§ The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Bonar Law)
I beg to move: "That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £500,000,000, be granted to His Majesty, beyond the ordinary Grants of Parliament, towards defraying the Expenses which may be incurred during the year ending the 31st day of March, 1919, for General Navy, Army and Air Services in so far as specific provision is not made therefor by Parliament; for the conduct of Naval and Military Operations; for all measures which may be taken for the Security of the Country; for assisting the Food Supply, and promoting the continuance of Trade, Industry, Business and Communications, whether by means of insurance or indemnity against risk, the financing of the purchase and resale of foodstuffs and materials, or otherwise; for Relief of Distress; and generally for all expenses beyond those provided for in the ordinary Grants of Parliament, arising out of the existence of a state of War."
The last Vote of Credit moved by me, the first for the coming financial year, was on the 7th March, and it was for the sum of £600,000,000. The figures of expenditure have been analysed by the Treasury up to the 8th June, a period of sixty-nine days. I shall now give the Committee the result of this analysis. On the assumption that the estimated expenditure is spread evenly over the whole year the 198 proportion of the estimate for this period would have been £482,000,000. The actual issues have been £472,500,000, leaving a balance below the estimate of £9,500,000. If we take the daily figures the estimate on the same basis for the whole year is £6,986,000. The actual outlay is £6,848,000, so that there is a reduction of £138,000 per day.
As has often been pointed out, a period so short as this cannot be taken as a fair test of what the expenditure over the whole year is likely to be. The Committee may, perhaps, remember that last year, as it happened, the first analysis of expenditure showed an excess which was in the highest degree alarming, and, though an analysis of the figures did explain it, I think that the feeling which was left in the Committee was that the expenditure was really increasing at a much more rapid rate than was actually the case. This year, as it happens, the expenditure is below the Estimate, but again the same danger exists, and it would not be safe to assume that we can rely upon a diminution throughout the year. I am, however, hoping that in this case the Estimate may be taken as some indication of the general position, and I have formed that opinion for two reasons.
The first is one to which I referred in the Budget statement, and which must of necessity be one of individual opinion. It is this: At a time like this the expenditure on war material does not depend, as it does in peace-time, on a given quantity of a particular article being ordered, and an estimate being made as to the cost. It depends, on the contrary, in many cases, on the largest possible supply being obtained from all sources, as the whole can be used by the Army, and would be wanted if they could get it. As I indicated, I think, the possibilities of production in this country have very nearly reached their maximum, and, for that reason, I am not inclined to think that there can be from this cause much excess expenditure. Another reason which makes me think that those figures indicate the general position is shown by the analysis of the expenditure itself over this period. The diminution below the Estimate of the four fighting Services, the Army, Navy, Munitions, and Air Ministry, amount to £15,200,000. Of this reduction £13,500,000 is on the Admiralty account, but of that amount a large sum, namely, £10,000,000, is due to 199 the fact that the amount of money spent on merchant ships, which, of course, is based on an Estimate extending over the whole year, has fallen much below what we hope will be the actual production of ships and the amount spent on them spread over the whole year. Munitions equally show a reduction of approximately of £6,000,000. This also is due to similar causes.
There was in the Budget Estimate, as the Committee will understand, a very large increase in the Air Service. That is a growing Service—growing, I am glad to say, with every week—and, for the same reason as applies to the merchant shipping, the average expenditure over the first part of the year is not likely to be equal to the average of the full expenditure over the whole year. There is a reduction in the Air Force itself of about £4,000,000. But that is entirely due to the fact that the transfer, though it has been made, has not been carried out entirely as regards accounts, and some sums have still to be paid by the Air Ministry to the War Office. On the other hand, there has been in increase in the Army expenditure of £9,000,000. Of that, £3,000,000 is not in reality an increase. It is also a case of book-keeping. It is accounted for by an excess amount, as compared with the Estimate, paid by the Army for supplies, etc., which are given to our Dominion Forces. That has nothing to do with Loans to the Dominions. It it simply payments made on their behalf, which are put right as soon as the accounts can be rendered. But there is an increase in the expenditure of the Army itself of about £6,000,000. That is due—and I think that the Committee will be rather pleased to hear it—to the fact that the ration strength of the Army during the period just elapsed is above the average which was estimated for over the whole of the year.
In addition to a saving on the fighting forces, we have to take into account a decrease in the amount of advances to Allies and Dominions. As I have pointed out before, this is a figure of which it is almost impossible to make an accurate estimate in connection with the coming financial year, but the reduction, as compared with the Estimate, over this period is £15,600,000, and perhaps it may interest the Committee if I give the total figures of our debt from the Allies and the Dominions. To the end of last 200 financial year the debt due by the Allies was £1,332,000,000. The addition in the period which I am now giving was £38,000,000, making a total on the 8th June of £1,370,000,000. As regards the Dominions, the amount at the end of last year was £194,000,000. The increase in the period is £12,000,000, so that the total now is £206,000,000.
I have pointed out that there has been a big reduction in the figures for the fighting forces, and in the advances to the Allies and Dominions. On the other hand, there has been a large increase to set against that in the expenditure on miscellaneous services. That is entirely accounted for by larger purchases of foodstuffs—to the extent of more than £21,000,000. The Committee, I am sure, will be pleased to hear this, and will not be surprised at it, for this additional expenditure has shown itself in the greater supplies of some foodstuffs which some months ago were running very short. It is represented very largely by purchases in America of material like bacon, canned meats, and, to some extent, of wheat. The total is over £21,000,000. We must not regard this as expenditure in the ordinary sense, for in this case it is not expenditure which will come back in the distant future; it is coming back week by week and it, or nearly the whole of it, will come back into the accounts this year. So in reality the actual decrease on the Estimates for the period under review amounts to no less than £30,000,000, or an equivalent of £435,000 per day.
I am not going to do what I have been in the habit of doing in connection with these Votes of Credit—that is to give an analysis of the dead-weight expenditure and the recoverable expenditure. It would be a waste of the time of the Committee to do this. First of all, because the period is so short, and, in the second place, because, from the necessities of the situation, we shall require another Vote of Credit before the adjournment of the Session, and we shall then have a longer period over which to make an analysis of this kind. I merely repeat that the saving on the dead-weight expenditure allowed over the period has been about £30,000,000, or the equivalent of £435,000 per day.
As it happens, the actual expenditure so nearly corresponds to the Estimates that there is not the material for discus- 201 sion which has been usual on Votes of Credit, and I feel sure that I am consulting not only my own wish, but the convenience of the Committee in not making a longer speech when there is nothing which I think essential to put before the Committee. The only other item of interest on which perhaps the Committee would like to have the figures is the total amount of all our Votes of Credit. They have gone up, as the Committee knows, at an alarm-rate. In the first year of the War, 1914–15 (not a full year), the amount was only £362,000,000. In the second year it was £1,420,000,000; in the third year, £2,010,000,000; and last year, £2,450,000,000, making, up to that period, £6,242,000,000; and the Vote I am now moving brings the amount we are asking the House to sanction for the current year up to £1,100,000,000, making the total Votes of Credit, including the present one, £7,342,000,000. I have noticed that some newspapers, in putting these figures, have added to this total to-day's Vote, making the amount £7,842,000,000. It is actually £7,342,000,000, and the Committee will agree with me in thinking that it is large enough. To-day's Vote, as I have said, is for £500,000,000, and, at the present rate of expenditure, it will carry us until the end of August, a longer time than will probably be necessary, in view of the period at which I expect the next Vote of Credit will be moved. I confess I should have liked to ask the Committee now for a Vote of Credit of a sufficient sum to carry us over the Autumn Recess, but when I saw the figure needed to secure this result I did not think I would be justified in asking the House of Commons to vote so large an amount. That is all I desire to say on the figures of the Vote of Credit. I had intended in this statement to make reference to a subject the importance of which no one ought to feel, and which no one does feel more strongly than myself, namely, the control of this immense expenditure; but I understand there is a general desire for the discussion of this subject to-morrow, and I propose, therefore, to postpone what I wish to say on it until that Debate takes place.
There probably has been no time during the whole currency of the War when there would be so strong a desire, both in the House of Commons and outside, to have any information which it is possible to give as to the military situation. That is 202 inevitable, but, as the Committee knows, we are in the middle of one continuous battle. It is, therefore, I am sure, obvious that anything one may say has to be said with the utmost caution, and that it is not even possible to give now in these conditions information of a kind which it would be quite possible to give at the end or the beginning of a campaign. Within the limitations that these considerations necessarily involve, I shall endeavour briefly, but as clearly as I can, to present the military situation as I believe it appears to the Staffs of the Allied Armies.
The latest phase in this great battle is the Austrian offensive in Italy. That is part of the intensive offensive which is being conducted on the whole battle front. Our enemies, I am sure, are right in thinking that any great success obtained on that front must have far-reaching, and possibly even decisive, results on the general battle front in France, and for that reason the general suspicions are believed to be justified that the initiative for this offensive has come from Berlin rather than from Vienna. This offensive was launched on the 15th June. It was on a very wide front, and a very large number of Austrian divisions, more by a good deal than a half of their total forces on that front, were engaged in the attack. All that I can say to-day is that up to the present, after three days' fighting, the attack has failed. Our advice from the Italian Headquarters is that, after three days, the enemy has not secured the objectives which he hoped to obtain on the first day, and it is also, I am sure, true to say that no offensive on this scale throughout the whole War has at its initiation secured so little success as this. We have very full information as to the position there. There is no doubt whatever that not only our own troops, but also those of our French Allies, are giving a good account of themselves, and that our Italian comrades have been fighting throughout with the highest courage and most marked tenacity. The Italian Higher Command has no fear of the results. They are looking forward to the future with perfect confidence. It is too soon to say that the danger is over, but it is not too soon for me to attempt to express on behalf of the House of Commons our admiration and our gratitude for the share which our Italian Allies are taking in this terrible struggle.
203 As regards the position in France, I think the general outlines of it are quite clearly in the minds of every Member of the House of Commons.
The great attack began on the 21st of March, just a fortnight, as it happens, after the last Vote of Credit was moved here. Before the attack began our Headquarters and those of the Allies knew that every preparation was being made for it. We knew the positions at which enemy divisions were being piled up in front of our lines, and there were all the evidences of an immediate attack. But in spite of that fact the Staffs, both of our own and the French were a little doubtful where the attack was coming. They were doubtful for this reason, that their information made them feel sure that the German Forces, through their power of bringing divisions from the Russian Front could in a few weeks subsequent to that date be increased at a much more rapid rate than was possible for the Allies, and that therefore the disparity in the relative strength of the two forces would have been greater a month or two later than at the moment when the attack was expected. The attack came, and the House of Commons well remembers that it attained an amount of success which caused everyone the utmost anxiety. But three months have passed, and though the battle, as I have said, is a continuous one, we can look back on what has happened with some confidence.
In this whole campaign the Germans have had before them three great possible strategic objectives, two of which were territorial—one the City of Paris, and the other the Channel ports. The third was not only the defeat of the Allied Armies, but the breaking of the communications between the British and French Forces. After three months, although the Allies had to give ground, and a great deal of ground, it is still true to say that not one of these three objectives has so far been attained throughout this great struggle. I think if anyone in the early days of the struggle had suggested to Field-Marshal Hindenburg that after three months the position would be as it is to-day, he would have treated the suggestion with scorn, and there is clear and increasing evidence in the German Press that they are becoming disappointed with the success, great as it has been, which has so far attended the German Army. I am sure of this, that in the period of great anxiety through 204 which the whole of this country was passing, if at that time we could have foreseen what the position would be three months later, our anxiety would have been much less than it actually was.
We are inclined to look naturally on the whole of this struggle as if it were one, but in reality it has been divided into stages which, in themselves, represent battles, and in some cases great battles. We have all clearly in our minds the distinction between the attack on the British line and the French line, but even within those divisions there have been very distinct phases in these attacks. The first blow, on the 21st March, in the neighbourhood of St. Quentin, may be regarded as a first rate battle, and it was undoubtedly a success for our enemy. In the same way, the first phase of the battle of the Lys was also a great German success. On the other hand, if the House will recall to mind the intense attack made with great force on our Third Army in front of Arras, and will remember what happened there, they will realise that that, too, was a great battle, in which the British forces were entirely victorious, and we undoubtedly inflicted immense losses on the enemy. The same thing is true of the later phase of the battle of the Lys. The Germans made a most determined attack to secure a strategic position. They gave it up, and they gave it up again because of the resistance which they were unable to overcome on the part of the British Army. And that also, I think, we may definitely claim as a victory for our forces in that struggle. As regards the French part of the line, the same thing is true. The first attack was a victory—a great victory—for the enemy, but later on an immense attack was started, on the front from Noyon to Montdidier, which entirely failed in its object; and it is not too much to say, speaking broadly, that though the stroke on the Aisne was a success to our enemy, so far the battle of the Marne has been on the side of the Allies. This attack, as I have said, was the most threatening which has occurred throughout the whole War. It had immediately two results which will inevitably be of far-reaching, and I venture to hope, in the end, of decisive importance.
The first of these is in connection with the unity of command. As a matter of theory, everyone, from the beginning of the War, has realised the disadvantage of 205 a divided command, where the armies of the two allied nations were in fact fighting on the same front. But the difficulties of securing unity in this sense—difficulties, let me say, which will remain to the end of the War—are very great, and at that time they presented obstacles so great that I think it was felt by almost everyone that unity was impossible. But the German victory of 21st March produced a pressure of necessity which, of itself, inevitably brought about that change. I am sure that everyone who has followed this conflict will realise that the result has justified that change. The difference between the promptitude and the efficiency with which all the Allied forces are now brought to bear on points of the greatest necessity, and the previous arrangements, even when there was the most complete co-operation, and most complete goodwill between the two commands, cannot be brought into comparison. It was shown in this struggle. It was no doubt the fact that in the first few days of the German attack there was, I will not say hesitation, but perhaps a little delay, in getting all the available forces in the most rapid way to the point of danger. It was that consideration which brought about the change.
General Foch, who on two memorable occasions in the year 1914, had taken a great part in extricating the Allied Armies from a most difficult position, was chosen for the command, and I think I am right in saying that at this moment no other person would command to an equal extent the confidence of both Armies. The first act of General Foch—the very first—was to take over a large part of the line then held by British troops. In two or three days alone, so rapidly was it done, the whole front then occupied by British troops, which had been most severely attacked from Noyon to Hangarde—a distance of something like 40 miles—was taken over by French troops, so as to leave us, of course, freer to deal with the blow which was being dealt against our forces. That is not all. Later on, as the battle of Lys was developed, as the German advance was progressing with such success, it seemed as if the Channel ports were actually in danger, and at once a very large number of French divisions were moved up to the support of our troops. Those divisions took part with our own soldiers in stemming the German advance, and bringing it to a stand. I 206 think the Committee will be glad to hear this as an indication of the spirit with which the two Armies are being worked together. It is a fact that, in spite of the strain which was being thrown on the French Forces on the Aisne and on the Marne, these gallant divisions are still with our forces in Flanders. So that, as I have said, is one of the results of that successful German advance.
But there is another, and I think it is more important, and that it is one about which there can be no possible difference of opinion. I said that the German objects in this fight were three. But there was, of course, another general one. This battle—I mean the long-continued battle—must be a question of reserves. The great source of the Allied reserves was in America, and, of course, part of the German scheme in this whole campaign was undoubtedly to use up the Allied reserves before they could be reinforced from our Allies in America. In that they have not succeeded. I wish it were possible to tell the House, in the first place, the number of troops which, since the 21st March, have been sent from this country to strengthen our own forces. It is a large number, but, as I said, the main source of these Allied reserves was in America. The stress of necessity has made possible what seemed to be impossible. American troops are not coming: they have come. America is not coming into the War: she is in the War, not merely as regards the part she is actually playing in the fighting, but, if I may say so—I am sure every Member of the House realises it, and it is delightful to know it—the American troops who have been fighting, especially at Chateau Thierry, have justified the high hopes that everyone acquainted with the American people had formed of what the fighting value of those forces would be. But that is not the change which this reverse has brought about. It has been the rapidity with which the Americans have come. I cannot, of course, give the numbers, but I think the best way to make the Committee realise how big that change has been will be to read an extract from the Minute of the last Supreme War Council:Thanks to the prompt and cordial co-operation of the President of the United States, arrangements which were set on foot more than two months ago for the transportation and training of American troops will make it impossible for the enemy to gain a victory by wearing out the Allied reserves before he has exhausted his own.207 The presence of the Dominion representatives, and the discussions which we had with them the other day, have reminded me of the sources of preoccupation which filled all our minds at the time of their last visit a year ago. One of them was in connection with the Air Service. Perhaps hon. Members will recall that about that time we had a number of successful German raids, and the House and country were anxious about our Air Force—so much so, and the feeling was so general, that the Prime Ministers of the Dominions themselves visited the Air Board and satisfied themselves, and said so publicly, that everything that was possible was being done to strengthen that force. The year that has passed has justified their belief. There is no branch of the British effort in this War, and it is a great effort—I wish it were possible, in some form that would attract general notice, not only of the people of this country, but of the world, to tabulate what that effort has been in this War—there is no branch of that effort of which we have greater reason to be proud than our Air Force. It has played throughout the year a magnificent part. To-day it is not only sharing with our own troops in the work of our own part of the front, but it is helping in Italy; it has been helping the French in the long struggle in which they have been engaged; and everywhere, I think, the almost universal feeling is that the force is the best in all the theatres of War. I think we have a right to be proud of it.
Another subject of preoccupation was a very important one. The House will remember that at that time the submarine menace appeared to us as the greatest danger with which we had to cope. It not only appeared so to us, but the German nation were openly laying all their hopes of victory on the success of the submarine campaign. Even the head of the German General Staff, in speaking of the War at that time, dwelt, not upon the valour of their troops, but upon the efficacy of the submarine as a means of securing victory to Germany. It was immediately after the April returns, which, as the House remembers, were so bad, and there was at that time a feeling, even in this country, that this was a menace so great that no one could foresee the end of it. All that is changed. The menace is still there. It may and it probably will cause privation to the 208 people of this country, but in the month of April for the first time—and the same is true of the month of May, the figures for which will be published this week—the world construction of ships exceeded the destruction. There is now, therefore, no danger whatever, so far as human foresight can see, of this country being starved into submission. But that consideration has another effect dealing directly with the military position which I am now discussing, which is not less important. It has been commonly said—I think it is very likely true—that if the Germans had known for certain that Great Britain would have taken part in this War, the War would never have occurred.
I think it is certainly true that when the Germans undertook their unlimited submarine campaign, they not only had the hope that nothing would make America come into the War, but they had the conviction that by no possibility could the resources of America be brought into the struggle soon enough to seriously affect the result. They have been mistaken. The number of troops which have already come, the numbers which are pouring in this month and will continue to pour in every month, have reached a figure which even a month or two ago we should have thought absolutely impossible. The small rivulet became a stream. It has now become a great river, which will flow continuously until the whole available man-power, if necessary, of America is thrown into the scale in this War Already what has been done, and what has been arranged for the next month or two, shows clearly that the extent of American military co-operation on the battlefields of France will not be limited by means of transport, but will be limited only by the number of trained men which can he made available for being thrown into the conflict. That is a great fact; it is the great fact of this year; and it ought to be the decisive fact in this whole War.
The whole Committee understands well what is the present position. There is a lull, but it is a lull only. It is the calm in the midst of the storm, which precedes the next blast of the hurricane. A blow is coming, and coming soon. From the nature of the case, though our military staffs know in the main where the German forces are, the railway communications behind their lines—and the House knows that in Belgium even before the War the railway system was the best in the world— 209 are so good that it is impossible to foretell with any certainty on what part of our front the blow will fall. It may be, as before, on the part of the line held by us, in an attempt to reach the Channel ports. It may be a continuation of the menace to Paris. That it will come is certain, but our soldiers, the Higher Command of the French, of the British, and now I may say of the American forces, know that the blow is coming, and they are prepared to face it not only with hope, but with confidence. And I think they have justification for that confidence. I will say nothing about the courage of our troops. That has never been in doubt, but all the information that reaches us is to this effect, that in spite of all they have suffered and endured, their moral was never higher than it is to-day, and they were never more ready to face the enemy. It is almost impossible to speak too highly of the way in which the French soldiers have been fighting to save their capital, and I think also that no words of praise can be too strong for the spirit which, in the face of that deadly menace, has animated the French people as a whole.
The result of coming battles must always be uncertain, but, as I say, those who are responsible, those best competent to judge, look forward to the future without alarm. The next few months will form the supreme hour in this fight. The Germans have deliberately staked everything on winning a decisive result now, before the force of America can be brought into play. If three months hence none of the strategic objects which I have indicated have been secured by the enemy, then their campaign will have failed, and it will prove, in spite of the victories achieved up to now, the most disastrous of all the campaigns in which they have engaged. The future of our country and of the world depends on the next few weeks. It depends in the first place on our soldiers and those of our Allies. They will not fail us. It depends also to some extent on the lines of communication, on those of us who remain at home. It is for us to bear and to share the strain thrown on us, as our soldiers have borne it and will bear it, with confidence, with courage, and with hope.
§ Mr. McKENNA
The Chancellor of the Exchequer has moved a Vote of Credit for £500,000,000. He had so much of interest and importance to tell us about the military situation that I suppose he 210 felt himself not unnaturally dispensed from any serious duty of making an elaborate explanation of his Vote. For my part, I make no complaint of the course which my right hon. Friend has taken. His speech, without being exaggerated or flamboyant or giving occasion for hopes which might not be realised by the event, has been sufficiently hopeful in its character to give us good confidence, for the future which lies before us. He has told us some things for the first time. I think this is the first occasion on which General Foch's position has been definitely explained to us. As I understand, General Foch is now in complete control of the French, the British, and the American Armies. He is then a true Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Forces, and we can only hope that the expectations that have been formed of the unity of command will bear their full fruit. The relations between General Foch and our own War Office are still unexplained, but I suppose on some future occasion we shall learn also what is the precise, I might almost call it, constitutional relationship between the Commander-in-Chief of the British Army as a part of the Allied Forces and the British War Office.
I will only detain the Committee a very short time, while I say a word or two on the actual Vote. In his Budget statement my right hon. Friend gave us Estimates of the Vote of Credit of the year divided into three heads. The four Services—the Army, the Navy, the Air, and Munitions—he put together, and gave an Estimate for them of £1,861,000,000. That Estimate so far has not been proportionately realised; on those Services certain economies have been made. He then gave us his Estimate for Loans to the Allies and Dominions as £350,000,000. At the time that my right hon. Friend gave us that figure he told us that he put the estimate of advances to Allies as low as £300,000,000, because he was in hopes of making a new arrangement with the United States. I understood that the arrangement that he was then hoping to make with the United States was—I hope I am not indiscreet in my observations—that all advances to the Allies should be made by the United States direct, and that our advances to the Allies should be confined to such amounts as would be necessary to pay for purchases made by the Allies in our own country. I assume that as my right hon. Friend's Estimate has not been exceeded, but so far has not been reached, he has 211 been able to conclude that arrangement with the Americans, or, at any rate, he believes himself to be on the point of concluding it.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW indicated assent.
§ Mr. McKENNA
It is an arrangement which I think might fairly be asked for. In the early days of the War, when we had to undertake the responsibility for financing the Allies, we undertook the whole responsibility. At the very commencement, indeed France undertook with us the responsibility of financing Russia, but when we found that the financial resources of France were not sufficient to enable her to finance herself without our help we then undertook, not only to finance France, but to take over the whole burden of Russia. We, therefore, stood then in relation to France precisely in the position the United States stands to us at the present day. The United States is assisting us, and, at the same time, we are assisting our Allies. I am sure my right hon. Friend and the whole country would be ready, in any circumstances, to assist the Allies to the last shilling in our power. But we might perhaps ask that, in addition to the assistance we are already obtaining from the United States, she should now take over the whole burden of the Allies, except in respect of purchases made by the Allies in this country.
The remaining item of the Vote of Credit was for miscellaneous expenditure. My right hon. Friend's estimate for the year under that head was £339,000,000. I do not wish to ask for any information which is going to be of the slightest use to the enemy, but I do not wish to be put off, as I am sure my right hon. Friend will not put me off, by a reply that the information for which one asks is not in the public interest. We should all like to know under what heads this miscellaneous expenditure is going to be expended. We know, for instance, that it includes all the cost of the new Government Departments. We have had a return to-day, in answer to a request by my right hon. Friend near me, giving the cost of the new Government Departments at the rate of £13,000,000 a year. My own impression is that the cost is very considerably higher, and that we shall find under the head of miscellaneous expenditure there will be a very much 212 bigger item for the cost of the new Government Departments taken in their entirety than £13,000,000.
§ Mr. McKENNA
This does not come under the Civil Service. This deals with new offices which come under the Vote of Credit. We must remember we are dealing with a Vote of Credit, and not the Civil Service. Three hundred and thirty-nine million pounds is an enormous figure. One can put one's hand at once upon certain large items which go to make up that total. There is the cost of the Pensions Department. That may be at say that may come to £40,000,000. There is the cost of the bread subsidy. I daresay that may come to £40,000,000 There is the cost of merchant shipbuilding. The figures we have seen reach a probable total for the year of something under 2,000,000 tons. Put the cost of the shipbuilding at as high a figure as you like, it cannot come to more than £60,000,000.
§ Mr. McKENNA
I put it at £30 a ton. I suppose, before the War, the cost would have been about £10 a ton. If I take those three big items—£60,000,000, for shipbuilding, £40,000,000 for the bread bonus, and pensions £50,000,000—that makes £150,000,000. How does he make up the total to £339,000,000? I have tried to make up the figure, and it has caused me very considerable difficulty. Would my right hon. Friend give us the statement? Of course, it is quite true that the Government are great purchasers of commodities—wool and foods of all kinds—but this item, we have had explained to us, is not a gross item of expenditure, but a net item, that is to say, it is the net item after deducting from the cost of the purchases the produce of the sales, and at the present time, I was recently informed, we are not purchasing at a great rate than we are selling. Consequently, there cannot be much, at any rate, of this amount due to any increase in the amount of commodities which we have bought. Then, again, the commodities which we have purchased, like wool, will not come under this head, but will come under the charge for the War Office, and, therefore, the House and the country are left in very grave doubt as to the heads under which this enormous total of £339,000,000 is expended.
213 We now have, even with the reduced figures which my right hon. Friend has given us, of a total daily expenditure, out of the Vote of Credit of just over £6,500,000—we still have a total expenditure, including the expenditure on the service of the Consolidated Fund, and expenditure on the ordinary Civil Service Estimates, of just about £7,750,000 a day. It is an enormous figure. I am sure my right hon. Friend will not be surprised that great anxiety has been created by recent reports both issued by the Committee over which my right hon. Friend (Mr. Herbert Samuel) presides, and by the Comptroller and Auditor-General. With a total of £7,750,000 a day, we have reached a point at which the power of the nation to produce more has become almost exhausted. My right hon. Friend himself has stated to-day that he does not expect any greater power of production from the people than we have at the present moment. It becomes then more than ever of vital importance that money should not be wasted. I am daily exhorted on the hoardings and by circulars that all wasteful expenditure is helping the enemy. It is true. Any waste of goods and services is exhausting us in a way which does not assist us in the War. But of all services in the country, the public service ought to be the first to insist on no waste of expenditure. It is not really so much the amount merely of money. We look at this huge total of £7,750,000 a day and we say, "£5,000,000 or £10,000,000 is wasted. It is little more than a day's expenditure—it does not amount to much." That is not the matter. If you waste £5,000,000 you are wasting the labour of men which costs £5,000,000. Take it round the other way, and consider what the £5,000,000 waste means in labour, even at the present rates of labour. Put it as high as you like. Put it at an average of £4 a week or £200 a year for each man. It means a waste of 25,000 men's work for a year. Twenty-five thousand men toiling for a year have wasted their labour. Reckoned in that way, I am sure the whole Committee will have one determination, and that is to assist the Treasury in enforcing economy.
The effect of the example of waste on the public is absolutely disastrous. We have all had personal experience when we have endeavoured to encourage economy in others. Wherever I go I am confronted with the same reply, "Let the 214 public Departments begin first." The Treasury, I know only too well, have but one desire, and that is to enforce economy. But the Treasury cannot do it unless the House of Commons is behind it. We have the Chancellor of the Exchequer here when we have to move a Vote of Credit, and we lecture him upon the needs of economy, and yet he is more alive to the needs of economy than any single Member of this House. We do not intend in the present Debate to lecture the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but to lecture the Gentlemen near him—the heads of the other Departments who waste money. The head of the National Service Department—let him give what answers he likes in Parliament, he is one of the worst offenders. He is causing waste in public and private Departments by taking men into the Army who ought not to be taken, and the vast array that his returns show of persons whom he is employing is an example of an overstaffed Department. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that if we are to effect economy, he has got to begin in his Department. If we are to see that the work of the nation is carried on efficiently, he has got to be careful that his definitions of grades are more exact than the definition which he was good enough to read out to us at Question Time to-day. Our business is to assist the Treasury, and I can assure my right hon. Friend that if, in dealing with any Department, he finds it necessary to take as strong a line as he wishes, he will have public opinion and the House behind him. There is really a feeling growing up on all hands that the time has come when a stand must be made, when we have got to inquire into the very depths of this subject. We must insist that these huge sums which are daily expended shall only be expended for the best of the public service.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Sir JOSEPH WALTON
The Vote we have under consideration to-day, added to the Votes of Credit previously demanded from this House, have reached, we are told by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the stupendous total of £7,342,000,000. The House, before authorising the Chancellor of the Exchequer to expend the still further sum of £500,000,000 ought, in my judgment, to have had a much fuller statement than we have received of the steps the right hon. Gentleman has taken, and is taking, to secure for the taxpayers 215 of this country better value for their money than they have so far received during this War. I propose to submit to the Committee some recent examples of the almost incredible waste which has been disclosed by the investigation of the Committee on National Expenditure which has been sitting under the chairmanship of my right hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland (Mr. Herbert Samuel), and which also are contained in the Report of the Auditor-General of 11th March last. These, in my judgment, show that if rigid economy had been practised in all the spending Departments of the State it would not have been necessary for the Chancellor to come to us to-day for this further Vote of £500,000,000; that his coming to us might have been deferred for some time yet. His earlier coming has been caused simply because of the wholesale waste of public money in practically every Department of the State.
We were told by the Chancellor of the Exchequer the other day that our National Debt on 31st March last was £5,900,000,000, and that the expenditure on all accounts this year was likely to approach £3,000,000,000, less the £850,000,000 income expected. It is perfectly clear that we shall have to raise by loans in this year alone at least £2,000,000,000 more. So far as we can foresee, this brings the total of our National Debt and National obligations up to 31st March next, to the enormous total of £8,000,000,000. Not only have we to face that, but we have also to remember, if our imports continue to exceed our exports on the same scale as they did last month, that we shall also have to finance nearly one thousand millions of imports over exports during this year. Added to this £8,000,000,000 of debt—
§ Attention called to the fact that forty Members were not present. House counted, and forty Members being found present—
§ Sir J. WALTON (resuming)
With this huge national burden of £8,000,000,000 of debt which we have to contemplate we have to add a considerably increased expenditure in other directions. The interest upon that huge debt, with adequate redemption, will reach £450,000,000 a year. Then we have the Army and Navy pensions, and the increase given in Old Age Pensions, before we touch our 216 pre-war fringe of expenditure of £200,000,000 a year. If that is not exceeded after the War—and who can say that we shall not have considerably increased expenditure for the Army, Navy, and Air Board?—it is well to survey the whole political outlook when we are asked to give the Chancellor of the Exchequer authority to spend another £500,000,000. We see that the position in front of us is such that our national financial requirements, even after the War, if it is concluded in this present financial year, may not be less than £800,000,000 or £900,000,000 a year. All this expenditure has gone on, and is going on, notwithstanding the fact that we have secured enormous savings in expenditure by the commandeering of shipping at Blue Book rates, by the commandeering of coal mines and railways, by our purchases in America being made on the same terms as the American Government makes theirs, and by fixing the prices of wool, hay, and other articles. Notwithstanding all this, the statement I make is substantially true to-day. I would ask, How are we going to foot the Bill?
We have been gratified by the way the country has taken up the 5 per cent. and 4 per cent. War Loans. At the same time, I find that we have piled up again £1,000,000,000 of short-dated Treasury bills, and, in addition, we have a huge sum of comparatively short-dated Exchequer Bonds and War Savings Certificates with which we shall have to reckon. With a weekly requirement of £40,000,000 per week over and above our national expenditure to carry on this War, I think we have the right to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to tell us how he proposes to deal with and meet the financial situation which has rapidly arisen. The Government restrictions in connection with great trades and industries must have the effect soon of substantially reducing our national revenue, and also the ability of those engaged in those trades to take up the loans. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, replying to my right hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland, said:Every endeavour will be made, in cases in which the expenditure in respect of any service can be estimated with sufficient approximation and the details of it can be made public without detriment to the public interest, to make the statement presented with the Vote of Credit as complete as possible, and also to secure that all excesses upon such Estimates are brought to the immediate attention of the House of Commons.217 I am afraid I cannot regard the speech of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor to-day as by any means a complete fulfilment of that declared intention. Much though I appreciate the splendid services that my right hon. Friend, in so fine a spirit, has rendered to his country, I venture again to say that no super-man could properly supervise the expenditure of nearly £3,000,000,000 annually while also acting as the Leader of the House of Commons, and a member of the War Cabinet. I am convinced that it is urgently necessary, if the country's financial interests are to any degree to be safeguarded, that we should have a whole-time man at the Treasury. I am sure my right hon. Friend will not disagree from that view, and I can only hope that before long that we shall have the announcement that he has come to the conclusion that it is his duty to make his Treasury work his one and only job in the national financial interest, and, if he cannot do that, why, then, I would venture humbly to suggest that we should bring back my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. A. Chamberlain) as a whole-time Chancellor of the Exchequer. In reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland the Chancellor of the Exchequer said, in regard to the question of increased financial control and supervision of expenditure of the Ministry of Munitions, Admiralty, Army, Air Board, etc., that, in his judgment,The best way of securing economy in the large spending Departments was to appoint in each an efficient head of supply services; that Sir Andrew Weir had been appointed as Surveyor-General of Supply at the War Office, and Sir H. Livesey had been appointed Director of Contracts at the Admiralty; but that the Ministry of Munitions stood in a different position because it is almost exclusively a supply Department and that arrangements were being made for improving the machinery of financial control, and that the making of contracts was now under consideration.I think when the Chancellor asks us for a Vote of Credit for £500,000,000 more we ought to be told what progress has been made in the work of securing economy. These changes, made in these great spending Departments, do not, however, remove in the slightest degree the necessity for efficient Treasury control and supervision. No one can deny that the whole basis of our financial system rests upon the doctrine that the interests of the taxpayer in limiting expenditure should not be left to a Minister at the head of a spending Department, but should be in 218 the special charge of another independent Minister—namely, the Chancellor of the Exchequer working through his own Department, the Treasury. The Treasury is the only Department in the State that is appallingly understaffed. They had thirty-three administrative chiefs in connection with an expenditure of under £200,000,000 a year before the War. That expenditure to-day is approximately fifteen times greater, and this superior administrative staff at the Treasury has only been increased to thirty-eight. That is a case, as Committee of my right hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland tells us, in which it is not an example of economy to keep the forces that make for economy at a minimum—as they are doing in the Treasury—but tends to defeat the object in view. I hope that we may to-day or to-morrow have some clear statement as to what is to be done to secure a stronger and more efficient—no, I will not say more efficient, because I believe that the staff at the Treasury is the most efficient of any Treasury in the world!—too much overwork, however, makes it quite impossible for them to grapple with the needs of the situation with the present staff. We were told, in answer also to a question of my right hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland, that the Government were taking various matters in hand with a view of effecting economies. For instance, we have the sending of an economy circular to all commands at home and abroad insisting on the necessity for safeguarding arms, ammunition, and equipment. We were told that the Government had under review the question of reducing the personnel of the Armies at home; the cutting down of the Royal Defence Corps, which had been spending £850 on a single sentry post. There was also the question of the disbanding of the Home Service Employment Companies, 62,000 strong. It would be interesting to know what progress has been made in these economies? What steps have been taken to secure increased supervision of the expenditure on national factories? The original estimates for seven factories was £3,000,000. Up to 31st March, 1917, there had actually been expended £7,250,000. What steps, I ask, has the Chancellor taken to stop this wholesale expenditure? The Auditor-General told us that there was a complete breakdown of the Headquarters Records of materials dispatched to and from national factories.
219 Then I would also ask, What steps has the Chancellor taken to prevent duplicate payments and overpayments in munition contracts, to which an old Member of this House drew our attention specially in the "Times" yesterday I What steps has the Chancellor taken to cut down large profits on contracts? The Auditor-General tells us that the Minister of Munitions in July agreed to pay 36s. per 100 for filling Gaines. That was for the first 100,000, after which the price was to be revised. But it went on, and they filled 4,000,000 Gaines at 36s. per 100, whereas other firms were doing it for 14s. 3d., 14s., and 17s. 6d. per 100. Such a condition of things is incredible. The Auditor-General also tells us that he is always making reports to the Departments, and always being ignored. He complains helplessly that out of a sum of £38,000,000 for materials supplied by the Ministry of Munitions, nearly £16,000,000 represents material for which no invoice was supplied. He reports that the factory accountants recently discovered an error of £3,000,000 in respect of material supplied by the Ministry, and this, he says, has now been adjusted. What is more important is to know whether the system which makes these errors possible has also been adjusted? This would involve not only an adjustment of staffs, but would secure the finance of the War being carried on more economically, more efficiently, and more expeditiously. We are told also by the Auditor-General that claims made on our Allies for supplies approximating to £2,500,000 in value have been omitted. He says that 3,000,000 complete rounds of 18-pounder ammunition were ordered to be broken up, and it was found that there was no claim whatever against the supplier of defective ammunition. Then with regard to the staffs of hostels, the auditor reports that in Coventry the staff was one in five of the residents. Is not that wholesale and unjustifiable waste of public money? In connection with our contracts, in Switzerland and France, no proper accounts have been kept either at home or abroad, and the whole accounts appear to be in a state of chaos. The Auditor-General tells us he cannot get his inquiries answered. The fact is that this gigantic amount of waste is something that makes us feel almost in a state of despair.
Take the bread subsidy. The Committee of my right hon. Friend tells us it was estimated to cost £40,000,000 a year. The flour sold to bakers at a uniform 220 rate of 43s. 9d. per sack was estimated to cost for conversion to bread 23s. per sack, but we find the cost of conversion into bread varies from 10s. to 25s. per sack, or 1½d. to 3d. per loaf, according to local conditions. Four-fifths of the bread is made by one-tenth of the bakers, and at 43s. 9d. they make an excessive profit, whereas the inefficient bakers are asking to be allowed to raise the price above 9d. It is estimated that a rise of 1s. in the price of flour would save £2,000,000 in the State subsidy, and the Committee suggest that 5s. might with advantage be added to the cost of the flour, and a national saving of £10,000,000 secured.
Take, again, the overstaffed Air Board. The President of the Air Board himself actually told the country that the number of the combined staffs, Naval and Army, in connection with the Air Board, equalled the total of combatants on service with those forces. What steps have been taken to reduce those staffs, and what saving has been effected? There is another Committee on staffs that has sent an Interim Report, and it recommends central recruitment by the Civil Service Commission. The questions of the multiplication of clerks, the manufacture of unnecessary work, the appalling growth of Inter-Departmental correspondence which had come into being with the temporary Civil Service, do not appear to have been considered by the Committee. Yet the question for the moment is not so much the qualification of the new recruits as the abolition of whole bodies of men and women who are performing, let us say in Whitehall or on the Thames Embankment, precisely the same functions that similar bodies are already performing in Downing Street. There is no Committee of greater importance than the Staffing Committee, but they simply have considered so far how to provide the best recruits without competition, not the question of organisation, and how far the numbers in different Departments are really requisite to do the work. It is by organisation and direction of control in all these Government offices that the staffs could easily be reduced by one-half, and a saving of millions a year effected. We are told by that Committee that recommendations have been too much followed in these cases, even leading to inefficient, poorly-trained candidates being taken on. Also, they say, cases have occurred where the Civil Service Commission would not recommend men and, because 221 there was independent recruiting, all the rejected people had to do was to go across to one of the Departments and be taken on. Clerks, even discharged for inefficiency or insubordination by one Department, promptly secured appointments in other Departments even at higher pay. The mode of conducting business in these Government Departments is such as in any other trade or industry in the country would lead to nothing else than absolute chaos and financial ruin, and why I am dwelling on this is because I submit that whenever the Chancellor of the Exchequer asks the House to authorise him to spend huge further sums of money he ought to give us full information as to the steps the Treasury is taking to enforce rigid economy, and to prevent this waste, that can be prevented, of untold millions of the taxpayers' money.
§ Mr. ROCH
The hon. Member who has just spoken and my right hon. Friend who preceded him devoted nearly all their remarks to the highly important subjects of finance, and the vast sums that are now being raised. But I think even they, with the importance they attach to that subject, will agree that the most important part of the speech the Chancellor of the Exchequer delivered was delivered when he dealt with the great military events we have so recently gone through. I think everyone's mind, not only the minds of Members of the House but even of those outside, must necessarily have been struck, if they were not struck before, by the message which the King sent to the Imperial Conference calling attention to the unparalleled gravity of the circumstances in which the Conference is being held. Despite the gravity of these remarks, I think members of the public outside will be relieved to have what I will almost describe as an optimistic survey taken by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I only trust and hope the optimistic survey he has taken now will be more fulfilled than other optimistic surveys which have been taken on the eve of great events. But in giving us a review of certain military events the right hon. Gentleman, I think, will be the first to admit, because he speaks with much frankness, that he did not throw much light on past events, and while he devoted some space of time to his remarks he did not give us much information or say very much of which anybody was not aware who has followed the Press carefully and is interested in current events. There are 222 one or two events on which I hope he will be able to give us a little fuller information and more light. I need hardly say I appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman said that one should speak with discretion and be careful what one says in times like these.
The points to which I will call attention are only those which have been discussed already in the public Press and are discussed wherever men meet who are taking great interest and looking with somewhat anxious eyes on events which are past and events which may possibly have to come. One point on which the right hon. Gentleman did give us a specific announcement was that in which he told us of the unity of command which has now been fixed up under the direction of General Foch, and may I ask him if he can throw a little further light on that? It is not with any object of criticising the appointment of General Foch. Now it has been done everyone will hope it is the best possible solution, and everyone admits that it was the best thing that could be done; but everyone will admit that arrangements in connection with the Higher Command in the last six months have gone through several vicissitudes. There was difference of opinion as to the best machinery for carrying out the ends which everyone has in view, and he will realise that there have been, I will not say angry Debates, but Debates in which differences of opinion were manifested in those six months. Indeed, the curious thing when one looks at the actual solution now arrived at, namely, unity of command, is this, that the two Members of the House with most experience in the conduct of war, the right hon. Member for East Fife and the present Prime Minister, both said, in the Debate on the Versailles Council, that the one solution which was not wise was that of a Generalissimo; and so my hon. Friend will not feel it is unbecoming in a Member to ask him to throw some light on a change of opinion which has occurred very rapidly. I would remind him that in the course of the Debate on the first formation of the Versailles Council the right hon. Member for East Fife dealt with various alternative proposals. Having criticised the policy of a Generalissimo, he was followed by the Prime Minister, who agreed entirely with what he said, and used these words:He (that is the right hon. Member for East Fife) examined three alternatives. I am in complete agreement with him in his views in regard to the first two. The first that has been put 223 forward in very responsible quarters is the appointment of a Generalissimo of the whole of the forces of the Allies. I agree with him. Personally, I am utterly opposed to that suggestion for reasons which it would not be desirable to enter into. It would produce real friction and might create prejudice not merely between the Armies, but between the nations and the Government.I think in view of a very positive statement of that kind and the fact that the Generalissimo was appointed not in a time of calm but in the midst of a great engagement we are entitled to have some further information as to why the Prime Minister and the Cabinet now think this is the very best solution. I think we should have some explanation why the right hon. Gentleman and the Cabinet are now satisfied they have reached the very best instrumentality that could guide the destinies of the War. I believe it is more than certain that we should ask the right hon. Gentleman to speak quite frankly on this question. I believe that in the whole course of the discussions of the last six months it would have been better if the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer had spoken quite frankly, and had spoken their full minds. In this connection one cannot overlook the fact that the Prime Minister spoke at Edinburgh at late as the 24th May last, and in the course of that speech he said:I tried repeatedly to the best of my power to achieve unity, but I had to approach it by easy stages, and I am sorry to say I very nearly upset the Government several times in doing so. Now that it has been accomplished it is really incredible that for many months we had to fight every inch of the way for unity of direction against potent influences. But it is now a fact, and there is no doubt it has added to our fighting strength.If that was the view of the Government would it not have been better to have said so quite frankly, instead of going through these various stages of the Versailles Council, which lost us the services of Sir William Robertson? Would it not have been better to have said that unity of command was the best thing possible, and not the one thing which would have led to friction; and would it not have been better for the Government to have put all their cards on the table, and then I am sure the House of Commons would have supported them? That is one point I wish to call attention to, and on which I hope the right hon. Gentleman will throw a little more light. I hope he will tell us quite frankly, without keeping anything back, whether he is satisfied that this is 224 now the best means of carrying on the War, and we should be glad to know that there is finality after all the choppings and changes during the last six months.
There are one or two other points on which I think we can fairly press the Government to give information, inasmuch as they deal with events which have now passed, and they are facts which have been freely discussed in the newspapers in the course of the last few days. The point I should like a further statement from the Government upon and further information is with regard to the numbers of the forces on the Western Front. What has given rise to a feeling of unrest in the public mind is that during the last two or three months, since these two great offensives were launched, we have read nothing else but statements that our forces have been outnumbered to the extent of four or five to one, and even the "Times" has stated that our forces have been opposed by as many as four and five to one. That was so in the case of General Gough's Army. We have been told by the "Times" in a leading article on the 1st June:There is no doubt that the forces which he threw into the field on Monday were overwhelming. Four French divisions and three tired British divisions found themselves opposed to some thirty German divisions, and it is understood that by yesterday the Crown Prince had used all the divisions at his disposal. They are estimated at not less than forty-five and twenty-nine have actually been identified.I think that requires some further explanation or some statement on behalf of the Government, because we have been assured constantly in a series of speeches made here that there was equality of numbers on the Western Front. We were told as specifically as men could be told that we really had nothing to fear, and that we could look to the future with confidence because there was equality of numbers. I see the Minister of National Service in his place. If I may say so, in regard to numbers he was the worst offender, for he told us positively in January, when he was asking for further powers to raise men for the Army, that there was equality of numbers on the Western Front. I will quote his exact words. Speaking here on 15th January, he said:It is obviously impossible for us to state precisely the strength in the field and in reserve of all the Armies of Britain and her Allies, but I can assure the House that they are at present in relative numbers and moral in a position to face at least on equal terms the forces of 225 the enemy at present opposed to them, and if the necessary reinforcements are found during the present year, as without doubt they can and ought to be found, having regard to the resources of the Allies, they can face any additional forces which the enemy can bring into the field.That is a perfectly clear statement that there was equality of numbers, despite the Russian débâcle, and the bringing of German troops from the East to the West. We were told that there was equality of numbers in January last. The Minister of National Service was supported in his statement at a later date by the Prime Minister himself, who, speaking on 9th April last, told us:Owing to the growth of the strength of our Armies in 1917, when this battle began, the combatant strength of the whole of the German Army on the Western Front was only approximately, though not quite, equal to the total combatant strength of the Allies. In Infantry they were slightly inferior"—That will be news to some people—in Artillery they were inferior, and in Cavalry they were considerably inferior, and, what is very important, they were undoubtedly inferior in aircraft.That statement informs us that they were inferior to us in all these respects.
§ Mr. ROCH
Yes; that is so. In every account that reaches us we hear that our forces were outnumbered, and I think we are entitled to some statement as to whether those numbers were not too optimistic or whether the means of information at the disposal of the Government was defective. When statements are made like that in such a positive way, and when you find that so far as we can judge, in the light of actual events, they seem open to criticism, if not to doubt, we can quite honestly, without being accused of pro-German views or wishing to help the enemy, ask for some information and for some explanation of these events. Having regard to the deep interest taken by the public in current events, and to the very grave anxiety which exists all over the country, there is another aspect of the last two offensives upon which we can legitimately ask the Government to throw a little more light and give us further information. We have been assured by the Press in respect of both these offensives that they were surprise attacks. We have also been assured that we hold complete supremacy of the air. There does seem a discrepancy between those two statements. If we 226 have complete supremacy in the air, which presumably would give us complete powers of observation, while one makes no reflection upon anyone, it does seem curious that both these big offensives should have come as a complete surprise to the Allied Forces, and I think we are entitled to a little more information on that point.
§ Mr. ROCH
I think the hon. and gallant Member is mistaken. Surely the attack on General Gough's force must have been a surprise! If General Gough was opposed by forty-one divisions to fourteen divisions, the assumption is that it was a surprise. I am not an expert, and I am simply asking for further information from the Government. I hope the Government to the best of their ability will do their utmost to enable the country and the House of Commons to really face facts rather than fancies. We read in the course of these offensives accounts in which it is always represented that the Germans have had very heavy losses, and that they are heavier than ours. I hope the Government will really tell us if that is not true. I see that so great an authority as Professor Spenser Wilkinson, in an article in the "Sunday Times" which presumably passed the Censor, talked of the situation in this way:The usual statement that the German losses have been heavier than those of the Allies must be discounted.Let us face the facts. Do not let the public fancy and hopes be raised by pictures of appalling German losses if they are not true. Let us know whether the German claim that during these offensives they have taken 175,000 prisoners and 2,000 guns is true or false. It cannot possibly give any information to the Germans to tell us that, tout it can bring the public back to the realities of the situation if they can be told a little more accurately the real facts rather than the fancies of the position, which I think is highly necessary.
There is one other point only to which I should like to refer. It may be a delicate point to raise, but it has been discussed in the Press, and I think it is one on which we can fairly ask for a statement and for further information—I refer to the amalgamation which has been going on between the French and the British Armies. This has been criticised by 227 military critics in the Press. It has also been criticised by officers whom I have personally seen, and who are personal friends. They do not know what the necessities of the case may be, but they look upon it at any rate as a thing that should be done more carefully, with great prudence, and great judgment. I think it is fair when the British Army has been spatchcocked in certain parts of the line along with the French Army that we should have some information as to how far that process is going, and as to how far the necessities of the case justify it. I have all the greater reason to urge this because there has been brought home to the notice of certain people who took part in it one instance of the difficulties which this amalgamation of the forces has produced in the mere administration of an army in the field. Many people have told me when some of our forces took part in one of the battles on the front that the wounded under our French Allies were, from a British point of view, not handled at all. We had not our separate forces there, and thousands of our men were sent from pillar to post with no arrangements for the wounded at all, and if that aspect of the question were examined, I am told by men who have seen it, and who have actually suffered under it, that it would be as bad as some of the scandals which have been investigated during any part of the War. I am only mentioning this to show the difficulties of the amalgamation of these two forces. There are other difficulties which no doubt will arise in regard to depots, hospitals, means of communication, and so on, but when a serious step like that has been taken it is not unfair to ask for some explanation and some assurance that it is the best they can adopt for handling the military position with which they are faced.
Those are the principal points upon which I feel, with all deference, the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House might give us some statement, and I hope this Debate will not conclude before he has thrown some light upon these points. Again, I would assure the right hon. Gentleman that the best course, if he wants to face grave possibilities, is not to make optimistic forecasts, but let him bring the country and the House face to face with the realities. Let him tell us frankly what is in his mind in regard to unity of command and the amal- 228 gamation of the forces. If there are any differences of opinion they can be expressed here forcibly if you like and threshed out, and perhaps some decision can be given without any detriment to the public welfare or to the carrying on of the War.
§ General CROFT
I want to say a word with regard to the question of economy. I think everyone in the House is impressed with the extreme necessity for economy in Government administration at the present time, and it has been well said to-day that the Ministry of National Service is one of the worst offenders. I will only give one small instance, which I believe is typical of what goes on. I was talking the other day to an officer who has been extraordinarily successful as a recruiting officer. Under the new scheme he was replaced by a civilian. We happened to have a mutual friend who has since taken on recruiting work, and we asked him whether he had had any previous experience. He said, "None whatever." Yet we discovered that he was getting a higher rate of pay than the recruiting officer who had been turned down. That, I believe, has happened in several cases, and the whole House is becoming more and more impressed with the laxity, especially in the Ministry of Munitions and the Ministry of National Service, with regard to public moneys at a time when it is so imperative for this House to set an example. I should like to congratulate the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down (Mr. Roch) on his extremely well-informed speech. I do not intend to follow him in what he said with regard to the generalissimo in France. I eat my words with very great pleasure. Three times in this House—I cannot deny it, because it will be found in the OFFICIAL REPORT—I said that it would be most undesirable to have a generalissimo for the two Armies, but the generalissimo is there, and I am sure everyone in the Army would say that General Foch is, above all others, a man in whom we have confidence, and whom we desire to support. At the same time, we must call to mind the fact that on this particlar subject the Prime Minister and his colleagues have been turning somersaults that would satisfy any clown in any public circus. If there is to be a generalissimo of the combined armies, we are loyally going to abide by it, but we have to remember the habits of the Prime 229 Minister, and it will make us watch his antics a little more carefully in future if he should again give us a display.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his speech this afternoon, was, if anything, too optimistic, though I am sure the whole House was glad to notice the tone of his speech. He warned us of the future, and he said we must all realise that upon the next three months everything depends. The reinforcements from the United States have almost exceeded our expectations, and it is a tremendous encouragement to all of us to see the way that they are pouring in, but let us not allow ourselves to forget the fact that in the next three months probably the whole burden of the War is going to fall with great effect upon us. It will be upon our strong right arm, upon the moral of our Armies, and upon the spirit of our countrymen behind our Armies, that we shall have to depend in this most critical period that is coming. I, therefore, cordially agree that it is necessary that the country should be well informed. Let us tell them the truth, and have such a general discussion as is possible on this Vote. The House might well congratulate the people of the country upon the splendid spirit that has been displayed since 21st March. It proves very conclusively that you have only to let the people know the worst, and their unity and their energy will be far stronger in support of their country in her hour of need. The Chancellor of the Exchequer caused many of us to reflect when he told us how we were able to build up our reserves now. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will realise that I am not trying to nag the Government, but we have to realise the fact that the Government failed to take into regard the collapse of Russia. We want to prevent future failures of that kind, and we ask the Government always to look at least a year ahead, and to be considering what they are going to do this time next year or the year afterwards. It is only so that we can provide against these dangers. It is because the Government did not adequately deal with this question of reserves that our Armies were in the position that they were in on 21st March.
It is no consolation to read the speech of Lord Milner, with the tone of which I was personally delighted. He told us of the great concentration of reserves which is now going on. We must necessarily ask ourselves whether that concentration 230 could not have taken place on 20th March, previous to the great German offensive. The Prime Minister has told us recently that he is desirous of concentrating the troops of the Empire at the vital point. Have the Government even yet done all that they might have done to form new units of the coloured warrior races of the British Empire in order to deal with the Eastern situation? There are thousands of officers in this country fully capable of training divisions waiting for a job, and seeing that the old military dictum—that where your opponents' major forces are there you have got to destroy them—is still true, I would ask whether the Government are doing everything in their power to deal with these exterior campaigns by an increased mobilisation of our Asiatic and African fighting warriors? The Chancellor of the Exchequer in the course of his interesting speech mentioned the Battle of the Somme. It is imperative that in this case we should tell the country the truth as to what really happened. My hon. Friend spoke about the great surprise that took place twice in the North. As a matter of fact, I believe that our intelligence was quite good on the whole; in fact, the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself or the Prime Minister, I cannot remember which, told us of the extraordinary foresight of the Chief of the Military General Staff, who is a gentleman and an officer who always has great foresight, in spotting the exact date and almost the exact place where the attack was going to take place.
§ General CROFT
We knew pretty accurately where this great German effort was going to be made, but there is this fact which is not quite realised. It may be true that your Armies were approximately of equal strength—I do not consider they were, having regard to the reserves coming from the Russian Front—but when you had this tremendous long front, though you might be certain that you were going to have a big attack made against you, you could not tell whether it would be by thirty or by eighty divisions. There have been criticisms made of the Fifth Army, and indirectly by the Prime Minister himelf. I will not say that they were criticisms in the form that he made them, but until he has said something more they will remain criticisms. It was suggested by him in this House that we 231 must inquire into the whole question of this disaster to the Fifth Army. I think it will be advisable, even if it is inconvenient, to let this inquiry take place, and take place quickly, because when we hear in every club and at every luncheon table that no rear defences were dug, it is not fair not to have the whole truth. As a matter of fact, the front taken over by the Fifth Army from the French was only taken over one month before, and, unless the Fifth Army was stronger than was necessary to hold the shorter front, it is perfectly evident that it had not any units that could be digging rear defences. That is a thing that we ought to have cleared up. Within two months the Fifth Army had taken over 48,000 yards from the French, in addition to the front that it had previously taken over. I happened to meet two or three brother officers who I knew were present at bridge destructions. Certain bridges were destroyed, but, unfortunately, the Somme is shallow, and the mere wreckage falling into the river made a sufficient crossing for the enemy. Let us not have these insinuations against the Army. Let us have the thing cleared up. It is in the public interest that everyone should know the exact truth with regard to the Fifth Army on the Somme. This fact is pretty evident. The Fifth Army was fourteen divisions strong, and was holding, with part of the Third Army, where the line was also bent, 30 miles of front. That 30 miles became 60 miles as the retreat went on, and one of the amazing facts in this War will prove to be that a comparatively small force, too thin to hold its original front of 30 miles, was yet able to stop the enemy when holding a front of 60 miles.
I desire to say a word with regard to the mixing of units. I was glad to hear my hon. Friend refer to the matter, because I wish to say a word on the subject myself. No one will deny that it is inadvisable to mix troops of different units. You have only to read and to study your text books, and even the ordinary drill book on combined training, from which platoon commanders learn that troops of the same unit should support their comrades. If that is true of a company, or a battalion, or a brigade, or a division of the British Army, surely it must be far more true when you are dealing with troops of two nationalities, however friendly they may be, with a 232 different language and with all the possibilities of misunderstanding orders and so on! What was the fact? Certain divisions were taken out of our Army and were sent down to the extreme South, where this great attack against the French took place. I believe they were genuinely asked to go there by the French because that would be a quiet sector, and would give them a chance to recover. That was the result of the French sending us loyal and speedy support North of Kemmel. You had an amalgamation of this description, four or five divisions of the French in the north and four or five British divisions right down in the South. This policy must inevitably lead to friction if persisted in. Surely, the first thing to be done is to see that the British line and the French line are kept intact and that they have a junction only at one point, so that you eliminate all possibility of friction. It so happened that in these two cases, by extraordinary good fortune, the British divisions in the South fought magnificently, with the consequence that the French could not say that they had let them down, and that the French divisions in the North also fought magnificently. If the reverse had been the case, you would have had a disastrous moral effect. I therefore hope everything will be done under the Generalissimo to prevent the mixing up of the two Armies, who, so far, have managed to co-operate and combine right from the outbreak of the War in so extraordinary a manner. I should like to say one word in regard to our general war policy since the end of last year. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee (Mr. Churchill), who is not present, is very largely responsible for what I may call the change of tone in the Government in regard to the conduct of the War. I heard him make very emphatic speeches in which he told us to sit down in our trenches and to bombard the enemy, but, whatever we did, not to attack until the time came when the Americans would come over in large numbers and help us. I was very sorry to hear him greatly cheered in this House. In modern war we have to realise the fact that acting on the defensive you may have to suffer just as heavily as you do when you are acting on the offensive. When you gave over your offensive and completely closed down and when the sort of speech was made that you could never pierce the Western Front—the Germans 233 have very nearly disproved it—the immediate result was that the initiative went into the hands of the Germans. Even if the Germans were not superior in numbers, if they were only equal in numbers on the Western Front, they were able to concentrate their armies against any one point they chose at any hour on the British front. I do not know whether there is now any restraining element in this connection. If there is, I hope the Government will realise that the one way to get back to ascendancy on that front is to regain the initiative and not let the Germans decide always where and when they are going to attack.
Up to date, we have not realised the enormous part that science has played in the War. I hope that the Government are building ahead. I do not know what are their preparations for aeroplane construction for this time next year. I do not know what their preparations are for the construction of tanks this time next year. One word as to tanks. We are far too much inclined to be depressed at the loss of say a dozen or a hundred tanks. Tanks are formidable things for the eye to see lying stricken in. No Man's Land, but a tank only holds six men If you can achieve with a hundred tanks what you achieve with a division of Infantry it means that you will be doing with a personnel of 600 what you would otherwise do with 6,000. I hope that we shall get tank production to such an extent that we shall be able to use tanks as companies of Infantry, as Cavalry screens, and as counter batteries to the enemy's guns. By doing so we shall save tremendously in personnel, especially if we are not afraid of losing tanks as now we are not afraid of losing aeroplanes. The moral effect of tanks has been absolutely proved. I hope the Government will adopt this policy on a large scale, because I believe that tanks and aeroplanes are going to be two of the most decisive factors in victory.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer said something, which we were very glad to hear, as to the present position of submarines. I hope we shall not be asked to rely too much on that. We are not certain that the Germans are not building a better submarine than they have done in the past. It is their habit. We cannot be too sure. We ought to be doing everything we can in the way of production in order to save tonnage. That has been emphasised quite recently. The Ministry of Munitions refused again and again to 234 allow the erection of machinery for producing margarine in this country. The result was that shipping was taking raw products from our African territories to Holland. Some of that shipping was sunk on the way. At the same time ships were bringing the finished product from Holland to this country and some of those ships were sunk on the way. At last the Government realised that by manufacturing margarine in this country they were able to save that tonnage, yet that tonnage was held up by the narrow-minded outlook of the Ministry of Munitions. The same thing happens now in regard to sugar and other products. If we are going to tackle the submarine question, production is the first thing to consider. If we can only have a more scientific outlook with regard to the weapons used in this War, if we can only keep the people in this country encouraged, then the coming of the Americans, with its effect of a population of 190,000,000 as against the 70,000,000 of Germany upon the question of man-power, we are going to see, if we can only hold firm during the next three months, the complete defeat of our enemies within the coming twelve months.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
I am sure that the Committee was gratified to hear from the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the closing part of his speech the survey—I will not call it an optimistic, but at any rate a hopeful, survey—of the existing military situation. As the course of the Debate has already shown, there is a general and a growing feeling, not only in the House, but in the country, that it is in the best interests of the Allied cause and of the successful prosecution of the War in the stage which it has now reached, that, as far as is consistent with military necessities, Parliament and the country should from time to time be authoritatively and, as far as possible, fully and completely informed of the progress of the campaign. I know—no one knows better than I do—the difficulties under which Ministers are placed, particularly civilian Ministers, in that matter. It may be—if so, I take a full share of responsibility and blame upon myself—it may be that we have been unduly reticent in the past. But I am quite certain of this, that after the experience which we have now undergone, of the constant and undaunted temper which the nation has shown, and is showing, there is no risk whatever that 235 that temper will be impaired, or that that constancy will be relaxed, by the fullest and freest disclosure of authentic news, be it favourable or unfavourable. I confess I should be glad if, not only upon these rather sporadic and rarely occurring occasions of Votes of Credit, Ministers would make it a practice to give the House a periodic statement of the actual progress of the War. I am not myself in favour of statements of that kind being made under what is called the seal of secrecy. We have had one or two Secret Sessions—so-called Secret Sessions—in the course of the War, and I do not think they have been an encouraging example. The secrecy is unreal. There is no genuine safeguard against leakage, and I am satisfied myself, from the experience we have had, that all the information which has been given to us in Secret Session might just as well have been given on the floor of the House, with the reporters in the Gallery, and with the whole country looking on and listening.
My right hon. Friend took, on the whole, a hopeful view of the situation on the Western Front. There are certain points upon which I think the Committee would have been glad, and would still be glad, in regard to that front, to have further information. They have been indicated in the two admirable speeches to which we have just listened, one from my hon. Friend the Member for Pembrokeshire (Mr. Roch) and the other from my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Christchurch (General Croft)—speeches which are a model of what speeches upon an occasion of this kind and in circumstances like these ought to be; speeches penetrated by patriotic spirit, and anxious only for information which the whole of the people throughout the country would be glad to receive, and which, as the two hon. Members think—and I am inclined to agree with them—might be given without detriment to the interests of the War. For instance, there were the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Pembrokeshire, which referred to the past only, as to the disparity of numbers, as to the surprise attacks, and as to the drawbacks, or alleged drawbacks, which have attended the intermixture of divisions of different nationalities. Those are all practical points, information as to which could not possibly prejudice any 236 existing operation, and which, subject to the further opinion of the Government, I hope they may be disposed to afford.
The same applies to the very practical and well-instructed criticisms made by the hon. and gallant Member for Christchurch. I hope the Government will see their way to give us a little more information upon these points. I should like, if I may, to go a step further. My right hon. Friend confined—with an exception to which I will advert in a moment—his observations to the operations which are proceeding on the Western Front. The exception was the case of Italy and the Austrian offensive against Italy, which is now in full progress, as to which it would certainly be premature and in the highest degree inopportune to express at this moment anything in the nature of a considered judgment, but in which not only our own troops and the French, but those of our gallant Allies the Italians have already shown, what we knew they would display—courage, resource, and a determination to hold their own. We should be glad to hear, if the Government can tell us, of some of the other theatres of War. My right hon. Friend said nothing of the operations that are going on in Palestine, in Mesopotamia, or in the region of Salonika. If there be information which has not already been disclosed to the public which he is in a position to give, the Committee and the country would be glad to have it in regard to those matters.
There is a further, and, to my mind, a more important point, which I approach with some hesitation and reserve, but which is of the greatest moment and significance. The collapse of the Russian resistance to Germany is the immediate source and cause of all the anxieties and perils from which we are suffering on the Western Front. But we cannot shut our eyes, and we ought not to shut our eyes, to what is going on in Russia itself, and to the future relations of that country with the Allied cause. I am not at all disposed to wipe Russia off the slate, to treat her as though she had become a non-existent or a negligible quantity, and to assume the attitude—certainly it is not the attitude of the Government—which I see encouraged, or at least countenanced, in certain quarters, of saying to Russia: "You have failed us. You must now stew in your own juice. You are no longer any concern of the Allies." That is a policy of fatal short-sightedness, and in my judgment, with all the resources of diplomacy, 237 and, if need be, military and naval assistance, we ought, if we can, before it is too late, while opportunities are still open, to build up—it is true, upon a new foundation—a relationship of friendship and of intimate alliance with the great Russian people. After all, it is no more in their interest than in ours that Germany should prevail in this conflict. Indeed, Russia has far more to suffer—being, as she is, Germany's immediate neighbour, being the obvious and chosen victim for German penetration—for the extension by direct and by indirect means of German control. Russia has far more to lose by a German victory, and far more to gain by a German defeat, than any other of the separate members of the alliance. I know very well the delicacy of the ground—I know the international and other difficulties which any proposal for intervention in that quarter has to encounter, and I am not pressing the Government—but it ought to go forth to the world that here in the House of Commons we, the representatives of the British people, are as anxious now as we ever have been to have Russia upon our side, and to give to the great Russian democracy the assurance that in all the pains and anxieties, the tumult and turmoil, which they have been and are called upon to go through, we believe their sympathies are with the cause of progress and justice, and we hope and trust that not only their sympathies, but their active assistance, will be given to the cause in which they are at least as much interested as we ourselves.
I feel—which of us does not?—that with all the cheering considerations which the Chancellor of the Exchequer very properly brought before us, we are face to face with as grave and as menacing a situation as has confronted us since the beginning of the War. It is true, as he said, that in some respects, and in some very important respects, we are better equipped to face it than we were a year ago. I think there is ground for saying—while it is a very hazardous statement to make on such a point—that in the air we have attained, I will not say dominion or ascendancy, but, at any rate, a position of superiority such as we have never had before. I think it is also true to say—though here again we ought to speak with great reserve, because we do not know what the future, even the immediate future, has in store—that the submarine peril is, at any rate, not so formidable or 238 so menacing as it was twelve months ago, though even upon that I should not like to build any too confident anticipations of the future.
Whatever may be said about the air, whatever may be said about what goes on under the sea, one asset of incalculable importance has been added to the resources of the Allied cause, and that is the great and growing influx of American forces. These are all considerations of fact upon which we may look as hopeful signs. I will say nothing about the advantage or disadvantage of what is called "unity of command." Some months ago, in the autumn, I expressed grave doubts, which were endorsed by the Prime Minister, as to the wisdom of appointing a generalissimo for the Allied forces. I can remember, as all of us can who have read history, great campaigns in which this country has been associated with Allies where duality of command has been found conducive to glorious victory. I do not suppose ever in the history of war there has been a more magnificent partnership than that between the Duke of Marlborough and Prince Eugene; and Wellington and Blucher managed to get on very well. At any rate, they did their job without technical unity of command. This is the anniversary of their great combined feat of arms. Therefore I am not at all sure that the teaching of history points in the direction of this technical and formal unity. The drawbacks and disadvantages of it are, of course, obvious to everyone. But I am not going to dwell upon that, because, as my right hon. Friend said, whatever arguments may have weighed with me, and with the Prime Minister also, in the other direction, under the stress of emergency, and indeed after the battle had actually begun, this unity of command took place. It is an existing fact, it is a fact which we must all accept, and we must hope and believe and trust that it will be productive of the most beneficial results. At any rate, one thing is perfectly certain. We can say here with freedom that if there was to be unity of command under a single generalissimo, there is no soldier in the whole of the Allied Forces to whom we would give more trusting and complete confidence than to the illustrious General Foch.
I go back to what I said a moment ago. The situation is most serious and formidable I think the Committee would like to be reassured—if my right hon. Friend 239 could give them any help in that direction—on two points. The result of the German offensive—I am not going into any details—has been, as I read the map, largely to extend the line which the Allies have to hold, and an extended line means, of course, a line which is held necessarily, on a lower average strength throughout. From that two practical considerations of enormous moment follow. The first is obviously that it is more than over necessary not only to replace wastage, but, if possible, by every means in your power to increase your aggregate disposable combatant force. The second is that the enemy having, as they have at this stage of the conflict, the two advantages, of which we cannot deprive them for the moment, first, of initiative, and next of fighting throughout on interior lines, the means of communication behind our own lines—I use the phrase "means of communication" in its largest and widest possible sense—on which depend—the Germans have shown us that—the power of the rapid movement of mobile reserves, should be developed and extended and utilised to the utmost possible degree. My hon. Friend (Mr. Roch) said something about the difficulty of understanding how it was that the Germans can move large bodies of men—we having, at any rate, an equality, if not a superiority, in the air—unobserved, and transfer them with rapidity from one point of attack to another. The only reason which accounts for the facts, which are undoubted, is that they have developed—they started with a great advantage in that respect—means of communication laterally and vertically behind their lines to such a degree that they are able, in an almost incredibly short space of time, to make these large transfers by night in the darkness without aerial observation, and to move division after division from one point to another. That is an example which they have set us. It ought to be a lesson which they have taught. I am perfectly sure we should be glad to be reassured on that point, that our military authorities are devoting all their energies to the improvement of the position in that respect.
These are strictly practical considerations, which I am sure the Government will not only not resent having brought to their notice, but for which they will be grateful. There is no one in the House who at this moment, in the fresh memory of the experience of the last six 240 weeks, in the presence of possible developments, even more serious and more dangerous, does not feel that it is the duty of every patriotic man to contribute everything he can, not only in the way of effort, but in the way, if he has it, of suggestion, of information, and even of criticism to the conduct of the War. That is the first duty certainly which is laid upon Members of this House, and I am sure the free exercise and discharge of it will be welcomed. Do not let us shut our eyes to the gravity of the situation. I am not an alarmist, and I have never been a pessimist. I believe just as strongly now as I have always done not only in the goodness, but in the inevitable triumph of the great cause in which we are engaged; but all the more it seems to me it behoves us to put aside altogether the spirit, I will not say of optimism, but of undue and of articulate and vocal self-confidence. The times are much too grave, the situation is mach too serious, for perorations or rhetoric. I appeal to my fellow Members in every quarter of the House to give to the Government of the country at this moment that which is the best service any of us can offer in the shape of patriotic suggestion and unwavering support.
§ Mr. WHYTE
I hope that nothing I have to say will jar upon the note of quiet confidence which has been struck by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Fife. We all know that his closing words in no sense exaggerate the situation in which the Allied cause stands at this moment, and if I have some criticisms to make regarding topics of this character they will be offered in no cavilling spirit against anything that fell from him or against the two interesting speeches which justly earned his praise. I have heard a good many military Debates in this House and I do not think it is too much to say that as a rule they prove inconclusive, and they must prove inconclusive owing to the circumstances of the case. What is it that occurs? The Prime Minister or the Leader of the House makes a speech giving a broad view of the military situation and supplying as many relevant facts as he can give at the moment to the House. He lets fall certain phrases which provoke criticism from hon. Members on either side who, drawing upon their own experience or upon the first-hand evidence supplied to them by friends from the front make certain, no doubt, legitimate criticisms, on the question of military 241 policy, with the result very often that speeches as interesting as those that fell from the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Roch) and the hon. and gallant Member for Christchurch (General Page Croft) draw the interest of the House for the moment. Let us not delude ourselves because they are interested in the speeches that are delivered that the Government can always answer those criticisms. I do not mean to suggest that there is no force in the demand which has been made or greater information. I am quite certain, and I should have thought the Government would have been quite certain by this time, that candour can do nothing but strengthen the fortitude of the nation in the hour of trial. When criticisms are passed by hon. Members on the measures taken by the Allied Command in France I cannot help measuring the critics with the object of his criticism, and having had great instruction in reading long before this War broke out the two great books in which General Foch gave to the world his view of military doctrine, I cannot believe that he is blind to those considerations which were advanced by my hon. Friend; but I can believe that neither he nor his Government nor our Government are in a position to give a candid and full answer to them.
Military criticism at this moment can be met in one of two ways. It can be met by appealing to the patriotism of the country and by giving on every valid occasion the fullest possible information, and it can also be met by the different, and I think much less satisfactory, method, which is sometimes adopted by the Government, of lifting a corner of the veil and making suggestions and insinuations which do not either increase the confidence of the Army in the Government or the confidence of the Army in the people at home. I say that not because I think the Government will be in a position to meet some of the criticism this afternoon, for I am pretty confident they will not, but because I am convinced that no one except those who can take a broad view of the whole military situation, not merely on our own front, but on every other front, can possibly be in a position to say whether at any moment one criticism or another is valid, and since that broad view depends upon knowledge which none of us can possess, I think debates of this kind which invite the Government to answer detailed criticism do not serve any useful 242 purpose. I hope the Government, if they agree with that doctrine, will see that it carries with it the very definite obligation towards the House and the country of the greatest candour possible. When I ask them to be candid I do not ask them to answer specific questions the moment they are asked, but they should take care to see that public opinion is kept well informed of the progress of events at the front. We are kept informed mainly by Press correspondents. The business of Press correspondents is not to tell the whole story, or to state the facts in true relation to one another, but to present the tale of the operations on the battlefield in such a way as to attract the notice of the readers of the newspapers, and we know that the manner in which the optimism of the Press as supplied by these correspondents at the front is the very reverse of the kind of candour which we ask from the Government.
I should like to pass to two other topics. I listened with the greatest pleasure to that passage in my right hon. Friend's speech which dealt with Russia, and, if possible, I listened with even greater pleasure to the cheers which came from all parts of the House, and I hope the Government will take note of the fact that both that speech and the cheers with which it was greeted represent a widespread anxiety in the country to know what exactly we are doing in Russia, or whether the Government have any policy in relation to Russia. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend the Member for East Fife, by his speech intended to approve of some of those proposals of active military intervention in Russia which have found favour in certain quarters. I can hardly believe that he does, for the very good reason that I have yet to see any means by which they could be put into operation on the scale which has aroused such large hopes. The manner of our intervention—I dislike the word intervention—the manner of our Russian policy in the future must be the very antithesis of the manner in which the Germans have intervened in the Ukraine. I think it will be found that the only immediate basis of co-operation between ourselves and the Russian people will be economic. Even taking the question not from the point of view of high policy but on the facts of the case, it is no use talking about military intervention on a large scale until you have restored the economic life of Russia. I believe that the most 243 favourable line of progress which the Government could take is to explore the economic field in Russia and set up machinery by which the exchange of goods can be effected immediately. No doubt the ordinary method of exchange has entirely disappeared, and the old standards of trade cannot be applied to any exchange between ourselves and Russia at this moment, but there is no reason why you cannot go back to an older standard and operate by the process of barter. The Russians want certain kinds of goods and economic assistance which we and America can give, and we need certain kind of goods which Russia, and particularly Siberia, can supply. On the basis of that exchange of goods I believe you can build up a future political, and, if necessary, military policy.
The other subject has reference to the words which the Chancellor of the Exchequer used in relation to the Austrian attack on the Austrian front. I do not think the House or the country is aware of the enormous difficulties with which successive Italian Governments have had to cope, both political and economic difficulties, in their conduct of the War. I believe that, except the small countries which have been overrun by the German Armies, none of the Allied countries in this War has so far paid a greater price in privation than the Italian people, and I hope that the House and the country will recognise that in any estimate which they make of the Italian situation. As in the Russian case, the chief difficulties are economic. The War caught Italy at a stage in her economic development when her railway system was incomplete, and her ports were not fully developed, with the result that the ordinary transport system of Italy have been taxed by this War so severely as in some cases almost to cause a complete breakdown. That has a very important bearing on the moral of the population behind the lines, and when my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer says that we know that our Armies can hold out until they are reinforced by the gigantic resources from America, I hope he and the Government will remember that nothing but a very generous and far-sighted economic policy in relation to the present Italian situation can avail to maintain the kind of conference behind the lines which enables the Armies at the front to defend their own native country.
244 I have recently had opportunities of hearing from Italians and from British citizens returning from Italy accounts of the manner in which the Italian people have responded to the national appeal in spite of the intense privation which they have occasionally had to suffer, and I have often wished in listening to these accounts that the tale might have been told in all its full and rich details to the British public, in order that they might understand what a vast and glorious effort the Italian people have put forth in this War. I say so particularly because there are other respects in which many criticisms have been passed both upon the Italian Government for various parts of its policy, upon the Italian Army, and upon the Italian people. I think that if any criticism of that sort is made we should always remember the conditions under which Italy entered the War, the extraordinary economic strain which the War has placed upon us, and remembering that, we should reckon up the balance largely in favour of the Italian people and the Italian Government. At a moment like this especially our own Government should be particularly careful to take every public opportunity of recognising the part which the Italians have played in the War. We do not think so much of what we see in the foreign Press about the British effort, but let me assure the House that Continental people, and the Italian people especially, look with eager eyes to see whether their greater Allies in the North realise the effort which they have tried to make in their own way. If our Government would only take every possible opportunity of recognising the Italian effort, and especially such opportunities as are offered by the present Austrian attack upon the Italian Front, and would say that the British Government and the British people realise that in their own way the Italian people have borne their right contribution in the War policy, then the question of Allied unity in its political aspect would never be raised.
With regard to the unity of command, I hardly expected that it would be raised this afternoon, for I had assumed that that controversy had been brought to a close. We are all aware of the difficulties that had to be overcome. We are all aware of the personal, traditional, and professional prejudices that had to be overcome before the unity of Allied command could become a reality, and I doubt very much whether my hon. Friend the 245 Member for Pembroke is doing this country or the Allied cause a service in alluding to the fact that the Prime Minister once expressed a belief that it would be impossible to appoint an Allied Commander-in-Chief on the Western front. It may be that it was impossible when that speech was made, owing to circumstances, but if it was impossible it was because he had not yet been able to overcome certain prejudices of which my hon. Friend must be at least as well aware as I am. He must be equally aware that the pressure of events has enabled the French and British Governments to arrive at common ground on this subject which otherwise they might not have been able to do. I doubt very much whether to press a point like that home—after all, at the moment it is only a debating point—is really to serve the cause in the best possible way. I said a moment ago that before the War I had the honour and pleasure of reading General Foch's books on strategy and on tactics, and though I cannot set up as a critic, and though I have never taken any part in military Debates in this House, I can only say that the reading of those books, combined with the knowledge which we all have of the services which General Foch rendered to the allied cause in the early months of the War, convince me that there is no soldier on the side of the Entente at this moment who so completely deserves and so deservedly gets, the confidence of the Allied Armies as General Foch.
§ Colonel YATE
I desire to say a word in support of what was urged by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (General Croft) as to the necessity of collecting all the man-power of the Empire as rapidly as we possibly can. The hon. Member especially mentioned the man-power in our Eastern and African possessions. India at the present moment, as we all know, is doing her very utmost, but we have a large field in Africa which has not been properly exploited. We all know how splendidly the King's African Rifles have fought in East Africa. They are just as good men as, if not better than, the Senegalese whom the French have enlisted and brought to France. We can bring over equally good troops. The East African campaign I hope is now coming to an end, and I do ask that the Secretary of State for the Colonies should be directed to do his best to enlist these men as soon as he possibly can. It should be the work of the Secre- 246 tary of State for the Colonies to do everything in his power to further the collection of this man power as quickly as possible, but we find that the Secretary of State for the Colonies is footling away his time as the Chairman of a Committee for the preparation of a Home Rule Bill which nobody wants, and which nobody will have when they get it. I do ask the Leader of the House to request the Secretary of State for the Colonies to do the work for which he is appointed. There is a very large number of men available, and the whole matter wants thinking over. It is also the business of the Secretary of State for the Colonies to introduce compulsory military service into the islands of the Mediterranean, just as it has already been introduced into the Channel Islands, and there is a large reservoir of men, 60,000 or 70,000, available there for labour corps, if not for combatant corps, who could be got over to relieve British labour battalions now at the Front. I ask that this question should be taken up seriously and that every possible man should be got at this serious crisis of the War.
We have heard to-day questions regarding the War from one end of the line to the other—from France to Mesopotamia—but beyond that there are questions which are causing great anxiety. In to-day's papers we see it reported that the Turks have occupied Tabriz in Persia, and that they are advancing into Persia along what may be called the South-Eastern frontier. There there is considerable danger to all our interests in the East. I will not deal with the question of Siberia, but will come to the Finns. We see reports in the paper that the Finns are handing over to the Germans the Murman railway and an ice-free port. We see that submarines are sinking ships in the Arctic Ocean, and that they have also penetrated to Spitzbergen, and are sinking ships there. Spitzbergen was annexed by us in the seventeenth century, and that annexation was formally agreed to by the Dutch Government. It has never been questioned and is still in force. We have very large interests there. All the coal companies working there are British, except one Swedish company working in agreement with the British. Are we going to allow German submarines to go on sinking our ships which go to Spitzbergen? These are the two extremities of the long line of battle at the present moment. They raise 247 questions which demand careful consideration, and I hope that the Loader of the House before very long will be able to give us some account of what has been done to counteract the enemy's action at both ends of the line.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
The hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just sat down has added further to the inquiries which deserve attention from the Government in the course of this Debate. I think, however, that he showed a needless anxiety about the activities of the Colonial Secretary. I think he may now take it that the Colonial Secretary has once for all been freed from all trouble with regard to Home Rule and that he will now be able to attend to the work of conscripting the population of Africa. The Government may be grateful to the hon. Member for Perth for suggesting reasons why they should ignore the criticisms and the inquiries which have been addressed to them in this Debate.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I understood the tenor of my hon. Friend's speech to be that the criticisms and inquiries had been of an imprudent character, and that the Government would be well advised in the public interest to offer no answer to them. As the successive Governments in the course of this War have had great facility in offering that execuse whenever any questions have been addressed to them, I think it was rather a work of supererogation on the part of my hon. Friend to intervene in this Debate. In reference to what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke, I am entirely in agreement with him and with the right hon. Member for East Fife. I think it unfortunate that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his survey of the situation this afternoon, did not offer some observations on the position in Russia, and particularly in reference to British interests in the present situation there. It is probably true that no definite action can be taken in that country at the present time. Indeed, it is probable that, if definite action were now taken, mistakes would be made which would be likely to affect for the future the attitude of the Russian people to ourselves; but there is one definite and particular question which I would like to put in regard to our action in Russia. That is in relation to the mission which I understand is now proceeding to Russia. I am 248 told that two gentlemen connected with the Foreign Office have been dispatched upon a mission to Russia. The nature of that mission has not been announced in this House, but I understand that the diplomatists who have this duty thrown upon them are men who in the main have been associated with the traditions of the Foreign Office in regard to that country. I think that these are not precisely the kind of men who should be sent to Russia at the present time, and who are likely to deal in a successful way with the peculiarities of the Russian situation as they exist to-day. It is emphatically a case in which the Government should have broken away from the traditions of our old diplomacy and have selected men of a different kind for what may be called an unexampled situation. I would like, therefore, to ask the Government as to the character of this mission and to suggest that they should, before it is too late, modify its character and introduce into the mission some other persons who would be likely to enter into cordial relations and business relations with the present rulers of Russia, as if this were done a very valuable step would be taken towards improving our relations with the present authorities in Russia.
I think it also important that before the conclusion of this Debate we should have some statement from the Government as to the exact positions of the subsidiary campaigns. I have often, in the course of Debates in this House, referred to the Expedition to Salonika. I think probably that I have initiated more discussion on that ill-conceived expedition than any other Member. I think that on every occasion on which I have referred to the matter, and have addressed inquiries to the Government, they have adopted the attitude which has to-night been commended to them by my hon. Friend the Member for Perth. But when they are asked for information as to Salonika it cannot be alleged that any critical events are taking place there. I think that we should have some statement regarding the nature of our force there, and its position. It is true that apparently no change of policy can be adopted in that part of the world, but a large number of hon. Members are now agreed that the expedition has resulted in a very unfortunate expenditure of the man-power of this country and that the results which have been shown are practically negligible. You have placed a force there which has practically eaten its head off. The men 249 have never, or at least only on very few occasions, been engaged on any operations of any importance. Disease has been rife in their ranks, and in consequence, I think, the moral of that force has been for the greater part of the time in a very low state. Many people who have relatives in Salonika are deeply concerned as to the state of the force there, and it would be a relief to them if the Government could make some statement as to the condition and health of the troops, and the prospects of any operation which may be likely to take place. There is a further question to which I wish to draw attention. Two declarations were issued by the Supreme War Council on the last occasion it met at Versailles. One was a declaration in favour of the independence of Poland; the second was a declaration, much more indefinite and ambiguous in its character, of sympathy with the subject races of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. I cannot imagine why this particular moment was selected for these special declarations. I can conceive of no time more inappropriate or more inopportune for statements as to our intentions in regard to the Poles, or the Jugo-Slavs, or the Roumanians, than a moment when the Channel ports are in great peril and when the situation is so serious for us all. Why should such a moment have been selected for these particular declarations? In the past the people of this country have shown their desire that there should be a free and united Poland. I think there has probably been an excess of sympathy expressed with the various races under the Austrian Empire. But it does not seem to me that at a time like this we should have been concerned with what are primarily and in the main British interests rather than with the future fate of these various nationalities in the Near East.
While I agree with the statements of admiration for the efforts of our Allies, I think our first duty in the British House of Commons as representatives of the electors is to put in the forefront what we conceive to be British interests in this War. I quite agree we should have regard to the susceptibilities of our Allies, but even that can be carried too far. The lesson of events in Russia a year ago is particularly relevant to the present situation. We have been told that the collapse of Russia is the immediate occasion 250 of the present situation on the Western front. But is it not the want of foresight on the part of our own Government in relation to events in Russia that is the real occasion? Before the end of 1916 it was obvious to the best informed people that Russia, no matter what its form of government was going to be, was on the verge of collapse. Everybody who came back from Russia united in giving the same account of the situation there. It was in such a state of economic confusion and of chaos in regard to its communications that it was impossible for Russia, no matter how governed, to continue an effective combatant in the War.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I will deal with that presently. That was the state of affairs before the end of 1916. There was a private luncheon at that time at the Aldwych Club to hear a full and frank account of the whole situation by a distinguished correspondent of the "Daily Mail," and Lord Northcliffe himself gave an account of the military situation in Russia not distinguishable from that which I have stated. But, in face of all these things, our Government went on as if Russia was as effective a combatant in this War as she had been from the beginning, and that is the real origin of our troubles in regard to Russia. It became obvious after the Revolution that Russia required peace. Clearly she could not carry on, and she had either to have a separate peace or her Allies must join in making a general peace. A proposal was made in the summer of last year that representatives should go to Stockholm for the purpose of taking preliminary steps towards a general peace. I was not enamoured of that idea. I was afraid if it was carried out British interests would have been sacrificed. But we know that the Prime Minister in that summer was in favour of going to Stockholm, and it was only the menace of a revolution on the part of the Unionist Members that made him change his mind and throw over the right hon. Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. Henderson). The Stockholm meeting did not come off, and we had the inevitable result—a separate peace was made by Russia, a most disastrous peace. I am certain that that lesson should be present to our minds, and I was particularly glad to hear the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member 251 for Christchurch (General Croft) suggest that our experience in Russia should be a lesson to us in relation to the future.
A similar situation may arise in regard to our other Allies in the very near future, and I think it behoves us as Members of this House to have that possibility in our minds and to press it on the Government as well. We know that at least one member of the Government has had it in his mind. General Smuts made a speech in Glasgow not long ago in which he stated perfectly clearly the hypothesis which I am submitting to the House. There is a very grave danger in a situation of that kind from the point of view of British interests. There is great danger that we may be so inextricably involved with one of our Allies, owing to military arrangements, that if the Germans achieve a situation in respect of that Ally similar to what occurred in Russia they may be able to force a German peace on the Allies, and only through the necessities of one of the Allies. I hope that whatever arrangements are made in this War no arrangement will be made that will prevent our Government from saying that whatever happens to our Ally we can and will go on on our own, unless we get the terms which we think are necessary to secure a just and lasting peace. That is a most important consideration not only for this Government, but for Members of the House of Commons to have in mind. This is not the first time, we in this country have had to pass through great trials through Continental combinations. Just over a hundred years ago our statesmen had to face trials similar in kind, although possibly not equal in gravity to the situation to-day. But they faced with, equanimity the possibility of the defection of Allies, and they were able to go on for years alone, until a victory was obtained which was in the interests of Great Britain. I hope that our Government to-day will not be unmindful of the high example of their predecessors, and that they will remember first of all and all the time that British interests are the main concern of British statesmen, and it is only for them that Britons should be asked to lay down their lives.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
The hon. Member says it is usual for the Government to indicate that they intend to say something in reply. I need not say, in regard to the important points raised by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Asquith) and other speakers, there will be a reply. But my right hon. Friend especially said that he did not particularly wish for an immediate reply. We shall have four days' discussion, on any one of which it will be possible to deal with these same subjects, and for members of the Government to take part in the Debate. I shall do so to-morrow, and with regard to the particular points which have been raised to-day, we shall consider them, and they will be dealt with by myself or some other member of the Government at some stage of these Debates.
§ Mr. HOLT
As far as it goes, that is really satisfactory, but it seems to me to mean we shall have the same Debate over again. If the Government on another day are going to answer the speeches made to-day, it may be that their answers may not be quite satisfactory, and then it will be necessary to debate the reply of the Government. That appears to me a very inconvenient arrangement, especially as most of the other days on which the Vote of Credit is to be put down have already been allocated to certain discussions of importance. This may necessitate another day being given to the Debate, if the Government wish that arrangement, and if we are to have an extra day I suppose we must go on, but I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman, in view of his declaration, if it would not be for the convenience of the Committee to say now whether he wishes us to go on with this particular Debate, or to defer the discussion till another day? I take it from his silence he does not care.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
My hon. Friend must really please himself. It is for him, subject, of course, to the ruling of the Chair, to speak at the time he thinks most suitable.
§ Mr. HOLT
That is quite right, and I am very much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for the way in which he has put it. In these circumstances it is probably better to take the chance that exists. My hon. Friend the Member for 253 Pembrokeshire (Mr. Roch) drew attention at the commencement of his speech to a statement made by the Prime Minister on the 9th April, that the forces in France at that time were almost on an equality—with a slight advantage in our favour. I find that the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the 7th of March told us substantially the same thing. He said:Therefore there is a possibility of the numbers being turned against us and our Allies. But this we know, that taking into account the whole of the Allied Front, from the Channel to the Adriatic, including the Italian—taking into consideration all that can be brought against that front by the Cental Powers, the number of men must remain in our favour.Everybody realised the necessity of trying to treat the whole front so far as possible as one. When the offensive began I suppose our fighting strength was slightly superior, but with all that to our credit, the enemy have been able to strike very serious and effective blows against our forces, and one would have hoped that such an event would have been prevented from happening. I want to return to what the Prime Minister told us, that the German combatant strength in France in October, 1917, was as two to the Allies three. We all remember the campaign of 1917, and the difficulty I have always felt, and which I want explained, is how the Germans happened to be so successful in 1918, and why it was not possible for us to use our considerable superiority in 1917, with success equal to theirs. Nobody will deny, it seems to me, that we have here what appears to be an inexplicable problem, and one which ought to be explained. I should like some better answer than has been given, and should learn whether we may look for better results than in the campaign of 1917, and what are the prospects of the campaign of 1918 or the campaign of 1919. I think we ought to have a fuller explanation on these matters. It is the fact we know that the British troops are broken up and scattered amongst the French troops, and this is a source of very considerable anxiety. The hon. and learned Member for Lanarkshire alluded to one of the contingencies which are in people's minds, and I should like to draw the attention of the Committee to another passage in the speech of the Prime Minister on 9th April. He then said:If by any chance or mischance this colossal battle went against us, I do not say the War would be over, any more than it was when Britain fought against another attempt at military dominancy—when Napoleon, having over- 254 thrown the Armies of Europe, had the Continent at his mercy. As long as we have a ship afloat we shall not accept a German peace.I do not believe there can be two opinions on the subject, and, of course, what the Prime Minister said is perfectly true in itself, that we fought single-handed against the whole Continent; but if we are going to fight single-handed against the enemy, then our Army must be in a position to evacuate, and what we should like to know is whether any arrangement has been made with the French authorities by which the British Army can evacuate as a separate unit, or would it be unable to get out and thus make it impossible for us to carry on the War single-handed until we obtain that sort of peace which, I believe, alone this country would agree to? There is a great deal of anxiety on this subject, and it is frequently discussed in private conversations. This is a matter on which we are entitled to have some answer. I should like to know what is going on in East Africa. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, on the occasion of the last Vote of Credit, told us that the Germans were driven out of the last part of the colony of German East Africa, and were wandering about in Portuguese territory. That was three months ago, and he stated that there were about 2,000 native troops and 200 Germans. I want to know what is the number of troops now employed to catch these German and native forces? I believe that we shall find that we are employing in East Africa forces numbering possibly one hundred to one of the enemy at the very least, possibly more; and, according to all one hears about the expedition, the number of casualties is extremely heavy and serious. I think it would be to the convenience of the House and the public, when a statement comes to be made, that we should be told what is the position of the British force in East Africa. We should be given some approximate statement as to its numbers, and we should have some account of the casualties and of all the expense to which we are being put in connection with that War, and the prospects of the campaign being brought to an early close.
Again, I think we should have some information as regards Palestine. We were told the number of white troops at the front. In Egypt and in Palestine there were only three white divisions, and the rest were Indians, with a very small proportion of British. I am 255 referring to the Infantry divisions. I think that is one of the statements of General Maurice; and if a statement is to be made by the Government, perhaps it will be convenient to tell us what is exactly the number of troops in Palestine, and also what the further development of that campaign may be. I do not know whether the white troops included Australians or not, or possibly it was only intended to refer to the troops from this country. Then, I should like to know a good deal more about Mesopotamia, where, we are told, there is only one white division; there is no indication as to the number of white troops. Then again, we come to our old friend Salonika, and on the last occasion the right hon. Gentleman told us something about that theatre of War. He told us that a distinguished French general was in command at Salonika, General Guillaumat, but I have an impression that he is now Military Governor of Paris.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
The hon. Member has the right to ask for all this information, but the Government can only give such information as it thinks right to afford.
§ Mr. HOLT
He has left Salonika, where the Expedition is now under the command of somebody else. I should also like to know whether the change means that we are going to have a more or less active campaign in Salonika. Another matter about which I should like to know something is the naval position in the Mediterranean. Anyone who knows anything about the submarine trouble in the Mediterranean is aware that it is very serious, indeed more serious than anywhere else. That has been so for some time, and, compared with the North Sea and the Channel, with its approaches, the position in the Mediterranean is extremely unsatisfactory. The proportion of loss taking place in the Mediterranean is out of all proportion to the possibility of risk, compared with anywhere else. I think we are entitled to know whether really adequate steps are being taken to combat the submarine menace in the Mediter- 256 ranean. The amount of traffic through the Mediterranean makes this menace a very serious matter indeed.
I do not propose to enter into any other of the subjects which may be raised on this occasion, but I understand that it is proposed to give an answer with regard to them on some convenient day. I believe everybody in the House heard with great pleasure the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Fifeshire (Mr. Asquith) in regard to Russia, and that is a subject on which, when the Leader of the House feels himself or one of his colleagues at liberty to state the case of the Government, we shall all be very glad to hear some account of what the Government are doing and some assurance of satisfactory arrangements for the future.
§ Sir R. ADKINS
I do not propose to detain the Committee more than a very few minutes, but there is one matter which seemed to me to rise legitimately from the Debate on the Vote of Credit and it is a matter which I hope the Government will be able to consider favourably. However wide the Debate has roamed over a very large number of matters of high importance, all the speeches have had one characteristic. On an occasion like the present, when the country is asked for more money, it is surely quite legitimate that speakers in all parts of the House should correspondingly ask for more, light, because if this War is to be won in the way in which everybody wishes it to be won and means it to be won, if can only be done by the maximum of the right sort of interest being taken in it everywhere—by all classes of the community being stimulated to do their best by being given all the information that can be given them without injury to our cause, and by the Government, side by side with its prosecution of the War abroad, satisfying and informing public opinion at home. It has been the duty of many hon. Members to do such war work as they can, not in this House or even in Committees attached to it, but in the country, and the very grave events of the last two months are naturally leading people in all parts of the country to ask what it is exactly that we are aiming at, what are the prospects of the War coming to a fitting and victorious end, and what is involved in such a conclusion. We know that when the War began all through this country people realised our duty towards 257 Belgium, and they realised steadily, as the War went on, how the existence and future of this country were bound up in obtaining from a defeated Germany the reparation and security of which so much, but not a word too much, has been heard from the leaders of opinion in this country.
But I would ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House whether it is not possible for the Government and for leading public men to take more frequent opportunities of guiding the opinion of the country as to the way in which security and reparation against German tyranny and German designs are bound up with many other things besides the restoration of Belgium and the freeing of French soil from the invader. I read with the greatest interest those declarations made at the Allied War Conference the other day as to a great and independent Poland and as to the sympathies, which one trusts will be transmuted into help, for the oppressed nationalities of the Austrian Empire. I do not agree with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Lanark (Mr. Pringle) in thinking those utterances inopportune or unfitting. I welcome them, and I am glad indeed that the Government in such an hour of great trial and stress should have reaffirmed objects of that kind, because those who have read and those who have thought know that reparation and security from German designs are bound up with security in the East of Europe as well as in the West, and that if nationalities are left subject to that tyranny it will at once be the excuse for the perpetuation of militarism, and will be a proof that the War has not ended with that completeness in favour of self-government and of freedom which surely we all believe to be the inner security, and the only inner security, against a repetition of this War. I therefore thank the Government for the utterances that were made on that occasion, and it is as supporting the Government in those utterances that I would earnestly ask them whether it is not possible to do far more than has been done to inform and train public opinion as to the interdependence of the many problems which attend upon the War and will attend upon the peace.
People naturally are war weary and are tempted to judge the War and Peace issues as they showed themselves at the very beginning, but is it not true, do we not all know, that as the War has lengthened and widened, while the principle on which we are fighting is unaffected, 258 the application of that principle may have also to be widened if the resulting peace is to be satisfactory? I venture here on this occasion of a Vote of Credit, which I shall cheerfully vote for, as I have done for every Vote for men or munitions or equipment which has been asked for since the War began, to ask of the Government and respectfully and loyally remind them that this great task of educating public opinion, of teaching the man in the mill and the factory and the street, that the successful end of this War is bound up with other things besides the restoration of Belgium and the freeing of French soil, that it is bound up with the problem of Eastern and Southern Europe, and if only the leading men of the country can see it to be their duty to give more time and energy to the exposition of these things than they have hitherto done, I believe they would be strengthening the country in its prosecution of the War, and they would be clearing the eyes of the country for the true and proper consideration of the possibilities and principles of peace. Those of us on back benches or in particular constituencies who take up this duty, as we venture to think it to be, find a response to this, and find not a little surprise that these problems have not been explicated and explained far more frequently and with far greater authority than they have been, and I therefore urge what I have said on the Government, and I would urge it if I had the power on all leaders of public opinion in this country and upon the public, because I am convinced that in that way only can we be saved from the grave danger which must come about if the English public take too narrow or too restricted a view of the issues of war and peace, and if they are not made thoroughly acquainted that British interests, of which the hon. and learned Member for Lanark spoke, are as really concerned with a stable democratic Government throughout Europe and as really concerned with preventing any possibilities of a recurrence of war in the East and South of Europe as they are on these shores which we can see with our eyes.
§ Sir T. WALTERS
I only want to make one point. In listening to the various questions that have been asked and criticisms that have been offered, I am convinced all the time that there is a larger question at the back of all this criticism and desire for further information. I 259 am sure that, as far as people in the country are concerned, there is a much larger and much deeper question with which they want the Government to deal, and a very much more pointed question which they want the Government to answer, and it is this: How about the actual direction of war affairs at home? In other words, how about the War Cabinet? The Government are asking this House to vote this huge sum of money, and of course it is the ancient prerogative of Parliament to criticise and to discuss policy before the money is voted, and I think this Committee and the country are entitled to ask one or two questions about the supreme directing power that has the control of the expenditure of this money before they hand them this further large credit. As I listened to the speeches to-day, which reveal so many changes in policy during the last few months, and indicate that so many events that have happened have not been foreseen or at least adequately provided for, I am very much afraid that the difficulty and the defect lie at the centre, here in London, with our War Cabinet. I do not mean by that that I am adversely criticising either the Prime Minister or any individual member of the War Cabinet. I am entirely satisfied that they are patriotically devoting their best energies to dealing with the complex and difficult questions that face them, but I submit that the present constitution of the War Cabinet and the duties that are entrusted to them render any really effective consideration of the great War problems, any looking ahead, any dealing properly with these great questions, a practical impossibility. We have given this system a trial for the past eighteen months, and without any fault on the part of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or of the Prime Minister, or of the other members of the War Cabinet, the system in important essentials has proved itself conspicuously to be a most disastrous failure.
How is it possible for these half-dozen men, dealing with these questions of domestic policy as well—I need not enumerate them; these many difficult questions are fresh in the mind of the Committee, and I am afraid they are too fresh in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House—how is it possible for them, having all these questions to deal with, to 260 devote that systematic, that definite, that continuous, that day by day, that hour by hour consideration to the great War problems that confront them as to the conduct of our operations in the field? I do not ask this question because I want to embarrass them. God forbid. I have supported all these Governments, and I would support an even worse one if it could possibly be found than those we have passed through. It is not any question of trying to overthrow the Government or changing the Prime Minister. I am not interested in those questions at all, but I am concerned, and deeply concerned, with the wise and vigorous and well-thought-out prosecution of the War. I do not want human life wasted; I do not want treasure wasted; I do not want the War prolonged; and I am perfectly certain that these half-dozen tired men bearing burdens beyond the possibility of such a limited number of men to bear, that all this means the protraction of the War. It means a changing instead of a continuous policy; it means an erratic instead of a continuous policy, and therefore I most respectfully submit that before this huge sum of money is granted, the Chancellor of the Exchequer should either justify the existence and continuance of the policy of the War Cabinet or he should announce some modification and some change.
I believe it is in that direction that you will be able to satisfy what is undoubtedly the present feeling of unrest in the country. I do not mean that the people of this country have in any sense lost their determination to pursue this War to a victorious conclusion. I do not mean that they have lost confidence, personally, in the various members of the Government. I do not believe they are looking merely for any new Government. But I believe they are profoundly dissatisfied with the way in which the business of the present Government has been conducted. They believe that the organisation of the Government is on an impossible basis. They know perfectly well that when important matters have to be submitted to the War Cabinet for consideration they are held over for days and weeks, and even months, and, although they are not familiar with the methods by which the War problems are submitted to the War Cabinet, it must be obvious to any man of average intelligence that with all these other matters to be dealt with, these half dozen men cannot give adequate atten- 261 tion to the prosecution of the War. I do not believe that until we can get back to some form of Cabinet Government in which there is a responsible body of men and a sufficient number—eight, nine, or ten—to form a proper controlling Cabinet and who delegate to five or six of their number, who have no departmental responsibility, who have nothing to do with domestic affairs, but who can day and night think about the problems of the War, and nothing else—I do not believe until you have arrived at a solution of that kind that you will retain the confidence of the country and give that feeling of assurance which it ought to have in the times of stress through which it is passing.
There are war problems immediately confronting us which I dare not hint at. If certain eventualities take place—I hope they will not—great movements of troops will have to follow, and a rearrangement of the entire campaign, by land and sea, will have to take place. I am not satisfied that these five or six members of the War Cabinet, by giving the fragments of time left to them after giving attention to other matters, can think out in advance what is to be done in the case of any emergencies of this kind arising. I do not say that with any desire of destructive criticism or of criticism of any of the members, but I do not think it is possible that many of the blunders of the past six months could have happened if those half dozen members had nothing to do but consider the problems of the War. Of course, it is easy to be wise after the event. Nothing is simpler than to criticise events that have transpired; but, even making allowance for that, it is obvious that the war policy has been decided upon only step by step, without any long view having been definitely thought out. The Prime Minister has made certain speeches which make it perfectly clear that the decisions at which he has finally arrived have not been in his mind when the first steps were taken which have ultimately led to this final decision. It does happen in times of great crisis like this that even the most carefully considered policy may have to be abandoned for an extemporised one to meet the changed circumstances of the case. But there has been too much of that. Instead of that being the exception, it has been the rule. We have never had a continuous war policy during the past six months.
262 I hope nothing I am saying will in any way accentuate the difficulty, and I devoutly trust that no words of mine will stir up unrest or anxiety in any part of the country, because, instead of adding to the burden of anxiety, I want to do something to remove it. But I do respectfully submit to the Leader of the House that he is not entitled to ask for this huge war credit and to have a free hand to proceed with the conduct of the War until he has done something to satisfy the criticism, not only in this House, but in the country, on the ground that the present constitution of the Government, the method in which it is doing its work, is not satisfactory, and that unless some changes in methods are made you cannot expect a continuous, connected and well thought-out conduct of the War. Unless that is done, and every effort put forward and all our resources are utilised, and unless the very best brains of the country are giving anxious consideration to this problem, it is not possible for us to secure that final victory on which our hearts are set.
§ Mr. SHERWELL
On a point of Order. I understand the hon. Member whom you have just called upon desires to raise a question quite distinct from the general question which has so far been discussed. May I call attention to the fact that there are Members present who desire to make a few observations on the general question raised by this Motion, and may I put it to you whether it may not be a convenience to Members generally if we are allowed for a short space longer to discuss the general question before getting on to a quite separate matter?
It is hardly a point of Order. I had, as far as my knowledge went, called upon the Members who wished to speak on the general war situation but an hon. Member who catches my eye is entitled to pursue any relevant topic. If, as a matter of courtesy, the hon. Member appeals to the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Adamson) to give way to him, that has nothing to do with me. Otherwise he is entitled to proceed.
That is so. But hon. Members' faces do not always show to me what is in their mind. I do the best I can. The hon. Member (Mr. Adamson) is entitled to proceed.
May I appeal to him to allow my hon. Friend and myself to proceed with the general topic first? I promise him we will not be long, and he will have a larger House.
§ Sir M. LEVY
If the hon. Member gives way to one Member, probably two or three others will wish to speak, and a point of great interest to the country may be missed altogether.
I hope that kind of courtesy will not be abused, and the Chair will endeavour to see that it is not.
§ Mr. SHERWELL
I shall not abuse the courtesy of my hon. Friend, and I think I may claim to be a Member of the House who never makes an undue demand on the patience of the House. I would like to say one word in support of the submission of the hon. Member for Brightside (Sir T. Walters) when he referred to what one regards as the very impotent explanation of the apparent lack of foresight, of long views, in the determination of war policy. I entirely agree with him. Indeed, now, I think, it is almost a matter of common admission that the present constitution of the War Cabinet and the very considerable and quite unexpected extension of its powers and interests makes anything like a definite supervision, control and continuity of war policy practically impossible. When members of the War Cabinet have referred to them such important but quite unwarlike matters as Women's Suffrage, and matters of that kind, it is obvious that there must be a diversion of attention from extremely important issues that may arise at a particular moment in connection with the War. But I really rose to reinforce the appeal of some of my hon. Friends, and notably the very powerful plea presented by the Leader of the Opposition that the Government should, consistently with public interest, take the nation a little more fully into their confidence concerning the present and prospective military position. I wish to say to the Leader of the House that I find—and I have had lately rather exceptional opportunities for coming into contact with men of all schools of thought—I find even amongst the strongest supporters of the Government in the country most serious disquietude concerning the absence of 264 authoritative information regarding the present position of the War. And may I also tell him that there is a very grave accentuation of this disquietude by reason of the exercise of the censorship by the Government? It is well known that the censorship has been exercised in quite unusual ways. We have now, as a result of the exercise of the censorship, not merely the elimination of matters of information, which, in the judgment of the Government or the War Office, may be unfortunate, but we have had during the last few months much more than that, and something which I venture to suggest to the Leader of the House is quite without precedent so far in our political history, and that is, not merely the exercise of the censorship in the elimination of information, but the actual direction to the Press of the sort of line which opinion or comment should take.
It is commonly understood to-day that even the official communiqués are censored, and it is commonly understood that for some weeks past—I hope the Leader of the House may be in a position to reassure us on this point—but there is a common idea prevalent that even the German communiqués are censored, and have been censored in recent weeks. If that be so, that is an extraordinarily grave extension of the powers of the censorship, because it is quite obvious to everybody that to censor the German communiqués is not to prevent the enemy from receiving information, but it is simply to leave the nation more or less in darkness and in ignorance. If that impression be not well-founded, it is certainly high time the Government should make an authoritative statement on the subject. But if it be true that the Government are not only withholding information from the nation, but that they are exercising through the censorship some power of suppressing information which would otherwise be communicated to the people through the German official communiqués, then it does represent a very serious situation indeed. But I am bound to say I do not think the Government yet appreciate the great disquietude which has been created by the withholding of information of all kinds from the nation, and no Government has the right to expect sustained, loyal, and enthusiastic support from a people whose very destiny is at stake if they are not prepared to take that nation 265 into fuller confidence than has been the case hitherto, and notably within the last few months.
§ 8.0 P.M.
Mr. L. WILLIAMS
I wish to associate myself with what has fallen from my hon. Friend the Member for Brightside with regard to the constitution and policy of the War Cabinet. I can assure the Government that there is serious disquietude in the country with regard to the progress of the War. The Leader of the House, in his speech this afternoon, drew a comparison between the position of affairs to-day and the position of affairs twelve months ago. He laid the flattering unction to his soul that because there had been three improvements in the course of the last twelve months that, therefore, we need not be very much disquieted at the present situation. The first thing he spoke of was the Air Service, about which I am not in a position to speak one way or the other. The second was the submarine menace—that may be true. The third was unity of command in France, which again, one way or other, I am not in a position to criticise. But I could not help thinking when the right hon. Gentleman was enlarging upon this matter that he probably had at the back of his mind a comparison between the present position of affairs and the position of affairs, not twelve months ago, but eighteen months ago, when the present War Cabinet took the reins into its own hands. When we contrast the position now with the position as it was eighteen months ago, is there anyone, from Land's End to John o' Groats, but must fail to be disquieted? Eighteen months ago there was another Government in power, a Government which was traduced and vilified because it had not won the War quickly enough. What was the position? Russia was in being. Russia was holding 1,500,000 or 2,000,000 of German troops. We had advanced from the Marne almost to, I believe, the frontiers of Belgium. It is true that our advance was slow, but we were advancing.
What is the position to-day? Every inch of territory that was won by the sacrifices and blood of our gallant fellows from the Battle of the Marne to the end of November, 1916, has now been lost. Russia is out of the War. German influence is predominant in the East. Our gallant Italian Ally to-day is at death grips with Austria. Goodness knows what may happen even on the Western Front! I 266 myself took sanguine views. I believed our military experts and their writings in the Press. I believed the smooth things that they from time to time told us in this House and outside this House. I believed when the statesmen in France and in this country said they were calm and confident; when the right hon. Gentleman himself said, at the commencement of the offensive on 21st March, that there was no element of surprise, that everything had been foreseen, and that everything had been provided against. I slept peacefully in my bed, believing every word that he said. What have we seen since? To-day for the first time in the House of Commons the Leader of the House has told us that we are meeting with serious reverses—not only our troops, but the French troops, reverses almost amounting to disaster. Wore we not glad when the Prime Minister came down a fortnight after the offensive started and assured this House that there had been no element of surprise, that we were superior in Infantry, in the air, and in gun-power. Yet ever since that speech, which reassured the House at the time and did what the Prime Minister has often done before, swept the House off its feet—every moment since then events have belied the optimism of the right hon. Gentleman. We have been driven back further and further, and at no time since the War started has the military situation been as bad as it is to-day. We are told: "Oh, yes; but the situation is not due to anything the War Cabinet has done; it is due to the fact that Russia has collapsed; because Russia has collapsed Ludendorff has been able to bring a million or more men from the Russian Front and concentrate them against the French and British troops on the Western Front." That may be true. I believe it is true. But could not the War Cabinet have foreseen something of the result of the Russian collapse?
We were reminded by the hon. Member for Lanark that in December, 1916, when this Government came into power, there was not one, or two, but a dozen people who came back from Russia—including the correspondent of the "Daily Mail"—who warned this country that Russia was on the verge of collapse, and would be unable in a very short time to carry on the War What did we do? What did the Government do? The Government came in to win the War. The Government over which my right hon. Friend the Member for East Fife (Mr. Asquith) 267 presided was turned out because it was too much a "wait-and-see" Government! It was too slow. This Government came in to win the War! What did they do with Russia? They sent Lord Milner there. Lord Milner came back after being there for six weeks and reported "All is well!" He made a speech at Moscow on the Sunday before he came away in which he predicted that Czardom would remain. From that moment the liberalising and revolutionary forces in Russia have distrusted this country, and the Allies generally. What did we then do? We sent three Labour representatives—of whom I wish to say nothing—to Russia in order to make terms with the revolutionary forces—to get into touch with them. Two of them came back. They were not members of the Government. Both inside and outside this House they poured scorn and ridicule upon the revolutionary forces. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. Henderson), it is true, showed a more statesmanlike prevision and judgment in the matter. He came back and advised the Government to support Kerensky and to send representatives to Stockholm. There was a Labour Conference held across the road. What happened at that? Kerensky had sent a telegram to this country begging the Labour men and the Government of this country to support him—to send representatives from this country to Stockholm. That message was never delivered to that Labour meeting. We all remember what happened afterwards in this House.
From first to last the Government have utterly failed to realise what was the situation in Russia. If there is one thing I thought the Prime Minister would have been able to understand it was revolution. He is, I know, a great student of the French Revolution, and a great admirer of the heroes of the French Revolution. I thought he would have had imagination and vision to have gripped the situation in Russia and to have turned it to good account. From first to last his grip has been nerveless. There has been no imagination. There has been no vision in our dealing with Russia. What is the result? Russia has collapsed. I am glad the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife suggests that there are still possibilities in the near future for Russia to resuscitate and rejuvenate itself, and become again something like a Power. 268 But for the moment, at all events, Russia has gone. The result is this terrible position on the Western Front. I only wish to say, in conclusion, that it will not in the opinion of the people of this country be enough for the Government, through their spokesmen, to say, in smooth terms, "Oh, yes, we are not to blame; events are to blame." The Government are there to govern events. They have been participators in the downfall of Russia. Therefore they will be held responsible, as their predecessors by them were held responsible whenever any disaster occurred, for the serious situation that we at present see.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
The Chancellor of the Exchequer in introducing his Vote of Credit this afternoon gave the House a very interesting and, in certain respects, a hopeful view of the situation. The hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who have followed him have been bringing to his notice questions which, in their opinion, are essential to be dealt with for the successful prosecution of the War. I also desire to bring to the attention of the Chancellor a question which, in my opinion, is of as great importance as any matters which have been brought under his notice to-day—if our people are to be kept solid and have the feeling of injustice and dissatisfaction which is so prevalent in many quarters of the country removed. Unless we can remove that feeling of injustice and dissatisfaction amongst our own people at home we will be in as great danger in certain respects as we are in the menace on the Western Front. The question I want to bring to the notice of my right hon. Friend, and briefly discuss with him, is the dissatisfaction and feeling of injustice that exists in a matter of separation allowances to the dependants of our soldiers and sailors. I regret that the Rules of the House do not permit me to bring this question up in the form of a Motion which stands on the Paper in the name of my hon. Friend (Mr. Duncan) and myself, and which reads as follows:That, in the opinion of this House, a revision of the scale of allowances to the wives and dependants of the men serving in His Majesty's Forces is desirable and necessary.There are two views of the question of separation allowances. There is first the separation allowances payable to the wives and children of our married soldiers and sailors. There is next the separation allowances payable to the dependants of 269 unmarried soldiers and sailors. When the Leader of the House promised to try and arrange for an opportunity being given to discuss this subject he stated that it was not to be assumed that the Government consider that a revision of the present scale of separation allowances is necessary. If the Government are prepared to listen to the discussion with an open mind, and if the facts of the case and the difficulties that the wives and families of our soldiers have to contend with are fully stated, I think that the Government will be forced to the conclusion that not only is a revision of the scale of allowances just and necessary, but absolutely inevitable. In March or April, 1915, the Labour party put forward a claim on behalf of the wives and dependants of our soldiers and sailors for a minimum allowance of £1 per week and 3s. 6d. for each child. If £1 per week for wives and other dependants was necessary in the early part of 1915, then a much larger sum than that is necessary at the present moment.
I may be reminded, in the course of the discussion, that this sum named by the Labour party is not agreed to, but that a Select Committee set up for the purpose of considering this matter fixed a much lower sum. I think that one has only to quote the very large increase that has taken place in the cost of living since the Select Committee made that recommendation to demonstrate the necessity for a much higher sum than is paid under present conditions. Since July, 1914, the retail cost of foodstuffs has gone up by 108 per cent., while the average increase in the cost of living is stated to be about 100 per cent. These figures will show that the dissatisfaction that one Rears expressed on all hands with the separation allowances paid, is one that there is good ground for. Although the wives of our soldiers and sailors are paid a separation allowance of 12s. 6d. per week, I should like to remind the Chancellor that a war munition volunteer who is sent to work on munitions away from his home, is allowed 17s. 6d. per week to meet the actual cost in living away from his home. And even that figure is not giving satisfaction to the parties to whom I have just referred, for a demand has been made that this subsistence allowance of 17s. 6d. be raised to the level of outworking allowances customary in the different trades. If 17s. 6d. is the minimum allowed to a married workman who is living away from 270 home to meet the extra cost to which he is put, 12s. 6d. to a woman with which to maintain her soldier husband's home and his family is far from sufficient. I would also remind the Chancellor that in certain instances the dependants of unmarried soldiers are getting a higher allowance than the wives of our married soldiers and sailors. We have received a very large number of letters drawing our attention to this matter. I have no intention of going over very many of these letters, but I should just like to quote from one or two. I have before me the letter of a wife of a soldier living in the London area, who makes up her weekly budget, and I see, among other things, she says that she is charged out of a weekly allowance for herself and children of 28s., 7s. for rent and 2s. 3d. for coal. Well, if something like 9s. is to be taken out of this woman's separation allowance there is very little left on which to provide all the necessaries of life for herself and her family of three children.
I have another letter here from a soldier who is serving at the front, belonging to my own Constituency, and among other matters to which he draws my attention is the terrible struggle that his wife is having to maintain herself and her family on the separation allowance at present paid. In one part of his letter he says:I have been out in France for three years serving my country. I am a married man with a wife and six children dependent upon me. My wife has to pay the same increased cost for the necessaries of life as is paid by others, and the separation allowance which she is paid does not permit of her doing that in an adequate way.I have another letter before me here in which the family budget is made up. In this case 7s. 6d. a week is paid for rent, insurance 1s. 2d., club 3s., milk for the children—which is absolutely necessary in this particular case—6s. 1½d. a week, which leaves for the other necessaries of life, outside the four items I have quoted, the magnificent sum for this woman of 13s. 9d. in which to feed and clothe herself and her children. Well, I think that these examples that I have given prove conclusively that it is necessary that the Government should at the very earliest possible moment reconsider the question of the separation allowances paid to the wives and children of our married soldiers and sailors. I do not think it ought to be expected that with the cost of living standing at the figure at which it stands to-day that a woman can provide the necessaries of life 271 on a miserable pittance of 12s. 6d. a week. I do not think that it could be expected either that she would be able to maintain her children, and I here refer to the younger children, on a miserable pittance of 3s. a week each. In certain respects the dependants of unmarried soldiers have just as much cause to be dissatisfied as the wives and children of our married men. Take two examples. We have the dependants of those who volunteered for service in the early days of the War who were earning lower wages than those which are paid now, and in many cases were only earning the wages paid to those who are serving an apprenticeship. The separation allowance fixed in the case of the dependants has been a very low figure, and in many cases no separation allowances has been paid at all, whereas those who waited until their apprenticeship was served have in many instances got the full separation allowance of 12s. 6d. a week for their dependants.
Take another phase of this question. Those who have recently been called to the Colours, because of the high wages they are earning, as compared with those who went earlier are, in many instances, getting a higher separation allowance than those I have named have been able to secure. I have no complaint of the cases where the higher allowance has been granted. I believe that every penny of it is necessary. My serious objection is in the cases where no separation allowance has been paid, and in others where it ranges from a few shillings per week up to 12s. 6d. per week. I have here a number of letters dealing with this aspect of the question which I am now bringing before the notice of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Government. I have no intention of reading them all, and I only need to quote one to show the reason why we are having such a feeling of dissatisfaction existing with regard to the varying treatment that is being given to the dependants of unmarried soldiers.
I have here a number of instances. In one case three sons are serving, and the father, the mother, and three other children remain at home, one of whom is earning 30s. a week. The total separation allowance for the three sons is £1 17s. 6d. per week, and these sons went very early in the War. In another case where a son has gone recently 25s. has been allowed to his dependants, who number only one 272 more than in the case I have quoted. I could give more examples of a similar character, but I do not think it is necessary, and I believe those who may follow me in this Debate will give quite a striking example of the variation that exists so far as the separation allowances of the dependants of unmarried soldiers are concerned. The same treatment that I have complained of in regard to separation allowances has also affected the pensions of the dependants of those men who have unfortunately lost their lives. In those cases the pensions have been seriously affected by the disparity in the separation allowances granted. I hope that notwithstanding the statement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he raised this matter by question the other week, when he promised he would give us time to discuss the matter, that the Government will, at a very early date, give this question their very serious consideration. I can assure them that if they want to have a people behind them who are free from a feeling of injustice, and if they want to remove the mass of dissatisfaction that exists regarding this matter, they must deal with it generously at a very early date.
§ Sir M. LEVY
I desire to associate myself with what has fallen from my right hon. Friend below the Gangway. I think at the present time there is nothing more tragic than the lives which the wives of many of our soldiers have to lead in consequence of the insufficiency of the separation allowance. The people most hardly hit are the wives of the soldiers who have young children who are unable to go out to work. I quite realise that there are many wives and children who are in good positions and probably, in some instances, are better off than they were before the War; but although these people may be in a better position financially, the money they have to disperse will purchase very much less than in times of peace.
I want to urge this question from another point of view. I believe that it is in the interests of the nation that every soldier should be relieved from every anxiety as to the welfare of his wife and children whilst he is away fighting. I believe it is economically unsound to impose upon the soldiers any anxieties of which they can be relieved. Everybody must know that if you want a good man, no matter in what walk of life, to do the best he possibly can, he must have an easy mind and feel that he has no unnecessary worries and anxieties. 273 It may be argued that at the present time there are outside associations whereby some of these difficulties may be met. People we may be told may apply to the Civil Liabilities Committee, but the allocation of any increased allowance by that Committee is exceedingly small, apart from which it is undesirable that these people should have to make a definite appeal and expose the full conditions of their income prior to the departure of their husbands. It may also be argued that the sailors' and soldiers' war pensions committees have powers to increase the dependants' allowances, and they may take into consideration the question of the rent. The question which is creating the greater portion of the trouble—that is, the cost of living—they are not allowed to take into consideration at all, whereas if you consider the basis upon which most wages have increased the argument always put forward has been that wages should be raised in proportion to the increased cost of living. The Committee on Production, whenever a case is brought to their notice, base their award mainly upon that consideration. Therefore it appears to me that the Regulation should be altered and that the local war committees should be given definite powers to take into consideration the increased cost of living and to make an increase in the amount of the allowances paid at the present time. In every area one finds our municipalities are compelled to disburse increased sums among their workpeople on the ground of the increased cost of living. The increase in their expenditure makes it necessary to increase the rates, and the increase in the rates make it imperative in a great many cases for the owners of cottages to increase rents. Yet the very people who see day after day large increases of wages given, and upon whom the increased rates fall in the form of increased rents, have denied to them this recognition of the increased cost of living. Surely that ought not to be so. My right hon. Friend must know that the conditions in which many of these women live places them open to very serious temptation. No one denies that those temptations in the past have brought about some very serious results. The fact that their children are ill-fed and ill-clad may lead to serious immorality. What will be the thought of a soldier when he comes home? He will find his home broken, and his heart will be broken, whereas we want these men, when they return to this country, to be 274 full of joy and to be full of spirit. If we want to reconstruct this country, it is economically unsound and particularly unwise to do anything which will cause them any anguish of mind.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he opened this Debate, gave us an account of our position on the Continent, so far as the military position was concerned. I hope that his account is not too rosy. I hope and trust sincerely that his forecast of future results may shortly be consummated; but however that may be we cannot ignore the fact that the War is likely to continue many months, if not years. What is the outlook for these poor people? They cannot possibly keep and clothe themselves and their children adequately. As time goes on the probability is that prices will increase and that their condition will become worse, and practically hopeless. If a nation like this can afford to spend £7,000,000 a day, it can certainly afford to make the wives and children and dependants of the soldiers who are fighting our battles comfortable and happy. We have no right to impose upon the women and children of this country any hardship which money can remove. I know the argument will be brought forward that at the present time we have the greatest difficulty in, financing the War. I do not think that we really have that difficulty. I believe that the people of this country are ready and willing to be taxed still more for the sake of prosecuting this War to a successful issue. I believe that they would be glad to pay increased taxation to make it possible for these women and children to live in comparative comfort. In my judgment, if strict economy is exercised in our great spending Departments, we can save more than is necessary to increase the dependency allowances to these people, so as to remove all the misery that exists at the present time. Most people are agreed that there has been great extravagance in most of our spending Departments.
The War Office has been particularly extravagant in many directions, and, as this is a question with which the War Office is probably more concerned than any other Department, I would like to ask the Financial Secretary if he cannot see his way in his own Department to save a few millions a year to give to the wives and children of our soldiers. He knows full well that there is reckless 275 extravagance and unnecessary expenditure. He knows full well that mistakes are being made day by day in our expenditure. He also knows that the difficulties that have to be faced will be intensified shortly when the men ranging up to fifty-one years of age under the new Military Service Act are called up, because the probability is that the wives and children of these men have attained a higher standard of living than many of the younger married men who have gone to the front, and will never be able to exist on the present allowances. If my right hon. Friend would like a suggestion as to where he can economise, I will give him just one instance only. It is a well-known fact that in the various depots in this country to-day there are many hundreds of men who have been passed by the medical authorities as unfit for any further military service. Some of the men have been there months doing no work whatever, simply waiting for some special board to discharge them from the Army as unfit for further military service. These men are a great burden to the country, and the great majority of them, if they were granted their discharge, could return to civil employment to-morrow. Many of these men, to my own knowledge, have been at some of these depots three, four, and five months, costing this country vast sums of money, which can never be productive of any good, but which might be devoted to the wives and children of our soldiers, in which case the money saved would be not only productive of good, but would be the means of removing a great deal of the bitterness which has arisen during the last few months. May I make an earnest appeal to my right hon. Friend that if he cannot at once alter the Warrant, which I know may take some little time—
§ Sir M. LEVY
Well, if he cannot immediately meet the demands which are now being made upon him to remove untold anguish, annoyance, and bitterness, will he give definite instructions without delay for an alteration in the Regulation which prevents the local war committees taking into consideration the question of the increased cost of living? Let him do that as a first step—he might do it to-morrow probably—and let him further consider the question of increasing dependants' allowances. He will then relieve the 276 minds of thousands of our soldiers who are now fighting in all parts of the world from the worry and anxiety which, in my judgment, ought never to be imposed upon them.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
I cannot help expressing my profound disappointment that this question should have been raised in the present circumstances. This is not the time to raise this question. After an important Debate such as we have listened to during the earlier part of this Sitting, to raise this matter at the moment is simply to invite its being completely covered up, so that the country will not follow what is being done.
§ Mr. MACDONALD
There are two Opposition parties in the House, either of whom has the right to demand that the Government shall put down a Vote upon which this subject could be raised. The Government is not responsible at all. The Government does not settle Supply; that is done by the Opposition parties. This matter raises a very difficult question. Nobody sympathises with those who have to face this problem—I mean the officials—more than I do. Important questions cannot be debated adequately a little after eight o'clock and after the Committee has had to consider these very large general questions of war policy.
§ Mr. MACDONALD
Therefore I regret very much that we have to raise this question to-night. I feel perfectly certain that my right hon. Friend would have been better pleased to have had a calm and pleasant discussion, so that all views might have been expressed, at perhaps somewhat greater length, so as to give a little more satisfaction than I am afraid will result from this Debate to-night. However, the question has been raised, and, willingly or unwillingly, we have to follow it up. The right hon. Gentleman ought to have clearly in his mind what the position is and the claim that is being made. He will remember that the separation allowances were fixed in November, 1914, at 17s. 6d. a week. In March, 1915, the 17s. 6d. became 21s., and in December, 1917, the 21s. became 24s. 6d. I am speaking of a wife and two children, which I take as a standard. All the figures I give apply to that. The question has arisen, What is the value of these various sums 277 of money, particularly the value of 17s. 6d. in November, 1914, as compared with 24s. 6d. in December, 1917, or in June, 1918? That is the whole point, because I do not think that even the War Office will seek to justify itself in paying separation allowances which, so far as their real value is concerned, are less now than they were in 1914. It is a very simple sum to work out. If the separation allowances from 1914 to 1917 have increased 43 per cent., whereas according to the Board of Trade figures the increase in prices, weighted according to consumption before the War, is 107 per cent., that is taking all the country over, if that weighting is varied in accordance with the alteration in the consumption that has taken place since the War—for instance, substitute margarine for butter, maize for wheat, and the lower grade of wheat and a lower grade of flour for the higher grades—we can take it that the increase has been 70 per cent. Those figures are pretty fair. If the War Office were to increase the 17s. 6d. in November, 1914, by 70 per cent., it would be paying in round figures 30s. at the present time. It is paying 24s. 6d., and it ought, on the basis of the first separation allowance, meagre as that was, to be paying 30s. That is the position in which we find ourselves. It may be said that that is theoretical. We have got to make good our theoretical claim from the point of view of practical experience. I am quite certain that my right hon. Friend will not dispute the fact that there is a very alarming amount of practical experience that bears out the little sum in arithmetic with which I have been troubling the Committee. In my Constituency, for instance, where there is a very efficient system of relief, a committee has just reported on this subject, and this is what it says:The Committee gladly acknowledge the practical value of the provision of extra assistance by local committees to meet exceptional cases and also the usefulness of the work of the Civil Liabilities Commission, but their experience unquestionably shows that neither the exceptional allowance nor the civil grants meet the requirements. The fact impressed upon them is that the increase in the cost of living since January, 1917, has made it impossible for a very large number of soldiers' wives with young children to maintain them as they should be maintained for their physical well-being. Instances, typical of many, have been brought to the knowledge of the Committee, in which soldiers' families have had to go short of food when it has been necessary to purchase clothing, while frequently mothers, long accustomed to frugality, find their allowances exhausted in the purchase of food, leaving nothing for boots or other wear.278 That is practically an official committee's report, because it is signed by the Mayor of Leicester, and upon the committee are some of the most responsible and able men and women of the borough which I represent. That is not all. I hold in my hand copies of resolutions from some of the most important municipalities in the country. There is Manchester, for instance. The Secretary to the Manchester War Pensions Local Committee writes as follows:In my judgment the separation allowance for a soldier's wife and children is definitely insufficient to maintain a decent standard of living, and, where the family have no other resources, distress and hardship are caused.A resolution has been passed supporting in practically the same words the letter written by the secretary. We find the same thing in Leeds, where it is stated thatThe separation allowances for women and children should be increased on account of the present height of the cost of living. I am therefore informing our local Press of the decision.That is an extract from a letter written by the Lord Mayor of Leeds to the Mayor of Leicester upon this subject. Sheffield has taken similar action. Glasgow has resolved on similar lines, so has Birmingham, so has Bristol, and several other of our large towns. The local newspapers have all taken up the matter. I do not believe there is a single newspaper of any importance in the country at present but has been making within the last three months very adverse reflections upon the standard of these allowances. If we come from these public expressions of opinion, based upon experience, based upon claims, and take individual cases, some of them are simply appalling. I myself, since I put a question to my right hon. Friend, have had many of these letters. We have all been accustomed to that, and we have to take a certain percentage off, but some of the stories which have been the subject of investigation are really pitiable to listen to, and make very pitiable reading. I will give an extract or two. There is the case of a soldier's wife, who says:My husband has been in France since November, 1916. I have had to write to him at last asking him to send me some money, as I cannot carry on any longer on my handsome allowance of £1 4s. 6d. a week.A most pathetic thing to anyone who can understand and enter into the feelings of that woman who, having striven bard to keep things going without troubling her 279 husband beyond his allotment, finds that at last she has to write to him for the first time to send her some money from his savings in order to supplement what the Government has paid her so inadequately. Take another case. A soldier's wife writes:When we have a pair of boots mended we have to go short of food. The Empire wants a strong generation, but I do not know where they are going to get them from.Here is another case. A Mrs. McGeary, who signed her name in a local newspaper on Wednesday, says:I am a soldier's wife and receive 24s. 6d. for self and two children. I applied for help under the Civil Liabilities Commission and received a communication from London stating that my case does not appear to be one to which the scheme applies. I do not know how they think we are getting through. I have pawned everything in the house, and gone as far as I can. How do they think we can clothe children and pay rent, coal, insurance, grocery, milk for baby, bread, and gas on what we get? When we want boots we have to go without food, and I am in ill-health myself.9.0 P.M.
There is one more with which I will trouble the Committee, because it is of the nature of a budget. This is a case that has been investigated, and the finance can be taken as being absolutely correct. It is taken from a respectable working-class district. It relates to a wife with two children, who gets the 24s. 6d. allowance. Her rent is 6s. 9d. She pays for coal 3s. 4d., for milk 2s. 4d., for bread 2s. 11d., for meat 3s., for groceries 4s., for bacon or its equivalent 1s., and for gas 1s. 4d.—making a total of 24s. 8d. on these items alone, which have to be found out of her 24s. 6d. I think the case is quite unanswerable. The facts are there. The separation allowance is not sufficient. I do not think anyone will resist that, in view of the increased cost of living, the separation allowance is not sufficient. A condition of things is becoming common which one can describe without any exaggeration as being serious. The suggestion has been made to-day, and I am sorry to have heard it, that these local war pensions committees' activities should be extended so that they might be able to give grants in respect of the increased cost of living.
§ Mr. MACDONALD
They can only do it under certain circumstances—sickness and special distress. But the proposition is an absurd one. It is absurd for my 280 right hon. Friend to get up and say, "I am prepared to do that," when from John o' Groats to Land's End prices are up. This is a common need. I do not know how many hundred families my right hon. Friend has under his care, but it amounts to this, that he invites every family from the furthest Shetland Islands down to the most southern point of Cornwall to go to the local war committees and ask for a supplementary allowance to what the Government gives. It is not business. It is not the right way of doing it, and it is not a decent way of doing it. If a case is made out for an increased separation allowance the increase ought to be made by the War Office and paid in precisely the same way that the original separation allowance is paid. Besides, I have made the point already twice in supplementary questions, and it is a valid point, and I insist upon it, that even although, as a matter of fact, the money paid by these local war pensions committees is paid as a matter of right to those who are entitled to it, the whole circumstances of the application for the payment suggest, charity. It is perfectly true that if a woman goes to these committees and says, "I come under the provisions, I am sick, my children are ill, or my rent is so much, therefore I ask you to supplement my allowance," she can make that claim as a right, but, nevertheless, ask her to go and do it, ask her to put her case before these people, tell her it has got to be investigated and inquired into, and the whole psychological effect of the application upon that woman is that she is asking for charity, and when it comes it is a charitable dole. Therefore, it is a most improper way of dealing with this very serious matter.
I will suggest that my right hon. Friend should fix his attention upon the children. If he would increase the children's grant he would be doing what was necessary. I can quite see that even although 12s. 6d. for a woman without dependants may seem small on paper, nevertheless it is not good policy to encourage women without dependants to depend totally upon the separation allowance. There may be exceptional circumstances, and I am quite certain my right hon. Friend, in view of the very great courtesy he has always shown to those who approach him, and the practical sympathy, not merely the sympathy of words, which he has always shown us when we have brought any properly investigated and deserving 281 case before him, would increase the allowance if there was any special reason why it should be done. As a rule, it is all for the good of the State, it is all for the good of the woman herself, and it is all for the good of her family that she should not be expected to simply live upon such allowance. When we come to the children, the whole question is changed. The first duty is to see that the children are being properly brought up, it is bad enough when the father is away, but if the mother is to go into a factory and to farm out her children, as it were, in order to enable her to keep the fires burning and the roof over her head, then goodness knows what is going to happen from the point of view of the discipline of the next generation upon whom we are going to place so many burdens and upon whom we are depending so much. Therefore, I am doubly opposed to this question being met by increased allowances from the local war pensions committees. I suggest that it should be met first by increased pay given to the children.
There is another matter. I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or somebody from that bench, said that we ought to practise economy. I think I should be doing an injustice to the Chancellor of the Exchequer if I attributed that remark to him, so I will not assign it to anybody. I know that we must be economical. We cannot throw money about, and though two blacks do not make one white, it is very depressing and very sad that the women who are going through the experiences that I described before the Chancellor of the Exchequer came in, according to their own letters, have to witness such things as the Loch Doon experiment; the expenditure of the £10,000,000 which has enabled us to get the 9d. loaf, and the millions that have been wasted, judged from the reports that have been before us. These people see these things, and the Government should be a little bit careful in the language it uses and the frame of mind it gets into in this respect. These people say "They tell us that it is necessary to practise economy, and it is very hard to resist it, but why do they practise economy on us alone? If there is any extravagance at all might we not have just a little of it, because goodness knows we want it very much." I think this is a point of view which the Government ought to remember.
282 Why should the Government exercise its desire to practise economy upon these people in such a way? The facts are indisputable. The Admiralty does not practise economy upon its wages bill, because it is not right that it should. It has got to meet the situation and it is doing it. Does the War Office mean to tell me for a single moment that if these men's wives were combined in a trade union and had the chance of striking and of creating industrial trouble, or does anyone in this House mean to tell me, that the separation allowance for a wife and two children would be 24s. 6d. a week? Nothing of the kind would take place. Wherever it has been possible for combined labour to claim justice in an effective way wages have gone up beyond all relation to the increases that have been paid in respect of war bonuses. That is not all. The Government say that it is necessary to practise economy and that they admit the allowances are not quite all that they ought to be. That means that they are imposing a special tax upon the soldiers' families. This family being a soldier's family, and this wife being a soldier's wife, is not being paid enough, because the country has to save money somewhere, and so it is being saved at their expense. That state of things amounts to a special tax upon soldiers' families in order to relieve national financial necessities. It is most unfair, it is most unjust, and I do not think the Government can stand on its present attitude. Save on anything, but do not save on this. The most wasteful expenditure that the country can indulge in, either in times of peace or in times of war, and particularly in times of war, is saving in the physique, in the good heart, and in the happiness and comfort of soldiers' families, soldiers' wives and children. Save in such a way that the efficiency of these families go down, and you are really living upon the capital of our country and upon the life of your people. That is what is happening at the present moment. It is no economy to go on paying 24s. 6d. a week, when, as a matter of fact, according to the standard of 1914, you ought to be paying 30s. I appeal to the Government to do justice in this case.
These women have a double anxiety. They have an anxiety about their husbands. They never see the postman come up the street and they never hear the postman's knock at the door but their 283 hearts jump into their mouths, wondering what news he is going to bring. Sometimes, when one site down at one's own fireside the nightmare of the whole thing becomes so intolerable that one has to get up and put on one's hat and go out into the street at midnight to try to get rid of the thought of the harrowing pain under which our people are suffering. That anxiety is enough for these women, but, in addition, they have to strive and struggle and scrape and save and borrow and beg and even, in some cases, judging by the law Courts, to steal or to pawn even their wedding rings in order that they may be able to pay their accounts with the grocer and the butcher. If that anxiety is going to be added to what a frightful hell must be the existence of thousands of women in this country. We cannot remove the first anxiety from their hearts, but we can remove the second anxiety from their hearts, and I appeal to the Government to do it, as they so very well can.
§ Mr. WING
I associate myself with the opening remarks of the hon. Member who has just sat down, namely, that I think this subject is of sufficient importance to have had a day set apart for its discussion. It is so far-reaching that it seems a pity that it should have to follow a Debate which dealt with the larger views of the War in a general sense, rather than its administration. This question of the wives and dependants of our soldiers is really at the basis of all our other activities. Neglect that, and a great deal of the money we spend is wasted. If the moral of the country is to be preserved you are risking very much in that direction if the matter which is now being raised is not attended to in a prompter manner than seems to have been impressed upon the Government from time to time when this question is raised. It would not be just to discuss this matter without acknowledging that, in addition to the general courtesy of those to whom we apply at the War Office there have been advances made. I think we spoil our case by not acknowledging the advances that have been made. I think that the recent concession made to our soldiers and sailors has been very highly appreciated by the recipients, and the increased payment on behalf of the children has also been received with some degree of satisfaction. The same remark applies to the increased powers given to 284 the War Pensions Committees. It is desirable that these concessions should be acknowledged, because they are in some senses an indication of the way in which the Government intend to travel.
But I want the Government to go very much further than they have done. There are two classes in whose interests I speak whom these concessions hardly meet. For instance, there are sons who prior to the War were apprentices to trades or professions or were students or at work where the wages were very small. They went to the War, and on the principle of relief according to pre-war dependence the parents are deprived of any contribution whatever. The youth makes a contribution of 3s. 6d. a week. He realises himself that the parents are in need. He makes that payment and the Government let him do it. Has it ever occurred to those responsible that this War has continued for almost four years, and that a large number of those young fellows who were apprentices or at college at the commencement of the War would ere now, if there had been no war, have finished their apprenticeship or their college course and have been receiving the usual sums attaching to the profession for which they had entered, and presumably the parents would have been in receipt of sums of money weekly which would help to make up for the many years of sacrifice during which they had striven for their children? I would ask the right hon. Gentleman, for instance, in the case of apprentices and students who would have been in receipt of these high wages in the ordinary course if there had been no war, will he undertake to consider paying a sum based on the presumptive income at the expiration of the indentures or the term at college? There must be some way out of this problem, which is of great importance and which is causing a great deal of dissatisfaction.
The married woman, and especially the married woman with children, is at the present time a tragic figure. Consider her importance to the commonwealth, and see what bad business it is to neglect her, because there is no doubt about it that she is in possession of the influence which can fetch the man out of the trenches, and her complaint is going to be echoed on the battlefield and is going very largely to undermine the moral of our soldiers and sailors. I do not know whether it has ever occurred to members of the Government, but it was pointed out to me by a 285 woman the other day, that it costs more money to be a decent, careful wife, a prudent woman paying attention to her children and keeping the home going, than it costs to be a negligent and careless wife, because one allows things to go while the other woman maintains the average standard of home life. I would ask the Government to stand by this woman. I know that there are difficulties. I know that it is quite possible for the right hon. Gentleman to say that there is a large number of women who have got married who have not created homes, who are living with their parents, who possibly are earning money and whose income is better than it used to be, but that does not count with the woman who is maintaining a home. I am asking the right hon. Gentleman to consider the responsibilities which these people have to bear, and that the Government will revise the whole question of the scale of allowances. I would like to associate myself with the remarks made by previous speakers and urge the Government to see that this increasing discontent is at once stopped, in order that the future of the country may be maintained, and that these women who have children to maintain and a home to keep in order should be supported in the manner in which the country desires them to be supported.
§ Mr. HOGGE
This is a subject which I do not think the Leader of the House has any right to take at this period of the Debate during the dinner hour, when there is a small attendance of Members, for it affects the wives of some millions of men. It is a subject which we have raised in the House of Commons over and over again. We have got many promises, tout nothing has been actually done. I am sick to death of the promises we get from the Treasury Bench on the necessity of increasing separation allowances. If one could draw the whole picture of this particular topic, one could draw a most tragic picture. For instance, it is true beyond contradiction even by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that at no period during the War has the separation allowance been sufficient in amount to bring those in receipt of it up to the poverty line of existence, and if my right hon. Friends the Leader of the House, the Financial Secretary to the War Office, and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty, will take the trouble to investigate, as all of them have, I dare say, done from time to time, the 286 instances which have been brought to light on this subject, they will know exactly the amounts both in food and other matters which are required to maintain physical existence. I suppose that each of my right hon. Friends is a diligent reader of the "Board of Trade Gazette," in which every month they will see brought up to date the percentage of increase in the cost of the necessary food required for physical existence. If they will take only the essential foods required to keep a woman and her children alive they will discover that to be true which I have stated, that at no period from the beginning of the War—and there has been an increase from time to time—has the separation allowance been sufficient to maintain the wives and children of outfighting men in physical efficiency. That is a very serious indictment of this Government.
Put it in another way and see what it amounts to. Take the allowances granted to a woman and her children. The allowance for the first child is 7s., for the second 5s., for the third 3s. 6d., and for others 3s. When the fourth child happens to be an infant, anything from one to two years of age, and needs milk for its existence, the amount of money required to pay for the milk necessary for that child under the authorisation of Lord Rhondda, the Food Controller, is more than the separation allowance. If the woman wants to buy a pair of boots for any one of the children it will take six or eight weeks of the separation allowance to purchase even the cheapest pair obtainable, and, at the same time, there are heaps of unnecessary officials drawing salaries in Departments of the Government who could not command those salaries in the open market for a single day of their lives. That is the position.
But I have another point. The separation allowance absolutely governs the position in regard to pensions, and that is the meanest thing the Government have yet done. I hope the Leader of the House will bear this in mind. I do not do him the injustice of saying that he is not listening. I know he is listening. I have never said he is out of sympathy with the claims we are making. I always gave him credit for being publicly sympathetic in this matter. But he is an extraordinarily busy man; he has to depend on the advice, and he is often very badly advised by them, of the right hon. Gentlemen who sit on the bench beside him. They may, 287 perhaps, tell him there is not much in all this. It is indeed their business to put up the official case. I do not complain of that. But my point is that, as a matter of fact, the separation allowances are, after all, the basis of the pension. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Admiralty dissents. I have dealt with many cases. I know what I am talking about, and I repeat that it is true that when the pension is determined in the case of a parent—when it is determined on account of the death of a son it is fixed on the amount of the allowance which is determined by the pension officer in some community in some part of the country, and there is not added to it the compulsory allotment that was necessary and which represents the increase of pay in order to make up the separation allowance. If it was necessary, as it was sometimes, to give an allowance of 2s. 4d. in order to make up the 8s. 6d. per week—again the right hon. Gentleman dissents—I know it has been altered. It has been altered because the pay has been increased, and my right hon. Friend knows, as I know, that the compulsory portion of the allowance is now carried by the Government. I say, in spite of that, in spite of the compulsory portion of the allotment being carried by the Government, it is the separation allowance which is given in pension, and my right hon. Friends cannot deny that. It is no use their thinking to suggest it is not so, because I know that my statement is true that that part of the allotment is deducted ninety-nine times out of a hundred, and that the only portion that is given in the way of pensions is the portion admitted by way of allowance by the Government on the assessment of the pension officer. That is a further reason why, when talking about separation allowances we want a proper basis for them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Wing) has brought up the case of apprentices, and I hope that the Leader of the House is going to settle that to-night. He shakes his head. He has been shaking his head for four years. It is an amazing thing he has not lost his head, bearing in mind the number of times he has shaken it over this business. He really ought to come down to earth in regard to it. This is really a case of flogging a dead horse, but one has to do it until the Government submits. The case is quite clear. In the one 288 case you have the mothers of boys who waited until they were conscripted and thus got the benefit of higher wages, and, therefore, on the absurd basis on which present separation allowances are granted these boys were able to establish for their mothers a pre-war dependence which the mothers of boys who went of their own free will cannot claim. The mothers of boys who went of their own free will do not have the benefit of the higher wages, and get a lower separation allowance. Can the right hon. Gentleman defend that for a single moment? He cannot defend it as the Member for Bootle or as the prospective Member for the Central Division of Glasgow; he may defend it as Chancellor of the Exchequer, but they are two different persons. There is no defence for it; there is no defence, as the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald) pointed out, for throwing these mothers on the mercy of the local war pensions committees. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer knows what is done in these cases. The mothers of these boys have to go before a committee elected by the city council on which are co-opted representatives of trade unions, of discharged soldiers' societies, and of charitable organisations, and they have to prove to these committees that they are "on their uppers" before the committees will agree that there is any hardship in their sons being taken from them. In the one case the mother of the boy is subject to the machinery of the pensions officer and of the pay office over which my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the War Office presides, and she gets all the advantages of the higher pay. But the other mother has to go through an inquisition which is, to say the least, intolerable; she has no right to be subjected to it, she ought not, for instance, to be called upon to go before the local war pensions committee of Edinburgh and plead poverty before she can get, in respect of her son, what the other mother is entitled to as a matter of right, and entitled to it only because her boy waited to be conscripted instead of joining up voluntarily at the beginning of the War. My right hon. Friend may possibly have in his mind the suggestion that some time ago the wages of our soldiers and sailors were increased. It is true there was an increase, and it amounted to 3s. 6d. on the average. I do not pretend to be accurate, but 289 I am putting it roughly at half-pay. It was the compulsory payment by the man which is now carried by the Government. What happens as a result? What happens is that the average man has voluntarily to give an extra allotment to his wife and children, and if he does that he is not liable to any deductions that might otherwise happen, such as the civil liability grant; but if he gives any more, he is subject to all those deductions. Therefore the tendency of the men is to limit the amounts they allot; and, as to the extra amount of 3s. 6d., it is supposed to be borne by the Government, but it comes out of the pocket of the soldier or the serving sailor. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty, when he comes to make out as good a case as he can for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, should point out to him that so far as the men of the Navy is concerned, they have not up till this day, the 18th June, been paid. I hope my right hon. Friend (Dr. Macnamara) is listening to this sentence: It is true to-day that the money of the sailors has not yet been paid. It was given last October, and yet after eight or nine months this extra money to which the sailors in the Navy are entitled has not been paid. I think the right hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary will find that rather difficult to explain. It is too ludicrous. The Government have no business to be anything else than absolutely up to date in regard to payments to our fighting men.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the ADMIRALTY (Dr. Macnamara)
I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend, but I would point out to him that we have 200,000 men to deal with, many of them far away, and we have to ascertain their wishes. The delay has been unavoidable, and I think the House will feel that is so.
§ Mr. HOGGE
The Navy has 200,000 men with whom the right hon. Gentleman's Department has to deal, but the Army has 5,000,000 men, and they have been paid. I never knew that the Admiralty was less efficient than the War Office. This increase of pay was given to the 200,000 men of the Navy, who have not yet been paid; yet the right hon. Gentleman who sits near to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty—I mean the Financial Secretary to the War Office (Mr. Forster)—who is responsible for 5,000,000 men in the Army, has been able to get them paid. I suggest 290 that they had better change places for a week, in order that the men of the Navy and their wives may get their money. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty says that these men are very far away, and he wants to ascertain their wishes. Why cannot he take a little risk? The trouble with Government Departments is that they are frightened they are going to lose a ½d. They keep people waiting for their money, rather than give them the money a week ahead of the time.
There is one subject to which I wish to call the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Earlier in the day we had a speech from my right hon. Friend the Member for East Fife (Mr. Asquith) who, standing on the other side of that Table, said that the country is in a graver and more serious position than it had been in since August 1914. I wonder whether the House of Commons has grasped the significance of that statement. My right hon. Friend the ex-Prime Minister was in charge of the affairs of this country, and at the critical period of the War when we joined forces against the Germans. He has been out of office for some eighteen or twenty months, and in that time other people have been in the Government. We have had a statement to-day from him, and I submit that questions of separation allowances, or of Committees of the House, or any of these subjects matter not one whit if this country is going to be overwhelmed by the Germans. Therefore, that is why I would far rather hear the Chancellor of the Exchequer to-night speak again. I am quite sincere and honest about this when I say that I would far rather the Chancellor of the Exchequer said something with regard to the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Fife than that he should make any remark on any other point. What did my right hon. Friend say? Speaking on his responsibility as the ex-Prime Minister, and as what I may technically describe as Leader of the Opposition, and as one who has probably the same kind of information as is available to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he said this day, the 18th June, that this country is in as serious and critical a position as it was in the first days of the War. What was our position then? Our men were lying fifteen yards apart, keeping the Germans off by the expedient of rapid fire with the then known rifle. That was the only thing that saved the British Empire at 291 that time, the outset of the War. Does the Prime Minister say that the country is in the same position as it was then? I invite the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to that statement of the right hon. Member for East Fife. Is it true?
§ Mr. HOGGE
I understand my right hon. Friend says it is true. I submit that if the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is always honest and frank, says that what the ex-Prime Minister has stated is true, then the statement which the Chancellor of the Exchequer made to-day is not a sufficient statement to make to this House of Commons in view of the situation. I think it is his bounden duty to tell the House something more. The Chancellor of the Exchequer pointed out in his speech that the Germans have a threefold strategical intention: first, to take Paris; secondly, to take the Channel ports; and thirdly, to break the communications between the French and British forces. I am not in possession of any secret information, but I talk to Members in the House as other hon. Members do. We also talk both to officers and men who have returned from the front, and, in addition, all of us have got personal friends and many of us relatives who are in those forces, and although we do not hear very much from them in letters, when we see them personally we get to know one or two things. What I have got to know myself within the past few weeks is this: it is a considerable possibility that the Germans, if they do not take Paris, may come within such a distance of Paris as to command Paris by their guns, and if the Germans dominate Paris by their guns that raises a situation which presumably the War Cabinet have considered in advance, because I take it that as sensible men they, among other considerations, always presume the worst and make plans for meeting it. If Paris is dominated by the German guns, then the third of the Chancellor's three points is immediately raised—the breaking of the communications between the French and British forces north and south of Amiens. There we have a right to know from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in regard to a question which has been referred to more than once this afternoon and which was described by an hon. Member as the spatchcocking of British troops among the French troops, how far the British troops are involved 292 in the French line south of Amiens. Obviously, if there is a division between the forces north and south, the British troops who are with the French in the south may be involved in any possible débâcle in the south, and may have to retreat to the South and West in France. On the other hand, there comes the second of the strategical issues, namely, the defence of the Channel ports. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman can tell us, or why he should not tell us, whether the Government have taken precautions to defend the Channel ports.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I do not understand why the right hon. Gentleman or anyone should laugh at that. I do not forget that there is an alternative to the defence of the Channel ports, and that it is as to whether the British Army should be brought south to unite with the French Army and so maintain the two forces intact, or whether they should be separated, and we should defend the Channel ports. My right hon. Friend does not laugh at that, because he knows that is a critical decision which anyone like myself, who is an amateur and does not understand military questions, quite sees is an obvious and necessary consideration. My own view, so far as it is worth—it is not worth much, but it is worth as much as anyone else's—is that anything the British Government should do which should cut it off from American support would be unwise, and I do not see how we can secure the full benefit of American support unless we defend the Channel ports. I have heard a rumour—I do not know how much truth there is in it—that precautions have already been taken to clear a certain number of the Channel ports—to evacuate them.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW indicated dissent.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I am glad to see the Chancellor of the Exchequer shake his head. I do not put it because I believe it is true, but because I think it is the kind of thing that ought to be strenuously denied by the Government and upon which the Government ought to give information to the House, when they are talking of asking for that large sum of money they are asking for to-day, in addition to the £400,000,000 they will be asking for by the end of June. Not only the lives of those who are most to us, but the fortunes of most of us, are bound up in this thing, and if the battle goes against us we all go together, and 293 surely, whatever little difference of opinion we may have about this, that, or the other thing, we are for our country first and for our country all the time, and we would rather be without our fortunes and without our relatives than see our country go down. Therefore, when we get questions brought before us as we have this big question brought before us to-day, and the right hon. Gentleman makes the kind of statement that he has made, I honestly think we are entitled to a little more information. Let me take him through it just for a minute. He excused himself on the ground that because we were in the middle of the battle he could not give us any information, but this has been a continuous battle for four years, and every time I have listened to a speech on a Vote of Credit, not only by the Chancellor of the Exchequer but by the ex-Prime Minister, they were both equally bad in this respect. Both of them have got up and said, "We cannot tell you those things because we are in the middle of next week or in the middle of a battle, or in the middle of some extraordinary circumstance." Every time we are precluded from knowing the facts. Look at what my right hon. Friend said about the Austrian offensive. He said that if it had been successful it might have been far-reaching and even decisive on the Western Front. My right hon. Friend knows that at the time when the Cambrai battle was fought British divisions were being moved to Italy, and that they have since been gent to Italy, and that British divisions hare since been brought back from Italy to France. He knows, probably better than most people, how many British troops are in Italy at the present moment. When he gets up in the House to-day and states that if the Austrian offensive had been successful it might have been decisive on the Western Front, does he not realise that Members of this House, who are prepared to support him, and to give up a lot of their views and prejudices in order to support him, are entitled to more information than they have got?
Take, again, the question of America. The phrase used by the Chancellor of the Exchequer was very significant. He said America was in the War—that the Americans were not coming, but had come. Let us get down to reality again. I am one of those people who believe that the peace of the world will eventually be maintained, not by all our Allies, but by 294 the English-speaking peoples of the world, and therefore I welcome the incursion of America into this particular conflict. But when my right hon. Friend says that the Americans are in the War, that they are not coming, but have come, is he not exaggerating the truth? Is it not the case that, while America is doing everything possible to come into the War and to get into the War, she has found herself in precisely the same position in which we found ourselves at the beginning of this War, and that she has had the same difficulty that we had in establishing ourselves and maintaining ourselves as an effective force in this world conflict? What is the use of making the British people believe that the difference just now is being made up by the Americans, when the real truth in that probably for the next couple of months this country has got to look forward to what you might call the black months of the War? It is really true that it is a race in time between Hindenburg and President Wilson, and that as soon as the Americans can come effectively into the War, then the issue of this conflict is absolutely decided. There can be no end to it but the success of the Allied Forces.
But it really is not fair, and it is not the right way to run the people of this country, to give them the idea that America at the present moment has come into the War—not coming, but come, as the right hon. Gentleman said. I venture to suggest he is not prepared to get up and tell us to-night the number of effective Americans fighting at the present moment. They are not very large, but what there are are very effective, and if the others are like them they will be excellent when they come. But do not give the idea that they are there, when the fact is that Britain has to hold on for another couple of months, at any rate. Britain has not only to carry France and Italy on its back, but to hold the line until America comes in. This country of ours has got far too little credit in this War. We have done so much, we have sustained so much, we have been patient about so much. I do not object to all the encomiums pronounced upon our Allies. They are deserved in great extent, but really, as a matter of fact, if it had not been for this country, and the way this country has hung together, this War would have been lost long ago, and I do not want my right hon. Friend to give the country the impression, when it is not true at the moment, that the Americans 295 are in the War. I do not want to put specific questions to my right hon. Friend. I do not want to take him through the tale of aeroplanes, guns, men, and equipment. All I want to say is this: We welcome America into the War. Those who are fighting are making good. If those who come are as good as those who are there, then we have an enormous resource which will finally achieve our success. But do not let us make the mistake of buoying up our hopes when, as a matter of fact, the autumn campaign of this War might be the capture of Paris by the Germans. But its capture by the Germans would not necessarily mean the end of this War. I take it that, suppose all our Allies were out of this War, Great Britain could still continue this War on the sea, and with a policy which would eventually bring Germany to her knees. It would cost this country a great deal less, but we could do it much more effectively. That might be a possible alternative. I am not suggesting that at the moment, but do not let us forget. The right hon. Gentleman said in his speech that the blow was coming, and was coming soon. The only bit of comfort in the statement of the Chancellor was that on a recent occasion, when we went away for our Easter Recess, he told us that they knew all about the blow that was coming and would not come, but it did come on that occasion. Now he says the blow is coming, and perhaps, on the same analogy, it will not come. On this occasion, however, I think he is right, and that the blow is coming, and is coming soon. It is a question of arithmetic. Germany has some 210 divisions against the Allies. We have 150 to 150 divisions in the field against the Germans. All the recent German advances, and all the recent special pieces of work, have been done by the margin of the difference between those two figures. They have never used their original forces. Their original forces are there still to use. I am glad there is so much shaking of heads, because, after all, it is a question of figures. We had those figures explained to us before. I remember the last time we discussed this question, we had to discuss it in Secret Session. As a matter of fact, I was making a speech at the time we went into Secret Session. The Prime Minister made a speech in Secret Session at that time in which we were told that the Germans were in pos- 296 session of such numbers, such guns, such equipment, and so on, as put us in a substantial minority. We were told that in Secret Session. We were told by the same Prime Minister about the same facts entirely opposite when we were out of Secret Session. That is the kind of thing the public does not know. It is the kind of thing the public ought to know.
This kind of thing has gone much too far. The issues are much too great and much too grave to be tossed about between a Secret Session and an Open Session. What we want in this House is to be told the real facts, the truth, and nothing but the truth, and not to have a variation of that truth or an interpretation of that truth given us by different Ministers. I repeat again that it is most unfair to have to introduce a discussion on separation allowances during the dinner time, when only six Members are present. We ought to get a proper day to discuss them, and not mix up domestic issues of that kind with grave national issues. I hope the Chancellor will take that view of this Debate to-day, and will leave over other questions until tomorrow, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland is, I believe, by arrangement, to introduce the question of the recent investigation into various Departments, and to deal to-day as a complete whole with the grave national situation in which the country finds itself. They are grave problems that he is up against. In view of the fact that this House was not put in possession of these facts, far and away the best thing the Chancellor can do, far and away the best service he can render, not only to his colleagues in this House, to the country, and the Parliament which at the present time he leads, is to follow the course I suggest.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I am sorry that there was only six Members in the House to hear the speech of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. After all, however, that is the Members' business, and if they thought the speech deserved consideration they possibly would have come into the House. As they did not attend, I suppose they did not think it worth their while. I want to raise a different question to what has gone before, and that is concerning the medical examinations which are going on at the present time to pass men for the Army. It must be remembered that now we are taking men over the age of forty- 297 one and up to fifty that there are likely to be many cases in which the men are not physically fit; consequently, the medical examination should be conducted in a careful manner. Due regard ought to be paid to these men, men who are respectable persons, and who are not likely to desire to deceive the medical examiner; and also due regard should be paid to the certificates which they may bring from their own doctors. I have a letter from a constituent of mine dealing with this matter. He is a stranger to me, but I am informed he is a solicitor in the City of London, and a member of years' standing. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hampstead, who, I think, is not in the Government, but is an unpaid Parliamentary Secretary to a member of the Cabinet, and whose opinions, therefore, deserve notice, informs me that he personally knows the gentleman who has written to me. This is what the gentleman who writes says:Dear Sir,—I am sorry to have to bring to your notice what I believe to be the very worst case of medical examination under the new Military Service Act.I hope the Press will take notice of this, because, if the statement be correct, it is really a very serious indictment of the method of procedure of these medical examinations. I could give the name, but perhaps I had better leave it out. I have, however, shown it to the right hon. Gentleman, and he knows:It is that of my cousin, and partner, who in the face of two medical certificates stating that he was a hæmophilic (a bleeder), was subjected to an examination which brought on an attack of hæmorrhage of the lungs from which he nearly died. I feel that this is an abominable scandal, and although we hope he has now escaped with his life, others in his position may not be so fortunate. I earnestly desire to enlist your interest as our senior Member to bring this to the notice of the responsible authority, or to the House of Commons, whichever you think best. My cousin is a member of this firm, which has been established in the city for over 100 years. He is one of a well-known family of hæmophilics, aged forty-three. He attended for his examination at the Baths, Artichoke Place, Camberwell, on 31st May. As he is quite unfit for any form of military service I advised him to take with him the certificate of his own medical attendant, who knows his constitution, and also one from a Harley Street specialist, and although any doctor who knows his business would recognise at once the danger of submitting him to the exertion of the ordinary tests, it is almost unbelievable, but appears to be the fact, that the doctors threw aside the certificate of his medical attendant, saying that he was only a general practitioner, and paid hardly any attention to the specialist's certificate. They required my cousin to go 298 through all the ordinary tests, and kneaded him, and pulled him about and made him bend. When he assured him that he could not bend his knees, which are perfectly rigid from the result of numberless effusions of blood into the knee joints, they disbelieved his statement, and make him get into a bath to try and bend them by swimming. Then they put him in the third grade.… The effect of the examination was to bring on hæmorrhage from the lungs from which he nearly died the next day. For a week afterwards he was confined to his bed, and not allowed to speak for fear of increasing the hæmorrhage, which, fortunately, ceased after five days. He is now very slowly recovering.Then, he says, he was finally graded 3, but really that does not affect the case. The whole point is: Should this man, who is a gentleman and a respectable person, whom anyone must have seen was not a person who was likely to come forward with a faked certificate, have been forced to go through these various tests—with the result that he has nearly lost his life? I have given the Minister of National Service every opportunity to verify these statements before I have made them to the House. I do not often make a statement of this sort to the House—I do not think I have ever made a statement that I have not verified, or perhaps in only one instance, for I verify the accuracy of the statements I make, and I think the Minister will admit that this case is one that should be looked into. We know perfectly well, of course, that sometimes medical certificates are obtained very easily, and possibly doctors may be inclined to pay as much regard as other people to certificates from one of their own profession. I must say that in these cases of the older men, who have now to submit themselves to these tests some consideration ought to be shown, and some common sense ought to be exercised. It is clear that a person, whoever he is, if it is doubtful whether or not he can be safely put through these tests, should have that fact taken into consideration. Some discretion should be allowed and exercised from the general rule. The people have written to me, and have said that they desire to have this case brought up, not only because of what occurred to themselves, but in order to avoid similar cases occurring in the future. I am not able to say whether or not the doctors have received private instructions to pass everybody that they possibly can. That may be quite untrue. There is no doubt, however, that there is a strong feeling in the country that something of this sort has been done. It seems to me that the letter in some degree substantiates that. 299 I may take this opportunity of thanking the Minister of National Service for the courtesy which he has shown to me. He has shown me all the papers, and I am extremely obliged to him for his having done so. I believe his answer is that the statement I have put forward on behalf of those concerned is incorrect. But I must say I am rather inclined to believe the man himself rather than an official who has made a mistake.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Naturally, he is not likely to inculpate himself and the chances are that he will try to extricate himself from a false position. I do think that the majority of officials are too prone to say, "Our rules are so and so. Now, Jones, you have to submit to our rules." Jones says, "Well—." "Oh, we know nothing about that. Our rules are made, and you have got to obey them." That may be all very well for a young man, but not for men of older age, and I do earnestly trust that whether or not these facts are correct instructions will be given that due regard shall be given to the examination of men over forty who are evidently not fit to go through the tests that are generally imposed upon young and able men.
§ The MINISTER of NATIONAL SERVICE (Sir A. Geddes)
I am obliged to my right hon. Friend for the opportunity which he has given me of investigating the case which he has brought forward. I received from him this morning the papers, and since then I have been able to investigate the case. The gentleman in question was examined as stated. He was examined by a board of three medical men, of whom I understand only one is in any sense an official of the Ministry and a whole-time employé. The other two members, I understand, to be in civil work, in ordinary practice in their own districts, giving a portion of their day to helping the country at the present time with this enormous mass of medical examinations that have to be made. I should like to say, first of all, I know of no instructions, and I have searched every file possible that might contain such instructions. I know of no instructions that every man is to be passed in some grade or do some service. I know of no change having been ordered in the meaning of the terms Grades 1, 2, and 3. It is frequently suggested that there 300 are secret instructions on this subject. I do not know of them, and I have made it my business since that allegation was made to search these instructions, not only at headquarters, but I have gone to no less than twenty-four others where examinations are going on so that I might see what instructions they were working on. I have a very vivid recollection that there were no secret instructions in the ordinary sense, and I can find no trace of such instructions in existence at the present time. The story with regard to this particular medical examination that I had received, supported by the word of three professional men, the three doctors concerned, is in some important respects different from that which my right hon. Friend has told the Committee. Although I was not present and do not know the facts stated from my own certain knowledge, the statements I have received are to this effect. First, this gentleman was not put through the ordinary routine examination. It is stated in a memorandum which I have before me at the present moment that he was not asked to move down the room like other recruits because the certificate which he brought with him and which he presented to the board showed that he suffered from a condition known as hæmophilia, a condition in which there is a deficiency in the constituents required for the clotting of the blood. It is shown in the medical history sheet, which I have before me, that that certificate was received. It is shown further that that certificate was accepted, because the diagnosis is taken straight from the certificate—a diagnosis wihch the board could not make, and it is stated he suffers from hæmophilia. That is a certificate granted by his medical practitioner in civil life. It is not a medical history sheet. The condition of the knee is fully described. I would point out that there is one rather extraordinary statement in the account which my right hon. Friend has given to the Committee, and that is that the gentleman was asked to bend his knee. That I may say is absolutely denied by the doctors. As soon as they asked him to do so he explained that he could not. There was no exercise forced upon him as to the bending of the knee. The condition which he is described as suffering from—bleeding from the lung—is rather a different condition one would expect to find. Speaking with such medical knowledge as is left to me from 301 my earlier training, I would say that if such a man had been compelled to bend a knee which had been bleeding, it would have been absolutely certain that he would have had an enormously distended knee full of blood. With regard to the bleeding from the lungs, that is much more likely to have been brought on by the excitement of the examination, or by the exertion involved in proceeding to the examination. I have an absolute denial from three prefessional men of the facts alleged in the communication which the right hon. Gentleman has read. I will, however, investigate the matter further, and I can only assure the Committee that the medical boards have got definite instruction to be absolutely careful with men of the new military age, and I will personally send for and see the Chairman of this board to-morrow—I had not the time to-day—and we will go into the matter further. I can only think that there has been some unconscious exaggeration on the part of the gentleman examined as to his experience, as very often happens where there is a high degree of nervousness associated with the examination of a man who knows he is not fit.
§ Mr. SUTTON
I regret very much that the question of separation allowances should have come on this evening. It would have been much better if we could have had a day for this question alone, because I believe that it is so important that almost a whole day could be spent in discussing that question. I have risen to mention two or three matters in this connection. The hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. R. Macdonald) went into this matter very clearly, and he mentioned the case of several municipalities that had taken this matter up. As a Member for one of the divisions of Manchester, the local pensions committee wrote to me. I know the composition of that committee. It is composed of all shades of political parties, and they are strongly of opinion that the separation allowances paid to the wives and dependants of soldiers and sailors is far too small, and I was asked to raise this matter in the House some weeks ago. One seldoms raises matters publicly in this House. I generally raise my grievances by private correspondence, but there does come a time when one has to speak out rather plainly in this House, if only for a few minutes. I want to give one or two cases. I have a letter here 302 from a woman whose husband is in the Army, who now lives in London, and who has recently removed from my own division in Manchester. She says that she receives 28s. per week allowance. She pays 8s. per week rent, and when she has paid rent, insurance, coal, and gas, she has 15s. left with which to buy food, boots, clothes, etc., for herself, a growing girl of twelve years of age, and a boy of five years. She is not very strong and cannot go out to work, and she complains bitterly that it is almost impossible for the three of them to exist practically on 15s. per week after coal, rent, and gas have been paid. Anyone knows that to-day a pair of boots for a girl of twelve years of age means a week's separation allowance. It is the same with clothes, costumes, and everything else. The cost of living, according to last month's "Labour Gazette," is now 107 per cent. higher than before the War, and, seeing that the separation allowance was practically fixed in pre-war times, something more ought to be done.
I will give another case, and one could give many. I happen to live in the district which I represent, a working-class district, and every week-end that I go home I have at least a dozen people, women especially, come to me and complain of the small amount of the allowance that they receive for their husbands and sons. One woman living about 200 yards from my own house came to see me. She has had three sons, one of whom was married, killed in seven months, two of them, boys of nineteen and twenty-one, within one month of the offensive starting on the Western Front on 21st March. She has another married son, and her only remaining son, a boy of seventeen, voluntarily enlisted before his two brothers were killed in March. She received 21s. 3d. per week separation allowance for the two boys who were killed, and, when they fell, this young boy of seventeen, who had voluntarily enlisted, was most anxious to return home. He allotted his mother 3s. 6d. per week, making her allowance 24s. 9d. altogether. The Government propose an additional 6d., making it 25s. 3d. per week, and they suggest that she should send in her identity certificate so that this 6d. may be added for this younger boy who was bringing her in over £1 per week. The mother has said that she will refuse the extra 6d. She believes it is an insult, after losing three sons in seven months, to 303 be offered 6d. a week for the youngest boy, who was bringing in over £1 a week. Things like these will not be the means of causing satisfaction in the different districts. The knowledge of them spreads in the respective districts. People have come to see me and said that they have wilfully talked in their own district of the way they have been served by the War Office in regard to separation allowances. So far as that particular matter is concerned, I do not intend to let it drop, because I know that the fact of the woman being offered only 6d. is the talk all round the neighbourhood where I live. I have known 1s. odd to be offered, but that is little enough when a boy has been bringing in £1 a week. Several hon. Members have raised the question of apprentices. That is a very important question. I remember that when war first broke out and recruiting was prominent in Manchester many of us mounted the platforms and asked the people to go. Thousands of young lads in Manchester left the ware-houses; indeed, the employers told them that if they went they would pay them half wages. For a few years half wages were paid by the employers, and on that account the mothers did not claim any separation allowances. Believing that the half-wage was some little recompense for the boy's going away, they did not trouble the War Office for separation allowances. What is the result to-day? I am sorry to say that hundreds of these boys from my own district in Manchester have been killed on the Western Front, and because they did not claim separation allowances their parents are left without any pensions at all. As has been stated this evening, the separation allowance does apply, so far as dependants are concerned, when a man is killed.
I trust that the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Financial Secretary to the War Office will see that something is done in connection with these questions. It is a crying disgrace. I am not exaggerating when I say that only last Saturday, when I reached home after a miners' meeting at Bolton, four women were at my house crying over the small amount of separation allowance they were getting. Members of this House have to bear these things constantly. We are being blamed, and we are asked, "Is this all that a grateful country can do for us after we have given our husbands and our sons?" I can assure the Chancellor of the Ex- 304 chequer and the Financial Secretary to the War Office that unless something is done in these matters there will be greater dissatisfaction in the future than has existed in the past. We are asked why there is so much Positivism being created in this country. The War Office through the separation allowances, and the Ministry of Pensions through the small pensions, are responsible for the disaffection which exists. I hope they will do something in the future to prevent this from spreading. As I have said on previous occasions, we can only win this War by keeping the people with us. If you do not keep them with us and you cause disaffection, the Government will be responsible for whatever may happen in the future.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
First of all, as regards the general discussion, it has not been usual recently for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make a reply on the same day on which the Vote is moved. We have, as a matter of fact, looked upon the whole four days in connection with the Consolidated Fund Bill and the Vote of Credit as more or less one period, and it has not been customary for me to make two speeches on the same day. I saw no reason to depart from that custom to-day, but I quite realise that some of the points which have been raised, though by no means all of them—for on many it would be absolutely impossible to give information—ought to be dealt with, and it is my proposal that on the last of these four days the subject in some way or other should be raised again, and either I, or, if it so happens that it is possible for the Prime Minister, that he should perhaps make some further statement in regard to the general war position.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
Can we be assured that the right hon. Gentleman's (Mr. Asquith) speech will be dealt with on Monday by the Prime Minister?
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I cannot say that, but I promise that it will be dealt with either by him or by me. There is, however, one thing in connection with the statement I made to-day to which I should like to make a reference. I was rather shocked to hear that everyone spoke of it as an optimistic speech. I did not mean it to be that. I meant it to be a description of the position exactly as I thought it to be, after consultation with our military experts. I did not think it 305 was optimistic, and this at least is certain, that I recognise that the statement made by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Asquith) is one with which I entirely agree—that as a nation we are in as critical a position as we have been in at any stage of the War. But that does not prevent me from having the firm conviction that we shall come through, and that is all my statement meant.
I have risen really in regard to this question of separation allowances. Complaint has been made that it was raised in the dinner hour, and in a thin House. Neither of these calamities is in any sense the fault of the Government. The hon. Member (Mr. Hogge) rather implied that there was some crime on our part. I am going to say something which I hope will satisfy him and the members of the Committee generally. Questions of this kind, I can assure them, are not dealt with by the Government only as the result of pressure on the part of the House of Commons. I recognise—it would be easy to make a great deal of it—that there is rather a contrast in the first part of our Debate on the Vote of Credit being taken up with urgent appeals for economy in every direction, while on the same day an appeal is made which will mean, if the change is carried out, a larger additional expenditure of money. That is an easy contrast, but I will not for a moment admit that it is a contrast to which anyone should attach any importance. I dare say I myself, in what I am saying now, am liable to the charge that I am not an adequate watchdog; but it is certain that the point of view of the very large rewards which are available to men who have not joined the fighting forces, as compared with those which are given to those who are risking their lives for us, would not influence anyone in coming to a decision in the matter.
The point of view which ought to influence us is to weigh these claims against the ability of the country to meet them. That is the only way in which we ought to look at this question. I have for some time been considering this situation. Do not let the Committee forget that already there have been two advances in separation allowances since the scale was first made. Do not let them forget that there has been a slight advance, which sounds slight to the men, but it means a great deal of money. We have relieved the soldier of a charge of 306 6d. which he was compelled to pay before, and, having relieved him of that obligation, we have given him another 6d., which he can hand over to his family. All I want to do is to point out that the Government, following in this the wish of the House of Commons, has not been unmindful of the claims of these men and their dependants. We had decided—and this will show that the hour at which the Debate was raised had nothing to do with it—that the subject needs further investigation. As regards the dependants, that is already being looked into. The Financial Secretary is a member of the Committee which is going into it now. In regard to that matter some further assistance at least is necessary, but I do not consider that claim is quite on the same footing as the claim of the children as regards separation allowances. In regard to the children I feel that there was a great deal of force in what was put by hon. Members, including the hon. Member who spoke last and the hon. Member for Leicester. The hardship, I think, falls especially on the women with one or, at most, two children. What I promise to the Committee is that the question will be reconsidered, and reconsidered without delay. I do not commit myself to giving any further advance. I do not say it can be done or ought to be done without the sanction of the Treasury, but there is in my belief a real case for further consideration, in view of the changed circumstances of the country as a whole as regard the cost of living. I think there is a case for reconsideration. I cannot prophesy whether more will be given or how much will be given. I feel that the Committee ought to realise that we are not acting unreasonably or unfairly to these people in the attitude we are now taking. That is what we are prepared to do.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
It is not right to be unreasonable. I do not think that is the right spirit to take.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
During the four years there have been two advances. It would be far easier for us to meet all these demands from the point of view of what we know would be the wishes of the vast 307 mass of the electors who return us, but it is clearly the duty of the House of Commons as well as of the Treasury to weigh both considerations—the claims and the ability of the country to meet them. I hope the Committee will be satisfied with what I have said, and in view of the hour and the fact that there will not be time to discuss any other subject, I trust that the Committee will now let us have the Vote.
§ Mr. MARTIN
I desire to detain the Committee for a very few minutes on the subject of Russia. I take it that this is the first time that any responsible statesman in this country has made such a clear and striking declaration on the side of the people of Russia as was made to-day by the Leader of the Opposition. It is well known that many newspapers in this country have taken the very opposite position. President Wilson, very shortly after the difficulty in Russia arose, made a statement almost in the same words that the right hon. Gentleman used to-day. If it be true that Russia should receive the assistance and sympathy of this country at the present time, then the manner in which that should be done is an important matter to be discussed in this House and considered by the Government of this country. I do not agree that the Russian people are unfriendly to the Allies. I believe that they are, as a people, most friendly to the Allies, and that the unfortunate position in which they find themselves with regard to Germany is one which they have not brought about themselves, but which has been forced upon them. I wish in a very humble way to make some suggestions as to how this country can act in connection with Russia to the advantage of Russia, and also very much to the advantage of the Allied cause. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said to-day that it would not be very long before the number of American soldiers in France would be measured not by the means of crossing the ocean, but by the number of soldiers who could be got ready in America to come across. That would be a very satisfactory statement if it were correct, but I doubt very much if it is correct. I fear that for some time to come the soldiers coming from America with the supplies necessary to be sent with them will be much depleted by the unfortunate condition of shipping in 308 the Atlantic Ocean. So far as America is concerned, millions are now practically ready to cross. My suggestion with regard to Russia is that what should be done is to have a joint expedition sent against Germany on the Eastern Front as well as to fight her on the Western Front. That joint expedition should be, I would submit, conducted by the British Government, and its Allies generally speaking, but more particularly the United States Government and Japan.
If these millions of soldiers are practically ready, as I know they are, in the United States, why should not we within a reasonable time send a large army to attack the Germans on the Eastern Front, without in any way interfering with the number of American soldiers who will come forward as reserves on the Western Front? Shortly after this trouble arose Japan was more or less anxious to undertake an expedition of this kind. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife said that there might be international difficulties in the matter of dealing with Russia, but I submit that there should be none. Such an expedition, of course, would be purely an attack upon Germany. These great countries could send an army across where a railroad already exists from Vladivostock to the German front. This would in no way interfere with the conditions in Russia. The Russian people would understand that that army was not coming either to interfere with or attack Russia, and such an army, if this was understood, would be welcomed by the Russian people themselves, when passing through their country. There is no submarine danger. Any number of soldiers could be transported from the many Pacific ports in the United States and from Canada to Siberia. It is well known that for some time immense shipyards have been constructing vessels at San Francisco, as well as in British Columbia and Canada, and these vessels are being rapidly got ready. In a very short time, with a little additional pressure, there would be vessels which would make it possible to transport millions of American soldiers to Vladivostock, where they could be conveyed by railway right away to the German front. In addition to the Americans a large number of men would be obtainable from Japan, while the British portion of the expedition could be reinforced from Canada. In addition to that, to do the manual non-combatant 309 labour there are millions of Chinese anxious to be employed, and they could be secured on very reasonable terms. We know that large numbers of Chinese have already been imported into France and are doing magnificent work there. I see no possible complications arising in any way. The Japanese would not be jealous of the United States and the United States would not be jealous of the Japanese. This country would have no interest in the matter one way or the other if the Expedition was a joint one, carried on with the single idea of attacking the enemy and not interfering in any way with the economy or government of Russia itself. In addition to that, there is no doubt in the world that in a very short time there will be, in the natural course of events, a railway constructed from British Columbia and connected with the railways of Russia. It could be constructed in a very much shorter time if large numbers of Chinese were brought down to the Pacific Coast for the purpose.
I am one of those who have none of the fears that have been suggested to-day—that there is any possible chance of the Allies being defeated in the War. I think that is a contingency we need not fear for a single moment. But if the War is confined, as it is at the present time, to the Western Front, it may be a long time before the Allies are able to get that kind of victory over Germany which will ensure the peace of the world in the future. I believe the keynote of the situation is Russia, and if we can get an Army, such as is easily obtainable under the conditions I have stated, if we can get such an Army sent to Siberia from Vladivostock and the Pacific Coast on to the Eastern Front of the German Empire, it will be through that direction we shall enter Berlin and put an end to this terrible War.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I beg to move, "That the Vote be reduced by £100."
Let me thank the right hon. Gentleman for his very courteous intervention in the Debate, and his assurance to the House that the statement of the ex-Prime Minister will be dealt with by himself or the Prime Minister on the Vote of Credit or the Consolidated Fund Bill. As regards the separation allowances, he has said that the Government will consider the question. I believe he will consider 310 it. When the right hon. Gentleman makes that statement, has he considered all the difficulties of putting a decision into effect? Has he seen the ordinary ring paper which is presented by the wives and dependants of the soldiers each week at the post office, and which is never altered by the Government until that ring paper is exhausted? Has he considered that when a change is made a subsequent paper is issued? That is not the kind of method that should be adopted. I quite agree that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is extremely sympathetic on these matters, but to-night he has only given me the same reply as he gave to me a fortnight ago—that he will consider the matter.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I only promised as regards the dependants, and I did not promise to consider this question.
§ 11.0 P.M.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I will take the question of the dependants. After four years my right hon. Friend and the Government to-night are only in a position to say that a Committee is considering it. If they have considered it for a fortnight, cannot they tell us to-night what decision has been come to? If this matter is settled, cannot he mention the decision? Why cannot the brothers, younger brothers, and sisters of these boys, who are actually in want of food, boots, and clothes, have this decision stated to-night? Why should the right hon. Gentleman get up and say that he will take the point into consideration? What is the Committee to which it is referred? He has not told us. If it has been referred to the same Committee as has done this over and over again, we can expect nothing from it. We have had half a dozen examples of matters that have been before this Committee that have never been brought to the House of Commons. My right hon. Friend has never once in his life brought a single one of these instances to the House of Commons. He has told us that the Government would consider it, and then he has fixed some paltry sum, and put it into operation, after which he comes to the House of Commons and says that it is in operation. That is not the kind of thing we are going to stand any longer. It is easy for him to say that we may gain cheap cheers by calling attention to these matters, but I am sick of bringing the question of increased separation allowances and other 311 questions of the kind before the House. I would remind my right hon. Friend that he is a member of the Cabinet, drawing £3,500 a year all the time the War is going on, while the wives and children of the men who are fighting have got to go through all this elaborate machinery, and when their case is put before the Leader of the House he stands up and says the Government will take it into consideration. I consider that is offering the House a stone instead of the bread for which they are asking, and I think he ought to get up before the Debate closes and say what he is going to do, how long we can expect this to be under discussion, and when we shall have a decision. Shall we have a decision before Monday next week, when we can divide the House on the question of whether we shall give the Government this £500,000,000 or not? Part of this money will be spent upon the same kind of extravagances as have been found out by the Financial Committee over which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Cleveland Division (Mr. Herbert Samuel) presided, and we cannot get these paltry few shillings which will make all the difference between the wives of our soldiers and sailors starving and not starving. This is not a question merely of food, but one of morality. I have a letter here from an officer commanding a certain platoon on one of the fronts, in which this sentence occurs: "I have eleven men in my platoon that have received letters to tell them that their wives have gone wrong." Does my right hon. Friend believe that? Does he know, as a matter of fact, that some of the wives of our sailors and soldiers are driven wrong because they cannot get enough for their children? There is not sufficient in the separation allowance, and then my right hon. Friend gets up and says he will consider it. The amount of money that has been wasted on all kinds of Government extravagance would make all the difference to these dependants, and I have to express my deep regret, after all the agitation that has taken place on this question, that we have only reached the point of getting the Chancellor of the Exchequer to say he will consider it. I will move to reduce the Vote by £100. Nobody can say that I am playing into the hands of the Germans by 312 so doing. The War will be able to be continued with £499,999,999. I consider that the women and children of the men who are carrying on the War for which this money is being asked have waited so long for this money that some effective protest ought to be made, and the only effective protest we can make is by dividing the House on the question.
§ Mr. KING
At Question Time to-day, when Question No. 40 was answered, I announced that I would raise the matter of the treatment accorded to the Irish interned prisoners. I think there is a good deal that might be said upon that treatment, which is far from satisfactory in any respect, but I do not intend at this late hour to detain the House, because I have had the pleasure of a satisfactory interview both with the Under-Secretary of the Home Department and also with the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant, and the interview between the widowed mother and son, a boy of fourteen, for which I have been privately working for four weeks, has now been arranged. I beg to thank the right hon. Gentleman for having, though late, generously conceded this request, and for the moment I have no more on this point to add.
I will only conclude with one remark. During the whole course of this Debate, which has covered so wide an area and has led to so much candid speaking and criticism there has been no mention of Ireland. Only a few weeks ago the Prime Minister announced that we must settle the Irish question, and that that must be done or victory could not be attained. During the last few weeks nothing has been done to attain that end. The policy of the Government has been more nebulous and uncertain than ever, so far as we can elicit from answers. This is a matter to which I will refer on another occasion, when hon. Members may not be so desirous of going home, and when, possibly, the Press will give me a little more attention. I hope on that occasion that we shall be more candid in dealing with the Irish question.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Original Question put, and agreed to.
§ Resolution to be reported To-morrow; Committee to sit again To-morrow.