HL Deb 11 January 1916 vol 20 cc868-82

VISCOUNT MIDLETON rose to ask the Secretary of State for War what is the number of recruits raised in Great Britain and Ireland respectively since the commencement of the war, and whether he can give any approximate estimate of the single men still available for attestation in Ireland.

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, in rising to put the Question which stands in my name, I do not desire in the least to anticipate the discussion which must arise when the Bill which has been introduced in another place [the Military Service Bill] comes before us. My object is solely to elicit information, and I sincerely hope that in that respect I shall be more fortunate to-day than I was a year ago. I looked back a few moments ago and found that on very nearly this day last year from this Bench we pressed for three items of information, the first being the exact number of recruits which had been drawn from different parts of the country, and we asked for that information in order that we might, satisfy ourselves that the industrial centres were not being too heavily drawn upon as compared with other centres and that the making of munitions of war and warlike material would not be in con- sequence endangered. All I can say in regard to that particular item is that I do not suppose there is a member of the Government who is not now with us in wishing that some such scheme as that of which Lord Derby was the author was put in force a year ago, when it would not be necessary as it is now for the Minister of Munitions to appeal to the Secretary of State for War to return to him from the Army the men who we then urged should not be enlisted.

Secondly we called attention to the extraordinary results from the South and West of Ireland. Last night Mr. Birrell gave some figures in the House of Commons which seemed to show that the recruitment, from the South and West of Ireland amounted to 45,000, or thereabouts, out of 2,800,000 of population. On that I would make this one commentary, that if that is a correct figure we should have a total on that average of recruits from the inception of the war until now for the whole of Great Britain and Ireland which would not exceed 750,000, and therefore if the same number had obtained in other parts of the country we should have been forced to content ourselves with forces probably one-third of those which we now have. I do not say that there are not large deductions to be made from any figures for a particular class of population with which you are dealing, but at the same time this seems to be in itself a grave figure.

Then we urged that we should be informed not the numbers who had already been recruited or the forces which might become available, but that we should be told what number per week or month were needed by Lord Kitchener for the purposes which he then had in view. We were met on that subject by the assertion that it was quite impossible, without endangering the public interest, to give the figures. All those objections have now been abandoned. Figures have been freely given. We know what number Lord Kitchener requires each week; we know approximately the numbers which are available in Great Britain under the Derby scheme; we know what numbers are available in Ireland. Therefore the sole remaining figure for which I am asking is what numbers have been recruited in Great Britain as compared to those recruited in Ireland since the beginning of the war; and I think it would be highly desirable that we should also have a comparison as between England, Scotland, and Wales. I have seen the figure—I do not know whether it is a correct one—that the total number out of the Scottish population, which we know is about the equivalent of the Irish population although in some respects of a different character and engaged in different pursuits, is about 250,000, as against the Irish figure which we have to-day, which, taking in all the Provinces of Ireland, is about 95,000. That seems to be a large difference.

The Irish leaders have made a very strong presentment of their case both as to the quality and the quantity of the troops that Ireland has found since the commencement of the war. I do not suppose any of your Lordships will have the slightest doubt of the quality and of the conduct of the Irish troops who have been enrolled. Their names are written especially in the pages of the operations at Gallipoli in a manner which will never be forgotten. But with regard to the quantity I think we have a right to ask that the Government, who are proposing at this moment; an exceptional measure for the rest of the country, should on their part make the case that there is no cause for extending that exceptional measure to one particular part of the United Kingdom. Therefore I would ask, without the least desire to discuss in advance the desirability or otherwise of the course which the Government, have taken, that we should be equipped with all the figures necessary for the discussion.


My Lords, I desire to say one or two words in support of my noble friend's request for figures. The figures that were given in the House of Commons last night did not afford us who care about the honour of Ireland much satisfaction; but I am sure that, although they may represent as a whole the proportion to the population of the recruits that have come from Ireland between the dates named, they do not do equal justice between all classes of the community. I am extremely desirous, if it be possible, that when the Returns are given of Irish recruiting they should classify—I do not refer for the moment to the gentry and professional classes—but they should classify as between the labouring classes, townsmen, and the farmer class; otherwise you may do very great injustice to certain of those classes, and you may not bring to light that others have not risen to the height of their obligations during this war. I cannot see that that would be impossible if the information we have been given is correct. Ireland, to the humiliation of some of us, was excluded from the National Registration Act, and one of the reasons given for that was—I think Mr. Birrell said it in the House of Commons—that they had so much information about the people in Ireland that it was unnecessary. If that be the real explanation, it could hardly be impossible to effect such a classification as I desire.

A great many of us in Ireland deeply deplore the decision of the Government to exclude Ireland from the Military Service Bill, because we find it extremely difficult to understand any real reason for it. The salvation of Ireland is the same as the salvation of the rest of the United Kingdom; the honour of Ireland is very dear to us; and we think that we should share the sacrifices that England and Scotland may be called upon to make. It is really difficult for me to see how Mr. Redmond can dissociate himself from that sentiment. He has, we all know, as keen a sense of the honour of Ireland as any of us. From the time when he made that historic speech in the House of Commons at the outbreak of war up to the present he has done his best to promote recruiting in Ireland; and I cannot help referring to a passage in a speech which he made only last week which appears to me to be in order in this debate because of the inference You can draw from it. He said— That was our attitude because Ireland has thoroughly identified herself with the Empire in this war; and if we were convinced that the passage of this Bill was necessary to end the war or calculated to promote its speedy and successful ending the position I should take up would be entirely different from my attitude to-day. That, of course, does not in any way preclude opposition to the Bill as being unnecessary for the whole of the country. But I think you may draw the inference very fairly from it, Ireland having "thoroughly identified herself with the Empire in this war," that whatever measure is applied as a necessity to England should be applied to Ireland. As to the comparison, the figures, which will show how we stand, I think it fairly follows that it would be satisfactory to every Irishman who cares for his country to know what we have done, and have some means of judging what we ought to do and wherein we may have failed.

All these questions, of course, must be more fully discussed at a later time. All I want is to be sure that when we come to discuss them we shall have figures which are accurate or approximately accurate, and that there may be no atmosphere of make-believe as to what we have furnished. This is no time for the concealment of facts. We should know exactly how we stand, and face the position whether it is good or evil. My belief is that when the figures are given we shall have reason to be proud of those Irishmen who have gone; and if the effect of the present Bill directly or indirectly is to induce others who have held back to go, I am perfectly satisfied that once you get them you will find that the lustre of Irish arms will be as much enhanced by them as by those who have already gone. At any rate, what we all want is to have the actual facts to enable us to do justice to the whole question and enforce the right of the country to call upon its sons for its defence in time of need.


My Lords, I apprehend that every intelligent person will share the regret of my noble friend opposite (Lord Midleton) that what is known as the Derby scheme was not adopted long ago. But the responsibility for failure in that direction certainly does not rest with the present Government. With regard to the Question upon the Paper, I am afraid that my noble friend is again doomed to disappointment. I am instructed that it is contrary to the public interest—a term with which my noble friend is well familiar—to give the exact figures with regard to the recruits obtained in Great Britain, and I regret, therefore, that I am unable to add anything to the statements on the subject which were made by the Prime Minister in the House of Commons on September 1, 1914, and on January 5. But with regard to Ireland I am in a position to supply him with the information which he requires. That information, by the way, has to a great extent been anticipated by an answer which was given yesterday by the Chief Secretary for Ireland. The number of recruits for the Army and Navy raised in Ireland since the beginning of the war down to December 15 is estimated to be approximately 95,000, distributed as follows: Leinster, 27,458; Ulster, 49,760; Munster, 14,190; and Connaught, 3,589. The number of single men between the ages of 19 and 41 in Ireland on August 15 last is estimated at 416,409, of whom about 10,500 have enlisted since that date. I understand that these are statistics which are supplied by the Police, and the discrepancy between my answer and that given by Mr. Birrell in the House of Commons yesterday is explained by the fact that Mr. Birrell's figures included married men. With regard to the point raised by Lord Desart as to classification, I am afraid I am not in a position to state whether or not that information can be given. What I would suggest to my noble and learned friend is that if he feels so inclined he should put a Question on the Paper.


My Lords, it seems to me that the Question which my noble friend Lord Midleton asks to-day is very different from those which he put a year ago and to which he alluded. He wanted to know then what number of men per month would be required, and he was anxious lest a good many men should be taken away from the necessary manufacture of munitions and matters of that kind. The object of his Question to-day is simply to make a comparison between tile number of recruits derived from Great Britain and the number derived from Ireland. I should like very humbly to protest against discussions of this kind. It seems to me that inquiries of this nature are much more likely to cause totally unnecessary ill-feeling than to serve any possible useful end. It is quite impossible from any figures that can be given to strike anything like a fair and just balance and ascertain whether Ireland has or has not borne her fair share of the burden of the war as compared with Great Britain; still more impossible is it to determine whether the burden that has fallen upon Ireland has been equally borne by the four Provinces in proportion to their population.

Figures must to a large extent be fallacious. The figures that my noble friend opposite (Lord Newton) gave to-night are practically the same as the figures that were given yesterday in the other House by the Chief Secretary. But how can you ascertain the number of men of military age in Ireland? The only basis you can possibly go upon is a census which is now six years old. There is no registration in Ireland. There is no possible way of ascertaining what the number of men of military age now is except by taking the statistics of population in 1910 and calculating how many of them will be now of military age. That is to say, you take a boy of sixteen or seventeen in 1910 and say he is twenty-two or twenty-three now. He may be dead, or he may have emigrated, or he may have enlisted long ago. Figures of that kind must be fallacious. And besides, everybody knows perfectly well that the number of eligible men in any county for instance, or in any Province which contains large towns and cities, is infinitely greater than in purely agricultural districts. I will mention another instance that probably does not occur to anyone unless he is very well acquainted with Ireland. The number of women workers capable of taking the place of men and therefore freeing them to go abroad is infinitely greater in Great Britain than in Ireland. That is an undoubted fact, and anybody who knows Ireland must be aware of it. That in itself is enough to invalidate any conclusion you can come to from mere figures.

To arrive at anything like a fair conclusion you have to find out how many Irishmen were serving before the war in the ranks, how many time-expired men have left, how many Irishmen have enlisted in England. My noble friend behind me (Lord Midleton) alluded to the Scottish regiments. Everybody knows that the number of Irishmen in the Highland regiments is very large indeed. All these facts have to be ascertained—and it is a very difficult matter—before you can come to any fair and just conclusion; and I submit that even if you could get the accurate facts they would be of very little value. Personally I think that Ireland has done exceedingly well. Nobody undervalues the services of the Irish regiments or their valour. Their regimental discipline and loyalty may, perhaps, be undervalued because it has not naturally attracted attention, but if you consider the enormous temptations that have been offered to Irish prisoners of war in Germany and the way those temptations have been resisted, I think it will be admitted that those men have added to their services in the field and to the honour due to their regiments and to their country. I think Ireland has done very well.

The only question in dispute is whether Ireland has done very well in recruiting. My own strong impression is that she has. Others take a different view. Well, my Lords, cannot it be left at that? It is a matter that cannot be decided by reference to figures. This inquiry can only create a certain amount of ill-feeling, and what is to be derived from it? Discussion on the subject certainly will not produce one solitary recruit. If a comparison has to be made in the matter I submit that it ought not to be done on these lines. You never will be able to make a just comparison by counting the men who have enlisted. The only way it can possibly he done will be by counting the men who have not enlisted. If the Bill which is now before the other House becomes law, after various tribunals have done their sifting-out work there will remain in Great Britain a certain residuum—a very small residuum, I hope and believe—but a certain number of men who have not enlisted and who cannot show any just cause why they should not have enlisted. If a similar system to that known as Lord Derby's scheme, a system with the modifications necessary owing to the peculiarities of the circumstances of Ireland, were applied to Ireland, you would get the same result. You would find after a time a residuum of men who had not enlisted and would not enlist and who could not show cause why they should not enlist; and in that case it might be possible to compare the residuum in Great. Britain with the residuum in Ireland. But I deprecate all these discussions, for I think they lead to nothing. If, however, a comparison has to be made, that is the only way in which a fair one can be made.


My Lords, I should like to make a few remarks on this subject. The noble Viscount (Lord Midleton) referred to the occasion last year when he brought this question under your Lordships' notice, and if it be the same occasion that I have in mind I was then permitted to make a few remarks; and the point which I brought out—at least which I thought I brought out—was that in considering the forces which Ireland contributes to the Army it is entirely fallacious to restrict attention to recruitment in Ireland alone, that the recruitment of Irishmen in Great Britain is and always has been very large, and that in forming a judgment on the entire question it would not be fair to exclude from consideration those recruits who join the Colours in England. If I had been asked when this war broke out how many recruits we should get from Ireland alone I should have said—I think I did say—that we should get, if the matter were properly approached, about 75,000 men. The noble Viscount desires to have Returns now divided by Provinces, the object of which would be taken in the country as an endeavour to ascertain how far Nationalists have responded to the call of duty and how far Unionists have done so.

The figures which have been placed before the House this evening show, broadly, a return of 50,000 Roman Catholics or Nationalists compared with about 40,000 Unionists. That is to say, Ulster has furnished 40,000 while the rest of Ireland has furnished 50,000. Apart from the Ulster Division, which I believe is almost entirely composed of Protestants, the greater part of the balance of the 40,000 are composed of Nationalists and Roman Catholics. But suppose I am wrongly informed, suppose the balance is not right, suppose that it is half and half, that half are Protestants and half Roman Catholics, you would at once have a complete change in the comparative aspects of the figures. So that any sort of imputation or stigma which might attach as the figures now stand to the Roman Catholic clement would be at once disproved. I have stated that I thought last year Ireland would well reply to the demand of duty, having regard to the circumstances of Ireland, if 75,000 men were recruited. Up to the present time, as we have been told, 95,000 men have been recruited since the war began. If you take into account the Irishmen not domiciled in England but coming over to England for employment (as they are in the habit of doing) who have joined the Colours, you will have a very considerable and large Army.


I do not wish to interrupt, but the noble Lord will recollect that I carefully avoided going into the pros and cons of this question, and merely asked for information in order that we might have the material for discussion.


Quite so; but I also understood—I may be wrong—that there was an innuendo that the Roman Catholics and the people from the West of Ireland had not performed their duty as well as the people from the North.


I do not know whether the noble Lord refers to me. I did not say one word as to the difference between Roman Catholics, Nationalists, Unionists, or anybody else. The whole of my object was to get information for the time when we come to discuss this. I am sorry the noble Lord should have introduced any element of this kind. I can assure him that it was absolutely remote from any idea of mine in supporting the noble Viscount's request.


I submit that the call for information which implies a distinction in the figures drawn from the purely Catholic portion of Ireland and from the purely Protestant portion of Ireland will convey, and will throughout Ireland be understood to convey, a comparison between the manner in which the Unionists and the Roman Catholics have performed their duty. I do not wish to say more than that.

In considering the question of Irish recruitment, your Lordships must consider that if this war had broken out forty or thirty years ago the answer of Ireland would have been very different from what it has been now. But the period of the last forty years has been one of amelioration in Ireland, of beneficial legislation by your Lordships' House and the other House of Parliament, which has completely changed. the views and the feelings of Irishmen towards the English Government in Ireland. I greatly rejoice at the results which have been obtained; but my belief is that if a little more time had elapsed and further appreciation of the beneficial legislation which has been enacted were permitted an even better response would have been given than has been given now.

I confess that I greatly sympathise with what has been said by the noble Earl (Lord Desart) in regard to the extension of the Military Service Bill to Ireland. I personally would have been glad if there had been no distinction made. But I can clearly see that the position of the Home Rule Party in the other House of Parliament was a difficult one. They always had been identified with voluntary service. So had every Member on the Ministerial Bench in the other House up to the present time. If the Irish Party did, through their leader, make the pronouncement which has been referred to in this House I for myself cannot find fault with them, although I should have been better pleased had they taken another view. However, having regard to all that has passed, having regard to the recruitment which has been made and which, as I find from figures which are public figures, is going on with increased force—the recruitment in the month of November was 6,058, the recruitment last month was 4,085, and in previous months the recruitment was 3,000, 2,000, and so on—I believe that when the people of Ireland come to appreciate what is really at stake, and many of them do not appreciate it up to the present time, their answer will go on increasing and you will get out of Ireland a larger number of recruits than you might have been able to get if another method had been adopted.


My Lords, I rise to enter a humble protest against this discussion. The discussion initiated and carried out by the two noble Lords who last addressed the House is utterly irregular. Lord Midleton asked for a Return of certain figures. A similar Motion was made last night in another place. On neither of those occasions was any word said about the reasons why the Return was asked for, still less was any argument entered into with regard to the manner in which the answer was composed. But to-night Lord Dunraven and the noble. Lord opposite have instituted comparisons —Lord Dunraven even mentioned Scotland—


So did Lord Midleton.


I said that a figure had been given with regard to Scotland, and that I should like to hear what the correct figures were for all parts of the United Kingdom.


But Lord Dunraven entered into certain conclusions of his own, and also stated that this Return was asked for with certain motives. Surely it would be better to wait and not discuss the motives until you have got the figures. What may be in Lord Midleton's mind I do not know, or to what purpose he may intend to put these figures when he has obtained them. Next Lord MacDonnell went into a discussion of the ameliorations which had taken place with regard to Ireland during the last forty rears. I submit that the entering into of any argument of this sort is wholly irregular, and has nothing whatsoever to do with the Question now before the House. Surely the noble Lord, if he wanted to address to the House remarks of that sort, might have waited until the figures were laid upon the Table and until some Motion had been put down with regard to them.


My Lords, I merely rise to intervene in this discussion in the capacity I occupy in Ireland as Director of Recruiting there. I have to state that I propose shortly—probably in the course of this week—to present to the Secretary of State for War a Report on the condition of recruiting in Ireland, and I hope that in some shape or other it will be laid on the Table of your Lordships' House and be available for the information of noble Lords. That Report will embody a good many of the figures which have been given both in this House and in another place, and will suggest some considerations with regard to them.

Lord Desart raised the point as to how far a distinction can be drawn as to the occupations of various recruits—that is to say, whether they are, roughly speaking, townsmen or drawn from the rural population. I do not know whether such distinction can in practice be made. I shall be very willing to consult the military authorities in Ireland as to whether that can be done, but I have grave doubts in my own mind as to whether they will find it possible to make this distinction. At the same time if such a distinction can be made I think there would be considerable advantage in making it, because we all know in Ireland that, whereas the towns all over Ireland have done extremely well in regard to recruiting, quite irrespective of their position in one Province or another, the agricultural classes have done much less well, and that observation again applies quite irrespective of the Province from which the recruits come. This makes me think of the observation which fell from the noble Viscount opposite (Lord Midleton) with regard to the contribution made to the armed forces of the Crown by the South and West of Ireland. The noble Viscount knows well enough that the population of those parts is almost wholly rural in character. The percentage of rural population to the total population in such a county as Kerry is something like 98 or 99 per cent.; whereas if you go into such a county as the county of Dublin, or County Down, or County Antrim, of course the position is very different. And if it be proved that everywhere the farming class up to the present have failed to respond to the recruiting efforts that we have made it would to a great extent account for the large disparity that exists between one Province and another in the total number of recruits they have contributed to the forces.

Perhaps I might say that we in Ireland have enjoyed special treatment in the matter of stating what our requirements are in recruits. The War Office allowed me to make a statement some months back as to what our position was, and perhaps I might remind the House that it amounts to this. Since the beginning of the war there have been raised in Ireland three new divisions—the 10th, the 16th, and the 36th. There were, previous to the war, sixteen battalions belonging to the eight historic Irish regiments. That gives you a total of fifty-two battalions. We have found in Ireland that the demand for drafts for the Front amounts in the aggregate to 100 per cent. per annum. Therefore if you are to maintain fifty-two battalions of 1,000 men at war strength for a year you will need approximately 52,000 recruits a year. That is our position; and with a view to fulfilling what we regard to be our primary duty ill recruiting we have organised a campaign on, I think, improved lines in that it is officially administered, and our object is to obtain something like 1,100 recruits a week. If we can do that we shall keep up the national character of the Irish, regiments and prevent their dilution from other sources by English or Scottish recruits. I am able to say that in the first six weeks of the campaign we just about reached that figure. I think the weekly average was about 1,056, which is very nearly what we want, because 1,100 allows a small margin for contingencies. So that up to the present I do not at all despair of the campaign, such as it is. I do not mean to say that we should not be glad to have more men, but the task we have set before ourselves I hope will be realised. I say this because in another place a speech was made in which the movement was described as a complete failure. I do not think that can be said.

I hope very much that men of the farming classes in Ireland will realise their responsibilities. Able and direct appeals have been made to them by the leaders of the Irish Party, and I am glad to say that signs are not wanting that they are gradually awakening to their responsibilities. But I would like to say this for Irish farmers. If they have been backward in realising what their duty is, I am afraid the same thing to some extent must be said of English farmers also. My noble friend Lord Derby—whom I do not see in his place at this moment—gave me to understand that one of the difficulties which he had to face in England arose from the disinclination of the farming classes to come forward as then should. So that I think we must realise that the farming class—a scattered population, men of conservative tendencies, difficult to influence—are necessarily the most difficult part of the population to reach; but I do not think we ought to despair, either here or in Ireland, of making an impression upon them.


My Lords, I am grateful to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland for the speech he has just made. I had not intended to provoke a discussion but merely to elicit information, and I still think we can hardly be asked to pass the measure which is shortly to be brought before us with regard to one part of the country without the fullest information. But I should not like it to be inferred that I have any idea that this House would not mete out fair and generous consideration to the efforts which have been made in Ireland, and especially by the Lord Lieutenant, to produce a favourable result. We all know that the farming classes have difficulties of their own, and we do not want to make an unfair comparison between different parts of the country.

House adjourned at ten minutes past Six o'clock, till Tomorrow, a quarter past Four o'clock.