§ The ATTORNEY - GENERAL (Sir Edward Carson)
I beg to move, at the beginning of the Clause, to insert the words,In this Act the expression 'munitions' includes arms, ammunition, warlike stores and material, and anything required for equipment or transport purposes, or for or in connection with the production of munitions, or any other thing required to be provided for war purposes.I beg to move this definition of the term "munitions," as was promised yesterday by the Home Secretary. I move it in a somewhat different form from which it appears on the Paper, and I think 222 it is very necessary that we should have every possible power to provide anything that may be necessary.
§ 5.0. P.M.
§ Mr. G. TERRELL
I had intended moving an Amendment. The definition, as it appears on the Paper, seemed to me to be very restrictive and not nearly to cover the ground, and give those powers, which all parties desire that the Minister of Munitions should possess. It is very difficult to follow a definition that is not on the Paper and I have hardly grasped it yet. I think it ought to be in the widest possible terms. They need not be put in force, but the Minister should have the power, so as not to have to come to the House as difficulties may arise from time to time. What I had particularly in mind was that we should have to supply all sorts of stores for railways in France and possibly Belgium, and we should have to obtain them from some direction or another. From that point of view it is desirable that the Minister should have complete control over those agencies of production.
§ Sir E. CARSON
I may tell the hon. Gentleman that we considered his suggestions, and I think he will find that this definition is even wider.
§ Sir E. CARSON
Certainly it will include aircraft. It will include "anything required to be provided for war purposes."
§ Sir R. COOPER
May I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman if I am right in interpreting the whole meaning of this Bill and of this definition Clause in this way: That under the new Ministry the whole contract system, both at the War Office and the Admiralty, will be taken over by this new Department? That is a point I wanted to get information about a little earlier from the Home Secretary. I asked whether that is a correct interpretation, or whether, after this Bill has become law, we shall be left with two or three or four Departments dealing with one section or another of the vast number of materials that are wanted.
§ The CHAIRMAN
That does not arise on this Amendment. I have already told the hon. Baronet, on an earlier question, that that must be deferred till the Ministry is in existence, and then the hon. Gentleman can find opportunity for criticising their action.
§ Sir R. COOPER
On a point of Order. If we cannot know what this Ministry and new Department is being created for, bow can we decide whether or not it is wise to create it? What I desired to really know was whether this Bill, and this Clause in particular, was meant to embody the whole contract system as affecting the War.
§ Sir E. CARSON
If that is so, perhaps I may be allowed to read it again: "Munitions means arms, ammunition, warlike stores and material, or anything required for equipment or transport purposes, or for or in connection with the production of munitions of war, or for anything required to be provided for war purposes."
§ Mr. WATT
I am much obliged to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. The Bill as originally brought in had very wide powers, and considerable objection was expressed to those powers. The Home Secretary has to-day met the objections by inserting the word "administrative" before the word "powers." It may be that by this definition Amendment the Government are adding precisely the powers which were taken away in the earlier stage—that is to say, that the insertion of the word "administrative" is cancelled by the definition of munitions. We have not had an opportunity of considering the Amendment now proposed, and I would like an assurance that it does not take away with one hand what was given on an earlier part of the measure.
§ Mr. HOLT
I really think the Committee have some right to complain of the way in which this definition Clause has been brought on. We had on the Paper a Clause which we understood, and to which we might be prepared to assent; then the right hon. and learned Gentleman gets up and moves a totally different Clause, which has a very much wider application, and there is no time whatever to consider it. I must say that that is anything but a satisfactory way of carrying emergency legislation through the House of Commons. For instance, the whole of the transport service could not have possibly been included under munitions unless there was a definition Clause. I want to know 224 what is the programme the Government have in mind as regards transport. Is it in their minds that this new Ministry is to take the place of the Admiralty, for instance, in negotiations with shipowners with regard to transport and equipment? I really think we ought to have a very clear statement from the Government as to what is in their mind in the alteration of this definition Clause. I was quite prepared to assent to the definition Clause as it originally stood on the Paper. I should like to have an explanation as to what they really intend to do over this very much extended area which they are covering.
§ Mr. DICKINSON
I would press for a further explanation of what these last words mean, "Any other thing required for war purposes." It seems to me that that embraces everything. In answer to a question raised by an hon. Gentleman opposite, the right hon. Gentleman said that this includes aircraft. Are we to understand that the new Ministry will be responsible for the manufacture of aircraft of all kinds, and, if so, is it to be responsible for the manufacture of submarines or for the manufacture of torpedo destroyers, or torpedoes? It seems to me that the whole question has changed its aspect by this Amendment, and I really think we ought to have an explanation as to what is its meaning.
§ Sir E. CARSON
I regret very much that the definition in the form in which I have moved it has not been on the Paper. The definition was enlarged because of representations made by certain hon. Members of the House that it was not clear enough. Myself, I doubt very much if it is anything more than an enlargement of the words and making clearer the words on the Paper, but it is absolutely necessary that nothing should be done which at any stage in the supply of munitions should hamper the new Ministry. That is the one thing we want to make clear. When you ask me whether I can here now distinctly draw a line as to whether this Ministry of Munitions is to take over certain existing powers in other offices, that is not a matter that is possible to do. You must leave it elastic, and leaving it so, from time to time Orders in Council will be passed if deficiencies are found in the first Order in Council. Therefore we are putting this definition in the very widest possible terms. An hon. Member asked about transports. So far as transports will be necessary and essential 225 for equipping our soldiers at the front, certainly the Minister of Munitions will have full power, and he must have full power. You cannot be going from one Department to another; that is just what we want to avoid. We want to give the fullest powers, so far as they are germane for the purpose of supplying munitions for the present War—the purpose set out in the first Clause.
Reference has been made to various other matters, such as aircraft and submarines. Submarines is a matter for the Admiralty to look after, and they are very properly able and competent to do so, but the Ministry of Munitions will have to see to the supply of munitions for submarines. I think the House may very well consider that this new Ministry will be worked out with common sense and with a view in all Departments to make this Department run. Somebody asked would this Minister be strong enough and have go enough in him to make that effective. All I can say as to that is to refer to the Gentleman whom it is proposed to appoint as Minister of Munitions. The only other question is whether the definition of munitions takes away what was inserted earlier, with the object of making the Section clearer, by putting in the word "administrative." This leaves the matter exactly where it was, because if you read the Clause you will see that it is in connection with the supply of munitions that the word "administrative" is put in. I hope this will satisfy the House that what we have done is really to try and put in such a definition as will prevent the work of this new Ministry being hampered in any way.
§ Mr. DUKE
The intention, I understand, is to give the administration the greatest possible latitude. May I ask if the right hon. and learned Gentleman will consider before the Report stage whether he would not be more sure of getting a larger definition if he would make the governing words what are now the last words, namely, "all things to be provided for war purposes," and then make the particular words follow those general words? The right hon. Gentleman knows the principle of construction to which I am referring. I am inclined myself to think that the Ministry would have greater latitude by putting the general words first and the particular words afterwards.
§ Sir P. MAGNUS
Will the word "munitions" include such requirements as field glasses, telescopes, and similar articles?
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill reported, with Amendments.
§ As amended, considered.
§ CLAUSE 7.—(Definition).—In this Act the expression "munitions" includes arms, ammunition, warlike stores, and material and anything required for equipment or transport purposes or for or in connection with the production of munitions, and any other thing required to be provided for war purposes.
§ Sir E. CARSON
I beg to move, after the word "munitions" ["the expression 'munitions'"], to insert the words "means anything required to be provided for War purposes and."
I desire to move this Amendment in order to meet the observations made by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Duke). The definition, instead of running as I read it before, will run in this way: "In this Act the expression 'munitions' means anything required to be provided for War purposes, and includes arms, ammunition, warlike stores and material, and anything required for equipment or transport purposes or for or in connection with the production of munitions." I think that that meets the point of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Question, "That those words be there inserted," put, and agreed to.
§ Further Amendment made: Leave out the words "and any other thing required for War purposes."—[Sir E.. Carson.]
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."
§ Mr. BOOTH
I wish to say, particularly to some hon. Members opposite, that they need not be alarmed at occasional ebullitions from this part of the House. As far as I am able to judge the rank and file of the Liberal party, they are thoroughly in earnest in this matter. They delight to see this Bill brought forward. They wish well to the Ministers in charge of it. They think they are rightly chosen, and they intend to give most enthusiastic support to them in their work. I have seen great sadness on some faces when professed Liberal after professed Liberal has got up and endeavoured to confine or cabin this 227 particular Department. That is not the interpretation of the general feeling on this side of the House. We want this Department to be alive, vigorous, and, it may be, a growing Department. The efforts which have been made from time to time to belittle the scheme and to discourage the Minister in setting it up—[HON. MEMBMES: "No!"]—in my opinion do not properly voice the feeling on this side of the House. I have good grounds for what I am saying. At the present time there is the nucleus of a small party forming which, in my opinion, will cause trouble a little later on.
§ Mr. BOOTH
I want to say quite candidly that I believe that this side of the House will with great sincerity support the Government in the determination vigorously to prosecute the War to a successful issue. If there should be manifested—I hope there will not be—any desire to hamper the Government merely because it is a united Government, I am sure that the overwhelming number of Members on this side of the House can be relied upon to do their duty.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I am glad to hear the patriotic and well-chosen words in which my hon. Friend has, I am sure, voiced the opinion of the vast majority—indeed the whole—of the Members of the House, in whatever quarter they sit. This is an empowering Bill. Its object is to co-ordinate the work of various Departments—not to aggregate into one hand and centralise work which had better be localised or decentralised in particular ways, but to make one Minister responsible to this House and to the country for the provision of what is necessary for the supply of our troops in the prosecution of the War. There is no sinister intention behind it, as I am sure everybody now recognises. It is directed solely to that particular purpose—a purpose which every Member of this House and every citizen of this country holds in common with equal intensity and resolution. I take this opportunity, on behalf of the Government, of recognising the admirable spirit in which the discussions have been conducted. Criticisms we do not desire to deprecate or hamper in any possible way, so long as it is honestly directed to the common purpose that we all have in view. I think the Bill emerges in a more satisfactory state than that in which it originally 228 stood, and carries out the settled intention of he House of Commons and the country. Now that we have given our assent to it, or are about to do so, I am sure that I can say, on behalf of the House, that we wish to the Minister who will have charge for the first time of this new and most responsible function all possible success in the great task entrusted to him.
Sir H. DALZIEL
I personally welcome the statement of the Prime Minister that the new Government does not in any way deprecate legitimate and honest criticism. The history of the last ten months shows that some of us placed confidence in the Government by our silence. Whether that confidence was well placed or not, time will show. At any rate, in face of the fact that this Bill had to be brought forward ten months after the War started, and of the facts which made it necessary that it should be brought forward, it ill becomes any Minister to appeal to independent Members for no criticism in regard to the Government's policy. We have been silent; we have trusted them; but in my opinion the manner in which things have been conducted up to the present time do not fully justify that confidence. We shall watch the conduct of any Government more in the future than we have done during the last ten months.
So far as this Bill is concerned, on its first introduction I gave it a most hearty welcome. I knew the necessity for it. I knew the circumstances which made it absolutely necessary. I am glad that the first Bill of the new Government is the Bill we are now discussing. I believe that it is a Bill approved by the country, and that the appointment of the new Minister is applauded by the whole nation. It is a turning point, I hope, in the history of the War. There is need for more vigour; there is need for more capacity; there is need for more industry; there is need for more determination. I deny the taunt that any man may make that as long as I am a Member of this House I and other Members are not able to say what we think of any Government, at any time, under any circumstances. I welcome the new Bill, and I hope that the new Government will show, by the way in which they administer other Departments in the State, that they are worthy of the confidence of every section of the House. Only to-day we had the late Civil Lord of the Admiralty standing at the table and urging the need for this Bill, and telling 229 us that the Ordnance Department had been a failure. How can we independent Members sit silent and listen to declarations of that kind. We have the declaration of the late Chancellor of the Exchequer that if this Bill had been passed earlier, if our munitions had been what they ought to have been at the beginning of the War, the whole question of the War would have been in a different position. We all hope that the passage of this Bill will be the beginning of a new and brighter era in the history of this unfortunate War.
§ Mr. R. McNEILL
This Bill is the first fruit of the Coalition Government, which we all hope will prove to be a National Government. I trust it will not be thought presumptuous on my part if I say a word or two reciprocating the spirit which animated the speech of the hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Booth). I am sure that every Member in the House, and the whole of the country, are anxious that this Government should prove a strong and successful Government. I think that we who are independent, private Members, also have a duty in the matter. We cannot have a real Coalition Government, or a National Government, unless we have a Coalition House of Commons, a National House of Commons. We on this side of the House have for several months had discipline—I do not think we need pretend that there has not been discipline—of supporting, so far as we could, a Government which was composed exclusively of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who had previously been our political opponents. We have endeavoured to do that in a patriotic spirit. Hon. Members on the other side will now have much the same measure of discipline in supporting a Government which is no longer exclusively composed of Members of their own political complexion. I hope, therefore, that both sides of the House will be able really to form a coalition in agreement, so that while this War lasts it will not be said of the House of Commons that it did not appreciate the terrible ordeal through which the country is passing, and the awful gravity of the crisis with which we are confronted; that they will not exhibit the spirit of schoolboys trying to score off each other on minor points, and indulging in petty criticism on one side or the other.
There was, if I may be excused for mentioning it, an old school song which was 230 familiar to many of us years ago, describing the rivalries of schoolboys in their camps. TheyLoved an ally with the heart of a brother,And hated the foe with a playing at hate.I think that really expresses the spirit which we Members of Parliament on both sides of the House might display at the present time, that some of us on this side do love the Attorney-General and the Secretary of State for the Colonies with the heart of a brother and feel towards the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Duchy a mere playing at hate. I think if we follow that spirit, the playing at hate of our quandom political opponents, that we shall really give that support which the House of Commons ought to give to the Coalition Government, to the National Government, whose first-fruits we are passing at this time.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I only intervene in this Debate because the suggestion has been thrown out that those who have criticised this Bill form the nucleus of a factious and mischievous opposition. As I had something to do yesterday with initiating the discussion which has led to the modification of the Bill adopted by the Home Secretary to-day, I wish at once altogether to repudiate such a suggestion. That suggestion has been made to-day in the House by the hon. Member for Pontefract—
§ Mr. BOOTH
I repudiate that. When I was passing my criticism on matters I do not believe my hon. Friend was listening, but was in one of the Committee Rooms. If he had been in the House I am sure he would not have made these remarks. What I pointed out was that a certain note had been struck. I did not refer to him. Neither do I object to criticism. He is totally wrong, and I ask him to accept that explanation.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I certainly accept the explanation of my hon. Friend, but I was present during his speech, and I heard the exact words that he used. I desired at the first possible opportunity to give him the opportunity of repudiating the words which he used or of explaining that they are not to be taken at their face sense. Now that he has repudiated the suggestion—
§ Mr. BOOTH
No; I do not repudiate a word of what I said. I stand to it. So far as I can make the suggestion, I say that some of the speeches—not that of my hon. Friend, but of one or two—indicated 231 to me that there is a nucleus of a party forming. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Hon. Members are boasting about it. I did not allude to them, but I understand that there is a nucleus of a party forming which may cause trouble to the Government. I gave that warning. I know it is perfectly true, and I will not retract it.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
Some of us are placed in considerable difficulty. But I understand now that the position of my hon. Friend is that he admits that I have nothing to do with this mischievous party which he has discovered. I thought it very important to speak in view of the fact that I initiated the discussion yesterday, and the suggestion had been made that a party was being formed. I thought that hon. Members obviously might think that the observations made by my hon. Friend might refer to myself, and others who were associated with me. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I think it was quite fair to make my statement. My hon. Friend has now withdrawn his statement so far as I am concerned. This explanation is one reason why I have risen; and the other reason is to welcome the statement which the Prime Minister has made to-day. I am extremely glad, as are many others on this side of the House, that the right hon. Gentleman has recognised the fair spirit in which criticism has been directed on this Bill. I am also glad that the right hon. Gentleman indicated that he, and his colleagues, would welcome any such criticism in the future, based on the ground of policy, which is directed solely to strengthening the Government in the great task which they have to perform.
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
My hon. Friend who sits beside me is perfectly right in saying that there is a party growing up in this House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Name!"] It is a very small party, and they are friends of the Germans. [HON. MEMBERS: "Name!"] My hon. Friend is perfectly correct, but he did not apply his remarks to my hon. Friend who has just spoken. The party is to be numbered on one hand, so therefore they are an insignificant portion—
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
They advertised themselves at the beginning of the War. But I have risen to utter a few words on another subject. I do trust that the House of Commons, after we have been carrying 232 on this War for ten months, is not going to give up the right of criticism. It is essential. This is the only place to-day where criticism can take place in the United Kingdom, the only place where a public and free discussion of all questions can be carried on. I am sure the Prime Minister himself does not desire in any way that there should not be free discussion of all questions that can be dealt with by the House of Commons. The Chancellor of the Duchy, speaking at Dundee on Saturday, said there ought to be criticism; that the House of Commons has the right to have discussion, if need be, behind closed doors. I asked the Prime Minister a question to-day to which he gave me a negative reply. Therefore I propose to put on the Notice Paper tonight the words actually used by the Chancellor of the Duchy, so that we may have a statement by the Prime Minister on the question.
I think it is desirable that we should have the opportunity for speech, for we all know there are many Members in this House who would like to discuss the action of the Government, who do not want to do so, or do not feel disposed to do so if in any case such discussion might be against the public interest. We want to say nothing, no section of the House desires to say anything—even the friends of Germany—or to take any action other than that which will bring the War to a successful conclusion. But what is the use of coming done to the House when we are told that we must not discuss this or that matter? The country is discussing it. We are told by hon. Members to get on with the business. On the other hand, it must not be forgotten that we have been finished for weeks past, notwithstanding what hon. Members opposite say, at six and seven o'clock.
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
The hon. Member says he has been here more than I have. He has certainly put a large number of questions, thus taking up the time of the House. Then he gets up and deprecates discussion. We have had during the course of this Debate a very extraordinary statement made which ought not to be lost sight of. We had a statement made by a late Civil Lord of the Admiralty that the Ordnance Department had lamentably failed in its duty. That is a very grave charge to be made from that Front Bench 233 in view of the position that he has held. That being the case, it only shows that we ought to have had free discussion on what everybody now says is going wrong, in the early part of the autumn. But Members deliberately closed their mouths, or we might to-day have been in a better position in regard to the munitions of war, while the position of our troops would have been very much different and better. That being the case, I ask the House of Commons not to limit the amount of opportunities which we have for discussion, and not to stifle it. I do appeal to the Prime Minister as to whether he cannot see his way to take the course adopted by the French, German, and Russian Governments, and, if need be, to sit behind closed doors? Why the House of Commons should be the only one assembly of the Allies not to be given the privilege of having information that all the officials know, I do not know. If it is right in the judgment of our Allies that their Parliaments should sit behind closed doors, why should we in this House of Commons not have the same right? Some hon. Members here would like to make speeches at this moment in connection with the matter which we are now discussing. We cannot do so because our mouths are closed. I make an urgent appeal to the Prime Minister that when he answers my question on Thursday he will say that he will give the matter careful consideration. The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head.
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
Then perhaps I may take it that the Prime Minister approves of my suggestion? The Chancellor of the Duchy takes the view I have stated and puts it forward that it is the right of Parliament. Does the Prime Minister not agree with his colleague? It may be so. But I do hope at all events that he will, in order to avoid these questions arising in the House, and of Members when they get up being told that it is not in the public interest to say this or that, that we shall agree to have the opportunity for which I have asked. Then we shall not be placed at the mercy, as we have been during the last fortnight, of the Harmsworth Press, whether of the penny or the halfpenny "Daily Mail."
§ Mr. HOUSTON
The hon. Member for Mansfield appears to be running amok against everybody. I have simply to say 234 that, as far as wasting the time of the House is concerned, I think I rarely do it, except, as he says, at Question Time, when I do not think I am wasting the time of the House. I am strongly in favour of an end to this discussion. I would give the Government all the powers they ask for and all the criticism they deserve. I think it would, perhaps, be well that this House should sit in camera, when we might express ourselves without being accused of doing injury to the interests of the country.
§ Mr. GRETTON
This House has given, or is going to give, the Government most lavish and, in a way, absolutely unlimited powers to deal with these matters. But the business is not settled by setting up a new Department; it will depend upon how that Department is worked. The signs are hopeful. The statement was made by the Home Secretary to-day that the Government intended to avail themselves of the services of persons outside whe were willing to help—of experts in business. There has been in the past suspicion in Government Departments, perhaps, that men who are experts and engaged in business must actually be dishonest, and desirous of making money out of the country in its time of difficulty. I am glad that it is now recognised that that is not the case; that there are patriotic persons who will give of their knowledge of a lifetime for the service of the country. I hope every care will be taken that offers of this kind are used for the greatest service of the country, and that the statement the Home Secretary made will not be interpreted in any narrow spirit, but that service of this kind will be accepted, as I am sure it will be, for the benefit of the Government and of the people.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the third time, and passed.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.
§ Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER, persuant to the Order of the House of the 3rd February, proposed the Question, "That this House do now adjourn."
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly it Fourteen minutes before Six o'clock.