§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."
§ Sir J. D. REES
I wish to raise a matter with which I should not trouble the House only I was unable to do so by question and answer. When I put a supplementary question on the subject the Under-Secretary of State for War said that he did not think his opinion would be worth very much—I totally differ with him, and so I am sure does the House—and he referred me to the Law Officers of the Crown. I 1277 want to know if a Member of this House who writes a book, pamphlet, or leaflet or anything calculated to discourage recruiting, is immune from prosecution under the Defence of the Realm Act. If the answer to that question is in the negative, and if in point of fact he is liable to such prosecution, how is it that no prosecution has been laid against the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald)? I do not mean to trouble the House by going through his writings, with which, I think, we are all familiar. My hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Salter) brought before the House the question of the distribution of the writings of the hon. Member for Leicester to the houses of people who had unfortunately lost relations in the War. The hon. Member for Leicester thereupon explained that he was not responsible for the distribution. Surely the fault is in the writing! A man who writes anything of this sort and prints it intends it to be distributed, and, so far as he is concerned, it is no matter to whom it goes. The gross offence is in the writing of this disloyal trash which is circulated in this manner.
I am perfectly well aware that it is generally held here that the writings of an individual do not particularly matter and that they are better ignored, but I venture to think that is not the case when the writer has occupied the responsible position of Leader of the Labour party, and, even if that be the case here in the United Kingdom, I am absolutely certain that it is not the case in British Possessions over sea. In India the impression produced by such writings proceeding from a Member of Parliament supposed to represent, though they do not think so apparently, the opinions of Labour Members of Parliament is perfectly incalculable. At the present time prosecutions are being conducted in India against persons under a similar Statute for offences far less than those committed apparently with impunity by the hon. Member for Leicester. It may be that there are strong objections to launching a prosecution in which there is not certain to be a conviction. No doubt that is the case, but I should have thought that the chances here of obtaining a conviction were extremely good, and, at any rate, to pass over a matter like this with out any notice whatever in the present crisis of our fate—
§ Sir J. D. REES
I did not propose to quote these statements, because it is perfectly well known what they are. [HON. MEMBEBS: "No!"] If the hon. Gentleman wants a quotation, I can conveniently give him a summary from a question put down by the hon. Member for Northampton: These statements in the official organ of the Independent Labour party deliberately misrepresented the present and past motives of the British Government, discouraged recruiting, charged the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary with deliberately deceiving the House of Commons, and in various other ways sought to make it difficult for the United Kingdom to prosecute the War with success. That is a useful summary of the statements given in this paper, of which the hon. Member for Leicester is the chief contributor. There is no dispute about it. He did not question that he was the author of these articles when the matter came before the House previously.
§ Sir J. D. REES
I fully expected that question. I quite acknowledge the relevance of it, and I hope the hon. Member will believe that I am replying with the utmost respect when I say I would not enter into any communications with any Member guilty of writings such as these. That is my view.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I would remind the hon. Gentleman it is a matter of usual courtesy to give notice to an hon. Member in regard to whose action it is intended to raise a question, although the hon. Member seeking to raise it may differ from him.
§ Sir J. D. REES
I must express my regret, since you have said that, that I did not give notice. I did communicate with the Chief Whip to the effect that I was going to mention this matter, in order that it might not pass this House without notice, and I thought that that probably would be sufficient. But since you tell me it was not, I can only again express my regret. I do not wish to add anything more to what I have said.
§ Mr. ROCH
I want to take the opportunity on the Third Reading of this Bill to 1279 bring under the notice of the Under-Secretary for War one or two points in connection with the treatment of the wounded, both in Flanders and in the Dardanelles. The points are not those of my own personal knowledge, but it so happens that I have several very close personal friends who have been connected with this service, and it is at their request, although I cannot give their names, that I wish to bring forward facts and to make certain suggestions. The first suggestion I have been asked to bring under the notice of the right hon. Gentleman is the insufficiency of the evacuation hospitals close behind the lines. I am told that it is of the utmost importance that the men who are wounded should be treated as quickly as possible, and that their wounds should have the best possible attention as soon as may be. The suggestion I have to make is that there should be many more of these evacuation hospitals than there are in France at the present moment, that they should be much better equipped with operating theatres and other appliances, and that they should be more sanitary and hygienic in their nature. I am told it would be perfectly possible to fit up tents for the purpose, and that from a sanitary point of view they could be made quite as efficient and perfect as any London hospital. The chief reason why this is an urgent matter, and why there should be more of them, is that every wound should be properly dressed, as it is of the utmost importance that the wounded should be attended to at once.
I am told that, in many of the hospitals to which men are taken at the present moment, there are three classes of cases, by means of which the right hon. Gentleman can test, and, indeed, secure absolute and certain proof that the equipment and number of these hospitals is not sufficient. If the men were attended to at once much suffering might be avoided. Let me take the first class of cases—compound fractures. If they are kept thoroughly clean and bound up at once, the men could with perfect safety be sent straight back to London, and there would be no necessity for amputation in most cases. I am told that, in many hospitals, such cases have been received, and they afford a test by which the right hon. Gentleman can test the working of the present system. The second method by which he can test the point whether the evacuation hospitals are sufficient, is this: he can inquire of any 1280 London hospital as to the number of septic wounds found on the men when they return to this country. I am informed that if a case is properly dealt with at once there should not be a single instance of a man coming back with a septic wound. That again provides a complete test to enable the right hon. Gentleman to see whether his arrangements are working satisfactorily.
Then I come to the third class of cases—abdominal wounds. In these cases the only chance of recovery is for the man to be dealt with within a few hours of the time when he is wounded. The right hon. Gentleman again can test the working of his system by ascertaining from the London hospitals the number of fatal cases which have resulted from abdominal wounds. I believe a most interesting statement was made by Dr. Suter, who was at Antwerp, to the effect that as he was able to deal with a number of abdominal wounds almost as soon as the man was hit, the percentage of fatal cases was almost infinitesimal. In the experience of the London hospitals in these three classes of cases, the right hon. Gentleman has a perfect means of testing whether the working of his present system is all that it should be. The suggestion I have been asked to bring before him, by people who have had many months of experience in these matters, is that he should multiply as far as possible the number of these evacuation hospitals and improve their equipment, and then the class of cases I have referred to would not arise in anything like the proportion they do at the present moment.
There is one other point, and that is a matter of general organisation. It is suggested that the present system of organisation of the R.A.M.C. is inelastic and rather too tightly linked with the existing practice of the division. I am told in many cases the evacuation hospitals have been very short of medical men, while not many miles away there were a number of doctors who were not fully occupied, but they were not transferred to these evacuation hospitals because they were somewhat too rigidly attached to their existing organisations. If the right hon. Gentleman will only multiply these evacuation hospitals, and have a system of linking up which would enable him to mobilise the medical men to a greater extent than is done at present, far more satisfactory results would be obtained. These remarks apply more particularly to France.
1281 The next case I wish to bring under the attention of the right hon. Gentleman is that of the organisation of the medical department in the Dardanelles. I hope that the arrangements have been improved a great deal since the time to which the story I am about to relate applies. It has been told to me in connection with the treatment of the wounded after the big action on 5th, 7th, and 8th May, when there were, as we know, unfortunately, many thousands of men wounded as a result of the three days' engagement. These men had to be transported to Malta and Alexandria, in order to get hospital treatment. I am told that the mode by which they were removed from the Gallipoli Peninsula was as follows. They were put on ships' launches, then removed to trawlers, and then put into a transport ship. I would like to suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that, with the resources we have in this country, it would be a tremendous saving of suffering, and would ensure better organisation, if there were provided a number of lighters which could take these men direct to the transport, and so get over this double system of transfer. When these men were removed to the transports, they were put in numbers of 800 or 1,000 on each ship, and in the case, certainly of three of these ships, with 800 or a 1,000 patients, there were only three surgeons and two orderlies to attend to them. The right hon. Gentleman must agree that that was totally and absolutely inadequate and insufficient. The result was, of course, that many of the men were not able to get attention for five or even six days. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to say that many more medical men have now been sent out.
There is also the question—I will not give the right hon. Gentleman details, because he is aware of them—of the hospital accommodation at Malta and Alexandria. He knows that that has been quite insufficient, and he also knows that some weeks ago other means might have been taken advantage of, but the War Office did not avail themselves of them. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will take into account the reorganisation of the medical department at the Dardanelles. There are scores of medical men perfectly willing to go. There is no shortage of medical men. There are many of them whom we know who are serving at home in this country and who are now drilling. I know half a dozen men 1282 who have given up good practices and who for the last six months have been drilling as recruits. They are longing to do the work they can do. I am told by the medical profession that in this country we have a far greater proportion of surgeons than there is in any other country in the world, and there really ought not to be, with a little organisation and utilisation of these men, the slightest shortage of medical men to attend to the wounded. I have tried to bring these points before the right hon. Gentleman without any exaggeration and without drawing any lurid picture. I believe it is the general opinion of men who have had many months of this work that, while nobody wishes to decry the work of this particular branch of the Army and the War Office, there is a good deal which might be done, and done easily, and to which I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give his attention.
§ Mr. JONATHAN SAMUEL
I should like to impress upon the Government one point with regard to the delay in fixing the pensions for dependants other than wives and children. I am sorry the Financial Secretary to the War Office is not here, but I hope my right hon. Friend will press upon him the need of deciding this point, because there are, to my own knowledge, a large number of applications now coming in, and the War Office is quite incapable of dealing with the question until the Bill which has been recommended by the Pensions Committee, which sat some time ago and reported to this House on 14th April in favour of setting up a Committee to decide these points, has been passed. This Committee must be set up before these points can be decided. The Bill has been delayed for some reason quite unknown to Members of the House. A large number of cases with regard to dependants are constantly coming before Members of this House. The men have been killed, and the dependants are unable to know, and Members of Parliament are unable to advise them, what pensions they will receive. This matter is very important, because there is a great deal of dissatisfaction up and down the country with regard to the fixing of these pensions. I know that it is stated that the separation allowance or dependants' allowance is paid for the period of six months, but some of these men were killed in the early part of the War and many of these payments are now coming to an 1283 end, and the parents are very anxious to know when the pensions are going to be paid. I desire to press upon the Government the absolute necessity of bringing in this Bill, which I believe is prepared. It is quite impossible to know the causes of the delay, but it should be introduced at once to satisfy the demands of the dependants.
§ Mr. NEEDHAM
I desire to refer to the medical side of the War Office. The Manchester Royal Infirmary, in which a large number of beds—three or four hundred, I believe—are allocated entirely to the service of soldiers. The Manchester Royal Infirmary has had great difficulty in keeping its establishment going, because some men have enlisted and more men desire to enlist. In the same neighbourhood there are military hospitals, and all the men in attendance upon them, both military and professional, are dressed in khaki. It is rather difficult to understand why some provision cannot be made by which men who are doing equally valuable direct medical service for our soldiers in the Manchester Royal Infirmary, with these many hundred beds entirely allocated to medical service—why these men, both professional gentlemen and also the men in the wards acting as dispensers, dressers and so on, cannot be furnished with some kind of badge indicating that they are doing war service.
§ Mr. NEEDHAM
I thought I had made it quite clear that by doing the work which is necessary to cure several hundreds of soldiers in the Manchester Royal Infirmary they were doing war service in just the same respect as men in the military hospital in the next street, where all the men are in uniform. They are doing exactly the same kind of work, and attending the same kind of patients—men wounded in France and elsewhere. Application has been made to the War Office for a badge, but this privilege has been refused. The Royal Infirmary, by appealing to the patriotism and patience of a good many of the men, have kept them there, but they are having the greatest difficulty in continuing the work. It would be only a matter of common justice for the War Office to give this concession to these professional gentlemen and to others working in the wards, who are dealing with these 1284 soldiers and sailors, so that they may be able to give evidence that they are doing war service.
Another point is equally a matter of war badges, but I am not sure whether at this stage the right hon. Gentleman would be able to deal with it, or whether it is entirely a matter for the Minister of Munitions. There are large numbers of men who are doing war service indirectly. I have sent to the War Office details of the cases of men who are making wire, which is used by the contractors who have contracts direct from the War Office. These workers are doing work which is absolutely essential for the fulfilment of War Office contracts. Here again, these men have applied through their employers for badges for war service. If similar contractors were doing work for the Admiralty, in most cases the badges would be easily forthcoming, but the War Office have definitely refused to give the badges in the case to which I refer. In one case I gave the instance of a firm doing the whole of the work for contractors for the British Government and for the contractors of the Allied Governments. One hundred per cent. of their work is directly concerned with War Office work, yet their men are still being asked to enlist in the combatant Army, and the reason they cannot keep their men from enlisting is that they have no protection whatever against the applications for enlistment they meet with in the streets. When they reply that they are doing war service, they are met with the statement, "That cannot be true," because they have no badge to offer. These sub-contractors are absolutely necessary to the contractors to the Government. I hope that this matter will be sympathetically considered either by the right hon. Gentleman's Department, or by the new Minister of Munitions, because it is an entirely vital matter.
§ Mr. TENNANT
The hon. Member opposite raised an important and, I think, a difficult question in asking why it was that certain persons were prosecuted for issuing statements calculated to discourage recruiting, while other persons who issued such statements were not. I do not know that there is any actual answer possible to that question. The first reply I would give would be to ask another question. Is he certain that the statement issued by the hon. Member (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald) was really a statement which you could prosecute him for? I deprecate, 1285 as the whole House does, the criticisms issued by the hon. Member on the action of the Government and particularly on the Action of the Foreign Secretary. I think they were most lamentable and deplorable productions. Whether you could have got a conviction or not is another matter. I do not pretend to say. After all, that is a very difficult proposition, and one which I do not think a layman ought to express an opinion upon. After all, we have always considered this a free country. We have always said it is the right of every man to express his own opinion upon every subject, however stupid—you never prosecute for stupidity—however deplorable that kind of statement may be. Very seldom has there ever been a statement so inflammatory that it was considered to be desirable or necessary to prosecute. I am only holding out to the hon. Member and the House generally how strong a case may be made for freedom of speech. I think freedom of speech and freedom of writing is a desirable thing to conserve, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will agree with me. I do not wish him to go away thinking I am condoning the statement made by the hon. Member (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald). I am not doing anything of the kind. I am only putting in a word for free speech.
My hon. Friend (Mr. Roch), I am bound to say, made, shall I say criticisms, upon the actual service of the Royal Army Medical Corps in the field overseas which took me somewhat by surprise, to be quite frank with him. I have lived in the belief, encouraged and corroborated by many statements, official and unofficial, that our service overseas in relation to the treatment of wounded has been not only beyond compare with anything which has ever been done in the past, but is beyond all praise, and I am free to admit that is my opinion still. But because that is so, it does not follow—I will give my hon. Friend this towards his argument—that some defects may not creep in at some time which could be, and should be, remedied. He spoke of evacuation hospitals. I am not quite sure whether he means the stations where the wounded are taken first before their wounds are actually dressed, or to the hospitals at Boulogne.
§ Mr. TENNANT
They are never called "hospitals," but "clearing stations." There are a few nurses at them, and there is the R.A.M.C. always available, or ought to be, unless the wounded should be, unfortunately, in such large numbers that it is impossible to attend to everyone at once. I agree at once that when that arises rapidity of treatment is of the first importance. That is common ground, and no one would for a moment differ on that subject. But my hon. Friend appeals for more of these first aid stations, and I shall be glad to represent that to the proper quarter, and if it should be found that more are desirable and capable of being erected, either as tents or as buildings, I can promise him that no effort of mine shall remain unused to get that carried into effect. My hon. Friend mentioned three particular classes of wounds which are extremely important and dangerous. It is quite true that it is very desirable that these should be treated at these stations if it were possible. I am only questioning the possibility of doing those things at these actual stations. They are not hospitals. They do not in most cases, though they may in some, have the necessary apparatus for operations—theatres and all the equipments thereof, which are very considerable—and therefore I do not know whether it is possible, but I will engage to make representations to Sir Alfred Keogh, who has the excellence of this service more at heart than anyone, and who is responsible for the work of organising, which I think the House appreciates, and I am sure if it is possible and desirable, it will be carried out.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I shall be very glad to undertake what my hon. Friend asks. About the shortage of medical men, I do not think my hon. Friend fully appreciated how very great is the difficulty. It is not so great at the present moment as the difficulty which looms in the future, and which is likely to become greater as time goes on, and as we have even more men in the field. In regard to the mobilisation of the R.A.M.C, I hope very much there is a mobile body of persons, and that they are available to go from place to place as and 1287 where their services are wanted. I will not omit from my representations to the Director-General that aspect of the matter which my hon. Friend has laid before the House. My hon. Friend (Mr. J. Samuel) spoke of pensions and of the delay in bringing in a Bill to give effect to them. I remember the representations of the Select Committee to this House. That matter is engaging the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and it is to him that application should be made rather than to my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary.
§ Mr. J. SAMUEL
I would like to press upon the right hon. Gentleman the great necessity there is in this matter, because I have had occasion to call at the War Office several times of late in regard to this, and nothing can be done.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I understand that there is no statutory power, and that, therefore, hardship ensures. However, I will see what can be done. In regard to the point raised by the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Needham), I realise that in his view, and I daresay it is a universally accepted view, the men engaged in the Royal Infirmary are doing military work, as greatly and completely military service as the men in the military hospitals. But I should think that there was this distinction, that whereas in the military hospital it is not possible, because it is not in accordance with the statutes, to accept civil cases, yet in the Royal Infirmary of Manchester a civil case cannot be refused.
§ Mr. NEEDHAM
I did not suggest that the whole of the Manchester Royal Infirmary is devoted to military work. I said that some hundreds of cases were devoted entirely to military purposes. The remainder, obviously, are civil cases.
§ Mr. TENNANT
Of course, there is the difficulty which my hon. Friend will appreciate, that while a military hospital is military pure and simple and must remain absolutely and entirely military, in a great city like Manchester and in a great infirmary like the Royal Infirmary it is absolutely impossible to say that civil cases are not to be taken in, nor can you say that this particular medical officer shall attend only on military cases and not on civil cases. Therefore, I do say that there is a distinction which I am sure my hon. Friend and the House will appreciate, and that we cannot treat the two sets of mili- 1288 tary officers in precisely and exactly the same manner. What I understand my hon. Friend considers would adequately meet the case would be that these men should receive some kind of badge, say, a button, which is a very popular emblem to-day. I dare say that can be done, although I must not be taken as pledging myself that it can be done. However, I will undertake to place the matter in the proper channels, and see whether we can agree to meet my hon. Friend's views.
Before I conclude I will say a word about the Dardanelles. It is true, as my hon. Friend says, that during the débâcles early in May large numbers of wounded, unfortunately, had to be evacuated, and the machinery for doing this and the machinery for taking them in the ships to hospitals in Malta and Alexandria were deficient. But it must be remembered that all the time we were under shell fire. It was impossible to evacuate the wounded except under shell fire, and it was not unnatural that there should be a shortage of ships and hospitals at that time. I quite understand that there was a shortage. I greatly regret it, but I do not think it is a thing that is not understandable. It is a thing we regret, but at the same time it is a thing that can be accounted for. What I would like the hon. Gentleman and the House and the country to realise is, that while there was that shortage at that time, and that while the wounded had to be embarked upon transports without any of the necessary appliances for the treatment of sick and wounded, and that therefore suffering must have ensued—I greatly regret that, but it is possible to understand it—that matter has now been put right.
§ Mr. TENNANT
Yes, by hospital ships. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will be interested to know what has been said by the Director-General of the Medical Service in regard to this matter. He says:—At the outset, owing to the military situation, the wounded were taken direct from the battlefield and put on board ships and transferred to Egypt and Malta. In both places abundant accommodation was available.The hon. Member will see that that is in conflict with his statement. The Director-General then goes on to say:—The General Officer Commanding-in-Chief in Egypt has written to say that he is highly satisfied with the arrangements made there by the Royal Army Medical Corps, and he considers they have done splendid work. The Australian and New Zealand Medical Services have not been second even to the Royal Army Medical Corps in this respect. On the Gallipoli Peninsula the Royal 1289 Army Medical Corps has been complimented on parade by at least one General Officer Commanding. The information which I have received regarding medical affairs in the Dardanelles, Egypt, and Malta is most flattering to the Royal Army Medical Corps and the medical service generally in those places. The present arrangements include provision of two hospital ships for Indian troops, and twelve hospital ships for British troops, the latter being used to evacuate suitable cases direct to Egypt, Malta, and the United Kingdom. In addition, hospital accommodation is available for suitable cases and a convalescent, hospital has been organised locally. Ample medical personnel, including consultants, is available.All this is new since the report received by my hon. Friend, the facts of which he has stated here to-day in the interests of the sick and wounded. I hope the House and the country will realise that these matters are engaging our attention and that they are not left. There are, of course, practical difficulties, and a good deal of the difficulties as regards matériel and personnel are really very great.
§ Mr. NEEDHAM
Can the right hon. Gentleman say that badges will be given to indirect munition workers—to men engaged by indirect contractors?
§ Mr. TENNANT
I do not think it would be wise for me to say anything as to indirect workers. If the question of badges is going to be taken up by the Minister of Munitions, and I think it is very likely that it will be, it will be for him to decide, but I know that it has always been, held that for a man to merit a war badge he must be a direct worker employed by a direct contractor and not by an indirect contractor. I do not know whether that policy will be adhered to or not.
§ Mr. HOGGE
It is rather unfortunate for Members of the House that the Third Reading of the Consolidated Fund Bill is limited to a few hours at the end of the sitting on account of the importance of the business which precedes it. I want to draw attention to the work of the Board of Control, which as far as I can ascertain I cannot raise on any other occasion. I should certainly like to raise it on the Second Reading of the Munitions Bill, which I should think was the most probable occasion owing to the fact that the Minister of Munitions is responsible for the work of the Board of Control. If it could be indicated to me that it would be more convenient on some other occasion I would avail myself of that occasion rather than this to suit the convenience of the House, but as I do not see any other opportunity of raising the matter, I now wish to draw the attention to the work of the Board of Control, which I consider is a very important accessory to the work that 1290 is to be carried out by the Bill which we have given leave to introduce to-day. We have appointed a Board of Control to deal with the question of the control of liquor in the munition areas. So far as one has been able to ascertain by question and answer in the House, nothing has been done up to the present except that areas have bean, I understand, delimited, though they have not yet been published and the Board of Control has taken the opinion of the Navy and Army and licensing authorities of those particular aeras. The House will remember that the Board of Control was first of all to deal with the question of the restriction of the sale of alcohol in munition areas, and also to deal with the question of a counter attraction to the monotony which was consequent upon the fact that the men in the munition areas were concentrated upon the work of making munitions. The first of those is probably the easier of the two problems that was sent to the Board of Control. I think that we have discussed the question of the restriction of the sale of alcohol so much that experiments would suggest themselves immediately to the members of the Board of Control, and that that portion of the work will be adequately dealt with as soon as they get to it.
The second part of the work, which I consider is probably the more necessary part, does not seem to be regarded by the Board of Control in the spirit in which Parliament intended that it should be. I brought to the attention of the Minister of Munitions this afternoon the fact that since the Board of Control had been created you had actually had an organisation—a mushroom organisation—growing up to deal with what is popularly called the canteen side of refreshments in our big works. I have now in my hands the prospectus of one of those associations and I find on the front page a slip printed in red which states that this work has the approval of Mr. Bonar Law and Mr. Steel-Maitland, who are Members of the Coalition Administration, and further on the prospectus definitely states that this association is now, at the request of His Majesty's Government's Board of Control of the Liquor Traffic establishing canteens in armament works and dockyards throughout the Kingdom. What is this association? It is an association which is asking the public to take up shares in it as a limited liability company, which shares are to earn a 6 per cent. preference 1291 dividend. I do not see anyone on the Front Bench whom one can expect to have the knowledge necessary to answer the question which I desire to ask, but after all, we pass a Bill at the beginning of this Session to enable Ministers to be in the House and to allow them to be in the House and they are not here. I desire to know whether it is true that the Board of Control, which is under the control of the Minister of Munitions, has in any way given its approval to the appeal to the public in this country to contribute money, out of which a 6 per cent. dividend can be made from catering in our dockyards in competition with the public-houses in the munition areas?
Is that, or is that not the fact? My hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Gulland) at any rate has been associated with myself in temperance work before now, and he probably appreciates the point which I am driving at, that if you are going to deal with the problem of meeting the recreative side of workmen's lives, it cannot be dealt with adequately through coffee canteens; it cannot be dealt with adequately in shipyards by offering our men, in a way very many canteens offer, competing beverages or competing food. What is wanted, obviously, is some attempt to deal with what leisure these men have. Members will remember that even the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme suggested that it was unreasonable to expect that, in the interests of the country, that workmen employed in munition areas should work as many as fifteen hours a day. I presume that all of us agree that whatever hours are necessary to accomplish the ends we have in view, they ought to be worked, and we should encourage them to work, as we would work ourselves, if we were in that position. But when these men have no facilities at all for recreation when they have leisure, it confines them to working and sleeping, and if you are going to do anything to deal with the recreative side of these men's opportunities in their work, it must be a bigger thing than is suggested, for instance by the Government giving their sanction to any association taking up such work as I have described.
If you are going to deal with this thing adequately you require imagination. I myself have seen probably more than others of adequate counter attractions that have been tried in order to deal with the liquor traffic. Absolutely the best counter 1292 attractions I have ever seen in my life are the winter gardens which exist in Petrograd, which are financed by the Russian Government, and which deal in a most extraordinary and varied way with the needs of the working population in their leisure hours. In other countries, particularly in Scandinavia, you have most extraordinary varied and valuable experiments in those attractions; but all of those are big experiments, and the Board of Control is dealing with a big factor in our national life. Take Scotland. There you have the Glasgow munition area, which means that you have in that area half of the entire population of Scotland. You have the second largest municipality in these islands, and if the Government are approaching this recreative side of temperance reform in Glasgow upon the foundation of a coffee canteen, worked upon the basis of 6 per cent. preference dividends, they might as well give the whole thing up. This subject really deserves a little more attention than can be given it to-night in this Debate. It is an extremely important point, and I wish the Joint Patronage Secretary would agree to defer taking the Third Reading of this Bill, unless it is absolutely necessary to-night.
One forgets in these times what the reasons are for taking these Bills, but I should not imagine that the Government wants any money now, judging by what one has heard about the response of the people, from the most juvenile investor upwards, in bringing their money to the Government. This Consolidated Fund Bill is one of the very few opportunities for the average Member to raise points which are of importance. I do hope my hon. Friend can keep it open, so that we can have some adequate statement from the Minister of Munitions. No one on the Front Bench at present really can answer the point, as it is not in any of their Departments. Although they may have interest in it and sympathy with it, they cannot give to the House that reply which the House deserves on a question of this immense value. This question may involve a great deal more than the mere regulation of drink and the provision of counter attractions in the particular districts. It might mean the opening of a way by which at the end of the War this nation would deal with the whole liquor traffic. It might alter the whole attitude of the nation towards the final solution of that difficulty. I feel very strongly on an important point of that kind that it is rather 1293 ridiculous to come across a mushroom organisation, which may be manned by the most useful people in the world, which begins to take up this problem by inviting £1 shares from the public, which are to carry a 6 per cent. dividend, and which suggests as the best method of dealing with this traffic that they should provide coffee canteens. That is not the way this is going to be achieved if the Government mean to see this thing through. I am certain if the Government had imagination in dealing with this matter they could do something which would be extremely useful.
May I give one indication of what I have in my mind? These workmen are working very hard. They are practically working and sleeping. Therefore whatever pleasure and recreation they can get should be provided inside the munition area and, if you like, inside the workshop. You cannot get working men to attend any kind of amusement that does not attract, and all our efforts in dealing with the question of providing counter attractions to the drink traffic suffered in the past from the fact that we have never been able to provide the kind of attraction that would wean the people away from over-indulgence in strong drink. We all know that one of the professions, that has probably been as badly hit as any by the War is the profession that usually entertains us. Our music-hall and theatrical and concert artists are all struggling very hard to make a very inadequate livelihood. What is to hinder the Government, as part of their counter-attractions in those munition areas during the dinner hours and the hours of rest which are given to those men, to provide inside the factories where the men work adequate amusement which will take their minds, for some time at least, off the monotony of providing munitions of war at high pressure? It could be done adequately and well, because you have got the money and you have got the material, and you ought to have a Committee with imagination behind them to deal with it. I do not know whether anyone on the Front Bench can offer any sympathy or help or any suggestion in view of the remarks I have made. But I think they will agree that I am perfectly sincere and earnest in raising a point which, to me, is a very vital point, and to which I have given myself personally very many years of close attention. It is a question about which I know a very great deal, and experiments in which I have seen all over the world, and the results of which I have 1294 tested in very many countries. If this thing is to be tried, do let those of us who have advocated it have the opportunity of giving it a fair trial, and do not allow it to drift into a matter of a coffee canteen, which is not really a counter-attraction at all, but let the Government adequately try to deal with the very big question in a very generous way.
§ Mr. KING
I cannot allow this opportunity to pass without calling attention to the way in which this Bill is drawn, and to the fact that the control which this House has for centuries exercised over expenditure is being gradually, if not finally, taken away from us. Previously this House has always voted money to a definite amount for definite objects, but recently we have been voting money practically to an indefinite extent for absolutely indefinite objects. Many objects for which the money voted has been employed are either unknown to us or are known to us only in such sketchy and uncertain ways that really we do not know where we stand. I suppose it is inevitable that the rules and procedure of this House, especially with regard to expenditure, must be relaxed at a time of war. Personally, I do not wish to prevent the Government from having the greatest latitude possible. But the Prime Minister has said that the control of this House over expenditure was to be retained. I do not see how it can possibly be retained if we are to go on as we have been going for the last ten months, voting practically unlimited amounts of money for objects which are in no way specified.
I will give one or two short but clear illustrations of what I mean. At the beginning of the War there was a sudden and an alarming rise in the price of sugar. A Royal Commission was improvised to supply the country with sugar. The Prime Minister told us that it would have such power that it would maintain an adequate supply, and he evidently anticipated that its transactions would result in a large profit for the State. I will not say how far that Royal Commission was a success. I believe it did very badly indeed. I believe that at least £1,000,000, and probably over £2,000,000, must have been lost in respect of its transactions. There have been repeated requests for a Report of its proceedings, but we have had none. We have had no opportunity of discussing its action. Without any doubt it took away, at a most 1295 critical time, a large amount of our shipping; it disorganised our transit; it filled up wharves, quays, railway stations, and even thoroughfares with a large amount of sugar which was not wanted then. Altogether I believe it has been a gigantic failure. One of the objects which the Commission had in view was to prevent sugar, of which a great amount was in Germany, from being sold, so that the money might go from this country, or neutral countries, into Germany. One of our transactions, as far as we have been able to understand, was this; We bought a very large amount of sugar from Holland and the Scandinavian countries, or sugar which would have gone to Holland and the Scandinavian countries, and those countries made up their shortage by having the German sugar at a very good price. The result was that the Germans sold their sugar, they got at least as much as they wanted for it, and we in this country paid probably a million to two million pounds over that transaction, which has gone indirectly into the German war treasury. That is one instance of the way in which Ministers have had unlimited power freely given to them by this House, and have failed to render any account whatever. The result, so far as we can judge, is that things have been mismanaged, and we have no opportunity of criticising, warning, or preventing the repetition of the same sort of thing.
We have had another transaction of the same character recently. A large amount of wheat was bought by the Government when wheat was up at the top price, It is understood, too, that the Government accumulated a large amount of grain at a time when it was very scarce, not only over all the world, but in this country especially. Now, when there are splendid harvests in America and the Argentine there is an immediate prospect of a large fall in the price of wheat, and abundant supplies for many months to come, and the Government is landed with a large amount of grain which it has bought at a very high figure. The matter has been stated in the public Press, and no attempt that I have been able to see or hear, has been set up against the good intentions of the Government, but I make no doubt that here again the Government have lost a round million over this transaction. They will probably go on so long as we allow unlimited cash, without any restrictions on the objects upon which they may 1296 spend it. They will go on, and not having the time to give, they cannot get expert advice to carry on big transactions of this nature. We shall be paying heavily, and the money very possibly going, we know not where, but it may be into the coffers of our enemies. The laxity of control which this House has allowed to be set up by the Government is of no real advantage to the nation, and contains within itself a real danger of extravagance, and also, I will add, the loss of the privileges and traditions of this House. I will just refer to one more question.
§ Mr. KING
I referred to wheat some time ago. There is another question of the same kind, and one of very great difficulty: I mean the fact that recently Italy has joined the Allies. I am sure we are all entirely glad of this. If we have aided in the bringing in of Italy to the side of our just cause by financial support I am glad. But we have been told repeatedly in the Press, and it was understood in the lobbies, that some statement would be made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer as to what were the financial relations between the Allies, and especially between ourselves and Italy. No statement whatever has been made. It is absolutely uncertain, so far as any official information has been given, whether we are supporting Italy—I hope we are—on terms, or without any terms whatever. The Government have treated the House and the country with scant consideration, and without due justice or wisdom, in withholding from them facts, the knowledge of which would be of no good to the enemies, and which, if told to us, would give us much greater confidence and enable us to see things as and where they are. This course would put out of the way that great number of misconceptions, suspicions, doubts, and fears which inevitably arise because we are not told the facts, and because we are asked only to vote away millions of money, and have not information given to us of the way in which the money has been and is to be spent.
I will only add, as confirming my point, this fact. Previous Consolidation Bills have always contained, until this time of war, a statement of the services for which the funds were voted by this House, and the amounts voted in each case for its special service. There was a list or a schedule, from which one saw at once 1297 what the amount was and what the service was. There is nothing whatever of this kind in the present Bill. We had, in connection with the Estimates for the War Office and the Admiralty, a list of Votes and certain sums that were called dummy Votes, but here the actual dummy Votes have entirely disappeared. We have no knowledge whatever from this Bill what the services are for which we are voting the money, nor the amount. I must protest again, as I have tried to do before, against the practice of the Government and the laxity, uncertainty, and looseness—I might almost say the sloppy manner—in which the finances of the country are now being done.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I sympathise, as I have no doubt others sympathise, with the points of constitutional procedure that have been raised by the hon. Member opposite. I rise, however, to offer a protest, so far as it is possible to offer a protest at this time of the evening, on two grounds. I think that it is treating the House with scant courtesy that, on the occasion of the Third Reading of the Consolidated Fund Bill, which deals with such large sums of money, there is not a single Cabinet Minister on the Front Bench. On the first day after the House reassembled, and after the formation of the new National Government, the House passed through all its stages a Bill to enable the new Ministers to dispense with the formality of re-election so that they might be enabled to be in their places in the House of Commons. In addition to that, we all remember that in the days before the new Ministers attained their present exalted positions, there was frequent opposition from them against the action of their predecessors in neglecting the discussions of the House of Commons. I hope that, as I see now on the Front Bench the hon. Member for Shropshire (Mr. Bridgeman), the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. James Hope), and the right hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Hayes Fisher), that they will respectfully call the attention of their chiefs to the situation this evening, and remind them that their present practice is not in accordance with their former preaching. But there is a more important point that I wish to deal with. My hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) has raised an important matter, namely, the steps which are to be taken by the Board of Control for the purpose of dealing with the drink question in munition areas.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
Well, they are appointed for that purpose, and when an hon. Member of this House, who has given much time and much trouble to the inevstigation of this very difficult subject, wishes to offer them suggestions, it is the least that can be done that one of the Parliamentary representatives of this Board of Control should be in the House to hear what he has to say and to offer some opinions upon the suggestions he has to make. I understand that my hon. Friend gave notice that he intended to raise this question. The Minister of Munitions is the most numerously represented of any Department in this House. It has three representatives. One of them has been withdrawn from the command of a division in order that there may be a more efficient representation of munitions, and there is another Parliamentary Secretary (Dr. Addison). Not one of these representatives has thought it worth his while to come and listen to us, and that is treating the House of Commons with very scant courtesy indeed. This Board of Control is now understood to be framing its plans, and it is obvious that the initial steps are of great importance, because it altogether depends on the wisdom of those initial steps whether the experiments they adopt will be attended with success. This is the only opportunity available for a Member of this House to raise this question and have it adequately discussed, and in spite of the notice given by my hon. Friend, not one of these three Gentlemen thinks it worth while to be present. I hope the Joint Patronage Secretary will communicate what has been said. As he has indicated, it is impossible to hold over the Third Reading of this Bill, and as none of us wish to delay Government business and clog the machinery, I think he should offer some opportunity to my hon. Friend to ventilate this question. I understand that there is no Vote for the Ministry of Munitions. In these circumstances the only opportunity we have is on the Adjournment, and that is merely an opportunity for a single hour. I do not know whether that would be adequate or not, but I think a full opportunity should be given on some occasion when the hon. Member for East Edinburgh wishes to raise this question, such as moving the Adjournment before the Orders of the Day are called. I think that is a very small request to make, and I do not think my hon. Friend 1299 would abuse the opportunity. I am sure there are other hon. Members who would be anxious to deal with the same topic, and to offer their suggestions to the new Department. In these circumstances I would ask my hon. Friend to give this request his favourable consideration, and if possible to indicate before the Debate concludes that he will give further time. If this is done we should have a valuable discussion, and a great deal might be done towards securing the more efficient working of the undertaking.
§ Sir J. D. REES
As a personal matter, Mr. Speaker, may I express to the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald) my regret for raising a question concerning him without giving him due notice? This omission was solely due to the indignation I felt after reading his remarks in the paper to which I drew attention.
§ Sir GEORGE TOULMIN
This is one of the most important measures of the Session. It deals with £270,000,000. It also deals with the power of the Treasury to borrow this sum. The names on the back of the Bill are the Chairman of Ways and Means, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Mr. Montagu. Not only are they not here to-night, but there is no Cabinet Minister present. [Mr. McKenna entered the House.] My sentence was just correct by a second, because I see that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has now entered the House. There is an establishment with which I had some connection in which if there was any emergency it used to be said, "Leave it to John," and I am rather afraid that in a case of this kind there is a tendency to leave everything to the Chief Whip. He represents no Department; he is not supposed to have any knowledge on any of the questions which Members may raise in regard to any particular Department. He is very well known for his genial relations with every Member of the House, and it is our desire not to raise any particular question which may seem to reflect upon his management of the business, but this is one of the occasions on which any subject may be raised dealing with the Department of any Minister whatever. The result is that none of them hitherto has attended.
It is one of the occasions on which a comprehensive view could have been taken of the whole situation or on which hon. 1300 Members could have raised what are important but perhaps subsidiary matters, such as that of the Board of Control. I agree that is a very important matter. We had a good deal of talk about restrictive regulations on the subject of temperance. There is a point on which there is some opportunity for some really practical constructive policy, and I think that it is well worthy of an occasion being provided when those who have had experience may give that experience to the House and probably enable the Board of Control to widen its purview. This also is an occasion on which a statement might have been made on the Government's policy in regard to food. The question, of sugar, with which I dare say the Chancellor of the Exchequer has some knowledge, and the question of wheat have been raised, and there is a great deal of feeling in the country as to the general rise in the price of food. This is one of the occasions on which, if there had been a Minister prepared, that subject might have been dealt with by the House. I rose really to emphasise the fact which has been mentioned by other hon. Members, that there was not a Minister who was in charge of the Bill present when this Third Reading was being taken. I am very glad that the Minister has in the meantime come in to hear what I have to say.
§ Mr. GRETTON
I only want to ask two questions. The hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) has been talking about the Board of Control. We heard to-day from the. Minister of Munitions that the country has been divided into munition areas. Are those ten munition areas also to be dealt with by the Board of Control? What are those areas as munition areas and what are the areas to be dealt with by the Board of Control? I would remind hon. Members who have spoken on this question of the Board of Control that they appear to have misunderstood the understanding which was arrived at and the meaning of the establishment of this Board. It is to deal with a special set of circumstances existing during the War, and it is not to be a permanent institution. On that understanding the Bill passed through the House of Commons as an unopposed measure. Hon. Members opposite apparently seek to establish its permanency or to establish some system or principle which they have in mind, but which they have not explained, and which certainly was not known when the Bill was allowed to pass as an agreed measure.
§ Mr. GRETTON
I think the hon. Member carried the tenour of his remarks a good deal further, but I accept his explanation. I should like to know what are the powers of the Board of Control. It is a mysterious body hidden behind a veil, and I, too, should like to tear that veil aside and be told what they are doing. I share the curiosity of the hon. Member for East Edinburgh on that point. I hope, at any rate, we shall be given some enlightenment on the two questions I have put with regard to the munition areas. I see no reason for secrecy in regard to the areas, seeing that the scheme of the Minister of Munitions will be out in a few days. With regard to the general question of secrecy on financial matters, I cannot help thinking it is most reprehensible. It is done, of course, because we are under the stress of war. But all these matters will have to be gone into sooner or later, and if there has been laxity or loss of public money those who are responsible will have to answer to the House and to the country, or I am afraid there will be a good deal of trouble in the future. But this is not the time for full explanations in all these matters. There has, no doubt, been a vast squandering of public money, and this £270,000,000 now authorised might not have been all needed if the organisation of the country and the arrangements of the Government had been more businesslike, and if they had been more economical in dealing with these matters.
§ The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. McKenna)
A very interesting point has been raised by the hon. Member for East Edinburgh. I have consulted my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary, who is most anxious to offer an opportunity for discussion. The Motion for Adjournment will therefore to-morrow be moved before the Orders have been concluded, and I hope that will give an adequate opportunity of debate. I apologise for not having been here earlier. I was occupied with other matters. But I understand my hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Mr. King) committed himself to certain statements. I am happy to be able to inform 1302 him that he was quite mistaken in the view which he expressed, and when the time comes I shall be perfectly ready, and always have been, to make a complete statement on the subject of sugar. I have always thought it my duty to advise the House in the interest of the public, that we ought not to announce the prices at which we purchased sugar. We cannot make statements of that kind without disclosing, facts and giving our adversaries in the market a great advantage. We have to compete in the world's markets. If the British disclose the prices at which they hope to buy in the market, whereas those who are buying against them or holding against them do not disclose the same facts, obviously we are at a serious disadvantage. We can only ask the indulgence of the House that we should be left to do as well as we can in the purchasing of this commodity for the benefit of the whole community. Up to the present time, so far from making a loss, we have made a substantial profit. We have got adequate stocks to ensure the country a full supply of sugar for some months to come, and we have no reason whatever to fear criticism. On the contrary, we shall gladly welcome the opportunity of rendering a complete account to the House and to the public of everything we have done.
On the subject of wheat I can only say the same. My hon. Friend is not really well advised in the public interest in pressing for details which we can only give at the expense of the country. Everything that is done must come before the Public Accounts Committee. Every word I have said stands on record, and it will be brought up against me if I have misled the House in the slightest degree. I do not fear publicity; on the contrary, I am sure we shall gain by it. In financial transactions of this kind we should not be urged on every occasion to drag up the whole of our proceedings by the roots.
§ Mr. McKENNA
I could not say at the moment whether there was a profit on wheat or not. I am sure those who look back on the transaction will regard it in its entirety as a profitable transaction.
§ Mr. J. SAMUEL
Is it not a fact that the importation of wheat from the Argentine has already largely reduced the price of wheat in the country, and were not the imports something like 4,000,000 cwts.?
§ Mr. McKENNA
I have not the smallest doubt that the means taken by the Government, to secure an adequate supply of food-stuffs for this country, including wheat, have had the effect of keeping down prices. We do not desire to leave the country entirely at the mercy of speculators. As to the point of complaint raised by my hon. Friend that the Bill was sloppy in respect of one particular, that it did not include a Schedule, if he had displayed his usual vigilance he would have observed the distinction between a Consolidated Fund Bill and an Appropriation Bill. Whereas a Schedule properly appears in an Appropriation Bill, it does not properly appear in the ordinary Consolidated Fund Bill. It will appear in the next Appropriation Bill. With these explanations I hope the House will allow us to have the Bill.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the third time, and passed.