Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £600,000,000, 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 March, 1919, for General Navy, Army and Air Services in so far as specific provision is not made there for 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 CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Bonar Law)
The last Vote of Credit was moved by me on the 12th December, and was for the sum of £550,000,000. I estimated then that this amount would carry us to the end of the financial year, though I thought it possible that a small Supplementary Estimate might be required. I am glad to say now that no such Supplementary Estimate will be necessary. The Vote which I am now asking you to agree to is for the sum of £600,000,000. This is the largest single Vote that has ever been submitted to the House, and I feel that my first duty is to explain, and, if I can, as I hope I shall, win the approval of the House for asking for so large an amount. It does not mean that we anticipate any increase in the rate of expenditure. Taking the daily expenditure at £6,750,000, which is rather more than the average sum during the financial year up to the present time, this sum would last to the end 2148 of June. The reason why I ask the House to provide funds for so long a time is because of Whitsuntide. It falls this year on the 19th May, and at this stage it is impossible to foretell what length of Recess it may be desirable to take, but I have the hope, in view of the continual sittings of the House now for almost a. year, that it may be possible to have a reasonable recess at that time—possibly as much as four weeks. In that case it would be necessary to have the Vote as large as I have asked the House to agree to, or it would be necessary to have another Vote before the Whitsuntide Recess takes place.
On the occasion of the last Vote of Credit I gave an analysis of the figures from the beginning of the financial year up to the 1st of December. That analysis showed that the average daily expenditure was £6,686,000. I have had the figures analysed for the purpose of this Vote up to the 9th of February. For reasons which I explained to the House before, it is necessary to take the period so far back as that in order that the proper consultation may be had with the Departments, so that a correct analysis of the Vote may be given. The daily expenditure for this period, 2nd December up to the 9th February, was £6,107,000. This great reduction in the expenditure has brought the total average from the beginning of the financial year up to the 9th February down to £6,557,000, or a reduction, compared with the figures I gave on the last occasion, of £129,000. What I wish to do now is to give a brief analysis of the whole period from the beginning of the financial year up to the 9th February, and to compare it with the Budget Estimate at the beginning of that year. Taking this whole period, the daily average expenditure on the Army, Navy, and munitions has exceeded the Budget Estimate by £664,000. The Loans to Allies and Dominions have exceeded the Estimate by £239,000 a, day. Miscellaneous items have: exceeded it by £243,000. If we turn this daily average into the total expenditure for the period under review it amounts to an excess expenditure of £361.000.000 sterling, but I have to do what I have done on all previous occasions, namely, try to separate, as far as possible, what is obviously dead-weight expenditure which cannot be recovered from expenditure which there is a reasonable hope may be recovered later.
2149 The first item of that kind is the amount lent to our Dominions and our Allies. Of course I recognise that what has happened in Russia makes it doubtful and will cause differences of opinion as to what prospect there is of recovering the whole of this money, but I think this will be a more appropriate subject for discussion in connection with the Budget, which will be introduced before very long, and if the Committee permits I shall treat in the meantime this amount as if it were recoverable expenditure. The total excess over the Budget Estimate for the period in respect of advances to Allies and Dominions is £75,250,000, but I can tell the House it is not altogether a subject for gratification, as they will see that that amount is less than the corresponding excess on the occasion of the last Vote of Credit by £3,750,000. The reason for this diminution, not a diminution as compared with the Budget Estimate, but as compared with the previous period, is obvious. In the first place, and this is why it is not a subject for gratification, the falling of Russia out of the War has naturally diminished the amount of our loans to that country, and I am glad to say, in addition—this, of course, is a matter for congratulation—that since America came into the War it has helped to diminish the claims which are made upon us. This is the only item in my opinion as to the recoverability of which there may be any doubt. The next item of this kind is a sum of £39,750,000. This represents advances for the Dominion Governments. It is in no sense a loan; it is not connected in any way with the amounts of the Loan. It means simply, as I explained before, that the Dominion troops which are in the field are supplied, to a large extent, by our own arrangements here at home, but as soon as the accounts are regulated that amount is made good. This sum is coming constantly back, and the amount at which it happens to be at a given time depends entirely on the state of the accounts. That is £39,750,000.
The next item represents purchases over and above what was estimated of foodstuffs, etc. This amounts to no less a sum than £86,000,000 sterling, but again this total, large as it is, is smaller than the amount I mentioned in connection with the last Vote of Credit by about £4,0C0,000. That does not mean, of course, that a smaller volume of this kind of trade is being done, but it means that 2150 previous expenditure has come back more rapidly of late, and to that extent has diminished the outgoing during that period. The first period [have referred to was from the beginning of the financial year up to the 1st December, and what I am dealing with now is from the beginning of the financial year up to the 9th February. The only other item of this kind is the sum of £5,750,000, and this represents exactly the same kind of thing as I referred to in the £39,750,000 advanced for the Dominions. It represents purchases made as agents by our Munitions Department which are supplied to our Allies, and are paid for as soon as the accounts are rendered. These are items which I regard as recoverable, and perhaps any hon. Members who have followed these discussions will notice that I do not include any item for sums in the hands of agents. The reason for that is that they form now practically the same amount as when the Budget statement was made. Including the Loans, the total recoverable expenditure amounts to £206,750,000. Deduct that from the total gross expenditure over the Budget, and the balance of what is obviously deed-weight expenditure is £154,250,000.
I shall attempt to give an explanation of this excess, which is a very large one. The great bulk of it is in connection with the Army, and it is something like £121,000,000. This is made up, so far as I have been able to ascertain, and I have received full accounts from the War Office, of the following items: First of all the extension of our operations in Mesopotamia and Palestine, which have involved a great deal of railway construction, and in the case of Mesopotamia a large amount of river traffic, representing an excess expenditure of about £20,000,000 sterling. The next item, which comes to £25,000,000, is due to the greater strength of the Army and to the fact that the total number of men in the Army who are now abroad is a larger number than was estimated in the Budget, and this adds to the cost as compared with when they are at home. In addition to that, there is an increase due to increases of pay and other purposes of that kind of a very considerable amount. Another item is the extension of the aviation programme which has caused an addition of a good many millions. That does not mean anything under the Ministry 2151 of Munitions, but it is due to aerodromes over different parts of the Continent as well as at home, and to an increase from that cause—but the largest item, between £50,000,000 and £60,000,030, is due to two causes, an increase in the total quantity of supplies to the Army and to an increase in the cost of those supplies. I have not been able to obtain from the Army any estimate as to the exact amount due to each cause, but I feel that this is one matter which the House will be interested to know, and I have asked the War Office if it is possible to give an estimate before the Budget exactly as to what increase of expenditure is due to an increase in the cost of commodities. This covers all I can say as to the cost of the increase in the Army Estimate.
The increase in the Navy is about £13,000,000, and that is due entirely to an increase of the personnel and also to an increase the House was aware of, and which every hon. Member approved of, namely, increased pay and allowances given to men in the Fleet. The only other item of increase is miscellaneous services, which amounts to something rather over £20,000,000. I think it is sufficient explanation of that increase to say that for the period now under review about £17,000,000 is due to the subsidy given to the loaf when the price was fixed at 9d. That accounts, as far as possible, for the total increase of the dead-weight expenditure over and above the Estimate in the Budget.
In dealing with these immense sums so frequently as one has to do, one has the feeling that it is rather perfunctory, and unfortunately I think it is due to the nature of the case, and it is not my fault that these speeches are very much a repetition of each other with a change of figures. I do not think it is possible that it could be otherwise. I have tried to put them in as clear a way as I can, and to change the words would not improve them. The only other item which I wish to give the House now—of course all these things will come under review under the Budget, and that will afford a better opportunity for a real examination of our financial position—is the amount as it now stands of Loans to the Allies and Dominions. These amounted on the 9th February to the Allies £1,264,000,000, and to the 2152 Dominions £180,000,000. This represents an increase during the year of £437,000,000 to the Allies and £33,000,000 to the Dominions.
§ Mr. D. MASON
Will the right hon. Gentleman state what is the total of the advances which have been made to Russia?
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I have already said that it is not desirable to give those details, and I shall give the figures as soon as I can safely do so. The only other point which I will mention is one that is really the basis of our whole financial position, and that is what the amount of the National Debt is likely to be at the end of the year. I cannot, of course, give a perfectly accurate figure, but the estimate made is that it will not exceed, and it is hardly necessary that it should exceed, for it is big enough, £5,900,000,000, and of that nearly £1,600,000,000 will be represented by Loans to the Allies and Dominions. I have been criticised by some hon. Members—and I gladly recognise the moderation and fairness of their criticism—because I have not done as was done frequently, but by no means regularly, by the late Prime Minister—that is, that I have not used the introduction of the Vote of Credit as an occasion for initiating a discussion on our military position. I have deliberately refrained from doing that because, inasmuch as financial considerations make it necessary to come to this House for a Vote of Credit, I do not think it at all follows that that is a suitable occasion for a military review. The Government have always been ready, as the Committee will recognise, to take part in such discussions when raised in any quarter of the House, but I do feel that at the beginning of the new campaign that it would be right to attempt to make some survey of the general military position.
What I shall attempt to do is to give the general position of the War as it seems to me. The House will remember that precise and interesting summaries of the position were given in connection with the Army Estimates by the Under-Secretary of State for War. The position on the Western Front was fully discussed, though not. in detail. quite recently, and only two days ago the House discussed what in this War is quite as vital as any military operations, namely, the naval situation, especially in regard to merchant ships, and the transport by that means 2153 of the resources of the Allies. I am afraid, therefore, that all I can say to-day will be an expression of opinion rather than a statement of facts. I shall begin by referring to the subsidiary theatres of war.
The falling of Russia out of the War has affected, and deeply affected, every one of these seats of war; but I think the position of Russia is so vital to the general situation that I shall refer to it later. As regards the German Colonies, there is nothing new to say. As the House knows, the Germans were driven out of the last of those Colonies some time ago, but there is still a German force fighting in East Africa and wandering about in Portuguese Africa. Their number is about 2,000, of whom some 200 are Germans, and, so far as this aspect of the question is concerned, the net result of the War has been that the whole Colonial Empire of Germany has disappeared. The first theatre I would refer to is Roumania. As the House well knows, the successful action of Roumania in the War at all depended upon the cooperation with Russia. The fact that Russia has ceased to be a fighting Ally has put the people and the Army of Roumania in a position which is little less than tragic. They have still an Army, and a very efficient one, and everyone who has followed the course of events in that theatre of war, especially after the first German advance, and recalls the heroic struggle which was made afterwards by the Roumanian Army, will join with me in expressing our deepest sympathy and good will to the Roumanian people and to the Roumanian soldiers. At present, as the House probably knows, secret negotiations between Roumania and the Central Powers are taking place, and in these circumstances it would not be right, and the House would not expect me, to do more than repeat again our sympathy for these people, and our profound regret that conditions absolutely beyond our control have rendered it impossible for us to come to the assistance of our Ally.
Next, I would direct the attention of the House to our operations in Turkey, Mesopotamia, and Palestine. There has been a great deal of misunderstanding, and I have heard a great deal of discussion in the House itself on this question, of the decisive and the minor theatres of war. I thought, if I may say so, that a 2154 great deal of that discussion was very wide of the mark. One theory—and it has been supposed that there are two distinct theories held on this subject—was that as the Central Empires were fighting together they were like a single chain, and if you could succeed m destroying a weak link you broke the chain just as effectively as if you destroyed a strong link in the chain. For that view, everyone in theory must have a great deal of sympathy. I certainly have had right through this War. But it is not a question of one theory or another. It is a question of what the military situation makes possible. I do not think it was ever possible, at all events I doubt whether it was ever possible, to carry through decisive operations by means of troops transferred on sea. In any case, it was hardly possible for us. When we had a sufficient amount of merchant tonnage to make it easy to move troops we had not the troops trained in sufficient numbers to move them, and now the position of tonnage makes it impossible to move very large forces in that way. Apart altogether from that, I myself believe that this War has been conducted on a scale so colossal from the point of view of men as compared with any other war in the world's history that it was hardly ever possible to move by sea a large enough body of men to obtain a decisive result in any of the theatres to which they could be moved. But though there has been and I suppose there is some nominal difference in theory, it is not very material. No competent soldier and no intelligent man has ever said that it was possible for the British Empire to stand altogether out of events in the Eastern sphere of operations. On the other hand, no competent soldier has ever doubted that it was essential that the Western Front should have sufficient men to secure whatever result was obtainable in that theatre of war.
I wish the House to try to realise exactly what these operations against Turkey mean and the result. I say nothing at all now about the operations in Mesopotamia. That subject was dealt with the other day when this House paid a well-deserved tribute to the memory of Sir Stanley Maude. And as regards the operations in Palestine, everyone who has followed them at all, or who has read the reports which have been issued in regard to them, must have realised that those 2155 operations have been carried out, from the point of view of the skill with which they were led by the General, from the point of view of the heroism and dash of the troops employed, and from the point of view of the way in which the plans were arranged here at home, with an amount of success of which this country has every right to be proud. There is more than that to be said. The whole world, I think, was moved when this expedition to Palestine culminated for the time being in the capture of Jerusalem. It was a culmination, though it was not the end. It would be a great mistake to suppose that the value of that operation is purely political or moral. That is very far from being the case, and I shall endeavour to explain exactly what I mean. The interests of the British Empire are not confined to Europe. We are a great Eastern Power, and anyone who regards the situation at all closely will realise that the view which is taken of our position in India is itself not merely a question of moral or prestige, but is also a question of our strength in India and of what possible prestige may come from it. I should like to make the Committee realise exactly what that means. I may remind them that at the time the advance on Bagdad was first in contemplation we were told by those well acquainted with India and well competent to give an opinion that to the millions of India the taking of Bagdad would have a bigger effect than almost any possible military operation. If we realise what it means and means from the military point of view, then let the House consider what our position in the East would have been to-day if after we had been compelled to abandon the Dardanelles Expedition we had left the Expedition in Mesopotamia where it rested after the capture of Kut, or we had left the position in Palestine as it was after our ineffectual attempt at invasion.
The change means not merely a moral and political advantage, but it also means an immense military accession of strength which the House would do well to realise. That can be shown in another way. We have the knowledge—it is not a matter of guesswork, but is a matter of actual knowledge—that the Germans definitely promised the Turks that they would turn us out of Mesopotamia. They not only gave that promise, but they began making; preparations to carry it. out. They have had to abandon those operations, but the 2156 fact that they took that view is itself a proof of the military advantages of the military operations that we have carried out there. There is another advantage. We know—this, again, is not a matter of speculation, but, unless all our sources of information are utterly unreliable, it is a matter of knowledge—that there is great discontent in Turkey. The feeling there is that, in spite of the success of the Central Empires against Russia and Roumania which have caused so much joy-bell-ringing in Berlin and elsewhere, the Central Powers are not able to help Turkey, and the Turkish Empire is falling to pieces while all this is happening. Does anyone doubt that it is not only a military advantage to us to-day, but that it may produce results which will have the greatest possible military advantage in the further prosecution of the War? Finally, and this is the most important aspect of this question, until the British Empire is absolutely defeated it is obvious that we cannot abandon Egypt. We had to defend Egypt. In war the best defence is often, and where possible, is always attack, and that is precisely what has happened here. I am giving away no secret when I say that Lord Kitchener, who was not only our military adviser here at home, but who had a unique experience of Egypt, estimated, as the number of troops necessary to save Egypt from invasion, a far larger number than the total number which is now or has been operating both in Mesopotamia and in Palestine. The House will see then, apart altogether from the military advantages gained by what we have done in these two theatres in Palestine and Mesopotamia, that it has permanently relieved all danger of attack on Egypt, and has removed any necessity of sending troops there.
The next theatre to which I would refer is Salonika. The operations there have often been criticised in this House, but I hardly think that the full situation is understood. It is perfectly true that our troops are engaged in no theatre where the position is so unsatisfactory from many points of view as in Salonika. That is due to what has happened in Russia. A year ago we never expected that these troops would be purely on the defensive. There was good reason to suppose that they would take part in offensive operations. What has happened in Russia has made that impossible. The force in 2157 Salonika is a very difficult one to lead. It is bad, as everyone knows, for any troops to be in a stationary position, but I am glad to be able to say, in spite of the fact and in spite also of the fact, which the War Office and the Government must deeply regret, that the situation there makes it impossible to give these men the amount of leave which they ought to have, that the morale of our troops there, as everywhere else, is above praise. The force there consists of four or five nationalities. There are the French, the Italians, the Greeks, the Serbians—I do not put them last—and ourselves. It is obvious that to command a force like that requires peculiar qualities in the man at the head of them. The General now in command, General Guillaumat, who has not been long in Salonika, has won, so far as our reports can be a guide, golden opinions from all those who are serving under him. We recognise—there is no reason why it should not be said frankly to the House—that the position there is one which might become very dangerous. It is quite true that the Central Powers, through their better means of communications, might be able to send a force which it would be difficult and perhaps impossible for us adequately to engage. That is the danger, but the man-power of Germany—we have a good deal of information about it—is not inexhaustible. They cannot do everything at once, and if the attempt is made, then all the information which reaches us leads us to believe that it will be a costly expedition, and that they will pay for every yard out of which they drive the Allied troops. I have said nothing yet to justify that position. I do not think that it is difficult to justify it. The House will see at once that but for the defence which the Allies are holding there King Constantine would still be on the Throne of Greece and the whole of Greece would be overrun. The Germans would have complete control north, south, east, and west of the Balkans, which would in itself be a very great accession to their strength. There is another reason which for us is more vital. If our enemies possessed Greece and placed the harbours there at the disposal of enemy submarines it is not too much to say—at all events, our experts say it without any hesitation—that the problem of keeping up our communications with Egypt would be so difficult as to be almost impossible. That, I 2158 think, is sufficient justification for what for the moment appears to be a waste of energy in that theatre of war.
All that is left for me to speak about is the position on the West, and that, of course, brings one directly to the situation in Russia. A year ago I had the hope—I think it was generally shared—and but for what has happened in Russia I believe it would have been realised, that by this time the War would have been over, and over in our favour. What has happened in Russia is a great blow to the Allies. Looking at it from the general point of view, when the War began Russia was by far, from the military point of view, the strongest of all the enemies which Germany had to face. She has dropped out of the War, yet, in spite of the action of this most formidable antagonist, the Germans can never be one step nearer the victory to which they are looking forward until they have beaten the solid line of the French and British which stands between them and Paris and the coast and Calais. I quite admit that what has happened in Russia docs greatly improve the position of our enemies, but it is very difficult to form an estimate of how great that advantage is. It is absurd to assume that Germany is going to get full use of and to exploit a country like this, with 100,000,000 of people and an extent of territory so great. The information which reaches us—I say at once to the Committee that our sources of information under present conditions are not so good as we might like—is that owing to the anarchy in Russia the amount of food which will be produced this year will not be more than sufficient, indeed, barely sufficient to feed the Russian population. It does not follow that the Germans will not take some of it, but if so, to starve the Russian people will not make them more friendly to Germany. From every point of view, looking at it from the worst, if the advantage to Germany of what has happened in Russia is great, it is very far from justifying them in entertaining the hope, or justifying us in having the fear, that they will really be able to exploit the resources of Russia.
My own hopes go much further than this. As I have said, the Russians are a people of something like 100,000,000. I hope, I think I can say I believe, that the ruthless way in which Germany is trampling on her prostrate foe will not fail to create an immense feeling of hostility throughout the whole of Russia.
2159 When I have sometimes said that I had the hope that something would happen in Russia similar to what happened in France after the Revolution, I have been told that the conditions are not the same. I am not sure of that. Everyone in Russia who was prepared to make sacrifices to secure liberty—liberty which we should all have liked to see accompanied by order, without which liberty is vain—everyone who has that aspiration knows that the victory of the Central Powers means the absolute loss of any hope of a free Russia of one kind or another. I still have the hope that Russia is not going to be only an asset to Germany, but that they may find yet that a spirit will be aroused there which will make them something of an enemy, something to be dreaded, as well as something to be regarded as an advantage to their cause. In the meantime, of course, what has happened in Russia has completely altered the position on the Western Front. During the last two or three months no less than about thirty divisions have come from Russia to the Western Front, and it is hardly worth while reminding the Committee—we are so used to it—that most of them have been moved in contravention of the pledge given by Germans to the Russians at the conference of Brest-Litovsk.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
It is difficult to say how many men, but somewhere about 15,000. [Hon. MEMBERS: "Less than that: 10,000!"] The actual rifles are under 10,000. That is the number which is coming from Russia. What effect does that produce on our position? At the present moment, from the information which is available to us, I believe I am justified in saying with certainty that both as regards men and guns we have, if anything, a slight superiority. It is, of course, impossible to say what further numbers may be brought from Russia, but all the information goes to prove that whatever additional troops come from there will be of a very inferior quality, because it was the most exhausted troops which were sent to Russia. It is possible also that Austrians may be brought to the Western Front. 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, 2160 from the Channel to the Adriatic, including the Italian—taking in consideration all that can be brought against that front by the Central Powers, the number of men must remain in our favour, and of course that shows, what everyone realises, the necessity of trying to treat the whole front, so far as it is possible, as one—to make each section available to help the other. As regards guns, it is obvious that the Germans have taken so many in Russia that we may find that they have a distinct and even possibly a great superiority, but I do not think that there is in that any cause for serious alarm. The power of artillery is limited, not only by the number of guns, but by the supply of ammunition. I think we have good reason to hope—I believe I can say more—to feel confident that there will be no dangerous superiority on the Western Front from the point of view of guns, any more than from the point of view of men. In this connection I would like to remind the Committee of something they are not likely to forget—that the value you can get out of guns depends Largely on the Air Forces of the two sides. It is an undoubted fact that from the point of view of fighting efficiency we have, I will not say supremacy, because supremacy implies that the other people cannot show themselves, but we have an overwhelming superiority in our Air Service, which will go far to neutralise any evil that may come from the larger number of guns. In this connection I should like to say, what I believe every member of the Committee knows, that the superiority which, after so long a fight, we have still been able to maintain in the air is not due so much, perhaps hardly at all, to superiority of organisation or the supply of machines; it is due to the quality of the men.
There is another consideration in regard to the Western Front which must not be left out of sight. At the end of the last campaign, as a result of our advances, we were in a position which, from the point of view of defence, was very bad. We had gone into territory previously occupied by the enemy, where all the defensive positions had been battered to pieces. I am glad to tell the Committee, and I say it after the fullest inquiry, that the whole of our forces in France have been working with an energy and skill which is beyond praise to strengthen the defences. The result is little short of wonderful. It is not possible, unfortunately, to give any figures to show what has been done, but 2161 perhaps this one item may be of interest: during the two first months of this year our troops used a larger quantity of barbed wire than was used during the whole of the preceding year. This offensive ought to be coming. The Germans have advertised it. They have advertised it to such an extent that if it is not carried out it will be rather difficult to justify their inaction to their people. They have also sent the troops to carry it out. But I am myself still a little sceptical about it. If they make a big attempt and fail, nothing that has happened in the War could be so decisive. I may mention this, as perhaps it may interest the Committee, that a member of the Government who has been with our troops in France, who saw not only the Headquarters but also subordinate commanders, told me this, that while the Headquarters expected an attack in a short time, when he got lower down to the brigadiers, to the battalion commanders, still more to the company commanders and to the men who had been in daily conflict with the Germans, they were so confident of their superiority that they did not believe the Germans would dare to attack. That is in the future. What will happen nobody can tell, but this the Committee knows, that not merely people like myself, who are incompetent to judge, but the soldiers upon whom the defence of our Empire depends, are confident that they will withstand any attack which may be made against them. That does not mean that if the attack is made there will not be losses—losses of territory. The one thing that is true about this War is that when either side chooses to concentrate sufficiently on a narrow front they can carry it. That may happen if an attack takes place, but if it does I am quite confident that its true importance will be realised not less by the people at home than by the soldiers whose first desire will be to recover the ground that has been lost. That, so far as I am aware, is our position on the Western Front.
In speaking of the Air Service I did intend to say this—by way of parenthesis perhaps I may do is now: The Committee knows that this Government, as well as the people of this country, were very reluctant to indulge in any air raids on German towns. We put it off as long as we could, but, as was stated in this House a good many months ago—and I remember, also, stating it myself at a meeting at the Albert Hall—just as in the case of 2162 poisonous gas, so in the case of air raids, we would never have begun them, but, having begun them, we would take care that, if they must be part of the War, we should not come worst out of them. They have begun. The Germans, unlike ourselves, do not publish results, but there was a very interesting discussion in the House of Representatives of Bavaria the other day. I will read part of the report which came to the Government, and the House will realise that these raids have not been ineffective. This is what it says;In the House of Representatives there was a Social Democratic interpellation concerning raid damage The interpellation asks. Is the Government aware that the population of. Bavaria has ever increasing loss from air raids, and what does the Government propose to do to indemnify those who suffer by these raids? Later on a Liberal member requested the Government to use their good offices that an Imperial law should be passed whereby State compensation should be guaranteed for damage by aircraft inflicted on persons or property. The House resolved upon open discussion of this interpellation and the Minister stated repeatedly that the Government will do its best to relieve the suffering caused by the air raids.I think this shows that what we have done in that direction has not been ineffective.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
So far, I have considered the position without taking into account America, and that is the last factor which ought to be left out. The value of that factor for itself is unquestioned—a nation of 100 millions of people with the largest resources of any nation in the world. The value depends only on the success of operations at sea which enable those resources to be brought here for the use of the Allies. I can say nothing on this subject which was not said two days ago. We have been very much disappointed with the result of shipbuilding so far this month, but I can say this to the House, that there is nothing which the Government know is more vital in this War than what is done in two directions, the building of ships and the destroying of enemy submarines. If successful means are not arrived at it is not because every effort is not being made. But for this delay it was the anticipation of the Admiralty that by the second quarter of this year the new construction would more than equal the loss. I do not think it is possible now so soon. But I have no doubt whatever it is coming. From the point of view of staying power in this War I ask the House to remember this, that once the equilibrium 2163 is reached every month means an improvement in our position and increased ability to bring the great resources of America to play their part in this War. I have given the position as I think it is. Looking at it not as one would like, but as what I believe to be the facts, I say deliberately that there is no doubt whatever that the Allies, if they hold together, can secure the result which we set out to achieve when the War began. Of our ability to do this I have no doubt. It is our duty to do it. What were the objects with which we began the War? They were stated by the Prime Minister at a meeting at which I was present. They were summed up in a phrase, very often quoted, "the destruction of Prussian militarism." That is the phrase. Nobody had any doubt at the time it was used, and I do not think anyone has any doubt now as to what it means. It means this, that what we are fighting for is peace now and security for peace in the time to come. That is what it means. If the War ends before this object is achieved, before, in one way or another, the German people have learnt that war does not pay, before, in one form or another, it is no longer possible for a single man or group of men to plunge the world into this misery, the peace that will come will be defeat for us. Hon. Gentlemen who hold pacifist views will forgive me when I say that all this meticulous talk about what Count Hertling means is simply ridiculous. We have to judge of the intentions of the Germans, of those who are ruling Germany, not by what they are saying but by what they are doing. What is the use of talking about Count Hertling accepting President Wilson's principles when at the same moment the Germans have practically annexed Livonia, Esthonia, and Poland, and the information which reaches us to-day is that they are making it a condition of peace with Roumania that she shall give up not only Dobrudja, but other parts of Roumania. What is the good of this talk in such circumstances? It was said to me by an Ally the other day that he was told that the spirit of this country was weakening in the War. I do not believe it. Of course it is true that the country is war weary. Of course it is true that this country, like every sane human being, would wish to see an end to this horrible War. But that is a different thing, mid when people say the country is faltering in its purpose they show, in my 2164 belief, not only a complete ignorance of the feeling of the people of this country, they show that they have learnt no lesson from past history. We have never been engaged in any war in modern times in which pacifist feeling was not far more pronounced and far more to be dreaded than is the case to-day. At the beginning of this War we were in a unique position in the history of the country. The callous breaking of the treaty with Belgium and the cruelties inflicted in Belgium united the whole of the people of this country against Germany. That could not last. Nobody could expect it. Not only in this country, but in every democratic country there has been a party which has always so hated war that they have urged peace at any given moment at almost any price. It is the case not only in our own history; it was the case in the American Civil War, where, over and over again, pacifist feeling in the North made the position of President Lincoln almost hopeless. But at bottom the people of this country know what defeat in this War will mean to the whole history of this nation, and I repeat here what I said the other day on a public platform, that if it were possible to have an expression of the feeling of the people of this country on this plain issue: Are you prepared to go on with the War until the results which you set out to achieve have been attained or are you not? I believe the response would be astonishing not only to our enemies, but to ourselves.
§ 5.0 P.M
§ Mr. McKENNA
The right hon. Gentleman has given us a most interesting and encouraging speech. He has surveyed the War in every field, and he has given us reassurance as to the condition of our fighting forces and the prospects of those forces in every part of the world. But before he touched on the War he gave us a brief financial outlook upon which I propose to say a few words. I agree with him in thinking that as we are so close to the Budget it is much the wisest course to wait until we get the full explanation at the close of the financial year before we consider too closely the figures which he has given us. There are, however, one or two observations which I think may be made, and which certainly are not intended in the least degree in the way of criticism. Just over a year ago my right hon. Friend introduced the Vote of Credit for £350,000,000; at that time he estimated that the daily expenditure out of the Vote of Credit would be £5.737,000 a day. A 2165 year later, in the present Vote of Credit, he estimates the expenditure as £6,757,000 a day, or an increase of exactly £1,000,000 a day. It must be observed that the figures which he has given us for to-day are figures which we may accept as representing the true expenditure, for I understood him to say that we are now obtaining receipts from sales more than we are spending in the purchase of goods. Consequently, the figure of £6,757,000 a day represents, except so far as it consists of advances to Allies and Dominions, irrecoverable expenditure. We are, therefore, spending to-day out of the Vote of Credit just £1,000,000 a day more than we spent on the War a year ago. We have also to remember that outside the expenditure on the Vote of Credit there is an automatic increase in the expenditure out of the Consolidated Fund. The additional charge for interest on debt falls on the Consolidated Fund, and as we are borrowing something like £2,000,000,000 in the year, we have to reckon that there is an additional charge thrown on the Consolidated Fund of nearly £100,000,000 a year. It is not an exaggeration, therefore, to say that we shall begin the next financial year with a daily expenditure of £1,250,000 greater than the expenditure at the beginning of the present financial year. I only call attention to these figures now because we are very close to the time of the Budget, and when the Budget comes I think we ought to be prepared to face up to the big figures which the Chancellor of the Exchequer will have to bring before us. There is no doubt that in the coming year he cannot look for a diminution of expenditure. These figures that we have now of the daily expenditure are figures which are not swollen in the slightest degree by advances to Allies, on charges account, by advances to Russia; they are all net figures, and we must, therefore, brace ourselves to a burden in the coming year considerably heavier than the net burden which we have had to meet in the present year. May I suggest to my right hon. Friend that it would be greatly to the convenience of some of us if, when he makes his Budget statement, he would let us have a full account of the credits which the Government can claim on account of stocks of goods, ships, plant, and machinery? I think it will be found that we have a very considerable sum to our credit, and I think we are very often unduly depressed by the amount of our 2166 expenditure because we do not recollect the resources which we shall have after the War in the accumulated goods in our hands. Nobody is more anxious than I am that we should face up to the full amount of our burden, but we cannot fully understand until we know how much there is to be placed to the credit side of the account. I have nothing more to say now on the figures which the right hon. Gentleman gave us, because when we have the full statement of the Budget it will be a much better opportunity to examine what our total liabilities are likely to be.
As regards the very interesting statement which my right hon. Friend made as to our position in the War, so far as the Eastern campaign is concerned he spoke as if he were defending our advance in Mesopotamia and Palestine from criticism. I do not know that there has been any criticism in any quarter of the brilliant successes which have been achieved by our soldiers in these parts of the world. Everybody has recognised the necessity of maintaining the prestige of this country in Egypt and India, and there were moments when our prestige was undoubtedly low. But when the right hon. Gentleman passed from there to Salonika I am bound to say, very likely from want of information on my part, that I do not think his case was an equally good one. As I have understood the case in question, there are, and always have been, two possible policies in Salonika. We may either send enough troops to hold Salonika, and I have always understood that the numbers required to hold that town and the environment would at the maximum be 200,000 men—that is one policy, and that is a policy to which we were committed long ago—and there is another policy, that you may send enough men to Salonika in order to make Salonika the base of an attack in the Balkans.
§ Mr. McKENNA
I am coming to the two alternatives, to the two possible policies, and as I understand there are only two It may have become impracticable to adopt the second policy. Personally, I have never favoured it, and I am not aware that the right hon. Gentleman has ever favoured it. So far from favouring it, I have always been strongly opposed to that policy—but one policy or the other—the preparation you have at 2167 Salonika ought to be conformable to one or other of those policies. The complaint made against the policy actually carried out at Salonika is that the Government has halted between the two, that it has sent far more men than were necessary to hold that town and the environment, and not enough to use the force for a war of invasion into Southern Serbia. My right hon. Friend spoke as if the policy of invasion had been the policy of the Government, but that the Government's hopes were frustrated by the breakdown of Russia. Here, again, I am speaking only in reply to him, and I have not had an opportunity of looking up the dates—certainly I am speaking with information wholly insufficient compared with his—but my recollection is that having sent a very large force to Salonika the Government began to with draw that force before the Russian collapse, and certainly all intention to use the force for an attack was abandoned before the Russian collapse. If there is criticism upon the policy—I am not in the least desirous of being critical—it is that the Government have had too many men there for the purpose of defence and too few men for the purpose of attack. I say nothing on what would have been the right policy to adopt. My right hon. Friend gave us a very reassuring statement with regard to the numbers on the Western Front. He told us that on the Western Front—by which I understood him to mean the French and Belgium Fronts—
§ Mr. McKENNA
In France and Belgium, and not including the Italian front—that we had equality. In view of certain very alarmist statements that have been made in certain quarters it is very satisfactory to learn that our numbers are at least as great in the field as the enemy numbers. Then my right hon. Friend went on to speak of the Italian, British, and French forces as a single force, and that, taking them together, he said, we should always be superior in numbers to the enemy.
§ Mr. McKENNA
I understood that no matter what shifting there might be from 2168 the Eastern front, we shall always be superior. My right hon. Friend spoke of that as illustrating the advantage of having a single force, and he raised for a moment some hope in my mind that he had in view the transfer of some of the Italian forces to the British and French Fronts, because if they are really to be a single force, and we are to speak of them as a single force superior in numbers to the German and Austrian forces, the expression only has value if Italian forces can be transferred to that part of the from, where we need support. I hope it means that the single force theory is to be carried into effect, and that our numbers on the Western Front, which are not superior to the Germans, are to be reinforced by Italian Front, which are not superior to the Austrians in front of them. My right hon. Friend concluded with a re-statement of our aims in the War, and summed it up in the single phrase that we were determined to crush Prussian militarism.
§ Mr. McKENNA
That is a policy which was adopted by the Government of this country at the beginning of this War, and I do not understand that it has ever been abandoned in any quarter. The interpretation that is put upon language of that kind can never be precise, but the general understanding which I am sure we all have about it is that this War must be fought until we are guaranteed in our future peace. There are various views as to the form which the guarantee might take. The guarantee might take the form of a change of Government in Germany; it might take the form of a League of Nations of which Germany would form part, and would thereby admit a change of principle. There are many ways in which the guarantees could be ensured, but that there shall be a guarantee of future peace I am convinced this country is as determined now as it has been at any stage of the War. May I say that when my right hon. Friend spoke of our resolve not to be defeated I would ask him for a moment to look at the war map. We are always hearing of the German war map. If we look for a moment at the British war map I do not think there can be any question about our being defeated. I am not aware that there is a single inch of British territory held by the enemy, whereas all over the globe the Germans have lost every colony, and we are in occupation of Mesopotamia and Palestine.
2169 After all, in these circumstances we are not the people who can talk about the possibility of defeat. Our war map is as indicative of success as the Germans may claim theirs to be, but I look upon that rather as a means and as a hope of peace, because I say that throughout the War we have maintained our position, we have never failed in a single pledge that we have given to our Allies, that we have given our assistance to the utmost of our power, and that we are prepared to persevere to the end with the original aims for which we entered the War.
§ Mr. MARRIOTT
I want to say a few words on the earlier portion of the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I should like to join my testimony to the great lucidity of his statement, but it seems to me that its very lucidity serves rather to accentuate than to attenuate the gravity of the situation which that statement disclosed. All through the speech I wished I could share the optimism which he expressed, in the first place, in regard to the recoverability of a good deal of our expenditure. I failed to follow his precise calculation in that respect. I understood from him that the total advances to the Allies amounted to £1,264,000,000, and that the total advances to the Dominions stood at £180,000,000, but the total which was given us was £1,600,000,000.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
The first figures were up to 9th February. The £1,600,000,000 was an estimate to the end of the financial year.
§ Mr. MARRIOTT
I am obliged to my right hon. Friend. It seems to me, however, that these are appalling figures in themselves, and I look anxiously forward to the moment when he will be able to explain how large a proportion of that advance has been made to our former Ally, Russia. Of course, I do not suggest that we can press for the information, but I hope the day will not be far distant when it may be vouchsafed to us. Another point in regard to the sanguine estimates of the Chancellor of the Exchequer is as to the capacity of the country to bear the burden which is being gradually imposed upon it, more particularly as compared with the burden which was imposed upon us by earlier struggles in which we were engaged. I have tried to make some rough calculation on this point, and I should very 2170 much like to have the endorsement of those who are more expert than myself. So far as I am able to ascertain, our expenditure per week at present exceeds our annual expenditure in the last great war in which we were engaged—the Napoleonic War. But I am told our capacity to bear the burden is infinitely greater to-day than it was a hundred years ago. That statement is often repeated by my right hon. Friend, and I should very much like to have it substantiated. My calculation does not bear out that conclusion. As far as I am able to reckon, our annual expenditure at that time was about £14 per cent. of the national income. To-day our annual expenditure is 100 per cent. of the national income. I am very anxious that those figures should be disproved at the earliest possible opportunity, because as they stand they give cause for some reflection.
Then, again, there is the burden of taxation. When we went into that great war a hundred years ago the amount of taxation per head of the population was only £1. When we emerged from the war it was only £3 10s. It was less when we emerged from the Napoleonic Wars than it was when we entered the present War. We entered the present War with a taxation of about 75s. per head of the population, and to-day it is £13 or £14 per head. These figures suggest to me some doubt as to the conclusions which have often been expressed of the relative capacity of our people to bear the burdens which are imposed upon them to-day. But notwithstanding that, I am here to suggest that, heavy as the burden is, it should be increased as regards taxation. As the War goes on, I am inclined more and more to the opinion that we ought to increase the amount of taxation in proportion to the amount of debt. I admit that the community which I represent is not one which can bear much additional taxation. We have no great industries. We have no share at all in the present increased prosperity of the country. The majority of our people live on small earned incomes, generally supplemented by small investments, and in relation to the population there is a very large proportion of small direct taxpayers. But heavy as is the burden at present, I think I have the assent of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that it will have to be increased. We have been too tardy in imposing this additional taxa- 2171 tion. There was something to be said for hanging back in the very early days of the War on the assumption that it was going to be a short one. That assumption has been disproved, and I suppose if we had foreseen four years ago that the War would last for three or four years we should have been much prompter in imposing additional taxation at the time. If we had done so we should have escaped from some of the worst consequences which we are now enduring. In the first place we should have checked in a very marked degree, from the outset, the increased demand for commodities, especially luxurious commodities, which has been developed during the last three years. If we had been able to do that we should have done something to prevent the exaggerated upward trend of prices, and if we could have done that, by the imposition of taxation, we should also have done something to check the demand for higher and ever higher wages. The result, as I conceive it, of this increased demand for wages and higher prices has been an enormous expansion of the currency, and it was with a view to ascertaining that point that I put my question to the Chancellor of the Exchequer this afternoon. As far as I am able to ascertain, the Treasury regards this inflation of the currency with relative equanimity because, they tell us, the issue passes through the banks. They take great credit to themselves for their virtue in not passing out their paper currency direct in payment of wages and in payment of the obligations of the State. They take credit to themselves that it passes through the banks of issue. I am very doubtful indeed whether the distinction is so important as the Treasury imagines, and whether it is of any such economic significance as that which they attach to it. Does anyone outside the Treasury deny that the increase in the currency is at least one of the causes of the rise in the price of commodities?
§ The DEPUTY - CHAIRMAN (Mr. Rawlinson)
This is a Vote for spending money. A passing reference may be permitted, but the raising of money belongs more particularly to Ways and Means, and the hon. Member would not be in order in discussing it.
§ Mr. MARRIOTT
The point on which I was on was neither the raising nor the 2172 spending of money, but a particular effect of the method in which the Treasury is financing the War out of the Vote of Credit which we are discussing. Again I ask, Is it denied that this enhanced price of commodities is one cause of the enhanced cost of the War? It is computed that every 10 per cent. increase in prices and wages means an increased aggregate expenditure of £l30,000,000. The actual advance in prices and wages certainly cannot be put at least than 80 per cent. That would give us an aggregate of over £1,000,000,000 due entirely to increases in prices and in wages. In other words, the Chancellor of the Exchequer would have been able to tell us to-day that the annual cost of the War was not £2,400,000,000, but £1,400,000,000 a year, and it is from that point of view that the calculations I put before the Committee are of some significance in relation to this Vote of Credit. The fact is that we have become entangled in a vicious circle in regard to wages, prices and currency, and although there are two views in regard to this matter, and where pundits disagree it is not for me to butt in with an opinion, yet I assert that unless you can find some means of breaking this vicious circle, the vicious circle will, sooner or later, break you. So far as I can see, there is no limit to the issues of currency, the raising of wages or the raising of prices. I would, therefore, press these points with great respect on the Treasury and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I shall assent very gladly to the Vote, but I can assent to it only if the Government is willing to give their serious attention to the points which I have brought to their notice.
§ Mr. HOGGE
The sum of £600,000,000 which this House is asked to vote this afternoon is, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer explained, the largest Vote of Credit which has ever been asked for. Apparently as a result of the right hon. Gentleman asking for so much money all the Members who have any left have left the House. This is the smallest attendance I have ever seen in connection with any discussion arising out. of the spending of large sums of money—and this is the largest sum of money that we have been ever asked to vote in a single afternoon. If it were not that I should count myself out, I would draw attention to the fact that there are not forty Members present. I think it is disgraceful, I think it is a scandal, that the British House of 2173 Commons should at half-past five on Thursday afternoon be discussing a Grant for £600,000,000 with less than fifteen Members present in the Chamber! It almost makes one desire to move to report Progress, and ask leave to sit again. That would be the right thing to do in some senses, but I am not going to do it. I think even the Chancellor of the Exchequer will agree with me that it is a very great pity that when a Vote of this kind is brought forward Members should not take the opportunity of reviewing the situation under which it is brought forward. If I may say one further personal word, I think all of us understood and appreciated the fact that the Chancellor of the Exchequer in making his reference to the supremacy in the air of the men who guide our aeroplanes made a particular reference to himself, and I can assure him that every Member of the House feels very deeply with him in his experience, and that in that respect we are very much with him.
I was interested in the account which the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave of the situation at the moment in connection with the War, but there is one omission from the speech with which I am sorry he did not take the opportunity of dealing. I made an interruption before he sat down. I do not know whether he heard it or not, or whether he took the opportunity not to hear it, because it was an inconvenient subject to discuss, but I do think on an occasion of this kind, when we are taking stock of the whole position, the Chancellor might have been able to say something about an Ally that we have heard very little about, namely, Japan. A great deal has appeared in our own Press and a great deal has appeared in the American Press as to the possibility, owing to the situation in Russia, of Japan taking a more active share in the War than she has hitherto done, and a great deal of discussion is taking place with regard to the possible result of the intervention of Japan in the East in particular directions. The Chancellor of the Exchequer mentioned our various Allies, and distributed praise to those Allies in a fashion which I think many of them deserved. After all, Japan is an Ally of ours, but, so far as I know, the only contribution she has made to the War is the assistance of certain units of her Fleet in the East and latterly in the Mediterranean, and I understand a loan of some 2174 money to establish or fortify British credits in America. So far as I know, she has given no men.
§ Mr. HOGGE
She took that with us at the beginning of the War; but for all practical purposes she has not contributed her man-power in a way that every other Ally has done. Some of our smaller Allies in the Near East have not only given all their men, but practically all the lives of their men. Japan, so far as I know, has not made that kind of contribution, and I think it was only reasonable to assume that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would scarcely overlook the fact that the situation had been changed, seeing that Japan was seeking to come in. It is difficult to ask him in public—and I do not propose to do it, because I have always taken other opportunities of asking these questions — pertinent questions with regard to Japan, but one would like to ask that, in fairness to the country and to the House, the Chancellor should say something as to that possibility. Otherwise, the effect of the speech which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made this afternoon has been to cast an extraordinary gloom upon this House. It is the gloomiest speech which has ever been made from that Front Bench since the War broke out. In. dealing in detail with the various countries of our Allies, things have been said by the Chancellor of the Exchequer which will entitle him to rank in the papers to-morrow with the gloomy Dean as the gloomy Chancellor.
§ Mr. HOGGE
My hon. Friend says "No, no!" Let us see whether we can get at it in a friendly way by examining the facts. Take the right hon. Gentleman's reference to Salonika. He left the position at Salonika with this sentence, that he thought on balance we were in a dangerous position in that particular place in the Mediterranean. Many of us have always thought that. There has been more criticism directed against the expedition to Salonika—which was one of the pet expeditions of the Prime Minister, who has views on strategy in the East—than any other subject which has been discussed in the House. At any rate, the fact of our engaging in the Salonika expedition has had a most disastrous effect upon our shipping, our mercantile shipping, and logically from 2175 that, a most disastrous effect upon the supply of food in this country. It is reasonably true to say that but for our expeditions, first to the Dardanelles, and secondly to Salonika, we would not as a nation have been trying at the present time to unravel the mystery of food cards in this country. That is what I meant when my hon. Friend said "No, no!" I say deliberately that the Chancellor of the Exchequer did leave us in a position of great gloom, because he said deliberately that in his view we were in. a dangerous position. After all, though he is not the Prime Minister in position, he is to all intents and purposes Prime Minister so far as this House is concerned, and we value his words on public questions very much more, and we also value his opinion on all questions very much more than we value the views of the present Prime Minister. Therefore, when he is in the position of asking for a large sum of money, and he says in regard to Salonika that we are in a dangerous position, I think I am entitled to make the statement which my hon. Friend sought to challenge.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I have dealt with a small part of it, but if my hon. Friend will do me the courtesy of listening I will deal with the bulk of it before I sit down. I want to know from the Chancellor of the Exchequer what we may expect from the intervention of Japan in the East, because after all that is bound up with the position of Russia. I am one of those people who believe that this Government muddled the Russian position from the very outset. From the moment you had the Revolution in Russia, which might have been a glorious contribution to the civilisation of this country, that revolution was crabbed by the present Government. They never extended the least generosity of opinion or feeling towards the new Russian democracy, and the position speedily went from bad to worse. At the beginning the situation might have been saved, and there might have been no debacle such as there has been, but the situation was taken out of the hands of men who might have controlled Russia, and subsequently it got into the hands of men who could not be controlled by Russia, and finally it has been delivered by a series of circumstances and a series of mishaps into the 2176 hands of the Germans, who, true to the traditions of the German race and true to the industry with which the German applies his mind to everything, is making full use of the ripe apple which has fallen into his hands. To that position this Government contributed very materially. They have lost us the Russian Army, they have lost us the Russian Navy, and they have lost us that vast volume of opinion of the Russian people which was worth something, and they have nothing to say to us this afternoon about the intervention of what some people have expressed in other places as the yellow peril of the Far East, with regard to any new situation which may arise. So much for the Chancellor of the Exchequer's references to these two parts of the military situation.
Could anything be more gloomy than the Chancellor of the Exchequer's references to Roumanian Who brought Roumania into the War? Who encouraged Roumania to come into the War? Who was it that was always unable to bring any effective help to Roumania? Roumania was associated with this country, if I remember rightly, by direct relationship with our Royal Family. Now what is the position? The Chancellor of the Exchequer gets up this afternoon and all he can say in regard to Roumania is that he is sorry. At the beginning of the War, let it be remembered, Roumania was a country worth something. It had an army and a very productive soil, and a government. What is the position that the Chancellor of the Exchequer find himself in this afternoon? He says that he is very sorry for Roumania, that he is very sorry that Roumania will practically have to deliver the goods to Germany, that we regret very much, but that we cannot help her. If that is not a gloomy opinion, I would like to know what a cheerful opinion is like. Take the position on the West, which was the last part of the military situation with which my right hon. Friend dealt. What did he say about the West? He said nothing beyond this, that while the numerical situation in the West was practically equal, that the Germans had and we could expect them only to have a vast superiority in guns. We know that the German Army has got practically every gun that was in Russia. We also know that she got over 3,000 guns from Italy. So, between Russia and 2177 Italy, to-day. Germany must be in possession of thousands of guns which otherwise she could never have obtained at this period of the War. The Chancellor of the Exchequer covers that by saying that the use of guns depends upon the efficiency of our Air Service, and that because our Air Service is superior at the moment, we may expect that it will make the German artillery inferior. After all, that is only an expression of opinion. The question of the use of our air wing at the front depends on a great many things, and it is very questionable whether that supremacy is such as to wipe out the superiority of the German artillery, so I think it fair to say, what I said at the beginning, that we have listened to the gloomiest speech that has ever yet been delivered from that bench with regard to the War situation.
There has not been any single cheerful note in it, and I am sorry that it does not warrant the extravagant things that are being said by Ministers in and out of the House with regard to the War, and does not justify the House in retaining confidence in the present Government, that they are capable of seeing this thing successfully through. I think that one of the things which the outside public are beginning to believe more than any other is that this Government must do something if they are going to get the country out of the mess in which it finds itself at the moment. Even the Chancellor of the Exchequer this afternoon expressed the view that pacifist feeling outside the House is growing. I do not think that that is unnatural, because our experience in all wars has been that general pacifist opinion has grown from war to war, and as each fresh war was undertaken pacifist opinion is getting rather stronger in this country. I do not trouble myself so much about pacifist feeling outside, but there is another opinion generally outside, and that is the broad opinion which honestly does not believe, apart from the political views that it holds, that this Government, run as it is to-day, has any prospect of getting the country either victory or peace. I think that we have come to the conclusion that this Government can neither make war nor peace, and I think that we ought to consider that point when the Government ask us, as they ask us this afternoon, for another 2178 £600,000,000 of the public money to carry on as they are doing now. I do not want, as it would be possible to do, to repeat a number of examples of the way in which this Government does not do the right thing, or, if it does, does it in the wrong way.
§ Mr. HOGGE
The last Government did things so badly that we got rid of it. As my hon. Friend knows, we said as bad things about the previous Government as we are saying about this. The only trouble is that we cannot get the other Members of the House to believe us about this Government. When we are asked to give £600,000,000 we ought to understand whether this Government can spend it. [An HON. MEMBER: "There is no doubt about it!"] I do not admit that. They can throw it away; that is largely what they have been doing. The matter has become so grave, and the sums thrown away so great, that when I mention the fact that they cannot spend the money and only throw it away, there is some hilarity in the House. It has gone so far beyond a joke that we accept it as a matter of course. There are certain Members now present who have a meticulous knowledge of the waste of public money in the various Departments into which they have been investigating. I can see four or five, everyone of whom can bring cases of waste of money, amounting to millions, before the House this afternoon, if they so desire. I think that, before we do agree to give this money, we ought to get some promise that better control will be kept over the spending of this money, that it will be spent much more economically than it has been spent, and that it shall not be lavished away on wild-cat schemes, such as the whole expedition of Salonika has now become, which was not regarded as such by everybody in the House when it was originally initiated. I think that that kind of criticism ought to be directed towards my right hon. Friend's gloomy speech this afternoon.
I see that the Minister of Pensions is on that bench. I hope that before the Debate closes he will be in a position to tell us that the Ministry of Pensions is becoming a business undertaking. So far the Ministry of Pensions has been a business undertaker, instead of being a business undertaking. Up 2179 to the present more money has been wasted on the administration of pensions than the Chancellor of the Exchequer would credit even the Ministry of Pensions with, and there is less efficiency in that Department than in any other Department of the Government that I know of, although that is not saying very much, because I only know of one efficient Department, and that is the Pay Department of the War Office. That is the only efficient Department that I have ever struck in my experience of Departments. If a soldier, on his retirement, attempts to get what he is entitled to from the Ministry of Pensions—these are the people on whom a great deal of the £600,000,000 is being spent—he cannot get an answer out of my right hon. Friend or his Department for as long a period as five or six months. If my right hon. Friend cares to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, he will agree that he has from myself alone, to take only one example, the particulars of which I know, in the administration of pensions, hundreds of letters which he has had for at least six months which have never been dealt with, and every one of those deals with some urgent claim on behalf of a soldier or sailor or his dependants. That is not good enough.
There is another thing that is not good enough, and I hope that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, along with the Minister of Pensions, will think over this matter, which is three and a half, or nearly four, years old—that is, the payment of a separation allowance to the dependants of an apprentice who has joined either the Army or the Navy. I do not want to make another speech. In fact, if the right hon. Gentleman looks up the OFFICIAL REPORT, I think that he will find ten or twenty speeches of mine on this particular point. The Minister of Pensions has expressed himself in favour of what I am asking for over and over again. The man who refuses is the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Possibly that is why he is going away. The Treasury always put up the argument that they cannot pay this money, and the Minister of Pensions prefers to keep his post rather than give it up if the Treasury does not toe the line. I wish that the Minister of Pensions would resign; I do not want his place; I do not know anybody who does, because it is a very onerous post. 2180 But the only way in which the Minister of Pensions will get the Treasury to do what they ought to do is to resign if they will not grant these very ordinary concessions. It is monstrous that members of the Government, drawing out of the pool, as they are doing to-day, over a couple of thousand pounds each—
§ Mr. HOGGE
Drawing over £4,0:0 each out of the pool, should allow this when the mother of a boy who joined voluntarily, in receipt of a wage of 5s. a week, cannot get a halfpenny out of the Treasury, whom they are keeping alive by their services on the field or on the sea. I am going to divide the House against this Vote to Credit, not because I am against the War, for you know I am not, not because I do not want the Government to get all the money they require for carrying on the War efficiently, but we arc too squeamish about going into the Lobbies on these occasions, and we are too reluctant to put the Government to any trouble if we, cannot get what we desire. I am going to divide the House some time before we rise on this question unless we do get satisfaction. That is the first tiling I want—a separation allowance for the dependants of those apprentices. The next thing which I want to know from the Minister of Pensions is, When is the Treasury going to consent to the new Warrant? The Financial Secretary is present. He is always very approachable by any other Member of the House. If it is he who is keeping back the increase of those pensions, let him understand what he is doing. To-day the wife with two children of a serving soldier is drawing 24s. 6d. separation allowance. She may be getting other grants, which we put on one side, because they do not affect the argument. If a soldier or sailor is killed, after twenty-six weeks have expired the wife, who is now a widow, instead of drawing 24s. 6d., which she got when her husband was alive, is reduced to a pension of 22s. 11d.—that is to say, she is getting less money as a widow than she got to maintain herself as a wife when her husband was serving.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I am not unwilling that the widow of a general should get what she is entitled to from the rank of the man who has served for her. I am not so con- 2181 cerned about that as I am concerned about getting what is fair for all. That is the point I am putting just now. I want to know whether it is the Financial Secretary to the Treasury or the Minister of Pensions who is continuing to starve these people, because they are being starved. The sum of 22s. 11 d. to-day is not sufficient to keep a woman and two children above the poverty line. They could not be kept on that amount in any workhouse of the country. What is the use, therefore, of the Chancellor of the Exchequer talking to a crowded House about the great feats we have achieved abroad in this War, about our great achievements all round, if the Government cannot achieve for themselves the keeping in decency of the widows and children of those who have sacrified their lives in these achievements? I say deliberately that unless the Chancellor of the Exchequer, either of himself or through the Minister of Pensions, is going to give us an assurance this afternoon that these payments are going to be made, then I am going to divide the House on the question. The other day I got a letter from a widowed mother, sixty-five years of age, who had given her only son to the British Army, and he had been killed. The Ministry of Pensions are giving that widow 4s. 7d. a week pension, based on the pre-war dependants' allowance of 4s. 7d. a week—8d. a day—and that means that the value of the lad's life to this great country is worth two pints of Government ale— 8d. a day. I could give example after example and raise point after point, but I think I have said enough to get the reply I want. I do not think the Minister of Pensions is to blame, but, if he is, I must have misunderstood for years everything ho has said cither in public or in private. It is the Treasury, whose representative is sitting next to him, that stands in the way, and looking at the matter from my point of view, I do not understand why the Minister of Pensions should suffer the humiliation heaped upon him week after week by the Treasury. The Treasury should prepare the Warrant and do the right thing, and do it quickly, so that the dependants of these men who have done their work may receive what is due to them. The Treasury should make provision for this as they had made provision for a great many other things.
Money has been wasted, as we know, on a, great many other things. You are building up new Departments all round 2182 London every week. You are appointing new staffs and a series of new Ministers at excessive salaries; there are great numbers of people to-day drawing salaries under the Government at amounts which they could not command, and never have commanded, in civil life. There are girls, for instance, that I have known myself, girls of eighteen or nineteen, going into Government Departments and being paid 25s. a week for retranscribing letters, while the widow and two children of the man who has fallen, is getting 22s. 11d. It has got to stop. The sense of this House agrees on that point—it has got to stop. The House of Commons cannot stand this any longer. When in the early days of the War we were recruiting we used to say what would be done for the dependants of the men, and what is it that comes between us and them? Nothing but the Treasury. And it is the Treasury which asks this afternoon for another £600,000,000. I ask my colleagues in the House, who are keen on this particular question, to put on one side all that can be said about dividing against this Vote of Credit. If the Government will not agree to what I am suggesting, then we do not vote against the War, but against the Government because they will not do their share in prosecuting the War successfully, and in order that the Government should perform their duty of prosecuting the War successfully, they should so deal with this question of pensions and allowances as to leave no rankling feeling in the minds of the people who have suffered loss of husbands, sons, and relatives through the War. Therefore, I trust that either the Minister of Pensions, or the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, or both, will assure the House that this Warrant, which has been on the Table of the Treasury so long, will become an actual and hard financial fact for these people, and a great many other people to whom I have referred, and who are most deserving of aid from the State.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
The hon. Member who has just sat down began his speech by saying that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had made an exceedingly gloomy speech, and he continued to make references to the gloom which he said the right hon. Gentleman had cast over the House of Commons. I think the country, or a great part of the country, and a great number of Members of this House, have often felt that the Government in the past have been apt to make too optimistic 2183 speeches, and yet when the Chancellor of the Exchequer comes down to the House, and endeavours to give an accurate account of the situation as it appears to him at the present moment—I am not going to defend the Government—instead of being grateful to him for putting the actual facts before the House, the hon. Member gets up and says that a gloomy speech has been made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. If the situation is gloomy, let us know it, and let us be prepared to face it. For my part, I do not consider that it was a gloomy speech, and I am extremely glad that the Chancellor of the Exchequer said what he did. Then the hon. Member (Mr. Hogge) made some allusion to Japan. I do not know whether he intended in any kind of way to depreciate the entrance of Japan, but if he did I do not agree with him, because I think that Japan has done all that the Allies would wish her to do, and, so far as I know, Japan has always been willing to assist us to the utmost extent of her power. I do not want to ask any awkward questions, or to make any statements, or ask for any information as to the actual position of Japan in the War to-day, but I would like to say this: I do not set up to be a military critic, but if Japan is going to do anything, then, for God's sake, let it be done at once, and do not let us have discussions as to whether it is advisable to do this, or whether one particular nation would like it, and another particular nation would not. It is that sort of thing which has put us in a bad position from the very beginning of the War. If Japan is going to do anything, let her do it, and let her do it at once—I hope within the next twenty-four hours.
The hon. Member talked about economy, and he made some allusion to the Select Committee on National Expenditure, at least I understood that was what he alluded to. The Committee—and I have the honour of serving as chairman on one of its Sub-committees—no doubt did report instances of extravagance and mismanagement, and in a Report which will be presented to the House shortly something of the same sort will be said again. I hope we shall have the necessary support from the hon. Member in our endeavours to promote economy; but I have very often in this House found a large majority of Members giving great lip-service to the word "economy," but 2184 when it actually came to taking any action on a definite matter of economy they either did not appear in the Lobby or they voted against it. Therefore, I hope that if it should be necessary to divide the House on a question of economy the hon. Member will support those who are endeavouring to effect that economy. The Chancellor of the Exchequer told us, that, in round figures, the National Debt will amount to £6,000,000,000 at the end of the financial year, 31st March. I think the right hon. Gentleman said £5,900,000,000, but we will call it, in round figures £6,000,000,000. But it must not be forgotten that in another year, if the War goes on, the National Debt will be £800,000,000,000. That is really a very serious matter. We are voting £600,000,000 now, and I do not for a moment say that there ought to be any opposition to it; on the contrary, I think the House should support the Vote, and if the hon. Member for East Edinburgh goes to a Division I do not think he will be supported by the Committee, and I certainly shall vote against him.
What I do insist upon, however, is that if we vote the £600,000,000, it shall be spent in such a way that for every sovereign we shall get twenty shillings of value. I am very much afraid that has not always been done. I do not think that there is need for any particular assurance to be given, but undoubtedly, if the Government are desirous of making economies in this and other directions, they should set about doing so. I do not wish to give myself any credit, but I think I am entitled to point out that two or three years ago I tried to induce the House to consider the question of finance. I have always said that one of the great questions to enable us to carry on the War is the financial question, but the House always ignored what I said. They paid no attention whatever to it; the money was to come from somewhere, apparently, just as water flows through a turned-on tap, supplied by some unfailing source. We must really think of this question of finance. The House, if it likes, can do it. It can impress upon the Government what should be done in the direction of economy, and the Government will do it. There is only one other point, however, to which I wish to refer. I understand that an opportunity is to be given on Monday for a discussion of the question which was raised yesterday as to certain events in the Admiralty. That is a very important 2185 matter, which ought to be considered when we are going to spend large sums of money. Of course I shall; not say anything further now, in view of the fact that the discussion is to take place on Monday.
§ Mr. P. A. HARRIS
I quite agree with the last speaker that we must keep before us the financial question, and that it should always be present to our minds, because, after all, that is going to be the test as to who is to come out on top in the War. It looks to the ordinary observer that in this War nothing very startling is going to happen within the next few months. The two sides are digging themselves in and are waiting for the other to attack, and it would seem not improbable that the War will be decided less by fighting than by economic pressure. We are undoubtedly piling up a very large burden of debt, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer will soon have to face the very important problem of having to make the two ends meet. I cannot help thinking, and I have suggested it on more than one occasion, that it would not be improper in war time if the Chancellor of the Exchequer devoted the whole of his energies to the duties of his office, and that the two positions, that of Leader of the House and Chancellor of the Exchequer, should be divided. I make that suggestion not because we do not like to have the right hon. Gentleman as our leader. No one could be more tactful or a better Leader of the House. He is ready to listen to every hon. Member, even the most humble back bencher. His speech to-day was a masterly exposition of the whole military problem. I do not agree with my hon. Friend (Mr. Hogge) that the speech was wholly pessimistic, there was one very cheering statement in it with regard to the Air Service. It showed that we have reason to believe that we are gradually winning the mastership of the air, and that there is every probability we shall preserve it. I am positive that the real test of which State will be able to demand and obtain the best terms out of the War will be as to which nation has the greatest economic reserves, and I believe that the country which has the largest resources and the strongest financial position will be able to make the best bargain when representatives are sitting round a table arranging terms of peace.
There is one very serious matter to which. I think, the House ought to give 2186 some attention, and which is daily growing more serious, in view of the growing load of debt, and that is the position of our export trade. Some people may not have observed the steady decline in the export figures of this country. Owing to the large increase in money value, in many cases amounting to 100 per cent., the decrease in the volume of our exports is concealed. Superficially, the figures are very cheering, and, at first sight, it would seem as if, in spite of the enormous call on our industry in labour, man-power for the Army and Navy, and the concentration of our industries on the production of instruments of destruction, our trade were holding its own, but, of course, we must bear in mind, in considering these figures, the large inflation of prices. There is another very important factor, and that is that though our trade is declining in its normal channels with the Far East and with the Dominions beyond the seas and with neutral countries, and the position is far from sound in those instances, we find an enormous inflation of trade in the year 1917 with both Russia and France. In 1913 we sent exports to the value of £28,000,000 to France, and in 1917 the figure had jumped to £111,000,000. It is similar in the case of Russia. In 1913 the trade with Russia totalled £18,000,000, and in 1915 it dropped to £13,500,000, but in 1917 it rose to £47,000,000. I think we must assume that the bulk of those exports were in the form of loans and to provide munitions and clothing and food for the French and Russian Armies, and that we might very well have some explanation of these figures. In the meantime trade in the normal channels is steadily declining. Trade with India and with Sweden and with many of our Dominions has gone down. Our trade with New Zealand has fallen to £7,000,000 in 1917. It is the same with China, where we always had a very large proportion of the trade, both import and export, and it has been going downhill. Meanwhile we are drawing raw materials from all quarters of the globe, including grain, meat, hides, steel, and other articles. They go on coming in increasing our indebtedness to foreign countries, and things do not go out either to pay for the goods we import or to pay interest on the loans and liabilities we are incurring in order to provide raw material for our industries and for various war purposes. I, therefore, say to the Chancellor of the Exchequer as the person responsible for the finances of the country, that he 2187 should see to it that our export industries are not allowed to suffer too much, and that war industries of the Ministry of Munitions should not be allowed to make too large an inroad into the great export industries.
My hon. Friend (Mr. Hogge) made a very significant reference to Japan. I was sorry the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not see his way to make a frank statement to the House as to the position of Japan. We want to know, and the nation wants to know, if Japan intervenes will she be intervening in the interests of the whole Allies or only intervening in her own interests? I cannot help thinking, and I know there are a number of people who think similarly, that Japan is playing a rather lone hand. I believe she is with us in sympathy, and desires the Allies to triumph. But undoubtedly she has taken advantage of the War to make good in her own interests. A great number of the staple industries of Great Britain have been diverted from this country to Japan. For instance, New Zealand and Australia, and I think Canada, are importing more goods from Japan which they used to import from this country, and the staple industries of Lancashire are being largely diverted to Japan. I have a shrewd suspicion that Japan has been selfish in the use of her ships and that she has used her ships in order to capture British markets, instead of placing them ungrudgingly at the disposal of the Allies in order that they should convey food and assist us in carrying the War to a successful issue.
So I would say to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he should bring pressure to bear on the Ministers concerned with industries and trade, and ensure that they should not make too large an inroad on our export trade. I refer, first, to the Minister of Munitions, and., secondly, the Ministry of National Service, and that he should see that they should not divert too much labour from the export trade to war purposes. Thirdly, that the Ministry of Shipping should study the interests of the export trade in the organisation of ships and in the disposal of the Fleet. Lastly, and not the least. I would suggest to the Chancellor that he should call in the active co-operation of the President of the Board of Trade. We have heard a lot, both in the Press and in this is House, of the importance of having new blood and business men in the con- 2188 duct of the War, and we were told that we were to have a business Government. We have as President of the Board of Trade a very able railway man, and there are a great number of railway men in the Government now, and I would suggest to the Government, and especially to the Chancellor of the Exchequer as a practical business man, that he should see that the President of the Board of Trade is there to watch and protect the interests of our industries and trade, especially of our export trade, against other Departments, so that they do not encroach too much on our industrial position. If we are to recover after the War and to go back to our financial equilibrium and to get over the economic strain of the War our great staple industries must be kept intact. Once you divert them to other channels and once trade routes are diverted from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and once trade, which has been coming previously to this country, goes to the United States of America or to Japan, it will be very difficult to get it back. So I would say if we arc to recover our position in the export trade our merchants and manufacturers should be allowed to retain sufficient labour, sufficient plant, sufficient capital, and have sufficient raw material to carry on their business and to keep at any rate the foundations of our great industries. Especially so is that the case in regard to Lancashire, which is starving for cotton, which is going to Japan, which is capturing a very large percentage of our great staple industry of cotton.
Our manufacturers and exporters have other handicaps to contend with. I do-not know if the Ministry of Shipping has been criticised, but I do know that nothing is being done to assist exporters in carrying out their usual business, and every restriction is put upon them in the way of continual filling up of forms and every hindrance is put in their way. Owing to the exigencies of the naval Departments, and no doubt owing to the necessity of providing convoys and of keeping from the enemy the dates of sailings, it is impossible for business men to know the dates at which they are to be ready to ship goods for export. I am informed, and I believe rightly, that at a time when there is a great scarcity of cargo ships, that a number are going out half-empty owing to bad organisation or bad administration of the Departments concerned. I think that is a very unwise policy, and I 2189 would suggest to the Chancellor, who will have to foot the Bill and who has to see that the exchange is maintained, that he should see that that policy is prevented, or at any rate when ship space is available and tonnage can be had that it should not be wasted, and that the exporters should be allowed to have the chance of keeping their trade together and their business connections, especially in the Far East, so that their trade may not be diverted to other channels, and so that, after the War, there will be a chance of recovering our industrial supremacy and of getting back our position as the largest exporters in the world. It is in that spirit I would suggest to the Chancellor that he should do something to protect the interests of the industries of the country. There is a tremendous lack of confidence among our manufacturers; they are losing heart; they have a feeling that the Government does not take much interest in their well-being, but that the Government at the present time think that, owing to the War, it is no concern of theirs whether our exports are maintained or not, and it is almost a crime for any manufacturer to do anything except manufacture weapons of war. I am sure that is a wrong idea. It is just as important for our exports to be maintained as—perhaps it is rather a far-fetched statement superficially, but it is really accurate—to subscribe to War Loan, for by maintaining our exports we are maintaining our credit, which will enable us to get the necessary raw materials in different parts of the world, so that our industries may be kept going and our manufacturers supplied.
§ The MINISTER of PENSIONS (Mr. Hodge)
Probably it would be advisable that I should give some reply to my hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge), so far as the Pensions Ministry is concerned, and probably that will permit the Debate to take its normal course so far as the Vote of Credit is concerned. I think that my hon. Friend was rather unjust to the Pensions Department in the statements that he made with respect to its extravagant expenditure. It must be remembered that it is little more than a year since the Pensions Ministry was first set up, and that the first staff consisted of ten people. No one anticipated in those early days what the growth of the Department would be. Today we have a staff of nearly 6,000, and we are housed in twenty-one different depart- 2190 ments in London. There is no building large enough to hold the staff, and that, of. course, makes for difficulty of administration. For that, of course, I am not responsible. At the same time, to begin with, the system which was in operation was a bad system, and I have been doing my best to have the best business system that it is possible to obtain as a result of the most expert and skilled advice. No one knows better than my hon. Friend the difficulty of changing a system. It can only be accomplished by degrees, and sometimes there may be a little confusion. With respect to cases taking five and six months to settle, I do not think that that charge can be laid against us to-day. I think I can appeal to the Members of the House who are continually sending me complaints that the promptitude with which complaints are now answered is very much different from what it was, say, six or eight months ago.
§ Mr. HODGE
My great desire is, and has been, to expedite the machine. I will not take second place to anyone in this House, or outside the House, in my desire to see that everything is done which fortunately can be done to bring consolation and sympathy, and everything to which a woman is entitled. The task is a heartbreaking one, and I think my hon. Friend will admit that in a great many directions there have been great improvements. He himself complained at one period of the miserable pension of Is. which was given to a mother because of the loss of her son. Very early on that was altered, so that the minimum pension given under circumstances of that kind was 3s. 6d.
§ Mr. HODGE
I am not saying that that is sufficient, but the House has the remedy in its own hands. With reference to the question of parents' pensions, there are new provisions embodied in the Warrant which is at present before the Treasury, and, considering the study that my hon. Friend has given to the problem, he will realise that the preparation of a new Warrant and the consideration of it require a great deal of examination. The Treasury at the present moment are considering the problem, and week by week I have been bringing whatever pressure it was possible to bring upon them to come to an early conclusion.
§ Mr. HODGE
May I say, what I have said before, that no one could be more sympathetic towards those who have sustained losses in the War than the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself. I have always found him bring to bear upon the problems that I have placed before him a most sympathetic and considerate consideration. With respect to the children, while I look upon them as our greatest national asset—and I can say with every confidence that the Chancellor of the Exchequer looks at it from exactly the same point of view—
§ Mr. HODGE
Well, a good thing is never the worse for being repeated. I think there cannot be any doubt of this fact, that, so far as pensions are concerned, the pensions of to-day are incomparably superior to anything ever granted in the history of our country before. That does not mean to say that they should not be still better. With regard to the apprentices and students, that matter also is under consideration at the present moment, and it must always be borne in mind that the principle of pensions is not that of giving compensation to a parent for the loss of a son; it is simply the consideration as to whether the parents are being hurt in the upkeep of their homes as a result of that factor. I can only say, so far as the Pensions Ministry is concerned, that if you take the widow and children department we are absolutely up-to-date. I do not mean to say that mistakes do not take place, and I think that my hon. Friend will agree that even his staff make mistakes.
§ Mr. HODGE
The human element always enters into consideration, and it must be borne in mind that we have got a great untrained staff. We have only something like seventy trained Civil servants supervising the whole 6,000 staff which we have, and, as I have indicated, when the human element comes in, mistakes will occur. We want to reduce these to the absolute minimum. I can assure my hon. Friend that the Pensions Ministry have suffered undeservedly because of the name of Chelsea. I hope when we get the new scheme completed and installed in a new building, that there 2192 will be no reason for complaint so far as any delays there are concerned. May I just say this other word? From top to bottom of the staff, no one could be more sympathetic towards the cases that come before them than are the staff generally. I see that my hon. Friend rather doubts that, but I speak from inside experience and personal knowledge when I say that a more sympathetic staff no one could have the privilege of presiding over. I hope that within the next fortnight, at any rate, I may be able to announce that the new Warrant will be put into operation.
§ Mr. MACMASTER
The Chancellor of the Exchequer in his masterly survey of the War stated that the most important; things at this stage were the building of ships and the destruction of submarines. I think from what we have heard in the past, and from what we know, that undoubtedly those arc the two most important objects from the country's point of view. With regard to the building of ships, I will not say a word, because after the speech of the First Lord made within the last forty-eight hours I think that it is unnecessary. As to the destruction by submarines, that is an all-absorbing matter, and it is a question which must very seriously affect the whole nation. The destruction of from ten to twenty ships carrying immense cargoes to and from this country each week is a feature in itself of so serious a character that we cannot ignore it. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that every means has been taken to effect these two objects, the building of ships and the destruction of submarines. I only trust that this is so. So far as the destruction of submarines is concerned, it is difficult to realise that everything has been done that could be done. Have we done everything we could in the way of encouraging invention? Is it not possible, by offering greater inducements to inventors, that some contrivance can be developed effectively to counter the submarine? Some days ago I put a question on the Paper to ask one of the Ministers whether, by offering a reward, it would not produce world competition that might be effective in countering the submarine, and I was told that that was not the practice. There are a good many things that have not been the practice in the past, which may be extremely necessary in war time, and from what I have heard outside, I am more or less convinced—although I have not the know- 2193 ledge that Ministers have—that sufficient attention is not given to the subject of invention, and that the difficulties are too great in approaching Boards that have to do with inventions. I will give an illustration of that. I know a case of an inventor—
§ Notice taken that forty Members were not present; House counted, and forty Members being found present—
§ Mr. MACMASTER (resuming)
I am very much indebted to my hon. Friend for calling attention to the fact that there were not forty Members present. I had only been speaking three or four minutes, but for not less than three-quarters of an hour, before I commenced—even while the Minister of Pensions was speaking—there were not forty Members present. The point I was making was with regard to the encouragement of inventors, and whether something more could not be done with regard to anti-submarine inventions. I was pointing out that I knew of a case—and I want to call the attention of Ministers to this—in which the Ministry of Munitions and the Department of War accepted an invention and were actually using it for war purposes. But these Ministers asked the inventor, who happened to be an officer in the Army, to sign an agreement by which he renounced all rights whatever to any sort of compensation or recognition for the useful invention which he had succeeded in devising. How in the world can you expect inventors, and especially men in the Services, to devote their energies and abilities to the means necessary to combat submarines if you ask a man who perfects an excellent invention to resign all his rights of compensation or royalties?
The Chancellor of the Exchequer called attention to the objects of the War, and he gave us a definition of "the destruction of Prussian militarism." Well, his definition somewhat diminishes what we originally attributed to that aim. Nevertheless I do not know but that his definition is not a truer one than we had before us in the earlier days of the War and one that will perhaps be much safer to follow. What he said now practically amounts to this: "Our aim is peace now and security for the future." Those, I think, are our legitimate aims in the War. But when the Chancellor of the Exchequer referred in his review of the War to the different theatres of war, he passed very easily over 2194 the subject of the conquered German colonies. His words were these. I took them down. He said that "there was nothing new to be said." I do not entirely agree; I think there is a. good deal to be said, and I think there has been a good deal quite unnecessarily said at other times with regard to the conquered colonies. He also stated that "the whole German Colonial Empire had disappeared." I trust that that is so, but I am sure that no one in this House will more readily recognise the force of the statement of Bismarck that the retention of colonies or dominions conquered in war follows the fate of battles in the main centres of action. So although we may pride ourselves at the moment on having caused the German colonies to disappear, and on being temporarily in possession of them, we must never forget that if we fail in the main centres of action those colonies will follow the result there. Our possession is a mere temporary possession which depends on the result in the main theatre of war, and therefore our interest, and the interest of the Dominions, is in success in the main centres of action. The Dominions overseas have shown their appreciation of that by sending their forces to the main centres of action in order that we may achieve a successful result there.
As to the main centre of action, I am inclined to think that the Chancellor of the Exchequer's view gave a true appreciation of what the situation is there. I do not think we should be carried away by making a distribution of unconquered territory before the War is decided, because if we lose the War nothing matters. We shall have nothing to say. The Germans will determine the whole subject for us. But if we win the War, then, I say we should be arrant fools if for our own sakes as a United Kingdom, and for our great Dominions overseas, we did not insist on retaining the conquered German colonies. I do not know whether it is sufficiently understood in this House what are the views that prevail in our Dominions. I know something of those opinions, and I read some portions of the Press of our Dominions overseas, and I find that they are up in arms against any idea of the surrender of these colonies if we are successful. Now let us consider for a moment—and this is the last thing I have to say, the case of Canada. Can we imagine for one moment that the 2195 Canadians would not view with apprehension any return of Kiao Chau in China to Germany? Do they not know very well that from that port proceeded the fleet of Von Spee, which might have blown Victoria, Vancouver, and Prince Rupert into the air if it had not proceeded Southward to the coast of Chile, where it encountered and destroyed a British Fleet? And so it must appear to the Americans also, that San Francisco, Portland, Seattle and San Diego on their West coast are all equally exposed to attack if a great German harbour is allowed to exist on the Pacific. So you will find not only Canadian but American opinion is decidedly against the return of any seaport or harbour on the Pacific to Germany.
Take the Southern continent, Australia and New Zealand. Do you imagine they would be content to rest quietly with the contingency of attack from a tiger on their flank? Or would South Africa go quietly to sleep knowing there was a python coiled in the next couch? If our object is, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said, peace and security, we must see that we not only obtain peace, but that we obtain a peace that is accompanied by security that Germany will never be in a position to attack us or our Dominions through or from her conquered colonies. It seems to me it is of the essence of the situation that these conquered colonies should not be returned, and I say it is a dangerous thing to proclaim that this matter should be referred to a Peace Conference. If our gallant troops, our sailors and our soldiers, have, by their skill and bravery, conquered these colonies, then they are the legitimate prize of war, and we should take the stand that they go to us, and the Germans should be made to know that. If we keep a stiff upper lip, and show that we will stand no nonsense, the sooner will we bring the War to a close. I think the line of safety is to insist on their retention as we have conquered them, and not to lay out plans as to what we will do when the War is over, but to hold our tongues in the meanwhile, put all our fighting strength into the War, win the War, and then settle the new conditions and revise maps.
§ Mr. MOLTENO
I am much indebted to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for having given us a survey of the situation. When the Government come forward and ask for a Vote of £600,000,000 for the new 2196 year, I think it is time to drop the old precedent of merely giving us a formal survey of events and a perfunctory record of the situation. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has given us some account—a very sober, and some consider a gloomy, but, as we hope, a faithful account—of what is going on in the various theatres of war, and I wish to express my gratitude to him for having done that. I hope to say one or two things upon points to which he has drawn attention, but, before proceeding, I should like to allude to the condition of the House. We had a count just now, and the hon. Member for East Edinburgh complained before of the condition of the House. I do not know whether the Prime Minister is addressing another section of his disgruntled supporters at this moment, but we know that when the First Lord of the Admiralty was introducing an important subject the other day the Prime Minister was drawing away from the membership of this House nearly 100 Members and addressing them, actually in the precincts of the House, at the very moment when the First Lord was making his statement. That is a very serious matter—
§ Mr. MOLTENO
—because it means that the Prime Minister does not attach sufficient importance to the shipbuilding position of this country. I mean to say something on that subject later to make good what I am saying. I say the Prime Minister, when a very important statement was being made, was a/way from this House and was addressing Members of this House —
§ 7.0 P.M
§ Mr. MOLTENO
We have a most important matter dealt with outside this House, and then this House is asked to register the decrees which have been formulated elsewhere. I remember that Mr. Gladstone once declared with the greatest emphasis that he disagreed with methods which took away from this House to other places the decision of important matters affecting this country. We had an example yesterday of the want: of interest in, and business attention to the affairs of this country in the most vital question which affects us to-day. I think it is time this country had its attention drawn to the proceedings which are taking place, and the manner in which it is being handled 2197 What did we hear yesterday? We heard at first hand of the manner in which Sir John Jellicoe, then First Sea Lord, was dismissed from his post. I think the House and the country will have heard with the greatest surprise the methods pursued on that occasion with regard to this great officer, our greatest sailor. We are told the War Cabinet was not even informed, much less summoned to consider a matter of such importance. I venture to say there is not a shipping company in this country whose board would not be summoned when it was a question of dismissing its manager, but a casual meeting of two members of the War Cabinet is considered quite sufficient. Apparently the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not even ask the reason, but accepted the statement of the First Lord of the Admiralty that he thought it desirable Sir John Jellicoe should be dismissed. I do think that is, indeed, a revelation of this system of government by Cabinet of which the House and the country should take note, and insist on its being altered, because the consequences are most serious to this country. I regret that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not in his place, because I want to refer to what he said. I want the country to realise the seriousness of the situation when men in charge of our great naval and military forces, entrusted with the lives of millions of our fellow subjects, are traduced by the Press and disparaged by the Government themselves. I have no objection to the Government removing any officer from a high position if they have come to the conclusion that in the country's interest he ought to be removed. What has been done is unfair to the Services of this country. We know what happened in the case of the Air Board; we know that Lord Cowdray's position was offered to Lord Northcliffe, and we only learned from the public Press that the services of Lord Cowdray were to be dispensed with. On the 12th of November the Prime Minister held up to the contempt of our Allies and the world the two men in charge of our Army, Sir Douglas Haig and Sir William Robertson, when he spoke of the futile attempts made on "the impenetrable barrier of the Western Front" and when he said that we ought to have been advancing on Vienna. The Prime Minister quoted an American authority on this point, and thereby held up to contempt the men 2198 entrusted with the lives of millions of our soldiers. This same process was followed in the case of Lord Kitchener and Sir William Robertson and Sir John Jellicoe, and it has been followed by the same result, namely, the dismissal of these men from the great positions which they held in the service of the country. What is the result of this policy upon the esprit dc corps of our Service? Are the men satisfied? We have just heard the opinion of die Navy with reference to Sir John Jellicoe, and this must be the result when men who have given such magnificent services are treated in this unfair and entirely improper manner. The Government have done nothing to get themselves off the horns of the dilemma on which they were placed by the hon. Member for Oxfordshire. I hope that on Monday we shall be told that the Government are able, at any rate, to get off one or other of the horns of this dilemma.
In regard to the question of shipbuilding I wish to call attention to the serious position in which it is to-day. This position has been aggravated by the Government to an enormous extent, and I am not alone in that belief. I have spent a considerable portion of my life in the shipping business, and I know a little about shipping and shipbuilding. I am not going to give my own experience, but I will give the opinion of my shipping colleagues, and when I allude to Lord Inchcape I mention a man who is respected for his accuracy, intellectual ability, and capacity to speak of that which he knows, and which he handles every day. This is the warning which his Lordship gave to the country with regard to shipbuilding:There is a curious lack of reality in many parts of the country as to the grave position with which we are faced to-day. Our tonnage is being sunk at a rate of which the people have no conception. I honestly think more information might well be given to the people as to what we are really losing, so that they might appreciate the gravity of the situation. I was on the Clyde last Saturday, and not a sound was heard in the Clydesdale after twelve o'clock on Saturday. It might have been thought that no war was going on, and that no new ships nor destroyers to hunt submarines were required.I have only to read those words, and that is quite enough for anyone with any knowledge of shipping. I am going to give the opinion of another great shipowner friend of mine, who was associated with me for many years, Sir John Ellerman, who says:The result of taking the initiative out of the hands of private ownership had been most disappointing. Up to the end of February, or for a period of thirteen months, the whole of 2199 the resources of the country had built seventeen steamers of 86,000 tons gross. In the corresponding period previously private enterprise had built steamers aggregating over one million tons gross.That is 86,000 tons as against 1,000,000 tons under private enterprise in the same period. Sir John Ellerman goes on to say:Thirteen months after we were told that standard ships were to be built in six months. The entire resources of this country only put forward five steamers of very small tonnage.There could not be a stronger indictment of the Government than that of the wrongness of their methods in regard to shipbuilding. Sir John Ellerman continues:I believe that I am right in saying that the whole output of this country since the commencement of the War has not been enough to replace the losses by marine causes alone, leaving the losses from enemy action yet to be made up.I unhesitatingly say that the country should be taken into the Government's confidence as to these losses.You could not have two more eminent shipowners in the whole world, and that is their testimony as to what is going on and what has brought it about. They believe that the cause is the wrong action of the Government. How is the Government going to remedy this? They tried to do it by building national shipyards, and what a thing to do! One would have thought that the natural thing to do would have been to support all the private yards, which had their stocks, slips, and machinery there. You would have thought that the men necessary would have been provided first for the private yards and then you would have provided slips elsewhere, if necessary. Where did the Government put their slips? On the Wye. There you have not got the stocks from which to build, and you have to bring there thousands and tens of thousands of men at the moat critical period of the,War. Practically, you have to create a town to accommodate these men, and erect stores for supplies, and other accommodation, before you can turn out ships. In this way you are putting your national yards where there are no shipping materials.
If any hon. Members go to the Clyde, the Tyne, the Weir, or the Tees, they will see thousands of chimneys bursting forth with smoke from manufactories, producing those products required for the production of ships, and they have all the materials and machinery ready at hand. Those are the places where you would have expected the Government to estab- 2200 lish their yards. But instead of doing that they are placing them on the Wye, where you cannot rely on sea transport, and if you are going to bring your materials by land you have to do so on the railways, which are already overburdened. Consequently, you are interposing the greatest delay and difficulties in building your ships, all of which are utterly unnecessary when you have the Tyne, the Weir, and the Tees, and other places fitted up ready with every convenience. Why not build you" ships where they can be constructed with the smallest possible delay?
I maintain that the Prime Minister has never given proper attention to this matter. He does not seem to attach importance to it, and he says the submarine menace has gone. In deciding the site for these national shipyards no advice was taken from the shipowners—no advice was taken from the men who could explain the dangers and the difficulties of the site chosen for the national dockyards. The Advisory Committee was never consulted. We know that the War Cabinet did not call in anybody who could tell them what the cost was likely to be. I agree that it is not a question of money at a time like this, but it is a question of national resources and which of them you are going to use. The Government had no advice on that point, and the right hon. Gentleman opposite told us that a decree of the War Cabinet was issued and that the Admiralty were doing their best to carry it out. The Prime Minister and the War Cabinet took a decision of this vital importance without having before them the necessary and indispensable information which anybody ought to have had when considering a question of this kind. No private shipping concern in this country could have been built up on such principles, because every point has to be considered from a hundred different standpoints in the development of a great shipping enterprise. The Prime Minister has taken none of these precautions, and can we be surprised that the country is running into the danger of having no ships to supply our requirements? I do say that this is nothing more nor less than a slipshod method in which the most vital affairs of the country are being carried on, and unless we can get it altered we are going to fail entirely to get that essentially necessary output which everybody ought to strain every nerve to get at the present moment.
2201 It seems to me that the country has come to a most critical moment in its history, and I want to know why you apply to politicians a different rule than that which you apply to military, business, and naval men? The men who make mistakes in business have to be replaced by men who do not make mistakes; the men who have made mistakes are the men who will make other mistakes, and why do you apply a different rule? I would like to ask, Is it right to our soldiers and sailors that men who have proved incompetent in this War should be again employed in the War? I think it is wrong, and I think, if it continues, the country is going to come to disaster. We all know how the French at the time of the French Revolution got their commanders. The country was bankrupt; it had no Army—it had a National Guard—and the enemy was in the country. What did they do? They appointed a Committee of Public Safety and put a general in command. He met the enemy and was defeated. He was recalled and his head was cut off. A second man was appointed to the command, and he went forth and met the enemy and was defeated. He was recalled, and his head was cut off. What was the result of that summary process? The result was that when they came to appoint a third commander all the incompetents were out of the running. They did not want to join. "For God's sake do not give it to me! "Able men who knew that they could do the job came forward and offered their services, and out of those men they got the great commander who not only repelled the enemy, but overran every country from which the invaders came. I do not suggest any such drastic process as cutting anybody's head off, but the men who have made mistakes must be dismissed, and you must find men who will not make mistakes, but who will do the right thing.
The right hon. Gentleman has referred to our war aims. This country certainly entered upon this War with high and noble aims. Belgium was to be liberated and France was to be liberated. We have since heard with the greatest sorrow that there were secret treaties which had very different aims from those noble aims. If you involve your noble aims with other kinds of aims, you put an impediment in the way of achieving those noble aims. We do not know, and we have never been allowed to know, the position of this country with regard to its Allies and these secret treaties, but I hope nothing which 2202 is ignoble and that may be embodied in secret treaties is going to be allowed to stand in the way of attaining those noble aims. The right hon. Gentleman said that it was useless to listen to any conversations or any suggestions of Count Hertling or anybody else in enemy countries. I suppose that the object of all war is to get your enemy to do what you want. I notice that the President of the United States has thought it worth while to consider the statements of the men in enemy countries. He has publicly discussed them. He has laid down certain principles and has suggested they should be adopted. I take it, therefore, that he desires to bring in statesmanship with a view to bringing about an end to this War. We have had three years of militarism and we are well into the fourth, and we are no nearer the end of the War. The right hon. Gentleman gave us a summary of events, and he brought before us the position in all the theatres of war, but there was one thing that he did not do which I had hoped that he would do. He put no limit to the number of these gigantic Votes of Credit, which cannot go on indefinitely. We are now well into the fourth year of war, and militarism alone has not settled the War. Is it not time to bring in statesmanship as well? I remember when Lord Palmerston was called upon to take charge of the Crimea War. Lord Aberdeen had not conducted it with the vigour and the energy with which it was thought that it ought to be conducted. They found Lord Palmerston a man of great vigour and capacity. His very first act, in addition to putting enormous energy and force into the war, was to send Lord John Russell to the enemy country to see what could be got. He did not succeed in getting what he wanted, but he never gave up that view. Statesmanship in the past has never been excluded from war craft. The other day I read with great interest a speech made by the Secretary of the Boiler Makers' Society of this country—a man of the name of John Hill. It seems to me that the wise statesman and the wise boiler maker take very much the same view, because he said:In my experience I have fought many employers—yes, worse employers than Kaiser Bill—and I have had to fight them very hard, just as hard as we have to fight Kaiser Bill, but I never gave up the idea and the hope and the process of negotiation.British common sense in that sphere coincides with good statesmanship in the highest sphere. I regret that the right 2203 hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bonar Law) has not been here, because I have made some references to one or two of his statements. It was impossible for me to wait until he came in, and I had to make them when he was absent.
I rise to supplement the remarks made by my hon. Friend in connection with shipbuilding output. Yesterday we were informed that the War Office had promised to send back to the shipyards some 20,000 men, and that the Admiralty expected that 1,000 men per week would be forthcoming from the Army in the last week or two of February. Instead of that, as the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty informed us, the total number of men who were released from the Army was some 800. In other words, instead of the shipyards receiving 1,000 men per week, as the Admiralty had expected, and on the basis of which they had made their plans, the total number received from the Army for the shipyards was some 800 men. I would ask the House to keep in mind those two figures. It will remember that some months ago men were required for agriculture. After great pressure large numbers of men were sent back from the Army to work on the land. That result was only achieved after very great time and great pressure. I would like to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what steps he proposes to take to see that the claims of the shipyards and that the needs of the State are met on this particular point? We have had the definite statement from the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty that the needs of the Admiralty have not been met by the War Office, and we ask the right hon. Gentleman what assurance we have that in the weeks to come 1,000 men per week will be released from the Army and transferred to work in the shipyards. I hope to spend next week on the Clyde appealing to these men to increase their output, but I am bound to say, and I say it before the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty, that I can appeal with greater force if I have an assurance on this point.
The Controller at the Admiralty and his staff, as has been pointed out by several hon. Members, are not fully cognisant of the shipbuilding position nor of the labour situation in this country. The building of merchant ships, as the House knows, was transferred from the Ministry of Shipping to the Admiralty many months ago. It 2204 seems to me that was a big mistake, and we ask the Government what steps they propose to take, in view of the grave statements which they have made within recent days, to increase the shipbuilding output. You, Sir (Mr. Whitley), have put your name to a Report—and no doubt have been able to bring pressure to bear upon your colleagues—which shows that the one way to solve these industrial problems is for men to meet together and reason together. I would like to ask the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty whether it would not be possible to set up some such body as has been outlined by the Chairman of our Committee, a body presided over by a soldier or a sailor, and to ask these men to go round from yard to yard seeking out the troubles with which the men are faced and endeavouring to settle these problems. The position on the Clyde, I know, is acute. I know that my fellow countrymen there are very suspicious people, and for many a month they have lost confidence in the Government of this country. Once that confidence has been lost, it is very difficult to regain it. I believe you could regain the confidence of these men if you took some such steps as I have outlined. I know that some of these men are opposed to every form of government, and that they will take every possible step to thwart the efforts of every Government, but they are few in number and it should be the object of this Government and of all Governments to detach from them the moderate men so that the moderate men can put forward their best efforts for their country.
Last night I put forward several small points which at the present time are retarding the output of ships on the Clyde. This morning I received several letters pointing out that the Admiralty have not taken sufficient steps to find suitable accommodation for the workers who have been drafted to these places. These are definite points which we put, perhaps, in a critical tone, but in all seriousness to the Admiralty. The subject has been raised during the last two or three days in this House, and I venture to say that the House as a whole is not satisfied with the reply that we have received from the Government. I know full well that the Debate ran on to a late hour last night, but I hope that we may have some assurance that the Government are going to take definite steps to solve the definite points that we have put before them in the course of the last few days.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the ADMIRALTY (Dr. Macnamara)
The late Prime Minister on Tuesday told us, as I thought and as I believe the whole House thought, the view of the country, when he said that the problem is the problem of merchant shipping. Yesterday the fact was evident in everyone's mind and was frequently mentioned, though other and personal issues supervened. The House is performing no more than its duty in coming back to the same subject to-day, and my hon. Friends are serving a national purpose in once more calling our attention to it. So far as the Board of Admiralty are concerned, charged as they now are through the Controller with the duty of new construction and repair, the more the House of Commons ventilates this subject, the better they will be pleased. The more the public ventilation of the problem—the temper and determination of the people being what it is—the more it will put the right public spirit and resolve behind the problem, just as in 1915 it was put behind the problem of the supply of munitions. If, at the end of a long Debate with many varied questions to deal with, I did not yesterday deal with the matter as fully as I might, I am glad of the opportunity of referring to it to-day. Let the House look at the facts simply and concisely. £f I do not give any figures, it is not because I want to hide anything, but because, as the Leader of the House has said, we are discussing with our Allies the question of the publication of figures. These are the facts that emerged from the First Lord's statement on Tuesday. We know that the sinking of enemy submarines steadily increases; we know that the means of offence and defence against the submarine grow steadily; we know that new merchant construction—I would call my hon. and gallant Friend's attention to this fact—has steadily increased, though not so steadily recently; we know that careful and far-seeing plans have been laid, particularly by America and ourselves, for further considerable increases in the output of new tonnage; we know that if enemy submarine activities remain pretty constant at their present level—that is the only assumption we have got to make—given good-will and hearty co-operation on the part of all concerned, there is a date before us round about which the new construction of the day will balance the tonnage losses of the 2206 day. We know that, subject to the same assumption. which is the only assumption, and given the same good-will and co-operation by all parties, the balance will thereafter incline in our favour, and we shall proceed to make good previous merchant shipping losses.
If I were asked to name that date on which the new construction will balance the losses, I should say, indeed I must say, "Ask the shipyards and the marine engine shops." They are in the place of honour in this fight. They have got that date in their keeping to a very large extent indeed. The date depends upon the rapid building of craft and the rapid production of other appliances for attack upon and defence against the submarines. It depends upon the rapid building of merchant ships, hulls, and machinery to take the place of merchant ships lost. Whatever is necessary to make these things possible we will, on our part, do so far as we can. If our organisation is lacking, we must promptly improve and perfect it, and if we do not, put us on the scrap heap. But after all, the final answer lies in the shipyards and marine engine shops. It is in the hands of the employers and employed themselves in those yards and shops. Without their hearty co-operation and good-will the date must be postponed—as the First Lord said, and properly said, in his statement on Tuesday, dangerously postponed—at which tonnage losses and new tonnage put into service shall balance each other, and we must face a longer interval of short supplies and struggle before we have made good the previous losses. I therefore appeal for all I am worth, as the First Lord did on Tuesday, as the late Prime Minister did on Tuesday, as my right hon. Friend did yesterday, as the Leader of the House has done to-day, and as both my hon. Friends who have introduced this topic have done in this Debate. I appeal with them for maximum output in the shipyards and marine engine shops in order that the date in reference may be hastened and not retarded.
Inasmuch as the comment has been made that I was unable to go into the whole matter last night, let me look at the sinkings of merchant tonnage a little more closely. There were, of course, sinkings by enemy action—raider, torpedo and mine—prior to the initiation of what is styled the "unrestricted U-boat policy."
2207 But the merchant tonnage losses began to go steeply up from the third quarter of 1916, and reached their peak in the second quarter of 1917. Then they began to go steeply down, and they continued on a downward course to the present moment. It should be clearly understood both by the Committee and the country that the upward curve of new construction has not yet reached the downward curve of failing merchant tonnage losses.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I am dealing with world tonnage in this statement, although with regard to new construction I shall deal exclusively with our own activities. The upward curve of new output and the downward curve of losses are steadily working towards one another. As I said before, I repeat now that the date at which they can meet depends upon the extent to which all of us, whoever we may be, and however remote or indirect our connection with the matter, put our backs into it. I turn, therefore, to look a little more closely at the question of the output of new tonnage. Here, in response to the query of my hon. Friend (Mr. Lynch), I speak respecting the efforts of this country only as regards new tonnage output. Why do I do that? Because the brunt of the immediate output of new tonnage is on us. Let that sink into the minds of the people of this country. Of course, we are confident that all that is humanly possible will be done by America. Her people must realise, I am sure, the vital urgency of the shipping problem to the great cause they have so disinterestedly espoused. Germany's submarine policy is at the very heart of the things they have drawn the sword to destroy. We have laid plans for a substantial increase in the output capacity of the private yards in this country. I said last night that up to 6th February 136 schemes had been sanctioned. Do not let anyone say that we embarked on the national shipyards scheme—as to which I will say a word in a moment—without recognising that we must have the full economic output of private yards, not only as they are to-day, but as they will be by the extensions which are necessary to secure that they can give us the output which we require. We have sanctioned 136 schemes in the private yards. The majority of them are improvements. 2208 to the yards and machinery for the yards. The others involve the extension of existing berths for merchant ships, new berths for merchant ships and new berths for barges. In regard to these schemes for the extension of private yards, new berths, extended berths and improvements in regard to engine and boiler output, I want to say that the completion of some few of these schemes is already reported. But we have got to push on with the completion of these schemes. Supplemental to the additions to the private yards is the scheme for the three national shipyards. They will give us thirty-four new slips. My hon. Friend criticised that policy pretty severely, as my right hon. Friend the Member for South Molton (Mr. G. Lambert) did yesterday.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
Quite so. I do not want to weary the Committee, and if my right hon. Friend will look at columns 2071–2 of yesterday's OFFICIAL REPORT, he will find that, so far as I could, to the best of my ability, I set forth precisely what it is the national shipyards will do, when we hope to lay the first keel, when we hope to launch the first ship, what the character of the ships will be, and how they will come into service on the launching of the first ship, and why we went to the Bristol Channel. I am sure my right hon. Friend will not wish me to repeat that. I direct his attention to the OFFICIAL REPORT, where he will find all his questions answered in advance. Then there is the point taken by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Greenock (Colonel Collins), and which has been taken up again and again by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton. All these respective extensions, which are of a considerable character, mean more labour. I admit that, with so many demands upon man-power as there are, it is not easy to get it. We are slowly getting some by the return from the Colours of skilled craftsmen. We must get more by further dilution, including the further introduction of women, further up-grading, and further interchange-ability among the men. In this first-class problem, this difficult problem, I admit, of getting the additional labour to utilise to the full the new shipbuilding facilities as well as the existing shipbuilding facilities of the country, we shall work 2209 and are working in conjunction with the Ministry of National Service and with the leaders of the great trade unions, of whose loyal co-operation and assistance we are fully assured. As regards the precise number of additional men to date, these are the facts: We have over 5,000 men working in the three national shipyards. I do not say they are working as ship constructors or engineers; they are building yards. I am not putting them into the figures for additional shipbuilders or anything else. The 5,000 men are at work in these yards. I said last night that two of the slips are practically ready now, and I gave the date at which the others would be ready. As regards private yards and marine engineering works, the net increase—of course some men have gone away, and if I gave the gross figure it would not help the Committee—of labour this year as a result of our efforts is as follows: I ought, perhaps, to explain that during October, November, and December, 1917, the net increase in the private yards was over 6,000. That figure will be borne out by an answer I have given to the right hon. Gentleman on the matter. This year the net increase up to the week ending 1st March was just over 8,000.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I think it is men only. I am pretty certain of that, but perhaps the hon. Member will put down a question and I will get the facts. I am speaking from memory. We have 5,000 men building the national shipyards. We sent in 6,000 additional men in October, November, and December, 1917, and this year down to 1st March the net increase is just over8,000 in the private yards. And now as to getting men back from the Army into the yards. As I said last night, down to the week ending 2nd March we got 427 skilled men released and sent to the yards, and, further, on the 2nd March the numbers at the depot waiting to be transferred to the yards was 381—that is, 2210 roughly 800. I admit that I stated in the House, in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham, that we had hoped during the latter weeks of last month that we should be getting the men back at the rate of 1,000 a week. But that anticipation has not been so far realised. Difficulties in selection and release have delayed matters beyond anticipation. Let me call attention to a question put by the right hon. Member for South Molton recently. He asked what was the extra number of skilled and unskilled workmen who could be profitably employed in private shipyards of the United Kingdom for building merchant tonnage, and what step was being taken to supply those yards with as much labour as can be utilised? I replied that the number was approximately 17,000, but that this would progressively increase during the year.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
I have made the very best inquiries I could from representatives of shipbuilders, and they have informed me that the private shipyards of the country could absorb 60,000 to 80,000 extra men.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
Yes; I know. On the 16th January our information was that 17,000 men could profitably be employed, but that the number would increase progressively during the year. From the figures I have given it appears that we have increased the number of men actually engaged in shipbuilding by between 7,000 and 8,000 since that time. I do not include the 5,000 men in the national shipyards in the 17,000. Some of them were already there on the 16th January, and we have, therefore, got less than half the additional shipbuilding and engineering labour to which I referred on the 16th January. We want and must have more men.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
Has the right hon. Gentleman any estimate as to how many men there are in the Army suitable for them?
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
It is quite impossible for me to answer that. We want the existing army of shipyard and marine engineering shop employers to give their very best to their sons and brothers in the Army and the Navy, and the mercantile marine. That is really vital. I know that these men's task has been long and weary. I know that their work is very hard and very exacting—how hard and how exacting only those know who have tried faithfully to carry it out. I 2211 know that much to-day is perforce carried out under adverse weather conditions. I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend that the shortage of housing accommodation near their work is very often a real difficulty. I agree too that the food problem has been another difficulty in the way of meeting this national emergency. I am not going to blame these men for shortcomings not of their own creation. Why should I? They are of my own class. It is a long way from the dull work of driving a rivet home to the vivid appreciation of the vital part the ship into whose plate that rivet is being driven will play in this fateful struggle. You seem to be much nearer the soldier in the field when you are filling a shell. You seem much more really to be standing nearer to him when you are filling a shell than when you are bending a plate, drilling a hole, or caulking a seam, or driving home a rivet in a shipyard. But your work is more vital to-day than the work of the shell-filler. You are making the successful prosecution of the War possible in the most direct manner possible. You are helping to bring the shell to the soldier and you are baulking the enemy whose fingers are itching to get at you and all you hold dear. Surely we all know that. It may be that our organisation sometimes has not everywhere been perfect. The supply of material may not always have been prompt and continuous. I attribute no blame for that. If it be so, it is for us to remedy the complaint and prevent similar cause of complaint in the future. If the men are asked to do their best, as we do ask them, we must see that as far as we possibly can the means to do so is immediately to hand. I confess with the utmost deliberation that I am greatly disappointed with the output of our shipyards during recent weeks. I know the weather was exceptionally bad in January, and of course Christmas and the New Year broke up continuity of output. But I know also that disputes, delays and slackness seriously affected the output during that month, and I know that to that extent the date at which new construction will balance the sinkings is postponed. I am aware also that any postponement is a danger. In the last quarter of 1917 we did better than our forecast, although in the month of December the results were below the forecast. In January we were seriously below this forecast, even making generous allow- 2212 ance for the difficulties of broken periods. February was a good deal better, the output being nearly double that of January; but, still, it was below our anticipations and necessity. Let the Committee note this fact, that if we are to realise our quarterly forecast, January to March, 1918, we shall have to turn out during the present month of March, even if we take credit for what was achieved beyond anticipation in the October-December quarter, we shall, in order to meet our anticipations, have to turn out more than twice as much tonnage as we did in February.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
We must do our best. I have no doubt that the men concerned in the matters which have been at issue and in the disputes which have delayed the output view those questions as of grave importance to themselves. But, after all, that importance rests, like everything else to-day, solely upon the assumption that when this War is over the Union Jack will still be seen floating serenely in the skies. Take that away, and everything else is lost, and what, then, will be the value of the rights and privileges, of "private interests, prejudices. and partial affections," about which alt of us are so jealous.
§ Mr. G. TERRELL
Can the right hon. Gentleman give any figures for the information of the House as to the average earnings per man?
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I have not got the figures, but I do say that all the rights and privileges all of us are so keen about are of no value once we take away the Union Jack. They are as ashes in the mouth. We have either to put our shoulders to the wheel or to put our necks under the yoke, and if any hon. Members in this House will only assist to bring that fact home to the workers of course the shoulders will go to the wheel. My appeal, therefore, consists of two words—Maximum Output —and I confess I never make that appeal no one can—without thinking of those other men, the men of the Fleet, the men in the trenches, and the men of the merchant service, in the continued and loyal support of whom throughout this long struggle I gratefully recognise that the great majority of our 2213 people home here, men and women, have toiled so spontaneously and so faithfully and will continue to toil to the end. Tom Hood bold us long ago that:—Evil is wrought by want of thought As well as want of heart.Well, let us think. Think of suddenly being torpedoed on the pitiless expanse of the broad ocean putting off, if you get the chance, hastily and scantily clad, to face hours, and may be days and nights, of bitter hardship in the open boats, either to die of cruel cold and exposure or to reach port more dead than alive! Let us try to imagine it all, and when we have done that, think with prayerful gratitude and reverence of this fact, that the moment these heroic men have become themselves again we find them besieging the shipping offices in the docks ready and eager to sign on again. If I ask men and women in the shipyards and engine shops, as I do with all the emphasis that I can command, to bend themselves to their tasks to-day with redoubled vigour, it is in the name and on behalf of their own people—I do not doubt members of their own family circle, the men of the merchant service particularly, whose peerless courage is not eclipsed by the greatest deeds of the Army or the Navy. I cannot set any higher purpose before any member of this Committee, before the community at large, or before myself, whatever may be his duty or station at this time—I cannot set any higher ideal of duty than this, that he shall so conduct himself as, when this grim struggle is over, he may look these gallant men straight in the eyes and not be ashamed.
§ Mr. G. LAMBERT
With the very eloquent and moving peroration of my right hon. Friend (Dr. Macnamara) everyone, I am sure, will agree. I did not intend to make any observations to-night, but I have been moved to do so by the speech of the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty. When my right hon. Friend impresses upon everybody to put their shoulders to the wheel it must be remembered that the Government has control practically of the labour of the country. If: they are diverting it to uses that are not so profitable as the uses on which he has laid such stress now it is not the fault of the workmen, but it is the fault of the Government themselves. I really do not want to make any captious criticism. The situation is far too serious. In regard to this question of the relative importance of 2214 naval and military requirements, I understand to-day that you have more shells than you can use. That should not have been allowed to continue. You should have put your shells into ships; and again, when the right hon. Gentleman says the merchant shipping losses—and I have to speak from memory—reached their peak in April of last year, of course the Leader of the House knows full well that some of us represented that fact to him, that this country could not have gone on if those sinkings had continued at that rate. There is no doubt about that. The curve of losses, he says, has gone down. Do not be too optimistic about that. I said yesterday, and I repeat it to-day, that the sinkings in the month of February were the largest of the last six months, with the exception of the one month, October. You must not leave that fact out. I think my information is pretty accurate. I am speaking from memory, but I have it pretty well in my head, and when I speak of this I am speaking of British shipping. After all, British shipping is the only shipping under our control. Neutral ships can go where they please, and therefore they are not absolutely under the control of the Government, as is British shipping. I rather regret that my right hon. Friend has not laid stress on and has not given an answer to one question which I put yesterday, which was inspired by the remarks of the First Lord of the Admiralty, and that is that there is a lagging behind in the manufacture of weapons for the destruction of the submarine. That to me is most important.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
What the First Lord said, or at any rate what he intended to say, was that, in common with the merchant shipping output—I forget the particular period he took, but take January, if you like—it lagged in common with other work.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
It is too important. The destruction of the submarine is everything. My right hon. Friend said, "We have sanctioned 136 schemes." The point is how many ships are we going to have in the year 1918? After all, schemes are no good without ships. I want further to impress this upon the War Cabinet, if I can: I have over and over again from this bench insisted that it is by the sea and upon the sea that we live. You have 2215 to-day great expeditions all over the world. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has estimated their cost. "Without going into these matters in detail, I say very surely that it would be far better to have the men in the shipyards than it would be to have them in Jerusalem or Jericho. I say that quite frankly, and not without considerable weight of strategic opinion behind me. I do not profess to be a naval strategist or a military strategist, but it is common sense. If you have these large expeditions they mean ships. That is why I asked the question yesterday, Was the Admiralty consulted when the Prime Minister went to Versailles with his proposal very largely to increase our military commitments in the East? It is a most serious thing. The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head. I think my information is pretty accurate; it usually has been pretty accurate. I doubt if he would deny the fact that the Prime Minister went to Versailles and proposed an increase of our military commitments in the East.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
I know. I am saying you must have regard to this fact, and I say the Government has never taken into account the cost of these expeditions. I do impress upon them this fact, which is, to my mind, most serious and most grave: that if you will have expeditions to Jerusalem and Jericho, to Salonika and Bagdad, you cannot have the ships that are required for bringing food and raw material to this country, which is vital. I have said it many times before; I say it here again now, and it cannot be too strongly insisted upon. I could have made more of this question had it not been for the fact that I am not prepared to go into these subjects now. I said all I could about that yesterday, but I do hope that the words of the right hon. Gentleman will reach every person in this country, and that the Government will really take steps to impress upon every worker in the country that it is essential to increase our mercantile output and—more than that—more especially to speed up those weapons for the destruction of the submarine.
§ Mr. LYNCH
I admire the moderation of my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries-shire, who abjured the drastic, but I would also say the effective, method of the Committee of Public Safety. In these more moderate times we need apply only the necessary force. The instrument that I shall use upon this occasion is not the guillotine, but the subtle rays of reason, and to-night, and more than once in the times immediately coming, I will throw the beam of light of that reason on the various essential functions of the Government, and I will show to this House, but more particularly to the country, how miserably the leaders have been lacking in the essential qualifications of their offices. I will speak to-night more particularly of the War Cabinet, and I will introduce—because this is an introductory speech, of which I will work out the details subsequently —a little psychological analysis. What should be the qualifications of a member of a War Cabinet? We often hear the quality of judgment ascribed to a statesman. That is perhaps rightly held to be the one great fundamental characteristic of a statesman—judgment. What is the meaning of judgment? When I read the speeches of the present Prime Minister and of the former Prime Minister, removed from the immediate glamour of their eloquence and the plaudits of the House, and examine them twelve months or two years afterwards, when the magnetism of their presence has vanished, and when, introducing a critical element more deadly still, I test those speeches by the fact, then, thinking of their judgment, I wonder to myself what strange power have these leaders, what gift of personality do they possess that enables them to stand before this assembly of experienced men and persuade them that there is wisdom in the abominable nonsense which they have talked. I defy any follower of these statesmen to take up their speeches two 2217 years old and test them, as all speeches should be tested, by the standard of the actual events of the history of that succeeding time, and find in them the expression of statesmanship or the hallmark of judgment. I have come to this conclusion, that where men without judgment, men lacking in the very essentials of judgment, can persuade a great assembly to accept them as statesmen, those men have not the faculties of statesmen but of comedians.
There is another quality often praised nowadays, that of imagination, a word which for a time was very popular in this House. After all, the most experienced men are led by phrases. The word "imagination" made great play, and still continues to make great play, in this assembly, but I think the word is a misnomer. Napoleon Bonaparte, who was a man both of imagination and of judgment, warned his officers against imagination. Putting it in his epigrammatic and terse style, he said, "Do not make pictures." What he meant by that warning was that when a fact, particularly an unexpected fact, presented itself they should look at it in. its essential reality and not amplify it, and particularly not let their morale, be disturbed by false judgment. So in this way he warned them against the faculty of imagination. Yet those who use the word imagination in a eulogistic sense and Napoleon Bonaparte are really in accord, because I find that when a man is praised for imagination, or a statesman on the Front Bench is blamed for lack of imagination, what is really meant is that he is lacking in clarity of vision, that he cannot see the actual problem before him, or more particularly that he is lacking in the faculty of prevision which enables him, from given data, and with a certain judgment of the march of events, to predict what is going to happen and make his arrangements for meeting it accordingly. It is precisely in those qualities of vision and prevision that we find the weakness of this Government, as it was also the weakness of the preceding Government. Laying this down as a standard, let us see the men who are actually controlling the destinies of this great State and of these Dominions which appertain to it in this great crisis of its history.
We have first of all Lord Milner, who is not only a member of the War Cabinet, but is apparently one of the master minds and one of the controlling forces of 2218 that Cabinet. He has always appeared to me the perfect type of a bureaucrat—a man whose whole mind is steeped in bureaucracy. Bureaucracy is the atmosphere in which he lives. He was called a fine flower of Oxford culture. In trying to appreciate that phrase I am reminded that in view of the immense output of intellectual activity of Oxford there have been few universities so barren in real original thought and real deep analysis in the realm of philosophy of which he was a student and exponent. In Oxford to this day they live on the principles of Kant and Hegel, never once examining them to the bottom, never once bringing in the light of any new analysis, but receiving them by tradition passing on from one generation to another. Now those philosophies are steeped in the spirit—in fact, on the ethical side, that might be said to be their origin —of Prussian bureaucracy. Not only that, but Lord Milner has accepted this Prussian bureaucracy in the very spirit of Prussian formalism, with all its narrowness of outlook, all its rigidity, and all its want of humanity, so that if I had to classify that man as one classifies figures in history, I should label him, "Prussian bureaucrat, second order." It is said that Lord Milner has experience. Yes, but one must inquire whether he was successful in the course of that experience. He made a great name, and mere renown or notoriety is often taken as an equivalent in value to prestige or power. He made a great name in South Africa. I have in my possession even now letters written by men who have reached high eminence in South Africa, and in whom this country reposes its utmost confidence, saying that even after conciliation had been accepted Lord Milner's regime was such that if he had continued there many months longer the flames of civil war would have broken out, and even at the risk of no matter what hazard or ruin the Boers were determined to rise and throw off his tyrannical rule—a tyranny made more odious by the bad faith that characterised his policy. That is his record of experience.
It often happens that men of this rigid caste, so little swayed by the sympathies which affect other men and give them insight and enlightenment, have a penchant for indulging in all the tortuous ways of intrigue and dark diplomacy. Whereas the whole character of the mind of that kind is not such as to give any assurance of ultimate victory, the methods which he is now employing, and which 2219 have exercised a veritable hypnotism on his mind, are those most likely to lead us to ruin. Here in this War, where Austria and Germany have become more and more closely united, so that they maybe looked upon, as I believe they are destined to become, as one great Germanic nation, and where Austria is always filling a subservient part, both on account of her own material weakness and of the domination exercised over the whole country by the Prussian mind, Lord Milner's great dream of diplomacy is to detach Austria from that alliance, and thus to rebuff or disappoint or produce lack of faith in all those who seek emancipation from Austrian rule, and who, if the occasion offered, would become the Allies of the Entente Powers. Here, then, is a man marked with the stamp of the Prussian bureaucrat, with a public experience which does not redound to his real honour, leading the country, as the master mind of the War Cabinet, into a policy which is the most detrimental which it could possibly pursue. You cannot make war and make peace at the same time, and you cannot carry on dark diplomacy, amounting to actual dangerous intrigue, without at the same time breaking the power and the impulse of the great military machine which ought to be doing the work in the field. That to some extent, and to a. dangerous extent, he has succeeded in doing, and I now formally advise this House, and through this House the country, that Lord Milner is a dangerous leader and that he must be removed—of course by easy, constitutional means.
I will proceed to another member of the War Cabinet. In my criticisms of these men let it be understood that I have no feeling either for or against them personally, but at a time when men are dying by the hundreds of thousands, when every misery is being inflicted upon the country, and when delicate women and children are facing death, we cannot allow to be interposed between us and the avenues of victory the susceptibilities of these great men. They must be tested, as all things else, and just as the useful men who are experienced in railway work go round with little hammers, tapping on the cranks and the wheels and the rails to see what is sound and what is faulty, so I propose to tap on the functions of this great Government and show what is sound and what is rotten.
2220 Lord Curzon is the second great figure in that War Cabinet. He is a type, a fine type of the English gentleman, particularly a fine type of English gentleman as understood in the Continental sense, where the qualities of the grand seigneur are associated closely in their minds with what they call the morgue britannique— that sense of exclusiveness, that sense of a certain narrowness of sympathy, that sense of the lack of appreciation, and that sense of the deficiency of many qualities which give real insight and real knowledge. Byron has described the type to perfection once and for all in one stanza of "Don Juan," where he depicts Lord Henry, the husband of Adeline, endowing him with all the qualities of that noble figure, yet in his quick and delicate way indicating precisely the defects of those qualities—Yet there was something lacking on the whole.And that description can be applied to Lord Curzon.
Since the beginning of the War what has he done to justify his high position? Where has there been seen emanating from Lord Curzon any great structural plans, any great impulse to carry out valid plans already prepared, any stroke of genius, any great driving power, anything that summoned up the confidence of the country? Nothing. He has been representative, and there may be said to be the beginning and the end of his functions. He too has had experience; he has had the experience in the grooves of officialdom until his mind has taken the warping of those grooves; and yet we are in a crisis when it is necessary for a great creative mind to break the bonds of all such grooves, to rise above officialdom and with great illumination seeing the problems presented, act with genius, if possible, and devise the means by which to solve those problems. Lord Curzon has lived in those grooves until his mind has become anchylosed. He has imbibed tradition and moved in routine until his very ideas have become bound to the structures of routine; and yet we are in an unprecedented time, when routine kills, and when it is necessary to find a mind elastic and of quick apprehension, able to rise above and beyond those fetters, and with the great problems now before it to study those problems in their own quality, and from that study to arise and give a lead to the nation. Both these men, although they are men of great reputa- 2221 tion, are ineffectual men; one more dangerous than the other, but the second dangerous from sheer inertia. They are both dangerous, because they are the great controlling spirits, and because at best they drift, and a nation can never drift to victory.
I come now to the Prime Minister, with whom on this occasion I will deal very briefly. The Prime Minister displayed great qualities as Minister of Munitions— so great that many of us acclaimed his accession to supreme power in the hope of a new era. He disappointed us. He began to disappoint us almost from that hour. The inner secret is said to be, by those who know him, that his mind has not now free play, but that it is dominated and held in leading strings by those whom I have just described. That I believe to be the true explanation. If that be the true explanation, then he has been weighed in the balance and found wanting. The true and great leader would break away from these petty bonds, would declare himself before the whole nation, inspiring confidence by bold acts, by swift decisions, by inflexible purpose, showing at every turn a mind which had already conceived victory and was working out, step by step, details necessary to secure it. There are people who say that these things do not matter. They have reached this extraordinary conclusion that the great controlling figures may be mediocrities, because the real work is carried on by subordinate officers, the leaders of the Army and the Navy and the bureaucrats in the various Government offices. It is an extraordinary conclusion, but it is popular even in this House.
The same argument was used in the case of France, that as the Prime Minister was mainly representative it did not matter who occupied the post. Successive Prime Ministers were tried until M. Clemenceau asserted himself and by the unanimous voice of the country was carried, so to speak, by acclamation to that high position. From the very moment of his accession to office the situation in France began to change. There was a new aspect of affairs, a new feeling in the minds of men, a new confidence, a new determination. That is the way in which the great leader of a nation always imposes himself upon the will and the minds of a nation. He is the rallying point of all their confidence. That has been the case of every.great leader of every great nation in all great crises, where that leader has led the 2222 nation to victory, and in all the range of history from Themistocles to Abraham Lincoln. Now I come to General Smuts, who has done very little as a member of the War Cabinet to justify the hopes of his admirers. Worse than that, this man with real originality, with genuine faculty of decision, with energy and character, has by that mysterious influence which prevails in these circles been himself circumvented and tied, so that his best function now is to carry out in a field in which he is least efficient, the tortuous diplomacy of Lord Milner.
That being the character of the War Cabinet what can we expect? It is not sufficient in the face of destiny to lift up one's hands and say, "We can blunder, we can neglect organisation, we can neglect even warnings, we can drift, we can make every mistake, either of negligence or of actual commission, and yet because we are the British people we must win, because it is written in the book of fate." No. What is written in the book of fate is that great masculine qualities must win—great masculine qualities which mean great intelligence, great will power, firm decision, tenacity and determination; and this War will try on which side of the two great contending Powers lies the balance of those great masculine qualities, qualities which mean victory and ultimately, as a justification of that victory, the advancement of civilisation itself.
Let us now proceed to the question of results. Here I will offer one or two remarks which might be called destructive criticism. The word is used as a reproach, but how is it possible to construct a new edifice until you have laid the foundations, and if one system and one policy be good why should you remove that good policy to make room for another, and if it be bad, and if the leading of the nation be bad in that respect, in what way can you bring it to a better, healthier and more hopeful policy unless you destroy the confidence in the bad policy in which it is being led? Take, for instance, the topic which was referred to even to-day by the Leader of the House—the sinkings as balanced against new construction. We have had various statements from that Front Bench which are not concordant, statements by one Minister which not only are found subsequently not to correspond with facts, but which fail to correspond either with his own subsequent statements or with statements of his colleagues. To-day the representative of the Govern- 2223 ment gave us various figures dealing with the world tonnage, and the sinking of world tonnage was the basis on which the First Lord of the Admiralty worked in exhibiting to us those charts which seemed so conclusive at the time. But a day or two previously the Leader of the House referred to the same theme, but when he was questioned by the right hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Runciman) said he was dealing not with the world tonnage but with British tonnage. That is to say for the purpose of his figures he was neglecting the world tonnage which the First Lord described as the only proper test, and was confining himself to British tonnage. Not only that, but he exhibited his facts as representing the net loss, that is to say, taking the sinkings of British tonnage, and taking the new constructions in British yards he showed that the position was hopeful. But he arrived at this conclusion by selecting one quarter of the year of 1916, in which the new constructions were the worst during the whole period of the War, and during which, instead of a speeding-up and tripling of the output, as was done, for instance, during the Crimean War, the output of new constructions had sunk to something like one-third of what it. had been in pre-war times; on that occasion, then, the sinkings were high and the new output was almost hopeless, so that the results were bad and the optimistic figures were obtained by comparing the corresponding months of a later year with that bad period. The Leader of the House was able to show a rise in the curve. Yes, if he had not been able to show a rise in the curve, then the end of the War would have been nearly in sight, the most disastrous of all ends.
Not only that, but on a previous occasion we had a secret Session. I am not going to reveal any secrets of that Session, but after listening to a speech of the Prime Minister, couched in his usual optimistic vein, and which again had this faculty of persuading the House, I examined that speech, analysed it, and brought it down to the test of figures, and I found that even in a speech which inspired him with confidence, taking the basis of his own statement and his own figures, it was evident that the sinkings were going on at such a rate that, compared with the new constructions, there would be a deficit year by year, and again the end would be seen to come within a 2224 well-determined time—I will not say within what limit, but certainly within a determined time. So in order to produce this optimism, which plays no really useful purpose, we find Ministers coming to this House not revealing to us the truth of the situation, but simply juggling the figures, figures apparently put into their hands by subordinates in the offices in Whitehall. These figures are juggled with, sophisticated, gerrymandered, so as to produce a totally false impression. What we are entitled to know is not a mere statement arising out of this mere juggling of figures, but whether we are in a situation now in which, seeing the rate of sinkings by the submarines and knowing that the Germans believe that that is the line of victory and that they are pressing forward with the utmost energy the construction of submarines of various types, we are entitled to an estimate; based on the actuality of the new constructions. We should be convinced that the new constructions are greater than the sinkings and that, therefore, on that basis, we can have complete confidence that we can wear through that aspect of the War.
Until Ministers are able, as it is their duty, to convince us of that fact we are entitled to refuse our confidence.
We were told by the First Lord that the sinkings in the Mediterranean accounted for 30 per cent. of the total. At the beginning of the War the Mediterranean was closed almost to the Germanic Powers. In the Mediterranean there were the Italian and French Fleets and portion of the British Fleet. There was not one German ship and there were comparatively few Austrian ships, and those were capable of being held in their narrow and constricted harbours by the superior Italian Navy. The first great blunder, and the first which caused alarm among those who had entire confidence in the British Navy and its traditions, was that of the "Breslau" and the "Goeben," two vessels which were known to be in port and to be endeavouring to escape. They did escape, and their escape was one of the strong arguments which persuaded the Turks to throw in their lot with the Central Powers. Was there no fault there —was there no blunder? In the old days Admiral Byng was shot on his own quarterdeck for faults of far less gravity. I do not recommend such drastic measures now, but I submit that some step should have been taken as would have afforded an example to the whole Fleet. Instead of 2225 that, the Government of that day pursued the course which this Government, which has succeeded it, has also pursued, of covering up these blunders by awards, not so much perhaps to save the blunderer as to screen themselves and to give an excuse to the country for their own want of capacity.
Take one other question which was touched upon by the First Lord of the Admiralty yesterday. He told us that two months ago he had finally organised his Committee of Inventions, and he made the statement to the House with an air of pride. But that part of the programme, the setting up of this Committee of Inventions, is three and a half years too late. Remember that many of these points which I am now raising were raised by me in many cases months ago; in some cases, unfortunately, years ago. I have pressed upon the attention of the House many of those ideas, which have been proved to be valid by the best of all possible proof, that they have been accepted at length as part of the programme of the Government and held up with pride as new departures which gave evidence of sagacity and of vigour. I remember that when I first brought forward some of the projects of which I speak, I was turned down with that air of ridicule which is cultivated by the Front Bench. That talent they soon acquire. These projects to which I refer I insisted upon again and again, and yet months, in some cases years, have elapsed before it has been seen that they were necessary and were being belatedly adopted. That is the case as to this Committee of Inventions. The submarine menace has very peculiar characteristics which are altogether beyond the teachings of the past in naval matters, and it seemed to me that it was necessary to throw out a great intellectual drag-net throughout the whole nation, so as to catch all illuminating suggestions, not merely in the matter of actual inventions, but anything which would help to solve this problem. The idea suggested might be crude or ineffectual in itself, on account of the lack of technical training on the part of someone who has made the suggestion, yet it might be of value. That was a project which I had in my mind nearly four years ago, and I thought it might produce something which would enable us to cope with this peril. And, after three and a half years of this terrible War, every day and every hour showing the urgency of our need and the danger 2226 of delay, one of the great representatives of the Government now announces to the House that he has formed a Committee!
There are other questions to which I might refer, but I will refrain from doing so. But on the subject of Salonika I must say a few words. The Leader of the House this afternoon pointed out the necessity of the expedition to Salonika, his argument being that if the expedition had not been sent at that time the Germans would have come down, and, as King Constantine was really the agent of the Germans, they would have occupied Greece and used its harbours for the manufacture of submarines. Yes, King Constantine was a dangerous enemy of this country. He was not only the agent, but the spy of the German Emperor. But will it be believed that whereas the Leader of the House comes down and puts that danger forward as one reason for risking the lives of hundreds of thousands of men, and embarking upon a colossal enterprise involving enormous treasure— will it be believed that the Government, knowing that King Constantine was a dangerous agent, and even a spy on behalf of the German Emperor,. and, in spite of protests of many of us in this House, insistently and tenaciously defended his position, even against all common sense, and kept that man upon the throne and even artificially propped him up in that position of vantage? It is almost incredible that a Member of this House should come here and make that charge—and that the charge should be true ! I say the men against whom such a. charge can be levelled are not fit to remain in office a day. I know that those words fall flat in this House, which is a tied-house, but I also know that my arguments sink into the minds of men outside, who think of the peril of this country— and the possible starvation of their women and children makes them think desperately hard now—and it is for that I hope my appeal will sink into their minds, that they will weigh my words of reason and test the value of my thoughts, and that they will not be blinded by the sophistications of which we have had a surfeit in this. House. I will resume this discourse, collecting some points and details by which to illustrate it, knowing this, that again and again it will be necessary for us to-come to this House to vote hundreds of millions of pounds, and knowing that, by the incapacity of the Government, one month will resemble another, and that, 2227 comparing one period with another, the situation under their conduct will not have improved, but that rivers of blood and mountains of corpses will remain as the monument of the incapacity of their rule.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
I have waited three hours in the House for the purpose of saying a few words, and more particularly as I am going to address a meeting of my Constituents I want to give them a faithful picture of the House of Commons on the occasion of the voting of the £600,000,000 of the people's money, which they will have to provide. A short while ago we had a representative of the Government, the Financial Secretary of the Admiralty, making a speech on the question of mercantile shipping construction, on which the fate of the nation and the Allied cause depends, and following him there was the late Civil Lord of the Admiralty. On the occasion when he made that very important statement there were two members of the Administration on the Front Bench, and there were only four other Members in the House. The Financial Secretary made an appeal to the workers on the Clyde and elsewhere to put their shoulders to the wheel, to show enthusiasm for the conduct of the War, and to have regard to their brothers in the trenches. I should like to know what would be the reply of the workers on the Clyde, who are putting in twelve or fourteen hours daily, if they could have had a look at the House of Commons' on the occasion of the delivery of that speech, and if they could have seen how Members regard their share in the conduct of the War. Of the 100 henchmen attached to the Government, being their paid officers, I do not think there were more than three or four present at the most. I am quite certain if the workers on the Clyde could have got a bird's eye view of the House of Commons on that occasion I do not think that any appeal made by any member of the Government to them would have had very much effect. As a matter of fact, amongst the industrial centres at the present moment, if there is any slacking of enthusiasm, it is because of their growing lack of confidence in the Administration. Their belief in the Government as an instrument for the carrying on successfully of the War has almost entirely gone, and it has entirely gone from any centre where there is any knowledge of the conduct of affairs, or the progress of events, and to blame the workers is grossly unjust.
2228 9.0 P.M
Do you suppose that such an incident as we had revealed yesterday of the methods adopted for the discharge of the man who amongst all the men connected with the Administration, stood highest in the general opinion of the people of this country, I refer to Lord Jellicoe, and his dismissal by the First Lord of the Admiralty without even consultation with the Cabinet; do you suppose that such incidents as those have not their effect upon the industrial population? Do you suppose that they do not consider this Administration contemptible to a degree as the mouthpiece and instrument of a man for whom they have no regard however much power he may have, that is Lord Northcliffe, and men similar to him who are being brought into the Administration for the purpose of providing the Government with sufficient tied Press support in the country? Those are the causes, the main causes for, if there is such a thing, the lack of enthusiasm as regards the con-duet of the War, and as regards their share in the operations of the War amongst the people of the industrial centres. We have to-day had a statement for which we must all thank the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the war situation, because it was a plain matter of fact statement divorced from the absurd rhetoric to which we are accustomed on the occasions on which the Prime Minister deigns to visit the precincts of the House. He seldom comes except to answer or make the best reply he can to some charge of maladministration or some. personal methods which he has by some means or other to gloss over. We are again, I believe, to have his presence on Monday for that purpose. The Chancellor's statement has been criticised as gloomy, but the facts should be presented whether gloomy or otherwise, especially on an occasion like this, for the provision of finance which must be determined largely by the war situation. If the Chancellor had been able to make a statement which would show an early conclusion of the War and the achievement of the objects which we are stated to have set out to achieve, then with a certain amount of ease of mind we might have voted these £600,000,000 for the next three months or so. But the Chancellor of the Exchequer was unable to make any such statement, and it is with regard to the position as presented by him that I desire to offer a few remarks about the financial outlook. The statement of the 2229 Chancellor as regards the War situation, looked at in its most optimistic point of view, is that we are in a position of stalemate. He could offer no hope of anything like an immediate victory or an immediate achievement of our war aims.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer was careful, I noticed, in speaking of the achievement of our war aims, to refer to the war aims with which we initiated the war and first set out to achieve. But we have no right to consider the financial situation in relation to the war aims as first set out by the Government of this country. If the war aims of the country were to-day those first set out it might easily be argued, and could be argued, that they were possible of immediate achievement. The immediate aims were the evacuation and restoration of Belgium and of the northern parts of France. There is no doubt whatever, especially in view of the recent statement of Count Hertling, that all those war aims could be achieved and obtained to-day. They could have been achieved and obtained more easily fifteen months ago, when the present Prime Minister told us that the Germans were squealing for peace. But I say this is what might be achieved immediately, and consequently the future war expenditure of this country might be regarded as not likely to be very immense.
But that is a dishonest way of looking at the financial future. The war aims of this country, we know now, are not the war aims which were first announced by the Government. It is only a few days ago that the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs stated that the secret treaties held good. Those treaties clearly show that the Allies from time to time extended their war aims, until now they include vast schemes of territorial aggrandisement. The question to-day, when we are considering finance, is how long will it take us to achieve those war aims, and not the war aims with which we first set out? The treaty between this country, France and Italy was a treaty of territorial aggrandisement, a treaty for the securing of vast territories for Italy—not only the Trentino, but also the Dalmatian coast, islands in the Adriatic and even acquisitions in Asia Minor and Northern Africa. They involve the dismemberment of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. How long are we likely to have to fight before Austria-Hungary lays down her arms and submits to virtual unconditional surrender, because that is what the terms of 2230 the treaty with Italy involve, and I say, according to the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, it is for those aims we are fighting. Those aims also set out the dismemberment of the Turkish Empire and its partition amongst Italy, France and Great Britain. Seeing the position to-day of the Turkish Empire, with the secession of Russia from the War, how long are we going to fight until those war aims are achieved? And then we are told to-day that we have to fight on with the last Englishman and the last British sovereign— or the last British piece of paper money—until Germany has surrendered Alsace-Lorraine, at least, to France. Seeing the war position to-day as portrayed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, within how many years are we likely to achieve that object?
It is in relation to these war aims and the period of their achievement that we have to consider the sum that we are asked to vote to-day. The Chancellor of the Exchequer stated that at the end of the financial year the National Debt of this country will be round about £6,000,000,000. It is clear that these war aims of aggrandisement cannot be achieved this year. It is hoped, possibly, that next year there will be American forces in the War which will materially improve our position; but, taking this year, we virtually remain on the defensive. That is the best we can do. That means that the National Debt must amount to £8,000,000,000 at the end of the next financial year, covering the finances of this year, and most certainly that means that the victory to secure these aims cannot come sooner than in 1819, and that' there will be at least another year of war with this colossal expenditure. Therefore we have to look forward to the achievement of these aims to a National Debt of at least £10,000,000,000. That is the figure which, not long ago, Lord Leverhulme, the great captain of industry so-called, stated would be the National Debt involved in the achievement of our war aims, which he entirely and enthusiastically supported. So that in voting this sum of £600,000,000, making our National Debt at the end of this financial year £6,000,000,000, I say we have to regard it in relation to war aims, which will involve a National Debt of £10,000,000,000. Now a war debt of £10,000,000,000 means, on the methods of finance of to-day, that we raise money at 5 per cent. or over, with a sinking 2231 fund of 1 per cent., which means that for the service of this debt we shall have to raise in taxation—or future generations will have to raise in taxation— £600,000,000. If we go on for the achievement of these aims, we shall have many more than the 1,000,000 pensioners we have to-day, and the pension fund will be at least £100,000,000 a year. That means £700,000,000, as a direct outcome of the War, in increased taxation. Our former taxation was upwards of £200,000,000 per year, which would make the total taxation of the country some £900,000,000 a year, or we will say in round figures—because after the War there will be an enormous increase of expenditure in many directions—the raising of a revenue of £1,000,000,000 a year, which was the sum also indicated by Lord Leverhulme as the probable taxation of this country as the result of these aims.
We recently had a statement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in reply to a question put to me. He told the House-in the matter of taxation that he considered there was no revenue to be raised from the taxation of land. He subsequently told the House—was forced to tell the House—that it would be inimical to the interests of the country, and a thing not to be considered, to tax capital. So that there is no money in land, and capital cannot be taxed, and we have to raise, on the methods of the Government, and on the aims of the Government, a revenue of £1,000,000,000 a year. I can tell the Chancellor of the Exchequer that if you cannot tax land, and cannot tax capital, and you are going to try to achieve these war aims—and achieve them by means of interest-bearing scrip—then I say there is no other way in the future open to the people than the repudiation of a debt of £10,000,000,000. That is where I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the way of administration is not acting fairly with the country. He came down here and made this statement as to our military position, and made his pronouncement about our war aims and their achievement, but did not point out to the House and to the country what is involved financially in the position as presented to-day, nor did he suggest any adequate provision as regards the finding of the gigantic sums that will be required, nor did he, and this is a most important point, suggest that there would be any endeavour whatsoever by 2232 the Government to cut down the profligate expenditure which we see on every side to-day.
I do not think I can be charged with exaggerating the gravity of the financial position, because I am taking the Chancellor's own views as to the essentialness of our carrying out our war aims and the view expressed by him that we must not consider entering into negotiations for peace. He was good enough to refer to those of us who are called pacifists. and he said that really our position was grotesque. I think it is the position of the Administration that is grotesque, when we have the Prime Minister telling us—he was not Prime Minister then, but, I think, was Minister for War—eighteen months ago that the Germans are squealing for peace, and all we need to do is to strike the knock-out blow, and that there are no quitters amongst the Allies, who ousts the then-existing Government at the dictation of a newspaper proprietor because some members were considering the question of entering into negotiations and drives that Administration out of office to form a Win-the-War Government; and then after eighteen months of war, costing another £3,000,000,000, and I suppose the death and mutilation of another 1,500,000 of our men, the representative of that Government comes down to the House and draws the picture he does to-day, with Russia a quitter, with no hope of victory on any front, and at the best a stalemate—it is not for him to jeer at the views of the pacifists who would have made peace when we could have made a successful peace, according to the views of the Prime Minister as expressed by himself.
That is the position which confronts the country financially, and what proposal does the Chancellor of the Exchequer make to meet this vast expenditure? Only the proposal of a rake, of a spendthrift. He comes down to borrow another £600,000,000. He is forced by the pressure of the financial interests to maintain, probably to increase, the high rate of interest. He makes no proposal for the securing of these vast revenues in any way that will not throw the gigantic burden on the country that has been thrown by past methods. The issue of interest-bearing scrip for hundreds of millions, thousands of millions of pounds, is the only method he can propose for the finance of this War, casting the burden 2233 upon the future. I wonder the Chancellor of the Exchequer never considers for a moment upon whom he is going to cast that burden. Does he suppose that the millions of men who have been either voluntarily or by conscription bearing the ghastly terrors of this War at a shilling or eighteen pence a day are coming back to the mine, the forge, the loom, and the land, and that they are going to toil to provide the interest on a debt of £10,000,000,000 for the men who have sat at home and blackmailed the Treasury by increasing rates of interest, while they are being compelled to accept less than flesh and blood would secure in time of peace?
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Mr. J. W. Wilson)
I think I ought to point out to the hon. Member that he is trespassing rather on a question of Ways and Means. It is not in order to discuss how the money might be raised.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
I bow to your ruling, but I presumed it would be in order to point out that we are reaching a point at which we are increasing the debt of the country to such an extent that the future taxpayer will not be in a position to provide the interest on the debt. That is rather the point that I wish to make, but I will leave that point and just conclude my argument, which is that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, it seems to me, would mislead the country when he spoke of the war aims of this country being to-day the war aims with which we set out. If that were so the position on this Vote of Credit of £600,000,000 would not be so alarming an incident as it is in the actual circumstances of the case. For, as I have said, the war aims with which we set out could possibly be achieved to-day or in the near future, but these new war aims, aims of territorial aggrandisement, have been substituted, to achieve which will entail years of warfare and constantly increasing expenditure, and a vast increase of that National Debt which we were told even at the end of this year is to amount to £6,000,000,000. Consequently, I hold that the country is not being put into possession of the full facts of the financial position or shown its true gravity.
§ Major DAVID DAVIES
I do not intend to follow the hon. Member who has just sat down. I want to allude to a speech made earlier in the Debate by the Minister of Pensions, who made a very philosophical oration to the House, and 2234 explained to us why he had not secured greater efficiency from his Department. He certainly has difficulties to contend with, and I think the House appreciated some of those difficulties. At the same time we have always understood that this is a push-and-go Government, and a Government that gets things done, and there is no excuse for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions to come down here and to tell us from time to time that improvements are going to be made, and then, when further inquiries are put to him, we always get the same replies. There are two questions I want to put to the right hon. Gentleman. The first is as regards a declaration made by his predecessor at the Ministry of Pensions, who I am glad to see is on the Front Bench, relating to medical treatment for the widows and dependants of soldiers who have fallen in the War, and also for the wives and children of those who are now serving at the front. A suggestion was at that time made that a penny should be deducted from the pension in order to provide medical treatment, but apparently from a reply the hon. Gentleman gave to a question yesterday that scheme was dropped and the matter is still under consideration.
This matter has been under consideration now for at least nine months, and no scheme has yet been forthcoming. In the meantime the widows and the wives of soldiers throughout the country are suffering, because, owing to the high cost of living and the general dearness of all commodities, they find it extremely difficult to provide the necessary medical treatment for themselves, and especially for their children. I hope the Minister of Pensions will produce a scheme at an early date and attend to this matter. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Black-friars will remind his colleagues of the proposals he put forward when he was Minister of Pensions and see that something is done. With regard to discharged tubercular soldiers, the Ministry of Pensions and the Insurance Commissioners have apparently come to some arrangement by which the cost of the treatment is to be shared between them. I hold strongly that as it was presumed that these men, when they were passed into the Army were not suffering from this disease, they should be regarded as having contracted the disease with the Colours, and they are entitled as discharged men to the treatment promised 2235 by the Minister of Pensions. In spite of what has been said about men having been passed into the Army suffering from tuberculosis, I contend that that is not the fault of the soldier, and it is not a disease for which the soldier ought to suffer because the War Office were not able to diagnose the disease in the first instance.
It is only right and fair that the Ministry of Pensions should be responsible for seeing that the men who have served their country to the best of their ability and have contracted this disease during the period of their service, should get proper treatment. I am afraid that there is a good deal of friction on this question between the Ministry of Pensions and the Treasury. We have been promised special training for discharged men in suitable workshops and proper schemes for indoor occupations, and now we find that the tendency is for the Ministry of Pensions to endeavour to back out of the schemes which they previously said they were prepared to sanction. The country is not going to stand any unfair treatment of discharged soldiers. The people will insist on justice being done to the men who have served their country in the Army, and they will see that just and generous treatment is meted out to them by the responsible Department.
I should like to make one or two comments on the speech made by the Leader of the House at the commencement of this Debate. The right hon. Gentleman gave a short survey of the cost of military operations during the last twelve months. He said that the operations in Mesopotamia and Egypt had had very great and far-reaching results, and that the Government were perfectly right in carrying on offensive operations on both these fronts. He also stated that the capture of Baghdad had had a great effect upon the morale of the people of India. I have heard the contrary view expressed by people from India and from the East as to how far the capture of Baghdad has resulted in any great increase in our prestige. I think the Government are rather apt to place too much importance upon that aspect of the expedition. The same also applies to the capture of Jerusalem. We were led to believe when that took place that Turkey would be ready to sue for peace, but that result has not yet come about, although I sincerely hope that it may. I do not think it is 2236 wise to give out statements in this House which are not correct, and which may not have the results expected from them.
The Leader of the House touched upon the position at Salonika, and, I think, the history of this expedition is a most unfortunate one. We were told, when this Government came into office, that they were going to insist upon a vigorous campaign on all the various fronts, but the wholes policy at Salonika appears to have been one of stagnation and of lack of enterprise and effort. We have not very far to seek for the reason of that result. The Expeditionary Force at Salonika is. made up of contingents from all the Allies, but the staff who understand fighting in the Balkans, and who know every inch of the country, who understand the psychology of the enemy is the Serbian Staff, who have triumphed over the Turks in the first war, who have defeated the Bulgarians in the second war, and who have beaten the Austrians in this war time and again. I submit that the Serbian Staff should have been entrusted with the operations on the Salonika front, and that they should have had the conduct of the whole campaign there. They know the kind of warfare and understand the tactics which should be employed. Although it is quite true that the Serbian Army, after all its heroic enterprises and struggles during the last four years, has been very greatly depleted in numbers, nevertheless the Staff of the Serbian Army and the Generals commanding it were the military officers who understood and who still understand, and have had actual experience in the conduct of military affairs in the Balkans, and they could naturally be expected to give the Allies better results.
The benefit of that experience was shown when Monastir was taken twelve months ago last November. The campaign during the last two years has been under the command of General Sarrail, who, as we all now know, has been relieved of his command, and a new French General has been sent to take his place. I sincerely hope that an Allied Staff, representing all the contingents on that front, has now been formed which will bring about that co-ordination among all these contingents which has been so sadly lacking in the past. I hope that the Under-Secretary will be able to assure the Committee that reforms of this kind have been actually brought into being. I cannot understand why all these military 2237 operations in the East do not come under the supervision and control of the Supreme Allied War Council at Versailles. I should have thought that the Balkan operations were closely connected with the operations on the Italian Front. I should have thought that the operations in Mesopotamia were bound up with the success of our arms at Salonika. It is impossible, in dealing with the whole strategy of the War, to separate the control and the strategy of our expeditions in Salonika, Mesopotamia, and Egypt from the operations on the Western Front and in Italy. I would venture to suggest to the Under-Secretary that he might inform us why it is that these military operations on the Eastern Fronts are divorced, apparently, from the operations in France and in Italy? I should like to ask him whether the War Office has considered the question whether these operations should not also come under the general supervision of the Supreme War Council at Versailles?
I should like to have some information on the question of promotions in the New Army. I asked a question this afternoon, and I must say that the reply was a very disappointing one. The hon. Gentleman told us that he could not understand the relevancy of the reference to the figures given us by the Secretary of State for War some time ago in his speech at the Aldwyeh Club. In that speech the Secretary of State for War gave figures which purported to tell us how many officers in the New Army and in the Territorial Force had been promoted to Staff appointments. He contrasted these figures with the promotions which had been given to officers in the Old Army. It is quite obvious that without the total number of officers in the Old Army and the total number of officers in the New Army and in the Territorial Force no true comparison is at all possible. We were led to believe from the remarks made at that luncheon that in future the War Office were going to regard this question in a new spirit, and that they were going to break down, as far as they could consistently with efficiency in the Army, the barrier which undoubtedly has existed in the past between the New Army and the Territorial Force and the old Regular Army. I respectfully submit that since this Government came into office the country has given them all the money for which they have asked. The Prime Minister, when 2238 he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, told us that the War was going to be won by silver bullets, and that it was a question of finance. Later on he told us that it was going to be won with munitions. The country has poured out munitions, and the Army has had supplies of all kinds of munitions. As far as we understand, there has been no lack of these supplies for the first two years. Next, we were told that we wanted men, and the men were forthcoming. Then we were told that the only thing to win the War was ships, and ships have been forthcoming, though not in such large numbers as they were promised. Apparently, the only thing that was left out of the category of essentials for winning the war was brains. I submit, with great respect, that brains form the most important ingredient of all the things that are required to win us victory. Napoleon told us that it was not the men that counted, but the one man. I agree entirely with the very eloquent speech made earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Molteno). We have a right to know what steps the Government are going to take and what steps the War Office are going to take to carry out their promise that the officers who have joined the Army since the beginning of the War, and who during the last three and a half years have had actual experience in the trenches of regimental work, are going in the future to have their proper share of Staff appointments and positions in the Higher Command. Until that is done, I despair of any great change in the fortunes of the War on any of the fronts on which we are engaged.
We should also like to know, and in fact I asked my hon. Friend the other day, whether he could give us the number of officers at present engaged upon Staff duties who have not had any regimental experience during the last three years? He told us that it would give too much trouble to the Staff at the front to produce these figures. I venture to submit that this is exactly the kind of information that the War Office ought to get for their own purposes, and that the Members of this House have a right to know that these matters are being looked into. It is all very well to tell us that things are perfectly all right and that there is no need for any kind of reform. It is no use putting all the blame on Russia and telling us that our present position is due to the fact that Russia has let us down. These 2239 questions have got to be answered. We know that they exist, and that they are talked about outside and are doing harm to the Service. I ask my hon. Friend to enlighten the Committee and tell us what the difficulties are in providing that there shall be a proper interchange of regimental and Staff officers in all the theatres of war where we are engaged. The system is in existence in the French Army and in the German Army. It ought also to be in operation in our own Army.
I should also like to ask the Under-Secretary a question with regard to the Report of the Committee of Inquiry into the Medical Service in France. I have put down endless questions on this subject, and, in spite of any persistence in the matter, so far I have got very little information out of my hon. Friend. The Report of this Committee has been sent in to the Army Council and has been sat on by them for many months. Now my hon. Friend tells us that it has gone to France. We should like to know when the recommendations of this Committee, the members of which took a great deal of trouble, who spent a great deal of time in arriving at their decisions, and who visited the front and presumably took evidence there—it was a Committee of eminent medical men—are going to be put into effect and when action is going to be taken in the matter? We all know that when Reports of Committees set up by the War Office or other Departments are not in accordance with the desires and wishes of the permanent officials of those Departments the game always is to have them shelved, and very often to set up another Committee, as was done in the case of the Air Force, to whitewash the gentlemen who were concerned and, if possible, to produce another Report more in accordance with their own tendencies and predelictions. I submit that the time has arrived, after all these months of delay, when the War Office should carry out the recommendations contained in this Report. They should not always be picking holes, but reforms of any kind whatever should be put into effect at once.
The same remarks apply to the demands which over and over again have been made here for some kind of Standing Committee of Inquiry, before which officers who desire to place their eases before the War I Office should have an opportunity of being heard. If such a Standing Committee had 2240 been Bet up some months ago, we should not have had all the Debates and wranglings that went on in this House with regard to the case of Colonel Monteagle-Browne. Columns were written about that case in the Press, and several Debates took place in this House. There are many other cases which did not happen to come up before the House. Injustice may sometimes unavoidably occur, and there is always a bad feeling of unrest which is prejudicial to the morale and discipline of the Army and which could be avoided if some Standing Committee could be set up to hear what these officers have to say. It would be able, in cases of glaring injustice, to remedy the results and give these men a fair hearing and see that justice is done. The dignity of the War Office would in no way be involved. In the old days, before the Army Council was established, these cases were heard by the Commander-in-Chief. I submit a Standing Committee of Inquiry is a very easy way of getting out of the difficulty, and one which would help them to place the Army on a better footing than it is to-day. The War Office is not sympathetic. Suggestions that are put forward by Members in this House are very lightly thrown aside. From our experience of the last two years the results are not such as we could have hoped for, and they are not such as we were led to expect at the time that this Government came into office. I submit that the time has come when the War Office should carry out reforms, and not be content merely to talk about them.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Mr. Macpherson)
Perhaps the Committee will permit me for a minute or two to intervene at this juncture in order to reply to the specific points which my hon. and gallant Friend (Major D. Davies) has raised in connection with the administration of the War Office. The last point he dealt with concerns the appointment of a Court of Inquiry or Committee of the War Office.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
A Standing Committee of the War Office to deal with cases of misconduct or inefficiency which might be sent to that Standing Committee from France or any of the theatres of war. I have already told my hon. and gallant Friend, and I think I told the House, that that point was carefully considered by this House when they appointed the Army Council to take the place of a single 2241 Commaader-in-Chief. The Army Council, or a minimum of three members of the Army Council, have the same power as the Commander-in-Chief possessed in the old days. Any points which can be put forward by any officer as an explanation of his conduct or as a defence to a charge of inefficiency against him have to be carefully considered by the whole Army Council or at least three members of the Army Council. From my experience of the War Office, I have found it to be the case that officers are more satisfied with that form of procedure than with the procedure of the older days. Nobody knows better than my hon. and gallant Friend that if any reform of procedure, so far as the Army Act is concerned, is to be made, it must be made by this House. The Army Act is an Act which is passed annually by this House, and to come forward at this time of day and blame the military authorities for the principles, or for the sections, or for the defects of the Army Act, is not a fair form of argument. The House knows very well that every year it has an opportunity of discussing each and every Clause of the Army Act and, if possible, of amending it When I am taxed with cases of cruelty connected with certain forms of punishment I would like to remind hon. Members that I am not responsible nor is the Department, but it is the House that is responsible.
§ Major DAVIES
There was a case in which the present Prime Minister came down to this House to set up a special Court to deal with it.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
That point is not at all germane. In the case referred to by the hon. and gallant Member, the Act was passed in order to enable the Court of Inquiry to summon civilian witnesses before it, and that is a different proposition altogether. What the hon. and gallant Member wants is a standing tribunal to which any officer sent home from any theatre of war, either for misconduct or inefficiency, may appeal. He complains that I refused to give him certain information with regard to promotions in the various theatres of war—promotions to the Staff. I say, quite frankly, I cannot ask the authorities in France at the present moment to work up for me the information which is asked for. The House knows very well, from the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that there is probably impending a great offensive movement in France, and I should be 2242 the last person to ask any hard worked Staff officer to perform the extra duty which would be entailed by obtaining this information and thus deprive him of the necessary time to prepare for any struggle that may be impending.
§ 10.0 P.M.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
No, if it were I would have supplied it. But in order to give a definite and accurate statement I should have had to apply to France and to other theatres of war. The hon. Member seems to talk about Staff appointments as if they were appointments to one definite branch of the Service. But there are various Staff appointments. There is the "G" appointment, an appointment to the General's Staff, and there is the "Q" appointment, an appointment to the Quartermaster-General's Staff. If the hon. and gallant Member will refer to speeches of the Secretary of State to which he has been making not very generous references, he will find that that proportion of Staff appointments in the New Army is quite remarkable. For "G" appointments it is necessary to have practically the experience of a lifetime with soldiers. On the other hand, it is not so necessary to have long experience of soldiers to be on the "Q" Staff, because very often a business man in the course of a year or two may acquire that amount of military knowledge which, combined with his civilian knowledge, makes him quite a competent Staff officer. I have told the hon. and gallant Member that the number of promotions in the Army to Staff appointments from the New Army and the Territorial Force is increasing, and I cannot very well add anything to that definite statement. My hon. Friend asked why Salonika is not under the Versailles Executive Committee. On that I cannot add anything to the statement made by the Prime Minister. The arrangement was made by the Allied Governments that there should be but one executive in charge of the whole front, from the English Channel to the Adriatic, and I do not see why the hon. Member should be concerned because the Versailles Committee have not Salonika under their control. The only other point raised by the hon. and gallant Member indirectly concerning me was one affecting the Pensions Ministry. Nobody 2243 knows better than my hon. Friend that the War Office and the Ministry of Pensions have been as generous as the taxpayers of the country will allow them to be in the matter of granting pensions and endowments to officers and soldiers and their next-of-kin. The hon. Member made a rather strong point of the fact that there was delay in the matter of medical treatment to the widows and children of soldiers and officers, but he knows very well that that has been specifically provided for in the Warrant, which can be brought into operation at any moment by the Ministry of Pensions. If my hon. Friend feels very strongly on the point, he should address himself, with his customary insistence and assiduity, to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions.
His second point was with regard to the treatment of tuberculous soldiers. I think the House will recognise that the advance made in the treatment of soldiers has been remarkable. Any man who has been discharged and wants training can be provided with that training. The hon. Member says the tuberculous soldier is badly treated as far as his pension is concerned. I do not think that is so. There may be cases in which the tuberculous soldier may feel a grievance in this respect, but if the hon. Member will consult the Royal Warrant he will find that any soldier who suffers from tuberculosis acquired in the Service, or aggravated in the Service, has his case carefully provided for. There is one other point. The hon. and gallant Member commented on the Report of a Medical Committee appointed to consider certain problems which arose in connection with the administration of the Army Medical Service in France. He complained that the Report had been in the hands of the Army Council for many months. I have seen that Report. It was considered by one or two members of the Army Council, but not by the Army Council as a whole. My hon. Friend asked if a copy of the Report had been supplied to the Ministry of National Service, and I replied to him in the affirmative. But the whole Army Council has not yet considered this very important document, and I think the House will agree with me that the proper thing to do with a document of that kind is for the member or two members of the Army Council more directly concerned to examine it and then to send it 2244 to the medical and military authorities to get their views upon it. As I told my hon. and gallant Friend today—and there is no mystery about it—the moment that Report comes back with the comments by these appropriate authorities upon it, we will certainly consider it at once in the Army Council, and take appropriate action.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I cannot, as I have told my hon. and gallant Friend on more than one occasion, definitely tell him whether it will be given to this House or not. This was a Report asked for by the Secretary of State; it was not a Report insisted upon by the House of Commons; it was not a Report of a Select Committee or a Royal Commission, but purely a Departmental Report, and it seems to me that it has been the custom of the House, if the Report is a Departmental Report, to leave it within the judgment of the Department concerned to say whether the Report is to be submitted to the House of Commons or not. I have no doubt that when we have received the Report of the Army Council we shall be able, if my hon. and gallant Friend puts down a question, to tell him whether or not we shall publish the Report, but I am not prepared to say at this juncture whether it will be published or not. I can only say, quite sincerely, that the moment it comes back, if my hon. and gallant Friend will again put down a question on the Paper I will see what action the Army Council proposes to take upon it, and what we shall do with regard to its publication.
Mr. MacCALLUM SCOTT
My hon. and gallant Friend (Major Davies) raised some questions which I would like to discuss further. The subject I wish to raise can be described generally as the Eastern Front and the special dangers to which we are exposed on that front, dangers which, I think, have not been adequately appreciated from the beginning of the War by any of the Governments who have held office. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, in moving the Vote of Credit, touched upon the subject. He touched upon it lightly, and I rather think, from the manner in which he dealt with it, that he did not really appreciate the nature of the apprehensions which are felt by a considerable number of persons in this country with regard to the dangers 2245 arising out of the Eastern Front. It is a difficult subject to deal with, and it is to some extent a delicate one. I may incur some censure for raising it at all, but I think that censure may be met in anticipation by saying this. In the first place, I will not say anything that the Germans do not know already full well, and, in the, second place, I shall give away no secrets. I have no secrets to give away. I know no secrets, and I have access to none. All the information which I have is derived from statements which have been made by Ministers in another place. There have been two Debates at least on this subject in the House of Lords, I think on the 20th of February last year and on the 12th of July, and in the course of those Debates considerable information was given by His Majesty's Ministers. It is rather remarkable that information of this kind, important information, should always be given in another place, and that it should not be given here. The right hon. Gentleman did not himself refer to the question of Japan. Reference has been made to Japan by a number of other Members who have spoken. I think the interest and the excitement with which the discussion of the question of Japanese intervention in Siberia, and perhaps further West, has been greeted is welcome. It is an indication that the Eastern aspect of the War is alive, and I am sure that the interest that is being taken in this subject will have good results if it arouses people to the real nature of the dangers with which we are threatened.
I do not propose to discuss the merits at any length of the question of Japanese intervention. I will only say very briefly that I hope it does not take place. I more than doubt the wisdom of it. It is not because I entertain any suspicion with regard to Japan as an Ally more than any other of the Allies. If this intervention were a wise course to pursue, if it would really meet the dangers with which we are threatened on the East, then I would as soon see that intervention undertaken by Japan as by any of the Allies, Japan is in a very favourable position in regard to such intervention. It is not merely a Question of large stores of munitions and material lying at Vladivostock. If that were all there need be little alarm about it. Those stores belong to the Allies, and it would be a very simple matter to effect a landing, to take back those stores again, and prevent them falling into German hands. It would simply be a matter of 2246 landing a few regiments, providing the necessary shipping, and clearing out again. Even if those stores did, at the worst, fall into German hands, our loss and danger would be a limited one, we should know the extent of it, should cut our loss, and go on with the War. But the real danger with which we are threatened in the East has nothing to do with these stores, and would not be met by the restoration of them. The proposal which has been discussed with regard to Japanese intervention is a much wider one and involves intervention much further West than Vladivostock. What is that danger I There can be no doubt that there is growing up in this country a real feeling of dim apprehension of some danger in the East, impalpable, which cannot be touched. People do not really appreciate what it is, but there is a feeling as if there was something ominous and impending in the East. The Eastern menace has been inherent from the very beginning, although it has never been realised by any of our statesmen, except a very few, who have been overborne and overridden. It is a danger which springs, on the one hand, directly from the German purpose in this War, and, on the other hand, from the special vulnerability of the British Empire in the East. It is not accidental. It is the real meaning of the War, so far as the British Empire is concerned.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the two views which have prevailed with regard to the War. The Western view has prevailed with the soldiers and the politicians from the beginning of the War. It is that this is a Western War, that the real strategic centre of the War is in France and Flanders, that it is on the West that the knock-out blow can be delivered, and that upon the issue of the great battles of the West all the results which have been achieved in other theatres of the War will depend. On the other hand, there is the view that the War is, in its essence, an Eastern War, for two reasons—first of all, because the whole direction of German ambition, the whole driving force of German energy, is towards the Eastern waters; and, secondly, because it is in the East, in India, that our Empire is specially vulnerable, and because we cannot trust Germany to ignore the opportunity of exploiting the strategic possibilities of the situation. From this point of view the Western Front is not the German 2247 Front, it is the German. Rear, and there Germany has been fighting a rearguard action, and the great blows which she struck in Belgium and in Flanders at the beginning of the War were really rearguard actions which she fought in order to free herself from the menace of most powerful enemies who threatened her from behind, while her real effective front was towards the East and the South-East, where the War commenced. I think it was towards the end of 1915, after Serbia had been crushed, that there appeared in the "Daily Mail" a map, which was entitled "The Route to India," and which excited a great deal of attention. I am not accustomed to taking political guidance from the columns of the "Daily Mail," but I thought this map was an important document. It showed the connection of Berlin and Vienna with the Bagdad railway and the Persian Gulf. It showed that the narrow corridor between Germany and Asia Minor, through the Balkans and through Constantinople, which had hitherto been blocked by a hostile Serbia and a neutral Bulgaria, had been burst through, that the area was clear, that Germany was in direct communication with Bagdad, and that the way was open to her, in her drive towards the Persian Gulf, towards Persia and towards Afghanistan. Of course, nobody is ignorant of the geography of the situation, but this map not only showed the route, but figuratively and picturesquely it showed the German purpose. It was my opinion then, and it is still my opinion, that this map was one of the most valuable documents published since the War began. It incurred very grave censure at the time from the Front Bench. It was referred to almost as a treasonable document, as a dangerous document, which might stir up alarm amongst the people, which would give comfort and consolation to the King's enemies, and which would be an occasion for jubilant propaganda by them. I wish it had stirred up more alarm. The real cause for alarm lay not in the map itself. but in the facts of the situation which it revealed, in the German purpose, in the route that lay open to Germany to achieve her purpose, and in the nakedness and defencelessness of the Empire, as we then stood, against that menace. Unfortunately, it caused very little alarm save on the Front Bench. 2248 They were alarmed lest the people should be alarmed. I doubt very much whether the "Daily Mail" was alarmed. I think probably it was only a piece of topical sensationalism which they forgot about the next day. If the "Daily Mail" had only pursued this subject it might have achieved useful results in awakening public opinion in this country to the real nature of the danger to which the Empire was exposed in the East. If there had been that stirring of public opinion there could be no doubt that this Government, or preceding Governments which have been very sensitive to public opinion, whether it was wise or foolish, would have been moved to give further consideration to this aspect of the world War than they have done in the past.
This menace, dimly apprehended by the people, divined only by a few of our statesmen and soldiers, has been inherent in the situation from, the very beginning of the War, and since the beginning of the War it has passed through three phrases. Three phases really sum up the War in the East. There was, first of all, the Balkan-Baghdad phase, then there was the Persian phase, and then the Russian phase. The possibilities and the danger of a German drive through the Balkans towards Baghdad and the. Persian Gulf were realised by few of our statesmen and soldiers at the beginning of the War. It was to meet this menace that the Dardanelles Expedition was first planned. That was an attempt to defeat that menace by cutting through the narrow neck of the German enterprise, but cutting through the corridor at its narrowest. That attempt failed. It failed for the simple reason that the Western view prevailed. It was held that the first call upon all our resources in men and material must be for the purpose of maintaining a great attempt to break through on the West, and that only after the predominant claim of the offensive campaign on the West had been met would such forces as could be spared be available for the East. Accordingly, the attempt in the East was made with inadequate forces and failed. For the same reason the proposals which were made, and made with the same object, to go to the aid of Serbia, in the early days of the War, or to effect a landing at Alexandretta and cut through the Baghdad railway at another portion, failed to materialise because the Western view prevailed. And for the same reason also the expedition to Salonika has been neu- 2249 tralised and stultified, and with the crushing of Serbia and the withdrawal of our forces from Gallipoli the triumph of Germany in this phase of the Eastern menace was complete.
§ Sir J. D. REES
In order to follow the argument of the hon. Gentleman, will he say what he means by cutting the Baghdad railway at Alexandretta, which is some hundreds of miles from it?
What does one mean by attacking the Germans in France? You must begin somewhere. There was no object in landing at Alexandretta unless it was to advance and attempt to cut the Baghdad railway. The next phase of the Eastern menace is what I think may be called the Persian phase. After Germany bad succeeded in bursting through the barrier of the Balkans and maintaining unfettered communication with Baghdad, when we bad failed to cut the corridor, we had to do something at the other end of the road. It was then that the first advance towards Baghdad was commenced and the expedition was sent forward and pressed without adequate preparations, so that it ended disastrously at Rut. At that time the Russians had failed to advance from the Caucasus through Armenia, our own expedition had capitulated at Kut, and there was a great gap between the Caucasus and the lower waters of the Euphrates, and through that gap there was unfettered communication between Germany and Turkey and Persia. Through that gap German agents, German arms, material, and German propaganda were constantly pouring. German influence penetrated and permeated Persia. It reached Afghanistan and the frontiers of India. Here I may be thought to be treading on delicate ground, but I have nothing to say on this subject except what has already been said in another place by present Ministers and late Ministers. I have here one or two extracts from the Debates in another place which show to what extent this danger had gone, and to what extent it was reaching India. On the 20th February, 1917, there was a Debate in the House of Lords, inaugurated, I think, by Lord Bryce, on the subject of Sir Percy Sykes' expedition to Persia. Lord Curzon said:At one time there were quite 100 of these German agents, lewd fellows of the baser sort, scattered about in different parts of Persia, terrorising the peaceful tribes, and offering bribes to their chieftains. They further suc- 2250 ceeded in attracting to their side a number of seditionists from India…They carried their operations as far East as Persian Baluchistan, in the neighbourhood of the British Indian border; and they even penetrated in small, well-organised groups, into Afghanistan, where they were heard of at Herat and at Kabul, where a German deputation was kept for some months in the hope of seducing the Amir of that country from his loyalty to ourselves.On the 12th July last year there was a further Debate in the House of Lords, with special reference to the Report of the Royal Commission on the Mesopotamia Expedition. The Marquess of Lansdowne said:Persia was passing more and more rapidly under German influence. The attitude of the Amir, which in the end proved so satisfactory, was at the time doubtful. And it is very hard indeed to say whether Lord Hardinge would have been able to give your Lordships the satisfactory account which he gave the other evening of the temper of the Indian people if we had shown at the very outset that we had not sufficient courage to strike a blow where a blow was likely to be most effectual.In the course of the same Debate the Marquess of Crewe, who was justifying the attempt to advance on Baghdad, which ended disastrously, made these observations :At that time the Russians had not advanced in Asia, nor had they proved that they could advance. There was nothing apparently to prevent the Turks from directing a force on Kermanshah and obtaining control in Persia. If Persia had gone Afghanistan might have followed suit. The Amir has shown the most signal loyalty to his engagements and a wise understanding of the situation. But he might easily have been swept off his feet, and it is impossible to say what a blaze might have been created. At Bagdad a force would have been on the flank of any such advance Toy the Turks into Persia, which supplies a further reason for making the advance.That was the form which the Eastern menace had taken at that time, the same menace that has existed from the beginning—German penetration of Persia and through Persia to Afghanistan and agitations on the Indian frontier. The menace of a rising of the wild tribes on the Northern frontier has always been the nightmare of Indian statesmen. We have prevented it in the past on any very large scale by preventing arms and munitions reaching those tribes. We have kept them disarmed by means of the patrol which we have exercised in the Persian Gulf and adjacent quarters to prevent gun-running. That patrol was useless at this phase of the War, and there was a constant stream of weapons, machine-guns and rifles, and of skilled German agents, 2251 penetrating through Persia up to Afghanistan and the north-west frontier. It was to meet this menace that the second expedition was sent forward on a larger scale and pressed forward to Baghdad and beyond, in fact, almost until it joined hands with the Russians who had advanced through the Caucasus and through Armenia. The gap was closed, and there, for the time being, was the end of that particular phase of the menace. The misfortune was that we treated it merely as a local danger, as a temporary threat, and we were content with stop-gap measures. The third phase of this danger has come with the collapse of Russia, and by far the most dangerous menace. The roads through which the Germans might penetrate through Persia to the northwest were wild tracks. There were no bridges and no railways, but a long and arduous and dangerous journey. But through Russia they are now in direct railway communication with the frontier and Afghanistan. There are two railway lines, either of which they might use. There is the Transcaspian Railway and the. Orenburg Railway. Anyone who knows the country will know how dangerous they are. They are military railways, designed for technical purposes. The Transcaspian Railway runs from Krasnovodsk, on the Eastern shores of the Caspian, skirting the northern frontier of Afghanistan.
Yes, but a railway. It is all very well to say "a desert," but a railway bridges a desert. The port of Krasnovodsk is directly opposite the port of Baku, which is the terminus of the Caucasus Railway. It is in direct communication with Batum, and another branch runs to Moscow, and beyond to Berlin. The whole journey from Berlin is direct by railway to the port of Batum. There is only steamer transport across the Caspian, and then you have railway communication direct to the Afghanistan frontier. The Orenburg Railway, on the other hand, breaks off the main Russian system at Samara, on the Volga, and runs direct to the frontiers of Afghanistan without a break. Do you think the Germans are going to remain oblivious to the possibilities of that railway communication? Why, only in Wednesday's papers we can see what it means. I find in the "Times" this 2252 morning a message from the Berlin semi official agency referring to what is called the economic-political appendix to the treaty just concluded between Russia and Germany. There it is slated that by the establishment of free transit direct commercial communication is secured vi â, Russia with Persia and Afghanistan which was hitherto barred. But that railway communication is not all. On the South something has happened also. The Russian forces, cut off from all. supplies, cut off from all external aid, have not been able to hold their own in Armenia and the Caucasus. They have fallen back. The gap is still open. Northern Persia is unmasked, and through that- gap once more rifles, machine-guns, supplies, and German propaganda are permeating Northern Persia. Along the whole Southern frontier, along the Western frontier, practically encircled, Afghanistan is open to this German propaganda and German incitement. I do not suggest any doubt as to the loyalty of the ruler and the Government of Afghanistan to their treaty obligations. They have proved themselves most loyal in the past. I believe they are still, and I believe they will remain so. But it is easy to see that their hand may be forced. The rule of the Government of Afghanistan over the wilder tribes is a shadowy and a vague rule. If these tribes are armed with weapons of precision and they are subject to the incitement of German agents there is no saying what may happen. The Afghanistan Government may be overthrown. Why not take it into consideration? It has been suggested in the House of Lords by His Majesty's Ministers, and if it is suggested there why not suggest it here, and ask for adequate consideration?
§ Sir J. D. REES
May I ask, on a point of Order, is the possible or potential overthrow of the Afghan Government exactly relevant to this Vote of Credit?
With all respect, Mr. Whitley, is not the preparation which the Government may be making to meet the 2253 dangers to which we are exposed germane to the subject of this Vote of Credit and the expenditure of this Vote of Credit?
§ The CHAIRMAN
Criticism of the Government, of anything they have done or left undone, is in order, but sometimes the preamble is longer than the application,
It is very easy to understand and sympathise with the motive of that interruption. Frankly, my object is to call attention to the menace which exists and which, I think, the Government has neglected in the past, which it has failed to deal with, and which I am afraid it does not realise at the present time. I have a secondary motive in calling attention to it—perhaps an important motive. I not only want to raise it in the hearing of the Government, but I want to raise it in such a form that it may excite some interest in the country, because I think that it is most important that this danger, the existence of this menace, and the urgency of it, should be fully apprehended in the country. If it is apprehended in the country it has been disguised in the past, but if it is apprehended I am sure public fesling on the matter will force the Government to take further action than it has taken in the past.
The question which I want to address to the Government is, does it realise the gravity and extent of the menace to which we are exposed? Does it realise the fact that, while it is concentrating its whole efforts on the West, the British Empire is exposed to the danger of a knock-out blow on the East, that this is our Achilles heel, that whether we will it or no our hand may be forced, and that by developments in the future we may be compelled by German initiative to withdraw our forces from the West and to hurry them to the East to save the Empire from ruin and break-up? Do they realise that we are now faced with the imminent possibility of a frontier rising in India, on an unprecedented scale?
There have been many signs of it, and I can quote statements from His Majesty's Ministers to justify it. I want to know whether the Government are alive to that danger? I do not ask them what measures they are taking to provide against it. It would not be proper for them to disclose in this House what are the measures whereby they propose to 2254 meet it. I believe adequate measures can be taken. If it were not that I thought it would be an improper aspect of the subject to discuss in this House I would suggest now the measures which I think ought to be taken, can be taken, and which would provide against the materialising of this danger.
The last point which I wish to make is this, that this Eastern menace is the greatest danger to which we are exposed in this War. It is the vulnerable flank of the British Empire. There is a great difference between holding our own on the West and making a great offensive on the West. There is a vast margin between the two, and I believe it is that margin which will meet that situation in the East. I have no expectation of a break-through ever being achieved on the West. The forces are too evenly balanced. In this warfare of trench after trench, mile after mile one behind the other, there is no chance of a break through, but on the East there is a danger that while we are lavishing our strength on the fruitless effort to achieve an impossible task we may ourselves be exposed to a blow which will be fatal to our continuance in this War.
§ 11.0 P.M.
§ Major CHAPPLE
When my hon. Friend started his speech and referred to the Eastern question so great was my appreciation of his wisdom that I thought he was going to make my speech, but he left Japan severely alone. Two other speakers made reference to Japan, one was the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) and the other the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury). The reference of the hon. Member for East Edinburgh was ungenerous, for he asked what had Japan done and what was she going to do? We ought not to be un-appreciative of the great services that Japan has already rendered, and of her great willingness and frequent and spontaneous offers to render more and greater services. At the same time we ought not to be blind to the great danger of premature Japanese intervention. Japan entered spontaneously into this War as our Ally. She has played her part with energy; she has scoured the seas in search of the enemy ; she materially helped to take Kiao-chou; she has helped in the Mediterranean and given all the help asked of her and has offered more and more. Not only is that so, but, to the credit of Japan and to the satisfaction of her Allies, she has 2255 shown herself constantly loyal to the high ideals we profess and try to realise in the War, and she has been true throughout to those ideals. She is generally mistrusted, but she is striving by her efforts to win the confidence of her Allies. Since the collapse of Russia the question is, What part should Japan be invited to play to meet the menace of the Germans in Russia? The new circumstances are that the collapse of Russia has given access to Germany to the whole of that great country. That collapse was brought about by circumstances with which we are all familiar, and the Russians now are faced not only with German guns, but with something equally dangerous and effective, and that is German propaganda. I think there is no better illustration of the situation in Russia to-day than the magnificent cartoon in the Daily Chronicle" of a crouching tiger just ready to spring, and in front of it Trotsky, dressed in Russian garb; he throws away his rifle, and shouts to the tiger, "See, I have thrown away my rifle; if you attack me new, all the world will know that you are a beast of prey!" That is the situation in Russia to-day. Russia has to meet, if it is possible to meet, not only the German guns, but the German propaganda. That propaganda in Russia to-day is very simple and almost universal, for she has Germans who are prisoners of war spread all along the Siberian Railway from Vladivostock to the Ural Mountains, and all that Germany has to do is to hold up the bogey of Japan and the yellow peril in the East. Japan has always been willing to intervene and to render greater service to the Allied cause, and she is willing to intervene spontaneously now. The question to decide is whether it is wise or diplomatic for us to run the risk of antagonising the Russian people by premature Japanese intervention. Germany's plan has always been to get two peoples upon her border to quarrel among themselves, and as long as she can keep quarrels going on in Russia the better it suits her plan of propaganda and her plan of campaign, for it weakens her enemies. If she can raise the bogey of Japan in Russia and alarm the whole of Russia, the Japanese intervention may very well throw the whole of the Russian people into the arms of Germany and may finally prove formidable to our cause and helpful to the German's designs and ends. This, then, is the 2256 danger of premature Japanese intervention. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London said this afternoon that if Japan was to intervene, let her intervene at once; what he dreaded was delay. I think that delay is a lesser danger than a false step and premature Japanese intervention in the East viâ Vladivostock by rousing Russian antipathy or promoting a Russian unity that might play into the hands of the Germans and foster their propaganda. Even Britain is suspect in Russia, and we have not been able to further our cause or the cause of the Allies by judicious diplomacy. We arrested Trotsky in Halifax, we interned several of their personal friends, we refused to recognise their Government, we rejected their Ambassador, and our Press has carried on very largely a campaign with contemptuous references to the Bolsheviks and to the Russian Government. I am not saying whether that was right or wrong, but it does not help us if we give advice to any of the authorities in Russia. That may have been wise or just, but I do not think that it was diplomatic. We have had two great State utterances with regard to Russia. The first was the utterance of the Prime Minister of 5th January this year. The second was the utterance of the President of the United States in his Message to Congress on 9th January four days later. It has been said, and I do not know that it has been contradicted, that President Wilson's reference to Russia and, in fact, the whole of his address to Congress, was brought about because he was not satisfied with the reference that had been made to Russia by our own Prime Minister. I should like to contrast those two references in order to show how little influence we would have with the Russians to-day were we to give them any advice, and, on the other hand, how much influence the President of the United States would have were advice to be sought from him. These are the words in regard to Russia in the Prime Minister's address to the trade union delegates in the Central Hall, Westminster:The present rulers of Russia are now engaged, without any reference to the countries whom Russia brought into the War, in separate negotiations with their common enemy. I am indulging in no reproaches, I am merely stating facts…We shall be proud to fight by the side, of the new Democracy of Russia…But if the present rulers take action which is independent of their Allies, we have no means of 2257 intervening to arrest the catastrophe which is assuredly befalling their country. Russia can only be saved by her own-people.That was certainly not an unfair statement of the position, but it was not a tactful statement of the position. It is said that President Wilson was not satisfied with it and thought that it was a tactless reference to Russia, that it was not sufficiently generous and did not do justice to the revolutionary spirit. Four days afterwards he used these words in his address to Congress—noble, generous words, beautifully stated, which must have endeared him to the hearts of those Russians who read and appreciated them:There is, moreover, a voice calling for these definitions of principle and of purpose, which is, it seems to me, more thrilling and more compelling than any of the many moving voices with which the troubled air of the world is filled. It is the voice of the Russian people. They are prostrate, and all but helpless it would seem, before the grim power of Germany, which has hitherto known no relenting and no pity. Their power, apparently, is shattered, and yet their soul is not subservient. They call to us to say what it is we desire, in what, if in anything, our purpose and our spirit differ from theirs; and I believe that the people of the United States would wish me to respond with utter simplicity and frankness. Whether their present leaders believe it or not, it is our heartfelt desire and hope that some way may be opened, whereby we may be privileged to assist the people of Russia to attain their utmost hope of liberty and ordered peace.Those are noble, generous words, and prepare the way for the intervention by the United States of America. If anything is to be done in Russia by way of intervention in the East, that step should be taken primarily not by Japan, not by Great Britain, not by any of the Allies, but by the United States of America. If we made an appeal to the President of the United States to use his influence to place the situation before the Russian people, in order to counter the propaganda of the Germans, we might take a. long step towards keeping the Russians on our side, and counteracting the pernicious propaganda that Germany carries on. The new circumstances with regard to the United States of America are these: President Wilson first of all welcomed the Revolution. He gave it a welcome more enthusiastic than was given it by ourselves or any of the Allies. That put him in favour with all the revolutionaries of Russia. He spoke more kindly, more generously, and more hopefully than all the other Allies, who, in several cases, certainly in the Press and through the lips of leading 2258 statesmen, spoke coldly, if not reproachfully. America, as every nation knows, has no ulterior motive whatever in the War, and therefore it is more difficult for Germany to misquote and misrepresent her than in the case of the other Allies. The Russian people and the Russian leaders have no mistrust of America, although they do mistrust the other Allies. America is the only country that can speak to Russia to-day, with any hope or chance of being listened to and having her advice followed. She arouses no suspicion, while Japan would and we might. She is less capable of misrepresentation and misquotation than either Japan or ourselves. I made a suggestion in a question to-day to the Foreign Secretary which embodies the views to which I have so imperfectly given expression. I asked the Secretary of State for Warwhether, before any military action is taken in Siberia by any of the Allies, he will, in conjunction with our Allies, ascertain whether President Wilson will inquire of those leaders in Russia who in his view best represent public opinion there if they would welcome such aid from America and the Allies as may be found to be immediately available via the East in order to help them to resist the invasion of the Germans and defeat their designs to partition Russia and ruin the revolution?It seems to me that unless we approach Russia in that spirit we run very great risk indeed of antagonising Russian leaders and Russian public opinion and of throwing them back into German hands to fulfil German purposes.
Ultimately, I believe Russia will come right. She must discover what the Germans are and what are their purposes. In the meantime we have to face this difficulty, that German propaganda is received in Russia, and that makes our opportunity of keeping the people sympathetic to our cause infinitely more difficult. I suggest, finally, that it is better to delay than to have Japanese precipitate intervention now. It would certainly be a lesser evil than any false step with regard to Russia. I suggest also that the United States should be encouraged to take the initiative in any approach towards the Russian people, and that an effort should be made to engage the sympathies of the leaders of public opinion in Russia. After that Japan and even China may be of help, but unless we can gain the confidence of the Russian people and Russian leaders they are likely to throw their lot in with the Germans. Russia should be treated tenderly, like an injured child. The worst 2259 is uppermost in Russia to-day, but the best is only hidden, and sooner or later it will rise to protest, and even if peace were signed to-day, if Germany were allowed to remain in possession of the provinces she now holds, she would find war would be her lot, and that the time would come when she would have to redeem the evil she has done—as I hope the time will come when she will have to redeem the evil she did to France in 1871. Those are the views I would like to urge on the Government to-day—a warning against the premature intervention of Japan, and an earnest appeal to the President of the United States to take such a part as in his wisdom and judgment may seem advisable to keep the Allies right with the Russian people and leaders of public opinion there.
§ Sir J. D. REES
The subject on which I wished to occupy five minutes of the House I will relinquish, because, though it is not yet in Dora's comprehensive list of crimes to address the House after eleven o'clock, I have a ways thought it to be a misdemeanour. Unfortunately, I cannot sit here and hear the hon. Member for Glasgow lightly pass over the ground with which I have been familiar all my life, and most of which I have travelled over, without protest against the light and airy, and, if he could realise it, mischievous manner in which he has referred to possible trouble on the frontier of India.
§ Sir J. D. REES
Really, I care not at all whether or not Lord Curzon said so. He is, I believe, the most capable and courageous Viceroy we ever had in India, but that does not affect me. I say that it was a mischievous thing to say, there is no ground for it, and that these prophecies contribute, fortunately in a very small degree, to their own fulfilment. The hon. Member did not overrate the seriousness of the German menace to the East, but what he did underrate was the intelligence of his fellow creatures. I think he forgot that even Ministers are God's creatures, and that they are not likely entirely to overlook the patent, obvious fact that this peril which lies in the East, which he seems to think has been discovered in a chance issue of the "Daily Mail," is a possibility known to anybody concerned with the East—I should have 2260 thought concerned with politics in the West—for the last forty or fifty years. What I want to know is what constructive policy he put forward, and what advantage there is in dwelling upon that which is known to all those who have any knowledge at all of this subject, and accusing the Government of gross ignorance, of absolute want of knowledge of the patent facts of the situation, so that the most mischievous portions of that speech are most certain to be quoted next day in the papers. The hon. Gentleman is evidently unaware that many speakers, notably Lord Denbigh and others, including myself, are busily occupied in going about the country representing those very facts to the people, but that is a totally different matter from putting them forward in this House as an account against the Government. He referred also to the position in India. I am not going to be drawn upon that subject now, but I will confine myself to saying that the less those suggestions are made, and particularly just now, the better.
The Secretary of State for India is now in India upon a mission of the utmost importance. In Heaven's name let us leave India alone until he comes back after his tour, and can lay before Parliament the views which he has acquired after close and personal communication with the most responsible natives of India, natives of Europe, and natives of anywhere else upon the subject of India. I am extremely sorry that it happens that subjects are raised connected with Russia and India—countries with which a. Member may be thoroughly familiar— but that a Member is pushed out by the crowd of Members to speak, and that there is no time for him to speak without committing the misdemeanour to which I have referred, of speaking after eleven o'clock, a misdemeanour the punishment for which I am entirely unwilling to incur upon this occasion.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Resolution to be reported upon Monday next; Committee to sit again upon Monday next.