§ Mr. HEWINS
I beg to move,That this House, while welcoming well-considered steps for increasing the mobility and efficiency of labour, is of opinion that it is urgently necessary that the resources of all firms capable of producing or of co-operating in producing munitions of war should be enlisted under a unified administration in direct touch with such firms.The policy which I wish to see adopted in regard to munitions of war is set forth in general terms in the Resolution which stands in my name. I want unity of administration by an authority which is in direct touch with the firms, and that the workers to be employed should be employed as far as possible in situ, and that there should be the greatest possible co-ordination of industry in regard to the position to be effected. I shall have to develop that Resolution in some detail, but I may say that my object in putting it forward is not for criticism of the Government. I shall make a certain number of observations which inferentially may be said to be critical of the Government; but what I want especially is an increase in the munitions of war, and I am totally indifferent as to who sits on the Treasury Bench so long as Ministers do the work which the country wants at the present 278 time. Why should anyone care about mere questions of party politics at the present moment? We are contemplating the wreck of the world as we have known it. Every country is affected, every institution will be modified, every treaty we have got at the present time has got to be remodelled; all party questions will be affected, and at the present moment we can only fight as well as we can to secure the preservation of those great Imperial objects for which we stand. If, out of the wreck, we can preserve that great inheritance we have had, that hierarchy of autonomous institutions throughout the British Empire—the principles of justice and the strict interpretation of treaties upon which our power has been built—we shall be exceedingly happy, and those objects are far too great for me or for anybody to raise mere party questions upon, and I am only anxious by this Resolution, and what I say upon it, to help, if I can, in solving the great problems with which we are confronted.
There are certain reflections which are exceedingly germane to the practical question of increasing production. I suppose that scarcely anything has ever been known so well as the general object of German policy during the last generation. It is not a question of whether Lord Haldane, or anybody else, has had private conversations with the German Chancellor and picked out reasons for a feeling of uneasiness in the course of those conversations. The object of German policy has been openly avowed; its tendency has been publicly manifest; the object they have had in view has been set forth in countless speeches, and I suppose that no subject of modern thought in regard to politics or economics has ever been so carefully worked out, so fully expressed, as the trend and object of German preparations. What is it that has characterised German policy? There is one broad distinction between the aims pursued by Germany and the aims pursued here. For a very long time the Germans have in all the measures which they have adopted kept in view one great and supreme object, that is, the increase of efficiency, the fighting efficiency of that country, not only in a military and naval sense, but also by the organisation of their civil, industrial, and economic life. There has never been anything in Germany or, at all events, in modern Germany, at all analogous to the way in which we have regarded those questions in this country.
279 The organisation of the industry and the civil life of the community in Germany is from their point of view, and has been for years past quite as much a war measure as the building up of their Army and Navy. I am quite certain that there are many Members in this House who have followed German policy—and they will appreciate what I say—which has been set forth quite clearly and in book after book, that when you go to war you do not go to war merely with military and naval forces, but you go to war with your civil life and your industrial life, and everything is brought in together. That Germany has carried out in the most efficient way. I should like to say that, although I think that country has certainly achieved a very great work in the last thirty or forty years, yet I am not a great admirer of German organising methods, and I do not say in the least that they would have been at all applicable to this country. I sincerely believe that the English genius for organisation is far greater than that of Germany. After all, the British Empire exists, and it is the outcome of the organising genius of the inhabitants. What I complain of is not that we have no organising power in this country—I think that is a perfectly ridiculous libel on the English people—but that in the course we have adopted we have not given full scope to that organising power.
The Germans have everywhere inquired into every trade, into all kinds of official movements, and into our social weaknesses. In every undertaking, in all the Colonies and Dependencies, we have had everywhere those people coming along; and it is not your German waiter who is the dangerous alien: it is your highly educated, suave, and pleasant-faced German that comes to our dining-table, and we are quite pleased to talk over questions between the two countries. And he has got together a vast mass of evidence at the present moment, and the German Government knows a great deal more about our social and economical organisations than we know ourselves. I do not say their knowledge is always in proper perspective, but certainly they have done their best to know all about us and our institutions, and they have done so for the purposes of war. We have not done that. It is not a party question because we have had that Government in office; it is the prevalence of certain ideas and views for a great many years, and 280 those views—I am not going into it in any detail—encouraged a sort of watertight separation between the departments of British life. To come to the immediate question. While those ideas have been prevalent our soldiers have not been encouraged to know much about our civil and economic life and institutions, and the British people have not been encouraged to study our institutions from the war point of view. I should like to bear witness to the immense and valuable work done both by soldiers and business men in connection with the problem. With soldiers' work I have been somewhat familiar for a great many years, and also with the work of business men, and one of the complaints I have to urge against the Government is, Why have they not brought to bear on the great problems with which we are faced the knowledge, capacity and skill which business men could bring to bear on them? The result of the prevalence of those views has been that all through the atmosphere of British life there has been discouragement rather than encouragement to study the concrete fighting problems with which we are faced at present. I think myself that if by any ill-chance we, through this War, lost to the sons and daughters of England their great heritage we should be absolutely without excuse. The ignorance that has caused the prevalence of the views I have indicated has been to a large extent deliberate ignorance, and you would have nothing to say to the brothers and sisters of this splendid young generation who are laying down their lives in Belgium and in France if anything went wrong with this War.
It would have been a perfectly simple matter to get a perfect organisation of our resources for the purposes of war if we had gone to work with even ordinary prudence. I put it to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that there could be no more simple problem when he was dealing with the industrial census. I think it was he himself who did so. In carrying out that industrial census, in the ordinary course of the work of the Department, he could have got all the materials together. I see that the Chancellor of the Exchequer shakes his head, but I know a little about industrial organisation, and I have not the slightest hesitation in saying that by certain well-directed questions the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or those whom he instructed to carry out this work, could have obtained at the time of the industrial census the information necessary for organization 281 for purposes of war. That was not done. I will take another point. Two years ago the Government were fully acquainted with German designs, and two years would have been time enough to deal with the whole thing, but not a single step was taken. Why were no steps taken? Why had not the Board of Trade every firm at all qualified to produce munitions of war scheduled, and the character of its productions ascertained and set down? Such a record as that could be easily kept, but I will go further than that. Two years would have been very ample time for what you wanted, but I will come to the beginning, of the War. Why was not this work begun since the War broke out? Why are we doing now in the ninth month of the War what ought to have been done in the first week? Really, the number of firms that have to be dealt with is not incalculably large. We know who they are, we know where they are, and, even if we had to conduct personal interviews with every firm, it was not a superhuman task to take measures for what we might produce in the ninth month of the War. Instead of that we are blundering along at the present moment. [HON MEMBERS: "No, no!"] Yes, I say we are blundering along. I stick to the word, and I will explain. I wish hon. Members to understand that these are reflections I must make because they are relevant to the issue, but I do not make them in a party sense. I know perfectly well that there are quite as many on the benches opposite who will agree with me as there are on my own side. It is not a question of party at all. You have got to produce these munitions of war. It is not a question of sentiment, but of the actual appearance beside you of those munitions.
Let us see what the Government are doing. I agree, of course, absolutely that when the War broke out the Government could not concentrate upon bringing into operation what we may call an ideal scheme for the reorganisation of the War Office, or any other Department. It was quite out of the question to do so. The Government had to make use of the machinery they had in being, and work it to its utmost limits. I think a great deal has been done. I am amazed, in a certain sense, at what has been done. I am not complaining of the exertions of any official of any Department of any firm upon the lines upon which they have been operating, but it is those lines which I complain of. But, if you take for granted 282 that the present methods of organisation are correct, and I do not think they are, then I think the results achieved are perfectly marvellous. I know that in recent years there has been prevalent a great deal of general talk about the inefficiency and as to the adaptability of British manufactures. I think this War ought, at any rate, to disabuse people's minds on that point. The adaptability shown by British manufacturers is perfectly amazing, and the way they have operated their works and the results they have got is, I think, one of the finest things we can look at in our history. And take the working men: I do not agree with the Chancellor of the Exchequer about the working men. I read his correspondence with the Member for Merthyr (Mr. Keir Hardie), and I think what he said did convey an impression to the public that the working men—[HON. MEMBERS: "NO, no!"] I think his expressions did, but whether that was so or not, the insistence with which the Chancellor has dwelt on certain aspects—I do not now refer to the correspondence—did convey an impression. I do not say it was his intention.
§ The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Lloyd George)
This is very important, and I will go as far as to ask the hon. Member to quote the actual words. I quoted the actual words in my reply to the hon. Member for Merthyr, and he has not replied to it—"a small minority, a very small minority." Those are the actual words I used. I said the vast majority were doing their duty loyally. Those are the words I used.
§ Mr. HEWINS
I am quite willing to accept what the Chancellor of the Exchequer has slated, and I have already said I do not think he intended the impression. There certainly has been a good deal of talk of that kind, but I think the working men of this country behaved perfectly magnificently—all classes—and I do not think the Chancellor of the Exchequer or anybody else has made out a case on the other lines. When you take all classes who have been co-operating with the War Office on present lines in producing munitions of war, I think the results achieved have been very remarkable, but you have got to consider this question, not in a comparison of our production since the War began with our production before the War, but as to the potentialities of this country and with regard to the needs of our Allies. 283 When you look at it from that point of view I think you get to a rather different opinion. I do not want to allude to this in any complaining spirit; I am only anxious, if possible, to define the problem. I am not going to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or anybody else on the Treasury Bench, to say anything or to give any information which might be of any possible use to the enemy in regard to this matter. I have come across the problem not so much from that point of view as from the information which I have received from different firms, and I say without hesitation that we are not at the present time using the potentialities of the country to their fullest possible extent. There are many firms anxious to help, and a great deal more could be done than is being done at the present time. That is the real point at issue. Are we making the most of our potentialities? I do not think we are. I am not going to—but I could—give the names of the firms with whom I have been in consultation about these matters. I am quite confident of my facts when I say that the productive power of this country is far greater than has been made use of up to the present time.
I suppose the position really is this: At the beginning of the War the German capacity of production was considerably greater than ours or that of all the Allies put together, not because their resources were greater, but because they were better organised. We have greater potentialities but they are not organised. The reason we are not organised is not to be found in the soldiers. It is not to be found in the men of business. The reason we are not better organised is entirely due to the Government. They are responsible. It is a question of policy, not of detailed application. I know enough of soldiers to know that if they had been left free to develop as they could develop, you would not have had any of the great problems which we have at the present time. I may be told that we have no problems. There I am afraid I may lay myself open again to some contradiction. But as I read the Prime Minister's speech at Newcastle yesterday, he seemed to me to say that there was great occasion for contentment. I thought it a most unfortunate remark. I thought it a most empty speech. It contained really nothing. It contained no vital suggestion whatever for dealing with the present position. I cannot think why the Prime Minister made the speech; 284 it does not do any good in the country or anywhere else. I know the case put forward for contentment—or I will not say contentment, but for leaving things as they are. The general case put forward has a good many elements of reason at the bottom of it. I think it will be granted that, ideally, we are not utilising all the potentialities of the country as they might be used. The contention is, however, that those potentialities are being made use of as fully and as largely as circumstances and conditions permit. The contention is that there is sufficient plant and machinery actually in being or in sight for supplying all the production that we want. The real difficulty is due to labour questions—the supply of labour, the efficiency of labour, the supply of skilled direction, and so on—and in order to deal with that difficulty we have the remedies of which we have heard so much. We have to deal with the drink question; we have to deal with the question of trade union rules; and we have to provide for the transference of labour from one district to another or from one works to another. That view has been expressed to me many times, I will not say by the advocates of a laissez-faire policy in regard to this matter, but by those who sincerely think that we are doing all that the circumstances permit of.
On these three remedies—I do not want to detain the House too long—I have one or two observations to make. With regard to the drink question, I do not think that it has been fully made out that drink is a cause of inefficiency on a sufficiently large scale to justify the measures which have been suggested. I have lived in, or been connected with, manufacturing districts all my life. Everybody knows that there is plenty of drink. I should be very-glad indeed to see any well-considered scheme for making people more temperate, but I do not see that by any of the measures of which I have heard so far you are going to get the result of increased temperance reacting upon increased efficiency in sufficient time to make much difference to the production of munitions of war. You may make the country more temperate and better from many points of view after the War. I will not argue about that. But if you have a great works and in that works a certain number of men who drink, the measures which have been suggested are not going to reform those particular individuals in sufficient 285 time for it to react upon their efficiency and make it possible for them to produce any more munitions of war in the next few weeks or months, as we really require. Although I think the question is of the greatest possible importance, and I myself have a perfectly open mind as to general measures for dealing with the matter—I am not prejudiced at all about that, except that I am rather against teetotalism; I have quite an open mind on the general subject of temperance legislation—I sincerely think that no case whatever has been made for upsetting the general relations of the drink traffic and those engaged in it at the present time on the ground that we want more munitions of war. It would be nothing less than disastrous to bring about the greatest upheaval that that would be in an important group of trades—something like forty trades would be affected—and there is no excuse for it in the middle of the critical War in which we are engaged.
On the question of trade union rules, my own belief is—I speak quite generally—that you have got to distinguish. People talk about trade unionism as if it were one great homogeneous institution. It is not. There are all kinds of unions and all kinds of men in these unions. I am certain that some of the rules and customs which they uphold are, as the Prime Minister said, not arbitrary rules, but really the result of inheritance. Some years ago I had occasion to trace the origin of the rules of a particular trade union connected with a branch of the steel trade, and I found that they went back to the middle of the eighteenth century. They had been gradually developed, and represented to a large extent the experience of workmen in that trade for a very long period of years. In any case, although I personally should greatly appreciate any sacrifice the trade unions would make in order to bring about greater production, I am not going to deal with a rough hand with these ancient traditions which they have inherited. You have to be very careful about that. My own belief is that it is one of the most difficult things in the world to ask working men to modify their shop rules in this country, and I would not do it except under the strongest possible compulsion. I am quite clear that you cannot make a general case against trade unions. You have to particularise. You certainly cannot do it at all without the closest possible consultation with the trade union leaders 286 concerned. I was glad to see the action taken by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in that direction, and I think he has brought about a very material improvement in the situation. In regard to the third point, the transference of labour from one works to another, or from one district to another, I think every business man will agree that this is one of the most difficult propositions. Firms will go on for years working at a loss and paying the full trade union rate of wages rather than disperse the labour forces which they have collected. You are going a long way in asking firms to break up their trade and to transfer their skilled labour from one field to another. If I may say so, I think the Government have got hold of the wrong end of the stick in trying to deal with the transfer of great masses of labour from one works to another or from one district to another.
§ Mr. HEWINS
I do not wish to convey the impression that I am in any way hostile to wise temperance legislation, or to dealing with trade unionists, or to the transference of labour: I only say that this does not really solve the problem with which we are faced at the present time. We have got to go about this matter with very great care and discretion, and I am not sure that the Government are likely to achieve the success they desire on the lines they are going at the present moment. That is the situation with regard to those three particular measures. As a matter of fact, it is not necessary for me to argue the point as to whether that presentation of the case exhausts the question, because the Government themselves by their method, admit the factors to be considered, especially the great question of the co-ordination of labour. We have what is called the Booth Committee. We have the Chancellor's Committee. We have local committees. I suppose it is a good thing to have committees.
§ Mr. HEWINS
My hon. Friend the Member for the City dissents from that view, but I am not so clear about his dissent. If you explain your position to a committee you almost invariably get valuable hints from the committee as to what to do. These Committees then are all very well, but really does the Chancellor of the Exchequer think that they 287 are going to effect what we want at present? I take the local committee. I read very carefully the speech of the Prime Minister to see whether he was going to say anything important about these Committees. He did not say anything important. If I may say so, with the greatest respect, I think the statement of the case put forward by Lord Elphinstone at Birmingham was a far better statement than that of the Prime Minister as to what these Committees are intended to do. I read the report of the Birmingham meeting in the "Manchester Guardian"—it might have been a little longer in the "Birmingham Daily Post"—but I think it was sufficiently clear as to what the functions of these Committees are to be.
I am going to propose a scheme which retains to their fullest extent all these local committees; but I really must make some observations on the description of the functions of these Committees as seen at the present moment by the Government. What about the areas A and B? The question is not a question of areas A and B; it is a question of firms and of categories of firms. It is not a question of locality; it is a question of technical organisation. Perhaps the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he speaks will explain what these areas A and B are to be, because I really do not understand when these Committees are organised what they are going to do. They are going to collect information, and collect it in a way approved of by the local committee. That is all right. That information, then, I understand, is to be transmitted to what is called by the Noble Lord to whom I have referred, the National Advisory Committee. I do not know which that Committee is; whether it is the Booth Committee or the Chancellor's Committee. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will kindly say?
§ Mr. HEWINS
To a speech reported in the "Manchester Guardian," the "Birmingham Daily Post," the "Morning Post," and the other papers. It is a speech setting forth the Government plan of organisation for the purpose of proving the supply of munitions of war. The information collected by the local committees is to be given to the National Advisory Committee, which has then to deal with it and pass it on to the War 288 Office. I do not know how many other statements are going there. What I would like to know from the Chancellor of the Exchequer is what is going to be the state of that information when it reaches the Master-General of Ordnance? Contracts are to be given out and production is to be stimulated on the basis of information filtered through all these sources from the localities, that information being collected upon a different basis Strom every locality. I cannot help thinking of what will happen when the information gets to the War Office. The War Office will have its own particular plans which have got to be revised by the Contract Department. They will find this information handed on from the National Advisory Committee. We ought to know from the right hon. Gentleman whether these contracts have to be examined in the light of that information or not, because I think it will be found that most of it will be—I will not say irrelevant, but not useful and not in a proper form. Nobody could be more patriotic than the members of these local committees, but the information will not be of that value that it might be, simply because there is not a proper chain in the organisation between the locality and the central authority.
I have studied the scheme a very great deal and I cannot see what other conclusion is to be arrived at, except that, as the scheme is explained by the "Manchester Guardian," it offends against every statistical canon of which I ever heard. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer will consult expert statisticians at the Board of Trade, I should imagine that he will find that the methods now proposed for adoption for the organisation of industry are absolutely unsound, because they violate one of the first canons of such organisation, that you must have direct contact and uniformity of organised method in dealing with this problem. I venture to say to the Government that we have also to begin to organise at the top. Let us consider the matter: The Government want to make use of the business brains of the community! How are they going to do it? I should say that taking the business world generally you will find that if you want to get all that you are going to get and can get out of the business community, you have got to put something before them, something quite definite, something which they can consider, and something on which they 289 can bring their experience to bear. I do not think it is a wise thing to go to various bodies distributed all over the United Kingdom and say: How shall we solve this problem? What you have got to do is in the first instance to say: "This is the method we suggest, will you give us your views on it?" Somebody has got to take responsibility; that is, somebody has got to know what we want, and how and where we want it, and he has to put that with perfect definiteness before the business men of the country. In order to carry that out you must have a responsible person at the head. I do not believe much in the super-man; I do not think he exists. But I did rather gather from the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that it might all boil down to a man of real concrete, organising ability, who would have the power and the will to decide questions at issue and take responsibility in the matters concerned. You must have that man; you cannot do without him. Underneath that man you have got to have an advisory committee, and the organising of the industry of the country has got to be done not on general political or general departmental grounds. The organisation and co-ordination of industry must be upon technical grounds. There is no other principle you could possibly adopt. Therefore I venture to suggest to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he has got to form a technical advisory committee. That committee—a large committee—should represent the broad divisions of the industries which are now concerned in the production of munitions of war, and you should have sub-committees dealing more at large with particular cases.
I do not want to go into this in detail, but I am quite certain that if you begin at the top with this responsible person in the first place, and your technical advisory committee with sub-committees collecting information on a proper uniform, scientific plan, corresponding with the classification of the industry, you will get on very rapidly. And I should entrust to the local committees the function of organising, helping and collecting the information; and taking account of those local variations which are so important in all these problems. There is a great deal said outside this House about a subject which comes under the question of the proper record of the information available. It is quite true they distinguish between the 290 War Office and the Admiralty, but I am not going to particularise. The impression I have got is that there is something wrong in the methods which make available the information which those Departments have, especially the War Office; that manufacturers go to the War Office especially, and they see different people at different times on the same subject, and apparently the people they see do not know anything about the other people. [An HON. MEMBER: "Sometimes they see nobody."] My hon. Friend says that sometimes they see nobody. That is perfectly true. But from what I have heard, and it comes from too large a number of sources to be deceptive, there seems to be something wrong in the way of recording and making available the information on particular cases that have to be considered. Now this Committee will not get on very far unless they deal with that question.
There are all kinds of mechanical methods—I do not know whether they are in the War Office or Admiralty—by which all the information available on any point is obtained. You have simply got to touch your bell and you get it. I have seen a form sent out to firms by Mr. Booth's Committee which I do not think is a very good form, and I would like to know what particular steps are being made to record the information, because the essential thing about all this organising which we are considering now is that it should be rapid. It has got to be done at once; you cannot take weeks and months. And it can be done at once, if the Government will adopt the proper mechanical method. I have described what I think should be the relation between the central body with its organising head and the local committees. But there is another relation, and that is between the central body and the War Office and the Admiralty. That is a question upon which I do not want to enlarge at any great length, because it would raise a number of questions which, perhaps, would be somewhat controversial, and the difficulties I know of can be dealt with quite quietly without public discussion in the House. But I am quite sure that there are some things in our present organisation at the head of affairs which have got to be altered if you are going to get on. The organisation of Departments in many ways is defective, not in relation to what was supposed to be necessary before the War began, but certainly defective for what is required at the present time, especially 291 in regard to the expert requirements in this matter, and the rapidity of dealing with particular cases.
There is another question, and it is that there should be a proper registration of firms and classification of industries. The registration of firms, I am afraid, raises a question of very great importance. One of the points on which I am instructed is that apparently the Government lose sight of their contractor as soon as the contractor leaves their offices. There are all kinds of sub-contracting going on, and I do not think the Government would give me the complete history of the way in which most of the contracts are obtained. I have come across cases where there are actually three or four intermediates between the War Office and the firms making the contracts. Please let me be clearly understood. I am not on a moral crusade or a commercial crusade at the present time. Personally, I object to this sub-contracting system absolutely and entirely, but I am not interested for the moment in the general aspect of that question. I am merely thinking of its bearing on the efficiency of the arrangements we are making in producing munitions of war. Now, it stands to common sense, that when a firm gets a contract from some unimportant person who has sub-contracted from some other firm, you will not be in a position to bring the pressure to bear on the producing firm that you ought to bring. In the first place, you have not the authority of the Government, and I cannot help thinking that a great deal of what is complained of in the non-delivery of goods which are contracted for is due to the fact that you cannot under the present system bring the authority of the Government to bear directly on the firms. I would like to nationalise the sub-contractor. I do not want to abolish him. Some of them may be making a great deal of money. I do not mind about that for the moment. But what I feel about it is this: We must know what firms we can reckon on, and how we can reckon on them, and you cannot do that under the present system. I do not believe it will be very difficult to exert an enormous stimulus throughout producing firms if that question were dealt with.
I am afraid I have detained the House at too great length. These questions of organisation are very difficult to describe in a speech, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer knows, and the description un- 292 doubtedly very often gives an appearance of complexity which the actual organisation does not bear in practice. I have not made any suggestion this afternoon which I do not know can be worked out. I know the thing is practical. I know it can be done, and I have tried to bear in mind the existing system of the War Office and the Admiralty. I do not want to interfere with people, but I do think you want that system which I have suggested superimposed on the system the Government have worked out, to bring out the results we are all anxious to obtain. After all, we have to remember this is not a mere business question of producing a certain number of goods. It is a question of saving the lives of thousands and tens of thousands of men. It is a question of having a short War or a long one. It is a question of great expense or lesser expense. All those points have got to be kept in mind. There is no class throughout the producing world in which there is not the most eager and earnest anxiety to do everything conceivable to assist in bringing about the object we all have in view, and if we get filled with that object and put on one side every other question, however attractive it may be, the one thing we have got to do is to bring this War to a successful conclusion, and leave unimpaired for our children and their posterity the great Empire which we ourselves have inherited.
§ Mr. PETO
In rising to second the Resolution, I think I can very fairly claim the indulgence of the House because of the subject of the Resolution. I do not intend to deal with this matter from the point of view of useless criticism of the past. I do not altogether in every respect agree with my hon. Friend in the exact terms in which he has so ably proposed this Resolution. I noticed recently—and I apologise if I cannot give the exact reference—a statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer which was framed in such happy words that I do not think he will question it. I am sure it is a phrase whch sticks in the minds of many people in this country. The right hon. Gentleman said, "Complacency is the rust of industry." I think that contains a very hopeful lesson to the country at the present time, and one which is certainly very much more valuable than any amount of soothing syrup that can be applied to any section of the community. I think it is obvious that if we admit, as we must admit, that there is a problem to be met—not necessarily a 293 problem which involves failure in the past, but which undoubtedly involves fresh effort, and on a different scale in the future—it is necessary to study, at any rate briefly, what is the nature and history of the problem.
My hon. Friend the Mover of the Resolution very properly, in the opening remarks of his speech, called attention not only to the scale, but to the method of the German war preparations. If you take two countries, one of whom has for years been preparing for war on the scale that it is at present being waged, and the other has deliberately and with forethought decided that there is a strong probability that if ever such a war is waged we should at any rate be outside its direct area, and that our preparations would be on a wholly different scale, it is obvious there is a disparity between those two countries. I am not going to go into the question whether our preparations were adequate or not, but we prepared for war on a wholly different scale to that adopted by the Gorman Empire. I do not want to make any factious criticism whatever as to whether the preparations for our Expeditionary Force advocated by the Government were or were not adequate, but at any rate they were not preparations upon the scale of the War in which we are at present engaged, and which we have had to prepare for from the moment the present Secretary for War took charge of that great Department. That induces me to make a remark which seems obvious and which it may be thought it is not worth while making. It in obvious with regard to munitions of war that every single gun, shell, and every single detail which was not in store and prepared for on a certain scale before the War, means one more gun shell and one more detail has to be prepared in the course of the War. It is obvious that that very material factor in considering the present problem is imposing a far greater burden upon the country in order to get level with the preparations made against it, and which can be sustained by our enemies. We should not have been faced with this burden if we had recognised not only this problem, but the certainty of a war of precisely the kind in which we find ourselves engaged at present. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in a recent utterance, said that we were up against three enemies—Germany, Austria and drink—and that he thought the third enemy was out of all proportion to the other two. I 294 think it would have been wiser to have told the country that what we were up against was a combination of our enemies and want of preparation on the scale to which I have alluded; and, in reference to the early months of this year, want of tackling the problem at the very moment this country became engaged in war.
May I now refer to something else equally apposite, and it is that at the moment this country became engaged in the present War it ought to have been perfectly obvious to the Government that in our alliance with France. Russia, Servia and Belgium the two main functions of this country were, firstly, on account of our insular position as a naval power, to prevent supplies going to the enemy; and secondly, and equally important on account of our great industrial position, to prepare and produce munitions of war of all kinds, not only in quantities commensurate with the needs of our own troops and our Navy, but for the assistance of our Allies. Those two propositions may seem perfectly obvious, but I ask if they have been fully realised by the Government. We have had varying accounts on this point from different Members of the Government, and from the General in command in France we have had authoritative statements, quite recently, which show clearly that there is still a very grave problem to meet. The prevention of supplies reaching the enemy, I imagine, will be the subject of a Debate on some other occasion. On this point I will only say what I said with regard to our preparations in anticipation of war, that it is true that the material for every single shell, or gun, or part of any munition of war that gets into the possession of the enemy oversea through whatever channel, whether through the front or the back door, means the increase of the problem to ourselves and our country, and the preparation of a corresponding munition of war by this country to meet it. Therefore, the two questions are obviously very closely connected.
We have had an announcement from the Prime Minister as lately as the 1st March indicating a new policy in that respect, and with regard to the latter part of the proposition, the provision of munitions of war for ourselves and our Allies, we have had the appointment of two Committees. At Newcastle, yesterday, the Prime Minister said that the Government had been fully alive to the gravity of this question from the very outset, and in proof of that state- 295 ment he quoted the fact that the Government had as long ago as September last appointed a Committee to fully discuss this, and at the end of nearly nine months they have appointed two more Committees. I regret that the Government have not had the courage to carry out what the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced as his intention and policy, namely, the appointment of a single man, with whatever assistance might have been considered necessary, who should have not only the authority but the control of all these questions. There is another question which the Prime Minister handled very delicately and carefully, and which it is necessary to deal with quite frankly in regard to the problem we are considering to-day—I allude to the question of the rules under which the production of war material is being carried on. The Prime Minister appealed for a temporary waiver and suspension of those customs and rules which regulate the conduct of the men to a great extent, and which very materially affect production in every industry. The Prime Minister made it quite clear that whatever may be the effect of those rules in time of peace, they were not rules conducive to the increased production of what was required by the country in time of war.
The rules relating to this problem are not new, and they are questions which have been constantly interesting every one who has been brought into close contact with production in this country. I shall deal with these factors, and I shall deal with one or two of them in some detail. I do not think, however, that they are as great factors in limiting the productive energy of the people engaged in these industries as the lessons which were taught to the great mass of our people in times of peace—I allude to such questions as those which were actually dealt with by resolutions up and down the country tending to show the people upon whom we are now depending that war is no concern of the labouring classes at all, and that their interests are altogether antagonistic to the interests of capital, and that money spent on armaments is necessarily money abstracted from the money which would have otherwise been spent on social improvement, and which in one word was said to be simply waste. We have to get over that fact, and in any consideration of the attitude of labour in one district or another it is only fair to remember that 296 some years of this kind of teaching have to be done away and obliterated before we can expect the people to look at these problems from a broad national point of view, and realise that it is essential in time of war that every single man, rich or poor, should pull together for a common national purpose. On the 15th March, in the House of Lords, Lord Kitchener made a speech which contained a remarkable passage, and which to those of us who have been for a long while, and with no great encouragement, very much interested in the problem of bringing capital and labour together, gave immense encouragement and seemed like a ray of hope, or shall I say a flood of sunshine, upon this question. Lord Kitchener said:—Labour may very rightly ask that their patriotic work shall not be used to inflate the profits of the contractors and shareholders of great industrial and armament, firms, and we are, therefore, arranging a system under which the important armament firms shall come under Government control, and we hope the men will work regularly and by keeping good time reap some of the benefits which the War automatically confers upon those great companies.The moment I saw that, which was on the day before the House adjourned, I gave notice of a question to the Prime Minister to be asked on the first day the House met so that a month might elapse, and I might get a clear and definite answer to the question. I asked the Prime Minister this question—Whether he can now give any particulars as to the method by which the extra profits to be made by the orders connected with the War placed by the Government with industrial and armament firms will be shared by the workmen who work regularly and keep good time?The reply given to me was that the Prime Minister was not then in a position to make any statement on the matter. I believe it is in that direction that the Government could do more than in any other to remove what is the greatest bar to production, and that is the spirit of jealousy and distrust which undoubtedly operates in the minds of an enormous number of the working classes. I ask the House to consider in contrast with the proposal of Lord Kitchener, which has not been carried into effect, the present system and what has been recently done. When a difficulty arose almost amounting in some cases to a strike the Government intervened, and the result of their intervention was the granting of a simple increase in the hourly rate of pay of one penny per hour and 10 per cent. in the case of piece work prices. That involves the absolute opposite to the principle which Lord 297 Kitchener laid down. His proposal was to unite the two classes and make them feel that if any sacrifices were demanded, and if any profits were going to accrue over and above the ordinary profits that would accrue in any ordinary industry in peace time, it was only fair and reasonable and right that both sides making a common effort should each reap some definite share of those profits. I cannot imagine anything more absolutely opposed to that principle than the bare granting of something additional, whether it be small or large, in the regular hourly rate of pay which implies day service and no interest in the output. It has been said that drink is one of the greatest factors in limiting output, but I think there is another very much more important factor operating at the present time, and it is the system under which payment for overtime is made. I have made very careful inquiries upon this point covering all the principal districts where this kind of work is being done, including the principal firms in such districts as Gainsborough, Ipswich, the Clyde, Tyne, Belfast, Manchester and Birkenhead. There is a broad distinction between those in the engineering trades and those engaged in shipbuilding and ship repairing; otherwise, the shipwrights. I find that in the former case the general rule is still no overtime—that is, pay for work done at a special rate, either in time-and-a-quarter, time-and-a-half, or double time, according to when it is done—until a full week's work has been put in; but in the shipbuilding trade and the other ship industries the rule is exactly the opposite. Each day is a separate unit, and as soon as the normal number of hours have been worked each day overtime accrues.
We know the Chancellor of the Exchequer received a deputation from the Shipbuilders' Employers' Federation, and that they said very strongly that this question of drink was a very large factor. I call the attention of the House to this fact. It is precisely in those districts and in those trades where there is this pernicious system, or illogical system at any rate, of paying a man overtime when perhaps he only works thirty or forty hours per week that you find the greatest complaint of bad time keeping and irregularity. The Prime Minister yesterday referred to the fact that he was informed that at some of the main armament firms as much as the high average of sixty-seven and sixty-nine hours per week were 298 worked. A very different state of affairs exists according to the evidence which was produced and sent to the Chancellor of the Exchequer at his request by the Shipbuilders' Employers' Federation on Saturday last. There we find that 36 per cent. of the men worked under forty hours per week, including overtime. The total working hours of half the men were less than forty-five hours per week, while the ordinary working hours in peace time are fifty-three or fifty-four per week. The aggregate number of ordinary hours avoidably lost during the same four weeks in March were 668,000, equal to a loss of 25 per cent. of the normal working hours. Again, I call the attention of the House to the fact that this is in the ship industry, the very industry where this system of payment for overtime by the day exists.
Taking the question broadly, it seems to me that the Government, realising the importance of the tremendous problem that we are up against, should at the very outset have organised a national war service. They should have recognised, as the Prime Minister made so clear in his speech yesterday, that men engaged in the shipyards, men engaged even in the coal mines underground, and certainly men engaged in the engineering trades, were working and doing a part of absolutely the same national job as the men engaged in fighting in Flanders at the front. It rested with the Government to lay down the conditions under which every man in the country could best serve the State and, if they had made it clear to the people of the country at the outset, I am quite sure, whatever rules they had found it necessary to make, and whatever powers they had found it necessary to take, would not only have been met and accepted without resentment, but would have been met and accepted gladly and willingly, and it would have given a sense of security to the country as a whole. They could have made their own rules, and they could have taken measures to see that those rules were observed.
With regard to the question of drink, the Chancellor of the Exchequer just now, in answer to the hon. Member for Hereford, pointedly said that he had written only about a very small minority of the workers. I do not believe that there is any disagreement in any part of the House on that question. It is a serious question, but it is a local question. I believe you can trace the cause of it to a very great extent to certain rules to which I have 299 alluded. At any rate, it is a local question, and of course it is for the Government to apply the proper remedy. If we are unable to prove to the full to our foreign critics that we deserve the name which was not kindly given to us of "a nation of shopkeepers," and if we are not able to show the full effect of our powers of production, do not let the Government label us, instead of "a nation of shopkeepers," as "a nation of drunkards." We do not want to establish a Government drink monopoly in the middle of a great war, but we want the full powers of the productive capacity of the country organised, and we undoubtedly do not think the way to do that is to introduce a revolution for which there is no demand and no necessity in any part of the country.
I want to refer to the question of the transference of labour from one part of the country to another. I have studied the Defence of the Realm Act, to which allusion was made by the Prime Minister last night, and I find that in that Act power is taken to do several things. The nearest thing in the Defence of the Realm Act (No. 2), 1915, with regard to labour, is in Clause 1, paragraph (c):—
"The Government may require any work in any factory or workshop to be done in accordance with the directions of the Admiralty or Army Council, given with the object of making the factory or workshop, or the plant or labour therein, as useful as possible for the production of war material" I do not find any powers taken by the Government under that Act to transfer in a wholesale manner labour from one factory to another, and yet I have had placed in my possession the copy of a circular letter written by Lord Kitchener on 27th March, and another of 29th March signed by Mr. George M. Booth, enclosing a form which employers of labour are required to fill up. There are in that circular letter a number of questions, not very well put together, and, as the hon. Member for Hereford said, it is very difficult to see how the replies are to be tabulated. The question I want to draw the attention of the Government to is this:—Could you release men for armament elsewhere?That seems to assume that the Government have taken the power, if the employers are prepared to release them, to say to the men, "We have originated a 300 system of compulsory civil service, if not of military service, and we can say to you, 'Never mind whether you happen to be engaged in London at the present time and have your wife and family there: we want you to go up to Newcastle, and you have got to move.'" I doubt whether the Government have taken any such power. I cannot see that they have done so in the Defence of the Realm Act, and I should like to ask whether the Committee are well advised in putting these questions to employers. Supposing an employer were to say, "I have got fifty engineers, and I can spare them, because they are engaged on civil work," I doubt whether the Government have any power to say to those men, "You move at once and go up to Newcastle."
The Government ought to look at these war questions, these national questions, entirely without any regard to their preconceived notions of what was proper before the country became engaged in war. There is no question that the scale of preparations and the co-ordination between the civil and the military side of those preparations in Germany are an enormous factor at the present time, and there is no doubt that the fiscal system under which this country has been worked is a great factor in the question of the production of certain definite articles urgently required for war purposes. I only propose to give the House one example. It is a very pertinent example, and it wants an answer at the present time. There is no harm in saying that there is a great shortage of optic glass and of all optical instruments which require lenses and prisms in this country at the present time. Only two days ago I had a letter from an officer commanding one of the Reserve battalions of what is known as Lord Kitchener's Army, in which he speaks of the very obvious hardships arising from the fact that only officers actually under orders to go to the front can get binoculars issued to them by the Government, and that any officer who wants to get a pair of binoculars so as to carry on his training duties effectively, to see the effect of this or that order, and to carry out his work as it would be carried out under war conditions, has to go to private opticians and buy them at the price charged of £8 10s. That is the present position, and it arises from the fact that there is practically only one firm in the country who can produce glass of this character for the making of these instruments. Although they are part of the 301 equipment of war, we have allowed ourselves, under our old system, to be entirely dependent upon a glass manufacturer in Austria for prisms and lenses of all sorts.
I agree that every section of the community should make whatever self-sacrifice is necessary, but the Government ought to look upon these questions with an entire disregard of any political ideas or economic theories as long as they can secure the conditions absolutely necessary to get capital invested in the different industries which are necessary for carrying on the War. There is undoubtedly a shortage of men quite apart from any question of bad time-keeping or anything of that kind. I notice that the Prime Minister yesterday referred to the fact that 20 per cent. of the coal-miners have enlisted. I want to give the House a more pertinent figure. Of about 100,000 employed by the Shipbuilding Federation, 17,000 have enlisted. Those 17,000 include 5,000 apprentices, about half of the whole of the apprentices in the shipbuilding industry. Necessarily, it is the eldest of the apprentices and those of most use who have enlisted. I make this suggestion to the Government that these 17,000 men would be infinitely more effectively employed if they were recalled from the Colours and allowed to go on with their own work here in producing munitions of war. I am fortified in making that suggestion by the report of an interview between an American journalist and a representative of Messrs. Krupp which was published in the "Times" of the 16th April. The representative of Messrs. Krupp said:—Before the War we had about 36,000 men working at Krupp's factory. Then a number of our employés joined the Colours. Our expert gunmakers have all been ordered back from the front to our plant. We feel they can serve their country better here. We now have 46,000 men working day and night by shift.Surely it is not beneath the dignity of this country to take a leaf from the book of its opponents, and, if the latter are willing to make a statement of that kind to an American journalist, it is for this Government to take note of it, and there can be no harm in mentioning it here. When anybody wants to make a loaf of bread rise they put yeast into it. I suggest that the Government, knowing the absolute need for labour to be engaged in the manufacture of munitions of war, should bring back these 17,000 men, many of whom have been actually engaged fighting in Flanders, for the bringing of them back and putting them among the 302 great mass of their fellow workmen would have a magnificent, educational and even greater effect than any number of speeches from the Government. I was speaking yesterday to a gentleman who, from his close connection with the great employers in the shipbuilding industry, must be in a position to know. I asked him what was really the greatest obstacle to the increased production of these absolute necessaries of war. He replied, without hesitation, there were two things: first of all, ignorance on the part of the workmen as to the gravity of the situation; and, secondly, the habit which they had—and he did not complain of it, it was very natural—it had arisen during long years, of putting trade union interests, or as it might be better put, class interests, first, and the difficulty of suddenly reversing that process and putting the national interest before everything. I would not care to detain the House by speaking on this matter if it were not perfectly clear that, in spite of what the Prime Minister said yesterday at Newcastle, there is a very urgent problem before us. I would remind the House of what Sir John French wrote in his last dispatch but one, the dispatch of the 5th April, published in the "Times" of the 15th April. He there said:—The power of defence conferred by modern weapons is the main cause of the long duration of the battles of the present day, and it is this fact which mainly accounts for such loss and waste of life. Both one and the other can, however, be shortened and lessened if attacks can be supported by the most efficient and powerful force of Artillery available; but an almost unlimited supply of ammunition is necessary, and a most liberal discretionary power as to its use must be given to the Artillery commanders.In the face of that problem it would not be right for me to detain the House had I not some perfectly definite suggestions to make. I mention them with all respect to the representatives of the Government, and I ask them to consider them, unprejudiced and absolutely freely, as men of the world. The first thing the Government have to do is to tell employers what they want and leave them to manage their business. Secondly, they should tell the workmen frankly what the situation is; administer truth and not soothing syrup and concealment; trust them, do not deprive them of their liberties or treat them as criminals. It is for the Government to make their own rules. First and foremost they should lay it down that there shall be no overtime paid for until a full week's work had been worked in any trade, that no war bonus shall be given except to men who have earned a 303 full week's money, and that one day's rest in every seven shall be given to every man engaged in the manufacture of armaments, no matter how urgent the nature of the employment. They should establish a national war service for all military and civil employment; they should regulate the drink question in war production areas; they should be careful not to leave the back door of the grocer's licence and the club open when they close the front door of the public-house; they should give immediate effect to Lord Kitchener's promise in the House of Lords on the 15th March, and make a frank statement at once that they propose to deal with the question of war profits and to divide them into three equal parts—one for the Government, one for the employer, and one for the workmen. They should recall all fitters, shipwrights, and other skilled men from the Colours, and increase the labour force, and put that leaven into the mass, which I am perfectly certain will make it work. They should suspend all work which employs engineers on the unnecessary production of things only required for the peaceful existence of this country. They should go back to the Chancellor of the Exchequer's original idea of a single man as director of supplies, with all the assistance necessary; they should place that man in absolute control, with power to distribute orders. He should recognise that his function is to do that, but not to manage the works in the country, and he should take the place of the multitude of committees in which this Government has sought salvation.
§ Mr. GEORGE ROBERTS
I had not contemplated intervening in this Debate, but one or two points have been advanced which call for some comment from these benches. With the terms of the Resolution I find no fault whatever. The problem contemplated in the Motion is one with which I find myself in very close accord in respect of its importance and its gravity to the State. I recognise that, unless guns and ammunition are supplied, unnecessary death and disaster will ensue. Therefore my colleagues and I are prepared to associate ourselves with any practicable endeavour in order to further the national cause and diminish death and disaster. I am not in a position to fully criticise what the Government have done. I cannot claim that intimate knowledge of the matter possessed by the two hon. Gentlemen who have respectively moved 304 and seconded this Motion. I can only say that, as far as my knowledge of organised labour is concerned, we are prepared to do all humanly possible to carry the nation through to a complete and enduring victory, and we are prepared to render full service in that measure. That has been proved not only by the speeches, but by the actions of responsible leaders of labour. Some of the observations of the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Peto) were not very tactful, and perhaps not fully appreciative of all that organised labour has contributed in this crisis. We on these benches are well aware of his customary attitude towards trade unions. That is quite a legitimate form of controversy in normal times, but, as far as I am concerned, I have sought, I believe with success, to respect the spirit of the truce throughout the existence of this War period. I profoundly regret vitally controversial questions being introduced by either one party or another. I have ventured to criticise some of those with whom I am customarily associated, because, in my opinion, they have erred in that regard. But I only mention that as proof of the fact that I think it extremely undesirable that unnecessary divisions should be aroused during this great national emergency.
Everybody is aware of the truth of the opening part of the speech of the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Hewins). Undoubtedly Germany was much more prepared for war than either this country or any of our Allies. I have had no hesitation in saying on platforms throughout the length and breadth of the land that Germany willed war and prepared for war, and that her internal organisations and activities have been devised with a recognition of the possibility of war becoming an issue. It is true that we in this country have not so contemplated events. Some of us even in recent times, though intellectually convinced that war was a probability and even an inevitability, yet had an inward yearning for peace which induced us to believe that Christian Powers would never precipitate such a terrible disaster as the one now besetting us. I am prepared to make an admission of all that to those who care to criticise it. Nevertheless, when the nation had to face the emergency we in this party joined with every other party to further the national cause, because we believed that cause was right and just. We now want to consider with every other party in the State how 305 peace can be facilitated, and particularly what measures it is desired the working classes should undertake in that direction.
It has been alleged that the drink menace has been a contributory cause to some of the disasters in the war period. I must confess that I myself have been misled by some of the utterances of Statesmen in regard to this question. It has been stated, with varying authorities, that the casualties at Neuve Chapelle need not have been so large if sufficient munitions had been provided. When I read that statement I felt that if some classes had erred in this regard, they ought to be sharply criticised and to be informed of the terrible responsibility which they have incurred. I have said that if any influence is exercised to retard recruiting or to arrest the manufacture of munitions, then on the heads of those who indulged in it must rest the responsibility for death and disaster. We have the statement of the Prime Minister yesterday, that there is no charge to be preferred against any particular section of the community Some of us were surprised at the generosity of the Prime Minister's tribute, but I think most of us are prepared to admit that the words the Prime Minister uttered can be generally accepted. As far as I am concerned, I agree with the hon. Member for Devizes that the drink question has been exaggerated out of all proportion, and that it is extremely unfair to level a charge against any particular section of the workers in this respect. If there is any section of the workers who are guilty of irregularities, I can immediately recognise that they will dislocate the productive machine, but when we analyse the conditions under which these men have been working for several months past we shall be inclined to view with a little more charity than otherwise any slight laxes that may have taken place. After all, there is a limit to human endurance. We ought, before levelling any charge against these people, to thoroughly understand the conditions of their labour in order that we may justify any such charge that we may desire to prefer. I believe that if the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for instance, instead of too often closeting himself with Stigginses, would come down and have straight talks with the working classes of the country, he would do far more good, because the working classes desire to be 306 taken into the confidence of the Government. If there is a failing, if productivity is not up to the desired standard, go to them and tell them! I know that there are some sections of the working classes who are unable to appraise great national issues. I have found some of them in some remote parts of the country almost unaware of the dimensions of the War that is being waged. They are ill-informed, not unpatriotic. Of course, we regret their indifference and their ignorance, but if we are aware of its existence we ought to take practical steps to remove it, and the best way to do that is for Ministers, so far as their arduous labours will admit, to go into the country and tell the workers, as the Prime Minister did yesterday, what is expected of them and what they can undertake in this matter.
I want in a few sentences to deal with what I thought was the gravamen of the charge preferred by the hon. Member for Devizes. He stated that the Government ought to have taken powers to sweep aside all trade union rules and regulations. The hon. Member for Hereford, who has, at any rate, a much deeper knowledge of trade unions, as we are all aware and frankly acknowledge, would not make any such suggestion. He knows that the conditions which prevail among trade unions are the result of years of experience and trial. We have built them up by great experience. They may not be logically defensible on every point, but there they are, standing the test of time and experience, constantly being modified, but they are essential to the maintenance of the working-class standards of existence. Trade unions are perfectly justified in refusing to let go of these rules and regulations unless they have an assurance that just as this is an abnormal occasion, so the relaxation shall only be temporary, and that when the War ceases they shall be restored to a position at least not less favourable than they occupied before. In the very early stages of the War I stated frankly to the House, in reply to the Under-Secretary of State for War, that the trade unions would be prepared to relax conditions and would be prepared to make sacrifices they would not think of in ordinary circumstances. That speech has been misinterpreted to my disadvantage in certain quarters; nevertheless I recognise, even now, that State existence and our national honour and integrity are something far greater than even trade union conditions, and if it be 307 proved to me that any trade union rule or regulation is a hindrance to the prosecution of the national purpose, then I am prepared to say to my fellows, "You ought to relax it in this circumstance, and you ought to contest the matter on fair grounds after the War is over."
The hon. Member attributed the drinking abuses which are alleged to have taken place in some directions to the trade union practice of each day standing on its own. The hon. Member must not think that this is simply due to the desire of the trade union member to have his freedom—that he may work one day and be off another. It is the practice of my own trade union, and I do not think anybody would care to prefer a charge against the members of that organisation. As a matter of fact, we have a very strong hold over them in respect of benefits and trade union conditions, but we have to encounter a very common practice of employers setting men off one day, giving them leave and then re-engaging them in the same week and working them throughout the night, in order to do work which, if properly provided, might have been done during the regular day hours. The hon. Gentleman must bear in mind that all these conditions exist because there is very sound reason for them, and that in most cases they are the subject of negotiations between the organised parties on both sides and are now recognised as the most desirable and practicable conditions that should prevail. I can assure the House that if any case be proved for greater restrictions on the drink trade, then support will be readily forthcoming from these benches. I want to say here, however, that I have a dread of panic legislation. Some of the sweeping proposals that have been advocated require to be watched very carefully. Some people say prohibition is the only remedy, and that it has the advantage of being logical. You may say it is quite true, so far as ordinary places of sale are concerned, that it applies fairly to all classes of the community. Of course, any such scheme never can apply equally to all classes. The well-to-do person must have facilities which are denied to the workman.
Let us try to visualise the working conditions of some classes in the community. Take, for instance, the case of the glass-furnace man. Are we going to say that that man's rational use of beer is a crime against the community and one that ought 308 to be suppressed? I have never worked in a glass furnace, but I have been round the furnaces, and colleagues of mine have experience of them. If you are going to prohibit the sale and consumption of drink, what is your substitute for it in a case like that? The real practical way of coping with this problem is to ensure that the people have pure drink supplied to them. Pure beer, in my opinion, is one of the greatest temperance reforms that could be enacted. I hope the House of Commons will not be swept into the adoption of a wide revolutionary scheme in a time of national emergency. It would have no effect on me at all, but you might create in the mind of the working man a sense of grievance and resentment that will make him discontented, and you will have him embarking in controversy to the detriment of that production which you now desire to stimulate. If there is any district in which abuse can be located, by all means deal with that district; but I regret the proposals to punish the community as a whole, because of the irregularities of a few. I trust that we shall generally approach this problem from a wise and sane point of view in order that justice may be done which accords with our great national purpose.
The two hon. Gentlemen who introduced this Motion brought forward the question of the transference of labour. Like the hon. Member for Devizes, I am puzzled as to the exact steps which can be taken under the Defence of the Realm Act. I apprehend that if the Government feel it to be really necessary for the furtherance of the War to remove groups of workmen from one district to another, they have the power to do it. They will have to be very careful in doing it, because if they are going to transfer classes of workmen they must be prepared to undertake their accommodation and their maintenance wherever they are transferred. I do not think it is a power that ought to be exercised, or that we should gain anything by forcibly transferring people. If you want to get the best out of labour you must have a ready acquiescence on the part of those who are to labour. What I apprehend is that the questions are put with a view to ascertaining what number of workers and what classes would be prepared to remove from one district to another in the event of the transference being required. If that is a correct assumption of the power taken by the Government and proposed to be exercised by 309 them, I have no criticism to offer, except that I make one reservation, namely, that I hope in any such case of transference that the condition of the worker in regard to maintenance and accommodation will be properly safeguarded, and that when the emergency has passed away he will be returned to his home without having incurred any loss or unnecessary interference. In conclusion, so far as the creation of the necessary munitions for the prosecution of this War is concerned, I am in hearty accord with any practical proposal which may be submitted in that direction. I believe I am entitled to say on behalf of Labour Members in this House that we desire that munitions shall be adequately created and that the organisation shall be suitable, in order that the duration of this War may be curtailed, because we recognise that if there is any deficiency in the number of men or in guns or in shells, then many of our people and people of all classes in the community will be wounded or killed, and if we have failed in our duty then the responsibility will, in a measure, rest upon us.
§ Mr. SAMUEL ROBERTS
I am the only Member of the House who is on the board of one of the large armament companies, and I should like to state their position. When the War broke out we, like the whole of the rest of England, were never expecting a war. We were on a peace footing. Immediately the War broke out large orders were given for guns, shells, and other munitions of war. The armament works immediately responded to the call of the Government. They put up large additions to their works and spent a large amount of money for the express purpose of producing the extra munitions required. It took time to do it, and I think I am correct in saying that a great part of this new plant is only now beginning to produce the extra munitions for which it was provided. With regard to the men, we have no complaint whatever to find with our workmen, either with the way they have done their work, night and day, or with regard to the drink question. We are absolutely satisfied. There is no grievance, and we believe the thanks of the country are due to them for the magnificent way in which they are working, unselfishly and patriotically, for our common benefit. A few days ago a good many letters appeared in the local Press from the managing directors of two or three of the armament works, and I should 310 like to read one or two passages. One is a letter from Mr. Charles Ellis, managing director of John Brown and Co., Ltd.:—The attendance and work of the regular employés of John Brown & Co., Ltd., here, since the war began, has been most praiseworthy.Mr. J. Rossiter Hoyle, the manager of Thomas Firth and Sons, entirely concurs with Mr. Ellis's opinion. There is another letter from Mr. W. Clark, director of the famous firm of Vickers and Co., Ltd.:—Since the outbreak of war, all at these works have been working at high pressure and, notwithstanding this, the loss of time from all causes has, we are glad to say, been less than in normal times, A recent return for the month of February of hours lost satisfied us that there was no undue loss of time, and this notwithstanding the long continuous hours the men were working.That speaks for itself, and I think probably the Prime Minister in his speech yesterday was correct when he said that the figures of the hours the men were working in these armament works averaged from sixty-seven to sixty-nine hours per week.
With regard to the question of drink, I was very glad to hear the outspoken speech of the hon. Member (Mr. G. Roberts). Do not let the Government make the mistake of trying to make the remedy worse than the disease. I admit there was a good deal in what the shipbuilders' employers said in their deputation to the Chancellor the other day, but I believe myself that it only applies to one class of men. I prefer not to mention them, but it is a local grievance which can be met by a local remedy. Do not, because there is that difficulty in getting the men to work full time, upset the whole of the country in their ordinary habits. I believe some of this work in our large works is so hard and takes it out of the men so much, standing before these tremendous furnaces, that a certain amount of liquor is necessary—[HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"]—to sustain them in their hard work. But whether I am correct or not, do not upset their normal habits on account of one class which I admit exists. I do not know what the plan of the Government is, but I gather that they wish—and if so we shall not oppose it—to have a certain control during the time of the War. I do not know whether their kind of control is going to be the same as with regard to the railways. But whatever the Government say is necessary, we of the armament works shall not oppose it. We are working for the benefit of the country more than for private profit. We always have been, and we know that 311 in not opposing their plan we shall not incur injustice at their hands. If they have this control, whatever it is, there must not be any injustice done to these private firms. A great deal has been said in years gone by as to bloated armament firms. I do not want to recall past Debates, but I do not think the gentleman who made those remarks at that time would make them now. If it had not been for these large private firms, in my opinion, we should now be German slaves. But thank goodness that is not going to be, and I trust that the Government in dealing with this matter will take a common-sense view of it both with regard to drink and with regard to control, and they will find that we of the armament works are only too willing to help loyally in every respect.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I should have preferred to rise later in the Debate, after hearing the observations of others who I see are anxious to contribute to the suggestions which have been put forward, but the Leader of the Opposition thought it would be fairer to the House that the representative of the Government should get up fairly early. The Debate has been a very important, a very valuable and an educative one for the country, and for the Government as well. The speech in which the hon. Member (Mr. Hewins) introduced it, like all his speeches, was very well informed and singularly able, though I regretted very much one or two things he felt compelled to say. I wish he had not said them. I think it would have added a great deal to the force and impressiveness of his speech if he could have seen his way to leave those things out; but, speaking from experience, I know that some things are most difficult to leave out. I have no doubt that to-morrow he will wish he had taken counsel and omitted them. But with the general argument which he has suggested to the House I am not in disagreement at all. I cordially approve of the Motion, but that is no reason why it should be adopted, because its mere adoption would be an indication that the Government are not doing this, and that, therefore, the House of Commons thought it necessary to pass a Resolution to call their attention to the fact. There is another criticism I should like to pass on the hon. Member's speech. He did not take into account the special difficulties which confronted the War Office on the great task before them, 312 and it is quite impossible for the House of Commons or the country to come to any conclusion upon the action which has been taken up to the present without realising what the position of the War Office was and what their difficulties were. There were special difficulties compared with other countries. Our position was that we had the greatest Navy in the World, and we depended in the main upon the Navy for the defence of our shores and also for the defence of the Empire. No party in the State has ever thought it necessary, as a party, up to the present officially, to recommend the creation of a great Army. There have been very important and influential leaders of opinion who have advocated the creation of a great Army, but no party in the State up to the present has officially adopted that policy. The policy of every party responsible for the Government of this country has been that of a great Navy and a small but very efficient Army. Therefore the machinery of the Army was adapted to its size. The Continental armies have not appreciably expanded beyond anticipation. I do not doubt that men who were not within the purview of conscription have been brought in in other countries, but I do not think there is any country in Europe at present where the number of men who are under arms would be 50 per cent. beyond the numbers which were in their Army Manuals. What is the case here? We have doubled, quadrupled and quintupled. For the first time, instead of having a small Army, we have an Army on the Continental scale. All that has had to be raised, organised, officered, equipped and provided with munitions in the course of something like eight months of war. I think it would have been more generous to the War Office, and to the marvellous work which has been accomplished by Lord Kitchener, if the hon. Member had expressed his recognition of that fact.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
It was not very noticeable. It was not over emphasised. I am perfectly certain the hon. Member is ready to acknowledge that. I will give one figure in order to show what has been accomplished. It has never been given before, and I am giving it after consultation with Lord Kitchener and with his full authority. I think there has been a good deal of discussion during the last five or ten years upon possible Expeditionary Forces. I am not aware that anyone has 313 ever recommended that the Expeditionary Force should exceed six divisions. That is my recollection. The Committee of Imperial Defence has always proceeded on that assumption, and it has always been adopted. What has happened? After eight months of war there are more than six times as many men out there fighting for this country, fully equipped and supplied with adequate ammunition, and every man who has dropped has been replaced. That is one of the most magnificent pieces of organisation in our history, and I do not believe it has ever been done before in the history of any other country. I think it is fair to Lord Kitchener that that fact should be fully recognised, and not only fair to Lord Kitchener, as he himself would say, but it is also due to those who laid the foundations of the organisation, the expansion of which has enabled Lord Kitchener, with his singular organising ability, to turn out this prodigious force, this immense force, and to equip it for the War. Therefore it is not fair to deal with this question as if some stupendous thing had not been done. No other country in the world has had the same problem to face. We have had to turn out so many more men than the other countries engaged in the War. They had only to turn out the men for whom they had provided in peace times. This country and the War Office have had to turn out six times more men than anybody in this House ever suggested would be sent abroad as an Expelitionary Force.
What is the other position? The other fact is an equally significant one, and one which I hope the House and the country will take into account. In this War more ammunition has been expended than any army ever anticipated. That is not a miscalculation confined to us. There is not an army in the field at the present moment that ever dreamt there would be such an expenditure of ammunition as has taken place. I had the privilege of seeing one of the great French generals when I was over there on this very question of ammunition, and the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hewins) may be surprised to hear that I was discussing the very policy which he has been advocating so ably this afternoon. I saw one of the ablest generals, who was in command of a very great army in the field, and he said to me:—The surprise of this War has been the amount of ammunition which we have had to expend"—314 Artillery ammunition, I mean, not small arms ammunition. He said:—the ordinary ideas of strategy were that after three or four weeks of manœuvring you would have a great battle, and that that battle might occupy a fortnight or three weeks, and, of course, there would be a very great expenditure of ammunition; and we thought that after that one or other of the parties would have been defeated. There would have been a retreat, a reconstruction, and the other army would have advanced, and perhaps after another months' time, we would have another great fight. But, for seventy-nine days and nights my men have been fighting, and firing has gone on almost night and day by these great cannons.No one ever dreamt, as he said, of the expenditure of ammunition at that rate, and it is perfectly clear that the Germans also were taken by surprise. They had to change their tactics. At first they were firing night and day, but afterwards, when I was there, they were firing at eleven and four o'clock. I made careful inquiries, and I need hardly say that I did not choose those hours for visiting the front trenches. That is one of the things which the French, the Germans, the Russians, and ourselves discovered. I will give another figure which will astonish the House, as it astonished me. During the fortnight of fighting in and around Neuve Chapello almost as much ammunition was spent by our Artillery as during the whole of the two and three-quarter years of the Boer War.
The whole of that ammunition has been supplied. There is a reserve at the present moment, but when we are criticising I think it is fair that the country should know of the prodigious things that have been done. There is another fact that has got to be borne in mind. There has been a change in the character of the ammunition. It was assumed by every army that shrapnel was the proper shell. I have heard criticism in this House of the War Office because they had high explosives instead of shrapnel, and we did not supply sufficient shrapnel. Everybody thought that shrapnel was the right thing. What has been the experience? Not that shrapnel is no use, because it has been used for some purposes, but in this special kind of siege warfare it has turned out that the high explosive is the right thing. What does that mean? I do not know that we have got to change the whole of our machinery, but, at any rate, it makes a vast difference to change the actual character of your ammunition in the midst of a war and begin afresh. This was the problem which confronted the War Office, and which they had to face. I do not say they could not have done more, but I want the House of Commons to know what 315 has been actually done by the War Office. At the beginning of October the problem was realised by France, as well as by ourselves. We had to set ourselves to meet it. The French, with the extraordinary resource and boldness which they have always displayed in every emergency, and with that agility of mind which characterises them, organised their resources. I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman at the present moment what were the results, but I have not the faintest doubt that they experienced the same difficulty which we have experienced and which the Germans have experienced. There were mistakes. A good deal of the German shell was a failure, and I have no doubt it was due to the fact that they have had to extend enormously their machinery for the output of their ammunition. They had to utilise works which up to the present were never utilised for this purpose, and they had to use men who had never turned their hands before to the production of shells. The result is that a very considerable proportion of their shells do not explode. Their shells are not so good as they were at the beginning of the War. I have no doubt that that has been the experience of everybody.
We had a Committee to consider what should be done to extend our machinery for the purpose of turning out cannon, rifles, and ammunition. I had a report from France of what had been done there. That report was presented to the War Office, and there was a Committee appointed to organise the resources of this country to the best of their ability. The experts advised that the best method of doing that was, in the first instance, to extend sub-contracting. That was the experts' opinion, as it was undoubtedly the opinion of the armament firms, and I think they gave a perfectly honest opinion. I do not believe they were doing it merely in their own interests. There was a good deal to be said for that view, because it is highly technical work; it is very difficult work, and it is skilled work. Although there are no better engineers in the world than you have in this country, these firms were without any experience at all of the kind of work the War Office required to be done. So it was thought better that the armament firms, who had got men accustomed to this class of work, should parcel out as it were the parts of the work which could be done even by inexperienced firms, leaving to themselves 316 the more difficult and more delicate work, and also leaving to themselves the putting together of the various parts. In order to show the hon. Gentleman and the House the extent to which that has been carried out, let me give him another figure. The orders thus placed in England by means of sub-contracting involved the employment of 2,500 to 3,000 firms in the production of munitions of war, either in the form of direct contracts or sub-contracts. That has been done up to the present moment. It has been done by the method of subcontracting, the great firms undertaking the supervision and the putting of the parts together; and if the contracts, which had been given out, had come up to tune, and if the ammunition and material which had been promised had been delivered in accordance with the contracts, no one would have doubted that we should have had a sufficient supply at the present moment. The difficulty has been that the contractors have found it impossible to keep up to date. Therefore we had to adopt other methods to supplement the existing methods.
It was discovered in December that the supply would be inadequate—that the contracts would not come up to time. The first effort made by the War Office was to fill up the labour deficiencies in the armament firms, because it is obviously better that you should get your men under the direct supervision and control of those who for years have been undertaking this kind of work. If, therefore, we could enable the armament firms to deliver their munitions according to contract by supplying deficiencies in labour, it was obviously better than giving the work to those who had no experience at all, and who, no doubt, would have made failures at first, and have supplied us with materials which would not have exploded and which might have caused mischief. An effort was, therefore, made through the Labour Exchanges by the Board of Trade to get as many men as we could possibly find to send to these armament firms and sub-contracting firms for the purpose of enabling them to carry out their contracts. At first that was very promising. In the first month a very considerable number of men came in. The second month did not look quite so promising, and by the month of March it was perfectly clear that we could not supply all the deficiencies of labour in these firms. That was why we were driven to the other course which has been recommended by the hon. Gentleman. It 317 would have been better if we had succeeded in obtaining the transfer of men, but that is a matter for the men themselves. There are a certain number of men who are more or less migratory and mobile. You can get them to go from Leeds to Elswick or Barrow; but, in the main, the men prefer to remain in the districts where they have been all their lives, where they have been well treated at their places of work, and where, after the War is over, they are looking forward to living and working. Very often it is the better class of workman who is most disinclined to leave his own district. We went to the utmost limit of the policy of transference of men, and we then came to the conclusion that it would be absolutely necessary to take other steps. And that is why I introduced in this House in the month of March the Defence of the Realm Bill, to equip the War Office and the Admiralty with the necessary powers for taking over engineering works. It was the second best course, and that was why we hesitated to take it until we found that it was inevitable to supply the necessary munitions, not for present purposes, but for the prospect in front of us.
The amount of ammunition which we require depends upon the policy which is adopted at the Front; and when the time comes and the armies must be increased, when the policy must necessarily be more aggressive and more active, then the amount of ammunition required will be enormously increased. Therefore, in order to supply, not any deficiency at the moment, but to supply the necessary amount of ammunition for the inevitable war policy of our generals, it will undoubtedly be necessary to adopt some policy such as that which was sketched out in the Resolution of the hon. Gentleman; and that is the line on which we have been working during the last few weeks. The speech quoted by the hon. Member from Lord Elphinstone is only one of many speeches which have been delivered by the emissaries of our Committee and the War Office in various parts of the country to manufacturers and labour leaders in those districts, appealing to them to place their works and their labour at the disposal of the Government in the case of factories which have not hitherto been employed in the output of munitions of war. That is being done. I will show the House of Commons how, up to the present, the output has proceeded. I will not give the first month of our output for reasons which will be per- 318 fectly obvious to the House. The figures which I use will be figures purely of ratio, and not the actual output. I will not give the month of August. They are very sharp people across the water and they might be able to get from that what we are getting out; therefore I begin with September. I will say that there was a considerable increase in the output for August as compared with July. But the first figure I will give will be for September. Take the figure 20 as representing our output in September. By October it went up to 90. In November it was 90 again, because the new machinery which was laid down did not come into operation until a month later. By December it went up to 156. In January it was 186. In February it was 256, and in March it was 388.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
That is purely Artillery. That is the problem. Therefore I am directing myself more or less to that problem. This means, even if you take the increased output of September, that by the month of March it has been multiplied nineteenfold, and I have no hesitation in saying that in the month of April the increase will correspond to the increase which has taken place in the preceding month. I am perfectly certain that this will gratify the House, because I so cordially agree with the hon. Gentleman when he says that success in this War is a question of ammunition. And, still more important, saving of lives is a question of ammunition, because that is the great lesson of the last great battle. The more you are able to pour shot and shell into a given area which you are going to attack the more lives you save, and success is not as costly if you have got plenty of ammunition. That is what we are applying ourselves to. We are, and have been during the last few weeks, proceeding on the assumption that to depend upon those who have hitherto had experience in turning out munitions of war, even by any process of sub-contracting and of pressing labour to go there to fill up deficiencies, will not be sufficient to meet the demands with which we shall be confronted in the course of the next few weeks, and that it is necessary for us to take the risk of organising shops which have not hitherto been employed for this purpose. We cannot expect the same success and the same perfection, but I have 319 not the faintest doubt that the great skill of our engineering trade will be able to meet the deficiency with which we shall be confronted in July and August unless something of the kind is done.
And I am very glad to be able to say that the armament firms have assisted us. They are assisting us in the organisation of shops which have not been in the business hitherto. This is the assistance which they are rendering. It takes some time in, say, a locomotive yard or in engineering works or in works which have been employed hitherto for the production of motors, to adapt the machinery and the works for the purposes for which they are now required. Arrangements have been made by the Departmental Committee of the War Office, and the Cabinet Committee over which I preside, by which men are allowed to go from these engineering works to the armament firms, and to remain there during the few weeks when the shops are being adapted, to see everything that is going on, and to acquire knowledge and experience and skill, so that they shall come back at the end of, say, six weeks, and be able to assist in converting the old shop into a full armament shop. For that arrangement we owe a considerable debt of gratitude to Sir Percy Girouard, who has taken a considerable part in organising it. That is what is being done on those lines.
I would also like to say a word about an equally important matter. Munitions are not merely a matter of turning out artillery and parts of shells. One of the greatest difficulties has been explosives. Here a Committee has been set up under the presidentship of Lord Moulton, who has one of the ablest brains in this country. The Secretary of State informs me that Lord Moulton has rendered invaluable services in the production of high explosives, and that by his energy he has now placed the production of high explosives in this country on a footing which relieves us of all anxiety, and which enables us, in addition to that, largely to supply our Allies. I think that it is due to Lord Moulton that that should be recognised. And not only are we assisting our Allies in the matter of turning out explosives, but we are assisting them in respect of other munitions of war, and I think that that is absolutely right. We should fall far short of the contribution which is due from us and from our resources as a country if we confined our- 320 selves merely to equipping our own Army and finding an adequate supply of munitions of war if we did not also supply our Allies so far as may be desirable. So we have that double problem in front of us. I think that the House will realise that there are some things which we cannot say, but I have to say that I have had very carefully to consult with the Secretary of State for War as how far we should be wise in communicating information to this House, because that means communicating it to the country and sooner or later, communicating it to the enemy.
But let me deal, very shortly, with the difficulties which still remain. I will deal first of all with the labour difficulty, and I will deal first with the most disagreeable question, the question of drink. I do not wish to dwell upon that to-day, because I shall have to do so later on, but I would like to say one or two words. To the statements which I made—I am not responsible for any others—I adhere absolutely. It is an unpleasant thing to say. It is not a thing that tends to make a man very popular later on, but I do not think that any man of responsibility has any right to consider that for a moment. My hon. Friend suggested that he had heard of "Stigginses." I do not know where. The first persons to whom I talked on this matter were an assembly of trade unionists. I hope that he does not refer to his fellow trade unionists as "Stigginses." I mentioned this matter to them before I ever saw the employers, for I saw them afterwards. The information which I had was purely official. What I did say is this. These are the actual words. I referred to the minority ofworkmen who refused to work a full week's work for the nation's cause. What is the reason? They are a minority. The vast majority belong to a class which we can depend upon. The others are a minority, but you must remember that the small minority can throw "the whole work ont of gear.That is the first statement which I made. I said that the minority are a small minority; that the vast majority of workmen were doing their work loyally, and I added this:—Most of our workmen are putting every ounce of their strength into this urgent work for the country, loyally and patriotically.6.0 P.M.
My hon. Friend could not say more than that. I have spoken twice on the subject. The second time I said that it was among a section, it may be a small section, but a very important section of workmen. I stand by every word that I said there. We 321 have got to face these facts. Every Member of the House knows that these are facts. There is a very small minority, but an important minority of workmen — as there is of every class—who cannot control themselves, and, therefore, we have to make arrangements which should be very useful to them as well as to others. I do not quarrel with the comments which have been made or the suggestions which have been put forward to deal with this problem. All I say is, do not let anybody criticise things they have not seen. The hon. Gentleman said he hoped there would be no panic legislation. I agree absolutely with the hon. Gentleman that it is better even to lose a week or a fortnight than to take a false step, and it is for that very reason we have been carefully examining every proposition, rejecting none before examination. The only way you can come to a rational common-sense conclusion is by listening to everything in the way of criticisms or suggestions, examining them all, and seeing, first, where you are going to put your foot before you put it down. That is all I ask at this moment. I do not go beyond that. I still say that the suggestion I made applied to a small minority, but a minority which throws works out of gear.
The hon. Gentleman says that compared with what happens in peace time, there was no proof that there was greater drinking. Even if I accepted his statement, it is not conclusive. Even if you had exactly the same amount of drinking among that small section, we cannot afford it now. That is the trouble. It is no use talking about there being no more drinking than under normal conditions. These are abnormal conditions, and these are times when you have to take abnormal methods of meeting abnormal conditions; but I promise the House that the Government will not approach this from the point of view of persons who wish to advance any particular idea or notion of their own. I guarantee this to the House, that when we approach the matter we shall approach it from the point of view of persons who have only one object in view, and that is to increase the munitions of war at the moment. I think the House will feel, when the time comes, that that is the way we have approached it. They may condemn the scheme, and they might think that there might have been a better one, but they will realise that we have approached it in all sincerity from that point of view alone.
322 I come now to the trade union regulations. My hon. Friend dealt with that question with greater courage than did the hon. Member for Hereford. The hon. Member for Hereford rather discouraged our efforts to relax these regulations. He talked about these honourable conditions that must not be interfered with, conditions centuries old—one started in the eighteenth century. The conditions were different. The hon. Member for Norwich met that with much greater courage. He said this was a time when regulations of that kind should be suspended during the period of the War, and during that period only. The trade unions themselves have agreed to it, and I hope no speeches will be made to discourage trade unions on the lines they themselves have agreed to follow. I can assure the hon. Gentleman the matter is very important. The question whether one man is to look after three machines or only one machine is a matter of trebling the capacity of a man. That is a very important matter when we are short of skilled men.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
If I am wrong I shall be only too glad to withdraw. The last thing I want is a dispute with the hon. Gentleman on that point. All I want to say is that I accept entirely the very courageous statement that has been made by the hon. Member for Norwich, as a trade union and labour representative. The only other point I should like to put to the House is this: I do not want to say anything about the relations of these men to the Committee, but the House would like to have information upon that subject. I ought to have said one thing that has been done. In October one of the difficulties we experienced was this: In order to supply munitions of war, everybody knows you have to spend enormous sums for the purpose of setting up machinery, and not simply to set up machinery but to set up buildings. The firms very naturally said to us, "Suppose we spend a quarter of a million on new buildings and in setting up special machinery, and suppose the War is over in six months, we could not get our machinery ready before that. What happens?" I ventured, on behalf of the Treasury, to give a guarantee that, whatever capital expenditure was necessary in order to increase the capacity of output, we would see them indemnified 323 against any loss. The result has been they have taken very full advantage of that, and incurred capital expenditure on the strength of that guarantee which, up to that moment, they were unwilling to undertake.
Now about the two Committees—first, Mr. Booth's Committee. Mr. Booth, as a man of great business capacity, is very well known. I do not know that I ever used the word "superman." The hon. Gentleman gave me credit for far more power of poetic expression than I possess. He said I used the most poetic and high-flown language in describing this man. I never knew that the expression "push and go" was considered poetical; I thought, on the contrary, it was just commonplace, commercial language. Mr. Booth, I think, very well answers to that description. He is a man of great energy and organising capacity, and his Committee is the Executive Committee for carrying out the policy, which is very largely determined now, under the supervision of the Secretary of State for War, by the Administrative Committee of which I am Chairman, and the members of which have already been announced to the House. We decide matters of policy. We cannot undertake executive work. That must be done by the War Office, and they have instructed this Committee, of which Mr. Booth is the great co-ordinating element.
I think the House will realise from what I have said that the problem is being tackled in serious earnest, and that great things have been done—I think wonderful things. Whether it would have been better in October frankly to have taken the policy which the hon. Gentleman recommends now, instead of the policy of working it through armament firms, is an arguable question. The experts at that moment came to the conclusion that it would be better to have under supervision the firms already engaged in that work. At any rate, we have exhausted the possibilities of that policy. We have now been engaged upon supplementing it by other means, and I think that the hon. Gentleman and the House may feel confident that, as the result of the work which is being done, not only shall we be able to produce munitions of war adequate to the great Armies that have been raised, but shall be able to give assistance to our Allies, There is not a word that fell from the hon. Gentleman, in the eloquent passage at the beginning of his speech, 324 that I do not fully endorse. What he said is the conviction that fills the mind of His Majesty's Government in considering this problem. We know how serious is the task in which we are engaged; we know how momentous are the issues; we know the perils to the Empire; we know the perils to human liberty that are involved; and the House of Commons may depend upon it that every effort we can put forward will be put forward, and, in addition to that, all the evidence we have had shows that every class in the community responds to the appeal which is made to them, to rally round the Empire in its hour of greatest trial.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
My hon. Friends who introduced this subject would be more than justified if they had nothing to go upon but the speech to which we have just listened. I do not allude to its eloquence or other merits, but to the information which for the first time we have been given. I was amused at the beginning of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman by the rather caustic remark—he does not think so—the slightly caustic remark, addressed to my hon. Friend the Member for Devon. Nothing shows more clearly how completely the whole tone of the House has altered, when such criticism, even as made by him, was directed to my hon. Friend the Member for Devon. If the right hon. Gentleman really wished to know how criticism should be directed against the Government, with due moderation and a full sense of responsibility, he should have come in and listened to the Debates on the timber contracts on his own side.
I wonder if hon. Gentlemen opposite realise that an Opposition at a time like this is not a very easy task. We all feel what was expressed so eloquently by the right hon. Gentleman at the end of his speech, that it is no ordinary struggle in which this country is engaged, and we are really bound to put aside all ordinary party considerations and to think only of the interests of the country. I am getting constantly criticised by my own friends, in letters, because we do not criticise the Government enough. Where are we to draw the line? My experience in this House is that you cannot have sham fights. Once you begin, it is very difficult to draw the line. Therefore we have shown always the moderation which I think was shown by my hon. Friend this afternoon. It is not a question of our doubting that a great deal is being done. 325 We have no doubt about that, though we were very glad to get the definite information which has been given us. The question really is whether everything is being done that can be done under present circumstances. The right hon. Gentleman astonished the House by pointing out that in regard to high explosives we have multiplied our supplies something like nineteen times; that is, that we multiplied the manufacture of shells something like nineteen times.
§ Mr. WILLIAM PEARCE
I do not think the manufacture of high explosive materials has been multiplied nineteen times.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I am quite willing to take the statement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and say shells, if that pleases the hon. Member better That sounds extremely impressive, but when I had the honour of speaking to one of the French generals more than a month ago, he told me that in France their output of the same class of munitions had increased thirteen fold. Ours is nineteen, theirs is thirteen, and if you take into account the difference in the industrial capacity of this country as compared with France—
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I think it is better to remind the right hon. Gentleman that it is more than nineteen; it is nineteen times what it was in September. I cannot very well give the increases of September on August, or of August on July.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
The output put either way has increased enormously, but the increase in France has been equally enormous, or has been very enormous, but if you take into account the difference in the industrial capacity of the two countries, I think what has happened in France is far more remarkable than what has happened in England. I was quite satisfied with the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. It showed that he thoroughly realises the nature of the problem with which we are confronted. I confess I was not quite so satisfied with the speech of the Prime Minister yesterday at Newcastle. He made two statements which, if they really represented the mind of the Government, would fill me with most anxious misgivings as to the future. The first of those statements was that it is a mistake to say that the want of ammunition is hampering our forces in the field. Where in the world are we, and what is 326 the meaning of all we have heard and read of for the last three or four weeks? What has happened to the colleagues of the Prime Minister? The House remembers the speech made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself in which reference was made to drink. I have not got his exact words, but I did look up to-day the exact words used by Lord Kitchener. The Prime Minister's statement is that we are not hampered for want of ammunition. This is what Lord Kitchener said in the House of Lords on the 15th of March:—We have, unfortunately, found that the output is not equal to our necessities.What in the world is the meaning of all this? I was under the impression that those statements were deliberately made by the Government in order to induce the country to realise the seriousness of the position. That was my view. I would like to make a general remark in regard to that subject. For nine months nearly we have all been hampered in a most extraordinary way as to what is said with regard to the War. It is common knowledge—I knew it not as guess-work, but as knowledge—that we were short of ammunition months ago. I ventured to touch on it very gingerly in the House of Commons, from fear of doing harm; but suddenly the thing is shouted from the housetops by Ministers themselves. I am not finding fault; but why did they do so? Obviously, as the Prime Minister said, that will encourage the enemy; but they are making it, as I think, and I think they are right, because they believe that they could not get the best out of the civil population of this country without making them realise the seriousness of the situation, and that it was better to run the risk of letting the Germans know than to keep our people in ignorance. That was what I thought. I think they were right. If that is so, does it not apply to the whole policy of the Government in regard to news? From the very beginning of this War we, on these benches, and on this Bench, and I myself on many occasions, have urged upon the Government that they were going the wrong way about this altogether, and that they ought to give us more news, and above all, that they ought to give us reliable news, so that the country might know what the facts of the situation were. That really is necessary for the very same reason that made it necessary to refer to munitions, and that makes it necessary to let the country know of reverses as well as successes all along the line. It is really necessary. You will 327 never get the civil population to realise the actual position unless you give them the whole truth, and our people can stand the whole truth. I do urge the Government to reconsider their whole attitude in this matter. Up till now the principle on which I think they have acted is that they will tell as little as they can. Let them reverse that, and from this time on say, "We will tell everything we can, even at some little risk, rather than keep the country in the dark." I see the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer shakes his head.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I am very glad. I thought he imagined I was running on dangerous ground. Let me mention one curious incident of to-day's Debate. A question was put to the War Office to-day, asking what is the number of our troops at the Front. The French have told their numbers quite frankly, but we are told it is against the interests of the country and that they cannot do it, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer conies down on the same afternoon and makes a speech and gives us the information. I do appeal to the Government, and I think it is vital, in regard to the question of labour. I think what is wrong in this country, if anything is wrong, for I have had far more to admire than to find fault with, it is that the civil population at home is not quite in touch with our Army abroad. The one way to get them into touch is to let them try to realise by bad news, as well as by good news, what is going on and what is the problem before them. This Debate has served one useful purpose—it has given us some information, and it has shown us that the Chancellor of the Exchequer agrees with every word I say. If I were he I would try and make his colleagues agree with it as quickly as possible. The other statement made by the Prime Minister to which I take exception is that it is a delusion to suppose that we have not done everything we could all along as regards this matter, and in proof of that he said, "Why in September I appointed a Committee." He has appointed plenty of Committees, and if Committees would end the War it would have been ended long ago. I am not a great believer in. Committees at a time like this. I think, if you wish to consider a thing carefully and leisurely, or even if you are dealing 328 with the House of Commons and wish to put aside all possible Parliamentary obstacles, a Committee is the best possible way to do it; but if you wish to get something done, do not set up a Committee, but tell somebody to do it and entrust him with it; that is my belief. Is it really not too strong a statement to say that they have done everything they could in this matter of organisation? Do not let the House imagine that I am forgetting the difficulties of the situation. What the right hon. Gentleman has said about Lord Kitchener's work I said more than once in this House. It was a terrible problem with which the Government were faced, and no Government that ever existed could have come through it without mistakes, and, what is more, whether hon. Gentlemen opposite believe it or not, I do not think that any Government that ever existed could have survived if there had been a really hostile Opposition finding fault with everything that they did. That, at all events, is my belief.
Just consider the position. On the 10th of March, after we had been at war seven months, the Chancellor of the Exchequer brought in the Bill to which he refers. I do not say it is his fault at all. He brought in that Bill taking powers to deal with the mobilisation of industry in a more drastic way than has ever been suggested to any Parliament in the world, and, although the House of Commons had been sitting and doing very little for I do not know how many weeks, he asked us to pass that Bill through all its stages at a single sitting. Can any one believe that that course of action would have been taken if the whole problem had been gone into thoroughly and systematically? It is not possible, and the right hon. Gentleman himself tells us to-day that in October he thought that something like that suggested by my hon. Friend ought to be done, but in the same Debate in March he gave us one reason why it was not done. He said it could be done easily in France, because France was invaded, but this country had not been invaded and therefore it was difficult to do it. That was wrong. The House of Commons the first day the War broke out would have given the same power, if asked for it. It ought to have been done long ago. What the right hon. Gentleman says about the surprise of this War in regard to the quantity of these high explosives is perfectly true. It was a surprise to the French as well as to us; but when did 329 they find it out? They found out the nature of the new kind of warfare at the battle of the Aisne, That moment the French realised what it meant, and that moment they mobilised the whole country. I see no reason in the world why we should not have done the same. I am in earnest. I do not know that there is any use in going on what has happened, and if the Government satisfy us that they are doing everything now that can be done, I will be glad to let them alone. Are they? I hope so. Certainly the speech of the right hon. Gentleman makes me inclined to think so, but even since the 10th of March everything has not seemed to me to be done in the best way. He promised us a business committee, but it was a month after before it was set up. There is the further confusion: Which is the Committee he promised?
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I was under the impression it was to be a bigger Committee, but apparently that is not so. I have got the words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which were:—We are on the look out for a good, strong business man, with some go in him, who will be able to push the thing through, and be at the head of a central committee.The War Office Departmental Committee is not a central committee. I thought that this was the Committee he referred to, and that after looking about for months and doing his best to find the best man he decided he would fill the bill best himself. If that is the right kind of Committee, you could not get better men than those who are on it. I have no mean opinion of the ability of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I have a great opinion of Mr. Booth. There are also other members of the Committee, one of them my right hon. Friend the Member for the City (Mr. Balfour). It is rather difficult to talk about him, but, in my opinion, he has intellect enough to supply the whole Committee. So that if it is the right kind of Committee you could not have a better one, But I do not think it is the right kind of Committee at all. I suppose the Government has some method; I suppose they know how these Committees are going to work; but it is rather difficult for me to understand. You have this War Office Committee with Mr. Booth. I can understand that. You have also this central Committee to buy munitions. How in the world are these two Committees going to be co-ordinated? I think 330 it is pretty difficult to understand that. I could have understood very well a Committee like a Departmental Committee at the War Office, and another at the Admiralty, with some co-ordinating Committee composed of the chairman of the other two, so as to prevent competition. But I do not understand how these two Committees can be co-ordinated.
I think there is great need of some co-ordination. I know, not as a matter of guess work, but as a matter of fact, that even now to-day the two departments are competing with each other to get the same firms to do their work. It is a fact. I was told by a member of one firm only this week that they were called upon by the representative, I forget whether the Admiralty or the War Office, but one of the two, and he said to him, "You need not come here, because my works are fully occupied by the other department. This representative said, "I have nothing to do with that. What can you make for us? We need them." That is not the way to do things. I am quite ready to agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it is easy to criticise, and that it is easy to draw up plans which would apparently work very well in theory. But I know as well as any man how difficult it is to get this work-done properly. My belief, the strongest I have on questions of this kind, is that it will not be done properly unless it is done by men who understand it. In my sincere belief the mistake which this Government have made from the beginning in this matter is that they did not realise that the task before them was so colossal, that it could not be met by stretching the existing machinery at all, but that they must bring in new machinery, and that the right kind of machinery was men trained in business, who understood precisely the way these things were done, and who would have shown the Government the way to get them done. I know it is easy to talk like that. I remember Lord Rosebery talking about a business Cabinet. I do not want to talk cant of that description. I do not mean that; but I do not believe in that kind of Cabinet. I am absolutely convinced that the getting of these things done in the best way—that is, in fact, mobilising the industry of this country—as much requires a special training as commanding our troops in the field or commanding our battleships in the North Sea. That is my belief.
I do not think it is an insoluble problem. My hon. Friend behind me was 331 rather more critical of these Committees than I should be. I pointed out to the House before what I was told by a Frenchman who knew as to what was done by France at the outbreak of War. They divided the whole of France into areas. They got representatives of the manufacturers in each area to meet them They said to them: "These are the things we want for this War—such and such things; we want you to put your heads together, and tell us how much of them you can make in each district." The manufacturers worked together; some made one thing, some another; and they got the very best results from the industry. Why cannot we work it in the same way? I spoke about this matter in regard to France once before. I was told the other day the way France is doing her business in London at this time. We have by far a greater supply of organising business capacity than any other country in the world, and there is no country which is using it less. Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman what is being done by the French Government in buying things here in England after having mobilised their own country. I was told this—I know my informant well, and I think I can take his word—by the head of one of the largest steel works in this country. He said to me, "We are making steel shells, and up to this moment—that is on Sunday—no representative of the War Office or of the Admiralty has been near us, but we have been selling regularly all this time large quantities to the French Government." He told me something more. He said that the French Government were doing it in the most businesslike way. There was a Frenchman, a steel merchant in London before the War broke out. He was of military age, and he went over to join the troops. The War Office at once commandeered him and sent him back to look after the supplies that had to be got from England. He was accompanied by a representative of the War Department in France, and my friend actually told me that when they came to London they went to the Board of Trade and asked the Board to introduce them to two good English business men who would help them in carrying out this work. He told me the names of the men who were chosen, and I know one of them. They were precisely the kind of men who could do that sort of thing. Here we find that on the advice of our own Board of Trade we have set up here in London a real business com- 332 mittee for getting these supplies, but apparently we cannot do the same thing for our own Government. I hope that neither the right hon. Gentleman nor the House will think that I have been unduly critical in what I have said. I may be entirely mistaken, but it is my honest belief that there is only one way to get this kind of thing done, and that even yet the Government are not taking that step.
§ Mr. J. M. HENDERSON
In neither of the speeches which I have heard from the other side was there anything in the nature of a practical suggestion, except that which fell from the right hon. Gentleman in the closing part of his speech. I would like to point out that it was not this country alone that did not provide or did not foresee what was necessary. Even Germany, who knew that war was coming, who practically, as we believe, arranged the War, within a few months found herself short of copper, nickel, and antimony. If she had understood and prepared, as it is said this Government ought to have done, she would not have been short of those things; but yet we know that she was. That only proves what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said to be correct, that they did not anticipate the nature of the warfare or the requirements of ammunition. I wish to make two or three practical suggestions to help these Committees in the work they have to do. The right hon. Gentleman referred to French contracts for munitions of war. I know something about them, because I have supplied the French Government itself with a very large amount of a particular article which is necessary, namely, telephone wire. At the same time the business with which I am connected has also supplied the Admiralty and the War Office, and all I know is that the methods of the English War Office and Admiralty are quite as good as, if not a little better than, the French methods. But there are one or two points to which I think these Committees might very well address their attention.
I might say in confirmation of what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said, that it struck me that this Motion was a little belated. I know as a matter of fact that since months ago the War Office and Admiralty have been in communication with engineering firms all over England and Scotland, and that some time ago they took over the works of a large engineering firm in the North; so that I know 333 what I am talking about. One big engineering firm as far back as December had an order for over a million pounds worth of goods, and the War Office to my knowledge have had men going to all the engineering works to see in what direction they could utilise their machinery for the purpose of meeting the demands that were being made upon them. A great many contracts and sub-contracts have been entered into both by Messrs. Vickers and by Messrs. Armstrong, Whitworth and Company. To complain that the Government did not foresee all these difficulties is, I think, a little unreasonable. If there has been a want of preparation, if the Government ought to have foreseen some months ago what was necessary, why did not right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite say anything about it? The hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Hewins) certainly would have been the man to say something, but he evidently knew nothing about it. At all events, he did not say a word in this House. It is all very well to make ex post facto criticism. You can always do it. As they say in the City, it is a very easy thing to job back.
I wish to offer one or two fair suggestions for improvement in this matter. Where there has been a great delay of munitions is in holding up the raw material, which has taken place at Liverpool particularly, owing to the dock strike and the congestion there. Everybody who knows anything about ammunition knows that the most important thing, almost as important as gold itself, is copper. You cannot make a shell without a copper ring. For a shrapnel shell you must have not only a copper ring, but a brass time fuse. Copper was held up owing to the strike. Ships with tons of copper on board arrived at Liverpool in February, and deliveries began in the middle of March. I have one case particularly here where a considerable quantity of copper arrived in January, and the manufacturers could not get the copper out until between the 9th and 15th of March. What I would suggest to the Government is to see what copper is on hand. There should be no difficulty in ascertaining from the ships' manifests what there is on board any ships that come from America, where the principal supply comes from. If there is earmarked 150 or 200 tons of copper on any particular ship, that copper should be got out at once, and placed at the service of the munition makers. Benches are idle because shells cannot be completed, and 334 the rings cannot be made because copper is wanted. The same applies to telephone wires. On the subject of copper, I should like to say another thing. The right hon. Gentleman, on behalf of the Government, stopped gambling speculation on the Stock Exchange. I should like the Government to stop gambling and speculation on the metal markets. You can take it from me that there is very great danger; there is a very great deal of speculation going on in copper, in lead, in antimony, and—where it is possible—in nickel, not, perhaps, so much in the latter metal; but there is great danger of speculation in copper. I should like the Government to take full note of this, and put a step to it, as they put a stop to speculation on the Stock Exchange. There is also a good deal of speculation going on in the Colonial market.
One other point, and that is with regard to the drink question. I do not want to touch upon the question, except to this small extent: I believe a good deal of the trouble is caused by the fact that these men, working hard, and working late, have no means of refreshing themselves without going out of the factory. Where canteens are established, I believe that there is very little drinking. At all events no excessive drinking. I was very much struck on the night of Bank Holiday on going into the refreshment room at Euston Station. I can remember very well what the condition of things was in the Boer War. There was a good deal of drunkenness at all the railway stations where there was drink for sale. I was very much struck on the night I refer to, on looking down that bar at Euston, and seeing soldiers drinking tea and coffee. In only one case out of the whole lot did I see men drinking whisky. If you supply the factories and engine-shops with tea, coffee, and other refreshments, other than spirits—or a certain amount of beer if necessary—without the men having to go outside the bounds of the shop, on late nights particularly and early mornings, I think it would be a very good thing, and save a good deal of unnecessary excess. There is a third point that I should like the Committee to insist upon. At Liverpool and all the other docks where these metals are delivered they should be promptly got out and delivered. Special efforts should be made to do this so that the metals can be got into the factories, and thus a considerable amount of time will be saved. The same observation applies to the metal exchanges. I am very sorry to say it, but I 335 am perfectly certain there is a great deal of speculation going on in these metals which are absolutely necessary for us.
The last point I would refer to is in regard to ship-building. Why cannot the Government say: "'Stop all other shipbuilding other than naval shipbuilding!' if the whole of the men employed on mercantile marine shipbuilding can be taken off and put on to naval shipbuilding where it is necessary?" They have power to do it under the Defence of the Realm Act. I would suggest that they should do it. It would be a very great pity if this Motion were to go to a Division; in fact, I do not think it will. As a matter of fact, it only asks the Government to do what, to my certain and personal knowledge, they have been doing to a very, very great extent, and very thoroughly, except for some details. The country can hardly expect any Government to carry out these things without some slight mistakes. It requires an enormous organisation to meet this great demand. I believe the Government are trying to do it. I have come into contact with a great many of the officials. I have not had very much difficulty in getting at the right man, and I have found always courtesy and attention to the business when I have got to the right man. There may be trouble sometimes in getting to the right man. I do not wonder at it. No establishment could have gone through this enormous expansion without some amount of disorganisation, however large, however strong it might be. But I am quite sure—for I know—that what this Motion asks to be done is being done, has been done, and will be done with the assistance of every engine shop and engineer in the country. I particularly ask that the getting of the necessary metals should be expedited; and that the speculation on the Metal Exchange that I have referred to should be stopped, so that the proper progress may be made in our manufacture of munitions of war.
§ Mr. ERNEST JARDINE
The hon. Member who has just sat down asked why no one on this side pointed out to the Government the necessity of different methods being used to get munitions of war and equipment than have been used. In answer to that, I should like to say, as a member of the Estimates Committee, that the Committee as its work last year took up the War Office Vote. It became, I believe, quite clear—and the evidence of 336 the Committee is available—and the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down is a member of that Committee—that the methods used by the War Office in the purchase, the receiving, the examination, and the viewing of goods, and the expediting or reforwarding of goods was absolutely archaic, absolutely impossible, and would not be carried on by any business house anywhere. The tender form was full of conditions. Condition after condition has been piled on by official after official, year by year, as to make the tender form such that either one had to be on the very best terms with someone at the War Office, or one had to offer an extortionate price, or one was compelled to square someone to receive goods. It was made clear to the Estimates Committee that the conditions were impossible.
In the matter of receiving goods, we went to a dockyard, and found there the goods that were being delivered to a great nation's warehouse. They were being delivered by a tradesman's cart—not by rail, but by cart. The viewing was done by a man who was hidden behind bales, or behind tins. Some things clearly would be viewed hyper-critically, and others, in all probability—though I had no proof of this—would not be viewed at all. As for getting the goods out, one of the witnesses was asked, "How would you get goods out in case of war, and are you aware that goods were not got out properly at the time of the Boer war." He replied, "There would be nothing like the pressure in a European war that there was in the time of the Boer war." All this was made quite clear to the Estimates Committee, the only body connected with this House. I do not think a single member of the Estimates Committee thought otherwise than the impossibility of the existing methods of buying goods, viewing, receiving, and sending them out, or that it would be possible to deal with a great war on these lines. What did the Government do? What would have been the simple thing for the War Office to have done?
It appears to me that it would have been quite a simple thing to have gone to the Chairman of the Estimates Committee and to have said, "We want help; can you help us in any way, or have you any suggestion to make?" taking into account that the Estimates Committee was the only outside body that the War Office could consult. Did the War Office consult 337 that Committee? Nothing of the kind. I know one member who went to the War Office—being a man who employs between 2,000 and 3,000 persons—and pointed out to the officials at the War Office that he was prepared to give up the whole of his business, the whole of his time, without pay and without any kind of fame or honour, in order to help to clear up the inevitable mess there would be in getting equipment and supply. Nothing was done. The hon. Member has asked why someone on this side did not point out these things earlier. I pointed these matters out to the War Office soon after the declaration of War. It is necessary to say these things. They cannot help the enemy. By reading the speech of the Prime Minister, and hearing the cheerfully optimistic speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, one would be inclined to think that all was quite well. I do not want to weary the House with a number of cases, but I will take one. Let us see how the War Office do buy things. I will give the case of a friend of mine.
He was attending a patriotic meeting, and his wife came to him and said: "There is a telegram for you at the Post Office from the War Office; they cannot deliver it because it is ten o'clock and they close at eight o'clock; if you call they will give it to you." My friend went. The telegram was an inquiry from the War Office for a certain quantity of a certain article. He went to his manager, and he went to his cost clerk. By three o'clock the following morning they had got out the estimate for those goods, and had telegraphed the quantities and the prices to the War Office. Eight days after my friend got a tender from the War Office for those articles, asking him to tender. Incidentally, the size written on the tender form was the wrong size of the article, but my friend knew what the War Office wanted, and he quoted it. Some days after he got an order. He got with the order a sealed pattern, and the sealed pattern had to be returned intact after being shown. It was necessary that the pattern should be taken to pieces, and it took my friend a fortnight to get a second one from the War Office. He told them it was absolutely necessary before he could commence manufacture. He got the second pattern with definite instructions that it was not to be touched; that it must be returned whole, under seal. Very properly my friend simply ripped up the piece and got the information he wanted, and in due course delivered the 338 goods in batches. The goods were all of the same quality. Out of the various batches, a quarter per cent. up to 20 per cent. was rejected, though every batch was of the same quality. Those that were really bad, which amounted to, say, a quarter or 1 per cent., were made good; the others that had been rejected were returned with the next batch of goods, and passed. As soon as this order was completed—it was a rush job—my friend wrote to the War Office and said, "You will probably be wanting some of these again; had not you better let us get on with them now, so that we can make them without working overtime? They will be cheaper." The War Office replied, "Not required." Three weeks afterwards a tender form came down asking for some things of the same nature, and stating that the tender must be in in forty-eight hours. My friend went to Woolwich and signed a paper which any enemy alien might just as well have signed, as nobody knew him. They showed him exactly the same article he had made, but under a different name. He tendered again, and delivered these articles in such a rush that it was extremely difficult—if not impossible—for the people to deal with them. I want to say, particularly of the hon. Member the Financial Secretary to the War Office, I am perfectly certain every representation that has been made to him he has listened to not only willingly, but, if I may say so, intelligently. Could he but have had his way, things would have been better, if it were not for the ancient traditions of the War Office, because it is open to question whether our side would have done any better. So that I am not finding any fault politically or with the staff that I have had the pleasure of dealing with, but it is necessary, if one is challenged with "Why did you not point out these things before?" to say this.
Let us turn to another subject. The Chancellor of the Exchequer stated that some time about October the Government appointed a Committee to see what was the best way of getting larger quantities of munitions, and he mentioned rifles. As a Member of the Estimates Committee, I knew the amount of rifles that could be produced. I knew, too, the amount of rifles that could be produced outside. Roughly, we were producing, without reckoning any wastage of rifles, about one-third the number of rifles per week that we were producing in 339 recruits. I went to the War Office and I said: "I have got a staff of 1,000 people who are used to fine mechanical work; they are mostly women. There are only enough men to set the tools and make the necessary tools. I want you to have these. I want to give them to you. I want you to have them, because I know you cannot get rifles. I want you to have my works, my tools, my staff, my own services, and all that I want you to do is to pay wages and for materials, and you must put in an auditor to see everything is quite square. It will cost me some thousands a year, but I cannot fight, and it is the least I can do." What was the result of that? The Financial Secretary wanted to do it, He could see it was necessary. He could see the value of a place with an organisation of that character, which could do this work at least as well as any firm on earth, and without interfering with soldiers or with existing contracts. To cover the War Office from any accusation, I guaranteed that the article should not exceed the cost of the article to the Government. I said it would cost considerably less. But in order to save any criticism afterwards I guaranteed it personally.
What was the result? After months of effort to get the War Office to adopt it, at last I succeeded. When I got home, flushed with success, feeling that at last I had been able to do something for my country, I got a telegram: "Do not move; await letter." I got the letter. It was to the effect that the Attorney-General had been consulted, and that, as I was a Member of Parliament, although I was willing to do this thing for nothing, the War Office could not use the factory, the staff of a thousand people, the plant and everything for the guns we needed to save the lives of our soldiers. One could go on indefinitely showing that you want, not fancy committees to-day, but that committees of business men should have been set up at the outbreak of war. There is no one of push and go to-day who can unravel the whole thing. We shall now have to muddle through the best way we can. We must all do our best. One has to praise the Labour party for the relaxations which they are making in their rules. Everyone is doing his best, and we shall muddle through somehow. But do not let any speeches in this House from anyone make this House believe that the methods that are adopted at present, and any methods that will be adopted, unless there 340 is a drastic change, are sufficient and clear and simple enough to deal with the problem of armaments and equipment now wanted, and wanted urgently. This Motion is valuable if it but serves to make the most optimistic Member hero realise how deficient we are in a little common sense, and how we need some business men, not politicians, to get the best for our country.
§ Major BAIRD
There is a question which one very often hears asked in the field, and it is, "When is this country going to make war?" Being at home on leave, I thought I would come down to the House and try to get an answer to it. We know that the Army has been making war to some purpose for nearly nine months. We know, or if we do not know we ought to know, that the expansion of the Army and the performances of the Army have exceeded everything that anybody could possibly anticipate, having in view the material and the organisation, or rather the lack of organisation, with which we started. If I may intrude for a few minutes in the Debate, I should like to make it quite clear that I speak, in spite of appearances, purely as a civilian talking to civilians, and that it has nothing whatever to do with the representative of the War Office sitting opposite. If I ventured to say anything about the War Office, it would be to remind everybody of the fact that this wonderful organiser, who in the time of our greatest stress fortunately was available to save the country, served his apprenticeship in the land where we first heard of making bricks without straw, learning the job so well that he has turned out an amazing quantity of bricks of an extraordinarily fine quality. I think that is all that need be said, at least from my point of view, with regard to the Army.
As anybody knows who is in touch with people serving, we are all perfectly confident of success. We are all satisfied with what has happened. We know that things have gone from better to better, and that the Germans will find Neuve Chapelle was a perfect picnic to what they will have next time. That we know, but we know also that Great Britain is not making war in the sense that Germany is making war or that France is making war. Every German—man, woman, and, I think, child, for the children are encouraged with the Song of Hate—every living German, I am convinced, thinks of nothing from the moment of waking to 341 the moment of going to sleep, but how to kill England. That part of our nation at war has for the last eight and a half months thought of nothing from the time of waking in the morning until going to sleep at night except how we can kill Germans. It is not a pleasant business. We do not do it because we like it, but because the country requires it. But there is not a member of the community who is excused from taking his or her share in that disagreeable task, and it is because we feel that hitherto the country has not been alive to the demands of the situation, one so constantly hears the question, "I wonder when the country is really going to make war?"
I have no doubt the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer will give enormous satisfaction to many people. I often wonder why the Chancellor of the Exchequer has not more frequently used in the country those great gifts of picturesque expression with which we were so familiar in by-gone days, when there were such things as party fights; why he has not turned that very valuable weapon to the use of the country, and why he cannot make the stirring speeches against the country's enemy which he used to make against his political enemies. I cannot agree with people who say we ought not to bear any animosity towards the Germans. Anybody who has been shot at steadily for eight and a half months can be excused for having a considerable amount of enmity. Again, why should that be confined to a particular section of the community who have the honour and privilege of serving with the Army in the field? It is not any more our war and business than it is of the country as a whole. Judging by what one can gather of the state of affairs in this country by reading the newspapers, the country as a whole has not hitherto taken that keen, active and aggressive interest in the war, which is, after all, a national war, which it might have taken, and could with great advantage have taken. Allusion has been made to-day to the fact, stated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer with absolute accuracy, that nobody ever contemplated that we should be engaged in a struggle such as that with which we are now confronted. It is perfectly true that every Government, from whatever side it has been drawn, has guarded most sedulously an archaic military system, which was admirable no 342 doubt in time of peace, but which must be a handicap in time of war. Enough has been said to show that however heavy the handicap may have been, we have made an extraordinary show in the field. But it is not safe to leave the matter there. We have done extraordinarily well if you consider the standard which seemed to be sufficient for us in time of peace. Have we done equally well when you consider what a nation of 44,000,000 inhabitants might do when it is fighting for its existence? That, I venture to think, is the standard which it is obvious is perfectly well realised by the War Office. But is it equally well realised by the people as a whole?
Is it quite certain that the people realise that not until peace is signed is it possible for any man to say, "The country does not want me; I cannot be required, and there is so much ammunition that they have increased nineteen times our former supplies, and therefore I can continue to make bicycles or pins," or anything else, as the case may be. I think that is a great danger. The country should realise that our standard of comparison is not that which we considered satisfactory before War was declared, but our standard should be what can we do with a population of over 40,000,000 fighting for their existence and maintenance of their hearths and homes as well as for freedom and civilisation. There is lack of knowledge, no doubt, in the country on these matters, just as there is in the field as to what the Government are doing. We are not aware what has been done, and we are not fully informed how much is being done here. No doubt we misjudge people because of that lack of information, and we have to take our information largely from the newspapers. The attitude I am endeavouring to present to the House is that of a civilian talking to civilians, the only difference from other civilians being that I happen to have been with the Army in the field. You cannot be surprised at finding the attitude of mind I have expressed obtaining at the front when you find one day a newspaper half full of a long discussion as to whether there is to be racing or not. No wonder you are asked what possible connection is there between killing Germans and horse-racing; and you are bound to say after all that those people are not giving their whole time, as we are, to the affairs of the nation and to carrying on the War.
343 Another day you find expensive strikes going on in the ports and other places. I do not know who is to blame. There are two sides to every question, and I have not the ghost of a notion who is right or who is wrong, and I do not stop to inquire, but I am perfectly certain that those who are responsible for such strikes, so far from helping to kill Germans, are helping Germans to kill Englishmen. These are serious times, and consequently people may be excused for speaking their mind, and all the more may we be excused when it is realised that every additional effort we put forward in this country is going to shorten this horrible War. Every day the War is curtailed means the saving of £2,000,000 sterling, and how can you save money better than by curtailing the duration of the War, and at the same time saving priceless lives? There are many people who are to-day carrying on business as usual much against their will. I have no doubt, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer said to-day, that many firms and people in the position of my hon. Friend who has just delivered so interesting a speech, will get opportunities for handing over to the country their floor space and machines, and rendering available the services of their management and all the other things which go to the successful manufacture of those ghastly implements of destruction which are necessary for war purposes. All that will come, and although it is difficult sometimes to exercise the quality of patience which the Prime Minister, in his speech, asked us to do last night, still you are bound to admit that when you have this extraordinary gigantic task suddenly hurled upon the country things cannot go on as quickly as you would like.
There is this to guard against. The system of voluntary service which has always been in force in this country is one which the great majority of politicans of all parties have always considered satisfactory and adequate, but it has this drawback, that although it has produced a far larger number of men than anybody had any right to anticipate, and although the country has answered the call made upon it for men in the most glorious way, still the response has only been made in many cases at the expense of the efficiency of some of the industries of the country at a time when those industries were more wanted than they were before in the national interest. That is an inevitable 344 accompaniment of voluntary service. If you leave it to a man to choose whether he is going to give his life to his country in the trenches or remain behind and give his services at the bench, ninety-nine out of a hundred will say, "I will go to the front." although in the interests of the country he might be doing more useful work if he remained at his bench. That is an inevitable drawback to our system; but I am not here to discuss that question. I am only here to point out that there are many reasons that have contributed to the difficulties which have existed hitherto. There is another point to which I should like to draw attention. Not long ago I happened to make a recruiting speech in my own Constituency where there, is a large engineering works, and I got at that meeting a note from no less than three of the men saying that they would like to enlist, but the management of their works had told them that they could not let any more men go because they were required for Government work. I asked the management what proportion of their output was Government work, and I was told that it was 40 per cent. They were anxious at those works to devote the whole of the output to the Government, but no organisation existed which would enable them to carry out their desire. At the same time, although only 40 per cent. of their work was for the Government, the whole of their men were being kept on at those works while 60 per cent. were doing business as usual very much against the grain. That difficulty appears to be met by the arrangements which the Chancellor of the Exchequer sketched to us this afternoon, but it is an important point, and one which, multiplied as it must be throughout a great many towns and districts in the country, has rather an important bearing upon this problem.
It is not my business at the present moment to make speeches, and I should not have intruded upon the House to-day if I had not thought that by asking this question, "When are you going to make war in this country, and when is everybody going to pull their full weight?" I might make it clear to my fellow Members that that is a question which is exercising people at the front to-day. When one comes here, the first question one is asked is, "How long is the War going to last?" The answer is that it depends entirely on the people of this country pulling the weight which a nation of 44,000,000 inhabitants is capable of putting into this 345 struggle, and when that is done the struggle will be very near its end. We have not done this yet. I know we are making colossal efforts to do so, and if the people are taken frankly into the confidence of the Government, and if the Chancellor of the Exchequer makes a few of the kind of speeches I have already indicated, and frankly tells the people what we are fighting for and why we are fighting, and stirs up that degree of interest in the War which he has never found the slightest difficulty in stirring up in politics, then I think we need feel no anxiety or alarm as to the issue. It is almost impossible for one to convey the realities of the situation which we are facing. It is no use telling a man that you have been to a certain village on a fine summer's evening and within twelve hours that village has been made a mass of smoking ruins with the mangled bodies of men, women, and children lying all over it. That does not convey anything, but those are sights which we have grown accustomed to ever since August last year, and we feel that it is about time that those who are capable of creating the state of affairs which has existed in Europe since August of last year should be made to understand by the only means they do understand, that Europe will have no more of it. We have not done our full share yet in this contest, but I have very little doubt the country is thoroughly waking up at last to its responsibilities and to the duties which are incumbent upon it, and I believe that in a very short time, shorter than many people think, that peace will be reached which we all so much desire.
§ Mr. WILLIAM PEARCE
I am sure the House has been greatly interested in the speech of the hon. Member for Rugby (Major Baird) who has come fresh from the trenches, and we congratulate him on his safe return for a brief holiday. He has touched upon some of the difficulties of this serious problem, and he has also dealt with the question whether men in certain industries should remain at work or be allowed to go to the front. I think that is a question which must be left to the man's own conscience. I would like in this respect to draw attention to the announcement informing the workmen in those firms that while they were making munitions of war they were serving their country just as effectively as the men fighting in the trenches. The Chancellor of the Exchequer told us how well we were doing with regard to shells, but I 346 think if we examined the position in regard to small arms and machine gun ammunition, we should find that the country has every reason to congratulate itself. At the beginning of the War Germany had accumulated a very heavy stock indeed of ammunition, and probably she had 4,000,000,000 or 5,000,000,000 rounds of rifle and machine gun ammunition. We were not prepared for the War; consequently we started at a great disadvantage, and our stocks at the time were probably altogether negligent. To-day those old stocks must have disappeared, and Germany, like ourselves, must be now almost entirely relying upon the cartridges she is actually manufacturing today.
When the War broke out we were making a very small proportion in comparison with Germany, and I doubt if it were more than one-fifth or one-sixth, but now, on the best information I can get to-day our output is at least fifty per cent. of the output of Germany, so that our output to-day is very much larger than it was at the beginning of the War and it is three or four times better, and at the same time the enormous stocks which Germany had have disappeared and so we are not over-weighted in that respect. This has largely arisen through the Government having taken very energetic steps in the direction many hon. Members recommended at the beginning of the War. Lord Kitchener, when the War commenced, called the manufacturers of high explosives together and asked them to increase their plant. The Government also increased their plant, and to-day the output has been very largely increased in consequence. The subject has been taken note of by Lord Moulton's Committee, the High Explosives Department of the War Office, and Lord Moulton and his colleagues have been very insistent in including every manufacturer of high explosives to put his whole heart into the work, to use his plant to the utmost of his ability, and to produce the utmost quantity possible, so that, although to-day their output is very largely increased, it will very soon be added to very much, and probably forty or fifty per cent. more will be produced than is produced at the present time, despite the fact that to-day the production of nitro-glycerine and gun cotton are almost double what they were at the beginning of the War.
Taking this as one of the problems that anybody in authority has to consider, the 347 difficulties at once become apparent. All these manufacturers and companies have been encouraged to increase their plant and to add to their output. When is it safe to call a halt? The High Explosives Committee have not yet considered it safe to stop, and there are new factories in process of erection. I have no doubt that decision is a right one, but it must have been a difficult decision to arrive at, because when that happy day arrives to which the Chancellor of the Exchequer alluded, we shall not only be in a position to have plenty of explosives ourselves, but to supply our Allies as well: He may to-day, unwittingly, have over-coloured the picture. I do not think for one minute that is the position to-day, though when all these arrangements are finally made then I think it will be true to describe it in those terms. But when the War does close, what will be the position of all these various companies who have been encouraged to increase their plant, faced as they will be with the new factories erected by the Government? No one complains of the position, it could not have been avoided, but when one talks of huge profits and when it is suggested, as the hon. Member for the Devizes Division (Mr. Peto) suggested, that the Government should adopt a scheme dividing those profits, it must be remembered that a day is coming when, at the conclusion of peace, these companies will have to pay very dearly for the accession of trade they have at the present time. I happen to know, although I am not personally interested in it, that each of them view the future with great anxiety. Before the Government think of dividing the profits in that kind of way, I am quite sure that they will therefore take these sort of considerations into account.
There are signs, which I am glad to observe, that the Government realise that you can over-interfere in the management of these industries. Everybody agrees with the terms of the Amendment, but there is a danger of a Government Department interfering too much. If, as they have done hitherto, they call the heads of the industry together, explain to them what is required, make them understand the position fully, and then leave them very largely to their own devices, I think they are very likely to get better results than if there is too much interference. The whole problem is extremely difficult. I 348 am sure everybody in the House has been interested in the various speeches which have been made, and I believe that the Debate will be useful. I hope that it may succeed in really making, as we all desire, the best of the great industrial resources of this country, and that the output may be put up to the maximum.
§ Mr. JAMES HOPE
I trust that some explanation will be given of the extraordinary story told by my hon. Friend the Member for East Somerset (Mr. Jardine). It seemed on the face of it almost incredible, because, as I understand it, all the risk was to be taken by him and no risk would have fallen on the War Office at all.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the WAR OFFICE (Mr. Harold Baker)
If the hon. Member will allow me, I think I can satisfy him on that subject at once. The hon. Member for East Somerset (Mr. Jardine) made a most patriotic offer which we were very anxious to accept. I had some doubts myself at the time whether the offer would not fall under the Statute relating to Members of Parliament and render the hon. Member liable to certain penalties. These doubts grew, and I took the opinion of the Attorney-General, who thought unquestionably that the hon. Member, although he was offering to work for nothing, would make himself liable to the penalties under that Statute. The only alternative was to invite the hon. Member to run the risk or for us to come to the House and ask for special legislation for a special case.
§ Mr. JAMES HOPE
A short Bill giving an indemnity in cases of that kind, especially where it could be shown that there would be no profit to the individual, would have been passed by this House in the shortest possible time. I do not wish, however, to attack the hon. Member or his Department, but I hope even now that he will see his way to avail himself of the hon. Member's offer. It has been said that the War Office has coped, and not unsuccessfully coped, with an enormous rush of fresh work, but there has been 349 something wrong in the conduct of the Contracts Branch long before the War. It is rather difficult to say what it is. I often had to deal, not on my own account, but on the account of others, with the late Director of Contracts. He always struck me as a most able and sympathetic man, and I have no fault to find with him, but I have received constant testimony from all classes of manufacturers—it has been repeated to me over and over again—that they can do business with the Admiralty and not with the War Office. I make the suggestion in all friendliness that the representatives of the War Office should, even at this hour, try to find out what is the difference in method which makes one succeed, whilst great dissatisfaction is given by the other.
There has been a very unfortunate impression made, not so much upon the manufacturers as upon the workpeople, by some of the things which have lately been said about drinking. I know the Chancellor of the Exchequer said to-night that he had been greatly misrepresented. It is no part of my purpose to make any attack upon him, and I quite admit that the words he used are not capable of the interpretation that has been placed upon them, but after all, when you have a great gift of dramatic rhetoric, the effect of what is said goes far beyond the bare sense of the words, and there is no doubt that his allusion to drink as being the greatest enemy that had to be fought has produced a most unfortunate effect upon a great number of the best of our workpeople. Even to-night, though he spoke very fairly, and, I think, made his position clear, he did not bring out one point which I think must be brought out. Not only is the trouble with regard to drink confined to a small section of the workpeople, but it is also quite local, from a geographical point of view.
My hon. Friend and colleague (Mr. S. Roberts) said, on the testimony of both employers and trade union leaders in perhaps the greatest armament centre, the city of Sheffield, that there has been no loss of time from drinking or from any other cause: I can absolutely bear testimony to that. Employers and employed, everybody in Sheffield, have done their duty well, from first to last. They need no Prime Minister or anybody else to come down and exhort them. The same is true with regard to the mining areas in Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire. They need no one to come and teach them their duty. If any attempt is made to force upon the 350 country special penal legislation with regard to drink or anything else, it will be violently and bitterly resented by those who know that they have done their duty all through the War, and are doing it now. Of course, I cannot speak for the shipbuilding centres in the country; but I believe that a great deal more of the trouble is due to strain than to drink. After all, the workpeople there as elsewhere have had a strain put upon their physical capacity unexampled in the course of their lives, and I believe that some part of the drinking has been the effect of that strain, and is not the cause of loss of work. At the time the strike broke out I spoke to one of the very largest employers on this matter. I said to him, "People say some very unpleasant things of your workpeople." He said, "They are not unpatriotic at all. They certainly do not realise the great issues at stake, but the truth is that it is not a question of wanting to shirk their duty and it is not a question of wages: They have been consistently overworked, and a natural feeling of weariness and irritation has taken possession of them. That more than anything else is the cause of the trouble." That was said with regard to the strike, but I believe that it is much more true with regard to working short time than the question of drink or anything else. My Friend's opinion was that shorter hours would give a better output, and I think that ought to be taken into account.
The truth is that you cannot keep up a great strain of work on the impulse of the first enthusiasm in a crisis. At the beginning of the War most of us felt that we were living under different planetary conditions. There was a feeling of anxiety and a great exaltation of mind. Everyone wished to come forward and do-what he could to the best of his power, but time passed, month after month went by, and there was no great victory or disaster, and the ordinary influences of life reasserted themselves. It is against nature that men should work in any department, whether mentally or physically, for seven days in the week without something like a breakdown of health or nerves. It was a natural reaction, and I do hope most earnestly that no violent steps will be taken, even in those areas where a good deal remains to be desired, under the impression that there is anything like a large number of workpeople who are, from one cause or another, unwilling to do their best for their country's good.
351 I am afraid that the human side of this question has been somewhat mishandled. That the question of drinking should have been brought to the front, and brought to a climax in the form of a deputation of employers complaining publicly to the Government of their own workpeople was a most unfortunate procedure. I cannot imagine anything more calculated to outrage the natural feelings of immense bodies of workpeople, perfectly conscious that all the time they were doing their best. It was not so much what was said by the employers on that occasion, or by any representative of the Government, but it was the kind of controversy that arose in the newspapers afterwards. Many persons—journalists, clergy, and that class of writer who calls himself a publicist, whatever that may mean—began to draw morals and to preach to the workpeople of the country in a way that much offended the most patriotic and the most industrious. They appeared to adopt the "Tchinovnik" spirit of superior persons who wish to dictate to others what they should do, without in the least understanding the conditions under which they work. It is most unfortunate that there is a class of writer who never will write or speak of the working man as if he were a man. At one time he flatters him as if he were above the ordinary run of human nature. At another time he dictates to him as to what he should do or put up with as if he were below that line. He will never realise that the working man is a man like himself, with exactly the same constitution, the same virtues, and the same faults.
If something is to be done to improve the efficiency of the workpeople, even in the shipbuilding industries, it is absolutely essential you should carry the general public spirit and public opinion of the workpeople with you. A suspicion has been aroused that there are other parties and other interests who are seeking to use the occasion to propagate their own views. It is natural enough they should, just as in the time of the Boer War a certain number of people wished to seize the occasion to try and promote compulsory military service. While it is admitted that there are places where there is overdrinking, there is a powerful school of thought which wishes to seize the occasion to establish their own views far beyond the necessities of the moment. I am sorry the hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Leif Jones) is not in his place. If he had been 352 I should have told him that I looked upon him as a Gnostic heretic. He believes in alcohol as an evil in itself, and he wants this heresy of his to become an established religion, in spite of the principles he holds with regard to religious establishments. He and his Friends have been trying to use this occasion in order to get a long step taken towards their own special ends. I am perfectly certain, even if these things were right, you could not make a great change of this kind in the middle of a great War. All you ought to do is to legislate for the moment. I am very far from saying that some legislation is not necessary, or that all in the way of curtailed hours that is necessary has yet been done, or that you should not legislate severely as to the quality of the drink that may be provided, especially in the direction of forbidding new and raw spirit being supplied, and also in regard to the strength of every kind of alcoholic drink. If you legislate wisely on these lines, and at the same time give compensation to those who will be taxed by such measures over and above their proper share, you will do well. But it is, I believe, absolutely essential to remember two things: Do not let any theorists exploit the situation for their own advantage, and do not take any steps, however much they may commend themselves to you, if you cannot carry with you the great bulk of the people, who, with very few exceptions, have done their duty splendidly by the State.
§ Mr. BARNES
The War in which this country is now engaged has brought about many changes in this House, most of them, I think, for the best. Some of them have been illustrated during the last hour or two while I have been listening to the Debate. I think I am right in saying that now we are thinking more of the human aspect of things than of the party aspect, and the speech of the hon. Member for Sheffield, who has just spoken (Mr. James Hope), has rightly emphasised the human aspect of the problem now presented to us. With much of what he said, if not with all, I entirely agree. Some people have been disposed to regard workmen as things with arms and legs that can be moved this way or that by scientific gentlemen, whereas we are now coming to understand that workmen are essentially human beings with feelings and opinions like the rest of us. Arising out of that, one comes to the further conclusion that in order to get the best out of workmen in regard to munitions, or any- 353 thing else, you must secure their good will and wholehearted sympathy with what they have to do. If I rightly interpret the sense of the House hon. Members on both sides pretty well accept that conclusion. I also agree with what the hon. Gentleman has said upon the drink question, as to which, I believe, far too much has already been said. I propose, however, to add a very few words to that discussion. I heard the explanation of the Chancellor of the Exchequer this afternoon in regard to what has been attributed to him, and I believe he was quite within the letter in reading out what he actually said. But he did not read out all that he said, and one sentence which he omitted to read out had more effect in the country, and a worse effect on the minds of working men, than anything he read out this afternoon. The employers went to the right hon. Gentleman and made a certain indictment against the workmen. They gave figures as to time lost, or time that might have been made. And with regard to that I have to say that, although figures cannot lie, they may sometimes be used very cleverly. The right hon. Gentleman having had these figures submitted to him by the employers, said—if he was correctly reported—that "he accepted all they said as the simple truth."
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
The hon. Gentleman is making the same mistake as he has attributed to me. That was not all that the employers said. They also said that considerable numbers of the men were doing their work as truly and as gallantly by this, country as if they were in the trenches.
§ Mr. BARNES
I will later on give the right hon. Gentleman an opportunity of explaining that particular point, but I can assure him that the passage I have just quoted was the one that stuck in the throats of a great many of the workmen of this country. They said, "Our employers come and make a one-sided statement to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We know it is not true, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer accepts it holus-bolus!" That is how it appears to their minds. I am sure it was not true. I do not know where the figures were wrong, but I have spent twenty-two years of my life in the workshop. I speak with actual knowledge of workshop conditions, and, when an employer, or an association of employers of labour, comes forward and says, as in this 354 case, that a body of men has had an opportunity of working sixty, seventy, or more hours per week, and has only worked below the normal, I know there has been something dropped out, and that the figures do not represent all the truth. As a matter of fact, the Prime Minister yesterday knocked the bottom out of a good many of the figures. He had a statement sent to him last week by the representatives of forty-eight firms at Barrow, Newcastle. Manchester and elsewhere, to the effect that only about 5 per cent. of the workmen in the factories in those cities were working above the normal, and that 95 per cent. were below. But what did the Prime Minister say yesterday? He said that in the firms that were engaged on armaments the men had been working sixty-seven or sixty-nine hours a week on an average.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
Those figures did not refer to the same class of workmen. The figures given by the forty-eight firms referred to the shipyards, and are. I am sorry to say, substantially accurate. The figures quoted by the Prime Minister referred to a totally different class of workmen.
§ Mr. BARNES
With all due deference to the Chancellor of the Exchequer I say they referred to a very large extent to the same class of men. The names were given of the firms. There was Vickers, of Barrow, one of the largest firms in the country, engaged not only in shipbuilding, but in engine building, submarine building, and many other phases of engineering activity. There was also Whitworths, of Manchester. As a matter of fact, I could give some explanation of the discrepancy. It so happens that the night shifts work only forty-five hours per week, and that is quite enough for night work. That condition applies to a large number of the cases represented by the forty-eight firms, and when they trot out these figures, and tell us that only 5 per cent. of the men are working above fifty-three or fifty-four hours, they are putting the figure eight hours above the normal, for the men on the night shift cannot work more than forty-five hours. That partly explains the figures presented by these forty-eight firms. I speak with some knowledge. I have taken the pains to inquire, and I say that probably, the Prime Minister was absolutely right yesterday when he said the men were working from sixty-seven to sixty-nine hours per week on the average. 355 I put it to the Members of the House that if a man has been working sixty-seven hours weekly for six months on end he is likely to be jumpy and ill-natured, and that his ill-nature is not going to be improved by the sort of statements that have been made and the lectures which have been thrown at him during the last few months.
I speak as a teetotaler practically. I think far too much has been said about the drinking habits of the working people. Nobody deplores more than I do the consequences of them, but I repeat far too much has been said about them, and far too little has been said in the way of encouragement to the men to do their very best, and in praise of them so far as they have done so. I want to make a reference to the speech made by the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite (Major Baird). I would congratulate him on having had the good fortune to serve his country abroad, and on having so far dodged the German bullets. I hope he will be spared to go back and render still more service. There were several things he said with which I also agree. He said, for instance, he wished the Chancellor of the Exchequer would use his grand oratorical gifts, and go about the country making some of the speeches which he used to make on the Budget. It is a strange commentary that we should have an invitation to the right hon. Gentleman from the other side of the House to go about the country and make these fiery speeches.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Mr. BARNES
I agree with the hon. Member that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be very well employed in making the same sort of speech he made this afternoon. I agree with many who have already spoken that what we want is that our population should realise the big job they are up against, and in order that they should realise it we ought to tell them the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. We have have had far too much blinking of the truth. Newspaper editors have been telling us optimistic tales for the last seven months. They have torn the Turk to tatters already; they have annihilated the Austrians about ten times, and have penned all sorts of wonderful things on paper. I believe we are still a long way off the termination of this War. People ought 356 to realise that; they ought to be told the whole truth, and we should cease these vagaries of the Censor, or whoever is responsible for them, of giving us little bits of news—sometimes with not too much truth in them. I therefore agree with the; hon. Member that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should tell us more and go about the country getting up the enthusiasm of the people. I agree with the hon. and gallant Member in another thing. He said he could not understand those people who said they had no ill-will against Germany. I cannot understand them either. I have no ill-will against individual Germans, who are as good as I am, probably a good deal better.
§ Mr. BARNES
When I think of Germany I think of a country that sent its army into a poor little inoffensive country like Belgium; I think of that army laying waste the sacred places of the Belgian people, having killed her priests, killed the old I women and ravaged the young women; and I think also of a nation or that Government that sent submarines round our own coasts two days ago and sent ten or eleven of our own seamen to the bottom of the sea. After all, we are Britons and men of flesh and blood, and, being so, we think of these poor little Belgian people and of the hundreds of our own seamen now lying at the bottom of the sea who might have been with their families and earning an honest livelihood. We are in this War against our will. War is horrible, brutal, barbarous, against reason and common sense, but it is simply filling one's belly with the east wind to talk like that now. We are in the war, we are up to the neck in it. We are in it against our will, for I believe the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his colleagues did all that mortal men could do to keep us out of the War. Germany would have it. This War was made in Germany, and, as far as I am concerned and so far as the resources of this country in men and money can be made to do it, this War is going to end with Germany.
I agree it is a deplorable fact that, during the last few weeks, we have had strikes in the large areas engaged in making munitions of war. I am not going into the causes of that, because that would raise controversial matter, but I willl heartily re-echo everything the hon. and gallant Gentleman has said as to the desirability of the forces of labour being devoted to making the munitions of war 357 in the largest possible quantities. To get that we must have good will and the men must be assured of fair play. With these conditions I believe the men will work their hardest to make the munitions required. What we want is that the men who are unemployed, or partially employed, or employed in civil work should, as far as possible, be shunted off to the making of munitions of war. Talking of the unemployed reminds me of a strange sight I saw this morning. Crossing the Epsom road, I saw hundreds of char-a-bancs, motor cars, and all sorts of vehicles taking able-bodied men—so far as I could see, nine out of ten were able-bodied—going to Epsom to see the races. I do not object to racing. I went to see the Derby myself last year, and I hope to see it again before I die. I was not interested in the races, but in the crowd. I should not know one horse from another. I have nothing to say against races or going to Epsom, but I think these men could be better employed just now than going to races. I do not know whether anything of a special character has been done to mobilise this type of man. If not, something ought to be done.
As to the partially employed men, I suppose that Members of Parliament might be put in that catagory, because they are working half time and getting full pay, though the work is not so easy as some outsiders imagine, because we have a great deal more correspondence now than we used to have—at any rate, that is so with me, because I should say my correspondence has trebled since the War began, and I have to spend two or three hours every day writing letters. But I say here and now that when this Session of Parliament is over, I shall be quite willing to go back into the workshop and do my bit, if necessary, in making shells. I am glad the scheme of mobilisation of the engineering firms is coming about, because it is very likely that some firm near my home will be making shells, and if in a month or two's time I can get a job—I do not know whether I can make shells—but so far as I can I am willing to do it. Many men are now engaged on civil work who might be engaged on war work. As an illustration of that I have in my mind a factory on the border of my Constituency where some 10,000 people are now operating machines, making sewing machines. Sewing machines might very well be left over for a time, and those people might be better employed, having 358 regard to what is wanted at the present lime. We ought to be getting ready for a breakdown. Men cannot work sixty-seven or sixty-nine hours a week indefinitely, and I believe we are reaching the time for breakdown now, therefore it is all the more necessary to be doing something to make provision against it.
I am glad that these Committees have been set up. While I agree with the Motion now before the House in spirit, I do not agree with it in practice, because it says that the Committees should be under a unified administration. On the contrary, I believe that you ought to have a large degree of local discretion, and get the goodwill of the people in the various localities where the work is required, and who best understand their own local conditions. We must also have on all these local committees representatives of the working people as well as the employers of labour. I am afraid that on the central committees there is not sufficient technical ability. I heard only this week of a case of the manager of a certain firm being sent to Kingsway, where he was shown samples and told he was to do a certain class of work. That work involved the putting of all his small machines on to it, but if he did that he would have to stop his big machines, because the small machines fed the big ones. There ought to be someone with practical knowledge in order to avoid that sort of thing, and in order that the works may be used to the fullest possible capacity and, at the same time, in fairness to the employers.
My last point is a very important one. It is that the piecework prices of the men engaged on the munitions of war ought to be guaranteed. It is said that men are not doing their best. I believe it is perfectly true that, if you take a narrow view of the matter, they are not doing their best. Supposing I were to go in for making shells, I might bundle into it and do as much as I possibly could for the first few months, but if I had knowledge, and if I had to make my living out of it, I should not want to do it so heartily; I should want provision made that while I was at work my interests should be secured in a permanent fashion. That is what is wanted at the present time. The ordinary workman knows, from bitter experience, that the harder he works the sooner his prices are reduced. Therefore, he says to himself, and quite reasonably, "Why should I wear 359 myself out; why should I injure my health by working all I possibly can, when I know that, at the end of it, I shall be no better off." If the Government were now to make an authoritative statement or were to bind employers of labour to make an authoritative statement that no matter how much a man earned, his prices would not be reduced, I believe the output of munitions of war would be considerably increased, perhaps not immediately, but as the knowledge soaked into the mind of the man that he would not be injuring himself. I agree with the last speaker that the output is by no means bad at the present time. I have had a letter on the subject from, perhaps, the largest manufacturer of shells. I do not think there is any objection to giving his name—it is Sir Robert Hadfield. He said there had been a good deal of criticism about the men being "ca' canny." He said that he was delighted to find that the men were working with a will, and that he had nothing to complain about. That is largely true of the factories all over the country. What we have heard to the contrary has been stated by academic people who know nothing about the workshop. Let us encourage the men in so far as they are doing well. Let us cease lecturing them, and in particular telling them of their faults, of their drinking, and taking exaggerated views of all their vices, and in proportion as we do that we shall encourage the men to do their utmost, so that this War may be ended as speedily as possible, and in the only possible way we can end it—that is, by the overthrow of Prussian militarism.
§ Mr. JAMES MASON
The hon. Member, like the previous speaker on the same bench earlier in the afternoon, has said many things with which I should not disagree. Equally I listened with the greatest interest to the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I was very agreeably surprised by the information which he gave us on the subject of munitions of war. So that I rise to speak in no critical sense, but desire only to make a few remarks as one connected with several businesses which are partially concerned in carrying out Government contracts. I think it is desirable to point out how difficult it is to draw any definite line between what is a Government contract and what is a private or civil contract. Sometimes by too readily admitting the theory that men should be taken 360 from other work and put on to Government contracts, a good deal more harm than good can be done, unless very great care is taken. I have taken some trouble to collect information on this subject, and I feel that there is considerable danger, owing to that tendency, lest some damage be done. To illustrate my meaning I will take this case.
If you take a works which turns out electrical machinery, it is quite obvious that, in so far as it is making the component parts of a ship or a submarine or other work of that kind for the Army or the Navy, it is Government work, but if the same works are turning out machinery for another firm it immediately becomes other than a Government contract, and yet by not delivering that particular piece of work it may be hindering that other firm from doing something which will be in the interests of the Government itself. The hon. Member (Mr. Barnes) referred to another danger, and that was asking the manufacturer to put a certain portion of his machinery at the disposal of the Government for munitions of war and leaving the other parts of the machinery idle. That certainly may give rise to very great loss, both in employment and absolute waste of machinery, which could, to a very great extent, be avoided. In almost all factories of a complicated kind the machines are interdependent one upon another, and if certain machines are found to be suitable to make some munitions of war, and they are taken for that purpose, the throwing idle of the rest of the machinery may obviously be a very dangerous and inadvisable step to take. Certainly in one case this has happened. Certain machines picked out in a factory have been considered to be suitable for making Government work, and without throwing idle the other machines in that factory it was unable to supply private orders which would have conduced in the end to increasing the output of munitions of war by other firms which were waiting for that output.
A point which has been mentioned two or three times this evening, and seems to me of the utmost importance, is that the work which the Government require to be done should be distributed with the greatest care amongst those only who are best able to do it—that is to say, that the sorting out of the work which has to be done among the various works is a very delicate operation, and one which can 361 only be satisfactorily done by a committee, probably of the managers of the actual work concerned, or, at any rate, of some of them. An arrangement on the lines of that which now exists in the case of the railways, where the general managers of the railways practically are left to manage things in their own way on behalf of the Government, seems to me to be the only reasonable and fair way of managing the general distribution of this work among the factories concerned.
I cannot help thinking that full use is not perhaps being made of the work over which the Government already has control, and I view with some suspicion the idea that mere Government control over other works will meet with any great success. The Government have already control, among others, of all the workshops connected with the railways, because in taking over all the railways in the country they have practically control of a very large amount of engineering machinery and staff which belong in the ordinary way to them, and judging by the percentage of the men in these railway shops, and the machines which are employed on Government work, I cannot help thinking that a very considerable increase of Government contracts might be got from some of these railway works if the Government merely stated what they wanted and when they wanted it, without any disorganisation at all beyond that which has already taken place, and that would have the very great advantage of being able to be put into operation immediately. These same remarks really apply to a very large number of other works which are still of a private character—that is to say, companies which have net been taken over by the Government and where only 30 or 40 per cent. of the work is for the Government and in which the amount could be very largely increased without any kind of disturbance or taking over of control; but it is essential, if that is going to be done, that these companies should only be asked to do that which they can do most easily and best, and care should be very carefully taken that that is the case.
There is one other matter which, I think, is of considerable importance, and that is the question of raw material. I find that in the case of one company which is now employed to a certain extent on Government work, their output has been reduced considerably, though not materially, since the outbreak of war by the non-fulfilment 362 of a contract for obtaining Swedish ore. This is a steel company which is very much dependent on getting a certain proportion of Swedish ore. The difficulty in obtaining it is not surprising, and perhaps one would hardly think it worth noticing were it not for the fact that I am credibly informed that there is very good evidence that even now that same Swedish ore which should be coming into this country is being diverted to Rotterdam for the benefit of the German firms. After what one has recently been told one would be rather surprised to hear that that is the fact at present, but I think everyone will agree that every possible step should be taken to prevent any raw material on which we are dependent from, at any rate, going to our enemies, because when it does that, obviously there is not only the loss to our own output, but the loss from the fact that our enemies are able to increase their output of what is absolutely the principal ingredient in the whole of the munitions of war. We ought to mobilise every machine and every man that we possibly can for the purpose of carrying on this War to the exclusion of all other business in so far as that can profitably be done. We ought to have only one aim, and that is to bring this War to the most rapid conclusion possible. It will be necessary to take very great care that every machine and every man is put to the job which it or he can best accomplish. I feel fairly convinced, firstly, that works which are already partially, whether under the control of the Government or not, producing munitions of war, could in many cases increase their output without any disturbance to their organisation and with the great advantage that the results would be immediate. Secondly, I think that very great care should be taken in the case of what I call the indirect industries—that is to say, industries which are concerned in the making of machines or electrical apparatus and so forth, on which machines and apparatus many other industries depend for being able to turn out munitions of war. Very great care should be taken in the case of these indirect industries not to remove parts of their machinery or even any number of their men, as has been done in many cases, because, as I have said, other industries depend upon these indirect industries. Lastly, I am quite convinced that in so far as the Government find it necessary to take control of works and to take into their own hands the manufacture of munitions of war, they 363 will get the best results if they follow the lines wisely taken in the case of the railways, and that is that once they have taken over the responsibility and control of the works they will leave the duties of carrying on the works, and especially the allotment of the different classes of work among the different machines and concerns to which they have access, to a committee consisting of those men who are already managing the works. If they do that they will get far better results than by any other form of committee which they could set up.
§ Mr. A. WILKIE
I have not troubled the House much this Session, but as I am one of the workers concerned, I cannot allow the opportunity to pass without a word even in this demoralising atmosphere. I am glad to say that the atmosphere was of a very different sort last night, when as a citizen of Newcastle I was present to hear the Prime Minister deliver his speech. The meeting was not only crowded—in fact you could not have put in another pin—but there was also an overflow meeting. I can endorse the views of my hon. Friend (Mr. Barnes) as to the speech of the Prime Minister. It was tactful and judicious; it gave the lie to so many of the scare statements that are going about, and it showed that a lot of the assertions made are absolutely untrue. There is considerable difficulty in this matter. At the present moment firms are issuing, apparently indiscriminately, to their workpeople, forms referring to the present emergency and telling men who have actually worked 105 hours, 98 hours, 88 hours, and so on, that they are not playing the game, although the normal week is only fifty-four hours. I think indiscriminate statements of that kind are most reprehensible, and they are causing very great friction among the men who are working these long hours. If there is a minority of whom you complain, deal with the minority. There is no reason why the men who are working these long hours should be insulted.
Proof that the men are working very long hours, as a great many employers admit, is to be found in the rise in the demands on the sick funds of our organisations. I represent one of the trades which is most in demand at the present time. We have had a tremendous job to supply the demand of the Admiralty and private firms. With regard to the statements in the Press 364 as to lost time, I should like to point out that these statements are all ex parte, and we who are continually meeting the employers know what that is worth. When we get down to the bed-rock facts they are considerably minimised. If these statements are to be of any value we must have them drawn up by expert disinterested accountants, you must have every hour eliminated where the man has lost time through no fault of his own, and when that is done you will find that it will wipe away a very large amount of the lost time. I hope the representatives of the Government on the Treasury Bench will note what I am saying and report it to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, because he apparently has accepted the statements made from the Employers' Federation of the shipbuilding and engineering trades without full consideration. I am not going to say that he has maligned the workers, for he has admitted that it was the minority to whom he referred. If it is a minority, let the sins of the minority be visited upon the minority.
I do not think the statement which I am about to make has ever appeared in the Press, notwithstanding the clever editorial gentlemen who are dictating to us what we should do and what we should not do. I do not think that they have ever found out that a lot of the lost time is lost by total abstainers, and therefore that lost time is not due to the drink traffic. Do not forget that. That is a most peculiar point and it has never been looked at at all. I am a little afraid that if the Government are not very careful, although I agree with their object, they may take certain action which will cause difficulty. If there is so much lost time, as has been asserted by the employers, through drink, why do not the employers follow the example of the Admiralty and have canteens in their own yards and regulate the whole system so that the men who require it can have reasonable refreshment. Speaking from practical experience. I can say that in some works and at some jobs and inside some of the warships it is worse than being down in the mines, and the man is in such an atmosphere that until he gets an appetiser he can not take his breakfast or his dinner. That has been proved time after time, and it clearly shows that all this lost time is not attributable to the question of drink. The Press has been very outspoken in regard to the present Army being the beet fed army that has ever taken the field. 365 Why, then, cannot something be done to see that our industrial army is better fed? Those of us who have been so long among the working men know that in many cases men who are working at tremendously hard jobs, not only at the furnaces, but at other equally exhausting occupations, do not get the food that they require. A large majority—say, 80 per cent.—may get it, but there is always a minority who do not get it.
When I have been abroad, especially in America, I have been struck by the fact that one of the first things to which the great firms are always looking is to have some means to assist the working men to have refreshments inside the gates. In whatever legislation the Government propose in reference to the drink question, the great point to be looked to is that everything possible must be done to keep the workmen from going outside the gate. The difficulty at the moment has been that perhaps a man went out in the morning and, of course, the places were open. If ha had even got pure beer or pure whisky it would not have been so bad. That is one of the questions that should be tackled. If it is to be continued, then for heaven's sake let them get pure beer and pure whisky, which will not have half the bad effect on the human system. Of course, when a man went out in the morning, it generally meant the day, and sometimes two or three days. I think that that could be avoided to a great extent by having some place within the gates. The canteens in our dockyards are now run mostly by the men themselves. They are well regulated, and men can get hot coffee and tea and everything which assists them to carry on their work, especially those who have to work at night.
With regard to the question of trade unions and the temporary suspension of existing regulations, I desire to point out a fact ignored by so many editors who wrote about the subject, and showed by their writings that they did not know what they were writing about. It is not merely a question of trade union rules, but of old trade and craft customs coming down from the Middle Ages. These customs they are asking us to forego. Imagine doing that to the legal or to the medical profession! Think of what answer you would get! We know what their customs are just as well as our own. Still it has been proved that those very regulations 366 have been the means, as the years went on, of assisting our great firms and bringing them to the perfection which they have secured. It is therefore easily understood that it takes a great amount of argument to convince a working man that these regulations should be foregone, even though we are at war What about employers' customs which ought to be altered? For instance, firms in many places have a regulation that if men are a minute late the gates are shut in their faces and they have to go home for a quarter. Very often that is not the men's fault. Workmen come many miles to their work, and there may be a breakdown in the tramcar or a stoppage in the train. Wherever that has occurred the firm should relax those regulations and let the men inside the gates.
In reference to the procuring of men, may I say that ever since the War began, when the shipbuilding employers were asking for more men, we have complied wherever possible with their demand. We have sent a great many to the Admiralty. The Admiralty have met the case by paying maintenance money and fares, but many firms would not, and yet they expect us to ask men to leave employment in small ports and go to the employers for Government work, keeping two homes and incurring a big loss, without being paid any maintenance money. They have never even yet agreed to do that, although the Government have done so, but we are in hopes that through the Committees that have been appointed that will be carried out. We have sent a thousand men to the Army; we want those thousand men very badly now back in the shipyards, and we have asked the War Office to release at least those of our men who are in the home trenches to come back and get into the home shipyards. It is very difficult to do anything in this matter with the War Office, and, in the case of those skilled men, there should be some ready process of transacting War Office business, and not so much red-tape as there is at the present time. Another point is that some 10 per cent. of the men who are on merchant shipping work should be sent to pressing war work, but we could never get that done. Look for a moment at the returns from the big shipbuilding districts of the Clyde and of the North of England, and you find that the output of merchant work is about the average. There is no slackening on account of extra work for the Government. That is proof that the loss of time due to drinking is not so great as 367 has been represented, and if they are able to do all that work, and that the Government work is pressing, then the Government should commandeer these men and take them from work which is not so urgent in the interests of the country, and send them to Government work which is pressing. They have commandeered men to get ships like the "Lion" and the "Tiger" quickly repaired. If the other work is pressing we contend that they should do the same.
I am not going to blame this, that or the other party, but I do say that, so far as I have been able to judge, this country did not desire this War. I must admit that I never thought during any of my numerous visits to Germany that the Germans would be so barbarous as to enter into such a war, and as every week or month goes by further proof is provided that they have been providing for this War for the last twenty or thirty years, not only in their own country, but in every other country, and we have been blind and would not believe. I trust that, now we have had our eyes opened, it will impress all those people who believe every country to be right but their own. I do not say that our country has always been right, but I do say we are right in this case. We are not fighting for might, but for the liberties of the people, the liberties of people in every little State, and to give liberties to little men as well as big men. We are fighting for the democracies of the world; we are fighting for the real right of the people to govern themselves, and if we allowed Germany to beat us on this occasion, which God forbid, there would be an end of our democratic institutions, and of trade unions in the same way. Therefore I have on the platform helped in every way. When asked by the Government, through the Lord Chancellor, when he came north—as the Prime Minister did last night in reference to-munitions of war—to raise battalions, the reply of the people in the north of England was of such a character that instead of battalions they raised three brigades of infantry, as well as assisting other branches of the Service, such as the Scottish Horse, the mounted men, and the naval men.
I hope that the policy and principle adumbrated on the platform last night by the Prime Minister, that of forming consultation committees, will be followed, 368 that the men will be consulted as well as the employers, and that the Government will see that their work is the first work to be done in the present emergency. One of the speakers at last night's meeting reminded the Prime Minister that he had once used the phrase which has often been referred to in this House, "Wait and see," and the speaker asked the right hon. Gentleman to wait and hear. Then, speaking to the workers, said their representative had agreed, as their employers had agreed, to do their best, were they, the workmen in turn, ready to do their best? The workmen in the hall with one voice responded, "Aye," and the Prime Minister remarked afterwards that he had never received such an unanimous "Aye" in his life before. The beauty of that incident is the spirit which animated the men; and I trust that by consultation with all concerned, we will be able, by extra efforts put forth, to send as many men as are required, and all the shells and guns that are necessary to terminate this War as soon as possible.
§ Mr. GEORGE TERRELL
I quite agree with the remarks which have been made on the other side of the House, that the figures which have been published concerning short time worked in the shipyards in the North are probably very misleading indeed. I have had some considerable experience of statistics of the hours worked and the time kept by the men, and I have not the slightest doubt that if those figures were properly analysed it would be found that they have been very much exaggerated and entirely over-stated. You have a great many considerations to take into account. There is first the weather. Those men who are riveters, of whom the chief complaint is made, are, I believe, men who work in the open. Their time has been taken in the winter months, and we have had, as everyone knows, particularly in the north, perhaps one of the worst winters as regards weather which the country has had for many years. Then there is also the circumstance that probably in those yards a great many of the younger and more able, men have enlisted, and that should also be taken into account in working out the hours, while some allowance should be made in considering the hours which the rest of the men have worked.
In every works, I do not care where the works are, if the time is taken to-day that 369 the men have worked with the time they were working last year, I think you will iind—of course, the hours worked being the same—that the percentage is lower. That is because the workmen have given a heavy contribution to the recruiting movement, and the younger and more able men have joined the Colours. There is also the circumstance of the excessive overtime which the men have worked. The tendency of excessive overtime is, in my judgment, not economical, and in the long run, particularly in Lancashire, it affects the general efficiency of factories. So far as I have been able to judge, it seems fair to believe that the working classes as a whole have done splendidly, and instead of being abused, as they have been lately, you would get far better results from them and far greater effort from them if, as the Prime Minister did yesterday, their merits were recognised and praised.
Another question which I think requires a little more consideration than it has already received is the question of badges. The understanding was, or the suggestion was made, that badges would be given to all men who are employed in the manufacture of munitions of war. Yesteray we had an answer from the Financial Secretary to the Treasury that it was decided to limit the issue of badges to the section of workmen engaged in the manufacture of munitions of war. The badge is to attract and retain a vitally important class of labour, of which there is at present a shortage. I pressed him to define what he meant by munitions of war, and he was unable to give any definition. I understand that many firms have applied to have these badges issued to their men, but that the War Office are making excuses, which I think should not be made, and they are not issuing badges to all men engaged on Government contracts. I think that if you want to give the men proper encouragement you should issue these badges to all classes of men who are engaged on Government contracts; because, after all, one Government contract is just as important as another. You cannot really distinguish between what are munitions of war, whether shells, explosives, or guns or gun-carriages and the other part of equipment which is necessary for soldiers in the field. Therefore, I think that if the men are to be encouraged, and if the War Office really wish to encourage them, they should issue these badges to all men engaged on Government contracts.
370 9.0 P.M.
A great deal has been said to-day on the subject of this Committee, which has been appointed, and of which the Chancellor of the Exchequer is the head. I am sorry he has been so little present in the House during this Debate. I should have thought, as head of that Committee, that he would have given his constant attention here while the Debate lasted. But there is one thing in connection with that Committee which rather oppresses me, and that is the complete absence of the appointment of any man who has any training or knowledge of the work which they have to undertake. They have no knowledge of the organisation or running of factories. I do not wish to say a word of criticism against any of the members of the Committee. They are all men who are well known in public life, but for this particular work they have, I venture to think, little or no practical knowledge; and from that point of view I am afraid that the Committee may have many difficulties in front of it which might otherwise have been avoided. It is not as if no help was available, because there are unquestionably hundreds, if not thousands, of people in the country who have devoted their lives to, and who are experts on, this subject of factory organisation. What you want is to secure greater output from the factories, and it is the business of every factory organiser to get the maximum of output at the minimum of cost. That is what I assume we want to do, and, as I understand the Government scheme, all that they want is to get skilled men away from the smaller factories and give them employment with the armament firms, and it is their only proposal after months of consideration. I think, if it is analysed, it will be found to be a very poor proposal indeed. You are either going to take the men away or you are going to take over the factories. What you really want is the men and not the factories. It was inquired, and there was no answer from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, "Are the men to be compelled to go?" Suppose a man says, "The firm I am with has given me constant employment for a great number of years and I have a permanent job with them, and shall I remain with them or go to a temporary job with the armament firm?" A man may elect to remain where he is, and then what is going to happen? Are the Government going to bid for him by offering him a higher wage, and, if they do so, will it be open to the old employer to make another 371 bid at a still higher wage? It has to be remembered that many men have devoted their whole lives to the building up of factories and the running of small workshops in different parts of the country, and in which perhaps fifty to one hundred men are employed. There is not the slightest doubt about the fact that the armament firms are rather anxious to get hold of those men, and the Government have been prevailed upon to help those firms to do so. If the Government adopt this course, I should like to know whether any estimate has been made of what the cost will be per man. Is it an economical way of proceeding? Assume that the Government say, "Never mind the expense"—and I think there is a tendency on their part to disregard all expense—"we will close the factory down, and transfer the men to one of the armament firms." Then what is going to happen to the business? They are going to upset the business and close it down, and is not that going to disorganise the whole trade of the country, because it must be remembered that one business is dependent upon another, and if you start in a more or less wholesale way closing down small businesses you will soon throw the trade of the country into greater confusion than it is in at present? And I think you will also find that you will have to pay a very high price indeed for the results which you obtain. And if you close down these private businesses, what are you going to do for revenue? Is the Chancellor of the Exchequer going to say, "We will tax you on your statutory income," which means the average of the previous three years, or does he propose to tax the actual income? If he does the latter, he will get nothing: while if he taxes on the statutory income, I am not at all sure that it will not be a very hard case upon all concerned.
I think that the true policy to pursue is not to upset the ordinary general trade of the country more than you can help. The cry at the outbreak of the War, "Business as usual," was to my mind a thoroughly sound cry, and, particularly, coupled as it is at present with the declaration, the very proper declaration from the trade union leaders, that during the continuance of the War all the restrictive regulations of the trade unions are to be suspended. That clears the ground 372 for tapping the world of an almost inexhaustible supply of skilled labour. If the trade unions waive their regulations, nonunion men and union men agree to work side by side. When Australia and Canada, and even the United States, wanted workers they never had any hesitation in coming to this country and making a bid for our skilled workers here. We all know that when the present Government reduced the establishment at Woolwich—one of their first acts when they came into office—a lot of those skilled workers from Woolwich found jobs in the Colonies and the United States. Surely, before we start pulling what one may call a private industry to pieces, we ought to see whether labour cannot be obtained from the Colonies or from the United States. Of course, there are difficulties. You would have to pay a much higher rate to a worker who came from the United States to work in an English factory; but the Government might offer an arrangement of this sort. It might say to these workers, "You go and work in one of the armament firms; you will be paid the regulation trade union rate of wages, and we, on top of that, will give you a special allowance as long as you work, as a sort of special service fee." I believe that if the Government were to do that, it might cost £50 or £100 per skilled worker, but at any rate it would have the advantage of being a clean cut payment. We should know the beginning and the end of our liability, and it need not be continued after the necessities of the war were at an end. I believe it would be far more economical and far more simple of accomplishment than the present competitive system of bargaining. We all know how the Colonies—Australia and Canada—have responded to the call for men for the front; and if a similar call were made to the Colonies for skilled workers to help our country in manufacturing the munitions of war, I believe an equally good response would be obtained. If, in addition, the Government offered to give badges or certificates to show that the men had stood by the old country, the country of their origin, when they were wanted, the men would appreciate it, and it would act as an extra inducement to the men to come. I am perfectly sure that if such a scheme were attempted, it would meet with a response which would go, at any rate, to some extent, to meet the shortage of skilled labour which at present seems to be the trouble.
§ Sir RICHARD COOPER
At this hour, when most of us are looking to refreshments rather than to speeches, I will confine myself to the particular point which I desire to bring before the House. This Debate centres entirely around the maximum production of munitions of war. We understand that for one reason or another there is not being produced in this country the amount which the Government desire, and which they require in order to carry out to the full extent the operations they have in view. I will come straight to my point, and say to the Financial Secretary to the War Office, I am ready to-morrow morning to be responsible for bringing to the War Office a contract for five million shrapnel shells, at a price which I will undertake shall be below what the War Office are now paying—I will not say how much, but something below what they are now paying—with full banker's guarantee for the fulfilment of the contract, if he will accept it on the spot. This is the crux of my point. Does he want shells? That is the point. I make this offer to the Government. I do not want to press it too far, because the hon. Member probably cannot say offhand that he will accept it. That would be unreasonable. Let me put it on more reasonable grounds. There is an opportunity for the Government to-morrow to secure the production of five million shrapnel 3-inch shells on the terms I have stated. If the Government really want shells, as they tell us they do, I shall be very glad to use my offices in any way I can to assist the War Office to secure the ammunition.
§ Sir RICHARD COOPER
I will do so, but the offer of these shells has been at the War Office for over a month, and no answer has yet been received. That is the crux of the problem which we are discussing to-night. Do the Government want shells? I will be quite fair, because I know what the Financial Secretary will probably say. I am speakng of a firm which is not producing these shells for us to-day. There are firms which can produce them, and are anxious to do so. They are ready to make money. Do not forget that the price of shells in war time is about 18 dollars, whereas in times of 374 peace 11 dollars was about the price. There are firms anxious to supply this country with the shells which we understand the Government are calling aloud for. I may be wrong, I do not allege this as a fact, but I understand that the real reason why these firms are not producing these goods is that the War Office, for reasons which, for all I know, may be absolutely necessary and wise, but which I do not understand, must have the most detailed and specific facts as to where they are to be produced, and who is going to supply all the little odds and ends that go to make up the final order. They must have that information, and a full exposure of the names of the firms connected with the supply of the goods, before they will even consider whether or not they can accept any contract. That suggests to me that there must be something in the administration of the War Office—which I confess I do not understand—which is operating against the best interests of the country. I will not say any more on the subject, because I have had occasion to go to the Financial Secretary and other members of the staff on matters more or less of detail in connection with war contracts, and I have been received by him and by them in a very ready, helpful and sympathetic manner, and that being so, I feel that I need not detain the House to-night. I believe that, at any rate, the hon. Member will give heed to the remarks I have made, and that he will perhaps consider quietly whether I am right or wrong in suggesting that there is something in the system by which war contracts are being placed which is operating against the best interests of the country, and producing the difficulty which we have spent this afternoon in, I trust profitably, discussing.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ The remaining Orders were read and postponed.
§ Whereupon Mr. SPEAKEB, pursuant to the Order of the House of the 3rd February, proposed the Question, "That this House do now adjourn."
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Fourteen minutes after Nine o'clock.