HC Deb 03 June 1915 vol 72 cc50-7

I beg to move, "That leave be granted to introduce a Bill for establishing, in connection with the present War, a Ministry of Munitions of War, and for purposes incidental thereto."

I am sorry to have to ask the House for its attention during a few minutes in regard to another subject. I am asking leave to introduce a Bill which will create a Ministry of Munitions. Let me explain at once that I will only ask to introduce it to-day, the intention being, as I said at Question Time, to take the subsequent stages next week. I think the House will think it convenient that I should state, in two or three sentences only, what, in effect, are the provisions of the Bill. The intention is to create a Ministry of Munitions with a Minister of Munitions at the head—this Ministry of Munitions being concerned, with the supply of munitions for the purposes of the present War. At present that function, broadly speaking, is one of the functions within the purview of the War Office; and the scheme, which will be more fully explained on the Second Reading, is a scheme by which the War Office will continue to be the authority, and which will demand what is wanted. But the function of supplying what is wanted, and of organising industries throughout the country in-order to supply what is wanted as rapidly as possible, will be the function of this new Department. It will be, of course, obvious to the House that such a rearrangement will involve much detailed adjustment, and the proposal of the Bill is that the precise lines of demarcation between the existing Department and the new Department of Ministry of Munitions shall be drawn up by Order in Council.

As to the general lines of the Order in Council, perhaps the House would wish that they should be indicated. I can put them clearly and quickly in this way: The Ministry of Munitions would discharge three classes of duties. Some of those-duties may be said at present to be no part of the statutory or formal duty of any Government Department at all—for example, the elaborate organisation of private industries in order that as best we may and as quickly as we may they may be used for the purpose of supplying munitions in connection with the War. That would be a new duty. In the second place, the new Ministry of Munitions would have transferred to it a number of officials of existing Departments of the War Office and other Departments, and it may be certain of the functions which are discharged by them. An example would probably be found in the case of inspecting the munitions of war which are made by private contractors. The inspectors, of course, would be officials of the War Department, and some portion of the inspection would necessarily be done by officers of the new Department, and consequently there will be a transfer no doubt of inspectors from the old Department to the new Department. It may be found convenient to take away from the old Department all its powers in a particular connection and to confer those powers on the new Department, and to arrange that the old Department and the new Department shall have concurrent powers in those particular directions; otherwise, the House will readily see, that disputes might arise as to which of the Departments was legally qualified to do a particular thing.

That is, roughly speaking, the scheme intended to be followed, and I hope, after these observations, that the House will realise sufficiently the scheme of this Bill which I ask to be read a first time to-day. Let me say that, as things are, the powers of the Defence of the Realm Act, or rather the series of Statutes called the Defence of the Realm Acts, can only be exercised by the Admiralty and by the Army Council. One of the consequences of creating the Ministry of Munitions, the head of which will be a civil as distinguished from a military Minister, is that it would be desirable no doubt that it should have some at any rate of those powers in relation to the defence of the realm. The only other observation I wish to make is this: It is a matter of some interest, in view of the recent discussion we have had, that if you create a Minister of Munitions, the result would be that not only such Minister would lose his seat by accepting the position, but as this is a new office he could not possibly be re-elected, so he would not only lose his seat but he would be disqualified from sitting in this House whether there was any attempt to reelect him or not. I desire to make no personal reference, but in view of the knowledge of the House as to who is to be the Minister of Munitions, I think we shall agree that this House would be a great deal the poorer if we did not take express power to prevent that consequence.


Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why that result is so?


The reason is the Act of Anne, for which the hon. Gentleman has so much admiration, draws a distinction between what are called old offices and new offices. Old offices are offices which vacate your seat but which do not disqualify you from being re-elected. New offices are offices which not only vacate your seat, but prevent you from being reelected because you are disqualified from being a Member of Parliament. That is the reason why when you create an office like the President of the Board of Agriculture you have to be careful to state that notwithstanding what otherwise might be the effect of the Act of Anne, the new office shall none the less be an office capable of being filled by a Member of Parliament. We propose consequently to insert that provision in respect of the Minister of Munitions, and we trust that the House will be prepared to accept it.


May I ask whether it is proposed that the manufacture of munitions shall be entirely under the control of the present War Office, or whether you take power in some eventuality to manufacture under this now Department?

Commander BELLAIRS

Will the naval munitions be under the Minister of Munitions as well?


I do not, naturally, want to define matters with precision at the moment. That would be much better dealt with when the Bill is in the hands of Members. The Bill;, so far as the scheme goes, proposes transference from the War Office to the Ministry of Munitions, and will, in certain cases, effect transfers from the Admiralty, and, it may be, from other Departments. I understand my hon. Friend to inquire whether or not the new Ministry would have control over the private manufacturers, or whether the private manufacturers would be left to deal with the existing fighting departments? My understanding of the matter is that the new Ministry shall deal with the placing of contracts and arrange for future contracts to be executed. I have myself no doubt they would also concern themselves as to the carrying out of the contracts which had already been entered into between private contractors and some Department of the Government for munitions of War.


What I want to know is whether in the event of a private manufacturer not fulfilling his obligations in carrying out to the satisfaction of the War Office, or of this new Department, what he has undertaken to do, the new Department would then take over that manufacture and run it themselves or hand it over to the War Office?


I do not think there will be any question of manufacture being taken over by the Department in order that the factory might be handed over to the War Office. The Ministry of Munitions, with the powers under the Defence of the Realm Act, will be able in case of need to take over certain factories themselves, but it would be rather the Ministry of Munitions than the War Office which would be concerned to carry on the factory itself. I would suggest to the House since this is a subject which raises many interesting and intricate points, that some, at any rate, of those points will be bettor considered after the Bill has been read the first time and has been before Members.


May I ask whether the Ministry will be created for the duration of the War only?


Yes, for the duration of the War and some short period after.


I think the only observation which Members of the House would desire to make on this Bill is that they only regret it was not introduced nine months earlier, because I am sure the public generally recognise the necessity of it. I think it is one of the first indications that we have had for some time of the determination of the Government to deal with what, after all, is one of the most vital questions which a new Government would have to deal with. I am glad, and I think the public is glad, that the late Chancellor of the Exchequer is going to be the man of push and go of whom we heard so much some time ago. I think the House generally has full confidence in him, and everyone looks forward with great hope to the realisation of the desire that has been expressed for more munitions of war. I am glad also that he is going to be assisted by the hon. Member for Hoxton (Dr. Addison) who I am sure is a hard worker and whose appointment is very popular. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary did not tell us how many members there were going to be in this Ministry. I believe the word "Ministry" really covers the President and the Under-Secretary. I was rather under the impression it was going to be of a much more elaborate character, but, no doubt, we shall have fuller information on that point when probably the late Chancellor of the Exchequer may be in his place to deal with the Second Reading of the Bill. Is it intended that the Second Reading should be taken early next week, and will the right hon. Gentleman the late Chancellor of the Exchequer be here to deal with it, and is it not intended to take our Money Resolution before the Bill is much further proceeded with?

I should like to know when shall we have an opportunity of dealing with the Money Resolution. It is obvious that the whole question of expense in regard to the new offices must be dealt with under that point. I imagine there will be a very close connection between the new offices and the great arsenals and works we have at present. That would have to be very clearly defined. I have no doubt we shall have the fullest information at the proper time. I did not quite understand from the right hon. Gentleman whether this new Ministry is going to purchase the supplies for the Navy as well as for the Army. I think that is a point as to which there has been a good deal of curiosity, and I would like very much to know whether it is intended that it should provide the necessary munitions for the Navy. Of course, we all know there is great need for co-ordination in some regards in respect to this matter. I know a case where the representative of one of the two departments I have referred to went down several times and told a particular factory that he must have the whole output for his particular department. He argued for a very long time, and at last the proprietor of it said to him, "it is quite impossible for me to do that, because the Navy have had it already for three months." It was obvious in that case that the two departments were not working at all in co-ordination and in co-operation. Certainly there is room for the whole question of reorganisation in regard to this matter, and I have no doubt the energy of the Chancellor of the Exchequer will put that right in time. I think we ought to have an answer as to whether this Ministry is going to deal with the question of supplies to the Navy as well as to the Army.


It is.


I am very glad to hear it. I imagine, if that is to be the case, that the right hon. Gentleman who is going to be the head of this Department will require a much larger staff than we have had any indication of to-day from the right hon. Gentleman. I wonder has any estimate been formed of what the cost is going to be, and perhaps we might have some little information about that. These are points which, perhaps, will be answered on Second Reading. I do hope that this Ministry will completely alter the state of things which has existed for some time, and the urgency of which, if I thought it was necessary, I could prove to the House. I will not go further into the matter at present, but it may be necessary at a later stage to give facts and dates to justify complete reorganisation with regard to our supplies of munitions.


We have had a very scant explanation this afternoon of what the objects of this new Ministry are. The proposal is one of a novel character, and the House, I am sure, will require to consider very carefully a measure to provide for the supply of munitions of war. We have had an intimation just made that the new Ministry will deal with supplies for the Navy as well as for the Army, and, no doubt, supplies for our Air Fleet will fall into the same category. It is perfectly obvious, however, that no matter what push and go he has no one man could deal entirely with this work, and that it is more than one man's job, even with a reasonable staff. We have many excellent business men in the House who have proved their capacity in business lines, and I think it is perfectly obvious, having regard to the number of contracts and the business aspects that arise, and which will involve not merely good judgment but business ability and probably the supply of a number of men, that the head of the new Department ought to bring to his aid at reasonable cost, and perhaps sometimes gratuitously, skilled business men familiar with the lines of business in order to enable him to decide whether proposed contracts are proper or not. There is also the question of the framing of those contracts where another class of business man will have to be called in, namely, the skilled draftsman. Very often some of the most serious disputes arise from misunderstandings as to the terms of contracts. We have had in this House quite recently discussions as to transactions with regard to contracts and as to the conditions which ought to have been put into those contracts. There is as well the important matter of the delivery of the goods, and there is the time period to be considered, and the inspection afterwards, and as to whether the thing that has been bargained for has been delivered according to specification. These matters involve practically every class of business and require the skill of the best men who can be summoned to discharge them. In addition to that it is a matter having reference to the requirements of the War, and war is the main business of the country at the present time. That requires the concentrated attention, not merely of one man or one Department, but of the whole Ministry from day to day and week to week until the contracts are fully carried out.

We may call this a Coalition Cabinet or a National Cabinet or anything else we like, and I think it ought to be called a National Cabinet, but first and last it is a War Cabinet. A War Cabinet is a Cabinet to conduct a war, and to conduct a war you must not only have men and munitions, but the best munitions and promptly, and you must have them delivered according to specification and contract, and, above all, you must have them delivered at the point where they are required in order to save the lives of our soldiers and sailors fighting for the sake of the nation, and thereby contribute to the shortening of the War and the saving of life. I am quite satisfied that the intentions of the Home Secretary are good, and that the Government wish now, though late in the day, to do something definite and effective to aid the armed forces of the nation in carrying out the tremendous work in which they are engaged. There is a practical proof to this House and to the country that there is literally no party in this matter. I am perfectly satisfied that those of us who were humble Members of the House in the past, and I suppose will be in the future, will be always ready to give any possible aid to the National Government in order that its purposes may be fully and effectually carried out.


May I ask what will be the salaries of the Cabinet Minister and his assistant?


I would suggest that that is a matter which would be much better discussed at a later stage, in view of the fact that it is dealt with in general terms in one of the Clauses of the Bill, and that, therefore, there must be a Financial Resolution. We propose to take the Financial Resolution after the Second Reading on Monday. The provision in the Bill, which I am quite ready to read, will not give my hon. Friend precise information:

"There shall be paid out of moneys provided by Parliament to the Minister of Munitions an annual salary not exceeding £5,000, and to the Secretary and other officers of the Ministry such salaries or remuneration as the Treasury may from time to time determine."

We thought it right to mention the salary of the Minister in the Bill—not to fix it, but to provide a figure above which it I could not go. The actual details will naturally arise in the discussion on the Resolution.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Sir John Simon, the Prime Minister, Dr. Macna-mara, Mr. Tennant, and Mr. Forster. Presented accordingly, and read the first time; to be read a second time To-morrow, and to be printed. [Bill 96.]