§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE NATIONAL SERVICE DEPARTMENT (VISCOUNT PEEL)
My Lords, I beg to move the Second Reading of the Military Service Bill. In doing so I am sure it will be unnecessary for me—and I am convinced that your Lordships would not thank me if I were to do so—to go into any detail as to the reasons which have made the Bill necessary. Many Ministerial statements of importance have been made already, and it is, unfortunately, a matter of common knowledge that we need all the men who can be obtained to fill up our reserves which have been depleted by supplying our fighting troops and also to meet the new half-million which the Germans are already calling to the Colours.
This Bill, with the action which the Government may take under it if it becomes an Act, does not represent in any degree the full efforts which the Government are making to meet the new emergency. Administrative measures under existing powers are being taken at the same time. Under the Military Service Act of this year a large Schedule has been laid upon the Table of this House taking away a large number of exemptions on occupational grounds. That Schedule is already being 706 acted upon, and large numbers of men are being drawn from these occupations for service in the Army. Not only has action been taken under this Schedule, but the process of what is commonly known as the "comb-out" going on in the protected industries. Two sets of 50,000 men are being drawn, for instance, from the coal-mining industry; and no less a call than for 100,000 is being made upon the great industry of munitions. Therefore, in dealing with the provisions of this Bill I would ask your lordships to have constantly in mind the fact that this Bill represents only a portion of the national activity in supplying the requirements of our Army and the fighting forces.
During the passage of this measure in another place comparatively few changes were made from the original draft of the Bill. I should like to summarise them quite briefly, and, if necessary, I can deal with them more in detail when I reach the particular clauses involved. These changes were largely in the nature of retaining the power of Parliament—of both Houses of Parliament—over the operations of the Government in the exercise of the new powers which they are claiming under the Bill. There is one provision which was introduced but which your Lordships may now observe has fallen out of the Bill—the provision removing the exemption of the clergy. The third change that has been made is that the grounds on which men can apply to Tribunals for exemption have been re-inserted in the Bill. In the original draft certain changes and limitations were proposed in regard to these grounds. The fourth point is that there have been introduced into the Exceptions Clause certain classes of disabled men and discharged men who are now definitely placed entirely outside the purview of the Bill, if the Bill passes in its present shape.
Now let me deal with the actual contents of the Bill itself. I think it will be quite convenient to follow the clauses as they appear in the Bill. The main clause, so far as Great Britain is concerned, is the first. Under this clause, as your Lordships are probably already aware, there is a very important extension of age. The previous military age was forty-one, but as that age dated from nearly two years ago the actual military age at present is forty-three. The Bill proposes to raise the military age so as to include persons who have not yet 707 attained the age of fifty-one, that adding some eight years to the existing military age. Another detailed change has been introduced into the Bill. Previously the Military Service Bill applied to persons "ordinarily resident" in these islands, but the phrase "ordinarily resident" has, I understand, given rise to a great deal of very difficult legal interpretation, and it has been thought desirable that there should be substituted the words "is resident." Possibly this may give rise to some hardships in the cases of persons who are temporarily in these islands for the purposes of business, but it has been thought better that these cases should be dealt with administratively. In that event any question of hardship can easily be dealt with.
The next point is one of rather greater importance. Your Lordships will notice that in Clause 1 there is no "appointed day"; that is to say, there is no "appointed day" on which persons either become soldiers or fall into the reserve. It has been thought better, owing to the administrative difficulty which has been caused by the "appointed day," that immediately on the passing of the Act all those persons to whom the Act applies—that is to say, those who have not yet attained the age of fifty-one—shall become soldiers and shall pass automatically into the reserve. It must not be inferred from that that these men will be at once called up. On the contrary, I think I ought to detail the procedure for calling them up. First of all, before it is necessary for them to take any steps, a general notice will be given that men of certain ages will be called up—let me say men of the ages of forty-four and forty-five. After that, specific notice will be given to individuals that they are required to present themselvesformedical examination. After they have passed the medical examination, within seven days they are expected, if they wish, to apply to the Tribunal. If they do not apply to the Tribunal, and do not get exemption, then they are liable to be called up. The regulations under which they will apply to the Tribunals will, of course, be made by the Local Government Board.
Let me now say a word as to the nature of the services which they will be expected to undertake. No undertaking has been given, or can be given, that these older men will be employed merely in home defence. On the contrary. It is believed 708 that many of these men, although they are older, will be of a high medical category, and that some of them will be able to take their place in the fighting line. Others, of course, will no doubt not be fit for other duties than to take up work at home, or in France or elsewhere. which will enable younger men to be released for the more active and agile duties of the fighting line. They will be used wherever their services can best be utilised.
The next point with which I should like to deal is the possible disturbance of business. It is obvious—and great apprehensions have been raised in the minds of many persons—that the withdrawing for Army purposes of men of these comparatively advanced ages from different occupations and businesses must cause a great disturbance, because many of them hold leading and important positions in business. It is suggested that the dislocation of business may be greater than the advantage to the Army in obtaining this number of men. The best answer I think I can give, on behalf of the National Service Department, to the fears of that kind is that they have been engaged for a long time in mitigating these particular difficulties already. There is one section of the National Service Department, presided over by a distinguished Civil Servant, whose whole business it is to examine, in consultation with the different heads of trades and businesses, both employers and employed, the effect which the different callings up of the men in different occupations may and must have on those particular businesses;and I need hardly say that infinitely greater trouble and care must be taken when you are dealing with the calling up of these older men because of the necessarily more important places they occupy in their businesses and in the general business of the country.
The question has been raised as to what will be the actual yield of men between the ages of forty-three and fifty-one years, and a percentage has been given in another place on which I should like to say a word, because I think it is important that the figure of 7 per cent. which it was suggested might be called up of these older men should not be taken as a rigid figure or implying any definite percentage of the men who are liable to be called up. The number of 7 per cent. is, of course, an estimate. It is an estimate based on the experience of men who have been called up between the 709 ages of thirty-nine and forty-three, next in lateness, and it was found that in the first year not more than 10 per cent, of these men were called up, and another 10 per cent, in the subsequent year. Based on that experience—there can be no other to go upon, and it is corrected by the know-lodge of the position in business of these older men—it is considered that 7 per cent, would be the proportion that would be called up during the first year. It is only an estimate, and is in no sense a pledge or undertaking that more may not be called up.
Then I should like to say a word about a clause which your Lordships will see no longer in the Bill—the clause regarding ministers of religion. The reason why that clause has been dropped out of the Bill is merely this, that after careful examination of the numbers that would be obtained, after considering those who would not be in the higher medical category and the necessity of ministering to the spiritual needs of this country, it was found that the number who would be liable to military service was so small as not to make it worth while for the Government to go through all the administrative labour necessary in order to obtain that particular number of men.
I have stated briefly those men who would be liable to be called up, and I think, before I go further, I ought to call your Lordships' attention to the First Schedule, which contains a description of those men who are entirely outside the purview of the Bill, who are exceptions to the Bill, and whom the Bill does not affect in any way. Your Lordships will see that the first three clauses refer to mot usually resident in the Dominions and abroad, then to persons serving in His Majesty's Forces—the Army, the Territorial Force (if they are liable to foreign service), the Navy, the Royal Marines, and the Air Force. Then there are certain paragraphs excepting various classes of disabled men who have served, also certain men who have not served but who have been found to be useless for military purposes through ill-health, and so on. The general effect of Clause 4 of the First Schedule is to provide a statutory exception from liability to discharged soldiers and certain rejected men, who at the present time are free from liability either under the provisions of previous Statutes or because of exemption previously given to them by the Government. In that Schedule you will find a full list of those exceptions.
710 I must now ask your Lordships to follow me further through the details of the Bill. Under proviso (a) of Clause 1 the Government take power, if necessary, to raise the liability to service up to the age of fifty-six, and you will see that there is a provision by which both Houses of Parliament retain special power over the operation of that proviso. A draft Order in Council is to be made, and that draft Order is not to be submitted to His Majesty in Council unless each House presents an Address to His Majesty praying that the Order may be made. Thus you will see that the fullest power is retained by both Houses of Parliament on the question as to whether the military age is to be raised to fifty-six. Then, in proviso (b), there follows a, provision that in the case of doctors the age shall be fifty-six and not fifty-one years. It would be perfectly possible to raise the age for the doctors under proviso (a), but it is thought better at once to insert this provision. For this reason—and it is, I think, a very honourable reason indeed for including the medical profession—that for very many causes, partly through losses and partly through greater necessity, the shortage of medical men has become so great that it is absolutely necessary to apportion medical men very carefully between soldiers and civilians, and to take care that there is net only not a shortage, of doctors for the Army but that there is not a shortage of doctors for the multiform requirements of ordinary civilian life.
I can deal, I think, rather more briefly with subsection (2) of the first clause. The effect of it is to remove the exemptions of men who have arrived at a time when they could be discharged, having served for twelve years and being forty-one years of age. It is quite obvious that this exemption must be removed as the general age has been raised to fifty-one. The second part of this sub-section retains the existing exemption in the case of prisoners of war when; they have been released under undertakings made with foreign Powers. The subsection therefore does away with any private undertakings, if I may so call them, which have not been recognised by His Majesty's Government.
I now come to one of the most important clauses of the Bill, the part relating to Ireland. As your Lordships know, the Government, after very grave consideration of all the various risks involved, have decided to apply compulsory service to 711 Ireland. They are satisfied that by doing this they will be able to obtain a considerable number of young and valuable soldiers for His Majesty's Forces. Parliament, of course, is the only authority that can apply compulsory service to Ireland, and therefore it falls upon Parliament so to apply it. I think I may add, as the matter has been so much discussed in other places, that under any form of Home Rule or Devolution that might be granted to Ireland it must lie with the Central Authority to deal with all matters of organisation for defence or with the raising of forces for the Army and the Navy. As to the connection, if there be a connection, between the proposals in this Bill and a possible Home Rule Bill, I do not propose to say anything on that subject at present, because whatever the relation may be, direct or indirect, or whether there be any relation between the two measures, the matter does not appear to me to arise, directly at any rate, out of this Bill or out of its details. Therefore I intend to leave that subject, if necessary, for a later stage.
I want to call your Lordships' attention to the way in which compulsory service is to be applied to Ireland. It is not to be applied immediately by this Bill, but the Government take power by Order in Council to apply compulsory service to Ireland. Why is that done? It is done for the reason that none of the machinery for working compulsory service in Ireland exists at the present time. Proper registration arrangements have to be made, and, above all, the Tribunals have to be set up to deal with cases of exemption as they do in this country; in short, all this machinery has to be constituted in Ireland before compulsory service can be put into operation. There is this further very important result—and perhaps it is a came—of that way of dealing with the matter. Before compulsory service was introduced into this country everybody not only had warning, but the matter was discussed for some time beforehand, and those who did not like to be fetched had ample opportunity of voluntarily offering themselves if they chose. It is quite clear, therefore, that a time must intervene between the passing of this Bill and its being put into operation in Ireland which will afford a magnificent opportunity for those young men in Ireland who are anxious to join the Army and take part in this tremendous struggle, and who yet object to conscription being applied to Ireland, to come forward and join the Army 712 and thereby defeat the objects or the necessities of conscription. The only other point on the Irish clause that I need mention is that the Order may also provide for special Courts where offences under the Military Service and Army Acts can be tried. These may either be existing Courts or Courts specially set up for the purpose.
Clause 3 covers a totally different matter. It deals with cases of grave national emergency. Any action taken Under Clause 3 must be taken directly by and at the instance of the Cabinet itself. The Cabinet are and must be the sole judges of what that national emergency is and of when it has arisen. The operations under this clause are to be carried out not by Order in Council but by the solemn and public procedure of Proclamation. Your Lordships, I think, are well aware that under the Acts already passed this year the Government have power to and can through the Minister of National Service remove exemptions granted on occupational grounds, and only a few days age a comprehensive Order and Schedule of that kind were laid upon the Table of the House. But under that power these exemptions can only be removed on occupational grounds, and those from whom these exemptions are removed still have power on other grounds to apply to the Tribunals. Under this power the Government can now by Proclamation wipe away not only all these exemptions on occupational grounds, but all exemptions given on personal grounds, making what is really a clean cut through the industries and occupations of the country.
There are two exceptions to this. First of all, the cases of people who have had exemptions from Tribunals on the ground of ill-health, and, secondly, for conscientious objectors. I should like to add that this power of dealing with exemptions under Proclamation must not be confused with the power already possessed of dealing with protection certificates for protected industries. But, of course, at the same time th[...]t the Government applied this clean cut to all these exemptions, they might also, with certain necessary exemptions for shipbuilding and industries of that kind, apply the clean cut up to a certain age through the protected industries as well. These powers are very great and very exceptional, intended only to be used on occasions of great emergency, and 713 powers which after the emergency had passed away might also be revoked and removed. The second subsection deals with the suspension of the granting of certificates of exemption during the operation of that Proclamation; otherwise the objects of the Proclamation might easily be defeated.
Clause 4 deals mainly with the question of Tribunals. The regulations as regards the Tribunals are not made by Order in Council but are made by the Local Government Board. Testimony has been publicly given by the President of the Local Government Board to the work of the Tribunals, and I need add nothing to what he has said. But it has been found in the working of these institutions that there has been first of all a very unequal distribution of the work among the different Tribunals, owing to the varying circumstances in different parts of the country. Not only that, but the areas in winch the different Tribunals operate have been found in many cases to be very inconvenient. I understand that the Local Government Board propose to alter those areas and to alter in many eases the composition Of the Tribunals. It was indicated in another place that probably these Tribunals would in the future be nominated, and that certain changes would be made in the procedure; for instance, that applications for exemption should not be made at different times by a man and by his employer, but that all the applications should be made at the same time. In that way and in various other ways which have not yet been settled, but winch will be embodied in regulations by the Local Government Hoard, it is hoped to standardise and speed up the work of the Tribunals, and therefore to make more rapid and easier the method of passing men into the Army.
Before I pass from the. Tribunals I should like to say—I think I did just indicate this point—that there was to have been made a change in the grounds on which men could apply to the Tribunals, but these grounds have been re-inserted in the Bill and remain as they were before. Penalties are dealt with in subsection (2); and under subsection (3) and subsection (4) certain changes are made in procedure by which the onus of proof in showing that a man has a certificate is thrown upon the man himself, and men whose certificates have ceased to operate are expected to transmit those certificates to the nearest 714 National Service office when they cease to operate. It is obvious, when there is this larger amount of dc-certifying, that it becomes very important for the purpose of dealing with the own that it should be known as soon as possible who are the men who have been de-certified. Subsection (5) is really a technical subsection, which is necessary because those persons who have hitherto been exceptions and outside the purview of the Bill are now cases of exemption. Therefore it is necessary to state that they will not be called up to the Colours while they hold these exemptions; I although they can be called up for medical examination, they need not be and cannot be called up to the Colours.
Clause 5 proposes to make certain changes in Conventions entered into with Allied States. These Conventions, of course, are made on the basis of the military age being forty-one. Now that it is proposed to raise the military age to fifty-one it becomes necessary for the Government to obtain power to modify and alter those Conventions with Allied States, so that the new age-limit of military service can be recognised in those Conventions. Clause 6 deals with the powers of altering or revoking Orders in Council.
Clause 7 is a very important clause, because it affirms and retains the powers of both Houses of the Legislature over operations carried on by Orders in Council under this Bill. If, within fourteen days after the Order is laid on the Table, an Address is presented praying that an Order should be annulled, then His Majesty in Council may annul the Order. It will be seen, therefore, that these Orders in Council will come into operation at once, but may be annulled on the presentation of these Addresses. Thus, both Houses retain full power over the operations of the Executive.
I should add that under Clause 8 certain definitions are given. One of those definitions has the effect of bringing on to the same basis procedure as regards the certificates of exemption given to attested and unattested men. It is necessary at this time that this distinction should for administrative purposes no longer exist.
Now I think I have dealt fully with the details of the Bill. Let me summarise very briefly these provisions. Mainly the Government ask you to raise the military age, to extend compulsory service to Ireland, to remodel the Tribunals, and to give them 715 power in cases of emergency to make a clean cut up to a certain age of those exemptions that have been granted. These powers are very wide and very drastic, and it would be quite impossible for the Government to ask for them unless the situation itself were grave and menacing. But the Government ask you to confer on them these powers because they believe that by the granting of them their hands will be strengthened for one purpose, and for one purpose only, the winning of the war.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Viscount Peel.)
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I am obliged to my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition for allowing me to follow for a very few minutes the speech of the noble Viscount opposite. I do not intend to enter into the details of this Bill, for many reasons;but most of all because I look upon it, as the noble Viscount does, as an emergency Bill proposed to Parliament in a moment of grave national peril—not a Bill to be closely canvassed in Committee, not a Bill to be amended as we should amend under ordinary circumstances a measure of this importance, but a Bill of a very drastic character, as the noble Viscount has said, to be passed to help the Government and the country in one of the gravest moments of the national history.
I do not believe that there is any limit to which the country would not go in supporting the Government. If the Government approach the country in the right spirit and with a right confidence in their countrymen, they might ask for almost anything. I noticed that the noble Viscount spoke of the percentage figure which had been indicated in the other House as representing probably the number of these older men who would be called up, but I was very glad that Lord Peel would not bind himself to that figure. He is perfectly right. It may be necessary to call more than 7 per cent. to the Colours. But whether that figure is exceeded or not, the power which His Majesty's Government take under this Bill of applying compulsory service to these older men will be valuable inasmuch as it places in their power the reorganisation of occupation which will enable younger men to be released for military service.
Whilst I had the honour of a connection with the Central Tribunal I was deeply 716 impressed with the necessity of promoting the policy of substitution, which at that time was talked about a great deal. I am bound to say that we found the greatest difficulty in persuading the Government Departments who had to do with that subject of the necessity of helping us. A great deal more might have been done, and, I believe, might now be done, by the method of substitution in order to get recruits without disorganising industry; and I earnestly hope that the Government will apply their attention to that particular point.
For the rest, I desire to give a wholehearted support to this Bill; and I believe I am speaking not for myself alone but in the name of the whole of your Lordships when I say that we desire to support this Bill. I do not mean to say that I think that, in this matter of providing for the Army, the conduct of the Government has been above criticism. I am afraid I am far from thinking that. But this is not the time for recrimination. Perhaps on a future occasion this might be more in place; and, indeed, I really think that, but for one subject, I should have nothing more to say to your Lordships on the present occasion.
But I must say a word about Ireland. I am of opinion that the Government are perfectly right to include Ireland in the Bill. As a matter of fact, I had the honour of urging that course upon the Government many months ago. I do not think it would have been possible to have come before the people of this country—of England and of Scotland—and proposed a Bill of this drastic character unless it had been accompanied by clauses applying compulsory military service to Ireland. The people of this country would have said, and rightly said, that it was intolerable that they should be called upon to send their sons, their brothers, their husbands, and go themselves to fight, and that all these lusty young Irishmen should escape.
I have a word more to say upon Ireland. The noble Viscount in his speech referred to a mysterious connection which exists between the subject of this Bill and the subject of self-government in Ireland. There is a mysterious connection; but evidently the noble Viscount had not fathomed what it is. There is an atmosphere of mystery about this connection which I do not think is very edifying. It may be vacillation; I will not believe 717 that it is humbug. But let us understand clearly what it is. I am not going to trouble your Lordships by repeating observations of my own which I have ventured to inflict upon the public by means of a public letter, but since that letter was written there have been declarations in the other House which make it necessary for me to say something. The Government seem to have been labouring in the House of Commons under some kind of apprehension—I do not mean concern for our position at the Front; in that, no doubt, all of us would warmly sympathise with them—but apprehensions of what effect compulsory service without Home Rule might have in other quarters. There were vague hints at the opinion of Labour if conscription were passed without Home Rule; and there were vague hints also of the opinion of America. Now, what are these apprehensions? To what do they amount? I do not pretend to be as well informed on this matter as His Majesty's Government, but my belief is that in many parts of England Labour is profoundly estranged from Ireland and from the views of Nationalist Ireland.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I doubt whether Labour is much concerned to defend Irish aspirations for self-government, having regard to the attitude of Ireland towards the war. And as to America— as I say, I do not pretend to know the secrets of the Foreign Office, but I know something—I am hound to say that what I know does not bear out the views suggested by the Prime Minister in the other House. At some time or other, if and when a Home Rule Bill reaches your Lordships' House, we shall expect to be informed more fully as to these matters, either publicly or in a Secret Session. At any rate, let us not profoundly alter the Constitution of this country under some misapprehension as to what other people think, either in America or here.
I will add one other word as regards Ulster. Let us have the most careful regard to the opinion of Ulster; we are bound to do so on grounds of honour. I would say to my noble friends. Unionists, who sit upon the Treasury Bench, Do not forget your honourable obligations in that matter; and I would say to the whole of your Lordships that, on every ground, it is more important that we should keep Ulster 718 with us than the whole of the rest of Ireland. For these reasons, though I welcome this Bill, and as far as I am concerned earnestly hope it may pass rapidly into law, I would respectfully retain complete liberty of action as to what I should wish to do and when the Home Rule Bill reaches us from another place.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
My Lords, I am quite certain that the whole House will have appreciated the manner in which the noble Viscount opposite has asked your Lordships to read this Bill a second time. He displayed the same excellent clearness and economy of statement and the same persuasiveness of argument to which we have already become well used when he has been placed in charge of an important measure. The noble Viscount and His Majesty's Government are at this moment, as regards all the details as well as the principle of this Bill, in possession of an advantage which is a depressing one in itself and one which I am sure nobody is likely to envy them. Like all the rest of your Lordships, they, of course, must be profoundly impressed by the necessities of the existing situation, and in view of it we should all of us, I am certain, be unwilling to say or do anything which can hamper them in the work they carry on, because indeed one hardly likes to think of the burden of anxiety which rests upon the shoulders of the members of the Cabinet who are now specially responsible for the conduct of affairs. We all greatly regret the absence of the noble Earl who leads the House, and its cause, and I sincerely hope that before this Bill is through the House it may be possible for its Leader to be in his place here.
I do not think it is possible to question the general necessity for a measure of this kind in the face of what is known of the needs of the Army and the demands made upon man-power. I merely desire to make one or two general observations, and to follow them by observations on one particular clause in the Bi 1. Speaking generally, the raising of the age to fifty-one, which appears to be in itself a strong measure, as against the military age in France, of forty-eight and. in Italy of forty-five, is not I am sure likely to meet opposition in your Lordships' House. In the abstract there would be much to say for not naming any age-limit at all, but for obliging every man who is physically fit to serve in some capacity. There are 719 exceptional men—like my old friend the late Captain Selous, for instance—who carry past middle life an activity of body as well as of mind which is not the privilege of the many. There are men engaged in out-door occupations in England. past fifty and verging on sixty years of age who to all appearance are capable of the most strenuous and continued physical exertion; therefore there would be much to say for not naming an age-limit at all, but for the dominating fact that the condition of uncertainty which would thereby be created, applicable to men engaged in farming and other businesses, might be regarded as almost intolerable. Therefore it is no doubt wiser to fix an age representing an average maximum, as has been done in the Bill. I am glad also that, in order to increase that feeling of certainty, it is only possible to raise the age up to fifty-six with the consent of Parliament, and not, as was at first proposed, by the mere issue of a Government Order.
There is, however, one matter in which I hope that the noble Viscount and His Majesty's Government will take this age question into consideration. It is a point which is likely to be mentioned by other noble Lords, though I should like to say a few words upon it. It is with regard to the Volunteer Force. The Volunteer Force in many of its most valuable elements is composed of men who will fall within the new rule. If the officers and. non-commissioned officers of that Force are in any numbers taken for general military service you might as well abolish the Volunteers altogether. I trust, therefore, that it is a point which will be carefully borne in mind to see how far it is possible to take capable men from the Volunteers— efficient and instructed men— for military purposes without irretrievably damaging that force, the value of which is generally admitted by high military authorities.
In particular, I might call attention to one sentence which fell from the noble Viscount. When he spoke of the 7 per cent. as likely to be available for actual military service—that is to say, in the fighting line—he mentioned that there might be many others who would be available for Army purposes both at home and abroad. So far as the question of service abroad is concerned by such men who cannot be actually placed in the front line, I hope that the necessity of keeping at home enough fit men for the Volunteers will especially be borne in mind. I think that the con- 720 cessions which were made in another place—the statement, for instance, that it would be the youngest men falling within the new rule who would be medically examined first, also that the special needs of small businesses would be carefully borne in mind;and I feel certain also, though I am not sure whether the noble Viscount mentioned it, that the interest of agricultural production will not be forgotten—all those concessions are to the good. To the good also are the various safeguards of Parliamentary sanction which, in the course of the progress of the Bill, have been inserted, as the noble Viscount told us when speaking of Clause 7 of the Bill.
It may be asked how it is, in this time of crisis when the need is admitted, that there should be so many questions and. so many expressions of doubt as we have seen both in Parliament and in the Press since this Bill was first printed. We are told that in this matter we have to trust the Government and rely on the sensible administration of the Bill and the wise use of these powers. It cannot be denied that there have been some rather bitter experiences in the past in this connection. With the experiences of the past in their mind the people ask, "Can we be confident that the selection that is made from this large block of men of a greater age will be the most reasonable selection? Can we rely upon the particular exemptions that are granted being the most reasonable exemptions from the national point of view? Is there a danger that, in order to swell the numbers of those who can be described as forming part of the Army, unfit men will be passed, and, at any rate for a time, nominally become soldiers?" These are questions which the public asks, and in view of what happened in the earlier stages of the war, I do not think His Majesty's Government can altogether be surprised at or resent these questions. In the second place it is asked, "Will there be a guarantee that the right use will be made of the special skill or the particular experience of an individual when he is called up and actually joins the Army? "As I say, there has been some melancholy experience in the past on all these points, and it is really useless to say that only individual instances can be named of failures of this kind. We know very well that all failures and scandals are composed and made up of individual instances. The German atrocities, which make our blood run cold, represent a series of individual instances of brutality. The 721 whole question is, What is the total number and what is the proportion of unfortunate or mismanaged cases to the total figure of those who are called up? Therefore, I am certain that His Majesty's Government were wise, in the course of the progress of the Bill in another place, to secure a regular system of appeals rather than follow the course which evidently was first in their minds— that of the practical abolition of appeals altogether, except to a central Tribunal.
On this question of certainty, I cannot help feeling that Clause 3 of the Bill, which gives the Government power to abolish practically all exemptions in view of a national emergency, may cause rather more uneasiness and sense of instability than the power itself is worth. It is quite clear that if Parliament is sitting and such an emergency arises the power will not be necessary. In any case, I do not follow the argument of the noble Viscount when he spoke of a Proclamation as being of a more solemn character than an Order in Council. As a former President of the Council I must be allowed to say that the act of the King in Council appears to me as formal and as solemn as any public act can possibly be. We sitting here may have no fear that this particular power is likely to be abused, but I think it is unfortunate if it does create any feeling of uncertainty or instability such as that which I have indicated may possibly occur.
The only other matter on which I wish to speak is that of Clause 2 and the application of the Bill to Ireland, on which the noble Marquess who spoke last and who has had to leave the House, dwelt during the greater part of his remarks. I may say at once, my Lords, that I have no sympathy whatever with those Irishmen who take the view that it is possible for Ireland, or a large part of the population of Ireland, to refrain from taking its proper place in the Empire in the prosecution of this eminently just war. All the best Irish opinion, as we know, has rallied to the cause on the right side. Ireland is no doubt properly described as a nation. I have for the greater part of my life been in full sympathy with the Nationalist aspirations, but I cannot dispute what I think was said by the Prime Minister in another place yesterday, that Ireland is a nation precisely in the same sense that Scotland and Wales are nations, and neither more nor less. I should expect any noble 722 Lord from Scotland or from Wales in this House to hold that view.
Further, I do not altogether differ from the noble Marquess who spoke last in saying that if a large proportion of the young men of Ireland stand aloof from service during the war I greatly dread a permanent embitterment of the relations, not between the Government and Ireland, but between the peoples—or the democracies, if you prefer the phrase—of Great Britain and of Ireland itself. That I believe to be a genuine danger. At the same time I cannot forget that at the earlier stages of the war the relations between Ireland and the Army were grossly and woefully mismanaged. That, I think, is beyond all dispute. Neither can I forget that the aspirations of Ireland for self-government, which sire noble Marquess regarded as altogether disconnected from this question, although I confess I do not see how it is possible to separate them, have been deferred, not entirely through the fault of Parliament or through the fault of England and Scotland, but as a matter of fact they have been deferred for many years after it was believed they were going to fructify.
The noble Marquess said just now that under any system of Home Rule questions of war and national defence must be left to the Imperial Parliament, and could not, therefore, form part not merely of the duties but of the interests of an Irish Legislature. Technically that may be quite true. Yet it is the fact that when we were considering the reservation of defence questions to the Imperial Parliament, such a question as the conscription of men from eighteen up to fifty-one years never crossed the minds of those who were engaged in framing, or even of those who were engaged in criticising, the Bill. I do not believe if the Home Rule Act had been m operation it would have been practically possible to pass a conscription law for Ireland without the general concurrence of an Irish Legislature sitting in Dublin.
That brings me to the main point of objection which I have to enforce from such knowledge of Ireland as I possess, although it is now, I am sorry to say, getting to be of rather old standing. The Bill says nothing whatever about the manner in which its application is to be extended to Ireland. Not a hint is given as to the Courts or Tribunals by which exemptions are to be considered. If you attempt to set up in Ireland Tribunals of at, all the 723 same character as those which exist in England, it is obvious that exemptions will be granted with a freedom which would be likely in many parts of Ireland to render your Act absolutely nugatory. On the other hand, if you proceed to what would, in fact, be the principle of the Press gang—a Tribunal nominated without popular element, sitting and examining no doubt with an intention to do justice, but examining particular cases with no special sympathy and perhaps without a close regard to local conditions—the process would have to be in fact a forcible one. The Tribunals would have to assume a military character, and it might even be necessary that a machine-gun should form part of their equipment. I confess that I am entirely at a loss to understand by what means His Majesty's Government hope now, if they intend to proceed at all quickly, to carry out the actual, practical work of deciding what exemptions are to be granted, and who is to be forced to serve.
In my judgment the wiser course would have been for the Government at this stage to have left Ireland out of the Bill altogether. They should first have taken the course which as I understand from the debate yesterday in another place they now propose to take—of bringing in a Home Rule measure, agreed as nearly as possible on the general lines of the Convention's recommendations, and passing it into law as fast as they could. They might, I think, have combined that introduction with a strong appeal to the Irish Members of Parliament and to any public opinion they are able to influence in Ireland to proceed as quickly as possible to collect as many men as could be got to the Colours by voluntary means. It may be said that the greater part of these young men are Sinn Feiners, Republicans, and opposed to the British connection, and therefore to the British Army. As I say, my experience is old, but I think I have told the House before that when I was Viceroy of Ireland it was estimated by the Police that there were 60,000 men at that time in Ireland—twenty-five years ago—who had taken the Fenian oath. That was a time when Ireland was comparatively quiet. There was some agrarian crime but not a great deal, and there were no extended riots. It was the Police computation that of those 60,000 people who had taken the oath there were not more than about 2,000 who could be regarded as Fenians at all, or 724 Wren who would be described in any way as dangerous;and I venture to think that among those who are declared Sinn Feiners it would he found there are many grades and degrees of opinion, some of it not dangerous, perhaps in certain cases more fanciful and romantic than violent—a kind of opinion which could be roused in the right direction by being approached in the proper spirit and in a reasonable way. At any rate, I would have made that trial. His Majesty's Government, I think. would have done better if, instead of including in the first instance this provision in their Bill and coming to Parliament to announce that they desire to carry a Home Rule Bill pari passu, not with this Bill but with its operation, they had somewhat reversed the process, and had first spoken of their Home Rule measure, and in the last resort, if necessary, had had reference to compulsion. We all know that Ireland is apt to baffle the prophesies even of those who know her much better than I claim to do, but I cannot regard this prospect without grave misgivings, although I admit that from my point of view those misgivings were greatly mitigated by the later course of the debate in another place. It is very difficult to believe that the action of His Majesty's Government has been the fruit of clear and united counsels on this matter. It wears the appearance of an attempt to combine incompatible policies, and for that reason it cannot be supposed to be altogether coherent.
I have in this particular matter, I fear, adopted a somewhat critical tone, but I desire to say that not for a moment should I dream of offering any opposition to what His Majesty's Government believe, on information infinitely wider and deeper than any of us can possess, to be required for the needs of the Army at present. We know that our troops are greatly outnumbered on the Western Front, certainly on those parts of it at which the hardest fighting is taking place. They are contesting as heroes every inch of ground against those overwhelming odds. Let it not be said that any man here—and I certainly would not be that man—has attempted to keep back a single man from standing at the side of those who are maintaining the honour of England in such terrible circumstances as these. But I would venture to plead with His Majesty's Government for the exercise of a very sober judgment in regard to the application of the Act, when it is an Act, to Ireland, and also to 725 plead fur an exceedingly close supervision of the operations of the earlier clauses of the Bill at home, lest it should happen that by the excessive zeal of some subordinates an industry vital to us in the present crisis is hampered, and that the present satisfaction of adding a large number of men to the ranks of the Army may only be enjoyed at the cost of something like a disaster in the future.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
My Lords, I rise to say a few words upon a subject different from that which has been handled by the two noble Marquesses who have just spoken from the Opposition Bench, but a subject which was alluded to first by the noble Viscount in the points which he raised as to the changes made by the Bill, and one upon which something, I think, ought to be said at the earliest possible moment. I allude to the position of the clergy under the Bill as it now stands. It is a point upon which misunderstanding may quite possibly arise—I think I should say has already arisen—and real injustice may be done. Words were spoken yesterday in the House of Commons which showed that there is a widely felt, or at all events a keen, misapprehension upon the position, which I desire to make as clear as I can in a few words.
May I quite briefly remind your Lordships of what has happened in regard to the matter. In the original Military Service Act of 1916 it was provided— and the clause reappears in the Schedule to the present Bill— that men in Holy Orders or ministers of any religious denomination were to be specifically excepted from the provisions of the Bill. I want to make it clear again—I have done it before— that such exemption was not inserted in the Bill at our request. The Bishops and clergy of the Church of England asked for no such exemption or exception; it was placed in the Bill without our even knowing that it was to be there, but, as I pointed out at the time, the provision betokened, as it seemed to me, what was then at any rate a wise opinion upon the nation's part.
Before speaking on the subject in this House at that time I took care to consult those who could advise best in a matter of that kind in the highest military quarters, including especially Lord Kitchener, and I was emphatically assured by him of agreement in the view that I entertained and 726 expressed that the provision in the Bill, though we had not asked for it, was on the nation's part a wise one as things then stood. I tried to point out at that time why it seemed to me to be wise. It was important in the first place for provision to be made in every way, direct and indirect, for maintaining the true spirit of the nation beyond and quite apart from actual fighting and work of a definite military sort. Then there was the anxiety of the men who went out to fight as to the care, the guardianship, and the guidance of those whom they were leaving in England without the help which they personally had been able to give them, and beyond that the intense and continuous need and stress of work which must arise in England in time of war— a time of fear of famine, a time of distress and bereavement, a time when things always great are ten times greater, and when the clergy have their work redoubled. And then it had to be remembered that it was not merely that some men were left at home who could do that work, but that the clergy and ministers of religion were the men, and perhaps the only men, to whom such work could be rightly entrusted, and who were qualified to do it in the best way. Therefore I believed it to be right at that time that the great mass of our clergy should continue to work in their proper calling, either with the troops or in civilian work in their parishes. That has gone on during these three years of war.
But a great number of clergy—people often forget how great—has been required for the direct work with the troops them selves. Of our fit men a great proportion have gone as chaplains. I think I am right in saying that in the Army, leaving the Navy alone, 2,552 men have served as chaplains to the Forces abroad. They have served in all conditions of difficulty and danger. Some sixty have fallen in battle or died of wounds immediately; more than 100 have been seriously wounded, and while the testimony to their value and their devotion is continuous and comes to me in a constant stream, both from authorities at the Front and authorities at home, public recognition hats been given to the valour of not a few— more, I think, than 200— who have received decoration or recognition of some specific kind.
But that is by no means all, as regards the Army itself. A huge number— it is impossible to say how many, because there 727 are no statistics to show—but a huge number of the remainder have been ceaselessly at work, to an extent very inadequately realised, in the huts and camps at home, a very wide field calling for hard work and energy; in the hospitals, great and small, up and down the country which are not ministered to in many cases, of course, by those who hold commissions as chaplains; in the homes of the people in hours of stress and mourning and bereavement and trial; and, not least, in London itself, and, as I know well, in the towns on our South-Eastern coasts in the hours of danger and difficulty from raids and the rest. What would have happened had the clergy not been there in some of the parishes in hours like these I do not like to contemplate. New requirements of that kind are constantly arising, and the whole indirect administrative work in connection with the war is constantly bringing up new kinds of openings, new kinds of needs, which the clergy and ministers of religion perhaps alone can adequately fill; and they are rising to the occasion and doing their best.
And it is not unimportant that the arrangement thus made—namely, that the work, however dangerous, at the Front and elsewhere, should be mainly non-combatant work—does correspond with the practically continuous traditions, rules, and standards which have from the very earliest ages drawn a distinction between the work of clergy and of laymen as regards fighting. I think this is one of those matters upon which there will always be differences of opinion as to the extent to which such rules should be operative to-day, but the fact that that has been a continuous tradition is one which I should be the last to overlook. And when National Service was inaugurated a couple of years ago under Mr. Chamberlain, with an endeavour which has not, perhaps, met with all the results that were anticipated, practically all the clergy asked to be enrolled for what they might do. This is the history of the matter up to a very recent time. I regard it, and I am sure all your Lordships agree with me, as simply impossible to exaggerate the strength of our feeling that the splendid devotion of our soldiers not merely evokes our admiration but lays a direct responsibility upon us at home. Great as its effect is upon the enemy, its effect upon ourselves is, in my judgment, resistless. We, too, must be at our best. These men 728 are doing everything for us. We mean to do everything for them.
Now came the change. A few weeks ago a new emergency arose. The Prime Minister announced briefly that he was shortly going to make a new call upon the nation for its man-power in view of I the terribly grave exigencies which had arisen and the intense importance of our sparing no ounce of strength, keeping back no single bit of manhood, which could be of service at so great and emergent an hour. Circumstances changed from what they had been. The call took a new and more vibrant sound, and we all felt that it concerned not those who were fighting only but ourselves who were at home. In those circumstances, before the Prime Minister made his speech in the House of Commons I took upon myself to write a letter to him with regard to the particular point that I am dwelling upon. I was obliged to write on my own responsibility; the matter was sudden, and it was impossible to take counsel with my brother Bishops or others. The letter is short, and perhaps I may be allowed to read it. I wrote to him—My dear Prime Minister,In confronting your task of summoning the manhood of England even more urgently than before to rally to the conflict on behalf of righteousness and freedom, you may possibly be uncertain as to how your appeal will be met.I should like, so far as I am entitled to do so without formal consultation, to reassure you with regard at least to one section of the people. We clergy, in face of an emergency so great, are ready, I firmly believe, to answer with wholehearted loyalty to any new call that the nation through its responsible spokesmen makes upon us. The hour is too grave for any reply but one, and the very sacredness of our distinctive trust deepens our sense of responsibility for seeing that no detriment or lack accrue by any default on our part or on the part of those whom we can influence.I wrote that letter to the Prime Minister a few days before he spoke in the House of Commons. It was not an official or a formal letter, but my personal view as, so to speak, an informal mouthpiece of what I believed, and believe, to be the view of the great mass of clergy at a very grave hour in our history.
Then came the Prime Minister's speech on the matter, and the speech of the noble Earl the Leader of the House, whose absence we regret to-day, and the Bill was produced. In the Bill there was no exemption for the clergy as such, as there had been in former Bills, and this subsection had taken the place of that exemption— 729Where any person who under this section is deemed to have been enlisted and transferred to the Reserve is a man in Holy Orders or a regular minister of any religious denomination he shall not on being called up for service with the Colours be required, except with his consent, to perform combatant service.That seemed to me to be exactly right. As matters have gone that clause is now withdrawn, and once more the exemption of the clergy reappears in the Schedule of the Bill. I am not asking that the matter should be changed. The responsibility rests with His Majesty's Government for what they deem to be right.
It is not for me to say why the change was made. The noble Viscount (Lord Peel), in his exceedingly lucid exposition of the Bill, stated that it was due merely to the fact that the numbers who would be available in any circumstances from the ranks of the clergy and ministers would at best be small. I agree that it would be far smaller than people suppose, because most of them are serving now in some way or other with the troops, or are older men, or men in weak health, or men who have such enormously important work to do that it would be, by the consent of everybody, practically impossible to take them away. But there would have been a considerable number still remaining. However, it has been said that this number would have been an inadequate one. It is not for me to say what reasons may have induced the Government to come to the conclusion at which they have arrived. But I wish to make one thing clear—namely, that it was in no sense at our request.
It has been said more than once in the House of Commons and elsewhere that there was some kind of private conspiracy or something to that effect—I have forgotten the exact word— behind the scenes on the part of the clergy. Exactly the opposite is the case. Nothing could be less true; and I desire to say so in the most emphatic way possible to-day. The great body of the clergy, so far as I can judge, welcomed the change in legislation which was to enlist them along with others at such a grave hour, and the eager desire on the part of the younger men which they had felt all through and which has been loyally suppressed and kept in hand while they were devoting themselves to less romantic but to hardly less essential work, perhaps, at home, found new expression in the gladness with which they welcomed the idea that they were to serve. The change has been made, however; and the letters which came to me yesterday 730 and to-day convey with almost one voice dismay and disappointment at finding that what they had looked for is not now standing in the Bill. I do not mean that official communications have been made to me to that effect; that is not the way the thing has happened, or what has now taken place; but widespread and weighty expressions of opinion have reached me from Wren in touch with great bodies of the clergy to say that this is their feeling in the matter. Therefore whatever happens, let no man say hereafter that the clergy of the Church of England have asked for exemption at this hour. It is not so; and I wish to make that perfectly clear. In my judgment, the very contrary is the case. One thing has not been adequately reeognised— namely, the extreme difficulty which must have arisen in regulating the management of the new rules which have had to be put in force. Many more questions would have arisen, indeed have arisen, than are commonly realised; but we were ready to grapple with these difficulties in the hope of overcoming them.
Now that exemption has again been inserted, our duty becomes a different one. In my judgment it is now our duty to see what we can do voluntarily under conditions so different— and this is the real point— from those of 1915– 1916 as to justify a different attitude on our part from that which we took up that time. I am prepared, and those who work with me are prepared, to consider forthwith how we can best deal with the matter from a voluntary point of view under the conditions in which this Bill leaves us. I am arranging that the Bishops shall meet me in order to consider the steps that can be taken immediately in order to secure that there shall be adequate and prompt opportunity for the clergy to make the response which they are eager to make. We are bound as our primary duty to safeguard the supply of the really indispensable religious ministrations in town and country, not only in church but in other ways as well. But, subject to that most important consideration, the clergy are ready to place themselves whole-heartedly at the service of the nation and of the great and sacred cause which the nation at this tremendous moment— so different from the position which was ours a little while ago— has taken in hand to deal with. I was anxious to make those points clear to your Lordships as matters of vital importance to the clergy and to the country at large.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, I find it very difficult to abstain from saving a few words with regard to this extremely important Bill. At the same time I agree with my noble friend Lord Salisbury, who told us not very long ago that in his view this was no time for the kind of criticism which this House is apt to bestow upon measures of a highly controversial character. At this moment surely our duty as patriotic citizens is to do all that we can to help in the prosecution of this war, to do all that we can to give encouragement to the gallant Armies that are fighting for us, and to assist His Majesty's Government so far as we can in maintaining those Armies in a proper state of strength and efficiency.
I feel this so strongly that I am prepared to throw on one side many old preconceived notions and prejudices. I am ready to admit that to-day these questions may be dealt with without any great regard for consistency, or even for the terms of pledges and promises which have been given in very different and less serious circumstances. I am even ready to look leniently upon the great invasion of our Parliamentary privileges which will be involved if this Bill is to be forced through in two sittings. It is a serious invasion; and one cannot help contrasting the drastic proposals and the precipitate methods which are now being adopted with the Hutch more cautious and deliberate steps which we took when the question of military service was dealt with in 1916 and 1917.
I shall say very little as to the proposal which stands out conspicuously on the face of this Bill to raise the limit of age. We have to get these then, and we must take whatever steps are necessary in order to get them. But I am bound to say for myself that I should have been glad if His Majesty's Government had been able to content themselves with a limit rather lower than that which they have inserted in the Bill. We should have no illusion upon this point, that this increased liability which you are putting upon the older men does mean a tremendous strain upon the patience of the civil population of the country. I am not thinking, when I say this, of the personal hardship which will be occasioned to individuals by this new liability. I am thinking much more of the injury which will be done to the industries concerned. I notice that the Minister of National Service, speaking a few nights 732 ago, not in Parliament but outside, said that he knew quite well that this Bill spelt death or disaster to some industries, and I think the Minister is right, for there are many industries and many businesses which will not stand much more plundering than they have already been subjected to. I do not think one can rate too highly the importance in many cases of retaining these veterans of industry in their present employment. One constantly comes across business enterprises, big and little, which are being run by what you might call a scratch team, and it is the small nucleus of older, competent men to whom it is due that the scratch team works as well as it does. I am afraid that in many cases this Bill may prove to be the last straw, particularly in those smaller businesses of which people speak as one-man businesses; and, of course the feeling will be stronger when it is seen, as I am afraid it may sometimes be seen, that these older men are taken away, not to serve in the fighting ranks, but to be transferred to other occupations of a quite different kind, which may in the eyes of some of the spectators seem to be of comparatively trivial importance.
There is another reason that makes me entertain this feeling, and it is this. I do not think there can be any doubt that these older men are as a rule rather a bad bargain for the Army. The evidence given by Sir Donald Maclean the other day in another place was emphatic upon this point. He stated that men between the ages of thirty-nine and forty-one, if brought back to the Army, almost invariably found their place in Class 3, a class of which we all know there are already quite enough available and for which more men are not wanted.
I will only say one other word as to this. I do most earnestly hope that in dealing with these older men the medical examinations will be conducted with the closest and utmost care. We have suffered immensely in the past from the careless, perfunctory examination of recruits, and I should be sorry to hazard a guess at the utterly useless expenditure to which the country has been put by the admission of men who ought never to have been admitted, who have broken down in the course of a few months or a few weeks, and who remain a charge upon the public. It was stated the other day—I can scarcely believe that the report was a correct one— but language is attributed to the Minister 733 of National Service which goes to show that in his view these medical examinations ought to be put through at express speed, and, as I read the passage, he looks forward to something like 35,000 medical examinations in the course of a day being possible. The figure is so extraordinary that I cannot help hoping it may prove to be an erroneous one. What is to be remembered is that in proportion as these men can ill be spared from civil life, and in proportion as they are more likely to be unsound than the younger men, in that proportion they will require more and not less careful medical examination.
Another outstanding feature of the Bill is the clause in which the Tribunals are dealt with. I am quite prepared to admit that some change in this direction is called for. At the same time I do not think we can be sufficiently grateful to the old Tribunals for the way in which they carried out a very arduous and thankless task. They may have blundered—I dare say they did— but I have always believed that the existence of these Tribunals, recruited as they were from all sorts of different classes, did more than anything else to reconcile the people of this country to the new liability which was being imposed upon them.
Now, my Lords, I want to say half a dozen words about a question which has been touched upon by one or two of the previous speakers—I mean Clause 2 of this Bill, under which it is proposed to extend compulsion to Ireland. My own feeling, which I must frankly admit, is that it appears to me of doubtful wisdom to extend compulsory service to that country, and that it seems to me of still more doubtful wisdom to do what has been done in connecting the question of compulsion in Ireland with the question of the production or the passage into law of a Bill giving Home Rule to that country. The proposal to apply compulsion to Ireland came before former Governments on several occasions. It was always rejected. I always opposed it, and I opposed it not because I had any sympathy with those people in Ireland who were refusing to accept a liability which had been accepted by their fellow-citizens in other parts of the United Kingdom, but because I came to the conclusion that, on the balance, the experiment was not worth making. I mean that the results seemed so uncertain and the difficulty of applying compulsion so great as to render it an unpromising experiment and one 734 which it did not seem to me desirable to undertake.
I admit that the need for men is much greater now than it was two years ago. On the other hand, I do not think the difficulties of applying compulsion in Ireland have diminished. I am inclined to think they are greater than they ever were. His Majesty's Government must be under no illusions as to this. They are going to ride at a very stiff fence indeed. In Ireland you have no Register. You have no Tribunals. I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that you have no materials out of which to constitute Tribunals, and there is not the same possibility that then was in this country of free and confidential consultation between the Government and organised labour and other people who were worth consulting in regard to such a question. In Ireland, I am afraid, you will find that every one's hand is against you. In this country I do not think it would be wrong to say that every one's hand was for you, and that every one wished the experiment to succeed. I see that the leader of the Nationalist Party has announced that by taking this action His Majesty's Government have opened a new war front in Ireland. That is a pretty strong thing for a political leader to announce, and the Prime Minister himself admits with the utmost frankness that he knows that his Government are in for trouble in Ireland.
Well, my Lords, I would face the trouble gladly, I would run the, risk, if I felt quite sure that we were going to get the men. It is upon that point that I have always had grave doubts, and I will tell the House why. As to the figure which His Majesty's Ministers apparently have in their minds, they talk of the possibility of getting something like 400,000 recruits from Ireland. I see that the Secretary of State for War (the Earl of Derby) shakes his head. If he will look at the speech made by his colleague the Leader of the House of Commons, I think he will find that that figure was mentioned, but I am sure that is a very generous estimate. The reasons that make me anticipate that the results will be disappointing are these. I think it will be found when you get to close quarters with recruiting in Ireland that a very large number of young men will plead, and will be able to plead successfully, for exemption on the ground that it is impossible to take them away from the land. A great part of Ireland, as the House knows, is a country 735 of small occupying owners. As a rule you will find the father, who is perhaps an old man, with an able-bodied son who is essential for the work of the farm, and I think you will find that a great many of these younger men will be successful in making out a plea for exemption. But, my Lords, I am afraid I must add that in the remoter parts of Ireland it is extremely doubtful whether, when you summon men, they will obey your summons. I think that you will have to go and fetch them, and I believe that in a great many cases you will not find them when you come to look for them. Therefore, I think the credit side of the account is not nearly as favourable as I believe His Majesty's Government suppose it to be.
What I regret very much in connection with this part of the Bill is the manner in which the question of compulsory service in Ireland has been connected with that of the grant of Home Rule. The noble Viscount who moved the Second Reading told us that the question of Home Rule does not arise out of the Bill, and he is quite right in a sense. There is no strict connection, and it is true to say that in any case the question of military service would be one which would have to be dealt with not by any Parliament which might be set up in Ireland but by the Imperial Parliament. None the less it is perfectly true that both in the minds of the people of Ireland, and, I think, in the minds of His Majesty's Government, there is a very close and intimate connection between the two matters.
Lord Salisbury said there was what he called a "mysterious connection" between the two. I do not think there is any mystery at all about it. I think the explanation of the matter is this. His Majesty's Government found that it was impossible for them to go into the country here and ask the older men to submit to military service while Ireland was full of younger men who had up to the present successfully eluded the liability. I quite share the feeling of Ministers on that point. The Government found that they could not get the older men in England without conscription in Ireland; therefore they settled that they would have conscription in Ireland. Then it was put to them that they could not get conscription there unless they gave Home Rule to Ireland, and accordingly we find them pledged to produce at short notice a Home Rule Bill and to pass it into law at 736 once. This position was doubtful for a time, but the discussions which have recently taken place elsewhere make it, think, perfectly plain that His Majesty's Government are now committed to bring forward and force through Parliament a measure of Home Rule. The Chief Secretary for Ireland announced that such a Bill would be brought forward without delay. He was good enough to intimate that it might not improbably be brought forward in your Lordships' House. Last night the Prime Minister confirmed this, and intimated that His Majesty's Government would resign unless the Home Rule measure thus produced was passed by your Lordships' House.
My Lords, I think that this discloses a very serious situation. According to the Prime Minister, Ministers desire that their consciences with regard to Ireland should be clear. My conscience is perfectly clear with regard to Ireland. We have offered them Home Rule. We consented to the appointment of a Convention, and we promised that if they could agree to something which suited them that something would be placed at their disposal. They have failed to agree. The fault is certainly not ours, and I cannot see why there should be any conscientious misgivings. In the same way— and I think this was touched upon by Lord Salisbury— we are told that in order to satisfy public opinion in America we ought to grant a measure of Home Rule to Ireland. I have a much more favourable opinion of the views that are held by instructed and reasonable Americans upon this subject. I believe that they are perfectly aware that we have done all in our power to render it possible for the people of Ireland to obtain the measure of Home Rule which they desire, and I do not think they will for a moment judge us hardly because, in the middle of a war and after what has taken place in the Irish Convention, we see some objection to being asked to rush a Home Rule Bill through both Houses of Parliament without proper examination. I venture to think that the endeavour to connect these two questions is really one which ought not to have been made.
I quite agree as to the immense importance of obtaining a settlement of the Irish question, and the importance of doing what we can to content public opinion in Ireland. But I ask myself whether, out of the materials which Sir Horace Plunkett's 737 Convention has supplied, any one believes that you can in the course of a few weeks build up a measure which will stand criticism and give the kind of permanence and contentment which we should all of us like to obtain. I shall not say a word in derogation of the admirable work done by that Convention, but I think most of us who have had the Blue Book in our hands will realise that it is a kind of document which will require close study and careful examination before any one can venture to found upon it a proposal for dealing in a summary and precipitate way with this great Irish question.
If I may sum up what I have tried to say, I should like to do it by explaining that in my view it would probably have been better not to apply the compulsory powers of this Bill to Ireland at this moment at all. I should like to add that I should be entirely in favour of exploring the great mass of material collected by the Plunkett Convention and endeavouring to find in it materials for an acceptable measure of Home Rule. I think that if we had agreed to leave Ireland out of this Bill we should probably not have lost much so far as the number of men we are likely to get by resort to compulsion in Ireland is concerned, and I think it would have been immensely valuable to the country if we had been given ample time to consider— and I certainly should have considered them in the most friendly spirit and with every desire to find a solution— the recommendations made by the Plunkett Convention. As it is, I am afraid you are going to get on the credit side of the account a very doubtful asset so far as Irish recruiting is concerned, and that His Majesty's Government are going to commit themselves, and they try to commit us, to a hurried and ill-considered treatment of the Irish question. I am much afraid that they may find they have done what is probably the most dangerous thing of all, and that is to involve themselves in a kind of dubious understanding as to this matter— an understanding differently interpreted by those who are concerned, and out of which an immense amount of trouble and disappointment may hereafter arise.
Altogether, my Lords, it seems to the are asked to embark on a very perilous task indeed. These are my views, but nobody will be better pleased than I shall be if they prove to be wholly mistaken. Having expressed them I certainly am not 738 going to oppose this Bill, to attempt to delay it, or even to amend it. On the contrary I wish it success, and I shall be glad to see it pass into law. As for Ireland, I shall await with the utmost interest the proposals which the Government may be good enough to make; and although I have been a life-long opponent of Home Rule, I shall welcome any well-considered measure which the people of that country and the people of this country, who are also concerned in the matter, are prepared to accept.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
My Lords, no one can fail to be impressed by the speech which fell from the noble Viscount in introducing this measure. Speaking for myself, I feel some regret that the machinery contained in this Bill was not introduced some months ago. I have a feeling that it was necessary that we should have a crisis before it was possible to induce the Government to act. While I should be the last to criticise the Government, or rather to criticise them unfairly, I feel that in a great many instances—I speak now of the Irish question— there is always a danger of the Government being susceptible to the clamour of the loudest section. We have in this country a War Cabinet, an institution which is without precedent. It has virtually autocratic power; not by arrogating those powers to itself told not by Statutory Commission. But these powers belong to the War Cabinet, and there is no sacrifice which they need ask of the people of this country to which they are not certain to obtain a willing and quick response.
The Government, in regard to this measure, have delayed to the very last possible minute. We know perfectly well that there has been a shortage of men. We have heard in the last few days of the reduction of battalions in a brigade, and the whole question which we are up against at this moment is the question of men. To any of us who have been in France this is a vital question. We know that one day's rest to a battalion which has been in the line means an increase in the efficiency of that battalion by anything up to 50 or 75 per cent. It cannot be said that the Government have not had warnings in this direction. They came into office because they were going to repair the deficiencies of their predecessors and furnish those requisities necessary to winning the war which seemed obvious and apparent 739 Yet when Germany is making her supreme and, we believe, final effort with all her resources developed to the fullest possible extent, we are here debating a measure which should have been. I do not say in operation, but the machinery of which should have been in existence some months ago.
It cannot be too often repeated that every citizen in this country has his or her part to play. This is an immense struggle between two schools of thought, and victory will mean that one school of thought will be established and the other school of thought submerged, perhaps for centuries to come. What do we see? We see Germany a great military organisation with all its resources fully developed, and against it a combination of democratic powers. The Government has not put before this country the real situation and the real demands which are to be made upon it. It is quite obvious that unless we are prepared to put forward every effort in our power we cannot hope to win the victory which at the moment we feel, if we go on as we should go on, is assured. The great warning came when the Russian collapse occurred, and it was at that moment that the sternest measures should have been taken. The present situation must have been clearly foreseen then. This great transfer of troops from East to West which we are combatting at the present moment must then have been a foregone conclusion.
It is because I cannot put absolute faith in the Government that they will carry out what they say they will do with regard to compulsory military service in Ireland that I venture to address your Lordships to-day. I regret the words which have just fallen from the noble Marquess. Nobody knows more than I do the great weight and authority with which he speaks. I regret the reasons which have been given by the Government for bringing forward compulsory military service for Ireland. It is a right which we in Ireland claim as equal citizens with you— a right that we should share your burdens in this great war. When the Government are urging the Dominions to do what they can to furnish more men, it is surely almost an absurd situation that Ireland, an integral portion of the United Kingdom, should be exempt from compulsory service. The opportunity has been missed on more than one occasion of putting compulsory service into opera- 740 tion in Ireland, and I trust that there will be no vacillating, and no going back from the policy now put forward.
I urge this on two grounds. First I speak as an Irishman with Irish traditions and with all my sympathies bound up in Ireland. I am jealous indeed of the good name and of the honour of Ireland. I feel that by the original omission of Ireland from the Compulsory Service Act a great injury was done to Ireland. The heart of Ireland is perfectly sound, and the reproach that it has not taken part in this great international struggle is a reproach which must be removed. It is your duty to remove it if you possibly can. Ireland has given much to the war in men and money, but she has not as yet taken her full share in it. I think that if we followed the noble Marquess's advice, and if for purposes of expediency-we were to leave Ireland out of this measure, we would put a stain upon Ireland which nothing would obliterate and we should merit the curses not only of this country but also of our Colonies.
There is another point which I venture to put before your Lordships. I submit that this is a trial of strength between His Majesty's Government and Sinn Fein. This is certainly not the occasion for arraigning the British policy towards Ireland during the last few years, but that policy has established Sinn Fein in Ireland. The recollections of Mr. Birrell's administration and the attitude of the present administration have established Sinn Fein. When the noble Marquess who spoke from the Front Bench referred to the Irish people as men who are easily led and who are impressionable, I recalled that the very fact that Sinn Fein has on more than one occasion flouted the British Government has caused individuals in Ireland to pass from their orderly and peaceful vocations to supporting a rebel policy with which most of them have really no sympathy, and which a great many of them do not understand. It is by the policy pursued in Ireland of allowing the law to be at a discount and of not supporting the authority of the law that you have induced the Irish people to follow the lead of Sinn Fein. I say to the Government that if on this occasion they are going to allow Sinn Fein to flout their proposals they will entrench Sinn Fein in Ireland for a generation to come.
I sincerely hope that this measure of compulsory service for Ireland will be put 741 into force on its merits. I have listened with great apprehension to the suggestion that this Bill is indissolubly bound up with the passing of a measure of Home Rule for Ireland. The suggestion was triode yesterday in the House of Commons that the Military Service Bill was contingent on the enactment of a Home Rule Bill in Ireland. The enactment of a Military Service Bill is one of justice and equity, and I hope that the Government will pursue it on those grounds. The enactment of a Home Rule Bill is a question of domestic politics, and we were led to believe at the beginning of the war that all these questions of domestic politics were to be left in abeyance, and that our whole attention and energies were to he concentrated on winning the war.
I think that there is a far greater body of loyal opinion in Ireland than your Lordships believe. While I sat for eight months upon the Convention endeavouring to co-operate with those who sat upon it, I recognised that they were all imbued with a great sense of loyalty to this country. I believe that this sense of loyalty is really in the hearts of the great majority in Ireland. I regret very much the speech which Mr. Dillon made yesterday. It amounted to the naked assertion that he was determined to do what he could to hamper the Empire in the prosecution of the war. If the Nationalist Party are so misguided as to take up this attitude in opposition to the Government in carrying out compulsory service in Ireland they will forfeit the respect of America and of the Colonies. In that connection I am bound to bring up the question of the Home Rule Bill. I need hardly say that my sympathies are in the whole of Ireland. I have always hoped that some solution would be forthcoming of that great and vexed problem which has baffled the energies of statesmen for the last seven hundred years.
But I am speaking now in a representative capacity for a great homogeneous community who are known as the Unionists of Ulster, and I would venture very briefly to put their case before you at this moment. Your Lordships will realise that they have never faltered in their duty to this country. The Ulster division, certainly in conjunction with other divisions from Ireland— and I am proud to be able to say so— has earned immortal glory on many battlefields in France; contributions in money have always been forthcoming front Ulster; and the work in the shipyards and other 742 commercial undertakings has been a real and valuable asset to the people of this country and to the Government. And remember that all this has been cheerfully given, all this work has been undertaken, because the men of Ulster believed that this question, which is creed, a belief, to them, was in abeyance while their energies were concentrated on winning the war. I regret very much that I have heard taunts levelled at Ulster on inure than one occasion that their enthusiasm in the Union is waning because their voices have not been heard in the last three and a half years. Is it not a just retort to say that they have not been thinking of politics, that they have removed from their minds this question of domestic interest, and have believed in the pledges of the statesmen of this country that this question was in abeyance until such time as the war should be over?
What is the object of the Government at the present moment? Is this home Rule Bill in the nature of a bargain for removing the opposition and the obstacles in the way of compulsory service in Ireland? Because, if so, it seems to me that von are willing to give to the Ireland which as a whole has not helped you something Which means a great sacrifice from that part of Ireland which has been a real asset. I would venture, as a word of warning, to urge upon the Government to consider this proposal in the fullest possible way. The noble Marines, Lord Lansdowne, has spoken of what it is expedient to do at this great crisis of our history. Is it expedient to bring in a measure which, as far as I can judge of its nature, will not satisfy the South and West of Ireland, and will alienate from von the sympathies of the North of Ireland? Is it wise at this juncture to create all over Ireland a feeling of 11 it rest and of difficulty which must hamper all those who are assisting you in the prosecution of the war? I recognise that there is a Home Rule Act on the Statute Book, and side by side with that there is the pledge which has been given to Ulster that they will not be coerced. You have before you the deliberations of 100 Irishmen for the last eight months, and while it van be said that something was evolved, that matters were spoken of and points were debated on Width some majorities were obtained, you cannot say that there seas that substantial agreement among all Irishmen that this great change which you are contemplating should be brought into effect.
743 The whole situation seems to me to point to the course which you should pursue, and that is to recognise that Ulster for the moment is separate, and go back and consider that policy of partition which was practically agreed to but which at the last moment was thrown over by some evil counsels which then prevailed. A policy of expediency is one which gives me no sort of pleasure, because one would far rather act on principle than on the expediency of the moment. It seems to me important that you should take no steps which can alienate from you those vast sympathies which are put forward wholly in the interests of the British Empire in the North of Ireland, and I would urge upon the British Government to consider these proposals in that light.
We are told that American opinion is deeply interested in this great Irish question. I venture to controvert that suggestion to a certain extent. I know the Irish question is one which does interest America to a great extent as an academic question, but whatever is decided in respect to Ireland— whether its utmost aspirations are granted, or whether those aspirations are granted only in a limited degree—I am perfectly prepared to say that nothing will have any effect on the great part which united America is determined on playing in this great war. I put these views before you with the greatest earnestness, and I sincerely hope that the Government will consider what I have said in the light of their proposals affecting Home Rule for Ireland.
LORD ORANMORE AND BROWNE
My Lords, I should be sorry if anything that I should say were to strike a discordant note in this debate, more especially as I approve strongly of the two main objects of this Bill—the utilisation of man-power to the greatest extent in this country, and the application of equality of sacrifice to Ireland. I gather that, so far as the utilisation of man-power is concerned, it is not proposed to take for the ranks many men who have reached the higher age; but, as I think was pointed out by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, it is quite possible that the fact that all those men are liable for service will induce some of them who have not so far taken a very active part in war work to engage in some useful service in the public welfare, and this free younger men for active work at the Front. The 744 organisation of man-power has been one of the greatest triumphs that Germany has achieved in the present war. I have heard an instance of it. I do not know whether it is true, but it is stated that a member of the German Embassy who was in London before the war, a man who evidently was not of the physique which fitted him to be a soldier, is now doing work as stationmaster at a small village station in Prussia.
With regard to the other portion of the Bill in which I am more immediately interested, the application of equal sacrifice to Ireland, it is a measure of which I have always been strongly in favour. In fact, on one occasion I ventured to raise the question in the House, and I think that the answer which I obtained from the Secretary of State for War was not very encouraging. He seemed to think at that time that it was impossible or at any rate inexpedient to apply conscription to Ireland. I do not state this by way of pointing out that I was right and the Government wrong, but rather, as I intend to criticise the action which they propose to take at the present time, by way of pointing out that I have been, if possible, More Royalist than the King himself, and have been more in favour of conscription than His Majesty's Government.
The Prime Minister stated last week in the House of Commons that this was no time for recrimination, and I agree with him; but I do not think that it precludes me from criticising what I believe are the mistakes which the Government have made with regard to Ireland, and what I conceive to be the mistake which they are making at the present time. The Prime Minister called upon us all to help him in what he described as "a supreme national crisis," and I am sure there is not one of your Lordships who would hesitate for a moment to agree to any number of men or any amount of money which play he required being given for the defence Of the country. But the fact that one is ready to agree to whatever may be proposed in this Bill does not prevent one from thinking that the Government, so far as Ireland is concerned, is now doing the right thing in the wrong way awl at the wrong time.
LORD ORANMORE AND BROWNE
Every crisis as it arises seems to be the greatest one which we have to face;but 745 it will be in the recollect ion of your Lordships that only last year the Prime Minister made an appeal to the Unionists of Ireland to sacrifice their most cherished convictions in order to help on the war. He called upon them in the interests of the Empire to join in an Irish Convention to try and settle the Irish question, stating that it would be of the greatest use for the furtherance of the war, that it would satisfy many of our fellow-countrymen in the self-governing Colonies, and that it would he of the greatest assistance to what was then our newest ally, America, owing to the difficulties she had with some of her own citizens of Irish descent who were not so whole-heartedly in favour of the war as they might be, owing to the Irish troubles. It was a very hard sacrifice that we were called upon to make, for we were asked to give up the conviction which we had held from our childhood, whick had been confirmed and strengthened as we grew into manhood, and which we fought not unsuccessfully for over thirty-three years. We were asked to substitute for a patriotism which thought of Ireland and of England, a higher patriotism which thought only of the safety and the welfare of the Empire in this time of need. We agreed to make the necessary sacrifice, and we had to face the displeasure of many friends who looked upon us as having given up a cause which they held sacred. We had to keen our lips sealed while disorder and misgovernment in Ireland grew worse and worse, whilst sedition stalked rampant throughout the land, in order to create an atmosphere for the Irish Convention. We had some recompenses, because we were able to create friendships with Irishmen with whom we had had hardly any social intercourse before, and we found wishes for the welfare of the Empire on the part of many Nationalists which we had scarcely suspected, and a desire to make large concessions to our view as a means of inducing us to agree to a scheme of Home Rule. I do not blame the attitude which was taken up by Ulster, hut I think that if she had not been so unyielding, so unbending, it is possible that a unanimous Report of the Convention might have been arrived at.
LORD ORANMORE AND BROWNE
Whilst that Convention sat the question of conscription, of course, arose. It was not within the terms of our Reference, but 746 it was its impossible to keep it nut as it was to keep the heal of King Charles out of the Memorial of Mr. Dick in "David Copperfield." My noble friend Lord Londonderry was very anxious—I do not think that I am obetraying any secrets of the Convention in saying this— that the question of the utilisation of all military power should be left to the Imperial Government. On the other hand, the Bishop of Raphoe wished it to be enacted by the Convention that conscription should not be put capon the Statute Book without the consent of the Irish Parliament. In the end neither of these propositions was put to a division, but the matter was referred to a sub-committee to report upon. That sub-committee consisted of three stalwart Unionists— my noble friend Lord Desart (who is not here), my noble friend the Duke of Abercorn, and a very distinguished King's Counsel, Mr. Powell; whilst the two Nationalist members were two gallant members of His Majesty's Forces— Captain Gwynne, the Member for Galway, and Captain Doran.
The Report of that sub-committee has been already referred to in the House of Commons, but it is so important with reference to this matter that I should like, with the permission of the House, to read the portion which refers to conscription. Your Lordships will bear in mind that this was a unanimous Report. It is as follows:Assuming that a scheme of self-government for Ireland be adopted, including the establishment of an Irish Parliament and an Irish Executive Government responsible thereto, we think that it would in practice be impossible to impose a system of compulsory service in Ireland without the assent and co-operation of the Irish Parliament.As to whether, as an abstract proposition, it would be desirable, by vesting these powers in the Imperial Parliament, to secure united and simultaneous action in this direction in both islands,, it is, we think, unnecessary for us to express an opinion, as we think it would be impracticable effectively to enforce such a demand, except with the approval of the Irish Parliament, without which the action and efficient co-operation of the Executive could not be secured.Indeed, it seems to us a direct consequence of the creation of an Irish Parliament that any measure of this character must be submitted to the Irish Parliament before it could be enforced on Ireland.We desire to emphasis the fact that the above report deals only with one aspect of this very difficult and important question, and that we were not, able in the time then at our disposal to go into the possibilities of joint action by a common War Council of the two Governments, or as to the effect of there being hereafter a Federal Constitution foe the British Isles.747 I ought to point out that this special portion of the Report was adopted only by a majority of the Convention, as is shown in the division list. Personally, I voted against it, so I am not bound by it; but it was one on which several Unionists voted.
The point I wish to bring before the House is this, that it is proposed now to introduce, as I understand it, subsequent to the passing of the Bill which is before us to-day, a Home Rule Bill based upon the recommendations of the Irish Convention. This seems to me to be exactly opposed to it. In fact, it is intended first of all to pass a Bill imposing compulsory military service in Ireland, so far as I can make out, because it is impossible to trust the Parliament which would be created to enforce conscription there after it has been set up. If I had wanted an argument against Home Rule a year ago I could not have been given a stronger one than is furnished by the action of His Majesty's Government.
What I should like to ask His Majesty's Government is this. Supposing that this Bill is put upon the Statute Book— as it will be, I suppose, within two days— and that it is followed by a Home Rule Bill which is also placed upon the Statute Book; and supposing the first act of the Irish Parliament when it is set up is to pass a Resolution against conscription; and supposing that the Irish Government refuses to co-operate in carrying out the provisions of the Military Service Act, how does His Majesty's Government propose to set about it? It is only fair to say that, when this special resolution was passed in the Convention, the resolution of the Bishop of Raphoe, which was that the matter should he left to the decision of an Irish Parliament, was not pressed to a division by the Nationalists, because it was pointed out that the power of enlisting the services of all His Majesty's subjects for military purposes all over the Empire was one which was invariably retained by the Imperial Government, that it had been so in the case of the Constitutions granted to America and Australia, but that in practice it had been found that once a Parliament had been set up it was impossible to try to enforce conscription without the consent of the Parliament so set up.
The excuse for pressing un this Bill at the present time is, of course, the extreme need of men, but to me that does not appear to be a sufficient excuse, unless we are to understand that His Majesty's Government 748 put all upon a gambler's throw that they wire so certain that the onslaught by Germany on the Western Front would be repulsed that it would he unnecessary to call upon Ireland to supply soldiers. Other-wise is the matter to be explained? We all know a year ago of the Russian collapse. We all knew that the Germans would make every effort to overcome us on the Western Front in the spring. We were told by the Prime Minister that Sir Henry Wilson had made spelt an accurate forecast of what would happen that he was able to say where the attack would he made and as to the probability of its succeeding. In those circumstances the War Office must have considered in advance the number of men required; and it seems to me that if it had been likely that these men would be required, this vary measure might to have been brought forward months ago.
There were two occasions when conscription could easily have been enforced in Ireland. The first one was when compulsory military service was instituted in this country and when it was universally expected in Ireland that the law would be applied to that country as well. The opposition to it at that time, I believe, would have been extremely small, as opinion in Ireland with regard to the war was then very different from what it is at present. Instead of that, emigration was stopped and young men were forced to remain in the country without being conscripted. The universal unrest which prevails all over the world got hold of them, and as they were not going to fight for England they naturally were ready to fight against what they had been taught to believe was their natural enemy— namely, this country— with the disastrous result of the insurrection of 1916. Again there was an opportunity to enforce conscription. The people of Ireland at that time were so cowed that they-would have been perfectly ready to accept it, but now I am sorry to say a very different state of things exists. I only arrived from Ireland this morning, and I have been shocked at the change which had come over the spirit of the younger men over there whom I saw. I talked to several of them to the effect that if it were not for the protection of the English Fleet the Germans would be in Ireland within a week, and the only response which I got was that "If they come they will come as friends." Only yesterday somebody said to me "If the English want soldiers in Ireland, why dont they take the German prisoners? 749 They are already trained men, and their feelings are not very different from the feelings of the men they will obtain if they conscript Irishmen." Another very curious hut peculiarly Irish reason which is given is that if Irishmen are to be killed they may as well be killed in Ireland as in Flanders, for in Ireland they are sure to have a decent funeral.
The Government have put their hands to the plough and there is no drawing back, and it is the duty of every loyal Irishman in these circumstances, whether he thinks their action is right or wrong, to do everything he can to help them. Much depends upon the action of the Nationalist leaders. As I read the speeches of Mr. Devlin I thought there was an undercurrent in them which showed that he felt it was the duty of Ireland to participate in this war. Let us hope that moderate counsels will prevail; but if they do not, and if Sinn Fein and what are called Constitutional Nationalists join together, there is no doubt that compulsory service can still be enforced in Ireland, but it will be at a very serious cost, and it will put an end for many years to any hope of an Irish settlement.
§ LORd BUCKMASTER
My Lords, the noble Viscount who introduced this Bill stated that it was due to the extreme urgency and gravity of the state of public affairs. I think that is a very regrettable circumstance. It appears to me most unfortunate that a Bill of this description should be introduced at a moment of such a nature. There never was a time in the whole history of this war when words seemed more idle and vain than to-day. There never was a time when every one was less anxious to find fault and more anxious to render help. There never was a time when domestic broils ought to be avoided and when every one should do his best to combine against the common enemy. Yet it is at such a moment that a Bill is introduced which, however favourably your Lordships may regard it, undoubtedly provokes one of the most bitter controversies occasioned since the war began. I propose to say only a very few words upon it. Were the Bill introduced under normal circumstances I should have felt it my duty to have said a great deal more, and indeed to have taken more definite and determined action in expressing my views; but at this moment I merely wish to make a few observations upon the two different principles which are involved in this measure.
750 The first relates to the extension of the age to fifty, or it may be even fifty-six. Let me say at once that there is no magic in an age limit. There is no question of principle which enables you to say that forty is the right age and fifty is the wrong age. The whole question of compulsory military service has always been to my mind a pure question of expediency. I so regarded the first Military Service Act, and I so regard this measure; but have the Government fully considered what the passage of this Bill will mean to the industries of this country? It is, I think, a short-sighted view that people sometimes take in believing that the true victory in this war will necessarily be determined at the moment when the terms of peace are signed. It appears to me far more likely that the true victory will be found ten years afterwards. It will be found by determining which is the nation that will be best able to guide and control the forces of discontent and resentment that will be liberated everywhere; the nation that will be best able to face what may, be impending famine; the nation that will, if there be such a nation, be able to save its people from the abyss of bankruptcy towards which the whole of Europe is speeding with increasing pace. It is in that, relation that I think the age limit in this Bill needs to be considered, because there is no doubt that if it is to be put impartially and effectively into operation you will cause the gravest possible mischief to the businesses of this country which have already suffered greatly front the necessary interference of State control. Business connections which have taken years to establish are alrea[...]y interfered with, if they are not destroyed, and if you take away flout business the active men between the ages of forty and fifty, having already taken those that are below, you may paralyse the remaining industrial activities of this country, and you would require a very large number of effective able-bodied men to compensate you for the national loss that, would thereby be involved.
It may be said that this Bill provides for liberal exemptions. I have no doubt it does, but to my mind that is rather an objection to it than an argument in its favour. One of the greatest objections to compulsory service is precisely this, that under a system of exemptions, by some means or other, a certain number of men get relief from the obligation of service while others who are exactly similarly 751 situated are brought within the obligatimi to serve. Then, of course, it is always suggested that those who have escaped have done so by the exercise of some undesirable influence which their less fortunate friends did not possess. I do not believe that this is true, but this is the thing which is said. I have no doubt it will be said that it is easy to criticise this Bill, and one may be asked whether any other means can be suggested by which we can get the men. That is a perfectly fair question. The Minister for the Air Service, in The Times two days ago, stated that there were at the present moment engaged here at home on the staff of the Air Service a number of men equal to—I am not sure that he did not say greater than— but equal to the number of men who were engaged in active flying on all the Fronts, and he added that many of these people were engaged in clerical work and in the discharge of what he called circumlocutory duties. If that is true, and if that is a fair sample of Government Departments in this country, the answer is that you could have got your men much better by a strict and severe "comb out" of your Departments at home than by introducing a measure such as this. The noble Lord's conclusion to his letter appeared to me to be the most depressing I had ever read. He concluded by saying, "War is not the time to make changes." That is all I desire to say about the Bill as far as it effects the existing age limit.
But I desire to say a few further words about the position in Ireland. If the argument for bringing Ireland into this Bill be the one which I understood the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, to use, it is this— that Ireland is an integral part of the United Kingdom; that she enjoys the benefits of the Government of the United Kingdom; that she must share its burdens; and that there is no reason, while she remains an integral part of the British Empire, that she should be exempt from the obligations which other parts of the Empire have to bear. That is enforced by suggesting that even if she be a different nation, so also is Scotland or Wales. The fallacy of the argument lies in the assumption that you can establish a United Kingdom by Act of Parliament. You can make a legal unity by an Act of Parliament. You but you cannot create real unity by which all members of the body stand on an equal footing. Scotland and Wales have never asked for an independent Government 752 excepting as a mere matter of domestic expediency; but we know, whether we agree with their view or not, that the majority of tire people in Ireland have demanded an independent Government, not on the ground of domestic expediency at all, but as a satisfaction of a firmly-held, deeply-rooted, and passionate national sentiment which you cannot appease by any argument and you cannot put to rest by telling them that they derive great advantage by remaining a member of the partnership. It is to such a country that you are going to apply this system of military service. The unity which to Scotland and to Wales may be a matter of pride, has, we know, been to many Irishmen for a century nothing but the symbol of a dishonouring association. I am not saying that this is my view. I am saying that it is undoubtedly the view of a large number of people in Ireland. They regard it as a union effected by a fetter, which by every means—lawful, and, I regret to say, unlawful—they have from time to time striven to break and to throw away. Is it surprising in these circumstances that when a picked representative body of Irishmen, chosen as a sub-committee of the National Convention, were asked to examine the question of whether or not it was desirable to impose conscription on Ireland, they reported that it was "impracticable."
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
Indeed, I have not put a gloss on it. My memory may have misled me, but I think the word was "impracticable." The noble Viscount may be able to correct me, and I would accept correction at his hands. At any rate, the report was that it could not, and should not, be done. Supposing I am right in my recollection that it was an "impracticable" proposal, does this mean that we are going to undertake another impracticable scheme in Ireland from which, when once we are embarked upon it, there can be no drawing back? It would be quite impossible to attempt to enforce conscription in Ireland, and then, when you are half way through, 753 to say it is impossible to carry it on. Whatever force is required behind the law in order to make it operative must be used. However many men it will take from your Army, whatever disturbance, whatever violence may he caused, when once you have begun with this matter there is no turning back, and I must say that the gravity of the outlook leads me to regard the inclusion of Ireland in this Bill as a matter that may prove one of grave disaster. I do not propose to enter into the controversy which was raised by the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, as to the merits of Home Rule, or the rival merits of Ulster and the South of Ireland. I am quite certain he did not mean what his words might be misunderstood as meaning, that as between the soldiers who had served from the South and North of Ireland there is any distinction whatever to be drawn. They have shown the same gallantry on the field of battle, and they have shown the same cheerful endurance of hardship which it is impossible for us to understand. I was a little uneasy when I heard him extolling the action of Ulster at the expense of other portions of Ireland, but I am certain—
I thought he did. I do not intend, however, to keep your Lordships any longer on this matter. Were times different I should not have hesitated to support any one who moved that this Bill be rejected, but I feel convinced that it is not the duty of any one at this moment to use a remedy which in normal times is always regarded as legitimate.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (THE EARL OF DERBY)
My Lords, with your Lordships' permission I should like to say a few words with regard to certain points that have been raised during this debate. Members of your Lordships' House have expressed their regret at the absence of the noble Earl the Leader of the House. Nobody feels that more than I do, because I am not in the position that he is in to speak as to the policy of the War Cabinet, although I am the person who is, perhaps, in the end the greatest gainer by this Bill. As a matter of fact, in the supply of these men I am entirely outside the organisation that is set up. But there 754 is one thing which think it is my duty to do, and that is to impress upon your Lordships, and through your Lordships House the country, the great gravity of the present situation. Any minimising of it would, to my mind, be disastrous. At the same time I wish to impress upon the country that, although one must have the gravest anxiety, I am still quite confident as to the result. But that result can be gained only by men fighting day after day, night after night, without rest, sometimes without food, and the only way this country can help these men is by filling up the ranks and closing the gaps of those who have fallen.
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
The noble Viscount interjects "At once." I quite agree with him. The noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, who has had personal experience of the Front, says that if you can give a battalion which has lost half its men a night's rest, or two nights' rest, you double its efficiency. I will add something with which I think he will agree, and it is that if a battalion that has suffered heavily can be made up to strength as soon as possible, you put heart into the men who have survived which it is inconceivable to believe.
I do not think I can add anything to what I have said as to the gravity of the situation and the absolute necessity for this Bill. The noble Lord who spoke last took a view which could perfectly rightly be taken by many members in this House—namely, that this is a Bill which we give to the Government because we recognise the danger of the situation, but it is a Bill which, if it were not for that gravity, we should ask leave to discuss and perhaps to reject. That is a perfectly fair attitude to take up, and it only makes one recognise more the patriotism of those who support the Government in such a Bill, although in their heart of hearts they may think it is one which ought to be to a great extent amended.
Various points have been raised, and, if I may, I will try to deal with a few of them. The noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, asked that the skill of the men called up should be taken into account in posting them, and I can assure him that this will be done. I know there have been grave errors in the past, but I think we have learnt now how 755 to make the best use of the skill of the men who come to the Colours. I would like to point out to the House that although we will do our best to make use of their skill there is one thing which must be remembered, and it is that it is not in the skilled ranks that we have had our great losses. Our great losses are in the Infantry, and in the Infantry are the gaps that are to be filled. I can give no pledge that skilled men will not be put, if the necessity arises, into the Infantry, but at the same time I can guarantee that as far as possible skilled men shall be used in skilled operations.
The most rev. Primate spoke of the omission of the clause from the Bill which placed the clergy under the same obligations as the rest of their fellow-subjects. I will be perfectly frank with him and say that I regret the omission of that clause, not because of the number of men of which it deprives us, but because I think it would have placed the Churches generally in a much better position in this country after the war. The most rev. Primate made out a splendid ease for his flock. He has spoken of their services in France. May I add—and I know he will agree with me—that we owe a debt of gratitude to the padre, as he is invariably called, of all denominations. They have played their part in France, and I think it is now up to each Church to see that, although the obligation is not placed upon them compulsorily, they are of their own initiative ready to take the same pledge voluntarily.
Another question is that of the raising of the age to fifty. I am not convinced that this is going to be so detrimental to business as some people think. I believe that the opening up of a fresh field from which you may draw men will enable you in many cases to leave men who are really indispensable to their trade. Whether that is so or not must depend a great deal on the working of the Bill, but I believe it myself. I would point out that there has been a contradiction in some of the speeches that have been made. We have been told on the one hand that men of this age are of no use to us for fighting purposes, and on the other it has been said that we must do nothing against the Volunteers, who are entirely composed of men of the age in question, because of their value. You cannot speak of men of this age as a whole. Many men of fifty are far better fitted to go into the trenches than some men even 756 of twenty-five. I agree that the medical examination will have to be most careful so as to put on a man's shoulders the burden that he is best able to bear. I believe that this will he done.
I have been referring to matters connected with the administration of the Act, which are not now my business, and I would like to draw your Lordships' attention to the change which was made with respect to recruiting about July or August of last year. Recruiting was then—I will not say taken out of the hands of the War Office—given up by the War Office to the National Service Department. That was done with one object and one only, that there should be an independent body taking men from the civilians of this country for service in the Army who should be able to judge as to the rival claims of civilian and military work. That body, which is now known as the National Service Department, you will find will pay due regard to men who are essential for the upkeep of our industries, and will see that those men are retained at home. I would ask, however, when we talk of destroying industries, what is going to destroy our industries more than if we suffer defeat at the hands of the Germans? It is therefore no use talking of maintaining business if you do not at the same time maintain your supremacy in the plains of France and Flanders.
The noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, made a speech which, as one who followed him for many years, I regretted to hear. Lord Lansdowne began by stating that he recognised the danger of the moment and he expressed his desire to help the country, but in the rest of his speech he took up a line of objection to almost every proposal in this Bill. That attitude was hardly reconcilable with his opening sentences. I am sure that there is no one more loyal and more patriotic than the noble Marquess, but if he would look at the effect of his objections to the Bill he would see that if they were carried the man-power obtained would be infinitesimal.
There is another subject which has been touched upon by many speakers during this debate. It is a subject on which, as a policy, I cannot speak with the authority or with the knowledge which the Leader of the House as a member of the War Cabinet would have spoken, and I hope that he will be in his place to-morrow and be able to give an answer to the various 757 questions of your Lordships. What I am saying now is the view simply of an individual. Like every one who has spoken I recognise the difficulty, and maybe the dangers, of conscription in Ireland, but I agree with the noble Lord who spoke last. We have said that we are going to do it, and there can be no going back from that. I was not in the Government at the time that the first two Military Service Bills were introduced, but I was intimately connected with recruiting, and I was then strongly in favour of introducing Conscription in Ireland. I believe if we had included it we should have had less trouble than we may have later.
But I desire to disassociate myself from the idea that conscription in Ireland and Home Rule are in any way linked together. I am speaking, as I say, only for myself. If there had been no question of Home Rule, and if there had been no Convention, I should unhesitatingly have voted for conscription in Ireland. The question of Home Rule for Ireland is a thorny one,and it is one which will have to be considered, not as it is being done to-day, piecemeal on another Bill, but on a Bill which may come before your Lordships' house in the first instance. I am one of those who have invariably been opposed to Home Rule—
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Did the noble Earl say," introduced in the first instance in this House"?
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
I know nothing about where it is to be introduced, but some noble Lord mentioned here to-day that he had heard that it was to be introduced first here. I have been a Unionist; remain a Unionist but I am not a Unionist with the bitter feeling that one had in the old days. There are men of the Nationalist Party who have made one see, what perhaps one did not see clearly before, that being Nationalists does not mean that they have no love for our nation as a whole and no love of the liberty and freedom for which we are fighting. And though it may be and probably is a sentimental idea, I have always looked upon the death of Major Redmond as being something which one must always bear in mind when one is thinking of Home Rule.
This is a subject, as I say, which will he brought before this House and discussed. It will perhaps be embittered to a certain extent by conscription. At the same time I think that there will be others 758 besides myself who will approach it from a different point of view than we should have done six or seven years ago. Conscription for Ireland is bringing Irish youth into the common Army that is fighting for freedom and liberty. Lord Lansdowne rather scoffed at the idea of the number of men we should get. All I can say is this, that of the estimated number of Wren of the A1 category who are fit to go straight into the ranks, I believe that we shall get front Ireland alone a number that will far more than fill the casualties of this last battle since March 21. That is why I support conseription in Ireland. I support it quite independently of an" views or any action I may take with regard to the Home Rule Bill which may come before your Lordships. I support it because I believe that that will give us good men and good fighting men, many whom will come much more willingly than some, suppose. By that means, together with the men we shall get under the other provisions of the Bill, I hope that we shall be able to fill up the ranks of our Army, and thus bring the war, as it can only be brought, to a successful conclusion by remaining one of the Allied nations which continually keeps it's a[...]mes up to strength while the strength of the enemy is gradually diminishing.
My Lords, I think the blouse will agree that the noble Viscount who moved the Second Reading of this Bill has such a simple mid businesslike way of stating his case that all the difficulties seemed to disappear and one hardly knew that there wore any. But before I make any general observation I should like to put to the noble Viscount two specific questions on the Bill itself. The first arises in Clause 1, subsection (2) relating to the provision there mentioned being without prejudice to any undertaking recognised by His Majesty's Government, The noble Viscount said, in connection with this, that this only meant public undertakings between nations. He certainly said it would not be private undertakings. I do not quite know what sort of undertaking a parole given not to tight again is, but that might come under the head of a private undertaking, and I am quite sure the Government do not propose to make it necessary to put any man in the position of breaking his parole. However private an under, taking was, if it was a parole I feel sure it will be respected. I think I understood the noble Viscount rightly to mean that.
759 In Clause 5 the noble Viscount, dealing again with these Conventions with Allied States, said that they should have effect as if references to this Act were substituted for references to the Acts of 1916 and 1917. Do I understand that it is possible to change a Convention without the assent of the other party to the Convention? These Conventions are agreements between two nations, and I take it that all that the clause means is that this Government will have power to make new arrangements with the other Party. In that case there arises a difficulty which I have no doubt has been present to the mind of the Government. It will not be possible. I take it, to deal with the Russian Convention in that way, and this will have to remain in the position in which it is.
The noble Viscount said with modesty, and not, I think, without wisdom, that he would not go into the reasons which led to the Bill being introduced at this moment because we all understood them. But do we all under stand them? We are aware that we are in the presence of quite the gravest military crisis that we have had since the war began. But I entirely fail to understand, and I think the country very largely fails to understand, and is hopelessly puzzled as to, the connection between that crisis and the introduction of this Bill. Now, this is a Bill to provide more men. We have been told since these discussions arose that we had on the Western Front a numerical equality with our enemy. We have been told of the great losses which the enemy have suffered, and I have not seen or heard it suggested that their losses have exceeded ours, or that ours have exceeded theirs; and, if that is so, the numerical relations would remain the same. But, in any case, the whole situation was known and foreseen—as the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, has already remarked, for months now. Surely it is not necessary for the crisis to arise and to become acute before; His Majesty's Government think it necessary to introduce a Bill to deal with it. If these additional numbers are necessary, were they not necessary, and was this legislation not necessary, long before this last offensive began, and could not this legislation have been introduced in a time of ordinary quietness, when it could have passed through both Houses at the ordinary speed, and with the ordinary discussion?
I have also asked myself why His Majesty's Government, if they thought it 760 necessary to produce this legislation and to put it forward, should have introduced it with what, I think, one may fairly call almost every possible provocative ancillary. You had the inclusion of ministers of religion. We have heard what the most rev. Primate said about his flock, but I understand that very different views were taken by other flocks, and, at any rate, it appears to have provoked opposition—so much opposition that it has been abandoned. Mr. Bonar Law said at an earlier stage of the Bill that the Government would neither withdraw nor modify anything that they considered necessary. Well, they have modified that; therefore I presume they do not consider it necessary. Again, among your exemptions you were proposing to do away with the exemption of the conscientious objector. That was obviously a thing that would provoke opposition. You have given way upon that; therefore it was not necessary. Why introduce these provocative questions? And the Tribunals. I think your Lordships realise—I am perfectly certain that the noble Viscount in charge of the Bill, who has had to study this matter, realises—the very grave apprehensions that were produced by the proposed Prussianising of the Tribunals, by the sweeping away of all the representative elements and all the protection they were thought to afford. That has been modified. Why should these things have been introduced, to add to the difficulty of passing a drastic measure of this character?
I am still unable to see the connection between the introduction of this Bill and the military crisis. Either this Bill was necessary long before the military crisis, and the country should have been taken into the confidence of the Government and the Bill introduced in the ordinary way, or the Bill should be introduced in the ordinary way now. It is quite clear that none of the new man-power is going to help you in this offensive. This crisis must have stopped long before this manpower materialises.
I am very reluctant to say anything about Ireland. I know nothing about Ireland—though that, perhaps, is not a disadvantage, because I notice that when any noble Lord says that he is an expert on the subject of Ireland and makes some statement about it, he is immediately contradicted by another noble Lord who says he is also an expert. So that perhaps it is not a disadvantage to have an open mind upon it. But one 761 thing is perfectly clear and has always been clear, and has been admitted by all Governments, that you will inevitably provoke a most frightful conflict by the application there of conscription. The Secretary of State for War recognises this, and he is prepared for it; he thinks that the advantages will outweigh the disadvantages. That is a matter upon which the Government must take, and do, I suppose, take the full responsibility—and a very grave responsibility it is. This I louse is not without responsibility in the matter, for, if both political Parties had not been to blame, Home Rule would have been in operation in Ireland before the war, and there would have been a Home Rule Parliament which you could have consulted upon this.
There is the other point which has been referred to by the noble Marquess below the gangway, Lord Lansdowne, and which was rather pooh-poohed by the noble Earl the Secretary of State for War—I refer to the point as to the effect of this Bill upon business. It is perfectly true, and it is within my knowledge, as it is, no doubt, also within the knowledge of the noble Earl, that there are many cases in which the man of forty-five, forty-six, and forty-seven is the one nucleus that is keeping together a sort of temporary staff which is enabling you to keep on. If this were the last throw, I agree with the noble Earl the Secretary of State for War that business does not matter; that keeping it together does not matter; that nothing matters. But we do not want to imitate the gambler's throw of our enemies. We want to be prepared to go on and to hold out for a long time; therefore we must keep the machinery of this country running. It seemed to me, from what the noble Earl said, that he was inclined to treat this a little too lightly. We have to be prepared, according to my view, to keep the machinery of business, of organisation, and of industry running in this country for a considerable time, and we must not sacrifice all this in any immediate throw. I am convinced—and I am sure that the Government in their hearts must he convinced—that we must ultimately look for the reserve of our manpower to the United states, whirl is the only place whence it should be obtained.
I think that this Bill is a piece of panic leigslation, and that it will not have the results which are held out for it. As was said by one noble Lord, nobody can oppose it because the Government have 762 the full responsibility for introducing it; but I think that we are entitled to say—almost bound to say that we view with apprehension ill-considered measures which are produced in the middle of a crisis.
§ LORD LAMBOURNE:
My Lords, I wish to ask the noble Viscount in charge of the Bill a question. Up to the present moment no pronouncement has been made with regard to the position of agricultural labourers, who are at the present time unprotected. I will not pursue the matter further if I can hear from the noble Viscount that there is an intention to make some pronouncement at some future time on the matter of the protection of agricultural labourers with regard to obviating any further depletion of their numbers.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
My Lords, I can speak again only by the leave of the House. If my noble friend wishes to raise this matter in mote detail, I will go into it; but this Bill in most of its provisions—I am not talking of the emergency provisions—does not deal with particular industries, like agriculture and, shipbuilding, which are carried on under special arrangements and agreements. My noble friend knows, I think, that these arrangements under which a certain number of persons are retained on the land or in shipbuilding are already in force, and this Bill does not apply to them.
§ LORD LAMBOURNE
The men engaged in agriculture betewen the ages of forty-one and fifty-ono are not protected.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
If a man has been engaged in agriculture since June last, he is, under the arrangements entered into, a protected man.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House tomorrow.