§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Mr. Tennant)
The history of the Army during the last twelve months is so much the history of our country, is so much the history of our hopes and our disappointments, our attainments and our disillusions, that he would be a bold man indeed, and a foolish one, who did not feel that the narration would be a task which would tax his powers to the uttermost. But it is no part of my intention to-day to traverse the blood-stained field of Flanders or of France, or of Gallipoli. I must essay to cover the wide, though duller, field of administrative action. In presenting these Estimates my mind naturally goes back to the occasion a year ago when I explained to the House the limitations in which I found myself. These Estimates are presented in the same form as they were a year ago—that is to say, they are token Estimates of £1,000 apiece. The House is familiar with these limitations; I need not elaborate them. The House has become almost too familiar, I dare say, with the statement that it is not advisable to give information which might be useful to the enemy, and occasionally indeed it has been said even by myself that such-and-such information would not be in the public interest, and hon. Gentlemen are familiar with that phrase. It remains not in the public interest that I should give the numbers of the Army, either in the separate arms or in the various definite theatres of operation, and still less the numbers of those who are training at home to supply reinforcements for the Armies in the field. So I find myself bound by the same ban which bound me a year ago. Nor can I speak in terms of money of the amount required for the Army, though my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has given the House certain information on this subject. I think that it will be sufficient for me to remind the House that we are voting in 1934 these Estimates 4,000,000 men, and that the Prime Minister has stated that the three Services of the Army, the Navy, and the Munitions Department are costing just over £3,000,000 a day. Having said that, I should like, just in a sentence or two, to explain that I cannot trust myself to speak of the quality of the Army as it is so well known in all quarters of the House, but I would like to pay a tribute to their wonderful discipline, considering the short term during which many of these soldiers have been trained. It speaks wonderfully for the men themselves, and also for the officers who are training them.
I will now come, if I may, to the Army and the methods by which it has been raised, and deal with the recruiting problem, which has aroused a certain amount of comment in this House. I would like to be allowed to go back to the beginning and to recall to the House the first rush of recruits to the Colours, after which, as hon. Members are aware, there was a lull in recruiting; but still, at the commencement of last financial year, recruiting was satisfactory, and then occurred the rival claims of the Munitions Department and of the general labour market, when naturally the intake of recruits gradually declined. There was occasional temporary improvement owing to the special efforts of the Secretary of State, the Parliamentary Recruiting Committee, and the War Office recruiting authorities, but it became very soon evident that some special steps would have to be taken, and so, at the desire of the Government, my Noble Friend the Secretary of State asked Lord Derby to undertake the scheme of recruiting. That is a thing which is too familiar to require description. It may be sufficient if I remind the House that the recruiting scheme was based upon the age and the married condition of the recruit. It recognised his domestic and other responsibilities by giving him notice, during the period of which it was hoped that he would have time to windup his business, and it also gave notice to the employers. It is no doubt fresh in the minds of all of us that after the enthusiastic reception of the scheme by all classes, and especially by the Press, to which I would like to pay a tribute, men came forward slowly at first, and that then by degrees people wakened up through the agency of the Parliamentary Recruiting Committee, the General Labour Recruiting Committee, and hon. 1935 Members of all parties in this House, and the intake of recruits became very large, until that final, wonderful wave of enthusiasm which brought 1,000,000 recruits into the Service in so short a space as four days. I think that that is a most encouraging augury for our final victory.
In this respect it is difficult to overestimate the services rendered by hon. Gentlemen of all political parties, to whom I must extend the thanks of the Army Council. In an especial degree our thanks are due to Lord Derby and to his staff of energetic coadjutors, who have worked with an energy and single-mindedness deserving of all praise. Not merely we at the War Office, but the whole nation, are indebted to Lord Derby in an especial degree. The nest stage is that of the Military Service Act, and in dealing with the Military Service Act I shall be careful to confine myself to mere comment on the administration of certain of its provisions after it had passed through this House. I am aware that the recruiting authorities have become subject to criticism in this respect, and I am not going to pretend for a moment that mistakes have not been made and that there have been no blunders, but I would ask the House to remember how overstrained these Departments have been for over twenty months. Hundreds and thousands of soldiers, growing to millions, passed through the hands of the recruiting officers. It was very difficult for them at the outset, and, in fact, throughout the whole of the recruiting campaign there was not sufficient clerical assistance. They were overworked before the Military Service Bill came before this House at all, and, when we consider the new problems brought into existence after the Military Service Act, it is not so much to be wondered at if some mistakes have been made; indeed, it is to my mind really remarkable that greater breakdowns have not occurred. During the progress of the War the problems confronting the recruiting authorities materially changed. In its early stages men presented themselves for enlistment, and, in their desire to join the Army, if they had any physical defect, they did their best to conceal it. The early rush of recruits no doubt was very successful. Later on the position changed. Under the group system men persuaded the 1936 doctors of maladies very often fanciful and quite imaginary, and consequently they were rejected. That was brought to our observation fairly early in the period of the group system, and some means were devised for tightening up the machinery. It has been decided to make the conditions in regard to the armlets more stringent. It has been found in the case of a number of men who have had a second medical examination that they were "fit for general service."
It has been said that the medical standard has been reduced. I should like to disabuse the minds of hon. Members of that. The standard has never been reduced; it remains the same. We have established medical boards in each military area of the country, by which we think that the medical examination has been materially improved, and the efficiency increased. We now are seeing that the standard is more strictly enforced, and some men who were previously accepted for military service by the medical practitioners have been rejected by those medical boards. The next step is that of trying to conserve the men. We realise that this War is a war of attrition, and is particularly a war of attrition of men. It became evident that we should have to do what we could to save those who were medically fit from doing what might be called supplementary duties not involving such a great strain as that of fighting at the front, and substitute for them men less fit who would discharge those supplementary duties, and so release men fit for actual fighting. We therefore instituted a process of grading men and putting them into categories. Last July we accepted men for garrison duty, and now we are accepting for various military corps such as the Military Ordnance Corps and the Army Service Corps, men who would not be fit to fight at the front line, and thereby we are able to release the first-rate men for these means men have been placed in the Reserve for various duties, and some of them may never be called upon unless the situation becomes worse than we have any reason at the moment to believe likely. By these means, by putting men into the Reserve and not calling upon them, their businesses are not interfered with, and they are able to return to their homes. It has been suggested in this House that by means of grading and putting them into categories the men have been tricked and cajoled to get them into the Army. 1937 I am afraid that has been done in some cases—I know it has—but I have one my best to see that it is put right. I have issued instructions by which, I hope very much, nothing of the kind can occur in the future. It has not occurred within the last week, and in any case where real injustice has been done I hope it will be put right.
There remains the question of the conscientious objector. However much one may sympathise with and admire the man of deep religious motives who objects to combatant service, the man who shields himself behind a spurious conscience is, not to put too fine a point upon it, not a patriotic citizen. The duty of deciding whether a man is a true or counterfeit conscientious objector has been left—it was decided by the House—to the hands of the tribunals and their Appeal Courts. When their decision is made we wish to assist the tribunals by placing out work of national importance and non-combatant duties consistent with their dignity and advantage to the State. With this end in view we have established the Non-Combatant Corps, and we hope that many men will join. For members of the Society of Friends there is the Friends' Ambulance Unit, with which I associate the name of Sir George Neuman, who has done admirable work in this connection. That unit is prepared to find work for all the members of the Society of Friends. There is a great deal of useful work which non-combatants can perform both in France and this country, such as the repair of roads and railways, sanitation, the provision of huts and baths for soldiers coming out of the trenches, and the manufacture and provision of many necessaries of life.
There has been a certain amount of agitation lately in the country over what is called the question of the married men. It has been considered that the pledge given by the Government that unmarried men should go first would not be kept if so many unmarried men are allowed to remain behind while married groups are called upon. I may say—I think it appeared in the Press this morning—that energetic steps are being taken by the Government to revise the list of reserved occupations, to revise the starred lists, and to reduce to the minimum those who are of military age and physique, who are unmarried, and who have to be kept at home to keep industries going, particularly the manufacture and production of 1938 munitions at home. Steps have been taken to reduce the number of those men to the minimum, and when I say that the Government are taking these steps, that is really all that should be expected of the Government. They have given this pledge, and I think the pledge will be carried out by that means. In any case, I can assure the House that the matter is engaging the most earnest attention of the Government and of my Noble Friend Lord Derby. They are, moreover, alive to the situation, and are not going to let the married men down.
I come now to certain alterations that have been made in regard to recruiting. Certain arrangements have been made with regard to officers in the Army. It has been decided to modify the system whereby candidates for temporary commissions and commissions in the Special Reserve and Territorial Force are appointed and trained. Instead of a man being granted a commission first and subsequently receiving their elementary military training, the candidates for temporary commissions will in future be selected from non-commissioned officers and men who have served in the ranks, including the ranks of the Officers' Training Corps. They will be appointed as cadets to cadet units to undergo a course of training of about four months' duration. At the termination of the course those likely to prove efficient commanders will be granted commissions. Should a cadet prove himself unlikely to become an efficient leader, or unworthy of holding a commission, he will be returned to the ranks, or otherwise disposed of as the Army Council may direct. It is confidently anticipated that these measures will not only conduce to greater efficiency among the junior officers, but will result in a considerable financial saving. I now come to the question—
§ Sir FREDERICK BANBURY
Before the right hon. Gentleman passes to the next question, can he say whether recruiting has been satisfactory?
§ Mr. TENNANT
I should not like to commit myself to the word "satisfactory." I would rather the right hon. Gentleman gave me an opportunity to consider my answer more fully. The raising of such large Armies, of course, involves very difficult problems of housing the troops. Huts, billets, and camps, the equipment and training of officers and 1939 men, clothing, and munitions have all to be provided for on a gigantic scale. We have likewise to consider the needs and health of the troops, the sanitation of camps, and the question of rapid communication. We have had to supply general and special hospital accommodation for convalescent soldiers. All these things involve an enormous strain upon the Department. I should like to thank the other great Departments of the State, the Board of Education, the Local Government Board, and the Scottish Office, and the Board of Control for the assistance they have given. With them I also associate the Red Cross Society, the St. John's Ambulance Society, and many private individuals who have been so good in many cases to give us many buildings rent free and a very large amount of money. I should also like to notice the great cities like Bradford, Leeds, and Huddersfield who, of their own free will, have actually provided and equipped hospitals, while other places like Bath, for example, have provided equipment. A very influential Committee of the Institute of Civil Engineers was invited by the War Office to visit and report on all these works in progress, as, for instance, the Huddersfield camp, and so on. These gentlemen have given their valuable services gratuitously, and have visited all the principal works and submitted a most valuable, and, on the whole, very favourable report.
The next question to consider is the clothing of the recruits and the provision of equipment generally—tools, and every kind of thing, including clothing, having to be considered. In order to do this, in the case of these great Armies, we have had to deal with matters in a gigantic manner. There are five important articles of clothing, boots, shirts, socks, jackets, and trousers, of which the normal annual provision was 1,900,000, and we have provided up to now 117,090,000. That is not all. We have to provide an enormous number of stores and articles which in peace time would not have to be provided. For instance, we have had to provide three million goat and other skins in order to make fur-lined coats for the soldiers, besides having bought large numbers of fur coats in Canada and the United States; and, in addition to that, there was a large provision of articles for our Allies the Serbians. Again, in general stores, equipment of saddlery, harness, bedding, blankets, tools, techni- 1940 cal stores R.A. and R.E., the numbers we have had to find since the outbreak of War would have lasted in normal times 140 years. From the beginning of the War the Contracts Department has maintained the closest touch with the representatives of the Allied Governments on the Commission Internationale de Ravitaillement. The Contracts Branch has not only had to buy for the British Army, but to act as adviser, and in many cases as buyer, for the Allies. All the Department's facilities have been placed at the disposal of the Allies to enable them to procure at reasonable prices all the supplies which this country could spare. This co-operation between the buying departments of the Allies has been extended in the last few months by centralizing, either with the Contracts Branch of the War Office or in purchasing agents acting for all the Allies, the purchase of stores needed by one or more of the Allied Governments. Thus purchases of wheat, meat, oats, hay, timber, and jute goods are now made through one single channel in each case on behalf of all the Allied Governments in a way which effectively prevents any possibility of rises of prices caused by unnecessary competition, and which enables some measure of control to be exercised over the markets of the world. Recently representatives of the Contracts Branch have visited France and inquired into the general methods and procedure of the French authorities in purchasing supplies.
It may well be imagined, by anyone who thinks about it, that all this has led to great strain on the industries of this country. It has been found necessary to organise the industries as best we might for production, and also for the import of raw materials, and for the provision of transport and railway facilities, and to induce new firms to undertake manufacture and production, and firms which had never done so hitherto. In those cases assistance had to be given to some of those new firms, and machinery and labour, and in some cases capital had to be advanced. For these purposes we had to largely increase the army of inspectors. In many cases we have abandoned our old system of competitive tenders, and steps are being taken, as I indicated just now in regard to our Allies, for control of prices. For example, in the leather trade maximum prices have been fixed for long periods 1941 ahead, whatever the demands of the Department for harness or leather equipment or the prices of hides may be. In the jute trade the price of jute yarns and Hessian cloth required for sandbags and other purposes has been fixed both in the United Kingdom and in Calcutta. The effect of these measures and of the careful organisation of the, jute trade which has accompanied them has been that the Allies have secured all the supplies of bags they need at a price of 25 per cent., or more, less than the market price, with the result that on the whole purchase of bags a saving of at least £2,000,000 has been effected. It is interesting to note that, although the value and quantity of the purchases by the Contracts Department has increased a hundredfold or more, the Contracts Department itself has only been increased four and one-third times, which is a very striking figure. Finally, on this subject I would say we have had great assistance and advice from various trade organisations, such as the United Tanners' Federation, the Wholesale Clothiers' Association, the Boot Manufacturers' Association, the Flax Supply Association of Belfast, the Scottish Spinners' Association, the Indian Jute Mills Association, and from various chambers of commerce. We have had also the benefit of the knowledge and experience of some of the ablest business men in this country. Some of them are giving their whole time to the service of the Department. A small number of those who have been advising the Department for many months in an informal way have been constituted for some weeks into an Advisory Committee on Contracts. The members of this committee are constantly consulted individually on the points connected with the trades with which they are specially familiar, and the committee, as a whole, considers and advises on matters of general importance or involving points of special difficulty.
I would ask to be allowed to pass now from the soldier fit for military service to the soldier who has been through the Army and is disabled in consequence of that service. I want first to disabuse the minds of hon. Members as to certain statements of a rather astounding nature which have been made. I have heard it said that the Army pension authorities have given no pensions for five illnesses—tuberculosis, frostbite, rheumatism, heart disease, and epilepsy. I know that that has been said, and a greater mistake 1942 could not be made. I will now give the figures. [An HON. MEMBER: "Of all cases?"] As to tuberculosis, there 'have been 1,932 cases pensioned at war rates and 1,208 rejected. In the case of frostbite there have been 306 admitted to pension at war rates—[An HON. MEMBER: "How many rejected?"]—and none rejected. In the case of rheumatism there have been 891 pensioned. In the cases of rheumatism, heart disease, and epilepsy no doubt there may have been some rejected, but I have not been able to get the figures as it would require an enormous amount of inquiry. There have been actually passed for pension 891 cases of rheumatism, 1,431 of heart disease, and 210 of epilepsy. So that I hope hon. Members will realise it is quite untrue to suggest that these cases are not fully considered and dealt with as far as possible.
§ Mr. TENNANT
Perhaps my hon. Friend will listen to my statement. I am aware we have encountered some criticism, because it has been stated that men who were in the Army and who were willing to risk their lives on behalf of the country have been invalided out of the Army and have not been granted pensions. It is said that 12,000 men who would have given their lives for their country are now wandering about the country without a farthing to live upon. I want to state the case as frankly and as dispassionately as I possibly can. It is known, I hope, that soldiers discharged from the Army on account of wounds or injuries or sunstroke received in connection with or in the performance of military duty, or for blindness caused by military duty, or disease due directly and wholly to military service are given pensions at full rate. There remain the cases not covered by those terms, that is the cases of men who are discharged from the Army for disease which has been aggravated by service, and the cases of disease which was neither caused nor aggravated by the service. I think the House will agree with me that it would be improper to pension men whose illness was neither caused nor aggravated by service out of the public funds. But I think the case of the man whose illness has been aggravated, although it was not caused by military service, is in a different category. It may be said that none of these men should be in the Army, and 1943 that they ought never to have got there. My answer to that, as I have already indicated is, that during the first rush of recruits to the Colours it was not possible to ascertain in every case that there was some organic trouble.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I absolutely deny that that is so. The hon. Gentleman is not correct in saying that the same thing is going Am now. It is not, so far as it is humanly possible to ascertain whether there is any disease present. Some of these men did their best to conceal their ailments, some from the very best motives, because they wished to fight for their country, and others for different motives. For instance, the Chelsea Board had on the 24th February sixty cases brought up for consideration of men who had been discharged. Although they had served from seven months to a year not one of them had done any military training, not even drill. Those were men who had been determined to get into the Army in order to get free hospital accommodation, and who have been in hospital the whole time since. I say that no claim lies in such cases. Hon. Members may say, of course, that the doctor ought not to have passed such men, but I should like hon. Members who are so accurate themselves to realise that other people may make mistakes. It has been the habit of the Chelsea Board to pension those men whose cases of illness have been aggravated by service and to recommend from 4s. 8d. to 7s. per week. The Government, having given some consideration to those figures, have decided that that is not an adequate pension. We have decided to make a very great rise. We realise that there is some responsibility on the State in this matter for the disabled condition of the soldier, though it is not fully responsible. In order to meet that as precisely as we possibly can we have decided to give to those disabled men whose cases are cases of aggravation, not a full pension; but four-fifths of a full pension, which I think is very generous.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I would rather not answer that question without notice. I do not think a decision has been reached on that point. It is being carefully con- 1944 sidered. Perhaps the hon. Member will put forward points which he wishes to make on that problem which I recognise is an important consideration in relation to this matter. I hope the House will agree that this is treatment which is not ungenerous. It will involve a heavy charge on the public funds, but in spite of our desire for economy it is widely felt that we ought not to effect economy at the expense of men who, whatever may have been their physical imperfections when they joined the Army, have, at any rate, expressed their wish to serve their country. We have recently issued an Order with the object of providing employment for disabled soldiers, and also in order to provide labour for those employers who are crying out for workmen. That Order, which was issued only on the 10th March, states that when any Regular or Territorial soldier is discharged a report is to be rendered forthwith by the officer in command of the records concerned to the general manager of the Labour Exchange Department of the Board of Trade in order that his name may be registered, with all particulars, showing the cause of his discharge, his occupation before enlistment, the nature of his injuries, and his special qualifications for any particular form of employment in civil life. I have a copy of the form here. It is hoped by this means to give the wounded soldier employment at the earliest possible moment, and at the same time to contribute something towards the solution of the industrial problem with which we are now confronted.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I hope not. That is a point, of course, but I cannot answer on the spur of the moment, I come now to another branch of the administration of the Department with which I am connected--a branch which has created a good deal of stir, not only in this House, but also, I understand, in the Parliamentary Division of East Hertfordshire. If the House will allow me, I am going to deal with the air problem. I have been in consultation and constant communication with my military advisers on the subject of the defence of this country against hostile aircraft, and I am able to make some statements to the House which I hope will act as assurances and allay a certain amount of public anxiety. In the 1945 first place, it is a great mistake to suppose that we are not fully seised of the importance of the aerial defences of the country. It is quite wrong to suppose that the Government have ever considered this problem as one of secondary importance; on the contrary, we look upon it as one of first importance. It is useless, for instance, to increase the strength of your Armies abroad if the bases from which they draw their munition supplies are laid in ruins by the action of hostile aircraft. The best guns and the best gunners must be obtained and employed on the all-important duty of protecting these bases. Personnel thus employed are just as much on active service as their comrades in France; as a matter of fact, they are interchangeable, and are drafted abroad and back again as circumstances dictate.
The second point I would make is that the provisions for defence in this country are really military operations of great importance, and they, just as much as any operations in the field, and possibly even more so, depend for their success on secrecy. The first question the House would naturally ask is, "In what manner are you providing for this defence?" The first matter is, therefore, intelligence—that is, how do we know that an aerial attack is contemplated or about to begin? Intelligence is a matter of a very delicate character and cannot be discussed in public. The second question one would naturally ask is, "What provision has been wade in regard to anti-aircraft guns?" I have been in consultation with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Munitions. The position in regard to anti-aircraft guns, though no doubt it leaves a great deal to be desired, is better to-day than it has ever been. We have also provided at Shoeburyness, in order to train gunners, a school where a large number of officers and men are being taught to perform the difficult task of shooting at objects in the air. Shoeburyness, as the House will doubtless realise, possesses better facilities for training gunners than probably any other place. We have established an organisation of defences which for London is complete, and, for the provinces, is approaching completion. We have provided, for London, aeroplanes, landing places, and lights. I would like the House to realise that in this matter the possibilities of provision for defence are unlimited. It is difficult to conceive of finality in such a provision, but for Lon- 1946 don we have completed the defences on an agreed scale, and we are proceeding now to apply that scale to the rest of the country. When that has been completed, and as more material becomes available, we shall raise the standard and go on improving it.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I said that the organisation was complete, and that the defences were not in a complete state. In order to correct certain misapprehensions which exist, I want to say a word or two on the development of the Royal Flying Corps. When war broke out we naturally realised that a great expansion of the Flying Corps would become necessary. That expansion presented very considerable difficulties. The success of that expansion depended upon simultaneous development along four lines, every one of which was indispensable to the others, and the failure of one of which might wreck the whole scheme. Those four lines were the provision of aeroplanes, the provision of engines, the provision of mechanics, and the training of pilots. I will take them in that order. The supply of aeroplanes presented a double problem—the problem of design and the problem of supply. In this country our design at the outbreak of war was not inferior to that of any other nation, and during the War we have kept pace with the advances which have been made abroad, although we have always been handicapped by the engine question. The supply of aeroplanes presented serious difficulties. Before the War there were very few establishments prepared to undertake the manufacture of aeroplanes, and those establishments were not capable of any great or rapid expansion; moreover, they were dependent upon sub-contractors for many of the parts, particularly of metal. Therefore we had to find new contractors and to provide for them labour, machine tools, and raw material further, we had to see that the standard was not in any way lowered, but kept at the high level at which it had always been maintained. I am glad to say that all these difficulties have been met by the energy of the supply branch of the Aeronautics Directorate, and great help has been rendered by the Ministry of Munitions. The provision of aeroplanes may now be considered satisfactory; indeed, 1947 it is ahead of the other essentials, namely, the supply of engines and pilots.
The supply of engines throughout the War has given us great anxiety. On the outbreak of war we were behind the French and the Germans in the manufacture of engines. Of the engines then available a large proportion, and those of the larger types, were required by the Royal Naval Air Service. Consequently the first squadrons of the Royal Flying Corps which took the field were equipped with engines chiefly of French design and of French manufacture. This problem was seriously attacked at once by the Navy and the Army, and great efforts were made. The House will realise that it is difficult for manufacturers to arrive at the production stage of engines. It is a long process. Nevertheless, a great proportion of the engines now are of British design and the great majority of them are of British manufacture. The real supply of high power British engines is now coming forward, and will produce a marked improvement almost at once, because we almost invariably have been under-powered. I should like the House to realise the interdependence of aeroplanes and engines. Although British designers produce an aeroplane equal, perhaps superior, to any other in the world, the provision is governed by the possibility of obtaining suitable engines, particularly in view of the tendency to increase the weights carried by aeroplanes in the way of machine guns, wireless telegraphy, photographic and other devices. Since the War began we have had to substitute for the original engines new engines of higher power, and those engines again are now being replaced by yet more powerful engines.
With regard to mechanics, I am glad to say that we have been able to keep pace with the expansion of the Royal Flying Corps. Every squadron has a full complement of skilled men, whose quality, discipline and conduct leave nothing to be desired. In connection with this technical personnel we have received great assistance from the Ministry of Munitions. The supply of pilots, of course, presented a problem of the greatest difficulty. In August, 1914, a difficult decision had to be taken—a decision as to the proper distribution of the pilots between active duties in the field and training duties here at home. On the one hand, the Army in the field might suffer if we did not give them 1948 a sufficient quota of aeroplanes and pilots; on the other hand, expansion became impossible in this country unless we had instructors. All the civilian instructors joined either the Military or the Naval. Wing of the Flying Corps; therefore instructors had to be found from one of the Services. The decision then taken is now recognised to have been the right one. The number of pilots in the field was kept as low as possible, while every available pilot was kept at home for the purpose of training new pilots. Since the outbreak of war there has been a strong temptation to reverse that decision and to strengthen the squadrons in the field; but we have never departed from our original decision, and now I am glad to say we are reaping the reward of that policy. We are now producing every month as many pilots qualified for service in war as we were able to mobilise from our whole resources in August, 1914. This output will be largely increased in the near future. As to the quality of the pilots it is perhaps scarcely necessary for me to speak.
I pass from that subject to the subject of the Territorial Force. No words that I could speak could add to or detract from the splendid fighting qualities which have been displayed by the Territorial Force. They have covered themselves with glory. It should be remembered that these men were enlisted for Home defence. Now they are to be found in France, Salonika, Egypt, India, and Mesopotamia. I think it may be fairly claimed that the Territorial system has amply justified itself. The only comment perhaps that need he made is as to the difficulty of providing reinforcements. We tried to meet this by the provision of a third line. This, however, did not always succeed owing to the men being locked up in watertight compartments. That matter, however, has now, we think been put right. Before we were not able to actually liquefy our assets where we ought to have been able so to do. The difficulty was in finding men, particularly from certain districts—some of which I know well—in Scotland, and also—as I dare say my right hon. Friend (Mr. Lloyd George) will know well—in Wales, where the whole countrysides have been depleted of men. That process has gone on by the raising, in particular places, of local batteries and battalions, of companies of the Royal Engineers and of the Army Service Corps—patriotically 1949 raised by mayors and persons of importance in the countryside. This has added to the difficulties of finding reinforcements for the Territorial Force. In regard to the progress of the second-line units it is said to be most satisfactory in spite of certain initial difficulties. They are being trained now for duty in the field, or where they may be most required. Undoubtedly some of them will have to be retained at home, but many of them will go abroad to fight with their comrades.
In the matter of the promotion of officers in the Territorial Force, that goes by roster of combined first, second, and third lines. But if an officer from the first line comes home wounded to the third line he takes his proper place according to seniority—that is to say, a lieutenant with three years' service would, on coming home, supersede a captain in the third line with one or two years' service. This system of promotion is, I think, as fair a one as could be devised. In two cases lately Territorial Force majors have, I am glad to say, been appointed to the command of new Army battalions in the field. Time-expired men of the Territorial Force have been willing to re-engage in a most satisfactory manner. As to cyclists' battalions and others who have been kept at home for urgent duties, and who have volunteered for foreign service, let me say that the War Office realise that they are performing service to the State at home as great perhaps as they would be in the field, or in any theatre of war. The class of officers we have obtained, it is well known, is very high. I should like to pay a tribute of praise to the men who have been billeted all over the Eastern Counties. We have heard nothing but praise of their conduct. I would add a word of recognition of those Territorial Force Associations who have done most splendid work since the beginning of the War. Many of my hon. Friends here are chairmen, or members, of these associations. They have never put obstacles in the way of any good measure; they have always been ready to help us in this emergency.
Let me now deal with horses. We have a good and sufficient supply of horses. The purchases which we made in Canada and the United States have ceased. The purchases in the United Kingdom will be sufficient to provide for wastage, and thus the expenditure will be greatly reduced. For mules we shall still have to go to America and other countries. A vast 1950 amount of work has been done by the Veterinary Department of the War Office. There has been no hitch in the provision of medicines or veterinary equipment since the outbreak of the War. The average annual mortality among all animals of the British Farces is well under 10 per cent. per annum—an astonishing record, far surpassing that of any previous campaign.
§ Mr. TENNANT
Up till the other day—I think the beginning of March. The average mortality on horse and mule freight ships carrying animals from Canada and America to England and Egypt, and from England to the Mediterranean has been for many months less than 1 per cent., a fact chiefly attributable to the adequate sanitary measures taken by the Army Veterinary Service to ensure the health of animals when shipped and their care on board ship.
§ Mr. TENNANT
That refers to the horses carried from America to England, and from Canada to England, and to Egypt and the Mediterranean.
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
Does the 10 per cent. mentioned by the hon. Gentleman include all the horses that have been cast?
§ Mr. TENNANT
Yes, Sir. I think that is in fact all, but perhaps I had better not say so definitely.
§ Mr. BURDETT-COUTTS
Has the right hon. Gentleman satisfied himself that there are sufficient horses in this country to make up the wastage?
§ Mr. TENNANT
Yes, Sir. That is the information that I have conveyed to the House. In the matter of prisoners of war, various arrangements have been made with hostile Governments for the mutual exchange both of combatant and civilian prisoners of war. The general tendency has been to make the conditions easier. Arrangements for the transfer of sick and wounded prisoners of war from this country and Germany to Switzerland have been found possible, and have been made. Camps of prisoners of war throughout the Empire are at all times open to inspection by the American Ambassador, or members of the Consular Service. Camps in Austro-Hungary are similarly inspected on our behalf. The result of these inspections is that the conditions are distinctly better than they were a year ago, but the 1951 ration is still very scanty. Difficulties have been placed in the way of American representatives in Turkey and Bulgaria visiting prisoners of war. Negotiations are now in progress for the exchange of all British prisoners in Turkish hands. The United States Ambassador in Constantinople has urged that we should not take up the prisoners of war as a whole yet, but limit it at first to the question of combatants. The latest news as to our prisoners of war in Bulgaria is that they have been assembled at Philippopolis, and that American doctors have been put in medical charge of them. In a matter which has been discussed in another place, the question of posthumous honours, I recognise the force of the request, and sympathise with the desire of those who have had the sad misfortune to lose relatives, and who desire some kind of recognition of the valour of those who have gone. The matter is now being reconsidered with a view to seeing how far the present practice of bestowing posthumous honours—now limited to the Victoria Cross—can be extended. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War is in consultation with the General Officers Commanding-in-Chief in the various theatres of war. I would remind the House that there is no regulation, only practice, barring such a grant. I desire to acquaint the House with a. letter I have received from Sir Douglas Haig, Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force in France. Sir Douglas Haig says:The requirements of the forces in food, forage, clothing, equipment, and transport have been met from the outset with unfailing regularity, while the quality and quantity of what has been supplied have left nothing to be desired. Our forces in France have been increased from a couple of corps to a large Army; but the provision made for their well-being, whether in sickness or health, has continued to he all that could be wished. The result of the strenuous labour devoted to increasing and maintaining this Army is that all are in good health and good heart and confident of victory. In addition to everything else that has been done for the Army, neither myself nor those under my command fore-et what we owe to our sister Service for the safety and regularity with which the troops and their requirements have been transported across the sea under most trying conditions.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Mr. TENNANT
The Quartermaster-General's Department was certainly responsible. Sir Douglas Haig speaks of the troops being in good health. I am glad to say a word for the medical services. Since I last spoke I think it is fair to say that these services have been 1952 continued and almost perfected. The incidence of disease in France is low. There has been an entire absence of any epidemic. We owe our thanks to the many scientific men who by their energy and action in this matter, particularly in the matter of the prevention of disease, have helped to bring this about. We have received valuable aid from the Sanitary Committee to which I have before alluded. That Sanitary Committee has done splendid work, especially in Gallipoli, where we had the difficult task of meeting and counteracting tropical diseases. An outbreak of dysentery and diarrhoea caused very great anxiety. Fortunately we have now no anxiety in relation to the troops either in Salonika or Egypt. At home large convalescent hospitals have been established, and in the military hospitals at home men are being replaced by women. Fourteen hundred women have already asked for general service. We have to thank the Red Cross Society for this. We have also to thank between 5,000 and 6,000 women who have organised under voluntary aid detachments. This is all a wonderful fact. In order to obtain medical officers under conditions least harmful to the needs of the civil population and the great civil institutions, we have established a representative body of medical men in conjunction with the National Health Commissioners and the Local Government Board. This has done very valuable work. The medical profession in general have come forward in the most admirable manlier to meet the needs of the State. We have taken highly successful defensive measures against the gas attacks of the enemy. There have been established new medical Boards, as I indicated a little time ago, for the examining of recruits. Finally, the National Health Commissioners have taken up the question of the early treatment of tubercular cases removed from the Army. The medical service have done very great work. That is not my own opinion only. I should like to quote the opinion of a great surgeon, Sir Frederick Treves, who has had a wide experience, who went through the South African War and the Russo-Japanese War, and who also, I would remind the House, was at one time a critic of the War Office. Sir Frederick says:Those who are familiar with the medical dispositions in the South African war will find in this campaign an advance in the medical services so great and so wide extending as to amount to an actual revolution. Not only has the sick and 1953 wounded soldier never been so well cared for in any campaign as in the present, but it is difficult to suggest in what way his welfare could be further promoted.Sir Frederick takes a couple of illustrations. He says:We should note in the first instance such an advanced dressing station as that at Les Brebis. The place is a mining village well within range of the enemy's fire. Indeed, some twenty shells had fallen into the area on the morning of our visit. The hospital is a building which was used by the miners as an entertainment hall. This hall makes an excellent ward, provided with every necessary detail. Attached is a small, carefully equipped operation room, where operations of an urgent nature—such as the arrest of haemorrhage—could be carried out. Here also wounds may be cleansed and redressed, fractures more comfortably adjusted and injections of anti-tetanic serum given. Close at hand were two dug-outs into which patients could be taken if the shelling threatened the building. The whole station was simple, efficient and exactly equipped for its limited purpose. There was nothing lacking and yet nothing superfluous, and the feature of extreme mobility was kept prominently in mind.Reference is made to clearing stations, and he alludes to one at Bailleul:From a surgical point of view, these clearing stations represent the most important items in the general scheme for the treatment of the sick and wounded. They are as near the front as they can be placed, they are readily accessible from the advanced dressing stations, while they are in direct touch with the base either by a line of rail or by a. good main road. The tents are well warmed by stoves and well lit by electric light, while the operating theatre is as well-found as any in a civil hospital of its size. The huts at Remy and the wards at Bailleul could compare with the wards of any good civil hospital in England.To these clearing stations wounded men can be brought in a few hours, and it is needless to point out that in the severest gunshot wounds prompt attention is the main factor in the saving of life and limb. In many cases a man in need of a grave operation has found himself on the operating table within three or four hours of his being shot. We were told of instances in which operations upon the skull and the abdomen had been carried out within two and a half hours of the receipt of the wound. Such prompt attention could not be obtained by a wounded civilian in any rural district in England. The patient not only finds himself in an operating theatre, equipped with the best and most recent appliances, but in the case of every one of these hospitals he finds himself in the hands of an operating surgeon of the first order. The value of such service cannot be exaggerated. At the same time the patient has the advantage of the regular and frequent visits of a consulting surgeon of European reputation. Moreover, the nursing in these stations is of the highest type, being carried out by the Army Nursing Sisters.It must he remembered that a great number (and often the greater number) of the patients arrive at night and that, over and over again, operations are carried out the whole night through. It must be noted also that vast shell wounds require constant and elaborate dressing that absorbs much time and can only be carried out by the surgeon himself. At Lapugnoy, with its 376 beds, no less than 2,000 casualties were dealt with in one day. We found that at the clearing station at Bailleul the vast number of 61,000 sick and wounded had passed through the hospital since it was opened, while the number of major operations reached to over 1,000.In the hospitals we visited we found on all sides evidence that the sick and wounded soldier has the advantages of the latest advances in surgical 1954 science, the most modern equipment and the most recent developments in bacteriological work.I have seen these clearing stations. I have visited them with the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty, and have watched the ambulance wagons coming in, and seen the wounded taken out. I have watched until I could watch them no longer, and I have asked the officer who took me round to take me away, as I could not stand it. These are the men who are risking their lives day by day and hour by hour in the trenches for the great cause for which we are fighting. These are the men who have answered the call, "Your King and Country need you." Could there be a greater call to any man at any time? Yet there are others—thank Heaven a minority—who would pass these words by as a poster which has served its day by summoning others. I would ask the House, are we happy that the men who sprang to their country's call should die in France and Flanders, while every effort is made by Press, pulpit, platform, and poster to make these other men undertake these duties, and join their comrades in the fight for their country? Some there are who express sympathy with the difficulties found by these men. They are tender to those difficulties—in my judgment, too tender. I would appeal to them, before they give expression to that sympathy, to count its effect upon the waverers and its cost to the Army. A terrible responsibility lies upon them in giving such encouragement, for to encourage wavering and waverers at home is to dishearten the soldier in the field. I would say, let us send the soldier a different message, in which there is no word of wavering or waverers, but only a determination to respond to the iron of his resolve by the iron of our own.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
My right hon. Friend has concluded a very interesting address with some very eloquent words, with which, I am sure, the whole House will agree. I listened to the whole of his remarks with the greatest attention, and I think I made note of all the subjects to which he referred. He did his best, and I think he succeeded, if I may venture to say so, in interesting the House in the topics which he selected. He presented them to the House as fully and with as little reserve as the interests of the public require, and, within those limits which he laid down for himself and for us, I am sure he afforded us the fullest information he could. But, after 1955 all is said and done, I am quite certain the 1-louse feels there has been an atmosphere of unreality over this Debate, just as there vas an atmosphere of unreality over the Naval Debate. Just look at the topics which my right hon. Friend took at the inception of his remarks. He began by saying he was unable to give us the numbers who had enlisted in the Army. We know within what limit, roughly speaking, those numbers are. They are something less than four millions. I doubt very much whether any public purpose is really served by withholding from this House the actual number of men who have been enlisted for service. My right hon. Friend has from time to time, with the greatest candour and the greatest usefulness, told this House and the country the number of men killed, wounded, injured, and missing in the service of the Crown. I think that number now amounts to something like 600,000. The numbers on the Western front, in Egypt and in Mesopotamia are, approximately, known to the enemy, just as the numbers of the enemy are approximately known to us. What useful purpose is served by withholding from the House the closely approximate numbers of the men who have enlisted and gone to the front in various parts of the field? I have never heard any useful purpose suggested. It is merely a policy of reticence, which, believe me, is not justified by any useful purpose so far as the purposes of the campaign are concerned.
Then my right hon. Friend went on to speak about the methods of recruiting, and he dealt with the recruiting problem very much from the point of view of the discussion which took place in this House upon the Military Service Bill. I do not think he added to our knowledge. He expanded one or two of the details, but, beyond making some general observations on the point, I do not think he really gave the House any useful information upon the subject. He went from that to a dissertation on the Friends' Ambulance Corps, the preliminary training of officers, and then he came to a subject on which he gave us actual figures. He told us his Department had produced 3,000,000 goatskins for the Army. If you can tell us that, I really do not see why you should not tell us the actual number of men who are to wear those skins.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
There are a certain number to be deducted for Serbia. The actual numbers in small matters can be given, and why not tell us the actual numbers of men?
§ Mr. TENNANT
There is a very good answer to the whole of the passage of my right hon. Friend's speech. One thing the Germans want to know more than anything else is not only the Army in round numbers, but the particular units they may have to meet, and it is of vast importance that we should not let them have any information by which they can form anything like a conjecture what those units may be.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
Nobody in this House or anywhere else asks the particular number of units. All that is asked for are—and, believe me, there are things happening outside this House, as well as inside, which, I think, will force the Government to give these details—not meticulous details of units, but the general figures both for the Army and the Navy. We know, I think, exactly how many men are found for the Navy. It is only as to the Army that this reticence is observed. My right hon. Friend went on to a most important subject, and he gave us some most satisfactory information with regard to pensions for men invalided out of the Service. I think that part of his statement was exceedingly useful and exceedingly reassuring, and that everybody will feel the War Office has done its duty generously and well. He went on to talk about aviation, and I am bound to say, in view of the events of the past few days, he did not give us so much information as I thought he might well have afforded to the House. The numbers of personnel, the numbers of the guns employed, were not, he said, a subject which could be usefully or properly discussed in public. Let us. agree. Then what is the good of mentioning the subject of aviation at all, if you are not to deal with the details which make that service useful against the attack of the enemy or reassuring to the public who are attacked in this country? I think there is very much to be said from my right hon. Friend's point of view. I do not think in public you can discuss those details. I do not think you can tell the newspapers of this country where guns are stationed, how many there are, what quality they are, what size they 1957 are, what shells they use, and all those various details, without which generalities are really of no use at all, and, while they occupy a certain portion of the time of this House, I do not think they serve any other purpose whatever. The same thing may be said with regard to the information about the Territorial Force, horses, prisoners, and so forth, and the various subjects with which my right hon. Friend dealt.
It was not until my right hon. Friend came quite to the end of his remarks that he gave us something, a generality, which was reassuring. He read out a message from the General Officer Commanding the British Expeditionary Force in France, in which he said the supply of food, forage, etc., in France had been ample and satisfactory in every particular. Well, it is useful to know that. It is very useful to know that in some particulars, but, after all, that statement might have been made to the House without going through all the form and ceremony of presenting Estimates to the House which, indeed, are token Estimates, but which represent, on the information given to the House by the Under-Secretary, an expenditure of something like £1,000,000,000. I think that is about the figure which this token Estimate represents—£3,000,000 a day. It does not matter very much whether it is £1,000,000,000 or £700,000,000. The figures are portentous, and they are presented in an indeterminate fashion which makes it difficult for us to follow. With regard to all the really serious questions connected with the War which have arisen since the right hon. Gentleman presented his last Estimates, I do not think he has said much that is useful. Look at the topics with which he could have dealt, and with which he ought to have dealt, in this House! There is the whole of the Gallipoli campaign and the expedition to Mesopotamia. With regard to the latter expedition, the news which has filtered through during the course of the last fortnight is calculated to fill us with very serious alarm as to the condition both of the besieged and the relieving force on the Tigris. With regard to Salonika, however satisfactory the position may be out there, this House, which provides the men for it, is in total darkness as to what is really going on there. Since the right hon. Gentlemen presented his last Estimates two great battles have occurred on the Western front, one at Neuve Chapelle and the other at Loos. With respect to 1958 the latter, in no action fought by British arms in the whole history of the British Empire has there been such a tremendous loss of men and such a doubt thrown upon the qualifications of the generals commanding that action as that which occurred at the Battle of Loos. Then there is the conduct of the expedition in Egypt. Whether or not it is wise to retain in that country so large a force as is retained there—that is a subject which ought to be discussed in this House.
Take as another example the expedition to East Africa. That expedition, which was began under rather had auspices, has now taken new force and direction under the conduct of General Smuts, and it is developing apparently in a manner satisfactory to us. There is another subject which is absolutely and directly germane in the narrowest possible sense of the word, to this discussion There has been a very considerable reorganisation in the War Office of which the newspapers have sketched out one or two of the most important details. It is clear that within that office a very considerable alteration both in method and manner has taken place upon which this House might have been consulted and asked to pronounce an opinion. It is quite impossible, within the limits of what my right hon. Friend has to say, and within the limits of what I have to say, and any other hon. Members who wish to take part in this discussion, to discuss all these details in public when people are so ready to take advantage of anything that filters through from this House, or from statements made by Ministers, to the Continent and to the enemy. Take so small a subject as that of aviation. My right hon. Friend made some remarks about engines, and in that respect it would have been possible to have supplied a comment upon the things which my right hon. Friend said which might have given the House quite another idea as to the activities of his office in connection with the supply of engines. In this respect I am bound to hold my tongue in criticism, just as the right hon. Gentleman was bound to refrain from explaining all the activities of his Department in connection with that science, but it is not in the interest, either of the country or the right hon. Gentleman's Department, that so much silence should be observed, and it is not to the advantage of the public.
I think the House of Commons has been extraordinarily loyal to the Government since the Coalition Government was 1959 formed. I do not suppose there is a single private Member, whatever his status, who has not observed what to me is an undesirable reticence in regard to criticism, because he does not wish to say or do anything which will weaken the Executive Government when the nation is in a state of great peril. Nevertheless, I think we call carry that reticence too far, and it is not to the advantage of the country or the Government. It is quite clear that in the country and in this House there is both anxiety and restiveness as to the proceedings of the Government in the conduct of the war and in connection with the supply of men and munitions in the larger sense. The last Liberal Government was removed, as everybody knows, by a newspaper campaign, and I think it may be quite possible that this Government will fall to another campaign conducted, perhaps, not from the same sources, but from the same cause, and I think it will be greatly to the disadvantage of this country if such powers were discovered in the country which can put an end to Governments at ther own will in the middle of a crisis of international disturbance such as we have never known, and I will do nothing and say nothing which in any way will endanger the position of the present Government, and anything I do say is for assisting the Government and not for hurting it. There are in this House at this moment committees organised, one by the Conservative party and one by the Liberal party whose nominal intention is to strengthen the conduct of the War, but the result of whose action is not to strengthen but to weaken the Executive. We have had within the last few days the same symptoms throughout the country, and you have had a candidate in one of the Home counties, supported by both Liberal and Conservative organisations who has been soundly trounced, although he has had the support, officially and unofficially, of both great parties in the State. I believe if the Government had put Members of the House of Commons in possession of the facts with regard to aviation of what they had done and what they were trying to do, and precautions they had taken, this alarm would not have arisen in the way it has done.
It has now come to a head in respect of aviation. Are you quite so sure it is not going to come to a head in respect of other things? We have had a most optimistic account as to the supply of horses and clothing and all the rest of it, but a good 1960 many of us could tell the public a different tale if we were free to speak. The public may decide to take this matter into their own hands again, and the result will be that you will get a regular opposition formed in this House and the country, whose main object will be to remove the present Government and substitute something else for it. I do not in the least agree with many of the actions of the Government, but I would not do anything which would disturb its position. What is the remedy In two of the great countries which are combatants in this War, France and Germany, Parliament meets in secret session and. the members are made acquainted with the general situation of the Armies and the requirements of those Armies on the different fronts. The French Chamber does this by means of committees, whose action largely controls the action of the Minister in charge of the Department. I think that is a very bad system, because it weakens the Executive and divides the responsibility, and I do not think that promotes good administration. Nevertheless, it keeps the Deputies in the French Parliament acquainted with the actualities of the situation, and there is not a single person who can point to any leakage of information from the French Chamber in consequence. The same thing happens in Germany, but in a different way. There the German Reichstag meets in secret Session. There statements are made by the Chancellor and various Ministers, and the members of the Reichstag are made acquainted with all that goes on, and yet there is not any leakage of information. There are a good many things we should like to know with regard to the conduct of the War in Germany, but neither the War Office nor the Admiralty can boast that they have been able to obtain information from members of the Reichstag or through any communications from them.
What is useful to Germany and France surely cannot be harmful here. In this House hon. Members are not more treacherous than members of the Reichstag or the Deputies in the French Chamber. What is the reason why the representatives of the people here are to be less trusted than the representatives of the people in France and Germany? This is not a new doctrine which I have adopted since I have been standing on this side of the Table, because I stated my views in previous years on this question when I sat on the other side of the Table. This 1961 is not a Government war, but it is a national and racial war, in which we are all profoundly interested, and I am certain that unless you take the representatives of the people into your confidence and tell them far more than you have done, you will get an explosion of public feeling in this country which, although it may not sweep away the Government, may do infinite harm to the cause of the Allies. It is perfectly easy to say that it is not in the public interest to say this or that, but the public may force it from you whether you like it or not, and if it is forced from you and you have to get it by force majeure, it will not be in the interests of this country, but in the interests of the enemy; whereas, if you communicate that information confidentially to your fellow Members of the House of Commons, who are the representatives of the people, you get not merely their confidence, but through them you will obtain the confidence of the people of this country, and that is an asset which alone will sustain the Government of this country in the successful prosecution of the War.
§ Mr. GEORGE THORNE
The right hon. Gentleman who opened this discussion this afternoon is so uniformly courteous and has so much laborious work in his office that it becomes a thankless task to appear to criticise him, and in any remarks I may venture to offer I hope the right hon. Gentleman will realise that the spirit in which they are made is exactly that manifested by the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken; the desire is to help rather than to hinder the Government. I shall only refer to three aspects of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, which to my mind did not seem quite so clear as I should have liked. The first is in regard to the single men who have attested or will come under the operation of the Military Service Act. I suppose we are all somewhat dissatisfied with the results. I take it the experience I have personally had as representative of my Constituency is very much the same as the experience of almost every other Member of the House, or, at any rate, of those who represent industrial constituencies. I have had representations made to me as to the number of attested men—the very small number—who have found themselves available for the Army. I suppose private Members have to exhibit the same reticence. as Members of 1962 the Ministry, and therefore I do not propose to quote any figures, but I may say that the small proportion of men available for the Army out of the number attested in industrial districts is a matter of grave concern.
As a result of the representations which have been made to the authorities certain steps have resulted. I was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that steps are being taken to secure that every individual man shall be examined in order to learn whether he is not available for the Army and more useful there than in munition factories. I will ask the President of the Local Government Board, or anyone who may rise to speak on behalf of the Government, exactly what is going to be done. For the satisfaction of the general public, and particularly of the married men, I will ask him to state in detail what steps are going to be taken in order that every man who can be spared shall be brought into the Army and used for military purposes. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman there is a very strong feeling on this matter in the country, and I agree with the right lion. Gentleman who last spoke that it is one of those matters which require most earnest and anxious consideration on the part of the Government, or else it may have a very grave effect upon them and upon the future of the War.
Then I would like to ask this further question. A large number of married men who have attested under the Derby scheme have done so, not only because of the statement made by the Prime Minister—a statement which I for one am fully confident the Prime Minister most absolutely desires to carry into full effect—but they have also done so because of a certain sense of faith that their fellow married men in the country would do the same. I have, from the personal experience of those with whom I have discussed the matter, gathered that they deemed it was their patriotic duty to submit their claims—although they felt that their circumstances did not justify their giving themselves to the Army—they deemed it their duty to submit their claims to the tribunal, and they considered that other married men ought to do the same thing, so that there should be some fairness, some equality, and some sense of proportion between the married men in this country. I would like, therefore, to ask whether any inducement can be put forward so that married men who have not 1963 attested shall join up with the married men who have attested in bringing their cases before the tribunal, which will then have a fairer chance of dealing with the respective claims of all the men.
The next point I would like to put is this. Is there not a middle course in regard to these married men—a course other than absolutely taking them entirely away from their businesses and their homes, and, possibly, destroying both home and business, with results which must be disastrous to them and to the trade of the country as well? I venture respectfully to ask, under the circumstances, whether we have really arrived at that stage in the history of the War where it is vital to the country to take these married men right away from their business and their homes? Is there no possible modification which can be made? Some say that these married men are whining. I do not regard their attitude as such. I know many of them. I believe that, from the very first start, these married own have been as keen as the young and unmarried men to take part in serving their country. But they realise that they have homes, and personal and business responsibilities, which make it wrong for them, to offer themselves unless the circumstances of the country are such that it is absolutely vital they should do so. They have shown that they are only too anxious to serve their country if they can, but they point out, very reasonably, the responsibilities which rest upon them, and therefore to say that any of them are whining is to make a most unfair charge. They are, indeed, as patriotic and devoted to their country's welfare as any of the men who have already joined, but the man who is the father of a family, who has a wife and children dependent upon him. who has large business responsibilities and relatives who look to him for support, has to think not only once, but twice and even thrice before he offers himself, and he has to make absolutely sure that the time has arrived when the country cannot be properly served without his being brought into the Army.
I respectfully submit whether there is not a middle course in regard to many of these men who are anxious to serve their country—a course which would avoid the difficulties to which I am alluding. If this burden has to be accepted, it cannot be 1964 borne by the married men alone. The country must step in. Something in the direction of a moratorium has been suggested, but I have not yet seen any suggestion of that kind which meets the case. There is a suggestion that we should follow the French example, but that does not seem to me adequate. If a man is relieved of paying his rent for two years or so, he still has to pay it some time or other, and in the meantime the burden falls heavily upon the landlord, who is unable to get the rent to which he is entitled. It seems to me that if these men are to be spared and their homes and businesses endangered, the nation will have to step in and incur a burden of responsibility which some of us hardly like to think of in addition to the burdens we are already under.
I am afraid that these observations are hardly in order, as the hon. Member's suggestion would involve legislation.
§ Mr. THORNE
I was going to ask whether they would be in order, and I would point out that this is an administrative rather than a legislative matter. What has been suggested to me is this, that marries men, instead of being called up for the whole time, which may destroy their business and their homes, should be trained so as to be ready for any emergency later on. They could be made thoroughly qualified men if they were called up for, say, three days a week and trained in their immediate locality. And I submit that that is an administrative rather than legislative matter which would come well within the control of the War Office.
§ Mr. THORNE
I was not desiring to suggest we should adopt the proposal for a moratorium; on the contrary, I was trying to point out it was utterly inadvisable to adopt it. The measure which I suggest instead is one on administrative lines, and I submit it could be followed on those lines and would be in the interests of the country. It has been suggested, and I am only pointing it out as a suggestion—I think it is the duty of every Member of this House to try and share the responsibility with the Government so far as is possible by making practical suggestions in order to help them to meet a difficult and critical situation—the suggestion is 1965 whether it would not be possible administratively to arrange that many of these married men, who would gladly accept the modified arrangement, should be called up for three days a week—on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays—in their own immediate locality and thoroughly trained, so as to qualify themselves. They would then have four days weekly in which they could attend to their business and keep their homes together, and they would relieve the Government of a very heavy burden of debt and taxation, and they would be ready when it became absolutely necessary to go into the Army to serve their country by fighting in the field, a duty for which they would be thoroughly qualified. It seems to me that in some method such as this we have a way in which this most difficult and critical situation can be met.
I offer the suggestion and I earnestly trust that the President of the Local Government Board may be able to give us some satisfaction and some help on the points I have mentioned. I would venture in my concluding words to remind the Government that this question is already agitating the country in a way I have not seen it agitated throughout the whole course of the War. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman who last spoke, that both the present and the late Government have received marvellous support, but there is now a feeling of agitation and doubt growing, which I believe can be removed by the plan I have referred to. I hope therefore that, in the interests of the Government and of the nation, the suggestion which I have ventured to make will be sympathetically considered.
§ Mr. PEMBERTON BILLING
I ask the indulgence which I know this House always extends to a Member when he first rises, and I claim that indulgence because of the somewhat peculiar circumstances which are responsible for my appearance in this House. Within an hour or two of taking the oath at that Table I am on my feet, fulfilling what I know to be a duty to my Constituents and to the country. It would not be fitting, and I know it is not done, that I should drag the dust, or rather I should say the dirt, of a hotly-contested by-election into the comparative calm and cleanliness of this House. I will touch one personal note. I left the Royal Naval Air Service because I felt that, unless someone came to this House with a weight of authority which only a con 1966 stituency can give him, the Air Service would continue to be a byword among its members and a subject of almost tragic mirth in its efforts to defend this country. I have listened with considerable interest to the right hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary for War and to what he has said in regard to the Air Service, and I have but one remark to make now. I fancy—indeed, I am sure—he is most grievously misinformed.
Eighteen months ago, when the material at the disposal of the Royal Naval Air Service was something like one-twentieth of what it is to-day, we succeeded in raiding Zeppelin bases and carrying the air war into the enemy's country, proving thereby that although our material was lacking, our personnel was such as that we were able to carry out these raids successfully. I therefore definitely join issue with the First Lord of the Admiralty in his statement that the lack of material is responsible for our present policy of masterly inactivity and deplorable delay in answering the challenge of the enemy in the air. For the first six months of this war our Air Service was rich in leadership and poor in material. During the last six months we have been somewhat richer in material, but infinitely poorer in leadership. The six months' gap, a sort of Tom Tiddler's ground of time, which existed between these two definite periods was devoted to internal intrigue and consequent service bitterness. This deplorable condition of affairs is directly responsible for the present impotence and inefficiency of the service.
I contend that the crux of the whole question at the present moment, so far as the Air Service is concerned, is one of personnel. I mean personnel in its broadest sense, beginning with the chief. His appointment should not be a mere political concession, but should be the creation of a definite leadership, carrying with it the support and confidence and loyalty of the entire service. By "personnel" I mean also the human material, which must be the sound heart of such a service. Once we get the right man you will see the personnel grow, you will see the material grow, and you will see a vigorous offensive take the place of the huddled impotence which we see to-day. The House may be surprised if I ignore the recent hurried efforts of the Government to patch and potter the two Air Services. The appointment of yet another Departmental Committee, with at its head a 1967 Noble Lord who cheerfully disclaims both authority and power, I assure you, moves me but little, and I also assure you leaves the country cold. I had in mind to place before this House my own detailed proposals for the immediate strengthening of our power in the air and for the creation of an Imperial Air Service worthy of our Imperial power, but I have been advised that in the open secrecy of air discussions it might be difficult for me to say all that I would say, having in view our national interests, and I propose, when the adjourned air debate, which I understand this House has received a promise will take place, is resumed to deal fully and freely with all the facts, figures, suggestions, and proposals that I may humbly make. If, as the youngest, and perhaps I may say the newest, Member of this House, I might venture to make a general criticism, I would say that if we had such committees as are to be found in the French Chamber it would be an easy matter for me to lay before the Members all that confidential information and all those technical facts relating to our present dangerous position, and to point a way out, and I feel sure the service would take kindly to such action. It would mean that there would be no more delay, and at least it might possibly save the words "Too late" being written across yet another page of the history of this War.
We can strike now in the matter of aerial offence, and I say that we must strike now. I do earnestly appeal to the First Lord of the Admiralty to pay no heed to so-called religious scruples of any members of the Board of Admiralty, but to take his courage in both hands and issue orders, definite orders, that all the existing material which we have should be immediately employed in raids over the enemy country. I am quite sure that we have the material. I do not propose to give this House facts and figures unless I am challenged. I quite appreciate what a mark a Zeppelin shed is—bigger than a battleship and more vulnerable than the Crystal Palace. We possess machines to reach these sheds which house not only a pest of the night, but that which has proved itself to be the eye of the German Navy. We hear and read of a new Trafalgar and there are rumours of a coming naval raid. Is it too much to ask that our Grand Fleet should cease to be handicapped in its movements by this never-ceasing flow of information conveyed to 1968 the German Admiralty by these spies in the air? We must exterminate these Zeppelins and we can exterminate them. As one so recently an officer in the service, I do not propose, as I have said before, unless challenged to give any facts or figures, but speaking with a full sense of responsibility, I say that we have all the material ready to initiate air raids on a very great scale. When we consider that twelve months ago last November we partly destroyed a Zeppelin factory at Friedrichshaven with three machines which would now be looked upon as old-fashioned and out-of-date, three pilots, and eleven bombs, and when we consider that to-day we have a hundred times as many machines, a hundred times as many pilots, that our bombs are much more efficient than then, and that our machines are capable of carrying loads of explosives something between four and ten times as great as then, is it to be wondered that the public become slightly indignant that no action is taken? I assure you that our people are ready to make any sacrifice in this War, but they are not prepared to remain in darkness while our rulers remain indifferent. It has been suggested by, I believe, the right hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State for War that we have not the machines and we have not the pilots. If the right hon. Gentleman tells me that we have not the pilots, I shall be very pleased to introduce him, within the next twenty-four hours, to a hundred of them. If he tells me that we have not the machines, I am prepared there, too, to lead him to them by the hand. If he tells me that we have not the bombs, then, with your permission, I will put them on the Table of this House.
I would beg hon. Members to lend all the wealth of their imagination and their wisdom to this very momentous question of our supremacy in the air. I would ask them to remember that this country is no longer an island, that every city lies on the shore of the ocean of the air open to attack by enemy airships and a prey to outrage at. any moment of the twenty-four hours. Who will dare to plead the expense of a great air fleet when we realise that this. War may possibly be eventually determined in the air, and when we consider that with the cost of two or three days' hostilities we could not only gain but we could maintain supremacy in the air It is a wonderful thought; and I am quite sure if this House lends any time to it we may yet live to regain for this country the 1969 supremacy which we held for a few brief moments owing to the priceless men who first went out with the rotten material they had at their disposal. This country is demanding that this material should be used. The men in the service are demanding that they should be sent out to fight instead of staying at home. I do ask the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty to insist, not in six months' time, not in six weeks' time, but, if necessary, in six minutes' time, that the material which is now waiting shall be used, and that the bombs which are now being stored and which are due for delivery in many places in Germany shall be delivered forthwith and without further delay.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Colonel LOCKWOOD
This House has invariably listened with interest to the maiden speech of its most newly-arrived Member, and I am sure we all congratulate the hon. Member on a well-balanced speech which argues well for his career in this House, and also on the kindly intentions which he has exhibited towards my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for War, in the various introductions to which he proposes to lead him. I had the pleasure of listening to the whole of my right hon. Friend's speech, with the exception of some ten minutes or so when I was called to a Committee upstairs, and I heard him, as I expected, express his conviction that all was done in the best possible way in this best possible world of ours. I was certain that he would express that view, and I am glad that I was not disappointed, but as my right hon. Friend sitting beside me remarked, we got very little information from him. I have never yet in the course of twenty-three years' experience received any information from Ministers on that bench. I presume that reticence is what they are paid for. Therefore, I was not in the least astonished at the general tenour of his speech. There are two points to which I do not think attention has yet been drawn and to which I should like to draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention. The first, a very remarkable one, has regard to the Mesopotamia Expedition. I was disappointed to hear no allusion to it at all. The public are at present intensely anxious over that expedition, and I think we might be informed why it is that so little information has been given to us as to its real progress. There is a still more important point connected with that expedition. Various disagreeable rumours have reached us 'all, private individuals 1970 and collectively, as regards the treatment and care of the wounded in that expedition. I heard my right hon. Friend give a lucid and most interesting 'account of the magnificent care and attention bestowed on the wounded in France. We are aware of that. Those who are in France and the way the wounded there are treated are always before us. We have heard great men like Sir Frederick Treves express their opinion that science has almost exhausted itself in its efforts to bring comfort where it can to those severely wounded on that front. But there are also others who are far away from us about whom we do not hear anything at all. Speaking from information which I have received privately, I confess I am much disturbled from what I hear of the want of care bestowed on the wounded in Mesopotamia. I am aware of the difficulties, of the shortage of doctors, of the climate, and of other drawbacks, but, at the same time, I believe more might have been done and that more foresight might have been exercised over the care of the wounded there. The right hon. Gentleman may say—and I believe it is true—that this expedition was for some time under the care of the Indian Government, but I think I am correct in saying that now it is under the charge of the War Office itself, both the expedition and the medical care.
§ Colonel LOCKWOOD
If that is the case, I presume I should not he in order in pursuing that subject. I am only desirous that it should be brought to the knowledge of the right hon. Gentleman that we are extremely anxious, and that we have good reason to be anxious, over the way in which the wounded there are looked after.
The second point I wish to raise is with regard to the rations and feeding of the men at home. We all know of the hideous waste there was when War began, how the bread was chucked out into the streets, how tins were buried, and that in various ways food which might have been of use to the people was wasted. From information which I get—and I have no doubt that other hon. Members have received the same information—I understand that things are now exactly the opposite, and that men in billets, especially in the country districts, are now not getting sufficient food; indeed, in many cases I am told that the men are absolutely hungry 1971 and are fighting for their rations. When hounds are fed at the trough the weaker dog goes to the wall unless the huntsman looks after it. I hope that is not the case. I know that I shall be told that it is the fault of the brigadier, or of the commanding officer, or of the quartermaster. It is the fault of all three, and it is also the fault of those who have the overlooking of the matter in the War Office at home. I would direct the attention of the Financial Secretary to the War Office, in the absence of the Under-Secretary of State for War, to the fact that there are numerous complaints now reaching private Members as to the sufficiency of the food issued to the troops at home. I do not want to dilate for a moment on the harm which, if such a thing is true, it would do to recruiting or to the Service generally. I think it is sufficient to bring the matter to the attention of the War Office now.
§ Sir JOSEPH WALTON
I am very glad to be able to welcome the new Member for East Hertfordshire (Mr. Pemberton Billing). I do not hesitate to say that I welcome his return as the Member for that constituency on broad national grounds, because I have felt great anxiety for some time past as to the absence of that activity and growth on the part of our Air Service that we had a right to expect would be achieved after having been at war for eighteen months. I am sure the House welcomes the accession of the hon. Member. We all trust that this will be the beginning of a new era in the air defence of the country, and that not many months will pass before we have regained supremacy in the air as we have it on the sea, and as, I trust, we shall have it on land. I rise to ask for information on certain important points. The question of the enormous expenditure of over £3,000,000 a day on our fighting forces is one that we ought not to forget, and it our duty to endeavour in every possible way to prevent wasteful expenditure. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the War Office is here. The other day I asked him a question as to whether there were not on the lines of communication and in the base camps a number of officers who were receiving retired pension and also service pay. At the base camp at Etaples, which is the base camp of twenty-six divisions, there are no fewer than twenty-six commandants, paid £650 a year each, the great majority of whom are also in receipt 1972 of retired pay. Surely, when reinforcements go to that camp at Etaples they go under their own officers or under military control. Can anyone imagine that twenty-six commandants are required to send those reinforcements to their divisions in the field? I hope my hon. Friend will be able to announce not only that they will cease to receive the double pay and will either get their retired pay or service pay and not both, but also that steps have been taken to make a considerable reduction in the number of commandants in the camp at Etaples. Many other questions have been raised recently on which I desire to have further assurances. My right hon. and gallant Friend who spoke last (Colonel Lockwood) referred to the waste in camps. He tells us that now things have gone to the other extreme, and that there is a scarcity of food in the camps. No one wishes that, but the waste in the camps and hospitals elsewhere twelve or fifteen months ago was a perfect scandal which was well known all over the country. I would ask my hon. Friend to be good enough to give the House an assurance that closer oversight is being exercised over the contractors' prices at the different camps in this country, and also that the cost of khaki and clothing of all sorts is seriously engaging the attention of the contracting Department of the War Office. I was thunderstruck when I heard from the Under-Secretary of State for War that we have actually spent since the outbreak of war £117,000,000 on clothing. [HON. MEMBERS: "No:"] I understood him to say that the expenditure on several things which he enumerated amounted to a total of £117,000,000.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
What my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for War did say was that we had purchased 117,000,000 articles.
§ Sir J. WALTON
I am glad to be corrected. I had understood that the expenditure had reached the stupendous figure of £65,000,000, which I thought most excessive, and I wondered how much real value we got for that expenditure. I hope my hon. Friend will be able to give us some reassuring statement on this and other points. Another question I desire to ask him is whether he can state to the House that in the matter of small requisites which lessen casualties our armed forces in the field have full and adequate supplies? There is the question of steel helmets for our men. It is perfectly clear 1973 to me, who has been recently in France, that we are in arrears with steel helmets. I hardly met a single French soldier who was not wearing a steel helmet, but I hardly met an English soldier wearing one. I should like to know from my hon. Friend whether active steps are being taken in the matter, and how soon our men are to receive this protection, which certainly they ought to have without a day's delay, and also a supply of cuirasses. There are other requisites which are small but which lessen casualties, such as an abundant supply of sandbags—
§ Sir J. WALTON
Sandbags, periscopes, flares, rubber boots, etc. I do not enter into the question of artillery, shells and machine guns, or up-to-date rifles, because that will come on when the Vote for the Ministry of Munitions is taken, but there is one important item which I will mention that is, telescopic rifles. It is of the utmost importance that we should have a certain number of telescopic rifles in the hands of every battalion in the field with the least possible delay, and they too will save casualties. I desire to refer to one or two questions connected with the Territorial Force. We commenced, in the first place, with a first-line battalion of the Territorial Force. Then we created second-line battalions, intending them to reinforce the first line. Subsequently it was decided that the first and second lines should go out as fighting units and that a third line should be created, which should be a draft line to reinforce the first and second lines. That arrangement has broken down absolutely. Many of the Territorial battalions at the front are not up to full strength. There is hardly a single second-line unit at home which is of full strength, and the third-line battalions, which we intended to be draft battalions, are not nearly up to full strength. I desire to know from the authorities at the War Office whether the time has not come when that scheme ought to be abandoned and when the whole of the battalions of the Territorial Force ought to be kept at full strength at the front by drafts from either the second or the third line, preferably from the second line, because they are better trained men. I know instances where companies have gone out from the third line of men who have been in training only three months, when there were in the country men of the second line who had had from ten to 1974 twelve months' training. The Territorial Forces deserve well of the nation. What would have been our position after the Expeditionary Force was practically wiped out, when Kitchener's Army, so-called, was not ready for the field, if our brave Territorial Forces had not borne the brunt of the fighting for months on end? Therefore it is that I submit that our Territorial battalions are entitled to full reinforcements. They often have to take the place of Regular battalions in the trenches, and they ought to have as many Line men in the trenches as the Regulars have that they take the place of, and they ought not to be put at a disadvantage.
Another question I have to ask is whether a great many men who are physically fit to be combatants are not employed at present on lines of communication and at the base who ought to be liberated? My right hon. Friend has told us that a non-combatant battalion is being formed. That is a step in the right direction, but they ought to go further than that. Why not ask for volunteers from the provisional Territorial battalions at that. Why not ask for volunteers from the Volunteer Training Corps at home? I believe they would have an immediate response. Why not send all the men who were rejected on account of flat feet and hammer toes, as well as our conscientious objector friends, also into that kind of service, and liberate thousands of men of military age, trained soldiers, who are now on the lines of communication, for service in the firing line? We are told there is great difficulty in raising the requisite number of men. I am compelled by a sense of duty to state what I believe to be the real reason why men are coming forward more slowly than we could desire. Our offensives, whether at Neuve Chapelle or Loos, which were most successful in their initial stages, largely failed through lack of the necessary reinforcements when all were required in the course of the battle. Take the case of Loos. It is open knowledge that that magnificent Scottish division, the 15th, charged right over the first and second lines of German trenches right on to the top of Hill 70 and over the other side. They considered that troops coming up behind them would deal with the Germans in those trenches, but when they were well established on Hill 70 the Germans in the trenches they had passed over opened fire on them. They were fired at from the left and the right, and from 1975 all four sides, but that magnificent division held that hill for nine hours, though they had 8,000 casualties among 17,000 men, holding on and waiting for reinforcements which never arrived. Who was responsible for that hideous mistake? This offensive had been prepared for months, and it ought to have been thought out. The best brains in the field staff and in the higher commands ought to have been applied to it. They had seasoned divisions in France, which had had experience of trench warfare, and could have been sent as reinforcements to back up that Scottish division, but did they do it? No. They marched up the 21st and 24th Divisions, which had just been landed in France, for miles carrying their heavy accoutrements, and they had no one to guide them as to inhere they were to go. They were totally ignorant of the country, and when they got into the firing zone, worn out, with no proper food, they were expected to go forward instantly in that desperate attack.
I do not want to reflect on any of our generals, but I say unhesitatingly that in these offensives we had not good staff work. We had commanding officers in the higher commands who proved themselves incompetent. Human life was at stake. Human life will again be at stake in the next offensive. My only reason for raising this question now is that the confidence of the rank and file of our men in the field ought to be restored by it being announced to them and to the nation that the field staff has been reorganised, that men who failed in the higher commands have been removed, and that we can guarantee to the rank and file of the British Forces that never again will there be this horrible and hideous mismanagement when an offensive takes place. That is what is checking recruiting. Think you that this is not known? Think you that men coining home on leave from the divisions which have been through this terrible ordeal do not know? We have not had it announced, so far as I know, that a single man on the general staff or a single commander has been relieved of his command because he proved himself deficient. I have no feelings against one of these men, but if we have human life at stake it is not a question of men, it is a question of the country which ought to be considered. It is the question of the lives of our brave soldiers who have been sacrificed by the thousand owing to the incompetence of the direction and control under which they 1976 have fought. No more terrible punishment could rest upon the men who have failed, whether in the field staff or in the higher commands, than to be haunted to the day of their death by the memory that but for their blundering and mismanagement and incompetence thousands of men who no longer live might have been alive to-day. It is very easy to criticise, but these accounts have come to us from officer after officer, and from man after man. It is not that we have not got the men. We have thousands of the flower of the manhood of God's universe available in the field. It is a question of putting the right men in to lead our soldiers, and retiring those who have failed. It is the duty of the War Office ruthlessly to weed out every incompetent and inefficient member of the field staff and of the higher command, and the country has a right to know that this is being done, and that when the next offensive comes our men will be capably led, and will receive absolutely all the direction and help which can be given by the field staff.
§ Mr. G. LAMBERT
I am sure the House will re-echo the very eloquent and moving passage with which my right hon. Friend concluded his interesting speech. He spoke of the bravery of the soldiers, and. though I may have something to say in criticism of his Department, I hope not a word except of the most profound admiration will escape me in my respect for the courage and zeal which they have shown. My right hon. Friend has been criticised in some quarters, but, so far as I am concerned, I wish to bear my testimony to the unvarying courtesy and the unwearying diligence with which he has endeavoured to meet the wishes of hon. Members. I feel that he has occupied a very difficult situation. He has been put sometimes in an almost impossible position, but he has acquitted himself right well. I am sorry to appear as a critic of the War Office. I do not willingly do it am not here willingly to criticise in the Smallest degree. There is no object in criticism except to help the country at this time of crisis. But I feel it my duty to say some words which may seem critical. I will go back to August, 1914. Then John Bull, who we were always told was lazy and luxury loving, was in my judgment the only one of the Allies which at any rate was ready. We moved 80,000 men across to Mons without a single casualty. The Navy, despite the criticism of the present First Lord of the Admiralty, was also 1977 ready. Finance, railways—everything was done which could be done and which had the approbation of the nation. Recruits came in, national unity was secured, the War Office and the Admiralty had all the money they could ask for. There was no stint at all. But there is legitimate ground for disappointment that in the strategy of this campaign it seems to me we have been seriously defective.
I am not a student of military history, but from what I have been able to gather success is secured by concentration and disaster is courted by dissipation. We have been in our military campaign too weak everywhere, and not strong enough anywhere. We were told to hope and we did have high hopes for the spring of last year. We had a great offensive at Neuve Chapelle. Every gun, every ounce of ammunition, every man, and every organising officer was required for that great offensive. But what happened in another part of the world? At Gallipoli, after two months warning to the Turks, at about the same time we landed another force. If we had had Gallipoli at Neuve Chapelle, or if we had had Neuve Chapelle at Gallipoli we might have succeeded, but we succeeded in neither enterprise. It came out in the Press that there was rot a sufficiency of high explosive shells at Neuve Chapelle. The War Office denied that through the mouth of the Prime Minister. We all know the Prime Minister is the soul of honour and would not in the slightest have made a misstatement. But I want to know who was responsible for this misstatement which was put into his mouth.
I come to the autumn of this year, and precisely the same thing occurred. We had an advance at Suvla Bay, and we also had a great advance in France at the battle of Loos. One thing which characterised both actions was the magnificent and superb heroism of the men. But I ask why was it that our Forces were so dissipated? Again I must ask the reason why it is that the War Office persist in giving us inaccurate information. They gave us incorrect information about Neuve Chapelle. I am going to show that they gave us incorrect information about Gallipoli in September last year. We know that the Suvla Bay action took place about August. The following statement is from Sir Ian Hamilton's dispatch on 16th August:The Turks then I reckon had 110,000 rifles to our 95,000, and held all the vantage ground; they had plenty of ammunition, also drafts where with 1978 to refill ranks depleted in action within two or three days. My hopes that these drafts would be of poor quality had been every time disappointed.That was from Sir Ian Hamilton on 16th August. What were we told on the 15th September by the Secretary of State for War. He then said:There is now abundant evidence of a process of demoralisation having set in among the German-led or rather the German-driven Turks, due no doubt to their extremely heavy losses, and to the progressive failure of their resources.What is the reason that the War Office gives us this inaccurate information? Sir Ian Hamilton was very clear that the Turks were strongly entrenched, but we were told by the Secretary of State for War that "there is abundant evidence of a process of demoralisation having set in among the German-led Turks. I think we need some explanation of what I say are inaccurate statements. We know that the Gallipoli Peninsula was evacuated, and the one thing which we can congratulate ourselves upon was the magnificent organisation prevailing during the evacuation. No sooner were our troops out of Gallipoli than they went to Salonika, and the first thing one heard was that the British had to retreat. I read the headlines in the newspaper "British heroism." "Retreat." "Loss of ten guns." Why is it that our troops are put into such positions that they have to retreat with magnificent heroism and that they have to lose their guns? Again, there are prisoners in Bulgarian hands. I do not understand this strategy. We went there to save Serbia. If we want to impress the Balkans, we can do it far better by having some success on the Western front, because it is there the real result of the War will be decided. Then we have got a huge force, so I am informed, in Egypt. We have had elaborate warnings from the Germans that they propose to attack Egypt. The Germans do not advertise their warnings when they are going to attack any place. At any rate we have got a huge force there. Egypt, I am informed, is extremely difficult to attack. It has a desert of something like 150 miles. However, we have a force there of probably hundreds of thousands of men. I think we have a right to complain that in our War Office strategy and administration there is no coherent, concerted plan. We are always dancing to the German tune. I will take the case of Mesopotamia. Why are we advancing to Bagdad? We were told it was to protect the oilfields of Mesopotamia. I was concerned in that 1979 deal, and I would point out that the oilfields of Mesopotamia, or rather of Persia, are 400 miles distant. I am quite certain from my own knowledge that this advance on Bagdad was not carefully thought out and there was no plan of campaign at all. I w ill give my reasons for that statement, because, as has been said by one of my right hon. Friends, it is shown by the care of the wounded there. I have a letter from one of the most gallant officers who adorns the British Army. He was very seriously wounded on 13th to 14th January in the fighting there. This is what he says:I must consider myself fortunate to have arrived at Basra, where sonic medical aid was available, without getting a septic wound. The lot of the badly wounded during the evacuation stage from the field to the base at Basra is anything but joy. The five or six days spent on the paddle steamer down the Tigris are not to be forgotten in a hurry, two hundred or possibly more lying anyhow on the deck, with only one medical officer and practically no medical equipment. However, I understand that proper hospital steamers are now being sent out there.Why is it that these campaigns are undertaken without proper provision for the wounded? The War Office have ample money at their command.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
The War Office or the War Council here assented to the advance, therefore they must be held responsible for the deeds of the Indian Government. We cannot fix responsibility upon anyone. That is what I am complaining about. I bring up the case in the House of this wounded officer, who suffered these appalling six days going down the Tigris, and my right hon. Friend says, "It is the Indian Government." We want to fix responsibility upon someone. What is the kind of information we get? I read this morning from a correspondent in MesopotamiaAnother boat indigenous to the Tigris is the cauldron-like gufar of Bagdad, probably the oldest vessel in the world.That is the stuff that is sent over here from there officially. We do not want to know about these archaic means of communication. We want to know how our wounded are progressing to-day in Bagdad. There is another campaign going on in East Africa. There, apparently, things are going well under General Smuts, and I sincerely hope they will go 1980 well. The fact is that we have five campaigns going on at the present time. There are the campaigns in Flanders, Salonika, Egypt, Mesopotamia and East Africa, and curiously enough this number just tallies with the number of gentlemen who are engaged in War Office administration. The first gentleman in War Office administration is the Secretary of State for War. Then there is the Chief of Staff, who has, by Order in Council, been given the power of movement of troops. Then we have the Minister of Munitions. Next we have Lord Derby, connected with the Air Service and recruiting, and last, but not least, we have the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Long) inquiring into the waste of the War Office. It does not seem to me possible that such a system can lead to economical or efficient administration. I say, and I think I can prove it, that this division of our energies in various parts of the world is seriously, if not fatally, weakening our offensive power. We are actually playing the German game. We have got visible, tangible evidence in this country. The state of feeling outside is very much different from what it is in this House. There is no mistake about that. The speech of the hon. Member for Herts (Mr. Pemberton Billing) shows what a grave feeling of dissatisfaction is surging up in the country. Take the question of the air raids. A year ago Lord Montague told us in the House of Lords that we had an absolute superiority. General French said the same at the front. To-day we are told that we have lost it, although there has been a large output of machines, orders have been given to manufacturers, and the manufacturers have been very vigorous in carrying out the orders. The reason that we have lost our superiority is that we have scattered our aircraft in alt parts of the world, and because we have-scattered them in all parts of the world we have not got aircraft here to defend our own shores. Twelve months ago, when I was at the Admiralty, I remember several raids took place on German soil. For my own part I have no sympathy with this namby-pamby nonsense about non-reprisals.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
We want to stop these air raids here, and the only way to stop these air raiders coming is to attack the aeroplanes and the airships in their own homes.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
No, I want to prevent the Germans from killing our babies. I return to the question of the division of our energies, and I maintain that it is really dangerous. The effect upon our Navy is most serious. We had the First Lord of the Admiralty telling us what a very magnificent work the Navy had done. That was corroborated by the Commander-in-Chief in France, who expressed his great admiration for the manner in which all his reinforcements, his food and ammunition, had been convoyed over to France. The First Lord of the Admiralty said that the Navy has to guard 5,000 miles, from Archangel in the north to Alexandria in Egypt. It has had to transport 4,000,000 combatants, 1,000,000 horses and other animals, and 2,500,000 tons of stores, and 22,000,000 gallons of oil. That is a wonderful record for the Navy. It is prodigious what they have done. They have justified every confidence we had in them, but I do ask the Government not to strain this magnificent machine to breaking point. The Navy has to convoy huge supplies to Salonika, Egypt, and I presume, also to Mesopotamia. I cannot imagine a finer theatre for German submarine activity than the perfect armada of convoys and troopships at present going through the Straits of Gibraltar to Egypt and Salonika. It seems to me we are straining our Navy to too far great an extent. There must be, at the present time an enormous number of ships in the Mediterranean, passenger ships and mercantile ships, and they all have to be convoyed by the Navy. I do not wish to make any suggestion, but it would be of most serious import to this country if the Navy for the purpose of defending the Mediterranean had to be weakened in the North Sea. There is another point which I think equally serious. That is the dissipation of our mercantile marine. The mercantile marine of this country—
§ Mr. LAMBERT
I am very sorry, but I was trying to prove that the use of the mercantile marine, in conveying troops and stores and all these things to these various outposts like Salonika and Mesopotamia, is a direct cause why our shipping resources are being very severely strained.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That is not relevant to this Vote. The War Office is not re- 1982 sponsible for the matters to which the right hon. Gentleman alludes. Therefore, it is only beating the air to argue this question now in presence of the representative of the War Office.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
I suggest, with very great respect, that the War Office are responsible. If they did not send the men to these places the mercantile marine would not have been required to carry those stores.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
I suggest, very respectfully, that this is a very serious question. The fact that the War Office have sent. these troops to Salonika and to Egypt is gravely imperilling the mercantile marine, and the ships that ought to be bringing food to this country are engaged in carrying stores to these outlying posts. What has been the effect here? Freights have gone up—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That has nothing whatever to do with this Vote. We have had that question raised on the Naval Estimates and on other occasions, and on those other occasions the right hon. Gentleman's speech would have been quite relevant, but it is not relevant in reference to the War Office Vote.
§ Mr. ROCH
May I call attention to the fact that on the Naval Estimates, when this point was raised, we were expressly told by the Admiralty that while the steamers were requisitioned by the Admiralty the War Office was responsible for the use that was made of them and the number which they called on the Transport representatives to requisition, and we were, therefore, prevented from raising this very point on the Naval Estimates, and we were told that the War Office was responsible.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
Of course, I bow respectfully to your ruling. I am sorry if I am not allowed to go any further, but I thought that it was strictly relevant to the Vote. I may now say a word on the question of recruiting. There is a tremendous agitation with regard to this question, which has got in a most hopeless tangle. We have got sometimes attested married men of thirty-five who are called up before 1983 the unattested men of twenty-five. Of course, there is very grave dissatisfaction at that. The Government must take this dissatisfaction into account. They must sift the single men first and see if it be not possible that the single men may be replaced by the married men, so that the single men may be useful for service. For my part, I entered this House as a strong supporter of the voluntary principle, but I have voted for conscription, and having voted for. conscription, I do not think you can stop at this measure; you will have to go much further, and you will have to have general conscription for the whole of the men required for the Army.
I had proposed to say something about financial matters. The resources of this country, of the British Empire, are mighty, but not limitless, and, on this question of recruiting, we cannot keep up a supreme Navy, we cannot supply our Allies with munitions and with money, and also maintain a huge Army in Flanders, in Egypt, in Salonika, and in Mesopotamia. That is more than this country can do, and by frittering away our resources, by trying to grasp too much, we fail to grasp anything. The decisive theatre, in my judgment, is in the North Sea and Flanders, and in spreading out our military operations and our strength we are actually playing the German game. The very fact that the Germans are advertising to-day that their navy is coming out is a sign to me that they will not come out now, but certainly they will come out some time and when it suits them, and if we dissipate our Fleet in protecting troops sent to these outlying theatres of war, I say we are risking that which is most vital to this country—a naval disaster. I may be told that I am a barren critic, but I propose to make a suggestion which I have thought about very carefully. Our military non-success, I will put it—I will not say disaster, though the Gallipoli affair was a disaster enough—has been due to lack of concentration, and if there has been disaster it has been due to the scattering of our forces. I wish that the Government would realise that Germany is our enemy, and Germany alone, and that the naval and military forces of the country should be devoted to attacking that country. We had some revelations made—this is strictly germane—by the First Lord of the Admiralty. He told us that big guns had been taken from battleships to put on the monitors.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The right hon. Gentleman is dealing almost entirely with the Admiralty. He must see that he cannot expect a defence of the Admiralty from the representative of the War Office. The test by which we can judge whether his remarks are relevant or not is who is the Minister who answers. The Minister present to-day is the representative of the War Office: we are discussing War Office problems.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
I am sorry that you will not allow me to go on, but my point is absolutely a military one. I say that these monitors were designed for a special military purpose, but they have been used by the War Office for another military purpose. They were—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The monitors were discussed last week. The right hon. Gentleman is making a naval speech. He ought to have made it last week, and it would have been strictly relevant.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
I am sorry, but I will pass away from that point. In my judgment—I hope that this may be relevant—there must be a change in the War Council. I hope that I may not be ruled out of order on this. We have got a War Council consisting of the most gifted political leaders, but they are not military strategists. I make the suggestion with all humility to the Government that they should reconstitute the War Council. There must be the Prime Minister and the Colonial Secretary, as the leaders of the two great political parties in the country. I think that there should be the greatest naval strategist. Of course, the House knows my opinion as to who that gentleman should be. [An HON. MEMBER: "Who?"] Why, of course, Admiral Lord Fisher. Then I would suggest that they should have the greatest military strategist, and I understand that that is Sir William Robinson. Then I think that it is quite indispensable that they should have on that War Council a representative of the great commercial mercantile interests and shipping—a man who will be the counterpart of Herr Ballin, who is at work on transport in Germany—and also that they should have a representative of finance.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
The Minister of Munitions will always find a place when there is work to be done. I would make that suggestion with all seriousness. We have 1985 been suffering from a fatal lack of concentration in this War. It is perfectly certain that if we are to win this War—and I do not regard the situation to-day with that calm confidence of many of my hon. Friends—we must concentrate on the Western theatre. That is where the War will be won, and unless we do that, and unless the Government do that, they will lose the greatest asset which they have at the present moment—that is the confidence of the country.