§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."
§ Mr. ANEURIN WILLIAMS
The Leader of the House has reminded us that while Europe is to a large extent in revolution we in this country are in a comparatively happy position in spite of all the great sacrifices and sufferings endured during this War. I rise to ask the House to give a few minutes' attention to some parts of the world which are in an infinitely worse condition even than the greater part of the continent of Europe. I think it becomes us in our happy position to give a share of our thoughts to those unfortunate sufferers by the War. I desire to call attention to the condition of the races that hitherto have been subject to Turkish misrule, and in particular to the Armenian race, and to the country called Armenia. The Armenians are a people of very great qualities who have suffered, no doubt, by their Eastern surroundings, but of whom, by all the testimony I have been able to get, we may expect very great things from their abilities, industries, and their high qualities. They have suffered from time to time for generations from massacres and from every form of misrule at the hands of the Turks, and they have suffered 3240 especially because they were not content, as a lower race might have been content, to live under Turkish misrule. They had aspirations and they desired reforms, and these were, in the eyes of their Turkish masters, their great offence.
They have suffered, too, from the inaction of the Great Powers. There was a time when Russia would have delivered them from Turkish misrule, but Great Britain would not allow it. There was also a time when Great Britain would have delivered them from Turkish misrule, and Russia would not allow it; and there was a time when England and Russia both would have delivered them and Germany would not allow it. And so they have gone on from year to year, and generation to generation, now losing 30,000 in massacres, and then 50,000, and in the last few years it is estimated that they have lost 800,000 men, women and children in massacres since the beginning of this War—massacres, this last time, simply because they were believed to have sympathy with the Entente Powers—with ourselves and our Allies. The remnant of this race have fought magnificently in the mountains and in the desert places all through this War, and now, when the Armistice with Turkey has been signed, there are large numbers of refugees and deportees, men, women and children, who have been taken from their homes and put in concentration camps in the north of Syria and the higher parts of the Euphrates river.
The question arises, what is going to be done to save these refugees from famine and death? Up to now I have spoken only of the Armenians, but I do not desire to confine our sympathies or our charity or sense of duty simply to the Armenian race. The fund with which I am more particularly connected has, after all, confined itself to the Armenians, and it is called the Armenian Refugees Lord Mayor's Fund. I am not suggesting that the sympathies of the people of this country should be confined to the people of the Armenian race, but they are the most prominent and the most suffering section, and they are the people connected with that great area which has been known from time immemorial as Armenia, and that is the area to which I desire to draw the attention of His Majesty's Government at the present time. The mass of refugees and deportees of all races and various religions in Asiatic Turkey is so great at present that to deal with them and save their lives is a problem which is entirely beyond the 3241 reach of private charity, and Government action is required. Government action, I believe, is required in nearly all the lands which have been afflicted by the War in order to save the inhabitants of those lands from starvation. We know that in Europe the lands of our enemies, Germany and Austria, will require help if the people are to avoid starvation. We know that the lands of some of our allies, like Serbia, will require help no less than the Armenians, and that probably neutral territory, such as Holland, will require help in some way or another. This is almost a world-wide problem, and it certainly is one which extends over the greater part of Europe and a large part of the nearer Asia, and it is entirely beyond the reach of private charity.
I desire to call the attention of the Government to this question, and to ask what they are doing with this wide problem as it affects so many lands and so many races, and more particularly what they are doing in Asiatic Turkey and for the Armenian race. I know that all the private funds which have been started to deal with small parts of this great thing will not relax their efforts, but it is desirable that they should be co-ordinated, and they can only be adequately co-ordinated when the Government comes in and takes on the responsibility of doing what is absolutely necessary to save these people from starvation. These various funds can work together to do something more to re-establish these people in some degree of happiness and prosperity. I may say that so far from relaxing our efforts already, we have agents on the way out to the East in order to take up the work which has only just recently become possible. I am also informed of another fact to which I desire to call the Noble Lord's attention, and it is that large numbers of Armenians and other refugees are coming south from Asia Minor into the northern parts of Syria and Mesopotamia into the lands occupied by the British Army. We hear of 5,000 being found here, and 50,000 being found elsewhere, and the Army, I believe, is relieving them—indeed, I believe it is only the Army that has the power of relieving them at the present time. The mere fact of the absence of transport and organisation and civilian agencies connected with our Government and the French Government must make it a very difficult task to do anything immediately, and I am glad to believe that the Army has 3242 been doing so much in this matter. I would urge upon the Noble Lord that although the Army may step into the gap and do this work in the emergency which has arisen, there is much more needed than that. There is needed great organisation, and I think it can hardly be thought that it should be purely military organisation.
There is another thing. The Army is, of course, no longer opposing a powerful Army, and therefore it is only reasonable to suppose that the number of our Armies there instead of being increased will be rather diminished, and that certain units will be brought away, leaving only certain garrisons, and, of course, this will not increase the transport facilities, and unless some other arrangements are made the effect will be that there will be less and less transport for bringing food to these destitute people, and the other necessaries to help them to re-establish themselves. I hope the Noble Lord will be able to tell us that the Foreign Office will see that by the withdrawal of troops on the instruction of the War Office nothing is done to diminish the transport and relieve distress in those regions. There is another very great difficulty, and that is the question of finance. I do not want to underrate that. We have, I know, calls upon us for great sums of money in all parts of the world at the present time, and to deal adequately with the distress which exists in Asiatic Turkey will undoubtedly need very considerable sums. I have no doubt that the United States of America and the French Government will be willing to take their part in finding the money necessary for this work. Of course, to arrange things between the three Governments concerned will necessarily take time, but I hope that there will be no delay allowed in doing the actual work. I am sure that we can trust our Allies to come in and do their part fully and generously, and in the meanwhile we ought to go on, being on the spot, pursuing this work with all the speed possible. I have no doubt that the Government is acting in this matter, and I only desire to have from the Noble Lord an assurance that it is so acting, and as much detail as he can give us of what they are doing in this matter.
And now I desire to pass from this very urgent question of saving the lives of these people to the question of the 3243 Government of the country known by the name of Armenia. We have been told several times that His Majesty's Government will not consent to the continuance of Turkish misrule over the subject races that they have hitherto rendered miserable. The word used was "misrule." I take it that when we were told that we would not consent to a continuance of Turkish misrule over this people, it meant that we should not consent to a continuance of Turkish rule in any form whatever, and not that hereafter they would be given Turkish reformed rule. I am sure that the Noble Lord will be able to tell us that there is no such meaning in the use of the word "misrule," and that we may reckon upon the total abolition of Turkish rule over the subject races in Asia Minor which have been rendered miserable so long by Turkish rule.
There is a point on which I should like further assurance, and on which I have more doubt. It is as to the question of Turkish suzerainty. I have no doubt that the Turks will try and maintain a suzerainty over these races, and particularly over the Armenians. I trust that His Majesty's Government and our Allies will not for one moment tolerate any such suggestion. No possible good could come from it, either for Turkey or anybody else, but much harm could come from it, because wherever Turkey has had the most shadowy form of suzerainty—as, for instance, in Egypt—it has used it to promote plots and cabals, to try and get back its substantive power, and to reintroduce the tyranny from which those regions have been rescued. I trust that His Majesty's Government will not only see to the abolition of Turkish rule, but also to the abolition, root and branch, of Turkish suzerainty. I take it, therefore, that Armenia will be free from Turkish rule and Turkish suzerainty. I ask myself what the area will be. This is a matter of extreme importance. It is a matter of principle. We have fought this War in order to show that international right is enthroned as the supreme power among the nations, and in dealing with the Turkish Government I hope that we shall not forget that same great principle and great aspiration. I know it will be said that the country called Armenia has now comparatively few Armenians in it, but that remains to be seen. These people have immense courage and immense 3244 endurance, and many of them may have hid themselves in remote places in the mountains and have maintained themselves there during this War. They will come forth. Thousands of them have gone into Russia, into Persia, and into Egypt. They will come back to their homes. It does not at all follow that there will be only a small number of Armenians in Armenia when the whole account is cleared up. But, even if that were so, I make the strongest possible appeal to His Majesty's Government not to recognise that as a reason for limiting the borders and the area of Armenia. To do so would be to put a premium upon massacre. To say that we will limit Armenia and, instead of taking in the whole of what was Armenia, that we will concentrate the Armenian races and only take in a small part, leaving the rest of the country to the Turks because the remainder of the people are largely Mahomedans, would be to put a premium upon massacre, and to tell the Turks, "You have been trying year after year to exterminate the Armenian people. You have succeeded so far that now we recognise that a large part of this area where the Armenians ought to be is only thinly inhabited by them, and we propose not to claim it as Armenia, but to concentrate the Armenian people and to leave this territory to you."
Armenia consists of the six vilayets, or provinces, up to the North-east of Asia Minor, and of the province of Cilicia, which is just the point where Syria and Asia Minor touch and which runs down to the Mediterranean. Those provinces constituted Greater and Lesser Armenia together. I plead that they should be constituted a State or a Government under some name or other, and that some one Power, as the mandatory of the Great Powers of the world, should be given a free hand to administer that area until such time as it is possible for them to have some form of self-government. A great part of the land from which the Armenians have been driven has been settled systematically by the Turks with Moslem immigrants. It has been going on during the War. That, however, is no reason why the country should be left under Turkish government. If the original owners of those lands are not to be found, I say nothing against leaving the Mahomedans in possession. I have no prejudice whatever against Mahomedans. We have an enormous 3245 number of Mahomedan citizens of this Empire, and they are happy and contented citizens. If good government is set up in Armenia, the Mahomedan people, however they came there, will benefit just as much as the Christian people. I ask that the whole area should be treated as one unit and that Cilicia should not be separated from the North-eastern vilayets. I will make one exception. There are certain parts of what is called Armenia which were added to the six vilayets by Turkey on purpose to create an artificial predominance of Mahomedan people over Armenians as a whole. They did not belong originally to the country called Armenia. They were inhabited by Kurds and other Mahomedan races, and they were tacked on in order to raise the percentage of Mahomedans and depress relatively the percentage of Armenians. Nobody would object to those purely Mahomedan districts being cut off, but, speaking of the six vilayets in their original and proper area, I plead very strongly that they and Cilicia should be treated as one unit and should be administered by some one of the great Powers, whether America, France, or ourselves, as the mandatory of all the Great Powers to establish there settled government and gradually train the people up to the point when they are able to govern themselves.
We ask for no privilege for any one race above the other races. We ask for equal rights for all civilised people. It is true that there will be great difficulties owing to the presence of certain nomadic and predatory tribes, which have been nomadic and predatory from time immemorial. It will be the task of those who are called upon to administer the country to confine those tribes to their own districts, and to see that no pillaging is allowed. When you have a separate Government set up in the country, Armenians will come back from Russia, from Persia, from America, from Egypt, from the Far East, and from all parts of the world, and they will settle again in the land of their fathers. All that work of repatriation will require a great amount of organising. It will be beyond the power of private charity or private effort to carry it out effectively, and I trust that we may have some promise from His Majesty's Government that they will use their power, their officials, and their soldiers to see that these people, coming back to the home of their fathers are settled upon the land in an orderly way, 3246 so that they may resume what has always been the great industry of the race, namely, agriculture, and once more cultivate and replenish that much-suffering land. I would remind my Noble Friend that when Greece was liberated from Turkey Turkish tyranny and Turkish massacres had reduced the population of that unhappy country to 400,000 people, as was estimated at the time. The population of the kingdom of Greece is now 5,000,000 people. That shows how a race will recuperate when once the deadly, blasting power of the Turk is removed and the people are given an opportunity of cultivating their land and pursuing their industries, refugees coming back from the uttermost parts of the world.
I should like to point out that there was much disappointment with regard to the terms of the Armistice, because no provision was made for the occupation of any part of Armenia until such time as disorders arose. It would have been wiser to have taken precautions and to have occupied certain strategic points so as to see that no disorders did arise. To carry out the programme that I have sketched it would be necessary not only that certain points, but that the whole of the country should be occupied. I will merely sum up and say that I ask His Majesty's Government to recognise that this country owes a debt to Armenia, because, after all, we more than forty years ago prevented Armenia from being released by Russia from Turkish tyranny. If we had not done that, the awful sufferings which have occurred since would not have occurred. We, therefore, owe them a debt. We owe them a further debt because they have fought valiantly for us in this War. In some measure to repay those debts, I ask that we should now organise the measures necessary to save the people from starvation, and that a little later on we should organise the measures necessary to enable them to come back methodically, safely and successfully to the land of their fathers, that we should recognise Armenia as a great area, not diminished by the policy of massacre, that we should administer the country by one of the great Powers as the mandatory of all the great Powers until such time as the people have been trained to manage their own affairs, and give another example of a free and prosperous nation.
§ Mr. BLISS
I should like to add a very words in support of what my hon. Friend 3247 has just said on this subject. I have no wish to reiterate the story of the sufferings of the Armenian people, but it seems to me that it is important that we should keep clearly in our minds some of the actual facts in order to understand the present position. We in England may perhaps, in a measure, realise what the sufferings of the Belgians have been during the occupation of their country by the Germans. They are Europeans, like ourselves. We can picture their weary marches along roads which are familiar to many of us. The case is absolutely different with regard to the Armenians in a distant country. It is only those who have climbed their mountains, traversed their valleys, who have lived amongst them in their huts, in their villages and their towns, and who know the people, who can realise how terrible their sufferings have been during recent years. What are the actual facts in this case? Early in 1915 the Armenian population in the Turkish provinces amounted to something like 2,000,000 people, probably 1,800,000. In the spring of that year, under the administration of Enver Bey and Talaat Pasha, massacres and deportations were organised under a definite system, town following town in the visitation of their soldiery. In the first place, the young men in the village or town were summoned to the Government House, then marched out of the town, and there killed. The women who remained and the old men and children had a few days' grace; they were ordered to be deported, and they were deported. We must remember that any one of these women before deportation had the alternative offered to them of marching away into the unknown desert or of renouncing their faith and accepting Islam. To their great credit these women, though their bodies may have been polluted by their brutes of captors, preferred even that fate rather than renounce the faith of their fathers.
Some 600,000 of the people managed to evade the Turkish rulers, another 600,000, or possibly more, were deported and killed. There remain another 600,000 who were deported, and some of these are already, we believe, beginning to return. Some of them, we understand, have reached our lines, where they are all right and safe. Some of them are reaching the larger towns, where they may, or may not, find food, but many of them are seeking 3248 shelter in the ruins of their own hamlets and villages, and we know for a certainty that there starvation awaits them. No crops have been sown for a long time, the cattle have been driven away, there is no store of wheat or rice in the whole of the countryside, and there is nothing before these people but absolute want or absolute starvation. Since the War began food, even in the large seaboard towns, such as Constantinople and Smyrna, has been obtainable only at a prohibitive price, but during recent months, since Austria and Bulgaria ceased to traffic with Germany, many articles of food, such as tea, coffee, sugar and tinned provisions, have been absolutely unobtainable at any price. If that is the case in the large seaboard towns, what must it be in the remote country places? Again, the refugees who are slowly returning to their old homes are subject to the molestation and ravage of the demobilised and discharged soldiery. We have heard, during the War, a good deal about the "Clean fighting Turk." That may or may not be the case, but there is certainly very little that is clean about the discharged Turkish soldier who is wandering at large throughout the country, especially when he is dealing with helpless and poverty-stricken people. The old lands of these people, who are coming back, have been taken possession of by the Turks. I remember how after the Turkish War the Moslem refugees were planted in Anatolia at various places and occupied the lands of the dispossessed farmers, who have no means of sustenance left. It is the utter misery and the desolate condition of these people that call aloud to England to come to their rescue at the present time. We must also remember the gallant help which the Armenians gave us in the course of this War. I believe they maintained and equipped considerable forces entirely at their own expense, and they did splendid service in fighting against the Turks in the Eastern parts of Asia Minor. I believe that the capture of Erzerum and Trebizond were greatly due to their efforts. They held back the Turks in the Caucasus right up to the capture of Batoum. Many Armenians were found in the Russian ranks; they are fighting in Poland, and they are also in considerable numbers in our British Armies, in the American Armies, and in the French Armies at the front. I have little knowledge of military affairs, but it seems to 3249 me that as Belgium was made the highroad for the Germans into France, and as Serbia was the corridor of their great Berlin to Bagdad route, so Armenia and the Caucasus formed the highway in the direction of Central Asia and on to the frontiers of India.
With regard to the future, I dislike intensely the term "Buffer State," but at the same time I think it is essential that a free, strong, and preferably a Christian State should be established in Armenia and in the Caucasus. I know quite well the difficulties of establishing such a State where the population is so mixed, consisting as it does of Armenians, Turks, Kurds, Tartars, and other races, but, in view of the recent Turanian movement, it is essential to future peace that an independent State should be established between the Turks in Anatolia in the West and the other races more to the East speaking the same language, having a common religion with the Turks. We need a State between them to safeguard the future of Central Asia and also to safeguard the highway to the Northern Frontiers of India itself. England, with all its traditions of sympathy for the oppressed and suffering nations, cannot afford at this time to turn a deaf ear to the cry that is coming to her from this remnant of a nation. What should be the method for the future I venture to suggest what appears to me to be the correct solution, that a small force be sent to occupy the strategic points or the principal points in that region, say, five or six different places—Trebizond, Erzerum, Kars, Ourfa, Diarbekir, and Van. If you sent, so far as the terms of the Armistice permit, a small force to occupy those centres, they would not only safeguard the remnant of the Armenians who are returning to their homes, but they could administer relief work and form a nucleus or a starting-point for the future settlement of the country. I hope that for these reasons the Government will give us some assurances on the matter to-night.
§ Sir GEORGE GREENWOOD
As this is the last occasion on which I shall have an opportunity of addressing this House, I hope hon. Members will bear with me if I say a few words on a subject in which I have always felt very great interest. Ever since the years 1879–80 I have always, when opportunity allowed and to the best of my poor ability, advocated that it should be the main principle of our foreign policy, and its ultimate principle, that the Otto- 3250 man Turk should be expelled from Europe and also from any territory in Asia, if it might be and when the possibility arose, where he held sway over Christian communities. I did not advocate that on the ground that the Turk is a Mahomedan and that these subjects were Christians. We know that the Mahomedans in some places,—for instance, the Moors in Spain—have been able to make excellent governors, but the Mahomedan Turk comes of the Tartar race, and history has amply proved that he is unable to afford even the semblance of a decent government to the Christian races subordinate to him. His rule has been called "an organised brigandage." I would call itThe abomination of desolation.…standing where it ought not.Eleven years ago, when in this House we were discussing the Macedonian question, I used the following words:I only wish we could say with Mr. Gladstone, let the Turks now carry off their abuses in the only possible way, namely, by carrying off themselves—let them go bag and baggage…. That is the ultimate object which we have in view…Anybody who at this time of day places faith in Turkish promises is blind to all the teaching of history.I am afraid that some hon. Members even then placed faith in Turkish promises, for I find that, speaking on the Appropriation Bill of that year, 1907, the hon. Member for East Nottingham (Sir J. D. Rees), who I believe considers himself a high authority on matters of the East I would like to appeal, and who was then Liberal Member for the Montgomery Boroughs, took me severely to task for what I said then. I am sorry the hon. Member is not in his place to hear me, but as I was absent when he criticised me on that occasion, there is no inequality. He said:The hon. Member for Peterborough the other night had expressed the strongest anti-Turkish feeling, which was so common and so frequently expressed in that House. He wished that this subject was more calmly and more temperately considered. In point of fact, it was of the greatest importance to us. We actually had more Mahomedan subjects than the Sultan of Turkey, who was regarded by Mahomedans with the greatest respect and veneration, and almost worship. It was most desirable that the Sultan should be spoken of with respect in discussing these matters, and the dislike which some had to him ought at least to be dissembled. He did not share that dislike himself.Those were words spoken of Abdul Hamid, who had been branded by Mr. Gladstone as the "great assassin," and who was generally known as "Abdul the 3251 Damned." He was the friend of the Kaiser; he fraternised with the German Kaiser and became on good terms with the Kaiser, and they were seen walking arm in arm together. I see the hon. Member added:He was acquainted with the Mahomedans and their languages, and he believed them to be on the whole a most excellent race.5.0 P. M.
One lives and learns. I had always thought that Mahomedan has a term that denoted religion and not race. However, we are told otherwise on the great authority of the hon. Member. At any rate, he has learnt that Mahomedan Indians and Mahomedan Arabs are perfectly willing to fight for the British Empire against the Ottoman Turk though they are a Mahomedan Power.
Then, coming to the broad question of Armenia, we remember those terrible massacres in 1895 and 1896, but they pale into insignificance before what has been done during this War. The Germans have been guilty of the most ghastly and unspeakable crimes, but there is no crime so ghastly and unspeakable as the wholesale massacre, under circumstances of the greatest possible barbarity and atrocity, of the Armenians. One feels that this country has a great amount of responsibility in this matter, because we were responsible for the Treaty of Berlin and for the Cyprus Convention, and we were responsible for handing back the Armenians to the Turks under a treaty with very similar conditions to that of Brest-Litovsk. The question is, of course, what is to be done in the future? It is clear that no faith whatever is to be placed upon any promise given by the Turks. I suppose it will be universally accepted that the Turkish rule in Armenia must be for ever gone. It has been suggested that there should be an Armenian State, consisting of the six vilayets and Cilicia, under the protection of the Allied Great Powers, one of them acting as the mandatory of all the Powers, for a term of years, at any rate, in order to organise and to administer that State. That is a question which will be considered by high authorities when peace comes to be settled. I believe it is a term of the Armistice that if there are disorders in Armenia the Allies should send in troops to occupy part of that territory. I do not know how far it is true, but we are told that there are and have been 3252 great disorders, and the Turks joining the Tartar troops, which are their kith and kin, are in certain places still trying to pursue the old Turkish policy, which was to kill the Armenian question by killing the Armenian nation. If that is so, I hope we shall be able, if measures have not already been taken, to put a stop to that by sending troops into the country. I believe it is true that if it had not been for the stout resistance of the Armenians during this War the Turks might have overrun Persia and they might have turned the flank of the British armies in Mesopotamia. Therefore, for every reason in history and for every reason arising out of this War we stand committed to help the miserable remnant of the Armenians; and I think there are a great many more than people contemplate, because there is a large number in Transcaucasia who will come back when security is established. I hope the Noble Lord will be able to give us an assurance that if these rumours are true and these Turkish outrages are still continuing in certain parts of Armenia troops may be sent in to occupy the country. I think we owe that to the Armenians, and we owe it to justice.
I shall say nothing about massacres. Let the simple consideration suffice that, long as human history has lasted and long as it will last, no crimes are so execrable or, I hope, will be so execrable, as the recent atrocities in Armenia. Nor shall I refer to the terms of the recent Armistice, though I think in some respects it was unfortunately drawn, so that under Article 24 there has been created a sense of acute disquietude among the friends of Armenia on the ground that the state of that country seems very disturbed at present, and it will be long before peace can arise and the atrocities be stopped. We shall be very glad indeed to have some assurance from the Noble Lord which will satisfy our anxieties on that point. What I wish to deal with principally is the future organisation of Armenia. It seems to me that that depends entirely upon our whole policy in the near East, and that in its turn really hinges on the question of who is to be master at Constantinople. In January, 1917, we had a most satisfactory statement on that matter on behalf of the Allies. It was stated on that occasion that the civilised world knows that part of the Allied aims is the turning out of Europe of the Ottoman Empire as decidedly foreign to 3253 Western civilisation. That was most satisfactory from the point of view which I share. But that agreeable prospect was entirely upset at the start of this year in a speech by the Prime Minister expressing the war aims of this country and, I suppose, of other countries when he saidNor are we fighting to deprive Turkey of the rich and renowned lands of Asia Minor which are predominantly Turkish in race.He seemed to attach so much importance to making things quite clear on that point that later on, in the same speech, he saidWe do not challenge the maintenance of the Turkish Empire in the homelands of the Turkish race centring on its capital of Constantinople.Therefore, it is absolutely clear that as long as the existing declared policy of the Government stands, the Turks are not to be turned out, and the Turkish power is to remain centred in what the Prime Minister described as the homelands of the race centring on Constantinople.
I really felt when I read that utterance—I did not for patriotic reasons criticise it during the course of the War—that one would almost explain, in the words of Lord Beaconsfield, when he came back from the Treaty of Berlin, "Turkey in Europe exists once more." Therefore, it seems to me that we are pledged, so far, not to disturb the corrupt camarilla of Constantinople, not to disturb that cesspool of Levantine corruption, that focus of Turkish intrigue. If that is so, it appears to me to have two direct and very painful results for our whole policy in the Near East. In the first place, if you look at Arabia, we are trying to foster the power and influence of the King of the Hedjaz, the Shereef of Mecca. We are trying to start and organise, rightly, what I may call a pan-Arabian policy as opposed to the pan-Islamism of the Committee of Union and Progress. Or else one might say, viewing it from the ecclesiastical standpoint, that we are weaning Sunnite Islam, from the Ottoman school. But I am afraid if we are going to leave the Turkish party of Union and Progress in control at Constantinople that policy is a dream. We shall find that, for all our efforts, we shall be doing nothing more than to establish in Arabia an Arabian pontiff, half buried in the Arabian sands. But if the rest of our Fear Eastern policy is to establish a certain number of young independent races and bring them into the status of 3254 nations, as long as you leave a focus of Turkish intrigue and Turkish influence predominant at Constantinople, so long the lives of those young independent nations, such as Armenia, are impossible, and your policy is a dream. There are very powerful influences of international finance which are in favour of the continuation of those forces at Constantinople. But I am glad to think that there are no statesmen so competent, and I believe so ready, to combat those influences and to deal with that matter as the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Balfour) and the Noble Lord (Lord R. Cecil). Therefore I should be very glad if we can have some pronouncement on the question that I have raised so far.
I should like to consider for a few minutes what might be the organisation of Armenia, and perhaps I might preface what I say with the remark that I consider no satisfactory settlement of the Armenian question possible as long as the question of Constantinople remains unsatisfactory. The first point, I think, is, a great many people say that Armenia is wiped out, and, therefore, there is no Armenian question at all. As far as I can judge, there were about 1,800,000 in Asiatic Turkey before the War. Six hundred thousand have been massacred, 600,000 have become Moslems or are hiding in the country, Catholic or Protestant Armenians who have not been hurt, and the other 600,000 are exiles. It seems to me, therefore, that there is a nucleus of Armenians, and we may reckon on 1,200,000 Armenians who might form, I think, a very satisfactory nucleus for the reconstituted state of Armenia. I should just like to add that, as far as I can judge, in the six vilayets there were about 400,000 Kurds. Some of those Kurds, I think, have been wiped out in the course of this struggle, and therefore I see no reason why the Armenians, if they come back, should not be able to settle their State satisfactorily. The first risk which Armenia runs I have now dealt with. The second risk is that she may be divided up into parts. In particular, I should like to have an assurance on that point. Some hon. Gentlemen may smile at the possibility of such a thing happening, but still we have to recall, when we read the Memorandum of March, 1917, published by the Bolshevists, that in the spring of 1916 there was a secret treaty entered into between France, Britain and Russia, I 3255 think, for the actual division of Armenia. I think, though I do not, perhaps, burden my memory quite accurately, that the terms implied that Russia was to have the vilayets of Erzerum, Bitlis, and Van. The remaining portion of Armenia, from Adanah and Alexandretta up to the Russian border of the new State, was to be in the hands of France. Therefore the second risk I see facing the Armenians is that it may be divided up into parts as it was done in the secret treaty. I am sure from what the Noble Lord has said that this country always keeps all its treaties, but I should be glad to hear that we did not regard that one as of vital importance. There is a third risk. I think, facing the new Armenian State that we hope to float, and that is that it may be formed into what is called a Milet. Those who have read the history of Turkey know that Milets started with the great Sultan Mohammed II. He organised the races of Turkey under ecclesiastical control, and the nation he formed under the disguise of a Church, and only yesterday I was reading a proposal of a very great friend of Armenia that the Armenians should in future be organised in the same way.
I contend that there are tremendous obstacles to that. In the first place, they would have no territorial position; they would have an entire separation of peoples. They would have no geographical position, and, above all, they would have no executive power, and, having no executive power, they would have no safety. They would become, if I may venture to recall a phrase of Bismarck—they would become a bubble in the Near Eastern lake. I hope we may hear from the Noble Lord that that is not in the mind of the Government. There is one further solution also that has been proposed about which I should like to say a word. It is the solution of the Turkish question which was associated, I think, with the policy of the Sultan Mahmud II., who ruled in the early part of the nineteenth century. His plan was to amalgamate all the various races of Turkey under one central government. That policy was pursued by those who came after him and has a great deal to recommend it still, for whereas to some parts of the Turkish Empire it could not be applied—to the Rumanians, Greeks, and Bulgars, all of whom are hopelessly Irredentists from the Turkish point of 3256 view—it might well apply conceivably to a race like the Armenians who are indissolubly connected in some respects with Turkish industry finance and the whole life of the Turkish State, and are scattered in some places far and wide throughout the country. I contend, though there are powerful arguments in favour of that solution, that policy has been absolutely destroyed by forty years' government of Abdul Hamid. That man set himself to destroy the policy of Mahmud. He set race against race, and what was started by him was completed in our own age by Talaat Pasha—Abdul was the Metternich, Talaat was the Marat—of the Near East. There remains one more solution of the Armenian question, and that is the guarantee of Europe. When I say that there comes up before me a host, a whole series, of broken and violated guarantees. There was the Treaty of San Stefano which was torn up at Berlin. There was the futile Berlin Treaty of 1878. There was the collective note of the Powers in 1880 that was flung in their faces. There was the agreement of 1895, which was never carried out, and there was the futile Constitution of 1908. There was the still more futile agreement of 1914, which was blown to pieces on the outbreak of the European War, and last of all I may add, an agreement which must also be made futile, the Secret Treaty of 1916. In face of that whole host and series of European guarantees can we hope from anything from the concert of Europe? We can hope for nothing unless we can carry out the work with which the Noble Lord on the bench opposite is so honourably associated—I mean that we turn the Concert of Europe into the League of Nations, for, however futile the arrangements of the Concert of Europe were, at least we may say there was in them a certain element of good will.
We wish that good will to be rendered strong and organised by the collected will of humanity, as expressed in that great policy. There is one question that will still have to be asked: Suppose the League of Nations is established, and these new nations are set up in the Near East, are they to be protected by many Powers or by one? Well, we have had enough of international control. We have seen too much of it in Egypt, and therefore it would be far better to have one Power, the mandatory of Europe in Armenia. Shall that Power be England? I very much hope not, though I very much look forward 3257 to the time when she will be the mandatory in Mesopotamia. Shall that Power be France? We cannot expect it of her now that her resources are exhausted and the power of her race cut off. Shall it be one of the Balkan States? I feel sure the great statesman of Greece, M. Venizelos, is far too prudent to wish to take up that great task. Shall it be Bulgaria? No! As for Serbia and Roumania, their hands are too full. There is only one Power that remains. It is that Power which for a generation past has instilled into Armenia the ideas of hope and progress—I mean the United States of America. I recall the fact that so long as twenty-two years ago I had the honour, if I may be excused a personal reminiscence, of speaking with the late Mr. Gladstone at Hawarden. That was in September, 1896. I think it was in August, 1896, that there had culminated those terrible atrocities in Armenia which had swept away 100,000 of the Armenian race. I came to see the great statesman on another subject, but I found that he was entirely absorbed in the thought of Armenia. He told me that just as when a young man his interests had been absorbed in the freedom of Italy so in his old age he felt the first obligation upon him was toward the martyred people of Armenia. He added a phrase which I think I can repeat, "That of all the nations of the world no history has been so blameless as the history of the Armenian people." I conclude where I started, that the root of the question and the issue in this matter is this, Who is to be the master at Constantinople, and whether it is to be the corrupt camarilla which has so long disgraced it or whether it is to be some purer and better influence I hope that we may have some more satisfactory assurance on that matter than was announced to us in January of this year, for in that lies the very core and root of the matter, and is, if I may, in conclusion, adapt or adopt the phrase of the old Roman statesman, articulus stantis aut cadentis Armeniæ.
§ Sir J. SPEAR
I beg the indulgence of the House to address to it the last words which I shall be privileged to speak in this Chamber, after many years' service in it, and to give ardent support to the speeches which have been delivered appealing to the Government that in the settlement that is to be made with regard to Turkish affairs Turkey shall have no further influence or power in the govern- 3258 ment of Armenia. On behalf of my Constituents I wish to say that they have gladly borne the tremendous sacrifices of the War and borne their share towards this great War for liberty and for the interests of civilisation and justice which has ended so triumphantly; but if Turkey is allowed to retain any power over Armenia I am sure my Constituents would be deeply disappointed. Tragedies have occurred throughout the War and tortures have been committed, but nothing moved my people more than the action of Turkey in taking thousands of Armenians out to sea and throwing them into the water to drown. For very many years this tragedy of the massacre of Armenians has again and again recurred, and it is time in the interests of humanity that it should cease. Though I doubt not the Government are equally desirous of protecting the Armenians, I venture most respectfully, on behalf of those I represent, to say that if a vestige of power is retained by Turkey over Armenia they will be disappointed. With reference to Turkey, I would like to see the principle advocated by Mr. Gladstone put into force, namely, that Turkey should be turned, bag and baggage, out of Europe. I am not a sufficient judge of high politics to dogmatically express an opinion upon that point, but the more the power of Turkey is limited the better it will be for humanity. I should like to say a word of high appreciation of the action of our Government with regard to Palestine. British people glory in the recovery of that land from the hands of the Turks, and we appreciate very highly the action of the Government in giving encouragement to the Jews to return to their own land, and I earnestly hope that their powers will be used still further in that direction.
A word with reference to the League of Nations. We do not want a recurrence of this terrible War. We know it is a very difficult problem, and I have every confidence in the Government that they will do their best to solve it in the interests of the world; but we cannot help thinking, those of us who have a limited knowledge of high politics, that when the Allied nations have bound themselves together and made their sacrifices of blood and treasure to win this War, that the same combination could be so modelled as to prevent a recurrence of such a disaster as this War. I feel sure that the present circumstances are of a peculiarly fitting and opportune character 3259 for the accomplishment of that purpose. I know quite well from statements we have had from prominent members of the Government that they will not lose sight of this important development. With even our limited and humble knowledge we know that there are considerable difficulties in the problem, but we shall feel that we have failed to accomplish all that we have striven for in this War unless a league is established which will prevent a recurrence of this disaster and tragedy. I should like to add, in regard to Armenia, that after the massacre of something like 600,000 Christians in that country, for no fault except that the Turks wished to annihilate the nation, we have a right to expect from the Government that not one vestige of power should be allowed to remain in the hands of those who have proved themselves quite incapable of dealing fairly and considerately with any peoples under their rule.
§ Mr. HUGH LAW
It has been one of the noblest traditions of the party to which I have the honour to belong that for many years they have associated themselves on every occasion with the cause of freedom in all lands, and it would not be fitting for this Debate to end without a voice, however feeble, being raised from these benches. I cannot pretend to that knowledge which many of my friends have of foreign polities or such knowledge as would enable me either to propound or to criticise particular policies and particular solutions. I desire quite simply to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Assistant Secretary for Foreign Affairs a simple question, which even the most ignorant of us may well ask and to which I think we have a right to expect an answer. The Government spokesman, intentionally or unintentioally, have used, in relation to the continuance of Turkish rule, words which are at least capable of two interpretations. In a recent answer given to me, the Foreign Secretary said that it had always been a principal purpose of His Majesty's Government to put an end to Turkish misrule in Armenia. That is an admirable saying, and I have no doubt a true one, but one cannot but remember that exactly the same phrase has been used before on many occasions, and that it has not, in fact, prevented a recurrence of such horrors as have been alluded to by the Mover of this Resolution and other speakers. I want the 3260 Noble Lord to say quite plainly whether or not, when he speaks of ending Turkish misrule, he does mean ending Turkish rule. I think it is really right that we should know quite plainly and simply whether that is so. It is true that in a certain sense, and a very profound sense, the two things are the same, because Turkish rule has always been misrule and the phrase, "ending Turkish misrule," has so often covered the continuance of that very rule.
I do not believe that anyone at this time of day can desire that the Turk should continue as a governor over any subject people. The Turk has many virtues. The Turkish peasant is said by those who know him to be among the most honest, kindly and hard-working of mankind, and the Turkish soldier is said to fight cleanly and as a gentleman. I do, not know whether that is always so, but certainly for the Turkish Government, as distinct from the rest, there is nothing to be said. The rule of the Turk in every one of the countries he has ruled has been a curse. All of us, I suppose, without exception, has borne during the last four years a load of personal anxiety, and we have never known for a moment when a chance shot might not bring down into the dust all that we have loved. But we have been bouyed up by this thought, that those in regard to whom we bore that anxiety were fighting to bring to an end the tyranny in the world. That task, so far as Western Europe is concerned, is happily accomplished. Do not, I beg of you, allow it to remain where the most ancient and most corupt evil of all times has cursed some of the fairest lands in the world.
I should like to join with those who have spoken in expressing the hope that at last the unfortunate people of Armenia will find a country in which they can dwell in security. I do not think there is any people throughout the world who have suffered as these unfortunate people have suffered. My hon. Friend, who sits by me, has in a very interesting speech referred to the various futile attempts that have been made to correct Turkish misrule in that part of the world. If in peace time, when the concert of Europe by way of working together in harmony was quite unable to deal with this problem, quite unable to establish a state of affairs that would enable the Armenian people to live under 3261 tolerable conditions, it does make one a little apprehensive, seeing the turmoil in which the world is placed to-day, whether greater success will attend the efforts of the Powers. I feel confident that the rule of the Turk is one that can no longer be tolerated over subject races of non-Ottoman nationality in that part of the world. As my hon. Friend (Mr. Hugh Law) said, it is not the Turkish soldier, it is not the Turkish peasant, but it is the Turkish Government that is corrupt and cannot be trusted. I well remember that in my maiden speech in this House made eleven years ago, I expressed grave doubts as to the success of what was then known as the Turkish Revolution. I did not trust the Turk as a governor, and in successive years we have seen that this failure has become more and more pronounced. In 1895 I was in Constantinople, and there was great rejoicing that the Concert of Europe and the ambassadors representing that Concert had got Sultan Abdul Hamid to agree to a scheme of Armenian reform. Abdul Hamid was one of the most subtle and most astute diplomatists who were ever in Europe. He knew exactly the moment when to put a spoke into the wheel of the machine of the Concert and to make the various Powers fall out with one another. He would agree to reforms without having the smallest intention of carrying them out. One of the stipulations at that time was that wherever a vilayet contained a Christian majority, that vilayet should have a Christian governor and administrator. Very shortly afterwards Abdul Hamid took care to see that there was no Christian majority in any vilayet by the means which he always himself, from his Palace at Yildiz, employed—that of massacre. We want no ambiguity or doubt as to the future of these people. As regards the other peoples in the Near East, there may be contests between various Powers as to who will have this bit of territory and who will have that. I look forward to these questions with misgiving, but with regard to Armenia, humanity in all nations would agree that at all events their grievances should be redressed.
As the Noble Lord (Lord Robert Cecil) the representative of the Foreign Office is here, I should like to raise one question which is of extreme gravity. I think that within two days of the end of the Session, and with an appeal to the country before us, we ought to have a very 3262 clear statement from the Government as to what our policy is with regard to Russia. It is most unfortunate that at this moment information should be withheld from us as to what our Expedition in the North of Russia is actually doing, what our intention is towards the Bolshevik Government, and whether reinforcements, and considerable reinforcements, are being sent to that part of the world. I was surprised at the amount of feeling which exists in the country on this subject. At meetings which I have addressed recently I had constant questions from the audience as to what our policy in Russia is and when our Expedition in Russia is going to be withdrawn. I do not want to go back over the ground of our attitude towards the Russian Revolution. It was a most unfortunate attitude. If we had supported the great movement that overthrew Czardom, we might have evolved out of it a form of democracy which would have been of immense value as a model to the world. But we gave it the cold shoulder, and not content with that, and at a time when we have witnessed the sentiments that have come from the Russian revolution spreading like a forest fire and going all over the countries, and when thrones are falling, and sparks of the fire are reaching even to the very far West—not content with witnessing the devastating effects of what is termed "Bolshevism," we actually, according to rumour—and according to rumour which seems to have a very good foundation—have continued to stir up by our action in Russia sentiment against the Bolshevik Government. I really think that now, when there is an Armistice with the Central Powers, now when peace has come and there is a cessation of hostilities, if the people believe that our soldiers will be sent out to the Arctic regions in winter for the sake of stirring up strife against a Government which, however much we disagree with it, is in the saddle, and is conducting a transition stage in Russia with the greatest difficulty, the indignation of our people will be very great. Whatever mistakes the Russian people may be making, let them work out salvation for themselves without interference from outside, and I hope that the Noble Lord will, now that we have so little time left before the end of the Session, give some information in order to allay these fears which exist, and, if he can tell us that the Gov- 3263 ernment have decided upon the withdrawal of the Expedition from Russia, there would be no more welcome news in the country to-day.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Lord Robert Cecil)
The concluding observations of the hon. Member for Stirling raise a matter which I am the first to admit is one of the most immense importance, but on which it is peculiarly difficult for me to speak, because it involves not so much diplomatic as military considerations. The hon. Member himself will see that it is quite impossible for me to give any pledges or undertakings as to what our military action is or is not going to tie in Russia, without, at any rate, having previous consultation with those who are responsible for military operations in that country.
§ Lord R. CECIL
This I can say, that the Government are fully aware of the considerations which the hon. Member has put forward, and have got them very much in their minds, and they are certainly not disposed to entangle this country at the close of a great war in serious military operations. Beyond that I cannot go, and I confess I should have heard the hon. Member's speech with more agreement had I heard in it some condemnation of the really outrageous proceedings of the so-called Government in Russia. It is not only their great offence against humanity and good government, which the hon. Member may think is mainly a matter for the Russians themselves; but after all they have committed offences against this country which, if they had been committed by any ordinary civilised Government, would have more than justified this country in seeking redress by arms. After all, they have killed without justification one of our naval officers in Petrograd who was doing his duty—protecting the Embassy from entry by unauthorised persons. That is only one of the many things which they have done.
§ Lord R. CECIL
That is a perfectly irrelevant observation—and not only so, but the circumstances were of a really horrible character. There are many British subjects in Moscow and Petrograd against whom they have committed other crimes which really, to use a celebrated phrase, might "stagger humanity." Therefore, although I think that we are bound to consider and ought to consider primarily the interests and desires of the people of this country, yet when we are dealing with this subject, it is right to say that the Bolshevik Government as such is entitled to no consideration whatever from the British Government.
I pass now to the subject which has formed the main topic this afternoon. It is not necessary for me to express on behalf of the Government the profound agreement with which I heard the expression of sympathy with the Armenian people, and the condemnation of the incredible outrages to which they have been submitted by the Turks, both recently and before. Of course we recognise the tremendous claims that the Armenians have from every point of view on the assistance and protection of this country as well as of other civilised countries in Europe, and, if I do not enlarge on the horrors which have been enacted there and on the sufferings through which the Armenians have gone, it is not for want of sympathy, but because the subject is so very well known, and I trust that the sentiments of the British Government are equally well known on that subject.
There are three broad questions which have been put to me. First, I was asked whether we would agree, in order to relieve the immediate wants of the Armenians, to take any steps to feed these starving Armenian people and provide for their pressing necessities. My hon. Friend who raised this question at the beginning of the Debate will recognise that it is a big and difficult question. Almost the whole world is crying out for food and assistance, and we have to consider the claims of all these people together, and as being part of one great subject. The relief of hunger and distress all over the world is one of the subjects which are preoccupying His Majesty's Government most of all at the moment As far as Armenia is concerned, the Government hope that the military authorities will be able to do something 3265 immediately. In addition to that the Food Commission, which is an international or inter-Allied body, and represents the Allies, has been charged with and is now considering the question of how the Government can provide for the feeding of these populations most effectively. I cannot say exactly what they have done yet, but no doubt they are taking all possible steps, and I know that Armenia has been brought to their notice prominently as one of the first claims to their consideration. I am afraid I cannot add anything to that, The matter is one which must take time and must be developed in connection with other populations. There are many other districts, Poland and other places, which must be considered at the same time.
I was asked what measures have been completed, or were about to be taken, for the protection of the Armenian people immediately apart from its future government. Some criticism was made of the terms of the Armistice. There has been, I think, a good deal of misapprehension on this subject. In the first place, provision has been made for the repatriation of the Armenians at present imprisoned or interned by the Turks, and in that matter the Armenians have been singled out from all the other races and have been put upon the same terms as our own prisoners of war. I have forgotten the exact terms, but I think that by Clauses 5 and 16 of the Armistice provision is made. By Clause 5 there is provision for the withdrawal generally of Turkish forces beyond those actually required to maintain order from the district of Cilicia. That matter ought not to be forgotten, and in order to be quite sure that the Turks will not be able, to return, all railway connection between Armenia and Constantinople will be cut off altogether; and I think it is an important matter from this point of view to keep the Turkish soldier, as far as possible, outside of Armenia. Once you are in possession, at least so I am told, of the most important strategic position of Cilicia, you effect that and that strategic point is to be occupied without delay as is provided, I think, by Clause 10 of the Armistice. In addition to that there is the general power to occupy strategic points wherever a situation arises which threatens the security of the alliance. It is quite plain, therefore, that if there were anything like disorder and disturbance it would be within the power of the Allied powers to occupy any strategic points.
§ Lord R. CECIL
If that be so, no doubt action will be taken. I have no information that that is so beyond what we have seen in the public Press. In the Clause to which I have just referred, there is power—and a power which I am quite sure will be exercised as far as military considerations permit—to occupy any necessary positions in Armenia. Those are the main principles with regard to the immediate protection of the Armenians. I can assure the House that in this matter the Government is deeply in earnest. They feel, I hope, the demands of humanity, and, quite apart from those demands, they feel that they would expose themselves, and rightly expose themselves, to the indignation of the country if they allowed further atrocities to take place in Armenia when they had the power to prevent them by military means.
There were two or three interesting and important questions about the future government of Armenia. One hon. Member said that the root of the matter was the ejection of Turkish government from Constantinople. I quite admit that there is a great deal to be said for that, but at the same time my hon. Friend will not forget that after all Constantinople is predominantly Turkish. That is a thing which must be considered in dealing with this subject, if we are not to be false to all the professions which we have made on these questions.
§ Mr. A. WILLIAMS
Can the right hon. Gentleman say that there are 50 per cent. of Turks in Constantinople?
§ Lord R. CECIL
I am informed that there are more than 50 per cent. There is a number of Greeks, Ottoman Greeks, and Greek Greeks, but I think most authorities, at any rate, put the Turks in a majority. I do not suppose there have been any accurate statistics. My hon. Friend quoted the declaration made by the Prime Minister in January of this year. I have not got, I am sorry to say, the words of that declaration before me. I think I may say that was an international declaration made by the Prime Minister, speaking for the British Government, but many things have occurred since then, and I do not at all think that this Government is bound by the letter of that declaration.
It would not be right for me to go further—the matter must be considered 3267 at the Peace Conference. It is not right for the British Government to go into the Peace Conference saying beforehand on a matter of this kind, a matter of very great interest, "This is the solution which we have prepared and which we intend to have, and before even we have had the opportunity of discussing it with our Allies." But they have a free hand, and are not bound to any solution. I think everyone will agree that whatever be done, two things are quite certain: We cannot let those evil forces which have been predominant in Constantinople remain predominant as the predominant Government in Constantinople; and we must secure that the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus are absolutely free. As a matter of fact, the forts of the Bosphorus are, I believe, at this moment under the control of the Allied forces. My hon. Friend will recognise that, if we can go straight through to the Black Sea, the actual technical sovereignty of Constantinople becomes of less importance. You can get the great power of Constantinople from its geographical situation. That is the main point—to shut off all approach from the Black Sea and the countries beyond it. Once that is gone, there is only the prestige—and no doubt that is very great—which is left to it as an important world port. I am far from denying that that is a very important matter. The Government will approach the question of the future rule of Constantinople with an absolutely open mind, while I think that those considerations must be borne in mind in dealing with that question.
There was one other suggestion made about the future government of Armenia. My hon. Friend the Member for Donegal (Mr. Law) said that he hoped that the League of Nations would he utilised as an instrument for the government of Armenia. In that matter I speak for myself, as I have already said in public and I do not mind saying it again, I think most emphatically that is one of the matters which we should control, and which ought to be properly entrusted to the League of Nations in some form or another. That especially, I think, should be the fact, but I cannot pretend whilst speaking on that matter to be the spokesman of the Government. I am expressing my own opinions.
§ Lord R. CECIL
I was merely speaking in general terms. As to the extent of the new government of Armenia, whatever it may be, I will say a word. Very little was said in the course of the Debate about the boundaries of the new State of Armenia. I recognise fully the strength of the observations that we must not allow the misdeeds of the Turks to diminish the patrimony of the Armenians. That is the general principle. I recognise the great force of what the hon. Member said—that there ought to be no division of Armenia, and that it ought to be treated as one whole. Having said all that, I do not think I ought to go further and attempt to draw on the map the boundary which would be the result of the application of these principles. All that I will say is this: My hon. Friend the Member for Donegal asked me whether the Government, in saying that they would free Armenia from the misrule of the Turks, had some reservation in their minds, meaning that they would allow the rule to continue, but not the misrule. As far as I am concerned—and I believe in this matter I am speaking for the Government—I should be deeply disappointed if any shred or shadow of Turkish government were left in Armenia.
§ Lord R. CECIL
There are certain scattered populations, scattered about really Turkish country, for which it may be impossible to provide separate government, but, speaking broadly, our object is the liberation of all those populations. It is not only the Armenians, it is the Kurds, the Arabs, the Jew, the Greeks—all of them are entitled to our assistance. As far as Armenia is concerned, I have given my views in very unmistakable terms. With regard to the Arabs, I may say exactly the same thing. As to the Kurds, I hope for the same result. As far as the Greeks are concerned, undoubtedly they are entitled to our protection, but, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the problem is a difficult one. They are spread all along the coast, and I think they ought to enjoy protection.
§ Lord R. CECIL
Certainly I do, as far as Armenia is concerned. Of course that is only as regards the British Government. I personally think that necessary, because I share to the full the view which has been expressed that the enemy in this matter is the Turkish Government. I believe it to be true—and the evidence as far as I have ever examined it bears it out—that everyone of the atrocities in Armenia has not been the result of casual ferocity of isolated Turkish brigands, but has been ordered from Constantinople in every case, as far as I know. That is the central fact one must realise in dealing with the situation. The Turkish policy throughout has been to create disorder, and then to suppress it. It is not a religious question. The Arabs, for instance, have always protected the Armenians; and when we came to Aleppo, we found several bodies of Armenians living there under the protection of the Arabs. In the same way, I believe there is no reason why the Kurds and Armenians should not live perfectly well together, if once the Turkish influence were removed. There are signs already that the Kurds and the Armenians are prepared to make terms with one another, and to arrange to live together. But the feature of the Turkish policy was to stir up every division in the subject races, in order to make them less powerful, and also in order to justify any atrocity they chose to carry out at any time. Therefore I agree most fully that the Turkish Government has proved itself absolutely incapable of ruling any subject races, that its days are now, I trust, at an end, and I hope will never be allowed to begin again.
There are symptoms that even now the Turks have not learned their lesson—that they are showing signs of carrying on their old policy of delay, of raising with incredible fertility every kind of objection to any course which is likely to produce lasting improvement; and, if they had the opportunity, no doubt they would try every device of setting one Western European nation against another. But I venture to say this—and say it with all feeling of responsibility—that those days are ended, and that the Turks will make a profound mistake if they do not realise that their power of delay and resistance to reform is finally finished. They are now absolutely in our power, and the only way that they can hope to receive clemency or consideration will be if they show that the have really mended their ways, 3270 and hasten to carry out the terms of the Armistice to which they have agreed, as well as the other conditions which will be put upon them by the justice of the conquerors, without any hesitation, and without any effort to avoid doing that which will certainly be forced upon them.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
It is perhaps one of the ironies of politics that, whereas a large part of the support of the Coalition Government should be on account of the personality of the Prime Minister, what little support the Coalition Government has from the Liberal party should be owing to the presence in its ranks of the Noble Lord who has just spoken. It is pleasant to be able to think that we have to represent us in the critical months before us a man who can state what I believe to be the Liberal line of policy. The self-determination of peoples, the use of the League of Nations as a territorial authority to support nations who would otherwise have to be protected—those, to my mind, are the most important signs of the work of the coming Peace Conference, and I believe they are in safe hands. I was just a little alarmed that the Armenian question might be solved on the basis of dividing the spoils. In the eighteenth century that would have been a very tempting solution, but I do not think it will do for the twentieth century. We might have had the secret treaties carried out in their entirety. That, I think, would also be lamentable. It would mean one of those solutions, not the solution laid down by President Wilson or by the Noble Lord, but a solution which might lead to further wars, to further grabbing of territories belonging to the people who live in them.
But there is still one danger spot which I want to put before the Noble Lord representing the Foreign Office, and that is the passionate desire which human nature must necessarily instil into the military party in this country to carry on military operations somewhere, in order to find occupation. It is inevitable that there must be that feeling, and I do want to see the Foreign Office take a firm line with the War Office on this matter. We have generals coming back from Archangel pressing for more reinforcements; and I happened to travel down third-class the other day with three men who said that depot drafts were going out to Archangel fitted out in fur coats, fur boots, and fur breeches, costing £150 for each man, on a 3271 two years' contract with three years' pay. I do not suppose there is a word of truth in it, but it gives one to think when there is the possibility of carrying on indefinitely these wild expeditions. At the same time, we know that a certain celebrated general from Finland is over here, or is coming over here. We see in the newspapers that the German troops in occupation of Finland are to be withdrawn and their place taken by British troops. We know perfectly well that these expeditions are rotten to the core, and an end ought to be put to expeditions of that sort based on arguments which the military are almost bound to bring forward. In the case of Finland there are other reasons which, I think, ought to make the Foreign Office more careful in what they do. We know the present Government of Finland has been put in power by the brutal use of force, by the massacre of hundreds of thousands of the Red Guard, and that it is only kept in power there at present by German bayonets. It will be an ill use of the British Army, which has fought for freedom in this War, if it is used in Finland to keep down the proletariat and to perpetuate a bloody regime of repression.
We know perfectly well that there will be a demand from many of these neutral countries for the good offices of Great Britain to preserve the existing status quo. We may get demands from Holland; we may get demands from Spain, and we may get demands from other countries that have been our Allies to use this British Army, the magnificent weapon we have forged, to preserve the status quo. The British Army is not to be used as a counter-revolutionary weapon. I have just been in the fortunate position of coming back from my election campaign, and I think I am not the only Member in that position. I can tell the House that the one thing that they will be up against in the coming election is this question of the possible support to an existing social order which the peoples living in those various countries do not wish to perpetuate. I had Finland brought up to me. I had Russia brought up to me. I had Germany brought up to me. I was asked whether we were going to use the British troops to restore the kings to Germany. We cannot be too emphatic on this point, that whatever regime is set up in these countries, they shall work out their own salvation or their own damnation, without British troops interfering. Our men have 3272 shown in this War what they are fighting for. They are fighting for justice and liberty, and to use them after they have come through this struggle for another purpose wholly alien to their ideas, would be not to carry out the objects of the people, but to use them to start in this country exactly those same seeds of disease that we see all over the Continent at the present time.
Therefore, I want to impress upon the Foreign Office that, in the interests of stability at home, if not in the interests of Liberalism in its highest sense, they should combat every effort on the part of the War Office, or on the part of their military advisers, to use the British Army as it was not intended to be used by the House, or by the men who so bravely joined that Army. That seems to me to be the duty of the Foreign Office; but I would urge that it is the duty of all His Majesty's Ministers to see that excuses are not invented for indefinitely prolonging demobilisation of the Army. The men of that Army abroad will, I think, be quite willing to spend three months or so in occupation of German territory. There is all the pleasure of foreign travel at somebody else's expense. But the Army at home is in a very different position. Men who have been dragged from their business in order to wash up pots and pans at some home station, or do clerk's work which could be done by a girl, will be extremely discontented if kept one hour more than necessary in the Home Army. Steps should be taken at once to impress upon the Army authorities that if they do not demobilise, the Army at home will demobilise itself, and you cannot have a worse influence in this country than a large number of men who have voluntarily demobilised themselves and who are starting life again with an embittered feeling against authority with the idea that their reasonable desire to be restored to civil life had not been listened to, and that they had thereby been compelled to take matters into their own hands and desert in order to take up work. That is a point of view which should be impressed upon the War Office at the present time. It is naturally very difficult for military opinion to realise that the civilian Army they have got at the present time is not the old Army, where everybody was content to remain a soldier. The Home Army is composed principally of men who do not want to be soldiers, men who have seen their businesses broken up, and have left their wives 3273 and families, and are only anxious to get back. Those men will behave quite differently from the old standard type of soldier if unduly kept away from their homes. It is a most important point for the Government to consider. It is a point which will be brought up at every election meeting to which you go. I do hope that the Ministry will stand up firmly to the red-hats at the War Office, and see that the intentions of the Ministry—which I know are all right—are carried out in spite of any delay for which vary good excuses may be given.
§ Sir R. COOPER
My hon. and gallant Friend will forgive me for turning from the interesting and, indeed, important subject upon which he has just addressed the House to offer some observations upon the great problem which this great country is now confronted with, namely, that of our overseas trade or the scramble for the world's market which is beginning. I think a very great change has come over the minds of most people of this country, whatever may have been their previous political views. The vast majority are satisfied that we have got to apply ourselves with the least possible delay to the maximum production in our industries and in our agriculture. If that is correct, then it is surely obvious that it behoves every individual and every trade association, and the State itself, to leave nothing undone that can possibly be done to help us to get ready for the maximum production in industry of which we are capable. Some while ago His Majesty's Government, realising what would eventually happen, had the foresight, happily, to take the step to provide this country with some improved machinery for assisting British industry and British commere[...] and established the Department over which my hon. Friend presides, that is, the Overseas Trade Department. I raise the question to-day, not that I have any particular fault to find with what my hon. Friend has so far been able to achieve in carrying out his somewhat difficult task, because I, like most of the commercial community of this country know very little really of what has yet been accomplished. There is, however, a very widespread feeling of anxiety among business men as to what my hon. Friend really is creating, as to what are the intentions of His Majesty's Government in regard to the type and style of 3274 the assistance with which they hope eventually to provide this country so far as overseas trade is concerned.
There is another point that has come to my notice. Last year, in particular, we were sending a number of British Missions to neutral countries, primarily connected with affairs of the War. But I believe my hon. Friend will acknowledge that the members of those Missions have been approached in almost every country with questions as to what His Majesty's Government intend to do to improve the status and possibilities of our overseas trade. I have heard of one or two special industrial reports which I understand were to be forwarded to my hon. Friend. The main point, however, which I want to make this evening is this: We do not really know what my hon. Friend is doing, what he is aiming at, what he ultimately hopes in a reasonable course of time to produce by way of assisting the great industries of this country in capturing the maximum amount of overseas trade. For that reason I would specially ask him to endeavour to make as bold and frank a statement to the business community at the present moment as he feels justified in doing—in other words, we want to know for good or ill what is his ultimate policy and the purpose which his Department intends to achieve.
There are a few specific points upon which I should like to touch, and upon which I hope he may be able to give us some information. I do not think that the industrial community of this country is very much impressed with what I may term the second-rate office which, so far, has been started to carry out these great purposes. I recognise, as we all must, that with the exigencies of the War every Department has had to make the best arrangements it could, and so far as the War is concerned I raise no complaint. I only would like to know what is the intention of His Majesty's Government in regard to the housing and accommodation, and generally, of the home staff of the Overseas Trade Department in the immediate future We are all aware—at least, I think most people are—that there is one danger besetting the work in which my hon. Friend is engaged. It is that evil which too often is perpetrated by modern Governments in this country. If I am not mistaken, the Overseas Trade Department of this country is really a 3275 compromise between two great Departments of State, namely, the Foreign Office and the Board of Trade, neither of which, frankly speaking, the business community has that confidence in which I think those Departments ought to inspire. I have had the privilege of visiting the Overseas Department. I would like to say, while I am offering criticisms, that I am really impressed by the spirit which prevails in the Department. It is most miserably housed, but I take it that is a temporary arrangement. I do feel, however, from the little information I have been able to gather, that there is the right spirit there, and the right atmosphere prevailing among the officials controlled by my hon. Friend. I do hope, even if he feels he is making a modest beginning to lead up to something greater, that he is doing it on the lines which in the very near future will give us in this country what I feel the great power and possibilities of British industry deserve, and which is consonant with its dignity—that is ultimately a Ministry of Commerce. I am not going to press that point to-night. I believe I am correct in saying that the vast majority of business men in this country do feel that the present condition of affairs is really unsatisfactory, and the problem will never be properly solved until we do arrange for a proper Ministry of Commerce.
I would only remind my hon. Friend, though it does not strictly concern me, that the business people of this country to-day have to deal with some six or seven Departments in one way or another in this connection. There is the Overseas Trade Department, the Board of Trade, the Ministry of Reconstruction, the Ministry of Munitions, the Colonial Office, and, in some cases, even the Home Office. We have, I think, learned this lesson during the War, that it is a very bad and uneconomical form of administration to have matters like health—it may be—or labour or commerce dealt with piecemeal; one Department here doing a little, another Department there doing a little. We require one Department to deal with one great matter like that of trade, or health, or labour. Therefore I would suggest to my hon. Friend, whatever his principle may be, that when he is trying to establish, to build up, this Overseas Trade Department, that it should be of such a nature that subsequently it should be a big Government Department—and I trust it will, for the best thing for 3276 this country will be a Ministry of Commerce—that the foundation he is laying will make it quite easy for any future Government to take larger steps.
The major portion of the work, of the difficulty of the Overseas Trade Department, is really the Consular Service. I think that almost everyone is agreed that in the days before the War we never had a Consular Service in this country worthy of the dignity of this country, or a service that really was capable to give that assistance which only the State can give to trading associations or individual traders. It is a commentary upon the matter that even at the present time, and this I do know a little about!—most of the trading associations and organisations in this country are dependent for their information upon the American Consular Service. That is a great reflection upon our own. I believe generally our system has been condemned, and it is the recognition of that fact that brought His Majesty's Government, some time ago, to take the step of instituting the Overseas Trade Department. If my hon. Friend is going to do the right thing, and the very best possible thing for this country, he has got to adopt much more advanced lines in regard to our Consular Service than anything this country has ever done. In the first place, you must have men of the right type. They must have the right commercial training. They must have some experience of the countries with which they are dealing before they can be trusted by the Department to give the best service and dependable service They must be backed up by a much more able body of Commercial Attaches, or, as I believe they are now called, Commercial Counsellors, and also Commercial Secretaries.
I want to say one thing quite seriously to my hon. Friend. I do not know what the facts are, but in common parlance in commercial circles at the present time, he is not going to succeed in the task upon which he is engaged, because he has got the difficulty of persuading the Treasury to give him the necessary money that will enable him to provide men of the calibre, knowledge, and spirit, who only can be obtained if you are ready to pay a really reasonable salary, and to properly house your people. Men with £500, £600 and £700 a year are not going into State Departments to do important work because, if they are any use at all, they can get £1,000, £1,500 and £2,000 a year with- 3277 out the slightest difficulty from commercial firms. If His Majesty's Government is determined to produce the best commercial machinery to help the country, you will have to at least double what I understand is to be the general scale of salaries. That cannot be done, I know, without some additional expense to the nation—nothing can that is worth doing! If there is any truth in what I have heard in commercial circles that there is any meanness on the part of the Treasury, I can hope that when the next House of Commons has been elected it will lose very little time in making it understood that within reasonable business limits the Government has to provide what money is required to produce a really efficient Consular Service. Any Consular Service that is going to be of Teal value has got to be created as quickly as the circumstances will permit. That, I recognise, will be a matter of no small difficulty. If I assume that my hon. Friend has the necessary staff available, with suitable qualifications, and he gets these people stationed in different parts of the world, there is practically three, four, or five years before these men can imbibe the atmosphere of the country, the nature of the country, and of its inhabitants; the channels of its trade, and, really, what might he termed the secret commercial service which the Consular official has to perform. I beg the Government to do the best they can to make the Consular Service a reality, and one that will have the confidence of the people of this country. It must have the commercial people of this country solidly behind it, believing in it, trusting it, using it, and helping to develop it.
There is one other very important point which has never been a part of our Consular service in days gone by. We learned from the German and American Consular Services before the War that their officers were always on the alert in every country for possible orders. They busied themselves to see where it was possible for the traders of their own country to get orders. The information was quickly disseminated among their traders, and this provided a growing danger to this country which we were practically impotent to deal with. We depended, as we do to-day, on the exertions and information of individual firms. The rapid securing of information and the passing it on to traders generally is really a vital question for us in the immediate future. 3278 When, after the War, the world trade comes to settle down, we shall have to see that none of these opportunities are absorbed by other countries which can be absorbed by my hon. Friend's Department, if he is only provided with a staff capable of carrying out the purposes for which this Department has been formed. I would ask this: I am not too satisfied myself with the evil principle which obtained up to the time the War broke out and under which over a thousand members of the Consular Service of this country were of alien extraction—mainly of German or Austrian extraction. I do beg of my hon. Friend to see that these responsible positions of the State are in future filled by true-born British people and not by Germans, or Danes, or neutrals, or people from enemy countries. I think we have learned that whilst possibly some of these people may have done good service—I never believed it myself—within the confines of the position in which they were placed, it is a principle nationally unsound and unwise, and it ought not to be perpetuated in the slightest degree after the War.
My last point is a very important one. We have of necessity during the War had to put up with an extraordinary amount of Government control. Everyone in commerce knows it only too well. We have not complained, we have realised the necessity, and we have made the best of it. What we are anxious about is this: How long is the Government control going to be maintained over traders in this country in the immediate future. I can assure my hon. Friends that valuable orders have within the last ten or fourteen days gone from this country for goods which we make and America did not make—and these orders have gone to America because no business man in this country could enter into a contract with a neutral country without making it subject to the permit of the Government. Commercial firms in the United States are placing these contracts without this clause protecting themselves against permit of the United States Government, and that is an enormous weapon in the hands of our friends oversea. It only tends to show how urgent and essential it is, first, that we should get rid of Government control over production, over trade, and over export as soon as possible, and I hope my hon. Friend will be very careful in the development of his Department to see that it does everything that is humanly possible by way of securing intelligence, 3279 not only as to export trade, but in regard to securing orders and contracts abroad, and even helping our manufacturers with information with regard to the supply of raw materials. I beg my hon. Friend to take care that he and his Department do not take upon themselves any control or any restriction of British industry that they can possibly avoid. I do not know whether there need be any at all, but the business people of this country really are frightened of Government Departments, and they are frightened of what my hon. Friend's Department may do in this matter. I trust he may give us such assurances as circumstances will permit him to do to-night. I fully admit my hon. Friend's ability, and I feel certain that so far as his Department is concerned he has done, and will do, everything possible to provide live and powerful machinery for assisting production and industry and export trade in this country. I hope he will tell the business community to-night that they may rely on his Department for knowledge in regard to commercial organisation, and I hope he will remove the present illusion and let us know as clearly as possibly what hopes he can give to business people in the immediate future that he will be able to help them to repair the ravages of the War and to meet the enormous burden of taxation, which we have reason to fear we shall be saddled with. We want to keep up the prestige of the British position and to enable it to meet the competition of all other countries.
§ Sir WATSON RUTHERFORD
It is not undesirable that a few words should be said on the very important subject of overseas trade. I believe it to be the wish of all those interested in commerce that this House should give a most intelligent support to the new Department which the Government has set up. It is a compromise, although it is a new Department. There is no doubt for many years past the whole of the manufacturers and merchants of this country have felt that they have not got under the existing State service abroad that support to which they are entitled. They have realised that other countries, and notably America and Germany, have been taking steps in that direction which we have not done. Of course the first criticism that was brought to bear—somewhat unfairly, as I think—was against the existing Consular Service. We saw men associated with the German 3280 and American Consulates abroad doing invaluable work and acting practically as commercial agents and travellers, securing large orders and new openings for trade for their respective countries. We saw that our traders, our merchants, and our manufacturers were practically neglected along these lines, and our first criticism was against the Consular Service. But that was not quite fair, because the existing Consular Service had its duties and its regular routine, and it performed those duties; and if one went into any Consulate in Europe and asked for trade information, he was told it was not the duty of that Department to secure such information for merchants and others representing British trade. There is no doubt that the position became very serious, and it was partly due to the fact that the Consular Service largely consisted of unpaid people, and also to some extent of aliens, none of whom had much to do with trade and commerce. They had certain duties laid upon them by Statute, in regard to shipping and bills of lading, but they had nothing whatever to do with collecting trade information excepting for the purposes of the publication of certain serial reforms.
I have been for the last sixteen years a member of the Commercial Committee of the House of Commons, a Committee consisting of any Members of the House who choose to belong to it. We have consistently for the last sixteen years advocated the establishment of a Ministry of Commerce. That is a matter into which I need not enter now, but I take it that this new Department is really the first step towards the establishment of such a Ministry. It is rather unfortunate in one way that it should be created as a compromise between the Foreign Office and the Board of Trade. The Foreign Office and the Board of Trade have both disagreed as to their duties, and between the two there has been a gap which it has proved difficult to bridge over, with the result that these two great Departments of State have practically neglected this particular and important function, because each of them claim to have charge of whatever was done and neither was prepared to do it without the assistance of the other. Now we have an Overseas Trade Department, and I agree we have got an intelligent and energetic man at the head of it—a man who, we hope, will work with every possible success. But there is one element which is absolutely essential if the Depart- 3281 ment is to do any good. The first thing is to offer good salaries, and that is absolutely the basis of the whole proposition. You will never get the right men to become our trade representatives abroad, and to collect overseas trade information for our manufacturers, unless you give good emoluments to the men who come forward. You must provide a career for those men, with successive improvements, if they are to be successful. Merely to make this a question of some consequent service would mean absolute failure, and to give such salaries as £500 or £1,000 in Buenos Aires would make it impossible for a man to do anything that would be of any advantage to British trade. If you are going to have a trade representative in a place like that, where it is very expensive to live, you have to pay him properly, and it is just one of those things where, if we pay properly, we generally get a corresponding benefit, and if we are not prepared to pay properly we had better leave it alone. To appoint people at comparatively small salaries to go to different parts of the earth to collect information for British trade would simply be to court disaster.
I wish now to refer to the last conferences that were held here of the Commercial Committees of all the Allied countries. I was selected by our committee, and entrusted with the duty of bringing up the Report and moving the resolution. I am bound to say that that Report was well received and was unanimously passed as well as the Resolution. It is true that at the present moment we have a most magnificent opportunity that may never probably occur again in the history of our country to pick up some of the most valuable business connection on the face of the earth. Just at the present moment those countries that have been our Allies, all of whom were represented at the conference to which I have referred, have been supplied by Germany. Roumania, Serbia, and Italy used to get their principal manufactured articles from Germany. We can have that trade to-day for the asking and for properly carrying it out. The hon. Baronet opposite, in commencing his speech, said he knew that at the present moment a number of federations and trade organisations were very anxious about this matter. On that matter I will say that it is very largely their own fault, because they have not been organised, and trade in this country is worse organised than in any country in 3282 the world. It is absolutely necessary, if you are to provide business, that the trade should be organised from top to bottom, and that there should be a system of carrying out your foreign trade. The Minister for Overseas Trade, supposing he finds out from his emissaries that there is an important line of commerce in which a considerable business may be done in certain countries, has to bring that before people who are not organised, whereas if the trade manufacturers were organised and had their own pool arrangements, like America and Germany, that business could be carried out on behalf of the trade generally and there would be no trade favouritism.
Supposing this new Department finds out that there is a dock which can be built in some foreign country which will enable you to get the whole of that trade, England supplying the steel and all the other goods required through an English contractor? There might be ten contractors capable of taking that particular business, but unless they have some understanding between one another what can be done? Supposing the Ministry brings the information to the knowledge of one of those contractors, then the other contractors would have the right to be jealous. This Department, I take it, is not to go out and collect this information for the purpose of individual merchants and traders. That is impracticable, and you can only do this work successfully when it can be done on a joint account, the same as the Germans used to do it. The very first thing that is necessary is to put our house in order at home and for each trade to thoroughly organise, so as to be able to take the benefit of new business.
I have an illustration of this in Roumania which it may not be uninteresting to describe. There was a certain line of business which was always done in England. We had that business with Roumania, but there came a point when the Germans came in and got the whole of it, and how did they do it? They were not able to supply the goods any cheaper or better, but they did it simply by giving credit. Our merchants could not give credit for the simple reason that none of the banks would take and discount the bill of the Roumanian purchaser, and the Germans were able to do this because their trade agents in Roumania were able to satisfy the commercial and banking committee in 3283 Berlin that the purchaser was a man of substance, and by putting his name on a certain certificate to that effect the business was done. As soon as they got £50,000 or £60,000 worth of these bills they were able to re-discount them in London, and in that manner our spare money deposited in London was used by our banker to enable German manufacturers to cut the British manufacturer out of this business. I do not think you could have a more concrete example of the effect organisation and the effect of information on the spot, enabling a country to cut in and by means such as that, which are perfectly legitimate, and the result of organisation, to cut our manufacturers out of business.
I join with the hon. Baronet in my very best wishes to this new Department, to which I think we should give our best support. It has a very great future before it. I am afraid that at the present moment it has hardly got sufficient authority, and it ought to be a Ministry, but perhaps that will come. I do not know whether it has sufficient influence with the Treasury. I believe some hon. Members have been advising the Minister with regard to some of the appointments to which my hon. Friend referred. I know that great care is being taken to select the best men. We must back this Department up in every possible way, and give it every assistance in influence and pecuniarily to make it a success. I do not think we could have better men to protect our interests than we have had in some of those foreign countries during these terrible times. Our Consul at Galatz was a good man, and there never was a man who did better work during our difficulties in the Balkans, and the British Consul at Odessa was also a magnificent man. I mention these men because the tendency is rather to condemn the Consular Service.
Speaking about aliens in the Consular Service, I happen to know one of the principal British Consuls in Roumania, and he was a German. He was a very intelligent man for the purposes of the trade—in fact, he was one of the few men you could go to for any practical information on these matters. We had a Commercial Attaché in Roumania and he was getting £600 a year, but we did not want a £600 a year man there—I am making no reflection on this particular gentleman—but the man we wanted there when we were buying up hundreds of thousands of pounds 3284 worth of wheat and oil, and to stop it getting into the hands of the enemy, was a £5,000 man, and then, perhaps, this business would have been done. No doubt the £500 man did all he could according to his lights and the limitations put upon him, but what he could do was precious little. I join in hearty felicitations to the new Department, and I beg to assure the Minister, for whom we have such a high regard, that he has got the future of this Department in his hands, and that anything we can do as Members of the House of Commons to assist him in his task we will cheerfully and willingly do.
§ Colonel YATE
I would like to say a word or two in support of what has been said as to the necessity of supporting the Minister in charge of this new Department in every way we possibly can in his attempt to get from the Treasury a sufficient allotment to allow our Consuls to get a proper wage for their services. Unless we get proper pay for these men, we cannot hope to get an efficient service. I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman has he succeeded in persuading the Treasury to allow him to direct British Consuls abroad to levy in foreign countries Consular fees and other fees which are levied in this country by foreign Consuls in England? Our merchants here pay those fees, and we are handicapped because foreign merchants trading with England pay no such fees. I ask that our Consuls abroad should be permitted to levy similar fees to those which are levied here, and that the money realised should be placed at the disposal of the right hon. Gentleman in charge of this Department to enable him to increase the pay of Consular and Commercial officers as he thinks necessary in the interests and for the benefit of the service. If we can help him to impress the necessity of that upon the Treasury, and he will inform us, we will do what we can. I have been struck in times past by the value of some of the American Consular Reports referred to by the hon. Baronet the Member for Walsall (Sir R. Cooper). I have seen them reproduced in publications like the "Society of Arts Journal," and in some of these cases when we want information in regard to any particular article we always get it from the American reports and not from the British. I have noticed it, and I hope in the future that we shall see that our own Consuls are able to give us just as valuable reports as we have hitherto had from the American Consuls. I was interested to hear the 3285 account which my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall gave as to the fear that business people in this country have of Government Departments and we must all join in hoping that this new Department will be absolutely free from red-tape and that traders and manufacturers in this country will be able to get the help that they require with the least possible friction. The hon. Member for Liverpool (Sir W. Rutherford) spoke of the good work that has been done by our British Consuls in the Black Sea. I can bear testimony to that, and in addition to the Consuls at Gralatz and Odessa, which he named, I should like to point out what steady and good work has been done by our Consul at Batum. He was a man who had been there for years and years and who had very great influence. I trust that we may get very many Consuls like him. I wish every success to the new Department, and I hope that we shall be able to make it a really good and substantial Department.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND (Department of Overseas Trade)
I am very sensible of the very sympathetic way in which the hon. Baronet who opened this discussion (Sir R. Cooper) and also my two hon. Friends (Sir W. Rutherford and Colonel Yate) have spoken of the attempts which have been made by this new Department of Overseas Trade to deal with an extraordinarily difficult question. I need hardly say that I feel that anyone is fully justified in raising this question, because while foreign trade may be a luxury, and a pleasant luxury, to other nations, to us after the War, in order to re-establish our position, it is going to be quite a vital necessity. We have to look forward to a period after the War in which there will be a keenness of competition in foreign trade exceeding that which existed before the War. I take merely one example, namely, that of one of the great nations associated with us in this War. The United States have awakened to the fact that they wish for a foreign trade, and they are going to develop a foreign trade. I wish in no way to dispute their perfect right to extend their foreign trade just as much as we do. We have every friendliness with them, and we wish to co-operate with them, but at the same time it is quite clear that we shall be a much more effective partner if we make our part of the co-operation as efficient as it can possibly be. The hon. Baronet asked if I would state 3286 frankly whether anything has been done. I think I can tell him that a great deal has been accomplished, considering the difficulty under which a Department of this kind has to work during war conditions. Under war conditions, as every Member of the House knows, a restriction is put upon imports, and raw materials are impossible or very difficult to get for other than strictly war purposes. Manufacture has had to be devoted to war purposes, and, above all things, the supply of freights has been very severely limited. It has been impossible under those conditions to take such effective steps to develop export trade as ought to be possible during ordinary peace conditions, but we have been endeavouring in two ways to try and secure that we should be as far as possible prepared for the return of normal peace conditions.
I do not know that I feel at liberty to disclose the actual names of the different people who have been in consultation with me recently in matters of this kind, but within the last two days, for example, I have been dealing with new enterprises with regard to Russia as soon as a stable Government is restored there, new enterprises with regard to Greece and the Balkans, and a new enterprise with regard to South America, as well as with regard to conditions in Morocco and some other parts of Africa. I have just noted down from memory the consultations that I have had during the last two days, and, although it has not been possible to extend trade a great deal during the War, yet I think people in the City will agree with me that they are coming more and more to regard the Department as one to which they will gladly come to talk over their projects, knowing that they will be gone into with understanding and with every wish to help. Members will realise that it is sometimes difficult for various parties to come to an understanding with regard to some proposition which really needs a combination of several of them. During the last few days, as indeed during the last few months, I have had an increasing number of people coming to me to say, "There is this which will benefit the trade of the country considerably. We shall be very glad if you will allow us to have a meeting in your room to talk it over with you, because then we shall get together, and we are not certain that we shall do so otherwise." That at least is being done by way of preparation.
3287 The hon. Baronet asked me what I had really in mind as the policy to be followed. I am quite prepared to state it Again, though I have done so once. Trade for these purposes, as far as I have been able to go into it carefully, consists really of three kinds. There is the ordinary trade in the articles which we sell to foreign countries, and to develop which merchant firms or associated manufacturers send out their travellers and their agents. That is well known to us all of old. Then there is a second class of foreign trade which is just as important, but less well recognised. It is the establishment of great enterprises, public utility enterprises, such as railways, harbours, waterworks, and the rest of it in foreign countries under British auspices and leadership. Perhaps it has not hitherto been quite sufficiently recognised how much that contributes to British trade either by the orders in connection with such enterprises coming to this country for renewals and repairs, or by the fact that Englishmen and Scotsmen go out in connection with them for the purposes of management and acquire useful information which they spread among their friends. Thirdly, there is the necessity—and when the War is over it will be an increasing necessity—for securing our fair share in the supply of the raw materials throughout the world. As a small manufacturing country with the exception of coal, we more than any other people require to be assured of the supply of raw materials for all the purposes of the industrial life in this country. Those are the three great items of trade. There is, together with them, an absolute necessity for the organisation of finance and transport. Up to the present our weakness has rather been that despite individual enterprise the organisation of the different trades has not been so close as it might have been. I would in this connection re-echo and re-enforce what my hon. Friend behind me (Sir W. Rutherford) has said. Until the industries in this country are organised it is impossible to do them as much service as one would desire. If I know that an opening is available there is nobody to whom I can go to communicate the information. If I go to one individual, all the others say that favouritism is being shown. Therefore, the more trade itself can be organised the better it will be and the more able the Department will be to help.
3288 The hon. Member for Leicestershire (Colonel Yate) and the hon. Member behind me have also laid stress on the question of our foreign services. I was very glad indeed to hear their words of condemnation of members of the old Consular Service. I am not here merely to defend them because it is the proper official course to take. Speaking now from personal acquaintance, I can say that very often they have done amazingly good work under peculiarly difficult conditions. The fact that more has not been done has been in many cases due to the conditions rather than to the men themselves. The case with regard to our foreign services at the present moment is this. We have already organised a system of Commercial Counsellors and Secretaries, part of which has already received sanction. A selection committee has sat, and we have now very carefully selected candidates for all those posts and they are just ready to proceed out. We have sitting upon that committee both officials and business men. With regard to the Consular Service, it is difficult to remodel the whole of a large permanent service when you are living under war conditions, but though the scheme is not yet quite finished, I am able to give the details of it in outline. We have analysed the whole of the different places where Consuls ought to be stationed according to their importance primarily from a commercial point of view, but also in some countries, like Persia, from the point of view of the political and other duties which they have to fulfil. Broadly speaking, we know now within a very small limit of area exactly the best places where the Consuls should be stationed, and how many more than the present staff there ought to be. It is not possible to make a final determination until after the Peace Conference has settled to whom certain territories will belong, and until our Commercial Counsellors have been on the spot and have suggested adjustments in the light of their knowledge, but within a small margin of error we know now precisely how many salaried posts there ought to be in the Consular Service and exactly where the Consuls ought to be placed. We have considered how the Consuls ought to be trained. We have consulted a very large body of first-class business men. The scheme has been settled in outline, and at this moment it is being worked out in detail. I hope that it will be finished by the end of this year. It will be necessary, 3289 of course, if the service is to do its duty properly, that the Consuls should have adequate means. It is perfectly impossible to expect to get and to keep good enough men unless the reward is such as to enable them to have a decent living in the places to which they are assigned. I will not mention other points. We have again gone into the matter, and I trust that we shall have finished before Christmas a really careful system of records to be kept uniformly in each Consulate, which have never been kept up till now, in order that adequate help and information may be given to our own business men upon the spot, and that, as conditions change from day to day, the fresh information will always be sent home so as to be kept on record in London, in order to be available to people in this country. That is all in train, and at the end of this year I hope to have a complete scheme to put forward for consideration. Under that scheme, if it is adopted, I sincerely trust we shall have a service which will not only be second to none, but superior to any, and one of which any country could be legitimately proud.
The hon. Baronet asked me a question about this country. I must not go into the question of the Ministry of Commerce, but I may say this in regard to that question. The present arrangement is a compromise, and therefore carries with it the evil connotations connected with a compromise. I think it is really the best system for a piece of business that is likely to take a political complexion that you ought not to dissociate it from officials who have to deal with it in a far country. It is, therefore, quite right that the Foreign Office should be in close touch with those who have to deal with trade. Similarly, in this country it is quite natural that the Board of Trade, especially with the new Department that has been created for the development of home industries, ought to be kept in touch with those officials as well. I have not experienced any difficulty through the principle of joint work. I think that a certain amount of readjustment is necessary as a result of a year's experience, but on the principle itself I have very little doubt at all. If enough attention has not been paid in the past, as I do not think it has been paid, to British business abroad, it has simply been because the officials of the Foreign Office of former days have had quite 3290 enough to do with the political work and have not had the time to go into business matters in the way in which they ought to be examined if efficient help is to be afforded. The real answer is to say that the new Department, working jointly with the other, is sufficient to give the matter consideration and is sufficiently closely in touch with the business community to have their support after consideration has been given. The hon. Baronet says he has been down to the offices in Basinghall Street, and has seen the accommodation and staff. I frankly say that I would not like to be responsible for an office which has to continue under those conditions when the War is ended. As a matter of fact, it is impossible, under the conditions that obtain there at the moment, for the work to be done adequately when peace comes again. It would be quite impossible, and anyone has only to go down there to see the conditions to realise that. At the same time the staff down there realise, as I do, that buildings for public offices in war-time have presented a work of peculiar difficulty, and we all realise that we have to carry on the work there as best we can until peace conditions enable us to go to a place where the accommodation is more adequate, and we can do the work properly. Of course, if the work is to be done properly, the staff and accommodation must be such as to enable that to be done; otherwise the work and the business of the country will suffer, and the results which I wish to see will not be obtained with regard to our foreign trade. I have no doubt that the principle of joint working is right, and I have no doubt, as a result of the year's experience, that if the new system of organisation in the Consular Service is put through both at home and abroad, there is no question that the trade of this country will be benefited to an extent which would hardly have been realisable in the older days.
§ Sir J. HARMOOD-BANNER
First of all I should like to thank the right hon. Gentleman on behalf of the manufacturing and mercantile community for what he has told us of his efforts to meet our wants. In our efforts for trade to keep our industries going we shall require every assistance from the Government in this export business and overseas trade to enable us to prosper. That, however, is not the question upon which I wish to address the House. I am pleased to see the Chancellor of the Exchequer here, 3291 Before we terminate our proceedings it would be a useful thing to the City and the community generally if we heard something from him in reference to the finance of our present position. We are going before our electors, and we know we have to face them in this matter of finance. They have been so accustomed to an expenditure of £7,000,000 a day on the War that it is very difficult now to tell them how we are going to get on if we reduce that expenditure and bring it within moderate or peace limits. Already we have heard it said, "What are you going to do with pensions; what are you going to do about wages?" and all the various subjects which appertain to the wants of the community in a war. You cannot speak of economy, because they will reply, "Well, you have been spending at the rate of £7,000,000 a day. What is this little amount for which we are asking?" Therefore it is very desirable that we should know at once where we are as regards expenditure which will now be requisite to carry on the nation. I am one of those manufacturers who have been paying heavily in Excess Profits Duty, and we want to know from the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he proposes to continue the Excess Profits Duty. That is a very important matter. I think I am right in saying that the Excess Profits Duty was exclusively a war tax. It was not in existence before the War, but was put on for war purposes. While I quite conceive—I wrote a little article the other day on the subject—that it is quite right that the right hon. Gentleman should, by some method or other, get in excess profits which arise from good trade consequent on the War, yet if he could give us some assurance that he does not intend to continue the Excess Profits Duty and tell us how he is going to deal with it, he would confer a great boon on the community. At the election it will give us considerable assistance in going before our constituents to be able to assure them that we have, at any rate, got some moderate concession from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that whatever might be raised for war expenditure, that war expenditure was going to cease and War taxation was going to cease. We know that we have to find war taxation for past war purposes, but undoubtedly if proper economy is practised, if we stop the huge expenditure on armaments which is going on, we should be able to reduce the £7,000,000 a 3292 day to some more reasonable limit. As long as the people have no light and leading as regards that expenditure and something to show that it is to be brought within limits, we may be sure that when we go before our electors we shall have a call, a summons, and a demand that the heavy war expenditure, now that it has ceased for war purposes, shall be applied to what they consider benevolent purposes, but which others who have other more definite views of finance might consider are rather beyond the true principles of government. We want to get back to the true principles of government as soon as we can. I am glad to see the Chancellor of the Exchequer come into the House, and should not like to let him off on this occasion from giving us some light and leading as to how to deal with our constituents on the great question of peace finance, as against the heavy war finance we have had to bear in the last few years.
§ The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Bonar Law)
I am not sorry that my hon. Friend has given me an opportunity of saying a word or two on this subject. I do not know that I shall say exactly what he particularly desires in one respect. He has spoken of the Excess Profits Duty, and he rather indicated that, if I could state definitely that that Duty is to come to an end, it might be useful to some people at the election. That is a little doubtful. Looking at it from that point of view, the number of those who pay Excess Profits Duty is not so large as the number of those who think that the Excess Profits Duty ought to be higher. Therefore, I am not sure it is of value from that point of view. But it has to be looked at, like every other problem, not from the point of view of what the largest number at a given moment think about it, but what is really the wise course to adopt. As far as regards excess profits, I have already said more than once that, as far as I can judge—this is as far as I myself am concerned, and I think it would be true of anyone who is Chancellor of the Exchequer—the House would be unwise even to contemplate continuing the tax on anything like its present basis. As a matter of fact I read with great interest the small article written by my hon. Friend, in, I think, a Sunday newspaper. I was pleased to see that he, who is a very fair representative of the class which pays this tax, was already contemplating the possibility of some source of revenue in that direction.
3293 Another thing which my hon. Friend said is true. I have always thought that the difficulties of finance were going to be far greater when the War ended than they were even during the continuance of the War. I am convinced of that now. Although I do not think it was a specially easy task for the Chancellor of the Exchequer while the War was going on, I am satisfied that it will be a very much more difficult task in the future, and that it will require much more personal attention and work than was given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer while the War was going on.
In one thing I am in entire agreement with my hon. Friend. It is absolutely essential, in my belief, for the well-being of this country that we should get on to a peace basis of expenditure as quickly as we possibly can. What he has said is true. Everyone who desires any reform will point to our enormous expenditure, saying that what he wants only requires so many millions, and he will ask why cannot we do it. At the same time, it is equally impossible, after four and a half years of putting back, from the Treasury point of view, every form of national expenditure, to contemplate—if it is a thing even to be considered—that we should not attempt in some way or other to make good the wastage in the social life in every direction which has taken place during the War. Of course, the Government—whatever Government it is—must try to strike as well as it can a proper mean between expenditure of that kind, which the national welfare absolutely demands, and expenditure which could be avoided without detriment to the national life.
I said, in moving the last Vote of Credit, that, as far as the Treasury was concerned, we would get back to peace methods as quickly as possible. I think that in itself is of great value, for, though it was impossible during the War, I have always recognised that the method of control by this House—the method of Estimates—did form a real test of expenditure, and the sooner we get back to it the better. At the same time, I wish the House and the country to realise that that cannot happen now. Owing to the War the industrial life of the country has got under Government control. That cannot be changed rapidly, and it seems to me that for some time to come expenditure due to the War, but which will still be effective after the War, will have to take place under Votes of Credit. And for 3294 the same reason, contracts ought not to be made beyond the present financial year. But I am quite sure the House will agree with me that, in view of the facts to which I have alluded—in view, for instance, of the munition establishments and numerous contracts of all kinds which have been made—it is perfectly impossible to make the change from war to peace without coming under some obligations to extend beyond the present financial year. Our duty must be to make them as small as possible, and if, as is quite likely, in some respects we technically offend the Rules of this House, we may have to do what has been done during the War, and pass a War Obligations Bill, to free the Government from indemnities which might be caused by that action. No one can have had the handling of this gigantic expenditure without realising that, however great was the apparent prosperity of the country and however large the production, it was all on an artificial basis, and that it was when the War ended that the real nature of that basis would become apparent. Therefore it is obviously the duty of anyone responsible for the finances of the country to control them as rigorously as they can, and to come back as quickly as possible to the ordinary methods of peace finance.
§ Mr. KING
The subjects which have been discussed, though very important, have all been subjects not of immediate decision. I propose to ask the attention of Ministers to a question which they must face now and which brooks no delay, and the sooner it is settled satisfactorily the better for the country. I mean, When are our liberties to be restored to us When are we to have, for instance, the censorship of the Press removed The menace of German militarism is, I believe, abolished for ever, thank God! Why should we not have the military censorship removed? Why are we prevented from mentioning Archangel in our newspapers? There is a military ban upon any reference to the Archangel Expedition. Why? No information which can come now can help the enemy. We are shut out completely from postal, telegraphic, or any other information, and I see no reason why there should be any military censorship at all, and why in connection with Archangel there should be a complete ban of silence upon the newspapers. I wish to ask the Chief Secretary for Ireland what he 3295 proposes to do with his Irish prisoners. In other countries there have been political amnesties for prisoners. He informed me to-day that he had not made up his mind whether he was going to let his hundred odd prisoners out whom he has interned now for five or six months without any cause, except a mere charge of a German plot, which no one really believes, and without any trial and without any of the amenities and decencies which are generally allowed to political prisoners being applicable in their case. Now, having dropped the charge of a German plot, he gave us the other day a strange, vague charge about high explosives to such an amount that the whole of Belfast and Dublin might be blown to pieces. My knowledge of high explosives seems to indicate that if you have enough to blow both Belfast and Dublin to pieces, you would want a factory about half the size of Guinness's brewery, and how enough high explosives for such a gigantic purpose or of such enormous expense could be brought into the country with the present rigid censorship, control, passports and inspection of all material and all goods that come in, I do not know. I do not know how it is possible for anyone to believe in this high explosive plot. Possibly Major Price, or some of those strange people in the menagerie of Dublin Castle, may impose upon the Chief Secretary, and he may be quite legitimately and reasonably convinced. But that is not the point. The public does not believe in these German plots, nor in the high explosive theory, and therefore, when you get these people kept in prison with such vague charges, which are never brought into the Court of justice, they are made heroes and martyrs. You are adding political strength every day you keep these men in prison, and their opponents will tell you the same story. Why is it that the hon. Member (Mr. Dillon) is going into this Election practically a beaten man? Because of the help the Chief Secretary and Dublin Castle have given to Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein and Dublin Castle, with the Chief Secretary at their head, are in league together to destroy and defeat the constitutional movement for Home Rule in Ireland. I protest against this from the point of view of politics and still more from the point of view of one who believes that England has in the past stood for liberty all over the world, and I protest against it as a mere mockery at this time for us to talk 3296 about making the world safe for democracy and believing in a League of Nations when we destroy the rights of the Irish nation to have its leaders stand as candidates at the coming Election. Is the Chief Secretary going to have a political amnesty at all? Liebknecht is out of prison in Germany. Why should not de Valera be out of prison in Ireland? If be is not going to have a political amnesty is he going to allow these men, who are gentlemen, who are men of great ability, intellectual and political, who have just as much right to stand as candidates at the coming Election as anyone on the Treasury Bench, to write addresses from their prison cells and issue them to the electors If he is not going to do that, it is indeed intolerable. Does he ever mean to let these prisoners out at all? If he cannot let them out now, why should he ever let them out? They will give no pledges what their policy is to be. They have declared for an independent Irish republic. You are not going to get them to come out on the promise that they will give up that policy and become loyal Unionists. You have either to keep them in prison permanently or you have to let them out some time or other. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to let them out at once. Let them go free. Let them go home. Let them do what they like. So long us they do not commit any crime according to the criminal law of our land—which they have not done, or else they would have been tried many times over—it is our duty, and, I believe, it is the only intelligent system on which we can go, consistently with our principles, to let them out at once. I appeal to the Chief Secretary to give us some assurance that a policy of liberty and justice will now be observed.
§ 8 P.M.
§ Colonel LYNCH
I rise to support the argument of my hon. Friend. As this Parliament is drawing so close to an end, may I be permitted to say that in all my own political career, however obscurely and tortuous it may have seemed to others, I have aimed ultimately at a reconciliation between England and Ireland—a reconciliation which would be mutually advantageous and honourable to both countries. I cannot conceive of an Irish question now as a struggle between the North of Ireland and the South. I would like to see both these sections, if they are sections, reconciled in one great ideal of nationhood. Having accom- 3297 plished that union, I would like to see a further reconciliation with Great Britain. These feelings, which have always been deep in my mind, have been stimulated by the course of this War, for, however sharply I may have myself criticised their system, this War has raised, I will say it to all the world, the race of Englishmen to a height of greatness which extorts an admiration such as we give to the heroes of past times who loom so great in history. The name of Englishmen will be respected for all time for that great ideal which was held out before Englishmen, and which stimulated them to fight this gigantic fight against German Imperialism, against oppression, against tyranny, and against reaction. Irishmen have really taken a great part in that fight, far greater than one would have supposed from recent events, and it is with deep regret that I found that at the very end political feeling prevailed so that their final act of devotion was thwarted, and that in the end Irishmen failed to respond, as I think they should have done, to the call of the Allies.
Yet, although the men for whom I now plead were my own political enemies in my recent endeavours, and will be my political enemies in the approaching campaign, I do support with whatever force I can command, the plea of my hon. and learned Friend. After all the War is now over. These men were political prisoners. I will not enter into the question of whether there was a German plot, or no German plot, but whatever the circumstances may have been these men are political prisoners, and this House certainly has always recognised a great difference between political prisoners and those of any other category. I do not suppose the Chief Secretary can appreciate the feelings of a man in prison. I know he has imagination and many gifts, and I will say now in two or three words that I consider him, in spite of the criticisms levelled at him recently from these benches, as a man who, by his personal qualities, by his ability, by his good intentions towards Ireland was well fitted to have the most distinguished career of any Chief Secretary who has sat on that bench. I hope that that good career is not finished. I would like to see him having a far freer hand than he has hitherto got, so that his own ideas may have a free course and fair play. I believe, too, that he may yet redeem the highest hopes of his friends.
3298 He cannot possibly appreciate the feelings of a man in prison, but I am in that position, and perhaps it is a fellow-feeling that makes us wondrous kind and gives a little added impulse to my plea for my enemies. I would say that in prison when a man's thoughts are cast very deeply into the origins and real meanings of things, where they move on the bed-rock, so to speak, of human motives and passions, a prisoner is really touched by a generous impulse and his heart responds to it. The political prisoner steels himself to the very last atom of fortitude against oppression, against the desire to crush him by mere brute force, and I believe those feelings animate most political prisoners to-day.
If they are kept longer in prison they will rise higher and higher in the estimation of their fellow countrymen as martyrs. You know the old story of the Roman procession where the most conspicuous statue carried was that which was absent, to use an Irishism, and so the strongest candidate in Ireland for an Irish constituency is the candidate who is not present because he is in an English prison.
We have reached now, thanks to the heroism of Englishmen, of Scotsmen, and of Welshmen, and, I will say, of Irishmen, we have reached a period where we can all breathe in liberty, when the world is expanding to our vision for all of us, where new hopes are entering into our minds; and, as a last act of grace, I would entreat the Home Secretary to call upon that generous spirit which I am sure is his, and perform an act which will shine before the eyes of Irishmen, and which I believe will redound not only to their happiness, but ultimately to the strength of this country.
§ The CHIEF SECRETARY for IRELAND (Mr. Shortt)
I am quite sure the House will appreciate fully the tone of the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend who spoke last, a speech which I am quite sure will find an echo in the heart of every man who heard it, because I am certain that every Member of this House is as anxious as my hon. and gallant Friend to see, not only peace in Ireland, but peace between Ireland and this country. But the matter of the release of these prisoners is really much more difficult than my hon. and gallant Friend seems to appreciate. It is being considered as part of the whole question of amnesty and the Defence of the Realm Regulations, but what I would 3299 like to remind my hon. and gallant Friend as this: Is there a chance, does he think, that they will give a pledge, an undertaking not to change their politics—no one has ever asked them to do that—not to change their views, no one has ever asked them to do it—will they give a pledge not to resort to or incite to physical force in Ireland. May I just remind my hon. and gallant Friend that it is not the first time an amnesty has been asked for some of these very men. Some of these men who are there to-day have been condemned before, and they were allowed out on the same grounds put forward by my hon. and gallant Friend, on the same belief that they would have seen the errors of the ways of physical force, the same belief that if they were treated with leniency they would appreciate it, and the results would be all those my hon. and gallant Friend prophesied, and yet what happens? The very first thing when they got out was to resort once again to physical force, and incite to physical force, and do all those things which are an absolute danger to the community in Ireland, and for which they had been imprisoned. When one has a recollection of that before one, it makes it difficult indeed to deal at any rate with some of these prisoners as one would wish. I cannot make a definite statement tonight; I have said so before. The matter is being carefully considered, and considered as a whole, and I cannot possibly make any statement to-night.
With regard to the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Somerset (Mr. King), he re-hashed all the absurd charges which have been refuted over and over again. He made the same statement about the German plots which has been refuted over and over again. Really my hon. and learned Friend has sung his swan song, and I do not think I need take up the time of the House in going into the matter in detail. I hope I have answered everything my hon. Friend put to me, but as I say I cannot make any definite statement to-night.
§ Mr. KEATING
My object in trespassing on the time of the House is to draw attention to the inconsistent attitude adopted by the Government, and practically all the members of the Gov- 3300 ernment, towards Ireland as compared with the professions that they make, and which they would have the world believe are the principles which inspire them at the present time. The Chief Secretary has made several allusions to the Sinn Fein movement, and he has laid down principles to which, if they were applied to the Attorney-General, he would be one of the first who would be loth to give an answer. Suppose I ask the Attorney-General whether he would be prepared to refrain in future from resorting to or inciting to physical force against any Act of Parliament that may be passed by this House? The right hon. Gentleman is silent. Another principle expressed by the Chief Secretary is this: In a reply to a question he said that perfect freedom of speech would be permitted, but seditious speeches would be punished. Will that apply to any future seditious speeches that may be made against a Home Rule Act of Parliament? That is a very inconvenient question to answer, and I am not surprised that it is ignored. That is the sort of inconsistency that I wish to point out, and which we think is a blot upon the reputation of this Government. I am convinced that the time will come when the British people—and I know the British people fairly well—will hold the Government responsible for their inconsistency and injustice towards Ireland. With regard to the general situation I must protest—as this may be the only chance I shall have in this Parliament, and no one can foresee what will happen in the next Parliament—against the grave and unfair charges that are made against Ireland as a result of her assumed in-activities in this War. I have no hesitation in saying, and I think I shall be able to prove it, that Nationalist Ireland has done as much in this War, if not more, than the boasted Unionist part of Ireland. Members of this House and Britishers as a whole are less subject to appeals to sentiment than they are to be impressed by a bald recital of facts and figures. I am quite content to rely upon figures to prove the fact that with all the Unionist boasting Nationalist Ireland has contributed as much manpower in this War, if not more, than Unionist Ireland. I have here some figures given by the Under-Secretary for War—and we cannot have a higher authority—to the hon. Member for Dulwich on 15th April this year. The hon. Member for Dulwich (Sir F. Hall) asked 3301what is the present strength of the military forces maintained in Ireland and how this compares with the numbers in 1917, 1916, and 1915; and the number of men recruited for the Army in Ireland in the years 1914, 1915, 1916, and 1917, supplying separate figures for Ulster and the rest of Ireland?Mr. Macpherson: It is not in the public interest to publish the number of troops in the various theatres, and no exception can be made in the case of Ireland. In reply to the second part of the question the figures are:
— 1914. 1015. 1916. 1917. Total. Ulster 26,283 19,020 7,305 5,830 58,438 Rest of Ireland 17,851 27,351 11,752 8,193 65,147 Making a total of 123,585Mr. Devlin: Is the hon. Gentleman aware that nearly one-half of these recruits from Ulster are Irish Nationalists and Catholics?Mr. Macpherson: I cannot say."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th April, 1918, col. 42, Vol. 105.]The hon. Member for West Belfast repeated these figures in this House in the presence of the Attorney-General for Ireland and the right hon. Member for Trinity College and others, and they had not a word to say. Nevertheless, the theory is advanced that in some mysterious way Ulster has won this War and Nationalist Ireland has done nothing. I do not ask the House to accept the estimate of the hon. Member for West Belfast, that half the recruits from Ulster were Nationalists and Catholics, although he is a fairly good judge and there was no man in Ulster who could raise more troops for the Army than the hon. Member for West Belfast, I am quite willing to give credit to Ulster Unionists for having recruited two-thirds of the total. That would give Ulster a total of about 38,000 recruits and the rest of Ireland about 75,000. That is practically two to one from Nationalist Ireland as compared with Unionist Ireland, and that is, approximately, the population of Ireland. About one-third is Unionist and two-thirds Nationalist and Catholic. What becomes of this theory about Unionist Ireland having done so much? It is a fallacy, and, according to these figures, every honest man must admit it is a fallacy, or else he is endeavouring to prove that 2 and 2 make 5. I rely upon facts. I am sufficiently British to believe that facts appeal to the mind more than mere rhetorical exaggeration. You have had your recruiting campaign since these figures were published. How many recruits did you have from the rest of Ireland? I cannot say how many precisely. 3302 The published figures are about 12,000. Of that 12,000 only about 4,000 came from the Belfast area, and applying the same principle as before, it is only fair to assume that only one-third of that 4,000 were Nationalists.
That simple recital of the figures is enough for my purpose. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Trinity College (Sir E. Carson) has just been in Ireland, and has declared, among other things, that Ulster compared very favourably with the rest of Ireland in this matter, and that as far as his power was concerned—and it is very great, and I have no doubt will have effect in due time—he would see that British legislation in the future would apply automatically to the six counties in Ulster over which he claimed to have dictatorship. Is it not a pity that that principle was not enunciated a little earlier, so that those who boast of their loyalty would have had an opportunity of complying with the Military Service Act? I do not think that it would have had much effect as far as we are concerned, but in the interests of the reputation for superior loyalty as compared with the rest of Ireland which these men seek to establish for themselves, it is a pity that this was not done. On this question of the disparaging statements which are made about Nationalist Ireland in reference to the services which it has rendered as compared with other portions of the Commonwealth—I prefer to call it that rather than Empire; it is a much more true term—it is only fair to remember that the Vice-President of the Board of Agriculture in Ireland, who occupies a position similar to that of the President of the Board of Agriculture in this country, when he was consulted about the desirability of applying Conscription in Ireland said, "You can have your choice: You can have more food and fewer men or you can have more men and less food," and I venture to say that he was in no way a party to applying Conscription in Ireland, but yet, because Ireland refused the Conscription Act, she is now misrepresented and maligned by many persons, both in this country and in this House.
But we have another portion of the Empire which refused Conscription—Australia. Is Australia to be branded as disloyal because the people in Australia thought that Conscription was not an expedient policy to adopt? Certainly not If you compare the actual number of recruits who came from Australia with 3303 the total population of Australia, and make a similar comparison between the number of recruits from Ireland and the population of Ireland, you will find that the percentage from Australia was about 6 per cent., and that a similar percentage came from Ireland. It is very unworthy of those who seek to criticise and condemn Ireland without giving Ireland, at all events, credit for what she has done. We are now face with the now policy under which the freedom of the world is to be established, but, as the American orator said, Ireland finds that in this matter she is not part of the world. We represent a community which has done as much in proportion to its population as Australia has done in proportion to its population, and we are to be denied the application of the principles for which ostensibly this War has been fought, and thank God has been brought to a glorious and victorious close. Everyone must agree that it is a glorious gift from the Almighty to get the peace that has been brought about by the united forces which overcame the scientific barbarians who sought to enslave the world. I want, on behalf of the people whom I represent, to protest against the differentiation which is made between the different sections of the community in Ireland.
The senior Member for Trinity College has been boasting of what was done by Ulster when the rest of Ireland was talking treason. The right hon. Gentleman is a pretty good judge of treason, and in future he will have to bear his share of the criticism that historians will express as to who was the first who caused Germany to start the War at this particular moment. At all events, one or two historians have already expressed their opinion as to his share of responsibility. Prince Lichnowsky, according to Mr. Gerard, reported to his Government that Great Britain did not wish to go to war. He claims now that he did not mean that Great Britain would not fight, but undoubtedly the German Foreign Office believed that Great Britain would remain out of the War.The raising of the Ulster army by Sir Edward Carson, one of the most gigantic political bluffs in all history, which had no more military significance than a torchlight parade during one of our Presidential campaigns, was reported by German spies as a real serious revolutionary movement, and it was believed by the Germans that Ireland would rise in general rebellion the moment that war was declared.3304 I hope that the House, and as far as possible the country, will remember the words of Mr. Gerard, who was no bad judge as to the reasons why the Germans went into the War at the time at which they did. Further on in his book Mr. Gerard says:The Foreign Office believed, and this belief percolated through all classes in the capital, that the British were so occupied with the Ulster rebellion and the rest of Ireland that they would not declare war.I do not wish to refer further to that part of the subject. I could read volumes of the most seditious sentiment and declarations as to what Ulster would do if an Act of Parliament were applied to Ireland to which Ulster objected. No doubt the House is familiar with them. I would remind the House if there is any man who is an authority of the most expert kind as to how an Act of Parliament should be resisted and ought to be resisted it is this loyal chief, this chartered libertine of rebellion who dares to dictate to men in this country as to what they ought to do in the application of principles of government. Believe me the time will come when he will have to pay the penalty of all those declarations. Now that the German menace has been removed for ever I have got enough knowledge of and faith in British justice to think that they will deal with those who have made such declarations. Unfortunately, we have a combination of circumstances which will undoubtedly operate in the meantime, but I can assure you that the day will come when those who are untrue now to the principles which they profess will be found out and will suffer for it in the future. I do not know what is going to happen at the election, but in my belief no Government will last six months the moment Ireland has recovered its unity and when the difficulties which at present exist have been removed. It is only a question of time. We have been divided before, but the Irish forces came together again and Nationist Ireland will reassert itself. When that day comes the life of this Government will not be worth three or four months' purchase. I do not suppose there is much terror in my threats, none whatever; but even the most humble observer of history and of politics may at times express a great truth in a very simple way. I believe I am expressing a great truth when I say that no fraud ever exists for long in British politics, and those who are defrauding Ireland of liberty 3305 will be found out and punished in due course, and the people who will punish them will he those who are inspired with a traditional sense of justice, namely, the British democracy, which will reassert itself. But of all men to lead the British people into the position they are now in the Prime Minister should absolutely be the last. I have read speeches by the Prime Minister in which he said that the Roman Empire has come and gone, but Welsh nationality still continued. I remember a speech of the Prime Minister in 1903 in his fight against the Education Act when he was asserting the principles upon which a community should be governed. He said that the fourth principle was equality of nationality, and that whilst Scotland and England had their systems of education Wales had a system of primary education forced upon her by an outside nationality. He added that Wales wanted her own system which suited her own people. As a matter of fact the man who brought Sinn Fein principles first into operation was the present Prime Minister. I remember being in the Gallery when he walked out of this House and invited the other Welsh Members to do the same. They went away and boycotted this Parliament and organised opposition to the Welsh Education Act, and in twelve months' time he was able to boast that not a single county council in Wales was complying with that Act. His justification of that was that there were things greater than Acts of Parliament and that when Acts of Parliament committed injustice they became a dead letter. The present Foreign Secretary laid down principles in which he justified resistance to Acts of Parliament. Speaking in Manchester on September 25th, 1900, he asked: Supposing a corporation—for instance, Manchester—did something which the central authority thought ought not to have been done, but which the Corporation, freely elected, thought ought to be done, were they going to put them in prison or were they going to execute the law over their heads? He could not conceive how such a scheme could have entered the heads of practical statesmen. If you have three great authorities like the Prime Minister, the Member for Trinity College and the present Foreign Secretary, preaching defiance of Acts of Parliament, how can you, with any claim to be consistent, denounce the Irish Members for doing that which these great constitutional authorities have done? 3306 But another complaint I wish to make is against the Member for Blackfriars (Mr. Barnes), a member of the War Cabinet. I have here a report of his appeal to Ireland to trust organised labour; I understand that he repudiates himself by organised labour, and that he is honest enough to say that he no longer represents organised labour. How can you expect Irish Members of Parliament or Irish people to believe in British Ministers who say "trust organised labour" in one month and in the next month are repudiated by organised labour themselves? The Minister to whom I refer was challenged in this House as to his authority or his sincerity as to what he intended to do if a Home Rule Act was not passed. He said:I want to be perfectly frank; we are going to bring in a Bill and pass it, if it is within our power to pass it. I cannot say whether the House of Lords will pass it or not. If it does not, the ordinary consequences will follow.An Hon. Member: Will you resign?Mr. Barnes: I will, I have tried to state the position.Mr. Healy: Will the right hon. Gentleman or the Prime Minister go to the length of saying that if the House of Lords refuses to pass a Bill through the Ministry will resign?Mr. Barnes: There is no difficulty in answering a question of that sort. I would say, certainly the Government would resign.An Hon. Member: Let the Prime Minister answer.Mr. O'Grady: I see the Prime Minister is nodding his approval of the statements. Does he approve of it?The Prime Minister: Hear, hear, certainly.We have not had a Home Rule Bill passed, although you have the Prime Minister and a member of the War Cabinet both saying that if it were not passed they would resign. I say that if their consciences are perfectly clear in face of an incident of this kind, their consciences are not in accordance with the great position they hold or, in the long run, with the consciences of those who will finally say as to whether they shall continue to hold that position. The last observation I wish to make is this—it is in reference to the question of self-determination in Ireland and its relation to the Peace Conference. The Prime Minister on the same day declared:You can only get unity when every section of the community feels that justice has been done, not merely justice by compelling Irishmen to take their full share of the War, but also justice by securing to Ireland that principle of self-determination for which we are ostensibly fighting in every other country. That was one of the principles for which we entered the War, a principle from which we have never departed since 3307 the beginning of the War, it is a principle which I hope we shall be enabled to enforce at the Peace Conference.In view of the figures and the quotations that I have given, I think I am entitled to say that the Government are quite inconsistent, and that their accusations against Ireland are unfair, in view of the figures which I have read as to Ireland's contribution to the War. I say they are unjust and unfair, and that they ought to be ashamed to be running away from their own principles. Though Ireland is for the moment under a cloud of misunderstanding and misrepresentation before the world, I look to the day when Irish power will again be sufficient to defend great democratic principles, to defend the ideals for which Ireland has lived and fought, to establish them by the strength of her own power and unity and her own great influence throughout the world, and when, in co-operation with the great heart of labour and democracy in this country, Ireland will go forward to a destiny of freedom and prosperity, and the enemies of Ireland will be relegated to the obscurity of defeated tyranny. I hope and pray that the day will come when that result will be achieved and Ireland will be once more restored to unity and power and strength, and her enemies will be defeated and unable to oppress her.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the third time, and passed.