2016 05 – Parliament And World War One

Parliament And World War One

by Dick Barry

MOTION FOR ADJOURNMENT 14 November 1916

Mr. J. H. THOMAS:

I fully recognise that it is a delicate and a difficult task to deal with a question where one is personally involved, but I desire to make it perfectly clear that in taking the stand which I am this evening, I am guided not by any personal interest, because whatever my personal views were I am quite satisfied that this House ought to deal with the issue as one of principle and not one of persons. There are two important principles involved in the incident to which I am about to refer. The first is freedom of speech, and the second is the protection of the law of this country against any threats of violence or riot. With regard to the first we are being told, and I myself have supported the idea, that unless the Allied cause is triumphant in this great world conflict, liberty will seriously be in jeopardy. But I submit that, so far as this country is concerned, we have won the liberty we enjoy today by very many years both of agitation and sacrifice, and this House ought to be the very last to do anything or encourage any proceeding that would destroy absolute liberty of speech in this country.

With regard to the second point, speaking as a trade union leader, I can conceive of nothing more dangerous, nothing more disastrous to the best interests of this country, than for this House of Commons, by voice or vote, to give any encouragement whatsoever to mob law or rioting in this country, because we must not look at the issue involved in the mere incident of a difference of opinion, and we must not examine the question merely because of a difference in connection with this War, but we have got to keep it clearly in mind that there have in the past been occasions when hundreds of thousands of men have been engaged in industrial disputes, and in which we have seen thousands of men-fighting for what they believed to be their rights, and where we have seen men struggling against oppressive conditions and knew that their wives and children were starving. If we are going to allow mob law to rule, if we are going to encourage direct incitement to riot, then there is absolutely no safeguard either for law and order or even property in this country. It is because I believe that Saturday’s proceedings will encourage that and because I believe it will make it more difficult for responsible trade union leaders who may be engaged in industrial disputes to conduct those disputes in a peaceful way that I submit to the House that they should give no countenance or tolerate for a moment the incident that occurred last Saturday at Cardiff.

There was a conference called under the auspices of the National County Council for Civil Liberty, and in spite of what may be said to the contrary, I am going to submit that, whether we agree with the objects or not of this body, it is a body composed of some of the best citizens in this country. It is a body composed of men who disagree with the War, and composed of men who not only agree with the War, but who have rendered yeoman service to the country in her hour of trial. No one would challenge the patriotism of Dr. Clifford, Dr. Horton, and the Bishop of Hereford. No one would suggest that any of those three men were entitled to be called traitors, and no one would suggest that those three men would say anything that would give countenance or support to our enemies at this moment. But whilst they are men who disagree as to the objects of the War for and against, they are all united in saying that, whilst they are prepared to crush German militarism, they are not prepared in that process to substitute English militarism in its place. The conference was called, as I say, by this particular body by a summons to each branch meeting. Let it be observed that there was a circular issued to the whole of the trade unions. They were invited to elect delegates at their stated branch meetings, and those delegates were elected on the specific instructions of the members. There was at that conference 220 delegates representing trade union branches, thirty-seven delegates representing trades councils and labour parties, 100 representing Socialists and peace societies, and thirteen representing religious organisations, sixteen representing co-operative societies, and twenty-nine representing women’s societies or a total of 415 delegates, representative of 196,843 members

Mr. W. THORNE

Will you say what trade unions received circulars?

Mr. THOMAS:

Yes, I will; and if my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham will not be quite so impulsive, he will have the opportunity of replying to anything I say without interrupting.

Mr. THORNE:

You made the statement that a circular was sent to trade unions, and I want to know what trade unions.

Mr. THOMAS:

Then I will answer. The circular was sent to every trade union in Wales, including your branches, if you had any, and out of the composition of those there were sixty-two branches of the railwaymen’s union, and eighty-seven of the miners’, and numerous ones of the transport workers’, and there were various labourers’ unions, and there was the seamen and firemen, and Captain Tupper. Therefore, I repeat again that the constitution of the conference was as representative, was as democratic, and was selected in precisely the same way as conferences that have elected my hon. Friend and others to positions that they hold in the movement from time to time.

Mr. THORNE:

Including yourself.

Mr. THOMAS:

Exactly, and, therefore, because it includes myself and you, I thought there would be mutual agreement. At all events, having explained the constitution of the conference, and the body that called the conference, I am now going to submit the resolution that I myself was to move, because I am going to deal for the moment with my connection with the conference, and any other resolution is here and can be quoted. The resolution that I was down to move, and, incidentally, in spite of what has been said to the contrary, did move, reads as follows:—that this conference holds that military compulsion has already involved industrial compulsion, and endangered industrial conditions, and demands that this invasion of the rights of labour at once cease, and that guarantees be given for its non-recurrence. There is no Member of this House who would challenge my right to move that resolution, and especially at Cardiff, because, curiously enough, last Tuesday, a day in which, as I shall be able to show, there was organised opposition, and mob law being preached, I had to settle a threatened strike in Cardiff which dealt with this: Five men were released for military service, one of them being a married man with five children, while twenty-seven single men were kept. No one would object to the release of a married man if he were a junior man in the service, but there was a suspicion as to the reason for releasing him and the four others. On investigation it was shown that the reason he was released was because his name was given as that of the leader of a strike that took place three weeks before, and the men who knew this, and suspected it, said that, “If this is what we are fighting for, and if this is how men are to be driven into the Army, we will make a fight right away against it,” and I prevented at Cardiff the dispute taking place, and got the man’s card released. Therefore, I repeat, if anyone was entitled to move the resolution I have named, it was I. When, in addition, I remind the House that, in spite of all the guarantees that we were given during the Debate on the Conscription Act that no industrial compulsion was intended, 152 cases in the railway systems alone have been sent to be dealt with by the tribunal, again I am entitled to say that there is no apology needed for making a stand to stop this kind of thing.

At all events, that being the resolution that I was called upon to move, the bonâ fides of the conference never being challenged, I submit to the House that we were at least entitled to have had an opportunity of presenting our case. What happened? Immediately it became known that this conference was to be held, the “Daily Express”—and I mention the “Daily Express” because I shall have something else to say about it in a moment —devoted a column to show why this meeting should not be allowed to take place. A gentleman by the name of Captain Atherley Jones led the opposition. He announced that he came up to London, and whilst in London made efforts to persuade the authorities that the meeting should be abandoned. Apparently he failed, and, therefore, he organised a counter-demonstration on the night before the meeting. He announced in support, in addition to the lord lieutenant of the county, my hon. Friend the Member for South Monmouth, Lord Rhondda, and various other members with whom I will deal in a moment, but so anxious were they to ensure its success that the aid of a private secretary to a Cabinet Minister was invoked, and on Thursday night there was touting round this House to get speakers for Friday’s demonstration, all, of course, with a view of ensuring a great reception at Cardiff. The “South Wales Daily Press” was very anxious that no one who could attend that meeting should be denied the privilege, and arrangements were made for an overflow meeting. I do not know whether it was the names, or whether it was bad organisation, but there was no need of the overflow meeting, and, indeed, I am assured, half the hall where the meeting was held was empty. The meeting, however, was held, and at that meeting, I am going to submit, there was a direct incitement to violence. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Ellis Griffith) did what everyone who knows him would expect him to do. He is a very able lawyer and knows the Defence of the Realm Act, and I should say that he gave the benefit of his legal advice without fee to the other speakers by clearly indicating to them what they ought to do. At all events, he took what I think was the fair and constitutional course of saying that if there was disagreement, at least these people were entitled to be heard without interruption. But he was followed by the hon. Member for Merthyr (Mr. Stanton), who declared that he would do all in his power to prevent the conference being held, and invited the audience to join him. He was supported by a gentleman of the name of Captain Tupper.

Major NEWMAN:

A trade unionist.

Mr. THOMAS:

I am sure my hon. Friend and member will be delighted to find himself in company with this excellent trade unionist before I am done. At all events, Captain Tupper, referring to the conference to be field at that day, said: They want free speech well. I will give them free speech and with this he created much amusement by taking off his coat and continuing his speech in his shirtsleeves. I do not know whether the object of taking off his coat was to convince the chairman that he had his shirt on. At all events, at least, he thought that it would be necessary to lay emphasis on the position. Then at that meeting the hon. Member for Merthyr (Mr. Stanton) went on to say: If I have my way they will never hold the meeting in the Cory Hall. It the police are there to interfere, let them. If I have a following, I am prepared to prevent these people getting inside the doors by all means short of murder. [HON. MEMBERS: “Why?”] I know there are differences of opinion as to why he should have drawn the line at murder. At all events one can only conclude that he is not so violent as some people. These statements were made on Friday night. This deliberate and clear attempt was made and indicated on Friday night, and I am entitled to ask whether the character of individuals must be taken into consideration by the police authorities. For instance, I can quite conceive that the police may say if certain individuals make a statement that there will be no danger, that there will be no need to interfere and they may say something in the heat of the moment that cannot be entirely ignored. In order to show whether there is any substance in that point of view I want to examine for a moment exactly what happened previously. Captain Tupper some few years ago brought the whole of Cardiff out on strike. Wales was almost paralysed, and I was asked to go down from London to see if I could effect a settlement. When I arrived there I found Cardiff at a standstill, mob law ruling, and shipowners and coalowners, who were so prominent on Friday night, were calling upon the Home Secretary for protection. Against whom? Against Captain Tupper and Lord Rhondda, who was then Mr. D. A. Thomas, and incidentally who lent his support to Friday night’s meeting by a very interesting letter, and who was made chairman of the owner’s side. I was made chairman of the men’s side, and Lord Rhondda, notwithstanding that Wales was paralysed, women and children starving, and all the works at a standstill, said: It can go on rather than I will allow Captain Tupper to be in my presence. Lord Rhondda’s signature with mine is borne on the document that settled that strike, and I was howled at because I ordered the men back. Does that not indicate changed circumstances? [HON. MEMBERS: “Hear, hear!”]

Captain BURGOYNE:

You were not a pro-German then.

Mr. THOMAS:

Is the inference that I am a pro-German now?

An HON. MEMBER:

Let us hear the rest of your speech.

Mr. THOMAS:

I have addressed one hundred recruiting meetings, and Sir William Robertson seven weeks ago last Saturday personally asked me to go to Wales. And why? Because he said: We are on the eve of an offensive. I am persuaded that Wales is going to strike to-morrow night and you are the man that can stop it. Will you go? And I went. I went without police protection, and I faced the hostility of thousands of my own men in Cardiff and prevented the strike. That is the best answer to the jeer of the hon. Member opposite. Let me develop it a moment. When this incident which I have mentioned was taking place, the “Daily-Express” was dealing with it, and they were dealing with Captain Tupper, and this is what they said: Captain […]ward Tupper, the Socialist agitator, now stands before the country branded as a fraudulent impostor. The action for libel which he brought against the ‘Express’ last February claiming a £[…],000 damages in the vain hope that he might prevent the unmasking of his career of deceit and duplicity has now, after nine months, been dismissed by order of the High Court of Justice for want of prosecution.”. Then the right hon. and learned Gentleman who is now the Attorney-General found it necessary to deal with him himself, and on going into Court he said: What I have to say as representing—

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Whitley):

I think I must point out that any Motion for the Adjournment of the House must be connected with some administrative act of the Government, something the Government has either done or left undone. Of course, anything relevant to show why they should have acted is in order.

Mr. THOMAS:

I am showing the character of the man whom they allowed to break up this meeting, and surely I can only prove that by the records, and I am now attempting to do that by quoting what the Attorney-General, who is a Minister of the Crown, said in dealing with this man. He was not then a Minister of the Crown, but he is now and is therefore a member of the Cabinet.

Major HAMILTON:

He was not a member at that time.

Mr. THOMAS:

I have repeated that five or six times. This was his description:— Our whole case is that this man is a vile, dangerous, and fraudulent impostor, and that whilst pretending to be an enemy of capital he is really a bankrupt company promoter. Mr. Justice Phillimore, in dismissing the application, said: “His speech was most dangerous, wicked, and inflammatory. He also emphasised how much it was to the public advantage that a man like him should be exposed.” There you have the patriot who saved the country on Saturday last.

Major HAMILTON:

We are at war.

Mr. THOMAS:

I will deal with that point. There you have the man whom the “Daily Express” lauds on Saturday morning as the hero who saved the Empire. Let us see whether there is any justification for the suggestion that he has changed since we are at war. Less than six weeks ago he himself wrote to the National Transport Workers and asked them to send their secretary to Cardiff to threaten a strike against the shipowners for the employment of Chinese labour.

Mr. THORNE:

Perfectly justified.

Mr. THOMAS “Perfectly justified,” my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham says. What becomes, then, of this claim of his burning patriotism to save the country?

Mr. THORNE:

Chinese labour.

Mr. THOMAS:

He is a member of the Seamen and Firemen’s Union. How he became so the “Daily Express” cannot even tell. The seamen and firemen had a dispute with the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway a few weeks ago. Their men went on strike, and the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company, instead of conceding terms or responding to my request that arbitration should be appointed, employed blacklegs, and gave them exemption cards from the military. Captain Tupper met me in the Lobby with his president, Mr. Havelock Wilson, and asked, to use his own phrase, that “Hell should be raised on this issue.” I am not going to make any great reference to the speech of the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Stanton), except to say that I prefer the hon. Member for Rhondda, “Mabon” (Mr. Abraham), who could give us some illustrations of how, when Wales on scores of occasions has been threatened with industrial disruption, people who have contributed nothing towards a settlement in the board room have come outside and tried to hound out those who have effected a settlement with the employers. Someone says it is not quite true!

Mr. STANTON:

It is not true at all!

Mr. THOMAS:

Very well, you will be able to deny it. The records of the South Wales Press and of the men on that bench now will substantiate and prove everything that I have said. Here you have two statements made by people who had no regard for law and order, but who were most concerned in what appeared for the moment a little cheap popularity and notoriety. Whatever opinions there may be with regard to the War, there can be no justification and no excuse for what took place at the meeting. When I arrived at the Cory Hall it was full, and I challenge contradiction when I say that there were not two people in that hall who dissented in any way from the meeting.

Mr. STANTON:

You would not let the others in.

Mr. THOMAS:

If my hon. Friend were an accredited delegate of any trade union now like he used to be, he might have been a delegate at that meeting, but now no one will have him.

Mr. STANTON:

Not likely!

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER:

I think it right to make an appeal at an early stage. This is a serious matter. It can be discussed without any personal reference, and I hope it will be.

Mr. THOMAS:

You will observe that I never made any personal reference until I was interrupted. When I got to the hall it was full, and it looked as if there would be no disturbance at all because the Press at that time indicated that so far as the counter procession was concerned the police had made arrangements for it to be diverted so as not to come into conflict with the meeting. The stewards went to shut the door, but the police told them immediately that they would not allow the doors to be closed. That is reported in the Press and admitted. I submit, if there were a genuine desire to see the meeting carried on and conducted properly, that the police at least when they knew the hall was full ought to have allowed the stewards to shut the door. [An HON. MEMBER: “Was admission by ticket?”] Yes, admission was by ticket. With the exception of the delegates everyone was admitted by ticket. I submit therefore that there can be no justification for the police refusing to allow the doors to be shut. They not only refused to allow the doors to be shut. I myself, in spite of what has been said to the contrary as to bolting from the platform, was the last man, practically, who left the platform and the hall.

I went to the steps outside to address those who were there. The police even then, instead of preventing anyone getting to the hall, actually opened the way, and allowed the procession, headed by various individuals and plenty of flagons, to reach the door of the hall. I submit that the police ought to have taken action. I believe that they grossly failed in their duty, and I regret to say that I believe, also, that the crowd were directly encouraged, and that they wanted to see the meeting broken up. But I go beyond that, and I submit that if that is to be the action of the police in Cardiff they will be faced with a very serious situation in the future. I am not going down to Wales to help the police. [HON. MEMBERS: “Hear, hear!”] Yes; it is all very well for hon. Members to say “Hear, hear!” but only last week, you may not be aware —because we asked the Press to keep it out—there were two disputes in London in which 3,000 men were concerned, and, if law and order are to rule, how can you hope to control these men if such proceedings as these are allowed? How can you expect leaders of great trade unions to say to the men, “You must be peaceable and quiet”? The police in Cardiff directly encouraged and incited them on. It is because I believe that this thing must be stopped, because I hold that last Saturday’s proceedings were a disgrace, that I submit to the Home Office that they themselves ought to have given instructions.

I know something will be said to the effect that there was at the meeting those who are opposed to the War. It is quite true; but have we reached the stage when we are to deny liberty of conscience to the people of this country? I profoundly disagree with some of my friends who were there. I disagree with my Friend the Member for Leicester on the War, but is there any man who dare ever say that he is actuated by any other motive than the dictates of his conscience? Will anyone dare suggest that he makes any advantage or profit out of his attitude? Everyone knows perfectly well that it is easy for a man to swim with the stream, but it is difficult to go against it. Whether we agree with the Member for Leicester or not, he is at least entitled to respect for having the courage of his convictions, and, if our cause is a good one, as I believe it is a good one, we ought not to deny him or anyone else the right of free expression of opinion. It is because this has been done, because I believe it to be contrary to the public interest, because I believe, if it is allowed to continue, you are going to have trouble with your food-price meetings when they are held during the coming winter, and when you will be dealing with these problems, that I submit to the House that, much as one may regret what has occurred, there is no shame upon those of us who took part in Saturday’s proceedings, but there is grave reflection not only upon those who are responsible for inciting to riot, but, unfortunately, upon those who so far forgot that they were Members of the House of Commons.

Mr. R. LAMBERT:

I beg to second the Motion.

 

PEACE PROPOSALS. 15 November 1916

Mr. D. MASON I desire to make a few observations in reference to a Motion which I had on the Paper, “That in the opinion of this House, and in view of the repeated statements of the Imperial German Chancellor that Germany has been, and is, prepared to discuss the termination of the War, a Commission should be appointed for the purpose of carrying out that object.”

I addressed a question to the Prime Minister as to whether the Government could see their way to give a day to discuss the matter. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Colonies said that he could not accede to that request. As I am very much in a minority on this question my only alternative in order to draw attention to the very remarkable speech of the German Chancellor was to move the Adjournment of the House or to raise the matter, as I am now doing on the Motion for Adjournment. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Colonies said that there were no proposals from the German. Imperial Chancellor which were not based upon an acknowledged victory on the part of Germany. I wish to refer to that and briefly to survey the position as it presents itself to me. I desire to be as conciliatory as may be, and therefore do not propose to enter into any recriminations, or to attack the Foreign Office or any representative of the Foreign Office. My sole object is to offer a few observations in the hope that they may serve a useful purpose. I think that we must all regret that so far no notice has been taken of the very remarkable speech of the German Chancellor, and what I regard as the remarkable proposal which it contained, by any member of the Government. I do not ask for any reply to my observations.

Note: David Marshall Mason (7/12/1865-19/3/1945) was a Scottish Liberal elected in December 1910 as MP for Coventry, a seat he held until 1918. Mason opposed the Bill introducing conscription in 1916. On matters relating to the War and foreign policy he was an opponent of the government.

 

PEACE TERMS. 30 November 1916

Mr. KING asked the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether, in view of the cablegrams sent by Viscount Grey and Monsieur Briand to the League to Enforce Peace meeting, held in New York on 25th November, it is to be understood that the general methods and proposals of that league, and not merely its ultimate object, have the approval of the Government and the Allies?

Lord R. CECIL:

In reply to a telegram from Mr. Taft to Viscount Grey the following telegram was sent by him: I think public utterances must have already made it clear that I sincerely desire to see a League of Nations formed and made effective to secure the future peace of the world after this War is over. I regard this as the best, if not the only, prospect of preserving treaties and of saving the world from aggressive wars in years to come, and if there is any doubt about my sentiments in the matter I hope this telegram in reply to your own will remove it. This and his previous utterances on the subject need no further explanation or qualification. I have not got the text of the telegram sent by M. Briand. According to reports in the Press some speeches were made at the meeting of the League that were inconsistent with its own declaration of its objects, but I have no other knowledge of these speeches than what has appeared in the Press, and the message sent was on the assumption that the League and its objects were as originally constituted.

Sir W. BYLES:

Does Germany agree to the same policy?

Lord R. CECIL:

I do not know, and I do not very much care.

Mr. SNOWDEN:

Shame, shame; it is disgraceful!

Mr. OUTHWAITE:

You do not care how many men are killed!

Mr. SNOWDEN:

asked the Prime Minister if he has received a copy of a resolution passed by the Blackburn and District Trades and Labour Council, representing nearly 30,000 organised workers, affirming its unshaken conviction that a lasting peace cannot be secured by a policy of conquest followed by a commercial war, but only by a policy which lays the foundation of a real international partnership, condemning a prolonged war of attrition, which it considers would involve the victors as well as the vanquished in social and economic ruin, and strongly urging that an attempt be made to ascertain whether we can now get by negotiation everything that the War was started to secure or defend, and demanding that the people of this country shall not be committed, without their knowledge or consent, to the support of schemes of territorial aggrandisement which have not hitherto been regarded as germane to the interests of this nation and which Parliament has neither debated nor sanctioned; and if it is his intention to adopt the policy outlined in this resolution?

The SECRETARY of STATE for the COLONIES (Mr. Bonar Law)

The answer to the first part of the question is in the affirmative. With regard to the second, I have nothing to add to my public utterances on this subject.

Note: Joseph King (31/31860-25/8/1943) was Liberal MP for North Somerset from 1910 to 1918. He then joined the Labour Party and contested Ilford in a by-election in 1920. Following the outbreak of the War in 1914 he joined the Union of Democratic Control, a group of Liberal and Labour politicians who were critical of the secret diplomacy that they blamed for the cause of the conflict.