§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, the Bill which I have to lay before your Lordships has been freely discussed in Parliament and not a little canvassed outside, and I therefore imagine that you will not desire that I should take up much of your time in explaining the circumstances which have led His Majesty's Government to make these proposals. I am under the impression that for the principle of this Bill there is a very general amount of concurrence. Its details may be open to controversy, but the main purpose which we have in view is, I believe, one which commends itself to the people of this country. I do not think it is too much to say of this Bill that it lays the may foundation upon which any country can organise its resources in a crisis such as that through which we are passing. When I speak of resources, I am of course aware that resources may be of various kinds. You may have resources in money; you may have resources in material; you may have resources in men. But it is the resources in men, after all, which matter most, because you cannot turn either your money or your materials to account unless they are properly handled by human agency. I believe it is a commonplace to say that we have of late suffered gravely from want of proper organisation in this respect. So far as I am aware, all the speeches which have lately been delivered by our public men, and the greater part of that emergency legislation to which we have resorted so freely, have been based upon the admission of the proposition which I have ventured to make. No one will, I think, deny that if there have been confusion, misdirected energy, great disappointment, and if these things have resulted in disastrous consequences, this has not been due to lack of patriotism, or good will, or skilfulness on 387 the part of our people but to defects in the machinery of our national organisation, to our failure to collect in time necessary knowledge, to marshal facts, to take stock, to classify. And because of this failure the State has found itself unable to supply that guidance without which no member of the community, whatever his zeal; whatever his energy, can be sure that he is applying his zeal and his energy to the greatest advantage.
As to the facts of the case, I do not think there is any doubt. We have been convicted as a nation of what a foreign critic—a friendly critic— has lately described as "the prodigious inefficiency of our national organisation." As to the lesson to be learned from these experiences, surely it is this, that the country will not tolerate the recurrence of the kind of incidents of which we have had recant experience, and I do not think I go too far when I say that no Government, however composed, will command or will retain the confidence of the people of this country unless it takes steps to render such miscarriages impossible in the future. I think there has been a great awakening of public opinion in regard to these questions. Our present conception of the responsibilities which belong to us is a very different conception from that which was formed by most people a few years—I would almost say a year—ago. If you had asked the average person to give an account of our national responsibilities, I think he would have answered somewhat as follows. He would have said, "We must in the first place have an invincible Fleet." Fortunately we have one, and we cannot be too grateful to those public men who have brought about that result. He would have said, "We must have a Home Army sufficient to deter a foreign invader from approaching our shores." He would have added that we must have troops sufficient to garrison our Colonies and India. And in the last place he would probably have said that it was necessary for us to provide an Expeditionary Force, not of great dimensions—I think six Divisions used to be the strength usually mentioned—which we could at the proper moment threw into the balance with decisive effect if any struggle were proceeding in which we were interested on the Continent of Europe. Up to that point all was simple enough. There was no great difficulty in getting the men. A little increase in the emoluments 388 of the soldier, a little lowering of the standard, were enough to bring recruiting up to the proper level if it happened to fall below it. The men, it is true, were taken without very special regard to the class of the community from which we took them. As to equipment, was not the nation immensely wealthy? Were not the markets of the world open to us? We had only to go out and buy what we wanted in this country or in foreign markets. In the meanwhile we left the civil population to itself. It was free to sell its labour as it pleased, to work when it pleased, where it pleased, how it pleased, half speed, full speed, or not to work at all.
We have realised that all that was incompatible with the safety of the Empire. We have realised that the old go-as-you-please system has broken down completely. The six Divisions which we were to send abroad went out at the very outset of the war. They have been followed by others and yet others, and unless I am mistaken we have twenty-three or twenty-four Divisions at this moment in the European theatre. And all the time Lord Kitchener has been recruiting his new Armies, and the stream of men has been flowing in with a volume which has been a matter of surprise to most of us. We have, as I said just now, not paused to consider whether we were taking the right men and whether we were not sometimes depleting an important industry in order to fill our fighting ranks. The system of equipment did not flow so satisfactorily. Our own factories were unequal to the immense and unexpected strain which was put upon them. The great contractors and purveyors left us in the lurch. In the foreign markets we found ourselves competing with our own Allies. There was a pitiable scramble for munitions of war, and we all know how grievously unsatisfactory the result has been. Prodigious efforts have been made to overtake these vast arrears, and I am glad to think that those efforts have been attended with a very considerable amount of success. But, my Lords, we shall never know what these defects of organisation have cost the nation in money, in anxiety, in lives, and in the prolongation of this war. And even now are we not almost as far as ever from the ideal at which we ought to aim? It is perhaps an unattainable ideal, but it is nevertheless that of which I venture to think we ought never to lose sight. That ideal is that 389 every member of the community should bear, not merely a part in the national task, but the part which he is best qualified to undertake. We are still face to face with troubles which are not due to shirking, or to indifference, or to trade disputes, but, to absence of direction, to the manner in which we have given free play to competition and to caprice, when method, system, and guidance were what were really needed.
I am here to suggest to your Lordships that if we are to correct these things, the first step is that we should acquire as complete a knowledge as possible as to what men and women are available for services of all kinds in the country, where they are to be found, and what they can do when you have found them. At present we are wholly without means of ascertaining these things. We all know what has been happening. Men used to industries have been hustled into the ranks of the Army. I was told the other day of the ease of a leading firm of manufacturers of armaments who, at the outset of the war, parted with 600 or 700 of their men in order that those men might join the ranks of the Army. That firm has felt the want of those men ever since. You may try to get them back. They may be laid low in the fields of Flanders, or, if they are still to the fore, you probably cannot get them back without disorganising the military unit which they have joined. We have seen cases where agricultural labourers and employees, every bit as essential to the farm as the mechanic is essential to the workshop, have been coaxed away and induced to join the ranks of the Army. We have seen one area of the country denuded of men, and another area perhaps scarcely touched by the operations of the recruiter. And, perhaps worst of all, we have seen shoals of married men entering the ranks of the Army—men not only married but with families dependent upon them. And this is done without our giving a thought to the fearful burdens, present and prospective, which we are thereby imposing upon the country. It has been lately stated—I have not verified the figure—that about one-third of the men now serving are married men. That is a terrific proportion when you think of the number of unmarried men who have not yet joined the Army. You cannot, perhaps, avoid these mistakes altogether, but yon can do something to 390 diminish them. You can do that only by affording guidance to those who are responsible for recruiting—on the one hand for the military, and on the other for the industrial services; and you can supply that guidance only if you know the facts which we hope to obtain by means of the machinery of this Bill.
The Bill is in your Lordships' hands, and I need not pass its clauses minutely in review. Its main feature is the creation of a Register to which all persons between the ages of fifteen and sixty-five are required to subscribe. The personal particulars which they are asked to give are stated in the fourth clause of the Bill, and I need not enlarge upon them. The duty of setting up the new Register is imposed upon the Registrar-General, who is to be assisted by the local councils, the borough councils, and the urban and rural district councils, all of them working under the general direction of the Local Government Board. It will be the business of the Registrar-General to compile the Register, to maintain it, and to tabulate the information which it contains. Then there are clauses with regard to the granting of certificates to persons who have subscribed to the Register, clauses dealing with the question of changes of domicile, and clauses imposing penalties on those who neglect to come forward. There are also clauses providing for the special treatment of Scotland and Ireland, about which I shall say a word in a moment; and, finally, a clause limiting the operation of the Bill to the duration of the war. Most of these are points which, if discussed at all, could be best discussed in Committee; but I may perhaps be allowed to say a few words with regard to one or two questions which arise out of the Bill.
In the first place, I may be asked why we have thought it desirable to include women in the Bill. It may be suggested that by so doing we greatly increase the magnitude of our task and also its expense. These considerations were present to our minds, but we came to the conclusion that it was absolutely essential that women should be included within the purview of the Bill. What, after all, is the object of the Bill? It is to organise the industrial forces of this country, and I venture to submit to your Lordships that it is impossible to do that without including the female as well as the male workers. We all know that since this war has been in 391 progress there has been a great attempt, and a successful attempt, to substitute the work of women for the work of men. That has been done in the case of clerical work, in the case of agricultural work, and also to some extent in the case of work in the factories; and we came to the conclusion that if women were to come within the scope of the Bill it was necessary that they should be included compulsorily just as the men are included. It may be within the knowledge of some members of the' House that a few months ago an attempt was made to set up a voluntary register for women, with rather disappointing results. I refer to the Board of Trade Circular in the month of March last, in which women were invited to register-out of 13,000,000 women only 90,000 placed their names upon the register. We therefore came to the conclusion that. we should include the women.
Then may I say half-a-dozen words about Ireland. I see one or two of my Irish friends upon the Benches opposite. The effect of the Bill as regards Ireland is this. It enacts in Clause 15 that the Lord Lieutenant may apply this Bill to the whole or to any part of Ireland. Perhaps I may be asked why we left this option to the Lord Lieutenant. I will answer the question quite frankly. It seamed to us that it was idle to endeavour to impose this Bill forcibly upon the whole of Ireland. I think it would be mere affectation to suppose that we should receive in that country the same kind of response which we confidently expect to receive in this country when we make our appeal to the people to come forward and subscribe to the Register. I wish to say nothing disrespectful about Ireland. I know how much the country owes to the splendid gallantry of some of our Irish regiments; I know what a number of gallant Irishmen are to be found throughout the British Army. But nevertheless I am constrained to admit that there is no reason whatever to expect throughout the whole of Ireland the same kind of general enthusiasm and desire to support this measure that we confidently expect to meet with in this country.
There was another aspect of the case which we had to consider. The industrial classification of the Irish population and its distribution is very different from that of England and Scotland. A very large part of the population of Ireland is to be found 392 in the remoter districts of that country which are purely agricultural, and in those districts the occupants of land are firmly rooted to their holdings, of which many of them are the absolute owners, and I believe have no intention whatever of making those holdings derelict or of transferring themselves from the profession of agriculture to any other industry. The figures which have been given to me are rather remarkable. There are, I believe, in Ireland 1,300,000 males who would come within the purview of this Bill, and of these, in round figures, about 1,000,000 are to be found in these comparatively remote and entirely agricultural regions. We therefore determined to deal differently with Ireland. My noble friends will find the clause on page 6 of the Bill, and they will see that under this clause it is left entirely to the initiative of the Lord Lieutenant to decide whether this Bill shall be applied in Ireland, and, if so, within what geographical limits. Should the Lord Lieutenant think fit to apply the Bill he has to give directions to the Registrar-General to prepare a Register, and the Registrar-General compiles that register from such information as he is able to collect either from the local councils, supposing the local councils desire of their own accord to come under the operation of the Act, or, if they do not so come forward to assist the Government, then from such information as the Lord Lieutenant can obtain from other officers or departments of the Government—for example, the Trish Local Government Board, or the Reports of the Royal Irish Constabulary, which, as my noble friends know, are of a very complete and extensive nature. That, then, is how the Bill deals with the question of Ireland.
Then may I say a word or two as to the question of cost. I sometimes hear it said that this Bill is going to be not only very troublesome but very costly. We hope that that will not be the case. As for the trouble, we are confident that that will be willingly undertaken in the different areas and that we shall obtain a great deal of very valuable and in some cases perhaps unremunerated assistance from those able to help us in the localities. We look forward in particular to the co-operation of the local councils. They are eminently well qualified to help in a matter of this kind. For example, it very often happens that the clerks of these rural district 393 councils, who are also clerks to the boards Of guardians, are the superintendent registrars of births, deaths, and marriages for their locality, and as such are used to dealing with local statistics and have a very considerable knowledge of them in so fares they affect their own neighbourhood. It is worth noting that the last census cost the country in round figures £200,000, of which I think£80,000 went in the salaries of the enumerators; and we are sanguine enough to believe that the expense of the compilation of this Register will fall considerably below that figure.
And there is another thing of which I should like to remind the House. We believe that this Register will not only be of very great value for the purposes of the present war, but that it will play a most useful part after the war and when we come to what I may call the demobilisation of the nation. There will be these huge military forces of which a considerable part must inevitably be broken up. There will be the hundreds of thousands of men And women engaged upon war services in the factories who obviously will not be able to expect a continuation of the same employment. All these people will have to be, as it were, sorted again and redistributed—a task which would present enormous difficulties if those entrusted with its performance had not the assistance of the kind of inventory of the population which will result from the passing of this Bill.
There is only one other question arising out of the Bill about which I want to make one or two observations. I have said something of what is in the Bill. I want to say something of what is not in the Bill. It has been said that this is a Bill intended to introduce compulsory service by a side wind. The only approach to compulsion which is to be found in the Bill is that registration is being enforced by pains and penalties, and will therefore be compulsory registration. But as to compulsory service either in the Army or in industrial service, there is not a word or a syllable in this Bill. Nothing could be done in the direction of compulsory service without further legislation, which would of course, give to Parliament the full opportunity of expressing its views upon the subject. But I may be asked, Even if that is true, does this Bill bring us nearer to compulsory service, and, if so, how much nearer? I will endeavour to answer that question. In a sense I do not think this Bill does 394 bring us nearer to compulsory service, and for this reason. I do not believe that the voluntary service with its present anomalies and injustices world be tolerated very munch longer by the country, and if voluntary service is to be given a chance at all I think it must obtain that chance under the provisions of this Bill. I see that the Secretary of State for War, in a speech which he delivered two or three days ago, strongly recommended this Bill as necessary for the purpose of ensuring to him a proper supply of recruits under the present Voluntary system.
But in another sense I frankly admit that this Bill does bring us nearer to compulsory service. If compulsory service ever comes this Register will beyond all question greatly assist us in introducing it, because it will shorten the interval which would have to elapse between our decision to resort to compulsion and the actual application of that measure. I ask whether anybody thinks that that is really an objection to this Bill? If any one feels that it is an objection I would venture to ask them these questions. Are they able to tell us how long this war will last? Are they able to give us a guarantee that we shall be able to bring it to a close without compulsory service? During the last few months the stream of men has been flowing much more rapidly and in much greater volume than the stream of munitions. But are we quite sure that before long the case may not stand the other way—that the stream of munitions may come to flow in full volume and that the stream of men may dwindle to a very small trickle? Then I ask them, if that is so, whether we should in those circumstances not be much better off with this Bill on the Statute Book than we should be without it? I can conceive no answers to these questions except that we cannot predict the duration of the war, that we cannot take upon ourselves to say whether we shall bring it to the proper conclusion without resort to compulsion, and that we shall certainly be better off if that time ever comes with this Bill than without it. And I go the length of saying that if there ire people who object to this Bill because they think that to that extent it brings us nearer to compulsion, they will find that their real position is this. They want to deny to Lord Kitchener now the measure which he requires in order to prosecute the voluntary recruitment of the Army with success, and 395 they want to thwart and impede him at a future time should he hereafter desire to obtain this weapon in his hands in order that the war may not be brought to an inglorious conclusion. That is what I have to say about compulsion, and I hope your Lordships will not think that I have been lacking in frankness and sincerity. Of the Bill itself, let me say again that His Majesty's Government attach the greatest importance to it, and that we think that its results will much more than repay us for any trouble or expense which may attend its introduction.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.— (The Marquess of Lansdowne.)
My Lords, I should like to make a few remarks with regard to this Bill and on the statements of the noble Marquess who has so ably explained it to the House. It must be a matter of satisfaction to many that this measure, which is one of equal importance to the Munitions Bill which preceded it and also necessitated by the great burden forced upon the British Empire in this great war, has been introduced into this House; and I was glad to hear from the in the Marquess that it is not likely to be subjected to the carping criticisms which have been made, to my mind most unjustly, against the late Liberal Administration. The noble Marquess himself gave an excellent explanation when he said that in the first place we only undertook to provide an Expeditionary Force of some 600,000 or 700,000 men, and were only prepared to that extent. That is exactly the explanation which the late Liberal Government would have given for not being prepared to put into the field and equip something like 3,000,000 men, as we are now being called upon to do.
As to the part which women are called upon to play, I decline to accept the statement that women are not as keen as men to come forward and take their part. They have proved the contrary up to the hilt. A great and powerful deputation of women propose within the next day or two to wait upon the Minister of Munitions in the hope that their services will be accepted, and there is no greater enthusiasm amongst any class of people in this Empire than is to be found amongst the women to take their part nobly in every sense of the word in supporting the Government in this great crisis. In France great assistance has been afforded by women in the Munitions Department. They have 396 been able to perform work previously undertaken by men, and thereby have liberated men for the field. There is no reason why it should not be the same in this country.
I do not see why Ireland should be exempted in any sense from taking its part in this matter. I believe the Irish people are so loyal and patriotic that they themselves, if asked the question, would prefer not to be left out. I would like to ask His Majesty's Government whether it is intended to enlarge the scope of this Bill so that it may embrace the British Empire. The Bill is confined to the United Kingdom. But would it not be a fine object lesson for our enemies at this moment if they could see that the entire British Empire was being properly organised in this way, instead of the Bill being confined to the United Kingdom? I would like to ask whether any larger measure is intended to be introduced in Parliament here with that object in view, or whether it is to be left to the different parts of the Empire themselves to carry into effect some measure such as this, which is so necessary to bring the war to the desired conclusion? I would not insult noble Lords by imagining for a moment that this Bill will not be received with acclamation, and I trust that this measure may speedily receive the Royal Assent.
THE EARL OF MAYO
In England there is very efficient machinery to deal with this matter, but in Ireland it is to rest entirely with the Lord Lieutenant what district is to come under the effects of this Bill. There will be many people, I am certain, in parts of Ireland who will not come under this Registration Bill by order of the Lord Lieutenant, and I should like to know how they are to register their names? To what body do they go? If they live in a part of Ireland where the Register is not to be enforced and register their names, will it be possible for them to be granted certificates in the same way as is done in England? I am not going to criticise the Bill. We have our own feelings—and amongst some of us they are not very pleasant—about the manner in which it is applied to Ireland, but this is not the time to cavil and carp. We must do the best we can, and I think that this country will be—I hope it will be—surprised at the number of those who will voluntarily come forward in Ireland to register their names.
§ LORD HAVERSHAM
My Lords, I should like to say one or two words on this measure, not that I am not delighted to find that the noble Marquess has introduced the Bill in so complete and so lucid a manner, but because I think I can offer hint one or two suggestions which perhaps he will take into consideration. The fact is that in our county we have anticipated the Government, and have made our register; mainly, I must say, because I was very insistent that they should do so, as I felt certain that we could do nothing until we knew the strength we had in our county. What we did was to form a Committee and enlist on that Committee the services of the parliamentary agents, because they are the people who better almost than any one know the number of electors in the different districts and have lists to which they can refer. When we got these, and they were soon completed, we sent a recruiting party round comprised of all the different arms of the county with bands and speakers, and I am happy to say that they have already secured seventy recruits, and I hope they will go very much further. We are exceedingly proud of ourselves, because we happen to be the premier county with regard to recruits in proportion to the population.
These is one other point. Our list was not the same as the Government's, although the questions were pretty nearly the same, but we took the ages front eighteen to forty. I am rather at a loss to understand why the Government have gone so high as sixty-five, and so low as fifteen. It seems to me that those are ages at which you could not possibly accept a man for military service, and to put a man of sixty-five, or even of sixty, to the trouble of answering these questions when you do not want to have him for military service seems to me very unnecessary. I understand that Mr. Long, when asked why he put the ages so high, replied that he did so because there were so many people of that age who desired to serve. Very well, but they can serve now in special battalions. I might say that I was at an inspection the other day where the First men I spoke to were eighty-two and eighty-three years of age respectively. One had been in the siege of Lucknow, and the other had fought through the whole of the Crimean War and the Indian Mutiny with the Rifle Brigade. They appeared on parade, but whether they will do any good in Flanders 398 I do not know. At any rate they have done some good service because they have relieved the guard over the prisoners at Frimley, and they have done so well that they have received the thanks of the officer commanding.
I do not know whether my noble friend will admit of any Amendments, but he would, I think, save a great deal of trouble and expense if he did not put the ages so high or so low. There are two points on which the Government are to be very much complimented in respect to this Bill. In the first place for making the measure compulsory, as otherwise it would be of no use. For only a little while ago the Parliamentary Recruiting Committee sent out to the householders of England returns to be filled up, and not one-half of them were answered. As there are pretty heavy fines, under this Bill I trust there will be very little trouble in getting the Register made up. In the second place, the Bill does not attempt any centralisation. It does not attempt to do all this enormous business from a Government Department. It places upon the rural and urban district councils the duty of returning the lists. That is the way to do it. No Government Department could grapple with this question; but the local authorities—I can speak for my own neighbourhoods—will, I feel sure, be delighted to do anything they can to help the Government, and I am satisfied that with such a Register as this we shall take all the steps we can to utilise the forces of the country.
§ LORD DEVONPORT
My Lords, the noble Marquess is to be congratulated upon the way in which he moved the Second Reading of this Bill, more especially in his reference to one particular question which has, I think, been exercising the minds of most of us for a considerable time. The noble Marquess, apart from the Bill itself, referred to the system under which the Army, since the war, has been recruited, and he said, what we all think but what has not been said by any of his colleagues in another place, that we cannot continue to tolerate the system under which the Army is at present recruited with all its fearful anomalies. That is a great step in advance, and upon that I congratulate him most sincerely. I think he will find throughout the country a wide re-echo of that sentiment.
399 The noble Marquess referred to one of the great evils that have become painfully apparent in connection with this haphazard system of recruiting. It is hardly fair to credit it with the name of "system" at all, because there is no system; it is simply come as you please. He referred to the large number of married men who have joined the Colours, and gave a figure which was the very one I was going to suggest myself. True, I am in the same predicament as he is apparently, in that I am not able to substantiate it; but that is no fault of mine, and probably it is no fault of the noble Marquess's. I take this opportunity of asking him whether it is not possible for us to have a definite return of the number of married men serving with the Colours? The noble Marquess believed that there were 1,000,000—the very figure which I had been informed represented the number. We have raised about 3,000,000 men, and at the present moment there are amongst them 1,000,000 married men. That arises because there has been no system in recruiting. I will go further and say that were a stranger confronted with the method that has been adopted in recruiting the Army and asked for an opinion he would say, when he had examined it and seen its results, "This system undoubtedly has been framed to attract married men." The wives of these married men are in receipt of separation allowances framed on a very generous scale. I do not think any one will attempt to say that they are too generous, but nevertheless they are on a very generous scale and are costing the country£1,000,000 a week if we take the average separation allowance at £1 a week.
I am told, and I believe the authority is good, that the proportion of married men in an Army of 3,000,000 should not be higher than from 400,000 to 500,000. Therefore if one works out the cost of the present Army to the country one will find that in the matter of separation allowances as a result of our excessive proportion of married men close upon £30,000,000 a year of public money is being squandered. Continental Armies call their men up according to age; the youngest come first, and so it goes up, and until you get about as high as the age of twenty-five the percentage of married men is small, not more than 6 per cent. As you go higher up the scale you rapidly come to what I may call the equator line—the age of twenty-seven, 400 when there are 50 per cent. of the men married. One can easily realise what the lack of method and system is costing the country. But now we have this Bill. In another place the noble Marquess's colleagues dealt with it very tenderly; they were anxious to explain that it was really only a census, and was made compulsory because it was the custom to make a census compulsory; but they have not given us any indication as to the purposes to which this was to be put. I listened intently to the noble Marquess during his speech. He safeguarded himself; he did not commit himself too far; he said it was —I think these were his words—"to organise the industrial forces of the country." But if that is all that it really means, it will not add one single soldier to the fighting line; it will not add one single man to the Colours; it will not get rid of this terrible anomaly of 1,000,000 men out of 3,000,000 being married. It will not touch that at all, and until the Government have the courage to grasp the nettle and take the steps that the noble Marquess suggested sooner or later would have to be taken, and unless they take those steps, not later but rather sooner than later, we shall go on in the same way as we are going on now.
But since I heard the noble Marquess's remarks I am more hopeful. Certainly from what, we gleaned by reading the debates in another place, there was a general desire to convey to all and sundry that the last thing thought of was that this Bill should be utilised for any purposes connected with the Army. There was to be no compulsion, not even compulsion of labour; no compulsion of any kind. I say it shows a great lack of moral courage on the part of the Government if they cannot sooner rather than later do what the noble Marquess has indicated, and I am convinced that if they do intend compulsion they had better by far have the courage to tell us, and then the country would know where it was. I believe this Registration Bill is a compromise between those who say "I would" and those who say "I dare not." The noble Marquess, I think, is one who would say "I would." When this Government was reorganised and strengthened by an access of ability and public service to its ranks, when it was, to use the word of Lord Curzon, "leavened," we expected that we should get a more decided note, one of a higher 401 character and of an Imperial kind, and I am not disappointed after what I have heard the noble Marquess say. At all events on the Front Ministerial Bench, recruited from the other side, we have three ex-Viceroys, two of India and one of South Africa, and that ought to give an Imperial tone and touch to the situation.
I shall not detain your Lordships longer, except to express once more my satisfaction that at all events we have struck to-night the note for which the country is waiting. What are country really wants is a lead. All that has been happening in the last eleven months has partaken rather of this character, that it has only been when the country has indicated in the completest and strongest manner what it wanted that the Government has consented to take action. All the time it has been following with laggard steps behind public opinion. The public want some strength to be manifested in the Government; they want a lead; and if the lead is given there is not a shadow of doubt, about the people following. I congratulate the noble Marquess on the courage he has displayed this evening.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
My Lords, I will not detain your Lordships for more than three minutes, but I feel extremely anxious to express my grant satisfaction with the frankness of speech of the noble Marquess opposite. I certainly have not heard in this House or read anywhere the speech of any public man of anything like the eminence of the noble Marquess who has criticised with such complete freedom the lack of system during the last year in the conduct of the war. The noble Marquess has put before us—we all knew it, but it had not been put before us with authority so frankly—what is the real situation in which we are. I think we owe an immense debt of gratitude to the noble Marquess for the way in which he has spoken, and I am certain of this, that whatever the feeling in this House is, the feeling in the country will be tremendous when they read the speech of the noble Marquess.
I was extremely interested in the opening remarks of the noble Marquess, in which he made it perfectly clear that this Bill must be, of course, only the forerunner of further legislation and further measures which will really organise the nation. I quite agree with what the noble Lord opposite said, that the timidity that was 402 displayed in another place as to the object and sequence of this Bill was amazing. Every one knows that unless it has a sequence it will be of little use at all. I want to ask a question of the noble Marquess as to the time the registration is likely to take. I am not so much complaining of all the women being introduced, as I understand that this was unanimously arrived at by the Cabinet of twenty-two, and if that is so probably it is right, and I know that a good many women are actually engaged in making shells at the present moment in one works with which I am familiar. But would it not have been possible so to arrange your census that you sorted out the returns first of the men between sixteen and forty years of age, because after all it is munitions and military service that we require, and those are the most important returns. We might get those sorted in a month or six weeks; but if you take the whole of the vast return we shall have to wait perhaps four months, and we cannot afford to wait four months. As it is late I do not want to go into the question of voluntary or compulsory service, except to express my great satisfaction that the noble Marquess himself condemned the injustices and inequalities and the lack of method of the voluntary system. I ran assure him and the Government of this, that I am certain the country is ready for change, and that it condemns, in stronger language them that used by the noble Marquess, the inequalities and injustices of what is called the voluntary system, but which can only be described as a chaotic system.
My Lords, I do not think this debate should close without some remarks on what I believe to be the Liberal opinion in this House. I regretted immensely to hear from these Benches, which I assume are the Liberal Benches, declarations so strong as those which proceeded from my noble friend Lord Devonport. I listened with great admiration and respect to the statement made on behalf of the Government in support of this Bill, and so far as the declared object of the Bill is concerned— that is to say, that we should have a proper Register of the services which every member of society may render in this or any other crisis which may arise—I think there will be no objection either in this or in the other House except as to its ulterior consequences. But I confess I did not expect that in the 403 course of this debate we should have raised, as unfortunately has been the case, the larger question of compulsion as applied to out military service. If there is one thing of which I, as an Englishman, am proud at this moment it is the enormous success of the voluntary principle, the fact that by the spirit and enthusiasm and the voluntary desire on the part of all our people we have been able to enlist 3,000,000 men. I firmly believe that the whole world views with admiration that achievement, and this is not the moment, as it seems to me, for us to depreciate that effort by a discussion as to the possibilities of Conscription. From these Benches, which are still, I assume, Liberal Benches, I desire to enter a protest against a discussion of this kind, and to say that I am still a firm believer in the voluntary principle which has already achieved such glorious results.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, I may perhaps be allowed to say half-a-dozen words in reply to some of the questions which have been put to me from different parts of the House. My noble friend Lord Tenterden asked whether it was in our contemplation to extend the operation of this Bill to the Dominions across the seas. I think the answer to that is that the matter is obviously one which must be dealt with by the Governments of those Dominions themselves. If they think fit to follow suit, we shall be well pleased. Then my noble friend Lord Mayo, as I understood him, asked whether in cases where the Lord Lieutenant did not apply Clause 1 to a particular part of Ireland, with the assistance of the local authorities, it would still be possible for the Lord Lieutenant to collect names for a sort of sporadic register of his own.
THE EARL OF MAYO
I asked whether it would be possible for a person living in a district which did not come under the Registration Bill to register his capabilities.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
I will inquire into that matter, but my impression is that in a case of that kind the Register would not be in existence, because the Lord Lieutenant would not have established the Register. What the clause depends upon is the decision of the Lord Lieutenant to establish a Register in certain parts of Ireland, and where no Register is established I imagine it would 404 be useless for individuals to come forward. The Lord Lieutenant could not issue the forms. It is only the Registrar-General who can do that. That is the only answer which at the moment I can give my noble friend. I think he also asked about the certificates.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
That really hangs upon the other. If he is allowed to register, he would no doubt get the usual certificate. Then my noble friend Lord Haversham told us that in a part of the country with which he is familiar a register has, thanks to the public spirit of the inhabitants, been set on foot and is in existence. I can scarcely suppose that a register of that kind would not be made use of by the authority which will be set in motion under this Bill. It will be found, probably, that very great service has been rendered by all this spade work, which will certainly come in useful in the fulfilment of the general task. My noble friend also thought that sixty-five was rather a high limit of age, having regard to the fitness of persons of that age for military service. But I would remind the noble Lord that this Register is not merely intended to disclose the fitness of the person registered for military service, but for other services as well— services of any kind; and I should be sorry to believe that gentlemen up to the age of sixty-five were unfit for duty of any kind. I have the misfortune even to have passed beyond that limit, therefore I must, I suppose, consider myself unavailable for any purpose. With regard to the lower limit my noble friend suggested that fifteen was a very low age to take, but I have here a table showing the statistics of the employment of the younger members of the community, and I find that of those of fifteen years of age no fewer than 83 per cent. are returned as employed. I presume, therefore, that there is a good deal to be said for admitting them to the Register. But I quite agree that the question of the precise limit of age is a very arguable one.
I was glad to notice that Lord Devonport was good enough to agree with what I had said as to the extravagance of recruiting married men, particularly married men 405 with families, and he suggested that a Return of the married men now serving would be very instructive. I think it would be, and I will make inquiries as to the possibility of procuring such a Return. I do not, however, like to promise the Return, because one must recollect that the preparation of these Returns involves a great amount of hard work, and when you ire dealing with the Army it means considerable investigation and trouble which one would sooner not inflict at the moment upon persons connected with military administration. But with regard to the protection of married men and their liability to be called upon to serve, I would recommend Lord Devonport to note what was said three days ago by Lord Kitchener upon this subject. I have not his speech by me, but I am sure I quote him with fair correctness when I say that Lord Kitchener expressed his sense of the value of this Bill because it would entitle him to follow up men who were unmarried, leaving on one side the married men That is really a point in favour of the Bill on the Table.
My noble friend Lord Peel asked how long the preparation of the Register was likely to take. He suggested, I think, four months as the probable duration of time, and pointed out that in view of the great importance of the munitions industry that particular industry should first be attacked. I am told that those who have studied this question believe that the length of time required will not be neatly so long as my noble friend supposes, that the officials of the Local Government Board are hopeful that one month will be sufficient for the actual collection of the names, and that the results will be made available for the public within another month—that is two 406 months altogether, which leaves a much more hopeful prospect than my noble friend anticipated. Of course, all this depends—and this cannot be said too strongly—upon the good will and the co-operation of the local councils, and I for one am deeply convinced that we may look to them for all the assistance they can possibly give us. I am afraid I can give no comfort to my noble friend Lord Weardale, who approached the subject from a rather different point of view.
I would like to raise one question before I sit down—namely, the date on which the remaining stages of this Bill might be taken. We are, for a reason which will appeal to Lord Peel, extremely anxious to get the Bill on the Statute Book as soon as possible, in order that the necessary proceedings may be taken, and if your Lordships will permit me to do so I should like to put the Bill down for Committee to-morrow. Of course, I am entirely in the hands of the House, and if any noble Lords tell me that they require further time I must defer to their judgment. But for the moment I shall put the Committee stage down for to-morrow.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House To-morrow.