§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, the circumstances in which this Bill had its origin and the controversies which have arisen with regard to the matters with which the Bill deals are so familiar to your Lordships that it will not be necessary for me to take up much of your time in recommending it to you. Perhaps I cannot do better than state, at the outset, not what this Bill is, but what it is not. The Bill does not profess to be and is not an attempt to establish upon a permanent basis the liabilities of the citizens of this country to military service. No one would accept it as affording such a settlement. I think I may say without fear of contradiction that those of your Lordships who are attached to the voluntary system may, and probably will, support this Bill without for a moment abating their objections to compulsion in any form; and, on the other hand, I think I may say with equal truth that those who are friends of compulsion, those who are members of the National Service League, are not at all likely to accept the Bill either as a full quittance of their demand or even as an instalment on account. This Bill is a war measure, temporary and limited in its application, and it is intended for one purpose, and for one purpose only—namely, to provide us with the number of men who are indispensable if we are to maintain our existing military formations, if we are to meet the obligations to which we are already committed, and if we are to carry the war to a successful issue.
Your Lordships will carry in your minds the history of recruiting during the year 1915. We set out at the beginning of the war upon the colossal enterprise of calling into existence Armies exceeding in magnitude any figures which had ever been dreamed of by Army reformers. Throughout the year recruiting went on with a varying degree of success, but towards the autumn it showed unmistakable signs of 971 flagging, and it became perfectly clear that we should be driven to some methods other than the ordinary methods for obtaining the numbers of which we stood in need. It was in the month of October that the noble and gallant Field-Marshal behind me (Earl Kitchener) had the fortunate inspiration of placing the recruiting of the country in the hands of my noble friend opposite (Lord Derby). The noble Earl has had such a surfeit of congratulations that he will forgive me, I am sure; if I do not say very much upon the subject this evening; but I feel that this Bill ought not to be moved in this House without an acknowledgment of the great service which my noble friend was able to render to the country. He is not likely to forget, no one is likely to forget, the memorable week-end when he collected a round million of men for the British Army.
But in spite of my noble friend's efforts, it became obvious that at certain points they were not going to be crowned with complete success. There was one particularly disquieting circumstance. It became evident that a very large number of unmarried men of military age were hanging back. I will not enter into the reasons to which that fact may have been due, but a fact it undoubtedly was. Efforts have been made to ascertain with an approach to precision the number of these men. Statistics of this kind are always to a certain extent untrustworthy but these statistics have been examined and reexamined, and the result has been to leave us in no doubt that the number of these unaccounted-for single men was considerable, approaching to something like 651,000. Of course, I do not suggest for a moment that the whole of these men might have been available for military service; because it is a matter of common knowledge that a total of this kind is liable to heavy deductions on account of unfitness, the character of the men's occupations, and so forth. The question was complicated by another fact of equal importance. We became aware that a large number of married men had come forward and had been attested upon the distinct condition that they were not to be actually called up until the unmarried men had taken their proper place in the ranks of the Reserve. It was this circumstance that provoked the memorable pledge given by the Prime Minister and, with the Prime Minister's concurrence, by my noble friend 972 —a pledge which has been so often referred to that I need not quote it again to-night—the pledge in fulfilment of which this Bill has been laid before Parliament. The number of married men who entered their groups subject to this condition may be taken as approaching to a total of half-a-million. In order that this large number of men might not escape liability to service we have introduced this Bill, a Bill based upon expediency rather than principle, a Bill which is unsymmetrical, and which I dare say we shall be told is inconsistent with principles which many of us have ourselves advocated. But for all that, here is this Bill, recommended by a unanimous Cabinet and by an almost unanimous House of Commons. It is recommended as the only means of getting the men whom we require, and the only means of avoiding a breakdown of our efforts and the abandonment of the bases upon which our military forces have been organised.
What this Bill does is to enact that every unmarried man between the ages of 18 and 41 on August 15 of last year, unless he falls within certain exceptions of which I shall say a word in a moment, becomes upon an appointed day automatically enlisted in the Army Reserve. I do not know whether I do well to anticipate the objections which may be taken to these proposals. It will not surprise me to find that in your Lordships' House we are told that they err on the side of weakness rather than of strength. I shall be surprised, however, if in this House our proposals are objected to upon the ground that they involve a limited application of the principle of compulsion. That objection would, I venture to think, be at any rate a belated one. For some time past we have had one foot well over the line which divides the voluntary from the compulsory system. We have applauded Lord Derby's successful appeal, but I think Lord Derby himself would be the first to admit that his appeal would not have had the success which attended it but for the fact that compulsion was in the background. There have been other cases. We have accepted legislation compelling time-expired soldiers to continue their service in spite of the fact that they had honourably completed the term for which they had engaged, and were absolutely entitled to return to civil life. Those men, at any rate, could not be described as having shirked or avoided their liabilities, but in spite of that we compelled them to remain in the Army. At 973 other points we have not shrunk from resorting to compulsion. When you ask a man to surrender his business premises, to hand them over to the Crown to be used as the Government thinks fit—is not that compulsion? When you tell him that profits which in ordinary circumstances would be perfectly legitimate profits are to be annexed and handed over to the State, you are surely having resort to compulsion. I therefore am in no mood to apologise to your Lordships for the homeopathic dose of compulsion which we are prescribing under the Bill upon your Lordships' Table.
I pass from that difficulty, if it be one, to another which seems to me more formidable. When you withdraw men by the million from civil life and transfer them to the ranks of the Army you are bound to occasion a very serious disturbance in the industrial and economical conditions of the country. That difficulty presents itself even when you are still depending on voluntary recruiting, and it is, of course, greatly accentuated when you turn to compulsion. It is a difficulty which has been experienced in all countries which maintain a large Army, and it is a difficulty which takes the form of competition, which may become very acute, between the Army which you maintain in the field and the industrial army upon which the prosperity of the country depends. I do not suppose that it can be said of any country that it possesses men enough to keep both those armies in a complete state of efficiency. The weakening of the industrial army obviously means a great weakening of the financial position of the country, a great diminution of our ability to pay for the imports which are necessary to us, and a diminution of our power to give our Allies that assistance upon which they so naturally rely. I do not think it is incorrect to say that in regard to this difficulty we are not, as matters now stand, wholly masters of the situation. I can well conceive that when this war broke out and the noble and gallant Field-Marshal set to work to form these great new Armies some one might have said, "Are we not doing enough when we maintain a great Navy which keeps the control of the seas in British hands, when we supply our Allies with munitions of war and equipment, when we help them by placing our credit at their disposal?" I can conceive some one suggesting that when these things had been 974 done we might well put in a plea to be excused from contributing also an Army of the dimensions of that which we are now putting in the field. But, my Lords, if we had taken that line when the war broke out the course of the war would have been very different from what it has actually been, and our confidence in the success of the operations which we hope to renew in the spring much less than it is at present.
With regard to the manner in which these great drains upon the civil population affect industry and commerce, I would add this further remark. In my view it is distinctly for the interests of industry not only that we should emerge victorious from this great conflict, but that the duration of the struggle should not be too long delayed. We could scarcely bear to think of what might be the fate of British industry if we were not successful in this war; and when we recall the fact that we are spending at the rate of over £5,000,000 a day upon it surely it is relevant to suggest that it is greatly to the interests of industry and of our financial position that the struggle should not be too much prolonged. We have endeavoured, at any rate, to hold the balance as fairly as we could between the competing claims of commerce and of the Army. Your Lordships will see that this Bill provides for the exemption of certain individuals and certain classes. We have not attempted to define these too precisely, and we have relied in framing the measure rather upon an assertion of principles than upon any attempt to apply those principles in precise language. We have suggested these exemptions upon two grounds. In the first place, there are undoubtedly many individuals who can best serve their country, who can best promote the national interest, by remaining in civil employment rather than in transferring themselves to military occupations. In our view, where it can be clearly shown that a man is more valuable to the State as a worker than as a soldier he should be allowed to continue as a worker. In the second place, we feel persuaded that there are many cases in which the compulsory enlistment of the individual would occasion great hardship and injusticeto him or to his dependants, and for that reason he should be allowed to show cause why he should be excused. These points are dealt with in the second clause of the Bill. Your Lordships will see that under that clause a man may claim exemption on the ground 975 that it is expedient in the national interests that he should remain in civil employment or on the ground that serious hardship would arise if he were called up for Army service owing to his exceptional financial or business obligations or domestic position. We also allow him to show cause if he can prove ill-health or infirmity. Finally—and this is rather a controversial point—he may do so on the ground of a conscientious objection to the undertaking of combatant service. But your Lordships will not fail to observe that in the latter case, if the man establishes his right to be excused on the ground of his conscientious objection, a condition may be attached to his release to the effect that he may be employed in other work which is certified by the Department to be work of national importance, so that the conscientious objector, although he may be relieved of the necessity of shedding blood, will not escape his liability to contribute something to the service of the State.
The second clause contains another important provision under which it is provided that a Government Department, in consultation with the Army Council, may arrange for the release of members of its own staff and also of certain classes and bodies of men whose work is certified to be of national importance. That, my Lords, is an arrangement which seems to us to be an important and useful one, because in some cases it makes it possible to provide for a whole class of men without placing the individuals of whom that class is composed under the necessity of having their cases tried one by one before the Tribunals.
As to the Tribunals, I may perhaps explain that they are in effect the Tribunals already existing under the Derby system, but with the statutory sanction which at present they do not possess. There is, however, one important difference. We have added to the Tribunals now in existence—namely, the Local Tribunals and the Central Tribunal in London—an Intermediate Appeal Tribunal, which certainly will be necessary if the great number of cases which are likely to come up for decision within the next few weeks are to be effectually disposed of within the time. Here, again, we do not attempt to describe in detail in the Bill what the precise position and functions of these Tribunals are to be. We provide, on the contrary, that these 976 matters shall be dealt with by Orders in Council and by Regulations and Instructions, which are to be laid before Parliament so that your Lordships will have full opportunity of considering and discussing them. All that I need add regarding the Tribunals is that we provide that they can grant relief either absolutely or conditionally or for a time.
I have now given your Lordships a brief summary of the contents of the Bill. Perhaps before I sit down I ought to say two or three words with regard to what I dare say seems to some of my friends a serious omission in its provisions. This Bill does not apply to Ireland, and I have no doubt exception will be taken in some quarters to that omission. Let me say that in my view, if this had been a permanent or complete settlement of the recruiting question it would have been absolutely impossible to have left Ireland out of it; and I may, perhaps, add that personally I very greatly regret that Ireland did not come forward through her representatives and claim the right to be included within the scope of the measure. I feel sure that to many loyal Irishmen it will seem that something like a stigma has been put upon Ireland by her exclusion. People will say that whereas we have come down heavily upon the British shirker we have allowed the Irish shirker to go unmolested, and I dare say we Unionist members of the Government may be told that in thus dealing with the question without reference to Ireland we are guilty of a departure from principles which we have ourselves at different times advocated. These are all thrusts which are not too easy to parry. But I should like, if the House will permit me, to state what seems to me to be the other side of the case. This Bill represents an agreement. Ireland had no intention whatever of entering into that agreement. There would have been no chance of an agreement had we insisted upon bringing Ireland into the Bill. I go so far as to say that it would be the merest affectation to suppose that public feeling throughout Ireland has any similarity to public feeling throughout England and Scotland in regard to this question of recruiting. The rest of the United Kingdom, if I may coin the expression, has been on the whole violently pro-Derby throughout this controversy. I do not think there was any pro-Derby feeling in Ireland. There are many parts of Ireland where I am told it would 977 have been impossible to hold a recruiting meeting. There were other parts in which recruiting meetings were held, but from all accounts they were of a lamentably flat, unenthusiastic, and unproductive character. I am aware that the Lord Lieutenant, with great public spirit, himself started a recruiting campaign, but I am quite sure that if he were here he would be the last person to tell the House that he met with anything like the kind of reception for his appeal that my noble friend Lord Derby met with for his.
Another fatal objection to the inclusion of Ireland is, I think, this. The success of this Bill will depend very largely upon the working of the machinery which we are setting up to give effect to it. I gave your Lordship a moment ago a sketch of what that machinery was. I do not for one moment believe that it would have been possible to set up in Ireland the Advisory Committees for which my noble friend is responsible, or the Local Tribunals, the District Appeal Tribunals, and the Central Appeal Tribunal which we are to have in England and Scotland. All of these, except the District Tribunals, are actually in existence here though without statutory sanction at the present time. We should have had to call thom into existence by a stroke of the pen in Ireland, and I believe that the attempt would have resulted in failure. There is yet another consideration upon which I should like to touch. I showed the House just now that we are playing for a considerable stake in regard to the number of recruits whom we hope to get under this Bill. I am under the impression that in Ireland we should have stood to win a comparatively small stake. I will not attempt a minute calculation but of this I am pretty well convinced, that if you took the number of unattested single men of military age in Ireland and deducted from it a proper percentage for men unfit, a reasonable number for those already employed on railways, in munitions work, and other work from which they could not be transferred, you would be left with a comparatively small residue. There is also this further consideration which ought not to be lost sight of—namely, that from that comparatively small number you would, unless I am mistaken, have had to make a still further deduction in respect of men who would have been able to show that they could not without great hardship be taken 978 away from their civil avocation in order that they might join the Army. There is, at any rate, one figure which is accessible to us all. There are in Ireland 300,000 men who farm less than fifteen acres apiece. They are mostly now owners of the farms that they occupy. I am convinced that it would have been found impossible to take away the whole or the greater part of those men from their farms and to include them in the Army. These men, remember, are not crofters in the Scottish sense of the word, people who are in the habit of migrating from one part of the country to another; they are small farmers whose whole time is taken up in the care of the little holdings of which they are now the actual possessors.
A suggestion has been made that we would have been well advised had we begun by including Ireland in the Bill and then, in deference to objections from Ireland, struck it out afterwards. In my humble opinion that would have been not merely tactics but very bad tactics. What would have been the result of adopting that course? We should have had a bitter controversy which could have ended only in one of two ways. We might have imposed this Bill upon a suspicious and reluctant Ireland. I should not have envied the task of the Chief Secretary who would have had to give effect to this Bill and to call upon these small agriculturists of whom I spoke a moment ago to come in and undertake military service. The other and more probable ending of the controversy would have been that we should have had to withdraw our own proposal and submit to a defeat which every one would have anticipated from the first. I venture to think that would have been not only riding for a fall, but riding for a fall which would have been a damaging and discreditable fall to those concerned. I have now given your Lordships an outline of the Bill, and I do not think I need add anything further. I will merely repeat that we recommend the Bill to your Lordships, not as a final solution of this recruiting question, but as one which at the critical time through which we are passing Parliament and the people of this country are, we believe, ready to accept in order that we may be able to bring this war to a successful conclusion.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.— (The Marquess of Lansdowne.)979
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
My Lords, the noble Marquess with his customary skill has not only placed before the House what the Bill includes, but has accounted for what the Bill does not include; and I do not desire either to comment upon the delay in introducing the Bill, or upon the brief time which remains for its discussion before what is the close of a very long session, or even upon the minor exemptions on which the noble Marquess laid some stress. I am sure we all heartily welcomed the powerful passage in the noble Marquess's speech in which he vindicated this country from any suspicion of being backward in the war, or of not having performed our fair share—indeed, more than our fair share—with the other means that we possess besides that of a compulsory Army.
I should like, with your Lordships' permission, to say a few words on the general principle which underlies or should underlie this Bill, and also on the sufficiency of the Bill for the purpose for which it is intended. I am not sure that the noble Marquess could not have made even a better speech than he did if he had had a rather different Bill to propose. There are others sitting on the opposite side of the House not far from the noble Marquess who have always urged, in our national preparedness for any great struggle, the absolute necessity of some form of compulsion; but no general principle of compulsion, of course, is included in this Bill. The noble Marquess himself from this Bench has several times in the last few years urged most strongly the necessity of national training. National training finds no place in this Bill. We are still going to spend on an elementary education which some pundits consider imperfect a sum of between £30,000,000 and £40,000,000 annually; yet we are not going to require that half-an-hour or an hour a day should be given in our schools to military training, so as to make it easier, not to say less costly, for the country should the services of our rising generation be needed in the future. Our inability to call upon a large force and the fact that the great majority of the recruits whom the noble and gallant Field-Marshal succeeded in obtaining had had no preliminary training—those two omissions are writ large on the history of the war from the retreat from Mons down to the period when Sir Ian Hamilton 980 took command in the Dardanelles. There fore I submit that I am not going beyond the necessities of the case when I point out that there is something which we may regret in the fact that this Bill, which might have been a complete and final Bill, is only a partial and temporary Bill.
I ask that we might consider two points to-night—Is this Bill sufficient for its purpose, and is it just? As regards its sufficiency for the purpose, we have had conflicting statements as to the views of the noble and gallant Earl the Secretary of State for War. It was stated, on apparently good authority, that he had based himself on a total of 1,500,000 recruits as being necessary before the close of the present year to keep up the vast Armies we have in the field. It has since been stated on the authority of a Minister in the House of Commons that so nicely poised is this measure that even the inclusion of those who come to the regulation age after it has passed would disturb the happy equilibrium of the Bill, and that the noble and gallant Field-Marshal does not require them. The figures which we have had given us both as to the numbers available under Lord Derby's scheme and as to the numbers which will be available under this Bill do not together amount to the total of 1,500,000 which the noble and gallant Field-Marshal was represented as having asked for. And, after all, the last word is not with the soldier in this matter but with the statistician. A year ago we were fighting on the Western Front. Since then we have undertaken three great Expeditions in the East of Europe; we have been imperceptibly gliding into a great campaign in Mesopotamia, and we have gigantic Forces in North Africa, with, I believe, a hundred Generals in Egypt alone. When we know that every extension of our lines means a greater daily waste even when no, or comparatively little, fighting is going on, when the number of weekly casualties accounted for by the noble and gallant Earl last October must now be considerably exceeded, are we quite certain that this measure which my noble friend pronounces to be sufficient and satisfactory in the month of January will not be regarded as completely out of date by the month of July? That, my Lords, is my apprehension In every single particular up to the present time the needs of the war have been underestimated, and it will be lamentable if we 981 have to make two bites at the cherry in regard to this measure of compulsion.
Then is the Bill just? The Prime Minister has given a pledge, and we are working within that pledge. But if that pledge had never been given would any man have considered it just that the men who joined when they were single and went on in the Territorial Force after they had married, and who were then almost forced by public opinion to volunteer for foreign service when the war broke out, and who have been wounded and sent back more than once, should be forced to continue their service to the end of the chapter, whilst it is laid down that no married man, no matter what his position, at present in this country should be compelled to join? I cannot look with equanimity on the cases which I know of married men who have given up the whole of their business, men who have sacrificed everything, men in our own class of life accustomed to luxury, who have been killed in this war and have only been able to leave a pittance to their widows and children—men who thought that their duty to their country came before their domestic duty. To say that, whatever the emergency, no married men need be pressed to take the places which these men have vacated is unjust. To go a step further, I believe I am right in saying that some men whose period of service has ended have been forced to re-engage. They surely have something to be said for them.
There is the further limitation in the Bill that even single men are not put on the same level. When the country is making so great an exertion, when the men at the Front are making the supreme sacrifice, I think His Majesty's Government might have been asked to show a little more courage in spreading their net a little wider. Look at what has been the effect of a display of courage up to now. The Government elected to face the difficulty which was bound to arise with the labour organisations. I do not wish to say a word upon that except this, that since they made up their minds strongly to press the Bill and to present their case with the fullest force which they could command, every step has elicited a reduction in the number of those opposed to the Bill and a higher flight of patriotism among those affected, whose representatives had in some cases at first opposed the Bill. This is most satisfactory evidence that a strong, determined, and 982 patriotic appeal would not have failed. I cannot help asking the noble Marquess, even after what he said, why did not the Government try in Ireland the same strength and the same appeal to patriotism that made them successful here with a body of men far better organised who a few weeks ago were quite as unsympathetic?
I hope that in what I have to say I shall not hurt the feelings of any Irishman. Mr. Dillon said the other day, "The Irish people are whole-heartedly with England in this war." That is a good foundation to build upon, and if the fact remains that out of 562,000 available single men in Ireland—if that figure is correct—something like 95,000 have enlisted and that there still remains a residuum of four out of five or five out of six who have not enlisted, then let us ask ourselves the cause of it. The other night Lord MacDonnell thought he discerned in the raising of this question a desire to introduce a comparison of class or creed. I have no such desire. I take Ireland as a whole. But I cannot accept the dictum of the noble Earl, Lord Dunraven, who said the other evening that we should leave things alone with regard to Ireland, and, like the ostrich, hide our heads in the sand and imagine that no one would see that the numbers returned by Ireland were so greatly less per cent. than from other parts of the United Kingdom. What I submit is that you have not addressed your appeal to Ireland in the right way. What have you done since the beginning of the war? You have allowed everything to go on in that country the same as before; you have made the conditions of life there better for everybody who does not join the Army than they were before. In the earlier months of the war, before the change of Government, men of German sympathies, of German extraction, of German birth, were left uninterned throughout the South and West of Ireland, and it was perfectly obvious that a great deal of exchange with the enemy was going on. To this day the Government are allowing seditious speeches to be delivered without check in the South of Ireland. Those speeches are reported and are well known, though they are apparently undealt with by the authorities. How can you expect people who have such actions before them to feel the extreme seriousness of the war and the appeal which is being addressed to them but in which the Government themselves take no part? That, I think, is the real difficulty.
983 I am not suggesting anything in the nature of an attack on the leaders of the Irish Party. I think that Mr. Redmond has, by his speeches, his actions, and his organisation done everything that he could, with I believe the greater number of his colleagues, to back the national cause. It is unfortunate possibly for him—more unfortunate for him than for any other man—that this Bill has brought about two things which in the long and varied difficulties in connection with Ireland have been always most apprehended but which none of us expected to see during the present war. First, the rule is apparently made that where the danger is equal the liability, the responsibility, of Ireland is not to be that imposed on the rest of the United Kingdom. Secondly, in connection with a Bill from which Ireland is excluded Irish representatives here have not hesitated, on First Reading, to vote for preventing a law in Great Britain in which Ireland was not concerned. From that we have always been assured we should be free. I cannot help thinking also that it is an anomaly that in a matter in which the honour of Ireland is so greatly concerned the Government did not take their courage in both hands. As it was, the twenty-two Ministers in the Cabinet, with not one single Irish representative amongst them so far as I know, not one single man of Irish birth, elected to put this special stigma upon Ireland and make a corner for Great Britain in patriotism. I regret that we should have reached this point.
The noble Marquess's speech throughout showed that he felt it necessary to proceed on the line of least resistance, and such a decision coming from him will carry the greatest weight in this House. But I would appeal to those who have listened to previous debates whether the whole course of the war has not been marred by the progress of the Government upon the line of least resistance. It was the line of least resistance which led to the attempt to carry on the work of munitions in the War Office long after the business of ordering them had outgrown the resources of any efforts, however admirable and however wisely administered, in one office. It was the line of least resistance which led the Government to send the Fleet to the Dardanelles when they had no Army to spare to accompany it. It was the course of least resistance which, in the negotiations with the Balkan States last year, left us in 984 the position in which we found ourselves when more adverse circumstances came in October; and it is the course of least resistance which, while taking a step forward towards reinforcing our Armies, makes it by no means certain that we are doing sufficient to last out the war.
In those circumstances we have great difficulty in considering what course we should take. There are two points which seem to me to guide us. The first is that this measure has been introduced in pursuance of a pledge by the Prime Minister, to which he has unfalteringly adhered. It is quite certain that so long as he is Prime Minister the Government will never go beyond it. Therefore anything we do with regard to this Bill, either in delaying it or in attempting to improve it, cannot possibly be accepted by the Government. When I say "delaying it" I mean in the sense of improving it, thereby making it a few days later before it is passed into law. In the second place I understand the Secretary of State for War and my noble friend behind me (Lord Derby) consider that the Bill entirely carries out the object with which they started on their campaign a few months ago. Beyond that we have to consider the effect of discussions of this measure upon those who are chiefly affected—namely, the Army in the field—and I believe that all these disagreements, doubts, and hesitations which have arisen have had and must have a most discouraging effect upon our Army in the field. For that reason I think we have no course but to pass the Bill as it is, leaving the responsibility for its shortcomings on the Government. I believe my noble friends behind me will make it clear that, so far as Ireland is concerned, we take no responsibility for a limitation which we believe should have been avoided and which constitutes a slur on Irish patriotism which has never been found wanting in a great national emergency. I hope your Lordships will forgive me for having tried to take a little broader view of this subject than the mere fact of how far a Parliamentary pledge has been carried out, and how far the immediate necessity has been met. I believe that our countrymen all over the world would have welcomed a bold step by the Government; they would have welcomed what is permanent, instead of what is temporary, and they would have welcomed principle instead of expediency. But the Government 985 are beset by many difficulties; and our course seems to me to be to support to the best of our ability the decision to which they have come, recognising that in the future it may have results which we now clearly foresee.
§ LORD SHAW
My Lords, I have been for six years a member of your Lordships' House, and although my duties in the legal sphere have been abundant I have never on any question of public policy said a word. In these circumstances I ask your Lordships to hear me now with the indulgence which is usually attached to a maiden speech. I acknowledge to the full the spirit which animated the closing sentences of the noble Viscount opposite. I, too, have had my difficulties, which I will briefly explain to the House; but I acknowledge to the full that in his closing observations the noble Viscount did exhibit the spirit, which I think ought to be exhibited by all in discussing this measure, of setting aside prejudices and prepossessions in favour of this emergency Bill which, upon the whole, will assist the military situation and strengthen the Government. If on the present occasion I break silence I beg your Lordships to understand that it is because I, too, do not see the for or against this measure any more clearly than the noble Viscount who has preceded me, but I think it a personal duty upon a matter of super-eminent public interest that I should explain exactly how I stand.
My idea of the voluntary system was that it was a personal appeal by the nation to the individual citizen. I can understand the individual citizen taking into account just the very things which the noble Marquess who moved the Second Reading of this measure so clearly expounded to the House, the very things which are the subject of the exemptions set forth in the text of the Bill. That citizen says to himself, "I know my own circumstances, the claims upon me, the demands of business, of family, of estate—all these things I have listened to; they encumbered me with doubts and difficulties, but, on the other hand, I listened to the urgent call of the nation, and having listened to it I put aside the former and I enlist." That is voluntarism—a real, true, personal response by the citizen to the appeal of the State. It is one remove from that for the individual citizen to say, "I will come when I am fetched." But I avow to your Lordships 986 that I think it is a very far remove from that when the individual citizen says, "I will come when somebody else is fetched." I think there was much cogency in the observations of the noble Viscount opposite with regard to that. Accordingly in this House I think we are free to view the transaction as a whole and to say that the Prime Minister's pledge, taken as it was in circumstances of great anxiety, was a mistake.
I will explain to the noble Earl opposite (Lord Derby), whose services to the State in this connection will never be forgotten, why I think the pledge was a mistake. One cannot peruse the pages of the noble Earl's brief Report without observing that there were two distinct embarrassments which lay in his path. In the first place I believe he will allow me respectfully to presume to say that he was sincerely desirous to give voluntarism a fair run and a free course. But he found himself in this embarrassment. While he was anxious to work out his scheme he found the Government working in other directions and in particular in this direction, that not once or twice but sporadically there was an issue of lists of reserved employments which was enough to puzzle his mind as it did mine, and which must have puzzled the minds of many of the workmen all over the country. In those circumstances the voluntary system was interfered with by the action, somewhat curious and confused, of the Government itself. I think that if voluntarism had had a fairer chance, less subject to those cross currents, we should have had voluntarism reaching port with almost the results that are now achieved. But events proceeded. We accept without question the testimony of the noble Earl that, once the pledge was given, men did attest relying upon it.
§ LORD SHAW
We cannot in this House, nor can the other House of Parliament, resist the effect of a situation of that kind. I think that when conditional voluntarism in the sense that I have described took the place of the real and true voluntarism the cause of the, latter was impaired. But conditional voluntarism having been imposed, we must accept the situation produced by it; and I, for one, would be the last to advise for one moment the receding from the position under 987 which you have obtained recruiting of that character. It is in those circumstances that I face this Bill. I think the pledge was a mistake. I think its reception in certain quarters in the country was too significant to be mistaken. Certain wise commentators upon current events actually alluded to the Prime Minister as having been caught in a trap, and with some complacency seemed to think they might have the credit themselves of putting him there. I did not like that. I have had the honour of being either the colleague or the Front Bench opponent of nearly all the authors of this measure. I think I know them as well as, to use an American expression, the next man. I do not believe that these men, who are so able, have been misled from an outside quarter. Nor do I believe that these men, being so honourable, would mislead one another. This Bill arises solely, in my humble conviction, as the result of a determined view of a military necessity.
That being the case, may I ask your Lordships' brief consideration of the reasons which lead me, with far less hesitation than that of the noble Viscount opposite, to accept this Bill as I find it? I accept the Bill not on the pledge which preceded it but on the triple pledge with which it has been accompanied. I hope I do not weary your Lordships if I ask you to consider in terms what that pledge was. I have watched with much interest the course of this Bill in another place. This is the first head of that triple pledge. The Prime Minister said—With all the emphasis that I can command, speaking on behalf of the whole of my colleagues in the Cabinet and in the Government, I wish to say to the House, and I say it to the country, that unless you enable us by passing this Bill to obtain those men we cannot do our part in the prosecution of this war.My judgment is controlled in the first place by the absolute unconditional assertion from the head of the Government of the military necessity which has arisen. But that pledge does not stand alone. The other in my view, and to men of my cast of mind and of my prepossessions, is indeed very valuable and makes me support this Bill with a warmth which I should otherwise restrain. The Prime Minister on the same occasion said—Let them [our fellow-countrymen] be assured that there is nothing behind this Bill, no ulterior purpose, no concealed intention, no possibility of perversion or abuse.988 I interpret that as the noble Marquess who moved the Second Reading of the Bill interpreted it. This is not a precedent for conscription; it is not part or parcel of conscription; it is an emergency measure limited by the strictest and plainest Parliamentary declaration. Finally may I say that the third head of the pledge seemed to me wholly to remove my objection. We have in this House the noble and gallant. Field-Marshal (Lord Kitchener), who made a declaration through the mouth of my right hon. friend Mr. Walter Long which I will read to the House—The measure [that is this Bill] by bringing in the unmarried men and enabling the others to be called up would provide the troops the nation required, and enable him [Lord Kitchener] to do all that it was necessary to do.In those circumstances, what is the position in which we find ourselves? We find ourselves in this position, that a triple pledge has been given—first, that the Bill is a military necessity to meet the present crisis; secondly, that the Bill has specific limits for that crisis and that crisis alone; and, thirdly, that the Bill is adequate to meet that crisis. I venture with respect to the noble Viscount opposite to say that there is no indication before me which would permit me for one moment to question the entire and complete covering of the case by a declaration of that kind. I cannot suggest that there are limits upon it. I take it as I find it. It is a Parliamentary undertaking, and the Government which attempted to violate that triple pledge in any one of its parts could not live for an hour.
In those circumstances this is an emergency Bill. Now my prepossessions are very many with regard to this subject. They are—as some of your Lordships who were with me in the other House will remember—wholly and very warmly in favour of peace. They are wholly and very warmly against, conscription. But when I find a pledge of this kind given by a responsible Government in the middle of a war, my prepossessions must be laid aside, my judgment controlled; and I think the case against conscription is still safe. I have observed the phenomenon that people are willing to take one of these pledges and not to take another. I do not adopt any line of that kind, which I think unworthy. I accept the whole in its entirety. No one portion of it can be divided from the other; and, taking it in its entirety, I think the appeal with 989 that pledge which is now made to the country will conserve the public peace. We are not final in this House. There is a world outside, and we must consider that world. This Bill is strangely supported in military quarters. The military precedents, so far as I have been able to study the utterances of distinguished military men, are quite in another direction. They are entirely against conscription for foreign service, and I will give one or two illustrations of what I mean. I ask your Lordships to observe that in the first clause of this Bill the conscription which is aimed at is a conscription for the Regular Army—the men conscribed can be sent anywhere. That is essentially un-British. Up to I might almost say the present day, in British history if you read the pages of Clode and the dicta of Godley you will find that the British foreign force was a force recruited not from the ordinary citizens but from the imprisoned debtors, from the convicts and from those sentenced to transportation to foreign countries. In fact, the foreign conscription of former days was a jail delivery and nothing but that. I think your Lordships may well be willing to listen to two sentences uttered by the Duke of Wellington upon this subject. He said, under examination by a Committee of this House—It is on the principle of defence that the seafaring man is liable to be impressed for service in the King's ships and that all the inhabitants of the country are liable to be balloted for to serve in the Militia.He makes a distinction with regard to "the force called the Regular Army," and he winds up a disquisition upon that subject in these broad and round terms—The recruits for the British Army must be volunteers.There are similar dicta by the Duke of Cambridge.
But in particular I should desire to refer to the opinions of the noble and gallant Earl who used to sit on the Cross Benches and whom your Lordships not so long ago listened to with such singular pleasure. The late Earl Roberts conducted a campaign throughout the country. Nobody will accuse him of having depreciated the military necessities of the situation. He did not think very highly of the Navy or of the Territorial Forces. In those two particulars his prognoses have happily proved incorrect. But with regard to 990 the Home Army which he desired to raise, what was the assurance which he gave to the country not once but three times over? At Wolverhampton on March 14, 1913, he said—Let me remind you, such a National Army will not be a Conscript Army; for it is not for a moment proposed to make service in the Regular Overseas Army compulsory.And at Leeds a month later he said—It will be an Army that will not be called upon to fight until the invader has actually landed on these shores…The noble and gallant Earl warmed to that theme. He detested the idea of compulsory recruiting for a British foreign Army. These were the words he delivered at Glasgow on May 6, 1913—Defence, and defence only, will be the task imposed on the citizen forces thus raised. In no circumstances shall a single man of that Army be obliged to quit these shores. If he volunteers for service abroad it will be of his own free will. Nor will that Army as a whole ever be required to fire a rifle except into the ranks of an enemy actually landed on these shores.So that so far as British precedent goes those who make regrets that this Bill does not cover anything in the true line of conscription in principle may well be content that a good deal would have to be said in the application of conscriptionist principles before utterances such as those to which I have referred were forgotten. Before parting with Lord Roberts may I say that over and over again he declared that the conscription he desired was a conscription which was not on the pattern of the Armies of Germany, of France, of Italy, or of Russia.
So that people now are driven, I suppose, to the historical precedent of America. If I do not weary your Lordships I should like to say two or three words in regard to that. The American precedent is a singular one, to which there were two sides. There was the Northern side and the Southern. Lincoln was extremely slow to introduce conscription. He allowed two years to elapse after the beginning of the war. Then indeed he was confronted with military necessity, for of his latest Draft of 300,000 men only 80,000 had been raised, and when it was put into operation it was under conditions which enabled fifteen months of time to elapse before personal service was compelled. But there is another side to the American question.
991 Have those who are urging this considered the case of the Confederate States? There indeed you had a conscriptionist paradise. Military affairs were under the hand of a military dictator. There was a complete conscription—the ages were from 18 to 50—so that General Grant was forced to remark that the Southern States were practising conscription from the cradle almost to the grave. What was the result? I have been reading lately the life of Lincoln by that Ambassador who was so highly favoured at St. James's, John Hay, and by Nicolay, and this is the result I give of Nicolay's and Hay's view. They were acquainted with the American military situation and with all the public men on that continent, and they said—The methods of the Confederates were far more prompt and more vigorous than those of the National Government, while the results attained were so much less satisfactory that their failure in this respect brought about the final catastrophe of their enterprise.The virtue, I think, of this Bill is that it avoids yielding to a clamour which is condemned by historical and military authority.
There is a deeper constitutional consideration, not much uttered but yet greatly moving large masses of men in this country. The objection is in the ranks of Labour; the objection is among the advocates of peace; the objection is radical and wide-spread—and it may be terrible if it is disregarded—to democracy in this country being involved in a war which has no ethical warrant. Deep down in the heart of the people there is the desire to be satisfied before democracy is committed, to be satisfied upon the problem of why human blood is being spilt. The people of this country, I am convinced, will accept no summons of the Government unless they are truly convinced that the quarrel is just and that honour is at stake. If they are so convinced our people's courage and sacrifice will not fail, but if they are not so convinced then a social upheaval founded upon resentment against a public wrong is bound to ensue. Labour is meeting this week, and I would put it to men in the Labour ranks—I share their prepossessions, I share many of their sympathies, I share many of their views of public affairs—that I do not think this general cause against conscription is impaired by this 992 Bill. Its limitations, its protections, avoid that. The instinct of the democracy is to prevent the creation of an instrument so awful as conscription, which would enable a Government through futility, stupidity, passion, or pride to launch the bolt of war. The vulgar and passionate cry "Our country, right or wrong" will lead the best of people to the worst of causes; but give the British democracy time to listen to the voice of reason and it will put the question "Well, but is our country right or wrong?" And its demand will be for justice, for withholding its support to our country unless it be in the right.
I admit that voluntarism has pauses and lapses, that there is an ebb and flow in the tide of voluntarism. Why is it not so in the present instance? Because the events in the course of the war prevent the first wave of justice ebbing, because the Emperor of Germany himself is on the whole our best recruiting sergeant. Our people have risen as one man against the tragedy of the laying waste of Belgium, the "Lusitania" outrage in which 1,100 innocent souls were killed, and the sacrifice of Miss Cavell. There is no fear in this country of any slackening of voluntary effort during this war. To Labour, even from this Chamber, I would venture to make a respectful appeal. This measure is an emergency measure alone. I share many of their ideals and their hostility to conscription, and I believe the instinct at the back of their hostility is sound. I do not think that any of these principles will be violated by this Bill. But there is the overriding consideration that we must set aside all our prepossessions because justice is at stake. Justice led us into the war, justice will lead us through the war, and I am convinced that by reliance on that principle voluntarism, supplemented it may be by this Bill, will not be impaired and forced levies will be avoided.
§ LORD WILLOUGHBY DE BROKE
My Lords, I think we may be permitted to say that there is no body of men in the country which has a greater right to debate this Bill and to express an opinion as to who ought or ought not to serve than members of this House. In his interesting speech Lord Shaw made a very great point about the pledge that the Prime Minister had given with regard to the Bill; the noble Lord devoted a great many of his remarks to that aspect of it. Now if it 993 is any interest to your Lordships to know, I have not come here to support this Bill on account of any pledge given by the Prime Minister. Since the Preamble to the Parliament Act I think Ministerial pledges are rather at a discount, in this country. The true value—I dare say I shall be rebuked again for saying something offensive—the true value of the pledge was shown by Sir John Simon's conduct in regard to this Bill in a manner which it is impossible to mistake. He was a party to the giving of that pledge by the Prime Minister, and he said nothing at all about it while it was in operation. As soon, however, as he found that the pledge had to be redeemed in a way which was inconvenient to his own theories he tried to set it on one side. So much for that.
Nor shall I vote for this Bill this evening on account of any abstract principle of service one way or the other. We have just heard from the noble Lord opposite a long and searching inquiry into the whole theory and precedent of conscription. But there is one supremely satisfactory thing about this war, and that is the way in which hard and relentless facts of shot, and shell have completely confused and routed all the prigs and pedants and doctrinaires and those people of whom Lord Beaconsfield used to speak with profound contempt as "the whole tribe of abstract-principle gentlemen." That has all gone; though if you are going to talk about abstract principles I should say that the abstract principle laid down by Lord Roberts that it is the duty of every one to take up arms for his country is more attractive than the abstract principle laid down by Sir John Simon that no one need fight for his home, his country, or his wife and children if he does not, want to.
It is a great relief this evening to be able to welcome and to vote for a Bill proposed by the present Prime Minister. I believe that it is the first time I have found myself in that position for a number of years. But I will not occupy time by discussing the Bill at length. Of course, there are many details in which it might be criticised. I agree with what the noble Viscount, Lord Midleton, said this evening, that the whole atmosphere of the introduction and carrying of this Bill in the House of Commons has been one of apology, and that the measure has not been recommended to the country with any great degree of 994 courage. The Bill seems to be hedged about with all kinds of exemptions and restrictions and loopholes, in order that those whose opposition to it might be awkward may have an opportunity of getting out of it. But in spite of the fact that the holes in the sieve of this Bill will probably let through a great many people who really ought to serve, and in spite of the fact that the Bill may be objectionable from the point of view of the pure conscriptionist—who I do not believe exists—there is no doubt whatever that this measure is one of the most important Bills that have been presented to the British Parliament for a great number of years.
I wish it to be clearly understood that, although I was a humble follower of Lord Roberts and had the honour of standing on a great many platforms with the noble and gallant Field-Marshal, I have not come here to-day as a member of the National Service League to crow over this Bill on account of its being a victory for the principles of the National Service League. I have never wanted what we call national service to come by its own as a result of this war. The kind of national service that some of us look forward to, and which will be inevitable if we are to keep our place in Europe after this war is over, is of a quite different kind; it will have to be fought out as a great national policy, and will have to become part of the national life and to be introduced into the whole training and education and character of this country. The national service that we look forward to is quite a different thing from the national service imposed by this Bill. In spite of that it is all very well for those gentlemen who have reluctantly come round to vote for this Bill to talk round it and try to explain it away and minimise it as much as they possibly can—it, cannot be explained away.
§ LORD WILLOUGHBY DE BROKE
I am glad that the noble Lord on the Cross Benches supports that. He sees what I am driving at. You cannot explain away the vital thing contained in this Bill any more than a certain natural and inevitable consequence was once tried to be explained away, in a work of fiction we all know, on the ground that "it was a very little one." This Bill admits the necessity for the State taking upon itself the right to control the 995 military service of certain of the citizens of this country, and affirms beyond all manner of doubt that we have got to such a state of military necessity that Parliament is obliged to introduce a measure affirming its right to take the military services of certain people who at present are most suitable if, and only if, the rest of the nation agree, as they do agree, that we have to win the war.
I should like if you will allow me, to say a word or two about those who object to this Bill. First of all we have the Irish. I listened with the greatest interest to the exceedingly skilful defence that the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, made of the exclusion of the Irish from this Bill. I have read, as everybody else has, of a variety of defences with regard to the omission of Nationalist Ireland from the Bill, and I must say that every single one of those defences leaves me absolutely cold. If I may use a colloquial phrase, the leaving out of Nationalist Ireland from this Bill "won't wash." I will not say any more about that for the present, but the fact speaks for itself and will speak for itself in the future. You will never be able to get away from the fact that, just after a Bill for the self-governing of Ireland was passed through both Houses of Parliament with the idea based on the understanding that Ireland was going to share the same risks as the rest of the United Kingdom, and in a moment of great national necessity, Parliament determined on a certain course of recruiting and Nationalist Ireland was the first and the only part of the British Empire to say they would have nothing to do with it. That is a piece of history which is not going to be forgotten. I imagine that in the future the financial position of this country towards Ireland will have to be overhauled, in view of the very great expense of the war, and I, for one, shall not feel inclined to spend a very great deal of public money on a country which treats the rest of the United Kingdom in the way in which Nationalist Ireland has behaved over this Bill.
The next who are omitted from the Bill are the conscientious objectors. I cannot understand the position of a conscientious objector, and never could. At the time of the passing of the Vaccination Bill it always seemed to be a particularly meaningless phrase. And it is not using too strong language when we say that a man who conscientiously objects to fighting himself 996 for himself or for his own wife and family but is willing that others should be persuaded to fight for his possessions and lay down their lives for him displays a selfishness, an hypocrisy, and an arrogance very difficult to forgive; and I am exceedingly sorry that at this time of day, when for the first time for a great number of years we are face to face with realities, the Government should have allowed the position of the conscientious objector to appear in this Bill. I do not know whether the noble and gallant Field-Marshal on the Front Bench (Lord Kitchener) is going to take part in this debate, but I should like to put a point to him. I speak with great reserve in his presence about the King's Regulations, but I have been looking at them and I see that everybody who goes abroad on a troop-ship is obliged to be vaccinated. So what happens to the conscientious objector to vaccination if you are going to follow out the King's Regulations? Will a conscientious objection to vaccination constitute a conscientious objection to military service at the same time? Noble Lords laugh. I do not know why that amuses you. I should have thought it was a perfectly natural and rather pertinent point. It seems to me that if you are going to admit the conscientious objector into this Bill anybody who is "gun shy" can easily get up a conscientious objection of some kind and persuade the Tribunal that his services to his country will be better rendered by stopping at home and watching somebody else go out to the Front.
Then we have another set of objectors, who have Sir John Simon to their profit. They are the people who apparently believe in what is called the voluntary system and hate that which is called the compulsory system. Do you not think that we have had a great deal too much talk and a great deal too much segregation lately of those who support the voluntary system on the one side and those who support the compulsory system on the other? One noble Lord who spoke just now said what seemed to me to be particularly true. He said that as soon as conditional voluntarism was started upon you really had the whole theory of compulsion in full force behind it. We have gone long past the time when one can go into a dialectical disquisition about what is voluntarism and what is compulsion. It seems to me that the vast majority of the 997 people who really matter have made up their minds that we have now arrived at a state of things when public opinion requires that certain duties have to be performed if we are going to bring this war to a satisfactory conclusion. Sir John Simon says, and his followers are always saying, that the compulsory system is foreign to the spirit, of this country. That is a proposition which it is very difficult to understand. We have compulsion applied to us in a great many forms already, and the kind of politician who is always saving that compulsory military training is foreign to our spirit and that you are going to "Prussianise" the nation if you bring it in is the very political bureaucrat who has been to Germany and tried to import the German system over here with regard to the educational service and matters of that kind. Compulsion by a civil bureaucracy with regard to our every day lives is quite as odious to many of us as compulsion with regard to military service may be to other people. But those gentlemen who are so anxious not to have anything of a Prussian character over here may rest perfectly satisfied. You may legislate as much as ever you please. You very nearly succeeded, or at least it looked almost as if you had been trying to succeed, in turning a German into an Englishman by means of an Act of Parliament; but you certainly cannot turn an Englishman into a German by an Act of Parliament. Anything that we do over here is not in the least likely to Prussianise the English system.
There is one more class of objector—a certain section of what is called the Labour Party. I think we shall do well to get out of the habit of talking of Labour as a whole when we speak of objection to this Bill, because there is abundant proof that the vast mass of what are called the working classes of this country are in favour of any step which the Government recognise will bring the war to an end as speedily as possible. They are absolutely sound to the core, and considering the false prophets to whom they have had to listen during the last few years the marvel is that the people of this country are as sound as they are; it is a positive proof that the vast mass of our fellow-countrymen have been stronger and wiser and have got a better instinct than those who have been advising or refraining from advising them in the past. Any pressure that is put on the Government from outside—and I dare 998 say they may complain of undue pressure—is entirely due to the doctrine that was laid down by the noble Viscount who is sitting below the Gangway (Lord Haldane), when he gave the country to understand that it was not much use talking about impending war with Germany because the people showed no disposition to listen to talk of that kind. There is abundant evidence that the Government need not be afraid in taking this measure, and in taking every means to screw it up and tighten it where it is relaxing if they want to afterwards. You have the whole of the nation, those who really count behind you in passing this Bill.
Public opinion in this country has at last begun to see that Foreign Policy is not merely writing things on pieces of paper and making speeches. It has realised that we must have a Foreign Policy which is consistent with the authority, the dignity, and the existence of this country, and that the only way we can possibly back it up is by force of arms. Public opinion thoroughly realises that at this moment; it also realises that there is no such thing as what used to be called Home Defence, that our defensive frontier is not in Norfolk or Suffolk or the Eastern counties of this country but on the plains of Europe. We are perpetually being told that we are making tremendous efforts in this war. We are proud to think that that is the case. I am told on very good authority that when the history of the war comes to be written we shall find that we actually placed more men in the field than anybody ever dreamed that we should, or than many foreign nations who are fighting on our side ever dreamed that we should, and that we shall be able to challenge comparison with any nation that is on the field of battle to-day. I submit this point to those of your Lordships whose speeches are reported out of doors and to whom the country looks for leadership. It has not been sufficiently brought home to the people of this country that if we are making greater sacrifices than anybody else we ought to, because we have the inestimable advantage of fighting our battles on someone else's land. That is a point which has not been sufficiently made. I thank you for the kind way in which you have listened to what I have had to say, and I am delighted to have the opportunity of saying a few words in support of this Bill. It has been brought home to all of us who have had correspondence 999 with our friends at the Front that this Bill and the spirit in which the Government have passed it, in spite of Sir John Simon, has been the greatest comfort and support to our Allies, and although it may be a small Bill it has in a certain way contributed much to the dignity and prestige of this country on the plains of Europe.
My Lords, I hope my noble friend (Lord Willoughby de Broke) will kindly indicate in which category he places me, whether as "prig," "pedant," or "doctrinaire"; and I am prepared to accept his decision, which I have no doubt will be given in his usual courteous spirit. I am one of those—and they are very few in this House—who have not been converted to the principle of this Bill. Consequently I think it my duty to give expression to my views, and I am certain that I shall receive the attention of your Lordships. It is my duty to expound to you the reasons for which I am obliged to remain confidently relying on the voluntary system of service. It is known to many of your Lordships that I have been for many years associated with the great cause of international arbitration and the desire to establish conditions of peace throughout the civilised world. That may be foolish, but it is not a thing I shall regret; for I believe that it is the great consolation and aim of people of all countries to see peace re-established upon lines which will be permanent. Having said that much, I wish to say in order to clear the air in one respect, that, strong as is my faith in these methods of pacification, from the day when the soil of Belgium was violated and a solemn International Treaty was torn up as a mere "scrap of paper," I never hesitated to declare that this war was a just war, and that we must pursue it until we have accomplished victory. Therefore you will understand the spirit in which I approach the consideration of this Bill. I am not one of those who have objected to this war. On the contrary, I have believed it to be a righteous war, and I desire to see it conducted with all the resource, skill, and energy of which we are capable.
I come now to the question of how far this Bill is going to assist us to bring the war to a successful conclusion. In the first place the noble and gallant Field-Marshal below me (Lord Kitchener) has admitted that the success of the voluntary principle 1000 "has been far greater than most of us would have dared to predict, and certainly beyond anything our enemies contemplated." I have no doubt he will endorse those words. I am one of those who desire to pay a tribute, in which everybody will concur, to the noble Earl opposite (Lord Derby) for the admirable efforts he has made for recruiting on the voluntary principle; and I believe it is due to his energy and to his bonhomie that he has achieved such extraordinary success. I ask, In what particular has voluntarism failed? I am not going to give a long recital of the particular classes of men who have failed to respond to the appeal of the noble Earl. I am not going to tell you how many lunatics, how many criminals, how many men engaged in the mercantile marine in our ports, must be subtracted from the total. But it must be admitted on all hands —I think it is certain—that the figures that have been given are somewhat guesswork. All students of the figures have agreed that after making fair deductions in one direction and another you could not obtain a larger number than, say, 250,000 men. But since that time great accessions have been made, large numbers of men have been recruited, and undoubtedly before the period when this Bill comes into active operation a very large number must again be deducted from this 250,000, leaving, say, 100,000 as the residuum. I ask any fair-minded man in this House, Is the accession of 100,000 men, who are called "shirkers" and "slackers" and who do not therefore compose the best part of the community, going to win us the war? We have already 4,000,000 men under arms, a larger number under arms than any of our Allies probably in an efficient state. I ask, therefore, whether an addition of two and a-half per cent. to the ranks of our Army is going to win the war.
The grounds on which this measure is advocated are several. The first one—it is a very common one—is that we should not leave the shirkers alone. I have no sympathy with the shirkers. I believe they are best dealt with by their own comrades, by the reprobation of those around them. As another reason for this measure it is asked, Will you not listen to the call of the men in the trenches? Yes, I will listen to the call of the men in the trenches. Nobody recognises more fully than I do our responsibilities to our brave men, not only to those in the trenches but to those who are 1001 guarding our shores silently in the Fleet in the North Sea. But our duty and obligation to the men in the trenches is not confined to sending them reinforcements alone. In the matter of reinforcements—the noble and gallant Field-Marshal will correct me if I am wrong—I believe that we are now arming and equipping sufficient men to send them ample reinforcements as they are required; and I ask whether the addition of 100,000 men is so going to encourage our men in the trenches that they will achieve victory sooner.
There is another obligation which we owe to our Forces. We sent our men to the trenches and left them there for long periods without sufficient munitions. Whose responsibility was that? It was the responsibility of the Government; they were the "slackers" to leave the men without sufficient munitions in the early period of the war. There is yet a further responsibility that we owe to the brave men who are fighting our battles. We owe it to them that we should utilise their services with discretion and with strategic ability. Have we done so? Will anybody say that the Expedition to the Dardanelles was wisely thought out, that we called upon the men who perished in that undertaking to sacrifice their lives for a useful purpose? There again is a responsibility in which we have failed, and that is not the only direction in which I fear that we have been wanting in prescience and tactical ability. I have some trepidation in seeing our Forces divided in all the quarters of the globe instead of being concentrated on vital points.
The introduction of this measure, small though it may be, is a dangerous new departure, and I am borne out in that by what has been said by Lord Willoughby de Broke. He told us that we cannot explain away the introduction of compulsion in military service. I am very glad he quite honestly acknowledged the importance of this new departure. I could not, however, appreciate the special pleading of my noble friend the former apostle of peace (Lord Shaw), and I was unable to understand his legal subtleties. I am still an enemy of conscription and shall continue to be so even if it enjoys the new legal appellation of "conditional voluntarism." The real truth is that a very unfortunate thing has been done. We are told that we owe this debt to our Allies. How has that impression got about? It has been unfortunately 1002 the result of a campaign of certain journalists who for some time have belittled every effort made in this country. English people were wanting in skill, they were wanting in courage, they were wanting in self-sacrifice; there was no weakness, no crime, which British people had not committed in the eyes of these patriotic journalists; and the articles in their papers were profusely copied and advertised in the countries of our Allies, with the result that the unfortunate impression got about that Great Britain was not doing her duty and her share in this great conflict. I contend, on the contrary, that Great Britain is doing her share nobly. We have the finest Fleet that has ever been known in the memory of man or in the records of history. I cannot say with what immense admiration I think of those gallant men who, without recognition very often, are doing their business on the sea. What service do they render not only to this country but to the Allies? Where would the Allies be with regard to their supplies, their provisions, their munitions, without the protection of the British Fleet? Further, is it no service that we have rendered to the Allies that we are sustaining the international credit upon which they as well as ourselves depend? It is due to our action in the world of finance that the credit of all these countries continues to be satisfactory. Not only have we sustained their credit but we have advanced large sums of money, amounting to nearly £400,000,000, to those nations. If those are not services, I should like to know what services are.
When we are told that we have not done our duty in a military sense, just consider what our situation was when the war began. We had 160,000 men as an Expeditionary Force; that was all that we conceived to be necessary for service abroad. We have raised during this war 4,000,000 men and equipped and armed them and sent them to different parts of the world. Is not that sufficient military effort? I believe that if these facts are sufficiently advertised in France, in Russia, and in Italy the generous people of those countries will admit that we are doing quite our share, and more than our share, in the common cause.
This Bill may be small in its present scope, but, as has been admitted, its possibilities are great. It is an invasion of individual liberty upon which the whole fabric of our country depends. We were 1003 told in the early stages of this measure by the Prime Minister that it would not be pressed except with common consent. Where is the common consent? Are 2,000,000 votes at a Trade Union Conference a "negligible quantity"? Are the opinions of 2,000,000 working men of no value? "Oh," we are told, "but look at the House of Commons." I am afraid I have experience of the House of Commons and I have some knowledge of how at these moments of passion the individual independence of the average Member is strangely distorted. I went through a similar troubled time myself during the South African War. I was in favour at that time of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman and the policy that he advocated. There was a "jingo" fever in the country, but did not abandon my point of view. I was defeated. But what happened? A few years later the people of this country, restored to their saner minds, returned the largest Liberal majority that has ever been known in the history of this country. The same thing will happen now. Certain leaders of the Liberal Party have surrendered a precious principle and in so doing they are undermining the authority and the existence of the whole Liberal Party. But the Liberal Party will rise again and will shed those leaders who have deserted it. There is not going to be after this war a wave of militarism either here or elsewhere. The better mind of the German people will be awakened, and even the Germans will say that the time has come when no longer force shall reign supreme, but liberty and justice shall be regarded as the great heritage of mankind.
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
My Lords, I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I bring the House back to the Bill which is now before it and point out to my noble friend who has just been speaking that this is not a Bill to keep intact the Liberal Party or even to provide an ideal Government. I thank the noble Marquess and ethers who have spoken with regard to my efforts in regard to recruiting. I hope they will believe me when I say that I regret very much that this Bill is necessary. I wish my efforts had been so tar successful that any dissension—and I am glad to think it is very slight—could have been avoided. There can be no doubt in my mind as to one figure in my Report, and that is that the 650,000 1004 single men who are at present unaccounted for is a minimum number and that until they are accounted for it would have been perfectly impossible for the pledge of the Prime Minister to have been fulfilled. My noble friend Lord Shaw disagreed with the pledge. He divided his speech into two parts, one of which was persuading himself why he should vote and the other persuading himself why he should not; and, if I may say so with respect, the only thing that seemed to me quite definite in his mind was that the pledge was a mistake. Let me say that if it had not been for the pledge the whole recruiting campaign would have been an absolute failure. I happened to be in Scotland a day after there had been a slight misunderstanding with regard to the pledge, and had the noble Lord been with me he would have heard from members of the Party with which he used to be associated just as strong words as I used a moment ago as to the failure of the whole recruiting campaign unless the pledge was made definite and adhered to.
The noble Marquess said, perfectly rightly, tint a great deal of the success in obtaining men was due to the fear of compulsion, but I hope it will not be thought that this was the only reason that brought men in. There was no doubt a wave of patriotism which made some men see for the first time the absolute necessity for men which even now the noble Lord opposite (Lord Weardale) does not recognise. The best proof of the patriotism that exists is that, although married men can consider themselves secure from any compulsion, yet they are coining in in large numbers under the group system day after day. Single men are coming in—in bigger proportion than married men—but not to the extent, as yet at all events, that would justify the noble Lord in thinking that the number still left of single men is negligible. He gave varied figures, with none of which I agree, as to the number of men whom we may obtain. I will take only one of his figures—the 250,000, which I think was the maximum that he allowed. Put it in Army Corps. Would five Army Corps not be of advantage to one side when up to then the two competing parties were of equal strength? Of course, they would; and these men are destined to come in just at the moment when to give us the preponderance in numbers is to my 1005 mind to give us the victory we all lock for.
There are one or two points to which I wish to draw your Lordships' attention. I want to speak not upon the general principle of the Bill but as to how far it affects the group system and those who have come in voluntarily before the introduction of the Bill, and to do that I wish to deal with the exemptions and exceptions. I leave out the question of Ireland—that is it political question. To my mind the group system might have been applied to Ireland. But unfortunately there was the initial mistake oh not having applied the Registration Act to Ireland, and without the Registration Act it was quite impossible to think of any method by which the group system could be applied to Ireland. I leave out the conscientious objector, because as far as the group system is concerned he does not exist. The group system consists of men who have attested and have already taken the oath for general service. Conscientious objection, therefore, does not affect my numbers. But I must utter one note of warning as to how far the numbers I gave as being the possible produce of the group system are a affected by this Bill and by the action of the Government.
I am, bound to say that I am infinitely more frightened of the action of the Government than I am of the action of the Tribunals in reducing the numbers. I think this is a matter to which His Majesty's Government ought to give the most careful consideration. I do not, want to enter into the vexed question as to how many men are required for industry and how many for the Army, but the fact remains that since my Report was written no less than four lists of reserved occupations have come out, and although it is impossible at the present moment to analyse to whom the badges were given—many may have been given to started men, men over age, and men who naturally have been starred and reserved—it cannot help giving me some apprehension when I know that no fewer than 100,000 badges were issued in four days last week. I therefore beg His Majesty's Government to look into this matter most carefully front the administrative point of view. With regard to any loopholes in the Bill, I confess that at first I thought there would be a considerable Number, but on 1006 going carefully through the Bill I am convinced that the exceptions that have been given by His Majesty's Government, apart from the conscientious objector, are amply provided for in the deductions that I allowed for in my Report. I think there is a fear amongst many people that a great many fish will escape from the net. In my opinion—I give it for What it is worth—there is not the danger that I undoubtedly anticipated when I first saw the Bill. After examination I feel more confident that the Bill and the group system really are giving only the same exceptions.
I associate myself absolutely with Lord Willoughby de Broke in stating that I consider it would be quite impossible and wrong after the war for those of us who have always advocated national service to allow this Bill to be used in any way as a precedent or as a lever to get what we shall work for then as we did before. There is one other point in the Bill which bas been touched upon to which I think some prominence ought to be given—I refer to what is called the industrial compulsion clause. I do not know whether it will carry out—I hope it will—all that it is intended to, but I think that all those who support this Bill, as I do most thoroughly, ought also to support the Prime Minister and the Government in any Amendment that they have put in to prevent industrial compulsion. It would indeed have been unfair if, under the guise of this Bill, any industrial compulsion could possibly have been introduced.
This is not the Bill that one would have framed in peace time. It is a Bill only to meet a great emergency. I believe that it will meet that emergency. I believe that when it is imposed upon the country it will not make that great disturbance in industrial circles that so many have predicted. I believe it can be worked so that men can be brought into the Army as they are required and as industry can spare them. I believe that it will be met in the country with the good will of 999 men out of every 1,000. And I believe that in the circumstances it would not have been possible for the Government to have brought in a Bill that more amply carried out the pledges that were given or more fully met the requirements of the military authorities.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
My Lords, the noble Earl who has just spoken has rendered one service: he has brought the debate back to practical lines. It was not by accident that the noble Marquess who introduced this Bill put his proposals on such moderate grounds as he did. It was because he was dealing with a concrete situation which arose out of the remarkable and successful efforts which the noble Earl opposite (Lord Derby) has made, efforts without precedent both in their character and in their success. And when the noble Earl points out that this Bill followed from the pledge given and was a necessary sequel of the effort he made, he is saying only what is strictly true. This is a Bill which is really limited to the situation created by the campaign that has just taken place. The noble Marquess has the experience that other Ministers in other countries are having at this time. In war, not in this country merely but in every country, the unexpected and unforeseen is what always happens. Moltke used to say that the fog was so great that you could never see more than eight days ahead. One has only to read the debates in the Reichstag to see that the criticism amongst the population of the enemy of the doings of their Government as regards the war, as regards provision for the soldiers, as regards the number of men who have been called up quite outside the recruiting age at both ends, as regards a variety of things, affords a parallel to the experience the noble Marquess and his colleagues are having upon this occasion. Therefore they must not be discouraged if there is criticism of their Bill so long as they find, as I think they have found, the preponderating mass of public opinion at their backs.
The noble Viscount (Lord Midleton) made the criticism that the Bill was disappointing, that it did not go far enough. Then came upon the scene Lord Willoughby de Broke, and he took a more comforting view. He thought that the Bill committed the country to a great deal more that it seemed to. I do not think that the Bill commits the country to anything very large or trenches upon any great principle. I noticed in the course of this debate that a good many of the speakers missed the point which causes some of us very much to doubt whether you can ever successfully introduce compulsory 1008 service into the military organisation of this country. It is not because there is any abstract right to liberty. That is not the case. It is because these islands happen to be the centre of a very extensive Empire, large portions of which cannot provide for their own defence, and which, therefore, require that a professional and long-service Army should be raised here and sent out with obligations which it would be impossible to force any considerable body of men to undertake individually. That is the origin of the voluntary system. Until India and other parts of the Empire provide for their own defence, I do not see how you are to get out of it. So long as we have to keep up in peace time between 70,000 and 80,000 men in India and some 40,000 more elsewhere, so long will the voluntary system be a necessity; because these men can only be sent there on a professional basis, and nobody has been able to show that there was any certainty, or even probability that, given compulsion, the stream of recruits for voluntarism would operate. I was Minister for War for three years and during that time I had three Adjutant-Generals, and not one of them could give me any hope that, if the principle of compulsion were introduced, the stream of voluntary recruits could be kept up. Two were strongly adverse to the view, and the other had so many doubts that he would not give any opinion on the subject at all.
But when you turn to the objection based on the abstract principle of liberty, there is no such abstract principle. I was glad that the noble Marquess was careful to disabuse the public mind of the notion that in this Bill We are embarking upon something that does not exist, some new coercion. It is a well-settled principle that the individual, however repugnant it may be to him, is under an obligation to render assistance in putting clown violent attacks upon the State. I suppose a great many people do not realise what is true, that the most peaceable member of this House, for instance, if he were walking down the road and suddenly came across a policeman engaged with a mob who were attacking him, could be called upon by the policeman to assist him, and the noble Lord would be indicted for a misdemeanour if he refused to go to the assistance of that policeman and imperil his limbs and it might be his life. That is the principle of compulsory service in one form, and in the old days when members of this House used to 1009 read Blackstone—a practice I am sorry to think there is reason to believe has fallen into desuetude—they would find laid down in that admirable book that it was possible to call out a man not only to assist in preserving the law in such a case as that to which I have just alluded, but also if the Realm was threatened with invasion. It has always been a settled principle in this country that you could have compulsory service. There is no doubt that the Prerogative is not a thing of the past; it still exists, only it is wielded by Ministers and Parliament and my noble friend (Lord Weardale) does not quite take account of the extent to which Parliament has from time to time wielded that Prerogative. An Act was passed in 1803 calling a levée en masse to provide against the dangers of Napoleonic invasion. The preamble of that Act is very remarkable; it recites that Parliament was passing it simply in exercise of the right which is inherent in the Constitution of the State to compel people to come to its service.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
How can you draw a distinction in these days between the defence of the life of the nation in this island and outs de it? Suppose Calais, Dunkirk, and Boulogne were seized and the life of this nation were in danger, could you draw a distinction because the enemy troops happened to be a few miles over the sea and the only way to defeat them was to attack them there? Does my noble friend think the distinction which he suggests is a distinction which would bear looking into for a moment? It is always Parliament which moulds the exercise of the old Prerogative. It is Parliament which is bringing in this Bill in the form in which it is, because it is a case of the necessities of war. I draw all the distinction in the world between the necessities of a time like this and what obtains in time of peace. In time of peace it may be, and I think it would prove to be, that an attempt to introduce the principle of compulsion would have disastrous results on your military organisation necessary until the time comes when the distant parts of the Empire can defend themselves. Bu to-day we are dealing with an emergency such as not we alone but every country that is engaged in the war has to confront. The war has swelled up to dimensions far beyond what 1010 anybody thought, certainly far beyond what our enemies anticipated. Everybody is feeling the strain of it, and it becomes essential that you should resort to steps to which you would not think of resorting at other times.
I do not share the view of the noble Viscount that the noble Marquess would have done well to amend the Bill by putting in some preparation for the future. What has to be done after the war is a matter to be considered on its own merits. I have said for a long time that our national education ought to include some sort of foundation for military efficiency, but this Bill is no place for inserting so great and debatable a principle, which would require the best military and educational minds to come together in consultation. Nor do I agree with the noble Viscount that if we bad had some sort of national training the Army which retreated from Mons would have been a better Army. The view I take was well expressed to me by a very distinguished soldier, himself greatly concerned with those operations. He said, "That Army was the finest Army that the sun has ever shone upon. "Training? Why the men who were fighting there were men who hail not had two or three years training like their enemies, but four, five, and six years with the Colour. The result was a cohesion, a discipline, all the elements that go to greatness in an Army, which enabled that retreat to be conducted in a fashion of which we may well be proud. Our Armies have been small but not deficient in quality; nor could any quantity of training in time of peace have made the Regular Armies we possessed finer than those Armies were.
Therefore I conclude by saying what I wished to say at the beginning. I think the Government have done wisely to restrict their Bill as far as possible. They may have further calls; we cannot see or divine how far this war will take us. They may have to make appeals to married men, and to Ireland; but it is a sound principle not to go further forward than you are confident you can go with public opinion at your back. If the Government have been going step by step in this matter and apparently slowly, I think they have been acting upon a wise principle—the principle which actuated Chatham in the Seven Years War. That has always been our principle here. It is a principle which has been laid down by great military authorities 1011 and which I think we do well to observe, because if we do not observe it we confuse the issue and stir up doubts in men's minds which will distract, public opinion and weaken the forces that are behind us, whereas by keeping their confidence it is possible to go forward with the impulse of the national feeling at your back. For that reason on the whole I think this is a Bill which is in good shape. The larger issues which have been raised to-day I do not desire at the present time to discuss. We shall all have to discuss them very closely when the war is over, and we may have to discuss them in other forms before then. But I wish emphatically to say that I do not think they arise on this Bill. This Bill introduces no new principle, but is one of expediency which has arisen out of the altogether exceptional circumstances of the war, the necessity of making a great effort, and I think it is satisfactory that it is possible to make that effort in the moderate form the Bill embodies.
§ LORD LAMINGTON
My Lords, I desire to make a few remarks in reference to the speech of Lord Weardale. He paid a high tribute to the work of the Navy—how it protected the commerce of ourselves and our Allies, and eliminated the enemy's commerce. If I remember rightly, in the discussion which took place in this House at the time when the Declaration of London was finally squashed the noble Lord expressed the hope that enemy property at sea would be immune from capture.
I do not think that question is at issue now. When peace is restored the question of private property at sea will come up for discussion. But it is not in the least at issue now.
§ LORD LAMINGTON
I was glad to hear the noble Lord congratulate the Navy on its great work, and I understand that he has departed from his previous views. The noble Lord also referred to the number of men to be obtained under this Bill. He put the maximum at 250,000, and then whittled it down to 100,000. But the noble Earl (Lord Derby) pointed out that the number quoted by the noble Lord would be equivalent to five Army Corps. Surely that is a considerable factor in this war. I was never desirous of seeing conscription introduced into this country. At the beginning of the war when one had to appeal to one's men to 1012 see if they would go on foreign service I did so with extreme reluctance as they had only engaged for home defence. The necessities of the situation had not then arisen; but now the necessities have arisen. While people dwell upon voluntarism and its benefits, the fact is that as soon as a man has attested and taken the oath he is as much under compulsion as any conscript in a Continental Army. There are many who have been to the Front and who have not been wounded but have endured all the nerve-trying ordeals. Would not they willingly get out of the Army? It makes one ashamed that men who have been wounded, not once, but two, three, or four times should still have to go back. Our system is only voluntary in a very poor way indeed. The noble Viscount (Lord Haldane) said you want to get the people behind you. I think the people of this country are only too desirous that the Government should give a strong lead, not only in this direction but in many directions.
To revert to the question of the number of men, surely we want every man we can get even if it is only the number put by Lord Weardale. The noble Viscount referred to the benefit of our men having had long training. Well, time is going by; and for six months at the least a man must be trained before he can go through the terrible ordeal a modern fight entails. The result of having a shortage of trained men has been that front time to time our strategy and our tactics have been adversely affected. I know of a mounted brigade trained as Cavalry who had their horses taken away and, without any thorough training being possible, were sent out, as Infantry. Only the other day I heard of a Division being sent out without the men getting the usual forty-eight hours leave to which they are entitled. Why is that? Simple because there is a shortage of trained men in the country. I trust that this Bill will remedy that. Even if it yields only 100,000, I believe that number of men will be of inestimable value. I hope that this Bill is only a forerunner of an indication that the Government are going to take resolute and vigorous action for the prosecution of this war.
My Lords, I shall endeavour to make it plain to the House that I am opposed to this Bill and dislike it very much on principle. It is almost 1013 necessary nowadays, if one takes that attitude, to give some explanation of it, in view of the fact that is often taken that anybody who does not at once surrender his private judgment to that of the Government, like my noble friend Lord Shaw—and we know that lawyers are always in favour of the "transfer"—is a traitor who does not deserve well of his country. I have in my hand a very breezy letter by Mr. Frederic Harrison, which appeared in yesterday's Times and from which I take this extract—Let us waste no more time with the 'conscientious' humbug, the 'conscientious' sneak. The man who prates now about 'constitutional principles' is a humbug and a sneak—in plain words, an ass and a traitor. To swagger about the 'fundamental principles of the Great —Party' is bluster and treachery. TO perorate about the sacred traditions of Parliamentary government is windbag and cant. To appeal to the immortal memory of Cobden and Free Trade is mere conventional pedantry. The man who cannot see how the inevitable need of arming every capable man in this gigantic crisis should override all his old views about Home Rule, or Free Trade, or about trade unions, or manhood prerogatives—who would I see his country ruined rather than risk any violation of his old race prejudices, or his sex prejudices, or his trade prejudices—he, I say, is both an and a traitor.I do not think that on the public platform it has ever been put more definitely than that. But your Lordships must not congratulate yourselves with that extract; because Mr. Harrison goes on to say—To wage war by a scratch committee of amateurs, responsible day by day to a huge assembly of busybodies, is like the madness of the Byzantines who disputed e bout the Procession of the Holy Ghost when the Turks were thundering at their gates.That is, I venture to think, the slap dash view that is taken of these things nowadays, and there is a sort of spirit which sees things to my mind out of proportion. I quite understand that the same suggestion may very well be retorted upon me, but my position is perfectly clear on this matter, and I do not intend to imitate the noble Lord who sits near me (Lord Shaw) and, to use the expression of Lord Willoughby de Broke, "hedge myself about with loopholes." I cannot imagine what that means, but perhaps it is a new military manœuvre derived from trench warfare.
As my opposition to this Bill is really bated upon principle, it is not necessary to say very much about questions of expediency. The noble Marquess who introduced the Bill said that any opposition on the ground of objection to the principle 1014 of conscription would be belated; and he said he hardly expected to hear it. I am glad to think he has heard it from other quarters, but why it should be belated I do not know. private members of this House no more than private members of the other House were parties to the pledge of the Prime Minister. It may be that the Prime Minister is bound by that pledge, without members of this House or of the other House being bound by it. I do not want to go into the figures of Lord Derby's Report. Two things are quite certain and are admitted by every one. First, that the figure of 650,000 is not a figure which can be taken without great deductions. It is admitted by everybody that that figure does not represent the real total of what you might call the "shirkers." The other point is that it is a little strong to tell us, as we were told in words which are being quoted in this debate—words uttered by Mr. Walter Long in another place—that the particular number of men provided by this Bill are, on the authority of the Secretary of State for War, all the men that are required to win this That does seem to me to be an argument that we cannot reasonably be expected to believe.
There is another matter on the Prime Minister's pledge. We have the Bill in this House without any examination of the figures, or rather without any examination of the figures which has yielded anything that can be claimed to be an accurate result; and to that extent it is not a fulfilment of the pledge to the people to whom the pledge was made—those who are Opposed to conscription. However, here is the Bill. It is obvious flat it will be accepted; but the arguments that have been used for it in this House, except, of course, the very cautious arguments of the noble Marquess who moved it, are arguments every one of which supports conscription out and out. Lord Weardale said the number that would be obtained would be only 100,000; and it is asked, Are not 100,000 men are useful? and I suppose 500,000 are still more useful. It is the business of the Secretary of State for War, who has only to look at the military position, to ask for as many men as he thinks he can get. It is not his business to take a political view of the question. It is not his business to consider the industrial position of the country. I do not blame the Secretary of State for War, for it is the perfectly obvious thing for him to do, and it is the perfectly 1015 obvious thing for military members of your Lordships' House to do. But the reason why we have a civilian Government is that we may take civilian and political views of the necessities of the case. Not a single person has alleged in the debates in either House, nor can it be alleged, that the Government have considered with a broad view the distribution of the man power in this country between industry and fighting; and, even granting for a moment that you have a perfect right to take every man you choose, arguments such as we have heard that we are not doing what France does because we are not conscripting every man, and so on, overlook the fact that we are a nation of great industrial and financial prosperity, and are doing a great deal in the war in that way. One might just as reasonably say we ought not to assist our Allies with money and munitions because they do not assist us in that way. The idea of any reasonable Alliance is that each partner does those things he is best fitted to do. I challenge anybody to produce a statement by any responsible member of the Government as to what at any stage is the size of the Army we can legitimately afford to maintain while we keep our commerce intact.
Then there is the attitude of Labour. I do not profess to know what the attitude of Labour is. One thing can be said with certainty, and that is that it is alarmed and suspicious. How long it will put up with the cajolery of Mr. Lloyd George or the persuasions of the Prime Minister I do not know, but there are signs that Labour looks upon this Bill with suspicion. Every possible pledge has been given to Labour about industrial compulsion, and I have not the slightest doubt that those who gave the pledges intend to carry them out and in all human probability they will be thoroughly carried out. But I think Labour, if it is logical, may well ask itself, If compulsion is so essential and so desirable for the men to fight in the trenches, why is it not desirable for the men in the workshops making munitions? Labour has been told over and over again in the last few months that munitions are as important as men. There have been speeches after speeches by the Minister of Munitions emphasing that view. If that is so, and if compulsion is required to win the war, why not compulsion for the making of munitions? Labour may very well ask that question and cannot receive any reasoned answer.
1016 My own feeling, I say frankly, differs toto cœlo from the view of Lord Willoughby de Broke. He is able to regard these matters in a lighthearted way. He said he could not conceive the position of a man who judged this, that, and the other. I admit Lord Willoughby de Broke cannot conceive it, and other people cannot; but that is for the want of a little imagination. He said, "Is it not monstrous that there should be a man who does not want to fight for his country, his home, and his wife and child?" It may be a monstrous spectacle; but surely it reflects very much on his training and the intelligence you have implanted in him by your system of education. Personally I have an instinctive abhorrence to making a man fight when he does not want to. But that is merely a personal matter. I do think that in passing this Bill—it is compulsion, no matter how little—we are diminishing the glory of this country. Our glory throughout this war, to my mind, has been the fact that there was no compulsion, that the country arose almost united, almost as one man practically. Taken as a whole this country throughout its length and breadth has had the same feeling about this war. It had the feeling that here was a horrible thing, a menace to liberty, civilisation, and Europe, and that we were prepared to shed our blood and pay our money to get rid of it, and we did that voluntarily, gladly, and proudly. It seems to me that that which was a great glory will be very much dimmed if in our fighting ranks there are pressed men who fight because they are told that they will be punished if they do not. For these reasons I am opposed to compulsion in any event.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
My Lords, I should be sorry if no voice were heard from the Episcopal Bench upon an occasion so important as this. I desire with all my heart to support this Bill, believing as I do, notwithstanding the criticisms which we have heard to-night and outside, that it is a plain and straightforward and vigorous endeavour to meet a situation which is extremely difficult. We are face to face with facts to-day which have no parallel in the history of our country. We are face to face with a condition about which the Government can turn to no precedent to guide them in their action, and I believe they have gone into this matter with care and have arrived at the 1017 best solution obtainable in the circumstances. I entirely agree with the noble Earl, Lord Derby, that the Bill has behind it the wholesome opinion of the people at large. Nothing would have been a greater satisfaction to me had the time been possible than to have made some reply to the speech to which we have just listened, but it is impossible to do that now. But there is a single point in the Bill, to which I shall refer to-morrow, with which I have specially to do—namely, with regard to the clergy. But to-night I merely desire with all my heart to endorse a Bill which I believe to be wisely constructed in extraordinarily difficult conditions, and calculated to do exactly what it is intended to do for the people and for the Army.
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON)
My Lords, the conditions of debate which have led the most rev. Primate who has just addressed us to compress his remarks within two minutes—a more valuable and concise two-minute speech I have never heard—also, it seems to me, disable me from trespassing at any great length upon your Lordships at this hour of the evening. At the same time it is difficult for me to allow a debate on this question, in which I have taken so great an interest for so many years, to pass without saying anything.
We have heard speeches in this House to-night, and a great many have been delivered in another place, from gentlemen who have always been opposed to compulsory military service on principle, but who, in view of the necessities of this particular case, have changed or at any rate modified their views and have explained the reasons, entirely honourable to themselves, which induce them to support a measure of this description. Then we have had two speeches in this House, one from Lord Russell and the other from Lord Weardale, who, as I understand, are opposed in toto to anything in the nature of compulsion. They have been perfectly frank in the exposition of their views, and they represent a pole of thought, an extreme of attitude, not very widely shared in this House but one to which we wish to pay respect for its sincerity. Then you come to the position of a man like myself, who has been in favour of compulsion for years before this war, who would have liked to have seen it in force not merely as a temporary emergency to deal with a situation 1018 admittedly acute, but as a principle of our national life. I realise that it is not only not incumbent upon me but that it would be unwise for me to pursue that theme this evening. At the same time was glad to hear the testimony to the ground upon which I stand offered by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Haldane.
When we reflect that, as the noble and learned Viscount told us, compulsory service is part of the constitutional system and history of this country; when we remember that in bygone stages of our history some of our greatest wars and some of our most conspicuous victories—Agincourt, for instance—have been won by conscribed soldiers; when, as he reminded us, in 1803 we had, under the Administration, I think, of Pitt, an Act for a compulsory levy throughout the country; when we look to what happened in America only within the lifetime of the majority of us, when Abraham Lincoln—than whom there never was a more ardent champion of liberty—was compelled to resort to the Draft to save his country; when we see what is going on in our Colonies at this day; when we see what is happening in the most democratic countries on the Continent—I have never been able to see why that which is recommended by our own constitutional law, by foreign precedent, and by Colonial example should be abhorrent to the spirit of Englishmen. Yet the latter view was expressed by two noble Lords to-night.
The noble Earl who spoke last, Lord Russell, said that we were "diminishing the national glory of this country"; and my noble friend Lord Weardale spoke about "surrendering the precious heritage of individual liberty enjoyed by Englishmen." I do not know how it is or why it is that the very name of "liberty" seems to tempt people to talk what may almost be described as cant, but it seems to me that those who talk the loudest about liberty are almost, always the most abject slaves to the phrases and words they employ. What is there abhorrent to the Englishman or to English history or tradition in the principle of compulsion? The Englishman is wrapped in compulsion from the cradle to the grave—compulsory sanitation, compulsory education, compulsory insurance, compulsory sobriety—I do not know that there is scarcely anything left for him of his own free will. However that may be, we have had a perfect orgy of compulsion 1019 since the war. Every Defence of the Realm Act which has been brought before your Lordships' House and every Order in Council that has been framed under the Defence of the Realm Acts has been a compulsory measure, and they have been willingly acquiesced in by this House and the country at large. Is the State to be at liberty to deprive its citizens of almost every form of liberty except that of performing the elementary duties of citizenship? While we listen to this talk about individual liberty being preserved we may one day wake to find that national liberty has perished and that instead of being free men we are the slaves of a foreign Power.
I should not like it to be thought that it is solely on a priori grounds that I defend this Bill. That is not the attitude which is taken up by compulsionists on principle, like myself. We recommend it as a war measure, more of a war measure than any of the previous Bills which have been introduced into your Lordships' House of which I have spoken. We want this Bill to enable us to put forward our full strength with the object of winning the war. The question which every one has in his mind—and I agree that public opinion is ahead of the Government in the matter—is, Are we going to win the war, and what are the speediest ways to do it? It is to answer that question in terms of men that this Bill is introduced. For myself, therefore, I put aside any a priori feelings I may have; and I think that others might equally waive their conscientious scruples.
For my own part I would argue the case, not on a priori grounds, but on the grounds of military necessity. That view was developed at some length and with great force by my noble friend Lord Lansdowne. To what he said I would like to add two considerations, and they affect the question of men and the number of men required. Since the conditions that he described—the dwindling of recruits and the necessity for a call upon greater numbers—it must be remembered that, while the forces of the Allied Powers have remained practically stationary except for additions in the ordinary course of recruiting, the enemy has obtained the substantial addition of the full strength of the Bulgarian Army and so much of the Turkish Army as has been released by the evacuation of Gallipoli. I believe that if you add those two together 1020 it means an addition of at least 500,000 to the strength of the enemy. The other consideration is this. Is it not quite clear as the war goes on that in the last resort the decisive factor is likely to be men? Superiority in morale I believe our Forces already enjoy; superiority in arms and munitions I believe the Allied Armies will attain in the course of the spring and summer; but superiority in numbers of men is that which is really essential if we are to be certain of the issue. I do not remember whether it was Nelson or Napoleon who said, "In the last resort it is numbers that annihilate" I believe that never was anything truer said, not only as a general principle of warfare but in relation to the experience of this war.
Broadly speaking, I think that His Majesty's Government have every reason to Le satisfied with the reception that has been given to this measure in your Lordships' House. Indeed, apart from those who object to it on principle almost the only criticism to which we have listened has been from those who say that the Bill does not go far enough. That was the line taken by my noble friend Lord Midleton. He said it was only a partial, a temporary measure. Nobody would more like to see it a permanent measure than myself. But it is obviously out of the question in the middle of a great war to attempt to revolutionise our military system and endeavour to force upon the country any general scheme of compulsion. Those who use that argument seem to forget that compulsionists have not had a free hand in this matter. The Bill is a compromise. There are some who think it does not go far enough, but there are others who think it goes too far. What has been the position of those who, like myself, have been fighting this cause for months and months? We have been only too glad to see Lord Derby put forward his great scheme for voluntary recruits. We have lent him every assistance in our power, because although we did not take the view which I think some member of the Government once enunciated that "a volunteer is worth three conscript soldiers"—if that were true we ought to have beaten the Germans long ago—we felt that if we could get a man to come forward voluntarily we would sooner take him that way than compel him to serve. But above all we wanted to get this measure, be it small or be it large, by general assent. Surely if 1021 we had forced the pace at the earlier stage—supposing the Coalition Government had not been formed, the Liberal Ministry had fallen, and a Unionist Ministry in power as its first act had brought in compulsory service—is it not certain that we should have had social and industrial upheaval and every difficulty put in our way? Therefore every one of us felt that he would sooner see this scheme introduced by a Government the majority of the members of which were opposed to it before the war began, and introduced by a Prime Minister who has acted loyally to the pledge which he has given. In that way we have secured something like general assent, and I do not think that is an excessive price to pay for the Bill even if it is smaller than many of us would have liked.
I need not pursue the, question about the exemption of Ireland. Surely it is covered by the point I have just made. However many of us would have liked to see Ireland included, is it possible that the general assent of which I have spoken would have been secured if Ireland had been included? And, further, remember what Lord Derby said—that the Registration Bill did not apply to Ireland, that his own scheme did not apply to Ireland, that the pledge of the Prime Minister was given in strict relation to married men in other parts of the United Kingdom and not Ireland, that the Prime Minister interpreted the Bill as the execution of his pledge, and that there was therefore no obligation to extend it to Ireland.
There was one other point made by Lord Weardale. There has been a great deal of dispute and a certain amount of juggling with figures. No doubt the figures that have been given are subject to close scrutiny, and they ought to be. But no reduction can bring the number down to the total which the noble Lord gave.
I was not speaking of the figures in Lord Derby's Report, but as they will appear when voluntary recruiting is over. I contend that there will then be not more than 100,000 single men available.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
I understood the noble Lord to say that we are violating all our principles, and that all we shall get out of it will be 100,000 1022 men. Let us examine that. What do we get by this Bill? There is the residuum, as it is sometimes called, of 650,000. I believe that instead of being an exaggerated estimate that is rather under the mark, and that instead of getting out of them 250,000, which Lord Derby contemplated, we shall get more like 300,000. That is the first spoil of this Bill. But remember that, in addition to that, only by means of this Bill are you enabled to get the married men who attested and whom under the pledge you would not otherwise secure; they are between 400,000 and 500,000. In addition to that, it is only fair to attribute to this Bill the securing of many of those tens of thousands of recruits who rushed in under Lord Derby's scheme in order to escape the compulsion they knew was coming under this Bill. And on top of that it is only fair to add the men who are coming in day by day to the groups. I wonder if your Lordships are aware of the fact that into the re-opened groups there came last week 50,000 men as a direct consequence of this Bill. I therefore do not hesitate to point out to your Lordships that, so far front an infinitesimal number, you are adding certainly a million, and I think in all probability more than a million, to the total Forces you have at your command. I need say nothing more. Personally I am glad to see this Bill intreduced, not merely for that substantial addition to the numbers of our Forces, but as a recognition by the State of the principle that in an emergency of this sort it has a right to the personal services of its citizens, and that it will not allow the execution of that duty to be impeded by slackness or indifference on the part of any section of its people. Further I rejoice in this measure because it seems to me to take with it as it passes into law a message to our troops in the trenches, to our Allies, on their various fronts, and to our fellow-subjects who have come forward with such gallantry beyond the seas, that we will shrink from nothing to give the reward to their bravery that it has so well deserved, and that behind them in this great war they have not merely the admiring gratitude, to which so much testimony has been offered to-night, but the resolute spirit and unity of the whole of our people.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House To-morrow.