HL Deb 30 June 1915 vol 19 cc162-73

My Lords, I rise to ask the noble Marquess who leads the House whether he will indicate what method he proposes to insure that the Return asked for by Lord St. Davids shall be accurately made. Since I placed this Question on the Paper a Motion has been put down in the name of Lord St. Davids— To move for a Return of the names of Peers and sons of Peers serving in the Army and Navy, and of the position or rank in which they are serving. I hope that Lord St. Davids may be present in view of one or two remarks that I intend to make. But I may say at the outset that in my view, if the Return is to be limited in the sense of the Motion standing in the name of Lord St. Davids, it would be in a form to which I should be very much opposed. When Lord St. Davids moved for this Return in the first instance he said that he had no preconceived notion of the form in which it should be made. I agree very much with what was said by Lord Devonport on that occasion. I suggest that it is vital that any one asking on sound grounds for a Return of this kind should have a preconceived notion as to the form which the Return should take. I admit, that personally I am opposed entirely to any such Roll or Return. I think it would be a mistake, for reasons which I will indicate as shortly as possible. But if a Return is to be made it is most important, in order to prevent invidious distinctions, that it should be as exhaustive as possible in order that the whole position may be ascertained and understood.

Let me say one or two words why it is that I adopt the view which was expressed by Lord Devonport on the last occasion and not the view expressed by Lord St. Davids. It appears to me that Lord St. Davids gave no reason whatever— and I have read his speech with care—to justify his demand for a Return of this character. Therefore the reasons which I am going to suggest as possible reasons which may have influenced him are necessarily to a great extent hypothetical. He might have suggested that there was some suspicion that the sons of members of this House were not doing their duty at this time of great national crisis. There is no ground whatever for any suspicion of that kind. If there were, it ought to have been explained in order that if the accusation was reasonable it could be fairly and properly met in open debate. I take the view that it is undignified for this House to excuse itself upon a matter of this kind before some reasonable accusation has been formulated. I may use the trite French formula, Qui s'excuse s'accuse. I hope that this House, in the absence of any accusation, will not put itself on a defence in a matter in regard to which I believe there is no suspicion anywhere, and which suspicion no one could entertain for a moment who was cognisant of what has been taking place during this national crisis. I recollect a member of your Lordships' House when he was Mr. Disraeli being once criticised in the smoking room of the House of Commons as regards his domestic life. Some one asked him why he made no answer, and he said "What no gentleman would say no gentleman need answer." In the same way I would say to this House that I think it is beneath our dignity to attempt to answer an accusation of this kind until it has been made on reasonable grounds and in a form which we can understand and appreciate.

What other ground can there be for a Roll or Return of this kind? Our sons are only doing their duty, as fire all other Englishmen at the present time. We do not claim it as a merit. We only feel, as I hope we do, that our families are taking their part as are the families of all other Englishmen at this time of crisis. Why should a Return be made as regards our sons which is not made as regards all other Englishmen in this country? That appears to me, again, to be an invidious matter. I do not wish to use as regards this House such a common expression as might be implied in the word "advertisement," but there is that element in a suggestion of this kind, that we who do not claim to be doing more than our fair share but who know that we are doing our fair share in this national emergency should ask that a Roll or Return should be made in our case which is not made as regards all other parents in every part of the country whose families are equally doing their duty. I feel very strongly myself, and I know many of your Lordships are of the same opinion, that it would be altogether a mistake to have a Roll or Return of this kind at this moment.

Let me say a word as regards the form of the Return. I do not know whether Lord St. Davids is here, but I suppose the Motion will be made in the terms on the Paper—namely, for a Return of the names of Peers and sons of Peers serving in the Army and Navy. I admit that in the first instance one's thoughts go to the Army and Navy. But such a Return would be nothing like an exhaustive catalogue of great public duties being undertaken by the sons of members of this House. I will take one very familiar instance. Take Red Cross work, which has less public notice, less public decoration, if I may use that expression, than service in the Army and Navy. It is at least as meritorious as regards those amongst us who have a son or sons engaged in this work. Let me take another illustration. Lord Devon-port the other day—and I must say I sympathise with him fully—referred to his own case. One of his sons is in the unfortunate position of being an interned civilian in Germany; another is unfortunately too ill to undertake public work. If you are to have a Return that is not to be invidious you must have it wide enough to show, not only what has been done, but what has prevented similar work from a son or sons in such a case as that of the noble Lord opposite; and yet it would be almost impossible to get an exhaustive and complete Roll or Return under conditions of that kind.

I come back to the question, What is the form of Return that is proposed? If it is in a limited form, I think great injustice will be done; if it is in the wider form, I think there is great risk of inaccuracy or of impossibility of getting sufficient detail. I hope that, after all, this Roll or Return may never be made at all. I trust that on second thoughts it will be seen that there are sound and strong objections to it, and that it would be undignified either to put curselves on defence before any reasonable accusation has been made, or to make a Return of what our sons are doing without a similar Return being made in respect of all parents whose families are doing all that they can in this great national crisis.


My Lords, I should like to associate myself very fully with the objection stated by the noble and learned Lord—a root-arid-branch objection, as we say in the Committee rooms upstairs— to this Return being prepared at all. I had not the advantage of being here the other night when Lord St. Davids suggested this and made his speech about it, but I confess that, speaking for myself, I still suffer from almost a sense of surprise at the welcome which his proposal appeared to receive from the two noble Marquesses who are now, I suppose, in joint charge of our domestic affairs and operations in this House. Lord Crewe and Lord Lansdowne are two of the Englishmen I should have selected whose minds were least likely to be clouded by enthusiasm for anything like a Return of this kind, which, as the noble and learned Lord said just now, trenches or actually impinges upon the frontiers of self-advertisement. I feel sure that the reason the noble Marquess Lord Lansdowne, with whom I am sure we all feel sympathy in the great loss he has suffered through this war, and the noble Marquess Lord Crewe, who has also suffered from the war, gave countenance to this suggestion was that they thought that a Return of this sort would be grateful to the feelings of others amongst your Lordships who had suffered losses or had people they were fond of serving in the war. But, however that may be, I repeat that, speaking for myself, I was surprised at their acquiescing in the preparation of a Return of this sort; and I may say that, if it comes to the push a little later on and I get sufficient support, I shall move and take to a Division a counter-Resolution that the Return should not be made.

The genesis of this idea seems to me curious, and it was heralded in by what seemed to me a curious speech. But I do not want to go into that. I may say that in method and manner it was a little like the kind of speeches which we associate with the name of Petronius Arbiter. What I was going to ask was, What is the good of the Return? Lord St. Davids took the opportunity, very properly, to speak highly of the working man and al that he had done. We all endorse that. Therefore no example as regards the House of Lords is necessary in the case of the working man. I quite agree with what the noble and learned Lord said just now, that as regards other people the Return would have the opposite effect of encouragement, because I think the general public, who are doing all they can to help the war, would very justly say, We do not see why a more or less close body like the House of Lords, with all sorts of clerical and other assistance at their disposal, should be entitled to prepare, as it were, a new patent of nobility or distinction which other classes in the country are not able to share. To that extent I think the Return would not only have an opposite effect, but would do harm.

I agree with the noble and learned Lord in thinking that in such a Return your Lordships' House would come out well. Still, I cannot suppose that even Lord St. Davids intended that it was to be a Return for our own private delectation and consumption. If he thought that, it shows that he knows very little about the House of Lords. It is not the sort of pabulum to which we are accustomed or the sort of fare we should digest with any satisfaction, because it might very likely mean that some people were excluded whose whole circumstances had not been properly explained, and I think we should find it the sort of fare which would disagree with our stomachs. For what other purpose is the Return suggested? I do not suppose that it is to be posted on the hoardings side by side with the pictorial advertisements, some of them sarcastic, some sentimental, and some epigrammatic, upon which voluntary recruiting has to rest. Therefore I do not see what good it would be. Whatever deficiencies this House may possess I do not think we have ever been supposed to be great self-advertisers of our virtues. If anything, we have been hauled over the coals for making mistakes in the other direction. Therefore I hope we are not going now to start out on a new line and advertise our qualities of patriotism, or courage, or whatever you like to call it, in this way. In those circumstances if later on a Motion for the Return is made I shall, if I can get support, divide the House against it.


My Lords, I desire to associate myself with every word which has been spoken by the two noble Lords who have addressed the House. I quite agree with Lord Ribblesdale that the speech which was the origin and foundation of this Motion certainly did contain in it things to which we are not accustomed in this House, and which, I believe in the general opinion of the House, was not in very good taste. I wish to make every excuse for the noble Lord (Lord St. Davids), because we know that he has suffered a great domestic loss in the war, and we can easily suppose that he spoke under feelings of very great tension. There is one thing that I wish to say with reference to what was stated about the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne. I was present and heard everything that was said. Lord Lansdowne administered a rebuke which, according to his usual practice, was couched in very mild terms, but it meant a great deal; and, moreover, if the noble Marquess had not spoken in the way he did, which we thought amply sufficient to convey the fact that the House generally was not in favour of the tone or the matter of Lord St. Davids's speech, that line would have been taken, I am sure, by other noble Lords in this House.

With regard to this Return, I believe we are out of order—in fact, I know we are—because the Question professes to relate only to the form in which the Return is to be made. Yet here we are discussing the Return itself, and whether it should be made. But as the two noble Lords who have spoken have been out of order, perhaps your Lordships will allow me to be out of order too, because then we shall be spared a repetition of these speeches when the Motion is before us. We shall, of course, when the Motion is moved, expect reasons to be given for the Return being asked for, and it is possible that when those reasons have been stated, it may be necessary to say something more. But, in the meantime, what is the object of this Return? Your Lordships, I am sure we are all agreed, are not in favour of giving Returns unless there is some public advantage to be derived from them. Now, what public advantage will be derived from this Return? The House of Commons has not granted a similar Return, nor, so far as I know, has one been issued by any public or private body. Why are we to step forward and give a Return relating to ourselves? There can be only two reasons for our so doing. The noble Lord rather hesitated at the use of the term "self-advertisement." I do not. The Return can only be required for the purpose of self-advertisement or in reply to an attack. What attack has been made upon us? There has been no attack so far as I know, except certain remarks which were made in the course of a speech in this House which professed to be delivered with regard to a different thing altogether—namely, with regard to compulsory service and calling upon labour to give its services unstintingly. Surely we can wait until we are attacked. If anybody attacks us, then will be the time to reply. I submit that it is not consistent with the dignity of this House to volunteer a Return with regard to its members and their families.

It is quite impossible that the Return can be agreed to in the terms in which the Motion now stands, because there are many services being rendered by noble Lords and by members of their families which would not be comprised within the Return and to omit which would be very unfair. The noble Lord opposite said he would divide the House against the Motion if he had any support. He can certainly count tin my vote, and I hope on the votes of others of your Lordships. I must confess that I think the whole thing has been unfortunate from the beginning. Lord St. Davids's speech at the time was acknowledged not to be very fortunate, at least parts of it, and this Return originated from that speech. Were we to grant the Return, it would give a false impression of everything that occurred; because, after all, what was wanted to be known? You were not asked what your Lordships or your sons had been doing, but reference was made to certain things that the sons of some of your Lordships had not been doing. I shall certainly give my vote against the granting of the Return.


The noble Earl who has just sat down mentioned that as far as he knew a Return such as the one proposed had not been issued by any public or private body. I would point out that certain private bodies have done so. I refer to the London hotels in which are posted up the names of the members of their staffs who are serving in the war.


My Lords, in the absence of my noble friend Lord St. Davids, I beg to move for a Return of the names of Peers and sons of Peers serving in the Army and Navy, and of the position or rank in which they are serving. If ever we should arrive at the time when we have some form of compulsory military training, which I understand our hundreds of thousands in the fighting lines as well as our millions of fellow countrymen throughout the Empire never cease praying for, there would be no need for this Return. It, however, behoves us at this time of voluntary service to take every opportunity of showing that what are called the leisured classes are bearing their full share in this gigantic struggle. I was much impressed by a conversation that I recently had with a most successful recruiting officer in the Eastern Counties. He told me that he now never held a recruiting meeting either in town or village without first finding out who were the principal families in the district, when he had a list prepared of their relatives who were serving their King and Country, and the honours, if any., they had won for bravery. These particulars he made known to his audience, and, in his own language, he had found it his "trump card" for getting recruits, and a very large addition to our Army has resulted therefrom. I imagine that when my noble friend Lord St. Davids made this proposal the sole object he had in view was that the Return might be an encouragement to recruiting in this country. But I appreciate the many arguments which have been advanced on the other side, and certainly the House of Lords is the last assembly in connection with which one would expect anything in the shape of self-advertisement. Therefore I only formally move for this Return.

Moved, That there be laid before the House a Return of the names of Peers and sons of Peers serving in the Army and Navy, and of the position or rank in which they are serving.—(Lord Blyth (for Lord St. Davids).)


My Lords, this discussion apparently has been irregular from the beginning. But there is one thing perfectly plain to me, and that is that the House desires to divide upon this question and get rid of it. I therefore move that we take a Division at once.


My Lords, if the Motion for this Return is pushed to a Division I shall vote against it. But in addition to the reasons which have been given, there is one which appears to me to make it impossible to accept the Motion as it now stands. The Motion asks for a Return of the names of Peers and sons of Peers who are now serving in the Army and Navy. Surely it ought also to include those who have fallen in the service of their country.


My Lords, I am sorry that Lord St. Davids was not in his place to make this Motion in his own name. I may remind my noble and learned friend opposite (Lord Mersey) that both he and I are completely in order. It is true that some of the noble Lords who spoke earlier in the debate were not strictly in order, but we are; for we are speaking to the Motion of my noble friend behind me (Lord Blyth). I am sorry that Lord St. Davids was not in his place, all the more as the speech that he made on the former occasion has been animadverted on by more than one noble Lord in the course of this discussion, and I have no doubt that had my noble friend been here he would have wished to explain the object with which lie said what he did on that occasion.

The original Motion which Lord St. Davids placed on the Paper was to ask for a Return of Peers and sons of Peers of military age serving in the Army and Navy. It was pointed out to him that the inclusion of the words "of military age" was subject to two objections. In the first place, it did lay the noble Lord open to sonic extent to the suspicion which has been mentioned in debate—namely, that the object of the Motion was rather to show up those Peers and sons of Peers, if such there are, who might be taking an active part in the war but are not, rather than to give a list of those who are. In the second place, the limitation to military age, if it was desired to make anything like a complete list of the military and naval service of Peers, would exclude, assuming military age to be the recruiting age—and there is, of course, the further objection that the term "military age" is arbitrary and variable—sonic of the most distinguished members of your Lordships' House who are serving in a military or naval capacity. It would exclude the three noble and gallant Field-Marshals, who are in their different ways assisting in the service of the war, and it would for instance have excluded, had be been alive, the honoured figure of Lord Roberts. Lord St. Davids was, I believe, impressed by these arguments, and he desires that it should be known that for those reasons he altered the form of his Motion.

On the form of the Motion I might say this, that on the earlier occasion I alluded to the fact that, as my noble friend on the Cross Benches (Lord Cromer) has pointed out, the terms of the Motion would exclude those who have fallen in action. It therefore would be necessary, if the Motion were put to the House, to alter its form in some such manner as this, "To move for a Return of the names of Peers and sons of Peers who have served or are serving in the Army and Navy during the present war, and of the position or rank in which such service has been or is being rendered." That would cover, I think, the point raised by my noble friend on the Cross Benches. Then in order that I may answer in definite terms the question of the noble and learned Lord opposite (Lord Parmoor), I should say that if this Motion were agreed to the simplest form of action would be to issue a circular to each member of your Lordships' House asking him to supply a return of his own military or naval service or of that of his son or sons supposing them to be so serving, and that such returns should then be checked by the two Departments, the Admiralty and the War Office, which would be in a position to do so.

But it is I think advisable, in view of the course which the debate has taken, to make one or two general observations on the subject. My noble friend Lord Ribblesdale expressed some surprise at the tone taken by my noble friend behind me, Lord Lansdowne, and by myself when the matter was before the House last time. I do not think that either of us expressed precisely the degree of enthusiasm for this Return which Lord Ribblesdale appeared to imagine we had, although it is true that we accepted the principle believing that it would be a satisfaction to the House that we should do so; and I confess that it has come as a certain surprise to us in turn to find what a large and strong body of feeling there evidently is in the House that such a Return is not desirable, and the opinions which have been expressed by noble Lords are obviously deserving of the closest consideration. I confess I am not myself entirely impressed by the argument that such a Return would necessarily involve an undignified attitude on our part. The noble and learned Lord and other noble Lords have said that such a Return is not made or issued by other bodies of persons. I do not think that is quite accurate, apart from the jocular reference which was made by a noble Lord opposite (Lord Latymer). Organised bodies of Englishmen united by particular ties do, as a matter of fact, make these returns and are proud to make them. The public schools, such as Eton and Harrow, the various Universities and their colleges, the different technical colleges all over the country—these all issue such returns of their members and former members who are taking part in military and naval service, and their doing so is as a rule, I think, regarded with sympathy. It would never surprise me to hear that it would be a gratification to the Civil Servants of the country, who have come forward with such splendid devotion to offer their services in that line of life to which ex hypothesi they are not accustomed, that a complete roll of those who are serving in the ranks or with commissions should be issued. For these reasons, whatever may be the objections to be taken to such a Return, I confess I cannot see that its issue would in itself be derogatory to our proper dignity.

Then there is the question of the form, or rather the substance, of the Return. It is said, and said quite truly, that there are other services not less honourable, in some cases not less arduous, which can be performed by members of this House or by others and of which mention ought to be made quite as much as of military or of naval service. If that objection is to be pressed, and if it is to be said that no Return would be of any value unless it included all the public services which may be rendered by members either of your Lordships' House or of any other body that should issue a similar return, the answer appears to be that no imputation whatever is conveyed upon any person, old or young, by his not appearing in this particular list, and I confess I cannot understand why it should be taken as involving any possibility of such an imputation. If it were desired to publish some form of the general services of noble Lords in the manner of that popular and useful compilation known as "Who's Who," the return would not only be exceedingly voluminous but it would also appear to be somewhat meaningless. If there is to be a Return at all, I confess I cannot sympathise with the objection to confining it to military and naval service alone. It is open to anybody to say that service in hospitals, if you like service in a Public Office, service rendered to the Church, and service in a great many other directions, is of equal value to the nation to that which is rendered by our soldiers and sailors. But that surely is not the question. If this Roll were issued it would stand entirely on its own merits as a Return of those who are actually serving in the two branches of the fighting forces. It would be, in fact, a kind of chapter in that General Register the taking of which, as noble Lords know, was described by my right hon. friend in another place yesterday.

Having said so much, and bearing in mind what my noble friend behind me (Lord Blyth) said, which I am very glad to accept as coming from him, that the paramount idea in the mind of my noble friend Lord St. Davids was that a Return of this sort would give an encouragement to recruiting, yet at the same time, in view of the strongly expressed and evidently strongly felt opinion to the contrary entertained be so many members of your Lordships' House, I cannot advise my noble friend to press his Motion. I think he would be wise in the circumstances not to attempt to proceed with it. It is, as the House recognises, in no sense a suggestion from His Majesty's Government, although we were willing to take it as offered by my noble friend. But all of us here feel most strongly that it is entirely a matter for the House to decide, and in view of what has been said not merely by one or two noble Lords but by several, and evidently with the sympathy of a good many more, I should advise my noble friend to withdraw his Motion.


My Lords, I should like my noble friend Lord St. Davids to have expressed himself on this question to-night had it been possible. But if we must come to a decision now, I shall, of course, bow to the feeling of the House and withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.