The Government proposals for dealing with the drink problem have been keenly criticised from opposite points of view. By some they are said to go beyond the needs of the case, and by others not to go far enough. It may be found on mature consideration that they contrive in a general way to strike the happy mean.
On one point at least there is likely to be agreement - that since the situation is a serious one we should flinch from whatever steps are considered necessary. We cannot ignore the examples set us by Russia and France. Both great countries have adopted remedies that are in their different ways as drastic as any measures that our own Government proposes, and it would ill beseem us to wrangle over details, however important, with such examples before us.
It is odd that this always controversial topic should have given occasion for the only division in the House of Commons since the outbreak of war. I confess quite frankly that I was so little apprehensive of such an event that I was busy at the Home Office at the time, and so missed taking part in a division that will come to be regarded, perhaps, as one of the most curious incidents of an historic session. Needless to say, the Government ran in no danger from the opposition of the five Independent Nationalist members who indulged in this rather ill-timed jest.
As I write, there are stronger rumours than ever that two great Powers not yet involved in the war are taking the most serious view of the German menace. The sinking of an American oil-tank steamer by a German submarine off the Scilly Isles has given cause for the gravest offence in the United States.
It would almost seem as if our insensate enemy positively invited the declared hostility of neutral powers. On what other assumption can the German policy of hitting blindly all round be accounted for? Dutch ships, Norwegian ships, American ships - it matters nothing to the infuriated German Government who may become the victims of their diabolical submarine policy.
If, again, it is true that German emissaries have stirred up a native revolt in the Italian province of Tripoli we have yet another example of German recklessness and a sufficient explanation of the crisis that now confronts the Italian Government. It is suggested in some quarters that the German intention is deliberately to provoke the antagonism of powerful neutrals so that when the time comes to acknowledge themselves beaten they may be able to assert that they have yielded at last to overwhelming odds. Meanwhile, however, there are no clear signs that the Germans are crushed. Our casualty lists unhappily prove that there is plenty of fight in them yet.
Our own Government has no intention of relaxing its efforts, whatever German intentions may be. The work of mobilising all the resources of the country goes on apace. Munitions and men are being provided in ever-increasing volume, and every day the resolution of our people stiffens as the nature of the struggled in which we are engaged is more vividly realised.
This afternoon, for instance, I have had the honour of presiding at a great recruiting meeting which was addressed by the Prime Minister [Herbert Asquith]. The committee of which I am chairman has formulated a scheme for securing a larger number of willing recruits from the distributing trades. As the Prime Minister showed, these trades have done extremely well in the matter of recruiting.
The question is whether in view of the national emergency and in response to Lord Kitchener's appeals, the distributing trades can go one better, It is very difficult for long-established industries to re-arrange their conditions of employment. In any circumstances, such re-adjustments cannot be made without much inconvenience to traders themselves and to their customers. The traders assembled at the Westminster Palace Hotel today, constituting as they did the most influential gathering of the kind that had ever met in London, were fully alive to these difficulties but not less determined to submit to any inconvenience in view of the national crisis.
A similar meeting on a smaller scale will be held in Luton at an early date. I have no doubt that the distributing trades of Luton, which have already released so many men for service with the colours, will respond to this fresh appeal with the same public spirit.
I have no space to deal, even in the barest outlines, with the Chancellor's financial statement. The Budget itself will come later on in the year. A cheerful passage in Mr Lloyd George's speech was that in which referred to the alacrity with which the super-tax payers are responding to the demands of the Income Tax Commissioners. "Some of the remittances," said Mr Lloyd George, "were accompanied by letters stating with what readiness they paid the taxes." The rich are proving in this respect as in others that they are shouldering ungrudgingly their part of the national burden.
House of Commons
May 4th, 1915