§ As soon after the date of the passing of this Act as may be found expedient all powers at present exercised by the Ordnance Department of the War Office in respect to the supply of munitions of war shall be transferred to the new Ministry of Munitions.
§ Clause brought up, and read the first time.2091
Sir H. DALZIEL
I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a second time."
Personally, I regard this proposal as imperative and urgently necessary in the highest interests of the State. Who is there who would be bold enough to-day to deny that the Ordnance Department, as at present constituted, has absolutely forfeited the confidence of the country? Who will deny that it has completely and abjectly broken down? By its absence of foresight, by its flouting of the manufacturers of the country, by its scandalous neglect of the most elementary steps in warfare, its management is now recognised as a national scandal, and its blunders innumerable have seriously endangered the security of the country. The shortage of rifles is a matter which is now public knowledge. There is no secrecy about it. We have only to see our men in training in different parts of the country to know what the state of affairs is. Some of us know how long they have been without rifles. With regard to shells and machine guns, we, alas, know too well how the Ordnance Department has completely failed; how, in spite of urgent demands from the Front as far back as last October, many of these requests remain unanswered at the present moment! It is well for this country to have a brave army, and I think we can confidently say that we have the bravest army in the world. But what is bravery if we do not equip our men with something like the same degree of ability as the enemy? What chance have our men with half the number of machine guns per battalion that the enemy have? It is not simply that the Ordnance Department have been unable to organise the necessary equipment, but that they have since the beginning of the War refused generous offers of assistance, and turned away the help of many firms and many men who might have saved the situation.
I need not detain the Committee by giving cases. I will content myself with one. I know a Member of this House who at the beginning of the War held or controlled the largest stocks of an essential component of certain explosives, T.N.T. He took the responsibility of being willing to break his contracts in different parts of the world, and offered his supply to the Ordnance Department. He was turned down and refused. Eight months after, they were scouring the world for T.N.T. My proposal is that the powers of the Ordnance Department in regard to the 2092 supply of munitions should be handed over—lock, stock, and barrel—to the new Ministry we have just created. I am not here to lay blame on the Secretary of State for War. When the credit and discredit of the War come to be summed up it will probably be decided that he did his little bit. He undertook a Herculean task when he undertook to raise the great army of which we are so proud, and it was impossible to believe that he could have attended personally to all the various departments in connection with the War Office. It was essential that he should delegate part of his responsible work. The Ordnance Department let him down badly. They let the Army down and they let the country down at the same time. The person, in my opinion, chiefly responsible for this was Colonel von Donop. The powers he has hitherto exercised should be taken from him and handed over to the new Ministry, and another sphere of labour found for his abilities. The country will be satisfied with nothing less than that this should take place, and if the Government have not the courage to scrap a Colonel they have not the nerve to win the War. I am not in possession of Cabinet secrets, but it was announced in the public Press last October that the Government had decided that every effort should be made to assure the co-operation of large private firms throughout the country for the production of ammunition—any firms outside the armament ring. Why was this not done last October? Why did it remain undone six months afterwards? Who is responsible? Primarily, the Ordnance Department, next the Minister for War, and, most of all, the late Cabinet.
Yet the decision of the Government with regard to the invitation to private firms to help us in the Government work that had to be immediately undertaken, were treated with contempt by the Ordnance Department, and but for that method of treatment thousands of men who are dead to-day would have been alive, and the War would have been much nearer termination. I have no confidence in the future successful equipment, of our Army unless my proposal is adopted. I do not believe even the Minister of Munitions, with all his energy, with all the resources, and with all the help which will be willingly given him will ever be able to make a full success of his Department unless his powers are full, unfettered, and un- 2093 challenged. If the object of this new Clause is not accepted what are the relations to be between the new Ministry of Munitions and the Ordnance Department? It will be a case of perpetual misunderstanding. At present the great manufacturers are puzzled to know where to go for their orders, and they are puzzled to know what is going to happen in the future to the parties which they have to be responsible to. The necessity for the smooth, quick, successful working and equipment of our Army demands that the right hon. Gentleman should have full and absolute control, and it should not be necessary for him to wait for all the labyrinth of Departments and Committees under the Ordnance Department.
At present there are four or five authorities who have to be considered, and delay in many cases is unavoidable before any real decision can be taken with regard to the order for the necessary munitions of war. This House has been very patriotic in regard to the manner in which they have refrained from discussing these vital matters. In many cases I think that our patriotism has been mistaken for ignorance. I think the time is really due now when the veil should be withdrawn from the eyes of the nation and they should know that this Ordnance Department is responsible for the failure of the late Government and that it is responsible for all our real blunders in regard to the War. I ask the Government, is it not time to tell the country that they recognise this, and to alter the powers of that Department and to reconstruct the personnel, so that the country may have more confidence for the future? The history of this Ordnance Department has been failure in the past, chaos in the present, and hopelessness for the future, and the country demands an immediate radical transfer of its powers. The facts of the situation at the present moment are that it is necessary in the highest interests of the State that those powers should be so transferred. We demand that the new Ministry of Munitions shall assume all the powers of this Ordnance Department in regard to the supply of munitions, and that it should be robbed of every vestige of its authority in that regard.
§ Sir CHARLES HENRY
I support the new Clause moved by the right hon. Gentleman. He has certainly not exaggerated the condition of affairs that have 2094 existed at the Ordnance Department of the War Office, but I do not think it advisable to enlarge upon that. I think the fact that it has been necessary to create this Ministry of Munitions is a proof that the affairs of the Ordnance Department were lamentably neglected. If this Clause is not accepted this Bill, in my opinion, is useless, and the object it desires to consummate will be stultified. Through the Ordnance Department we are in the position that has been described by my right hon. Friend, and I hope the Minister of Munitions will not hesitate to accept this Clause, and to take the full authority to deal with this important Department. In reply to a question I put to the right hon. Gentleman to-day, as to which Department will be responsible for supplying the metals and materials that we use in the War now that the Ministry of Munitions has been created, he told me that his Department would have the buying of these metals and materials. If he is going to take that important matter under his charge, I fail to see how any reason can be substantiated why he should not have full control of the Ordnance Department at the War Office. I feel confident that if he undertakes this, and if he is empowered to assume that authority, we shall see before very long a substantial improvement in the present aspect of affairs.
§ Sir R. COOPER
With the exception of the reference to the Secretary of State for War I want to associate myself absolutely with every word that has fallen from the right hon. Gentleman (Sir H. Dalziel). I have already on the Second Reading of this Bill, spoken quite strongly my views on this particular matter. Therefore, I am not going to occupy the time of the House this evening beyond expressing the absolute conviction that this Bill is useless, and that the Minister of Munitions is absolutely doomed to failure if he does not take these additional powers which we are pressing upon him this evening. Whatever it may mean there has got to be a new post found for the Master of Ordnance, and if for some reason the Committee cannot acept this new Clause then I feel ready to give my whole time up to agitation unless that step is taken. I make this suggestion with the sincere desire to see the right hon. Gentleman succeed in the most difficult task he has undertaken. I know from personal experience that enormous improvements are taking place in that Department, and I 2095 want to see that the man who has the energy, zeal, and determination to carry through that work must not be hampered by the very individuals who are absolutely responsible for the lamentable condition that the country has found itself in this summer as regards munitions.
§ Sir CROYDON MARKS
Anyone who has had experience, as I have had, of the manner in which munitions of war are determined by the War Office must know that if this new Department is to go on successfully it must have complete control over the manner in which munitions are to be manufactured. If you are to have one Department, the War Office, controlling the manufacture at Woolwich and another Department under the control of the Minister of Munitions there will undoubtedly be overlapping and unquestionably chaos. There is at present in this country a large number of firms who could be well employed in, and have offered their services to the War Office for producing the very articles which we had submitted to us in this House the other day, namely, fuses. They have offered their services to produce these things without the slightest alteration in plant, but have never been asked to do anything. When they visited the War Office they have had to hang about the corridors and other places and they have never known which department to go to, and they complain that though they want to do this work they never can get an opportunity of doing it. Those who are concerned at the War Office with dealing with this know, perhaps, how to use the articles. They have had no experience in the manufacture of them. Consequently, though they know from experience what should be used, they have a great dislike to any other person making any suggestion if he does not happen to be in the Service or if he happens to be in any other arm of the Service.
If a cavalry officer—I am speaking of what I know—happens to make a suggestion to the War Office, and submits something by way of improvement to the War Office it will not be adopted. If an officer submits something which he thinks is a great improvement and which is recommended by those who know something about it, when he goes to the War Office he gets no encouragement. He is turned down, and he is asked to make the article. If a private firm goes to the trouble and 2096 expense of making the improved article and submits it, then they will test it. If the War Office had the power, or the Minister of Munitions had the power, there should be a department to test these things not simply to receive the drawings and turn them down, but to test the things experimentally and to take the risk, as a private firm takes the risk at the present time when anything is offered to them. I have had ten years in Woolwich Arsenal, and was in the drawing office there, and when I was there I looked on—as most civil servants do—anything coming from outside as something which was a reflection on those of us who were inside. Consequently, when anything was proposed from outside, we looked upon it as a reflection on us. That is the attitude which I find to-day, after thirty years' experience of outside engineering, is still followed In connection with munitions, I might suggest that if a Government Department is establishing a system manufacturing munitions in private works, it will be utterly useless unless this Department has the same control over Government work. Therefore, I would suggest that we should make some serious proposal towards co-ordinating Government manufacture with private manufacture and letting the whole of the Department manufacturing be under the Minister of Munitions.
§ Mr. CHAPLIN
I have been waiting anxiously to hear what the right hon. Gentleman has to say in reply to the speeches which have been delivered. There is no doubt of the gravity and the great importance of the change which is suggested by the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman. It differs in one respect from many of the other important provision of this Bill, and I think I may say from all of them in this, that if it is accepted it will net be an emergency Clause during the continuance of the War, but it will be a permanent Clause.
Sir H. DALZIEL
The Ministry of Munitions will cease probably at the end of the War. It is in the same category as the other Clauses, and the Ministry of Munitions will cease at the end of the War.
§ Mr. CHAPLIN
The Clause is not worded in the same way as the other Clauses are. Is it only an emergency Clause? [An HON. MEMBER: "No more; it falls with the office."] If the indictment of the right hon. Gentleman and of hon. Gentlemen who have spoken on this 2097 matter is true, then I have to ask this question: This Bill must have been carefully considered by the Cabinet, of course, because it is the most important Bill we have had this Session, and the question to which, naturally, I want to ask for an answer is—and it is a question which I am sure everybody must be asking if all this is true, Why it not something of the purport of this Clause in the Bill before us? I think we must really ask for some explanation on that subject before we can possibly commit ourselves — certainly before I can commit myself—to any particular course in this matter. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will enlighten us on this subject, and without any further delay.
§ 12.0 M.
§ Mr. CROOKS
I would not have stayed in the House the whole of this night if I had not thought that the Master of Ordnance was going to be superseded by the Minister of Munitions. I was under the impression that it was going to be so. When I was a little lad, my father, who was a sailor, said to me, "Always obey orders even if you break owners." We have been obeying orders to the detriment of the Service. The Master of Ordnance is such a superior person that rather than lose his superiority he would allow the whole country to come to disaster. I have been in mortal terror as to the condition of things. The Master of Ordnance has a staff who dare not call their souls their own, and if any advice is given by any of them, he is told, "When we want you we will send for you." The consequence is that even genius hides its diminished head in front of this superior person. The fact is that though he has got a staff at the Arsenal and at Enfield which is better than any in the world, yet the result is, as it has always seemed to me, that you have forgotten that you have a Department of your own to which orders may be given. As to the output of the Arsenal, I declare publicly now, for the first time in the House, that you might increase that output by at least one-third. How is it that the superintendent of the Arsenal, whose capacity no one will deny, has to beg and pray for orders? When you talked the other day of commandeering works, and of making work compulsory, it seemed to me that you have the best object lesson at the Arsenal. You have got 40,000 men there at work—or rather more or less at work—but you may have 140,000 and still be unable, if you do not work the place 2098 and the machinery properly, to increase the output. What is wanted is not an ornament or a superior person, but a practical man. The Minister of Munitions ought to be able to get at least a dozen men in the country who would tell what the output of any machine was, and then why not go down and see whether it was doing what you expected. All the answer we get to questions is sterotyped. For years I have received regular excuses. Either "consideration is being given by the Department," or they are considering whether it is desirable to alter plant, or the supply of raw material is falling off somewhat. Just fancy that in war times, when the papers are full of the necessity of war material, and when there are constant pleas from the Front for more material, having to beg and pray for orders for your own Department. There must surely be something radically wrong when that is so. If this new Department is not going to help us, then God help us, for nobody else can. I do think we ought to accept this new Clause, and carry it as an expression of opinion as to what ought to be done with the Ordnance Department. I wonder how it is the contractor always comes up first. I heard a question about railway carriages being sent to Woolwich for inspection. The hon. Baronet who asked it was not far out. They did not send the waggon there but they sent a man to inspect it where it was. Here you have got a man who would be better employed in skilled work passing other people's manufacture. Human nature is much of a muchness.
Talk of munitions has gone on almost every day this Session, and asking when they were having a full supply, and within a week of to-night a night gang was waiting for material three solid hours. I undertake to say that your munition workers are as keen and as enthusiastic as the men in the trenches. It is not war, it is murder. I cannot speak too strongly about it. What does it matter to me whether a man is an ornament or a distinguished soldier? What I want to know is can he do the job. I do not want to find him another job. If he cannot do the work let him get out of it. I am tired of trying to persuade people to take an active interest in this matter. We have tons of clerks who write books about things, but we want the men to do the job. Is it going to be the same as in the Peninsula War, and to 2099 leave Tommy to win the War for you, unless we have revolution in the supply of munitions which the men are asking and praying for? Has this born organiser arrived yet? Have we developed the genius and capacity to organise? Is it too much to ask that no great man should stand in the wya of the nation? He is one man to the nation. I have had some experience, as the Committee will agree. I have stumped the country since the War began, east to west and north to south. I have never heard a single word said against the War. The people say, "Go on and pull through. The liberties of the common people are at stake. This is not a Government war; it is not a capitalist war. It is a people's war. Our liberties are at stake. We have to look to you, and loyal we will be when you tell us what you want, but do not keep us idle, for God's sake."
§ Mr. DUKE
The Committee will think that this matter has reached a state of very great gravity. The position in which we stand is that a Department and a public servant have been collectively and individually stigmatised with dereliction of duty which, in some countries and even in this country in some times, would have met with as condign punishment as is known to civilised people. I am sure that there are only two courses open to His Majesty's Government. There is the course of saying that these imputations which are made upon a Department, and upon a servant of the Department, are not true. That is one course. His Majesty's Government is faced with that responsibility, and if His Majesty's Govment does not discharge itself of that responsibility how is it going to stand with regard to the country, whose vital interests and very existence are at stake, at a time when those vital interests pivot upon the spot which is said to be the fatally weak spot?
We have lived in a storm of disparagement and a wilderness of imputation during the last eight months, because it is quite eight months ago that it was being said by people here, familiar with the inside of public departments, "The War Office is not providing itself with munitions. The War Office gets offers of munitions and does not accept them." But now, to-night, here in the House of Commons, this is brought to a focus. A Department is stigmatised; a public official at the head of a branch of it is stigmatised, and His Majesty's Ministers are 2100 silent. We are plain people in this country in our dealings with such matters. It is open to any servant of the Crown, who has fallen into error even in such matters, to say to a most generous and forbearing country, "I have been wrong," but it is not possible, so it seems to me, that we should by implication assume that these charges made to-night, which are specific and personal, and which go to a whole Department—to the head of ft as well as its components, and to a division of the Department and a particular servant of the Crown—it is not possible that these charges should be left in the position in which they stand, to be passed judgment upon by the country as though there were no answer to them, and that we should let matters go on as if it did not concern us. Therefore, I say, the first thing it seems to me His Majesty's Government ought to do is to make up its mind and say to the House that these charges are not true. If His Majesty's Government is not going to say that these charges are not true; if it has not got an answer for whoever is responsible it must, as I conceive, make an explanation of the facts. If it cannot make such an explanation, if these direct departmental and personal accusations are true, judgment must be passed upon them, and the necessary result must follow. I rise because several Ministers of the Crown are here, and nobody, on behalf of the War Office against which this charge is directed, has offered either justification or extenuation.
§ Mr. DUKE
I am not going to discuss that matter with the hon. Gentleman; it is much too serious a matter to be a mere question of dialectics. The Government must have considered this Question! This Amendment has been on the Notice Paper, and it must have been the subject of discussion. One might almost have conceived that the Government collectively would have considered such a matter. At any rate the responsibility rests upon them. What we want to know is how are they going to discharge themselves of it?
§ Sir FREDERICK CAWLEY
The country has undoubtedly been alarmed, and what it wants to know is, Who is to blame? We know that at the beginning of the War we were short of machine guns, yet all this time has elapsed without remedy. The right hon. Gentleman in making his speech on the introduction of 2101 his Bill practically said that the Germans were holding the trenches with machine guns, whereas we had only two or three machine guns, and had to have 100 men to do the work that one machine gun would do. There is the question that thousands of our soldiers have been lost through lack of machine guns and lack of munitions, and the country wants to know who is to blame for all this We have had a very distinguished person at the head of the War Office. If the Minister for War had been in this House we should have had questions at him for months about this matter; but because he is in the House of Lords and not here, the man whom the country has a great opinion of, and on whom nobody seemed to throw the slightest blame, is the very man, who, in my opinion, ought to accept the responsibility. The Minister for War is the Minister for War. If there is any blame to be attached to anybody he must be the one to say why these munitions of war have been short. The country, however, will forgive that. But they ought to have some information as to who is to blame. They might forgive the past if they knew that the Minister of Munitions would in future be solely responsible. Everybody has confidence in the right hon. Gentleman. I have great confidence in his energy and in his judgment. Yet this Clause is not accepted, and what will the country think? The country will know then that the very men who are to blame for this bad business—this shortage of ammunition, this shortage of machine guns, this shortage of rifles—are still in authority. That is the position we shall be in if this Clause is rejected. The country thinks, and thinks rightly, that there has been gross carelessness, gross incompetence, and crass stupidity, and they do not want to be again placed in the very same hands as those which have made such a havoc of our interests. Unless the country does know that these men who are responsible for all this mess, as I may call it, which the country is in, and that somebody else will be responsible, and that these men will not interfere with them, the country will be dissatisfied, and there will be an agitation such as this House has not seen for some time.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I do not mind saying that this is a Debate for which neither my colleagues nor myself were quite prepared. I saw the Amendment on the Paper dealt with the transfer of certain duties to my Department, but I did not 2102 realise it would develop into a criticism of the past administration of the War Office. I think if that had been fully realised my hon. Friends who represent the War Office and myself would have been in a better position to give the necessary answer to the criticisms. If I may respectfully say so, I am not sure that an Amendment in Committee on a Bill is the best method of arraigning any particular Department. I agree that the House of Commons is entitled, and indeed it is the duty of the House of Commons, if it is dissatisfied with the administration of any particular Department, to demand the reason why there have been certain deficiencies of a serious character, but I respectfully suggest that the opportunity for doing that is cither by a motion or by means of a discussion in Committee of Supply.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
When I introduced this Bill I carefully refrained from entering into any discussion about the past. I have some information about that—and I do not mind saying I have some views upon it—but I think it is much more important for the moment, than that we should have any discussion about the past, that we should guarantee that any mistakes that have been made in the past should not be repeated in the future. The past is gone and done for. It is irretrievably lost, and it would be doubly lost if the lesson is not learnt. And what is most important for us is that mistakes—inevitable mistakes of judgment—serious mistakes of judgment, under very trying and novel conditions should not be repeated. I have the advantage in starting now in knowing where those mistakes have occurred. I will not guarantee that if I were starting where they started nine or ten months ago I might not have made exactly the same mistakes, and I have got the advantage that I have in front of me what happened as the result of a certain course, and I naturally take the other.
I am not in a position at the present moment to enter into the very grave questions that have been raised by my hon. Friends; they are questions which no doubt will have to be investigated, and the responsibility must be placed on the right shoulders where mistakes have been made; but I do not think an arraignment of that kind can fairly be initiated or prosecuted upon an Amendment in Committee upon a Bill. 2103 There is no opportunity for those who have been challenged to present their case, and it is obviously fair that they should have full notice of it, and that they should have an opportunity of stating what they have to say in reply. In addition to that, may I say another thing which is very important in the House of Commons? I am not sure that the facts could be given at the present moment. That is a very serious consideration for the Committee and the House to take into account. It would not be desirable to give the facts. A time will come when we can safely give the facts, and that will be the time to judge. It is almost impossible—it is quite impossible—for the House of Commons to judge until it has the facts—until it has the whole of the facts. It is only desirable that the facts should be presented to-day in so far as it is necessary to get powers from the House of Commons to prevent a repetition of the same conditions in future. That is one reason why we are introducing this Bill. My hon. Friends say, "We have no guarantee that we shall not have a repetition of the same unsatisfactory conditions unless you have a change in the control of the department which directly has to deal with the production of munitions If the administration of certain individuals has produced a certain condition of things, and if those individuals still control, what guarantee have we?" I think my hon. Friends may rest assured that the powers which have been given to me by Act of Parliament already are quite adequate, when developed, to prevent anything of that kind recurring. I think I may say that those powers are full, and they are powers which may be declared from time to time by Orders in Council. It is perfectly true that the Order in Council has to be interpreted with the consent of the Army Council. I could not at the present moment take over the whole of the duties of this particular Department. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why not?"] I am going to give my reasons why. I have practically to devise and create a new Department. It is a Department which involves the expenditure of a gigantic sum of money. I have to build it up gradually, and it is very important that I should get the right men. Once you get the wrong men into a Department it is difficult to get rid of them, because there are all sorts of considerations which make it difficult. Therefore I prefer to build up my Department gradually, to 2104 choose my men, and after I have established the business side of the Department which I have taken over I can then proceed to ask the War Office for the further powers which the Act of Parliament enables me to take over.
Sir H. DALZIEL
I did not ask that this should be done at once, but as soon as the right hon. Gentleman may think it convenient.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I have those powers under the Ministry of Munitions Bill, and it depends upon the Orders in Council, which may from time to time—
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I can promise my right hon. Friend that if there is any difficulty of that kind placed in the way of my discharging the powers and functions which the House of Commons has decided I should have full powers to discharge, I shall without any hesitation, and even without any consideration of etiquette, report the matter to the House of Commons, because I think the situation is much too grave. But I have no reason to apprehend that any difficulties of the kind will be placed in my way. I think that the moment the new Department is fairly at work, I have no reason to doubt that those functions will be handed over by the War Department. I hope after that explanation that the House of Commons will be satisfied that the Act of Parliament already confers full powers with regard to the very Department referred to by my hon. Friends, and I hope they will be satisfied with that. Should there be any further difficulties, I am perfectly certain that the Government and the House of Commons will be only too glad to deal with the matter because of the importance of those functions.
Sir H. DALZIEL
I venture to rise at once because of the very important statement which the Minister of Munitions has made. It is obvious, Mr. Whitley, that the House of Commons is almost unanimous in demanding that the control of the supplies of munitions in the future should be under the control of the right hon. Gentleman. I recognise the difficulty that he is in to-night in probably having this Debate unexpectedly brought before the House, but it has been obvious for a very long time that the Members of the House have been very anxious indeed about the whole situation, and at the first opportunity 2105 they have expressed their views fully and frankly. I appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman says about the difficulty of dealing with all the facts on the present occasion, but I think that the House of Commons is entitled to two things. One is the assurance which I understand that the right hon. Gentleman has given us to-night that this Department will not be able to make the blunders in the future which I contend it has made; and the other is that at the proper time, when it can be done without any possibility of injury to the public interest we shall have a full and adequate inquiry into the blunders of the past.
§ Mr. CHAPLIN
The gravity of the situation in which the Committee has suddenly found itself placed by the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman (Sir H. Dalziel) has certainly not been lessened in my judgment by the speech of the Minister of Munitions. He has not answered the question which I put to him at once: If this indictment were true, why was not the purport and effect of this Motion included in the Bill itself? What was the reply? The right hon. Gentleman told us that he was not prepared at present to deal with the position which has been raised by the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman. He cannot say whether the attack upon the War Office is justified or whether it is not. True it is, he tells us, that he has some views upon the subject, but he has not done us the favour of acquainting us in this Committee what those views are, and, seeing the position which he occupies in the Committee this evening, that, I think, was the least which we could, have expected of him. He said something more. He said that mistakes in judgment have been committed, that those mistakes of judgment ought not to occur again, and that measures must be taken to prevent them. I do not know what the feeling of other Members in this Committee may be, but I was forcibly reminded of the attack which was made in public not long ago upon the great man to whom we owe so much at the present moment, Lord Kitchener, who has performed, in my judgment, an unequalled feat which could never have been accomplished probably by any other man or by any other country in the world but this country. Yet we hear these attacks made, and this indictment comes from one gentleman after another in the House of Commons to-night. Cannot they 2106 remember what has been done in spite of all mistakes of judgment and everything else? Cannot they remember that under the War Office, under Lord Kitchener, an Army of three million men has been raised within eight or nine months since this War began, a feat which I declare is unparalleled in the history of the world, and which, I repeat, no other Government and no other country but this could have accomplished. And if there have been mistakes, if there have been errors, if munitions have not been supplied with the rapidity with which some people think that they ought to have been supplied—
§ Mr. CHAPLIN
Is this very wonderful in a country living under a Government which only the other day was anxious and ready to, and actually did, make great reductions in our armaments? When nothing was prepared or thought of beforehand and when it was pressed upon the attention of that Government over end over again, is it not ungenerous now, after all that has been done to repair those mistakes, to make the attack again where it is directed that has been made to-night, and that has not been resented? The individual man against whom it may have been made has not been defended as he ought to have been defended by the right hon. Gentleman. Had I been in his position I would say, "Who is your attack levelled at? Tell me plainly, and I will tell you whether I think it is justified or not." That is not the course that has been taken. We can therefore only assume, and we are driven to the suspicion, that this proposal was not included in the Bill because the Cabinet had decided that it ought not to be included in the Bill. That is the position in which we find ourselves to-night. We can get no information on that subject from the right hon. Gentleman. I consider the position so grave that I believe it my duty, and I am going to perform that duty, to move "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."
§ The CHAIRMAN
If I had anticipated the course of this Debate, I should have had a good deal of doubt as to whether the new Clause was relevant. I came to the conclusion that it was not out of Order, but the discussion raised on it has been on an administrative point proper to Committee of Supply. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman has put the Motion before the Committee with the 2107 object of seeing what the Government has to say on the subject. The Question is, "That I report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."
§ Mr. ROCH
I think we find ourselves as the result of this Debate in a most extraordinary position. As regards the Motion to report Progress, I take it that the right hon. Gentleman has made that Motion in order to get some kind of further reply from the Government, and I take it he does not wish to delay the passage of this important Bill. I think the Government will realise the most extraordinary position the House has been placed in now. The gravest charges have been levelled against a public servant of the country, and not only against a public servant, but against a great Department and the head of that great Department, for both are involved. We find ourselves in this position, that we have had no reply from the Government as to these grave charges. While I agree that this Bill cannot be delayed, I think the Government must realise that the position cannot remain a it is now. Some answer must be given in justice and fair play to the Department and a public servant. The Government should promise here and now that some suitable opportunity will be given as early as possible in which this matter can be raised in a more satisfactory form and disposed of. The result of this Debate to-night is to create feelings of astonishment and consternation among those Members who have heard it, and it will create astonishment and consternation in the country tomorrow. At a time like this, if any suspicions are raised the Government cannot refuse to meet these charges and to make some kind of satisfactory statement at the earliest possible opportunity.
§ Mr. CAVE
I must say that I do not think we could accept the Motion to report Progress, if for no other reason, because the whole House wants, and I believe the country wants, this Bill to become law at the earliest possible moment. It ought to pass this House to-night, and the Motion to report Progress is fatal to that conclusion being reached. My right hon. Friend's experience is far greater than mine, and I know, of course, that he only moved this Motion in order, if possible, to get a further statement from the Minister. I hope that the result will he that we shall dispose of this matter soon and get to the end of the Bill to-night. May I just say one or two 2108 words further? I should have thought, Mr. Whitley, with very great respect to you, that this Clause was not relevant to this Bill. We have already passed the Minister of Munitions Bill, which deals with transfers of powers, and I think that nobody who looked at the Order Paper could have dreamt that this kind of discussion would arise to-night. However that may be, it is nobody's fault. But the result is that nobody representing the War Office is here, or, at least, the Under-Secretary of State, is not here at the moment. He, of course, is the proper person to deal with an attack of this kind. There has been no defence of the Department or of the soldier who was attacked by name. That being so—I do not pretend to know the facts—I do not think it would be fair to accept the attacks upon him as established until we have had the matter thoroughly dealt with in this House, and for myself I reserve my opinion on the aspersions cast on the soldier named. It would not be fair to do otherwise. We have got from the Minister of Munitions the only answer he can give. The right hon. Gentleman obviously knows a great deal about it, and he has views of his own which are not likely to be otherwise than very strong views, and he has told us that if he thinks, as I believe he does think, that these powers ought to be transferred to his new Department, he will take the proper steps under the Act that Parliament has already passed to get the proper transfer made. He asks for some delay for reasons with which we all sympathise—that is, that he has undertaken a very great task and is carrying it through with as much energy as man can put into it. And if he says, "I want a little time before I transfer the whole of these important duties," it is only right that we in this House should accept that. And the right hon. Gentleman has also said "If I do not get what I want, I will come back to the House of Commons." Our answer is, "If you do come back to the House of Commons, the House of Commons will give you the powers." Therefore the right hon. Gentleman (Sir H. Dalziel), having performed what he thought was his duty to-night in moving this Motion, would be best consulting the interests, not only of the House of Commons, but the Government as a whole, if he does not insist upon his Clause.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
May I appeal to both right hon. Gentlemen who have 2109 Motions before the House to withdraw them—my right hon. Friend who has got the Amendment down on the Paper, and the right hon. Gentleman who has moved to report Progress. The Debate has been such as I had no cause to anticipate, having regard to the character of the Bill. It has introduced a great attack upon the administration on an Amendment to a Clause of an Act of Parliament. I was not sure that it was in order to move this Amendment—I did not take steps to consult the Chair on the subject—and therefore I certainly was not prepared for a great Debate on the subject. My right hon. Friend who represents the War Office has temporarily left me in charge. I think if anything of that kind is to be done it ought to be done after notice to the War Office whose business it is to give an account of their administration, and that it should not be put into any proceedings where I am responsible. I hope that in these circumstances my right hon. Friend (Sir H. Dalziel) will see his way to withdraw his Amendment, because I can assure him—
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary reminds me, there is no War Office name on the back of the Bill, and therefore they would not expect to be affected without notice of anything of that kind coming forward. I think it would be only fair to them and to the officials under their charge that notice should be given. I trust both the hon. Gentlemen's Motions will be withdrawn.
§ Mr. CHAPLIN
No one in the whole Committee is more sensible than I am to the importance of finishing this Bill, and in my humble way I have done my best to promote it. We are only sitting here at this hour at my own suggestion that the Eleven o'Clock Rule should be suspended, but we have been confronted, without any exception, with the strangest position I ever remember in my whole experience in Parliament. I want a clear and definite understanding. I have asked for a definite understanding, and I repeat that if I understand that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lloyd George) repudiates the attack made upon the Department, and that he rejects the proposal, at all events, to-night, of the right hon. Gentleman 2110 (Sir H. Dalziel), on that understanding I will withdraw my Motion to report Progress.
Leave to withdraw Motion to report Progress not given.
§ Sir H. CRAIK
It is perfectly evident that the position into which the Committee has now got is one of very great danger, not to this House only but to the country, and with all the respect I have for the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Exeter (Mr. Duke), and the Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Chaplin), I must on this occasion dissociate myself very distinctly from the opinions they have expressed at a moment like this, and in a position of gravity like this. That the Government should have been pressed into a difficulty such as that with which they are faced at this moment is, in my opinion, very deeply to be regretted. What was the claim made by the right hon. Gentleman (Sir H. Dalziel) upon the Government Bench? That this grave accusation should be immediately answered in one way or the other; either pronounced true or not. I do not think we are in a position to discuss that. Everyone knows perfectly well that there have been doubts and difficulties raised throughout the country. Everyone knows these are matters of very serious consideration. The country has exercised a great restraint upon itself, not because it was perfectly satisfied by any means, but because it knew the moment had not come for judgment to be pronounced or the trial to be called. This is a question which must be discussed with gravity at some time. At some time we must find out who is responsible for any lapses or failures, if they exist. But that is not to say that the Government at this time of night, and on this Bill, is to be prepared with an answer, "Yes" or "No," to this grave accusation, such as is demanded by the two right hon. Members. We have refrained hitherto; let us refrain till the time comes, and do not let us have vague accusations which cannot be settled on an Amendment to a Bill which, as the Minister of Munitions points out, has not even the name of a member of the War Office on the back. Undoubtedly this Bill is a great movement in the direction in which the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir H. Dalziel), and those who have supported him, desire, that we should move. Undoubtedly a great deal of the responsibility 2111 which has fallen hitherto on the Department of the War Office should be transferred to the Minister of Munitions. We know that is done—
§ The CHAIRMAN
We are really discussing the Clause. The Motion before the Committee now is to report Progress. Leave to withdraw that has been refused; it must, therefore, be either negatived or accepted.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ Question again put, "That the Clause be, by leave, withdrawn."
§ Sir H. CRAIK
I have only one word more to say. We have almost passed this Bill, which undoubtedly goes a long way in the direction of taking away that responsibility as to the rightful exercise of which doubts have been expressed, and transferring it to the Minister of Munitions. Are we supporting him with that loyalty with which we are bound to support him by raising questions which cannot but produce the greatest friction and which will hamper his hands from the outset? I have for a very long time, perhaps, been one of those who have not placed the greatest confidence in the right hon. Gentleman, but I am confident now that we are placing this work in good hands, and if errors have been committed there is no better means of correcting them than by placing cordially and loyally in his hands that power he is prepared to exercise with all the vigour he possesses. I am not prepared in entrusting those powers to him to think he will be hampered in the charge of those powers by our going back on the past, by raking up questions of where we ought to put the blame, and raising tremendous issues which may hereafter have to be discussed and on which judgment may hereafter have to be pronounced, but for judgment upon which the time has not yet come.
Sir H. DALZIEL
I rise to ask leave to withdraw the proposal that stands in my name. In doing so let me say I make no apology whatever for bringing it forward. It is the duty of Ministers and Members to read the Notice Paper, and if they had done so they would have seen that this is a Motion which, I still contend, is per- 2112 fectly in order. It is not my fault. I accept the interpretation of the Clause given by the Minister of Munitions that he has the powers suggested in my Clause. That Clause goes further because it makes it practically obligatory. At the same time I accept his assurance, and I hope both the Government and the Cabinet will not have failed to-night to notice the opinion of this House, and I hope this discussion will be immediately effective.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I am the best judge of that. One hon. Member stood up. That is not the correct way of declining leave to withdraw a Motion.
§ Sir R. COOPER
On a point of Order. The hon. Member did say "No." I contend it is not a fair judgment on a matter like this.
§ The CHAIRMAN
If the hon. Member challenges my conduct in the Chair, he must take the proper course to do so.