§ The MINISTER of MUNITIONS (Mr. Lloyd George)
I beg to move, "That leave be given to introduce a Bill to make provision for furthering the efficient supply of Munitions for the present War, and for purposes incidental thereto."
Before explaining the provisions of the Bill I should like to make a statement about the Ministry which I have the honour to preside over and its work. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, in introducing the Bill for the creation of the Ministry of Munitions, gave an undertaking that a statement would be made at the earliest possible moment with regard to the work. I think it is the best method of leading up to and of explaining the reasons why the Bill is to be introduced and the nature of its provisions. I shall deal as little as possible with the past. I am only concerned with the causes of the shortage in the equipment and material of war in so far as it is necessary to understand them with a view to making that shortage up. That the shortage is serious from the point of view of the standard which has been treated by this War is undoubtedly well known. It is certainly known to the enemy—and, perhaps, best of all to the enemy. You cannot confront a hostile army for months without knowing something about the state of its material. Therefore the House may depend upon it that whatever the condition of our ammunition may be, it is just as well known to the Germans as to ourselves.
What, however, I would impress, not merely upon the House, but, if I may, upon the country on every opportunity I have of addressing them, is the question of the duration of the War, the toll of life and limb levied by the War, and the amount of exhaustion caused by the War, economic and financial. In order to understand the 1184 whole depth of meaning of the problem we are confronted with, I would also say that ultimate victory or defeat in this War depends upon the supply of the munitions which the rival countries can produce, and with which they can equip their armies in the field. That is the cardinal fact of the military situation. When the Germans establish a superiority on any front it is due to a predominance in the material of war. When they are driving the forces of the Allies before them in any quarter of the field it is due to the same cause. When the Allies are making progress in any part of the line it is due to the fact that in that sector of the battlefield the Allies have a predominance of the munitions of war. We have an undoubted superiority in men and in numbers, and I am assured by all who have been at the front that it is not merely a superiority in numbers, but in the quality of the men. Therefore it is purely a question of equipping them with the necessary amount of material to support their valour in the attacks which they make upon the lines of the enemy.
I heard the other day from one very good authority—and this will give the House an idea of the tremendous preparations made by the enemy for this War, and of the expansion which has taken place even since the War—that the Central European Powers are turning out 250,000 shells per day—that is, very nearly 8,000,000 shells per month. The problem of victory for us is how to equal, and how to surpass, that tremendous production. The problem of speedy victory is the accomplishment of that aim with the least possible waste of time. Any obstacles, any mismanagement, any slackness, any indiscipline, any prejudices which prevent or delay the mobilisation of our resources at the earliest possible moment postpones victory. The question which in the Ministry of Munitions we have to set ourselves is, Can we achieve that purpose? I say that we can accomplish that object, not merely of equalling the output of the munitions of war turned out by the Germans and the Austrians, but, if we are in earnest, we can surpass it.
The Central Powers probably have attained something like the limit of their possible output. We have only just crossed the threshold of our possibilities. I have just paid a visit to France, where I had the privilege of meeting the Under-Secretary of State for War, M. Thomas, the man to whose great organising capacity 1185 a great deal of the success of the French provision for war is attributable. I am reassured, not merely as to what France is doing, but as to what France can do—and as to what we can do, when I take into account what France has already accomplished. Let us see the position France was in. Her most important industrial provinces were in the hands of the enemy. Seventy per cent. of her steel production was in the hands of the enemy. She had mobilised an enormous army, and therefore had withdrawn a very considerable proportion of her population from industry. At best she is not so great an industrial country as ourselves. She is much more an agricultural and pastoral country. It is true we have certain disadvantages compared with France, and they are important. She has not the same gigantic Navy to draw upon the engineering establishments of that country. She has more complete command over her labour. That makes an enormous difference, not merely in mobility of labour, but in readiness with which the workmen can be moved from one centre or establishment to another, and in the discipline which obtains in the workshop.
France has another advantage—that her arsenals in existence at the outbreak of the War corresponded to the magnitude of her huge Army. We had a small Army to provide for. In addition to that, she had a very great trade with other countries in the production of the equipment of war. These are the advantages and the disadvantages. Still, knowing these things, and taking them all into account, the surplus of our engineering resources available for the material of war is undoubtedly greater than that of France, and if they produce within the next few months as much as they are likely to produce, the Allies will not merely equal the production of the Central Powers, but will have an overwhelming superiority over the enemy in the material essential to victory. That is the great fact which I should like to get into the minds of those who are able to render assistance to the country.
Germany has achieved a temporary preponderance in material. She has done it in two ways. She accumulated great stores before the War; she has mobilised the whole of her industries after the War, having no doubt taken steps before the War to be ready for the mobilisation of the workshops immediately after War was declared. Her preponderance in two or 1186 three directions is very notable, and I mention this because it is essential that they should be understood in inviting the assistance of the community to enable us to compete with this formidable enemy. The superiority of the Germans in material was most marked in their heavy guns, in their high explosive shells, in their rifles, and, perhaps most of all, in their machine guns. These have turned out to be about the most formidable weapons in the War. They have almost superceded the rifle; they have almost rendered the rifle unnecessary.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I am glad to see my hon. Friend, who can tell us something of his experiences. I felicitate him upon his return. It is a great joy to us all to see him. Now this is undoubtedly the most notable fact of all. The difficulty with regard to all these things is that they cannot be improvised in a short time. The machinery for rifles and machine guns take eight and nine months to construct before you begin to turn out a single rifle or a single machine gun. The Germans did undoubtedly—and one might as well recognise it, because we must learn from the enemy where he can give us a lesson—they did undoubtedly anticipate the character of the War in a way no other Power has done. They realised it was going to be a great trench war, and they had procured an adequate supply of the machinery applicable to those conditions. The professional mind is essentially a very conservative mind, and there are competent soldiers who even to-day assume that this phase is purely a temporary one; that it will not last long, and that we shall go back to the old conditions. I have no doubt much time is lost owing to that obsession. The Germans never harboured that delusion, and were fully prepared to batter down the deepest trenches of the enemy with heavy guns and high explosives, and to defend their own trenches with machine guns.
That is the story of the War for ten months. We assumed that victory was our due as a tribute of fate. Our problem is to organise victory, and not take it for granted. To do that the whole engineering and chemical resources of this country—nay, of the whole Empire—must be mobilised. When that is done, France and ourselves alone, without Italy or Russia, can overtop the whole of the Teutonic output 1187 for war. Now this is a question first of all of material—material for the shell body, material for the fuse, material for the cartridge case, material for the explosive. It is very largely a question of machinery, and it is finally, but by no means the least important, a question of labour. In the first instance, all these questions resolved themselves into a question of organisation. Of some material we have abundant supplies; some we have to husband very carefully; of some we must take steps to increase the supply, otherwise we shall be short at the critical hour. The same thing applies to machinery. We have in this country a vast amount of machinery which is essential to the production of material of war. But then we are short of other machines equally important. It is the old problem of the bottle-neck. It is no use getting fifty parts of the machine ready and finding you are stopped by the fifty-first. Therefore it is a question of organising over the whole field of what is essential for the supply of material for war.
The plan upon which we have proceeded until recently I explained to the House in a statement I made in April. We recognised that the arsenals which were then in existence were quite inadequate to supply the New Army, or even the Old Army, with the necessary material, taking into account the rate at which ammunition was being spent. We had, therefore, to mobilise new sources of supply. The War Office was of opinion that the best method of obtaining that object was to work through the existing firms so as to have expert control and direction over companies and workshops which up to that time had had no experience in turning out shells, guns, and ammunition of all sorts. There was a good deal to be said for it. There was, first of all, the difficulty, unless something of that kind were done, of mobilising at all the resources at the disposal of the State. The House of Commons has only to consider the proposition with which the War Office was confronted to see what it meant. The total Army Estimates were £28,000,000 in a year of peace. They suddenly became £700,000,000. All that represents not merely twenty or twenty-five times as much money, but it means twenty or twenty-five times as much work. It means more than that. It had to be done under pressure. The sort of work which, in a business, takes years to build up, develop, strengthen, and improve, had 1188 suddenly to be done in five, six, seven, or eight months, and the War Office came to the conclusion that the best way of doing that was to utilise the skill of the existing firms to assist them in developing these new resources. The War Office staff are a devoted, hard-working, capable set of men, but they were not enough. There is another consideration which cannot be left out of account—that men who are quite equal to running without a hitch a long-established business on long-established lines may not always be adequate to the task of organising and administering a business thirty times its size on novel and original lines. To be quite candid, the armament firms also were inadequate to the gigantic task cast upon them not merely of organising their own work, but of developing the resources of the country outside. They could not command a staff.
Sub-contracting, therefore, has undoubtedly been a failure. I will just give one or two illustrations to show to what extent the process of subcontracting failed to develop the whole strength and resources of the community for this purpose. In one district I visited the other day, where sub-contracting was producing something like 10,000 shells a month, we have been at it only a few days and we have already placed with responsible firms, who are quite capable of carrying through these orders 150,000 shells a month. That is only in one patricular town. I am giving it as an illustration; and in a very short time I am confident, from what I am told, that the number of shells will be 250,000 or 300,000 per month. That is the result of inviting the business men there to organise themselves, and to assist us to develop the resources of their district. They have local knowledge; they have skill, and they are on the spot; and it saves a good deal of time journeying up and down to London and a good deal of time in the corridors of Government offices, not merely attending interviews but waiting for interviews; and it saves a good deal of correspondence, which I have always thought was the worst way of doing business.
Take London, for example. London at first sight does not strike you as a place where you could turn out a great quantity of war material, but when you begin to examine it, London has an infinite variety of shops, some fairly large, but a large 1189 number of small shops doing some of the finest work. That is the most difficult work of all. I do not know whether I am in order, Mr. Speaker, in showing this [exhibiting a fuse], but it is one of the greatest difficulties of all in the turning out of shells—it is the fuse of a high explosive. This is not nearly so complicated as the fuse of the shrapnel, which is one of the most intricate and beautiful pieces of machinery—before it explodes! This is supposed to be simple, but it takes 100 different gauges to turn out. One of the difficulties of turning out shells is that you can get a large number of people who would drill out the steel parts, but there are comparatively few who can do this particular kind of work. That is exactly where London has come to the rescue. We organised, with the assistance of local men who have come forward, the local business men. Some of the ablest business men in London have organised themselves into a committee. They have assured me, and wish me to assure the House that in a very short time London will be another Woolwich Arsenal, and they will be able to turn out prodigious quantities not merely of shells, but what gives us far greater anxiety, those particular parts of the shell which firms cannot supply in other parts of the country. That is what has been accomplished by local organisation.
There are three or four principles which we have laid down in attempting to organise this new Department. In the first place, in order to cope with the difficulties of organising in a few weeks what business men generally take years to build up, you must have the aid of some of the best business brains available in the country. The second point is that failure often comes in these matters from the inability to allocate to the expert and the organiser their proper functions. The organiser need not necessarily be an expert, and the expert is very rarely an organiser. At least the best expert is rarely the best organiser. The business of the organiser is to make the best use of the expert brain. The organiser is the captain, and the expert is the pilot. The next principle is, that once you take on a number of first-class business men to assist you, you must give full scope to their energies, and you must trust them. You cannot work them in blinkers and fetters. Another point is this. We have found it necessary to secure adequate office accommodation—that is very much more important than appears at first sight— 1190 where those engaged will not be in each other's way, and where business men coming up to town to consult the heads of Departments will have an opportunity of conducting their business without losing time. All that is vital to the success of organisation, responsible as it is for the leakage of time, friction and delay. I should like to make this appeal to the business community. It takes some time to organise what is practically a new Department; we cannot get into working order immediately, and there might very well be cases during the first few days, perhaps during the first few weeks, where business is not attended to as promptly as you would expect of a Department fully organised, and where everything is going well. I hope the business community will extend indulgence to the new Department in that respect. We will do our very best to improve as the days go on.
We have secured the aid of a very large number of business men. Many business men are at present engaged in organising and directing their own business—business which is just as essential to the State in a period of war as even the organisation of this office—but still there are the services of many able business men which are available, and we propose to utilise them to the full, first, in the Central Office, to organise it; secondly, in the localities to organise the resources there; and, thirdly, we propose to have a great Central Advisory Committee of business men to aid us to come to the right conclusions in dealing with the business community. When you have a number of strong men who have been in the habit of directing their own business there is always the danger of their getting in each other's way, so that the energy of the one rather neutralises the other. Therefore our method has been to give to each man his task. One man is looking after metals, another after explosives, another after machinery, another after guns, another after local organisation, another after labour, another after chemicals, and so on; and I am very glad to be able to say that in each of these departments real progress is being made, in spite of the short time during which we have been occupied in this work of reorganisation.
With regard to explosives, I have already referred to the department so ably organised by Lord Moulton and his assistants. It is a very great piece of 1191 work. I said the last time I spoke on this subject that Lord Moulton and his department had turned out a sufficient quantity of high explosives, not merely to supply ourselves but also to assist our Allies. That statement has been misconstrued. It was taken to mean high explosive shells. I referred to high explosives, and I adhere to that statement. The work done by Lord Moulton has been of the greatest assistance, not merely to this country, but to our Allies as well.
The whole of the Munitions Department, except explosives, is under the very able and experienced direction of Sir Percy Girouard, Lord Kitchener having placed him at the diposal of the new Administration; and I count myself very fortunate in having secured his services. But no staff, however able, could adequately cope from the centre with the gigantic and novel character of the operations which must be put through during the next few weeks if the country is to be saved. We have, therefore, decided to organise the country in districts. Up to the present we have divided the country into ten munition areas. Each of these munition areas we have placed under a committee of management of local business men, with local knowledge; and at an appropriate centre in each of these areas there will be officers of the Ministry of Munitions attached to headquarters, where specifications, samples, and so forth will be available. That is of first-class importance, because, wherever I went, one of the first things business men said to me was, "Tell us what you want us to do. We are all right; we are all willing; we are all eager. It is not a question of there being any sort of delay, so far as we are concerned. It is not a question of our having any disinclination to place our workshops at your disposal; but we want to know exactly what it is you are asking us to do." And the demand for specifications, samples, and so forth is a demand which conies from every part of the country, and we are doing our best to supply it.
It is too often forgotten that shell making, and the making of machine guns, or parts of machine guns, is an absolutely new business to the vast majority of these people. British engineers can adapt themselves as rapidly as the engineers of any other country to any new work, but they cannot do it without seeing 1192 what it is they are wanted to do, and without getting full specifications. Every opportunity has been given to them to go through any Government arsenal or through the arsenal of the Elswick Works, of Vickers and Maxims, of Beardmore's, and the rest, where they can see for themselves; but they naturally want these things in their own districts where they can go and, without any waste of time, see for themselves what it is the Government are asking them to do. Associated with this branch of the Ministry, the Local Committee, there will be an expert engineer, whose business it will be to help the Local Committee in the surrounding districts, and a general organising secretary. Representatives of the War Office and the Admiralty will be associated with each of these centres, which will act as a clearing house for the work, for labour, and for information. They could assist in dealing with local difficulties and could advise and help generally. We feel confident that we can rely upon the patriotic co-operation of the chief leaders of our engineering industry, capital and labour, in the organisation of the country upon these lines.
I am relying very considerably upon the decentralisation which I have outlined. There is no time to organise a Central Department which would be sufficiently strong and which would be sufficiently well equipped to make the most of the resources of each district. It cannot be done, and therefore there is only one possible way of doing it in a short time. Time counts materially; all the time which is lost is full of possibilities of disasters, and there is only one way of organising the resources of the country efficiently within the time at our disposal. That is, that each district should undertake to do the work for itself, and that we should place at their disposal everything that a Government can in the way of expert advice and in the way of material, because we have ourselves offered to supply the material wherever it is required. Anything in the way of expert advice, specifications, samples, inspection, and material—that we can supply, but we must rely upon the great business man of each locality to do the organisation in those districts for themselves, and they are doing it.
I should like just to point out two or three of the difficulties, in order to show the steps which are being taken to overcome them. The first difficulty, of course, 1193 is that of materials. There are, as I pointed out, materials of which you have abundance in this country, but there are others which you must husband very carefully, and there is other material on which you must spend a considerable sum of money in order to be able to develop it at a later stage. With regard to this question, I think that it might be necessary ultimately for us to take complete control of the metal market, so that available material should not be wasted on non-essential work. To a certain extent we have done that. A good deal of work has been done already during the last few weeks. There is a very able man dealing with the question of metals. He has been working hard, and has achieved very notable results in the way of mobilising our raw material. I cannot attach too high a degree of importance to the Ministry being regularly and accurately informed of the stocks of raw or semi-manufactured metal in this country. Such information is essential if we are, with any degree of accuracy, to follow the past, present, and future output of materials and manufacture. With this object in view the Department will ask for monthly returns from all concerned, and in the Bill which I propose to introduce there is a Clause dealing with the question of returns to the Department.
I must call attention also to another point in this respect. I am sorry to say that there are indications of supplies being held up in certain quarters for higher prices—[HON. MEMBERS: "Shame!"]—and this is causing serious delay. Attention has been drawn to the tendency on the part of various contractors to delay the delivery of old and running contracts, apparently with the object of using the necessity of the moment to secure better prices. Those practices must, in the vital interests of the nation, be brought to an end—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"]—because, if there is a shortage of material in any one particular, the whole business of turning out the necessary output stops. It does matter, however insignificant it might appear. A shortage in just one particular is enough to delay the whole output. Therefore it is very much too serious for any practice of that kind to be allowed.
I should like to say a word with regard to raw material for explosives. We are building new factories, so that the expansion of the explosives supply shall keep pace with that of shells, and in this 1194 respect, again, I should like to dwell upon the importance of keeping up our coal supplies in this country. Coal is the basis of all our high explosives, and, if there were a shortage for any reason, the consequences would be very calamitous. I do not think that I am putting the case high enough. It is not merely a question of there not being diminution in the present output. It is important that there should be an increase—that there should be a considerable increase—in the output of the particular quality of coal which is used for the purpose of making high explosives.
I now come to machinery. There is a good deal of machinery in this country which is useful for the purpose of turning out shells and other material and equipment for war. The Home Office had secured returns from most of the engineering firms in this country as to the machinery which they have at the present moment in their workshops and yards, and as soon as I came to this office my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was good enough to place the whole of these returns at my disposal, and very valuable they are. Naturally they were not prepared by experts in shell making. I am not sure that they were made with that object in view, and therefore more information was required for the purpose of enabling us to discover what the existing resources of the country are, with the object of expanding our sources of supply. We sent out for further information. I am glad to say that the returns are coming in in a way I have never seen returns come in before. They are coming in promptly and without loss of time—they are, in fact crowding in—and from these returns we are getting information which will enable us to mobilise more systematically the output of war material in this country the moment they are analysed and classified. Some of the machinery is useful for making shells of certain kinds. Some is useful for making shells of the larger kind. Some is useful for guns, some for rifles, and some for machine guns. But we want to know where these machines are before we can possibly come to a conclusion as to what is the best use we can make of them. I hope in the course of a few days, when these returns have been carefully analysed and classified, I shall be in a position to know better than I do now what is the possible output of this country.
1195 I have referred up to the present to the development of new sources of supply, and, of course, it is upon these that we must depend for that overwhelming production of war material which is essential in order to secure victory. But I am bound to tell the House that that takes time. We are using firms who are quite inexpert in this particular kind of work. It will take them time. It might take them weeks or even months, and it will certainly be months before we attain anything like the maximum output of which this country is capable. We can increase the output, but we cannot attain the maximum for months. What happens in the meantime is entirely a question of labour, and I want to emphasise that very specially. The existing firms are not delivering their goods up to promise. Had they done so, the position would have been a very satisfactory one. Why are they not doing so? This brings me straight to the Bill I am introducing to-day. They have machines which they cannot man. We are short of machine guns. The machine guns are not delivered according to contract, and yet if I could place my hands upon adequate supplies of skilled workmen, the supply could be doubled in a few days. That is of the most serious consequence to our men at the front. Most of the slaughter is caused by these terrible little machines. What the next move of the Germans will be it is not for me to forecast. But if it is to attack our forces, to swing round from the East and to concentrate on our forces in the West, it is vital to the life of our men, vital in order to maintain their position, that every available machine gun that can be produced shall be turned out and sent out. Our men can defend themselves—no men in the world can do so better than they can, but they can do it with less loss of life, and they can do it more effectively, if they are supplied with an adequate number of machine guns to enable them to protect their front. It is in the power of skilled labour in this country to supply those machine guns within the next few weeks.
I gave a case the other day to the leaders of the trade unions concerning a firm in the Midlands which is manufacturing machine guns. They could have increased their supply enormously if they could only set up the machinery which they have now lying idle in their storehouses—machinery which takes months to 1196 turn out. There it is lying idle, and why? They cannot find seventy-five millwrights to enable them to put up the machinery. I could give other cases which have been supplied to me where the work has been stopped because the firms cannot find the necessary number of skilled hands for the purpose of attending to this machinery. So the first step in order to increase our output in the interval, before we can expand our new sources of supply, is to secure the necessary skilled labour, in order to fill up the workshops which have plenty of machinery at the present moment. The next step is that such skilled labour as we have—it is quite inadequate in numbers—should be eked out as much as posible by unskilled labour. There is a good deal of work which can be done by unskilled labour if you have skilled men looking after it. I was told by a firm at Bristol, which was undertaking to turn out shells, that if they were allowed to use unskilled labour, they could double their output, because they could then have a night shift, and could use exactly the same machinery. That happens very often. You have not enough skilled labour to utilise the machinery except during the day. In that case it was almost impossible to get skilled labour, because there had been very heavy recruiting amongst the men in that district, and most of them had gone to the Wessex division. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why did you let them go?"] That Bristol firm was entirely dependent either on getting skilled work from other parts of the country—and where they could get it I do not know—or on the utilisation of the labour of unskilled men and women. In France a vast amount of work in the way of turning out shells, and especially the delicate work of fuse making, is done by female labour. Filling shells is done here very much by such labour. That is another problem.
The third problem is that the labour in the yards should put forward its best. Sometimes we do not get the best in the yards through the slackness of a mnority. Sometimes we do not get the best in the yards through regulations—useful and perhaps essential in times of peace—for the protection of men against undue pressure and undue strain, but which, in times of war, have the effect of restricting the output. If those regulations are withdrawn no doubt it increases the strain on the men, and, in a long course of years, men could not stand it. That is probably why these 1197 rules have been introduced by the trade unions, for the protection of the strength of the men so that it shall not be unduly exhausted. But in time of war everybody is working at full strength, and, therefore, it is important—it is difficult to exaggerate the importance of it—that restrictions that have the effect of depressing and diminishing the output of War material should temporarily be suspended.
I have had a good deal of evidence about that. I have the evidence of a very reliable witness, who assures me from his experience that, in some workshops, the output could be doubled if these restrictions were withdrawn. Some of them are written, but the most difficult are unwritten. The written ones are regulations not allowing unskilled men to work by the side of skilled men, not allowing unskilled labour to take work which up to the present has been occupying skilled labour, and not allowing one man to attend to more than one machine. These are the written regulations, and I have no doubt that each and all of them have a foundation in some sort of necessity for the protection of labour against undue claims upon its strength in normal cases.
But the most devastating regulations are those which are not written, those which limit the output by making it impossible for a man to put forth the whole of his strength without bringing upon himself the displeasure of his fellows. It is very difficult to talk about such cases. If you are asked to put forward the cases, in the first place the men who supplied that information do not care to make themselves unpopular. But I have a letter, a very able letter, from an unskilled educated man, who felt that it was his duty to do something for the State in this great crisis, and who applied for a job in a workshop where shells are turned out. The letter he writes me is a rather distressing one. He tells me that there is nothing in shell making that a fairly intelligent man cannot learn in a very short time. It is not highly skilled work. He applied himself to learning some particular branch of the work, and he asked one of the workmen to teach him. The workman very readily placed his services at his disposal, but instantly he was ordered off. He was not allowed to learn that trade, and at last he took some sort of employment in the works where he did not come into contravention with the regulations.
1198 The worst thing of all, he tells me, is that there is undoubtedly amongst a section of the men a deliberate discouragement of what they regard as turning out too much work in a piece-work establishment, which might have the effect of calling for a revision of prices. There is no doubt at all as to the meaning of it. The meaning of it is this—and employers are, I think, very largely to blame for it—that if a man works his utmost in turning out this work, then the employer says, "You earn £10 a week; that is monstrous." If all the men did the same, they would revise the scale of wages, and cut down piece-work; so the men, for their own protection, say, "We cannot do that, because the more we work the less our wages are." There are two sides to this question. We have a guarantee from the employers that no advantage will be taken of any relaxation of trade union practice in this respect, and that if the men, by putting the whole of their strength into their work, earn large wages there shall be no revision of the rate of piece-work. The second thing is that we must appeal to the men, for the sake of their country in a time of dire necessity and of dire peril, to put the whole of their strength into their work, to help their fellows in the field, and to give them a good chance. We ask them to put forth the whole of their strength without any regard to the practices of the past, relying upon the honour of a great nation that it will see fair play for them at the end of the War. This is so important. It is keeping the output down. It is diminishing the output. We can increase enormously some of the most important work which is turned out now if we have a frank abandonment, during the time of War, of all regulations, customs, and practices which have the effect of restricting output. The suspension of mere written regulations you could get, perhaps, in an Act of Parliament, or perhaps in an agreement with trade unions which is in writing; but, so far as the second and more important branch is concerned, the nation has only one thing to do—that is, to cast itself upon the honour of the skilled workmen of this country; and I am perfectly certain it will not do so in vain.
During the next three months those are the things that matter. The stopping of work through slackness no one has called attention to with greater courage than my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee (Mr. Wilkie) in the circular which he addressed to his own trade union. 1199 He showed commendable courage in the letter he circulated, and I think that deserves recognition. Undoubtedly, so far as the percentage is concerned, this does occur. The second thing is the removal of all regulations and practices, or rather I would not say removal but suspension, during the War on the honour and pledge of the nation that things would be restored exactly to the position they were in before the suspension of all these restrictions and practices which interfere with the increase of the output of war materials. The third thing is the prevention of the practice which has done more to destroy discipline in the yards than almost anything—that is the practice of employers in pilfering each other's men. It is absolutely impossible to obtain any discipline or control over men if a man who may be either slack or disobedient to a reasonable order is able to walk out at the moment, go to the works which are only just five or ten minutes off, and be welcomed with open arms without any questions being asked. That must be stopped. It is a practice for which the employers are responsible far more than the men.
The fourth point is that the danger of having stoppages of work by means of strikes and lock-outs ought to be removed during the time of the War. I should have liked to see strikes and lock-outs during the War made impossible in any trade, and I do not despair of getting the assent of those who object to compulsory arbitration under normal conditions to a temporary application of that principle during the period of the War. Those who are responsible for turning out munitions of war have assented to this proposition. I wish we could have got the miners and the cotton operatives and others to do the same. But I say quite openly to them that, so far as I am concerned, unless they can see their way and if they think the present methods are methods to which they would rather adhere, I certainly think it would be inadvisable to enter into any conflict with them at the present stage, when they are doing their very best and when, whatever anyone may say, the way in which the miners have come forward to enlist in our Armies voluntarily is one of the most conspicuous exhibitions of patriotic sacrifice that has been shown by almost any trade in the country. I believe that about 224,000 of them are enrolled in our Armies at the present day, and I was told by men whom I have seen at the front 1200 that no men have exhibited more desperate valour under trying conditions than the miners who have come from different parts of the country. I hope that at their meetings, which I understand are taking place to-day and to-morrow, they may see their way to fall in with the rest of the trade unions.
With regard to the workers on munitions, I have had several interviews with them, and interviews of the most satisfactory character, and after having had interviews in April and interviews during the last few weeks with leaders of the trade unions it would not be fair if I were not to recognise, on behalf of the Government, the patriotism with which they have responded to the appeal which has been made to them to do their best to assist the Government in tiding the country over this great War. We have arrived at a substantial agreement as to the conditions which would be acceptable to them as well as to us. The first is, so far as the munition workers are concerned—and this extends to the dockers—that there should be no strikes or lockouts, but, should there be any dispute, it must be referred for arbitration to certain bodies which were indicated in the Treasury Agreement of March of this year. I understand that that agreement has been submitted to the engineers of this Kingdom, and that by a substantial majority they have adopted its provisions. Those provisions we propose to incorporate in this Bill, so far as strikes and lock-outs are concerned.
The second provision is with regard to securing an adequate supply of labour where there is a deficiency of skilled labour. The first step we are taking is to get as many skilled men as we can back from the ranks of the Army. A very large number of men who are skilled engineers were recruited, especially in the early stages of the War. The War Office have found it most difficult to get them back. They prefer fighting to working in their shops and it is very creditable to their courage. When there was an invitation to them to stand out and report themselves they would not do it. There were a certain number of men who were not engineers, and who were getting rather tired of drilling, who suddenly found that they were fitters and drillers, and, at any rate, that they knew something about engineering. They came forward, but the moment they were sent down to the workshops we found that they were not engineers at all. So we are 1201 proceeding now from the other end, and about nine or ten days ago we sent out a circular to all engineering firms in this Kingdom, asking them to supply us with the names of the men who had left them and enlisted, and, so far as they could, to supply us with the names of the units they had joined. Now we have got the names of the men, and we are taking steps to get them out of their battalions, with the assistance of the War Office, if they are in this country. It is a much more difficult operation if they are at the front, and several of them, I am sorry to say, have gone to India.
The next step is one in which the trade unions are concerned. We had a very frank discussion between the leaders of the trade unions and myself, and I was bound to point out that if there were an inadequate supply of labour for the purpose of turning out the munitions of war which are necessary for the safety of the country, compulsion would be inevitable. They put forward as an alternative that the Government should give them the chance of supplying that number of men. They said, "Give us seven days, and if in seven days we cannot get the men we will admit that our case is considerably weakened." They asked us to place the whole machinery of Government at their disposal, because they had not the organisation to enlist the number required. We have arranged terms upon which the men are to be enlisted, and to-morrow morning the seven days begin. Advertisements will appear in all the papers. An office has been organised and the trade union representatives are sitting there in council directing the recruiting operations. I am not sure, but I believe my hon. Friend the Member for Glamorgan (Mr. Brace) is the adjutant-general. To-morrow we hope to be able to make a start. We have 180 town halls in different parts of the country placed entirely at our disposal as recruiting offices. We invite the assistance of everybody to endeavour to secure as many volunteers as they possibly can—men who are not engaged upon Government work now and skilled men—to enrol themselves in this trade union army for the purpose of going anywhere that the Government invites them to go to assist in turning out different munitions of war.
If there are any hon. Friends of mine who are opposed to compulsion, the most effective service they can render to voluntaryism is to make this army a success. If 1202 we succeed by these means—and the Board of Trade, the Munitions Department and the War Office are placing all their services at the disposal of this new recruiting office—if within seven days we secure the labour, then the need for industrial compulsion will to that extent have been taken away. I sincerely hope we shall succeed.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I cannot give it now, but it has been supplied. Full particulars will appear to-morrow of the conditions and the number of men. I have not got them with me at the present moment. Not merely do I sincerely hope it will succeed, I believe it will succeed, and if it does, of course, it is very much better that we should get the services of willing men to go of their own volition, heartily and cordially.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I think we had better not anticipate. I do not think it will help matters. For the moment, let us go as far as we are agreed, and the trade union leaders are entirely in accord with us here as we are with them. We are helping each other to get this voluntary army. We hope we shall succeed. If we succeed there will be no need for the argument of my right hon. Friend. That is the position at the present moment. It will be mentioned in the Bill to this extent. If you have a voluntary army of workers there must be a means of enforcing contracts. It is no use having 20,000 or 30,000 men who say, "We will go anywhere we are told," if, when the time comes, they refuse and you cannot compel them. They volunteer to enter into this contract, but once they enter into it it is a contract and it must be enforceable, and we take power in the Bill to enforce the contract. The other point of the Bill is that we take power to establish discipline in the workshops. Here, again, we discussed this matter with the trade union representatives, and we are not going beyond the agreement we have entered into. They admit that where men who voluntarily go into this army habitually absent themselves and make bad time when they know that the work is very urgent for the country, there ought to be some means of enforcing better time. It 1203 is proposed that there should be a Munitions Court set up with an employer and a trade union representative sitting upon it as assessors and a president appointed by the Government. They will decide in these cases where a man has a reasonable excuse for absenting himself, habitually, and they will have the power of inflicting a penalty. The other proposal is that employers shall not take men from other yards without certificates as to why they left those yards. If the employer whose yard they have left withholds a certificate, this Court will decide whether it was reasonably withheld or not.
I come to the point where the trade unions insisted, and I think properly insisted, on their share of the bargain. They said, workmen are quite willing to work for the State, to exert their whole strength and to suspend their trade union regulations, as long as they know that the work is of advantage to the country. But the objection in their minds always is that they are suspending trade union regulations important to them in order to increase the profits of individual employers. That they will not assent to, and they say, as a condition of all the other provisions to which they have given their assent, there must be a Clause in the Bill which will limit the profits of those establishments which are working for the State and that the provisions which I have enumerated only apply to establishments where the profits are limited. We propose to set up controlled establishments, so that where the State assumes control of a workshop all the conditions which I have referred to shall apply to that workshop. That means that the State assumes control of the profits of those establishments where munitions of war are being supplied at the present moment; that whatever suspension of regulations takes place it will be entirely for the benefit of the State and not of the individual employer. Upon those conditions the trade union leaders are prepared to accept those suggestions which I have already made.
I meant to have said one word about American contracts. I felt, in consequence of the great importance of the American and Canadian markets and of the innumerable offers which I have received, directly and indirectly, to provide shell munitions of war from Canada and the United States of America, it was very desirable that I should have someone 1204 there who, without loss of time, which must necessarily take place when all your business is transacted by means of cable, should be able to represent the Munitions Department in the transaction of business there and find out exactly the position. I propose to send over, on behalf of the Munitions Department, a gentleman who was once a Member of this House—a very able business man. He has business relations with America on a very considerable scale, and I propose to ask Mr. D. A. Thomas to go over to America for the purpose of assisting us in developing the American market. He will represent and exercise the functions of the Munitions Department, both in Canada and in the United States, and he will be given the fullest authority to discharge the responsible duties with which he is entrusted. Mr. Thomas will co-operate with the representatives of the Government, both in Canada and the United States of America. There is not the slightest, idea of superseding our existing agencies there. They have worked admirably. They have saved this country, I believe, millions of money. They have enabled us to develop the resources of that great Continent for the purpose of aiding us in a way which would have been quite impossible without their valuable assistance. Mr. Thomas will co-operate with Messrs. J. P. Morgan and Co., the accredited commercial agents of the British Government in the United States of America, with a view to expediting in every way the supply of munitions. While invested with full powers he will, no doubt, act in consultation with the authorities at home, except in cases of special urgency.
I have also had the privilege of meeting the representative of the French War Office, and we have developed still further measures for co-operation between the two countries, in respect of the output of munitions of war. There are many things France can do for us, and there are many things that we can do for France, but working together we can very largely increase the output of both countries. The problem of victory is a problem of mobilising our resources for the purpose of increasing the material of war. What was the condition of things with which we were confronted at the beginning of the War? Germany had been preparing for years. She had been preparing in a direction which we hardly suspected. We were naturally anxious lest she was 1205 making great secret preparations to strengthen her navy and to develop a sudden surprise attack upon us. I think, on the whole, there is nothing that she has done for her navy that had not been anticipated. There is nothing she had done for her navy that we had not prepared against. There has been no surprise in the turning out of any expedient of war which had not been foreseen so far as the Navy was concerned. The strength developed by submarines has been a surprise to us, but the number and the fact that they possessed them was known. That is not the case with her army. I called attention in 1913 to the fact that in my judgment Germany was concentrating upon developing the strength of her army and not of her navy, and I had rather a bad time because I ventured to do it.
What has happened? Germany had undoubtedly been preparing. She had been piling up materials. Until she was ready she was on the best terms with everyone. We all recollect the great Balkan crisis. Nothing could have been friendlier than the attitude of Germany. Nothing could have been more retiring, more modest or more unpretentious. It was always "After you!" She did not want to push herself to the front at all. She had a benevolent smile for France. She treated Russia as a friend and a brother. She smoothed down all the susceptibilities of Austria. She walked arm-in-arm with Great Britain through the Chancelleries of Europe, and we really thought that at last the era of peace and good will had dawned. At that moment she was forging and hiding up immense accumulations of war stores to take her neighbours unawares and murder them in their sleep. If this kind of trickery amongst nations succeeds, all the basis of international good will crumbles to the dust. It is essential for the peace of the world that it should fail. It is up to us to see that it fails. It depends more on Britain than anyone that it should fail. One of the pillars of good government is the security that evil-doing shall be punished. It is equally true in the sphere of international government. Valour alone will not achieve that end, otherwise our great Army would have accomplished it. It is not enough that 3,000,000 young men have offered their lives to their country. It depends upon us at home to support them with skill, with strength, and with every resource of machinery and organisation at 1206 our disposal, so as to drive the conviction into the heart of nations for all time to come that those Governments who deceive their neighbours do so at their peril.
§ Mr. CHAPLIN
The right hon. Gentleman drew a picture of the base, the wicked, and the deceitful conduct of Germany by which this country and other countries not long before the War were entirely misled. On that he founded an appeal to the House of Commons which really was not needed, because we are all of us here to support the Government in the great object which every man has in view, and that is to give effect to what the right hon. Gentleman told us was the problem of victory—the problem of the organisation of the industrial army at home. For that reason, and because with great frankness the right hon. Gentleman told us that it was extremely difficult to do in nine months what ought to have been done long before, I do not rise either to criticise or to cavil at the neglect of the late Government to organise the great industrial army at home efficiently and in time for the present War. That army is only less important than the great Armies that we have at present in the field; indeed, I think it is perhaps equally as important as those Armies, for it is certain that without the industrial army at home, and all that it can give us, we should not be victors in the War in which we are engaged. I prefer, instead of any criticisms of that kind, to remember the unequalled achievement which has been accomplished by that Government since the War began, namely, to create and to bring into being an Army of 3,000,000 men at least, I am told, and to train it ready to fight, with the exception of a few who are still waiting for their full equipment, which I hope and believe will shortly be completed. That achievement will remain for ever as a memorial which can never be forgotten and a tribute to those who have been responsible for it. It is a great effort which could never have been accomplished by any other country in the world. I will not say it could not have been accomplished by any other man, but probably by few men other than Lord Kitchener, and it is an achievement which we ought ever to remember.
There is something in connection with this which appears to me to be encouraging. It is everywhere rumoured, and I have been delighted to hear it, that munitions are now coming in more rapidly than ever before, and that contracts which ought 1207 to have been delivered in February are coming forward in much greater numbers every day, and that we may look forward to a continuance of that proceeding. Now we have the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman before us for the better organisation of this great industrial army. What are those proposals? When the question was discussed as to the creation of a Ministry of Munitions, I ventured to make the observation that the Bill then presented was merely a corollary of the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman in the country, and it was on that account that I accorded to it my support. I am afraid that would not be a correct description of the position at the present moment. I remember on that occasion a speech made by one of the Labour Members—I think the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Crooks)—and I was more or less converted by that speech. He pointed out to us that what the workers of this country wanted was guidance, and he added that what he had found in his recruiting speeches to the working classes was that the answer they always gave to him was, "Tell us what you want, tell us what we can do and we will do it." He added, "Point out to him where the work lies, and he will do it." Having listened to that speech I thought it probably indicated a better way than that which was provided by the Bill. I think it is desirable to be frank on all occasions, and I cannot help remembering—and that seems to me to be the only doubtful point with which we have to deal—that the workers have not always been guided by their leaders: they have refused their adhesion to the policy laid down by their leaders. My support of the proposals which are now before us are guided to a large extent by this consideration: That supposing under any circumstances the Bill which is now before us should not be as successful as it must be if we are to win the right hon. Gentleman will revert to other measures if it be necessary to do so. The right hon. Gentleman spoke at length, and I have taken a lot of notes of what he said, but I do not think it is necessary or desirable for me to deal with the points at length because I should be trespassing unduly on the attention of the House. I should, however, like to say that it is obvious from what the right hon. Gentleman said, as well as from all that we have learned for some time upon this subject, that the successful 1208 organisation of the great industrial army at home is absolutely vital to the success of our Armies in the field, and that no consideration must be permitted to interfere with the success of that new organisation. The right hon. Gentleman has had an opportunity of studying and considering this question more fully than any man in the country, and we can only hope and trust that the scheme which he has devised will be really effective for its purpose. In any case, so far as I am concerned, or anyone for whom I am entitled to speak is concerned, the right hon. Gentleman may be sure of getting full support for his experiments from us. Wherever we may sit, and to whatever party we may belong, we have one supreme consideration at this moment in our minds. We are engaged in a struggle for life and death with the cruellest, most savage enemy in the world, and everything must be subordinated to the task of obtaining the victory that we require. In comparison with that matter—great and supreme object—it does seem to me that such questions as the profits of employers and whether they be limited or not, or the prejudices of workmen as to abandoning any of their old traditions and practices in connection with trade unions, are not worth a moment's consideration. Most heartily do I hope and pray that these considerations will never be absent, either in this or in any future Debates upon the subject, from the mind and understanding of any Member who sits within these walls, and that the same consideration will also be present with employers and workmen in all parts of the country. Then, if we are all united honestly together in this view and in the accomplishment of the great object before us, I for one shall never have a shadow of doubt as to the ultimate outcome of this War.
§ Mr. HODGE
I am one of the fifty trade union representatives who have been in conference with the Minister of Munitions of War for some time, and at those conferences I agreed with every one of the proposals which he has outlined this afternoon. Being in hearty concurrence with the proposals put forward; coming to that conclusion as the result of the evidence that he submitted to those conferences, and backed up as it was by my own personal observations. From the evidence that he submitted, supplemented in the way that I have said, I believe that this Bill is not only necessary, but it is also a measure of 1209 extreme urgency. This is not the time, if one had the inclination, to analyse why such a measure is necessary. To some extent the Minister of Munitions has given the reason for it this afternoon—that the Germans had been preparing for this for many years, and that private enterprise had absolutely failed in filling the bill. I might also suggest that the Government were also somewhat to blame in this connection as well. I remember some months ago, when the right hon. Gentleman was speaking, suggesting that if the trade union officials were consulted they would be in a position to help to mobilise labour. I have not been asked from that day to this to do it, but I have been doing it on my own all the same. Only a fortnight ago I had a letter from one of our branch secretaries, saying, "Why all this talk about compulsion? There are fifty of us down here, turners, millwrights, roller men, furnace men, men engaged in the heat. Why talk about compulsion when we are here ready and willing to work."
There has been a great deal in the lack of organisation, and it is encouraging to think that now that the resources of the country are going to be thoroughly organised and mobilised the various trade union officials to whom the right hon. Gentleman referred, have expressed their willingness to do anything and everything that was possible to make this scheme a success. So far as I, individually, am concerned, I am willing to be either a speaker to the men in the munitions district or a recruiter, or to help in any rôle that may be assigned to me, because of my desire to help my friends, relatives and comrades who are fighting my battle at the front. There are one or two points that I think should be emphasised, so that possibly the right hon. Gentleman may make some reply later on. While I am in the fortunate position of knowing pretty fully, because of having been consulted, what the Bill will contain, a great many of my Friends here have not had that opportunity, and they would like to see the Bill in print and to have a day or two for the purpose of considering the various provisions in the Bill. I have no doubt that they think they can improve upon the work which the rest of us have done, and, if they can, I shall hail with satisfaction any assistance that can be rendered to us in that direction. I was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman appeal to the honour of the working man. We have had too much condemnation of the working 1210 man, because of his drunkenness, his shirking, and many others of his alleged crimes. We have heard a little to-day about the shortcomings of the employers, sneaking one another's men, but we know also some of the shortcomings of the employers in keeping their men on private work instead of putting them on to Government work. With respect to the rules and regulations of the trade unions, written or unwritten, I say that they must go by the board. It would be a sin and a crime of any workman to turn out only three shells if he could turn out four in the same time. We have got to realise what may happen to our soldiers at the front if there should be a lack in that direction; but the great fear of the ordinary working man, with respect to the relaxation of the rules, written or unwritten, is that he will be working twice as hard as he has been in the habit of working and piling up enormous profits for the private employer.
There is one thing that wants to be cleared up a little bit. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that in controlled establishments profits will be limited. But are profits going to be limited in outside establishments, who may be sub-contractors to the Government or sub-contractors to a contractor on behalf of the Government? That is the difficulty. Why should men be making sacrifices, if the sacrifices must be on their part and not on the part of the employer as well? There are many points of that description that require to be dealt with. There is not one of us who has any personal knowledge who does not know that there is a certain number of shirkers. We know, also, that there has been a great deal of slackness, as the result of drunkenness, on the part of a minority; and my experience, going about, is this, that recent legislation, for the purpose of dealing with the drunkard, is ineffective. Wages at present are very high. The magistrate cannot send to prison a man who has been apprehended for drunkenness. He has to give him the opportunity of paying a fine. The result is that the man goes to work for two or three days and makes 7s. 6d. or 10s. and pays his fine—that is, the money is earned and he gets free. I find that the regular, thoughtful, honest, industrious workman, who desires to do his best in this particular crisis, believes that that kind of man is dealt with too leniently. By his neglect, it may be, he is keeping idle a whole squad of men, and they think that, if he will not work for love of country, he 1211 ought to get hard labour and work in that way for the nation.
I trust that a good deal may be done in these directions. I can only say that, so far as I am individually concerned, and speaking for the society for which I am more directly interested, there has not been a single request made to us with respect to the provision of the munitions of war, or their acceleration, with which we have not complied instantly. I have pointed out again and again before those whom I represent, if they have raised any question, that it is much better that they should make self-sacrifices than that the men at the front should be injured or ruined as the result of any neglect on their part in that direction. I believe that, now that the right hon. Gentleman has appealed to the honour of the workers, a great many of them who have been thoughtless and careless up to the present will realise what the position is. I had occasion only this morning to send a wire to a certain section of men who were rather too selfish, pointing out to them that if they were like the men at West Hartlepool, who had had the test of bombardment and had seen their fellows blown to pieces as the result of that bombardment, they would put more heart into the work they are doing than is otherwise the case.
The fact is that the truth has not been told sufficiently to the workers of this country. It would be well if you could only let them know what our men were suffering, instead of having the newspapers full of the victories that our men were achieving, while all those who have intelligence know by a look at the map that these victories and gains are measured by feet or by yards. We want to get rid of that. We want to make our people all over the country realise what it is that we are up against. I want my fellow workers, at any rate, to realise that it is very much better to give up trade union rules and regulations, whether written or unwritten, than that the jackboot of Prussian militarism should be placed upon their liberties. When I look back and read the history of my country, I find that the privileges and liberties which we enjoy to-day have been built up bit by bit, generation after generation; and surely, when our brothers, our relatives and our comrades are seeking to maintain that heritage at the front, we should be prepared to make some little 1212 sacrifice to maintain that liberty, that freedom of speech, and that civil and religious freedom which we enjoy to-day, but which we would not enjoy if the mailed fist, which has threatened Europe so long, should prevail.
This is only the second time in my life that I have ever addressed the House, and therefore I feel that perhaps I shall not ask in vain for some indulgence. I feel that at this particular time there is apt to be too much speech-making, and I can assure the House that, were it not that I thought that I could add some useful contribution to the Debate, I would not take up their time. I do not come, though I have been ten months in France with the exception of a few weeks' leave, as a voice from the trenches, but at the same time I have had, perhaps, the peculiar opportunity of being near enough to have one's wits sharpened, and yet far enough away from the firing line to be able to judge of some things in a true perspective. I realise very clearly that anyone who speaks in this House as a soldier must accept a peculiar responsibility, and I can assure the House that I will take great care to keep within what I consider to be the right bounds. I cannot dispossess myself of responsibility as a Member of Parliament and representative of a large constituency. These times are abnormal, and I think some latitude must be granted in this connection. The views which I wish to express, I assure the House most clearly, are absolutely my own, both as a soldier and as a Member of Parliament. The Bill, which we have not yet seen, but which has been outlined by the Minister of Munitions, if I may be allowed to say so, seems to me to be very good so far as it goes. I am glad that such a much needed Department is to be established. There are one or two points on which I should like to ask information, because I am sure that the fact of this question being at last dealt with in the manner proposed, will be received in the trenches with a great sigh of relief. One point on which I wish to ask a question is, what is the relative position of this new Ministry to the War Office and the Army in the field?
I understand that it is the universal desire that as many munitions as possible should be got to the field, and I hope that no unnecessary delay may be caused. Is this new Department merely to be a supply office to the War Office, or is it to 1213 be allowed to establish direct communication with the Armies in the field? It seems to me that the Minister of Munitions should have a responsible commissioner established with the Armies in the field, in order to enable the Army to regulate demands by being previously able to ascertain what chances there are of its requirements being met. This plan would short-circuit delays, which would be unavoidable if every demand had to go through the ordinary channels and back again to the two big Departments. But the main feature of the scheme which has been outlined and which has made me feel it my duty to take part in the Debate, is that section of it which deals with State control of labour. In using the words "State control of labour," I understand from what the Minister of Munitions has said that should he not obtain sufficient voluntary battalions of munition workers promptly, that some form of compulsion must be introduced. I do not yet quite understand to whom that compulsion is to apply. Who is to select the men? To whom is compulsion to apply? But I will go one step further, and say that I think it would be much simpler, for the purpose of providing our men with war material, that it should have been applied from the very start, once for all. The way in which the Bill deals with the matter, I respectfully submit, is only a tinkering with the main proposition.
To me it seems that the nation still fails to grasp the meaning, size, and significance of the War which is now going on. If we look back on the last ten months—and, after all, it is looking back upon a perhaps somewhat distant standpoint—it seems to us that there have been great efforts to deal with different aspects of the situation, some of which have been successful and some of which seem to have had no co-ordination and no real deep consideration or policy. I give the instance of one and perhaps the greatest success, and that is the fact that volunteers were asked for in millions instead of in thousands. But I consider that the system was unfair and undiscriminating, and it has been expensive. Managers and foremen have gone from works where their labour and skill were indispensable; and equally so, as we have heard this afternoon, metal workers are lost in the trenches or in India. Married men we know have also gone, quite apart from the fact that single young men should have gone first, and the charge upon the nation will be greater if they 1214 leave widows and children behind. The drink problem, also, was one which was watched by the men in the field with great interest. We were told generally that this drink trouble accounted for the shortage of munitions. It was not so, but it seemed bad that in the middle of the War this House of Commons should have allowed vested interests to control as if we had been in times of peace. It seemed to us to have been a policy of weakness and delay.
The Bill we cannot judge on its merits, but, so far as we can make out, there may be a great disappointment. At the end of ten months the Government announce the tardy establishment of a Ministry of Munitions. This cannot but make one anxious, and the question is how long these spasmodic and unorganised efforts can stand the strain of war? Are the burdens equally and fairly distributed? Will the machine, as it is now, stand the increased strain which, in my humble opinion, is about to be put upon it? I think the one and only result will be this, that the best men who have worked hard in order to support this War will break down and the shirkers will escape. I think it would be wiser, if I might suggest it, to prepare for a long War. It appears to me that the great summer offensive will, undoubtedly, be carried forward in the face of enormous difficulties. There have been gallant attacks by our French Allies during the last six weeks, and those who have been permitted to watch those attacks can bear testimony, which is undeniable, that such gallantry cannot be surpassed. We are bound, our duty to our Allies binds us, to organise our nation to the limits of our power.
I do not think that the Bill before the House—we have not seen it—goes far enough. I see no reference to the problem of home organisation or national service for all. I do not believe, without it, that we will get to the bottom of our problems. I think you will still leave a sense of a great deal of unfairness and injustice rankling in the workers' minds. It seems to me that the only way in which the nation can act with its fullest weight is to strike, and strike quickly. As to national service, I quite understand that an ordinary academic discussion of that principle would be out of order on this occasion. But I must be allowed to make a confession on that subject. I was opposed as strongly as any man in the party to which I belong to any form of national service before the War, but during the War I have 1215 seen sufficient to make me satisfied that there is no system at present which will stand the test which is being applied to our Army. I had no idea, and I doubt if many men in this country had any idea, even the slightest idea, of the gigantic proportions which this War has assumed, but before the War is over we shall want men in greater numbers and munitions in larger quantities. In regard to the objections which can be most easily raised, it may be said with regard to the number of troops in the field that we have more troops at the moment than we can use or require. But when you come to the factories, and dwell on the statement which has been made this afternoon, it seems that men are very urgently required indeed, but the system of national service, once accepted, need not necessarily at present be applied to the obtaining of further recruits. It is only possible, on the framework of such organisation, with fairness to our people and in reference to our needs, to avoid the pitfalls into which we are drifting.
In regard to the duration of the War, if you take the line which I do, and if you think there is evidence that the War may be prolonged, or if you think it would be safer and wiser to be on the right side, then I suggest to you that, after a few months, disorganisation and troubles should be overcome, and you would, with national service, have at the end of that time a system working as smoothly as it does in the Continental countries with which we are allied. I have heard the speech of the hon. Member who has just sat down, and the question which I had in my mind to ask was, What is the real reason for trade union opposition to national service? It cannot be on the ground that it is undemocratic. My question, then, comes to this: Have the men really been asked? Has it ever really been put to them whether they did not think it would be to the advantage of all parties concerned if this national system of service were introduced? Has this alternative been put to them? I think that in the minds of most there is some spectre of what would really happen, but I do not think that the matter has been stated as openly and as clearly as it should be. The effect of anything like a disaster on a great scale will be to affect alike supporters and opponents of national service.
I am told—and occasionally paragraphs in the papers are seen to that effect—that 1216 there is a small anti-war party in the country. I wonder if that small knot or party imagines if things go against us and if we do not win, that there will still remain a civilised British community in which they can air their opinions and in Which they can carry on their ordinary daily lives. It seems to me, therefore, that everybody, from the top to the bottom, should realise what this alternative may be. Let every man realise that there can only be one peace, and that is a peace which the Allies dictate to our opponents. I do not believe that our opponents have any intention of making peace with us. If they win, then in my humble opinion and from the experience I have had and from what I have heard, they mean to destroy the race they fear most. The Report of the Commission over which Lord Bryce presided is, I can assure you, a mild affair compared with the hidden truths which were more difficult to prove, and that is the way in which they treated a comparatively harmless and helpless people. Surely it is wise of us to insure against every risk, and in spite of our political prejudices of the past to accept the most rigorous proposals for national defence as an insurance if they were nothing else. If those conditions seem onerous, what would they be compared with the conditions of defeat?
A Coalition Government now sits on the Treasury Bench, and I know that it is probably to a certain extent handicapped in this matter by the attitude that one side or other has taken in the past on this question, that if it were pressed by any one section it would be opposed by the rank and file of the other, and perhaps not get a fair run for its money. Could it not rise above that conventional consideration and use the power it actually possesses, if it honestly believes that this is fundamental to our existence, and press forward and carry it through? I realise how little effect any private Member can have in intervening in so important a Debate as this, and having watched the House for four years in the capacity of a Junior Whip, I know, in peace time, at any rate, how the eagles of debate are waiting to produce criticisms and pedantic objections to almost any theory which is brought forward, but I hope they will pause before they do it now in the midst of this fearful war and that they will not regard the question in an academic way. I feel instinctively that the nation is only waiting and pining to be told the truth, 1217 and I think if the Government comes forward boldly there will not be the slightest difficulty in bringing this measure into law. I know that if you leave anything whatever to chance in perfecting our organisation to withstand any and every strain, this solemn Assembly, with all its noble efforts and examples, will have failed in its duty and all the fair beauty and tradition of our England will fade away.
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Asquith)
I do not know if the hon. and gallant Gentleman, whom I am very glad to see once more amongst us, considers I am one of those birds of prey he has described as the "eagles of debate" in his very interesting speech, but my sole purpose in rising is to suggest to him and to the House that this is not the time or the appropriate occasion on which to discuss, or even to ventilate, the very serious and important topic which he has raised. I am certain, if we were to allow ourselves to be diverted from the serious topic which is now before us, that in that event differences of opinion would manifest themselves, and a certain amount of controversial spirit would be aroused, and it would be most unfortunate that that should be the case in regard to a Bill as to which I believe there is general agreement in all quarters of the House. We are not really concerned to-day, if the hon. and gallant Gentleman will allow me to say so, with the question which he has raised. What we are concerned with is a matter of vital and proximate importance, namely, the organisation of the productive resources of the country for the purpose of equipping our forces in the field with an adequate supply of munitions of war. On that topic I do not believe there is any difference of opinion amongst us. Of course, when this Bill goes into Committee, or upon Second Reading, there will, no doubt, be occasion, and legitimate occasion, for criticism of this provision or of that, but I think it would be most unfortunate if, upon this the day of its introduction, any jarring note should be sounded, or any impression given outside that the House is not united, or, indeed, even unanimous, in the pursuit of the object which my right hon. Friend has explained this afternoon.
I venture to make these observations in a most friendly spirit to the hon. and gallant Gentleman, whose remarks we all listened to with interest and respect because he has come fresh from the scene 1218 of action, and has now long experience of the actual conduct of the War, but I would add this, that I think it would be for the convenience of the House that at the earliest possible moment the Bill should be circulated, and, certainly, not later than Friday morning, and when the text is in possession of Members I hope we may be allowed to proceed with the discussion of the Second Reading on Monday, which will give ample time, at any rate, to get a general impression of its provisions and details, and that we might possibly take the Second Reading on that day. I can assure the House, speaking on behalf of the Government and, I believe, on behalf of both sides of the House also, the importance of passing this measure, in whatever shape the House likes it ultimately to assume, into law, and at the earliest possible moment, cannot be exaggerated. I hope we shall agree, without wandering into any topics which are either controversial or not strictly germane to the subject of the Bill, unitedly to press it forward to secure for my right hon. Friend in his new office the necessary Parliamentary powers for the efficient discharge of the great duty which the nation has entrusted to him.
§ Sir RICHARD COOPER
It was impossible to listen to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Munitions without feeling the conviction that the hopes and the confidence which not only the people of this House but the people of the country are placing him in are rapidly on the way to realisation. I only wish that Members of this House may be supplied with copies of his speech so that we may circulate it in our constituencies, because I believe that on an abnormal occasion like this the speech which the right hon. Gentleman has delivered ought to be brought to the immediate attention of every employer and of every workman from one end of the land to the other. I think every Member of the House will agree that it is the primary duty of all of us at the present moment to give the new Department every chance of settling down to its work. For my part, although I have had a great deal of correspondence and have offered a good deal of criticism in the past, I do want to leave entirely alone those matters which can be left alone in the hope that a very short time will enable us to see by experience that the difficulties of the past have been removed, and that the new Department is on its way to producing the maximum amount of munitions 1219 which this country is capable of producing. But there are one or two criticisms which I desire to offer, because at the present moment in the new Administration we are, in my opinion, perpetuating, and I think I can prove it, some of those evils which brought the previous Administration to the verge of disaster, and which required the formation of the new Department under the right hon. Gentleman. Mistaken loyalty must not be allowed to shield mistakes or incapacity, and for that reason I want to take one brief reference which the right hon. Gentleman made to the officials at the War Office, whom he spoke of in the very highest possible manner. I am going to ask this question: If his statement is strictly accurate, and if to-day the officials at the War Office, and it is the permanent officials I am speaking of, are fulfilling their responsibilities to the full, how comes it that there was ever any necessity for the formation of a new Department and a new Ministry? In my opinion the late Liberal Administration was not at fault. It was responsible to us, but it was the permanent officials, upon whom it had to depend, which led it into difficulties, and led us into the position in which we lost the winter and the spring for making adequate preparation for war.
There was a good deal of interest shown in the House, and only to-day again, with regard to the matter raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir H. Dalziel), and that is with regard to the remarks made by the Prime Minister last week. I do not want to dilate upon that now, or to say anything more upon the matter than is necessary, but I do want to ask who is responsible, and who could have been responsible for supplying him and other high responsible Ministers with information which to-day we know is wrong, except the permanent officials. There could only be one other person, and I am perfectly certain no one will believe that he was responsible for making a statement which we know to-day was incorrect, and in which the Prime Minister was mistaken. In order to emphasise the point a little more let me take the question of the organisation of industry which is the principal feature, and which I sincerely hope will be the most valuable feature of the Bill before us. The right hon. Gentleman in his speech said that the War Office, speaking of the past, thought 1220 that the system should be to work through existing firms and utilise their skill. He did not complete that reference or speak at any length upon it, but his remarks were to the effect that that had to be abandoned. I want to ask the hon. Gentleman who represents that Department when in the past did the War Office ever appeal to the industry of this country and tell them what they wanted and allow them to organise themselves? If it were necessary I could give an enormous amount of evidence to prove that industry since the War began up till recent times has been harassed and vexed, and everything has been done to put everything in the way of organising themselves and producing the munitions which our Army wanted, not weeks, but months ago. I cannot help fearing—I want to say this and have done with it—that what is happening now, under the present difficult circumstances is that, so far as industry is concerned, we are running a great risk of disorganising instead of organising it. If time were at the disposal of the Department, I can conceive that the State might to general advantage organise the industry of the country for some particular purpose. But time is of vital importance to us at the present moment. You want the production of shells to begin to-morrow. What is happening in connection with the organisation which is being set up? From one end of the country to the other you are refusing firms who are asking to be allowed to start to-morrow to make shells. You are saying to them, "Offer your works to the Local Munitions Committees." although those committees are by no means in working order at the present moment. You are taking measures to remove machinery, of which we have a great amount in this country—some of it very old, but capable of doing admirable work so long as you leave it where it now is—to central factories, particularly in the Birmingham area. If you remove that machinery from existing works into central factories you will enormously reduce the possible output of the vast number of machines of different kinds capable of producing shells.
I believe that if only the Department would plainly tell the country what they want, offer them specifications to work to, fix prices—just as the War Office has done in connection with Army clothing, to the satisfaction of the manufacturers concerned—and give industry an opportunity 1221 of showing what it can do, and of organising itself, I will not say that no regulation or no organisation whatever by the State would be needed, but it would be reduced to a minimum; it would be reduced practically to the appeal to industry, to employers and to workmen, which the right hon. Gentleman has this afternoon so very properly and wisely made, without, I am sure, any risk of failure. There are an enormous number of firms in this country, especially small firms, who have been trying, not for weeks, but for months, to do something to help the Government in the production of munitions of different kinds, but they have all been turned down. That has been done, not merely in the past but this week, by a printed form similar to that which has been used previously, and which is so brief that I will read it:—I have to thank yon for your favour and to say that it will have attention. Should opportunity arise of taking advantage of the kind offer you make, I shall at once communicate with you.That is dated the 16th June, and it is from the new Department. It is the principle which has been followed by the permanent officials in the past of systematically turning down everybody who has offered help to the Government. Nothing more is ever heard from them after this polite form of acknowledgment. There is one great difficulty which has not been referred to by the right hon. Gentleman in connection with the organisation of industry, which again comes back to the maladministration of the past, and is being perpetuated by the permanent officials to-day. Many firms have been in the past sub-contracting to one of the armament firms. Other firms who have offered to manufacture for the Government have been turned down and left only with the option of manufacturing for the armament firms. With all earnestness I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to take note of this: Rightly or wrongly an enormous number of business men in this country are suspicious that if they work for anyone except directly for the War Office or the Munitions Department, they are working for vested interests and the armament ring. They fear, rightly or wrongly—I think with a great deal of justification—that in being placed under the local munitions committees they are being placed under the heel of the armament firms. These people are ready and loyal enough to work at a lower price for the Government, but they will not work for the purpose of putting large profits into the pockets of the armament firms. If this is a misunderstanding 1222 —I am afraid it is not—remove it at once, and let the manufacturers feel that they can respond immediately to the requirements of the State without any fear that they are being sweated for the benefit of the armament firms.
§ Sir J. D. REES
Does my hon. Friend speak with authority in stating that there is an armament ring? If not, it is an extremely serious statement to make.
§ Sir R. COOPER
When the hon. Member reads the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow he will find that I was most careful to speak of the armament "firms." I never said a word about the armament "ring." [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes!"] If I did, I can only say that I was trying to avoid doing so.
§ Sir R. COOPER
I know it is as true as that the sun is going to rise to-morrow morning, but I cannot prove it. For that reason I want to refer simply to the armament firms. I am very glad to make the correction that in so far as my observations have gone I have been referring to armament firms.
§ Sir R. COOPER
Certainly. There are the prices at which they have worked for armament firms and the prices for which they themselves in a similar position have done work for the Government direct. There is a 40 per cent. margin. While I am on this subject I may observe that the right hon. Gentleman when going about the country—notably at Bristol—has with him two officials, both of whom are ex-directors of armament firms. When the War is over, what is the natural living for these gentlemen but to return there? I only throw that out as a hint. I may give one other illustration of the mistakes which are being made to-day, and for which the permament officials alone are responsible. I refer to the inspection of works and the refusal to have anything to do with agents, however high their standing or ability. With regard to the inspection of works, in times of peace it is a very necessary protection to take. But if you are appealing to the industry of this country or of Canada or of the United States to give you what they can, if yon give contracts for goods which are to come 1223 up to specification, and if you only accept and pay for goods which pass your inspectors, why waste weeks, as you are doing at present, in inspecting works? You may have certain other reasons; I am quite aware of that; but there are very few cases where that operates. If a firm is already engaged in contracting or sub-contracting for the Government, there is need for inspecting the possibility of their taking any further contract without prejudicing the contract or sub-contract already existing. But in all new cases, some of which I will refer to presently, I cannot see the purpose of wasting the time of officials by sending them about the country or to America for the purpose of inspecting works. Whatever justification may be alleged for the inspection of works, upon what ground is it necessary for the British Government to prevent any firms who have been refused by the British War Office from getting a contract for one of the Allies unless the British War Office can inspect their works and pass them as satisfactory? That is what has happened. Here is a letter written from the War Office on the 9th April:—Before the question of allowing you to supply shells to an Allied Government can be considered, it is necessary that you should supply the name and address of the works at which the shells will be manufactured.I am raising this point because there has been a principle systematically followed by the permanent officials which, so far as I know, is being followed to-day, by which they victimise certain firms. They will not listen to them under any consideration, and other firms are getting orders. I cannot understand why this distinction is taking place. Not only do they apply this principle so far as concerns contracts for the British War Office, but they extend it even to firms who are not allowed to make shells for the War Office, but who want to do the next best thing they can and make them for the French, the Serbians, or the Russians.
§ Mr. C. DUNCAN
On a point of Order. Can you give us any idea how far off we are from the Bill before the House?
§ Sir R. COOPER
Of course, I am in favour of the Bill. My reason for making these observations now is that by an arrangement of the Government, at their own wish, the statement which was to have 1224 been made earlier by the Minister of Munitions, and which I believe it is usual for such a Minister to make, has been deferred until to-day, and it has now been made in conjunction with the introduction of this Bill. Three-fourths of the speech of the Minister of Munitions had nothing whatever to do with the Bill which he was introducing. Of course, if the House does not wish to listen to me, that is another matter.
With regard to agents, the matter is really serious, because exactly the same course is being followed by the permanent officials of the Munitions Department as was followed last March and last January. The Munitions Department cannot do without the accredited and responsible agents of big firms. If you say that you will have nothing to do with such people, you do not save their commission; you simply pay it in a different way. If you will not deal with agents who have powers of attorney in London for their firms, who have their guarantees at one of the big banks in the city, and who are ready to negotiate and interview, you have to set up new machinery of your own; you have to appoint new officials to travel across the Atlantic and all over England to conduct interviews which these agents would have done for you for nothing at all. You cannot do without them. Business men of this country cannot do without middlemen. I have tried it myself and failed. I have to go to them, and so has everybody else in old-established businesses. An enormous amount of delay in getting supplies, both in this country and in North America, has been brought about by the persistent determination of the Department in the past, and perpetuated to-day, to refuse to deal with responsible and high-class agents. The War Office have not made any difference between the ordinary tout—and we know there are plenty in this country—and the commercial traveller, the accredited agent with a power of attorney, or the man who is finding for one factory in this country £100,000 to equip it and enable it to turn out shells. I recently brought this firm to the notice of the right hon. Gentleman. Last April they begged for a contract to make shells, and would have been turning out, I think, 10,000 a day at the present time. They have been turned down. The agent who tried to negotiate the matter here in London was turned down regularly by the War Office.
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
The hon. Gentleman will forgive me for interrupting, but was 1225 not that contract offered on a basis of shells to be delivered in December, 1916?
§ Sir R. COOPER
I will undertake to take a contract for that firm at the present time, delivery to commence within four weeks from signing the contract. I have 24,000,000 shells which I am going to bring to the notice of the House in a moment. As some evidence and proof of the statements I have made on these matters, I am in a position in regard to England at the present minute—and I offered it last week—to offer to the hon. Gentleman 3,000,000 3-inch to 6-inch shells and shrapnel or high explosive. I cannot give a price till we get the specification, but I will undertake that it will be no higher than what the Government are now paying. In the last offer I made two months ago I offered shells at 3s. a shell cheaper than what the Government were paying, and have paid since. I offered 3,000,000 shells made in Britain, a lot the new organisation cannot touch. If the Government, or the Department, take the right step, they can remove the barriers and get to these people. There are these shells—[An HON. MEMBER: "Made in the United Kingdom?"] Yes, certainly—and the people waiting. Three months from signing the contract they will be produced at the rate of 45,000 per week. There is one other matter I would like to make reference to. The right hon. Gentleman, in his speech dealing with the Bill, made a reference to profits which I confess I do not in the least understand. I am very sorry that he was not able to make that clearer, and show exactly what he proposes to do in his Bill on the subject of profits. I admit, certainly theoretically, that the idea of turning war profits into the Treasury is an admirable one; but we have got to look at the thing from a practical point of view. We want shells. We want them to-day, and not six months hence. It will be a very dangerous expedient indeed—though Members may generally approve of the idea—to try and control or limit the profits which a firm can make.
If the Government themselves would set up a place to make these guns and shells at a lower price than they are paying for them, that would be all right, and would save money, which would no longer be going into the pockets of these firms in the way of undue profits. But looking at the practical facts of the case, to interfere in the profits is, in the circumstances of emergency that we are now in, going to 1226 have the effect of stifling the output. Further, there is this difficult problem: What about the very large profits that are being made under contracts of this kind in the United States and Canada? The Government cannot touch these. Why should British industry give up profits and manufacturers abroad be allowed to reap the whole benefit and profits of the orders which they receive? Speaking of the United States, in view of the right hon. Gentleman's statement to-day about Mr. Thomas's visit, there is no need to say very much, but I do take very great exception indeed to his statement that this country has saved a great deal of money by the Morgan agreement. This country has lost millions of money by the Morgan agreement. I will tell the House how it came about. That agreement was made with the Morgans of New York when the British Government were tied to one-fifth of the potential output of munitions in the United States. Four-fifths of the output in the United States are lost to this country at the present time. I admit frankly that that agreement, in its basis, had a very good reason for being made. I believe I am right in saying that its original purpose was to protect the gold reserves of this country—a most laudable and necessary thing to do—but the practical operation of it has been that you have delayed enormously the deliveries of munitions which you sadly wanted: you have done the one thing above all others that could put up the price, and that is restrict the competition to a few groups who are now filled up with orders for the British Government.
Last week I made an offer to the Munitions Department of 3,000,000 shells made in the United Kingdom, of 5,000,000 shells made in Canada, of 16,000,000 shells made in the United States, of guns up to 8-inch, of 1,000,000,000 cartridges for rifles, and of 2,000,000 rifles. Delivery of these was to commence in October at the rate of 25,000, with 50,000 in November, and increasing monthly. The prices can only be given when one has a specification, but they would not be higher than the Government are paying at the present time. There would be the fullest bankers' guarantees, commercially speaking the fullest references, and information given as to works and everything else that is required, if only the Department will say that in any particular case they mean business, and that when the information is given they will not go behind the backs 1227 of the people in this country and cable over to the United States or Canada and try to get the orders placed behind the backs of the responsible agents in this country. That is the offer I made last week. A little later I shall want to know why it has been refused. I have not pressed that matter before. I was content to be guided by those whom I know were in a difficulty at the present time. Now the circumstances have changed I shall be justified in asking a little later the official reason why the Government will not accept that offer, and place orders for the goods offered to them. The supplies are available. Why all this organisation?
The additional amount of production in this country that the State can hope to bring about by the very best organisation can scarcely amount to 24,000,000 shells. It is a very tall order. These are ready and waiting for you, and deliveries can commence in one month from the date of signing the contract. Having said that much, having offered that criticism, I do want to assure the hon. Gentleman of this, that I am prepared now to leave these matters entirely alone. I have worried him a very great deal. Certainly my thanks are due to him for the very courteous consideration he has given to me. What I want now to do, if it does not sound offensive, is to try and open the eyes of the Department to that which I believe they have not yet seen; that is the dealings of the permanent officials with the agents, and the consideration of the enormous amount of munitions which have been open to the War Office for months past, and have been turned down. I can only ask, and hope, that the hon. Gentleman will see that early inquiry is made into these matters to see whether my statements are true. I am certain that the Minister of Munitions and the Parliamentary Secretary himself, are both determined, without hesitation, to do the right thing if they know what is the right thing to do. In the hope that I have, at any rate, contributed a little in that direction, I have offered these few observations this afternoon.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
It is due to the hon. Baronet opposite to say that the majority of Members on this side of the House believe that the speech he has delivered is an extremely helpful one. My only regret is that the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for East Dorset (Captain 1228 Guest) has left the House. I listened to his speech with a great deal of interest. It is not now my intention to follow him into the more controversial topics upon which he dealt. But it struck me that in his speech he unwittingly and unconsciously betrayed himself into serious inconsistency. He comes to this House not, it is true, as a voice from the trenches, but as a voice from the staff. He comes as a military officer, and he makes an attack upon the administration of the War Office which he himself serves. He also comes as a late Member of the Liberal Administration, and he attacks some of the legislative achievements of that Administration. Surely it is strange that the Gentleman who is advocating discipline for the whole country should, in the course of one speech, be guilty of two such flagrant breaches of discipline. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Yes, an attack upon his official superiors in the War Office, and upon his official superiors in the Ministry.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I do not in the slightest question the devotion of the hon. and gallant Gentleman to his country, but I was only going to point out that the assurances which we received from him on former visits, when he was on leave from the front, indicate that he took then a very different view of the duration of the War. Only a few months ago we were assured that the War would be over by now. If his judgment was so much at fault, what reliance are we to place upon that judgment now? However, I did not desire—
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I am not quoting them as having been said in this House. I did not indicate that they were said in the House, nor am I quoting anything that was said under a seal of confidence. But if my hon. and gallant Friend objects to anything I have said as representing his views I am quite willing to stand corrected. I merely desired to say that the test of the hon. and gallant Gentleman's judgment before is a very fair test and criterion now.
Whatever the conversations in the earlier period of the year they were based upon the knowledge and 1229 experience up to that time; a great deal has happened since, and a man may-change his mind.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
That is a very fair defence to the argument I was setting up. At the same time I was quite entitled to put the point I was putting as to testing the value of the judgment of the hon. and gallant Gentleman. I quite agree that many things have happened in the interval, but an unwary judgment may also be formed upon increased experience. The speech of the Minister of Munitions seemed to me to be admirable in every respect, except as an exposition of his Bill. I think the House will agree that he might very well have taken a leaf out of the book of his successor at the Treasury and followed his example in the matter of exposition of policy in expounding the conditions of the War Loan in this House on Monday. The speech of the Minister of Munitions was admirable in the first place as a statement of the overwhelming task which this country has to perform in this War. It was admirable, also, as a statement of the effort which will be required of the country. Yes, and it was admirable also as a tremendous indictment of the late Government of which he himself was a Member. But my admiration ceased when he came to his exposition of the policy which is in the present Bill.
So far as I can understand the Bill—and I hope the two secretaries to the Minister of Munitions, whom we congratulate on seeing on the Treasury Bench in their new capacity, will correct me if I make any mistake—it seems to me from the right hon. Gentleman's explanation that he had induced the trade union leaders of this country to assent to two novel proposals. The first of these proposals was compulsory arbitration during the period of the War. He said that he had obtained their consent to compulsory arbitration on the footing that there was to be a limitation of profits to employers. I can very well understand the trade union leaders accepting that condition, but I think the House might very well have been informed, when this Bill was being introduced, what was the nature of the limitations upon the profits of employers. The right hon. Gentleman also spoke of one employer grabbing the labour of another employer. I suppose that means that one employer at the present time competes with another in the market for the labour; in other words, you have a free market for labour, 1230 in which it happens, for the first time for many years, that the demand for labour is greatly in excess of the supply. But, under the conditions which he mentioned, there is to be no longer a free market for labour; no longer will the workman be able to sell his labour in the open market. In other words, the workman in this country is to be the only man who cannot sell the only commodity he has, namely, his labour, in the open market. I think that is a serious thing, and I think that labour should have asked for something more than the limitation of the profits of the employer. They should have said: "Our labour is all that we have to sell, and if there is going to be a maximum price for labour, there ought to a maximum price for every one of the commodities we have to buy." I think the working men of this country will require that also of the Government. I would ask whether the Minister of Munitions, by inadvertence, omitted to mention that the trade unions had insisted on maximum prices for other commodities, as well as labour, as a condition of their acceptance of compulsory arbitration.
The other novel proposal to which the Minister of Munitions has obtained the assent of the trade union leaders is the enrolment of a voluntary munitions army. I express no opinion as to the probabilities of the success of that experiment. I understand that already a similar experiment has been made in connection with clock labour in Liverpool. I understand that, with the co-operation of the trade unions, a voluntary army—or, rather a voluntary battalion—of dock labourers there has been enlisted, amounting to about 550 men. Up to the present I have not been able to obtain any trustworthy account of the success of this battalion. I made it my business to inquire of one of the largest shipowners in Liverpool, as to his experience, and his account of the working of the system is not at all favourable to a repetition of the experiment in respect of any other class of labour in this country. But the most interesting thing about this proposal is, what are the conditions? The Minister of Munitions said that the trade union leaders had asked for seven days in which to enrol this voluntary munitions army, but when he was asked he could not tell the House how many men this munitions army was to contain. That, surely, is a very strange admission. Surely it is one of the essential things in the initial success of the experiment. We 1231 are told they are to have seven days to enrol an indefinite number of men. But what is to happen at the end of the seven days? The Minister of Munitions seemed to me to be studiously vague.
I think it is due to us, before this Debate concludes, to have it definitely from the Government what the trade union leaders assented to, if they were unable to enrol this indefinite army in seven days' time. Is this the position: that under this Bill the voluntary system is condemned, the verdict is against it, but sentence is deferred for seven days? Is that the situation? It is well that we should know, and that on the very threshold, before this voluntary army is to be enlisted; and also that we should know well before the Second Reading of this Bill comes before the House. These are all very important points. We are told that the Bill is not to be circulated until Friday, after Members have separated, and we are to come back, without having any possibility of consultation, to decide on the Second Reading of a Bill which is introducing novel proposals, highly contentious in principle, and with which it is of the greatest consequence that we should deal with the utmost deliberation in this House. I have no doubt it will be represented that in the points I am making I am seeking to make party points against the Minister of Munitions. It is nothing of the sort. I believe it is of the utmost importance that the people of this country should know the truth as to the policy of the Government before that policy is adopted. I do not happen to be in the position of hon. Members below me, who are trade union leaders. I am not like the hon. Member for Gorton (Mr. Hodge) in that respect, but I happen to represent, among the 23,000 electors of North-West Lanarkshire, a very large number of members of his union, and I think it is my duty, as their representative in this House, independently of what he does behind closed doors, to apply my judgment of that policy, and to arrive at a decision as to whether that policy is in their interests and the best interests of the country as a whole.
§ Sir LEO CHIOZZA MONEY
I hope the hon. Member will forgive me if I do not follow him into the points he has raised. I would rather address myself to some others, which perhaps I may describe, as he described his, as of some importance. The Prime Minister, who wields an un- 1232 exampled authority in this House, has appealed to us to-day not to widen the discussion by carrying on the Debate that was opened in so interesting a manner by the hon. and gallant Member who addressed us from the other side. I would say that I desire to follow and obey the admonition of the Prime Minister. At the same time, I think it would be a great pity, as I took occasion to say in another Debate in this House the other day, that we should discuss this matter in watertight compartments. You cannot do it properly. You cannot bring proper consideration to this matter of the increase of munitions if you do not have full regard to our methods of recruiting, what those methods have done, and what they are doing. I am compelled to make a slight I reference to that subject, but I think my references will not go beyond the matters raised by my right hon. Friend who opened the Debate.
The Minister of Munitions indicated what an enormous recruiting of the wrong men had occurred. He spoke of the desire of his new Department to bring back from the front, and from those places in the United Kingdom where men are in training, a very large number of men for the manufacture of munitions of war. It is not easy to get them back. The number of men that have been, if one may put it so, wrongly recruited—injudiciously recruited—must be something in hundreds of thousands. That is my statement, and not the statement of the right hon. Gentleman; but I think it is a proper deduction from what the right hon. Gentleman said. I do not think my right hon. Friend will succeed in getting back tens of thousands out of the hundreds of thousands, who, I venture to say, have been injudiciously recruited. That is not the end of it. Unfortunately—and that is why it is necessary to raise the subject in this Debate—the wrong recruiting is still going on. Day by day men that we urgently need to carry on the essential industry, men that we need to produce food, which is also a munition of war, are being drafted into the Army. Now my right hon. Friend wants to bring back a number which may be in dispute, but which is undoubtedly large. Let us consider what has already occurred. These men have been trained at great expense, and provided with clothes and accommodation. A large amount of money has already been wasted upon them.
Are we to continue that waste in the near future by continuing a system of 1233 recruiting which is indiscriminate? The appeals are still on the walls and in the newspapers. They are indiscriminate appeals, and they do not warn those who see them that if they are engineers, boiler makers, turners, fitters, agricultural labourers or miners, and are engaged in those occupations, they ought to disregard the invitation to join His Majesty's Army. The advertisements are indiscriminate, and the recruiting continues to be indiscriminate, and as the result we are losing day by day the very men we want at home, even at a time while there is an enormous number in this country of men still unrecruited who are non-producers. How great that number is can only be realised by those who have given some study to the conditions of employment in this country. In the whole of the United Kingdom at the outbreak of the War, there were 4,250,000 males of all ages over eighteen years who were engaged either in mining or manufacturing. If hon. Members will consider what that figure means, it will be seen that it was really unnecessary to recruit a very large proportion of those men. That recruiting was a mistake, and unfortunately that mistake continues. What attempt has been made to get back those men? I have been very anxious on this point, and my anxiety has been increased by a letter which I have received from a relative of my own with regard to the men under his command. He tells me, in a letter dated 19th June, that he has just had to render a statement of all men who before enlisting were engaged in the production of munitions of war, and he says that the War Office do not define what they mean by munitions of war, and consequently each officer is naturally interpreting the phrase in a different way. This officer remarks that consequently the War Office will not obtain information of the value which they might have obtained if they had only defined what they mean by munitions of war.
In this particular command to which I am referring there is about 600 men, and one-third of them are agricultural labourers. I point this out as being of extraordinary importance with regard to the question of the preservation of our food supplies. Of course you can afford to take out of all these great trades a certain proportion of men. You can afford to take out of the mining industry, and the agricultural industry, and other great trades a certain proportion, but you cannot afford to take more than that pro- 1234 portion. If you take those proportions, you can easily obtain such a comparatively small Army as we have. Let me remind hon. Members of the possibilities which have actually been proved in the nation with which we are at war. My right hon. Friend pointed out that we have opposed to us a nation which is organised. Does any hon. Member think that we can beat organisation without organisation? Take the case of this great enemy with which we are confronted. It has a population only 50 per cent. greater than the population of this country, but it has raised an army enormously greater than ours; and yet that nation has found it possible to produce 1,000,000 tons of steel per month, although it has this enormous army in the field. That means that they have not allowed to go to the War the men who are required to make that 1,000,000 tons of steel per month, and I do not think we are producing one-half the amount of steel that Germany is producing.
§ Sir CHIOZZA MONEY
I am not speaking of pig-iron; I am speaking of steel. Here we have a very much smaller iron and steel industry, and yet we have allowed a very much larger proportion of the men working in our iron and steel industry to go to the War, with the result that we are not able to produce steel with the same facility as Germany, although Germany has a much more numerous Army than we have. I think that goes to the very root of the subject. I have heard it said again and again, "If you do not enlist these men from these great trades, where are you going to get your Army from?" I ask, "Where has Germany got her army from?" There is another point in that connection in reference to getting the men back. So many men have written to me on this subject that I took the trouble to write to the War Office to ask what they should do if they wanted to get back to their trades. On 8th June Mr. G. M. Booth wrote from the War Office Armaments Committee a letter, from which I will read a few lines to the House, in order to show what was being done at that date. I wrote in regard to a specific case of a man in the Welsh Fusiliers who wanted to get back into industry. The reply was that he should apply through the firm for whom he was working in the construction of big guns, and that firm was to apply for his release to the 1235 Armaments Output Committee at the War Office. I suggest to those in charge of this matter that that is not so much business as circumlocution. That is not the way to enable the man to get back. The particular firm for which the man was working might not want that particular man, and therefore you want some machinery to enable such men to be drafted to places where they are wanted most. I should like to think, from the observations which have been made by my right hon. Friend, that this particular system has been thrown over and a better system devised. The date of that letter is the 8th June, but I am afraid that is the system which still obtains. How do these things strike the men? I should like on this point to quote from a letter which I have received from an intelligent working man in Yorkshire. He says:—Here at the military camps there are hundreds of fine, strong young labourers and plasterers of military age and single—An hon. Member asked me just now where shall we get the men from, and this is one example—whose duty ought to be in Flanders instead of somewhere in Yorkshire. This is not the system that will bring success to our Army against Germany. The German nation would not employ a vast army of eligible young men, who ought to be fighting, on military huts, work which disabled soldiers could do who have been discharged from the Army.That is how it strikes this man, who seems to have a better notion of what ought to be done than those in charge of this business. I said in the House the other day that with our existing resources we could in this country find not only an Army much larger than we now possess, but we could find all the workers required to make munitions, and yet have over a number of workers of all ages, not, of course, all men of military age, although it would include some of them, but of all ages and both sexes, numbering something like 17,000,000. As some doubt has been thrown upon that statement, and as we are opposed by an enemy who believes in organisation, let me point out what must be the case in Germany at this time. Out of 68,000,000 Germany has something like 37,000,000 of both sexes either engaged in the War, or connected with the War, or carrying on ordinary peace operations. If Germany has 8,000,000 fighting men she must have left 29,000,000 working persons to carry on. Those who doubt that statement may be directed to these facts. I have already called attention to the fact that Germany is making in war time twice 1236 as much steel as we are making in peace. Not only can Germany find the men for her army East and West, but she can also find the men to make new plants to manufacture substitutes for the supplies we are cutting off.
Germany failed to get nitrates because we cut off her supply of Chilian nitrates. Now we have it on the authority of scientific men that Germany has set up new plants to carry out with coal power what was done before the War with water power in order to fix the atmospheric nitrogen necessary to produce nitric acid, which is the basis of modern explosives. How can a nation which has got an army three or four times as great as ours in the field establish new industrial plants unless there is in Germany such an organisation as that of which I have spoken? It is a revelation of what organisation can do. It is not a miracle, but a question of businesslike order and organising properly the resources of the nation. It is important to remember that this organisation must extend not only to war but to peace, and it must carry you beyond the mere manufacture of munitions of war, commonly so-called. If it does not do that then you cannot get a proper supply of the materials required in the direct production of munitions of war. I am only sorry that these considerations do not appeal more forcibly to some of my hon. Friends. I have endeavoured to study this subject very carefully, and in regard to some of these particulars I have greater advantages in studying them than some of those who disbelieve what I am saying. Certainly I would never utter these things without the most careful consideration.
The bogey of compulsion has been raised in this connection. I do not believe that this nation, especially in the middle of a great war, is afraid of the exercise of law which is commonly called compulsion. There is an overwhelming weight of public opinion in favour of bringing all the resources of this nation to bear upon the operation of the War. The only difference between any of us must be whether that concentration of energy in the manufacture of munitions, and in the carrying out of the military and naval operations, can be secured by what is called voluntary effort, meaning that you shall rely upon the different elements of the nation doing what it is necessary to do of their own free will without agreeing to common rules of conduct and without agreeing to an ordered 1237 organisation. As soon as you desire an ordered organisation, you must have law to carry it into effect. That is just as true of a cricket club as it is of a nation. I never yet heard of successful cricket being played with a wicket-keeper who could go on to bowl when he liked or where the men did not agree to take orders from their captain.
§ Sir CHIOZZA MONEY
My hon. Friend forgets that we are all members of a club from which we do not desire to escape, and there is only one way in which we can secure rules for our club, and that is to have a Parliament to make them.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
May I remind the hon. Member that he started out by saying that he would respond to the appeal of the Prime Minister and would not stray into this topic?
§ Sir CHIOZZA MONEY
I am obliged to you, Sir, for reminding me of that appeal, and I bow at once to the admonition which is conveyed to me. I hope that I shall not stray beyond the limits of what was said by the Minister of Munitions in his opening speech. I would therefore, in conclusion, beg the House most earnestly if they desire to bring all the forces of the nation, its manhood, and its womanhood, too, to bear upon this terrible problem which we have got to solve, to realise that they must ask the nation to agree to submit common rules of order which will enable it to do the thing which it has at heart.
§ Mr. J. A. PEASE
Any Bill introduced into this House at the present juncture to facilitate or to promote the efficient provision of munitions of war is calculated to receive not only a friendly but a most enthusiastic reception from this House, and I congratulate the Government on having brought in a Bill which will assist them very materially in increasing the quantity of munitions which are required by our forces fighting at the front. This is not the time for me to enter into any criticism of the Bill which I have not yet seen. I admit that there are several subjects which I have not fully comprehended. I do not know if anybody will rise from the Government Bench, but if they can throw a little additional light before Friday on one or two points I think that it would be more 1238 satisfactory to the House and to the country. I take, for instance, the question of the control of firms. I want to know when a firm becomes a controlled firm. Is it a firm which exclusively provides munitions of war for the Government, because there are many firms which do produce either raw material, or which manufacture material, or which do half and half, and some of those materials they may sell to other customers who in turn produce Government material out of them? I want to know whether firms of that kind are to be regarded as firms producing munitions of war, who will come under the control of the Government? Then I should like to know what are the arrangements made with these controlled firms as to the compensation which will be paid to them. If they are going to be taken under control, they are naturally going to devote the whole of the interests of their shareholders for the benefit of the State, and they are going to be deprived of a great number of possible private contracts which it may be very difficult for them to pick up again. The question of compensation and of the price which is to be paid is one which will interest a great many firms in this country.
There is the question of the powers which are going to be entrusted to the committees which are to settle disputes in the various munition firms. I do not quite understand how those powers are to be exercised, or whether in addition to the power of determining the points which the Minister of Munitions pointed out, there are also other powers in connection with securing regularity of attendance and of fining workmen. I want to know what powers there are of that kind and whether there is any proposal in any way to interfere with the existing Truck Acts in connection with deductions from wages. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman exactly what he meant by saying there were to be lists open for seven days, commencing to-morrow. I want to know whether those lists are for particular trade unions or whether it is for all trade unionists to send in their names, whether they are for those who are skilled workers or whether they are for both skilled and unskilled workers, and whether he can indicate at all approximately the number of men whom he thinks ought to be induced to come in during the period of the seven days.
It is always well to be perfectly candid in endeavouring to criticise, and I want 1239 to do it in a really friendly spirit with a view to helping the Government. It did seem to me that the way the right hon. Gentleman presented the case was rather in the nature of a threat. I want him, if he will, to say that he is not proposing to threaten the working classes of this country that in the event of their not responding within seven days he is going to exercise industrial compulsion all over the country. I want him to remove that impression. I am afraid that it left some impression of that kind on the minds of some of us. I do congratulate the right hon. Gentleman most heartily from the bottom of my heart on the way in which he has exerted himself already in securing arrangements of a most satisfactory character with both employers and with the trade union organisations. The arrangements which he has made to ascertain the number of machines which are available in the country and the arrangements which he has already made to bring back from the front the skilled workers who are required by the munition firms are matters upon which we may heartily congratulate him, and the arrangement that he has been able to make with the trade unions that arbitration can be used in the settlement of all trade disputes with a machinery that has the approval of the trade unions is one of the most satisfactory pieces of work which has occurred for some time. I also congratulate him upon having made arrangements with munition firms in the various areas. It is impossible to go into these various questions until we have been able to read the Bill, and therefore any further remarks I make in connection with the proposals will be rather in the nature of criticism in the abstract than of details of proposals which I have not yet read. The very formation of a new Munitions Department is due to the experience which has been gained during the last ten months. It has been recognised that excessive demands have been made upon one of the great Departments of the State, and it has been found advisable to duplicate Ministers in connection with the work of the War Office.
Many of my hon. and right hon. Friends have criticised the late Government, and the Press have, I think, very unfairly criticised the late Government, and the late Government have not been in a position to reply to the attacks which have been made upon them. Although the War 1240 Office may have an absolute reply to every charge which has been made or levelled against them in connection with the lack of munitions, their lips are sealed, and they are unable to disclose what they had at the beginning of the War and the progress that they have made. They are unable to explain their difficulties, because if they entered into explanations of that character they would be divulging information which would be of material value to the enemy in the field. Therefore I do ask hon. Members in all fairness to remember that this Bill does not in itself reflect, or ought not to be regarded as reflecting upon any sins of omission or of commission on the part of the Secretary of State for War or the late Government. I think that to any charges which may hereafter be brought a very good answer may be given. I want the House to realise, because it is not a secret, that the Secretary of State for War, who has never concealed his view that the War was going to be a prolonged war, has represented to his colleagues over and over again from the beginning of the War the importance of looking ahead and making provision, and I think the House may take it from me that from the commencement of the War efforts were made to meet the continuously increasing demands which were then apprehended, and even the demands which exist to-day.
Of course, the late Government gained experience, and time showed many things which we did not realise at the commencement of the War. We had no idea at the commencement of the War of the large proportion of high explosive shells which now appears to be required at the front; we had no knowledge then of the kind of guns which were most effective in connection with trench warfare; we had no idea of the number of machine guns which could be utilised effectively in a war of this kind; and we had no knowledge of the character of hand grenades which are very largely used in the field. And so I might go on. I really want the House to realise that we have gained a great deal of knowledge by the experience which we have had. There is one other subject to which I should like to refer, and that is the attack which has been made by the last speaker, by many other speakers, and by the Press with regard to the number of slackers and wasters in the country and the number of people who might be utilised in this period of stress.
§ Sir CHIOZZA MONEY
I did not use the word "slacker." I made no reference of that kind, nor was it necessary for what I had to say. There are millions of men ready to obey the call as soon as it is made.
§ Mr. PEASE
They have been attacked for drunkenness and in other ways, and that being so I think I might point out that those of military age whom it is thought ought to be working in the factories or serving in the Army consist, to a very large extent, of men who are defective in some particular or another. The men are very sensitive of the defects, and when I tell the House that, from the Board of Education statistics, we find that of the children who leave school at thirteen or fourteen years of age those who suffer from defective vision vary in number in some authorities' areas from 6 per cent. to 50 per cent., that those who suffer from car diseases vary from 2 to 14 per cent., that those who suffer from bad teeth vary from 50 to 70 per cent. of the total number of children leaving school; and when, in addition to these large figures, one remembers the large number of tuberculous people in the country and the large number who are permanently lame or who have met with accidents and have lost fingers, or who are maimed in some other way which prevents them from active service and often from working in the factory, we are bound to come to the conclusion that between 25 and 40 per cent. of those of military age are not able either to serve efficiently or effectively in the ranks of the Army or to do the hardest work which is required in the munition factories of the country.
For my part, I believe that the working classes have, to a certain extent, been maligned and misrepresented. Wherever I go I find them willing and anxious to do the best they can for the country in its 1242 hour of need. They are neither apathetic nor lethargic; they are willing workers, animated by the same spirit of anxiety to do the best they can for the country as animates any Member of this House. The problem we have to solve is, what shall we do in order to secure the best out of the material at our disposal. I hope no form of industrial compulsion will be exercised until a case is made out for a step of that kind. The principle of voluntary effort in this country is very deep, and the essential thing, to my mind, is that before we attempt to compel men to work we ought to take every means of trying to secure the best out of the nation. If you drive the British workman to do things in your way contrary to his own reason—and, after all, he has just as much right to his opinion as any of us here—you will not promote harmony, and you will not get the best out of the men.
Germany for too long resorted to bureaucratic tyranny and to military despotism. We are fighting to-day that accursed thing, and I do not want to see any system of that kind introduced into this country in order to defeat it. I recognise to the full that we have not organised our material in this country as it might have been organised. I believe that a great deal can be done by appeal to the working classes. The working classes are anxious to do their utmost, and if you give them advice, if you suggest to them, if you direct them, if you use persuasion, I believe you will secure the best results for the supply of munitions. If, on the other hand, you are going to do anything in the nature of diverting voluntary national service, to compulsory national servitude, you will not get the best out of the working classes in this country. Many workmen can work very effectively in their own districts and under the influence of their own home. The men understand their own workshops. They understand their own bosses or foremen, and will be able to produce, if you appeal to them in the right way, far more than if you take them out of their own localities and place them elsewhere. I realise the necessity of skilled workmen being moved in such a case as the right hon. Gentleman alluded to to-day, where he wanted seventy millwrights in order to put up the necessary machinery for manufacturing machine guns. But I am quite sure that if you go to any seventy millwrights, wherever you may find them working for a private employer, you will get them to respond. 1243 They will not require any compulsion to induce them to help their country in its hour of need.
We have in front of us a herculean task. We have behind the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, with all his resources, with all his energy, a large number of able business men, men at any rate who have business habits which the right hon. Gentleman himself perhaps, if he will excuse me saying so, does not possess in the same degree. He has admitted that he does not believe very much in correspondence. We are glad that we are going to get rid of a certain amount of red tape. The telephone to a large extent has taken the place in business circles of the correspondence that used to pass between various firms and between firms and the Government, and I believe that, with the staff behind the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for Munitions, we have an opportunity of really improving the supply of munitions, and we wish him God speed in the work he has undertaken.
§ Mr. TOOTILL
I do not propose to apologise to the House for attempting to speak at this juncture. It will be admitted that up to the present I have not often troubled the House by speaking, at any rate, at any length. I want to support most heartily the remarks made by the hon. Member for the Gorton Division of Lancashire (Mr. Hodge). The hon. Member and myself are regarded in Lancashire as belonging to the old school of trade unionists, and we are not ashamed even of that description, if, by that means, we are able to achieve better results than the new school. I want also to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the admirable speech he made in introducing this important measure. I realise most fully that if there is a possibility of a vital question affecting labour being introduced into this House it is the one of the organisation of labour outside and inside the workshops. It is a most important matter. The right hon. Gentleman had the difficult task of proving to this House and to the country that there was a necessity, that there was urgency for the bringing into existence of a new Ministry of Munitions, and as there was a good deal of mystery some short time ago about who the man of "push and go" should be, I think the House has found him in the personality of the right hon. Gentleman. He has brought together some of the best brains of the trade union movement in a manner that is, in itself, 1244 exceptional. He has pointed out that certain difficult matters had to be overcome in the negotiations, and those representative trade union leaders whom he met undoubtedly were impressed by the manner in which he put his case.
I have always contended as a trade union leader that if we, representing the workers, are incapable of presenting a case, and if the employers have a better case, then we ought to submit to the inevitable, and to do it in a reasonable spirit, by assuming a conciliatory attitude. We have to meet stupidity sometimes on the part of employers of labour. We cannot say that they are paragons of virtue in the conduct of their business. Neither can we say that of ourselves. We do not wish to assume any such preposterous attitude. But I do say this, that in dealing with the trade unionists in the manner the right hon. Gentleman has done he has accomplished a wonderful achievement in this matter, because the withdrawal of trade union rules and regulations is one of the most important matters that could possibly be dealt with even by the State. The assurances given, the honourable understanding arrived at between operatives and employers are not always treated with that respect which is due to them, and I have no doubt the right hon. Gentleman recognised that fact in giving the guarantee of the Government—and that is an important matter—that there should be a reasonable limitation of profits. That in itself, coming from the Government, ought to give at least some assurance to the working classes of the country that no advantage will be taken of them in this respect. Nothing impressed me so much during the course of the right hon. Gentleman's speech as the phrases he used, "dire necessity" and "perilous position." If those two terms and what they embody could be circulated among and impressed upon the minds, as they ought to be, of the working classes of this country, I believe the most patriotic, determined, and enthusiastic response would be the result. They want to know the real position, and what is expected from them in this matter. No doubt to some extent the Bill that is to be brought forward, copies of which are promised to us by Friday morning, will embody full particulars and details of the policy enunciated this afternoon.
With regard to the preparations made by Germany, I have had some experience of them. Fifteen years ago, along with 1245 five other English gentlemen, I was commissioned to go to Germany to make inquiries as to their technical education and school buildings. By some mischance or other on the part of an official, we were taken into a two-storey building below ground, where there were acres of ground literally packed with, I have no doubt, preparations for "The Day." I said to my friends that the Germane forgot that the moral fibre, the power of energy resulting from the moral spirit of the English people, would never allow them to accomplish that day. An hon. Member has been telling us, in the absence of the Minister of Munitions, that he has not, or that some Department has not, availed themselves of the possibility of being, provided with 23,000,000 shells. Yet we are creating a Ministry of Munitions in order to obtain what this hon. Gentleman says we already have. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will endeavour to deal with that point, because if it goes to the country unrefuted the belief will be created that, after all, there is yet something wrong in the State of Denmark. As a trade unionist—and I speak after forty-four years experience in the front line of the trade unionist movement of the time—and as representing an important Lancashire Constituency, I believe that the men in Lancashire, and for that matter in other parts of the country, if they are told what is expected of them, will do what is wanted. I hope the right hon. Gentleman's speech will do something to clear the air in that respect, and that the result will be during the course of these mysterious seven days this notice to quit or to come in will have its effect. I am sure that it will, because it cannot be denied for a moment that the working classes as a whole have patriotically and nobly responded to the call of the Government. Representing, as I believe I do to some extent, the great majority of them throughout the country, I am hoping that they will respond to the special call that has been made upon them by the right hon. Gentleman.
The right hon. Gentleman has been able to persuade the trade unionists that it is essential that they should withdraw the restrictions with regard to output. I am glad that he has achieved that, but at the same time I hope that the employers' side of the question will be given equal attention. If we could only inspire the working men of the country at this time of great crisis with the idea that we have to bend all our energies and put forth every ounce of strength we possess as workers, and to 1246 give the best of our brains to achieve the purpose we have in view, we should all be showing that ideal patriotism that the country expects of us at this juncture. To show that I am justified in saying that I belong to the old school of trade unionists, and am not ashamed of it, let me say that when Sir George Askwith was commencing his career as a negotiator on behalf of the Board of Trade—I forget whether it was in the time of the right hon. Gentleman or not—a serious tram dispute arose. I only mention this in order to show that more could be accomplished, and more reasonable, proper, and equitable conditions could be obtained, without resort to strikes. I have never been an advocate of strikes. When Sir George Askwith was attempting to settle a big Lancashire tramway dispute I said to him, "Look here, if you will agree to a novel proposal I am about to make, we on our part, as representing the men, will also agree. We will agree to have these doors locked and make ourselves voluntary prisoners until this thing is settled." He accepted the proposal and we settled the matter at three o'clock in the morning. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman paid the deserved compliment of acknowledging the strong attitude taken by the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Wilkie) in regard to the issue of the circular referred to. I say advisedly that it is necessary that trade union leaders should be leaders, and that they should put forward such strong arguments, especially in war time. From the criticisms we hear sometimes it seems that hon. Members forget that we are at war. It is important that we should all realise that as a fact, and that we are face to face with the most serious problem that any Parliament has ever had to face. Consequently we ought to bring home to those we represent the importance of doing their very best, of playing their part, and of holding up the flag of industry as well as the flag of the Army, in order that jointly we may achieve the great end we have in view.
§ Mr. WEDGWOOD
I suppose that I have been, in the past, one of the strongest opponents in this House of any sort of compulsion. Yet, coming back here now, and listening as I have done to-day to the speech of the Minister of Munitions, I want to say that I, at any rate, am satisfied, not only that he has done his best for the voluntary system, but also that the course he plans out for the organisation of the industry of this country 1247 seems to me to be the most liberal that it would be possible to adopt at the present time. He has given us seven days. I only rise to put a question upon that. I want to know how we can best help to ensure the permanence of the voluntary system during the next seven days? What can we do to get these recruits, who are even more important than the men at the front? We must know exactly what is wanted. I, and a good many other Members in the House, are still a little in the dark as to what we can say to our constituents, and what we can do at the works gates. I am not clear what working men are wanted to enlist in this new force; nor am I quite clear that we have within our power the best means of getting this new voluntary army for the workshops. Anti-militarist as I am, I admit that I should like to see them in uniform. Seeing that the uniform has been so honoured by being worn by our men during the last few months, it would be a token of something more than discipline and service. It has become a flag, and I think these men, who are fighting just as much for their country as the men in the ammunition column or on the lines of communication, should have the honour of wearing the uniform too. If they also had some sort of distinction, if they knew they would get a medal at the end of the War, if they realised, as they will realise before long, that this War is not going to be a short one, if they realised that we have a good deal more than a bit to do people are doing their bit, but we want a good deal more than a bit—if they realised that they were doing their duty by all the traditions of our country, they would have a little better send-off than they are getting at the present time.
I should like to see these people, when they are going to the workshops, marched there. I should like to see the people of the district provide them with tea and look after their comforts, just as they do look after the comforts of the troops in the camps. Keep them at work, not seven, eight or twelve hours a day, but fifteen hours a day, provide them with food, and let them work, not necessarily for the extra pay it will bring in, but for the sake of their country. I am not quite sure that hon. Members in this House are the best recruiters for this new army. The best advocates of all are the men who come back from the front. They are coming back in ever-increasing numbers, either on 1248 leave or wounded, and they will put a fresh spirit into the people of this country. They will see that the men work as hard at home as they are working in the trenches over in Flanders.
One point which the Minister of Munitions raised I desire to emphasise, namely, the need for machine guns. Believe me, every machine gun that is sent to the Army saves the lives of men. The Germans are holding their trenches with very few men, but they are armed with machine guns. A machine gun is equal at least to a company. You not only want the gun, but people who can fight it. If you give them guns you will have plenty of people who will work them and save the lives of an enormous number. If you line your trenches with rifles you have to have at least a hundred rifles to equal the use of one machine gun.
I should like to give one illustration from my own experience of what a temporary shortage of ammunition means. I hope the House will not think that I am talking about myself too much. I was on board the "River Clyde" when she went ashore. We had some maxim guns on the boat, and the colonel in charge—he was afterwards my brigadier—said, "There are wire entanglements just behind the beach, and I want you to get your guns on to them and cut them." Of course that means an enormous expenditure of ammunition. You have to fire, perhaps, 100 Pounds for each wire you hit. It is possible by throwing the gun up and down steadily on the spot and seeing where the shots go to cut through the wire, but I had to tell him I only had 30,000 Pounds and I could not do it, so we did not cut the wires. It did not matter, because if anyone had got through he would have been shot on the other side instead of on this. But that is just, an example of what an unlimited supply of ammunition may mean. It is not high explosive shèll, but small arms ammunition, machine guns, and, of course, all those chemical products that we shall be using shortly. In every direction we want far more than we have at present. Every extra hour put in by men working in this country may mean a man's life saved on the other side. When they come to realise that, it will make them work as hard here as elsewhere in the firing line, and I sit down asking the same question that I asked when I got up: how can we, in this House, get more men for this voluntary army? I suppose I have a theoretical love of liberty as opposed to 1249 compulsion, but I know you may have compulsion for military service, and men when they get into the trenches will be as good as other men, because they have to be to save their lives; but when you get compulsion for industrial service you get a very different thing. If a man is sulky he does not work, and if he is punished his mates get sulky and they will not work; so I hope we shall get this army on voluntary lines. For that purpose we ought to find out exactly how this army is to be recruited, what men are to come along, and how we can best manage to get the full supply of them within the next week or ten days.
§ Mr. CAVE
I rise to say only one thing in consequence of something which has fallen from a right hon. Gentleman on this Bench. May I say, first, how much I agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Mr. Wedgwood), whom we are exceedingly glad to see back in the House safe, and I hope fairly sound. We all want to do what we can to support the appeal made by the Minister of Munitions for recruits for munitions purposes during the coming week. I must be allowed to say how very much I admire the work done by the right hon. Gentleman during the past few weeks. The country owes him a great debt of gratitude for the energy he has thrown into his work, and for the manner in which he has accomplished, it. I have often been opposed to him in this House. He has led me to hope that the time will never come when I shall be opposed to him again. Speeches have been made asking the Government to pledge themselves against all forms of compulsory service. I do not think they have any right to give such a pledge. We are engaged in a very great war, in a very great and very difficult struggle, and we have far to go before we come to the end of it. We are fighting compulsory service. We are fighting countries which have organised great military forces, and factories, too, by means of compulsion. That has been a great and strong weapon. Our Allies, too, have used compulsion to raise their armies. Without those great armies, the Russian and the French, it is possible that we should not have survived even so long as we have. That is a point we ought not to forget, and I want to put this to hon. Members. If we can get through without using any form of national service, well and good. No one desires to use compulsion when it can be avoided. But if it 1250 comes to this, that it is either universal service or the loss of the liberties of this country, are they against compulsory service? That may be the alternative before us. So long as we may have to look forward to that, and we are not certain we can avoid it, surely they are wrong in laying it down that compulsion is slavery, and in asking the Government to pledge themselves against it. They have no right to do it, and I say plainly that if it is shown, as it may yet be shown, that without universal service we cannot get through, they will find a full measure of support for such a proposal, not only in the House, but in the country also. I have said that because I do not want the matter to go by default.
After all, our soldiers submit themselves to compulsion. True, the first movement is voluntary, but when once they have given their services to the country and enlisted in the national forces they live under compulsion day after day. Without it no battle could be fought, and no army could win. In the same way, surely it would not be too great a sacrifice to ask of men who do not risk their lives, but who are staying at home, to enlist themselves in the army which manufactures weapons of war for those who fight, to submit to the same amount of compulsion, and say "because we are wanted to make shells, or bullets, or rifles, we join and submit to become soldiers. From this day we, submit ourselves to military discipline." That is not too much sacrifice to ask of men who urge their fellows to go to the front and submit to military discipline and risk their lives in addition. I hope it will never be said of us that we are urging others to fight and to risk their lives and submit to military discipline, while we who stay at home are unwilling to take any steps towards the same end. I have made my protest, not because I desire to urge the Government to introduce compulsion now. I think that we who think that in the end it may be necessary have just as great a right to urge our views today as those who think it will never be necessary. We are ready to leave it to the Government to make their proposals, and to give them the fullest possible chance. While I have said what I have said, fully meaning it, I hope it will be understood that I desire to give the fullest support, not only to the Bill before the House but to any measures which the right hon. Gentleman may take in carrying out 1251 the powers given to him by this Bill. I hope he will organise his Department not only for the making of shells, but for using all the powers of science which we have at our disposal. There is much to be done there and in other ways which he is no doubt considering. I hope he will use his powers to the full, and I am sure he will have from every quarter of the House all the support that he desires.
§ Sir A. MOND
There are a few points I should like to have some further information upon. The first point is rather important, the question of the new munitions army, if I might call it so, which the right hon. Gentleman is going to enlist. We have no idea as to what number of men it is proposed to enlist in this army or exactly what class of workmen it is to consist of. Of course, the idea that there is a large number of working men in this country who are doing nothing—slacking about—is a perfect illusion. We have a great shortage of labour in all directions. The average working man to-day is probably doing more work, rather than less, than he has done in ordinary times. The difficulty we are in is that this labour is not always directed to those purposes which are most immediately wanted. I walked down Piccadilly the other day and saw a number of riveters employed in riveting the stanchions on a new hotel which is going up, who ought to be employed in the boiler yards on the Clyde. These men did not want to be compelled to work. They were working. They were working probably quite as hard on the hotel in Piccadilly as they would have been on the Clyde. But there was no method of compelling them or their employers to give up that job and go to a job which was wanted for munitions. Therefore, I think, a great deal of the so-called talk of compulsion we have had this afternoon entirely misses the point. The argument of those who say that more compulsion is required and that the working men have to be driven in to work with a whip is perfectly ridiculous. What we find is the difficulty which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned. I have no doubt there were seventy millwrights available within easy distance of the factory which wanted them and could not get them, but there was no mechanism which would enable anyone to go to a private firm which was employing millwrights on ordinary work and say, "You must release 1252 these millwrights for a month in order to put up this machinery," and nothing to compel the millwrights to go.
We are an extraordinarily conservative nation and there is nothing more difficult than to change our habits and customs. Our labour on the whole is very immobile. People do not like leaving their homes and families. All these peculiarities have to be taken into account. But unless we have a little more driving force than we have had in the past we shall find it very difficult. If you could go and talk to every one of these people separately I have no doubt they would all go with the greatest ease. I have only recently had occasion to address two bodies of workmen on this question. At one of our works the boiler makers wanted to leave and go to Belfast, not because they would make more money there, but because they thought they would be doing more useful service to the State. They said, "Unless you can convince us that working for you is more useful to the State than producing munitions, we are off to Belfast"—a very proper and patriotic spirit. We had to convince them that what we were doing, although it did not appear so to them on the surface, was as necessary for the High Explosives Committee as the work at Belfast. If you have to extend it ad infinitum it becomes a difficult task. The right hon. Gentleman says every day and every hour counts. Therefore we must relax to some extent our ideas as to what ought to be compulsory and what not, both on the side of masters and of men. A further question I want to ask is whether sufficient care is taken in raising the New Army that we do not aggravate the evil that we are trying to cure. That is to say, that we are not enlisting men who are employed in work which is required for the Government and by enlisting them in the Army stopping work which is already going on. That must be very carefully guarded against. I was informed the other day that skilled workmen are still being recruited in certain towns for the Army. Cannot the right hon. Gentleman put a stop to that? He is getting back skilled men from the front, but on the other hand I am told that in certain towns the recruiting officers are still recruiting amongst skilled men for the Army. That sort of thing ought to be stopped at once, for it is certainly very foolish. It would be a very good thing if all men who are engaged on regular munitions work could get some 1253 kind of distinctive badge which would show that they are doing Government work. I raise this question because it is a practical one. There are already two badges in existence. One is issued by the Admiralty under one set of conditions, and the other is issued by the War Office under another set of conditions. The War Office badge is fenced around with so many restrictions that most employers have found it impossible to make use of it even where they are in a position to do so. One of the conditions of this badge is that it can only be given to men of recruitable age, which means that the young men in the factory can wear the badge, but the older men are not allowed to wear it. No employer in his senses would risk doing a thing like that in his factory if he wants contentment. It would be a very good thing if men engaged on recognised munitions work could wear something which would show that they were doing work for the State, and I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether that matter cannot be put into the hands of his Department. I am sure it would be dealt with in a more broad-minded spirit than it has been up to the present time.
Another important question about which I want to make a suggestion is that of compulsory arbitration. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on having gone a very long way in getting an agreement with the large section of employers and employed in regard to compulsory arbitration. It is a matter which is extremely difficult, and I would suggest whether we might perhaps meet objections by adopting the Canadian Arbitration Act, under which you go so far as to say, "You shall not strike until arbitration has taken place, and if you do not like the result of the arbitration you are still at liberty to strike." That might remove the objection of some organisations like the Miners' Federation, who feel that they do not want their hands tied by compulsory arbitration. I still hope that the miners will come in. We are threatened in South Wales, judging from the papers, with a very serious stoppage in the coal trade. I cannot imagine that such a stoppage will be allowed to take place at the present time. I saw yesterday that at one colliery 1,500 are out on strike because twenty non-unionists are working there whom the other colliers want to get into the union. That colliery is raising a particular class of coal for making coke and by-products that are wanted for high explosives. It 1254 is an absurdity to choose a moment like this to strike about a few non-unionists—perhaps people who are backward in their subscriptions—and in order to get them into the fold to stop a large colliery of that character. It seems so absurd that I cannot understand why the responsible leaders of the miners in South Wales do not say, "Let us leave this trifling matter over until the end of the War." After all, the question of a few non-unionists is a very trifling matter, and surely it could be settled in a day or two by the men. In a time like this such a matter might well be got over, at any rate in collieries which are so very important from the point of view of providing explosives.
The right hon. Gentleman's speech was in some respects rather depressing. I think he painted our position in somewhat gloomy colours in order to spur us on. He will, however, agree with me that ten months of war have not elapsed with nothing being done. In many directions a great deal of remarkable work has been done. Of course, the Germans have done very remarkable work, especially in the chemical industry during the War, but we at the same time have done some remarkable work. I had a case the other day brought to my notice of a large explosives factory which was put up in the Midlands in about three months, and the people who have seen it and who are very good experts look on it almost as a miracle. That is work which at an ordinary time you could not have done under two years.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that I specially singled out the work done by Lord Moulton's Department as being a very fine achievement. In doing so I only repeated what I said much more elaborately in April about the fine character of that work. It is a very remarkable piece of work.
§ Sir A. MOND
I am not criticising the speech, but I am informing the House that after all we have done something, and that our chemists, scientists, and workmen have achieved some very remarkable results not only in that but in other directions, and it is only just and right that we should give them a little credit for what has been done although a great deal more has to be done. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has decided on a scheme of decentralisation. Only yesterday I was told that if people who have engineering tools could get specimens and plans of what was required many lathes 1255 would be employed for some time. That matter might be considered. In a system of national factories we have some advantages, but there are numbers of works which have machine tools which they cannot possibly spare out of their works and which they are bound to have for their work in those factories. Perhaps it might be arranged for them to work, say, two days in the week—Saturdays and Sundays—on part shell making. If that can be organised there would be a great increase in the amount of work done and it would be gladly and willingly done by those who have these tools. In South Wales I understand that good progress has been made under the local committees in getting machines together, but there are a number of works where the arrangement I have suggested would be very helpful. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be successful in his Department, not only in this, but in all other matters. There is no one engaged in industry who will not be glad to assist in every possible direction without any regard to their own business interests or the financial results at this moment in order that we may get as quickly as possible on a footing with our foes and make up for the long start which they have had—a start which is not unnatural, considering that they have always had to be ready to mobilise an army of many millions, while we have not had to contemplate anything of that kind.
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
Those of us who have lost relatives in this War are entitled to demand from the Government, before we give them this Bill, an explanation of the reason why for a period of eight or nine months nothing whatever has been done in any broad way to obtain the necessary ammunition for carrying on this War. My right hon. Friend stated in this House some weeks ago that at an early stage of this War he was convinced that munitions would play a predominant part. I wish, therefore, to know what the Government has actually done, because all the responsibility rests with Ministers, and they cannot get rid of that responsibility by the appointment of any individual Minister at the War Office. I am very loth to make any attack on Lord Kitchener. I have not, in the first place, the pleasure even of the acquaintance of Lord Kitchener, and I have no axe to grind in any shape or form with his friends or his foes. But I do ask this question. On the outbreak of War, owing to the democracy—which I think 1256 has gone mad in this matter—having driven out of office the best man we had—I mean Lord Haldane—
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
Perhaps I have used the democracy in a wrong sense. I mean the halfpenny Press. At any rate, we drove out a man of great organising skill and ability and the nation put Lord Kitchener at the head. Lord Kitchener was put upon a pedestal, and it is not his fault that he has failed to do what the nation thought he would do. Lord Kitchener's cardinal mistake from the commencement has been centralisation. The whole organisation of the War Office was centralised by him in his own hands even down to the smallest details. It is true that when he came to the War Office he had lost the majority of competent officers of the Army Council, who had joined the Expeditionary Force and gone to France. Be that as it may, the Government cannot get rid of their responsibilities in this matter. Instead of taking the advice of business men, as the right hon. Gentleman is going to do, Lord Kitchener called to his assistance an army of "dug-outs" and half-pay officers, and he intended to run an organisation of 3,000,000 of men by the assistance of men who had never done a day's business in their life except that of being professional soldiers. It was quite impossible that any organisation could, under such circumstances, be conducted in a business manner. Therefore what I want to know is this: What have the Government got to tell the country of the failure of the Government to provide the necessary munitions of war which they failed to do for eight months after the War started?
My brother is the owner of large engineering works in which he has many heavy and modern tools, and for eight months after this War started, although he was on the War Office list, he never received a single inquiry of any kind or or sort from the Government. I could multiply this illustration by innumerable cases, as every Member of the House knows, but it is unnecessary to deal with generalities. Therefore I wish to give a concrete case. I will give the case of one firm, namely, Markham and Company, Limited, which, having modern tools occupied making guns and ordnance work, for eight months was never asked 1257 by the War Office to undertake a single munition on their behalf. What happened in Germany? At the outbreak of war the German Government had the good common sense to call in the assistance of business men who had had control of works in Germany. The organisation was handed over to these business men who had had control of large businesses, with a result which cannot at all events be unsatisfactory to Germany. What did we do? We placed in the hands of Lord Kitchener the sole control for running this great organisation, and I say without any hesitation whatever that the state of the War Office during the last nine months has been a scandal to this country. I welcome the right hon. Gentleman coming to this office as Minister of Munitions, and it is up to him, I suppose, to defend the Government and Lord Kitchener, but I would remark that his speech to-day needs no comment, because at every stage of his speech he admitted the imcompetence of the War Office to deal with the question that we are now faced with. If the War Office had endeavoured to organise on business lines; if all business men had not been repulsed as they were by Lord Kitchener from the commencement of the War, what would have been our position to-day? I will give the House one illustration: At the very commencement of the War there were large numbers of men enrolled. At an early stage the Government were unable to pay them, and the men were without the money, because the Government in creating this large machine had not the necessary officers to undertake the operation. I offered to pay all these men in a certain district, where I was living near a military camp, and to send across and keep time-sheets to enable the men to receive what was due, and the answer which I received from the War Office was that such a proceeding could not be entertained for a moment. In fact, the House is well aware that business men throughout the War have been treated by Lord Kitchener absolutely with no consideration whatever. We have offered our services. Business firms have offered their services. They have written to the War Office, and their letters remained unanswered for weeks at a time, when we were requiring these necessary munitions of war to carry this War to a successful conclusion.
What is the truth—and we are entitled to know the truth—about the speech made 1258 by the Prime Minister at Newcastle? Today a question appeared on the Notice Paper. Under pressure, no doubt from a certain Member of the Government, on the person who put down the question, the question was not asked. But I have put it down, and it will have to be answered on Monday. Probably the reply will be a negative one. But when the Prime Minister stated at Newcastle that the operations of the Army had not been impaired for want of shells, or munitions of war, everyone knows the howl of indignation which went up from every man at the front, inasmuch as we all who have friends and relatives at the front know that in many cases, except when they had to prepare a special show, ammunition was limited to five or six rounds per gun. Who was responsible for the statement of the Prime Minister? He said that he made it on the highest possible authority. We know the proportion of high explosive shell that Sir John French asked for, and the country is entitled to know on whose authority, whether the authority of the Master-General of Ordnance, General Von Donop, or Lord Kitchener, that that statement was made to the people of this country. If we are going to succeed, as I believe we shall, with the Minister of Munitions to get us all the munitions we require, it is clear that the Government, in order to get into the men the spirit which is so necessary, must get them to recognise the serious position in which this nation is placed. I think that the best service that the Minister of Munitions could render is to take the matter into his own hands, and say, "We will henceforth trust the people of this country." Every information has been suppressed which ought to have been given to the country, and which there was no military necessity to suppress. As my hon. Friend (Mr. Hodge) truly said, the working people of this country have no idea of the seriousness of the position in which we are. Whose fault is that? It is entirely Lord Kitchener's if the truth be known—and why should not the truth be known?
First the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Walton (Mr. F. E. Smith), and then the present Lord Chancellor, at every stage of their position as censors have fought for the public to get even the scant information which we have had. I think that perhaps it is not in order to refer to the speech that you, Mr. Speaker, have made on this question. [Laughter.] I beg your pardon, Mr. Deputy-Speaker 1259 (Mr. Whitley). I did not notice that Mr. Speaker had left the chair, but as Mr. Speaker has left the chair, I take it that I am in order in saying that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cumberland (Mr. Speaker), in addressing his constituents on this matter, pointed out that a great deal of harm had been done by the Government in not letting the people of this country know the real position in which operations were being carried on. My hon. Friend (Mr. Hodge) dwelt at considerable length on this point from the workers' standpoint. I take the position, if I may for a moment, at the Dardanelles to-day. The enemy know exactly how things are there, and we in this country are not allowed to have this information. Lord Kitchener treats the people of this country as he would Egyptian fellaheens. We are not fellaheens. We are people in a free country entitled, with our system of a voluntary Army, to know the truth. There is nothing to be gained by concealment of the truth. We all know that the fact is that there has been a great shortage of ammunition, and when the Harmsworth Press said this in a manner which could not, and did not, commend itself to the country—that is with personal abuse of Lord Kitchener—the statement which they made as to the want of ammunition was absolutely true. Yet we have the Stock Exchange seriously meeting in assembly, and burning those two papers, when there is no institution more alien and more persistent in endeavouring at every turn of its existence to shove out British subjects in favour of foreign Jews.
But be that as it may, I desire to refer briefly to the question of the armaments firms. I am of opinion that the Government and the War Office have done very badly in reference to armament firms. On the outbreak of war the armament firms went to the War Office—I am speaking from information in my own knowledge—and proposed that the Government should give them control of the ordering of munitions. They then proceeded to go to engineering works in the country, and said, "What is your lowest price for rough machining various parts of guns, shells, and other warlike stores," and they obtained the very lowest prices which they could. As an hon. Member has already stated in the course of this discussion, the object of the armament firms was to get the very lowest price, and to make as high a profit as they could out of all this war 1260 trade. What ought the Government to have done? In the first place they failed lamentably in years past, in my opinion, to tell the truth about the prices paid for warlike stores. I have asked in this House time after time to be given information as to the prices which we were paying for particular stores, guns, armour-plates and other warlike stores, and always received the stereotyped answer that it was not in the public interest to give this information. Now this corporation of armament firms is a very close corporation, and no outsider is allowed to get his nose into the manger if the armament firms can keep him out. Their object, therefore, was to keep all outsiders from quoting a price direct to the Government which might be the means of reducing afterwards the price of armament work when the War was over. I think that has been one of the greatest scandals of the War, as will be shown when it comes to be examined.
We see what is the position of the Minister of Munitions, who is, in fact, starting to build up an organisation. There is no organisation existing at the War Office at all. When men's lives are being lost, we are entitled to ask why was it, when you were enlisting these men, you were not equipping them with arms? Why was it that you did not save time by taking the necessary steps to provide these men with guns and artillery? Everyone knows perfectly well that the Germans hold their trenches with machine guns and artillery, while our men hold our lines with rifles. With all respect to the Minister of Munitions, I submit, speaking with a good deal of experience and knowledge of engineering firms, that the output capacity of this country is just as great as that of Germany. It is not many times, but certainly very much greater, than the output capacity of France. How comes it that France should have been able to mobilise her industries, and give her men the necessary amount of ammunition, while we, for months, have been content to rest in this House and elsewhere, saying nothing—the Press successfully gagged by the censorship, and Members of this House induced not to criticise the action of the Government? Why, while all this was going on, were not the necessary steps taken to equip our Army with the necessary machinery? Why was not the organisation essential for providing munitions set up by the War Office at the same time they were enlisting men? What has happened? Men have been 1261 taken from particular industries, and for eight or nine months there has been the expense of billeting them at 3s. 6d. per day, with separation allowance to their wives and families, and with other like charges, and they have been occupied solely in forming fours and marching about. At that very time these men were wanted in various industries, and, while this was going on and this state of affairs allowed to continue, we have had this disastrous result, with the consequence that we are now asked to approve this Bill which the Minister of Munitions has introduced.
What is going to happen in regard to the War Office? I am not at all happy, from what I have heard to-day in the House, as to how the Ministry of Munitions is going to stand with regard to the War Office. My hon. Friend the Member for Dorset made a valuable contribution to our discussion to-day. He very clearly pointed out to us that in his opinion it was necessary for the Minister of Munitions to have at the front a competent military adviser, working in conjunction with the staff, in order to tell the Government and the Minister of Munitions what was required. If we are going to place this again in Lord Kitchener's hands we will be in just as bad a position as before. I want my right hon. Friend to take the bull by the horns and say, "I am going to be master in my own house; I am going to be responsible. I have given up a great position as Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I am going to run this show on my own." To continue the system of centralisation would end in failure. There must be decentralisation. The only way to get through a business is by decentralisation. Lord Kitchener has for years past been an advocate of centralisation. Let me read to the House one extract giving the opinion of a member of the German General Staff on Lord Kitchener's idea of centralisation. He wrote:When Lord Kitchener became Commander-in-Chief in South Africa centralisation of command appeared in its acutest form, giving rise to strict and stereotyped measures. The result naturally was that personal initiative was confined to the narrowest limits, and when it appeared it was at once suppressed, and where initiative proved necessary it failed nearly always.No one knows better than business men in this House that to take all round the organisation of three million of men, without bringing to the assistance of the Department business men, can only result in failure. Lord Kitchener was not satisfied with raising an Army, for which I give him very great credit. He has raised very 1262 large numbers of troops, and I think his name has no doubt helped considerably in recruiting. But we have asked him to do too much. His experience has been chiefly gained in Egypt, in dealing with an organisation which is comparatively microscopic in view of the great things we have to do now. To run a one-horse show is very different from running an organisation which comprises a great body of men like the present Army we have in the field. Unless you decentralise you cannot possibly expect that anything better is going to happen at the War Office. Not satisfied with raising these large numbers of troops, not satsified with all the recruiting work, Lord Kitchener insisted upon taking the Press censorship into his own hands and also the whole question of the administration in regard to aliens. What time had Lord Kitchener for all that administrative work? His business was munitions of war and the training and sending out of troops to the Front; yet his attention has been diverted to those other matters, and, when the present. Chancellor of the Exchequer is accused of having failed to intern those alien enemies, it was the fact that he had before him only the numerous alterations and orders sent out day by day by Lord Kitchener at the beginning of the War. All these matters, small matters in themselves comparatively, ought to have been left to the police. But Lord Kitchener wanted to control practically, not only the War Office and three millions of men, but the Press censorship and the work as to aliens, and how is it possible with all this centralisation that the machine can be other than it is?
The Government have at last started to make a change on business lines. As to the War Office, I have no confidence in it. If the Minister of Munitions is not going to be independent of it, then I have no hope that this is going to be any good. I trust the Minister is going to run the show himself and that he is going to be wholly independent of the War Office, of Lord Kitchener, and everybody else. Is he going to take the risk and come down to the House and say, "I have ordered ten or twenty million more shells than is required"? The House would give him a blank cheque, rather than that men's lives should be lost for want of shells. I do look upon my right hon. Friend as a man who always looks at things in a big, broad light, and I think he would say, "I am going to take the risk, whatever amount 1263 of shells may prove to be necessary, to look after the men and after my own country, and to see that they are not hampered, as they have been in the past, owing to the elementary lack of appreciation of the necessity of providing them with the necessary equipment of munitions." If my right hon. Friend will take that step, I, for one, shall be content. I go further. I should like to see my right hon. Friend not only Minister of Munitions, but Minister of War. Business men prefer private interviews to correspondence, and we all know that my right hon. Friend has a genius for separating the chaff from the wheat, and that he will not trouble himself to read the many communications which are sent to him by Members of this House, or anybody else. He has that power of separating the bad from the good and of looking at things in a broad light. My right hon. Friend, I am sure, is a patriot and is a man who will look at this question solely in the interests of his country.
What I suggest to my right hon. Friend (Mr. Lloyd George) is this, and I hope he will give it his consideration: I should like to see Lord Kitchener Commander-in-Chief at home and not at the front, as was erroneously reported last week. I should like to see associated with the Minister of Munitions, and I hope he will not annihilate me when I say it, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Munitions separates the wheat from the chaff. I, for one, am very glad that the Chancellor of the Duchy has left the Admiralty. I think his spirits and restless nature are not such as conduce to his being in a position which might possibly land us in complications which the good judgment of the Minister of Munitions would save us from. The Chancellor of the Duchy has rendered great services at the Admiralty, and he has indomitable perseverance and energy, and if he were controlled by my right hon. Friend the two between them would have that driving force which has been so sadly lacking in the War Office. Then, in addition to the help of Lord Kitchener and his valuable assistance in raising the necessary Army at home, we should have brought into the administration of the War Office all the best driving power the House of Commons can provide. I was always opposed, and I think many Members were opposed, to having a soldier at the head of this responsible Department, but for that the halfpenny Press was 1264 in a great measure responsible. He was called a heaven-born soldier, and called to the council of the Nation, instead of this matter being looked at from the strict Parliamentary standpoint. I do want to make it perfectly clear that I have no desire to make a personal attack on Lord Kitchener. I look at this matter purely and only from the standpoint of public interests. Lord Kitchener has attempted to do far more than he could do. If any similar Minister had failed to provide the necessary munitions what would have happened? Twenty years ago a Liberal Government was turned out of office because they failed to supply cordite. [An HON. MEMBER: "In peace time!"] And as an hon. Member remarks, in peace time. But when during a time of great national danger the Government have failed through their War Minister to provide or even to order or to take steps to organise the necessary supply of munitions, then are we to remain silent and not to say because an individual happens to be Lord Kitchener or anyone else that he has not carried out what we think he ought to have done.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Mr. Tennant)
May I ask if my hon. Friend says that the War Office failed to order munitions?
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
In innumerable cases, which I will give of my own knowledge, for months and months after the War started, they failed even to ask contractors on their own list to supply machine guns and different types of munitions of war which those companies were capable of making and which they were never even asked to make. That is the answer I give to my right hon. Friend who has been a very able spokesman in this House, and who has been able in his good-natured way, to avoid a good deal of the legitimate criticism which has been directed against the War Office. I go even further, and I say this, that during the time the War Office have received letters which have remained unanswered offering to do shell work for six weeks and two months to my own knowledge, and if he challenges this I will send him the names of the firms. They have written to the War Office offering their services and they have never even received an acknowledgment. When all Germany is being organised for war what can we expect? The Prime Minister stated that we were not short of shells and the Minister of Munitions has stated that we are short of shells. There is no 1265 use denying the fact, and we all know that the statement made by the Minister of Munitions is the truth and that the statement made by the Prime Minister, which was made on information, was wholly unfounded whoever gave the information. I do not know whether the Prime Minister on Monday is going to give us the name of the person who gave him the information. The country is entitled to know, seeing that we have lost a large number of lives owing to the failure to supply machine guns. I want to be quite clear about this. With the failure of the War Office to order machine guns and the necessary munitions and to even ask their own contractors on their own list to supply munitions, I ask are we Members of Parliament to sit still when we know that those are the facts, or to see that we give to our soldiers the necessary munitions to carry on the War?
I say to the Government, if they are going to maintain the gagging of the Press and the censorship, that they obtained those rights from a Parliament under false pretences. Frankly and freely, and without any discussion, we passed a Bill through all its stages giving the Government absolute right to censor all news. That was given with one object, and that was to prevent information going to the enemy which might be of advantage to them. But we did not give to the Government or to Lord Kitchener the right to say that information which is not useful to the enemy, or which is already known to the enemy, should not be known to us. Is it not true that even the German official communications are edited before the people of this country are allowed to see them? If my right hon. Friend will take the matter in hand himself, and let the people of this country know the truth in regard to what is going on, he will find that men will work harder than they have done in the past, and they will not indulge in drink to the same extent as in the past, if they know that the munitions they are asked to supply are really necessary. But when we get from France, week after week, a series of reports of a favourable character, what can you expect from the working man? It is only the natural sequence of endeavouring to fight this War without remembering that we are living in an age of democracy.
Although the Chancellor of the Duchy goes to his constituents and tells them that we are on the high road to obtaining 3,000,000 men, which is practically saying 1266 that we have got 3,000,000 men, we in the House of Commons are not allowed to know the truth. There has never been a time when the House of Commons has been so gagged as it was by the late Government. We cannot hold the present. Government in any way responsible for what their predecessors have done. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will get his supplies of munitions; I am sure he is going to do what the soldiers say we ought to have done long since. My right hon. Friend is going to plaster them with shells at a very early date. But if he wants workmen to put all their energy into the shell-making, my right hon. Friend must see to it that the Government, take the matter into their own hands, and allow the country to know the position, we are in. Even the late Leader of the Opposition only a few weeks ago said that he had urged the Government to give the House this information, but now it is said the question is to be discussed with Lord Kitchener. We are really fighting nine wars at the present moment, and we are kept in ignorance of them all. For what? Is it alleged that danger to the country would arise if we knew what was going on in South Africa? The War has been waged for the last ten months on the principle of letting the people know nothing at all, and of considering it clever to keep from the people what they ought to have known long since, and what, if the Government had done their duty, they would have told the country months ago.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE (indistinctly heard)
I should like to appeal to the House to give me leave to introduce this Bill, without much further discussion. With, regard to the speech of my hon. Friend (Sir A. Markham) I do not know that I have ever listened to a speech which contained more explosive matter. There is one thing I will say in reply to him. I agree that unless the new Minister of Munitions has an absolutely free hand in the matter of giving and arranging orders, his appointment will be a perfect futility.
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
That is not my point. Will the General Staff in France be responsible to my right hon. Friend, and not to the War Office, in regard to their requirements?
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I think my hon. Friend may rest assured that I will acquaint myself with the necessities of the Army—
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
And that I feel my responsibility. As my hon. Friend said, Great Britain is undoubtedly the greatest engineering country in the world. But there is one thing which we must bear in mind, and we must not exaggerate our resources. Germany has not the same burden as we have in the matter of the Navy. That is an enormous strain upon our engineering resources, and a strain which we bear practically alone. Our organisation of the resources of the country is suffering from that enormous first charge on those resources.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
If we had to choose between the loss of our export trade and a shortage of munitions, I do not think anyone would hesitate as to the choice he would make, because this is a matter of life and death.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
Two or three things have been said, in the course of the Debate, which I think would be better answered when the Bill is printed. Questions have been addressed to me, and to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary of the Department (Dr. Addison) with regard to which I think, on the whole, the best plan would be to wait until Members can see the actual provisions of the Bill. The points referred to will then be explained very much better and more precisely than I could hope to explain them in a speech. I hope to have the Bill out on Friday morning. That will give Members ample opportunity to examine its provisions before the Debate on Second Reading on Monday next. I do not know whether I may, without impertinence, suggest that it would be very valuable if, on Monday, we had the Debate on the provisions of the Bill itself. We have today discussed many questions which are not strictly relevant to the Bill. For that, no doubt, I am responsible, because I was invited to make a statement on the whole policy of the Government, and hon. Members have been discussing, not so much the Bill, as that statement of policy. On Monday I hope my hon. Friends will bear in mind that it is the Second Reading of the Bill itself.
An hon. Member on this side was very anxious that I should answer the challenge 1268 of the hon. Member for Walsall (Sir R. Cooper). The hon. Member for Walsall stated that his offer was of 24,000,000 shells. We have asked for the names of the gentlemen who are to provide these shells. I do not think the hon. Baronet is himself a shell maker. The matter is important; therefore we were entitled to ask the hon. Member for the names of these firms that are prepared to execute this very large order.
§ Mr. BOOTH
I was in the House, and I have also had the privilege of conversation with the hon. Baronet the Member for Walsall. He said in the House that he was prepared to submit these names if the Government would undertake not to wire them out to the States and attempt to deal direct, and so cut out the London agent.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
That is a very different proposition from a patriotic offer to the Government. Within the last forty-eight hours we have invited the hon. Baronet to give us the names of these firms and he has given us the name of one firm. That firm, I understand, is a firm that is prepared to turn out 10,000 shells per week. They have never turned out any shells before. They are a firm of lithographic printers. That is not a very substantial contribution, and it does not carry us very far on the way to 24,000,000 shells. I should have thought if the hon. Baronet was taking a sample out of bulk he would have produced something a little more reassuring than a lithographic printer prepared with machinery to turn out 10,000 shells per week. If we have the names of these firms we can deal with them. We have been battered with proposals of this kind. I myself have examined them, and I have found there was absolutely nothing in many of them. On the other hand, there have been firms who are quite prepared to do the work and who have got the machinery to make good.
These firms I propose to deal with. But really when you are dealing with great sums of public money, and not only that, but when you are making your calculations upon which the success of your campaign depends, upon which the lives of your men depend, and upon which—and the hon. Member knows very well this is important—upon which the organisation of your raw material depends, it is of the greatest importance that you should know the names of the people with whom you are dealing. You cannot have a man 1269 coming to the War Office, although he is a Member of this House, and saying, "I am prepared to find 24,000,000 shells." If he comes yon naturally say to him, "Where are you going to get them?" He replies, "That is my secret." That is really not treating the Minister of Munitions fairly. I am really trying to find out where I can get these shells, and I can assure the hon. Member for Walsall that no prejudices, no preconceptions, and nothing that has been done before will interfere in the slightest degree with my getting shells wherever I can find them. Let him come as a business man, and let me know exactly when I am going to get this prodigious quantity of shells.
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
I can tell the right hon. Gentleman, because the offer was made to me—at the end of 1916.
§ 9.0 P.M.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I hope I can do better than that. It is no use people talking in this wild and irresponsible way. The hon. Baronet the Member for Mansfield (Sir A. Markham) asks that the public should know the facts. It is very important that the public should not be misled with vague information and proposals of this kind. We are scouring the country to find out every lathe, and gauge, and press; to find out every holder of machinery that will in the slightest degree contribute to production. We are searching high and low. We are scouring the country in order to find out these things, and if any hon. Member of this House has any information to help us, it is his bounden duty to give it. Proposals have been made in the speeches across the floor of the House. The question is one of coming to me and giving me the facts, instead of holding back, and having to write letter after letter, till in the end you get a letter to say, "I am a lithographic printer somewhere in Yorkshire, and I can with my machinery turn out 10,000 shells per week."
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
My right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. J. A. Pease), in a speech the friendliness of which I quite recognise, said he hoped I was not levelling any threats at the working classes. What is the proposal? To give the opportunity for organising. But I must be allowed to point out what are the facts as occasion necessitates, without 1270 always having the suggestion put forward that I have some dark, sinister, and ulterior motive. The Government are responsible, and most anxiously feel that responsibility. I am entitled to support and help. I think I am entitled to generous help. What is still more, I think I am going to get it. Really I hope that my right hon. Friend and everybody else will not always be searching out—for I really have no time to prepare speeches, I have to speak straight out—some phrase or other in a statement I make in order to see what possibly can be read into it. The Department is really a most anxious Department. I certainly had not in my mind anything in the nature of a threat, but I am bound at the outset to say that if we cannot, by voluntary means, get the labour which is essential to the success of this country in a War upon which its life depends, we must use, as the ultimate resort, the means which every State has at its command to save its life. You have got to save the life of Britain. We talk about the State as if it were something apart from the workman. The workman is the State. He is a living ingredient in it. Do not separate him and say, "There is the State." He is the State, and, after all, it is universal suffrage, such as you have in France and in Italy, which has decreed these powers. I agree it is a question of necessity and that you have to prove and demonstrate your necessity. There are some who seek compulsion as if it is a good thing in itself. Of course, in itself it is an evil thing, and if you could organise a country where every man depended on good will, education, and moral sense, where no law is required, then there would need to be no compulsion. That is ideal. But every law is a compulsion, and every law is an evil unless it is demonstrated that that compulsion is necessary. And the same thing applies to compulsion here as in every other respect.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea said one of the shrewdest things in this Debate when he said compulsion is not necessary for the working man. I do not believe there is a working man in London who, if he were told that in order to save his country, he was to go to Glasgow or Birmingham, he would refuse. Why is there a difficulty? The difficulty is not merely the workman, but it is the difficulty of the employer. An employer gathers together a number of workmen, having after years worked up an organisation. That collection of workmen is part 1271 of his business; it is an essential part of the organisation on which the life of his business depends. He very reluctantly allows that to be scattered. What is the experience we have had? We have had actual demands from employers that we should pay compensation to them for allowing their workmen to go.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
If that is not more servitude than compulsion, I want to know what servitude is. That is treating the workman as if he were a chattel. What is the position in these cases? A workman is afraid that if he leaves a certain works he will not be allowed to come back. He finds great difficulty in going for that very reason. If he had a piece of paper on which it was stated, "Please proceed to such-and-such a place," he would not go reluctantly. I do not believe there is a man in this country who, if he were told now, "The safety of the State requires that you should leave to-morrow morning at six o'clock and report yourself in Glasgow," or anywhere else, would not go. But a man wants to be able to demonstrate to his foreman and to his employer that the State demands his services. That is the whole point. It is very often not compulsion so much of the workman as of a reluctant employer. And we know that quite well. The very demand put forward for compensation in these cases demonstrates what I have said, and the observation of my right hon. Friend, I think, was an exceedingly shrewd one for that very reason.
But I would rather that we should get a body of volunteer working men. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for New-castle-under-Lyme said, "I want to know how we can help to form these volunteers." Well, we propose to have in to-morrow morning's papers full particulars of the methods we propose to adopt. Somebody asked what class of men we need. They are millwrights, screw workers, tool-makers, turners, fitters, boilermakers, shipwrights, and other skilled workmen in the engineering and shipbuilding industries. [An HON. MEMBER: "How many?"] We want as many as will volunteer, but we want men to volunteer who are not now engaged on Government work. We have had a return—a necessarily imperfect one—of the number of skilled men engaged on work which is not Government work, 1272 and I think they come very nearly to a quarter of a million. What we want from that quarter of a million is for men to volunteer to go wherever the urgent need of the State requires them. We shall pay their railway fare and expenses, and we will make arrangements that their rate of wages shall, at any rate, not be lower than the rate of wages they were earning in the district they left. We are making arrangements about subsistence allowance, because there is always a difficulty about a man having to keep a home where his family live and get lodgings away. We make every provision that will appeal to men that they shall not lose by undertaking this service for their country. There are scores of thousands of engineers who might have been earning £3, £4, or £5, or even more wages a week, who have volunteered for a few shillings a week with just a separation allowance for their wives, and I cannot believe that others can fail in their duty in the next few days. The conditions are not made by me, but indicated as a fair trial by trade unions. I am the last man in the world to shirk criticism, because I am sure I have had more than any Member in this Houe.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
And, as my right hon. and learned Friend says, I have probably given more. Well, that is what they call "give and take." The hon. Member for North-West Lanarkshire criticised me.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I am sorry. My hon. Friend was perhaps not here when I began my speech My suggestion is that there are many questions about the Bill, and that he should just wait and see the Bill itself, which, I think, would be a very much better answer. If he feels then that the Bill does not provide an answer, then I suggest to him he could refer to the matter again.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I do not know what my hon. Friend says, but I know he wants to say something offensive. I am sure, if there is any point to answer which the Bill does not answer, I shall be very happy to give it to him. I am sorry I was not here when he made his speech, but 1273 there is so much office work at the beginning of a new Department that it is almost impossible to get here. I think I have dealt with most of the points not covered by the Bill. But, may I say in conclusion, I think the most remarkable feature of the Debate up to this moment has been the cordial support that has come from the Labour Members. The speeches we have heard to-night from the Labour Benches must have impressed those who listened to them very deeply, and my only regret is that the House was not full at the time. I am sure those speeches, if reported to the country, would be of enormous value to us in endeavouring to secure what we want—namely, the unity of all classes and every section, and a contribution from everybody who can contribute towards carrying through to a successful termination one of the most terrible ware in which we have ever been engaged, and a war in which the interests of Great Britain are most deeply involved.
§ Mr. HEWINS
I wish to put a point to the Minister of Munitions with regard to the central organisation. Unless you have a central organisation which knows the relations of the different technical processes, how are you going to get what you want by a purely local organisation? Here is the case of an important firm which has undertaken contracts, and is doing contracts on a great deal of munition work for the Government and other armament firms. I have no doubt the right hon. Gentleman knows many such cases. The local committee comes in and says: "You make shells." The reply of this firm is: "We can make shells, but, if we do, all this other Government work goes to the wall, and will you tell us what we have to do?" Such a firm cannot get any guidance from the local committee, and it must appeal to the central authority. I suggest that it would give confidence to business firms if the right hon. Gentleman could provide for the issuing of a written memorandum describing the organisation of his Department. It would not take long to describe what the central organisation is, and its relation to the local committee. I think we should know what the right hon. Gentleman is doing under the wide powers of the Order in Council, and that would be a great advantage. Although I appreciate the eloquence and energy of the Minister of Munitions, I was a little disappointed with his speech, because it did not seem to carry us very much further, and we have the same War Office 1274 case, and very much the same description of what is being done. What appeared in the right hon. Gentleman's speech on the 21st April was common talk months before. I should be very glad if the right hon. Gentleman could carry his information to a further point, and let us know what he is really doing in the central office under the Order in Council. I am not satisfied with this subject being left where it is at the present time, and I do not feel that we have got very much further in the matter of organisation than may be contained in the Bill which we have not yet seen, and which will be printed before next Monday. If the right hon. Gentleman can manage to give us, not a speech, but some official memorandum of statements issued from his Department telling us what his duties are and what his Department is really doing, it would be a very great advantage.
§ Mr. EDGAR JONES
The Minister of Munitions has made an important announcement in his second speech which was missing in his earlier speech. That announcement was promised to me by the Home Secretary on two previous occasions when I raised the matter. It is true that the right hon. Gentleman has not made the announcement in the form that I was pressing for on two previous occasions, and the form in which the Home Secretary promised that it should be dealt with. Twice before I wanted to know what were the reasons why the new Minister of Munitions, by a Bill, was not going to be made a member of the Army Council. On a previous occasion I expressed the opinion that the right hon. Gentleman was now Secretary of State for War for Munitions, and that he should be as much as the Secretary of State for War a Member of the Army Council, so that his mind should be seized of the daily and weekly reasons of the expert members of the Army Council for modifying the requests of the generals at the front or altering the character of the proposals for any munitions they might order, or anything of that kind. I am quite satisfied to take the announcements made by the Minister of Munitions, and it is vitally important that we should understand what the right hon. Gentleman is going to do. I want to bring out perfectly clearly the significance and importance of the announcements that the Minister of Munitions has made that he is going to keep himself informed as to what are the requirements of the generals actually fighting at the front, and that he is going 1275 to take the responsibility, so that if a great crisis again arises in regard to the demands of the generals at the front the Minister of Munitions will take upon himself the responsibility. That is a very important announcement, and I welcome it very much.
I was delighted to hear in the first speech of the right hon. Gentleman that he realises and appreciates the tremendous importance of days and of weeks in this matter. Hon. Members have been talking here to-day as though this was a matter of the next twelve months, or eighteen months, or few years. I say that it is vital to the consideration of this question that we should realise that it is a matter of days and of weeks, and I am delighted at the offer of the trade unions to make up for their lost time in the course of seven days if possible. I only want to say one other thing in relation to the last remark of the Minister of Munitions, and it is that there is all the world of difference between the view of the Minister of Munitions upon compulsion and the views which have been advocated to-day by some hon. Members. Several hon. Members have been advocating a form of registration and compulsion which is to apply to everybody. There was an hon. Member on these benches, for instance, to-day talking as though we were to take every insurance agent and every man of that kind and bring him into some kind of compulsion. That kind of thing would destroy every prospect of the unity for which the Minister of Munitions asks, but if the Minister is going to stick to his form and view of what compulsion means there is very little in it that those who have been against compulsion all their lives will object to. I do not see why he and the trade unionists cannot even now go just one step further and put an end altogether to this campaign for the wider form of register and compulsion that is going to be so mischievous and divide this country into two highly controversial parties—
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Whitley)
I do not think that we really ought to go into that question now. If we do we shall be here all night. It is going beyond the leave for which the Minister is asking to introduce the Bill.
§ Mr. E. JONES
I am sorry, but I have been here all day and it is not my fault that I am speaking so late. I just wanted to refer to a point in the Minister's speech. 1276 If he were to-morrow to invite in the way he has been inviting the country to-day the whole of the engineering trades, men and employers, to put their services at the disposal of the Government, then so far as all the millwrights, tool fitters and others are concerned, I think that he would get the men he wants within his scheme and he could exercise the necessary compulsion. If the right hon. Gentleman would do that I should have no objection whatsoever, but of course I, with others, would have to object very seriously to the wider form. I wish the right hon. Gentleman well in this matter, and any assistance that I or anybody can render will, I am sure, be rendered if he only tells us what to do.
§ Mr. E. JARDINE
I have been spending most of the last three days at the new Armament Buildings, and, as a business man who criticised the old methods, I want to say that I met there in every department very able men, not simply experts, but great organisers, enthusiastic in their work, and I am convinced, as a business man who disapproved of the old methods, that under the new Minister of Munitions, with the enthusiasm and the energy that he is putting into it and with the people whom he has had the ability and the luck to choose, things are going on as well as well can be.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Lloyd George, the Prime Minister, Sir J. Simon, the Attorney-General, Mr. Arthur Henderson, Dr. Addison, and General Ivor Philipps; resolved accordingly, and read the first time; to be read a second time upon Monday next (28th June), and to be printed. [Bill 109.]