I do so for the purpose of giving the Secretary of State for War an opportunity of explaining fully the purpose of the extraordinary document that was issued by his Department some time ago, and as the document itself bears out, was issued for the special information of the Secretary of State himself. The document to which I refer reads as follows. It is marked:
Secret and urgent.
1. I am directed to request that until further notice you will furnish information on the headings hereunder as regards the troops in your area, and that you will arrange for a report to reach this office without fail not later than first post each Thursday morning.
I understand from a reply given recently that these reports are still being supplied to the Secretary of State. The points on which information was asked were—
- "(a) Will troops in various areas respond to orders for assistance to preserve the public peace?
- (b) Will they assist in' strike breaking?
- (c)Will they parade for draft to overseas, especially to Russia?
- (d)What has been the effect of Army Order XIV. of 1919 on the men? Do they consider the policy of dividing the Army into the classes demobilisables and non-demobilisables, a sound one, and, if so, do they think that the line of cleaverage has been equitably fixed. Is there any dissatisfaction with either the principles or the de tails of that Order, and, if so, what are your recommendations?
- (e) Any other information or suggestions.
§ (2) You will please give your own views for the information of the General Officer Commanding.
§ (3) You will, of course, understand that any material change in a situation, and any cases of disorder or indiscipline are to be reported at once.1470
§ (4)The above is to be circulated to all officers commanding Stations, Formations, and Units in the area under your command and to save time you will please instruct Officers Commanding Stations to forward reports under the headings given above direct to these Headquarters attaching any report from an Officer Commanding Formation or Unit which is of importance. They will quote the above number and mark the reports "Secret and urgent."
§ (5) I am to add that the above is required with a view to the establishment of an efficient intelligence service whereby the Army Council can keep its finger on the pulse of the troops, and that the information desired is required for the information of the Secretary of State."
The following was also issued to Station Commanders:
Will you please let me have the following formation for the C.M.A—Area as speedily as possible with regard to the Units on the Station under your command:
§ Mr. ADAMSON
I cannot give its date, but this extraordinary document was, as I have stated, issued some time ago. I think that the hon. Gentleman who replied on behalf of the Secretary of State when I asked a question two weeks ago with regard to this matter, stated that this circular had been issued three months ago. He went on to explain that it had been issued at a time when there was the probability of an extensive strike taking place in the country. I want to say, with regard to this document, that in my opinion it was a very foolish one for the Secretary of State to issue, and its issue has caused intense feeling among the working classes of this country. Those of us who are in the habit of going from place to place in the discharge of our duties as trade union officials know the extent of the dissatisfaction and the intense feeling that has been engendered by the issue of such a document by the Secretary of State for War. Its issue might easily have led to serious consequences. If the trade union movement of 1471 the country—that movement which receives special attention in the circular issued by the Secretary of State for War—had been as hasty as I think he was, they might have taken that up as a direct challenge to a trial of strength between the Government and themselves. Fortunately, they have taken a saner line, and I hope that the experience of the Secretary of State for War in this connection will be a lesson to him, that the issue of this document will be stopped immediately, and that we shall not have any other foolish circular of this kind issued by his Department in the future.
As hon. Members will have observed from my reading of the document, it contains a large number of points. I have no intention of wearying the House by dealing with all of them, but there are four or five which I want to deal with as briefly as I can. It is just possible that others who follow me may take the opportunity of dealing with some of the other points which the document contains. The points to which I want to direct special attention are:Will they assist in strike breaking?Will they parade for draft to overseas, especially to Russia?Whether there is any growth of trade unionism among them.The effect that outside trade unions have on them.In dealing with these points, I want to take them in the reverse order from that in which I have read them to the Committee, and to deal with the last one first—namely the effect that outside trade unions have on them—and I want to put this question to the Secretary of State for War: What effect did he imagine that outside trade unions, as he described them in his circular, would have on the men who, at the present moment, make up the British Army? Largely the Army, as we know it to-day, and as we have known it for the past five years, has been made up of trade unionists. They were members of their trade unions before they entered the Army, and in many cases their trade unions were keeping these men in full membership without asking them to pay a single farthing of contribution. That was one of the burdens which the trade union movement of this country took upon its shoulders with a view to keeping the men who were to on into the Army in order to defend the country in full benefit as members of their trade union. So that, in the main, the 1472 men to whom this circular applies were members of trade unions, knew the arrangements that had been made for maintaining their membership, and, as a matter of fact, in countless instances were in close and intimate relationship with the officials of the trade union movement. Whenever any difficulty arose, the first person to-whom these men applied was the general secretary of their trade union, and in thousands of cases letters have been sent by the officials of the trade union movement to the various Government Departments, and in particular to the War Office, to get the particular grievances of these men remedied. In addition to that close personal connection, their fathers and their brothers who remained at home were also members of the trade union movement. Did the Secretary of State for War expect that because they had gone into the Army they would entirely cut themselves off from any association with their own trade union, or with the work of the trade union movement, and cease to take any further interest in the movement with which they had been connected for such a length of time?
§ Commander BELLAIRS
Surely the view has never been put forward by a Minister that they should cut themselves off from their trade unions?
§ Mr. ADAMSON
Reading this circular that has been issued by the Secretary of State for War, one would take it to mean that that is his attitude of mind, and the attitude of those who haye been advising him in regard to this matter. A further point that I want to deal with is-one that I think should have been remembered by the Secretary of State before he issued any such document. When the country was in need of men in the early days of the War, to whom did he and his fellow Members of the Government go in order to get assistance to raise-men for the Army and the Navy? To whom, in the main, but the leaders of the trade union movement of this country? If the position is such as I have described it, what effect did the Secretary of State for War imagine that the trade union movement would have on men who were still remaining in the Army? Why should the men who for the time being were in the Army have been either ashamed or afraid to take an active interest in the movement of which they had been members before they went into the Army? They were in those unions 1473 for the purpose of protecting their labour. Those unions were protecting the working conditions to which these men hoped to return after the War was over, and they had no cause either to be afraid or ashamed of being connected with any such movement. The next point to which I want to direct the attention of the Secretary of State is the third one which I read out to the Committee, namely, "Whether there is any growth of trade unionism among them." From what I have already stated I think the Committee will realise that the Army as at present constituted is largely made up of trade unionists. That being the case, did not the Secretary of State for War or his advisers realise that these men, naturally enough, would discuss amongst themselves, in the few moments of leisure that they got in the Army, the benefits of trade unionism, and that in all probability the talking of it over with that section of the men in the Army that had not had a trade union connection before their enlistment, would have the effect of increasing the favourable feeling regarding the trade union movement'! I do not think that the growth of the trade union movement in the Army was a matter that should have seriously alarmed the Secretary of State for War. It is not as if the right hon. Gentleman had had no experience of the trade union Movement and of the benefit it has been to the country during the course of the five trying years from which we are just emerging. When the right hon. Gentleman was Minister of Munitions he had a Trade Union Advisory Committee at his disposal for advising him in the event of critical questions arising. It is true that he sometimes only called for their advice when some difficulty bad arisen in which it would have been better if he had called for their advice and discussed the matter with them before the difficulty arose. I am certain of this, that he always found, after lie brought in his Trade Union Advisory Committee, that he was all the better for the advice and the guidance which he obtained from these men of experience —[Mr. CHURCHILL: "Hear, hear!"] — and I am not sure but that he would be all the better for having a trade union advisory committee at the War Office in order to guide him in many of the difficulties that his Department is face to face with to-day. I am certain of this, that if he had such a committee at his command 1474 some of the difficulties that he has had to face in the near past would have been got over in a much more satisfactory manner than has been the case, so that, instead of requiring to get information regarding the growth and the effect of the trade union movement on the men in the Army, the Secretary of State, from his own personal experience, would have been in a position to realise the benefits that he and the country had obtained from a close and intimate connection with the trade union movement of the country.
The next point to which I wish to direct his attention is the second one of the number that I read out—namely, "Will they parade for draft overseas, and especially for Russia?" It is just possible that there is no part of this extraordinary circular that has caused more feeling than this particular part. It is not so very long ago since we were discussing in this House, on another issue that was raised, the question of sending our men to Russia, and on that occasion we had a specific assurance from the Secretary of State for War to the effect that only volunteers were to be sent to Russia. If I take the words that are used in this circular, it does not appear to me as if the intention of the Secretary of State was that only volunteers were to be sent to Russia, and it appears to me, from the words there used, that the commanding officers were to ascertain what effect the intimation that they would be required to go to Russia would have on the men. [Mr. Churchill indicated dissent.] I see that the Secretary of State shakes his head at the interpretation I am now putting upon the circular, but I want to give him some information that has already confirmed me that the interpretation I am now putting on this part of the circular is the correct one. Within the past week I have had several soldiers belonging to my own part of the country calling upon me and informing me that they are on draft leave and that the information that they have got at the headquarters of the battalion is to the effect that when their draft leave is over they are to be sent to Russia. I want to say quite plainly to the Secretary of State for War that that is a breach of the specific undertaking that he has given in the House regarding the men that are to be sent to Russia. If he has any doubt about the statement which I am now making, I will give him the name of the battalion. It is one of the battalions of 1475 my own Territorial' regiment, the Black Watch, and it is stationed at Haddington, and these men have been told, before they were sent on draft leave, that when they return to the headquarters of their unit they are to be sent to Russia. [Mr. CHURCHILL: "No!"] I am pleased to hear that statement from the Secretary of State, and I will take the earliest opportunity of conveying to the men who were interviewing me on this matter that I have the assurance of the Secretary of State for War that they are not to be sent to Russia.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Mr. Churchill)
No men are being sent by compulsion to Russia. A few officers may be sent who are indispensable, but no men are being sent who do not volunteer to Russia.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
In many cases these men have already been on active service overseas, and in certain cases have even been prisoners of war, and I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that they were informed they were to be sent to Russia. I am, however, pleased to have his assurance that such is not to be the case, and I will convey that information at the earliest possible moment to the men affected. In connection with this point, I wish to say that the retention of the men who are in Russia is causing a large amount of dissatisfaction among the people of this country. I do not know what the object of the Government is in continuing to retain a large number of our men in Russia, but whatever the object, it is one that is receiving no sympathy from the majority of the people of this country. They are not in favour of our troops being used in order to dictate the principles of government in Russia. The form of government that should obtain in Russia is a matter for the Russian people themselves, and the people of this country resent the interference in any shape or degree of our Government with the people of Russia just as strongly as they would resent the interference of any outside nation with the form of government that should obtain in this country.
1476 That brings me to the last of the points that I want to deal with, namely, "Will they assist in strike-breaking?" This part of his circular, I need hardly say to the right hon. Gentleman, is one that also has caused an intense amount of dissatisfaction throughout the country, and it is not to be wondered at that that feeling has seized hold of the working classes of this country. I do not think there will be a single member of the Committee here who will be surprised that the working classes feel very strongly regarding this part of that extraordinary document that they have discovered has been sent to the Army within the past few months. I want to put a few questions to the right hon. Gentleman. Did ho. expect that the men who form the British Army to-day would be likely to be consenting parties to be used as strike-breakers in any industrial dispute? Does the right lion. Gentleman think that it would be an easy thing for any of his battalion officers to get any of the men in the British Army to-day, composed largely of members of the trade union movement themselves, to shoot down any of their fellow trade unionists? Because if he thinks that, the thought is a very foolish one. Did he realise when he sent out such a document that the men who largely compose the trade union movement of the moment are men who have been demobilised from the Army a short time ago, and that these men are just as well trained as the men who remain in the Army, and are just as well able to protect themselves in the event of attempts being made to break any strike that they might be engaged in by using the troops? In the beginning of my remarks I said that, in my opinion, this was a very dangerous circular. To use such a circular, to attempt to put into operation such things as are contained in the circular, was simply playing with fire in the present state of feeling in this country, and it was a very foolish measure for the Secretary of State for War to do anything of the kind.
When I asked the question regarding this circular a fortnight ago we were informed by the hon. Gentleman who replied on his behalf that the Secretary of State for War's Department was entirely responsible for the issue of this document, and in view of information given us at that time we must put the responsibility on the Secretary of State for War, and I hope that in the course of the afternoon we will have some satisfactory explana- 1477 tion of the issue of this extraordinary document. Frequently, from these benches, we have intimated to Members in all parts of the House, to the Government, and to the country, that the men who comprise the Labour party in this House are constitutionalists and stand by constitutional action. Not only have we stated that specifically and definitely on the floor of this House, but that has been the principle that has guided our action in the country, sometimes under very trying circumstances. Some of us have had to tell those whose opinions and whose influence we respected and valued that in the event of any attempts being made to engineer anything in the form of a revolution we would be standing up against any such movement. I want to say as specifically to the Secretary of State for War this afternoon that if I find any attempt being made from any single member of the Government to engineer anything in the form of a revolt by the action they have taken, I will as strongly oppose any such action on their part as I would on the part of those for whom I have been speaking on the floor of this House. I hope that the experience the Secretary of State has gained by the issue of this circular will be a lesson to him, because it cannot have escaped the right hon. Gentleman's knowledge that this is one of the things that have caused intense and deep feeling in the country, and I hope that the issue of this will be immediately discontinued, and that we shall have no repetition of the issue of any such document in the future.
§ Mr. INSKIP
I am sure the whole Committee will have heard one passage, at any rate, of my right hon. Friend's speech with satisfaction, though not with surprise, when he said that he and those associated with him were determined to maintain a constitutional attitude in all these great questions. We on this side, and Members in every part of the Committee, I think, most sincerely believe in the right hon. Gentleman's professions on this point, and it would be unfortunate if the action of any Government Department or any word from any Member of the Committee led the right hon. Gentleman or his party to believe that we disbelieved in his professions, or that we are not prepared to meet him halfway, or, indeed, go with him the whole way. He and his party have rendered too great service to the working men of this country and to the nation an a whole to allow us to believe that in this 1478 crisis of our history they arc prepared to desert the great cause of the country which they have served, and when the right hon. Gentleman suggested that, if it were the intention of the Secretary of State for War or the War Office to provoke something in the nature of a revolt, the right hon. Gentleman and his party would resist the revolt by any means—as I understood him to say—within their power, I think he is making a suggestion less fortunate than probably he intended, because I am quite certain that it never entered the mind of the Secretary of State for War and the advisers of the War Office that any action they had taken, or intended to take, was devised with the idea of engineering a revolt of working men or any section of the working classes. It is the last possible thing that could enter the mind of any responsible man at this time in the history of our country, and I am sorry to see some hon. Gentlemen behind the Front Bench opposite are inclined to receive that statement with ridicule.
§ Mr. INSKIP
I venture to dispute that statement that the circular was proof of it. The right hon. Gentleman enlarged with some effect upon the unfortunate character of that circular. We are not prepared in any part of the Committee, I suppose, to defend the language of the circular or to suggest that it could not have been drafted with greater wisdom and greater skill, but if this discontent has been provoked by its publication, who was responsible for it? There was no necessity for the "Daily Herald" to publish the circular. It was intended to be a secret and confidential document for commanding officers to report on facts which came within their knowledge, and when the right hon. Gentleman said that dismay and discontent had been provoked in the ranks of the trade unions and of the working classes, it is obvious that dismay and discontent would not have been provoked if the "Daily Herald" and those associated with it had followed the more patriotic course of making private representation to the Minister who was responsible; and if they had failed to obtain satisfaction they might then have considered whether it was necessary to give further publicity to the Report. If the document was so undesirable, if it was so harmful, surely the best way was 1479 to secure its withdrawal at the earliest possible moment and to keep inviolate the secrecies which those who issued it intended it to have and to maintain the privilege which obviously attached to it. Hon. Members opposite are inclined to meet this with: ridicule, but they must be aware, or one day they will be aware when they come into power, that many things have to be done with secrecy and with confidence which are not fit to be, and not intended to be, disclosed to the public. At many times, I suppose, during the War inquiries must have been set on foot by Government Departments absolutely unobjectionable and absolutely necessary, but inquiries which at the same time would have provoked a certain amount of dismay and discontent in various parts of the country. Hon. Members opposite will not suppose' for a moment that this particular inquiry was singular. It may have been singular in its drafting and language and in its comprehensive reach, but it is certainly not the document which the right hon. Gentleman opposite appeared to think.
Without any knowledge of the internal administration of Government Departments, and a very small knowledge of the internal administration of one Department, I venture to think that many inquiries of this sort have been put on foot, not with the object of provoking a revolt, but with the genuine and properly democratic idea of enabling commanding officers and responsible Ministers to find out what is the feeling of those for whose direction and administration they are responsible. The first point which the right hon. Gentleman attacked was the inquiry as to the extent to which trade unionism was permeating the Army. I do not know why that was such a harmful inquiry, assuming it could have been made in language not open to objection, and, perhaps, more tactfully framed than the way in which this circular put it. Why should it be so objectionable for commanding officers to inform their superior officers at the War Office as to the extent to which trade unionism was affecting the conduct of men who were either in the Army for long service or during hostilities? Surely if commanding" officers reported the facts, as we must assume honourable men—as commanding officers are—would, they would have reported such facts as those to which the right hon. Gentleman gave prominence The trade unions were treating 1480 their men with great generosity and fairness during the War, and men who had entered for hostilities naturally were absolutely loyal to their trade unions, and nothing could be expected of them which was contrary to the principles to which they attached their names when joining the trade unions or contrary to the decisions of the majority in the trade unions to which they belong. I imagine that many of the commanding officers gave that reply, and I fail to see what there is injurious either to the trade union, to the Army, or to the State that commanding officers should be asked for such information as this, or that they should supply it when asked for it.
But it seems to me there is a more serious question at issue even than this. Surely it must be obvious to everybody—and I am sure it is as obvious to hon. Members opposite as to anyone—that to a certain extent the maintenance of discipline in the fighting forces is not easily to be maintained side by side with loyal allegiance to another authority. Trade unionism undoubtedly is a great authority, and it wields a great influence, and, of course, the trade unions came into existence and have been maintained for the benefit of the working men, and the better the trade unions have treated their members, the more excellent the work that they have done, the more loyal is likely to be the allegiance of the members of the trade union to their leaders. It is obvious, as I have said, that that loyalty, that allegiance, is not easily to be maintained if at the same time the implicit discipline and allegiance to the King, which every soldier and sailor professes, is also to be maintained, and one of the difficulties we have to face in the future is this: How are you going to reconcile the old ideas of discipline with the new ideas which permeate trade unionism? Whether you study the King's Regulations or the Admiralty Instruction, in both Services you will find what some people may call obsolete regulations dealing with this question of combination and allegiance to outside authorities. But I think, as one who is prepared to move with the times, and to recognise what the trade unions have done for the working men, the trade unions will have to work with the Ministers of the Crown to find the right solution of what is an exceedingly difficult problem, and if a circular and inquiry of this sort were properly phrased and used properly, as I think it would be in the Army, I ven- 1481 ture to think nothing but good could come out of this inquiry made week by week, while trade unionists were in the Army in very great numbers, as to what was the attitude of these men to their trade unions, and how they felt when they were asked how to reconcile their allegiance to the Crown with their allegiance to the trade unions.
This question is surely not remotely connected with the next question raised, as to whether these men would be prepared to parade for Russia if ordered to do so. It was obviously a duty to obey the orders received, but unless the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to charge the Secretary of State for War with a deliberate breach of faith, obviously this inquiry as to whether they would be prepared to parade for Russia was to ascertain the extent to which volunteers would come forward for Russia. There is no other alternative. You must either charge the War Office with a deliberate and intentional breach of faith—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear !"] —although some hon. Members cheer, I do not think the Committee will require me or anybody else to refute that charge against the War Office, and I am entitled to assume—and I am sure the majority of the Committee will feel—that the War Office was not intending a deliberate breach of faith. What was the other alternative? They were anxious to obtain knowledge as to the extent to which volunteers would be available for Russia.
§ Mr. INSKIP
The hon. and gallant Gentleman said it should have been done openly. If he has more experience he will discover there are many things that have to be done confidentially and not openly, and I am sure that in his capacity as a commanding officer he must have done many things he could not do openly in commanding his ship. But let that suggestion pass. I venture to suggest that this inquiry as to parading for Russia was a reasonable one, and one that no commanding officer would have any difficulty in answering without hurting his men or prejudicing the public interest. It was suggested by the right hon. Gentleman that this had some connection with the policy which we should pursue in Russia. I do not think it is right to discuss that question, but, in passing, I cannot help saying that, with regard to our policy 1482 in Russia, I do not think this Committee for a moment would tolerate the suggestion that, having Allies in Russia who fought loyally with us, we are now to desert them when they are attacked by those against whom they would be defenceless but for our assistance.
The third matter which this circular dealt with was the question of strikebreaking. The right hon. Gentleman opposite referred to it. I should defer to his better judgment as to the meaning of this phrase, but I think he gave the wrong meaning. The phrase "strike-breaking" it was, unfortunately, suggested meant in the minds of those who issued the circular a desire to find out whether the troops would shoot down their brothers the members of trade unions. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear !"] I do not think that was the meaning. I do not think hon. Members opposite will credit any of us here with any desire of contemplating that, but I venture further to say that that was not the meaning of the phrase as used in the circular. Strike-breaking is a phrase of which we surely know the meaning. Strike-breaking does not mean to dissipate a mob or assembly of strikers by force of arms. Surely strike-breaking means supplanting those concerned in the service which they are not prepared to carry on. [HON. MEMBERS: "Blacklegs !"] Hon. Members appear to be attempting to prejudge the question in the case of those who are willing to perform these services. They may be blacklegs. But I do want hon. Members to reflect upon these subjects, for when the time comes for them to deal with these questions they may find that they have made their path even more difficult than it need be.
What is the position of the Crown? Supposing the public services upon which we are all dependent, and others who are dependent upon us are dependent, for life and liberty; supposing, I say, these are not carried on. Suppose the railways are suspended, and the transport of food prevented, and that light and heat and the other services are not carried on. Are we to submit until the intolerable government of the minority is forced upon us? Are we to be helpless in the face of a menace of that sort, or are we to depend upon the servants of the Crown who are prepared to undertake duties which are not their primary duties, but which become their duties because other servants 1483 of the Crown are not prepared to fulfil them? Let hon. Members look forward to the time when all of us will be servants of the Crown, when everything will be nationalised. Let them contemplate what will happen then. Is it to be said that because the miners—our mines being nationalised—refuse to carry on their work on account of their wanting some advantages which the Government are not prepared to give them, or that the men who deal with the electric light supplies are not prepared to produce the light, or the men engaged in transport, because they do not get something they want or contemplate, are not prepared to distribute the food? Suppose the time comes when these public servants will not carry out their duty, will we then really have come to the position that we shall not suggest that other public servants shall be called upon to fulfil these duties?
The King's Government must be carried on somehow or in some way. The test may arise in this House. It may arise in the country as a great constitutional issue. If it ever does, and the country and the electors realise what is the issue, I venture to think they will be prepared to say that the Government must be carried on if it is necessary for the life, liberty, and health of the population, even if the minority arc not content to be baulked of their aim to secure a higher wage or a shorter working day! That is the only issue involved in this question which my right lion. Friend opposite has raised as to whether it was or was not legitimate to inquire whether the troops were prepared to take part in strike-breaking. That is the meaning which I attribute to the phrase. The question certainly arose during hostilities. It was a grave question as to what would happen to the supplies of ammunition or the maintenance of the services of the Army and Navy under circumstances which might have occurred more than once during the War—a great strike! The question then arises—and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will tell the Committee if I am accurate—as to whether the Army and the Navy would be called in to maintain these public services for the benefit, if not of the population as a whole, at any rate of the troops abroad. That is precisely the same question that is asked, only under slightly different circumstances, in this circular, as to whether the fighting forces, the Army, would be prepared to 1484 engage in strike-breaking. Surely hon. Gentlemen opposite, being, presumably, the most democratical portion of this Assembly——
§ Mr. INSKIP
I said presumably—in their estimation—the most democratical portion of this Assembly should not quarrel with the attempt to ascertain the opinions of the troops, of the members of the Army. Surely in an age of democracy, instead of the War Office or the commanding officer determining things according to their own choice or ideas, what ought to be done is, that they should be encouraged, if they are asked to ascertain the views or opinions of these men. On every ground I cannot, apart from the question of drafting, imagine any objection to this circular except one, to which in the last word or two I will refer. One inquiry made by the circular is, as given by the right hon. Gentleman, to this effect:Is there any dissatisfaction in the Army as to the division between demobilisable and un-demobilisable men?That inquiry ought to have been addressed to the country at large or to this House. I can answer it. There is very grave dissatisfaction. There is grave dissatisfaction with the way demobilisation is being carried on. The prospects and promotion held out to the country and to the men who served in the Army during the early days of the War are being blighted. I have here a circular given me in the early days of this Parliament which I accepted at its face value, and passed on. Unfortunately, many persons inquiring as to demobilisation of sons, brothers, and husbands, has got this. It says, "Everybody who joined the Service before 1st January, 1916. will be released by the end of April." Relying too rashly upon that assurance it has now come home to roost. Only, unfortunately, I have to bear the brunt of it. I want to pass some of it on to the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon, and call upon him to take measures which will secure the demobilisation of the 1914 and 1915 men, instead of allowing hon. Members to get up at Question Time and chant this ridiculous formula which satisfies them. This is the answer which, if I had been a commanding officer, I should have given: That there is great dissatisfaction at the way in which the demobilisation work was being carried out. I will conclude my observations with this. I hope this circular will not be made the 1485 cause of more dismay and discontent than it has been up to the present time. I fully accept what the right hon. Gentleman opposite has said, that in the circumstances the publicity has caused dismay and discontent. Surely it is the duty of this Committee to allay this discontent. Members of the Committee in every quarter of the House, instead of interpreting this circular as badly as it can be interpreted, should, I think, represent it as an essentially honest endeavour of the officers or the War Office to deal with a very difficult situation. At any rate, let us do what the right hon. Gentleman said he would do in connection with the men of the Black Watch on one particular occasion: Assure those who are dismayed and discontented that their dismay is unfounded, that they may hold a better opinion of the War Office, and attribute more honest intentions to those who are responsible at the War Office. By that means I hope that all sections and ranks, and hon. Members in all parts of this House, will unite in overcoming these enormous difficulties which confront us in connection with these questions.
First of all, I desire to congratulate the hon. Member for Central Bristol (Mr. Inskip) on his realisation of the fact that the Labour party will in the immediate future govern the destinies of this great country. [Interruption.] I did not interrupt the hon. Gentleman when be was speaking, nor anyone. As I am exceedingly nervous, I hope hon. Members will not interrupt me. I deeply regret the circumstances which compel me to make a few observations of a condemnatory character in regard to this secret order. If hon. Members in the House imagine for a moment that this question has been raised by the Labour party without pres sure from outside, I want to disabuse their minds. I would remind the House that a few days ago, when it became known that a secret order had been issued, that there were three unions in the country which contemplated taking drastic action. This is a telegram from the National Council of one of the oldest and. may I add, one of the most conservative but one of the most powerful trade unions in the country. In it they urge me to press my colleagues in the House to take action on the secret Army Council Order in respect to soldiers published in the "Daily Herald" and in the "Manchester Guardian."
1486 I desire to draw the attention of the House to the fact that most trade unionists in this country consider the issue of that order a gratuitous insult to the men of His Majesty's Forces and to the trade unions of this country in view of the magnificent services they have rendered during the War. When this War broke out there was frantic and fervent appeals made to the patriotism of all classes in the country. No section of the community responded more loyally or whole-heartedly than did the trade unionists with whom we are connected. No section of the community has maintained its patriotism in a more intense degree throughout the whole War than the trade unions. I am not claiming for them a monopoly of patriotism, and I am not detracting in the slightest degree from the magnificent services rendered by other sections of the community. But I think one may fairly claim that there was a section during the War whose patriotism was fostered by the knowledge that their banking account was growing by leaps and bounds. That cannot be disputed.
I will take an opportunity of dealing with what the right hon. Gentleman opposite says in the Debate on the Budget. There was at that time eulogies from Press, platform, and pulpit about the services rendered by the trade unionists of this country.
I listened to a good many of those speeches, and I think I indulged in some of them myself, in which I led the trade unionists and working classes generally to believe that we were going to create a new heaven and a new earth if only the War was won, and we were going to have what has been described by a most eminent statesman as a state of arcadian beauty and rustic simplicity. The Secretary for War returned from his political exile, and as the Minister of Munitions came to the trade unionists of the country in the first hour of his enthronement and asked them to co-operate with him in 1487 carrying out his arduous duty. I do not recall a single instance when the members of the Trade Union Advisory Committee declined to render him the most generous and unstinted assistance and advice that it was possible to give.
The right hon. Gentleman, however, did not always accept it, and I am sorry that in some respects that he did not. I want to say that it would be quite in accordance with the traditions both of himself and the Department he represents, knowing the Trade Union Advisory Committee is in existence to-day, if he had called it together, and had suggested to them that they should devote the same loyalty and patriotism exercised on that occasion as they could have exercised on the present occasion. But he did not see fit to do that, and he issued a secret Order. Why was there any necessity for a secret order if the right hon. Gentleman knew he could obtain the loyalty and cooperation of the Trade Union Committee with which he had been associated? That is one of the things I have never been able to understand with regard to this secret Order.
Often, as the right hon. Gentleman will admit, the members of the Trade Union Advisory Committee, recognising that his policy was the correct one, went into the country and faced hostile audiences of their own followers because they believed that this policy was right. The members of that advisory committee arc as much justified to-day in denouncing the policy of the right hon. Gentleman if they believe it to be wrong as they were on that occasion in denouncing his policy because j they believed it to be right. This is the second occasion on which I have spoken in this House, but time after time I have listened to speeches denouncing the pernicious doctrine of Bolshevism. I do not know a single revolutionary character in this country who, by his advocacy, could foster and develop the growth of that pernicious doctrine so much as the issue of this circular. None of us wish to see any Government standing upon a basis of anarchy and revolution. We have attempted by law and order and constitutional government to evade that upon every occasion by giving the soundest possible advice to our followers. I want to suggest to those hon. Members who believe in this policy of the secret order with regard to the Army that you cannot 1488 under any circumstances run the British Empire on a policy of spurious ambitions by a military dictator. You cannot maintain constitutional government on the theoretical platitudes or the terminological in exactitudes of kaleidoscopic politicians. You have to face the real facts that confront the country.
The War has demonstrated without equivocation that human society will be based in the future upon a different foundation. We have to face those facts, and I know that the right hon. Gentleman, if he exercises his great powers and talents, can co-ordinate the different disrupting elements of human society without the use of a secret order. This is essential in the interests of the Labour party as much as in. the interests of the party which the right hon. Gentleman represents. It is essential that these forces shall be brought together, in order that we may reconstruct the shattered fabric of civilisation. I think my right hon. Friend will subscribe to that policy, and I urge him as one of his very humble advisers in the past, to withdraw that Order, and to say that he will no longer receive those reports, because I assure him unless it is done the trade unionists of this country, and he will know to whom I refer in. particular, are agitating that there should be a revolution with regard to the particular Order to which I refer. In conclusion, I want to remind the right hon. Gentleman, in the difficult times which confront us for the moment we have disrupting influences at work, and the Labour party stands for the policy of law, order, and constitutional government, but they are not at the moment being assisted in that policy by reason of the fact of the Order which has been issued. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to assure the House, before the conclusion of this Debate, that the Order will be withdrawn, and that the working classes will be reassured on this matter.
§ Major HURST
I think the Mover of this Resolution has quite ignored the circumstances under which the Order was issued. It was issued during a time of great national emergency, when there was a real danger of all the services being held up, and the only issue at that time was between order on the one side and anarchy on the other. It is ludicrous to suggest that this Order was based, as the hon. Member for Sheffield has suggested, on the spurious ambition of a military dictator. The object of the Order and the 1489 policy behind it was obviously to protect society from being held up by one section of the community. Hon. Members on the Labour Benches purport to speak with regard to this Order on behalf of the working people, while as a matter of fact they simply represent a small section who have not sufficient discernment to distinguish facts from fancies. There are other people in the country who deserve consideration besides that particular section. The real sufferers from the holding up of the national services of the country would be that particular class which is very often courted by hon. Members of the Labour party when they want their votes. Then they call them middle-class intellectuals, but when they do not want their votes, they call them bloated bourgeoisie. The district I represent includes small employers, workmen, clerks, and one and all, both men and women, would have suffered beyond words by the privations which would have been caused by a suspension of all the great transport services at the beginning of this year. They would have been the real sufferers, and would have borne; the result of this national deadlock. Their interests undoubtedly were that no such deadlock should take place, that order be enforced by all fair means. Those behind this Resolution contemplated red ruin and the breaking up of laws, and imagined themselves dictating to the nation from some trade union office in London. I see something very different—the long, mean streets of our great towns and the white faces of the women. To them, this policy would have meant absolute ruin, as well as to the great bulk of the people, and we have every reason to be grateful to the Government who took the matter in hand, and took every precaution against such a disaster.
It is better to attack the War Office for the real grievances, like the one in connection with demobilisation. There is the grievance of the extraordinary delay in the payment of gratuities. Let me quote a letter which I have received from France. It is as follows:I can give you no adequate idea of the bitter feelings the men here have for the Government, which was so anxious to enlist them in 1915, and is condemning them to rot in this land for the summer.We really want to do away with the grievances of these men in the Army, and the only way is to flood the Army with an influx of young men who are willing to servo and take their places. It is not the 1490 way to get those young men to go into the Army if you are going to create the atmosphere of suspicion and distrust which is fostered by the Resolution now before the House, and by speeches made by Members of the Labour party who have supported this Resolution. The real way to end these grievances in the Army and in the Navy is to get these men home, and encourage young men of eighteen to join the Army. That is the real policy hon. Members ought to support if they wish to end the grievances of the Army. I suggest to those who are supporting this Resolution that their duty to the soldier in the field is to say to the boys just attaining eighteen, "Look at the advantages of a life in the Army. You get better pay, more sport, and travel and all sorts of things which did not exist in the pre-war Army." It is one of the finest educations in the world, and it is the real university for the coming generation.
In the pages of "Lothair," Mr. Disraeli describes in admiring words what university education was at that time. He described the young men of England as excelling in athletic exercises. Ho said:They live all day in the open air; they know no language but their own, and they never read.That is precisely the education which is offered to young men who join the Army, with two added attractions. First of all, they get some sort of industrial training for after life, and, secondly, they have the proud privilege of belonging to the unconquerable British Army, which has marched victoriously into Jerusalem, Bagdad, and Cologne. If hon. Members would only spend their time teaching these young men what life in the Army is, instead of fostering this bitterness and distrust, they would be doing a far greater service to the country and to the men in the Army. All these men want to get home: they are wanted here as breadwinners,, and the only way to remedy this is to persuade young men to fill their places. Get rid of all this feeling of antipathy against the Army, and the false suggestion that circulars of this sort are intended to be tyrannical. You are only raising the old bogey of the Army versus the People. That is an old bogey, and I imagine that those who framed that watchword having now obtained different positions have altered their views. The peril at the present time is the peril not of militarism, but of Bolshevism; oppression not by the War Office, but by demagogues and phrase-mongers.
§ Major HAYWARD
I rise to remind the Committee that on the Army (Annual) Bill Debate the Secretary for War was good enough to promise an inquiry into the question of Field Punishment No. 1. The right hon. Gentleman promised to ascertain whether some other form of punishment might not be substituted for it, and I shall be grateful to him if, when he -comes to reply this afternoon, he will tell the Committee if he has yet completed this inquiry, and, if so, with what result. As touching the particular Amendment before the Committee, I have been re-reminded that since I came into the House this afternoon that four or five years ago there were circumstances not altogether dissimilar from those with which we are faced to-day. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman in front of me has a far better recollection of the circumstances than I have. I refer to the troubles which arose at the Curragh in 1914. The circumstances of that time were not altogether unlike the circumstances which arose when this circular was issued. There were grave apprehensions of civil strife, and officers of the Army were asked what they would do in certain hypothetical contingencies. The whole of the trouble arose over that circumstance, and in order to prevent any such circumstances occurring in the future a new Army Order was issued which was to the following effect:No officer or soldier shall in future be questioned by his superior officer as to the attitude he would adopt or as to his action in the event of his being required to obey orders dependent upon future or hypothetical contingencies.It appears to me if that Order is still in existence the circular which was recently issued is a direct breach of it, certainly in the spirit if not in the letter. I should like to inquire whether that Order is still in existence, and if it has not been withdrawn then I should be glad to have the view of the right hon. Gentleman as to how his circular squares with that Army Order. I do not remember all the circumstances which arose on that occasion, but I believe it was the universal opinion of the House and of the Government of that time that the course taken was most un-wise. It was a suggestion that every man to whom the question was put is entitled to give a qualified service, and that would be absolutely disastrous to all discipline in the Army. There is another point, and it is that such action is bound to cause great irritation in the country. I should be very glad if the right hon. Gentleman 1492 will deal with the two points I have mentioned—the first, whether he has yet completed his inquiry with reference to Field Punishment No. 1, and, secondly, whether the Army Order which I have quoted is still in existence, and, if it is, how the Government square the issue of this circular with it?
§ Mr. CHARLES WHITE
I want, if I may, to bring to the notice of this Committee the domestic side of matters which have arisen in connection with the Army Estimates. We have been told a good many times in this House that there is no discontent in the Army to-day. I propose to refer, if I may, to one or two causes of discontent not only in the Army, but also in the homes of the men who are still serving. We were told not long ago by the Secretary for War that the men were quite contented under the Military Ser-vice Act. Surely he has been misinformed, or else he is very much more fortunate than private Members of this House, some of whom have received hundreds of letters expressing the feelings of the men on this matter. I may claim to know something on this question inasmuch as my life, since 1914, has been lived in the homes of the men who have gone to fight for us—not officers, but privates. There is the greatest discontent existing to-day, and a large part of it is due to the miserable methods of demobilisation. It is not too much to say that demobilisation has entirely broken down. No satisfaction can be obtained from the War Office, the results are always contradictory, and although answers are given, and arc couched in courteous terms, we have nothing but chaos, and one cannot depend at all on any answer that is received. Hundreds of thousands of then have been sent back to join the ranks of the unemployed, and, I am afraid, in many cases, the unemployable, while men who joined up in 1914 and 1915 are still being kept in the Army, although they have essential industries to go back to in which places arc being kept open for them. I had the privilege the other day of bringing to the notice of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War one case typical of hundreds of others. It was that of an engineer who joined up in 1914 and who has for months been employed washing up pots and pans in a canteen. That man was earning £5 a week before he joined up, and his place is still open for him. I have here a letter from the War Office stating that the man is 1493 eligible for demobilisation, but explaining that the officer commanding the regiment says he is indispensable to the Army—although he is only engaged in washing pots and pans. This case has been before the right hon. Gentleman, and I have received his answer. I do not know if he is aware of the feeling which exists in the Army, but I had a letter this morning from an educated man—only a private—who says, "Procrastination, deceit, and lying become fine arts." and again, "No playwright or romantic author could rise to the heights of parsimony and shortsightedness which easily obtain under our military administrators."
With regard to the compassionate grounds on which men may be released, I venture to assert they are reduced to a complete farce by the issue of the Army Council instructions. Let me take the first. It is laid down that a son who has a widowed mother in necessitous circumstances, with two or more children dependent upon her, neither child being-capable of earning anything, and the mother herself being incapable of earning anything, may on these grounds be released. Will hon. Members tell me how many cases could be found on all fours with this? Yet no discretion is allowed in the application of the regulation. Presently I will submit a case which has occurred in my own family during the past few months, but I would first like to, know why discretion is not to be allowed in the application of these regulations, and why they are so strictly enforced? I have a case here in regard to which T received a reply only this morning. In 'this case the father and mother are both cripples. The mother has been confined to her bed for years; the father can only hobble about on two sticks. The son was the support of the home, which was on a small farm. What is the reply I have received in regard to that? It is:Mr. Churchill has asked me to inform you that as the claim does not come within the terms of the enclosed Army Council instructions, it is regretted it is not possible to give special treatment to this case.Could there be any more deserving case than one in which the father and mother are both crippled and utterly unable to look after themselves? Yet they are refused the release of their boy because ho does not come under that miserable instruction of the Army Council! Here is another case which I can vouch for, be-cause I am interested in it. It is the case 1494 of my own sister, Her husband died a month ago. He was in the Metropolitan Police for twenty-eight years. He has done two years war work and has died largely in consequence of his service with the Colours. The widow is left with one boy who is in the Army and another lad of seventeen who has been mentally deficient ever since he was born. The mother does not want to part with him. She is left with a pension of 10s. a week from the Metropolitan Police and 7s. 4d. separation allowance. The case does not come within the provisions of the Army Council instruction and so her son cannot be released from the Army. These are the cases we try to bring before the War Office in order to get them dealt with on compassionate grounds, and it is because I know the inside of the homes of these people that j am speaking to-night largely from a domestic standpoint, while other hon. Members have dealt rather with the technical side of the question. Here is another compassionate case from Chesterfield. In this it was actually decided that the soldier should be released on the 26th instant. A letter was received to the effect that instructions had been issued for the demobilisation of the man on compassionate grounds, but this morning another letter came to hand and it readsMr. Churchill asks me to inform you that the claim put forward does not came within the terms of the enclosed Army Council instructions and it is regretted it is not possible to give special treatment to this case.What are we to make of these contradictory things'? It causes one to think, and indeed one is entitled to think that these cases do not receive consideration by the Ministers themselves, but that they are dealt with by some soulless official who docs not care for the homes of the lads who have given up everything in order to fight their country's battles. We have been told that the soldiers in India who were due for demobilisation have volunteered to remain. But some of us have received hundreds of letters denying that absolutely. I had one this morning and another yesterday. It may be necessary to keep these men in India, but for heaven's sake let us have the truth and no camouflage ! He says:First of all a great number of men in the Repatriation Camp at Deolali (India) have been sent on here. They are from Mesopotamia and were on their way to England for demobilisation. It has been given out to the Press that these, amongst others, volunteered. It is totally untrue. Not one man in Deolali volunteered to remain in India. They simply saw the statement in the Indian papers. When one man 1495 made a complaint about this he was told that he would be put last on the list for demobilisation.These are men who know what they are writing about. Here is another:I expect you will know by now that we have been held up at this place. It is a dirty trick to serve us after being in Mesopotamia for two and a half years under the boiling hot sun, and then to dump us down here. You will see they have put us into battalions and we were on squad drill this morning, and then they say that the war is over. They put in the papers here that we have all volunteered to serve in India while we were needed, but I want you to bear in mind that is not so, as I think every man is against it. It has been forced on us whether we want it or not. There is someone to blame, but who it is I do not know. There are about 8,000 troops here that ought to be at home—1914 and 1915 men.I am not complaining of the men being kept there, but I am complaining that they are being deceived, and we are being deceived in this House when we are told that they all volunteered. The fact is that there is a great deal of discontent. With regard to Russian troops, we have been told repeatedly that only men who volunteer are being sent to Russia. I can show some letters from men who have been sent there from other theatres of war who had no right to be sent there if the word of the right hon. Gentleman opposite can be depended upon. I do not say for one moment that He is wilfully deceiving the House, but I mean to say someone is wilfully deceiving him, and he ought to make himself acquainted with these matters before he gives us those statements.
There is another matter, the question of leave to men who have relatives dying or ill. I have here a letter from a man in my Constituency. Two brothers joined up on 6th August, 1914. They fought through the War side by side. One of them was demobilised six weeks ago and died on 10th May. A telegram was sent by the superintendent of police on the 9th to the War Office asking that the brother could come home to see the lad before he died, or at any rate go to his funeral. That was vouched for by the superintendent of police. The telegram was sent on the 9th, and this reply from the War Office came on the 13th:In reply to your wire of 9/5/19, I am directed to inform you that leave of absence is granted to all men in turn as circumstances permit, and it is regretted that a special leave cannot be given to No. 235479.Can anything be more despicable than this? It is things of this sort that are breeding discontent in the Army. They 1496 are bringing discontent into the Homes of this country, which have surely suffered enough in the past. Let me mention another case. I have all the papers here. I make it a rule to bring all proofs of what I say in the House. A woman loses her husband. She has £42 due to her. The War Office send her a third of it and keep the other two-thirds for the child, who is two years old, to invest in the Orphans' Saving Fund, as they call it, of the War Office at 2½per cent. You, Sir—I cannot afford it—can invest your money at 5 per cent., or probably more. This woman is not allowed to handle the money after her husband died. Where is the justice of all this? At common law, I understand, the first £500 of an intestate husband goes to the widow. In this case the War Office says, "We do as we like with this"; and although it is said her money is invested she has no bank book or anything to show it except a letter with a printed signature on it. I was told by the Financial Secretary that the money had not yet been invested. I am trying to get the money for the woman, and I will take out letters of administration for her so that she may be able to get it. These are the little things that appeal to these people and that some of us are out to rectify if we can.
There are other things I might mention. I have supported an Amendment whereby men who had been in prison in Germany should not be called up again. We lost our Amendment. The men are still being sent out. I had sent to me the other day a letter from His Majesty to one of these soldiers, in which he says:The Queen joins me in welcoming you on your release from the miseries and hardships which you have endured with so much patience [...]trial the early rescue of our gallant officers and men from the cruelties of their captivity has uppermost in our thoughts. We are thankful that this longed-for day has arrived and that, back in the Old Country you will be able once more to enjoy the happiness of a home and to see good days among those who anxiously look for your return.These men are sent out there again, possibly to face the horrors which they have just escaped from, while hundreds of thousands of men who have never seen a shot fired are allowed to come home, demobilised by the senseless system of demobilisation which exists to-day. One cannot quite depend on the information one gets from the War Office. I have a letter here. I applied for the release of a 1497 soldier. A letter was sent me to say it was impossible to release him. He must remain with the Army of Occupation. By the same post I had this letter:I am pleased to say my son has got released from the Army and has arrived home alright. Please accept my best thanks for helping me to get him home.He had been home a week when they sent me word that he could not be released at all. These are not fallacies or fancies. This is backed up by the evidence of letters received from the War Office.
I am glad the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Major Haywood) brought up the question of Field Punishment No. 1. I have a letter from one of the most respected lads in my Constituency. He had an accident with his rifle. He was sent to hospital, and remained there for ninety-nine days. Immediately he got out he was tried by general court-martial and got fifty-six days' field punishment stoppage of pay for the ninety-nine days in hospital and the fifty-six days of punishment —stoppage of £14 4s. 2d. I would believe him before all the officers who are in France to-day. I know him. I know his family. He is a God-fearing man, one of the best-living young men in my Constituency. He said it was a pure accident, and yet he had to suffer for it and also suffer the loss of his pay. As a man of the people I say, if privates must have field punishment, let us inflict it on officers also. I am sometimes rather amused to hear officers talk of the splendid life that is waiting for young men out there. I ask myself every time how is it they are there if this splendid life is opened up for them out there? These are one or two typical cases that I have brought forward. I want to do away with the discontent in the country. J believe it is well recognised in Derbyshire that I got more recruits than any man for the Army in the county, and I made it a condition that if they enlisted I would look after their homes, and I have looked after them. It is because I know them so well that I am able to come here and tell you of the many things which are making discontent amongst the men themselves and in the homes from which they went, which have suffered so much in their absence.
§ Mr. G. THORNE
I desire to support the appeal which has just been made. I want to urge on the right hon. Gentleman that what the hon. Member has said does not express only his own individual experience, but I think voices the experience 1498 of practically every Member of the House, who is constantly having difficulties of this kind brought before him by constituents. Some of us in the first instance thought the expression "relief on compassionate grounds" had some real application to the actualities of life. But we are getting to doubt whether any individual recognition is made of individual cases. The replies we get are stereotyped in their form, and it looks as though a general answer were given without the individual case being looked into. What my hon. Friend said is my own experience and the experience of very many hon. Members that some of the hardest cases we can imagine are presented to us. We submit them because we regard them as cases for relief on compassionate grounds, and yet the same stereotyped reply comes that they do not come within the provision. We ask the right hon. Gentleman to tell us plainly, so that we may make it clear to our constituents and our correspondents, what is the interpretation which the War Office now places upon "relief on compassionate grounds"? We have cases so hard that many of us assume that at once, when we submit them, we shall obtain relief, but we get the same reply, that they do not come within the interpretation which the War Office places on them. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to use this opportunity of giving satisfaction to a great number of people who art; troubled in this way, and to tell us precisely what rules he is actuated by in deciding what discharges should be made under the term "compassionate grounds."
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I have risen to support the Amendment of the Leader of the Labour party. The hon. Member (Mr. Inskip) referred to me as probably having received secret circulars when in command of a ship. I have received secret circulars. I will refer to one in contrast particularly with that which the "Daily Herald" performed such a fine service in exposing. When the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Churchill) occupied the position of First Lord of the Admiralty in 1913 I was commanding one of His Majesty's ships. There was considerable labour unrest and there were strikes up and down the country, and we got a secret circular which I am now going to give the Committee the gist of. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh !"] It is entirely creditable to the right hon. Gentleman and the Admiralty. It says that the position of 1499 their Lordships in regard to industrial disputes was that His Majesty's Forces should not be used one way or the other in connection with them and that if commanding officers of ships were petitioned by local authorities—it arose out of a ship at one of the ports being pressed to assist in unloading a vessel loaded with fish—for assistance in case of industrial disputes they were to refuse assistance, to take no part whatever, and to inform the local authorities that the maintenance of public order depended on the police. I should like to stress the sea change that has come over things in these days. The Admiralty have just recognised trade unionism—let us call it by its proper name—in the Royal Navy, to which I have the honour to belong. The joint committees which have been in existence for many years and which 'ably represent the men of the lower deck, have been taken into consultation with most excellent results by the Admiralty. Welfare committees at the different ports have been approved of. These committees are elected by the men, and once a year, in the autumn preferably, they meet the Admiralty representatives, and discuss matters affecting the welfare of the men. Therefore the Admiralty recognise these joint committees, which in the name of benefit societies have existed in the Navy with most excellent results for years, and I think that is the most statesmanlike act, coming from the Admiralty, which this Government has yet done.
With regard to strike-breaking, I am extremely glad to see that the Leader of the House is present, and I wish the Prime Minister had been here because this is about the most important Debate we have had this year. I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Central Bristol (Mr. Inskip) that the interpretation which the right hon. Gentleman who spoke first today (Mr. Adamson) put upon the strikebreaking Clause, namely, that it meant the shooting down of fellow trade unionists is incorrect. The strike-breaking intended was not quite so bad as that. Strike-breaking, as anyone who has served in one of His Majesty's Services knows, was meant to employ troops to do the work of trade unionists under their commanding officers and at the word of command. Public order has to be preserved. Fortunately in this country strikes are peaceable. The British working man has a sense of humour and he is sensible, but if there 1500 is public disorder and risk to life and property, and if the police cannot keep order, obviously the troops come in. I think that is accepted everywhere. But to expect disciplined men who were enlisted compulsorily, or who volunteered to light our enemy in a time of stress and danger, to be sent with their officers to do the work of men who are striking against certain work, is asking for grievous trouble in the country. If you want Bolshevism, the right hon. Gentleman is going the best way to get it if he backs up this circular. I hope he is going to disown it. If you expect the soldiers to do this sort of thing, it is the way to get Bolshevism and most serious trouble in the country. But how do you expect the commanding officers to know that? The last person who knows the inner mind of the troops is the commanding officer. He sends for the sergeant-major, and the sergeant-major is the last person who will tell him the truth about a matter of this sort. The question is so serious that one is glad to have that touch of humour in it.
This circular obviously was aimed at the threat of trouble by what is called the triple alliance. I believe the Government claim the right to use the whole power of the State against this triple alliance. Let us see what that means. That alliance consists—I stand open to correction—of 1,100,000 miners. These are the men who volunteered as well as any other section of the community at the beginning of the War. They volunteered in such numbers that they had to be forbidden from volunteering, and they fought most magnificently. There are 600,000 railwaymen in it, and on every station in the country there is a roll of honour of the men who laid down their lives or gained decorations. The transport workers number 350,000, so that you have a little over 2,000,000 men with their families, representing in all 8,000,000 or 9,000,000 people. These are the people concerned in the triple alliance. Are you deliberately going to use the State against them, because that only means that you are using the Army against them? Has it not been made a legal right by this honourable House for workmen to withdraw their labour if they choose? The proper way to break any strike caused by the triple alliance is to call for volunteers amongst the civilian population, and in some ways I am delighted that a middle-class union is being formed by certain hon. Members of this House for that end. 1501 It is the duty of the State to see that volunteer labourers are not interfered with. They may be called blacklegs and scabs, but I do not think anyone suggests actual physical violence towards them. If we cannot get coal or milk or any other commodity, then if public opinion is against the strikers you will get volunteers to work the necessary services, as many volunteers as you want, and it is the duty of the State to protect them; but it is not the duty of the State to use disciplined troops either for working electrical dynamos or driving motor lorries or going down the mines to dig. If the War Office think they can, I hope they will disabuse their minds of the idea before worse follows, because worse will follow. I know as much about discipline as any Member in this House, and I say that this is really playing with fire.
Let me deal very briefly with the other part of the circular as to men going to Russia. I do accuse the right hon. Gentleman of not keeping the spirit of Ms pledges in this matter. He said that only volunteers would be sent to Russia. There is a letter which is now being dealt with, courteously, as usual, by the hon. Member for the Bridgeton Division of Glasgow (Mr. MacCallum Scott) which can be produced to-morrow if required—I have not the original here—relating to a man of forty-one who is at Salonika now, and is being sent to Russia against his will. There are other cases, many of them. If 1914 men are in Russia now, and are not allowed to be demobilised when they could be demobilised, that is going against the spirit of the right hon. Gentleman's pledge. I have drawn the attention of the War Office to certain cases in my Constituency, and I can only bear out what has been said that the feeling about this matter is very bitter. Men come on leave from North Russia, 1914–15 men, who are entitled to be demobilised and who are of low category, but they are ordered to return, instead of being demobilised. We are told by the War Office that transport difficulties prevent these men from being demobilised; yet they can come on leave and their mates come on leave, and they tell us that there is no difficulty of transport at all. Let us be perfectly plain about it. The right hon. Gentleman has been wishful to interfere in the internal affairs of Russia. It is his point of view, which he thinks is necessary, to stamp out what he is pleased to call Bolshevism. He and his friends have been trying to stampede the country with 1502 Press campaigns and with White Papers about atrocities, and he has been trying to get to know the pulse of the troops, and to, know whether they would go out to Russia., compulsorily or otherwise. One battalion recruited from my Constituency was sent to North Russia the day after the Armistice, and certain men in that battalion are 1914 men, who want to be demobilised, and are entitled to it, but we are told that they cannot come home because they are in the danger zone. What are they doing? They are advancing as quickly as they can, and the Bolsheviks are running away from them, but they are still advancing. The American troops, I understand, are being withdrawn. An American officer in Paris told a friend of mine the other day that if the Bolsheviks wanted to get to Archangel before the Americans they would have to be quick, because the Americans were going to be withdrawn as soon as the ice broke. I was speaking, to an officer friend of mine the other day, and I asked him if he expected to be demobilised soon, and he said, "Not a bit of it. We are busier than we have ever been. We are working twelve hours a day over this Russian expedition.
If conscripts from England are not being actually sent to Russia it is not the fault of the right hon. Gentleman. I wish he would make absolutely certain of the release of the 1914–15 men in Russia, and in Salonika, who are being either kept in Russia or sent to Russia against their will. I am sorry to attack the right hon. Gentleman on this question, because it is a matter for the Prime Minister. We have bitten off more than we can chew in regard to these matters. If we have to keep up an Army of 50,000 in Palestine, a large Army in India, if we are setting out to conquer Afghanistan, and if we are to hold Mesopotamia against the will of the people, and also embark on expeditions to Russia, we simply have not the men to do it. Men will not stay in the Army. You must cut your coat according to your cloth. It is no use sending secret circulars to commanding officers; they are being returned in hundreds to the War Office. I do hope the right hon. Gentleman and the Government will disavow all these secret circulars, and that we shall have a promise of better things in the future.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I think the worst feature of the circular sent out by the War Office was the grafting upon our Army system and upon our Army discipline of 1503 underhand secret service methods. The conception of the English Army officer as a sort of person to report upon the political ideas of the men he commands is a wholly erroneous conception of hon. Gentlemen. To ask them to send in secret reports, not upon the conduct of the officers or men under them in the field but upon their views upon politics and trade unionism, seems to me to be the utmost degradation of the honour of a British officer. It is applying to the British Army the system of the Russian secret police system, and to call upon honourable men to send in reports of that description indicates that the War Office at that time had got into a thoroughly rotten condition. Of course, we have to realise that this circular was sent out at a critical time in February when a strike was on and there was a threatened coal strike, and people without much brain in their heads very easily lost their heads. We realise that this circular was sent out without consulting the right hon. Gentleman, and that it was a very desperate move of people who did not know where they were. They did not know whether strikes might not break out in the mechanical transport service or in any other service. Consequently they sent out these appeals for secret reports. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman need be at all surprised that these circulars which were marked "Secret" should get into the possession of the Press. My only surprise is that they did not get into the possession of the Press earlier. They were sent out broadcast, and you must expect that here and there a commanding officer is a Socialist or in favour of democratic government and Liberal ideas. Therefore these secret circulars would get into the hands of men who thoroughly resented this use being made of them in their capacity as officers of His Majesty's Army. Anyone who sent out a circular like that would be bound to know that directly it got into the hands of the public it would do much more harm than good, even if a British officer did know the political views of the men under him.
There is another part of this circular upon which I would lay particular stress. It is the question as to whether or not the men would volunteer to go to Russia. That really is the critical question of the present time. Throughout the country, wherever I have been speaking, one has 1504 got wonderfully enthusiastic meetings during these last few months on this Russian question. I have found a strong feeling among the working classes that this attack on the Russian Socialist revolution is a direct class war, an enactment before our faces of the sort of class war that is so ably depicted in that book of Jack London's, "The Iron Heel," and that the British working man should be used in this class war to suppress the aspirations of working men, however irregularly and desperately they may be carried out, seems to them to be the worst possible fate that can be imposed on the British working classes. The feeling against these Russian expeditions is certainly not understood in this House. I do not think that it is half understood in the Press of the country, but it is very deep and very intense at the present time. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman before he throws more of the British people into a war which they do not want, which they think dishonours the British name, that he should really try to understand what our people know about the new Allies he has chosen.
Who are these Finns with whom we are in co-operation in the attack on Petrograd? The Finnish Government has had a chequered history. When the revolution came in Russia, in March, 1917, Finland at once proclaimed its independence, and there ensued in Finland a social revolution imposed upon the political revolution. You got what was called the Red Terror. The Red Terror was always bad —deplorable—but the Red Terror was put down with the help of German Armies which were landed in Finland, and, in cooperation with the White Guards of Finland, suppressed the revolution. They suppressed it by probably the most shocking series of atrocities that have ever been committed, even during the whole course of this accursed war. The facts have only recently come out. They have been published in the "New Statesman," and, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, by a man whose word is to be trusted—indeed, a man who is trusted so much as to be employed by the Government. The terror in Finland is created by those same White Guards whom we are now reckoning as allies in a further attack upon the social revolution. The number of men and women arrested during the first weeks of May, 1918, was about 90,000, and of these from 15,000 to 20,000 were shot out of hand—this is out of a population which is 1505 probably under a million and they were shot without trial. Red prisoners were commonly decimated, and often the remainder were again decimated, and then the survivors were searched for "suspects," and any who were declared by any White present to be specially dangerous, were despatched. In that way the following wore executed: At Rebemaki, 5,000; at Labti, 2,000; at Viborg, 4,000; and so on. At Labti 2,000 women were taken out early one morning in the second week of May, a fortnight after the end of the fighting, and were mown down in a batch with machine guns. This is a White Terror about which the Government do not circulate White Papers. The remaining 74,000, at the beginning of June, male and female, were confined during the summer and autumn in prison camps, and were subjected to a regime of almost incredible barbarity. At Ekenes, out of 7,500 prisoners——
§ Commander BELLAIRS
Will it be incumbent on any of us to discuss Bolshevik atrocities on the Army Estimates? If so, some of us might like to do so.
§ The DEPUTY - CHAIRMAN (Sir E. Cornwall)
The hon. and gallant Member was giving, as I understand, an illustration of what he says has been happening.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
It is not an illustration. It is a protest against using our Armies as the allies of people who commit these atrocities. I would not propose for a moment that the British Army should be used as the allies of the Bolsheviks, who also committed atrocities. What I do protest against is, having our honour soiled by connection with people such as these, and a Government which has already, out of7,500 prisoners, got rid of 2,851, that is over one-third, who died in four months. They did not die merely from starvation. They died because they were deprived of water. There was not even the defence that they could not get food enough for these persons. These cases of starvation cannot have been less than 13,000, nor probably more than 18,000. That is your Government in Finland, the Government recognised almost immediately upon the publication of these facts in the. "New Statesman." These are the people that our Fleet is at present supporting.
I do not think it surprising if you find a. certain reluctance among British soldiers and the British working classes to support 1506 an expedition to back these people up in their attack upon another section of the Russian people. I do not believe that when the exact facts of this revolution in Russia come to be published you will find even in the worst records of the worst part of the Bolshevik revolution anything to match the systematic ordered cruelty perpetrated by the White Government in Finland. Then turn to your other Allies. There is General Denikin, who is commanding in South Russia. We are sending out an expedition to Sebastopol to help this new Government. I do not think that Denikin has been recognised yet, but ho will be before long, especially if it is realised that he is carrying on warfare on. these lines. A leading White politician—this is also from the "New Statesman"— puts the number of workmen executed when Denikin occupied Rostov at 23,000. It is safe to say that if the Whites capture a Red town there will be a hundred executions for every one which occurs if a White town is captured by the Rods. At Jekaterinoslav Denikin ordered every Red Russian found in possession of Red literature to be shot forthwith. At Batarsk, in the Don district, every man with a son in the Red Guard was killed. In one place every tenth workman was shot as an example to the rest. The White leaders regard the literal decimation of the working classes as an absolutely necessary preliminary to the establishment of any form of Government in Russia.
§ Lieut. - Commander ASTBURY
Why should the hon. Member believe statements of this nature, when he refuses to believe the statements with regard to the Bolsheviks which were published by the Government in a White Paper?
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
The statements made in the Government White Paper were statements by an anonymous Englishman who had heard them from an anonymous Russian in Stockholm. This is a statement made by a man whom I know, and whom the Government know.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
Yes, you do. He was sent out by the Government specially to make inquiries. Therefore, I think considerably more weight should be given to what ho says.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I will not. I will give it to you privately. The Government know it. I pass from Denikin. We have not recognised him yet, but we have recognised Admiral Koltchak, and in reference to the way in which Koltchak is carrying on his operations it is only fair to say that after all I believe that he is a fairly honest man. But it is the doings of his subordinates. It is to them that we must attribute the cruelties of the hideously uncivilised warfare that is going on in Russia. I saw a British friend who is back from Siberia——
§ Commander Sir E. NICHOLL
On a point of Order. In Heaven's name, what has this to do with the Army Estimates?
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
The hon. and gallant Member is giving arguments which are designed to show why the British Army should not be used in Russia. That seems to be in order. The Army Vote must be taken into consideration as well as the argument. The two together would be in order, but the whole basis of this discussion might easily get out of order if confined to the position in Russia.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I must protest against being called to order by an hon. Member who, before he was elected to Parliament, told a story of a German sub-marine which subsequently was denied from the Front Bench. How is Koltchak is army carrying on in Siberia at the present time? I saw a British officer who is back from that country about a fortnight ago. He was not by way of being an advanced political thinker at all, and he pointed out that the Russian generals suffered from certain disadvantages. For instance, he said there is compulsory service in Siberia. The Siberians have no desire for military service. Notifications are sent out to certain classes that they are to appear for Conscription at certain places, and he says that none of them turn up. The result is the troops are sent to the villages to bring the young men into the Army. But unfortunately when these troops get to the villages the young men have all vanished, and naturally the officers in charge of these troops are somewhat exercised at failing to find their quarry, and instead of simply shooting the people who are left they flog them and then hang them. An army recruited on those lines I do not think is likely to be very efficient, but it must be obvious that as long as you have recruiting by force 1508 of people who two years ago were dead tired of fighting you are bound to get shocks if you enlist them by force under the direction of subordinates who are capable of any butchering in order to enforce the autocratic rule of military despotism in Siberia.
I do not want to labour this point about Admiral Koltchak, and I cannot do better than end by reading an extract from a letter which I received last week from the same country. It will indicate the difficulties which are in the way of any recognition of the present de facto rule in Siberia:The fact is that there is a blank sight, more Bolsheviks now than there were ever before in Siberia. This is a fact admitted on all sides in the East. In the next to the last municipal elections the Bolsheviks cast 13,000 out of a total of 24,000 votes. There is military law both here and in Omsk and all along the railway. Omsk itself is legally in what you might describe as a state of siege—nobody allowed out after nine at night and so forth. The Japanese staff are publishing a statement in the legal press recounting forty-eight conflicts with Bolsheviks since the end of December, ranging from skirmishes with parties of raiders to a regular pitched battle for the taking of Blagoveschenk, lasting half a day, in which the Bolshevik ferns were over 1,000. The Japanese lost forty eight killed, including a major.The Americans publicly refused to take any part in these affairs, on the ground that these insurgents are not Bolsheviks at all, but peasants dissatisfied with the present regime. This fact was emphasised by a local paper which pointed out that the very villages and counties that had just risen against the Bolsheviks were those now being suppressed as Bolsheviks by the Japanese. There was one classic case of a man by the name of Bezsmerty, which means 'deathless,' who led his village against the Bolsheviks and was condemned to death by them and a price put on his head. Now he led his village against the present regime and was condemned to death and shot as a Bolshevik.The Zemstvos have been forbidden to discuss any but economic subjects, after the Council of the Zemstvos of the Maritime Provinces passed a resolution declaring that the present economic chaos and political unrest were due to the unpopular character of the Omsk Government and its reactionary tendencies. The essentials arc these: the present dictatorship of Admiral Koltchak is the result of long intrigues, culminating in a coup d'état, with the aftermath of a series of arrests and the murder of members of the Constituent Assembly. Admiral Koltchak himself is an honest man, but he is surrounded with reactionaries who face him with faits accomplis. His representative in the Far East is General Horvab, and the whole Government is now purely bourgeois. After the coup d'état the S. R. party refused to recognise the Government, as did the Czech National Council here. This Council was dissolved by General Stephanik, Czech Minister for War, who came from Paris to do it, but it does not alter the fact that the coup d'état finished the Czechs once for all with helping 1509 these people. They say, 'We are democrats and we do not wish to help reaction in Russia.' I know this because it has appeared time and again in interviews with Czech officers, and talks with the soldiers, and because I have heard it from them myself. They are disgusted with the present Russian regime. This Government does not represent the wishes of the people, and it is an axiom here that if the Allied troops were Withdrawn it would fall at once.
§ Sir C. KINLOCH-COOKE
Upon a point of Order. May I ask whether the hon. Member is in order in reading such a very long extract from a communication about which no one knows anything, in this House, on a Vote of this kind?
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I am letting the hon. Gentleman know something about a country, about which he admits that this House knows very little. I read the extract because I thought this House wanted to know the views of an ordinary English officer in that country. We are discussing the question as to whether the British Army ought to be used more largely than it is in supporting those whom I am describing. When we see that people like the Czecho-Slovaks, whom we were all praising, are now themselves not disposed to support any longer this Government and when we find that this Government would fall of itself automatically directly British bayonets and Japanese bayonets are removed from Siberia, we ought to think once or twice before we permit the British Army to engage in expeditions in conjunction with such very doubtful colleagues. The war upon Russia ought to cease. The right hon. Gentleman got a great number of British troops sent out very recently, because there was a scare that Archangel was in danger. Archangel never was in danger, but it served a sufficiently useful excuse for getting large reinforcements sent. They were sent to extricate the garrison. The garrison is coming back, but the new troops are remaining, and not only remaining, but preparing for a spring forward on Petrograd, a further advance into that wilderness of Russia, that chaos of starvation that exists now. I do protest that not only should the Army be withdrawn from Archangel, but from all participation in any further expeditions to Russia, at least, that we should do nothing in that country except in strict co-operation with the American Government. If the Americans do not think their troops should be sent to Russia, 1510 or if they think that their troops should not be kept in Russia, undergoing all the hardships of that climate, as well as undergoing the hardships of fighting an unjust cause, then it is not good enough for English troops either. We should clear out of the place, and let them stew in their own juice and fix up their own quarrels. Let us understand this: What is happening in Russia is an expedition or war against that country, an expedition which is not inspired by a desire to put an end to atrocities, but by a desire to put an end to the social revolution.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
We shall, I hope, exclude all elements of heat from these discussions, and indeed, as far as the first question and the most urgent question which has been raised this afternoon, is concerned—I mean the question of the War Office circular—the Committee may congratulate itself upon the temperate and patient course which the Debate has taken, and also I consider upon the manner in which the arguments of both sides were fully stated. This circular is not a document of any political significance. It is a military document drafted by the military authorities, and sent out as part of the military routine. Let us look back upon the circumstances in which this document was drafted. It was at the end of January last, if I rightly recollect. The situation then was extraordinarily difficult. We bad a considerable number of mutinies in the Army, one at least of a very serious character, in which grave loss of life was happily averted by the tact and courage of all concerned. We had a number of strikes and a great many threats of strikes. There was a threatened railway strike, and the actual strike which took place all over the tube railways in London. There was a threatened strike of the electricians, which was averted only at the last moment. There were serious riots in Glasgow, which required the presence of a large number of troops. There was the threatened strike of the Triple Alliance, which was averted by the good sense of all concerned, and notably by the assistance rendered by many hon. Gentlemen sitting on the benches immediately opposite. Those were the circumstances in which this circular was drafted. I say it was the duty of the military authorities to know exactly what (heir troops would do, and also to know what their troops would not do.
1511 It is obvious, on the face of it, that no politician had anything to do with the wording of the circular. The veriest tyro in political life would have had his most sensitive feelings aroused had he approached phrase after phrase which figures in this circular. There are expressions in it which were likely to cause misunderstanding and resentment among working men, and particularly among trade unionists. The expression "strike-breaker," for instance, was bound to give offence, and moreover it is not what the military authorities meant. Strike-breaking means using soldiers or sailors to take the place of workmen who are carrying on an industrial dispute with their employers in order to improve their wages, or the conditions of their trade. No one ever thought of doing that. It would be entirely contrary to the law of the land and to the whole custom and practice in this country. The workman has an absolute right to use his bargaining power against his employer either singly or in combination. He has a right to refuse his labour, and Parliament has over many years, by a long series of legislative enactments, accorded him the power and means of conducting a strike in an orderly and effective manner. To use soldiers or sailors, kept up at the general expense of the taxpayer, to take sides with the employer in an ordinary trade dispute, to employ them as what are called "black legs," would be a monstrous invasion of the liberty of the subject, and I do say without hesitation that it would be a very unfair, if not an illegal, order to give to the soldier. But the case is different where vital services affecting the health, life and safety of large cities or great concentrations of people are concerned. These great concentrations of human beings which the modern world has witnessed are possible only so long as the artificial needs which science has placed at our disposal arc operative. Light, water, electric power, transport, the distribution of food, all these are indispensable to the existence of these mighty cities which cover our land. If any of these commodities or facilities are suddenly cut off, the State must intervene and come to the rescue of the population. Lives are in danger. It must come to the rescue by every means in its power. including the use of military and naval 1512 forces, so as to avert a general catastrophe. There has not been any-secret about it.
I quite agree that the whole of this great subject of the relation to the public with the workers and the services which are vital to the public, requires a far greater study at the hand of Parliament and the nation generally than it has hitherto received, but there is no doubt whatever of the obligation of the State, and of the Government, to see that great masses of human beings-living in cities are not suddenly plunged into privation and misery and confusion, through any sudden breakdown of vital needs. But this intervention of the State is not in the interest of private profit or private employers, but solely in the interest of the general public, who must be supplied with these vital necessities. This is what the military authorities meant, and this is what we said quite clearly in Parliament at the time, and this is what we say and mean to-day. There really is no mystery about it of any kind. The word "strike-breaking" is in no way applicable. It is a gross misnomer when applied to the special circumstances operating at the time this circular was drafted.
Then take the question of whether the troops would parade for service in Russia. Was that a proper question for the military authorities to ask? I say it was a wholly proper question. Are we to ask only the pleasant question, to which you think you will get gratifying replies? Let us face the facts; let us see the real facts and what are the real feelings of the troops. That question is to be asked to which the reply "no" is to be given, as well as those to which a reply in the affirmative is expected. I say it was the business of the military authorities to know exactly what the feeling of the Army was. How do they know what needs they will be called upon to meet? They may at any time be called upon to advise the Government at a most critical moment on a most difficult point.
As a matter of fact it has never been the policy of the Government to send conscript troops to Russia, never. No circumstances have arisen which warrant it. If the Archangel forces had been in dire peril and if no troops could have been got to go and extricate them, circumstances would then have arisen which would force us to rescue our own flesh and blood. The 1513 moment the need arose volunteers came forward proudly at once, and in fact we received more volunteers during the three weeks that volunteering was open for North Russia than for the whole of the rest of the Regular Army put together. So much for that. It has never been the policy of the Government to send conscript troops to Russia.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I am going to deal with the whole question. It is the pride of the British Staff that they take no part in politics at any time. They execute the policy of the Cabinet and of our Governments, and they place themselves in the position to advise the Minister, but they carry out no policy, but a policy which rests on the authority of Parliamentary majorities. I cannot conceive, however, a more appropriate or more useful question for the military authorities to ask, nor can I conceive a matter in regard to which ignorance would have been more inexcusable. There is the question and a reference made in regard to trade unionists. I share the opinion which has been expressed in various parts of the House of confidence in trade unionism and in admiration for the work it has done in building up the standards of life and the social structure of the working classes throughout the country, and all my political life for many years past I have been, as the Member for Smethwich mentioned, very closely identified with trade union leaders. At the Board of Trade and the Home Office and the Ministry of Munitions I was repeatedly brought into conjunction with them, and certainly I cannot conceive that the Government would ever wish to stigmatise trade unionism in the fashion which was current thirty or forty years ago, or to cut themselves off from the advice and guidance and assistance in all those difficult matters which have so often been given at such great personal risk in many cases by responsible leaders of great masses of the trade union movement. But we must not have trade unionism in the Army. There are a great many trade unionists in the Army. They may be trade unionists as 1514 far as they are out of Army life is concerned, but so far as the Army is concerned it is not possible to reproduce the conditions which exist in civil life. Armies depend enormously, as hon. Members opposite know, on the great trades which are the home of trade unionism. Mechanical transport, repairs, artillery, all technical apparatus by which your armies are fed and moved depend on trade in which trade unionism is all-powerful. No one would for one moment say that those men should repudiate their trade union associations. On the other hand they cannot reproduce in the Army Service Corps or the Army Ordnance Corps that freedom of trade union action which is their absolute right when they take off khaki and go into civilian life. I hope I have made all these points quite clear. When I first saw this document it had already been circulated, and the questions were accompanied by the answers. I am going to read summaries of the answers to the House in order that I may show how very useful these blunt questions—indiscreet questions if you like—are, and what very sensible answers they have produced. Again, I say, I am not using my own words: I am using these words as they were given to me when I asked for a summary of the replies. The hon. Member for Hull, who spoke last, said military opinion was valueless on this subject. Let us see.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
That is military opinion. Let us see whether sensible answers were given to the questions—plain and blunt questions. The first question was:Will troops in various areas respond to orders for assistance to preserve the public peace.The summaries collected over the whole of the area at that date, and it is now about four months' ago, were:Troops may be relied on to assist the civil power to preserve the public peace and to protect persons and property. They resent unofficial strikes and the effort of a section of the community to intimidate the Government and they realise their duty as citizens in repressing disorderly persons.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Let us have it all. This is the place to bring it out. The next question was:(B) Will they assist in strike breaking?1515 The reply was:All reports deprecate the employment of troops in 'strike breaking,' and the general feeling is that it would not be fair to ask troops to do what they themselves would consider 'blackleg' work.The next question was:(C) Will they parade for draft to Overseas, especially to Russia?The reply was:'Troops will parade for drafts overseas with the exception of Russia.' About which doubt exists. The chief reasons why service in Russia appears to be unpopular are:
- (1) Suggestions in the Press of unpleasant climatic conditions.
- (2) Ignorance of policy to be adopted about that country.
- (3) Taking part in active warfare against an enemy who is, to them, undefined.
- (4) They do not know what the campaign in Russia is all about, or even if it is a campaign.
- (5) Men fear delay in their demobilisation."
An HON. MEMBER
May I ask whether those are opinions of commanding officers or of the troops themselves directly asked?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Those inquiries were issued by the Commander-in-Chief of the Home Fortes in order that I should be informed as to the temper of the troops. Those communications were issued rather more widely than had been contemplated, but I see no harm at all in a considerable number of people having been consulted if they are asked perfectly straightly and give perfectly reasonable and sensible answers, and answers with which I think the general sense of the House associates itself, and which is the definite policy of the Government. The next question was:What has been the effect of Army Order XIV. of 1919 on the men?The House will remember that that was the Order as to a system of demobilisation instead of the pivotal system. The reply was:Army Order XIV. gives general satisfaction. It has cleared the air and the troops appreciate the fairness of the principles which underlie it. Doubt exists on a few points and the need for further explanation of Army Orders XIII and XIV. is shown.I just put it to my hon. Friends opposite that we do not want to have a quarrel where there is no ground for it, and it takes two to make a quarrel, and no misunderstanding where there is no cause for it. I do not at all adopt the language of the circular, but I do say the language of the circular produced more direct and 1516 sensible replies and gave a truer idea of what was the wise policy to take and the sensible policy, than probably some much more cautiously balanced phrases produced from a political source. I really think soldiers are capable of managing their own business in this sort of way. They have been all up against it together, and they get at the truth amongst themselves in a way which is really far better than a more carefully stated and balanced inquiry. Our course has been confined strictly within the limits of the broad good Sense of our loyal soldiers who are also good citizens. I say, show me any case, any instance, however small, where we have departed from the broad limits indicated by these answers we have received. Where has there been any case of strike-breaking? Where have conscript troops been sent to Russia? There may have been a few men in detached details.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Certainly I have exercised the full authority which the Crown has over the holders of the King's Commission in the case of a few officers of technical corps whom we could not otherwise replace, and whose duty it was to go and assist those other men who were volunteers. Show me any case in which we have departed from the broad reasonable replies which have been collected by Army officers and unit commanders throughout the Army, and which have been sent into the War Office?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
There may be in the millions of people who have been dealt with. I have no doubt there are isolated cases, and I do not suppose you could name an individual hard case of which you could not show me an instance amongst those millions.
An HON. MEMBER
Will the right. hon. Gentleman be prepared to afford facilities for trade unions to ascertain the views of trade unionists in the Army?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Let me finish my argument. That circular has now lapsed; it is obviously out of date and has no relation to the present situation, and it no longer has validity of any kind.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Answers are not coining in with regard to those questions, but I am receiving reports from week to week as to the temper of the Army, and I propose to hold the military authorities responsible for supplying me, with them. I am sure my hon. and gallant Friend will think it is a most reasonable and sensible course to take, and that nothing could be more foolish than for the authorities to go on in ignorance of the feeling of the troops, and for the military authorities not to know what the general circumstances are. I think it is entirely good. I must say the first time I saw the circular I pricked up my political ears. When I saw the answers I said nothing could be better than these reasonable and useful pieces of information, and everybody who has seen them in the hierarchy of the Military Service has benefited by having those facts put before his eyes. That is all I have got to say about the circular, but I have a word to say about the method of its publication. It is a confidential document, it has been stolen, and it has been published by a newspaper with the deliberate object of causing trouble and mischief at this critical time in the Army and among the workmen. The whole intention of this paper is to provoke an outbreak in the form of a mutiny or general strike, or preferably both together, in the hope that a general smash up and overthrow of society may result. That is the general and cheerful idea. Whether it is discharged soldiers or police or soldiers still retained at the Colours, or workmen who are in the vital services, the object of this paper is perfectly plain. It is to weave them all together and rouse them all at once to make a general overthrow on the Russian model. I am asked, "Why do you not prosecute this revolutionary organ?" My answer is simple. We believe that the structure of British society is sufficiently stable and sufficiently solid to enable us to allow in present circumstances even this unbridled license to continue. We know that the paper has a feeble circulation, we know that the doctrines which it puts forward are exceedingly repulsive to responsible leaders of labour throughout the country, and are not shared by all the great sane, sober, trade union opinion which influences enormously the working classes. We are very anxious to preserve in this country a greater measure of free speech than exists in any other European country at the present time. 1518 We are prepared to run some risks, though I do not say we could go on doing so indefinitely. We may be wrong or we may be right. We may be right in general, but we may be wrong in a particular instance. Although the great majority of the nation is perfectly indifferent to, and even unconscious of, such mischievous incitements, the day may come when a local or partial disturbance may lead to serious loss of life. That would be a most lamentable occurrence. In that case, I trust that the instigators of the crimes will take their places by the side of those whom they will have misled. I feel, however, that, judged by every test that can toe applied, no matter from what quarter of the social or political field, the improvement in our affairs, the settling down in these islands, has been so steady and continuous, that we can afford to view coolly these undoubted attempts which are being made to stir up strife. I do not at all wish to prejudice the hands of the Government in the future, but I do draw the attention of the Committee again to the mischief-making which is going on, and I ask that the Government may be supported in putting up with it for a further period if necessary.
I now turn to the subject which figures so largely in the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for that political storm-centre, Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood), namely. the position in Russia. I have not had any opportunity of addressing the House on this subject for some time, and I will venture to give a short review of the military position there. In spite of the fact that in the Ukraine and in the Crimea most deplorable events have taken place, throwing the whole resources of those fertile regions into the hands of the Bolsheviks, and giving them another lease of life, by giving them new provinces to plunder and ruin. In spite of that, the military weakness of Bolshevism has become very apparent since we last debated the Army Estimates in Committee. Wherever they have been faced with determination, they have been repulsed or driven back. The anxieties we felt about Roumania two or three months ago have been greatly lessened. There is no doubt that the Roumanian army, in spite of all its sufferings, is an effective and powerful force, capable of protecting the Roumanian frontier.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Capable of protecting the Roumanian people. Landlords have a right to live, just as others have. The new and small States from Poland to the Baltic have not succumbed to the Bolshevik invasion, as we feared a few months ago. On the contrary, they are driving it back. On the Esthonian front, in particular, they have inflicted heavy blows, some of which have carried Russian and Esthonian troops within measurable distance of Petrograd itself. Petrograd, of course, is a city of the dead. A few hundred thousand people take the place of the millions who inhabited it before the War, but it is still a place of great political and military consequence. Bands of Finnish volunteers have maintained the frontier, and have entered some districts of Karelia which were in a state of Bolshevik anarchy. The hon. and gallant Gentleman who preceded me made a case about the number of executions which had taken place in Finland. As far as my knowledge goes—and I have read every scrap of information I could obtain from every source—that appears to be absolutely absurd. I have no doubt very hard things have been done there by the White Terror and by the Red Terror. As far as we are concerned, it is our hope that the Red Terror may cease without a White Terror following it.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I will tell my hon. and gallant Friend the steps we are taking. I am going to make to the Committee as simple and brief an exposure as I possibly can of what we are doing and why we are doing it. Along the whole western front of Europe, from Finland down to Roumania, that wall of weak, newly-formed States and communities, which three months ago seemed about to totter and collapse, is standing firm. That those weak forces of so many different States and peoples, hard pressed for food, ill-equipped with weapons, with no unity of action except that which comes from a sense of common peril, under Governments newly and precariously formed —that this quivering wall should have been able up to the present not only to keep the front, but even, in many cases, to advance it, that they should have been able to do this is a most tell-tale measure of the Bolshevik military weakness. When we think that Lenin and Trotsky are nominally in possession of the main resources 1520 of the mighty Russian empire and the central mass of its population, that they have to use every form of terrorism to organise and increase their Army, it is astonishing that we should see the Bolsheviks recoiling before this poor, thin line of little States and weak peoples, still prostrated by the consequences of the German War. The inherent vice of Bolshevism appears to rot simultaneously every part of the social structure of Russia, including even the military tyranny on which alone the Soviet power now depends. The hon. Gentleman referred to the position of General Denikin's Army. Here, again, he made charges which astounded me, and which I am confident have no sort of relation to the actual facts.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I have only heard them stated across the floor of the House by the hon. and gallant Gentleman. I was not aware that any such figures as that of the slaughter of 20,000 prisoners by General Denikin would obtain credence in any assembly. I am confident that it is not a fact, although I should like to have an opportunity of consulting all the records and authorities. I have read all the telegrams. We have a general on the spot, a competent Cavalry officer. He has been there all the time, communicating all sorts of matters. I am confident that he would have telegraphed at once had anything of that nature occurred. When a few men were shot—a very small number—some time ago, he immediately telegraphed it home. We have hundreds of officers there, and I am confident that if anything of that nature had been going on we should have heard it. I do not think a British officer would stand by and see such butchery. Certainly it would cost them nothing to put it into their reports so that their superiors at home might see it. General Denikin, after great vicissitudes, has effected a remarkable improvement in his position during the last month. He has advanced his whole front, in some places to a distance of eighty miles, and in this he has been aided by rebellions which have broken out among the people who are enjoying what my hon. and gallant Friend would no doubt call the blessings of Bolshevik rule. The effect of British munitions with which we have been supplying him, and with which we propose to continue to supply him, is only now beginning to be felt.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Poison gas is used against our troops by the Bolsheviks. I do not understand why, if they use poison gas, they should object to having it used against them. It is a very right and proper thing to employ poison gas against them. The effect of British munitions is only just now beginning to tell, and I am advised that we may look forward with a very reasonable measure of confidence to the immediate future prospects of General Denikin's Army.
It is in North Russia where we are most particularly interested, because that is practically the only place where fighting is going on, where we have any troops, There has been a great improvement there. When last the Army Estimates were debated, we had a force of dispirited and discontented men in North Russia, cut off from relief or extrication by the ice. We had statements made that not a single man must be allowed to proceed to their aid, and demands were made openly in this House to that effect. Anything more calculated to discourage them I cannot imagine. A helpless population of Russians was penned up there, to whom we were bound to a certain extent in honour. The Russian forces in the neighbourhood were weak and unreliable. The Bolshevik preparations were moving forward with great rapidity. Their steamers were being prepared to come down the river when the ice melted, their concentration was steadily proceeding both as regards guns and men upon our front, and they openly boasted that when the thaw began they would drive us into the White Sea as they had driven the French into the Black. What a change has taken place to-day ! A strong force of volunteers, who left this country in high spirits and good will, has begun to land in Archangel— seasoned fighters of the Great War, the most experienced veteran troops in Europe. Already they have begun to land. A strong flotilla prepared by the Admiralty has ascended the river, and the ice at the mouth has now broken. The know-edge that these troops and flotilla were coming, imparted to the troops, cheered our tired men with the promise of speedy and certain relief. Their spirits and discipline revived together. The enemy attacks were everywhere repulsed. Their gunboats were driven back by the fire. of some 60-pounder guns, for which the ammunition arrived in the nick of time. Meanwhile, the local Russian troops in 1522 North Russia have quadrupled in number, and have improved enormously in discipline, fighting quality, and moral. We owe a great deal to Generals Ironside and Maynard, who have solved in unbroken succession a number of the most difficult and harassing problems, and have been through a period of the greatest possible anxiety. They have solved all these problems with an extraordinary measure of success. We owe them a great debt, not only for the military but also for the political qualities which they have displayed in. the astonishingly difficult circum-stances which have confronted them. Lastly, a new factor has come upon the scene in the advance of Admiral Kolt-chak's Northern Army. This advance began in March. Since then, on a front of 700 miles, his lines have gone forward to a maximum distance of 250 miles. That advance has been made with purely Russian troops. The Czechs are on the railway, guarding a section of the Siberian front. The Americans and the Japanese are all spread out along those 5,000 miles of railway, keeping it from being broken up or disorganised by marauding bands. The railway service has been so far improved that five trains a day are now passing each way, instead of only one at the time when I last addressed the House on this matter.
Admiral Koltchak's Army are purely Russian, and the reinforcements which are preparing behind for him, and which are considerable, are also purely Russian. In the main these armies are equipped by British munitions and British rifles, and a certain portion of the troops are actually wearing British uniforms. The advance of these armies has already drawn 20,000 Bolsheviks off our front at Archangel and has thus rendered us a real service which may have played a very important part during these critical weeks through which we have just passed. The experience of this war has taught us all how very dangerous it is to speculate about the future, and I deprecate altogether exaggerated hopes being formed. Just as things have turned out so much better than we had any right to expect four months ago, so they may now turn out three months hence very much worse than it seems reasonable to hope now. Within the last three weeks a considerable set-back has occurred on the southern sector of Admiral Koltchak's front.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I hope there is going to be no class war of that kind carried on in these islands, so that if my hon. and gallant Friend is burning to engage in the struggle, I am afraid he will have to make a sea voyage, and I am quite sure that the Bolsheviks would gain a gallant fighter, but I am not sure that Monsieur Lenin might not have some anxiety as to whether the political discretion of my hon. and gallant Friend would be quite equal to his military ardour. As I say, I deprecate altogether exaggerated hopes being formed. Fighting is still going on in this region, and I speak with great reserve about the future, but this much may be said, that Admiral Koltchak's advance in the northern sector, coupled with the growth and improvement of the Russian local troops at Archangel and Murmansk, offers us the prospect of a far better solution of our own problems than we could ever see before. Whereas a few months ago our only plan was to withdraw our troops, and carry with them as refugees 30,000 or 40,000 inhabitants upon whom the Bolsheviks would have wreaked vengeance, people, that is to say, who have been friendly to us and who had worked for us at the time of the German War—whereas that was the only course which seemed open to us then, there is now good prospect of the whole of North Russia becoming self-supporting within a reasonable time and of purely Russian forces maintaining themselves against the Bolsheviks in that theatre. This will relieve us of the extraordinary difficulties of evacuating so largo a portion of the population and of providing for them afterwards—how are they to be transported, where are they to go, where are they to stay, how are they to be looked after, what are they to do, when are they to go back, how are they to go back—all this was a formidable problem to be confronted with, but one I would rather have seen faced than leave them to their fate. If the course of events which I have indicated should actually come to pass, we shall be afforded an absolutely honourable and satisfactory termination to an enterprise which, though undertaken from 1524 sound military reasons during the German War, threatened us with the gravest embarrassments after it had closed. We shall be relieved from a situation which exposed us to an alternative danger, the danger of disaster through staying on with too weak forces, or the danger of dis-honour through going away without winding up our obligations decently. We shall be entirely secured from both these perils. We hope, therefore, that a juncture will be effected in the near future between Admiral Koltchak's armies and the Russian Archangel forces. The enemy troops in between are not powerful, and the distance is not excessive. Already communication has been established between the armies, already the Government of M. Tchaikowski, who, I suppose, comes under the general condemnation of my hon. and gallant Friend——
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
On the contrary, the policy which we are pursuing has the enthusiastic support of M. Tchaikowski. He has acknowledged the supremacy of Admiral Koltchak's Government and has worked in the closest co-operation with him.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
M. Tchaikowski is a man whose whole life was passed in a struggle against the Czarist régime. He-was exiled and imprisoned again and again; he was the subject of persecution, and he is now fighting a tyranny of an even more odious character. Already the Government of M. Tchaikowski—the North Russian Government—has acknowledged the supremacy of the Omsk Government and has united itself to it, and there is therefore reasonable hope that the whole of this North Russian situation may be placed upon a purely Russian basis before the end of the summer without anything in the nature of a disaster to our troops or the desertion of our friends. I am telling the House exactly what is the position, and I am carefully safeguarding the military situation in. what I say. I consulted my military advisers as to what might be properly said. I think we get along much better if we say frankly what we are doing and let the people understand exactly the limits within which we are acting. Our tired-out conscript troops are therefore being 1525 withdrawn. The hon. and gallant Member's friends from Hull will, of course, be withdrawn unless they volunteered to stay on, but if one or two of them have come home on special leave on the terms that they will return, I do not think that that promise ought to be waived, and they must take their chance with the general movement. As I say, our tired-out troops are therefore being withdrawn and their departure is being covered by the fresh volunteers and the new Russian forces, both of whom are awaiting the arrival in this neighbourhood of the right wing of Admiral Koltchak's army. I am not attempting to forecast what the future will bring forth, but I am explaining what is the actual present position and what are the reasonable expectations which we are at present facing. I think the Committee will consider that these developments arc, on the whole, very satisfactory. I know there are some people who would have paid no regard whatever to our obligations to the North Russian Government and to the inhabitants of Archangel, who would have bundled our troops into their ships or let them be driven into them by the Bolsheviks, and sailed away, and left all those who had helped us to their fate, to, as my hon. and gallant Friend has just described to the House, let them stew in their own juice. That is not the British way. We have secured a reputation in this War—indeed we have lived up to an old reputation in which we take much pride—of fulfilling all our obligations soberly but solidly, of being at least as good as our word, of respecting our scraps of paper, and of teaching others to respect them to.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
And I am sure that the House and the country would never have pardoned the Government if we had allowed that reputation, which had cost our soldiers a great deal to build up in so many hard-fought fields, to be smirched or sullied by any dishonourable episode or shameful abandonment of duty. The Russian question, while I am upon it, requires, I think, to be dealt with in a more general way and if the House will permit me I will make a more general observation in regard to it. I am often asked a question, Are we at war with the Bolsheviks or not? We are not at war with the Bolsheviks in the same way as we went to war with the Germans, namely, hurling our- 1526 selves into the struggle with might and main and using all the resources of our Empire without stint or pause to gain the victory. Our fundamental principle is that Russia must be saved by Russians. Russian manhood must work out its own salvation, Russian courage, Russian exertions must retrieve again the unity, the splendour, and the peace and freedom of the Russian land. All the experience of history shows, and I may say that the most recent experience in the Ukraine shows, the sort of antagonistic reactions which are created when foreign troops are landed in a country and take the lead in. military and political matters there. As Byron said to the Greeks, so we say to the Russians, "In native swords, in native ranks, the only hope of freedom dwells." But, on the other hand we cannot remain-impartial as between the two Bides in Russia. We cannot treat these Russian-forces and leaders who have always beers faithful to the cause of the Allies, who were largely——
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
He has been fighting without cessation against the Germans. These Russian forces and leaders-were largely called into the field by our appeals and by our exertions during the great struggle, and we cannot treat them any better than we treat those who betrayed us, who left us to shift for ourselves, who prolonged the War for a whole year by letting loose upon cur soldiers in France the avalanche of Germans from the-Eastern Front. We arc bound to take sides, on that ground if on no other. Neither can we remain indifferent to the general aspect of Bolshevism. Bolshevism is not a policy; it is a disease. It is not-a creed; it is a pestilence. It presents all the characteristics of a pestilence. It breaks out with great suddenness; it is violently contagious; it throws people into a frenzy of excitement; it spreads with extraordinary rapidity; the mortality is terrible; so that after a while, like other pestilences, the disease tends to wear itself out. The population of the regions devastated by its first fury are left in a sort of stupor. Then gradually and painfully they begin to recover their sanity; they are feeble; they are shattered; and the light of human reason once again comes back to their eyes. Those regions which have been most afflicted by the fury of this storm are the first to recover, and once having recovered—let my hon. and 1527 gallant Friend mark this—they are specially immune from all subsequent attacks.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Thus Bolshevism is dying out in all the original centres of its power, and it is keeping itself alive only by finding new areas to ravage and new populations to devour. The locusts are leaving the ravaged plains of the North, and they are swarming south to eat up the fat lands of the Ukraine. That is the present state. After all, in its first stages, Bolshevism offers a considerable attraction to the worst elements in an uneducated people like the Russian masses, especially a people who have been long and cruelly down-trodden. They are able to stop working; they are able to take possession of whatever they can find; they can enter the houses of the wealthy and of the middle-classes and of the classes who can read and write, and take the food and the liquor and the clothing and the furniture; they can trample down every vestige of authority; and they can go off and enjoy their plunder. But this only carries them on for a certain number of weeks. The plunder is soon eaten up or wasted, and the accumulated wealth of years can be consumed or rendered unavailable in a very short time. The truth is revealed that the property of the rich only meets, for a very few weeks, the needs of the poor. Wealth has to be recreated from year to year by patient, organised, systematised labour. But by the time this is discovered the whole machinery of production has been destroyed. All relations between man and man have been poisoned. The whole organisation of society, and all its scientific apparatus, has been destroyed. Thus, great and terrible suffering attends the closing stages of the disease, but this suffering is the prelude to recovery. It is this recovery that we are endeavouring to aid in Russia. We are, for that purpose, supporting all the anti-Bolshevist forces now in the field, by arms, munitions, and by a certain number of volunteers, especially in the technical services. We are giving these forces all the help we can without violating our fundamental principle, that Russia must be saved by Russians.
Our responsibility, however, cannot end there; it is not enough for us merely to support the anti-Bolshevist forces; we must 1528 be on our guard against another set of dangers. Bolshevism is a great evil, but it has arisen out of great social evils. We do not want these evils to return when Bolshevism has been overcome. We do not want the forces we have aided to succeed only to set up again the old, rotten regime which has brought about the disaster. So far as we can influence events, with the very limited means which are at our disposal—for, after all, we are only giving very limited and indirect assistance; we are not engaging our resources in any serious extent—so far as we can influence events we want to make sure that the new Russia, which is now struggling to rise from the ruins of the Tsarist and Bolshevik tyranny, shall be a genuinely national, democratic, modern State, where the people own the Government and not the Government the people, and where there is life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness open to all.
Therefore, the moment has now come when the five great victorious Powers have felt entitled, as a condition of their further support, and of their formal recognition of the anti-Bolshevist Governments in Russia, to obtain from those Governments clear understandings and undertakings that their victory, for which it is now permissible to hope—I will not put it at more than that—will be immediately followed by the summoning of a Constituent Assembly on a democratic franchise, and that this Assembly shall be the foundation from which the power of the future Russian State will be derived. So let us feel our way, in these difficult times, towards great and free conditions of democratic thought. Let us stand on the basis that the country must be governed through the expression of millions of people, operating through elected institutions. The Bolsheviks obtained power by destroying the infant Constituent Assembly of Russia. We shall do everything in our power to see that when those who are now fighting have succeeded, their first step shall be to summon it together and abide by its decision as to the future system of government in their country. I do not believe there will be any difficulty on this point. The national Russian Government at Omsk is supported by Russian politicians of every party, including the most advanced. It commands the allegiance of men who have given all their lives to fighting Tsarism, who have suffered exile and imprisonment, and in some cases, as that of Sazanoff, have been actually sentenced 1529 to death for the terrible proofs they have given of their hatred of the old regime. The policy of this Government in regard to the land question, so far as I have been able to study it, and which is subscribed to formally by General Denikin and his associates—their policy upon the franchise and upon the Constituent Assembly, go every whit as far as anything that has yet been attempted in England, France, or the United States. It is something to get that.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
We must devote ourselves to carrying our organisation still further; but the first step of the Russians is surely to come up abreast of the level we have reached and to begin to take the practical steps. I certainly share the views of the hon. Member (Mr. Maclean), who interrupted, that our organisation is far from perfect, and that the democratisation of our institutions should proceed. But do not let us accuse of being reactionary men whose political declarations go every whit as far as anything we have been able ourselves to practice. I am confident that the inquiry addressed to that Government from the five Great Powers will be answered in a thoroughly satisfactory manner, and the help that we have been giving to that Government will be continued in the most active way.
I am much obliged to the House for allowing me to set before them, in such a generous measure, the Russian situation. I am tired of the partial criticisms which I hear from people who do not address themselves to the whole argument. I trust that, whether hon. Members opposite agree with me or not, they will see that we are proceding on a definite plan, within definite limits, and that our aim is not dictated by any desire either to involve the British nation in expeditions into the heart of Russia, or in any way to set up anything which resembles the old Tsarist regime which has been overthrown. I must say one word on the general man-power situation of the Army. We are now at our very greatest strain. Nearly 3,000,000 men have been demobilised from the Army and from the Air Force, and 40,000 or 50,000 are streaming away every week The position in India has caused much anxiety, and needed considerable reinforcements. The situation on the Afghan frontier has already been 1530 described, and the House will not fail to appreciate its significance. In Egypt the state of tension still continues. In Turkey, like all other Mahomedan countries, there is the gravest unrest and anxiety as to the future of the Mahomedan world. While the Peace terms are still unknown, and still more after they have been declared, no one can regard that situation as free from military anxiety. The tension in Ireland continues to require a reinforced number of troops. The position on the Rhine is at its highest intensity at the present moment. The Army is all ready. Every leave has been stopped, and all those forces of the Allies there—British, French, and American—are awaiting the order which they may receive when it is known what the decision of the Germans may be. The stores, the salvage, and the guarding of the prisoners are occupying just as many men as they did before. Although the volume has diminished, the number of points where they are stored is still enormous, and the number of prisoners on our hands is still undiminished. We are recruiting men specially at a special bounty, to go out and continue the care of the British graves and continue the exhumation of the 180,000 scattered graves which lie in those vast desert areas of No Man's Land.
The new volunteer Army that we are creating to take the place of the present compulsory Army when Conscription comes to an end, has now reached a total of 170,000 men; in addition to which there are 25,000 men in the Army of the Rhine who have volunteered to stay on. But that volunteer Army is no use to the War Office at the present time for meeting the difficulties with which we are confronted, because, first of all, a great number of the men are enjoying two or three months' furlough, which was a definite condition of their re-engagement, and, in the second case, the units are a third to a half formed; the battalions and batteries are only partially formed, they are not complete in any way; they are only skeletons; and to-lump them together in order to use them for drafts, or in Mesopotamia, Egypt, or Palestine, would be to delay the process-of the reconstruction of the Regular Army, and so to retard the day when we cart dispense altogether with the services of men held under compulsion. Let hon. Members look over in their minds the six or seven points I have mentioned, and they will see we are pulled out on every side 1531 to the utmost extent at the present time. Rut I think that we are at the top of the hill, and that henceforth the task will be easy.
In every one of these respects which I have mentioned relief will follow the signature of Peace. If Peace is signed—and I earnestly hope it may be signed now —the Rhine Army can be immediately reduced from ten to six divisions, and, as soon as we see that Peace is effectively being carried out, it can be reduced to a still lower pitch. The situation in Egypt, India, and Turkey will, however, require careful watching for some considerable time. But with peace, 40,000 or 50,000 men who are guarding the 200,000 Gorman prisoners, or something like that, which we have on our hands, will be set free, because the prisoners will be sent back to their own country. The condition of the volunteer Army will steadily improve as its units are completed and as the men return from furlough, and we shall be able, not only to send out drafts to relieve men from abroad, but to send out re-formed units of our own volunteer foreign service Army to take the place of the men now doing duty in garrisoning the Empire. Therefore, on the assumption that peace is signed in the month of June, we shall have reached the end of the most difficult portion of our task.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Well, we got about 5,000 of all kinds last week; that was very good. On the assumption that peace is signed in June, we shall propose to fix a definite day for the release of those 1914 and 1915 men, whom we have always meant to send home, but have never yet, owing to one thing or another, been physically able to release. We propose, on the assumption that peace is signed then, that all the 1914 men will be sent home for release by the end of June.
An HON. MEMBER
Docs the right hon. Gentleman recollect the War Office promise in a circular that the 1914–15 men would all be demobilised before April, 1919?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I am well aware of it. I said, subject to the exigencies of the Service. [A laugh.] You may laugh at that, and I would like to laugh at it, but it would not remove them in the least. 1532 The House has seen what has happened in India and Egypt, and it knows the situation, and we have been releasing an enormous number of men, but I am now assigning a definite date, to which we shall endeavour by every means in our power to live up, so that if Peace is signed this month or next, at the end of June all men who joined in 1914 shall be sent home for release.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
It includes everywhere except India. That I cannot deal with until the autumn, but by the end of July all the 1915 men, excluding India, will be sent home for release. I will then proceed to see what the next step will be. I estimate the reductions which I shall have made within this period in the Army will be 330,000 more men out of 1,270,000 we have got for all purposes now. The improved scale of compassionate release, I admit, looks very hard on paper, but it affects about 25,000 cases, and I am considering whether compassionate cases on other than purely family grounds cannot now come into consideration, at any rate for a limited number. But the position of the Derby men, to which the hon. Gentleman drew my attention, although rather irrelevantly so far as my then argument was concerned, must be considered next. There are 300,000 Derby men now serving, and we hope to release them according to the month in which they joined' up—first, those who joined up in January, and next those who joined up in February, 1916. I cannot undertake to release the whole of this large number of Derby men immediately, but once Peace has been signed, I hope it will be possible gradually to diminish the military forces which we are keeping at our disposal. That will produce, not only a great relief in the strain to which we are subjected, and the sacrifices which are required of the country, but a sensible relief and assistance to the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his heavy task of maintaining the finances
We are passing through a very difficult time, but I think we can get through that very difficult time. We have a lot of trouble, but the time passes along, and 1533 our work begins gradually to get discharged. No one desires to reach the end of this difficult period more than I do, to release our war-worn soldiers to their homes, to their industries, to keep what we have won in the War, to see the nations of Europe, friend and foe, joined together in peaceful labour to rebuild the shattered world, and secure to them the new liberties, the wider and more generous associations, which we all hope we have gained in what we have gone through in the struggle of this War, which are dear to the heart of every Member of the Government, and I can assure the House there is no Member of the Government more earnest in the desire to see that consummation than the Minister who is called upon to preside over the difficult problems connected with the War Office.
§ Mr. CLYNES
There were two sections of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, dealing with the general question of military policy and dealing with Russia, to which I would like to refer. As to the last subject to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, I am inclined to say that those who have been responsible for the policy which the country has pursued since the Armistice was signed can find little congratulation in the melancholy results to which the right hon. Gentleman alluded, for he painted for us the most gloomy picture of what the situation has been in recent months, and, indeed, as to what the outlook is at the moment. His picture means that there is no certainty, so long as our present policy is continued, of giving to the people over whom we have authority measures for extended self-government, thereby tending gradually to increase their contentment and making it more sure that fewer British soldiers will be required for any purposes either of government or of repression. I join with the right hon. Gentleman in repeating the hope that if Peace terms are signed, the day will not be far distant when large numbers of troops can be released from their military service, and find their way into civil and industrial pursuits again. I have but one remark to make on that long section of the right hon. Gentleman's speech in which he dealt with the Russian situation. I think he correctly described Bolshevism as a disease, and I ask his attention to the fact that he described it as a very contagious disease. To that I would add, that I believe it feeds on discontent, and out of that we might very well draw the con- 1534 clusion that in this country, and other lands as well, cures for discontent must, be found, for the disease of Bolshevism may set in with its contagious nature and spread to places and to peoples who are always thought to be immune from it.
Speaking for those for whom I act, on this side of the House, I am sure I am correct in saying that the right hon. Gentleman's speech, so far as it dealt with the subject which we raised at the beginning of this Debate, has given us neither a satisfactory explanation or an adequate defence of the action of the War Office in the issue of the circular to the various commanding officers. True it is that the right hon. Gentleman very resourcefully exploited all that was in the circular and all that has accrued from it. He regarded it, as I gather, as a document so unguardedly worded as to be almost clumsily phrased, and yet from it he would have us conclude that a great deal of wisdom and knowledge had come from it, and that out of this faulty and mistaken step of the military authorities, information of the highest value has been derived, which might not have reached us had the ordinary political courses been followed. I can assure my right hon. Friend that he has failed to appreciate the extent and the influence of the "Daily Herald" which published this particular circular, for though it might have what he described as a feeble circulation, it evidently does circulate amongst people who are very earnest, very enthusiastic, very vigorous, and who, because of their propaganda and educational work, must not have their influence measured by their mere numbers but rather by the degree of the activities with which they carry on their propaganda work. And if it be true that the "Daily Herald" has but a feeble circulation, I think the national advertisement which the speech of the right hon. Gentleman has given it this afternoon will tend somewhat to increase that circulation, and will be read very joyfully by the supporters of this particular newspaper.
I would ask the House to turn to the situation which existed in this country at the beginning of the year when the circular was issued. I go back to that because of one or two things that were levelled against hon. Members on this side of the House in relation to general industrial disputes. Trade unionists did not in the early part of this year fail to remember the nation's interests in seeking to advance their own, and on every occa- 1535 sion when representatives of the Government, through whatever State Department it might be, cared to consult those men of influence and authority at the head of trade unions, they always counselled men to patience, to Constitutional and to peaceful action, and men in the mines showed that they were prepared to forfeit a good deal of their claims, and to accept any reasonable overtures which the Government was willing to make, in order to prevent a stoppage of work. I grant that there were some few spokesmen—men whose names are not of national weight—who evidently would not have been displeased— [An HON. MEMBER: "Smillie!"]—at seeing any serious outbreak, and a general stoppage of work. I do not think that can be said of Mr. Smillie, and those of us who have any knowledge of his conduct in that crisis know that whilst it was his duty—a duty which he performed admirably—to advance the interests of the men, who too long have been ill-treated as wealth-producers in this country, he was not unmindful of the great consequences that follow a general stoppage of work in the mines, and I am sure was most anxious to avert it, and do his best to do so. I was saying that the general conduct of the rank and file, as shown in the ballot, and the conduct of leaders, as shown in the counsels they addressed to their followers, proved that the trade unionists had regard to the interests of the nation as well as their own interests at that time, and therefore I am entitled to repudiate the imputation levelled at us this afternoon that in our criticism of this document we have sought nothing better than the cultivation of discontent amongst the troops and to foster suspicion and distrust amongst the men in the Army. My right hon. Friend would, I think, give us all credit for some more worthy motive than that, but certainly it has been said that that was our purpose. My own view on that point is that this circular itself manifested some degree of suspicion of what the condition of the Army was. It certainly shows a certain amount of distrust in view of the fact that the troops might be in the position of being called upon to render certain services. It is not we who feel distrust as to what the rank and file of the Army would do if they were called upon to obey certain orders which might be given to them.
I want to trouble the House about a couple of questions which, I think, are 1536 in that circular and as they affect the trade union position. Roughly, the first question was, "Would these soldiers become strike breakers in certain circumstances?" What really did that question mean? Did it mean that the soldiers were to perform the ordinary duties of maintaining law and order or even maintaining the right of the individual workman to work if he wished? Did it mean that? Or did it mean that the soldiers themselves were actually and physically to be engaged in breaking strikes by undertaking work which the civilan employés had left? We are entitled to an answer to that definite question, as to whether the soldiers were expected to become railwaymen, engine-men, miners, transport service man, labourers, and so on. Were the soldiers expected, by the questions of this circular, to tell the Government that, in the event of their civilian comrades being in a state of strike, they would take their place and break the strike? The right hon. Gentleman gave no kind of reply to that in his speech.
The second question, in substance, was, "What was the attitude of the soldiers likely to be towards trade unions or trade unionism?" That, in these days, is surely a strange kind of inquiry for a great State Department to put to men in the Army. What was the object and purpose of a question of that sort addressed to these men? What is there in the character and conduct of the Labour party towards trade unionism that justify that? Many hundreds of soldiers have retained their membership in their trade union. Even their position as soldiers frequently has had to be safeguarded and protected by the activities of the trade union of which they have remained members. I doubt whether as soldiers these men would have been as well treated as they have been in point of pay, food, clothing, leave terms, and other things had it not been for the services which have been rendered, not merely by the Labour Members or by the trade unions, but by the force of public opinion. So that in some degree trade unions have been able to follow the men into the Army and help to improve- their position there while they were engaged in military service. I should like the right hon. Gentleman to reply to a point of very great substance in no way answered by him earlier. The point has been raised by one of the hon. Members for Durham. It is a point of great substance. By what right do the Army authorities issue a cir- 1537 cular of this kind for the purpose of questioning either officers or soldiers engaged in their service? The hon. Member to whom I have referred quoted a new Army Order issued on 27th March, 1914, and read in this House by the then Prime Minister during the course of the discussion that day. This Army Order was issued as a result of what is known as the trouble pending in the Curragh. That Army Order says:No officer or soldier shall in future be questioned by his superior officer as to the attitude he will adopt or as to his action in the event of his being required to obey orders depending upon future or upon hypothetical contingencies—and so on. There was to be no assumption of the possibility of orders addressed to the men not being carried out. The authorities were not to fear or anticipate that in certain circumstances they would fail to do their duty. I submit this very process of explaining to the men before the event does create in their minds the feeling that they have the right themselves to consider whether they should or should not obey orders addressed to them. As I gather from this report, we were led to believe by the Prime Minister that it would mean in future that questions could not be addressed to either officer or soldier in view of the terms of that Order. We are entitled to repeat the question whether that Order has been withdrawn, or whether it is still in force. If it is in force, what are the grounds upon which now the right hon. Gentleman seeks to justify these questions in a much more wholesale, almost general national question, to the men who are serving in very large numbers?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
The questions were put to the commanding officers. They were asked their opinion. I do not think the men were questioned. If they were, it was in an unofficial way.
§ Mr. CLYNES
Really, I fail to see what value at all can be derived from the issue of these circulars if the action ceases just where it ought to begin. There was surely no doubt in the minds of the military authorities as to what the officers would do—colonels, majors, captains, lieutenants, and so on. Their concern was with regard to the rank and file of the Army, the private soldier. Now we are told that just where the inquiry should begin there was no question put at all. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he cannot have it both ways. Either in- 1538 formation which he has received, and which came through in these reports, has come from the rank and file of the Army, or it is valueless. If the soldiers have only been approached or questioned by their superior officers I should think there can be no value whatever in the reports. We are entitled to some further statement as to why these Orders and Regulations have been issued authorising the questions that we are told by this existing Army Order were in no way to be put to any man, whether officer or private.
I have just one other point. It relates to a question which, I think, has not been adequately treated in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. Most of the time spent so far has been used by various Members to cover the reform of numerous grievances in relation to individual cases, whether liberation from the Army was sought upon various grounds, or it was the case of men strongly anxious to get demobilised. I have had my own share of these rather painful cases, and I have troubled the military authorities with many inquiries. From my own experience, I share the disappointment which others have expressed. Here is quite a typical case. Out of a number of which, personally, I have had to handle, the facts are as follows: This soldier is forty-one years oft age, and has seen over three years' service. His employer wants to get him back to his work. His wife has been seriously ill, and is now quite unable to earn her own living. Her mother has recently died, and she has also lost her sister. All these facts I have certified to the War Office by medical testimony and the other documents which I have here.
§ Mr. CLYNES
He belongs to the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. If the right hon. Gentleman is interested in reconsidering the case I shall be glad to supply him with the particulars.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
If he is forty-one years of age, and is not serving in the Army Service Corps, he is entitled to release.
§ Mr. CLYNES
I am very glad to hear that, but in that case I cannot understand the letter which I have received to-day.Mr. Churchill has asked mo to inform you that as the claim put forward does not come 1539 within the terms of the enclosed Army Council instruction, it is regretted it is not possible to give other treatment in this case.
§ Mr. CLYNES
Certainly. I only want to press the point, because these cases are so numerous as to cause very considerable dissatisfaction, and the good name of the Army is somewhat impaired by those who are acting on its behalf in Whitehall, and perhaps in other military offices. These are leaving out of account those great human factors which mean so much in these individual cases. Regulations which, I suppose, are designed to permit individual cases to be dealt with ought to be so drawn and so applied as to enable the personal and the individual circumstances to be fully taken into account before a hard and fast decision is reached. I, therefore, press upon the right hon. Gentleman that the effect of this justifiable anger, which is growing, and which is a very serious blemish upon the reputation of the Army, or those who are responsible for its conduct. I hope if he can give any consideration to the administration of these Regulations that he will do so in order that as many men as possible who have their jobs waiting for them should be got back into them; that there should be as much exchange as the necessities of the nation can possibly permit, so as to keep in the Army the men who are willing to stay there, and release from the Army the men who outside can be doing greater national service.
Whereupon the Yeoman Usher of the Black Rod having come with a Message, the Chairman left the Chair.