§ Major DAVID DAVIES
I desire to call attention to the inquiry into the military operations at Cambrai. I approach this question with some diffidence, because we have been told by the Leader of the House that it is not in the public interest that it should be discussed, and naturally one hesitates to embark upon a discussion with regard to this very important and vital matter, but, having regard to the statements which have appeared in the Press during the last few weeks and the vigorous Press campaign which is going on, I think it is only the right and the duty of a Member of the House to raise the matter here in order to endeavour to elicit from the Government some statement which will reassure the country that the right course has been taken in regard to this inquiry. We know perfectly well that there are most disquieting and disturbing rumours. Stories have been told by officers and men who have returned, who took part in these operations, which have caused a certain amount of misapprehension in the country and in the Army. I think nothing is to be gained by the Government adopting a policy of secrecy and hiding the truth in the long run, and that they should frankly and clearly tell the House what. they propose to do to do away with all this misapprehension which has been aroused. It will be remembered that the Leader of the House informed us that a great victory had been won at Cambrai. He afterwards told us that he regretted that he did not tell the House that they should not be too 1098 optimistic as to the result. It will be remembered that after this great initial success, which we all hoped would lead to a decisive victory, there was a counterattack on the southern sector of our front in France, and that this counter-attack was fraught with the most disastrous consequences. We lost the larger part of the ground which we had won, and we suffered the loss of many thousands of prisoners and guns. Here we have two distinct operations. First of all, we had the initial success which we had every hope might develop into a decisive defeat of the enemy at Cambrai, and we had this counter-attack, which turned the whole operation into a serious disaster. The, Leader of the House promised us an inquiry into the whole of the circumstances surrounding this operation. Then we were told that an inquiry had been instituted by the Commander-in-Chief in France on his own accord and that afterwards the documents were placed before the Chief of the Imperial General Staff and communicated to the War Cabinet through General Smuts, who is usually turned on to do these unpleasant tasks Here is a case in which a general whose conduct was coming under review institutes an inquiry on his own account. Therefore, the element of impartiality, at any rate, would appear to be lacking. We also find from the Report of the War Cabinet, and in the communications which they have deigned to give to this House, that the Higher Command had not been surprised and that the Higher Command had made the proper dispositions in case of attack. We can only judge whether proper dispositions are made by the results. That is the only criterion which we as ordinary citizens can apply to the operation, and when we find that the results were almost disastrous we can only ask ourselves whether the plans of operations and the dispositions were the best that could he made. We were told that General Cadorna made most excellent disposition, but when the third Italian Army failed him at the critical moment he was compelled to retire from the Command of the Italian Army.
Reports of all kinds have filtered through from the Front, and I would like the Under-Secretary for War, who, I understand, will reply on behalf of the Government, to tell us quite definitely whether these statements are true or false, in order to dissipate the feelings of 1099 misapprehension which undoubtedly exist both in the country and in this House. In the first place, it has been said—I cannot say whether it is true or not—that this sector of our front was very thinly held at the time of this counter-attack, and, in the second place, we had been told that the sector was manned by entire Divisions, who had come from the North, where they had been engaged in attacks at Ypres, and that those Divisions were told off to hold the line in this sector where the attack took place. We are also told that repeated warnings were sent to the Higher Command from the units who were holding the front that the activities of the enemy were being noted and that these repeated warnings were disregarded by the Higher Command and no proper arrangements were made. We are also told—I have heard it—that the French near at hand had reinforcements, which they would probably have placed at our disposal if they had been asked, which would have helped to prevent the disaster which occurred. These are the sort of things that are being said, and it is high time the Government made some clearer and fuller statement in order that these misapprehensions, if they are misapprehensions, may be dissipated, and that the country may again breathe freely. The naked facts which arise out of all this business is that there were the elements of great victory at the beginning, that that victory unfortunately at the end turned into a great disaster and that in spite of that we have been told by the Under-Secretary for War that no officer has been retired as a result of these operations, or at any rate that no superior officer has been retired as a result of these operations. We find, on the other hand, that there is a process of change going on in the Higher Command, because we read in the "Times" of some of these changes. The "Times" goes on to tell us why they are being made. It has nothing to do with the operations at Cambrai, because we are told that the official reticence, it may be supposed, was due to a desire which goes back to deeper causes than the Cambrai set-back, and would be justified if that had never occurred. So, apparently, the changes that are taking place now are due to some other and very deep causes. We are not told what they are. The question arises why, if these causes were operating some time ago, these officers were still in command when the Cambrai operations 1100 took place? That is a point which we have a right to make the Government explain.
We gather from an article which appeared some weeks ago the real reason why these officers had been kept on so long. After eulogising the Commander-in-Chief, it goes on to say that Sir Douglas Haig's position depends in a large measure on his choice of subordinates, and that his weakness, if it be weakness, is a devotion to those who have served him longest—perhaps too long, or too long without any rest. I do not think that any paper could possibly have published a more damaging statement about any Commander-in-Chief than to say that he was not capable—for that is what it amounts to—of appointing the higher officers in his command, and I am shocked to think that the changes now going on may be due to some sort of newspaper pressure on the Commander-in-Chief by the powerful Press which exists in this country to carry out certain changes which possibly he might not wish to carry out of his own accord. Judging from the Press campaigns which have gone on for the last week or fortnight, that is not a very wrong conclusion. 1, personally, was entirely opposed to any inquiry of this kind, because I think, so far as the Cabinet are concerned—and the Cabinet represent this House and the country in this matter— there is only one man whom they can hold responsible for any great. military disaster which may take place in France—that is. the Commander-in-Chief himself. I cannot understand why it was necessary to appoint any inquiry, because it is perfectly obvious that it is not a matter into which civilians can inquire. An inqury instituted by the Commander-in-Chief himself and afterwards supplemented by a sort of editing committee appointed by the War Office—I do not think anybody with experience of the War Office in this War has any great confidence in inquiries which they institute—is wrong. It is a very dangerous thing, as weakening the discipline of the Army in France, to interfere with the powers of the Commander-in-Chief. He is responsible for that Army and its doings. The Government should give us a little more information and take the House of Commons more fully into its confidence and say to it at this time, when they are calling upon the country to supply more men for the Army, that they will see to 1101 it that there is no in competency and no inefficiency in the Higher Command, however highly placed it may be.
§ Mr. KING
We are greatly indebted to the hon. and gallant Member for bringing this subject. to our notice. It is a matter which has been weighing on the minds of many of us. I hope that the reply which we shall receive from the Under-Secretary for War will do something to reassure the public in this connection. I have never for a long time past failed to make clear my view as to our Higher Command in France ever since, eleven months ago, General Haig told us that during the campaign of 1917 he would break through the Germans at many points, that the campaign of 1917 would be decisive of the War and would be decisive on the Western Front, and that he would pursue the policy of striking against the German Army until they were utterly broken. When, in defiance of Army Orders, he gave an interview and made these statements, I felt hopeless about him. It is not to the credit of the Government that they allowed General Haig to talk as he did, and possibly instigated him to talk as he did. When at last we had a great military operation which, on General Haig's authority, is presented as such an overwhelming victory that all the London bells are set ringing, and then we find it stigmatised in this House not as a great victory, but as a great disaster, what confidence can we have left in General Haig? When we see the War Cabinet allowing the Commander-in-Chief to set up an inquiry himself on the spot into his own deficiencies and then find the War Cabinet accepting his judgment upon his own deficiencies, and taking no action whatever on the matter, we are entitled to ask, and we do ask, how long is this going on? We have an Army which for morale and discipline is magnificent. Everybody, even our enemies, admits that. We have an Army which is admittedly in numbers superior to our enemy.
If the hon. Member refers to the speech of the Minister for National Service he will find that he stated that the armies were equal on the Western Front.
§ Mr. KING
I will not be led away from my point, even if it is not a good one. That does not invalidate my argument. My argument is that on the Western Front we are, at least in numbers, equal to our enemy. We are, in the moral and courage of our men, I believe, superior. According to the Prime Minister, in munitions and equipment we are more than equal to our enemies, and yet what do we find? The boasting of a Commander-in-Chief who does not make good his boasts. That is our humiliating experience on the Western Front. How much longer are we going on in this way? The only thing to do is to find some other Commander-in-Chief, and until the War Cabinet has the courage, in the face of what might be popular difficulties—because they -have allowed the Press to idolisc a man and endow him with characteristics which practically he would not originally have obtained for himself, even in his moments of greatest pride and self-consciousness—until the War Cabinet has the courage to act, then the only way for them to act in regard to the whole extent and power of our magnificent Army on the Western Front, is to get a new Commander-in-Chief. I do appeal, as every sensible man must appeal who looks at the matter fairly and squarely, to the Government to see whether they cannot get a man with more brains—with less reputation, less bombast, less Press puffings, but more brains and more ability, to represent our magnificent Army.
I had no intention at all of intervening in this discussion on the Higher Command until I heard the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire, and it seems to me that the one point that ought to be met in the discussion concerning the military situation at the front and the Higher Command, is this—that the time has arrived when we ought to have a clear and definite statement from the representative of the Government, the Under-Secretary of State for War, as to whether the War Cabinet and the Government are satisfied with Sir Douglas Haig as the best Commander-in-Chief. That is the whole point. If they are satisfied that he is, if they come to this House and make a public statement that they are satisfied, upon examination of the whole record of the 1916 campaign and the 1917 campaign, that the present General Staff and the Commander-in- 1103 Chief are the best possible men, then I think the House and the country will be satisfied. That is the whole point. But everyone knows, or I think most people know, that after the Somme campaign in 1916 there was the gravest dissatisfaction with the Commander-in-Chief. He had not obtained the objectives which he said he would obtain, and he sacrificed a great many more men than he said would be necessary to achieve this one objective. That was before the present Coalition Government came. into power. It is a perfectly well-known fact, and it was known in every newspaper in London, that a Cabinet of responsible men were entirely dissatisfied with Sir Douglas Haig. At the beginning of 1917, this present Coalition Government came into power. They had it in contemplation to dispense with the Commander-in-Chief, but the reason why they did not do so was because they were afraid it was going to involve great newspaper opposition. I say that frankly and freely, and it is perfectly well known that Sir Douglas Haig said that if he were left alone, that if he received so many men, and if he were permitted to pursue the campaign he had devised, he could. guarantee certain results by October, 1917. He told that. to nearly every person who went over to France to see him.
Then you have the great peace-at-Christmas promise, and that has not materialised. More than that, you had the promise as to sweeping the Belgian coast, and that promise did not come off. Therefore, the only point is this: After the experience of 1917, after the balance of gains and losses, is the Government still satisfied with the General Staff and the Commander-in-Chief? Are they the best that can be had? Are the Government satisfied? Are they prepared to take the responsibility of going on with them during the campaign of 1918? I am not a strategist; I have no military knowledge—I do not profess to have it. I do not know whether Sir Douglas is the greatest Commander-in-Chief the world has ever seen or whether he is not; but I do ask the Government, in view of the uneasiness which at present exists, not only in this House, but all over the country, and among the soldiers, to give a definite reply to the question, Are they satisfied with what has been done in 1917, 1104 and are they prepared to risk the responsibility of going on with the same man during 1918?
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Mr. Macpherson)
Three speeches have been delivered to-night, and in each of them there was a charge, either definitely expressed or implied, against the Field-Marshal the Commander-in-Chief in France. I should be false to my own position and my own belief if I did not in the very opening of my speech take the opportunity of saying that nothing could be more cruel than that an attack of that sort should be made upon probably one of the most distinguished generals at the present time in the world, when he has no opportunity of defending himself, and when he is at the present moment at the head an Army—one of the greatest. Armies in the world, coping with the greatest difficulties in the world—which implicitly trusts him.
§ Major DAVIES
May I ask the Government why they allowed the attack in the Press against the Commander-in-Chief during the last two or three weeks, while we are to keep silence?
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
My hon. Friend himself used the Press quite frequently on many occasions, I will not say in attacks on the Field-Marshal, but on various others connected with military matters. It is not for me to say anything as to those attacks. I have no authority to express any view on any of the articles attacking the Field-Marshal the Commander-in-Chief. That surely ought to be the duty of the War Cabinet as a whole. If they did not take that action, it is not for me to say why they did not. It is my duty to impress upon the House how cruelly unfair it is on the part of the House of Commons. After all, what is said in the House of Commons has a far greater power and influence in the country than what is said in the Press. I am perfectly satisfied to reply to the question of my hon. Friend who asked me, "Is the Government or is it not satisfied with the Field-Marshal the Commander-in-Chief?" I say that it is, and I say that deliberately, and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer said so the other day.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I know nothing about what has been in contemplation. I am in the War Office, and so far as I am concerned, I know this, and I speak from the Army Council point of view who have, if possible, a greater knowledge of the military position of the time and of the military powers of certain Generals than any other body, and I say that at no time since Sir Douglas Haig became Field-Marshal Commanding-in-Chief has he ever lost the confidence of the Army Council or those in authority at the War Office. Of course my hon. Friends who have spoken may know far more of what the inner working of individual members of the -War Cabinet may he than I do. I am not associated with any subterranean current of thought. I do not know what may be at any given moment in the minds of certain Ministers of power in the country, but what I do know', and what I think T ought to know, is that so far as we are concerned, and I make bold to say, so far as the Army as a whole are concerned, Sir Douglas Haig from the beginning up to the present has commanded the entire respect of the troops in the field.
Would the right hon. Gentleman mind explaining what he means by "we"; is it the Army Council or the War Cabinet?
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
As I have already said, I am not speaking on behalf of the War Cabinet. I cannot do so. I am speaking on behalf of the body with whom I am intimately connected and of which I am a member. I repeat again that at no time, and not at this moment, has Sir Douglas Haig ever lost the confidence of that body. The hon. and gallant Member for Montgomery attacked the War Cabinet indirectly, because he said it had sought to criticise the military strategy of the last breakdown at Cambrai, but, nevertheless, he never hesitated to criticise that strategy himself. He told us very properly that the Cambrai incident was divided into two distinct divisions. He would, I am sure, be the last to deny that the first part of the attack at Cambrai on the Hindenburg Line was a gigantic success. It is true that joy bells were rung, and. I am not sorry in many ways that they were. People have different ways of expressing their joy, and at that time the feelings of the nation were particularly pent no, and, like all of us, people were delighted that their own brothers and their own fathers and their 1106 own sons should have been participating in what undoubtedly was a great victory at that time. I have, I hope, humane sympathy with those people who unfortunately might be wrong in the last analysis, but who were perfectly right at the time in taking every opportunity of any kind to show the feelings of thankfulness that they had.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
The hon. and gallant Member admits now by his assent, and the House admits by its cheers, that the first part of that Cambrai affair is regarded even now by him as a victory. He speaks with authority on military affairs. If he now admits to me in answer to a direct question in the House that he regards it even now as a victory, does he regard it as preposterous or insane that the people of the country, with far less military knowledge than he has got, should at that time have given public expression to feelings of thankfulness for a victory which they regarded as having been obtained by our troops? As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer said the last part of the action at Cambrai was not so successful. In fact, to use the words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer—and I do not intend to go outside the limits of the answers given to various questions of this point—it was a breakdown. It has been suggested tonight and I see it stated in the Press—that we had no knowledge that any such attack was to take place or intended. I can say this quite frankly and with responsibility, and I know with accuracy, that our General Staff did know on the 28th November that such an attack was coming on November 30th. I cannot, of course, whatever my own inclinations may be, go beyond the statement given by the War Cabinet. That statement was given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the War Cabinet having been placed in full possession of the facts by the Army authorities and the Field-Marshal Commanding-in-Chief. To my mind, it is a most extraordinary accusation to make and it really showed the poverty of the argument for the attack on the War Cabinet by my hon. and gallant Friend, who said that the information came through Sir Douglas Haig, and that it was he who initiated the inquiry, and that therefore it was not impartial. Supposing he had taken no steps 1107 at all and supposing he had said nothing after the result of the breakdown of the 30th of November, would not my hon. and gallant Friend be the very first man to cavil at his inaction?
§ Major DAVIES
The Leader of the House, in answer to a question at that time, said that there would be an inquiry which it was understood was to be by the War Cabinet. An inquiry by the War Cabinet is very different from one by the Commander-in-Chief.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
My hon. and gallant Friend really condemned the inquiry, because the order was given by the Commander-in-Chief. As a matter of fact, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer pointed out—and I think I am stating this with accuracy—the War Cabinet had decided that an inquiry should take place, and the Field-Marshal Commanding-in-Chief had, on his own responsibility, initiated the inquiry. He was collecting all the information and all the documents and all the maps and all the facts. Those were sent over. They were not kept in France, they were sent over to be considered by the War Cabinet. They were first of all considered by a very distinguished Committee of the War Cabinet, presided over by the Chief of the Imperial General Staff. Afterwards the whole of the papers and documents were carefully considered by the War Cabinet themselves and by General Smuts, and those two distinguished bodies came to the conclusion that though an unfortunate breakdown did take place, it was through no fault of the General Staff; that the disposition of the troops were, I will not say perfect, because nothing can be perfect in war, that they were as good as could possibly be expected. They came to this conclusion which I feel bound to say they must inevitably have come to, having regard to all the circumstances.
Does my hon. Friend really mean to suggest that no blame is going to be attached, or does attach itself, to the Higher Command if it leaves in that position a dangerous salient, which either cannot be held, or is likely to lead to disaster? Does he consider that in such a circumstance as that, which was the circumstance at Cambrai, no blame has to he attached to the Higher Command?
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I do not accept for a single moment the statement of fact 1108 of my hon. Friend. It is one of those statements, of which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire gave a selection, which come over here and have never been sifted. They are circulated about the clubs and streets.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
My bon. Friend is putting a specific point which he would lead the House to believe is a definite and ascertained fact. My information is—and I will not discuss it any further—that that is not so. One can only describe it as a break-down at a particular part of the line, but there was no salient in the sense that my hon. Friend would persuade the House there was. There was an equality of forces at a particular part.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I do not think so at all. If my information is correct, this was a proper number of troops to place against the only possible number of troops that could come at that particular point, and the General Staff took all the necessary precaution, and, I believe, the night before the attack, instead of being appealed to for aid, the officers of the Higher Command were on the alert and were as ready as they possibly could be. The House will realise that if at any given moment there is a break in the line, it may not necessarily be due to the fact that the Higher Command have made a mistake. There are various factors. This House is apt on all occasions—I do not know whether through prejudice or for what reason—but the moment a breakdown takes place it is always described as due to the Higher Command. There never was a greater mistake.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
There never was a more gallant lot in this world than our soldiers, but I can only say that, I for one, with the information I have got will never ascribe that breakdown to the Higher Command. 1 can say no more.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
It is impossible to say in dealing with two or three Divisions who was responsible. My hon. and gallant Friend made one further point. He asked why reinforcements were not ready at that particular place. As a matter of fact, reinforcements were ready, and when the history of the War comes to be written it will be seen that those reserves whose dispositions were, I understand, perfect, were splendid troops whose names will always command the greatest credit in this country for all time. Those reserves were ready behind the lines in perfect disposition, and if it had not been for those reserves I will not say what that breakdown would have been, but to say there was no care on the part of the General Staff to have reinforcements there is not true, and nobody knows better than my lion. Friend the Member for Hornsey. I do not know that any other serious point was raised in the Debate. I can only say once again what was stated by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that there is no intention of publishing this inquiry, and that there has not been any withdrawal from the front of any people of the Higher Command, because, as I have endeavoured to suggest, the real blame for the unfortunate breakdown was not due to the Higher Command. I think that the War Cabinet has shown, and so has the Army Council, that when it is necessary to withdraw men from France we have not. hesitated to do it, and if in this case the War Cabinet had been assured that the Higher Command was to blame, I make bold to say, in view of the fact that quite recently we have altered the Higher Command at General Headquarters, we should unhesitatingly alter the Higher Command in the field.
§ Mr. ROCH
I cannot help thinking that those Members who have heard this Debate, despite the very excellent speech made by the representative of the War Office, are left more mystified than before. I myself am in entire agreement with what the hon. Gentleman said, that it is most undesirable to have attacks made on individuals who cannot answer in this House, but all that really has been asked for in this House is, first, that you should publish this Report, so that the public may form their own judgment. To a request of that kind there could be, I think, only one effective answer which the Government could give for not publishing it, and that is that it would give 1110 information to the enemy. Now, it has never been suggested by the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the hon. Gentleman that the publication of a statement of these facts would give any information whatever to the enemy, and, indeed, I am told by those who are students of the German Press that the orders of a division were captured and published in the German Press. Therefore, I think I am justified in saying that the Government cannot say, and has not attempted to say, that publication of the statement of what really happened would give the slightest information to the enemy. That being so, why cannot the War Office or the Government tell us frankly what is the reason for not publishing this? Let them tell us quite frankly what is the reason. The House of Commons is a reasonable body, and I do think that that answer should be given.
Can the hon. Gentleman really think, in view of the speeches which have been made which, I presume, will be published, unless they are censored, that really the matter can rest here? After all, the hon. Gentleman spoke very guardedly. He is not, of course, a member of the War Cabinet. He said he spoke for the Army Council, and he spoke with great emphasis when he said he spoke only for them, and he made a reference to the fact that he did riot know of any subterranean currents of thought. On an occasion like this, when it was well known that this question was going to be raised, without any disrespect to the hon. Gentleman, could not some member of the War Cabinet have been present? Some grave remarks were made by the hon. Member for Hornsey, who, if I may say so, moves in the best political circles, and has information, as he has shown to-night, which is denied to the mere ordinary Member. He said definitely that the Coalition Government, when it came into power, contemplated the withdrawal of Sir Douglas Haig. Now a remark like that should really be contradicted, if it can be contradicted; and I hope the hon. Gentleman will represent to those in higher places what has taken place to-night I do venture to hope that some definite statement will be made to clear up public anxiety and public confidence, which has been sapped by this. After all, everyone dislikes these attacks, but once they have been made in the Press, once they have been put on record, the sooner they are contradicted publicly and with 1111 authority the better, and I do hope an early opportunity will be taken by some member of the War Cabinet to speak positively, and put an end to what, I think, will be an unfortunate controversy if it is allowed to continue for a single day longer.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I was unable to listen to the whole of the discussion which has taken place, but I wish to join with my hon. Friend who has just spoken in protesting against the treatment just meted out to the House of Commons. I think that on an occasion of this kind, when a large question of policy was being raised on the Adjournment, a question affecting vitally our Higher Command in France, and the whole of the higher direction of the War, we should have had at least a member of the War Cabinet here to state the view of that body. Up to the present time there has only been a single statement made in this House as to the Cambrai incident, and on the inquiry made into that incident on behalf of the War Cabinet. It was made by the Leader of the House in reply to a question put by me about a week ago, when, I think, the answer given to the second question was simply a reference to the reply given to me. The main point was this: that an inquiry had been held, though we were not told who constituted the inquiry. We have been told, in answer to a question by my lion. Friend yesterday, that evidence was taken. We have not been told who took that evidence. We have not been told what form that evidence took—whether it was simply the written statements of officers summoned, whether it was taken as oral evidence, or whether there was any cross-examination of the witnesses in relation to the facts. In other words, we have no knowledge whether this was a bona fide searching investigation with the view to revealing the facts of the situation.
On this inquiry, so-called, we are told by the Leader of the House two things. These were the only two substantial statements which have been made. First of all, we were told that there was no surprise. Secondly, we were told that every adequate precaution was taken. I say that in view of what has been stated in the Press, in view of what has been told to individuals here and elsewhere by people who were there, it is making too great demand upon human credulity to ask us to accept these statements. The 1112 matter cannot rest here. This is a serious issue. It deals with the lives of men. We here are responsible. as the Prime Minister reminded us in Secret Session, we share the responsibility of this War. We see, however, to-night how much importance is attached to the responsibility of the House of Commons. When a question is asked on a vital matter of this kind no responsible Minister comes to take us into his confidence. We are invited to be content with a reply from the Under-Secretary for War. I do not speak in any disparaging way of my hon. Friend; far be that from me. We have been too long associated in many things in the past, and I hope we shall be so in the future; but we must assess the relative importance of the position he occupies. My point is this: That in one of the great actions of the campaign of 1917, in respect of a reverse greater than any reverse sustained by British arms since the Battle of the Marne, when the House of Commons asks for information, no responsible Minister comes to that body which the Prime Minister has said shares the responsibility for the conduct of the War. How can we share any responsibility if we are not informed? The Government expects the House of Commons to take a share in responsibility. The House of Commons can only do it on information, which up to the present has been denied to it.
It is not only in respect of the past that this is an important matter alike for the House of Commons and for the country, If there is one incident more than another in the War which has affected public confidence outside it has been this one. We remember when the first glad tidings were announced, with what joy they were received! We remember how the joy bells were rung! We remember how that we believed that for the first time there was going to be a definite penetration of what the Prime Minister called the "impenetrable barrier of the West." After all these high hopes, there came the tidings which depressed us all. Not full tidings; not the truth—
It being one hour after the conclusion of Government business.—Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Order of the House of the 12th February.Adjourned at Eight minutes before Ten o'clock