HC Deb 02 February 1915 vol 69 cc9-32

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Gulland.]


I desire to take the earliest opportunity afforded by the meeting of the House in order to correct a misapprehension which exists, as I know from references in the Press and still more from private correspondence, as to the relationship between the Government and the Opposition. The erroneous impression to which I refer, but which I know the Government does not share, is that we are supplied by them privately with information as to their plans for the prosecution of the War, and that in consequence we, to some extent, share their responsibility and are not apparently free to criticise as we might wish. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman and the House will quite understand I am very far from complaining that the Government have not given us sufficient information. I make no such complaint. The responsibility for the conduct of the War must attach to the Government alone. They only can decide when, if ever, public interest requires that they should officially take the Opposition into their confidence. It must, however, be perfectly plain—and I am sure the House will not think it unreasonable—that I should make it clear that we have no responsibility, that we are absolutely free, and that in criticising or refraining from criticising the action of the Government, we are actuated solely by what we consider to be the national interest. Let me say, further, it seems to me possible there will be more discussion in the present sittings of the House in which Members in all parts will take part than has been the case hitherto. I desire, therefore, to say once more, not only for myself, but on behalf of my colleagues, that we realise very keenly the serious nature of the struggle in which we are engaged and that in any criticism—and there must be criticism from these Benches—we shall not in any degree be actuated by considerations of party motive.


I take no exception—I need not say—to anything which has fallen from the right hon. Gentleman. His Majesty's Government, and they alone, are responsible for the policy of the country and the conduct of both our military and our naval operations. They do not desire in any way to abrogate or to share this responsibility with anybody else, or to shrink at any time from what they know to be fair, legitimate and patriotic criticism coming from any quarter. With regard to the position of those who are responsible for the leadership of the Opposition, I will only supplement what the right hon. Gentleman has said by two observations: In the first place we have thought it right and proper, as he knows, to communicate, practically day by day, a good deal of information that reaches us with regard to diplomatic and other matters. But that does not in any way fetter their right or freedom of criticism on the steps we have taken, or may take. In the next place, I desire in the most grateful terms I can command, to acknowledge the co-operation—patriotic in spirit and inestimable in value—which the leading members of the Opposition have given to us with regard to many of the inquiries we have had to conduct, especially in relation to delicate economic questions. They have acted as all British statesmen would act in such circumstances, but they have not in so doing surrendered their right to criticise in the fullest and freest way, and it must not be taken as in any way restricting their judgment or criticism with regard to any steps which we on our own responsibility may desire to take. I will only add that, faced as we have been and as we are with a number of responsibilities and cares which are almost unexampled in their complexity and in their magnitude, we welcome in the fullest sense criticism, as we know we shall receive the co-operation of the House.


In view of the statements made from both Front Benches, I want to make an observation on a matter which arises directly out of both those statements We have heard from the Prime Minister of the relationship between the Government and the Opposition Front Bench, but it appears to me that the House of Commons as a whole has not quite received the consideration to which it is entitled. Some time ago, on the eve of one of the Adjournments, a discussion took place with regard to the House of Commons not being adjourned for too long intervals. The interesting statement we have heard to day of information being conveyed to the chief Opposition Leader is one to which no one is going to demur, but it does seem to many of us that Adjournments for too long periods are not in the interest either of the House of Commons or the country. We were given a promise in the early stages of the War that these long Adjournments would not take place. There is a very substantial opinion in the country, and among many Members of this House, that the Adjournment which has just closed was of too long duration. Having regard to the very serious issues now obtaining in the country, I hope that the Prime Minister will be in a position to tell the House that we have had the last of these long Adjournments during the time the War lasts. The Notice of Motion which the Prime Minister told us he is going to bring before the House with regard to the time of the House shows that we are not going to meet on Fridays. The fact that we are only going to sit four days a week is an additional reason why, when we do adjourn, we should adjourn not for a long period, but for the shortest possible period consistent with the claims and demands the Government have made upon them.

I submitted for question to the Prime Minister with regard to what is certainly the most serious issue with which the civil population has been confronted since the opening of hostilities. I refer to the terrible prices now ruling for food and coals and other commodities. We have been informed that the Government have appointed a Cabinet Committee. The only point I want to urge upon the Prime Minister—and I do not know that it needs much urging—is this; there is such a feeling in the country, and the poor people especially are being so hardly dealt with because of the almost famine prices that now obtain, that we ought to have a discussion of this important subject on one of the early days of next week. I do not object to the Cabinet Committee going on and making all the inquiries through the Departments that they think necessary, but this is a subject in which the Whole House is interested, and we ought to be given an early opportunity of putting whatever views we have on the subject on behalf of those we represent before the Whole House. I appeal to the Prime Minister to say whether it would not be possible to set one day aside early next week so that the whole subject can be fully ventilated in the House in the interest both of the House and the country.


I can only speak again with the leave of the House. As to my right hon. Friend's first point with regard to the Adjournment, I would point out that there was no objection taken by him or any of his Friends to the length of the Adjournment when it was moved until to-day. This is the first I have heard of there being any ground of complaint. Of course, we shall not ask the House to adjourn for any unreasonable time. With regard to his second point, I am as anxious as anybody that the matter should be discussed early and in the fullest possible manner.


The Prime Minister has intimated that the Government are going to take the whole time of the House, and therefore private Members will not have very frequent opportunities of referring to matters in which they are interested. I want to call attention this afternoon to the leaflet issued by the War Office dealing with separation allowances, and to bring before their attention the method in which it is working out and the use which is being made of it by those who are attending recruiting meetings throughout the country. The leaflet which I have in my hand is one which is issued by the War Office, and is revised up to the 11th November, 1914. That leaflet sets out in parallel columns the amount that a soldier joining the Colours is to allow if his dependants are to get a similar allowance. These columns are familiar to the average Members of the House. If a private soldier desires that his dependants shall receive 3s. a day, he is to contribute one penny of his pay, and if it is to be 5s., but not exceeding 7s. 6d., it is 3d. a day, and so on. I want to ask the War Office, or those who are responsible for this particular circular, whether they are actually carrying out what they promise in this particular document? May I illustrate this by a case in point. Take the son of a mother who has been in the habit of paying 10s. a week towards the support of that particular relative. When his claim comes before the Pension Committee, they, in the case I have in mind, assess this particular mother's; dependence upon her son at 5s., and they proceed to point out that in order to get that particular 5s. the private soldier has to contribute 2d. a day. As a matter of fact, he has already set aside 3s. 6d. per week, or 6d. for each day of his pay, for the purpose of providing an allowance for his relative. If you deduct the 1s. 2d. that is necessary for the 5s. from his 3s. 6d. you get 2s. 4d., and if you add the 2s. 4d. to the 5s., what that particular mother is getting is 7s. 4d. I want to draw the attention of the House to this paragraph in this leaflet, which is an official War Office leaflet. They say here:— For instance, if the soldier had paid 12s. 6d. in peace, he will in future only have to give 6d. a day—3s. 6d. a week—and the Government will pay the other 9s. That is the deliberate statement in this leaflet, and it is being repeated on the authority of this leaflet at a great many public meetings all over the country. It is perfectly true that in the preceding paragraphs there is a single sentence which says that, payment by the soldier for his own keep is included. One finds with regard to that that a different average is being taken all over the county, and that, whereas in some parts of the country 5s. is the amount of dependence of a particular relative upon the boy who is in the Army, in others it is much more. There is a great deal of discontent amongst young men who have joined the Colours in view of what is said in this leaflet and in view of what has been repeated on public platforms with regard to what they will get from the Government if they gave up so much per day, and it is really time that some authoritative statement was made as to what the usual practice is, because what is said in the parallel columns is not really fair if you put it over against the paragraphs that precede it. In the case I have mentioned, where a soldier is giving up 6d. a day, or 3s. 6d. a week. 1s. 2d. of that 3s. 6d. is taken as a contribution towards the 5s. which the Government promise in the first column. That is not what is said in this leaflet. The leaflet as printed is not a fair leaflet to distribute to the average man who is being invited to join the Forces, and, as a matter of actual experience, it is causing a great deal of discontent among those men. I hope it will be made clear that what is really meant is that when a man joins, first of all there will be deducted from any allowance that he can claim a certain amount for his food, and that out of the 6d. or whatever else he allows from his actual pay of 1s. a day, that amount is a contribution to what the Government give. I think that ought to be made perfectly clear, and I hope it will be before we separate this afternoon.


I wish to ask a question on a matter which is causing a good deal of interest in the country—the dealing of the Home Secretary and the War Office with the alien question. Would it be possible to debate that on some occasion, because if we try to debate it on the Home Office Vote or the Civil Service Estimates the Home Secretary will say, as he has said in the public Press, that in regard to a certain portion of it the War Office is responsible. If, on the other hand, we attempt to debate it on the War Office Estimates, the War Office will equally say the Home Office is responsible.


When did I say that?


The Home Secretary has repeatedly admitted, both in the public Press and in this House, that he is responsible for a portion of the aliens question—I think that is common ground—but he has said in the public Press quite recently that with regard to certain portions of it the War Office is responsible. It is therefore impossible for us to debate the question as a whole on either of those Estimates. Therefore I ask the Prime Minister if he would consider the possibility of allowing us to debate that question, which is of vital interest in the country as a whole, so that we could deal with both those offices, and possibly also with the Admiralty as well, which may have something to do with the question?


I do not think there is any difficulty. I think I heard an hon. Member opposite give notice of a Motion on Mr. Speaker leaving the Chair on this very matter.


I thought that was on the Civil Service Estimates. The point I am trying to make is that the Home Secretary would probably say, as he has in times past said, that a great deal of responsibility is on the military side. I should be ruled out of order if I attempted to refer to the action of the military on the Civil Service Estimates. I therefore ask the Prime Minister to consider whether we could not have a day when we could debate the whole question?


Of course, the House will have an opportunity. The Government is only too anxious to give it them.


I wish to ask whether there is the least desire on the part of the Government to discourage any discussion or criticism of ordinary financial matters? On account of the Government taking private Members' time, the impression seems to have got abroad in some quarters already that an effort will be made by the Government to discourage the time of the House being taken for ordinary questions of financial administration, such as the Insurance Act. I should like to know whether in this Session the Government would be prepared to treat these matters as in a normal Session?

Sir J. D. REES

May I ask if the House is likely to have a day for the discussion of Indian matters, and, if so, about when? It is a long time since they have come before the House.


It will be more convenient to leave these, matters till tomorrow, when I make my Motion.


I should like to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he could give the House any information or assurance upon the important question of Consols. At present Consols, which are after all the security of the United Kingdom, are utterly unsaleable. A minimum price has been fixed below which no Consols can be bought, and as that price cannot be given by anybody because it is out of proportion to the price of War Stock, the result is that anyone holding the security of the United Kingdom is absolutely unable at present to realise a single sixpence upon it, and if there was a security in the whole world which anybody six months ago would have said could be turned into cash at a few hours' notice, it was Consols. I think we want to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer why he has created a state of affairs under which that position has been brought about, and what is he prepared to do at a very early date to put that matter right, because it is one of those matters that is creating a great deal of difficulty and annoyance, and I think myself that if there is a good reason why this should be done we ought, to know what it is.


I wish to ask when the Report of the Committee which has been inquiring into the allowances for dependants of soldiers and sailors is likely to be made, because some of my Constituents have asked me to bring forward certain matters which are exercising them very much, but one hesitates to occupy the time of the House until one knows what the Committee is going to report? If the Committee is going to report soon, it would save a great deal of unnecessary discussion.


There is an interim Report.


Is it, printed?




The administration of the Department means that the Government payment is being partly thrown on the earnings of the soldier who has enlisted. The circular which has been issued states in clear terms that in the event of it being proved to the satisfaction of the authorities that a soldier was making a contribution of 12s. 6d. to the home the 3s. 6d. would be supplemented by 9s. from the Government. As a member of an Old Age Pensions Committee in a mining district, I may state that we have had to deal with quite a number of cases in which a young man who has enlisted has, over and above paying for his own maintenance and keep, been making a contribution to the general income of the home, not only 12s. 6d., but, in many instances, at a figure even much higher than that. I wish to draw the attention of the House to the fact that that Committee had before them a report which was the result of an inquiry held by the Old Age Pensions officer. In quite a number of cases there came under my own personal observation, as a member of the Old Age Pensions Committee, the fact that as the officer had reported a man who had already enlisted was making, in addition to paying his own maintenance, a substantial contribution to the home. That report has been endorsed by the Old Age Pensions Committee, but the War Office has refused to act on the advice of that Committee. At the last meeting of the Old Age Pensions Committee which I attended there was a strong feeling that it was useless for the Old Age Pensions Committee to meet and discuss these eases if the War Office continue its present policy. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that its effect on recruiting is very detrimental, and that there is a very strong feeling of discontent and dissatisfaction. In fact, it has been stated in very plain speech that people, have been deceived, and that the Government and War Office are not carrying out, not only the letter, but not even the spirit of their own circular. I do hope that if the Government are satisfied that the War Office have erred, they will take immediate steps to remedy the injustice which has already been done.


I wish to refer to a question which has already been raised. I should like to ask what the right hon. Gentleman intends to do in the case of those men who enlisted before the circular which has been referred to was amended? I am quite aware that a short time after the issue of the circular as to the grants and allowances to be made to soldiers' dependants, it was amended, but I would point out that for several weeks in many recruiting districts when the circular was in force, men were induced to enlist not knowing that any deduction would be made at all. As to the reasonableness of making the deduction, that is more than we can discuss here now, but the point is that the men were induced to enlist, and have enlisted, on the faith that the War Office would make another contribution. That is not the case. In some cases they only get two or three shillings. I would like the right hon. Gentleman to tell us what he proposes to do in order not to allow a breach of faith or breach of promise to take place with respect to the conditions of the official circular.


I wish to draw the attention of the House to a question which affects a large number of people all over the Kingdom, namely, maximum rates. It affects not only the Government supplies, but also the supplies of a large number of people. I would like to ask the Government on what principle they propose to deal with the utilisation of the interned steamers, which, we understand, they are now going to offer as tonnage for the various requirements of the coal and food supplies of this country. Before the War the ordinary freight was three shillings, but quite recently—within the last fortnight or three weeks—freights have gone up to thirteen and sixpence. The hardship is that, most of the suppliers of food and a very considerable number of those who supply coal have, in fact, incurred expense on steamers which were carrying on the trade, but as the Government have commandeered the steamers, quite rightly, to supply the food and other necessaries for the Army, of course the effect has been to put the price of tonnage up to others. The result, of course, is that the price of coal and other commodities has very largely increased. The people who own steamers do not object to the vessels being commandeered, but they think that some consideration should be paid to those persons who are bound under contracts to supply coal to gas works, water works, or for the purpose of household distribution. It does seem to them that they ought to have special consideration paid to them, because of being under statutory obligation to supply coal in the way I have indicated. I do think that when we come to consider the question of taking over the tonnage of German ships and other ships which are interned, they ought to be treated in a different, way and not left entirely to competition. If I may put an illustration I would say this: Supposing I had one of the finest motor cars, a Rolls-Royce, and that it was commandeered by the Government. I have got to pay, not 10 per cent. which the Government pay, but 400 or 500 per cent. for the motor car which I may want for my trade. This is a matter which affects the supply of the necessaries of life to every household in the Kingdom. I hope the Government will look at the question from this particular point of view, not only of shipowners, but of the consumers. I trust that an opportunity will be given to raise, and discuss the question of the utilisation of the interned steamers. The Government did not take the interned steamers, but they took our steamers, quite rightly, and I do not object to that. This matter involves a difficulty with respect to the coal supply of a large number of people in the Metropolis and other parts of the Kingdom.


I wish to draw the attention of the House to the question of the unmarried soldier. In Manchester we have a very large number of those cases, and from what I hear and what I have seen the present policy is preventing enlistment in His Majesty's Forces. This is due to the course which is being followed by the War Office in reference to unmarried soldiers' pensions, with respect to widowed mothers. At a large recruiting meeting held last week in Bellevue we were appealing for recruits. A woman got up at that meeting and said that her only son had enlisted, and the War Office, were paying her only 18d. per week. We tried to appease her as far as possible, but I believe that it had a very damaging effect on recruiting, so far as the results of that particular meeting were concerned. In our Lancashire districts, and in the coalfields in some cases, we have instances of one, two, or three young men who have enlisted in His Majesty's Forces, and I am informed that many of those young men were taking home £1 a week, and that the mothers are now only able to get from the War Office support in the form of a few shillings per week for only one of those sons. I wrote to the War Office a little time ago over a similar case, and I was informed that they were considering the matter. The widow woman in the case to which I refer has two sons, one in the Navy and one in the Army. I want to appeal to the Financial Secretary for War to take up this matter very earnestly because in Manchester and Lancashire particularly, and I take it over other parts of the country also, this is preventing recruiting from taking place.

It is useless for us to address meetings pleading for recruits when people get up at those meetings and twit us with what the War Office has done, and tell us that the only recompense which they get from the War Office, when they are practically destitute, is a few shillings a week. There is one small matter which I wish to put before the Financial Secretary. I wrote to the War Office some time ago on the subject of free passes for soldiers and sailors on furlough at Christmas time, and I received a reply to the effect that the Government were considering the matter. I have questioned a large number of soldiers, in particular in railway carriages when I have been travelling, and in nearly every case I have been informed that they were having free passes allowed to them at Christmas time, and in the New Year time as well. But I would like to inform the Financial Secretary that I believe that there is not a solitary soldier who left Cleethorpes for Christmas or the New Year who had not his free pass granted to him. I would like to know why certain soldiers from certain places can have their railway passes allowed free while others from other places have to pay their fare? I hope that the War Office will take the matter up. The first question mentioned by myself and my two hon. Friends is a very serious one, because if these people outside are allowed only a few shillings a week then, with the price of food advancing as it is, we cannot conscientiously appeal to these people to allow their sons and husbands to enlist in His Majesty's Forces, when we are going to starve them at home by not allowing them sufficient money to purchase the necessary commodities of life.


The hon. Member who has just sat down has raised the question of free railway passes. It shall certainly be inquired into. If there have been any cases in which they have not been granted, then, as the orders were issued, I can only suppose that in some instances they must have been misunderstood. If the hon. Member will give me full particulars, I will promise that immediate inquiries shall be made and the matter shall, if possible, be corrected. Various hon. Members have referred this afternoon to the question of dependants' allowances. My hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) has been in correspondence with me on this subject. He is well acquainted with the procedure in these matters. The particular point to which I think he wished to draw attention this afternoon was the question of the leaflets. The leaflet to which he referred has been for some time past obsolete. As soon as it was brought to our attention that the leaflet was not merely capable of being misunderstood but was, in fact, being misunderstood, it was amended, and a new version, in which we endeavoured to make the matter plain beyond all possibility of misunderstanding, was issued


Can the hon. Member say if in no case at any War Office meeting is the other leaflet being issued now?


I am afraid that it is impossible to be sure that all the old leaflets have been destroyed, but it is not being issued from the War Office or from any responsible authority. I quite agree that the question which has been referred to is a very serious matter, and one which stands considerably in the way of recruiting, but I would assure hon. Members that the whole of this question, both as to policy and administration, has been under review by the Select Committee on Pensions, and I am informed that an interim Report of the Committee is either now actually in the Vote Office, or shortly will be.


They do not touch that particular point.


That point certainly has been submitted; I have no doubt that on the interim Report debate will arise, and I would ask hon. Members to allow the matter to be dealt with more at length on that occasion. I would assure them that the War Office is not at all indifferent to the gravity of misunderstanding with regard to these matters, nor is it indifferent to any sense of grievance which may be created either in the minds of soldiers or any dependants, and all the criticisms and advice which will be offered this afternoon shall be carefully considered, and, if possible, effect shall be given to them.

4.0 P.M.


The hon. Member has told us in reference to the circular of which complaint has been made that not only is it capable of being misunderstood, but that it has actually been misunderstood. I think that that is an important statement to come from the Government. The hon. Member has tried, apparently, to have this matter put right. But merely to have a circular which will make the matter quite clear does not, in my view, go far enough. However clear you make it now, that does not meet the position. The position is this, in the case of many a young man who is hesitating between his duty to his country and his duty very often to a widowed mother, as to whether he should or should not enlist. The circular issued in the first instance said that if those young fellows allotted 3s. 6d. the Government would make up the balance of 12s. 6d.—that is, 9s.—and they were entitled on that circular to conclude at any rate that the widowed mother would receive 12s. 6d, 3s. 6d. of which they would provide. They are surprised, we are surprised, and recruiting meetings are surprised, to find out what is the actual practice, namely, that you send an old age pensions officer to the widowed mother to inquire not only how much in cash did that son give, but whether he had any breakfast at home, and did she give him his tea as well, and, if so, you deduct what is estimated as the cost of the breakfast or tea from the amount of the allowance. It is a disgrace to be so parsimonious in dealing with these cases. What we want is not that the circular should be put right, but that the Government will act upon the principle which everybody thought they meant to apply in the first instance, namely, that if a son has been allowing his mother in cash up to 12s. 6d. and he is willing to forego 3s. 6d. out of his Army pay—it may be that he is a man who was earning £2 per week in civil life—then that the Government shall be prepared to add 9s. to the amount allowed out of the Army pay, so as to bring the amount allowed up to 12s 6d., and that they should do this without sending round to that woman to ask whether she was making any profit out of the meals which she used to supply to her boy. I can assure the Government that this is causing a very great deal of resentment. It is unfair to recruiting, and, as a mere matter of interest to the Government, it would pay them to forego the few shillings they are saving in this parsimonious way.


I wish to say a word or two with regard to the circular. The hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench opposite appears to think that the Government have entirely discharged their responsibility by the issue of the amended leaflet, which the hon. Gentleman says will put the matter right. I can assure the hon. Member of my own knowledge that the faulty or misleading leaflet is in actual circulation at the present moment in some parts of the country, and I think the Government ought, without further delay, to take steps to withdraw it altogether from the people who are likely to enlist, and so stop misrepresentations, for that is what it comes to. I trust the hon. Member will consider the matter, and that steps will be taken to withdraw this misleading leaflet, and substitute for it, wherever recruiting is going on, a correct statement of what the Government is going to do.


The hon. Gentleman the Financial Secretary to the War Office stated that a revised circular was issued by the War Office which alters, in some respects, the former one. I have before me now the revised one up to 1st January, 1915, and I came into possession of this circular after a speech which I delivered at a recruiting meeting the other evening, where I stated that I understood, upon the Report of the War office and of the Admiralty, dated the 9th November, and contained in the White Paper, that if any man contributed 1s. 9d. to the maintenance of his mother she would receive 7s. 6d., being 5s. 9d. plus 1s. 9d. which the son contributed, instead of a contribution of 3s. 6d., and the mother to receive 12s. 6d., including the contribution from the War Office. I made the statement that the mother would receive up to 9s. per week. I was confronted with this circular, within forty-eight hours, by members of the old age pensions committee, and it certainly seems a very complicated document, which I venture to say very few Members of the House of Commons can really fully comprehend. It is very elaborate, and it is given too much in detail. Another point on which I wish to touch is this: There is really too much power given to the officers and administrators of these grants. I have made inquiry and I actually find that committee sat with out any knowledge of the position of the dependants, mothers or sisters, and they only got information from the officers informing them that they were going to report, and they did not know whether that report was from the War Office or not. I understood that when this matter was referred to the old age pensions committee it was for them to consider the report of the officers, and, if they have not considered the report of the officers, then that is going to be a very serious matter with regard to the administration of the grants allowed to the dependants. I wish to call attention to the interim Report issued to-day, in which there is not a word about the dependants nor about the administration, though the administration still causes a great deal of anxiety to many contributors to the fund. I should like to know from any member of the Committee when this Report is to be completed, because, practically speaking, with the exception of the widow's pension, and disablement benefit, there is really not very much difference between this Report and the one we had on the 9th November last. I think the Committee ought to report in full both as to administration and as to the dependants, so that we could have a complete discussion on the whole question.


I desire to refer to a question for which I would rather have taken another opportunity, but which, in view of the curtailment of the ordinary privileges of the private Member, a curtailment which I recognise to be, to a very large extent necessary and inevitable in the circumstances of the time, I am obliged now to bring before hon. Members, namely, the question of the restrictions imposed upon the sale of alcohol in this country during the War. Just before the Recess I asked the Prime Minister whether he would consider taking further steps for the curtailment of the hours during which public-houses are open, and whether at the same time he would consider the desirability of closing public-houses in the neighbourhood of military camps on the basis of compensating the publicans for the loss of profits which compulsory closing of their houses and the curtailment of hours would involve. The Prime Minister on that occasion replied that the whole matter was under the consideration of the Government, and that answer at the time, of course, I was obliged to accept. But I do submit that, considering what Russia has done and what France has done with a view to withdrawing temptation from the hundreds of thousands of men who are serving their country, and in view of those temptations to which many men succumb when faced by them, it is hardly enough to leave the matter in its present position. I desire to ask the Government whether they are not prepared to secure some measure of uniformity in regard to the hours of closing of public-houses throughout the country. I think the administration of emergency legislation in this respect has been to a large extent unsatisfactory, because it is not based on any system and not applied with any consistency in different parts of the country. I do not suggest for one moment that the men who have rallied so patriotically to the defence of their country are more inclined to abuse alcohol than others. On the contrary, I think that their record in camp has been magnificent.

What we want to know is that men, whether in khaki or in civilian clothing, shall not be placed in such circumstances as will lead them to succumb to temptations gratuitously thrust before them. I do think that in view of the advance Russia has made in this matter, and in view of the great example which she has set, we have no right to place temptations before our men, especially as we know, by Russia's example, how easily these temptations can be withdrawn. I suggest to the Prime Minister that this matter might be dealt with on the basis of compensation to publicans, to whom it would cause a loss of profits owing to the compulsory closing of certain public-houses and further restrictions upon other houses. I am perfectly aware that members of the extreme temperance party in this House and elsewhere are not satisfied, and will never be satisfied, unless they accomplish the ruin of everyone engaged in the liquor trade. I have no such desire. The trade is one which is carried on under licence of the State, and which can be carried on respectably, and very often is carried on respectably. If we are to curtail the selling of alcohol in the interest of the State in a great national emergency like this, it seems to me we must do it on the basis of fair compensation, and we must deal with this compensation as a part of the outlay necessitated by this great War. We are spending money in other directions, of course necessarily, and we are spending it like water; and if we are to further curtail the hours of trading in alcoholic liquors in this country, more particularly in the neighbourhood of our camps, I think it should be done on the basis of compensating those whose means of liveilhood we are reducing or taking away. Russia has prohibited the sale of vodka, which is the popular drink through out her vast, dominions, during the whole period of the War, with magnificent results, and I wish to know whether our Government will not also do something to take away from the people temptations instead of thrusting them in their face, and do this in consonance with the principles of justice and equity, by facing the necessity of compensating those who are called upon to make a sacrifice for the good of the country.


I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman a question about the Welsh Church Act and the administration by the Commissioners. It has been already reported to me that they are dealing with the matter for taking a ballot of the border of parishes as to whether they wish to be considered in England or in Wales. This has come as a great surprise in view of the Suspensory Act to many people concerned, and I wish to ask whether the right hon. Gentleman can inform the House what the qualification for voting is being required, how the notice is being published, how the voting is being done, and whether any rules of procedure have been drawn up by the Welsh Church Commissioners. As I understand, they have to draw up those rules under Section 11 of the original Act, and I want to know whether those ruler, have been submitted to this House by the right hon. Gentleman or laid before both Houses of Parliament. I take it that they will necessarily make some rules under this Section, and I wish to know when they have been made, and whether they have been put before the House, and an Order has been made by the King in Council. I am told that the ballot will be completed in about a week, and as a matter of fact it has been done without anybody coming to a proper understanding of what it is about or any understanding about the Section of the Act.


I desire to mention the question of petitions from the men of His Majesty's Dockyards, to which, perhaps, someone will be able to give me a reply. It will be in the recollection of the House that the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty, before the War began, said that the petitions would be gone into and replies sent. After the War broke out there was no reason why the right hon. Gentleman should hurry up, but, at the same time, we on this side of the House thought that the matter was still being considered, and that the Lords of the Admiralty still had under consideration those petitions. A considerable time has now elapsed and, so far as I am aware, no answer has been given to any of the petitions presented by the dockyard men in His Majesty's Dockyards. I think the lime has now come when one may ask the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty that answers shall be given, because a great number of men in the dockyards are much interested in the questions which they asked in those petitions. I feel certain there must be some reason why such a very long time has elapsed without any answer having been sent.


I wish to draw the attention of the Government and of this House to the very serious state of disorganisation in which the fishing trade finds itself at Grimsby. That disorganisation is brought about through various reasons, and, amongst others, because the Admiralty thought proper to make restrictions as to the area in which those vessels are allowed to carry on their fishing. Those restrictions, no doubt, are necessary. But another cause of disorganisation is that 260 of the steam trawlers in Grimsby have been taken over by the Admiralty for mine-sweeping purposes. That has seriously handicapped the trade. It has been laid down by the Admiralty that no non-Englishman shall be employed in those mine-sweepers. Each mine-sweeper carries ten men, so that 2,600 men from the Grimsby fishing have been taken by the Government on that service. When you take that fact into consideration, and also that amongst the fishermen of Grimsby there were over 600 aliens, it will be seen that fishing vessel owners of Grimsby have been placed in a very serious position. A recent Order of the Admiralty prohibits the owners sending any of the vessels to sea with alien crews, or with any of the crews alien. A great many of those alien fishermen have lived in Grimsby for twenty years. They have married English women and brought up families, and to all intents and purposes have expected that they were British subjects. However, the Admiralty have prohibited their employment on the Grimsby fishing vessels, and they are walking about Grimsby without employment, and the condition of themselves and their wives and families is becoming worse every day, and becoming desperate, so that, in fact, at the present time the greater majority of them are living on charity. It is a very deplorable state of affairs. The House will quite understand that by reason of those men not being allowed to be employed, a great many of the fishing vessels cannot be got to sea, because they cannot find crews to man them. Seeing that fishing is one of the staple trades, and is the staple trade in Grimsby, and produces very valuable food for the people of this country, it is being very seriously handicapped.

I have during the last week or two introduced deputations to the Admiralty to see if some remedy could not be found, but at present they cannot see their way clear to give any remedy until a different state of affairs exists with regard to the War. I hope that the Government will seriously consider this matter, and at the very first opportunity will grant permission for those aliens to be shipped on those vessels so that they shall be allowed to sweep the sea. I may say that those aliens consist of Danes, Dutchmen and Norwegians. They have come to live at Grimsby, and have entered into the fishing, and they think that the Government and the Admiralty have discriminated very much between the merchant service and the fishing vessels, and they cannot see why there should be that discrimination. A merchant vessel is allowed to proceed from Grimsby to Rotterdam, or any other port on the Continent, with an entire alien crew, while a fishing vessel cannot go into the North Sea at all to fish on the fishing ground with one alien on board. They think that is making a great distinction, and they hope that in the near future the Government may see their way to remedy that, and to allow them to go to sea. There is another question to which I desire to refer, and that is with regard to the men who are employed on the mine-sweepers. There are 2,600 of those men, all Englishmen, who have volunteered to do this work, and we all know it is a very dangerous occupation. Over 100 of them have already lost their lives, but so far the Government have not seen their way to give the wives of the men so employed separation allowances while the men are away at sea. Those men would like to know if the Government would see their way, considering that they are engaged in a very dangerous calling and performing very useful service for the Admiralty, to allow them the same pensions and allowances which are allowed to men in the Royal Navy.


I rise after the speech of the hon. Member to deal with a different topic, but I understood that the Noble Lord the Member for Hitchin (Lord R. Cecil) was going to speak on a Home Office question.


I will listen first to what the right hon. Gentleman has to say.


The hon. Member who raised the question (Mr. Bridgeman) did give me notice, but only since I entered the House, that he proposed to raise a question dealing with the Welsh Commissioners. I have not had time to inquire of the Commission what has happened, and I regret to say I am not informed from day to day of the work of the Commission, but at any time the hon. Member gives me notice of any question which he desires to ask, I will see that the fullest information is afforded to him.


Is the right hon. Gentleman not responsible for laying those rules before the House?


Without looking at the Act and considering the point, I could not give an answer. I would gladly do so, but I have not had time to consider the matter. I have not the details before me and I am quite unable to answer appoints off-hand.


Is it not a fact that one of the Commissioners is a Member of this House, and can not the question be addressed to him?


One of my hon. Friends is a Member of the Commission, but I think notice was given to him even less than was given to me, and consequently I do not think he is here. I looked for him to see if he would answer the question.


Who is he?


The hon. Member for West Denbighshire (Sir J. H. Roberts). The names were announced in the House at the time. If, therefore, the hon. Member will postpone his question till tomorrow, I shall be very happy to give him all the information which he has asked for. The hon. Member for Aberdeen East (Mr. Cowan) raised a question as to the sale of intoxicating liquors. I must remind him that there can be no prospect of carrying a Bill through the House at the present time unless it is the subject of general agreement. The particular proposal which he suggested we should carry, he began by informing us would not be accepted by the temperance party, and I believe I am not wrong when I say it will not be accepted by the opponents of the temperance party. Consequently I fear that that particular measure, however admirable it might be, would have little chance of general acceptance by the House. I would like to say I am entirely in sympathy with him in the desire to ensure that at the present time, or any other time, habits of temperance should be general throughout the country. If any strengthening of the existing legislation could be obtained by general agreement in the House, I can assure the hon. Member I will be only too ready to introduce and, if I can, to carry through the House a measure with that object.


After what the Homo Secretary has said, I do not propose to elaborate any debate on the subject to-day; I only want just to enter one caveat. I do not think it would be at all satisfactory, nor do I think the Home Secretary intended to intimate so, that the Welsh Commissioners should be responsible to this House for the administration of the Act. The Welsh Commissioners are placed, or are supposed to be placed, in a semi-judicial position to administer the Act, and I think the proper person to be responsible for the administration of the Act is the Home Secretary I and nobody else. What I wanted to say about the main points raised by my hon. Friend is this: There is undoubtedly a very strong feeling among Churchmen that they have not been dealt with fairly in connection with the administration of this Act. They certainly understood quite definitely that nothing except purely formal matters were to be carried out under the Act until after the period of suspension which was inserted in the Suspensory Act. I do not want to elaborate that, but the House will recollect quite well the very remarkable speech which the Prime Minister made on the 15th of September, in which he said:— We therefore propose that, subject to such comparatively formal matters as the institution of inquiries which prejudice nobody, with that exception in the case of the Welsh Bill its in the ease of the Irish Bill, no steps should be taken to put it into actual operation until twelve months from the date of passing, or, it the War then continues, during the same term as is prescribed in the Irish Bill."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th September, 1914, cols.892–893, Vol. LXVI.] That was a perfectly definite and perfectly specific and clear pledge. I hope that on some future occasion the Home Secretary will be able to satisfy the House that that pledge has been carried out both in the spirit and in the letter. There is a very strong impression among churchmen that it has been wholly disregarded and that a serious infringement of their rights under that pledge has taken place since the Adjournment. After what the right hon. Gentleman has said, I think it is only right to give him notice that that point is going to be raised, and I trust on some future occasion to deal with all the details of the particular points that have been raised.


As it has been suggested that a pledge of the Prime Minister has not been faithfully adhered to, I would like to remind the Noble Lord that within two days after that pledge by the Prime Minister an Amendment to the Welsh Church. Bill came down from the Lords to this House and was rejected by this House. In the proceedings of the 17th September the Noble Lord will find precisely laid down what was intended to be done, and it was clearly shown what the intentions of the pledge of the Prime Minister were. The House having heard the Debate, rejected the Amendment of the Lords, which would have carried out the Noble Lord's policy, and we are only acting now precisely in accordance with the intentions declared by this House when the Amendment by the Lords was rejected and when the Suspensory Act was passed in its present form.


Even now, I cannot for one moment admit that anything which subsequently took place can modify or affect the pledge given by the Prime Minister.


In answer to the hon. Member for Devonport (Sir C. Kinloch-Cooke), as to when the replies to the annual petitions of workmen in the dockyards may be expected, I have got three-fourths of the way through. As the hon. Member fully understands, it is not possible to go on with the work continuously, and I took an early opportunity of informing my hon. Friend the Member for the Blackfriars Division (Mr. Barnes) that any decision the Board might take would be announced in such a way that the men would not be prejudiced by the delay. We hope to be able to announce our decision very shortly.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned at Twenty-eight minutes before-Five o'clock.