HC Deb 24 June 1915 vol 72 cc1425-42

Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER, pursuant to the Order of the House of the 3rd February, proposed the Question, "That this House do now adjourn."


I take the opportunity of the Adjournment to get an answer from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Munitions Department on a point which I raised in Debate last night. It is unnecessary to repeat the remarks I made last night, but it is only fair to recapitulate them shortly. They were, in effect, that the Central Control Board obviously comes within the purview of the new Minister of Munitions. The work of the Minister of Munitions and his Department is enough in all conscience for them to do, and if anything is going to be done with regard to the control of the liquor traffic in the munition areas it is obvious that the work shall be taken away from this Department and given to some other Department of the State which is not so preoccupied with so important a piece of national work. I very much hope that can be done, and that something can be speedily undertaken to put into operation the powers of the Central Control Board. I pointed out last night, with regard to the prospectus which I had seen of the National People's Palaces Association, that on the face of that prospectus the statement is made that Mr. Lloyd George, and Mr. Bonar Law, and Mr. Steel-Maitland have given their express approval to the work that was going to be undertaken, indeed, in the middle of the prospectus, they say that the work "is being done at the request of the Central Control Board."

I have no complaint against the National People's Palaces Association or any other organisation. My point is that the Government ought to be doing the work which Parliament asked them to do, and I want to be assured that nothing is said in that prospectus from which the public might take it that the Central Control Board is delegating its powers. I am concerned about this for the reason that the Secretary of State for the Colonies and the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, so I am told, have a nominee on the committee of this organisation. If that be true, I do not know whether it is or not, it involves the Government in a connection which is not fair to any other organisation who desire to do similar work. This organisation offers to the public a certain dividend on capital which the public can subscribe. It is their affair. I think I could say something, if I cared to, in relation to the nature of that prospectus, but I am not so much concerned with that as with learning that the Government intend to do this work for themselves.

The only other remark I have to make in view of what I said last night is that to-night we are again discussing this subject with less than a dozen Members present. I remember that when we discussed the liquor problem, as a result of the speech which the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lloyd Georges) delivered at Bangor, the House was crowded, more crowded than at any period since the War broke out, but now that we are determined to deal with the liquor traffic by committing power to the Central Control Board, it looks as if nothing is being done; the House is not interesting itself in the question, and it appears to me that the whole subject is going to be dropped. The Minister of Munitions told us that ten munition areas are to be created. Are those areas in which the Central Control Board is going to operate? If not, what are the areas in which it is going to operate? What has the Board done since it was appointed? How often has it met? Has it set up any organisation anywhere? Has it invited the co-operation of any local committee anywhere? In point of fact, is it not true that the Central Control Board is in the hands of a Department of the State which, for the moment, has no time to devote to any other subject than the provision of munitions of war. The real point at issue—and I do hope my hon. Friend (Dr. Addison) will make representations in the proper quarter—is that the Central Control Board shall do its work, and that it shall be handed over to some other Department who can put energy behind it, and see that something is done. By all means let organisations with power to help give it help, but only as accessories. Let the main object of the Central Control Board be that they themselves shall do this work on the large scale for which the House gave power, and let them get that done as speedily as possible, or, as an alternative, come to the House and say, "When we set up this Central Control Board we really did not mean to do anything, and if we would do anything, we cannot do it because we have not got the time."


I think the hon. Member who has just addressed the House has very properly drawn attention to the great importance of the matters which have been placed in charge of the Central Control Board. He pointed out that it is not very long since this question of the provision of proper opportunities and facilities for the refreshment of those engaged in munition work was regarded as of the first importance. I submit that the question has become not less important, but much more important, since the statement made in the House in regard to munitions. Since then we have had an appeal to the country to provide an enormous army of munition workers, who will have to be specially considered and provided for. I do not want to mention the figure, but I believe it is very large, and I hope it will be reached. It does add to the importance of the duties which are thrown upon the Board. The hon. Member for East Edinburgh has very properly requested some information as to what the Board have done so far. It is quite true they have large discretion placed in their hands, and I think the House is entitled to know what has been done during the interval which has elapsed since we were told that it was of the utmost public importance that this matter should be dealt with without a moment's delay. The question was then regarded as one which required immediate settlement. Are we to set it aside for other questions which have been raised since? I am quite sure that the hon. Gentleman who represents the Ministry of Munitions here to-night will be quite anxious to enlighten us as to what is being done and will give us some assurance on the subject. I do not know that I quite agree with my hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh that this matter should be taken out of the control of the Minister of Munitions and the hon. Gentleman who along with him represents the Department here. I am quite sure that so far as the hon. Member who is here to-night is concerned this matter will receive his very careful and full attention, and there is no man better fitted to deal with the question. The Minister of Munitions has not the time, and I have no doubt the hon. Member also is extremely busy. I feel sure he will approach the question with a very fair mind and a desire to see that everything is done to meet the situation. I agree that we ought to have this matter in the hands of those who have full time to devote to it and to give full answers to the House as occasion arises.

The point I specially wish to refer to is this: The duties which are thrown on the Board are very considerable, and I hope that they will take every possible means of availing themselves of those voluntary agencies which may be prepared to come to their assistance in making provision for the workers. The hon. Member for East Edinburgh referred to the National People's Palaces Association, which is holding itself out at the present moment as the one, if not the only, agency which up to the present time has received the blessing of the Minister of Munitions. I think it is very undesirable that any association of this character should be singled out and should be allowed to make this claim in public. There are many other voluntary agencies which are not seeking a 6 per cent. dividend which will gladly do this work. My hon. Friend is no doubt aware of the magnificent services rendered by the Y.M.C.A. in connection with canteens in the Army during these recent months. They have been able to deal with the exceptional situation which has arisen with a marvellous degree of success. I believe they have been welcomed in every quarter by the military authorities and by all those who have the welfare of the soldiers at heart. It seems to me that in a matter of this kind every effort should be made to enlist the assistance of the Y.M.C.A. I believe offers have been made in certain quarters and I hope they have been accepted. In addition to the Y.M.C.A. there are many other voluntary agencies connected with temperance and other social work. I believe they could be used to very great effect in providing the necessary facilities, and that their work would be attended with more success than any policy which could be adopted with regard to the existing liquor shops under the Regulations which have been issued.

My hon. Friend is no doubt aware of the very full powers which are conferred under the Regulations upon the Central Board. There seems to be no reason why they should not avail themselves of the services of any one of the many voluntary agencies which may come to them and place their services at their disposal, and their powers could be to a certain extent delegated to them under Regulation 5 and Regulation 16. I hope we may be able to get some assurance from my hon. Friend that these associations will be considered. May I also ask if he can give us some indication as to what the policy of the Central Board has been up to the present time? Are local committees to have full power in each district in regard to the exercise of the powers conferred on the Central Board or is the Central Board itself going to deal in each area with the many questions which will have to be considered and with the conditions which will have to be laid down? May I suggest to him in regard to the many powers which are conferred upon the Central Board that the simplest and most effective of these is that empowering the Board to lay down the necessary restrictions which they think desirable to be laid down in each district with regard to the existing refreshment houses and to see that the trade carry into effect those restrictions and agree to them. In that way you would avoid the necessity which might otherwise arise of involving the country in heavy expense and also the considerable difficulties in adjusting the situation to a larger policy. I believe myself there is every indication on the part of those who carry on the trade at the present moment to accept any reasonable restriction which may be laid upon them. So far as new buildings and houses are concerned, I believe those could be best provided by voluntary agencies. Perhaps my hon. Friend will be good enough to tell us what is being done in Scotland, and particularly in the West of Scotland, where we have a very large industrial community and where the question is one of very real urgency.


Let me say quite readily that the work falling on my right hon. Friend the Minister of Munitions is very great indeed. At the same time, he is deeply interested in this question, because it is of the first importance if we are to look after the workmen in the munitions area that they should be properly seen to and have proper facilities for getting food in decency when they get there. The Minister of Munitions is exceedingly anxious that this should be done well and as promptly as possible. My hon. Friend will not forget that the Central Control Board was only formally constituted a fortnight ago, 10th June, although they had been surveying the ground before that. You cannot, however, expect very much to be achieved in that length of time. They have, I am informed, been negotiating with various authorities in the munitions areas where munitions are produced with a view to seeing what areas should be first defined as munition areas, because they are not able to exercise their powers until the areas have been defined by Order in Council.


Are they not the same as the ten munition areas?


The ten munition areas referred to yesterday are, for the purposes of engineering and for geographical purposes, grouped round certain centres, and have no relation whatever to the areas to be defined in connection with the Central Control Board. I have here the draft of an Order in Council, which, when it is issued, will define at least six areas in connection with the work of the Board of Control. The Board have been doing a good deal of work of a preliminary kind, and they are, I think, fully alive to all the considerations which have been advanced here this evening. Time is of the first importance in this matter. It is quite evident that no centralised body, getting its staff together, could properly institute canteens and run them in the great number of places where they are required to be arranged for, without invoking the aid of properly constituted voluntary and other associations. I know that the Young Men's Christian Association has done a great deal of work in this respect, and the Board of Control certainly look forward to being greatly helped by that association. As a matter of fact, the Young Men's Christian Association is already undertaking some of this work in various munition districts. I believe that the association referred to by my hon. Friend is also doing very good work. I agree with him that the issue of this circular, containing the words, "The Association is now, at the request of His Majesty's Government, etc.," as a preliminary to the issue of preference shares, is very improper. The Board of Control are only too glad that this association, which has done very good work indeed, should continue that work. I have here a letter which I think the House will regard as a proper letter to be sent by the Board of Control to this association:— … . . The Board of Control may say that they are fully in sympathy with the object which your Association, in common with other associations, have in view, namely, the establishment of canteens, in which both food and drink can be supplied at reasonable prices, to men employed on Government work. The Board are anxious that no time should be lost in the establishment of such canteens, where the existing facilities are inadequate, and they will be glad if your Association will inform them, from time to time, of the arrangements made by them for this purpose, and the extent to which the men use the facilities provided. It will be seen that the Board of Control welcome the assistance of this body, just as it welcomes the assistance of the Y.M.C.A. or any other body of a proper kind. For that reason I regret that anyone should receive the impression that this association has been singled out by the Board of Control or by any other Department of the Government as specially concerned in this matter.


Can the hon. Gentleman say definitely whether the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies have a nominee on the committee of this organisation?


Will the Minister of Munitions communicate with this association, pointing out how improper is the issue of a prospectus of this kind?


I think that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies is simply one of a group of distinguished public-spirited people of all kinds whose names are associated with this work.


My information is that the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies have a definite nominee on the committee of this association. If that is so, my point is that the Government is committing itself.


I am sure that my right hon. Friend is only in the same position as the other gentleman to whom I have referred. The Board of Control has not delegated its powers to this or any other association. As time is pressing, they desire the help of the Y.M.C.A. and other bodies or persons experienced in setting up catering arrangements of a suitable kind in different localities, and I have no doubt they will work with and through such bodies in the future. That does not at all exclude the Board of Control from themselves setting up canteens. No doubt they will do so from time to time where necessary. It is too early to ask the Board of Control, after having turned to this work for not more than about a fortnight, to formulate a policy and state what lines they are, going to take in different munitions areas. We must allow for experiments and the lessons of experience. I am sure that the Board of Control have no intention whatever of parting with the powers which Parliament has given them, or of letting out of their own control this very important matter.


Can the hon. Gentleman say whether any areas have been defined in Scotland?


No areas have yet been defined, because the Order in Council has not yet been issued. Of the six areas mentioned in the draft Order, none are in Scotland.


That means that Scotland is sober.