HC Deb 01 July 1915 vol 72 cc2112-6

Any company, association, or body of persons shall have power, notwithstanding anything contained in any Act, order, or instrument by or under which it is constituted or regulated, to carry on munitions work during the present war.

Clause brought up, and read the first time.


After the very interesting discussion we have had, I am going to pour cold water on the Committee by moving this Clause, which I think will be accepted. The point is a simple one. It has been represented to me that there are many companies who are desirous of making munitions of war, but are prevented by the fact that their objects do not include the power to make munitions. It is true that they can get their powers extended, but only by the rather lengthy process of going to their shareholders and the Court and getting the Memorandum altered, a most expensive way. I know some companies have given up the idea of making munitions simply for this reason. I beg to move.

Motion made, and question proposed, "That the Clause be read a second time."


I do not think that anybody really understands what this Clause is. It appears to deal with a very important matter and that being so I certainly think it is one that ought to have been put down on the Amendment Paper so that we could have seen it in print. The Government themselves do not seem to be aware what the meaning of the Clause is, and I am certain there are few Members of the House who are any wiser than they are in regard to it, though a very clear and lucid speech was made by the right hon. and learned member for Kingston (Mr. Cave). I therefore suggest that the Clause be circulated to Members on both sides of the House and moved again when we come to the Report stage of the Bill. That will give members an opportunity of understanding what they are asked to decide.


I hope I may be allowed to say a word in sympathy with the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who thinks it is desirable to avoid the elaborate forms by which in some cases you would have to get leave from the Court to alter your powers in order to make munitions. The only doubt, in my mind, is whether the words proposed are not a little wide and ought not to be limited to some extent. If you are not going to get the leave of the Court to extend your powers you ought at least to get some authority from the Minister of Munitions, to show that if a company does undertake such work it does so because it is the wish of the Minister of Munitions. Failing that, it is possible that you might find shareholders objecting to the use of the company's capital for the purpose of munitions work supposing that the company had not hitherto made munitions and now took up their manufacture. If, however, my right hon. and learned Friend is prepared to put in words in the sense I have indicated, I think it would be a very acceptable Clause.


May I say that I think this is a little hard on me seeing that I drew the Clause in the manner prescribed by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, requiring the consent of the Minister of Munitions, and I only modified it to meet the wishes of the official to whom I was referred in the matter. I can assure the Committee that I am quite prepared, if desired, to go back to my original proposal. In order to do so I will withdraw the Clause I have just moved, and move instead the Clause which I had prepared originally, or I will take any other course that the Government may in the circumstances think best.


Would it not be better to take this matter on the Report stage?


The point I wish to put in respect to this Clause is that I do not think its insertion in the Bill is at all necessary. I should like to know what is to prevent any company or individual body of persons making munitions in this country now if it is their desire to do so, and they have the machinery for the purpose.


Their Articles of Association.


The Clause, as I understand, does not only refer to limited companies. I suggest that anybody can make munitions and that there is no necessity to go to the Court to get permission. For my own part I do not think the Committee could possibly treat seriously the suggestion that you must, as an alternative to going to the Court, go to the Minister of Munitions and get leave to do this. The point which the learned Home Secretary took was that subscribers might object to the use of the company's capital or to furnish new capital for the purpose. I would remind the Committee, however, that there are fools in this country ready to subscribe capital for any purpose whatever. It does not matter whether they choose to expend it in making munitions or in experimenting with munitions as in either case it would be a very useful thing. What I would say is that the Clause has been suddenly sprung upon the Committee and I do not think that we ought to take it seriously. The Home Secretary's sympathetic attitude towards the proposal of my right hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Cave) shows how one lawyer can make progress with another lawyer. If I had brought forward an Amendment I have no doubt that I should not have been so successful. I suggest that this particular Clause should be dropped into the waste paper basket, and that we should report Progress.


I can only express the hope that my right hon. Friend (Mr. Lough) who has been very helpful all through the evening will not throw us over at the last moment. This is a very useful Clause, and I think it was perhaps an oversight that something of the kind was not, in the first instance, inserted in the Bill. The Committee must remember that there are many companies which cannot make munitions of war because their memorandum of association limits their operations to the manufacture of certain articles. In that case if any shareholder went to the court he might get an injunction against them, because they were doing something that the country needed, and any judge would be bound under such circumstances to make the order, because the memorandum of association precluded them from doing this. The only object of the Clause moved by the right hon. and learned Gentleman is to enable a company when it gets an order practically to override its memorandum of association and make munitions of war.


Before we proceed, I think we should know which Clause it is that we are being asked to accept. There is a little confusion on the point, as two Clauses have been mentioned.


It is the one that has been moved.


The one that is being moved is to make the company go to the court. The Clause which it is proposed to substitute for it is that there should be a request by the Minister of Munitions that certain articles should be made.


The hon. Member misunderstands the Clause. Let me read it again. It is the one which is moved by the right hon. and learned Member. The Clause is as follows:— Any company, association, or body of persons shall have power, notwith-standing anything contained in any Act, Order, or Instrument under which it is constituted or regulated, to carry on munitions work during the present war.

Question, "That the Clause be read a second time," put, and agreed to.

Clause added to the Bill.

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