§ Mr. McCURDY
(in Court dress): I beg to move
"That a humble Address be presented to His Majesty, as followeth:—
"Most Gracious Sovereign,
"We, your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."
On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. I desire to ask you whether, in accordance with the immemorial custom of this House, the Prime Minister will be present to hear the reply to the Gracious Speech from the Throne?
§ Mr. McCURDY
I beg the indulgence which the House always extends to those Members who are selected for the difficult though honourable task of moving this Motion. I do not know if the Prime Minister, in selecting the Member for Northampton for this duty, was minded to offer some consolation for the doom which overhangs that constituency if the recommendations of a recent Conference are carried out. Those recommendations threaten us with the loss of part of that representation which we have enjoyed in this House uninterruptedly for 700 years. I prefer to think that it is intended as a compliment to the loyalty and patriotism which that 12 ancient borough has always displayed, and to the special services which it has been able to render in the equipment, not only of our own forces, but of those of our gallant Allies during the present War. In moving that an Address of Thanks be presented to His Majesty for his most Gracious Speech it is impossible not to be reminded of how much our thanks are due to His Majesty, not only for his most Gracious Speech, but for the unselfish and untiring devotion to the public interest which he has displayed during the present War. His constant care for the welfare of his soldiers and sailors, and, indeed, of his own people generally, and the simple devotion to duty which he has displayed, have, if it were possible, intensified the feelings of loyalty towards him of the people of this country. We begin the new Session under the auspices of a new Government. There has been a redistribution of our political forces in this House. If I may venture to borrow a military metaphor, I would say that the hon. Gentlemen who for eighteen months have manned the front line trenches in this House have been relieved. They remain members of the fighting forces of the country. They are still servants of the King. But the reserves have been moved into the front line, and those who have kept the front line have stepped back into reserve. It may be that right hon. Gentlemen opposite themselves feel a little relieved, for after all they have, for eighteen months, borne, the burden of government during a great war, and it is impossible in a great war to avoid casualties.
Let it be noted the choice which the Government have made. Though we are in the midst of great naval and military affairs, the first word in tins House in this new Session of Parliament is being spoken by a civilian whose only right to address the House is that he represents inadequately, yet he hopes faithfully, the views, wishes, opinions, and hopes of a typical industrial middle-class constituency of this country. I am sure that my Constituents would desire that the first word I utter should be one of whole-hearted support of those right hon. Gentlemen upon whom the duty of government has now fallen, and to assure the Prime Minister and the Government of the whole-hearted support of all parties in this country in all works begun and undertaken by them for the resolute and speedy prosecution of the 13 War. One occasionally sees in the public Press criticisms and comments from which some measure of party spirit is not quite absent. References are also to be seen to supposed party feeling on the part of, what are termed, the old gang or the new gang. Such references must, I am sure, astonish our Allies as they surprise ourselves, for they do not represent the true feeling of the people of this country. Although idle gossip of that kind may flourish for a little while in the atmosphere of the Metropolis, it withers and dies long before it reaches the bracing air of the Midlands and the North. Wherever one goes in the constituencies, from Land's End to John O' Groats, one finds that party differences have everywhere disappeared, the people, on the anvil of the War, having been welded into the bonds of unity. In the Gracious Speech from the Throne I note that in the opening sentence reference is made to overtures for peace. The people of this country are a peace-loving people. We all desire peace. But I suppose each of us desires to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. We are not in a hurry! There are some things which we should like to do first. The people of this country are unversed in diplomacy and unskilled in statecraft; still, I think the natural instinct of the people of this country is a sound instinct, and one which revolts at the thought of any parleyings or negotiations with the authors of the Belgium atrocities, the aiders and abettors of Armenian massacres, until they have first, for their own good, been soundly and decisively defeated in the field.
In the Gracious Speech from the Throne occurs a reference to certain overtures which have been made by the Central Powers. It is said that they afford no basis for peace. I would submit that no permanent basis for peace can be found which does not first restore and rehabilitate those principles of public morality on which our civilisation is based, and which, in the course of this War, have been so rudely shattered. We must, I submit, in some way bring home to the rulers and statesmen of the Central Powers that the responsibility for crime is not diminished by its magnitude. If larceny is contemptible, it does not become respectable if carried out on a large scale by the despoiling of whole provinces under the high-sounding terms of "levies" or "requisitions," and murder does not cease 14 to be murder because it is practised as part of a maritime code. The Gracious Speech from the Throne refers to "threats of further outrages." I think we all know what we may expect. Germany can have little surprise in store for the world in the way of outrages, but I think that people in this country, on the whole, are rather encouraged than dismayed when they regard—and, I venture to think, properly regard—this latest action on the part of our enemies as indicative of a feeling of despair rather than of confidence. I think of this threat of wholesale murder on the high seas we might say, as Mr. Disraeli once said on the floor of this House on the occasion of the death of President Lincoln:Assassination has never changed the history of the world.I think that in launching this last attack against humanity, the Central Powers have forgotten two things, which are expressed in a saying of President Garfield:God reigns—and the Government of Washington still lives.I think they have forgotten a third thing, and that is the unknown resources of energy and endurance that are to be found in the British people. There are many other topics in His Majesty's Gracious Speech to which I should much like to refer. I should like to pay my tribute to the heroism and gallantry displayed by our Naval and Military Forces, as well as to the efforts of our heroic Allies, and to the hope that out of this War a closer union of the British Empire may come about; but these topics will be dealt with by the hon. and gallant Member who follows me, and who is much more competent than I am to deal with those matters. I will, if I may, in commending this Motion to the House, conclude with some words written in this country in 1803 when, as now, England was defending its life and liberty, and not only its own life and liberty but the lives and liberties of the European nations. When Napoleon's banners at Boulogne roused in these Islands every freeman, our coast defences being hastily prepared against an imminent menace at invasion, Wordsworth's noble lines addressed to the Armies we were then raising in Kent must, I think, find a responsive echo in our hearts to-day:No parleying now;In Britain is one breath;We all are with you nowFrom shore to shore,Ye men of Kent. It is Victory or Death.
§ Admiral of the Fleet Sir H. MEUX
(in Naval uniform): In rising to second the Address, in answer to the Gracious Speech from the Throne, which has been so ably and brilliantly moved by the trained orator on my right, I rely on the consideration which this House always gives to a naval or military officer who, from his earliest childhood, has been accustomed to give very short orders, and not to receive any answers. My hon. Friend very kindly left the chief praise of the Army and Navy to me, but I cannot help thinking that the Naval Service would very much rather be praised by an outsider than by one who belongs to themselves. As far as the Army goes, I may be allowed to express my admiration, and I think at the same time we ought to take our thoughts back to the first month of the War, when the original Expeditionary Force left these shores. I forget exactly how many there were in that force—something like 70,000 or 80,000 men—to whom, with the assistance of our most gallant Allies, may be attributed the saving of Paris from the invader. Whatever has been done since, no one will ever forget how Sir John French, ably seconded by General Smith-Dorrien, held the lines of retreat. In both the Army and Navy it is very hard to judge as to which portion of the force to give the greatest praise, for we see warfare in the heavens above, on the earth beneath, and, unfortunately, in the waters under the earth; and I do not know who really deserves the greatest credit. When one thinks of the original Zeppelin scare, while I for one never thought we should come to any very serious vital danger from that scare, it was certainly very unpleasant to realise that Zeppelins could come and go whenever they liked, practically unharmed, and it seemed extremely difficult that any cure would ever be found. Nevertheless, the cure has been found, and words cannot express the extraordinary audacity of our airmen who pursue these rascals in the dead of night, and I am told that once they get sight of them the Zeppelins are as good as gone. We all lately, and some of us for months and years, have been very much disturbed by the submarine menace and the constant toll of merchant vessels. It is not too much to say that we have every reason to hope the same success which has attended the destruction of Zeppelins is in a fair way of being brought within reasonable 16 distance by the new efforts being made to counter the submarine trouble. In talking about the Navy I could not perhaps do better than read a few words I addressed to an audience on Trafalgar Day, which I am sure you have not read:Just think what our admirals arc doing in the North Sea. Admiral Sir John Jellicoe has the most important and delicate task which any admiral ever had, that is to defend England and protect her gallant mercantile marine. It is not as in the days of Nelson, when at night yon were absolutely safe and could retire to rest. Now, with the advent of mines and submarines, there is no rest at all for the Admiral and his Fleet. I do not say they are never in harbour, but they are subject to constant, never-ending anxiety. Admiral Jellicoe has an excellent and a brilliant staff, and they no doubt reduce his labours to a large extent, but they cannot share his responsibility. He alone has the responsibility, and I think when the history of the War is written people will realise how much they owe to Admiral Jellicoe, not only for what he has done, but for what he has prevented other people from doing.I believe everybody in the Navy has complete confidence with Jellicoe at the Admiralty and Beatty in command of our Fleet. In one of his poems, Longfellow wrote:'Helmsman! for the love of heaven,Teach me, too, that wondrous song!''Would'st thou,'—so the helmsman answered,'Learn the secret of the sea?Only those who brave its dangersComprehend its mystery!'Well, no civilian is braving it or running its risks, so leave that to Jellicoe and Beatty. One must not forget those who are suffering just as many hardships, and undergoing quite as great dangers as the Royal Navy, and they are the members of the Mercantile Marine. Those men have very little chance of glory, but among all the seamen I have not heard of a single case of any man wishing to shirk his duty. They treat death and all the dangers of the sea as a part of their day's work, and we owe to them more than we can possibly offer. One of the reasons why all the men in that Service, and in all our fighting Services, are so cheerfully facing the danger is that they know they are absolutely fighting for the right.
Once it is known that you are fighting for the right, you cannot be defeated, for righteousness is immortal. I shall leave praises of our Allies to those more competent to deal with them, but I would like to refer to our old enemy France. How we love her now! She is our nearest neighbour, and I hope she will always be our dearest friend. Nothing in all her long military history is finer than the chivalrous deeds she has performed in the last two years, and the name of Verdun will remain for ever as a monument of courage, resolution, tenacity, and 17 extraordinary skill on the part of her generals. Then we must think of Belgium, violated and robbed. She has never lost her spirit, and to-day we find her gallant King and Queen at the head of the remnant of her Army, waiting for the glorious day when restitution shall be brought to them. As for Italy, she is bringing back the ancient glories of the Roman race. Serbia, perhaps, has suffered more than all—murdered, invaded, and betrayed at last by an Ally who had promised to support her. Yet there is a small, gallant remnant of about 100,000 men who are still fighting, and apparently they have no fear as to the eventual result. Rumania, we know, has had terrible disasters to go through, but she is still holding a portion of her lines, and her gallant King and beautiful Queen will have the sympathy of everybody in this country Russia, as usual, has shown herself as indomitable as she is vast, and whatever disasters may befall her, she seems to rise after each stronger than ever to accomplish victory.
Of all the Allies the only two that have had no real suffering, so far as the civil population goes, are England and Japan, and those two countries are free from invasion. Japan is a happy land, where history shows that for two thousand years they have never had to suffer the horrors of invasion.
In the Gracious Speech from the Throne we are told that we should respond to every call necessary for the success of our cause, and the first call upon us is in relation to food. I have had a little experience in being more or less starved, and its effect is, at any rate, aesthetic. In this respect I should just like to say that I presume the Government have already taken stock of of the food in the country, because, unless you have knowledge of your stock, you cannot make your arrangements, and you cannot calculate how long it will last. Sir George White said of the very able officer who looked after the troops at Ladysmith that he was the "best caterer since the days of Moses," and the result was that when we were relieved we had exactly ten days' food supply left. Of course, we do not want to run as short as that when the War is over, and we want a great deal more than ten days' stock; but I think that the rations we are having to-day are well on the side of generosity, and it is for the women, who have done so much in this War, to see that those rations are not exceeded. 18 I have read in a book that very little food is sufficient for the man who is well nurtured, and, of course, we are all well nurtured in this country. The book I allude to states that "sound sleep cometh of moderate eating. He rises early and his wits are with him." That is all very well as regards food, but in reference to drink I find it states that, "Wine is as good as life to a man if it be drunk moderately."
I should like to make a few references to our enemy. I do not believe in using strong language except occasionally, and I much prefer the gentle words and resolute deeds mentioned in the old story of the American Quaker backwoodsman, who, when reading the Bible one evening, saw a brown hand with a knife in it coming under his tent, and he took up his chopper and said, "Friend, thou shalt not steal," and proceeded to cut off his hand. If you wish to capture or tame a wild animal, you must first of all try and make yourself more or less acquainted with his habits of thought and life. I have been at a loss to understand the action of the German nation, which before the War was a charming nation in some ways. I had a great many friends among them, and still, in spite of the horrible misdeeds of the Germans, I firmly believe there are thousands and I hope millions of men in Germany who are just as much ashamed of their brutality as we are horrified. I have often wondered what is the real cause of this belief in militarism. I quite agree that in this country we should put the civil before the military, and I am glad that a civilian was asked to move the Address. I believe the Germans are great readers of history. They have studied the lives of the ancient classical conquerors, and the man they have followed most closely in his life is Philip of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great. Cruelty practised by any nation is an unforgivable sin, and any nation which has carried out cruelty, although for the time being it may have succeeded, has invariably come to a bad end. The ridicule and cruelty of German militarism in peace time was exemplified by the imposter Kopernick and the poor crippled cobbler of Zabern. In England it is not the Army or the Navy we look up to in civil life, but the humble policeman. That is my idea of the order of things. I do not know if hon. Members remember a picture which appeared in "Punch" two years ago of the policeman 19 guiding a little child over the road and holding up the whole of the traffic, consisting of cabs, motor-cars, and other vehicles. That is England. We hear of these horrible slave drives in Poland and Belgium, where women and children and young men are seized. The men are sent off to work, and as for the girls, Heaven knows what is done with them. That is German militarism in war time. What have we in England? We find on an early autumn morning a Zeppelin coming down on the coast of Essex and a rural British policeman walking off in charge of twenty-two German prisoners. That is civil life in England! We have all got to see this War through, and I think it divides all England into two classes of men. There is "Mr. Greatheart" and Mr. Littlefaith." I do not know what became of Mr. Littlefaith, because the author never thought it worth while to say, but you will remember that Mr. Greatheart came across an old gentleman asleep under an oak tree. That old gentleman, I think, the author meant to be old England, because his name you will remember was Mr. Honest. When I say old England, I do not think that a Scotsman, an Irishman, or a Welshman would like to claim him. I will tell you why. I am going to be very civil. You know he came from the town of Stupidity. My hon. and learned Friend talked about people not being in a hurry to get to the Kingdom of Heaven. We all wish to live a little longer on this earth. Mr. Honest eventually got to the Kingdom of Heaven, because he was, as I hope the whole of the British Empire will be, helped by a good conscience.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
I wish at the outset, on behalf of the whole House, to tender to my two hon. Friends who have just addressed us our sincere congratulations on the admirable manner in which they have performed what is proverbially a difficult task. On this occasion we have had the advantage, and I think it shows the variety of resource which this House possesses, of contrast. I am not merely referring to the external divergencies which the two hon. Members present at the moment, nor again to the fact, referred to by the hon. and gallant Admiral, that one is a civilian and the other a member of the fighting Forces of the Crown, but to the style and tone which they have respectively adopted. We have seen, on the 20 one hand, the case presented in the staid and sober and yet persuasive accents of my own old profession, and, on the other hand, we have had it presented with a whiff of brine and even of gunpowder by my hon. and gallant Friend, who so worthily represents the British Navy. We could not have had a happier conjunction for the opening of our Debates, particularly as by different roads and different methods and different tones they both came to the same conclusion, a conclusion which is accepted unanimously and enthusiastically not only by this House, but by the whole of the British people and the Empire: We have one and only one duty before us, and that is to be united and determined in the prosecution of the War.
My hon. Friend who moved the Address in answer to the Gracious Speech paid a tribute, in which I am sure everyone of His Majesty's subjects here and elsewhere would join, to the continuous self-effacing and devoted care which our gracious King himself has shown from the beginning of the War up to this day, not only in regard to the Army and the Navy, but also in regard to all those who, in varying degrees and in different spheres of life, have suffered in the casualties and the cruelties of the War. His Majesty and His gracious Consort have set an example to the whole of their subjects. I need not say anything by way of addition or emphasis to the very eloquent acknowledgment which was made by my hon. and gallant Friend, who has just sat down, of the services of our fighting Forces; but I am very glad he included in his tribute to the Army and Navy the Mercantile Marine. We are too apt, because their actions, their endurance, their patience, their valour, and their toil are screened and shrouded in obscurity, to forget that both the efficiency of our blockade of the enemy's coast and the security of our Home defence are due to the voluntary self-sacrifice and labour of the men of the Mercantile Marine. It is no detraction of any kind from the gratitude and admiration which we all feel for the services of the Navy to couple with them, as I am sure every naval officer would, their gallant associates and comrades in the Mercantile branch of the Service.
I am not going to occupy the attention of the House for more than a very few moments. I would, in the first place, if I may, address one or two questions, not in any spirit of criticism but in the spirit of inquiry, to the Ministers of the Crown 21 in regard to matters which are of vital importance for the conduct of the War, and in respect of which, I think, this House would desire at the earliest possible moment to have such information as can be given consistently with public interest. The Gracious Speech refers in one of its paragraphs to the approaching meeting here of the representatives of the Dominions and of the Indian Empire. I am sure we are all delighted to think that it has been found possible to arrange such a meeting. I would- ask, not as I say in any critical spirit, the Government to tell us, perhaps with a little more fullness and precision that has yet been found probable, what is the scope and purpose of that Conference, and to make my question more particular I would say, by way of illustrating this, is it to be concerned mainly, or primarily concerned, with the concerted efforts of the Empire as a whole for the further prosecution and the effective success of the War, a point about which, of course, there can be no difference of opinion whatever, or is it further to take within the ambit of its deliberations the problems of settlement and reconstruction, both economic and Imperial, which must necessarily arise when the War comes to a successful end and after peace has been concluded? I think some general indications on that point would be welcomed by public opinion, not only in this country but throughout the Empire.
Then there are one or two points in regard to matters which may seem to be matters of detail, but which, at this moment, are matters of primary importance and on which I think the House would be glad to have a little further information. First of all, take the point referred to by my hon. and gallant Friend who has just sat down in connection with the production and consumption of food. Can the Government tell us, roughly speaking, what is the number of men who have been withdrawn from agricultural labour under the recent Order, and to what extent—I am only asking, of course, for general information—substitutes have been provided for the men so withdrawn, and whether the Government are satisfied that those substitutes are, on the average, of adequate quality? Then, again, these are practical points, which have been brought to my attention by people outside, and which excite a great deal of interest among the whole agricultural community 22 —Can any estimate be given of the areas of land likely to be left unploughed by the withdrawal of labour, or, on the other hand, to be ploughed by the provision which has been promised of traction? That is a point which I know is regarded as of the very greatest importance by the agricultural community. Then, in regard to prices, take the case of potatoes. Are the prices fixed by the Food Controller and the Board of Agriculture maximum or minimum prices? There appears to have been—I am not making any complaint—some discrepancy between the prices and conditions announced by the two Departments, and farmers and other producers throughout the country feel it to be a matter of the most urgent importance that they should know exactly how they stand in this matter. Again, in the same connection, can a statement yet be made in regard to maximum or minimum prices for home-grown wheat, and, if the prices are fixed for wheat and for potatoes, do the Government propose also to fix prices for artificial manures and fertilizers? These are all questions of great practical importance. I will conclude my catechism with regard to this area of our activities by one further question with regard to Australian wheat, also a very important matter. The quantities purchased by the Imperial Government of Australian wheat and the prices paid to the Commonwealth have been published in Australia; can they be communicated to-Parliament here? I do not for a moment see why, if they are published in Australia, the House of Commons and the public here should not also have the information.
Now to turn for a moment to another equally important branch, from a practical point of view, of our immediate activities—I mean shipping. I should like to ask if some information can reasonably be given whether the number of vessels under requisition by the Government—I mean, of course, merchant vessels—for purely Army and Navy purposes, has been increased or diminished, and if any steps have been taken to carry out what we understood when we were last here was the intention of the Government to nationalise British ships? Can the Government tell us—I am sure it will be a very great reassurance to the public if they can—if the placing of orders with shipyards for new tonnage by shipping companies—quite an important matter—has proceeded satisfactorily since the last statement was made in this House, and again, is shipbuilding material for 23 cargo vessels still regarded by the Government, as it was a fortnight ago, as being first on the priority list, and if any further men skilled in shipbuilding and marine engine building have been released from the Army during the Recess? These may seem points of detail, but they are matters in regard to all of which the House will be glad to know exactly what progress has been and is being made and what further advance may be anticipated in the near future. I think the Government will not only not resent, but agree it is very desirable such information as can be given should be given at the earliest possible moment on these points.
Now I pass from that to the larger and more general issue. We have believed in this country, and we have maintained from the first day of the War that we are fighting not for selfish purposes, but in the general service of civilisation and humanity. The evidence that that claim of ours is not ill-founded has accumulated every month that has passed since the original devastation of Belgium down to the formal proclamation by the enemy, a few days ago, of a policy of undisguised savagery. I do not think that it is worth while to speculate on the motives of this latest development—it can hardly even be described as a new departure—in practice. The really novel thing about it is that it is a direct and a defiant challenge both to the consciences and the interests of the whole neutral world. The existence of a state of war on a considerable scale has always imposed a heavy burden of hardship and inconvenience upon neutrals, and that burden is vastly increased in these days, as compared with earlier times, by the economic interdependence of all civilised nations. We have had ourselves abundant illustrations during the last three years of these difficulties, and I believe that we have done our best to meet and mitigate them in the enforcement of our naval blockade of the enemy. The latest German threat is, in substance and in fact, a declaration of war upon neutrality. The high seas are to be handed over to the uncontrolled domination of organised piracy. That is the challenge which a week ago was thrown down, apparently in the confident expectation that it would meet with meek acquiescence, or at any rate with no more than a verbal protest.
Rarely, even in the clumsy miscalculations of German diplomacy, has a grosser error been committed. The challenge has 24 been taken up with dignity and without delay by the head of the most powerful of the neutral States. It is a peculiar gratification to us to remember that our great kindred community should not have hesitated for a moment to assume the championship of the rights and liberties that are the common property of the civilised world. It is not for us here and now to forecast the bearings of these momorable events upon the future of the War; still less, in my judgment, would it be fitting for us to tender advice or suggestions to a Government which is as well able as any on the face of the globe to take care of itself. But we may be permitted, and I think we shall be permitted, to hail with acclamation, in which there is a strain of family pride, the stern and resolute determination of the other great English-speaking Power to frustrate the latest enormity of those who, by their whole conduct of this War, have abundantly earned for themselves the title of enemies of the human race.
I have only one thing more to say. Our course is as plain and plainer than it ever was. It is to secure victory, and the only kind of victory which will pave the way, not merely to an abiding peace, but to a secure and safeguarded future for freedom and humanity. For that purpose two things are needed. The first is the closest co-ordination in the operations of the Allies, and the next is a completed and rounded organisation and concentration of every resource—in money, in men, in women, in everything within our reach or at our command. In the effort to secure that let there be no jarring voices, no party cross-currents, no personal or sectional distractions. Upon us in this House, more perhaps than upon any body of men throughout the length and breadth of the Empire, there rests the greatest responsibility, both for what is said and done and for what is left unsaid and undone. Let us discharge it in the spirit of men who feel from the bottom of their souls that they are the trustees of the greatest cause in history.
§ The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Bonar Law) rose——
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
My first duty is to join the late Prime Minister in the words of congratulation which he has just addressed to the Mover and Seconder of the Address. I can add nothing to them; I 25 can only heartily endorse them. The contrast to which the late Prime Minister referred was very marked. From my hon. and gallant Friend, who seconded the Address (Sir H. Meux), I remember hearing once the statement that he did not want to be described as "breezy," but the mystery of the sea of which he spoke has its effect, and in spite of his intentions, and in spite also of the weight of his speech, breeze and the scent of the breeze is not wanting from his addresses to this House. As regards the speech of my right hon. Friend (Mr. Asquith), who has just sat down, I am sure I am only expressing the feeling of the whole House, in every part of it, when I say that the speech which we have just heard is the best possible testimony to the unity of this country in the great struggle in which we are engaged, and that in the closing part of it were words which convey as well as any words which have ever been used the feeling of this country as to the justice of our cause, and as to the part which we hope will be played in it by the neutrals, whose rights now are challenged as much as our own.
My right hon. Friend put to me two or three questions, and I will deal with them first. I am sure he will recognise that, without having had notice of them, it is quite impossible for me to give more than the most general answers, and I shall try to deal with them in that way. He spoke about food, and, in particular, put a question as to the number of men who are being taken from agriculture for the Army. The position in regard to that is as follows: There were 60,000 men engaged in agriculture who were not exempted by the tribunals. It was found, I think by the late Government, that it was not right, in spite of the fact that the tribunals had not exempted them, that so large a number should be taken away from a service which everyone recognises is quite as important to the life of this country, and even to the successful prosecution of the War by this country, as our fighting troops themselves. The subject has been discussed more than once—I would say many times—by the Cabinet, and an agreement was come to of which this is the substance: that, instead of taking away 60,000—namely, those who had not been exempted—30,000 would be allowed to go on the understanding that the Army would find a similar number of substitutes to take their places. Up till 26 now that arrangement obviously has not been carried out, for there has not been time. It may be found that it is not possible to get so many from the Army. In any case, my right hon. Friend and the House may rest assured that we realise as fully as any Member of the House the difficulty of reconciling these claims, that we must keep up in the decisive struggle that is in front of us this year, to the utmost limit of our power, our fighting forces at the front and, at the same time, that we must have due regard to those services at home which are as vital to the life of the country as the Army itself.
My right hon. Friend asked me a question in regard to the prices fixed for potatoes. I am not in a position to give any special answer. I have only the general knowledge I have gained from the discussions in the Cabinet. The price fixed for the purchase of potatoes is of course a maximum price. I would point out to the House that it would not be wise to be quite sure that the step taken is wrong or to criticise it too much until we see how it develops. After all, the Army has been regularly in the habit of requisitioning, at fixed prices, material absolutely necessary for the Army during the War. In this case it is an attempt to prevent excessive prices for the civilian population. That is an object, at all events, that will commend itself to the majority of the people. I ask the House not to come too quickly to the decision that a mistake has been made in regard to it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Wait and see!"] My right hon. Friend asked me what new acreage had been put under plough. I am sorry to say that until further information is received it is impossible for me to give that information [HON. MEMBERS: "Wait and see!"] My right hon. Friend took as the subject of his next question shipping. In regard to that, I can give a fairly general reply. It is the fact that more and more, and to a much greater extent than when the late Government came to an end, all the merchant ships are coming under the direct requisition of the Government. As regards nationalisation, or what is called nationalisation, I remember a speech of the Prime Minister as to what would be the effect of nationalisation if adopted in regard to shipping; by that he meant that any system—and I think the House will agree—similar to that under which the railways are brought under the control of the Government during the War would fulfil that condition. Some arrangement 27 of that kind has already been decided upon, and within a week it will be possible for the Government to describe to the House exactly what steps are going to be taken.
As regards the other point raised by my right hon. Friend, namely, the question of the supply of new ships, I am' glad to say that in my belief, without any doubt, the Shipping Controller has done already most valuable work in dealing with this subject, which, from the point of view of national safety, is as important as the other interest of seeking to deal with the submarines which are trying to sink our merchant ships. He has under his control all the slips of this country. He has put down a very large number of new ships. They are being pressed on with the utmost possible vigour, and the total, I am glad to say, is large, and it does give us some hope that, whatever the ravages of the submarines may be, something will be done to replace them by new shipping, in spite of the demands of the Navy for ships and in spite also of the difficulty in the other direction of finding men to carry out work of that kind.
I think the only other question that I remember was as to the Imperial Conference. I take it as the last because it is obviously one of much greater importance. My right hon. Friend asked what will be the exact position of the arrangement by which the Prime Ministers come to this country. In that respect this is the position: Owing to the War, the Imperial Conference was not held at the time it would have met in the ordinary course. While I was at the Colonial Office I thought it was indispensable myself, and I would have proposed it before now to the Government, that the Conference should meet this year. The present Government has decided to summon the Premiers, but we have not summoned them to an ordinary Imperial Conference. In what has been done we have simply developed to a very much greater extent steps which had already been taken. For instance, before I went to the Colonial Office my predecessor had informed the Dominions that they would be consulted in regard to the terms of Peace. When the Prime Ministers of the Dominions came they were invited by my right hon. Friend who has just spoken to take their seats in the Cabinet. The invitation, as the House will have seen, for the notice of it was 28 made public, which has been given to these Prime Ministers, is that they should come here, and that in the questions which specially concern them—and most questions do—they should have continuous sittings as members of the Cabinet. That is an immense step forward. I do not believe that there is anyone in the House who will consider that, in view of the part that has been played by India and by the Dominions in this War, this is a step which should not now be taken. My right hon. Friend asks what subjects will be discussed. The invitation to them—I do not remember the exact words, but this was the effect of it—was to discuss with us all items of common interest referring to the War. Obviously that covers a wide ground. It is very difficult to say at what stage that definition begins and ends. But in addition to that—I am sure my right hon. Friend will agree with me—when these Prime Ministers come it is quite obvious that we cannot lay down hard-and-fast lines as to what they are to be permitted and what they are not to be permitted to discuss. There must be latitude in that respect. From the experience which we have already had of these Prime Ministers, I am certain of this, that they will realise as much as we do that the one thing at the moment is the successful prosecution of the War, and that they will do everything in their power to prevent in such a time any other consideration coming in which would interfere with us in the object which is dearest to them as it is to us. That is a great step forward. We all know that before the War, and indeed since the War, our German enemies have constantly told us that the difficulties of Great Britain would end in the break-up of the British Empire. They have got the answer. The German Emperor has become a great Empire builder, but it is not his Empire that he is building. Under the stress and strain of this War the difficulties, the dangers, and the terrible losses which had been borne in common, the whole Empire in my belief has been brought together with a degree of rapidity and strength which nothing but this War could have brought about.
I suppose it is my duty to attempt to give some slight account of what has happened since the House last met. There have been, as the House knows, comparatively few military events of importance. As regards the Navy, I can add nothing to what has been said by the Seconder of 29 the Address and so eloquently by the late Prime Minister as to the part which the Navy has played. So far as the command of the sea above the surface is concerned, the British Navy has never had so complete a command as it has had during this War. I may venture to say also, because it has a bearing on the last part of my right hon. Friend's speech, that never in the whole history of the world has that power been exercised with such a regard to the rights and even to the susceptibilities of neutral Powers. The Navy has done all and more than all that was expected of it. Without the Navy it would have been impossible for us and our Allies, to win in this struggle. With the Navy, in spite of submarines, it is impossible that we can fail when the end of the struggle comes. I am not going to attempt to minimise the danger of the submarine menace. It is a great danger—one of the greatest against which we have to fight. What my hon. and gallant Friend (Admiral Sir H. Meux) said is true. To meet this new danger new expedients have to be devised. Even in the case of Zeppelins the improvement did not come at once. This, I think, is far more difficult. I think I am at liberty to tell the House that some of the very best brains in the Navy and in the country are being, and have for some time been, concentrated on dealing with this problem, and everything that can be done is being done, and although, of course, it is a matter of speculation—and I believe the most skilful sailor could only give a guess—I cannot myself help feeling that we may find that the experience of the similar threats made by Germany early in 1915 will be repeated now, that she has been doing almost all she can, and that there is absolutely no chance whatever of her succeeding in starving this country and bringing about our defeat through this means.
As regards military operations, it has been a comparatively dead season, but I am glad to say that since the House rose there has been nothing in the nature of a disaster. There has been, on the contrary, every indication of a change for the better, so far as the Allies are concerned. If we look at the Allies first, the Italians, from the nature of the climate and the part of the world in which they are operating, have been able to do nothing more than make raids, but they have been successful, and from every quarter we learn that the spirit of the 30 Italian troops is good, and that when the campaign opens we may look for successes greater than those which crowned their arms towards the end of the last campaign. If we turn to Russia, we find that the courage and determination, the absolute unwillingness at any time to accept defeat, which in all her history has characterised the Russian troops, is still found true in all they do. In spite of the terrible weather, the frost, which, of course, is more severely felt there, our Russian Allies have made an advance in the neighbourhood of Riga, and have taken prisoners, and there has been the same result, though perhaps to a smaller extent, in the Bukowina. With regard to Roumania, it is not a subject of which any of the Allies can think without distress. We all recognise the terrible disaster which has befallen her. It is a disaster which the people in this country and our other Allies would have done everything to prevent, but since the House met the position has not grown worse. Thanks to the fighting qualities of the soldiers there—Roumanians and Russians—although a large part of the country has been overrun a large portion of the Roumanian Army is still in being and ready to continue the fight, and by their efforts the advance of the Germans has been stopped on the Sereth, and we have reason to hope at least that they will not be able to gain further successes in the field. The overrunning of Roumania was a terrible disaster to the Allies. It was a terrible moral and political disaster, and in this War, as in every war, these considerations count as well as victories upon the field. But it is not a military success—at least so I have reason to believe—for our German enemies. They have not gained the objects at which they aimed. They have endured, in fighting those forces which were opposed to them, very heavy losses and for that reason are less able than they would have been but for them to bear the strain which will be put upon them on other fronts as the season advances. There is every indication that, thanks, I am glad to say, largely to the action of British officers, a great part of the corn which the Germans depended on getting from Roumania has been destroyed, and we have reason to believe that the oil wells have been scientifically and successfully closed, so that they have lost the advantage which they expected to get in that direction.
31 If we turn to the British Forces, the position is, I think, not discouraging. About the force in Salonika I shall say nothing, for there is nothing to say since the House met, and owing to the climate, and to the severity of the season, which I am told has been unusual even for that part of the world, no operations have been possible except raids; but I am told that the Serbian troops are still prepared, though they have been despoiled of their country, to take their part in the fighting what the time comes, and in that theatre there is, at all events, this much to be said, that up till now everything points to our ability to defend the position in which we are placed. If we look at the other theatres of war, I think there is a more pleasant picture. Take first the position in Egypt. Towards the end of December an expedition, carefully planned and thought out long before, was made against El Arish. That place was taken. Two days afterwards our mounted troops moved forward and took Akaba, and destroyed a force there of about 3,000 men, taking 1,350 prisoners. A fortnight later Raffah was taken, and a force of 3,000 men was destroyed there, with more than 1,600 prisoners, and I am glad to say that in those two operations, apart from other losses to the enemy, our total casualties were, I think, only 632 men. The result of that expedition is that we have cleared the enemy out of the Sinai Peninsula, and I am sure the House will agree with me that both the General Officer Commanding in Egypt and those who serve under him deserve the highest praise for the skill and success with which those operations have been carried through.
The next field to which I would refer is Mesopotamia. That has, in this House and out of it, a somewhat chequered history. The expedition began with a great success, which was eagerly welcomed by the House and the country, for we were not getting many successes. It was followed by what was really a great disaster. But I am glad to be able to assure the House that the position has been completely retrieved, and that the picture which is presented there is one which, from every point of view, we have every reason to congratulate ourselves. Our troops, I think, have got complete possession of the whole of the right bank of the Tigris. This has been done in spite of the fact that large reinforcements have come 32 to help our enemy in that theatre, and the House will understand that that in itself is a great military advantage, for it weakens the force which will be opposed to our Russian Allies when the time for movement in that direction comes. Daring the last few weeks extensive operations have taken place there. General Maude has told us he estimates that, apart from other losses, up till 3rd February the enemy had 2,630 killed, and our losses were very slight. But there is another side to this picture which is equally pleasing. It shows, I think, that if mistakes are made—and in a war like this, going into it as we went into it, many mistakes can hardly be called mistakes though the results are bad—if mistakes are made we as a nation know how to repair them. That has been done here. There are now no complaints about supplies of any kind, and some indication of what has been done during the last six months will be found in the fact that the traffic up the Tigris during January was almost ten times as great as it was during July, when the House was finding how unsatisfactory the position was. There is only one thing more to say about that expedition. The success which has attended it, and the knowledge that it was well cared for, has had the most splendid effect upon our troops, who are showing, there and everywhere, the spirit of which, as a nation, wherever our soldiers are we have reason to be proud. Of them General Maude, who himself deserves congratulations for the work he has done, uses these words:The stubborn determination and fighting spirit of the troops and the complete c-operation of nil arms have been superb.The only subsidiary theatre of operations to which I will refer is East Africa. At the time when I became Colonial Secretary I gave the House an account of what up to that time had become of the German colonies. They had practically all gone except East Africa, but then the German forces in East Africa were greater than the British forces opposed to them, and everyone at the Colonial Office and in the Government was afraid that at any moment, news might come showing that something in the nature of a disaster had happened there. All that has changed. The conquest of East Africa is practically complete. Our enemies have been driven from all the fertile parts of the country, and from all the parts where there are railways. They are finding the utmost difficulty in getting supplies, and I do not 33 think it is too sanguine a prophecy to say that it is only a question of time, and a short time, before the last of the German colonies falls from under the sway of the German Emperor. In this connection the House will expect me to say how much the Empire is indebted to General Smuts for the part which he has played in this campaign. When he undertook it, it was not expected that he would stay indefinitely, but it was expected and hoped that he would stay long enough to make a practical end of the campaign. He is coming to the Imperial Conference as representing the South African Government; but General Hoskins, who is carrying on the work, was appointed with the distinct knowledge on the part of the War Office that he might be required to take the chief command, and I am sure both the House and the country may rest assured that the work will be adequately and completely finished. It is one of the curiosities of this War that two of the most notable achievements so far have been done by soldiers who are also politicians. In the case of General Botha, I suppose he was more a soldier than a politician. In the case of General Smuts his whole tone of mind was more that of a civilian than a soldier. [A RIGHT HON. MEMBER: "He was a lawyer!"] The interruption of my right hon. Friend has suggested to me a quotation which I think is applicable. I have myself always believed that what matters is chiefly a man's capacity and character. Carlyle once said:Intellect is not, as some men think, a tool; it is a hand which can handle any tool.General Smuts is a proof of the truth of that saying.
I now come to the operations in France, and as our force is working in such complete accord with the French, what I say about them is practically the same thing as I could say about our French Allies. The position there is one which we can regard with pride as concerns the past and with confidence for the future. From the nature of the case, since the House rose, there have not been any big operations, but constant raids have taken place. Those raids have almost invariably been successful, and the counter-attacks have not, I think, in any single case succeeded. The result is that not only our soldiers but our French comrades feel that they have a complete moral ascendancy over the enemy. As an example of the success of 34 the raids, let me give one illustration. On the 27th of last month, in a raid of this kind, South of Transloy, we took 369 prisoners, and our casualties were only 194. The truth is that not only our officers but our men are learning their business, and they are succeeding, in a way which was impossible before, in producing the results we desire without the sacrifice which has so often accompanied them. I spoke of moral ascendancy. That was never in doubt. Man for man, our soldiers have proved themselves again and again more than a match for any of their enemies. They held their own when they were suffering from a most marked inferiority of material. That no longer exists, and we may be sure of this that now, with the superiority both of character and fighting spirit and material, we may hope for better results than have been achieved so far in connection with this War. In speaking to the Chief of the Imperial Staff to-day, he said to me:If you are saying anything about the War, do not forget, to say a word of praise for our soldiers, for they deserve it.I am not going to attempt to say any word of praise. The fact is that this New Army, composed of men who, three years ago, were engaged in peaceful occupations, who loved peace, and never dreamt that they would be called upon to use weapons of destruction, are showing themselves the equal—and we can give them no higher praise—of the Regular troops, who, during the early days of the War, did so much to save the situation. I do not see that I can add anything that will do other than impair the force of what has been so well said by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Asquith) regarding the moral issues raised by this War. There is no doubt, not only as to the origin of this struggle, but as to the way in which it has been carried out, that our enemies have from the first adopted the principle, which my hon. and gallant Friend (Admiral of the Fleet Sir H. Meux) mentioned, which characterised the armed operations of Philip of Macedon—they have adopted the principle that the way to win is not only to fight your enemies who are soldiers, but to terrorise everybody, including neutrals. That has been their plan. I made a note of two references in the speech delivered the other day by the German Chancellor, and they are all the more remarkable because in the German papers he has been 35 condemned for being too humane. I remember hearing someone, I forget who, use the expression that we have discovered that there are two things—human nature and German nature. This speech of the German Chancellor gives us the best illustration we could ask for of the truth of that difference. The first quotation is this:When the most ruthless methods are considered as the best calculated to lead us to victory, and to swift victory, then they must be employed.There you have it. We have had it before in the invasion of Belgium and the other atrocities of the War. There we have it stated naked, that the real humanity is to disregard all Hague Conventions, and ail the efforts made to minimise the horrors of war, and to use any methods which will, in their opinion, secure to them the victory. That is one method. Let us see the other side, which is the stupid side, because it fails to understand the point of view of other people. In that speech the German Chancellor had implied that this ruthless piracy was adopted because the wretched Allies would not accept the olive branch when he held it out. In the same speech he uses these words:In the first place——he was explaining why this warfare was not begun earlier—the most important factor of all is that the number of our submarines have considerably increased.I do not wish to say almost anything about the action which has been taken by the Government of the great Republic. This, however, I think one may safely say, that President Wilson throughout has shown, to an extent that made many in this country misunderstand his action, that he desired to preserve neutrality. He has shown that he wished peace, I will not say on any terms, but on any terms which the Allies could be induced to accept. That Government has broken relations with Germany. That in itself is the best testimony to the justice of our cause, and to the methods by which our enemies are trying to secure victory. It is really another example of the same struggle through which this country went more than a hundred years ago. Then there was not so much a nation as a man who had mounted to power and was using it for his own purposes. Then there was a Government which was aiming at universal monarchy—a Government animated by the lust of conquest. What happened? He succeeded again and again, but a time came when he roused 36 against him the moral sentiment of the whole world, and he was thrown out. The moral sentiment of the whole world is against our enemies to day, and the result will be the same.
§ Mr. WARDLE
I do not desire to follow the two right hon. Gentlemen through all the stages which they have outlined, but I do desire to say that I join with the late Prime Minister in this, that I hope his plea that jarring notes or discord should be absent from this Debate and the rest of the Debates this Session may be earnestly carried out. In the same spirit that the right hon. Gentleman spoke, I desire to speak. While I followed the speech of the right Gentleman (Mr. Bonar Law) with the greatest possible interest, and some parts of it with the greatest possible pleasure, I do really feel that on this occasion it would have been better, when the Gracious Speech from the Throne was being dealt with, if the Prime Minister had been present to reply for the Government. I do not say that in a hypercritical sense, but I do think that the closer touch the Prime Minister can keep with the House the better it will be for the Government and the better for the House itself. I will not pursue that subject further, but I thought it best to have my comments placed on record. What I really rose to say was that the great Labour forces of this country have met in conference since this House rose, and I think it is right to say that the mandate which they have issued, at any rate to those who represent Labour in this House, is that we should back up the Government in the successful prosecution of this War for all we are worth. It may be remembered that a resolution was proposed at that conference to the effect that peace by negotiation should be sought, and that in place of that resolution another resolution was carried by a large majority that this country should fight on until victory is achieved. Events in cases like these move rapidly and decisions are taken which are often irrevocable. Events have shown that not only was that conference right in the decision which it took, but that even in regard to the great Republic across the water the intervention of the President has shown that events have proved even too strong for his great love of peace, and we are now face to face with the fact that almost all the neutrals, certainly all the neutrals who dare, are against our enemies at this time- 37 I do not think anyone can deny that, even in the case of those neutrals who are in Europe, or who are near neighbours to Germany, if they had the forces at their command, and were not afraid of the enemy, they, too, would be on our side at once. I agree with the previous speakers that in this time of our great national crisis the unity of the nation is of paramount importance, that division and disunity are the only evils from which we have anything to fear, and that if we remain united, if we put, as I am quite sure we shall, all our national resources into the pool, then victory is absolutely sure, and our gallant lads will carry our flag to victory. But, of course, in doing it I think we have to face this fact, that we must carry with us the whole working-class movement of this country, and I am glad to be able to say this, that where that movement is consulted, where it is taken into consideration, where its co-operation is sought, then it cheerfully and willingly comes to the aid of the nation in this great struggle. I am not going to make any distinction between classes, but I think it is right to say that in the supreme national crisis through which we are passing all classes, including the working classes, of this country have shown, both by their capacity for courage and their capacity for suffering, that they share the national aspirations, and that they intend by their endurance to endure to the end and to save the nation.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I am sure that all Members of the House will regret the disability under which the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House spoke this afternoon. We are, however, indebted to him for the very clear survey which he has given to us of the military situation as a whole, but while these are our feelings with regard to him personally, I think a large number of Members of the House must associate Themselves with the hon. Gentleman who leads the Labour party (Mr. Wardle) in regret that the Prime Minister has not seen fit to be present on the occasion of the Debate on the Address to-day. After all, this is, I think, the first occasion during the history of the House of Commons, under its present constitutional form, on which a Prime Minister, when in his ordinary health, has not been present when the Address was moved in this House in answer to His Majesty's Most Gracious Speech. It cannot be interpreted in any other light than as a studied dis- 38 respect of the House of Commons, when we remember that only yesterday he was able to be present at a much less important function in the Central Hall. I wish to thank the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bonar Law) for the answers which he gave to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife, but I think it is unfortunate that he omitted several points in the catechism submitted by the Leader of the Opposition which were the most important in the questions which were addressed to the Leader of the House. In respect to the production of food, for example, while he gave us in a general way an account of the arrangements regarding the withdrawal of men for the Army and the substitution of more or less effective men belonging to Class C 3, he did not answer the really relevant question as to whether the Government has any reliable estimate whether there is to be an increase or a decrease in the area actually under cultivation. That is the only important question in regard to the production of food this year. We know, of course, that the First Commissioner of Works has ploughed up Bushey Park and Richmond Park, but that is not a great contribution to the serious problem which the Government has to face. We want to know whether, as a result of the withdrawal of agricultural labourers from the work to which they have been accustomed, land which last year and the year before was under cultivation and producing crops for the benefit of the country is now to be withdrawn from cultivation.
I do not know whether any gentleman representing either the Board of Agriculture or the Department of the Food Controller will think it worth his while to be present on these occasions. On many an occasion during previous Sessions in this Parliament Members of this House have had occasion to refer to the deserted state of the Treasury Bench. But I think hardly ever has it been more deserted than it is just now. Never before were there so many men in this House entitled to occupy places upon it. I believe that an arithmetical Member of this House has calculated that there are actually fifty-five Members of this House entitled to places on the Front Bench, but to-day there are only four present. You have enough indeed to occupy two benches, and we have something under the average to which we were accustomed under the late Government. I think it is only fair to the House that, in view of 39 the fact that several questions were put forward by the Leader of the Opposition, and that there was a likelihood that the questions which he raised would be further pursued in the course of this Debate, that hon. Members belonging to the Government representing the Departments affected should have had the courtesy to remain within the precincts of the House and to offer some account regarding the action of their Departments, but apparently this is too much to expect. It would seem that the action of the Prime Minister is simply to be an example to his colleagues of the amount of the respect which they are to show to the House of Commons. If this is so, I trust that the House of Commons will assert itself. It has an opportunity of doing so. It has too long submitted to a position of docility and servility, and now at least in this grave crisis in the country's history it should insist that the Government of the day should pay more respect to the House of Commons, and to the counsel which it is willing to offer. I hope, therefore, that in the course of this Debate some attempt will be made by the Board of Agriculture, or by the Department of the Controller of Food, to give an estimate of the amount of land which is going actually to be under cultivation this year.
Then, again, there were a number of questions in relation to shipping. We had an announcement from the Prime Minister, at Carnarvon, an announcement which has not been vouchsafed to the House of Commons, that hundreds of thousands of tons were already added to the British mercantile marine. I think it is only fair that some account of this should be given to the House of Commons. There has been a statement made in the Press that a large increase of tonnage is to be secured by using space hitherto not employed for the purpose of carrying cargo, that well-decks and other parts of vessels have to be used for this purpose, and that consequently we are to see an alteration in the load line. But has this actually made any net increase in the available carrying capacity? That is the real question. We do not know yet in respect of how many ships or of what amount of tonnage this provision has been made. We do not know either whether it is to be compulsory on all shipowners or whether it is to be simply optional. I hope some 40 statement will be made in the course of this Debate from the Department of the Shipping Controller on these very important points. But there is a matter of even greater importance, and that is whether, if this proposal is carried out, it will really mean an increase of the net carrying capacity of our tonnage. After all, if you are going to increase the carrying capacity, you are going to load your ships deeper in the water, and if you do that you are going to diminish their speed, and you may very well find as a result of this diminution of speed that you have actually lessened the net carrying capacity of the country, and at the same time made your cargo vessels better marks for submarines, which they are so anxious to evade.
I think that is a fair argument to put to the Shipping Controller. All these things, mark you, are present to the minds of practical shipowners. I do not profess to be one, but I have consulted for a long time with various shipowners upon this question, and I may remind the House that a year ago, on the Debate on the Address, the whole of this shipping question was then raised by my hon. Friend the Member for West Toxteth (Mr. Houston), who unfortunately, through illness, is not in his place to-day. At that time hon. Members on both sides pooh-poohed all that we had to say. We were told the submarine menace was negligible, and that we need never worry about a shortage of our tonnage, that all we had to fear about then, was the fixing of maximum freights. Who is concerned to-day about maximum freights? We are concerned about a very real shortage which was then disregarded. It was not only disregarded in this House, but every reference to it in the public Press was suppressed by order of the Press Censor. Had the Government and the House of Commons then given due weight to the important considerations which were put before them, I am quite sure that timely measures might have been taken to remedy the state of things with which we are now faced. I believe that even then the important thing for this country to consider was not man-power but sea-power. The danger to this country in respect of the present War is not in regard to the supply of men, but is now a matter of what is the lifeblood of the country—the supply of ships.
41 But there are other questions of detail upon which the right hon. Gentleman did not give a reply to the question of the Leader of the Opposition. He gave no answer to the question as to whether any or how many men skilled in shipbuilding and marine engineering had beer, withdrawn from the Army for this most vital work of increasing our mercantile marine. No answer has been given, except that orders have been placed. But what is the use of giving orders when you are not going to get them executed? Then he gave no answer as to men or materials. These are the vital things after all. It is easy to give orders, but unless you can arrange for them to he carried out and to have the men and material available, to give orders is simply window-dressing. On the question of nationalisation, I seem to remember that a speech was made in regard to it to the Labour party at the time that the new Government was formed. I was not present at that meeting. I am not a member of the Labour party, if, indeed, there is such a thing as the Labour party; but one of the inducements held out to that body to enlist under the banner of the so-called new National Ministry was not only the nationalisation of shipping, but the nationalisation of mines. Yet the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House told us that all that was meant by the nationalisation of shipping was something like the control of the railways. Is it? I seem to recollect that the late Government told us it is absolutely impossible to deal with shipping on the same lines as the railways. Then, what are the financial provisions in respect of the nationalisation of shipping? Has there been any change, any modification, of the freight rates as soon as this proposal of nationalisation was put forward? I see a representative of the Shipping Controller here, and probably we shall have an answer. It is very important that we should know the rate for the requisition of tonnage. Has there been a reduction or an increase? This is important in regard to the financial condition of the so-called nationalisation of shipping.
But there has also been a definite proposal in regard to the nationalisation of mines. Have the mines been nationalized? What is the position in regard to them? If they are to be nationalised, on what financial terms are they to be nationalized? I believe we were to have had a controller of mines. I do not know how many con- 42 trollers we are going to have. One thing-required is that there should be a controller of the controllers. At the same time, if there is to be a controller of mines, I think that the time is now due when an announcement should be made as to the name of the controller of mines. Then we have had an announcement regarding national service, which I think might have been delayed until the House of Commons met. It is quite true that the Director of National Service is not a Member of the House, but I think that it would have been only a matter of courtesy to this House, instead of holding a meeting in the Central Hall to announce the whole scheme, that the scheme should have been given to this House, where it might have been subjected to criticism. It is something like the Derby scheme, but, after all, before the Derby scheme was initiated the late Prime Minister at any rate had the courtesy to take the House of Commons into his confidence. The whole of this scheme is cut and dried, and it is announced to an outside gathering of Tom, Dick and Harry a day before the House of Commons met, and the Prime Minister was able to be there.
One very important matter in regard to this question of direction of national service is the schedule of forbidden industries. We are told that a great number of industries have been closed down because they are not industries of national importance. I think that it is a matter of most vital interest that an early and definite statement should be made as to which industries are to be the victims of this new departure. There are many people at present who do not know what their position is. You are calling on people to subscribe to the Loan, but if a man is in one of these industries which may be on the border line how can he offer his subscription to the Loan until he knows where he is going to be? It is in the interest of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that there should be the most absolute clearness on this matter, and that that should be done with the utmost possible delay. My hon. Friend (Mr. D. Mason) has suggested a very interesting question as to whether newspapers have to be regarded as essential industries or are to be placed on the schedule of forbidden industries. [An HON. MEMBER: "Comic Cuts!"] Up to the present they have been regarded as a matter of national importance, and large numbers of men of military age, who, by their writings, show great 43 gifts of strategy, have not had their obvious and notorious talents made available to the Intelligence Department of the Army. Here is a great oversight on the part of the authorities. I hope, now that the matter has been called to the attention of the present Government, in view of the necessity of combing out that these strategists shall be immediately combed out for the service of their country.
In regard to the action to be taken in reference to shipping there is another matter of great importance, to which allusion was made in the right hon. Gentleman's speech—the Expedition to the Eastern Mediterranean. I believe that there is no adventure more responsible for our present shortage than that misguided military enterprise. The right hon. Gentleman said that he was going to say nothing about Salonika because there was nothing to say. But there is a great deal to be said about Salonika, but the Government docs not allow anything to be said. During the first fortnight of this year several things were said in very powerful articles which appeared in the "Daily Mail" on the Salonika Expedition. Suddenly these articles were shut down and I have been told—I cannot say whether correctly—that an edict was issued by the Government forbidding all Press references to Salonika. If it is necessary to forbid all references, it is not because there is nothing to say. It must be because there is too much to say, and anybody who has come in contact with any officers or private soldiers home from Salonika knows perfectly well that there is far too much to be said. I am not going to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether there has been any statement of policy as to Salonika. I do not believe that there has ever been a policy as to Salonika.
The matter was discussed at some length last, about fifteen months ago, when the present First Lord of the Admiralty (Sir E. Carson), who had just resigned from the Cabinet, put what seemed to me to be an absolutely unanswerable argument. He said at that time that it was far too late to send, and that, having delayed so long, it was useless to send, any expedition at all. In other words, if you were going to do anything to help Serbia the expedition should have been sent a month earlier, and I believe that he indicated that the present Leader of the House shared that view. But having failed to do anything to succour 44 Serbia, it was a great mistake to send any expedition at all. The question now is: Is the policy at present an offensive or defensive policy? The right hon. Gentleman indicated that we should be able to hold our own in a defensive, but he did not indicate whether that was the object of I the expedition. On the last occasion on which the expedition was referred to in the House the present Prime Minister referred to the great success which had been won by the capture of Monastir. But everybody now regards that as a barren victory, destitute of political results. In consequence of the equivocal position of the enterprise I think that the House is entitled to know whether the Government intend this expedition to be merely for defensive purposes or whether it is meant to take the aggressive. If it is meant for defensive purposes it is far too large, and if it is meant for offensive purposes it is totally inadequate.
In view of the compromised position I think that the great majority of people would be inclined to take the view which I believe is the military view, and has been the military view all along, that the sooner this expedition is withdrawn the better, and the sooner our commitments there are reduced the better. What is the effect of it upon this problem of transit? As has been pointed out in the House from the Front Bench, every man there means the withdrawal of four tons of shipping from our mercantile service. It is not necessary to say the number of men who are there to ascertain the figures of the tonnage occupied by this expedition, but, obviously, it goes into seven figures. Surely when you are straining every nerve to increase your tonnage, when you are at your wits' ends for shipping materials and for men to construct ships, it is utter madness to be using your tonnage for an expedition in a distant field of operations which is bound to be absolutely barren of political and military results. The case I under this head is irresistible; the economic effect upon this country has already grown to be serious. I think that it will be a serious matter for the Government, which persists in this when the people of this country know that, if they are going short of food it is because ships are required for Salonika, and it is because of the difficulty of dealing with submarines owing to the Salonika expedition; because, after all, it is public property that every supply ship and transport that goes to Salonika 45 requires an escort, and by employing the special escorts for this purpose you are depleting the force of destroyers, which would otherwise be available for policing our waters, and destroying the submarines which are affecting our mercantile marine. Not only are you withdrawing ships which might be usefully employed in supplying this country with food and raw materials, but you are also diminishing your powers of dealing an effective blow against the submarine menace.
It is for all these reasons that I believe that we should insist on a change of policy in respect of this expedition, and I think that the House of Commons should be informed of what is going to be done. Just now in regard to the Salonika expedition we are practically in the same position as we were in in regard to the Dardanelles. We know that in the month of August, 1915, the Dardanelles had become hopeless from the military point of view, that all information was refused in this House, and that hardly any information was received by the Government itself. Yet month after month that army was allowed to remain on the Gallipoli Peninsula achieving nothing. Now we have a far greater army, and mainly a British Army, in exactly the same position in Macedonia. Fears are expressed that the Germans, in their next move, may come down and destroy it. I do not believe that. Why should they? It is there in the air, as it were, without communication, with little transit, and incapable of achieving anything, and the people who are keeping that army there are deliberately contributing to the German military scheme. For these reasons I protested against this before. I hope that other Members will protest against it now, and see that the new Government reverses the mistakes of its predecessor.
§ Mr. KING
I came down to the House this afternoon, hoping to have the opportunity of hearing the Prime Minister, and it was a surprise and disappointment, which I am sure all share, when I found that, though he could address a large meeting yesterday, where his presence to my mind, though no doubt welcome by the audience, was certainly not essential in the public interest, yet he cannot attend the first meeting of Parliament here this afternoon. I wish to express my really profound surprise and disappointment. The House of Commons is not accustomed to this method 46 of treatment, and in my opinion the sooner the Prime Minister finds time to attend to the business of the House of Commons the better the Government will get on with the war. There are many questions which I expected would be raised this afternoon and on which I certainly thought that the Prime Minister or some other Minister would inform us Some of these questions have already been referred to by the Leader of the Opposition, and by the lion. Member who has just sat down (Mr. Pringle), who elaborated one point of criticism of the Government policy which is familiar, I am sure, to many men who frequent the clubs or read the better-informed newspapers, but not familiar to the ordinary readers of the halfpenny Press. I want to ask some questions about other points. I hope we are going to have some statement from the Government about the recent Conference in Rome. It seems to me that we ought to have more explanation than has been given about that Conference. We have been told for months past that there has been the completest accord between the various Allies, and, of course, we all hope and even assume that it has been so. There has been a Paris Conference, a London Conference, a Boulogne Conference, and Conferences elsewhere, and why should there be any need for a Rome Conference at the very time that the new Prime Minister was launching large schemes here in England?
We have had no explanation of that fact at all; moreover, it appears, at any rate from what journalists and friends have told me, that a very severe censorship was placed upon anything in connection with the Conference at Rome. Why is that? I think that we ought to have clearly from the Government some statement as to what was the object of the Conference at Rome and what results may be expected to follow from it. Let me point out to the Government that there is only one natural result from this policy of conferences and secrecy, and it is that a number of rumours get about which, as they cannot be either published in the Press or referred to, apparently, by Ministers or public men, are, in default of better information, accepted by the public. There have been certain statements privately made about the Rome Conference, to the effect that it was connected with the Salonika Expedition and the future plans or decisions with regard to it. That may be so or it may not be so; but I do 47 put it to the Government that it would be very much more satisfactory if a most important conference like that, which summoned the Prime Minister away from here for several days at a most important time, were made the subject of some statement or explanation. Why has one of the War Council gone to Petrograd, and why is he staying there apparently a considerable time? When the War Council was established and there was to be no Cabinet, it was thought that it would sit day by day; it was naturally supposed that it would sit day by day, and that the members of it would attend to their business. But what do we observe? One member of the War Council goes to Rome; another member of the War Council goes to Petrograd for a fortnight; another member of the War Council gets married and goes on his honeymoon—I am not quite sure, but I hope it was for three weeks; and another member of the War Council is to go to Manchester to attend the Labour Conference. I regard the going about of members of the War Council in the past few weeks as absolutely inconsistent with the idea and professions which were put before us when the War Council was formed. The War Council may exist in theory, but it does not sit from day to day, with a constant attendance of all its members, in order to transact the affairs of the War. I should like some explanations of the actual doings and the work of the War Council in order to restore my confidence, which has been a good deal shaken already. I give every Government as much confidence as I possibly can and as much support as I am able to give it; but if the War Council do not sit from day to day, and if they do not tell us what is being done, then I for one really do not know where I am.
There is another point upon which I suggest we should have information, as well as upon various other points which I am going to put forward. I submit that at any rate we should have some information, if not official information, from the War Council, and I do ask them to allow the censorship to be withdrawn on some of those points. If they cannot give us genuine and reliable official information, they might allow the public to know something. One thing I want to know is the internal position of Russia. I am not going to take up the question, of course, of what we have heard of the death of Rasputin— 48 a very influential man in Russian politics—but I would point out that he died lately as the result of a murder, and that no action of a legal kind is apparently to be taken. I am not going into the internal affairs of Russia, for that, of course, would be out of order, but I do say that the Government ought to allow this country to know the internal condition of our Allies. Unless we know the internal political condition of our Allies we cannot judge of the strength we are going to get from them, and what their position is. The amount of restriction put upon the information coming from Russia is really appalling. I will take one instance. Many Members of this House met during last summer the Russian visitor, M. Milyukov, and I had the privilege of hearing him deliver a speech in a Committee Room of this House. Everybody who knows Russian politics knows that this gentleman has immense enthusiasm for the cause of the Allies and for the progressive liberals in Russia. Then there was the speech which M. Milyukov made in the Duma which the Censorship has kept back for weeks, and I submit that fact alone gives rise to the very greatest suspicion, and is a fact about which we ought to have some explanation. I think that the real official adhesion of the Russian Government to the policy of the Allies is not whole-hearted or is qualified in certain respects. The public ought to know political and military affairs, good or bad, and I appeal to the Under-Secretary for War, who is of course a man in whom in whose judgment we have the greatest confidence, to put to the War Office the suggestion that they should restrict the Censorship in regard to political events and public affairs, such as public speeches in the Duma, and so on.
I suppose that we are next week to have a Vote of Credit, though it is rather unexpectedly soon, and I am afraid that we must assume that the daily expenditure on the War will soon be very considerably changed.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. KING
I quite understand the interruption of my hon. Friend; of course, he meant approval of my conclusion as being the right one. But this is a matter which is of great importance to the House 49 of Commons, who are still controllers of the public expenditure; but I do hope that we shall have from Ministers either to-day or to-morrow, or in the course of next week, the fullest and most candid statement of the financial situation. In that connection I must say that I am rather surprised at certain methods which are being adopted in connection with the War Loan. They give rise, in my mind, to a certain amount of suspicion or distrust. I am very willing to subscribe to the War Loan; I have done so already, and I feel that I am going to have some interest at 5 per cent, for my old age, which is rapidly approaching. But what surprised me was that yesterday morning I received a letter from the Chancellor of the Exchequer asking me, as a personal favour to himself, to let him know how much I would subscribe. It does seem to me that although the Chancellor of the Exchequer may be very familiar, and wish to be more familiar, with every Member of this House, it is a new idea that he should approach a Member of Parliament privately and ask him how much he is going to subscribe to the War Loan. It may be that he is addressing letters to other 'Members in the same way; I do not know what they may do, but I know what I will do-I shall treat his letter with silence, not with contempt, for I have no contempt for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and if I had I would not express it. But I must protest against bringing this idea of pushing the War Loan into the House of Commons in this way, when actually private Members are requested and urged to tell the Chancellor of the Exchequer how much they are going to subscribe. It is a straw which shows which way the current is going, and it indicates to me that the financial position is rather serious, and that we ought to have a full statement from those concerned. One thing that has surprised me in the course of the discussion this afternoon is that we have not had any reference whatever to Ireland. I hope that the Irish Members of this House will very shortly assume their accustomed activity and put forward some demand for a statement with regard to Ireland, and especially in view of the attitude of America at the present time. How much is America coming into this War-is she still going to stand out as a belligerent or is she coming in, and, if she does come in, is she coming in entirely on her own, or how far is she going to join hands with the 50 Allies? Those are the most vital questions, and they are largely dependent upon the attitude of the Irish in America and their feelings at the present time. If at the present time the Government could make any advance towards Ireland, any further advance, as I know they made a slight one last Session—but we want something very much more generous at present—I am sure it would be a great satisfaction to all.
I am very pleased to see the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland in his place. Perhaps he will speak later in the Debate, and if so I wish he would give me his opinion of the Roscommon election. I have been asking all the Irish Members of this House who is going to introduce the new hon. Member for Roscommon, and I have received the answer that that hon. Member, who was elected, two days ago, and has won a great victory, never intends to present himself on the floor of this House at all, and therefore that we shall not have the pleasure of his attendance here. I am very sorry for that; but it does surely show a very remarkable state of things: in Ireland when a candidate can get up and present himself to the electors, and can be carried by a, very large majority, while his policy is not to do or say anything or even to present himself to take the Oath at the Table, but studiously keep away from Parliament. I am told that is the feeling of a very great number of men in Ireland at, the present time who previously have been loyal Nationalists, and it is not the Nationalist leadership which is making that state of feeling. It is the Government, and the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary is more responsible for that deplorable state of things in Ireland than anybody else, far more deplorable, in my opinion, than any internal political factor. If he speaks in the course of this Debate, I hope he will reply to the remarks I have made.
I wish also to refer to another striking thing in connection with Ireland, and by that I mean the way in which the Government have treated Mrs. Sheehy-Skeffington. If there is one episode in connection with this terrible time which I, at any rate, view with unmitigated shame, it is this whole Sheehy-Skeffington episode. You allow an officer to take soldiers and shoot an absolutely innocent man without trial. You allow him to go the next day and fire a volley at the dead man's house. You allow him to rifle the belongings, and 51 take away sackfuls of papers of the dead man. When he has murdered him you then promote that officer to a higher rank and position than he has got before. When the question is brought up in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister gets up, and says that the facts are utterly impossible; and when the facts do come out, and when the censorship and false information given to the Prime Minister have been of no avail, you find that the man is mad all the time, and has been mad for weeks and months. The story is a shame and a scandal to leave at that; but how much worse is it in the way you have treated his widow. For months and months you refused the inquiry which his widow asked for, and you never offered that woman a penny compensation for the utter ruin of her life, the utter destruction of her home, and for the fact that you deprived her of her means of livelihood. She was offered no compensation or redress, and when she sought to go to America, where she has friends, you did everything you could to prevent her getting out of the country, so that at last she went away in despair and disguise. Having made such -a miserable and cowardly, and, as I see the right hon. Gentleman there, I will say, despicably mean business of this Sheehy-Skeffingtou affair, what are you doing now? You are trying to prevent information as to her lecturing, and as to the wonderful reception she is receiving throughout America being put into our papers at home. I say, if there is any episode in this War which shows what despicable meanness some men may be led into it is this. I will not say that it is deliberate, but I do say, mistake upon mistake has been made and the thing has been put aside again and again when it ought to have been settled and taken in hand and justice done, and an apology tendered and reparation offered. The fact that mistake after mistake was made is a scandal. I have referred to this matter before, and I shall not hesitate to do so again if necessary, because there shall be at any rate one or two voices, for I am glad to say I am not the only one to stand up here for justice and reparation in this case.
I shall venture to offer to the House a few remarks about another matter which ought to receive, I think, more attention at present than it has received. I refer to the way in which our civil liberties are being restricted, and the danger to justice 52 and to our old traditions of public life and liberty which may be seen around. Everybody knows, of course, that at the present time meetings are being suppressed. The other day a meeting which was to have been addressed by a Member of Parliament was suppressed by public authority. Then, of course, newspapers are being suppressed too. A very well-known newspaper which many hon. Members read was suppressed only a few days ago. Domiciliary visits are being continued in a way which is quite unjust and unfair. Anybody now, however innocent, is liable to domiciliary visits. I know of a case where a number of policemen, all of military age, with detectives from Scotland Yard, also of military age, or, as I suppose the "Daily Mail" or "Times" would say, men from the "funk-holes of Whitehall," came down to the house, took papers away, remained there for hours, and upset the house again and again day after day; such an experience, I understand, as what happened to Sir Theodore Cook. I hope some statement will be made on behalf of the War Office as to the case of Sir Theodore Cook. He is not a friend of mine, and I do not know him personally, but I see he is writing again to the papers, pointing out that the inquiry which it was stated would be made into his case has not been made, or, if it has been, no report has been given. Sir Theodore Cook, the editor of "The Field," is a man of such eminence and such undoubted patriotism and loyalty to the Government that I do not think he ought to be subjected to suspicion and to domiciliary raids, and treated in the way that he has been without getting any explanation or justice. The fact is that the War Office authorities, I suppose, dominate all the other Departments. The real organisation of our public affairs would be, I should have thought, that the War Office would put its demands, its policy, its action before the War Council, but as we know that the War Council does not sit daily and that its members are all over Europe, consequently the War Office does just what it likes, and so we get cases such as that of Sir Theodore Cook, which in time of war are a scandal and in time of peace would be utterly impossible.
Let me refer to another and a very important case which has been brought to light. There, again, as I understand, the papers have had to suppress the case in a way which is most unfortunate. I refer to the case of the Duke of Chateau-Thierry, 53 who is a gentleman well known in London society. Members of the present, or, I suppose I should say, the last Cabinet, were acquainted with this gentleman, who is well known as a political refugee from France, and is a member of what was undoubtedly a Royalist revolutionary party. He has been living in London here for ten years or more. He served his time years ago in the French Army, and he is now over the military age fixed for that army. He is a well-known political refugee. Yet the Home Office have, at the request apparently of the French authorities, acting, he declares, from political bias or from personal spite and not in the spirit of any loyal desire to get him back into the French Army, demanded his deportation. The Duke of Chateau-Thierry took his case into the Courts and has obtained a judgment from the Courts which is of immense importance at the present time. That judgment is that the Regulation under the Aliens Restriction Act, which gives the Home Office power to deport to any country any foreigner is illegal, that it is not justified by the Aliens Restriction Act, under which the Regulations are made, and that no alien can now be deported from this country to another specific country if he is willing to go elsewhere. In other words, it has now been laid down by the Lord Chief Justice and two other judges that the deportee can choose the country to which he goes and not the Home Office that makes out the Order of Deportation. That case is one of extreme importance to political refugees and to all persons of the Allied races in this country.
The policy of the late Government was to threaten the Russian Jews in this country that if they did not enlist in our Army they would be deported to Russia. That threat is still hanging over a large number of Russian subjects. There are, I believe, about 30,000 Russian political refugees in London. Most of them are young men of military age. Many of them have been in prison. Some of them have escaped from Siberia. Some have been victims, with or without their families, in other ways of feeling against the Jews; and they are determined, so I understand, that though they are willing to work for England in civil work, they will not take up arms in the Russian Army for the country which has persecuted, imprisoned, and cast them out. That is an intelligible position. If so— and I think they are right—if we support 54 the Government of Russia, we are fighting for the present internal conditions in Russia which we do not wish to see continued. If we allow them to work on civil work in London we are working for the cause of justice for the nationalities of the world. This is the opinion of those of whom I speak. Therefore I must say that I entirely sympathise with the attitude which the Russian Jews have taken up in England. In respect to cases of the kind, I understand that about two or three months ago our Government sent a Note to the Russian Government asking for information, and their wishes in respect to certain aspects of this matter—asking in effect what was to be done with the Russian Jews here in England. So far as I am aware, no reply has yet come. Possibly Lord Milner, who is now at Petrograd, may still be discussing that very difficult question with the Russian Government. If he is, I can well imagine his long delay. It is a very difficult subject on which to satisfy all just requirements, and especially so in view of Lord Milner's well-known sympathies.
In cases of this kind comes in the point to which I referred in relation to the Duke of Chateau-Thierry, a case which was decided a few weeks ago. It means that the Government, under the Defence of the Realm Act, and its attendant Regulations, have no power at all to send those Russian Jews back to Russia. It has been threatening to do so for six months, and we see the recent decision of the Courts on the subject. I desire to ask the War Office authorities what they are going to do? Are they still going to hold over these people the threat of deportation to Russia, which they have not the power to carry out, or are they going to ask this House to pass further legislation? Are we to have a new Defence of the Realm Act or special Regulations by which it will be made possible to deport from this country to any other country, at the sweet will of the War Office or some official sitting opposite, any person of any nationality, if so, there will be some Members of this House who will oppose such an outrageous proposition? At any rate we do not want to imagine difficulties before they come. Let us be quite fair as to what is the Government policy. I advise them to leave the matter alone altogether. Let them take the advice of the late Government: let them "wait and see." There is another matter, to which I should like to refer, and that is the extraordinary 55 development of the police system in this country. I have just referred to the fact, which is well-known to all people who have made inquiry, that we have an enor mous number of plain clothes police at the present time; men of military age who would be much better in the Army We have hundreds of thousands of young men who might be released altogether for service with the forces. Yet we hear now that the Government has gone in for a number of secret agents. I must call attention to the speech delivered at Derby two or three days ago by the Attorney-General. I need not state the circumstances under which he delivered that speech, but I will read some of the words out of it, words, I remark, which were suppressed in most of the papers, even in the "Times" report, but which I take from the "Manchester Guardian." This is what the Attorney-General said in his speech——
§ Sir H. CRAIK
On a point of Order. Is it in order, Mr. Speaker, for an hon. Member to refer to a case which is now before the Court?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I am told that the extract from the speech of the Attorney-General refers to a case now being tried at Derby. I do not think the hon. Member should read it.
§ Mr. KING
I accept your suggestion, but I think I am entitled to point out that it is now well known and accepted by all persons that the Government, in many instances, are employing agents-provocateurs I have had three separate cases brought to my notice, and the circumstances are something like this: If there is any suspicion or dislike of a certain person who may be considered either a conscientious objector, an active trade unionist, or in some other way unfortunate or uncomfortable for the Government, they find a man and send him down to represent himself as sympathetic to the man's point of view either as being another conscientious objector or as being an active trade unionist wanting to work 56 on the same line. In other words, secret agents are being sent to induce men to go over, the limits of the law and then find themselves in the Law Courts. There are three definite cases which I could mention; not only the case of Derby in connection with which you. Mr. Speaker, were quite right in saying you did not wish me to refer to it. To my own knowledge two other cases of the kind have lately taken place, and I wish to protest, as an Englishman who likes fair play and justice, against this system of agents-provocateur being put into force against our own citizens at the present time. In the two cases to which I refer these men were despicable spies. I can call them nothing else. This system is a disgraceful system, and I do not wonder to see the Home Secretary slinking away behind the seat.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir G. Cave)
I have just come into the House to hear the speech of the hon. Gentleman!
§ Mr. KING
I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon. I entirely withdraw every derogatory remark I made. But I wanted those concerned to see that this is a matter upon which I feel intensely, and when I feel strongly I like to let people know it. I have, perhaps, spoken strongly, but I do not presume to hide my feelings.
§ Mr. KING
I am not going to give any proof now. If people do not like to accept my word they need not; but we do not mind which way some men's opinions run. I speak my opinion. After all, the Home Secretary is a fair-minded man—that is to say he is fair-minded when he gets away from the influences round about him ! I put it to him that he should as soon as possible do away with this system and allow us to carry on justice in war time in the same way as we carry on justice in times of peace, by straightforward and reliable methods.
§ Mr. LOUGH
In the delicate and difficult questions that have been raised by the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down I think we must remember that the country is passing through a grave crisis, and it seems desirable to confine our attention mainly to the one matter. I also desire, for another reason, to adopt a very different tone towards the Executive than 57 what my hon. Friend has seen fit to do. It is the first opportunity I have of addressing that Executive, and many of my hon. and right hon. Friends opposite I see on the bench for the first time. I desire to congratulate them on the position they have assumed, and the spirit in which they have taken up their work, and I do hope that they will be able to achieve some of the high ideals which the Prime Minister and others have put before us. There is no reason why, when we stand up in this House, we should indulge in carping criticism. I would like to go a step further and congratulate the Government on at least some of the steps which they have taken. I would like to congratulate the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the great activity he has displayed with regard to the Loan, on the large measure of success which, I think, he has achieved, and, above all, on the fact that he has managed to launch this great Loan at a very moderate rate of interest than might have been expected under all the circumstances.
I remember about three months ago I had occasion to speak in this House about the rate of interest, and I made a little communication to the Press protesting against the high rate of 6 per cent, interest having been fixed by my right hon. Friend the late Chancellor of the Exchequer on a Loan guaranteed by the British Government. True, it was not so long a Loan as this, and I do not know the circumstances, and therefore one must be restrained in one's criticism; but, seeing that that was done and the difficult times in which we are moving, I do think the House ought to rejoice that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has been able to launch a Loan on such a great scale at the moderate rate of interest which he has done. We business men have derived great advantage already from the way in which the Loan was introduced, because it has led to a reduction in the Bank rate of interest, and if the Chancellor of the Exchequer could continue the good influence that he has exerted on the Money Market until the Bank rate could be reduced to 5 per cent. which I think would be remunerative to all the banks, and which is a matter, I think, this country can very well control, then it would do a great deal to help business in a very difficult time, and I think he would deserve well of the country in that respect also. But, while I ask for something more, I am perfectly 58 genuine in my congratulations to the Government, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the great success that I think he has achieved already in connection with the Loan, and I am sure I am only expressing the unanimous feeling of the House if I say that I hope it will be as completely successful as he desires it to be. We need not bother about the, letter. I got the letter, and I am always very glad to get a letter from him, or any other member of the Ministry. We need not find fault with every step taken, but take a broad view of these great matters, and, if conceived in a good spirit, I think the House ought to recognise it.
There is another matter, with which my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Agriculture is primarily connected, on which I would like to congratulate the Government. I desire to congratulate the Food Controller, Lord Devonport, on not having fixed upon any system of rations, and I think the admirable letter and appeal which he made to the honour of the country, instead of trying to set up any stiff system of rations, was one of the best steps the new Government has taken. I would advise the Government to be very careful about going further than the Food Controller has gone in that letter, although, of course, we do not know all the circumstances, and I do hope some means may be found to put this House in possession of more complete information with regard to these most important matters; but, so far as I have got any information on the subject, I do think the Government ought to rely as much as it can on the voluntary efforts of the people. We have achieved most wonderful results in this country without any system of compulsion, and we ought not to follow too readily every step Germany may take with regard to organising the country on compulsory rations. Therefore, I am very sincere in my congratulations to the Food Controller for having avoided taking that step up to the present.
There was a remark made by my hon. Friend who has just sat down, and also by my hon. Friend opposite who preceded him, to which I must allude, and that was as to the absence of the Prime Minister from our Debate to-day. I do not wish to do that in any unpleasant spirit either. If my right hon. Friend were here, as an old friend I would congratulate him most heartily on the great position to which he has attained, and also on the spirit and determination which he is throwing into 59 the great national work he is now carrying on. I desire to help the Prime Minister in every way, but I think I am doing so when I say that this matter of his relation to the House of Commons will have to be very carefully considered, because if one Minister may be appointed to-day to take the Prime Minister's place, another Minister may be appointed tomorrow, and so a very great constitutional change, which will lower the dignity of this House and the usefulness of our Debates, may come into operation. I desire to make those remarks with perfect courtesy to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whom we all heard, I am sure, with great pleasure to-day, but I do think the Prime Minister ought carefully to consider this question of his relation to the House of Commons. After all, the constitution of this country is a very delicate thing. Many of the rules on which it rests are not printed or set out anywhere, but they have the strength of law, and I do think the relation of the House of Commons to the Prime Minister is one of those matters which ought not to be very lightly treated.
I have a question or two to ask on subjects already alluded to, but on which we have not had any reply. I was very glad my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, the late Prime Minister, asked for some particulars with regard to the number of men withdrawn from agriculture and what is being done to secure that there will be an ample production of food in this country this year so far as the supply of men is concerned. We are at a very delicate situation in regard to that. I am glad to see my right hon. Friend opposite. I was very glad to read some very strong animadversions he made with regard to the War Office. He asked whether it would be any good for him to resign. I would advise him, as a friend, not to resign for a while. He has only been there a very short time, and we have not got used to him yet. I would advise him not to be in a hurry, but a situation may arise in which it would be very useful to resign. He may look at the example of the First Lord of the Admiralty, for instance, and see how much can be done in a great crisis by taking decisive action. I do think we ought to-day to have got some information with regard to the withdrawal of those 30,000 men from agriculture. It was a perfectly astounding thing to me. I only got hold of the facts 60 in the last few months of last year that in the latter part of 1916 so large a portion of the land in this country had produced no crops as compared with 1915–something like 250,000 acres. I do not wish to say an unkind word against the late Government, many of them friends of mine, but they had all the awful responsibility with regard to that matter. I do think while war is on that no steps should be taken that in the least endangers the assurance of a large production of food in this country. What are we doing? Now is the time when seed must be put in and the harvest prepared for, if a better result is to be procured this year. We have had considerable activity, but the real fact which has grasped the attention of the country is this vast number of men, or a number of which we do not know, because I still hope that 30,000 men have not been withdrawn, but I do think the House ought to be treated with candour on this point. We ought to hear whether any arrangement has been made with the War Office and what the nature of it is.
I have received a letter from a constituent—a most indignant letter. A lady writes about her son, who is in an insurance office, and who was so eager to help the country that he offered himself nine times to the military authorities, and was rejected every time, but on the ninth occasion I believe he was put into Class C 3. She writes to me in the letter that the doctor told her son that he must live a quiet, orderly sedentary life, and that any sort of physical exertion would quickly kill him. I believe that is a fair type of the C 3 men. I believe they are the seventh in the gradation of the military authorities, and this is the class to which you are to go for men to perform the heavy physical exertions that an agricultural life requires. It would appear like a joke, but this is not a time for joking on a matter of that kind, and I do think the question asked by my right hon. Friend ought to be answered at this stage of the Debate.
Then the Government has had a very curious experience in the matter of fixing of prices. I do not think I can carry my congratulations to the Food Controller so far as to approve what has been done in regard to the potato. The position of the Food Controller, that of the Parliamentary Secretary—whom I am glad to see in his place and whom I congratulate— and that of my right hon. Friend opposite with regard to this question of fixing the 61 price really makes the position of the three Gentlemen an object of pity. What took place? I do think the matter ought to be cleared up, as a great deal of harm has been done in connection with it already. On the 9th January the price of potatoes was fixed for the 1917 crop, and at once one of the most interesting agitations I have ever seen in the papers broke out in the "Times" and other newspapers. A former member of this House, Mr. Vicary Gibbs, protested that this prevented him from planting any potatoes, and then Lord Parmoor joined in, and finally Lord Harcourt, a late distinguished Member of this House. All said that the effect of fixing the price of potatoes would be to cause a tremendous diminution of the crop. What took place? The first man who was sent out to grapple with the difficulty was my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, who said he hoped the thing would be altered. There is your first effort at fixing prices! They are fixed to-day by the Food Controller, and the week after the Parliamentary Secretary says he hopes the matter will be reconsidered. That shows the danger of fixing prices. It is really a medieval mistake which we ought not to get into in these days. Then the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Agriculture came on the scene, and he took a different line altogether. He spoke about four days after the Parliamentary Secretary, and he said, "Oh, it is quite right. There may be too many potatoes, and our object was to repress the growth of potatoes." It was not in those words exactly, but I have the words here. On the question of potatoes, he said, "We can grow more than enough, in fact, there was danger of a glut," and the "Times" published an article in his support. Later, the Under-Secretary reappears again and announces that the whole of the circumstances have changed, and instead of the maximum price being fixed, that price was to be taken as the minimum. Consequently, what was understood to be the maximum price for the 1917 crop was stated to be only the minimum, and this to me does not appear to have any meaning whatever. I wish to ask a question about seed potatoes. The question was raised in a letter which stated that the price of seed potatoes was fixed at £12 per ton. We have since been told that the £12 only refers to growers and not to the middlemen or dealers. Therefore, the position of the Government seems 62 to be that they fix a low price for the producer of food, who does ail the work, and then they allow the middleman to raise the price as much as he likes. I think what I have stated shows that this question of fixing prices is surrounded with difficulties, and it is a road along which the Government ought not to travel unless there is great necessity for it, and even then they should exercise the greatest care.
Just now I congratulated the Food Controller upon advising everybody to be economical instead of fixing rations. Certainly, I approve of all schemes for economy, but, with regard to three articles which have been mentioned, I want to ask a few questions. In the case of sugar, the Food Controller said people are only to use three-quarters of a pound per head per week. How are they to get three-quarters of a pound of sugar? Nobody appears to be getting sugar at all, and the system of distribution has fallen into a terrible state. Seeing that the Government have taken over the distribution of sugar entirely, and have taken it out of the hands of the voluntary organisation-now it is a crime for anybody to import sugar-the responsibility rests upon the Government of meeting this complaint with regard to the difficulty of obtaining sugar. If I understand the President of the Board of Agriculture aright lie is advocating the fixing of prices for four or five years after the War, but I think that is a matter which he should look into with a very great deal of care. Even if the right hon. Gentleman fixes a low price it will cause hardships, while a high price would inflict a terrible burden. You must not keep on famine prices after the War, and very careful consideration must be given to this matter before proceeding further with the policy of fixing prices.
There are many alternatives. Instead of doing anything with regard to fixing the price of potatoes, you might prevent the digging of early potatoes, and in this way a great waste might be avoided and that would also greatly increase the volume of the crops. I have already warned the Government against proceeding too hastily with the policy of fixing prices. I was glad to see here this afternoon a representative of the Board of Trade, because I want to ask a question with regard to railway fares. I think the Prime Minister's defence of an increase of 50 per cent- 63 in railway fares was very unsatisfactory. The right hon. Gentleman said that they wanted to send materials to France, such as steel rails and engines, and also engine drivers. That only affects the accommodation in this country, and I think the late Government claimed that they took all those steps. Of course, I do not want to go into that question, because I do not wish to raise any question of rivalry between the two Governments. The Government have adopted the policy of diminishing the accommodation because they say they have found it necessary to do so. They have made the trains slower and fewer and they have taken off a good many; but that is the very opposite policy to justify any increase in the fares. Surely, if you charge even the same price for a much worse service you are putting a heavy burden on the nation; but to give a bad service and also raise the fares by 50 per cent, is a very extraordinary thing to do, and I think we should ask the Government for the figures connected with the railways and insist that they should be put before the House.
Allusion has been made to the abolition of the Plimsoll mark on ships. I am old enough to remember the great Parliamentary fight which took place about the Plimsoll mark, and I think the Government ought to hesitate before abolishing it. I have offered these criticisms not in any unfair spirit, and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman cannot take any exception to the way I have put forward my criticisms of prices and the distribution of food. My intention is to help the Government. I admit that the situation is very critical, but the Government may produce exactly the opposite result by their policy from that which they intend, and, instead of giving us cheapness and plenty, they may give us only dearness and scarcity, and therefore I think that any departure from our old traditions ought to be very carefully considered.
§ Mr. HOGGE
There are several questions which I think one might desire information upon to-day in view of the fact that the speeches on the Address will probably end this week, and the discussions will centre around larger Amendments which may appear on the Paper to-morrow. The House itself at the present moment is an index of what we may expect and what we have been accustomed to in regard to 64 past Addresses. There are a number of questions which must interest some of us upon which we have not had sufficient information. I notice that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is still on the Front Bench, and I should like to address one or two questions to him with regard to the separation allowances of our soldiers and sailors. I should like to put some direct questions to him for the purpose of eliciting information. Before the Recess the Chancellor of the Exchequer dealt with separation allowance to our soldiers and sailors, and he promised the House that he would have those terms published very shortly after the Recess, and he has kept his promise. There are, however, certain points in regard to them which I should like cleared up, because they are not quite plain either to myself or to many other persons interested in those particular allowances.
The allowance to the wife and children of a serving soldier has been increased in rather a peculiar way, that is to say the increase only applies to the children from the highest age downwards if they are under fourteen years of age. I should like to ask what was the reason for that? Why is it that up to this increase it was necessary to give a separation allowance to the boy or girl up to sixteen years of age of a soldier or sailor. I imagine that it was thought that a number of the boys were also earning wages, and therefore it was hoped to save money by cutting off the extra allowance, but how can the right hon. Gentleman defend the policy of taking the increase away in the case of girls, many of whom are attending school? I should like to know what led the right hon. Gentleman to deduct the increase from the oldest child if over fourteen. I should also like to raise the case of the childless wife, which is one which interests a great many people all over the country. She is entitled to an extra 2s. 6d. from the local war pensions committee, and that makes her allowance 15s., and she gets that on one of two conditions—either that she is unable to work or unable to obtain employment. Under this new scheme those women cannot get any increase in their allowance unless they go to the local war pensions committee and prove by their circumstances that increased cost of living necessitates their application.
Then there is the case of mothers of soldiers and sailors. In very many homes the mother was equal to the wife of a 65 living soldier—that is to say, he was bringing money into the house—and often the mother was left to keep the house going. Consequently, if an automatic increase was necessary in the case of the children of a serving soldier, so for the same reason an automatic increase ought to have been given to the childless wife and the mothers or other relatives of the serving soldier. I hear that the Minister of Pensions has given notice of a Pensions Bill. What is this Bill? Is this the new Royal Warrant, or is it an amending Bill to the already existing Ministry of Pensions or the Naval and Military War Pensions Act? Has the Treasury yet agreed to the terms which have been discussed between himself and the Minister of Pensions as to the new Warrant, and, if so, can the right hon. Gentleman tell me when we may expect the new Warrant? I take it that the business of the House next week will be concerned with the Vote of Credit, and we cannot discuss this question on that Vote for reasons which are well known, and, therefore, it may be best to discuss it when the Royal Warrant is introduced. One would be content to do that if the right hon. Gentleman can say that the new Royal Warrant will be introduced speedily. Can my right hon. Friend tell us when we may expect a decision either from the War Office, or from the Statutory Committee, or from the Minister of Pensions himself with regard to what is going to be done for the treatment of disabled soldiers either prior to their discharge or immediately afterwards? This has been a subject which has engaged the attention of a great many people from time to time. I can quite understand why a certain distinguished officer at the War Office finds it difficult to make up his mind that it is his business to take this particular piece of work in hand. I can quite understand, when the hospitals in the country may be wanted at odd periods, governed entirely by the casualties at the front and the kind of offensive we are undertaking, that he shrinks from undertaking the responsibility for those men. The military side of the nation at the moment contains such a large percentage of the doctors that it is impossible for it to be done on the civilian side, and some other arrangement must be adopted. My right hon. Friend also knows that the pension bill in this country is going to be a heavy one. The more men you keep off the pension bill the 66 better, and you keep men off if they get treatment at the right time and in the right way. I should like to know, therefore, how long it is going to take the War Office, or the Statutory Committee, or the Minister of Pensions to actually make a decision on this point. We discussed it a great deal last Session, and I have watched all during the Recess to see whether anything was being done. I have seen no decision announced in the papers, and I hope it is one of the decisions that can be kept for our information here.
There are many other points one could talk about, but I do not want to keep the House, and I do not want to debate. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend can talk again in this Debate or not—I believe he can by permission, and I do not think any of us here would deny him that permission—but can he tell us, if he cannot discuss the reasons, why he did certain things in regard to the separation allowances, if the Royal Warrant has been settled and if it is going to be introduced separately in the House of Commons or whether we shall have to take the opportunity of the Vote of Credit to discuss it? I think he will see, as a pure mattter of business arrangement, that it is better to discuss it for an agreed period of time than on the Vote of Credit. If there were any representative of the War Office present, I should liked to have raised another point which is interesting me at the moment, and upon which I should like some information, but I do not see anybody on the Front Bench who is really interested in this topic, unless it be one of the representatives of the Board of Agriculture (Sir R. Winfrey). It relates to Class W Reserve in the Army. There is a reservoir of labour which is not being tapped. I do not know whether anybody on the Front Bench present understands what is Class W Reserve in the Army. It is a large reserve of men which consists of soldiers who would otherwise be discharged under Paragraph 397 (16) of the King's Regulations as unfit to become efficient soldiers. Instead of being discharged they are put into Class W Reserve. In Class W Reserve they are not entitled to any pay or any emoluments of any kind, and they are not entitled, if they are suffering from disability, to apply for any pension. The only other reserve similar to Class W Reserve was the reserve which was created as the result of the Military Service Act. You had men of forty-one 67 put in this particular Reserve, and those men went on in their civilian employment. They do not come under the discipline of the Army, and they are now earning what wages are given in the particular districts and in the particular trades. Those men will never come into the actual serving Army unless they are re-examined. Instead of discharging, as the Army ought to discharge, the men who are so conditioned as not to become efficient, the Army authorities are putting them into Class W Reserve. You are thereby depriving a very large number of men who have enlisted into the Army of their rights and you are also depriving a great many men of the opportunity to work. As nobody in the House is interested, and as we are all discussing other topics, it is hopeless to raise these points at any length now, and they will require to be raised again. I therefore beg to move, "That this Debate be now adjourned."
§ Mr. NOEL BUXTON
I am reluctant to detain the House, but as this perhaps may be, the end of the general Debate before Amendments are moved, I seize this the only opportunity of asking the Chancellor of the Exchequer for an answer to a point which arises from the Gracious Speech from the Throne. I should very much like to express the concurrence of us all in the eloquent words of the Leader of the Liberal party in regard to the present attitude of America, words which the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself endorsed, but there is a point arising from that which seems to me, reluctant as one is to speak on this subject, one ought just to touch upon. Very much water has run under the bridges since the House met last. On the very eve of the Recess the House was startled by rumours of the arrival of an expected Note from America, and some of us that evening reminded the House of the immense services which America had rendered to the Allies. The period of the Recess exactly covered a momentous episode in the history of the War, and perhaps in the history of the world, which began, with that Note. We had next the answer of the Allies to Germany. Then a period to discuss whether our reply to America should be friendly or whether America should be flouted, ending with an event of first-class importance—the definition of the Allies' aims. As if this were not important enough, on 22nd 68 January we had the President's definition of the principles of permanent settlement, than which no more important utterance has been made in our time. The Central Powers had lost the opportunity, by extraordinary bungling, of gaining the sympathy of America, and it became evident that the extremist party in Berlin had gained the upper hand. Whether fortified or not by the character of the Allies' demands, the extremist party certainly welcomed our demands as a means of discrediting the Moderates who follow Bethman-Hollweg, and the only result was the adoption of the policy of extreme frightfulness, which Admiral von Tirpitz has always advocated.
We find ourselves now when the House meets again at a moment which no one would have contemplated when we separated in December—a moment when America may be coming in and when the New World, we trust, is about to take its share in the responsibility of the Old. The question whether the New World will redress the balance of the Old or not is still in the scale, and it is a moment, it seems to mo, rather for bated breath than for words, but the occurrence of a general Debate in this House, which is not too common, made it inevitable that reference should be made, as it has been made, to the attitude of America. We have had from the leaders of both Front Benches utterances of the highest value, but in any case it would be inappropriate to make no reference to the President's great utterance and not to express the admiration to which words have already been given by the Leader of the Liberal party. In voicing our satisfaction at the close concurrence of America's aims with our own, we rejoice to know that the warmest approval has already been expressed in a quarter from which it was not so immediately likely—I mean from the Czar. Things have moved on very far since it was doubtful what attitude the Allies would take upon the American proposals for better international machinery after the War. We now have considered utterances from the heads of the Allied States, and above all we have the formulated, adhesion of the Allies in their Note. That, after all, is an extraordinary step, and constitutes a great tribute to the lead which was given by America.
I now come to a point on which I feel impelled to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer for some explanation. If we support America and desire her co-opera- 69 tion, we cannot ignore the other great event of the past month, the definition of the Allies' aims, because some of them will tend to deter Americans from sympathy with us if they are interpreted in the way which the words suggest. The definition has been widely welcomed, and criticism is directed to two or three items in the programme. Those who criticise ought always, I think, to be still more ready to praise, and for myself I want to express my warmest support of the Government, as our representative in the councils of the Allies, on their decision to respond to America in a friendly way. They rejected the short-sighted view which was advanced by most of our Press that America's action should be resented, and I congratulate them on the fact that they rejected it. The fact that this view was widely urged by the Press and was emphatically snubbed by those who framed the Allies' answer ought to teach us something of the measure of importance to be attached to the wild-cat attitude of many newspapers, who, unfortunately, seldom voice anything properly called patriotism, if patriotism involves reason, and whose views on such a thing as this momentous and important affair with regard to America appeared to represent only the mere irritated instincts natural in war-time. I profoundly thank and congratulate the Government for the attitude which they took up in regard to the response to America.
The most interesting item in the Allies' programme was one which obtained perhaps the least attention, namely, the liberation of Bohemia. I will just ask the House to let me urge that this matter is one of immense importance. It was passed over because it was disguised by the use of the word "Czechs-Slovaks," although it was advanced on behalf of Bohemia. Those who happen to know what that phrase means were unwilling to find fault with the Note because of the general approval of its excellence on many points, and persuaded themselves that the proposal meant no more than Home Rule within the Austrian Empire. This point requires serious explanation. There is all the difference in the world according to which way it is urged in a proposal made in a solemn statement of this kind of the aims of the greatest War ever waged, and in certainly deserves serious consideration. It is said to be a demand for Home Rule alone. If so, I rejoice; but as one 70 who for years has worked for the rights of oppressed nations I wonder whence comes this desire for Home Rule in other Empires if it is not to produce any diminution of the Central Powers' military forces! I am all the more puzzled at the Government's enthusiasm when I find a leading member of it asking who are Slovacks, or, as he thought they were called, Slavocks. It is independence for Bohemia which is understood, not only in this country but in America and in Germany. In American papers like the "New York World," which is supposed to represent the Government, it has been criticised very severely as meaning that it is among the terms absolutely unrealisable until the forces of the enemy are morally exterminated. I think it very possible the Chancellor of the Exchequer will not care to define the meaning of the words of the Note further than they have been defined, but I do feel if this is to be taken to mean absolute political liberation, and if the terms are minimum terms, then this is a time when, on many grounds, they ought to be resisted. The Chancellor of the Exchequer would be the last to be indifferent to the real claims of nationality, for we must remember that the real nationality which can be granted, as in the case of Ireland, is Home Rule, In the case of the Czechs the true ideas of freedom have by no means been submissive to the German machine, and their rights should be seemed. If that means the total military dismemberment of Austria, we must make up our minds that it is only to be secured long after other aims classed with reparation, restitution, and guarantee, have been secured, and if these things are vital to the existence of the Germans—I do not mean the Gorman Empire, but the real German country—you must look upon them as things not to be secured without total moral military extermination. The point I wish to make is that it is a dangerous thing in regard to America, and that at this moment an American organ of high importance is criticising this proposal. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer can tell us we are not thereby committing ourselves to something which will alienate the sympathies of America, then it must be interesting to many of us.
§ Mr. O'SHEE
I wish to refer for a few minutes to the question of food production. But the speech to which we have just listened reminded me that there is such a question as that of Home Rule for 71 Ireland. The hon. Member who has just spoken has referred to the Note which the Allies sent regarding Bohemia, in which they said one of the great objects of this War was to secure Home Rule for, among other places, Bohemia. It struck me, when he was referring to that subject, it was rather appropriate and proper that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should develop some enthusiasm for Home Ride for Ireland before he did it on behalf of Bohemia in his Note to President Wilson.
But I want to make some observations with regard to the Regulations published by the Food Controller as regards the cultivating of land and increased food production. The Chief Secretary was in his place about twenty minutes ago, and I had hoped he would remain in the House so that an Irish Member, the first speaking from these benches to-night, might have an opportunity of laying before him the views of his Constituents on this subject of food production. I understand there is a representative of the Board of Agriculture for England on the Government Bench at this moment. I do not know his exact title. It is, indeed, very difficult to follow all the changes which have recently taken place in Ministerial offices, and one may easily be lost in the multiplicity of names and titles in connection with newly created Ministries. But I want to call attention, first of all, to the fact that, on 12th January last, the Food Controller issued a Regulation with regard to the user of land in England for food production which, unfortunately, did not apply to Ireland. I say "unfortunately," because on the same day the Food Controller issued an order as regards cultivation in Ireland which compels an occupier of pasture land in Ireland to till at least 10 per cent, of that land additional in the coming year. This is compulsory in Ireland, but there is no such compulsory power for England, although I submit that one would have been the complement of the other. Why, I should like to know, is compulsion to be enforced against the holder of arable land in Ireland only?
I understand that increased food production in England is sought to be brought about by inducements as regards prices. In Ireland nearly the same inducements are offered as regards prices, but, in addition, we have Regulations compelling owners of arable land to till a portion of it. The power that is given in England is this: By an Order published in the "London Gazette" on 72 12th January, the Board of Agriculture in England, after consultation with the Food Controller, is empowered to enter into possession of any land which is not so cultivated as to increase as far as practicable the food produced from that land. No such power is given to Ireland. I myself saw the Chief Secretary in regard to this subject about a fortnight ago and pointed out to him the obvious necessity of giving the same power in Ireland in that respect as was given in England. I regret that he is not now in his place for the reason that on that occasion I said I had seen this Regulation published in the London "Times" of 13th January, and the Chief Secretary said, "That is quite wrong; it applies only to vacant land." I had no opportunity of referring again to the "Times" until I saw the file in the Library this afternoon, when I found that my recollection was quite correct, and that the Regulation does apply not merely to vacant land, but to any land, so that the Board of Agriculture here has absolute power, where they think land is not being properly cultivated or even not about to be properly cultivated, to seize such land and to cultivate it either themselves or through other persons, and to take any buildings or machinery on the land for the purpose of cultivating it. They also have power, if they think that a man is not about to cultivate the land, to require him to place a scheme before the Board showing what steps he proposes to take to cultivate the land. No such power exists in Ireland. On the contrary, in Ireland the Regulation hampers the Department of Agriculture to the extent that it provides that the Department of Agriculture shall not have power to take compulsory steps or to seek to enforce the compulsory powers it has under the Order with reference to the cultivation of land before the 25th March. That is an exceedingly unreasonable date to fix, because it is the end of the season when the land ought to have been cultivated. To fix the 25th March as the first date on which they can exercise their compulsory powers means that the land cannot possibly be cultivated in time to have the seed sown in order to reap a crop during the present year.
I would ask the representative of the Board of Agriculture who is here to bring this matter before the Food Controller. The Food Controller is not in this House. He is in another place, and we have no 73 opportunity here of addressing him directly. I have already personally gone to the Vice-President of the Department in Dublin to call his attention to the matter, and also to the Chief Secretary. The Chief Secretary was quite unaware of the effect of the Order of the 12th January, and the Vice-President of the Department had not thought about it at all. It is very important that the Department of Agriculture in Ireland should have the same powers in this respect as are possessed by the Department in England. Indeed, it is more necessary, for the reason that there is compulsion and that penalties can be enforced, so that an occupier of arable laud in Ireland might be imprisoned or fined if he failed to carry out the order to cultivate 10 per cent, more of the arable land he possesses. If he cultivated 40 per cent, of his arable land last year, he is bound to cultivate a 10 per cent, in addition, so that he would have to cultivate 50 per cent, altogether. That is a very serious order. If any man declares that he is unable to cultivate 10 per cent. more of his land, the Board ought to relieve him of responsibility, if they can, by entering into possession of the land and getting labourers or smallholders who may be in the vicinity, and who may not be cultivating a certain portion of their own holdings.
I will give a case in point, in which the rated occupier holds 1,354 acres of land in my Constituency. He has already written a letter to the town clerk of the neighbouring town, in which he says he regrets he is unable to comply with the very lawful wish of the Government that he should cultivate this 10 per cent. Under this Order he is bound to cultivate one-tenth of 1,354 acres of arable land—that is, 135 acres. That was on the 11th January. Having that letter in my possession, I went to the Chief Secretary and the Vice-President of the Department and asked them what they were going to do in this case. I said, "Here is an occupier who is bound under the Order to cultivate an extra 135 acres, and he says he cannot do it; what are you going to do?" There are plenty of small holders and labourers in the district. This is not demesne land. It consists of thirty-six separate ratings, and runs to within a quarter of a mile of the principal town in my Constituency. The town clerk was directed by the council, in consequence of a circular sent out by the Local Government Board asking for the cultivation of plots in or near the town 74 for the production of food, to send a circular to thirty-six landholders in the urban districts and its vicinity. He got twelve replies to his thirty-six letters, and they were all in the negative. Twelve persons said they had no land to give for the purpose of allotments in order to produce food foe the people of that town and district. The owner of this 1,351 acres bar, about 3,050 other acres, consisting of plantation and pasturage. This land is not fattening land of the first or second quality. It is probably third-quality land so far as pasture is concerned. It is not land suitable for cultivation. The Department in Ireland has not the power like the Department in England of going to this man who has declared that he is unable to do this and saying, "Well, if you are unable to do it, we will take steps to have it done. We will appoint some man to j take charge of it and get in local labourers." There are plenty of labourers in the town, and even some women, who are most anxious in their spare hours to cultivate plots of land. In no single case of the thirty-six persons written to did the council receive an offer of any land. Since these answers to the circular were received one man who was not applied to has come forward and offered 12 acres of land, which have been taken over by the urban council for the purpose of carrying out the orders of the Local Government Board.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Islington (Mr. Lough) referred to the question of minimum prices. I wish to direct the attention of the Board of Agriculture in England to the matter, because the prices are the same here as in Ireland. I would ask their attention to some considerations which ought to be weighed as regards minimum prices.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the danger of fixing prices. I quite agree with him. The Board of Agriculture in England, after fixing a price for potatoes, altered the arrangement. They fixed £5 15s. a ton for potatoes, 60s. a quarter for wheat, and 38s. 6d. for oats. Owing to the pressure of public opinion, and agricultural opinion, in England they changed the arrangement with regard to potatoes, and they said, "The £5 15s. is only a minimum price. We do not propose to compel the farmer to give us his potatoes at £5 15s. per ton, but we guarantee that he shall get £5 5s. a ton, and we will give him the opportunity if he is able to get more than that to sell to another buyer than 75 the Government. "I suggest that it may be desirable to make a similar alteration with regard to wheat and oats. We have up to the present no guarantee given or offered by the Government for prices beyond the current year because, of course, the difficulty is to fix a price which will not be too high as events develop, and there is also the danger that if you fix a very low price you may only discourage instead of encouraging cultivation. I would suggest that what has been done with reference to potatoes, if it was done generally in regard, say, to two years hence as well as the current year—"I do not ask you to sell at £5 15s., but I guarantee £5 15s. for potatoes in 1918 or 1919"—I am taking potatoes as an example of what I am trying to explain, and if you assume that the price ought to be lower, you may make the minimum £4 10s., or £4, or any price you like, but if you make it a minimum price you do not discourage the growth of potatoes so long as the grower has the right to go to another buyer if he can get more than the minimum price. Therefore, I suggest that the arrangement as to potatoes this year should be applied also to wheat and oats, and that the prices you have named shall be regarded as the minimum prices for the current year, and as regards the next year, or the year after, you should, as soon as you conveniently can take another price as soon as you can see the trend of events as they develop, as they probably will in the next few months. You should not take a low minimum price but it should be a minimum and the grower should be allowed to deal with any outside buyer if he can get more than the minimum price the Government guarantee. I think that is a feasible and a practicable proposal, and it is the only one which avoids the inconvenience of fixing a price which it may be inconvenient for the Government to pay.
As regards the weight per quarter of the oat crop—wheat is not very much grown in Ireland, but oats are grown very considerably—I am informed by practical agriculturists that it is impossible to grow in Ireland, owing perhaps to the climate, oats which will weigh 42 lbs. to the bushel. I am told the weight of oats per bushel in Ireland ought not to be put any higher than 36 or 38 lbs., and your guarantee of 38s. 6d. per quarter for oats which are to weigh 42 lbs. to the bushel is of no use whatever in Ireland and may be of no use what- 76 ever in the moister parts of Great Britain, if it is impossible to grow oats in Ireland of this weight, this guarantee does not carry any weight whatever, because the Government can refuse to take any oats grown in Ireland, as they will find probably that they do not come up to that standard of weight. That is a point to which I think the representative of the Board of Agriculture should also direct the attention of the Food Controller with regard to Ireland, if not with regard to this country also. The vital importance of this question of food production has only developed within the past month or two. We have only heard of the great danger that exists with regard to the possible shortage of food within the past month or two; in fact, we have only heard of it with any emphasis for the first time from the President of the Board of Agriculture. The country has been stirred up to the greatness of the danger of food shortage within the next few months very much by his speeches. I think his speeches were very courageous, and, although I understand they have been criticised very severely by many people in this country, he was quite justified in making them. What has happened since he made his earlier speeches has shown how well justified he was. He has been justified by the events of the past fortnight and by what is going on every day in the sinking of ships.
It is undoubtedly a question of the most vital importance, and these Regulations are not being considered by the people affected even as carefully as they ought to be considered, and it is only at the end of this season when the crops are grown, ready to be marketed, that the trouble will arise which is bound to arise under the Regulations as they are, and it is only when you come in Ireland to bring prosecution and impose penalties for noncompliance with these Regulations that they will arise. It is a most unreasonable thing for the Department of Agriculture in Ireland to threaten a man, who is bound to till under their Regulations 135 acres of land, with pains and penalties and with imprisonment under the Defence of the Realm Acts even though he states in a public letter long before the time when his land might have been taken in hand by the Department itself or by some persons under the direction of the Department, that he is unable to comply with the wishes of the Government. It would be very 77 unreasonable to enforce these penalties against him when the Department has not asked, as far as I know, for the powers which were given to the Board of Agriculture in England by the Order published in the "London Gazette" of 12th January last. In this case friction is bound to arise, and he is entitled to say, when he is asked to pay a fine or to go to gaol, because he does not comply with this Regulation, "I announced long before 25th March that I could not do this." The Board of Agriculture in England had power to enter into possession of lands almost in a similar position to mine and to do the work. The Department of Agriculture in Ireland has no such power, and it is very unfair to me when I gave notice that I could not do the work that I should be penalised because I did not do what I was quite unable to do. There is no reason to suppose that he would not be quite willing out of his 1,354 acres of land to hand over to the Department of Agriculture a considerable proportion, to enable the smallholders all around him, and the people in the town, who are quite convenient to this land, and cannot get allotments outside it, to till some of the land and to produce food for themselves and their families. I think the danger is very serious. It may be that the reserves of wheat and corn in this country at the present moment are considerable. I do not know what they are. Naturally, the Government does not publish the amount of these reserves. But no matter what they may be, I think it is realised by everybody that the danger of food shortage at the present time is a great and serious danger. That is evident by all the Regulations that have been made by the Food Controller. The Regulation issued by the Food Controller the other day restricting us to 4 lbs. of bread, 2½lbs. of meat, and ¼lb. of sugar per head per week affords evidence that there is great danger. It is a matter of the most vital importance that these Regulations should be revised, and if they are defective they ought to be revised in order to produce remedial effect.
As to the question of sugar, there is great difficulty in Ireland of grocers getting any supply at all. In my own town I know of several cases of grocers who cannot get sugar at all, and who, for weeks past, have not been able to supply their customers with any sugar, and there seems to be no redress. I think the time has come when sugar tickets ought to be issued. It was said some weeks ago in 78 this House that we were very near the day when it would be necessary to issue food tickets. I think sugar tickets ought to be issued, because the inconvenience at the present time is very great, and in some districts and areas the difficulty of getting sugar is very serious. I think sugar tickets ought to be issued in Ireland, if not in this country. The position is probably the same in this country in that respect as in Ireland. As this question is a very large one, I do not think there is any necessity for my apologising for having kept the House. I am only sorry that the Chief Secretary for Ireland has not been here, because he would be in a better position than any private Member or than the representative of the Board of Agriculture, who has been present, to convey to the Food Controller the views put before the House if he considers there is any substance in them.
I am not going to follow my hon. Friend in the large number of subjects with which he has dealt briefly in his speech, but there are one or two points to which I would like particularly to direct the attention of the House at the earliest possible moment. I join with my hon. Friend in regretting that there is no representative of the Irish Government to hear what is to be said from these benches. I am not going to go into the general subjects that were raised in the earlier part of the discussion because I am sure that at a later stage of the Debate on the Address these questions must come up for serious attention. I mean questions such as the Imperial Conference and as to whether the position in Ireland is to be dealt with at that Conference and whether Ireland is to be represented there, and so on. I would like to say a word or two with reference to the question of shipping. A question was asked from the Front Opposition Bench, asking the meaning of the control that has been exercised by the Government over shipping, mines, and railways. We were told that these services were in some particulars to be nationalised, but neither the House nor the country has any idea what powers under this so-called scheme of nationalisation the Government intend to take with regard to those services. We were promised by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that there would be a statement made to the House of Commons next week on the subject of shipping. I would like to inform the Government that when 79 they come to deal with the question of shipping it will be impossible for them to overlook the question of cross-Channel shipping between Ireland and Great Britain. The party to which I belong more than two months ago raised the question of shipping in connection with the coal supply in Ireland, where the prices are very considerably higher for the poor people than they are in this country, but nothing whatever has been done in connection with the control of shipping between Ireland and Great Britain from that day to this. I would like to say to the Government that whatever powers of control they take over shipping, it will be imperative to see that the number of ships between the two countries is not reduced but rather increased.
It is very important for the Irish Government to know what my hon. Friend (Mr. O'Shee) has said upon the general question of tillage, and particularly with regard to this policy in connection with the grazing ranches. In our opinion the great blot upon the Government scheme for increasing food production in Ireland is the way in which they propose to deal with the grazing ranches. My hon. Friend has told the House that the only compulsory power taken in Ireland is the power of 10 per cent. tillage, and that they have not adopted the very wide and drastic powers which have been taken by the Board of Agriculture in Great Britain. It is an extraordinary thing when we bear in mind the fact that for many years past the avowed policy not only of our party, but of the Government and of all sections and classes in Ireland, has been to purchase land and to divide up the grass land, that the Government should have taken this line, when the opportunity presented itself of getting an enormously increased food production in Ireland by utilising large tracts of these grazing lands for tillage. In a speech which he made at Clontarf a couple of weeks ago the Vice-President of the Department of Agriculture used these words:They had exempted all the people with under ten acres from the ten per cent, acre compulsory tillage, because these small farmers never neglected their duty. They required no pressure to make them till their land. Then there was the other extreme, the graziers. These men had not been in the habit of tilling. They had not the equipment, the machinery, the instinct, or the knowledge required for it.One would have thought that was the very reason why the Government should have taken for Ireland the same powers as 80 they have taken for Great Britain, because these men with large tracts of land have not, according to the Vice-President of the Department of Agriculture, the equipment, the machinery, the instinct, or the knowledge required for it. I hope that the Government will not allow itself to be influenced in this matter by the policy which is urged upon it by the "Times" newspaper in its article a few days ago on this Irish scheme, and that this scheme will be so strengthened and revised that these vast areas of grazing lands which it is the policy of the State for years past to help rapidly to break up should be brought under this scheme, and thrown open for tillage by some such powers being extended to Ireland as have been taken for Great Britain, both in Scotland and England.
§ Mr. ELLIS DAVIES
I desire to call the attention of the House to some questions affecting agriculture, although the representative of the Board of Agriculture is not present. I desire to congratulate the Board on the great efficiency with which the work is now being done, but a question arises with regard to the substitution of men for those now employed in agriculture. A question was put by the late Prime Minister this afternoon with regard to the 30,000 recently called up by the War Office, and, as I understand the answer of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, it was to the effect that substitutes were to be found for these men. I understand that the substitution officers in the counties state that those men having been refused exemption by the tribunals do not come within the substitution scheme, with the result that 30,000 men have been called from agriculture, and that no substitutes are to be found for them. That is a very serious thing, but, as we all know, since last October, when the tribunals dealt with these cases, every appeal has been made and even threats have been made to the farmers because they have no land, and it seems a curious arrangement that when the Government is calling for the cultivation of larger areas they should at the same time be diminishing and even refusing substitutes for the men they are calling up. If the Board of Agriculture desire a greater cultivation of land, substitutes should be found for the 30,000 men who have been recently called up. Then another suggestion has been made, and that is that there is in the Home-service Class a large number of men trained to do agricultural work, or who are farm 81 labourers. A very large number of them are over military age, and in any event they are doing work which could be very well done by men in Class C 3, and I urge on the Government the desirability of seeing that these men who are to be substituted for trained agricultural labourers have, in any event, some knowledge of farm labourers' work. I am afraid the services of a farm labourer in the past have been measured by the meagre wage and bad housing conditions to which they have been subjected. As a matter of fact, a good deal of the work done by the farm labourer requires considerable knowledge and a good deal of training, and it is absurd for the Government to expect a largely increased production, unless the farmer is going to be found a suitable substitute for the person taken from him, and I venture to press on the Government the desirability of inquiring whether or not there are amongst the Home-service men a large number of farm labourers who could be easily released and transferred to the farmers.
We are urging the greater production of food in this country, but to that end it is necessary for the farmer to have fertilisers and also foodstuffs for his cattle, but whilst the price of the product of the farm is being assessed and a maximum price fixed, farmers complain, quite rightly, that there is no maximum on the prices which they are charged either for feeding stuffs or fertilisers, and I venture to suggest 82 that this is a question which deserves the immediate attention of the Government. There is one point in particular in regard to Wales to which I desire to call attention, and that is that the cultivation of land in Wales takes place, not in the autumn, but in the spring, with the result that more men are required in the spring rather than, as in England, in the autumn. The farming custom of England is for winter ploughing and sowing. In Wales, on the other hand, the ploughing and sowing are done in the spring, so that by calling up the men, as has now happened, in January, the Welsh farmers will be put to infinitely more disadvantages than their English colleagues, and I would ask the Board of Agriculture whether they cannot arrange through the War Office for the extension of the time to the end of March during which the farm labourer can remain and help to produce a largely increased supply of food in the country.
§ Lord EDMUND TALBOT (Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury)
I beg to move, "That the Debate be now adjourned."
§ Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put, and agreed to.
§ Debate adjourned accordingly; to be resumed to-morrow (Thursday).
§ ADJOURNMENT.—Resolved, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Lord Edmund Talbot.]
§ Adjourned accordingly at Nine o'clock.