§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
Sir HENRY DALZIEL
I should like to ask one or two questions of the Government. Last week I drew attention to the question of the export of tea to neutral countries, and I think the House is satisfied that some of it went to Germany. I am very glad the Government have taken steps to stop the export of tea. I think their action has given general satisfaction both throughout the trade and throughout the country. I wish them to go one step further and to carry out the order they have given with regard to tea also with regard to cocoa. The figures with regard to cocoa are as alarming as, if not more alarming than, they are with regard to tea. In September, 1913, the exports of cocoa to the neutral countries on the border of Germany amounted to 79,642 lbs. and in September this year to 189,369 lbs., the very great increase of 109,727 lbs. In October last year they amounted to 131,000 lbs., and in October this year to 1,238,000 lbs., an increase of 1,106,000 lbs. in one month sent to the same neutral countries to which the export of tea has been stopped. In six days of November there was an increase of 455,000 lbs. It appears to me that every argument that can be used for stopping the export of tea can also be used with regard to the export of cocoa. I am not sure, in fact, that the case is not very much stronger with regard to cocoa, because it is more of a food than tea, and I believe the Germans prefer it even more than they do tea.
I therefore ask the Prime Minister if he could not possibly look into this matter and see whether the same rule could not apply to cocoa as to tea. I have heard that the right hon. Gentleman is himself a believer in the sustaining and invigorating power of cocoa. I do not know whether it is true or not, but it has 829 been stated that after a long and wearying Cabinet meeting, when some of his colleagues have been disposed to wander from the real point at issue, the right hon. Gentleman has taken it as a sign of weariness and has ordered that cups of cocoa should pass around the table. I do not know whether it is a fact or not, but I do know that the boast of one Minister has been that he is able to transact the responsible duties of his office for six days in the week with a cup of cocoa and a dry biscuit. [HON. MEMBERS: "Name!"] I will give a clue to his name by saying that he is the healthiest looking Member on that bench at the present moment. I think, therefore, we may take it that there is ample proof, if we desire it, that cocoa is a sustaining beverage, and, as such, can be used. I would therefore ask the right hon. Gentleman to give us an assurance that he will look into this matter without any undue delay.
There is one other point to which I should like to draw attention, and that is the export of herrings to Germany. Before the War the export of herrings from Yarmouth to Germany was practically unknown, because Rotterdam having a seafaring population, they were able to get any herrings they required, but I am credibly informed that since the outbreak of war—all the Government have got to do is to inquire from the Customs agents, but they may take it from me that there is no doubt about it—that herrings have been sent nightly from Yarmouth to Harwich and then to Rotterdam up to the last few nights, when fishing has not been so good. I pledge myself also to the statement that large cargoes of herrings have gone from the North of Scotland to Norway, and are at the present moment being sold in that country. I would ask the Government especially to look into that matter, because I am speaking on the highest authority of the most influential fish curers throughout the whole country, whose names I would be very glad to give to the right hon. Gentleman. These are matters which might well be inquired into by the Government. This is almost the last opportunity we shall have before the House adjourns of drawing attention to such matters.
There is one more point, and that is the question of how information is going to the enemy. I know that telegrams are censored, I know that letters may be opened, and I know that the Government regard as complete the steps that are being taken to prevent spies giving information to Germany. 830 I do not agree with them. I think they have made a great mistake, and that it is one weak point of our organisation. Some of us have made our protest, and we have left it there. I would, however, ask them to give their attention to this particular line of information going to Germany. The German foreign system has been carefully enough established, and the Government have been watching 200 paid spies in this country for five years. That is their own statement. It is conceivable, I think, that they have during that five years established a system of communication of information between this country and the enemy, outside entirely the ordinary postal and telegraph services. That is a reasonable assumption. My theory is that the most important information that is going at the present time is neither going by letter, signalling, nor by telegraph service, but is being taken across in person by spies. How is it done?
I give the House a personal instance of which I can vouch. An acquaintance of mine, a naturalised German subject, whom personally I do not suspect, told me casually the other day that he had been abroad. I asked him where he had been. He said that he had been to Holland, and that he had spent a most interesting day in the German lines. I asked him what was his purpose in going there? He was going to get the other side of Louvain. He is a man in a big position in London and a householder here. He told me, after spending a day with the German officers in the German lines, what their version was. He has returned and is back in London. How is it done? A passport is obtained to Holland, and, when you get to Holland, you can get a fresh passport to go wherever you please. I would suggest in the first place that with regard to people going to Holland there should be very severe investigations and inquiries made before they are granted any passport. I do not think that you can be too careful who gets a passport to Holland.
§ 4.0 P.M.
Sir H. DALZIEL
I said a naturalised British subject. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] I am very sorry if I have misled the House. He is a German who is a naturalised British subject. He is a well-known business man in London against whom I make no suggestion. If it is possible for a German who has become a naturalised British subject to cross over, spend a week-end in 831 the German lines, and to come back here, it is equally possible for anyone to do the same thing. I say it ought not to be possible under existing circumstances, and the greatest care should be taken to prevent the giving of passports to anyone who is likely to carry information to the enemy. I have no doubt that there is daily communication with the enemy in the way I have suggested, and I do strongly urge the Government to give this very vital matter their most earnest attention.
§ Mr. RUPERT GWYNNE
I wish to call the attention of the Under-Secretary for War to a matter which has arisen lately in many parts of England. Under the Defence of the Realm Act, which was passed through this House hurriedly last Session, power is given to the military authorities to acquire land for the erection of camps or military huts, and the military authorities can come along and take practically what land they like, giving, apparently, what compensation they choose. The point I wish to bring to the attention of the Under-Secretary is this, that where lands are taken compulsorily, and where portions of farms are taken largely to the detriment of the farmer carrying on his business, adequate compensation should be given. In answer to a question I put on Friday, the right hon. Gentleman told me that compensation was awarded by the War Office on expert opinion and advice; that they gave what they thought right, and that there was no provision made for any appeal. I think the House will generally feel that the military authorities should have a right to take land wherever they require it for military purposes, but I also think Members on both sides will agree that if a farmer does suffer heavy loss by having the best part of his farm carved out, he should be given proper compensation, and it should not be left entirely to the military authorities to pay what they may think to be right. There may be urgency in the matter of acquiring the land, but there need be none in settling the amount of compensation. I am not speaking without experience, because, in the Constituency which I have the honour to represent, there happens to live a large farmer whose land at Seaford has been compulsorily acquired, the best part of his farm being taken. He sent in a claim made out by a local valuer, but was told by the War Office 832 authorities that they could not entertain any claim on that basis, and he must put in a much smaller demand. It is not because that farm is situated in my Constituency and belonged to a supporter of mine that I raise the question. On the contrary, the farmer is the chairman of the local Radical party, but I feel that this is not the time to indulge in any party strife, and it is only fair, if this large farmer has been prejudicially affected, that the War Office should deal justly by him, and, if they are unable to come to an arrangement satisfactory to him, then I suggest they should submit to some appeal, either to the High Courts or to some other authority, who can judge whether or not the compensation offered is fair. It is not as if the War Office have taken the whole of the farm; they have only taken what suits their own purposes, and hon. Members know from experience that when farms are thus divided, the farmer may be seriously prejudiced by losing the best portion and having to carry on his business with the remainder. I hope the Under-Secretary will give instructions for this case to have further consideration.
§ Mr. LOUGH
My right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs (Sir H. Dalziel), towards the end of his remarks, suggested a very interesting point to which I hope the Government will be able to give attention, and that fact makes me regret all the more that, in the earlier portion of his observations, he urged upon the Government a policy which I would earnestly ask them to approach with extreme caution. My right hon. Friend appears to be under the impression that the speech he made in this House a week ago, in which he gave some very incomplete figures in regard to the tea trade, led the Government suddenly to impose restrictions on the export of tea.
§ Mr. LOUGH
I am speaking in the memory of the House, and I think my right hon. Friend commenced his remarks to-day by flattering himself somewhat that the advice he gave to Ministers last Monday was taken. As a matter of fact it is not so. This matter has been very vigilantly watched by the Board of Trade, and I believe that a couple of days before my right hon. Friend made his interesting remarks in this House they had taken the action which had been made public since with regard to the export of tea.
§ Mr. LOUGH
As a protest has been made in this House by my right hon. Friend I cannot allow it to pass without observation, and I will ask the Government to acquaint itself with the conditions of any great trade like this—be it tea, coffee, or cocoa—before it suddenly interferes with the export in the critical times through which we are passing. I am going to suggest to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister whether he can see his way to appoint a Committee of business men who have full knowledge with regard to these articles, and whose opinions might be taken before any further prohibition is decided upon with regard to the export of such articles from this country. I am sure such a Committee would be animated by exactly the same feeling as animates everybody in this House. It would not be desirous of giving the slightest assistance to the enemy. But I believe it would entertain another feeling, and that it would not be willing to do injury to ourselves with the idea that we are injuring the enemy, whereas, as a matter of fact, we are not touching the enemy at all. I may mention one point in illustration of that, and it is in relation to what has been said by my right hon. Friend (Sir H. Dalziel) and to certain foolish articles which have appeared in certain papers with reference to tea.
It has been suggested that tea is a great article of consumption in Germany. It is nothing of the kind. The German people only consume an ounce or two of tea per head in the year. I believe that physically it has a bad effect upon them, and that its extended use would injure rather than help them. It therefore is not taken to any very large extent by Germany. Of course, Germany import a few million pounds every year, but then they are a very vast population. Tea is, however, a tremendous article of consumption in this country. A great deal of British capital is invested in its production, and it so happens that this Empire has gradually become the great tea producers of the world. Tea is a vegetable which has to be disposed of in a few months from the time it is produced. Not only a vast amount of British capital, but a vast organisation of British labour is engaged in the trade. The Germans, with some forethought at the commencement of the War, thought it well to get in even their little supply of tea somewhat in advance, and so they 834 appeared to have gone to Holland and ordered large quantities there. At the time they got the largest quantities, the export of tea from this country was prohibited.
My right hon. Friend speaks as if every pound of tea that goes from Holland to Germany is British tea. It is nothing of the kind. Holland itself is a great tea-producing country; it handles from forty to fifty millions of pounds of tea annually, and can supply all the war consumption asked for by Germany four or five times over without ever getting a single pound of tea from this country. Holland, therefore, can supply, from her own resources in Java, the small quantity of tea that may be required in Germany, and consequently the suggestion that tea imported by Germany must necessarily have come from this country is not well founded. It happens that this year, owing to the financial difficulties created in the East, Russia and other countries in Europe—big tea consuming countries—and especially Russia—were not able to get their tea supply from Calcutta or Colombo, and, as that tea had to be disposed of, vast quantities were sent to this country. I believe the action of the Board of Trade with regard to this matter was, to some extent, justified by the fact that the imports of tea were stopped from the 4th September till the 7th October, no vessels being able to leave the Hooghly because of the ravages of the "Emden," but then the career of the "Emden" was put an end to, and vast quantities of tea were sent to London which became the distributing centre for this great crop. That moment the Board of Trade issued their order on imperfect information. I quite agree that they should carefully watch matters and take wise action when necessary, but at this moment the Government stepped in and cast considerable difficulties in the way of the export of tea, even to our Ally Russia.
I hope that the Government will hesitate before they go any further with the policy urged upon them by my right hon. Friend. There are important considerations to be borne in mind. There are, in London, large stocks of tea which cannot be consumed by the British people—large stocks of green tea, which is not even consumed in Germany—but the export of these stocks is, for the moment, forbidden, and we are not permitted to send tea to Russia by the Baltic ports. I do not want to criticise the Board of Trade, because my right hon. Friend 835 has given considerable attention to the matter and has received deputations of dealers who have laid the facts before him. I feel certain that the Board will take whatever action may be necessary for the protection of this country, but I would advise it not to accept figures which are hastily put forward by some of the baser journals and which have been quoted by my right hon. Friend. The situation with regard to cocoa is even worse than that in respect to tea. Many millions of pounds of cocoa are imported into this country every year, for export. I do not think it is an article of first importance to Germany, but large quantities of this commodity are brought into this country for distribution, and will be held up as a consequence of the recent order. I hope the Government will take wise action with regard to this matter of the prohibition of exports.
As regards raw material, it is perfectly simple, but as regards other articles, I would ask them not to do anything to injure any trade built up at great cost and expense to this country. It is very important to keep things going and our working classes employed, and to get a return on the vast amount of British capital invested in this trade. I therefore ask my right hon. Friend, if he can take any action in this matter, to remember that there is another side to it, and that it is desirable to get some principle and to work steadily upon that principle. An exceedingly good way of dealing with matters of this kind would be for a general Committee of this House to be set up, on which I would put some business men. That is the difficulty under which some of the Committees appointed by my right hon. Friend suffer. Let us have a Committee of business men who know the facts and can put them before this House. We shall then avoid giving assistance to the enemy, and yet not injure those industries which I am sure nobody wants to injure.
§ Mr. HAYES FISHER
I would like to ask the Financial Secretary to the War Office by whose authority a letter has recently been written by the War Office to the Royal Patriotic Fund Corporation, informing that corporation that the War Office has now for some little time withheld the names and addresses of widows who have been made widows by this War, because, in the opinion of the War Office, it is no longer necessary for the £5 grant 836 to the widow and the £1 grant for each child, which has hitherto been given to all widows created by this War, should now be given. The reason given is that the separation allowance is now to be continued for twenty-six weeks. It was the practice in the Transvaal war always to send, when the widow was acquainted with the fact that she had been made a widow, £5 for the widow and £1 for each child. That practice has been continued through this War, and over 2,000 widows have received the sum of £5 and the further sum of £1 for each child.
Now we are suddenly told—I only had the letter brought to me half an hour ago, or I would have given the hon. Gentleman notice that I was going to raise this question—that the War Office has for some little time been withholding the names and addresses of these widows because in their opinion this £5 grant need no longer be given. Whose policy is that? By whom has that been decided? Was this House ever informed at the time when we were told that these separation allowances were to be continued for twenty-six weeks? I am myself most grateful for that being done, but was the House ever told that it was to be a substitute for the £5 grant to the widow and the £1 to the child, or that the £5 and the £1 grant was to be knocked off in consideration of the separation allowance being continued? Let me give the House an instance of how very useful this £5 is to the widow when she is acquainted with the fact that she is a widow. Most of these widows at that time must look forward to the fact that they will have to remove to a cheaper house or obtain accommodation at a less rent than they are then paying. It is quite true that some of them use the £5 for mourning. Why should they not? Five pounds is a trifling sum for the widow to receive. I hope that the Government will not, in consideration of the fact that they are going to give—most rightly—twenty-six weeks' separation allowance to each widow, indulge in rather shabby little shifts, and thus deprive these poor widows of the grants of £5 and £1 which have hitherto been given.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the WAR OFFICE (Mr. Harold Baker)
As the right hon. Gentleman stated, I have had no notice that he was going to raise this question. Perhaps he will allow me to make inquiries. I can assure him that the arguments he has put forward will receive the most careful consideration.
§ Mr. JOHN WARD
As the Motion for the Second Reading of this Bill opens up most matters for consideration, I would like to refer again to a subject I mentioned the other day, but, before doing so, I would say one word with regard to the observations of the right, hon. Gentleman the Member for West Islington (Mr. Lough), who has performed again to-day exactly what he performed on one occasion when he held office—he has delivered a speech against a Motion which he wishes to support. If the facts enumerated by the right hon. Gentleman are facts, then the policy suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs (Sir H. Dalziel) will do no harm whatever. Of course, if the facts are not as stated by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Islington, then perhaps we may take the other view of the subject. The fact which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs has called attention is the rather peculiar one, that exports to neutral countries have increased enormously since the War began. That is a fact we are bound to take into consideration. What is the cause of it? The probability is that as imports into the countries which are already belligerents are absolutely prohibited, those countries are trying to use the facilities of neutral countries in order to get the articles they require. In these circumstances the Government is certainly entitled to take every care. As a matter of fact, it is advisable that the Government should err on the side of preventing sustenance going to the foes of this country. It is quite clear that if the Government had taken the advice of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lough) on other matters connected with belligerency we should have been in a very parlous condition to-day. I hope the Government will place just as much value and reliance on his advocacy in this matter as they did on his advocacy of another matter.
§ Mr. WARD
Of course it is, and I am not going to discuss it now. I have not the slightest doubt that the right hon. Gentleman will advocate it on some future occasion. I wish to draw attention to the subject which I mentioned in the House on Friday last, namely, the method employed by the War Office at the present time in regard to their contracts. I do not suggest that the War Office are not doing everything they possibly can up to date, but there are, I suggest, some very ugly rumours going round. To-day one of the newspapers, the "Daily Chronicle," has put these rumours—I do not suggest the whole of them, but one phase of them—in black and white and in such a way that this House ought really to take the matter into consideration. No doubt it is almost necessary to give the Government a clean slate in the conduct of the War and in securing the material, but it is quite clear that unless they use that power as if there were the possibility of criticism, a very great deal of harm might be done. The "Daily Chronicle" to-day draws attention to the existence of a combine that is squeezing the War Office for higher prices when they are tendering for the War Office than for anyone else. It draws attention to a combination of some dozen or twenty firms who, whenever inquiries have been made as to the stability of those firms, or in any other way whatever, always give a reference to a firm called "W. B. and Co."—that is a company who are not contractors in the ordinary sense of the word, but a firm of Birmingham accountants, if the statement contained in the paper is accurate. All these firms from whom tenders are sought by the War Office refer to this company. Here is a letter received from one of the companies, some part of which I should like to read:—Is it a fact that the War Office have definitely specified that in the building of huts for our troops, cut nails must be used, and not wire nails, as many hundreds of tons of Canadian wire nails are now in this Country, and with the splend d support that, that nation has given us surely Canada should not be penalised. Reverting to the question of corrugated iron mentioned in your statement, what explanation is possible of a 839 reply to at an inquiry for this material which says, 'Before quoting, please inform us whether the inquiry is for the Government or not?'One can see from the figures that are given in answer to these inquiries that if the Government do require any material, then the price is added to by a whole list of firms whose names are given in this article in the "Daily Chronicle." In these circumstances something ought to be done to see if we cannot prevent such a scandal as occurred in the last war. I suggested on Friday that it was necessary that the War Office should perform as much of this work as possible under officers directly under their own discipline and control. The "Daily Chronicle" statement as to the War Office officers is rather ominous, remembering what happened in the South African campaign and the disgraceful condition of affairs that was made public property after the war. These names are really remarkable if the facts are as stated in this journal. If they are not as stated in this journal, then someone ought certainly to contradict them, and give the accurate information at once. For instance, it is stated here that the Director of Supplies is temporary Brigadier-General Sir C. W. King; Assistant Director of Supplies and Transport, Colonel A. Long, D.S.O.; Assistant Directors of Supplies, Colonel A. H. Thomas, C.B., D.S.O., Colonel H. G. Morgan, C.B., D.S.O., Lieutenant-Colonel R. Ford, D.S.O., and Lieutenant-Colonel F. M. Wilson. The comment on these names made by the "Daily Chronicle" is as follows:—Colonel Thomas is an officer on retired pay. He was Director of Supplies during the war in South Africa. Colonel King was appointed Director of Supplies in 1903,so that he must have also had, one would imagine, some connection with War Office supplies during the later stages of the South African war.Colonel Long was Assistant Director of Supplies in 1901–2, and Assistant Director of Transport in South Africa during 1903–4. Colonel Ford had also experience in the Army Service Corps in the South African war. Colonel H. G. Morgan figured prominently as Director of Supplies during the South African war, and afterwards as Director of the Sales Department.In fact, if I remember aright, one of these men, who is now apparently put by the War Office in a position for the purpose of managing this affair and preventing the scandalous state of affairs which existed after the last South African war, is one of the chief participators in the ugly business that happened some twelve or thirteen 840 years ago. It does seem a most peculiar way of avoiding those blunders, and preventing such scandals occurring during this campaign, that you should put in charge the very man against whom complaints were then made. Of course, there may be points connected with this thing which do not appear on the surface, but, at any rate, there is no doubt that as one goes up and down the country at present one fears that there are certain elements which are using the patriotic fervour of the country and the absence of party criticism in this House for the purpose of doing exactly the thing which we protested never should occur again after the last war in which this country was engaged. While our men are defending the honour of the country with the greatest heroism abroad you find a remarkable aptitude on the part of the trader at home to get as much profit and business as he can out of the necessities of the State now that it is engaged in this struggle. A court martial with the possibility of suffering the sentence imposed upon Lody seems to be the only cure for such a condition of affairs as prevails at present. I admit it does not occur merely in this country. I understand it is the regular thing in all countries. I hope it is not the same in Germany, but in France I was informed that the woollen manufacturers, in the part of the country that is now over-run, the moment War was likely to be declared passed a resolution by which all Government orders for cloth for the soldiers were to be charged at, I think, 3s. 9d. per yard more than ordinary customers.
So that apparently you have in all countries men who fasten upon the contract system to squeeze every penny they can out of the taxpayer the moment the country is in danger; and when one watches the heroism of our soldiers and sailors and the desperate efforts which they are making to maintain the honour of the country, to think that this should be going on, that thieves at home—really that is their only title—should be using the necessities of the State for getting as much as they possibly can out of the Exchequer is one of the most disgraceful things one can imagine, and I hope that on this occasion the Government will take warning in time. We are all patriotic now. We are prepared to give the Government every facility that they ask, and trust them. But do you imagine for a moment that directly that we get out of 841 our difficulties we shall not overhaul what they are doing now, and pass judgment as to whether they have taken proper precautions to defend the public interest in this matter or not? The best thing you could do even now would be to appoint some powerful Committee. The War may last another year, or it may last two years, and I should imagine that we have nearly passed the emergency part, and it is possible to reduce things to something like order instead of the chaos that has hitherto existed. We know that they were able to drive hard bargains with the Government during the last two or three months. The necessities of the situation made it almost impossible to devote care and attention to every detail, and the Government were bound to pay, whatever the cost; but there is no necessity for that now, and I hope, when we come to the end of this campaign, we shall not have the sordid story repeated relating to Government contracts that we had during the last campaign. I have given my warning two or three times because I know something of what is going on, and I feel sure that if only the two representatives of the War Office would report to Lord Kitchener the determination of this House to see that there shall be nothing of the corrupting influence in this business, he would take all necessary precautions to see that this country is not humiliated after this War, as it was so disgracefully humiliated after the last war.
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
I entirely agree with the hon. Member. I brought this question before the House after the Soudan War, and there was no scoundrel hanged then. I saw men lose their lives by bayonets bending, by cutlasses breaking, and by rifles jamming, and I heartily agree that if anything of that sort occurs in this War it will be the duty of the House to try any contractor by court-martial, and let him suffer for losing the lives of our men. The real question I want to bring before the House is this: The Prime Minister promised us that the First Lord of the Admiralty would give us a full statement about the landing party at Antwerp. On both sides of the House questions have been asked, but we cannot get anything at all in the shape of information. I hope the fact will be brought to the Prime Minister's notice that he made us that promise.
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
No, I do not think so. I think the Leader of the Opposition asked certain very pertinent questions, and the Prime Minister said, they would be fully answered by the First Lord of the Admiralty. I think it is in the interest of the country, of the Naval Brigade, and of the Service generally, that a full statement should be made.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I do not think that would be relevant to this Bill. This Bill only deals with the future. It does not deal with the past.
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
They will have to find money for this Naval Brigade in the future. We want to know all about it.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Any questions as to the future are relevant. Questions as to what happened in the past may be very proper to discuss but are not relevant on this Bill.
§ Lord C. BERESFORD
I see the point. I have made my remarks and I hope someone on that bench will tell the Prime Minister what I have said.
Sir H. DALZIEL
I hope the hon. Member will not misrepresent me. I was not speaking of Germany, but of Holland.
§ Mr. FELL
The export to Germany has been enormous in the past and has amounted to hundreds of thousands of barrels, and the right hon. Gentleman suggested that a small portion of these 843 were now being sent to Holland or through Norway, and were reaching Germany in an indirect way. The export to Germany in the past has been enormous. This year it has ceased entirely, and a mere trifle of herrings have been sent to Holland and Norway this season. Only a fraction of the amount of herrings usually caught have been caught this year owing to the restrictions placed upon the trade. The pickled herring industry has absolutely ceased this season. It is pickled herrings only which are sent to Germany, and they are not being pickled at all this year. They are only smoking them for the markets of the Mediterranean which are still open.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. Runciman)
Perhaps it will be convenient if I say a word or two on the topic raised by my right hon. Friend (Sir H. Dalziel). We have been watching with great care the trade in herrings ever since the War broke out, and although I have no doubt that the constituents of the hon. Member (Mr. Fell) are most anxious not to supply the Germans with food, the fact remains that we have had two or three most suspicious cases of herrings passing from ports in Scotland, as well as in England, indirectly into Germany, and I am informed that there are at present three cases which are pending of prosecutions under the Trading with the Enemy Act. It would be improper to give any particulars as to these cases at present, but we have been watching the trade with great care. We found, when we had to investigate some of the cases which were most suspicious, that the export of herrings is going on rather more freely from this country to neutral countries than seemed to be at all necessary for the supply of those neutral countries, and without any objection from them I think it will be possible for us to put an end to that difficulty. Some little time ago we totally prohibited the export of herrings from this country to any countries abroad and in future we shall not allow them to go abroad without a licence specially granted. I hope my right hon. Friend will be satisfied on that point. We are controlling the traffic with much closer scrutiny than in the past because of the suspicions which have been raised. We have prohibited the export entirely. We are issuing licences in exceptional cases, and we shall only issue licences when we have absolute proof that the exports 844 are not to supply the enemy, nor to make up for stock already imported from neutral countries to the enemy.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
Oh, no, it will be done by the Government themselves. The Government have absolute control. That is why we have found it necessary absolutely to prohibit the export. I think I ought to say a word or two on the subject of the prohibition of the export of tea, and the suggested prohibition of the export of cocoa. I think I should inform the House that there is a difference in the sources of supply of these two commodities. I would ask hon. Members to bear in mind what are the supplies which are likely to reach Germany. I would point out that German supplies in the past have gone, not entirely, but to a large extent from countries over which we have no control. The goods supplied by the cocoa industry of Switzerland find a large consumption in Germany. There is a cocoa industry in Holland and Denmark, and in both cases the products are sold in normal times very largely in Germany. There has been undoubtedly a much greater purchasing of cocoa in Germany from these three sources than ever before in the history of the trade. We have had instances brought to our notice at the Board of Trade, not only of the ordinary purchases going on freely from Switzerland, but of wholesale commandeering immediately on the outbreak of the War of large quantities of cocoa in transit from Switzerland when passing through the strip of German territory just to the north of Basle. The cocoa trade is undoubtedly much more widespread than the sources from which tea is drawn. If we had prohibited the export of cocoa from this country, we have no evidence to show that we should in any degree have injured a single German cocoa drinker, whereas there have been heavy exports of cocoa from this country to neutral countries, almost exclusively, and, as far as we can ascertain up to the present—I do not commit myself as to the future—they have gone to those markets which would have been supplied from the neutral countries that have had their produce bought up at excessive prices by Germany and Austria. There has been a complete dislocation of trade, and owing to the high prices paid in Germany and Austria there have been 845 directed to these two consuming countries great quantities of cocoa that have in the past been produced in the neutral countries and disseminated over the northern countries of Europe, and to a smaller extent over the southern countries. If it becomes necessary to put a stop to this export trade, I am afraid we cannot take the advice of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Islington (Mr. Lough). It will not be possible for us to call into consultation before we take action those gentlemen interested in the business. We take the best means we can of obtaining information regarding the industry, and I can assure the House that if we see any sign of the cocoa industry in this country, either directly or indirectly, supplying the enemy, of which at present we have no evidence, we shall without the least hesitation put a stop at once to the export of cocoa from this country, and take such steps as are necessary to secure the conviction of those who have traded with the enemy.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I would like to make a couple of suggestions to the President of the Board of Trade, without desiring to criticise what he has done or is doing, and certainly with the desire that the disturbance of trade which is necessary owing to the War should not inflict any burdens that are not absolutely called for upon any traders in this country. In regard to cocoa, in the first place, I do not know what has been done, but it is quite possible that the Board of Trade have considered the question, though the President said nothing about it. He spoke of our comparatively smaller control over the cocoa trade than over the tea trade. I do not know whether he has considered what influence he can bring to bear on the sources of supply. Neither tea nor cocoa is grown in Holland or Sweden. Tea is largely grown in Java, and cocoa also is grown in the tropical possessions of other countries than our own. But I think it is quite possible that the Board of Trade or the Government might bring some influence to bear upon the supply of cocoa in its earlier and unmanufactured state. The second observation I make is that I conceive it would not be sufficient to prevent our cocoa going directly or even indirectly in the ordinary sense to the enemy. If we supply the vacuum in the neutral country created by the enemy's demand, we are enabling the neutral country to supply the enemy with more cocoa than they could otherwise. I think that point 846 is worth the attention of the Board of Trade, for it may be necessary, even though our cocoa is going to be consumed in the neutral country, to prohibit it because we should set free other cocoa. The other point I wish to bring to the attention of the Board of Trade is with regard to the prohibition of the import of sugar. Have they considered at all what their policy ought to be with regard to the importation of sugared goods? No doubt the importation of sugar was far the biggest thing. When the Government struck that blow they struck their biggest blow. Let us reinforce it with any minor restrictions we can usefully make. If the sugar goes from Austria or Germany to Switzerland to be used in manufactured goods which we then take in the form of chocolate, or whatever it may be, to that extent we defeat our own object in regard to prohibition. I do not ask any answer to these suggestions across the floor of the House, but I hope the President of the Board of Trade will give his attention to them and have them looked into.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
These prohibitions are not always exactly what they appear to be on the surface. They all play a part, and must of necessity play a part, in the conversations that take place with the representatives of other countries. It is most inconvenient for us to discuss thorn in full detail in the House of Commons. I have given a general invitation to all the trades affected by the prohibitions to communicate with us, and we shall be delighted to have private conferences with them on the subject.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
The right hon. Gentleman will see that I was not asking for greater latitude for the trade, but suggesting that there might be room for even greater vigilance on the part of the Board of Trade.
§ Mr. TIMOTHY DAVIES
I wish to bring to the notice of the House what appears to be a very serious blunder on the part of the brigadier in command of some 5,000 or 6,000 soldiers who arrived in Louth last Thursday. The special constables of Louth district were called by the police between three and six o'clock Friday morning, and told to report themselves at the Town Hall at seven o'clock, bringing with them an axe and a saw, and sufficient food for the day. Some inquired the cause and were told they were required under a military order. On 847 assembling, they were instructed to proceed to Acthorpe Wood, and there to fell trees and cut stakes of a certain length. They went without anyone in charge and proceeded with the work until about eleven o'clock, when the estate steward came on the ground and told them to stop as he did pot wish to have the whole wood destroyed. They then sent one of their number into the town for instructions, but the brigadier in charge of military declined to see him, sending a message that he would come out to Acthorpe. After the return of this messenger they waited three hours and then came away in a body, saying they would be all hung together.
Among their number were men whose shops had to be closed in their absence: builders, boot-shop managers, job-masters, drapers, jewellers, bakers, confectioners, butchers, grocers, milkmen, joiners, shoemakers, solicitors and auctioneers' clerks, a gardener, a saddler and a veterinary surgeon. Nothing was done with the stakes that were cut: they were simply piled in heaps and left there. Had it been a case of dire need, perhaps they would not have thought so much of it. They have, of course, given their oath to preserve order in the town, but not one of them was aware that they would be made conscripts. I wish to know if the military have any such authority over them, and, if not, will the Secretary of State for War take steps to punish the officer who issued the order? Is he aware that the unfortunate occurrence is likely to detrimentally affect recruiting in the district unless the matter is immediately put right? I wish to know if we can have an inquiry into the matter. I gave notice of the circumstances to the Under-Secretary, and I thought he would have been here.
Mr. SHIRLEY BENN
I wish to call the attention of the House, and particularly the Financial Secretary to the War Office, to a question in relation to recruiting. We all want young men to come forward to join as recruits, but I would point out that many of the regulations which are put for-word are preventing them. The regulation to which I wish to refer states that if a man has been married since 13th August he cannot get separation allowance for his wife. I have had a case brought to my notice recently of a man thirty-four years of age who has been twelve years in the Army, and who has two medals and seven bars. He was a widower, but got married at the end of August. He volunteered in 848 October, and when he asked for separation allowance he was told that he could not get it. He has taken his discharge. This matter has been talked of, and it is affecting recruiting. I hope the Secretary of State for War will look into the matter.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Mr. HOGGE
There is one point I wish to raise, namely, whether the War Office and the Admiralty could not give our own contractors more facilities in getting access to supply the Army and Navy with various commodities. I know that a large firm in Scotland applied to the War Office for the addresses of the various camps in the country, and they were refused these addresses by the Brigadier-General of Supplies. I understand that they were refused for military reasons. I do not know why that excuse should have been given, because it would have been perfectly possible out of quite a number of newspapers and out of the questions that are put on the Question Paper in this House to discover the addresses of those camps. But the particular firm that I have in mind is a firm which manufactures an article of purely British manufacture, British margarine, and it is very anxious to supply this article in the various ways that are open to it. I raise the point because at the same time that this difficulty is occurring margarine is being supplied to ships of the British Navy from firms in Germany, and the way in which that occurs is this: A leading firm in Holland, which owns factories in Germany, supplies margarine to the only two firms in this country that supply our canteens with this particular commodity, and the only step that the Admiralty, for instance, has taken on this point is to get a guarantee from the Dutch firm that none of the margarine that is manufactured in their factories in Germany is supplied to the British Navy. That point has just been raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham with regard to the supply of cocoa, only that the argument in that instance is the reverse of what it is here. Here you have a firm in Holland which has factories in Germany which are controlled by it, and it is actually being allowed at the present moment to supply margarine to the British Navy on the undertaking which it has given to the British Admiralty that none of the margarine actually supplied is coming from the factories in Germany!
It seems to me that that is an absolutely ridiculous position. It is perfectly obvious 849 that if that firm is able to supply margarine which is manufactured in Holland it is doing so by turning over to other customers, who previously got the supply from Holland, the article made in Germany. Our manufacturers in this country, who are making great sacrifices in all sorts of ways, particularly in the matter of taxation, ought to have ready access to the large masses of men who are congregated together, whether in our camps or on our ships, for the supplying of an article of this kind. There is another point, with regard to the circular which was referred to in this House as to the overcharges that are being made in the various canteens in the country. We were told the other day that the circular was issued under a misapprehension, and the hon. Member the Financial Secretary to the War Office was not able to tell us, in reply to a question, what that misapprehension was. But it is a curious thing that a profit on a very ordinary commodity should have been put down by a responsible Army officer, under a misapprehension, at an excess of from 200 per cent. to 400 per cent. What was the misapprehension that caused that officer to issue that circular to the canteens? Everybody will agree that it cannot be other than a shame that the men in those camps should be charged extravagant prices for anything extra which they buy at those canteens. Those canteens are supplied by a very restricted system of contract. I mean by that that the contracts are in the hands of very few people, who tan do practically what they like. It may be all right, but I should like to know what was the misapprehension which led to the issue of the circular, and I should also like to have an assurance that the men in our camps are now being supplied in the canteens with those goods at reasonable prices.
§ Mr. HAROLD BAKER
Perhaps the House would wish me to reply now to some of the speeches that have been made by hon. Members. I will begin with the incident referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Davies). This is the first which I have heard of the matter. I shall arrange that inquiry shall be made and a communication sent to him on the subject. The hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) has explained that I had no opportunity, when the question was raised, of explaining the nature of the misapprehension which led to the publication of the circular to which he has 850 referred. But I am informed that the misapprehension was purely arithmetical and that, by some accident, somebody who was not skilled in the calculation of percent ages drew up certain figures, and when the matter afterwards was investigated it was found that the statement as to percentages was not merely misleading, but was perfectly false. With regard to canteens generally, as my hon. Friend will be aware, a Central Board is to be set up which will bring about, I think, very considerable reform. There have been misgivings as to the state of canteens even in times of peace, but with all these new camps being formed and a large number of commanding officers finding it necessary to bring in contractors for this purpose, the difficulties have been complicated, and the Central Board, of which I informed my hon. Friend this afternoon, will have for inspectors fully qualified business men. This will bring about a very great improvement, and I should hope that such instances at the present moment—
§ Mr. BAKER
No; I understand that they will be selected by the Board. The hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Rupert Gwynne) raised the question of the principles on which compensation should be given under the Defence of the Realm Act. He mentioned it, as I understood, rather by way of misgiving than by way of complaint, as to anything that actually occurred. No one can ever hope that both parties, the State on one side and the property owner on the other, will arrive at exactly the same figures. At the same time, after negotiations, a reasonable conclusion is often come to where the matter has been fully considered and there is every intention of dealing as fairly as possible between the taxpayer on the one hand and the property owner on the other.
§ Mr. RUPERT GWYNNE
Can the hon. Gentleman consider whether, in the event of an agreement not being come to, some civil tribunal could not act as arbitrator?
§ Mr. BAKER
That is not provided by under the Act, and I am not in a position to give a promise at all in that respect. In reply to the speech made by the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. John Ward) on the subject of Army contracts, I think that probably he would be the very first to admit that there was considerable vagueness in his speech, and that it did 851 not attain to the precise formulation—I will not say of charges—but even of fears for the future. So far as I am able to follow him, one of his grievances was that in some instances it is said that the War Office were perhaps paying rather more than a private purchaser had to pay. That I am sorry to say is a common incident even in times of peace. Everybody, I think, will agree that a Government Department, not merely the War Office, but any Government Department, has often to pay more than a private individual. I believe that even my hon. Friend, if he himself were Director of Contracts, could not altogether guard against that occuring from time to time in the course of the many thousands of contracts which have to be made in the present emergency. In reference to the particular case which is set up in a newspaper this morning, I had become aware of the article, but not sufficiently early to inquire into it, and if the hon. Member raises this matter on another occasion, I would be happy to give him an answer. The hon. Member has referred to rumours which are in existence, but in his comments on the Supplies staff of the War Office I thought that there, again, his vagueness was perhaps carried rather too far. The hon. Member almost seemed to suggest that anyone who is in the Army Service Corps, and had anything to do with the South African war, came immediately under suspicion. I should have thought that the matter should be put the other way. The Army Service Corps is an honourable body of men, and those who were fortunate enough, or unfortunate enough, to gain the experience that they could gain from the South African war are probably more and not less competent for avoiding such evils as did occur in connection with contracts at that time.
The hon. Member went on, if I understood him rightly, to suggest that anyone against whom a complaint is made is to be treated as though he had been guilty of an offence. Very few of us could escape complaint some time or another, even private Members of this House, and I think that the hon. Member might well, especially in the present case, considering the very difficult and delicate nature of the subject, have been rather more precise as to the charges which he indicated. He spoke of rumours which he said were being widely circulated outside this House. I hope that if any hon. Member 852 knows anything definite he will communicate with me. I have been informed that there are these rumours. I have not officially or privately the slightest reason to suppose that there is any foundation for them in fact. I have, whenever they have been mentioned to me, asked for details, and when I have received such, which has been very seldom, I always entered into the matter and found that there was no such state of affairs as was alleged, and that the rumours were confused variations of something which had not happened, or that they were mixtures of various cases which set forth different transactions as though they were one. That these rumours do circulate I must accept on the word of the hon. Member and of other hon. Members who have referred to the matter. It is quite possible to suggest other causes for these rumours, but I do consider with the hon. Member that the question of contracts with the War Office or with any Government Department, and particularly in time of war, is a matter to be regarded with the utmost vigilance, and for that reason I do implore the hon. Member, or anybody else who considers that he knows something that is not negligible, and as to which he desires an investigation, to bring the matter before me without delay-so that an investigation may be made. At the same time I assure the House absolutely that I believe those rumours to be baseless, and I hope that when these suspicious stories are submitted to a sifting process it will be equally patent to other Members of the House also that they are baseless.
The hon. Member suggested one way in which we might not merely avoid possible irregularities, but might even avoid rumour itself. That was the usual remedy, that we should appoint a Committee. When in doubt appoint a Committee. I should be very glad to have any help that could be given by anyone, but I would ask the House to remember that the Contracts Branch of the War Office is a machine that is very well organised in peace and which is served by great devotion and ability by the officials at the War Office. I believe that it has been reorganised to work well in war also. It is by no means composed solely of soldiers and of permanent civilians who were there before the War broke out. A vast quantity of expert civilian assistance has been brought in, which has been of the very greatest possible value to us, and I do think that, with this civilian assistance 853 already incorporated in that portion of the work, it might hinder the work very seriously indeed if you had an inquisitorial Committee standing over them and scrutinising every contract which they had to make; contracts which the House realises had to be made suddenly, and at the same time scrutinising every contract for the purpose of seeing whether by the adoption of some other method it might not have been possible to obtain a different kind of contract. I say we should welcome, and I am sure my Noble Friend the Secretary of State would welcome any real help that we could get in this matter, and if there is any practical suggestion in regard to any form of supervision which, without impeding the work of the War Office, will at the same time put an end to these baseless rumours which the hon. Member assures me are circulated, I think my Noble Friend, as certainly I should myself, would welcome it.
§ Mr. J. M. HENDERSON
I am very glad to hear what my hon. Friend said, that he is ready to inquire into all these contracts. I am not making any charge against anybody, but this I do say, that I do not think my hon. Friend would be in a position to deal with them, because he has not the experience to enable him to do so. It is not such an easy matter, and this I do know, in confirmation of what fell from my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke (Mr. J. Ward), that there is one firm which was condemned and mulcted in heavy damages in South Africa, and it is again supplying goods for this War.
§ Mr. HENDERSON
I will not debate it here. I have never, since I sat in this House, made any statement that the House has ever found to be untrue. There is no doubt whatever, as my hon. Friend said, that there are unpatriotic people in this country who are always anxious to make what they can out of the Government necessities in cases of this kind. I am not blaming my hon. Friend or the War Office, for it is difficult, very difficult—the competition amongst manufacturers being 854 so great—to get round them. The work calls for a much more highly-trained mind than the War Office possesses, to deal with it. The time to investigate these things is not after they have occurred; the time to stop them is before they can come into operation. We all remember the Egyptian war, and my hon. Friend will not deny that in bundles of hay bricks were discovered; everybody remembers that. I desire to speak of another subject: my hon. Friend was good enough on Thursday last, in answer to a question of mine with regard to the Territorials, to say that the Army Council were carefully considering the matter of the payment of railway fares to Territorials when allowed furlough to visit their friends in remote parts of the country. That is not a subject which ought to take more than half an hour's consideration. Either you are going to allow them, or you are not. Only the other week I got a letter which shows that what is going on is not the sort of thing likely to encourage men to join the Territorials. There are a great many Territorials at Bideford, in the extreme south of England, and many have come to that camp from the extreme north. To some of them four days furlough were given in order that they might pay a visit to their friends in the north, and they paid their own fare, 40s. After reaching their homes, and after they had been there a few hours, they received a telegram that they were to come back at once, and they returned, having paid 40s. for that short piece of amusement. I should be glad if these men, when they go to their homes for only a short time could be given free passes. I am not content to accept the statement that the matter is being considered, and I think you ought to refund the money paid in railway fares by these Territorials who are serving their country. It is not the way to encourage them to say to them, "Take four days' holiday and pay your own fares," and then immediately telegraph them to come back, no explanation being given of why they are recalled after they had been sent away for a few days' holiday. I would ask my hon. Friend, before the Debate closes, to tell me whether, since Thursday, the Army Council have studied this very difficult point?
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
I think a very emphatic protest should be made against the tone of the speech in which the Financial Secretary dealt with the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke, who brought forward, so far as 855 newspaper evidence is concerned, specific cases of selling at higher prices to the Government than to private buyers. In reply to that, the Financial Secretary said that it was done in times of peace and that we must expect it to be done in time of war. The impression made upon my mind was that the hon. Gentleman practically said, that as it was done by contractors in time of peace it went on in time of war, and that it was customary to do it. I think there should be a most emphatic protest that such a statement should come from the Ministerial Benches. I have in my recollection a speech by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden) in which he pointed out that there were Members of that House interested in firms which supplied armaments to the Government, and I submit that steps should be taken to see that no fictitious price is being got from the War Office in time of war. We know what occurred in the war in South Africa, and the swindling which was perpetrated in connection with the supplies there. I do not bring any charge against the Opposition now in charge of this work, but if they are only going upon the experience which they gained in South Africa, they are the very last people who should be in charge at the present time. I hope we shall have from the Ministerial Bench in regard to this matter some rather different statement from that which has been given by the Financial Secretary. There is a minor point to which I wish to call attention. I have had several letters sent to me from parents and from different camps in the New Army asking me to raise the question of an opportunity being given at Christmas for the young men to visit their families, their railway fares being paid. I hope that opportunity may be given to them.
§ Mr. WATSON RUTHERFORD
The subject of Army contracts is, I think, one of the most interesting and profitable on which this House of Commons can spend a few minutes at the present juncture. I do not make any insinuation or charge against anyone myself, but I desire very largely to associate myself with the spirit and tone of the remarks which fell from the hon. Member for Stoke, because I think that if there is any subject that ought to be looked at dispassionately and in a businesslike way at the present moment it is this subject which the hon. Member for Stoke has brought forward. I was very sorry to hear the representative of the 856 War Office yesterday adopt the usual official attitude, which is practically this: that in his Department certain things are done in times of peace, and therefore it is quite right that they should go on doing the same things in time of war. Our difficulty is that at present we are very much muzzled, but that fact constitutes an argument why, on other occasions, there should be absolute freedom of speech in this House on subjects of this kind. So far as I know, the opinion of the man in the street and in commercial circles is that the War Office always did pay a great deal more for everything it buys than there is the slightest necessity for it to pay, that it always will continue to do so, and that as long, at all events, as it is represented in this House by the style of speech we have just listened to to-day, there is very little hope of any improvement. I happened to be personally interested in a firm in London before I became a Member of this House twelve years ago which had a contract with the War Department to send out to South Africa a large quantity of canned goods. They were ordered by a gentleman at the War Office who was shortly afterwards shot in South Africa. It was pointed out that the order was given subject to War Office conditions being complied with, and it could not be taken because it was for a large quantity to be supplied within a very short period. It appears that the War Office required that these goods, which are commercially packed, should be unpacked and put into different kinds of boxes at very great expense, and that is the reason why these articles, costing hundreds of thousands a year, and probably at the present moment is costing millions, are always sold to the War Office at 25 per cent. higher price than you can buy those goods for, if you are content to have them commercially packed. Why they should not be commercially packed I do not know, but I believe the answer is that the service wagons will only hold a certain number of those boxes if they are of a particular depth, width, and length. If the War Office want to get this particular class of goods cheaper at present they ought to alter the size of their wagons by a couple of inches, and then they would not have to pay 25 per cent. more for the goods. The difficulty about the matter is this: The hon. Member who represents the War Office told us just now that if any Member of the House can give him absolute facts, and satisfy 857 him, he was ready to do this, that, and the other. But it is of no use to mention rumours, because there may be nothing in them. In this Debate, and having regard to the fact that the Press is muzzled, I would like to put this question to the hon. Gentleman: Is it a fact that the Army is short of khaki cloth and is it a fact that the supply of that cloth is in the hands of one or two contractors, and is it a fact that they were offered large quantities of that cloth by other people, who were dismissed at once without even the discussion of the question of price because they did not happen to be those other people?
§ Mr. RUTHERFORD
I was not asking the hon. Member for Pontefract, who knows about all things. It did not occur to me that a Gentleman of his enormous information and ability was in the House when I asked the question of the War Office. These rumours are current in every smoke-room in London and in every club. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] They are current also in the City about khaki cloth. I do not suggest that it is a fact about that cloth, or about the contractors, but what I do say is that it would be a very useful thing if somebody connected with the War Office would assure the House that there was no foundation whatever for such reports. The subject of the supply of all goods which the Army and the Navy want to-day, and will want for months to come, is an exceedingly difficult one. I have been of opinion for a long time that instead of this House wasting its time as it often does in lengthy discussions about matters of political controversy we should be very much better employed if every now and then we formed a Committee of the House to go into the expenditure and outlay of everyone of the spending Departments of the State. It is particularly necessary that this very important subject of the purchase and supply of articles for use by the Forces of the Crown should be scrutinised, and, if possible, organised upon a commercial basis. We passed through the panic of the Declaration of War, and in that great emergency any price probably was justified for those articles which were wanted, but now we have settled down to face the situation, and it is time that the business capacity was introduced into that Department, and that business measures were taken with regard to every detail connected with it.
§ Mr. CHIOZZA MONEY
I venture to express the hope that additional diligence will be displayed in connection with these contracts. Never before has so much money been spent in so short a space of time. My hon. Friend thinks that under such circumstances we must expect contractors to act as contractors. It is very unfortunate that it should be so. The additional diligence of which I have spoken is all the more necessary because since this War began we have had a great increase in the number of trusts and combines in this country. My hon. Friend, I am afraid, will find it impossible in a number of cases to do other than pay the price of the combine. Take the huts which are erected. In connection with them there will be required an enormous quantity of sanitary appliances, and he will only have in effect to go to one firm for those, because, although there are many manufacturers, they are all combined in one, and therefore the price he has to pay will not be a fair price but the combine price. I confess I hardly know myself what course to suggest for the War Office in order to protect themselves under those circumstances.
Friends of my own who are builders and contractors have told me they find it impossible to protect themselves in time of peace, and I do not know, therefore, how my hon. Friend is to protect himself in time of war. I do know that the matter requires very serious consideration indeed by the War Office, and it has gone through my mind whether in such a matter as that, if necessary, it would not be found possible to apply that Act of Parliament which was recently passed and which gives the Government the right to take supplies at a fair price. At any rate I feel that at a time when we find ourselves compelled to put 8d. per lb. on tea, thereby reducing the wife's separation allowance from 12s. 6d. to 11s. 10d. at least, it is a very great pity that that 8d. should find its way into the pockets of middle-men, especially when we had it from the hon. Gentleman the other day, in answer to a question of mine, that some middle-men to his knowledge—I understood him to say—were making a profit out of the national emergency. I based my question on a statement made by the military correspondent of the "Times" newspaper, who is supposed to be a very well-informed man and is usually a very well-informed man. My hon. Friend reminds me and it is only fair to say that be was referring to county associations. I 859 am glad to think that at any rate there is no longer that screw loose, by reason of the fact that there is now greater co-operation between the War Office and those associations in order that middlemen may not be able to work off supplies to the associations.
I should like to refer also to the question of canteens. We owe it to the good offices, if that is the correct term, of one firm of middle-men that we Members of Parliament have got knowledge of a remarkable incident that recently occurred at Alder-shot. The firm which recently came before the public in rather an unfortunate way with regard to canteen contracts, sent a circular to all Members of Parliament, and I take it, every Member has received it, suggesting that the Nation should again put itself in the hands of this firm with regard to canteen contracts, and in connection with those representations it sent to us a most remarkable circular which was issued by the General Officer Commanding at Aldershot with regard to canteen tenants. This was a solemn warning addressed to those tenants pointing out that they were over-charging to the extent of something like from 50 to 500 per cent. on the articles supplied in the canteen. I thought the matter was of such importance, despite the source through which it came, that I put a question to the War Office in the House about it the other day. I was very glad to be informed that the circular had been issued by the General Officer at Aldershot under a misapprehension, and that it had been withdrawn. It is a very remarkable thing that the General Officer Commanding at Aldershot should be so misinformed as to issue a circular accusing the canteen tenants of making those gross overcharges and that afterwards that circular was withdrawn. I hope it is not too much to ask my hon. Friend to kindly expand his answer to that question and to tell us the nature of the misapprehension?
§ Mr. CHIOZZA MONEY
I am deeply sorry for raising it again, but it is incidents like that and other similar cases that have given rise to these rumours, not, I am afraid, always baseless, and which have been agitating the public mind and the newspapers at this time. If the War Office can give us any further assurance than they have given to-day with regard to 860 the expenditure of these enormous sums of money I am perfectly certain the House will welcome it.
§ Mr. HORNE
I desire to refer to the position of some Civil servants who go into the Army. In the case of those who become privates, or non-commissioned officers, a deduction, I believe, is made from their salary of 7s. per week, and that is looked upon as very fair and general to meet the situation. In the case of commissioned officers, the rule, I believe, is to deduct the amount of the Army pay from the full amount of their civil pay, and the balance is the amount which is paid by the civil authority while they are acting in a military capacity. That sum is insufficient to meet the expenses of those gentlemen while they undertake military work. Their expenses in the Army are so much greater than they would be if they remained at home that they are unable to make sufficient provision for the families they leave behind. If this was only a case affecting Civil servants, I should not have ventured to intervene in this Debate, but I find that a large number of municipalities accept the same rules and conditions for their servants as those that obtain for the Civil servants of the Crown. I find that in consequence the country is debarred from the service of a large number of very capable young men who would be very willing to give their services, but who cannot do so because of the amount of the allowances which are given to them by their employers. I think it might be worth while for the Treasury to consider whether a more generous allowance might not be made to these men, so that we might be thereby able to get a large number of them to take commissions in the Army.
I find in another place with which I have had to do that this rule has not been accepted, and that in the case of those who came forward and asked for permission to take up commissions it was calculated that those men would be saved, if they went into the Army, 2s. 6d. per day expenses or 17s. 6d. per week, and that in consequence they deduct from the civil pay or salary the sum of 17s. 6d., and with that exception the full salary is allowed to those men who also receive their military pay. That is a very fair and useful calculation, and a way to meet the difficulty. I have heard that there are suggestions for increasing the military pay of junior officers of the Army. That does not make the particular point I have raised, 861 because the more the military pay is increased, that will only, as matters stand now, mean the diminution of the civilian pay or the balance which is allowed to them.
§ Mr. C. E. PRICE
I have received a great many complaints from firms in Scotland who have sent in estimates to the War Office with regard to various items, some for motors, others for flour, and such like, and in all cases their estimates have been rejected. I think it is quite possible that the reason for this rejection has been that their prices may have been higher. I am quite prepared to accept that statement although in some cases they have intimated to me that in order to keep their people employed they sent in estimates considerably below ordinary prices. Therefore, in many cases in the letters I have received they have been under the suspicion that their estimates have not been fairly considered. I am not going to say whether that is the case or not. But let me refer to a trade which I know something about—that is, the flour trade. I think I am correct in saying that there has not been a single contract placed among the flour merchants in the whole of the East of Scotland, with the result that, owing to the great reduction of the ordinary population, a large number of the mills there are working very short time, while many of the mills in London are working night and day, The general complaint in Scotland is that they have not the same chance of getting contracts that they would have if they lived nearer London. I had a case the other day in which a miller who did a very large trade in the East of Scotland found that the man next door to him, who had been a customer for many years, was actually receiving flour from Croydon for the supply of local families. It seems absurd to send flour from Croydon to Scotland. It is only fair to say that I went to the War Office to look into the matter, and their explanation is that all bakers of bread are supplied with flour from different depots, that there may be a large supply in one district on one day and in another district on another, and they could not possibly take into consideration local demands. I think that is a reasonable explanation. I submit, however, that special consideration should be given to men who tender from different parts of the country—because this applies to many parts—so that you may be able to equalise employment better than at present. I quite recognise the principle that 862 it is advisable that flour should be supplied from different depots, and that merchants should send to those depots. But I think special consideration should be given to such cases as those to which I have referred, so that you may not have to deal with a large amount of unemployment in one district, while in another district men are working excessive hours.
There is another point with regard to contracts about which the greatest care should be exercised. There is not the slightest doubt that there is very grave suspicion around the whole question of Army contracts. I have reason to know, because I remember that many years ago a firm with which my own firm used to do business actually declined to tender to the Army because they had so many complaints which were absolutely unwarranted in fact, and they found that the reason was that there had been so much graft going on with regard to the contracts. They were asked afterwards why they did not tender, and they gave that as the reason. General Sir Evelyn Wood, who was at that time at the War Office, went to Aldershot and found that the whole of the charges made by this firm were absolutely true. I mention that to show that there is unfortunately associated with the Army in the matter of contracts very grave suspicion, and at times like the present the very greatest care should be exercised. I would even place contracts at a higher rate rather than that the War Office should be bound within too restricted limits. Sometimes a firm will send in a tender at a low price simply in order to keep another firm out.
§ Mr. PRICE
The real object is to get the War Office to decide that tenders shall be invited only from given firms. I know cases, too, where men have gone on to the Exchange to buy oats and they have actually gone in khaki. That is absurd, as everybody knew perfectly well that they would not buy at the lowest possible price. It would be ten times better even to give a civilian a commission in such transactions. It is only fair to say quite frankly, however, that while we have reason to complain about certain matters in regard to contracts, so far as the food of the ordinary soldier is concerned, men from the front whom I have seen have all declared that the commissariat is working magnificently. Many of the men say that they are fed like fighting cocks. I 863 know that in many cases our own soldiers have actually passed rations down the ranks in order to feed the French soldiers on their left and right. That shows a magnificent condition of organisation. Therefore I wish to express on behalf of many men whom I have seen from the front their hearty satisfaction with the way in which the commissariat has been worked.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
I do not desire to do more than give notice to the Government that I propose on a future stage of this Bill to put a few questions in regard to the treatment of the sick and wounded. I wish to make it quite clear that I am not anxious to make criticisms or to raise difficulties; but there are one or two matters in reference to which I think it will be desirable to have public explanations. I do not think it would be fair or useful to put these questions without notice. Therefore I thought it right to mention now that I propose to put them on a future occasion.
§ Mr. WEDGWOOD
I feel somewhat nervous in addressing the House, not being very certain of my position, and feeling upon me the lynx eye of the hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Booth). But I have my doubts whether the common informer will turn up on this occasion. I rise to bring forward a question which seems to me to be of the utmost importance. We have been told over and over again that there is very little risk of a German raid on this country. Certainly the chances are very small indeed, but even if there be only one chance in a hundred, I think the country ought to be prepared in every way to meet that raid. I know that the troops are there, and the Navy is there. The question is whether the people as a whole know exactly what they ought to do if the Germans land in this country. We have seen over and over again advice to civilians as to what they should do, given by people who have no real position to give that advice. They have learnt their lessons in Belgium or France. Public people of different description have advised civilians as to the handing in of arms or as to the different ways in which the triumphant soldiery of the Fatherland ought to be treated. It must be that the mayors of various towns in the country have applied to the Government for information as to what advice they should give to their 864 people in the event of such a raid. Has the Government told these mayors what they are to do? Has there been any sort of information given to the public as a whole as to whether or not they should fight, whether they should lie down and let the Germans walk over them, or whether they should make the best possible stand for their country. [An HON. MEMBER: "What would you do?"] I should obey orders. I know that there are many people in this country, not only men but women also, who would certainly use every weapon in their possession in order to defend their country. I am glad to hear, although it is only a rumour, that one of my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench has actually been arming his tenantry with shot guns and buck shot. That seems to me to be the right spirit in which any such invasion ought to be met. But it is the duty of the Government, not merely to arm their tenantry, but to give the country as a whole a clear lead on this subject.
In the event of a raid, are we to take it lying down, or are we to take it fighting? We know from the history of the last few months what happens to a country that takes it fighting, as the Belgians took it. We know the massacres that they suffered. But we know also that many of those massacres have taken place in villages where no armed defence whatsoever was offered. We read yesterday of the butchery in Andenne, and we have read accounts from Vise and elsewhere, all going to show that it makes very little difference so far as the punishment is concerned whether armed resistance is offered or not by the civil population: they are butchered all the same. I should be ashamed of my countrymen and my countrywomen if, should the Germans come to this country, they did not put up as good a defence for their country as the Belgian civilians did in Belgium. The risks are great. Brutality is horrible. But the risks are bound to be great in war, and the brutality of war is never confined to a semi-civilised struggle between people in uniform. All war is butchery and murder. You cannot make it civilised and decent. All you can do is to try to put an end to war altogether. To do that every man and woman in this country would have to fight if an invader landed on our shores. Therefore I beg the Government, at the earliest possible moment, to give a clear indication to the people of this country that, if the Germans land, 865 they are not expected to hand in their weapons to the nearest parish council office; that they are not expected to be only polite and civil to the conquering Germans; that they are not expected to give information to the Germans as to the movements of British troops in their neighbourhood, or to refuse information to the British troops as to the movements of German troops in their neighbourhood; that they are expected to shoot at the Germans from behind hedges and doors; and that they are not to be considered a disgrace to civilisation and society if they defend in every way possible or impossible their hearths and their womenkind from the invader. That seems to me to be the duty of a Government that is going to fight this War through. Give the people a clear lead and they will take up the challenge. The people will act on the advice of the Government, and, directly you have such a rising of men and women, you will find that a raid, whether it be 50,000 or 100,000 strong, will be, in the words of Mr. Wells, "not fought, but lynched."
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Mr. BUTCHER
I hope that before this Debate closes the Government will give a reply on the very important matter raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir II. Dalziel). The right hon. Gentleman stated that it had come to his knowledge that passports were issued in this country to naturalised Germans in order that they might be enabled to go to neutral countries; and he pointed out, with what appeared to me to be unanswerable force, that this was a certain method of enabling such a naturalised German, if he thought fit, to convey information to the enemy. I should like a reassuring statement from the Government on this point. We have passed an Act of Parliament—the Defence of the Realm Act—under which regulations have been made forbidding in the most stringent terms, as is right and proper, the conveying of information to the enemy. Notwithstanding these regulations, there is grave reason to believe that in many cases information is being conveyed to the enemy by methods which are so effectively assisted that so far the authorities have been unable to discover them. In my judgment, a naturalised German is at least as bad as one not naturalised. [An HON. MEMBER: "Worse!"] Probably worse, because he may be a traitor as well as being a German. I ask could any method be easier than for a naturalised 866 German to go and get—[Laughter.] The subject may be one for amusement by the hon. Gentlemen opposite, but, to my mind, it is no laughing matter. Could anything be easier than for a naturalised German to get this passport and then to go forward and so convey most vital information to the enemy? I should like to ask the Treasury Bench, when a naturalised Austrian applies to the Foreign Office for a passport to go to a neutral country, what inquiry is made? Is there a full and searching inquiry into this so-called British subject, as to what were his antecedents, as to what are his motives in going to Holland, and whether he is a proper person to be entrusted with a passport? I hope we shall have some reassuring statement, and that, at any rate, the Government will be able to tell us that they are doing all they possibly can in cases of this sort, and in all similar cases, to prevent information which may be of vital importance going from this country to the enemy.
§ Mr. BOOTH
I say it seemed to indicate that in every smoking-room in this country, as well as in the City of London, there was much complaint in regard to the contracts relating to khaki. The hon. Member asked whether it was a fact that one or two firms monopolised the manufacture of khaki for the country, with consequent great disaster to the State.
§ Mr. BOOTH
I am within the recollection of the House. The hon. Member asked whether the supply of khaki to the Government was not in the hands of one or two firms? The hon. Member does not dispute that. I can only say that if he had made the slightest inquiry in the trade he never would have put that question in the House. Khaki is being manufactured for the Government all over the West Riding. The hon. Member must except the smoking rooms of the whole of Yorkshire from those he mentioned to the House. Neither I nor my firm, nor any of my constituents—so far as I know—are occupied with the supply of khaki to the Government. But I happen to be a West Riding Member. My business is there. I have made it my 867 particular duty whenever I could talk with men on War Office work. I have spoken to men who have got orders. I have spoken to men who have been disappointed in not getting orders. I have spoken to men of whom it has been said that they are getting more than their share of orders, and to men who complain that they have not got sufficient. But they one and all agree in this: that the buying is keen and straight, and that no Government in the world in any of its supplies ever got better terms, better service, and better quality than the present War Office are getting in the supply of khaki clothing.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Mr. Tennant)
My hon. Friend has already given the official answer upon the subject of contracts, and really, perhaps, the hon. Member will agree that no further remarks from me are desirable at this moment. I would only like to say one word: We have had a statement from the hon. Member for Edinburgh as to how a particular firm did not compete for War Office contracts, because they are so much afraid that they may be tarred with the tar or mud that is going about. Therefore, although perfectly honest men, the man concerned did not enter the lists. The hon. Member is very desirous that we should do our best to remove the suspicions that exist in this matter. I would merely say that, in ninety-nine cases out of 100 there is no ground for these suspicions. I would make this appeal to my hon. Friends: that they should inform all and sundry that on this subject of contracts the War Office is most anxious to eliminate any man competing of whom they have the slightest suspicion. The War Office are most desirous that rumours of suspicions should be scotched at the earliest possible moment. Hon. Members would assist the War Office considerably if they informed all they can that all War Office dealings are most proper and above board, and that we are doing everything in our power to keep out of the list of contractors those against whom we have the slightest suspicion.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
And can we tell them also that they need not expect more from the Government than from a private person?
§ Mr. TENNANT
I know it is said that what is suggested there is the case; but what I would like to impress upon the 868 House is this: that I do not really believe there is ground for that statement. I am constantly being asked the question in this House: "Why was the Government so niggardly?" An hon. Member below the gangway, who is not here for the moment, asked me what we were going to do about compensation, or a kindred subject, and he suggested that it was very undesirable that the War Office should be the judge of the amount that they should give for compensation to those whose premises or land they had occupied under the Defence of the Realm Act. That is practically a charge that we are not likely to give full value. On the other side, hon. Members say that we are giving too much; and altogether it is not an easy matter to find oneself in the right. I welcome the intervention of the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Wedgwood), whom I understand from all quarters—yes, the hon. and gallant Member—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"]—who has been doing splendid work during the last three months for his country. We all welcome him. He has the root of the matter in him. In the speech he made he showed a proper spirit. As regards his question as to what the civilian population should do in the event of invasion. I must say this on behalf of the War Office: that it is our first duty—and we have a Navy for the purpose—to prevent it. In the event of an invasion taking place our duty would be to drive the invaders into the sea as fast as we can, and I hope we shall be enabled to do so. But in respect to the action of the civil population in the event of anything of the kind occurring, I would refer the House to the answer given this afternoon by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department. He answered a question addressed to the Prime Minister, and in reply he said:—My right hon. Friend the Secretary for Scotland and I, acting on behalf of the Government, have been in communication on this matter with the lord lieutenant of certain counties hi Scotland and England. The lords lieutenant have formed, or are now forming, Emergency Committees in all districts which could be regarded as exposed to possible raids. For the present, however, it is considered undesirable to make public the instructions which have been, or will be, issued.So that emergency committees are being formed in view of any danger of invasion, and instructions are being issued to the emergency committees, I think the House will agree that it would not be desirable to make public the instructions which are or will be issued. With regard to the question of passports, I am afraid that it is a Foreign Office matter to which I am 869 unable to give an answer, but I will represent what has been said by the hon. Member for York in the proper quarter.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for to-morrow (Tuesday).