is so they must surely adopt the policy which he advocated on these premises, and make a change in the High Command in France. I thought these somewhat irrelevant observations required attention called to them, and that we should gather whether, implying censure as they do on the one hand on the High Command and on the other implying a theory of origin of the War not hitherto accepted in this country, they are the considered views of His Majesty's present advisers.
89 But my main object in rising is to make a plea for information on behalf of the House of Commons. We have heard from the right hon. Gentleman that he and the Prime Minister have met the trade unions. They first of all met a general assembly of representatives of all the unions, and subsequently the Prime Minister made a statement upon War aims. We have heard also that during the week that has followed there have been sectional Conferences with the trade unions, and that he has not exhausted these Conferences, and still intends to have more. I want to know whether the information which he has given to the House to-day is the same information as he has given to the trade unions, and, in the second place, whether he has given as full information to the House as he has given to the trade unions. It may -be said they were entitled to receive full information on these important questions, both regarding the statistics of our fighting strength and that of our Allies, because they were asked to give up certain pledges which had been made to them, both by the late Prime Minister and by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. A. Henderson). But we in the House of Commons are in a more important fiduciary position than the trade unions. We are here to decide whether the measures which the Government is asking us to pass are adequate to the national need. The statement which the right hon. Gentleman has made to-day, full and comprehensive as it was, is totally inadequate to enable the House to decide that question for itself. We have had general statements regarding the industrilal situation—shipbuilding, agriculture, and the respective reserves of man-power of the Allies and of the Central Powers—butin no essential respect have we been brought down to actual figures. We are entitled, therefore, to ask that figures should be given to the House. When the second Military Service Act was passed, that was done by the late Prime Minister. The Government of that clay decided to have a Secret Session, and the late Prime Minister made a statement regarding our military necessities which enabled the House to say which of the competing methods then before the Government of dealing with the military service problem was adequate to the situation. Why should we not have a similar opportunity now? After all, this is a far more critical time than May, 1916. The situation has developed in many way? 90 since then, and even taking the admissions of members of the Government, we know that the situation of this country and the Alliance has never been worse than it is to-day. The Minister of Munitions said only a day or two ago that the British Empire was now hanging in the balance That is a very serious situation.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
But he still remains a member of His Majesty's Government. Undoubtedly, even allowing for the natural exaggeration of the Minister of Munitions, the situation is sufficiently serious. Everyone will admit that it is far more serious than in 1916; in fact, the statement of our strategy during the present year indicates clearly that it is very much worse. In these circumstances it is the duty of the House of Commons before it gives a Second Reading to this Bill to obtain sufficient information from the Government to enable it to judge whether the proposals now put before it are adequate to the national needs, and I hope there are other hon. Members who will equally insist upon this point. It is due to the House of Commons that this should be done. We have at present a far greater responsibility resting upon us than at any other period of the War, and when the Government comes before -us with new legislative proposals, as they are doing now, it is not -only our duty to give a perfunctory assent and to throw the responsibility upon the Government, it is our duty to ascertain, so far as we can, that the proposals the Government is putting forward are adequate, because unless we do so we fail in our duty to those whom we represent.
But apart from these general considerations, there are a number of other matters of detail upon which we should obtain some further assurances from the Government. The right hon. Gentleman has referred to the present position in the Array in reference to the Review of Exceptions Act. I would ask him if he is quite satisfied with the new system of medical examination. I know that in many cases, as a result of the change of control and the change of system, there has been a substantial improvement; but I have also information that in certain parts of the country the new medical boards are acting in very much the same fashion as their predecessors did.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
But that is not all. I have had evidence put before me of the experience of certain invaliding Boards. In the middle of last summer invaliding Boards were set up in the various commands in order to discharge the large numbers of unfit men who were at that time admittedly in the Army. These invaliding Boards naturally have good means of judging the quality of the material which is being placed in the Army, and the information which has been put before me—it was confidential, and I cannot give the name of my informant—was to the effect that there were still large numbers of unfit men being passed into the Army whom it would have been far better to leave in civil life. They are frequently passed into the Army on the footing that their service will be used for certain purposes; but once they are in the Army they are set to completely different work from that for which they were passed, and I think the right hon. Gentleman should inform us whether the National Service Department has any security that, once it parts with the men, and they come under the command of the military authorities, they are allotted to the tasks for which alone they were passed by the National Service Medical Board. There are many cases where I know that that is not so. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that although he talks about the more considerate administration of the Military Service (Review of Exceptions) Act, that that consideration has not permeated all his officials in the country. I can give him one very interesting example. It comes from the far north—Stromness. There is at Stromness the bead master of a school who is 4 ft. 10 ins. in height and a cripple. He has been called up by the National Service representative there, and as a result of the considerate activity of that National Service representative this schoolmaster, who is doing work of national importance and who is not an A 1 man, but a cripple 4 ft. 10 ins. in height, has had to go to Inverness in order to have himself medically examined. I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman regards that as either consideration or efficiency in the administration of the Review of Exceptions Act, or whether he regards it as a scientific organisation of the man-power of the country ! That is only one example, and although it is a fairly extreme 92 example, the fact that such an illustration can occur proves how haphazard still are the methods of recruiting in this country.
There is another point to which I wish to draw attention. It is a well-known fact that many classes of munitions are being produced to an extent far in excess of demand. The Prime Minister when he was Minister of Munitions believed that an inexhaustible supply of shells would be necessary; and he gave very large orders; but now we have had considerable experience of the amount of shells which our Armies can possibly use, and I am informed that for some time past we have been producing shells in this country far in excess of what will ever be used no matter what the duration of the War may be. There are shells rusting in France. The amount of shells in many places is a positive danger. Is it not possible in these circumstances to rearrange your industry? You are using steel, of which there is a considerable deficiency, and you are employing labour unprofitably and uselessly. Why cannot you immediately set to work to turn these munition factories from the production of shells to the production of things which are far more important at the present time in the national interest? We know the difficulty in regard to shipbuilding. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Molton (Mr. G. Lambert) made a speech the other day in which he referred in very gloomy terms to the shipping situation, and the speech which the Minister of National Service made this afternoon proves that at last the Government has realised that the sea is the most important element for this country. If this Government and its predecessor had realised that before we should not have been in the position we are in to-day. I remember speaking in March, 1915, upon this question in this House, and it was impossible then even to get a fair hearing for the proposition that the greatest risk which this country ran in the War was the risk at sea. Now that proposition is adopted on the high authority of the present Minister of National Service, and we are told that the Government are going to work upon that basis.
Have the Government made provision for the men in shipbuilding who have been demanded by those who are responsible for the programme of shipbuilding? The right hon. Gentleman gave us an account of the number of men who had volunteered for shipbuilding and the number of 93 vacancies which have been filled, but the question which I now ask is one which requires an answer. Has the Government made provision to meet the demand of the authorities responsible for mercantile shipbuilding? if it has not, it is not doing its duty to the country. It all depends upon shipbuilding at the present time whether you are going to have the active assistance of America at the end of this year. If you do not increase your output of ships, allowing for the continuance of the submarine campaign in its present form, you cannot have the active assistance of America. The right hon. Gentleman has admitted that the active assistance of America is the decisive factor in the War; therefore, I think, the House must ascertain, either in public or in Secret Session, before it parts with these proposals, whether the proposals of this Bill regarding our military forces, and whether the proposals for directing the man-power of the country for every essential national purpose, are adequate to the existing situation. The long and interesting speech of the right hon. Gentleman did not give the House the data upon which it could decide this point. There is no doubt that more complete information has been given to unofficial bodies outside. We know that some people have opposed Secret Sessions on the ground that there were pacifists here who might use the information to the disadvantage of the country; but there are pacifist members of trade unions who have got this information already and who may be using it. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman has suggested that they are using it in the country. The sole body responsible in the present situation is the House of Commons. It is to the House of Commons that information should be given, and if the House of Commons does not insist on obtaining the information, not only spoonfuls of information but the whole information, it is unworthy of its trust and is betraying the responsible position which it holds.
Mr. C. EDWARDS
In the first place I would like to offer my congratulations to the right hon. Gentleman on his very interesting, very lucid, and very comprehensive speech. Having said that, may I from a totally different point of view to that adopted by my hon. Friend (Mr. Pringle) express profound disappointment regarding many parts of the speech? My attitude towards the right hon. Gentleman's statement is rather the attitude of -the curate towards the egg that was pro- 94 vided at the bishop's palace—it was quite good in parts. I would like to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on two or three matters which he has revealed. I am glad to hear for the first time that the Government have really awakened to the scandal and the absurdity of going on with new buildings without first inquiring whether there are not existing factories equally suitable for the purpose. I remember calling attention to a specific case in regard to aeroplane construction on he day that the House rose in December. I am glad to hear that at last, after representation upon representation, it has been borne in on the minds of the Government that something should be done to increase the available voyage tonnage by seeing that dock labour is made available at ports where ships go, instead of their having to wait for a long time and then being sent round to other ports, where there are available berths. I am glad, too, that at least those responsible for recruiting contemplate in this new Bill the definite step of over-riding the decisions of local tribunals with regard to occupational exemptions. I shall have something more to say in regard to tribunals; but in passing I would say that there have been very grave scandals, not in isolated cases but in a very great number of cases, all over the country, where the tribunals have decided, on occupational grounds, that a man should not be recruited. We were all very glad to hear that something is to be done to save us from the national inhumanity of sending again to the front badly wounded soldiers when there are available reservoirs of men of military age who have not been to the front at all. I am glad to find chat even the Department over which the right hon. Gentleman presides has shown repentance with regard to the older man who is in the fighting lines. I remember making very strong representations to the right hon. Gentleman when he was Director-General of Recruiting, urging, in conformity with the requests from the pit heads in South Wales, that the young men should be combed out, and that if it was necessary to have men to carry on the mines the older miners should. be brought back from the front. The right hon. Gentleman told me then that whilst he personally was sympathetic the War Office would not hear of substituting for men .who have taken much time and cost to train young untried recruits. I am glad to hear that there is provision in the 95 new Bill for substituting older men who have done their share of fighting for the younger men who are to be combed out.
I am rather alarmed at some of the omissions in the very comprehensive statement we have heard this afternoon. If the statement had not been so comprehensive I should have felt that some of the things were in the nature of mere accidental omission. I was hoping, in view of the very large number of men of military age who have been let through the large meshes of the local tribunals, that the Bill contemplated doing away with the tribunals for entirely local areas so that the members of the tribunals would be relieved both of the odium and the responsibility of having to decide as to their neighbours' sons not going to the front or going to the front. I am certain from my experience of tribunals when they deal with small areas, that there is much too close relation between the members of the tribunals and the men whose cases have to be decided or the men whose sons' cases have to be decided; and if it is not at present in contemplation in this Bill to substitute for these local tribunals for small local areas, tribunals for much larger areas, I hope that the Government will at least leave it to the decision of the House so that we can put in an Amendment substituting tribunals of a much larger and more impersonal character for those o f a purely local and very largely personal character. I was also hoping that we should have heard to-day that there would be a proposal in the new Bill to abolish the machinery of the Colliery Court. It would be very much better, when dealing with the question of combing out the young colliers, instead of having a Colliery Court, which is more or less balanced by the employers interested on the one side and the trade union's interest on the other, if you simply laid down in your new Bill absolutely definite, rigid lines as to the ages within which men should be combed out, and it would then be very much better to leave it to a perfectly independent body or individual in the different localities merely to decide the simple fact as to whether a man is or is not within the particular category. One knows perfectly well what has happened over these tribunals at Colliery Courts again and again. That is to say, the manager of a particular pit is anxious to preserve there a certain friend. He bargains with the 96 representative of the trade union to let him have certain of his friends in the mine there, and the Colliery Court has not worked as a successful piece of machinery.
There is something else which I hope will be provided in the Bill. Under the existing Military Service Acts managers of collieries are required, on Forms 18 and 20, to give particulars of men who have come into the colliery. There are collieries within my own personal knowledge where the returns that have been given under Forms 18 and 20 do not include anything like all the men who have come into those particular collieries since 4th August, 1914. Therefore, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will take power in the new Bill—and I say this to him advisedly—to see that the books of the colliery are themselves produced before whatever authority is decided on for the combing out, and that he will not trust to a mere extract from those books. That will make a difference of a great many thousands of men in all the coal-fields of the country. In common with my hon. and learned Friend who has just sat down, I was hoping that we should have heard something a little more definite with regard to what has transpired at the Conferences with the trade union. For the right hon. Gentleman to talk as he has done this afternoon, and as has been done in official statements which have emanated from his Department, about a practical agreement being arrived at, when at the same time he tells us that the Amalgamated Society of Engineers are standing out, is really, if I may say so with respect, playing with the House on this important matter.
§ Sir A. GEDDES
I did not think that I said anything about agreement, practical or otherwise, nor have any statements been issued by me.
I took it that the statements, such, for instance, as the statement in the "Times" to-day, had emanated directly from the right hon. Gentleman's Department. If that is not so, I entirely withdraw. But certainly, I gathered from the statement in the "Times" to-day and from different statements which have appeared within the last few days, that they were official, because it was announced the other day that there would be an official statement issued as to these proceedings, and I took it that these were in fact official statements. Of course, if that is not so, I withdraw entirely what I have said.
§ Sir A. GEDDES
So far there has been no opportunity for agreement because the discussion is merely proceeding.
I will merely pass on to make the point which I was making, that to talk of any possibility of agreement until you can get the men who are members of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers is an absurdity so far as the engineers are concerned. I have taken the view from the very beginning that this Government and the late Government have blundered most flagrantly and egregiously in the way in which they have dealt with labour. Instead of either making a direct appeal to the great rank and file of the workers of this country on the one side, or dealing with the solid, old, trusted representative leaders, they have done neither. They have dealt with them as with the miners. More than once we have had the attempt to deal with the miners through a body of delegates who have been pitchforked into their positions by the caucuses of the syndicalists and the pacifists of that trade. They are dealing with the engineering trade and with munitions trades in precisely the same way. They are dealing with this delegate type, a body of mushroom growth within the period of the War, a body that has been pitchforked there, not only by the caucuses of the syndicalists and the pacifists, but the caucuses of the Sinn Feiners. They have committed, to my mind, the appalling blunder, following upon the Coventry trouble, of getting employers to make arrangements for the recognition of the shop steward. It is a vital blunder for this reason, that it gives recognition for all negotiation to the men who are not responsible as trustees for the finances of the trade union.
I am not quibbling about Government Departments. I am talking about the blunders made by this Government and the previous Government. It is no reflection upon the right hon. Gentleman here, except in so far as he may have been a party to it. But I am talking about the broad, essential blunder, in my view, that has been committed by this Government and the late Government in dealing with war labour. The great distinction between dealing with those who are responsible as trustees for the funds of the union, like the per- 98 manent officials, and the executive committee, and dealing with a body of shop stewards, who are not so responsible, is I this, that you find throughout the history of trade unionists that where there was power to call a strike without any liability in regard to funds the strike has been called. This has always been the case where you have had these delegated bodies. Take the case of the South Wales miners. Three times within the period of the War strikes have been asked for that have not been asked for by the executive committee of the South Wales miners. They have been asked for by the monthly meetings of the delegates. Invariably the executive of the South Wales miners set their faces against any strike. In the first case the Government have done this with regard to shop stewards, and in my view, and with my intimate experience of the trade union world, the sooner for the sake of the men, and for the sake of carrying on industry for the purposes of the War, they undo that blunder the better. The fact is that the Government have no men handling these things who have the necessary personal knowledge of these matters. The result is that they are afraid.
They were afraid of the South Wales miners. They laughed at me when I told them last May that the miners in South Wales at the pit-head had passed resolutions in favour of themselves being combed out. Even the right hon. Gentleman himself, when Director of Recruiting, thought it was a pure fantasy of some wild Member of Parliament. Bat we had then at the pit-heads meetings, as the House knows, passing those resolutions, and at the very time threatened by the activities of the pacifists to have a strike, if they went on with the combing out; the Government were nervous about the prospect in view, but we fought them and beat them hollow. If the Government would just take their courage in both their hands and appeal direct to the heart of the workers on this point, they can snap their fingers at shop steward or delegate, or pacifist., or Sinn Feiner, or syndicalist, or any others. The heart of the workers in this country is more definitely in this War than the vast majority of this House, and, instead of the right hon. Gentleman coming here and saying that he very much regretted that the pacifists are already seeking to create trouble in the munition factories, if he Will go to the other Departments in the Government who are 99 responsible for the administration of the criminal law and see that the powers which the Government have taken under the Defence of the Realm Act are used, he would find approval not only from this House and from the general body of opinion in the country, but he would find an overwhelming endorsement from the great body of the workers in those particular trades. I commend that policy quite earnestly to the right hon. Gentleman. There is one other point with regard to the statement to which we have listened. I heard with profound regret the decision that nothing is to be done in regard to recruiting in Ireland. I did hope that we were going to have some indication as to precisely what were the powers to be taken under this Bill. I hope that, when we get it, it will be a decision to get a clean cut up to a certain age.
§ 6.0 P.M.
I listened with great attention to the speech this afternoon from the Minister of National Service. I think the House of Commons ought to be grateful to him for the information which he has given us. He has given us, at any rate, a great deal of information that will be acceptable to the House, and that is helpful in order to enable them to form ideas with regard to the future of the War and its prosecution. I was present at the trade union meetings that have been animadverted on by the hon. Member for Lanarkshire, who told us, in this House, that these meetings of trade unions were getting the whole of the information while only a portion of it was given to the House of Commons. It was in my capacity of a trade unionist that. I attended those meetings or Conferences, but I say here, to-day, as Member for Barrow-in-Furness, that the information given to the trade unions was information which, in my judgment, was exceedingly helpful to this country, enabling as it did those delegates who were present to carry much of the information to those they were representing, in order to enable them to form such a view of the War as it is at present, and as to its future possibilities, as would bring about in them a frame of mind that would prompt them to still greater sacrifices to win the War. If anybody is to be blamed for making a statement of that kind, then of course the new Minister of National Service is open to be gravely blamed; but I venture to say that in the speech which he has delivered 100 to-day the right hon. Gentleman has given at least twice or three times the amount of information that was given to the trade union delegates at the Conference. [An HON. MEMBER: ["No 1"] Probably that represents the hon. Member's view, but I say, knowing these delegates intimately for a great number of years, that the speech Which was made to them, and the information which was imparted, had a real effect upon their minds and in influencing their views. I know, of course, that there are some in the trade union movement who hold an opposite view from that which I do in regard to the War. I myself believe in the War. and I desire to help the country through its difficulties in order to encompass a successful issue of this great struggle.
I am aware, I say, that there are men in the trade union movement who hold a different view from mine; still, I repeat that the information which was given to these delegates at. the Conference will, I believe, not only help to strengthen the minds of those who were present at that Conference, but will enable them, in turn, to hold meetings among the men, and show them the position in which matters stand with regard to the War. These delegates have been put in a position to show the workers that the transfer of large masses of German troops from the Russian front to the Western front in France, Flanders, and Italy, must add greatly to the difficulties of the Allies in this stage of the War. It is of the last importance that the people should be made to realise the enormous strain that is likely to be put upon the British, French, and Belgian Armies, and it is necessary, too, that the workers of this country should be shown why it is that they are asked to do their share, and should be led to understand, know, and realise why it is an increased number of men are to be taken into the Army. I am confident that as soon as the gravity of the situation is understood by the workmen of this country there will be no disinclination to join the Army, or to do their share in bringing about a successful issue to the War. The case as it has been put by the Minister of National Service in this House is simple, clear, and understandable, and it shows why it is necessary that men should take service in the Army. The decision which has been arrived at by the Minister is one which is at any rate worthy of consideration, and, what is more, I believe it will receive 101 support in all parts of the country. At any rate, I believe that is the view so far as the trade unions are concerned.
It has been said that there has been one exception. The exception is a continual exception. It is not so very long ago that there were Conferences with regard to the institution of what are known as shop stewards. The Engineers' Union took part in that up to a certain point, and then retired from the whole business. Even in this Conference to which I have been referring the chairman of the executive council stated that the society which he had the honour to represent was in favour of the proposal of the Minister of National Service to meet members of the labour movement in sections. Since then, of course, there have been, I suppose, some contrary decision of the executive; but, in any case, I believe that with regard to the engineers it may be that they will have special points to put, and if they were to take advantage of any future Conference, along with other trade unions similar to theirs, I see no objection to their doing that. After all, there are other unions besides the engineers' union interested, and I think it is unreasonable to assume that the Minister can meet each trade union separately, for, if that were the case, he would never be done at all. Seeing that there are many other unions who follow exactly the same calling, and which have exactly the same interests at stake, it seems to me that the least the engineers' union can do is to act in unity with other organisations, and state their case on the matters that arise. After all, the Conference was held with a view to imparting information, and with a view to ascertaining what was likely to be in the Clauses of the Bill, while, of course, indicating why fresh men should be called for the Army. I believe that it is in the interests of the country that the great bulk of trade union workers should realise the urgent necessity there is for an increase of men for the Army, and I believe that any opposition that may exist at the present moment will pass away, and that the people of this country, as the previous speaker has pointed out, will rally to the support of the Government, so that the War may be carried to a victorious conclusion.
There is one point in connection with this Debate on which, as an Irish Unionist Member, I feel that something should be said. So far I have only heard one Member refer to it, and it was the hon. Gentleman who sits opposite 102 (Mr. C. Edwards), who said, towards the end of his observations, that he was sorry to see that the Government had no intention whatever of applying compulsory service to Ireland. I, in common with every other Member of this House, was greatly interested in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, and I listened to it with close attention. I must say that he went further than I expected. He did not confine himself to a survey of the immediate needs of his own Department; he went far beyond that. He entered into matters of high policy. He touched upon the effect upon the War which the defection of Russia will have. He touched upon. the numbers of men which the Germans will be able to transfer from East to West, and his speech comprised a large number of very interesting and very vital questions far outside mere matters of National Service in this country. Therefore, the question of Ireland and its relation to compulsory service is a question of high policy. The question of Ireland, in this Debate especially, since it has been so specifically referred to by the right hon. Gentleman, is one of great importance and may be referred to. The right hon. Gentleman stated there were three alternatives in connection with the raising of the number of men required, and the third alternative, he said, was to extend compulsory service to Ireland, but he never told us why the Government would have nothing to do with compulsory service in Ireland. He gave no explanation why it was thought to be undesirable, or as to why the Government had decided to withhold Conscription from Ireland. He merely stated that the same causes operate now with regard to that question as operated when the Military Service Acts were being introduced into this House. The same causes! Why, has not the War made any advance since 1916? Has nothing happened to make the number of men available in Ireland more vital now than two years ago? The principal reason given against Conscription for Ireland in January, 1916, was that the Military Service Bill was nothing but the fulfilment of a pledge by the late Prime Minister, and it was said, that being so, the pledge did not refer to Ireland, and therefore it was absurd to include Ireland. That reason does not operate now.
The hon. and learned Member for Waterford, the Leader of the Nationalist party, based his opposition to Conscription in Ireland merely upon the ground 103 of expediency. He did not oppose Conscription for Ireland because he was opposed to the principle, but declared in this House that he was opposed to Conscription for Ireland simply and solely because it was a question of expediency, and he considered that at that time Ireland had produced under the voluntary system the number of men which had been asked from her. The then Chief Secretary, in a very eloquent speech in that Debate, said that it would be impossible, at any rate undesirable, to bring in compulsory service for Ireland, because Ireland was producing 1,000 men a week. Is Ireland producing 1,000 men a week now? Do the same causes operate now that operated two years ago, in 1916? The right hon. Gentleman dismissed the whole question of Ireland with the expression, "We have nothing to do with Ireland, and the causes which operated in 1916 operate to-day." If I may say so, it was one of the weakest points in an otherwise admirable speech, and the right hon. Gentleman gave no conclusive reason for leaving Ireland without compulsory service. I do not wish to go into details as to whether one part of Ireland has done better than another part of the country, because I am concerned with a much wider and more important question than that. I submit that Ireland as a whole has not done her part in the War. It was with grief and shame that I heard the right hon. Gentleman say to-day, when he gave the percentages of the different parts of the Empire of men enrolled for the Army, state that Ireland—whose sons, we know, are as gallant as those from any other part of the Empire — has only sent 2 per cent. of the forces which have been serving at the front in the War. Only 2 per cent. of the population of Ireland, and as far as I know, although it is roughly 10 per cent. of the population of Great Britain, it has only produced that percentage of soldiers. But I do not want to blame the Irish people for this. Not a bit of it. Why, every great country in a crisis of this kind has got to adopt Conscription. I do not say that because they have not come forward they are necessarily cowards. They are nothing of the sort. The people who are the cowards are the Government, who will not act. They are the people who are the cowards, not the Irishmen. Why, the Germans have 104 had to adopt Conscription, and the English have had to adopt Conscription. In this country we could not say that, because the married men did not come forward without a pledge that they were cowards. That is not the point at all. Conscription has come to be in a war of this magnitude a question far above that. We know, and experience has told us so over and over again, that it is utterly impossible to get a country to do its full share of the War without Conscription. So that I do not cast any aspersions upon the Irish for not having come forward without compulsion, because compulsion is necessary for every country which has entered into this War.
There was this one other point which touched upon this question of Ireland, and which struck me very much in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. Unfortunately, I did not hear the end of the speech, because I had to go out of the House, but I think I heard the part of it which dealt with the larger question of policy under which, of course, this question of Ireland must be grouped. I think the only occasion during his speech in which the right hon. Gentleman really let himself go, and in which he became emphatic and dealt with the question with the heat of his inner feelings, was when he was telling the House of his contempt for the young men in the munition factories who were trying to shirk and who would not come forward, and who, by so shirking and neglecting to come forward, were practically telling their fathers and their younger brothers that they could go to the front as long as those people remained safely and securely in the munition factories. He used strong language about them, but he never said anything about the men in Ireland. I must say that, little as I approve of any action of the kind which young men in munition factories in England may take, and much as I deprecate any attempt on their part to shirk or not to fall in with the provisions of this Bill, at the same time I do feel, and the House cannot help feeling, and the country must realise, that so long as there are in Ireland 200,000 young, able-bodied men whom hitherto the Government have not had the courage to compel to come forward —as long as those men are there how can the right hon. Gentleman consistently use his eloquence against those munitioneers in England who do not conic forward and who shirk and try to hide behind their fathers and young brothers? I have said 105 all I intend to say on this occasion on this matter. I do think, and the party which I represent do feel, that this is a question which was bound to be touched upon today, and I have the authority of my hon. Friends who sit near me and of the Irish Unionist party to say that when this Bill comes forward for Second Reading we intend to put down an Amendment the effect of which will be to urge that compulsory service should be applied to Ireland.
§ Colonel Sir HAMAR GREENWOOD
In reference to the remarks which have been made with such clearness by the hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken, I can only say that, so far as I am concerned, I still look upon Ireland as a reserve of fighting men in the common cause. The timidity of Governments and the muddling of Governments is quite as much responsible for the state of affairs in Ireland to-day—more responsible, indeed—than any lack of the fighting spirit of a race that is to be found on every battlefield doing its duty wherever the Flag is; and it is a strange thing that in the American Army, which is now pouring across the Atlantic to share with us the burden not only of a common cause but of a common race, a larger percentage of Irishmen arc found among the ranks of the American Army than there are Irishmen in proportion to the total population of the United States. That is not only a fine tribute to the qualities of the Irish race as fighting men, but it is a lesson to Irishmen in Ireland itself that they cannot long neglect. Ireland must ultimately come in, either, I hope, by consent or be compelled to come in. It is now encircled with Allies all of whom have adopted Conscription, and in many cases in its most drastic form. The Irish people, as far as the aspirations of the majority are concerned, have had the all but unanimous support of the Dominions and of the United States. That support is still there on one great issue, but that issue is now overshadowed by the menace that threatens this Kingdom and Ireland and the Empire and the common cause of civilisation. I, therefore, say that Ireland must still be looked upon as a reserve of fighting men, and it remains for the Government, either by means of wise statesmanship following the deliberations of the Convention, if, as I hope, they are effective, or for them to take such steps 106 as will make Irishmen of the future proud of the conduct of Irishmen as to their part in the War. So much for Ireland.
I rose to pay my tribute of congratulation to what I think is the illuminating and courageous speech made by the Minister of National Service. I had the honour of serving under him for some time. He brings to bear on this question of recruiting for the Army and essential industries an intimate knowledge both of the military side and of the civilian side, and he has a very excellent record as a soldier himself. He has put before us to-day a scheme which is courageous and a scheme which I hope will be productive of the man-power of this country which the Allied cause sorely needs. But I warn him, speaking with considerable experience of Front Bench speeches on the First and Second Readings of Bills, that, however courageous he may be, unless he keeps his War Cabinet up to the mark they will let him down. The first strike of those youths of twenty for privileges which their fathers and some of their grandfathers do not claim might intimidate the Government. I hope he will stick to his guns, and rather resign than give way one iota from the courageous speech lie has outlined to-day. I say that for another reason. The numbers he speaks of to me are not adequate to the demands that will be made upon our Army, especially on the Western Front. What is the position? The men he dealt with in his appeal will not be available until May or June—that is the first of them—and yet he says in his speech that the Germans can roll from the Eastern to the Western Front 950,000 trained soldiers.
§ Sir H. GREENWOOD
And, as the hon. Member for Windsor remarks, not counting the prisoners they may get from Russia. That figure also does not count the Russians who may be compelled to serve in the German Army. Men who are starving may serve for a meal a day, and the German officer, to give the devil his due, has been able to make first-class fighting material out of every country he has been successful in conquering. The right hon. Gentleman said that the Germans could roll from the Eastern to the Western Front 950,000 trained soldiers. To meet that he has the ordinary incoming flow of recruits from the usual sources, and, in addition, some 400,000 or 107 450,000 men he expects to get during this year under this Bill. The first of those 450,000 men cannot be ready until May or June, and before May or June I am one of those who believe that this country will pass through a valley of shadows which it has never seen or felt before. We are now on the Western Front and on the Salonika Front, for all practical purposes, on the defensive. From July, 1916, until recently we have been on the offensive. Now we are oh the defensive. That is a great strategical change, brought about, no doubt, by the Russian collapse and the Italian reverse, both having effects in a way Which, if I may say so, the ordinary Member of this House does not seem to realise. I look upon the future with the greatest possible anxiety. My one criticism of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman is that he has not presented to this House the sources from which he can with certainty claim to get an adequate number of men. He says himself we can look forward to being at least on equal terms with, the enemy if the necessary reinforcements are found, but is that sufficient security for the common cause to be only on equal terms with an enemy that now controls a larger number of trained soldiers—and I emphasise the word "trained"—and a larger number of trained officers than it has ever before commanded? I said we were on the defensive. We are bound to be on the defensive until the Americans come in in sufficiently large numbers to help us out. I have no particular knowledge that is not open to any Member of the House, but I do know something of the United States and of its system of recruiting, and I know something about tonnage, and I know of the decreasing tonnage, and that it is not possible on the tonnage we have got to-day, or that we can foresee, for the Americans to be in effective strength to enable us to take up again the offensive, which is the only way to win the War, until well on towards the end -of this year. That is a very serious outlook for the gallant soldiers who are struggling on every front, and particularly on the Salonika and Western Fronts, but as this is the First Reading of a Bill that I hope will be carried through' the House, I do not delay the House further.
I whole-heartedly congratulate the Minister on his Bill, subject to the criticism I have made. After all, he approaches the question from the point of view of honesty, 108 and earnestly desiring to secure the best men possible for the Navy and the Army, and also to maintain the essential industries of this country. He is establishing a flow into the Army of young men, and he is establishing a returning tide of soldiers from the Army back into the essential industries. He has the knowledge both military and civilian, and he has the courage. His courage is shown especially in those remarks that appeal to me as a member of that great organisation called the Comrades of the Great War, whose particular duty it is to assist the discharged and disabled sailors and soldiers. For the eloquent words he used about those gallant men I thank him. I would like to see take that old fraud, the Review of Exceptions Act—
§ Sir H. GREENWOOD
Yes, for which I voted, because the interests of the millions at the front are even to-day more important than the interests of tens of thousands of discharged soldiers at home, and I myself would think little of a discharged soldier who was not willing to go back to the Colours if and when the resources of those who have not already gone have been exhausted. I voted for that Bill because I was told it was essential to get the 100,000 men under it to save the situation. I believe now I was deceived in the statement. [An HON. MEMBER "Yes!"] But, even so, I have not the advantage of the lion. Member for Somerset (Mr. King) of regularly voting against the Government, and getting in these days what is a sinister reputation, namely, of refusing to assist the soldiers at the front. I will vote again on a statement of the Minister with authority, that men are needed to reinforce the men at the front. To me at any rate, now and at all times, the soldiers who are bearing the burden of this Empire and the common cause of civilisation are first, and, therefore, I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his sympathetic words about discharged and disabled soldiers, and especially about those wounded heroes whom he is going to save from returning again to the trenches with broken nerves after the second wound, and replacing them with these fresh, healthy young fellows, who I for one never accused of being shirkers, who have been rather petted and pampered, until they have begun to believe that they are doing work which is really of more im- 109 portance than fighting for their country. It is for the House of Commons, and particularly the War Cabinet, to back up the Minister's efforts to reinforce the men in the field, to maintain our essential industries, and to equalise the splendid burdens Of a fateful war.
§ Sir J. D. REES
The speech of the hon. Member for North-West Lanarkshire was so totally destructive and so totally non-constructive that I was very glad when I heard him speak that he was the critic and not the controller of national labour. He twitted my right hon. Friend with having just discovered that the Navy was the chief arm of this country, but he himself has not yet discovered that in the Napoleonic Wars to which ho referred England was not a small military power, but, relatively to others, a considerable military power, and that sea-power was not able to conclude the war any more than it is now. I leave my hon. Friend and his strategy. I was glad to hear the Minister draw the interesting picture he did of the condition of the nation at war. It was comforting to hear him say that our system of recruiting was not broken down, and I was extremely gratified to hear him say, as he practically did, that the Review of Exceptions Act— for large numbers of my Constituents certainly have a very strong objection to the Act—will be retained only for the purpose of dealing with cases of fraud upon recruitment. I understand he went almost as far as that, and. if that is so, I think it will go far to relieve a very strong feeling which I know exists in the Midlands. While I am on this, may I ask him, do I rightly understand that no soldier who has been invalided and discharged, after having served in France, is liable now to be called upon again to serve with the Colours? I believe that is so, and yet I confess I do not know where to refer for the chapter and verse to that effect. If that really is the case, it would be gratifying to have it on authority, and possibly my right bon. Friend will be able to give that assurance. If he can, I shall be glad to hear it.
§ Sir A. GEDDES
It is an Instruction; it is not a legal provision. It is an Instruction which is faithfully carried out.
Sir J. D. R EES
I welcome that assurance, and I feel sure that when it is reported it will be received with general gratification. Then my right hon. Friend said he had further considered the case of the one-man business men, and he said, 110 if I understood him rightly, that his Department were arranging with the One-man Business Federation to get as much of the work as possible of these one-man business men who were called up done by men of lower categories. That, I think, would prove m practice somewhat difficult of execution. However, I have profound confidence in my right hon. Friend, and I do not despair of his being able to carry it out. He said, I understand, that in future steps are to be taken to prevent any fresh men coining in and taking the business of any of these one-man business men who go to the front. But will not that also be very difficult to carry out? On some future occasion—we do not want details on First Reading—1 hope he will tell us how he proposes to implement these pledges, which seem to me rather difficult of execution. Licences are only to be given in such cases to men who come in to do the work in such businesses, and none are to be given to aliens. Very good. What steps will also be taken to place upon their legs, to refit for the conduct of their business, these men? Will they have any claim upon the Civil Liabilities Committee In what position will they be in this respect? Those arc also questions which I hope will he answered in detail on one of the subsequent occasions on which this Bill will be before the House.
I ventured to interrupt my right hon. Friend for a moment to ask him whether the provisions of which he now speaks are in addition to, or in cancellation of, the circular of 17th December by the Board of Trade, regarding one-man businesses. He said, as I expected, that they were merely supplementary in Character. Having studied that circular with some care, I cannot see that it carries out the original undertaking that, in the evens; of businesses which were the sole mears of support to the proprietors' wives and families being closed if the proprietors were taken for military service, such proprietors would be eligible for—I think almost entitled to—exemption. It is not my case to press for exemption, but that apparently was a pledge, and, looking through this circular, which still holds good after my right hon. Friend's speech to-day, I find that it deals rather—in fact, I think it almost deals exclusively—with what steps are to be taken with the business of the man when he is gone. There are large numbers of men in my Constituency who think that they ought not to go. That is a different issue. I under- 111 stand from this very circular that such people in cases of serious hardship will be entitled to exemption, and if they have not obtained exemption the issue of this circular entitles them to a rehearing. But I know cases where men have applied for rehearing and have found it very hard to get, and, indeed, have not got it, and when it has been got have not got their exemption. I would ask my right hon. Friend to consider this circular rather closely, together with the pledges he has been good enough to make to-day, and to consider whether they were given a pledge that they should not be called up, and whether from that point of view, and not only from the point of view of what is to heroine of their business when they are called up, they have not a claim for his consideration.
I am anxious not to trench upon what is, at any rate, the custom of this House, it not the order, not to enter into details upon a First Reading, but I wish to refer quite briefly to a case of exemption. It might be thought that that is a detail, but I submit that when the action of certain tribunals has produced a feeling of discontent and dissatisfaction from Perth to Peterborough, and from Nairn to Nottingham, it is not a small local matter, and that anything that produces a feeling of injustice in the hearts of those who are called upon to fight for their country, and who are willing to go, and are not shirkers—I am not speaking for men who are skirkers or for conscientious objectors or anything of that sort—it is necessary that they should not be affronted by the spectacle of which they and I cannot approve. Quite lately—and this case has been noised abroad — a Commissioner for live-stock and five Sub-Commissioners for live-stock were appointed in,Scotland from men of military age at considerable salaries—men whose places could have been taken by innumerable other farmers not of military age in Scotland, which is a country full of the best farmers. Those men were given large salaries. They did not volunteer, and when Conscription came they obtained exemptions. The cases of those men, which I will not pursue any further to-day, I have mentioned to the Secretary for Scotland, who replied that the Department concerned is the Food Department, and therefore I have put down a question for the Food Department. But, I submit, it is relevant to the last degree to 112 this present Bill. This Bill is to provide, inter alia, for the cancellation, if necessary, of exemptions given by heads of Departments. Here are exemptions given by heads of Departments that offend the conscience of a gallant nation, the Scottish, and the rumour of which at least has passed down to the Midlands. This case should be looked into to see whether Mr. McDougall and his assistants are really of military age, and, if so, why they were appointed, and why they were given exemption. I should be glad if anything can be said on this case. The right hon. Gentleman should have known of it, and I dare say he does, and in spite of my being referred to the Food Controller, I shall want to know what is the attitude of the Food Controller, of the Under-Secretary for War, and of the Minister for National Service. I assure all three—and I hope one of them will answer—that our gallant fellow citizens who are doing their duty are affronted by what has happened in this case, and I assure my right hon. Friend that it requires his most careful consideration.
§ Sir JOHN SPEAR
In a very few words I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman if he will make it plain as to whether it is contemplated making any change towards the men exempted on the ground of being wholly engaged in agriculture.? I do not claim any favouritism for the industry of which I am a member, but I do feel it to be my duty to point out that while agriculturists will do their utmost to provide the food which is absolutely necessary for the people, and needed to win the War, if there is any further depletion of the men engaged in agriculture it cannot but be at the expense of that production. Having regard to the dire need for food at the present time, I venture to say such a course as I have indicated would be disastrous. I am aware that much is being done to secure women's help in agriculture. That help is valuable so far as it goes. In some parts, too, German prisoners are being utilised for the same purpose. I think it might go still further. Even then, it is absolutely necessary to have these men who have been exempted in order to superintend, teach, and lead the classes which I have mentioned who are going forward to help and engage in the industry. Another point I hope the right hon. Gentleman will remember is that just at present because of the very large enlistment of shoeing smiths and machinists 113 it is difficult for the farmers to get their horses shod, their implements repaired, and their wagons rendered fit to do their work. Any further depletion of this class of men would also tend to hinder that full production of food which we, connected with the agricultural industry, are all labouring to promote. We feel that. the appeal to the country and the steps to be taken to get more men are necessary absolutely if we are to win the War—a matter upon which we have all set our hearts. We recognise, too, the importance of equality of sacrifice. But I must also emphasise the fact that if more men are taken from the land it can only lie at the expense of the increase of production.
May I mention another point which may appear insignificant, but, as is known, we want to bring all the rabbits we have in the country into the market for human consumption. Rabbit trappers have been taken away. That may be thought to be necessary; still it will have its effect upon the rabbit problem. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will do something to secure the help of returned soldiers who are unfit for further service, that they may be encouraged to engage in these agricultural classes of work, and thereby add to the increased production which we are all endeavouring to promote. I should like the right hon. Gentleman to make clear what is the attitude of the Government on these several matters, because it is most desirable that confidence should be maintained, and that all those engaged in producing food should have the certain knowledge that in the enormously increased effort which is being put forth they Will not be hindered by the further withdrawal of the men absolutely indispensable to accomplish the full object we have in view. I hope, also, that, in reference to the men engaged in single trades, something will be said or done. Many very severe hardships have occurred in that direction, and the distribution of food and the necessaries of life have been hindered, in many cases rather seriously, by the withdrawal of these men. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to avoid as far as possible anything further in that direction. My object, however, was just to say that if more men are taken from agriculture it will be, it appears to me, at the expense of the increase of food production, which is so necessary for the country, and which those engaged in agriculture are doing their best to provide.
§ Brigadier-General CROFT
I should like to add my word of congratulation to that which has already proceeded from several speakers on the lucidity of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. The statement which he has made to day is one of extraordinary importance. We can thank him for at last having brought before the House the proposals he has made; and which he has come to the conclusion are best fitted to meet the case. I think it is also necessary to point out that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman really is a grave indictment of the Government policy in the last year or year and a half in dealing with this question. Long before the Russian collapse the late Government were perfectly aware that there was going to be this question of the shortage of man-power at the end of 1917. The present Government were also reminded, not once but a dozen times, by everyone who took an interest. in this question of keeping the Armies in the field up to strength, of the dangers which would assuredly come upon this country unless the Government fearlessly faced the issue and provided the drafts to fill up the Armies as casualties occurred. For all these months nothing was done, anti the reason I rise is solely this: The House of Commons as a whole is not aware of the fact of how criminal it is to send untrained men into the fighting line. I can conceive of no greater crime towards our fellow-countrymen than to call them up for a few weeks, or a few months, as has been sometimes the case, and then to pitchfork them into the battlefield. Over and over again one has seen scores and scores of cases where the untrained man has been the man to go down, through sickness, or casualty, from lack of physical training, and from lack of discipline. Therefore, if we are really going to meet this question it is imperative that the right hon. Gentleman should get busy at once.
I should like to suggest to the right hon. Gentleman—I think he indicated partially what he is going to do—that he should take steps to warn every single industry at the earliest possible moment that he is going to withdraw men from that industry. For instance, the moment he has got the idea let him give the warning to the industries so that they can begin to train men or women for those jobs at present being carried on by young, unskilled men. This seems to me to be the only way really to organise this question. The right hon. Gentleman is in this difficulty: lie has told 115 us of the enormous accretion to the power of the German armies on the Western Front which we may expect to come from the East. Germany is being enabled, as we have been told, practically to bring 1,000,000 extra men to the Western Front. It may be more by the release of prisoners in Russia; by various obvious means it may be a considerably greater figure. As against this the right hon. Gentleman has come down to the House to-day to propose raising something like 420,000 to 430,000 men. I want to remind the House that every country which goes through this ghastly struggle from time to time feels that the burden which it is bearing is so great that it is almost impossible to go on. But I do think we ought to remember what is the comparative man-power of this nation of super-men—as these Germans like to believe they are!—compared with the total man-power of France and ourselves—leaving out of account the other nations. When the War broke out the white man-power of France was about 40,000,000 souls, and the white man-power of the British Empire was something like 50,000,000 to 60,000,000 of white souls. The consequence is that we have had this as a margin: compared with the British Empire and France, Germany's white man-power was as seventy to a hundred—for the German man-power may be put at 70,000,000. All along, therefore, we have had the advantage of Germany in manpower — that is as between France and ourselves compared with Germany. When we see the United States coming in with her hundred million of inhabitants it brings the ratio of the two great Western Powers plus the United States to this 200 against seventy. When one listens to the miserable speeches which are made from the bench immediately behind me by those who are always trying to impair the unity of this country and suggesting that we cannot see this thing through, I ask them, is it the fact that seventy Germans are better men on the battlefield, that German science and mechanism is greater to the extent I have indicated, that seventy Germans can beat 200 Anglo-Saxons and Frenchmen? The point is one which indicates that the Germans had done far more and have made greater sacrifices of their man-power than we have.
I do not know how far the eye of the right hon. Gentleman has wandered, and whether he has been able to look into the question of raising man-power from our 116 tropical possessions in Africa. I know a great deal has been done in connection with this matter for labour in France, but it always has seemed to me a surprising fact that we have not done more to recruit ourArmies fighting in hot climates from these sources of admirable fighting men. We have a very large number of wounded officers who could possibly train these men at short notice, and it seems to me an amazing thing that more has not been done. Every 50,000 men sent to Mesopotamia or Palestine weakens by that much man-power our position on the main fronts. May I express the hope that we may possibly hear something in this connection. We have to remember that over and above our white man-power the British Empire supplies a vast field which is not possessed by our enemies, and which as yet has hardly been tapped at all. I pass from that to another question. I am very glad indeed that the right hon. Gentleman has at last listened to the counsel of those who have been advising the Government all this time with regard to the combing out of the home Armies. The thing has been nothing but a scandal all these years. You have had all these lame ducks and flat-footed individuals going about wasting the taxpayers' money, being kept in uniform when they would have been much better kept in civil employment. I am very glad the right hon. Gentleman is going into this matter in a. strenuous manner. I hope his comb is to go through very thoroughly. There are scores of different ways in which women might be introduced. For instance, I believe that in the medical service—I know that this is the opinion of skilled nurses who have told me—that in many cases women could undertake the work that men are now doing. Because, said these nurses, we have got to make many of these arrangements now. They are ready to do it, and I believe it can be done. Supposing the right hon. Gentleman may feel—because we never know—that with increased German man-power there may be considered an invasion of this country, it may be that the home military authorities will be reluctant to allow a lot of men to go away who are really of very, very little good as soldiers. I want to refer to what I have for the last two years mentioned in this House—that is the question of the volunteers. I have never been able to understand why the 117 Government in this great crisis have not seen their way to introduce in regard to the volunteers an element of compulsion, or, rather I should say, why they have not changed the present volunteer system into a compulsory one. We all remember the training the Territorial Force went through before the War, when ten drills a year was considered sufficient with a fortnight in camp and limited musketry practice. Is it not obvious that by training the volunteers on Saturday afternoons, on occasional evenings, and on Sundays in musketry and other forms of training, we should be able to get a very much more efficient force than under the old Territorial system? The Government ought to consider a compulsory system under which they would form all the fit men who are older than the average recruit into a national body, which in an emergency could take the place of those who are now on home service. Are these men now being organised in order that they could be sent at short notice to vital points on the East Coast? It seems to me that there has been woeful neglect on this subject, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will talk this matter over very seriously with the War Office. You might easily raise a division in London which could be called up in twelve hours to go to any danger post, and thus provide a real safeguard against a possible invasion.
With regard to Ireland, I have never been able to understand why that country has been treated in such an exceptional manner from the start. There was only one reason which could have influenced the Government, and that was the position of the United States. The Government may have had strong reasons for thinking that the United States was opposed to Irish Conscription, and that may have been the reason why during all these long months Ireland has not been giving equality of sacrifice. But when the United States came into the War that reason went, for the United States are now conscripting not only English, Scottish, and Welsh, but Irishmen as well, and they are not asking where they come from. The messages which have reached us show really what their views are on this subject. Can the Government, for party or sentimental reasons, continue to go along on this path? I am informed that a great deal of the unsettlement in this country has been due to the fact that the Government have not faced the Irish question. Why on earth should a man, who is absolutely essential 118 to his business, be sent to the War while men of nineteen, twenty, and twenty-five, in the prime of life in Ireland have never yet been conscripted? What is the real truth of the matter? I imagine that the Government have been afraid to introduce Conscription in Ireland, and what has been the cost to this country? It has cost us an Army of Occupation, and we have to have so many trained men there all the time because young Ireland is bubbling over with military enthusiasm and has been drilling and learning military arts.
When the Irish Rebellion took place, prior to the late Prime Minister's visit to Ireland and opening up negotiations with the Irish rebels, the whole of Ireland was expecting Conscription, and there is no doubt whatever that the mere fact that the Government discriminated in this way all the time made the Irish problem more difficult. The more you give way to Ireland, and say that Ireland is the only country throughout the length and breadth of the Empire where Conscription is not to be, so long as they feel that, they feel all the time that they have got the Government by the throat, and they do not dare to act. We have now reached a period of the War when these sentimental reasons ought not to influence us, because we have reached a position when the man-power of this country is fully employed and our fighting forces are very nearly exhausted. You have in Ireland a great untapped source of supply, and you have also got there an Army of Occupation. You can free both those supplies and get anything between 280,000 and 400,000 men from those two sources if the Government had the courage to act. But if the Government hesitate any longer they will not find their task any easier in the days to come. There are a great many people in this House, and in the country, who are desirous of seeing the Irish question settled, but if Ireland is to be divorced entirely from this country of her own will and by her own threats against the Government, if she is to be divorced from us during this great struggle, haw can anybody believe it will be advisable for us to come to any sort of arrangement in the future with Ireland
We have just heard a speech from the hon. Member for Glamorgan (Mr. C. Edwards), and he pointed out that the people of this country are still absolutely just as sound at heart in regard to the War as they were on the first day we went to war, and yet they have not received that guidance from the Government which 119 they deserve, and the spirit of the people has always been far ahead of the courage of the Government. I hope when the right hon. Gentleman is dealing with the Irish question or with the industrial problem, in regard to which he used such brave words, he will realise how splendid is the spirit of this country, and how ready the people are to follow those who will lead them. If he will only do this, I believe he will get all the men he requires to see this thing through; but if we hesitate at a time when we see this great rolling army of Germany coming to the Western Front, when we know our Armies are not up to their full strength, if we hesitate and do not get to work in this country and in Ireland, this country is going to see dangerous times if half-trained men are to be flung into the battle line, for then we shall have to suffer a great number of casualties which would be absolutely needless if we were to speed up our action and show more courage in our policy.
§ Mr. HOGGE
We have had a very prolonged speech from the Minister of National Service covering an extraordinary amount of ground, but he managed to conceal, as most Ministers do, speaking from that bench, the real situation which the country has got to face. One Labour Member of this House during the subsequent discussion rose to say that he had been present at the Trade Union Congress with the Minister of National Service, and he declared that the right hon. Gentleman had told the House of Commons a great deal more than he told the Trade Union Congress. I think that statement is absolutely the greatest travesty of the truth which I have ever heard expressed in this House. Personally, I know what was said at one of those Conferences, but I do not propose to repeat it, because at the particular deputation that I had the advantage of attending with the Minister of National Service he was particularly good in what he placed before that deputation; but I say deliberately that the House of Commons this afternoon has not been put in possession of the facts, and I do not think the House of Commons could be put in possession of those facts unless it met in Secret Session. If the House of Commons wishes to know the truth as I know it now from the Minister of National Service, and as those deputations of trade unions know it, if they were told exactly what I was told, then this House is 120 entitled to a Secret Session at which the facts can be made plain, because obviously, whatever other differences we may have, we all want as speedy a conclusion to this War as possible, with as few casualties to our own men as possible. If that could be secured, I do not suppose there would be any dividing line between hon. Members of this House. Knowing exactly what I do know, I say that the House of Commons is not in possession of the facts, and that the situation is very much more serious than has yet been indicated by any speech made this afternoon.
The Minister of National Service is in an awkward position, for, after all, he has nothing to do with the policy which demands the men he is asked to provide. The Minister of National Service is a kind of "handyman" for the War Office and the Admiralty. It is his duty to keep his hand on the situation in the country and supply to both Services whatever they may demand without dislocating any of the essential industries of this country. Therefore, while he is not concerned with the policy but simply with the method, we in this House are concerned with the policy which makes it necessary for him to come to this House and ask for the men. I suggest that in addition to the speech we have had from my right hon. Friend, and another which we may yet have from his colleague, this Debate ought to have been opened or taken part in by some responsible member of the War Cabinet on the question of the policy which has created this new demand for men, and which ought to be justified to the House. I will take a point which has not been mentioned by the Minister which occurs to me on the question of policy. It is a point which may have struck other hon. Members and which would govern the increase of the troops. We have been talking from the point of view of German activity in the immediate and the near future on the Western front. I suppose it has occurred to a great many others besides myself that possibly there may be a great German activity on the Macedonian front, and an attempt made at the restoration of King "Tino" on the throne of Greece. Such a suggestion as that opens up the kind of thing I mean when I say we ought to have had present a Minister to justify on the ground of policy the necessity for these further troops that are to be raised.
121 While, therefore, this Bill, so far as I can understand, will be a very short one and will deal simply with the mechanism of a particular part of the Military Service Acts, it will only be possible on this reading and on the Second Reading to raise the question of policy. Consequently I desire to say a few things about policy. I want to insist again, as my hon. Friend who opened this Debate insisted, that the House of Commons is entitled to the information which is given so readily outside. I wonder why the Government have not come to that conclusion long ago. I would like to know what earthly reason there is why trade unionists should be summoned to get that information when they did not represent the constituencies that many of us here represent. Most of us represent constituencies which arc composed of trade unionists and for which Labour members have never been returned at all. Although we are returned by those people and although we are responsible to them for what we do, we are not taken into the confidence of the Minister for National Service, but people who do not represent the constituencies. These people, forsooth, are supplied with information which enabled them to make up their minds, and the House of Commons has the melancholy duty left to it as the last of its privileges of registering the decisions of other people.
I should like to know why it is that the British nation is being asked all the time to bear so much of the burden. Why is the heavy hand of everything, from ships to men, from money to material, even, as my right hon. Friend knows, including food, laid upon Britain? There is a great deal of talk about America. I have always been led to believe that America is a great country, and I have been assured again this afternoon that is so. In the Recess I read that the American Army is now 1;500,000 men either in the field or in training. That statement was made by an American statesman or an American official connected with the authorities. The truth of the matter is that America will not be able to help either France or Great Britain until—as has been suggested and hinted by my right hon. Friend and has been actually said by other people in this Debate—August or September of this year; and when she is able to assist Great Britain and France the wastage on our Western Front, apart altogether from any question of an offensive, if it is at all like the average that has existed up to now, 122 will he such that the contribution of America will not fill up one out of every two vacant places in that line. America is training its reserve power which it is sending to our help in the form of units, and units it will be used when it comes into the field. If America were sending us men to be used as drafts either in the French or in the British Armies, then we should really be getting some assistance from America. On the contrary, so far as I understand the position, we have got to wait until the late autumn before we can have any substantial help from the American people.
In the meantime we have got to hold the Western Front. We have got to raise more men in case France, as most of us already know, is not able to find further reserves for her line. We have got to maintain the Italian Front until the Italian Army is recreated. Everybody knows that the entire Italian Army was practically desolated in the recent disaster on the Italian Front. The Germans then captured so many guns and so much material that it will take months for the Italian Army to get back into anything like competent fighting strength. In the meantime we have got to build more ships in order to bring food to the people of this country, and we have got to have a decent distribution of that food when it is brought to this country. We have got to go on building and making guns for many of our Allies. This country has got to go on providing much material within its own shores, such as timber, in order to prevent the use of too much tonnage from abroad. Even the money that is lent to our Allies by America has got to be backed by this country. It is this country all the time that is being bled, and, when the Government come to us on the first afternoon of the Session and ask us to still further bleed the country, we only really get from the Minister the methods that are to be used in raising the men. We get no justification of policy at all. All the speeches that are made that would enable us to make up our minds about policy are made when we are not here in this House. The recent speech of the Prime Minister, for instance, with regard to the terms upon which we would be willing to negotiate peace with the German people, was made outside this House. It may or may not have a reply from the German people, and I do not very much care at the precise moment. We know that the Government had considered that speech 123 and that it was not the creation of the Prime Minister, but was the joint effort of the War Cabinet. It represented what the Government would be willing to do at the present time with regard to approaching Germany on the question of peace. If that is so, the search for more men, the need for more men, and the method of getting those men, ought to be justified on the grounds of policy. I protest, as I have protested often without any effect and as I will go on protesting upon every opportunity, against the slipshod and muddling way in which all these things are done. I sympathise with the Minister for National Service on having the unpleasant task put upon his shoulders of coming to the House and saying, which he does in so many words, "My duty as Minister for National Service is to comb out 450,000 men in 1918 from somewhere. I have got to get them somehow, and here are the proposals that I suggest for getting them." It is not fair that he should have that task imposed upon him. I am not sure, knowing my right hon. Friend as I do, that I would not rather put him in the place of the War Cabinet and make the War Cabinet do his work. I am sure that we should have a better policy, and they would enjoy finding the men.
There are one or two things with regard to the methods about which I want to be quite clear, as it may shorten subsequent Debates on this Bill. I have already, as my right hon. Friend knows, taken some considerable interest in the Bill which became the Review of Exceptions Act. That Bill has been described by the hon. Member for Sunderland (Colonel Sir H. Greenwood) this afternoon as "a fraud of a Bill." He admitted that he voted for it, because, as he said, he had been deceived. I do not know how it ever deceived anyone. It ought not to have deceived anybody of any sense, because it was a Bill which on the face of it and in plain words which anybody could read—and I believe my hon. Friend can at least read—sought to bring back into the Army wounded men and men suffering from neurasthenia and other organic diseases. That Bill was fought in this House, with the result that an Instruction was issued, which was not incorporated in the Act of Parliament but which was approved subsequently by the War Office, and which laid it down finally that no man who had been abroad and who had been discharged for any disability of any kind could be recalled, but that, on the contrary, he could 124 claim his final discharge. The Minister for National Service said that was being done, and I think it is true with exceptions. There are cases yet in which attempts are being made to call up men, even although they have been abroad. I have got a case in my pocket now which I only received by post at mid-day. I have a man's discharge certificate and his calling-up notice for the 29th of this month, and he is told he is liable to a fine or imprisonment if he does not answer the call. I have advised him not to go. I ask hon. Members to be vigilant about these cases, because, however honest the Minister may be, one does not find all over the country the same meticulous care. That type of man is beyond any further criticism. His case is met and dealt with. There are a large number of other cases, however, which are not met and are not dealt with under that Instruction. Every man who has not been overseas, but who has been discharged for the same disability for which a man who has been overseas has been discharged is liable to be recalled under the Review of Exceptions Act, not once but many times. He is entitled to exemption for one year, and then to subsequent re-examinations at intervals of six months. Some of those men are now enjoying the privilege of never knowing how long they may settle down to anything. Although they have served and have been discharged. they are subject to this recall. My right hon. Friend said some interesting things about that, and if he will answer just a few questions which can easily be answered by an affirmative or a negative I can shorten my speech very much He said that he was proposing to set up seven regional centres. and to place them in charge of regional officers. Men who are discharged in future will go to those regional offices and will be offered work of national importance? The answer to that, I think, is in the affirmative?
§ Mr. HOGGE
That applies to men from now onwards. It leaves the men who are already out and who have been discharged disabled. Can my right hon. Friend tell us whether those men will get the opportunity of going to those same offices or other equivalent offices and getting the. same offer of work of national importance as he now proposes to give to every man as and when he is discharged?
§ Mr. HOGGE
My right hon. Friend agrees with that. I think we may come to an agreement, and get rid of a great deal of discussion, if my right hon. Friend w ill say that all the men now inside the Review of Exceptions Act who have been discharged disabled, but who have hot been overseas, will have the same opportunity as the men now discharged of getting work of national importance. It will then at any rate be possible for every discharged man to have the offer of work of national importance?
§ Mr. HOGGE
The next point is one on which it is not fair to ask now for an answer, "Yes'' or "No." If those discharged men, the old ones and the new ones, remain in this work of national importance, will they be recalled by re-examination to the Army before fit and eligible men are called up? It is perhaps not fair to ask for a direct answer to that question now, but will the right hon. Gentleman take note of it, and, if he likes, keep the point for the Second Reading? It is the real point at issue now. I can claim to know a number of these discharged soldiers particularly well, and what they object to mast is being called up to the Colours when fit men who should be called up remain in our munition and other factories. Therefore if my right hon. Friend can give us an assurance of that kind he would, at any rate, free the subsequent discussions on the Second Reading and in Committee on this Bill from any opposition of mine on that point. I do not say that it would reduce my opposition to zero, but on that point I would be prepared to accept a compromise, and I am perfectly certain those whom I represent would already be ready to accept it. I think it could be arranged if my right hon. Friend could say that these discharged men, having got work of national importance, so long and until they refused to do that work of national importance, having already served, will be protected from being recalled until every other fit and eligible man is called. That is a position which is perfectly fair and straightforward.
The hon. Member for East Nottingham (Sir J. D. Rees) has drawn attention to a case in Scotland, the details of which one need not emphasise, in which the 126 Board of Agriculture in Scotland in recent months has appointed men to do certain work which could be equally well done by men who have already served and who have the same kind of knowledge. All of us could produce cases of that kind which are within our own knowledge, but I will not weary the House with them at this moment. I do not want to continue the discussion on the First Reading, naturally because we have not yet seen the Bill, and it is unfair to the Minister to worry him too much on the First Reading, especially when he is recovering from the effects of his maiden speech, which all of us know takes some considerable time. We have ventured to put to him the topics which concern us most, and which, if they are met between now and the Second Reading Debate, I feel perfectly certain will make a great difference to the future progress of this Bill. I hope that my right hon. Friend will give them his close consideration.
§ Mr. KING
Throughout the discussion which has taken place this afternoon there has been expressed from various points of view a great deal of distrust of the policy of the Government in connection with this Bill. The most emphatic and the most serious charge against the Government was made by the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) when he stated that the facts on which this Bill was introduced had not been told to the House. They have not been told to the House, but they have been told to the hon. Member for East Edinburgh, and apparently they have been told to the trade unions. They are so serious that apparently they can only be stated in this House in Secret Session. On the basis that the facts have not been told to us, we must naturally distrust the Bill now before us. I hope that some attempt will be made, either in the course of this. Debate this evening or upon the Second Reading, to face the very serious accusation which has been levelled against the Government. I am afraid that there is a great deal of ground for the statement that we are being led into a new development of our man-power policy without the facts being put before us. I noticed it in various statements that have been made during the course of the discussion. For instance, the Minister of National Service told us thatAmerica was not yet in the field.127 Those were his words. But the hon. Member for Sunderland (Colonel Sir H. Greenwood), whose association in the War Office is well-known, and who speaks with some authority, saidThe American Army is now pouring across the Atlantic.Those were the words he used, and I took them down at the time. Which is true? I cannot believe both are true, because they are diametrically opposed to one another. The fact is clear that either the Government does not know its own mind, or that it does not know the facts, or that it will not tell the facts. I could quote various other instances. It is well known that thirteen months ago, when the present Prime Minister took office, he summoned the editors of papers to a private conference and informed them at that time, as he has informed various persons and conferences since, that Russia must be regarded as out of the War. Yet one of the excuses and reasons put before the House and the country in various quarters for a new development of policy is that Russia has defected from the cause of the Allies, or that there has been a Russian collapse. As a matter of fact there has been no Russian collapse of the Army at all. The Army of Russia to-day is holding up as many men as it ever did, and the announcement in the papers this morning is that a new recruiting policy is being started by the present Government in Russia. The right hon. Gentleman stated that 950,000 Germans would be released to be transferred from the Eastern to the Western Front.. That is a very extraordinay statement. It is absolutely in contradiction to very elaborate statements which have been put forward, for instance, by the military correspondent of the "Times" and other papers. For my own part, having read all the literature I can on the subject, and having discussed the matter with persons possessing greater knowledge than myself, I cannot see that. there is any possibility of anything like 500,000 men being transferred by the Germans from the Eastern to the Western Front. To put the figure at 950,000 is extraordinary, and we must have something a great deal better than the mere ipse dixit of the right hon. Gentleman to persuade us to believe it.
There has been a great deal of absolutely misleading talk about the effect of the Russian Revolution. When it 128 started it was welcomed by the Prime Minister, who said it was due in a large measure to the wish of the Russian people to carry on the War more energetically. He welcomed it in this House on that ground. Later on there was a great offensive on the Eastern Front by the Russian Revolutionary Army. There would have been a continuation of a vigorous war support to the Allies from Russia if the Russian Revolution had been wisely handled. One cannot read the late Note and late speech of President Wilson, with his very sympathetic references to the Russian Revolution, without seeing that, it is his opinion that the Allies in Europe have largely themselves to blame for not getting more active military support from Russia at the present time. I believe myself that the present Russian Government arc certainly the most effective Government Russia has ever had. They are actually feeding the people, they are actually carrying out their promise and conscripting wealth, which we have talked about for a long time and have not yet taken in hand, and they have actually put a stop to all profiteering, which I wish could do here.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
None of these facts have anything whatever to do with this Bill. We are not discussing Russia now, we are discussing England.
§ Mr. KING
I must apologise to you, Sir, for making a reference of that kind. I will pass from that subject. The right hon. Gentleman who introduced this Bill made a very welcome reference to the question of casualties. He spoke words which I am sure must have pleased, and, at the same time, surprised the House very greatly. I could have wished that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Commander Wedgwood) had been here to receive such a reply to two speeches which he made recently, but which at the time received no response. The words of the right hon. Gentleman in this connection were:Carelessness as to lass of life and thoughtlessness as to casualties must be stamped upon.Those were very remarkable words in-. deed. They admitted, I suppose, undoubtedly that there had been carelessness with regard to loss of life, and that there had been thoughtlessness as to casualties, for if there had not been anything of that kind, why should they need to be stamped upon, and why was such 129 an important statement as this made at all from the Treasury Bench? For myself, I go a little further. I ask what steps exactly are the Government taking to stamp upon this carelessness and this thoughtlessness? It is all very well to make a vague profession that this horrible evil is being stamped upon. What we shall want to know more specifically later on is what are the exact methods that are being taken by the Government to do away with what undoubtedly is a very grave and serious evil. One further matter to which the right hon. Gentleman referred was the methods now adopted in his Department which he says, and I have no doubt truly, are in many ways a considerable improvement on the older methods; but to my knowledge, after having gone into several cases, there is a great opportunity for more prompt and humane treatment of the cases that come before the National Service Department.
I have lately called the attention of the Department to the case of a man who was in good work—work of national importance, and who was called to the Army. He went before the Mill Hill Tribunal, from there he was sent from one place to another, and he was finally rejected. But during the whole of that time he has been deprived of his employment, he has got into arrears with his landlord, the shops where he bought his necessaries of life have refused to supply him with any more food, and, as a result., at Christmas time this man was in a state of absolute starvation. I have personally inquired into this case, and I say here you have a case under the Ministry of National Service in which for three months a man who was doing good work has been held up simply because he was passed from one tribunal to another, and with your red-tape methods, with your inhumane and harsh rules—for they are nothing else—you have brought that man and his formerly well-nurtured young children to absolute beggary. Such cases are a scandal; they are known to hundreds of people, they are making your work of recruiting very much more difficult than it would be otherwise, and I do appeal to the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues, who are both humane men, to do everything they can to introduce humanity and promptitude into their methods. I will conclude my remarks by quoting some words which were used by the present Prime Minister, now, alas, nearly three years ago, words which seem 130 to me to have been almost the wisest he has uttered during the course of the War. They were spoken on the occasion of the Budget an the 4th May, 1915, and they had a direct bearing upon the object of this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman then said that we had to determine the part we wished Britain to play in the great combination of the Allies, and to decide the best service she could render. He went on:What service can Britain render to this great combination? She can keep command of the seas for the Allies. She has done so, and she will maintain complete control to the end…. What is the second service which Britain could render? She could of course maintain a great Army, putting the whole of her population into it exactly as the Continental powers have done. What is the third service? The third service which she can render is the service which she rendered in the Napoleonic wars of bearing the main burden of financing the allied countries in their necessary purchases for carrying on the War—purchases outside her own country more especially and also to help the Allies with the manufacture of munitions and equipments of war. Britain can do the first. She can do the third, but she can only do the second within limits if she is to do the first and the last and I think that is important."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th May, 1915, col. 1014, Vol. LXXI).]Since that time we have, practically on the same basis as the Continental countries, put our whole available manhood into the Army. We have maintained the Navy, we are financing and munitioning the whole of the Allies, and beyond that we have made greater sacrifices than any other nation in our recruiting for the fighting forces. It is to be remembered that there are many exemptions which hold good in France, in Italy, and in Russia which do not hold in our own country. Therefore, I say, however we may look upon this Bill, there is a limit beyond which we cannot really raise men for the Army. The limit has been reached, and when the right hon. Gentleman talks of raising a minimum of 450,000 men for the Army this year I say I do not believe it can be done without seriously weakening our fighting strength and oar national effectiveness in this War in other directions. Although on the First Reading of this Bill I do not suppose anyone will care to vote against it, I certainly hold that, unless we have far more information and stronger assurances than have yet been forthcoming the measure should be steadily opposed on all its subsequent stages.
§ Mr. D. MASON
I agree that we are entitled to have some outline of policy before this Bill is accepted by this House. I wish. to make one or two observations on the merits of the measure in the first place, and secondly, with reference to the 131 policy or lack of policy, by which it is sought to justify it. I believe I am right when I say that an increase in our shipbuilding facilities is a proved necessity. Ships at the moment are the most urgent question. We commenced this War with some 3,600 ships, one half of which were used for transport and other military operations. But the balance has been largely reduced, and yet it is by means of that balance we have to maintain our food supplies, and supply the necessities of the Army as well as the people of this country. If this Bill has for its purpose the combing out or withdrawing of men where they can be spared, and I doubt whether many can be spared from civil industries—whether they can be spared from munition factories I gravely doubt, because so long as the War continues it is necessary to maintain a good supply of munitions— but if the men are to be withdrawn from civil life it seems that the duty of providing more ships can be the only real reason which would justify their withdrawal. We are already contributing a very large proportion of the armies in the field, but we must have regard to the position as a whole, and we cannot afford to neglect the very grave position with regard to the food supply of the country. That is the only justification for withdrawing men from civil employment. An ex-civil Lord of the Admiralty recently made a speech in which he pointed out that 30 per cent. more of British shipping was sunk in December than in November, and three and a half times more British shipping had been sunk during the past year than had been built. If that is the case, and I assume the right hon. Gentleman was well informed, it is a very grave position. Recently the First Lord of the Admiralty rather confirmed the statement that we are hardly keeping pace with the losses through submarines, and again I say that is the only justification for any further withdrawal of men from civil employment. Whether we can afford to take these 450,000 men, whether they are qualified, whether they will be the sort of men suitable for shipbuilding, I cannot say. It may be they may supplement the labour in the shipbuilding yards to the extent of releasing more men for the more skilled work, and again to my mind that is the only justification for a Bill such as this.
8.0 P. m.
The second point to which I wish to refer was touched upon by the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge), who 132 asked what was the policy upon which this Bill was based. I assume it is based upon the war aims which have been recently outlined by the Prime Minister and by President Wilson, and I think, therefore, we are entitled to offer a few observations upon those aims so far as they are the cause of this Bill. I do not subscribe to the war aims as outlined by the Prime Minister. Many of us agree with regard to the primary cause of the War, but we do not agree that the War should be prolonged for purposes which this country certainly had not in mind when it decided to enter upon the War, and which are calculated to increase the danger to which we are exposing this country and Empire by pursuing the War. There is, for instance, the question of Alsace-Lorraine. I yield to no one in deploring that most unfortunate blunder and injustice which was committed by Germany in 1871, when she tore these two provinces from France. But to suggest that this War, with all its losses and suffering, should be prolonged because of that injustice is an entirely different matter. I would like to remind the House that this country—that Europe acquiesced in the peace which was made in 1871, and to prolong the War therefore on this ground is, to my mind. to lose all sense of proportion. It is to. confuse the issue. There is no dissension. in this House or in the country with regard to the original cause for which we entered upon the War, namely, the complete restoration of Belgium, and when we are asked to pass a Bill of this nature because of war aims upon which the country has not been consulted, and which have not even been submitted to this House, but have been outlined to outside audiences—to ask us to pass a Bill when we have had no opportunity of debating the policy on which it is based, is, I submit, asking too much. In any case I submit we are entitled to debate the war aims first before the Bill is passed. We. are here the accredited representatives of the people. We are entitled to express the views of the Parliament of this realm, and I do protest against this Bill being thrown on the floor of this House and against our being asked to support it without our being informed of the policy upon which it is sought to justify its introduction. I should like to join with other hon. Members in congratulating the right hon. Gentleman, the representative of National Service, on 133 his very lucid and clear statement. As was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge), he, of course, gets his orders and has to find the men to support a policy which, as I have already said, we have not endorsed and do not support. I do not believe there will be unanimous support in this House either for this question of Alsace-Lorraine or for other questions included in that speech, such as the ultimate destination of the German colonies. Those are all questions more susceptible of settlement by negotiation in a congress, and ought not to be the basis for prolonging the War, endangering the lives of subjects, increasing the liabilities of the country, and passing a Bill of this character. It is because of those two main reasons that I rose—because, firstly, I doubt that by the Bill itself we shall be able to alleviate the position and carry out the objects it is intended to achieve; and, secondly, because I do not believe the policy on which it is based commends itself to the House or to the country.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill ordered to be brought in by Sir Auckland Geddes, Mr. Bonar Law, Mr. Hayes Fisher, Sir Gordon Hewart, and Mr. Beck.
§ MILITARY SERVICE BILL—"to repeal Sub-section (3) of Section three of the Military Service Act, 1916, and to provide for the cancellation of certificates of exemption from military service granted 134 on occupational grounds," presented accordingly, and read the first time; to be read a second time To-morrow, and to be printed. [Bill 117.]