During the whole of the past week the House of Commons has presented the gratifying spectacle of a happy and united family. Another of Mr Lloyd George's Budgets, a more formidable one than any other of the series, has come and well-nigh gone through without so much as an angry protest in any quarter.
Doubled income tax and super-tax, 3d a pound more on tea, a halfpenny on a glass of beer - these surely are proposals that in times of peace would have excited fierce opposition. Today they are accepted as non-controversial matters, and Mr Austen Chamberlain, who cordially and honestly detests our Liberal system of Free Trade finance, consents patriotically to assist the Chancellor in regard to the details of his scheme of war taxation. Mr Chamberlain is not thereby committed in any respect to the principle of our Budget. He merely lends his great financial knowledge to the Government of the day and, by doing so, contributes handsomely to the spectacle of happy uniformity to which I have referred.
There is a large class of people who belong to none of the great political parties and who cherish the hope that some day or other party differences will disappear, and that we shall be governed by Cabinets representing all shades of political opinion. Whether this dream will ever be realised I do not know, but it is certain that an even more astonishing result has been achieved for the time being. We have in power the most radical of Governments loyally backed by an opposition that is more Tory in some respects than any Tory Opposition of modern times!
To the ordinary Member of Parliament the present regime offers some advantages that are warmly appreciated. There are now whips on the doors, and the division bells must run in danger of falling into disorder through lack of use. Also, it is possible to get to bed at a respectable hour! Quite seriously, the House of Commons today offers to the country and to the world at large an example of friendly co-operation that symbolises the perfect unity of purpose with which the nation confront the most perilous situation that has arisen in our history since Napoleon threatened our shores with invasion.
I have often said that I am very sanguine as to the ultimate result to us of this stupendous conflict. My optimism has been based on the conviction that if we all work loyally together and "put our backs into it" we can make victory certain.
Are we doing all that the situation demands? Not quite, I think, as long as there are still in our midst thousands of young men who could join the colours and who have not yet done so. I should be the last to bring any sort of pressure to bear on young men who are hampered by family ties or who are engaged in work that is as essential to the welfare of the State as military service itself. The fact remains that among our allies, and in Germany and Austria, almost every man capable of bearing arms is doing so, whereas the manning of our armies and fleets still absorbs only a relatively small proportion of our adult male population.
Some young men are deterred from joining the colours, I think, by the belief that, even if they do so, they will be too late to render useful assistance. We or our enemies will be beaten, they seem to think, befo9re they would be fit to bear a hand in the war. This is beyond question a wholly mistaken view. We shall win, I believe, but we must do much more than that. We must be in such a military position at the end of the war that our enemies have no other choice than to sue for peace on our terms. Anything like a drawn game would be only less serious to us than defeat.
Our prime object is the crushing of the Prussian military spirit that has kept Europe on tenterhooks for 15 or 20 years. There can be no rest or peace for us, for France, for Belgium, or for the small neutral States of Europe, as long as the brutal policy of the "mailed fist" dominates the German and Austrian Empires. We dare not consent to a makeshift peace that merely postpones the decision for a short period. If we don't crush Prussianism now we shall have all our work to do over again in a few years' time.
I think it is quite likely that is Germany fails in her present desperate enterprises in Belgium and on her Eastern frontier she will begin to talk of peace. She may offer to withdraw from Belgium and France, and she may call on the world to forgive and to forget the past. We shall not seek revenge, but we shall be foolish indeed if we do not exact full reparation for the unspeakable wrongs Germany has committed and, above all, is we do not deprive her of the power to drench Europe with blood again.
A correspondent of mine in South Beds asked me recently what is the practice of the War Office in the matter of serving out rum to the troops. An abstainer himself, with two sons on active service, he was anxious to know whether rum was distributed indiscriminately to our men at the front. I have submitted this point to Mr Mr Harold Baker MP, Financial Secretary to the War Office, and he tells me that rum is only issued to the troops on the recommendation of the medical authorities. Each unit is asked to state the number of officers, non-commissioned officers and men who desire the rum ration, and the amount for that number is issued by the Supply branch.
House of Commons,
Tuesday, November 24th, 1914