Motion made, and Question proposed,
A. "That a number of Land Forces, not exceeding 2,500,000, all ranks, be maintained for the Service of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland at Home and Abroad, excluding His Majesty's Indian Possessions, during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1920.
There have been exceptional difficulties in framing the Army Estimates of this year. We are half way between peace and war. Almost every factor with which we have to deal is uncertain and fluctuating. We cannot forecast the exact rate at which demobilisation will be completed. We do not yet know what arrangements affecting armaments will be embodied in the Treaty of Peace. We cannot tell how many men we shall have to keep in the Middle East and on the Rhine, or for how long they will have to be kept there. We cannot be sure what the attitude and the conduct of the Germans will be—whether they will accept our conditions, whether they will resist them actively or passively, whether they will agree to them and endeavour to evade them, whether they will refuse them and throw responsibility for the future upon us, or whether they will simply degenerate into ruin. We cannot tell. The greater part of Europe and the greater part of Asia are plunged in varying degrees of disorder and anarchy. Vast areas in both these Continents, inhabited by immense and once thriving populations, are convulsed by hunger, bankruptcy, and revolution. The victorious Allies, on whom there rests the responsibility for enabling the world to get to work again, are themselves exhausted in a very serious degree; and all these elements of difficulty and uncertainty vitiate or threaten to vitiate our calculations. At every point must be added the enormous tangle of winding up the War effort, and adjusting with as little waste as possible the complications of war-time finance.
In these circumstances I cannot pretend that the very large figures which I submit to the House are more than a provisional Estimate. But I honestly believe that they are the maximum charge that is likely to be incurred in the currency of the financial year. I believe and hope that the Committee knows the worst in these Estimates. I hope and trust that it will be found possible, as the months go by, sensibly to revise these Estimates in a downward direction, and in asking the Committee to assent to the figures that I have accepted from my advisers I wish to state that I do so with the intention of revising and reducing them as our affairs gradually return to their normal state, and as Army finance once again comes into peace-time control Some question has been raised as to the discrepancy between the gross Estimate and the net Estimate. The difference is made up by the Appropriations-in-Aid. These include a substantial contribution from Germany for the upkeep of the armies on the Rhine. I cannot state that figure at present, as it is still the subject of discussion between us and our Allies. Then there are substantial contributions by the Dominions in aid of charges borne by us on their account, and a sum of nearly £50,000,000 which I anticipate will be received from miscellaneous receipts, normal and abnormal, Dominion contributions, issues on repayment and sale of horses and the like.
There are three financial points to note in regard to the Estimate. According to the "Economist" index number the present general level of prices is about 128 per cent. over that of the year 1914, which rise, I am advised, means that £113,000,000 more would have to be paid in 1919 for the same Army than would have been paid in 1914. That £113,000,000represents the general rise in the cost of keeping it. The increases in pay means £37,000,000 more than in 1914 for the same number of men. The growth of the separation allowances borne on the Army Estimates, by no means including the large sum borne on the Estimates of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Pensions, account for £42,000,000. Taking these three items together, the total gross provision of £440,000,000 represents on the pre-war standard £248,000,000. If you scale down the large Appropriations-in-Aid, which I have mentioned, in the same proportion as I have scaled down the gross Estimates and subtract them, you will find that the total comparable with the 1914 net Estimates is somewhat under £200,000,000.
On the other hand, the large amount which we propose to seek to recover from Germany stands in a position of its own, because we have already determined and declared that we shall take from them other accounts all that Germany can possibly pay. The claim is, therefore, of importance more from the point of view of priority of payment than as an addition to any total. The Estimates of this year are made by events; the Estimates of next year will, I hope, be made by policy. Events must govern us now. The soldiers exist in millions on our pay-roll and on our rations strength. They are scattered all over the world. They are moving from place to place. Large numbers are still in hospital, large I numbers are still required on the Front. Those factors this year govern the expenditure, but next year if all be well Parliament should once again be able to resume the general control of our Army finance. With the passing of war and the disorder which war carries in every sphere of Government and of private life, finance will once more become the limiting factor. Every scheme for our future Army and for our future Air Force must be decided by what it will cost, and by the relation of its total cost to the resulting war power. Over and over again nations have won wars and then declined through the disorder of their finances. Good finance is the golden key to national prosperity, and I can assure the House that I shall do my utmost to secure substantial reductions in military forces, for without those reductions good finance is impossible.
I have thought it wise to divide the problems which confront the War Office in the present year into two main classes, namely, those on which we are bound to give an immediate decision, and, secondly, those for which at least five or six months of careful study are required. In the former class come a series of important practical questions connected, first, with the demobilisation of the Army, and the winding up of the War; secondly, with the formation of the Armies of Occupation. which we need in the countries that we have conquered, and whose ultimate fate awaits the decision of the Peace Conference; thirdly, the formation at the earliest possible moment of an Army enlisted on a voluntary basis, which can be sent out to relieve Territorials and others in India, and provide garrisons for our fortresses, and to relieve the men whom it is necessary for the present to retain in the Armies in the Middle East.
On all these considerable tasks we are now engaged, and I think I may say with some measure of success. All the main decisions have been given. Pivotalism—which, however desirable from the point of view of industry, was a very disturbing process when applied to the Army, pivotalism which to the ordinary soldier looked sometimes very like favouritism, pivotalism which simultaneously affected the moral and cohesion of every platoon in our Forces—has been almost entirely wound up. The Army is now divided sharply into two classes, one of which knows it is going to go, and the other that it has got to stay. Those who are to go must wait their turn for demobilisation in the priority of their industrial categories. Those who have got to stay are chosen because they were the latest to come, and are under thirty-seven years of age, and they receive enhanced pay. The first class have before them the prospect of a speedy release to civil life, and the second are compensated by a substantial increase of pay.
To sum up, in a sentence which I have used several times, but which cannot be too often repeated, our plan is to let three men out of four go, and to pay the fourth man double to finish the job. I do not in the least underrate the objections which may be urged against this plan, nor do I deny the hardships which it must necessarily entail, but I am sure that they are less serious objections and less numerous hardships than would have attached to any other conceivable course which has been suggested. The evidence which has reached us from every quarter shows that the plan has been well received and readily understood throughout the whole Army. It is recognised to correspond broadly to those principles of fair play which are dear to the hearts of the British soldier. It has been followed by a great and sensible recovery of discipline and morale throughout the whole of our Armies.
Although we are by no means at the end of our difficulties—and it is far from my intention to give an over-sanguine picture of the situation which presents itself to in to-day—yet the effects of this policy are already noticeable, and, as far as they go, extremely satisfactory. I hope that within a few months the convulsion of demobilisation will be at an end, and that we shall possess strong, compact, well-disciplined Armies of moderate but still adequate size, which will enable us to guard the interests of the State and the safety of the country, and to secure to us the fruits we have won in the War. Meanwhile, already nearly 1,800,000 officers and men have been demobilised, and discharges are proceeding at the rate of upwards of 25,000 a day. In addition, about 100,000 Canadians and Australians have been sent home, and I am glad to say that we have been able to arrange that every Dominion soldier who came over to fight in this War shall, at any rate, have the chance of one visit to the Mother countries before he goes back to his own Dominion.
The number of men who are still with the Colours, but are not included in the retained class of which I have spoken, do not now exceed 500,000 men. So we are getting rather near to the end of our problem in that respect. There are some theatres, for instance, India and North Russia, from which it is impossible physically at present to release the men, although they are outside the retained class. In India, except 20,000 invalids we are bringing home, they are cut off by the torrid heat of the Red Sea, and in North Russia they are cut off by the Arctic cold. There are other theatres—Mesopotamia, Palestine, the Caucasus, and Turkey—where the process of release is impeded by the difficulties of transportation, but the numbers affected are not very large, and are constantly diminishing.
I propose that every man due for release, and who is for causes beyond our control retained beyond the 1st May, shall receive the increased rate of pay from that date until he is discharged, which will be at the earliest possible moment. Further, in regard to the retained classes who form pare of the Armies of Occupapation, I have called for special schemes of leave to be prepared, and a genuine effort will be made to give a larger proportion to men in the distant theatres who have not enjoyed the facilities for leave which have been extended to the Armies in France. Thus I hope that very soon those hard cases of men who have not seen their homes for two, three, or even more years will be satisfactorily dealt with, and that either the men will get their leave or, in the vast majority of cases, including the cases of all who joined before the 1st January, 1916,that they will come home for good and be demobilised to civil life. Such is the scheme which we have had to launch so hastily into operation, and I trust that on the whole, taking the rough with the smooth, it will commend itself to the House. The bond of discipline is subtle and sensitive. It may be as tense as steel or as brittle as glass. The main element of discipline in the British Service is a sense of justice and a sense of willing association among great bodies of men with the general policy of their country. For this purpose it is imperative that the arrangements, even if they have to be rough and ready, should, at any rate, be broad and clear, and capable of being shortly explained and easily understood. Once you have those facts established, it is possible to enforce them strictly and punctually on all ranks. That, at any rate, is the spirit in which we have been working. It is what we have been aiming at, and what we shall endeavour, amid many difficulties, by no means all overcome, as far as possible to secure.
Meanwhile, the formation of a Voluntary Army to garrison the British Empire, and to maintain security here at home and in Ireland, is proceeding rapidly. The rate of enlistment of 1,000 a day is well maintained, and already we have nearly 40,000 trained men, besides 4,000 or 5,000 young new recruits, who have been attracted in the ordinary way by the claim upon the imagination of youth to the military profession. The task of building up this Army is, however, a very considerable one. When I tell the House that the Regular units to be constituted for the defence of the Empire comprise, among others, 514 Artillery units, 183 Royal Engineer units, and 158 Infantry battalions, they will see how considerable that task must be. After two or three months' furlough, which is a condition of the re-enlistment of these men, since they were determined to have a holiday before they signed on again, these trained men will join the cadres of the regiments and battalions to which they belong, and regard will be had, as far as possible, to personal wishes in the matter, and we shall endeavour to let them join the units which they choose. Then, after having been trained during the summer in our great camps at Aldershot and Salisbury Plain and elsewhere, they will proceed as formed units to relieve the overseas garrisons in India, in the Mediterranean, and in the Middle East. I cannot hold out any hope at present of relieving the Army on the Rhine by voluntary units. Any man now serving may volunteer for the Armies of Occupation, and will obtain the higher pay from the 1st February; and the men who are already demobilised will, later on, if all go well, be allowed to re-enlist voluntarily in the Armies of Occupation, but if already demobilised they will, of course, draw the pay only from the date of re-engaging.
Moreover, at the present time we wish to give the Regular Volunteer Army for overseas garrisons the first claim on the labour market. We desire to secure the greatest number of re-enlistments for two or three or, if possible, four years of service. It is only after this vital and most urgent need has been effectively met that the re-engagement of demobilised men for shorter periods of service in the Armies of occupation can be permitted. The House will readily understand that our first task is to provide those volunteer garrisons for the defence of the Empire, its Colonies, its fortresses, and its coaling stations, without which our whole apparatus would come into a speedy collapse. It is, however, my hope that later in the year, when the men who have been demobilised have had a reasonable spell of civil life, and perhaps in some cases have begun to find it is not all they hoped for—when they begin to turn their minds once more to the Army, with its ups and downs of fortune, but still with its great security in time of peace—we may get a substantial flow of volunteers for the Armies of Occupation from this source, and that it will be possible progressively to release men now retained compulsorily according to age, wounds, and length of service, so that the main composition of these Armies of Occupation, if they have to have to be maintained dur- ing the whole or part of 1920, ought either to be volunteers who have re-enlisted or young soldiers who have not had to bear the brunt and burden of the War. That is our hope, but we must see how we go on, and feel our way from step to step. So much for the problems which have required immediate decision, as matters of practical emergency.
I now come to those other problems on which it would be wise, as far as possible, to postpone decisions for five or six months. I will very briefly enumerate them to the Committee. What is to be the size, character, and composition of our permanent after-war Army? What is to be its strategic distribution, having regard to our new responsibilities, having regard also to the mechanical changes in the art of war which have been revealed? In particular, how is this distribution to be related to the new developments in air power, which are so vitally significant in all that affects our Eastern, Middle-Eastern, and North African responsibilities? What are to be the relations between the Indian and British military establishments, and what part is the Army in India to play in our general system of Imperial defence? What modifications in the structure of our Armies will be required by the invention of tanks, and by the immense developments of machine guns and artillery? How is our future military defence of the British Empire to be brought at every point into harmonious relation with the Royal Navy, so that the greatest economy may be combined with the highest development not only of amphibious, but of aerial power? In this connection, it is quite clear that we require to develop a new class of officers, who will make all war their province, and not merely sea war, or land war, or air war, or any other kind of departmental war. This opens up an extremely interesting avenue of inquiries which are now being pursued by the professional heads of the three great Services—the First Sea Lord, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, and the Chief of the Air Staff—into the systems of higher Staff training and general war training which are required for the fighting services of the Crown. By proceeding along these paths, we may, in the course of years, evolve a class of officers of high standing, drawn from every branch of the Service, and from every part of the Empire, armed with a body of doctrine, the result of searching and scientific thought, who will be able to advise the Cabinet and Prime Minister of the future from the point of view of war as a whole, from the point of view of Imperial defence in its integrity and in its universality. However, I do not wish to be drawn into details on these matters, which I am only enumerating to the Committee.
Another intricate set of problems arise from what I may call the administrative sphere of Army reorganisation. For fifty years we have lived on the basis of the Cardwell system, which was so well suited to the needs of our Empire, and whose linked battalions, at home and abroad, provided us at once with the means of maintaining our large overseas garrisons, and with a small but efficient Expeditionary Force in this Island. As against this system, there is, as those who are familiar with the military controversies and with Army Debates which have taken place in this House during the last twenty-five years are well aware, an alternative system based, first, upon a separate Army for India, fed not by linked battalions but direct from depots, and organised on the principle of the longest service compatible with the health and efficiency of the individual soldier; and, secondly, combined with this, but separate from it, a national Army at home, enlisted on the shortest service compatible with training, and because enlisted on short service producing large reserves which will be available on mobilisation. These two competing systems have to be very carefully weighed and examined, and the choice between them is fundamental, as far as the whole organisation of the future Army is concerned. It would be most imprudent to hasten to a precipitate conclusion between them. On the other hand, the period for consideration must be limited to a reasonable number of months. After having thought about this question, even at frequent intervals, during more than twenty years, I may offer the Committee a measure of its baffling nature when I say that I still await with an open mind the results of the inquiries which are being set on foot. But this problem is not com- pleted by a mere choice between these two systems. Whichever be adopted must nowadays be related intimately and sympathetically to the non-professional forces, to those citizen armies which have supplied us with nineteen-twentieths of our strength in the present War. Are we to fall back on the pre-war organisation of the Territorial Force, the Yeomanry, and the Special Reserve, which we owe to Lord Haldane, which stood us in such good stead, and which would have served us better still if fully adhered to, or are we to strike out boldly for the organisation of a truly national Army which will gather together all the military experience that the civilian population of this country now possess, and provide a true unity of status, training, and service? These are matters which I am not attempting to prejudge, though I state them because I wish the Committee and the country generally to turn their attention to them in the course of the next few months. They are matters which ought not to be prejudged in any quarter. It is very necessary that the whole position of what I may call citizen officers in what used to be somewhat unceremoniously called the "Auxiliary Forces" should be impartially reviewed, and their facilities for training and prospects of advancement and promotion brought into proper relation with those of their professional comrades. I am making sure that that point of view is not overlooked.
To sum up on this branch of my theme, the Committee will see that there are four distinct stages of Army development in process at the present time. First of all there are the great Armies that won the War—Armies of four or five millions of men. These are demobilising, and are already largely demobilised. Secondly, there are the Armies of Occupation now rapidly forming on a compulsory basis, which approximate to 900,000 men, subject to such reductions later on in the year as circumstances may permit. Thirdly, there is the Volunteer Regular Army for the immediate garrisoning of the Empire, formed out of trained men who re-engage for one, two, three, or more years, which Army is growing at the rate of 1,000 a day. And, fourthly, there is the permanent after-war Army, built up out of new, young recruits, who have to be trained, who have to be nourished and developed by good feeding, and who have to reach the age of twenty before they can be sent to the East, but who, after having been trained and developed, must gradually take the place of those seasoned and war-time soldiers as their voluntary engagements in succession and at intervals expire. All these four stages overlap each other, and develop out of each other, and all are at the present moment in simultaneous activity. Side by side with all these processes, we have to recreate the voluntary formations, training only for a few weeks in each year, which will take the place, either on a new or on an old basis, which was formerly filled by our fourteen Territorial Divisions. But here we have two immense advantages. First, and for our purposes, we have an almost unlimited supply of trained and war-seasoned men, unsurpassed for military aptitude in any Army in the world; secondly, we have, for the first time for these forces, perfect equipment and ample reserves of munitions of all kinds. These, therefore, are favourable factors which we may survey amid many unfavourable ones, and amid many difficulties. I hope the Committee will see from the mere recital of these questions how very desirable it is that no attempt should be made to solve them hurriedly.
With the conclusion of final peace, what will be needed by the European Powers will be not so much large armies as loyal armies, and we shall look forward to considerable reductions taking place in the great military establishments of the continent of Europe. Our British Regular establishment before the War was, however, of most moderate, and even meagre dimensions. However far the process of disarmament may be pressed, it seems very unlikely that, having regard to our responsibilities, we shall ever fall, or ought ever to fall, to the slender scale of 1914. We do not know what other Powers are going to do, or what will be the military system in force in France, the United States, Italy or Japan. Nobody knows what is going to happen to Germany, Austria or Russia, or how long the world will be kept in a state of great disorder and anxiety. On every ground, therefore, it will be better to defer the final decision upon our Army system until after the War—until some, at least, of the cardinal facts on which everything turns are more clearly apparent than they are just now.
I now turn to the position of our forces in Russia. There is an Allied army of a certain size—of exactly what size it is not necessary to say—in occupation of considerable regions of North Russia, based on the ports of Murmansk and Archangel. About half this army is British. The port of Archangel is cut off from us by ice, and will not be effectively opened till June. The port of Murmansk is open all the year round. But the fortunes of the Murmansk force are bound up with those of the Archangel force. They must stand together. There is a certain degree of communication overland between Murmansk and Archangel, by a system of reindeer and pony sledges, which allows the movement of troops within restricted limits from one front to the other. But this channel of communication is not sufficiently large to affect the problem as a whole, and whatever may be the policy decided upon by the Allies in Paris, our forces in Archangel and Murmansk which, as I have said, are inter-dependent, will have to stay there until the summer is far advanced. Since they have got to stay, they must be properly supported. They must be sustained with reinforcements necessary to their safety, which can reach them within the limit I have described, and they must be supplied with everything they may require. It is no use people raising prejudice against these expeditions. Everyone knows why they were sent. They were sent as part of our operations against Germany. It was vitally necessary to take every measure in regard to Russia during the War which would keep as many German troops as possible on the Russian front, and reduce that formidable movement of the German armies which carried more than a million men to the Western front, and which culminated in that immense series of battles that began on the 21st March last year. That was the object; that was the reason why we went to Archangel and to Murmansk, and that was the reason why we gave aid in minor ways to the armies of Admiral Kolchak and General Denikin.
That reason has passed away, but the troops sent in obedience to it are still on these wild northern coasts, locked in the depth of winter, and we must neglect nothing required for their safety and well-being. We must look to the House of Commons, to the public generally, and to the newspapers, especially those whose influence upon the opinion of the troops is so marked—we must look to those to support us in everything the military authorities think it requisite and necessary to do to support these men. Further, we have incurred heavy commitments towards the people of these districts who have espoused our cause, and to the Russian armies, which were encouraged and called into being largely by the Allies, and largely for our own purposes during the period of the German war. It has been the custom in this country to pay particular attention to matters of this kind, and always to endeavour, to the very best of our ability, to do our duty by those who have put their trust in us, and who have run into danger in consequence of action which we have advised them to take.
At the other end of Russia, in the extreme South, we have an Army of a moderate size, but of a certain size, in the Caucasus. These troops were sent there when the Turkish resistance collapsed, and they were sent there for the purpose of making sure that the German and Turkish forces were turned out of the country. They remain there for the purpose of maintaining order in these wide regions and among these turbulent peoples, pending the decision of the Peace Conference as to their future. In consequence, we are now holding in some force the railway line from Batum to Baku, with our headquarters at Tiflis, and the Admiralty have a fleet of armed vessels on the Caspian which gives us the command of that extensive inland sea. In this theatre we have no special British interests of any sort to serve, nor are we under any special obligations to the inhabitants. We are simply discharging a duty to the League of Nations or to the League of Allied Nations, and endeavouring to prevent new areas of the world from degenerating into the welter of Bolshevik anarchy. These troops, of course, are not engaged in fighting with any enemy. They are not in contact with any enemy, but they are a certain source of strength and support to the army of General Denikin, which is fighting the Bolsheviks about 100 miles to the north of them. This army, which is the best of all the Russian armies now fighting against the Bolsheviks, is being to some extent supplied by us with arms, munitions, and equipment. We have a military mission at General Denikin's headquarters, and he has in the last month, in spite of some reverses, gained an important victory in which, among other things, over 30,000 Bolshevik prisoners were taken.
I have now spoken of the North and of the South of Russia. I come lastly to Siberia. Everyone will remember the wonderful story of the Czecho-Slovaks—how those troops, who had been fighting with the Russians when the Bolshevik Revolution took place, demanded from the Bolshevik Government free transit over the Siberian railway, in order that they might come round, across the whole surface of the world, in order to fight in the West with the Allies for the freedom and integrity of their own country, and how, when they were retiring from Russia along the Siberian railway, they were attacked by the treachery of the Bolsheviks under German instigation, and forced to defend themselves wherever their trains were held up, or had stopped along the whole vast length of the Trans-Siberian line. With splendid courage and discipline, animated by that vivid comprehension of their country's cause, which is so characteristic of this remarkable people, they beat off their cowardly assailants, and at a single stroke nearly 5,000 miles of the Siberian railway—nearly 5,000 miles of the broad continent of Asia—passed from Bolshevik and German hands into Russian and Allied control. At one leap our front advanced from Vladivostock to Ormsk and Cheliabinsk.
These Czechs have, been fighting there ever since, in concert with Admiral Kolchak's Russian army. In order to encourage them and aid them—to do what we could to hold them up and to sustain them—during the period of the German War, we sent a handful of men all we could spare in those desperate times and those men, in common with detachments sent by other Allies—by France and by Italy—went to Omsk, and in some cases beyond. These men—mostly of the older and less physically efficient categories of our Army—under the leadership of a gallant Labour Member, whom we all know so well, the hon. Member for Stoke (Colonel John Ward), whose conduct throughout this War, and in widely different situations of extreme difficulty, has been invariably of the, highest order—these men, grouped around his personality, have become a factor of appreciable importance, in spite of their small numbers, in that entire system of defence which has hitherto dammed back the Bolshevik tide from the immense regions of Siberia.
Such is the situation of our forces in Russia, as I found it on becoming Secretary of State for War a little more than six weeks ago, and, after consulting with the General Staff as to what might properly and prudently be said in this matter, I have thought it right to give a plain account of it to the new House of Commons. I have not attempted to touch policy. That can only be finally dealt with by the Allied statesmen in Paris. But it is evident that at an early date decisions must be taken by the Allied Governments upon the general policy to be pursued in Russia, both as regards the forces now in the field against the Bolsheviks, and in regard to the new States on the Western border of Russia—Finland, Esthonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, and others which are not yet engulfed in the area of Bolshevik devastation.
The return of President Wilson to the United States temporarily suspended the discussion of this question, which is certainly the most grave and baffling that could be presented to the human mind. History affords but dubious guidance upon it. All the current facts are vague, and most of them are highly disputable. Every military factor is uncertain and variable within indefinite limits. The political and psychological reactions which would be attendant upon this or that step, if taken, are incalculable. And yet those reactions would fundamentally alter the values of all the military factors concerned. Lastly, each Ally necessarily views this problem from a different point of view. In these circumstances, it is a great deal easier to demand clear-cut decisions than it is to give them. At the War Office, however, we cannot help being in contact with practical events, which move forward from day to day, and this renders our task not wholly free from difficulty, and even anxiety. In the near future these matters will undoubtedly be resolved by the Allied Council in Paris.
There is another matter which calls for very prompt settlement. It is the last to which I shall refer before I sit down. I mean the speedy enforcing of the Peace Terms upon Germany. At the present moment we are bringing everything to a head with Germany. We are holding all our means of coercion in full operation, or in immediate readiness for use. We are enforcing the blockade with rigour. We have strong Armies ready to advance at the shortest notice. Germany is very near starvation. The evidence I have received from officers sent by the War Office all over Germany shows, first of all, the great privations which the German people are suffering, and, secondly, the danger of a collapse of the entire structure of German social and national life under the pressure of hunger and malnutrition. Now is, therefore, the moment to settle. To delay indefinitely would be to run a grave risk of having nobody with whom to settle, and of having another great area of the world sink into Bolshevik anarchy. That would be a very grave event. I dare say hon. Members recall the sinking of the "Titanic." The state of Europe seems tome to have many points of sinister comparison with that event. That great vessel had compartment after compartment invaded by the sea. She remained almost motionless upon the water as each new bulkhead filled, or as each new compartment was flooded. She gradually took a more pronounced list. Finally, when the decisive compartments which regulated the flotation of the ship filled, the whole brilliant structure of science and civilisation foundered in the ocean, leaving all those on board, friend or foe, rich or poor, passengers or stokers, people of both sexes and of every age, swimming in the icy waters of the sea, with no help in sight, and no prospect of succour.
We must never forget that the ship of Europe carries with it all the glories and advantages which we have gained by the prodigies achieved by our soldiers in this war, and it is, therefore, very important to us to bring it safely to land, so that its previous injuries may be repaired. Now is the time for action. Once Germany has accepted the terms to be imposed upon her—and until that moment all our forces must be held in the strongest condition of readiness—the revictualling of that country and the supplying of it with the necessary raw material can be begun and pushed forward with energy. It is repugnant to the British nation to use this weapon of starvation which falls mainly upon the women and children, upon the old, the weak, and the poor, after all the fighting has stopped—one moment longer than is necessary to secure the just terms for which we have fought. A good Army is a far better weapon at the present time
in which to exert pressure than any other that could be in your hands. After Germany has agreed to our terms, it will not be possible immediately to withdraw our Armies. It is not enough that she should sign a peace; we have to make sure that she will carry out her undertaking. The only manly way of doing this is by keeping for the time being, in conjunction with our Allies, a strong force on the Rhine. Armed with this power we shall be able to secure the fulfilment of the Treaty, and at the same time be able, probably, without being forced to move from our situation, to make Germany act rightly towards those new States which have come into existence on her Eastern border, whose continued prosperity and development into strong forces, and into a strong bulwark, is such an important factor in the treatment of the whole European problem. Without this power we have no means whatever of influencing or guiding the course of events in Europe except by starving everybody into Bolshevism—and I should like to know what would be the sense of that. I therefore appeal to the House to support the Government in maintaining a strong Army on the Rhine until we see much more clearly than we do now how things will go. I am sure the Committee will be well advised to take this course, and, having taken it, to pursue it with perseverance and without impatience. In that way only shall we be able to do our duty, and to win the respect which is our due. There are two maxims which should always be acted upon in the hour of victory. All history, all experience, all the fruits of reasoning alike enjoin them upon us. They are almost truisms. They are so obvious that I hardly dare to mention them to the House. But here they are. The first is
Do not be carried away by success into demanding or taking more than is right or prudent.
The second is
Do not disband your army until you have got your terms.
The finest combination in the world is power and mercy. The worst combination in the world is weakness and strife. There are some men who write and speak as if all we had to do at this critical and perilous juncture was to set our demands at the maximum that appetite can suggest, and to reduce our armed power to the minimum that parsimony or impatience can dictate. The Government take exactly the contrary view on both points.
We plead earnestly with the Committee for the maintenance in these times of trouble of a strong armed Power, to be used with sober and far-sighted moderation in the common good. Believe me, it is far the cheapest, far the safest, and far the surest way to preserve for long and splendid years the position which our country has attained.
The Committee have listened to a statement which is almost as grave, in many respects, as any statement made during the War. It is grave in reference to the number of men involved. It is grave as to the cost, actual and contemplated. It is grave also, I venture to say, in regard to the policy which is foreshadowed. I do not claim to be in any way an expert, or to be entitled to speak on military questions with the slightest degree of knowledge; therefore, anything I have to say will simply be on two or three points which would occur to the ordinary civilian by way of criticism and, in so far as one can, of hearty support. First of all, I should like to say on behalf of those with whom I am associated, that we quite agree with the two maxims with which my right hon. Friend closed his address. It is perfectly obvious that we must maintain the armed forces of this country until the just ends of the War are secure, until they are fully achieved. With that certainly we entirely agree. But I think we are entitled to know a good deal more—and I say this with great respect to my right hon. Friend—about the Army than he thought it advisable to tell us. First of all, we ought to know a little bit more about the cost. It is estimated that the cost must be at least ten times more to-day than it was in the last pre-war Army Statement. Added to that there must be at least £72,000,000 or £73,000,000 for pensions, and also another sum of about £40,000,000, I think he said, for existing separation allowances. I imagine that works out very little short of £400,000,000. The estimate is one of £287,000,000 for the Army, £73,000,000 for pensions, and £40,000,000 or £42,000,000 for separation allowances. That is a vast sum—a staggering sum! One really does not understand what it means. I would suggest that my right hon. Friend might indicate to us rather more clearly than be did what savings—assuming that our military operations proceed on lines which are reasonably anticipated—can be effected in the round figure named.
Then one or two words on the question of the position of our Armies abroad. To what extent are we committed in the way of expense in regard to the Armies in Bulgaria and Turkey? Are those Armies more than half British, or to what extent do our Allies bear what we venture to think should be their fair share of this terribly crushing burden? The right hon. Gentleman told us that fully one-half of the Army of Occupation in Russia as British. What proportion, by way of numbers, can he indicate to us is borne, say, by the Americans or the French? I think it will be admitted that our liability to Russia is a liability which ought to be borne by the whole of the Allies in such proportions as can fairly be allotted to them. This also applies to other portions of this world conflict in a geographical sense. Can my right hon. Friend tell us—for I think we and the country are entitled to know—in a fairly general way what the number is, or if he prefers to give it, the proportion in which this terribly crushing burden of men and money is borne by our Allies? We have heard nothing—and I desire to make any reference to this point with such reserve and as due a sense of responsibility as I can summon to my aid—we are entitled to know what measure of apprehension the public should entertain in regard to the internal difficulties of the Army. I suggest to my right hon. Friend that it is very much better to let people know what the facts are with regard to these matters. We hear of a great deal of trouble in France and in different parts of the kingdom, and the wildest rumours are occasionally circulated. I am certain that these rumours are out of all proportion to the actual facts of the situation, but it is much better to let us know what is happening, and we heard nothing about that. Nevertheless it is a matter which is exciting very great interest, and I should be very glad if my right hon. Friend or anyone who replies for the Government will tell us something upon that score. After all, the basis of real discipline is a sense of justice, and that is a maxim which if carried out would solve many difficulties both inside and outside of Army. One cannot assume that these men who have been through every possible kind of danger and suffering for us, and have borne it all with a spirit which the whole world admires, would be taking the action they have been taking unless they were suffering from a sense of injustice. I ask my right hon. Friend to let us know what the broad facts are, what were the reasons for these disturbances, how far those reasons have been removed, and what is the position at the present time and what are the prospects for these unfortunate disturbances coming to a speedy end?
I wish to refer for a moment to what my right hon. Friend said with regard to our position in Germany. I entirely agree with everything he said about that, and especially with regard to the report of those officers who are entitled to the admiration and gratitude of the country for their impartial report upon a very confused situation, for that report will shed light by reason of letting us know what the facts are. When one gets to I know the facts in the end, you can trust to the judgment of the people of this country on a reasonable array of facts in regard to any given situation. I would like to utter a warning note with regard to the contribution mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman which he said ho was going to get from Germany towards the cost of the Army of Occupation. I say that no reputable accountant would do anything else but I wipe that off from his current account, and he simply would not look at it with this year's accounts.
Yes, place it to the suspense account. Let us all hope that it may develop into an asset, but at present it ought not to come into the account at all. Now I want to say a word or two in connection with the very serious question of Russia. I listened to my right hon. Friend's statement, and I do not hesitate to say that grave apprehension exists because of the commitments of this country in the Northern part of Russia and in Siberia, because those commitments are enormous, and they are increasing. With regard to the movement of troops indicated by the right hon. Gentleman in Russia, and the purpose for which they were there, I can come to no other conclusion than that the policy adopted in Russia is one against which I certainly feel bound to record a protest. What did the right hon. Gentleman say? With regard to the Northern part of Russia the sympathy of the whole country must go to those gallant men whose actions were described in such fine periods by my right hon. Friend. But what reason have we been given for them being there? It is said they were there because of their responsibilities to the people and to the Russian Army. I want to know what people and what Russian Army? As far as one can gather from newspaper articles—it may be my right hon. Friend has access to means of information which are denied to the ordinary citizens—but as far as we can gather from newspaper articles, the position in Russia has been reduced to a condition of affairs worse than existed at some periods of the French Revolution.
What Russian Army ought we to be supporting? I think we are entitled to know, and if any hon. Members can throw any light upon this point, not only the Committee but the country will be glad to receive information. I am sure the position is so grave that nobody will intervene in this Debate for the purpose of scoring a personal point, and any information will be gladly welcomed. Now we come to the Caucasus. I heard the right hon. Gentleman speak of the support which we were bound to offer to the General there. Again we want a little more light on the situation. The question, however, which disturbs me so much is the grave position and the vague mist in which the whole thing lies. Right throughout the country, and in the Army itself, there is nothing which is causing graver unrest and anxiety than the commitments of this country with regard to Russia. I do not know if my right hon. Friend heard what the Prime Minister said the other day with regard to this subject, and which I thought was founded not only on a true understanding of the present position, but on the teaching of history, especially such lessons as those which can be drawn from the French Revolution, as to the tremendous danger of outside countries interfering with internal revolutions of other countries. History is full of lessons and warnings in that respect. As far as I could gather from my right hon. Friend, it does not seem to me that we are withdrawing men from Russia, and the whole thing seems to be that we are further strengthening our position in Russia by men, by munitions, and by money. I do not know what all this is costing us in Russia, but I do not think I should be very wrong in saying that Russia is costing us very little under £100,000,000 a year, although I do not know how these charges are worked out in that respect.
One point more, and it is this. I was very disappointed indeed to gather from the right hon. Gentleman's speech that there seemed to be no idea in the War Office other than a reorganisation on a yet vaster scale of military armaments. The whole world is ringing otside with the call and hope of the League of Nations, but not a suggestion came from the right hon. Gentleman indicating that any account has been taken at the War Office of that fact. There was no note of any reshaping of policy from Whitehall which related to that great question. I think there ought to be a corresponding and sympathetic movement in regard to our policy from the War Office to meet and work in unison with that ideal. Far be it from me to suggest in the remotest degree that we should minimise any measures we can take for reasonable safety. I hope before the Debate closes my right hon. Friend will be able to tell us that the schemes he has outlined have been formed and founded with that idea in view, and with a close and sympathetic regard for the movement to which I have alluded. I hope the day is not far distant when the armed forces of the peoples of the world will be reduced to a minimum instead of being kept at the maximum.
Lieut.-Colonel WALTER GUINNESS:
There were many satisfactory passages in the speech of the Secretary for War, but none were more satisfactory than those which dealt with the present position in Russia, and I think the House will be grateful for his frank recognition of the dangers to civilisation which exist in the present state of that country, and I only hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to impress the view he has expressed here upon the lotus eaters of Paris. The matter of Russian action is chiefly a military question and is one with which the Supreme War Council at Versailles is far more competent to deal than the diplomats who are met together in Paris to discuss interesting schemes of future world peace. I hope the Versailles Council will be able to impress upon the diplomats that their instrument for securing the world's peace is not much use while half Europe is still at war, and if the soldiers can impress upon them the danger of waging war in Russia on a system of limited liability they will be doing a great service to this country in saving expense in future years. The right hon. Gentleman admitted that we could not retreat from our present position at Archangel and Murmansk. He put it partly on the ground of the weather, because the expedition at Archangel, at least, is at present frost-bound. I would put it far more on the ground of our obligations to those who have helped us.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean) does not seem to have understood what the Secretary of State for War meant "by our obligations to those who have stood by us during the War." He must surely know that we are at Archangel and Murmansk because we landed large stores of munitions there before the Revolution took place. Unless we had had that force to protect them they would have fallen into the hands of the Bolsheviks. No force could be there for the years that we have occupied that territory without coming into close relationship with the local population, and it has been the case that in every retirement up to date the population which was associated in the minds of the Bolsheviks with the British occupation have been invariably massacred when the British troops have left. That is a matter which has a great bearing upon our present position.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman speaks with much greater knowledge of the subject than I have, but can he assure me as far as he is aware that the presence of British troops in Northern Russia is confined to the protection of the stores which we have landed at the two ports that he has described and the inhabitants of the immediate districts where those stores are situated?
I am not in a position to give such an assur- ance, but I believe that is substantially accurate. You cannot defend stores by having a ringed fence round a town; you necessarily have to occupy military positions at a considerable distance. I may say in support of my contention about the danger to the inhabitants that recently there was a retirement from Szenkursk, which is 40 or 50 miles from Archangel, and the furthest position that we held. As a result of that retirement the town of Szenkursk was first pillaged and then burned, and, according to an answer which the Foreign Office gave me a few days ago, all the inhabitants who fell into the hands of the Bolsheviks were massacred. I think a very strong reason for leaving our forces there is to be found in the fact that if we were to withdraw these murders of defenceless people who have helped us in the past would continue. So far our policy in Russia has not been at all satisfactory. There is no doubt whatever that the action of the Prime Minister, in proposing that delegates should be received in Paris from all Governments who would agree to an Armistice and disarmament, has done a great deal to encourage the Bolsheviks, and following that up by Prinkipo has probably been equal to about ten victories to the Bolshevik Armies, because the forces upon which tie orderly Governments are relying will necessarily be discouraged if they feel that their efforts are in vain and that they are going to be ordered by civilisation to lay down their arms. Surely it is against our interests to cause those local forces to melt away. We want Russia, if she can, to free herself from the Bolsheviks. Obviously, the case against the Bolsheviks in the eyes of the other nations of the world will be far more conclusive if Bolshevism is got rid of by the action of internal forces in Russia. Those forces are working for humanity, and if they do not succeed in the long run we shall probably have to step in and do the work for them. If we can avoid intervention by armed forces, obviously we should do so, but we certainly owe every moral support in our power to those orderly Governments in Russia who are trying to do this work for civilisation.
I now come to a matter which more directly concerns the Army Estimates which are before us to-day. I should like to have some information from the War Office as to how they are going to deal with the question of officers of the post-war Regular Army. It is very unfortunate, but there is a great deal of disappointment in the Regular Army at the Army Order of 11th February, which laid down scales of gratuities. It is felt among the Regular soldiers that they have been treated in a far less generous way than their brothers in the New Army and the Territorials. That is a most unfortunate state of affairs at the present time, because we want to encourage the best soldiers to stay on in our post-war Army. It is easy to say that the National Army supplied the man-power which won the War, but we must remember that the man-power was moulded, trained, and led, very largely, by Regulars. The right hon. Gentleman pointed out that after the War we could not have a large Army. That makes it all the more necessary that what Army we do have is efficient and, by knowledge and training, capable of multiplying its numbers manifold in a short time out of the resources of the manpower in the country, and for that purpose you want the very best men. We have also to provide this universal staff of which the right hon. Gentleman told us, men who are to know not only their business in land fighting but in fighting in the air and on and under the sea. Obviously the necessity for brains in such a staff will be greater than in any form of military work in the past. We are, generally speaking, a non-military nation, but the War has taught us the necessity of having an adequate supply of trained officers. With the exception of certain administrative posts calling for powers of organisation which are largely akin to civil activities, the most brilliant amateurs in the War were only able to pull half their weight. Although the factors of war have changed, the principles remain the same, and the lessons learned with brigades and divisions before the War held good to an astonishing degree when officers found themselves commanding and staffing army corps and armies in the recent campaign.
There is no doubt that a trained soldier of average intelligence is far more valuable than the cleverest man who has received the specialised smattering which takes the place of training in war. In war, except in such administrative posts as I have mentioned, there is no time to think. Action must be absolutely automatic, and the quick decision and initiative which we need only comes from training, from many years' experience, and from the knowledge and confidence which that experience alone affords. Of course, the best results in our officers of the post-war Army will be achieved by applying modern training to the best brains. There is certainly no lack of material, and we understand that there are many more officers prepared to stay on in the post-war Regular Army than there are vacancies available. I hope that we shall have information during this Debate as to what steps are going to be taken to choose the right men to command, and, by commanding, to train and be trained in this new Regular Army. Our reserves of officers are melting away by demobilisation, and it is urgent that steps should be taken to see that we do not lose the right men. The record of the War Office in these matters is by no means reassuring. Though during the War short shrift was given, and rightly given, to failures in junior ranks, I fear the same did not apply to officers high up in the military hierarchy, such as corps commanders. If men who were high up in the military trade union failed, then in a great many cases easy jobs were created for them. They are still on the active list. It is notorious—it is known to everyone who has served during the last four or five years—that if once you reached a high rank in the Army then you could commit any folly, except suicide, and you had a good chance of retaining your job. If this happened in War, what can we expect in peace?
We have now got to the fortunate position that War has graded our Army, or at any rate our Expeditionary Forces, according to efficiency, at any rate up to the rank, let us say, of lieutenant-general. How are you going to stop the good men being crowded out and kept back from promotion by those who cracked under the stress of War and who now fill comfortable non-fighting jobs? We all know cases of the kind. One case of the kind of man that one wants to keep occurs to my mind. He was a ranker for fifteen years and served in every non-commissioned and warrant rank in a line battalion up to the rank of regimental sergeant-major. In the War he took a commission. He became adjutant, then brigade major, and is now G.S.O. 2, with the temporary rank of major. That man would be invaluable in the post-war Army. He knows everything from A to Z. He would be far more useful than many amateur officers who had never done any soldiering before the War, but who have been pitch- forked into regular positions with the rank of captain. This particular man married on the strength before the War, and, as a warrant officer, he was able to live comfortably. When he loses his staff pay and drops from the temporary rank of major to that of lieutenant, it is quite obvious—he is thirty-five years of age and has a family—that unless special steps are taken to meet his case he will not be able to remain in the Army, and we shall lose the advantage of his invaluable experience in training. There are many other such cases. Brevets will not deal with this kind of difficulty, and except by a radical reorganisation of your promotion system you will not be able to prevent your brilliant young brigadiers and G.S.O. 1's wasting their energies in commanding companies under inferior commanding officers who happen to be in front of them by pre-war seniority.
The Military Secretary's Department which deals with this matter does not fill one with the greatest confidence. Although polite they are very inefficient. An officer should, of course, in the Army, be the father of his men, and in the same way the Military Secretary and his Department should be the fathers of the officers. They should be in personal touch with them; they should be acquainted with their records, and take interest in their individual cases. That too often at present appears not to be the case. It may be that it is not the fault entirely of the Military Secretary's Department; it may be it would be better if the Treasury were generous and allowed those unsuitable officers who are blocking the promotion of younger and more brilliant men to retire on the same pension terms as they would receive if they served out the full period of their engagement—and from the national point of view these unsuitable men ought to be allowed to go for any money spent in hastening their retirement on pension would be well expended for securing increased efficiency of the Army. [An HON. MEMBER: "Subsidised inefficiency."] But unfortunately the Treasury do not necessarily go into the military records, and stand in the way of dealing with these special cases, and allowing these men to retire in large numbers. I hope the Secretary for War will not worry too much about precedents in this matter, but will adopt a policy which, while dealing generously with the pensions of those men who have not proved fully equal to the strain of the War, will clear them out of the way of those who made good, and will best train the Army in peace. I would also beg the right hon. Gentleman to hold the scales evenly as between the old Army and the new Army, and not to worry too much about what officers were doing before the War, but take steps to secure the services of the very best men.
I have not troubled the House since the new Parliament came together, but I want to take this opportunity of dealing with one aspect at any rate of the situation as it presents itself to me, and to criticise, I hope in a friendly way, the methods that have been adopted with regard to demobilisation. If we are all serious about allaying the national unrest not only industrially, but socially, and in many other ways, we ought to approach this question with a desire to evolve some better and more satisfactory plan of demobilisation. It may with truth be said that up till now we have demobilised 1,700,000 officers and men from the Army. But it may also be said with equal truth that Italy likewise has demobilised the same number. My point, however, is this: Those of us who represent industrial constituencies ought not to be bandied about from pillar to post, from one Department to another, in order to proceed upon regular constitutional lines in appealing for the demobilisation of those who come within the category of specialised cases. For instance, I have shoals of letters coming to me from my Constituents. Among them are appeals made on the specific ground of compassion, and there are also the one-man business cases which are very prevalent. I believe, as a Member occupying these benches, if we wish to allay the unrest, if we wish to satisfy the reasonable claims of the industrial classes of the country we shall have to bring within the scope of the military machine a little more elasticity and a more human interest. I feel certain those Members who have been appealed to to secure the release of men to be absorbed in productive industry and in one-man businesses will agree that these are cases which should be recognised as possible to be readily absorbed in industry and profitable enterprise.
In my own Constituency in the building trade a little over three months ago, a large contractor appealed, through me, to secure the release of his son who was absolutely indispensable to the successful carrying on of his business. What happened? Ten weeks elapsed and no release was granted. One hundred men could have been employed in the building industry had that person been released, and that person could have been released without any serious detriment to the Army. Many other cases of a similar kind have cropped up, and I urge that something ought to be done to remedy this condition of affairs. To my mind there are two principles which should dominate the method of demobilisation. The first thing to do is to ascertain how far we can demobilise men who can forthwith be absorbed in industry, and on the other hand it must be decided how many men are required for the post-war Army. Being the victim of an inadequate train service, I had not the pleasure of hearing the right hon. Gentleman's speech to-day, but I am anxious as a responsible, and I hope representative Labour Member to take every opportunity to urge the adoption of a system which will enable the public to see that the authorities are in downright earnest in their efforts to deal with the various problems which come up from time to time. How is the military machine operated? To begin with we know it possesses no conscience. As far as my experience goes while I have received the greatest possible courtesy at the hands of the representatives of the Government in all cases, yet I have found that those in authority, those in control of the Army organisation, insist on carrying out drastic, hard and fast rules and regulations with an almost iron hand, and without due consideration to the claims of men who themselves are expected and required to do their duty whether they like it or not. I agree that discipline must be maintained. But let me cite one case—and I have no doubt other hon. Members have had similar cases brought to their notice—the case of a soldier whose wife had died. The man himself is practically doing nothing. Appeals have been made by pre-paid telegrams for permission for him to come home and see to the decent internment of his wife. Yet nothing has been done.
I will do so. This kind of thing, I want to point out to the right hon. Gentleman, is carried into the workshops, and is creating dissatisfaction there every day. If the Government will only demonstrate to the public that they are in sympathy with this class of grievance and will give as much publicity to their Regulations and see that they are put in force, I believe a great deal of the industrial unrest will be set at rest, and that is what we are all anxious for. I have no right to impute motives to the Government or any Member of the House. I believe they are just as honest as I am in this matter, but I do want these pinpricks to be stopped. No military man has the right to take the law into his own hands in such a case as I have mentioned. I will give the right hon. Gentleman chapter and verse in order that he may have these cases thoroughly investigated. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will endeavour to have his methods of demobilisation so carried out and so co-ordinated that we shall not have to go from one Department to another, and that we shall not be driven from pillar to post, from time to time, but that we shall be able to approach one authority which will collect from the other Departments such facts as may be required to justify the release of any man who may be appealing for it. If the right hon. Gentleman, in the course of to-day's Debate, can assure the country that fair treatment is to be meted out to all in the Army; if he will speak in such definite language as the country can understand, if he can assure us that the Government is behind his words, I feel it will go a good way towards bringing the different interests in the country together in a mutually satisfactory way for the future progress of this land. What is required? I speak most earnestly on this matter. It is the complete restoration of mutual confidence between the interests of labour and the interests of capital. There is too much doubt and suspicion in regard to these matters when we come together. How can men obtain a satisfactory solution of these acute and complex problems if they go into the board room with their minds made up that one side is going to take advantage of the other and that labour is going to be exploited again? All I want to see in connection with these matters is that the rights of one side should be respected by the other, and that that should be mutual on both sides.
I wish to say how heartily I associate myself with the instances the last speaker has given in regard to the bungling and blundering which so frequently occur in cases of special and urgent leave to come home, If I may throw out a suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman, it is this: That one of the principal causes of the trouble is that, however urgent may be the necessity, however urgent may be the message that is sent, there is always the absurd rule that no special leave can be given in the most urgent, serious, and critical case unless there is first of all received a message of confirmation from the local police. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that there is no necessity for the intervention of the police in matters of this kind, and I respectfully urge him to reconsider that point which will save a good deal of friction and trouble. A word about the situation in Russia. In the course of six weeks it is obviously humanly impossible for the right hon. Gentleman to have learned everything there is to learn in regard to every aspect of the enormous problem with which he is confronted. I would respectfully tender him my cordial congratulations upon the enormous store of knowledge and the mastery of detail he has evinced in the hypnotic and fascinating speech he delivered this afternoon. But I beg to assure him in all humility—I use that as a term of courtesy rather than in the literal sense—that really things in Russia are not quite as they seem to him. I do not think he was in the House the other day when the Prime Minister told us in tremulous tones, with a great deal of emotion in his voice, that the policy which had been gradually forced upon the Government in Russia was to leave things alone, and, in his own words, to let the fire burn itself out. That is totally inconsistent with the policy of keeping a force in Russia for the purpose either of guarding stores—[HON. MEMBERS: "No"]—I will endeavour to show that it is—or of paying some debt of honour to those Russians who in days gone by helped the Allies. The right hon. Gentleman is under the impression that neither in the North of Russia, nor, I gather, in the South, are these men actually engaged in fighting. I understand that not only in Siberia are they rendering some assistance, but that they are fighting in the North.
I am very glad the right hon. Gentleman knows that. In the North not only are they fighting, but they are fighting against odds of ten to one, and frequently the proportion of their casualties to their numbers is alarmingly considerable. I have here letters, which I shall be pleased to hand to the right hon. Gentleman, from men who have written quite recently, which somehow or other have passed the Censor, giving particulars of engagements they have been in and of the appalling casualties which have been inflicted and the unspeakable hardships they are enduring. The right hon. Gentleman told us about half the force in Russia was British. I would back up the appeal made by the Leader of the Liberal Wing of the Opposition for some little information as to the proportions of the rest of the force. I want to know, if I may be told, what proportion of Americans are still in Russia?
That is the most satisfactory thing I have heard of America for a long time past. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for telling me that. I wonder if I may also elicit whether any of the Americans have been withdrawn from Russia? I venture to suggest to him that somehow or other a certain proportion of the American force has overcome the Arctic cold and other physical difficulties, and that some of them have been returned, or are in course of being returned, from Russia. Leaving Russia on one side, I have risen for the purpose of pressing the right hon. Gentleman on one matter on which I feel very deeply. It is one of the contributing causes of so much discontent and talk and so much hysterical talk among the men—I refer to the present system of courts-martial. Nothing has been said about it, but perhaps the right hon. Gentleman knows that in the last Parliament some very scandalous cases were brought to light, and an undertaking was given by the Government of the day that the whole of the King's Regulations relating to courts-martial should be carefully reviewed. I have in my possession this afternoon recent cases of such a character—I propose to hand them to the right hon. Gentleman—as to make one marvel that these men behave as well as they are doing. I will give the Com- mittee one case which happened a few weeks ago. It is typical of several. Here is a young fellow who joined the Army as a volunteer at an early age—I think it was sixteen—in 1914. He was invalided out, and underwent a course of surgical treatment and got back again. He has gone from place to place and fought in every theatre of war. He was recommended for a commission. In some circumstances, with the details of which I will not weary the Committee, he was suddenly put under arrest and charged with disobedience to orders while his papers were over here in regard to his commission. The court-martial took place. The present procedure was followed.
It is the gravest scandal in the world that no officer or man is allowed legal aid in the first instance. There is a preliminary inquiry conducted by his superior officers. The poor fellow is harassed and does not know what to say. He is not warned that anything he does say may be used against him. Then what is called a summary of the evidence—equivalent to the depositions in a Police Court—is prepared, and that document goes to the court-martial. He has not a word to say. In this particular case he was suddenly told that a friend would be placed at his service—a man without legal knowledge who could only give him half an hour. This man is generally an officer of junior rank who comes into Court and does his best for the unfortunate man. I have read the proceedings and found that in the middle of an eloquent speech by the prisoner's friend, the President of the Court said to the officer addressing him,
I wish you would take your hands out of your pockets, Sir.
That seemed to him to be of more account than establishing the innocence of the man's client. There ought to be an officer attached to every portion of the theatres of war, deputed with the sacred duty of making a proper defence of every accused soldier. He should be automatically a man of equal rank with the President of the Court. It is no good putting a junior officer there, who every five minutes is being called over the coals for his enthusiasm in this man's cause. What happened in this case? When the court-martial came on, this man found the charge was suddenly altered from disobedience to orders to cowardice in the face of the enemy. He was found guilty; he was sentenced to death. There was no recommendation to mercy of any kind.
Yet when the sentence came before Sir Douglas Haig for confirmation, the Field-Marshal, looking at the documents, himself commuted the sentence to ten years' imprisonment. Further inquiry resulted in the sentence being reduced to two years' imprisonment, and only the other day that two years' sentence was generally suspended. But for the action of the Field-Marshal, who saw the necessity for better defence, that young gallant officer, whose record is a magnificent one, would have suffered the death penalty without being allowed by the Rules and Regulations to write to his relatives on the night before his execution. He has no right to tell his friends that he is lying under sentence of death and he is not allowed to do anything to obtain assistance outside the theatre of war.
I do not want to elaborate the matter, but I know how deep and true is the right hon. Gentleman's human sympathy with the Army of which he is now the head, and I want to press him to consider the importance and urgency of appointing a competent Committee, not all soldiers, to revise the present King's Regulations in regard to the whole system of courts-martial. A soldier should not have less opportunity of establishing his innocence than the civilian has. There is no appeal, there is no legal aid, no warning and no adequate opportunity. I could tell the right hon. Gentleman of more than one tragic case for which I could give him authority. It is admitted that more than one young officer has paid the death penalty when, if he had had a full defence and certain particulars had been brought to light which came to light afterwards, ho would have been acquitted. I apologise for elaborating the point. It is an urgent matter, a solemn and a grave matter, and I commend it with all the earnestness I command to the sympathetic attention of the right hon. Gentleman.
We have listened to a very interesting speech from the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. A great number of Members in this Committee have sat upon courts-martial, and I do not believe that those of us who have sat on courts-martial or presided over them, will agree with all that has been said. On the contrary, in my experience of them, I found that they were conducted with the greatest fairness to the prisoner, and on every occasion, when possible, the prisoner has been given the benefit of the doubt.
I can say nothing about the particular case the hon. Gentleman mentioned. He mentioned a case in France of a young soldier who had been tried and condemned to death for disobedience to orders. If that disobedience took place in face of the enemy, the hon. Member must know that the Court had little alternative but to pass the sentence of death. That sentence is sent up to the Field-Marshal for confirmation, as happened in this case. As to a young officer being called over the coals for over-enthusiasm on behalf of the prisoner, it would be extremely interesting to hear at what court-martial that took place. I was very glad indeed to hear from the right hon. Gentleman that the demobilisation of pivotal men had now nearly been completed. There has been a considerable amount of unrest in the Army, and I think a good deal of the trouble has been brought about by the action of the Government and those responsible for the schemes of demobilisation. I obtained the other day a list of pivotal men taken at random from one battalion who have been some of the first demobilised. Two out of these men were married, and, my informant told me, were proper pivotal men. One had eighteen months' service, and the other fourteen months, in France. Of the other eight not one man was married. The eldest was twenty-one, and the utmost service any of them had in France was four months. If that is the case in one battalion it went all through the Army, and it is not surprising that men who have served three or four years in France, Egypt, Palestine and Gallipoli, as some of these men have done, were a little bit disgruntled when they found men who had only been in France a week or two had been demobilised. A good many also when they came home found that men who had not been in France at all had been demobilised. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on altering the method of demobilisation, and I hope he will most strictly stick to what he has now laid down, that men should be demobilised according to their length of service.
He told us of the three systems which they were discussing with regard to the future Army of the country, concerning which in the next few months they have to come to a decision. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to tell us something about the future of the Territorial Force. Officers and men, and the Territorial associations, are extremely anxious to know whether the Yeomanry regiments and battalions are to be maintained in the future or are to be abolished altogether. If you once do away with them you will find it very hard to restart them. Now they have come home, and though it may be difficult in a way to get men to rejoin, yet there is great esprit de corps, and I think a large number of men will agree to join on again and go to annual training, even if only for the purpose of meeting their friends with whom they have served in the War.
I sincerely congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on what he said concerning Russia and on the determination of the Government to protect those who have helped us from murder by Bolshevists. If we leave them unprotected we hand them over to be killed by Chinese execution. The right hon. Gentleman (Sir D. Maclean) criticised my right hon. Friend's speech and said the War Office showed no sympathetic movement towards the policy of the League of Nations. What he meant by that I can only guess, but presumably he means that we should reduce our forces below what he said. My right hon. Friend explained that the number of men he put down were absolutely necessary for carrying out the terms of peace. He further explained that those numbers were being considered by the diplomats in Paris at present, and until they had been sufficiently considered it was impossible for us to reduce our forces. I think it is very unwise indeed if we trust too much to the League of Nations and reduce our Regular Army to a minimum.
A matter concerning which there is a great deal of grievance in the Army is the position of quartermasters and riding-masters. A regimental quartermaster holds a position of very great trust and one in which, if he chooses to be dishonest, he can, by wrong methods, make a considerable amount of money. During and before the War quartermasters have often, unfortunately, been tried by court-martial. A good quartermaster can also save the country a lot of money, as bad quarter masters can cost the country a lot of money. I know quartermasters who by looking after their corps have saved the country a very large sum of money and others who, by equally not taking care, have cost the country a very large sum of money. Both in regard to pay and retired pay quartermasters and riding-masters are at a very great disadvantage compared with other combatant officers who have risen from the ranks. For example, I am told—I have not actually got the particulars—of a case where a quartermaster, compulsorily retired after thirty years' service, with the exception of two months, would be unable to receive the maximum retired pay of £250. The whole question of the pay and retired pay of quartermasters is complicated. If a man rises from the ranks and takes a combatant commission he is allowed to count every two years of service in the ranks towards retired pay, and he gets £10 a year for every two years. In the case of quartermasters, for some unknown reason, they only get £5 a year towards retired pay. The combatant officer who has risen from the ranks receives retired pay very much on the same scale as other officers in the Army. With regard to pay, the utmost a quartermaster can reach after twenty years' service is 17s. 6d. a day, while a major, who has risen from the ranks, can reach 19s. There are other inequalities between the two ranks, and I beg my right hon. Friend to go most carefully into this question and rectify a real and genuine grievance amongst a most deserving class of His Majesty's servants.
I listened to my right hon. Friend's speech with something like dismay, and especially on one point which is agitating a great many people in my Constituency, the question of leave for men who have been for long periods in the distant theatres of war. In that definition I include men who are at Archangel in the North, East Africa in the South, Vladivostock in the East, and Gibraltar in the West—all theatres and garrisons, except France and Belgium, commonly called by the British soldier, Mesopolonica. I had a letter a couple of days ago from a senior non-commissioned officer in Palestine, who served with considerable distinction right through the War. He was an old South Africa War man, and he joined up at the very beginning of the War and was sent to the Colours. He went to the Dardanelles in July, 1915, and on to Salonika in October of that year. He was through the retreat in Serbia. He was kept two years on the Macedonian Front. He was then sent to Egypt, and has been through the whole of the Palestine campaign up to the time of the Armistice, and he has never had an opportunity of coming home yet. He writes and asks me if I can do anything to help him and his comrades to get a leave to the United Kingdom, for there seems no sign of any leave or any chance of demobilisation. I have here from my own little Constituency 120 cases of men who have been away for long periods without any leave home, most of them for two years. There are a few who have only been a year and a half, and those few were put on that list because their wives or mothers came and implored us to put them on because they thought that if official attention was not called to the matter they would be out for another year and a half without any leave. Eighteen months ago, on a Vote of Credit, we pressed my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for War, who has now gone up to a higher, if not quite so peaceful a sphere, on this question of leave, and he told us that the Army authorities were fully conscious that leave was much overdue to these men out in the East. He told us also that it was almost impossible to bring the men home because of the dangers and difficulties of transport, especially from Salonika and the Eastern Mediterranean. He said the Mediterranean was infested with submarines and that it was dangerous to bring troops home. At the same time that he was telling us that, I believe it was true that the French military authorities were actually taking their men home regularly on leave to France without any difficulty whatever. I believe that the whole difficulty with us was the failure of the War Office to induce the Admiralty or the Ministry of Shipping to provide the necessary transport. That was eighteen months ago, and now four months after the signing of the Armistice these men are still in Salonika, Egypt, and Mesopotamia. I would ask my right hon. Friend whether he could not get sufficient shipping facilities to bring the men home on leave?
I think it is practically certain that nine men out of ten who joined up before the 1st January, 1916, will immediately be brought home by the shipping which is available.
Might I suggest that the tenth man should be brought home by a certain means which I will explain. I am told, on very good authority, that there are passengers in India waiting for passages home who cannot get them because the Government has taken P. and O. boats to repatriate German interned prisoners in China. I would suggest to my right hon. Friend that if there is available shipping in the way of P. and O. boats that our British soldiers, who have been away from home, their wives, families and relatives, for four and a half years, should have prior claim to German interned prisoners in China. This is a burning question. We did all we could to sooth people down during the War, because we thought that we were not entitled to put any difficulties in the way of the Government at that time. That has all gone and people are saying to us, "Four months of Armistice and our men are not coming home." I am perfectly certain that unless something is done there will be trouble in the country on this question of leave. I would also ask if the right hon. Gentleman could not secure from the War Office more considerate treatment of the relatives of men who have been away for four years and more and who come home invalided and are sent into hospitals far away from their homes? I had a case brought to my notice the other day. Eighteen months ago I mentioned in this House the case of a woman whose husband had been away for over two and a half years. She had one little child running about who had never seen his father, and another child five years old going to school who could not remember anything about his father. About two months ago that woman wrote to me again, and said that her husband had been sent home ill, and was in a Birmingham hospital, and she asked if I could secure for herself and the man's mother a pass from Middlesbrough to Birmingham. I took the matter up with the garrison headquarters, and was informed that the proper method of procedure was for the man to apply to the medical officer in charge of the hospital, and that a pass would be issued in due course. I passed this information on to the wife, and in the end she informed me that a grateful country had issued to her and the man's mother two passes at half-price. I do not think that is very generous treatment of the relatives of a man who had been out in Salonika risking malaria for four years. They might have, issued a free pass, and, as some acknowledgment for the suffering of the relatives, they might have issued a billeting allowance for a few days, in order that the relatives might go and see the man in hospital. Will the right hon. Gentleman take that matter up with the War Office, and see that a little more generous treatment is meted out to these people? On the leave question I would ask him to see that the men in these distant theatres of war get the same amount of leave per year as the men in France and Belgium, although they may have it at longer intervals.
I am quite willing to endeavour to do that. In regard to the men who are retained, if they be retained for as long as a year, which I hope will not be necessary in all cases, they should have the same leave which is given to the men in France and Belgium. As to the men who are not retained, we are bringing them home as quickly as possible.
Yes; but in regard to officers, we consider that the King's Commission, having been granted, must be retained by the holders until such period as the public service may permit of its being relinquished.
I was not talking about the demobilised men, but of men who are in the permanent service. There have been a number of them out in India and elsewhere who have not been home for two or three years. A good many applications are coming to hon. Members in relation to these officers as to whether they should not get sufficient leave to come home for a short time.
As soon as the demobilisation crowds have passed over the lines of communication, we are going to bring in these schemes of leave, which will secure to these men in distant theatres at least as good a share of leave as the men in Belgium and France.
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will carry that a step further and that he will see that at the earliest possible moment no man shall have been out in these distant theatres of war longer than a year or eighteen months without having had a chance to come home. You cannot compare the present soldier, the duration man, with the whole-time soldier. The duration man never wanted to be a soldier, whereas the whole-time soldier enlisted with his eyes open, knowing that he might be sent abroad for four, five, six or seven years. The duration man is entirely different. I would like the right hon. Gentleman to tell us when he expects the men from Archangel, Siberia, Transcaspia, and the Indian Garrison men will be home. If the relatives knew that they might expect them by a certain time, it would go some way to soothe them down, and there would be something for them to look forward to. But they tell us openly that they never expect to see them again, they never expect to see them again alive. It is with the greatest difficulty that you can persuaue people to rely upon War Office promises. There is one other question I would like to raise, and that is the question of men who find themselves in special corps at the present time, the Royal Army Medical Corps, the Ordnance Corps, and the Array Service Corps. Many of these men have served right through the War in the Infantry, while the dangerous period was on, and they now find themselves in these special corps, and they lose their chance for demobilisation because they come under a schedule of the new Army Order. How long are these men likely to be retained? Will the War Office make every effort to endeavour to provide substitutes at the earliest possible moment so that these men who enlisted in 1914–15 and who are now attached to these special corps may be demobilised at the earliest possible moment? I would ask my right hon. Friend to give this question of leave his very serious personal attention. These people are not anarchists. They will not even form a procession and march to Whitehall to demand attention to their grievances. They are law-abiding, honest, hard-working, loyal people, and most earnestly I ask the right hon. Gentleman to see that their grievance, which is an undoubted grievance, is remedied without any further delay.
I must confess that I rise with a considerable amount of nervousness to address the House for the first time and I pray its indulgence. I was impelled to do so by the remarks which fell from the hon. Member for South Hackney (Mr. Bottomley) on the question of courts-martial. During a considerable portion of the War I was employed as an Assistant Provost-Marshal, and consequently I came into touch a good deal with courts-martial, and I must say that I sympathise very strongly with the remarks of the hon. Gentleman. I have known cases long delayed. Cases of injustice I have not known. I agree entirely that the court-martial is a very fair court. It is not in the court-martial itself where any grievance lies, but it is in the procedure which surrounds the court-martial. It is in the delay between the arrest of the prisoner, and the bringing of him for trial, the delay from the finding of the court to the promulgation of the sentence I have known cases of officers arrested on a charge of drunkenness perhaps who have been kept as long as two or three months awaiting trial and kept in confinement under close arrest. When they have been tried they have had to wait perhaps another six weeks before the sentence has been promulgated, and when the promulgation has been made it amounted to a severe reprimand—a thing quite out of all proportion to the offence and out of all proportion to the punishment awarded. I have seen the deterioration that has taken place in an officer awaiting trial under such circumstances—the anxiety, the feeling of disgrace, and very properly so if an offence has been committed; but out of all proportion to the offence which has actually been committed.
The procedure is old-fashioned and out of date. It does not compare with civil procedure the least bit in the world. It seems a very curious thing that our Army, which is perhaps the most modern, the most up-to-date, and certainly the best disciplined among the finest fighting forces in the world, should be so much, behindhand in the administration of its justice. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman that when he comes to consider the reconstruction of the Army he will not forget the reconstruction of the side which appertains to its justice. The difficulty is that the procedure is in itself complicated and it has to be handled by men who are not necessarily lawyers. There is the difficulty of convening the court-martial, the difficulty when it is convened of getting the witnesses to put their evidence in such a form as evidence that can be accepted. The procedure which surrounds the summoning of evidence and all the rest of it is also procedure which should be handled by experts. I do not say that there are not many gentlemen in the legal profession who have not been employed for this purpose and employed very successfully, but there are not so many of these gentlemen about the country, and especially in the more remote commands, and the process, if it is slow an London, is infinitely slower when you get further away from London. Therefore, when the right hon. Gentleman comes to take the Army re-organisation in hand he will, I am sure, command the support of everyone when he tackles this question of courts-martial procedure.
I listened with great satisfaction to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, and appreciate very highly the way in which he put before us the entire case of the great work which we have still to carry out. But there are certain points as to which I would desire information. It would be a great advantage if he would tell us what is the order of battle of the new Army of Occupation. He has told us what this Army is to be and how it is to be administered, but I should like to know whether the Infantry brigade is going to be a brigade of four battalions, and whether the battalions are going to be returned at the strength of 1,000 and are going always to be kept up to the old pre-war strength which was laid down in the organisation of the British Army? It would be a matter of great economy if the divisions overseas are kept up to the full strength, and if we do not have our Army overstaffed with large supernumerary bodies which are unnecessary. I trust also that we shall have an opportunity of knowing how things are proceeding, and what the administration of the Army is to be in future.
It is not for me to say whether the scheme of demobilisation which was first produced was produced by the Army or by politicians, but it certainly was a scheme which anybody with common sense could see was not going to appeal to men serving in the Army or people out of the Army. It was a great misfortune, and, as the right hon. Gentleman has told us to-day, that scheme has had largely to be altered. I am glad to say that now we have got what he has called a rough and ready fair scheme, but I think that it is a great hardship on men of long service that such a great number of men who have not done three months' training should go out of the Army while there are kept in the Army so many men who have done two years' service overseas. I hope that those who have been overseas longest will be brought back more quickly. There is still great dissatisfaction on this point. I had some connection with the old Army and I have always been its friend and supporter, and I know that those men who have gone out from the very first and who have been out so long feel it a great hardship to be kept on. It seems very bard that one man who happens to be a more-skilled mechanic and has only served a short time should be brought back in preference to the owner of a one-man business, because many old soldiers, Reservists, had set themselves up in a small way. I do think that those men ought to get special consideration and be brought back as soon as possible.
Those who apply for relief on compassionate grounds when they write to the War Office get a reply telling them to write to the man's commanding officer. They write him and he has not the civility to answer those leters. If an officer writes to a man who applies for his son's release and gives him the reason for what is done the man would be satisfied. It is very wrong for a man commanding a battalion not to answer letters, especially when the War Office says that he is the man who is to be written to. I would press the Secretary of State to say that if the War Office says that commanding officers are the people to decide whether a man is to be released or not, they should give answers and state the definite reasons why the man is not released, so that if it is necessary to bring the case to the notice of the War Office, Members of Parliament should have the opportunity of knowing why applications have been refused by the commanding officer. I hope that on another point the right hon. Gentleman will carry out what he has promised—that is, that in future men recruited for the Army who desire to go to certain regiments should be posted to those regiments. There has been a great failure in this respect during the War. I know that this is a matter on which regimental officers and men have felt strongly. It is, no doubt, the easiest course for the Staff to put officers and men wherever it is thought suitable, but they do not take into consideration that a man in one corps might be worth a great deal more than if he were put into another corps. I hope that in future strict care will be taken that men who have served through the War and wish to rejoin the Army should have a chance of joining that branch of the Service which they wish to join. In that way you are more likely to get an Army of which we shall be as proud as we are of that Army which has fought for us in the War.
I am thankful for the opportunity of contributing a little to this Debate. I am not one of those critics or faultfinders who seek to pour contempt or ridicule upon the system or any branch of the system that exists at the present day, but, being in the fortunate, or unfortunate, position of a Labour Member, I know that when he is elected to Parliament everybody in the constituency flies to him with his troubles and grievances, thinking that the now Member can accomplish more than any of the other people have ever attempted to do. We have an enormous task before us, and we are trying to accomplish as much of it as we can. Possibly we may fail, but it is better to fail trying than not to try at all. Consequently, as soon as I was elected for the Forest of Dean I received an avalanche of complaints. [An HON. MEMBER: "You are not the only one."] I am only concerned about my own troubles; you can enjoy your own. But one must exercise his judgment and commonsense in trying to sort out important from unimportant matters, and in doing so I have noticed many cases of hardship. I am not finding fault with the persons concerned. I want to bear my testimony that in every Department to which I have had the privilege of going and from every gentleman who has been appointed to meet me I have received nothing but the utmost courtesy, kindness and consideration, and I have seen the strongest desire manifested to give all assistance possible. But while I am not finding fault with the person, I am finding fault, if fault is to be found, with the machinery and the complexity of the machinery for dealing with these matters.
I may refer to one case with which I had to deal. It was a very pitiful case. Everybody who came into contact with it agreed that it was a tragedy in itself. I do not want to go into details, because fortunately, after continuous correspondence and calls on my part, the man was finally released, but when one realises that this man's business was falling to pieces, that there was death in his household, that his wife was sick, and that everything was going to rack and ruin, and that the man I himself was only in a Labour company and could have been easily spared, and that yet it took me nearly six weeks to get that man released, one wonders why it should be so. However, that has been overcome. I want to deal with some of the troubles with which one is faced every day. I happen to be on several industrial commissions and several demobilisation committees. One important committee of which I am vice-chairman is covering the quarry industry. There we dealt with the pivotal men. I cannot say we achieved any very great success. We were informed in the latter end of November or the early part of December that 5,000 men would be released. We got all the facts and got the forms filled and did everything possible. Then we were told we could have another 5,000 men. Then we were told that we could have another 2,500 men, making a total of 12,500 men who were to be released for that industry which is so important for the carrying on of trade, because of the limestone that is required for roads, buildings, and as material for all kinds of industry. After all these months we met three weeks ago and we had returns from all the employers of the numbers released, and out of the 12,500 men the total number whom we could trace as released was 137. We have another meeting to-morrow morning and we shall have later reports. I hope that we shall have a more successful return. We applied to every Department to know the reason of the hold-up, and we have not yet got the information.
The last word I am going to say is in regard to the causes of the industrial trouble and the military unrest, which pervades the ranks and is there to-day. One of the crying evils to-day, and I say it, because I have come fresh from the spot where I have seen and heard about it, is the employment of a great number of German prisoners of War to the disadvantage of some of our own demobilised soldiers. In the earlier stages of the War, when labour was scarce, no man would have dared utter a word of protest against the number of German prisoners who were being employed to carry out important work, but to-day it is altogether different. When one goes into a district and sees two or three thousand prisoners of War employed and, on the other hand, one comes across demobilised soldiers seeking employment and unable to obtain it, one wonders why that is so. Of course, one realises that the prisoners of war are in our possession, but to my way of think- ing it is more profitable to keep them interned in some district or even on some island, if you like, rather than to see demobilised soldiers seeking employment.
Might I say that we are sending them back to France and Belgium as fast as possible to work there. There they will be enabling our men to get home all the quicker, and they will not be taking the work out of the hands of our men here.
All I sincerely hope is that you will turn your attention to Chepstow, and across the other side of the river. I spent some hours there on Saturday last, and I have got a statement here, signed by the working men—blacksmiths, plasterers, and various other tradesmen—who have been demobilised. They have come back, they have gone to the Labour Exchanges, and have sought employment, and they have been offered employment as roadmakers or labourers. Then they have seen German prisoners working in the smiths' shop and doing work on which they ought to be engaged. There is a certain amount of self-respect and pride about our British workman, and he resents this, as is pointed out in this statement, which is signed by the men themselves. They resent being labourers when the German prisoners are tradesmen. If any man has got to do the roadmaking, or the navvying, or the cutting out, let the German prisoners do it, and if there is any good job to be got, let our brave boys who have fought for us have it. I am glad to hear that the authorities are removing the prisoners, but there are 3,000 or 4,000 of them down there who want removing as quickly as it can be done.
I am sure that will be placed on record, because I am told that every word you utter in this solemn assembly is recorded, and there is no going back on it. That will be widely circulated throughout my Constituency to-morrow, and I shall have the credit of having done something. I shall not detain the House on this first occasion which, I think, is going to realise a splendid suc- cess, because it was only on Saturday that I was dealing with this matter. The manifesto is here; the right hon. Gentleman has given me his promise to deal with this; and I can sit down with the comfortable assurance that I have done something worth doing, and that Labour will get the credit for it.
I should like to press upon the attention of the right hon. Gentleman and the Committee a question that has already been raised this afternoon, that of military law, and I suggest that the qualities which the right hon. Gentleman stated to be the highest combination of military virtues, power and mercy, might very well be exercised in relation to courts-martial. I have had a lot of experience with courts-martial as a Lancashire Territorial, and afterwards as a courts-martial officer. The grievance is not one of law nor of practice. The law is clear and the practice is clear. The grievance rather arises because the new sort of men we have in the Army are not satisfied with the old disciplinary code which appears to have to have satisfied the Regular Army. I should like respectfully to press on the right hon. Gentleman three specific reforms, which I think would greatly improve precedure before courts-martial, and would make men much more satisfied with them than they are at the present time. The first point, which has already been raised by the hon. Member for South Hackney, is the question of the prisoner's friend. There is no question about it that a man is at a great disadvantage in appearing before a court-martial unless he is represented by some trained advocate. This is self-evident and obvious; it is so obvious that that right is now given to a man when he is accused of any crime for which the sentence may be death. I would certainly urge the right hon. Gentleman to give the same opportunity to every soldier who is brought for trial before a court-martial. At the present time, of course, in law they have the opportunity, but in practice, in 999 cases out of 1,000, the prisoner is unrepresented by a next friend, and no Court President or prosecutor, with the best will in the world, can bring out extenuating circumstances to the same extent as can the prisoner's friend. At the present time not only are the authorities indifferent with regard to the use of the next friend, but there are many cases where that practice is discouraged by general officers commanding. I myself have heard a divisional general lay down to the field officers of his division that he wished none of them to appear as friends for prisoners brought up for trial in that division. That took place in April, 1916, and I was there at the time. I remember another case, where a fellow in my division was sent for by the brigadier because he had some reputation as an advocate, and he was told that the brigadier did not wish him to appear as the friend of a prisoner shortly to be tried by court-martial. I submit confidently to the right hon. Gentleman that he will be giving a Magna Charta to a man brought before a court-martial for trial if he gives him an absolute right, and not only the right but the facilities to be represented by a friend who has some training in legal affairs, and who knows something about the Jaw of evidence.
The second point is that, at the present time, a great many punishments inflicted upon accused persons are perfectly damnable. I remember a case which was tried on the 24th December, 1917, near Bethune, where I was the man's next friend. He was a provost sergeant in charge of the prisoners' camp, a very responsible position. He had an absolutely clear record of service, and had fought in Gallipoli, at Sinai, and in France. It was not only his first court-martial, but his first offence. He was tried for alleged drunkenness after hours of duty, and six people swore that he was sober, and one man swore that he was not. The one man who swore that he was not sober happened to be an officer, and he was convicted. The sentence inflicted was reduction to the ranks, and one year's imprisonment with hard labour. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame!"] I suggest that a Court which inflicted a sentence of that sort is a Court which was hardly compatible with the cause for which we were fighting, the cause that was going to make the world safe for democracy. What I want to draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to is the cause of these very hard sentences. The cause is partly that the senior personnel is very often drawn from the class of old Regular officers who are not very much in touch with democracy, or with the opinion or feeling of the new men who have been brought into the Army by the War. But the bigger cause of these hard sentences is the fear which the members of the Court have of interference by General Officers Commanding. At the present time, although in theory these Courts are absolutely free, in practice their judgments are almost always overawed by authority. I remember when I was in command of a battalion there was the case of a young officer being brought to trial for drunkenness, and two generals spoke to me because I happened to give evidence in favour of this young officer with regard to character. In the sequel the general who interfered was superseded, and the young officer, whose sentence of cashiering was quashed by the General Officer Commanding in Egypt, has since gained the Military Cross and bar. If we had allowed ourselves to be overawed by the General Officer Commanding, he would have been cashiered for a first offence on that occasion. I remember another case of a man who refused to take a certain jump—he was on home service—because he was suffering from rupture. He was charged with disobeying orders and sentenced to twenty-eight days' detention. That so disgusted the convening officer that he circularised the whole area to the effect that it was a most improper sentence, and that in future sentences of at least one year ought to be indicted in these cases. The whole theory of courts-martial is that the Court is absolutely free, but there is no freedom when the hands of the judges are so fettered as they are at the present time. Let me give you one illustration, which is, I think, just about the worst I have come across. It was a case which happened in October, 1917, at La Panne. I was president of that court-martial, and two men in the 8th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment were charged with leaving their commanding officer in search of plunder, the suggestion being that they had broken into an empty pancake store, with a view to seeing if there were any pancakes there, after closing hours. There was not the slightest evidence on which to convict, and we did not convict. My grievance is that, after acquitting these men, a memorandum was sent to us by the General Officer Commanding, asking for a full explanation to be furnished in writing why we had allowed these men to be acquitted. It is absolutely impossible to do justice when a tribunal is surrounded by the prejudices of the convening officer; where its hands are fettered before trial and where, after the trial, the Court is liable to be so troubled and tested with complaints with regard to the decisions they have come to. What I ask the right hon. Gentleman to do is, so to bring it about that the tribunals which deal with cases shall be absolutely free in their judgment and in regard to the sentences which they inflict. That is the sort of thing for which this House fought in the seventeenth century with regard to the civil Courts, and I submit that that sort of thing, carried on in the military Courts to-day, is contrary to the main currents of public opinion, which it is very important indeed to conciliate if the Army is to be a success. The third and last point which I should like to impress on the authorities with regard to military law is the desirability of the abolition of field punishment No. 1. The idea that it is proper punishment to tie a man to a tree or post for a certain number of hours on a certain number of days, and that is what happens at present, is quite contrary to the spirit of our age. Particularly is that so, because it is not only acute mental misery to the man to suffer this punishment in the presence of his comrades, but it is also endured in the sight of men of alien races. One of the causes I think of the Indian Mutiny was that our soldiers might be flogged in the presence of natives, while the native soldiers could not be flogged. I suggest that such a method of punishment has a very bad effect on the opinion of the people who see members of our Army tied up in this way. I feel sure that hon. Members who have served in the Territorial Force, for instance, will recognise that it is perfectly possible to have excellent discipline without having disciplinary measures of that character. I suggest that its abolition will be a very effective mark of the culmination of a war which is supposed to do away with militarism in England, as it has been done away with in Germany. Those three concrete cases of military reform I commend to the earnest consideration of the right hon. Gentleman. I suggest that their adoption would be doing something more than offering an act of justice and generosity to our fighting men. It would also mean that they would remain contented citizens and pillars of society in the future, instead of being driven into the ranks of rebels in society, which is happening in many cases at the present time, owing to the very indiscriminating methods of discipline which are enforced through courts-martial now. I submit these points on grounds of public policy as well as of justice and generosity. I should also like to put them as the repayment of a debt which I feel we owe to those men who have been fighting for us in the War. I think there is no better way of paying a tribute to their services and their sacrifices than by relieving many of the injustices and grievances from which they have suffered in the past.
I have no doubt that the whole Committee will sympathise with the cases of hardship which have been brought forward in connection with courts-martial, but I do not think that the hon. Member quite gave the Committee a clear idea of the means which are taken to protect officers and men from being unjustly treated by courts-martial. It is of course impossible to have trained advocates on the battlefield, but I venture to say that cases of real injustice are extremely rare. One of the worst grievances in this connection was alluded to by a previous speaker, and that is the delay in trial which sometimes arises. That is due very often to the difficulties experienced in obtaining witnesses. The hon. Member who has just spoken told us that he himself had been a court-martial officer, and that being so, he must be acquainted with some of the delays which are caused by technical matters. There is undoubtedly an earnest desire to prevent any injustice being done to those who are tried by courts-martial. The hon. Member made what seemed to me the astounding statement that in 999 cases out of 1,000 no prisoner's friend was available.
I naturally accept the hon. Member's statement that that is what happened in the division with which he was connected, but I must say it is a matter that fills me with considerable astonishment. I think most Members of the House who have had any experience of courts-martial during the late War will realise that it was only on rare occasions where the accused did not have the advantage of a prisoner's friend. The hon. Member mentioned the case where an officer was told that he should not appear as a prisoner's friend. It is so easy to make that sort of statement, and yet there may have been some excellent reason why that particular officer should not be so employed. I will give a case which came within my own knowledge. It was that of an officer who was also a lawyer and who was a very able officer as well as a good lawyer. There was not a day when this officer was not wanted to appear as a prisoners friend at a. court-martial. As he was an official officer engaged on engineering work, it was obvious that while at courts-martial defending prisoners he could not be engaged on work which was perhaps of vital importance in preparing schemes for defence or attack. So I am quite certain that in the case which the hon. Member has mentioned there was some very good reason why that particular officer was asked not to appear. Although undoubtedly there are cases of hardship, and there mast be, whatever arrangements you make, I am sure they are very rare in the Army.
The Secretary of State, in a most interesting and illuminating speech, told us the main outlines of what was proposed. He did not go into details, and I do not think that any of us expected that he would. He took us from one part of the world to another, where our forces are or have been fighting, with great ability, which I am quite certain appealed to everyone on the Committee. Without going much into detail, there are one or two points which I should like to bring to the notice of the right hon. Gentleman. I hear of cases of some dissatisfaction in the Army of Occupation, owing to some men not fully appreciating their position as regards pay and demobilisation. I know that the right hon. Gentleman has established in this country what is known as an officer's friend, to give advice. I cannot help thinking that it would be money well spent if there was attached to every division of the Army of Occupation some officer who could be readily approached by officers and men on the subjects of pay, release, and so on. That officer would have to be in close touch with General Headquarters and with the War Office. I put that suggestion forward as a solution for a good deal of dissatisfaction which, in nearly all cases, is due to misapprehension, and I hope that he will give it his favourable consideration. The right hon. Gentleman did not tell us very much about the reduction of the Staffs of the Army. Until recently, though I do not know what has happened in the last few weeks, the Staffs of the Army, of corps and divisions, practically remained as they were on the 11th November. I suggest that the time has come when there should be some very drastic reductions of these rather expensive staffs, which are very necessary in time of actual active operations, but which are not really required now during the time when there are practically only nucleus battalions and divisions. Although far be it from me to say that those officers who served their country so well should be thrown out of a job altogether, yet I think there are many of them who would be willing to be demobilised if they were given the opportunity. Another thing that happens from having large staffs with, perhaps, not very much to do, except on the administrative side, and that is that it leads to a good deal of what is known as joy-riding, which is rather expensive to the State. We all know that during actual operations, or anybody who crossed from Folkestone to Boulogne, that there was not a day but you saw from 80 to 100 cars assembled at Boulogne to take people back to their units. That was at a time when petrol was very scarce in this country. The average distance of those cars would be about 150 miles. The limit of extravagance was witnessed on one occasion, when there were three cars waiting there to bring three officers from Boulogne to Paris. I am talking of what is perhaps now ancient history. But even now long distances are gone in motor cars for purposes which are not strictly military, and I think it is most necessary that we should as far as possible economise both in the use of petrol and motor cars. The hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Wignall) spoke of the number of constituents who appealed to him in their troubles, and I am quite certain he represented them extremely well, and that they will be very pleased with what has been done by him. We all get these applications, and I do hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to assure the House, in his reply, that the discomforts and, indeed, the perils through which men went on demobilisation in France in connection with their journeys in that country, and lack of food especially, have been remedied. I know they were faced with great difficulties. I believe one of the chief causes was that Before the Armistice was declared officers down at camps at a base were not officers whom you would care perhaps to lead men in the face of an enemy; in other words, they were probably rather duds. Then there comes a rush of work and a rush of men and a situation which is difficult to face, and I quite realise the difficulties which they had to encounter. But I hope that something will be done to remedy those difficulties and that in future there will be sufficient food on all occasions at places like Dunkirk and Calais to feed the men who are coming home on demobilisation. I should like to say how greatly impressed I was by the fresh view which the right hon. Gentleman took in dealing with the military problems of the future, and I am sure that if he carries on in that way he will receive support from all quarters.
On rising to address the House for the first time I crave its indulgence. I desire to say one or two things that have arisen out of the Debate. I listened with satisfaction to a good deal of what the right hon. Gentleman had to say and also with some regret to other portions of his speech, and as I listened to him telling us what has happened in relation to the Armies of Occupation I hoped he might venture to prophesy that what was required at the present time would not mean that in the years following this the same size of an. Army would be required. But I saw as it were the dream of the League of Nations rapidly vanishing from my view. The right hon. Gentleman, at least, did nothing to encourage us on this side of the House to believe that we were going to secure in the near future any large disarmament of our military and naval forces. In fact, we felt as if we were going to restart on that mad course which keeps the nations of the world at war with each other. I hope we may secure from the right hon. Gentleman before the Debate closes some idea that these proposals of his in relation to the expenses of the present year are not likely to be of so pressing a character in the days to come. I rose, however, especially to draw attention to the fact that certain criticisms have been levelled at the original scheme of demobilisation which was suggested by a Demobilisation Committee set up some time ago. The right hon. Gentleman naturally rejoices in the fact that by his clean cut he has secured that which will give the utmost satisfaction to the man in the Army, and I agree with him. I believe that the only fair course to take was to release the men who first joined up at the earliest opportunity, and if that same sort of principle had been carried out in the early stages of the War tin enlisting men, I believe it would have saved much of the industrial unrest which eventually occurred; but, of course, the country could not afford it at the time. I cannot hear the Committee criticised without saying a word in its defence. The first suggestion that was mooted on that Committee was the very course which the right hon. Gentleman has pursued. It was pointed out to us not by military men, but by business men, who ought to know their business—and I believe they did—that they regarded the position to be that, if we took men merely according to their length of service, the industrial conditions of the country would be worsened to a considerable extent, and I quite agree that the right hon. Gentleman has only got out of one difficulty by placing another Department in a difficulty. He is giving satisfaction, not only to many in the country but to many soldiers, but he has helped to create a considerable trouble inside the country in relation to the number of people who are unemployed. I am going to take his assurance, that men who were called up before 1st January, 1916, will be demobilised at the earliest opportunity, and I also accept his assurance that the men who are far from home, and who will be returning for leave, will have adequate leave in proportion to that which is given to men nearer at home. But I want to ask a question in relation to the men who are to remain in the Army. I would like to know if he can give us any idea how long it will take before the men. who are being retained will ultimately be demobilised? It looks to me as if recruiting at the rate of 1,000 a day will mean that some of these men are likely to be retained in the Army for another three or possibly more years.
How long they will be required depends, first of all, upon the course of events in Europe. That is the first thing. In the second place, it depends upon the rapidity of our enlistments for the Volunteer Army, and I expect that our Armies will gradually be reduced below the standard of 900,000 that are retained. I expect that they will, in the course of this year, undergo successive reductions, always letting the older-men go first—the thirty-six's, then the thirty-five's, then the thirty-four's, and so on—and I hope that during the course of next year the main composition of the Army that we shall be keeping for the Army of Occupation, if we have to go on keeping them, will either be young men who have not been involved in the War, or else volunteers who have joined for a period of service. I hope the great bulk of the compulsorily retained men will during the course of next year be released.
I am glad to have enlisted from the right hon. Gentleman an expression of opinion that the men who are being retained will likely, circumstances permitting, be demobilised by the end of a year, and I can assure him that that will give considerable satisfaction to a very large number of people throughout the length and breadth of the country. Having that assurance, the further question that I wanted to put to him loses some of its force, but what I wanted to ask the right hon Gentleman was this: Has he taken into consideration the fact that while a clean cut, everything else being equal, is a most just way of demobilising the Army, it raises the problem of the very large number of young men who have served some part of an apprenticeship in civil life and who may have to remain in the Army for one or more years? Their parents are clamouring for their return. Their parents have stated, many of them, to me that they have paid £100 or £200 as premiums for their sons to be taught their trades, and as a result that money is going to be lost to the parents The young men, if they are retained without adequate training while in the Army will come back, and for all practical purposes, as far as I can see, in spite of the schemes that are being evolved for the training of apprentices, will find themselves out of employment, and some of them in blind-alley occupations, because, in spite of the schemes that are being propounded in relation to the continued, training of apprentices, who are leaving the Army, many of the employers of labour are refusing even now to let them enter their various establishments. Therefore, seeing that some of these young men have been already three years in the Army, and probably will spend another year or two in the Army, I wish to put it to the right hon. Gentleman that it is his duty to see that the best opportunity is given to these young men, even while they are in the Army, in some way to improve themselves in the trade to which they formerly belonged. I know it is difficult, but I hold that something should be done, and, further, that something should be done to compensate them or their parents for what has occurred in relation to premiums, loss of earnings, etc., owing to continued service in the Army. The increased rates of pay, gladly as I welcome them for our soldiers generally, are no compensation to many men who joined the Army for one particular purpose, and now believe that that particular purpose has been accomplished. These men would never have been soldiers except under the compulsory conditions. Many of them went gladly, and many of them, as we know, sacrificed their lives. But that is no reason why the young men who remain should, when they come back from the War, or after they are demobilised, find themselves in a worse economic position than they would have found themselves in if they had continued to work at their civilian employment, and I therefore ask for some assurance that the apprentices will be safeguarded against the loss of their premiums, and that they will in another way be safeguarded in the Army in the first place, and immediately they leave the Army by securing improved rates of pay, provided they have reached the age of manhood; and I fail to see that any of them can be less than men by the time they return to this country. I trust the right hon. Gentleman will take into consideration these points, and give satis- faction to a large number of the working people who are depending upon their sons when they return from the Army. Quite a number of these men, I understand, can only be released on compassionate grounds. I presume that to mean that in any case where the father dies in a one-man business, that will be strong evidence that the son should be released from the Army. I have had several letters telling me that mothers are carrying on the business in their son's absence. The father is an old man, and ill, and they are looking forward to the return of the boy to relieve them in their old age by conducting the business. I hope I shall have assurance in any case of that kind, irrespective of age, and of the fact that the son did not join the Army until after 1st January, 1916, that he will be released on compassionate grounds, if on no other grounds, provided by the right hon. Gentleman.
I rose to say a few words with regard to that portion of the right hon. Gentleman's speech which referred to the Armies of the Middle East, but, before I come to that, I must refer to the topic which was introduced by the hon. Member for South Hackney (Mr. Bottomley), namely, the question of courts-martial. I suppose there is nobody in this House who has had a fuller acquaintance with courts-martial during this War than I have. For the last year I have been the adviser of the Commander-in-Chief of one of our Expeditionary Forces as Deputy-Judge-Advocate-General, and I do feel that a good deal has been said this evening with regard to courts-martial without a real knowledge of what takes place. An hon. Member opposite, who said he had been a court-martial officer, referred to various matters. I am not going into details, but I may tell the Committee that every Army in France has got a trained Deputy-Assistant-Advocate-General, who is a man of legal knowledge, who advises the Army Commander upon all questions relating to sentences of courts-martial. In addition to that, every corps in France, and every other expeditionary force, has a court-martial officer, who is a trained legal man—a barrister, and also an officer—and his duty is to sit on every court-martial which takes place within the corps area where there is any question of any possible difficulty arising. As well as that, you have got the prisoner's friend. Constantly the court-martial officer, a legal man, appears as prisoner's friend, and I have sat upon many courts-martial during this War in France, Egypt, and Palestine, and I do think the hon. Member for Hackney naturally only hears one side of the case. He hears, quite rightly and quite properly, from men who possibly have received, I will not say injustice, but treatment with which they are indignant. That must happen in every sphere of justice, whether military or civil.
I quite agree there must be some such cases. There have been so many thousands of trials in this War that there must be cases where complaint has been justified. But, taking courts-martial as a whole, I do think that any fair-minded man will admit that the administration of military laws in the Armies in this War has not failed. There have been cases to the contrary, but, on the whole, the administration has not failed, and I think it will be very unwise if the right hon. Gentleman undertakes to make a promise of any sweeping change in either the procedure or the law as to military offences committed in the field.
My object in rising to-day, however, was to refer to the Expeditionary Force in Palestine and Egypt, and to ask the Secretary of State for War, in the first place, for some additional information. Turning to Vote A, I see that the Armies of the Middle East consist of a British force in Egypt and Palestine of 3,750 officers and 56,500 men. Could the right hon. Gentleman say what proportion that is of the force which was in Egypt at the conclusion of the Armistice, and how many have been demobilised and sent home? I hope that some member of the Government will be able to deal with that question when a reply is made, because it is an important point, and it bears on the question, which has been referred to by several hon. Members to-day, as to men not getting home from the East. My own opinion is that the numbers which constitute the Army of Occupation in the Middle East are very little fewer than the numbers which were there at the time of the Armistice. Indeed, it seems to me they are about the same. I think, therefore, we should be told how many have
been demobilised and on what basis demobilisation is going on. The Secretary of State for War issued an explanatory pamphlet with Army Order 114 in January last, and that pamphlet purported to set out the main principles upon which the Armies of Occupation were to be constituted and to carry on. He dealt with all the Armies of Occupation on the same basis, and yet in Army Order 3, which came out on 11th February, it is stated that:
In the case of garrisons east of Suez, such officers and men as will be eligible for demobilisation if not forming part of an overseas garrison.
In what way does the fact that you form part of an overseas garrison in itself put you in a worse category than a man who is in the Army of Occupation, say, on the Rhine? Is there some additional disadvantage in being in the East? Because what appears in this Army Older is not consistent with what was stated in the manifesto issued by the Secretary of State for War. I do think that the Armies of the East deserve very special consideration, but from what I have said, and from what appears in these Army Orders, it looks as if the Armies in the East, in regard to demobilisation, are being discriminated against adversely.
And yet, what have they done? The Army of Palestine, under the able leadership of Sir Edmund Allenby, carried out the most remarkable feat of arms that has ever been performed by British soldiers, or conceived by British generals, and that after a trying march across the Sinai Desert in 1915 and 1916. Then in October, 1917, came the advance to Gaza, and the capture of that strongly-fortified town and ancient fortress in the Philistine country, after which Beersheba and Hebron were captured, and finally Jerusalem. The capture of Jerusalem by General Allenby's forces was, I suppose, the greatest benefit to British prestige in the East which has ever taken place. Why, the name of Jerusalem is a household word to every Mahomedan and every Christian throughout the world, for it is not only a great city to the Christian, but it is one of the great sacred cities in the Mahomedan religion, second only to Mecca itself. That was a marvellous achievement, and it was carried out in the end of 1917. Then came a lull, and during that time the extraordinary spectacle was to be seen of British troops mounting guard over the Golden Gate of Jerusalem—the gate through which, it is said, Christ, when he comes back to this world, is again to enter the great city. British soldiers stood guard over that gate, and British soldiers, from the heights of the Mount of Olives, looked towards the Dead Sea and to the hills of Moab beyond. Then came the advance to Jericho and the occupation of the Jordan Valley. Now the men in the Jordan Valley last year underwent very great hardships. They had all the difficulties of long months in the burning sun, pestilential flies, and very malignant malaria. And then, finally, there was the great advance of last year, which carried the army of Palestine triumphantly forward to the most ancient city of the world, Damascus, and a small number got to Aleppo. This campaign in the East was the beginning of the end of the War, and from its successful issue has flown benefits which we are now enjoying through the conclusion of the Armistice and the termination of active fighting in the War. They came primarily from the East. I would most strongly urge the Secretary of State for War—though, unfortunately, there is nobody here at the moment representing the War Office—thathe ought to consider this matter of increasing the futilities for demobilisation in Egypt and Palestine, and above all, as has been referred to before, greatly increasing their chances of leave. Far more generous terms of leave should be accorded the Armies of the East. There is another point, though it is difficult to urge a point of this kind unless somebody representing the War Office is here. [Here Mr. Churchill re-entered the House.] I was commenting on the fact that there was no one from the War Office here to hear what I had to say in regard to the Armies of the East, and their demobilisation.
I trust I fully understand and appreciate the difficulties of the right hon. Gentleman, and that perhaps at this time of the evening it is inconvenient for him to be present. I hope, however, he will deal with my point, if possible, when he comes to reply. As to the Armies in the East, would it not be possible to supplement the garrison in Palestine from the Egyptian Army? At the present I think this has been done entirely from Indian troops. The Egyptian Army has done extremely well in the War. They have not been actively employed in much fighting, but they have gone in search of Turkish prisoners. I myself have seen thousands, guarded by men of the Egyptian Army. They have done exceedingly good work as military police. Then again Egyptians, in all more than 100,000, have worked in Palestine as the Egyptian Labour Corps. If it were possible—by extra recruiting if necessary—in some way to supplement the garrison in Palestine from the Egyptian Army it seems to me that it would let away much more quickly a large number of men who now are there and who cannot get away. I think it is a matter worthy of consideration. I trust the right hon. Gentleman will be able to say a word on it in the course of his reply. I would only repeat that this matter of more rapid demobilisation and increased leave to the Armies of the Middle East is a matter deserving more careful arrangement and the further considertion of the War Office.
I only desire to detain the Committee for a few minutes in order to elicit a little information upon a point which is almost directly opposed to those which have been raised by the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just sat down. In this Vote A we are told that in the British Army in the Caucasus and Turkey we have 75,000 men. The right hon. Gentleman, in his speech, told us that we had 100,000 at Murmansk and Archangel, another handful in Siberia, a small portion in the Caucasus, and—I believe it is true to say—another small force in Southern Russia. What I desire to ask the right hon. Gentleman is whether, in considering plans for the new volunteer Army for India, and the new volunteer Army which is to take the place of the Army of Occupation on the Rhine, the question has also been considered of the horrible necessity of intervening at the present time in Russia to restore order and to defeat the Bolshevist Government of Russia? That can only be done by volunteer forces. As the right hon. Gentleman said just now, in reply to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, the policy of our Government was, at any rate, not to use in Russia the conscripted forces. The condition of Russia at present is such that it must be obvious to any person of common sense that the Allies will be obliged to intervene to restore order. That will have to be done by a volunteer Army made up from all the Allies. The Russian situation at the present time is like a lot of rotten apples in a barrel. It will certainly infect the whole of Europe unless it is dealt with, and that very soon. It is, we are told, a question of policy. Therefore it is not one in which, perhaps, while we are sitting in Committee on this Estimate, it is quite fair to ask from the right hon. Gentleman an explicit answer. Perhaps, however, he would give us some indication as to whether the question of raising a volunteer Army—which, I am convinced, could be raised in this country for the purpose—has been considerd by the War Office, and whether steps have been taken to get the machinery ready for that intervention? Unless the Allies do make up their minds to intervene in Russia and upset this Government of bloodthirsty barbarians, the whole of Europe is likely to be infected and the fall of civilisation will be almost complete.
I should not have intervened were it not for the fact that I have had the fortune—some hon. Members may say the misfortune—to command, I believe, the largest battalion of the British Army since the commencement of the War—the Reserve "Battalions of the largest regiment, the Northumberland Fusiliers. I have also had the privilege, and with that I am not quarreling in the least, to have personally trained, equipped, and sent overseas from 4th August, 1914, up to the date of the Armistice over 21,800 men from my battalion to swell the ranks of the regiment in the different theatres of war. This evening I have heard some interesting discussion on the question of demobilisation. I should like, if you will allow me, for I have had some means of discovering the feeling, to tell of some of the difficulties of this question; something from the practical experience of commanding officer of a battalion. We have had various theories and various statements put forward in regard to the difficulties of demobilisation. There are three things which came under my notice which, I think, did cause to a large extent discontent amongst the troops, certainly in the Northern Command where I began.
First of all, I know perfectly well that the command depots were crowded out with men, and those concerned had far more work thrown upon them than they could possibly cope with. On the other hand, the Third Reserve Battalion of the regiment was also overcrowded with men, and we also had far more work than we could possibly cope with ourselves. Men were coming in day after day, practically at the end of a telegram, to the command depots of my battalion, sometimes ninety men, sometimes a hundred, and the men themselves told me over and over again that they had been distinctly told by the commanding officers of certain command depots that they were "being sent to the Third Reserve Battalion where they would be instantly demobilised. I suggest that such a course of procedure was not fair to the men themselves, and it was grossly unfair to we who were the commanding officers in the particular camps. I will not labour that point any further. I will take my second point. I had, as many commanding officers had, hundreds of repatriated prisoners of war coming back from time to time in large batches from Germany. The numbers I was told to take reached a total of 3,000 men. I got them in batches, in some cases 290 and in others up to 400 men. One would have thought the men who had been through what these men had gone through in Germany would, at all events, have been sent to some camp in the country where they could have been well looked after and made comfortable. I am not for one moment going to say that every effort was not made by my officers, non-commissioned officers and myself to look after the comfort and well-being of these men. We could not possibly help the state of affairs in the camp in which these men were placed. Though it was a camp of ray own battalion, I will say to-night that it was a bad camp. It was no fault of mine. It was placed on the level ground, the drainage was bad, and the whole place was practically a morass and a swamp. These men were sent there and kept there day after day, after coming from Germany, till their hearts were sick at the treatment they received.
There was a third, and possibly a more cogent reason of discontent than the others. That was the failure of the War Office to furnish us with a sufficient number of forms. If I remember rightly, Form Z was the one for demobilisation purposes. Over and over again did I, or my demobilisation officer, make application to the War Office to send us these necessary forms. At the beginning of the month of February I had no less than 600 men waiting, hanging on, who ought to have been demobilised sooner; and they were not being demobilised simply because we could not get the necessary forms from London. HON. MEMBERS will realise not only that these men had a very great and a genuine grievance, but that my demobilisation officer, and my unfortunate company officers, who had to deal with these men, also had a grievance. I made repeated applications from the Northern Command, and eventually I was forced to spend a sum of money from my canteen account, and get forms typed out. This sort of thing induced a feeling which I was sorry to know existed in my regiment. Close upon four and a half years of continuous hard labour and work had been gone through by those who worked with me and myself, and never need a man wish to be more loyally served than I was. My regret was that I had to give up that work. I came from that work into this House of Commons. When I did so I left behind me a certain amount of discontent and trouble in the battalion which up to that date, had it not been for the bad working out of the demobilisation scheme, would never, in my humble opinion, have occurred nor have been thought of. I do not know whether, in mentioning this question this evening and bringing it to light, I have done anything to shed new light upon some of the difficulties with which we have been faced. Perhaps I have been able to shed some light upon this demobilisation question If so, all I can say is that in that efforts—and it is no small effort to get up in this historic House and make one's maiden speech—I shall feel well repaid.
We have been told to-day that the War is practically at an end, and yet we have had placed before us Estimates which suggest that it is the intention of the Government to maintain for a long period a very considerable standing Army. What struck me most in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman was the entire absence in his speech of any reference to those tendencies and that movement in our country and other countries which are aiming at reducing military and naval expenditure as far as possible. There was no reference to that great world movement very largely initiated by the President of the American Republic, the League of Nations. There was no promise of that kind in the speech we heard from the right hon. Gentleman, although there was full recognition of the immense difficulties that face us at the present time. Not only was there no recognition of that question or of those other principles which we hope will come into operation, and which must come into operation if we are going to have a world ruled by sanity at all. It seems to me that we are very definitely preparing for a state of affairs similar to what existed before the outbreak of war in 1914.
The speech of the right hon. Gentleman very definitely stated that the Government intend to continue to operate the principle of Conscription. It may be that later on we shall have an opportunity of discussing this question of Conscription, because we are informed that the Secretary of War will be introducing a Bill to deal with military matters. It appears to me that to some extent the possibilities of that Bill have been foreshadowed by the speech we have heard this afternoon. As one who believes most strongly that Conscription is a thing calculated to do us more injury as a nation and Empire than anything else, I certainly feel regret that its continuance should be necessary at the present time. We are told we are going to have a voluntary Army established, and that the men are coming in at 1,000 per day, but at that rate how long is it going to take to get the voluntary Army? The Army of Occupation, for the most part, consists of conscripts. We know that the men who are going out now are for the most part conscripts, and it is obvious from the right hon. Gentleman's speech that he recognises that we must have this vast conscript Army. We must have conscripts if the Army is to be maintained on the scale that has been suggested by the Estimates. That is the great question.
There are those that believe that Conscription is an undesirable thing. There are eminent military authorities one can quote on this point were it necessary to do so to-night. You may compensate men by giving them increased pay, but the fact remains we shall have Conscription. It was General Smuts—and I believe the authorities here rely upon that distinguished military officers—who said that Conscription was the tap root of militarism. Even in the months ahead it appears to me we are continuing on a pathway of an extremely dangerous kind. I want to emphasise what has been said by some other hon. Members this afternoon and this evening regarding the situation of the men in the near East, and I would like to submit to the right hon. Gentleman one or two arguments on somewhat different lines, why I think the men out in the Balkan area are entitled to some special consideration. I know it would be impossible, as it would be unwise, to attempt to make any comparison between the relative hardships which have been endured by the men in the different theatres of war, but at the same time I feel that there are special considerations that should be borne in mind with regard to the men who have served in the Balkan area.
It has been said time and again that so far as concerns Salonika more men were killed by flies than bullets. Now the bullets have stopped, but the flies are still there. When I was there in 1916 I remember reading an English paper that contained the report of a question asked in this House of the then Secretary of State for War regarding the health of the troops in that area, and the answer convinced me of the unreliability of answers frequently given from the Treasury Bench. A question was asked in 1916 as to whether the men out there were enjoying good health, and the answer was that the health of the troops there was uniformly good, and that with the exception of a few cases of dysentery which were to be expected in that period, and a few cases of malaria, there was nothing to complain of. When that report arrived there every field hospital in the area was overcrowded, all the hospital ships were filled to overflowing with men being taken to Malta as fast as transport facilities could be secured for them. I am not sure who was misinformed enough to give that answer. I merely quote it as an example and illustration of the appalling state of affairs which existed in that area at that particular time.
All through the last four years the men in the Salonika area have suffered perhaps to a greater extent than any other troops from the ravages of disease. I remember coming home, I think it was in the latter part of last year, with a man who occupied a very responsible position in the medical service with the Salonika command, and we were talking about the health of the troops. He was deploring the terrible death rate in our own Army, and he said that far worse than that is the fact that of the men who live through the Salonika campaign 50 per cent. have sacrificed for ever all chances of decent health. I remember the men who at the present moment are out there are the men of whom he spoke. A very large percentage, very much larger than 50 per cent., has passed through our hospitals in that area, and those men have become convalescent in the great majority of cases. They have rejoined their units, and they have broken down again, and they have been taken to hospital a second time. There were men sent in 1916 to Malta who intended to return to England after six, nine and twelve months service on the island and they were sent to Salonika, and an enormous number of them went down ill in a few days' time, and yet those men were kept in hospital and out of hospital month after month and year after year. They are the majority of the men who at the present time compose our forces, not only holding the country round about Salonika, but away up in Bulgaria and across Turkey. It is a matter for the War Office very seriously to consider whether, in the interests of the health of these men, they should not at all costs be immediately brought home. We have been told this afternoon that every man Who joined before 1916 will be brought home in a very short space of time. There may be men nut there who joined in 1916. They have had to go through exactly the same mill, they have had to face precisely the same kind of disease, and they have suffered in consequence. This country cannot afford to sacrifice one single life unnecessarily at the present time. If ever there was a time when it was imperatively necessary for us to conserve all the strength of our manhood, surely it is the present time, and in the interests of the nation we feel that these men should be brought home, even at the risk of weakening some of the garrisons that are left in that part of the world.
I feel that one really cannot speak too strongly of the state of affairs that exists so far as the majority of the men are concerned. When General Milne a few weeks ago sent home that very wonderful dispatch he spoke, and he was bound to speak if he spoke truthfully, of the way in which the men without complaint had faced the deadly monotony, the fearful mental ennui, and the severe physical strain of that climate. I think that sometimes the official mind is apt to think too officially. The official mind is apt very frequently to lose sight of other considerations. The question is asked in this House, ''When are the men coming home from the East?" and the answer is invariably the same: "As soon as transport facilities allow the men will be brought home." I say that some extra effort should be made by co-operation between the War Office and the Admiralty, and the use of British warships if necessary, to bring these men home. If they are not brought home there will not be quite so many of them to bring home when the time arrives. Men who have not been out in that part of the world cannot estimate the real situation, and, because of that, I feel justified in asking the Secretary of State for War in whatever plans he may have for the future to give special consideration to the men who have been out in those hot latitudes, whether Salonika, Palestine, Egypt, or India. Certainly they are men who have made a big contribution, and the country cannot afford at the present time any further unnecessary sacrifices.
This is the first time that I have had the honour of addressing the House, and I hope that it will give me its usual indulgence. I am here as the soldiers' candidate, I think the only soldiers' candidate in the House, to bring before the attention of the Secretary of State for War a few, not complaints, but points which might be reformed. The great reform which has not been touched upon at all, but which, according to the soldier, is probably more needed than anything else, is in the Army Pay Department. I venture to say that out of the Army of 3,500,000 that we had on the Armistice Declaration, you would not find five men who knew how much they were entitled to. I speak as a company commander having experience, and I do not see how it is possible for a man to keep his pay book in order. He has to rely, when he comes home, on the paymaster's declaration of his worth. Naturally, this is causing a great deal of heart burning. I want to draw attention to the gratuity which has been given to soldiers who have served overseas. Before 1914 there was in the Royal Warrant an Order—I think it was No. 1117—which said that a man was entitled to £l gratuity for every year of service. In November, 1918, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that a special gratuity had been drawn up by the Army authorities. Nothing was said about cancelling the Order No. 1117 in the Royal Warrant. Consequently, the majority of men in the British Army naturally thought that they were entitled not only to the bounty announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in November, 1918, but also to the £l per year under the Royal Warrant.
When they try to get their gratuity they go to the Post Office and get an Army form which they send to the paymaster. They have to sign this blank form—this is another matter which needs reforming—before they can draw their gratuity. The paymaster sends the form back, and in every case a deduction is made. The men want to know why the deduction is made. Some of them have applied to the paymaster, and he says that the money was paid on their release from hospital, but the men know nothing about it. I have one of the gratuity forms here. The gratuity to this man was £22, less service gratuity already accorded £4. He, therefore, got £18. This man, having served four years, ought to have received his gratuity of £22, according to the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in November, 1918, and he is also entitled, in his opinion, to £1 per year of service under Order No. 1117 of the Royal Warrant, bringing the total up to £26, instead of £18. On inquiry, he is told that he drew £4 when he came out of hospital. He says, as all these men say, that that was part of his pay. We will take a man in the Lancashire Fusiliers living in Rochdale. He has to go to Preston on a half-fare voucher, costing him 3s., and probably he is kept there till half-past four in the afternoon and gets no satisfaction. It will give satisfaction to an enormous number of demobilised and discharged men if it could be explained why a man cannot have the gratuity promised in November, 1918, and also the £l per year gratuity under Order No. 1117 of the Royal Warrant, because the one certainly did not cancel the other.
My next point relates, to men who have been prisoners of war. A gratuity of £15 was offered on re-engagement to any man serving in France or on any other front who was time-expired. But many men were time-expired as prisoners of war. No doubt if they had been fighting they would have taken on again for the duration of the War, but they are not allowed any gratuity at all, although in some cases their time has been up two years. I would like, if possible, to have some ruling on that point.
I want to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to the hardship entailed upon men who joined the Colours in 1916. I will take as an example, the case of a man who has previously been with the Colours from 1914. He was a time-expired Territorial, and was discharged, or rather relegated to the W Reserves. Some of these men by 1916 had been recalled, but their term of service only counts from their last call to the Colours and not from the first. An. hon. Member, speaking on this side of the House, stated he had received no fewer than 120 applications for demobilisation. I can assure him he is fortunate, and that that is a very modest number compared with the number I am receiving every day. As a matter off fact my correspondence is becoming so voluminous and so weighty every morning that I am gradually becoming impressed with the idea that the whole British Expeditionary Force has been recruited from the constituency I represent. There are three classes of men whose cases I would urge the right hon. Gentleman to consider. There is the man who joined in 1914–15, and is now being kept in the Army of Occupation because he is pivotal to the Army of Occupation itself. There are other men, time-expired Territorials, who were recalled to the Colours in 1916 and are now refused demobilisation because their time only counts from their last call to the Colours. There are many cases I could bring to the notice of tine right hon. Gentleman of the only sons of widows, who have been struggling to keep their little businesses together. These sons are under thirty-seven. They attested long before they were called up, long before 1916, but owing to appeals to the local tribunals, and owing also to the nature of their business, they were not called up earlier. These widows axe now faced with ruin. They cannot keep the businesses going any longer. Their sons were running the businesses for them, and those sons are being refused demobilisation because they joined after 1916. Then there are a number of one-man businesses, which are not being kept going, but are standing still because there is nobody to run them. I know of cases of motor engineers in my own locality whose businesses are entirely dependent on the skill of the men. These men were attested long before 1916, but they were not called up until February of that year, and now they have been refused demobilisation. I want the right hon. Gentleman to give his attention to these cases of very severe hardship. We are told that 1,000 men are being recruited daily. If so, that represents 7,000 a week, and if these men are to form the Army of Occupation, surely it is only reasonable to ask for the demobilisation of men whose businesses are being practically ruined. Let them receive first consideration in the demobilisation scheme.
I want emphatically to endorse practically all that has been said from these benches with regard to de-moblisation and leave which should have been granted to soldiers before now, but which has not been granted. I refer especially to men serving in Egypt, Palestine, Salonika, Mesopotamia, and India. It is the private Member of Parliament, and especially the new Member of Parliament, who gets to know these things with greater directness and fuller knowledge of all the circumstances than any member of the Government or any Government official. The people who send us here think they have only to write to their Member of Parliament, who may have made very eloquent speeches in the course of his election campaign, to make sure of getting their friends out of the Army. I want to say that the Army is seething with discontent with regard to this question of demobilisation. It is no good blinking our eyes to the fact. Some of us get letters from soldiers direct, which have not passed through the Censor's hands. They tell us they dare not put "M.P." on the envelopes, because they would be censored. It is in that way we get a good deal of information, and I propose to mention a few typical cases of demobilisation hard- ships. I have interested myself in these cases and can vouch for the facts. I have here the case of an Englishman who, prior to the War, lived in Canada for several years, and was earning between £500 and £600 a year. He came over here in August, 1914,and joined an English regiment. He has been wounded twice, and has had typhoid fever and trench fever. He is an engineer, and his place in Canada is being kept open for him. But he cannot by any possible means get demobilised from the Army, while at the same time Canadian battalions which crossed over two years after he came are being sent back in a body, and men from them are probably taking up positions filled hitherto by Englishmen who are here doing their duty.
I have here another case illustrating the other side of the picture. For a long time I was trying in my capacity as a substitution officer, in an important part of Derbyshire, to get a certain man into the Army. He got in about twelve months ago. He had resorted to every possible device to avoid it. He has several sweet shops which could not indeed be of national importance. Eventually he got into a munitions works—he was friendly with the manager—where he did one or two hours' work a day or attended there, and so got his protection certificate. At last we got him out. He has plenty of money. He had not served in the Army ten months before he was able to get out. The ordinary "Tommy" says, "There is some palm oil and plenty of it; the more palm oil you have and the more freely you distribute it the better chance you have of getting out of the Army." Whether that is true or not, I do not know. We have heard this afternoon that quarter masters are very badly paid, but they are very well paid sometimes. I did not hear the whole of the speech of the Secretary of State for War, but I have been amazed to hear the comments on it that have been made from these benches. Apparently this is a War which is going to result in an armed camp in this country and in Europe. We heard no hope expressed of the future and nothing of that human instrument of salvation, the League of Nations. Surely the position is no worse now than it was some months ago. The foundation of that League has been laid, yet the right hon. Gentleman said not one word about any amelioration of the conditions in the near future.
Another question I want to ask is what is this country finding as its share in men and money? Probably we shall get that from the Estimates, but I would ask what number of men is America finding and how much money? America came in last and apparently is going out first, so far as the proportion of men is concerned. I live on the main line from London to Manchester. I saw some American troops come down a week before the Armistice was signed, and they went straight back again to Liverpool. This country, which has found more than its fair proportion in men and money, should have some consideration, especially when we find that America has been the dominating factor in the making of peace up to now. I am glad for some reasons that she has been, but I do not want to see a peace that requires a conscript Army to maintain it. That is not what we have been fighting for; that was not what the men who told lies about their age and said they were forty-six who went out and are now lying out on the battlefields, fought for. They fought for higher and better ideals than that. I would further ask what number of men are France, Italy, and Belgium finding? Are we to be told that we have to find 950,000 men to maintain this peace, which we were told is to end all war? As an uncompromising Radical, I protest against this sort of thing. I know that we shall have a mechanical majority voting for the passing of these Estimates, as they will vote later in the week for something else. I want to join my hon. Friends on these benches, as a man who lives in a cottage and who knows the homes of these people, in a protest against this, and also to warn the Government of the unrest it is going to create in the cottage homes of this country and in the Armies of this country when it is known that we are to maintain a conscript Army, and year after year vote these millions of money for the upkeep of an Army such as was contemplated in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman to-day.
Especially do I appeal for fairness in the matter of demobilisation. One hon. Member has suggested that there should be an officer attached to each regiment to give advice to the men in the matters of pay and pensions. I suggest that we might have a man, not an officer, to give advice of this sort. You will find in the ranks of the British Army men with more human sympathy than you will find in the commissioned ranks, and with just as much ability. Those are the men who should give advice to those at the bottom of the ladder. A man cannot approach an officer to-day. If the right hon. Gentleman had been here at this time, when you cannot even raise objections with regard to the attendance in the Committee, I would have appealed to him to make it possible for the private to approach his colonel in other ways than through the sergeant, the colour-sergeant, and all the other devious courses. The complaint when it reaches the colonel now is not worth much; it has been whittled down to such an extent that it never really comes before the colonel at all. I will ask the Government to consider whether there could not be found some fairer means of demobilisation and for releasing men such as the man I have mentioned, who happens to be my son-in-law; I am the grandfather of his children, and I am keeping them going till he can get back to his home in Canada. It is up to the Government to see that these men are released and are allowed back to the homes they have left in order to fight the battles of this country.
I desire to emphasise several points which have already been raised. I quite understand that we shall have an opportunity of discussing the question of Conscription on another day. All I want to say on that point at this time is to warn the Government not to take too big strides in this direction, but to go forward with making a solid League of Nations which will reduce armaments and both men and material. I would also emphasise what the hon. and gallant Gentleman for Sowerby (Major Barker) said with regard to the Army Pay Department. Every hon. and right hon. Gentleman in this House who has served in the Army knows that there is hardly one soldier who knows whether he can get all his pay, or how much he is entitled to. Anyone who has had anything to do with it knows the enormous difficulty, and also knows that men have been said to be in debt when they ought to be in credit. Since I came out of the Army I have had scores of letters from soldiers on this point. If there is a department of the War Office which requires thorough overhauling and special inspection by men particularly fitted for the work, it is the Army Pay Department. I hope the Secretary of State for War will take immediate steps to have this Department thoroughly overhauled, so that all questions affecting the pay of the men can be examined and analysed by men set apart for the purpose. We have heard that there is a great deal of discontent in the Army. There is discontent in the Army in France, in every theatre of war, and in the Army at home. What caused must of that discontent was the way the War Office interfered with the demobilisation scheme shortly before Christmas. When they introduced the contract system in the way they did they ought to have been perfectly sure that they had a scheme they could work. What happened? Men were being sent home on their Christmas leave. At that time of the year, between 15th December and 15th January, more men come home on leave than at any other period of the year, and they said to the men "When you get home on your leave to see your employer and get contract work and you need not come back again." Naturally, those who were home expected that employers would be bombarded by men home on leave wanting those contracts to give to the authorities with a view to being demobilised. A great many of them got thoroughly genuine promises and contracts of employment, but other men never had employment in August, 1914, and consequently could not find employers to give them that particular kind of work, and I know several cases where employers names were invented and put on. All this led to a system of chaos. The large numbers of men with different forms filled up that seemed to require investigation led to a confusion which could not be dealt with by the War Office and they had to abandon that. The Folkestone incident was one of the ugly things attached to it, and so were those incidents in Whitehall. What happened then? Men were demobilised with these contracts who, by the arrangement now made, ought to be serving and a lot more deserving cases which are compelled to serve now ought to have been back in their places, and that has given rise to a tremendous amount of discontent. I dare say hon. Members have received any amount of cases asking to be reviewed by the Demobilisation Department, and in the course of doing my best for some of these people I have come across some very hard cases. One day I received a note from the Demobilisation Committee that special cases would cease to be entertained. If that is what is meant by the new demobilisation warrant it is one of the wickedest things the Demobilisation Committee has ever done. They tell me they will only consider extreme compassionate cases. Compassionate cases after four and a half years of war ought to be considered whether they are extreme or not, and if you do not treat these compassionate cases with the attention they deserve you will always have discontent not only with the men but with the people at home. With regard to special cases one cannot ignore the fact that business men and businesses are apt to change by sickness, death and so on—the personnel of the business changes, some of these men, too, are wanted at home. Some homes change rapidly, not exactly in a compassionate way, and the men are wanted back again, and if these cases are not to be discussed you are not looking fully in the case the hardship that really exists in numerous cases, and which ought to be well attended to and dealt with.
When the Derby scheme came into operation to get men into the Army, tribunals and advisory committees were set up. I think I know as much about the work of the advisory committees as any hon. Member in the House. I have always felt that their work has never been appreciated as it ought to have been by the public in general and the War Office in particular. What is to prevent the War Office from submitting special cases to be released from the Army to the advisory committees, which dealt with them when they were sent into the Army? If the War Office is not sure that they are real hard cases, let them trust the men they trusted to get the men into the Army, and I believe that will ease the situation a great deal. I know to my regret that employers appealed for young men on grounds of indispensability and said their businesses could not possibly proceed without them. I have put the question to them many a time, "What are you going to do, and what are you going to say with regard to your older men when their turn comes, if you are saying all this about your younger men and the country is calling for younger men and not old men?" And so it has happened. Now when these men are coming back there is great hesitation on the part of employers to put these men back in their places, and they are pleading all sorts of excuses. I want these cases and others that crop up sent back to these advisory committees. They know the men, they know the local conditions, and they know what the employers said when the men went. They know all the circumstances, and if the War Office has any doubt with regard to dealing with the men, it is a most simple piece of machinery to deal with that class of case that might easily be put into practice, and it would help the War Office considerably. They would not seek to get men out of the Army on flimsy pretexts. They would have to have solid grounds. I know cases where low category men are retained though they are doing nothing. We hear a great deal about milk production. Round our way it is nearly all dairy farming. No doubt they would call them small holdings; they are anything from forty to eighty acres in extent. I have a case now where a man has two farms. He lost one boy and wants the other back. They have four acres to plough, and there is no one to do it but the man himself. He has a big stock of sheep, and it is absolutely impossible for the land to be ploughed and the farm to be looked after in any way unless he gets some assistance. They say, "No, this young man cannot come back although he is a low category man." I have another case of an old man suffering from hernia, and he has no one to plough his two and a half acres or to look after the cattle in a proper way. There are many things that a man suffering from hernia cannot do. These are cases which could very properly be given to the local advisory committees. If they felt that the need for the men on the farms was such that it took preference over the need for them in the Army, the War Office would be relieved of a very serious difficulty.
There has been an impression abroad that repatriated prisoners of war released from Germany after their two months' leave would be demobilised. I know it is not so, but there is that impression, and several of these men have overstayed their leave, expecting something to come every day in regard to their demobilisation. One man, to my personal knowledge, when he got back was very severely punished for having overstayed his leave. I intend raising this matter in another way, but I just mentioned the point to show what is actually taking place. There are three other men I know of who have overstayed their leave and have been asked to go back immediately, but if they can show that they have done so under this impression I think that they ought not to be punished. I should like the War Office to give special consideration to such cases, and they should make a bold attempt to entrust them to the local advisory committees who helped to get the men into the Army. By doing so, not only will the War Office lighten its own burden, but it will be able to give more satisfaction to the country than at present exists.
I had no intention of intervening in this Debate, but certain remarks which have been made in the evening by hon. Gentlemen on the opposite bench have compelled me to ask the House to allow me to take up its time for a very few moments. I refer to the remarks made by hon. Gentlemen opposite attacking the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War on account of the largeness of the Grants for the Armies of Occupation. We have heard, and for my own part I am sorry, the cry raised again in this House about an "armed camp"; we have heard about "returning to the old pre-war conditions." I agree with the right hon. Gentleman; I hope we shall never return to those pre-war conditions when we were all asleep, when we gambled with fire in a manner which nearly brought this country crumbling to the dust. And who was responsible for it? The Gentlemen who were responsible for it were Gentlemen like the right hon. Gentleman opposite. I am referring to the party who cried, "No Conscription," "No militarism," "An Army of indecent size," when we stood with an Army of 200,000 and knew that a great enemy was arming against us. It is the same people and the same cry, the same cry that makes one almost despair of one's country, when we have gone through all that we have because of this miserable folly; and then within six months we hear it raised again. Europe is "an armed camp returning to the old conditions "because the right hon. Gentleman has asked for an Army of sufficient size temporarily, and only temporarily, in order that we may secure to some reasonable degree the fruits of victory. I, Sir, am a Labour man. Hon. Gentlemen may laugh, but I am a Labour man returned by a Labour Constituency, and I voice Labour in this country. [An HON. MEMBER: "On a coupon!"] On this particular point I voice the opinion of this country.
We have spilled much blood, we have spilled much treasure, and now what do we want? We just want ordinary security. Is it reasonable to imagine for one-tenth part of a second that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War wants to maintain one single more man in the Army than is absolutely necessary? This Government is embarrassed, as almost no Government of this country has ever been before, for want of the sinews of war, for want of money. The hon. Gentleman laughs.
I say that it is nothing less than puerile to imagine that this Government, with the colossal task they have before them, short of money, embarrassed by their position, are looking to spend one penny more on an Army than is absolutely necessary for immediate needs. I hope my manner has not been provocative to hon. Gentlemen opposite—probably I allowed myself to be carried away—but I do appeal to them on this particular point. I sympathise with you, I am with you every time when you get up, and you do get up, and remind Gentlemen here of their debt of gratitude. I am with you. I will fight with you, vote for you, but I do plead with you that when the time comes that you should remind those men individually and severally of their duty to their country and their duty to the State; that you stand firm and tell your men, "This is your duty," however unpleasant it may be to them. The suggestion has been made that the League of Nations has been forgotten. Nothing of the kind. The Grant asked for by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War is a purely temporary Grant for a temporary Army. Only this week we have had the assurance of the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary in regard to the League of Nations, and I say that it is unreasonable of hon. Gentlemen opposite to assert, in any kind of way that the largeness of this Grant is in the nature of the abandonment of the idea of the League of Nations Several things have been said that I would like to reply to. A soldier cannot help jumping up on certain points. I have been warned in this House not to speak, that I have been speaking too often. I did not want to get up, but I felt compelled to do so. The hon. Gentleman opposite—no doubt he was carried away—in answer to my hon. Friend the representative of the dis- charged soldiers of this country, referred to the fact that a financial adviser was necessary to soldiers. It was suggested that what we wanted in the Army was a man, not one of those bloodthirsty, cruel oppressors—not one of those "officer fellows.'That kind of suggestion is utterly unworthy of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. If he knew anything about the Army he would know that the feeling between officers and men, whatever may be said in agitating circles, is on the highest possible plane.
I am sure that my hon. Friend will forgive me if I remind him that there is no necessity when stating his case to proceed to lecture everybody. He refers to those of us who have been privileged to be Members of previous Parliaments, and says that he never wants to go back to the old prewar conditions with our 200,000 soldiers.
I did not say that I did not want to go back to pre-war conditions with our 200,000 soldiers. I said I did not want to go back to the miserable day when we were afraid of words like "militarism" and neglected ordinary precautions.
I will leave the Committee to judge between us. I only wish to observe that if the hon. Gentleman, knew anything about the matter he would know that this miserable Army, of which he is talking, which incidentally proved itself to be the greatest Army that the world has ever known—unfortunately very few of them are left now—happened to be 600,000, and if he does not know it I had better remind him that the Gentlemen who are introducing the Estimates were the people responsible for saying that there was an Army sufficient for the defence of this country.
Therefore perhaps he had better direct his lectures to those who were responsible and not to some of us who had nothing to say to it. At all events, I am alarmed at the state of these Estimates, and this House of Commons ought to be alarmed because when you remember that this Vote follows our colossal expenditure after four years, and that the debt which the country owes at this moment is just ten times the pre-war debt, and that at the moment our rate of expenditure is only just something in the neighbourhood of £1,000,000 per day less than it was in November last, surely, of all places that ought to be interested in the expenditure, this Parliament is the place; because the burdens of the country must be borne, and sooner or later this House will have to realise that we cannot go on expending as we are expending to-day without financial disaster overtaking us. At all events, I want to say definitely that many of us who supported this War believe that the expenditure, however colossal, would be justified if we could succeed in making wars impossible; and, if we have not succeeded in doing that, then I am afraid that even our great victory will be barren of results. On Thursday I will deal with another phase of this question involving the power of Conscription. As it is a matter of legislation, it would be out of order to deal with it now, but I desire it to be understood clearly that on Thursday I shall deal with that aspect of the question, because it does involve every Member of this House in respect of the election pledges which he gave only a few months ago.
I want to ask the Secretary of State to pay some regard to the plea that is made for apprentices. Here are thousands of young men whose careers are practically cut off. The maximum amount that their fathers and mothers could afford has been spent in apprenticing them to some trade or another. At the call of the country those men have found themselves in the midst of their apprenticeship forced into the Army, and if, as is now foreshadowed they are the lads who are to be used for the Army of Occupation who are ultimately to be conscripted, then it means that not only the expenditure devoted to their apprenticeship is wasted, but also that their careers are irretrievably ruined. I would ask those sitting on the Treasury Bench to keep that clearly in mind. There is nothing more tragic than the sacrifices of poor parents to give a boy a better chance than they themselves had. It is within the knowledge of many Members on all sides of the House that there are fathers and mothers who deny themselves often the very necessities of life to give a real chance to their children. There are parents who save to scrape together a few pounds to be able to say that they gave their boy a trade and gave him a good start in life. What, I repeat, is more cruel is to find not only that expenditure wasted, but these very lads ruined, because let us keep clearly in mind that it is useless for these boys at twenty-two or twenty-three years of age to try to learn a trade.
I rose primarily to ask my right hon. Friend to take the Committee and the country into its confidence with regard to the disturbances in our Army. I know that it is a delicate question. No one knows it better than I, but I believe that to do what I ask would do much good, that it would allay all ill-feeling and prove how absurd are some of the wild, extravagant, silly rumours which we hear. If one were to take notice of the statements that are made with regard to the discipline of our Army one would be led to believe that it was utterly and absolutely demoralised. I do not believe anything of the kind. I know absolutely to the contrary. I know that only a few weeks ago at the request of the Government I myself visited the troops in France. I know exactly what the feeling there was and I know also the kind of statements that are made repeatedly in this country, not always with the best of intentions, but often made with the deliberate intention of inciting feeling and causing the very thing that is talked about. Instead, as I say, of these rumours being spread and, like a snowball, gathering size as they go along, it would be far better, on all these kinds of questions, for the Minister responsible to make a fair statement to the House or, at least, to scotch some of the silly, extravagant, and wild statements that have been made.
I would also urge two other questions. The first is that he should release as soon as possible the German prisoners in this country. As one of my hon. Friends pointed out earlier in the evening, when the British soldier returns from the War, demobilised and finding himself out of work, discovers in the same town in which he is looking for a job German prisoners engaged in his own trade or profession, that certainly aggravates him. He says, "Is this what I have been fighting for?" "Is this the kind of treatment I am to receive when I come back, to find not only that I am out of work, but that German prisoners are actually doing the work which I could do, and which the country ought to provide for me?" I hope my right hon. Friend will give effect to his promises, and force that question. There is just one other point I want to refer to, and that is the position in regard to Russia. I do not know what right hon. and hon. Gentlemen in this Committee receive from their constituencies, but my experience is that the people of this country, and especially those who have boys in the Army, are alarmed and amazed at these lads being sent to Russia. There is one short answer that they give, namely, that they have neither volunteered for Russia, neither were they conscripted for Russia. I would put it to the Committee that, whatever our view of the form of government in Russia may be—personally, I have very strong views; I believe that, bad as the old régime was, it is infinitely worse to-day, and I have never hesitated outside the House as well as inside to denounce any such system or constitution—all that does not relieve the House from the responsibility of saying that the internal affairs of a country must be determined by that country itself. The whole history of the world proves that you cannot govern a people from outside, and I believe that nothing would be more fatal in the present industrial situation than for it to go forth that, because we happen to disagree, and we do disagree, with the Russian Constitution, we are prepared to send or even to keep troops there for the purpose of interfering with what after all are the internal affairs of that particular country. I hope my right hon. Friend will take note of these points, which are made, not with a view to carping criticism, but rather with the idea of helping to solve the difficulties with which he has to contend. I disassociate myself entirely from the suggestion that it is not for us, in this Committee, to criticise expenditure. It is our duty to criticise expenditure and to point out waste, and that we cannot go on spending as we are to-day without risk. I again repeat, that an Estimate, which applies for ten times our pre-war expenditure, is one at least which fills me with alarm.
I did not intend to make a speech for the first time in this House at this early stage in the Session, but as a soldier I feel that there are one or two points which have been made in the Debate this evening which I should like to bring before you. The hon. Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. C. F. White) stated in the course of his speech that he hoped some new system would be established by which soldiers will be able to bring complaints in front of their commanding officers. I do not myself know what exactly he means by that statement, but there is one thing that I do know—I speak not only as one who has been myself all his life in the Army, but who has been in the past War a regimental adjutant—and that is, that, as the Army exists to-day, if a soldier has a genuine complaint, he can always bring it in front of his commanding officer. He is entitled by right to go in front of his company commander at any time, and if the complaint, is a genuine one and the company commander cannot deal with it, he is entitled to go up to his commanding officer. I do not think myself that you could improve on the present system, and I am perfectly convinced that if you gave the soldier the ordinary right to go straight to his commanding officer instead of going through his company officer, it would not only be damaging to discipline, but would result very often in men taking in front of their C.O. frivolous complaints or complaints which could be quite well dealt with by the company officer. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Captain A. Smith) made some remarks with regard to the pay in the Army. He said, and I quite agree with him from very bitter experience, that it is very often the case that the soldier is unable to find out what the state of his account is or whether he is in credit or in debt. That does not only not stop there. A great deal of trouble and a great deal of unrest exists at present because the big regimental pay offices are continually making trivial and unnecessary mistakes with regard to the state of the men's accounts and the payment of separation allowances to their dependants. Probably many hon. Members will get letters, as I do, about the state of their constituents' separation allowances, and any of them who have been in the Army know quite well that a great many of these complaints are perfectly genuine and are very well grounded. I do ask the Government seriously to consider whether something cannot be done to try and improve the general state of the regimental pay offices. I know they are overworked and that they have a great deal to do, but I honestly believe that if something were done to try and improve them, either by enlarging their staff or by improving the personnel of their staff, that a great many of the trivial mistakes which occur at present and which cause a lot of unnecessary trouble and dissatisfaction would disappear altogether. The hon. and gallant Member for Bury St. Edmunds, earlier in the course of the Debate to-day, made a statement with regard to gratuities paid to Regular officers. I have been a Regular officer, though I am not one at the present moment. Although I certainly agree with him with regard to the rate which is paid to these officers, I do think you cannot possibly pay a Regular officer the same rate of gratuity as is being paid to the New Army officer, the Special Reserve officer, and the Territorial officer. That is so not only because the Regular officer remains in the Army afterwards, but for a much more important reason, namely, that the New Army officer, or the Auxiliary officer, has probably had to spend a great deal more money during this War, to maintain himself, or his family, or his house, or because he has suffered from loss of business connection, than has the Regular officer, who makes it his profession to be a soldier. That point must be remembered, and although it is quite obvious that an officer, whose profession is to fight, should get some benefit if there is a war of this kind, yet he has not made, except probably in very rare cases, the same financial sacrifice as the other officer has.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby made a speech just now to which I listened with every respect. I entirely agree with what he said with regard to the question of the recent trouble which has occurred in the Army, and the advantage which would accrue if that trouble was made more public. I am perfectly convinced that the more publicity that is given to such things, the less likelihood is there of unrest arising from them, and, not only that, but that if publicity were given to the various causes which led to that unrest it would prove absolutely that there is nothing wrong at all with the Army at the core. The right hon. Gentleman also referred to the question of Bolshevism in Russia. I am afraid, with all due respect, I do not agree with him on that subject. I do not think that the situation in Russia, call it if you like the present Bolshevik Government, is only what you can call an internal situation. I think that the Bolshevist trouble in Russia is more than an internal situation. It is really a contagious disease, and because it is so, and because it is liable to spread, I think you cannot look upon it in the same light as if it were simply some internal question with which we had no concern. The Secretary of State, in his speech to-day, said that it was absolutely necessary, if we were going to have a proper Army in the future, that we should have officers trained in a different way from that in which they had ever been trained before. If that is going to be done, I hope and ask him to consider the advisability of paying officers according to their intelligence. Under the old system which existed before the War it made very little difference to the Regular officer whether he worked hard at his profession or whether he did not. If he was not lucky enough to get into the Staff College he got no financial benefit of any kind. He might qualify in different courses and in languages, but, except for some very small point, he gained absolutely nothing by that, and although it was urged over and over again that Regular officers should be graded according to the real qualifications which they possessed, nothing was ever done. Not only that, but the Staff College entrance examination before the War was largely in subjects which had nothing to do with military questions at all, and unless an officer had a special aptitude, particularly in mathematics, it was very often impossible for him to get in. Yet we have learned in the War that some of the ablest Staff officers in the Army, in the field, and at home, were men who had never been through a Staff College, and who, I guarantee in a great many cases, would never have got in. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will consider that question on the new scale of pay and new system of organisation, and the advisability of trying to give officers some encouragement to do better in their profession.
I listened with pleasure and interest to the speech of the Secretary of State, and I think it was one which will appeal with compelling force to the thinking members of our community. It is a statement which I understand is based upon the events for the moment, and the events likely to happen in the immediate future, and it is not related very much to the real future policy of this country. That statement does not, to my mind, negative all the possibilities which we may rightly look forward to as arising out of the proposed League of Nations. But I think we would be most unwise if we built for the moment on the institution of that League. If the policy of the country in the future is to be based on the League of Nations we must know what the League of Nations means and what it is going to achieve in the end which we all have in view, namely, the removal, as far as possible, of war from this world. I am afraid there are very few of us who look upon this or anything else as an absolute specific against war. But that does not, however, make the League of Nations something which is not very desirable if it goes in any large degree at all in the direction of creating a peaceful world. The right hon. Gentleman's statement is one based on events which the Government and this House are bound to notice. Reference has been made to the position in Russia, and the statement has been made to-night and on many other occasions, that the people of this country are very disturbed about our policy in Russia. I venture to say, that the people would not be anyway not near so much disturbed if they were not so frequently misled on the subject and so constantly told that the British policy is to interfere in the internal affairs of Russia. It has constantly been made perfectly clear by members of the Government, and I think in such form that their statements should have been accepted, that our intervention in Russia, in the first instance, was purely a military one in connection with our war against Germany, and remains more or less in that form to-day owing to climatic circumstances. But even passing away from the origin of it, I agree with the hon. Member who has just spoken, that some of the evils that exist in Russia to-day do not entirely come "within the definition of internal affairs, but are matters which gravely affect the interests of the whole world. Those countries which desire some degree of peace in their own affairs are entitled to put some sort of ring fence about the evil which in all know to exist in that country.
I desire to refer to one or two questions of particular interest to myself. I associate myself entirely with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby in all his remarks concerning apprentices. I readily accept the general principle adopted by the Government as regards demobilisation. I think it is unarguable that those who have served longest and suffered most are the ones who should receive the first consideration in demo- bilisation. If it is possible to modify that rather rigid rule I should like to see a modification in the direction of apprentices. I think we are entitled to look at this matter, not only from the point of view of the individual concerned, but from the point of view of the interests of this country as a great manufacturing and industrious country. The apprentices of the moment are all individuals of great potential value to this country, and it is a really serious matter that their apprenticeship should be interrupted for a moment longer than is absolutely necessary if we are to maintain our industrial life at a high degree of efficiency. I know the Government are making an offer to help them on their return in the shape of making up their pay to what they would have obtained if they had continued their apprenticeship, but I do not know that that adequately meets the position, and I venture to have some amount of concern as to how these young men will be received back in eighteen months' or two years' time, as the case may be, and whether their affairs will be entirely simple from the trade union point of view. I only hope there will be no trouble from that direction. So far as I know, from quarters where I am interested, the employers to whom the apprentices were apprenticed are very anxious to have them back and to re-establish them in their course of learning a trade, and I hope that if any modification is possible the seriousness and the gravity of this question will not be lost sight of and that the Government will give it their earnest attention.
I would like to refer also to the lot of those of our soldiers who are in India and have been there for three or four years, quite a number of whom have in addition been on a special expedition to German East Africa and have gone through a very heavy campaign there. They have returned to India in ill-health, have been restored to health somewhat there, and have again taken up their military duties, and it is a very pathetic thing that these men, who have been away from their homes for four years or more, should read and hear all about demobilisation and to all practical purposes be debarred from the rights to which on paper they are eligible. I do not know if the return of 20,000 of those who are in ill-health represents the extreme possibility from a physical point of view in the way of bringing these men back to their homes, and if the possibility arises I hope the Govern- ment will not content themselves with that figure, but will make every effort possible to extend the numbers of these men who can be brought back. It was said to-day by the right hon. Gentleman that to meet the case of those remaining in India of necessity they would be entitled to receive the extra pay as from 1st May. I fail to understand why, if these men are to remain out there for quite a considerable amount of time, they should not be receiving the extra pay from the 1st of February, just the same as the men who are in the Army of Occupation. There is this to be said, so far as those who are to be in the Army of Occupation are concerned, that they are in the main men who have not borne the brunt of the fighting in this War. I am not at all opposed to them receiving better pay, but I cannot understand why there should be a distinction as between them and the men in India who are entitled to be demobilised, but by force of circumstances are kept out in that difficult climate.
No; I said from the distant stations. The men who have not been warned for demobilisation in India, and who are not going to be brought home before the hot weather, are receiving their pay as from 1st February, because they are going to be kept there obviously for a good many months till the hot weather is over. With regard to the men in the Middle East, Salonika, and so forth, we are bringing them home, but it may be that some will be left lagging behind owing to transport difficulties. Any of these who are there on 1st May will receive pay from the 1st of May, because they will still be coming home and very soon will be in civil life again; but the men in India will receive pay from the 1st February.
I am pleased to have that statement from the right hon. Gentleman, which clears up a misapprehension in my mind, and I am pleased to know that these men who are being retained in India by circumstances which cannot be otherwise dealt with are to be on an equal footing with the members of the Armies of Occupation. Just a final word on the position of hon. Members in relation to questions of demobilisation. One hon. Member to-day, a member of the Labour party, seemed to suggest that because he was a member of that party he had a great many letters and communications from constituents. I am not a member of the Labour party, but I represent labour, although not labour only, and I, in common with all hon. Members of this House, have been somewhat flooded with correspondence, and, as a new Member, I have found it just a little bit difficult to know what to do with some of this correspondence and to whom to apply in connection with it. We have heard a great deal to-day about soldiers' friends at courts-martial, and I am not so sure there should not be a Member's friend in this House, or more than one, who might help very much in the special load which is falling upon individual Members in connection with this very troublesome matter of demobilisation, which, naturally enough, affects every household throughout the community. Quite a measure of relief could be given if in the War Office they could make it possible to ensure a very quick reply to letters which are sent on this subject, and not simply a little scrap of paper acknowledging one's letter, a scrap of paper which one is astounded ever gets through the post office at all. If in the first place there could be quite a quick inquiry into these cases and a fairly speedy reply of a sympathetic and explanatory nature, then, although it might not be of a favourable nature, hon. Members could pass it on, and it would serve a considerable purpose in allaying a good deal of feeling which exists throughout the country. It would allay, at any rate, one idea which I do not suppose is absolutely founded on fact, but which is pretty well common, that of all the Government Departments the War Office does seem to be somewhat soulless.
That is how it appears to the people outside whose thoughts are wrapped up in their son or husband, as the case may be, and that can be alleviated, I think, if the answer can be given more speedily than it is given, and can be fully explanatory, with just a little touch of sympathy in addition. If we can only ease the pathway to demobilisation, with the full knowledge that we all must have that the Government have got an extraordinary difficult task—and in speaking to-night on this matter, I am not speaking from a political point of view in the slightest; I sympathise with them in the task as much as I do with the man or woman in the household who is waiting for the return of the soldier—but if the Government can help in the matter, it is the duty of the Member to help in allaying feelings of neglect, and trying to bring in the minds of all people that we have gone through a very trying period, that we have still a trying period before us in passing from war to peace, and that we have to maintain just a little bit of upper lip for a little further time, and things will come all right.
I should like to say a very few words on the subject of these Estimates. I suppose I have probably got more experience of the Army and of war, and of the conditions in France, than most hon. Members in this House at the present moment, and I should like to record my opinion on a few points. First of all, as regards demobilisation, I should like to say that, in my opinion, we have got a good scheme, and for goodness sake do not interfere with it. If we interfere with it in principle, we are playing with fire. During the last few weeks we have had a certain amount of trouble in the Army due to interference from some cause or other, whether from the Press or what cause I do not know, but it is due to interference with that demobilisation scheme. The condition of the Army in France is sound, good, excellent, and I say, leave this demobilisation scheme alone, and the conditions will continue to be sound and good. There is just one word in regard to demobilisation as to the question of compassionate cases, and I do think that, perhaps, these might be hastened up a bit. I do not know what the mechanism is for dealing with them, but certainly in my Constituency, and I think probably in everybody's consti- tuency, the question of compassionate cases is rather a trying one, and requires to be dealt with perhaps a little more quickly. The next point I have to make is that I was very glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman mention that he was considering the formation of a body to consider war from the point of view of the Army, Navy, and Air Force combined. In my opinion, that is a step in the right direction. It is an extraordinary situation, to my way of thinking, that these three great Services of defence should be manipulated separately and in water tight compartments. It is just as bad as if one were making out a scheme of attack with Infantry, Artillery, and Air Force separately. I hope and trust the right hon. Gentleman has in view possibly the grouping of these three Services in a defence group under himself at a future period.
My third point is the Russian situation. Now we have got to take facts as they are. We have got a body of British troops in North Russia at the present moment, and I consider it is essential that we should support those troops there, and not let them die. If we had not got them there, or if it were a question for consideration whether we should send them there or not, that is another matter. But we have got them there, and they have got to be looked after and not let down. Unfortunately, our past history teems with cases where a Government has put troops—I do not care whether it is in Somaliland or anywhere else—and has let them down. This is an occasion on which we should not do so. My last point is about our future policy. I have heard a good deal from Members on the Labour Benches about Conscription, and I believe myself that I am entirely in sympathy with them. My point of view is this: In my short life I have spent between seven and eight years in war, and I can honestly assure hon. Members that it is a most disgusting, barbarous and preposterous state of affairs, and the one thing that has prompted me to leave the Army and get into this House at my age, is to do my very best to prevent any war in the future. But as to the means of doing that, it is very difficult at the moment to say. Whether it is by some compulsory form of training, or whether it is by the abolition of Conscription, I keep an entirely open mind, and I consider that what the right hon. Gentleman said as regards not dis- cussing this policy, but leaving it open for the next four or five months, is the only right policy to pursue.
I suppose we are reaching the time in the discussion when my right hon. Friend opposite will desire to reply to the very many questions which have been put to him to-day from every side of the House, and, in common with the average Member of this House, I should desire to congratulate my right hon. Friend on the way in which, within a short space of time, he covered a very large subject, because, after all, there are concealed in the Estimates which we are discussing to-day very large potential policies for this country of which, I am perfectly certain, my right hon. Friend opposite is not unaware. Probably it is fair to say that my right hon. Friend's speech was divided into two portions—that which dealt with policy, and that which dealt with details. On the question of details concerning the Army, I am glad, as a Member who has not served, but who has tried to serve in another capacity, to have listened—and, I think, listened with very great pleasure—to the number of maiden speeches which have been made in the House by men who actually know. We have heard a great many details which actually concern men in the Army, and I am sure my right hon. Friend will desire to say something more than he said in his opening speech in regard to those details. It would be superfluous on my part if I went into the question of leave, which has been raised by many Members. Suffice it to say that I think all of us could produce, on oath, if asked to do so, Letters from men from all the fronts. Even, I think, I could produce them personally from men who have not had leave for four years. These may be extraordinary cases. I have, however, as a matter of fact, one or two in my pocket which I put there in case I should be challenged in the course of this Debate, and these concern men who have not had leave from one or other of the fronts inside a period of four years. What the House wants to get done by the War Office, whatever other arrangements are made, is to ensure that these men who have been so long without leave shall, somehow or other, in the ingenuity my right hon. Friend is equal to when the opportunity can be provided, somehow or other see that these men not only get leave, tout that they get long leave, and that they get it immediately.
My right hon. Friend opposite says they will come home and be demobilised. I hope when they come home that they will be demobilised. I should like to warn him that repatriated prisoners have come home and under an Army Council Instruction were supposed to be demobilised. My right hon. Friend has taken them back into the Army of Occupation in spite of that instruction. Very many of these men suffered in the German camps. I do not say for a moment that my right hon. Friend will repeat that mistake.
My right hon. Friend asks, "Was it a mistake?" On that I will put this point to him: After all, the Army Council did issue an instruction in which they said that repatriated prisoners of war, some of them men who had undergone the most terrible experiences, were at the end of their furlough of two months, to secure demobilisation. As a matter of fact, my right hon. Friend knows that a large number of these men are being taken back into the Army of Occupation. That may or may not be right as a matter of policy. I am only stating it now as a matter of fact. I am suggesting that these men on all our fronts, and particularly on our Eastern fronts, where they have been over three or four years without leave, ought to have been treated differently. My right hon. Friend says that these men are to be brought back and demobilised. If so, for Heaven's sake, do not bring them back unless you are going to demobilise them! Do not let Members of this House have numbers of letters sent to them, as some of us have, pointing these things out, and having them in turn to point out to this House. Incidentally, I should say to the hon. Member below the Gangway who spoke last that he is probably suffering, as other Members of the House have suffered during the whole course of the War, from a very large post-bag. I hope my right hon. Friend opposite will take note of the fact that he might institute at the War Office a Member's friend to whom we could send a great number of our communications. I am not complaining, because, as a mailer of fact, my right hon. Friend and all associated with him at the War Office have been extraordinarily courteous and diligent in the replies to individual requests. I put it that he could protect himself and Members of the House if at the War Office he set up a Bureau of Information, because, after all, what our constituents are concerned about is more the knowledge that they can be put into contact with the channels through which they can get things done; that would please them better than that we should do these things for them. Hundreds of our constituents would be perfectly pleased and satisfied, I am certain, to get that information. I am very much obliged to my hon. Friend below the Gangway for reminding us of something which might relieve a great number of us from the difficulties in which we are placed.
The second question is one which I should like to impress upon my right hon. Friend. I dare say every Member of the House has had this experience in the course of the last four years: that every soldier believes that his paymaster is dishonest. Every soldier believes that in some way or other his paymaster is doing him but of some of his pay. I want to say this to the right hon. Gentleman, that as a matter of fact my experience with the Pay Office and its administration is that there is no better administrative department anywhere in any Government Department. It is supervised by Sir John Carter. I do not know any officer in any Department from whom I have been able to get more prompt and more accurate replies inside a minimum of time than from Sir John Carter, who presides over the Pay Office at the War Office. I want to pay that quite frankly, because I am very much in his debt. In the last Session of Parliament my right hon. Friend, who, unfortunately, has been detained from being here owing to illness—I am speaking of the Financial Secretary to the War Office—who has always displayed enormous courtesy to every Member of this House—promised in one of these Debates that soldiers should have a quarterly statement of account. I do not know whether that has ever been done. So far as I have discovered it has never been done although promised. If the average serving soldier—and this, of course, also applies to the Navy, though we are not entitled to discuss that to-day—received a statement of account which he himself could check at shorter intervals of time, it would avoid all the difficulties that occur when the man is ultimately demobilised, and when he gets from the Pay Office only a very short and very truncated statement of account.
There is another question in connection with that which I should like to mention to my right hon. Friend who may take it that, although it seems a very small point, it is a very large point when it comes to the individual man. My right hon. Friend has agreed to give the serving soldier, on demobilisation, a war service gratuity of £5 for the first year of service with the Colours, and 10s. for every subsequent month, if the man has been abroad, and 5s. if he has not been abroad. I think if you will put that against the advantage of the man who has stayed at home making increased wages out of the man who has made it possible for the fellow at home to make those wages, you will see that the latter is not being well served. I think the sum is too small. Perhaps, however, this is not the time to ask that it shall be made larger. In any case why should the War Office adopt the parsimonious principle of deducting from that the service gratuity which under No. 1117, Pay Warrant, 1914, every serving soldier is entitled to in the ordinary way of service? Supposing there had been no war at all. Every soldier would have got £1 for every year of service. The War Office gratuity has been paid to the man because he has been engaged in this War. Very well, take the service of the average man. I suppose it will have been about two years, probably not more. That means £2 each man. Why make any hesitation, any nonsense, about a sum of that kind? Why not pay the fellow over the whole of the money? Let him feel that the State is dealing generously with him. Do not let him feel that every time he gets anything with the right hand of the State that the State is taking back so much with the left hand! After all, what is the use of us talking in this House, or on the platform, or writing in the Press, or speaking in the pulpit, about the man who has saved his country, and then taking back £1 a year? Really, it is ridiculous. I am perfectly certain that the imagination with which my right hon. Friend is richly endowed, when it sees the opportunity—and it will be when this question is gone into—and if he were at the Treasury, which he is not, will not hesitate for one moment to deal with this matter justly. These are the kind of points my right hon. Friend, I am sure, wants to reply to. There is one point which I think has been overlooked by the House as well as by my right hon. Friend. I have been reading about the increased rates of pay for the Army of Occupation, and I want to ask what right my right hon. Friend has to advertise, as he has done in the newspapers for the last few weeks, that the rates of pay for the Army of Occupation shall be as announced without the consent of this House. This House has never agreed to any increase in the pay of the soldier. When I sat on the opposite benches, and my right hon. Friend was in the Government, I pressed day in and day out to increase the pay of the soldiers and to increase the separation allowance as well, and we were continually denied what we asked for. Here we are discussing to-day a large Estimate of money which I have no objection to vote, and although I differ on many subjects from a great many hon. Members I believe in my own country, right or wrong.
After all, we want to see where we are going, and it is the fact that the pay of the soldier in the Army of Occupation has been advertised by my right hon. Friend without the consent and approval of this House. [An HON. MEMBER: "Do you object to it?"] No; I do not, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will go as far as I want him to go. I have no objection to this rate of pay being paid to the Army of Occupation so long as we approve of it. I think the pay of the Army of Occupation should be equivalent to the pay which the average man should get if engaged in civil industry in this country at the present rate of wages. I want to ask a further question. If the rate of pay is going to be increased, what about the separation allowance? Does the increased pay to the Army of Occupation carry the same rate of separation allowance as in the case of the old Army?
Then it does not affect the separation allowance. If it is necessary, for the purpose of the Army of Occupation, to double the pay of the soldier, why is it not necessary to double the separation allowance? I know it will cost a lot of money, but if the right hon. Gentleman has come to the conclusion that the soldier was paid 100 per cent. less than he ought to be paid, he ought to come to the conclusion that the wives and families are entitled to an increased allowance.
That may be so, but my right hon. Friend separates the wife from the husband by thousands of miles, and the point is whether what he gives to the husband can be handed over to the wife. I am not pressing the point; I am only trying to point out the kind of anomalies that may arise. Let me put another question. Can my right hon. Friend say that as well as the separation allowance remaining as it is the increased pay in the Army of Occupation will not interfere with the Civil Liabilities grant? There is not so ready an answer from my right hon. Friend on that point, though it is an extraordinarily important point.
I am very much obliged to my right hon. Friend. I am perfectly certain that the men to be retained will be glad to know that in addition to having their pay increased by 100 per cent. they are to have the ordinary separation allowance and the Civil Liabilities grant. I want the Committee to take note of that, because I venture to say that the average Member of this House will receive letters inside three months pointing out that the Civil Liabilities Committee or the local war pensions committee are depriving the soldiers' wives of the grant because of the increase in pay. I want to have it on the records of this House that we have the Minister responsible for this Vote saying that in spite of the increased pay the wife and family are to have the separation allowance and the wife the Civil Liabilities grant. I do not know what my right hon. Friend is going to say about the question how far the House is entitled to determine the matter of the increased pay. That may have been an oversight—I do not know—but after all my right hon. Friend is a House of Commons man, and I think he will agree that an increase in the pay of a soldier should not have been advertised as an actual fact before this Committee had had an opportunity of saying whether it approved of it or not. I want now to turn to a question of policy. If there was one question which I personally was asked oftener than any other in my election contest, it was whether I was or was not in favour of sending more men to Russia. I gave the answer which I repeat now, that I was not in favour of a single British soldier's life being spent in Russia. We have had from my right hon. Friend one or two questions of policy. He has dealt with the question of policy in Russia, and with the question of policy with regard to the effectiveness of the German peace terms. I should like to know exactly where we are in that matter. My right hon. Friend said—I do not doubt at all that it was a perfectly fair and honest statement of the situation—that he was not prepared this afternoon to say what was our policy, but he was prepared to tell the House that in three separate parts of Russia we had got commitments. The more frank and fair Ministers are in stating their case to this country, the less likely are they to give rise to prejudice or criticism. My right hon. Friend said so many men were locked up in the Northern part of Russia—that is, I take it, on the Murman Coast—and that the reason for not taking them away was that the port of Archangel was ice-bound, and it was impossible, in consequence, to get them away. That may be a sufficient reason. The Prime Minister has stated, on the other hand, that, as far as the Government is concerned, no further troops are to be sent to Russia. I should like to ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War whether his statement in fact coincides with the policy announced by the Prime Minister, and, whether or not these men can be taken away from Russia, no other men are to be sent? I quite agree with the criticism by an hon. Friend opposite in which he pointed out that we had been in the habit, as an Empire, of leaving men in situations and not supporting them. If we have men in Siberia, or in the Caucasus, who are Britishers, we should by all means do everything we can to save those men, and I would not raise a little finger to prevent a policy of that kind. British lives are too precious to be spent in enterprises of that kind, and the British Empire is not worth its salt if it cannot stand by the people whom it has put in such a position and who are there through no fault of their own.
But I think we are entitled to know something more about the policy of the Government with regard to Russia. Can we understand from the Front Bench that nothing that is happening need bring us into conflict with Russia? The last thing this House or the country desires is war with Russia. We do not want, after exhausting the resources of this country in one war, to become involved in another. I am perfectly willing, if we have troops on the Murman coast, or in the Caucasus, or in Siberia, to stand by any expedition to fetch them away. But I am radically opposed to doing anything which would involve us as a result in a conflict with Russia. The people of this country do not want such a conflict. The soldiers do not want it. It will be remembered that recently the soldiers who walked into Downing Street in order to air their grievances sang, "We don't want to go to Russia!"
My right hon. Friend says they have never been asked to. I quite agree. But what we want to know from this side of the House is, will they ever be asked? [An HON. MEMBER: "How can you tell?"] My point is this. When the Minister for War comes down to the House and asks for great sums of money which are to be spent on armaments and men with regard to whatever may happen, this House ought to know what the policy of the Government is. Will my right hon. Friend tell us what that policy is? Is it a policy of non-interference in Russia? Is it to withdraw from Russia every British soldier when it can be safely done? If he tells us that is the policy, then it will allay the great feeling of unrest which obtains in this country. We are entitled to know a fact of that kind.
There is only one other point, which I would put quite briefly. I should like to know from the right hon. Gentleman, when he replies, whether he can tell us what really is the process of the new Army which he is creating? I understand, as he said just now, that we are demobilising what we may call—I do not know whether the adjective is the right one or not—the Kitchener Armies as fast as we can demobilise them; that we are keeping in being what is known popularly as the Army of Occupation, and that for the Army of Occupation we have created certain rates of pay. But my right hon. Friend spoke of another Army, and it is about that Army I want to speak for a couple of minutes. He spoke of what he called the Voluntary Army—the Army for which he was getting 1,000 recruits a day. What about the pay and conditions of that Army? I suppose that we have to look forward to a reversion to pre war days, when, whatever may come out of the Paris Conference and the League of Nations, it will certainly be necessary to keep some kind of Army in this country. I suppose that none of us are so enthusiastic and so optimistic as to believe that certainly inside our lifetime there will not be some kind of Regular Army in this country. Can my right hon. Friend tell us, in connection with the schemes with which he is entrusted and which he is carrying through for the Government, where that Army comes in? Is it this Voluntary Army for which he it recruiting 1,000 a day? Do they get the rates of pay of the Army of Occupation? Do they get the separation allowance? Do they get the Civil Liabilities Grant? Does my right hon. Friend—I do not press him too hard upon the point because it would be unfair, but I think it is right to ask him—looking ahead at what will be necessary to get us out of our trouble, to get the peace terms declared and effectively carried out, and looking forward to the time of the new order, contemplate a really new Army in view of the experience we have had with this Citizen Army which has done so extraordinarily well? What are the terms of pay for them, and are any of the men he is recruiting for the Voluntary Army intended for the large or small Regular Army it will be required to maintain after the War? That is the kind of questions to which the Committee would like some sort of reply.
I would congratulate my right hon. Friend on his having put into one hour's time a great scheme of this kind. It is not every Minister who can spend £500,000,000 inside an hour, as my right hon. Friend did this afternoon. I remember my right hon. Friend as one of the pundits of economy on the same side of the House with which I used to be associated, and I rather wondered how far this extravagance is likely to go. Whatever may be our criticisms, there is one common desire in the Committee at the present time, that is, until we get the question of peace settled, we are not prepared to put undue troubles in the way of the Government. We are prepared to find methods of accommodation. I say quite frankly that I am quite ready and so is my right hon. Friend beside me (Sir D. Maclean) to see this thing properly through, but I think it is only fair to the Committee, to us, and to the right hon. Gentleman—who has made many speeches on economy from the very Box from which I am now talking, and any speeches on economy on this very question—that he should indicate what our policy may be in a very few weeks or months. I have put a few of these points to my right hon. Friend, and if he can, as I hope he will, satisfy the Committee on these points, everybody will be satisfied that to-day, with all the excellent speeches we have had from so many Service Members who have addressed us for the first time, we shall have spent a profitable Parliamentary day.
My hon. Friend has said that in a speech of an hour I have spent nearly £500,000,000. He would have been just as accurate and much more complimentary had he said that within the space of an hour we had succeeded in saving nearly £500,000,000, because, vast as is the expenditure, it is practically a half of the expenditure of the year that has just closed. When I hear it said that the expenditure of the country is only down £1,000,000 a day as compared with war-time experience, the reduction in Army Estimates alone for this year, compared with last, affords a possibility of diminishing expenditure by more than £1,000,000 a day from that source only. Therefore, as far as verbal replies may be made in these grave matters, I do not think we are lacking, so far as the hon. Gentleman's comments are concerned. But I should like to emphasise that these Estimates represent the brute force of events. They do not represent Ministers and officials deciding what they are going to spend. They represent masses of men in motion in all parts of the world, streaming homewards by every road. They represent hundreds of thousands of men in hospitals, progressing slowly through convalescence to their cure. They represent forces which we have to keep on the Rhine, in the Middles East, and so forth, to discharge responsibilities which are left in our hands, and from which we cannot retire. The Estimates are dictated by these facts. That is why I said events govern the Estimates of this year. It is only as you get out of the War area, out of this terrible period through which we have been passing, and of which we are not yet clear, that you will be able to come back to the days when Ministers, wrangling round the Cabinet Table and the House of Commons, gathered in Committee on these benches, and say how much we are going to spend. At present we are governed by events.
My hon. Friend asked a number of questions about our affairs, and with his usual knowledge of detail, and with the attention to small practical matters that affect the life of the soldier which has won him just credit in the War, he asked for information on several special points. He spoke, first of all, about the men who have not had leave for four years. What are we going to do for them? We are going to bring them home, and release them into civil life at once. As fast as the trains can run or the steamers can swim through the water all the men who have been with the Colours before 1st January, 1916, will be brought home to this country, and demobilised once and for all. Can one say more? The only conceivable exceptions to this are men who are cut off by physical circumstances over which one cannot exercise control, and there are a certain number of men who are entitled to demobilisation in the ordinary course of events who are kept, whether they are entitled to demobilisation or not, until the others have been demobilised. These men will be released in large numbers as soon as the rush of demobilisation is over.
When I point out that we have already demobilised 1,800,000 men, that of those who are not included in the retained classes there are only 500,000 left, and that the demobilisation is proceeding at a rate of 25,000 a day and upwards, my hon. Friend will see that those exceptional cases will very soon become few and far between. My hon. Friend also spoke of the repatriated prisoners of war. It was a difficult decision. I asked first of all whether I was free to take the decision to make eligible men continue serving in the Armies of Occu- pation if they were included in the retained classes. I asked, when I examined this matter, am I free to take that decision, or is it compromised by the issue of this Form Z, or something of that kind to which my hon. Friend, with his usual assiduity, has drawn attention. As regards that, I was informed "You are free," and basing myself on that—that we were not committed in law or detail—I had no difficulty whatever in pronouncing on the actual merits and justice of the subject. I fully admit the sufferings of our prisoners. If those sufferings have incapacitated these prisoners for all military service, they are absolutely free forthwith. But if they are physically fit I do not really see why you should say that a man who has been a prisoner has a claim to be released from service superior to that of the man who passed through unheard-of perils for the last eighteen months or two years.
The gallantry of our Armies has enabled us to treat our prisoners with the utmost honour, because it is known wherever our men fought they have never surrendered while there was a chance of carrying on the struggle. No one has as yet suggested that prisoners of war should be treated with more privilege, more advantage or more honour than men who, facing the enemy's fire, have fought down his resistance by their attack. I think that is a sound decision in principle, and it has been accepted toy the Army and the country as a sound principle. My hon. Friend then passed on to Parliamentary grounds in which he also is a great authority. As usual, he chose an advantage of superior elevation commanding all round him. And now for the first time we see him behind the regular entrenchments of the Parliamentary front. My hon. Friend said, "What right have we to announce the increase of pay advertised in the papers to this or that class of soldiers or civilians without the consent of Parliament?" That is a matter which lies within the discretion of the Executive Government, and within the ambit of the votes of Members of this House which it is for Parliament to confirm.
It is open now to the Committee and to my hon. Friend to reduce those grants of pay, and to take the necessary action in the Division Lobby as well as in the Debating Chamber, which would have the effect, if his view prevailed, of depriving the soldiers of this increased rate, and incidentally of depriving the House of the services of the Ministers who now constitute His Majesty's Government. But it would be quite impossible for the Executive Government not to have the power of making changes like that from time to time, subject to the subsequent consent of the House of Commons. The Ministerial right to promote a Money Bill in this House, imposing a charge upon the public, is one of the old-established distinctions in this country; and, looking back on the hard-fought periods of our peace-time quarrels, I remember well bringing in proposals in this House to increase the pay of the Navy which were acted upon before the House had given its assent. Therefore I do not consider that we have in the slightest degree trespassed upon the rights and privileges of the House in taking the very necessary steps that had to be taken in a very considerable emergency, at a time when Parliament was not sitting, and, in any case, we are asking the Committee to endorse and ratify the procedure which we have adopted.
My hon. Friend asked me about the rates of pay for the Voluntary Army. I am very anxious not to do anything in a hurry if I can avoid it, because a great many things have got to be done from day to day with considerable rapidity. There are others as to which we should benefit enormously if we could have a little longer time to consider them. But, as I was saying to-day, there is the four-fold structure of the British Army at present. There are the Grand Army, which is being demobilised, as we know, and the Armies of Occupation which are filling in an interim period, probably to be measured by months, but which may possibly extend into more than a year, but which at any rate is only for a temporary period. Those are now on the compulsory basis. In the third degree there is the Volunteer Army which we are now creating, an emergency Volunteer Army of men who have fought in the War and have come forward and re-engaged, whom we are hastily forming into units corresponding with the old Regular units which are to be planted in the garrisons, fortresses, and provinces of the British Empire. And beyond all these are the new young boys who come up each year, the ordinarly recruiting fountain of the British Army, attracted by the military profession or for some other reason, and come forward without particular regard to pay or anything else to enlist as soldiers.
I am not going to offer the same terms to an apprentice as to a trained man. These men, who have fought in the War, if they will come back and give us their services and form the Volunteer Army for one, two, three, or four years will get straight away the pay which is paid to the Army of the Rhine and the Army of the Middle East. But these young men who come in have to be trained. They have to have two years' good food put into them. They increase enormously under the influence of good treatment and good food. Thereby hangs a tale of wider application than would be appropriate in an Army Debate. After two years of that they then become professional soldiers. In the third year they will receive the pay which we propose to accord freely and at once to the volunteers for the war-time Regular Army who come forward to serve in the Regular professional Army. That, at any rate, will give the Committee an indication of the kind of treatment we propose for this subject.
I am speaking here in Committee of Supply, and I am not detailing the actual facts and figures of an Army Order or a Royal Warrant. I guard myself against that. I am only giving an idea and impression to the House that, whereas these trained men, veterans of the great War, enlist straight away on good terms, we shall undoubtedly propose a different class of remuneration for the first, second and third year of a man's service before he reaches the full-term average of a veteran war-time soldier. That is, after all, only what prevails in so many trades and professions. As a matter of fact, those who are joining now have largely joined on the old pre-war rates, which I quite agree are too low for the case of men joining for the first time.
That is really what I wanted to know. I knew that a certain number of men were joining on the old pre-war rates of 1s. a day, and I wanted to know whether the Government, apart altogether from the temporary arrangements necessary for concluding peace, are reforming and building up the Regular Army on the basis of the increased pay?
No, Sir. We are not even looking forward to the building of the ground floor of the Army on that basis. We contemplate a new rate of pay for the new recruit; a further increase when he becomes an efficient soldier, and a rise to the levels of the Army of Occupation pay after the third year of service. But we propose to allow the men who have had experience of this great War to enter at once, as if they had had the three years' service, because they are of great value to us. That is the broad principle on which I propose to approach this subject, and quote soon, in ten days or a fortnight, I will have a Royal Warrant Order defining with accuracy what the pay of these different classes will be.
Yes. The man who has been demobilised at present can volunteer to join the Regular Volunteer Army. He can do that. Later in the year, when we have got enough men together to enable us to release those war worn territorials in India and elsewhere, when we have formed these units and put them out, we will open the doors to the Army of the Rhine for service in the Armies of Occupation, which can be taken on for one year at a time, and in every case the maximum rate we are now paying is the rate which will rule for all trained soldiers, veteran war-time troops. Do I make that plain? [An HON. MEMBER: "Yes."] Another topic has been raised in the Debate this afternoon. Let me say, first of all, that it has been a very instructive Debate to me, because I have heard so many different points of view put forward, and every speech without exception has been made from real knowledge and from real reflection, and with a desire to make a contribution towards the general knowledge and information of the Committee. One of the most happy suggestions which has been made, and endorsed by my hon. Friends, which came from the hon. Member for Swindon—that there should be, what he called, a "Members' friend." At this time, when there are so many matters of detail, affecting the War Office, I think it would be very desirable to institute some special bureau of inquiry for the assistance of Members of the House. I propose that my hon. Friend the Member for the Bridgeton Division (Colonel A. M. Scott) would, on Mondays and on Thursdays, which are the days when Army ques- tions come late, and consequently when there is no opportunity really of questioning the War Office, should be in my room behind the Chair for an hour or so after Questions to assist in obtaining information for Members of the House, to save them putting questions on the Paper and enable them to answer the different letters which they receive; and also that an officer from the War Office, connected with the Departments concerned is in attendance at the same time to assist in providing the information. I will see also to what extent this, purely House of Commons facility, for it is purely a House of Commons facility, can be extended on other days to the organisation in the War Office. I know what the difficulties of Members must be when all those letters arrive, and they wish to deal with these extremely complicated cases. Anything that can be done to facilitate the discharge of their public duties by putting them into prompt and intimate relations with the public Departments concerned shall certainly receive my constant attention. I was going to say that the question of courts-martial has been touched on in the Debate by several Members—first of all by my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney (Mr. Bottomley), then by the Member for Cumberland (Major C. Lowther), in a brief and most admirable maiden intervention in this House, and, as far as I can judge, a purely debating effort in which every word was strictly to the point; the hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester, and also by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Antrim (Major O'Neill), which answered nearly all the legal conundrums proposed by his other colleagues in the House. There is no doubt whatever that the court-martial is considered among soldiers in the Army to be a fair tribunal, and it is very remarkable that it should be so, because in nearly every case, or, in the overwhelming majority, there is a conviction by the court-martial. Yet, on the whole, in peace and in war, the court-martial has commended itself to the general feeling of the Army that it is a fair tribunal.
I quite agree that the system is capable of great improvement, and no one for a moment would deny that the harsh hazards of war which are taking place every day under the fire of the enemy are, to some extent, reproduced in every form on the position of the organisation behind the firing line. Let us see if we can apply effectively the experience of this War, the knowledge which has been gained, and the feelings which have been expressed by the great mass of outsiders who have come into the Army, and let us see if we can apply all this new volume of knowledge and opinion to make a definite refinement in, and improvement of, our court-martial procedure. I am quite ready to set up an inquiry, a Committee of Inquiry, containing Members of this House interested in the matter, some legal authorities of indisputable eminence, and some military men, who, after all, must have their point of view represented, to see in what way the courts-martial can be carried to a greater pitch of equity and tolerance with greater securities for the prisoners, without hampering that rough and ready justice which is a vital concomitant of the operations of life and death in the field. I will in the course of the next few days announce the composition of a Committee dealing with that matter.
I was asked by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Rutland and Stamford (Lt.-Col. Willoughby) about the order of battle of the Army on the Rhine. I will consult the General Staff as to the details which can be published of that. I should not think myself there would be very much that would be secret in it, as they are all living in the midst of the Germans, and you never know what they tell their friends on the other side of the river what is going on. I should think it is a fairly safe statement to make. In broad general outlines there would be ten divisions, with all the necessary ancillary services, and these divisions are organised on a basis of, I think, three battalions to the brigade, with a pioneer battalion to each division in addition. There is, in additon, a Cavalry force, and forces of tanks, artillery, special heavy artillery, machine guns, etc.
It was considered, but these were, I think, the formations which were decided upon. But it is intended to maintain all the battalions at full strength. Nothing is more uneconomic than a battalion at half or two-thirds strength.
I must say a word about the hon. Member who spoke on the iniquity of our keeping German prisoners, taking the bread out of skilled British workers' mouths, when we have so many hundreds of thousands of persons drawing unemployment benefit. There is no intention to allow such a system to continue. But I was astonished to hear that at Chepstow there is a considerable number of German prisoners who are employed on work which is certainly not of the most unskilled or primitive character. The proper place for all these German prisoners is in France and Flanders clearing up the mess, clearing up some of the damage their friends have done, until such time as they are sent back to their own country, and any that remain over here must only be left here because they are really of use here and are not taking the bread out of anybody else's mouth. If they are performing agricultural duties, which for the moment there is no one else to take on, it would be well to leave them undisturbed, but our policy is to send them all back to France and Flanders and let them clear up the ruin and the mess there, pending the time when they are handed over to their own people. Directions will be given to make sure that that policy is enforced with as much rapidity as the ordinary labours of transport and administration permit. My hon. Friend the Member for Marylebone (Sir S. Scott) mentioned quartermasters, and the arguments which he has adduced—and this applies also to what other hon. Members have said—willbe carefully studied in the War Office. I will see that everything said in this Debate is referred to any Department of the War Office which is affected, and I will make a point myself of seeing what they have to say about it. That, and a general expression of sympathy with the case of the quartermaster, is all he would expect me to say on this occasion.
There are two large questions which were referred to by the right hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) and also by the right hon. Gentleman who leads the Liberal Opposition in this House—Russia and the League of Nations. My hon. Friend who has just sat down admitted that I have been frank and fair in the facts I have adduced about Russia. Let me point out to the Committee that I have confined myself strictly to statements of fact. I thought it was necessary that the Committee should be informed and that the country should be informed, as far as it is possible to inform them, of the facts. If I have not gone into more details and said exactly how many men, it has been because I do not think it would be a good thing to say exactly how many men. I have explained how they came there—the good and just reasons which led them there—I have explained why they are staying there and what is the nature of the commitments, entanglements, compromising or semi-compromising engagements, which are attached to the maintenance of their position or the withdrawal from that position.
I have confined myself entirely to facts, and I have not attempted in the slightest degree to deal with policy, because this terrific question cannot be settled in its aspects of policy by the War Office. It cannot be settled by the Cabinet. It can only be settled by the united decision of the heads of the great victorious nations who are gathered together in Paris. It can only be settled by the League of the victorious nations what is to be done, and I shall certainly deprecate any policy—any independent or individual policy—which was undertaken by any particular member of that body. But, in so far as the ordinary military operations are concerned, I think it is perfectly clear that we intend to see that our men are not let down. But that is a purely military matter. It does not touch the political aspect at any point. We must look at it exclusively as a military matter, which does not affect political policy at any point or in any degree. I say that the policy must be settled in Paris by the League of victorious nations, and if that League be unable at its very outset to arrive at a policy which will enable the great Russian people to take their part in the general development of the world; if it is not able to save all these small countries which have grown up, which have sprung into existence on the Western fringe of Russia and on the Eastern borders of Germany, which are so valuable and vital a bulwark between two great powers; if the League of Nations were not able to make its will respected in these matters, to bring these great branches of the human family into the general orbit of their councils, I think that the League of Nations would start upon its career—the good fortune of which is so precious to us all—with a considerable handicap and disadvantage imposed upon it.
The share is not unequal. I could not say it is exactly equal, but it is not unequal. All are init to a certain extent, and all are in it with extreme reluctance. That is the fact. But I say the idea that you can sign a peace and go off to celebrate it with rejoicings, and leave the greater part of Europe and Asia weltering in chaos and anarchy, is one of the most absurd conceptions. His Majesty's Government are not only lip-servers of the League of Nations idea; they have rendered notable service in advancing that idea. The fine conception of President Wilson has been shaped, thrown into actual detail, and implemented by the genius of British brains in the British Empire. We to-day yield to no man and to no nation in our desire to bring together the nations of Christendom and the great nations of the civilised world into a bond of brotherhood, into a unity which shall safeguard our future, and so enable the toiling masses to gain, at any rate, some decent means for the expansion of their lives and hopes. But the League of Nation is on its trial. From the very outset it has got to face a real problem. There is no use in having a League of Nations, or those connected with it, who will only speak platitudes and theories. The League of Nations has got to face facts—the cruel and terrible facts with which we are confronted—and then will be the time, when those facts are faced, to consider to what extent the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force Estimates can be swept away, or reduced. When we have seen the real difficulties overcome, then will be the time, and then will be the moment—and not till then—to deprive ourselves of those real securities which, thank God, we have always wielded in the past, and which we will not, without sufficient substitute, deprive ourselves of in the future.
I am sorry to rise at this late moment, but there is one question that has not been touched upon by any of the debaters—that of the apprentices, and it is of such vital importance that I must raise it—of appentices, and of those young men whose education has been interfered with. [HON. MEMBERS: "Agreed!"] Well, if it is inconvenient, or out of order, I will raise the question again later. It affects many thousands of homes, and in connection with it, I assure the right hon. Gentleman a league of parents has been formed in the North of England, and if he does not give the matter attention there is trouble ahead for him.