2018 12 – Parliament And World War One

Parliament And World War One

by Dick Barry


Lord Robert Cecil MP (14/9/1864-24/11/1958). Cecil was elected as a Conservative in the 1906 General Election for Marylebone East. He did not contest  the seat in either elections in 1910. In 1911 he won a by-election in Hitchin, Hertfordshire.  Cecil was one of the architects of the League of Nations, whose services to it earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1937. He was the third son of Robert Gascogne Cecil, Third Marquess of Salisbury, three times Prime Minister.


Sir JOHN JARDINE asked the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he is in a position to make a statement as to military and political matters on the coast of the Red Sea, the Hedjaz and adjoining Sultanates, and in Mesopotamia?

Lord R. CECIL The House will, I hope, pardon me if I answer may hon. Friend’s question in some detail. General Marshall’s operations on the Euphrates in March, and his subsequent operations in the neighbour of Kirkuk in April, resulted in inflicting on the Turks casualties amounting to about 10,000 men, of whom 7,500 are prisoners of war, the capture of 30 guns and much other war material.

As regards the operations of the Mesopotamian Political Administration, very satisfactory progress is being made in redeeming the country from the state of ruin into which it had fallen under the Turks. Thirteen Government primary schools, four municipal State-aided schools, a teachers’ training school, and a survey school have been opened. Extension classes in agriculture have also been started. The local demand for education is very insistent, and is being met as rapidly as the supply of teachers will permit.

Large tracts of land hitherto unfilled have been brought under the plough through the combined efforts of the people and the Political Administration. Use has been made of mechanical tractors and artillery horses, which have supplemented the ordinary means of cultivation. The opening up of the country by road, rail, and improved water transport and the establishment of security on the highways have resulted in an increase of trade and a lowering of prices of commodities.

The contrast between the improved condition of Mesopotamia and that of the neighbouring country occupied by the Turks, where disorder and famine are chronic, has not failed to impress the population and its leaders, the local notables and tribal chiefs. The relations between our troops and the people are excellent, and a spirit of harmony and co-operation prevails. The opinion is frequently expressed that the British people mean well by the Arab race.

Turning to the operations of the forces of our Ally, the King of the Hedjaz, the casualties inflicted on the Turks by the Arab armies along the line between Dera’a and Ma’an number about 2,000, in addition to which two locomotives have been destroyed, 122 culverts and bridges demolished, and railway communication between those two points permanently interrupted. In the interior, five Turkish convoys, aggregating 1,500 camels, have been captured by the Sherif Ali, and a severe defeat has been inflicted on the Emir of Hail by the Sherif Abdulla.

Sir J. D. REES Is my Noble Friend aware what kind of education is being given? Is it an English education?

Lord R. CECIL I am afraid I do not know the details, but I am sure it is the best education.

Colonel WEDGWOOD Have any steps been taken to open the coal mines?

Lord R. CECIL I will inquire. I am afraid I cannot answer without notice.

Colonel ASHLEY Are any schemes of irrigation under contemplation in Mesopotamia?

Lord R. CECIL The matter is, I know, being considered, but I cannot tell my hon. and gallant Friend the details.

Mr. HOLT Is there any immediate prospect of starting the pilgrimage to the Hedjaz?

Lord R. CECIL I do not think it has ever been interrupted.


Mr. DILLON I wish to give notice that at an early date I shall move the following Resolution: That the policy pursued towards Ireland by His Majesty’s Government is inconsistent with the great principles for the vindication of which the Allied Powers are carrying on the War; that this policy has greatly alienated and exasperated the Irish people; if persevered in will still further alienate and exasperate them, and will steadily increase the difficulty of reaching a settlement of the Irish question on a basis of friendship between the British and the Irish nations. That this House heartily endorses the principles laid down by President Wilson in his great speech by the grave of George Washington. When speaking of the objects for which America and her Allies are fighting, he said: ‘These great objects can be put into a single sentence. What we seek is the reign of law based upon the consent of the governed and sustained by the organised opinion of mankind. These great ends cannot be achieved by debating and seeking to reconcile and accommodate what statesmen may wish with their projects for balances of power and national opportunity. They can be realised only by the determination of what the thinking peoples of the world desire with their longing hope for justice and for social freedom and opportunity.’ And that this House is of opinion that the true solution of the Irish question is to put into operation without delay in regard to Ireland the principles laid down by President Wilson in this historic utterance. To-morrow I shall ask the Leader of the House for a day to debate that Motion.



Lord Henry Cavendish-Bentinck MP (28/5/1863-6/10/1931) was elected as a Conservative for Norfolk North West in 1886. He lost the seat in 1892. In 1895 he was elected for Nottingham South. He represented the constituency until 1906 and again from 1910 to 1929. Cavendish-Bentinck held a commission in the Derbyshire Imperial Yeomanry, where he gained the rank of lieutenant-colonel. He served in the Second Boer War in South Africa , 1899-1900.


Lord H. CAVENDISH-BENTINCK asked the Minister of Munitions, with reference to the unrest in the munition areas, whether, having regard to the fact that the vast majority of skilled workers recognise the necessity of some scheme of rationing skilled labour, he will not set up joint councils or committees, as recommended by the Whitley Report, so that employers and workmen may devise means of increasing the mobility of skilled labour?

The MINISTER of MUNITIONS (Mr. Churchill) I have already stated, in reply to a resolution passed at Coventry, that it is open to a trade union advisory committee, or any branch of it, to discuss the administration of any scheme affecting labour. It is very difficult to express an opinion as to machinery without the necessary discussion with the responsible representatives of labour and also with the representatives of the employers. But if from these bodies we receive suggestions of a practical character, the machinery exists for their discussion, and it would be quite easy to carry any decision come to into effect.

Sir F. HALL May I ask whether, when the 12½ per cent. bonus was granted, that was done entirely in accordance with the representatives of Labour, whether they were consulted, and whether their advice was entirely followed?

Mr. CHURCHILL Really, the difficulty of the 12½ per cent. bonus, I think, is past. [HON. MEMBERS: “No!”] We have enough difficulties to consider at the present time.

Mr. TYSON WILSON May I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman’s Department, before issuing orders affecting the policy of the Government, and also the conditions of the workpeople, consult the people directly affected, and, if not, will he, before issuing these orders; consult the people, and therefore avoid this strike and the threatened strike?

Mr. CHURCHILL We do our utmost, as far as possible, to consult with the responsible representatives of the working classes as represented by the principal trade unions in the country. On the other hand, we do not try to make these men responsible for action which properly falls to the Government to decide. It would not be fair that we should do so. We hear their opinions. We take their advice. But we do not claim in all circumstances their support. In this case we have taken fully and thoroughly over a long period of weeks, even of months, the advice and the opinion of the responsible leaders of the trade unions. What is occurring now is action which is not supported—which has not been initiated—by those responsible leaders nor by the local leaders, but by other forces unorganised, or at any rate unofficially organised, which are below them, who have pressed forward their point of view. While one endeavours on all occasions to consult and keep in touch with those concerned, it really is not possible while administering the government of such an immense body of workers to deal with any particular section who happen, however unofficially and informally their constitution may be, to have put forward a strong view. If you were to do that you would really fatally weaken the authority of the recognised and responsible leaders.

Mr. PRINGLE Arising out of that, I wish to ask the Minister whether it is not the case that, in connection with a former dispute at Coventry, a promise was made to act in conjunction with the representatives of the shop stewards as well as the responsible trade union leaders; whether that policy has been pursued; and, further, whether it is not the case that the great majority of the troubles in the munitions areas in the country have been due to the Government policy of confining their consultations to those described as the responsible heads of the trade unions, and of ignoring others who really are entitled to represent the men?

Mr. CHURCHILL No, Sir; I think that would be a most unjust charge. In the first place, so far as the Ministry of Munitions is concerned, we are always ready to meet the responsible leaders or any persons of a representative character that they may wish to bring with them. If, for instance, any trade union or skilled union affected said, “We should like to bring delegations of shop stewards here or there,” we would readily meet them—that is in London. In addition to that, discussions have been proceeding between our representatives and the men in the local centres, and have proceeded with these very shop stewards and with organisations still more unofficial than they are. There has been absolutely no lack of touch or of discussion. I must say that I believe there is very little misunderstanding on either side, as to the issues involved.

Sir F. HALL Arising out of the reply to my former question, may I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman does not attribute the present trouble to the attitude which was adopted in November last, when he first gave this 12½ per cent.; whether he does not think that the system of granting these increases from one Department without consultation or co-operation with the other Departments concerned is a suicidal policy to adopt in this or any other country?

Mr. CHURCHILL Certainly not!

Mr. D. MASON Is the right hon. Gentleman willing to-day to call a conference of all those concerned?

Mr. CHURCHILL To call a conference of all those concerned would mean many scores of thousands of persons. I cannot do that.

Mr. MASON No, no; I did not mean that!

Mr. CHURCHILL It is not practical machinery.

Mr. MASON Does not the right hon. Gentleman know that all those concerned have certain delegates who represent them, and will he not, therefore, call a conference of these representatives?

Mr. CHURCHILL The difficulty in this matter is that one does not know who represents these persons. I should like to point out to the House that the local associations representing these trades—not the general trade union, but the local body—have themselves called upon the men to remain at their work, and they have been thrown over by the purely unorganised forces.

Mr. MASON Would the right hon. Gentleman try to find out?

Mr. CHURCHILL There is no need to do so




Sir J. CRAIG asked the Prime Minister whether he is now in a position to announce the terms of the new Hague Agreement as to prisoners of war?

Mr. BONAR LAW I should be obliged if my hon. and gallant Friend would await the statement which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary proposes to make at the end of questions.

Mr. RUNCI MAN I beg to ask the Home Secretary whether he can make any statement in regard to British interned prisoners in Switzerland, and the conditions governing the access of their relatives to them?

Sir G. CAVE I ask the permission of the House to make a short statement for the information of Members with regard to the agreement recently concluded at The Hague as the result of a long and difficult negotiation. It is not possible at present to state the full effect of the agreement, but in substance it may be divided into two parts—the first relating to the exchange of prisoners and the second to their treatment.

With regard to the exchange of prisoners, the agreement provides for the repatriation of all combatant prisoners of war who have been eighteen months in captivity, and of all civilians who wish to return home. The combatants are to be exchanged man for man and rank for rank; but as to the civilians, under which head there is a wide discrepancy in numbers between the two countries, even as regards male civilian prisoners, the difference is to be compensated by the return of additional British combatants in proportions specified in the agreement. The exchange includes the combatants and civilians interned in Holland and Switzerland.

With regard to treatment, the agreement follows generally the lines of the Franco-German Agreement, but there are special provisions for improving the conditions of prisoners of war with regard to employment in mines, to the retention of prisoners in an area of operations, to notification of capture, to examination by neutral medical commissions, and to other matters. The agreement is to terminate on the 1st August, 1919. It is estimated that by that date a total number of combatants and male civilians approximating to 120,000 will have become eligible for repatriation. It is, I think, important to bear in mind that the agreement will not take effect unless ratified by both Governments, and is subject to a special reservation made by the German delegates. Speaking for myself, I venture to express the opinion that it is undesirable to enter into any detailed discussion of the terms of the agreement until ratification has been secured.

Mr. J. HENDERSON Does it include officers as well as non-commissioned officers and men?

Sir G. CAVE Yes.

Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL Is it 120,000 on both sides?

Sir G. CAVE On each side.

Mr. ALBION RICHARDSON Have the War Cabinet yet decided whether the agreement should be ratified by the British Government, and, if not, when is that decision likely to be reached?

Sir G. CAVE A decision has not yet been taken, but it will, I understand, be taken in a day or two.

Sir J. CRAIG Before ratification, would it be possible to begin with an exchange amongst the soldiers?

Sir G. CAVE I should be glad if that could be done, but I doubt whether the German Government would agree to it.

Sir J. CRAIG Is it not worthwhile for the right hon. Gentleman to press this, seeing that it would not trespass on any of the special terms of the agreement, to allow an immediate evacuation of prisoners below the rank of N.C.O. on both sides?

Mr. R. McNEILL Will German civilians interned in this country be repatriated under that agreement, whether they desire to be repatriated or not?

Sir G. CAVE No, Sir. So far as the agreement goes, they will only be repatriated if they desire it. Whether they will be repatriated for other reasons is a matter to be determined hereafter.

Mr. McNEILL Will the result of that not be that some British combatant prisoners will be retained in captivity to gratify the desire of civilian Germans to remain in this country?

Sir G. CAVE I think we had better not discuss that matter. I have already given the House the information.

Colonel Sir F. HALL Were the other matters to which the right hon. Gentleman referred not also subjects of correspondence as to whether it has been impossible in many cases for British prisoners in Germany to correspond with this side?

Sir G. CAVE The question was fully discussed and it is provided for in the agreement.