Parliament And World War One
by Dick Barry
IRISH CONVENTION. 06 July 1917
Mr. JAMES HOPE (Lord of the Treasury) I beg to move, “That this House do now adjourn.”
The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Lloyd George) I think perhaps that the House would like to hear a statement about the steps which have been taken in reference to the Irish Convention and the stage at which we have arrived. The nominations by the various bodies which were invited to make nominations are not yet quite complete. The last of the nominations of the urban councils which will send representatives reached me on Monday of this week. One important group of nominations was sent in two days ago. Nominations from two other bodies were received this morning, and there are now only a few nominations which have not yet been returned. There has been no avoidable delay in the issue of the invitations by the Government. Until we see who is nominated by the various parties and interests, we are, of course, not in a position to name definitely the fifteen gentlemen whom the Government will ask to serve. Provisionally, their names have been determined upon, and, as the general body of members is nearly now complete, we arc, I think, entitled to proceed.
We propose to invite the Convention to assemble on 25th July to deal with preliminary business, such as the appointment of its chairman and the constitution of its secretariat. I said to the House on a previous occasion that if the Convention were not able to agree upon a chairman, the Government would make the nomination. It is obviously better that the choice should be that of the members of the Convention themselves. The constitution of the secretariat is a matter on which the chairman and the Convention ought to be able to make their own proposals. We may be asked how this numerous body is to be expected to come promptly to business without, at any rate, some temporary president. In answer to that, I may state that we have decided to request the Chief Secretary to undertake the duties of a provisional or temporary chairman at the first coming together of the Convention, in order to obtain the decision of the members upon these questions of working machinery, which, of course, must be decided before they enter upon the great undertaking for which they are convened. We hope this task will not impose upon the Chief Secretary long absence from his official duties.
As to the place of meeting, the first group of sittings, at any rate, ought to be held in Dublin. Whether there should subsequently be sittings elsewhere is a matter on which the Convention need not be fettered by any decision taken by us at this time. The Government have had offers from Dublin of various meeting-places for the Convention. The Provost and Fellows of Trinity College offered a well-known hall of theirs—the Regent’s Hall. The College of Physicians offered their buildings. The College of Surgeons offered theirs. I should like, on behalf of the Government, to acknowledge the admirable public spirit which has prompted their offers. The question, of the place of meeting is of importance, and we propose to make the definite announcement on this matter when we issue the formal summonses to the Convention, in the course of a few days. Whatever is necessary to be done to ensure the smooth working of this assembly or to facilitate its inquiries or its decisions will be done by the Government. Eminent and representative Irishmen from all parts of Ireland will come together in a spirit of conciliation and good will. They are determined, I feel sure, to do all they can to secure a settlement of the old discords which have afflicted their country. We shall do all we can to give them such help as is at our command.
Question put, and agreed to.
The House rose on 13 July and returned on 12 November.
GREECE 22 November 1917
Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER, pursuant to the Order of the House, of the 12th February, proposed the Question, ” That this House do now Adjourn.”
Mr. LYNCH The great international Bolos are the members of the Court of Athens. The protectors of those Bolos are the men who sit on the Treasury Bench as members of the Government. Those words I wish to go out from this House till they sink into the minds of the public and produce there a salutary reaction. I advance them thus early, because if I am counted out tonight the public will know that the Government does not dare face that accusation.
Mr. WATT Except one of them.
Mr. LYNCH If I am not counted out, I will proceed to develop my theme and establish the truth of what I say. On the 21st January, 1916, a compact was entered into between the Kaiser on the one hand and King Constantine of Greece on the other. It was a solemn compact, drawn up in set terms, by which on his part the King of Greece agreed that the armies of Greece would not at any time be used to support the cause of the Allies, and that he himself would remain faithful to his friendship for the Kaiser; and, on the other side, that the Kaiser would support him by force of arms when necessary. On the 5th May, 1916, matters had so far progressed that General Mackensen, the great general of the Germans, who is now the leading spirit of this immense drive in Italy, was, at the instigation of the Kaiser and with the connivance and support of the King of Greece, examining minutely the whole of the military situation in the Balkans, and especially in Greece, to know in what way the Grecian forces could co-operate with the forces of Germany for the destruction of the Allies.
On the 23rd June of the same year Prince Nicholas and Prince Andrew of Greece came on a mission to this country—a mission embracing Russia and this country. That was no ordinary visit of distinguished strangers. That was a visit which had been arranged minutely, carefully, in the Court of Berlin by the Kaiser himself, and with the exultant approval of the German Chancellor. In speaking thus, I might quote—I will produce all the documents, if necessary—from two Parisian papers, both of a warlike tendency, one the “Echo de Paris,” and the other ” L’Homme Euchainé,” the organ of no less a man than the present Prime Minister of France. According to these organs, the Greek Minister at Berlin, M. Thiotokis, who was entirely friendly to the German nation even as against his own country, communicated to King Constantine this message, that the mission had been carefully prepared, that the German Chancellor was highly delighted, and gave his warmest approval to the mission. The object of this mission was to explain to the sovereigns of Russia and England the policy of King Constantine, and to make them understand that the policy pursued by their Governments tended to the undermining of the dynasty and would accomplish no useful purpose.
We have heard a great deal during these days of the mischievous activities of
Boloism. I ask seriously whether, in the whole round of recent history, you could find one example more dangerous or more perfidious than the activities of these two Princes, coming direct as emissaries from the German Court, knowing the secrets of the German Court, but preserving those secrets, and giving counsel to the Allied countries of Russia and England, not in any friendly or neutral way, but with the determination to press home on the Courts of these countries the views of the German Kaiser and his Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg. The Bolos were not regarded with suspicion or harried or persecuted; they were received in this country with open arms; their mission was facilitated, and having left this country when they had access to many secrets denied to citizens of this country.
Mr. OUTHWAITE To Members of this, House—
Mr. LYNCH These emissaries of the enemy went straight to Berlin, were received with Royal honours, and were no doubt responsible for the defeat of the designs of the Allies. That brings us down to the 23rd June, 1916. On the 2nd December, in the same year, the Consort of King Constantine, who is, I believe, a sister of the German Kaiser, was screaming for an attack on the Allies, with the co-operation of the Greek Forces. There is something about this lady which really compels my admiration. She reminds me of what Napoleon said of the Duchesse d’Angoulême—that she was the only man, in the family. She was a woman of action; she knew the time had come to strike, and therefore from her palace she was screaming for action to be taken. On the 2nd December, Theotokis, the infidel representative of Greece at the Court of Berlin, was—three weeks later—calling out for an attack, but the time was evidently thought to be inopportune. On the 5th January this year we have the demand for the destruction of all the Greek guns that could be used on the side of the Allies. On the 10th January of this year we find Queen Sophia again screaming with rage and despair at the opportunity missed to strike, and crying about the state of Greece, which had been brought about by the blockade on the part of the Allies, and using this phrase, which deserves to become historic, in the description of the Allies, when she called them ” infamous swine.”
Perhaps the words, severe as they are, had been suggested to her by the manner in which the representatives of the Allies had grovelled at her feet. Here, again, is a pleasant touch which gives me a certain sympathy with the lady. Not being a frequenter of Courts, I had, in my own imagination, placed these people so high that I was disinclined to think that they used words that were familiar here; I had believed that they spoke in the high diplomatic terms that we are accustomed to read in Blue Books and diplomatic papers. There is that “touch of Nature that makes the whole world kin ” in this description where she designated the Allies as ” infamous swine.”
Remember that in this brief narration I have taken you over twelve months of recent Grecian history. Remember that many of these facts which have now been divulged were patent to Members of this House, and that some Members of this House endeavoured to force them upon the attention of the representatives of the Government who held the very destiny of this country in their hands. They, however, remained deaf to the warnings or insolent to the demand that they should hear. What was their reply; and what was the communication of their representative in Athens during all this time? There was a Minister there. Was he alone in all the world blind to the machinations of Constantine, or did he report them to his Government? He did report them, somewhat tardily, to his Government, and even then that Government was blind and deaf.
I want to say this, and I want that it should go forth, not only in this country but throughout all the Dominions, that this terrible disaster to Italy had its roots in this inaction, an inaction so extraordinary, and of which the evil effects could not be paralleled by the worst example of perfidy. I will say to this House; I will say to the men of this country, and I will say to the women of this country who have sent their sons and husbands to fight the battle of freedom, that the chances of this country have been jeopardised, and in part thrown away, because in the Balkans the Allies were not fighting the battle of freedom which they blazon on their banners. They were using their force and their diplomacy not to fight and win, but to conserve this enemy dynasty which has dealt to their cause the deepest and perhaps the most irreparable blow during these whole three years of war.
There is no representative of the Government to answer. Why? Because no answer can be given, and they know it. In any other country in the world if such an act of negligence were brought home to the representative of the Government that representative would go. Or if the Government showed any inclination to defend him that Government would go. It is a wrong and a mischievous system that a man on whose shoulders rests the responsibility for this terrible blunder, worse than many crimes, should still sit there perhaps to blunder again in the same way—to throw away what chances still remain of the victory of the Allies in this terrible War. We have become accustomed to the terrible toll of death. I am not speaking of the waste of treasure. Let me picture one individual soldier, a young man as the world may call him, the hope and pride of his father and mother, of his brothers and his sisters. He goes forth like a hero, willing to give all that a man can give; his life itself, for the cause of his country, for the whole ideal which the Allies have set upon their flags.
That man is stricken down by an enemy bullet in Serbia. His blood is ebbing fast away, his lips are growing pale, his eyes are glaring. He thinks of his home, he thinks of the misery his death will cause. He knows that his people will be uplifted by the thought that he died for a great cause. if in the dying moments of that hero it could be whispered in his ear, ” No, you have not died for a great cause, you have not died in defence of your country, you have not died for democracy, you have died to save a dynasty, that dynasty the representative of the worst enemies of your country.” The responsibility of having to hear those words, and know that they are true rests with the men who are still guiding the destinies of this country, and having thrown away its chances can say, ” We have lost the War in the Balkans, but we have saved the dynasty of an enemy.”
Mr. KING I hoped someone else would have risen from the opposite benches. There are two members of the Government here, both admirably qualified to speak on this or any other subject. In fact, I would consider them both as to ability, to honesty, and to eloquence superior to the great majority of their colleagues. But they have thought it well tonight to hide their talents under a bushel, and they have not replied to the eloquent and moving speech that, we heard. The House ought to congratulate my hon. Friend that at the third time of asking the Government has not put someone up to count him out. We may also congratulate him that they have not attempted to reply, because no adequate defence of the Government on Greek diplomacy and this Greek fiasco could have been attempted with success. Where no defence was possible I am sure that it was the wisest course to leave the matter where it was. I should like to pay my tribute to the most powerful indictment and the very moving appeal to which we have just listened. But that is not the whole story of the incapacity and weakness of our diplomacy in the Balkans, or even of our diplomacy in Greece.
Let it be remembered—and I am sure that my hon.Friend will excuse my reminding him—that he began his story in January, 1916. Let him go back to a year earlier. In January, 1915, we could have had Constantine on our side. If you have got a man who is unreliable and treacherous by nature, let us have him on our side rather than leave him to do what he likes against us as a neutral. If our policy at the beginning of 1915 had been straightforward, sensible, consistent, and courageous, and had not been dominated by Russian diplomacy and by that false line of foreign policy for which we have greatly, perhaps chiefly, to blame Lord Hardinge, this miserable story of Constantine’s treachery, and of his collapse, followed by the appointment of his son as successor, would not have occurred. I will not develop the story at this late hour, but I would like to say how much we who love the truth, and who are upholders of consistent policy, and who desire to get from the Government more information than they naturally care to give, have to thank the hon.Member for his consistency in this matter and his eloquent words to-night.
Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-three minutes after Eleven o’clock till Tomorrow, pursuant to the Resolution of the House of this day.
Note: In 1917 Arthur Lynch was the Irish Parliamentary Party Member for West Clare. He supported the British war effort in 1914 and towards the end of the war raised his own battalion in Munster. Joseph King was Liberal MP for North Somerset.
POLICE RAIDS (ENEMY PROPAGANDA). 26 November 1917
Mr. R. LAMBERT asked the Home Secretary whether any specific charges were placed before him against the Council for Civil Liberties to justify a raid upon its offices; and whether he will state why this raid was undertaken?
Sir G. CAVE These premises were raided because it was suspected that they were being used for carrying on a propaganda in the interests of the enemy.
Mr. R. LAMBERT asked the Home Secretary (1) why detectives for whose conduct he is responsible took from the offices of the National Council for Civil Liabilities Copies of Mill’s ” Liberty,” the official reports of this House, and similar literature; whether he will state if the Government now proposes to prohibit the circulation and the ownership of such books; (2) whether he is aware that in the course of the recent raid at 28, Victoria Street, S.W., the only leaflets seized were copies of ” A Reasonable Man’s Peace,” by H. G. Wells; that Mr. Wells wrote this after being allowed to visit the Italian, French, and British Fronts, that the leaflet is a reprint of an article in the ” Daily News,” and had been passed by the Censor for transmission abroad; whether he will explain the delay of over a week in returning this authorised leaflet to the owners; (3) whether he is aware that on or about 7th September, 1917, the secretary of the International Free Trade League submitted to the Censor at Strand House, Portugal Street, the only two publications hitherto issued by this league and that they were passed by the Censor and allowed to be sent to America; will he say why these leaflets have now been seized and detained; why the Censor’s written permission has been taken away and not returned; and whether it is intended to prosecute in this case while destroying or detaining the written evidence relied on for a defence?
Mr. KING asked whether the right hon. Gentleman is aware that copies of Lord Shaw of Dunfermline’s judgment in the case of A. Zadig were seized and taken away during the police raid on the premises of the National Council for Civil Liberties on 21st November; and whether it is proposed to make it impossible to reprint and circulate judgements given in the Courts when those judgements are against the Government?
Mr. OUTHWAITE asked (1) whether he is aware that in a raid recently effected on a private house at Redhill a number of leaflets advocating taxation of land values, and without any reference to the War, were taken away and have not been returned; whether it is the intention to suppress all advocacy of a method of taxation which could raise vast sums for national purposes and enable those who have fought for their country to have access to it; (2) whether his attention has been called to the fact that, on the occasion of the raid on the offices of the ” Women’s Crusade,” an officer seized copies of a service of prayer because he saw the word peace in one of the prayers; and can he state whether any further steps have been taken in the matter of this document?
Sir G. CAVE The large quantity of documents seized on the occasion of these raids may have included some not connected with enemy propaganda. These will be sorted out and returned to their owners as quickly as possible.
Mr. KING Is the right hon.Gentleman aware that “A Reasonable Man’s Peace” has already been passed by the Censor, and will he immediately have this leaflet returned?
Sir G. CAVE I am not aware that it has been passed by the Censor.
Mr. KING Will the right hon.Gentleman make inquiries, because I have seen the Censor’s signed copy?
Mr. OUTHWAITE In view of the seizure of the service of prayer referred to in question 74, is he aware that the attention of the police authorities was drawn to the fact that it was a supplication for peace in the service of prayer addressed to this House, and will any action be taken?
Sir G. CAVE No, Sir; I believe there was a leaflet containing a prayer and other matters.
Mr. OUTHWAITE Will the right hon. Gentleman make further inquiries as to whether, When this document was seized, it was pointed out to the officer that it was a service of prayer, and that he was not going to take it until he saw the word peace mentioned in it?
Mr. OUTHWAITE asked the Home Secretary whether, on the occasion of the recent police raids in search of seditious literature, the offices of an organisation at 146, Queen Victoria Street, E.C., were visited; and, if so, can he state with what result?
Sir G. CAVE No, Sir.
Mr. OUTHWAITE In view of the fact that in these recent raids religious literature has been seized in other offices, why has immunity been granted as regards this office, which is the headquarters of the British and Foreign Bible Society?
Mr. OUTHWAITE asked the Home Secretary whether a pamphlet or leaflet which consists solely of biblical quotations in support of peace and denouncing the methods of war has to be submitted to the Censor before publication?
Sir G. CAVE This question is purely hypothetical, and I do not think I should give a reply to it until I see a leaflet which is of the character described.
Mr. OUTHWAITE In such a case of the leaflet being submitted to the Censor, how is the Regulation about the name and present address of the author being attached to be complied with—for instance, in the case of the Sermon on the Mount?
Sir G. CAVE The person who puts a leaflet together is to be regarded as the author.
Note: In 1917 Sir George Cave, Conservative member for Kingston, was Home Secretary in Lloyd George’s coalition government. Richard Lambert was MP for Cricklade. He was a pacifist during the War. In 1918 he joined the Labour Party. Robert Outhwaite was Liberal MP for Hanley.