§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed. "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir John Simon)
The First Reading of this Bill, as the House remembers, was carried last week. The Bill is in the hands of Members, and I trust that the object of it is clear on the face of the Bill, and is one which will receive the general approval of the House. The object of the Bill is to authorise the creation of a Ministry of Munitions, and secure that that Ministry is provided with adequate power. The House thoroughly understands the difference between a Bill which confers powers upon a Department and the totally distinct question as to what is the order and what is the extent in which those powers shall be exercised. This is not the moment to describe in detail the precise limits within which the new Department will work, for that is a question which will be most properly dealt with by the Minister of Munitions himself as soon as we have, by this Bill, given him what he does not now possess, the statutory right to sit and speak in this House. Our duty to-day is limited to approving in principle the Bill which will create this new Department, and which will confer upon the Ministry powers which are sufficiently wide for the purposes we have in mind.
89 The whole Bill is governed by the first words of the first Clause—"For the purpose of supplying munitions for the present War." The new Department will concern itself with such supplies, but it will remain, of course, for the fighting Departments to indicate the nature, the extent, and the urgency of their needs, and it will further lie with them to distribute the supplies that are made available by the new Department in such a way as the fighting Departments think best. The proportion, for example, of different kinds of munitions is not a question which will be decided by the new Department at all. Their duty will be to co-ordinate different classes of demands, and see that the best proportions possible are secured by organising the industry of the country. It follows that all questions that are strategical or tactical will remain to be decided by the military or the naval Department, as the case may be. It is quite plain that if you throw the whole duty of supply upon the Department and leave the right to make requisitions with the existing Departments, questions will arise as to how to adjust the two, but the object of the new Department, of course, will be to co-operate with and secure the best results for the existing Departments and it will not in any way act contrary to their general objects and functions.
I may just deal with a point mentioned on the First Reading. What is meant by "munitions"? "Munitions" is a wide word, and we propose to insert in the Bill, which, as I pointed out, is a Bill that confers powers, a definition of munitions which will secure that the word is used in its widest possible sense. It will not be desirable for the new Department to be overloaded in the first instance with too long a list of articles which it is deputed to produce, but for the purposes of to-day, conferring as we are powers upon the new Department, of course we must secure a definition which is sufficiently wide. The method followed by the Bill is to provide for Orders in Council which, from time to time, will define by arrangement with the existing Departments what will be the scope of the work undertaken by the new Department, and one advantage of that method is that in the light of experience, and as the Department gets level with its work, it will be possible for it to undertake further duties than those which it is desirable for it to undertake in the first instance. Our scheme, of course, involves this, that a 90 start is to be made with most urgent matters, and those obviously are the supply of shells, the supply of rifles, the supply of guns, including machine guns, the supply of explosives and the like. As I pointed out, the advantage of the method we are following is that, as opportunity offers and experience justifies, we shall be able to extend that list.
The House will wish to know in a sentence what will be the relation not only of the War Office but the Admiralty to the new Department. The Bill has been drawn so as to enable both those Departments—and, indeed, every Department concerned with the fighting forces of the State—to be supplied with the co-operation and help of the Ministry of Munitions. Of course, it is not intended to affect by our new proposals the whole system by which the Admiralty supply the nation with ships of war; but, on the other hand, the provision of high explosives must necessarily be dealt with by looking at the problem as a whole—and, indeed, one of the matters which will be taken over is the work of a Committee dealing with the supply of high explosives which has to a large extent dealt with the needs of the Admiralty as well as the needs of the War Office. It is, of course, obvious that the work of this Ministry must be carried on in close co-ordination with both Departments. There is one other point it is right to make quite clear.
§ Sir J. SIMON
That really is, if I may say so, a matter of internal organisation which I would sooner not deal with at the moment, because it is obviously better we should, as speedily as may be, authorise the Minister of Munitions to come and take part in debate here. It is far better that he should deal with points of organisation of that sort than that I should anticipate them. The point is under consideration The Ministry of Munitions may well, of course, concern itself, and will certainly do so, with industrial co-ordination over a much wider field than the field of production which is itself appropriate. For example, the Minister of Munitions, through his own Department, may be immediately concerned with the production of special classes of articles, and, at the same time, it will be necessary for the industry of the country generally to be under his survey, in order 91 that his Department may assist to make the most effective use of the whole of the work which we shall put forward. And it will be his duty to keep in touch with all labour questions arising in regard to all classes of munitions, and, it may be, other matters. It would be very undesirable if we were to attempt in advance to crystallise precisely what is the limitation of the work which this Department will undertake. One great advantage of this Bill is, as Members who have studied it will see, that while its main principle is clear on the face of the Bill, the working out of that principle and the adjustments that may be called for are matters which can be settled from time to time in the light of experience. The Ministry is only intended to exist for the purposes of the present War, and it is essentially an emergency proposal. By the terms of the Bill the Ministry will come to an end within twelve months after the conclusion of the War.
Besides the Minister of Munitions, not more than two Secretaries may be Members of Parliament. The staff of the Department—and naturally, and indeed properly, this matter has been looked into in advance with the greatest expedition—will be divided into two classes. In the first place, a number of business men of high standing and great practical experience have volunteered their assistance, and advantage is being gladly taken by the Minister of Munitions of their help. In the second place, certain Civil servants attached to other Departments are being lent to the new Department for the purpose of carrying on its work. The House will see by that arrangement that two important results are secured. First of all, business direction and business advice is guaranteed. In the second place, we avoid the creation of a large body of new and permanently established officials, a matter which is of special importance, because this is an emergency and temporary measure. I am also in a position to make this announcement, that a Committee containing not only representatives of the Minister of Munitions, the Admiralty, and the War Office, but also containing outside industrial experts, is being formed, and the names of those who have joined that Committee, it is anticipated, can very shortly be announced to the Housce. I have said that much in order that the terms 92 of this Bill, simple and plain as they are, should be beyond all doubt and question understood.
I desire in conclusion and most earnestly to ask the House to consider this final point. In this important matter of creating a Minister of Munitions, the House of Commons has its part to play, but I would ask the House to consider what that part is. The time will arrive here when we shall pass in Parliamentary review the performances of the new Department, and the whole subject of the supply of munitions from the beginning of the War will be a subject of Parliamentary investigation. But surely this is not the time for a survey in Debate of the last few months, whether that survey take the form of criticism or the form of justification. Still less, is this a time for wordy estimates as to future output. If anybody in this House asks "Have you made an estimate as to how many shells are required for our future operations?" we reply that we require—and our Allies require our assistance—all the shells that the organised industry of this country is capable of producing. If anyone asks "How soon do you require these shells?" we reply that no output can be too swift. A single figure which I think has already been published is a significant illustration of the position. In the recent assault by the German army upon Przemysl 700,000 shells were expended by the enemy in the course of four hours, and I am assured by a very high authority that judged by all standards in previous wars that enormous expenditure in the course of four hours was an expenditure of shells, which in other and previous times might have been thought adequate for a siege of six months.
When we are sitting here comfortably in this House, thinking of the contrast between our occupation here and the daily and nightly heroism of our men in the zone of danger, we must all feel, and we do all feel, a certain distaste for debate, and a willingness, as far as our own duty makes it possible, to abstain even from good words. If there be points in this very short and simple Bill which call for close examination, I think they will be found to arise on the Clauses of the Bill which it will be our duty to consider in Committee, but the question which you, Mr. Speaker, put from the Chair, "That this Bill be now read a second time," raises no such question of detail. It raises a very simple question of principle 93 and the House is asked whether it is prepared to assent to that principle. The principle is that in the crisis in which we now stand it is proper to make the supply of munitions of war the special and the ceaseless care of a Minister specially appointed for that purpose and of a Department which he is creating and organising. I would point out that it is only by the operation of this Bill that the Minister appointed for this purpose becomes qualified to sit in this House. When he takes his seat here, after we have concluded our business on this Bill, that Minister will make a full statement to the House as to the organisation which he is setting up, and as to the policy which his Department proposes to pursue. In the meantime I trust the House will see that by giving its prompt and unanimous assent to the principle of this measure it will best express the single determination of a united people to authorise those who will be charged with the supply of munitions of war to undertake and carry forward without a moment's delay this supreme national task.
§ Mr. CHAPLIN
I have no title to speak for any other hon. Members, but I desire to say for myself that I have read and examined this Bill with care and I have followed carefully the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, and I can only say how entirely I approve of the Bill which has been laid upon the Table of the House of Commons. I do so for the reason that both the Bill and the statement of the right hon. Gentleman are only the necessary corollaries of the two great speeches which were made at Manchester and Liverpool last week by the right hon. Gentleman who is to be almost directly the Minister for this Department. I think all hon. Members in this House are indebted to the right hon. Gentleman for the statements he made in those two speeches on those two occasions, to which the Bill which has now been laid upon the Table seeks to give effect. In my humble judgment this is not the occasion for attempting to make long speeches, and so far as I am concerned I shall be pleased and glad to give to the passage of this Bill all the assistance which, as a humble individual Member of this House, I can give, so as to effect its most speedy passage into law. That is what we have to consider now. Everybody knows now what the position is abroad, at all events, with regard to an insufficient supply of munitions.
94 The only disappointment I felt with the speech of the right hon. Gentleman was when he said the reply to the question as to when the shells were to be produced was "at the earliest possible moment of time." Probably he was not in a position to do it, but I should have been glad if we could have been reassured as to when that early moment would occur. I am certain, however, that there will not be a moment's delay in producing everything that is required and that is necessary after the Bill has become law and the Minister in charge of the Department is able again to be in his place in the House of Commons, for, if there be one thing which I am afraid is more true than another in connection with this War, it is that there has been a lamentable loss of life which could have been something less, at all events, if it had not been for the absence of the specially desired munitions. I do not suppose any human being in the world, when this War began, could have foreseen what would have been the demand, and the enormous quantities demanded of that new and particular class of explosive munitions; but now that we are aware of it I believe that Members on all sides of the House of Commons, where-ever they may sit or to whatever party they may belong, will agree that the less time we lose in making up for that previous want of provision the better for all of us and for the object which we have in view, which is once and for all—it will be possible if we do our duty in this House and in the country as we ought to do—to crush that dominating instinct in Germany which has been the root cause of all this horrible War.
§ Sir E. CORNWALL
I desire to give this Bill my hearty support and approval, as I take it every Member of this House does and as the country outside expects this House to do, but I must say that when I read the Bill I was surprised at its limitations, because when the late Chancellor of the Exchequer stepped from his high office to undertake these new duties as Minister of Munitions I thought that he was going to undertake even far greater duties than this Bill will enable him to carry out. It is quite true the Home Secretary in his opening speech told us that there was going to be a definition Clause as to Munitions. That satisfies my anxiety to some extent. He also said that further duties would devolve upon the new Minister of Munitions, but that we could far better decide how we should settle 95 those new duties and enlarged powers when the Minister of Munitions himself was in his place in the House to explain to us exactly the kind of power he ought to have to carry out his important duties. I give way to no one in my desire to use the whole of the forces of the country to produce all the munitions of war that are necessary, and to give all the shells that are needed, but I cannot make myself believe, if this War is going to be prolonged, as it may be, that the late Chancellor of the Exchequer is going to have his whole time occupied by the one sole duty of supplying and aiding in the supply of munitions, because Lord Kitchener, in the House of Lords the other day, said with regard to shells:—I am confident that in the very near future we shall be in a satisfactory position with regard to the supply of these shells to the Army at the Front.If Lord Kitchener said that on 18th May in the House of Lords, I quite believe that, in three months from now the late Chancellor of the Exchequer will have been so successful in his efforts and in his work that he will have got on top of the work of organising the supply of munitions, and, when once he has got the supply of munitions thoroughly organised in this country, then his duties under this Bill will have ceased. It will be seen, however anxious we may be that new duties should devolve upon the Minister of Munitions as time goes on, this Bill strictly limits his duties, because in Sub-clause (2), while powers are taken to add new duties to the Minister of Munitions, it distinctly and clearly lays it down that the new duties must only be in connection with the supply of munitions. Therefore, whatever new duties we may want the Minister of Munitions to undertake with regard to the prosecution of the War, we shall be precluded from giving him those new powers unless they distinctly refer to munitions.
When I read the speech of the late Chancellor of the Exchequer and of the Chancellor of the Duchy (Mr. Churchill), I was very much struck with the enormous amount of force in what they said with regard to the organisation and mobilisation of the whole of the forces of the country for the purpose of the War and to prevent overlapping in the various Departments of the State. I thought from those speeches and from the general position that we must, if we are going to successfully prosecute this War, have a proper organisation and mobilisation of all the civil forces. Though opposed at the 96 present time to anything in the form of conscription, I heartily approve of what those two right hon. Gentlemen said about organisation and mobilisation. We all of us get no end of communications pointing out how disorganised the whole of the civil forces of this country are in every Department. Every Member of Parliament gets no end of instances sent to him week after week of the unsatisfactory arrangement and organisation of the whole of the civil forces in this country. I thought that we were going to establish a Minister who would apply his whole mind to some co-ordination, some organisation, and some mobilisation not only of shells and munitions but of anything which did not actually fall upon the old beaten track of our Government Departments. It is not the business of the War Office or of any Department to co-ordinate the civil forces of this country for the purpose of the War, but I thought that we were going to establish a Minister, one of the most eminent men in this House or in the country, to deal not only with the question of the supply of munitions but with those endless difficulties which we know often takes place. If this Bill passes in this form the new Minister will be confined entirely to the supply of munitions.
§ Sir E. CORNWALL
The Home Secretary says that he explained the matter, but I do not remember him doing so; in fact, I thought he was rather careful to confine his remarks to the supply of munitions, but, even if I misunderstood his speech, surely I have not misunderstood the Bill. I am not a lawyer, and I do not think that he is now—he will not mind my saying that, because he said it himself the other day, and I do not mean it offensively—but I think the Bill clearly sets out that any new powers must be connected with the supply of munitions only. If I am wrong, I shall be very glad to find that I am wrong, but I do not want the House in its ultimate decision to be wrong. I want this new Minister to be able to step in over all other Departments so far as organisation for war purposes is concerned, and we should at all events in the Bill we pass make sure that this House may from time to time without any further legislation give him all the powers we want to see him possess, so that the civil forces of the country may be organised; in fact, I would like him 97 to be called Minister of Munitions and Civil Organisation. I only rose to point out what seems to me a serious limitation in the Bill. I felt that we ought in a time like this to be sure of making it wide enough. I dare say, if the Home Secretary thinks it wide enough, that will satisfy the House, but I think it is too limited in its powers, and that we ought not to hesitate to give the widest possible powers to the new Minister in this all important work.
§ Sir RICHARD COOPER
One naturally feels a little difficulty in speaking on an occasion like this, in view of the appeal which has been made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Chaplin) sitting on these Benches, and that made by the Home Secretary himself. But I cannot fail to believe that neither of those two right hon. Gentlemen would for one moment doubt the honesty of purpose of any Member of this House in saying, on an occasion like this, what he believes to be right and necessary to say, and in avoiding saying those things which might reasonably be thought to be of advantage to the enemy. But I want to make a few observations. I will be as guarded as I possibly can, and will accept the slightest hint from the Home Secretary, or from anyone else, if it is thought that any particular aspect of this matter had better not at this moment be referred to. The Home Secretary, in the latter part of his speech, deprecated criticism. I quite understand the spirit in which he said that, and what he meant by it. But I do want, very humbly if I may, to make on this occasion some suggestions to the new Cabinet on matters of vital importance to this country. I wish to tell them that they are going to run very, very grave risks if they think they are going to prosper by the absolute stifling of criticism of any sort. As to the previous Government, I can conscientiously say I supported it up to the hilt both in this House and in the country, and I would have supported it through any mistakes, so long as one could feel that good was going to result. But we have now got to a point when the hope of the country lies in supporting the present Government, because if that cannot stand, then I would like to know what we are going to fall back upon. For this reason I feel—and I am sure other hon. Members of this House agree—that at whatever sacrifice may be necessary we must to our utmost try to help the Government through this terrible emergency. The 98 Home Secretary made a statement to the effect that, after the War, there was going to be a Parliamentary inquiry into the whole subject of the supply of munitions since the War began. I do not know whether by that I am to understand that the right hon. Gentleman merely means a debate in this House, or whether the Government have already decided to institute a committee of inquiry.
§ Sir J. SIMON
What I endeavoured to suggest was that the right time for discussion was not now, this afternoon. I did not hold out any promise. It is obvious, of course, that a question of this importance may be the subject of much Parliamentary debate.
§ Sir R. COOPER
I was hoping that this inquiry had been determined on; not that I had the slightest intention this afternoon of embarking on this most undesirable topic under the present circumstances. But I carry my mind back to the time of the South African War, when my own Friends were in power, and when I stated on public platforms that they failed after the War, when they had the time, to learn the lessons of that war and to reform the administration of the State. I do hope that when this War is over the opportunity will not be lost by the present or by any succeeding Government of learning every possible lesson that can be learnt, and of bringing about those reforms which are so obviously required. There are one or two points I want to refer to in the hope that I shall be doing something, at any rate, to assist the new Minister of Munitions in carrying out the powers which we are asked this afternoon to confer upon him. I feel justified in saying, as an excuse for speaking this afternoon, that over two months ago—in the latter part of March—I was in possession of a great deal of information upon the question of munitions—and I am referring now to the supplies to the War Office and not to the Admiralty. I had a great deal of information at that time and, in my opinion, might have done something to have saved some of the loss of life which happened in the month of May if I had only had the courage of mind and conviction at that time to discover adequate means of bringing forward matters which we are now dealing with under the provisions of this Bill. I can assure the House that in refraining from taking such action I was actuated throughout by no other reason than an absolute fear of doing more harm than good. On the 21st April I made an 99 offer of 5,000,000 shells to the Government, and I have never said a word since, in public or in this House. I have been perfectly content to leave the matter alone because, although I could not get any official answer why the War Office could not accept my offer, I was begged in the public interest to let the matter rest. I feel now that, if I had done my duty, I should, instead, have brought it forward and with all the strength in my power impressed it upon the proper authorities. May I, in the first place, ask the new Minister of Munitions, when he comes to put into force the powers we are conferring upon him, to carefully look into two aspects of this problem, especially with regard to the War Office, in separating the military from the commercial side of it?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Gentleman seems to be rather previous. The first stage is to get the Minister appointed, and after that there will be an opportunity of making suggestions to him. But it is no good doing that before he is appointed.
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ Sir R. COOPER
One is in a difficulty in this matter. One cannot say quite freely and frankly what one would like. We are asked this afternoon to pass this Bill, and I do not see how we can do that if we are not to be in a position to raise matters which are wrong to-day, because, unless they are rectified by the new powers we are conferring, it will result in those powers being of no earthly good whatever to the country. However, I accept without hesitation the ruling of the Chair. But I do feel we are entitled to consider, before accepting this Bill, the principal purposes for which we are asked to give these powers. The object is to provide what the previous administration has entirely failed to do. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] I know the reasons why it has failed. What are we being asked to confer these powers for? We are interfering with the existing machinery because it has not proved adequate. We know it is not adequate. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon used words which we all understand. The Home Secretary plainly said, "We have to bear in mind the noble sacrifices of our gallant men at the front who are losing their lives and suffering hardships for the sake of those who remain at home, and it is our duty to see that no more lives are lost than can possibly be helped." We are here, therefore, to put 100 the greatest pressure on the new Minister and the new administration in order to ensure the successful prosecution of the War and to save, as far as possible, the lives of our people who are fighting. I will pass away from that now, but I hope we may have another opportunity of referring to it if we find, from experience, that under the new régime matters are no better than they were. The country does not understand, and I am a little afraid that the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, judging from his speeches, does not quite understand, the real crux of this matter. In referring to his speeches I would like to say that I read the two speeches he made last week with enormous satisfaction, because he hits quite straight out from the shoulder and talked to the people in a manner they ought to have been talked to last September and October. The people have not realised the gravity of the situation throughout the whole of the winter. The fault lies not only with the late Government and Ministers, but also with Members of the House, who have shared too readily in their desire to keep quiet. The late Chancellor of the Exchequer has laid it down explicitly that the crux of the problem lies with industry and labour in this country. Nobody can deny that the more you can organise industry—employers of labour and labour itself—the nearer you will get to the maximum output of munitions which we all desire to-day. In that sense the right hon. Gentleman is perfectily correct; but I can make this statement—which I am prepared, if need be, to substantiate up to the hilt—that the primary trouble does not arise from industry and labour, but from administration, which, under this Bill. I hope the Minister of Munitions will rectify. There has been going on what is practically an inquisition into commerce and industry in this country. I am not going to give details or illustrations, but I hope that that point will not be lost sight of. The primary trouble lies in administration, and I presume that to-day we are doing our best to rectify it. I have great confidence that the Minister selected to carry out the powers under this Bill is the best Member of this House who could be appointed to that post.
Do not let us imagine that the whole difficulty will be met by aiming only at the maximum output of munitions in this country. Let us get as near that maximum as we possibly can. I would ask the hon. Member for Hoxton (Dr. Addison), who 101 will have a good deal of power and influence in this matter later on, to give close attention to the question of shell making in Canada, because I could, if need be, give information which would, at any rate, show a way of getting some supplies from that country at a very much more rapid rate, and information showing that the general methods adopted by the Government's representatives in North America, and even in other parts of that huge continent generally, would bear closely looking into at the earliest possible date. Lastly, may I make this appeal to the new Minister and his lieutenants when they are appointed, namely, that as far as lies in their power—I know how arduous the task is upon which they will be for some weeks engaged—they will make themselves as "get-at-able" as they can reasonably do. I can say, with a good deal of reason, that there is a very wide public complaint at the present time on that point, and that we Members of Parliament who have a right to get at them, are deliberately prevented from getting at the important men. That feeling is widespread throughout the country. Now that we have a reformed Government and this new office is being created, it is in the highest interests of the late Chancellor of the Exchequer and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hoxton that within reason they should try to make themselves as easily "get-at-able" as possible to Members of this House, so as to give us an opportunity of making such representations as we from time to time think are necessary in the public interest. Please do not let us be put off and kept quiet or prevented from speaking in public. Do not let us be prevented from doing anything when we believe, rightly or wrongly, that we have something useful to bring to their notice. I hope I have not transgressed in my remarks the spirit laid down by the Home Secretary. I felt it was necessary to make these remarks. I welcome the formation of this new Ministry of Munitions. I have read the Bill carefully, and so far as I can judge, there is nothing in it to which I can take exception, and personally I give it a very full welcome.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
Like all the other hon. Members who have addressed the House this afternoon, I welcome the introduction of this particular Bill with a view to securing the adequate provision of munitions for our armies in the field. I have some doubt as to the exact meaning of the warning which the Home Secretary gave to the 102 House when he moved the Second Reading. As I understood him, he practically warned us off altogether the discussion of this Bill. That is an entirely different theory of the functions of Parliament from that propounded by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster on Saturday at Dundee. I was glad to find that while the Chancellor of the Duchy reprobated irresponsible criticism in the Press he announced that the proper place for criticism was Parliament. I propose to follow the advice he then gave in offering a few suggestions and a few criticisms upon the Bill which is now before the House. In the first place, I do not agree—I regret it—with my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Bethnal Green (Sir E. Cornwall) in his reading of this Bill. His view is that this Bill is far too narrow, and that in setting up a Ministry of Munitions we should have set up something totally different, namely, a man who had not only to do with the provision of munitions but a kind of saviour of society, who was to be not only a Minister charged with the provision of shells, rifles, and munitions, but was also to be the man who was to preside over the whole of the civil organisation of this country. As I understand the situation, that is too heavy a task for any man, and the country would suffer rather than gain if his attention were diverted from the immediate object for which he is to be appointed to such wide and far-reaching schemes of social organisation.
I also disagree with my hon. Friend in that I believe the Bill does tend to give the Minister of Munitions powers in the direction of general industrial organisation. If hon. Members who have the Bill in their hands will look at it, they will see that the second Clause confers absolutely unlimited powers so far as the supply of munitions is concerned. We do not know what "munitions" are. The Home Secretary has told us that we are to have a definition inserted, but in any event where are we to stop in regard to the provision of munitions? It is only with the immediate manufacturers, or are we to go further back to the manufacturers of the materials used by the manufacturers of munitions? For example, the second Clause says:—The Minister of Munitions shall have such powers and duties in relation to the supply of munitions for the present War as may be conferred upon him by His Majesty in Council.103 If the supply of munitions is held to include not only the immediate material but also the raw material of the munitions manufactured, that would be giving the Minister of Munitions power to socialise all coal. The coal supply is the most important matter in the supply of munitions of war. It would, indeed, give the Minister of Munitions the power of a dictatorship. The Minister of Munitions has claimed a dictatorship. He told us at Manchester that we ought to have a dictatorship, but that it was to be tempered by the guillotine. We have the dictatorship, but I do not find the guillotine. I am quite willing to accept the dictatorship if we are to have the guillotine. When the Bill was introduced we were told that it was to co-ordinate the duties at present divided between different Government Offices and Departments, but this second Clause goes a great deal further than securing that object. I would support the Bill if it merely conferred upon the new Minister of Munitions the powers and duties already entrusted, by Statute or otherwise, to the War Office and the Admiralty for the purposes of supplying munitions of war. There are statutory powers contained in the various Defence of the Realm Acts which are very wide powers indeed, and they give the new Minister of Munitions ample authority to obtain all that he requires in the direction of the organisation of the industry of this country. The second Clause of this Bill should be confined exclusively to the point of transferring to the new Ministry duties hitherto possessed by the two older Departments, and also giving authority for those powers being exercised concurrently. Where it is in the public interest there should be a concurrent exercise of the powers of either the War Office or the Admiralty. That is the main point of criticism which I have to make upon this Bill. I think it fair at this stage, because we are to have the Committee stage tomorrow, to give notice to the Home Secretary that, with a view to ascertaining clearly what are to be the powers of the new Minister of Munitions, I will move an Amendment in Committee in order to secure, if it is possible, the statutory limitation of these powers. The House of Commons ought to see that there is a statutory limitation.
We have heard a great deal about compulsory labour. It may be necessary to have compulsory labour—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]—I am not prejudging that ques- 104 tion at all or entering into that question of policy. My point is that if there is to be compulsory labour it should be decided upon in the House of Commons and should not be settled by an Order in Council. I hold that the first part of the second Clause gives power to the Minister of Munitions to obtain compulsory labour. The late Chancellor of the Exchequer has told us that he trusts the people. If he trusts the people, surely he is not afraid of a discussion in the House of Commons upon the question of compulsory labour! I am glad to see that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is not afraid of such discussions, if one may judge from what he said in his eloquent speech in Dundee on Saturday last. We have heard a great deal in this connection of the socialisation of labour. "Socialisation" is the favourite word of the Chancellor of the Duchy. The socialisation of labour may be a sound proposition, although I can recollect a Cabinet Minister telling the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden) in a Debate earlier in the Session that the middle of a war was not the time to bring about the millennium. Apparently with the change in the personnel of the Government that view has been altered. It is well for those who are advocating the socialisation of labour to remember an extremely important thing in regard to it.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
With all respect, I refer to the second Clause of this Bill which, according to my interpretation, gives power to the Minister of Munitions to socialise labour. I may be wrong in my interpretation of it, but it gives to the Minister of Munitions any powers which His Majesty in Council may confer upon him. In those circumstances my argument may be based on a misinterpretation, and, if it is, we shall find out to-morrow; but if my interpretation is right, I am entitled to consider that question and to point out that there is involved in the socialisation of labour a corollary which many people who are writing of it in the Press and talking of it on the platform seem to forget, that you cannot have socialisation of labour without socialisation of capital.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
All these topics are really quite remote from what is now before the House. The question before 105 the House is simply whether we shall establish a Ministry of Munitions. How the Minister of Munitions will exercise his powers when he comes to be established is another matter. That is a matter which no doubt the new Minister, when he is able to be here, will himself propose to the House and discuss.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I am very sorry to appear to offer any apparent disrespect to your ruling, but I think the statement made by the Minister of Munitions at Manchester on Thursday covered the ground, and he expressly said that this could be done through the Minister of Munitions, and I have to point out very respectfully that we are not only considering the principle of setting up a new Ministry, but surely on the Second Reading of the Bill we are entitled to discuss the powers of that Minister! However, I think I have indicated very clearly the point of view from which I regard this proposal, and I do not intend to pursue the matter further. I will content myself at the present stage with asking some Member of the Government to state, before this Debate concludes, that if any ulterior designs are entertained by the Government we should have a pledge from them that they will not be carried through within the terms of this Bill, but that special powers will be asked for from Parliament and will be granted by Parliament with the full knowledge of the people of this country.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is quite entitled to put that question, but I still maintain the position that he is not entitled to discuss the general topics which he raised. He might just as well discuss the abolition of capital punishment upon a proposal to set up a Ministry of Justice. That clearly would not be in order.
§ Mr. LOUGH
I wish to ask a question with regard to your ruling, Sir, whether, having regard to what the Home Secretary said, that various powers with regard to labour would be entrusted to the Minister, the argument that the Bill should contain a definition of those powers should not be permitted, and that we should not try, even before the Second Reading is passed, to restrict those powers?
§ Mr. DILLON
Would it not be perfectly in order to oppose this Bill until we got some indication from the Government of 106 the general scope of the powers which it is proposed to grant to the new Minister?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
What I was protesting against was the general discussion about the socialisation of labour and the socialisation of capital, which did not seem to me to be in the least relevant to the Bill. If it be proposed to ask what powers are to be handed over to the Minister of Munitions, of course on that I have no objection whatever to raise; but the general, broad questions which were adumbrated in the speech of the hon. Member (Mr. Pringle) did not seem relevant to this matter, and they did seem to open up a very wide field and to lead the House very far away from the particular issue.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I do not rise to pass any criticism, either upon the action of the Government in the past or the action of the Ministry of Munitions in the future, which we do not know, and I think the House would be well advised to pass the Second Reading and to raise the discussion on the matters which have been before us this afternoon on the Committee stage. I do not quite agree with the hon. Member (Sir E. Cornwall) that this is a very limited Bill. I think it is a very far reaching Bill. The hon. Member said that on the Committee stage the Home Secretary was going to introduce a Clause defining munitions. I did not understand him to say that.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
If there is to be a Clause defining munitions, we might well postpone the discussion until we see it. Although I am prepared to support almost anything at present, I still have a lingering regard for the powers of the House of Commons, and I prefer that we should see in the Bill what it is that we are going to do, rather than leave it for an Order in Council. If we are to have a Clause, defining munitions I do not see what will be gained by pursuing the matter any further now.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
I only wish to ask one question, and I would not occupy even a brief moment if any trade union colleague had considered this to be a Bill of sufficient importance to warrant his presence in the House. Those who believe that this War can only be brought to a successful end by more munitions and explosives will, of course, support 107 this Bill, and if I can get satisfaction from the Home Secretary that the point which has been raised by an hon. Member behind me, and repeated by the hon. Baronet, I shall offer no opposition to the Bill. I want to know whether it will give power to the Minister for Munitions to carry out the policy he foreshadowed in his speech at Manchester on Thursday by an Order in Council outside the control of this House. If I cannot get a satisfactory answer to this question, if I can find any Member of the House willing to tell with me, I shall oppose the Second Beading. As you have ruled what I may call a general Debate upon the policy which may be followed by the Minister for Munitions out of order, I want to say that if by any means at all, either by Order in Council or by proposals brought forward in this House, anything is done to fasten forced labour upon the working people of this country, although I cannot speak for my trade union colleagues I can for some of my colleagues, I can promise the most strenuous and unceasing opposition.
§ Mr. DILLON
I am very grateful for the ruling you have given. The point which I wish to impress upon the Government is that even on the Second Reading I think we are entitled to ask the Government either now or before we get into the Committee stage, to give us a frank indication of what powers it is intended to confer upon the new Minister. Surely there is no record, even in these war times, of passing a Bill and setting up a new Minister and providing him with such wide powers. There is nothing in the Bill against any power that Lord North-cliffe may consider necessary. We have recently had some very curious experiences of what a newspaper in this country can achieve. We might have a crusade in these newspapers as soon as the Bill is passed, that the Minister for Munitions should be made a slave driver with absolute power to imprison by his warrant any man in this country who would either take too many glasses of whisky or refuse to work over hours. Surely we are entitled, even those who are prepared to support this Bill, before we are asked to give the assent of the House, even in the deplorable condition to which the House is now reduced by the necessities of war, without parallel in the whole annals of Parliament, before we set 108 up a dictatorship over all the working classes of this country, to have from the Government, I do not say a binding declaration covering all the future, but a frank and honest indication of what is in their mind at present as to the powers which they propose immediately to confer upon the new Minister. I will go a step further. I think we are entitled to demand from the Minister in charge of this Bill, before it leaves the House of Commons, that we shall have a binding pledge that, whenever further powers are conferred upon a new Minister, they shall be conferred by an Order in Council, and that a day shall be given for the discussion of these further powers.
Remember this may have very serious results. Very few Members know where this may carry us. We are engaged in a terrible struggle, which has, or at all events had, rallied together all parties and all nations in these islands in a way beyond the memory of living man, to resist a system which has threatened to become the curse and the blight of mankind—Prussianism—the organised State—and there is not a day that I do not take up a newspaper which holds up that system as an ideal, and which tells us, as one of them had the audacity to tell us the other day, that, thank God, this War will sweep into oblivion all the rubbish and humbug that Liberalism has preached in this country for fifty years. So that we are face to face with great dangers, and we have really even now, in view of the terrible crisis that is upon us, to keep our heads and to take care that in our desperate and well-grounded and justified anxiety to defeat Prussianism in Europe, we shall not be planting the foot of Prussianism here. What avail would it be to England to beat down the German nation and abolish militarism and the organised State if after the War was over we found we had transferred that accursed system to our own country? I assure hon. Members these are not wild statements. There are newspapers in this country which are advocating that system, and which say deliberately that all our misfortunes are due to the fact that we do not follow in the steps of the Prussians. Therefore, all I ask for is that to-morrow, if not to-day, the Minister in charge of this Bill will frankly tell us two things, I do not say in absolute detail, but in broad general principle. First of all, what are the powers the Government intends to confer upon the new Minister immediately this Bill is passed into law— 109 we are entitled to know it, before we pass the Bill—and secondly, I would ask him to give us a pledge that whenever it is contemplated to confer new powers upon a Minister, this House will have an opportunity of discussing those powers immediately after they are conferred.
There is just one other point I wish to make. I listened to the opening part of the speech of the Minister, and I was amazed at what he said. If I understood him aright, he said the duty of this new Minister was to be to acquire munitions, leaving it strictly to the war authorities to supply and distribute those munitions to the troops and to tell the new Minister what was required. What is the use of doing this at all. If there is one thing clear it is that the purpose and ground on which this new Minister was called for was that the present authorities at the War Office failed to appreciate what was required by the troops, and yet we are told here in the very opening sentences of the Home Secretary's speech that when we have passed this Bill and sacrificed, perhaps, the liberties of the working classes of this country, that we have gained nothing, because the War Office still is to have charge of the shells. They will tell what shells are wanted, and they will have the power to distribute the shells. I understood the cause of the agitation which led to the demand for this new Minister was that the War Office authorities had failed to understand what were the kind of shells that were required.
In face of that we had a deliberate statement made—it was most scandalously and treachously said, and whether it was true or false it was an infamous thing—that the general in the field had bombarded Lord Kitchener at the War Office with telegrams demanding a certain class of shells, and that he had put the telegrams in his pocket and had never sent them to the Cabinet or given them any information. Whether that was true or not—I do not believe a word of it—it was equally infamous and treasonable to state it. If it had been stated by an Irish newspaper that newspaper would have been suppressed. Five or six newspapers have been suppressed in Ireland for not doing one-tenth part of the treachery that your newspapers here do every day, because these newspapers here are the newspapers of great and wealthy men. These newspapers can set general against general, and attack the man on whose shoulders rests the whole responsibility of this 110 terrific struggle, and who ought not to be allowed to be attacked so long as this country is in the midst of this great crisis. You do that in Ireland. If one of our newspapers attacked such a man in the way that newspapers here have attacked him, it would be promptly suppressed, and without the slightest hesitation. But here Lord Northcliffe stands above the law of the land. Lord Northcliffe overthrows Governments, and therefore he can libel and attack Lord Kitchener in the very crisis of the agony of this country and commit crimes that it is not in the power of any Irish newspaper to commit. We are entitled to know before we pass this Bill, which will not only make tremendous innovations in the whole Constitution and history of this country, and which at a time when we are all practising the strictest economy in public administration will add £8,000 or £10,000 a year to the expenses of the Ministry; we are entitled to know whether the new Minister of Munitions is to have power to apply a remedy to the evil which it is alleged has caused the appointment of this new Department. If I understood aright the opening statement of the Home Secretary, he would be entirely powerless to do so.
§ Mr. CROOKS
It is a long time since I addressed the House, but I feel compelled to do so now, because it seems to me that the way this question has been raised is outside the scope of what I think the Bill is entitled to do. I was under the impression that what it was going to do was to organise the manufacture of munitions. The fact of the matter is that we now see that it may be used to organise labour, and, in a word, to get conscript labour. The House of Commons never made a more amazing blunder in its life if it thinks that the country would tolerate that. You cannot bully the industrial community, but you may lead them and organise them. The triumph of recruiting for the Army voluntarily has been so great that I should have thought that no living man would have attempted to apply conscription to industry. What the workers of the country want is guidance. Everyone seems to think that the proper thing to do in view of the failure to provide proper munitions is to abuse the working man, and to talk about making it a penal offence if he gets half-a-pint of beer, or something of that kind. The working men of the country know perfectly well that this War is not a Government war, that 111 it is not a capitalist war, but a war against their own liberties. You cannot persuade them in that direction if you take their liberty away from them. I have gone up and down the country, and I am going to continue to go up and down the country, and whether it pleases or offends the minority or not, it docs not make any difference to me. My country is in danger, and there is sufficient loyal, patriotic spirit to meet that danger in the workshop as in the field. You have only to point out to the average working-class audience that their brothers are fighting in the trenches, and you get at once the reply, "Tell us what we can do, and we will do it." The man who needs to be made to do his duty is not worth finding. Any man to whom you have to use compulsion is the sort of man that I would do without. I do not want such a man.
I would warn the Government of all the talents, and I would urge them to take the working man into their confidence and not to bully him. Point out to him where his work lies, and he will do it. It may be a surprise to Members of the House to know that a deputation came to the Lobby and used these words:We are not complaining that we do not receive pay enough, but we do complain that our work is not properly organised. We could do a much greater amount if we were allowed to do it in a proper way.I want the Minister of Munitions to go to Lord High Everybody, whether he is Northcliffe or anybody else, and say, "You are not working this show properly." It does seem an extraordinary thing after the millions of money that we have spent that we have not developed a genius for organisation yet. We have still got Departments of the Government grinding the wind instead of increasing munitions. I know perfectly well that the man who can finish the War is the man who does not get the job. I am exceedingly loyal, but I am not the sort of patriot who goes and breaks into bakers' shops after a Zeppelin raid. I do not believe in that sort of patriotism at all. I want the Government to appeal to the patriotism of the working classes in the proper way. Get into touch with the men. You are always in fear of strikes and lockouts. Why not seize the bull by the horns and deal with the matter properly? This Minister should set up a Department at once—not to-morrow, not the day after, but now, and form a Committee consisting of independent men, if they can be found, and say, "This Committee shall represent 112 the workers and to a minor extent the capitalist class, and whenever a dispute arises that dispute shall be referred at once to this Committee, and their decision is to be accepted and is to be retrospective." What the working men of this country whom you are trying to coerce think to-day is that some people are on the make. I really think they are on the make. I have in my possession a circular calling attention to the increased cost in raw material as being responsible for putting prices up, and yet they themselves own the raw materials and get the extra prices and then apologise for charging more. The working man is not a fool exactly, even if he does want to serve his country. I hope the Minister of Munitions will look to the human side of the problem. It is all very well for us to make speeches about loyalty and patriotism, but, as the working man frequently says. "It is all very well telling me to be a patriot, but that is no earthly reason why you should rob my wife and family." We have got to get that out of their minds.
The well-to-do people have been well defended and they are well represented in this House, but it is the working man who has to bear the brunt of the charges for drunkenness, idleness, and so forth. It is easy to attack him because he cannot reply. These powerful newspapers, if they are short of copy, say, "Send down that last speech of Snowden's or Crooks'. It will do to fill up, and the worse it is the better it will do." I want the Government to get to the best side of the working people of this country, and I hope the Minister of Munitions will make it his duty to do so. I agree with the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden) that if this Bill is going to give power to conscript labour, then I am against it from start to finish. If, on the other hand, the Bill is going to organise the output, to organise the employers, so that the working man will be considered as well as the man who has got all his money in it, then I am in favour of it. Let it not be forgotten that the working man gives his life in the workshops and takes his life in his hands. I am not saying that all sorts and conditions of men have not given their lives in this War. You cannot say this is a class war. It is a nation's war, and whether it takes six months or six years it has got to be a fight to a finish and a win in the end. The working classes of this country say so, and to persuade them 113 you must ask them to volunteer for all that is necessary. Do not talk about compulsion or you will get the same answer you get from your wife if you want her to do something. You ask her why she won't, and she replies, "Because I won't, and that's why!"
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
I know very well that I shall be suspect in anything that I say in this Debate: [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] I shall be suspect on one side because I may be thought to be cherishing a resentment that I am not sitting on that side of the House, and suspect on the other side because I may be thought to be acting as a bonnet for the Government. I trust the House will accept my assurance that when I came down here this afternoon I had no intention of intervening in this Debate. I should not have done so except to get what I hope I may get—an assurance from the Home Secretary that the words which form a part of the explanation on the back or the Bill as to the reason why this Bill was introduced into the House contains the whole of those reasons, and that there is not written into the Bill that sinister aspect which has been attributed to its provisions by Gentlemen in all parts of the House. There is some justification, I think, for that attribution of motive and intention. If Members of the House will look for one moment at the second Section of the Bill they will see that the Minister of Munitions
"shall have such powers and duties in relation to the supply of munitions for the present War as may be conferred on him by His Majesty in Council, and His Majesty may also,"
and I lay great stress upon that word "also,"
"if he considers it expedient,"
extend the powers which belong to the Department. It is surely clear that the Bill has been brought in by the Government for the purpose which is borne on the face of it, namely, to establish in connection with the present War a Minister of Munitions for purposes incidental thereto. Such questions as the conscription of labour, to which reference has been made in terms of great feeling and emotion, and, if I may say so, right-mindedness, this afternoon, are not really incidental to the provision of munitions of war. The people of this country have responded to the utmost for the provision of men upon a scale which has never been obtained by 114 any nation at any time or at any period of history. The output of this country at the present moment for munitions of war is not confined to the requirements of this country. We are at this moment supplying other countries with munitions of war, and therefore there must be a reserve of men and power and output in this country for the requirements of this country which shall need no compulsory force being attached to it. May I say this much to the Home Secretary? Unless his answer is, what the House I am sure expects that answer to be, namely, that the intention of the Government in putting this Bill before the House is confined clearly to the establishment of the Ministry of Munitions for the purpose of providing munitions, and for no ulterior purpose, unless he answers that directly and plainly, I am sure that it will develop in the House a feeling that one of the first actions of this Government, which is to carry the whole nation with it, has contained something in reserve which is against all the best feelings and traditions of the country, and the Government which has been brought into being to carry the nation with it, in its course of bringing the War to a conclusion, will fatally falsify the expectations of the country if at the outset of its career it does something so alien to the traditions of the people as to force compulsory labour for purposes which the people are only too willing to carry into effect if we ask them to do so.
§ Sir J. SIMON
With the permission of the House I would like to answer the question which has been put in the course of recent speeches from several quarters, and which has been formulated clearly by my right hon. Friend who has just spoken. I have no hesitation, and I have no difficulty in giving an answer as to the object of this Bill. I did my best to explain it in terms as clear as I could command. I have no reservations in my mind of any sort or kind. The object of the Bill is to enable a supply of munitions to be secured more effectively, more rapidly, and more copiously than existing methods make possible. The proposal of the Bill is that there should be constituted a Minister of Munitions with a Department for that purpose. There is no intention of using the Bill to secure by a side wind what the Bill does not plainly say. An hon. Friend of mine here used an expression about "forced labour." Somebody else used the expression "conscript labour." I do not 115 think that any lawyer examining this Bill could possibly suppose that the Bill would in itself authorise by executive action anything of the sort, but whether it does or not, there is not the remotest intention of using this Bill for any such purpose. If any special powers are needed in respect of labour, then they must be asked for from this House. They have nothing to do with the present Bill, and I trust that, in those circumstances, this large question may be relegated to its proper occasion.
§ Mr. LYNCH
Irrespective of the right hon. Gentleman's intentions, may I ask if this Bill becomes an Act of Parliament will it then enable powers to be conferred by Order in Council on the Minister of Munitions to institute compulsory service, irrespective of any declaration such as that which has just been made, and which would not be interpreted in an Act of Parliament?
§ Mr. EDGAR JONES
I have a great deal of sympathy for the outburst here this afternoon, but I am afraid that my absence here from this House for several months among the troops has driven me to take a rather different point from that taken by certain hon. Friends behind me, and on the other side of the House. I agree with them that a good lesson has been taught to the Government this afternoon, that instead of allowing themselves to be stampeded by a miserable section of the Press, in the silence of the House of Commons, they should come here oftener and not come as the Home Secretary did this afternoon with more or less the suggestion that it helps towards unity to keep this House silent. But now that we have had a categorical utterance from the Home Secretary in the presence of the Prime Minister, I feel that I could not allow the occasion to go over without suggesting that the House of Commons should realise fully the significance of what we are doing here to-day. One cannot use the language of exaggeration, and I would like to bring the House back to the Bill itself and to the situation out of which it has arisen. This Bill, after all, is the commemoration stone on the grave of a Ministry, and whether it is going to be an 116 obelisk of victory is going to depend upon this new Minister and his relations with the House of Commons.
The significance of the proceedings here to-day is this: Soldiers alone cannot assure victory. Of course the more men the better. In every war every general will always ask for more men. Still, it is absolutely clear that you cannot assure victory by simply increasing the number of your men. The situation is reduced to a matter of hundredweights and tons. Everybody knows in Germany and in France, and we know it here, that it is entirely a question of our being able now to put a certain weight of munitions behind the men as to whether victory is assured. I want to bring it to a finer point than that. I believe that in getting this point realised by our people we shall get the fulcrum which shall move them to the necessary sacrifice and effort. We are now in the middle of June. Are our gallant troops to remain in the trenches in Flanders for another winter? That is the situation at which we have arrived. There is great hope and there is immense confidence that with a certain weight of the right kind of munitions they would not have to stay there for another winter, and that they would be able to choose positions that at any rate will be better; but if they do not get the weight of munitions, then who can say that they will not have to remain in those trenches in Flanders? That is what is put upon this new Minister of Munitions. That is the responsibility imposed upon him, the responsibility for the lives of our troops during the coming winter campaign, because it will entirely depend on the success or failure of your policy whether that is to be so or not.
The measure of his responsibility must be the measure of the powers which the House will give to him. I agree with the hon. Members that those powers, must be asked for in this House, but I will go further than that and I will ask the House to consider this other point: What is this Coalition Cabinet, and how has it come about? I interpret that it has come about for this reason—to secure that everything will proceed with as much smoothness as possible, so that the Minister of Munitions shall produce what is necessary to save the lives of the troops out in Flanders and to ensure the victory that we require. It is this matter that is desperate, because it is a matter of a few weeks. We are not here discussing a thing that is going to be settled in months. 117 Every body knows that unless the new Ministry can so broaden the basis of output as to give the necessary expansion of output during the next four or five weeks, then the question of the coming winter will have gone beyond the right time, and that is the desperate situation with which the House is face to face, and which the Minister of Munitions is facing. Upon the question whether he succeeds or not will depend the great issue of this War, and I will impress seriously upon the Government the necessity for giving full publicity to all that is necessary to be known. I would like the Chancellor to go down and speak in the open, as he has done. I trust that he will continue to live in the open, in the country, and that here in this House not only will he get the powers which he requires, but that he will get the sacrifices that are necessary as well. I hope that the House now in passing this measure for the setting up of the new Minister will realise that though Lord Kitchener has done a great work and earned his reward in putting his men into the field, and that although the First Lord of the Admiralty has done his share, and we have got to support his successors, and though I dare say even in the realm of economy and finance the same has been done, still it is not Lord Kitchener or anything which he is going to do in the next month or two, or anything which the First Lord of the Admiralty or the House can do, that will settle what is going to happen between this and next January. It is this new Minister of Munitions and the powers which you are giving here and the confidence which he engenders that you trust the people in the country outside.
William Pitt was a man of this House like the Chancellor of the Exchequer and most of our modern Ministers. His situation, however, was a much more difficult one than that of the new Minister of Munitions, because Pitt had civil war in Ireland and a French invasion threatened, and at the same time there was the mutiny in the Home Fleet. There was also an Army that the Duke of Wellington described as the scum of the earth, and he had also the difficulty of a Cabinet half of which consisted of political cutthroats, and an active, irresponsible Opposition, irrepressible and reckless, pressing upon him every day. But because Pitt lived with the nation behind him, and took his trust and his confidence in them and that trust and confidence were 118 returned, he succeeded in spite of all that multiplicity of difficulties; and certainly if this Minister finds any difficulty from any caballing or intriguing in the Cabinet or from any particular organisation or individual, if he will come and tell the House and the country what powers he-requires he will get the necessary powers. I would join in pressing for an answer to the question put to the Home Secretary: Why this new Minister is not to be directly a member of the Army Council, so that he shall be responsible as to the kind and character and quantities of the different ammunitions? He has taken upon himself a burden and we must see that his powers shall be made equal to supporting it. If this be done we shall have no cause to complain, and if the result be to secure more speedy victory with less loss of life the House of Commons will have no reason to regret spending a few hours this afternoon in discussing this subject.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Mr. DUKE
In coming to the House this afternoon I had not the slightest intention of breaking the rule of silence which, I cannot help thinking, is the golden rule on the questions which arise out of this War, if and so long as, consistently with patriotism, silence can be observed. But language of passion has been used—not only passion in the denunciation of Prussianism—and what I would call language of suspicion has been used. I am not going to express any surprise at that. It is suspicion spoken on behalf of a class in this country who have some reason to be suspicious in ordinary circumstances. But what I rose to say, after the point which this Debate has reached, and which I think is about its climax, is this—and I want to say it as a man who is a supporter of this Government now only in the sense in which he was a supporter of it six weeks ago—that there is not in this Bill any warrant for passion, except that of anti-Prussian-ism, and there is not in the Bill any warrant for suspicion of the right hon. Gentleman, the head of the Government, or of his colleague, who is not here but who, with the universal confidence of the country, is Minister of Munitions, or of his colleague who has introduced this Bill, which, on the face of it, does not derogate in any way from the Liberal principles with which their lives and conduct have been associated. Anybody who knows anything, or troubles to know anything, about my views on public affairs, 119 knows that I am not a Liberal, that I am not a supporter of those right hon. Gentlemen in that aspect of their political principles, and that I am ready to meet them on questions of that class when the War is over, in honourable conflict. But I think that when this Government is formed, with great sacrifice on the part of its Liberal Members, and at least there has been a corresponding sacrifice on the part of Conservative Members—that it should be thought that the men who formed this Government are ready to betray or to barter away the principles of public liberty and of general patriotism, of patriotism in its relations of class with class, by introducing a Bill of this kind with an intention to put some fetter on the labour of the country, cannot be conceived, and I cannot help thinking that those who speak of slave driving, and associate such an idea with the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, have not read the Bill, and that what is disturbing them at the moment is the transformation which the Government is undergoing.
I deplore it myself. I have no hesitation in saying that, because I believe that the Government, before this change, could have commanded the assent of every honest man in the country, notwithstanding those influences which the hon. Member for Mayo denounced with a fervour which I absolutely share. This Government has been formed for a public purpose, and to meet an urgent necessity, and is it not rather a pity that we, who are praying for this Ministry of Munitions, and for its success, should have spent nearly two hours of the afternoon on this, the first day of the organised existence of this Administration, in having vent given to suspicions which have no warrant in anything the Government has done. If it were attempted, even in a time of public crisis, you on that side of the House, and we on this side of the House, would join in avenging the public principles which were involved, and, whatever might be the difficulty, we would face the situation and find men who would vindicate the liberty of Europe, in a Government which was not suspected of desiring to enslave any of the subjects of His Majesty the King. But nobody thinks that; no man in England who desires the success of British arms and the vindication of universal liberty thinks anything of the kind; and is it not rather a pity that we 120 should herald the existence of this Government, which has been brought about by great sacrifice on part of its Members on both sides, by a Debate and casual criticism—I will not say snarling criticism; it would not be true—a Debate and casual criticism which would not have taken place if we had been in sight of the guns in France.
If I may crave the indulgence of the House, I would say that if we are not in sight of the guns in France, men of our own blood are. We are in sight of a great danger to liberty, and we can best meet that danger by trusting this Government until it has betrayed its trust. I had no desire to speak at all and did not intend to interfere in this Debate, but, when hon. Members who supported Liberal Ministers have forgotten the Liberalism of their sentiments, with the indulgence of the House, which has always been shown me, I would point out that if you give this Government the powers which the country demands that you should give it, to set up, at short notice, a Ministry of Munitions, you will have at the head of it a Minister of Munitions whose past conduct we know, and who has been before all, and above all, during the years in which his reputation has been built up, the jealous champion of the interests of the poorest people of this country.
§ Mr. LOUGH
The hon. and learned Member who has just sat down, and to whom we always listen with great respect, struck a note this afternoon on which I venture to urge there will be some difference. He suggested that we—who have come to Parliament this afternoon to do our work as well as we can, like other people in the country at the present time—are doing something wrong in discussing these large proposals of a most momentous nature which are now before us. I submit, with the greatest respect to my right hon. and learned Friend, that never has there been a time in the history of this country when such a splendid spirit has been displayed by the House towards Ministers in helping them to successfully carry through their efforts in this great emergency. This House has to do its duty, and there could be no greater wrong to the country than that Parliament should cease to take an intelligent interest in what is going on and in trying to make this Bill as perfect as possible. It is a very remarkable situation. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, who is in charge of this Bill, is one of the most artful Ministers, when he has 121 a Bill to get through the House of Commons, that I have ever seen on that Bench. It is not exactly his Bill, and the Ministers who are mainly concerned in it are not here. But the right hon. Gentleman comes down to this House to submit the Bill because of his great Parliamentary ability. We all desire to respond to every appeal made by the Government, but the right hon. Gentleman said, "Do not discuss the Bill; this is not the time for criticism." So long as criticism is fair and tendered in a generous spirit I do not think the Government should object to criticisms of their proposals. We have had speeches from the hon. Member for Woolwich and other hon. Members, but the reply which we got from the Home Secretary does not at all answer what they had to say on the questions raised with regard to labour.
I think we may concentrate ourselves on the Bill which, Heaven knows, is a large enough subject for an hour or two this afternoon. What is the Bill about? What are we to make? There is nothing in the Bill to tell us. The Home Secretary, with his great ability, like a careful mariner saw the snag ahead and tried to avoid it by intimating that he would put in a definition Clause about munitions. I cannot help saying that it is a great pity that an important Bill like this should have been brought in without a definition Clause, and I think that justifies the questions which have been raised this afternoon. I would suggest to the Government that in large matters of this kind in future they should be a little more careful. I desire to approach this Bill from a business standpoint. There has been a disposition in the House—it has been expressed by various Members—to assume that everything is wrong in this country, that we are not organised, and that unless we get this Munitions Bill we will be entirely unorganised. I object to that view very much. I know a great deal about German organisation, for I was in that country before the War broke out, and I do not place German organisation so high as do many Members of this House. I do not place the business capacity of this country so low as do many Members. If I cared to enter into the subject, I could mention a dozen respects in which this country and the Government have shown a capacity for organisation in war which I think Germany is not capable of for a single moment.
Look at what has been achieved. The seas have been cleared, our food supplies 122 are maintained, our soldiers are fighting at the front, and all this has been done by an organisation which this Bill largely discredits. The Bill is a large one, as large in its effect as the change in the Government itself, and it is because of this that I desire to draw attention to its business aspect. It is assumed that the munitions of war will be better produced by the new Ministry, with the help of the Board of Trade and outside forces, than by the old Ordnance Department and the Admiralty, which have done such splendid service, not only in this War, but through centuries, to the country, I gladly bear witness to the excellent way in which the Admiralty work has been carried out. Has there been any complaint, in any quarter, about shortage of munitions from the Admiralty? None whatever. An excellent speech, the best since the War broke out, was made in Dundee, on Saturday, by the First Lord of the Admiralty, who said there was a splendid store of munitions, ships, and everything else the Admiralty wants. It is all very well to speak of producing munitions as if munitions could be turned out like bread. They are most delicate things to produce. Munitions, I take it, include among other things the production of guns, ships, and submarines. Where is this production to stop? We can see at once the need of a definition Clause. I do not think that the excellent work which has been carried on by the Admiralty and by the War Office in this respect ought to be lightly interfered with. It is impossible not to remember that the right hon. Gentleman, and I am sorry to have to say this in his absence who is to be at the head of this new Ministry—I refer to the late Chancellor of the Exchequer—told us on the 21st of April in this House, "That the production of high explosives in this country was on a footing which relieved us of all anxiety, and which enabled us, in addition to supplying our own wants, also to supply our Allies." To-day we are told that suitable munitions cannot be produced unless we set up a brand new Ministry. I do think we ought to have some explanation of the statement which was made on the 21st of April and some reasons given for this extraordinary quick change that has been made, and why we are told that everything is wrong with those Departments which, so far as I can judge, have been doing exceedingly well.
We are also told that a new Department must be brought into existence immediately. I do think we are entitled to 123 ask what was the shortage of munitions, what was the demand for them, and where did they fail? It may be said that this is information that could not be given now, but then some information has been given. We have been told the story about the 700,000 shells, for anybody who likes to swallow it, but then who could count them and who could tell whether the number was 700,000 or 200,000? I think correct and full information should be given with regard to such a serious matter. Although I do ask the House to look carefully into this question, I do not desire at all in what I am saying to obstruct in any respect whatever. I do think that the Government ought to think out more closely than it has done exactly what it wants, and that the House of Commons ought to help it to do so. I think this is what they want, and what I am going to say was partly adumbrated by the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary. I would suggest to him that the experience he has had this afternoon will show that if he has a little more respect for our old forms even his manner of getting Bills through may be a little improved. The Government do not want to interfere with the Admiralty, but it is a pity that the right hon. Gentleman said that the new Department is to have powers over the Admiralty in this respect. They do not want to interfere even, I think, with the War Office.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I did not say "powers over the Admiralty." What is sought is powers in relation to the Admiralty.
§ Mr. LOUGH
It is a reflection on the Admiralty. If the Admiralty were going on all right, and the War Office, you would not have a new Department and the country would not want it. I desire to suggest what I think is exactly wanted. We do not want, for instance, to be told the size of the shells. How could the late Chancellor of the Exchequer know the technical details about shells or guns or about torpedoes? It is almost impossible to tell the exact type and quantity that is wanted, and all those things must be left to the Department. Why do we need a now Department at all? I think it is needed for only one slight thing, that is to see that the requirements of the Admiralty and of the Army are efficiently and promptly carried out. It has been boomed a little larger than that in speeches at Manchester, aye, and even in speeches 124 here, but it is nothing but to expedite the country and to see that it responds quickly to the demands of the Admiralty and of the War Office. I do not like quoting the example of Germany, because I do not think much of their organisation. I think any impartial man who knew both countries would say that our organisation is fifty times superior, and I think that this War will teach Germany such a lesson as it thoroughly deserves. The Germans have put one business man in charge, Herr Ballin, and of course we have got a great many more. They have put him in charge to get the things the Admiralty or the War Office want. My right hon. Friend will excuse me saying that lawyers and politicians do not know what is wanted. If you want to buy a certain thing you go down to A or B and ask if they have got a supply, and it only needs a sum in arithmetic to work out the details. I do not believe that all the speeches at the end of the week will help production at all. If anybody made an attempt to get the whole of the supplies of any article by making a speech at Tower Hill, everybody would laugh. When you want to buy any goods you must keep your mouth shut and make no speeches. Yon cannot keep our mouth shut here or what good would you be, especially when you give such wisdom as I am giving now. In matters of this kind you want business men, and instead of talking go to the people who have the things to sell. I am glad to be able to congratulate the Government, especially on the explanation given by my right hon. Friend, in that there has been a disposition to modify this scheme for what it represented to be last week. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] Instead of having a big spending Department which would interfere with two great Departments which have done such great service, what is wanted is a modest business Department to facilitate output. If that is done, considerable service will be rendered to the country, and certainly the Bill would do no harm in any direction, and I am sure that that is the wish of everybody in this House.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
I am not going to follow the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken and who was called upon, I suppose, as we were told the other day, for his "superior knowledge and wisdom." That superior knowledge and wisdom has caused him to make a speech which I do not think needs very much attention from this House. The right hon. 125 Gentleman the Member for Exeter (Mr. Duke) made a speech which, he will forgive mo for saying, was wrong in law and absolutely fatal in its attitude with regard to this question. I cannot, of course, assume the same knowledge as to the law that he does, but I am convinced, and I think a large number of other Members are convinced, that it would be perfectly possible under the provisions of this Bill to give the Minister of Munitions by Order in Council the whole of the powers which have been mentioned this afternoon in regard to labour. I am not saying now whether that is right or wrong, but I am perfectly convinced it would be perfectly feasible to do so by Order in Council, and to provide for the transfer of labour from one town to another or for the registration of labour, or for the prevention of strikes, and so on. Another point in favour of that view is that the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, in his reply to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bristol, did not say that the Act did not give those powers, but simply we are not going to use those powers. With regard to the other part of the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Exeter, I am convinced, and I am not ashamed to say it, that whilst our men at the front are giving themselves, their limbs and their lives for us, they are entitled to demand that, if necessary, labour should be organised to meet the demands of the situation. It may not be a popular argument to use here, but I am so convinced of the serious condition of Great Britain at present in this War and of the absolute necessity of the whole country from one end to the other doing everything in its power to provide the munitions of war, that if necessary I would give the Government the utmost powers it asks for. For instance, the Government might want to close one kind of works in order that the workpeople should be transferred to other kind of works. I would give them the power, for instance, to prevent all luxury trades being carried on in our midst in order that the men engaged in the production of those luxuries, which are of no earthly use towards the prosecution of the War, might be utilised compulsorily, if required, for the production of all those munitions which are absolutely essential to our success in this War. I thought that somebody on these Back Benches, and after all we are not represented here by the Front Bench at the present time, 126 ought to rise and to put these views forward, unpopular though they may be to a section of the House, and to say that many people in this country are looking forward anxiously to the time when those young men who have been referred to who will not go to the front and who are slackers in regard to fighting may at least be taken hold of and made use of in regard to the supply of munitions.
The Home Secretary is going to give us a definition of "munitions" to-morrow. I am very anxious that in that definition should be included the munitions of the air services both of the Army and of the Navy. The House will, I hope, remember that I tried as patriotically as possible two or three years ago to raise more than once the question of the supply of aeroplanes. I am not going to give any figures to the House now, and it would be wrong for me to do so, but I say upon my own responsibility that I have knowledge which convinces me that the Army and the Navy would be able to utilise a great many more aeroplanes than they have at the present time. I am not going to put it any higher than that. I do not want to give any figures that could be of any use to our enemies. We have had the testimony of Sir John French that our airmen are not merely equal to, but superior to the airmen of the enemy, and I am convinced that if we had a double or treble supply of aeroplanes we should enable them to do double or treble the amount of service. At the present time there is very little co-ordination between the Navy and the Army with regard to the supply of aeroplanes and munitions for aeroplanes, such as bombs. I do not think there is any harm in stating that there is a shortage of some kinds of bombs. I do not think that will help the enemy. I do trust the Minister of Munitions will be given sufficient powers to deal with the whole question, not merely of shells for guns, but also of bombs for our airmen and the provision of aeroplanes for the Army and for the Navy.
Sir H. DALZIEL
I can hardly think that the Debate this afternoon has been worthy either of the occasion or of the grave circumstances in which it is taking place. I further regret that, in my opinion, the responsibility for that state of things falls entirely on the Government itself. In the first place, we had the warning, thrown out by the Home Secretary when introducing the Bill, with regard to what he called the distaste of debate. My view is 127 that, had we had more discussion during the last ten months, circumstances would have been different from what they are today, and possibly the necessity for this new Department would never have arisen. The late Government suffered from too much confidence and too little criticism. I beg the Government to justify, if they can, in the future, the silence of independent Members of this House. There has been little, if any, debate on great questions of vital importance during the last ten months in any quarter of the House. Why? Because every hon. Member felt that he ought not to do anything that might even be supposed to hamper the Government in the serious work they had in hand. But they did not justify our confidence. That is why a change has taken place and we have met to-day to discuss this new proposal.
Further, I do not think that this Debate has been well conducted on behalf of the Government. In the first place, after all the reasons put forward last week for rushing a Bill through in order that thirteen more Cabinet Ministers might be in their places on Monday, it would surely have been only courteous to the House, in view of the great importance of this measure, if some of those Ministers had sacrificed their time in order to listen to the Debate. Throughout the Debate we have had present practically only the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill. I do not complain at all in regard to the Prime Minister. He was here for a few minutes. I know he is very busy, and I do not wish to criticise him; but he only came in and went out after he had been informed of what had taken place. I saw him with interest get a copy of the Bill and read it to see what the Debate was about. I venture to say that he had never read the Bill until he read it to-day. I do not blame him for that; he has much more important things to consider than the phrasing of a Clause in a Bill of this kind; he can surely leave with some of his colleagues questions both of the preparation of a Bill of this kind and of the manner in which it is presented to the House. For all practical purposes there has been only one Minister here to-day, and that after the strong case made out last week. Moreover, the manner in which the Debate was allowed to go on was no credit to the Government. Why did not the right hon. Gentleman, the moment the question of extended powers was introduced, say that the House was 128 under a misapprehension? If he had done that a great deal of valuable time might have been saved. Nor does the drafting of the Bill really do credit to the Government. I am entitled to give my interpretation of the Clause. As it is drafted, the Government have full power to do anything which they decide to be necessary for the greater production of munitions in this country. I do not think there is any doubt about it. There is only the question of the interpretation which the Cabinet may put upon these extended powers. I ask the Government to keep a tight grip on these important Debates. It is the duty of the Government to correct any misapprehension before the time of the House is uselessly occupied.
I welcome this Bill whole-heartedly. I do not agree with my right hon. Friend that it is a slight matter of co-ordination. I believe it is a question of life and death to this nation. No one who knows anything about the position can doubt that upon the greater and immediate production of shells and the organisation of industry to get them produced depends the whole future of our country and the settlement of the War. Therefore I do not regard it as a slight matter. It is an important step. I welcome it; I am sorry it was not taken ten months ago; I am glad the late Chancellor of the Exchequer is in charge of it; and I hope that with the additional powers which we are going to give the Government it will greatly improve the critical situation which now exists.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
I scarcely follow the right hon. Gentleman opposite in saying that the House was under a misapprehension. The Debate was started on a certain course by the remarkable speech of the hon. Member for Mayo (Mr. Dillon), which speech I very much appreciated. I am glad to find that a democracy which I think is on the way to betrayal has found a leader in this House. There has been no misapprehension. In his statement the Home Secretary, as I understand, did not deny that these powers exist; he only said that they would not be put into operation.
§ Sir J. SIMON
The hon. Member is mistaken. I stated, in the first place, that there are no such powers in the Bill; and, in the second place, that even if there were, it was never contemplated that this Bill should be used for any such purpose. I cannot hope to get the agreement of everybody, but it would seem to me little short of absurd to suppose that a Bill in 129 these terms would allow the Government, without an Act of Parliament, to say, for instance, that a new crime might be created and a man punished for it.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
I do not regret my misapprehension since it has drawn a more definite statement from the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
I would press the desirability of making the matter perfectly plain in Committee, because the speeches made by the late Chancellor of the Exchequer at Manchester have received in the country a certain interpretation, which, if the country is not better informed, will cause this measure, instead of furthering the supply of ammunition, to operate in exactly the opposite direction. According to my interpretation of the right hon. Gentleman's speeches at Manchester there was a suggestion that this measure would be used in conjunction with the Defence of the Realm Act, and that with the two Acts his powers would be absolute—the Minister, working with the Defence of the Realm Act, could make himself an absolute dictator over labour. That was the interpretation put upon the speech certainly by the Conservative Press. I remember seeing a flaming placard, "Put them in khaki—Mr. Lloyd George assents," and so on. Those people who promoted the movement for the compulsion of labour, those who have used expressions such as those of a Noble Lord, who said he would proclaim martial law in every area and shoot every man who went on strike, the people who are influenced by panic conditions, and those who are animated by a general class hatred, have thought that in this measure was coming a fulfilment of their hopes.
I hope the Home Secretary will in Committee make it perfectly clear that the hand of the State is not going to be extended in its powers over the community and over labour. I would remind the House that the late Chancellor of the Exchequer pointed out that certain regulations of the trade unions would have to go. I understood that the powers given him by this measure, and the Defence of the Realm Act, would enable him to crush 130 trade unionism if it stood in the way of what he considered to be desirable in the matter of furnishing munitions. If anything in that direction is done in this country, instead of furthering the provision of munitions, it will retard it. You will have a revolt of labour which will reflect itself in the trenches across the seas. It will not encourage the trade unionists who have left this country to serve in the trenches if they know that whilst they are there the safeguards which in the course of generations they have built up against oppression are being broken down.
§ Mr. HUME-WILLIAMS
I would not have intervened in this Debate were it not that I have listened to speech after speech with a growing sense of depression—a depression which I am bound to say reached its uttermost point in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Exeter (Mr. Duke). It seems to me that the object of speakers has been to fetter the discretion of the new officer whom we are appointing before he even comes into existence. The desire has been to point out—Member after Member has risen to state the same thing—that in whatever direction he may choose to exercise his energies in the future, at any rate he is not to do that which many of us think is the only justification for the existence of the Coalition Government at all, namely, to take steps to co-ordinate and to control not only the energies of the labouring classes, but the energies of every capable grown man in this country in the direction of doing what he can to end this War. How has this question arisen? At the beginning of the War we all had confidence—and have now—in the great men who lead the War Office, in our soldiers, and in the common patriotism which will lead us to a victorious end. What has the War proved? The one thing of which we were sure when the War began was that, whether or not our hopes might be justified, the one branch in which we should not fail would be the provision by our great manufacturing classes of an abundance of explosives and of all the material needed in warfare.
What has emerged? While our soldiers have proved themselves without the least doubt the finest fighting men the world has ever seen, and they have gone forward with a heroism which no words can describe the very thing which we were I sure would not happen has happened. We 131 have failed where we did not expect to—in the provision of explosives and ammunition. It is in the manufacturing classes that the failure has taken place. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO!"] It is in the provision of the necessary material. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO!"] When I say the "manufacturing classes," I mean that those who, whether properly controlled or not, properly organised or not, ought to have produced sufficient explosives, have not done so. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] It may not be their fault. They may say they have not been asked. Then the time has come when we have, whether or not we recognise it, and when we are providing this new official, to take the means—it may be drastic means—to see that the War has that which it lacks at the present time, namely, an ample supply of ammunition which cannot be exhausted by the great and unexpected calls which have been laid upon the resources of the nation. Yet with that possibility before us, with the country, as I believe, not only willing but anxious to see some organisation, with a Government power of compulsion—so-called—behind it, you have in this Debate this afternoon, when we are creating a Department and appointing a Minister, Member after Member seeking to fetter that Minister's discretion and hamper the discretion of the Government in their policy by suggesting that there must be no compulsion of the working classes, that there must be nothing in the nature of organisation with the force of the State behind it, so as to utilise to the full energies that may be of assistance to the country! I deprecate that.
I do hope it has been made quite clear this afternoon that if it becomes necessary—if this Bill does not in effect confer powers—the Government will not gather the opinion of the country from this Debate, but they will have the courage—I am sure they will—the courage of their convictions, and if such a measure is demanded that it will be introduced, and introduced at once. Every foreign country has it. Look at France and the mobilisation of her working classes! Look at Italy! Look at all our Allies! Look where you will you will see the Governments taking in hand the mobilisation of labour, directing it when it needs it, and forcing it. Yes! because force does not affect those who can work and are working. It affects those who can work and do not 132 work, and these ought to be forced to do that which they can do. Look where you will, you will find some such system as this in force. Starting as we are with a new Government, and realising the dangers that we are in, doing at least what is required in order to meet the grave and terrible necessities of the case, before this new Department even is created, are to be told that those concerned are to be fettered in their discretion? The complete pursuit of this matter alone justifies the existence of a Coalition Government. I do hope that as a result of this Debate there will be no hesitation on the part of the Government in what they in the future may think necessary. I hope they will take their courage in their hands, and, if necessary, introduce some Bill which shall give force to the State to meet the necessities of the situation, and the requirements of labour from all classes; that they will not take the opinions expressed this afternoon as indicative of the fact that we, as a country, have failed or will fail in that courage which our Allies have shown, and that the working classes and all classes are not prepared to make such sacrifices as this War demands.
§ Mr. ANNAN BRYCE
I demur to what has just fallen from the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite in regard to the attitude of the working classes towards the production of munitions of war. I happen to be connected with a very large organisation in the North of England. It is doing a great deal of work for the Government. I can assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that the workmen of Manchester, and of Lancashire too, are thoroughly prepared to fall in with the suggestions of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in regard to the increased production of munitions of war. It is really the fault of the Government that this question has not before come prominently before the country. It is only quite within the last month or two that the country has realised what the difficulty has been. The hon. and learned Gentleman who has just spoken would not have said what he did say if he had been in touch with the workmen of the North of England. I had the assurance of the manager of a great organisation with which I am connected the other day that there would be no difficulty whatever, in Manchester, in getting what the Government wished done. He was speaking then from his knowledge, not only of Manchester, but generally of 133 the North of England. The production of this Bill itself shows that the necessity has arisen through the fault of the Government. It proves itself. However, that is only by the way. I did not rise to say that, but it has given me an opportunity of saying something on behalf of the working men that I think is very desirable.
What I wanted to ask the Government is, What is the definition, or is there any definition going to be inserted in this Bill, before it passes from this House, with regard to the relations to exist between the new Minister of Munitions and the other War Departments—the War Office and the Admiralty? The matter has been alluded to by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Mayo and another hon. Member. I think a definition is really needed, because the position may vary. So far as I can gather, in Clause 2, additional power may at any moment be transferred to the Minister of Munitions from the War Office. We do not know. Is the Minister of Munitions to form his own opinion as to what is required? By whom is he to be guided? By the statements of the Minister for War or by the statements of the general individual? This is surely a matter which requires a very accurate definition, yet I do not find in the Bill one single word to guide us on this very important question.
§ Mr. MACMASTER
The Bill itself does not prescribe what are the functions of the Minister of Munitions, and therein is the difficulty. It is for that very reason I put a question on the Paper asking what are to be the functions of the Minister of Munitions. What is proposed in this Bill? What is proposed is that the House should give a blank cheque or a blank power of attorney to the Government of the day, who will in turn authorise the Minister of Munitions to provide the munitions required for the War. If we look at the Bill itself I do not think that the functions described are as dangerous as some hon. Members in this House would have us believe. I do not think that there can be found in the second Clause of the Bill those extraordinary powers which have been suggested by some hon. Members in this Debate. As to the authorisation of the first Clause, the Bill is one to provide for the supply of munitions. That general limited description is what the Bill is intended to effect. When we come to the Second Clause, we find that by Order in Council His Majesty may authorise the Minister of Munitions, who has been de- 134 scribed in the earlier stage of the Bill, to provide those munitions that may be required. Further on it is provided, as an enlargement of that, that there should be added to the general powers given to the Minister any power that exists in any other Department, or under any other authority for a like purpose, for the purpose of providing munitions. I do not think that even the powers that to-day exist in the other Government authorities or Deparments are any of such a dangerous character that we need fear that annexation to the general powers that is proposed by this Bill to be given to the Minister of Munitions.
It is inconceivable to me that in a Bill provided for the creation of a Ministry of Munitions, or for the delegation of power by an Order in Council, anybody should deduce any attempt to impinge upon the liberty of the subject. I am perfectly convinced that under the terms of this Bill the liberty of the subject is in no respect whatever invaded. Hon. Members may or may not have sympathy with the wish that all sections of the community, irrespective of class, should be bound to contribute their quota in wealth, material, or man-force to support the cause of the State. But that is a different question. If a measure was before this House to provide for compulsory service, then we would discuss that question on its merits; but whatever we have to say in regard to that, it is impossible to deduce from the Clause in this Bill the inference that power can possibly be exerted without the will of Parliament. There is one respect in which I entirely welcome this Bill. I asked to-day that it should be provided that in addition the Minister for War should be aided by a skilled staff; not merely that, but that he should also be aided and guided by business men of large experience who know about the purchase of munitions, know how to criticise contracts, and how to judge whether a contract is or is not properly fulfilled. The statement made by the Home Secretary on that point entirely satisfies me. I think on the whole it is sufficient. I do not believe that this House could do a wiser thing than pass this Bill.
§ Sir CHIOZZA MONEY
In many respects this has been an unfortunate Debate. I am not sure that I do not agree with my right hon. Friend behind me that in some respects the Government has been responsible for it. I think it would have been better, if, instead of asking us to be 135 silent, we should have had a discussion upon the new Ministry of Munitions and the powers about to be taken for it. I pass from that, however, to say this: that I think there has been a very great misunderstanding on the part of hon. Members, and especially on the part of my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn, with regard to the powers required under this Bill. I thought the Member for Blackburn was one of those who always in this House, and in the country, claimed that the very strongest compulsion that could possibly exist upon the working classes was economic compulsion. Further, I always thought it was his idea to release the working classes from that economic compulsion—the strongest that can exist—by exerting the hands of the State. This afternoon I find that there appears to be a complete reversal of the opinions of the hon. Member upon that subject. He spoke of any powers of compulsion that may be exerted by the State as amounting to the enslavement of labour.
The same fallacy—if he will forgive me for saying so—lay behind the eloquent observations of the hon. and learned Member for Mayo. He spoke of us as fighting Prussian militarism—and, indeed, we are!—but he went further than that. He spoke of our fighting—and I hope I do not misquote him—an organised State. Let me remind the hon. and learned Gentleman that States may be organised for good purposes and for bad purposes. I take it that the hon. and learned Member, while he would fight Prussia because of her militarism, would not fight her because of some of her social principles. He would not, for example, fight against her for her Elberfeldt system of Poor Law. Let us be quite clear what we mean by compulsion. If the State requires workers in factories, if it requires a larger output of munitions, the real powers of compulsion required have already been taken by the State in the Defence of the Realm Act. They are the powers of compulsion required and they have not been availed of. They were taken when we gave the Government the power to take the factory out of the hands of the capitalists and use it for a purpose the capitalists never intended it for; that was compulsion indeed. When you have done that, there is not the slightest need to exert compulsion with regard to the workers you require in the 136 factory, because, as I have reminded the House, the strongest force you can exert is to say, "Here is a wage, come and earn it," and the wage-earner must earn it. It is inconceivable that any compulsion should be required in that connection. What is the compulsion required? I should say it is in quite another direction. I think the same thing was said or hinted at in one of the speeches made by a Minister in the last few days. The compulsion that is necessary really is to prevent the wrong kind of men from being enlisted. That is the compulsion you require. Do hon. Members really think that even Prussians are so foolish as to say to a man, "Go into that factory and work"? They do not even find it necessary. What they do do is to say, "Here is a war to be fought. War should be fought by young men. War ought to be fought by the men the country can best spare." It therefore takes these men compulsorily. With regard to men that are left after that operation is performed, there is not the slightest need for compulsion, because the economic factor, as I have said, is quite enough to drag them into the operations you require to be performed.
I think the Government will find that the powers given to a Ministry under such a Bill as this cannot be carried out with the fullest effect unless you desert a system which is really robbing you of the very persons you require to carry out the purposes of the Bill. That is what has been done, and what I am afraid we are continuing to do. We have, of course, already sent to France and Flanders hundreds of thousands of men whom it would have been better to have kept at home. Simultaneously we have at home millions of men who could, with advantage to themselves and their country, be fighting in France and in Flanders. That is really the essence of the problem. I would only say, in conclusion, that if the Government has not given their careful attention to that particular point, they will find it very difficult indeed to get the men required to make the munitions we all agree are so necessary at the present time.
§ Mr. LYNCH
This Debate has brought forward some very remarkable speeches, and none more remarkable or striking than the speech of the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) who in a few phrases struck home once and for all in this assembly that note so seldom heard—that note of democratic liberty, piercing beyond the poison zone of cautelous 137 lawyers and trimming politicians. Throughout this subject also we have seen the cloven foot of what lies concealed behind it. Eloquent speeches have been delivered, and I certainly admire the moral courage of hon. Members who, holding opinions unpopular in the country, do not hesitate to give them the fullest force in this House. Some speeches have been made directly and frankly in favour of what my hon. Friend called slavery, but which they prefer to call compulsory labour. I would be with those hon. Members, and I would consider this even a purely democratic measure, if they would also agree with me further on the point of conscription and would sweep out from this whole Constitution all that savours of class prerogative or any unfair difference between man and man—if they were inspired by the example they have cited of ancient France, and would say in this country, as was said in the days of Napoleon Bonaparte, that every soldier carries a marshal's baton in his knapsack. Everyone knows that is not the case here, and, apart from the unwritten law, there is the great constitutional law of England.
§ Mr. LYNCH
I will return to something that is in order, and I will make two practical suggestions to the future Minister of Munitions. One is to endorse the remarks of an hon. Member whom I have just criticised—the hon. Member for Brentford—and say that one of the most pressing needs shown in the whole conduct of this War is for aeroplanes. I hope that subject can be included in the definition of munitions. I would go further and say, we not only require three times the number of aeroplanes, but ten, or even twenty times the number now at the service of this country. I believe that the difficulty of introducing some new principle into a stereotyped office, like the War Office is not the merit or demerit of the principle or suggestion in itself, but the difficulty of forcing a way through the wall of routine and red tape. The difficulty is to admit the principle into the mind, and not that of carrying out the idea once entertained. If, for instance, instead of having the comparatively few aeroplanes now possessed we had had a thousand aeroplanes for such a raid as that carried out at Cuxhaven, which led to almost no appreciable result, that would have been a very formidable 138 factor in the whole conduct of this War. There is no material difficulty in building aeroplanes if those who are now the pilots were used as instructors, each instructing ten men. By rapid geometrical progression you would soon have one thousand aeroplanes, or at least far more at the service of this country, which would exercise far more power than nearly ten times one hundred aeroplanes.
There is one other question which has been lost sight of, and which I think ought to be included in the scope of this Bill, and that is the question of inventions. Here I would again cite the example of our Ally, France. Shortly after the beginning of this War there was formed in France a committee, not directly managed from the War Office there, but sanctioned and encouraged by the War Office, a Committee of Invention sub-divided into three parts—electricity, chemistry, and mechanics—presided over by an eminent geometrician, M. Paul Appell. I have had communications from one of the members of that committee, a distinguished scientific man, M. Chaumat, one of the directors of the Ecole Supérieur d'Electricité, who says that, during the brief time it has been operating, it has already examined a great number of suggestions and has made use of certain of the inventions suggested in the actual conduct of the War. But what is generally the attitude of the War Office here towards new inventions? The first idea is to get rid of the inventors, and, when importunate, to refuse to entertain or to pooh-pooh their suggestions. It is suggested that, having an extremely able man at the head of munitions, he should organise a Committee of Inventions, divided into three parts, as in France, which would not interfere in any way with the work of the War Office as at present constituted, or in any way interfere, hamper, or impinge upon his own work. It would do something subsidiary, and would examine and, if necessary, bring into play, scientific knowledge and skill, and would perfect crude suggestions of men of genius, who may not have the requisite knowledge to bring those suggestions to practical utility during the progress of the present War. I see an hon. Member smile, but it has already been done in France, and it has had a striking illustration within the last few days when an aeroplane raid was made on the headquarters of the Crown Prince, and a number of darts were dropped on the Crown Prince's staff, but unfortunately, not on those for whom they 139 were intended. That has been one of the achievements of this Committee of Inventions. That Committee is engaged in examining a high explosive shell of far greater intensity than that hitherto used in the famous shells of the 75.
There is another question which arises out of that which may well come within the scope of the Minister of Munitions, and that is, he should have the power of executing great financial coups, so that the raw material by which the Germans fabricate their shells could be entirely monopolised by this country or the Allies. To carry that out it would be necessary to proceed to the countries where raw material is available, such as Chili or the north of Norway, and carry out on a grand scale business arrangements and monopolies of the available raw material from which the Germans fabricate their shells. In conclusion, I would say this. I think great powers have been given to the Minister of Munitions, yet, if we were sure that we had the right man—a great deal depends upon that—I for one would be content to give him far more extended powers. I should like to see Mr. Lloyd George, as I think we can call him now, with the powers of a St. Just, not merely a Minister of Munitions, but a Minister of Efficiency, with adequate powers such as were exercised by St. Just, who, although twenty-five years of age, and, consequently, inexperienced, was a man of genius, one of Plutarch's men. He had the powers of dictator, could move about in any part of France, and at the front, and see what was required for the most necessary carrying on of war, and in the most ruthless way he would insist on the right thing being done and the highest efficiency maintained.
I suppose I should not have occupied the time of this House had the Home Secretary not made a remark deprecating debate, because time after time hon. Members have risen in this House and have given their own opinions in the most menacing manner, and even in truculent tones, and, in the course of their remarks, have entirely deprecated debate or criticism. I would venture to remind the right hon. Gentleman himself that this Ministry of all the Talents would not be in existence were it not for the power of criticism.
§ Sir J. SIMON
Will the hon. Member allow me to explain? I did not deprecate debate or criticism. The suggestion 140 I made to the House, and I quite admit the House has not accepted it, was that it might be as well to get the Minister of Munitions here before discussing functions which had to do with his Department. Do not let it be said that I deprecated debate; I only suggested there might be a better occasion for it.
§ Mr. LYNCH
I quite accept the statement of the Home Secretary. He was not the only one to whom I referred. He-has the sauriter in modo; they have the fortiter in re. They gave their opinions in a most truculent way to deprecate debate, and every time such an argument is used I will rise to make my protest. Might I again remind the Ministry themselves that they owe their very existence to criticism? They are the children of criticism, and, if I venture to differ from my hon. Friend beside me in his most striking speech, it is that I hold a somewhat different view of Lord Northcliffe than what he expressed. I think the time will come when, if this Ministry is at all successful, a statue will be put up to Lord Northcliffe as one of the great benefactors of the nation, the man who had the courage to say what hon. Members only whispered in the Lobby, and who, by the power of the Press, was able to bring down the Government and set up its successor. When this is realised he will be regarded, not as an offender, but as a modern Warwick, and his statue will be crowned with laurels. The points which I have raised can be further discussed in Committee, but I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consider my remarks about aeroplanes and inventions.
§ Mr. WATSON RUTHERFORD
I feel that in this Bill we are in danger of having another failure through emergency legislation. The Acts of Parliament which we passed last year have almost invariably turned out to be great failures. They have missed important points, and caused a great deal of damage and misery. I felt when I opened and read this Bill that we were going to have another Bill that would fail to hit the real point in a measure of this kind. It appears to me that if we are to have a Minister of Munitions, and if he is to have any powers that would be of any use, we ought first of all to know that the word "munitions" would include every possible thing which an Army or Navy, or any part of an Army or Navy, would want. For instance, there is a class of machinery that requires to be put on board every ship for the purpose of securing a fresh 141 water supply. Does that class of machinery come under munitions? I doubt whether it does under this Bill. All such machinery and articles ought to be included in the word munitions; and I will tell the House why. When I opened this Bill I gathered that the powers of the new Minister were going to be defined by Order in Council, and that they probably would include powers to deal with matters that are covered to some extent by the Defence of the Realm Act. I have listened with the greatest possible regret to the last explanation given by the Home Secretary, which, if I understand it aright, assured the House that the new Minister of Munitions was not going to have any power to deal with labour from the compulsory point of view. If that is the case, the Bill, as at present drafted, will be inadequate and it will be a mistake.
We have been assured from different quarters of the House that if we only send the right men to the front, and if we only keep the right men at home, all these difficulties about labour would solve themselves. One hon. Member said that the economic factor would step in and make men work under proper conditions for purposes which the State is now urgently in want of. Let me give one line of figures to the House. A certain works at the present moment is producing certain machinery which is absolutely necessary for every one of His Majesty's ships. Those works are unable to supply that machinery to a battleship for which it has had an order for some considerable time. During the last two or three weeks this firm have absolutely refused to take on urgent orders of the Admiralty for this particular class of work simply because the men would not do the work. I think it is time that somebody told the position straight to hon. Gentlemen sitting on the Treasury Bench. Up to the end of last year the men at the works I have referred to were working fifty-two hours a week for 38s. These men included brass finishers, fitters, engineers, and skilled tradesmen. They struck work, the result being that a concession was made to them, and they are now working forty-seven hours a week for 42s. At the present moment they are threatening to strike again, because they demand a further war bonus of 4s. a week. That firm cannot possibly pay the advanced wages and turn out that machinery, because it is doing work for the Admiralty for a certain price. Therefore the firm cannot go on and pay 142 those higher wages, because it would go into the Bankruptcy Court if it had to pay them.
Those men refuse to work overtime on any conditions whatever, and they have forced up wages by 25 per cent. during the last three months, and are now demanding 4s. a week as a war bonus. At present the works are only half supplied with men, and I will tell the House why this arises. It is because in this place, which is a port, a certain class of these men get casual employment at high wages for repairing, and they are all very busy at present, whereas another class get regular work by the week. The result is that the regular men to-day want the high wages that are paid to those casually employed, and decline to work without them. They also decline to work even half an hour's overtime. The works I am speaking of ought to be making munitions of war. What is the good of appointing a Minister of Munitions if he is not to have some power to go into a question of that sort, and see what the rate of wages should be and if necessary employ the men, because really the only solution that would be effectual under that state of affairs would be for some Minister to employ the whole of the men of that class in that port and then he could get the Government work turned out and apportioned. I do not know whether the Minister of Munitions is going to have such powers. When I heard hon. Members arguing so eloquently that he should not have such powers I hoped that the Bill contained them. In order to allay the fears of those hon. Members the Home Secretary says that such powers were not in the Bill, and if they were the Government did not propose to use them. If that is the case it is quite time that we were told that the Government intend to use those powers. We must organise labour and capital and our works for the Government. We require more organisation and persuasion, and it will not require compulsion if the matter is properly put to the workers. We must have a Minister who will have those powers and not be afraid to use them. I am afraid, however, that this Bill is going to be another failure unless we have a Minister of that kind. I hope the powers under this Bill will reach as far as the case which I have indicated.
§ Mr. THOMAS
If there is one speech more than another calculated to undo everything which it is sought to do by 143 this Bill, it is the speech of the hon. Member opposite to which we have just listened. Whatever may be his individual opinion, he has no right in the House of Commons to indict the workers as a whole—
§ Mr. THOMAS
The hon. Member said that compulsory powers were necessary, because certain workers in a certain district had done something very unreasonable. As a matter of fact, we have had no opportunity of testing the case. We have had no opportunity of knowing where the district is or of hearing the other side of the case, and it is unfair of an hon. Member to use his position in the House of Commons to bring forward a charge of that kind unless there is an opportunity given to meet it. In answer to that charge I would ask how many workers are there who for months have been working twenty, thirty, and even up to forty-eight hours at a stretch—
§ Mr. THOMAS
Then there is a reasonable way of dealing with a few, but if you take action which creates a suspicion in the minds of those who are doing their best by threatening to compel them against their will when they have given of their best, you will destroy the whole basis of production. Let me put this point forward for labour. I do not believe in mere lip-service in this matter, and I may point out that I have told the men I claim to speak for that there ought to be no question to-day that is not capable of adjustment without a strike. I take up that view. I say equally that no worker ought to take advantage of the nation's difficulty to force his own position.
§ Mr. THOMAS
That is because there has been created a suspicion in the minds of the workers that employers have been taking advantage of the situation, and consequently they have demanded war bonuses and other things. What is the 144 object of this Bill? I understand that it means the transfer of some of the powers now possessed by the War Office to a new Ministry. Everyone who has had any connection with this matter knows perfectly well that this thing ought to have been done long ago. We all know that there have been many things which ought to have been left to other Departments, but the workers are not responsible for that state of things. The real situation has never been brought forward to the workers, and it is useless condemning the workers unless you bring the facts home. I submit that no compulsion by an Act of Parliament will secure what you want. You want to convince the workers of this country, and they are not unreasonable, that their work at home is equally as necessary as it is abroad. You want to convince them that these munitions are required. When I was in France I saw the deplorable situation and the great loss of life, and I was told what more munitions might do. When I came back I told an audience of 6,000 working men what I had been told, and without exception they immediately said, "Yes, we will do our bit. We will give of our best." If I had come down, or if any Minister had come down, and said to those men, "We are going to compel you to do so-and-so," they would immediately have "kicked."
There is a right and a wrong way of approaching this question. I submit that the right way is first to show to the workers and to the country generally, employers and employés, rich and poor, that service for the State at home is as essential as service for the State abroad. Put the whole of the facts before them, realise that when they are reluctant to break their trade union rules, they are reluctant because they are suspicious of the people whom they have had to fight to build up their rules, give them the assurance that any relaxation of these rules is only temporary, after all, for the War alone; appeal to them in that way, and you will get of their best. I hope that we shall not approach this question from the standpoint of slackers among the workers or sharks among the capitalists. Whatever mistakes have been made in the past, let us realise now that this Bill is drafted to try and organise industry on something like a satisfactory basis. You will not do that by starting out holding a revolver at their heads. Whatever hon. Members may say and whatever the Press may say about compulsion and all the workers being ready for this, that, and 145 the other, try it on, and you will find instead of your Coalition Government being a benefit, it will be the greatest curse the country has ever known. I say that as one who, I hope, may say without egotism, that he tries to do his bit. I say it as one who is connected with one of the largest industries and who has never hesitated to tell the men the truth. Do not, because we are anxious to give you of our best, assume that we are going to be dragged into a Press campaign which there is no evidence yet to justify. Let the Government say what they want and where the mistake has been, and then we will endeavour to rectify it, but do not take advantage by any panic legislation and assume that you are going to humbug the workers or drag them by the tail when it is totally unnecessary.
§ Mr. BOOTH
I want to raise a point of some importance with regard to the position of the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, especially in connection with this Bill. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in moving the Second Reading stated to the House that his colleague could not be present. I want to ask you, in the first instance, if that be so, how is it that the hon. Member for Hoxton (Dr. Addison), who I rejoice to say is to be a helper of the right hon. Gentleman, is in his place in the House? I submit that the reference by an hon. Member to the late Chancellor by name was not in order. He is still a Member of this House, and he could attend to pilot his own Bill through the Committee stage to-morrow. I wish to ask you, Sir, whether hon. Members are to refer to the late Chancellor by name as not being a Member or whether they must treat him as a colleague, and whether, under those circumstances, we can respectfully ask that he should be in the House to-morrow to pilot his Bill?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon (Mr. Lloyd George) has not, so far as I am aware, accepted any office of profit under the Crown which would vacate his seat. He is still a Member of this House, and, so far as I know, I do not see how he could have accepted this particular office if the office has not yet been created. There is certainly no profit attached to it.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Mr. Gulland)
I shall convey to my right hon. Friend the desire of the hon. Member.
§ Mr. G. TERRELL
I am one of those who very strongly support this Bill. I think that it ought to have been introduced long ago. It ought to have been one of the very first steps of the Government on the outbreak of War. We have been muddling along, and a great many trades upon which the Government rely for munitions of war have been very much disorganised by the recruiting campaign. I speak with some knowledge on this matter, being a manufacturer and an employer of labour, and I know the great difficulties which have arisen, and which are arising now. The whole source of the trouble is that the wrong men were being recruited at the start. We are face to face now with an enormous demand for munitions of different kinds, and there is great difficulty in getting the proper men to carry out the work. I am also in very close sympathy with the remarks which have been uttered by the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. J. H. Thomas), who spoke in rather vigorous terms against this Bill being used for the purpose of coercing or obtaining compulsory labour. From my point of view, you might have compulsory service in the Army, but compulsory service in the factories is impossible. It is an absolute absurdity. You could not do it. The whole thing would crumble up and fail at once, and, as far as I can see, there is no occasion for it, because as far as my experience goes, and it is pretty wide, the working men have behaved magnificently. I think that the hours which the majority of the men are working are simply splendid, and I am not at all surprised at the demand which they have made for War bonus and increased pay.
The trouble—and it is a real trouble—is that the wrong men, the skilled men, have been enlisted, and you cannot get them back. There is a sort of battle going on between different departments of the War Office. There is the recruiting department who have taken the men, and then there is another department who want munitions and who are endeavouring in rather a half-hearted way to get the men back. I want to know—and it is an all-important point—who is to be top-dog in 147 this struggle. Is it to be the new Minister of Munitions or is it to be the War Office? Are the War Office to be in a position to say, "We have got these skilled fitters, these skilled smiths, and these turners as recruits, and we are going to keep them," or is the manufacturer in every case to be put to an enormous amount of time and trouble in getting his men back, and is there then to be correspondence between the Minister of Munitions and the War Office, all adding to the difficulty and delay? I do hope that it is made perfectly clear in this Bill that the Minister of Munitions is in all matters where labour is concerned for the purpose of the factories to be put in sole supreme charge, so that he has simply to issue orders to the War Office to release such-and-such classes of men, and not to delay, hamper, and prejudice the manufacturers in the manner in which the War Office are doing at the present moment.
One has the greatest possible difficulty to keep recruiting sergeants and recruiting officers away from one's factory. All the smaller manufacturers in the country are complaining. I have complained very bitterly to various recruiting officers. My factories are full of orders for munitions of war. I consider that they are munitions of war—electrical equipment for the field, and appliances of that character. My workmen are engaged on munitions of war just as much as the men who make shells or gun-carriages, but in spite of that the authorities say, "No, you are not making shells, and we will not put you on the list of firms to be exempted." We are harassed and oppressed by recruiting officers, who, with the best intentions in the world, unsettle and disturb and try and entice these men away. You must wipe that system out. Unless you wipe that system out entirely and completely and put the control in the hands of the Minister of Munitions you will have trouble and delay in the execution of orders which are of vital consequence to the men in the field. That is the point which I desire to bring before the House, and I do hope when the Home Secretary drafts the new Clause defining the term "Munitions of War" that he will make it in the widest possible terms so as to cover practically everything which is produced by an engineering or electrical firm and a variety of other firms who contribute, it may be, to a small or to a great extent towards the requirements of the Service 148 either in fighting material or material for transport. Unless that is done, and unless the very fullest authority is given to the Minister of Munitions, I am sure that this emergency legislation will break down and that we shall not get the result which every Member of this House desires we should get from it.
§ Mr. SANDERSON
I feel, as I suppose every Member of the House feels, that the time for talking has gone by and that the time for action has at last arrived. With regard to the necessity of this Bill. I do not suppose that anybody has two opinions about it. It is just two weeks ago to-day since I gave notice to the Under-Secretary of State for War that on the Motion for the Adjournment of the House I should mention this matter of munitions. I did so because I felt the matter had become of vital importance, and that one could not go to bed with a clear conscience unless he got some satisfaction about it. It was only when I was informed privately that a Coalition Government was being thought about and seriously considered, with the object primarily of dealing with this matter of munitions, that I was deterred from raising it. I entirely agree with what the Home Secretary has said with regard to the way in which this is to be carried out. It does not seem to me that this is the time to discuss that question. We ought to postpone our remarks on that part of the case until the Minister of Munitions is here to answer for himself. When we have appointed the Minister for Munitions, we must leave the matter in his hands, at all events for the present moment, because there is no one who knows the facts except a Member of the Government. We may all have our own ideas, we probably have our own information; but I submit that there is really no one except a Member of the Government who has all the facts so that he can come to a concluded judgment upon them. It seems to me for that reason that we must put our trust in the Government almost implicitly upon a matter of this kind. Personally, I deprecate as strongly as I possibly can, if I may say so without impertinence, the kind of discussion that has been going on in the House this afternoon as to how the Minister of Munitions ought to carry out his powers when they are given to him. It is time enough for us to ask when we see that there is something done by him which is not in accordance with our views.
149 What I believe the country wants at the present moment is a lead—a clear lead, and when that has been given there will be such a response as has never been known, not only in this country but in any other country. I do not think the workmen need any compulsion whatever; their patriotism will supply all that is necessary. I am not a business man; I am a professional man, but, even with my limited experience, I am bound to say that the state of confusion at the present moment throughout the length and breadth of the country is neither more nor less than deplorable. I receive inquiries daily from men who want to be employed. They write to me, a barrister, asking if I can get them employment. Only yesterday I had an application from an expert engineer of, I do not know, how many years' experience. He is only too anxious to get employment and to be useful to the Government. I did my best for him. He tells me he made inquiry at some Government office, which sent him, to a Labour Bureau. Now, he is a highly educated and efficient engineer who might have been made use of in hundreds of factories, yet the only answer he gets when he offers his services to a Government department is that he must apply to one of the Labour Bureaus. That is altogether wrong Such a state of affairs ought not to exist.
Then I come to the case of the manufacturers. I have been credibly informed that a certain manufacturer in February last offered to put in new machinery which would enable him to produce a very large number of shells per week. What happened? He never even got an answer to the letter which he sent to the authorities. I anticipate that every single Member of this House has had similar experience, and it is strange that such a state of affairs should exist in this country, which is called a manufacturing country, and which is supposed to be run more or less on business lines. It is perfectly deplorable. I do not suppose anyone will suggest that the creation of this office of Minister of Munitions has come a moment too soon. If any evidence were wanted of the need for it, one has only to refer to the speech made by the right hon. Gentleman the other day at Manchester, a speech which seemed to me a complete and damning indictment of the methods of any Government. The right hon Gentleman said that in France all these steps were taken 150 in September and October last, and consequently their businesses have been organised and there is no shortage of munitions of war. Why was it not done in this country at the same time?
There are two principles which ought to guide the Minister of Munitions when he is appointed. The people of the country ought to be told first what they are wanted to do, and, secondly, where their services are required. I have in my own Constituency a manufacturer who makes munitions of war which require a certain amount of lead. I suppose it is quite a small proportion of what is wanted at the present moment, but every ounce of lead is required by this country. Yet this manufacturer's workmen have left him because they have been attracted to other work by offers of higher wages. That is not an isolated instance. Similar cases have occurred all over the country. This particular manufacturer cannot get workmen at the present moment. He is employing some Italians, but they may be summoned home shortly. He is trying to get Frenchmen, but he cannot. That is the kind of thing the Minister of Munitions will have to inquire into immediately. The other guiding principle which will have to be attended to is this. I can perfectly well understand the workmen's point of view. They have an idea—or some of them have—that when they are asked to work extra hours for the good of the nation they are being exploited for the benefit of the employer, who is making huge profits at the expense of their labour. I submit that the Minister of Munitions should make it perfectly clear that when working men are asked to work night and day they are doing it solely for the country, and that they are not putting vast quantities of profit into the pockets of their employers. These are important matters, and I hope if anyone on the Front Bench thinks my remarks worthy of consideration, he will convey them to the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Resolved, That the Bill be committed to a Committee of the Whole House for tomorrow (Tuesday).—[Mr. Walter Rea.]