April 4, 1916 (12th Parliament, 6th Session)


Wilfrid Laurier (Leader of the Official Opposition)



I was sparing the modesty of the others. Four is a greater number of righteous men than there were in Sodom and Gomorrah. I repeat I see opposite to me men of eminent respectability and large business experience. If, in the course of their business, any one of them had a clerk whom he found misappropriating the funds entrusted to him, what would he do? The first thing he would do would be to hire an accountant to investigate- what? Would it be only the transaction in which the delinquency was found? No, it would be to investigate the whole of the operations of that clerk; and I say this now to these respectable men who are before me -four, and more than four-that if there had been such a transaction and such delinquency on the part of one of their employees as we now find on the part of the Shell Committee, they would act just as we now propose; they would order an investigation into the whole of the operations of the delinquent officer. We are told that we must accept this restricted inquiry as satisfactory to the Canadian public. Need I say that the verdict and the answer has been given a moment ago by my hon. friend from Dundas (Mr. Broder), when he said: "We must have a complete investigation." That is what I ask, and I ask for no more. Sir, there is a great voice of public opinion to be heard upon this matter. Here is the Toronto World-I see its editor here

before me. In capital letters the World says: " Sweeping Inquiry into Shell Contracts is Now Assured." Everybody, he says, both Grits and Tories, is satisfied on account of that assurance. Sir, the conscience of my friend the editor of the World has been relieved by the assurance which has not yet been received. Have we the assurance that we are to have a complete investigation? Do I understand the editor of the World properly to convey the assurance and the decision of the Government, that we are to have a complete investigation?
I need not emphasize the point further. I put that to my hon. friend the editor of the World: all the assurance that he has of a complete investigation is the hope that we should have it.
The Minister of Finance told us the other day that General Bertram, the Chairman of the Shell Committee, was an honest man. Heaven is my witness that I do not desire to believe otherwise. I want to believe that General Bertram is an honest man. I want to believe that he has acted honestly in all these transactions. I am told that he is a good business man; but, Sir, if General Bertram is the honest man he is represented to be, if he is the capable man he is represented to be, I cannot conceive how he signed those contracts which were denounced by my hon. friend from Richmond, unless he did it under the spell of a superior influence. It is impossible to conceive that anybody in possession of his senses would have given such a contract to men whom he did not know, without making inquiry, and without ascertaining whether or not they were able to fulfil their engagements. I say nothing about advancing this huge sum of money to strangers, but I repeat that, under such circumstances, there is no possibility of explaining these contracts unless the explanation is that the Chairman of the Shell Committee was under the spell of a superior influence. I need not dwell any further upon this point.
The Minister of Finance repeated this afternoon all the arguments which were adduced the oth^r day against the granting of an inquiry. First of all, we were told that there should not be an inquiry for the peremptory reason that the Shell Committee had ceased to exist. It is true that the Shell Committee no longer exists. It ceased to exist under circumstances to which I need not refer; suffice it to say that it is to-day no more. But is that a reason why there should be no inquiry? Since when has it been decided that the responsibility of a minister, of a functionary, of a public body, entrusted with the administration of public affairs, ceased to exist after they vacated office? Does not the responsibility of a minister or oj: a functionary or of an agent, whoever he may be, who has been entrusted with the administration of public affairs or even of private affairs, follow him until he has given an account of his operations? Is it not a fact that any man, whether he be in public or in private life, must give an account of his administration? I am more than surprised that such an argument should have come from the mouth of my right hon. friend the Prime Minister. When he came into office my right hon. friend found that the commission for the construe-tion of the Transcontinental railway, which had been in existence, was no longer in existence. The chairman had resigned, and the other members of the commission had, I think, been dismissed. It was functus . officio, in the learned phrase which we heard the other day. But my right hon. friend appointed a commission to investigate that defunct commission. According to his argument, he had no right to do so; it was functus officio, and there was nothing more to say. That action of my right hon. friend shows the fallacy of his present argument, that we should not investigate the Shell Committee because it no longer holds office. It is no more in office, it is true, but it is responsible for its acts for the time it was in office. A cause must be desperate indeed when it has to be defended by such an argument as that.
Then it is said that we have no power to investigate the Shell Committee because it was an Imperial committee, over which the Canadian Government had no control whatever. This argument was used largely by my hon. friend the Minister of Finance. Here ,is a contract which was signed by the Shell Committee, and upon which is the sign manual of the Minister of Militia:
I, Major General the Honourable S. Hughes, Minister of Militia and Defence of the Dominion of Canada, in accordance with authority duly conferred upon me by His Britannic Majesty's Government, hereby ratify and confirm on its behalf the foregoing agreement between the American Ammunition Company, incorporated, and the Shell Committee.
Dated at Ottawa, Canada, this 19th day of June A.D., 3 915.
Sam Hughes,
Major General,
Minister of Militia and Defence.
I put ithis question to my hon. friend: where did the Minister of Militia get his

authority from His Britannic Majesty's Government? Was it because he was Sir Sam Hughes, or Major General Sam Hughes, or was it (because he was a member of the Canadian Government? If Major General Sir Sam Hughes was a party to this agreement, if he had the authority of the British Government, it was because he was a member of the Canadian Government, Major General though he was, Sir Sam Hughes though he was, he would not have been selected by the British Government to act for them but for the fact that at the same time he was Minister of Militia. That is the answer to my hon. friend.
But that is not all. In contradiction to the statement which the Minister of Finance made repeatedly this afternoon that the Shell Committee was no branch of the Canadian Government, I say, and I will prove it by and by from the words of the Prime Minister himself, that the Shell Committee was a branch of the Canadian Government, just as much as if the Shell Committee 'had, been composed of officials of the Minister of Militia. The Minister of Finance has forgotten what was said by his leader the Prime Minister on the 15th of April last. On that date the Prime Minister gave us a review of what had been done during the war by the Department of Militia. He first spoke of the manufacture of shells in Great Britain, and then he continued in these words:
In respect of such matters, the course taken by the Government of the Mother Country has been to call to the aid of the Government the best business ability of the country. The business men of that Country have responded and splendid results have been thus obtained. The Minister of Militia himself, it is only just to say, at least two or three months ago brought this question before Council and urged upon Council the advisability-
Mark the words- ,
-of having his department assisted in this regard by a committee of three business men. In respect of some other matters the Minister of Militia has taken a course along that line which has brought about most excellent results. If the House will pardon me-my remarks have been extended beyond what I had at first contemplated-I wish to place before Parliament the record of what has been accomplished by the committee appointed in this country to fill orders which the British Government desired to place here, if they could be placed in Canada, for the supply of munitions.
Sir, you have there the statement of the Prime Minister that the Department of Militia, at the instance of the Minister of Militia, was reinforced, by three business men who were to assist him in carrying

out the orders of the British Government for the manufacture of shells. Is it not- what shall I say?-is it not plain to the common sense of this intelligent assembly that when he was thus authorized the Minister of Militia was acting for the Canadian Government But there is more than that. The Minister of Militia himself took hold of the matter. He told us that the Shell Committee was his baby, that it was his own work, that he was proud of it. We know to what extent he has reason to be proud of it to-day. Had the Shell Committee proved to be what had been expected of it my hon. friends on the other side would all have been proud of it to-day, but now that it has proved to be what it was nobody will take responsibility for it. Good or bad, the Shell Committee was a creature of the Government; and, as was said by my hon. friend from Dundas a few moments ago, the Canadian Government is responsible for it to the Canadian people.
Now for the third reason which was given by the Government for refusing this inquiry. They took the ground that they were not responsible for the doings of the Shell Committee. It was stated by the Prime Minister, repeated by the Solicitor General, by the hon. member for Simcoe, and again to-day by the Minister of Finance, that it would not be in the public interest to investigate these matters in war-time. They went further and stated that it was not in accordance with the view of the British authorities to investigate war matters in war-time-that it was against the principles of the British constitution. As regards the public interest, I have no observation to make, except that it is impossible to conceive upon what ground immunity from investigation can be claimed for the Shell Committee. As far as the theory of constitutional government is concerned. I affirm, on the contrary, that at all times the British Parliament has insisted upon the investigation of war matters. Secrecy and concealment in the administration of public affairs are repugnant to the very . spirit of British constitutional government;' repugnant at all times, in war times as well as peace times. Full and searching light has always been deemed, under the British constitution, to be the very essence of good government. Experience has shown, not only in Britain but outside, that secrecy and concealment lead to fraud, to abuses, to peculation and to corruption. I repeat that at all times the British Parliament has insisted upon having full and most search-

ing light upon all operations with which the Government was connected.
To this rule there is but one exception, and it is this: that no investigation should take place if it would lead to the divulging ' of military secrets which would be of use to the' enemy. My hon. friend the Solicitor General insisted very much the other day on that feature as a reason for not granting this inquiry. He pleaded the possibility oi military secrets being divulged. With all respect to the Solicitor General, I say there is something ludicrous in his telling us that an investigation of the operations of the Shell Committee might lead to the divulging of some great military secret which would imperil the fate of the Allied armies. If there is an investigation of the Shell Committee, these things will be investigated: whether there was diligence or no diligence, whether there was favouritism or no favouritism; whether there were delays or no delays; whether there were peculations or no peculations; and in all these inquiries would there be nothing to endanger the fate of the armies in the field; 'England herself did not hesitate to proclaim to the world as loudly as she could that her system of manufacturing munitions of war was deficient and ineffective, and must be re-cast; and re-cast it was. In Russia they have been doing more. For months there has
been a commission there entrusted with the work of searching out the Russian John Wesley Allisons, who have been speculating at the expense of the Russian armies, depriving them of munitions, and exposing them to disaster. The Russian Government gives to my right hon. friend and his friends an example which ought to be followed on this occasion. It was ruthless in its searching out and punishing of offenders. It is on record that man after man was dismissed from the Service; the whole Service was purged1; and as a consequence the reorganized Russian armies have already taken the offensive, have planted themselves on the road between Berlin and Bagdad which the German 'General staff had calculated would be open to them during the coming summer. That was the result of their investigations.
The Prime Minister upon this point made a very strong argument upon a British precedent. British precedents always carry weight in a British assembly. Great Britain is the mother of parliaments, and parliamentary institutions are better understood there than anywhere else. A British
precedent, in support of a cause, carries weight wherever it is cited. My right hon. friend stated that during the Boer War, in 1900 I think it was, a motion, had been made ' in the British House of Commons for an inquiry, but had been withdrawn at the request of the leaders of both sides of the House, the assertion being made that it was against the public interest to have an investigation during the war. My right hon. friend quoted some authorities upon that occasion. He quoted from the language of Mr. Balfour and that of Mr. Asquith, and he was no more happy in his quotations than my hon. friend the Solicitor General, for he quoted from the wrong paragraph. His theory was that it was agreed by all parties that an inquiry should be held, but that it should be held *only when the war was over. My contention is that the theory then agreed to by the leaders on both sides,' was that whilst an investigation on the whole conduct of the war must be had after the conclusion of peace, there might be an investigation during the war, if public interest demanded it, according to circumstances. In order not to do him any injustice, I will quote his very words, and then quote my justification. He said (Hansard, page 1589):
There is another matter which I would like to bring to the attention of the House and the attention of my right hon. friend. It was * not during the Boer war, nor has it been during this war, the practice of the British Government to favour or to grant inquiries into such matters during the progress of the war. The subject came up during the Boer war. An inquiry was moved for in the British House of Commons. The question which arose and which had to be determined by the leaders on that occasion was not as to whether an inquiry should he held, because all agreed that an inquiry must be held, but as to whether or not that inquiry should be interjected into the middle of the war, or whether it should form part of a general inquiry into the conduct of the war to take place at its conclusion. This is what Mr. Balfour said on that subject:
" Then comes the question of the date of the Inquiry. It had better begin as soon as the war, to use the phrase of my right honourable friend, is substantially over, and as soon as the necessary witnesses are obtainable. I hope that statement Is sufficiently extensive and explicit."
Mr. Asquith, speaking in the same debate, said:
" The Government promise that they will form part of the general inquiry which is to take place at the close of the war, and that the facts so far as they are ascertained, will thus be brought to the light of day. On that distinct assurance I think my honourable friend may be well content with the result he has achieved in initiating the debate and that he should not in acordance with the general feelings of the House proceed to a division. "

So the motion for an inquiry was withdrawn not only at the request of Mr. Balfour, the leader of 'the Government, but at the request of Mr. Asquith, the leader of the Opposition.
Here are the facts as I understand them. In 1901 an amendment was moved to the Address in reply to the King'-s Speech. It was not for a committee of investigation, but was as follows:
At- the end of the question, to add these words: " But we humbly suggest to Your Majesty that. there should be published as early as practicable the proceedings of full inquiries into the circumstances that have occasioned the surrender of considerable bodies of Your Majesty's troops in South Africa."
Every one remembers that during the South African war there were some occasions on which reports were received by cable of the surrender of troops in the field. Such occurrences were so contrary to all the traditions of the British army that a great commotion was caused in England, and rightly so; because if there is one thing which the British soldier and the British officer knows how to do, it is to die rather than surrender. That has proved to be the case in this war; it was also the case in the South African war; but some surrenders took place which had to be explained. A debate took place, not a motion for an investigation, but on the request for certain information, and, after some gentlemen had participated in the debate, it was taken up by [DOT] Mr. Balfour, the then leader of the House. And I will quote the greater part of his speech, which is to be found in the English Hansard of 1901, at page 1096:
Mr. A. J. Balfour: I do not mean to speak at any length; but I think from one or two observations which have fallen from the right hon. gentleman he would like me, I will not say to answer, but to touch upon the one or two points to which he referred and clear up any doubts there may he.
Mr. Balfour was referring to iSir Henry Campbell-Bannerman.
My opinion is that courts-martial have not been much used in the past in regard to surrenders in the Held and he desires to approximate the War Office practice to the naval practice of dealing by courts-martial with disasters of that character. . But in the nature of the case every court-martial will be held and so far the desire of the hon. member will he met; but there may be cases of inquiries which are ' not courts-martial, and all that my right hon. friend has laid down is this-that he does not think it desirable to make it an invariable practice or even the ordinary practice to make public the results of the military inquiries. Those military inquiries may not have to do with eases of surrender, but these in the main are to he handed over to courts-martial. My right hon. friend and the Government, who agree with

him, do not hold that we ought for a moment to lay down the proposition that inquiries are in the nature of the case to be brought before this House and the country. Sometimes they may be and sometimes they may not be. It depends upon the circumstances of the case, and whatever it is desirable in the public interest. I hope that this is a clear statement of the matter.
Sir William Harcourt: But inquiries into all cases of surrender will he made public?
Mr. A. J. Balfour: I-do not think that t!he view of the War Office is that they should voluntarily, apart from the general inquiry which is promised, make all those inquiries public.
Sir Charles Dilke (Gloucestershire, Forest of Dean) : But they were promised?
Mr. A. J. Balfour: When?
Sir Charles Dilke: In February of last year.
Mr. Brodrick: No. I beg your pardon; I
did not say so.
Sir Charles Dilke: No; the present Chief
Secretary for Ireland last year said so. I understood it to he a promise. I asked the question whether they would he made public, and he said, " of course they will." I took that to be a promise.
Mr. A. J. Balfour: Of course, that was not within my knowledge, or my right hon. friend's knowledge, hut any statement publicly made shall he carried out.
Therefore there was a promise that the inquiries by courts-martial would be made (public, and that after the war there would be a general inquiry. Thereupon the debate was resumed and was concluded by Mir. Asquith, who advised that the motion be withdrawn for these reasons: '
But what I desire to make perfectly clear is this. We all understand the Government to have made two promises. In the first place, that wherever it is still practicable to do so they will bring the cases of persons who are prima facie responsible for any of these surrenders before a court-martial, which is an open court, where the evidence is taken on oath, and where you have all the responsibility attaching to persons who are acting in the light of day, subject to public criticism. Secondly, that as regards those cases-I hope they are1 very few-where, from the lack of a prima facie case against any specific individual it is impossible in accordance with the practice of military law to hold a court-martial, the Government promise they will form part of the general inquiry which is to take place at the close of the war, and that the facts, so far as they are ascertainable, will thus he brought to the light of day. On that distinct assurance I think my hon. friend may he well content with the result he has achieved in initiating the debate, and that he should not, in accordance with the general feelings of the House proceed to a division.
The British Government made two promises. one that there would be a public inquiry by court-martial during the war if it was found to be in the public interest, and the other that at the end of the war there would be a general inquiry. I ask no more than that. The theory I maintain is, not

as stated by my right hon. friend, that there should not be an inquiry during the war, but that there may or may not be an inquiry during the war just as public interest and the circumstances demand. I say further that the British Government has at all times insisted upon investigation into matters concerning the war while the war is in progress, and that against such investigations nothing prevails, not even the most illustrious or glorious name nor the most brilliant achievements in the field.
At the commencement of the eighteenth century England was at war with France on the question of the succession to the Spanish Throne. The British army was in Flanders, very near if not exactly upon the spot which it now occupies, not as the enemy but as the ally of France. Under the command of that great general, the Duke of Marlborough, the British army achieved in that war some of the greatest victories recorded in history. Marlborough, however, as is well known, was a great general, but his character was not on a par with his intellect. He was accessible to corrupt considerations, and in the year 1712, on the 1st of January, he was relieved of the command of the army, and on the 24th of that month a motion was made upon a report of the Commissioners of Public Accounts, charging him with having received commissions from contractors furnishing war supplies. The motion was in these terms:
That the taking- of several sums of money annually by the Duke of Marlborough from the contractors for furnishing the bread and bread-wagons for the army in the Low Countries was [DOT]unwarrantable and illegal.
This happened during the war. The armies were still in the field, still facing the French armies. The motion was a direct vote of censure upon him for having accepted commissions from contractors for army supplies. An amendment was immediately proposed :
That after the words " Low Countries " the following words should be inserted: " being a usual and customary payment, made by the contractors for bread and bread-wagons to the Commander-in-Chief in the Low Countries.'*
There was evidence before the House at that time that this practice of receiving commissions from army contractors had not been confined to Marlborough, but had been carried on by the generals commanding the army before him and by many
9 p.m. high officers. The British House ,of Commons, however, would not admit that the guilt of one should be an
excuse for the guilt of the other. It brushed aside the amendment, and the main motion was carried by the overwhelming majority of 265 to 155.
Now, all historians agree-or, if not all, a great majority-that the fault of Marlborough was more the fault of the age in which he lived, an age noted for its low morals, and it was known that among the majority of the House he had a great many personal enemies. But, while this may be true, it undoubtedly is true, and is greatly to the credit of the strong nation of that day, that even a victorious general like the Duke of Marlborough was brought before the Bar of the House of Commons and made to answer for his delinquincies. In British public life at that time corruption was rampant, and if it has since been purged of that curse it is because the British Parliament always, when the occasion arose for action, dealt mercilessly with such offences. And that is an example that I .commend to the Canadian House of Commons.
The next war was the Seven Years' War. And in 1756, as the French were besieging Port Mahon in the Island of Minorca, Admiral Byng was sent with the fleet to relieve the city. He engaged the French fleet, 'but the engagement was unsuccessful; he could not pierce the French lines, and, instead of renewing the attack, he withdrew to his base. There was great indignation all through England. Admiral Byng, although a leading officer, and though he belonged to a great family, and . was the son of a good soldier, was tried by court-martial and found guilty-of what? Of not having done all that he should have done. And, in accordance with the letter, the strict stern letter, of the British code, he suffered the supreme penalty. There are many who believe that the judgment against him was harsh and the sentence unjust, by reason of its gravity. If I recall this tragedy, it is only to show, in contradistinction to what was said by my right hon. friend, that the British Parliament, if it has erred, has erred on the side of severity and not on the side of leniency.
The next war was the American War, but I found nothing in it that could be of interest in this debate. The next following war was the war of the Revolution and the wars of Napoleon. In 1805, Lord Melville was First Lord of the Navy in William Pitt's second administration. In that year he was charged, upon the report

of the Commissioners of Naval Inquiry, with having misappropriated money when he was Secretary of the Navy. The matter came before Parliament, and a motion was made inculpating him. There was a very strong debate, and at the end of it, the House was equally divided, and the motion was carried by the casting vote of the Speaker. But the matter was carried to the House of Lords, and he was impeached in that House. The result of the trial was his acquittal. If I bring this case to the attention of the House, it is to show that the British Parliament always insisted in requiring strict justice to be done to those who were accused before it. In this case the verdict was the acquittal of Lord Melville. But he was charged, and because he was charged he was tried. In this matter, I do not charge anything; I simply ask for an investigation.
Now I come to the Crimean War, an example which my right hon. friend also quoted. A motion was made by Mr. Roebuck, which after another discussion was granted. My right hon. friend stated that the motion ended in a fiasco, and this was repeated by the Minister of Finance. But, Sir, the very motion made by Mr. Roebuck, which was carried in the House of Commons, caused a change in the War Office and a reconstruction of the Aberdeen Government of that day. Those who, like myself, were children at the time of the Crimean War, can recollect what was said at that time. If ever there was a fatal page in the military history of Great Britain, it was the Crimean War. The soldiers before Sebastopol, in the severe winter weather, were suffering from want-not of munitions as they have suffered in this war-but of food and clothing, and of all the comforts to which civilized men are accustomed. The commissariat had broken down; there was a complete breakdown in the land transport. The Duke of Newcastle was Secretary for War, but there were complaints against him and he was called to task. The complaints went so far that Lord John Russell, leader of the House of Commons, wrote to Lord Aberdeen, the Prime Minister, suggesting to him, and urging upon him, the withdrawal of the Duke of Newcastle from the War Office, Lord Palmerston to be put in his place. Here I can d.o nothing better than to quote the historian on this subject. I shall read a few words from Justin McCarthy's History of Our Own Times:

Lord John Russell became impressed with the conviction that the Duke of Newcastle was not strong enough for the post of w ar Minister, and he wrote to Lord Aberdeen urging that the War Department should be given to Lord Palmerston. Lord Aberdeen replied that although another person might have been a better choice when the appointments were made in the first instance, yet in the absence of any proved defect or alleged incapacity there was no sufficient ground for making a kind of speculative change.
I am sorry that my hon. friend from Calgary (Mr. R. B. Bennett) is not in his place at this time.

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