2018 09 – Parliament And World War One

Parliament And World War One

by Dick Barry

Philip Snowden (18/7/1864-5/5/1937). MP for Blackburn 1906-1918. Colne Valley 1922-1931. He opposed recruitment for the First World War and campaigned against conscription. First Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1924 and again from 1929 to 1931. In 1931 he broke with Labour and supported the formation of a National Government for which he was expelled from the party.

Herbert Samuel (6/11/1870-5/2/1963). Elected as Liberal member for Cleveland in a 1902 by-election. He was appointed to the Cabinet in 1909 by Prime Minister Asquith. In 1916 he declined Prime Minister Lloyd George’s offer to stay on as Home Secretary, preferring to resign.

 WHITLEY REPORT. 23 April 1918

Mr. E. CRAIG asked the Minister of Labour what steps have been taken with a view to forming joint industrial councils on the lines recommended by the Whitley Report; and what progress has been made in their formation?

The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of LABOUR (Mr. Bridgeman) The Whitley Report has been circulated by the Ministry of Labour to the trade unions and employers’ associations in all industries to which its recommendations are applicable, with a formal request to give effect to them, together with an offer of assistance in so doing. Following this communication, negotiations are taking place, with the Assistance of the Ministry, in twenty-six industries, covering 3,000,000 workpeople. In twelve of these industries, covering 2,000,000 workpeople, joint sub-committees are actually engaged in the drawing-up of schemes for industrial councils, and in five of these industries final agreement upon the actual constitution has been practically reached. In the case of one industry— pottery— a National Joint Industrial Council has already been set up, but in this case negotiations had been begun before the publication of the Whitley Report.

Other industries, in addition to the above-mentioned, are taking steps to institute joint industrial councils, but in these cases the assistance of the Ministry of Labour has not been sought. The Whitley Committees threw the responsibility for establishing industrial councils entirely on the existing organisations in each industry, and the Government has neither the intention nor the wish to force the new organisation on unwilling industries. Since industrial councils can be established only by agreement and the number of organisations on both the employers’ and work peoples’ side to be brought into agreement is in most industries considerable, the establishment of a council necessarily involves discussions and negotiations which may be protracted over several months. The Minister of Labour is, however, quite satisfied with the progress that has been made, which is already sufficient to justify the expectations which led the Government to approve the Whitley Report.

Mr. G. TERRELL Will the hon. Gentleman publish a list of the industries in which agreement has been arrived at, and these councils established?

Mr. BRIDGEMAN As I have said in my answer, there is only one in which such a council has been established. Others are in process of formation, but I will see what we can do later on.

Mr. CRAIG asked what procedure will, on the cessation of hostilities, be adopted in those industries which have not got the Whitley industrial committees set up?

Mr. BRIDGEMAN It is the intention of the Government to seek advice from representative bodies in each industry on matters affecting reconstruction before and during the period immediately following the cessation of hostilities. In industries for which owing to want of organisation or other reasons industrial councils cannot be established in time to serve this purpose, the Ministry of Reconstruction, in conjunction with the Board of Trade and the Ministry of Labour, are taking steps to promote interim industrial reconstruction committees as a purely temporary measure.


PEACE OFFERS. 06 May 1918

Mr. SNOWDEN (by Private Notice) asked the Foreign Secretary if his attention has been called to an interview published in the Press on Saturday with the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, in which he stated that he had always expected a peace movement as an immediate consequence of the Western offensive, and that the enemy would put forward offers likely, in their estimation, to be attractive to Great Britain; and can the Foreign Secretary say if any peace offers have recently been made, and, if so, what is their nature and what reply has been given to them; and, further, is it a fact that there is in this country at the present time a representative of a neutral country who has submitted tentative or informal suggestions of peace negotiation, and, if so, what is the nature of these suggestions, and what reply has the Government given to them?

Mr. BALFOUR My Noble Friend did make a statement on Friday last, which is no doubt the one referred to, though I cannot altogether accept the hon. Member’s account of it.

No peace offers have recently been made, and there is no representative here of a neutral country who has made tentative or informal suggestions of peace negotiations.

Mr. SNOWDEN Does the right hon. Gentleman mean to imply by that answer that no offers of any kind have been made to the Government, or to members of the Government, within the last fortnight by a neutral? Further, has the right hon. Gentleman seen in the Press this afternoon a telegram from The Hague giving categorical details of the proposals which have been submitted to the British Government by the person referred to?

Mr. BALFOUR I think that it is all a mare’s nest, Sir.

Mr. SNOWDEN Will the right hon. Gentleman answer the first part of the question—whether there is at the present time, or has been within the last fortnight, in the country a neutral who has made representations to the Government that he was speaking for the German Government?

Mr. BALFOUR That is the question which I have endeavoured to answer with absolute lucidity. I will read my answer again: No peace offers have recently been made, and there is no representative here of a neutral country who has made tentative or informal suggestions of peace negotiations.

Mr. OUTHWAITE Is the right hon. Gentleman in a position to give that reply, seeing that on the last occasion a peace offer was made, the Prime Minister dealt with the matter without reference to the Foreign Secretary, and how does he know that the Prime Minister is not dealing with this matter now?

Mr. BALFOUR I do not know to what the hon. Member is referring.

Mr. OUTHWAITE Is it not a fact that the peace offer made by the Austrian Government through Prince Sixte was dealt with by the Prime Minister without reference to the Foreign Office?

Mr. BALFOUR I was in America.

Mr. WHITEHOUSE May I ask whether in the event of offers being made, the House—[HON. MEMBERS: “Order, order!”]—




Mr HERBERT SAMUEL There are some observations which I wish to make on the present political situation in this country, and in this House, and in its bearing to the war position. It is contended that the criticisms which have been directed against certain authorities in the Government indicates a weakening of the determination of those who are responsible for those criticisms to carry the War to a successful issue. It has been suggested in many quarters that the controversy of last Thursday was really an issue for or against the vigorous prosecution of the War. One would be inclined to ignore assertion of that kind, if they did not come from authoritative quarters, and have recently apparently received, at all events, to some extent, the endorsement of so distinguished a statesman as Lord Curzon. There have been criticisms of the Government. They have been mainly on three lines. In the first place, it has been said there have been several defects in their administration of domestic affairs; that the problem of man-power was, in effect, neglected all through the critical year 1917; that there has been a comparative failure, which still continues, in the shipbuilding programme—a most vital matter; that there is frequently conflict and competition between the various Departments of the State; that our expenditure has increased from £2,000,000,000 to £3,000,000,000 per year within a period of eighteen months; that there are prolonged delays in dealing with many of the problems relating to food control, and other matters.

Those of us who have made these criticisms have gone on to point out what we regard as their cause, and the possible remedy for these defects. We consider that the War Cabinet has assumed a burden of work that is beyond the capacity of any so small a group of men to carry, not through any lack of capacity or application on the part of those Members, but because they have undertaken a burden which is in itself too heavy to bear. Engaged as they are in supervising the whole operations of the War by sea and land, our relations with our Allies and our Dominions, with India, with neutrals, attending, as many of them have to do frequently, international conferences, busy with the immense volume of work that attaches to these large matters that come before them, they have, nevertheless, undertaken to deal with all domestic problems as well —labour problems, Ireland, food, manpower, domestic legislation of every kind. Is it to be wondered at that there is a continual and extreme congestion of business? Only last week we were told, in answer to a question in this House, that there had been submitted to this body the question of whether or not a limited amount of flour should be released for the purpose of making dog biscuits, and, on the same day, we were told that the War Cabinet had not yet given its decision on the matter of whether or not horse-racing should be discontinued. Of course they have not. How could they be expected to divert their attention from these large matters of vital importance to read the papers and come to their conclusions on horse racing or dog biscuits? We have urged that the machinery of government is working badly because it is not complete, that in addition to the War Cabinet you ought to have something in the nature of a Home Cabinet to deal with these comparatively minor matters. Having come to that conclusion, whether right or wrong, I submit it is our duty to state those views to the House, because good administration at home, frugal finance, an effective management of such problems as shipbuilding and man-power, are essential to the effective prosecution of the War.

The second line of criticism which has developed in recent weeks has relation to Conscription in Ireland. I do not propose to argue that subject now. I have dealt with it before, and I dare say I may have an opportunity of speaking on it again when it comes in concrete and immediate form before the House. We believe the Government, in dealing with this matter, are on wrong lines, that the course they have taken is not likely to add to the number of our Armies available for service at the front, but is calculated, so far as one can at present foresee, to reduce the numbers available. We hold, more important than that, that it injures profoundly our moral position in the face of the world, and that if the Government adopt in Ireland Austrian methods they will find our moral international position tends to be reduced to something approaching the Austrian level. Above all. the action which they seem likely to take in Ireland does run directly counter to the supreme principle on behalf of which we are waging this War, the necessity that people should be governed according to their own desires. Again we may be right, again we may be wrong; but I submit to hon. Members of all shades of political opinion that if we hold sincerely this view we should be doing less than our duty if we did not take such opportunities as are offered to impress it on this House.

The third line of criticism relates to the relations of the Government to their military and naval advisers. There have been a series of controversies, misunderstandings, explanations, resignations, dismissals, which have given rise to a widespread uneasiness in very many quarters, and not least among military men. On each of these occasions it may well be that the action of the Government was fully justified, and I should be very far indeed from saying that any distinguished general or admiral has a freehold of his office. Of course changes may often be necessary, and may frequently be very salutary. The fact remains that the way in which these questions have been handled one by one has done something to sap confidence. The matter came prominently before this House a week ago, in consequence of the letter written to the Press by General Maurice. I cannot conceal my own  opinion that that letter ought never to have been written, but, having been written, the House of Commons was, I think, bound to take cognisance of it. It is exceedingly unfair and unjust to suggest that in bringing the matter before this House those who did so were actuated by any irresolution with regard to the conduct of the War or any desire to weaken its prosecution. The “Times,”‘ which will not be suspected of tendencies of that kind, speaking of this matter, said: That is a challenge, coming from such a quarter, which no Government can afford to ignore or merely to rebut. Unless and until it is impartially investigated and disproved it will profoundly shake the public confidence in every statement made from the Treasury Bench. What is more, it will revive for that period all those mischievous controversies of last winter, which, whatever their merits, were themselves the greatest stumbling-block in our preparations for the German offensive.

The same article further down went on: Least of all can they be settled finally by any ex-parte statement, however apparently convincing, from the Prime Minister himself. Mr. Lloyd George should be under no illusions whatever on that point. He has, we believe, an unanswerable case in his instinctive zeal and pressure for what we have called the Allied point of view. For all we know, he may have an equally unanswerable case against General Maurice’s specific charges. But the inevitable restrictions of a speech on military dispositions, the growing public distrust of all official statements (whether by generals or by Ministers)  I will omit some words which are perhaps unduly critical of the Prime Minister— all this makes it hopeless that there should be any end of this controversy except through an entirely disinterested inquiry.

What occurred? On Tuesday the Government came to the House and declared that an inquiry was desirable. On Thursday they held that any question of an inquiry was something in the nature of treason to the vigorous prosecution of the War. On Tuesday my right hon. Friend told us all that the matter could only be decided by a reference to documents so secret that they could not be disclosed even to a Select Committee of this House. Two days later the House as a whole was asked to judge the matter without any documents before them at all. [HON. MEMBERS: “No!”] We had no opportunity of seeing documents. We were told that there could not be found in this House five righteous men—worse even than the City of Sodom—and yet the whole House was asked to judge the issue in open Debate on a Motion which was declared, although its movers did not intend it, to be a vote of censure, the Government Whips telling in the Lobby.

The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Bonar Law) And the Opposition Whips.

Mr. SAMUEL The Opposition Whips told also, but we should have been very glad to have taken them off if you had done the same and left it open to the House. Not only that, but one very large section of the House met in conference on the day previous to the Debate, and decided to support the Government, not only without probing the charges that had been made, but without even waiting to hear what the Government answer might be, and the newspapers on the morning of the Debate declared, quite truly, that the Government majority was assured before any answer had been offered. I have never known a case in which a matter of this gravity and importance has been more unsatisfactorily handled. Those are the three main lines of criticism which have been addressed against the Government in recent weeks. It has been suggested that the Division on Thursday was intended to secure, or might have the effect of securing, the installation in power of a Government less resolute than the present Government in the prosecution of the War, who would hasten to make peace on such terms as the Germans and Austrians might now be likely to offer us. If that had been the outcome of that Debate or Division, or if that had been likely to become the outcome of that Debate or Division, I can assure the House that not one of us would have made one step towards the Lobby in order to secure such a result. If the outcome of it should be that we should make peace with our present enemies on such lines that they who have been guilty of this great aggression against the peace of the world, which has resulted in deluging Europe with blood and bringing agonies of sorrow to millions of homes—if the outcome of it should be that those powers should not be penalised for this aggression, but should be aggrandised and regarded—if the outcome should be that militarism could claim to be justified by its proofs, then, I say, those who were responsible for such as that would be guilty of the greatest crime. For my own part, I am profoundly convinced that no Government of that kind could be formed in this country at the present time, and, if it could be formed, this House would eject it from office in a week, and, if this House neglected to perform that clear duty, an indignant public opinion would sweep it aside. Is it a service to the country to represent that my right hon. Friend the Member for East Fife and his colleagues and the great central body of Liberalism are careless in these matters, and are willing to make a peace of that character? The Germans are carefully watching what we say and do, and I think it is a grave disservice to our State to give their propaganda material of that character and quite falsely to represent that the only unity which has prevailed and, I say, still prevails, in the country on all the essential purposes is now in danger of disappearing.