§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ Sir DONALD MACLEAN
I think I am entitled to ask the rather special indulgence of the House as I have been much more accustomed during the past few years to hear speeches addressed to me than I have been accustomed to make speeches to the House. My only reason for rising on this occasion is because certainly a not unimportant portion of the Bill now before the House has some special reference to the work in which I have been engaged for the best part of the last two years. First of all, I should like to join in the congratulations which have been addressed to the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill. Whatever may be said on the merits or demerits of his main proposals, there can be no doubt at all that he has addressed a great deal of clear, honest and far thinking to the problem. As regards one of the first proposals he makes, namely, that a large portion of the power of the tribunals should. be taken away from them and vested in the various Departments, I dissent very little from that, because I should. imagine that members of the tribunals have had quite enough of a very disagreeable and distasteful job during the past two years. There is no doubt at all that tribunals have very largely suffered from a lack of uniformity of policy. There has been great and very justifiable dissatisfaction expressed at the fact that you get one tribunal exercising a discretion which appeals to the commonsense of the people, and another tribunal operating almost in the same district, at any rate immediately contiguous to it, exercising a discretion in quite a contrary direction.
Passing from that, the demand made is for not less than 450,000 men. I do not know whether the Minister very clearly indicated from where he was going to get those men. At any rate I can tell him one source from which he can draw but a comparatively small portion. That is the men who are at present subject to the jurisdiction of the tribunals. Taking generally the area of London as an example—of course; I can only speak from my own personal experience and I have no right or title to speak for the country at large— 527 there is this to be said about the London example, that it is by far the largest area coming under the jurisdiction of a single appeal tribunal, and it is extraordinarily representative of the manufacturing and all the other varied interests of the country. With the exception of coal mining and agriculture, every kind of manufacture and almost every other occupation in life is represented in London to almost a greater degree than in any other centre throughout the Kingdom. Therefore, perhaps I am not quite unjustified in assuming that the experience drawn from two years of work in connection with the London Appeal Tribunal is not an unsafe guide from which to make some general deductions. In that time the London Appeal Tribunal—hon. Members will understand the distinction between that and the ordinary local tribunal—has given in round figures 50,000 decisions in respect of 40,000 eases. To-day, out of those 40,000 separate cases, there are only 3,000 cases now running under exemptions. That shows that as far as the administration of the Military Service Acts in London is concerned, we have got down almost to the bone. Those 3,000 cases include conscientious objectors, those holding certificates in respect of certified occupation; and those holding certificates where a very strong case had been made in the national interest that they should remain in civil rather than enter military life. Speaking generally it may be said that only 7 per cent. of the men who have come before the tribunal have any chance of continuing in civil rather than entering military life.
There is another striking fact which is very present to the minds of those who have to exercise their discretion on these tribunals. That is the steady lowering of the physical categories and the equally steady rise of the age of the men with whom they have to deal. Let me just say a word or two on the question of physical categories. Before the new Boards were appointed, I had a return taken out which contained 1,100 cases, spread over a reasonable time. Those 1,100 cases have, by the various panels which constitute the London Appeal Tribunal, been referred for fresh medical examination. In no fewer than 69 per cent. of these cases the men were either rejected or put into a lower physical category. Of course there has been a change, and I am 528 very glad to congratulate my right hon. Friend on the marked improvement which has taken place, but I am sure he bears this in mind, that great caution has to be exercised with regard to the new machine, so called, because it so largely consists of the men who did the work under the old regime. In the language of the French maxim, one must always be very careful that the more the thing changes, it is not the same thing. There has, in spite of that, been a marked, and I think, on the whole, a satisfactory, improvement, but there is still very great room for improvement. With regard to the steady lowering of the physical condition of these men during the last two months, the tribunals have decided 2,600 cases, of which, making all due allowances, I am well within the mark in saying 50 per cent. are in what is known as Grade 3. The old classes used to be A, B 1, B 2, B 3, C 1, C 2, and C 3. Those have been altered into Grades 1, 2, and 3. Grade 1 consists of men of the old A class; Grade 2 consists of what were known as B 1 and C 1; and Grade 3 consists of B 2 and B 3 and C 2 and C 3. Under the old arrangement a tribunal was able to make some distinction between B 2, B 3, C 2, and C 3, and that has often helped them in coming to a decision as to whether a man should be sent into the Army or remain in civil life. Now there is no guide at all with regard to Grade 3. Tribunals have to exercise what judgment they can on the appearance of the man and the medical evidence which he brings up himself, and I suggest to my right hon. Friend that some further particulars should be added to the rather uninforming description of Grade 3.
I have not the slightest doubt that the nation and this House would gladly give authority for this very large number of additional men if it were reasonably convinced that they were going to be rightly used. That really is the difficulty of the whole situation, and I will give the House one or two instances which are only typical of a really serious condition of affairs. For a long time one's notice has been directed to this matter. I am now not speaking for myself only, but at the express desire of my colleagues in their experience of the last two years. Men are being, and unless some very drastic action he taken, will continue to be, placed in the Army under conditions which can have no other result than that they will 529 break down physically, and will become a burden on the Army and a charge on the national funds. First of all, with regard to the efforts which we have been making to get a man, fit for certain work in the Army, put to it. I had a test case some little time ago, and I said in the tribunal, in the presence of the National Service representative, "Now, we will see what happens to this man." He was engaged in a factory where they made Army rations. He was a skilled electrician, and, of course, the case made was that he was much better engaged doing that than being in the Army. I said to the National representative, "What do you say?" "Well," he replied, "that may be so, but the balance of need is on the Army. This type of man is badly wanted for the Flying Corps in consequence of the enormous extension of the work in respect of that corps, and this type of man will be very useful for the delicate mechanical work which is so necessary." I said, "Very well, we will agree that he shall go into the Flying Corps; but we are going to guard him this time, and we will give an adjournment for a month, during which time he can offer himself to the appropriate department and get enlisted, then come back and let us know whether they are going to accept him or not." He came back on 5th November last, and it transpired that he had been sent by the National Service officer to the Polytechnic, which has done very excellent service in connection with the Flying Corps. They in turn sent him on to Farnborough. Nothing further was done to utilise his services until he was ultimately sent to Woolwich, to undergo certain trade tests. He was there for some days, and was then sent on to the Board of Trade, who again made arrangements that this man—a skilled man, mark you!—should be subjected to certain trade tests. Ultimately they decided that he was of no use to the Flying Corps, and he was advised, as far as they were concerned, to return to civil life. However, someone told him he ought to go and report at Kingston. So to Kingston he went, where a very zealous sergeant, seeing his opportunity, promptly enlisted him, and he was discovered afterwards in khaki, at Kingston or near by, washing dishes ! Fortunately he had some little means, and was able to employ professional assistance. He came and laid the facts before us. We said at once, 530 "The Army has no right to touch this man. He is protected by the tribunal's certificate," and we demanded his return. Ultimately, he was returned, and we said, "If that is all the Army can do with him, we will send him back to assist in making Army rations," and there he is to-day.
Here is another instance of a B1 man. I have a letter from him, one out of the avalanche of letters one gets from all over the country. He says:
I am a skilled electrician with seventeen years' hard, practical experience….He sent me a testimonial from one of the best-known firms in the country with whom he had been working—I am thirty-two; I am, married and have four children. My physical defects are rupture and acute gastritis.At the commencement of the War he was working with this firm, whose name I will not mention, but he left that to take up an appointment in South Wales in Nobel's Explosive Company, Limited. While there he contracted T.N.T. poisoning. He had a period of convalescence—about ten weeks—and while he was convalescent he was enlisted in the Army. He wrote to me to say he had been put into the Motor Transport, and there was engaged in nothing but, pure labouring work, such as picking up paper and cleaning windows! There you have another instance of many which I could give the House. I have not selected these cases except merely as illustrations of what is going on all over the country, and I am convinced that the letter bags of many hon. Members have told them the same thing.
Let me give another instance by way of a comb-out from public Departments. A man came before us a few weeks ago. He had been combed out from one of the arsenals in London. He was thirty-two years of age. He had been working for three years in the most dangerous part of the Arsenal and had six children, all under twelve years old. That was a specimen of the "comb-out." I apologise for speaking rather strongly, but everyone in the House wants this sort of thing to stop and a new system to be instituted.
I want to make a rather special appeal in respect of Grade 3 men. I fear that the result of my right hon. Friend's grave statement that the Army wants 450,000 men will be that tribunals all over the country, in the exercise of their judgment, such as it is, will send almost every man 531 they can into the Army, and the majority of the men they are dealing with will be men who are really unfit for the Army. I suggest to him that he should follow the practice which we have recently set up as regards the London Tribunal. It is perfectly simple and is quite within the power of tribunals all over the country. We get men of these classifications, judge them by their age, their family conditions, and, of course, by the occupations they are in, and we say, "We come to the conclusion that it is a fact that yours is a classification primâ facie fit for military service. We do not think in the national interest you ought to go into the Army, but you must do some work of national importance, and we will adjourn the case for two or three weeks. Come back again in three weeks and show us, by evidence which we can take, that you are engaged, or about to be engaged, in work of real national importance, and you shall remain out of the Army." We give him exemption for three months, and keep the thing well in hand, so that there can be very little opportunity of misuse of the certificate which we give.
This practice, which I strongly urge upon my right hon. Friend through his representatives and the Local Government Board, by means of circulars to tribunals, can be widely extended, and if that be done you will prevent the continuance of the triple tragedy which goes on every day. Some of the experience which members of tribunals have to go through are extremely trying, knowing, as they do, what happens. A man is fit for the Army on the face of it, I agree, but you know that in large numbers of cases you are almost signing his death warrant. It has happened many hundreds, if not thousands, of times. One touch of imagination added to our ordinary everyday experience gives us an idea of what has happened. You have taken that man away, and put him into the Army at a cost for the first year of not less than £250 to £300. You have derailed him from his civilian life. He is, seven times out of ten, over thirty-five years of age, and I am not very far out of it when I say that the sickness casualties in the Army between thirty-five and forty years of age are nearly 250 per cent. more than the sickness casualities between twenty-eight and thirty-five years of age. You have taken him out from his civilian occupation, and 532 put him in the Army. He breaks down, and is pensioned. The Minister of Pensions has been good enough to give me some information which I will pass on to the House, and it is that up to the present time, of the pensions already granted not fewer than 15 per cent. are in respect of men who are pensioned because of sickness and disease. A large portion of them, no doubt, are men who are physically fit, but who have contracted sickness on the field, and a very large and preventable proportion is caused by men who ought never to have gone into the Army at all.
What of the future? The man himself, in his own domestic circle, it pitiable enough, but there is a larger national point arising out of it. This man has been derailed, and it will take the nation a lot of time and money to get him back on to the rail again, if it ever does. I make this appeal very strongly, not, of course, in a controversial sense, because it would be wholly improper for me to do so. I am speaking really now the desire of every man in this House, no matter where he sits, when I say that in so far as it is possible — and it is possible: that is the despair of the thing—this sort of procedure should be prevented. If you are dealing with malice you know where you are, but one is dealing with colossal stupidity. Surely after three years of war, we might have some gleams of intelligence left It is time we took long views all round. I am certain that, in a material and a physical sense, where there is no vision in this matter, the people will surely perish.
§ Mr. GEORGE LAMBERT
My right hon. Friend who has just sat down has made one of the most valuable and illuminating statements the House has heard for a very long time, and I am sure we are all much obliged to him for having placed his experience as the chairman of a tribunal before the responsible authorities and before the country. I am quite certain that my right hon. Friend does represent nine-tenths of the sane opinion of the country when he asks that men who are enlisted and taken under the Military Service Acts shall be rightly used. There is one further suggestion I make to the Government and it is this, that if this Bill passes, as I have no doubt it will, it must have the good will of the country in order to ensure smooth 533 working. At the present moment the country is angry, perplexed, irritated, and disgruntled. and that is largely because, in my judgment, the Government are not trusting the country with the full information at their disposal. Trust begets confidence, but distrust as a corollary will beget distrust of the Government. I ask the Government now, as I have asked them more than once, to take the country more fully into their confidence in these matters. The Press to-day is largely under the control of the Press Bureau. They are not allowed to comment on or even to reveal facts which it is essential the country should know. My right hon. Friend the Minister of National Service gave us some startling information the other day. It was the first time that I had heard of it. He said that there were actually young men in the munition shops threatening to hold up the output of aeroplanes and ships unless they were exempted from military service. We had never heard of that. I may be very ignorant, but I attend the House of Commons very frequently, and I listen to questions. I think we get more information at Question Time than at any other time in the House. I am certain that if the great bulk of the country knew of these things that that blast of hatred and contempt of which nay right hon. Friend spoke would be sufficient to prevent anything like this strike of young men in the munition factories. I am certain of it; but we did not know. We are not allowed to know.
I can assure the Government that public opinion is the best solvent of these difficulties, but at the present moment the public is bewildered. We had for about three months after the 31st July practically a victory announced to us every day. We had joy bells rung, but the country now is beginning to realise that even though the Press Bureau announce a victory it is not always a fact. I want to be perfectly sure in this matter that our resources are thriftily and prudently used. At the present moment, as my right hon. Friend (Sir D. Maclean) said, they are being in many cases wastefully squandered. The Director of Military Service made use of a very striking phrase. He told us that recruiting had not broken down. At the present moment he said there were in the Army 4,000,000 men. One could not help asking the question, "What are we doing with those 4,000,000 men?" It is a very large 534 number. He also stated that the British League of Nations, which is a very felicitous phrase, had raised altogether 7,500,000 men. That is an enormous effort, and must give the go-by to those who think that the British Empire has not done its duty in. this War. But men go into the Army to-day and disappear from our notice. My right hon. Friend has stated what some of them do. I will not attempt to reinforce the very powerful illustrations that he gave, the distressful illustrations. The country, at the present moment, feels that this military holding of men throughout the country is like a hair shirt—very irritating. I do not know whether they will not rip it up altogether. I will not go into these matters in any detail, but let us take the Home Army. The Select Committee on National Expenditure has gone into that and they have asked the Government to inquire into the expenditure on the forces at home. We can get no answer. Even this powerful Committee can get no answer. All that is said by the Government is that such economies as are practicable are being introduced, but that it is essential to maintain an adequate force for home defence. Of course, it is necessary to maintain an adequate force for home defence, but are you maintaining too many men in this country? You have many camps in this country. A camp of 6,000 men requires 3,000 men to look after it. That is rather wasteful.
What I wish really to deal with is the declaration, which I welcome, which was made by the Minister of National Service, when he said—and these are very true words which I hope will be posted up in the private rooms of every Minister in the Government—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."—[0FFICIAL REPORT, 14th January, 1918, col. 60.]I noticed the right hon. Gentleman's fraternal relative, the First Lord of the Admiralty, was beside him when he made that statement. It seems to me that in this matter—I speak with great diffidence—the Army has dominated all the strategy of the Government. When we had the Conscription Debate here the House was packed from floor to ceiling. We voted for I voted for it, because I believe that all those who value liberty must fight to defend it, but one has always been uneasy that- we were banking too much on military strength in this 535 country. We come back to sea power, as the Minister of National Service has told us. I was never more astonished in my life than when I heard a colleague of mine on this bench, a general who has fought in France, describe the Navy as a subsidiary Service. When this country regards the Navy as a subsidiary Service, Britain will become a subsidiary nation. I suggest at the present moment, with all the earnestness that I can command, that the most crucial problem is to divert our man-power to the building of mercantile tonnage. Ships is the real necessity at the moment for this country. I am going to put a few facts before the Government with the object of inducing the Minister of National Service when he recruits men to divert them to the shipyards. We have had a favourable return this morning of submarine sinkings.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
The general view of the situation is that the submarine sinkings are going on. I can state this as a fact, that the submarine sinkings for December were 30 per cent. more than they were for November, and it has been conjectured in the Press this morning—in the "Times"—that last year we lost something like 3,500,000 tons of shipping. That is an enormous amount of shipping to be lost, but nobody realises what an effect it is having on the life of this country. In this matter of the replacement of shipping we cannot rely upon promises of what is going to be done in the future. It has to be done now. I do not think that the Prime Minister himself realises the gravity of the situation. He has given some figures to the House, and I am sure that he gave them as they were given to him; but he has been deluded. I can assure him on that. The figures that he gave last year have not materialised this year with regard to the building of mercantile tonnage. He has been deluded; therefore, I am glad that he is here to listen and take note of some of the facts.
So carefully are the Government statements wrapped up that even the "Times" published a statement a short time ago—I think that it was on 536 4th January—that 1,500,000 tons of mercantile tonnage was turned out last year. That is not a fact. I cannot help thinking that when these statements are so carefully wrapped up as was the statement of the First Lord of the Admiralty, and that such newspapers as the "Times" are taken in, the general public may well be excused for not being able to understand the position. We have been told that we must bank on America and that America would produce 6,000,000 tons of mercantile tonnage this year. I suggested to the House on 1st November that this was a very large programme, especially for a country that had only turned out about 200,000 tons a year. There is a very careful writer—Mr. Archibald Hurd—who has taken a lot of trouble in these matters. In his article in the "Telegraph" a day or two ago he says:Including the vessels ordered by Great Britain, America will only turn out something from 1,500,000 to 2,000,000 tons this year.He is a very accurate, careful gentleman, and that is a very different figure from 6,000,000 tons.
It has been conjectured in the "Times" this morning, and the information is not far wrong, that last year we have lost three and a-half times as much shipping as we built. If we had not neglected our shipbuilding, as the First Lord of the Admiralty showed us, we should have been 2,000,000 or 3,000,000 tons to the good. But we have, as the Prime Minister once stated, disastrously neglected mercantile shipbuilding during the War. What would be the enormous value to this country of 2,000,000 or 3,000,000 tons of shipping? It would be quite inestimable. I would suggest to the Prime Minister, and to the Government, that they should keep their eye in this matter on Admiral von Tirpitz He is a gentleman who is very dangerous, and he is going in for bigger submarines and more submarines. I would rather complain of the Government that there have not been proper organisation, prudence and foresight with regard to manning our private shipbuilding yards. The Minister for National Service has stated that he made an appeal for shipyard workmen, and that volunteers are actually coming in faster than they can be absorbed. That does not show much organisation. The Director of National Service himself stated that there were 10,000 vacancies notified in December, but that only 2,100 men were put to work to fill those 537 vacancies. If they are coming in faster than they can be absorbed in this way, something must be wrong. But is this all the truth? I am not sure. I am informed on good authority that two months ago the private shipyards of the country asked for 20,000 extra men. I would like to know if that be a fact. The Director of National Service can tell me. Yesterday I had information from the Admiralty, which controls these matters, that only 17,000 men were required in the shipyards. Again, my information, from the very highest authority, is that the private shipyards of the country could absorb 75,000 men in the next three months, and I would ask the Director of National Service to say that this is the first call on our man power, and where reinforcements are needed. And I would suggest to the Government that they should devote far more attention to aiding and encouraging the reinforcing of private shipyards, than that they should go on with a scheme of national shipyards. National labour is not always a great success.
I will give the House a rather interesting illustration of what happened at Portsmouth the other day. There is at Portsmouth the greatest national shipyard in the country, the Portsmouth Dockyard. My hon. and gallant Friend the junior Member for Portsmouth was addressing a meeting the other day, appealing for more men, and in very eloquent terms, I am sure, he expressed himself as he always does, he says:Are we ready to meet them? We can be ready if we do our duty. We must have more men. How are we to get them?A voice from the crowded audience said "From the dockyards," at which there was such loud and continuous applause that the Mayor had to intervene to stop it. That is a very significant illustration that the people in Portsmouth think that there are a great many people in the dockyards who could do better national service elsewhere. I will not say what they are doing there now. [AN HON. MEMBER: "Comb them out"] Certainly comb them out where they are not doing proper work. I do not know if you arc going to comb out the men from the dockyards. I make a present of that suggestion to my right hon. Friend. I have been gravely concerned, as the House knows, for the last eighteen months with regard to the food supply of the country. I have been accused from that bench of nagging. But I suggest to 538 the Director of National Service, and I am sorry to say it, that he cannot rely upon any very large increase in home production. There is at the present moment a 15 per cent. increase only in the wheat area. That means an increase of only 300,000 acres. That is a very long way from the 3,000,000 acres which we were promised last May. I doubt very much if you will get from the wheat area very much beyond the 1915 level. I do not want to make any special point against the Government. Heaven knows that the thing is far too serious. These speeches are not pleasing speeches to make. I. would far rather be away at my farm, but one feels it a national duty to put these facts before the Government, and I warn the Government that this scheme of increased production cannot yield such an. enormous amount in the next year, and,. more than that, we must remember in. reference to that conjectural, but fairly accurate statement, that 3,500,000 tons of British shipping was put down last year,. that all the cargoes went down as well and that all the food, raw material, and whatever those cargoes consisted of, are lost to the country and lost to the world.
With regard to the food question, I have the very greatest sympathy with the Food Controller. I believe that be is doing as well as any man could do in his difficult position. When the Food Controller makes a mistake it is apparent at once. There is no such word as "camouflage" there. When the naval or military authorities make a mistake they fairly well cover it up—they camouflage it. But you cannot camouflage an empty stomach from the man who happens to. own it. He feels the aching void there all the time. There are 6,000,000 tons of wheat in Australia waiting for shipment. They cannot come here because there are no ships. There are a million carcases of sheep in New Zealand awaiting shipment. They cannot come here because of lack of ships. It has been stated in the public Press, by the Secretary to the Port of London Authority, that they have got room for a million carcases of sheep in the? old-storage accommodation at the Port of London docks. That means a very serious situation. It always has been a problem bow London should be fed. There are 7,000,000 people who have to he fed wholly from outside. The Germans know this as well as we do. They arc endeavouring to cut our line of communication and to prevent food and raw 539 material from coming to this country, and I conclude upon this note that the Director of National Service, whom I congratulate most heartily upon his first maiden effort in this House, should devote the whole of his energies at present to building mercantile tonnage, remembering that ships bring food to this country, that food is life, and that it is ships and ships alone that stand between the nation and starvation
§ Mr. SMALLWOOD
I would not have intervened in the Debate but for the fact that I feel that something needs to be said in respect of fair play to the young men of our nation and of our Empire. Anyone taking the care to go into matters connected with the War Office and with the military authorities in reference to the millions of young men who have gone into the ranks and into the Services must have come to the conclusion, long enough ago, that fair play has not been accorded to large numbers of these young men. During the last three years we have had placed at the disposal of the nation the very finest of our young men. We have placed the whole resources not only of the nation but of the Empire at the disposal of the authorities, and there is a feeling growing up and down the country to-day that the best use has not been made of those young men who have been placed at the disposal of the authorities, and that certainly an unfair use has been made of many of them. It is within the knowledge of almost everyone that whatever the men have been asked to do they have done; and we have been told, and we know it to be the fact, that the men are simply splendid. Whatever has been pointed out to them to do, and whatever their objective has been, we know again and again, although they have been led into the very pit of hell, they have never wavered, and have taken their objective, only to find that somebody high up has blundered, that all their work has been done and all their splendid service given in vain, and that nothing is to be done in respect of that someone high up. The men have been told—those who have survived—that their heroism has been in vain, but whenever they have found themselves left in the air, owing to a breakdown somewhere, we have been told again and again in this House that it is not in the public interest that anyone should be brought to book in respect of these matters. I claim that fair play has not been given to these young 540 men, and on the question of providing more men I am torn two ways. I know the needs of the country are great, but I am torn another way, because I know that fair play has not been given, and that men have not been used rightly, economically, and well. On the other hand, I know the men are badly needed somewhere, but I feel at the same time that fair play is due to these young men.
I want to make my position quite clear. I shall not be charged, at any rate, with being a "pacifist." I have served myself; I have given all that I cared for in this world to the service of the country in this War, and have lost them; but I have to say of each of those I have lost that fair play was not given them, and I have to say the same about hundreds of thousands of others. Men who joined up at once when war broke out have been kept in the field far too long, continuously fighting and doing the very best they could, while other men have been kept at the back. Everybody can see that. Men have been to the front time after time, and every time they come back they see the same faces at the base in the snug jobs. The finest comb-out that could be made would be in the bases and in the War Office. One knows perfectly well there are men there who never ought to be there—men in brass hats and red bands who have never earned what they have got, and who are contemptuous to the men who come back from the front. I feel a little bit sore about this, and not only from the personal standpoint.
I have come into touch with hundreds of young men who have come back from the front, and I have heard their stories. I want to go into one case; at any rate, of a young man who was not a strong man at all, and who, when the War broke out, went up and down for two or three days to try and get one of the recruiting officers to take him. He had outgrown his strength, his physique was not good enough, and he was rejected again and again, until at the end of the third day he was told by the doctor who examined him, "It's no good, old chap, we can't do it; it is a case of chest measurement." A sympathetic sergeant standing by said, "You haven't got the tape in the right place. Give him to me. Now throw up your arms and blow out your chest." He said he nearly broke his chest in blowing it out, and the sergeant put the tape round in a way that made him 37 instead of 34. and he was passed. He served five or six 541 months in the ranks, and did not break down. He was asked to go into a Training Corps and take a commission, and did so. He went out to the front and fought for something like nineteen months, in all the large engagements. For three months of the latter time his health was completely broken down, but he did not give in. He came back on leave, and was told before he came back, by his commanding officer, not to return again until he was well. He was given the usual nine days, I think. He came home and was taken to see one of the first-class physicians of the day. He was told he never ought to have been out, in the first place, and certainly ought not to go out again under three or six months. A letter was given him to take to the War Office to that effect, and some young red-hatted gentleman—who had never been out, probably, or he would never have treated him as he did—with the usual sniff that so many of them give, tossed the letter aside and asked, "How long have you got; two days?" He said "Yes," and was told, "Well, if you are not well in two days, come back again." He went back in two days, and was then asked, "Are not you well yet?" He said, "No," and was told, "You can have another three days longer." There was a letter from a first-class physician, Sir Thomas Barlow, but the officer did not even take the trouble to read it. It got on the young fellow so much that he said, "I will not go there again; I will go back to the front." He went, and soon he was dead.
That was my first son. I was inclined to say, "Damn the War Office !" That is only the case of thousands of others. Comb them out there, for God's sake and the country's sake; comb them out from the bases, the men who have been there all these years; comb them out from the East Coast and the snug jobs, where society and other favourites have been so long; comb them out from these places which are called "funk holes," where they have been for so long. When you have combed them out, then come back to Labour, and if Labour thinks it has been fairly treated, it will rise to the occasion and Labour will say, "Yes—equal sacrifices." If I know anything of Labour, if they are quite sure they are to be fairly and squarely treated, there will be no crisis in respect of Labour.
I desire to say this, too, that there is a very uneasy feeling in respect of the military authorities that they do not 542 know how to use, and do not know how to handle and how to appreciate the fine material which has been put into their hands. Never in the history of this country has there been such heroism shown as has been shown by these boys from our shops and offices, our mines, our schools, and colleges. Never has there been such heroism, but they have not been fairly treated. They have been thrown in again and again, and have been over the top five, six, seven and eight times, and yet the men at the back, when they do come home, after having been in the very pit of hell, treat them in this cavalier way.
Another friend of mine, who was ruined and wrecked almost, had been something like eighteen months trying to get strong again and he had got fairly strong. He was told at the War Office only a fortnight ago in respect of something he wanted to do—an able-bodied man was put into the job who had never gone to the front at all—that as a matter of fact it made no difference, and that the man who served at home was serving his country just as well as the man on the Western Front or in the East. These are some of the things that cut deep into our British ideas of fairness. These things are not fair, and so far as I am concerned 1. would much rather not a single other man was given to the military authorities until they knew how to use them. They have squandered them largely. There is only a limited number of these fine, strapping heroes who have been sent to this War. The military authorities go on as if there was an unlimited supply; as if they grew on mulberry bushes. Here they are, the finest types of our race, from the Colonies and everywhere, from the workshops and schools and all the other places, and we treat them as if we could reproduce them in any number. Everyone knows the life-blood of the country is being simply drained, and it has been drained to a much larger extent than it ought to have been. When we come to reckon up our losses, we shall come to the conclusion that there is no wealth but life, and that we have squandered it, wasted it, thrown it away.
I have one other thing to say. Fathers and mothers gave their boys ungrudgingly at one time, although they knew the risk they were running. What I am saying now is not in respect of the officers in the field, but of the whole military system, which is one that simply makes the ordinary individual recoil. It makes fathers 543 and mothers to-day, knowing what they do about War Office methods, shrink at the idea that these young lads are coming on to nineteen, and they are begrudging the very fact that they will have to give up still more. I have given all I can, but I should hesitate if I had any more. I think I can trust myself to say what I have to say now in respect of War Office methods—this cast-iron, red-tape method—the soullessness of it!
I was wired for six months ago to go to my elder son, the only one left. I went out. He had been wounded three times. After the second time I tried to use a little influence to get him a rest at home. I could not do it. The officer himself must ask. That is not the type of young men we send to the front. They will not ask. That is not the spirit of the men who are bred in Great Britain—not the best of them. There are many men who have gone out, got a touch of trench fever, and come back and not gone out again, but they are not the type of men who have made Great Britain. He would not ask. He was wounded a third time, and I went out to see him. I was there in time. The second day passed and the third day came. I said to the doctor, "I do not like the look of the boy." I saw the sister. The rules of the military hospital were, be there at two, not five minutes before; leave at five, and not five minutes afterwards. I said to the sister, "The boy is not looking what he ought to do," and begged her to let me stop the night. She said she could not, strict orders being given that no one had to stop after five. But I said, "I have got him to sleep; he begged me to stop." She said, "I am sorry I cannot do it. The colonel has given strict orders that no one shall stop after five o'clock." I begged that I might stay. "No," she said, "the matron will be round shortly, and you must not do so; but if you like to stop on your own responsibility you must risk it." I stayed hidden there for three hours behind a screen. Then the matron came round, angry because she found me, and insisted upon my leaving. I told her the circumstances, and I asked for the colonel. Not one single budge would be made, not one single step would be taken. It was the last night my boy lived, and I was not permitted to stop with him. I felt—as any man who had been treated in that way would feel—I felt that the soullessness of the War Office is such as cannot be understood by the people outside.
544 5.0 P.M.
This military system wherever it touches shrivels, and wherever it touches spoils. If there could only be some sort of soul put into the military system, if there could only be something human put into it, there would be a different people at home. I felt I must speak on personal grounds. But whatever I have said, as far as my own boys are concerned, can be multiplied by the hundreds of thousands. I plead for fair play for these boys of ours, who were not born fighters, and were never meant to be fighters, who have always hated war like the very death, and who, because of the call of the country, stepped in straight away to do, as they have done, all they possibly could for their own country's good, and have given of their very best, only to come home, when they have done all these things, to be treated as if they were dirt.
Comb out Whitehall—comb out the men in high places, and give some sort of confidence to the country that no favouritism is being shown. There are men here, there, and everywhere—I know them, you know them, everybody knows them—men who are strong, well built, able, healthy men. They have stopped at home, and have gained—not earned—promotion, and have obtained high salaries, strutting about Whitehall in their red and brass hats, not fit to black the boots of the men they have treated in this way. Let us, therefore, have fair play, and let that confidence be put into the country which has been waning for a long time past. And when the country feels that its boys are being well and fairly treated, perhaps something of the old moral with which we started this. War will come back into the nation's life. Wherever you go, you cannot fail to come to the conclusion that something must be done if you are going to carry the War to. a successful issue. That something is that you must put back into the nation's life more of the moral with which it started the War, and restore the confidence of those chivalrous young knights of the twentieth century, that they are fighting for their country's welfare and for their Empire's good, and that. when they step into the ranks, or when they take command, they are going to be treated as they should be treated—as the princes and builders of their race.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
The House must have been deeply impressed by the speech which has just been delivered to us, and I 545 think I should be expressing the feeling of every Member of the House here in saying that he has our deep sympathy in the bitter experience through which he has passed. It is not a singular experience, for there are thousands of homes desolate at the present time which can never be the same as they were before the War. We feel that those who have given their boys to the country deserve every consideration and sympathy at the hands of the Government and of the people. On the other hand, though one must sympathise very deeply with the hon. Member, I ask whether, on consideration, he should condemn the whole class or the whole office simply because one or two officials have behaved in the manner which he has described? After all, if he will take the trouble to go through the list of those employed on the Staff at the War Office, he will find that the vast majority of the men there are those who have been to the wars, who have been wounded in the wars, and who have been given their jobs simply because they are maimed and are unfit for any further active service Therefore, I hope that the hon. Gentleman, deep as he has suffered and rightly and strongly as he feels, will not condemn the whole class or the whole institution simply because of the gross discourtesy and inhuman feelings of certain individuals among them. After all, officials are fathers. They have feelings just the same as any one of us, and I am sure that only a small minority would behave in the way which he has described.
But the speech just delivered brings very forcibly to me a very grave defect which I imagine is contained in this Bill. It is very difficult to follow exactly what is the effect of this Bill, especially as I did not have the advantage of listening to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for National Service when he made his statement last Monday. On reading very carefully his speech in the OFFICIAL REPORT, it seems to me that the power and the jurisdiction of the tribunals have almost entirely been done away with—that is to say, that he can 'simply, as an administrative act, go down to any part of the country and ordain that 500 men shall be taken away, to give one instance, from agriculture. There is no appeal from his fiat, and the agricultural interest, or any other interest, is entirely under his rule and under his jurisdiction. For my own part, I protest roost strongly against it. Indeed, so 546 strongly do I feel upon this subject, that I shall not be able to vote for the Second Reading of the Bill unless some change is made. We have heard from the hon. Member who has just sat down an instance of official stupidity and of official hard-heartedness. Such stupidity is in so many cases inherent in all Government offices, because men who are sensible men when they are at home, directly they go to a Government office, are so tied up with red-tape or so afraid of taking any responsibility, by which means they may jeopardise their official advancement, that they will not deviate one hair's-breadth from the regulations laid down, and even though they themselves, as men and fathers, would like to make exceptions, they do not like or do not dare to do so, while to appeal to the overlord may appear a slight subordination. But v-hen the Minister of National Service comes here and calmly asks us as a House of Commons to hand over the whole selection of the recruits to a set of officials sitting at the Hotel Windsor—well, I, for one, will not vote for that unless there is some modification made in this provision.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
The hon. Member is informed that the hon. Member is not in the War Office. He used to have some-thing to do with it
§ Colonel ASHLEY
As I was saying, we think this is a very dangerous position from the national point of view. We have an official sitting here in London trying to do his best, I admit, and with other officials under him no doubt trying to do their best as well, but simply became they consider the food supply is temporarily in a more favourable condition than it was three months ago, they can ordain, say, in my own county of Hampshire, that 1,000 agricultural labourers shall be taken away. The local people, the local tribunal, are not to be consulted. Then- have been bad tribunals in the past, I admit. On the other hand, there have been a vast majority of good tribunals, and I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that if he will make some modification—for instance, if he will agree to strengthen the tribunals, making them better where they are bad, 547 rather than handing over the man-power of this country wholesale to a Government Department—it would be a much better plan. We are overrun with Government Departments. I saw in the paper—I think it was yesterday—a return indicating the accommodation asked for by Government Departments. It appalled me. Our parks have been covered -with new buildings, every house within three or four miles of where we Ire sitting is being commandeered for Government Departments, and it seems to me that those Government Departments seem to think that the measure of their success is the number of lady clerks they employ.
I do hope that when the right hon. Gentleman speaks he will be able to indicate some concession to local sentiment in this matter, some concession to local knowledge, because, after all, local tribunals were set up on purpose so that the opinion might be taken of men who lived in that district, who knew the needs of the district, and who knew the technicalities of the district. And these men have, in the vast majority of cases, given an excellent decision as to whether the men were better employed in agriculture or in some other form of national service than they would be if they were sent into the Army. Then I do think, in reading the Debate, that the right hon. Gentleman gave us a very meagre reason why he wants these 500,000 men. It may be that they are absolutely necessary—I do not say they arc not—but I object to it from the House of Commons point of view. We have discussions and meetings with the employers, we have discussions and meetings with the Labour leaders, we have discussions and Departmental confabulations between different Government Departments, and then, when all is settled, we here, the House of Commons, who after all I hope still represent the nation—at any rate we represent the nation until another election takes place —are simply asked to register the decrees of the Government Departments and of the Labour representatives and employers. So that really our functions become little more than signing an act embodying official agreements. I, therefore, do hope that the right hon. Gentleman, when he makes his reply, will appreciate, although he is a new Member of the House of Commons, that the House 548 of Commons does expect, and I think. reasonably expects as representing the nation, more information as to why this large number of men is to be taken from us. Finally, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman, when he replies, to clear up one point which I think ought to be made perfectly clear. The hon. Member for East Edinburgh, who has always. taken a keen interest in the soldier and has always been foremost in these Debates on military service, raised a very important point in this House on Monday. With the leave of the House I would like to read it:Mr. Hogge: My right hon. Friend agrees with that. I think we can come to au agreement and get rid of a great deal of discussion if my right hon. Friend wilt say that all the men now inside the Review of Exceptions Act who have been discharged disabled hut who have not 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?Sir A. Geddes indicated assent."— [OFFICIAL. REPORT, 14th January, 1918, col. 125.]I am sure the right hon. Gentleman means to carry out this indication of assent. But I always like to have these things in black and white. It is a very important point, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give us, when he speaks, something more than a mere indication of assent. It is in column 125. Then Mr. Hogge went on:The next point is one on which it is not fair to ask for an answer, 'yes' or 'no,' now. If those discharged men, the old ones and the new ones, remain in this work of national importance, will they he recalled by re-examination to the Army before fit and eligible men are called up?I think if the right hon. Gentleman could. answer in the affirmative these questions asked by the. hon. Member for East Edinburgh, so far as the discharged soldiers are concerned, their objections to this Bill would be practically at an end. I think I am correctly representing the hon. Gentleman.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
After all, is it not fair that men who have been discharged, and when there is work of national importance to be done, should not be taken into the Army until fit men are called out? If the right hon. Gentleman wilt give us an indication on these three, points I shall be very much obliged.
§ Mr. ANDERSON
The speech to which we listened the other day from the Minister of National Service would seem 549 to indicate that at last the Government does take a much wider view of this question of man-power than it has done in the past, and that it does intend to bring under review the various claims upon the country, very often conflicting and competing claims, and to try to bring about some kind of reconcilement. My own view has always been that the Governments we have had during the last three and half years of war have been far too apt to be stampeded by outside clamour and by newspaper clamour, and that they have been rushed into one policy only to be rushed into another policy, because some noise is made in some very powerful portion of the Press. That, in my opinion, has been disastrous from every point of view. It has been especially disastrous from the point of view of weakening the economic power and economic strength of this country, and the importance of that will certainly be realised. The Minister of National Service himself admitted that we have been treading in strange ways, and I am not convinced that we are not still treading in strange ways. His latest demand is for a minimum of some 450,000 young men who must, in the nature of things, be taken from what has been regarded as vitally essential to the interests of the country. The great mass of these men will come from railway works, from mining, and from engineering works. These are the three sources from which the men must be drawn. It is hardly necessary that I should say that there are very grave dangers indeed, in many respects, from a too great withdrawal from these various industries and trades. We were told by the Minister himself that for a time, at all events, this war would likely be, on our side, a defensive war, until the Americans enter it in full strength. When are the Americans to come in their full strength? Is it going to be this year? I say it will be at least 1919 before America can possibly come in her full strength. You are faced, in the meantime, with very difficult problems—your shipping problem, your economic problem, your food problem, and the problem of credit and finance, all of them vital problems from the standpoint of the nation. Any real consideration of this whole question must take them all into full account.
Some reference was made in the speeches we have beard to certain luxury 550 trades, which are still allowed to go on in this country. We know that racing is still allowed to go on in this country, and we know that fox-hunting is still allowed to go on here. These things make a drain upon the economic strength of the country, upon the food supply, and, to some extent, upon man-power. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was asked yesterday why it is, in the fourth year of the War, that horse-racing is still going on. I venture to say that the decision of the War Cabinet to continue it is opposed to the recommendation put forward by the Ministry of Food, because the Executive of the Food Department told us that they had put forward the serious aspect of this matter. Yet we are told by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in reply to the question, that the War Cabinet regarded this horse-racing as absolutely trivial, though they knew that it was regarded seriously by the Ministry of Food. In dealing with the matter the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that in coming to a decision the main consideration which guided them was that to stop racing would be an interference with the habits of the people. We have heard today a good deal about interference with the habits of the people in regard to calling up 400,000 or 500,000 more men to the Army. Is that not going to interfere with the habits of the people? Are not their homes going to be broken up, and all kinds of hardship inflicted? Surely, if that is going to be done, it is not asking too much that matters like horse-racing, even if it does interfere with the habits of the people, should be stopped. When you are interfering with the economic power of the country, at any rate horse-racing should be closed down for the period of the War. I wart more particularly to allude to certain references made by the Minister of National Service to the Labour situation, and I am bound to say that I think some of his references were not very happy or very inspiring. I do not know whether he wants to provoke trouble in the Labour world, but if he does wish to do that, I think it is just the tone he adopted and certain references which he made that are most likely to bring about a conflagration which I am quite sure he cannot possibly desire. He spoke of the young men in these various trades as claiming that we should send out the wounded again and again, and that we should stop the leave of men from the front, while they stayed at home and drew high wages. 551 What young men ever put forward such preposterous claim as that? The Minister said: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. I believe that, if they do, they will meet with 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.And so on. I say so far as the skilled engineers are concerned it is absolutely a misrepresentation of their position; it is a travesty. I am convinced of this, that the Minister of National Service never would have used such language if he had informed himself, or if he had been properly informed, as to what is exactly the point. regarding skilled men, from the beginning of the War down to the present time. This matter requires a very real knowledge of what the position has actually been. I read a leading article yesterday in a morning paper published in Liverpool, the "Daily Post and Mercury." That article very strongly supported the Director of National Service in regard to claims ho is now making, but at least it did say this, which is, absolutely true, that when Lord Kitchener called for his millions it was necessary to coerce young skilled men to remain in the workshops. Let us take it a little further. There were several references to the Amalgamated society of Engineers. The Minister of National Service said he regretted that the Amalgamated Society of Engineers did not accept the decision of the general Conference that the society should not meet the Government separately from the other unions in the engineering group. The Government could not give preferential treatment to any organisation. For my part I hold no brief at all for the Amalgamated Society of Engineers; I have not been asked to speak on their behalf; but I have got, in point of fact, a very large correspondence from branches of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, who protest indignantly against the charges made against them, and some of those charges are made by the Minister of National Service. But at least their decision should be understood. There are two Members of this House who ought to be 552 able to put before us the position of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, seeing that they are both returned to this House through money subscribed by the Amalgamated Society of Engineers. There is the right hon. Member for Blackfriars. Engineers have been told from the start of the War until now that this is, apart from everything else, an engineers' war. That has been repeatedly said by the Government. It has been impressed upon the men that they must not leave their employment, that this is, above everything else, an engineers' war, and that the labour of skilled men is absolutely essential. I do not think the right hon. Member for Blackfriars will dispute that this has been the position up to the present time. To take a case in point. Six months ago the question arose whether there should be dilution of labour in connection with private commercial work. The engineers were told then by the Government that this proposal was not being brought forward from the standpoint of releasing the men for the Army, but because there was such an absolute shortage of skilled men that it was essential that skilled labour should be diluted.
That was the position six months ago, and it was said at that time that it was impossible to release men for the Army. Now we are told that there is going to be an enormous comb-out in the engineering works. It seems to me that, so far from merely blustering in regard to a matter of this kind, some explanations, and sympathetic explanations, are needed as to why this change has taken place. We have been told by the Minister of National Service that he objects very much to a separate conference so far as the skilled engineers are concerned. Let me say that I do not think that there ought to be or can be, in the very nature of things and in a matter of this kind, any special preference for an engineer over any other worker; there ought not to be any preference; but I do say that if the Minister of National Service had followed the whole story of this question he would be bound to know that separate conferences had been held with the Government again and again, and that in those conferences with the engineers pledges were made that are now withdrawn. You had no punctilio on the part of the Government to hold a separate special conference with the engineers when making the pledges, and why have this special punctilio when you are breaking the pledges with these 553 same men? Why should there be such a difference of etiquette in the one case from what there was in the other? These pledges which you are now breaking—it may be necessary to break them—were made with these men in separate conferences with members of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers. It is from that point of view, and it is not from trying to differentiate the engineers from other workers that these claims should now be considered. On the strength of those pledges they gave up many of their trade customs, and I do not think it is very unreasonable that they should ask for a special Conference to consider the variation of the pledges, and I am bound to say that I do not see, if it is done, where the preferential treatment comes in.
Getting away from that trade aspect of the matter, I desire to put before the House one or two wider considerations. You want 450,000 more men for war purposes. The outlook in many directions is serious, and, in my view, tact and judgment will be needed if trouble is going to be avoided; and, so far as I am concerned, I do not want to see that industrial trouble coming, because, if it does come, it will come on very big lines indeed. The Minister of National Service, if he imagines for a moment that this trouble will be confined to a few pacifists in munition works, is making a very big mistake indeed. The outlook is serious, and wise judgment is needed, and I would ask him and all Members of the House, all reasonable Members of the House, to reflect on this—[An HON. MEMBER "Who are they?"] If the hon. Member wants me to exclude him from that definition I am quite willing to do so. I say to all reasonable, thoughtful Members of the House, everyone knows that the first careless rapture of the War and the first, enthusiasms of the War have gone. You cannot possibly hope to recreate them after three and a-half years of war on the present lines. That makes your problem all the more difficult, and when you come to ask for this enormous fresh human sacrifice that has got to be taken into account in regard to the presentation of your case. Men are critical to-day where they rushed to the Colours in the early days of the War; they are resentful in many directions because of things which have been done and which they think ought not to have been done during these years of war. They say that their homes are being invaded by high prices, by scarcity of food supplies in 554 many directions, and that these are adding to the difficulties and dangers of the present situation. When the workers begin to be critical and to think matters out, what are the points they come up against? One thing they say is this—and it has been borne out amply by speeches this afternoon—that there has been a great waste of man-power in the past, and that manpower has been dissipated very often by taking any number of unfit men into the Army and who immediately broke down On going into the Army, and that manpower has been dissipated by reckless expeditions in all parts of the world, and that man-power has been dissipated by mismanagement at the front at times, as we have seen in regard to inquiries which cannot afterwards be made public in this House.
These workpeople are thinking to-day. There is a wonderful lot of thinking being done at the present time—far more than there was before the War came. They ask whether the sacrifices that are going to be made are to be made for inefficiency or whether they are going to be made in the highest interests of the people. They ask whether there is efficiency in the Government itself. They have even dared. to ask that, and they even dare to ask whether there is efficiency in Government Departments. And what do we find in reply to that question? We find one Cabinet Minister going down to Glasgow in order to make a speech directed against another Cabinet Minister, and then, having come back, having to stand. in a white sheet in this House and to say, "When I said 'he butted in,' I mean that 'we butted in.' "There has been too much butting in. There have been too many giddy goats butting in. There is the food problem, for example, and the food problem is not known to a great many people in this country or to a great many Members of this House. Those who do know something from the inside of what the food problem is, know that there is enormous need for all the possible labour you can find in the shipyards, and for skilled labour in the shipyards, supplemented in other directions. That is vital. But also in the minds of many people to-day other questions are arising. For example, many of the workers are asking to-day, as they would never have dreamt of questioning three or four years back, "Is this War really being fought for democracy, and are some of the members of the present Govern- 555 ment the custodians of democracy?" Is Lord Milner a custodian of democracy, and Lord Curzon, and the Member for Dublin University? Many of these workpeople deplore the attitude of the present Government towards the Government of Russia and towards the Russian movement. I have not found in any of the communications that I have received—and I have received many, including branch resolutions—that they are putting forward the position of trying to unconditionally defy the Government, and that sort of thing. I have not found that, and, if the Minister of National Service has found it, perhaps he will bring forward his evidence. The letters I have received are all in the direction of saying that, at any rate, if this is going to be done, the War aims of the Government ought to be clarified and ought to be placed on a basis of sound democracy.
They also say that we need not only man-power but brain-power, so far as some of the Government Departments are concerned. Brain-power is an absolute necessity. Some of the recent developments in Russia have revealed the existence of secret treaties. Those treaties were made behind the backs of the people. If 450,000 men are going to be flung into the cauldron of war they ought to know whether there are still secret treaties for which they are fighting; they ought to know honestly for what they are fighting in regard to matters of that kind. You played with the soldiers of the past when the soldiers were the mere tools of Government. These men that you are calling upon to fight to-day are the masters of government, can be the masters of government, and they have a right to know the full facts of the case. They have a right to know and to have far more information than has ever been vouchsafed to them up to the present. They want to have a diplomacy that is open and honest and above-board, because there is nothing to conceal. You can always tell most where you have least to hide. They are asking that facilities shall be granted for an international conference of the workers themselves, where the workers, as opposed to Kaisers and Crown Princes and militarists and diplomats in the various cbuntries, shall come together and state what they are fighting for and what they desire the war aims to be.
There are three ways in which this War can be ended, as one day it will be ended. There is, first of all, those who look forward 556 to a purely military result. What does that mean? It means that one side is going to so smash down the other side as to be able to put their feet upon the necks of the other people and impose their own terms. How long is the War on those lines going to last? What is going to be the situation of all countries in the meantime, with shortage of food and famine creeping throughout the world? The second possible result is that of a purely diplomatic end of the War, diplomatic in the old sense, the diplomats engaging in their old practices and involving the people on the old lines. The third end of the War is that, at any rate, it shall be on democratic lines, and shall be endorsed by the peoples as a whole. Lift up your war aims, place them frankly on a democratic basis, and there will be no difficulty if the cause is made absolutely clear. Remember that these people you are calling on to-day, these masses of people, have been toiling long hours and working overtime during the last three or four years, and they naturally begin to think in a way that they did not do before. I believe if this is done, and if the whole facts in regard to the matter are placed frankly before the country by the Government, and if the Government shows where it is there will be none of the dangers to which the Minister of National Service looks forward. But if the matter is allowed to drag on and side by side with that there is bungling in other directions, bungling in regard to food questions and so on, then I warn the Government that the consequences will be serious indeed, not from their standpoint, though it will be very serious from that standpoint, not however that that matters, but it will be serious from the standpoint of the nation as a whole.
§ Mr. ARCHDALE
I beg to move to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words, "this House is of opinion that no further demands should be made upon the man-power of Great Britain without an assurance from the Government of its intention to bring forward a concurrent measure for compulsory military service in Ireland."
In moving this Amendment—which our Irish Unionist Members have come to the conclusion should be moved—I do so with the regret that a more eloquent Member of that party than myself has not been chosen to move it. But with the fact that for nearly fifty years I have been working 557 on every large public board in my native country, everyone of them unpaid, I am sorry to say, I do it as knowing more of the conditions of Ireland and of the Irish people than I think does anyone else in the House. The first thing anyone is asked over in Ireland when he goes over there is why the Government do not apply the National Service Act or the Conscription Act to Ireland. I do not understand, nor can anyone understand, why it is not applied. Is not Ireland protected by the British Army and Navy from murder and outrage 4 Has she not the protection of the British Navy? Do the Government consider 2 per cent. from Ireland a fair contribution to the 60 per cent. given from Great Britain? Certainly I do not, nor do I think does any decent man in Ireland, no matter of what politics or religion he may be. There were two other occasions on which Ireland fully expected National Service to be passed. The first was when the National Service Act was applied to this country. At that time everyone thought it was going to be passed for Ireland and hundreds of young men bolted to America to escape and, I thank God for saying that, the Americans have got them in their Army now, as they were not so cowardly about bringing in Conscription as our own Government. The next time was the time of the rebellion. I happened to be in Dublin at the time of the rebellion, and suffered in it. I remember seeing wounded men walking about the streets and sniped, because they were in khaki, from private streets. remember the ease of the Sherwood Foresters. I happened to be in the Dublin Society when they were going by and we gave them bread and butter, as much as we could, on a hot day. Five minutes afterwards, about twenty or thirty of those men were lying in the street shot down. The only satisfaction that we had over there was that wherever you went men said, "There is bound to be Conscription in Ireland now; this will bring it on at last." It never came. I do not know why.
During the early part of the War I went about with the late Professor Kettle, who was a Member of this House at one time, and with other men recruiting about our country when Kitchener's Army was being formed. Every time at meetings we made speeches strongly in favour of the National Service Act being applied to Ireland, and there was never a dissentient voice at any meeting we were at throughout the country. People used to say, "If the 558 Government want us, why do they not bring us in?" That was said hundreds of times by people throughout the country. People in Ireland have curious kinks in their brains. One farmer believes that if he goes away and another is left, his farm will be taken. They are always afraid of their neighbours taking a little out of their pockets. Some hon. Members in this House seem to think that it would prevent the Convention coming to an agreement if anything is done at the present time. I have as good a knowledge of Ireland as any Member in this House. I utterly deny that the bringing in of Conscription at this time would damage the Convention. How can it? The Ulster Unionist Council, which is the largest democratic body in Ireland, has passed resolutions in favour of Conscription over and over again. The Southern Unionists in Ireland have passed resolutions in favour of Conscription over and over again. The party led by the hon. and learned Member for Waterford say they are out to win the War. How can you win the War without men? The parties I have mentioned are the only three parties in the Convention. It would annoy the Sinn Fein party., because there is no doubt that they do not want Conscription. But Sinn Feiners are not represented in the Convention at all, and so, for the sake of not annoying a body of men who are avowedly rebel, avowedly pro-German, and avowedly anti-English, you are not going to bring in Conscription to remedy the want of men which all the previous speakers have been talking about to-day.
The speech of the right hon. Member for Peebles and Selkirk (Sir D. Maclean) was really a speech in favour of this Amendment, because it showed very strongly that in London there are only 7 per cent. of men not cleared out. Therefore, why do we not go over to Ireland and bring in all the men who are knocking about at home doing nothing? Shortly after the rebellion, when there were about 200 men in gaol convicted by Courts of justice and military Courts on charges of rebellion, murder, and inciting to murder, the Government, in order to make an atmosphere for the Convention, turned all those men loose. I can only say that turning those men loose not only did not make an atmosphere for the Convention, but it increased the Sinn Feiners more than treble. It did enormous harm to the consuitutional Nationalists led by the hon. and learned Member for Waterford, and 559 it did no good at all in any other way. I was reading in a book the other day about the way the Russian priest Rasputin treated the ladies, whom he usually had trailing about after him. At his meals he used to get his fingers rather dirty, and these ladies thought it a great joy to lick the dirt off his fingers. I think the Government who let off these Sinn Feiners in Ireland are in. the same position as those ladies; they licked the fingers of these Sinn Feiners and belittled themselves before the nations of the world. Any -man or woman coming from Ireland to this country is sickened at seeing the difference. They come over here and see no able-bodied men knocking about the streets; they see women driving motor 'buses, and doing all sorts of work that men do, whereas, across the narrow strip of water, in Ireland, there are thousands of strong men knocking about w ho ought to be at the front helping their comrades there to win the War.
By not taking the young men in Ireland you are allowing them to come under the wing of an avowedly pro-German and anti-English party, and they are being rapidly hauled into their net. Of the older farmers in Ireland who bought their farms under the Land Act, who were all settling down quietly, nearly 90 per cent. were against Sinn Fein and against these agitators at the beginning. What is happening now? They ate being led away by the bribes the Shin Feiners are offering, for the Sinn Feiners say, "If you join us, the Government arc afraid of us, and we will have a republic shortly, and then no man in Ireland will pay taxes." These older farmers are led away by the idea that they will get their lands free, without any taxation at all, as soon as the Sinn Feiners upset the Government and have an Irish Republic. That seems rather ridiculous, but every Sinn Fein paper is repeating that in its leading articles day after day. One thinks, as we all think, of the gallant stand taken by our Nationalist fellow-soldiers who were taken prisoners in the early part of the War, and who, when that traitor Casement tried to make them break their oath, although those men were treated with every indignity and knocked about tremendously, they remained loyal to their King and country. Yet we cannot send men out to take their place, to help the Irish divisions which are being wasted away and broken up for want of men Except in the six Ulster 560 counties—which a great many people in this House and about England seem to think a most bigoted, curious place—except in those six Ulster counties, which have done more to help England with money and lives than any other counties in Ireland, any man home on leave, no matter what he is, is insulted and jeered at, in many cases his house is broken into, and already there have been many lives lost, men having resisted the seizure of their rifles, although I am glad to say in a corner of Donegal one girl with a bosom kept away half a dozen men, who attempted to take away her brother's rifle, until the old man came with a rifle and frightened them away for good.
The men wonder why the Government do not take them in. If compulsion were extended to Ireland there might be a little trouble, but there will be a great deal more trouble after a bit if you do not extend it to Ireland. Sinn Fein is quiet now, but that is only because they are working in the quiet. They have their own Food Controller. The Food Controller here is nothing to the Food Controller of the Sinn Feiners. They are taking lists in every parish and town in Ireland. Conscription in Ireland would give equality of sacrifice for one thing, and we want that badly. I know many cases round me where women have all their sons gone. Some have four or five fighting. People do not like that; they like fairness. Conscription would gather up 150,000 as good fighting men as there are in the world, if you only give them time to be trained. It would release 30,000, 40,000, or 50,000 trained soldiers who are keeping these other men quiet whom we ought to have in the Army. Not only that, but it would save Ireland as a nation from future historians pointing the finger of shame at her. We know perfectly well that is what will happen in the future. Notwithstanding the heroism and the gallantry of our troops of all Irish divisions at the front, for there is no difference in the heroism of an Irish soldier when he gets at the front—no matter what he is, he fights well—notwithstanding the undying fame which those men are earning, if we do not send the men Ireland will be a shame and a disgrace, and a byword in the history of the world
I beg to second the Amendment.
I wish to state the case for Conscription as fairly and as dispassionately as I can 561 from our point of view in Ireland. We feel we have no right to be left out from the other portions of the United Kingdom in doing our duty by the Empire. We want to bear the Empire's burdens and enjoy the Empire's blessings and privileges, whatever they are, and we want to identify ourselves with, and to take our part if necessary in, the defence of the Empire, as much as in the blessings of peace, which she has given us before the War and we hope will give us after the War. I could not help reflecting somewhat when I heard the Minister for National Service, in criticising the shirkers up and down the country, say that public opinion would bring such a blast of hatred and contempt against them that they would never be able to stand against it. I could not but reflect in my mind that within two hours' sailing of England there are hundreds of thousands of young men whom he is not courageous enough to tackle, and to put such powers through this House as would utilise this large number of men who are doing very little, and certainly nothing for National Service. While those men remain outside, and you exempt Ireland from the purview of your Bill, I hold that you are creating sedition and creating shirkers in England, by showing the way to achieve exemption and how it pays to be a rebel.
Has not the Government sufficient courage to grapple with the problem at the time of the country's stress and strain, when every man is required to be impressed into service? A Clause was inserted in the Representation of the People Bill penalising conscientious objectors—about 6,000 of them, I understand—in this country. There are no conscientious objectors in Ireland in the sense that they will not fight, because in both North and South they can hardly be accused of being conscientious objectors in that respect. But they are exempt from the purview of this Bill, and, while you penalise about 6,000 conscientious objectors, at the same moment you enfranchise about half a million men who are opposed to you and will not take service under you, and you are too much afraid to compel them to come in, but you leave them free. Your mercantile marine bring them food at the risk of life, and you protect them with your Fleet, and give them privileges you have not in this 562 country of food and other things. Is that fair? Is this sort of thing British? Is there not need to awaken the Government to a sense of the unfairness which they are perpetrating on this portion of the community I Then they say that the Irish people would not have submitted to Conscription. I say that that is not true. I was not in the House when the Coalition. Government was formed. I was living in Ireland, in my country. I know it is the feeling there that the reason, amongst other reasons, this Government was formed—the primary consideration that caused the coming together of all parties—was that there might be universal Conscription, so that everybody might do his. part to help on the War. I feel sure that my hon. Friends below the Gangway will bear me out when I say that most people in Ireland really believed that the time had come when homes in which there were four, aye, and six able-bodied sons would have to give up those sons to help the prosecution of the War. The Government had not the courage to enforce universal Conscription in these three Kingdoms. The Government quailed before the threats offered in this House. I hold that if the Government had had courage then to have enforced Conscription in Ireland we would not have had that miserable rebellion which has been put on record. These men would have gone like men. They would have fought like men, as they do when they go to fight. They would have met the Germans, and they would have come back to this country with different feelings towards Britain in respect to these various questions. They would have been far better citizens—the splendid men that they are at the front! Splendid men when you get them out of their environment; they were not unwilling to go. They did not go for a variety of reasons for which we cannot account.
The Government failed to do their duty. Now they are paying the penalty for that terrible mistake. The rebellion did come on. The late Prime Minister, unfortunately—he probably did it for the best of reasons unfortunately—went over, and, so to speak, metaphorically patted these rebels on the back. He made them famous. They found they were very important people. They were not the sort of people the Prime Minister of Great Britain should have gone to and said in effect, "Brothers, you have done wrong!" He increased rebellion in the country. He 563 increased the spirit of dissent. These men found that, after all, there must be something at the back: British statesmanship was afraid of them. They, therefore, got into their fold men and women who never have followed them. These people followed in sympathy the hon. and learned Member for Waterford; because, however, of the cowardice and the ineptitude of successive Governments these people Were created rebels while all the time our men from all corners of these three Kingdoms and every part of the Empire were fighting at the front defending our country and Empire and defending the Irish people.
It is said that the Ulster people do not want Conscription. I do not think there is any people who in that sense want Conscription. Heaven knows, no country wants Conscription. But I hope I know my Ulster. I represent an agricultural constituency. I take the responsibility for saying this: We will give you every assistance if you put in force the special powers here for bringing all Ireland into line with you in this matter. In Ulster we will give you every assistance. I have heard it asked and read it in some of your English Press, in a paper which has never been friendly to Ulster and which twitted us on these matters—would we take a referendum of the people of Ulster on this question? I say we will, on this condition: that if we, the Ulster people, by a majority say we will have Conscription it shall be applied to Ireland equitably ail round. I will stand by the decision of the people of Ulster on that question. My faith is in the people. That is my answer to the paper which has made or implied this charge against the people of Ulster. There are many hon. Members—Irish Nationalists—in common with the Unionists of Ireland who have suffered in this War, who have made the great sacrifice. God forbid that I should in any way minimise the loyalty and patriotism of many of my own fellow countrymen. Mistakes have been made, but the Irish people dearly love a strong man—a man of courage. This House did not take its courage in both hands, so to speak, when the occasion arose, and give Conscription to the country. There are many people in Ireland to-day—I say this as a reason why we should have Conscription—upon whom you are imposing too much. There are the men who have gone. There are men who have been wounded 564 and wounded again. They have been taken back into the Army, and they are weary and tired. When they come back to Ireland on leave, what do they see They see fellows sporting themselves in rebellion, laziness, and going to dances instead of their being alive to the awful seriousness of the situation at the front. There are others who have come over to the industrial districts of England and Scotland and have taken the positions that your young fellows have vacated, and have earned splendid salaries. The men who come from the front have this sort of thing staring them in the face. These men, who get a shilling or one-and-three pence a day, are taunted before their neighbours with being the fools they are for taking their part in the Army. I say it is unfair. That is not winning the War!
May I trouble the House with a couple of letters on the subject? One is from a young man whose mother owns a farm of SO acres, and who, when the call came, gave her two sons to the War. I tried about three months ago, by applying to the War Office, to get the release of her eldest son, a married man, with a wife and two little children, in view of the confinement of the wife. The latter was not able to look after herself. The son was allowed home for three or four months and he put in his crop last spring. He was called up again because of the foolishness of the mother, who asked, practically in a fit of insanity, for him to be called up. We tried to get him released again. Here is the condition at his farm. He writes, or rather his clergyman writes to me, on 27th December, saying:Flax of the value of £120 is lost. Most of the potatoes are still to be taken out of their ground. Only a few weeks ago we lost a very fine horse from sheer neglect and starvation. Everyone in the neighbourhood feels very much for his poor young wife, who has had her hands full to keep things going. with her two young children to look after. No one knows how she is going to manage at all. At present his mother is mentally in a very serious state, and has gut to he confined to her room almost constantly.I am not here to blame the Under-Secretary for War. He is in a tight corner. He has to find the men, and, having found them, has to try to keep them until he has a bigger supply. I am not here to blame him. One must look at the matter from his point of view. His Under-Secretary ship is one of the most important of offices. But I say this much: if this awful tragic record could be brought before us, this House would not-hesitate to enforce Conscription on my part of the country. where we would then be able to relieve men like that. Let me give the second case. This 565 refers to a family of seven sons. The mother is a widow. She owns a farm of some 40 acres, not far from my home. Some of the sons had enlisted before the War. When the call came, bravely those other boys left their home and joined Lord Kitchener's Army. Two of them were killed on the Somme on 1st July, 1916. One of them had his arm shot off in the retreat from Mons. This man is writing to me. He has got employment. He tells of one brother who has been severely wounded and had been sent back to Canada unfit for further service. "My mother," he writes, "has now become a chronic invalid with no one to look after her but my sister, and with the farm practically going to waste for want of labour." "I shall be," he adds, "very grateful if any one of my brothers could be released from service." I tried also to get one of these men released. There was a refusal. Is it any wonder that the men are getting sore as they lie in the trenches in France—men of this type, some of whom have been sent back wounded three or four times? Is it any wonder that they are tired when they think of the many men in the country, especially in the North and South, who are not doing their bit, and who ought to be compelled to do it? I hesitate to speak, but there are times to speak, no matter what the consequences may be. I say, with full deliberation and with a full sense of responsibility as to the situation and as an Irish Member, "Perish my seat, but let:my country live" We are out to win this War! There are hundreds of thousands of men doing practically nothing in the service of the State. We are not in earnest in winning this War until the Government comes into line in this matter. There is no wonder that syndicalism, pacifism, and many other things of the sort, are creeping out and rearing their heads on this side of the water when the inequalities going on in the sister country are seen.
§ Mr. HUGH LAW
I wish to make it perfectly clear that, in the few words I shall address to the House, the opinions which I shall express are my own personal opinions only. I have not had any opportunity of consulting my colleagues, though I believe that in the main the conclusions at which I have myself arrived are identical with theirs. Yet it may well be that in certain points they will be very different from the views which are entertained by my hon. Friends. I can only ask for their forgiveness if I trespass 566 somewhat upon their forbearance, because we all, I imagine, desire to do the best we can for our country, though we may sometimes differ in the methods we pursue. My hon. Friend above the Gangway who last addressed the House said that Conscription should be applied to Ireland as a whole. I certainly do not for one moment question the sincerity of those who so speak. I, however, have my own doubts, speaking frankly, whether Ulster as a whole or any part of Ulster is so anxious to have Conscription in force as some people appear to imagine. I note, at any rate, the declaration of the hon. Member who made it in a very powerful speech. I shall await the result of the suggested referendum with very great interest. I wish, on the other hand, to ask hon. Members above the Gangway to believe that no one in this House is more sensible than I am of the scandal that the present position of Ireland involves. No doubt there is something to be said as to the effect of the figures and proportions given us the other day by the Director-General of National Service. If you are to take the real and proper measure of Irish effort you must, I think, take some account of, and give credit to, Irishmen of the same political beliefs, sentiments, and feelings as the Irish in Ireland, even the great mass of Irishmen who have recruited so well in Great Britain, in the Colonies, and now also who are to be found in such very large and disproportionate numbers in the Armies of the United States.
At the same time, I do not see how one can resist the conclusion that in this great struggle, in which the liberties of the whole world are involved, Ireland is not playing a part commensurate with what we should have expected or at all equal to her past glorious traditions. I think future generations in Ireland will look back with pride to the stand made by the Leader of the party to which I belong, and to the heroic death of that very gallant Gentleman his brother, and to the courage and devotion of the Irish regiments, both old and new battalions, in France, Gallipoli, Mesopotamia, and Palestine. Nevertheless, it almost seems sometimes as if the heroism of these men was to be thrown away, and as if the devotion of Nationalist Irishmen had been in vain. All our Irish regiments, including the Irish regiments from Ulster, are sadly depleted. We cannot find the men any longer to fill up the ranks, and men who have been wounded three or 567 four times are sent back again. What a tragedy that Ireland, which for generations and centuries has fought for liberty, should now even seem to fail What a tragedy it seems for her sons, who have fallen by thousands in causes so much less great, to be now absent from the ranks in this great struggle!
But the worse tragedy of all is that it was all so unnecessary. If three and a half years ago, immediately after the outbreak of the War, you had called a Convention, and if you had been shown the same good will which is now being shown towards it in all quarters, I do not believe things would ever have come to this pass. I wonder whether the people who at that time prevented any such conference taking place really foresaw the consequences of their refusal to grant the moderate demands of the Irisk people? Had that been done, I doubt myself whether you would ever have had to apply Conscription, because you would have been able to get all the men you require in Ireland, because the Irish are a fighting race. Some fifty, sixty, or seventy years ago Ireland supplied at least half of the British Army. Even supposing it had become necessary to apply Conscription in Ireland under the circumstances I have mentioned, I believe you would have been able to do it with the full concurrence and consent of the Irish Legislature.
The point I have to deal with now is whether Conscription can be applied by this Legislature at this time. I can only say, holding the view which I do, that I cannot doubt that the Government has come to a right decision on this matter. To attempt now to apply Conscription I think, without a shadow of doubt, would be to wreck all chances of any successful issue to the efforts of the Convention, and I do not believe, in fact, that you would even then get the men at all. After all, it is no use not facing the facts. Why have you not applied Conscription already? I do not think anybody in Ireland or in this House believes that you have not applied Conscription out of any special tenderness for Ireland. You have done it for two very good reasons. In the first place, because of the state of feeling which existed in Ireland in regard to this matter, and that reason is none the less operative to-day than it was before. The second reason is 4, much more fundamental one, namely, the constitutional weakness of your position over here. To govern a 568 country by the Acts of its own Legislature is one thing. You applied Conscription here, and even then it was not an easy thing to do. It is, however, quite a different thing when you try to apply Conscription to a people by the Act of a Legislature which they largely regard as that of a foreign nation. I know myself of men who volunteered at the early stages of the War, who have fought in France, and who have come back and told me themselves that, although they were willing to volunteer and fight in the British Army, if there had been an attempt to conscript them, they would have fought against it.
May I take an imaginary case, although it may seem somewhat fantastic? Suppose your English history had actually taken a different course. Suppose that the Norman Conquest had been followed by successive incursions of people from the other side of the Channel. Suppose in the seventeenth century a great part of Yorkshire and Lancashire had been cleared, under circumstances of the utmost savagery, of the English population, and had been settled with Catholic Frenchmen. Suppose that savage penal laws had been enacted by the Parliament, composed of those settlers, with the steady support and incitement of the French Government. Suppose that a rebellion had been savagely put down by French troops, and then suppose that this Assembly had been induced by bribery and intimidation to decree its own extinction. Then suppose that all through the intervening period the steady demand for the restoration of this Parliament and a recognition of English self-government had been steadily rejected, and suppose it had come to a crisis just before the outbreak of this War. Suppose, also, that the demands of the great body of the English had been resisted by the settlers, supported by a great body of opinion in France. Suppose, then, you found yourselves at the outbreak of a great war. I can imagine the leader of the popular English party in the French Legislature declaring that his country, in spite of all the wrongs of the past, stood solid with France in the great war of liberty, trusting to the justice of the French people.
Finally, imagine justice still delayed. Do you really think that under those circumstances you would have found England ready and willing to allow a Legislature in which they had indeed a certain amount of representation, but a Legislature essentially not English, to decree for 569 them Conscription and to make their sons join willingly or unwillingly in the common service in the French Army? The comparison may seem far-fetched, but I do not think it is. I have followed with very great care, step by step, the exact parallel to it which has actually occurred in Ireland, and they are events which really might have happened in the history of this country itself. At any rate, whether it seems far-fetched or not, I think it may enable hon. Members to realise the point of view of many Nationalists in Ireland. I am not speaking of Sinn Feiners, but I am speaking of the men who really wish the best of success to the Armies of the Allies. Under these circumstances I think the Government have come to a right decision in this matter. I pray that the issue of the Convention may be such that one day—I do not know whether it may be now—an Irish Parliament may do that which it is impossible for this Legislature to do.
Let me add that I do not think you could possibly do a worse service to the Convention than to couple the question of Conscription with the question of an Irish settlement. I know certain attempts have been made in very influential British papers. I am perfectly certain that nothing could be more fatal, either to the hopes of an Irish settlement or to ultimate recruiting for the Army in Ireland, than a proposal of that kind. When I spoke of an Irish Parliament actually doing what an English Parliament could not do I was not thinking of compulsion, but of a change of heart. When you have once convinced the people of Ireland that you understand their requirements, and that you have done the justice which has been so long delayed, you will not need to compel into your service the men whose fathers throughout the ages have been the knights of liberty.
§ Sir CLIFFORD CORY
I have not prepared a speech, and I did not intend taking part in this Debate. I came down here not altogether realising the sort of Debate that would take place, but I consider it now to be my duty to put forward what I believe are the views of my Constituents. When the Military Service Bill was introduced in this House an Amendment was proposed by the hon. Member for Armagh to include Ireland, and I spoke very strongly in favour of that Amendment. I only regret that then I was not in the position to force a Division which I would have done had I known there was anybody going to support me other than 570 the person who was going to tell with me. I have occasionally made appeals to the Under-Secretary of State for War to exempt men from service in extremely hard cases where the businesses were all going to ruin, often because there was nobody to look after them but the wives of these men. Women have made appeals to me who have sent seven or eight sons to the War for the return of a son of sixteen or seventeen years of age who often joined the Army under false representations, and these women say to me, "Why should we send our boys in this way when all these Irishmen are left at home?" What reply can I make to such a suggestion?
I am sorry the Labour representatives are absent to-day, for I should have thought they would have been here when we are dealing with a question of this sort. The men have been called out in the South Wales collieries although so many of them volunteered at the beginning of the War. These mines have recently been combed out very drastically, and the Labour men ought to have been here to say, "If these men are to be combed out in this way, by all means send the Irish as well." The other day I voted for the disfranchisement of conscientious objectors. I have been called to account for doing that by some of my Constituents, though I think the majority of them approved of my action. I do not say that I have riot got a certain amount of sympathy with the genuine or bonâ fide conscientious objector, but I say that even the genuine or bonâ fide conscientious objector cannot expect to have the full rights of citizenship if he is riot prepared to undertake all the obligations of citizenship. It was on that ground that I voted for the Amendment to disfranchise the conscientious objector. Yet the other day the Government enfranchised a very large number of Irish people, although they are not prepared to undertake all the duties of citizenship. That is a scandal. The Government had no business to give them the franchise at all if they are not prepared to undertake the full duties of citizenship. I am not at all sure, notwithstanding the speech just made, that Nationalists to-day are not sorry that Ireland was not brought under the Military Service Act when it was passed. They may speak in the sense of the hon. Member's speech, but I should think in their heart of hearts they would be glad to see the Sinn Feiners made to serve.
571 When the King sent for the present Prime Minister I supported the right hon. Gentleman because I believed that he was going to push on the War. I never for a moment dreamed that he, like his predecessors, was going to leave out the Irish and not bring them into military service. If this Government is going to do the best they can to push on the War they should not leave out these 200,000 or 300,000 men, but they should force them to serve if they are not willing to serve. The hon. Member who has just spoken said that the Irish have no Legislature of their own, and that, therefore, it would be a crime to force them into military service. They have, however, a bigger representation according to their population in this House than any other part of the British Isles, and if you take the pattern of the Germans, whom the Sinn Feiners seem to admire so much, as an illustration we know that Poland has no separate Legislature, and yet her people are forced to serve. Indeed, I am told that they are sent into the Army a year before anybody else because they are rebellious. I do not know why Ireland in this matter should be better treated by this country than Poland is by Germany. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Austria - Hungary forced the dissentient races within their empire to serve, although I suppose they objected as much as Irishmen do.
Last month I travelled in the train with a Canadian officer, who told me that nearly the whole of his regiment was wiped out at the Cambrai offensive the other day, and he said that there was a very strong feeling among Canadians as to the unfairness of Colonials serving while Irishmen are left out. The hon. Member also said that if we were to force the Irish in it would prevent the successful issue of the Convention. I am not concerned about that. If the Convention can produce any scheme satisfactory to this country as well as to Ireland, well and good; but in these times it is not for us to hold our hands whether the Convention comes to a successful issue or not. We have got the War to think of, and I should make every section of the community in the British Isles serve, whether they like it or not. The hon. Member said that it would practically mean resistance on the part of the Irish if we tried to force them. Far be it from me to stir up strife, but I do not think this is a time to hesitate to stir up strife if it means strife in order 572 to make people in the British Isles do their duty. Do you tell me that Englishmen have not got as good a nerve to force the rebellious parts of their nation as the Austrians and Germans?
§ Sir C. CORY
Why not Germans? do not know why you should think that we have not as good a nerve as the Germans. I should have thought that we had got a better nerve; and, if we are doing what is just and fair and right to our own countrymen, as well as to Irishmen, in making them do their duty, I do not see why we should lack the nerve. I do not lack the nerve. I am prepared, whatever the consequences, to support the Government in including all Irishmen, and I appeal to all sections of the House, in fairness to the inhabitants of these Islands, to bring in the Irish in the interests of the War and in the interests of the community. I support the Amendment most heartily, and I trust that a number of English Members will get up and speak in. the same strain.
§ Mr. J. O'CONNOR
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has found the wrong place as a member of this Assembly. He would have been more at home in the Reichstag. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] One would think from his observations that there are no Irish fighting at the front to-day. I tell him, and all whom it may concern, that the Irish are there already, and have given a very good account of themselves.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
How many by compulsion? None! Irishmen are there at the front fighting bravely. They are there with their whole hearts and with their full will. They are voluntary soldiers, and they are fighting like voluntary soldiers. They are fighting, the bravest of the brave. This Motion to-day has been introduced in speeches full of that old bitterness—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]—and of that spirit which have created' the difficulty of the situation to-day. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] The men who up to the present have declined to be compelled to serve have read the history of their country. The hon. Member who seconded the Motion (Mr. Coote) spoke about the blessings of Empire, and said that they wanted to be part and parcel 573 of the Empire which had shed so many blessings upon the Irish people. What are these blessings? Famine! [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] What has been the cause for the demand for Home Rule in Ireland? The emigrant ships that took millions to America, where they have been a thorn in your side for many a year. Talk about the blessings of Empire! The Irishman who knows the history of his country knows what these sinister blessings have been. The hon. Member who seconded the Motion said that he was on the recruiting platform of the county of the late Lieutenant Kettle, who bravely laid down his life for the cause in which he believed. So was I, and many a man upon that recruiting platform, and many a man who responded to my call, has paid the last sacrifice. The speeches to which I have listened this evening almost make me regret that I ever called upon a fellow countryman to serve. [HON MEMBERS: "Why?"] Because you exhibit the old spirit and bias, and none of the gratitude with which we ought to have been met for having done what we believe to be our duty for the cause of humanity and liberty. This is not the first time that I have heard these jeers. It is not the first time that I have experienced them in this House during the last thirty-three years. I know that voice, and I care not about it. When I went on the platform, I did so because I thought it was my duty. I went to call upon my countrymen to voluntarily serve in the cause in which I believed and in which I think they also believed. Yes. I would do it again under the same circumstances.
We appealed to Irishmen to come forward and volunteer in this cause of humanity, liberty and civilisation, and we now meet with this response. "Bring the Irish in," says the hon. Gentleman (Sir C. Cory) across the floor of the House. I tell you that they are in already. The volunteers are there. Who has fought as bravely as they have done? Who destroyed and disarmed us? Who spoiled our appeal to our countrymen? You did. Who destroyed the success of the voluntary scheme? The War Office by their mismanagement and narrow-mindedness. The officials there would take no hint and no advice from us. They would not consult us. They destroyed the voluntary system and you dare not put Conscription before the Irish people in consequence. 574 There would be no necessity for Conscription now had you handled the Irish people as we asked you to handle them. Had you appealed to the Irish people as we begged you to appeal to them, had you responded to our demands, there would be no necessity to-day for this Motion or for Conscription in Ireland. You irritated and drove the Irish people against you at a time when you had them whole-heartedly upon your side. You would imagine from the speeches to which we have listened that there are no Irishmen in the British Army. Why, at the very beginning of this great War there were no less than 300,000 Irishmen serving under the Government, a greater number than Ireland's due proportion according to population. A greater number in proportion to population of Irishmen than men from England, Scotland, or Wales were serving under the Colours. In addition to these 300,000 Irishmen serving under the Colours of the United Kingdom, the forces that came from the Dominions overseas were greatly filled by Irishmen. No less than 115,000 Irish-born men living in England, Scotland, and Wales joined the Colours. We kept a record of them. Our organisations were used for the purpose of following and tracking them into the Army, and we counted 115,000 men in Great Britain alone who were serving with the Colours, not to speak of the large numbers forming the various divisions that were recruited in Ireland. In addition to this, they came in swarms into the Army that was organised in Canada. In Australia you have not Conscription. Even although they have an autonomy almost of a national character, Conscription has been defeated upon a poll. Remember that from Australia vast numbers of Irishmen are to be found in the Forces. Scores of thou-sands of Irishmen were in all the Forces that came from the Dominions beyond the seas. Let me put this point to the House: There was an appeal in Australia on the ground of Conscription. Was there an appeal in Great Britain? No. Had you appealed to the English people to vote on the subject, by referendum or otherwise, would you have carried the proposal for Conscription? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes!"] You are not quite certain that that would have been the case.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
Your own race, your kith and kin in Australia have rejected the proposal, and it may well be that had you appealed to the working classes of the United Kingdom that they too would have refused to support it. I come back to the point from which I started, that if the voluntary system had been allowed to have full sway in Ireland and the advice of those who w ere concerned for its success had been taken, there would have been no necessity for Conscription. I am sorry to say that now I think there would be difficulty, after all that has happened, in trying to force it upon reluctant people whom you have done your very worst to irritate and put in a bad frame of mind. It would be an unwise thing to force it upon the country at the present moment. I join with my hon. Friend the Member for West Donegal (Mr. Hugh Law) in asking the Government and this House not to adopt this Amendment at present but to give the Convention, as he very properly pointed out, the opportunity of coming to a calm conclusion on the very important subjects they are at present discussing. I would appeal to the Government not to respond to this Amendment, in the wisdom, I will not say the sincerity, of which I do not believe, because I entirely doubt it. I ask them to adhere to the resolution they have already formed and to continue to act upon the conviction, which I know they possess, that this is not the moment when effect could be given to the Amendment now before the House.
§ Brigadier-General M'CALMONT
The House will agree with me in deprecating any party controversy or party heat being introduced into this matter. The speeches of my two hon. Friends who moved and seconded this Amendment are within the recollection of the House, who will agree that they did not introduce party controversy in any form into those speeches. In no part of the House does that feeling exist more strongly than among my own friends the Unionists of Ulster. We heard with great pleasure many of the observations which fell from the hon. Member for West Donegal (Mr. H Law), who certainly contrived to speak on the subject without the heat which has been very nearly, if not quite, engendered by the speech of the hon. Member for North Kildare (Mr. J. O'Connor). I do not propose to follow him into the purely party questions which he raised. Our quarrel in this matter, if there is a quarrel at all, is with the Government, and I wish to 576 express the hope that we shall have some statement from the Treasury Bench on the subject of this Amendment. At the present time it seems that we are advocating in this House a course to which there seem to be no opponents, because we have not heard one word against the Amendment. We listened very anxiously on the First Reading Debate to hear if any reason was given for not enforcing Conscription in Ireland, and we failed to hear anything but facts that only proved that Ireland was not doing her duty. There was no argument against Conscription in Ireland except the argument of expediency. It might rightly be said that the question of expediency is one of which the Government are in a better position to judge than those who have not the information which the Government possess. I do not profess to know the feeling throughout the whole of Ireland. It has not been my good fortune to be very much in Ireland during the last two years. Our reason for putting the Amendment on the Paper was to prove that in the Ulster counties, at any rate, the feeling was in favour of Conscription. There is not a member of the party to which I have the honour to belong who is afraid to face his constituents on that issue. As to what the feeling may be in other counties I have only hearsay evidence to go upon, but, from what I have heard, some form of enforced military service might be put into force in other parts of Ireland without a very serious result.
I should like to mention one point upon the question of the Convention. Whenever any question affecting Ireland is raised now in this House we are at once told, "You must not break up the Convention; keep quiet or you will break up the Convention and the whole thing will collapse." What does it matter what decision they come to? In these particular circumstances, supposing, for the sake of argument, that the Convention comes to an agreement—I do not mind whether it comes to an agreement this week or next week—does anyone suggest that the enforcement of Conscription in Ireland should be delayed until a Bill has been prepared as a result of the Convention's considerations? The question of getting men for the War is an immediate one. The men are wanted now. They ought to have been recruited weeks ago. As to the Convention, I should be the last to say anything against it, or to express the slightest desire for anything but its 577 successful issue, but if there is a successful issue it must of necessity be a matter of time, and it must come later than the production of man-power for carrying on the War. I have only one other point to make in connection with the Convention. It might possibly be urged that there are many people who are hoping for an Irish Parliament and who may hope to take some part in the government of Ireland, but who would otherwise be 'conscripted and might not be in Ireland when there are jobs going.
§ General M'CALMONT
All I would say on that subject is that the best of the Irish manhood has already gone into the Army, and that if there are any people from Ireland who ought to have jobs under an Irish Parliament the people now in France ought to get them. I cannot understand why any party in Ireland, other than Sinn Fein, should be offended by a demand for Conscription. I hope I have satisfied the House that Ulster is prepared to vote for Conscription. We know that Sinn Fein hates Conscription and that the best plank in its platform is anti-Conscription. I have never understood the position taken up by those Gentlemen, whether or not they be Members of this House, who have opposed it. We have heard this afternoon that there are at least some Nationalist Members who in their heart of hearts believe that if certain conditions could be fulfilled Conscription would be good for the country. It always seemed to me that far from the Nationalist party disliking Conscription, it is all in their own interest, and that if Conscription were put into force a great many of their fears of Sinn Fein would be thereby dispelled. Perhaps I may be allowed to make one or two observations upon the purely military side of the question. I am very glad to see in his place the hon. and gallant Member for North Ayrshire (General Sir A. Hunter-Weston) who, as the House knows, holds a very important command across the water. I am one of those who believe that sentiment is a very fine thing in the soldier. I believe I am safe in saying that my hon. and gallant Friend is one of those who also believe that there should be a little more sentiment when it comes to fighting. I know that on many occasions he has succeeded in inspiring sentiment in his troops, and that they have 578 benefited very largely thereby. I am not going to claim, as some of my hon. Friends below the Gangway very often claim, that the Irish soldier is the paragon of all the virtues. He has his faults, just as much as the English and the Scottish soldiers have their faults. Properly disciplined, properly led and given a show in which dash is required, there are no finer units in the world than the Irish regiments. I speak from a certain amount of experience because I had the honour of commanding, not only troops from my own part of Ireland but from all parts of Ireland, certainly troops the very large majority of whom did not come from my own part, and I know it to be the case that properly disciplined and led there are no finer troops to be found.
What has happened in regard to those regiments? All their best characteristics are being taken away from them. It is not entirely a matter of the shortage of men. Some people say you can fill them up with 200 or 300 Englishmen or Scotsmen. There is a different aspect of the matter In practically every Irish regiment whole battalions have had to be absorbed. I am speaking of regiments from all parts of Ireland. In one case, and probably in more, the regiment is back on its pre-war establishment; it has no new battalions at all. What is the the result? Every draft that comes to that regiment consists, not of young fellows, not of the boys who are so keen to fight, but the unfortunate men who have come back for the second, third, or even for the fourth time into the ranks of the regiment. That cannot be good for any regiment. These people coming back must affect the morale of any regiment. Another small point in that connection is that every one of these drafts are coming back with an undue proportion of non-commissioned officers, with the result that promotion in that regiment is seriously blocked and again the morale of the regiment suffers. Three divisions left Ireland in the early part of the War but all of them are losing their national characteristics. They have all fought with distinction but have unfortunately been unlucky and have suffered in proportion a good deal worse than many English regiments. If we are not going to get a steady stream of recruits from Ireland, they are going to finish the War not only not Irish but not good, because it cannot be good for a regiment to have continually served up to them unfortunate 579 people who have been wounded once, twice and even three times. Many Irish battalions are now trying to do a great deal more than they are capable of doing and you find Irish battalions of 400 or 500 men holding a bit of line and being relieved by an English battalion of 600 or 700 men—400 Irishmen trying to do the work of 700 Englishmen, with a corresponding loss of morale. It seems to me that we are at least entitled to some form of explanation from the Government. We do not ask them to give us information which it would not be good for us to have, but we believe that a measure of Conscription for Ireland is a possibility. We have put this Amendment on the Paper with a view to getting a statement from the Government in order to prove to our constituents and to everyone that we are sincere in our desire to see a form of Conscription applied to Ireland, and I trust we shall not ask in vain for some statement from that bench on the subject.
§ The MINISTER of NATIONAL SERVICE (Sir Auckland Geddes)
In the speech I delivered the other day I made a statement which I should like to recall to the notice of the House. It was to this effect. Speaking of the application of compulsory military service to Ireland, I said: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.The reason why the Government excluded any reference to Ireland from this Bill was that in their considered opinion, after fully investigating the matter, they considered that to have included a proposal to apply compulsory military service to Ireland would not have helped on the War. That was the whole reason on which this decision was based. It is not at this time possible to risk delay for weeks and months in getting the measures which we propose into force if we are to obtain the men the Army requires. I wonder if hon. Members who suggest that some measure of compulsion for Ireland should be applied in this Bill have considered what such a proposal would mean after it became law in getting the machinery under way, and at what month the effects of such a measure would begin to show themselves in the field! The decision with regard to Ireland is based upon expe- 580 diency. It is not expedient at the present moment from the point of view of the prosecution of the War, to launch out into the consideration of a scheme, whatever it may be, in connection with the application of compulsory service to Ireland. I beg the House to accept my assurance for what it is worth, absolutely honest, that I approach this question without any political bias. I have looked at it, so far as I can, with absolutely honest and un-biassed eyes. I can assure hon. Members that in my judgment it would be folly, from the point of view of the War at the present moment, to suggest the application of compulsory service to Ireland, and I would beg of the House to allow the consideration of the Main Question now to be resumed.
§ Mr. M'KEAN
My principal object in speaking in this Debate is to express my strong dissent from certain remarks introduced into his otherwise admirable speech by the hon. Member for Donegal (Mr. Law). My personal respect for him is so great that it increases very much indeed the difficulty I have in dissenting from those remarks. He spoke of the failure of Ireland. He went further and spoke of there existing a scandal with regard to the situation in Ireland. Having regard to all the circumstances governing this case, historical as well as contemporary circumstances, there has been absolutely no failure whatever on the part of my countrymen in the contributions which they have made to this War. The right hon. Gentleman (Sir A. Geddes), if he had only elaborated what he said the other day and has repeated to-night with regard to Ireland, would have answered the speeches made by the two hon. Members who moved and seconded the Amendment. The Seconder made a very powerful speech. It was a very fine piece of declamation, but declamation is not argument, and this is eminently an Amendment that ought to have been supported by some facts and figures. The population of Ireland to-day is only a little more than four millions, of whom a very large number are old persons, females, and children. So that when you eliminate the non-combatant elements, what remains over is only what is necessary for the purpose of carrying on the essential work of the country. You ask Ireland to contribute her part to the extra production of food. You cannot have it both ways. The answer to the speeches which have been made to-day is that there remains no available margin of man-power for mili- 581 tary purposes whatsoever. Every man in Ireland—these young men that the "Daily Mail" has described in such glowing colours as attending Sinn Fein meetings—is engaged on the land. They are necessary for the purposes of agriculture and of food production, and when you take that into consideration there is absolutely no case whatever for applying Conscription to Ireland under existing conditions.
Not only have the reasons that existed at the time of the first Military Service Act for the exclusion of Ireland lost none of their cogency, but their cogency has been strengthened immensely by circumstances which have occurred in the meantime. My hon. and learned Friend (Mr. O'Connor) touched upon those circumstances, but did not really go to the vital point and to the one overwhelming reason for the changed situation in Ireland to-day. When this War commenced the overwhelming mass of the people of Ireland were loyal to the British connection. They were heart and soul with you in the prosecution of the War. But the situation has changed to-day. It must be admitted that they are no longer loyal to the British connection, and are no longer with you heart and soul in this War, on account of your wicked and cruel policy of murdering—because no other word describes the situation—innocent, or at all events foolish, young men for their part in the rising of 1916. If you had only dealt with that situation in a proper way and with statesmanship the people of Ireland would have been as strongly and loyally on your side to-day as they were then. It was these cruel executions, uncalled for and unwise, which created the present situation in Ireland. It is most important that the hon. Members who have brought forward this Amendment have not spoken to the facts of the situation. The situation in Ireland is that if you pass a measure of Conscription for every one man you get you will have to employ six soldiers to take him to the front. You have only to read contemporary records to know that what I say is perfectly true. The leaders of Sinn Fein, unhappily, as I think, command the assent of the majority of the people in Ireland, and they say it is so. They say they will never go voluntarily, and will any man here suggest that an unwilling soldier is an efficient soldier? The essence of successful military operations is not numbers. That is a mistake the right hon. (Gentleman (Sir A. Geddes) made the 582 other day. He said man-power was everything, but it is not everything. Brain-power counts for something. I can go further, and mention an element to which neither the Minister of National Service nor the hon. Gentlemen who have spoken to-day have referred. There is an element which has been ignored in all the Debates that have been conducted in this House—an element which is more important than man-power or brainpower, and that is moral power. If you search the pages of history and read of all the decisive battles in all times, you learn that it is not numbers that gain victories, and gain decisive battles. It is something more than numbers; it is moral power.
I will come back from general principles to the situation in Ireland. If you impose a measure of Conscription upon Ireland, you will find that for every man you get under Conscription you will have to employ six soldiers, and when you get them to the front, what would happen? They would cross over to the Germans. That may sound ridiculous, but it is true. I deplore the fact as much as anybody, but the fact remains that the mass of the population of Ireland to-day are Sinn Fein in their sympathies, and that means that they are pro-German also. What do they propose to do? If you conscript them and force them into the ranks of your Army they will do what I have said. By forcing them into your Army you teach them the art of war and equip them, and when they go to the front they will make their way to the German lines. The Mover and Seconder of this Amendment based their argument upon certain grounds. The Seconder said that it was the cowardice of the Government that prevented them applying Conscription to Ireland. I want to ask him one question. Amongst the members of the Government is the right lion. Member for Trinity College (Sir E. Carson). Is the senior Member for Trinity College a coward? I should like to know whether the senior Member for Trinity College is in favour of this Motion. If he is in favour of this Motion why does he remain in the Government? If he is not in favour of this Motion, and we must assume that he is riot, where is the wisdom of the hon. Members who are supporting it? I say to the British House of Commons that in these men you have a measure of the spirit and the statesmanship among the Ulster Unionists. All through history 583 what do you find about these men? They have not made the smallest contribution to the constructive statesmanship of Ireland or to the welfare of their country. People may say, "What about the prosperity of the North?" Yes, of course, the North is prosperous because they look after their own interests. When the interests of the country are identical with their own interests they look after the interests of the public. All this business to-day on their part is, as the hon. Member for Kildare said, a part of their provocative policy, and a part of their wrong-headedness. Theirs is a party, short-sighted, narrow-minded, and selfish, and every speech they make in this House is a slander upon their country. The hon. Member who moved the Motion said that the future historian would represent all this as a reproach upon Ireland. How anxious they are for the reputation of Ireland Fortunately the reputation of Ireland does not depend upon them. There is one hon. Member who speaks here very often in favour of Conscription for Ireland, the Member for North Antrim. I notice that the hon. Gentleman, although he is such a strong believer in Conscription, does not practise his principles because, instead of showing an example to the rest of Ireland, he is sitting on these comfortable benches. Why does he not go to the front? [HON. MEMBERS: "He has been out!"] Oh, well then. This Motion is a measure of the statesmanship and the patriotism of these men. All this is part of the old dog-in-the-manger policy—a policy which is rooted in distrust and detestation of their Catholic and Celtic fellow countrymen. That is the fons et origo of all their actions. The day for that policy is past and gone, and the sooner they recognise the new situation and the altered facts of the case, the better for themselves.
§ Captain O'NEILL
I do not want to follow the hon. Member who has just spoken into the ramifications of party controversy, but I do think that after the speech of the Minister of National Service something more should be said from these benches. It is my opinion, and I think it is also the opinion of the bulk of the Members of this House, that, regarded as an explanation why Conscription has not been applied to Ireland, the reply was totally inadequate. He gave us no explanation. He simply fell back upon the old statement that, as a matter of policy, it was 584 inadvisable and impossible at this stage of the War to apply compulsory service to Ireland. I should be the first to realise that the carrying through of a policy of compulsory service in Ireland would be difficult. We must realise that forces are at work in Ireland to-day which have placed the Government in a difficult position, and no sensible man could in the circumstances neglect to realise that; but I think we must go behind the attitude of the Government and try to discover what it is that, consistently from the beginning of the War, has caused successive Governments to look upon this question as one impossible to carry out. Of course, there is only one possible explanation. It is the attitude of the Irish Nationalists themselves. At this moment it is principally the leaders of the Sinn Fein party who declaim against Conscription in Ireland. For a long time there have been opportunities for members of the official Nationalist party to state their position on this matter. They have not done so. I think it is very extraordinary that to-day when this very important matter is being discussed there is hardly a Member on the Nationalist Benches to deal with it. The great bulk of the Nationalist party have not thought it worth while to come over to this House and state their attitude in regard to this question. I think that is a most extraordinary and unfortunate position. Under these circumstances we must conclude, in fact we can only come to the conclusion, that the reason why the bulk of the Nationalist party have refrained from coming to this House when this important matter is under discussion is that their attitude upon it is still unaltered, and that they are still opposed to it.
§ Captain O'NEILL
From a purely party point of view—but party is the last thing that I wish to enter into now—there is nothing which can so benefit the party that I represent as an attitude hostile to the whole-hearted participation in the War on the part of hon. Members below the Gangway. If the Nationalist Members for Ireland came forward to-day and agreed to go to their constituents and to impress upon the people of Ireland that in this national emergency it was their duty to come forward and submit to compulsory service, their position 585 throughout the Empire and the world would be absolutely unassailable. Therefore, from a purely party point of view, it is obviously to the advantage of the party with which I am connected that those who are opposed to us in party politics should adopt the attitude which the Irish Nationalist Members now take up. But that is not what I wish to be done. The Nationalist party, so far as I know, are not pacifists. So far as I know, the Irish Nationalists do not vote with the pacifists on questions affecting peace and war. We have been told by them, over and over again, that Ireland is wholehearted in the War. The principles for which we stand in this War, and for which we are fighting, are in essence the same principles which year in and year out for the last thirty or forty years hon. Gentleman below the Gangway have come to this House to represent. At a time like this they will not go to their constituencies and will not go to the Irish people and tell them the truth, namely, that if they agree to Conscription in Ireland they will place themselves in an absolutely unassailable and unanswerable position in this world and the Empire. The gist of my argument is to appeal to them to change their attitude. The old arguments which they always brought forward apply no longer. We were formerly told that Ireland had done magnificently under the voluntary system, and at first she undoubtedly did.
§ Captain O'NEILL
We were told that Conscription was not necessary from the point of view of the War, and that the number of men that were being obtained in Ireland was sufficient for the purposes required. All those arguments fall to the ground now. Hon. Members below the Gangway cannot say that the men available in Ireland are not wanted to-day. They are wanted. We were told only a day or two ago of the miserably small percentage which the Irish people have contributed towards this War. The Nationalists will not go to the people of Ireland and ask them to accept Conscription. More than that, they put forward absolutely no alternative. They do not suggest how otherwise you are going to get men enough. Recruiting in Ireland to-day is absolutely dead. For 586 all practical purposes there is not a man coming forward in any part of the country.
§ Captain O'NEILL
Recruiting in all parts of Ireland has ceased, both in Ulster and in the rest of Ireland. I am making no distinction; I am not making a party speech. We are dealing with matters of too great importance. Recruiting in. Ireland, as a whole, to-day is practically dead. Irish regiments are Irish regiments in name only, and yet hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway oppose Conscription and suggest no alternative as to how we are to get the men. The responsibility which Irish Nationalist Members are heaping up for themselves is very great. What are they going to say in days to come when they appeal, possibly, for the support of Great Britain and the British Empire for certain principles before the jury of the Empire, when a great question in which they are interested comes up again perhaps far settlement, in face of the fact that not only do they not urge Conscription, but they suggest no alternative? Yet there are certain leaders of opinion in Ireland who, in these circumstances, have the effrontery to suggest that Ireland should have separate representation at a Peace Conference. I think that Ireland should not cross the doors of any Peace Conference until the representatives of Nationalist Ireland take up a very different attitude on this question from what they have done hitherto. Though the responsibility of the Government is a, great one, in not carrying this matter through, yet the responsibility of the Irish Nationalist Members of Parliament is also a great one, and, if it is not too late now, I appeal most earnestly to the leaders and to the rank and file to reconsider their attitude upon this matter, and even now, at the eleventh hour, to go to Ireland once again and to use their influence, such as it may be, in making the people who look upon them as their leaders agree to accept, or, at any rate, not to oppose violently, compulsory military service, in which case the task of the Government in carrying it through this House, and enforcing it in Ireland, would be a simple one, not fraught with the difficulty with which it is fraught at present.
§ Sir RICHARD COOPER
I concur entirely with the hon. and gallant Gentleman in the belief that the explanation 587 which has been offered for excluding Ireland from this Bill is inadequate. All of us who are in sympathy with this Resolution are grateful, at any rate, for the brief statement which the Minister of National Service did make to the effect that in the opinion of the Government it is not expedient in the prosecution of the War that Ireland should be included. But it is not only in this House that there are numbers of men who do not understand, or, at any rate, do not accept, this opinion of the Government as to the exclusion of Ireland, but outside this House there is a steadily growing number of people who are discontented with the exclusion of such an important and valuable part of the United Kingdom at a time when, owing to changed events and elimination practically of Russia from the War, it is a matter of life and death to every one of us to omit nothing which we know to be necessary for the prosecution of the War with all the vigour we can command. I cannot understand why the Government consistently, from the early days of the War, has refused to tackle this question. After all it is not an insurmountable, though it may be a somewhat difficult, problem. The hon. Gentlemen who proposed and seconded this Resolution based their claim for the inclusion of Ireland—first, on the necessity of having every man, and, secondly, on the great principle of the equality of sacrifice between the whole people of this country. That second point is one which is thoroughly understood throughout the country. It is understood by the labouring classes, who are coming to the conclusion, which they did not hold two or three years ago, that the continued exclusion of Ireland from the Bill is a gross injustice to all masses of people in England, Scotland, and Wales who have made their sacrifices for the country.
There are only two general reasons why the Government are not tackling this great problem in Ireland to get the maximum number of efficient men for the Army. The first reason, as I conceive it—and I must not go very deeply into it, because we all feel that, as far as possible, anything of a party nature should be excluded—is that we have to remember that the Coalition Government to-day, just like the Governments we have had since June, 1915, is composed of at least three of the great parties of the State, and it is quite conceivable, indeed, 588 highly probable, that any Minister bringing forward proposals for dealing with this problem would meet with every incentive from many of the sections of the Government, holding different views, to leave Ireland alone. If that is the reason, it is a very unworthy reason, because at present everything of a party nature has got to be sacrificed if we are going to get quickly and satisfactorily through this War. That may not be the reason. There may be a second one, and it is this, that the handful, as I conceive it, of people in Ireland who have thrown in their lot with the enemy, and constitute an enemy in our midst, have, in the early days, led the Government to fear the danger of taking drastic action, and because the Government has so acted it feels equally compelled to give the fullest possible consideration to these people and still to exclude Ireland from the Bill. If it is true that the Government has been actuated by any idea of the danger of these enemies in our own country, it is quite clear that the Government cannot be capable of dealing with the vast number of enemies whom we are fighting in France and elsewhere. These are the only two reasons which have been operating during the last two or three years and have led up to the present unsatisfactory situations. If they are not the reasons, we in this House, and people outside, have a right to be told what other reasons there are, why the Government cannot do what many of us think we ought to do, and what a growing number of people outside the House are satisfied that we ought to do. We have enough trouble brewing, and enough ill-feeling and irritation have been created by economic problems affecting this country, to justify us in taking every step in our power to remove every form of irritation, and when the Minister for National Service tells us he is satisfied that the Government has come to the right conclusion, and that it is not expedient for the prosecution of the War that Ireland should be included, many of us feel that that is not a sufficient answer. We are thankul to get it, but, in the interests of the country we should be told why it is inexpedient to avail of this valuable man-power from the lack of which we may suffer during the present year.
Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Tellers for the Ayes, Lord Edmund Talbot and Captain Guest; Tellers for the Noes, Mr. Archdale and Mr. Coote.
§ Main Question again proposed.590
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I have already named the Tellers.
moments at this inopportune hour, but I may say at once that while if one were in a controversial mood one might be tempted to make a somewhat critical survey of the 591 history of this question during the last twelve months the situation as disclosed in the very lucid and able statement, if he will allow me to say so, of the Minister who introduced the Bill a night or two ago is far too grave, in my judgment, for recrimination or retort. A year ago this question of man-power, not only as regards the supply of the necessary men for the Army, but in many of its other aspects and ramifications, was very urgent. To-day the practical disappearance of Russia from the Allied forces, and the consequent setting free for other offensives of a very large part of the enemy armies which were there pre-occupied, has rendered it vastly more urgent. In what I am going to say—and it will occupy only a few moments—I am going to advance what seem to me very practical considerations.
In the first place, let me say at once that I think the Government were perfectly right not to propose either to raise or to lower the military age. I believe that any accession of effective force that would have been obtained either at the lower or at the upper end of the scale would have been relatively small, and certainly would not have compensated for the disadvantages, manifest and manifold, which any such change must obviously entail. In the next place, and here I shall have assent, I think, it is of the utmost importance that before, or at any rate concurrently with, any resort to new sources of man supply, we should first, as far as it is consistent with the safety of these shores, withdraw as many effective men as we can from Home defence for service in the field. I have not, of course, had the opportunity of late of hearing or considering expert opinion, but I am by no means satisfied that the size of the force which we have hitherto felt it expedient, if not necessary, to maintain at home is not in excess even of the most liberal estimate of what safety demands. I am certain that that force must contain a considerable number of men who are quite fit to take the field, and who, with very little additional training, might be made effective for the replenishment of exhausted units and the reinforcement of the Armies at the Front.
Further, under this head, I am sure I shall be preaching to those who are already converted if I urge, as I have urged before, that in the theatre of war 592 itself there should if possible be a readjustment of the distribution of the forces, so that the disproportion which certainly strikes a lay observer between what I may call the combatant and non-combatant forces may be remedied. I am satisfied myself that there is behind the lines, engaged in work which is not in the strictest sense combatant work, a large number of men whose places might very well be taken by persona whom you would never think of sending into the field. These are two obvious sources of supply which are at hand, and which—I will not say before, but concurrently with, any new draft which this Bill proposes to make upon the resources of a country—ought in my opinion to be fully drawn upon. But when all allowance has been made for these sources I quite agree, and I think no one can dispute it after the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman a few nights ago, that an ample and, indeed, an overwhelming ease has been made out for an increase in the reservoir from which we can draw here at home. In regard to that I wish to make, if I may, one or two reservations or suggestions, whichever you like to call them. The need for replenishing depleted units—not, I think, of adding to the number of units, but of replenishing depleted units and bringing them up to the proper establishment—is a very urgent need. I do not suppose one is saying anything which is not already tolerably familiar to the enemy when one says there are units and battalions at the front which have fallen considerably, owing to the waste of war, below what ought to be their effective strength. Everybody admits that.
But while that is an urgent matter, we have to consider how far these claims conflict with a claim in my judgment at any rate, as urgent, and even more urgent, here at home, and that is to keep up the supply of men who are engaged upon the production of ships. I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say—and he will correct me if I am wrong—that there was to be no draft for the purpose of this Bill, at any rate in its present form, on the men actually employed in the shipyards and on the work of shipbuilding. But I should like, if possible, a rather stronger assurance. I should like it to be known, if the Government can say so, that they will not only keep up to its existing numbers the men employed in the shipyards, but that they are prepared to supply the increased 593 demand—this is all important—which I am quite sure these shipyards will make on the man-power of the country, if what I may call this one primary necessity, namely, the increased production of ships to supply the waste of tonnage which has been due to the submarine warfare, is to be accomplished.
§ The House divided: Ayes, 136; Noes, 48.589
|Division N0.144.]||NOES.||[7.44 p.m.|
|Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte||Geddes, Sir A. C. (Hants, N.)||Peel, Major Hon. G. (Spalding)|
|Ainsworth, Sir John Stirling||Gibbs, Col. George Abraham||Perkins, Walter F.|
|Allen, Arthur A. (Dumbartonshire)||Greenwood, Sir G. G. (Peterborough)||Pratt, J. W.|
|Anderson, W. C.||Greig, Col. J. W.||Pryce-Jones, Col. E.|
|Asquith, Rt. Hon. Herbert Henry||Gulland, Rt. Hon. John William||Raffan, Peter Wilson|
|Astor, Major Hon. Waldorf||Hanson, Charles Augustin||Raphael, Major Sir Herbert H.|
|Baker, Joseph Allen (Finsbury, E.)||Harmsworth, Cecil B. (Luton, Beds)||Rees, G. C. (Carnarvonshire, Arfon)|
|Baldwin, Stanley||Harmsworth, R. L. (Caithness-shire)||Roberts, Sir J. H. (Denbighs)|
|Baring, Sir Godfrey (Barnstaple)||Harris, Percy A. (Leicester, S.)||Robinson, Sidney|
|Barnes, Rt. Hon. George N.||Haslam, Lewis||Rothschild, Major Lionel de|
|Barnett, Capt. R. W.||Henderson, John M. (Aberdeen, W.)||Samuel, Rt. Hon. H. L. (Cleveland).|
|Barran, Sir John N. (Hawick Burghs)||Herbert, Col. Hon. A. (Somerset, S.)||Samuel, Samuel (Wandsworth)|
|Beale, Sir William Phipson||Hinds, John||Sanders, Col. Robert Arthur|
|Beauchamp, Sir Edward||Hobhouse. Rt. Hon. Sir Charles E. H.||Scanian, Thomas|
|Beck, Arthur Cecil||Hodge, Rt. Hon. John||Scott, A. MacCallum (Glas., Bridgeton)|
|Beatinck, Lord H. Cavendish-||Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield)||Shaw, Hon. A.|
|Bethell, Sir J. H.||Hudson, Walter||Sheehan, Colonel Daniel Daniel|
|Bird, Alfred||Hunter-Weston, Lieut.-Gen. Sir A. G.||Shortt, Edward|
|Blake, Sir Francis Douglas||Illingworth, Rt. Hon. Albert H.||Smallwood, Edward|
|Bliss, Joseph||Jacobsen, Thomas Owen||Smith, Sir Swire (Keighley, Yorks)|
|Boland, John Pius||Jones, Rt. Hon. Leif (Notts, Rushcliffe)||Stanley,Kt.Hon.SirA.H. (Ashton-u-Lyne)|
|Boscawen, Sir Arthur S. T. Griffith-||Keating, Matthew||Stanton, Charles Butt|
|Brace, Rt. Hon. William||Keswick, Henry||Strauss, Edward A. (Southwark, West)|
|Bridgeman, William Clive||Kiley, James Daniel||Taylor, John W. (Durham)|
|Brunner, John F. L.||Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement||Walsh, Stephen (Lancs., Ince)|
|Burns, Rt. Hon. John||Law, Rt. Hon. A. Bonar (Bootle)||Walters, Sir John Tudor|
|Carew. C. R. S.||Law, Hugh A. (Donegal, West)||Ward, W. Dudley (Southampton)|
|Carr-Gomm, H. W.||Layland-Barratt, Sir F.||Wardle, George J.|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. J. A.||Lewis, Rt. Hon. John Herbert||Warner, Sir Thomas Courtenay T.|
|Cheyne, Sir W. W.||Lowther Col. C. (Cumberl'nd, Eskdale)||Watson, J. B. (Stockton)|
|Collins, Sir W. (Derbv)||Lynch, Arthur Alfred||Weston, J. W.|
|Colvin, Col. Richard Beale||M'Callum, Sir John M.||Whiteley, Sir H.J.|
|Compton-Rickett, Rt. Hon. Sir J.||M'Kean, John||Whittaker, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas P.|
|Cornwall, Sir Edwin A.||MacVeagh, Jeremiah||Whyte, Alexander F. (Perth)|
|Craig, Colonel Sir J. (Down, E.)||Maden, Sir John Henry||Williams, Aneurin (Durham, N.W.)|
|Crooks, tit. Hon. William||Mason, David M. (Coventry)||Williams, John (Glamorgan)|
|Currie, George W.||Millar, James Duncan||Williams, Col. Sir Robert (Dorset, W.)|
|Davies, David (Montgomery Co.)||Munro, Rt. Hon. Robert||Williams, Thomas J. (Swansea)|
|Davies, Timothy (Lincs., Louth)||Nicholson, Sir Charles N. (Doncaster)||Wilson, Fit. Hon. J. W. (Worcs., N.)|
|Davies, Sir W. Howell (Bristol, S.)||Norman, Rt. Hon. Major Sir H.||Wilson-Fox, Henry (Tamworth)|
|Denniss. E. R. B.||Nuttall, Harry||Winfrey, Sir Richard|
|Duke, Fit. Hon. Henry Edward||O'Connor, John (Kildare, N)||Wing, Thomas Edward|
|Duncan, C. (Barrow-in-Furness)||O'Grady, James||Yeo, Sir Alfred William|
|Essex, Sir Richard Walter||Parker, James (Halifax)|
|Fisher, Fit. Hon. H. A. L. (Hallam)||Pearce, Sir Robert (Staffs, Leek)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Lord|
|Fisher, Rt. Hon. W. Hayes (Fulham)||Pease, Rt.Hon.Herbt. Pike (Darlington)||E. Talbot and Capt. F. Guest.|
|France, Gerald Ashburner|
|Ashley, Wilfred W.||Greenwood, Sir Hamar (Sunderland)||Mason, James F. (Windsor)|
|Barnston, Major Harry||Gretton, Col. John||Neville, Reginald J. N.|
|Bellairs, Commander C. W.||Hamilton, C. G. C. (Ches., Altrincham)||O'Neill, Capt. Hon. H. (Antrim, Mid)|
|Benn, Arthur Shirley (Plymouth)||Hardy, Rt. Hon. Laurence||Peto, Basil Edward|
|Benn, Com. Ian Hamilton||Harmood-Banner, Sir J. S.||Stanier, Captain Sir Beville|
|Burn, Col. C. R.||Havelock-Allan, Sir Henry||Stewart, Gershom|
|Cooper, Sir Richard Ashmole||Hermon-Hodge, Sir R. T.||Tickler, T. G.|
|Cory, Sir Clifford John (St. Ives)||Jackson, Lt-Col. Hon. F. S. (York)||Touche, Sir George Alexander|
|Cory, James Herbert (Cardiff)||Jardine, Ernest (Somerset, East)||Walker, Colonel William Hall|
|Courthope, Major George Loyd||Jones, W. Kennedy (Hornsey)||Wheler, Major Granville C. H.|
|Cowan, Sir W. H.||Joynson-Hicks, William||White, Col. G. D. (Lancs., Southport)|
|Dixon, C. H.||Kerr-Smiley, Major Peter Korr||Wills, Major Sir Gilbert|
|Du Pre, Major W. Baring||Lindsay, William Arthur||Wilson, Col. Leslie G. (Reading)|
|Falls, Sir Bertram Godfrey||Lloyd, George Butler (Shrewsbury)||Yate, Col. Charles Edward|
|Fletcher, John Samuel||McCalmont, Brig.-Gen. Robert C. A.|
|Foster, Philip Staveley||McMicking, Major Gilbert||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—Mr.|
|Goldman, C. S.||McNeill, Ronald (Kent, St. Augustine's)||Archdale and Mr. William Coote.|
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Lloyd George)
I can give that assurance straight away. We regard that as the primary necessity of the hour.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
I am very glad to elicit that, because otherwise I should have had doubts as to whether the relative order of priority was being followed. Then, next, the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman, as I understand it, is to take the younger men. I do riot know whether he has bound himself strictly to any limit of age, to the age of twenty-four mentioned, but I hope and believe that he will take an elastic limit as regards particular departments or branches of industry. Everybody who is familiar, as some of us are compelled to be, with the history of this question knows very well that in many of the most important branches of what I may call the fabrication of munitions and the material of war it is the young men who have served their apprenticeship, who are thoroughly fitted by their training for their work, who have still fresh eyes, are in full vigour and alertness, and with technical knowledge which is entirely up to date, who are, practically speaking, irreplaceable. It is very difficult, at any rate, to find substitutes for them. I do not say that applies to the whole, but I think you will find in a very large number of these works and the special departments of these works a number of men of that class whom it is most desirable to retain there, because they are really the pivot on which the whole thing turns. In the application of what is called the combing-out process I hope and believe that consideration will be carefully borne in mind. I trust that the process itself will be applied with a certain amount of flexibility and elasticity as between different departments and classes of men.
There is another point of a strictly practical kind which is relevant, and which was emphasised and illustrated at the beginning of this Debate in the admirable speech of my right hon. Friend the Deputy-Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir D. Maclean), whose services in the most important of these tribunals it is impos- 594 sible to overestimate. Speaking, as he did, with a wealth of practical experience with which I suppose no one in the country can compete, he told us—and illustrated his statement by examples—of case after case which came before that tribunal in which, from some want of intelligence and of adaptation, men who were undoubtedly fitted for National Service were used and employed not for the purposes for which they could really do useful work, but for purposes which could be much better served by men of very inferior qualifications to their own. We have all in this connection come across countless instances of that kind. We have known men—though perhaps it is not any longer the case to the extent it was—sent out to the Army who were physically unfitted for it.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
I am afraid it is being done now to some extent, but I hope to nothing like the extent in days gone by. Undoubtedly there are cases of that kind, but an almost equally grave abuse of your man-power is to take a man like some of those who were referred to by my right hon. Friend in his speech to-day, who, though not fitted for combatant purposes, have technical skill which would be of the greatest possible use—either clerical or manual, it does not matter which—to what I may call the ancillary and auxiliary forcer of the War. It is as great a mistake, and as great a waste, to use them for manual work, for trivial work, which can be done by any Dick, Tom or Harry in the street, as it would be to send them to the Front, and make them food for the guns.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
I am quite sure that in dealing with this matter, important as it is to sweep into the net as large a proportion of the available man-power of the country as you can get in point of volume and quantity, it is not less important when you have them there to see that they are applied, individually as well as collectively, to the best purposes to which they can be adapted. It is very easy, of course, to lay that down as a general proposition, and it is a proposition from which no one would withhold consent. The difficulty is in its practical working and application, and here I assume—I hope I may assume—that of local knowledge and local experi- 595 ence full advantage will be taken. I am all in favour of retaining, and indeed in some cases extending, the power of appeal; but I think it is of great importance in the sifting of the material, and its distribution into the channels into which it can he most effectively and fruitfully used, that every possible means should be taken to ensure that people who have actual knowledge and experience of the circumstances of the persons concerned should be called into council, and their assistance invoked. The worst thing we can do is to get a number of square pegs in round holes. I lay more stress upon that because it is of vital importance, if this measure is to work, as I hope it will work, smoothly and effectively, it is all important that you should have the consent and the sympathy of those to whom it is going to apply. You cannot work it without. You must have sympathy and co-operation, and you will only secure those if the utmost consideration. is shown, within limits, of what be reasonable and practicable—I am urging nothing except that—for the special aptitudes and circumstances of the men with whom you have to deal, both collectively and individually.
I have thrown out these points. They are common-places, but they are commonplaces which are apposite and relevant to a measure of this kind, and I think the House and the Government will agree that it is only if these things are borne in mind and carefully attended to, that this measure can become a real, practical, and fruitful adjunct to our existing system of military service. No one in this country now wants to shirk the supreme duty which falls upon us all. Nor do I think, as far as I can judge, that there is throughout the length and breadth of the land any more disposition at this moment than there has been at any stage of the War for men to be slack in coming forward, or to be deaf to the claims, more urgent than they have ever been before, of the country upon them. If that be the temper of the people, which requires no stimulus—it is there, constant, resolute, unwavering—it is the primary duty of the Legislature, while providing the fullest possible resources for the successful prosecution of the War in all its aspects, at the same time to give the nation an assurance that the steps which are being taken are well-considered, and will be in practice 596 applied with the utmost consideration and regard for the wants, necessities, and aptitudes of all concerned.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I see that the Prime Minister is present for the purpose of listening, and I very much hope that he can at least give a little more time to attendance in this Debate, in order that we may have answered by him some questions which I think are essential. As the Prime Minister may have noticed, I have an Amendment on the Paper, which, of course, I am unable to move now, owing to the arrangement made by which the Amendment dealing with Conscription in Ireland has been negatived; but the spirit of that Amendment still remains, and I want to say quite deliberately to the Prime Minister that he and his Government are asking this House to give a Second Reading to this Bill with the most inadequate information regarding the general situation. We in this House, after all, represent someone. Even the Prime Minister before he was Prime Minister represented his own constitutents down in Wales, and he sought—at least I hope he did—for information for them to enable them to make up their minds on great public questions. In order to get this Bill which the Prime Minister has brought before the House through the Minister for National Service that Minister has been holding conferences in the country, and these conferences have in their possession now infinitely more information about the situation that necessitates this Bill than. has been vouchsafed to the House of Commons. It was not given on the occasion of the First Reading of this Bill; it has not been given now; and I am in this unfortunate position, that I know what the information is now, and I could convey it to the House except for the fact that I got it at a conference not with a trade union, but at a conference, at which I was present, which the Minister of National Service had with a number of discharged soldiers whose interests are intimately bound up in this Bill. I cannot give that information to the House, but I defy the Prime Minister, for instance, to get up and answer those questions now.
§ Mr. HOGGE
About the situation that demands the men. The Prime Minister is asking this House to pass a measure which will comb out another 450,000 men from the civil life of this country because certain 597 other conditions exist. I believe that if the conditions as such are true this proposal is entirely absurd. It is a mere fleabite, and does not meet the situation. It is fooling this House and fooling the British public to make them believe that this kind of measure for man-power is going to bring us an inch nearer to the victory which we hope to get. Let the Prime Minister get up in this House and tell it some of the facts known to the War Cabinet with regard to the position of our man-power on the various fronts. Let him tell the House about America, about what America is doing now, when it may come, and when the information can be given. Let him tell the House how Britain in the meantime is being bled in men, money, and material in order to maintain the position on our fronts in the West, which, it is admitted, may not find us an inch nearer to the victory that is wanted.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I say it is an inadequate position, an absolutely inadequate position. I do not think for a moment that we could be defeated; I do not think the Germans could break through our line. But. we want. stated the facts that have not yet been given to this House, and I complained about it in my speech on the First Reading. We have got no answer from the Government. There was no reply by any Minister except by my right hon. Friend the Minister of National Service, who made a speech on the first day. No Member on that Front Bench has replied in the Debates in the House of Commons. There was no opening speech in the Debate to-day, on the Second Reading—no big speech from any Minister to-day on the Second Reading, although a great number of questions were put on the First Reading. I put a question myself on the first day with regard to discharged men. No speech has been made to-day by any Minister of the Crown, except the interruption by the Minister of National Service, with regard to the Irish question. He got up and explained the reason why we are not going to have Conscription in Ireland, and said that the War Cabinet decided that it was inexpedient. It was a perfectly comprehensive and conclusive little speech, but it is the only contribution we have had from that Bench to-day. I think that kind of thing is treating the House of Commons and the country in a manner they do not deserve. I do not think 598 it is fair of the Prime Minister. After all, the Prime Minister may think some of us are too apt to criticise him severely and too often, but he does not often give us the chance to do it in this House.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I know that my right hon. Friend does not complain; I have never said he does, and I certainly do not complain either. But I do complain of the Prime Minister leaving the House of Commons in the way it is left by him. After two days' debate it is true to say that the House of Commons has not been put in possession of the facts. I could put the House in possession of the facts, so could the Minister of National Service, and so could the Prime Minister, but none of us would care to do it with the public here. I wonder whether I could spy strangers, so that the Prime Minister, who is here, could give us the information which we want to get from him, because a great deal, a very great deal, depends upon this. Mr. Deputy-Speaker, if you will take my Motion, and I can deliver my speech, I should be very glad to spy strangers, in order that we may obtain the information.
§ Mr. HOGGE
May I appeal to some Member of the Government Bench to spy strangers, so that we may have the information? I very much hope that my hon. Friend will see his way to do that. I am perfectly prepared to give the Prime Minister and the Government everything they want. I am now informed that any Member can spy strangers. I therefore beg to—
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Whitley)
The Question is, "That strangers be ordered to withdraw."
Question put, and agreed to.
[The remainder of the Sitting was in Secret Session.]