§ Mr. SPEAKER
I do not know what the hon. Member has in his mind. The next Motion on the Paper raises the question of how late we are to sit to-night, and it seems to me that that would be the proper place to put the question.
§ Mr. BOOTH
The difficulty is when we come to that Motion the House will have determined to meet at twelve o'clock to-morrow, and I presume you would rule that we could not raise that question again. The two points are connected, if I might respectfully say so. If the House determines to meet at twelve o'clock tomorrow, that becomes an accepted decision of the House, and it may be that in deciding to pass the second Resolution the House might regret having passed the first. It would therefore be an advantage if we could have from the Front Bench an indication whether the House is likely to be late to-night.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
As far as the Treasury Bench is concerned, the House will certainly not be delayed, but of course I cannot anticipate the duration of the Debate, as that is in the hands of hon. Members not on the Treasury Bench. I hope it may be possible for the House to adjourn at a comparatively early and reasonable hour. I see no reason why it should not. All that the Government propose to take is the first four Orders.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
Are we to understand that the House is to take the Report stage of the Munitions of War (Amendment) Bill in the absence of the Minister of Munitions?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
My right hon. Friend is away on a mission of great public importance. It is of the utmost public importance that the Bill should be passed through this House without further delay. I am sure that all the Departments will be adequately represented on the questions dealt with.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
Are the Government sure that, if the Bill passes through its remaining stages in this House to-day, it will become law before the House reassembles?
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I beg to move, "That the Proceedings on Government Business, if under discussion at Eleven o'clock this night, be not interrupted under the Standing Order (Sittings of the House), and may be entered upon at any hour though opposed."
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ Mr. KING
The Motion we have just passed gives me another ground for appealing to the Prime Minister not to proceed with this Motion. I do not intend, if I can restrain myself, to prolong the proceedings to-night, but it is perfectly obvious that we cannot sit as we did till half-past five this morning, have another late sitting to-night, and meet at twelve o'clock to-morrow without a great deal of strain upon Members and Ministers. [An HON. MEMBER: "They are not here."] If they are not here, the fact that we have been sitting so much without them must make their consciences uneasy. The strain not only upon Members and Ministers, but also upon the Reporting Staff and all the persons connected with the service of the House is very great. I would respectfully represent to the Prime Minister that the very important speech by the President of the Board of Trade last night was delivered at such a late hour that it does not appear in some of the London papers this morning. That speech, in my opinion, was far 503 and away the most important that we have heard from the Government Bench for a long time. It was heard with a great deal of sympathy and interest in all quarters of the House, and I look upon it as nothing but a public misfortune that several of the morning papers have no reference whatever to the speech. I dare say the Prime Minister has read the speech, or, at any rate, knows the purport of it. I suggest that it would assist the country at this time to come to a decision on very important matters, and it would assist the Government and this House if we were not carrying on our business in such a way that an important speech of that kind was delivered at such a very late hour. With regard to the business for to-night, it surely is a matter of very great disadvantage that, when we have on the Report stage of the Munitions of War (Amendment) Bill no less than eight pages of Amendments—a large number of which are put down by the Government itself—and one, at any rate, referring to the Appeal Court put down in quite a new and unexpected form, we cannot possibly have from the Minister of Munitions himself his reason why he has come to a decision to put down this most important new Amendment. I appeal to the Prime Minister as to whether he really thinks it is quite fair to the House —[Interruption]—whom it is desired shall assist in putting this Bill through its Report stage. I believe that a fortnight's delay with this Bill will be well repaid by having the Bill in a more generally acceptable form. I do not speak now—[Interruption]—in order to prevent or in order that the business of this House might not be done decently, effectively, and in order. The remarks I am making for the purpose I have in view the Prime Minister knows are made in perfect good faith, and with no other desire than to assist the business of the House.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I wish to make a few observations on the Bill to which my hon. Friend opposite has referred. I wish to recall the attention of the House to what happened on the Committee stage of this Bill on Friday. It was announced by the Prime Minister on Thursday that the Munitions of War (Amendment) Bill would be taken on Friday, and that we would not sit late. We were kept sitting till half-past seven, an hour later, for a 504 Friday, than we have sat on any Friday since 1909. That is the case; and owing to the lateness of the hour considerable numbers of Amendments were not thoroughly discussed. Many of us who stayed and were anxious to have the considered opinion of the House were unable, owing to the conditions, to take the opinion of the House on some of the questions involved in the Bill. We are now invited to take to-day the Report stage of the Bill in the absence of the Minister of Munitions, the person responsible, and the only man who can speak with authority upon the Bill and upon the experience of the working of the original Act. The Government cannot tell what are the arguments which hon. members are going to put forward in favour of their Amendments. In spite of that, apparently, our Amendments have to receive perfunctory attention from Under-Secretary for Munitions without the authority of the Minister in charge. That is not treating this House with proper respect. After all, it will only mean a delay of about a fortnight. The Government have had plenty of time during this Session to bring this Bill before the House. When we reassembled I asked the Minister of Munitions if it was proposed to amend the original Act? We then had three months' experience of its failures, and of the grievances to which it had given rise in various quarters of the country. He said there was no intention of dealing with the matter just then. Week by week and month by month has gone by, nothing has been done until the matter of a month ago, when a number of private conferences were held. We in this House are not going to be bound by any decision of private conferences; the only legislation which can be satisfactory to the people of this country is legislation passed in the light of day, and not behind closed doors. For that reason we now claim that these very important outstanding questions should be thrashed out on the floor of the House, so that those concerned may know the decision come to by their representatives in this House.
There was a further point. The whole question of the position of labour is intimately connected with the decision upon compulsory military service which is at present in abeyance. If compulsory military service is accepted by the Government, which now seems probable, the whole situation in regard to the Muni- 505 tions Act will be completely revolutionised. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO!"] Instead of any harm resulting from delay such as the Prime Minister suggests, I believe it will be an advantage for the House to consider the problems of labour and of military service in relation to compulsion in view of the considered judgment of the Government upon this question of compulsion. For these reasons I appeal to the Government not to proceed with the Report stage of this Bill to-day, but to give us a fortnight, so that the matter can be the better considered by the House.
§ Mr. CHAPLIN
I do not know the speech of the President of the Board of Trade to which reference was made by the hon. Member below the Gangway (Mr. King). I was here between ten and eleven last night, and I had the pleasure of hearing the President of the Board of Trade make a singularly able and exhaustive speech on the subject which was engrossing the attention of the House, and in regard to which, so far as I was able to form an opinion, he gave universal satisfaction to Members. The hon. Member who has just sat down claims that the House of Commons is not, in this case, treated with due consideration. I think he is the last man in the House who is entitled to make that charge. No Member is treated with more consideration than the hon. Member. I have heard him over and over again speaking with an almost interminable verbosity.
§ Sir W. BYLES
I have a certain amount of sympathy with the remarks of the hon. Member opposite and the hon. Member behind me, and I would venture without joining in any attack upon the Government, to ask my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister if he will not, in the future, give his personal attention to the arrangements of the business of the House so that there may be some greater regularity in it. There should not be laxity at one part of the Session and congestion at another. We have been sitting here week after week for three days a week only, and now at the end of the Session we are called upon, as we were last week to sit for five days, and to sit on Friday for seven and a half hours. That was when very many Members—not myself— desired to go to their homes in the country. It is very undesirable that we should have this state of affairs at the end of the Session. If business is hastily 506 arranged and executed it cannot be properly digested and debated. May I point out to the Prime Minister that the Vote for the additional 1,000,000 men for our Army was passed in this House by about 5 per cent. of the Members—5½ per cent. at the most—at five o'clock this morning?
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
Everyone in this House has such a high regard for the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wimbledon that we do not wish to give any reply by way of recrimination to his attack on my hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire (Mr. Pringle). But really the right hon. Gentleman is unjust to my hon. Friend, whose contributions to the discussions of this House have been of a most valuable character. Hon. and right hon. Members above the Gangway, after twelve months, have only just found their tongues. What I want to point out to the Prime Minister is this, that we again have the old question "Too Late." We sat here till 5.30 this morning. There was no obstruction. My hon. Friends and those who act with them were entitled to take up the time they did. We have taken up a good deal of the time of the House during the past twelve months, and we are entitled to do so, because other hon. Members have never at all joined in the discussion. I desired to speak last night, and I rose in my place at 4.30 and continued to do so until between eleven and twelve o'clock without being successful in catching the Chairman's eye. I then joined in the discussion. I ask why, when the Prime Minister, as he did two or three weeks ago, says that the House was not to sit late, everything is put off to the last moment, and the work crowded into one week? The Prime Minister was asked whether it would not be better for the House to sit four days a week, and the reply of the right hon. Gentleman was, "No, it is not necessary." Yet at the last moment the Government is rushing all this legislation in, asking the House to suspend the Eleven O' Clock Rule, and keeping us sitting here. It was only by a fluke that the Government saved their Bill last night, and that was by the Chairman not correctly counting the number that came into the House.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
I hope the Prime Minister will agree to postpone this Munitions Bill. It was taken last Friday afternoon, on the first Friday sitting for a very long time, and the result was that 507 a large number of Members—some of my own colleagues included — who were anxious to be present during the Committee stage of the Bill were not able to be here. The Bill as amended by the Committee was only circulated with the Votes yesterday. I submit that that interval has been far too short for a further consideration of the Amendments. In regard to the second point—the urgency of the measure—I am quite sure that it will not lose by postponement for a fortnight longer. We were told a month ago that the matter was of such urgency that the Bill must be proceeded with without the loss of a single day. Three weeks, nearly a month, has gone by and the same tale is told to us again. My firm belief is that the absence of the Minister of Munitions is nothing less than scandalous, and that the Government should attempt to force the Report stage of this Bill in the absence of the Minister of Munitions responsible for it. I do most earnestly and respectfully request the Prime Minister to at once postpone the Report stage of this Bill.
§ Mr. HOGGE
The right hon. Gentleman who leads the Opposition has referred to my hon. Friend's interminable verbosity. I would like to point out that when my hon. Friend rises, as my right hon. Friend opposite can observe, he seldom occupies a column of the OFFICIAL REPORT in making the observations which he does towards our Debates. It comes very badly from the right hon. Gentleman to accuse my hon. Friend of "interminable verbosity." At any rate he has got more sense than my right hon. Friend — [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—for, with regard to the Plural Voting Bill, which is under consideration, the Amendment on the Paper in the names of my right hon. Friend opposite and his colleagues is the product of the brain of my hon. Friend, and would not have been observed by hon. Gentlemen opposite had it not been for my hon. Friend. It involves a principle which they hold dearly, but we provided the material for their Amendment. I hope that before the right hon. Gentleman again speaks of "interminable verbosity" he will take the trouble to discover matters of that kind. In regard to the Bill that we are asking the Prime Minister to postpone, I would like again to put this point to the right hon. Gentleman, who, after all is a Scottish Member, like some of us in this corner; he 508 knows that a great deal of difficulty in regard to this munitions question has arisen in the Clyde Valley. That district, while contributing very largely to the provision of munitions at this moment, is very largely concerned with certain of the proposals of this Bill. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Munitions has gone down to Glasgow as well as to Newcastle. In Glasgow he is meeting at least 900 delegates of the munitions workers in the Clyde Valley. It is true that he is not meeting the men, but the delegates; but it is obvious that those delegates will be discussing with him the very matters which we are proposing to discuss this afternoon. These involve some very serious questions. For instance, the Prime Minister must know the reluctance of every Scotsman to go to gaol.
One of the points, as the Prime Minister knows, in the Munitions Bill is the provision of the penalties which involve imprisonment. These are being discussed to-day, and will probably be tomorrow, by the Minister of Munitions in Newcastle and Glasgow. We passed the first Act on account of urgency, and we are now taking up the time of the House by amending that Act by this Bill. If you conclude the discussion to-day on the Amending Bill, it is absolutely certain that there will be other things which will require to be amended. If that is not so, will the Prime Minister explain what is the use of the Minister of Munitions going down to Newcastle and Glasgow? He has gone there for purposes of conference, and in order, as a result of his conference, that this Amending Bill may meet the wishes both of the Government and of the men. The Prime Minister has said the Derby figures are not to be given until after the Recess. I understand we are coming back on 4th January, and surely the few days that intervene between now and 4th January will give the Minister of Munitions time to consider the result of his conferences at Newcastle and Glasgow, and permit probably of much easier progress for the Government's Bill than they are likely to get to-day if they force us to come to conclusions on matters which are very vital to many of our constituents, and which involve questions relating to the prosecution of the War. I hope, therefore, the Prime Minister will see his way, on the request of so many of us who represent those districts and have to hear the objections of the workmen, to postpone it until 509 4th January. It is not a great deal we are asking, and by that time the Minister of Munitions will have the result of his conference. With that knowledge in our minds we shall be much better able to address ourselves to the problems which arise out of this Amending Bill.
§ Mr. BOOTH
I am not surprised that the right hon. Gentleman has set a most excellent example to younger Members of this House in that graceful courtesy which is supposed to belong to a past age. I differ very frequently, as is well known, and I may do so in the near future, from my hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, but I want to say, so far as discussions go, no one is more frank than he is, and no one is more prepared to place his ability even at the disposal of those who fight against him. Again and again he has contributed points even to those who disagree with him, and the late Conservative party bear testimony to that on the Agenda Paper to-day, owing to a speech of my hon. Friend, which was an example, even to the right hon. Gentleman, of clearness and conciseness. To give one example: he pointed out on the Parliament Bill what the position was, and the Members of the late Conservative party have quite properly taken advantage of that and put an Amendment down. I think, therefore, when the right hon. Gentleman again seizes the opportunity so dear to his heart to make one of his well-known brief and concise speeches, he will have to amend still further his remark as to my hon. Friend.
Sir H. DALZIEL
I was hoping the Prime Minister would have said a word or two in reply to the appeal which has been made to him. Probably he is going to do so before a Division is taken, and no doubt the House will be interested to hear what he has to say. Why I rise is to point out that really the question before us at the present time is whether the House is going to decide to sit, should it be necessary, after eleven o'clock to-night. Of course it is very easy for the right hon. Gentleman, who probably very wisely goes home 510 to bed at eleven o'clock, to give a vote to-day in favour of the House sitting late, but there is really a much larger question than that. It is whether we are really acting in the best interests of the country in discussing very important matters after eleven o'clock at night. There were only three members of the Government here beside the Whips during the all-night sitting. I suppose this afternoon Ministers will unanimously be willing to give their vote in favour of the House sitting to-night, and probably not one will be here to hear the business discussed. Let me give what I think is a very important instance. Last night we were discussing, for the first time, the vote of 1,000,000 men. Nobody will deny that that was a most important proposition, and gave opportunity for raising matters of the greatest importance. About four o'clock this morning, when many Members wanted to raise different subjects of Army administration, which had been barred because of the recruiting question that had been introduced yesterday, the Home Secretary—who was treating the Committee, I must say, very courteously— told us that, unless we passed the Vote, in his opinion it would absolutely stop recruiting for the time being. I say it is not fair to put the Committee in a position of that kind, because many matters had to be raised. So far as I can see, there is no reason whatever why this Vote could not have been introduced about a week ago. I may say the same about the Parliament Bill. The Government knew they had to introduce it, and to pass it practically before the House adjourned for Christmas; and, as regards the Munitions Bill, although I know that has taken a lot of discussion, Members in different parts of the House still think that was introduced too late.
Therefore, I would appeal to the Government whether, after the adjournment for Christmas, they will not really give a little more attention, if it be possible, to the arrangement of business, so that we shall not have to sit at a late hour at night. The House will remember that two or three weeks ago I indicated to the Government the exact position of things would happen as has happened. At that time I drew a time-table which was laughed at on the Government Bench. They said it was ridiculous to suggest that all our business would not be cleared up long before Christmas. The Prime Minister indicated that it would be done without any anticipation of 511 any late sittings. Well, we have had the sitting rule suspended on three days, and all because the Government have kept their Bills back till the very last minute. In view of the very peculiar position which now governs the House, namely, that private Members have no medium of communication through the old channels which used to exist, from the fact that there is no Opposition to express any wish at all, I submit it really calls for greater consideration on the part of the Government in regard to the whole body of private Members, and I would just repeat my appeal that, after the Recess, the Government will be able to introduce matters of an important character before they get into such a position that the House must either kill the proposition altogether or accept it just as it is brought forward by the Government. I sincerely hope the suggestion will be considered, because I can tell the right hon. Gentleman there is a good deal of feeling about it in various quarters of the House.
§ Mr. CLYNES
There is just one other standpoint from which an appeal can be made, in addition to the appeals already made, and I want to join with the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden), and others who have spoken, in order to strengthen, if I can, the request to the Prime Minister to defer this Bill. There are some few of us in this House who are closely associated with some hundreds of thousands in organised trade unions who have not had any opportunity whatever in connection with the Committee stage of this Bill of expressing their views. Owing to the way in which this Bill had to reach its Committee stage on Friday last, and the absence of notice in any way of advantage to us, we were not able to be in our places, and we had no thought whatever that the Committee stage would be taken on that date. Now, we are all well aware that one of the three or four principal instruments for winning the War is an amply supply of munitions. This Bill deals with the whole framework of keeping that supply as complete and as ample as possible, and yet we are asked, in the absence of the Minister of Munitions, to deal with the Report and final stages of this measure. The Prime Minister can be certain that if the last stages of this Bill are forced upon us in this manner, the labourers, and skilled tradesmen as well, will be very much dissatisfied, and that the mission of the Minister of Munitions to 512 the Clyde and to Newcastle will really fail in its purpose. The experience gained can be far better used on his return, and there will be nothing whatever lost by delaying the measure for a fortnight, and so give us a chance to consider it at our leisure. On the whole, I think it would not be merely gracious but really a wise decision on the part of the Prime Minister that he should defer the further consideration of this Bill until after the New Year holiday.
§ Mr. HOLT
I should also like to make an appeal to the Prime Minister. I do think every hon. Member has a right to protest in the strongest possible way as to the manner in which the House has been treated with regard to this Bill. It is ridiculous to tell us there is any urgency. If that is so the Minister of Munitions and his assistants ought to be dismissed from office for not having introduced it long ago. It is a trick of the Government to introduce in the last few days of the Session a measure which they assert is a matter of urgency. They do it for the purpose of preventing it being discussed in this House. The Committee stage of the Munitions Bill was taken, I think, about three days after the Second Reading. Owing to the fact that it was an Amending Bill it was very complicated, and three days were not sufficient to enable Members to consult friends outside, and to put on the Order Paper Amendments properly framed which they could recommend to the House. I venture to say that, if we are to have proper Parliamentary discussion, we ought to be allowed at least a week between the Second Beading and the Committee stage in order to get our Amendments in proper order. The Committee stage of this Bill was taken on Friday. We did not get the Bill as amended and printed put into our hands until Monday. We have had no time whatever to frame properly considered Amendments to put on the Paper. There were several Amendments I would have liked to put before the House but we have had other things to do. It was absolutely impossible to put considered Amendments dealing with the points raised on the Paper in sufficient time to secure proper discussion on Report. It is monstrous that the House should be treated in that way, and I do hope, therefore, the Prime Minister will agree to put this Bill off until after the Recess, and give us a reasonable period of Parliamentary time to consider it.
§ Mr. PRATT
I wish to support what the hon. Member has just said in regard to 513 the bearing of the Adjournment on the Munitions of War (Amendment) Bill. I am very anxious that the Amending Bill, when it is passed, shall result in a minimum of disturbance in the industrial districts, and especially on the Tyneside. It is well known to the House that the original Munitions Act was the cause of much trouble on the Clydeside, and it would be nothing short of a national misfortune if this Amending Act was the cause of fresh trouble on the Clydeside. Many of the points in dispute between the Minister of Munitions and the Clydeside workers are to be discussed to-day, and probably they will not be reached till the small hours of to-morrow morning. That is not satisfactory in the circumstances. In the second place the Minister of Munitions is not to be here, and he undertook on Friday to hold a conference with certain hon. Members who made certain suggestions in Committee, and that conference has not taken place yet, and it certainly ought to take place before the proceedings on Report. The Minister of Munitions is to hold a conference to-morrow with the Clydeside workers. I think it is an extraordinary proposal that when the Minister of Munitions is to have the opportunity to-morrow of hearing at first hand what the representatives of the Clyde-side workers have to say that the door should be absolutely closed against any further Amendments which he himself may consider desirable as the result of that conference. I appeal to the Prime Minister to bear in mind that on the Clydeside there has been and still is the possibility of very serious trouble. The leaders of the men there and the representatives of labour and those of us who represent industrial constituencies in Scotland are very anxious that everything should be done to allay the trouble and the irritation at present existing in that great industrial centre upon which so much depends. I am confident that the adjournment of this business until we resume our sittings will undoubtedly further the interests of the Ministry of Munitions, and will not at all put them at a disadvantage. I trust the appeal which has so generally been made will not fall upon deaf ears, and that we shall be given further opportunities in the Recess to make the new Bill a much more perfect and efficient instrument in the hands of the Minister of Munitions.
§ Mr. W. THORNE
I apologise for not being present during the whole of the debate on this question, and I am not 514 quite sure whether any Members of the Labour party have conveyed to the House the definite decision which the Labour party arrived at last night in discussing this matter. The Labour party decided unanimously that this question should be adjourned until after the holidays, because we had been definitely promised by the Minister of Munitions that he was going to consider various fundamental Amendments, which in my humble judgment will have to be considered, and in consequence of the Minister of Munitions not being present, it does appear to me that this measure should be adjourned until after the holidays. If this Motion is pressed to a Division, so far as the Labour representatives are concerned, we are in duty bound to vote against it. That is my opinion, and I have heard nothing to the contrary that has been arrived at since the decision that was come to last night at our party meeting. I would like to say to the Prime Minister, so far as many of us are concerned, that we have decided definitely to back up the Government in every instance, but there are times which must arrive when it is almost impossible for some of us to vote with the Government. Therefore I make another appeal in addition to those which have already been made on this question, because I feel convinced that if the Prime Minister refuses this Motion and insists upon this Bill being brought forward before the holidays, I am very much afraid you will not get the result at which you want to arrive. I am perfectly convinced that by this measure being held over it will not retard the work of the Minister of Munitions in the slightest degree, and the munition workers will go on exactly the same. That has been proved by the fact that the Minister of Munitions has come to the definite decision to give the workers a longer holiday than was anticipated. I want to appeal to the Prime Minister to consider all the appeals which have been made to him and let this matter stand over until after the holidays.
§ Mr. HODGE
What my hon. Friend who has just sat down said is perfectly correct. We were unanimously of opinion that owing to the short period of time between receiving the Bill and the Amendments promised by the Minister of Munitions the time was too short to fully consider what the effect of those Amendments would be. It was suggested that we should convey this information to the right hon. Gentleman, but I suggested that that 515 would hardly meet the case, and that it would be very much better if we could have a personal interview with the Minister of Munitions for the purpose of putting our reasons before him for delaying this stage of the Bill. Accordingly, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Duncan), we waited upon the Minister of Munitions last night and placed before him our ideas, and suggested that a fortnight's delay would not be unreasonable. The Minister of Munitions placed before us facts and figures relating to the urgency of the question which caused us to withdraw our claim for delay, and the right hon. Gentleman assured us that, as the result of the lack of the Bill, the manufacture of heavy guns was being held up on the Tyne, and that it was absolutely essential that he should get the Bill for the purpose of carrying through his arrangements with the engineers in respect to the dilution of labour. I think we are all aware that without these heavy guns we cannot help our men on the West front as we want to do, and it was only on the assurance of the right hon. Gentleman that I, at any rate, felt in the face of the gravity of the statement he made that I could not persist in the demand that was made for delay.
One of the questions which I put to the right hon. Gentleman was, "Supposing we go on with the Report stage and get your Bill and the Third Reading passed tomorrow night, can it pass the House of Lord before we adjourn?" I have the assurance of the right hon. Gentleman that that had all been arranged, and that the representations he had made to the responsible leaders of the other Chamber had been of such a character as to convince them of the necessity for the measure going through all its stages and getting the Royal Assent before the House rose. With respect to one of the points raised by the hon. Member for North-West Lanark (Mr. Pringle) relating to imprisonment on the Clyde, I placed before the Minister of Munitions the strength of the feeling of the Scottish Members and the strength of our own feelings as well as the report of Lord Balfour of Burleigh, and I urged that this made it almost impossible for the Government to retain imprisonment in the Bill. After mature consideration the right hon. Gentleman said he would give instructions that that should be deleted, and that he would accept the 516 Amendment to be moved on this question. I also urged that the delay of a fortnight would not mean anything serious in regard to the Munitions Bill, and it was only upon the very grave representations of the right hon. Gentleman that I felt I could not take upon myself the responsibility of causing any delay in a matter where the lives of our soldiers at the front were concerned.
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Asquith)
I am always anxious, as anyone who has the honour of occupying the position of Leader of the House must be, to arrange the order of business in a manner which would be agreeable to the general convenience and the predominant feeling of the House, subject always to the superior interests of national necessities. With regard to the Vote for the Army and for the men, the Committee stage of which was taken last night and the Report stage of which is to be taken tonight, those necessities are absolutely irresistible; otherwise we cannot proceed with recruiting, and we cannot keep up our Army at the level which everybody admits it ought to be kept. In reference to the Bill in regard to which so many appeals have been made by hon. Gentlemen in various parts of the House, I believe it to be a measure of great importance and very considerable urgency. Of course, I cannot be insensible to the number and the weight of the arguments which have been addressed to me. With regard to the absence of the Minister of Munitions, I wish it to be clearly understood that it is out of no disrespect to the House, because the engagement he is fulfilling is one which has been postponed again and again, and it is very important that he should fulfil it before the Christmas holidays begin, and this is the last night on which he could possibly have carried out his engagement. Therefore, so far as my right hon. Friend is concerned, his absence is unintended, and I am sure much regretted on his own part and on the part of everybody else.
From the information I have received, I believe that the Report stage of this Bill will take a very short time. The Amendments put down in the name of the Minister of Munitions are mostly concessions to demands made in Committee or outside, or developments of those concessions in the sense in which the concessions themselves are asked for. I am afraid, however, that my expectations on that point have been disappointed. Although I do 517 not believe there is any serious opposition I on the part of those who represent labour or in any quarter of the House to the main provisions of the Bill, there does appear to be a desire to discuss in some detail and at some length not only the main principles, but even some of the more subordinate proposals. Of course, if I thought the delay would be absolutely pernicious or injurious to the best interests of the country, nothing would induce me to assent, but in all the circumstances of the case, and with a desire that the business should be conducted in the best spirit and with mutual good will, I am reluctantly coerced to respond to the appeal and consent to a short postponement of the consideration of the Report stage of this Bill. It must, however, be taken on the first day after the Adjournment, and then I hope we shall pass both the Report stage and the Third Reading. Having said that, and having shown a disposition to meet the several suggestions made by hon. Members in various quarters of the House, I hope I may be absolved from going into any general question as to the conduct of business by the Government. It has been suggested by one hon. Member that the President of the Board of Trade, when he spoke last night, chose an abnormal and almost ungraciously late hour to deliver his speech. May I point out that my right hon. Friend spoke between ten and eleven o'clock, and when I first entered this House, thirty years ago, we were generally just beginning the evening at that hour?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
We never thought of rising at eleven o'clock at night. We used to sit without any rules of any sort or kind, and we used to sit regularly till one, two, or three o'clock in the morning as part of our daily Parliamentary life.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
My hon. Friend is perfectly right, and it is a very-good reason for not suspending the Eleven o'Clock Rule, because, if hon. Gentlemen in all parts of the House do as they did last night and deliver most fruitful and interesting speeches, they do so without any possibility of the country deriving 518 any benefit from them. Although I am moving this Motion for the suspension of the Eleven o'Clock Rule to-night, with a view to the importance of getting Vote A for the Army, I earnestly hope the House will take care that it rises at such a time that the speeches may be quite faithfully reported in the earliest editions of the Press. My right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs (Sir H. Dalziel) is one of our candid Friends. I do not object to friendship even when it is candid. The right hon. Gentleman made something in the nature of a general arraignment of the Government in the conduct of business, and he hoped that when we resumed our sittings after the Adjournment we should turn over a new leaf and practise better ways. I have been accustomed for many years to hear that admonition expressed to me by my right hon. Friend who now sits on this Bench (Mr. Bonar Law) and by his predecessor in the Leadership of the Opposition. It is so familiar, and I have so often kissed the Rod, without, I am afraid, any serious or permanent amendment of character or of habit, that although I recognise that the admonition now comes from a different quarter I am not very sanguine as to whether my right hon. Friend will see a serious improvement, but I will do my best. As a matter of fact, I do not think there has ever been a Session since I have been in the House—and that is a very long time now—that the House has been so rarely asked to sit up late than it has during the present Session. The Eleven o'Clock Rule, I think, has been suspended three or four times, and last night was the first repetition—
§ Mr. PRINGLE
When the Committee stage of the Munitions Bill was taken on 30th June we sat until five o'clock in the morning.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Be it so. Then this is the second occasion. It used to be almost the recognised practice to have an occasional all-night sitting and to thresh out things under the free and unrestrained conditions which prevail at that hour of the night. It has happened very rarely this Session. I have always been in favour of short sittings. I believe we do our business much better before eleven o'clock than we do after eleven o'clock. But without going into any general question of the conduct of Parliamentary business, I hope after what I have said in the way of meeting my hon. Friends on the 519 Munitions Bill that we may be able to get through the remainder of the programme —the first four Orders of the Day—by eleven o'clock without any necessity of taking advantage of the Motion which I now make for the sake of precaution and in order that the Government may secure the necessary Vote for the Army.
§ Mr. PETO
May I remind the Prime Minister that he has promised the first day after the Adjournment for the consideration of the Motion standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Hewins):
"Prosecution of the War,—That, with a view to increasing the power of the Allies in the Prosecution of the War, His Majesty's Government should enter into immediate consultation with the Governments of the Dominions in order with their aid to bring the whole economic strength of the Empire into cooperation with our Allies in a policy directed against the enemy."
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I cannot say the 5th, but I will take care that it takes place at a very early date.
§ Mr. CURRIE
May I ask the Prime Minister to supplement his statement on one point? When we meet to discuss the Munitions of War (Amendment) Bill, may we rely upon having at our disposal a statement from him as to the result of the Derby scheme? That appears to me to be of the highest importance.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I do not quite follow when the hon. Gentleman asks me to supply that information.
§ Mr. CURRIE
I do not so much care when it is supplied; but when we come to discuss the Munitions of War (Amendment) Bill shall we have a statement before us as to the result of the Derby scheme?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I do not think I can give an undertaking of that kind. I do not think the two things are so inter- 520 related as to make the discussion of the Munitions of War (Amendment) Bill impossible without the other information, but the other information will be given as soon as the Government are in a position to give it.
§ Captain AMERY
As the Prime Minister has informed us that he is going to take the Munitions Bill on the first day after the House meets again, and as he has intimated that the Motion standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Hewins) is also to be taken on one of the first days, could he inform the House whether he is going to give the House the decision of the Government upon Lord Derby's Recruiting Scheme on the second day that the House meets, or at any rate, on one of the first two or three days, because that, after all, is the most important question?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I never like to commit myself to a definite date. I have found such commitments very dangerous, but it will certainly be at the earliest possible moment.
§ Question put, and agreed to.