2017 12 – Parliament And World War One

Parliament And World War One

by Dick Barry

HIS MAJESTY’S MOST GRACIOUS SPEECH. 06 February 1918

Mr. SPEAKER I have further to acquaint the House that the Lord High Chancellor, being one of the High Commissioners, delivered His Majesty’s Most Gracious Speech to both Houses of Parliament, in pursuance of His Majesty’s Command, as followeth:

My Lords and Gentlemen, Since last I addressed you great events have happened. Within a few weeks of that occasion, the United States of America decided to take their stand by the side of this Country and Our Allies in defence of the principles of Liberty and Justice. Their entry into the War, followed by that of other neutral States, has united practically the whole civilised world in a League of Nations against unscrupulous aggression, has lent additional strength to Our arms, and inspires fresh confidence in the ultimate triumph of Our cause.

On the other hand, Russia, distracted by internal dissensions, has not been able to persevere in the struggle until the fruits of her great sacrifices could have been reaped: and for the present has ceased to bear her part in the Allied task. The negotiations opened by her with the enemy have, however, served but to prove that the ambitions which provoked this unhappy war are as yet unabated.

These tragic events have added to the burdens of the other Allies, but have not impaired the vigour and the loyalty with which one and all continue to pursue the common aim. Amid the confusion of changing events the determination of the democracies of the world to secure a just and enduring peace stands out ever more clearly.

In all the theatres of war, My Naval and Military Forces have displayed throughout the year a noble courage, a high constancy, and a fixed determination, which have won for them the admiration of My people. In France, the enemy has been repeatedly and successfully thrown back, and I await with assurance the further progress of the conflict. In Palestine and Mesopotamia the most revered and famous cities of the Orient have been wrested from the Turk; while in Africa the enemy has lost the last remnant of his Colonial pm-sessions. In all these fields, the forces of My Dominions and of the Indian Empire have borne their full share in the toil and in the glory of the day.

During the year the representatives of My Dominions and of the Indian Empire were summoned for the first time to the sessions of an Imperial War Cabinet. Their deliberations have been of the utmost value, both in the prosecution of the War and in the promotion of Imperial Unity. Gentlemen of the House of Commons, I thank you for the liberality with which you have made provision for the heavy expenditure of the War.

My Lords and Gentlemen, I have been pleased to give My consent to your proposals for the better Representation of the People. I trust that this measure will ensure to a much larger number of My subjects in the United Kingdom an effective voice in the government of the country, and will enable the National Unity, which has been so marked a characteristic of the War, to continue in the not less arduous work of reconstruction in times of peace. The settlement of this difficult question by agreement leads me still to hope that, in spite of all the complexities of the problem, a solution may be possible in regard to the government of Ireland, upon which a Convention of representatives of My Irish people is now deliberating.

The successful prosecution of the War is still our first aim and endeavour. I have watched with a proud and grateful heart the unvarying enthusiasm with which all sections of My people have responded to every demand made upon them for this purpose, and, as they face the final tests which may yet be required to carry our efforts to fruition, I pray that Almighty God may vouchsafe to us His blessing.

 

RUSSIA. 27 February 1918

Noel Pemberton Billing ((31/1/1881-11/11/1948) was an aviator, inventor, publisher. He contested and won the March 1916 by-election in Hertford as an Independent candidate. Having failed to win the Mile End by-election earlier that year. He held the seat at the 1918 general election but resigned in 1921. He was noted for his extreme right-wing views and his homophobic conspiracy theories which eventually led to a libel trial. In late 1916 Billing founded and edited a weekly journal, The Imperialist, in which he promoted anti-Semitic theories, claiming “the British war effort was being undermined by the “hidden hand” of German sympathisers and German Jews operating in Britain”.

Mr. BILLING asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether the British Government now recognises the self-appointed spokesmen, Trotsky and Lenin, whose real names are Bronshtein and Ulianoff, both of whom are of German-Jewish origin, as the accredited representatives of the Russian Empire?

Mr. BALFOUR His Majesty’s Government have not recognised the Government at Petrograd.

Mr. BILLING Is it not a fact that they recognise the alleged Ambassador Litvinoff in England; and, if so, how do they recognise him if he is a representative of the Trotsky Government?

Mr. BALFOUR We have not recognised the Government at Petrograd.

Mr. LEES-SMITH asked whether it is the intention of the Government that the final fate of the Russian Provinces now occupied by Germany, of Roumania, and of Armenia shall, notwithstanding any treaties of peace which Russia and Roumania may meanwhile be forced to make, ultimately be decided at the Peace Conference?

Mr. BALFOUR Yes, Sir.

Mr. LEES-SMITH asked whether the Government are bound by any further secret treaties in addition to those which have been published from Petrograd?

Mr. BALFOUR I have nothing to add to the answers already given on this subject.

Mr. LEES-SMITH Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that these secret treaties are one of the causes of labour unrest, and that answers such as he has just given are noted in every industrial centre?

Mr. KING Did not the right hon. Gentleman inform me that he expected to get full details of these alleged or accurate secret treaties from Petrograd; will he now say whether he has received these; and, if so, whether he has given them his attention?

Mr. BALFOUR I do not in the least know to what the hon. Member refers.

Mr. KING Does the right hon. Gentleman allege that no secret treaties have been published in Petrograd? Have not these secret treaties been published in Petrograd?

Mr. SPEAKER This question relates to treaties other than those.

  1. LITVINOFF. 28 February 1918

Mr. BILLING asked whether any steps have been taken to ascertain the nationality and religion of Mr. Litvinoff; whether any steps have been taken to ascertain the origin of his passport; whether he will say by whom it was issued; whether he will say whether Mr. Litvinoff is a Russian linguist; and, if not, what language is employed at the alleged Embassy in London?

Sir G. CAVE As far as I am aware, Mr. Litvinoff is of Russian nationality, holds, or recently held, a Russian passport, and speaks Russian. I do not know what his religion is. I believe that Russian is the language used at his office.

Mr. BILLING Can the right hon. Gentleman say who granted his passport and who signed it?

Sir G. CAVE The Russian Vice- Consul.

Mr BILLING Is this House to understand that, despite the fact that the Government state that they do not recognise Lenin and Trotsky as the Russian Government, they recognise their signature on passports, and do they intend to continue to do so?

Sir G. CAVE The passport was granted by the previous Russian Government.

Mr. BILLING Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Litvinoff is the representative of Trotsky and Lenin in this country, and as they represent only a. small German Jewish minority in Russia, and not the Russian people, will he give this matter his consideration?

Sir G. CAVE I have given the matter consideration. This passport was granted by the representative of the previous Russian Government.

Mr. BILLING Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to consider the advisability of removing Mr. Litvinoff from this country, having regard to his activities in our arsenals and other works?

Sir G. CAVE The question has been considered, and we are continuing to consider it.

Major HUNT asked the Home Secretary whether he is aware that M. Litvinoff was a friend and comrade of Trotsky and Lenin, and that he has been sending round revolutionary literature to munition works and trades unions in this country; and whether he is to be allowed to continue this, although against the rules of the Defence of the Realm Act?

Sir G. CAVE I am aware of M. Litvinoff’s position and activities. He will certainly not be allowed to circulate literature in contravention of the law.

Major HUNT In view of the fact that Litvinoff is a comrade of Trotsky and Lenin, who have brought starvation and bloodshed into Russia with German money, is not this man doing the same thing in this country, and cannot the right hon. Gentleman take prompt steps to stop this sort of thing going on? Why is he allowed to stop in this country at all?

Sir G. CAVE That is a matter better raised in debate, when I can give a full answer.

Mr. BILLING Having regard to the answer that steps will be taken, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Mr. Litvinoff has already issued revolutionary literature, does he propose to prosecute him for what has already been done; and will the right hon. Gentleman remember that while he is considering, the Government and the country are sitting on the edge of a volcano?

Sir G. CAVE It is not a question of considering. I know exactly what I am going to do, and why I am going to do it, but I do not think it is desirable to discuss these matters now across the floor of the House.

Major HUNT Will the right hon. Gentleman look sharp about it?

  1. LITVINOFF (“DAILY CHRONICLE” ARTICLES). 04 March 1918

Mr. BILLING asked the Prime Minister whether his attention has been called to the recent articles in the “Daily Chronicle” supporting the policy of M. Litvinoff; whether he is aware that the editor of the “Daily Chronicle,” Mr. Robert Donald, has recently been appointed Director of Propaganda in Neutral Countries; and whether this appointment following Mr. Robert Donald’s apparent support of the Bolshevik movement may be taken as an indication that the Government approve of the propaganda work carried out by M. Litvinoff in this country, and consider it in the best interests of the Allied cause that it should be extended to all neutral countries?

Mr. BONAR LAW The allegations contained in the first part of the question are, in my opinion, entirely without foundation; the latter part does not, therefore, arise.

Mr. BILLING Has the right hon. Gentleman studied the file of the “Daily Chronicle” since August, 1914, and is he not aware that ever since M. Litvinoff arrived in this country he has been boosted by the “Daily Chronicle,” and interviewed, and everything else?

Mr. BONAR LAW I cannot say I have studied the file, but it is one of the papers I have looked at, and, on the whole, I think it has played a very patriotic part throughout the War. Is it not possible that the hon. Member’s views are biased by the recollection of previous articles relating to the hon. Member for East Herts?

Mr. BILLING I will, with your permission, Sir, not reply to so disgraceful an observation. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this paper has supported M. Litvinoff, and does the Government approve of that, having regard to the fact that they have appointed the editor as their Minister of Propaganda in Neutral Countries? Are we to understand that they wish Bolshevik principles to be preached in neutral countries?

Mr. BONAR LAW No; we differ as to the facts. So far as I have seen the paper has not supported Bolshevism in any shape or form.

 

LABOUR UNREST AND STRIKES. 05 March 1918

Sir ERIC GEDDES My right hon. Friend the Member for Blackfriars (Mr. Barnes) in this House, on the 26th of last month, appealed to the working men of the country with far greater authority than I can claim to “put their backs into their work.” I believe that the individual piece-worker works as hard now as he did last year— when he is actually at work—but he seems more ready to-day to take holidays, and we cannot afford holidays while there are food queues. Any estimate of output for the future must depend almost entirely upon the determination of employers and men in the shipyards and marine engineering establishments. The production of merchant ships in the United Kingdom during January, 1918, even making the most generous allowance for weather difficulties, fell so far below the average per month in the preceding quarter that, if improvement is not speedily made, the point where production balances losses will be postponed to a dangerous extent, and even when that point is reached we shall still have to make good the accumulations of losses of the past. During the critical period that confronts us we must rely in the main upon our own ships and upon ourselves. Our Allies are making every effort to increase the production of ships, but in spite of the glowing reports of representatives of the Press in the United States, and great doubtless as the effort of that country is, there is no doubt —and it is not questioned in official circles in America—that a considerable time must elapse before the desired output is secured.

I should like to add here what I know will be a source of satisfaction to the House—that the Canadian Government are prosecuting the shipbuilding programme with the utmost vigour, and will fill berths as they become vacant at existing yards. Satisfactory arrangements have been concluded with the United States authorities for the supply of steel; and everything is being done to push forward the programme of new construction. To reach an ultimate production at the rate of 3,000,000 tons per annum is, I believe, and am advised, well within the present and prospective capacity of our shipyards and marine engineering shops. But I wish to make it perfectly clear that these results cannot be obtained unless maximum output is given in every shipyard and marine engine shop by everyone concerned. If employers hesitate to play their part, or if men anywhere “down tools,” or go slow for any reason, they will now do so in the knowledge of the grievous extent to which they are prejudicing the vital interests and life of the community. The ranks of the skilled men must be enlarged without delay by men and women who at present are unskilled. The unskilled must become skilled, and interchange ability must be pressed on with the good will of employers, foremen, and men, and full time must be worked.

The Board of Admiralty had hoped that before the end of the second quarter of 1918 the output of world tonnage would have overtaken and passed destruction by the enemy. That is still possible. It can only be attained if we all pull together on the rope. The principle of one front must be recognised in the shipyards just as with the Fleets and in the trenches. Every ship which is launched and fitted out is an addition to the food-carrying resources of the Allies, and the rations which are just being introduced in this country will bring home to us all the urgency of this problem. I am confident—and my colleagues both in the Government and on the Board of Admiralty are convinced—that when the position is fully realised, people of all classes will take this matter seriously to heart and do everything possible to improve it. We are, therefore, arranging to bring home to the employers and workers in every yard, and to all classes who can affect the issue, the tonnage output figures of the United Kingdom from time to time, and to publish output of tonnage not only of this country as a whole, but district by district.

 

PERSONAL STATEMENT. 06 March 1918

Mr. MORRELL I have to make a short personal statement arising out of questions yesterday. I trust the House will give me its indulgence, and I will make as short as I can what I do say. On Thursday last the Home Secretary, speaking in the Debate, used the following words: At the meeting which Mr. Litvinoff addressed it was not he who recommended the people of this country to follow the example of Russia, but a British Member of Parliament. I wish he were in the House now that he might justify that advice.” — [Official Report. 28th February, 1918, col. 1627.] Yesterday a question was put to the right hon. Gentleman as to who was the Member who was reported to have urged the workers of this country to adopt Bolshevik methods, and start a revolution in this country After being pressed upon the point, the Home Secretary said: It was the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Morrell) who made the statement that it was desirable that the people of this country should follow the example of Russia. I did not think it worth while to take any action.” — [Official Report, 5th March, 1918, col. 1825.]

The House will see that that is a very grave and a very serious accusation to make of any Member of this House — probably the most serious charge that can be brought against a Member of Parliament. It imputes to him, not merely conduct for which he might be prosecuted in a Criminal Court, but it imputes con duct which, in my judgment, is certainly unworthy of a Member of this House, because it suggests that I used my position and such influence as I have as a Member of this House to advocate a course of conduct which would tend to subvert the Constitution upon which this House depends. I think the right hon. Gentleman, before making so serious a charge against one of his colleagues, would have treated him more fairly if he had given some notice of what he was going to say, or, at any rate, have waited until I was present, so that I might at once have replied to that charge. As it is, as the right hon. Gentleman will see, he has got at least if I may put it so — a twenty-four hours’ start.

I see my self branded to-day in every newspaper as the man who openly advocated revolution by physical force. The denial I am about to make — and I am sure the House will agree — cannot possibly be published until to-morrow. morning. That alone puts me at a great disadvantage. Let me at once say that the charge is false — wholly and absolutely! I do not think any man who knows me would for an instant believe it. Never in my life, in public or in private, have I ever desired to see, or advocated revolution by physical force in this country. Never! And that is the charge against me! By temperament, by training, by conviction, I am utterly opposed to any such method.

On the occasion in question I was invited by a personal friend to attend a lecture which was to be given by M. Litvinoff on the Russian situation. Being desirous of hearing as far as possible authoritatively about the Russian situation, I accepted the invitation and received two cards of admission. Later I was asked if I would consent to propose a vote of thanks to M. Litvinoff at the conclusion of the lecture. With some reluctance I consented to do so. I proposed the vote of thanks, as I most expressly stated, to M. Litvinoff, not as a representative of any special faction or any special party, but as the only accredited envoy of the Russian people in this country.

I made my speech on that occasion, as is my general practice, without notes, and therefore it is impossible for me at this distance of time — although my memory is quite clear — to state, with precision the language I used. But before I went to the meeting I happened to jot down a few notes, which I did not use. of what I intended to say. [A laugh.] That is really unworthy of the House. I am going to deal with what I actually said, and I will not pursue the other point, even although the only evidence I have is in the notes I put down beforehand which are open to any hon. Member. Still it is quite indifferent to me what view the House chooses to take of my word on that point. I will now deal with what I actually said, and as to that I depend not only on my own recollection, but on the memory of at least eight or ten Members of this House who were present either on the platform or in the body of the hall. I think I am right in saying that every one of them will bear me out in my assertion that, at that meeting I said nothing that could be construed as in any way justifying the charge which has been made against me.

I will read to the House what I believe are the words of the sentence upon which this charge is based. I said I was extremely anxious to show that my attendance at this meeting did not imply any sympathy with revolutionary propaganda in this country. What I said was: ”There are I believe those who desire to see this country follow the example of Russia. I then went on to say: I cannot, agree with any such view.” Further, I said, in the most emphatic way, as my hon. Friends will bear me out: The only revolution that I desire to see in this country is a revolution of opinion. I further went on to say that by our constitutional means a revolution of opinion would be sufficient to effect a change of Government, all that I desired to see, and I say frankly that I do desire it. That is the beginning and end of what I said on that occasion.

Immediately after the meeting it happened there was an air raid. A lot of the people waited for shelter, and some of my friends came up and remonstrated with me on the way I had, as they expressed it, let the meeting down, because I did not give the sort of incitement which apparently some of the meeting required One of my hon. Friends said: I admire your courage; you had the courage to let your audience down. I am confident that my recollection of this matter is perfectly correct, and that from beginning to end of that speech, although I admit I said some strong things about the Government, and about the administration of the Defence of the Realm Act, and about prosecutions for opinions, as I consider them, which have been going on under that Act — although I admit I said some strong things, I ask the House to believe that I never, on that occasion, and never have in my life, said anything that would justify such a charge as has been made against me, on the evidence of his own agents, and not on any impartial evidence, by the right hon. Gentleman.

I have nothing more to add, except this: I have endeavoured to give the House a perfectly plain statement of what occurred; I do not think I have anything to withdraw; I do not think I have anything to apologise for. For twelve years now I have been a Member of this House. During that time I have taken part in a good deal of controversy, and I have endeavoured to live on terms of personal good will and of respect with Members, even those who differ from me. Never before have I had any occasion to make any complaint of misrepresentation; certainly not of misrepresentation so grave as has been made here. Never before have I been able to say, as I do to-night, not only that the right hon. Gentleman has misrepresented me, but that he has attributed to me precisely the reverse of what I said on the occasion in question. I hope that the right hon Gentleman, now that he has heard what I have to say, will accept my statement, and will withdraw the charge which he has made against me.

The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir G. Cave) I hope the House will allow me to say a few words, not from any desire to controvert what the hon. Member has said, but in order to explain precisely the facts as they were reported to me. I was informed that M. Litvinoff, who I knew to be engaged in revolutionary propaganda, was to address a meeting in Lon don. I did not feel justified in prohibiting the meeting, because I had no reason to believe that there would be any breach of the peace, but I directed that a short hand writer should attend with a written authority which he could produce if challenged, and take a careful note of the proceedings. From his report it appears that after M. Litvinoff had given his address in praise of the Bolsheviks, the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Morrell) made a speech, expressing strong sympathy with the Russian revolution, and, after attacking, by name, members of the War Cabinet, and the Prime Minister, whom he described as knowing nothing of freedom, he made use of this important sentence:

“There are people who feel so strongly the shame of this business in this country that they are already beginning to see that it is time that we followed the example of the Russian workmen.” That statement was received with great applause, and the hon. Member added: “I wish to say that I am only here, and I am only in favour of the sentiments so far as it means we should have a revolution of opinion only.” I confess I attached small importance to the sentence last quoted, as I cannot see how it is possible, without violence and bloodshed, to follow the example of the Bolsheviks, to take forcible possession of the churches, the banks, the factories, and the land, to destroy a throne, a navy and an army, and to ruin a great Empire. I admit that I was indignant — first, that when we are fighting this peril Members of Parliament should listen to and applaud this man who is its instrument; and, secondly, that a Member in the position of the hon. Member for Burnley should use words such as I have quoted —

Mr. KING Do not read your speech.

Sir G. CAVE — and should have no word of serious condemnation for the brutal murders of gallant men by which the second revolution in Russia was disgraced. While I was considering what action I ought to take it happened that I was challenged in this House about Litvinoff, and having just read the account of the meeting to which I have referred, I said on the spur of the moment that it had been left to a British Member of Parliament to say that we should follow the example of Russia. I was asked then and there for the name. I said I would rather not give it in the absence of the Member concerned, but yesterday I was pressed by many Members, and in the end rather reluctantly I gave the name of the hon. Member to whom I had referred. Having now heard the hon. Gentleman’s statement, I am glad he repudiates the meaning which I gave to his words. I, of course, accept what he says as to his opinions and as to the intention with which he made the speech. If any statement of mine has given him pain I very much regret it, but I think he will admit that the statement as reported to me was of a very grave nature, and that having regard to the information which I had I did not go beyond my duty in calling public attention to the matter.

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