§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Lloyd George)
The demand put forward in the Motion which has been read by you, Mr. Speaker, from the Chair is absolutely without precedent, as far as I can see, in the history of this House. Statements made by Ministers in this House have been challenged times without number—I do not mean statements made by members of the present Ministry, but by members of all Ministries. My right hon. Friend's statements during this War have been challenged seriously once or twice. It is customary that the accuracy and correctness of statements made by Ministers are challenged, sometimes by their political opponents, sometimes by important persons outside this House, but this is the first time, as far as I can discover, that it has ever been suggested—even in a period of peace, when there is more time —that a Select Committee of the House of Commons should examine the question whether a Minister has made a correct statement or not in the course of a speech. What is the present demand? A general, a distinguished general, who, for good or for bad reasons, has ceased to hold an office which he has occupied for two years challenges, after he has left office, statements made by two Ministers during the time he was in that office. During the time he was in such office he never challenged those statements, when he had not merely access to official information, but when he had access to the Ministers themselves.
General Maurice was in office for weeks after I delivered that speech in the House of Commons. He attended a meeting of the Cabinet, in the absence of the Chief of the Staff, the very day after I delivered the speech. He never called attention to it; he never asked me to correct it. It may be said, perhaps, that at that time he had had no time to read it. He was there the following day, but he never called my attention to the fact that these statements were inaccurate. Supposing he did not care to do it in the presence of the whole Cabinet, I was in daily contact with General Maurice on the business of the War. I was under the impression, in fact, that he was a great friend of mine. We were constantly discussing these questions of figures, because, as the Director of Military Operations, he was the authority. Was it not his business to come to me—especially if he thought that 2356 this was so important that it justified a great general in breaking the King's Regulations and setting an example of indiscipline—was it not his business, first of all, to come to the Cabinet, or, at any rate, to come to the Minister whom he impugned, and say to him, "You made a mistake in the House of Commons on a most important question of fact"? He might have put it quite nicely. He could have said, "I dare say you were misled, but you can put it right." Never a word was said to me! Never a syllable until I saw it in the newspapers!
I say that I have been treated unfairly. I will say more than that. I thought that probably General Maurice had not talked to me about it, because he thought that it was his business to talk to his immediate Chief first of all—either to the Secretary of State for War or perhaps to the Chief of the Imperial General Staff. Perhaps he thought that it was not his business to talk to me. I therefore inquired; but until he left office, during the whole of the time that these questions were being discussed, he never made any representations to his Chief on the subject. And this is on a question which is so important that you must set up a Select Committee to inquire into it! [HON. MEMBERS: "Two judges!"] I am coming to the question of judges. I am not going to shirk anything. Let me deal with one thing at a time. This question is so important as to justify a great and distinguished general, who has held one of the most confidential positions at the War Office, trampling upon the Regulations of the King, and setting an example of indiscipline to the whole Army. I want the House of Commons, first of all, to grasp that fact. I propose, before I sit down, to give the whole of the sources of information upon which I and my right hon. Friend made these statements to the House, and to justify them, and to invite the House of Commons—here I agree with my right hon. Friend that it is a question for the House of Commons—and I propose to ask the House of Commons to judge, and to judge to-day.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
When the honour of Ministers is impugned, the hon. Gentleman must at least listen to their case.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I am going to state the reasons why we proposed a Committee of judges. I am going to put the reasons why we oppose a Select Committee. I am going to give the reasons why we are taking the course which I propose to take to-day, but I must ask for the patience of the House. When statements of this kind were made challenging, not the action of Ministers, but statements made by Ministers—a letter was written by a distinguished officer that my right hon. Friend and I had made statements misleading the House of Commons—we were anxious to give an opportunity for an examination of these statements by a perfectly impartial tribunal. One reason was that there is a mass of confidential information which would be relevant, and for which any Committee would have a right to call. We were anxious to place all these, documents at the disposal of an impartial Committee, because we knew perfectly well that once the documents were placed at their disposal, there could be absolutely no doubt in the mind of any tribunal as to the veracity of the statements which have been made. The second reason was that in the most important statement of all—with regard to the extension of the Front—our Allies were involved. It is very difficult to discuss it here to-day without making some statement which may offend their susceptibilities, and that is one reason why I am exceedingly sorry that the controversy should ever have been raised.
When we had to consider whether it should be a Select Committee or a judicial tribunal, we felt that a Committee of the House of Commons, adapted undoubtedly for certain investigations, was not the best tribunal for investigating facts when passions were aroused. It is no use saying that this is bringing a charge against the House of Commons. The House of Commons, as a matter of fact, came to that conclusion long ago on a question, say, like election petitions. Why? Because it considered that, when party passions, or when any passions, were roused, a Committee of the House of Commons was not the tribunal that was best adapted for the examination of facts. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Asquith) came to that conclusion himself with regard to the Mesopotamia Inquiry. It was suggested at the time, and he deprecated it, and gave his reasons. 'I think that he was right.
2358 Whether the best tribunal was then set up or not, is another matter. This is no reflection on the House of Commons. Judges are accustomed to examine facts, and, after all, it was only a question of fact.
Another point was that it was very important, if there were to be an investigation, that it should be short and sharp, and that you should get a decision immediately. I felt no doubt at all, if there were an investigation by judges, that that would be the result. But what has since happened? My right hon. Friend says, "What has happened since Tuesday?" I know what has happened since Tuesday. Since Tuesday, it has become clear, from the statements of the Press which support my right hon. Friend—he talks as if the Press were supporting the Government, but he has a Press too—and if he does not mind my saying so, he seems to think that all the violence, all the virulence, is with the Press that does not agree with him. Why, for the last two or three years, since I have thrown myself into the vigorous prosecution of the War, according to my view, I have been drenched with cocoa slop!
§ The PRIME MINISTER
But since Tuesday it is perfectly clear, from the action of the Press, which is egging on my right hon. Friend, prodding him, and suggesting that he ought to do this and the other to embarrass the Government, that no statement, no decision of any secret tribunal, would ever be accepted, but that this would go on exactly the same as before. We have therefore decided to give the facts in public and to let the public judge.
I will proceed at once to the examination of the statements made by General Maurice. I will take the last two first, inasmuch as they deal with figures, and because, probably, the statement with regard to the extension of the front is the more important one, and I would like to get those dealing with figures out of the way. With regard to my statement about figures, there have been two challenges given to the Government, and I am going to deal with both. One of them is in General Maurice's letter, and the other is rather implied in the letter. After all, this is only part of the sort of thing that has been going on outside, and although I deprecate 2359 the method in which it is raised, I am glad of the opportunity of clearing it out of the way. Two challenges have been made as to figures. One is on the comparison which I made of the British Forces in France on 1st January, 1918, and on 1st January, 1917. The other is the comparison which I drew between enemy and Allied Forces on the Western Front—both of vast importance, and both practically part of the same question. Let me read the statement made by General Maurice:On 9th April, the Prime Minister said: ' What was the position at the beginning of the battle? Notwithstanding the heavy casualties of 1917, the Army in Prance was considerably stronger on the 1st January, 1918, than on the 1st January, 1917.'This is his comment:That statement implies that Sir Douglas Haig's fighting strength on the eve of the great battle which began on 21st March had not been diminished. That is not correct.The issue is a very clear one. I said that the fighting strength of the Army had increased. General Maurice says that it had diminished, as compared with the previous year. The figures that I gave were taken from the official records of the War Office, for which I sent before I made the statement. If they were incorrect, General Maurice was as responsible as anyone else. But they were not inaccurate. I have made inquiries since. I am not sure what he quite means. There is absolutely no doubt that there was a very considerable addition to the man-power of the Army in France at the beginning of 1918 as compared with the man-power at the beginning of 1917. There was a great increase in the man-power of the British Army throughout the world in 1918, as compared with 1917, but the increase of the man-power in France in 1918, as compared with 1917 was greater than the average throughout the whole area. I do not know whether General Maurice has in his mind that, when he talks about fighting strength, you must draw a distinction between what are known as "combatants" and "non-combatants." I am going to take that later on as well, but before I do so, let me say at once I do not accept that distinction. When you talk about "fighting strength," Who are the combatants and who are the non-combatants? [An HON. MEMBER: "Oh! "] I going to take the non-combatants as well. My hon. Friend need not be afraid that I am going to shirk it.
2360 Let me first of all deal with the question, Who are the combatants? Are those men who stopped the advance of the German Army to Amiens the other day combatants? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes!"] They are not, if you begin to make a distinction between combatants and non-combatants—I am speaking of General Carey's force—they would not be treated as combatants. Are the men who are under fire every day, making and repairing roads and tramroads and railways, and who suffer severe casualties, combatants or non-combatants? In most lists that have been drafted they would foe non-combatants. Does anyone mean to tell me that they are not part of the "fighting strength" of the Army? Take the men who, when the British Army retreated, and had to abandon trenches which took months to prepare, and who had to improvise defences under shell fire to relieve the Infantry—are those men no part of the fighting strength of the Army? When you have not got them, you have to take Infantry out, and set them to that work. As a matter of fact, one of the things I came back with from France was a demand for more of them, and they are not part of the "fighting strength" of the Army! I decline absolutely to accept that interpretation.
But I will leave that. Take the ordinary technical distinction between combatants and non-combatants. A question was put in the House of Commons by the hon. Member for Barnstaple on 18th April, eight or nine days after I delivered my speech—I delivered the speech on 9th April, and this question was put:Sir Godfrey Baring: To ask the Prime Minister whether when he said that the British Army in France was considerably stronger on the 1st January, 1918, than on the 1st January, 1917, he was including the Labour battalion and other non-combatant units, and whether the combatant strength of the British Army was greater or less at the beginning of this year than at the beginning of last year?My hon. Friend (Mr. Macpherson), whose duty it was to answer this question on behalf of the War Office, sent that question to General Maurice to be answered. I am not gong to read the answer which he gave, because that is on the records of the House, but I will give the note that came from General Maurice's Department. This is the actual document from General Maurice's Department.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
It is initialled by his deputy! [Laughter.] My right hon. Friend is going to draw that distinction, is he? That shows what sort of impartiality you get! This is the note. First of all we have the figures inside. I cannot give those to the House, but this note is a summary of them:From the statement included, it will be seen that the combatant strength—
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
The right hon. Gentleman is reading from an official paper. I quite understand his motive for not disclosing the whole of it, but is it not contrary to the Rules of Order to read part of a document and not to disclose the whole of it to the House?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
The Noble Lord is not very helpful. On the question of order, if the House wants this from which I am reading I am perfectly pre pared to put it on the Table. [HON. MEMBERS: "No! "] I am not going to put the note which I am not going to read on the Table—for that is the document which is inside, and gives the actual details.. That, of course, I cannot give—but the document I am reading from I am perfectly prepared to put on the Table of the House—From the statement included, it will be seen that the combatant strength of the British Army was greater on the 1st of January, 1918, than on the 1st January, 1917.This comes from General Maurice's Department, nine days after I made that, statement! I am not depending on the fact that all these men who were ruled out as "non-combatants" are an essential part of the strength of the British Army in France. I have this statement, that, as regards those who were technically treated as combatants, we were better off on the 1st of January, 1918, than on the 1st of January, 1917. As a matter of fact, there was an increase as between the 1st of January, and March, 1918, but it just happened that I thought I would take the first month of the year.
There is another very important question—that of the comparison of the Allied and enemy forces. I have been charged in General Maurice's letter—and it has a bearing upon the question which comes later of the extension of the front—with misleading the public, and leading them to believe that at the time when the attack took place, the Allied position on the Western Front was that we had a slight superiority in Infantry, 2362 a considerable superiority, I think, in Cavalry, and a superiority in Artillery, and I also said a superiority in the air. With the exception of the air—I did not get that from General Maurice—the whole of the figures upon which I based that statement came from General Maurice's Department, and I have them here. I asked for it, and I have no doubt he turned his Department on to it. I do not suggest that he was the man who worked out these figures, but he was responsible for the document issued. And may I add that General Maurice has made two statements himself on this subject since the battle began, and I believe they have been published in America. But I do not depend upon the American publication. I took the trouble to see whether General Maurice had really said this, and I find that he had. This is what he said on 27th March:There is one cardinal fact to keep in mind, and that is that the forces on the whole front are as nearly equal as they can be.On the 3rd of April he made this statement, which also, I believe, appeared in the American Press, but I have verified it:As regards our side of the picture, I need only repeat what I have already said, that on the whole front, the opposing forces at the beginning of the battle were approximately equal, and therefore the readjustment of the balance on the battlefield is only a matter of time.If there was anything wrong in these figures, I got them from official sources, for which General Maurice himself is responsible, and I think he might have said that in his letter when he was impugning the honour of Ministers.
Now I come to the other statement in regard to the figures:In Mesopotamia there is only one white division at all, and in Egypt and in Palestine there are only three white divisions; the rest are either Indians or mixed with a very, very small proportion of British troops in these divisions—I am referring to the Infantry divisions.This is official. I will give the source of my information. The statement about the one British division in Mesopotamia is in the official War Office record, and I do not understand that it is challenged. With regard to Egypt, the statement was made at a Cabinet meeting which was examining the position. It was made by a member of the staff, who said there were three British Divisions in Egypt. General Maurice was present. It is the custom of the Secretary to the War Cabinet to send these statements to all those who are present for correction, and I 2363 want the House to bear in mind that General Maurice is the official who was primarily responsible for the question of the number of Divisions in the various theatres of war. This statement was sent to General Maurice, among other statements made that day, for correction if there were any to make. He telephoned to the Secretary, and this is the note which I have had from Sir Maurice Hankey, that General Maurice "had no remarks." So this statement, about there being three British Divisions in Egypt, was made in the presence of General Maurice, who made no corrections, and I have had no corrections, either from him or from anybody else on the subject. What really happened was this: Orders had been given for the change to take place at that time, and the change was not complete. I was not informed of that. The statement was an official statement, made in the presence of General Maurice, who never corrected it, and it is there in print to this very day without any correction from him. I come now to the next point—that is the statement made about the extension of the front—This is not the place to enter into discussion as to all the facts. Hansard's Report of the incident concludes:'Mr. Pringle: Was this matter entered into at the Versailles War Council at any time?Mr. Bonar Law: This particular matter was not dealt with at all by the Versailles War Council.'Then General Maurice says:I was at Versailles when the question was decided by the Supreme War Council, to whom it had been referred.In the first place, I think, anyone reading that would say that General Maurice was present at the meeting. He was at Versailles, it is true, but the implication is that he was in the Council Chamber. He was not there. I have looked at the Official Record since. He was at Versailles—he was in a building with several others, who were there assisting the various generals, but he was not in the Council Chamber when the question to which he refers was discussed. As a matter of fact, the extension of the front of General Gough's Army—the extension to which allusion has been made, the extension which is supposed to be responsible by some people for the disaster, though I do not accept that—was never discussed at that Council at all. There was a demand for a further extension. 2364 That particular extension—to which reference was made in my right hon. Friend's answer—had taken place before the Council ever met. It had been agreed to between Field-Marshal Haig and General Petain, and the extension was an accomplished fact before the Council ever met, and was reported, as my right hon. Friend (Mr. Bonar Law) reminds me, by the Field-Marshal to the Council —he reported to the Council that the extension had taken place. There was not a single yard taken over as the result of the Versailles Conference—not a single yard. And then General Maurice, who says he was there, but was not, when the decision had taken place—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]—Well, he implied it—ventures to suggest that the extension of the front of General Gough's Army was decided at Versailles, when, as a matter of fact, it had taken place before the meeting was held. And it is upon this ground that we are to be arraigned!
I cannot leave it there. Although General Maurice docs not say so, the real point of this is, and it is the one which was put by my right hon. Friend (Mr. G. Lambert) with characteristic bluntness and straightforwardness,Is it the fact that this portion of the line—and then he says—the portion of the line is the one which was held by General Gough's Army—was taken over after the War Cabinet had ordered it to be taken over, and that, therefore, the objections of Sir William Robertson and Sir Douglas Haig were thereby overruled?That is the real point. There is not a word of truth in it. I am going to give the House of Commons the facts, because I think it is tune it should be cleared up, if I may get the indulgence of the House for the time being. Of course the Field-Marshal was not anxious to extend his line. No one would be, having regard to the great accumulation of strength against him. Of course he was reluctant to extend his line, and so was the War Cabinet—we were just as reluctant. There was not a single meeting between the French Ministers and ourselves at which we did not state the facts against extension. But the pressure from the French Government and the French Army was enormous, and what was done was not in response to pressure from the War Cabinet, as I shall point out as I go along, because I am going to 2365 quote documents which certainly I shall not object to lay on the Table of the House—the documents I am going to quote—though there are some documents I could not lay, because they refer to other matters. It was done in response to very great pressure, which Sir Douglas Haig could not resist, and which we could not resist.
What was happening? I have to state this very carefully, because one must be careful to state the facts in such a way that our French Allies will not feel that we are suggesting they acted unfairly, because that certainly is not my suggestion—not in the least. I want that to be made quite clear. There was considerable ferment in France during the summer of last year on the subject of the length of line held by the French Army, as compared with that of our Army. The French losses had been enormous—that is common ground. They had practically sustained the great flame of the fire for three years. There was a larger proportion of their young manhood put into the line than any belligerent country in the world, without exception. They held a front of 326 miles. We held a line of 100 miles. That is not the whole statement, because the Germans were massed much more densely in front of our lines. Not only that, as part of the line which we held was much more vulnerable. Practically the defence of Paris was left to us, as well as the defence of some of the most important centres. Still, there was the fact that you had this enormous frontage held by the French Army, as compared with what looked a comparatively small frontage for ours. In addition to that—I want the House to get the whole of the facts—the French Army at the time was holding, I think it was, a two-division front on our left, in order to enable us to accumulate the necessary reserves for the purpose of the attack in Flanders. That was a part of the line which I believe was held before by the British, and the French had taken that, in addition to the line they held before.
The French were pressing us, in order to withdraw men from the Army for the purposes of agriculture, because I ought to explain that the agricultural output in France had fallen enormously, owing to the fact that they had withdrawn such a very large proportion of the men from the cultivation of the fields. They felt it essential that they should withdraw part of their Army, for the purpose of cultivat- 2366 ing the soil, and they were pressing us upon these topics. The Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Sir William Robertson, and the Cabinet felt it was inevitable that during the winter months there should be some extension. We acknowledged that something ought to be done to meet the French demands, and to that extent we accepted in principle that there must be an extension of the line. There was no doubt in the minds of anyone, for instance, that "we would have to take over that part of the line which was held by General Anthoine's Army. How fax beyond that? What further extension? That was the matter which was in doubt. I will tell the House what were the general principles laid down by Sir William Robertson, and accepted by the Cabinet. We accepted in principle that there must be an extension, that the time and extent must be left to the two Commanders-in-Chief to settle together, that no extension was possible until the offensive was over, and that the line to be taken over must depend upon the military policy for 1918, and upon the rôle assigned to each Army. I think everyone will admit that these were perfectly sound propositions.
The Cabinet accepted them without any demur, and we never departed from those principles during the whole of these negotiations. I have examined the Minutes of the War Cabinet and of the meetings between French and British Ministers. I have had the advantage of examining the papers loft by the late Chief of the Imperial General Staff on this topic at the War Office, and I say without any hesitation that the Cabinet never swerved one iota from those principles laid down by Sir William Robertson. At one time the Field-Marshal—and I want to state this, because one part of the story has been told, and not the other—the Field-Marshal was under the impression that the Cabinet had taken a decision without his consent. The Chief of the Imperial Staff upon that sent the following memorandum to the War Cabinet, and I will read it, but I had better say first what was the Boulogne Conference. That was the first time we had a formal discussion with the French Ministers on the subject. It was held, I think, in the latter part of September. It was a Conference we had summoned to discuss a question which affected the Foreign Office—a rather important Foreign Office question; It was not summoned in the least to discuss the exten- 2367 sion of the front. We never knew that that question was to be discussed. Sir William Robertson and I represented the British Government; M. Painlevé, the French Prime Minister, and General Foch the French Government. After we had disposed of the business for which we had gone over, M. Painlevé raised the question of the extension of the front. I was not in the least prepared for it, and I told Sir William Robertson that it was a matter with which he would have to deal, and the whole discussion was conducted by him. He then laid down these principles, of which I certainly heartily approved, and so did the whole of the Government. I am only saying that, in order to explain why Sir Douglas Haig was not present. It was because we never knew that the question of the extension of the front was to be raised at all. When Sir William Robertson discovered that Field-Marshal Haig was under the impression that we had come to a decision without his consent, because of this meeting at which he was not present, he sent the War Cabinet the following memorandum:At the recent Boulogne Conference between the Prime Minister, M. Painlevé, General Foch, and myself, the question of extending our front was raied by the French representatives—I want the House to take note of this. It is important, having regard to the suggestion that we were overruling the Commander-in-Chief and Sir William Roberston—The reply given was that, while in principle we were of course ready to do whatever could be done, the matter was one which could not be discussed in the absence of Sir Douglas Haig, or during the continuance of the present operations, and that due regard must also be had to the plan of operations for next year. It was suggested that it would be best for the Field- Marshal to come to an arrangement with General Petain when this could be done. So far as I am aware"—that is Sir W. Robertson—"no further formal discussion has taken place, and the matter therefore cannot be regarded as decided.' Further, I feel sure that the War Cabinet would not think of deciding such an important question, without first obtaining Sir Douglas Haig's views. I am replying to him in the above sense.The date of that, I think, was the 18th October. The War Cabinet fully approved that communication. Sir Douglas Haig at once communicated, and said that this threw "a new light" upon the Boulogne decision. I think we have a right to complain of the way in which has been rumoured abroad the statement that Sir 2368 Douglas Haig had "protested." That I have heard many times repeated. The fact that Sir William Roberston had explained, and that Sir Douglas Haig had said that that threw a new light on the subject, is never repeated. That is how the mischief is done! On the 24th October this question was first formally discussed by the War Cabinet. There was further pressure from the French Government, and Sir William Robertson gave his views as to the line which the British Government ought to take. This is the conclusion recorded in the Minutes of the War Cabinet. I will read it, because it is very important that the House should know that these things do not depend upon the memory of anyone. These are the records of the Cabinet itself. After hearing the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, the following conclusion was recorded:The War Cabinet approved the suggestion of the Chief of the Imperial Staff that he should reply to Field-Marshal Haig in the following sense—We are supposed to have overruled the Chief of the Staff. We approved the suggestion of the Chief of the Imperial Staff in laying down our policy—1. The War Cabinet are of opinion that, in deciding to what extent British troops can take over line from the French, regard must be had to the necessity for giving them reasonable opportunity for leave, rest and training during the winter months, and to the plan of operations for next year; and, further, that while the present offensive continues, it would not be possible to commence taking over more line.2. The general military policy for next year is now under consideration, and will subsequently form the subject of conference with Allied Governments. In these circumstances the War Cabinet fear that until this policy is settled, it will be premature to decide finally whether the British Front can be extended by four divisions or to a greater or less extent than this.That Resolution was communicated to Sir Douglas Haig by Sir William Roberston, and we never departed from it. Afterwards came the Cambrai incident and the Italian disaster, which necessitated our sending troops from France. That made it difficult for the Field-Marshal to carry out the promise which ho had made to General Pétain for a certain extension—an extension which was not so large as the one that subsequently took place. I am now bringing the thing almost to a close. Then the present French Prime Minister came in. He is not a very easy gentleman to refuse. He was very insistent that the British Army should take over line. We stood by the position 2369 that that was a matter to be discussed by the two Commanders-in-Chief. We never swerved from that position to the last. M. Clemenceau suggested that the question should be examined by the military representatives of Versailles, and that the Supreme Council should decide, should there be any difference of opinion. The military representatives at Versailles examined the question. The only interference, if it were an interference of the War Cabinet, was to this extent:
We communicated with the Chief of Staff, who, I think, was in France at the time, and with Sir Douglas Haig, to urge upon them the importance of preparing their case for Versailles, so as to make the strongest possible case for the British view. That was the only interference as far as we were concerned. The military representatives at Versailles suggested a compromise between the French and the British view about extension, but they coupled it with recommendations as to the steps which ought to be taken by the French Army to assist the British if it were attacked, and by the British to assist the French if they were attacked, which, if I may venture to say was an even more important question than the extension of the front. That recommendation was to come up for discussion at the meeting of the Supreme Council at Versailles on the 1st February. Before that meeting, Field-Marshal Haig and General Pétain met. They entered into an agreement as to the extension of the front to Barisis. Field-Marshal Haig reported that to the Versailles Council, and when the discussion took place there, no further extension of the line was made at all as a result of that discussion. That is the whole story.
I want to make it perfectly clear that, in the action which Sir Douglas Haig took for the extension of the line, he had the full approval of the British Cabinet. We are not in the least suggesting that he took some responsibility which he ought not to take. Having regard to the pressure—I need not go into what was the pressure; I think it is better not, but it was serious pressure—having regard to the pressure of the French Government and of the French military authorities, Sir Douglas Haig had no option except to make that extension. He was, in our judgment, absolutely right in the course which he took. Naturally he would have preferred not to have done it. But I do not believe he could have refused, and the 2370 British Government fully approved the action which he took on that occasion. I want to make that quite clear in the statement I am now making.
Let me just say this to the House: Here I am not dealing with this point of General Maurice—that something was done at Versailles, that Sir Douglas Haig was ordered at Versailles by the Council, which met on the 1st February, to extend the line to Barisis. Of that I have disposed of. The extension to Barisis had been agreed to before we met. I am dealing with the other question—the sort of pernicious rumour which has been disseminated, full of mischief, full of harm as far as the British Army is concerned—that we, in spite of the remonstrances of Sir Douglas Haig and Sir William Robertson, forced them to take a risk which they ought never to have taken. Does anyone imagine that if that had been Sir Douglas Haig's view, he would have accepted the responsibility for one minute? Therefore I am sorry—I am sorry for the way in which it was done, and I shall have something to say about it—that this opportunity has been given to read out the actual conclusions of the War Cabinet, in order to dispose once and for all of these pestiferous rumours, which have been circulated for purposes of their own by men who, for one reason or another, do not like the present Chief of the Imperial Staff, or, perhaps, the present Chief of the British Ministry.
The real lesson of the controversy—perhaps I should not call it a controversy, but a discussion about the extension of the line—is the one of the importance of unity of command. That question of the extension of the line would never have arisen had you had that unity. Instead of one Army and one commander responsible for one part of the line and another Army, and another commander responsible for another part of the line, one united Army—one united command—responsible for the whole and for every part was the only method of safety. I am glad we have got that at last. It was not so much a question of the length of the line held by one force, and the length of the line held by another. It was a question of the reserves which were massed behind. If we put two or three more divisions into the line, there were two or three fewer divisions which we could put into the reserves, but the French had two or three more divisions which they could put into the reserves. When you had a substantial 2371 equality with the Germans, with the same number of troops massing great reserves behind, the question was our massing great reserves as one great, united Army. That was the real question, and when discussions are simply fomented about questions of this kind, they are not the really important questions. We are not dealing with realities in dealing with controversies of this kind.
Before I sit down, there are two general considerations which I must urge. I should like to say something about the effect of such action as General Maurice's on the discipline of the Army. It was a flagrant breach of discipline. The right hon. Gentleman admitted it. I wish he had deprecated it. May I say, quite respectfully, that I think he ought to have done so? He has been responsible for the conduct of this War for two years. If this Motion be carried, he will again be responsible for the conduct of the War. Make no mistake! This is a Vote of Censure upon the Government. If this Motion were carried, we could not possibly continue in office, and the right hon. Gentleman, as the one who is responsible for the Motion, would have to be responsible for the Government.
I think, if I may say so respectfully, it is essential, having regard to his great position, that he should deprecate action like General Maurice's. What does it mean? It is not merely a flagrant breach of the King's Regulations. He avows it. He says, "I know what I am doing." He is a general in a high position. Supposing a regimental officer had done this. After all, they have their views about their superiors. Sometimes they are right, and sometimes they are wrong, but they disagree as to the wisdom of certain actions. They might even challenge the accuracy of statements made by their superiors. Are they to write to the papers and say, "Grave statements have been made. It is my duty, not as a soldier, but as a citizen, because I am a democrat, and because my grandfather was a democrat, to forget the King's Regulations"? I wonder what would be said if a poor, ordinary soldier acted in that way! And this is a New Army! That must not be forgotten. It is an Army where you cannot possibly give the time which was given in the Old Regular Army to harden their fibres in discipline. If a high, distinguished officer says, "Although I am a soldier, I am first of all a citizen, 2372 and therefore I am going to break the King's Regulations," that means that it is for him to judge the importance of the occasion. That is fatal to discipline. Each man naturally thinks his own grievance far more important than anything else. That is human nature, and every soldier, every regimental officer, will say, "My case is a much stronger one than General Maurice's." General Maurice thinks he is as good a democrat as I am. We have before us an example of a democracy which has been humiliated and trampled upon, because it has forgotten discipline in the Army. Is this the time for such an example by a distinguished soldier, who has held some of the most confidential positions in the Army? At any rate, he ought to have tried everything before he did this. Did he? Did he ever come to the person whom he wanted to correct? Never! He was a friend of mine. He was in this House the other day when I made a speech. He was the officer to whom I alluded and I returned to him. I was almost hours, certainly every week, and almost every day with him. Surely, before setting an example of indiscipline, he might first of all have tried to correct me, and said, "Would you mind putting that right; it is doing harm?" He might, had I been obdurate, have said, "Here I am sitting at the War Cabinet, and, in spite of the fact that it is not my business to do it, I will talk here." There would not have been much mischief in that. He ought to have done that first. He ought to have moved his chief to do it. Before trampling down discipline, which is the life of an Army, he ought to have exhausted everything else. But not a word of deprecation of that from the right hon. Gentleman! I have had communications from the Army—from officers and from soldiers. I have had to-day on this subject communications from Australian soldiers who met informally, and repudiated in the strongest manner this sort of action. When you talk about the Army, the Army is not two or three men who may be disgruntled with the Government. The Army is 2,000,000 of men—[HON. MEMBERS: "Five millions! "]—I am referring to the Army in France, and it is vitally important that discipline should be maintained. There is a quotation from a very respected French newspaper, which appears in one of the papers to-day, and although I have no doubt several hon. Members have seen it, it is worth while 2373 quoting as showing how France, a purely democratic country, regards action of this kind:France is more than any other a democratic country. Well, we declare roundly that no one in France will understand General Maurice's action"—
§ The PRIME MINISTER
"La Liberté "—no more on the Left than on the Right—still less on. the Left than on the Right. No French party would admit that in the midst of a war a General on active service should permit himself to raise his voice in public to contradict the Government or to lecture it. With all respect to the British General, what is calculated to diminish the moral of the troops is not that a Minister should in good faith have stated what is not exact, whether in regard to the extension of the British front or the number of effectives, but that a chief, hitherto respected, should have thought it his duty to commit an act of indiscipline so glaring that in our democratic country it would be considered a veritable scandal. It is not for an officer to ask himself if he should place his duty as a citizen before his duty as a Soldier.That is the view of a democratic country like France.
I wonder whether it is worth my while to make another appeal to all sections of the House and to all sections of the country. These controversies are distracting, they are paralysing, they are rending, and I beg that they should come to an end. It is difficult enough for Ministers to do their work in this War. We had a controversy which lasted practically for months over the unity of command. This is really a sort of remnant of it. The national unity is threatened—the Army unity is threatened—by this controversy. Days have been occupied in hunting up records and minutes and letters and proès verbaux, in interviews, and in raking up what happened during a whole twelve months in the War Cabinet. And this at such a moment! I have just come back from France. I met some generals, and they were telling me how now the German are silently, silently, preparing perhaps the biggest blow of the War, under a shroud of mist, and they asked me for certain help. I brought home a list of the things they wanted done, and I wished to attend to them. I really beg and implore, for our common country, the fate of which is in the balance now and in the next few weeks, that there should be an end of this sniping.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
We have heard a defence of the War Cabinet by the Prime Minister, which is not an unusual thing for him, because it is in answer to an attack which has become increasingly frequent in recent months. The right hon. Gentleman has stated his case with all his accustomed dexterity, and he has made an appeal to the emotions of the House, an appeal which no man is able to make with greater skill and greater irrelevance than himself. It is necessary now that an issue has been put before the House of Commons that we who are Members of this House, and have a deep sense of our responsibilities, as deep a sense of our responsibilities as the right hon. Gentleman, should direct our minds to that issue and clear it of the irrelevancies with which it has been surrounded; to examine ourselves in detail, as one of the right hon. Gentleman's newspapers last night suggested, and see that we give a judgment on this issue which is not only just to the Government, but just and fair to the Government's accuser, who is not here, and one also which is in the best interests of this country in the conduct of the War. What is the situation? The right hon. Gentleman, with an irrelevance which I believe has never been surpassed in any Debate in this House, has described the Motion which the right hon. Member for East Fife has proposed as a Vote of Censure. We all heard the calm, moderate, dispassionate, and judicial speech of the right hon. Member for East Fife. He disclaimed, and I think he disclaimed with justice, any intention of putting forward a Vote of Censure in the Motion now before the House. Such Motions have been before the House at other times in the course of this War. I have moved, and some of my Friends have moved them both in reference to this Government and to the past Government, and not until to-day, when the Prime Minister wishes to obscure the issue and to get a verdict on a false issue, has one of these Motions for a Select Committee been treated as a Vote of Confidence in the Government. Why is it so treated? It is treated as a Vote of Confidence because for reasons which, I think, must be obvious, the Government are not prepared to have that impartial investigation on this subject which the House of Commons ought to demand, which it is its duty to demand, and which, if it does not demand it, it will fail in its trust to the country.
2375 The Prime Minister said it was an unexampled thing to ask for an inquiry into Ministerial statements. The right hon. Gentleman has a singularly short memory. If he had consulted his neighbour in that bench, the present Leader of the House, he would have found that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was himself responsible for such a proposal:That in view of the serious nature of naval and military movements recently contemplated by the Government against Ulster, and of the incompleteness and inaccuracy in material points of the statements made by Ministers there should be a full and impartial inquiry.What became of that Motion? It was defeated. Papers were laid regarding the whole matter, and the right hon. Member for the City was able to exercise all his dialetic acumen on what is known as a peccant paragraph of the Cabinet's decision. All the facts were put on the Table, and that Motion was put forward as a Vote of Censure. The Motion to-day has not been brought forward as a Vote of Censure. It is merely a method of inquiry suggested as an alternative to the method proposed by the Government themselves. The Leader of the House told us that the Government were going to propose a Court of Honour. Now the Court of Honour is unnecessary. We have a right to ask, as the late Prime Minister asked, what has occurred in the last forty-eight hours? The Prime Minister told us that he was going to let us into the secret of what had occurred in the last forty-eight hours. I would invite any hon. Member to tell us what is the secret which the Prime Minister let us into. He discovered, for the first time, that he had been subject to attacks by the cocoa Press. Cocoa slops, I understand, he says it is—an element Which used to be very congenial to him. It was grateful and comforting in the days of the land campaign, and even more grateful and comforting when the light hon. Gentleman had to answer before a Select Committee of this House, and before Gentlemen who now cheer him with such impartiality. It occurs to me that this may account for the right hon. Gentleman's objection to Select Committees. He has had a Select Committee into his veracity before. He has had a Report written upon it by his colleague the Minister for Blockade. It is on the records of this House.
Mr. PR INGLE
Yes, and I am discussing an alternative method to a proposal which the Government itself put forward for getting on with the War.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
The right hon. Gentleman has failed entirely to put forward a single reason in the whole course of his speech this afternoon to show that a Committee of this House is not an appropriate body for an inquiry of this kind.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
My hon. and gallant Friend has had a Court of Inquiry himself, at which he was heard, as well as the other people, although he was not represented by counsel. I know that is a grievance of his. The gentleman interested in this case is not here to be heard, and is not represented by counsel. Although the hon. Member complains of the Army Council methods, he is apparently willing to condemn General Maurice. I am not concerned with the personality of General Maurice. I am not concerned whether General Maurice's grandfather was a better democrat than the grandfather of the Prime Minister. All these things are perfectly irrelevant. After all, General Maurice is a distinguished gentleman who has rendered great service to his country in the course of this War. He has committed a breach of discipline, not unexampled in the history of the Army.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I do not say it does. General Maurice, at any rate, is prepared to take the consequences.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
He has said so. Ha has, with his eyes open, committed this breach because he believes it his duty to take the action he did in the interests of his country. He may be mistaken. At any rate, the Government thought his statements were so serious that they proposed an inquiry, and now, because the right hon. Member for East Fife proposes a Select Committee the inquiry which they suggested is withdrawn, and they are content to leave it to a vote of the House of Commons. What is the 2377 House of Commons? The House of Commons, according to its Leader, is a body from which cannot be selected five impartial men. It is a vote of this body, in the heat of Debate, without the documents, without the facts, without the evidence, which is being asked. We are fond of talking of English justice. We are understood to be fighting for justice, but there has never been a greater perversion of that English justice within these four walls than that which the Prime Minister invites the House to perpetrate to-day. And, with the Government Whips on. It is not a free vote.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I am coming to that. I am prepared to say something. With very few exceptions, Members of this House who have been appointed to act on Select Committees have acted with impartiality, in spite of the views they may hold on political questions. I am probably as keen and as biassed a partisan as there is in this House, but I have acted honestly. I have acted with men who have been life-long opponents of mine, men who regard me as an unfair opponent, but I am prepared to say that not one man who has sat with me on a Select Committee would state that I have acted in other than a judicial spirit, and I believe that what I can claim for myself, I can claim for every one of my colleagues. I believe that if a Member of the House of Commons is placed upon a Committee to decide a matter of fact, that, irrespective of the consequences to himself, and irrespective of his personal predelictions to the Prime Minister or anybody else he would bring a judicial mind to bear upon the facts. I believe that any Member of the House of Commons who was appointed to discharge this function would do it with a conscientious desire to arrive at the truth, and to make a report in the best interests of this country. What is this tribunal? It is not a tribunal on the facts; it is a tribunal on a vote of confidence in the Government, which is a deliberate evasion of the issue. What is this tribunal? A tribunal of 100 place men. They will get other Liberals into the Lobby—yes, Liberals who will not have Unionist opposition at the next election if they go into the Lobby.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
Yes, they have promised it. I am quite willing to have a Committee of two judges on that. For the purpose of this vote to-night the Government Whips are on. There are no Whips in a Select Committee. I thought the Foreign Secretary would have known that. He knows the considerations which enter into a Division in this House as well as any man, because he is probably the oldest man here. You have the Unionist party solid for the Government, not on the merits of the question—[An HON. MEMBER: "On the War ! "]—I would like to know how many Members of the Unionist War Committee believe in the Government's case on the merits. How many of them will stand up and say in this House that they believe in the justice of the Government's case?
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
We have had two Gentlemen giving vocal approbation. It is not on the merits that they are voting. It is because they are afraid to see the right hon. Member for East Fife Prime Minister, and that is why the Prime Minister has made this a vote of confidence. To make it a matter of confidence whether you are to have a tribunal of two judges or a tribunal of this House cannot be justified on any other grounds. The Prime Minister knows the grounds upon which he can appeal to the Tory phalanx who now support him. He knows that rightly or wrongly they distrust the late Prime Minister. He knows that. Let ministerial declarations be what they will, even if it be known to them that these declarations are inaccurate and untrue; he knows also that even if it can be proved to them that the Prime Minister has been concerned in negotiating with the Emperor Karl, even let it be known that he was in favour of the Stockholm Conference last year, let it be known that above all he has failed, failed miserably, in the promises which he made in December, 1916, when, with a loyalty which commands general admiration, he was able to oust his predecessor from 10, Downing Street—he will meet all these things because he knows that the alternative in the minds of Unionists is the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife, and he will get his vote from the Unionist party. That is the situation. It is a travesty of justice. It is a denial of justice. It is a deliberate attempt to break a gallant soldier, who has indeed 2379 broken the discipline of the Army, and to trample upon him in his absence. That is what the House is being asked to do. I do not think that, when the storm of this small controversy has passed over, and when the records which are now undisclosed become public property, the men who are going into the Lobby against this Motion to-night will feel an easy conscience. They may indeed preserve a Government, but it is a Government which has reduced this country to the lowest extremity in which it has ever stood at any period of its history, and to preserve such a Government they are denying justice.
§ Sir EDWARD CARSON
I only rise for the purpose of making a very few observations and, if I may respectfully do so, making an appeal to my right hon. Friend the Member for East Fife. When I came down to the House to-day I thought that the question which we would have to decide would be the alternative between two of His Majesty's judges inquiring into the question of the allegations of General Maurice or a Select Committee of this House. For my own part, as my Friends who left me yesterday will know, I determined to deprecate either course, but if I had to decide between an inquiry by two judges and an inquiry before a Select Committee of this House in relation to a matter affecting Ministers and the conduct of business in this House, I would prefer the Select Committee. I cannot conceive anything more ridiculous than submitting to the decision of His Majesty's judges the question whether the Prime Minister was or was not an honourable man. But I should like now, after the statement which we have heard, to ask the House to take stock of where we stand and to ask ourselves, are we really doing a service to this country and to the Alliance by continuing this Debate and getting into a heated atmosphere and a heated controversy?
I was astonished the day before yesterday when my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that the Government proposed to submit the questions of fact arising upon General Maurice's letter to any tribunal. Where does all that lead to? Look at the precedents you would be creating by having any such inquiry as this. If the Prime Minister and if Ministers are not able themselves to come down and assert their own veracity and be believed by this 2380 House, there is no longer a possibility of carrying on government or of having anything else but chaos in the administration of the government of this country. I accept entirely what the right hon. Gentleman opposite said, that if he were himself impeaching the veracity of Ministers it would be his duty to do so openly and boldly by a vote of censure and not by the side-wind of a tribunal alternative to the tribunal put forward by the Prime Minister. But now that the question of an inquiry by the judges is gone—and I am glad that it is gone—I appeal to my right hon. Friend, Does he really mean to go on and insist on an inquiry before a Committee of this House? Anything more disastrous I cannot contemplate. Are we in the middle of this War, are we on the eve of probably the greatest battle of the War, solemnly to summon up generals to give evidence against our Ministers and Ministers to give evidence against our generals? Are we to summon back, at a moment of the greatest gravity, the late Secretary of State for War, now our Ambassador in Paris to tell us his accounts of these things? Are we to set into confusion the whole relations between the civil Government and the military, organisation who are fighting our battles at the Front? It is impossible, and if you enter upon an inquiry of this kind, where are you to end?
We had something of it from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, as to the pressure, the proper pressure, from their point of view, brought by the French about our taking over their lines. I remember these matters in the Cabinet. They raised very delicate and very difficult questions as between two democracies, each claiming according to its lights and according to its own pressure the rearrangement and regulation of the share to be taken by each in the conduct of the War. Is all that to be gone into? Are our relations in that respect with the French to be gone into? Are we to have gone into questions of who is to be believed on the civil side and who is to be believed on the military side? What is to be the end of it? Let us get rid of this question at once. I appeal to my right hon. Friend to whom, I think, the Government and everybody else have always given the credit of acting in an absolutely patriotic way upon every occasion, both when he was Prime Minister and since he became Leader of the Opposition. I appeal to him and ask, 2381 Does he really think—and I am sure that the House will be greatly guided by his advice—that anything is to be gained, now that we have the whole statement made, by persisting in going on with this Motion? How can you get on with it with any profit? We have got the statement of the Government. There is no way of bringing forward any other statement. We are bound to accept the statement of the Government, unless we are prepared to challenge them as a Government. Therefore, I say in the interests of the War, in the interests of the dignity of this House, in the interests of the relations between the civil and military powers, and above all things, as an example to the people of this country who are going through a very trying time, let us close up our ranks.
§ Brigadier-General CROFT
I regret very much personally that I cannot agree that this Debate should end at this moment, although I agree with almost every word which has been said by the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. Our great troubles arise from the fact that the Prime Minister speaks out too readily, and in consequence makes many statements which are not understood quite in the way that he means when he puts them forward. There are only three points in regard to General Maurice's letter which, it seems to me, we must consider. I will deal with a small point first—that of the divisions in Mesopotamia and Egypt. When the Prime Minister in this House told us that he was not dissipating the forces of the British Empire in the East he deliberately stated the number of divisions in Mesopotamia and Egypt in order to show that those white troops had not been sent to these distant theatres of war. I believe that he was absolutely accurate in that statement, but he was, in fact, bluffing the House of Commons. The divisions had either been moved or were in process of being moved, and he ought to have in-formed the House of the full facts instead of leaving the House to believe that only that number of divisions had ever been sent to these distant theatres of war. It has been said by the hon. Member (Mr. Pringle) that we are crushing General Maurice in this House. General Maurice must be crushed. He has taken a step which be knows perfectly well must be the absolute closing of his military career. He has done it with his eyes open. I have no doubt he did it honourably, thinking 2382 that it was his duty. He will be punished, but ho did it with his eyes open, and I believe that he would be the last to suggest, as the hon. Gentleman did, that we should refuse to go on with this discussion until we heard his case. He knew exactly where he stood, and he has to take the consequences; otherwise discipline in the Army would be impossible.
Two points arise in connection with this matter for consideration. First of all, there is the question of superiority of manpower, and upon that I should like to know whether the Prime Minister took into account the German divisions in the interior and en route from the East? In making this statement to the House he referred to the two armies as being practically equally balanced in regard to the troops concentrated on the one side or the other in readiness. We all know that you cannot suddenly draw divisions from one part of the line to send to another part of the line, and the two opposing lines, ordinarily speaking, were taken to be about equal, with troops concentrated behind them ready to be immediately used where the enemy attacked—that is to say, the German Armies and our Armies were about equal in strength, and that we had to consider a great potential concentration of divisions which could be thrown against our Armies. I have not uttered one word of criticism of the Prime Minister since he became head of the Government, for it seems to me immaterial whether the present Prime Minister holds that position or anyone else. All we want is someone to go on with the War and to win the War. The Prime Minister has many great qualities for winning the War, but if he wishes to use those qualities to the greatest advantage he must not try to bluff the House of Commons, but must take us more fully into his confidence, and also the country more fully into his confidence. What could be the only reason for his coming here and suggesting that the British Army was only likely to contend with equal forces? It could only have been to exonerate himself from the fact that he had neglected to provide a greater force of man-power that was essential to meet the offensive, if and whenever that took place. I would ask the Leader of the House whether the military advisers of the Government failed to tell the Prime Minister that the loss of the Russian Armies from the Allied strength meant that there were 2383 1,000,000 or 2,000,000 of Germanic troops freed to be used against the Allies? We all know that the Prime Minister is busy. He has to consider a great many questions, such as the nationalisation of the liquor trade, education, Home Rule, franchise, reform of the House of Lords, and all those other questions; we know that he is very busy with all those things, but even if that be the case, he ought to have found time to consider this vital fact of the War, namely, that 5,000,000 Allied soldiers had gone out of the fight, and that 2,000,000 Germanic troops were freed and ready to come to the Western Front, making, to use Parliamentary phraseology, 7,000,000 on a division. The right hon. Gentleman obviously did not himself cover all those shortcomings, in trying to prove that the two Armies were equal, when he knew that this great avalanche from the East must inevitably be hurled against the Western Front.
In regard to the strength of the British Army, I think the Prime Minister made an admirably technical speech, from the point of view of the House of Commons, but there arc one or two considerations which seem to me to have been entirely ignored. Is it not the fact that the British brigades were reduced from four to three battalions? Does not that mean, at any rate, that the British establishment was decreased by one-fourth, while, at the same time, a very large force was detached and sent to Italy? Is if seriously contended, therefore, that the British Army had an equality of fighting units in January, 1918, as compared with January, 1917? The Prime Minister talks about the strength of our Armies, but I wonder, when he makes a comparison between 1917 and 1918, it he remembered the fact that the British Army had taken over a large tract of country in the North as well as a very large tract of country in the South: in other words, that whilst our Armies were reduced in strength as a fighting force, they took over more ground? I quite agree that it is important to have a reserve of men for labour for the proper supply and equipment of our Armies, but we must also recollect that the Germans have got their reserves in the shape of the forced labour of enslaved people, and when while you say it is necessary to have more labour, and so forth, you should also bear in mind that so many more thousands of men are required—especially in view of 2384 the decreased battalions and the force sent to Italy—to meet the German bayonets coming from the East to the West Front. The situation was, at the time of the Prime Minister's statement, that our battalions had been reduced by one-fourth, whilst a large force had been dispatched to Italy, and yet at the same time reduced British forces were called upon to take over some 40 or 50 miles of extra frontage from the French. I submit that our Army, instead of being decreased by one-fourth should have been increased by one-fifth, in order to counterbalance the great and sudden accession of strength to the German armies.
I next wish to deal with the extension of the British front. The Leader of the House told us that this particular matter was not dealt with at all by the Versailles War Council. The whole point is this, no alteration of this kind could possibly have taken place, involving as it did the distribution of such important Allied forces, without a decision being given by some higher authority. If the Versailles Council did not decide this extension of our front, it is clear that our War Cabinet must have decided the matter, or there must have been some high authority who did. On the face of it it seems to me that the decision must have come from some high authority. We have heard it said to-day that the change made was a question for the French. It is clear and obvious, I imagine, that Sir Douglas Haig was to talk over the adjustment of the line, and was told to fix up with the French Commander-in-Chief how much was to be taken, though I presume some guidance was given to him. It is perfectly obvious that he could not disobey; he had no alternative except resignation, and very likely that might have been the proper course for him to take. I do not know, I have not the remotest idea; all I can say is that I conceive that if he thought of resigning, he would reflect that another Commander-in-Chief would be put in his place who would only be appointed on his consenting to the change in the front, and that, therefore, his resignation could not have helped the Army very much at that time. Personally, I have no reason to be biassed in favour of the Army or the Commander-in-Chief, but, having heard the statements of the Prime Minister in this House, I think it is only fair that the facts should be made known, and, for that reason, I am going 2385 to make one or two statements on this subject, after having worked out on the map what I think actually happened.
The Fifth Army already holding a two corps front took over the French frontage of two additional corps, and, from information I collected from those who took part in various engagements, that was some time before20th February, only one month before the 21st of March. It is our duty to remember that fact. Supposing the length of the French frontage taken over was 48,000 yards; that would have taken at least twelve divisions with two in reserve, fourteen divisions in all—the actual strength of the Fifth Army. How came it about that our Fifth Army had to take over this enormous extension of front? We must ask that question. Did the Commander-in-Chief protest, or did the General Officer Commanding the Army protest, and did that protest ever reach the Cabinet, or were they in any way overruled by a desire to maintain international courtesy. If the Fifth Army had to take over this largely increased front, it would have been, of course, impossible to have weakened our strength in any other part of the line; and I want to know who is responsible for giving the Fifth Army, with fourteen division, the longest line of all the British Armies and the smallest force? How did that situation come about? The whole question comes to one of general policy as between ourselves and our French Allies. I myself most readily appreciate what has been said with regard to the difficulty of discussing this question. One has to be as careful as it is possible to be, but at the same time you must remember that our first duty in this House is to our own country, and therefore we ought to look at this question finally from our own point of view. Germany has always been the strongest per mile frontage, as the Prime Minister to-night admitted, opposite the British Front. It is not really a comparison to say that the British have only 130 miles of front, whereas the French frontage is very much larger than that, apart altogether from the fact that the French have room to bend whilst we have no room at all. I give way to no man in ardent admiration of our French Allies. It was my great good fortune, for something like seven months, to be in the actual unit where the two Armies joined, and I have seen too much of them ever to forget what the comradeship of the French means to the 2386 British Army. But I have the impression, and others have the impression, that our Prime Minister has been too wont, in the past, always to give way to our Allies. I have no doubt it comes from great courtesy and politeness, but that idea does prevail. We have only to look all through history to see that human nature is human nature in this matter, and it is perfectly obvious, when two nations are fighting together, that one nation will always do all it possibly can, with a degree of fairness, to put the burden on to their Allies. It is historical, and, after all, it is human nature. But we have to remember' in this House that we are carrying additional burdens as well as this frontage in France. We have to remember also our sea power, without which our Allies could not go on at all: and one has no hesitation in speaking frankly on this subject for the simple reason that we can, thank God, say that there never has been any nation in the world whose sons have died in such great numbers on the soil of a friendly Power as has been the case with our men in France.
The strategical fact is that, whereas the French can afford to retire on almost any single part of their front, with the exception possibly of Montdiddier, where the present line is—I do not include the question of Paris—if there is a retirement of the British to any extent, we retire into the sea, and then the calamity is just as great for our French Allies as for ourselves. Therefore I hope we shall try and remember that fact, and that it is not the length of front but the depth you have got in which to move which is really the decisive factor in this matter. The Germans know all about that. Did our War Cabinet? We know the Army cannot have asked to takeover a further front, and that the suggestion must have come from a higher quarter. We are entitled to ask, Is the Cabinet always taking the advice, so far as it possibly can, of those who really do realise the perils of any alteration in this system? I wish to make no criticism of the unity of command. It is an idea which is obviously sound. But if it means that the whole of the reserves of the two Armies are concentrated behind one Army, then we must admit that there is a danger. It is not good that there serves of both Armies should be concentrated on one part of the line. In other words, the two Armies ought to have their own reserves behind them. Neither is it good for British 2387 reserves to support the French Army, nor for French reserves to support the British Army. Right through the smallest formations, all our teaching tells us that it is troops of the same character which ought to be the reserves of the troops engaged in front; otherwise it must lead to confusion and misunderstanding, and it might even lead to mutual recrimination where, in the past, there has been such wonderful comradeship between British and French formations.
It seems the sound policy that the French should hold a continuous line of their own, and that the British should hold a continuous line of their own; and that there should not be, unless it is impossible to avoid it, any mixing up of units. The reserves of each Army should be behind their own Army, ready to be concentrated under an Allied commander when the direction of the offensive of the enemy has been ascertained. If this policy had been pursued, I believe that the Fifth Army would not have had to have retired to such an extent. The reserves were a long time coming, and if the two Reserve Armies—French and British—had been rapidly converged under the command of the Commander-in-Chief of the French Army, you must have stopped them before they got back to so many parts of the old Somme line. To suggest, with the increased frontage that we had to take over, that we had as many men in January, 1918, as we had in January, 1917, is surely absurd. To suggest that our Army, in view of its commitments with regard to this new frontage, was in any way comparable, and after this great force had gone to Italy, is surely ridiculous. If I might quote an old phrase, I do not think that all the country is going to be fooled all the time with this statement with regard to manpower. It is much better to confess our mistakes, and try to do more wisely in the future.
Many of us have been placed in a very awkward predicament by the Debate to-day. If we vote for the Motion of the right hon. Member for East Fife we are really voting for something which might turn into a second Marconi farce. We cannot get away from that fact. It is no good howling at the Leader of the House because he suggested that possibly it might not be impartial. Members of the Liberal party and members of the Unionist 2388 party in this House are the most partial people in the world, because they are absolutely and fundamentally divided, and the man who sits on that bench is regarded as a very great hero, or there verse, as the case may be. Consequently, it is not the best tribunal before which to bring this matter. So far as a few of us are concerned, we could only support a Select Committee to inquire into the veracity of Ministers, if the reference were widened so as to include the statements of the late Prime Minister, at Newcastle in 1915, with regard to shells. We cannot demand veracity from one Prime Minister, without demanding it from all Prime Ministers. There ought to be the same standard in this House, and the right hon. Member for East Fife is quite the last person who ought to have tabled a Motion such as this. "Whosoever is without sin, let him throw the first stone." I think we might apply that to the right hon. Gentleman. To vote for the Government, on the other hand, on this question, so far as I am concerned, is absolutely impossible. I could not vote for the Government. I shall have to regard the case as not proven, and I walk out of the House.
For all that, I hope the right hon. Member for East Fife is not going to proceed with this Motion because, if you are going to have the opinions of the country distracted by the kind of inquiry we naturally shall have with a Select Committee, I cannot see how it is going to help to win the War. Does not this Debate bring home to us the fact that the War Cabinet is so busy with every other question in the world that it really has not time to look after the affairs of the Army and the Fleet? Has the time not come when the Prime Minister realises that the faith of the country is very much shaken in him—and even the faith of men like myself, who have backed him from the start, and have never said one word against him? We cannot neglect the fact that the confidence of the country is shaken. Why not face that fact? Why not forget the old devices of parties, where you cannot shed a Minister for fear of hurting the party, and why not bring into the War Cabinet four independent men of experience, whom the country can trust, who can be relied on to keep their eyes solely on this one issue of victory, and who, if the Government neglect the major issues of the. War, can be relied to go out as one man? We may be told that by not supporting the Government we may be imperilling their fate. I think our answer 2389 must be that we are not afraid of a change of Government, and we refuse to believe that if the Prime Minister fell either the House or the country would tolerate his replacement as Prime Minister by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife. The thing seems to me too monstrous. We stigmatise as ridiculous the suggestion that, in this great, wide Empire, there are only two men—one a Prime Minister who seems to be inclined to try and fall over a precipice, and the other a Prime Minister who has fallen over the precipice—when you have men like Sir Robert Borden, General Smuts, and Mr. Hughes—[Some laughter]—who has really understood the German danger from the start, and whose policy we have had to imitate in many ways. Mr. Hughes may not be a friend of the hon. Gentleman, but he has got a vigorous grasp of the German canker, and he has rooted out the German metal influence from Australia. You want men like that. If you can find someone else but the great Australian statesman, let him come. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why not an Englishman?"] Yes, indeed, why not an Englishman? It is ridiculous to say that in the whole of England there is only the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife and the present Prime Minister. It is absurd that you cannot look outside this House. We are too much inclined to think that we, the 670 Members of this House, are the only people in the British Empire fit to run the War. We did not come here to win the War; we were elected on every other issue. Cannot we look outside our ranks and find a man who really can—without always wondering what is going to happen over Home Rule, education, and other questions, with which we have no right to distract the country at present—find new vision, new ideas and determination to see the country through?
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
I am rather inclined to think that the speech which the hon. and gallant Member has just made is the most instructive and useful delivered in the course of this Debate. He, at any rate, appears to know a great deal about these matters, much more than I profess to do. He said, in a tone which was never that of a partisan, and always appeared to be governed by a desire to be perfectly fair, much that was very relevant, very instructive and interesting. I listened to the Prime Minister's very brilliant speech earlier in the afternoon, but I cannot help 2390 thinking that it was a much more effective speech as an attack on General Maurice than as a defence of the Government. He made several points, which were both weighty and important against General Maurice—that he did not go to the Government and raise the point privately, and the like. But, obviously, an attack on General Maurice was not quite what we wanted in this House, and what the great majority of Members and the great body of opinion outside wanted. What we want to know is not whether General Maurice has behaved well or badly—though that is of great interest to those personally concerned about him—but the facts about the transactions to which he drew attention in the course of his letter. The Prime Minister, so far as he dealt with that, assumed a bewildering variety of roles. Sometimes he was a prisoner on his defence, and made out a claim to our indulgence; sometimes he was the judge pronouncing on the case; sometimes he was prosecuting counsel prosecuting General Maurice; and then he was the principal witness in his own defence. We all recognise, what the right hon. Member for Trinity College said, with so much force, how difficult and how undesirable an inquiry would be. But, of all the forms of inquiry, the least desirable seems to me that of the Prime Minister, sitting alone in judgment upon himself, selecting the evidence, reviewing it, and ultimately pronouncing himself clear and acquitted from all blame. The Prime Minister's speech, taking the form of an attack on General Maurice, really puts the Government, I think, and the House, in a certain difficulty. My hon. and gallant Friend most truly said that, so far as the breach of discipline goes, there is no defence possible for General Maurice. Of course, the case against him in that respect is overwhelming, and, indeed; General Maurice admits it on the face of his letter. But the Prime Minister added a good many other things which are not breaches of the King's Regulations. It was, in short, as I say, an attack upon General Maurice. It does not seem to me a very desirable thing to make an attack upon a man who is necessarily not present, while, at the same time, you are refusing an inquiry. It seems to me that if the right hon. Gentleman felt an inquiry was impossible and unreasonable, he ought to have assumed a strictly judicial tone in dealing with him, and only commented 2391 on his conduct in so far as it was necessary for making his defence. No one listening to his speech can say he eliminated himself to that degree.
I do not propose to follow my hon. and gallant Friend in the interesting review he gave of the military side. I hope it will be properly reported. I am sure it ought to be, and that it will be very valuable if his speech is read side by side with that of the Prime Minister, because he showed a considerable grasp of the subject, and what he said ought to be considered by the side of what the Prime Minister said. I should like to say one word as to what the hon. and gallant Gentleman said in conclusion, and what the Prime Minister said at the conclusion of his speech. The Prime Minister made a very strong appeal to the House to stop what he called "sniping." The Prime Minister is an expert in the use of colloquial English for rhetorical purposes, but I understand by that he means we should not have perpetually recurring this sort of Parliamentary sensations, when the Government is supposed to be in danger, or, at any rate, is severely criticised outside, and there is an exciting Debate and a peroration about the great danger of a German attack, the critical nature of the moment, closing our ranks, and all the rest of it. We want to get rid of that atmosphere. We also certainly want to get rid of such a state of feeling, such a mental atmosphere that makes it possible for a distinguished general like General Maurice to break the King's Regulations in defiance of military discipline. We want to do that, but does it not all show that there is something amiss, something lying deeper than General Maurice's idiosyncrasies, or any particular circumstances arising out of the Debates in this House? Is it not, as the hon. and gallant Member indicated, that the Government are losing credit and the confidence of the country?
I ventured in the columns of a newspaper earlier in the year to bring before the country, to the best of my ability, the suggestion that what we really wanted was a Government that had a larger measure of national confidence than the present Government, and I wanted it, as I said then, because if they took great decisions on military policy and quarrelled with some of their leading military advisers, they hardly had the strength to take such action. I think everything 2392 that has happened since shows I was right. It is very right and just to blame people for breaking the King's Regulations, but it does not happen in the case of a Government which has a great body of national opinion behind it. It would not have happened to this Government twelve months ago, or to the Government of the right hon. Gentleman opposite at the beginning of the War. At those periods there was a great body of national confidence behind the Government which rendered all such things out of the question. If we have these recurring crises, if we have what the Prime Minister called "sniping," those are external marks that the confidence of the House and the country is going away from the Government. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I do not mean to say that the Government has lost confidence to an extent that not a single Member of the House will support it. I should not say anything so extravagant. But I say it has much less of the confidence of the House than it used to have, and to speak with absolute candour, I say that the principal thing that keeps the Government in office is the fear that if it went out of office we should have the right hon. Gentleman opposite and a partisan Liberal Ministry in power. I have not that fear myself, but there is not the least doubt that that is what really keeps the Government in office.
Now, I am quite certain a Government that is in the position of encountering recurring crises of this kind, which has to have recourse—I am not complaining; is is the ordinary Parliamentary method—to all sorts of dexterous speaking, adroit manœuvring, preparations in the Press for the Debate and all the rest of it, and which is finally kept in power much less by its own merits than by the supposed defects of its own alternative—when the Government has got to that point, it is not capable of leading the country in time of war as the country ought to be led. I am quite sure, like my hon. and gallant Friend, that it is untrue to suppose there is only the choice between two right hon. Gentlemen in the whole country for the office of Prime Minister. But supposing I am wrong, and that there is only the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister or a partisan Liberal Ministry, evidently a partisan Ministry could not endure a week or a fortnight in this matter. Bodies of opinion are now broken up, but we can gauge for ourselves their strength, and it is quite certain that a Government abso- 2393 lutely dependent on Liberal support could not endure. But I put this to the Government. If they were in effect to say, "There is a great crisis coming on in the War, and for the moment we can think of nothing else," of course I would bow at once to that. They must be the judges while in office what the national requirements are, but I do earnestly appeal to them not to cling to office. I see in his place my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. I am sure he remembers the years 1904 and 1905. Do not let the Government in war-time repeat what was even in peace-time an error of judgment. Do not let them go on in office after they have lost the necessary amount of national support. Let them lay down their office, and let it be tried by a Government with a large measure of national support if it can be found. If it cannot—[An HON. MEMBER "It cannot!"]— then, of course, the present Prime Minister would be entitled to say, when the Sovereign called upon him to resume office, "If I am to resume office, I must have the assurance that I shall enjoy in future the support that is necessary." He would then come back to office with really that body of support which a Prime Minister ought to have in war-time. But if things are going on as they are now, it is no use the Prime Minister making appeals at the conclusion of his speeches or for the "Times" to say, "There must be an end of it." There will not be an end of it; it will happen over and over again. The Government are themselves demoralised by it. They are partly thinking of their own preservation when they should be wholly thinking of the conduct of the War. It injures the national unity, which must of all things be maintained if we are to carry the War to a victorious conclusion. I do, therefore, earnestly put it to the Government that the moment they become convinced in their own mind they have not that great body of national support, without which a Government is useless in time of war, that they will lay down their office and let it be tried whether a stronger Government cannot be formed.
§ Colonel ARCHER-SHEE
I only wish to offer a few remarks giving the reason why I do not intend to support the Government this afternoon. I think, so far as the accusations of General Maurice are concerned, the Prime Minister, as regards one allegation about the numbers of troops in Egypt and Palestine, has admitted, I think, that there bad been a mis- 2394 take, but he said that the fault was that of General Maurice. It was not very clear, from the statement of the Prime Minister, whether, in alluding to the question of the extension of our lines on the Western Front, he said that the whole of that extension had been carried out before the Versailles Council decided upon it or whether only part of it had been carried out. Of course, as the hon. and gallant Member said, there were 18,000 yards taken over in January from the French, and a further 30,000 yards taken over in February. The further extension, therefore, was after the date at which, as I understood the Prime Minister, he said the Council at Versailles had taken place. Whatever may be the exact truth of these allegations of General Maurice, I do not think that is the real question at issue. There are very few Members of this House who believe that Ministers intentionally made any false statement, but the cumulative effect of the statements of members of the War Cabinet since 9th April has been this, that they shouldered off the blame for the reverse which took place on the 21st March and put that blame upon the Army. They made a scapegoat of General Gough. They refuse to allow the Report upon the withdrawal of the Fifth Army to be expedited and published as soon as possible.
It is for that reason, because they have, in my opinion, fixed the blame upon the Army and refused to take the blame themselves, that I, for one, do not intend to support them so long as the present War Cabinet is constituted as it is. The blame having been put on the Fifth Army, all our Allies and the whole world believe that the Fifth British Army withdrew under circumstances which were not, at any rate, altogether creditable. The War Cabinet, who had not provided the necessary reinforcements for the Army, have not shown the slightest sign of taking any sort of blame for that withdrawal. Nor have they even been generous enough to publish to the world what is known perfectly well to the Germans, what has been published even in the papers in this country, that that British Army was attacked by an overwhelming force—something like fifty-one German divisions to fourteen British divisions; further, that that Army had to withdraw in order to meet its reserves, which did not come forward for many days after the attack took place. Yet nothing has been done by any member of the War Cabinet, so far as I have seen, 2395 to take the blame off the Army and take some of that blame themselves. The result of that is that the stigma remains upon the Army in the eyes of our Allies and the whole world at the present time, when it should have been upon the War Cabinet, and I submit that the Prime Minister to-day has given conclusive proof, if any were wanted, that the War Cabinet are themselves to blame for the reverse which happened to the Fifth Army on the 21st March. It was said in September last—so long ago as that—that our Government was consulting with the French as to the extension of the line. The War Cabinet must have known of that extension, and that we should have to provide a greater reserve. Was any step taken? Not until the reverse took place. That shows, to my mind—what we did not know before—that as long ago as September, the Cabinet were contemplating an extension of the line, and when that extension took place what any soldier must have known took effect. There were no proper reserves available to support that extended line, with the result that when the heavy attack came we suffered a disaster, or, at any rate, if not a disaster, a very serious reverse the like of which we have never suffered in our history. For these reasons I, for one, do not intend to support the Government so long as the War Cabinet is constituted as it is.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
My Noble Friend and my hon. and gallant Friend who last spoke seemed to me to discuss points which are not really at the present time before the House. They have discussed various alterations in the Government. My Noble Friend appealed to the Government not to stay after they were convinced that they had not the confidence or support of this House. Several different questions have been put before the House—as to whether or not a primâ facie case had been made out by General Maurice for an inquiry into the statements of two of His Majesty's Ministers, and so on. I am not prepared as a Member of this House to grant an inquiry to every general who makes an accusation of any kind against His Majesty's Ministers. That of course, is perfectly clear. I think, also, it is quite clear that no officer in the Army is entitled to write such a letter as that written by General Maurice unless he had absolutely overwhelming proof of the correctness of his statements, and unless there was, in 2396 fact, very little to be said on behalf of His Majesty's Government. I came down to this House without any preconceived opinion on this matter. Those of my colleagues, members of the Unionist War Committee to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Trinity College referred, know quite well that yesterday afternoon I took no part in the Debate there, because I desired to hear what the Prime Minister had to say here. I thought it monstrous that I, or any other Member, should condemn unheard His Majesty's Ministers in a matter of this kind. I was almost overwhelmed when I read General Maurice's letter. I admit that I do not suppose for one moment that he would have written that letter except under a grave sense of responsibility, and that the letter would be such that there was practically no answer to it on the part of His Majesty's Ministers. I say at once that if the Prime Minister this afternoon had merely discussed the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife as to whether there should be a Select Committee or two judges to inquire into that letter, I should, without hesitation, have voted for the Select Committee. On the other hand, the Prime Minister did what I think nearly every other Member of this House, and certainly most people outside this House, would be glad of—he took the bull by the horns, and, instead of giving his answer before two judges or a Select Committee, he gave his answer—where I think it ought to have been given—that is, to the House of Commons itself.
I merely rose to say that I came down to the House with an open mind. The House knows that I have been, from time to time, a critic, and perhaps not a very friendly critic, of the Government. I listened to every word of the speech of the Prime Minister, and I say at once that the Prime Minister has made such an answer to General Maurice that the latter is not entitled to any further inquiry. General Maurice wrote not as a soldier, but as a citizen. He chose to come out into the political arena with a charge against the Government. It was a charge of a political character, not of a military character. That charge has been answered this afternoon by the Prime Minister. Speaking as a mere ordinary Member of this House, I say here, and I believe the public outside will agree with me, that the Prime Minister has answered the charge made by General Maurice, and that we in this House do say that any general who 2397 makes charges of this kind, unless he is able to make a very much stronger case than has been put forward in the letter, and in face of the overwhelming reply of the Prime Minister, is not entitled to any further inquiry. In conclusion, may I say one word? Might I say that I think if the Prime Minister and the Government realised that the House was open to hear their case it would be better? The country desire to hear their case. If in the future they treat the House with a little more candour and freedom, they will find their course much easier, and there will not be charges such as those made by General Maurice or any other disgruntled generals.
§ Mr. SPENCER HUGHES and Colonel WEDGWOOD rose—[HON. MEMBERS: "Divide, divide! "]
§ Mr. HUGHES
I will not stand between hon. Members and a Division for more than a minute. I have listened to this Debate with very considerable interest. Some very remarkable statement have been made. For instance, the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Christchurch has suggested that what the Government wanted was an addition to the War Cabinet of three or four military gentlemen. He is one Gentleman answering to that description The Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University explained, with almost pathetic earnestness, that there were other hon. Members beside the Prime Minister and the late Prime Minister who could fill the important office of Prime Minister with advantage. He may have alluded to himself, and I am willing to welcome him there. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Christchurch also said that we ought to expect veracity from the Prime Minister and the late Prime Minister. He seemed to draw the line there. The rest of us, I suppose, have a free hand—or a free tongue. The only part of the question before the House that interests me is the question of truth. It is not the, military side of the matter, because I know nothing about military affairs, as to whether or not the line is too long or too short; that is a matter about which I express no. opinion whatever. When we are come to the point as to whether Ministers are, or should be, always expected to tell the absolute and the whole truth, I do not care which Minister it is, whether in this or any other Government—I have my own views. I say 2398 that if you can have a scientist inventing a machine, which might be called a Mental X-ray Machine, to discover what was in the mind of a man, apart from what he says, no Government and no political party would last for five minutes. I am certain of that! When you hear one distinguished man allude to another as his right hon. Friend, perhaps following this up with some eulogy, you can see, I think, or realise, what is in the mind of that man—and it is very illuminating indeed !
What is truth? There are many different forms of truth. I have been mixed up with journalism for some quarter of a century, so naturally I have looked into the subject. The schoolmen, I think, recognise at least twelve distinct forms of truth. There may be a great many more. There is truth in its complex form, in its contingent form, gospel truth—which is perhaps not much known amongst many—material, subjective, physical, pure, transcendental, and so on. If we cannot tell the truth in one of these various ways—if we cannot blunder into it in some sort of fashion—the more's the pity. Official truth is not mentioned by the schoolmen. It is supposed to involve a contradiction in terms. Complex truth is often heard in this House—complex truth as it exists in the mind, as distinct from reality. Even so, there is a distinction between reality and a statement which may be honestly believed by the man who makes it. Contingent truth is another phase of the world of politics. It is truth that is not absolute but contingent on something else. We often hear a man accused of saying that black is white. When challenged he will reply, "I may have said that, but you must read what I have said in the light of the context." That truth is contingent on something else. Formal truth is another aspect. It is agreement with possibility, a possibility outreaching even formal truth. If one were to say that he could put a quart into a pint pot, that would be a formal untruth. [HON. MEMBERS: "Divide, divide!"] Some people seem to regret that. You may bring any charge you like against a public man in keeping with possibility and it would be formally true. I think we have had too many charges made against public men—about their truthfulness, and so forth. I say let us, so far as we can, back up any Government that will go on with winning the War. That has been my policy during the first Government, the second Government, and the third 2399 Government. I am prepared to follow that course. I do so without throwing any aspersions on those who used to hold office, and for whom I have a very high regard. While not in the least reflecting upon them, I say at the present moment that our duty is to see that this Government should have all the support it can have to keep it going right and to keep it from going wrong.
§ Mr. HEMMERDE
In two or three words—[HON. MEMBERS: "Divide!"]—I desire to second the appeal that has been made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dublin University. I do hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for East Fife will not press this Motion to a division. I came down here with my mind absolutely unmade up on the question. I am bound to say, however, having read carefully the charges made by General Maurice, and having heard the answer of the Prime Minister, that I cannot conceive of anybody voting that-any public inquiry should be opened into the matter. I heard it stated by the Prime Minister that General Maurice, after leaving office, made these charges without ever having made a complaint to him personally. I think, therefore, while asking for a public inquiry into these charges, he has put himself absolutely out of court. When I find the Prime Minister bringing forward certain written evidence in support of his statements, I ask myself whether there is any primâ facie case here at all for a public inquiry "which would be at the present time not only an intolerable nuisance, but, in my opinion, a public danger. I resent what was said by the Chancellor of the Exchequer about people in this House not being able to decide matters judicially. I do not believe there is any question you can find which five members of any party in this House are not prepared to give absolute judicial consideration to. I am bound to say that I think he approached this subject with some prejudice, because the right hon. Gentleman himself was attacked. Having been in this House a certain number of years with him, it would certainly have surprised me very much to have been asked to believe that he had ever wilfully made a false statement in this House. I say the same in relation to the Prime Minister. I cannot emulate the humours of other speakers, because I think this is a most serious occasion. Two men whose minds are absolutely given up to the War. 2400 and one of whom has suffered deeply in the War, are charged with a most odious offence—that of having misled the House of Commons. We are told by political friends of mine that we cannot support the Government to-day unless we are prepared to be opposed at the next General Election by busy Whips. I resent that sort of argument as an impertinence at all times, and I can only say that busy Whips never come near me on those occasions. Whatever my leaders do on the present occasion, I find it perfectly impossible under the circumstances to think that the general has made out any case for a public inquiry. If there were an inquiry, I should prefer the Committee of the House of Commons, but I do not think there is any need for an inquiry at the present time. I do not think that any real primâ facie case has been made out, so far as one can gather from the ex-parte statement of the Prime Minister—and you can often get a very fair idea from an ex-parte statement, if you have any notion of weighing evidence and gauging probabilities. In my opinion, to turn aside the Prime Minister's attention from the conduct of the War at its very crisis, unless we are absolutely certain that what has been done in defiance of all rule of military government has been done on overwhelming evidence, would be an act of folly and criminal madness.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
Hon. Members abjure us to divide, but the serried ranks of Conservative Members ought to have some little sympathy with unfortunate Members of the Liberal party. Here are we with our vote balancing first on one foot and then on the other. Three times to-day I have changed my mind as to how I should vote. I watched the Bench opposite with an agonised eye all the afternoon, hoping to see some of my former leaders rise and tell me what I ought to do. I do not want to have a special inquiry into the Prime Minister's conduct. It is the last thing I want. When it is a question of civilian against the military, the pressure of the public is always so largely directed against the unfortunate civilian that it becomes the duty of everyone who loves to be in a minority to support that civilian. But, however much I may be against the Motion that is proposed by the Leader of the Opposition to-day, however much I may regret, as on previous occasions, his backing-up the "red tabs" 2401 against the civilians, I must say when I hear from the other side, that is, from the Prime Minister, that a vote on this is going to be a Vote of Censure on the Government, I am strongly tempted to rejoin my old Friends on the bench opposite. I, like the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University, have very little confidence, indeed, in the present Government, and I think that a change would be extremely desirable. I do not know whether I can add to any of the reasons given by the Noble Lord. I share all his reasons for thinking a change is desirable. I have others of my own. It seems to me the Ministry over which the Prime Minister presides is getting too strong for him, and it is becoming too strongly biassed in all those Conservative directions that I most seriously distrust. It is not merely my Friends on the Front Bench. It is the power behind the Front Bench. I am getting ever more terrified of round tables, with their agencies spreading out through the garden city. [HON. MEMBERS: "Divide!"] They are the danger spot at the present time. It comes to this—on the one hand I must vote against the Motion of the right hon. Member for East Fife, but, on the other hand, I am extremely desirous of registering a vote
§ against the Government at the present time. Is it possible that we may have some little light or leading from the Front Bench opposite? I see there my right hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Runciman), and I hope he will give some light to Members like myself, who are sorry that the Liberal party has taken up this particular case, but who would be glad to see them in power once more.
§ Mr. BILLING rose—
§ Colonel ANSTRUTHER-GRAY rose in his place, and claimed to move "That the Question be now put."
§ Question put accordingly, "That a Select Committee of this House be appointed to inquire into the allegations of incorrectness in certain Statements of Ministers of the Crown to this House, contained in a letter of Major-General Maurice, late Director of Military Operations, published in the Press on the 7th day of May."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 106; Noes, 293.2405
|Division No. 40.]||AYES.||[7.21 p.m.|
|Adkins, Sir W. Ryland D.||Herbert, Hon. A. (Somerset, S.)||Richardson, Thomas (Whitehaven)|
|Allen, Arthur A. (Dumbartonshire)||Hill, Sir James (Bradford, C.)||Robertson, Rt. Hon. John M.|
|Anderson, W. C.||Hobhouse, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles E. H,||Robinson, Sidney|
|Arnold, Sydney||Hogge, James Myles||Roch, Walter F. (Pembroke)|
|Asquith, Rt. Hon. Herbert Henry||Holmes, Daniel Turner||Rowntree, Arnold|
|Baker, Rt. Hon. Harold T. (Accrington)||Holt, Richard Durning||Runciman, Rt, Hon. Walter (Dewsbury)|
|Baker, Joseph Allen (Finsbury, E.)||John, Edward Thomas||Runciman, Sir Walter (Hartlepool)|
|Baring, Sir Godfrey (Barnstaple)||Jones, Rt. Hon. Leif (Notts, Rushcliffe)||Samuel, Rt. Hon. H. L. (Cleveland)|
|Barlow, Sir John Emmott (Somerset)||Jowett, Frederick William||Seely, Lt.-Col. Sir C. H. (Mansfield)|
|Barran, sir John N. (Hawick, Burghs)||King, Joseph||Sherwell, Arthur James|
|Bentham, G. J.||Lambert, Rt. Hon. G. (Devon, S. Molton)||Smallwood, Edward|
|Birrell, Rt. Hon. Augustine||Lambert, Richard (Wilts., Cricklade)||Smith, H. B. Lees- (Northampton)|
|Black, Sir Arthur W.||Lough, Rt. Hon. Thomas||Snowden, Philip|
|Brunner, John F. L.||Macdonald, Rt. Hon. J. M. (Falk. B'ghs)||Soames, Arthur Wellesley|
|Burns, Rt. Hon John||Macdonald, J. Ramsay (Leicester)||Spicer, Rt. Hon Sir Albert|
|Buxton, Noel||McKenna, Rt. Hon. Reginald||Taylor, John W. (Durham)|
|Carr-Gomm, H. W.||Maden, Sir John Henry||Tennant, Rt. Hon. Harold John|
|Chancellor, Henry George||Mallalieu, Frederick William||Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Derby)|
|Chapple, Dr. William Allen||Marshall, Arthur Harold||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton)|
|Clough, William||Molteno, Percy Alport||Toulmin, Sir George|
|Collins, Godfrey P. (Greenock)||Morgan, George Hay||Trevelyan, Charles Philips|
|Dickinson, Rt. Hon. Sir W. H.||Morison, Hector (Hackney, S.)||Verney, Sir Harry|
|Dougherty, Rt. Hon. Sir J. B.||Morrell, Philip||Walters, Sir John Tudor|
|Duncan, Sir J. Hastings (Yorks, Otley)||Needham, Christopher T.||Wason, Rt. Hon. E. (Clackmannan)|
|Elverston, Sir Harold||Outhwaite, R. L.||Watt, Henry A.|
|Essex, Sir Richard Walter||Parrott, Sir James Edward||Whitehouse, John Howard|
|Falconer, James||Partington, Hon. Oswald||Wiles, Rt. Hon. Thomas|
|Ferens, Rt. Hon. Thomas Robinson||Peel, Major Hon. G. (Spalding)||Williams, Llewelyn (Carmarthen)|
|Galbraith, Samuel||Pollard, Sir George H.||Williams, Penny (Middlesbrough)|
|Gilbert, J. D.||Ponsonby, Arthur A. W. H.||Wilson, Rt. Hon. J. W. (Worc, N.)|
|Glanville, H. J.||Price, C. E. (Edinburgh, Central).||Wing, Thomas Edward|
|Goddard, Rt. Hon. Sir Daniel Ford||Pringle, William M. R.||Wood, Rt. Hon. T. McKinnon (Glasgow)|
|Goldstone, Frank||Raffan, Peter Wilson||Young, William (Perthshire, East)|
|Harris, Percy A. (Leicester, S.)||Rea, Walter Russell (Scarborough)|
|Harvey, T. E. (Leeds, West)||Rendall, Athelstan||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Mr. Gulland and Mr. Geoffrey Howard|
|Holme, Sir Norval Watson||Richardson, Arthur (Rotherham)|
|Henderson, J. M. (Aberdeen, W.)|
|Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte||Faber, Col. W. V. (Hants, W.)||Lewis, Rt. Hon. John Herbert|
|Anstruther-Gray, Lieut.-Col. William||Fell, Sir Bertram Godfray||Lindsay, William Arthur|
|Archdale, Lieut. E. M.||Fell, Sir Arthur||Lloyd, George Ambrose (Stafford, W.)|
|Attar, Major Hon. Waldorf||Finney, Samuel||Locker-Lampson, G. (Salisbury)|
|Baird, John Lawrence||Fisher, Rt. Hon H. A. L. (Hallam)||Lonsdale, James R.|
|Baker, Maj. Sic Randolf L. (Dorset, N.)||Fisher, Rt. Hon. W. Hayes (Fulham)||Lowe, Sir F. W. (Birm., Edgbaston)|
|Baldwin, Stanley||Fitzroy, Hon. Edward A.||Lowther, Maj.-Gen. H. C. (Appleby)|
|Balfour, Rt. Hon. A. J. (City, Lond.)||Flannery, Sir J. Fortescue||Loyd, Archie Kirkman|
|Balfour, Sir Robert (Lanark)||Fletcher, John Samuel||McCalmont, Brig.-Gen. Robert C. A.|
|Barlow, Sir Montague (Salford, South)||Forster, Rt. Hon. Henry William||MacCaw, William J. MacGeagh|
|Barnes, Rt. Hon. George N.||Foster, Philip Staveley||Mackinder, Halford J.|
|Barnett, Capt. R. W.||Gardner, Ernest||M'Laren, Hon. H. D. (Leicester)|
|Barnston, Major Harry||Gastrell, Lieut.-Col. Sir W. Houghton||Macleod, John Mackintosh|
|Bathurst, Col. Hon. A. B. (Glouc., E.)||Geddes, Sir A. c. (Hants, North)||Macmaster, Donald|
|Beach, William F. H.||Geddes, Rt. Hon. Sir E. (Cambridge)||McMicking, Major Gilbert|
|Beauchamp, Sir Edward||George, Rt. Hon. D. Lloyd||McNeill, Ronald (Kent, St. Augustine's|
|Beck, Arthur Cecil||Gibbs, Col. George Abraham||Macpherson, James Ian|
|Beckett, Hon. Gervase||Gilmour, Lieut.-Col. John||Magnus, Sir Philip|
|Bellairs, Commander C. W.||Goulding, Sir Edward Alfred||Maitland, Sir A. D. Steel-|
|Benn, Arthur Shirley (Plymouth)||Greene, Walter Raymond||Malcolm, Ian|
|Bothell, Sir J. H.||Greenwood, Sir Hamar (Sunderland)||Marks, Sir George Croydon|
|Bigland, Alfred||Greig, Col. J. W.||Marriott, John Arthur Ransome|
|Billing, Pemberton||Gretton, John||Mason, David M. (Coventry)|
|Bird, Alfred||Guest, Major Hon. C. H. C. (Pembroke)||Mason, James F. (Windsor)|
|Blair, Reginald||Haddock, George Bahr||Meysey-Thompson, Colonel E. C.|
|Boles, Lieut.-Colonel Dennis Fortescue||Hall, D. B. (Isle of Wight)||Middlemore, John Throgmorton|
|Booth, Frederick Handel||Hail, Lt.-Col. Sir Fred (Dulwich)||Mills, Lieut. Hon. Arthur R.|
|Boscawen, Sir Arthur S. T. Griffith-||Hambro, Angus Valdemas||Mitchell-Thomson, W.|
|Boyle, William (Norfolk, Mid.)||Hamersley, Lt.-Col. Alfred St. George||Mond, Rt. Hon. Sir Alfred|
|Boyton, Sir James||Hamilton, C. G. C. (Ches., Altrincham)||Money, Sir L. G. Chiozza|
|Brace, Rt. Hon. William||Hamilton, Rt. Hon. Lord C. J.||Morison, Thomas B. (Inverness)|
|Brassey, H. L. C.||Hanson, Charles Augustine||Morrison-Bell. Major E. F. (Ashburton)|
|Bridgeman, William Clive||Harcourt, Robert V. (Montrose)||Morton, Sir Alpheus Cleophas|
|Brookes, Warwick||Hardy, Rt. Hon. Laurence||Mount, William Arthur|
|Broughton, Urban Hanlon||Harmood-Banner, Sir J. S.||Munro, Rt. Hon. Robert|
|Bryce, J. Annan||Harmsworth, Cecil (Luton, Beds.)||Neville, Reginald J. N.|
|Bull, Sir William James||Harmsworth, R. L. (Caithness-shire)||Newman, Major J. R. P. (Enfield)|
|Burdett-Coutts, W.||Harris, Rt. Hon. F. L. (Worcester, E.)||Newman, Sir Robert (Exeter)|
|Burn, Col. C. R.||Harris, Sir Henry P. (Paddington, S.)||Nicholson, William G. (Petersfield)|
|Butcher, John George||Haslam, Lewis||Nield, Sir Herbert|
|Carew, C.||Havelock-Allan, Sir Henry||Norman, Rt. Hon. Major Sir H.|
|Carlile, Sir Edward Hildred||Hemmerde, Edward George||Norton-Griffiths, Sir John|
|Carnegie, Lieut.-Col. Douglas G.||Henry, Sir Charles (Shropshire)||Orde-Powlett, Hon. W. G. A.|
|Carson, Rt. Hon. Sir Edward H.||Henry, Denis S. (Londonderry, S.)||Palmer, Godfrey Mark|
|Cator, John||Hermon-Hodge, Sir R. T.||Parker, Rt. Hon. Sir G. (Gravesend)|
|Cautley, Henry Strother||Hewart, Rt. Hon. Sir Gordon||Parker, James (Halifax)|
|Cave, Rt. Hon. Sir George||Hewins, William Albert Samuel||Parkes, Sir Edward|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Evelyn (Aston Manor)||Higham, John Sharp||Pease, Rt. Hon. H. Pike (Darlington)|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. J. A.||Hills, Major John Waller||Peel, Lt.-Col. R. F. (Suffolk, S.E.)|
|Cheyne, Sir W. W.||Hinds, John||Pennefather, De Fonblanque|
|Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston S.||Hoare, Sir Samuel John Gurney||Perkins, Walter Frank|
|Clynes, John R.||Hodge, Rt. Hon. John||Peto, Basil Edward|
|Coates, Major Sir Edward Feetham||Hohler, Gerald Fitzroy||Philipps, Maj.-Gen. Sir Ivor (S'ampton)|
|Coats, Sir Stuart A. (Wimbledon)||Hope, Harry (Bute)||Phillips, Sir Owen (Chester)|
|Colvin, Col. Richard Beale||Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield)||Pollock, Sir Ernest Murray|
|Compton Rickett, Rt. Hon. Sir J.||Hope, Lt.-Col. J. A. (Midlothian)||Pratt, J. W.|
|Cornwall, Sir Edwin A.||Hope, John Deans (Haddington)||Pretyman, Rt. Hon. Ernest George|
|Cory, Sir Clifford (St. Ives)||Hudson, Walter||Priestley, Sir Arthur (Grantham)|
|Cory, James H. (Cardiff)||Hughes, Spencer Leigh||Prothero, Rt. Hon. Rowland Edmund|
|Courthope, Major George Loyd||Hunter, Major Sir Charles Rodk.||Pryce-Jones, Col. E.|
|Cowan, Sir W. H.||Illingworth, Rt. Hon. Albert H.||Pulley, C. T.|
|Craig, Ernest (Cheshire, Crewe)||Jackson, Lt.-Col. Hon. F. S. (York)||Quilter, Major Sir Cuthbert|
|Craig, Colonel Sir J. (Down, E.)||Jackson, Sir John (Devonport)||Randles, Sir John S.|
|Craig, Norman (Kent, Thanet)||Jacobsen, Thomas Owen||Raphael, Sir Herbert H.|
|Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry||Jardine, Ernest (Somerset, East)||Rees, G. C. (Carnarvonshire, Arfon)|
|Currie, George W.||Jessel, Col. Sir Herbert M.||Reid, Rt. Hon. Sir George H.|
|Dalrymple, Hon. H. H.||Jones, Sir Edgar R. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Remnant, Col. Sir James Farquharson|
|Dalziel, Davison (Brixton)||Jones, J, Towyn (Carmarthen, East)||Richards, Rt. Hon. Thomas|
|Dalziel, Rt. Hon. Sir J. H. (Kirkcaldy)||Jones, W. Kennedy (Hornsey)||Roberts, Sir J. H. (Denbighs)|
|Davies, David (Montgomery Co.)||Jones, William S. Glyn- (Stepney)||Rothschild, Major Lionel de|
|Davies, M. Vaughan- (Cardigan)||Joynson-Hicks, William||Rowlands, James|
|Denison-Pender, Capt. J. C.||Kellaway, Frederick George||Royds, Major Edmund|
|Denniss, E. R. B.||Kerry, Lieut.-Col. Earl of||Rutherford, Sir W. (L'pool, W. Derby)|
|Dixon, C. H.||Keswick, Henry||Samuel, Samuel (Wandsworth)|
|Du Cros, Sir Arthur Philip||Kiley, James Daniel||Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir Harry (Norwood)|
|Duncan, C. (Barrow-In-Furness)||Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement||Samuels, Arthur W.|
|Duncannon, Viscount||Knight, Captain Eric Ayshford||Sanders. Col. Robert Arthur|
|Du Pre, Major W. Baring||Lane-Fox, Major G. R.||Scott, A. MacCallum (Glas., Bridgeton)|
|Edwards, Clement (Glamorgan, E.)||Larmor, Sir J.||Scott, Leslie (Liverpool. Exchange)|
|Edwards, Sir Francis (Radnor)||Law, Rt. Hon, A. Bonar (Bootle)||Sharman-Crawford, Col. R. G.|
|Eyres-Monsell, Bolton M.||Lee, Sir Arthur Hamilton||Shaw, Hon. A.|
|Faber, George Denison (Clapham)||Levy, Sir Maurice||Smith, Harold (Warrington)|
|Spear, Sir John Ward||Tillett, B.||Williams, Col. Sir Robert (Dorset, W.)|
|Stanier, Captain Sir Beville||Tryon, Capt. George Clement||Williams, Thomas J. (Swansea)|
|Stanley, Rt. Hon. Sir A. (Alton)||Walker, Col. William Hall||Williamson, Sir Archibald|
|Stanton, Charles Butt||Walsh, Stephen (Lancs., Ince)||Willoughby, Lt.-Col. Hon. Claud|
|Starkey, John Ralph||Walton, Sir Joseph||Wilson, Capt. A. Stanley (Yorks, E.R.)|
|Staveley-Hill, Lieut.-Col. Henry||Ward, A. S. (Herts, Watford)||Wilson, Col. Leslie C. (Reading)|
|Stewart, Gershom||Ward, W. Dudley (Southampton)||Wilson-Fox, Henry|
|Stirling, Lieut.-Col. Archibald||Warde, Col. C. E. (Kent. Mid.)||Winfrey, Sir Richard|
|Stoker, R. B.||Wardle, George J.||Wood, Hon. E. F. L. (Yorks, Ripon)|
|Strauss, Arthur (Paddington, North)||Warner, Sir Thomas Courtenay T.||Wood, Sir John (Stalybridge)|
|Strauss, Edward A. (Southwark, West)||Watson, Hen. W. (Lanark, S.)||Wood, S. Hill- (Derbyshire)|
|Swift, Rigby||Watson, John Bertrand (Stockton)||Worthington Evans, Major Sir L.|
|Sykes, Col. Sir Alan John (Knutsford)||Weston, John W.||Younger, Sir George|
|Sykes, Col. Sir Mark (Hull, Central)||Wheler, Major Granville C. H.|
|Terrell, George (Wilts, N.W.)||Whiteley, Sir H. J.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Lord Edmund Talbot and Captain Guest.|
|Thynne, Lt.-Col. Lord Alexander||Wilkie, Alexander|
|Tickler, T. G.||Williams, J. (Glamorgan)|
Question put, and agreed to.