George Roberts – 1918 Speech on Trade Boards

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Below is the text of the speech made by George Roberts in the House of Commons on 17 June 1918.

I beg to move, “That the Bill be now read a second time.”

This Bill is one to amend the Trade Boards Act of 1909. That Act provides for the establishment of trade boards in all trades set out in the Schedule to the Act, those trades being ready-made tailoring, cardboard box making, lace finishing, and chain making. Other trades have been covered subsequently by means of Provisional Orders. The principal function of a Trade Board is to fix minimum rates of wages. The Act came into operation on 1st January, 1910, and it applied, in the first instance, to the four trades set out in the Schedule. Roughly speaking, there are 200,000 persons normally engaged in these four trades, in the proportion of 86,700 men and 143,500 females.

After three years’ experience, the Board of Trade was so satisfied with the results achieved that it made a further extension by means of the Trade Boards Provisional Order Confirmation Bill of 1913. This extension brought in sugar confectionery and food preserving, shirt making, hollow-ware making, and linen and cotton embroidery. It is estimated that 190,000 additional workpeople were affected by this extension, in the proportion of 23,000 males and 167,000 females. Thus there are now, approximately, 390,000 workers under the Act, of whom about 80,000, or, roughly, 20 per cent., are males, and about 310,000 females. The number of firms affected is about 17,000. At the time the Act was passed it was admittedly an experiment. It was based very largely upon certain Australian experience. Wages boards were initiated in the State of Victoria, Australia. In that State, after various experiments to improve factory inspection and to remedy the sweating system, proposals were incorporated in the Factories and Shops Act of 1896, which were intended to regulate wages.

As in this country, after three years’ experience, the wages boards in Victoria were found sufficiently successful to warrant the Victorian Parliament in extending them to other trades. It is significant to remember that these extensions were made consequent upon the representations of both employers and workpeople. I believe I may make the same claim in respect of the amending Bill, the Second Reading of which I am moving this afternoon.

In Victoria, in 1903, an amending Bill was passed increasing the powers of the boards. In 1913 there were 134 boards in existence, covering 150,000 workers. The example of Victoria was subsequently copied by other Australian States. South Australia, Queensland, New South Wales, and Tasmania have all copied the Victorian model. Victoria has had twenty years’ experience of the operation of wages boards. Sweated industries have been largely diminished, unskilled workers have been protected from other competitive employment, employers have been placed on an equal footing as regards the price of labour, and I believe that the general opinion of Australia is that the system has been amply justified. I know of no movement to change it. I believe it may also be claimed in this country that with almost universal consent the Trades Boards Act of 1909 has brought a great deal of good, not only on behalf of the workers engaged in the trades, but also in the best interests of the trades themselves.

The present Bill aims at simplifying the procedure required for setting up boards and for fixing minimum rates of wages, and also at giving increased powers to boards in certain directions.

Undoubtedly great dislocation of industry will follow the War, and that renders it particularly necessary that rapidly adjustable machinery should be available for setting up boards in certain industries. I think this applies with particular force to the case of women. Many groups of women during the War have been able to elevate wage conditions to a more reasonable standard then heretofore, and it would be extremely undesirable, and undoubtedly would have a large number of undesirable social aspects, if they were to lapse back into the conditions which prevailed before the War. Moreover, there are other groups who have not, despite war conditions, been able to raise their status to anything which may be regarded as satisfactory. Therefore it seems to make it more desirable that we should provide machinery to adjust wages to a reasonable basis, and in more accord with the spirit of our times. The principle features of the Bill may be briefly summarised. First, it gives power to the Ministry of Labour to set up boards by Special Orders, after giving proper opportunity for inquiry and objections, instead of proceeding by means of a Provisional Order Bill. I believe this proposal is likely to meet with some little criticism. [HON. MEMBERS: “Hear, hear!”]

Possibly we shall have to meet it, but I hope I shall be able to convince the House that it is a right and proper course, and when we get into Committee all the criticisms will have to be considered. At any rate, I express the hope that the Bill will ultimately emerge with this provision in it.

This makes the machinery for extending the Act to new boards simpler and more expeditious. Undoubtedly the existing machinery is most cumbersome, necessitating the introduction of a Provisional Order Bill whenever it is desired to bring a new trade under the Act. Moreover, if a Provisional Order Confirmation Bill is opposed, it is necessary for an inquiry by a Select Committee of this House to take place, involving great expense and considerable delay. This procedure, with its delays and safeguards, was probably justifiable when trades boards were in their experimental stage, but now that they are proved to be a valuable part of our industrial organisations, it appears desirable and reasonable that speedier methods to set up the boards are required and can be justified. Again, I think that the congested state of Parliament affords an additional reason why this new method should be adopted. After the War, undoubtedly Imperial and domestic questions will emerge with great rapidity, and it does seem desirable that where it is possible to delegate to responsible bodies matters which would otherwise occupy Parliamentary time, that is very wise and expedient. I am aware, owing to representations that have been made to me, that some criticisms will be proferred on this point, but I do venture to ask for dispassionate consideration of the matter, and that hon. Members should have regard to the experience already acquired. I think, with the safeguards that are in existence now, and which can, of course, be made perfectly clear in the Bill, it will be granted that it is not an unreasonable departure.

Sub-section 4 of Clause 2 enables either House of Parliament to annul any special Order within forty days of its being made. The substitution of procedure by special Order for that by Provisional Order does not withdraw the control of Parliament over the application of the Act to new trades. It seems to me and to those with whom I act that this is an ample safeguard, and that, therefore, the proposal is not open to the dangerous conjecture suggested in some of the criticisms that have been made. Moreover, there is precedent. The proposed special Orders follow generally the precedent of the Factory Act. By Section 79 of the Factory and Workshops Act, 1901, the Home Secretary is empowered to make regulations in respect of dangerous trades. The procedure for making special Orders set forth in the first Schedule of this Bill is based on that provided in Sections 80 and 81 of the Factory Act. While not necessitating the promotion of a Bill in Parliament, the proposed procedure does make ample provision for the consideration of objections and for inquiry.

While Clauses 1 and 2. deal mainly with procedure, Clause 1 also effects substantial Amendments of Section 1 of the Principal Act inasmuch as it empowers the Minister of Labour to apply this Act to any new trade to which he considers it expedient to apply it, having regard to the wages prevailing in that trade or in any branch of the trade, whereas, in the superseded provision of the Principal Act it can only be applied on the ground that the rate of wages prevailing is exceptionally low compared with that in other employment. It is deemed desirable that this power should be conferred and exercised, because simply to set up a board in respect of a trade which can be proved to be paying comparatively low wages is not a satisfactory procedure. I believe that everybody desires now that the wages in every trade shall assure to those engaged in that trade a satisfactory standard of living, and, having regard to the independent and expert character of a trade board, I think it may safely be urged that this power is not too great a one to confer upon it.

There is a considerable Amendment in this respect. We propose to confer upon a trade board discretion to fix a guaranteed minimum time rate. This simply accords with the experience of many trades. Trade unions invariably urge, and have been able to establish this principle as expressed in the Bill. This is a rate to secure to piece-workers a minimum rate of remuneration on a time-work basis. Where workers are employed on piece-work their earnings vary considerably, of course. In the case of many trades it is customary to establish a time-work basis of remuneration below which no piece-worker’s earnings are allowed to fall. This policy has been adopted by the Ministry of Munitions in its Orders governing wages in controlled establishments. I am not urging that you should confer power upon the Ministry of Labour simply because the Ministry of Munitions have exercised it, but it is in accord with general trade practice, and the Ministry of Munitions, acting in accord with that practice, have found it work well, and the fact that we have that experience forms, I think, an additional reason why that power may be exercised. But I wish to point out that it is not obligatory on a trade board to fix such a rate. It has been urged upon us that we ought to make it compulsory on a trade board to do so, but we recognise that it might not be applicable to every trade, having regard to the varying conditions of trade, and, therefore, we simply confer upon a trade board the power to fix this minimum time rate, and do not propose to make it obligatory upon it to do so.

We also desire that a trade board should have the power to fix differential rates for overtime. Assuredly this was an omission in the original Act, for in every trade now I believe that it is customary to fix a higher rate for hours worked in excess of a normal week, and particularly on a Sunday; but a trade board under the present Act has no such power, and we are simply seeking to confer upon trade boards the power to determine the normal weekly hours of work and then to fix varying rates in respect of work in excess of those normal weekly hours. Last year Parliament did enact the same principle in the Corn Production Act, and I think that we shall have further experience to warrant us in asking that the trade boards working in respect of a larger number of trades should have the same power conferred upon them. We also desire to establish machinery for accelerating the fixing of these minimum rates of wages. Under the existing Act nine months will elapse from the time when notice is given of the intention to fix a rate and the coming of that rate into full operation. Experience proves that that is altogether too long and we desire to place a shorter limit upon it. Therefore we are seeking to take power to allow a trade board, with the Minister’s sanction to bring a new rate into full operation within three months, instead of nine months as at present. The rates are not at present obligatory until at least six months after they are fixed by the trade board. During the intervening period they are obligatory only on Government and municipal contractors. Now nine months elapsed from the date on which a trade board gives notice of its intention to fix the rate, and we are asking that that period should be reduced to three months.

In Clause 5 it will be observed that some change is made in taking proceedings against employers for violating the Act. Where an offence for which an employer is liable is committed by some other person we propose that that other person may be proceeded against and punished in the same manner as if he were the employer. The proposals empower the Ministry to allow any trade board to proceed against any guilty agent either alone or together with the employer. Again we are acting on precedent, for a like power exists under Section 140 of the Factory Act, but where an employer proves that the offence committed by his agent was committed without his knowledge, consent or connivance, he will be exempt from fine in respect of the offence. Where the worker employés another worker on the premises of the employer the occupier of the premises is proposed to be held jointly liable with the immediate employer of the worker. These Amendments are proved to be necessary by the experience procured in the operation of the Act so far. We propose to impose on the employer the definite duty of keeping accounts. I think that if we confer on a trade board the power to fix statutory rates of wages it is but right also that we should compel the employer to keep accurate accounts, in order to have available the opportunity of testing any cases that may arise. Moreover, I think in these days that it is not too much to expect that anybody who is in business ought to keep proper accounts, and I feel sure that Parliament will admit that we are not asking too much in seeking this power.

Mr. BOOTH Will it include farmers?

Mr. ROBERTS It should include farmers, I agree—all persons in business. Under the principal Act it is necessary to issue a separate summons in respect of every occasion on which an employer has paid less than the rate. If wages were paid at less than the rate for six months twenty-six separate summonses would have to be taken out. This is obviously a most inconvenient procedure. Therefore, in Clause 9, we propose to empower an officer to take out one summons for any one occasion on which an offence has been committed and to give notice of intention to prove failure to pay rates on other occasions during the two years immediately preceding the laying of information. The officer will have to prove the commission of the actual offence and the other cases during the previous two years. The Court may then convict in respect of the offence charged, and may also order that the worker be paid the amount of deductions which constitute the case. Clause 10 provides that the trade board make recommendation to a Government Department with reference to the industrial conditions of the trade, and that that Department shall forthwith take the recommendations into consideration. Under Section 3 of the principal Act the trade board must consider any matter submitted to it by a Government Department, and must make a report to that Government Department, but the trade board has no power to take the initiative in making any such recommendations. We feel that a trade board is capable of expressing the opinion of the trade in any matter affecting the welfare of the trade.

Wages are often a subject on which cleavage is relatively sharp, but there are many other matters in which a real community of interest exists between the two parties in the trade. I think that that is very largely the spirit, and will subsequently be the practical result of the joint industrial councils proposed to be set up according to the scheme of the Committee over which my right hon. Friend the Chairman of Ways and Means presided. If we can get the parties in a trade to consider not only matters of wages and labour conditions, but persuade them to have a full regard to all the affairs of that trade, that must surely contribute to bringing the two parties into closer relationship, and with that close relationship you will get a wider sense of responsibility which, I believe, will contribute splendidly to the real prosperity of the State and of both the parties in the trade. I think that these are, briefly, the outstanding points of the Bill. We propose that the Bill shall go to a Grand Committee upstairs. This will give opportunity for the fullest possible investigation of its provisions, and I think that we may then have the assurance that all criticism will be properly attended to, and if it be such as will contribute to the strengthening of the measure, or if concessions can be made in order to meet real criticism, then I can only say that we will be very glad to consider any proposals which are submitted to us.

But before leaving the Bill I would like to make a few observations on a point which we have been pressed to include in the Bill. It has been strongly represented to us that Parliament should fix a national minimum wage. This principle was the subject of a good deal of discussion when the Corn Production Bill was before the House. Whatever may be said in respect of any one industry, surely it must be seen that it is difficult for Parliament to agree upon any one figure which may be adaptable to every one of our industries or all the industries which are likely to come within the purview of the trade boards. I have been immensely attracted by the idea, which accords with a sense of justice, but on closer examination grave difficulties present themselves. It raises highly controversial questions as to the relationship of men’s and women’s wages, and it also raises, in an intense form, the question of the principle on which a national minimum wage should be based. The demand for fixing a minimum national wage arises from the feeling that every worker should be assured of a reasonable living wage. That, I believe, is how the demand originated, and I believe that everybody in this House and outside the House will agree that every worker is entitled to a reasonable minimum wage.

Sir F. BANBURY If they do the work.

Mr. ROBERTS I am glad my right hon. Friend joins in thinking that this will stimulate workers to render a fair share of work for the wages they receive. The question arises whether the wage shall be sufficient to maintain the individual or a family, a large or a small family, or a family of average size. Such diverse views are advanced on the whole subject that there is no chance of agreement in the community such as to justify Parliament to sanction, at this stage, one view or the other. Therefore we aim at the gradual improvement of the conditions in our industries, recognising that we cannot accomplish all this by a mere stroke of the pen. The best method appears to be to bring the representative employers and workpeople together, and to set them the task of improving their own conditions. Parliament has not the information regarding the conditions of all industries. Statutory figures are in the highest degree inelastic, and can only be changed by further legislation; meanwhile, irreparable damage might be done. The trade board system is flexible, and allows ready adaptability to changing conditions and the prompt correction of errors. Therefore we feel, however strong the sentiment may be in favour of the fixation of a national minimum wage, that it is far better and more expeditious to leave the fixing of the wages to trade boards for the various industries. The trade boards will have power given to them to so fix rates that they would rise gradually, and allow the trades time to adapt themselves to the new conditions. That is the principle on which we have worked in our trade union experience—recognising that firms may have contracts that they have made upon the existing wage standards, and that to impose great advances upon them would be most unjust to them; at the same time, we have generally been able to compromise and make an arrangement whereby the advances, mutually agreed upon, were brought into operation by degrees.

In conclusion, I want to urge that experience warrants the extension of the trade board system under the Bill by more expeditious means. Our experience shows a wide improvement in the wage standards, while no legitimate interests have been prejudiced. Organisation has been improved, efficiency has stimulated, and, above all, industrial relationships have been markedly bettered. I feel that everybody who has come into contact with the representative employers and workpeople who constitute the membership of these boards will agree with the last statement. I have heard many employers, even before I had anything to do, as Minister of Labour, with the trade boards, advance that as one of the main justifications for the schemes established in 1909. The wage board is a committee of experts who fix the minimum rates of wages in consultation with the representative employers and workpeople. A rate of wages is settled which corresponds fairly accurately to the circumstances of the particular industry, because the arrangement is made by persons who understand the conditions, being in the industry themselves. I desire to sec the whole of our industries covered by joint industrial councils or wages boards.

I would like to regard the wages boards as a temporary expedient facilitating organisation within the industry, so that, in the course of time, the workers or the employers will not have need of the statutory regulations, but that their organisation will have then developed into a joint industrial council, whereby the affairs of the industry will be controlled and managed by the people concerned in the industry themselves, without any recourse to any legislative expedient. It has been alleged that the proposals of this Bill conflict with the scheme of joint industrial councils which has been advocated throughout the country.

The joint industrial council presupposes a good state of organisation among the employers and the workpeople in a given industry, and I myself am for upholding the voluntary principle of negotiation, and the chief point is that employers and workers should continue to manage their own affairs. I want to see the whole of our industries covered by joint industrial councils or wages boards. Either of those bodies would consist of the most expert persons, employers and employed, in the trade or industry. They are removed from Parliamentary or political influence, and I feel that both of them are essential to the maintenance of harmony in industry and the development and expansion that we all desire for the trade of our country. I believe that would both well work for harmony and for greater and better productivity, bringing us much nearer to the time when the country will have assurance that every willing worker has sufficiency and security, while uplifting the working classes, and better developing the trade of our country and putting it on a sounder foundation.

The stability of markets will be ensured, for, after all, the best markets we can possibly have is the home market. If the wealth of the country is more equitably distributed, it will increase the consuming power of the whole of our people, and, in my view, will develop the most stable and desirable market, namely, that which is within our own shores. Therefore, given these wage boards for fixing wages on a reasonable basis, I think that we bring larger content into the homes of our people, not only advantaging those who are brought immediately under the operation of the Act, but contributing to the betterment and well-being of the country as a whole. For these reasons, therefore, I commend the Bill to the favourable consideration of the House.

David Lloyd George – 1918 Speech on Press Relations

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Below is the text of the speech made by David Lloyd George, the then Prime Minister, in the House of Commons on 11 March 1918.

I will endeavour to answer as concisely as I can the two or three points in reference to the Press relations with the Government which have been recently raised.

There are two Ministers who, when they joined the Government, had control of newspapers — Lord Rothermere and Lord Beaverbrook. Lord Northcliffe holds no Ministerial office; I will state later what his position is. In every great Allied country — America, France, and Italy — there are journalists and newspaper proprietors who hold high office in the Governments of their respective countries, and if it be suggested that owners or editors of newspapers are disqualified by reason of their ownership or profession from holding Ministerial positions in this country, I must challenge that contention. But the rule which applies to all company directors and professional men joining the Government must be applicable also to newspaper men, and as soon as the two Ministers were appointed they gave up all direction of their papers.

As to the fitness of these gentlemen for their offices, they are both men of exceptional ability. One of them — Lord Rothermere — had already reorganised an important Department of the War Office, which had previously been criticised severely by two Committees appointed at the instance of the House of Commons. His administration of that Department, according to the testimony of the Secretary of State, has been an unqualified success. The other Minister —Lord Beaverbrook — had, at the request and on behalf of the Canadian Government, organised a Canadian propaganda, which is acknowledged to be amongst the most successful, perhaps the most successful, piece of work of its kind on the Allied side. When, for reasons of health, Lord Beaverbrook some time ago intimated his desire to give up his direction of the Canadian propaganda, the Prime Minister of the Dominion urged him to reconsider his decision — in a letter which has been placed before me, giving the warmest recognition to the services he had rendered.

As to Lord Northcliffe, he is one out of hundreds of great business men, who, in this great national emergency, have voluntarily and gratuitously given their services to assist the State in the work for which their experience has especially qualified them. The Government had come to the conclusion that the important Department of offensive and defensive warfare connected with propaganda, which the enemy have used with such deadly effect in Russia and Italy, was far from being adequate to its task, and we had reluctantly come to the conclusion that it was impossible to make it efficient without a complete reorganisation of the direction. The late Government had appointed two journalists and a Foreign Office official to direct the work. Without in the least disparaging their professional ability, not one of them had the necessary experience in the acquisition and distribution of news in foreign countries. The present Government supplemented their efforts by appointing a Committee of distinguished newspaper proprietors and editors to assist. We found this quite insufficient to attain the desired end, as the Committee could exercise no real authority. It was therefore decided to put men experienced in this class of work in charge of the different branches of activity.

Lord Northcliffe, who, in addition to being a great news organiser, has made a special study during the War of conditions in enemy countries, was invited to take charge of that branch. He consented to do so without any Ministerial position. No man better qualified for that difficult task could, in my opinion, be found in the Empire, and the Government. are grateful to him for undertaking it. Propaganda in all the other Allied countries and in Germany is conducted almost exclusively by experienced newspaper men, and in spite of all the inevitable prejudices which we apprehended might be excited, the Government came to the conclusion that they must follow that example as the only means of securing an effective presentation of our case in Allied, Neutral, and enemy lands.

Let me add most emphatically that lay one object in making these, as all other appointments in the Government, is to secure the men who, in my judgment, are the best qualified to do the work efficiently for the country. As to the suggestion that I was in any way responsible for attacks on admirals and generals, I have already stated in this House that that charge is untrue. As to the suggestions which have been made that an official on my staff had inspired paragraphs attacking admirals and generals, I have thoroughly investigated that matter, and have no hesitation in saying that the imputation is absolutely without foundation, and constitutes a gross injustice to an able Civil servant. [AN HON. MEMBER: “What about Northcliffe?”] Should there be any further explanations required, I shall be pleased to give them in Debate this afternoon, but I propose to wait until I have heard all that hon. Members have to say on the matter before replying.

David Lloyd George – 1918 Statement on the War

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Below is the text of the speech made by David Lloyd George, the then Prime Minister, in the House of Commons on 19 February 1918.

I beg to move, “That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair.” In moving that you do now leave the Chair, I have a statement to make to the House on a matter in which not merely the House of Commons but the country are very deeply interested. In doing so, I would like to say that I hope, whatever may be said to-day, this matter will be treated as a question of policy, and not of personalities. If there has been any delay or apparent hesitation in the announcement of any decision by the Government it is not because there is any doubt in their minds in regard to that policy, but because they were very anxious that the decision, when it was announced, should be free from any element of complication about personalities. The Government were extremely anxious to retain the services of Sir William Robertson as Chief of Staff as long as that was compatible with the policy on which they had decided, in common with the Allied Governments, after prolonged consultation at Versailles. It is a matter of the deepest regret to the Government that it was found to be incompatible with that policy to retain the services of so distinguished a soldier. If the policy be right, no personalities should stand in the way of its execution, however valuable, however important, however distinguished. If the policy be wrong, no personalities and no Government ought to stand in the way of its being instantly defeated.

What is the policy? I have already explained to the House—I am afraid rather imperfectly on the last occasion, but to the best of my ability—what is the policy of the Government in this respect. It is not merely the policy of this Government. It is the policy of the great Allied Governments in council. There is absolutely no difference between our policy and the policy of France, Italy, and America in this respect. In fact, some of the conclusions to which we came at Versailles were the result of very powerful representations made by the representatives of other Governments, notably the American Government. That policy is a policy which is based on the assumption that the Allies hitherto have suffered through lack of concerted and co-ordinated effort. There was a very remarkable quotation in yesterday’s “Manchester Guardian,” which, if the House will permit me, I will read, because I think it gives the pith of the whole controversy: Some great soldier once said that to find the real effective strength of an alliance you must halve us nominal resources to allow for the effect of divided counsels and dispersed effort Our purpose and our policy has been to get rid of that halving of the resources of the Allies, so that, instead of dispersion of effort, there should be concentration and unity of effort. There is a saying attributed to a very distinguished living French statesman, which is rather cynical—that, The more he knows of this War, the less convinced he is that Napoleon was a great soldier, for the, simple reason that Napoleon had only to tight coalitions all his life. I ventured some time ago to make an excursion into the general history of the War, in order, without blaming anyone, to point out what the Allies have suffered in the past from lack of co-ordination of effort. You have only to look at 1917, to find exactly the same set of circumstances inevitably affecting, or rather diminishing, the power of that concentration which otherwise would have been possible, in order to counteract the efforts which were made by the Germans, and to counteract the collapse on the Russian front. Anyone who examines closely the events of 1917, as well as the events of the previous year, will find plenty of argument for some change of machinery in order to effect greater concentration than has hitherto been achieved in the direction of the Allied resources. That is the reason why, after the Italian defeat, the Allied Governments, after a good deal of correspondence and of conference, came to the conclusion that it was necessary to set up some central authority, for the purpose of co-ordinating the strategy of the Allies. At the last Conference at Versailles it was decided, after days of conference, to extend the powers of that body.

In discussing the action at Versailles, I am necessarily hampered by the Resolutions arrived at, not merely by the military representatives, but by the separate Governments, that it was not desirable to give any information in regard to the general plan which was adopted. But I think I can, within these limits, make quite clear where controversy has arisen, and ask the judgment of the House on the action of the Government as to the merits or demerits of the dispute. The general principle laid down at Versailles was agreed to whole-heartedly by everybody. I will come later to where controversy arose. There was no controversy as regards policy, but only as to the method of giving effect to it. This obviates the necessity for me to discuss the plan itself, because the House may take it that as far as the plan itself was concerned, there was, and there is now, as far as I know, the most complete agreement. Had there not been, I am sorry to say I could not have gone into it; but it is not necessary. There was agreement as to policy. There was agreement that there must be a central authority, to exercise the supreme direction over that policy. There was agreement that the authority must be an Inter-Allied authority. There was complete agreement that the authority should have executive powers. The only question which arose was as to how that central authority should be constituted. That is the only difference. There was no difference about policy; no difference about the plan; no difference about executive powers; no difference about it being necessary to set up an Inter-Allied authority with control; and no difference about its having executive powers. The only difference was as to how that central authority should be constituted. That was the whole issue. In my judgment—and I will give the facts later—agreement was reached at the Conference, even in regard to that.

Let me give the stages of discussion at the Conference. Several proposals were put forward. We sat for days, and examined those proposals very carefully. I am sure that no one went there with a preconceived plan in his mind. Everybody went with a full desire to find the best method, and not to advocate any particular proposal. All these various proposals were, one after the other, rejected, until we came to the last. I will explain these various proposals, because I can do that without in the least giving, away the plan of operations. The first proposal was favoured in the first instance by the French and the British General Staff. I do not think the American— that is my recollection—or the Italian Staffs took quite the same view; but the French and British Staffs were in favour of the proposal by which the central body should be a council of chiefs of the Staffs. That was the first proposal. I want to show that the very proposal over which controversy raged later was examined at that Conference, and it was the first proposal examined. It was most carefully considered, and I will give the House the case put forward for it, as I want the House to hear on what grounds it was recommended.

It was essential that each of the representatives should be in intimate touch with his own War Office. He must know the man-power, the state of morale, the-medical equipment, shipping, and Foreign Office information, and nobody could know this so well as the Chief of the Staff. Therefore, the new body ought to consist of the Chiefs of the Staffs. It was also naturally felt that there were serious constitutional objections to any system which implied that an Inter-Allied body was to come to decisions affecting the British Army. That is the case which was put forward for a body consisting of Chiefs of the Staffs. The Council examined that very carefully, and discussed it; and let me point out to the House of Commons that this was not a discussion between politicians, but a discussion where all the leading generals were present. The Commanders-in-Chief were there, except the Italian Commander-in-Chief; the French, British, and American Commanders-in-Chief and the Chiefs of the Staffs, as well as the military representatives at Versailles, and the representatives of the Government. It was a free discussion, where generals took part with exactly the same freedom as Ministers. There was no voting; in fact, there was no question of voting. I have no hesitation in saying that, on examination, the proposal completely broke down, and was rejected on the ground of its being unworkable.

I will give the House the reasons why it was regarded as unworkable. The first reason was that the members of the Council felt that the members of the new Executive body which was going to have this great control over co-ordinating the forces of the Allies must not only know about their own armies and their own fronts, but must also be informed of the conditions on all fronts and in all the armies of all the nations, because you are not dealing merely with the British Army, you are dealing with four great armies, and you have to get information from every quarter. Versailles has become a repository of information coming from all the fronts—from all the Armies, from all nationalities, from all the Staffs., from all the Foreign Offices—and that information is co-ordinated there by very able Staffs; and I have no hesitation in saying that they have information there for that reason that no single War Office possesses, because you have information from all the fronts co-ordinated together.

What is the second reason? We felt that this Executive body, in face of the serious dangers with which we have been confronted this year, must be in continuous session, in order to be able to take decisions instantly required. Nobody could tell where a decision would have to be taken. The men who take the decision ought to be within half-an-hour’s reach. Eight hours, ten hours might be fatal. We felt it was essential that whatever body you set up should be a body of men who were there at least within half-an-hour of the time when the Council would have to sit, in order to take a decision. Nobody knows what movement the Germans may make, There may be a sudden move here or there, and preconceived plans may be completely shattered by some movement taken by the enemy. Therefore, it was essential that the body to decide should be a body sitting continuously in session.

The third reason was this: Not merely have they to take decisions instantly, but they ought to be there continually sitting together, comparing notes, and discussing developments from day to day, because a situation which appears like this to-day may be absolutely changed to-morrow. You may have a decision in London, and telegraph it over to Versailles, but by the time it reaches there you may have a complete change in the whole situation. Therefore, we felt it was essential that these men should be sitting together, so that whatever change in the situation took place they could compare notes, discuss the thing together, and be able to come to a decision, each helping the other to arrive at that decision.

There is a further reason. A Council of Chiefs of the Staffs involved the creation of another and a new Inter-Allied body conflicting with Versailles. This point was put by the American delegation with very great force, and it became obvious to everybody there the moment we began to examine the proposal—although on the face of it it looked very attractive—that the functions which the Executive body was to exercise could not be properly performed by a body of Chiefs of the Staffs stationed” in the various capitals. On the other hand, if the Chiefs of the Staffs sat in Paris, it meant that the Governments would be deprived for long periods of their principal military advisers, at a critical time, and at a time when action on other vital matters on other fronts might be required. Therefore, I have no hesitation in saying that the moment it came to be examined— although we examined it with the greatest predisposition in its favour—it was found to be-absolutely unworkable, for the simple reason that the moment the Chief of the Staff went to Paris, he would cease to be the chief military adviser of the Government, and either Versailles would have to be satisfied with a deputy who could not act without instructions, or the Governments would have to be satisfied with a deputy who was not their full military adviser. For that reason, the Supreme Council rejected that proposal with complete unanimity. I think I am right in saying that the proposals were withdrawn. It was felt even by those who put them forward that, at any rate, without very complete changes, those proposals were not workable.

Then it was suggested by the French Prime Minister that it would be desirable for each national delegation to think out some other plan for itself, and to bring it there to the next meeting, and that was done. It is very remarkable that, meeting separately, and considering the matter quite independently, we each came there with exactly the same proposal the following morning, and that proposal is the one which now holds the field. I hesitated for some time as to whether I should not read to the House the very cogent document submitted by the American delegation, which put the case for the present proposal. It is one of the most powerful documents—I think my right hon. Friends who have had the advantage of reading it will agree with me—one of the ablest documents ever submitted to a military conference, in which they urged the present course, and gave grounds for it. I think it is absolutely irresistible, and the only reason I do not read it to the House is because it is so mixed up with the actual plan of operations that it will be quite impossible for me to read it without giving away what is the plan of operations. I only wish I could. I hesitated for some time, being certain if I read that to the House of Commons, it would not be necessary for me to make any speech at all, because the case is presented with such irresistible logic by the American delegation that I, for one, do not think there is anything to be said against it, and that was the opinion of the Conference.

What happened? We altered it here and there. There was a good deal of discussion. It was pointed out that there was a weak point here, and a weak point there. Then someone suggested how to improve it. It took some hours, but there was not a single dissentient voice so far as the plan was concerned. Everybody was free to express his opinion —not merely Ministers, but generals. The generals were just as free to express their opinions as the Ministers, and as a matter of fact Field-Marshal Sir Douglas Haig did call attention to what we admitted was a weak point in the proposal. I think he called attention to two points. We soon realised that there were weak points, we promised to put them right, and some of the time occupied was time occupied in adjusting the arrangements arrived at at Versailles to meet the criticisms of Sir Douglas Haig. They were points in regard to the Army and the Army Council, constitutional points, not points that went to the root of the proposal itself. I want the House again, at the expense of repeating myself, to recollect that this passed the Versailles Council without a single dissentient voice as far as all those who were present are concerned, and, as far as I know, it was completely accepted by every military representative present. I reported to the Cabinet as soon as I returned the terms of the arrangement. I am not sure that it had not been circulated beforehand. I rather think it had, and then I made my report to the Cabinet. Sir William Robertson was present, and nothing was then said or indicated to me that Sir William Robertson regarded the plan as either unworkable or dangerous.

Therefore, I think I was entitled to assume that, although some of the military representatives at the beginning of the Conference would have preferred another plan, that they, just like our-selves, had been converted by the discussion to the acceptance of this plan. There was nothing to indicate that anyone protested against the plan which was adopted at Versailles. During the week— that is, the week after I returned from Versailles—the Army Council considered the arrangement, and made certain criticisms from the constitutional point of view. I considered these very carefully with the Secretary of State for War, who has throughout put Sir William Robertson’s views before the Cabinet with a persistent voice, and I considered very carefully with my colleagues all these constitutional points. Having considered them, we made certain arrangements, with a view to meeting the constitutional difficulties of the Army Council. I will give substantially the arrangements which we made, and which I understood from the Secretary of State for War completely removed the whole difficulties experienced by the Army Council in the carrying out of the arrangements. I was naturally anxious that this arrangement should be worked whole-heartedly by the whole of the military authorities, whether here or in France. I was specially anxious that the Commander-in- Chief, who is more directly concerned in the matter than even the Chief of Staff, because it affected operations, perhaps, primarily in France, should be satisfied that the arrangements that were made were such as would be workable as far as he was concerned. Therefore, before I arrived at this arrangement, I invited him to come over here. I had a talk with him, and he said that he was prepared to work under this arrangement. I will give the arrangement: The, British permanent Military Adviser at Versailles is to become a member of the Army Conicl— That is, in order to get rid of the constitutional difficulty that someone may be giving an order about British troops who is not a member of the Army Council. He was, therefore, made a member of the Army Council. That was agreed to on all hands.

He is to be in constant communication with the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, and is to be absolutely free and unfettered in the advice he gives as a member of the Board of Military Representative; at Versailles. It would be idle to send a man there simply with instructions in his pocket that he is to agree to certain things and to nothing else. If he goes there, he must go to discuss with his colleagues, who are equally free and unfettered, to consider the facts, and to give advice according to what he hears from the others, as well as on the facts submitted to him— He is to have the powers necessary to enable him to fulfil the duties imposed upon him by the recent Versailles decision. The Chief of the Imperial General Staff is to hold office under the some conditions and with the same powers as every Chief of the Imperial General Staff up to the appointment of General Robertson, remaining the supreme military adviser of the British Government. I want the House to take in that fact. It was part of the arrangement that the Chief of the Staff was to remain the supreme military adviser of the Government— He is to accompany Ministers to the meetings of the Supreme War Council as their adviser, and is to have the right to visit France and consult with any or all of the military representatives of the super me War Council. What does that mean? It means that the representatives at Versailles must have the most perfect freedom to discuss plans and to recommend plans. If the Commanders in Chief do not approve of them—because, by the arrangement they were to consult, and be in constant communication with, the Commanders in Chief—or, if there was any difference of opinion among the various representatives, the Governments were to decide. There is no derogation of the power of the Government—none. In that case, who is to advise the Government? The advice to the Government would be given by the Chief of the General Staff, so that if there were a meeting of the Supreme War Council to decide differences of opinion between either the military representatives or the Commanders -in-Chief, the Government decide upon the advice of the Chief of the General Staff. Do not let anyone imagine that differences of opinion are going to begin now. I do not want to go into the matter, but difference of opinion is inevitable. It is no reflection upon them. They are men of independent mind, they are men of strong character; they are men of definite opinions, and, of course, there are differences of opinion, and when there are differences of opinion now, there is no one to decide but the Government, and the Chief of the Imperial Staff is still to be the supreme adviser of the Government in any differences that may in these circumstances arise. That is the position as far as the decision at Versailles is concerned.

We were under the impression that all the difficulties, the constitutional and technical difficulties, had been completely overcome by this document, which had been shown to Sir Douglas Haig. Sir William Robertson, unfortunately, was away at the time—I think he was at Brighton—I am sorry now to learn that he was ill. At any rate, he was away, otherwise he would have been present at the Conference. We were under the impression—I certainly was under the impression—that the last of the difficulties had been removed, and, having been removed, as I was under the impression that Versailles had become the more important centre for decision, the Government decided to offer the position to Sir William Robertson. It was only afterwards that, at any rate, I realised that Sir William Robertson was unwilling to acquiesce in the system, and that he took an objection, not on technical grounds or on constitutional grounds, but on military grounds, to the system which Versailles had decided unanimously to adopt. I certainly had not realised that he took that view. We offered him, first of all, the position at Versailles. He could not accept it. We then offered him the position of the Chief of General Staff, with the powers adapted to the position which had been set up at Versailles. That, I am sorry to say, he also refused. He suggested a modification of the proposals, by making the representative at Versailles the Deputy of the Chief of Staff. We felt bound, after consideration, to reject that proposal, for two reasons. It involved putting a subordinate in a position of the first magnitude, where he might have to take vital decisions, under instructions given him beforehand, before the full facts were known, before either had heard what the other representatives had got to say, before he even knew what alternative plans might be put forward by the representatives, or by altering those instructions after consultation with the Chief, who was a hundred miles away, and who was not in touch with the every-day developments, or with the arguments that had been advanced at that particular Conference — an impossible position for any man to take up.

The second reason is this: If you send a deputy there, the representative of the British Army would be in an inferior position to any other member of the Council, and he could not, therefore, discuss things on equal terms. We felt it was, essential that the British representatives should be equal in responsibility and authority to the representative of any other country on that body. I know it is said that General Foch was put on that body. General Foch is within twenty-five minutes of Versailles, and, if any emergency arose, within twenty-five minutes he could be present. That is not true of any other Chief of Staff. He can be at his office in the morning, and in twenty-five minutes he can be at Versailles. There is no other Chief of Staff to whom that would be in the least applicable. Travelling under any conditions from here to Paris involves time, and it is not so easy to do it now. You have got to consider a good many things when you consider what time you can go. You cannot say, start now and be there in eight hours. In a war that makes all the difference—it is vital. Therefore, we considered that it was a totally different position.

The French felt so strongly that you cannot do your business by deputy that they took away the man they had, and put General Foch there. They knew that you cannot have deputies acting on the Board. You have to get the man himself, whoever he is, to take the position. I am sorry to take up the time of the House, but I want to give a very full explanation, as full as it is compatible with not giving away information to the enemy. Sir William Robertson came to the conclusion that, under the conditions laid down, he could not accept either position, and the Government, with the deepest and most genuine regret, found itself obliged to go on without him. We had to take the decision, and it was a very painful decision, of having to choose between the policy deliberately arrived at unanimously by the representatives of the Allied Powers, in the presence of the military advisers, and of retaining the services of a very distinguished and a very valued public servant.

When it came to a question of policy of such a magnitude, we were bound to stand by the arrangement to which we had come with our Allies. Let me say at once that I do not wish in the least to utter a word that would look like a criticism of the decision of Sir William Robertson that he could not see his way to carry out the arrangement. There is not a word to be said about the decision to which he came. It is better that it should be carried out by those who are thorough believers in the policy concerned. With great public spirit, he has accepted a Command which is certainly not adequate to the great position he has occupied, and I wish there had been something else that would be more adequate to his great services. I would like to say just one word about Sir William Robertson. He has had a remarkable and a very distinguished career, and he is now in the height and strength of his powers; in fact, they are only in the course of development. He has great capacity and great strength of character, he is a man of outstanding—and, if I may say so, as one who has been associated with him for two or three years—not merely outstanding, but a most attractive personality. During the whole of those two years, so far as our personal relations are concerned, not merely have they been friendly, but cordial. During the whole time of this final controversy not a bitter word has been said on either side, and at a final interview—where I did my best to urge Sir William Robertson to take one or other of these alternatives—we parted with expressions of great kindliness. It is a matter of very deep regret to me. All the hesitation that has taken place has taken place because the Government were trying this and trying that, in order to secure Sir William Robertson’s acceptance; and although I knew it was laying the door open to the criticism that the Government did not know its own mind, I preferred that to anything which would lay us open to the charge that we were in the least hustling Sir William Robertson. I do not regret that the delay has taken place.

I have always recognised the difficulties in the way of securing co-operation between Allies. There are practical difficulties— genuine practical difficulties. You have to reconcile the unity of the Allies with the unity of the Army. There were some friends of ours who undoubtedly had honest misgivings that the arrangement we made, whereas it might secure the first, was imperilling the second. That would be a misfortune. You would not help the former in that case, and I fully realised that. Let me say this, if the House were to accept the Government’s explanation to-day, I would not regard it as a mandate not to take all the necessary steps compatible with the main purpose of Allied unity to remove every legitimate cause for anxiety on that score. Quite the reverse. I propose to invite from the highest military authorities suggestions for the best means of removing any possible anxiety in the mind of anyone that in any scheme put forward in order to secure concert and combined action between Allies, you are not doing something to impair the efficiency and command of your own Army. Therefore, we shall certainly pursue that course, and if any suggestion comes from any military quarter to make the thing work even better from that point of view, certainly not merely shall we adopt it, but we shall seek it, and we mean to do so.

There are other difficulties, not merely practical difficulties—there are difficulties due to national feeling, to historical traditions. There are difficulties innate in the very order of things. There are difficulties of suspicion—the suspicion in the mind of one country that somehow the other country may be trying to seek some advantage for itself. All these things stand in the way of every Alliance. There are also difficulties due to the conservatism of every profession—I belong to a profession myself, and I know what it means—the conservatism of every profession, which hates changes in the traditional way of doing things. All these things you have always to overcome when there is any change that you make, and they ought not to be encouraged too much on these lines. I agree that reasonable misgivings and reasonable doubts ought to be removed. If there be real difficulties, those ought to be examined and surmounted. But suspicion, distrust— those ought to be resolutely discouraged among Allies. Trust and confidence among the Allies is the very soul of victory, and I plead for it now, as I have pleaded for it before.

We have discussed this plan, and re-discussed it with the one desire that our whole strength—our whole concentrated strength—should be mobilised to resist and to break the most terrible foe with which civilisation has ever been confronted. I ask the House to consider this: We are faced with terrible realities. Let us see what is the position. The enemy have rejected, in language which was quoted here the other day from the Kaiser, the most moderate terms ever put forward, terms couched in such moderate language that the whole of civilisation accepted them as reasonable. Why has he done it? It is obvious. He is clearly convinced that the Russian collapse puts it within his power to achieve a military victory, and to impose Prussian dominancy by force upon Europe. That is what we are confronted with, and I do beg this House, when you are confronted with that, to close down all controversy and to close our ranks.

If this policy, deliberately adopted by the representatives of the great Allied countries in Paris, dose not commend itself to the House, turn it down quickly and put in a Government who will go and say they will not accept it. But it must be another Government. But do not let us keep the controversy alive. The Government are entitled to know, and I say so respectfully, to know to-night whether the House of Commons and the nation wish that the Government should proceed upon a policy deliberately arrived at, with a view to organising our forces to meet the onset of the foe. For my part—and I should only like to say one personal word—during the time I have held this position, I have endeavoured to discharge its terrible functions to the utmost limits of my capacity and strength. If the House of Commons to-night repudiates the policy for which I am responsible, and on which I believe the saving of this country depends, I shall quit office with but one regret—that is, that I have not had greater strength and greater ability to place at the disposal of my native land in the gravest hour of its danger.