Further Vote on Account.

Orders of the Day — Supply. [5TH November.] – in the House of Commons on 6th November 1919.

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Resolution reported, That a further sum, not exceeding £118,000,000, be granted to His Majesty on Account for defraying the Charges for Army Services, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1920.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."

Photo of Mr Donald Maclean Mr Donald Maclean , Peebles and Southern

I want to ask one question with regard to the Estimates which I understand it is intended should be presented to the Committee. I believe that the Cabinet has been at work on them for some time past, and I should like to know whether their labours are approaching completion and if the right hon. Gentleman can give us the approximate week when it is likely that the Committee will have an opportunity of considering them. I should also like to know whether those Estimates will be fully laid with the same detail as the original Estimates at the commencement of the present year?

Lieut.-Commander K E N WORTHY:

Yesterday afternoon when my right hon. Friend (Mr. Forster) was making his opening speech on the Army Estimates, I interrupted him and asked if before he sat down he could give us some indication about the Army policy in Mesopotamia. I have raised this question several times by questions and supplementary questions, and I have been told that a full statement would be made when the Estimates for the Army were presented. Might I repeat in almost precisely the same words what I said last night when you very properly ruled me out of order, as it was understood that the Debate would be confined to the operations in Russia. What is the policy as regards the military occupation or protection or defence of Mesopotamia? At the present time we have an Army of some 71,000 Indian troops and 21.000 white troops, of which latter number some 500 are volunteers for the, post-war Army. That means; that the remainder 01 the men, numbering 19.500. are not volunteers. I am not in any way questioning or attacking the War Office policy in not being able so far to replace these men by volunteers. We understand that a volunteer army must take some time to build up. Are we in the future, however, going to replace these 21,000 white troops by 21,000 volunteers, because, if so, we shall find that it will strain our military resources very considerably and that it will also strain the financial resources of the country. It is a long way, shipping is scarce, and freights are very high. What exactly are we going to do? I have suggested to my right hon. Friend and to the Secretary of State for War that at the earliest possible moment we should encourage the Sheiks to raise their own native levies for their own protection. We have freed these people from the blasting tyranny of the Turk. Have we freed them from the blasting tyranny of the Turk to govern them by British brigadier-generals backed up by native or white troops not belonging to Mesopotamia, or are we going to encourage them to do what has been done in British East Africa where native troops with a nucleus of British troops have been raised and have proved loyal to the Empire and defended their own territory? This is a burning question for the troops out there, and it is a very burning question in this country. There is not a Member in this House at the present time who has not anxious constituents who are asking about these men and wanting to know when they are coming home.

Photo of Commander Hon. Joseph Kenworthy Commander Hon. Joseph Kenworthy , Kingston upon Hull Central

I must congratulate the hon. Member for South Hackney on not having any, because I have a number of them. Perhaps, however, more volunteers went from Hull than from South Hackney. I have a great number in Hull. They write to me very pathetic letters, and I get very sympathetic and prompt replies from the War Office which I send on to them. This is really a most serious question. The position in the Hedjaz is well known. We have thrown our protection over the King. He is going to raise his own native troops, and we know how excellently those troops have already fought on our side against the Turks. Is there such a difference between Mesopotamia and Hedjaz that they cannot be trusted to defend their own country? Are we going to set these people up on their feet again under the protection of England and with such assistance as they will willingly accept, or are we going to keep these people down by the sword? This is a matter which interests me very much, and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman wilt not disappoint us in his reply. I have touched upon the expense. It will be said, no doubt, that we shall get all, and more than all, we spent in Mesopotamia on the Army out of the riches of that country; but we did not go there to make money, or, at least, the men I know who laid down their lives there did not do so. We did not go there to make the Arabs pay, although 1 know the Germans have not paid. I want to know what is the future military policy of the government in Mesopotamia. Is our government going to be such that Mesopotamia will in the future be a loyal partner with us in the new world, as we hope, defending her own frontiers and guarding her own treasures, or is she to be held down by an Army of 100,000 men? I am certain the right hon. Gentleman would like to reassure some of us, and also a great number of people in this country who have relatives suffering in one of the worst climates in the world, and who are now going through their third hot season in that country.

Photo of Captain William Benn Captain William Benn , Leith

I would like the right hon. Gentleman to tell us how many troops we have at the present time in Ireland and also in Egypt, and how many tanks, aeroplanes, and other munitions of war we have in Ireland? Can he also say what is the present cost of maintaining these armed forces both in Ireland and in Egypt? The reason I ask is this: It is a financial matter, but many of us say that it has another aspect. We believe that we have to maintain in both these countries an overwhelming display of forces because the policy of the Government is to deny in both places the rights of representative government.

Photo of Mr Evan Hayward Mr Evan Hayward , Seaham

I wish to ask a question about Field Punishment No. I. Some time ago an Amendment was put down to abolish this form of punishment, and it was withdrawn because in the reply of the Secretary of State for War he promised to have immediate inquiries made with a view to having it abolished and substituting some other punishment. I have asked questions to ascertain if the Secretary for War had completed his inquiries and what was the result, and the reply was that those inquiries had not been completed and were still being pursued, and if the right hon. Gentleman could tell us anything about the present position of that important matter I should be grateful, and I am sure the House and country would be glad to hear something about it.

Photo of Mr Henry Forster Mr Henry Forster , Bromley

Perhaps I may reply to my right hon. Friend (Sir D. Maclean) with regard to the date of the production of the Estimates. As far as I can see we shall be able to lay the Estimates before the expiration of a month from now. We are doing our best to get them before the House by the end of November. When they are produced they will be in a detailed form and not precisely the form, as my hon. Friend knows, of the Estimates we were accustomed to before the War because, acting upon the wishes of the Select Committee, they will be presented in a new form, and will give a great amount of detailed information.

In reply to the question put to me by the hon. and gallant Member opposite (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy), I am afraid I cannot say anything definite with regard to the administration and government of Mesopotamia. The matter cannot be settled without a great deal of careful study and conference with the Indian authorities and others. An exchange of views is now proceeding, and I am afraid I cannot say more on that subject at the present moment. We are doing our best to bring back the white troops from Mesopotamia as rapidly as possible, and I hope we shall not have to contemplate the maintenance of anything like a white garrison of 20,000 troops who are there now. My hon. and gallant Friend (Captain Benn) has put to me a series of questions involving, as they necessarily would do, detailed research, and I to not think the House will expect me to carry in my head the precise number of tanks and aeroplanes over in Ireland or Egypt. If my hon. and gallant Friend had given me notice I should have done my best to inform myself on the subject.

Photo of Captain William Benn Captain William Benn , Leith

Can the right hon. Gentleman give the number of troops or the amount of the expenditure?

Photo of Mr Henry Forster Mr Henry Forster , Bromley

I think the number of troops in Ireland is 60,000. With regard to the question put to me by the hon. and gallant Member for Seaham (Major Hayward) in regard to Field Punishment No. 1, I can assure him that there is a very great desire on the part of everyone to abolish that form of punishment. My information does not enable me to say at present that the inquiries have been completed, but I think they will be completed at a very early date.

Question put, and agreed to