HL Deb 27 April 1939 vol 112 cc752-90

4,28 p.m.

THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (EARL STANHOPE) moved to resolve, That this House approves the proposal of His Majesty's Government to introduce as soon as possible a system of compulsory military training as announced on 26th April; regards such a system as necessary for the safety of the country and the fulfilment of the undertakings recently given to certain countries in Europe; and welcomes the fact that the Government is associating with this proposal fresh legislative powers to limit the profits of firms engaged mainly in armament production, and the assurance that in the event of war steps will be taken to penalise profiteering and to prevent additions to individual fortunes out of war created conditions.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, yesterday it was my duty to make to the House an important statement of policy on behalf of His Majesty's Government, and we were desirous that each House of Parliament should have the earliest opportunity of expressing its view of that policy and of showing to the world, if not unanimity, as we hope, then at least a very wide measure of general agreement. The opportunity to do so to-day has been afforded by my noble friend Lord Sempill, who has been good enough to postpone till next Monday the Motion on export credits—an extremely important subject—which he had placed on the Order Paper for to-day. I should like to express to him my thanks for his great courtesy in having met His Majesty's Government in this matter.

The statement which I made on behalf of the Government to your Lordships yesterday may be divided into three parts. The first indicated that we proposed to introduce a Bill to simplify the calling up of the Territorial Army and of the Reserves of the three Defence Services. It is a short Bill, and, as I hope it will soon be before this House, I do not propose to go into it in its details. Indeed I do not propose to go into the details of any of the measures which we propose. That, I suggest, it would be better to reserve until we have the Bills before us, and to-day to confine ourselves to a discussion of the broad general principles of the measures which are proposed.

In passing, however, I may say that it is only proposed to call up such parts of the Territorial Army and of the Reserves as the Government consider at any time necessary to reinforce the home defence of this country. Whether these numbers be large or small, it would obviously be unfair to men who have been patriotic enough to join, say, the Territorial Army, and who have given up their leisure and their holidays to rendering themselves efficient, to be called up for service for an indefinite period while their neighbours, and in some cases their competitors, carry on with their ordinary civil associations, profiting perhaps from their lack of a similar patriotic spirit. The only alternative is to replace these patriotic volunteers by a body of men taken from the castle, the mansion, the cottage, or the slum dwelling, one and all of whom should be required, without exception and without distinction, to undertake this national duty.

But it was not only the need to reinforce our home defence which has impelled the Government to take this momentous step. Apart from our previously existing obligations, both Imperial and international, which have been more than once defined in this House and elsewhere, we have in the past month taken on three major and entirely new obligations, those to Poland, to Rumania and to Greece. From all quarters of the world, and particularly from the Continent of Europe, evidence accumulated that we were not believed to be in earnest in our endeavours to fortify peace. It was said, what was the use of accumulating arms if there were not the men to handle them? It was borne in on His Majesty's Government that nothing could so carry conviction as to our strength of purpose, and our will and determination to fulfil to the full our new commitments, as the introduction of conscription into this country; and that our refusal to do so would inevitably leave in men's minds in other countries an element of doubt and that uncertainty which in itself is so often the cause of misunderstanding and of crisis.

Lord Snell, in a speech which he made yesterday to your Lordships and which I hope may not be found to represent the considered view either of the noble Lord himself or of the great Party to which he belongs, reminded the House that the Prime Minister had given a promise on behalf of His Majesty's Government that conscription would not be introduced in time of peace during the period of this Parliament, and he implied, if he did not even actually say, that we had broken faith with the Labour Party in not consulting them before we arrived at our decision. I regret that he should have reproached us with an accusation of breach of faith. In making that accusation he accused, of course, every member of the Government because the Government is after all only composed of those who are its members, and I am not aware that either I or my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack or my noble friend Lord Halifax or indeed any of those who sit on the Front Bench on this side of the House, have any less high a sense of honour than the noble Lord opposite or those who sit with him on the Opposition Front Bench. Is the present state of the world one that can be described as a time of peace when millions of men throughout Europe are standing to arms? Can it be described as a time of peace when the riches of every nation are being poured out in an ever-increasing flood in piling up armaments? So far from being accused of a breach of faith, I venture to think that we could justly have been accused of a breach of duty had we flinched from the steps which we now propose.

Let me remind your Lordships of the pace of recent events, of those new obligations so recently undertaken. Could we have postponed this step until after Herr Hitler had delivered his speech tomorrow? Had we done so, inevitably it would have been taken as a reply to that speech, whereas in point of fact it would have been nothing of the sort. Had we consulted Labour, as the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition proposed, those consultations would inevitably have taken time, probably a good deal of time, and it is clear that we should have put the Leaders of the Labour movement in a most embarrassing position. The responsibility obviously must rest with the Government of the day, and the circumstances being what they are we had no alternative but to carry out our duty and to act as we have done. The days have gone by when anyone but those who refuse to see is prepared to rely on a collective security which only exists on paper and has neither reality nor force.

When Lord Snell, however, stated that as the result of the Government's action the Labour Party was now free to take whatever line seemed to it right, let him remember this. There are many inequalities in this country to-day, and whatever political action may be taken by any political Party in future times, many of those inequalities, nature being what it is, must inevitably remain; but in one thing at least there is no inequality and that is in patriotism and love of country. Whatever the noble Lord may accuse me or my colleagues of, I cer- tainly am not going to accuse him or those who sit with him of any lack of patriotism either on this matter or anything else. Let him therefore think well before, in these days of international tension, he splits the country on a question such as this. Let him think whether he is strengthening or weakening the national effort of this country in the cause of peace. Let him think twice, and indeed thrice, whether, in the exceptional conditions in which we live, exceptional measures, as indeed they are for this country, are not only advisable but necessary.

The noble Lord remarked yesterday that this was the end of individual liberty as we knew it. May I remind him that our great neighbour France has as her national motto, "Liberty, equality, fraternity," and in that country, for many generations, they have had compulsory military training? That great Republic feels that it has indeed carried out its motto of "Liberty, equality and fraternity" in imposing this national duty on its citizens equally and without favour or affection. That is true indeed of other countries too—Switzerland, by no means an undemocratic country, Russia, on which the noble Lord and I may have different opinions—or at any rate some members on this side of the House have views differing from those held by those who sit normally on the other side—and indeed I believe I am right in saying that all the great countries of Europe at this moment have compulsory military service. I agree with him that, although the voluntary principle will continue to operate for the Regular Forces of the Navy, Army and Air Force and for the Territorial Army apart from the annual contingent, the step which we are now proposing is a momentous one, and a change which shows how great is the determination not only of the Government but of the country to carry out to the full the new obligations which have been undertaken. Everyone knows that, although we are accused of a policy of the encirclement of Germany and of Italy, we have no aggressive designs either against those two countries or indeed against any other countries. Our sole objective is to strengthen the cause of peace.

Let me turn for a few moments to the third part of our policy, the limitation of the profits of firms engaged mainly in armament production and the steps which we propose so as to prevent the accumulation of wealth as a result of a war. While it is true that the rich man's son and the poor man's son, the undergraduate, the workman and the unemployed, would equally serve in the Forces, there is undoubtedly a wide feeling in the country that it is wrong that while the young men serve and perhaps lose health and indeed life itself, other and older men should meanwhile accumulate wealth. The Government therefore propose to take steps to prevent such an eventuality and to prevent, so far as that is possible, anyone from profiting from the disaster which a great war would be not only to this but to every other country.

In asking your Lordships to approve the Resolution which I have placed upon the Paper, I ask this House to show to this country and to the world that the steps which the Government have announced are such as commend themselves to your Lordships, and I trust that we shall receive the support—I hope the unanimity of this House, but at any rate the support of the great mass of those who sit in your Lordships' House. I beg to move.

Moved to resolve, That this House approves the proposal of His Majesty's Government to introduce as soon as possible a system of compulsory military training as announced on 26th April; regards such a system as necessary for the safety of the country and the fulfilment of the undertakings recently given to certain countries in Europe; and welcomes the fact that the Government is associating with this proposal fresh legislative powers to limit the profits of firms engaged mainly in armament production, and the assurance that in the event of war steps will be taken to penalise profiteering and to prevent additions to individual fortunes out of war created conditions.—(Earl Stanhope.)

4.41 p.m.


My Lords, because I feel that anything I may say will not have the least influence upon your minds I do not propose to inflict any prolonged agony upon either your Lordships or myself. When I was sent to live a somewhat lonely political life in your Lordships' House I assumed the responsibility of not speaking for myself alone but of trying as best I may honestly to interpret what the Party I represent thinks and believes, and to do that in the hope that it may on occasion be useful to your Lordships. We have tried to give that honest interpretation and the half-conscripted thin red line on these Benches have tried to fulfil a rather difficult task. I shall only ask your Lordships to be patient with me long enough to enable me very quickly to summarise the arguments which the Labour movement feels it ought to urge against conscription and against this new and disrupting episode in National Government policy.

The Labour Party does not condemn conscription on the ground that it is undemocratic. It has never done that. It condemns it on the ground that it is not necessary. We believe that it sacrifices the voluntary system without any real need and that it is not in the line of British tradition. I accept the view put forward by the noble Earl, that all of us, whatever class of life we are born into, have certain obligations to the State that we cannot disavow. All of us have lived with pride and happiness under the free Constitution and institutions of our country. We have a common heritage in its fine tradition, in its noble language, in an unexcelled literature, in its democratic institutions, which up till now have meant that British citizenship, with all that it is and all that it means to us, has been given to us conscription-free. When it is proposed that that system should be altered it represents a major change in our policy, and the Government must be very foolish if they expect that that change is going to be accepted without some inquiry as to what it means and as to whether it is necessary.

We believe that the voluntary system has proved to be, and remains, the best policy for this country. If that voluntary system has failed it is the duty of the Government to tell us where and when and to what extent. So far as I have the information, I believe that the Navy, based upon a voluntary system, is the strongest that exists in the world. There is no failure there that I can see. I believe that the. Air Force has as much man-power as it can deal with under a voluntary system. There is no failure there. If the Army has appeared to lag behind those two other forces, that was due to the bad or unsatisfactory condi- tions associated with Army life. So far as the Territorial Forces are concerned the inrush of man-power has been far greater than the equipment which the National Government have provided for its development. I am told—of course I have not the figures—that the recruiting for the Territorial Forces amounted to as much as two thousand men per day. There is no sign, I submit to your Lord ships, of a failure of the voluntary principle there. I believe, the Labour movement believes, that it could even now be made abundantly successful if a united effort were put behind it. Yet all this, by this measure of conscription, is now jeopardised—perhaps for ever destroyed.

National Service will no longer be a joyous subordination of the self to the common good; it will not longer be a spiritual expression of good citizenship; but it will be obedience to the coercive and rasping order of the drill sergeant. That represents some change, and, so far as we are permitted to express our opinion in your Lordships' House, we claim the right to express our very grievous doubt as to the wisdom of this policy at this time. Remember that there will be losses as well as gains. We believe that conscription will weaken, and not strengthen, our position in the world. I do not propose to repeat what I said yesterday, but I do not propose to retract anything, and I cannot help feeling that, if His Majesty's Government had got into some anxiety as to the way we are going, it would have been a perfectly easy thing to have indicated that to those with whom they have previously thought it worth while to consult in order to get their help for national purposes. Again, we have this feeling, that it took years of patient agitation in this House and elsewhere to persuade the Government to start a Ministry of Supply for the necessary material; but when they at last conceded the argument, they set up an inefficient and, as we believe, an anaemic imitation of a Ministry of Supply. But conscription all came in a night, and we believe that it was due to pressure from the cold-footed section of the Tory Party.

We may as well face the issue. It is no good saying that this represents only 200,000, or whatever the number is. That conceded, it will involve in due time complete conscription. I do not believe, with great deference to my friends who sit on the Cross Benches, that the military leader has yet been born who was satisfied with the number of men placed at his disposal. I believe his hunger for more men is insatiable until the supply has been exhausted. The argument in favour of conscription assumes that military needs are the only needs that a nation has. But I believe it to be as certain as anything can be in this uncertain world that if the whole manhood of the country were in uniform, there would be economic disorder and the social inequalities and the other material and spiritual evils from which we suffer would not be in the least degree improved.

There are other people than recalcitrant members of the Labour Party who do not believe in conscription. I find that Sir Auckland Geddes, who was the Director of Recruiting in 1916 and 1917 and afterwards Minister of National Service in 1917 and 1918, said: I hold the fully-matured opinion that, on balance, the imposition of military conscription added little, if anything, to the effective sum of our war efforts. If I were Chief of Staff of a foreign Power contemplating war against this country, I should spend money lavishly to stimulate British patriotic societies to demand conscription. Why? Because our adoption of conscription would inevitably diminish our naval and air preparations. And there are other authorities whom I might quote to your Lordships to justify my plea that the need for conscription has not yet been proved.

My real responsibility here to-day is, in quite a few words, to try to explain the difficulty that the ordinary trade unionist working in his shop has in regard to this important matter. We believe the economic life of the nation must inevitably be weakened by conscription. We live by finance and by commerce, by the maintenance of our credit as well as by our fighting Services, and conscription will draw upon labour strength and the power of production will be decreased. I understand that one reason for promoting conscription is to make a gesture to foreign countries that we are serious. I could imagine better gestures. If His Majesty's Government, representing this capitalist country, had produced, say, a capital levy, that would have been a gesture indeed which would have impressed modern civilisation.

Now a general word before I reach the trade unionist position. I have no ethical objection to every man serving his country in the best way in which his capacities permit. In the ancient Greek cities, for example, every citizen had to undertake military service. Yes, but the Greek citizen was himself a landed proprietor, who defended the land that actually belonged to him. The slaves were never called upon to serve, and no one who had nothing to defend was ever called upon to bear the risks and burdens of war. In Rome the practice was the same: her armies were armies of citizen proprietors; they had a real stake in the country. But, while every man may have a duty to the State, the State also has a duty to every man, and I should find it difficult to go into the Welsh valleys and into the depressed areas and speak to young men who had been left to grow up like weeds in the world, about their duty to a State that had neglected them.

But let us see what will happen after conscription. I have said that labour power for productive purposes will be decreased. Here is where the trade union difficulty begins. It will mean that there will be a shortage of workers in the factories; then there will be, so the trade unionists think, another call for dilution. The standards of life that the trade unionists have built up throughout the country will be jeopardised, craft efficiency will be reduced, and that they do not like. Suppose that it were proposed that, because there is a crisis, a hundred new Labour Peers should suddenly be sent into your Lordships' House. I think your Lordships would say: "We had better bear the half-dozen ills we have than accept a hundred that we know not of." But the trade unionist has to remember what happened before: that when the need has been supplied, then the industry is choked with imported, inefficient men who will offer bad service for low pay; the standard of wages will be reduced, and there will then be a repetition of the odious campaign that followed the last War, that trade unionists were slacking and could not be induced to work.

I am trying to put as carefully as I can the general view of the trade unionists in the country. It is no use ignoring it, and it is my duty to try to tell you what it is. That, I think, summarises the anxieties that the labour worker in a factory has in this matter. He is not unpatriotic. He is not unwilling to do what he can for his nation. His record will disprove that. But we all of us feel that the spiritual traditions of our country are involved, and that the price that we are having to pay is due to the calamitous foreign policy of the National Government. In my closing words I would like to ask the country to note that so long as this Government exists we may continue to flounder from one crisis to another, and what the end will be no man can say. But the call upon us now is to abandon the liberties that we once enjoyed, which were once the strength of the nation and the envy of the world, and to protect which all of us were prepared to give the last full measure of devotion.

5.1 p.m.


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Crewe greatly regrets that owing to a slight bronchial affection he is unable to be in your Lordships' House, to-day, to address you on this important matter. I venture to speak in his place, although I do not claim in any way to speak in the representative capacity which attaches to him. With regard to the Mobilisation Bill, which is also to be introduced in a few days, there will be, I am sure, no division of opinion in any part of this House as to its necessity, and I have no doubt it will be passed easily through both Houses of Parliament.

With regard to military conscription, there are some of your Lordships, no doubt—and there is certainly a school of thought in the country—who consider that general military service is a good thing in itself, apart from any question of necessity, or critical international conditions, or the needs of national defence. There are some who think that it is a good thing for all the youth of the nation to pass through military service, that the discipline is wholesome, that the training is in some respects useful, that there are advantages to the national physique and to the national morale, that there is a measure of class equality enforced which is in itself desirable, and that, apart altogether from the necessities of defence, conscription is in itself good. For my own part, I do not hold that view, but rather the opposite view. It depends upon the kind of nation that we wish to see, and I would submit to your Lordships that a nation of citizens of free and independent mind is better, in spite of all its drawbacks, than a nation which is drilled and thereby given to some extent a trend towards subservience, which, in spite of all advantages, such training in certain directions confers.

I was passing a few days ago through Italy, and there one sees, stencilled on the walls of many houses throughout the villages and towns of Italy, many of the slogans of the Fascist party, and among them is conspicuous the favourite motto of Signor Mussolini: "Credere, Obbedire, Combattere"—"Believe, Obey, Fight." That is the kind of mentality which he wishes to impress upon the whole of the Italian nation. Be credulous: accept what you are told! Obey, do not consider your own wishes! Fight: be militaristic, whenever called upon to fight, whatever enemy your leaders may select! That frame of mind creates, I submit, a degraded nation, mentally and spiritually emasculated, and any tendencies in that direction, to make credulity, obedience, and militarism national characteristics, is of no service to a people, but on the other hand the greatest injury that can be inflicted upon it. It has been a wise instinct of the British nation throughout its history to look with the greatest suspicion upon any measures of compulsion, and to consider that compulsory and general military service is not an advantage but a sacrifice. It is a sacrifice that may, indeed, be necessary. At times it may be necessary to sacrifice one kind of liberty in order to preserve another—to sacrifice some measure of personal liberty in order to make secure national liberty. It is a sacrifice nevertheless, and the burden of proof lies upon those who would require that sacrifice. The burden of proof does not lie upon those who appeal for liberty. It lies upon those who would propose measures that would infringe liberty.

I have said that occasion may arise in which this sacrifice is necessary. There was clearly such necessity at the time of the Great War, and, as it happens, I myself had to take certain responsibility in that regard. In 1916, when it became clear that compulsory military service was essential, the Government of which I was a member determined to introduce it, and the then Home Secretary, Sir John Simon, resigned because he disapproved of that policy. I was appointed to succeed him in that office, and had to assist the then Prime Minister, Mr. Asquith, in passing a Con- scription Bill through Parliament, and, as Home Secretary, in helping to administer it. So I shall not be suspected of rejecting measures of this character on any theoretical or a priori ground. I only ask that the case should be clearly made out before we make this grave departure from national tradition, and the one question to my mind is this: At the present juncture how are we to obtain the maximum of national strength in order to meet the perils that surround us?

Now, the limiting factor in our national strength is not at the present time the supply of men. The limiting factor is the question of equipment and training. You can obtain any number of men if you appeal to the nation in the right way. So far as equipment is concerned, many members of this House—the noble Lord who has just spoken has referred to it—have advocated again and again, for months past, the creation of a Ministry of Supply. I have myself ventured to trouble your Lordships with observations strongly urging, months ago, the creation of a Ministry of Supply. In the other House the Liberal Party have been pressing for that continually. Great authorities in this House have given voice to the same desire. The Government obstinately and determinedly resisted that demand, and only now have they belatedly surrendered to that pressure. But the question of equipment and of facilities for training is still the limiting factor.

There is no question now of creating an army of millions, as in 1916 and the years which preceded. If it were in the national interest to create now an army of millions, and if conscription was necessary for that purpose, then I think it ought to be supported. I feel no doubt upon that. If it were essential—it has not yet been shown to be essential—at this juncture to create a vast army like the Kitchener Armies, then I can understand that a measure of conscription should be proposed and should be adopted, possibly at this very moment. I should not oppose it in principle. It is only a question of fact whether such a step is desirable. It is not a question of the small numbers which are concerned in maintaining our air defences. And there is the great change in the national position compared with previous generations and previous centuries—the development of aircraft. The strength of this country has always remained in the fact that it has been an island in the sea, but the air has no islands, and therefore the whole strategic position of this country has been changed. But, there again, it is not a question for that reason of creating a vast army of millions, for there can be no question of mass invasion from the air, and so far as the air position is concerned, as I have said, the question is one of comparatively small numbers of men.

Nor does anyone at present favour the creation of armies such as the Kitchener Armies, for the economic reasons that have just been given by the noble Lord, Lord Snell. Always this country, when it has been a member of a European alliance in days gone by, has provided an immense source of strength to that alliance on the economic and financial side. It has been the great area of supplies and the great area of financial strength. This country naturally has to take its full share in the actual fighting and make the sacrifices that may be necessary, but not to such an extent that we should diminish the great economic resources which are at the disposal of the whole of the combined effort. It is well known that in order to win a long war you must not deplete your industrial, economic and financial resources too much. And therefore it is not proposed at the present time to adopt conscription in order to raise armies of millions of men. The Government wisely sought power, which was readily granted, to double the Territorial Army, and that was an admirable measure which can be carried through without difficulty. You call for a million civilian workers for air-raid precautions and they will be obtained if the appeal is properly made without great delay, and even two millions could be secured if that were shown to be necessary. And the 200,000 young men who are now to be raised could also be easily obtained if the appeal were made to them, without the smallest doubt. In the Great War, before conscription was introduced in 1916, in this country and in the British Empire no fewer than five million men volunteered—a military effort which has never been made by any nation in the whole history of the world, and was not made by any other nation at that time.

Why, then, is it necessary at this juncture to impose a measure of compulsion in order to raise a force of 200,000 men? We are told that it is necessary as a demonstration to impress the world. I am bound to confess my doubt whether so small a force as this will be very impressive to countries each of which has an army of millions. Rather it may be said: "This is the British war effort—200,000 men. It rather shows that they are not very serious about the matter than that they are very serious about it." Furthermore, there is the fact that the Government did give a most specific pledge, many times repeated, and repeated even so recently as last month, that no measure of military conscription would be introduced in the present Parliament in time of peace. Now they say that we were in time of peace last month, but not this month. It appears to me to be a most unfortunate incident that this pledge should have been given so repeatedly and in such unqualified terms, and should now be infringed.


Would the noble Viscount kindly tell me what is the pledge last month that he refers to?


I am afraid I have not got the quotation.


The noble Lord only mentioned one—on March 29 last, and I have hunted through the Parliamentary Debates and not found it.


I do not know that it has been challenged even by the Prime Minister yesterday.


The noble Viscount misunderstands me. I am not denying that the promise has been made. What I am seeking to find out is whether the promise made last month in the House of Commons is the one to which the noble Viscount referred.


I am very sorry, but I have not got the quotation here. But I have seen it repeatedly mentioned in the Press in the last few days that a promise was repeated a month ago in the House of Commons, re-affirming the pledge which had been previously given on various occasions that such a measure would not be introduced in the present Parliament in time of peace. If I am wrong about that I must express my regret.


I will deal with the matter later.


Well then, if it were not last month, even if it were a few months ago, the question is whether this is to be regarded as not being peace time. The action that has been taken now has been taken without consultation with the Party to whom that pledge was given—namely, the trade unionists and the Labour Party. If it was desired that there should be unanimity in the nation for a measure of this kind, as it is desired, it would clearly have been expedient that the Opposition Parties should have been taken into consultation before public action was definitely decided upon; and I believe that both my friends of the Liberal Party in the House of Commons and the members of the Labour Party have greatly regretted that they were not in any way consulted before so grave a measure as this was carried into effect.

It is quite true that circumstances might arise, and indeed in the opinion of many have now arisen, when, although no actual war has broken out, the danger is so great that conscription ought properly to be brought in, and those very circumstances would render it highly inexpedient, and indeed impossible, that a General Election should be held at such a moment. But surely that ought to have been foreseen at the time when it was under consideration whether such a pledge should be given. Whether it is a month ago or whether it is a year ago is not the essential matter—it should surely have been foreseen that circumstances might arise during the present Parliament, and without an Election, although there was no actual war, when it would be in the national interest to produce a measure of compulsory military service. My quarrel with His Majesty's Government at this moment is not so much that they are introducing this measure. If they think it is in the national interest to do so, it is their duty to do it. But my quarrel is that the pledge should have been given in such unqualified terms without foreseeing the circumstances which in their opinion have now arisen. The consequence is that in future when Governments do give pledges of that kind, no one will know whether they are to be accepted as definite or not.

One further point with regard to profits from armaments. When the great de- fence programme was instituted, with the support of all Parties—and many of us had been urging it for some time—the assurance was given, again in unqualified terms, that such steps would be taken as would prevent armament manufacturers obtaining any undue profits. It was most definitely asserted that the Government would take adequate pains to secure that there should be no profiteering in the armaments industry if Parliament would accede to this vast expenditure. Parliament acceded, and the Government measures were adopted. But now when conscription is to be introduced the Government come forward again and say: "If you will pass this measure of conscription we will undertake that the armaments industry shall be so controlled that no undue profits shall be reaped." If it is right now, it was right then, and if these further measures are now practicable they should have been adopted then. They amount to a censure on the measures adopted at the outset.

I do not wish to detain your Lordships, but I am bound to speak candidly what is in my mind, although I fear it may be unwelcome to your Lordships. It is right at the present time that the maximum national effort should be put forth in order to meet the dangers which face us. The voluntary principle is, in my judgment, valuable in itself and ought not to be abandoned unless clear necessity is shown. It may be necessary to depart from it as it was in 1916, but adequate reason should be given. The reasons that have been given—namely, that you wish to enlist 200,000 young men to get training for six months and afterwards serve in the Territorials, and the further reason that we are making a demonstration to the world of our great earnestness in this matter—are, in my judgment, hardly adequate, though I can well understand that others take a different view, for so grave a departure. The arguments which have been adduced by the noble Earl who introduced this Resolution appear to me to be of a permanent character. The noble Earl, Lord Stanhope, gave reasons which would apply at all times with regard to class equality and the other arguments he so ably stated. There was practically nothing in what he said that would not apply this year, next year, and for all time. Yet the Government have stated in both Houses that this is to be a purely temporary measure.

In conclusion I would ask the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, if he is to conclude this debate, whether he will tell us again if this measure is really intended to be a temporary one or whether the arguments that have been advanced in its support are not such as would lead to the conclusion that this system ought to be adopted in perpetuity in this country. I read the words used yesterday by the noble Earl who leads this House, and the same words were used in the Government declaration in another place: … the Government have come to the conclusion that to meet these new and, I hope, exceptional conditions some measure of compulsory training has, for the time being, become necessary. I say 'for the time being' because I wish to emphasize"— the noble Earl does not merely state it, he states it with emphasis— that the Government's proposals … will be of a temporary character. He suggested that the Bill will be for a period of three years, which may be either shortened or prolonged. Once you accept the principle of military conscription it will be hard to revoke it and very easy to expand it. Therefore I attach importance to the request that we should have from the Government to-day some declaration as to whether they really mean that as soon as the international atmosphere is sufficiently clear and the condition of the world has returned to some measure of normality, this system of military conscription will not be permanently imposed upon the nation but will be subject to repeal.

5.26 p.m.


My Lords, I am one of those who support the Government in the proposals which they are making to us to-day and I do so for the reason that I think we are now adopting the most hopeful means that we can devise for the purpose of avoiding the outbreak of active warfare in Europe and at the same time bringing to our side many people who at the present time feel they cannot sufficiently rely upon our promises of support. It is credibly reported to me that not long ago one of the envoys of a Balkan State was told in conversation with Herr Hitler that he had no reason at all to expect any help in his defence from England because England had not taken the means to defend herself. Whether the story is absolutely correctly reported or not it at least states a truth which we must all recognise.

As far as I am concerned I feel a great sense of unreality in this debate because of the fact that we are now confronted with what is in my opinion the greatest peril that the nation has ever had to face in its long history, and at a time when it has taken up a whole series of commitments far greater in extent and degree than has ever been contemplated before. I listened with great respect to the noble Viscount who has just sat down. It is one of the few occasions on which I am sorry he has been the spokesman of the Liberal Party, because he has been giving us to-day a point of view totally different from that which was given to a meeting of the Liberal Party in Scotland yesterday by the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian. If the noble Marquess had been here to-day to speak for the Liberal Party we should have heard totally different advice given to your Lordships in this matter. Lord Lothian's point of view, as stated in his speech yesterday, was to the effect that in normal times he as a Liberal would take exception to the adoption of conscription, but that these were not normal times and accordingly he thought conscription at the present time must be adopted by the country for its own safety and for the purpose of fulfilling our obligations to our friends.

In discussing these matters nobody would question the patriotism of any of the political Parties in this country. I am perfectly certain everyone has the deepest possible respect for the attitude which Lord Snell has adopted to-day. We recognise that it is a sincere expression both of his own opinion and of the opinion of those for whom he speaks, and I am perfectly certain these convictions have been adopted from motives of the highest possible patriotism. They must therefore be met by reasonable arguments. So far as I am concerned I recognise and appreciate the point of view that is taken by a pacifist. He has the view that war is entirely wrong and that nothing should be done either by the supplying of munitions or men to encourage the waging of war. But there are very few people of that point of view in this country and certainly it is not from any attitude of that kind that the Labour Party speaks to-day. They are not against war. On the contrary, they have been urging war for several years. They were very disappointed that we did not go to war over Manchukuo. They urged us to go to war over the question of Abyssinia and again over Czecho-Slovakia, and recently they have welcomed the series of commitments which have been undertaken by the Government to support other States which may readily involve us in war. A Party with those opinions must necessarily take the very utmost possible means to make war successful. And you must not take these means on too narrow a margin. You must ensure for yourself that you have the greatest possible hope of coming out of the conflict with success.

I am surprised to hear from Lord Snell that anybody to-day thinks that we are fitting ourselves to wage such a war as may be impending with sufficient numbers. What are we actually doing? We have an Army which is far too small for our needs when you consider what our commitments are all over the world. We are endeavouring at the present time to increase our Territorial Army and recruiting is going forward, no doubt speedily having regard to the many impediments put in the way of recruiting, but very slowly in relation to our great needs. Many appeals for recruits have been quite justly met with the reply that one person ought not to have to sacrifice himself in order that another person may shirk. I have the greatest possible sympathy with the man who says, "I refuse the join the Territorial Army at the present time while other people continue to enjoy their pleasures and comforts, and I am asked to give up my time to the defence of the country." I think there is a great deal to be said for those persons who are disinclined to make sacrifices in those circumstances. The fact that you are not asking for everybody is a deterrent to the recruiting that is going on at the present time. So many people—and I find this all over the country—say: "When the Government really think the situation is dangerous they will come for us." So long as that situation exists we are not putting forward the effort which is necessary to make our cause successful. You can see from the newspaper reports in all parts of the Continent of Europe that our attitude in this matter is impressing itself upon those who naturally would seek to join us.

In order to realise our needs you have only to compare the conditions now with the conditions that obtained during the last War. How do we stand to-day as compared with 1914? Japan was our ally in 1914. Japan to-day is decidedly unfriendly and may be hostile. The condition of things in the Pacific, indeed, is such that if there were war they might prevent any forces from leaving New Zealand or Australia to come to our aid. What a difference that would make in the forces which we would be able to deploy in a conflict. Again Italy was with us in the last War, to-day she would be against us. What would that mean? It means that France, which had our aid in maintaining half her line in the last War, would now have to fight on at least three fronts. She would have to fight upon her eastern front: she would have to fight on the front between France and Italy and on her front between Tunis and Libya. There are three fronts at least she will have to man. But she may also have to fight upon the front of the Pyrenees and again in Spanish Morocco.

What is our situation? In addition to helping France we shall, I think, have to maintain a large force in Egypt and Palestine, and in addition we may have to land an Army in Spain. When you are faced with all these possible developments of events, how can you possibly risk slackness? Are not you compelled to take every possible means to make yourself safe? This is not a time for chopping arguments as to whether the Government ought at some previous point of time to have warned people that such an occasion might arise. To-day the country is in peril and you know not at what moment war may break out. In those circumstances I say it is incumbent upon us if we do our duty, to follow the methods which have been adopted by all countries that are fighting for their existence and which indeed have been taken by those countries that are menacing us to-day.

I agree with my noble friend who said that the voluntary principle is something which I should like myself to adhere to, but there is in politics something which corresponds to the Gresham law in connection with currency—bad money always drives out good money. Similarly bad principles very often drive out good ones. No matter how good the voluntary system is, if your enemies take up the bad principle of conscription and threaten to overwhelm you, what can you do? The only thing you can do is to adopt conscription also in order that you may be in a position to defend yourself.

There is one other point that I should like to put before the House and it is this. We do not know When this threatened war will break out. It will come upon us like a thief in the night. Herr Hitler has made perfectly plain what he would propose to do. He said he would strike at: his enemies like lightning out of the dark. That was the expression he used. I have not the silghtest doubt that if this calamity comes upon us it will come suddenly. How are you going to face such a situation? Are you going to do it as we did in the last War after all the experience we have had? What a waste of precious lives it means and what a burden of suffering and sorrow for the people at home. Carry your minds back to the last War. How many lives would have been saved if it had not been for the fact that we had to deploy thin lines as against the masses of troops that came upon us from the enemy side. Recall what happened to Kitchener's first hundred thousand—the flower of the race burnt up in the furnace of war. But if there had been a million of them before war was declared, there never would have been a war. If there had been 500,000 at the time the battle of Loos was fought, thousands of people would have been alive to-day who are buried beneath the soil of France. You cannot afford to take risks in this matter. Recall again the condition of things at Gallipoli. There, if at the time when the project of landing in Gallipoli was first mooted we had had 20,000 men to spare, we could have taken that peninsula and concluded the war two years earlier. But because we had not got the men, and had to take the matter up at a later period when the enemy was prepared, we had to send 500,000 men to Gallipoli and something like 200,000 were killed or injured. We came away after a heroic but complete failure and all those lives were sacrificed for nothing.

I do beg you, my Lords, and all those who have these matters to consider, out of mercy for the people you are going to send into the field to give them the strongest possible contingents you can muster and all the supports you can find for them. Although conscription is said to be against British tradition, and we would not resort to it if we were not compelled, at any rate such a device is nothing of which we need be ashamed. The noble Lord, Lord Snell, has acknowledged that it is in no way undemocratic. When it is said that by voluntary recruitment you raised 5,000,000 men in the last War, it must be remembered that that was after war began. It is before this calamity begins, and in order to prevent it if we can, that we wish to raise the men, and I know of no way in which that can be done except by calling upon all the young men of the country to respond to the nation's call. In that way it seems to me you will save many lives and much sorrow and suffering.

5.43 p.m.


My Lords, it was a great pleasure to me to hear from the lips of the noble Earl who moved the Motion tonight those very arguments which I feared it might be my task to address to his, if not deaf, at any rate unheeding ear. By accepting them he has made my task simpler and relieved me of the necessity of addressing your Lordships at any length or of stressing the gravity of the position in which we find ourselves. The noble Lords who sit on my left appear to think that by adopting some principle of compulsion our liberty might be affected. Have they paused to think that every year—almost every month—the area of this world in which people may think, may live, may worship as they please, grows less? Any minute, it is clear, our own vital interests may be imperilled.

We may be called upon to carry out those guarantees which we have signed. We may be faced with demands made by a country which, in the words of its leader, has spent five years on the task of rearming itself. It is a country whose people have their lives, their thoughts, their energies directed to one end, and to one end alone—the expansion of the great country to which they belong. That is what we are faced with. I suggest that the only proper answer we can give is something greater than the proposals which the Government have put forward. I suggest that nothing short of a compulsory National Register, giving the Government power to call on each man and woman at will, can be adequate to meet the needs of our present case. By that I mean that the organisation of our defences, both military and civilian, should as far as possible be placed on a compulsory basis.

I agree that in regard to the existing Territorial Army that may be difficult. Whilst speaking of the Territorial Army I would like to deal with the point made by my noble friend who sits in front of me, that recruiting was so satisfactory that we need have no fear that the men would not be obtained. What is the position? As I understand it we need these men and we need them badly. The Government will not deny that. The position appears to be that in a month we have secured 40,000 men. But that is in the first rush of enthusiasm, in the full intensity of your recruiting campaign. Even if that rate is maintained, many months must elapse before we get the men we need—months which His Majesty's Government must by now have realised we can ill afford to lose. I think, also, if we are going to deal with the question of the Territorial Army at all, we must accept the fact that gallant, loyal, devoted men though they be, they are not given that proper opportunity of training themselves which they ought to have. I do not see how, with two or three attendances at drill each week, and a fortnight in camp, they can be expected to compete with forces which have had two years' continuous training.

Nor do I consider that the method of recruitment which is being adopted is likely to meet with success. It is one of those typical illustrations of the muddle and confusion of the voluntary principle that we find, for example, that a bulb grower is exempt at the age of 25. If a man makes brass bedsteads he is exempt at the age of 30. A gentleman who is called a progress chaser—a gentleman whom the Government may perhaps be able to employ—finds himself also exempt at the age of 30. I suggest that we should leave the realms of fantasy and illusion and face facts. If we want men we should institute compulsory measures to see that we secure them.

I will now attempt to deal very briefly with one or two points made against the Motion. My noble friend Lord Snell spoke about the harsh, coercive voice of the drill sergeant. I have not found him any less harsh or coercive when ordering those who have enlisted under the voluntary principle. A further suggestion seems to be that drilling is disadvantageous to our national morale. Yet noble Lords who suggest that, say at the same time that if only you stimulate your recruiting you will get your men. If you get your men and drill them under their system it is not going to do them any harm, but get them under another system and drill them, and it will do them the greatest possible harm! That is not a very convincing argument, I venture to suggest. I was surprised, too, to hear it suggested that they might support the compulsory principle in times of war but they would not support it in times of peace. Can any argument be more dangerous, more utterly fallacious? We admit that the position is grave; we admit, as admit we must, that previous experience has shown that one remedy, and one remedy alone, can be of any use. What do we say? We say that the same remedy may be applied again, but we make one condition: it must be withheld until it is almost certainly too late!

Have the noble Lords who oppose this Motion considered the waste of the voluntary system? Have they considered that the Regular Army in 1914 was nearly obliterated because of the lack of trained reserves to support it? Does not every military graveyard in France and Flanders bear some witness to this principle of waste? Are there not witnesses there: men not only in the Regular Army but also men who were sent out inadequately trained, who through no fault of their own lost their lives? I have no desire to strike any sentimental note, but if we owe anything to these men—and that cannot be denied—we surely owe it to them, we must owe it to them, to see that slaughter involving such waste and such injustice should never be repeated if we can prevent it.

I was surprised to hear my noble friend Lord Snell say that he did not consider compulsion any violation of the democratic principle. If so, all the better; my task is made all the easier. I understand, however, that there is a feeling of inequality and injustice. I cannot see that the principle that there should be a common sacrifice without distinction of class or rank in a common cause can be any other than a noble ideal and, in addition, the only sound and the only practicable policy for us to adopt. I have no more to say. I would merely stress, if I might, that, great though our assets may be, great also are our responsibilities. And I speak not merely in a material sense. It is our duty to show the countries of the world that, just as there are physical boundaries which cannot be crossed without our consent, so there is a cultural and moral dominion which no enemy must ever be permitted to invade.

5.54 p.m.


My Lords, I shall not detain your Lordships for more than a very few moments. I have felt a great deal of anxiety as to my attitude on an occasion of this kind. I share to the full the criticism that has been made by Lord Snell and Viscount Samuel of the methods by which the Government have chosen to introduce this proposal. I hope I shall hear from the noble and learned Lord Chancellor presently when he thinks the time of peace passed into a time of war. Unquestionably—I have not got the date, which I believe my noble friend Viscount Samuel has now, on which the last pledge was given—the Government did pledge themselves in the most precise and definite way that in time of peace and during this Parliament they would not introduce conscription. They say, both here and elsewhere, that this is no longer a time of peace and therefore their pledge does not bind them. I cannot help feeling that the change in the situation has not been so remarkable as to change the character of peace into the character of war. But, of course, if the Government have arrived at the conclusion, whether rightly or wrongly, that the defence of the country requires this measure, then, whatever their pledge is, they are perfectly right to introduce the measure. But I must say that in those circumstances I think that the leaders of the Opposition have a very strong ground of complaint that they were not, at any rate, shown the courtesy of consultation before this step was taken. It seems to me a procedure thoroughly characteristic of the Government: they wait and wait until it is almost too late, and then they do something in an immense hurry which might have been done much more effectively at an earlier stage.

But when you come to the substance of this proposal, of course I think you must admit that there is a great deal to be said for a compulsory system when you are in time of war or in immediate preparation for war. No one who had anything to do with the Government in 1915 and 1916 can doubt that grave inconvenience—to put it no higher—was cause by haphazard enlistment, so that often the very people who could least be spared were the people who went first to the war and unfortunately did not return. On the other hand, this measure does not merely propose to deal with that question. It is only going to take a very small section of the population and compel them to enlist. There will not be, as far as I can see, any means of controlling enlistment under this measure any more than there would be under the purely voluntary system, and I must say I share Lord Samuel's view that compulsion is an exceedingly distasteful expedient for us in this country. I do not forget that in the Great War the man who resisted compulsion most strenuously was Lord Kitchener, on the ground that he was satisfied that men fought much more effectively if they were voluntarily enlisted than if they were compulsorily enlisted. I do not know whether experience confirms that opinion, but I seem to have heard those who were actually engaged in the fighting say that the later troops, though they were as brave and devoted as any men could be, were not the equal of the earlier troops engaged in the War.

But one cannot doubt that this matter is not only a question of distaste in general for compulsion. I have seen something of the younger people who feel very strongly against this proposal. I do not say they all do, but a certain section do, and the foundation of their feeling is that they do not really know what the Government are after. That is the real trouble at this moment and I cannot help feeling that the Government, by the procedure they have adopted, so far from allaying that distrust have tended to increase it. For that reason I have a great sympathy with the attitude that Lord Snell has adopted, though in fact I am not able to accept the conclusion to which he came.

After all, we are, whether it is peace or war, in a position of great anxiety. Nobody doubts it: the situation is exceedingly serious. We are awaiting a pronouncement which is to be made tomorrow, and Heaven knows what that may bring. The situation is, I should think, more serious now than any situation in which we have ever found ourselves in time of technical peace—whatever the Government may choose to call it—during our whole history. And if in that state of things the responsible Government of the country come down to Parliament and say: "In our judgment here is a measure which we think is essential for the safety of the country," and not only that, but "we find it necessary not only for the safety of the country but also in order to allay the doubts and misunderstanding which are felt on the Continent of Europe as to what our attitude really is"—if they come and make that statement I confess it appears to me that any private individual who declines to give them the power for which they ask is assuming an immense and too great a responsibility.

I think it is a melancholy argument of the Government that this step is necessary in order to convince foreign nations that we really do mean what we say. There was a time, indeed all my life until quite lately, when, if the British Government made a statement as to what they would do in certain circumstances, no country and no Government in the world had the slightest doubt that that is what they would do. That, apparently, is not now wholly the case. Therefore, although I have great sympathy with what has been said both as to the technical necessity of this measure, and the distastefulness of the expedient proposed, I feel bound to support the proposal made by the Government. It is, as Lord Snell has truly said, the calamitous result of the foreign policy of the National Government; but if we were now to refuse this demand, and this House were to reject the proposal, I cannot doubt that the result of that would be even more calamitous than anything which can possibly follow from this expedient.

6.3 p.m.


My Lords, before this debate concludes I would like to be allowed, just in a very few sentences, to put a point of view which I think has hardly been sufficiently stressed. It is this: that quite obviously this measure of the Government is not actuated by military necessity, and that if, as Lord Home has just said, the Government should make every effort, this measure cannot be considered to be anything like even a big effort. One can understand this panicky feeling, which the Government seem to have, inducing them to have conscription for all men of military age; but this is nothing of the kind: this is merely the thin end of the wedge of depriving people of their liberty of choice. Why should we always follow the Dictators' methods? This is another instance of it, and, as everybody knows, a large military system founded on compulsion is in itself the enemy of democracy. Nobody has put that better than Sir Henry Maine in his book, and nobody can accuse of him of being a Liberal.

One has got to look elsewhere for the Government's motive. I think it is perfectly clear. They wanted to make one more rattle of the sword before twelve o'clock to-morrow and that I think is a most unfortunate bit of diplomacy. We are dealing with a very extraordinary man. We are dealing with a man who has enormous uncanny power over the people. We are trying to meet him in various ways. We failed in many ways, and threats and aggravation can never make him more reasonable. We are not impressing our allies by this measure, but quite undoubtedly we are by this evening making Herr Hitler put in his speech passages which will make the possibility of accommodation still more difficult.

On all grounds, I cannot conceive the utility of this measure. In addition to those that I have mentioned there is splitting the trade unionists away from the support that they have very willingly given. It is most unfortunate at a moment of this sort, if the Government consider it as grave as they declare, that you should create a split in public opinion. It is the very last moment to do that. I do not know what influence has been brought to bear on the Government, except that of the clamour of some of their supporters, but I think it is very unfortunate, from a political and diplomatic point of view, that they should have succumbed to pressure, and at this very critical moment made a gesture which on one side can be ridiculed and on the other side may lead to very dangerous consequences.

6.8 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord who has just sat down did not, I think, have the good fortunte to hear the speech of Lord Snell, or he would have known what pressure was exercised on the Government to induce them to adopt this measure which he deprecated. The noble Lord said that it came from the cold-footed section of the Tory Party. Belonging to that section as I do, while I do not claim for it the credit for this measure, I do feel very proud. I remember that it was exactly what was said in 1914 about the people who supported Lord Roberts. I dare say the noble Lord may have read the letters which have appeared in the newspapers. There was one from a lady who described parting from a Prussian General at the beginning of July, 1914. She asked him whether there was to be a war, and his reply was: "Madam, if Britain followed Lord Roberts' advice there can be no war." I believe that is abundantly true, and that the best thing that the Government have done for a very long time is to take the measure which they have taken—inadequate as I believe it to be—to make it clear to the Continent that we are prepared to do, before war breaks out, in the hope of preventing war, what we know we should have to do if war did break out.

Why all this talk about conscription as something strange, and unknown, and degrading? Do noble Lords opposite really think that this nation was degraded as a result of conscription in 1916? So far from there being any sign of that, I remember, being in the other House, how each Election resulted in a higher majority, so far as I was concerned. Why should it be said that what every other nation accepts is degrading to Englishmen, Irishmen or Scotsmen? Surely there is a lot of nonsense talked about the degrading character of National Service. As was very well pointed out by the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, the voice of the drill sergeant is no sweeter when addressed to a volunteer than when addressed to a conscript. The means that he has to achieve his end are the same. But what I do think it is fair to say—and I hope that the noble Field Marshal there may talk to us on this subject—is that it is perfectly criminal to send abroad, to meet trained professional soldiers, men who have voluntarily given their spare time, perhaps an hour a week, with a fortnight's drill in the summer, and to suggest that they are adequately prepared to meet men of that kind.

The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, who, I am sorry to say, has left the House, asked why we should follow the Dictators' methods. It is news to me that we are following the Dictators' methods. We are following, for example, the methods of Belgium, and I suppose if there is one thing more certain than another it is that Belgium saved democracy at the beginning of the last War. Belgium saved democracy because she had the whole manhood of the nation, who stood up against incredible odds and gave the rest of the world time to rally to the help of France. Turning to the comparison with 1914, I am sure the noble Lord will not misunderstand me if I suggest that he might recall the difference in the attitude of the Opposition then to the steps taken by the Government, and of the Opposition to-day. I do not suggest for a moment that it is not fair and right for him to point out the disagreement that exists. But he must remember that in 1914 we who were then in the Opposition were divided from the Government more bitterly than at any time, I suppose, in the recollection of any living man. And yet, directly the danger of war arrived all political disputes were abandoned. I suggest respectfully to the noble Lords who have spoken from the different sections of the Opposition, that the time has come now when we have a chance—not a certainty—of avoiding war, and we can only avoid war by showing that the whole nation is united behind the Government.

It is not merely a question of providing an adequate force. I think the noble Lord quite right in saying that the proposals of the Government are quite inadequate in that respect. But at any rate it is better than nothing, it is a great improvement. A principle is being advanced on which we have been obliged to fall back in all our wars, not only the Great War, in which most of us took part, but I believe you will find that a great many of Wellington's men at Waterloo were collected by the press gang. I think that probably Cromwell's men were not all voluntarily enlisted, and certainly the men at Crecy submitted to considerable pressure. Therefore to suggest that compulsion is a novelty so far as we are concerned really is to ignore the whole of our history.

But, in addition to the possibility of preventing the outbreak of war, surely there is one point that has not been mentioned in this debate yet, and it is this. The next most important thing to obtaining peace is to restore respect for treaties. Now treaties at the moment are at the mercy of the man who can put the strongest force in the field, and, so far as I can see, the only possibility there is of altering that state of affairs and reverting to a system under which alone you can have security and peace for the smaller nations, is to make it quite clear, by a combination of nations who are strong enough to interfere with the prospective aggressor, that he cannot meet with success. Treaties have been torn up with great success from 1914 onwards. The steps taken to safeguard the Treaty of 1919 have proved to be quite inadequate, and we are once more back in the region of power politics. To suggest that when the rest of the world has got into that position which was so well described, as I thought, by my noble friend Lord Home, anything short of the utmost effort that we can possibly put forward can be adequate to meet the situation, seems to me to suggest a world of unrealities, and a refusal to face manifest facts and to discharge our responsibilities as Members of Parliament.

6.16 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to ask a question of which I have given the Leader of the House private notice: It is this. Should a Proclamation, based on a state of emergency, as stated yesterday by the noble Earl in the House, be issued, would it necessarily be followed by a declaration of war were an attack delivered on this country or any part of the Empire? I ask this question because, as we see, the modern habit is that war should be conducted without any declaration of war, and it is probable that hostilities might be directed against this part of the Empire without a declaration of war. We, acting on what I may call constitutional practice, would think it necessary to declare war, and thereby have the odium of being the instigators and authors of the war. I understand that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack is going to reply to my question, and I hope that he will be able to tell us exactly how we stand as regards this question of declaration of war.

6.17 p.m.


My Lords, perhaps your Lordships will allow me to deal with that question as best I can. It involves some rather curious matters of modern practice. If a country—this country or any other—is attacked without a declaration of war by an aggressor, there is no doubt that it has a complete right to defend itself, and it is absolved from the necessity of a declaration of war. The matter is technically regulated by The Hague Convention, which I am afraid I have not looked at for the purposes of answering this question, and you will find that The Hague Convention declares that a Government ought never to commence war without a warning, or without an ultimatum which declares that in the event of the terms of the ultimatum not being complied with there will be a state of war. However, you are free from any obligation, as I say, if you are attacked. But, according to the better practice, a country so attacked without warning and without declaration should itself make a declaration as soon as possible, stating that war or a state of war commenced as from the date of the enemy onset, and that is, I think, the course which this country would in all probability follow.

Now if your Lordships will bear with me for I hope not a very long period, there are matters which have arisen in the course of this interesting debate with which I should like to deal. The first point I want to deal with is the complaint which the noble Lord, Lord Snell, made yesterday, with his usual force and emphasis, against the Government on two grounds: first, the ground of lack of courtesy in opening this question in Parliament and the country without further communication with the members of his Party; and, secondly, the ground that there has been by the Government a repudiation of solemn promises made to Parliament and the nation that conscription in any form would not be introduced in time of peace during the life of this Parliament. He said that that promise was repeated on March 29 of this year. The first time I addressed your Lordships on a political matter I was induced to rise because of the charge of breach of faith and honour on the part of the Government, and I confess that I can never remain quite unmoved, or perhaps quite calm, when I think that I am being accused of being a member of a Government which has broken its solemn pledges. Accordingly I have sought to ascertain exactly what the pledges were, and on the invitation of my noble friend Lord Cecil I propose to tell your Lordships what I think the pledge meant and means at the present moment.

The pledge first made was given by Mr. Stanley Baldwin, now Earl Baldwin, in answer to Mr. McGovern in the other place on April 1, 1936. This is the first pledge given to Parliament: MR. MCGOVERN asked the Prime Minister whether he can give a guarantee that a conscription measure will not be introduced so long as peace prevails? THE PRIME MINISTER (MR. BALDWIN): Yes, Sir, so far as the present Government are concerned. I could go through a number of other cases where there have been repeated questions to the Prime Minister of the day, including many questions to Mr. Neville Chamberlain, in which the same pledge, if it is properly described as a pledge—I prefer to call it a promise—has been sought from His Majesty's Government. I will not delay your Lordships by going through them all, but I have them all here.

On October 6 last Mr. McGovern again, by private notice, asked the Prime Minister whether he could give an assurance that the Government would continue to honour the pledges given in answer to previous questions—namely, that no measure of conscription or compulsory National Service would be introduced. THE PRIME MINISTER: I have previously stated that conscription or compulsory National Service will not be introduced by this Government in peace time, and that statement still holds good. That, I think, was the last pledge, and the reason I interposed to-day to ask my noble friend Lord Samuel a question was that Lord Snell had stated that the pledge had been repeated in an unequivocal form on March 29 last, a month ago. I have taken the opportunity of hunting through the OFFICIAL REPORT to find to what it was he was alluding. What was stated was this. Mr. Greenwood had asked the Prime Minister three questions. The third question was whether they, on that side of the House, might welcome the Prime Minister's statement as a reaffirmation of the Government's intention to uphold the voluntary system as against conscription. To that the Prime Minister said, dealing with the third question: The right honourable gentleman is quite correct in his assumption that this"— that is the Territorial Army increase scheme— is an evidence of the Government's opinion that we have not by any means yet exhausted what can be done by voluntary service, and we shall demonstrate the possibilities of voluntary services to meet all our needs. I do not attach any very great importance to these matters. What is of importance is to state with the greatest care the pledge which it is alleged has been broken, the time and place when it was given, in order that those who are considering whether the pledge has been broken or repudiated may have the opportunity of seeing what exactly was said and what was the true meaning of the statement made. There is a promise or pledge by the Prime Minister of this Government, following what was done in the last Government, that in peace time conscription would not be introduced. What does that mean? "Peace time" is not a term of art and has not got a legal significance. "War" has a legal meaning, and war may go on for years after the last shot has been fired, as all your Lordships are well aware, but "peace time" is a popular phrase or popular expression which may have many meanings. The question we have got to ask is this, in popular language does a promise of that kind mean that no conscription or measure of conscription can be introduced until war actually breaks out? For my part I deny it. I think that is a complete mistake. We are not here dealing with legal phrases. Perhaps the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, will allow me to remind him that thirty-one years ago he addressed from the other side of the Bar a long speech to this House in its judicial capacity on the question of what was war in a legal sense. It was in the Driefontein Case, he may remember. But we are not dealing with that sort of thing. We have now to consider not only the words "peace time," but the nature of the promise and the circumstances in which it was made.

The statement on behalf of His Majesty's Government was that the Government do not consider that a certain measure of defence is necessary in the interests of the country in peace time. It does not mean anything more than that. Is the course to be taken by the Government to depend on the actual commencement of hostilities? Certainly it cannot depend, as the noble Lord who asked me a question just now will know, on the declaration of war, because wars are constantly being commenced without any such declaration. It can hardly depend solely on the question of commencement of hostilities. Just see what a test that would be. Must we wait, for instance, until London is bombed before we can take such a measure of precaution as is here in question? Is the promise we have been speaking of a promise to prevent us taking such a deterrent measure as that which is proposed, however grave the imminence may be of hostile action against this country? For example, if a million men were put in transports with the object of invading this country, and all the necessary equipment was on board, is it then to be said: "This is a time of peace and you cannot take this measure of calling out your fellow subjects to protect the country"? And is it any different if, instead of being men in transports, it is aeroplanes that we are faced with, bombers that may be sent to attack this country at any time? Are we to wait to put ourselves in a position to supply the necessary soldiers who are required, as the noble Viscount, Lord Horne, reminded us, for so many purposes in these days, until the bombers have actually loosed their bombs upon this country? I hope your Lordships will come to the conclusion that that is a preposterous view.

I do not shrink from telling your Lordships what to the best of my judgment the real test is, and it is this. Where there exist such hostile preparations in a foreign country and such a state of tension between that country and our own that war may at any time break out, where those two conditions exist, I have no hesitation in saying that "peace time," in the sense the words were used by the Prime Minister in the course of this promise, no longer exists and that the Government are perfectly justified in taking such a precautionary measure as they intend to take. I think everybody will agree that the Government would be deserving of the censure of every person in this country, poor as well as rich, if in the circumstances which I have suggested exist and which do exist, they waited until the blow actually fell and destruction of a kind which one does not like to contemplate had been caused in the earliest days of the war. I would ask this: Who but the Government can be the judges of whether the conditions I have mentioned exist or not? What other person is able to stand up and say: "In my opinion the case is not so dangerous as you think; the fact that we have given pledges during the last fortnight to other countries has not so much altered the position as to make such a departure from our usual traditions and practice necessary and, therefore, nothing of this sort should be done"? For my part I cannot understand how anybody can have courage of such a kind as to get up and tell us that in his opinion there is no occasion for the proposals put forward by His Majesty's Government, and that therefore they are wrong.

I would ask this question: Is there any sensible man in this land who is not conscious of the intense reluctance of the Prime Minister and of this Government to bring forward even the limited measure of compulsory National Service which is the subject matter of the present debate? If anybody has any doubt on that point, I would say to him: "Do you think that for a moment the Prime Minister, after the views which he has repeatedly expressed, and after all his efforts for peace, as to which nobody can have the smallest doubt, would for a moment have done this if he thought there was any other course possible in the performance of his duty to do the best he can to protect his country at this particular time?" Few in the Government could have dreamt of bringing forward this proposal in the present Parliament unless it was a matter which was of the greatest possible importance in the interests of peace and security. It is not necessary for me to repeat the strange events of world importance which have taken place in the last three or four weeks and which have, as the Government think, transformed the international situation and the position in which this country stands.

There is another consideration which might induce the noble Lord, Lord Snell, to modify the view he has taken of the action of the Government on this occasion. Let me suppose for a moment that he is right in his view of what "peace time" means in the promise to which I have referred, and let us suppose that His Majesty's Government's views on that subject are wrong. Then the question arises, what ought the Government to have done in those circumstances? On the one hand it has been proved that the pledge was given, but on the other hand the Government are quite satisfied that a measure of this sort is necessary in the emergency of the present day. There are two things that make a difference. One of them is that the Government can follow what they believe to be the true meaning of the promise and introduce these measures. Well and good; that is what we are doing. The other is, they can dissolve Parliament. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Snell, and anybody else who has any doubt upon that topic, that it is not because of any fear as to the result of that course that Parliament is not dissolved. I believe that every member of this House, with the exception of one or two at most, is perfectly convinced that there is an overwhelming feeling in the country that we must now take steps to put ourselves in line with regard to our forces with the other nations on the Continent, and particularly with those who are going to fight side by side with us if war comes.

There have been many things said on the subject of conscription, but one thing that I cannot understand is this. Everybody agrees that it is noble for the volunteer to go out and fight for his country and to endanger his life for that purpose. What I cannot understand is how anybody can answer the question: Is it noble for others to stand by and watch the volunteer fighting? Is that noble? Or is not the answer that it is just as noble to fight if you are bound to help your country as it is if you voluntarily go forth to do so? I have heard sentences used to-night as if it were a fact that British citizens owe no duty to fight for their country. I suppose that means no duty to join up in time of peace, because I think it is not in dispute that in time of war it is the duty of every citizen to help the country in the hour of danger. But if the proposition is that it is a duty to help in time of war, does it not follow beyond all doubt that in these days, when it takes so many months to train a soldier, it is equally a man's duty to join up and to fit himself in some way to defend his country when the moment comes and war breaks out?

There has been another complaint made to-day—one which is answered by noble Lords who have a complaint of a different character—that this is only a small measure of conscription which is proposed. The other view is that of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, who thinks that it has not been proved that the voluntary system has in any way failed. The Government are satisfied that more men may be needed at any time for some of the purposes of defending the country, and that some more men are needed at the present time. The proposed measure will produce them. The fact that the number of men to be produced by this measure is not a very great number is the answer to those who say, as the noble Lord, Lord Snell, suggested, that there would be dilution in the workshops, that the trade unions will be upset, and that the production of armaments will be interfered with. Very few people are going to be affected by this measure, and of course the greatest care will be taken by the Government that production of munitions shall not be in any way interfered with.

My Lords, this measure is one that is necessary, and I venture to think that the country as a whole will take that view. The criticisms which are extended to His Majesty's Government are largely due to the fact that they are made by persons without the responsibility which weighs upon every member of the Government, and in particular on the Prime Minister, who commands our fullest confidence and trust. This moment is, as has already been said, of extreme gravity in the history of Britain and of the Empire. The possibility of hostilities with the greatest military Power which the world has ever known is one which has to be reckoned with. The onus which rests upon the Prime Minister, upon the Foreign Secretary and the Defence Ministers is almost more than any human beings can properly be asked to bear. The interests of the nation are at stake. If the leaders of the Labour Party, and I would add of the Liberal Party, really understood the position, they would not be taking up the energies and the time of those members of the Government, but would be endeavouring to assist them to carry out these terrible duties in the true interests of the country.

On Question, Motion agreed to.