§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding£143,784, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1918, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of His Majesty's Secretary of State for the Home Department and Subordinate Offices."— [NOTE.—£110,000 has been voted on account.]
Sir H. DALZIEL
It is opportune to take advantage of this Vote to ask the Home Secretary whether he still holds the opinion which he did with respect to warnings to the inhabitants of London in regard to air raids? Some little time ago the right hon. Gentleman, in defending his Department, stated that he had arrived at the conclusion that it was safer, in the interests of the public, that no warning should be given. At that time he indicated that hi1 had an open mind on the subject. The Committee generally will recognise that there is a good deal to be said on both sides. I think it would be to the advantage of the Government and the Home Secretary 1628 if he would inform us as to the particular class of institutions and the particular persons who are at present favoured in this respect. It is notorious that as early as 7 o'clock last Saturday morning at a large number of offices warning was given that this raid was taking place. My right hon. Friend doubts it. I have that on the best authority. If that is not the correct hour, perhaps he will tell us exactly when certain institutions were so favoured in regard to warning. Was it one hour, two hours, or three hours before the raiders actually appeared? There is a strong feeling in favour of sirens, or something of that kind, being used in regard to air raids. I see the difficulty of threatened air raids probably taking place every other day and probably only coming to the coast, and in that way business would be greatly disturbed and interfered with, but I think the occasion is opportune for the right hon. Gentleman to tell us what has been the result of his deliberations since last we had a Debate. Is he still opposed to any extension of the warning which is at present being given? Is it possible for him to add other institutions to those already included within the category? I hope he will give ns considerable information as to the attitude of the Government on the subject.
I gave notice to the Home Office that I intended to ask another question closely associated with this matter. I suggest that my right hon. Friend should issue orders at once to the police of London to report as to the number of unexploded shells at present in police stations. I suggest that he should issue that order in order to collect the number of unexploded shells, mostly British, I fear, which were picked up throughout London on Saturday and yesterday, and that he should tell the House, to-day if he can, how many unexploded shells have been collected by the police authorities of London. I am not going into the question of percentages. I have hoard it stated that over 50 per cent, did not explode. That is not a matter for him. He is only concerned with the work of his officers and of the police. But it would be very useful if he could tell us, because that is the only means by which we can get reliable information, what foundation there is for the rumour of this enormous number of unexploded shells. It is a fact that a large number did not explode, and are unexploded at present.
Sir H. DALZIEL
Yes. Here is one that came through my office on Saturday morning. It came through the roof and through two floors into the corner of my office, and it is not exploded at the present moment. It becomes rather a domestic matter under the circumstances. I think there is no doubt it is a British shell. I invite Gentlemen who are interested, seeing the number of floors it has penetrated through, to come and tell us. This is only one of a large number of British shells which were collected on Saturday and yesterday. I ask my right hon. Friend if he will ask the police to give a return of the number which have been collected in the police offices throughout London, and if he will give notice to the Secretary of State for War? I shall invite him at the proper time to make a full statement on the subject.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I should like to endorse what the right hon. Gentleman has said with regard to the question of giving warning. I raised this question on the last raid. My suggestion was not received with very much sympathy by the Government, who said the only result would be that people would leave their work and rush into the streets, and the danger would be increased. The object of giving warning is to allow sensible people either to remain in their houses or to go into other houses if they happen to be in the streets at the time a raid is taking place. If there are foolish people who, out of curiosity or for any other reason, insist upon going into the street, the responsibility is upon them alone, and that is no reason why the Government should not give warning in order that more sensible people may remain in their houses. Some members of my family on Saturday were out in the Park. If warning had been given they would have been in their house. I believe the small number of casualties which occurred on Saturday is due to the fact that a large number of people were sensible enough to take refuge in houses when they knew a raid was taking place, either by going into shops or ringing the bell and asking anyone who happened to be in an adjoining house whether they might come in. If there is a military reason why warning should not be given, I am quite certain the vast bulk of Englishmen and women would 1630 do nothing to inconvenience the military authorities, but they are not content merely to take as an answer a statement from the Government that in their opinion it would be wiser not to do it. What we want to know is why is it wiser not to do it? From all the evidence one can see, that is absolutely the reverse of the fact. Surely it is wiser to let people know that something is going to take place. This was known at least three-quarters of an hour before the enemy came. Supposing there is a false alarm, what harm does it do? Supposing a few people stay in their houses or offices longer than they would in ordinary circumstances, why should they not do so? As the Government is rather fond of telling us, we are at war and must put up with certain inconveniences. This is not the first time this request has been made. Neither is it the first time that warning has been given. Many months ago it was arranged at Swindon that if aeroplanes came over the hooter at the Great Western Works should sound. That hooter is heard about six or seven miles off. No aeroplanes have ever come over, but if that can be done in one place, it can be done in another. I ask the Government to consider seriously whether it would not be possible to give people warning. It would be entirely within their own power then to take notice of it or not, as they thought right, and if the Government knows that raids are going to take place, it should, in common sense, unless there is some strong military reason to the contrary, give, people an opportunity of remaining in their houses.
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ Mr. BILLING
I should like to point out to the Home Secretary the number of deputations which have been sent to the Home Office in this connection. The feeling of people in this country, especially in London, is quite decided, and they are entitled to receive some more satisfactory reply from the Home Office than the statements which are made, and which I have received on many occasions, simply that they do not intend to do anything. The idea of the Government that people win run into the street was surely disproved on Saturday, when, despite the fact that there was no warning, directly they ceased cheering the German aeroplanes, having discovered possibly by their formation that they were enemy aeroplanes and not our own, they took cover. Many 1631 hundreds of lives were saved in consequence, and we had an excellent demonstration of how an official system of warning will save life. I do not know exactly how the Home Office works with the military authorities, but surely it might; represent to them what is the feeling in this House, and unless the military authorities can make representations to the Home Office a great deal stronger than the Home Office has yet made to this House, I quite fail to see why some reasoned and systematic warning should not be introduced. I would beg the Home Office, when they give this matter their serious consideration, not to be satisfied with the telephonic system of warning or with some means of simply blowing a steam whistle here and ringing a bell there. There is nothing more dangerous or more likely to cause panic and dismay than false alarms of that description. When you have false alarms and when there is a genuine alarm people will say, 'Oh, it is another false alarm!" and they will not take proper precautions. Therefore, I suggest that whatever you do by way of giving warning be sure that the warning will convey the same thing to all minds at the same time, and not be construed by one man as his lunch whistle blowing five minutes before it is time, and by another man as an underground train or something blowing off a whistle.
A system to accomplish what is necessary is quite simple. I would point out to the Home Secretary that if he could work in conjunction with the military in this matter he might employ police or special constables, and there might be situated over every part of the City a small hydrogen captive balloon. I say "hydrogen" preferably, because any-other type would have to be situated near gasometers, and that would be dangerous, for they would be a target for the raiding airmen. My suggestion is that we should have these balloons 1,500 feet up. They would be small captive balloons and would carry an electric syren of six horse-power connected by cable to the ground, and whenever there was news of an air raid a warning of it would be sent out all along, and thus every person in the City would be able to hear. The fact that aeroplanes might be expected over this City or any other large city might thus be conveyed. If the system of warn- 1632 ing was complete, there would be no need for taking shelter for at least thirty minutes or perhaps fifteen minutes, because we are quite aware in this country —or at least the authorities are—when a raid is expected. At five minutes past eight on Saturday they knew at the Hotel Cecil that a raid was expected, and the Home Office could also have been aware of it had they required; at least I know that Hendon got warning at twenty minutes past eight. I would point out that it is essential that the system must be instantaneous and complete and must convey the same thing to everybody at the same time. I suggest that such a warning as that would enable people in the City to take any reasonable precautions they liked. If the War Office, or the person in command of the air defences, gave warning to the Home Office that the raiding airmen were fifteen miles off, the Home Office would know quite well that it would be ten minutes before they could possibly be dropping their bombs here. Under those circumstances all a man would have to do would be to press a button, and within a minute twenty or thirty syrens, which would be distributed all over London and the suburbs, would send out one long or two long or three short blasts, as the case may be. If a small red streamer were attached to the balloon it could be released electrically when the syren was sounded a second time, and that would indicate that the airmen were actually concentrating on the City, and that it was necessary to take shelter.
The whole of that system of warning could be introduced at very small cost. The expense, indeed, would be absolutely out of all comparison with the amount of distress and excitement that it would relieve. There is no reason why that system should not be gradually spread throughout the whole country. I remember when I was in the Service myself someone would ring up on the telephone and say they were a special constable belonging to the Home Office, and they would say that an airship or an aeroplane was coming in some direction, but before you could find out where the constable was speaking from you would be cut off on the telephone. That system is impossible. There is no reason why, at the present time, the hundreds of balloon? which the Naval Air Service is using, chiefly for joy rides over London which are of no military use whatever, should not be detailed off to the Home Office or 1633 the military or naval authorities for the purpose of enabling them at least to give the City of London warning. I feel keenly about the matter and the people of the City feel keenly. They point out that if you cannot protect them, at least you might give them warning. It is not the business of the Home Office to protect them, but I think the Home Office will be doing an act which will be thoroughly appreciated and approved by the people of this country if they adopt this suggestion and give warning. The Leader of the House said this afternoon it is not a question of the people, but a question of the House of Commons. I used to think before I came to this place that the House of Commons were the representatives and the servants of the masses of the people, and I would like hon. Members to take that matter into consideration. If the feeling of the public is intense on this matter, it is their duty to press it on the Government, even if that does stand in the way of their getting anything which they might otherwise expect if they did not attack the Government. I would suggest that a man would be a more honourable man if he used his position in this House of Commons to press upon the Home Office now and the Government the necessity of warning the people.
§ Sir WILLIAM PEARCE
There is another side which is not a military one, and that is the effect upon the nerves of the population by constant warning. The question was raised during the Zeppelin attacks, and it was decided then not to warn. If London had been warned every time the Zeppelins came we should have seven, or eight, or nine alarms probably. I know the East End of London as well as most people in this House, and I am extremely anxious about the effect of constant warnings upon our working-class population. I have lived in a district which is very exposed to raids, and I know myself the extremely nervous effect of having Zeppelin whistles blown night after night, and not knowing where they were coming from. Quite apart from the disturbance of business, which would be enormous, I am sure the effect of a warning in London every time hostile aircraft had left the coast of Belgium would be extremely serious. If we decided to do this, the Germans, who axe sensible people and are very anxious to create a state of 1634 panic, would increase the number of raids. If I were managing Germany and I knew London was going to sound syrens and explode balloons every time hostile aircraft left the shores of Belgium I should send aeroplanes three times a week, and in a fortnight I should have London in such an extreme state of excitement that it would have disastrous effects. I am not convinced that warning has any great effect upon loss of life and injury to limb, and before the Home Secretary decides I hope he will carefully weigh, first of all, how much the warning decreases the loss of life and the injury to limb, and, on the other hand, he will consider how serious the effect upon London's nerves would be if, day after day, everybody was told to expect an air raid, and nine times out of ten it did not eventuate.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I do not know what attitude the Government will adopt upon this subject of giving warning. I think there is much good sense in what has fallen from my hon. Friend who has just sat down. It is highly desirable in the event of any system of warning being adopted that it should be one and only one authoritative warning from the Government itself loud enough to be heard all over London. I do not know whether that is possible or not, but in any case, I am informed, where systems of warnings in provincial towns have been adopted, they have been found to be so destructive of the peace of mind of the citizens of the town that they have had to be abandoned very largely owing to the causes stated by my hon. Friend (Sir William Pearce), that there have been warnings given for an anticipated air raid which never eventuated. I want to draw the attention of the House to another aspect of this subject if I should be in order. It is not to exaggerate, if possible, the menace which is levelled at the population of this great Metropolis by the enemy in these air raids. I would ask the House to remember what the enemy has in view when he sends aeroplanes over here in the manner which he has done lately.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I am sorry, but it is not possible for the War Office to reply in Committee upon that. They would not have anticipated a Debate on that aspect of the subject. The Debate coming on later is rather the place for that. The only part of this subject that 1635 is pertinent to this Debate is the question of warnings of air raids raised by the hon. Member for Kirkealdy.
§ Mr. STANTON
Is not this entirely linked up with the other question? It is so awkward for Members to have to listen to one side now and not be able to say anything on the other side. It is in order to speak about warnings, whether necessary or not, and I suppose it would be out of order for another Gentleman to suggest that the best notice of warning to the Germans would be by sending our aircraft over there? That will come on later, but I should like to ask is it out of order or not now?
§ Mr. TENNANT
I really was not asking or expecting any reply from the War Office. All I was wanting to do was to convey a general notion of what the enemy desire to do by sending hostile aircraft to this country. I did not anticipate or desire any reply from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. I should like to use my argument in relation to the subject of warning.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I confess it would be difficult to do that. It really would be better to keep the rest of this question to the Debate coming on later to-day. The only matter to which the Home Secretary is open to reply now is solely the question of warning.
§ Mr. BILLING
Shall I be in order in asking the Home Secretary to be good enough to reply before the Debate is mixed up with other matters?
§ Mr. TENNANT
I am most anxious to carry out not only the letter but the spirit of your ruling. That being the case, I had better reserve myself for the later stage.
§ Mr. GILBERT
Speaking as a London Member. I do hope we shall have some authoritative statement from the Home Secretary as regards this question of warning. There is a very strong feeling 1636 in London that the Government should do something in this matter of warning, and I would suggest to the Home Secretary that the position has changed very much since the first raid of 13th June and the raid of last Saturday. I think that a great many people in London are now strongly in favour of the Government doing something that they were not prepared to do three weeks ago. It is all very well to say that warnings are of use, but I believe the unofficial warning which London obtained on Saturday last was of very great value as regards the saving of life in London. You cannot have the warning to the police, the fire brigade, the ambulance men, and the special constables in London, without a number of other persons knowing those unofficial warnings also. I would suggest to the Homo Secretary, in view of the probability of there being more raids like those on Saturday, that he should reconsider the position, and consider whether it is not advisable that some, kind of official warning should be given in order that people, may get under shelter, even in a greater degree than they did on Saturday last. I do not bind myself as to what form the warning should take, but I am quite convinced that the position has. changed, and that the Government must look at the matter from the new point of view of the great majority of the people of London, who are anxiously waiting to know what the Government are going to do.
§ Mr. LOUGH
I think it absolutely necessary to avoid the difficulty which has been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Limehouse, that we must not be disturbed as we were on the day after the raid last month, when we had three or four warnings which did nor, mature at all. To that extent I agree with my hon. Friend. We must take care to avoid warnings of raids which may not mature. Yet I do think that the experience gained on Saturday shows that warnings of a very useful character may be given if it is quite clear that aeroplanes are going to reach London. I wish to ask the Home Secretary whether the Home Office itself did not issue certain warnings a few minutes before the raid on Saturday morning. I understand that they stopped a bus which was opposite the Home Office and that everybody in the bus took refuge in the basement of the Home Office. There is a splendid organisation under the 1637 control of my right hon. Friend throughout London—the Metropolitan Police. They have most accurate information, and I think that perhaps a fifteen or twenty minutes' warning by them might be extremely useful. From what I have heard, and from what I have read in this morning's paper, there is a consensus of opinion to the effect that there was no panic in the City, and also that a great dual of life was saved by people taking shelter instead of remaining in the streets. I do think, as the people behaved so splendidly, that it may go far to defeat the machinations of the enemy if we had, with the aid of the excellent organisation at the disposal of the Home Secretary, a system of short warnings given by the Metropolitan Police. I would ask my right hon. Friend whether he does not think, in view of the experience gained on Saturday, that such a system would be useful in saving life?
§ Mr. WILES
I would like the Home Secretary to tell us who is responsible in London, when a raid takes place, for the official warnings which are given in certain cases. I believe that a system of warnings has been arranged. When the raid took place about three weeks ago—I do not remember the date, though I was within about 30 yards of a bomb which fell—I understand that warnings which had been arranged through the Department of the right hon. Gentleman, or through some official Department, were not in some cases given. For instance, in the telegraph office the warning, I understand, was not given, and therefore there was a great deal of fright among the women telegraphists working in that place. Then, I understand, that the railway managers should have been communicated with, and if that had been done I believe that at Liverpool Street, for instance, the loss of life might have been avoided. The feeling in London is that there is a lack of co-ordination about the warnings which have been given. I understand that originally the aircraft were in charge of the Navy, and then of the War Office, and now I understand that the giving of warnings is under the management, of the Home Secretary. We London Members, now that we have had this second raid at our own doors, would ask the Home Secretary to be good enough to confer with his colleagues in the War Office and the Admiralty, if necessary, and see that, if it is thought wise, there should be a system of warning. I myself do not 1638 know whether it is or not. I want to hear about it. If it is considered wise, then let us have the warnings given, and if anybody is responsible for not giving the warnings that is a matter which ought to receive very severe punishment. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to tell the House who is responsible for official warnings when raids take place.
§ Mr. ROWLANDS
I believe that it is usual in most cases to give some kind of warning to the heads of various munition works in connection with expected air-raids. I would like to know whether on Saturday that warning was given to all, the works inside the Metropolitan area. I am told—I do not pledge myself to the facts of the case—that in at least, one very big establishment the mass of the people did not get this notice. The result is that they are very much perturbed because-they did not get the notice that was given in other cases. I am not pledging myself to any special system of warning, but I do think that consideration should be given by the Home Secretary to the question whether, in certain cases at least, this warning ought not to be given. On Saturday when going over one of the areas that were very severely handled, I was. astounded, comparing things with the conditions of the 13th of June, at the number of casualties being so few as they were, considering the material damage that was done. But on inquiry I found that the Specials of the locality had had warning, and that these had got round and that the people had sought cover in a way in which they did not on 13th June. The same applies to the whole City of London and those areas without it. I would like the Home Secretary to reply as to the giving of warning to the employés in munition works, and if there was any neglect—I can tell him the name of the place privately—whether he will see that it does not occur again.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir G. Cave)
In reply to the statements which have been made I hope that the Committee will understand the present position under which warnings are given, not by the Home Office or the police authorities, but by the Home Forces. A warning of a possible air raid—it is no more than that—comes to the general headquarters of the Home Forces in London. They issue warnings by telephone or otherwise to certain places and to certain institutions, being places where immediate action 1639 should be taken for the purposes of the public safety—such places, for instance, as the naval and military establishments, the police, the fire brigades, the hospitals, and I do not say all the munition factories, but certain factories where immediate action is thought to be necessary if there is even the possibility of an air raid. For instance, it is obvious to the Committee that if there is a munition factory where an explosion may occur in the case of a hit by a bomb, it is exceedingly important that those in charge of the factory should know that there is even the bare possibility of an air raid, so that precautions may be taken in lime. The present position is that warnings do not come under me at all. The warnings actually given are given by the military authority, and the Home Office only comes into it as taking a very great interest in the safety of the population of London, and being, therefore, desirous of having the utmost precautions taken for the safety of the population. With regard to those private warnings, warnings by telephone, I want to say most distinctly that hon. Members are in error in thinking that certain persons knew of this air raid at seven o'clock in the morning, and—
§ Sir G. CAVE
One hon. Member said seven o'clock, and another says half-past eight. That is quite a mistake. Nobody in London knew of the possibility of an air raid until long after that time—considerably after nine o'clock. The point to-day is the same as on previous occasions—is it desirable, in addition to these private warnings, to give public warnings that an air raid is impending? I do not think, with all respect to my hon. Friend who suggested it. that a promise for further private warnings to be given by the police will be sufficient, because it is impossible for the police, who have only very short notice before the enemy arrives, in the time at their disposal to give adequate warnings even to buildings of importance in their districts such as schools. It is only by some system of warnings that reach everybody that this could be done. Take the case of schools alone. There are 2,400 of them in London, and it would be quite impossible in the time, which is sometimes not more than from ten to fifteen minutes, which elapses between the warning being received and 1640 the arrival of the enemy, to carry out a system of giving special notice to all places of that kind.
§ Mr. BOWERMAN
May I point out that on Saturday the schools were closed, and that the children were at home in their own places?
§ Sir G. CAVE
I had, of course, in mind the days when the schools would be open and the children actually there. I pass then to the question about giving a general public warning of impending air raids. The decision which was announced by me was a decision of the Government, and the reasons which moved the Government to that decision and which have been given in this House and in another place, still hold good. Nothing, I think, has occurred to throw doubt on those reasons, though of course it is a question which the House has to consider. For instance, it still remains true that the warnings which we receive now are warnings from the coast. Those are dispatched at the moment when an enemy aeroplane is seen off the coast, and there is a possibility of invasion, of the enemy coming over, and they are dispersed over a large area. We had a week or two ago four warnings of air raids in London, and only one air raid, and last week we had another case of a warning and no air raid at all. Therefore the House will recognise that to give a general warning in every case is a very serious responsibility, because it means the general stoppage of work, often for some hours, in some cases for the whole day. Where a great factory is warned of a possible air raid it is quite natural that some of the men should desire to go home to see if their own families are safe, and they do not return to work on that day. That is human nature, and you cannot alter that. It is not only a question of loss of time and inconvenience, but it is also a serious loss in munition factories, where work for the War is going on and where the loss of a day's work or half a day's work is a very serious matter indeed. Then we have to consider the serious public loss. It is undesirable to cause general public alarm unless there is some real cause for it. Take the case of an alarm given at a school. The natural tendency is for the children to go home, and the stronger tendency is for the parents to go to the school for their children. There have been cases where the school authorities have begged the police to prevent the parents from coming to the school when an air raid has 1641 been rumoured. That, of course, means danger, not only for the children but for the parents also, who collect outside the school, adding to the confusion, and to the danger to parents and children alike. Then it is the nature of our people not to run indoors, but to run out of doors to see what it is all about.
Next there is the serious consideration that if you give an alarm whenever there is the possibility of an air raid, many of which prove to be false alarms, the effect in time would be to defeat the very object of giving warning, and you would often find people saying, "It is only one of the usual warnings," and they might not pay attention to a warning of actual danger. These are reasons which still hold good, and they are reasons which are to be borne in mind on one side of the question. On the other side, I quite agree that there are very serious and real considerations, and I am quite sure that the Committee realise that they will receive the attention of the Government in coming to a decision. They have no object in view except to ascertain the best possible way of securing the safety of the public. The points which appeal to me and to hon. Members are these: The first is that if there is a raid coming it does appear fair that those people who are sensible and prudent people should have such information as the public authorities possess, so that they may take cover if they are wise enough. The second point is this, and it is also a strong one, that if you can give a general warning of a raid, it is open to big institutions, and to the owners of buildings where there are large staffs, to put into operation this provisional programme of raid drills, which have been prepared in so many of these places, and to get the people into safety in the basements. These are, I quite agree, considerations of great force, and some light has been thrown on the question by the experience of Saturday. As to the conduct of the people oil that day, I cannot speak too strongly of their perfect steadiness during and after the raid. There was curiosity, a certain amount of rashness, people coming out to see what was going on, but there was nothing like panic in any part of London; and it is, I believe, true that in those parts of London where the raid was actually taking effect there was a greater disposition to take cover and to exercise proper caution than there was on previ- 1642 vious occasions. I think the habit of caution is growing, and it is right to take that into account. There is this further consideration. In several places where bombs were dropped precautions had already been taken. I find that in more than one case the moment the guns were heard, and it was realised that the raid was coming over London, the precautionary drill, that had already been prepared, was put into operation, and the staffs were got down into the basement, and it is quite possible that by these means many lives were saved.
§ Mr. BILLING
If that is the general idea of the bombardments, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to remember that warnings are not so necessary to-day as they will be in the immediate future, when the magnitude of the raids increases.
§ Sir G. CAVE
The hon. Gentleman rather misapprehends the tendency of what I was saying. The point of my remarks was that in these large buildings precautions were taken. I know that, in one instance, before ten o'clock action was taken, and the drill was put in operation, with the result that when the raiders arrived the whole of the staff were on the lower floors of the building—in that case the ground floor; it was a substantial building. The bomb that was dropped upon it did not reach the lower floors, which were protected by concrete ceilings, and, as a matter of fact, when the raiders dropped a heavy bomb on that building it only penetrated to the floor of the uppermost story of the building. It happened to be a concrete floor, and the thing went no further. The result was that not a single person was killed in the building, which contained hundreds. There were injuries suffered by two men who were slightly cut by glass that was broken by the shock. That was the only injury sustained in that building, although a man just outside in the street was killed. I think that illustrates very strongly the advantage of taking steps inside buildings when a warning occurs. I must say that what occurred on Saturday has deepened in my mind the impression that preparation of that kind, in the event of raids, may result in saving lived.
§ Sir G. CAVE
I make this statement perfectly frankly, that if knowledge reaches the authorities in. those buildings that a raid is coining the steps which they may take may have the effect of saving life. This experience deepens in my mind the impression I have always had, that in buildings of this kind warning is necessary. Experience is gained from the raids which occur, and, of course, we are bound to keep a watch on events, to take note of them, and see what conclusions can be drawn from them. Having regard to the experience of Saturday, I think it is quite right to say that tile matter must be reconsidered, and that we must have regard to the new facts. I think the Committee may take it that all these considerations will certainly not be lost sight of, and that they will be discussed again. I do not intend to go into detail as to what might be done. I think there is one consideration in the minds of the Committee, and it has been in my mind, I must say, for some weeks past, whether it would not be possible, not to issue a public warning of a distant event on the coast, but to find some system under which we might give a shorter notice of the immediate impendency of a raid. If we know that the raid is actually approaching us, and if the raid is almost certainly coming for London, then I think there will be less objection to convoying that information to the public. To give public notice of a raid that may or may not occur, as my hon. Friend has said, helps the enemy, and it is exactly what they would like to have—one of the things which they would like to see us do; but when there is really a question of a raid coming it is, I agree, a different thing. I may say I have discussed this matter with the military authorities. There are serious difficulties in the way, but difficulties are made to be got over. I do not know whether it will be possible to get over the obstacles which now stand in the way of this course, but, certainly the Government will bear in mind the considerations which have been brought forward in this House, and take steps to secure the public safety. It would not be right for me not to add this, that the public authorities in London have been good enough to consult us on this question, and they loyally accepted the Government's decision on the question of warnings being given. Those who disagreed, as well as those who agreed, have 1644 loyally accepted our decision, and if we think it right to institute a system of warnings for this purpose, I am sure they will be the first to give us their assistance.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I think the Committee has heard with satisfaction the statement of my right hon. Friend that the Government are going to reconsider this question of warning, not only in principle, but in method. Everyone who has listened to the right hon. Gentleman must see the delicate and difficult character of the position to be taken by the warning authorities, and I think the right hon. Gentleman's judgment that warning should be given, if possible, only when the raid is absolutely imminent, ought, in principle, to be the guide by which the Government and the warning authorities might avoid danger of false alarm on one hand or on the other. There is a great deal of difference between Zeppelin raids which occur in the night and these daylight aeroplane raids, and I can quite understand that a prejudice has arisen against warnings because these warnings have been studied in relation to night alarms The principal object of a warning is to induce people first of all to go into their houses and to clear the stre[...] in the vicinity of the attack. When they are in the streets people arc liable to be injured not merely by bombs but by the blast of a bomb, which would not hurt them if they were in a house, by splinters of masonry, and to a considerable extent-by falling splinters of our own shrapnel shell, or of exploding shrapnel shell. The principle which I think will become more. established as the year advances and which prompts people to go inside a dwelling place when an aeroplane raid is in progress is thoroughly sound, and should be encouraged and facilitated, and if necessary compelled and actuated, by the Government. At night people are not in the street, but are asleep in their dwelling-houses, and I can quite understand that in some of these towns where people have been repeatedly awakened up and disturbed needlessly by night alarms it has been found unsatisfactory. By day, however, the streets are crowded and a warning ought to be given, especially if it can be given at ten or fifteen minutes' notice, for people to leave the streets and go into their houses.
There ought to be a clear instruction from the Government as to what people are to do when an air raid takes place. 1645 I have no doubt a great many Members have been guilty of the foolish conduct of going out on balconies, or into the streets or open places, to see what is going on, and I dare say some will be foolish enough to do so again; but there ought to be perfectly clear guidance given by the Government and the authorities that when an air raid takes place it is the duty of every person to go into his house, or any available building, and to seek such accommodation in the lower parts of those buildings as is convenient. I certainly think that householders in the neighbourhood of an air raid ought, as no doubt they will be perfectly ready to do, to make sure that their front door is open in case passers-by in the street wish to take refuge. I am quite certain that if the Government persevere, which is a very necessary thing, alone the line which the right hon. Gentleman has indicated this afternoon, they will find a way by which our streets and the top parts of buildings can be cleared as if by magic at very short notice only when an air raid is actually imminent, and that that will certainly be the means of preventing a great deal of loss of life. Do let us remember that the main object of the Germans in these raids is probably to inflict casualties on life. I do not know whether it is true, but I have heard it said that some of their bombs arc shrapnel bombs. If that is so, it is clear that the enemies' object is not the destruction of buildings or matériel, but the infliction of casualties on the civilian population. It is, therefore, our duty, and the duty of the Government, to do everything by which this effort may be frustrated defensively— I do not speak of other methods which are very important—and the streets and top parts of buildings cleared as expeditionary as possible. I do not think the Government need be ashamed of changing their mind or of modifying their policy. We are all in this business together, and the important point is to find out what is the host thing to do. I am quite satisfied by what the right hon. Gentleman has stated that the matter is being considered on lines which will enable us increasingly to approach a right solution of this difficulty, which is by no means an insoluble problem.
§ Mr. KILEY
I am sure the Committee will be grateful to the Homo Secretary for the statement he has made. Ho has referred to two matters, the first that there is some division of opinion among 1646 the mayors of London on the subject of warnings. Last year I formed part of a deputation that waited on the authorities in this connection, and this peculiar position was then discovered: that the boroughs that had been raided were in favour of warnings and the boroughs which had not been punished were not at all so keen on getting notice. As representing one of the boroughs that was largely interested at that time, and which has never failed to have a visit when aircraft has come to London and damage has been done, I am on behalf of that borough very keen that warning should be given: If one wanted any justification for that attitude surely the statement of the Home Secretary supplies it very forcibly, the statement regarding the building where all the people were able to get into safety, and although there was a bomb on the building itself there was not a single life lost. With regard to warnings, I understand there are two, one given from thirty to sixty minutes from the coast—that is a considerable time—and another about seven minutes before the aircraft reach London. That, I understand, is the general practice. If that is so, I do not foresee any difficulty in a reasonable amount of warning being given to large factories and institutions, and I think also to policemen on point duty.
§ Mr. KILEY
In any case, there is no serious difficulty in giving warning to men on point duty. For instance, in my own firm on Saturday at ten o'clock we got calls Oil certain of our men staff to report themselves for service. We had information, and the result was that the staff got down to the basement; but when I went into the street before closing I found that panic had reached the street because the Artillery had begun to fire. There was a taxicab where the driver had left his engine running in the middle of the street. That will show the danger that will occur to street traffic if there is not some notice given so that taxicabs can be put out of the way and stopped. From every point of view I urge the Government to consider, and with all sympathy, the desire that has been expressed this afternoon that warnings should be given.
§ Mr. BOWERMAN
With reference to the schools being closed on Saturday, I only want to mention that the experience 1647 in the North of London amounts to this. There were hundreds of youngsters in an open space, and in consequence of no warning being given they had to be driven into the huts which the gunners use and closed in, the result being that when firing commenced the mothers were leaving the houses to look after the youngsters who were in a terrified condition. There seemed to be plenty of time on Saturday morning to give a warning of some kind, and I wish to point out what happened in this case.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £1,000.
I desire to bring before the Committee, and especially to the attention of the Home Secretary, the question of the treatment of those people who are in prison for reasons of conscientious objection. I am aware that in raising this question in this Chamber at the present time I do so in unfavourable circumstances. I do so at a time when it is especially difficult for the case of these men to be considered without passion and without prejudice. If only for that reason, I desire especially to appeal to the Committee for their forbearance while I endeavour to put—I hope tree from exaggeration and prejudice—the case for these men. The Committee may or may not be aware that at the present time there are some hundreds of prisoners under the charge of the Home Secretary who are in prison because they could not conscientiously accept any form of military or substituted service, and who, though the genuineness of their objections has never been questioned, have failed to secure exemption under the Military Service Acts. I want to give definite samples. At the present time, Mr. Clifford Allen is in prison for the third time, and is undergoing a sentence of two years' hard labour. Mr. Stephen Hobhouse is in prison for the second or third time, and is undergoing a sentence of hard labour. The question is the more difficult to put in this Chamber because it is closely allied with the military question. The Home Secretary has not entirely a free hand in this matter, and there are certain aspects of it with which I cannot deal because they can only be dealt with on a War Office or an analogous Vote. It is pertinent, however, for me to remind the right hon. Gentleman of the characters of Mr. Clifford Allen and Mr. Stephen Hob- 1648 house and why they are for the moment inmates of prisons of which he has charge.
Although I single out Mr. Clifford Allen and Mr. Stephen Hobhouse, I do not wish to state that their cases are more important than those of the several hundreds of persons who are in prison for the same reason, but as they are less distinguished men or men whose public career is not so well known to the public. Not at all. I only take these two men as examples, and I wish expressly to state that, of course, the same reasons and the same principles hold good in the case of these other hundreds of persons. It is, I say, pertinent for me to remind the right hon. Gentleman of why these two, and others, are inmates of the prison. There can be no doubt whatever—I do not think either the Home Secretary or the Under-Secretary for the Home Department will for a moment dispute my statement—that when the House was passing the Military Service Acts the people they had in their minds to protect under the conscientious exemption clause were men like Mr. Clifford Allen and Mr. Stephen Hobhouse whose conscientious objections to war were beyond any question whatever, and it is only because the Acts were somewhat loosely drawn and because the intentions of the Government were not carried out by the tribunals that these men are in prison at all. I believe that is common ground. Other men have received absolute exemptions and no problem has arisen in their case. The men who have received absolute exemptions were not more sincere than these of whom I am speaking. Mr. Clifford Allen's career is known, I think, to almost all in this House. He has had a very distinguished career of unselfish service for the public good, and my right hon. Friend who sits on the Labour Bench (Mr. Bowerman) does not need me to remind him of the service Mr. Clifford Allen rendered to the movement with which he is particularly associated before the outbreak of this War, while it is known that by reason of these public services which Mr. Allen performed in the slums of Manchester and other cities he contracted a serious disease, and was, indeed, already of a very frail physique.
If the Under-Secretary of State will allow me to say so, the answer which he gave to me in the House a few days ago was not an adequate answer on this matter, and, indeed, was not sufficiently candid, and I will try and show him why. He 1649 admitted that Mr. Allen was frail physically, and that his illness and condition might have had a tuberculous origin, but he went on to say that he was not at the time suffering from tuberculosis. I think that was not quite adequate. He will know, if he has had a full report, that Mr. Allen has always declined to allow his physical condition to be put forward as a ground for special treatment, he has taken his stand always on principle, but he will know that he contracted tubercular complaint of the spine, and that his present condition is due, therefore, to tuberculosis. It is merely a pedantic point to say that at the actual moment he is not suffering from an active form of that disease. My right hon. Friend's case is that he is very frail physically and suffering from a condition which had its origin in tuberculosis, and that he is very ill indeed. There is another respect in which his reply was not satisfactory and which admitted a meaning which was not the truth; it was capable of an interpretation which does not give us the truth. What are the facts? Mr. Allen announced, before his third sentence of imprisonment, that he could no longer obey prison orders.
He set forth in a pamphlet or letter, which I think is a moving document and is a tribute to the genuineness of his convictions and a tribute to his character, the masons why he could no longer obey orders in prison and do prison work. As a result of that disobedience he has been sentenced several times to punishment during his present imprisonment. That punishment has taken the form of a low diet, bread and water, solitary confinement, and the other forms of punishment which are perfectly legal under the administration of the prison, and which comply with the various rules laid down. As a result of that treatment, solitary confinement, low diet, hard labour and all the rigours of hard labour, the health of this delicate man has broken down. I think I put a question about his physical condition last Wednesday and on Thursday, the day following, the Home Office authorised the removal of Mr. Allen from his cell to hospital, but the question that was answered, and the reply which was given, stated that his physical condition showed no deterioration as a result of imprisonment. What did that mean? Here is this man suffering from illness who is frail physically, a condition to which my hon. Friend has drawn attention; he is sentenced to these succeeding 1650 forms of punishment, he breaks down under it and is removed ultimately to hospital in a very serious physical state, and the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Brace) rises in this House and says his physical condition shows no deterioration owing to his imprisonment. To what is it due? It is obviously due to the rigour of his punishment and the general conditions of his imprisonment.
What has been the conception in our public life with regard to the punishment of hard labour? Before war broke out two years' imprisonment with hard labour was a punishment which was reserved for some of the most ardent criminals. The right hon. Gentleman (Sir George Cave) and the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Brace) do not need me to remind them of the kind of criminals, and the kind of crimes, for which the punishment of two years' hard labour is inflicted. It is a more rigorous form of punishment than penal servitude, for it is not legal to impose a sentence of more than two years' imprisonment, without transferring it to penal servitude, because it is of so arduous a form that it would not be possible, without danger to life, for a longer term to be imposed. That form of punishment, reserved for some of the most ardent and lowest criminals in the community, is the punishment that is now being inflicted upon gentlemen with the record, a public record, of the highest, character and of undoubted religious convictions, like Mr. Stephen Hobhouse or Mr. Clifford Allen. The right hon. Gentleman may tell me, quite truly, that he is not responsible for his sentence; lie may tell me that he is not responsible for any failure of the tribunal which has led to this result, and that he is not responsible for the clumsiness of the wording of the original Military Service Act. I know that is true, but the right hon. Gentleman occupies a peculiar position in the Constitution of our country, and a very great position. In the office which he holds he has, among other things, expressly to redress miscarriages of justice like this; he is there to review matters of this kind. He may tell me that these men are members of the Army, are military prisoners, and that he cannot act without the assent of the military authorities. I say, without any hesitation, that, having regard to the peculiar functions which have always been associated with his office, if he cannot act without the 1651 military authorities, he should use his influence with the military authorities to secure the release of these men. I will not dwell upon, that point further, because I believe this is a case in which he has got to get the permission of the War Office, or that may be held to be the view, but surely he can do this immediately; he can say that Mr. Allen and Mr. Hobhouse, and the hundreds of less distinguished men who are imprisoned on precisely the same grounds, should be at least placed in the first division, and that a modification of their treatment shall take place. On the ground of humanity alone this should be immediately done in the case of a delicate man suffering from a long illness of the nature that Mr. Clifford Allen is suffering from, and I should say, too, that it should be done on the grounds of humanity in the case of the whole of these men, who have committed no crime, and who only in a pedantic sense are called in this House and elsewhere criminals.
The right hon. Gentleman may refuse, and he may say that men who will not obey military orders must take the consequences. If he says that he will receive some cheers in this House; he will receive, it may be, the plaudits of some outside and the support of a certain kind of newspaper outside; but I believe he will not take this course, because he has a far nobler view of what his functions as Home Secretary are, and because he realises that he holds that office in order to redress these injustices; because he realises, too, in the middle of all this passion and prejudice, passion and prejudice which must always accompany a War like this, and the conditions under which we live, that it is above all things necessary that justice and mercy shall be observed to these distinguished citizens, to whom I, at least, desire to pay my tribute for their sincerity, for the greatness of their character, and for the devoted public services they have rendered long before this War, services which the whole nation has benefited from. On all these grounds I believe the right hon. Gentleman will see to it that the case of such men must, be met, apart from this atmosphere of prejudice and passion. I believe he realises that, and I sincerely trust he will be able to take steps to put an end to a state of affairs which is outraging the consciences of greatnumbers of people, which becomes a greater scandal every moment it is allowed to go on. I 1652 believe there will be an increasing demand amongst all circles in this country that this form of persecution shall be discontinued. I hope I have been able to place this matter before the Home Secretary and the Under-Secretary without undue feeling. It is a matter on which I feel very strongly, so strongly, indeed, that I can hardly trust myself to speak upon it. If I have spoken with great feeling it is because I feel strongly, because I feel that the good name of the country is at stake, because I feel, too, that the many pledges given by the Government are at stake, and that the character of the Government is at stake. I see before me the predecessor of the Home Secretary, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cleveland (Mr. Herbert Samuel), and I should like to ask him if he is going to intervene in this Debate; whether the cases of these men are not precisely the cases he had in mind when he was assisting to pilot through this House the first Military Service Bill, and I feel sure that he will be able to add his voice to mine that this error of justice which has taken place, and failure to give the protection which the House intended to give to these men, is a matter which should be attended to and put right by administrative actions. For these reasons I lay the matter before the right hon. Gentleman (Sir George Cave), and 1 beg to move to reduce the Vote by £1,000.
§ Mr. KING
A few weeks ago I put a notice on the Paper to reduce this Estimate by £100, but that of my hon. Friend has been moved before me. I am rather sorry, as I always like to let the Front Bench down as easily as possible, that I had not the opportunity of moving this reduction. For some time I have been anxious to see this Vote put down. Last Thursday I asked the Prime. Minister whether we could have this Vote at an early date and lie replied that it would not be possible until several other Votes had been moved. A quarter of an hour after that answer lie announced after questions that on this day the Home Office Vote would be taken. It appears, therefore, that it was only at the last moment the Government changed its mind and decided to put the Vote down. The minds, intentions, needs, and actions of all Governments are wonderful to me, but I am sure nothing has surprised or pleased me more than the intention of the Government on a quarter of an hour's notice to put down 1653 this Vote. I thank them very much, especially because it means bringing the Home Secretary here for another day. I am sure the whole House recognises if there is any member of the Front Bench who deserves a rest it is the Home Secretary. He is always courteous, always present, and recently, in connection with the Representation of the People Bill, has been very much in evidence. I therefore thank him for his attendance. My hon. Friend who has just spoken has drawn attention to what I think he must have convinced the House is a wasteful, cruel and futile policy with regard to the absolutist conscientious objectors. I do not intend to pursue that theme, which I think my hon. Friend followed out very well indeed, more than to say that I entirely agree with him, and I specially wish to endorse what he said about Mr. Stephen Hobhouse, who is the son of perhaps the most distinguished Somerset man living at the present time. I refer to the right hon. Henry Hobhouse, who was for many years an honoured and prominent Member of this House. Mr. Stephen Hobhouse has devoted his whole life in the most self-denying way to work amongst the people. I feel sure, especially in view of the actual war work which Stephen Hobhouse was doing when he was summoned to appear before a tribunal, that it is nothing less than vindictive and futile to persecute him in such a way.
I had a question upon the Paper to-day about the case of Mr. Petroff. He is a man for whom I have a very great deal of respect, though I differ from him fundamentally in a great many of his principles and practices. His case at the present time has assumed a new importance. Mr. Petroff, as I informed the Committee a year ago, was a Socialist who went to speak in the Clyde area in Scotland. He was associated with Mr. John Maclean, an eminent Socialist educationist, who has just been liberated by the Government. I am going to ask the Home Secretary definitely this question: Will he let Petroff, who was a friend and fellow-worker with John Maclean, now out of prison? There is a great deal more reason to, let Petroff out than to let Maclean. In a court of law Maclean was convicted. In a court of law Petroff was summoned and actually fined. He appealed, and his conviction was quashed, and he got, I think, ten guineas damage for the false conviction. Immediately he came out, cleared by the court of law, he was put into prison, or interned, I suppose we must call it, under 1654 Regulation 14 B, and for about two years he has been interned without legal trial. Just recently the case of Petroff, who is, of course, very well known to the Russian Revolution and who is personally a friend of men in power there, came up in Russia, and one of the British Government agents was asked about him, and he gave this answer—that Petroff was in prison as the result of a trial. You might think from that that Petroff had been tried and condemned. He is certainly in prison as the result of a trial, but he is not there from any legal sentence, and anything more calculated to show up the quibbling meanness of the Home Office than the reply for Russian consumption, I cannot imagine. But it is not only this question of Petroff being interned and his harsh treatment that is causing anxiety to his many friends at the present time. It is the increasing severity with which he has been treated since the Russian Revolution.
Petroff was now at the Cornwallis Institute, Islington. I want to say at once that I have no fault to find with General Halliday, the commandant and head of that institution. General Halliday, in my opinion, is certainly an excellent officer and a kindly man, and I have nothing but respect for the way in which he carries out the very arduous and difficult duties. The remarks I have to make about the treatment of Petroff are certainly in no sense to be taken as condemnatory of General Halliday. The manner in which Petroff has been treated may be exemplified in various ways. When I asked first in this House why he had been interned it was very difficult to get a clear answer. Eventually they found out that Petroff was married to a German woman and had gone through no form or ceremony which could be considered in this country as a legally binding marriage. The ground for his internment has, therefore, been given that he was in association with enemy aliens, meaning his wife. That I may not minimise the matter, let me state that I feel very sorely about the way in which the wife has been treated. She was at first left entirely alone as if she were his legal wife, but when he was interned they found out that she was perhaps technically a German subject, and they put her into Aylesbury Prison, where she is at present, and while she has been there she has been suffering from increasingly severe treatment. Only last week I received information from two different quarters which 1655 they had taken every means to stop coming out. It is this: that Mrs. Petroff is now made to consort with German women of an infamous kind, and that German prostitutes suffering from venereal diseases are put along with her, and she is now compelled to take baths, not only to ask when she wants one, but compelled, as part of the prison discipline, in the same bath just immediately following after women of this character. As I dare say my right hon. Friend knows, the fact has become such public property, a resolution has been passed by one of the labour representation committees and trades councils, with which Petroff is well acquainted, protesting against this.
I should hardly believe that such things were the case, and I should not mention them here, though they have been brought to me by two distinct witnesses who arc totally dissociated from one another, were it not for the further fact that during the last three weeks Petroff has been prevented from corresponding with his wife. I say to his credit that from the early days of their internment Petroff was always more anxious about corresponding with his wife than about anything else, and he has kept up a constant correspondence with his wife up to the last three weeks. I ask as a second question of the Home Secretary, Why has the correspondence between Petroff and his wife been stopped, and why are they both being treated in a way more severe than formerly 1 I am going to give to my right hon. Friend what I believe is the real explanation of the continued incarceration and increased cruelty of treatment meted out to this poor man. It is this: That Petroff, being a Russian subject in close association with leading members of the Workmen's and Soldiers' Delegates in Petrograd, representations have come from thorn to our Government to let him go brick to Russia, which he ardently desires to do. I see that the Home Secretary shakes his head at that statement. I am quite sure that if they did not come through him they did come in certain quarters, and that the Russian Embassy knows about the proposals that have been made for taking Petroff back to Russia. The fact is that since it was brought to the notice of Petroff that he might be allowed to go back to Russia he said, "I will not go without my wife; I would sooner stay here in prison than go without my wife." When it was pointed out, his 1656 wife being technically a German subject, that there were grave difficulties, and that ho could not expect to take a German woman back to Russia, he replied quite frankly, "I am willing to be married to this woman who has been my constant associate and friend for ten years, and with whom, as a refugee, I left Russia first from the Czar's tyranny, and with whom, as a refugee, I left Germany from the Kaiser's tyranny, and with whom I have lived here for many years. I am willing to go through your marriage rite with her." Application, I believe, has actually been made with that object. Certainly I am sure that Petroff had admitted his readiness to marry this woman according to English law.
I ask my right hon. and learned Friend this third question: Why cannot this poor man be allowed to marry this woman to whom he has been faithful so many years, and why cannot the two be allowed to go away as Russian man and wife to Russia? I hope the right hon. and learned Gentlemen will do me the honour of answering that question. I have got some more facts which I wish to lay before the Committee. I am almost sorry to have to bring them, but I do so because I think they so entirely bear out the stories I am telling, and so amply help to prove what I contend, that the Government, handling of this case, and similar cases, is clumsy, cruel, and futile, and only causes friction and injustice; also that greater generosity, a little confidence, and a little openness might set things so easily and quickly right. Here are other facts about Petroff. He was in the habit of seeing—I am speaking now of several months ago—a number of Russian gentlemen who were allowed under the ordinary regulations which attach to an internment camp. Suddenly a certain number of persons were put upon a list as not to be allowed to visit that man any longer, and the reason, I am given to understand, was that these had all discussed with him his legal position and were desirous of a case being cited for a writ of habeas corpus which would bring the whole of the facts of the man before the country. As a result these persons who were discussing this matter with him were refused further admission to see him. Let me point out that this case of Petroff—which I am making at some length—
§ Mr. KING
Is important for this reason, that it is symptomatic of the attitude taken up by our Government towards the Russian Revolution. If you knew that a man before the Revolution was a revolutionary in sympathy, and was an enemy of the Tzar's Government, and was, therefore, in your judgment, hampering the War by his unwillingness to submit to the Tzar's Government, well and good; you were entitled to say so, and entitled possibly to put the man under restraint, or certainly under observation and restriction. Now, however, when we have to rely upon a good understanding with Russia, to put increased restrictions and injustices on these men is nothing less than foolish and futile. I protest as an Englishman, not only as one who loves justice, but on grounds of high policy, against this cruelty towards a really eminent and intellectual Russian. I will reinforce my point by another fact that occurred only on Saturday. I should like the right hon. and learned Gentleman to make some inquiry into the facts which I am now going to state. There is in the Adelphi district, near the Strand, an office which is used by certain agents of the Russian Workmen's and Soldiers' Delegates. These, as everybody knows who has followed the Russian Revolution, have obtained from the Provisional Government, and from our Government, the right to send their representatives on various intelligence and other work to this country, and certain delegates—call them representatives if you like—come to this country, and some of them have been occupying offices an the Adelphi. Oil Saturday last Scotland Yard detectives went to that office and asked to see the landlord. Though they found that the" rent was paid, they asked the landlord, on behalf of Scotland Yard, to turn out those Russian representatives. Those Russian representatives have had a week's notice to quit as a result of Scotland Yards interference. What does it mean? Do you think a fact like that is not going to cause friction and suspicion? If you object to the men that are there, why not go in a straightforward way and tell them what are your objections? Why do you send your detectives in plain clothes to go behind people's backs and ask their landlords to give them notice to quit? Anything more mean and more foolish, and, I would add, more contemptible than this sort of action I cannot conceive. This is not an unusual or a single case.
1658 I turn to another set of questions altogether. Even though feeling at the present time is, I think, very embittered and irritated against enemy aliens, I am going to say a word or two on behalf of those enemy aliens who are suffering very severely from internment. I have in my mind the cases of some dozen or more of matured men who have been here perhaps twenty or thirty years in this land, who have married English wives, who have had sons born and bred here who are now in the British Army; yet, because the fathers are technically German citizens they have been imprisoned now for something like two years. I wonder whether the Committee realises that the total number of prisoners in the various belligerent countries is at present about 6,000,000. These are waiting till the end of the War to be released. I sometimes think that such men are entitled to as much sympathy as the soldiers at the Front. Very often they are ruined men, not only in estate but in body and mind. I am told by a mental specialist that he know many cases of men who have been mentally deranged by prison, and that the mental and nervous weakening which must be imposed on nearly all of these 6,000,000 men means, after the War, a probable great increase in lunacy. However, I make no sort of excuse for my plea on behalf of interned enemy aliens against whom there is nothing but the fact of nationality. Take the case of a woman I saw to-day, and with whom I had a conversation. Her husband came over to this country as a boy of five. He has never been in Germany since. He is now about fifty years of age. He married this Englishwoman, who had never been in Germany, and does not know a word of German, but who, of course, by her marriage is technically a German subject. They have two sons fighting in our Army. One of them has been wounded; another is now in the trenches. Yet her husband is treated as if he were a spy, and she herself, when the other day she came down to my neighbourhood in the country had to go and beg at one police office after another for a permit. I am informed that when she does come down to the country she is treated as dirt by the police whom she has to ask for permission to travel on the railway more than five miles. This is an Englishwoman, as much so as the right hon. and learned Gentleman is an Englishman.
1659 She has got perhaps, what the right hon. Gentleman has not, and certainly what I have not got—two sons fighting in the British Army. Yet she is treated in this way, and her husband is a prisoner. There are many eases of interned men who might safely be let out of internment at the present time; men who for years and years have had no association with Germany; men who possibly have sons in the British Army; men who will give some undertaking that they will stay here after the War and be naturalised; men who can get dozens of people to affirm as to their bona fides. I have one case here where the wife came to me—indeed, I have known the woman since she was a girl. She told me she could get at least twenty city men to give guarantees for £1,000 each for her husband's good behaviour if he were allowed to come out of the internment camp and was placed under only the ordinary restrictions. That is an individual case, but such cases might be multiplied by the hundred. These men are costing us something like £5 per week out of the taxes. Let them out, and they will add to the economic and industrial strength of the country. Yet the Home Secretary has not the courage, let alone the good feeling and humanity, to consider any policy like this at all.
I am glad to see my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy present, because I would appeal to him, and would point out that I am enforcing my argument by reference to what actually has been done in Scotland. He was for a short period, I believe, a member of the Advisory Committee on cases of internment in Scotland. When I was in Glasgow last month I had a conversation with a gentleman of foreign descent but of British birth and nationality. He was the secretary of a society which had been the means of obtaining the release from internment of about 150 men in Scotland. I presume, as my right hon. Friend was one of the Advisory Committee, he approved of these cases. At any rate, I could give my right hon. and learned Friend the details of a number of these cases in Scotland. I will not, for obvious reasons, particularise the districts, or go into any of the circumstances. In Scotland, however, these men have been let out on their own personal bond to be of good behaviour, and they had in each case given a guarantee that they would observe these rules. Though these men had been out, and going about 1660 in society, and pursuing their ordinary avocations for a couple of years, I am told that there has not been any objection raised in Scotland, and there has not been one single case of offence alleged against any one of these men. What has been the result? Instead of this large number of men being a burden upon the public they are doing their duty in the ordinary course of their lives.
§ Mr. KING
I will say this—that they were Jews. A certain number of them were Austrians. I will not say how many were Germans, but certainly several were Austrians, and I believe the large majority of them were Jews. It does not matter what they were. They were enemy aliens. They were not friendly aliens. There are other cases which I would willingly take up. There is the case of a young man— I have brought the case once or twice before the Committee—who does not talk German at all. He was born in Germany, and lived there for the first six weeks of his life. He is a very skilled mechanic, and at the beginning of the War had just completed a course in an engineering school, and I am told can design and make a gas engine, or an elaborate electrical plant. That man was summoned in a. Court of law for not being registered. His nationality was so doubtful that the Brentford bench of magistrates discharged him. He was arrested by detectives from Scotland Yard as he carne out of Court, and he has been in custody ever since. This young man of twenty-one, who several years before had actually changed his name to an English name because he desired, as soon as he could save money enough, to be naturalised, who does not talk German except with the greatest difficulty, and only lived six weeks in Germany when a baby, might now be making munitions, and is absolutely devoted to this country, yet you keep him in prison at a cost of£5 a week, and possibly breaking his health and sanity. I could, of course, multiply cases like this. I will put a definite question 1661 to my right hon. Friend. Will he now consider whether some of these men in internment might not, under guarantees of friends and bonds for good behaviour, or some similar process, be allowed to come out and take their part in doing work of national importance to this country, instead of being a burden to the community? Seeing that we are constantly taking more and more prisoners at the front, and the difficulty there is of finding accommodation for them, it would be a good beginning to let 100 or 200 enemy aliens out of internment camps in this connection. It might be safely done, and, as we hope and believe that the end of the War is approaching, it would make these men, instead of brooding over a sense of injustice, espouse our cause.
I see on the Treasury Bench my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, and that induces me to appeal to him on behalf of the conscientious objectors—not those who are suffering in prison, the so-called Absolutists, about whom my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Lanarkshire (Mr. Whitehouse) made so moving an appeal; but I want to appeal on behalf of those men who have accepted the Home Office scheme. On the one hand, the Absolutists say, "We will not submit to a militarist Government at this time"; but the case of the men who have accepted the Home Office scheme is totally different. First of all, they have been before the Central Tribunal, and have been held by the Central Tribunal to be genuine, You cannot, therefore, get at them on the ground that they are not genuine conscientious objectors. The Central Tribunal has said that these men are genuine. It will not do for the Treasury Bench to turn round and say that they are not genuine cases. The very tribunal which you have put up, including such militarists on it as the hon. Member for Ayr Burghs, admit that these men are genuine, and by accepting the Home Office scheme these men intimate that they arc ready to do work of national importance. I have had many talks with my hon. Friend on the subject, and he has made some candid remarks to me about them which I will not repeat, but which led me to think that there is one point in connection with the treatment of these men that is really very serious, namely, that you say they are genuine, you offer them a scheme in which they will do work of national importance, but as soon as you get them to work you do not give them 1662 work which they can fairly and reasonably be expected to do. That is my point. Take the whole case of the quarries near Aberdeen, where men died through exposure, where the very gravest irregularities were discovered, and where the Government practically put an end, in a very short space of time, to the attempt to put conscientious objectors who were weak and unskilled upon hard and difficult work which wanted a certain amount of experience, and which was doomed to failure.
Nearly all the work that you offer to these men, after they prove their genuineness, and say that they are ready to do work of national importance, is such work is they are inexperienced in and cannot do well. That is a condition that you make. If a man has been a schoolmaster, you say that whatever lie docs he must not do any more teaching. If a man has been a railway clerk—I know cases of this kind—you say that, though you want railway clerks or railway accountants at the present time, if they sire conscientious objectors they must do something else, and you put them on a farm. If a man has been working on a farm, and can go back to work on it, you try if you possibly can to give him some other work for which he is unsuitable, and, instead of getting work clone which is of national importance, you get all sorts of friction, difficulty, and failure, and you are absolutely wasting the national resources. These principles on which you act—very bad principles, as I think them—are exemplified by what is going on at Dartmoor. If there is anything that is necessary at the present time it is to cultivate the land, and you send something like 900 to 1,000 men out to a moor where they cannot possibly do any good agricultural work. I know it is said that sooner or later there will be a farm there for them, or there is a farm there for them, but you put something like four men on the acre, and the work that you give them to do is such that it is bound to be unproductive. Let me give you an instance of what I mean. You have got horses that you could take out on the land to plough and to take such manure as there is on the land. Instead of letting the horses do it, in order to find some work for the gangs of men superfluously there, you compel the men to take barrows and carts ridiculously heavy, harnessing together six or a dozen men to a vehicle. The result is that the utilisation of human strength that is going 1663 on in respect of 1,000 men of military age, who are willing to do work of national importance, is about as wasteful as anything that the Government has ever done. And just because a certain number of papers and extreme militarist Members of Parliament have entirely obscured the facts and misrepresented the real state of things, the Home Office is afraid to do anything to rectify a most wasteful and discreditable state of affairs.
There is one more question to which I will briefly call attention, to which I have already alluded incidentally—I mean the police methods of the Government which are now being used. People have come to me—and I will say now openly that people in the service of the Government have come to me—and expressed their shame and sorrow at the things that they have had to do under the direction of the Home Office and Scotland Yard. What I mean is this. Take the case which is probably well known to the right hon. Gentleman of an American lady, an authoress, with strong labour sympathies, a woman of wealth, refinement and culture, who, because of her sympathy with Ireland's national ideals and with Socialism, has been driven from one hotel to another in London. She has been made the subject of blackmail. She has been violently abused by officials of Scotland Yard when she has called there, and if it were not for her very tender attachment to this country I believe she would have left long ago, but she has personal as well as financial ties of long standing in this country. Oases like this which I have gone into personally with some trouble have convinced me that there is an amount of cruel, ruthless employment of the exceptional powers of the Government at this time which ought to be curbed. The Home Office, the police, the military authorities and the general government of the country are at this time conducted under exceptional power. We are willing that they should have those powers, but we do ask that they should use them with judgment and humanity, without cruelty, and consistently, not changing from day to day.
I have seen many cases of this kind, and I have expressed my readiness to go into several of them personally and make investigation, and this has naturally led to other cases. I say advisedly that I am more justified after my investigation in 1664 repeating my statement that the exceptional powers in the hands of the Home Office are used now with unnecessary harshness, and I would even say with a brutality which ought to be curbed. I have spoken on one or two matters personally to my right hon. Friend or his predecessor and other officials at the Home Office, and I am more and more convinced that this is a very serious matter, and if the right non. Gentleman were to pay a little more attention himself to these cases he would be able to restrain some of the really unauthorised actions of his subordinates. I will give one fact to bear out what I say. I have heard the Home Secretary say that he never signs a deportation order without personal knowledge of the case and without going through the papers. I do not know whether that is the rule which the right hon. Gentleman observes, but I know it was the rule of his predecessor. If he adopts that rule, I would like to know how were certain deportation orders signed and acted upon at the very time when the right hon. Gentleman was so ill that he was not able to see his private secretary, and I am told that for some time he absolutely saw nobody. During that time certain deportation orders were signed purporting to be signed by the right hon. Gentleman and were acted upon when he could not possibly have signed them.
§ Sir G. CAVE
When I was not well I signed certain deportation and other orders, but never without going through the papers. When I was unable to sign anything the Secretary of State for India signed for me.
§ Mr. KING
The explanation it not very satisfactory, because the right hon. Gentleman is a national asset, and he ought to have looked through the papers. In regard to these exceptional powers, I ask with the greatest assurance that I am asking a right and proper thing that exceptional care should be taken that these great powers are not unjustly or cruelly administered.
§ Captain S. GWYNN
The hon. Member for Mid-Lanark (Mr. Whitehouse) raised the question of certain conscientious objectors called absolutists. I am not going to speak on any ground of principle, but I am going to make an appeal absolutely on the ground of expediency. The hon. Member put his case in the interests of the men themselves. I do not know these 1665 men, and without any knowledge of them I should think it impertinence on my part to do so. I should no more deprecate hardship, or in the last resort death, in the case of these men than I should other men who go into the trenches, because they are taking the risk and they know what they are doing. What I say is that you ought to take care that they do not beat you, and I beg of the Home Office, in the interests of duty, to be very careful of the treatment of these men. I would also say to the Home Office, do not allow your-selves to be shackled by any pedantic respect for what is called the letter of the law. It is very important that these men should not die in prison. It is not a question of making martyrs, for here you are up against something a good deal more serious. As far as I understand it, there is a great and growing disrespect and disregard for the law, and if these men die in prison or if their health suffers, a great proportion of the community will simply say, "They are only conscientious objectors, and we have no objection to their dying." There will, however, be a considerable body of men in ordinary society, and in the Army, who will not understand the principle of justice on which you are proceeding, and they will not understand the fine technicalities by which these men have somehow or another come under the stroke of the law. They simply know that Parliament created a statutory right for people to be exempted from military service if they could prove that they were conscientious objectors. In the case of these particular instances I cannot myself in the least understand how they got into prison. If anybody has the right to be conscientious objectors I think these men have, and I put it that if these men come by misfortune into prison you create throughout the country a widespread sense of injustice. You do not want thinking people in this country to feel that it is impossible for justice to prevail where you have a great military organisation. There is always a great temptation where there is a great military organisation, especially in time of war, for justice to go by the board.
I beg of the Home Office to look carefully into the case of these men, and consider after all the inherent difficulty of the subject, because we cannot discuss the matter fully in this House. Three separate Votes are involved. We cannot discuss the sentences because that involves courts-martial, and that is a War Office 1666 affair. There is the question of the tribunal, but that is a local government affair. Here, however, we can discuss the question of their treatment on this Vote, and the mere fact that that is so indicates that their cases can be raised in a variety of ways. It is much more important that the case should be raised fully and conclusively and dealt with face to face with the Minister who is really in charge. These people are the product of an extraordinary condition of affairs, and of a very extraordinary law which created the legal status of conscientious objectors. As a matter of fact there is nothing like it in Europe, and they are only criminals in a highly technical sense. When you have people like that to deal with I beg of the Home Office not to be bound by the niceties of the law, but to submit these men to treatment appropriate to some particular technical offence, and deal with them in the light of common sense for your own sake, because you will find afterwards, if these men die in prison or if their health suffers, it will be a lasting disgrace to the administration, and if they die in prison you would do nothing to help the War, and you would be sure to injure your national military efforts.
§ Lord HENRY CAVENDISH-BENTINCK
I do not rise to support the case of the conscientious objector which has been brought forward, because I have not the slightest sympathy with the ordinary conscientious objector—in fact, I share nearly all the popular prejudices against these people. At the same time, I must say that there are conscientious objectors who by their willingness to go to prison several times have proved their sincerity and courage. I confess that I am not at all easy as to the treatment of this class of conscientious objectors, and they have unquestionably by their courage lured the Government into rather a false position. Although I have not much sympathy with the conscientious objector, I have great concern for the good name of His Majesty's Government, and I do not think it is in the interests of the Government that these people should be treated in a manner not in conformity with the law as it stands, and the spirit of our legal administration. It is not humane, and it is not consistent with the laws of humanity that these men should be punished several times for the same offence, and undergo each time the penal part of their punishment. I hope the 1667 right hon. Gentleman, when he makes his reply upon this subject, will give some indication that the treatment of this class of conscientious objector is going to be altered in the future.
The question of factory administration, I am afraid, does not excite very much interest in the House of Commons, but, nevertheless, very great improvements have been effected owing to criticism on these sleepy July afternoons; in fact, the great improvement in the health of the pottery lead workers is directly due to this kind of criticism. One cannot expect any great striking improvement in our factory administration during a time of war, but one can protest against the tendency which I detect on the part of the Home Office to surrender its functions and minimise its activities during war time. I think good proof of that is furnished by the miserable proportions of the factory report itself. I also detect a tendency to minimise their activities in a great reduction of the factory staff. I protest most strongly against this reduction in the factory inspectors' staff. No number of supervisers or of officials paid by the Ministry of Munitions can in any way compensate for the absence of these trained administrators. The officials of the Ministry of Munitions are all very well, but to a large extent they are without experience, whereas the Home Office officials have all been specially trained for the purpose. I also protest against the cutting down of the factory report. It is most disrespectful to this House that we are not told, for instance, what is the number of accidents during last year—a year of great activity. It is a matter of very great importance and of interest to the House. We ought also to have been told whether or not there has been an increase in any industrial disease. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not think me ultra suspicious, but I cannot help thinking that there is an intimate connection between the absence of the Accidents Report and the reduction in the number of inspectors, because the duty of the factory inspectors' staff is to safeguard the workers against the risks of dangerous machinery. I cannot help thinking that the absence of factory inspectors has led to a very large increase in the number of accidents, and that the Home Office does not like to say so.
If there is no tendency on the part of the Home Office to surrender its functions, 1668 there is, at all events, no special anxiety to extend its activities. Last year a moat useful measure was passed, namely, the Police, etc. (Miscellaneous Provisions) BPL. That Act gave the Home Secretary power, where he considered the conditions of employment were such as to require it, to make an Order that welfare provision should be made in those factories. It gave him power to say that mess-rooms, cloakrooms, washing accommodation, and canteens should be provided in the factories. As far as I have been able to make out, not one single Order has been made, although that Act has been in operation for nearly a year. I should like to press my hon. Friend to tell us why. Does he mean to say that there are no trades outside the munitions of war trades that are in need of welfare provision? Does he mean to say that no firms or factories in any of the trades are in need of welfare provision? Of course, he knows perfectly well that there are plenty of trades. The cotton trade, for instance, is notoriously behind all other trades in welfare. The comfortless conditions in that trade are a by-word. I am told that what is good enough for their father and grandfathers is good enough for the-present generation.
§ Lord H. CAVENDISH-BENTINCK
I am told that because their grandfathers and fathers before them have eaten their meals mixed up with the machinery the present generation of workers do not want canteens. This is rather a more important point than appears upon the surface, because there is already a scarcity of workers in the cotton trade, and there is great difficulty in inducing-workpeople to come into them. This is going to be a very important point when the question of reconstruction comes on. One of the methods of successfully combating the difficult problem of reconstruction after the War will be to get back into their original trades a large number of workers who have left peaceable employment to go into warlike employment, and if, owing to the inactivity of the Home Office, the cotton trade, for instance, is behind the times in a matter of welfare, there will be an indisposition on the part of the workers to go back into that trade. If that should be so, the Home Office will have incurred a great responsibility. I 1669 hope, if welfare is extended to these trades, that it will be in the spirit of the Whitley Report, The Whitley Report, as lion. Members know, is a regular landmark in our industrial history, for it establishes the principle that if we are to get the greatest amount of production we must recognise the humanity of the worker. We have very nearly mastered material power. Our machines every day are capable of a greater output, but we have not solved the problem of the human element yet, and, if we are going to solve that problem, we must recognise that our workers are not machines, but human beings. The Whitley Report recommends that committees of workmen should be set up to have a voice in many matters affecting their welfare, such as the fixing of wages and the fixing of piece rates when any new process is brought into a trade. There is no reason why that principle should not be extended to welfare. The Ministry of Munitions has displayed very creditable activity with regard to this matter, and there is no doubt that they have done their very best to cope with the duty of providing for the welfare of the vast army of men and women who have been attracted to the munitions trade, but there is a feeling that their welfare work is not as successful as it might be. There b a feeling among the workers that it is a thing brought in from above, and not, as it were, generated amongst themselves. I cannot help thinking, if the workers themselves were associated with the work of welfare, that this feeling would vanish. Welfare as at present understood is all very well, and where there is a good employer the presence of the welfare supervisers no doubt does good, but where there is a backward employer, callous about the welfare of his men and women workers, then it is no good.
Reading the Factory Inspectors' Report, one would imagine that there is very little to complain of in the length of hours which workers have been working during the last year. It says that they have been very little above the normal. I remember reading only the other day a most interesting article in that eminently fair and common-sense paper the "Manchester Guardian" upon recent industrial unrest, and the correspondent attributed the unrest to a very large extent to the tiredness, the irritability, and the lassitude of the workers. That tiredness to a very large extent was owing to, the terribly long hours which they were still working. He 1670 said that in some districts they were working up to seventy, eighty, and even ninety hours per week. I cannot help thinking that these long hours are not only destructive of the health of the workers, but that they are a gross waste of public money as well. There is no doubt about it that these long hours are not compensated by any corresponding increase in output, taking the output over a certain period. There has been a most interesting report of one of the welfare of munitions workers' committees, based on an investigation made by Dr. Vernon upon the relative output to hours of labour. After a long investigation he came to the conclusion that men engaged in heavy work should never work more than fifty-six hours per week; that men engaged in moderately heavy work should never work more than sixty hours; that men engaged in light work should never work more than seventy hours; that women engaged in moderately heavy work should never work more than fifty-six hours, or even, less; and that women engaged in light-work should never work more than seventy hours. They stand that fairly well, if their output is no greater than if they had worked sixty-four hours. These are the maximum hours which ought to be worked: even in war-time. He says:It is to be borne in mind that all of the times mentioned are the maximum hours of actual work, supposing a maximum output is required regardless of cost of production. They necessarily impose a great, strain on the operatives, and there can be no doubt that in many instances the strain was too great to be borne, und that the operatives had to drop out altogether. That is to say, the data quoted relate to the fittest who were strong enough to survive in the struggle and not to the general mass of workers of all classes who tried their hands at munition work. It is almost impossible-to discover the extent of this weeding-out, but it is inevitably considerable. Hence the best hours of work, suited for peace times, are in every case considerably shorter than those mentioned, though the principle of graduating the number of hours of labour to the type of work performed still holds with undiminished force.That means that the hours of work I have mentioned are injurious to the health of the great mass of the workers, and, beyond that, that it is a pure waste of money. I would strongly urge upon the Home Office the desirability of using every influence they possibly can to reduce to the level of the Factory Acts the hours of labour of the working classes in this country. The Factory Acts were passed not without a good purpose. They embodied the common sense and experience of several generations of industrial workers. If we depart from them, we do it at a very great risk of injury to the health of the workers, and, in addition, it involves 1671 a great waste of money. Another point I wish to raise is the hours of night-work of boys and girls. There is a tendency—of course, it is an inevitable tendency in wartime—to go back to the bad days of the industrial revolution, but now things are settled down and we have got into our stride we ought to cut down this tendency as much as possible. The Factory Acts forbid the night employment of boys and girls. So does the Munitions Act, generally speaking. It is only allowed on special urgent occasions. The point I want to make is that there is a great number of firms in this country still working boys and girls on night shifts, although there are other firms doing exactly the same work where night work by boys and girls is not allowed and is not practised. I want to know why this special allowance is made to certain firms? There is an important firm at Erith where boys and girls are working night shifts. I make a special point of this, and I hope that the Under-Secretary will make a special note of it. It ought to stop at once. It is very prejudicial to the health of these boys and girls, and is quite unnecessary at the present time. The present tendency is to dismiss boys from munition work. Thousands of boys have been and are still being dismissed from it. It would be perfectly easy to arrange matters so that these boys and girls should not be forced to work long hours at night. It is a very serious matter. I have a report here from one of these excellent health of munition workers' committees on the question of juvenile employment. It says:A social worker who has had considerable experience of boys employed in munition works stated that, so far as he knew, there had been no general breakdown … He suggested, however, that the boys are drawing on their strength, and pointed to the fact that boys fall asleep in trains and trams, and often travel on beyond their stations. They have no leisure, no recreation, no pleasure, and no classes, and he was very anxious as to what would become of the boys after the War. He suggested that too big a price was being paid for output.That is borne out by my own experience, as I happen to be on the committee of the welfare workers at Woolwich. The other day we had a conference at Woolwich as to whether there ought to be more provision for clubs for the boys at Woolwich. They told us it was of very little use to have such clubs, because the hours were so long and the work at night so prevalent that the boys were too tired to worry about clubs or any recreation whatsoever. I hope my hon. Friend will 1672 exercise the full influence of the Home Office in order to bring this bad practice to an end.
§ Sir RICHARD COOPER
The subject of factory control, to which my Noble Friend has just referred, is one of great importance at the present time. As most hon. Members of the Committee know, many progressive ideas have been put into practice in a large number of factories throughout the length and breadth of the land. It is equally well known that a number of these experiments have proved highly beneficial, both to the production of the factory and to the welfare of the workpeople concerned. I understand, from the information which has been given to me, that, generally speaking, this work is regarded as being a great success. That being the case, I want to submit to the Home Secretary the great importance of the Home Office being in advance in this matter and leading the country and the people. I say that for the reason that labour itself will, in any case, demand that what has proved to be good and beneficial in a certain number of factories shall be applied generally to the whole of the factories of this country. Everyone will recognise how much more valuable it is, first, that these benefits should be conferred as fully as is reasonably possible, and, secondly, that the administration, that is, the State, should lead the people, rather than that they should wait for pressure to come from behind. There is another reason why I particularly want to press this general point. There is no member of this Committee who is not concerned as to what is going to be the position of labour not only at the end of the War but during the War. Anyone who has studied closely the fundamental facts of the labour situation for the last few months will agree with me that, generally speaking, the labour trouble in this country has very little relation to wages. It is primarily and generally a question of the conditions under which the people of this country have been working. We all know that in many parts they have been working very long hours and very arduously in their splendid attempts to try to turn out all the munitions possible. It is a question of conditions rather than of wages which is at the back of the general complaints, so far as they are complaints, at the present time on the part of labour.
That being so, I hope that my right hon. Friend and his colleagues at the Home 1673 Office will not lose any opportunity of benefiting from this work that has been performed and from the results which have proved in practice to be so advantageous. If they take this step, it is true that many of the less educated and less progressive employers may at once begin to complain that additional burdens are being thrust upon them. I am quite certain, and in this matter I speak from no little personal experience, that if the Home Office, in any regulations they bring in regarding factories generally, are careful, they will be able to take advantage of a great many of those benefits, not only without loss to the employers concerned; but positively with advantage to them. Speaking from memory, I believe there are Government reports, particularly dealing with the Ministry of Munitions, in which there are definite facts showing that the better conditions which have been brought about recently have resulted in much greater production, and I believe they go so far as to state that there is cheaper production. From my own experience, not only in this country, but in the United States and South America, of factory work and production, I can say that a great many of these results that have been obtained can be applied with absolute advantage to the employers concerned.
I particularly desire this afternoon to take advantage of this Vote to ask my right hon. Friend if he can tell the Committee that from his experience, since he has been at the Home Office, he is satisfied that everything is being done, and has recently been done, in the direction of eradicating German influence and the power of what we used to speak of as German peaceful penetration. My right hon. Friend may remind me that a part of this subject, at any rate, lies particularly under the responsibility of the President of the Board of Trade, but primarily the Home Office is responsible in this matter, because the Board of Trade has to depend, in the first instance, for information from the Home Office regarding certain people who from time to time may be under question. I want my right hon. Friend to tell the Committee quite frankly if he is satisfied from his experience that the Home Office is doing everything that it reasonably and properly can to obliterate from this country that power which the Germans possessed before the War, and that power which, I am satisfied, they have to no small extent enjoyed 1674 during the prosecution of the War. What has been done so thoroughly in the great Dominion of Australia surely ought to be possible here. I do not think my right hon. Friend will be able to suggest in reply that there is not a wide concensus of opinion that more is required at the present time. Unfortunately, I have not been able to be present in the House very much during the last few months, but I have noticed that quite a large number of questions have been put almost every day which carried with them the suggestion that in the minds of the questioner there was something still left undone on the part of the Home Office and the Government. This question is one of vital importance not only to the complete prosecution of the War in favour of the Allies, but also to the commercial position of Great Britain after the War has been concluded. I will not attempt to give definite cases. Every Member knows how extremely difficult it is for anyone to get not merely information about a certain matter, but to get such complete facts as will enable one to say that such a thing is so and there is no question about it. It is extremely difficult to prove all these matters up to the hilt. The power really lies only with the Home Office and with Scotland Yard to do this, and all we can do in this House is, when we think it necessary, to keep on appealing to the Government to see that the powers that they possess are used to their fullest. We have had in the past a great deal of agitation in favour of the internment of all enemy aliens. I feel that a great deal of the activity which I and others took oh this matter a year, eighteen months, and two years ago has largely been shown to have been well founded by the large number of people who we now know have recently, in the last twelve months, been taken under charge.
I think we may take it for certain that the views of the hon. Member (Mr. King) do not usually prevail. We may take it that no one in this country is interned without the very surest evidence that it is necessary in the interests of the country. I am sure that is the view of a very considerable number of Members and of many who take no action whatever to express their opinions. They feel that it is one of those subjects which are so difficult to handle that they must leave them alone. I appeal to my right hon. Friend first of all to tell us, as far as he is able, 1675 whether everything is being done, and, secondly, I would ask him never to relax his efforts or those of his colleagues or of his staff generally to see if something more cannot yet be done to get rid of every vestige of German influence in this country that is possible. I know there is a great number of Members who have strong feelings on the subject, but what is much more important, there can be no doubt that quite a large proportion of the public are still fully convinced that more ought to be done and could be done for the general interests of this country. I hope my right hon. Friend will leave no stone unturned and will be prepared to go much further than anyone has yet gone to take this opportunity while he can. After the War it will be extremely difficult to take action which you are perfectly free to take to-day if you can only see that it is necessary and desirable. I have great confidence in my right hon. Friend, and I hope and believe that he will from now onwards be unrelenting in his watchfulness and care in seeing that everything possible is done in this direction.
§ Mr. J. M. HENDERSON
I hope I am not out of order in asking a few questions about these accounts. I am under the impression that we are called here to discuss the Estimate for £253,784. There are certain amounts which are the same this year as they were last year. Home Office, C, Special Services, £3,000 this year and £3,000 last year. E, Travelling Expanses, this year £15,100, last year £15,100, Travelling Expenses, Inspection of Mines, £17,190—£17,190. Cost of Inquiry, £3,200, and £3,200. No details of any kind are given. This must mean a, certain Grant given for this item and that, and that is divided amongst the officials and no account is submitted. Otherwise you could not have the same amount exactly every year. How are we in a few hours time to go through all the details of these items? We cannot do it, and so we get questions of policy—conscientious objectors and so forth. Not one single item of this kind is challenged and asked to be accounted for at all. There are any number of them. There are C, E, M, N, O, S, all of them replicas from last year. They show, if they show anything, that they are round sums which are given and no accounts are given in detail. It cannot be right unless there is 1676 so much allotted to one man and go much to another and the same amount is allotted every year.
§ Sir G. CAVE
It is a comparison of the Estimate for last year with the Estimate for this year. They are not accounts.
§ Mr. HENDERSON
It only emphasises what happened on Friday, and the sooner we have a Committee to investigate these Estimates before they are submitted the better. It is impossible in Committee to go into these questions, and therefore it is absolutely necessary, if we are going to have any accounts which are worth looking at, that they should go before some Committee which has plenty of time to examine them. I see the date on them is March. A Committee could easily have examined them in the intervening months. I can quite understand the Minister welcoming discussions on what he did here or what he did there, all of which he could meet easily, but not a single word has been said about that. It is altogether wrong, and I hope it will be put right.
§ Mr. STANTON
My only excuse for intervening is that as I came in I overheard one of our good friends on the other side speaking of his great feeling of sympathy with the Home Secretary in regard to his conduct towards conscientious objectors. I sincerely trust I am not wrong in saying we have heard enough about conscientious objectors in this House. Hardly a day passes without questions being asked about them, and hon. Members opposite to me, in more ways than one, on almost every occasion, endeavour to back up conscientious objectors in the face of the enemy when they read in their papers every day of hundreds of our poor boys dying in the trenches. These men are conscientious objectors too—conscientious objectors to Germany, with its Prussianism, dominating this country. They are conscientious objectors in the right way. They are risking all they have for this country. Great complaint is being made against the Home Office for its tolerance. It has been too kindly; it has coddled these people who have too much of their own way, and we have been laughed at as a nation. Their friends outside are having the laugh of us. On more than one occasion I have pointed out where these people have been allowed to go out, instead of being in prison, as they should 1677 be, and set to work at good, hard tasks, and allowed to hold meetings at street corners in certain places and to convert what ought to be penal servitude into a picnic. Yet there are people who stand up for them. I will allow the Committee to judge of the kind of people when you look at your picture paper and see the idiotic faces of these people portrayed there, and in the other corner pictures of the poor wounded. If they wish to be martyrs, why do they squeal because they are put to hard labour? They are coddled and looked after, they have shelters — bomb-proof, unfortunately — over their heads, while other poor people have to see their sons go abroad. I wonder what this country is going to come to if you are going to canoodle these people and back them up, and allow the intelligence of this House to be insulted by the remarks which you hear from time to time from so-called hon. Members. I am thoroughly disgusted when I see the wounded Tommies who come back to visit their homes. Nearly every one has made some sacrifice. Now, when the nation is in danger, is not the time for these people to squeal about the troubles and woes of the "poor conscientious objector." If we were in any way to test their consciences and set them free, we should find them at street corners, backing up every pro-German spouter they possibly could. That is what they are doing. They have had greater freedom than they should have. Letters and communications of all kinds have come out, and we can well understand the German agencies at work in this and other countries when we discover some of the questions which are put in this House from time to time. Hon. Members, who receive £100 for rendering not even doubtful services to their country, come here to ask questions, to be-little and to belie and do all they can to hamper and retard the successful operations of this War. If they want to apply their consciences, let them remember the boys who go out to sea—Havelock Wilson's men, the men who stood up, as I am proud to say they did, and blocked the game of some of the pro-German peace-mongers who wanted to go to Russia.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
May I ask whether these remarks with reference to the seamen's action in stopping the 1678 departure of the hon. Members in question has any relevance to the Home Office Vote?
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Mr. Dickinson)
I think the hon. Member's remarks are somewhat out of order, but not having had the pleasure of listening to the hon. Member who has just objected I do not know how far they are irrelevant.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. STANTON
Perhaps I was side-tracked a little. However, I have said that, and what I mean, is that the conscientious objector is not only a conscientious objector against war, but he is anti-British, he is pro-German to the hilt, and I have no sympathy with him. If I had my way I would also place the people who gave them the power to become conscientious objectors in gaol. Con-sciousless cowards I call them, sheltering themselves here whilst others go to war and die for their country. I do hope the Home Office will not relax any rigour which they may apply to these people; they are having already more than they deserve. They deserve nothing. The very food which they eat they are not entitled to. Other men risk their lives to bring it across the seas and others are out in France to make it possible for their wives and sisters and sweethearts—if they have any; they do not deserve them—to stay at home in safety. The Home Secretary must be humane, I know, but I hope he will be as little humane as he possibly can in dealing with people whose conscience is so elastic that they forget their duty and leave others to make the great sacrifices for them in the trenches of France or Gallipoli or elsewhere. I am as much opposed to war as any man. My views have been as extreme as those of any of these people, but my conscience awoke when the War came and my country was in trouble. I wonder where the consciences of these people are? My boys are at the front as your boys are. We hope to see them back again. On the other hand, we may not see them back. Am I, then, to sit here passively and allow the conscientious objectors to increase and multiply? Is my boy, or the boys of other people, to die while they remain here pampered and coddled? If the conscientious objector cannot live on what he is getting, then let him die. He deserves to die. In the old days the martyrs died in the arena. We can understand that, 1679 but I do not understand a man with a spark of human feeling in him refusing to take up arms to defend his mother or his father or his chlidren or sweetheart. These are the very people who glory in the raids that are taking place to-day. They are the very men who have no sympathy with the poor children slaughtered and the suffering parents in the East End. These are the people who cry out because you pinch them a little bit. Pinch them more; they deserve it. They deny that this country is worth fighting for; then why should they be housed or fed by this country? They should be cast adrift. Let them go over to the enemy, where they are long overdue, or let them die.
There is no room surely for going out of our way to grant to them more than is fair play, more than is really just. Why should we do that to a set of cowardly cravens who, behind the concealment of strong bars, that to them do not a prison make, are squealing because of their treatment? I know these people. I have worked and lived among them. They were a bad lot in the old days. They are a bad lot now. They are out for a cheap martrydom, and there happens to be a set of hon. Members in this House who, I suppose, would back them up, asking questions at all times, showing they are not out to win the War, but that they are out just for their own, wretched, paltry gain. England can go to the devil so far as they are concerned, but the cowardly conscientious objector must be saved. I suppose they want in the future to build up and maintain this great Empire of ours with a stock composed of the progeny of the conscientious objector. I am thinking not. Wait till the boys come back from the trenches. Already the whole country is seething with discontent because of the one weakness after another of this Government. I do not think it will be necessary to warn, the Home Secretary, at any rate, as to how he should treat these people. He has already been well warned, and everybody expects him to be, able to make it impossible that there should be conscientious cowards in this country. When this country is in trouble, it is then the duty of every man to be loyal to his country and to make sacrifices for it. When the War is over, then, if you like, you can go in for international peace aims, but now lei us whip our enemies. How dare Members come to the House whining about these conscientious objectors, these 1680 cowards, when they know behind it all is hatred of this country! These men desire that their false prophecies may find fulfilment, and I marvel, when these defenders of the conscientious objectors speak here, that other Members do not get up and go for them like the devil. I hope to have another opportunity of saying more on this subject when some of our Friends are present, because they are an inspiration to me to go for them as is a rat to a rat-dog.
Sir H. DALZIEL
I only rise to mention a single subject which I hope my right hon. Friend will allude to in the course of his reply. I would invite him to tell the House, especially as we have not had some Debate on the subject for some time, whether he is satisfied he has complete control of German agents in this country. As far as my private information goes, it points to an increase in the activity of German agents in this country for some considerable time, more especially since America came into the War. I would like him to tell us, also, if he can, how many spies have been shot since the commencement of the War, if that is a Home Office matter. I thought it was necessary for the Home Secretary to give his authority to such proceedings. If that is not so, I cannot ask him for the information, but I should like to know if the Home Office is satisfied that everything is being done that can be done to prevent important information going to the enemy. I suppose there is not the slightest doubt that information went from German agents in this country to the enemy in respect to the recent air raid. The day was chosen—must have been chosen—as the result of information that went from German agents in this country. Nothing else could have explained the particular time and circumstances of the raid. Take Harwich, for example. No doubt they had information from an enemy in this country about Harwich. It shows they chose that day for the movement. There is no doubt in the least about it. That particular day was so favourable to the enemy, more favourable than any, possibly, which they could have selected for months. It is the same with the raid on Saturday. It was selected because of important information that went from German agents in this country. My right hon. Friend knows what I am alluding to; I need not go into details. These days were selected because of information that was sent to the enemy as to the favourable 1681 position on those days for attack. How is that information going? It is going in many different ways, it is going from this country from these German agents, in some cases by courier; it is going by letter, code, and, it may be, even by telegram. I am not quite sure, but I think code telegrams are still allowed. I know they were allowed at the beginning of the War, and some important information was sent to the enemy by that means. There is no doubt about that.
I called the attention of this House to information going to the enemy by means of newspapers. That was stopped afterwards. No periodicals are now allowed to be sent to neutral countries or to enemy countries unless they are sent from the office of the newspaper, which makes itself responsible. Previous to that, as I explained in the House at the time, every spy had his number and a page in certain periodicals corresponding to his number. That was allowed to go on for over a year. Finally the authorities woke up to the fact that information was going in that way, and happily it was stopped. I maintain, and I say it on my own responsibility, that important information must be going from this country at the present time. More especially is that confirmed with regard to the particular time chosen for the recent raid. Is my right hon. Friend quite satisfied there is no wireless in this country being used by an enemy agent? I should like him to give a full and complete assurance on that point. It would be a relief to some people if he were able to give it. Is there any wireless suspected as being used by an enemy agent in this country, or can he give a complete denial to any suggestion of that kind? I invite my right hon. Friend to give all the information he can, because everything seems to point to the ingenuity with which they are obtaining their information and I think it would be interesting to know who is responsible for it. I understand certain eminent ladies have recently been arrested—I do not know whether it is true—and that as much as £30,000 in British gold was in their possession. We hear nothing of these things; the trials are in secret. I hope my right hon. Friend will give us as complete a statement on that matter as he can consistent with his duty in the public interests.
§ Mr. A. WILLIAMS
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Merthyr (Mr. Stanton) 1682 took the opportunity of leaving the House as soon as he had finished his speech, because I should have liked the opportunity of telling him to his face that his speech was marked with the same brutality and illegality which have always marked all his proceedings both in the old days when he was on the side of anarchy in this country and now when he is on the side of violent militarism. He suggested that those who dared to say a word with regard to the treatment of conscientious objectors were filled with a desire to retard and hamper the operations of our troops. I think when a statement of that sort is made I should be a coward if I did not rise to repudiate it and to say what I think about the treatment of the conscientious objectors in this country. I have said very little about it all through this War, although I have felt deeply about it, because I feel that in war-time one has to submit to a very great deal which one believes to be wholly wrong rather than introduce any element of strife. But there comes a point when it is impossible to submit quietly to brutality such as we have heard this afternoon. There are, of course, sham conscientious objectors in this country, but with them I have not the slightest atom of sympathy; but there are also many real conscientious objectors, though I regret very much that there should be such. I regret intensely that there should be any man in this country whose conscience will not allow him to do what I believe to be necessary, and what I would do if my age allowed me, take up arms against the brutality of German militarism. Still the fact remains that there are still such conscientious objectors, men of whom it is an absolute slander to say, as the Member for Merthyr said, that they were willing England should go to the devil an her own way. I know men in the Army who are Quakers, whose families have been Quakers for two hundred years, and to say that they are pro-Germans is an infamous lie. There are many others besides the Quakers. There was one gentleman who was a candidate. He was seized when he was a candidate, giving a suspicion that it had something to do with the inconvenience of having a hostile candidate at that tune. There is Mr. Stephen Hobhouse, who we all know as one of the most earnest philanthropic workers in this country. There is Mr. Clifford Allen, a man of the greatest possible intelligence 1683 and activity in what he considers his own "way of benefiting his country. I do not -agree with him.
I differ from him very deeply in his opinions; but I say it is a disgrace to this country, when we have passed a law giving exemptions to men who conscientiously find themselves unable to bear arms, that they should nevertheless be sent into the Army by the tribunals, and when they are sent into the Army, and when the Home Office knows perfectly well they are improperly sent into the Army, that nevertheless they should be treated like the commonest criminals, and sent to endure hard labour and the worst kind of punishment—a punishment that breaks men down wholesale. I say that if these men had then rights they would be allowed to have the exemption which the law intended for them, and then, if they did anything contrary to the Defence of the Realm Act, they could be punished legally under that Act. We are told we must do everything for the cause of our country, but the cause of our country is intimately wrapped up with the honour of our country, and the honour of our country is violated when these men are treated like this instead of being given the exemption which the law intends for them. After all it is folly to think that you can deal with conscientious men of this sort by mere brute force. Our ancestors recognised that long ago in dealing with Quakers. Parliament recognised it, but the military authorities will not carry it out. Therefore, not to pursue this further, I simply say that these men are being treated with injustice and inhumanity. I am convinced that this will react upon those who are responsible for this treatment. It will not help us to win the War, but will hinder us. It will react in a still worse manner upon the future of our country. I have faith enough in principles to believe that it is by justice and humanity that we shall win this War, and establish our country and the principles for which our country stands. They will give us the best results in the long run, and I hope sincerely that the Home Secretary will turn his back upon the brutality which he has been advised to follow this afternoon, and will give us a just and humane treatment of these men.
§ Sir G. CAVE
I think that the Home Office has reason to be satisfied with the Debate this afternoon, because though some points have been made in reference 1684 to one or two of the more modern activities of the Home Office, no kind of criticisms have been addressed to us in reference to the great bulk of our work. A word has been said about factories by my Noble Friend, which will be replied to by my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, who is specially conversant with those matters, but on such subjects as explosives, workmen's compensation—as to which I am glad to say that during the last week or two we have made some progress in considering the question of an increase of compensation to meet the increased cost of living—prisons, except so far as they touch a special class of prisoners, reformatories, industrial schools, police, criminal jurisdiction and censorship; there has been no comment, and no desire has been expressed to me prior to this Debate to have any debate upon any of these most important subjects.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
It is only right to point out that many of the subjects referred to by the right hon. Gentleman are not included in this Vote.
§ Sir G. CAVE
At all events, I think that on the whole we have been subjected to no severe criticism, and, except on the special points with which I am going to deal, the Committee appears to be fairly well satisfied with the work of the Home Office. With one point raised to-day I cannot deal, as it does not relate to my office at all, that is the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy. We do not deal with spies or with cable censorship.
§ Sir G. CAVE
We do deal to some extent with suspected persons, if they are aliens of any kind, under a special law, and if British subjects, under a regulation. I can only say that I have found the military authorities and the police authorities who have charge of those matters extremely accurate, and time after time I have brought before me evidence of the greatest possible care in watching the activities of persons, not merely alien enemy subjects, but very often neutrals, and I am afraid sometimes British subjects, who are suspected of acting adversely towards this country; and I can assure my right lion. Friend, so far as I know the facts, that every care 1685 is taken to bring those people to book. On the aliens question we have not heard very much to-day. One point was raised by the lion. Member for Walsall, but, as the House knows that is a matter for the Board of Trade. We have taken within the last three months one important step in connection with the treatment of alien enemies. That is in reference to the scheme initiated and carried through by the Home Office of seeing that alien enemies who are not interned shall do useful national work. Every one of these men has been asked whether he is able and willing to do useful national work. We have not yet covered every one of these cases, but nearly every one. Of those who have been interrogated we found that 1,684 were satisfactory cases—that is either they were ready to do useful work or they were unfit to do any work at all— and 5,919 have filled up forms offering to engage in national work. Those figures have been forwarded to the National Service Department, who have already commenced to find work for some of these men. I think that the effect has been, and will be, to transfer those enemy aliens who are in control of businesses of their own in which they might compete with British traders to positions in which they will be merely acting as servants, and will be doing useful work for the country.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
How many of these men have been put to work by the National Service Department? You gave us these figures some time ago, I think.
§ Sir G. CAVE
No; I gave the figures of the men who have been referred to the National Service Department. Any questions as to the result must be addressed to that Department, but I am told that already they have found work for many of these men. In some cases the enemy alien, though exempt from internment and allowed to remain in this country, has declined the invitation to do work useful to this country. In those cases I have taken such steps as I thought right, and have made a number of orders for internment on that ground, and I propose strictly to enforce that condition. The hon. Member for North Somerset referred to one or two points and to an individual case—that of Peter Petroff, a Russian who was interned some time ago under Regulation 14 (b).
§ Sir G. CAVE
I have not forgotten that. I will deal with it later. I will first deal with Peter Petroff. He is a Russian who was convicted of a breach of the Aliens' Restriction Order. He was also convicted of another offence, but that conviction was quashed. In addition, he was proved to have enemy associations of various kinds. He was, as the hon. Member said, living with a German woman. He was a very active member of a well-known German club in London. Though that club changed its German name to a name in the English language immediately after the War began, it was an active centre of pro-German intrigue for months after the beginning of the War. We had to deal with a number of members of that club and to intern them. Petroff was an active member, and was exceedingly hostile to this country. He showed by his letters and his conversation that he was not only against the Government of Russia, but against the Government of this country, and favourable to the Government of Germany. On that ground, and no other ground whatever, he was ordered for internment. It is not a fact that either the Russian Embassy or the Russian Government or the Council of Workmen and Soldiers asked for the release of this man. I do not say that if the request were made we should grant it, but in fact no such request has been made. The letters from this man, and from those to whom he writes, continue in the main in such terms as to show that he is to-day as hostile as he was before, and I can see no reason on the facts known to me, or on those to which the hon. Member referred, to recommend that at present at all events this man should be released from internment. The hon. Member states that some severity has been shown to the woman. There is no foundation for that, so far as my information goes, and I regret that he repeated the charge which has been often denied in this House. I think that the only other point which the hon. Member made about Petroff was that some of his friends were refused admission to see him. That is true. They were friends of his or members of this club who, we had very good reason to think, should not be allowed to meet Petroff and converse with him about these matters. So 1687 far as I know the facts—and I think that I know more about them than the hon. Gentleman, because I get my information from a very reliable source—I can see no reason whatever why this man should be released.
Then the hon. Member tells some story of a house whose landlord has been asked by the police to turn out certain tenants. That is completely contrary to the practice of the police. They never do it, and I am quite sure that the hon. Member has been made the victim, in this case and some others, of information that cannot be relied on. Then he referred in quite general terms to methods employed by the police. Really I cannot deal with general charges of that kind. If he will give me the name of this lady who gave him the information, if he will give me any distinct cases where the police are said to have used methods with which he quarrels, I will have them carefully investigated and looked into, and let him know the result. In the meantime, I hope the Committee will receive with, I will not say with very great mistrust, but very grave doubt, the charges which have been made in rather vehement but perfectly vague terms, and I am quite sure, from what I know of the police, that the charges will be disproved and found to be entirely without foundation. The hon. Member lastly referred to the case of some aliens released in Scotland. On my asking for some details it appeared perfectly clear that these men were Polish Jews, members of a race which we regard as a. friendly race, and who had been vouched for by the Jewish Committee. There are cases where members of friendly races, Poles, Czechs, and so on have been released on the voucher of a committee of this kind, and we find that these committees are quite reliable and that their word may be accepted. That is quite a different case from the case of the Germans and Austrians, to whom the hon. Member was referring, and whom he desired to be treated in the same way. The treatment of friendly aliens is to be carefully distinguished from the case of those who are by no means friendly aliens. The hon. Gentleman has appealed to me to release these enemy aliens. Generally I have found appeal to be the other way. I cannot accede to the appeal of the lion. Gentleman to make some general release of enemy aliens. He refers to the case of 1688 a man who has been several years in this country, and who has two sons in the Army.
§ Sir G. CAVE
If the hon. Member gives me one such case I shall have it looked into. I think he will find that there is very good reason for detaining these persons.
I want to deal with the point as to conscientious objectors. Let us consider what the case of these men is. The Act of Parliament provides machinery under which any man who had conscientious objection to military service had the right to apply to a tribunal for exemption—a local tribunal composed of persons to whom he would be likely to be known. These men either have made no such applition, or, having applied and alleged that they had a conscientious objection, were not believed by the local tribunal, and that is the position of all the men to whom the hon. Member refers.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
I can give the right hon. Gentleman a dozen cases in which that is not true. There is the case of Mr. Allen, who was found to be a conscientious objector.
§ Sir G. CAVE
I do not know whether Mr. Allen applied to the local tribunal for exemption or not. Either he did not apply or he applied and the case was refused.
§ Captain GWYNN
Did the Act provide that there was to be conditional exemption? Was that understood in this House, or was it simply exemption from combatant service, subject to the obligation to take some other service?
§ Sir G. CAVE
It may be either absolute exemption or exemption from combatant service. Of course, only the tribunal can say what is to be the kind of exemption.
Was it not understood that applicants to the tribunal who proved that they had conscientious objection were to be exempted?
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
When the Bill was was going through, was not speech after speech made on behalf of the Government, and particularly by the representative of the Government in the House of Lords, declaring in express terms that the Government contemplated that people who had a conscientious objection to all forms of warfare or to giving any assistance in it were to be absolutely exempted?
§ Sir G. CAVE
I cannot say about that, but in some of the cases where these men have been exempted from combatant service they have refused to do their duty and have committed breaches of military discipline, for which they were sent to prison. Some of them served their sentence, and when they got back they committed another breach of military discipline, and they were sent to prison again. That is the kind of man about whom you are speaking to-day. Let us consider what is the position. If these men had not had exemption at all they would have had to fight for their country. If they had not had a special advantage, when they committed breaches of military discipline they would, in the ordinary course, have been subject to military treatment in the same way as any ordinary soldier. But the Government decided that they should not be punished under military law, and in that way they have the special privilege of being treated as civil offenders and sent to civil prisons. They go to the prisons of their choice; and again a special indulgence is shown to them, for they have the opportunity without serving their time in prison, to come out and be set to work of a non-military character. Again these men refuse. These men decline to do even ordinary prison work under ordinary prison rules. I ask the House whether the Government have not shown these men indulgence far beyond what they have shown to any other class of men? They have declined to do work, and they will not fight. Soldiers have had to be sent out to the trenches three or four times to fight for these very men, their wives and children, because they will not bear their share. And they come to us for further indulgence.
§ Captain GWYNN
I especially guarded myself by saying that I spoke on behalf of 1690 those men who, so far as I understand, were putting their case from the point of view of justice.
§ Sir G. CAVE
I am coming to the point made by the hon. and gallant Member, which is quite a different one. I am now dealing with the point put by the hon. Member.
§ Sir G. CAVE
I do not see how that is possible. If we were to give them a further indulgence, what a tremendous encouragement it would give to all the others who might be tempted to take the same course as these men have taken! It is not for me to say what is the division under which these men should be sent; it is for the Court to decide that in the sentence.
§ Sir G. CAVE
As a matter of fact, I do not think I can. But if I could, just see what it means. These men who have committed these offences would be treated with special indulgence and special comforts, but why should there be this special consideration for men who, in my view, have committed one of the greatest offences.
§ Sir G. CAVE
We have not authorized anything for which they have been punished. To give these men further indulgence would be to encourage others to follow the same course, believing that they would receive comparatively lenient treatment for their offences, and I am sure the hon. and gallant Gentleman would be the last man in the House to desire that. I quite agree with what the hon. Gentleman said, that these men are trying to put the Government in a difficulty. They are doing their best to do so; they are trying to make military punishment impossible for them, and to make civil punishment impossible too. We are not going to be defeated in that way. After all, we are here to enforce the law. Knowing that these men have had it in their own power at any time 1691 they liked to do the reasonable and fair thing, and one wholly consistent with the conscience of any right-minded man, to undertake work to which no one in this world could have any conscientious objection—
§ Sir G. CAVE
Then they must either be men who were held not to be conscientious objectors or men who, when the offer was made to them, originally refused.
§ Sir G. CAVE
They have offered since. Whether they should be allowed to change their mind is a different matter. I will not say that I will not have such cases reconsidered; I do not want to bar that out; but if there are such cases they must be cases of the kind to which I have referred. I have one last observation to make, and that is with regard to the particular men —Mr. Allen and Mr. Hobhouse—to whom the hon. Member for Lanark (Mr. White-house) made special reference. With most of his pleas I do not agree in the least. I do not think that because a man is an educated man he ought to be allowed to break the law, but I say most distinctly that if the health of these men, or of anybody, is suffering because of his imprisonment, it is the invariable practice in our prisons to have regard to that fact, and to give them all the care which they need. I am as reluctant as anyone that men should suffer seriously in health by reason of their imprisonment. Every precaution is taken to prevent that, and there is no want of humanity in the treatment of these men. The most anxious care is taken that their health should not permanently suffer, even by their own fault. Subject to that, I think it my duty to maintain the practice hitherto pursued and that until the law is altered in some way—with which, of course, I am not concerned—it is my duty, or the duty of the Prison Commissioners who are under my control, to enforce the law and carry it out in the ordinary way with all regard to the considerations of humanity. That is a short and, I hope, clear statement of the position I take with regard to this question. I do not think that a special case has been made out to this House to-day.
There is, I think, only one other subject which was touched upon, and that related 1692 to the objectors who, having accepted the offer of the Home Office, are engaged in work at Dartmoor and elsewhere. The complaint there was that the work was not remunerative. I am not sure that it is not. The work at Dartmoor, at all events, consists of farming and the reclamation of land. I believe that although some of the men are not the best workers yet on the whole they are doing work which is necessary, and which will be useful to the country, There have been some work centres where work has been extremely unsatisfactory. One by one they have been closed; the rules have been tightened up; closer watch has been kept on these men. We have now an inspector at work to report to the Home Office, and whatever may have been the case twelve months ago, when the system was started, to-day, at all events, it cannot be said that the work is unremunerative or a waste of time.
§ Captain GWYNN
In view of what has been said by the hon. Member for Somerset (Mr. King), I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is deliberately using human labour for draught in preference to horse labour?
§ Sir G. CAVE
I know of the case to which the hon. Gentleman refers. It happens that there is land there which is shallow soil with rock underneath, and it is impossible on that particular part of the land to use horse labour for the plough. It would break the plough, arid, following the ancient custom of the district, men are employed to draw the plough in this particular parcel of land. That is the sole ground for the story to which the hon. Member has given such a very ready ear.
§ Captain GWYNN
Why do you use them in ploughing? In Connemara we do this quite freely, but we do not use men on the plough.
§ Sir G. CAVE
It is a very light plough. In any case, it is only a small detail, a case where it is impossible to use horse labour and where, whoever the workman might be, human labour would have to be used. I cannot hope to have convinced hon. Gentlemen who take a different view, but for myself I cannot see that we could have taken any other course than that we have adopted. So far as I am concerned, 1693 much as I regret the sufferings to which these men put themselves, it is my bounden duty to maintain the law.
Mr. H. SAMUEL
I think the Home Secretary is well entitled' to feel the satisfaction he expressed in his opening observations at the way in which the Committee has received this Vote, and the fewness and moderation, in the main, of the criticisms that have been directed at the Home Office. The Department, as those of us who have been closely connected with it know, is one of remarkable efficiency, and I think the House of Commons is always ready to pay tribute to its successful administration, and to express its great appreciation of the work which it does for the State. Some of the topics which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned would, perhaps, have been made the subject of discussion to-day if they had been in order on this Vote. I know, for example, that my hon. Friend the Member for South Islington (Mr. Wiles) was very anxious to speak on questions relating to the Metropolitan Police, but that Vote has not been put down to-day. Hitherto, it has been the custom when the Home Office Vote has been discussed for the prison Vote, the reformatory Vote, and the police Vote to be put down in immediate sequence, so that, if the Committee desires, it could pass from one to another. That practice has been departed from on this occasion, I have no doubt quite by accident.
I am informed that it is, but certainly the police Vote has been discussed on previous occasions. I have not looked it up, but I hope an opportunity will be given to hon. Members who wish to speak on that and other Voles to do so. With respect to the question of alien enemies, which has necessarily occupied so much attention of the Home Office during the War, my right hon. Friend has made an important statement to-day that those who have not been interned are being effectively called upon now to do some work of national importance. He has told us that about 6,000 names have been sent to the National Service Department of persons who have expressed their willingness—under some pressure, no doubt—to undertake this work of national importance. I think the House will await 1694 with interest the results of that step. The National Service Department has yet to justify itself to Parliament. Hitherto all the statistics that have been given us are of very large figures of persons whose names have been collected by the Department and of very small figures of persons who have actually been put into work. It remains to be seen how many of the 6,000 will, in fact, be found employment by that Department. With regard to the number of aliens interned, the right hon. Gentleman the present Home Secretary has been subjected to less criticism than his predecessor, although his policy has been apparently precisely the same. A year ago, when I introduced the Home Office Vote, I stated that the number of alien enemies who were interned was in round figures 32,000, and that the number who had not been interned was 22,000. Of these 10,000 were women, 4,000 were technically alien enemies, but of friendly races, Czechs, Poles, Alsatians and so on, and the remainder were persons of a special class who had been exempted by the Committee which goes into these matters, exempted on their recommendation or in pursuance of the policy they laid down. My right hon. Friend and successor in February last said he proposed to have all these eases reviewed by the Home Office individually, and to see whether these exemptions could properly be maintained. Two or three days ago he gave the present figures of the number who were interned and the numbers exempted. The number who were interned a year ago, and at the time when I left office when the figure was substantially the same, was 32,000. The numbers interned now are 30,000. I presume that 2,000 have been released in order to carry on agricultural and other work.
§ 8.0 P.M.
Some have been repatriated, but the number who remained at large, exempted, was, when I addressed the House, 22,000, and is now, after my right hon. Friend's review of the whole situation, 22,000. So that it appears that the policy of the present Government in this regard is precisely the same as the policy of the late Government, that whereas I was subjected to fairly frequent criticism by the hon. Member for the Brentford Division (Mr. Joynson-Hicks), by the right hon. Gentleman the-Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir H. Dalziel), and by a number of the newspapers 1695 throughout the country who were continually calling for different policy and a more complete internment of enemy aliens, my right hon. Friend does not find himself exposed to any of these criticisms. Circumstances alter cases, and a policy which in the eyes of some people was wrong when it was pursued by the Home Secretary and the late Government is right in all particulars when, although precisely the same, it is pursued by the Home Secretary in the present Government. With regard to the conscientious objectors, the impression is left in the minds of some hon. Members, and in the minds of many persons outside, that conscientious objectors to military service for the most part find themselves in prison now. That, of course, is not so. The vast majority of those who conscientiously objected to military service were, in accordance with the intentions of Parliament, exempted by the tribunals either absolutely or, as a rule, on condition that they undertook non-combatant military service. Very large numbers accepted exemption on those terms, and did undertake non-combatant military service either in the Non-Combatant Corps in France or else in various life-saving activities, doing work, perhaps, on mine-sweepers, for the Red Cross, and in other ways attempting to save life during this War. With respect to a certain number the tribunals ordered them to undertake non-combatant service, although they knew that they would not undertake such service. I think that in many of these cases the tribunals were wrong. Under the influence of the public opinion about them they came to decisions which were not really in accordance with the intentions of the Statute, because the Statute did intend that in proper cases absolute exemption should be granted, and in Borne cases absolute exemption was refused, although it is clear that the men were of that type of opinion for whom the complete exemption would have been proper.
For my own part, I feel a complete want of sympathy with the intellectual standpoint of these men. I consider that they are failing to fulfil what is a clear duty to mankind. The duty to fight in this War for liberty, and for the overthrow of that system of militarism which is in our age the chief curse of the world. I do not think that any person ought to have a conscience which should lead him to refuse to do his 1696 duty. That is my own view, but it is not their view, and one has to recognise the fact. Therefore, when I was at the Home Office I found a very considerable number of men in prison who were probably, many of them, genuine conscientious objectors, who had refused to do the non-combatant service which they were required to do as a condition of their exemption. I established what was known as the Home Office Scheme, under the administration of my right hon. Friend (Mr. Brace), who is still, I am happy to think, the Under-Secretary for that Department. The scheme was this, that the case of all these men should be reviewed by a Central Tribunal, and if the Central Tribunal found that they were genuine conscientious objectors they should come out of prison on condition that they should undertake some work of national importance. These cases were all reviewed in that way, and the vast majority of them were held by the Central Tribunal to be not shirkers or cowards, but genuine conscientious objectors, and the great bulk of them did come out of prison and were set to work of national importance and utility. Therefore, the conscientious objectors to military services might be divided into three classes—two large classes, first, of men who were exempted by the tribunals on condition of their doing non-combatant service, and who are now doing non-combatant service, whose cases have been satisfactorily dealt with; secondly, another very large class of men who refused to do non-combatant service, who went into prison and who were afterwards released on condition of doing work of national importance, not under the War Office at all. These are the two large classes whose cases have also been dealt with more or less satisfactorily. There is a third very small class, compared with the others, who will remain in prison because they refuse to do work of any kind as a condition of exemption. These men, as my right hon. Friend has said, can come out of prison at any moment, not on condition that they fight in the War, not even on condition that they should do non-combatant service under the War Office, but on condition that they should do work on the land, or undertake some other kind of employment which should be of utility for the nation. Let it be clearly understood that if they remain in prison it is because they remain there of their own determination, not because they were called upon to take life or to take part in the military machine, 1697 but because they were willing to do no sort of national work as a condition of exemption from the Military Service Act.
I would point out to the right hon. Gentleman that it is not so. They are men who have offered to do national service, and have been refused.
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would not refuse an application of this kind. No one wants to keep these men in prison.
Mr. E. HARVEY
I do not think it is in the power of the right hon. Gentleman. The point is that the Central Tribunal have refused to allow these men, once they refused to go before them, to have a second chance. I have brought that specifically before the Central Tribunal, and I have been told that they were unable to alter their minds, and they will not allow them a second shot.
§ Sir G. CAVE
I do not think it is their duty to examine the same men twice, but I do not think that applies to me.
The right hon. Gentleman does not understand me. These are men who have refused to have their cases examined by the Central Tribunal early on when they had the opportunity. They were warned by the Central Tribunal that this was the only chance they would get. After six months or a year in prison they changed their minds, and were anxious to work under the Home Office scheme, but the Central Tribunal says, "You were once given your chance, and we cannot give it to you again."
If there are such cases, I am sure the hon. Gentleman would consider them. It appears to me very desirable that they should be considered, and perhaps if representations were made to the Central Tribunal they might review their decision in that respect, if the facts are as stated. I do not wish to see anyone in prison who is willing to undertake work of national service and is a genuine conscientious objector, and if some question of procedure stands in the way of their coming out, I think it is desirable that it should be considered whether that procedure cannot be reviewed.
§ Captain GWYNN
May I interrupt the right hon. Gentleman? Did the Act say that the real conscientious objector must do work of national importance?
No, if the local tribunal exempts him; but if the local tribunal does not exempt him, the Statute does not give him any privileges at all, and he is required to serve in the Army. What I have done, and what my right hon. Friend has done with a view to meet these people is extra statutory, and it is in addition to the provisions made by Parliament for dealing with these cases. For the rest, I quite agree that the present position is far from satisfactory in many respects, but not being able to propose any specific plan for the alteration of it, I am not in a position to criticise the course that has been taken by the Home Office. The Noble Lord the Member for South Nottingham rendered, I think, very useful service in bringing to the attention of the Committee some points of detail and Some points of considerable substance relating to the administration of the Factory Acts. Particularly he has inquired to-day whether steps cannot be taken to put into effect the Welfare Clause of the little Bill that was passed by the Home Office last year. We should be very glad to hear from the Under-Secretary on these specific points, and I am sure the Committee would desire that he should have time to give his observations on this subject before we turn to other business.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Brace)
My right hon. Friend has made just the kind of speech that we should have expected from him as the late Home Secretary, and as a man who has done so much in helping us to make the Home Office what he rightly says it is, a very efficient Department. I have been amazed, listening to this Debate all day, by the claims put forward on behalf of the conscientious objectors by my hon. Friends, who apparently forgets that while individuals have rights the State has the some rights too. In dealing with the conscientious objection problem, the Home Office has been called upon to deal with one of the most difficult problems that I, at least, have ever had to handle, either inside Parliament or outside. Among them there are a number of men of very fine spirit and very fine soul, but I have to say that that is not my experience or the experience of 1699 my Committee as regards the majority of them. It is true, as the Home Secretary said, that they will neither fight nor work, and in dealing with this problem we have endeavoured not only to be just to the conscientious objector, but we have endeavoured to be just to the State as well.
I have risen really and specially to say a word in reply to the criticism directed by the Noble Lord the Member for South Nottingham. May I be allowed to say that I always welcome the Noble Lord's interposition in debate, because he has stood out as one of the Members of Parliament who has been prepared to give his co-operation to any Home Secretary or to any Government for the social advancement of the masses of the people of this country. When he complained about the reduction in size of the Annual Report of the Chief Inspector I would ask him to remember that this is part of a policy that has been brought into operation during the War, not only, indeed, for the saving of expenditure, but for the saving of labour as well. Immediately the War is through we shall be very glad indeed to revert back to these very full reports, which give in detail a very complete survey of the work of the Home Office, as far as factories, mines, and other industries ore concerned. In his protest against the reduction of the inspectorate I should like to assure the Noble Lord and the House that the Home Office was compelled to be a party to the reduction in the inspectorate because of the prior claims which the War had upon the Department. We are endeavouring to use the inspectorate for the best possible service for the nation in these days, and although some of the inspectorate have gone into munitions and other Departments of State, and and some of them are in the Army, I would have the Noble Lord to believe that they are rendering a great service, and while we would have been only too glad to have had thenr co-operation as inspectors we do feel that, during the period of this War, the other Departments who appealed for them had a prior claim on them.
We are doing the best we can with the staff at our disposal as regards the Police, Factories, etc., and (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act. May I be allowed to explain to the House that this Act was passed not as a war measure, but as a measure of social reform and social welfare; and in 1700 putting into operation schemes under this measure it has been necessary for the Home Office to make a careful survey of the whole problem with a view to commencing a scheme with a hope of great success? I can assure the Noble Lord that we are upon the eve of issuing some draft schemes, but the activity of the Home Office in this direction is bound to be reduced, because some substantial structural alterations will be necessary in a number of factories to enable us to put into operation the draft scheme we have in mind. But we do propose, as a Department, to introduce, as far as possible, the schemes necessary to give to our people, who are working in the interests of this country, a more reasonable chance for a larger measure of joy, and hope, and happiness than they have had under the old system. This Police Provisions Act is a real enabling measure, and the Home Office Department intends that it should be so; and if we have to express regret at all, it is because the War has prevented us bringing the draft schemes to that full fruition which was the intention of the Department when it asked the House to pass this Act as an enabling and reforming measure of law.
I will only say one word about the employment of boys and girls at night. No one would desire to employ the young life of this nation, whether it be young boys or girls at night, if it could possibly be avoided, and at least it will not be charged against me that when I make myself a party to the employment of the young boys and young girls at night it is because of the demands which are necessary for the War and to meet the shift difficulty. The House may feel a little reassurance by the fact that as a general rule no young girl is allowed to work at night under eighteen years of age and no boy under sixteen, and where they are employed on the night shift it is under most careful conditions. Full provisions have to be made for proper feeding and proper washing arrangements, and in the ease of young girls that they shall have proper female supervision so as to make the amenities in the factories as helpful as possible. The reason why we have made ourselves a party under very strict regulations to the employment of young boys and girls on the night shift is to give to our soldiers the largest output of production that is necessary to give them on the front a fighting chance for their lives. I hope, therefore, 1701 that the House of Commons in general, and my Noble Friend in particular, will not think at all that the Home Office treat these matters affecting life and health lightly at all, and when they have to make a departure from, the Factory Acts they are, in fact, compelled under a sense of duty to meet the special circumstances the nation has been called upon to pass through during this War.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again"—[Mr. Hope]—put, and agreed to.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again to-morrow (Tuesday).