HC Deb 21 December 1915 vol 77 cc437-42

Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."


This Bill of the right hon. Gentleman is being taken at rather a late hour, but it is one of those Bills which can be described as of a war character, and, as far as I am concerned, I do not desire to delay it in the slightest degree. But there is one Clause in regard to which I desire to ask a question. Money is provided in connection with arrangements for restricting the supply of commodities to the enemy. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman can give us any idea of whether there has been much money spent in the past with regard to that, and whether he contemplates the voting much money in future with regard to it. The right hon. Gentleman, I think, knows my views on this matter, for I say that while pretending to the British public that we are doing everything possible to prevent supplies going to the enemy we are deliberately putting the seal of our Government to an agreement which allows certain things to go into the enemy's hands. That is a very extraordinary position for this Government to take up. I understand that some of its Members take the view that they are justified in sending essential materials to the enemy on the ground that by doing so we are taking away the enemy's gold re-serve. Logically it follows from that that if we can send enough supplies to the enemy in course of time we will entirely take away her reserve of gold. I think that is a most extraordinary doctrine. I would like a good deal of money to be spent in the directions specified in this Bill. We know to-day that, owing to your allowing supplies to go to the enemy, materials of the greatest importance are being practically cornered in this country. Linseed oil, for instance, has risen enormously in price, largely because of the increased supplies going to neutral countries, and being handed on to the enemy. That is a very serious matter to our manufacturers. The fact that we are allowing linseed oil to go to the enemy has led speculators to enter our markets and to practically hold up the supply. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he will be doing a good day's service to this country if he would make inquiries as regards the enormous supplies being bought and stored in this country at the present the. It is a great scandal that oils and fats in this country should be held up with a view to their being sent to the enemy. That is one of the greatest scandals of the War. The people do not believe that the Government is serious in regard to this matter. I do hope that the Government will make some defence, and give us some justification for their action in allowing materials to go with their authority to the enemy. Their acton puzzles the Fleet. Our aim should be to starve the enemy and hit her in every possible way. I ask for an assurance from the right hon. Gentleman that there will be a little more activity in this direction in future than there has been in the past.


I just want to call attention to one point in this Bill, on which I put down an Amendment, but which I was unable to move because, unfortunately, I went on a certain deputation which has been referred to to-night, and was unable to be present when the Bill was in Committee. The Amendment is on the Paper, and I desire to call the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to it in the hope that, should another Bill be promoted on these lines, the matter will be attended to. This Bill gives compensation with respect to persons killed or injured on any merchant ship or fishing vessel, but I am told that in the case of a vessel being sunk by an enemy submarine and people getting off on a boat and trying to make for shore, say, perhaps, a mile away, and the boat being lost, that those people would have no compensation at all.

I am very glad the right hon. Gentleman has considered the point, but I was told by a lawyer conversant with the Merchant Shipping Act that the decisions given in the Law Courts affecting the words "ship's-boat" was of a very serious kind. I very much regret I was not able to be in my place when the Bill was introduced. I trust the point will not arise, but if it does, and there are people who are entitled to compensation, I hope it will be met. There is another point to which I have referred in a question I put in the House regarding people who have been injured in Zeppelin raids, or, having been killed in Zeppelin raids, having left dependants. The policy of the Government in this matter is rather strange. Up to a date, I think in July, such persons who were injured in Zeppelin raids were open to get compensation from the Government. If they were killed and left dependants, those dependants were open to get compensation. Quite suddenly, this has all come to an end. I feel very strongly upon this, because one of my Constituents was very seriously injured by the very first bomb that fell on 13th October—


It does not seem to me that the topic to which the hon. Member is now referring is one which is within the compass of the Bill. He must confine himself to matters which are within the Bill, and must not raise matters which he thinks ought to have been in the Bill.


On that point of Order. May I point out that in Section (3) of the first Clause, Sub-section (d), the definition mentions "in respect of aircraft and bombardment insurance contracts"?


That is not the point with which the hon. Member was dealing. He was not dealing with the insurance of property.


Unfortunately, my Constituent was not insured. I must not pursue it, but I trust we have not heard the last of it, or that if we have heard the last of it is because we have heard the last of the Zeppelin raids. If we have more Zeppelin raids we shall be obliged to have another War Obligations Bill altogether. At this early hour of the morning I do not want to detain the House. [An HON. MEMBER: "YOU said that long ago!"] I say it again. We must expect some Members of the House to be always asleep, and there is, therefore, no harm in repeating what one feels with sincerity. I congratulate the Chancellor of the Exchequer on this Bill, and assure him that next time he has a similar Bill in Committee I will be there to move any Amendments that may be necessary.


I would like to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer with regard to the progress of the scheme. Perhaps he would take this opportunity of assuring the House that the scheme is going on all right, and if he could utter some encouraging words that would bring private people into the scheme it would be a good thing. I associate myself with what has been said. I should have preferred, instead of seeing in Sub-section (e) "restricting the supply of any commodities to the enemy," stronger language, not merely to restrict but to terminate altogether the supply of commodities to the enemy. That was the Prime Minister's pledge that the Government would endeavour to prevent them from going into or leaving the enemy's country, and this Bill only takes powers for restricting the supply. I presume that in some cases it is better to restrict, but I hope that in some other way we shall have the power to terminate or entirely deprive them of these commodities, because that is the Prime Minister's position. This is the third occasion on which I have had to stand up for the Prime Minister. In this case his policy holds the field; it commends itself to all my friends, and we hope the Government will carry it out. I rose to ask how the scheme for obtaining American securities progresses.


If the right hon. Gentleman is going to reply I should like very much to know if he would tell us that under Sub-section (e) the Government have the power of supplying money for the purchase of supplies and commodities that may be stored for delivery to the enemy after the War is over. It is a matter, I think, which will come very much before the public in the near future, and I hope the Government have the power.


No, I do not think that Clause would cover that, but as this is only a retrospective Bill in any circumstances, as we are still at War, it could not apply to expenditure that might in future be undertaken in peace. In regard to the comment on the use of the word "restriction," I would remind hon. Gentlemen that it may be total as well as partial, and in this case we are looking to total rather than to partial restriction. The hon. Member who opened the Debate was perfectly right in the construction he put on this particular paragraph. It has become necessary from time to time for the Government to enter into arrangements involving liability which will ultimately fall on the funds of Parliament. Those arrangements have been undertaken with the object of restricting enemy supplies, and I am now asking for the sanction of Parliament to the expenditure we have made. As to the point of the hon. Member for Somerset (Mr. King), whatever the legal construction may be, and I must not be understood to accept the legal construction given to him of paragraph (b), I can only say that in construing this Clause it will be construed by the Government in the wider sense, and that he need have no fear that any technical point will be taken that any person whose life is being saved after leaving the vessel, and who is then shipwrecked from the small boat would lose any rights under the scheme. On the general question of the progress which we have made with the American securities scheme I may observe that a statement has been published to-day informing the public that we shall, on 1st January, issue application forms. By that time we shall be able to receive application forms filled up by any individual who may be willing to deposit his securities with the Treasury. We thought it advisable to postpone the direct application until after the Christmas holidays, particularly in view of the fact that our staff is very fully occupied in dealing with the large amount of securities which have been placed in the hands of the Treasury by the insurance companies, and the trust companies, but we hope to have the whole scheme in thorough working order at the beginning of the year, and a complete notice, giving details in the amplest form, has been issued to-day. I hope, with that explanation, we may have the Third Reading to-night.


I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not understand my hon. Friend's question, which was, whether this Bill gives him power to deal with goods which have been bought, and which are now lying in this country, and are sold for delivery to the enemy after the War is over?


No, Sir. This is an act of indemnity for expenditure which the Government has already met, and it could not cover the kind of case which I was told my hon. Friend had put forward.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolution to be reported this day; Committee to sit again this day.

The remaining Orders were read and postponed.

It being after Half-past Eleven of the clock on Tuesday evening, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House without put, Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at Twenty-eight minutes before Six a.m. Wednesday, 22nd December.