HC Deb 18 August 1919 vol 119 cc2017-8

I should like to say another thing. We have been urged to withdraw troops, and it is said that the withdrawal of troops and demobilisation are the only methods to secure immediate reduction. But the other day I was amazed to get a letter from the International Trade Congress. I am not sure that that is the name, but it met at Lucerne.


Trade Union Congress.


That is it. It is the International Labour Conference, sitting at Lucerne, and it represented the Socialists of all ranks. What was the request? Was it that we should demobilise? Was it that we should reduce our armaments? Was it that we should clear out from countries which were not our own, and leave those people to self-determination? Not at all. It was a resolution angrily complaining that British troops were withdrawing from the Caucasus! I have had support for this appeal from the greatest economist in this House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Name?"] We have a division and a half there, and it is costing us millions. Speaking roughly, I should not be a bit surprised if (with shipping and everything else) it cost us about £30,000,000 a year. America appeals to us not to withdraw; the International Socialists appeal to us not to withdraw; and, if that is not sufficient, I am proud of this fact, that the inhabitants beg the British soldiers not to withdraw. There was no prouder appeal ever addressed to any land than the appeal which asks the British soldier to remain there to shield them. It is almost worth the money. But at the same time how can we demobilise? The same appeal comes from Syria—"Do not go away."

But we cannot, until these questions are settled, reduce the expenditure to normal. Let me give the House other reasons. We have got to wind up; we have got to keep a certain Army in France; we have 400,000 prisoners, whom we cannot restore till Peace be ratified. We cannot restore them till we know that other terms are going to be conformed with. There are conditions of that kind. You cannot, the moment the War is over, suddenly say to everybody, "Go home; leave the guns; leave hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of material down there; do not even clear it, do not protect it, do not sell it, leave it alone." There are hundreds of millions of pounds involved, and it is no use asking unreasonable things, and saying, "You are spending tons of money," without asking why you are spending it, and whether you would be better off if you did not spend it. As a matter of fact, you would lose if you did not carry these things through. It is no use fighting a great war for four or five years, unless you see the job right through.

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