HC Deb 20 October 1915 vol 74 cc1812-3

I desire to ask the indulgence of the House for a few minutes in order to state, in as few words as possible, the reasons which impelled me to resign my office as His Majesty's Attorney-General. I greatly regret, as I know the whole House does, the absence of the Prime Minister and the reason which occasions it. In his absence it is, I think, necessary for me to go even more briefly into the cause of my resignation than I otherwise might have been inclined to do. I am well aware of the difficulties in existing circumstances of making any full statement, or of saying anything that might be taken hold of as showing any sign of weakness or divergence in the main object which we all have in view—of carrying on the War, at all sacrifice, to a final and conclusive issue. I think I need hardly say that upon that issue there is not, and never has been, either in the Cabinet, or in this House, or in the country, any disagreement or divergence of opinion. The real unity which the country wants is that steadfast unity of purpose to defeat our enemies and save our country. But I entirely deny the fact that the holding of divergent views as to the best policy and methods to be adopted in the various theatres of war for bringing it to a successful conclusion is in any sense an emblem of disunion. I have seen criticisms of myself, and of my reasons, for resigning, of a very petty and malicious character, attributing to me motives of a party political character. I do not desire to deal with these ridiculous assertions further than to say—and I say it in the presence of many of my late colleagues—that since I entered the Cabinet I have never heard one word of discussion or dispute on those party questions which divided us before the War. At every Cabinet I have attended we have all devoted our energies wholly and solely to discussions of questions which arose in reference to the prosecution of the War, I also desire to say that during the whole time I have been in the Cabinet I have never had any personal difference either with the Prime Minister—whose unvarying courtesy I desire to acknowledge—or with any one of my late colleagues.

May I also add that no one realises more than I do the great difficulties under which we labour, owing to the fact that our policy, and our methods, must at all times be adopted in concert and co-ordination with our various Allies, and must also very frequently be framed with the view of consulting the sentiments and feelings of those neutral countries with whom we remain on friendly terms. This, I think, is a matter which is often lost sight of by critics of our actions who cannot possibly know the difficulties of the questions which arise from time to time. The difficulties which have arisen in the Eastern theatre of war have created a situation which to my mind must necessarily lead to very far-reaching results. At the time I entered the Cabinet we were already committed to what I may call the operations in Gallipoli. It is not, of course, my intention to deal either with the inception or the carrying out of those operations, but it must be plain to any observer that the new theatre of war in the Balkans has created a situation which cannot be divorced from our position on the Gallipoli Peninsula. The statement made by the Foreign Minister, under the sanction of the Cabinet, in this House, appeared to me to have announced a policy of the highest importance in our obligations in the Balkans, involving our prestige and our honour. That situation, with all its complications, necessitates, in my opinion, a clearly defined, well thought out, and decisive policy on the part of His Majesty's Government. Finding myself unable to agree in any respect with what I understood was laid down as the policy approved of by His Majesty's Government, I felt that my presence in the Cabinet could not be of any use in the critical situation in which we were involved. I need hardly say I am not suggesting that my views are possibly to be compared with those who have much more experience and greater wisdom in dealing with such situations. At the same time I held, and hold, the views which I express very strongly, and, I hope the House will believe, conscientiously and patriotically. I do not, therefore, think that in the circumstances I could be anything but a source of weakness at a time that requires great strength and consistency. That is really all I can say for the moment. I ask the House to believe that in the course I have taken I have been actuated by no personal or party motives, but that I have acted, to the best of my ability, solely in the interests of my country.