(1) If the competent authority is of opinion that, as respects any men to whom this Section applies or any class of such men, they cannot consistently with the public interest be released from actual service at the time when in pursuance of the terms of their service they would be entitled to be discharged, any such man may be retained and his service may be prolonged for such further period, not extending beyond the thirtieth day of April, nineteen hundred and twenty, as the competent authority may order, but at the expiration of that period, or at any earlier date at which the competent authority considers that he can be released, he shall be discharged with all convenient speed, but in no case later than three months after the thirtieth day of April, nineteen hundred and twenty
(2) The men to whom this Section applies are men (not being soldiers of the Regular Forces serving on a pre-war attestation) who at the termination of the present War are in actual service in the Naval, Military, or Air Forces of His Majesty, and whose term of actual service expires at the termination of the present War or before the said thirtieth day of April.
On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday I handed in an Amendment to limit the extension of this Bill to three months after the ratification of peace. I hoped that that would have been on the Order Paper this morning. I want to ask you if there is any chance of that Amendment being taken, and, if not, whether I shall be in order in going into the matter on the Amendment which you have just called?
I am sorry the notice of the hon. Member does not appear upon the Paper. I saw it yesterday, but I am afraid that I do not know what became of it; I had so many other papers to deal with. I did hand some of these papers to the Clerks at the Table, but it would appear that the Amendment of the hon. Member has disappeared from amongst the others. If, however, on the Amendment that the "thirtieth day of April, nineteen hundred and twenty," be omitted the House decides that these words shall stand part of the Bill, it will not be open for the hon. Member to move his Amendment, but he can give reasons why they should not stand part.
I beg to move, in Sub-section (1), to leave out the words
thirtieth day of April, nineteen hundred twenty,
and to insert thereof the words
thirty-first day of December, nineteen hundred and nineteen.
By this measure we are asked to continue some measure of compulsory service in peace time. That, according to all the traditions and principles of our country, is a very great sacrifice. It may be said that this country has always been against compulsion for military service and most strongly of all against compulsion for military service in foreign countries. However, the Government come and tell us that some extension of compulsory service is necessary. For my own part, on the Second Reading of this Bill I voted with the Government on that matter. I am quite aware that I did very differently from most of my hon. Friends on that matter, and that it was not a popular thing to do, so far as certain parts of the country are concerned. At the same time I do not regret it, because I was convinced, and I am convinced, that some measure of extension of compulsory military service in all the circumstances, of the present time is necessary in the interests of the country. Therefore, I would, if necessary, give that vote again when we are told, and I believe it to be true, that the alternative to some measure of extension was that at the date of the ratification of peace this country would have no Army, or such a very small one as would scarcely count, and would not meet our necessities.
On the other hand, it was suggested that the Army could be got together by voluntary means. I think it would be quite clear that if the ratification of peace takes place within a reasonable time, something as quickly as we hope, it is not possible to get together by voluntary means between now and the date of ratification a voluntary Army sufficient for the needs and the safety of the country. If that is so, then it follows we must meanwhile have some degree of compulsion, because, after all, the safety of the country, and of those who have been our Allies in this War, must be the first consideration. We have, therefore, to make some sacrifice of our feelings in this matter. The sacrifice is, I admit, a great one in itself, but I submit it is a very small one compared with the sacrifices which we have made in this War, and, after all, it is a sacrifice made in the same cause, namely, to save the liberties of the world from military aggression.
On the other hand, I feel very strongly that though we must make some sacrifice we must not extend that sacrifice a single day further than is necessary. We are the guardians of the civil liberties of our people, and we should be false to our trust if we extended the compulsory military service one day further than is necessary for the safety of the country. The object of my Amendment is to ask the House to say that it is not necessary at present to give the Government compulsory powers beyond the end of this year—that is, the 31st of December, 1919. I expressly emphasise the words "at present," because, if it is found according to the circumstances that may develop hereafter that it is necessary to extend compulsory service, it is always competent for the Government to come and ask for an extension of the time. What we have to consider now is the period of time that will make us perfectly safe for the present. I think it is incumbent upon the Government, not only as a matter of principle, but in their own interests and the interests of all who love orderly government in this country, to give to the country full proof that they are determined to end compulsion as soon as possible and to raise the Army necessary by voluntary means as soon as possible.
It is quite certain that a large proportion of our people do not at present believe that the Government are earnestly and honestly determined upon that course. I do not say that I myself doubt their good faith in the matter, but I do feel very strongly that they have not up to the present time taken the steps they ought to have taken in order to achieve the great end of a voluntary Army sufficient for our needs. It may be said that the past is past and mistakes have been made, and that we have still to look to the future and see that the country is safe. My Amendment, if accepted, would leave nine months to get the voluntary Army together, and this might be achieved in nine months by offering proper terms to the men we desire to see enlisted. We have been told that even at the present time the Government are getting troops at the rate of 1,000 per day. We were told by the Minister of War that already he has between 100,000 and 130,000 Regular troops of the old standing Army. He told us on Monday that the new recruits which had been enlisted on a purely voluntary basis for two, three or five years came at that time to something over 70,000 men. Those two together give us between 170,000 and 200,000 men, and we are adding to them at the rate of 1,000 per day. Even if compulsion came to an end at this moment we should have that Army, and every day we are told adds more than 1,000 men to it.
I submit if we make ourselves safe for nine months or more ahead that is enough for the present, and we ought to ask the Government before the expiration of that time to come again to Parliament if it be found necessary to ask for further powers. The Minister for War told us the other day that one of his difficulties was that the men who are re-enlisting now require a holiday of two or three months, or one month before they take up military work again. I submit that the period of nine months gives an ample margin for those men to have a holiday and still to get the troops needed. The Minister for War said he could not send troops through the Red Sea in the hot weather in order to replace the men who would be liberated in India. I recognise that to the full, and that is why I have chosen the 31st December in my Amendment. That leaves the months of November and December in which the necessary troops can be sent to India through the Red Sea. Everybody knows in November and December it is perfectly possible to send white troops with safety through the Red Sea. Therefore I say again that I think from every point of view, if we extend the powers of compulsion to the end of this year, we shall be giving the Government all that is practically necessary and all that the safety of the country demands. In peace time, and even when we dealt with an Army raised on the old voluntary system, it was never the custom of this House to give the Government power for more than twelve months. That was in pre-war times, and surely, if we are fixing a period for compulsion, we ought to be more careful than we have been in fixing the period of an Army raised by purely voluntary means, so far as we can do it with safety to the country, as I believe we can. But if, after all, the Government find that when this year is coming near to an end they are unable to get the necessary troops they can come to this House, and this House will judge them, and will, I think, judge them strictly, and will ask what steps they have taken, and if they have really been unable, or if it is that they have not exerted themselves sufficiently for that end. Whatever they may judge that the Government have done or not done, I am sure that the House will not leave the country without the necessary troops; but if they judge that the Government have not done what they ought to have done, then, I think, they will hold the Government very seriously to account. On that point I would like to quote the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for War, and I feel that I have a right to point to the fact that he does not do me the honour or show the House the consideration to attend while this very important matter is being considered. I think it is not a matter that the House is likely to forget. The right hon. Gentleman, speaking on Thursday on another matter, said it was not necessary to use any camouflage or to put before the House facts which would not be used in the intimacy of the Cabinet by the War Office. He said, "Let us not be afraid of the House of Commons or the country, but bluntly or plainly put the facts before them and trust to their good consideration of our difficulties. That is what I say with regard to coming again for powers if it is necessary." "I do not," he went on, "believe it will be necessary. I believe that in six or seven months' time you will find that the increase in the volunteers has been so good, and the decrease in our liabilities so satisfactory, that we shall be able to get through without it"—get through, he meant, without camouflage. I wish to get through without an extension of this compulsion which is so odious to the people of this country. The Government have before them still a double task. For four years we have waged war to maintain the liberties of the world, and now we have the task of safely garnering in the results of that War. I do ask the Government not to let their zeal in that work of garnering in the results make them forget the other side of the great work we have to do. We have also to preserve the domestic liberties of our people. After all, it was the domestic liberties of our people for which, more than anything, we made this great War and submitted to all the sacrifices that it entailed.
I beg to second the Amendment.
In the first place, I welcome it because it enables the Government to make clear to the House what their actual intentions are. If the Bill goes on to the 30th of April next year, that means that they are enabled next Session further to extend this compulsory service. If, on the other hand, the Bill terminates on the date suggested by my hon. Friend, it means that the Government would not be able next Session to extend it, but would have this year to deal with it in a temporary measure. I am all for making it quite clear that this is not the forerunner of a series of annual Conscription Bills. We have the Army Act which comes on regularly every year, and which has become a part of the ordinary routine of Parliamentary life, and we do not want this Conscription measure to fall into, the same category. We do not want to have Conscription passed through this House at the tail-end of every Session under the Expiring Laws Continuance Act. I welcome the Amendment also because, if it is passed, it will be passed as a definite protest against continued Imperialistic wars and expeditions abroad. If it is passed it will be impossible for the Government to undertake a large policy of war in the East; it will be impossible to commit the country, not only to fighting a revolution, but to conscripting Englishmen to fight that revolution. For these two reasons it is very urgent that we should register in a Division our determination that Conscription shall not remain a hardy annual, and that we shall not have the whole country committed to wild schemes of Imperialistic expansion or aggression against the Governments of Russia or Hungary, or whatever other country they choose. We did not enter this War to protect France or Italy from the revolutions in the Far East. What we did enter the War to destroy was Prussian Junkerism. That is done, and if we pass this Bill as it stands at present we enable the Government to have a free hand to carry on this War interminably against various countries in the East.
One other thing makes me anxious to pass this Amendment. To be efficient in war now is not so much a matter of men as of machines. It is infinitely more important to have your armoured cars, your aeroplanes, your tanks, and all the various mechanism of warfare perfect, and far less important than it was before this epoch-making struggle to have any regular cadres of divisions, brigades, and battalions of Infantry. The whole character of warfare has changed. It has become a question, not of getting a number of men but of getting a number of machines. With this Bill, as amended, you would have the opportunity of getting all the machines you want for war, but you would not have the opportunity of getting all the men required to fill up these vast Infantry cadres that the War Office think that they require. I put it to the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite (Captain Guest) as something which really he ought to urge on the War Office. We do not require an Army of the old type which would provide a large amount of opportunities for the employment of officers and large staffs. What we do want is a technical staff capable not only of working the tanks, the aeroplanes, the motor cars, and the motor transports, but capable of producing these if need be. I submit that if this Amendment is carried the War Office would still be able to make all the preparations for the mechanism of war and that it will be a distinct hint to them that it is not so essential to lay emphasis on the human point or on the Infantry and Cavalry branch of the Army. I beg to second the Amendment.
I am sure the solitary occupant of the Treasury Bench (Captain Guest) will not regard it as any reflection on his courtesy or ability if I join the protest made from the opposite bench at the absence of the War Secretary upon an occasion of this kind. This is in very truth a matter of first-class importance to the life—
My reference to my hon. Friend's courtesy and ability certainly would include the not very strenuous task of noting the observations that are made. It is a far bigger question than that I am referring to. I was saying, in the first place, that this is a measure of first-class importance to the lives, and in some cases to the whole future, of the men who are bring detained in the Army. It is also a question of respect to the House of Commons. The House of Commons of late, it is said, has not advanced in public estimation. One of the reasons, perhaps, is that it seems to be the fashion to hold more meetings upstairs, attended by more Members than meet here; but if Ministers themselves set the fashion of absenting themselves when measures of this kind are under discussion, I am afraid the House of Commons will not further advance in the public estimation. I support this Amendment to limit the time of service after the expiration of the Military Service Act, although I frankly confess I would have preferred the Amendment which I put on the Paper on the Committee stage, but which unfortunately was never reached owing to the fact that the previous Amendment ruled it out of order.
The point I lay most stress on, and it is included in both Amendments, is the limitation of time and the demonstration of purpose and intent which is indicated by that limitation. I do not share the view that it is right and proper to call this Bill in the ordinary sense of the word "Conscription" or an extension of the Military Service Act. It does not touch the rank and file of humanity of between certain ages. It does not renew the Military Service Act or call up any men who are demobilised, but it does extend the service of a limited few, and in that respect, while not calling it names, I do call attention to the fact that it is a hardship to a selected few. I am perfectly certain that the country, and the House as a reflection of the country, ought to do all it can to limit that hardship, provided that the public safety and the national security is not endangered. Far from joining in the general agitation against the Bill I firmly believe that a Bill of this kind with proper limitations may be the only way of securing the abolition of Conscription in the future in this country and other countries. I firmly believe that some measure to ensure that the Army does not become a chaotic crowd of persons with the right of demobilisation on the ratification of peace—I feel that this Bill may be absolutely necessary to prevent that state of affairs, but I do strongly urge that whilst securing those things the Government should not go beyond the limits of necessity, and unduly try the patience of those not only in the Army but their friends and relatives in the country, who have shown great patience and who are still determined to secure the object for which we went to war, and who are being tried very hardly by this demonstration of a continuance of time which in their opinion, and in the opinion of many others in this House, is far too long to secure the very things which the Government say they want to get.
May I say that, so far from thinking that this Bill in its limited form is un- necessary, I firmly believe, if we had never had Conscription or compulsory military service, and if we had enlisted our Armies upon an entirely voluntary basis, that we should still to-day have to have a Bill something of this character to extend the service a short time after the ratification of peace so as not to throw away the fruits of victory. Therefore, to raise an agitation about it now is not to deal with the necessities of the matter. That, however, does not weaken my argument that this Bill, in its present form, does do two serious things. In the first place, it does raise, and it has raised, certain suspicions in the minds of people that the intentions of the Government in the introduction of this Bill are not absolutely-pure from the point of view of the immediate position, but that they have some ulterior motive with regard to Conscription in the future. Personally, I do not think that, but I would like the Government to make it quite clear to the House and the country that they are innocent in this respect. Another thing that the Bill undoubtedly does is to extend and exaggerate and increase the grievances which many men have with regard to the extension of their service. To continue the service of men until 30th April next year—some men who are in single businesses, some men who are still apprentices and at the very outset of their career—and to tell them that they have practically little hope of being released until 30th April, and to tell their friends the same, seems to me, from the point of view of the Government, and from the point of view of the contentment of the Army, unnecessary and unwise.
I am very glad to see the War Secretary here, because I was just going to refer to him, and I had great hesitation in doing so in his absence. The speeches of the right hon. Gentleman, not only his speech with regard to this Bill, but the speech which he made on the introduction of the Army Estimates, have also caused some suspicion in the minds of Members of this House, and, I think, of the people in the country. It was a most enjoyable speech to listen to, it was full of rich and resounding phrases; but one could not get away from the thought that the imagination of the right hon. Gentleman is easily fired by adventure, and occasionally bursts into flame when the breezes of military ardour are about. His picture of the future, and his picture of the extension of service even with regard to the next year, did certainly increase certain fears and suspicions in the minds of some people, and I would very strongly urge the right hon. Gentleman seriously to consider whether it is worth while persisting in this extension to 30th April, and whether he could not secure all that he wants by another means, namely, by limiting the time either to the date suggested in the Amendment or to a period of three or four months, or whatever period is reasonable, after the ratification of peace. I like that idea myself, because it connects the end of service with the ratification of peace. But whichever method he takes, so long as he limits the time, I am certain that he will be acting wisely in the interests of this country and the Army itself. The public are not satisfied at the present time with regard to the process of demobilisation, and I do not think that they are satisfied with his speech the other day with reference to the needs for keeping men in the Army. Roughly speaking, he said that it was impossible to bring men from Russia because it was too cold, and that it was impossible to bring men from India because it was too hot. But by 30th December it will be warm enough in Russia and cold enough in India.
If the right hon. Gentleman will realise that there is in the minds of people in the country very grave and serious suspicion regarding anything that they think is an undue prolongation of service, and if he will look into it from the point of view of what is good for the country and the Army, I think he will see that the proper thing for him to do is to accept some such suggestion as this. It would do a great deal to remove suspicions and grievances, and if at the expiration of three or four months he could come down to the House and show clearly that to secure the fruits of victory which we all desire to get, and the securities and guarantees which we all are determined to have within reasonable limits already laid down—not some new securities and guarantees extending over some twenty-five years—we require an extension of time, then he could with sound and reasonable argument suggest to the House that the time should be extended, and I am perfectly certain that the House and country would support him in that contention. He could then make out a sound case and carry the judgment of the House with him. But to suggest the date now is not only to fill certain minds with great suspicion, but to create a suggestion of grievance which is not a good thing for the country or the Army itself. I therefore sincerely, and with all the force that I can command, without any feeling of antagonism to the Bill as a whole, but with a desire to support it in order to enable the country to secure the end for which we have fought, ask him to accept this Amendment, which I believe would go a long way to meet the feeling of the House.
I do not think that any of the speakers who have already addressed the House have in the least exaggerated the importance of this Bill, and I am perfectly certain that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War, least of all, would think that anyone was exaggerating its importance. I am perfectly sure that when he is absent it is only because of the many multifarious duties which one knows that Ministers have to carry out at the present time. I agree with the hon. Member who said that this is probably not a popular Bill, but I think that very fact ought to make us very cautious what we say about it. It is really on unpopular Bills, but what we believe to be necessary Bills, that we require a little courage. It is very easy when you get an unpopular Bill, for the purpose of trying to make yourself popular in the country or in the constituencies, to go with the crowd, but it is not always a wise thing for the country. In reality, in a case of this kind, where it is a question as to whether we are in a position to reap the fullest fruits of the victory that we have obtained, we ought, I think, to trust the Government, and, above all, the Minister who is accountable for getting us the whole of the fruits of our victory. We certainly ought either to trust him, or not have him in office at all. He has all the strings in his hand, he has all the knowledge and all the advice of his experts, and for us to disagree with him and to set ourselves up to be judges how far it is necessary to keep forces sufficiently complete for all the exigencies that may arise, would be a very serious thing. Unpopularity nobody wants to incur. I have never heard it charged against the light hon. Gentleman that he tried to incur unpopularity. I have sometimes heard it said that he played too much to the gallery. If that is so, and if there is any foundation for it—I am not expressing my own view upon it—I do not imagine that now at this moment he wants to incur any unnecessary unpopularity. Therefore, I am perfectly certain that it is only with the deepest sense of responsibility that the Secretary of State for War is resisting an Amendment of this kind. He knows very well—and let us recognise it—that if he gives way now, and if hereafter disaster occurs, the very people who are crying out that this Bill is unpopular will say that it was his duty to have stood against the unpopularity, that he was the man who knew, and that he was the man who was responsible. I believe that some day there will be revelations in this House of the amount of blood and treasure that was lost Because before the War men gave way in the face of unpopularity. I could tell a few myself, and I suppose some day we shall be in a position to do so. The country has had a lesson not to give way to the cries of the moment, which very often are raised in ignorance, because everybody cannot know the whole of the facts. My hon. Friend who preceded me said that there ought to be a fixed date. There is a fixed date.
A few months earlier. Really, if we are to choose which of these responsible authorities we are to follow as to the exact date, I certainly will follow the Secretary of State for War. May I point out that so far from the Bill indicating, as somebody suggested, that there is an ulterior motive to carry on Conscription or compulsory service beyond what is necessary, there is, if I have read it rightly, a Section in this Bill providing that, if possible, it shall be an earlier date than the 30th April? [HON. MEMBEBS: "No!"] Yes; certainly—
his service may be prolonged for such further period, not extending beyond the 30th April, 1920, as the competent authority may order; but at the expiration of that period, or at any earlier date at which the competent authority considers that he can be released, he shall be discharged with all convenient speed.
If we cannot leave it to the competent authority, I do not know whom we are to
trust. I say that is an indication on the face of the Bill that no man will be detained one day longer than the exigencies of the Service require, and I think for any man under existing circumstances to oppose such an enactment as that would be to take upon himself a very serious responsibility.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down has referred to the fact that the question of an earlier date is contemplated in this Bill. I would have been very glad if he had read on to the end of that paragraph, because he would then have found inserted in the paragraph the one and only Amendment that has been accepted on this Bill since the day that it was introduced into this House. I do not remember in my short seven years in this House any Bill in which only one Amendment has been accepted up to this point. The one Amendment that has been accepted here is one in which my right hon. Friend bound himself down to three months after the appointed time under this Bill.
The reason is obvious. The Military Service Bill extends the period to the ratification of peace, and certainly my right hon. Friend will never for one moment agree to abrogate this Act until peace is ratified. That leaves only a few months till the end of this year. I venture to suggest my right hon. Friend is only making a debating point when he hints to this House that there is the faintest possibility of the final demobilisation of these men when peace is ratified, and if that is so, it is perfectly obvious that the men who are conscripted under this Bill cannot get away even although we want them to until the 30th of April. The dispute in fact is not as to the date. Those who oppose this Bill really object to the way in which men are being conscripted. The argument in favour of the Amendment is surely the old argument to which my right hon. Friend has never addressed his mind, and to which I suggest we are entitled to an answer to-day. It is that the right hon. Gentleman has in his hands now a much larger power than he is taking by this Bill; he has now in operation the Military Service Acts, which can be renewed at any moment that he cares to come down to this House and make out a case for it. He has that power in the palm of his hand; he has the power of distributing Conscription equally and fairly. But under this Bill he does not thus distribute it. So long as you have Conscription you must have it distributed fairly. This Amendment puts a date which gives the Government ample time to do this, and I suggest they can do it better in the way we suggest. I hope, therefore, my right hon. Friend will accept this Amendment.
I rise because I want to support the Government in regard to this Bill. On the general principle I am opposed to Conscription, but I realise that we could not have successfully prosecuted this War and have secured victory unless we had had Conscription. I remember the day when in this very House certain hon. Members opposite suggested that we dare not go to the country upon Conscription. I remember, too, there was a general cheer when that statement was made. I remember further what the decision was, and we all know what the country thought of it and what the result has been. It is because we know how successful we were then that I now support the Government. I made promises and gave pledges at the election of which I am not ashamed. I made them believing the information given to me on the floor of this House, that if we continued Conscription it was still the general feeling of the Prime Minister and of the Government that it should be ended as soon as possible. I would now remind hon. Members that although we have secured victory, until we have succeeded in establishing peace and have knocked out Germany once and for all, so that she will be unable to rise again, we shall not be in a position to reap the full fruits of our victory. The men who are now anxious to prevent any further use of Conscription are those who in my opinion did not want to win the War. They were all for the pacifist side. They were the people who before the War professed to believe that we need not worry and that the day had come when we could lay down our arms. But we discovered only too late that if this country had been more prepared, if we had only realised our immense responsibilities to the greatest Empire the world has ever known, our boys would to-day have been at our fireside instead of lying buried on the Continent, and the thousands of millions of pounds which have been spent would have been saved, for Germany would never have gone to war had she realised that England was equal to her responsibilities.
But for years we deluded ourselves, in spite of warnings from people who really knew what was likely to happen. We blinded ourselves, we did the ostrich business, we buried our heads in the sand, we believed that it was time to preach the international brotherhood of man. The Government is now asking power to ensure the price of victory, and to enable us to substantiate the terms of peace. To do that we must be as powerful as we were some months ago when the guns were booming. It is necessary we should be in the same position to-day to enforce justice and fair play. Already on the Continent they are closely watching what is going on in this country. They are looking to the threatened industrial strike here, and the Bolsheviks all over the Continent are anxiously waiting to see us lessen our power to grip the situation. Bolshevism is becoming more rampant. We have seen signs of it even in this country, and I, therefore, rise to support the Government. I hold that those whom we have placed in positions of great responsibility are the people who know best what is required. I believe in the principle, every man to his job. Our War Minister, with the able advice which he has at his command, must know what is necessary. We know that his powers are not limited to any great extent. We know he has proved himself capable of great things; we know he has a desire to serve his country, and it is not for us to hold him back. I do ask hon. Members who are supporting this Amendment, if they are in dead earnest, if they want to see an end to militarism, if they want an end put to Conscription? If they do want these things, let them play the game now. You do not stand any better chance with your man in the ring and with a hooligan outside if you only half thrash your opponent, because he will come up again. You want to make a clean and clear job of it; you want to put an end to the hooligan. Let us remember that our boys have died out there; let us remember how our people have suffered; let us ask ourselves—are we going to neglect our opportunities now? Let us play the game; let us be British. It is not for Labour to betray us into the hands of those who want to play the game of Bolshevism, which is up against all responsible government, and which does not care a hang about the future fate of this country.
We have to look not to the mere winning of the War, but to the future success, prospects, and prosperity of this great Empire. Do not let us blindly sacrifice all that has been done by our boys—and it is not a little. Some of us feel we shall never be able to get out of this Empire all that it has cost us in the loved and dear ones who have gone, but we do not complain of that. We may even feel some glory in knowing that we have in some small way, by giving up our dearest, helped our country. There fire people who are supposed to be British who openly back up a policy of backsliding and treachery, and who would sacrifice the money we have spent and the blood we have shed in order to make less than half a job of our victory and to encourage the Bolsheviks on the Continent and in this country. I am up against this sort of thing. I have watched events. I have seen that the people who declare that God is in heaven and that peace rules on earth are the people who point to Russia as the place for the labourer, and as offering an example which the Labour movement in this country should follow. It is a shocking thing. Therefore I want to back the Government in making a clean job of this thing now, as they are out to do. I hope no one will support the Amendment in the form in which it has been put forward, because we are out to win the War; we are out to win peace, and that can only be done by playing the game. We have paid the price, great sacrifices have been made, let it not be said that they have been made in vain, but let us give the Government the chance they want to complete their task.
This Amendment has been resisted in two speeches, the first delivered by my right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast (Sir E. Carson) and the second by my hon. Friend who has just resumed his seat (Mr. Stanton). It has been commended to the House by the hon. Member for the Morley Division (Mr. France), for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood), and for the Consett Division of Durham (Mr. A. Williams), all of whom spoke, not as enemies of the measure now under discussion, but as friends who wish to modify and mitigate its scope. I have no wish to appear insensible to the counsels of those who are sincerely anxious to aid us and those who have faced any temporary unpopularity which may attach to giving a vote for this necessary measure. But I do beg these hon. Gentlemen to cast their minds back over the history of the past. This is not a new experience for me. If I appear not to respond as readily as some would like to appeals to weaken our precautions and reduce our military measures, it is because I have had a similar experience in this sphere. For three years before the War my experience was to try each year to the best of my ability to get the supplies necessary to equip the Navy for a sudden blow. Always I have had to face criticism, enlightened, but still misguided criticism of the kind with which we have been confronted during the passage of this Bill. The struggles and convulsions in the party on which the then Government relied solely for its majority were very serious indeed, and many of those with whom I had the privilege to act were genuinely distressed and sincerely and earnestly concerned at the demands we found it necessary to make, and that condition continued till within a few weeks of the actual discovery of the peril. Yet what has happened during all this War is that people have gone about the country asking why we were not better prepared, and one hon. Member some time ago in another Debate addressed a passionate indictment to the House on the lack of preparation in the Navy. He pointed to this and that which had not, but ought to have been foreseen, and for which no preparation had been made. My right hon. Friends on the bench near me know what a continuous unbroken struggle we had to secure the necessary supplies, and that even then we fell short of many things that would have put us in a better state of readiness.
People say that experience bought is better than experience taught. Have we not bought our experience? Yet when we come with that experience, and the memory of these terrific events still in our minds, with the consequences of this conflict still before us, and actuating the whole movement of events in Europe, when we come with all that experience, we hear exactly the same kind of argument, exactly the same kind of appeals, we see exactly the same point of view honestly and earnestly put forward as used to Be put forward in the days before the War by people who little knew the tremendous events towards which they were rushing. I assure the House that the state of the world at the present time will not permit us to dispense with a strong military force. It may well be that in a year's time the scene will be completely altered. I earnesty trust that that will be the case. Certainly, we are doing everything in our power to procure an abatement of the evil and to secure a general softening and easing of the European position. That is the sole object which is animating the British representatives at the Peace Conference. But when we look at the state of the world and we see what are to-day the conditions, not only in Europe but in Turkey and in Turkey in Asia, we should be absolutely mad to deprive ourselves of a solid, strong, compact, well disciplined military force. We should absolutely stultify ourselves in respect to everything we have learned and have said during the War if, for the sake of gratifying this or that wave of opinion, we divested ourselves of the security honestly considered necessary by the experts on whom we rely and by the Government which is responsible for judging and sifting the recommendations which the experts make. The hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) and others may say, "What is in the date? Suppose we take three months off, what difference does that make?" Where is the end of that argument? Why not take six months off?
It would be hardly possible to take a more inconvenient date, as I explained to the Grand Committee. But the question really does not turn on three months one way or the other. It turns on a broad issue of principle, whether we are definitely at this juncture in our fortunes to say we are going to have a strong Army during the currency of this year until we see this business cleaned up properly. That is the pure issue—that is, to use the old Parliamentary expression, the carrying into effect of the national will. Of course you might argue, as the hon. Member did, whether it should be the 31st March or the 30th April, or some other date. I fixed this actual date, after hearing all the arguments, because it was the ordinary current date of the Army (Annual) Bill, and it is appropriate that Army matters should be considered in the first two or three months in the Session. That does not commit me to keeping these men during the whole of that period. On the contrary, I hope to be continually releasing men and, as events gradually consolidate, to reduce the military forces we find it necessary to keep.
One important consideration should be borne in mind. We are very anxious to have steadiness in the Army, and to have the feeling of unrest removed. That feeling is removed when men know that they have to make up their minds for a definite period of service, that it is not merely a question of waiting about from week to week until the boats can take them home. Perhaps it is hard to speak like this, but when the men definitely know that for the best part of a year their services will be required, after the first disappointment is over they make up their minds, they settle down, they make their arrangements and plans accordingly, and then you get steady discipline, good comradeship, and good organisation. This is not a matter of surmise or assertion, it is an ascertained fact, because since we took this action, which was strong action—[An HON. MEMBER: "A wrong action!"]—that is surely begging the question—we disappointed large numbers of men—since we took this action the reports I have received from every commander in the Army indicate a great and continuous improvement in the discipline, temper, and contentment of the men. From every quarter I have received those reports. It is my business to keep myself acquainted with them, and I read them every fortnight when they are presented. There is no doubt whatever that the whole moralof the Army has been greatly improved by having a scheme which they can understand definitely, and fit themselves into and play their part in carrying it out. Nothing could be simpler than for us, if circumstances warrant it, to move in advance of the legislative powers we are taking. I can assure the House that there is nothing I should like better than to be able to make considerable relaxations, if they should become possible. But, once you have made a relaxation, it is almost impossible to go back. Once you have let go the men whom you have, once you have dispersed the military units so painfully and laboriously created, if circumstances afterwards take a tad turn, you find it a matter of immeasurable difficulty to re-create what you have be improvidently dispersed. No one can tell what the future has in store for us. The hon. Member for East Edinburgh used a most extraordinary argument. He said, "Why do you not renew the Military Service Acts?
I took down the words as the hon. Member uttered them, and I am in the recollection of the House. We are asking the House to make provision for an enormous modification of the Military Service Acts. We are asking the House to prolong for a very limited period, with power for earlier demobilisation, the services of, approximately, one-fourth of the men who at the Armistice were held to the profession of arms by the Military Service Acts. My hon. Friend who is opposing this measure, as he has opposed every other measure—I was going to say every other measure for compulsory service, but I think I might leave it at the more sweeping statement—asked "Why do you not renew the Military Service Acts?"
I should like to know what he would have said if we had come down and taken provision to carry on the Military Service Acts for a further six or eight months beyond their present currency.
The date is a matter which I venture to suggest to hon. Gentlemen really is not occupying the minds of any of their friends in the country who are concerned or distressed by the passing of this Bill. The idea that by altering the date from the 30th April to the 31st December you would remove a great mass of opposition; the idea that you would deprive those who are seeking to make capital out of this Bill of the fullest opportunity to make such capital; the idea that you would gain anything by making a change of that kind is purely illusory. Therefore, I trust that the House will adhere to the measure which they approved, having all the details before them, when it was presented for Second Reading and which has stood the examination it has received in Committee and has been continually supported on its important points by large majorities in the Committee. I trust they will adhere to the measure as it stands, and as it has been recommended to us by the military authorities.
I desire to support the Amendment, and would point out to the Government that there is a very serious misgiving in the minds of many of us because of the date which has been chosen for the termination of this Bill. The Army (Annual) Act terminates on the same day and we are genuinely afraid that that date was chosen because it would be more convenient to continue this Bill from year to year and so make it a measure of permanent Conscription. I support the Amendment because the 31st December is full long enough for the Government to have this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman said that he gave in Committee weighty reasons why the 31st December could not possibly be agreed to, but he did not give us here the reasons he gave us in Committee. The reason he gave in Committee was that it would be Christmas time and that it would be quite Impossible to expect hon. Members of this House—who, by the way, get £400 a year—to come back from their Christmas holidays to consider such a measure. Really the Government are not treating the House with consideration in turning down all Amendments as they have done. They have used their majority in a ruthless manner. They gave us no concession in Committee except one solitary Amendment, which is of no value except that it secured a Report stage for this Bill. On one occasion the Government majority appeared to be deaf and dumb. They never said a word. They left it to three or four of us to do all the talking and then they voted us down. I am perfectly certain that when the poet wrote the lines—I know it is a dangerous thing to quote poetry in this House—he must have had the Government majority in his mind—
The fountain, which in silent melody,
Feeds the dumb waters of eternity.
Mr. T. WILSON:
There appears to be a fear in the minds of hon. Members that it is the intention of the Government to include this Bill in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. It would remove some opposition to the Bill if the right hon. Gentleman would make it clear that that is not the intention and would substitute for the 30th April the 31st March. This Amendment is not down in the name of the Labour party. We fully recognise that it will be necessary to have an Army of Occupation. We are exceedingly sorry the Government have not been able to raise the Army by voluntary methods. We believe it might have been raised by voluntary methods. Personally, I do not see any great difference between the Bill expiring on the 31st December or on the 30th April, but the right hon. Gentleman would remove a bone of contention and some suspicion if he changed the date to the 31st March. That would take it out of the scope of the Expiring Laws Continuance Act.
It might facilitate our discussion if I answered the hon. Gentleman's question. I gladly give the assurance, on behalf of the Government, that in no circumstances will this Bill be renewed as part of the Expiring Laws Continuance Act or as an ordinary question of renewal like the Army (Annual) Act. I have every hope that this is the last we shall see of it. If it were necessary to prolong in any sense compulsory service, obviously the entire business would have to be done over again from the very beginning.
I think this Debate is largely one of facts versus phrases. The facts, surely, at present are overwhelming and are known to all hon. Members. I feel that none of us can look to the next three, six, nine, or twelve months and see daylight through the facts surrounding us in this world. As against these facts we have the phrases Conscription, hardy annuals, and civil liberties. This is not a Conscription Bill in the ordinary sense of the word or in the sense in which any of us gave pledges during the election. It is a mitigation of the Conscription principle which has had to be brought into operation during the War. As regards it being the commencement of a series of hardy annuals, the proposition itself answers the statement. It would be impossible to continue year after year the enforced soldiering of this limited number of men. It might continue if it could be imagined to be possible to run it on for a year or two or three years, but it does not continue permanently, and it could not continue permanently the proposition of Conscription because the number of men involved in this Bill must in the ordinary course of events go out, and that itself answers the accusation that this is a matter involving permanent Conscription. It is regrettable that the opposition to the Bill should be based not upon facts but upon suspicion in the minds of hon. Members that the Government has ulterior motives. Nothing in this Debate has happened to justify such a proposition as that against the Government or against those who are supporting it. Further, the Government, and hon. Members themselves, will be largely controlled in this question by the matter of expense, and there will be every encouragement for the Secretary of State to act upon his statement in the direction of reducing the Army and its equipment wherever possible so as to bring about that reduced expenditure which is so necessary for the good of the country. I resent very much the suggestion that anyone 'Supporting this Bill is in favour of continuing a permanent system of Conscription.
I wish to say a few words in support of what was said by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Churchill) as to 31st December being the most inconvenient date which could possibly be named. The hon. Member (Mr. Williams) said November and December would be amply sufficient to relieve the troops in India and other places. There are 70,000 troops to be brought back from India and another 70,000 to be sent there. Could that possibly be done in the two months of November and December? We require the whole of the cold weather to complete it. Therefore, this date of April is infinitely better and more suitable. What is proposed in the Amendment is absolutely impossible to carry out. We all regret that the Secretary of State has not been able to relieve more men who have been serving two or three years at the front than have been released. All who were present in Hyde Park the other day and saw those splendid battalions of eighteen-year-old boys realised how much more might have been done to relieve men who have been serving for several years. We saw those boys, well fed, happy, thoroughly well-trained boys who are made men for life by the training they have gone through—we saw them marching out of the park singing, "We are going to Germany," all as happy as possible. They are the men we want to relieve the men now at the front, who are tired and disgruntled. I am sorry the Secretary of State should have stopped the enlistment of boys of eighteen on 11th November last in the way he did. If he had continued it—and I would ask him even now if be could not continue it—it would have been better for the manhood of the nation. In the Munitions Department more than a million men of military age have been sheltered all through the War. It would have been fair for the right hon. Gentleman to say, "You million of men who have been sheltered throughout the War, now you are no longer required, come out and do a little bit and let the others come home." If he had called them out they would have had four months' training by now and would have been ready to relieve the men at the front. We sent out men with ten weeks' training
during the War. If he had done that, the whole country would have said it was only fair, and I only regret that it was not done. We could have had nearly all the men released now and fresh men going out to gain fresh experience without any of the dissatisfaction that is now felt. However, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will call out the boys of eighteen and give training to as many of them as he possibly can.
|Division No. 19.]||AYES.||[5.9 p.m.|
|Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte||Colfox, Major W. P.||Hallas, E.|
|Ainsworth, Captain C.||Colvin, Brig.-Gen. R. B.||Hambro, Angus Valdemar|
|Archer-Shee, Lieut.-Col. Martin||Conway, Sir W. Martin||Hamilton, Major C. G. C. (Altrincham)|
|Ashley, Col. Wilfred W.||Coote, Colin R. (Isle of Ely)||Hanson, Sir Charles|
|Astbury, Lt.-Com. F. W.||Cory, J. H. (Cardiff)||Harris, Sir H. P. (Paddington, S.)|
|Bagley, Captain E. A.||Courthope, Major George Loyd||Henderson, Major V. L.|
|Baird, John Lawrence||Cozens-Hardy, Hon. W. H.||Hennessy, Major G.|
|Baldwin, Stanley||Craig, Capt. C. (Antrim)||Hilder, Lieut.-Col. F.|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry||Hoare, Lt.-Col. Sir Samuel J. G.|
|Banbury, Rt. Hon. Sir F. G.||Croft, Brig.-Gen. Henry Page||Hood, Joseph|
|Banner, Sir J. S. Harmood-||Curzon, Commander Viscount||Hope, Harry (Stirling)|
|Barker, Major R.||Davidson, Major-General J. H.||Hope, John Deans (Berwick)|
|Barnett, Captain Richard W.||Davies, Sir D. S. (Denbigh)||Hopkins, J. W. W.|
|Barnston, Major Harry||Davies, T. (Cirencester)||Hopkinson, Austin (Mossley)|
|Barrie, C. C.||Davies, M. Vaughan- (Cardigan)||Horne, Sir Robert (Hillhead)|
|Beauchamp, Sir Edward||Dean, Com. P. T.||Hughes, Spencer Leigh|
|Beckett, Hon. Gervase||Denison-Pender, John C.||Hunter, Gen. Sir A. (Lancaster)|
|Benn, Sir Arthur S. (Plymouth)||Dennis, J. W.||Hurd, P. A.|
|Benn, Com. Ian Hamilton (G'nwich)||Dewhurst, Lieut.-Com. H.||Hurst, Major G. B.|
|Bennett, T. J.||Dixon, Captain H.||Inskip, T. W. H.|
|Betterton, H. B.||Dockrell, Sir M.||Jackson, Lieut.-Col. Hon. F. S. (York)|
|Bigland, Alfred||Donald, T.||Jameson, Major J. G.|
|Birchall, Major J. D.||Duggan, E. J.||Jephcott, A. R.|
|Bird, Alfred||Edwards, A. Clement (East Ham, S.)||Jesson, C.|
|Blades, Sir George R.||Edwards, J. H. (Glam., Neath)||Jodrell, N. P.|
|Blair, Major Reginald||Elliot, Capt. W. E. (Lanark)||Johnstone, J.|
|Blake, Sir Francis Douglas||Elliott, Lt.-Col. Sir G. (Isingtn., W.)||Jones, Sir Evan (Pembroke)|
|Borwick, Major G. O.||Eyres-Monsell, Com.||Jones, G. W. H. (Stoke Newington)|
|Boscawen, Sir Arthur Griffith-||Falcon, Captain M.||Jones, J. Towyn (Carmarthen)|
|Bowyer, Capt. G. W. E.||Falle, Major Sir Bertram Godfray||Jones, Wm. Kennedy (Hornsey)|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Major A.||Farquharson, Major A. C.||Kerr-Smiley, Major P.|
|Brackenbury, Col. H. L.||Fell, Sir Arthur||Kidd, James|
|Bridgeman, William Clive||FitzRoy, Capt. Hon. Edward A.||Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement|
|Knight, Capt. E. A.|
|Briggs, Harold||Forestier-Walker, L.||Lane-Fox, Major G. R.|
|Broad, Thomas Tucker||Foxcroft, Captain C.||Larmor, Sir J.|
|Brown, Captain D. C. (Hexham)||Fraser, Major Sir Keith||Law, A. J. (Rochdale)|
|Bruton, Sir J.||Gange, E. S.||Law, Rt. Hon. A. Bonar (Glasgow)|
|Buchanan, Lieut.-Col. A. L. H.||Gardiner, J. (Perth)||Lewis, T. A. (Pontypridd, Glam.)|
|Buckley, Lt.-Col. A.||Gardner, E. (Berks., Windsor)||Lindsay, William Arthur|
|Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James||Gibbs, Colonel George Abraham||Lloyd, George Butler|
|Burdon, Col. Rowland||Gilbert, James Daniel||Locker-Lampson G. (Wood Green)|
|Burn, Col. C. R. (Torquay)||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. John||Locker-Lampson, Com. O. (Hunt'don)|
|Butcher, Sir J. G.||Glyn, Major R.||Lonsdale, James R.|
|Campbell, J. G. D.||Goff, Sir R. Park||Lorden, John William|
|Carew, Charles R. S. (Tiverton)||Grant, James Augustus||Lort-Williams, J.|
|Carson, Rt. Hon. Sir Edward H.||Green, J. F. (Leicester)||Loseby, Captain C. E.|
|Cautley, Henry Strother||Greene, Lt.-Col. W. (Hackney, N.)||Lowe, Sir F. W.|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. J. A. (Birm., W.)||Greer, Harry||Lowther, Major C. (Cumberland, N.)|
|Chamberlain, N. (Birm., Ladywood)||Greig, Col. James William||Lyon, L.|
|Cheyne, Sir William Watson||Gretton, Col. John||M'Donald, Dr. B. F. P. (Wallasey)|
|Child, Brig.-Gen. Sir Hill||Griggs, Sir Peter||M'Donald, D. H. (Bothwell, Lanark)|
|Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston S.||Guest, Capt. Hon. F. E. (Dorset, E.)||Mackinder, Halford J.|
|Clay, Capt. H. H. Spender||Guinness, Capt. Hon. R. (Southend)||M'Lean, Lt.-Col. C. W. W. (Brigg)|
|Clough, R.||Guinness, Lt.-Col. Hon. W.E. (B. St. E.)||Macmaster, Donald|
|Coats, Sir Stuart||Hacking, Captain D. H.||Macnamara, Rt. Hon. Dr. T. J.|
|Cockerill, Brig.-Gen. G. K.||Hailwood, A.||McNeill, Ronald (Canterbury)|
|Cohen, Major J. B. B.||Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir Fred (Dulwich)||Macquisten, F. A.|
|Malone, Major P. (Tottenham, S.)||Pownall, Lt.-Col. Assheton||Thomas, Sir R. (Wrexham, Dmb.)|
|Marriott, John Arthur R.||Pratt, John William||Thomas-Stanford, Charles|
|Mason, Robert||Pretyman, Rt. Hon. Ernest G.||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, S.)|
|Mildmay, Col. Rt. Hon. Francis B.||Pulley, Charles Thornton||Tickler, Thomas George|
|Mitchell, William Lane-||Purchase, H. G.||Tryon, Major George Clement|
|Moles, Thomas||Raeburn, Sir William||Turton, Edmund Russborough|
|Molson, Major John Elsdale||Rankin, Capt. James S.||Walton, J. (York, Don Valley)|
|Mond, Rt. Hon. Sir Alfred Moritz||Raper, A. Baldwin||Ward-Jackson, Major C. L.|
|Moore, Maj.-Gen. Sir Newton J.||Ratcliffe, Henry Butler||Ward, Col. L. (Kingston-upon-Hull)|
|Morison, T. B. (Inverness)||Raw, Lt.-Col. Dr. N.||warren, Sir Alfred H.|
|Morris, Richard||Reid, D. D.||Watson, Captain John Bertrand|
|Morrison, H. (Salisbury)||Remer, J. B.||Weigall, Lt.-Col. W. E. G. A.|
|Morrison-Bell, Major A. C.||Renwick, G.||Weston, Col. John W.|
|Mount, William Arthur||Richardson, Alex. (Gravesend)||Wheler, Col. Granville C. H.|
|Murchison, C. K.||Rodger, A. K.||White, Col. G. D. (Southport)|
|Murray, Lt.-Col. Hn. A. C. (Aberd'n.)||Rogers, Sir Hallewell||Whitla, Sir William|
|Murray, Major C. D. (Edinburgh, S.)||Roundell, Lt.-Col. R. F.||Whittaker, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas P.|
|Murray, John (Leeds, W.)||Rowlands, James||Wigan, Brig.-Gen. John Tyson|
|Nall, Major Joseph||Rutherford, Sir W. W. (Edge Hill)||Williams, Lt.-Com. C. (Tavistock)|
|Neal, Arthur||Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (Norwood)||Williams, Col. Sir R. (Dorset, W.)|
|Nelson, R. F. W. R.||Samuels, Rt. Hon. A.W. (Dublin Univ.)||Williamson, Rt. Hon. Sir Archibald|
|Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. (Exeter)||Sanders, Colonel Robert Arthur||Willoughby, Lt.-Col. Hon. Claud|
|Nicholson, R. (Doncaster)||Scott, Sir S. (Marylebone)||Wills, Lt.-Col. Sir Gilbert Alan H.|
|Nicholson, W. (Petersfleld)||Seddon, J. A.||Wilson, Capt. A. Stanley (Hold'ness)|
|Norman, Major Rt. Hon. Sir Henry||Shaw, Capt. W. T. (Forfar)||Wilson, Daniel M. (Down, W.)|
|Morris, Colonel Sir Henry G.||Smithers, Alfred W.||Wilson, Col. M. (Richmond, Yorks.)|
|O'Neill, Capt. Hon. Robert W. H.||Sprot, Col. Sir Alexander||Wilson-Fox, Henry|
|Palmer, Major G. M.||Stanier, Capt. Sir Beville||Winterton, Major Earl|
|Palmer, Brig.-Gen. G. (Westbury)||Stanley, Col. Hon. G. F. (Preston)||Wood, Major Hon. E. (Ripon)|
|Parker, James||Stanton, Charles Butt||Woods, Sir Robert|
|Parkinson, Albert L. (Blackpool)||Steel, Major S. Strang||Yate, Col. Charles Edward|
|Pearce, Sir William||Stephenson, Col. H. K.||Yeo, Sir Alfred William|
|Pease, Rt. Hon. Herbert Pike||Stevens, Marshall||Young, Sir F. W. (Swindon)|
|Peel, Lt.-Col. R. F. (Woodbridge)||Strauss, Edward Anthony||Younger, Sir George|
|Perring, William George||Sugden, Lieut. W. H.|
|Phllipps, Sir O. C. (Chester)||Sutherland, Sir William||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Lord E. Talbot and Mr. Dudley Ward.|
|Pickering, Col. Emil w.||Talbot, G. A. (Hemel Hempstead)|
|Pinkham, Lieut.-Col. Charles||Taylor, J. (Dumbarton)|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. William||Hartshorn, V.||Shaw, Tom (Preston)|
|Arnold, Sydney||Hayday, A.||Short, A. (Wednesbury)|
|Bell, James (Ormskirk)||Hayward, Major Evan||Sitch, C. H.|
|Benn, Capt. W. (Leith)||Hinds, John||Smith, Capt. A. (Nelson and Colne)|
|Brace. Rt. Hon. William||Hogge, J. M.||Smith, W. (Wellingborougti)|
|Bramsdon, Sir T.||Holmes, J. S||Spencer, George A.|
|Breese, Major C. E.||Irving, Dan||Spoor, B. G|
|Briant, F.||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Swan, J. E. C.|
|Brown, J. (Ayr and Bute)||Jones, J. (Silvertown)||Sykes, Sir C. (Huddersfield)|
|Cairns, John||Lunn, William||Taylor, J. W. (Chester-le-Street)|
|Cape, Tom||Maclean, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (Midlothian)||Thomson, T. (Middlesbrough, W.)|
|Carter, W. (Mansfield)||M'Lean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)||Thome, G. R. (Wolverhampton, E.)|
|Crooks, Rt. Hon. William||MacVeagh, Jeremiah||Thorne, Col. W. (Plaistow)|
|Davies, Alfred (Ctitheroe)||Mallalieu, Frederick William||Tootill, Robert|
|Davies, Sir W. Howell (Bristol, S.)||Onions, Alfred||Walsh, S. (Ince, Lancs.)|
|Davison, J. E. (Smethwick)||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)||Waterson, A. E.|
|Devlin, Joseph||Rae, H. Norman||Wedgwood, Col. Josiah C.|
|Edwards. C. (Bedwellty)||Richards, Rt. Hon. Thomas||Wignall. James|
|Galbraith, Samuel||Richardson, R. (Houghton)||White, Charles F. (Derby, W.)|
|Glanville, Harold James||Roberts, F. O. (W. Bromwich)||Williams, Col. P. (Middlesbrough)|
|Graham, W. (Edinburgh)||Robinson, S. (Brecon and Radnor)||Young. Robert (Newton, Lanes.)|
|Griffiths, T. (Pontypool)||Royce, William Stapleton|
|Grundy, T. W.||Sexton, James||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Mr. A. Williams and Mr. France.|
|Hall, F. (Yorks, Normanton)||Shaw, Hon. A. (Kilmarnock)|
I beg to move, at the end of the Sub-section, to insert the words
Provided that liability to service under this Sub-section does not include service in any part of the territory formerly included in the Russian Empire, except as regards men who are so serving at the date of the passing of this Act.
In view of what happened upon the Second Reading of the Bill, I think this Amendment ought to be accepted almost without discussion. The question of
troops in Russia naturally never came up on the Second Reading of the Bill, but the Secretary of State used these words:
If it was decided, on the other hand, to intervene in Russia it is not with conscript troops that anyone would be so foolish as to act. I cannot conceive of anything that would be more unwise or imprudent than to use men, taken by compulsion, who were not volunteers, for intervention in a matter of this kind. Whichever way you look at it, whether we withdraw from Russia or intervene, Russia has nothing whatever to do with this Bill, and this Bill has nothing whatever to do with Russia.
There is another statement by a Minister in relation to this matter which I should like to quote. These are the words used by Lord Curzon in the House of Lords on the 11th February:
They had only to look at the trouble which was being raised about demobilisation to realise the storm which would be raised in Parliament if it was proposed to enlist a conscript Army to march into the heart of Russia. It is too late in the day to contemplate a repetition of the Napoleonic experience in Russia. No one was prepared to do that
Surely these very definite statements by Ministers make an unanswerable case for this Amendment. The concluding words of the Amendment are "except as regards men who are so serving at the date of the passing of this Act." These words have been put in because it may be argued that it would not be possible, owing to climatic and other reasons, for the troops at present in Russia to be brought home before the expiration of the Military Service Acts, and therefore unless they were brought under the provisions of this new Bill they would be entitled to be discharged while away in Russia. The responsibility for this state of things rests entirely with the Government. This Amendment really raises the whole question of our troops in Russia. I suppose I must not pursue that subject at any length, but I would like to say that we have never had any clear declaration as to the policy of the Government in this matter. We really do not know why these men were sent there and what they are doing. What we do know is that, I suppose, something like 40,000 men are there, subject to the most rigorous climatic conditions, and great hardship, and that the expedition is costing vast sums of money at a time when our finances are strained almost to breaking-point. However, the thing is done and the men are there. I do not see that the Secretary for War can have any excuse for refusing this Amendment, especially after the very definite declarations which I have read, and the insertion of the words in the Amendment "except as regards men who are so serving at the date of the passing of this Act." The Amendment will mean that no more conscripts are to be sent to Russia, and none ought to be so sent.
Conscription was originally started in Continental countries for the purpose of home defence. It was never intended under Conscription laws to send men abroad to distant parts. The right hon. Gentleman said that they have permanent compulsion in Australia, but I would point out that in Australia they do not have a provision whereby they can send men abroad. That very question was put before the country on two occasions, and at two referenda it was decided by a large majority that men were not to be compelled to serve outside Australia. Conscription in this country was most rigorously enforced during the War, and men who were conscripted were compelled to serve in distant parts of the world, including Russia. The justification put forward was that the country was in danger, and that there was no other course which was open. The country is not in danger now, and we are not even at war with Russia. Therefore it would be wholly unjustifiable to send any more conscripts to Russia. I have said before, and I say again, that this whole Bill is a gross violation of election pledges. No Minister at the election suggested that a single soldier would be conscripted for service in Russia. Not a syllable of that sort was uttered. Since the Second Reading we have had some indication of the feeling of the country about it. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that there is very strong feeling against sending any more men to Russia. On the general question, we have had an expression of opinion in the West Leyton election, the most remarkable by-election result that has ever been declared. I am not without hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be in a somewhat chastened mood, and will be prepared to make a concession or two on this Bill, on which, as has been pointed out by the hon. Member for East Edinburgh, we have fought hard and toiled long and practically got nothing. I am not really asking for a concession. I am only asking the right hon. Gentleman to give legislative effect to his own words on the Second Reading. I want him to accept the Amendment, and not merely to give a pledge that the Government has no intention of sending more men to Russia. Unfortunately, we have had Government pledges in the past when Military Service Acts have been under discussion, and I say, with regret, that these Government pledges are absolutely valueless, and if the right hon. Gentleman gives a pledge on this point it may be of no more value than other specific pledges given time after time in the old Parliament when the Military Service Acts were being passed. We have learned from bitter experience that the only way to be sure of anything is to have it down in black and white in an Act of Parliament.
I beg to second the Amendment. My hon. Friend said he hoped the Minister for War was in a somewhat chastened frame of mind. I should be very glad to see that. Some two or three weeks ago the right hon. Gentleman said it was not intended to send more men to Russia, and that the reason the men who were there could not come back was because they were frozen in. That is a very good reason why they cannot get back, and surely it is a good reason why we should not send any more men. We have the right hon. Gentleman's word, which, I hope, can be relied on more than the pledges that have been given inside and outside this House. Is it part of the duty of the British soldier to fight Bolshevism in this or any other country? If you are going to send the British soldier to fight Bolshevism, as it is called, you are going to raise some suspicion in the minds of the workers of this country that the soldiers will be used for fighting labour unrest. That is what is going to happen, and in the present state of labour unrest—happily now better than it has been for the last few weeks—I say that it is not part of the duty of this country to send out troops to Russia, but to allow Russia to determine her own salvation in this respect.
To give way on this point would be to make a concession at the expense of the Army. That is the case, quite apart from the statements which have been made by my right hon. Friend as to whether or not this Act has any connection with Russia? I do not dwell upon that more than to this extent. We are committed in Russia by the events of the last four years, and it is quite clear that we have to be in a position, if forced to do so, to extricate those forces which we have there now. I cannot believe that the mover or seconder of the Amendment would accept the responsibility of prohibiting the War Office from taking such limited steps as may be necessary to extricate those of our fellow-countrymen who have been, and are now, bearing the strain of operations in that country.
The arguments on the last Amendment cover a great deal and cover that interjection. We are faced with facts, and from the practical point of view, with which we are forced to deal, this Amendment can only be accepted at the expense of the Army. The House will appreciate that if you have to send an expedition to extricate our forces—after the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman last night it is pretty well known where our troops are stationed in Russia—it is quite clear that the forces at the disposal of the War Office must all be under exactly the same discipline. If the Amendment were accepted we should be in this position. When the summer comes, when you may want to extricate forces from Murmansk or some places now icebound, you would have a certain number of volunteers available for such an undertaking, but they may not be sufficient. You would then find yourself unable to undertake such an expedition without drawing upon the men who are being retained under this Act, and you would find your units composed of two different classes of men, held under two different classes of rules. No military machine could possibly be efficient if that state of affairs were allowed to exist. The intention of the Government, I understand, is that no conscripted man shall be sent to undertake aggressive action in that country. But the possibility of extrication is not one which can be lightly put on one side, and therefore the Government, in the interests of the Army itself, are bound to resist this Amendment.
The concluding sentences of my hon. and gallant Friend suggest possibilities which the House has never yet faced. While we recognise the courtesy and ability with which the hon. and gallant Gentleman is playing his part in those Debates, I think that when it is a question of pledges from the Government those pledges ought to be put into the mouth of a responsible Minister. I do not say that in disparagement of my hon. and gallant Friend, but it does strike me as peculiar that, when the Secretary of State, who is head of the Department responsible for this Bill, is in the House, a pledge should be put into the mouth of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, that no conscripts are to be sent to Russia for aggressive action. What is the meaning of aggressive action? My hon. and gallant Friend has said quite truly that we were committed by the events of the last four years to Russia. But after all, Russia of her own volition has long ago gone out of the War, and by doing so has imposed very considerable sacrifices upon this country, and upon a great many of the men who enlisted either voluntarily or were conscripted. Russia to a large extent let the Allies down, and it seems a, poor answer to say that because of the events of the past four years we are committed to certain acts. Look at the situation. The Amendment asks my right hon. Friend to put in specific terms in this Bill what he has pledged his honour to from that bench. We are not asking a syllable more. My right hon. Friend is the most conspicuous, able, brilliant and versatile member of the Government, and we desire that with those qualities and holding the position which he does he should say definitely, "These are the intentions of the Government," and then we should have this in black and white in the Bill, and we should have it made quite clear to the men whom we are holding in the Army of Occupation on the Rhine to reap the fruits of victory that they shall not be used in Russia.
We have been told that we have three expeditions in Russia. That is old ground and I need not cover it again. We have expeditions, I believe, in the Murmansk Government, in Siberia and in the Caucasus. We are bound by all the ties of honour and by our promises to those who are there, and there is not a man in this House, including my hon. Friend who has moved this Amendment, who would not be prepared to give my right hon. Friend all the power he requires to safeguard the lives of those men. But that is not the real point. The real point is that those of us who are supporting this Amendment at present want it to be made quite clear, so far as we are concerned, and I hope so far as the Government are concerned, that the Government have no quarrel with the present Government in Russia, whatever that Government may be. It would be very much better if the Government or somebody connected with the Government would really inform the House about the Russian situation. We are addressing our minds to an Amendment as to the use of men in Russia, and I confess, and a great many Members of this House will agree with me in the confession, that the bulk of us do not really know what is happening in Russia, and while we ought to speak for ourselves I do not think that it is incumbent on the Brtitish people to take care of the domestic future of Russia, and if the Russian people cannot work out their own salvation according to our ideas that is not our business. I am perfectly certain that the House of Commons will not desire that the blood of a single British soldier shall be shed in settling the wars in Russia. That is the whole problem. Cannot my right hon. Friend meet us on that? We have spent four and a half days in Committee on this Bill. We have spent one day already in this House, and I presume that we shall spend the bulk of the day up to a quarter-past eight. We have fought my right hon. Friend quite fairly on those questions, and he has not given us a single concession.
Some hon. Members cheer that. That means that this Government is capable of dealing adequately with every situation and requires nobody's help and does not require the help of my hon. and gallant Friend who cheers the fact that there were no concessions. That means that he and I might pair now for the rest of the Session. I would do it willingly if I did not remember the fact that the House would lose the immense ability of my hon. and gallant Friend. This question affects a great many people in this country. If there was one question which met us more than any other at the recent election it was this: "Was I willing to pledge myself as a Parliamentary candidate against British intervention in Russia?" I was asked that question more repeatedly than any other question, and so also was my right hon. Friend in Dundee.
Well, suppose he was not. There is a great volume of opinion in this country which desires to see it made clear that there is no intention of embroiling this country in the domestic affairs of Russia. If the right hon. Gentleman cannot accept this Amendment, cannot he devise his own words? All we want is to enshrine for all time some of his own words in an Act of Parliament. I do not know any other monument which would be more permanent, and he should not use words if he is not willing to put them in the Bill.
I am greatly surprised that such an Amendment as this has been put on the Paper, because it must commend itself to the commonsense of the hon. Gentlemen who moved and seconded it, and also to my hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh, that this cannot be practical politics. The War Office could not possibly say to itself, "We will exclude one particular part of the world from the possible operations of the British Army." How can you have, say, a British Army of 100,000 men, earmarked for a certain district, with certain classes of men who may operate there and certain classes who may not. The House has only to apply its mind for one moment to the effect of this Amendment to see that it is not practicable. I quite understand the point of view of hon. Gentlemen opposite who object to further operations in Russia, although they might be necessary in certain conditions. Surely the remedy for hon. Gentlemen opposite, if the Government is doing something of which they disapprove, is to ask for a day for the discussion of that subject, and then their very select party can make a good show in the Division Lobby, and even though they are not able to carry their point by arguments, and although their numbers may not be sufficient to carry it in a Division, yet through the Press they can let their supporters have the knowledge of what they have done. That, I submit, is the proper way to treat this Amendment.
I think that the little homily which the hon. and gallant Gentleman has given to Members on this side should be addressed to hon. Gentlemen on the other side, and particularly to the Minister for War, because the real secret of this Amendment is that my hon. Friend merely wants incorporated in this Bill a promise which was given by the Minister for War. I do not rise so much for the purpose of discussing this Amendment as to complain that on the rare occasions on which Ministers come into the House they ought at least to defend themselves when they are attacked for breaking their pledges. I do not know where this speech of the right hon. Gentleman was delivered, but I suppose it was one of his inspiring electoral declarations which won for the present Coalition the powerful majority which now stands behind them. At all events, when hon. Gentlemen on this side ask for the fulfilment of a governmental pledge they ought not to be treated with the contempt with which they have been treated by the right hon. Gentleman. I cordially agree with the eulogy which was passed upon the right hon. Gentleman's intellectual and rhetorical qualities by my hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge). If there is one man in this House who can skilfully defend himself it is the Minister for War, and yet when he is called upon to state where he stands in regard to this promise he invites the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury to carry out the difficult operation of justifying the right hon. Gentleman's conduct. I come from a country where we have had a great deal to do with broken pledges given by successive British Ministers. Of course, the customary treatment we receive is that not even an Under-Secretary is put up to justify the breaking of Government pledges. Even that compliment is not paid to us, and we rarely have the opportunity, such as has been accorded here, of having the Minister's words printed. The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head. Did he make this speech or did he not? He neither dissents nor assents to that.
So the right hon. Gentleman has not forgotten about it, and the speech was delivered at a later date than I thought. I could, perhaps, find some justification for the breaking of a promise if it was made amidst the inflammatory passions of a General Election; but, instead of that, it was made in the cold atmosphere of the House of Commons, which is composed, as I said the other day, of Gentlemen who are in everlasting conflict between their consciences and their coupons, and in a House where the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have merely to make statements in order to have their 't's' crossed and their 'i's' dotted. I would have imagined the right hon. Gentleman would have recognised the justice of my hon. Friend's demand that this pledge should be incorporated in the Bill. But that is not the all-important thing, in my opinion. The silence of the right hon. Gentleman is an exceedingly suspicious circumstance. We do not know what these conscripts may be called on to do in the future. They may be used, as one hon. Gentleman stated, for the purpose of waging war upon Bolshevists in Russia. That would be quite right if the Russians waged war upon them, but the proper place for Russian domestic ques- tions to be settled is in Russia. The internal confusion and horrible condition of Russia is a matter to be adjusted by the Russian people. This country is committed to no Russian policy, not that I know of. An hon. Friend in his speech talked about our policy in Russia. Whose policy in Russia? This House has been committed to no policy. In my judgment things would be infinitely worse than better if you or any other nation interfere in the domestic affairs of that country. Those people will put their own house in order and fashion their own destinies and will from the crucible of their afflictions come out cleansed, but keep your hands off them if you want future peace. This silence is not only suspicious but dangerous, because we do not know what might be done with a conscript Army in case there are industrial disputes in this country.
I will get back to Russia, and I will be at home there. [An HON. MEMBER: "Stay there!"] I do not know what the hon. Member means by saying, "Stay there," but as a representative from Ireland I would have as much respect given to me there as in this House. I support the Amendment, and trust before we are called on to divide that the right hon. Gentleman will explain why he made this declaration and why he is not prepared to put it in the Bill.
I can assure the House that the fact that I did not immediately rise implies no disrespect to the House nor any underrating of the supporters of the Amendment before us. On the contrary it was entirely due to my respect for hon. Gentlemen whom I anticipated or apprehended might take part in the Debate. That is why I ventured to ask my hon. and gallant Friend to begin and to give the formal answer of the Government, while I reserve to myself the right to reply which I otherwise should have exhausted. That gave me the opportunity of giving proper consideration to the arguments advanced from the Front Opposition Bench, and had I known that my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast (Mr. Devlin) was about to make one of his always welcome though now unhappily rather rare interventions, I should have been all the more justified in waiting in order to give an effective answer.
I accept fully and I adhere to the words I used in the Debate on the Second Reading of this Bill. As far as I can remember, I said that if there was no such place as Russia this Bill would be essential, and that if we decided to intervene in Russia it is not with a conscript army that I imagined that intervention would be possible. I adhere fully to what I said, that it is not the intention of the Government to use this Bill for the purpose of raising great armies of conscripts to send into the heart of Russia. I adhere absolutely to that, but I should altogether deprecate the House consenting to narrow the functions or duties of the British soldier. As my hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Ashley) pointed out, it is an absurdity to say when an Army has been created that it is to have limitations imposed on its action. Still more would it be absurd to create armies in which some soldiers had no limitation and others were limited by particular geographical restrictions. That is an entirely absurd way of proceeding. If the House wished to prevent operations taking place in Russia they could do so at any time by bringing pressure to bear on the Government of the day, whatever it is. That is the Parliamentary remedy, but no one ever created an Army and placed legislative and statutory restriction upon the use of particular soldiers in that Army, and, as I said the other night, speaking on the Industrial Disputes Amendment, we do not contemplate using these forces which we have and which Parliament is conferring upon us during this year of anxiety either in the Russian or in the industrial sphere. But we cannot consent in any way to narrow by legislation the duties of the soldier, which must prevail as they have always been and used in all periods of our history. Therefore, I could not accept any narrowing Amendment.
So far as policy towards Russia is concerned there is really no need to make heavy weather over this Debate. My hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) himself said that if it was a question of rescuing our men in Russia, or if they had to be extricated, he would not hesitate to send soldiers, volunteers or conscripts, if only the men could be got there in time to do the necessary work. That at one stroke removes really any possibility of sensible difference between us. The Amendment is specific and says that no man except those who are there must be sent. That would absolutely prohibit us from going to the rescue of our soldiers in Archangel or on the Murman Coast no matter how grievously pressed they might be or if forces were necessary to enable them to come away. It is no use the hon. Gentleman shaking his head. There is the Amendment, and the fact is that he has been thrown over by his leaders. The hon. Gentleman gets up from the Back Benches and asks the House to pass an Amendment which would prohibit any soldier going to Russia who is not already there, and the hon. Member for East Edinburgh said he would not stand in the way of sending an expedition to extricate or rescue the troops which are at present in that country. Those matters should be adjusted beforehand, and I know difficulties of that kind not only occur in opposition, but sometimes there is a divergency even among members of a Government on this side of the House. So far as that point is concerned, what has got to be done to help our soldiers and to secure their safety will certainly be done under all the circumstances. As far as general policy towards Russia is concerned, I venture once more to say to the House that it really does not rest with the War Office. That will be a great relief to my hon. Friends opposite. It does not rest even with the British Cabinet. It really is a matter which the League of Nations or the league of victorious Powers must address their united opinion to, and must take concerted action or resolve upon concerted inaction in regard to. I can conceive of a League of Nations being formed which would have responsibilities towards a country such as Poland, for instance. I do not know what my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast thinks of Poland.
I must say there is some analogy in my mind, because the unity and integrity of the Dominion of Poland is a matter of grave importance to the League of Nations. If the League of Nations has undertaken, as has already to some extent been undertaken, to secure the unity and integrity of Poland, I cannot conceive that such a body would absolutely stand by and see the country overrun and reduced to ruin. As I say, if measures were taken to safeguard Poland or Esthonia, or Lithuania, they would not be undertaken, as I conceive, by the British Government. It would not be a matter for the British Government. It could only be undertaken by a League of Nations which was pursuing a definite policy for the general pacification and conciliation of Europe. So far as any general policy towards Russia may be concerned, it is not a matter really for the Government to deal with, except as part of the general action of the League of Nations. However, I adhere most fully to the statement that I made on the Second Reading of the Bill that the Government have no intention of, and do not contemplate, using large conscript armies in regard to Russia. I deprecate the prominence which this subject has attained during the course of this Debate, because it might easily have the effect of causing unnecessary anxiety and alarm in the country, where no such anxiety and alarm exist. If it were thought that we were thinking of embarking on another great war, I can quite conceive of the passage of this Bill being rendered more difficult and of its acceptance in the constituencies being less whole-hearted. I trust that the House will confine itself to a very simple method of dealing with this subject, and that such Army as it allows the Government to have shall be an Army free to go anywhere and to do anything, composed of soldiers all serving under one set of conditions, and all discharging to the full the constitutional duties of the British soldier. The House can make sure that that Army is not used for any purpose contrary to pledges which have been given to Parliament or contrary to what is the will of the people as a whole, or contrary to the will and wish of the House of Commons, by keeping, as it is entitled to keep, and as it is enabled to keep, a close surveillance and constant contact upon the Government of the day. I trust that after this discussion, and after I have, I think, cleared myself from any charge of disrespect to hon. Members, the House will without undue delay allow us to take a Division, because there are several Amendments which are important on the Paper which we should like to discuss before the Report stage ends, as I trust it may be brought to an end, at a quarter past eight this evening.
I very much regret the attitude adopted by the right hon. Gentleman in relation to this Amendment. He says he regrets prominence being given to this subject, because it might create unnecessary unrest in the country. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman appreciates the intense feeling that exists in the country at the present time in relation to this particular question. If he does not, and if the Government do not understand, I want to say with all seriousness that they are in for a very serious disillusionment in the very near future. I do not understand, sitting in this House, knowing what I do about what is going on in the trade union world, why it is that the Government do not keep themselves better informed about the sentiments that are operating in the trade union movement in this country. We have heard talk about Bolshevism, and we have heard denunciations of it. I want to say that I am as whole-heartedly opposed to the spread of Bolshevism in this country as any man in the House, but I see a real danger of it taking root in this country and of its pretty rapid development, and I fear that the attitude adopted by the right hon. Gentleman at the present time in relation to the Amendments that are being discussed in this House is going to help very considerably in that development. With reference to the sending of soldiers to Russia, the right hon. Gentleman gave a very emphatic pronouncement that it was not intended to use this Bill for that purpose. When the Military Service Bills were before the House during the War we had equally emphatic declarations. Mr. Arthur Henderson gave assurances to the trade unionists of this country that it would be embodied in the Bills that Conscription was to apply only to the period of the War, and we had similar declarations from other Ministers. But we know now that that has not been carried into effect. We have had a statement from the Minister for War that this Bill is not to be used for this purpose, and when an attempt is made to embody that declaration in the Bill itself, we are told it can
not be done, and that the Government must have a free hand to send the Army wherever they think fit. We are just going through a very troublous period in the industrial world. I think we are getting through it. I think the probabilities are that the miners' trouble may be at an end, but what I fear now is that as soon as we get out of our hours and wages trouble we are going to be in for a political trouble. That is where we are getting to. I have in my hand a letter which was sent to me yesterday by my secretary from home and I notice one very significant paragraph in it. He says: "A South Wales conference is being called for Saturday in reference to the Conscription Bill." The Welsh miners are evidently going to organise opposition to this Bill. I do not know whether the House is aware of a resolution passed by a very important conference held in London to-day, which reads as follows:
That this conference calls upon the Government to immediately withdraw all British troops from Russia and to take the necessary steps to induce the Allied Powers to do likewise. We further most emphatically protest against the attempt of the Government to fasten Conscription upon this country by means of the Bill now before Parliament described as the Naval, Military, and Air Force Service Bill, and calls upon the Government to immediately withdraw this Bill, or, alternatively, this conference proposes to take such steps, in conjunction with the organised Labour movement, both political and industrial, as will compel it to withdraw it.
That is language which I am sure this House does not care to hear, but it is what is being talked in our trade unions, and it is well that this House should understand what is going on. During the past month there has been intense anxiety on the part of every Member of this House and of every person in the country as to what is going to result from the industrial trouble. The Government ought, in the treatment of this Bill, to do everything in its power to remove from the minds of the organised working classes of this country that deep-rooted suspicion which they have that this is an attempt to continue compulsory military service in this country as a permanent part of our institutions. I have heard discussions in industrial conferences about our Armies and our Expedition to Russia, and the general impression among the workers is that we are simply using our armed forces for the purpose of destroying a democratic Government which is trying to find expression in another country. As to some of the doings of the Bolshevists, I do not think
anybody in this House is in a position to form a reliable judgment as to what is going on in Russia.
In so far as some of these thing are true, I stand for condemning them as whole-heartedly as anybody, but there is a strong feeling among the trade unionists of this country that the Russian people ought to work out their own emancipation, that they ought to solve their own difficulties, and that we went into this War, not for the sake of destroying any Government which the Russians may set up, but for a specific purpose. That purpose having been accomplished, our Armies, they say, ought to come home. It will be known to-morrow that when an attempt was made in this House to embody in this Bill an assurance that conscript troops are not to be sent to Russia we could not get that assurance, and I want to say in all seriousness that the Minister for War will do well to reconsider the attitude he has adopted. I say that in no threatening spirit, because I think I have evinced as keen a desire to see this old country come through its great ordeals during the last four or five years as most men. I am equally anxious to see it get through the very perilous period that lies in the immediate future, and it is because I realise the serious menace that is threatening us at the present time that I make a special appeal to the Government to pay some attention to the fact that if it goes abroad after this discussion that we cannot have an assurance that our troops are not to be used in Russia, it will add considerable force to the agitation that is growing up against this Bill as a whole.
I am afraid the right hon. Gentleman, in repeating and modifying his pledge, made it go a good deal further than the original pledge given in this House. We are now told that he has no intention of sending a large conscript army into the heart of Russia. We never supposed he had, but the pledge was a great deal narrower than that. More than that, we have had adumbrated to-night the possibility that it may be necessary for the British Array to protect Poland, Lithuania, Esthonia, Courland, and, I suppose, Roumania. That also is a somewhat wider prospect of the activities of the British Conscript Army than we had put before us on the Second Reading of this Bill. Three and a half years ago I, with the hon. and gallant Member opposite—now Patronage Secretary—advocated the adoption of Conscription in this country against considerable opposition at that time. We urged that it was necessary that we should force people in this country—free men—to sacrifice their liberty and go into the Army to fight for something we believed to be essential. It is true that neither of us was here when the Bill went through Parliament. All the same, we are responsible for having forced these men into conscript service for their country. It is not fair to those who voted for the Bill any more than it is fair to the men who are conscripted that we should now have an entirely different mission put before these men. We would not have voted for the Bill then if we had imagined that the men were to be used after they had joined the Army to make attacks upon the Revolution in Russia. We have no sympathy whatever with the methods of the Bolsheviks. Their methods are those of sheer barbarity and terrorism.
At the same time, it is not our business to force men who were conscripted to fight Germany and save this country, now to protect Poland, Lithuania, Bessarabia, or any of those countries in the Far East of Europe. It is more than that. The right hon. Gentleman in his speech made great play with the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh admitted that it might be necessary to get our men back to Archangel from the Murman Coast. To my mind, the best way of getting our men back from the Murman Coast to Archangel is to pass this Amendment, because then it would be essential that they should come home within six months from now, while the Military Service Act is still in being. The best way to get them back is to get them back quickly, and, if this Amendment is carried, so far from having to leave our men to perish in Archangel and on the Murman Coast, it would be essential for the Government to draw them back to this country whilst they still could command the service of conscript troops to do it. Two hon. Members argued that it would be ridiculous to use British troops in two categories—some prepared to go anywhere and do anything, and others who were not to be sent to Russia. It is not in the least impossible; it has been part of our practice ever since 1861. We have had a Volunteer Force and a Territorial Force in this country, as much soldiers as any others but only to serve in this country. It is true they volunteered for service abroad at the beginning of this War, but there were two categories clearly marked out. All that we say is, do not use men who were conscripted to fight for one particular purpose, to fight for a purpose which they disapprove and for which they did not sign on.
The lamentable thing is that we have now got into a state of mind where we want to have a permanent British Army capable of going anywhere and doing anything. If you want an Army of that sort, you must have a voluntary service army. You have no right to break a contract, and to say to men who joined up for one purpose, "That purpose is done with. We will now use you for the purpose of protecting Poland, Lithuania, or any of these other countries." There is more than this. We on these benches certainly protest against this Russian expedition on all grounds. We would immediately have all our soldiers withdrawn and leave Russia to stew in her own juice. We will protest the more if our men are being used, and the Americans are not being used. Further, if our men are being used in Russia, let us see they are used to support people of whom this Government, this country, and the House of Commons approve. I mentioned the other day the way in which warfare was carried on between the Czecho-Slovaks and Bolsheviks, and how 400 prisoners were taken at Irkutsk, and were shot down on the shores of Lake Baikal with machine guns, a cinematograph operator taking the picture. Are our troops to support people who carry on warfare in that manner? If our troops are used in that way, surely those people who did not join the Army voluntarily, but were conscripted, have a right to protest against being used for any sort of warfare of that kind. The other day this question of the manner in which so-called civilised warfare is being carried on in Russia was brought up in the French Chamber and M. Laffont gave this description. He said that the French soldiers taken prisoners by the Bolsheviks at Odessa were released, the Bolsheviks saying,
You would shoot us if we were your prisoners because you were told we are bandits. We send you back to your armies. Compare and judge.
If you are going to pass this Bill to force men who are conscripts, and who joined voluntarily in the War against Germany, to fight in Russia against Russians, then for goodness sake let us see that warfare is carried on on decent civilised lines! M. Laffont went on:
The Chief of the Staff of another general had told the people of Odessa that the present suffrage, which is universal, is to be radically changed. An Odessa newspaper regrets that the laws of Skoropadsky, Germany's henchman, are being substituted for the laws established by the Revolution.
Is England fighting at the present time to re-establish the monarchy, re-establish re-action, and put in the saddle again in Russia the old Czarist regime? If that is so, there is an even stronger case against using our people in Russia at the present time.
I deprecate the extension of compulsory service, which I supported during the War. I deprecate it entirely in this Bill, but there is no point in this Bill to which I object more than the idea that these men, who have gone through so much, and who would have laid down their lives in order to destroy Imperialism and militarism, should now be used, or should be capable of being used, against the Russians, whether they be bad men or good men, or should be capable of being used to restore a regime which might not be as bad as the Bolshevik regime, but, at any rate, was the curse of Europe and a disgrace to civilisation. Those are arguments in favour of putting in this Amendment. They may meet with very little response in this House, but I can assure the right hon. Gentleman, from the meetings I have held, that they meet with enormous response in this country. There is no more sure way of getting the people behind you in this country than by denouncing this Russian expedition that the Allies in Paris appear to be proposing. The very fact that it has spread to Hungary leads our Imperialists into further schemes for a perpetual state of war to beat back revolution. The overwhelming majority in this country want us to get out of this Russian mess as quickly as possible, and want us to be abolutely clear of any future struggle for forms of government in the East. Whether it be Poland or Roumania, let them look out for themselves, and not rely on British conscripts to protect the existing regime—very often an existing regime of bad and grasping landlords, as in Roumania. That majority in this country looks to us to see that the British Army, the most powerful weapon in the world at the present time, will be used for what it has been used up to now
|Division No. 20.]||AYES.||[6.28 p.m.|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. William||Hartshorn, V.||Sitch, C. H.|
|Brace, Rt. Hon. William||Hayday, A.||Smith, Capt. A. (Nelson and Colne)|
|Breese, Major C. E.||Hinds, John||Smith, W. (Wellingborough)|
|Briant, F.||Hirst, G. H.||Spencer, George A.|
|Brown, J. (Ayr and Bute)||Holmes, J. S.||Spoor, B. G.|
|Cairns, John||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Swan, J. E. C.|
|Cape, Tom||Lunn, William||Taylor, J. W. (Chester-le-Street)|
|Carter, W. (Mansfield)||Maclean, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (Midlothian)||Thomas, Brig-Gen. Sir O. (Anglesey)|
|Cowan, D. M. (Scottish Univ.)||M'Lean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton, E.)|
|Davies, Alfred (Clitheroe)||Morgan, Major D. Watts||Waterson, A. E.|
|Devlin, Joseph||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)||Wedgwood, Col. Josiah C.|
|Edwards, C. (Bedwellty)||Raffan, Peter Wilson||White, Charles F. (Derby, W.)|
|Galbraith, Samuel||Richardson, R. (Houghton)||Wignall, James|
|Graham, D. M. (Hamilton)||Roberts, F. O. (W. Bromwich)||Williams, Col. P. (Middlesbrough)|
|Graham, W. (Edinburgh)||Royce, William Stapleton|
|Grundy, T. W.||Shaw, Tom (Preston)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Mr. Hogge and Mr. Arnold.|
|Hall, F. (Yorks, Normanton)||Short, A, (Wednesbury)|
|Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte||Compton-Rickett, Rt. Hon. Sir J.||Guinness, Lt.-Col. Hon. W. E. (B. St. E.)|
|Ainsworth, Captain C.||Conway, Sir W. Martin||Hacking, Captain D. H.|
|Archer-Shee, Lieut.-Col. Martin||Cooper, Sir Richard Ashmole||Hailwood, A.|
|Astbury, Lt.-Com. F. W.||Coote, Colin R. (Isle of Ely)||Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir Fred (Dulwich)|
|Atkey, A. R.||Cope, Major W. (Glamorgan)||Hallas, E.|
|Bagley, Captain E. A.||Cory, J. H. (Cardiff)||Hambro, Angus- Valdemar|
|Baird, John Lawrence||Courthope, Major George Loyd||Hanson, Sir Charles|
|Baldwin, Stanley||Cozens-Hardy, Hon. W. H.||Harris, Sir H. P. (Paddington, S.)|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Craig, Capt. C. (Antrim)||Hennessy, Major G.|
|Banbury, Rt. Hon. Sir F. G.||Curzon, Commander Viscount||Hewart, Right Hon. Sir Gordon|
|Barker, Major R.||Davidson, Major-General J. H.||Hilder, Lieut.-Col. F.|
|Barnett, Captain Richard W.||Davies, Sir S. S. (Denbigh)||Hoare, Lt.-Col. Sir Samuel J. G.|
|Barnston, Major Harry||Davies, Sir Joseph (Crewe)||Hohler, Gerald Fitzroy|
|Barrie, C. C.||Davies, T. (Cirencester)||Hope, Harry (Stirling)|
|Beauchamp, Sir Edward||Davies, Sir W. Howell (Bristol, S.)||Hope, Lt.-Col. Sir J. (Midlothian)|
|Bell, Lieut.-Col. W. C. H. (Devizes)||Davies, M. Vaughan- (Cardigan)||Hope, John Deans (Berwick)|
|Benn, Sir Arthur S. (Plymouth)||Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington)||Hopkins, J. W. W.|
|Benn, Com. Ian Hamilton (G'nwich)||Denison-Pender, John C.||Hopkinson, Austin (Mossley)|
|Bennett, T. J.||Dewhurst, Lieut.-Com. H.||Horne, Edgar (Guildford)|
|Birchall, Major J. D.||Dixon, Captain H.||Horne, Sir Robert (Hillhead)|
|Bird, Alfred||Dockrell, Sir M.||Hudson, R. M.|
|Blades, Sir George R.||Duncannon, Viscount||Hughes, Spencer Leigh|
|Blair, Major Reginald||Du Pre, Colonel W. B.||Hunter, Gen. Sir A. (Lancaster)|
|Blake, Sir Francis Douglas||Elliott, Lt.-Col. Sir G. (Islngtn., W.)||Hurd, P. A.|
|Borwick, Major G. O.||Eyres-Monsell, Com.||Hurst, Major G. B.|
|Boscawen, Sir Arthur Griffith-||Falcon, Captain M.||Inskip, T. W. H.|
|Jackson, Lieut.-Col. Hon. F. S. (York-|
|Bowyer, Capt. G. W. E.||Falle, Major Sir Bertram Godfray||Jameson, Major J. G.|
|Brackenbury, Col. H. L.||Farquharson, Major A. C.||Jephcott, A. R.|
|Briggs, Harold||Fell, Sir Arthur||Jesson, C.|
|Britton, G. B.||FitzRoy, Capt. Hon. Edward A.||Jodrell, N. P.|
|Broad, Thomas Tucker||Flannery, Sir J. Fortescue||Johnstone, J.|
|Brown, Captain D. C. (Hexham)||Forestier-Walker, L.||Jones, Sir Edgar R. (Merthyr Tydvil)|
|Brufon, Sir J.||Foxcrotz, Captain C.||Jones, Sir Evan (Pembroke)|
|Buckley, Lt.-Col. A.||France, Gerald Ashburner||Jones, G. W. H. (Stoke Newington)|
|Burden, Col. Rowland||Fraser, Major Sir Keith||Jones, J. Towyn (Carmarthen)|
|Campbell, J. G. D.||Gange, E. S.||Jones, Wm. Kennedy (Hornsey)|
|Carew, Charles R. S. (Tiverton)||Gardiner, J. (Perth)||Kerr-Smiley, Major P.|
|Carr, W. T.||Gardner, E. (Berks., Windsor)||Kidd, James|
|Carson, Rt. Hon. Sir Edward H.||Gibbs, Colonel George Abraham||Knights, Capt. H.|
|Cautley, Henry Strother||Gilbert, James Daniel||Lane-Fox, Major G. R.|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. J. A. (Birm., W.)||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. John||Law, Rt. Hon. A. Bonar (Glasgow)|
|Cheyne, Sir William Watson||Glanville, Harold James||Lewis, T. A. (Pontypridd, Glam.)|
|Child, Brig.-Gen. Sir Hill||Glyn, Major R.||Lloyd, George Butler|
|Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston S.||Goff, Sir R. Park||Locker-Lampson G. (Wood Green)|
|Clay, Capt. H. H. Spender||Green, J. F. (Leicester)||Locker-Lampson, Com. O. (Hunt'don)|
|Clough, R.||Greene, Lt.-Col. W. (Hackney, N.)||Lonsdale, James R.|
|Coates, Major Sir Edward F.||Greer, Harry||Lorden, John William|
|Coats, Sir Stuart||Greig, Col. James William||Lort-Williams, J.|
|Cockerill, Brig.-Gen. G. K.||Gretton, Col. John||Loseby, Captain C. E.|
|Cohen, Major J. B. B.||Griggs, Sir Peter||Lowe, Sir F. W.|
|Colfox, Major W. P.||Guest, Capt. Hon. F. E. (Dorset, E.)||Lowther, Major C. (Cumberland, N.)|
|Colvin, Brig.-Gen. R. B.||Guinness, Capt. Hon. R. (Southend)||Lyle-Samuel, A. (Eye, E. Suffolk)|
|M'Donald, D. H. (Bothwell, Lanark)||Peel, Lt.-Col. R. F. (Woodbridge)||Sugden, Lieut. W. H.|
|M'Guffin, Samuel||Perring, William George||Sykes, Sir C. (Huddersfield)|
|Mackinder, Halford J.||Philipps, Sir O. C. (Chester)||Talbot, G. A. (Hemel Hempstead)|
|Macmaster, Donald||Pickering, Col. Emil W.||Taylor, J. (Dumbarton)|
|Macnamara, Rt. Hon. Dr. T. J.||Pilditch, Sir Philip||Thomas, Sir R. (Wrexham, Denb.)|
|McNeill, Ronald (Canterbury)||Pownall, Lt.-Col. Assheton||Thomas-Stanford, Charles|
|Macquisten, F. A.||Pratt, John William||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, S.)|
|Maddocks, Henry||Preston, W. R.||Tickler, Thomas George|
|Mallalieu, Frederick William||Pretyman, Rt. Hon. Ernest G.||Tryon, Major George Clement|
|Malone, Major P. (Tottenham, S.)||Purchase, H. G.||Turton, Edmund Russborough|
|Manville, Edward||Raeburn, Sir William||Walton, J. (York, Don Valley)|
|Marriott, John Arthur R.||Rankin, Capt. James S.||Ward, Col. L. (Kingston-upon-Hull)|
|Mason, Robert||Raper, A. Baldwin||Warren, Sir Alfred H.|
|Mitchell, William Lans-||Ratcliffe, Henry Butler||Watson, Captain John Bertrand|
|Moles, Thomas||Raw, Lt.-Col. Dr. N.||Weston, Col. John W.|
|Molson, Major John Elsdale||Rawlinson, John Frederick Peel||White, Col. G. D. (Southport)|
|Moore, Maj.-Gen. Sir Newton J.||Reid, D. D.||Whitla, Sir William|
|Moore-Brabazon, Lt.-Col. J. C. K.||Remer, J. B.||Whittaker, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas P.|
|Morison, T. B. (Inverness)||Renwick, G.||Wigan, Brig.-Gen. John Tyson|
|Morrison, H. (Salisbury)||Richardson, Alex, (Gravesend)||Wild, Sir Ernest Edward|
|Morrison-Bell, Major A. C.||Robinson, S. (Brecon and Radnor)||Williams, Lt.-Com. C. (Tavistock)|
|Mosley, Oswald||Rodger, A. K.||Williams, Col. Sir R. (Dorset, W.)|
|Mount, William Arthur||Rogers, Sir Hallewell||Williamson, Rt. Hon. Sir Archibald|
|Murchison, C. K.||Roundell, Lt.-Col. R. F.||Willoughby, Lt.-Col. Hon. Claud|
|Murray, Lt.-Col. Hon. A. C. (Aberdeen)||Rutherford, Sir W. W. (Edge Hill)||Wills, Lt.-Col. Sir Gilbert Alan H.|
|Murray, Major C. D. (Edinburgh, S.)||Samuel, S. (Wandsworth, Putney)||Wilson, Capt. A. Stanley (Hold'ness)|
|Murray, John (Leeds, W.)||Sanders, Colonel Robert Arthur||Wilson, Daniel M. (Down, W.)|
|Murray, William (Dumfries)||Scott, Leslie (Liverpool, Exchange)||Wilson, Col. Leslie (Reading)|
|Nelson, R. F. W. R.||Scott, Sir S. (Marylebone)||Wilson, Col. M. (Richmond, Yorks.)|
|Newman, Major J. (Finchley, Mddx.)||Seager, Sir William||Wilson-Fox, Henry|
|Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. (Exeter)||Shaw, Capt. W. T. (Forfar)||Winfrey, Sir Richard|
|Nicholson, W. (Petersfield)||Shortt, Rt. Hon. E.||Winterton. Major Earl|
|Nield, Sir Herbert||Smith, Harold (Warrington)||Wood, Major Hon. E. (Ripon)|
|Norris, Colonel Sir Henry G.||Sprot, Col. Sir Alexander||Wood, Sir J. (Stalybridge and Hyde)|
|O'Neill, Capt. Hon. Robert W. H.||Stanier, Capt. Sir Baville||Woods, Sir Robert|
|Ormsby-Gore, Hon. William||Stanley, Col. Hon. G. F. (Preston)||Yate, Col. Charles Edward|
|Palmer, Major G. M.||Stanton, Charles Butt||Young, Sir F. W. (Swindon)|
|Palmer, Brig.-Gen. G. (Westbury)||Steel, Major S. Strang||Younger, Sir George|
|Parker, James||Stephenson, Col. H. K.|
|Parkinson, Albert L. (Blackpool)||Stoker Robert Burdon||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Lord E. Talbot and Mr. Dudley Ward.|
|Pearce, Sir William||Strauss, Edward Anthony|
|Pease, Rt. Hon. Herbert Pike||Sturrock, J. Leng-|
I beg to move, in Sub-section (2), after the word "attestation" ["serving on a pre-war attestation"], to insert the words
or sailors or soldiers who have served abroad without home leave for two years.
Under the powers recently given to me, I can select what I consider the most important Amendments, and I think that that of the hon. and gallant Gentleman upon whom I have called comes next.
I am imbued with no party motives in moving this Amendment. The House will remember that on the Army Estimates this year we raised the question of the large number of men who were in distant theatres of war, and who had not been home—some of them—for four and a-half years, and many of them for over two years. These men were sent to these theatres of war, if I may put it so, by accident. Had they been sent to France they would have got the regular
leave that they might visit their homes in England. Approximately, they would have a month's leave per year. If a man had been away for three years, it follows that he is now entitled, by all reasons of justice, to his accumulation of three months' leave. These men in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Salonika, and India feel most deeply the fact that they have been kept away from their homes, their wives, and their children for all this time. I know that the right hon. Gentleman opposite, by his recent Army Order, has taken out of our grievance, if I may call it so, the men who joined up in 1914–15, and therefore we have got rid of a good many men who had served for four years. We have got rid of all that class. But he has got to get them home. I believe that even the right hon. Gentleman himself does not believe that he can get these men home before the Armistice. He said on the Estimates that there was available for the transport of these men shipping sufficient to bring back nine out of ten. I pointed out to him how I thought he might increase his shipping facilities by taking those boats sent by the Government to bring German prisoners
home from Shanghai. I am in a position to give the names of the boats which are bringing those German prisoners back from Shanghai. On the 22nd of March the "Novara," the "Nore," and the "Atreus" sailed for Rotterdam, and they carried approximately 1,800 German prisoners who had been interned in China. There is a further boat, the "Antilochus," which will carry 1,000 German repatriated prisoners, which is due to leave about the 1st April. In face of these facts, we really cannot accept the statement that there is no shipping available to bring these men home. Arrangements have been made to repatriate Germans in this country, and our shipping is being used for that purpose. British shipping is also being used to convey American troops to the other side of the Atlantic, and the Americans have not been away from home half as long as our men, and the Government will have to put up some other excuse for not bringing these men home besides lack of transport. We have had that excuse put forward for eighteen months, and I think it is just about worn out. Under these circumstances, I do not wonder that a man from India writes to me as follows:
Our wives and children ought not to be left unprotected at home a day longer than can be helped. For a period of years they have had to fight a hard battle against the insults of numerous people, and as for the excuse of scarcity of shipping somehow the soldiers will not swallow that explanation.
I do not wonder at it. Admitted that you have got rid of the grievance of men who joined up in 1914 and 1915, you still have the case which I gave to the Secretary of State for War in Committee of a man who joined up on the 4th of January, 1916. He was sent abroad on the 6th February, 1916. He went to German East Africa, and he was there to the end of 1917. He was passed on to Egypt, and he has been all through the Palestine campaign, and at the present time he is on the Damascus road driving a three-ton lorry. He has been away three years and three months, and a few days, and if he is to be kept without leave until the ratification of peace he will have been away four hot seasons. I asked the right hon. Gentleman a simple question to which he did not give me an answer. I want to know if the right hon. Gentleman is going to conscript that man further or is he not? His relatives will not tolerate any evasion of that question. There are heaps of such cases, and we must have a plain answer from the Government. We got from the right hon.
Gentleman in Committee a statement as to its policy with regard to the men in Mesopotamia and Egypt, and these tropical climates, and he said:
That they would be brought home as soon as possible, and placed on garrison duty or home service duty in this country.
I want to know if that is really still the policy? Do not the Government recognise that these men cannot be treated as if they were ordinary soldiers who had been serving in Belgium or France, or some European climate? I think the Government ought not to send these men into billets in this country until they have become acclimatised. They should not bring them straight from a tropical climate—
I will try and keep myself in order, and my only excuse is I am not accustomed to debating in this House. I will come back to the question of these men who have been away for over two years. I have had an effort made in my Constituency to see how many men there were who had been away for a long period without leave. When I spoke in the House the other day on this subject there were a hundred and twenty cases that had been brougt to my notice, and they are still coming in. Not only am I getting them from my own Constituency, but I am receiving them from every part of the country, and I am confident that there is a very widespread irritation on this point throughout the country. I do beg of the Government to try and meet this point if they can. My Amendment may not be accepted by the Government, and I would suggest if they cannot accept it they should say, "Very well, we will give these men leave at home and a satisfactory one between now and the ratification of peace," and if they can do so they should bring them home straight away to their homes and not billet them in this country.
I beg to second this Amendment.
I wish to associate myself with certain remarks which were made by the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) earlier this evening with regard to the attitude which the Government has taken up in their treatment of the Amendments which have been proposed from this side of the House. I would like to point out to those representing the War Office that all these Amendments have really been brought forward with the best intentions. They have been of a constructive character and they have sought to express improvements and modifications which many people not only in this House but in the country strongly believe in. One does feel a certain amount of resentment when we see Amendment after Amendment steam-rollered out of existence in this way. I would like to make a special appeal to hon. Members who support the Government to consider this particular Amendment that has just been submitted fairly from every point of view, and vote according to their judgment, and not merely because of any sense of party loyalty.
Only this morning I was conducting a small party of Indian soldiers through this House. It was their first visit to England, and they were enormously interested in what they saw, and they asked a number of intelligent questions. I pointed out that the Government sat on that side and the Opposition on this side, and one of the Indians then said, "I suppose the Government has a very big majority or they would not be the Government." I said, "Yes, they have a very big majority." Then he said, "Why do you not go over to the other side?" That Indian soldier expressed an attitude that has been maintained with a fair amount of consistency in the process of the discussions that have gone on regarding this Bill.
The Amendment which has been submitted is one that asks for preferential treatment to men who have been living under very abnormal conditions, even in comparison with the other men in the Army. We know that those men who have not had leave for two years, or over a longer period, are men who have served in Salonika, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and in India, and apart from the hazardous conditions which those men have had to live under, there has also been the bad climatic conditions, the severity of which cannot be exaggerated. I am quite convinced that if there are in this House at the present time any medical men who have been out in the East they will agree with the object of this Amendment. We know quite well that even in regard to men who are graded as fit, and who are now passed as being quite equal to taking any form of military duty, a great majority of them have passed through the hospitals at some period during the last four years. I do not know the exact percentage of the men who have passed through the hospitals suffering from tropical diseases, but it is very high indeed; and there are vast numbers of men who, although they have been able to keep out of the hospitals, have had their health permanently injured as the result of having been left so long under the severe climatic conditions.
We are simply asking the War Office to give special consideration to the case of these men, and to remember their long separation from home. As I said the other night, only those who have been out in the Near East understand the real ghastliness of the conditions. They have been living in remote places right away from Salonika or in some inaccessible parts of Palestine or Egypt cut off from all contact with home, with an irregular pest, and receiving no newspapers. I submit, when we say that these men should be excluded from the provisions of this Bill, we are only making a perfectly reasonable request. I would most strongly urge all who are in this House at the present moment, regardless of any sense of loyalty to the Government, to look at this question from a humane point of view, and remember the special claim that men have upon their consideration who have served in our distant theatres of the War, and who have, in addition to the ordinary hazards of war, lived under conditions of the most trying character.
This Amendment must be placed in the category of Amendments which are impossible. It would be quite impossible to give effect to it because one of the immediate results would be the release of all the men who are now in the garrisons. That could not be carried out.
It would be impossible in the conditions of the season to transfer men through the Red Sea, and it would be impossible because the release would have to take place which would be under conditions which would be detrimental to the troops. It would be impossible also to release the Eastern garrisons and those in Palestine, Mesopotamia, India, and other garrisons between now and the time fixed. Therefore, I think we must ask hon. Members not to be led away by compassionate considerations. I have the greatest sympathy with those who have to serve in India and in other tropical countries I spent ten years in the Army myself, and nobody can have more sympathy than I have with those men in the conditions in which they have to serve. But exigencies of war are sometimes very hard. If you relieved these men you would have to alter the whole Schedule attached to the Bill on which it is based, and we might have to make such a change that the age would be raised to forty. We might also have to on 1st January, 1916. From 1st January by six or eight months. The Amendment would destroy the provisions of the Bill, and I do not think it would carry out the objects of the Mover and Seconder.
Another reason why it would be undesirable is that you would have a difficulty in applying the two years mentioned in the Amendment. There might only be a difference of a few months or a few weeks on each side of this border-line, but you would find a great number of people with hard cases who would ask for the same terms as those received who came within the two years' limit. It would be much better to leave it to the War Office, which has the responsibility of dealing with these matters. When hard cases are multiplied there is a great difficulty in dealing with them. Two cases have been mentioned by hon. Members, one with regard to shipping, which I shall, of course, report. But I am quite certain that no grievance of that kind can be made against the War Office or the Admiralty. The special case to which another hon. Member referred is admittedly a hard case, and my right hon. Friend has intimated his intention of looking into it. I would ask the House, in the interests of the Bill and the Army and of discipline, to vote against the Amendment.
It is obvious that the Government cannot accept this Amendment. No doubt it commands a certain amount of sympathy. I rise to ask a question with, respect to India. We have had many questions as to the men who are being released from India and we have been told that it was only possible to release 20,000 men and those who were suffering from the effects of the climate. I have information from India that a very large number of young healthy men were being sent home last February as indispensable or pivotal men, and that this may have the effect of stopping the release of other men who have been out there for a considerable time. I think the War Office might have sent out a telegram stopping the release of these so-called pivotal younger men so that the longer service men could get away, and I hope even now that the War Office will stop the release of those indispensables. The information I have is that these men find that they are being taunted by the younger men. My informant is a National Reserve man, aged 42, who has been out since 1914, and he says these young men are openly taunting them and saying what fools they were to go out in the early days so that they cannot be sent home now as indispensables.
Is it really a fact the vessels are being used to carry back interned Germans from China with wives and families? Could not these vessels be used to enable us to bring back our men from India?
We have reason to complain that we are getting no concessions from the Government on this Bill. We have put down Amendments which like this Amendment are quite reasonable and with which Members of the House have expressed their sympathy, but after certain questions have been put and answers have been given Members seem to be content. The hon. Member for the Duncairn Division of Belfast (Sir Edward Carson) in the last Parliament took a great interest in the question of leave for officers and men, and their pensions, and he just asked a question as to whether or not the Government could pledge themselves that these men would have their leave. That was answered in the affirmative. But I may remind the right hon. Gentleman that the same pledge has been given repeatedly and the men have not got their have yet. I remember—I think it was in one of the Secret Sessions in this House—the then Secretary for War made a speech pointing out the ease with which he could come out of the Army for various purposes. I have never been able to understand—perhaps some of the military Members of the House will make us understand—how it is that the officers of a particular unit or battalion do not know how many men have had leave and when they last got leave. After all, a battalion is a small number, and I think that the officers should be able to divide it up and do that.
That was not my point. My point was that these men complain that they cannot get their leave. I did not want to give the impression that it was the fault of the officers. But when the officers do take such great care of their men under their charge there ought then to be no difficulty in these men getting their leave. And yet every Member of this House knows that there are many oases analogous to those which have been mentioned in the Debate on this Amendment. If we could get some sort of a census taken among the men so that we would know who had got leave, there might be an improvement. We might then know how long it was since a man had got his leave, whether it were six months or whatever it was and they could then be given leave and if there were arrears due they would get arrears of leave on the usual terms. That could easily be done if you have capable administration. The hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite sees a difficulty in that, but if he wanted to see every Government Bill secured in this House against the small number of Members on this side, he could divide his forces into small battalions and allow two-thirds of them to go away, leaving the remainder to see that we did not carry out Amendments. If that is possible in the House of Commons, why cannot it be done in the Army? There would be no difficulty about it. When there is a complaint about ships for bringing men back for leave we are told it is being inquired into.
Surely when the matter was raised in Committee and came down here, inquiries might have been made into it in the meantime so that they might be able to remove the anxiety from the minds of these men! We have got that kind of answer, and I am sorry that we should have to go to a Division. We have now got to the Report stage, and we have not got a single concession although we have put forward reasonable Amendments.
I support the resistance of the Government to these Amendments, and if they had accepted such Amendments as this on Report I think it would have given a great deal of dissatisfaction to the majority of this House. One hon. Member spoke as if anyone voting for the Government voted in terror of the Government Whips. Speaking for myself, I have not given any vote on this Bill in consequence of the Government Whips being put on, and I should have felt very great dissatisfaction with the Government if they had taken any other course. I do not feel quite the same with regard to this Amendment. I listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Colonel P. Williams) with a great deal of sympathy, and, looking at the Amendment, we must have sympathy with it, because of our own experience and the cases which have come under our own notice. I entirely join with my right hon. and learned Friend (Sir E. Carson) in asking the Government for a very definite pledge that they will do their utmost to give leave to the men who are covered by this Amendment. My hon. Friend the Whip of the Liberal party (Mr. Hogge) is not satisfied with a pledge of that sort. He wants to go into the Division Lobby. I am placed in this position, and I am quite sure that many other hon. Members will agree with me: I sympathise with the desire to have these men brought back to this country for the leave to which they are well entitled, but we have heard from my hon. and gallant Friend representing the Government that if they were to do that in the way demanded by this Amendment it would mean practically the breaking up of all the garrisons in the East and the destruction of the whole of the mobile British Forces in the Near and the Far East. Can Members take upon themselves the responsibility of going into the Lobby in support of their sympathies when it would bring about such a state of affairs? I for one cannot.
At the same time I am so anxious that the Government should do more than they have done hitherto in the way of giving leave to these men that if it were possible I would very much like to get something more from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War than we have yet obtained on this subject. I do not know to what extent the transport difficulty still stands in the way. I rather gather from what the Patronage Secretary has said that that is not the chief difficulty. There is plenty of transport available now. If the Government are in earnest they can use German ships and our own ships, and if that is the only question they ought to find the ships. These men are in a different position from that of all the other men who have been fighting in the War. To begin with, they have had bad luck in going to those distant theatres of war at all. They have not had the best part of the fighting or the best part of the credit. They have been more or less in the background, though in many cases they have had quite as onerous fighting as the men on the Western Front. They have had all the horrors of the climate, and they have been all this time away from home. There is a further difficulty. A very large number of the Indian troops are in the same position. Of course, they may not have suffered so much as the white troops from the climate, but large numbers of them have been three or four years away from home. That raises a very serious problem. The Government, as a whole, is just as responsible for the Indian native troops who fight for us in the Indian Army as they are for our own men. I do hope very much that my hon. Friend opposite will not press this Amendment to a Division in face of what we have heard from the Government. At the same time I do appeal to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War to give us a little more pronounced and definite assurance that the Government realise the importance of giving leave to men who have been in the Eastern theatres two and more years.
I fully recognise the force of what has fallen from my hon. Friend, and I can assure him and the House that the military authorities have no other wish than to bring home the men who have been out the longest and to give leave to those who have not had leave for so long, because of their absence in distant theatres. We will make every possible effort to secure both results. As a matter of fact, we are now bringing home for demobilisation the men who are not included in the scope of this Bill, and who are not in the retained classes, and that alone is throwing a great strain not only on our resources of transport but on the strength of our units maintained in those theatres. These emergencies which we have to face are very real ones, and I am not in all respects a free agent in the matter. First of all, we have some troops in Bulgaria. I cannot move those troops except in consultation with our Allies who have got troops in other parts. I hope that our troops may be released, but we must proceed in accordance with the decisions which are reached by the Conference in Paris. No one Ally can come home and leave the others to bear the resulting burden. There are also troops in Caucasus. I explained why they were sent there. They were sent there to turn out the Turks and the Germans, and they remain there for the purpose of keeping order in that country until the Allied Conference definitely arrives at a settlement of affairs in that region, which I hope will not be very long. We have no intention of remaining there as soon as a settlement is reached, and we shall then get a great relief. We do not wish to remain in Caucasus; we are simply there discharging an international duty pending a great decision, and we do not want to ruin the prospects of a settlement for the sake of a few weeks patience. The same is true of Palestine and Mesopotamia, though there we have more direct interests. There we have to keep certain definite forces. As for Egypt, can I possibly exaggerate the situation? There were 10,000 men gathered together at Alexandria the other day for the purpose of being sent home, men not included in the scope of this Bill, but men who were due for demobilisation. We had to appeal to those men to stand by and assist the forces of law and order because of the grave situation prevailing over the whole of Egypt. We had to issue orders to move troops in considerable numbers from various quarters into Egypt. Those troop movements are now proceeding and they are putting a very considerable and unforeseen strain upon us.
So far from having too many men, we have gone to the utmost limits which prudence allows, and the military authorities are far from feeling that we are heavily over-insured in this respect. If we must have these units in these different theatres which I have mentioned and specified until something is decided, we must keep them up to a certain standard of strength. It is no use having a brigade or a division at a certain place if you allow your battalions to fall 200 or 250 men below strength. You only go along a dangerous road when you allow your units to fall below strength. The demobilisation of men alone is wearing our units down below their proper war establishment, and I could not consent to the release of men beyond those who are released under the provisions of this Act until I am able to replace them. We are not delaying an hour in the work of replacing these men. We are organising drafts of men who are included in the scope of this Bill, who have had their turn of leave at home, and who have not been exposed to service in these distant regions. These drafts are going out—several thousands are going out almost immediately—not only for the purpose of relieving men for demobilisation, but also for the purpose of relieving men who have been there so long without the comfort and satisfaction of having had leave at home. The military authorities consider, having regard, as we hope, to the short period for which this special compulsory legislation will be required, that the men from these distant stations should not be sent out again at the end of their leave, but should be kept on duty here and their places taken by men who have not had such a long spell of foreign service. I can assure the House that we will do everything in our power to mitigate the hardships which this struggle has imposed upon these men. I will leave no stone unturned to secure their return at the earliest possible moment and their replacement by men who have not been so long absent or by men who have volunteered for Regular service in the Army. I have now got 70,000 volunteers—many of them have to be trained, and others are entitled to their furlough—and in a comparatively
short space of time we shall have good solid units analogous to those of the Regular Army before the War, with which we can mitigate the hardships of these men in distant stations. I would respectfully ask the House to facilitate the progress of this Bill. I have done my best to give a full and frank explanation, and I would be glad if the House would now dispose of this Amendment.
I should be quite ready, if a man owing to special circumstances has not had any leave, to consider whether there could not be some special treatment, but I must not be taken to be making any promise about it.
Could the right hon. Gentleman give us an assurance that when he is able to bring these men home they will be allowed to go to their homes, and will not be again called up unless absolutely necessary?
I do not think that would be fair. It would cause great discontent. It would be wrong not to keep on duty at home after he has had his leave at home a man who did not join before the 1st January, 1916, and who is twenty-five or twenty-six years of age, because otherwise some older man would have to be kept.
|Division No. 21.]||AYES.||[7.30 p.m.|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. William||Brown, J. (Ayr and Bute)||Graham, D. M. (Hamilton)|
|Arnold, Sydney||Cairns, John||Graham, W. (Edinburgh)|
|Bell, James (Ormskirk)||Cape, Tom||Griffiths, T. (Pontypool)|
|Benn, Capt. W. (Leith)||Cowan, D. M. (Scottish Univ.)||Grundy, T. W.|
|Bentinck, Lt.-Col. Lord H. Cavendish-||Davies, Alfred (Clitheroe)||Hall, F. (Yorks, Normanton)|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Davison, J. E. (Smethwick)||Hartshorn, V.|
|Brace, Rt. Hon. William||Edwards, C. (Bedwellty)||Hayday, A.|
|Breese, Major C. E.||Galbraith, Samuel||Hayward, Major Evan|
|Briant, F.||Glanville, Harold James||Hinds, John|
|Hirst, G. H.||Richardson, R. (Houghton)||Thorne, Col. W. (Plaistow)|
|Hogge, J. M.||Roberts, F. O. (W. Bromwich)||Walsh, S. (Ince, Lancs.)|
|Johnstone, J.||Royce, William Stapleton||Waterson, A. E.|
|Jones, J. (Silvertown)||Shaw, Hon. A. (Kilmarnock)||White, Charles F. (Derby, W.)|
|Lambert, Rt. Hon. George||Shaw, Tom (Preston)||Wignall, James|
|Lunn, William||Short, A. (Wednesbury)||Williams, A. (Consett, Durham)|
|Maclean, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (Midlothian)||Sitch, C. H.||Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)|
|N'Lean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)||Smith, Capt. A. (Nelson and Colne)||Young, Lt.-Com. E. H. (Norwich)|
|Norris, Colonel Sir Henry G.||Smith, W. (Wellingborough)||Young, Robert (Newton, Lancs.)|
|O'Grady, James||Swan, J. E. C.|
|Onions, Alfred||Taylor, J. W. (Chester-le-Street)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Mr. P. Williams and Mr. Spoor.|
|Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)||Thomas, Brig-Gen. Sir O. (Anglesey)|
|Raffan, peter Wilson||Thomson, T. (Middlesbrough, W.)|
|Richards, Rt. Hon. Thomas||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton, E.)|
|Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte||Davies, T. (Cirencester)||Locker-Lampson, Com. O. (Hunt'don)|
|Ainsworth, Capt C.||Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington)||Lonsdale, James R.|
|Archer-Shee, Lieut.-Col. Martin||Denison-Pender, John C.||Lorden, John William|
|Astor, Major Hon. Waldorf||Dewhurst, Lieut.-Com. H.||Lort-Williams, J.|
|Atkey, A. R.||Dixon, captain H.||Loseby, Captain C. E.|
|Austin, Sir H.||Dockrell, Sir M.||Lowther, Major C. (Cumberland, N.)|
|Bagley, Captain E. A.||Duncannon, Viscount||Lyle-Samuel, A. (Eye, E. Suffolk)|
|Baird, John Lawrence||Du Pre, Colonel W. B.||M'Donald, D. H. (Bothwell, Lanark)|
|Baldwin, Stanley||Edwards, A. Clement (East Ham, S.)||M'Guffin, Samuel|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Elliott, Lt.-Col. Sir G. (Islngtn., W.)||Mackinder, Halford J.|
|Banner, Sir J. S. Harmood-||Eyres-Monsell, Com.||Macmaster, Donald|
|Barker, Major R.||Farquharson, Major A. C.||Macnamara, Rt. Hon. Dr. T. J.|
|Barnett, Captain Richard W.||Fell, Sir Arthur||McNeill, Ronald (Canterbury)|
|Barnston, Major Harry||FitzRoy, Capt. Hon. Edward A.||Macquisten, F. A.|
|Barrie, C. C.||Flannery, Sir J. Fortescue||Malone, Major P. (Tottenham, S.)|
|Beauchamp, Sir Edward||Forestier-Walker, L.||Marriott, John Arthur R.|
|Bell, Lieut.-Col. W. C. H. (Devizes)||Foxcroft, Captain C.||Mason, Robert|
|Benn, Sir Arthur S. (Plymouth)||Fraser, Major Sir Keith||Middlebrook, Sir William|
|Benn, Com. Ian Hamilton (G'nwich)||Gardiner, J. (Perth)||Mitchell, William Lane-|
|Bigland, Alfred||Gardner, E. (Berks., Windsor)||Molson, Major John Elsdale|
|Birchall, Major J. D.||Gibbs, Colonel George Abraham||Moore, Maj.-Gen. Sir Newton J.|
|Bird, Alfred||Gilbert, James Daniel||Moore-Brabazon, Lt.-Col. J. C. T.|
|Blades, Sir George R.||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. John||Moreing, Captain Algernon H.|
|Blair, Major Reginald||Glyn, Major R.||Morison, T. B. (Inverness)|
|Borwick, Major G. O.||Green, J. F. (Leicester)||Morrison, H. (Salisbury)|
|Boscawen, Sir Arthur Griffith-||Greig, Col. James William||Morrison-Bell, Major A. C.|
|Brackenbury, Col. H. L.||Gretton, Col. John||Mosley, Oswald|
|Bridgeman, William Clive||Griggs, Sir Peter||Murchison, C. K.|
|Briggs, Harold||Guest, Capt. Hon. F. E. (Dorset, E.)||Murray, Major C. D. (Edinburgh, S.)|
|Brittain, Sir Harry E.||Guest, Major O. (Leices., Loughb'ro'.)||Murray, John (Leeds, W.)|
|Britton, G. B.||Guinness, Lt.-Col. Hon. W. E. (B. St. E)||Murray, William (Dumfries)|
|Broad, Thomas Tucker||Hacking, Captain D. H.||Neal, Arthur|
|Bruton, Sir J.||Hallwood, A.||Nelson, R. F. W. R.|
|Buckley, Lt.-Col. A.||Hallas, E.||Newman, Major J. (Finchley, Mddx.)|
|Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James||Hambre, Angus Valdemar||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. (Exeter)|
|Burdon, Col. Rowland||Hanson, Sir Charles||O'Neill, Capt. Hon. Robert W. H.|
|Burn, Col. C. R. (Torquay)||Harris, Sir H. P. (Paddington, S.)||Parker, James|
|Burn, T. H. (Belfast)||Henderson, Major V. L.||Pease, Rt. Hon. Herbert Pike|
|Campbell, J. G. D.||Hennessy, Major G.||Peel, Lt.-Col. R. F. (Woodbridge)|
|Carew, Charles R. S. (Tiverton)||Hewart, Right Hon. Sir Gordon||Perring, William George|
|Carlile, Sir Edward Hildred||Hilder, Lieut.-Col. F.||Pickering, Col. Emil W.|
|Carr, W. T.||Hohler, Gerald Fitzroy||Pilditch, Sir Philip|
|Carson, Rt. Hon. Sir Edward H.||Hope, Harry (Stirling)||Pownall, Lt.-Col. Assheton|
|Cautley, Henry Strother||Hope, Lt.-Col. Sir J. (Midlothian)||Pratt, John William|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Evelyn (Aston Manor)||Hopkins, J. W. W.||Preston, W. R.|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. J. A. (Birm., W.)||Hopkinson, Austin (Mossley)||Purchase, H. G.|
|Chamberlain, N. (Birm., Ladywood)||Horne, Sir Robert (Hillhead)||Raeburn, Sir William|
|Child, Brig.-Gen. Sir Hill||Hudson, R. M.||Rankin, Capt. James S.|
|Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston S.||Hughes, Spencer Leigh||Raper, A. Baldwin|
|Clay, Capt. H. H. Spender||Hunter, Gen. Sir A. (Lancaster)||Ratcliffe, Henry Butler|
|Clyde, James Avon||Hurst, Major G. B.||Raw, Lt.-Col. Dr. N.|
|Coates, Major Sir Edward F.||Inskip, T. W. H.||Rawlinson, John Frederick Peel|
|Coats, Sir Stuart||Jackson, Lieut.-Col. Hon. F. S. (York)||Reid, D. D.|
|Cockerill, Brig.-Gen. G. K.||Jameson, Major J. G.||Remer, J. B.|
|Cohen, Major J. B. B.||Jephcott, A. R.||Renwick, G.|
|Colfox, Major W. P.||Jodrell, N. P.||Richardson, Alex. (Gravesend)|
|Compton-Rickett, Rt. Hon. Sir J.||Johnson, L. S.||Roberts, Rt. Hon. G. H. (Norwich)|
|Conway, Sir W. Martin||Jones, Sir Edgar R. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Robinson, S. (Brecon and Radnor)|
|Cope, Major W. (Glamorgan)||Jones, G. W. H. (Stoke Newington)||Rodger, A. K.|
|Courthope, Major George Loyd||Jones, J. Towyn (Carmarthen)||Roundell, Lt.-Col. R. F.|
|Cowan, Sir W. (Aberdeen and Kinc.)||Jones, Wm. Kennedy (Hornsey)||Rutherford, Sir W. W. (Edge Hill)|
|Cozens-Hardy, Hon. W. H.||Kerr-Smiley, Major P.||Samuel, S. (Wandsworth, Putney)|
|Craig, Capt. C. (Antrim)||Kidd, James||Sanders, Colonel Robert Arthur|
|Curzon, Commander Viscount||Lane-Fox, Major G. R.||Scott, Leslie (Liverpool, Exchange)|
|Davies, Alfred Thomas (Lincoln)||Larmor, Sir J.||Scott, Sir S. (Marylebone)|
|Davies, Sir D. S. (Denbigh)||Law, Rt. Hon. A. Bonar (Glasgow)||Seager, Sir William|
|Davies, Sir Joseph (Crewe)||Lewis, T. A. (Pontypridd, Glam.)||Shaw, Capt. W. T. (Forfar)|
|Shortt, Rt. Hon. E.||Thomas, Sir R. (Wrexham, Denb.)||Wild, Sir Ernest Edward|
|Simm, Col. M. T.||Thomas-Stanford, Charles||Williams, Lt.-Com. C. (Tavistock)|
|Smith, Harold (Warrington)||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, S.)||Williams, Lt.-Col. Sir R. (Banbury)|
|Sprot, Col. Sir Alexander||Townley, Maximillian G.||Williams, Col. Sir R. (Dorset, W.)|
|Stanier, Capt. Sir Beville||Tryon, Major George Clement||Willoughby, Lt.-Col. Hon. Claud|
|Stanley, Col. Hon. G. F. (Preston)||Vickers, D.||Wills, Lt.-Col. Sir Gilbert Alan H.|
|Stanton, Charles Butt||Waddington, R.||Wilson, Col. Leslie (Reading)|
|Steel, Major S. Strang||Ward, Col. L. (Kingsten-upon-Hull)||Winterton, Major Earl|
|Stephenson, Col. H. K.||Wardle, George J.||Wood, Sir J. (Stalybridge and Hyde)|
|Stevens, Marshall||Warren, Sir Alfred H.||Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.|
|Stoker Robert Burdon||Watson, Captain John Bertrand||Yate, Col. Charles Edward|
|Sturrock, J. Leng-||Weigall, Lt.-Col. W. E. G. A.||Yeo, Sir Alfred William|
|Sugden, Lieut. W. H.||Wsston, Col. John W.||Young, Sir F. W. (Swindon)|
|Sutherland, Sir William||Wheler, Col. Granville C. H.|
|Sykes, Sir C. (Huddersfield)||Whitla, Sir William||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Lord E. Talbot and Mr. Dudley Ward.|
|Talbot, G. A. (Hemel Hempstead)||Wigan, Brig.-Gen. John Tyson|
|Taylor, J. (Dumbarton)|
I beg to move, in Sub-section (2), after the word "attestation," to insert the words
or soldiers who are repatriated prisoners of war.
This Amendment deals with the question of repatriated prisoners of war, and, as we have little time left in which to discuss this before a quarter past eight, I do not propose to make any lengthy remarks. But I want once again, because we attempted it in vain in Committee, to put the point to my right hon. Friend, and to ask him to at least make this concession. Briefly, the repatriated prisoner of war is now subject to Conscription, as enacted by this Bill when it becomes an Act.
As a matter of fact, we have made a very great deal of the miseries and tortures which our prisoners of war were subjected to by the Germans. I took the trouble to get from the Vote Office some White Papers, issued in 1918, giving details of the treatment of these men. The purpose of these White Papers was to prove to the civilised world the enormity of the treatment by the Germans of our prisoners of war. I will only read one paragraph from one of these White Papers. Here is a letter on page 9 of Command-Paper 8988, which is a Report on the treatment by the enemy of British prisoners of war behind the firing lines in France and Belgium, in which it says:
In May of this year a large party of British came into the camp who had returned from behind the German lines. They were ravenous through being starved and half savages. … The state in which they returned was the worst sight I have seen in my life. Their clothes were ragged, they were half-shaven, verminous, suffering from skin diseases, and were half savage with hunger and bad treatment—
and so on. That can be multiplied as everybody knows who has read through
these White Papers. I would also like to read one extract from a letter written by a repatriated prisoner of war who is still serving, which emphasises another point which rankles in the minds of these men. This man is at the present moment one of a group of men who are guarding German prisoners still in this country. He says that all of them
failed to put in papers for demobilisation before 1st February, as we understood that all prisoners of war would be demobilised whilst on their two months' leave.
My right hon. Friend will agree that it was quite easy to understand that, because of the public announcements made throughout the Press at that time. I do not know who was responsible for them, but the fact remains that the announcements were made. This man goes on to say that he was given two months' leave, and adds:
Judge to our anger and dismay when on reporting at our depot we were sent down here to guard our Boche enemies. Most of the prisoners here do not work, are well fed, clothed in raiment as good as our own, whilst we, who suffered every torture that they could devise, guard them night and day.
This man has no father. He is only twenty-eight years of age. His brother was killed in 1916. He himself was wounded twice, and captured when wounded, and before being captured spent three days in "No Man's Land." Everybody knows what that means. He had been only eight months in France. He was in hospital in Germany until August, 1917. He was then sent to work on a railway commando in the Harz Mountains. He was then sent to the salt mines in Hanover. He has now been repatriated and has had two months' repatriation leave. He is now conscripted by this Bill till the 30th April, 1920. The right hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. It is either true or it is not that the Germans treated our prisoners of war in the way suggested in these Reports. If it is true, it makes us peculiarly heartless to take
these men and put them back into the Army now. It is going to go hard with my right hon. Friend if he has to defend a position in which the Germans will be able to say, in view of what is depicted in these White Papers, "How much truth can there be in them? Look at the Secretary of State for War in Great Britain, he is putting these men back into the Army." The numbers are not large. Admittedly these men have suffered. This is the only Amendment of substance left which we desire to move. We have got nothing after having toiled through Committee and Report. We have done worse than the fishermen who toiled all night. Cannot my right hon. Friend make some concession on what is a topic of great human interest both to the men concerned and to their relatives who, during the War, have never known how far they could depend upon seeing these men again in view of the serious nature of the treatment of these men in Germany? I hope my right hon. Friend can make this concession.
I beg to second the Amendment.
I have not read the White Paper mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge), but I have seen many hundreds of prisoners who have come back—men of twenty-five who look like men of fifty. The right hon. Gentleman has argued that these men should not have preferential treatment as compared with the men who risked their lives in the trenches. There may be something to be said for that view, but does not the right hon. Gentleman see that, on the one hand, you had a man risking his life in the trenches but having an opportunity to defend himself and to fight for himself, while, on the other hand, you had a man confined in these horrible prison camps suffering all the horrors of ten thousand hells without a chance of defending himself in any way whatever when attacked, and being starved in the manner described. Those of us who have seen these men come home and their wives, too, scarcely knew them. We shall be doing worse than we have done if we send these men back again—I do not care where we send them. They ought to be released to go back to their home from which they have been separated for so long. I have seen a man this week who has spent two and a half years in Germany as a prisoner. I did not know him when I saw him first, although he was one of my friends for years before he went out. He was captured in 1916 and only came home in the early part of this year. The right hon. Gentleman has given us no concession up to now, and I ask him to give us this. Not for the sake of giving a concession but in the interests of humanity, I would appeal to him with all the earnestness of a man who has seen perhaps more than most men the homes of these people and the men who have come back, that he should at least grant us this small concession and not send these men back into the Army, which has such horrible and terrible memories for them.
This is really a thoroughly unsound proposition. It is very easy for my hon. Friends to take their hard cases and to use the sentiment which is excited in everyone's breast by the recital of these horrible circumstances. It is quite easy for the hon. Gentleman who seconded the Amendment to dwell upon the emaciated, broken, and shattered condition of the released prisoners of war. But it is not our intention to, take into the Army, or to retain in the Army, any man whose health is affected and who is not physically fit for general service. It is not our intention to treat any of these men who are really affected by the hard conditions of their captivity for retention under the Military Service Acts. We mean to be guided in the matter by medical opinion.
Which is often right. At any rate it is the opinion which must necessarily guide us as to whether a man is or is not so injured by his captivity that he is not fit to continue in the Service. The medical examination of these prisoners of war should be most careful and most searching, because we must prevent by every means in our power the retention of men who, not merely physically but mentally and morally are gravely affected by what they have been through. We will see that it is a most strict, careful and solicitous medical examination. But when I have said that and I come to the general ground of principle, I do not believe that the two hon. Members who have spoken would carry the opinion of the Army, by which I mean the soldiers, the men of the rank and file, with them for one moment in the suggestion that men who have not been taken prisoners of war should be penalised in favour of those who have been taken prisoners of war. As I have said before, the bravery of our Army has been such that we have been able to feel great confidence in regard to all prisoners of war, and we have had the assurance that they have not laid down their arms and surrendered themselves to the enemy while any chance remained of their usefully waging the struggle against them. We know that some of the very bravest men in the Army have been taken prisoners. We know that the circumstances of this War, with its attacks on very broad fronts, often have led to parties being cut off for whom there was absolutely no hope but certain death unless they surrendered. I am, therefore, not making any reflection on the men who have become prisoners of war. But to say that they should have a special privilege over men who have had their arms in their hands until the end, until the enemy was finally beaten, all his resources exhausted and his armies worn down, would be to commit the House to a proposition which would be repudiated by any person acquainted with the spirit of armies and with military men, and indeed by any person who devotes the use of a reasonable intellect to a philosophical examination of the subject. I am sure that my hon. Friends will see that we ought to proceed in this case on the footing of exact equality. Let us first of all have the most careful medical examination, and make sure that none of these cases of hardship, where men are so broken by their captivity, should be included in the scope of those retained, but having satisfied ourselves that a man is not prejudicially affected by his confinement, we ought in no way to penalise the fighting soldier who has not been taken prisoner, or to elect prisoners of war into a class specially privileged above all other classes in the Army.
Those who have had the misfortune, like myself, to be taken prisoner of war, are grateful to those hon. Members who have brought forward this Amendment for the spirit of sympathy in which they have done so. The praise they have given these men they thoroughly deserve. Most of them—indeed, all of them, I believe—have been made prisoners in circumstances over which they had absolutely no control. They were cut off and surrounded, but many of them fought to the very last moment. While I thank both the hon. Members for this Amendment, I believe I should be voicing the opinion of those who have been prisoners of war if I say that now they are once more released they would welcome the opportunity of doing something again for their country. I do not pretend to be able to speak for the whole number of prisoners of war, but I am certain that I am on strong ground when I say that to most of them one of the worst parts of their captivity was the sense of uselessness and the futility of their lives while everybody they knew—their friends, brothers, and relations—were working towards winning the War. They had that sense of utter uselessness and yet of wanting to help. Although everybody will be grateful for the sympathy expressed in this Amendment, I believe I am right in saying that it is contrary to the feelings of the men themselves for whose benefit it is intended.
As I am practically the only Member of this House affected by this Bill, having been demobilised only four weeks ago, I should like to state what I think is the opinion of the soldiers in the Army, both on this Amendment and upon the whole Bill, if that is not out of order. So far as the Amendment is concerned, capture as a prisoner of war is in the best of cases a very grave misfortune. In the worst of cases it is the worst fault a soldier could commit. I am sorry to have to say it, but I think many hon. Members by this time have found that there have been cases, far too numerous, where instead of being a misfortune to the man who is captured it is a great fault committed by him. It seems to me the best we can do in the case of men who have been prisoners of war is to treat them extremely tenderly and to give them the benefit of the doubt wherever possible, but not to erect them into a sort of heroes, men who are to be treated quite differently from those others who perhaps had the opportunity of being taken prisoners of war and were not taken. On the whole, I have been surprised at the extraordinary way in which hon. Members have got up, particularly on this side of the House, and talked as if they knew the mind of the private soldier. The mind of the Army is a thing which I have had more experience of on every side, from the top almost to the bottom of the Army—I have been on the General Staff in the War Office as well as served in the ranks—and it is a matter of extraordinary amusement and surprise to people like myself to hear the arguments which have been put forward, as though the Members in question were speaking on behalf of the private soldier in the Army. It would appear to a stranger from another world, who came and listened to the Debate, that there was no soldier in the whole of the British Army who ever wanted to fight. It would appear that the one and only object of a soldier in our Army was to get out of it as quickly as possible, to shirk his duty at every possible moment, and to be a nuisance to his commanding officer and his country. I beg to differ from those hon. Members. If it is found necessary, if this Act is put into force, in respect of men in my own position in the Reserve, I shall be very pleased indeed to throw up my rights as a Member of the House, resign my seat, and be called up along with the others. I do that because I value the spirit of the
Army that has been shown in this War, and it seems to be the absolute duty of everyone of us in this position to be ready to do so. This is a question of showing, as far as possible, what the spirit of the best part of the Army is, and I hope those hon. Members who have not seen the underside of the Army quite so closely as I have will bear this in mind in considering these matters. I think those who volunteered at the beginning of the War do not want to be hard on prisoners or on conscripts. In fact, in my opinion, we treated them far too well when we got them into the Army. But do not let us erect into heroes the men who did not stick it out to the end and the men who did not come into the Army at the beginning.
|Division No. 22.]||AYES.||[8.5 p.m.|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. William||Hartshorn, V.||Shaw, Tom (Preston)|
|Arnold, Sydney||Hayward, Major Evan||Short, A. (Wednesbury)|
|Bell, James (Ormskirk)||Hinds, John||Sitch, C. H.|
|Benn, Capt. W. (Leith)||Hirst, G. H.||Smith, Capt. A. (Nelson and Colne)|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Johnstone, J.||Smith, W. (Wellingborough)|
|Brace, Rt. Hon. William||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Spoor, B. G.|
|Breese, Major C. E.||Jones, J. (Silvertown)||Swan, J. E. C.|
|Briant, F.||Lunn, William||Taylor, J. W. (Chester-le-Street)|
|Brown, J. (Ayr and Bute)||Maclean, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (Midlothian)||Thomas, Brig-Gen. Sir O. (Anglesey)|
|Cairns, John||M'Lean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)||Thomson, T. (Middlesbrough, W.)|
|Cape, Tom||Mallalieu, Frederick William||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton, E.)|
|Davies, Alfred (Clitheroe)||O'Grady, James||Thorne, Col. W. (Plaistow)|
|Davison, J. E. (Smethwick)||Onions, Alfred||Waterson, A. E.|
|Edwards, C. (Bedwellty)||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)||White, Charles F. (Derby, W.)|
|Galbraith, Samuel||Raffan, Peter Wilson||Wignall, James|
|Glanville, Harold James||Richards, Rt. Hon. Thomas||Williams, Col. P. (Middlesbrough)|
|Graham, D. M. (Hamilton)||Richardson, R. (Houghton)||Young, Robert (Newton, Lancs.)|
|Graham, W. (Edinburgh)||Robinson, S. (Brecon and Radnor)|
|Grundy, T. W.||Roundell, Lt.-Col. R. F.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Mr. Hogge and Mr. Griffiths.|
|Hall, F. (Yorks, Normanton)||Royce, William Stapleton|
|Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte||Britton, G. B.||Coote, Colin R. (Isle of Ely)|
|Ainsworth, Capt C.||Brown, Captain D. C. (Hexham)||Coote, W. (Tyrone, S.)|
|Archdale, Edward M.||Bruton, Sir J.||Cope, Major W. (Glamorgan)|
|Archer-Shee, Lieut.-Col. Martin||Buckley, Lt.-Col. A.||Courthope, Major George Loyd|
|Astbury, Lt.-Com. F. W.||Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James||Cowan, D. M. (Scottish Univ.)|
|Austin, Sir H.||Burdon, Col. Rowland||Craig, Capt. C. (Antrim)|
|Bagley, Captain E. A.||Burn, Col. C. R. (Torquay)||Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry|
|Baird, John Lawrence||Burn, T. H. (Belfast)||Curzon, Commander Viscount|
|Baldwin, Stanley||Campbell, J. G. D.||Davies, Alfred Thomas (Lincoln)|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Carew, Charles R. S. (Tiverton)||Davies, Sir D. S. (Denbigh)|
|Banner, Sir J. S. Harmood-||Carlile, Sir Edward Hildred||Davies, Sir Joseph (Crewe)|
|Barker, Major R.||Carson, Rt. Hon. Sir Edward H.||Davies, T. (Cirencester)|
|Barnett, Captain Richard W.||Cautley, Henry Strother||Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington)|
|Barnston, Major Harry||Cecil, Rt. Hon. Evelyn (Aston Manor)||Dewhurst, Lieut.-Com. H.|
|Bell, Lieut.-Col. W. C. H. (Devizes)||Chadwick, R. Burton||Dixon, Captain H.|
|Bellairs, Com. Carlyon W.||Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. J. A. (Birm., W.)||Dockrell, Sir M.|
|Benn, Sir Arthur S. (Plymouth)||Chamberlain, N. (Birm., Ladywood)||Edwards, A. Clement (East Ham, S.)|
|Benn, Com. Ian Hamilton (G'nwich)||Child, Brig.-Gen. Sir Hill||Edwards, J. H. (Glam., Neath)|
|Bentinck, Lt.-Col. Lard H. Cavendish-||Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston S.||Eyres-Monsell, Com.|
|Bigland, Alfred||Clough, R.||Farquharson, Major A. C.|
|Birchall, Major J. D.||Coats, Sir Stuart||Fell, Sir Arthur|
|Blades, Sir George R.||Cockerill, Brig.-Gen. G. K.||Flannery, Sir J. Fortescue|
|Blair, Major Reginald||Cohen, Major J. B. B.||Forestier-Walker, L.|
|Berwick, Major G. O.||Colfox, Major W. P.||Fraser, Major Sir Keith|
|Brackenbury, Col. H. L.||Colvin, Brig.-Gen. R. B.||Gange, E. S.|
|Briggs, Harold||Compton-Rickett, Rt. Hon. Sir J.||Gardner, E. (Berks., Windsor)|
|Gardiner, J. (Perth)||Lort-Williams, J.||Sanders, Colonel Robert Arthur|
|Geddes, Rt. Hon. Sir A. C. (Basingstoke)||Loseby, Captain C. E.||Scott, A. M. (Glas., Bridgeton)|
|Gibbs, Colonel George Abraham||Lowther, Major C. (Cumberland, N.)||Seager, Sir William|
|Glyn, Major R.||M'Donald, D. H. (Bothwell, Lanark)||Seddon, J. A.|
|Goff, Sir R. Park||M'Guffin, Samuel||Seely, Maj.-Gen. Right Hon. John|
|Green, J. F. (Leicester)||Macnamara, Rt. Hon. Dr. T. J.||Shaw, Capt. W. T. (Forfar)|
|Greer, Harry||McNeill, Ronald (Canterbury)||Shortt, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Greig, Col. James William||Macquisten, F. A.||Simm, Col. M. T.|
|Gretton, Col. John||Maddocks, Henry||Sprot, Col. Sir Alexander|
|Griggs, Sir Peter||Malone, Major P. (Tottenham, S.)||Stanley, Col. Hon. G. F. (Preston)|
|Guest, Capt. Hon. F. E. (Dorset, E.)||Marriott, John Arthur R.||Stanton, Charles Butt|
|Guest, Major O. (Leices., Loughb're'.)||Mason, Robert||Stephenson, Col. H. K.|
|Guinness, Lt.-Col. Hon. W. E. (B. St. E.)||Mitchell, William Lane-||Stevens, Marshall|
|Hacking, Captain D. H.||Moles, Thomas||Stoker Robert Burdon|
|Hallwood, A.||Molson, Major John Elsdale||Strauss, Edward Anthony|
|Hallas, E.||Moore, Maj.-Gen. Sir Newton J.||Sugden, Lieut. W. H.|
|Hambro, Angus Valdemar||Moore-Brabazon, Lt.-Col. J. C. T.||Sutherland, Sir William|
|Hanson, Sir Charles||Moreing, Captain Algernon H.||Talbot, Rt. Hon. Lord E. (Chichester)|
|Henderson, Major V. L.||Morison, T. B. (Inverness)||Talbot, G. A. (Hemel Hempstead)|
|Hennessy, Major G.||Morrison-Bell, Major A. C.||Taylor, J. (Dumbarton)|
|Hewart, Right Hon. Sir Gordon||Mosley, Oswald||Terrell, Capt. R. (Henley, Oxford)|
|Hilder, Lieut.-Col. F.||Murchison, C. K.||Thomas, Sir R. (Wrexham, Denb.)|
|Hohler, Gerald Fitzroy||Murray, Lt.-Col. Hn. A. C. (Aberd'n.)||Thomas-Stanford, Charles|
|Hope, Harry (Stirling)||Murray, Major C. D. (Edinburgh, S.)||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, S.)|
|Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield)||Murray, John (Leeds, W.)||Townley, Maximillian G.|
|Hope, Lt.-Col. Sir J. (Midlothian)||Murray, William (Dumfries)||Tryon, Major George Clement|
|Hope, John Deans (Berwick)||Nail, Major Joseph||Vickers, D.|
|Hopkins, J. W. W.||Neal, Arthur||Waddington, R.|
|Hopkinson, Austin (Mossley)||Nelson, R. F. W. R.||Ward, Col. L. (Kingston-upon-Hull)|
|Horne, Edgar (Guildford)||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. (Exeter)||Wardie, George J.|
|Horne, Sir Robert (Hillhead)||Nicholson, R. (Doncaster)||Warren, Sir Alfred H.|
|Hudson, R. M.||Norris, Colonel Sir Henry G.||Watson, Captain John Bertrand|
|Hughes, Spencer Leigh||Parker, James||Weston, Col. John W.|
|Hurd, P. A.||Pease, Rt. Hon. Herbert Pike||Wheler, Col. Granville C. H.|
|Hurst, Major G. B.||Perring, William George||White, Col. G. D. (Southport)|
|Illingworth, Rt. Hon. Albert H.||Pickering, Col. Emil W.||Whitla, Sir William|
|Jameson, Major J. G.||Pilditch, Sir Philip||Wigan, Brig.-Gen. John Tyson|
|Jephcott, A. R.||Pownall, Lt.-Col. Assheton||Wild, Sir Ernest Edward|
|Jesson, C.||Pratt, John William||Williams, A. (Consett, Durham)|
|Jodrell, N. P.||Preston, W. R.||Williams, Lt-Com. C. (Tavistock)|
|Johnson, L. S.||Purchase, H. G.||Williams, Lt.-Col. Sir R. (Banbury)|
|Jones, Sir Edgar R. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Raeburn, Sir William||Williams, Col. Sir R. (Dorset, W.)|
|Jones, Sir Evan (Pembroke)||Rankin, Capt. James S.||Willoughby, Lt.-Col. Hon. Claud|
|Jones, G. W. H. (Stoke Newington)||Ratcliffe, Henry Butler||Wills, Lt.-Col. Sir Gilbert Alan H.|
|Jones, J. Towyn (Carmarthen)||Raw, Lt.-Col. Dr. N.||Wilson, Col. Leslie (Reading)|
|Jones, Wm. Kennedy (Hernsey)||Remer, J. B.||Wilson, Col. M. (Richmond, Yorks.)|
|Kidd, James||Renwick, G.||Wood, Sir J. (Stalybridge and Hyde)|
|Knights, Capt. H.||Richardson, Alex. (Gravesend)||Yeo, Sir Alfred William|
|Lane-Fox, Major G. R.||Roberts, Rt. Hon. G. H. (Norwich)||Young, Lt.-Com. E. H. (Norwich)|
|Larmor, Sir J.||Robinson, T. (Stretford, Lancs.)||Young, Sir F. W. (Swindon)|
|Law, Rt. Hon. A. Bonar (Glasgow)||Rodger, A. K.|
|Lewis, T. A. (Pontypridd, Glam.)||Rogers, Sir Hallewell||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Mr. Dudley Ward and Captain Gilmour.|
|Lloyd, George Butler||Rutherford, Sir W. W. (Edge Hill)|
|Locker-Lampson, Com. O. (Hunt'don)||Samuel, S. (Wandsworth, Putney)|
|Lorden, John William|
Question put, and agreed to.