§ Major-General H. C. LOWTHER (in uniform)
I beg to move,
"That a humble Address be presented to His Majesty as followeth:Most gracious Sovereign,We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of ParliamentI ask the courteous indulgence of the House which it is their custom to grant 7 to such Members who are selected for the honour of proposing this Resolution, and also to Members who are addressing the House for the first time. Those who, like myself, have served for thirty years in a profession where the expression of private opinion is not very welcome, and where the making of public speeches is anathema, are but ill-equipped for the task of appealing to this House either by the matter or by the manner of their address. I ask the House to excuse my numerous and manifest shortcomings. I address you, Mr. Speaker, for the first time, officially. I also fear that I may be addressing you for the last time officially, because, like the hon. Member who moved the Address last year, my Constituency is one of those which is condemned to disappearance under the provisions of an Act for which a Conference was responsible over which you yourself, Mr. Speaker, presided. I fear, therefore, that my maiden speech will also be the swan-song of North Westmorland. His Majesty's Gracious Speech is brief and concise, dealing only with the main issues important to our Allies in our all-absorbing task of winning the War. In that Speech there is no space for trivialities or for trifling things, and that is an example which may well be followed. In fact, in considering our actions and our legislation, and even when considering our private lives, it is not a bad thing to ask ourselves, "Will it help to win the War?"
During the past Session two events of outstanding importance have taken place— one the disappearance, I may say, of Russia, and the other the coming into the arena of the United States of America —two world-important events, which, when thrown into the opposite scales of advantage or disadvantage to the Allies, to a certain extent counterbalance one another, but we hope that the weight in the scales may fall very largely on the credit side. From Russia we can hope for no further military help in the War. All that we can hope and wish for is that she may recover from this madness in the course of which she has torn out her heart and thrown herself, bleeding and helpless, at the feet of our unscrupulous and dangerous enemy. From the United States we have a great deal to look for. They bring into the scale a weight of men, of material, of energy, and of intelligence of inestimable value, and the whole of this 8 great force is impelled, not by the heat of the moment, not by a movement of passion, but by the long-considered and well-thought-out decision of a great and powerful nation, trusting their rulers, confident in themselves, and united in their intention of achieving their goal. How far that goal may be; the goal of peace; none of us can tell through the mists which lie ahead of us, but, looking back on the three and a half years during which we have traversed the sad and thorny road of war, we may look with pride on our actions and on the achievements of ourselves, a peace-loving race who had no-wish for our own ends to be dragged into this terrible phase of history, and for which, if we are honest with ourselves, we were but modestly prepared.
His Majesty, in his Gracious Speech, expresses his confidence in his forces. Those forces have great reason to be grateful to His Majesty, who, by his frequent visits and his constant thought for his troops, has given us the greatest encouragement. Both in this country and in France the King has been frequently with us, and has always taken the deepest interest in everything that has concerned our welfare or efficiency. To mention separately in this House the component parts of the United Kingdom, and to use or to misuse the word "Colonies," is not always very well received. I will, therefore, not refer to "England," "Scotland," "Ireland," and so on; I will only refer to the British Empire and to our Imperial Army. As the Staff officer responsible to Field-Marshal Lord French for the superintendence and training throughout the United Kingdom of troops for service overseas, it is my constant duty to see the troops from all parts of the world in training here, and I should like to tell hon. Members that the keenness, the desire for efficiency, and the efficiency achieved by these troops, from wherever they come, is as great as or greater than it has been at any time during the past two or three years. As a member of the Old Army, I look with a certain amount of satisfaction on this training. Many of these units now are quite fit to run alone without any outside help, and they do so; but the inspiration of all military thought and of the method and system of training is entirely due to the Old Army, and if they had never seen Mons or the Aisne they would still deserve well of their country for services rendered. From what I have said in the preceding sentence it might seem 9 that I wish to put the Old Army down as something apart from the New Army. I wished only to make a small point on past events. For practical purposes there is only one Army. The different parts of it, the Old Army, the New Army, the Territorial Army, and the Overseas troops have different labels, but that is only for administrative purposes. In reality it is one Army, welded into one whole, with the only object of meeting and of beating the enemy. In that Army every commander is looking for the best man wherever he can find him —whether he is the best man to command or for some Staff appointment. He does not care what the man's origin is or to what part of the Army he belongs, it is my firm conviction that it is as hard to keep a bad man up in the Army as it is to keep a good one down. Not only that, but I believe it to be as impossible as it is undesirable to force on any commander in the field a man for a certain post simply because he happens to belong to one branch of the Army or the other, unless he is the proper man for the job.
As regards the Navy, that great, silent, mysterious force, I can only say that I know I am voicing the opinion of all soldiers when I express our unbounded admiration and gratitude to them for the way in which they and the merchant service are carrying our men, our munitions, and our supplies across the Seven Seas, to and from our various fields of operation, with the minimum of danger and the maximum of efficiency and safety, which at the same time are the admiration of the junior Service and the despair of our enemies. From time to time a corner of the curtain is lifted, and we are allowed to peep behind it and get a glimpse of deeds of valour which make us all proud to be of the same blood as these heroes of the sea.
During the last few months the exigencies of war have thrown a certain strain and inconvenience on the civil populations which in many cases up till then had scarcely in their own persons felt the inconveniences or the troubles of war. It would be well for people who are inclined to complain to remember that what they are now asked to undergo is far less than what the populations of Germany and Austria have been suffering for the past two or three years. I am sure that they will accept this burden. A great Japanese general once laid it down as an important military maxim that the great thing was to last half-an-hour 10 longer than your enemy. Well, the armies are lasting, and they look like lasting indefinitely. The strain is going to come upon the civil populations, and it is probable that the civil populations are going to win or lose the War. We have always heard that staying power was the great British attribute. It rests with our population to prove that it is an attribute in reality, and that it is not simply a tradition which will not stand the test of war. But we here in this House have got to lead them and to give them a worthy example. We must write history which posterity will be proud to read, and will always be handed down as an example for future generations.
§ Lieutenant ALEXANDER SHAW (in uniform)
In rising to second the humble Address which has been moved by my hon. and gallant Friend in a speech distinguished not only by a personal knowledge of the subjects with which he dealt, but by a singular and promising humour, I would venture to ask for that indulgence which this House invariably accords to an inexperienced Member upon such an occasion. My only fitness for this duty lies in the consistent and splendid record of the constituency which I have the honour to represent, a record which, both in the factory and in the field, has been nobly sustained from the beginning, and which, I believe, will be maintained to the end. It is a constituency which offers many advantages and which labours, so far as I am aware, under only one disadvantage—its entire abolition under a measure which recently received the Royal Assent. In that respect I am in the same boat as my hon. and gallant Friend. The Address offers the humble thanks of this House to His Majesty for the gracious speech from the Throne. The House is conscious that in these recent times the Throne has become to all of us something more than the most ancient and secure of our institutions. Under its present august occupant, it is not merely the symbol of the dignity and authority of the nation, but it is the symbol also of the high example of an unremitting labour, of a personal concern and interest which enter the hospital of the wounded and the factory of the worker, and of a human solicitude and sympathy which diminish the burden, while they add to the pride of the bereaved.
The Speech from the Throne refers in grave terms to the critical stage of the War and to the days of further trial which con- 11 front the nation and its Allies. In spite of their known land inevitable hardships, I believe, like my hon. and gallant Friend, that the people of this country face them absolutely undismayed. Although they are ready to seize every opening which might lead to a secure and honourable peace, they share 'the wide land precise vision of the actual situation which was enunciated yesterday by the President of the United States, and in the light of present events they realise more fully than ever the real character and the real ambitions of the Power with which we are at war. May I read to the House words which were spoken more than a century ago, but which are in almost every particular applicable to the situation of to-day—In compromise and treaty with such a Power, placed in such hands as now exercise it, and retaining the same means of annoyance which it now possesses, I see little hope of permanent security. I see no possibility at this moment of concluding such a peace as would justify that liberal intercourse which is the essence of real amity; no chance of terminating the expenses or the anxieties of war, or of restoring to us any of the advantages of established tranquillity; and as a sincere lover of peace, I cannot be content with its nominal attainment; I must be desirous of pursuing that system which promises to attain, in the end, the permanent enjoyment of its solid and substantial blessings, for this country, and for EuropeThat was the language of Pitt in this House in the year 1800. To-day there is among the people in all parts of the Empire the same fervent desire for the substance of peace and the same contempt for the shadow. They have also great contemporary examples. In the humblest homes the record of France and of Italy is revered, and that of Belgium and of Serbia is a household word. The imagination of the country and of the world is fired by the sufferings of these two small peoples and by the constancy with which they continue to devote to the cause of freedom—One equal temper of heroic hearts Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yieldThen, Sir, the people of this country have great examples nearer home. I suppose that all of us moving about our constituencies have noticed how often, when we enter a house, the first object that is pointed out to us by a proud father or mother is the photograph of a sailor or soldier son. This War is everybody's war, and the people in the homes from which these men have gone to face the hazards and the hardships of 12 active service in Salonika, in Palestine, in Mesopotamia, or in France, or to. undergo the ceaseless round of vigilance, peril, and effort on the high seas, whether with the Fleet or with the mercantile marine, these people will not shrink from, any privations which are fairly distributed and which are rendered necessary,. not by such low aims and ambitions of domination and conquest as continue apparently to inspire our chief enemy, but by the high and unselfish objects to which our arms were dedicated at the beginning and to whose service they must remain pledged to the end.
It has been demonstrated again in these days that the spirit of the people of this country is the greatest asset which any nation ever possessed. It is true that it has its own peculiarities. No one knows that better than right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench. It has its own peculiarities of temperament, demanding endless resources of frankness, tact, and wisdom, and demanding, above all, the maintenance and continuance of a perfect atmosphere of good faith. The task of government in such days as these calls for, and has consistently received, the sympathy and support of this House, for it requires all the dynamic vision of the Celt and all the metaphysical sagacity of the Scot, tempered, it is true, from a distance, by that stable urbanity of the Anglo-Saxon which, to be at its best and mellowest, must have undergone exposure for a long period of years to the salt breezes of East Fife. We have made many pleasant discoveries in this House during the War, and, if I may venture to say so, perhaps one of the most pleasant to a recently elected Member is the fact that real political light may flow through the most distorting mediums, and that not even an opponent is opaque. In this House, just as in the country, people care very little indeed for party divisions, and are somewhat impatient of anything that savours of petty or personal differences. Outside, as here, it is the great things which unite us and only the small things that tend to divide us. The people were never more united in their insistence upon our fundamental aims. At home or in the field they are the same people, and at bottom the spirit is identical.
When we ask, as my hon. and gallant Friend asked, whether the people at home will be prepared to submit to new trials, new hardships, and new privations, we find 13 the answer in the example of that portion of the people which is serving in the field. To take but one instance. Amid mud, squalor, hardship, and suffering, which those who have not seen them can hardly imagine, things are being done in France every hour which rise to the very heights of human achievement. Plain men, plain citizens from every part of the King's Dominions, from every county, from every city, from every class and from every trade, are writing a new title for the permanence of our race. If the House will permit me to say so, the identity of spirit both at home and in the field was recently brought home to me somewhat vividly by a personal incident which I venture to repeat to the House. My greatest college friend, leading his company at a most critical moment, and under great difficulties, inspiring them by the example of his own matchless courage, just at the verge of victory was killed by the enemy's fire. That incident took place in France. At home his mother, endeavouring to comfort his young widow, used words which are simple but so full and revealing that I almost hesitate to repeat them: "Thank God, he fell covered with glory" When such a spirit as that is abroad among the people, the responsibilities of Government and of this House are great. But as anxieties and perplexities, national and international, crowd upon us, we have this supreme assurance, that now, as in the darkest days of the Napoleonic War, the great mass of the British people are ready to respond with every ounce of energy and endurance to the clear call of a faultless cause. It is true, as my hon. and gallant Friend said, that the defection of Russia has cast a deep and perplexing shadow upon our plans and purposes. Russia as a material force has gone, but the cause and its duties remain, and by every ship that crosses the Atlantic the great resources of America are being poured to its aid. At a time when there was never more need for courage and endurance, and never less room for doubt, perhaps the House will allow me to conclude with the well-known words of Clough, which seem to sum up the attitude of the people:Say not the struggle naught availeth,The labour and the wounds are vain,The enemy faints not, nor faileth,And as things have been they remain.For not by eastern windows only,When daylight comes, comes in the light,In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly.But westward look, the land is bright
§ Mr. ASQUITH
It has often fallen to my lot to have the privilege of conveying, on behalf of the House, to hon. Gentlemen who have performed the somewhat difficult and responsible duty of moving and seconding the Address our congratulations upon the manner in which they have discharged their task. I think I am not using any language of exaggeration when I say that on this occasion both my hon. Friends who have addressed us have done so in language of unusual felicity and eloquence. It was with a sense of melancholy, as far as I was concerned, which I am sure was shared by the whole House, that I learned that they were both speaking for moribund constituencies. That melancholy is tinged— more than tinged, coloured—with the hope that we may see them here again in the next Parliament, elected, as I am sure they will be, for some other part of the United Kingdom.
According to our well-established Parliamentary precedents, which my hon. Friends have followed, the Debate on the Address, though it begins, and properly begins, with sentiments in which everyone is agreed, is the appropriate and the legitimate occasion for a comprehensive survey and discussion of all the aspects of our national policy. Quite apart from our naval and military operations, from the conduct of our diplomacy and from the declarations of our war aims—I would rather prefer to call them our peace aims—we have had at home, in the course of the last twelve months, a succession of what I may describe as administrative experiments, which I have no doubt will become in the course of this Debate a subject for review. But I pass by them and by many other topics of the first importance for the moment, in order to concentrate, during the short time that I shall appeal to the indulgence of the House, to speak upon one or two matters which seem to be of the highest urgency.
Let me say at the outset a few words on the latest developments of the general situation. A number of salient and novel facts have emerged since the beginning of the present year. By the present year I mean the calendar year in which we are. In the first place we have had a restatement of peace aims on behalf of this country by the Prime Minister—a statement in which I say at once I entirely concur, both in spirit and in letter—and on behalf of the United States of America by President 15 Wilson. We have had to these statements the replies of Germany, from Count Hertling, and of Austria, from Count Czernin. We have next the resumption of the Brest negotiations, which have resulted, as we now know, in a formal treaty between the Central Powers and the Ukraine, which we notice from the full terms, published, I think, for the first time to-day, is to receive by way of reward, without apparently any question of self-determination, portions of Poland and of Russia. We have also a declaration by those who represent the Bolshevik Government of Russia that Russia is no longer at war with the Central Powers and their Allies. We have all read this morning two remarkable and sharply contrasted declarations by great and responsible persons. One was a declaration by the German Emperor, whose exact words, as they are reported, are:We desire to live in friendship with neighbouring peoples, but victory of the German arms must first be recognised. Our troops, under our great Hindenburg, will continue to win it. Then peace will comeLet me note, in regard to that declaration, two features. In the first place the Emperor's aspiration for friendship with other nations is confined in expression to "neighbouring peoples," a phrase which does not appear at first sight to include ourselves. That, however, may be a mere lapse of speech. What is much more important for us to remember is that, as past experience abundantly teaches us, it has very often been, and it may be to-day, and I am disposed myself to think it is, a mistake to assume or to act on the assumption that what the Emperor says as to the conditions of peace is what the German people, or even the German Reichstag, really think and feel. But that by the way.
The other statement of policy which today's news brings to us is to be found in an address delivered yesterday to Congress by President Wilson. He discriminates, and I think justly, as far as I am able to form a judgment, both in regard to tone and to substance, between the declarations of the German and the Austrian Ministers. He shows, I think quite convincingly, the utter futility of these partial and piecemeal bargainings, which recall the worst methods of what is called the "old diplomacy," and offer no prospect either of permanent stability in themselves or of lasting and honourable peace as their result. It would seem, as the President said, as if the military party in Germany 16 alone rejects and will have nothing to do with a peace based upon lines which, in principle at any rate, practically the whole of the rest of the world is ready to accept. Need I repeat—it has been said here so often before—what is as true to-day as it ever was at any stage of the War, that it is such a peace, and such a peace only, that, with the new international order which it will bring as we hope and believe in its train, will compensate for the sacrifices, and which justifies and even necessitates the prolongation and prosecution of the War. No one realises more than the people of this country the supreme importance and urgency of peace. No one has a greater interest than we have in accelerating the advent of peace; and I trust and believe that no word will fall from the lips of any one of us in the course of these Debates which will prejudice or postpone that prospect. But I have felt it my duty to say more than once before that "the peace for which we are fighting must be a clean peace, a lasting peace, resting upon the foundation, of international justice" When I use that language, I am speaking not only the opinion of this country, but of all our Allies.
In what I have said I shall probably have the assent of hon. Members in every part of the House. In what I am going to say, which may appear to enter into more controversial ground, I am going rather to ask for information than to state or suggest conclusions. We are all agreed, even those of us who are most ardently desirous of the speedy attainment of peace, that while the War lasts and the purposes for which we entered into the War are still unachieved, it should be prosecuted, as far as we are concerned, with the best resources at our disposal. Among our resources, manifold and various as they are, the first place must, in my opinion, be assigned to leadership. There have been many criticisms—some of them just, some of them unjust—upon the conduct of our naval and military operations during the past year, but there is nothing that has been clone — I am speaking now more particularly of the military field—or left undone which has in the least shaken the confidence of the nation and of the Empire in the two great soldiers, Sir Douglas Haig, our Commander-in-Chief, and Sir William Robertson, the head of our General Staff at home. For more than two years, and amidst all those vicissitudes of fortune which during 17 that time have befallen the Allied cause, they have proved over and over again their possession in a pre-eminent degree of the qualities of foresight, tenacity, patience, and unperturbed resolve, which go furthest to win and to retain the trust and loyal devotion of British troops. I am echoing the voice, not only of the House, but of the whole country, when I say that we owe them unstinted gratitude and unwavering confidence. Great soldiers are fallible — that quality of the soldiers which is also shared by great politicians. Having seen a good deal myself of soldiers, there are no two men in the whole of Europe whose military judgment I would more unhesitatingly accept.
With that preface—which I am sure will excite no difference of opinion—I think it my duty, in view of many disquieting things that are said and even written, to address to the Government one or two inquiries which I hope they may find it both right and expedient to answer. It will be within the recollection of the House that last November, after the formation of the new Supreme War Council which sits at Versailles, and after it had been announced in Paris, I took the responsibility of raising the matter here, with the result that the Prime Minister was good enough to give us a good deal of information—information which I think I may say quite frankly went a long way to allay, if. not to destroy, some of the apprehensions which were felt among men of experience and knowledge with regard to that body.
I will call attention to only two of the statements made by the right hon. Gentleman. The first was in answer to a question of mine on the 14th of November, when he gave a very specific catalogue of the functions of the new body, and added these words:From the foregoing it will be clear that the Council will have no executive power, and that the final decisions in matters of strategy, and as to the distribution and movements of the various Armies in the field, will rest with the several Governments of the Allies.He added as a corollary to this statement:There will be, therefore, no Operations Department attached to the Council"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th November, 1917, col. 389, Vol. 99.]A few days later the matter was the subject of formal debate in this House. He then repeated the same statement, and summed up what he had said by saying:Nothing in the nature of full executive authority has been given to the new body, and, as I have suggested, the final decision must remain with the various Governments18 I confess I heard these declarations from my right hon. Friend with great satisfaction, for while co-ordination is an excellent thing—you cannot have too much of it, if it is properly organised and arranged and pursued—there is all the difference in the world between co-ordination and subordination, whether it applies to the action of the Commander-in-Chief in the field or the General Staffs or the Governments at home. Therefore, when last week I read in the official communication of the deliberations and conclusions of the recent meetings of the council, the following:The functions of the Council itself were enlarged, and the principles of unity of policy and of action insisted on at Rapallo in November last received still further concrete and practical developmentsI thought it right to put a question at once, and to ask in what respect and to what extent that enlargement of functions had taken place with the approval of His Majesty's Government. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in reply, excused himself from answering, on the ground that it was not in the public interests that he should do so, or words to that effect. I heard that answer with a certain amount of surprise. I think I need hardly assure the House that my record is fairly clean, and that I am the very last person to put a question to the Government which will have the effect either of embarrassing our military operations, or still more of giving useful information to the enemy. I never have asked such a question, and I never will ask such a question. But this seems to me to be a totally different matter.
I do not in the least want to know, and I do not ask the Government to tell us or give any inkling, of what the result of the deliberations of the Conference were, so far as they related to military and strategic operations. But we had in November, when it was evidently regarded as perfectly consistent with the public interests, a full and an explicit definition, exact to the last degree, of the functions of this Council from my right hon. Friend the head of the Government. When, therefore, we are told a few months later that, apparently by the Council itself, obviously with the approval of the Governments there represented, the functions of the Council have been enlarged, I cannot possibly see why the same public interests which permitted of this definition and disclosure which was originally made should not also allow an 19 equally plain and frank statement of the manner in which those functions have been enlarged.
There has been erected upon this statement—as the right hon. Gentlemen who sit upon that Bench must very well know, as we know, and as everybody concerned in this matter knows—a superstructure of conjecture, of supposition and of hypothesis, which may, for aught I know, be ill-founded. But it has been widely circulated, and I cannot but think that, in the public interest itself, as well as in the interests of this House, which has rights and a duty to perform, the Government will be well advised to take advantage of this constitutional opportunity to tell us, with such precision and with such explicitness as the conduct of our actual military operations allows, what is the enlargement of the functions of this Council; in what directions have they been enlarged, and what are the new functions and the new duties which the Council has taken on itself. In particular —and here comes the crux of the whole matter—when that Council was set up we were assured, in language which I have already quoted, that it would not undertake any executive functions. Therefore, we would like to know whether the enlargement which it has now assumed includes, or does not include, executive functions. I am speaking, as I need hardly assure the House, in what I believe to be the best interests of the country and the prosecution of the War. With such experience as I have, and such knowledge of history as we all possess, I look, or should look, with very great distrust upon confiding to a body of this kind anything in the nature of executive functions. The Commander-in-Chief and the Chief of Staff cannot serve two masters. The Chief of Staff can serve only one, and that one ought to be his own Government. Similarly, the Commander-in-Chief ought to get his orders through the Chief of Staff, and through the Chief of Staff alone. I should be very sorry to think that that which seems to me, until I am convinced of the contrary, a sound, practical maxim of carrying on the War, and which was recognised in the original constitution and definition of the functions of this Council, has been abandoned or seriously modified.
There is another question which arises here, and which I am bound to put to the 20 Government. I wish to know, and I am sure the House desires to know, whether any change has been made, or is contemplated, in the status, the personnel, or the functions of the Commander-in-Chief or the Chief of the General Staff? That is not an impertinent question. It is a question in which everybody in this country is interested, and rightly interested, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will feel it consistent with his duty and with the exigencies of the War to give us a plain and definite answer.
I rule out as absolutely irrelevant in matters of this kind the wretched personal rivalries, intrigues, and squabbles, if such there be, of which we read. They are beneath notice, and I cannot believe—and until I have overwhelming evidence to the contrary I will not believe—that considerations of that kind can influence the action either of politicians or of military men. They both owe a primary and supreme duty to their country, and in the performance of that duty it is imperative that they should lay aside all personal prepossessions, whether in the shape of favour or otherwise. I believe, until the contrary is proved, that that has been the case throughout the War, and is now the case. But I do feel that this House would not be discharging the duty which it owes to the constituencies, to the country, and to the Empire unless it asks, as I think it is entitled to ask, for a definite and an authoritative statement, with a view to quieting suspicions and to removing doubts, and, if possible, of satisfying us that the strategy of the War is to be conducted in the future upon sound lines, and upon lines which commend themselves to our highest technical advisers as well as to our statesmen. I hope that my right hon. Friend will feel himself in a position to give some satisfaction in regard to these inquiries.
I will only add that, while I believe the national resolve is as strong as it ever was, and that the purposes which have excited and created and stimulated that resolve are as tenaciously held as they ever were, and while I am certain that we have unabated confidence both in the prescience and skill of our generals and the valour and endurance of our troops, both on sea, and land, and that while in all these respects we are as firm and as united as we have ever been, we are looking forward, I will not say with confidence—he would be a rash and bold man who would endeavour to lift the curtain 21 which shrouds the future — but we are looking forward with hope. We have seen a growing development of opinion throughout the civilised world which is not confined to ourselves or to neutral Powers, but which, I believe, is spreading widely and largely among our enemy themselves, in favour of bringing this conflict to a termination upon the only sound basis upon which the future of Europe can be built up. And, with that statement of our convictions and of our hopes, I say that it is, above all things, necessary that we should have complete confidence in the system by which we are carrying on the War, and in the perfect harmony of opinion as well as of effort between the Governments and those who are concerned.
§ THE PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Lloyd George)
I am afraid that I shall have to claim the indulgence of the House for the short time which I shall have to occupy because I have a very severe cold. May I join my right hon. Friend in the language of commendation which he used to the Mover and the Seconder of the Address? I am not using the language of conventional eulogy when I say that during my fairly long experience of this House I never knew that difficult duty discharged with greater skill, tact, and judgment. I have been in this House now for nigh on a generation, and I think that I have occupied my fair share of the time of the House during that period, but whenever I have heard the Mover and Seconder of the Address I have always felt grateful that I have never, during the whole of the twenty-eight years I have been here, been put to that particular test. I think that it is about the most difficult function that could fall upon any Member of this House, and I congratulate very sincerely my two hon. Friends upon the admirable manner in which they have discharged that difficult duty.
It is customary for the Minister who speaks on these occasions to confine his observations to answering questions which are addressed to him by the Leader of the Opposition, and I am not going to depart on this occasion from that well-worn tradition. I sought to find out what questions were to be addressed to the Government on this occasion, because I thought that it was exceptionally important that the Government should be informed, so that whatever answers were given should be well considered. regret—perhaps it was owing to the 22 absence of my right hon. Friend—that I was unable to ascertain them until, through the courtesy of my right hon. Friend, this morning one of the questions which have been referred to was mentioned to me.
My right hon. Friend has said a great deal about the speeches which have recently been delivered on the question of peace. The Government stand by the declaration, the considered declaration, which I made on behalf of my colleagues and myself to the Trade Union representatives early this year. I read with profound disappointment the replies given to President Wilson's speech and the one which I delivered on behalf of the Government, by the German Chancellor and Count Czernin. It is perfectly true, as far as tone is concerned, that there was a great difference between the Austrian speech and the German speech, but I wish that I could believe that there was a difference in substance. I cannot altogether, and I regret it, accept that interpretation of Count Czernin's speech. It was extraordinarily civil in tone and friendly, but when you came to the real substance of the demands put forward by the Allies, it was adamant. It put Mesopotamia, Palestine, and Arabia in exactly the same category as Belgium. They were to be restored to the Turks, on the same conditions presumably as those on which Germany was to restore Belgium. When it came to the demands of Italy, Count Czernin simply said that certain offers had been made before the War, and that they were now withdrawn As far as the Slavonic population of Austria was concerned it was purely a polite statement to President Wilson and the others that it was none of our business to inquire. There was not a single definite question dealt with on which Count Czernin did not present the most definite refusal to discuss any terms that might be regarded as possible terms of peace.
And when you come to the German reply, it is very difficult for anyone who reads the answer to believe that Count Hertling could have been even serious in some of the demands which he made. What was his answer to the very moderate terms which had been put forward by the Allies? His answer was that Britain was to give up her coaling stations throughout the world. He named half a dozen. For the first tune that demand was put forward. I confess I think that 23 was the last demand that Germany ought decently to have put forward. These coaling stations had in the past been as accessible to German as to British ships. The German Fleet always received the most hospitable treatment at all these coaling stations. In 1913 the visits paid by German men-of-war and transports to these ports came to something like fifty or sixty. These vessels received exactly the same facilities as British men-of-war The same thing applied to ordinary German merchant ships. There were German coaling firms there conducting their trade under exactly the same conditions as the British firms. I confess that to put forward a demand of that kind for the first time, in the fourth year of the War, is the best possible proof that the German Empire, or those at any rate at the present moment controlling it, are not in a mood to discuss reasonable terms of peace with the Allies. I regret it profoundly.
But there is no use crying peace when there is no peace. These speeches were examined carefully, examined with a real desire to find something in them which indicated that the Central Powers were prepared to come somewhere near a basis of agreement, and I confess that an examination of these two speeches proved profoundly disappointing to those who are sincerely anxious to find any real and genuine desire for peace in them. The action of the German Empire in reference to Russia proves that all the declarations as to no annexations and no indemnities or contributions have no real meaning. No answer has been given with regard to Belgium which anyone can regard as satisfactory. No answer has been given with regard to Poland, or with regard to the legitimate claims of France for the restoration of her lost provinces. Not a word was said about the men of Italian race and tongue who are now under the Austrian yoke; and when you came to Turkey, as I have already indicated, so far from either Count Hertling or Count Czernin indicating that they were prepared to recognise the rights of the Arabs in Mesopotamia and in Arabia, it was a pure denial of those rights, an indication that they were determined to maintain what they called the "integrity of Turkey"
I should like any hon. Gentleman in this House to point out anything in these speeches which he could possibly regard as a proof that the Central Powers 24 are prepared to make peace on terms which he would regard as just and reasonable. I fail to find anything of the kind, and it is with the profoundest regret that I say so. But the Government do not recede in the least from the statement of war aims which they have made. They still consider those as being the aims and ideals for which we are fighting, and there is every indication that the nation as a whole accepted those as a fair, just, and moderate statement; and until there is some better proof than is supplied in any of these speeches that the Central Powers are prepared to consider them, it will be our regrettable duty to go on making all the preparations necessary in order to establish international right in the world.
My right hon. Friend asked me a question with regard to the Versailles Conference, and he seemed to think that it was possible to answer without giving away any information as to the conduct of our actual military operations. There is no use giving partial information, and I think that if he reflects—even from the indications which ho has seen as to the character of the decisions there—he will find that it is impossible to make any statement to the House as to the decisions which were taken without giving information as to the plans of the Allies. Just let the House consider what is the position. It is perfectly true that when in November I came here after the Rapallo Conference, and announced to the House that an International Council had been set up for the purpose of co-ordinating the strategy of the Allies, I stated that it was not the intention of the Allies that this body should have any executive functions. What has happened since then? Russia has gone out of the War. [HON. Members: "She was out then !"] In effect, Russia has gone out of the War. [An Hon. Member: "When?"] The House will allow me to follow that up. Since then a very considerable number of German divisions have actually left the Eastern Front, and been brought to the West. The situation has become very much more menacing than it was at that time. The Allies met at Versailles to consider the best methods of meeting that menace during 1918. Up to the present year the Allies had an overwhelming majority of troops upon the Western Front. That is giving no military information away, for the enemy is as much 25 cognisant of it as we are. Gradually, even rapidly, that superiority has diminished, especially during the last few weeks. In spite of the undertaking given by the Germans to the Russians that, during the period of the armistice, no troops would be moved from the East to the West, they are being moved as rapidly as railway transit arrangements will allow. That had to be borne in mind and discussed, because it has a real bearing upon guarantees.
That was the situation with which we were confronted at Versailles. Up to this year, there was no attack which the Germans could bring to bear upon either our Army or the French Army which could not, in the main, be dealt with by the reserves of each individual Army. The situation is completely changed by the enormous reinforcements brought from the East to the West; and the Allied representatives at Versailles had to consider the best method of dealing with the situation, which was a completely different one from any situation with which they had been previously confronted. They had to deal with a situation where it may be necessary —where it is absolutely essential—that the whole strength of the Allied Armies-France, Great Britain, Italy, and America—should be made available for the point at which the attack comes. Where will the blow come? Will it come here or there? Who can tell? All you know is that it is preparing. They have got a gigantic railway system behind which they may swing troops here or there. It is essential that arrangements should be made by which the Allies shall treat their Armies as one, to meet the danger and menace wherever it comes.
That was the problem with which we were confronted at Versailles. If we had not dealt with it, we should have been guilty of a gross dereliction of duty. What happened there? In the old Conferences to which I have been accustomed military members met together, and when the civilian members were met the military members came with a written document saying what they had decided. I do not mind saying that at such a Conference, to discuss strategy was a pure farce. But here you had, for purposes of decisions, civilian members and military members sitting together for four or five days. The Commanders-in-Chief were there, the Chiefs of the Staffs, the military representa- 26 tives, and the Prime Ministers of the three countries, and other Ministers as. well. The discussions took place freely during the whole of these days; the military members took part just as freely as the civilian members, and there was an interchange of views during the whole of the time. And let me say that, as the result, complete unanimity was reached. There was not a division of opinion upon any resolution that was come to.
With regard to this critical action which is involved in the extension of the Versailles powers, I must speak with caution, because I am talking about military decisions in the War Council. Ah, I wish there had been someone in Germany, or in Austria, whose ears were glued to the keyhole when the War Council of Austria and Germany sat, and that he had published their decisions in the newspapers ! The man who had done that, and could tell us what arrangements the Austrians and the Germans, had together come to, in order to co-ordinate most effectually to attack our forces, would be worth twenty army corps to the Allies.
When I talk about the War Council and its decisions, I have to do so with caution, because if information were given to the enemy, I had rather the responsibility was on other shoulders than mine. I know what it means. There are millions of gallant lives depending upon it, the honour of the State, the safety of our native land depends upon it—these great war aims, upon which the future of the world depends, turn upon it. To give away information which would imperil these is treason beyond description, and I decline to do it. It is enough for me to say that the decisions come to there were come to unanimously. We have to consider the beat methods of carrying them out.
May I just say one word further? There is no Army whose security more depends upon these decisions being carried out than the British Army. It is holding the most important part of the line. I felt flattered in France, at the Council, when I realised that this new Army, this Army of new men, which had sprung into being in the course of the last two or three years, has been entrusted by France, with its own great Army, with the defence of its capital, with the defence of the most vital parts of France and the ports along the coast—all voluntarily handed over by France to the defence of the British Army. The demand of France was not that our 27 Army should take less, but that they should take more of the responsibility, and that in itself is evidence of the confidence felt in the gallantry and prowess of our Army, and, let me say here, in its leadership as well. My right hon. Friend talked about the leadership of the Army. No man has talked in more glowing terms of the leadership of the Army than I did at this very table, and I do not withdraw a syllable of what I said. But I do beg the House, and I beg my right hon. Friend— he has had responsibility, for two or three years, for the conduct of the War—I beg him not to press the Government to give information which any intelligence officer on the other side would gladly pay large sums of money to get, as to the arrangements which this country and the Allies have made for countering that great blow.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
I am sorry to interrupt, but I must protest in the strongest terms against the insinuation made. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw!"] I am in the recollection of the House. I made it perfectly plain that I asked for no information of that kind. My question was, In what respect have the functions of this Council been permanently enlarged?
§ THE PRIME MINISTER
I apologise to my right hon. Friend. If ho thinks I have made any insinuation against him, not only do I regret it, but I withdraw any possible suggestion of it. It was far from my mind to suggest. [An HON. MEMBER: "You did it pretty well!"] I say it was far from my mind to make any insinuation against my right hon. Friend or any other Member of this House. I suggest to him— it is not my suggestion but my statement—that to give information as to the decisions at Versailles would be unwise. What is the point? I do not quite know.
§ THE PRIME MINISTER
What I have been trying to convey to the House is this: I very much regret if anyone should be under the impression for a moment that I made any suggestion against my right hon. Friend of wishing for information which would damage the country. But I do want him to realise that you cannot give that information without giving information to the enemy. That is what I have been trying to convey. How could I give information with regard to the executive powers which have been conferred upon Versailles?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Certainly the powers have been extended; that has already been announced. [An Hon. Member: "How far extended?"] You cannot tell the House what powers have been conferred upon Versailles, what executive powers, unless you say what it is they have got to do. There is a certain action which has been decided upon at Versailles by the Council. The carrying out of that has been entrusted to the nominees of the Governments sitting at Versailles—not necessarily those who are there now, but to nominees of the Governments who will be sitting at Versailles. How am I to tell the House of Commons what those executive functions are unless I tell the House of Commons exactly what the decisions of the Versailles Council were? I would have no hesitation in telling my right hon. Friend (Mr. Asquith) exactly what those decisions of the Versailles Council were, and had I had the opportunity before this I should have done so. I told my right hon. Friend who sits near him that I should be happy to do so. He would then have seen what I mean when I say that it is quite impossible to say the extent to which those functions have been extended, without actually saying what the decision was with regard to the action which was taken by those various Governments in order to counter the blow—quite impossible.
May I say this: Before we came to the decision that it was undesirable to publish these facts we took the opinion not merely of the Council at Versailles, but each of the separate Governments referred to their Governments at home, and it was only after we had the reply of each separate Government, that in their judgment it would be inadvisable to publish these facts, that we have issued the prohibition to the Press stating that they should not be published. Do the House of Commons—and again I say does my right hon. Friend—wish to take the responsibility of forcing the Government to publish information wlr.ch the whole of the Allied representatives at Versailles thought it would be undesirable to publish, and about which each separate Government, considering it afterwards on the report of their representative, had come to the same decision? I cannot believe it! What could be gained by it? Is it suggested, that when the whole of the 29 Allied Powers were in agreement as to the undesirability of doing this, that Britain shall stand out? This was something that was agreed upon after the most mature discussion, and I will give the House an idea of the unanimity there was on the war methods. There was, first of all, this discussion about the general powers, and then came a discussion as to the best methods of carrying it out. It was decided that each of the national delegates there should consider it in the evening, and bring their plans forward in the morning. Each of the four national delegates, considering it separately, came to exactly the same conclusion as to the best method of extending those powers. I have one word to say about this: When you are conducting a war, there are questions which a Government must decide. The House of Commons, if it is not satisfied, has in my judgment but one way of dealing with the situation; it can change that Government. But to try and discuss military decisions—
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Believe me, this is a military decision. Does my right hon. Friend know what it means? I say it is a military decision—a military decision of the first magnitude—and a military decision where some of the greatest soldiers of the Allies were present and at which they contributed to arrive.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Certainly; they were present there, and all those representatives approved. I could carry it further with regard to that. [Hon. Members: "No, no!" and an Hon. Member: "Do not be drawn!"] It is very difficult under these circumstances, because the House must realise that I am anxious not to give information which would be of the slightest help to the enemy. There is only one way when we go to councils of war—you must leave it to those who are there to decide, and if you have no confidence in them, whether they be military or whether they be civil, there is only one way, and that is to change them. But to go on and discuss these matters in the newspapers, whether on one side or the other—and if you begin discussing them on one side you are bound to have discussion on the other—makes war direction impossible — absolutely impossible!
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I, for my part, would stop them all. [An. Hon. Member: "Why not stop Northcliffe from doing it?"] And I do not believe it possible to conduct a war unless you do so. What does it mean up to the present? If there is some decision with which somebody is not satisfied, there are criticisms in the papers with little bits of information—
§ The PRIME MINISTER
That is an absolute and unmitigated falsehood, and I cannot allow a statement of that kind to go.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I have been fighting hard against these paragraphs appearing in the Press. There is nothing that makes the work of government more difficult than discussions of strategical questions going on in the Press, and I appeal to the House of Commons, and I appeal outside the House of Commons to those who are interested in seeing this War conducted efficiently, to prevent discussions of this kind going on. If the House of Commons and the country are not satisfied with the conduct of the War, and if they think there is any Government which can conduct it better, then it is their business, in God's name, to put that other Government in ! But as long as the House of Commons retains its confidence in the Government, then I say it ought to allow the Government a full and free hand in the direction of the War. By that means you preserve national unity, and you preserve unity amongst the Allies—a vital thing, because we are fighting not alone four great Allied countries together, but when you go into a Council like that you get representatives of each there. Therefore, I appeal to the House of Commons to support the Government in its determination, first of all, that when decisions of this kind are come to, they are to be carried out, and that they are not to be revealed to the enemy. In order to give information that enables him to prepare his counter-stroke.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
I desire to say one or two words -after the interesting and reassuring speech to which we have just 31 listened. The right hon. Gentleman stated what I am sure is the mind of the whole House about the policy and aims of the War. No one desires that there should be the smallest sign of change in policy in respect to prolonging the War until those aims are accomplished. Those who are anxious, over-anxious perhaps, for peace have coined a phrase and say that some of us are "never-endians" I believe we are none of us never-endians, but that we are "never-a-gainers," and that we wish to prolong the War until it is certain that peace will be lasting as well as just. I think the right hon. Gentleman removed the anxieties of the House upon another point when he said that the decisions which have been taken, of whatever character they are, and after what he has said no one can ask him any further questions, were unanimous. The real apprehension in the minds of the public is this, that the distinguished soldiers who advise the Government should be overruled by the Government upon strictly military questions. I do not think that public opinion would support the Government if they took that course. I do not think that this House or the country would approve of any purely military decision which did not command the confidence and approval of the military advisers of the Government. It is quite true that there might be an occasion, because, as the right hon. Gentleman opposite said, military men are not infallible, in which the Government were quite right and the military advisers were quite wrong. I do not think that the present Government—I speak quite frankly upon the point—has the sort of authority that would enable them to overrule their military advisers. If really it unhappily happened that the Government disagreed with their military advisers upon a capital point of military policy, I am sure that they would crown the many great services they have rendered to the country by resigning office and allowing some ministerial reconstruction. This would enable the country to be assured that if the military advisers of the Government were to be overruled it was not on account of the opinion of one particular politician, or even of three or four particular politicians, but that it was the sober conviction of those who had impartially reviewed the situa- 32 tion. I am sure, as things now stand, the present Government does not possess the sort of authority which would enable them to take a decision on military matters with which their military advisers were not in agreement. If such decision were to be come to it could only be come to after a Ministerial reconstruction. And the reason, I think, the Government do not possess that authority is because of the action of the Press. I listened with great admiration and great assent to what the right hon. Gentleman said about the action of the Press. The weakness of the Government in this respect arises from the action of the Press. The right hon. Gentleman repudiated in very warm terms —terms naturally warm—the suggestion that he had acted in collusion with the Press; but there have been episodes which make that suspicion, however unjustifiable, not wholly unnatural.
Let me remind the right hon. Gentleman of the circumstances attending the reconstruction at the Admiralty and the retirement of Lord Jellicoe. That appeared to begin some months back in the columns of the newspapers. There appeared several articles written in various newspapers-pointing towards some such reconstruction: ultimately the reconstruction was made. Well, now, there are two explanations of that coincidence. Either that the Government yielded to the Press and allowed the Press to determine for them what their policy was to be— in which case, greatly as we value the services of the Press as critics, I am sure the whole country and the whole House would be unanimous in thinking that the Press ought not to govern the country and the Government ought not to take the advice of the Press; or, on the other hand, that there was some surreptitious collusion between the Press and the Government, and that the articles in the Press were originally suggested by the Government, and the Government afterwards took action, believing public opinion to be satisfied with the articles which they had inspired. I gathered from my right hon. Friend that that last accusation is entirely untrue. I do not, of course, after he has denied it, desire to suggest it, but undoubtedly the suspicion exists. There is this difficulty—
§ Lord H. CECIL
I quite accept the contradiction of the right hon. Gentleman. He knows entirely what are the facts. He naturally resents such an accusation if it is untrue. But the right hon. Gentleman will observe that there is this coincidence between his policy and the articles in the Press on this matter, which does show that either ho is much guided by the Press or that there is some communication between them. I say that is disastrous to the moral authority of the Government. If they differ from their advisers their authority is very considerable so long as they are speaking—as the right hon. Gentleman eloquently said in the opening part of his speech—what is the mind of the country and of Members in every part of the House about our war aims and the necessity for vigorously pursuing the War. They have not, however, got authority to overrule their military advisers because they are supposed to be—let us say, after the right hon. Gentleman's contradiction —too much under the influence of the Press: they are supposed to yield too much to the counsels and advice of the Press. That being so, I really hope the right hon. Gentleman will act upon the language, the warm language, that he used in deprecating the criticisms of the Press in these important military matters. It is obvious they put the Government in a very difficult and very false position. If the Press strongly recommends a course, the Government are in a difficulty; that it either appears that the Press are governing the country, or they are obliged to reject the advice—possibly wise advice ! —that the Press offers. Therefore, I hope the Government, without, of course, exercising any improper tyranny, will take a perfectly firm line with the newspapers which disregard its advice or directions, and that, in the public interest, they will not hesitate to suppress, if necessary, even the most influential journals. I am quite sure that this House would support them in any action of this kind. I am quite sure it would be a relief to the public opinion of this country if people were quite assured that the Government always acted upon their independent convictions, and were always, as it were, worked by the Press in the interests of journalists— very able men, some of them—men of 34 genius in their own profession—but not men to whom the government of the country should be entrusted.
§ Admiral of the Fleet Sir HEDWORTH MEUX
I am sure the whole country as well as the House will be very pleased to hear the Prime Minister's vigorous denunciation of the accusation that he has had any part in the campaign against the officers to whom reference has been made. If, however, I may be allowed to read a few remarks from my own speech, when, I followed the right hon. Gentleman on 19th November, I should like to do so; and there are one or two points which I should think might be cleared up. I was speaking about Sir John Jellicoe. I said then:Sir H. Meux: I should like to know whether the Prime Minister approved of these attacks upon Sir John Jellicoe.The Prime Minister: Certainly not. I thought they were grossly unfairThat is the very start. Then I asked:Sir H. Meux: Did the Prime Minister disapprove of them?I am not certain, but, if I remember rightly, the Prime Minister nodded, indicating that he did.Sir H. Meux: If so, why did he not stop them?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th November, 1917, col. 908, Vol. 99.]That really is at the bottom of it! As a man who loves his country and is prepared to follow the right hon. Gentleman, we want to have the power to get rid of the Press which does this bullying. This sort of thing makes the people suspicious. Why does not the Prime Minister get rid of his private secretaries? [An HON. MEMBER: "Of military age!"] There is no one more desirous of following any Prime Minister who is conducting this War than I am, but I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman to get rid of the Press which is hanging round his neck like the Albatross—hon. Members know Coleridge's story!
§ General PAGE CROFT
I should like to add one or two words to what has fallen from the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just sat down, and who referred to the Press. I believe that if the present action of the Press in this country is continued it is going more to bring about disunity than any other action which can be taken either on the field of battle, this House, or elsewhere. I want just to ask the Prime Minister if he will consider for one moment the effect of the kind of articles which we have read in the great 35 influential Press combine in this country on the Armies in the field and upon civilians at home. I know that it is extremely unwise to criticise great newspapers, but I think there comes a time when it must be done. I do hope it will be done in every section of this House. Consider a newspaper which is read by hundreds of thousands of people every day, and day after day. Suppose you find a suggestion there that the High Command, or the Chief of Staff, or the Commander-in-Chief in France, have not got the confidence of the Army or of the Government. The effect of that must be to cause doubt right through the Armies in the field, and that is a most disastrous position to arrive at. Precisely the same thing occurs in regard to the people at home. Newspapers make these suggestions, when the whole success of our cause depends upon the spirit of the people in this country— whether they can feel that their cause is just, their leadership wise, and whether they are going to be able to stand the strain of the difficult times which are coming. If it appears day by day in numerous newspapers that it is not all right with the conduct of the Army in the field it must have a very terrible effect upon the men as well as those to whom we are looking, and looking we hope with confidence, to sustain the increased burden of the War. I am glad the right hon. Gentleman has disassociated the Government from this matter. If you get articles on one side, you get counter-attacks. You get, then, the defenders of the High Command defending them; then you get attacks made one way or another in a group of newspapers. I am one of those who think that the Government's conduct in regard to the pacifist agitation of this country has been weak from the start. I think the Government ought to have taken far stronger steps. But I also put it to the Government that any action of this kind, which weakens the unity of the people, ought to be dealt with under the Defence of the Realm Act. The Government ought not to allow distinguished officers to remain in the High Command of this country during a great war and to be attacked by the Press. Either they ought to get rid of these officers, if they think they are not the right men in the right place, or else they ought to stop the criticisms in the Press, which are so harmful throughout the length and breadth of the country.
36 Just one word in regard to what the Prime Minister said in reply to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife (Mr. Asquith). Everybody must agree that it is quite impossible for the Prime Minister to make a statement in this House as to the policy decided upon by the Versailles Council. But I do think that he will have, sooner or later, to tell this House what is the precise position as between the Commanders-in-Chief and the War Council at Versailles. That seems to me to be a question upon which we shall have to have a more definite statement. Everyone will surely agree that you cannot give the policy decided upon, but we must know—I think we are entitled to know, for I do not think it will make any difference to the information possessed by the enemy—what is the position between the Commanders-in-Chief and the Supreme War Council. If decisions have been come to, it is far better that these decisions should be made public—that the executive functions, and so on, of the War Council at Versailles should be more fully known. I think it will be necessary for the Prime Minister, sooner or later, to make a little fuller statement with regard to that question. There is one thing I should like to say. I think we are rather too much inclined to imagine that because we were not a military nation before, that, therefore, our generals are less competent than other generals engaged in the War. I am not referring to what has been said in the House to-day: I am speaking of the idea that has been going through the Press. I put it to hon. Members present that we have always looked upon the great generals of the French Armies as perhaps those who were most competent of all to deal with these questions of high strategy. We are only too glad to think that we have their brains working on our side. But it must not be forgotten that the French generals, great as they are, and the German generals, great as they are, have not been more successful—this is the real point—than our own generals. We are up against a terrific proposition. Hindenburg has not been able to solve it. Ludendorff has not been able to solve it. None of the great French generals has been able to solve it. There has never been a position on the Western Front, since the War became a war of fixed positions, in which there were more successful operations than the initial 37 operations of Cambrai. When you come to discuss this question and take count of the total losses and the total achievement there does not seem very much between the various High Commands of the three great military Powers—for I think we may include ourselves.
There is one point which I think it most necessary we should consider. The British Army and the French Army would work admirably under a War Council, but I believe there is a very great deal to be said against a policy of allowing anyone at that Council to be supreme over the great Armies of another race. No man has risen yet in the Armies in the field who is capable of commanding the combined Armies of France and the British Empire. If you are going to put the troops to a great test they would willingly undergo all sacrifices, if it is the common plan of a common council, on which no individual has executive superiority, but you must leave entirely the function of the Army to the Commander of that Army in the field. There was something happened not long ago in this connection which induces me to utter one word of warning in this regard. At one time General Nivelle was approached—well, I will not go so far as that, but there was some question at any rate of his becoming Commander-in-Chief of the combined Armies. But he was absolutely untried as a commander of such great forces, and shortly afterwards ho was superseded as Commander-in-Chief of the French Army. We do not want to be in the position of always decrying ourselves. What this Empire has done in the War has been wonderful from every point of view. Do not let us imagine that, because we were not a military power before the War, therefore all our generals are inferior to those of foreign Powers. If the Government have not confidence in their Commander-in-Chief, or in any other great officers, let them get rid of them, but do not allow the Press to go on attacking them. What is the position of these great soldiers in the field? Just imagine the colossal responsibility that rests upon them, the millions of lives for which they may be responsible. What must they think when they read papers containing these insidious attacks upon them? These things ought to be put a stop to at once.
The tendency is for us nowadays to get a little bit rattled. I cannot see why we should do so. I cannot agree with what 38 the Prime Minister said just now that it is only to-day we know that Russia is out of the War. Any competent military adviser could have told the right hon. Gentleman that nine months ago, and our plans ought to have been laid accordingly. The fact remains that Russia is out of the War, and America is in. There is the further fact that the British Fleet alone, having got the Germans by the throat, will ultimately win this War. If we can stand the pace, eventually the British Fleet must ultimately win this War, and that is a fact which is sometimes forgotten when we are talking about the part we are playing in the War. At the commencement of this War the white man-power of the German Empire was 70,000,000; the white manpower of France and of the British Empire was 100,000,000. The casualties on the side of France and of the British Empire have not been greater than those on the side of the German Empire. Supposing that Austria is held by Italy, you have 100,000,000 white man-power altogether untouched now coming in from the United States of America, and, instead of having these endeavours to trip up one Minister after another in this House on minor points, this House should be doing everything in its power to show the British people that if they only make a proper use of their resources and of their man-power as such, as well as of the grip of our Fleet as such, there can be only one end to this contest. Let the Government do its best, with the nation behind it, to become supreme on land, on sea, in the air, in the tanks, and in the various mechanical devices of which use is being made. But let it also not lose sight of the economic weapon which it has ready to its hand
In Germany during the last six or eight months a state of affairs has arisen which did not exist before. I am not speaking of any old economic dogmas or theories. I am referring to a matter on which there is agreement amongst a large number of men, hitherto Free Traders or Tariff Re-formers, as the case may be, and it is that if only you can shake the German belief in the future by using this economic weapon, then, in spite of the old principles we may have one way or the other, you are going to save lives. It is worth doing. The German working classes recently have apparently become slightly aware of it, and if you can only touch the men who are finding the money, if you can only show the German Empire that we mean business, if only the United States 39 of America and the British Empire will declare that for every month the Germans continue to ask preposterous terms, such as we have read in recent speeches—so long as they continue to hold the ideas which the Kaiser announced yesterday and which have tended more than anything else to rally this nation—if the Government will undertake to say to the German Empire and the German people—and convince them as well that we mean it—that for every month they continue the War they will be denied the facilities of our raw materials and access to our ports for a complete year after the War, you will in my opinion do more to shake the credit of Germany than is possible in any other way. I hope the Government will not turn this suggestion down. American manufacturers think it is well worth doing and cannot understand why the Government have never used the weapon before. Now is the time when we must use every single weapon we have; this is our trump card. The raw materials of the British Empire and of the United States of America are essential to Germany, and Germany will never be able to recover her position without them. Let us show them that we mean business in this matter. Let the Allies at the end of every month meet and sign a solemn agreement for the ostracism of Germany, for refusing her access to British and American territory and ports, and, if that is done, I believe in three or four months at the most you will so shake the confidence of German financiers and German merchants that you will have them joining with that element of the German population which is already war weary, and you will bring about a new situation entirely. I hope the Government will seriously consider this question. There, I repeat, they have a trump card, and if they will only use it to the full there will not be the smallest difficulty in convincing our enemies that it will not pay them to carry on the War any longer.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
I have listened to this Debate with a great deal of interest. With reference to the criticisms which have been passed on the Press, I suppose the House had in its mind the article published yesterday in one of the leading Unionist newspapers in the country, and the only comment I wish to make upon that is this, that if an article one-twentieth as malicious had been published under the name of Mr. Bertrand Russell the Government would 40 not have hesitated five minutes as to what its course of action should be. I do not say its action would have been right or wise, but I say this, that though the Government may come down here, though the Prime Minister may address this House with glowing eloquence in high-coloured words and with liberal gesture, the mind of the people outside is not forgetting this simple fact, and every complaint made against these newspapers here sounds somewhat hollow and insincere, in view of the prosecutions that take place almost every week against smaller men, weaker organisations, and papers of lesser circulation. All I say to the Government is this: If you arc going to prosecute, prosecute fairly; if you are going to repress, repress fairly; but do not deal with Mr. Bertrand Russell in one way and with this military writer in another.
I think the House must have been very deeply impressed with the failure of the Prime Minister's speech this afternoon. The Versailles Conference marked the beginning of a new stage of the War. We do not want all this talk, all this facile language, which simply clouds the issue and which called forth that protest from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife (Mr. Asquith) against the way in which his arguments were being dealt with. The House and the country want to know exactly where we are. We want to know whether the statement made at the Versailles Conference by the military and political representatives of the Government that the only thing to be done now is to go on fighting is an accurate statement or not. We want to know what version of Count Czernin's speech was before the Versailles Conference when it came to that decision. I know, as a matter of fact, that large numbers of people, when they read this pronouncement from Versailles, wondered why it was that the representatives of the Governments of the Allies absolutely had not a single word to say which would have encouraged the German democracy in the strikes in which they were engaged at the very time that the Versailles Conference was sitting. The Conference never seemed to be aware of the fact that this is a great political problem as well as a great war problem. There is nothing going to bring Europe more certainly to ruin, in spite of the magnificent economic optimism of the hon. and gallant Gentleman who last spoke, than if you combine narrow-visioned militarist realism with 41 mere empty idealistic phrases about right. justice, and liberty, and that sort of thing. There are two parties who are very dangerous to Europe at the present moment. There is the pure idealist, who believes that words count for something. The other party is the narrow-visioned militarist who thinks that force alone is going to solve the problem now facing Europe. I venture to say that in the Versailles Conference and its declarations you have the latter masquerading in the clothes of the former. If each separately is a danger, there is something still more dangerous, and that is the frame of mind which has been revealed at the Versailles Conference. I want to make my protest, because it is a very practical one, and I would like to illustrate my position by what has happened in Russia. I understand the more general policy is to be raised upon an Amendment which is to be moved before this Debate closes, and I will therefore not poach on the preserves of those who desire to take an opportunity of joining in it. But I do want to discuss at the earliest possible moment the conduct of the Government regarding Russia, because that has a very intimate bearing on the criticisms passed in the Press. I wish not only that they would tell the truth completely, but that they would show some common sense in Their criticism. If hon. Members will refer back to the files of newspapers I could select from the time the Revolution broke out in Russia, they will not discover any intelligent anticipation of what the events in Russia were going to be. I do not care what newspaper you take. Misunderstood, misinterpreted, miscalculated; day after day, move after move. Whenever a new man came up he was blackguarded; he was discounted. Whenever the Revolution began to take hold it was sneered at, and Press heads were shaken. When a military commander raised his hand to threaten the Revolution he was cheered, or at any rate he was welcomed. In the last days of Czardom the representative of this Government sent to speak for this country and to advise the Czar was Lord Milner. A failure. His Report—well-informed report says so— missed everyone of the salient points in the movements going on all about him in Russia, and the latest information about it, published in the "Daily Mail Year Book," is that he was actually present when the Doumergue agreement was come 42 to between France and Russia regarding the left bank of the Rhine. That, at any rate, was published, and I think the attention of the Government ought to be drawn to it, so that we may understand whether that statement was true or untrue.
Then came the Rebellion, and a most extraordinary series of events. Kerensky had to struggle with adversity. He appealed for Stockholm, but he did not get it; his very telegrams were twisted in this country in such a way as to hit hard at the basis of the seat on which he sat as the controller of the Revolution in Russia. God knows he was friendly enough; we do not know how much—no hon. Member can tell how much—he sacrificed in order to support the Allies in the struggle in which they were engaged together, yet, in all that time and through the whole of his struggle, he did not receive from this country such intelligent and active support, of a political as well as of a military nature, as to give him the ghost of a chance of successfully surviving the difficulties with which he was faced. Hon. Members must have a most lively recollection of the Korniloff rising. They may remember the articles that appeared in the "Times," in the "Morning Post," and in the popular organs of public opinion in this country. Can hon. Members imagine for a single moment what must have been Kerensky's position in Russia then, with these articles telegraphed over the next day, with enemies on every hand, and with evil pressure on every side of him, struggling hard to accomplish the impossible task of settling Russia internally and at the same time meeting the German Army on the Russian front? The very smallest amount of imagination will make hon. Members understand how badly we deserted the Russians in those days. How have we treated the Power which everybody now is talking about with as much ignorance as they talked about the original Revolution—the Bolsheviks? And if the Revolution follows the same course as that in France a hundred years ago, when the Jacobins came to sweep the Girondins from the stage, who is more responsible than this Government? Lenin and Trotsky were men whose position was perfectly well known to anyone following international affairs. Lenin, the translator of Mr. Sidney Webb's "History of Trade Unionism" into Russian, the author of several, I was going to say learned, but I will say very able, books upon social questions; a man perfectly well known to 43 everybody who had had any international dealings whatever and who was interested in that particular line of thought and in that particular body of individuals. Trotsky the same. And yet we measured them with our little three-foot rule. We did not understand these men's minds and opinions. They did not come up to our standard, and we objected to them as Huns and pro-Germans, and so on. It is a very good thing they did not come up to our standard. Variety, at any rate, is very good, and I should be very sorry indeed if a Russian leader was in the mould of the English Unionist, with his Imperial aspect of economic action. We confined our attention to what is called the Bourgeois party in Russia. We imagined —our newspapers said it—that they could command armies, that they would fight for us, and would settle the country. As a matter of fact it was known perfectly well, whilst these things were being published, that these sections in Russia had wearied in their well-doing, and were doing their level best to end the War by effecting a German peace. The very men who were being received with applause and open arms in certain high circles of respectable society and in Unionist newspapers in this country were the men to whom, if any section in Russia was pro-German, such an epithet was worthy. That is not all. We then had this extraordinary condition: Lenin and Trotsky, the loaders of a country that was beaten—who denies that, who denies that after the Revolution, and after the Kerensky military failure, Russia was beaten?—these men—at least, let us be fair and honourable to them—were face to face with this terrible problem, the same terrible problem which faced Kerensky, and which had become more impossible still. They had to settle Russia internally, to feed Petrograd, to organise transport, and to meet all sorts of plots and schemes for their overthrow. That was their internal problem. Their external problem was to face the Germans. They could only face the Germans in one of two ways. They had either to say, straight away, "We are beaten; do with us what you like," or to manipulate diplomacy and to appeal, over the heads of the German governing classes, to the German democracy, and try to separate the German democracy from the German governing classes.
44 Then came the Brest-Litovsk negotiations. When we have gone past these things, and look upon them with the lapse of time between them, these past two months will appear magnificent in their proportion. There was the man Trotsky, representative of a beaten nation, no army behind him, no force at his command, meeting these liveried, uniformed representatives of German militarism, hardhearted, flinty-headed, willing to manipulate truth with just the same facility as the military did the armies; willing to give pledges—as the Prime Minister has said— to the Russians, which they broke within twenty-four hours after they had been given; willing to say, "We will transfer no men from the Eastern to the Western Front," but, before the ink was dry, and before the echoes of the promise had died away in the hall, the orders out that the men should be transferred. There was Trotsky, the representative of a beaten country, facing that sort of thing. Yes, and in the end, striking far more deeply into the heart of Germany than you have done during the last three years, with all your Armies. We stood by supinely, and everyone who understood the situation, seeing the days go past, just like the golden sands pouring through the sand-glass of time, had their hearts broken at the incompetence of our Government to seize the magnificent opportunity which the Brest negotiations gave. And we took up our papers every morning and saw nothing but cheap sneers, abominable accusations, and forged letters being used to mislead our people and to cover these men with disgrace and shame. I have mentioned forged letters. Every man whose mind was nimble enough to follow these letters knew that they were forged. The very dates did not agree with the facts. On Saturday morning certain letters were published from the "Le Petit Parisien" which, if they had been proved, showed that Lenin and Trotsky and the other Bolshevik leaders had received money from Germany, and told how the money was transferred from German to Swiss banks, and so on. The names were all given; it was the most impressive piece of evidence I have ever seen in my life. The fault was they appeared on the face of them a clumsy forgery. I will only mention one, which was written in German, on the 2nd March, referring to Trotsky and Lenin and the other friends of the Bolshevist Commission as though they were all in Germany. As a matter of fact one was in Switzerland, another in 45 America, two in Siberia, and the others were scattered up and down. But when these letters were published on Saturday morning Reuter was asked to contradict them that afternoon and refused to do it. The Bolshevik representative in England, Mr. Litvinoff, sent a letter to Reuter explaining and taking the details of the letter, and pointing out how impossible it was that the letters could be genuine. He was informed that the clients of Reuter belonged to both sides, some were Bolshevik and some anti-Bolshevik, and the thing had been done and there was nothing to do, nothing to undo. I only refer to it because this position is getting absolutely intolerable in this country, and it is because there is no capacity about it to seize the international situation, except in this blind or narrow point of view of the military realists, that this War is dragging on, and this country, instead of coming nearer and nearer to its Allies, and instead of establishing some sort of basis for future democracy in Europe, is being so badly misled, and is being drifted away from reality so much, that even if you fight on for another ten years it is very doubtful if you are going to have a real political issue to the War— and there is no issue worth having unless it is a political issue.
There is the other side. Whilst all this was going on in regard to the Revolution in Russia, what about the horse the Government were backing, the Ukraine? The Ukraine was granted self-government by the Russian Government. No sooner was it granted self-government than the middle class came into power. That might be only an accident, but there it was. A middle-class Government came into power, and no sooner had our newspapers heard about that, than they said, "Ah, now at last we have got a respectable Government in the Ukraine. The Ukrainian Rada is rather after our own Parliament, whilst the revolutionary Soviets are just the sort of thing we have got in Petrograd" That was not all. It has now been admitted that the French Government gave millions of pounds to the Ukraine Rada in order to keep it going, and from the very first day when the Ukraine Rada was brought into existence it began to plot with Germany in order to make peace. The peace has been made. It is a separate peace. It is a peace which is of enormous advantage to Germany. It is a peace one does not care to say very much about, 46 because what one would have to say about it, if one analysed it accurately and with full details, would be that the economic advantage of the blockade looks very much as though it were turned right round. This is all done by a Government which has been supported by the patriotic section of the British Press and opposed by Soviets that have been blackguarded by that Press. We have had Trotsky fighting day after day, week after week, month after month, for no separate peace, but for a democratic peace—fighting for a declaration of principles which would enable us to found a real fabric of democratic liberty in Europe—deserted ! We have had the Ukraine and Finland with its White Guards officered by German officers. We have Courland in the same way, and political foreign friends of the patriotic English Press striving might and main to save themselves, and to trust only to their own miserable, material well-being, and make a separate peace with Germany whilst the sun seems still to be shining from that quarter of the earth. All I can say is this, the sooner that sort of thing is met the better, and it is not met by declarations such as those made by the Versailles Conference. It is not made by the Government continuing the policy that has characterised it during the last twelve months. If the Government have chosen again the "knock-out blow" policy, it is a very bad day for this country, and it is a still worse day for Europe.
My last word is this: If Versailles was disappointing, I am very glad that President Wilson was not. If the Allies at Versailles had' declared generally and jointly what their War aims were, as the Labour party asked them to do at Nottingham—and they all profess now to be very much indebted to the Labour party; they profess to be followers of the Labour party—if the Allies had declared their war aims in the Versailles Conference in the same way as President Wilson declared them yesterday, then a substantial step would have been taken towards peace. I feel jealous of President Wilson. We hear the phrase, "As President Wilson says" Why does not the Prime Minister say so? I know my America, and I think I know this country, and I am bound to say this country has no cause to hide its head alongside America on account of anything that relates to civil liberty or anything else of those valuable civic possessions which our people have 47 fought for. This country is as good a democracy as America ever has been or will be, and if this country is going to take this subordinate position, that it is never going to open its mouth until President Wilson has shown it what it ought to say, then by all means let us stop our Versailles Conference altogether and tell President Wilson to speak alone, because there would be a great advantage in that it would not be necessary to square opposing decisions and opposing diplomatic policy. There is also the question of the secret treaty. What I rose for I have accomplished, so far as I can. I have risen to ask the Government to try even now to secure some of the salvage of Russia. Revolutions are unpleasant things. You cannot conduct a revolution by a House of Commons sitting as we are sitting here. It never has been conducted in that way, and it never will be conducted in that way to the end of time. But history has got a blind eye, and if it were not for that blind eye the story of revolution could never be told with grace, and it never could be judged with justice, and if, instead of taking the pettifogging little detailed accounts of what goes on in Petrograd one day, nine-tenths of which is untrue so far as the details are concerned, and what goes on at Kieff another day, and at Moscow another day, the Government would take the broad, general position that Russia is in revolution, and that it is its duty to support Russia in revolution, that it is its duty to advise Russia in revolution—
§ Mr. MACDONALD
That is where we disagree, and it is because the hon. and gallant Gentleman has got a majority behind him that we have made such a mess of Russian affairs and driven Russia to a separate peace.
§ Mr. MACDONALD
I dare say if the hon. and gallant Gentleman lived a hundred years ago he would have held the same opinion about France purifying herself as he does about Russia purifying herself now. Russia in revolution has much to get from us; Russia in revolution has much to give to us, and the alienation 48 of Russia from England and of England from Russia is one of the most disastrous events of the last twelve months. The Government can still retrieve a good deal of that position. The Government can recognise the Russian representative who is over here. By that it does not require to recognise everything that is done in Russia. It does not require to recognise all the things that must happen during the Revolution. But they might recognise that there is a Government in Russia, that there is some authority in Russia, that that authority is represented here, and that it will be to the mutual interests of both Russia and this country if that amount of recognition is given. I only hope the policy of 1918 will be wiser, will be prudent, will show more insight and more capacity to understand and estimate the facts than, unfortunately, the policy of 1917 has shown.
§ Sir WILLIAM CHEYNE
I believe this is an occasion on which one can introduce a variety of subjects, and that I am not necessarily compelled to follow the last speaker, with regard to Russia, because the whole matter is so exceedingly complicated that I must admit that I do not understand it. But as I have sat here now for six months, and have followed the proceedings very closely and been thinking a good deal about the matter, I should like to say, as a supporter of the Government, that one cannot listen to the questions and answers that are given here, and to the discussions on the War, or take part in work in connection with the War, without feeling that various causes are at work which are antagonistic to the interests of the country and which if not remedied may interfere with complete victory, which is. absolutely necessary if we are to retain our complete freedom and our high position. My feeling is that nothing should be allowed to go on which in any way diminishes the morale of the people and their confidence in the Government. I believe that that morale will be less injured by the bombs of the enemy than by the growth of a belief that things which in any way tend to interfere with the earnest prosecution of the War are not put down with a strong hand, that there is too much yielding to expediency, that there is an undue delay in making decisions and in taking action on decisions when they are made, that parochial instead of wide views are allowed to prevail, that underhand intrigue, whether in favour of an individual or a section of 49 the community, is not put down with a firm hand, that incompetence is condoned, and in some cases seemingly rewarded.
I am myself perhaps more intolerant of delays and incompetence than a good many other people, because I have for years followed a profession in which cases frequently occur where a patient's life, depends on accurate and rapid decision, and also on immediate action, and I confess that I cannot understand or sympathise with delays, especially when it is spread over weeks and months, in matters of vital importance to the country. I quite admit that the Government Departments are very much overworked, but I think there must be something wrong when matters of importance which could be easily settled in a short time are kept, as the much harassed Under-Secretaries of State call it, "under consideration" by the Government for weeks and even months. Apart from what I have heard of delays and obstructions, I have had one or two experiences of my own which confirm the statements and which have occurred since I entered this House. The first one which I may mention is in connection with the Commission which was sent to France on Medical Establishments of the Army. I cannot, of course, say very much about the Report of that Commission, because it has not been published, but I can speak, I dare say, of the delay. But before? do that I should like to say one thing, namely, how impressed every member of that Commission was with the splendid work which was being done by the medical officers in the Army. No one could help admiring their self-sacrifice, courage, and kindness. I myself had personal experience of that kindness, because in the hurry which the Army authorities were in to get our Report they rushed us round the country, they dined us well, they gave us plenty to drink, and, worst of all, they gave us a great deal of tobacco to smoke. On that ship I had an opportunity not only of experiencing the kindness of the nurses and sisters, but also of seeing how they treated their patients. The little room in which I was lying looked into a large ward filled with wounded and sick. In the first place, the doctor and the sisters came round to the various beds to see what had to be done with the patients, and then they passed on to the next ward. After they had finished the doctor came back. and he began to ask the patients about their ailments and their 50 opinions of the War, and in the discussion which took place I believe they forgot all about their ailments and wounds, and I am sure they had a better night's sleep than if they had had any quantity of morphia. What I have said about the medical officers applies equally to the sisters and nurses. There are over 5,000 medical officers, and all the "wasters" you could count on the fingers of the two hands. In connection with this matter, I wish to say one or two words with regard to the speeches which have been made by the hon. Member for Islington (Mr. Small-wood). Anyone who heard what he said could not help having the greatest sympathy with him in the appalling catastrophe that has befallen him. At the same time, I should like to say something about the matter by way of explanation, and after that perhaps he may not feel quite so hardly in the matter.
The point I wish first to make is with regard to the remark which the hon. Member made that the Army Medical Service was soulless. It is quite true that the machine is soulless, because it is made up of a mass of rules and red tape, and is designed to meet the wants of a large number of people rather than of individuals, but I am sure that the men and women who work the machine are very far from soulless. Probably one or two here and there may interpret the rules a little-more stringently than others. As regard the hon. Member being kept out of the room, if a doctor believes honestly that a patient has a better chance of recovering if he is kept perfectly quiet, then he must take the responsibility of asking the patient's friends to retire until they are called in; otherwise they might spoil the patient's chances of recovery. I have done that in a great many cases myself, and I do not think anyone has called me soulless because I have taken that course. Curiously enough, I got a letter from a doctor friend of mine after the hon. Member made his first speech, and I will read an extract from it to the House. He says:What a pathetic maiden speech of Mr. Small-wood's in the House last Thursday. Do you know I had the honour, when a surgeon last April, of saving one of his son's lives? He was terribly wounded, shot in about twenty places, with gas infection of some of the wounds. His condition was so bad that the anæsthetic had to be discontinued before all that was necessary to be done could be done, but I managed to save his life. I did all the dressings myself; I would not trust them to the sister in charge, and though I despaired almost of his life for three or 51 four days I pulled him through and sent him down to the base, after keeping him for over a fortnight at the C.C.S. until I felt quite sure he could stand the journey. We looked upon him as a triumph for surgeryThat was not the letter of a soulless man. Notice the phrase that he commences his letter with—"I had the honour of attending Mr. Smallwood's son" If you come to think of it, a patient, be he pauper or be he king, who entrusts his life and health to a medical man, is doing him the greatest honour he possibly can. With regard to delays, I wish to refer to the Report which was sent in by the Army Council a couple of months ago in reference to the Medical Service in France. In answer to a question the other day I heard a reply given to the effect that the matter was under the consideration of the Army Council. The matter has been under their consideration for two months, and I was very much astonished the other day to find out from a friend of mine who was over from France that no copy of this Report has been sent to France, although the entire Report concerns the Medical Service in France. One would have thought that the first thing the Government would have done would have been to send a copy of that Report over to France in order to get the opinion of the medical authorities upon it, and if they approved of any of the suggestions in the Report they could have put them into force. But these suggestions cannot be carried out during active operations, and therefore the whole value of that Report has been lost.
I am not surprised that so much time has been taken over the matter, because it is a purely medical affair, and there is no doctor on the Army Council. The persistent refusal of the Army Council not to allow some member of the medical profession to sit upon the Army Council is a most extraordinary thing. Surely one of the most essential parts of the Army machine ought to be a medical representative on the Army Council. With regard to the Mesopotamian campaign, it has been said that if the Director-General of the Army Medical Service had been a member of the Army Council when the medical arrangements were being devised, and if he had been there ready to give information as to the climate and the sanitary conditions, and to give advice as to the medical preparations required for the campaign, there would have been no Mesopotamian scandal. I have often 52 wondered why the Army Council so persistently refused to allow the Chief of the Medical Staff to sit upon that body. Do they think that a medical man cannot keep secrets? Why one of the essential points necessary in the medical profession is secrecy, for, when qualifying, one of the first things we are asked to do is to take an oath of secrecy as regards all matters entrusted to us. Is it the opinion of the Army Council that medical opinion is of no value outside medicine? I only need to take one example. There are six medical men in this House, and two of them are to be found amongst the members of the Government.
Do the Army Council follow the old lines when the Army officer used to look down on the doctor? If that is the case, I should like to ask the officers to consider what the doctors have done for the Army. Take the one question of typhoid fever. I remember quite well at Bloemfontein, eighteen years ago, after being there two or three weeks, the great devastation that was wrought by typhoid fever by a terrific epidemic, and whenever we halted for a few days fever began to break out again. Many more lives were lost through disease than through injuries in that campaign. Just consider what would have happened in the present War if medical science had not made advances in regard to the prevention of typhoid fever at a time when we are obliged to have large accumulations of men in ditches and trenches under most insanitary conditions! If the conditions during this War had been no better than they were during the South African War, this great struggle would have ended long ago by sheer exhaustion through disease. The request that is constantly being made that the Director-General of the Army Medical Service should be a member of the Army Council cannot be refused on any defensible grounds.
With regard to the question of a special Medical Service for the new Air Force, quite early in the work of the Air Board they realised that the Medical Service was very important, and they appointed a Committee to consider the whole matter and advise as to what should be done. Some weeks elapsed after sending in our Report before we heard anything, and then we found that some sort of intrigue had been going on with a view of stopping an official service. A second Committee was appointed, and it tried to 53 keep the two older Services in touch with the Air Service. The whole thing ended in a sort of compromise, which I hope will work. A delay like that of two months is very serious in many ways. In the first place, men are losing their lives for want of a proper medical service, and, in the second place, during those two months, we could not train officers to cope with air illnesses and to be ready for the big offensive when it comes. I do not think much of the compromise, but it will allow the Air Service to commence at once to train medical officers, and that is a great point. If the compromise breaks down, then they can fall back upon the original scheme. I do not think that we should have been justified in holding out for the original scheme and throwing out the compromise, because we should have delayed matters so much. I did hear that the intrigue was caused by somebody whose name I have fortunately forgotten. I mention it, because I do not want it to be thought that it was started by any responsible person. I often wonder whether the gentleman who started it ever thinks of the gallant and splendid young officers who have lost their lives owing to the delay which resulted.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
With the exception of the speech of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, we have had a debate this afternoon dealing with great questions of public policy, and during the last two hours we have had no responsible Minister on the Front Bench. There was a very able analysis of the Government's diplomatic action in regard to Russia from my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald), an analysis which suddenly called for a reply from some responsible person on that bench. In particular, he put a question of first-class importance which must be answered, as it involves very important international relations. The hon. Member for Leicester stated that it had been alleged that Lord Milner was present in Russia when the agreement was made with the late Russian Government regarding the French right to the Rhine boundary.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
No; I am going to give them time. I think, when a question of that kind is put to the Government by a Member who may not have a large follow- 54 ing in this House, but who undoubtedly has a large following in the country—
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I was using the treatment, the disgraceful treatment, of the hon. Member for Leicester as an example, and I was hopeful that in the course of my introductory observations some responsible person would come into the House, because it is my intention to put to the Government an extremely important question regarding the personnel of the Army Council which deserves an answer in the House of Commons first of all and not in the Press.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
Yes; or at the Aldwych. Club. We have heard from the Prime Minister to-day—I am sorry he is not here —a statement regarding his relations with the Press which I am sure must have struck the House not only with wonder, but with amazement. We are accustomed, of course, to the assurances of the Prime Minister, but his statement regarding his relations with the Press to-day amazed the House almost more than any statement that he has made in the course of his Premiership. It is useless for the Prime Minister to pretend that he is guiltless of all relations with the Press. Indeed, I am bound to assert that had the Prime Minister and those immediately associated with him given the attention to the direction of the War and the administration of the country which they have given to running the Press the position of this country would be batter to-day. It is an open secret that there is a deliberately and perfectly organised Department of the present Government for the purpose of running the Press. It had been closely associated with the Prime Minister before he attained his present office. We all know that writers in the Press have admitted their relations with the Prime Minister. I have a statement here by Colonel Repington. Colonel Repington, of course, has broken with the Prime Minister now, and, as we all know, he is no longer one of his allies and instruments. Consequently he has 55 turned King's evidence. This is from the "Morning Post" of 29th January. He said:I discussed this subject of men with the Prime Minister and had the misfortune to find that his views did not accord with mineThis was in January of last year.He suggested that I should go to the War Office, make inquiries, and report to him the result. I did so, and this was the only occasion on which I had any serious talk with Lord Derby, the Secretary of State for War, on the subjectThat is to make it clear that it was not the present Secretary of State for War who had given him any information. He goes on to say:Many civilians, including Ministers, have shown me confidential papers, but neither Lord Derby nor Sir William Robertson, who are the predestined victims of the shunters, have done such a thing. To the best of my knowledge I have not now or ever during the War had any Cabinet paper given to me by any soldier or official at the War OfficeThen there is this further:I was asked to do for the Army with regard to the men what I had been fortunate enough to do for them, thanks to having Mr. Lloyd George as an accomplice, with regard to shellsWe have there the evidence of one of the allies in this Press campaign which leads the House, I am bound to say, to treat the Prime Minister's assurance to-day as worthless. We all know what happened when the late Government fell. We know that there appeared in the "Times" newspaper a statement which was only known to the late Prime Minister and the present Prime Minister. We know that the late Prime Minister did not give it away. The inference is clear. I do not wish further to enumerate instances. It is very important to bear these things in mind, because it is the Press campaign which has been at the root of the whole of this lack of public confidence. We remember, for example, the Press campaign in the spring, when it was deliberately advocated in certain newspapers in this country that General Nivelle should be put at the head not only of the French Army, but also of the British Army. The great Syndicalist Press were not in favour of that, but it is an open secret that the Prime Minister got another set of organs in the Press to advocate it. Then we know that the Paris Conference was heralded by another Press campaign against Sir Douglas Haig and Sir William Robertson. It is impossible to believe that these things are all coincidences. 56 We know, as a matter of fact, that from day to day, and even from hour to hour, the policy to be advocated in the Press is inspired at 10, Downing Street. The complaint I make is not that Sir William Robertson and Sir Douglas Haig are retained in their posts. We do not know whether they ought to be retained in their posts; we do not know whether there are more competent men or not; but I do say that they ought not to be retained in their present posts while there is a deliberate conspiracy fostered by the Government to upset public confidence in them. That brings me to the question that I was going to ask. I notice that the Leader of the House is here. Can he say whether it is true or not that Sir William Robertson has been dismissed?
§ Mr. PRINGLE
This reveals a very interesting situation. It shows us the stability of the High Command and the General Staff. When the Leader of the House has a definite question put to him in the House of Commons, he has some doubt from hour to hour as to whether his reply to that question will hold good. A situation of that kind is intolerable. It is not a matter of confidence in individual Ministers; it is the situation which upsets public confidence. If you have a situation where a member of the War Cabinet is unable with certainty to give an answer as to the intentions of the Chief of the General Staff regarding the retention of his post from hour to hour, then the sooner we have the situation altered the better. We want a situation in which it is clear to the country that there is the most absolute confidence between the military and political chiefs of the Government. Without such confidence, we can- 57 not hope to go on successfully prosecuting this War. All these Press campaigns have driven into the minds of large masses of people in this country that the military chiefs and the political chiefs are constantly watching each other and not watching the enemy. In fact, these men are most careful to guard against the enemy not across the frontier, but in their own household. The Prime Minister this afternoon made the most unsuccessful speech of his career. He made a claim upon the confidence of the House of Commons, but he could only claim the confidence of the House of Commons on the basis of ignorance. I remember the last occasion on which he addressed this House. He told the House that the House of Commons shared the responsibility of the Government. If the House of Commons is going to share the responsibility of the Government, it must receive a different answer from that which the right hon. Gentleman gave to the Member for East Fife (Mr. Asquith) this afternoon. If there is to be any share in the responsibility, the House of Commons must have the knowledge. The excuses by which the right hon. Gentleman endeavoured to put off the House to-day were certainly beneath contempt. He actually had to insinuate that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife (Mr. Asquith) was asking for information that would be of advantage to the enemy. [An Hon. Member: "A Bolo !"] The suggestion was so absolutely ridiculous and contemptible that it aroused the indignation of nearly every Member of the House, in whatever quarter he sits. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife has, indeed, treated the present Government with a forbearance and an indulgence to which they were little entitled, and he has been very ill-rewarded by the treatment he has received from his old colleagues.
What are the facts in this relation? We have now a very considerable amount of public information regarding the Versailles Conference. It has been discussed in the Press. It has been discussed in the columns of the "Morning Post" by Colonel Repington and, so far as we know, Colonel Repington has not yet been prosecuted. I do not know whether the article was submitted to the Censor or not. Usually military articles are submitted to the Censor, and, unless we are told something to the contrary, we may assume that it even passed the Censor. There is no doubt that, as the hon. Member for 58 Leicester said, if Colonel Repington had been an obscure pacifist he would probably have been prosecuted by this time and he would have run the risk of getting six months' imprisonment—[An Hon. Member: "In the second division!"]—yes; in the second division. What are the statements which Colonel Repington has made, because, as these statements have been made by Colonel Repington in public, we have a right to get an answer to them in this House? The first statement was that the Prime Minister did propose at the Versailles Conference another "side show" and that this side show I had been turned down by the Conference. We know what his side shows mean. He was a great supporter of a Salonika side show, which now bulks very little in our officials' statements in this House; in fact, the Government seem to forget the Salonika Expedition altogether. Then he was in favour of another stroke last year through Northern Italy, which was to carry us to Vienna. We know that is true because he has since admitted it himself. Is it the case, then, that this great unanimous Conference, the finest Conference that has ever been held, actually turned down one of the Prime Minister's efforts in imaginative strategy? I think we are entitled to an answer to that. Possibly he has written a memorandum on the subject; it is his usual habit. He wrote a memorandum about Salonika when the Dardanelles Expedition was started. The Minister of Munitions can corroborate that, He presented it to Lord Kitchener; in fact, it war hawked round the Lobbies of the House of Commons to show what a military genius the Prime Minister was. Then we know that he went to Rome in January of last year. That was a great event. Ho came back from Rome informing us that this was the most successful Conference that had ever been held, that there was the greatest measure of agreement which had yet been reached, and that he looked forward to the plans which they adopted at Rome being carried out and bringing a decisive success for the Allies in 1917. But that was a mistake. His plan had been turned down and he had written a memorandum. What we want to know is whether it is true that again his plan has been turned down, and if, as may happen, we are not going to have a success during 1918, we are going to be consoled for our failure by the knowledge that the Prime Minister has written 59 another memorandum? That is the first point upon which the House is entitled to information.
Then there is a second point. Colonel Repington in this article accuses the Prime Minister of misleading the Versailles Conference regarding the reserve of manpower in this country and the possibility of making a further call upon man-power for military purposes; in fact, it is stated that he deliberately refused information. We are at least entitled to some statement on that point. But the most important of all the points relates to what is known as the command of the Reserves. It has been deliberately stated that the command of the Reserves on the Western Front has been taken from the respective Commanders-in-Chief and handed over to this Supreme Allied Council at Versailles.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
In the "Morning Post" yesterday. I inferred from certain remarks made by the Prime Minister to-day that it is so. He said that the Reserves of each individual Army were now insufficient to meet any possible blow of the Germans, and that, consequently, it was essential that the whole strength of the Allied Reserves, of France, Britain, America, and Italy, should be available for these movements. He said that to-day, although he was not anxious to give any information to the enemy. Let us have it clear, and let us understand where we are. It is obvious to any man who knows anything about warfare that the individual who has control of the Reserves is really the Commander-in-Chief, and that a Commander-in-Chief who cannot dispose of Reserves cannot direct a battle, and, in fact, remains a Commander-in-Chief only in name. If that is the position of General Sir Douglas Haig on the Western Front, then, to all intents and purposes, he has been deposed from the Commander-in-Chiefship. Is that the case? It is the duty of some Minister at least to tell us whether these statements publicly made correspond with the facts. I had hoped that the Prime Minister himself would have listened to this Debate. We know that the Chancellor of the Exchequer refused any explanation when the Leader of the Opposition asked a question last week, and we were prepared for another refusal from the Prime Minister to a similar 60 request from the Leader of the Opposition. But a new fact has occurred: The "Times" this morning has published an article, saying that a plain statement must be made, and when the "Times" demands a plain statement, then, surely, the Government must give way! What is denied to the Leader of the Opposition and what is denied to the House of Commons must be given to the "Times" That is all the more necessary now, when, as a witty friend of mine has put it, Lord Beaverbrook and Lord Northcliffe have signed a separate peace.
These are all extremely serious questions, which are arousing deep interest throughout the country. They are questions upon which the House of Commons is entitled to ask for answers which the Prime Minister has no right to refuse. To-day he has refused. To-day he met with a reception in the House of Commons such as he has not met with since he took office in December, 1916. His Government is now drifting to its fall, and to my mind the sooner it falls the better it will be for this country I do not think we need be a great deal concerned about the political pronouncements either of this Government or of the Supreme Allied Council at Versailles. The hon. Member for Leicester was concerned with what he called the recrudescence of the knock-out blow in the recent declaration from Versailles. To use one of the expressions of the Prime Minister, that is only useful for the waste-paper basket. Neither this Government nor the Supreme Council at Versailles counts in the main terms of the settlement of this War. There are two things only which count, and two things which must be faced. First of all, there are the military facts of the situation. Those are facts which have never been faced either by this Government or by this House, and the sooner both face it the better. We have endeavoured, by Secret Session, to get frankness and truth from the Government, but we have had neither. We have had the fake and camouflage which has characterised their public utterances. Another thing that is more important than anything they say or do is the attitude of President Wilson. Everybody knows now that the ultimate arbiter of this War on the Allied side is President Wilson. He represents the only Power in the Alliance which has now a reserve in money and in men. and the speech which he made yesterday is of far more 61 account than any academic resolution which may ever be passed at the War Cabinet or at the so-called Supreme Council at Versailles. That is the only bright spot. It is well for this country. It is probably well for the Allies. I believe it is well for the future of Western civilisation that not only the material but the moral supremacy in the Alliance is in the hands of President Wilson.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
The house has heard what it usually expects to hear from the hon. Member (Mr. Pringle), a clever debating speech, but war requires something more than that. He asks for absolute confidence between the political leaders and the military chiefs. Was his speech calculated in the slightest degree to promote that confidence? Does it promote confidence to drag a Minister into the House and then ask him point-blank if the responsible Chief of the Staff has resigned or whether he has been dismissed? The object is simply to promote in the public mind a feeling of uncertainty and unrest.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend that I would never have put that question unless the information had been conveyed to me on such authority that I thought it necessary to ask for a public denial.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
We are all hearing rumours from all over the place. The world is alive with rumours. I do not think that on the mere rumours of the so-called statements made to any hon. Member anybody has any business in this House to drag it on to the floor of the House and make it public to the whole of Europe. That is my view. The hon. Member proceeded to talk of insinuations against the Leader of the Liberal party. My reading of that—it only requires a little tolerance to remember the episode which took place earlier in the day—was that the very article in the "Morning Post" to which the hon. Member referred was what the Prime Minister had in his mind. He spoke of German agents being willing to give a large sum of money for certain information. Anybody who reads the article in the "Morning Post" will, I think, agree that it would convey important information to the enemy if the questions which were asked in the "Morning Post" were expressly to be asked on the floor of this House and which the hon. Member repeated were to be answered.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. and gallant Member (Commander Bellairs) is in possession of the House. We cannot have four or five speeches going at the same time.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
A Labour Member and a Liberal Member have risen to demand the prosecution of Colonel Repington. I do not wish it to be said that there is not a Unionist Member who is not afraid to make the same demand. I think, having regard to this article, the questions which are asked and the information which it conveys, the Government is bound to prosecute Colonel Repington. I will tell why I say it conveys information. He says it is reported that Mr. Lloyd George attempted to stampede the Council of War into approval of another side show, and that he conspicuously failed. That alone conveys certain information, that an expedition in a certain direction will not be undertaken. He expressly names Turkey. He then goes on to say that the Prime Minister practically stated that we would be able to give no more man-power to the front than we are doing already. If that were true, and I do not for a moment believe it is true, it would convey most important information to the enemy. He proceeds to say that the general in command of the British forces has been deprived of one of his most indispensable means of action. Later on he says,It is disquieting, to say the least, that acts whereby the Prime Minister has relegated the Chief of the Imperial Staff to a back seat, and has deprived our Commander in France of his legitimate authority over the most important part of his troops, should have been preceded, etcThe hon. Member (Mr. Pringle) has done what I would not do, and has indicated what those most important troops are— the Reserves.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
The Prime Minister did not say so; but in any case I agree that the hon. Member is justified, because any intelligent Staff officer in Germany reading that article would know at once that the information which is being kept back from the House refers to the Reserves. I submit that on that showing the Government cannot possibly abstain from prosecution.
I come to another point. I go much further than the Government. It is known that America and France demand a single command—a Generalissimo. It is a point on which America is far more entitled to express its opinion to this country than it is entitled to express its opinion on Ireland, as it is supposed to have done, because all the Armies on the front arc one. If bad arrangements are made they all suffer. If it is the case that both America and France demand a single cannot satisfy the House or is it their why we should wander apart. Is it because the Government feels that it cannot satisfy this House or is it their settled conviction? That is a point on which I have not made up my mind. The American contention is that you cannot have several generals running a campaign, and that is borne out by practically the whole history of the past. Napoleon said, in reference to General Kellerman, that two good generals will inevitably lose a campaign, while one bad general is better than two good generals together. I believe we have no fewer than six nationalities on the French front. Take what has recently happened. Under the divided command the French attacked on 23rd October last. The rest of the front was still. A month later we attacked at Cambrai in that brilliant action under General Byng. The rest of the front did nothing to relieve the situation. If there had been some form of single control—I do not care how it is achieved, whether by the Versailles Council or any other method—it is certain that those attacks would have taken place simultaneously and prevented the Germans from throwing in their reserves. In 1916 the Allies attacked on the Somme, and their junction was effected in a swamp. I do not think that would have taken place under a single control. The question arises what ought we to do? The French know every inch of the ground. They studied war on a big scale for years while our generals were only looking upon it as an affair of the Colonies and the frontier of India. It 64 would be little short of a miracle if our Cavalry generals were the equals of the French generals in controlling these huge fronts in France and in Italy.
Another thing that appeals to me is this: We have this divided command on the sea, too, and if we were to grant the French demand by putting General Foch in a position of authority as the supreme war adviser of the Versailles Council, we should be in a position to demand at the same time that we should control the operations by sea. What is the German system we are up against? If it was the same system as our own conditions would be equal, but it is not the same system. It is true they have a supreme war council. When Germany waged war in 1866 and 1870 Moltke had supreme control under the King of Prussia. He never had one single council during either of those wars, and he attributed the defeat of Austria in the Franco-Austrian War to the fact that the Austrian generals had always to refer to the Supreme War Council in Vienna. In this War the Germans have had to resort to a Supreme War Council, but they have solved the difficulty by making Hindenburg the supreme adviser of that War Council, and if we. had to choose a supreme adviser for the War Council sitting at Versailles, it is obvious that he should be a French general. Everything that could be said against a supreme War Council was said in a letter by Marlborough in 1705 to the Pensioner of Holland. He said it destroyed secrecy and dispatch. But under our present system, when we have to refer to every one of the Governments, all secrecy and dispatch is destroyed equally, and what this Government and the Allied Governments have achieved by establishing a Versailles Council, and I hope a supreme adviser. is that there will be greater secrecy and much more dispatch than there has been hitherto. Marlborough added:It has, unavoidably, another very unhappy effect, for the private animosities between so many persons as have to be assembled being so great and their inclinations and interests so different as always to make one party oppose what the other advises, they consequently never agreeI do not believe such animosities and differences exist in the present Supreme War Council, but the way Colonel Repington is setting about his task of persuading public opinion, and the speech of the hon Member (Mr. Pringle). are just the way to promote those animosities and 65 differences. It seems to me that Colonel Repington is out for sensation, just as he was in 1908, when he published the famous Kaiser letter to Lord Tweedmouth. He loves sensation as a bad boy values most a stolen apple. There is another view which I have heard which makes him out as a sort of Rhadamanthus of journalism, sitting in judgment on the lower regions in which the two chief devils are Lord Northcliffe and the present Prime Minister. I do not agree with that view. He proceeds to create unity by urging the Army Council in that article to go over the top against the twin Popes of debate who are conspiring against the safety of our Armies. That is the language not of Rhadamanthus but of Rhodomontade. You have to go to Trotsky and Lenin to find parallels to such language. [An Hon. Member: "Oh!"] If my hon. Friend reads what Trotsky and Lenin say of anyone belonging to the bourgeois class, it is an exact parallel. I should like to ask, if I had Colonel Repington here, what is his idea. Is it that of the ten Athenian generals who commanded on alternate days before Marathon? Every ten days a general had one day in command. What seems to be his ideal is that of the six Chinese generals at Port Arthur. There you had six provinces defending Port Arthur, each with its separate general. Each general was equal, and the inevitable result followed that Port Arthur fell to the Japanese, and most of the generals were subsequently beheaded. It seems to me that if we have this War conducted with so little knowledge as Colonel Repington and his friends display, civilisation itself will go, because we shall be defeated.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
The hon. Member (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald) dealt with the attitude the Government has taken up as regards the Russian revolutionary Government. I desire to say a few words upon that subject, because in their action they have justified the stand I have taken on this subject and fulfilled the prophecies I have made. The effects on the fortunes of this country cannot, I think, be overestimated, and are likely, indeed, it seems to me, to be disastrous all the way through, and when the history of this War conies to be written we shall find that Russia has been our evil genius. When the Director of National Service was introducing the Man-Power Bill he used the phrase that the Allies were dragged into the War by the action of Russia. I am 66 glad to find that that fundamental truth is now recognised. Nearly eighteen months ago we had an opportunity of entering into negotiations for peace when the German Government was making overtures to President Wilson, urging that the United States should take steps to bring the belligerents into conference. At that time we now know—we had every evidence of it then—the Czar's Government was making arrangements if possible to enter into a separate peace with Germany. An opportunity was offered them—a last opportunity—of making peace alongside Russia under Czardom. Then came the action of the Prime Minister in granting his famous—or, as I would call it, his infamous—interview with an American journalist, in which he laid down the policy of the "knock-out" blow and at the same time informed the world that there were no "quitters" among the Allies. We then saw the power which a section of the Press exercises. The Prime Minister to-day repudiated the suggestion that he or his Government was influenced by the Press. The whole history of those days is the history of the influence of a section of the Press and of Lord Northcliffe upon the Prime Minister and the fortunes of this country. I have no doubt that if the interview in question was not actually written in the "Daily Mail" office it was inspired from there. The Government of that day was driven from office and the Prime Minister was installed. It was driven from office in a way the real facts of which are not yet disclosed, but I am sure, when they are disclosed, it will be a revelation of discreditable trickery and falsity. At any rate, the Government was dismissed, the win-the-War Government was established, and the possibilities of peace were put into the background.
Within a few months, during which time we heard that the Czar's Government was endeavouring to enter into a separate peace with Germany, although the Prime Minister had said that there were no "quitters" amongst the Allies, there came the revolution in Russia, which was hailed in a speech by the Chancellor of the Exchequer as a movement on the part of the Russian people to get rid of a treacherous Government which desired to make a separate peace and to restore a Government which would be more capable of prosecuting the War successfully and desirous of doing so. The Government was told at that time by my 67 hon. Friend the Member for Stirling Burghs (Mr. Ponsonby) that that was not the case, that the revolution had been brought about by the pressure of famine and the conditions created by the Czardom in Russia, and that it was an endeavour for peace. The Kerensky Government, which was established, strove to remain in honest alliance with Russia's allies. The view which was taken by the Revolutionary Government was that not to continue the War in alliance with the Allies of Russia would be to strike a blow at the democracies of France and Britain. But they knew that there was only one possible way of keeping revolutionary Russia in the War, her starving armies in the field, and her starving peasantry from revolt, and that was to proclaim to the Russian people that this was not a war of aggression. They knew what the Czar's object was in going to war. They knew that the Czar made war for territorial aggrandisement, and they announced an abandonment of those aims, and called upon the Allies to say the same. Then came once more the possibility of making peace alongside Russia. We rejected that proposal. We scorned it, and prohibited the International Conference at Stockholm for the purpose of furthering it, and we allowed our papers to deride the revolutionary Government, and to attack it with scandalous abuse. We allowed the "Morning Post" to call the members of that Government gaolbirds, and we allowed the "Times" correspondent in Petrograd to publish in the "Times" here telegram after telegram of attack and abuse upon that Government.
What was worse still, when Korniloff and the counter revolution came along we allowed our papers to give the fullest possible support to that counter revolution, and hailed Korniloff as the coming saviour of Russia and of Czardom. The restoration of Czardom has been the desire of reactionary and powerful forces in this country, in France, and probably in Italy ever since the revolution. The chance of making peace alongside Russia again departed. How did we meet this essential demand of revolutionary Russia for a re-statement of war aims? We pretended that we were going to call a Conference of all the Allies for the purpose of considering them. We talked about the coming Conference at Paris at which this -would be done. Remember all this time 68 with what Kerensky's Government was faced. They had the Bolsheviks saying that all the Governments were equally Imperialistic, that the Allied Governments were Imperialistic, and that Kerensky would fail. Kerensky kept the movement back by pointing to the Paris Conference as a coming opportunity when Russia and her Allies would be able to state her demands for the abandonment of claims for annexation. Then we had the Chancellor of the Exchequer a few days before the Paris Conference was to be held announcing that war aims would not be considered and that it was only military operations that were to be considered. Immediately that was known in Russia we had the uprising of the Bolsheviks, who proclaimed that they had been right, that Russia was tied to the annexationist claims of their Allies, and Kerensky was swept away and the Bolshevik Government established. Immediately our Press was turned on to denounce these men as renegades, as traitors, as paid German agents, and so on, although Trotsky had to flee away from Prussia for conducting a revolutionary movement. Lenin, the son of a Russian aristocrat, was denounced as a German-Jew ruffian, or something of that sort.
Nevertheless, these men strove not to-continue the War—because a continuance of offensive operations was impossible— but to prevent themselves being driven into the position of making a separate peace with Germany. There is no evidence whatever of a desire on their part to make a separate peace. When the negotiations were opened at Brest-Litovsk their whole endeavour was to bring the representatives of the Allies alongside them to that Conference to support them in their programme of a general peace on the basis of no annexations and no indemnities. Then there came our last chance of making peace alongside Russia, and of keeping Russia with us. We threw it away. We rejected it. Not only did we do that, but we did worse. At this very time, when these men were endeavouring to sustain themselves in the position of not making a separate peace, we did our best to weaken them. As the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald) pointed out. the bogus Republic established in Ukraine was an organisation largely of landowners opposed to the whole policy of the Bolshevik Government, with all its leanings, through many years past, towards Austria. They 69 set up this Government for the purpose of making a separate peace with Austria and the Central Powers, and the Bolsheviks sent their army to attack them for that reason. I have heard, and it has been mentioned as a sort of secret, of the wonderful scheme of the Government for destroying the Bolshevik Government by supporting the Ukraine and sending them arms and furnishing them with money. It seemed so incredible that I could not believe it, but shortly afterwards we had an announcement in the Press that the French Government had supplied the Ukraine with millions and had sent a military mission to the Ukraine to salute the new Republic. The forces of the Allies were put behind this section of Russia, the Ukraines, to support them virtually in their efforts to make a separate peace with the Central Powers against the hostile military operations of the Bolsheviks.
Well, Allied diplomacy has succeeded. The Ukraine Government has made a separate peace, and it is a disastrous fact to the Allies. It has always seemed to me, and I have stated it in this House, that if we had a single policy, and that if we maintained impregnable the Western Front and maintained our financial resources, that in the end the economic pressure of the Navy and the sea power would effect what no military force could ever effect. I believe that for eighteen months we have been throwing away in vain a million or a million and a half of men, and we are just in the same position, or, rather, in a worse position than if we had not conducted any of these great offensive measures. What is the position brought about by Allied diplomacy? We have opened the great grain fields of Southern Russia to the Central Powers. We have opened to them great stores of iron, and we have put Roumania into an isolated position, and undoubtedly her grain and oil fields will be open to the Central Powers. It seems to me that Allied diplomacy, by leaving revolutionary Russia in the lurch and supporting counterrevolutionary Russia, has had this result, that the weapon of the blockade, our great weapon, has broken in our hands. That is a result of this Win-the-War Government. Why has this policy of imbecility, so disastrous to the interests of the country, been pursued? I had no doubt in my own mind that it would be pursued. Immediately after the Russian Revolution I held a meeting in my Constituency, and I warned that great audi- 70 ence that reactionary forces in this country and among the Allies would be set against the Russian Revolution and would do everything it could to overthrow it. This is not an ordinary political revolution. Behind the political revolution that bulks in our eyes and the changes in the form of government lies the greatest economic revolution the world has ever seen—over the greatest territory that ever was ruled through despotism by one man, stretching right away from the Pacific—the most fundamental economic revolution that was ever imposed.
The first act of revolutionary Russia was the abolition of the private ownership of land, the handing over in this vast territory of the lands to the peasants. That was an act that struck at the very root of the security for the vast sums that had been lent by Allied capitalists, by French investors to the extent of £1,000,000,000. That security was gone at one blow, because ultimately security rests upon the land. Added to that was the action of the Russian Government in repudiating its foreign loans. So immediately we find this Government committing acts which set against it the vested interests of every Allied country. It is for that reason that you have the Minister for Foreign Affairs in France describing the Bolshevik Government, as he did a month or two ago, as a Government of usurpers with which the French Government would have nothing to do. It is for that reason that the French Government sends its military mission to the Ukraine Republic and lends its millions of money to that Government, which is a counter-revolutionary Government, because it is a Government working for the Cossack landowners for the overthrow of revolutionary Russia. It is those forces which have brought disaster to the military position of this country. The time has come when the interests of this country should be more regarded in Allied Conferences than they have been in the past. I have read in reports of debates in the French Chamber of members complaining that England is not doing enough, not giving enough money, not providing enough food. It is perfectly right that they should do so, but it is time that Englishmen should ask, seeing all that England is doing, whether English interests should not be more conserved than they are at present.
71 I heard the Prime Minister say to-day that the great thing is that unity has been accomplished at this Conference, and I said to myself, "How much more has he given away British interests?" That is the way he secures unanimity always—by what he gives away. He went on to tell us that he was so flattered because the French Government has put the protection of the French capital into the hands of the British Army, and even wanted us to do more. I do not say that the British Army should not protect the French capital or that it is not necessary for us to take over more of the French line, but, if that is so, this country should have a greater share in the direction of Allied diplomacy, because, after all, this is the country that stands to gain nothing and lose mast. We know now that other countries, our Allies, if they did not embark upon this War with the aim, have brought us into the position where it is now part of their aim, that they should have great territorial gains. We know from these treaties that have been published to the world that this is not a war of ideals for all. With the ideals went something material. France needs not only Alsace and Lorraine, but arrangements have also been made for taking over the Sambre Valley on the west bank of the Rhine, with the ironfields from which Germany draws its iron supplies, and French capitalists are to have the coalfields in the Valley of the Sambre. Italy wants not only the Trentino and Trieste, but the Dalmatian coast and the Adriatic Islands belonging to Greece and new territories in Africa, even possibly Abyssinia itself. These are great schemes into which we are brought, let us always remember, from the fact that at the beginning of the War we backed the aim of Imperialistic Russia, which went to war for Constantinople and the Bosphorus, the dismemberment of Austria-Hungary, portion of Persia, Armenia, and so on. Then, no doubt, the other Allies said, "If Russia is going to get that, we must have this," and so steadily a war which we were told was for the rights of small nationalities became gradually a war for the extension of large nationalities.
That may have been all very well when we were marching to victory, when we had only to strike the knock-out blow according to the Prime Minister, but a new position has arisen, and we may as well face it. With the going out of Russia 72 from this War the great interest of this country to-day is peace, not territorial aggrandisement. It seems to me that it is because of these territorial claims on the part of our Allies that, peace is being made impossible. That is the reason why it was decided that there was nothing in the statement of the Austrian Chancellor which could be considered as opening the way to peace. No statement will open the way to peace unless it means the surrender of these territories, which can never be obtained except on the unconditional surrender of the Central Powers and of Bulgaria and Turkey, a result which cannot possibly be obtained, as we see if we look facts in the face to-day. If we continue to send more and more men, to provide more and more money, and to devote more and more of our shipping to feed these Allied nations, the time has come when we must secure from our Allies an abandonment of these claims which are costing us so much to endeavour to secure. That is why I have come myself to the conclusion that an end must be made of this Government, or at any rate of this Prime Minister. I do not trust the Prime Minister as representative of British interests. I believe he is always ready to give away something that is not his to give away; I believe that when he meets the French Prime Minister he does not stand before him as the Minister for Great Britain, viewing what Britain is doing and demanding that British interests be considered. It is for that reason, namely, the consideration of British interests, that I myself was glad that Lord Lansdowne issued his declaration.
Perhaps it is rather a strange thing for me to say, Radical as I am, that I should be glad to see the day when Lord Lansdowne. was Prime Minister of this country. I believe that at the beginning of the War there was only one man in this country who could say that the time had come when, in the interests of Britain, peace should be considered, and that man was Lord Kitchener. After Lord Kitchener, I believe there is no other man in this country of whom the ordinary person would say, "Well, if this suggestion were made we might enter into negotiations. This is all right; he will not give away the interests of Great Britain," and that is Lord Lansdowne. What has been the effect of Lord Lansdowne's letter? It has had widespread effect in the country. I think the Government is under a great delusion as 73 to the condition of public feeling in this country. The Government have brought about the conditions of that delusion. They are responsible for the suppression of liberty in every direction. They have interfered with the freedom of the Press, unless it be that section of the Press of which they are afraid; they have suppressed freedom of speech; they have interfered with the right of public meeting; they have driven the expression of opinion underground, or suppressed it altogether. Yet they think theirs is a popular Government, and that the people are supporting its action. That is a great delusion on their part. I am confident that one of the greatest changes in the public feeling that the country has ever witnessed has taken place during the last three months—particularly since the time of the issue of the Lansdowne letter. It was not that the people were particularly convinced by anything Lord Lansdowne said, but it was the fact that he expressed what multitudes of men themselves were thinking, but dared not express, lest they should be called pro-Germans, and so forth. One reason why the Government should consider the reason of this great change in feeling is that it is not the work of pacifist organisations, and their small Press; it is the work of the men returning from the front on leave, and of men who have been discharged from the Army. There is talk about a peace movement in this country, but nobody is advocating the making of peace at once; what is opposed is this policy of the knock-out blow, and what is desired is to put some limit to all this human slaughter which is going on.
The change in feeling throughout the country has come from the soldiers returning to their homes, and letting the people recognise what war really means. It is the work of hundreds of thousands of discharged men, who put their views of the facts before the people themselves, rather than that they should be informed by some bloodthirsty journalist, who no longer has the field to himself. This change of feeling that I speak of is like a great tidal wave overflowing the industrial parts of the kingdom, and the sentiment which has been created is spreading into the villages. I say, therefore, that if Lord Lansdowne should come forward, or if any man comes forward, though I am afraid there are few of the precise standing of Lord Lansdowne, to lead this movement, he will find the entire feeling of the people altered, and would 74 receive support. After all, it was Lord Lansdowne who, as Foreign Minister, brought us these commitments, in the first place, to France, which ended our policy of splendid isolation, and in the end dragged us into war. In conclusion, I desire to emphasise the point I raised, that it is the anti-democratic spirit of this Government and the Allied Governments which has driven revolutionary Russia away from us, and compelled her to leave the "War and association with us. Trotsky, in his manifesto to the Russian people, says, "We cannot make peace. We cannot make such a peace as Germany proposes, but at the same time we cannot make war." The reactionary forces which are represented in the Government and the Press have had this disastrous result, that we have lost a great ally. That being so, I hold that these ambitious aims which have been grafted on to our war aims and ideals, the rights of small nationalities and so forth, should now be definitely abandoned. The position to-day is that we have it announced that this year we are to be on the defensive. The way to make the situation secure is to proclaim honestly that from now onward this is a war of defence, the defence of French territory, as it was at the outbreak of the War, a war for the defence of Italian territory. Let it be honestly a war of defence, let those ambitions as to territory be abandoned once for all, and I have no doubt that if a war of defence were successfully waged it would bring peace to the world.
§ Mr. BILLING
I think this House bears silent and eloquent testimony to the interest which the Prime Minister's speech has aroused, and it was my intention to address the House on several points contained in that speech, but I think I will, Sir, with your permission, more as a protest as an independent Member of this House, ask leave to move the Adjournment.
§ Mr. BILLING
We have met here to-day to discuss the Address to the Throne, and we have had a speech from the Prime Minister which was to have put the whole question of the War before us; and if within three hours it is impossible to find one Cabinet Minister on the Front Bench 75 —and I do not know if the hon. Gentleman on it is even a member of the Government—then I do submit, with all respect to your ruling, that some sort of protest should be made, and the only sort of protest that I know is within my power to make is to ask leave to move the Adjournment. I should like to ask if that is possible.
§ Mr. LYNCH
On the point of Order. Some time ago, seeing the condition of the Front Bench, I asked the Speaker if it were competent for me to move the Adjournment of the House, and he said then that it was not at that time, the hon. Member for North-West Lanarkshire (Mr. Pringle) being then in possession, but he seemed to imply in his ruling that it would be quite competent for me at the opening of my own speech or for any other hon. Member to move the Adjournment.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
It is entirely in the discretion of the Chair whether or not to accept a Motion of that kind.
§ Mr. BILLING
In view of that fact, I will address the empty Treasury Bench with one or two remarks in the hope that any time that can be spared from their arduous duties as Ministers of the Crown will be devoted to reading the OFFICIAL REPORT. In the first instance, I should like to call the attention of the House —or what is represented here of the 670 freely elected Members from England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales—to the farce which we saw played by the two Front Benches this afternoon. I would put it to the Prime Minister that not later than forty-eight hours ago the whole of this matter was being rehearsed and discussed around the dining tables of Downing Street. I believe that all those who are aware of the movements of the Prime Minister and the ex-Prime Minister know that within the last forty-eight hours they were breakfasting together at I0, Downing Street. Therefore, it becomes rather odd when we hear the suggestion that statements made were quite new to them both. The people of this country are beginning to understand this game to some extent, and to what extent it is played, by the parties in this House. If I might tender advice, I with, I hope, due consideration to those, to whom I am tendering it, that is the occupants of the Front Benches, I would say that it is possible to strain the credulity of a deluded public too far. 76 Therefore, when we see a little blow-over like we saw this afternoon, with all the thumping of that box, which is beginning to convey less every day. and when we heard the cheers of this House which met the ex-Prime Minister when he rose to clear his honour, all that conveys nothing to the thinking Members of this House and only disgusts the country. The Prime Minister this afternoon had only to rise and simply tell us in calm language, without any rhetoric and without all that impassioned address, exactly how the position stood. We had the whole question boiled down to that put by the ex-Prime Minister, who asked simply if the powers of the Versailles Conference had been extended, and, if so, to what extent? The Prime Minister said he could not tell us. But he got so excited in the finish that he did tell us. He said that he was not going to say whether they had executive powers or to what extent they had executive powers. But the Debate then turned on the question of giving information to the enemy. I do not think that the ex-Prime Minister shone when he told us that he thought his question could be answered without affecting the public interest. I have heard him often saying it was not in the public interest to answer my questions, and I had a certain amount of sympathy with the Prime Minister on this occasion.
I do not think that it is so much a question of our newspapers. We are led to believe that everything that takes place in this House is known to the enemy. I do assure you, Sir, that the very last place in which a German spy could make a living is in this House. This House in the last two years has only become an ante-room to the Conference Room, where all these decisions and all the conduct of the War takes place. I have never heard anything in this House which gives information to its members, let alone the enemy. That the enemy are getting information there is no doubt, but I do not think it is from speeches in this House, and I do not think it is from the intelligent answers which are given to the questions which we put down and which are much more in the interests of the country than the average member of the Government would lead the country to believe. Then again the Prime Minister said that he had told the Press not to publish the facts of the Versailles Council. Are we to understand that the Press had all this information, and that it was thrown around Fleet 77 Street to all those who had not even to run in order to read, and that they knew all about what had taken place, although it is not to be discussed in this House? That was not replied to. If the Press knew nothing about it, why was the Censor brought into it? And if the Press is responsible, who is responsible for telling the Press? Surely if this House cannot be trusted, it is not fair that Fleet Street should have preferential treatment. Put us on the same footing at least, if the Prime Minister cannot do anything better. There is all this nonsense about not knowing that the Northcliffe papers were going to attack the High Command. Is there anybody out of the nurseries of England who is ignorant of the alliance between the Prime Minister and Lord Northcliffe? I do not want to give away personal experiences, but I can say, with full knowledge of my facts, that there is a very intimate relationship between Lord Northcliffe and the Prime Minister. And not only that, but Lord Northcliffe occupies something in the nature of an official position, and as proprietor of these papers, are we to understand that the Prime Minister has not the authority or the courage to put an ultimatum to Lord Northcliffe that either he must cease these attacks on the High Command, which are undermining the confidence of the people of this country, "or that you must leave my Government." Lord Northcliffe has only got to pick up his private line to the "Times" or the "Daily Mail" at ten o'clock to-night and say, "Shut down attacks on the War Office," and you would not find a word in any Harmsworth paper to-morrow. The Prime Minister knows that quite well, and Members of the House of Commons know it well, and members of the public are beginning to know it, and what is the use of the Prime Minister thumping that box and telling us that he has no power over the Press? Whether he has power over the Press or not I cannot say at this moment, but that the Press has power over him there is no shadow of doubt! Therefore it is up to the Prime Minister to say to Lord Northcliffe, "If you continue these attacks on the Higher Command you must leave my Government."
§ Mr. BILLING
Or suppress the "Times" If it had been a smaller paper it might have been suppressed. The 78 attack is now turned on the "Morning Post." I hold no brief for that paper or for any other journal in the country, but what I say is this: If there is one paper that has endeavoured repeatedly to point out to us the error of our ways and which seems to have taken a less partisan spirit, in many instances, it is the "Morning Post" Whether, however, that is so or not, if Colonel Repington has written certain articles in the "Morning Post" which have given information to the enemy, why, in God's name, do not the Government act? I remember a member of the present War Cabinet, from the seat from which I am speaking now, getting up and denouncing the then Government as a spineless, spunkless thing which had not the courage to attack those who attacked this country. But in many instances the late Government compares very favourably for moral courage, and for its way of handling positions, with the present Government. That, perhaps, is not saying very much. We know quite well that there was nobody who would take the Prime Ministership of England. I have heard it said, if there had been, the present occupant would never have received it. I ask those who are at present practically controlling the destinies of this country to at least make up their mind on one thing: either that they are going to run the country or that they are going to allow Fleet Street to run it: do not let them try to run it together. This miserable farce is being written in Fleet Street and played in this House of Commons, while at the same time the best men in the world are dying at the rate of six men per minute. That is something I should like the Government to remember. There is one excuse for these men dying and of consolation for their death, and that is that victory should attend our Armies, and that efficiency and loyalty should characterise the conduct of the Government of this country. It is not so.
We hear German spying spoken freely of. I do not want to touch upon that matter to-night. It is my desire only to sound a note which it is my intention to strike very fully in the near future. I refer to the mysterious influence which does exist in this country. We hear people asking all round, Why German banks are allowed to continue? Why Germans continue to be uninterned? Why do we find it so difficult to take a strong hand? Why, whenever we threaten Germany to-day in the matter of reprisals or anything else, 79 the matter never actually comes to fruition? There are many in this country in high positions being blackmailed by the German secret service. One of these days I propose to bring proof in this House to bear on that question. There are men, and women, too, in high positions being blackmailed. It is a very terrible thing, after four years of war, that that can be possible. So far as I can see, and so far as a good many men with whom I have had discussion can see, the issue of this War has passed from the battlefields of Flanders to the parlours of politicians and bankers with international leanings. It is time that this country realised that such a condition of affairs exists. In the past forty years there has grown up a nation of men, or a society of men, whose interests are as deeply involved in one country as in another. I think it was the late Prime Minister who told this House not long ago —before the War, I think —that it was in the interests of this country to invest all our money abroad. Whether that be so or not is a question into which I do not propose to go; but there have arisen a number of international financiers whose interests are spread as thickly in Germany as in this country, and these men have not only the freedom of Germany but the freedom of England. There exists no doubt about the latter. If there were an occupant of the Front Bench now I would ask him to run along to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and ask what is the real reason Lord Heading is in America. If the answer were the true one it would be very, very interesting.
I would like to ask whether Lord Heading went to France a few weeks before he went to America, why he went, and whether or not his mission was successful? Certainly the present trial which is taking place in France, so far as it has gone, bears testimony to the success of his mission. I should like to ask the Leader of the House, were he here, whether Lord Reading is using the name of the Prime Minister in the financial propaganda he is operating in the United States, and whether it has anything to do with the growth of the republican idea in this country? A number of other questions which are perturbing the minds of many men to-day I should like to address to the Leader of the House. It is a simple thing for the people of this country to smile —for those in this House to smile —but it is a very difficult thing to find men in this 80 House—there are a few, I admit —who are not up to their eyes in it. For years the majority of hon. Members of this House, I do not say the lot, but the vast majority, have been up to their eyes in this international political game, and it is not without considerable thought and a full appreciation of that statement that I make it. We smile at German intrigue in England. Have we not the imagination to see what the Germans have done in Russia? No one who has read or who had access— like a friend of mine—to the private documents of Rasputin in Russia would express surprise at the mysterious influence which is operating in this country. No one who has had access to the communications which took place between the Russian Royal Family and the German Royal House will express surprise that the communications which are taking place in the wireless note used by the Marconi people in this country to-day. I would like to ask the Leader of the House, or the Prime Minister, whether or not the Marconi people are to-day using a note which is so high that it is impossible for any official wireless machine to tune up to it? If they are using that note, is it not the fact that they are using it "all clear'' and not employing a code?
These are points to which I want to see hon. Members address themselves in this House, rather than in badgering the Prime Minister as to what he said or did not say at the Versailles Conference. Let them really apply themselves to investigating the pernicious German influence which is permeating this country, an influence which brought Russia to her knees and which nearly ruined Italy. If any hon. Member had risen in his place a month before we heard about the Russian Revolution and had told the story of Rasputin and the Royal House of Russia, he would have been laughed at as a man suffering from hallucinations who ought never to be allowed to speak in public. Yet, when the true story of German influence in this country comes to be told, the Russian story will pale before it. It was exactly the same in Italy. We knew in May what was happening in Italy. We knew that our Secret Service was in the pay of Germany, but we did nothing; and even when communications were sent from Italy to this country we took no action. And so this goes on. The people in this country are beginning to tire of it. I would ask hon. Members why they think that we here in 81 England should be more immune from German treachery and from the German Secret Service—
Mr. L. WILLIAMS
Do I understand the hon. Member charges Members of this House with being in receipt of German money?
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. BILLING
I am sorry if any remarks I am making are open to the inference that I am charging Members with receiving German money. The statement I made, and which I repeat, is that the majority of the Members of this House are so involved in political and financial matters that it is difficult, if not impossible, for them to take a free and unbiassed outlook of the War problem today. That is the statement I make, and I am prepared to repeat it rather than to withdraw it. I would ask whether our Russian friends—perhaps "friends" is not the right word to use now they are no longer our Allies—I would ask why Litvinoff is still free in this country, why is he allowed to engineer the distribution of revolutionary literature all over the place, even in Woolwich Arsenal? I may ask the Prime Minister whether, on the last occasion of Lord Beading's visit to America he met this gentleman, and whether he communicated with him as the representative of the Government, or in his private capacity? I should also like to ask whether the Prime Minister will make public the contents of the cables sent to "Wiseman," and the correspondence between Lord Reading and one of the Judges of the United States Courts. We have heard a good deal about secret arrangements, but when one looks behind the scenes one finds that our foreign diplomacy is rotten with them. The continuance of this sort of thing is not in the best interests of the country. I should like to ask the Prime Minister whether he will ask the present Minister for Propaganda (Lord Beaverbrook) if he has met in Switzerland, since the outbreak of the War, representatives of the Deutsche Bank and of other big German banking concerns. Would it not be much 82 better to inquire into all these matters rather than to bother about the prosecution of Colonel Repington for statements he may make here or there? Why worry our heads about these little things? Would it not be much better if some of us at least concentrated our minds in endeavouring to find out before it is too late the influence at work in this country —the secret and pernicious influences which brought Russia to her knees, which cut the throat of Italy, and which may bring us to our knees. I would sooner hear this House discussing those things. If one speaks of German secret intrigues to-day people say "We do not do that in England" It is never discussed here. But there is a strong feeling in this country that there are German agents here stirring up strife to-day. We are not firmly handling them. The Prime Minister may yet wake up and regret it. The people of this country may also have to regret it.
It is our duty, our sacred and solemn duty, as representatives of the people in this House to go to any extreme which we think necessary to safeguard the well-being, honour, and integrity of our country, to expose all this corruption, and to endeavour to throw some light on those influences which are doing so much to prevent us bringing this War to a successful conclusion. I conclude my remarks as I opened them, with a strong protest against the total indifference evidenced by the Government on these matters. For two years I have been talking to an empty Treasury Bench, so that it has almost become my ordinary experience. But I do protest that, after such a statement as we had to-day from the Prime Minister, the right hon. Gentleman, if he could not stay here, did not deputise some responsible Minister to answer any questions which might arise out of his speech. The Prime Minister made one of the greatest exhibitions of himself I have ever seen made by a Prime Minister, and I have seen a few. I think at least the Government should have deputed someone to keep the flag flying in his absence. But no; this House is treated with utter contempt, and the utter indifference, the boredom and exhaustion, of this House with the Government and the Government with this House are becoming a by-word in the country. All I can say is that terrible as an election would be at the present minute—almost criminal without a register —I consider that the finest action which 83 the Government could take in this country, and the finest war service they could perform, would be to concentrate all available labour on the preparation of a register, even if it only took as its basis the sugar card, in order to get to the people as quickly as possible, so that the soldier and the women he has left behind should either confirm the appointment of this present House or should put in its place at least some few men who have the vigour and the patriotism to stand up at all times and speak what they believe to be the truth.
§ Mr. LYNCH
I have listened to several speeches to-day more or less illuminating, and I find in each one, at any rate, some glint of the truth. In particular, as regards that of my hon. Friend who has just sat down (Mr. Billing), I think the most telling note that he struck in the course of his speech was when he referred to the rise of a republican feeling in this country. I think also the real note of truth was struck by the hon. Member for Lanark (Mr. Pringle) "when he spoke of this Government drifting to its fall. Drifting! The policy of the successive Governments during three years and a half of war might almost be summed up in that word "drift"
I speak, perhaps, less from my point of view as a Member of this House, for this House is becoming in the affairs of the nation more and more a negligible quantity, but as a simple citizen involved as all citizens are in the disasters which the incapacity of its rulers is bringing upon this nation—there I have an interest and it is on that ground mainly that I mean to speak. My note shall be "new men" New men! The old have been tried and they have been found wanting, and if there be no reply to the question, "Whom are you to put in their place?" I say that that question in the absence of a reply signifies in itself the intellectual bankruptcy of this country, and in that case it matters little how it is answered. But I refuse to believe that a nation which in every walk of life has shown such genius and resource is intellectually represented at its best by the men who in this House have successively held the reins of Government. So that question has no terror whatever for me. The same question has been put at every epoch of history; in the early days, for instance, of the French Revolution, or, preceding that, 84 when the question was asked, "Whom will you put in their place?" it was put with the same feeling of blank dismay. Yet the incapable governors were swept away, and in their place arose a Pleiad of the best men whom France has ever produced, but men who would never have risen to the surface if the intelligence of France had been kept at bay by the question, "Whom are you going to put in their place?"
To-day we have had the usual comedy: a member of the so-called Opposition putting forward a speech with little substance and apparently equal sincerity, and being replied to in the heat of passion by the Leader of the Government, who never once touched on the vital subjects which interest the nation at the present time, but who allowed this which ought to be a Debate of prime importance to fizzle out into a quarrel with newspaper reporters. That is the usual style to which we have been accustomed in these so-called first-class Debates—a speech and a reply as if by arrangement between the two Front Benches, like the two characters of a French comedy, and then the disappearance of the responsible Leaders of the two Front Benches. as though no other Member of Parliament had anything important to say. I speak, I repeat, as a simple citizen, seeing before my eyes what seems to be the coming ruin—ruin if we persist in keeping these men in power— and I am determined for one no to go down without a struggle. I will wield a hammer to strike on the machine at every point, to test what is real, strong, and valid, and what is rotten; and that which is rotten must go. We must demand what is strong and real and valid, and it is because of that that I repeat my cry for new men.
Remember that we are now well into the fourth year of a war unexampled in history. Remember that the sacrifice of blood and treasure has been appalling beyond the wildest imagination of anything that has preceded it. Remember that these men had in their hands at the beginning of the War the whole, or 80 percent. of the chances in their favour, and that by their incapacity and folly, their want of courage and want of character, they have one by one allowed those chances to slip away; and we are faced with ruin, ruin not in the necessity of things, but ruin brought about by their ineptitude. Remember again in the fourth year of war that if plans had been well and 85 truly laid, and carried through with that determination, a tenacity which is one of the principal—one may say the transcendental—virtues of the British character, would not now the Leader of this nation be able to announce, "These plans which in our wisdom we laid, which were well and truly laid, and which we have worked up with determination and courage from the beginning, are now approaching completion, so that we can hold up the structure to the view of all the world, and by that means hearten the people because they see that all these plans are good" Was that the attitude of the Prime Minister to-day? Was that the attitude of the great leader of a victorious nation? Was there anything in his words to inspire? Was there anything of the great leader of a nation at such a time beyond this mere petty quarrel and spite against some recalcitrant writer in a newspaper? This Government, which is the child of discontent, of which criticism is its father, and which successively step by step has been governed by newspaper intrigue—the Prime Minister, at any rate, should be the last man to complain about newspaper criticism. It is his chief weapon. His chief power has been that of working the Press.
There is a time when all reputations must give way before the vital needs of the nation, where on one side you have the bolstered-up reputation of some false great man, and, on the other, the safety of the nation. Remember that that safety means the individual life and comfort of every man, woman, and child, and that the failure of that safety means starvation and death, untold slaughter. Are you to place that in the scale against these reputations, and saving those reputations, jeopardise the safety of the people? That, again, has been the characteristic of the leaders of this Government. Faced between two alternatives—sacrificing your big reputations, or doing some-thing bold and great for the safety of the nation—they have trembled before the big reputations, and tried to hide their cowardice by such exhibitions as we have seen to-day in this House.
On previous occasions I have brought up, simply for the purpose of comparison, the name of President Lincoln, in many respects not a great man, a man without great education, a man even without great intellect, but endowed with this quality, which it was once the boast of the public schools of England to give, in de- 86 fault of instruction in science, namely, character—character! that is lacking on that Front Bench—but the rough backwoodsman exhibited to the highest degree, and that quality alone was sufficient to save his nation from disaster. Face to face with a great problem, he only applied a few simple rules of a plain, straight, honest man, and he won outright. Here are these men, first in every trick of backstairs politics, familiar with all that chicanery of the corridors of Parliament, past-masters in the manipulating of the Press, heroes of every kind of second-rate political virtue, but devoid of all that quality which enables a man, the leader of a nation, to face a great exterior problem and indicate the means by which victory may be gained. Ever since the Prime Minister has become the Prime Minister he has shown decadence, incapacity to use his opportunities. He has fallen away even from the standard which he himself exhibited to us in his capacity of Minister of Munitions. Why? Perhaps it is because he finds himself in uncongenial surroundings, perhaps because he might be described in the words of French politics as prisonnier de la Droite—prisoner of the Tories—his virtue has vanished, and finding himself incapable, he is content to be merely a figure-head.
But, looking into the matter more deeply, perhaps one has no right to be disappointed, because there has been nothing in his previous career, nothing in his previous accomplishments, which indicated that he possessed all the elements necessary to be a great and successful Prime Minister. That, indeed, is the vice of this form of government, where men come to the front not for those great qualities of intellect, which are indeed almost discredited in fashionable quarters of the Government, not even for great qualities of character which rather tend to make a "crank" in this House—and in the vocabulary of the House there is no more damaging word than "crank" A man may achieve success, climbing up step by step by all sorts of petty little versatilities of moral principle or adaptation of programmes to circumstances, constant in nothing except the determination to keep his eye on the main chance, and to lose no opportunity of self-advancement. By those means, with those qualities and with those endowments, a man moderately equipped with education, and not overweighted with great intellectual capacity, 87 may reach the highest offices of State. His name becomes great before the public; his personality, by the judicious puffing of the Press, seems to loom up before the whole nation. But a crisis such as this is like one of the problems of Nature, which refuses to flatter these spurious gifts and demands something real, something of integrity.
In the place of well-studied, carefully thought-out plans, of energy in their execution, steadfast and unwavering determination to push home those great plans to their proper realisation, we have a complete want of plan of any kind, a sort of hand-to-mouth intellectuality, a capacity simply of meeting the situations which crop up from day to day, and, above all, that one chief quality of making rhetoric stand for thought.
I read the Prime Minister's speech lately to which he himself referred to-day, and to which, therefore, I have a right to refer—the speech of his in Glasgow towards the end of June last. That speech, no doubt, captivated the audience. He has that power; that is one of his dangerous political gifts; but to captivate a provincial audience, to dazzle with his wonderful power of rhetoric a Glasgow town council, to adorn his speech with of those happy touches of eloquence— that is the one thing; but to project the thought forward, to think determinedly, consistently, cogently, to illuminate the whole subject, to exhibit the qualities of a masculine mind, that is quite another matter. I read that speech with the glamour gone, and in place of clearness and cogency of thought I found nothing but a speech of showy eloquence, covering up the weak points of its logic by the tawdry spangles of rhetoric. The disasters which we are now suffering the Prime Minister has imputed to the defection of Russia, and that is treated in some quarters as in the nature of what in coroner's language is called an act of God. The defection of Russia was not even an accident; it was in great part brought about by that same kind of incapacity which has always presided over the acts of our successive Governments. The defection of Russia was in part brought about, because upon the first mutterings of the storm in that country, instead of showing that prevision which we had a right to demand. instead of being accurately informed, our represen- 88 tatives saw and heard nothing, knew nothing, except their own rooted prejudices and their own reactionary ideas. They saw Russia struggling in the midst of a mighty movement, and the Government sent the worst Ambassador they, could have chosen, one who almost ruined South Africa when it was ready to accept conciliation, by his reactionary notions, his firmness in wrong ideals and his incapacity to see the light—I refer to the ruinous persistence in the ruinous ideals of Lord Milner. That was no accident. The feeling of Russia against this country was brought about by the revolt of the people against Lord Milner's interference.
It is not the only occasion on which that type of mind has played a detrimental part of which we are now feeling the effects. In great campaigns, as seen in the course of history, an event may take place of which the full significance is not known in the immediate future, but which shows itself in the way of control over events taking place many years afterwards. The great blow to the hopes of the Allies was already struck in the Balkans, where the campaign, badly thought out, but yet capable of bearing fruit, was thwarted at every turn because the Government was less bent on smashing the enemy than on maintaining on his throne an enemy prince. I want the public to realise the full force of what I am saying. For two years an enemy prince, the most active agent of the Kaiser, was thwarting the plans of the Allies; and that action was either known to the Foreign Office or it was not known, and I leave this House and the public to judge which of those suppositions is the more damning to the reputation of the Government. King Constantine, when dethroned at length, went to Switzerland, and there he was the centre of pro-German propaganda, and it is greatly due to the propaganda of King Constantine and his compeers in Switzerland that the defection or failure of Russia has been brought about, and that is also responsible in great part for the disaster to Italy.
We are now face to face with a situation of which I propose to remove the veil. There is a demand for unity of command, a demand which the Prime Minister himself described as vital, absolutely necessary. Weeks have gone by since the right hon. Gentleman first enunciated that just principle. During those weeks the Allies have been discussing and debating 89 military questions, as an Aulic Council, while the Germans, with their plans already made, have been working and preparing their onslaught. We have heard of the opposition of our Army chiefs, men who are the exponents of discipline, who often use an iron discipline towards the common soldier. These military chiefs present their ultimatum to the Prime Minister and threaten to resign unless they have their own way. Again let us come back to the example of good old Abraham Lincoln. How did he treat the men whom he found to be incompetent in high places? He removed them and put better men in their places. This method does more good than the making of flashy speeches. If we had a big man leading us who had the sort of organic integrity displayed by that rough man of the people of America he would have emerged strengthened from these troubles and would not have been afraid of the difficulties of his own making, and would have turned all these incidents to his own advantage. The Prime Minister has shown himself to be a small, weak, and vacillating man, and the country at large has suffered from his lack of character.
It is necessary to say this; these matters are known to all. We have had arguments about them from time to time. We have heard about the incompetent leader of an Army, and we have been told that if our leader is changed it would dishearten the British soldiers and encourage the Germans. Which is more likely to discourage the Germans—the mere change of a name or such a change in the leadership that that change spells victory. To put forward such objections is treating the House of Commons like mere children. Surely the policy which gives confidence to the country is not one of cowering before big reputations, but showing that there is a man at the head of affairs who can look at all things in a true perspective, and who will flinch from no task to carry out designs in which he has faith.
I will deal with the record of Field-Marshal Haig. Months ago in this House I suggested that he should be retired. I say that suggestion stands to my honour to-day, for had he been retired then the military situation could not have been worse, and the lives of 500,000 men would have been saved; and that I was right then is shown by the action of the Government itself, because even now, so belatedly, they are carrying out the plan 90 which I indicated as the only possible plan on the Western Front. They are carrying it out so late that they have to throw into it the most feverish activity.
Remember this: Field-Marshal Haig, entrusted with the full command of such a mighty Army, launched that force again and again against the impregnable Hindenberg line, and after the most colossal efforts and after slaughter unknown before in the history of the world he left the military problem in all its great essentials exactly as it was before he began his murderous onslaughts. Has that man justified his existence as Chief Ruler? Has he not been sufficiently tried? Are the lives of 500,000 men and the jeopardising of the whole campaign not a sufficient test? Proceed further, and suppose that it was possible for him to win even upon his own lines, then would he have placed victory within our reach? Remember that by his own calculations, if he were to proceed on these lines so far as to break up the German resistance, he would have to cross the Rhine, and at his own rate of expenditure it would require ten years to reach Berlin and the slaughter of double the reserves which it would be possible to furnish. Surely it is not only a matter of military strategy. Surely it is a matter of mere common sense, when a general is committed to a plan, and when that plan, reduced to the cold test of figures, is shown not to be feasible, that man who in his military obstinacy persists in realising that plan and bringing it to its logical concluson of disaster is unfit to remain Chief Director of Military Forces. Is there any proposition in that argument which would not bear the test of logic or of reason or of any scrutiny whatever? If it logically leads you to that conclusion, why are you afraid to face the conclusion to which it leads you? Again I say it is because of weakness of character, and because we have a Prime Minister who drifts off and does nothing. If he be a man big enough to take the responsibility and to say, "That officer, because he is incapable, must go"; if he be a man big enough to strike down favourites of big reputation, even those who wear the Garter itself, he has to stand the brunt of criticism, and he has to stand alone and bear the responsibility which he has assumed. If there were among them today one man big enough that man would stand out as the true leader of the nation, and by that fact alone would inspire the 91 nation with the confidence which it now lacks.
I will proceed now to deal with only one other, as I propose to return to this question until I have brought the Government down and put better men in their places, and even now, at the last moment, save the fortunes of this great con-dominion. The other man is Sir William Robertson, the Chief of the Staff. That man, we are told, was not born in the purple. He was not a protected man. He is a man who has sprung from the people. That argument does not appeal to me. I am too real a democrat to be touched by a footling argument of that sort, because, whether a man be born in the purple or whether a man rise from the gutter, the true democrat will not judge him by false standards, but by what he is—by his own merits and by nothing else. Ever since I have been able to study that man—it is necessary that we should all study his character and his achievements—I have never once seen, as we have a right to expect in a man of his high position, any bold or great commanding line of thought or action such as a Carnot or a Soult or a Wellington or a Sir John Moore would have given us. I have seen nothing but the tampering with newspaper reports and the covering up of a false situation by the arts of a politician. Of all the great men now leading this country, and leading it to such disastrous issues, I say—and I use a plain, blunt word—that man is the greatest humbug. Yet it is before his reputation and character that the Prime Minister is now trembling.
I would not have said these things if I did not think that, a perfectly satisfactory answer could be given to that question which has always been put to us as a poser, "Whom are you going to put into their place?" That question is becoming more and more easy of solution, because we must look at realities. It is no use hiding ourselves and imagining that we have conjured away a great exterior peril because we refuse to be honest and face it, or because we refuse to be courageous and run away from facts, for that peril, like a great material movement of nature, will overtake and sweep over us. It behoves us all to examine our consciences and our situation down to the very bottom, illuminating every dark spot and seeing exactly where we stand—if we find any-thing faulty or rotten to say that it is 92 faulty and rotten, because the resources of this country are great enough to put something true and strong in the place of that which is faulty and rotten. We have been led by men who are unequal to the task of a great crisis. The nation has a right to demand to be led by a Themistocles; the nation is led by a Cleon. The nation has a right to demand a man of the honesty and character of Lincoln; the nation is led by an Opportunist politician. Remember, it is possible for a nation, like an individual, to die of its vices, and those virtues which we hold in honour in this House, compromise and cleverness, and trickery, and management, in the face again of the great exterior problem are the vices which in the past have brought nations to ruin. This nation may not be exempt.
I will conclude with a word of hope. When a man speaks in this way, speaking out the truth with candour, he is always attacked by the myrmidons of these incapables and the reproach is hurled at him that he is stabbing the soldier behind the back. I say, "No; it is they who are stabbing the soldier behind the back" The soldier has done his part. There never has been a time in the history of this Nation, nor I suppose of any nation, when one could have a more outright and sincere admiration, not merely for the-brilliant and dazzling courage of the-soldiers of the Allies, but for their stoical endurance and fortitude. I say those men have not had a fair chance. Wherever the men have been able to come to grips-. with the Germans, face to face and man to man the British soldier and the French soldier have been superior. Whenever a. new factor, that of the great intellectual planning of the leaders, has arisen, then the Allies have been shown at a disadvantage. We can throw overboard that incubus, we can create a new time, and a new atmosphere, and inspire the people with a new hope. It is in that spirit that I speak now and will speak again and again until I bring down this incapable-Government and put in its place new men.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned" (Mr. Herbert Samuel) put, and agreed to.
§ Debate adjourned accordingly; to be resumed To-morrow.
§ ADJOURNMENT.—Motion made, and Question, "That this House do now adjourn"(Mr. Pratt) put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Thirteen minutes before Ten o'clock.