2018 05 – Parliament And World War One

Parliament And World War One

by Dick Barry


The PRIME MINISTER I now turn to the new proposals embodied in the Bill which I beg leave to introduce to-day. Our first proposal is to raise the military age up to fifty, and in certain specified cases we ask for powers to raise it to fifty-five; but that is only where men with special qualifications are needed. For instance, it may be necessary to do it in the case of medical men, in order to secure their services. It may be necessary in certain special classes, with special training and special experience, to secure their services for the Army. When you come to the question of raising the age up to fifty, it does not mean that men between forty-two and fifty are necessarily to be taken, in order to put them into the fighting line. It may be that there are men of that age who are just as fit as men of twenty-five, but I am sorry to say they are the exception, and we cannot therefore depend upon men of that age altogether to make the finest fighting material. There are a good many services in the Army which do not require the very best physical material, and it would be very helpful to get men of this age to fill those services, in order to release younger and fitter men to enter into the fighting line. There is also to be borne in mind the fact that we have to prepare for Home defence, so as to be able to release men from this country, and to fill their places by men between forty-two and fifty, who, I have no doubt, will fight very tenaciously for their own homes should there be such a thing as an invasion. The proportion of men from forty-two to fifty whom we expect will be available is not very high—something like 7 per cent., that is, only 7 per cent. of the men from forty-two to fifty will be available for the Army. I hope I have made that clear.

Sir C. HENRY Can you give us the number?

The PRIME MINISTER I cannot do that.

Mr. HOGGE You have already given us the number up to forty-five.

The PRIME MINISTER I have given the numbers of men raised up to the present time, but I do hope the House will not press me further. After all, we must not assist the intelligence branch of the enemy.

Mr. SNOWDEN Before the right hon. Gentleman passes—

The PRIME MINISTER I only wanted to reassure the people between forty-two and fifty that all the men of that age are not going to be called to the fighting line. I gave a sort of rough estimate, that it would be only a small percentage of the men of that age who would be likely to come under the provisions of the Bill.

Now I come to the question of exemptions from military service. It is known to everyone who has experience of the difficulty of obtaining man-power that one of the many obstacles to success is the number of exemptions which have been granted, often for reasons which at the time appeared sufficient, but which should no longer be effective at the present time of crisis. The Minister of National Service already has power, under an Act passed this year, to cancel certificates granted on occupational grounds. It is proposed to make free use of this power by means of a Proclamation, and there will be several of those exemptions which will be cancelled under a power which has already been conferred on the Minister of National Service. But when the existing powers have been used to the utmost, it may be necessary to go further, and to deal with exemptions granted on other grounds. Accordingly, it is provided by the Bill that His Majesty may, by Proclamation declaring that a national emergency has arisen, direct that any certificate of exemption from military  service of a nature specified in that Proclamation shall cease to have effect, and that while any such Proclamation remain in force no exemption shall be granted which would fall within the terms of the Proclamation. It will be obvious that under this provision it will be open to the Government to cancel exemptions in respect of men under an age to be specified in the Proclamation. This is another means of arriving at the “clean cut,” so as to secure men of military age, fit young men, for the purpose of the Army, under an age to be specified in the Proclamation. Any existing exemptions granted to such men will be superseded, and the men will be taken or left on medical grounds only. [An Hon. Member: “Tear up every pledge”‘] The hon. Gentleman takes a different view of the War from the one which I take. We have to choose between either submitting to defeat, or taking the necessary measures to avert it. We will never submit to defeat.

Mr. KING Why not resign?

The PRIME MINISTER I need hardly say that this provision will not be used to set aside pledges given to discharged soldiers; they will be carefully observed. It is proposed, further, to make a change in the constitution of the Appeal Tribunals in dealing with exemptions, and to speed up their procedure. I want again to emphasise the fact that time is of the very essence of this emergency. The existing tribunals have done very admirable work, but they will be the first to admit that their work has been hampered by a number of circumstances—the number of tribunals themselves, the facilities for unnecessary and repeated applications, opportunities for delay under recurring rights of appeal, and so on. In these circumstances, it is proposed to take power by Order in Council both to reconstitute the tribunals and to regulate the areas in which they shall work; to standardise the grounds of exemption, and limit the rights of appeal. It is impossible now to specify the precise nature of the changes to be made, but I may indicate the nature of the changes we have in mind. Firstly, the areas within which tribunals may act will be reconsidered, and, in some cases, adjusted; secondly, local tribunals, like the Appeal Tribunals, will become nominated bodies, and will be reduced in size. This does not mean that use will not be made of the assistance of the existing members of tribunals who have rendered admirable service and will be willing, I hope, to continue to work under the new conditions. Further, the continuity of these tribunals staff, and officers will, of course, be preserved. We propose to make an attempt to standardise more accurately than is now done the grounds of exemption, and to prevent conflicting decisions on these matters—different decisions in different localities—which is one of the great grievances felt in the country. Changes will also be made in the procedure, but upon these I do not intend to dwell at the moment. There is also, as I am reminded, the question of the extension of the Act to ministers of religion for non-combatant purposes.

Mr. STANTON Why not also to the conscientious objectors?

The PRIME MINISTER There is a shortage of fit men very largely for the service of the sick and wounded, and I am perfectly certain that ministers of religion would not care to feel that they were exempted from the obligation to serve, and especially to render service of this kind on the battle field. We have consulted several authorities on the subject, and some of them with whom it has been my privilege to communicate seem to feel that ministers of religion would be the last men in the world to claim exemption from an obligation of that kind. It is obvious if this change be made, care must be taken not to put an end to religious ministration in the country, and it has been arranged for this purpose that the Minister of National Service shall endeavour to act in concert with the authorities of the different denominations, so that in every denomination an adequate staff shall be reserved.

Sir C. KINLOCH-COOKE Why not also deal with the conscientious objector?



The PRIME MINISTER I now come to the question of Ireland. When an emergency has arisen, which makes it necessary to put men of fifty and boys of eighteen into the Army in the fight for liberty and independence—

Mr. DEVLIN And small nationalities.

The PRIME MINISTER And especially, as my hon. Friend reminds me, to fight for the liberty and independence of small nationalities—

Mr. BYRNE What about Ireland?

The PRIME MINISTER —I am perfectly certain it is not possible to justify any longer the exclusion of Ireland.

An HON. MEMBER What about Wales?

Mr. DILLON You will not get any men from Ireland by compulsion—not a man.

The PRIME MINISTER As to Wales, may I just say that before the Act came into operation, Wales showed the highest recruiting record in the United Kingdom.


The PRIME MINISTER What is the position? I hope hon. Members will allow me to state my case. No Home Rule proposal ever submitted to this House proposed to deprive the Imperial Parliament of the power of dealing with all questions relating to the Army and Navy. These have invariably, in every Home Rule proposal I have ever seen, been purely questions for the Imperial Parliament, so that it is no more a derogation of any national right ever claimed in this House than was the Defence of the Realm Act, which was also extended to Ireland. The character of the quarrel in which we are engaged is just as much Irish as it is English. May I say it is more so—it is more Irish and Scottish and Welsh than it is even English. Ireland, through its representatives at the beginning of this War, assented to it—

Mr. DEVLIN Because it was a war for small nationalities.

An HON. MEMBER Why would not you fight for small nationalities?

The PRIME MINISTER Ireland, through its representatives, assented to the War, voted for the War, supported the War. The Irish representatives, and Ireland, through its representatives, without a dissentient voice, committed the Empire to this War. They are fully as responsible for it as any part of the United Kingdom. May I just read the declaration issued by the Irish party on the 17th December, 1914, shortly after the War began?

Mr. BYRNE We have had a revolution since then.

The PRIME MINISTER This is the declaration of the Irish party: A test to search men’s souls has arisen. The Empire is engaged in the most serious War in history. It is a just War. provoked by the intolerable military despotism of Germany. It is a war for the defence of the sacred rights and liberties of small nations, and the respect and enlargement of the great principle of nationality. Involved in it is the fate of France, our kindred country, the chief nation of that powerful Celtic race to which we belong; the fate of Belgium, to whom we are attached by the same great ties of race, and by the common desire of a small nation to assert its freedom; and the fate of Poland, whose sufferings and whoso struggles bear so marked a resemblance to our own. It is a war for high ideals of human government and international relations, and Ireland would be false to her history, and to every consideration of honour, good faith and self-interest, did she not willingly bear her share in its burdens and its sacrifices.” [Interruption.]

Captain REDMOND “Willingly!”

The PRIME MINISTER May I also refer to a speech delivered by the late Mr. Redmond at the Mansion House, Dublin, when my right hon. Friend was addressing a recruiting meeting there: The heart of Ireland has been profoundly moved by the spectacle of the heroism and the sufferings of Belgium. The other day, in London, I met the Cardinal Archbishop of Melines-Cardinal Mercier—and I took the liberty of promising him then that Ireland would bring her arms and her strength to avenge Louvain and to uphold the integrity and independence of Belgium—aye, yes, Belgium, Poland, Alsace-Lorraine, France—those are words to conjure with by the Irish people. There never was—this is, I believe the universal sentiment of Ireland—there never was a war in which higher and nobler issues were at stake.….I have heard some people speaking of this War as an English and not an Irish war. That is absolutely and definitely untrue. Ireland’s highest national interests are at stake. The fact that America is in this War is the best proof of that. There are more Irishmen in the United States of America than there are in Ireland. They are all subject to Conscription.

Captain REDMOND Not by England.

The PRIME MINISTER Irishmen in Great Britain and in Canada are subject to Conscription.

Mr. DEVLIN Are Irishmen in Australia?

Mr. BYRNE We would not have it in Ireland!

The PRIME MINISTER Mr. Redmond, in addressing this House on the Military Service Bill, 1916, said: Let me state what is my personal view on this matter of compulsion. I am content to take the phrase used by the Prime Minister in his last speech. I am prepared to say I will stick at nothing, nothing which is necessary, nothing which is calculated to effect the purpose, in order to win this War, and this is the view, I am certain, of the people of Ireland. Then he was opposed to that particular Bill. But he said that with him Conscription was not a question of principle; it was purely a question of the necessity for the raising of men. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Mayo (Mr. Dillon) took substantially the same view in a speech which he delivered at the same time: We are now engaged.” he said, “in discussing an important political proposal for this country. Like the hon. member for Waterford, I view the thing from the point of view of necessity and expediency in the particular circumstances. I would not hesitate to support Conscription tomorrow if I thought it was necessary to maintain liberty, and if there was no Conscription, we ran the risk of losing the War.

Mr. DILLON That was conditional on Ireland having the liberty to decide her own fate, and if Irish liberty were at stake I certainly would not hesitate to support Conscription.

The PRIME MINISTER I do not want to enter into a controversy as to what my hon. Friend meant, but that is what he conveyed to the House, and if he will take the trouble to read that speech, he will see that that is the case. Mr. Redmond himself, on the Third Reading, in delivering his speech put it on the ground that we were fighting for small nationalities.

Mr. DEVLIN We found that that was not true.

The PRIME MINISTER My hon. Friend never challenged the justice of the War. On the contrary, he supported it, he voted for it—


The PRIME MINISTER I am referring to my hon. Friend the Member for Mayo. He voted for the War, supported supplies, voted for the declaration of war.

Mr. DILLON The hon. Gentleman is going too far. I never challenged the justice of the War. I believed in the justice of the War, and said so. I never voted for supplies, nor did anyone else in this House, for a vote was never taken. I never challenged the justice of the War, and I do not now challenge it. The right hon. Gentleman is going too far when he says that. Most certainly I did not vote for the War. I hold very strong opinions about the origin of the War.

The PRIME MINISTER I am satisfied with the statements made by my hon. Friend that he supported the justice of the War. If he believed that it was an unjust War, he would never have voted for it?

Mr. DILLON Certainly not.

The PRIME MINISTER Well, that’s settled. May I say, quite respectfully, and after a good deal of reflection and hesitation, because after all one does not want to propose anything to raise controversy and trouble when Heaven knows we have as much trouble as we can possibly deal with Mr. FLAVIN You will get more of it.

The PRIME MINISTER I would not do it unless I felt, after great reflection, that it is indefensible that you should ask young men of eighteen and a-half years of age, married men of thirty-five and forty with families, and even up to fifty, in England, Scotland, and Wales —that you should compel them to fight for the freedom and independence of a small Catholic nationality in Europe, whilst young men of twenty to twenty-five in Ireland are under no obligation to take up arms for a cause which is just as much theirs as ours. It is not merely illogical, it is unjust.

Mr. BYRNE You will have another battle front in Ireland.

The PRIME MINISTER There is such a thing as justice for England and Scotland and Wales, and the emergency which Mr. Redmond contemplated —and which I still respectfully suggest my hon. Friend the Member for Mayo also contemplated — that we shall not win the War without taking this measure, has arisen. President Wilson’s dramatic decision in the last few days is the best proof.

And there is a special emergency with regard to Ireland. Irish battalions and divisions, according to all testimony, have maintained the high honour and repute of their native land. But those battalions are sadly depleted, and they are now filled, or half filled, with Englishmen. If it were merely England’s battle, the young men of Ireland might regard that fact with indifference. But it is not. They are just as much concerned as the young men of England. Therefore, we propose to extend the Military Service Act to Ireland under the same conditions as in Great Britain. As there is no machinery in existence, and no register has yet been completed in Ireland, it may take some weeks before actual enrolment begins.

Mr. FLAVIN It will never begin. Ireland will not have it at any price.

The PRIME MINISTER But there must be no delay.

Mr. FLAVIN You come across, and try to take them.

The PRIME MINISTER As soon as arrangements are complete, the Government will, by Order in Council, put the Act into immediate operation —

Mr. WILLIAM O’BRIEN That is a declaration of war against Ireland.

Mr. FLAVIN And against Irishmen all over the world.