§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—[Mr. Lloyd George.]
§ Mr. RONALD McNEILL
It appears from two observations made just now that when this Bill goes into Committee there may be some points on which disagreement may arise, but I think we should all agree with the remark made by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (The Prime Minister) that so far as the principle is concerned there is not likely to be much disagreement, and I cannot suppose that any Member of the House will be anxious to oppose or even to delay the Second Reading of the Bill. If anybody had any doubt of that it must have been removed by what has just fallen from the Prime Minister, namely, that there is so much urgency for this Bill that it is necessary to change the business in order that the Committee stage may be taken at once, and, still more, I think that agreement will be seen when we reflect upon the language that was used in introducing the Bill by the right hon. Gentleman the new Minister of Munitions (Mr. Lloyd George). I remember the right hon. Gentleman told us that we were not to subject every word he spoke to close analysis, but at the same time he used language of such gravity that it must have impressed itself upon the House and upon the country. The right hon. Gentleman, in introducing the Bill, said,the country finds itself in a position of dire necessity and of dire peril.If that is true, and I do not think any of us are in a position to dispute the authority of the right hon. Gentleman upon this point, then most certainly anyone who took upon himself to oppose the Second Reading of the Bill would be assuming a very grave responsibility indeed. I am sure that we are all quite ready to support the Bill. The only doubt that may arise in the minds of some of us is whether even this Bill will go sufficient for the emergency which the right hon. Gentleman has described in such very grave language. For myself, I think the most remarkable feature of the Bill is the date on which it has been brought before Parliament and the country. When I was listening to the eloquent speech of the right hon. Gentleman last week I could not help wondering why that speech had been made in the middle of the month 1487 of June instead of in the middle of the month of August last year. Several hon. Members have already expressed the same surprise as to the delay in the speech which we listened to last week. I do not desire to make any complaint at all by way of recrimination. No one is more persuaded than I am of the absolute futility of recrimination at the present time, and, if I make any complaint of that sort at all, it is only by way of a test as to whether we are even now getting all done that ought to be done and that the country expects. I am inclined to think, in fact I feel sure, that those of us who have habitually sat upon this side of the House have during the last few months been sometimes too careful to avoid any possibility of appearing to recriminate. I think we have experienced self distrust. I am quite sure, though I see some hon. Members smiling at the idea, that many of us have felt that there were criticisms from time to time that we might have been inclined to make if it were not that we were afraid that we might be giving vent to party criticism. Some of us may have gone so far as to distrust our own criticism lest, contrary to our belief, there were party feeling at the back of it, and we have remained silent on many occasions when otherwise we might have spoken. There were words which fell from the right hon. Gentleman himself last week which do lead me very much to the question whether even now we are taxing this grave matter with the completeness and the determination which it requires. The right hon. Gentleman, in speaking of the past, said:We assumed that victory was our due as a tribute of fate. Our problems is to organise victory and not to take it for granted."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd June, 1915, col. 1186.]Those last words are so true that in no offensive sense at all I should be inclined to say they were a platitude. It is our business to organise victory and not to take it for granted. But of whom was the right hon. Gentleman speaking when he said, "We assumed that victory was our due as a tribute to fate"? I do not believe for one moment that the majority of the Members of this House and still less that any considerable body of opinion in the country ever entertained any such delusion. I believe from the beginning of the War, although of course there was lack of appreciation of all that was required, that the country realised and that this House realised that we were up 1488 against an enemy for which we were quite unprepared and that it would require most strenuous efforts in order to accomplish the task which lay before us. I believe we did assume, certainly many of us on this side of the House assumed, though I do not know whether we rightly assumed it or not, that the Government, met no doubt with a terrible tack for which we were by the very nature of our system unprepared in a great measure, as the right hon. Gentleman pointed out last week, were doing everything that was conceivably possible to be done for organising victory from the first.
Let me take the question of rifles for example. I do not want at all to ask any indiscreet questions or to touch indiscreetly upon that matter. I take it as an illustration. The right hon. Gentleman told us last week that we entered upon this War with a small Army. It became immediately apparent from the action of Lord Kitchener that the troops which we must prepare to put in the field were to be numbered not by hundreds of thousands, but by millions. One would have supposed that the very first thing that the responsible Government would have done would have been to say to themselves, "Now how many rifles have we got in this country, and how many rifles shall we require when we have enlisted all the men we are going to ask for? What plant have we got to make those rifles and how long will it take to make them," and, according to the answers to those questions, one would have supposed that they would have immediately laid down the necessary plant for getting the rifles required in the least possible space of time. It was very generally assumed in this House and in the country that very elementary duty of the Government was being performed. It never occurred to any one of us to ask questions about it in this House, and, if we had done so, we should very properly have been told that it was contrary to the public interest to say what was being done. We should have been lead to assume, as we did assume, that everything right and proper was being done, and that at the earliest possible date all the additional plant would be available and we should have the rifles required. Last week the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Munitions told us, as if it were a very remarkable circumstance, that it takes eight or nine months to construct and set up the plant for making rifles. I do not know how long it 1489 took the responsible heads of the War Office to discover that fact. A great many people in this country were perfectly aware of it from the first. Having no knowledge, personally, of these technical subjects, I quite well remember asking an officer, last September or October, how long it took to make the plant for turning out rifles, and I got practically the answer which we had only last week from the right hon. Gentleman.
How do we stand to-day? The right hon. Gentleman last week used some very remarkable words. He said that several of the Powers had probably attained the limit of their possible output, but we had "only just crossed the threshold of our possibilities." That was a very remarkable pronouncement to make after ten months of war. I would ask the House to throw its mind back to that memorable week when the War broke out. Speculation was rife how long the War would last. We were divided, roughly speaking, into pessimists and optimists, accordingly as we expressed the opinion that it would take years or months. What does the House think would have been the attitude of mind of anyone here, or of any thinking person in the country, if they could have been told then that, by the end of the following June—that is to say, when we had been fighting for ten months—a responsible Member of the Government would come down to the House of Commons and say, "We are now, after ten months, just crossing the threshold of our possibilities of producing the essentials for carrying on war"! I do not think that any person would have believed it, and certainly if we, on this side of the House, had suggested it, I know the sort of accusation that would have been made against us for such a prophecy, showing such a want of confidence in the power and zeal of the Government. It would have been put down, perhaps rightly so, to gross party feeling on our part.
Would it have been believed that practically the winter would be wasted, and when the spring campaign came—when we would know that energetic operations would be carried on by the enemy, and we should have to be prepared to meet them—there would be no readiness for it, but that, in the middle of the summer, when practically only a few weeks remained of what in the old days was considered the fighting season, we should have the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Munitions telling us that, if 1490 we produce our maximum within the next few months, we may then equal, or even surpass, the enemy! Yet, at the end of June, we are being told that, if we get to our maximum within the next few months, we shall be able to meet the enemy. I am bound to say it appears to me that that savours of the most perilous gambling with the fate of the nation. When the right hon. Gentleman knows, talks—I am not saying a word in blame of him—no fault rests with him, and I endeavour to fix no responsibility on any individual—I merely want to call attention to the facts in order that we may be prepared for the future—when the right hon. Gentleman talks about getting munitions of war within the next few months, he knows quite well, as do hon. Members and others who have read the military history of nations, that the difference between success and disaster in war is very often a matter not of months, but of days and even of hours. Yet in this dire necessity, this dire peril, against which we have been warned by the right hon. Gentleman, arising out of the circumstances to which I have referred, we are met with this Bill, and we are asked to believe—I hope we may believe—that it is going to make all matters right, to put right all things which have been going wrong, and to introduce not only new energy in our preparations for war, but a new spirit on the part of those responsible.
What makes me feel some hesitation and doubt about the matter is that this seems to be an experiment. It is admittedly an experiment, and the question which we have to ask ourselves is, Have we time for making experiments? Experiments military and experiments industrial are exceedingly interesting and very often valuable and instructive when made at the proper time. But we have to ask ourselves, Is the country at the present moment, with a critical three or four months before it, in a position to make this particular experiment? The right hon. Gentleman himself said he had had a conference with the trade unions, and had told them that, unless certain results followed from his efforts, compulsion of some sort would be necessary, and it was in reply to that statement that the proposition was made that further experiments in voluntary effort should be made, and that an attempt should be made to raise a voluntary industrial army within the next thirty days. That is the experiment which the right hon. Gentleman, I think I may say, rather reluctantly 1491 consented to try. He consented to do so at the request apparently of the trade unions. Having regard to the grave language of the right hon. Gentleman himself, have we the time, again I ask, to be making this experiment?
When the right hon. Gentleman spoke of the dire necessity and dire peril, and when he showed that he himself and the responsible Government were doubtfully and reluctantly, as I think, consenting to the measure before us, that was the moment chosen by the right hon. Gentleman—the Member for Rotherham (Mr. J. A. Pease)—to make a speech, in which the Minister of Munitions was charitable enough to say he detected signs of friendliness to the Government. That right hon. Gentleman spoke about uttering threats to the nation. He raked up against his right hon. colleague that old stale slander about having accused the working classes of being drunken. This right hon. Gentleman, who had lately retired from the Government, and who ought to have had knowledge of the seriousness of the situation, seemed much more anxious, as I thought, to vindicate the Government, of which he was a member, than to do anything to help the present situation. He appeared to be very apprehensive lest some form of compulsion, either in an industrial or in a military sense, should be introduced, in order to get over the emergency of the moment. He talked about it being an inappropriate thing to introduce Prussianism into this nation at a time when we were fighting against it. I do not recollect that the right hon. Gentleman showed any very great indignation when the right hon. Gentleman opposite introduced compulsory insurance from Prussia.
§ Mr. R. McNEILL
I was not talking about the hon. Member (Mr. Pringle); I was speaking of the more important right hon. Gentleman below me. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman, who has himself been responsible for administering a system of compulsory education, regarded that, to use his own phrase, asBureaucratic tyranny.I do not wish to discuss the matter in detail, but I cannot see that in principle there is any great difference, or that there is Prussianism in asking a man to serve his country when its existence is at stake in any way the Government may want him; 1492 whereas it is not Prussianism, but merely British tradition and a British principle to compel a man, whether he likes, it or not, to send his children to a certain class of school or to insure himself against unemployment or sickness. I cannot say that I was greatly impressed by the eloquence of the right hon. Gentleman in that respect. I may say that I am one who has never at any time looked with pleasure or complacency upon the question of compulsion in any shape or form in this country. I am much more opposed to compulsion than the right hon. Gentleman, who has acquiesced in it in half a dozen different directions. Nevertheless, I am convinced by speeches we have heard from different parts of the House, and from a review of the whole situation, that what we require at the present moment is some such form of national service as was spoken of in a very eloquent and impressive speech only the other day by the hon. Member for East Northamptonshire (Sir L. Chiozza Money).
I am not going to argue the question of compulsion against the voluntary system, but I feel very strongly that hon. Members in different parts of the House, and people outside, make a very great mistake when they assume that those who are in favour of national service at the call of the State at such a time as this think that it is required mainly in order to fill up the ranks of our fighting forces at the front. If we require some form of compulsion or national service, it is not in order to get recruits but in order to make organisation efficient. It is not in order that we may have greater numbers under the command of the Field-Marshal, but that the work of all our people throughout the country should be given to the State in that particular form and in that particular place where it is most required at the present moment, and where it will be most useful. I have heard it said in this House—and I have no doubt it is true—that the vast majority—certainly all the best of our people—are not only willing but anxious to do their best to serve the country at the present time. The great difficulty is that most of them do not know what they are best qualified to do, and they do not know what work the Government can find for them. I suppose all Members of this House have had the same experience as myself—that of having numbers of people coming to them and saying, "We have had such-and-such training, or very little training, but at any rate we are strong and willing to work. Can 1493 you recommend us where to go or what to do?" One says that he can only recommend them to go to the War Office, the Board of Trade, or here and there to try to find some job. I suppose we have all given letters of recommendation to people in order to get them something to do.
I wish that the right hon. Gentleman, as part of his work in this Department, or that the Government would set up somewhere a sort of clearing house or Labour Exchange in London in connection with the Government, where people—not the ordinary skilled or unskilled labourer, but the man who is anxious to do his bit, to whatever social class he belongs, can go, and, at all events, get advice as to the best quarter to which to apply, so that the difficulty and friction of these men getting employment may be alleviated. If, as I think it is true, the best of our people are anxious to work, and, as we hear on all sides, would be only too delighted to be directed—call it compulsion if you like—in order to do work in a certain quarter, then I would ask, In whose interest and on whose behalf is there in certain quarters a dead set against the very idea of compulsion at all? The only residuum to whom compulsion could be applied, and who could take objection to it, is that small minority of shirkers whom none of us want to benefit. There is that small minority of shirkers. Are we to put the State to greater peril, to jeopardise the great efforts which the right hon. Gentleman and the Government are making in order to meet the emergency, rather than apply to this small minority of shirkers a measure of coercion, the only effect of which would be to prevent them shirking with impunity, and enjoying during the terrible crisis through which we are passing the fruits of other people's sacrifices? Unless we can show that there is a larger and more worthy part of the nation for whose benefit the voluntary system in all its glory is to be maintained throughout, then those who take the attitude of opposition to it must feel that their clients are very little worthy of the energy they are putting forward for them. I most earnestly trust that the Bill which the right hon. Gentleman puts before us for Second Reading to-day will be found sufficient to meet the emergency.
Taking a broad view of the question of the munitions of war, there are few matters more important than the food of our own people. The food of our own 1494 people is the very essential foundation of all war and all munitions, yet under the system by which we are attempting to muddle through in order to meet the principles or prejudices, or whatever you may like to call them—prejudices which many of us on this side of the House have shared in days past with hon. Gentlemen opposite against any form of compulsion—in order to keep intact those old prejudices, we are going through a form of recruiting for our Armies which is largely injuring and depressing the power of our own agriculture to help to maintain the food of our own people.
§ Mr. EDGAR JONES
On a point of Order, may I ask you, Sir, whether it will be in order to debate throughout the day the general question of Compulsion versus the Voluntary System, or the question of food supplies and all matters of that kind on this Bill? I ask that question because on the last occasion Mr. Deputy-Speaker, in your absence from the Chair, ruled out a discussion of that kind.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
It is rather difficult for me to say beforehand, until I have heard the argument, how far it is relevant. As, a very great number of Members wish to speak in this Debate, I think it would be advisable if those who do take part in it were to confine themselves as closely as they can to the immediate subject-matter of this Bill. It is difficult sometimes to stick closely to a particular point. I happen to know that a very great number of Members are anxious to speak, and I am afraid that if everybody travelled over the widest field open to them, we shall never reach the end of the Debate at all.
§ Mr. R. McNEILL
I shall not pursue that point any further. I have indicated what I think is an important part of the whole question in its broadest outline. There is one other point, which is strictly relevant, to this Bill, upon which I should like to say a word—that is the employment of women. The right hon. Gentleman said something about it in introducing the Bill last week, and there is a Clause in the Bill which provides for the employment of women and the effect it may have upon trade union regulations. I do not want to say anything about the matter so far as it affects trade union regulations, but I do say, speaking again from a broad point of view, that the right hon. Gentleman, the Government as a whole, and the country are not by any means making the use which they might and ought to make 1495 of the willing and efficient women's labour which is at their disposal. The labour of women may not be in the technical sense the skilled labour which the right hon. Gentleman requires for some part of his work, but it is very often, although not skilled, exceptionally intelligent. The right hon. Gentleman himself told us last week that in some of the more delicate parts of manufacture women showed themselves particularly efficient. I have had a great deal of evidence, and I dare say other hon. Members have had it also during the last few weeks or months, of the numbers of women of all social classes who are most anxious that they should do their bit as well as the men. Large numbers are willing to work anywhere where employment can be found for which they may be thought efficient. There is a very widespread idea among women, and it is not altogether unjustified, that they are being treated at this time of national crisis with a little contempt, or, at all events, that their anxiety to serve has been brushed aside, and that they are only to be accepted here and there as mere makeshifts where men are not available. In that connection I should like to bring to the notice of the House the great contrast in this respect which Germany presents to our country at the present time. I do not know whether hon. Members have seen the very interesting series of articles by a neutral observer which have appeared from time to time in the "Times." This writer, who has evidently seen a great deal of what is going on in Germany during the War, says:—The way women have in many cases assumed the management of affairs hitherto exclusively in male hands is one of the most creditable chapters in German history. The burden which has fallen upon the women of the country is stupendous. Everywhere women have been thrust into positions of great responsibility. There is scarcely an occupation which German women have not taken up with success.Finally he says:—Forty per cent. of the workers engaged in the manufacture of high explosives and shells and in the packing of cartridges are women.That indicates that in the enemy country, owing undoubtedly to their extraordinary organisation and resourcefulness, they are utilising a national effort which, up to the present, we have very imperfectly realised the value of, and I hope this, among other things, will be remedied. I should like to see the fullest possible use made, whether in agriculture or in manufacture, in the making of munitions of war, or in other directions which might set free men who 1496 could do direct work on munitions of war, the fullest use made of the very willing service which is being offered by the women of England at present. I feel some doubt as to whether this Bill, even with all the energy which the right hon. Gentleman is putting behind it and with all the willingness which I have no doubt vast masses of our fellow countrymen will help him to make a success, is altogether sufficient to meet the requirements of the present emergency; but none the less I earnestly hope it will have, and in my own very humble sphere I offer to the right hon. Gentleman my very best wishes for the success of the great endeavour which he is making.
§ Mr. HOUSTON
I crave the indulgence of the House if I do not speak as loudly or as distinctly as I should wish, but I have been suffering from hæmorrhage of the lungs and have come from a sick room against my doctor's orders. I felt so strongly on the question of our troops at the front being supplied with the munitions they require and demand that I could not stay away from this Debate, and if any word of mine could help the right hon. Gentleman in carrying out the urgent task upon which he is engaged, I shall feel that if I have helped him in the slightest degree I am fully rewarded for any personal consequences which might happen to myself for disobeying doctor's orders. The question before the House is the Second Reading of this Bill, which means really, I presume, whether the Bill is required or not. According to War Office utterances with which the House has been familiar for some time past, and particularly from answers to questions I have addressed to the War Office one would infer that this Bill was not required, but our Army, including the Commander-in-Chief, Sir John French, has for months been clamouring for munitions and for more shells. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that this Bill is required and those who are in close communication with the front, like myself, know that the Bill and the powers that it gives are urgent. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the enthusiasm and the energy with which he has started on his campaign Like Peter the Hermit, who went forth to preach the First Crusade against the Saracens, the right hon. Gentleman has gone forth to the country to preach a crusade against the modern Hun, and I wish him every success in his gigantic and urgent task. It would appear that he 1497 alone amongst Ministers has had the courage to tell the truth. He has told us some of the truth, but I fear not all. From what I have heard from my friends who have come back wounded from the front, and from what I gather from those who are now fighting in the trenches, the disclosures which have been made through the Press are nothing to the real facts of the case, and the country, I am sure, does not know how serious and critical the position is. We are shockingly, I might almost say, shamefully short of guns and big ammunition. We are short of shells and we are short of maxim guns. Yet we are told by the War Office that everything is well. Our own brave men at the front are doing magnificent work, and endeavouring with the bayonet to meet the great handicap of the shortage of high explosive shells and maxim guns, and I think it is shameful that we should ask them to do so; they are entitled to be put on at least level terms with the Germans, and I have urged that by question time and again.
The magnificent and heroic feats that our men have performed are such as we require. We require a Homer in the undying words of the Iliad to describe their heroic deeds and their noble names. In spite of that we have the War Office censor, who would appear to be doing his best to bury in oblivion the names of these people, and if that impersonal individual at the War Office is to be consistent he ought to have muzzled the right hon. Gentleman and stamped on the fiery cross that he has been carrying round the country. I maintain that it is due to the censor that the country has been so lethargic during the past. They have been kept in ignorance, and shameful ignorance, of the true facts of the case. The indictment that I have is against the War Office for such methods as these. It is due to the shortsightedness of the late Government and to the shortcomings of the War Office that our men have been so short of ammunition, and it is time that someone went forth—as the right hon. Gentleman has gone forth—to enlighten the country as to the true facts of the case. We have already had one ex-Minister unmuzzled by release from office telling us that the Ordnance Department of the War Office has broken down, as if the better informed of us in this House and the country were not well aware of that. We have another ex-Minister, also released from office, who told us the other day that the Government 1498 had no idea of the large proportion of high explosive shells which now appears to be necessary; the Government had no idea of the kind of guns which were most effective in trench warfare; the Government had no idea of the number of machine guns which could be used effectively in a war of this kind; the Government had no idea of the character of the hand grenades which were very largely used. I am quoting the words of the late Minister of Education, In fact, it seems to me that the Government—or, in other words, the War Office—had no idea of anything. It was the same thing during the South African War. We were short of everything then. We are short again. I suppose the War Office thinks that on this occasion we shall muddle through as we have done on previous occasions. The situation is different to-day from what it was in South Africa. I do not want to exaggerate. Far from it. I am not a pessimist by any means, but never in the whole history of our country has the situation been so desperate as it is to-day.
In South Africa our generals, who are supposed to be educated in war, had no idea of South African war, and they were taught it by the Boer generals—farmers. Botha, De Wet, Delarey, were really farmers, and yet they out-manœuvred and beat some of our best generals out there and it was necessary to call upon England's greatest soldier at an age when he ought to be in retirement to go out and end the war. I refer to the late Lord Roberts who, though dead yet speaketh to the nation, and I hope it will listen to his voice. It is necessary that such should be done. What the country wants in this War is the truth. We are not children in the nursery to be told to shut our eyes and open our mouth and take what is given to us. If we have to take our physic let us take it like men, bitter though it be, and not like squeamish children who have it disguised in jam—the jam of the censor and the late Government, which has done everything it could to chloroform the country into a sense of false security. I presume the late Government was afraid to tell the truth for fear that if it were known we should have rejected the physic and struck the spoon of office from their trembling hands. What is the result? We have now a Coalition Government. Why? Because the War Office, entangled in its own red tape, has fallen down on the question of ammunition. We have a Coalition Government. 1499 I prefer to call it a national Government. We have a new Government Department, a new Minister of Munitions, which we have never had before. The new Government is on its trial. Let it tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and the country will judge it justly. I ask the country and this House not to judge the new Government hastily, but justly. I ask the House and the country to give the new Minister of Munitions a fair trial, to give him every help and every support in the gigantic task upon which he is now engaged. He is on his trial, but please God he will pull through. I repeat, from my own first-hand knowledge, that the country is in a desperate condition. Only this morning I received letters from the front. What is the position there? Nothing but stalemate. After eleven months' fighting it is a question of stalemate. We have heard that the Germans were beaten We have been told that we have the Germans in hand and that we can do what we like. Do the Germans look as if they were beaten in the East? If they can manage to drive back the Russians for a sufficient time and hold them, they will rush across to the Western front and what will happen then? There will not be any attempted attack or rush for Paris. It will be for Calais. And when they bring down their great guns there will be no difficulty, if they once seize Dunkirk, Calais and Boulogne, in bombarding Dover and Folkestone, and even under cover of that bombardment attempting a raid or an invasion upon this country. It is all very well to say the Fleet will protect us from it. We have had evidence of what the Fleet can do and cannot do at Gallipoli.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is making a general review of the situation which hardly seems to be relevant to this Bill. Would the hon. Member confine his criticism to the principles of the Bill and say how it can be improved?
§ Mr. HOUSTON
I will endeavour to do so. I am afraid I was rather carried away with the subject. I would give the right hon. Gentleman a word of warning. I would ask him to remember the history of Samson and his failures. The right hon. Gentleman, like Samson, is a strong man and has gone into the country of the Philistines. I would ask him to beware of the red tape of the War Office. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that he will 1500 break down the bonds of this red tape. I trust he may be able to do so, as easily as Samson broke the withs that bound him. I would also warn the right hon. Gentleman against the blandishments of Delilah. I refer to the armaments ring of Delilah, whose scissors, if he is not wary and wise, will shear his locks and deprive him of his strength. It is well known how confidential and close are the relations which exist between the War Office, the Admiralty, and the armament firms. I am not going to argue at the moment whether it is in the interests of the country that it should be so, but I would remind hon. Members, and especially the right hon. Gentleman, that those relations are so close that when a naval or military officer of high position leaves the Government's service, he frequently becomes a director or managing director of an armament firm. The right hon. Gentleman is largely dependent at the present time upon the assistance of these armament firms. In his speeches throughout the country he has called upon engineers and business men to help him. I happen to be both an engineer and a business man, and although in the past I have been perhaps one of the most severe critics of the right hon. Gentleman, on the platform, I can only say that I offer him my whole-hearted support and my warmest friendship in the great and urgent task in which he is engaged. But again, I would ask him to beware of the armaments ring. I use the word "ring" in no offensive sense, but simply to describe it shortly. Prior to this War that armament ring had spread out its tentacles to almost every country except Germany.
I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to turn his attention to one question which I have brought before this House. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has asked us to study economy throughout this War. We are already spending £1,000,000,000 upon the War, and I would urge the right hon. Gentleman to turn his attention to the use of cast-iron high-explosive shells. They can be produced in far greater numbers than the present shells. I think I am within the scope of this Bill if I deal with this particular question. Six weeks ago I first called public attention to the use of high-explosive cast-iron sheels. I called the attention of the Under-Secretary for War to it, but it was ignored. It was ignored also by the Press, but, fortunately, manufacturing engineers throughout the country have backed up my idea. I have 1501 no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman has had letters on the subject already. I have had abundance of letters from manufacturing engineers. I am not going to burden the House with the argument which has been going on for some time past in the technical engineering Press, but we have manufacturing engineers who are meeting the arguments of the armament makers, and, I maintain, successfully. We have also the evidence of Artillery officers. Colonel Townsend, of the Royal Artillery, has had something to say about it. He says:—There is really no reason why shells for high explosives should not be made of cast iron.After describing shrapnel shell, he goes on to say:—That is quite unnecessary for a common shell filled with high-explosive bursting charge; in fact, cast-iron will break up better than steel. It will greatly facilitate the manufacture of these shells if they were cast plain, with a ring for the driving band cast in. This could easily be ground up, and the ring for the band turned and countersunk. The Mark IV., 9-pounder R.M.L. shells had zinc studs and were just as useful as those with copper studs. All we need now is a suitable shell to carry the high explosives to the enemy and burst where required. The usual red-tape should not be allowed to stand in the way of increased supply.I learn now that the War Office are making a few shells for experimental purposes, but the Germans have been using millions of these high-explosive cast-iron shells. I think the fragments of German cast-iron shells which our men picked up at Ypres show conclusively that it is a common cast-iron shell that the Germans have been using. I would impress, in the most emphatic terms, upon the right hon. Gentleman that high-explosive cast-iron shells should be used by our Army. Here is another quotation on the subject, which is from a letter I received:—Re the question you raised in the House of Commons as to the desirability of substituting cast iron for steel in the manufacture of shells, in view of the greatly increased quantities that could be turned out in the former material, and the great reduction in expense.Surely the question of expense will appeal to the right hon. Gentleman. We may have a deep purse, but it is not a bottomless purse, and if we can produce these cast-iron shells in greater numbers, and at much less cost, surely the right hon. Gentleman will adopt the idea. The letter goes on to say:—Unfortunately Mr. Lloyd George's utterances have not yet succeeded in banishing any considerable portion of the red-tape which encircles Government Departments, and which is so largely responsible for the prolongation of the War. Cast-iron shells will come, but only as a result of a great deal of personal abuse.I have had personal abuse in this House on this matter. Another writer, speaking 1502 about my question in the House, advocating the use of the cast-iron shells, says:—There is one feature in the problem which both Mr. Houston and onr contemporaries appear to have overlooked, and it is generally written with a capital 'P,' which denotes profit. The writer had charge of a battery of 40-pounder guns in a not-distant campaign, and was responsible for the firing of some thousands of rounds of cast-iron shells, and with exception of the enemy, no complaints were made.From the armament firms' point of view, we have something from Sheffield; and this is what Sheffield writes, speaking about this question of cast-iron shells:—This matter is distinctly one for experts, and should not be debated by the publicI think this is a matter which ought to be debated in public, because it is a very vital matter in connection with our campaign. I have a letter from a manufacturing engineer, to whom the right hon. Gentleman has appealed for help. He says:—You may take the enclosed figures as being approximately correct. According to these, it takes rather over 1,000 men to provide 1,000,000 shells weekly. Surely it should not take long to organise a few thousand men.Wrought steel shell cases.—Machining these in ordinary lathes will cost 7s. each, and this price is being paid. Contracts are also being given out at 4s. 6d. for manufacture on automatic machines. The usual contract price is 3s. 3d., so that the difference in making on special machines as against ordinary turning is 3s. 3d. to 7s., or over 100 per cent. The actual machining time is given by schedule as 58½ minutes, or say one hour, which being reduced to a man's hours equals—machining one 18 pound case, one man, one hour: or 53 shells per working week per man. As machining firms are charged 5s". for each spoilt forging, we may assume that they are worth that, so that these cases cost anything from 8s. 3d. to 12s. each, and as high as 14s. Apart from cost, eight men will only produce 424 steel cases pet week.I would draw the attention of the ex-Minister for Education and of the Minister for Munitions to the facts I am producing.My reason for taking 8 as a multiple is this: in casting on moulding machines, I will take a squad of 8 men and 2 moulding machines, 4 moulders and 4 labourers. Four moulders on two machines will turn out 24 boxes, of 6 each per hour; or 144 shells per hour. A total of 144 shells per hour, multiplied by 53 hours, which is a man's working week, will produce 7,632 shells per week, or, 8 men can make 424 steel cases per week, while another 8 men can make 7,632 cast-iron cases per week. Taking the weight of an 18-pounder cast-iron case at 9 lbs. and the price, say (an extravagant price) 20s. per cwt., the price works out at 1s. 2d. each, as against 8s. 3d. to 14s. for the steel case.I need not go into further details, but I think I have shown the right hon. Gentleman the value of adopting even a layman's idea in connection with shells.
How are we being treated by the War Office over this question? On the 15th June I asked the Minister for Munitions:—Whether he is aware that one of the most destructive and effective shells used by Germans against our trenches is a cast-iron shell filled with high explosive, and that this shell is more easily, cheaply and quickly 1503 produced than our steel shrapnel shells; and whether he will arrange that our troops are promptly provided with an abundant supply of the same class of shell as the Germans are using, or an improved type, which will be effective against wire entanglements and entrenchments, thereby putting our troops on at least level terms with the Germans.The right hon. Gentleman was not in his place, and this question was answered by the Under-Secretary for War.Mr. Tennant: I am not aware that the most destructive and effective shells used by the Germans are made of cast iron."—I did not say that it was the most, but that it was one of the most—I would point out to the hon. Member that there is no lack of production of shell bodies and that it is the production of other components that governs the output. Whether, therefore, the shell is made of cast iron or forged steel, and there are technical objections to the former, the complete round of ammunition would not be produced with greater rapidity. I deprecate the suggestion contained in the final paragraph of the hon. Member's question.Let me deal with this answer, which I consider is an evasive and incorrect answer. If, as was pointed out by the right hon. Gentleman, there is no lack of production of shell bodies and it is the production of other components that entirely governs the output, then why has the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Munitions been going through the country and speaking at the principal centres of industry and asking for every machine and every lathe in the country? What is it for? Is it for the bodies? It certainly cannot be for the explosives, because the right hon. Gentleman told us in his speech the other day that so far from being short of explosives we were supplying our Allies. I think that that is within the recollection of hon. Members. If the right hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary was referring to fuses or other things of that type in connection with the shells, it was not necessary for the right hon. Gentleman to go throughout the country asking for every lathe, because the fuses and other parts like them could be turned out by any small brass founder's shop or any bicycle or motor works. The right hon. Gentleman did not require to ask for every lathe in the country for that. I have something to say about our men being put at least on level terms with the Germans. They are undoubtedly superior to the Germans in courage, but in equipment they are undoubtedly inferior, and it is for that very reason that the right hon. Gentleman's new office has been created, namely to supply them with equipment which would at least put them on level terms with the 1504 Germans. Have we been on level terms with the Germans so far as poisonous gases are concerned? Have we—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I really must call the attention of the hon. Member to the fact that he is not discussing the Clauses or principle of the Bill. I have been listening in vain for an expression of his ideas on the Bill, but he has been dealing with generalities and technicalities. We cannot have a discussion on those topics to-day. We are met to-day for the purpose of discussing the Clauses of this Bill, and I really must ask the hon. Member to do so.
§ Mr. HOUSTON
I apologise for transgressing. I was really under the impression that I was dealing with the terms of this Bill, the object of which was to provide munitions for our Army, and that I was pointing out how necessary it was that we should have this Bill passed because of the shortage of those munitions.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
We are all agreed as to that, and that is why the Bill was introduced. The Second Heading gives an opportunity to the House to consider the Clauses and the method by which the Minister and the Government propose to proceed. If the hon. Member now would deal with these Clauses or the general principles in connection with them he would be rendering a useful service to the House.
§ Mr. HOUSTON
I hope that I shall not transgress again in pointing out to the right hon. Gentleman how the demand for munitions may best be met. I dealt, perhaps at some length, with the question of cast-iron shells, and, of course, I bow to your ruling, but would I be in order in pointing out how any particular munitions of which we are short can be produced?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I think that the hon. Member has wholly misconceived the Debate which is now before the House. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has got the Bill, but the Bill deals with the question of settlement of labour disputes, the prohibition of lock-outs, and the control of establishments. If the hon. Member will deal with those subjects then the House will listen very readily.
§ Mr. HOUSTON
Very well, I will deal with the Bill, if I am not allowed to deal with other items. I think that the Bill does not go far enough. It does not give sufficient power, for the simple reason that strikes, no matter in what trade, should 1505 be not only unthinkable, but should be made absolutely impossible. Yet we are threatened at the present moment with the coal strike, which may have a direct affect upon limiting the amount of ammunition that we can turn out. I am glad to say that the Board of Trade, as far as its President is concerned, will be called in in questions of dispute, but there is one question with which the right hon. Gentleman endeavoured, but unsuccessfully, to deal before the Bill, and that is the question of drunkenness. Under this Bill drunkenness is an offence which can be met by some payment. I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that during the War drunkenness should be made a crime against the State, to be punished accordingly. I heard the other day of a working man lighting his pipe with a £1 note. What punishment would a fine be upon him? Evidently he attached very little value to money. I raise no objection whatever to, in fact I approve of, what the right hon. Gentleman has put into this Bill as regards the limiting of profits so far as employers are concerned. I would ask him to consider the question as having a bearing upon the instance which I have just related: whether the working men of the present moment are not benefiting very largely by the War in increased wages, war bonuses and other things like that, and whether in many instances this increased money has not been the cause of increased intemperance?
I make no general charge against working men. I have been too long associated with working men, and I know them too well to make any charge against them. There are black sheep in every flock, among the employers as well as the working man; but I agree with the hon. Member opposite that drunkenness in this particular direction among workers should be even a more serious offence than drunkenness among employers. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will improve and extend the measure for dealing with drunkenness under this Bill. Then I may refer to the question of restriction. That is the most serious question with which the right hon. Gentleman has to deal. He has heard the expression "ca' canny." I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman will turn his attention very closely to that, and improve the section of the Bill which deals with that. It is unnecessary for me to say that it is incumbent upon every man in this country, no matter what his position or what his 1506 duties, to help in bringing this ghastly war to a conclusion, and I can only hope that, when our men at the front are amply supplied with the munitions which they have a right to demand from us, and which we hope will be provided under this Bill, they will be able to carry this war to a victorious conclusion, to the benefit of the whole civilised world.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
I do not think that I should have spoken in this Debate if it were not for two things. One was the speech of the hon. Gentleman who opened this Debate, and the second was a letter which appeared the "Times" this morning. In discussing this and similar Bills I think that we ought to know exactly from what standpoint we are going to discuss them. My right hon. Friend, when he introduced this subject to the House, very wisely, if I may say so, dropped a veil upon the past, and started from the present. The hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate this afternoon spent quite half the time in which he was addressing the House in making an attack, in suggesting innuendoes, in reviving disputes, and in indulging in recrimination against the Members of the late Government, collectively and individually. If that is going to be the standpoint from which Debates are to be conducted in this House, there will have to be some very plain speaking. I think that that will be very undesirable. We are all content in this House to say nothing about the past, unless we are all untongue-tied, and if we are to discuss the past we are to discuss it with perfect freedom and with perfect frankness. On any other basis than this Debates in this House would be an unreality which would not be worth attending to for one moment. I do not propose in the remarks which I intend to address to the House this afternoon in any way to depart from the attitude which my right hon. Friend took up. I do not want to be called upon to embark upon the question whether this or that requirement was wholly or partially or not at all fulfilled, whether the late Government did more than anybody humanly could have expected of it, or whether it fell short of its duty. What I have now got to do is to consider whether the present proposal which my right hon. Friend has introduced to the House is adequate for supplying the troops in the field with the munitions of war, and incidentally thereto—which brings me to my second point—whether this nation, in the endeavours 1507 which it is making to defeat the common foe, is expending all the energies which our Allies on the Continent are doing.
There was a most remarkable letter in the "Times" this morning, written by a lady from somewhere in Savoy, expressing to the editor of the "Times" the feeling of herself and her compatriots. The pith of the letter was this: "We in France have put every man we have got into the field. Our country is stained with the blood of our husbands, our fathers, our fiancés, and our children. There is no effort which we can at present make which is not being made by our fellow countrymen. But what are the people in England doing? They do not occupy the same length of line as we. It is their duty—they have fulfilled it nobly"—I am simply paraphrasing the words—"to call for more men and more munitions of war." What is the underlying sentiment which caused that letter to be written? It can only be that there is a belief in the minds of the French people that this country has not sent to the front—and there are many fronts on which the Armies of our country are now operating—as many men as she ought to have sent or could have sent, that she has not supplied those Armies with the last word in munitions of war, and that she is not making the sacrifices, and is not prepared to make the sacrifices, which our Allies are making. We who know this country well, who know the efforts which have been made in this country during the ten months of the War, who know the sacrifices in men and means that have been made by every class most willingly without stint, know that that sentiment is justified by nothing which has happened in this country. I confess that the speech to which we have just listened is a speech which I regret having been made in this House. There is nothing desperate in the situation, and there never has been anything desperate in the situation. Every war is full of trials and difficulties and dangers; every war has its ups and downs, its retreats and its advances, and if war were simply a matter in which you always made advances then the other side would never embark upon it. We have sent men forth, and we have done our best to provide the troops in the field with the things they require to enable them to achieve victory. I quite appreciate the difficulty in which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Munitions was placed the other day in bringing 1508 forward this Bill. If he had made too much of the shortage which is alleged to be existing he would have by implication condemned our policy in the past. If, on the other hand, he had asserted that there was no shortage, then there would have been no necessity for this Bill. I think he stood on perfectly safe ground between those two extremes. When the late Cabinet resigned, I do not in any way exaggerate the fact when I say that the supplies of munitions to the Army in the field had increased by over 200 per cent. since last August, without counting the supplies which have been given to our Allies and to the Navy. [An HON. MEMBER: "Far more than 200."] I am stating the percentage which I think is true, but if it is much more than that I am delighted. In the "Times" of this morning there is a very interesting account of the enterprise of the French War Office in furnishing the Army with munitions, and they take great credit to themselves. The French War Office has been held up for universal admiration, and with justice by my right hon. Friend, because of the fact that it has supplied the French Army with an increase of munitions by 600 per cent.
Mr. R. McNEIL
The "Times," in the very sentence which the right hon. Gentleman is quoting, states that within a very short time they will reach 900 per cent.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
The point of my argument is that if you take into account what we have supplied to our Allies and what we have supplied for the Navy, and if you take into account the vast increase in the supplies to the Army, the provision by this country for the needs of our Army in France have fallen short very little, if at all, of the increased supplies given by the French people to the French troops. That does not absolve the present Government, 1509 it does not absolve this country, from continuing their efforts and to increase the supplies, or from doing, in fact, what this Bill proposes to do, make the supply of munitions very much greater and more speedy. That I take to be the intention of this Bill, and from that standpoint this Bill ought to be discussed. In the speech which my right hon. Friend made in introducing this Bill he hinted, I will not use any stronger term than that, at some measure of compulsion, and because that does not appear in the Bill, the hon. Gentleman, who opened this Debate, seems somewhat disappointed. Anybody who has visited the battlefield of France, as my right hon. Friend has done and as I have done, and who knows the havoc and desolation which is brought to any land by the kind of conflict which is going on in France at this moment, who knows the ruin brought on families and households, who knows the destruction of all that the people hold dear, whether in men or material, may be excused for departing from sentiments which he held earlier in life, and from wavering in his adherence to that voluntary system of which my right hon. Friend has been a most devoted adherent. The hon. Gentleman who opened this Debate, I think said that he, too, had changed his mind on that subject. I think when you reflect upon the illimitable resources of this country if they are properly husbanded, and on those voluntary sacrifices which this country never refuses to those who ask for them, when you reflect upon what has been done by voluntary effort in this country, I am quite certain that there never need be any necessity for recourse to compulsion, whether for industrial or military purposes.
I think that some such reflection as that which I have now suggested accounts for the difference between the speech of my right hon. Friend and his last conclusions. The bulk of that speech and the bulk of this Bill is directed to the Labour Members of this House, and, in so far as the Bill and the speech are concerned with trade union regulations, customs, and practices, I make no comment, and certainly no complaint on that head. But the Labour Members of this House do not represent all the trade unionists in this country. I am not sure that the trade unionists are themselves in a majority of the working classes. There are numbers of Members on both sides of this House who are representatives of a far larger number of trade unionists and working men than hon. Gentlemen who sit below 1510 the Gangway opposite, and we are entitled to speak for those gentlemen in this House. We have been elected by them for political purposes; we are their representatives, and we are entitled in this House to express what we believe to be their opinions on this and on kindred subjects; and I think those opinions ought to be set forth in clear and unmistakeable terms. I offer no remark upon the arbitration Clause of the Bill. It deals with regulations and practices with which I am not, and cannot pretend to be, familiar; and I have not much to say, if anything, against the principle of the Clause which deals with the control of establishments.
But there is one observation I should like to make upon it. Controlled establishments will deal with different kinds of businesses. They will have many different contracts running at different times for the purpose of executing different work. A great number of those contracts, perhaps all of them, will have to be cancelled if the works are taken over by the Minister of Munitions. Let me point out to the House that the power of the Minister of Munitions in this particular is the power of an autocrat. There is no limitation to his power at all; there is no check upon his power; there is no chock upon his discretion. If he chooses to say to this establishment, "You are to be controlled," and to that, "You are not to be controlled," there is nothing in the Bill which prevents him from exercising that purely autocratic power. [An HON. MEMBER: "Quite right, too."] It may be right, but I am not quite sure whether it is quite understood. If he does that, unless, in fact, he has some persons to guide him most carefully, he may do a very considerable harm to the trade of this country, not only at this time, but hereafter. But the conduct of the War depends upon the adequacy of the finance of this country, and that finance, as has been pointed out a great many times in this House, depends upon the exports from this country. If you are going to interfere with the manufacture of goods which are to be exported from this country you are going to seriously hamper and cripple the finance by which alone you can carry on the War. That is for the present. But what about the future? If you give up foreign trade, if you abandon some branch of foreign trade, if you cancel some orders from abroad, if you prevent the carrying out of some orders which have reached us from different countries, the firm may 1511 suffer some harm which at the present moment you can make good to the firm and the people employed by the firm, but you will have enormous difficulty in again linking up that trade connection when the War is over and done with. What compensation are you going to offer the firms whose contracts are interrupted in order to make munitions, and whose trade has been destroyed? There is another point about which I should like to ask a question of my right hon. Friend. You are going to restrict the powers of employers, and there is a great deal to be said in theory for that and for the method by which you propose to do it. But there are two factors to be considered. One is the profits which the employer ultimately hopes to gain from the manufacture, and the other, and larger factor is the wages to be paid to the employés. You are going to limit the profits of the employer; are you going to limit the wages of the employed, or are you going to permit one class of men to be making profit out of the War, and not going to permit profit to be made by another class during the War? Those are my questions.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
I am very glad my right hon. Friend has asked me that question. Upon the question of the taxing of profits let me say this. It is assumed when you propose to tax the War profits of a company that the company is the consumer of the dividend. It is nothing of the sort. It is merely the distributor of the dividend, and that dividend is paid to a person who, as likely as not, has lost, through other companies which have failed, or whose dividends have been reduced to nothing at all by the very operation of the War, which gives to other firms increased profits, that you propose to tax. Surely you inflict a hardship on people in that position, and the remedy I propose to my right hon. Friend—and I am sure it has not escaped his attention—is a simple remedy which has often been suggested, and I think properly suggested. It is, first of all, that the contract which you make with a firm shall be on the strictest possible lines, so that the profit to be made out of it is of the very smallest possible kind. This is much the best plan, because you protect the Treasury and the finances of the country at the source. I make this other suggestion which has been brought 1512 to my notice. I understand from the Continent that there is in contemplation the proposals of a company which will have, as I understand, a large concession and a great monopoly, and they have laid it down that the company may make as large profits as they can out of their enterprise, but that a fixed proportion of those profits shall be taken for the purpose of adding a bonus to the wages of the workers who are engaged in that company. That suggestion which I have made to my right hon. Friend will, I think, find acceptance on the other side. It provides a very much easier way than the method which he proposes, and which will entail the audit of a large number of books, and the employment of a large audit staff, in order to check the improper allocation of profits, and to reduce the dividend to what appears to be a reasonable proportion. I make those suggestions as I believe, and because I hope, they may be helpful to the Bill. I am quite sure there is not a Member of this House who will not do his best to assist the Government of the day in passing this or any other measure which it believes will be of real advantage to the Nation, and which will in any way produce an earlier termination of the War. We must all make our contribution to the common cause in which this country is engaged. I am quite certain the best way to promote that cause is not unnecessarily to go back on the past in a half light, but, passing from the past to the present, to make the path of the Government easier in order to produce the earliest possible termination of the War.
§ Mr. HODGE
I would remind the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken that in the early days of the War trade unionists declared that, so far as they were concerned, they would raise no new questions during its continuance. That declaration was made in the belief that other sections of the community would act as patriotically as they were anxious to do. But, unfortunately, the price of food rose by leaps and bounds, and the price of every necessity of life increased in the same way. The right hon. Gentleman was one of the Members of the late Government, and notwithstanding the pressure that we endeavoured from time to time to place upon the Government to control prices, they almost did nothing in that direction. As a result of that the standard of living for the workers was so much lowered that it became absolutely essential that they should ask for some increase 1513 in the wages to meet that additional cost of living. In most cases that assumed the phase of a war bonus, and as soon as the War terminated the men would be required to give it up. If it was generally agreed that the prices of the necessities of life should be limited, I am quite convinced the workers of this country during the further continuance of the War would not seek to exploit the nation's necessities as the holders of food and other commodities have done, but they would be contented to go on as they are. Another remark the right hon. Gentleman made was with reference to the fact that he and other Members represented trade unionists as well as we on these benches. I do not think anyone on these benches has ever denied that. I do not believe any of us ever suggested that there were not trade unionists in almost every constituency in the country, and that to some extent hon. Members for those constituencies represented that interest.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
I did not mean to make any criticism on anything that had been said. I only wanted to point out that there were other people interested in the question besides hon. Members opposite.
§ Mr. HODGE
I know that the hon. Member for North-West Lanarkshire is a great authority on this matter, and if he wants to make a contribution to the Debate probably he will do so a little later on. When leave to introduce this Bill was asked by the right hon. Gentleman last week I then stated that so far as the trade unionists who had met the right hon. Gentleman were concerned, they welcomed the Bill, more particularly if it was going to do anything to help our men at the front. Some remarks have been made with respect to strikes and lock-outs. I have said in this House, and I have said it outside, and I know I speak for a great volume of trade union opinion, that strikes during this War are inconceivable and unthinkable. But where such have occurred blame must not in all cases be put on the workers, because the employers are in many instances responsible. Let me give an stance at the present moment, because I think it demonstrates the position so far as 1514 this Bill is concerned, and it may help to solve it. A case went to arbitration with respect to a war bonus. The judge decided that a war bonus of a certain amount should be paid, but the employer turned round and said, "I am not going to put it into operation, because if I do I will become bankrupt." We do not know as to whether that be true or not, but the men say, "If we are not going to get the bonus we are not going to work." Is that a strike or a lock-out? I think that is one of the points in connection with this Bill that has not been made perfectly clear, and that ought to be made perfectly clear.
When the Prime Minister was answering the right hon. Gentleman opposite, when I suggested if we had an extra day for the purpose of negotiating with the right hon. Gentleman points like that might have been cleared up, and the passage of the Bill through the House as a consequence facilitated, if was not because we desired to take away any of the rights or privileges of Members of the House, but simply that we, who have been meeting the right hon. Gentleman right along in the framing of his Bill, now that we have seen it, are in a position to suggest alterations that in some respects would strengthen it, and, probably, in other directions, where it is rather tight, loosen it. An hon. Member who spoke from the Front Bench referred to the question of a fine being no punishment upon the worker for drunkenness. Last week, when the Bill was being introduced, that was a point I made, and I stated that there was not a single man here who desired that anyone who through drunkenness was failing to do his duty to the nation should get off with a fine, but that some other punishment than that should be imposed upon him. A remarkable feature I think of trade union attitude upon this Bill is contained in the Manifesto which has been issued by the Advisory Committee, supplemented and endorsed by the Parliamentary Committee of the Trade Union Congress, and the General Federation of Trade Unions, representing between them 3,000,000 of the skilled workers of this country. Hon. Members only require to read it to see how those men, the leaders of the movement, are as earnest and as determined as it is humanly possibly to be, to do everything to help our gallant men at the front, because we realise that the sacrifices of giving up any trade union privilege that we enjoy to-day is as nothing compared to the sacrifice that 1515 the men are making in the trenches. We may be sacrificing the working of a few hours overtime, or putting a little more energy into our work, but they are sacrificing life itself that we may maintain the civil privileges and liberties that we enjoy.
Trade unionists, and workers generally, have been subjected to a great deal of what I might call captious criticism. Those workers, when they put forth their utmost energies in pre-war times, have always been up against the employer who was seeking to reduce the price that he was paying for the article. This Bill is an endeavour to protect the trade unionist after the War against that. Some may think that this is not a general application, but in my experience it is so. I organised a section of the steel trade some fifteen years ago, where both employers and workmen believed in restriction of output, not the whole of the employers and not the whole of the workers. After I had organised them I pointed out to both sides that it was economically unsound, and in many cases was wasteful, and that where the workmen were endeavouring to keep up this restriction of output they were dishonest to their employer, because in the endeavour they were wasting material, and nothing which is wasted can ever be replaced. The result of, may I say, educative effort convinced both sides that the time had come when a change should be made. It was suggested to the employers that it was impossible to get the workmen to agree to the removal of the restriction, if it meant that they were going to double the output and ultimatsly only obtain the same wages as for the lesser output. The chairman of the employers association, in the most emphatic fashion, said they would never do that. Time passed on, and then a certain section of the employers made a general demand for a reduction of 25 per cent. on the rate for this particular article that they were producing. Unfortunately for them, I have an excellent memory. The scene, with the emphatic attitude of the employer's chairman, was like a picture before my eyes; and when I reproduced it the chairman of the employers' association at once said, "In honour we must withdraw it." It was withdrawn, and we have never heard anything more of it. But unfortunately all sections of the employers are not so honourable as in that instance; hence the reason why we are so 1516 desirous of having these safeguards, so far as the present Bill is concerned.
In his speech last week the right hon. Gentleman made reference to the greatly enhanced price of metals. Here again the Government have been to blame. You cannot make steel cheaply if you have coal at double its former price. You cannot make steel so cheaply when you find that the freightage has doubled. The methods of the War Office pass comprehension. A great many vessels which had been built specially for bringing the raw material, in the shape of iron ore, from other countries, were commandeered by the Army and the Navy. Hence, freightage went up enormously. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to limit the price of metals he must deal with these and all other factors which have tended to increase the price. On the principle of the Bill there may be differences of opinion amongst Members of the House. I do not believe that the Government went the right way about getting the workmen to expedite the manufacture of munitions. I mentioned last week, and I make no apology for mentioning it again, that in answer to a speech made by the right hon. Gentleman when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, we said that they were not going the right way to get men, that they could not expect men in South Wales, for example, to go to Newcastle for the same wages and have two homes to keep up, but that if they were prepared to pay a sustenance allowance it would be an easy thing to mobilise that labour. It took the Government, I believe, four months, to fix up the concession of that sustenance allowance. But that did not debar me as an individual from helping the Labour Exchanges to get the labour that was so essential for the manufacture of munitions. As a matter of fact, the Government failed to mobilise labour as it could have been mobilised just in the same way as they failed to produce the munitions of war necessary for the men at the front.
I have no desire to go into the past. The Government were up against a problem which even the greatest experts did not understand. If the military experts failed, I think it would be useless to criticise the laymen in the Cabinet for that failure. But now that we have realised the problem, what we want to do is to push forward for all we are worth, so as to provide our men at the front with everything essential for complete, and as speedy a victory as possible. I believe that under 1517 the directions of the Minister of Munitions you will have more men volunteering than you can utilise. It is all very good to talk about the scarcity of labour. It has not been so much a scarcity of labour as a scarcity of machinery for turning out munitions. Three or four weeks ago I suggested that the Government ought to give local committees power to commandeer for the making of shells machinery which private employers were not willing should be taken out of their factories for the purpose of forming national factories. What is the good of talking about compulsion of labour if you are not going to have compulsion of employers to part with the machinery necessary for the making of munitions? As I said last week, what we want is equality of sacrifice; no person can then complain. But if you ask from one section of the community sacrifice which another section is not being asked to make, you create trouble and difficulty right away.
With respect to the Bill itself, my colleagues have been going through its provisions, and, as I have said, no objections have been found so far as the principle is concerned. When we look at the national roll of honour which appears in the newspapers every day and find that the casualties amount to something like 3,000 a week—a ghastly roll—how can we seek to put any difficulties in the way of taking the action necessary to reduce that roll? But we should like the right hon. Gentleman to take into account Clause 3 with respect to Proclamations. The right hon. Gentleman stated last week that he did not intend to force in the miners and the cotton men against their will. Under the provisions of this Clause he can bring them in. I have no objection to their being brought in in that way. But suppose you have a little local trouble in a Lancashire cotton mill, and, as the men cannot come to any reasonable settlement with their employers, a stoppage takes place, are you going to proclaim that one mill only or are you going to proclaim the whole cotton trade? It appears to me that it would be absolutely absurd, where you had a little local dispute, that the whole trade should be proclaimed. In the same way with the cotton trade. Mr. Justice Coleridge made an award with respect to a war bonus of 15½ per cent. A certain coal owner in Lancashire, with four pits, stops two of them and the men say that unless he pays the war bonus in those two they will stop the other two pits. The owner 1518 was going to pay the bonus so far as two pits were concerned, but refused to pay it as regards the other two. Are you going to proclaim the whole of the coal trade because of that difficulty? With respect to the two pits where he refuses to pay, the coal owner says, "I cannot pay, because I am making no profit." What would the Government do in these circumstances? Would they step in and take over the pit or would they make the coal owner work it at a loss? That is one of the problems which I think require to be dealt with. In Sub-section (3) of Clause 4 we find that where a man in a moment of irritation says something at which offence is taken he may be proceeded against and imprisoned.
§ Mr. HODGE
I forgot for the moment that the only penalty is a fine. The point I wanted to make was that if a man in a moment of irritation, because something had been annoying him, said something that he probably regretted afterwards, he could be fined for it. I would suggest that a man should not be punished for a loose expression, but that if an act followed the loose expression, punishment should ensue. In Sub-section (4) I find that the penalty upon an employer for certain offences is £50. A £5 penalty on a workman is a serious penalty, but in certain respects a £50 penalty upon an employer is simply a flea-bite. We think that the penalties ought to be rearranged. Also in Part II., with respect to trouble about wages and other things, there is a point upon which some controversy has arisen, although I have no doubt concerning it in my own mind. I understand from the Minister of Munitions that all sliding scale or other agreements made between employers and any particular trade union will not be at all affected by this Bill. It would probably reassure the doubters if the right hon. Gentleman made a clear and definite statement so far as that is concerned. With regard to these penalties, I should like the right hon. Gentleman to consider the question of posting notices at mines, factories, and workshops as to what things should not be done, just as excerpts from the Factory Acts are now posted in workshops and factories. 1519 Persons would not then be able to say that they had no knowledge of the penalties they were incurring if they endeavoured to get behind or to break any of the provisions of this measure.
In Clause 6 the workman working in a munition factory cannot leave his employment. Can the employer dismiss him? We think that it would be unfair if the workman cannot leave his employment without getting a certificate, and on the other hand, the employer can dismiss that man. We think that there should be more equality of treatment so far as this matter is concerned. Objection has been raised to the period of six weeks which must elapse if a man leaves one employment to try to get another. I cannot say that I myself have a great deal of sympathy with the contention of the two weeks, but probably the Minister of Munitions will be able to tell us what was in his mind when this particular provision was penned. These are the points that we have gone through, and would like to see rectified. Unfortunately, we have not been quite able to go through the whole Bill, and for this reason: that when we left here on Thursday we were promised the Bill on Friday morning. The Prime Minister scheduled forth what was going to be taken as the further business of this week. I am sure it was a surprise to other Members as well as to myself to hear this afternoon that the Government had made a change. As has been said by others, this Bill is a great departure from our usual methods of procedure in this country, and I do not think that anything would be gained by rushing it. What I suggested at Question Time was that if we got another day it might smooth the path. I still adhere to that opinion, because I do not for a moment believe that the Members of the House wish to discuss this Bill to-day.
What we want is an agreed Bill—a Bill to which we can all subscribe. If these difficulties can be smoothed away by conference between trade unionists and the right hon. Gentleman, I think it would be of great advantage to the passage of the Bill. In conclusion, I can only say that if the workers of this country had had the seriousness of the position placed before them months ago we should not have been confronted with our present difficulties. A great many trade unionists, even from the beginning of the War, have made every possible sacrifice, and have permitted nothing to stand in the way of the public 1520 good. I can speak for my own trade in particular. There has been no sacrifice that we have been asked to make, either in respect of written or unwritten rules, or overtime, with which the men have not willingly and cheerfully complied. What has been done in my own trade has been done in many others. If in some trades there has not been the same earnestness it has been for lack of leading, and because of the fact that in some instances the seriousness of the position was not grasped. In my humble way I have realised the great gravity of the contest that we are engaged in. I realise it today. I realise that it is far better to give up any privileges we possess at the present time than to have no liberties at all; and this would be the case if the Germans were successful.
§ Mr. DUKE
I cannot hope to rise to the heights to which the hon. Member who has just sat down has carried the House. Every one of us, I know, feels that on this occasion, as on previous occasions, the hon. Member has contributed to the debating of these topics matter which did not merely have an effect in regard to the prosecution of the War, but helped the harmonious co-operation of the classes while we are in the face of this tremendous emergency, and matter, too, which cannot fail to have the most beneficially permanent effect upon the future of this country. One of the gains of this horrible crisis is that those who speak for the class of people of this country, for whom the hon. Member is so particularly qualified to speak, as well as those who speak for other classes, have felt the thrill of common brotherhood which binds us all together for the noblest purpose which ever animated the men of this country. I hope I may be pardoned for expressing my personal gratitude; for I feel that these interventions in Debate supply their own answer perhaps to the observations that hon. Members sitting on those two Benches have not a monopoly of the representation of organised labour in this country. I have never realised that they claimed it. They certainly have never refused to us, sitting on this side of the House, the title to speak for our own constituents.
What we have felt in regard to the position of hon. Members who speak from the opposite Benches has been that if there is matter of difference and if organised labour in this country is dissatisfied, we may expect—and legitimately expect— 1521 that the hon. Members themselves and those who preside over them will communicate that fact to this House. Having in the stress of honourable controversy had many occasions for noting that hon. Members did not shrink from that task—indeed, sometimes performed it under disagreeable circumstances—why ought we not to take satisfaction to ourselves to-day and say that those who are here as the spokesmen and representatives of organised labour, in a particular sense, and who have particular knowledge of the pressure of our social system upon organised labour, now tell us that His Majesty's Government have devised a means of dealing with a most delicate aud difficult problem—one that is satisfactory to those representatives of the body of organised labour in this country whom the hon. Members represent? Surely it is a legitimate case to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Munitions that those whose business it is to criticise any inroads upon the rights and privileges of labour come here to-day and wish him God-speed in the patriotic task he has undertaken!
I do not propose, any more than the hon. Member, to embark upon the question whether there is enough compulsion in this Bill or too much of it, or on any of those topics of voluntary controversy which are as the Apple of Discord thrown into our Debate. We do not want topics of voluntary controversy. Some hon. Members are read for more compulsion; some hon. Members are not quite ready for as much compulsion I cannot myself believe that there is any Member of this House who will deny to the State, in case of necessity, the absolute right to say to the citizen, "There is your duty; do it!" If we are ready to do that when the occasion arises, why should we encumber this Debate, or embarrass the path of the Minister of Munitions, by academic disputes as to whether there is or is not enough compulsion? The right hon. Gentleman wants his powers and his Bill, and, please God, he will get them very promptly. I desire to discuss matters, as did the hon. Member, of immediate concern with regard to the framing of the Bill. I have only one topic in particular about which I want to offer a suggestion. I am sure those who represent labour will consider it, and I trust the Members of the Government will consider it. It appears to me, after hearing the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, and after studying 1522 the Bill, that the smooth working of this Bill, and of this new system, or the dislocation of it by inevitable differences that arise between employer and employed in the necessary conflicts of their daily life, will depend upon the clauses of the Bill which deal with tribunals—what I would call the dispute-preventing clauses of the Bill.
This is a Bill for reconciling power and liberty—an extremely difficult task, as everybody has known for at any rate 2,000 years. The crucial clauses in the Bill will be those which deal with this problem. They will not be the clauses which deal with profits. The right hon. Gentleman has a free hand here, and will take the means to secure the factories and the tools and appliances that he needs. He will get the advantage of this tremendous upheaval which is going to sweep many to his works for a patriotic task. He will get all these things; but there will be the human factor to be dealt with. It may be that I do not precisely understand the provisions of the Bill, but I see the Bill refers to a tribunal. If hon. Members will refer to Clause 13, they will see where the crux of the matter comes. A fine is the only penalty, and it is to be recoverable only before a Munitions Tribunal. Clause 14 goes on to provide for the tribunal. It says that a Munitions Tribunal shall be the person provided for the purpose by the Minister of Munitions, sitting with two or an even number of assessors. Then the ascertainment is provided for. I am not myself sure that there is enough simplicity, enough elasticity, and enough domesticity in that provision. My own experience of tribunals has filled me with great admiration for their dignity and their certainty; but I am not always so sure as to their readiness. If what is proposed here is to constitute a dignified tribunal of somebody nominated from Whitehall, with two other persons, responsible from a panel, who are to sit with him, I do not know how you are going to deal with the questions of daily life which will arise in the administration of what will become State factories and the imposition of the penalties if they need to be imposed.
The question of drunkenness was referred to by the hon. Member. I am going to suggest a tribunal, which, I believe, labour in this country would be ready to entrust even severe penalties to, to deal with the question of drunkenness. It may be necessary in regard to some parts of the
1523 6.0 P.M.
scheme of this Bill that you should have a dignified tribunal which would command weight throughout the country; but a tribunal that carries weight throughout the country does not inevitably carry weight in a particular factory. If you are going to dock the wages of a man in a particular factory, in a case where it is possible he will not be standing alone, and where it is possible there will be little topics of controversy—to which hon. Members have properly referred—would it not be very much better if you repaid the confidence which organised labour has put in the Government and Parliament by enabling the men who are concerned in the class of cases to which reference has been made to themselves nominate a tribunal to deal with matters of this kind? I do not venture to make any suggestion dogmatically about it. If hon. Members who represent organised labour, or some section of it, should say, "Well, this is a scheme which has been considered and revised on both sides, and is an agreed scheme." I should be most ready to be silent, and I should accept the conclusion of the matter cordially and wish it success. But I cannot help thinking it is well worth the while of His Majesty's Government to consider whether you cannot reciprocate this great evidence of trust you have from organised labour by saying that in factories which are on a sufficient scale, and where there is organised labour, the men who are going to pay penalties, if they have to pay them, shall be judged by their comrades, who shall be assessors. I will not labour the matter, but I cannot help thinking that, imported into this Bill, it might do a great deal to prevent, to obviate, fatal effects from the little daily causes of friction for which at the present time the remedy in so many cases is either the threat of a strike or the calamity of a strike. We are going to prevent strikes, to say they are going to be illegal, and that men who refuse obedience shall be subject to a penalty. It may be the Government will listen to the persuasions of the hon. Member, and say that the man who criminally disables himself from doing his duty shall be subject to more than a fine. That matter no doubt will receive grave consideration. But if you are going to have this great machine, which in itself will invite some friction, as to which the necessities of the factories will probably produce causes of friction, I venture to submit to the Government, and to those 1524 who have been co-operating with them, that it is worth while to consider whether, at any rate for some classes, you should not have a ready domestic tribunal to remedy these things. That is the only practical contribution I can make in this matter. God forbid that I should make an unpractical contribution, but I would just add a word upon the note with which I opened the few observations I have made. It is said that the common enemy has removed the lion from the memorial of Waterloo. Well, if it be so, we are obliged to him. He will have cemented a new concord between two great democratic peoples. But that is not the only badge of discord which will have been removed. If it be that this Bill is the first fruit of a new co-operation between the Government of this Empire and the masses, on whom, after all, our ultimate prosperity depends, it is a cause of thankfulness to us all.
§ Sir EDWIN CORNWALL
I share most heartily the views which have just been expressed as to our indebtedness to the hon. Member for Gorton (Mr. Hodge) for the speech he delivered this afternoon, and also for his speech on this subject last week. I am sure we all felt he was making a genuine contribution towards dealing with the most difficult situation in which the country finds itself. It is only by united co-operation that we are likely to steer our way in the crisis through which we are passing. I, for one, do not grudge for a moment the hon. Member for Gorton and his Friends their conferences with the Minister of Munitions in the preparation of the Bill, nor the conferences which they may have with him between now and the Committee stage. Anything that brings about a satisfactory settlement of this question I am sure we shall all heartily approve. I agree, also, with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East, Bristol (Mr. Hobhouse), who said that it was not desirable at this stage to go back into the past as to whether the late Government had done all it ought to do or not. At the same time I feel, in reading this Bill, it is a great satisfaction to all of us that this Bill is an earnest that the Government has made up its mind to mobilise and organise the nation for the War.
The action of the late Government—I do not say this with any criticism, because I do not think we ought to criticise them—at the commencement of the War was beyond all praise. The difficulty in which the country found itself when this War 1525 came upon us, and the action of the Government with regard to the Expeditionary Force and other matters, made the country, feel that the Government was taking steps which almost surprised it; but, after the first month had passed, the Government seemed to have lulled the country into a sense of false security. I dare say when all the facts are known and all the facts can be discussed no blame whatever should or ought to fall on the late Government for that condition of things, but the fact remains that, after the first month of the War, after the splendid work the Government had done in that first month, the country was lulled into a sense of false security. Now, after eight months of proceeding on wrong lines, as is pretty clear has been the case, we are face to face with the creation of a new Ministry, and the creation of a new Minister, the Minister of Munitions, who asks us to send him out on his career with this Bill. Speaking for myself, I am quite prepared to give the present Government and the present Minister of Munitions almost absolute power. The right hon. Member for East Bristol said that we are here representing working classes as well as those who are direct labour representatives. At all events, we all represent our constituents in this House, and I feel, and I believe every Member of this House feels, that behind him in his constituency is the driving force that we do not mind what the Government does, so long as it has ample power, it uses its power, and it sets about doing everything it can do to win the War.
The country does not expect the Government to be perfect. They have got sufficient common sense to know the frailty of human nature, that it is human to err, and that even a Coalition Government is not going to be perfect. But it is prepared, if I read the view of the country aright, to give the new Minister this Bill if he asks for it. I am prepared to give it and almost any power, and the Government almost any power they require. But, looking at the Bill for a moment in the light that we want the Bill to win the War, and to help the Government win the War, I venture to make one or two observations, as I understand the Minister of Munitions desires to hear any suggestions that Members may make, either on the Second Reading Debate, or in his private room in discussion with him there. Looking at the Bill, it seems to me that there is too much arbitration about it for successful working, and for an emergency measure of this 1526 kind, where everything depends upon getting on rapidly. This is not a Bill we can pass into law, and then wait for Law Courts to interpret the meaning of this or that Clause. This is a Bill, which, as soon as it receives the Royal Assent, must be used and applied straight away, and if it is not used and applied straight away, it has no meaning, no force, and no usefulness.
It seems to me there is a great deal of reference in the Bill to arbitration. There are a great many tribunals to be established. The right hon. and learned Member for Exeter (Mr. Duke) has referred to a particular tribunal dealing with the worker. His suggestion is an excellent one, but, if you go through the Bill, there are tribunals for various matters to be settled under Schedule 1, and for matters to be settled under Schedule 2, and I can see in the working of this Bill very great difficulties, unless we apply and the country applies to the working of the Bill the only principles which, to my mind, will make its success, and make it workable, namely, the patriotism, goodwill and sacrifice of all concerned. When this Bill is passed into law, unless you get the goodwill of the employer and the workman and a ready and equal sacrifice on the part of all concerned, I would not give you anything for the Bill, because it is too complicated. From the beginning to end it is complicated; but I can see in the Bill an excellent basis for the Minister of Munitions to get about his work, and to put our Army into a better position, provided, as I say, patriotism, goodwill, and sacrifice are applied. Therefore, I trust and believe, that it will not be in a spirit of over criticism in this House or outside that we shall approach this great subject. Last Thursday the Member for Gorton, speaking on the Bill, emphasised its urgency, and I feel that if it can be made to work on the lines I think possible there is a great urgency for a measure of this kind. I believe the country is anxious and desirous to follow a strong lead by the Government.
The hon. and learned Member for St. Augustine's (Mr. R. McNeill) referred to the remarks made by the Minister of Munitions last week. What is the meaning of such words as "dire peril of the country?" The Secretary of State for the Colonies, in his speech the other day, told the country we were face to face with either victory or ruin. It is only by following such words up by action that the country 1527 will understand their true meaning. We in this House, and a certain number of people in the country, I am sure, read those words and view this situation with grave concern. At the same time, it is only a certain number of people who understand the meaning of those phrases, and understand the anxiety of Ministers and public men. The great bulk of people wait for orders; wait to be told what their duty is; wait for the Government of the day to give them a strong lead, and I hope that, when this Bill passes into law, the Government will give a strong lead to the great mass of people in this country. This does not arise from selfishness, because the people are not selfish and unpatriotic, but the great mass of the people cannot be made to realise that anything specially depends upon them. We are all experienced in electioneering, and what is our greatest difficuty? It is to persuade a voter that his particular vote matters at all. So it is with a great crisis like this. In the case of the mass of the people you cannot convey to the mind of the individual that anything he can do can matter in a great crisis like this. It is a strong lead on the part of the Government, and a strong policy such as they can carry out under this Bill, that will achieve this object. I take it that the National Register Bill runs parallel with this measure, and is going to work in connection with it, and one without the other will not be much use, although the two together mean a great deal. I do not express here to-day any view as to the principle of compulsion, and I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Exeter (Mr. Duke) that it does not matter much, and we need not worry our heads about compulsion. We have to discuss this Bill, and to-morrow we shall have the National Register Bill, and that is far enough to go in the direction of compulsion at the present time. If these two Bills are passed and worked in the best possible way, and to the greatest extent, you may achieve your object. I believe the country requires a lead by some measure of this kind, and one like that which is going to be introduced tomorrow. I feel that the House of Commons will give every support to the Government and to the Ministry of Munitions to have an effective and determined effort made by the British people at this great crisis.
With regard to this Bill there are one or two suggestions I should like to put 1528 forward for consideration. In the first Clause of the Bill I see in the first line it states, "If any difference exists or is apprehended between any employer and persons employed." I do not know why yon require the words "or is apprehended." I shall not vote against this Bill. If the Minister asked me to sit down and pass the Bill immediately I would do so, but it is because we have been asked to make suggestions that I raise these points. Why are the words "or is apprehended" put in at all? All sorts of things are apprehended in carrying on a business. You might apprehend a difference between a unionist and a non-unionist, or a workman might apprehend a difference between himself and his foreman. Are you going to call in the Board of Trade to arbitrate on differences of this kind? I should not have thought that those words were necessary. The hon. Member for Gorton drew attention to Clause 3, which gives very wide powers to the Minister of Munitions. It gives him power to issue a Proclamation to include under the Act "any other work of any description." I have already said that I am not afraid of any power you give to the Minister of Munitions, but at least let us understand the power we are giving. This is power to enable the right hon. Gentleman to include all the industries of this country under the Bill. By Royal Proclamation the powers of this Bill can be made to apply to every industry in the land. As I have already said, I shall not refuse to vote for this Bill because of its very wide powers, but they are very wide, and I hope the House will not fail to understand the extent to which this measure goes.
Clause 4 lays down that the Minister of Munitions "may make an order declaring that establishment to be a controlled establishment." I can imagine some uncertainty arising with regard to the effect of those words. Will the controlled establishments be few or many. A man carrying on a business will want to know whether his undertaking is likely to be made a controlled establishment or not. It seems to me that there will be some difficulty in this matter, and perhaps the representative of the Minister of Munitions will tell me how it is intended to apply the powers under this Clause. If you want a good output and plenty of work, and a good spirit prevailing, any business man will tell you that what you want is certainty. If a business is going to be made a controlled establishment you 1529 should let the owner know in order to avoid uncertainty, which prevents him from doing his best. Sub-section (5) of Clause 4 provides that the Minister of Munitions may make an order "with respect to the general ordering of the work in the establishment, with a view to attaining and maintaining a proper standard of efficiency." I do not know how the Minister of Munitions is going to do that, and perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to tell us. Subsection (5) also provides that—
"any person employed in the establishment shall comply with any regulations made applicable to that establishment by the Minister of Munitions with respect to the general ordering of the work in the establishment."
I should not have thought that that provision was necessary. How the Minister of Munitions is going to issue regulations for the general ordering of the work in the establishments I cannot understand; but perhaps there is some explanation which will clear the matter up, or, at any rate, make it clearer than it appears to me at the present time. There is another provision, with regard to the limitation of profits. I am sure we are all in favour of the principle that no one should use the War for the purpose of making money. It does not matter what sphere of life it may occur in, if there is any extra profit made in consequence of the War I say that the Government are perfectly entitled to the extra profits, whether they take it by taxation or by any other means which Parliament may decide. The provision under this Bill, however, for dealing with the profits seems to be a little difficult. I do not know whether the phrase "two corresponding periods" in Sub-section (2) of Clause 5 means two years. If so, why depart from the usual practice of taking an average over three years? I think a period of three years would be better. I cannot see how these provisions are going to apply to new and old establishments. I understand that some of these munitions will be made by new factories, many of them under State control, and they will be State controlled establishments. Consequently, they cannot have been carrying on the same business before. The Minister of Munitions told us that prior to the War we were only providing for about half a million men, and now we have been suddenly called upon to make munitions for three million men. Of course, that means bringing in new establishments for the making of war materials, and in 1530 this case how are you going to choose your standard of profit in a case like this? Another objection I see to this method of taking profits by an amount exceeding by one-fifth the standard amount of profits, you give no reward for efficiency, and efficiency and inefficiency have to pay the same amount of profit. All these establishments will not be worked with equal efficiency. You might have an efficient organiser like the Minister of Munitions at the head of one establishment, and a man like myself at the head of the other, and no one would assume that I should do it as well as the Minister of Munitions. I think hon. Members will see my point. I am afraid that by this system you are discouraging efficiency, and I do not think that is the right thing. When this House makes up its mind to take the extra profits made by people at war time, I think we are all agreed that we should give some reward to establishments for efficiency as against inefficiency. I have no doubt this point will also be considered between now and the time the Bill passes into law. Subsection (2) of Clause 7 provides that—
"If any workman complains to a munitions tribunal in accordance with rules made with respect to those tribunals."
You are going to have these establishments up and down the country, and a large number of employés are going to be engaged, and I do not know how they are going to place their complaint before these munitions tribunals. How many of those tribunals are there going to be, and where are they going to be? I should also like to know how they are going to be constituted. I am raising these points in the hope that some simple machinery may be adopted in regard to them, because I see great difficulty in workmen making complaints to munitions tribunals of this kind. Clause 8 deals with the docks used by the Admiralty. I would like to know how that provision is going to affect the Port of London. Already the Admiralty use the docks in London for certain purposes. Clause 8 provides that—
"This part of this Act shall apply to any docks used by the Admiralty for any purposes connected with the War."
The Port of London is used by the Admiralty for the purposes of the War, and I would like to know if the docks become ipso facto controlled establishments, and are they brought in under the powers of 1531 this Bill. I hope that point will be explained. The Admiralty are brought in at this particular stage, and from the language of Clause 8 and Part III. of the Bill they seem to be running in double harness. I think what I have said goes to show that this is an extremely complicated measure. It is not much use discussing it, and we have more or less to make it go through. We have to let it go through with a view of being:To its virtues very kind;Be to its faults a little blind.I think this Bill is likely to achieve the objects that the Minister of Munitions has in view. In one Section it is plainly set out that the employer must be understood to have entered into the undertaking set out in the second Schedule in paragraphs (5), (6) and (7). If an employer will read Schedule 2 he will see the extraordinary position he finds himself in. If I were an employer engaged on munitions I should be inclined to say under these provisions, "It does not matter, we have all got to work together." But I am sure if it were a question of any employer going to his lawyer and asking whether he could advise him to enter into such a contract as that which is provided in paragraphs (5), (6) and (7) of the second Schedule, I do not think any lawyer would allow him to enter into any such arrangement. It is unfair both to the workmen and to the employers, it is complicated, and leaves everybody concerned in a very unsatisfactory position. It may be necessary to have these provisions in this Bill. In conclusion, I think that the country is looking to the House of Commons and to the Minister of Munitions at the present time with a great deal of hope and a great deal of anxiety. That describes my own feelings, and I think it describes the feelings of those I represent in this House. They feel that the time has come when the Government is showing itself in real earnest, and they place great hope in this Bill and in other measures. At the same time there is great anxiety. I was glad to hear the Prime Minister say that it was proposed to take this Bill without delay. I did not understand that to mean that the Bill is going to be rushed through, but, if there is any need for the Bill at all, it is an urgent thing and it must pass at once. If it can be delayed and it can take several days and go into next week, then the Bill is not needed at all, and I was glad to hear the Prime Minister say that he was going to give up other 1532 business in order to go on with this Bill. It has my hearty support, and I hope that the outcome of it will be that we shall be able to make a better show and defeat our enemies in the War.
§ Mr. KENYON
I crave the indulgence of the House for five or ten minutes. I have not troubled it before, not because I had nothing to say, but very largely because I have thought that there has been quite enough said, and sometimes too much. In the first place, the one thing that has pleased me has been its general tolerance as regards the new Member. All sections of the House more or less have been not only tolerant to me, but kind. Therefore, I wish to tender to the House my gratitude to that extent. I feel convinced that the Government in particular, and the House in general, should congratulate itself on the new Minister of Munitions. So far as I understand the working classes—and I have been mixed up with trade unions for 25 years more or less as a public official—I am convinced in my own mind that no man in this country has the ear of the working-classes to the same extent as the new Minister of Munitions. He is more likely on that account to succeed in organising them, without bringing in too strongly the principle of compulsion. If there is one thing that the trade unionists of this country hate, it is to be compelled to do a thing, and you can take it from one who does know something about it that this class is particularly anxious at this time to help the nation through its crisis. I know it may be said, "You have a section of your own men out on strike just now." Well, we have, but it is really on account of a misunderstanding. Let those men be once convinced by the persuasion of some man in whom they have confidence that their work is absolutely necessary in the interests of the nation, and they will do it. They are Englishmen first; let us always remember that. I hope that this House and the country will cease to nag at the new Minister, and will give him an absolutely free hand. If we are going to pass this Bill, which is going to clothe him with power, let him have a free hand to administer it in the interests of the nation. Anyway, so far as I am concerned, I will neither nag nor criticise unnecessarily, but I will lend to him and my nation in this terrible crisis all the help that I can. Then I hope that the House will not use those words which have grated upon my ears many a time, and which reflect upon the class to which I 1533 belong, namely, the "slacker," the "drinker," and the "shirker." Let us drop that out of the phraseology of the House for the time being. We all know exactly where these men live. We know as much as anybody else knows how to deal with that particular class. We know to our sorrow that we have this small section of people, but it will not help us to denounce them in the centre of the nation upon the platform. If we are to improve the life of this small section of our people we can only do so by persuasion and convincing them it is wrong, and I feel sure that we have in the new Minister of Munitions just the Gentleman to do it.
I do trust that we have heard the last of that specious plea for an extension of the miners' eight hours. The Eight Hours' Act cost the miners of the Midland counties at least twenty-five years of hard and bitter agitation. It cost us tens of thousands of pounds to get it upon the statute book, and we do not now feel as if we could give way on that point. Anyway, so far as the county to which I belong is concerned, we think that there are better ways than increasing the hours. We think that if the trade was organised, as I hope it is going to be, we could easily work six days in every week without an infringement of that Act. There is about a third of the county of Nottinghamshire where the miners never work on a Saturday. There is a very large portion of my own county where they do not work on a Saturday. We think that these men would gladly work on the Saturday if the necessity were shown to them, and if we could get the pits working regularly on Saturday it would considerably increase the output of a commodity which is absolutely necessary for both the Army and the Navy. I want to look into the conditions under which these men work. If hon. Members looked at my hands, they would see that they carry the scars of a pitman upon them. The fact is that I have been bruised and knocked about in pit-life in those years when we worked long hours, and I know exactly what it means. We work in semi-darkness, and I want the House to understand that we work for eight hours a day—nay, often eight and a half hours a day—peering into semi-darkness until we get eye-strain, and the youngest and strongest amongst us are broken down by a disease known as hystagmus on account of the semi-darkness and the hard work. Then we have 1534 to contend with a good deal of dirt and a great deal of danger, and we work, moreover, in a vitiated atmosphere. I want to put it to the House just as an old collier sees it. You work in a pit where you have crowded every day from 1,000 to 2,000 men. We have to work in that air with the reek from those men and from the horses, with all the fumes round the face. Unless, therefore, it can be proved by demonstration beyond a shadow of doubt that it is necessary to increase the hours in that atmosphere, surely nobody would use that plea.
I want to tell the House that in the county from which I came on Saturday we were discussing nearly all day how we can help our country in this terrible time. We are not only prepared to work our hardest and to increase our number of days—I mean that we should ask men to work their full complement of days where they are not doing so—but we passed a resolution in our council and sent out a circular urging every man in the county to work every day the pit is open for the hours within the Act, and we further agreed to recommend that the two county organisations of Notts and Derby should spend £35,000 of the hard-earned and carefully saved money of those underground workers in fitting up and equipping fully an ambulance convoy to send to France. I do not think that we shall have a solitary man in either county who will demur. That resolution at both county meetings was passed absolutely unanimously. I think it will be agreed that a body of men like that should not have put upon them any further burden in the shape of increased hours. If we can get our men to work regularly under the powerful persuasion of the Minister of Munitions, then we shall have helped our country and our Navy by producing a commodity that is absolutely necessary. I want us all, if we can, to be tolerent one with another in our views, to convince our own country that we are united at the centre, and I want us when we get back to our Divisions to be equally tolerant, and to try and stimulate all classes to act together now, because some day this War will be over and we shall have to live together and struggle together to rebuild society. If we can work together through this terrible crisis we may be able to work more closely and more harmoniously together in the future.
§ Mr. S. ROBERTS
May I be allowed to congratulate the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Kenyon) on the very nice 1535 speech which he has made to this House, and to welcome him amongst us as a new Member able to give us valuable advice. It may be advisable that I, as the only Member, I think, of one of the armament firms in this House, should very shortly state what the attitude of the chief of the armament firms is towards this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman, in his speech last week, made a most eloquent and stirring appeal to all classes in this country, and especially to masters and men, to throw aside all their differences and to join with him in trying to save the country in its time of need. The large armament firms gladly accept the invitation. We accept that control which the Government says is necessary, and as an earnest of that we are willing to give up a very considerable portion of our profits to the service of the State. This being the state of things, the right hon. Gentleman came to his peroration, and that peroration impressed this House. In my opinion it was the most terrible indictment that has ever been brought against a civilised country. It was an indictment showing that the enemy had lulled her neighbours to sleep, had induced them to think that they were safe from any attack, while for years she had been preparing to strike them down when they had gone to sleep. That is the position in which we stand. Only a year ago the country and the great City of London were enjoying themselves in a galaxy of luxury and pleasure; there was only one cloud upon the horizon, and that was the fear of civil war in Ireland, which, fortunately, disappeared at once, and which, I hope, will never reappear.
At the time when the War broke out the position of the large armament firms was this: We were working as in peace times; we were turning out quite the ordinary number of shells, principally required for practice. Of course all that was changed in a moment. When war broke out orders were received from the War Office and the Admiralty. We put down immediately extra plant at large expense. It took a long time to do it, and the plant is only just now coming into operation and producing shells. I do not want to speculate on who was to blame for not finding out sooner the kind of shell that was really required. I do not want to enter into that question, but certainly a very long period expired before information was received from the General at the front that he was short of explosive shells. 1536 I do not want to lay the blame for that on anybody. It is a question which must remain over till a later date. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the difficulties with which he had to cope. He admitted that he wanted more machinery and more men. To build these machines takes a very long time. But there are machines now in existence which can be easily adapted for making shells.
The House may be interested to know something about the shells. Their size varies upwards from that of the one I hold in my hand, which is 4½ inches long and weighs 1 lb. It is a shell for use against aircraft; there is no high explosive in it at the moment. The explosive is put in at the nose; then the fuse is screwed down, and the shell is complete. This is one of the smallest shells, and I have much pleasure in handing it to the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Munitions. The largest shell stands 5 ft. high and weighs nearly a ton. [An HON. MEMBER: "Bring one and show us!"] It weighs, in fact, 2,240 times as much as the little shell which I handed across the Table. The machinery that will make the little shell will not, of course, make the big shell; the latter requires very heavy machinery, and I believe the Minister of Munitions will find that he will have to confine his operations for the production of the largest shells to the existing armament works on account of the machinery. The next two smaller shells, which are really in most demand at the present moment, are the 3-inch for the 18-pounder and the shell for the 4.7 howitzer. Neither of these is very large nor very heavy, and if necessary women could be brought in to help the men in making them.
I should like to say a few words upon the position of the armament firms. We have, as the right hon. Gentleman is aware, sub-contracting on a pretty large scale. At first it did not work very well. The new people did not get very quickly into the trick of making shells. For instance, men who had been employed in motor works could not easily manage it. But they are now doing so, and the right hon. Gentleman will find that in the areas of the large armament works his best plan will be to encourage sub-contracting. The field has been pretty well covered already. There is not much space for expansion, because the large armament works have commandeered or taken over most of the works suitable for making shells. A local committee has been appointed and is 1537 doing most admirable work. There are good men on the committee. I know them all. They have been most fortunate in obtaining the services of a gentleman who is giving most valuable aid at the present time—I mean the Dean of the Faculty of Engineering at Sheffield University, Professor Ripper. That school is the best engineering and metallurgical school in the country, if not in the world. The authorities have given up the whole of the school to the teaching of people who have not hitherto been engaged in engineering work. They are teaching them how to make shells. The whole place is devoted to it. I was there on Saturday morning, and Professor Ripper told me he had already turned out eighty men who previously knew nothing about the work, but who are now able to assist in making shells. He also said that he had 400 men on his waiting list who were only too anxious to get to work. I would suggest that every university having an engineering department should follow this example and get into communication with Professor Ripper, who, I am sure, will give all the information required.
§ Mr. S. ROBERTS
I am glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that. I would like to state one little fact as showing the spirit which prevails. The Birmingham Small Arms Company have erected a tremendous new building in which to manufacture rifles, and that work has already begun and rifles are being turned out. But many of the new machines required for the work were lying idle on the ground for some time, because they could not get men to erect them and to set them going. The company, therefore, sent to Sheffield, and said, "Cannot you help us; we only want men who have been accustomed to carpentering or plumbing, and they will do what we require." What did we do? We went to the corporation and attended a meeting of the health committee and stated the facts. Immediately the health inspectors to a man volunteered. They were excused from their duty by the corporation. There were, I think, seventy altogether. They went to the assistance of this company, the only call upon them being that of duty to their country. They left their homes. These machines have now, I believe, been put up, and if they are not already working they will be in a few days.
1538 There are one or two points I wish to put to the right hon. Gentleman in regard to the Bill. I rather hesitate in doing so, because I should not like it to be thought I am putting them in consequence of being engaged in one of the armament works. But perhaps he will allow me to ask one or two questions. The first is: What is meant by "net profits"? The right hon. Gentleman knows that accountants make up their accounts in very different ways. Net profits are arrived at in different ways, and what would be deemed to be "net profits" in one company would not be so considered in another. The term "net profits" is very vague. There ought also to be something said on the question of depreciation, and, further, in regard to the new capital put down at the request of the Government for building munitions machinery. For instance, the new building of the Birmingham Small Arms Company must have cost an enormous amount of money, and that is a matter which should be taken into account when defining what "net profit" is. At all events I am quite sure, after the way in which the armament firms have behaved, the right hon. Gentleman will see that they are not put in a worse position than they would have been if they had not come in under this Bill. The profits to be allowed them should not be less than the average for the two years, and it might possibly be less unless the right hon. Gentleman makes some such provision as I am suggesting. I understand that regulations are to be laid down. Will the right hon. Gentleman say when they will be made, and will he undertake that no injustice such as I have indicated shall be inflicted upon these firms. If so, we shall be perfectly satisfied to abide by his decision.
Something has been said about the Committee stage of this Bill. One of my hon. Friends has appealed for another day. I rather understood his appeal to be that that stage should be taken on Thursday instead of Wednesday. I entirely support that. It will save time, as between now and Thursday; the armament firms or the gentlemen who represent the trade unions may wish to approach the right hon. Gentleman, and Amendments might be agreed to. It would be far better to come to an agreement than for a long list of Amendments to have to be gone through in this House.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
It is most important, from the point of view of the 1539 Government and of the Ministry of Munitions, that we should get the Bill through this week, and if the Government consent to the Committee stage being postponed from Wednesday until Thursday it can only be on the strength of an honourable understanding that we shall have the Bill on Thursday. It is very important that we should get to work at once. I do not suggest that listening to debates in the House of Commons is not work, but I want to get to work under the Bill itself, and if my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister agrees to put off the Committee stage till Thursday I should like, before any undertaking is given, that there should be an honourable understanding the Bill shall be allowed to go through all its remaining stages on that day.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. S. ROBERTS
My only object in making that suggestion was that we should get the Bill this week If these Amendments are agreed to on Thursday, the Report stage on Thursday evening will not matter very much because all that will be useful will have been said, and, if the House agrees, we could take the Report and Third Reading stages after the Committee stage. May I urge the House not to delay this Bill. Time is pressing. We Members who represent this country must always remember that the great Council of the nation is responsible to the nation for the conduct of its business, and that the country is looking to us to see this War through at the first opportunity, and to put into that business the whole energy of our soul and strength. We have a duty also to our brave soldiers and sailors. Is it not due to them, who are every day sacrificing what is dearest to them, their lives, that we should see that this Bill is not delayed one moment more than is absolutely necessary?
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir John Simon)
The Debate this afternoon, so far as it has yet gone, shows that the urgency and the necessity of some special provision being made for the better supply of munitions of war are not disputed. Many interesting speeches have been made, some of them dealing with the more technical aspects of the matter and some of them, perhaps, dealing with questions relating to the past conduct of the War rather than to the immediate purpose of this Bill. I would suggest to the House that the right way in which to regard this measure 1540 in discussing its Second Reading is to face this simple question, "Is it or is it not necesary to provide, without delay, statutory machinery for securing a more rapid supply of munitions of war?" Formulating that question, as I have tried to do, fairly, I am glad to think that the Debate this afternoon has given no doubtful answer to that question, and that so far the general principle of the Bill is approved. I should like to put before the House, in two simple propositions, what I think may be said to be in summary form the object of this Bill. The object of this Bill is not to secure compulsory powers. The object of the Bill is rather to take advantage of the voluntary spirit of our people and organise it in a way which will produce the greatest quantity of munitions in the shortest possible time. In order to carry that out you will find in this Bill two main principles. They are conveniently to be distinguished, because one of them is to be found in Part I. of the Bill and the other in Part II.
As regards Part I. the essential proposal is this: that since we need now to produce, with the greatest rapidity, munitions of war of all kinds, we ought by common consent to secure that there shall be no stoppage of work in any munitions factory. It would be a very foolish and short-sighted proposal if we simply imagined that by legislating that there is to be no stoppage of work the whole problem will be solved. You can only secure that there will be no stoppage of work in a munitions factory if you will take the trouble to find out what are the fair conditions on which employers on the one hand and the workpeople on the other will require to be satisfied that that object is to be secured. Anybody who examines Part I. of this Bill will see that it proceeds upon a line which I hope will, commend itself to all parties in any possible dispute of this sort. It proceeds upon the line that you should leave people to settle their own disputes, if by any means, they can, and, in the second place, that even if one side or the other reports a dispute which they have not settled by private negotiation, then the Department to whom it is reported, the Board of Trade, will still have the power of referring it back to the conciliation tribunal, if there be such a tribunal, in order still to encourage a private and sympathetic settlement between the parties concerned. Finally, we proceed upon this basis: that if all else fails, even then we must use, as far as may be possible, the machinery which experience has shown to be the best for the 1541 purpose, our object being not to impose the will of some autocrat in order to decide these difficult industrial problems, but rather to offer the services of the Department concerned and the Minister concerned in order to bring the parties together and, at all events, to secure ultimate goodwill and agreement. I hope, at any rate, that that principle is one which will be generally accepted by the House as being the right principle to be enforced in connection with a settlement of these disputes.
My hon. Friend the Member for the Gorton Division (Mr. Hodge) asked a question as to the precise scope of the Bill in this regard. It is important that there should be no misunderstanding upon this point. The Bill, so far as regards this first principle, is a Bill which deals with establishments where you are manufacturing munitions of war or manufacturing the tools by means of which such munitions of war are made. This is not a Bill for compulsory arbitration over the whole field of labour. It is limited, and deliberately limited, to that particular class of factory and of work which is directly and immediately connected with the production of the munitions of war. It is quite obvious to the House that given that as the principle on which we proceed, you may come to a dispute which, though it may not itself be a dispute inside a munitions factory, is none the less so closely related to the production of munitions of war and lies so absolutely at the root of the production of munitions of war that, in a proper case, a similar conciliatory method should be adopted. My hon. Friend, while not in any way disputing that proposal, asked this question: "Supposing that a case arises which may only be in connection with some local dispute in some particular shop or in some particular corner of a field of labour, does your Bill mean that because, in the interests of the State, you must bring in the machinery of Part I. to settle the dispute, therefore you have to proclaim the whole of that field of labour as coming within the four corners of the Bill? I want to give a perfectly clear and clean answer to that question. The answer is "No, certainly not!" The Bill is so drawn that if it is to be extended at all in case of need by Proclamation, the extension is not to be to a new trade or to a new field of labour; the extension is to be to the specific difference or dispute which calls for such intervention. If the House will 1542 be good enough to turn to page 2 of the Bill and look at line 20 in the middle of the page they will see that the provision at the end of Clause 3 for the extension of the Clause is this, that the Clause may be applied to a difference; not to a trade, but to a differenceas to rates of wages, hours of work, or otherwise as to terms or conditions of or affecting employment on any other work of any description"—if His Majesty by Proclamation declares thatit is expedient in the national interest that this part of this Act should apply thereto.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I know what the hon. Member says. I have no intention of misleading the House. The point is a very plain one and it was put with perfect clearness by the hon. Member for the Gorton Division. He says, "Assuming you have cause for an extension of the Bill outside what is set out in Clause 3, does the Bill mean that you will have to extend it to the whole of a further trade, or is the intention and effect of the Bill to limit its application to a particular dispute outside the immediate ambit of the Clause?" The answer is that it is limited to a specific difference. I hope and believe that such cases are very unlikely to arise. If they do arise they will be found to run on very narrow lines.
§ Sir J. SIMON
The words which are used at the end of Clause 3, as an hon. Friend behind me pointed out, are words which are wide enough to apply to any other work than we mention in the Bill. I think my hon. Friend will find, if he will be good enough to postpone that particular question until we come to the Committee stage, that there will be no dispute as to the way in which the Bill will operate.
§ Mr. J. H. THOMAS
I want to be quite clear on this point. Will the right hon. Gentleman say, limiting for the purposes of argument the dispute to a given station on a railway, whether the extension would cover the whole of that railway and affect it?
§ Sir J. SIMON
I am much obliged to my hon. Friend. His question is a fair one in view of what I have said. If the words which are to be found in Clause 3 are thought by the House or by any of my hon. Friends not to be words which are clear and definite for the purpose, when we come to the Committee stage we will be glad to reconsider them. I have done my best to make it quite plain. I do not in the least apologise for or withdraw what I have said now, that it is not our intention, automatically, to bring in large additional classes of labour merely because in a given case we have to use the machinery of the Bill. Our object will be, as far as may be, to allow things to go on as they ordinarily go on, subject only to this, that the provision of munitions of war and everything essential to munitions of war is a consideration which at this time of crisis outweighs every other consideration. That is the first principle of this Bill.
The second and, I think, only other important principle of the Bill is that these munition factories engaged now or hereafter in the production of the munitions of war, must, for the purposes of the war and during the period of the war, as a temporary but most urgent matter, be brought under more control than has been traditional in the history of this country. When I say under more control, that means under more control both from the point of view of the employers in those factories and from the point of view of the workmen in those factories. Let me take the case of the workmen first. Very mistaken and biassed expressions are sometimes used when one hears denunciations of trade union rules which are designed, as it is said, to limit production. It is a very short-sighted and very biassed view to speak as though the rules which trade unions have by combination and, it may be, some agitation secured for themselves and their fellows—it is a very shortsighted and very unhistoric view to speak of them as if they were expedients adopted for selfish reasons by organised working men in order that they might be comparatively idle. There is no history behind it, and there is no justice behind it. The truth of the matter is that trade union rules have been evolved as a method by which organised labour has protected itself from being exploited in the interests of a given class of capitalists. That is the historical fact. Nothing that we are proposing now in the least challenges the 1544 justification for that trade union history. But while that is true—we had better face it—trade union rules requiring, for example, that none but fully skilled men shall be employed along with other trade union skilled men on the job, rules requiring that it should be men rather than women who do particular classes of work—rules of that sort, beyond all question, have the incidental effect, if you simply concern yourself with their immediate effect, of reducing in some cases the possible output of a given machine or a given factory in a given space of time. Our problem at the moment is not one of those large, economical, industrial problems where you may look to the future and judge what may be the ultimate industrial development of this country. Our problem is one of days and weeks and months immediately before us, and, therefore, when I speak of the control of munition factories, I put in the forefront—this we do provide in our Bill, and we so provide after much discussion with many who speak with authority as trade union leaders—that all these rules and customs which are so effective without having the force of law, and which tend to restrict production or employment, are in munition factories, for the time being, set on one side. Let no one say that the gravity of that particular provision has been in the least misjudged or under-rated by those who expound and defend this Bill.
But if we ask trade unionists to do that—I believe they will be very willing to do it, and in many cases they are doing it now—it is the bounden duty of this House and of all who really appreciate the seriousness of this situation to see that workpeople are properly protected in return for that concession. Let me give two or three very obvious examples of that, all of which will be found in the four corners of this Bill. In the first place, you must make it plain, and you must not only make it plain but as far as may be you must provide in your Statute that this concession that workpeople make in the crisis of the War for the country's sake is a temporary concession, which does not in the least prejudice their established rights so hardly won after, in many cases, a long struggle in times past. This is a provision for the War, and for the War only, and it is an essential condition of that which we are asking, that when the War is over the honour of the House of Commons is pledged, the promise of the Government is given, and all who really 1545 try to carry this Bill undertake that organised workpeople are not to suffer because of the temporary abandonment of trade union restrictions. Then I take a second example. In order that you may, as far as possible, get the maximum output from machines, in the course of the next few months it will certainly be necessary that semi-skilled men should in some cases take their place side by side with fully-skilled men. But while we provide for that, and while we stipulate for that, it is most clearly understood, and it is contained in the Schedule of the Bill, that the day rates which are paid to these semi-skilled men are not on that account to be reduced, and it is quite clearly understood as the result of negotiations with employers, as well as discussions with workpeople, that the workman is not to be prejudiced in his standard in that regard.
Take a third example. One of the bitterest and most critical problems of trade unionism is the extent to which women's labour is to be permitted to come in side by side with men's. This is a time when the women of the country are just as anxious to do what they can to assist as men, and there are very few things, when they put their mind to it, that women cannot do. But this is essentially a case where women must take their place in the factory in order that factory hands in some cases may go to the firing line, and consequently we contemplate, and we are certain it will happen, that there will be a very considerable use of women's labour in connection with machines where hitherto trade union regulations have insisted that men are the proper persons to be employed. If a woman so introduced, say, on piece-work—it may be assisting with a squad or gang of men—can do her day's piece-work as efficiently as a man, and produce as much on piece-work rates as a man, she must be paid as a man; and that, again, is quite clearly understood. Of course, if she is not able to produce as much on piece rates as a skilled man is able to produce, it is not to be expected that she is to be paid as though she had produced what she has not produced. And there is this further point: It may and I think it will often turn out that the introduction of a woman, or it may be two women, into a squad who are working a particular machine, or engaged jointly in a particular operation, will tend to reduce the total output with which that squad or machine is concerned, and thereby might 1546 tend to prejudice the wages which the men in that squad would otherwise earn. It is quite clearly understood that in so far as the men who are left in the squad find themselves prejudiced because of a woman, or women, joining in the joint enterprise, whatever it may be, they are none the less to be secured as regards wages in their old condition.
I mention these as examples to show that we are as good as our word when we say that, in return for the suspension of all trade union regulations which tend to limit production and restrict output, it is our intention from first to last to see that that which labour has secured for itself by organisation, by negotiation, by the appeal to reason, which is always greater than the appeal to force, is, at any rate, going to be secured to them even in this time of crisis, and when the War is over we go back to the old conditions. But that is not enough. It is one thing to ask the working people of this country to give up their rights, to give up the advantages which they have secured by combination, to admit semi-skilled labour side by side with skilled, possibly to allow women's labour to compete with men's labour, but it is quite another thing to ask them to do it if they imagine the result is going to be merely to increase unfairly the profits of those who employ them, and when we speak of controlling an establishment we mean not only controlling from the point of view of securing steady, regular work from those in munition factories, but we also mean controlling from the point of view of securing that if there be profits above a reasonable limit, those profits are not to inure to the advantage of the private employer. There again, we are not endeavouring to force this upon unwilling employers. I do not think I break any confidence when I say that the scheme which is to be found in this Clause as regards limitation of profits is a scheme the foundation of which, the source of which, will be found in the suggestion of some patriotic employers themselves, and it is immensely to their credit.
An hon. Member opposite just now asked some very pertinent questions as to how this calculation was to be made. I should like to deal with what he said on the point. We quite recognise that you cannot have a cast-iron rule to apply to every single employer without any regard to the circumstances. But, on the 1547 other hand, you must lay down a broad rule in the Bill, and then in the Bill you must provide some method by which you can adjust that rule to possible exceptional cases; and that is the method which we have followed. We provide that the private profits which are to remain are profits which exceed by as much as a fifth a standard which we define. The standard has reference to the experience of the two past years. We quite recognise that there will be cases where the application of that rule will require to be adjusted. The question as to exactly what is meant by net profits is eminently a question which may depend on the way in which accounts are kept in a particular firm. But the only answer I can give now and I think the hon. Member will think it is a reasonable one, is this: We lay down our rule that you are to have as much as one-fifth over your standard so defined, and we provide that there shall be regulations passed for the working out of such a scheme. We provide, further, that there shall be a tribunal which will in case of need adjust the rule to hard cases, and we are arranging to constitute a very strong and entirely independent Committee upon whose advice and with whose assistance these regulations will be both framed and enforced. I hope, therefore, that those who are very properly anxious on this most important subject will see that we do realise that you must lay down a rule, and, on the other hand, that its application is one which will no doubt vary with circumstances.
There is one other thing I would mention, more particularly because it has several times been raised in the Debate. When we speak of having these factories "controlled" we mean as much as this—and I think it is well understood by hon. Members—that the workpeople who work in these factories will, in return for the different securities which we offer them in the Bill, and in return for the limitation of employers' profits, submit themselves to the necessary ordering and securing of regular work upon their part. The great mass of them require no such direction. It would be a gross travesty of the actual facts to speak as though the vast mass of workmen engaged in munitions factories were not devoting themselves to that work with just the same assiduity as their fellows in the firing line are devoting themselves to defeating the foe. But it 1548 is obvious that we must have these regulations, and have them fairly administered in an impartial way. How do we propose to administer them? We have proposed that in the event of a dispute, for instance, as to whether a man is justified in saying, "I cannot go on with this; I must leave, and go elsewhere," the decision must be given by what is called the Munitions Tribunal. Our object has been to secure that which the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Duke) thought desirable—something in the nature of a domestic tribunal. You do not want to carry the workmen, or the employer either, in a matter of this sort before a Police Court in order to deal with it as if this was a criminal matter. In most cases such a question will be best decided by a conference between someone whom the employer trusts and someone whom the workman trusts, and that is the reason why our Munitions Tribunal is described as being an impartial person who presides, assisted by assessors—an equal number. I should suppose, in ordinary cases, one of one sort and one of the other, the assessor of the first kind being drawn from a panel drawn up as representing employers, and the assessor of the other kind being drawn from a panel representing the workpeople. The House will remember that a tribunal of that sort in a very different connection has constantly operated already. Serious and very difficult questions connected with unemployment insurance are in practice constantly dealt with by just such a tribunal, and the object has been to secure on the one hand a list of people whose good sense and impartiality are recognised, and who understand the workman's point of view, and on the other hand a list of people who may be equally trusted by the employer.
§ Sir J. SIMON
He is represented in one sense, because one of the members of this tribunal comes from the panel of workmen, but I do not know any other means in which the accused workmen can be represented except this. This tribunal, like every other tribunal which applies judicial principles, must hear what the workman has to say before he is condemned.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I cannot doubt that reasonable provision must be made in order that a person who resists an order that has been given shall be heard, either himself or in some other convenient way, before a decision is given. That goes without saying.
§ Mr. J. A. PEASE
The House would like to know whether the Munitions Tribunal deal with cases where there is great interference with the trade of a firm which has been taken over as a controlled firm. There is an idea that some compensation might be justified in certain cases and I would like to know whether the Munitions Tribunal deals with cases like that?
§ Sir J. SIMON
I will deal with my right hon. Friend's question in a moment, but really it is not part of the point I am dealing with. I have raised a point which is rather important, and I am anxious to make the explanation clear. I am dealing with a case which is interesting both to employers and workmen, a case which may arise where the order has been given that a workman is to go on working, or his application that he may be allowed to withdraw is rejected, and the question arises, how is a dispute of that sort to be settled? What I submit to the House is that it would be quite wrong for such a dispute to be settled in the Police Court or settled by semi-criminal means. It ought to be settled, as has been suggested by the right hon. and learned Member for Exeter (Mr. Duke) by some tribunal which is more or less domestic, or which is sympathetic to both sides in a friendly way as distinct from the strictly legal sense.
§ Mr. JONATHAN SAMUEL
The question arises, and it concerns a very large number of people, as to whether the power to fine in Clause 13 will override the Truck Act of 1896?
§ Sir J. SIMON
I hope the hon. Member will allow me to continue my explanation of the point with which I am dealing. I will give notice when I stop, and if there is something which hon. Members have not understood perhaps they will remind me, and I will deal with it. I was pointing out that that is the sort of tribunal which we set up. Now comes this question: "Supposing the tribunal decides against the workmen, what is the penalty?" We have chosen a figure as a penalty, a maximum penalty, which to some people may seem rather odd. We have chosen the figure of £3 as the maxi 1550 mum.The reason we have chosen that figure, although elsewhere in the Bill you will find other amounts mentioned, such as £5 and other figures, is because we are told that it is a figure which in trade union rules is not infrequently met with in those cases where as a matter of domestic and trade union discipline there is something in the nature of a fine or a stoppage as between the trade union on the one hand and the member on the other in the administration of trade union affairs. It is a maximum figure of course. It does not mean that in every case that is to be the figure. We think that a figure which as a maximum is constantly met with in trade union rules and which trade unionists adopt among themselves for purposes of internal regulations, is a figure which probably would be fair as a maximum in this Bill. Then it is said, "Supposing he cannot pay the £3, does he go to prison?" The answer is "No." It is clearly understood that so far as the Munitions Tribunal is concerned fining is the punishment imposed on a workman who refuses to carry on in a munitions factory if the tribunal says he ought to do so. The penalty is a fine, but nothing but a fine. Provision may be made by which it may be possible to stop the fine out of his wages, but it is not a provision which in any case would so operate as to send the man to prison.
My hon. Friend (Mr. J. Samuel) asked about the Truck Act. I do not think any difficulty will be found to arise on that score. It has been mentioned to me by several friends, and I considered the Clause in the Bill, and I think my hon. Friend may take it that we shall find it quite safe in that regard. But if he will allow me to look further into the matter and communicate with me I shall be glad to see if there is anything more to be said on the point. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Pease) introduced another question, and I think he will see that what I was dealing with was not quite the point that he raised. He raised a very different question, namely, whether an employer whose factory had been taken over and was a controlled factory for making munitions of war is to get compensation, and, if so, on what basis? There again let me say quite frankly that there is nothing in the Bill about that. It may be that my right hon. Friend (Mr. Duke) sitting on that Bench, who has concerned himself with some of these difficult compensation questions, may have a case like that 1551 brought to his notice, but we have not found it possible within the four corners of this Bill to make provision of that sort, and if provisions have to be made they will be found elsewhere. I have done my best to point out to the House what really are the two principles at the back of this Bill. I would repeat that it really does not represent the Bill fairly to regard it as a compulsory Bill abandoning the voluntary principle. On the contrary, this is a Bill built up on the assumption, in the hope, and in the belief that voluntary effort, duly organised and duly controlled, is going to do that which must be done.
The House knows that we are engaged in calling upon munitions volunteers during the seven days which were suggested as the proper period by our trade union advisers. I am not going to make any indiscreet statements about that crusade. I will only venture to correct one possible misapprehension. I think in some of the evening papers to-night the announcement is made that we have got all the men we want. That is not so. The response which has been made to this appeal is a response of which the working people and the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Munitions and the whole country might be proud, but that is a very different thing from saying that we have got all the men we want. I hope that this opportunity which I have of correcting that statement will be taken advantage of outside in order that that most dangerous misapprehension may be removed. There is a special reason why it cannot be true. We are appealing for these skilled volunteers, without as yet ascertaining whether they can be spared from their present work. It is a complete mistake to suppose that a man is not to be a volunteer until his employer has told him that he is free to go elsewhere. That is not so in the least. At the present time we are simply appealing to the workpeople to volunteer, and they are volunteering accordingly. When we have got the volunteers, then will come the question of communicating with the men's employers to discover whether or not in a given case, having regard to the urgency of our national need, the man can be spared from the work he is doing. It is a very complicated question, and it is an extremely difficult economic question. It is not at all to be decided offhand. It does not at all follow that because a skilled engineer at this moment is not engaged in making munitions of war 1552 that therefore it is right and proper that he should be shifted elsewhere. Not at all. The industrial organisation of the country is a far more complicated thing than that. You cannot go pulling wheels out of the machine merely in order to fit them in somewhere else without disorganising the industrial machine more than you know. Therefore the House will see that we must get the offer of volunteers greatly in excess of those whom we shall ultimately be able to employ in the munitions factories. Our appeal in the days that are left of this seven days' crusade should be made full use of, and workmen should understand that they are at liberty to volunteer without first getting an assurance from their employer that their employer is willing to allow them to go. We will undertake subsequently to communicate with their employer and to make it our first duty to see that those who do volunteer are not prejudiced because of their public spirit.
Two views have been expressed in this Debate on the question whether this Bill puts too much power into the hands of the Minister of Munitions. In a speech made earlier this afternoon it was suggested that we are really putting into the hands of my right hon. Friend powers which are despotic. On the other hand, an hon. Member (Mr. Kenyon) who has made a most acceptable maiden speech said that for his part, speaking from the point of view of associations of working men, he was willing to see such powers put in the hands of the right man and used fearlessly in the public interest. We have to decide between these two positions. I submit to the House that while Parliamentary control can certainly continue to be exercised—and that is the real answer to people who talk about despotism in this country—on the other hand, this is not the time when you can pick and choose nicely and correctly between what exactly is the discretion you will give to a Minister and what is the discretion you will not give. The best result, and perhaps the only satisfactory result, can be secured if we put our minds into the common stock for the purpose of framing this Bill, and, having framed it, if we tell the Minister of Munitions that we have forged a weapon which we put in his hands, and we rely upon him to use it in the national interest.
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Asquith)
I do not want to arrest the course of the Debate, but I rise simply with the object 1553 of arriving at an understanding in regard to a matter of procedure. At Question Time it was suggested—and I think a provisional agreement was arrived at—that the Committee stage of this Bill should be taken on Wednesday. I understand that it has been suggested from more than one quarter of the House in the course of this Debate that perhaps the Committee stage would be facilitated and time saved if it were postponed from Wednesday until Thursday, so that there might be a longer interval for consultation and conference with the Minister of Munitions. The Government would be quite prepared to accede to that view, if a general understanding can be arrived at that we should complete the Committee stage and the other stages of the Bill on Thursday. It is very important that this Bill should, if possible, pass into law in the course of the present week. The whole machine for which voluntary enlistment is now being invoked cannot be put into motion until the Royal Assent has been given to this Bill. I am sure there is no disposition in any part of the House to delay its passage into law. If, therefore, the House thought that it would be a more convenient arrangement, and we might induce our fellow-legislators in another place to take the Bill on Friday, then in that case it might receive the Royal Assent before the week is over and this great public work might be started without any further delay. The Government are entirely in the hands of the House, and it is for the convenience of everybody that we should now arrive at a definite understanding.
§ Mr. CHAPLIN
I feel sure that the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman will be accepted gladly from what I have heard from Gentlemen sitting below the Gangway. I think the right hon. Gentleman made a suggestion that we might probably have to sit on Friday—
§ Mr. CHAPLIN
If there is any difficulty about the proceedings here I should like to ask whether it might not be possible to suspend the Eleven o'clock Rule?
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
Before I proceed to make any observations on the speech of the Home Secretary I would like to congratulate 1554 the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. S. Roberts) upon the force and eloquence with which he represented the interests of the armament firm with which he is connected. I think the fear which the hon. Member expressed in regard to that part of the Bill which proposes to limit the profits of employers in munitions factories indicates that the firms with which he is associated were not at any rate partners to that understanding to which the Home Secretary refers.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
I have no doubt the appeal which the hon. Member has addressed to the Government will receive very favourable consideration from the Government, as appeals from the same quarters have invariably in the past received favourable consideration. The Home Secretary, with all his great powers of persuasive presentation, has never had a more difficult task than he had this afternoon, and I think that his powers never shone more brilliantly than on this occasion. But any Member of this House, listening to the explanation of the Bill which the right hon. Gentleman has given, might be excused for believing that it was the most harmless and inoffensive measure which was ever presented to this House. I do not complain that there were certain proposals in the Bill to which the right hon. Gentleman made no reference. We shall have an opportunity of dealing with those points on the Committee stage of the Bill. A great many compliments have been paid to the Labour party in this House from a quarter whence compliments are not usually given to trade unionists, and I might give my Friends a word of warning that when compliments about trade unionism come from the quarter which has hitherto been hostile to trade unionism—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]—they ought to look carefully at the proposals which are under consideration.
My Friends who have spoken have given what was described by one speaker as a welcome to the Bill. I want to say that there is far more involved in this Bill than the question of trade union interests, important though they are. I do not want in the least to minimise the influence of my trade union Friends as leaders of the organisations of trade unionists, but I think that it ought to be stated that in giving their support to this Bill they did 1555 not speak with the authority of the rank and file of trade unionists. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] I want to say further—[An HON. MEMBER: "Speak for yourself"]—that they do not represent the unanimous opinion of those who were represented at the conference at which this Bill was approved by a majority. If my information is correct, and I have no reason to doubt it, something like one-third of the delegates represented at that conference voted against these proposals; and, I may point out further, that the two greatest trade unions in the country were not represented at that conference—the miners and the textile workers—the two organisations which by their votes dominate the decisions of the annual Trade Union Conference. Therefore, though I readily admit the right of my trade union Friends to express their own minds as they think fit and to give their support to this Bill on their individual responsibility, I want it to be distinctly understood that they do not speak with the mandate from the trade unions which they are supposed to represent.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
I do not want to turn this into a Catechism, or I might ask my right hon. Friend if he has taken a vote of the members of his union. The Minister of Munitions made a reference the other day to a vote which was taken by the Engineers Society. The right hon. Gentleman knows quite well that that vote was not taken upon the provisions of this Bill; it was taken upon the understanding that was come to between himself and the representatives of the Engineers Society some time ago.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
And I may also say that the voting on that question was a very small vote of the membership of the whole society. But, as I have said, though trade unions are vitally interested in this matter, this is not only a measure of importance to trade unions, but it is a measure of vital importance to the whole of the working classes of this country. Something else is at stake here than trade union rights and liberties—the whole question of the civil liberty of the people of this country—and therefore a Bill of this character ought to be very carefully and 1556 very critically considered by this House. I am not opposed to organisation. I came into politics in order to advocate a new system of social organisation. Socialism, of which I have been an advocate for a great many years, is a system of industrial and social organisation. I believe that I am the only one among the Members of the Labour party in this House who has been an advocate of compulsory State arbitration.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
My hon. Friend the Member for East Leeds appears also to have been in favour of it. But this I do know, that on a great many occasions I have been criticised very severely and have had to encounter a great deal of opposition because of my advocacy of compulsory State arbitration. I have always regarded that as being the logical outcome of the Socialist principles which I have professed, but I have never advocated the national organisation of our industries, and the organisation of national service, I have never advocated compulsory State arbitration, under such conditions as are proposed in this Bill. I have never advocated compulsory arbitration except upon a basis of trade union rights and trade union safeguards. I have never said that with State compulsory arbitration you should destroy all trade union rights. I have always advocated that we should be democratic, not that compulsory State arbitration should be in the hands of a Minister possessing powers which were described, both in the words of some other Member of this House and of the Home Secretary a few weeks ago, as despotic. I do not believe in strikes: I think that strikes are unthinkable at a time like this. I quite agree with what the Home Secretary said: If this War has to be continued, there can be no two opinions as to the need of doing what is necessary to secure the largest possible output of these instruments of war. But I certainly do not share the optimism which was expressed by the Home Secretary a few minutes ago, that by trade unionists sacrificing their rights at present they are not prejudicing their position after the War. I may have something more to say on that when I come to deal with the conclusion of this Bill.
The Minister of Munitions in his second speech delivered last week on this question said that Members ought to remember on the Second Reading of this Bill that it was the Second Reading, and ought not to 1557 introduce irrelevant matter. But he also said that it was the duty of the Government to make out a case for this Bill. I submit that the Government have not made out a case for this Bill. The Home Secretary himself said just now that the people who might be affected by this Bill are a very small number indeed. An hon. Member speaking from the other side of the House in the early part of the Debate this afternoon, spoke of the shirkers in connection with the provisions of this Bill. You can keep him at his machine, but it is simply the old story of bringing the horse to the water, while you cannot compel him to drink. I submit, from the admission of the Home Secretary himself just now, that there is no need for this Bill. But one of my reasons for saying that the Government have not made out a case for this Bill is the speech of the Minister of Munitions last week, which was one of the most striking indictments of the whole Government that could possibly be delivered. Nearly eleven months after the War he came to the House and said that it had been discovered that the Germans had big guns. It reminds one of the statements which were attributed to the then Prime Minister at the time of the Boer War, expressing surprise when he discovered that the Boers had horses. The Minister of Munitions, in the peroration of his speech last week, referred to the preparations which Germany had been making for a long period of years, and if he did not state, at any rate he implied, that we had been unaware of what Germany was doing, and that we had not expected such preparations on the part of Germany. But, surely, the right hon. Gentleman spoke in ignorance of a statement made by one of his own colleagues not a month ago, when the Chancellor of the Duchy told the people that he was sent to the Admiralty four years ago in order to prepare for war with Germany in case Germany attacked this country! And was the right hon. Gentleman aware of the statement made by Lord Haldane, only a few weeks ago, that for five years Sir John French had been making preparations for precisely such a campaign as this? How, therefore, in view of these statements of his own colleagues, can the Minister of Munitions come to this House in the eleventh month of the War and say that they were not prepared for these things which have eventuated?
No, what this Bill implies is this: It tries to put the blame upon the working 1558 man for the mismanagement and inefficiency of the Government. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] We were told by an ex-Minister, only a fortnight ago, that the War Office blundered in this matter. Those who say "No!" shall know, if they will listen to just a few facts. The hon. Member for Sheffield, who now has left the House, said that these big shells can only be made by the old-established armament firms. We have at Woolwich the best equipped armament works in the country. Has the War Office, have the Government, taken full advantage of their plant there? I will read a few statements which I find in a Woolwich local paper, dated the 26th March, which is three months ago. These statements are in regard to the condition of things at the Woolwich Arsenal:—In the sighting room the old hands say they have never seen the shop so slack before. Out of all the lathes in the shop only four are working day and night shift. The turners at the other lathes are going home each day at 5.40 because there is no work. That is not the worst. Even while the men are in they are not employed at real productive work, work that would help to meet the needs of the men at the front. Seventy-five per cent of them are on day work, on any old odd job that can be scraped up. In the field-gun section the same state of affairs exists. In the upstairs old shop, of the fitters employed three only are on overtime, and 50 per cent. of the remainder are on day work. In the forges the case is even worse. Hardly a man employed there knows from where his next job is coming. In this same shop there is a hydraulic press which cost a mint of money. The cry is for shell and for still more shells. Yet this hydraulic press has only been worked on a single shift during the whole of the War, and that on anything that can be got hold of to keep the press going.8.0 P.M.
That was the state of things in March, and coming to April, I find the same condition of matters existed in that month. The Woolwich paper says:—Here is a sample. The 3-inch guns (anti-aircraft) have been made in the Royal Gun Factory until recently. The whole of the order has now been taken from the Royal Gun Factory and placed with a firm that has no experience in the manufacture of armaments, despite the fact that the gun is a beautiful piece of mechanism, demanding the highest skill and experience in gun work.Side by side this statement, let me show how the Royal Gun Factory is effected by this policy. The north-eastern extension of the field-gun section is admittedly one of the best shops in the Arsenal. It is splendidly lighted and in every way is eminently suitable for fitters' work. Those who know the shop will remember the fitters' gallery. At the present moment there are 84 vices available. Of these only 40 are being used on day-shift and 20 on night-shift. The unused part is now being utilised as a store for slings.Then in June I find in the same local paper that precisely the same state of things continued. I am sorry to weary the House with quotations, but these, I think, are important and interesting. I have one here dealing with a big press capable of turning out shells, just of the kind described 1559 by the hon. Member for Sheffield. The Woolwich paper says:—The men in the Royal Gun Factory are on overtime, but many men do not know where their next job is to come from. In the forges, Royal Gun Factory, there is but little work. The 40-ton hammer is quite idle. This hammer could make forgings for guns up to 7.5. The 30-ton hammer is idle; could make forgings up to 18 lbs. The 2,000-ton press has been worked one shift only during the War on odd jobs. This press has made shell up to 13.5 before the war and could make up to 15. But not a single shell has been made on it since the War. This press could turn out on two shifts of 12 hours, working seven days a week, about 200 13.5 shells. If the press had been used since the beginning of the War, at times when it was not employed on real war work, it would have turned out quite 5,000. On the 14th of June the men on the 2,000-ton press were told there was no more work for them on the press after that week unless some unexpected orders came in. The new annexe of the field-gun shop, consisting of entirely new machinery, is only half used and until quite recently many of those working in this shop were on non-productive work. Work on 18-pounder field guns in this shop has now ceased. The men in the field-gun section reckon they could turn out from 10 to 16 eighteen-pounder guns each week. The total orders since the beginning of the war amount to 198; only from 12 to 14 weeks' work. In the sighting room of the Royal Gun Factory two gangs of six fitters were engaged last Sunday, but did not have a stroke of work to do.I have only one further fact to mention on this point, showing that it is not a question of the delinquencies of labour, but a want of proper organisation by the War Office. The "Daily News," in an article published three weeks ago, gives these very remarkable facts:—What, then, is wrong? It is not the deficiencies of labour. If we are short of munitions it is because labour is lacking direction. The organisation we want is not forced labour, but free labour intelligently directed. Let me give two illustrations of what I mean. A great manufacturer received a telegram from the War Office to go there at once. He travelled to London—a long journey—presented himself, was shown into a sitting-room, waited. He waited four and a half hours. Then he said to the attendant, 'Please tell Major — that I must return home to keep an engagement, and ask him if he would make another appointment.' The attendant went and returned. 'Major — has gone out to tea,' he said. 'Then,' said the other, 'tell Major — this: if he wants me again he must not send a telegram; he must send a battalion.'And the other is even more pertinent. The manufacturers in a certain town, at the request of the Government, formed a committee, stopped all their work and cleared their factories for the manufacture of munitions. Then they waited and their workmen waited. They waited six weeks without a sign. Then they declared that unless they received work at once they would resume their ordinary business. They were told not to do so. They waited six weeks more without a sign. Then, at the threat they would be trifled with no longer, they received some orders and the work began.My point is that if there had been proper organisation there would not have been any need for such proposals as this, and I go further and say, that you may drag in labour as you wish, but you will never secure the object you have in view unless 1560 you organise the business side of the question as well. I come now to the provisions of the Bill itself. The Home Secretary, in his explanation of the Bill, made a strong point of what he claimed to be the basing of compulsion upon voluntary arrangements. Can the right hon. Gentleman imagine any scheme of compulsory arbitration which is not based upon voluntary arrangements? There is no system of compulsory arbitration in the world which does not, first of all, admit of a matter being settled by voluntary arrangement between the parties. Therefore—I do not use the word offensively, because I do not think the right hon. Gentleman meant it—to say that is a quibble. This is compulsory arbitration, it is compulsory arbitration deprived of its democratic character, and the men are coming into this system of compulsory arbitration practically with their hands tied behind their backs. A point was raised by my hon. Friend here as to what is meant by the extension of the King's Proclamation of the power of compulsory arbitration to trades which are not yet included in the Bill.
I accept the right hon. Gentleman's intention. Nobody who knows him would doubt for a moment his intention or would doubt for a moment that, if he were to remain in office always, he would endeavour to carry out to the very letter and in the very spirit every promise that he has made in this House. He said that it was not the intention of the Government to proclaim a whole trade because of some petty local dispute. But what we want is something more than intention—we want it explicitly stated in the Act itself, and therefore that is a point to which I will direct attention on the Committee stage of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman knows quite well, and everybody in this House knows, that industrial disputes are now practically always of a very wide character. Take the case in my own part of the country of a dispute in connection with one cotton mill. There was a threat by the employers to close down every cotton mill in Lancashire. Therefore, in order to prevent a strike or lock-out in circumstances like these, it would be open to the Minister of Munitions by King's Proclamation to proclaim the whole cotton trade of Lancashire as being subject to the compulsory arbitration powers of this Bill. Take the case of the miners. A local dispute becomes a national dispute 1561 under the powers of Part I. of the Bill. The Minister of Munitions will have power to bring all the miners within the Bill, and thus, in regard to the two great unions which are opposed to compulsory arbitration, the Minister will have the power to bring those two great trades under the compulsory powers of this Bill.
I turn to Part II. of the Bill. I was very glad indeed to hear what the Home Secretary said in regard to the real character of the trade union regulations. Though it may be possible to point out in particular individual instances that output is limited, it is not true to say that, over the whole field of trade unions, they restrict output. As a matter of fact they do not, and you find that output is always greatest where the trade is best organised. I am quite sure that my trade union Friends, in agreeing to the temporary suspension of trade union rules, are making very great difficulties for themselves in the future. It is no use saying that they will not be prejudiced in their negotiations after the War. They will be. Let us just imagine this: A trade union and the employers have a conference on the question of wages. What will the employers be able to say? If my hon. Friends say that the workmen can turn out ten of a certain article in a day, the employers could turn round and say that they turned out twenty and thirty of that particular article during the War. What are my hon. Friends going to say? They are raising great difficulties for themselves which they will have to face when the War is over.
I want to enter another word of protest against a matter which certainly demands consideration in Committee on the Bill, and that is the proposal to give the Minister of Munitions power to make any regulations he likes applicable to a controlled establishment. I do not think that is a power that ought to be entrusted even to the present holder of the office of Minister of Munitions. There is to be a very heavy penalty on any workman who breaks any of these regulations. Supposing one of the regulations insisted upon a minimum output, and a workman does not make that output, he could be brought before the Munitions Tribunal and fined £3, which, as I understand the Home Secretary—and I believe power is taken in the Bill—can be deducted from his wages. I am not prepared to accede to giving the Minister of Munitions the power of making regulations of that character, and I should like to see the regulations as 1562 a schedule to the Bill. I come to the question of profits. A sop which has been given to the workpeople to induce them to swallow unpalatable parts of the Bill. I understood the hon. Member for Sheffield to say that there was danger that these munitions firms might be worse off under the provisions of this Bill than they otherwise would have been. Let me mention this fact, that the last two years have been the most profitable period of trade we have had for something like forty or fifty years, and, therefore, those firms who have made large profits during the last two years are going to get the advantage of that. If they get 20 per cent. more than the average of the last two years—
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
If they paid 10 per cent. it would be about 12½ per cent. I do not see the point of the right hon. Gentleman's interruption.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
Twenty per cent. of the actual profit, not additional. If a firm has made a net profit of a million pounds during the last two years, next year they will be able to distribute a million two hundred thousand and will be able to raise the dividend from, say, 10 per cent. to 12½ per cent.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
There is then the possibility of hiding profits, and nothing is said in this Bill about using profits for the renewal of capital and stock and machines or about depreciation, and I certainly know nothing about the capacity of those firms if they do not find the means of driving the proverbial coach and six through this Clause. There are other points at which I can only glance in a cursory manner. I desire to refer to the Clause of the Bill which will not permit a man to leave his employment unless he gets a reasonable certificate. A man is to be compelled to stop there and cannot leave without that certificate from his employer, and if he does he is to be kept out of employment for six weeks, that is to say, six weeks' starvation have to be imposed on that man. I just want to say a word about the Schedule in the Bill.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
My hon. Friend does not surely pretend that that is a fair representation of that provision, and if he is explaining its provisions I hope he will do so more fully. It is clearly rather important, because it means if he leaves for good reason he is entitled to put his case before the Munition Court and to get a certificate.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
Yes. I have no desire to misrepresent any provision of the Bill. The second Schedule of the Bill deals with the suspension of trade union rules and practices. We were told by the Minister of Munitions the other day that trade unions must rely on the honour of a great nation for the restitution of those rights after the War. I prefer a very definite Clause in an Act of Parliament rather than the honour of a great nation. I venture the statement that there is nothing at all in this Bill which guarantees or gives an assurance for the resumption of those rules and practices after the War is over. We ought to try to realise, or, at any rate, to call before our imagination the industrial conditions which will exist after the War is over. The outbreak of peace will in some respects be as awful as the outbreak of war. You are allowing an influx of unskilled men and women, numbering hundreds of thousands, whose competition in the future will be a terrible menace to those skilled before the War. I fail to find in any of the words of the Schedule any guarantee that the employers will be compelled to observe the old conditions after the War is over. How that is going to be done I do not know, except continuing in some form compulsory arbitration, or, at any rate, conferring on the Government compulsory powers to enforce the observance of those rules when the War is over Unless that is done in the Bill itself in words which are incapable of more than one construction then all that is said is so much waste paper. I have detained the House at some length and all I want to say now is that the Committee stage of this Bill cannot be hurried, because some of us have Amendments for which we shall certainly desire adequate discussion. I have indicated some of the objections I have, and which. I know, are shared by some of my Friends. We shall move Amendments in the Committee stage on the lines I have indicated with the object of securing to the workmen of the country at least some measure of that industrial liberty that they have won by long years of strenuous agitation.
§ Mr. O'GRADY
The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden) knows very little of the trade union movement and he has no right to make the statement he has made with respect to the delegates who were at the conference with the Treasury. Let me indicate to the House how mistaken a man can be, however well intentioned his remarks are. He spoke of the vote in the conference with the Treasury, which, by the way, was a confidential conference, though probably somebody has been giving the show away. A certain vote was taken, and the hon. Member said that more than one third of the delegates voted against this Bill. That is absolutely a misstatement. Curicusly enough I was one of the men who voted against the majority, and that is why I am making this statement, but the vote which we took was not upon this Bill at all. It was on the principle of applying compulsory arbitration to all disputes during the War. There were 16 who voted against the application generally of the principle of compulsory arbitration and 50 who voted to the contrary, but on this Bill there was not a single dissentient. I want to remind my hon. Friend that after all it is impossible to get a poll of our men on this Bill. Time is a great factor in the matter, and to suggest that we should put this Bill before our members, and particularly before an organisation like the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, which has branches in Australia and in Canada, and to make the result of their vote decide on a Bill of this character, is not a practical proposition at all. Every single item of this Bill, with the exception of the principle of compulsory arbitration, has been voted upon by the Amalgamated Society of Engineers in the form on the Treasury Agreement.
I want to tell the House this further fact that the only difference between this Bill and the Treasury Agreement, which has been adopted and carried by a majority, is the single question of compulsory arbitration. I am in favour of the principle of compulsory arbitration, and I have advocated it for years because it is the logical outcome of my belief in Socialism, and for that reason too my hon. Friend should be in favour of compulsory arbitration as contained in this Bill. The point he makes is that under Socialism, with compulsory arbitration operating, a workman would go into Court fairly free, but under this Bill he goes in with his hands tied behind his back. We have not got the millennium yet, and we have not got the establishment 1565 of Socialism yet. We have got to deal with things as we go along, and as we find them and on the facts of the case. I want to suggest to my hon. Friend that the Courts before which the men will place their grievances are Courts on which the men will have their own representatives, and not as is the case now in most cases where arbitration is carried on either voluntarily or by compulsion. After all it depends on the Courts and, as the hon. and learned Member for Exeter (Mr. Duke) so well put it, I hope the Courts will be made more local than they are. I understood that under the Bill itself the Courts would be local Courts, to which the men could go and get these matters rectified without delay.
§ Mr. O'GRADY
But the strongest point made by the hon. Member for Blackburn, and put in a somewhat different way by the right hon. and learned Member for Exeter, was the difficulty of getting these cases tried at once. Let me go on to speak about the trade unions. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn, that up to the present we have been casting blame upon the workman. But who have been doing it? The late Government attempted to do it. I protested on that occasion, and I have protested since. But my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn has also blamed the workmen for the state of things which has existed in regard to the production of munitions of war. My hon. Friend wrote an article in the "Daily Despatch," in which he said that the figures of drunkenness were appalling. Of course, he went on to water it down. But he made this declaration finally—I am speaking from memory, but this is the substance of it—that while under normal circumstances a workman has no right to interfere with industry by drunken habits, under present circumstances the position is absolutely intolerable, and something must be done. If that is not casting the blame upon the workmen, I do not know what is. It is idle for my hon. Friend to challenge the Government; I challenged them before he did. We disagreed with the statement that was made, and we said so publicly. But for an hon. Friend of ours to come along and lay the blame on the Government without considering what he himself has done, and what he has contributed towards it—well, well, I do not know where we are getting in these matters.
1566 Let there be no mistake about this Bill. I do not want to discuss it from an academic point of view. I want to put the plain practical aspect of it before the House, and particularly before my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn. After all, the men are asked under this Bill to volunteer. To do what? To enter into a contract with the Government to do a certain amount of work for six months—to do it faithfully and well, if you like. That is an ordinary civil contract. I have entered into contracts with my employer when I was at the bench. If I did not fulfil the terms of the contract, what followed? I was hauled up before a Court—and before a Court which I thought was prejudiced. What is a man asked to do now? You go to him and say, "Will you volunteer to go and work on certain conditions?" What are the terms? The terms are specifically stated in the note that he signs. His trade union rates of wages and his overtime rates are guaranteed by the State. The only conditions he is asked to relax are those rules—built up, I agree, after centuries of fighting and suffering—having to do, say, with the prevention of semi-skilled workmen doing the work of skilled workmen. I might remind my hon. Friend that this Bill goes much further than the trade unions can carry their own members, because—this is the point—if unskilled workmen or women are employed on this work, they will not depreciate the rates of wages which have been built up by the trade unions.
So that, on the whole, I respectfully suggest to the House that the criticism of my hon. Friend—well meant, I do not dispute that—is not well founded. I have followed him, if I may respectfully say so, for a large number of years, and I agree with him in all points on the political policy of the organisations to which we belong. But I protest against the attitude which he has taken up on this Bill, because the effect of it is to sow dissension between trade union rank and file members and their elected, accepted leaders. I know he does not mean that. I suggest that, in these critical times, that is not only a bad thing from the point of view of trade unionism, but it is a very grave thing as far as the safety of the State is concerned. Moreover, has he the facts which are in our possession? Good God!—I say that quite reverently—we get letters from members of our societies, our 1567 fellow trade unionists in the trenches appealing to the leaders of the trade unions to do all they can to persuade our fellows in the workshops, even at the sacrifice of trade union rules, to set to and turn out these munitions, in order that they may get a "fair show." I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn, that when these men come back from the field of battle, as I hope they will, and resume their membership of the trade unions, they will declare that the greatest work that the unions and their leaders ever did was to save some of their lives out at the front, by enabling them to have a "fair show."
I know that this Bill is faulty in some particulars. We have not drafted the Bill. I do say, however, that there has never been a point which we have raised in conference with the Minister of Munitions, or with the other authorities, but there has been a frank attempt to meet our views. You will see that this Bill—and this is its virtue—deals with a perilous situation in plain and simple terms; and I venture to say that the workmen themselves, when they study the Bill, will agree that, after all, we did the best we could in the circumstances. They, like their brothers in the trenches, will, under the terms of this Bill, set to work, knowing that their interests are being safeguarded, and they will do their best to respond to the appeal made in this House and outside for patriotism, and work to help carry this country to victory in the present War.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
I feel considerable diffidence in following the hon. Member opposite (Mr. O'Grady), who struck what I think the House will agree was the right note, and struck while the iron was hot. I would ask for the indulgence of the House in making my first speech as Member for Maidstone. I was a Member of a previous House, and I would ask an extra measure of indulgence on that account, because the atmosphere of the House has considerably changed since then. Questions concerning munitions were then looked at in a very different way. The Minister of Munitions himself was at that time, I think, in training for the part of William Penn. He is now, according to one hon. Member, carrying on a crusade. I think he is taking the part of Peter the Hermit, and is most successful in it. The right hon. Gentleman is to be congratulated on the way he 1568 has gained the attention of Press, Parliament, and platform, and in view of the nature of this War I hope the pulpit will take up the work as well, for if ever there was a war which deserved to be called a religious war, it is the present one.
In his speech last week, the Minister of Munitions indicated certain reasons for the shortage of ammunition. He dealt faithfully with both employer and employed, but he neglected to mention that a good deal of the shortage of ammunition arose from the fact that we are engaged upon a multiplicity of campaigns throughout the world, of which only one is strictly vital. I only mention the fact, because it would be out of order for me to deal with it; but the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs may be said to be carrying on campaigns in France and the Mediterranean: the Secretary of State for India one in Asia; whilst the Secretary of State for the Colonics is carrying on a number of other campaigns; the result is a considerable shortage.
A clear indication of another campaign which must have been going on in the Cabinet, and leading to the prevention of the output of necessary ammunition, was given by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bristol (Mr. Hobhouse). We took the line that the silver bullet was necessary to keep up the exports and the credit of the country, and we were not inclined to turn our machinery to the output of shells, instead of exports for keeping up the credit of the country. This doubtless has been one of the difficulties the Munitions Committee had to encounter in this War. That Committee was set up last September. It is perfectly well understood that certain members of the Cabinet, thinking that the War would be a short one, were desirous of keeping up the supply of exports in order to pay for imports, thereby keeping up the credit of the country. It is absolutely necessary that we should turn a good deal of the machinery of this country towards the output of munitions. The hon. Member for Blackburn gave instances at Woolwich where machines were lying idle. He forgets, however, that the same reason applies to that machinery as applies to idle ships which are carrying coal to the Fleet; that they have to be in readiness. It might happen that it was impossible to turn the machinery at Woolwich to shell making, for it might at any moment be needed in connection with a battle fought in the North Sea. The Minister of 1569 Munitions spoke of "certain employers" who were holding back the supply of materials, and he thereby made a very serious charge, to which the House rightly cried "shame." The right hon. Gentleman is, I would suggest, creating an atmosphere of suspicion. It would have been better if he had indicated what were the particular materials which were being held back.
Long ago the Australian Government communicated the fact to this country that a large quantity of German-owned spelter was in Australia, and I think that, now we are at war, that that war can be pursued without any juridical niceties, and we ought to take up and put that spelter to the best use we can for the purpose of fighting German militarism. The Minister of Munitions also spoke of the competition which was going on between employers, but he neglected to mention another form of competition which was going on, and that is when this War broke out the Admiralty entering the labour market in competition with the War Office. Seeing what the attitude of this House has been to the Navy in the past, and remembering that Lord Macaulay, the historian, said that this House "has always been generous with provision where the interests of the Navy were concerned, even when most parsimoniously inclined," I do think that there was a grave fault on the part of the Admiralty which could obtain from the Government all that it required. It might have yielded to the more vital necessities of the Army.
Indeed, now I should like to ask what the Admiralty is doing in the way of handing over rifles and machine guns, which are really no use to it for fighting purposes, towards relieving the situation in regard to munitions for the Army? I agree with those Members of the House who deprecate criticism, but I have met with one new criticism or suggestion which I hope will be considered within the rules of order. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bristol that we have got to look forward to those things which are before, and to forget those things which are behind till after the War, when, I presume, there will be an inquiry, as there was after the South African war, and, on the part of France, after the Franco-German war. But I deprecate the idea that all critics of the Coalition Government, when the suggestions are helpful, are to be regarded as amongst those who 1570 stone the prophets. No political watchword will make into one the twenty-two Members of the Cabinet. But it is not with the object of stoning any prophet but with a view to bringing a brick towards the success of the structure which the Minister of Munitions is rearing that I would like to make one or two suggestions.
I hope this Bill will enable the Minister of Munitions to deal with the housing of the numerous workmen who are going to be brought into munitions centres. He ought to have power to say that soldiers should not be billeted in places which are going to be overcrowded with the new populations in the munitions centres. I think, too, he should short-circuit the Home Secretary in regard to licences under the Explosives Act. In regard to transport, which plays such an important part in keeping men at their work, I think the Minister of Munitions ought to be able to say that the munitions workers should come first, whatever the means of conveyance may be. In this House a great deal of praise has been bestowed on German foresight. I should be sorry, if inclined to be downhearted, because of this overpraise, as I think it, of German foresight in regard to munitions of war. We know perfectly that on other issues the Germans showed no foresight. In the psychological issues of the War they showed no foresight. In their enormous expenditure on a great navy they showed no foresight whatever. If half of that expenditure had been devoted to the navy and the rest on munitions of war and the army they would have been in a very much better position.
The secret of the so-called German foresight in regard to munitions of war is simply this: They piled up expenditure on every conceivable weapon, counting on the fact that after the War had begun they would be able to profit by the lessons of the War and utilise those weapons which the War showed to be most necessary. This involved a great waste of national industry. They counted upon the fact that that waste would be made up by indemnity, booty, and territory which they would get out of their enemies. When the true history of the War comes to be written it will be found that the Germans wasted an extraordinary amount on weapons which proved to be of very little use. At the same time they had a surplus of weapons which were of great use, and they used them accordingly. Our financial system is very different to that of Germany, 1571 and we must remember that. They were able to continue to use the money after expenditure on munitions for similar purposes, whereas we had to return it to the Exchequer. Further, they had great advantages over this country.
A great deal has been said in this House about the necessity for business men, and a good deal in ignorant disparagement of the soldier. I have heard from soldiers and sailors on Committees that when they were associated with so-called business men they have had to nurse business men into a knowledge of the most elementary principles connected with war. Indeed, war from a strictly business man's point of view is not a business at all; it involves great and grave waste, but it is of vital necessity that that waste should be incurred. That leads me to my next point, which is that the Minister of Munitions should go ahead with his contracts, like Wellington said he spoke French, "with courage," and that he should not in the least degree be afraid of those carping critics of contracts, for it is quite impossible for him to make contracts entirely on lines which will satisfy them. And I can assure him if he succeeds in getting that endless stream of munitions he is asking for, there will be plenty in the country and throughout this House who will back him up against all the critics in the world.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of EDUCATION (Mr. Arthur Henderson)
The Debate, to the whole of which I have carefully listened, has clearly demonstrated that the House has convinced itself that some special legislation is required to meet the exceptional circumstances in which we as a country find ourselves to-day. There has scarcely been, from beginning to end of the discussion, a single jarring note. Possibly, I should make one exception to that—namely, the speech of my hon. Colleague the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden). But, apart from his observations, I think those of us who are interested in the passing of this measure ought to feel highly gratified at the reception it has received from all quarters of the House. If we are satisfied that some exceptional effort is required we have also to satisfy ourselves as to what it is that Parliament and the Government ought at once to set about to do; and I think we are all agreed that two things are essential—first, that we should organise to supply the present very pressing need for a tremendous increase in the 1572 supply of munitions of war. But, if we are going to do that, there is another essential. There is something that is absolutely indispensable to the success of any organisation that the Government attempts, and that is—and I think all sections of the House will agree with me—industrial peace. Surely it is no use our creating a new Ministry of Munitions and organising for the first time in the history of our country a Munitions State Department, only to find out when we have, as I might say, prefected all the ramifications of the new Department, that the new Department and the Government of the country are let down because of strife amongst the workers, or between the workers and the employers, upon whom we absolutely depend. I want to bring before the House one or two particulars, in order to show that we are not altogether free from a possible danger in this regard.
At the commencement of the War, eleven months ago, the number of strikes known to the Board of Trade stood at about one hundred. Now the great majority of the existing strikes were settled quite easily. A number of them were settled, let me say, by the very means that we have included in Part I. of the Bill—that is, a number of them were settled by the process of arbitration, others were settled by the principle of conciliation, and both arbitration and conciliation provided by a Government Department, namely, the Board of Trade. A few of the disputes that existed in the month of August were settled by agreement between the parties concerned. I want to say here that I believe these settlements were very largely influenced by a decision that was taken on the part of the responsible executives that control the great trade union and labour movement of this country. In August the three national committees of the Labour and Socialist movement—I refer to the Parliamentary Committee of the Trades Union Congress, the Management Committee of the General Federation of Trade Unions, and the Executive Committee of the Labour Party—met to consider the new situation arising out of the War. May I venture to read to the House the first resolution that they reached, I think I am correct in saying with perfect unanimity? It reads as follows:—That an immediate effort be made to terminate all existing trade disputes, whether strikes or lock-outs, and, whenever new points of difficulty arise during the war period, a serious attempt should be made by all concerned to reach an amicable settlement before resorting to a strike or lock-out.1573 I believe, as I have already said, that had an immense influence and was of great value in advancing the principle of arbitration and getting the parties together once more and bringing about a settlement. So much so was it the case that, at the end of Augut, the number of disputes in progress was only twenty, and they only concerned some 9,000 workpeople. This spirit continued until the beginning of January, 1915, when the number of disputes got right down to ten. There was a great change in February. In that month unrest—very largely, I believe, influenced by the increased cost in the necessaries of life—began to manifest itself, and we found that in that month there were forty-seven fresh disputes involving the stoppage of work. During March there were seventy-four new disputes begun, in April there were forty-four, and in May sixty-three. I think it is clear that the factor to which I have already referred, namely, the increased cost in the price of the necessaries of life, has had a most disturbing effect, and it seems to me, if we follow the figures right along to the month of May, we shall find that the same disturbing factor comes in. This very clearly proves to us that if we are going to answer the question which I submitted at the opening of my remarks as to the essentials, namely, organisation and industrial peace, it seems to me that every possible safeguard against a still further increase in the number of disputes is absolutely essential. Therefore the Government tried to find out what was the position of the trade unionists with regard to the unrest to which I have already referred, and on the 17th March there was a very important conference held at the Treasury. At that conference there were some thirty-five of the leading trade unions—those principally concerned in the engineering and shipbuilding trades—represented at the Treasury. The conference lasted for three full days and every phase of the position was gone into. I want to put before the House a finding which, if not entirely unanimous, I think I am right in saying received only two votes against it at the close of the third day of the conference. The conclusion to which I refer is as follows:—That during the War period there shall in no case be any stoppage of work upon munitions and equipments of war, or other work required for the satisfactory completion of the War.Here we have a decision made by responsible trade union officials who have been in the closest touch with their organisations. Not is that all. They decided that 1574 all differences of wages or conditions of employment arising out of the War shall be dealt with without a stoppage of work, and under a scheme of arbitration, the same scheme of arbitration that now forms Schedule 1 in the Bill the House is considering.
§ Mr. HENDERSON
It is the 17th, 18th and 19th March of the present year. The conference went even further, for they expressed the following opinion:—Questions not arising out of the War should not be made the cause of stoppage of work during the War period.9.0 P.M.
Those questions referred to disputes on commercial work, and on contracts entirely outside of the War Office contracts. Surely nothing could be clearer as to the minds of the trade union leaders than the resolution which I read passed on the 25th August and agreed upon as a Treasury document as the result of three days' conference at the Treasury. Surely nothing could be clearer that they have made up their minds that the interests of this country during this unprecedented crisis demands that everything should be done that was possible to maintain industrial peace, both in the contracts for the War and even in civil employment not connected with the War. That being so, I have now to turn to the Bill that is before the House, and what do I find? If I come to examine Part I. of this Bill, contained in Clauses 1, 2, and 3, I do not think I exaggerate the position for a single moment if I put it in this form, that Part I. of this Bill does no more than give, or seeks to give, legislative effect to the decisions of the conference at the Treasury, and to the resolutions carried by the three national executives as early in the War period as the 25th August last. When I keep this in mind I am somewhat surprised at the very severe strictures that have been cast upon the Bill by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden). For daring to support a Bill like this the trade union leaders have been chided by one of their colleagues on the same Bench in a way that I will venture to say it has not been my lot to listen to during the twelve years I have been in this House, and, what is more, this attack has been made with less justification than any attack I have ever heard put by any speaker. What is the gravamen of the offence the trade union leaders have committed, and I want to include 1575 myself with those who have been chided? It was my fortune—or my misfortune, I do not know which—to preside when the first resolution to which I have referred was passed on the 25th August. It was my similar misfortune to preside at the Treasury conference during the whole of the three days; and when the Minister of Munitions was not present at the two conferences that have been held quite recently to discuss the terms of this Bill, I am very happy to be able to say I had the honour to preside over the trades union deliberations. Therefore I think I am justified, if strictures have to be passed upon the trade unionists of this House, to take my share in the blame and in the responsibility. We have been reminded that the decisions of these conferences have not behind them the votes of the members represented by the trade union leaders who were present. I venture to say that that was an observation that ill became any member of the Labour party, and especially any member of the Independent Labour party, when seeking to chide the trades union officials, and I am going to give my reasons for that statement.
During this War there have been issued from the offices of that party, the party with whom the hon. Member for Blackburn is so closely associated, I think I may safely say at least one manifesto on the War. [An HON. MEMBER: "Six!"] I think I should be putting it very mildly if I said there were three or four, or even half a dozen. I do not think I should be going too far if I said that the hon. Member for Blackburn has associated himself publicly with those manifestoes. I will follow that observation up and say that so far as the interests of this great nation are concerned those manifestoes consisted of statements and proposals immensely more dangerous than anything contained in this Bill. And yet the hon. Member for Blackburn comes down here to chide the trade union officials, and makes the statement that in what we have done in supporting this Bill we have not the support of the members of the trade unions behind us, when not a single one of those manifestoes has been issued by the entire vote of the party to which the hon. Member for Blackburn belongs. Therefore, I think it is essential that people who live in glasshouses should refrain from throwing stones. I only call it a stone, though some of my hon. Friends suggest that it is a 1576 shell, because I would not attach so much importance to any of the statements as would seem to suggest that where they struck they would prove so damaging as a shell.
When I listened to the speech of my hon. colleague, one statement with regard to the operation of Clause 3 of the Bill somewhat surprised me. It was almost suggested that Clause 3 had been drafted with the deliberate intention of trying in some sinister method to inveigle into the operations of the no strike provisions of the Bill the whole of the coal and cotton trades. I was somewhat surprised by that reference in view of the fact that the Minister of Munitions in presenting the Bill last week made the most definite, calculated, and deliberate statement that if the coal and cotton trades were not willing to come into the Bill they should not be included. The suggestion was made that if there were a small local dispute either in the coal trade or in the cotton trade it would be seized upon by the Government as a reason why they should use their powers of proclamation and proclaim the entire coal trade or the entire cotton trade as the case might be. No man who is prepared to give an entirely impartial and unprejudiced opinion can suggest that is possible under the terms of the Clause as it now stands, and I think I am justified in saying, in view of the statement that has already been made, that if there is a fear on behalf of the coal trade or on behalf of the cotton trade that would be so, and they are prepared to suggest to the Minister of Munitions a reasonable Amendment to make it sure that it would not be so, I am quite sure the Minister of Munitions would be quite prepared to give that Amendment or suggestion his most careful and even his most sympathetic consideration. Therefore, I hope that the mind of any hon. Member of this House who may represent either a cotton constituency or a coal constituency will not be prejudiced against the Bill by any statement that it is the sinister intention of the Government to use any small dispute to issue a Proclamation and sweep in the entire coal trade or the entire cotton trade.
The desire of the Government, so far as these two great industries are concerned, is clearly indicated by the fact that the Minister of Munitions has already had three conferences with the executive of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain in the hope that he might be able to 1577 arrange amicably with them some means whereby industrial peace might be made secure in the mining world. That is all the Government desire. It is essential that we should have peace, and if we cannot have it by trade union agreement we must have it by legislation. The object of all the conferences that have been going on since last week has been to try and get the means or methods whereby, if not by the Bill then by agreement, that peace will be secured. I attended a conference, together with the President of the Board of Trade, last week, when we met the representatives of the great cotton industry, and we have to meet them for a second time to-morrow to try to get them to realise the danger which there is of industrial disturbances and the desire of the Government by amicable arrangement or by legal enactment to guard against any such danger in the cotton trade, which would certainly prejudice the manufacture of ammunition. I hope that these points will be kept very clearly in mind.
We have been told also that the form of compulsory arbitration attempted to be set up by the Bill is robbed of all democratic advantages. I must say that I was surprised that a statement like that should come from one whom many of us have known for years as a very staunch advocate of compulsory arbitration for the settlement of industrial disputes. I do not like to introduce a controversial note, but I do feel that it is a great misfortune that the only time I find the hon. Member for Blackburn looking at a question other than through the spectacles which he wears during normal times is marked by a change in his attitude towards a principle which he has advocated during the whole of his public life. I may be pardoned for suspecting, and I am quite sure that some of my colleagues have suspected, that his attitude towards industrial compulsion has not remained uninfluenced by his attitude towards the War. He said that profits were being restricted in a form which was merely a sop to the trade unionists to induce them to accept the more unpalatable provisions of the Bill. All I can say is that so far as I have been able to find out, the trade union officials as a whole are fairly well satisfied that the Government is making a serious attempt to limit the excessive profits that some people have been aiming at during the period of the War. It seems to me that it would have been quite possible for my hon. Friend to have brought up Amendments 1578 further restricting profits if he considered them still too excessive, and I think the Government would not have been prepared to have given an entirely deaf ear to anything he had to say on the point.
It seems to me, taking the Bill as a whole, that if we have to maintain industrial peace it could not have been less drastic than it is. If we have to have proper organisation in order to accelerate and increase the supply of munitions, it is necessary to have controlled establishments; and, if we have to have controlled establishments, we must make a serious attempt to control the profits. The scheme which the Government have hit upon seems to me to answer the purpose exceedingly well, and, when some of the profits that some of the manufacturing companies have made during this year of war come to be examined, and when the amounts that they have to pay over to the Treasury after the fifth has been deducted is ascertained, I think that some Members will be really surprised at the boldness of the Government in insisting that the restriction should be the average of the two previous full periods with one-fifth added. They will find that under these Clauses very considerable amounts of the profits that have been made are already assured for the Treasury. It seems to me that, having regard to the desire for industrial peace, to the need for the control of establishments, and to the need for restricting profits, we can satisfy ourselves that the workman is not asked to give up something that will not be returned to him at the end of the War. I have had to do with drafting the Schedules of the Bill for the Treasury, and I feel quite satisfied that working men can follow their trade union officials in this matter, resting assured that where the semi-skilled man takes the place of the skilled workman he gets the wage of the skilled workman, so that the skilled rate is not prejudiced, and where a woman is introduced, she is to work piece-work, and get the same piece-work rate, so that the position of the workman again is not prejudiced. Again, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary pointed out, if they have to work in gangs, and the woman or an unskilled worker is introduced, the more highly skilled worker has a readjustment of the payment provided, so that his earnings will not be less than they would have been if he had been working with four or five skilled workmen in that gang.
1579 The Government have carefully considered the position; they have taken the advice of the trade unions, and at the Treasury conference there were only two votes against the principles included in the Treasury agreement, while as to the conference held at the Ministry of Munitions—the final conference on the proposals of the Bill—I want to associate myself with the hon. Member for East Leeds, when he said that, instead of there being sixteen votes against the principles of the Bill, those principles, so long as they were not extended to commercial work, actually received the unanimous support of the representatives at that conference. I sincerely hope that the encouraging tone of this Debate will be maintained, not only throughout the remainder of this stage, but also during the Committee stage, and I repeat that the Government is prepared to give consideration to any reasonable Amendment that may be submitted, in order to make the scheme more perfect for carrying out the objects that its framers have in view.
§ Sir R. COOPER
The Bill which we are discussing this evening must be judged from the point of view whether, when it has been passed into law, it can reasonably be expected to fulfil the hopes not only of this House, but of the people of this country, by removing, once and for all, that great blot on the prosecution of the War which arises from the shortage of munitions. Like every other Member of the House, I give the Bill very ready support, because our hopes in this time of emergency lie with the new Minister, and if he thinks it right to ask for the powers and provisions embodied in this Bill, it is hardly for us, in the circumstances under which we are living, to refuse them. We are bound to give them; and, for my part, I am prepared, if need be, to give even greater powers to the Minister of Munitions, if, by so doing, we, in his judgment, would be placing him in a better position to provide that without which the outlook for this country is, at least, very unsatisfactory. But, whilst entirely supporting this Bill, I feel that I must, especially in view of the opinions I have held on matters connected with munitions, say, quite frankly, that, in my judgment, this Bill is going to be a very great disappointment to the people of this country. I have to bear in mind first, the position as far back as last March, after he had made his speech at Bangor on the 28th of February, 1580 when he said the drink was as great an enemy to this country as Austria or Germany. [An HON MEMBER: "Greater."] I do not want to exaggerate; I thought the right hon. Gentleman put it on an equality, and it does not affect my argument after all. But after he had had the conference with the trade unions early in March, I think I am right in saying, he came to a certain conclusion and certain agreement with the trade unions, which, in his judgment at that time, would have helped, at any rate, to get rid of the difficulties which existed in dealing with the output of munitions.
I think in the light of what we have heard to-day, and of what the right hon. Gentleman himself has said—and I entirely uphold him for the plucky and courageous manner in which he tells the people of this country the truth, more readily than any other Minister in the Cabinet—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] Nobody can deny that, and I consider that he is rendering good service to the country in taking that line and in speaking out, because, if only they know the difficulties we have to contend with, the people, no matter what station of life they are in, and especially the working classes, will respond readily to any reasonable demand that may be deemed necessary for their own protection, for the protection of their civic freedom, to which the hon. Member for Blackburn has referred, and for the security of this country. I cannot myself, in the light of these things, see that the provisions of this Bill are going to have any appreciable effect on the output of munitions of war. I say this for the simple reason that the cause of trouble in the production of munitions does not lie with the working classes or with the trade unions, but it primarily lies with internal troubles, internal difficulties, and internal incompetence on the part of the Administration in dealing with it to-day as it has been dealing with it since the War began. We have had some information from the hon. Member for Blackburn, which I know to be true, with regard to Woolwich. A fortnight ago about one-third of the machinery there was not working, and in the very week when City men voluntarily went down to Woolwich on the Saturday and Sunday to offer their assistance, and to be trained to assist in the work, out of 40,000 men employed at Woolwich there were a large number who had not worked the full week or taken a full week's wages because they were not given work to do.
1581 While it is true that there are engineering firms in this country and in North America which are capable of helping, and have been trying for months past to help the Government, and while a condition of affairs continues to exist at Woolwich which has the result that we are not even getting the normal output there, it is a waste of time to come here with legislation of this kind, and to saddle the working classes, as the Government have done ever since last February, with being the primary trouble and danger of this country in the output of munitions. It is astonishing that the representatives of labour sitting in those benches should allow these reflections to be cast upon them—that they should, without protest, allow to be laid at their doors that they are the primary trouble in producing munitions.
§ Sir R. COOPER
I have been in the House ever since a quarter to three, with the exception of a period of twenty-five minutes, and I have heard very little protest on this point from hon. Members on those benches. I should like to join with many other hon. Members on both sides of the House in eulogising the patriotic manner in which the leaders of labour have come forward and seriously taken up this Bill, and have readily conferred with the Government, and come to an agreement with them. It is a standing credit to the working classes of this country. It was my intention to-night to have dealt with the attack—a very serious personal attack—upon my honour, which was made in this House last Wednesday in the second speech of the right hon. Gentleman. I would like to say to the House that I did ask for permission to make a statement of defence, quite brief, after Question Time to-day, but it was suggested to me that I should have greater freedom in speaking on the Second Reading to-day, and I gladly accepted that suggestion, but, unfortunately, the right hon. Gentleman is not here, and I cannot make the statement in his absence.
§ Sir R. COOPER
No, I want the right hon. Gentleman to know what I have to say, and answer me. Therefore, for that reason, I am going to ask leave to make a quite brief statement on Wednesday next after questions to defend myself from the attack that was made upon me. If I had 1582 not referred to it to-night on the first opportunity I have, I might naturally lay myself open to the suggestion that there was truth in what the right hon. Gentleman said last Wednesday.
§ Sir R. COOPER
I really think the hon. Gentleman is quite mistaken. [HON. MEMBERS: "You did say that!" and "You have forgotten it!"] Truthful and courageous in speaking to the people of this country! Ah, that is a very different thing. I certainly have never accused the right hon. Gentleman of having a special measure of that quality of truthfulness in political warfare. I am only sorry that at a time when we all feel that we want to co-operate together to support the powers that be in the administration in the hope that they are going to do their utmost and the very best they can for the people of this country, it is a very unpleasant, and, in fact, a very painful matter to have to come to this House as I shall come next Wednesday, and point out the very grievous misapprehension under which the right hon. Gentleman dealt with the offer of shells and munitions which I made last week. [Mr. Lloyd George entered the House.] I am sorry to trouble the right hon. Gentleman at a time when I know he is in request by everybody and has a great deal of work to do. He will remember, no doubt, that on Wednesday last, on the First Reading of this Bill, he made a reference to the offer of munitions to which I had referred that evening, and which I think I am right in saying I had sent on the evening of the 17th June to him. The speech which the right hon. Gentleman made last week has been a source of very great difficulty and detriment to myself and my character, especially as a Member of this House. The particular statement that he made on that occasion, to which I must take exception, was that I was guilty of wild and irresponsible statements and of misleading this House and the public. I am sorry to say that on this occasion, for reasons which I am going to give, I cannot accept the OFFICIAL REPORT. The London and the provincial Press reports are very much more serious and very different, and reflect far more upon my personal character, as well as upon the bona fides of an important offer which I made to the Government. The "Times," the "Daily Telegraph," and the "Morning 1583 Post" contained the following words, which I want to read to the House to justify the reason why I cannot accept the OFFICIAL REPORT:—Mr. Lloyd George: He did not know whether the the hon. Member was a shell-maker himself. [An Hon. Member: Sheep dip!] (laughter). Well, that might provide high explosives or some means of smoking out the Germans (laughter), but it was not quite a shell producing business.It is a very remarkable fact indeed that the OFFICIAL REPORT should not contain anything save the first sentence, which was:—He did not know whether the hon. Baronet was a shell-maker himself.The rest is omitted. I will take another occasion of following up why that statement, which is exactly reported in three leading London papers, is omitted from the OFFICIAL REPORT. I want to go one step further. There is an alteration in the first sentence:—He did not know,has been changed intoHe did not think,which makes a totally different sense of that particular sentence. Then I find in the "Daily News" and in the "Birmingham Post" that I was accused by him of misleading the House. As the "Birmingham Post" has a very large circulation in my own Constituency I cannot pass that over without making a reference to it. The right hon. Gentleman, in his statement dealing with me, had practically three objections. The first was that I would not give the names of the people who would make the munitions. But I did offer in writing to him, in a letter to the Parliamentary Secretary, that if he would say to me that they meant business, that is, that in so far as they wanted to place orders for any or all of these munitions, that they would deal with the firms that I was ready to bring to them, and would not go, as has so often been done in the past administration, behind the backs of agents—it is to the interest of certain people in Canada and the States to deal direct with the factories. The next point was that he complained that he did not know when he would get these munitions. The hon. Member for Mansfield (Sir A. Markham) interpolated that he would get them in December, 1916, but in the offer I sent to the right hon. Gentleman I gave the information, and with regard to shells the deliveries were to commence four weeks after signing the contract, and in the case of rifles—of which we are so deplorably 1584 short at the present time—the first deliveries were to begin in October next, at the rate of 25,000, increasing to 40,000 in November. I come to the main point upon which the right hon. Gentleman depended. That was with regard to the firm of Mann and Company, of Leeds, whom he described as lithographic printers. If this firm were what the right hon. Gentleman described them to be, I am bound to admit that I should have thoroughly deserved the attack which he made upon me, but, as a matter of fact, they are engineers on a very large scale and have never had anything to do in any form with lithographic printing. They do make lithographic machines for the printing trade, but they have nothing whatever to do with lithographic printing itself. They were engaged last winter on munitions as sub-contractors for some of the armament firms, and finding that these firms were working at prices 40 per cent. below—
§ Sir R. COOPER
Below the prices being paid under contract. They said, "We refuse to pay a 40 per cent. profit into the coffers of the armament firms, but we do not mind working at reasonable prices for the Government." So that for some time past they have been practically without any work. I believe they have done something with regard to a limited number of fuses, but practically they have done no work in the direction of munitions. I have a photograph here of forty machines which these people have supplied to other firms who make munitions. Although they can make machines for munition manufacturers and have supplied them, they are not to be allowed to make munitions themselves. Next, the firm has been approved by the Government, and they are on the list of contractors to the British Government. I do not think I need go into any more detail with regard to this firm, because it is so obvious to me that the right hon. Gentleman was in a hurry, and he was evidently given some wrong information or, at any rate, he could not have understood the information which was given to him, and, therefore, I assure him I have no desire to make anything more out of this matter than to ask him whether, in view of the misapprehension under which he spoke on that occasion, when he referred to me and the offer I had made, he cannot now withdraw the imputation against my character, which I feel seriously and which I do not think anyone can deny is involved in his attack, 1585 and also against the bona fides of my offer. I understand that there is quite a serious belief amongst some Members of this House that I have some interest in the offers of shells which I have made.
§ Sir R. COOPER
Quite seriously some hon. Members believe that. It has been brought to my notice. I sent to the Prime Minister on 17th June, two months ago to Lord Kitchener, and more recently to the right hon. Gentleman himself, an assurance which I repeat to-night, that I have no interest, direct or indirect, present or prospective, in the manufacture or in dealings in munitions of war of any kind.
§ Mr. WILKIE
I have listened two or three times to the same complaint as has been made to-night by the last speaker, and I hope the Government will once and for all clear up the matter. None of us can quite understand why something has not been done before now. I must congratulate my right hon. Friend (Mr. Arthur Henderson) on the first speech I have heard him deliver from the box. As a lad I used to read about the box, and now we can hear one of our own Friends delivering a speech from the box. I know the difficulties and troubles of the past, but now we have a representative in the Cabinet. I have listened all day to this debate. I have attended and I have sat like glue on my seat to hear the discussion on this Bill. The late Postmaster-General made a pretty lengthy speech, the gist of which was, to me, that certain people of the highest class could not get sufficeint profit. Then one of the Members for London made a similar complaint. He spoke only about the profits of the employers. He told us that the measure was an extremely complicated one. Those of us who have been dealing with labour and trade union matters getting on for half a century are quite willing to admit the difficulty of attaining the object the Government has in view, and we wonder, with all the defects in the Bill, that it has been able to get so near to making the two opposing forces of Capital and Labour meet. Of course, some speakers have been asking, How is this and how is that? If you approach the Bill in an antagonistic frame of mind you can find a thousand faults. But the point I want my Friends to approach in that matter is this: We are at war. It is no use talking about the Boer 1586 War. It is no comparison to this War. We are fighting for our very existence, individually and collectively, as a nation, and therefore there is no past which can guide us. When they ask how is this and how is that, I reply by asking, If the heavens fell, where should we be? I do not know whether the Minister of Munitions considered whether it would have been easier—this was our proposal months ago—simply to take over all the war work shipyards and conduct them in the same same way as His Majesty's dockyards. I have not been insinuating any dishonesty. I have gone through Arbitration Courts time after time and we have probed them to the bottom. We know them.
Our difficulty with our workmen is this: "I am quite willing to do the behest of the Government, volunteering for war work or anything else, going to the front and sacrificing my life, but I am not going to do it to allow a fellow citizen to make a profit out of my sacrifice." That is the position. I thank the Minister of Munitions for giving us a lucid and entertaining description of our friends in the law. I said, when dealing with the White Paper, "If we had asked our friends of the law or the medical profession as you are asking us skilled trained men to do, do you know what the answer would be?" He has given it clearly and it will be printed and kept before us for the future. We, the shipwrights, the builders of the wooden walls of old England in the past who have made her naval history, are still now doing the work, or one part of it. It is mainly three or four trade unions who are involved in this present difficulty—that is, that they want us to double and treble our skilled men—it is a physical impossibility. We have carried out the Treasury Minute, and where we could not supply skilled men ourselves we have met the firms and their management, and we have sought the help of other skilled men, and some skilled trades, such as joiners, and skilled workmen working with them in the shipyard, and we have asked our men to allow them to come in and assist us in the work. That is carrying out the Treasury Minute. We have actually worked this Bill already. We are doing it now in nearly every one of our shipyards. With regard to the question of getting the number of skilled men that are required, we have to remember that under this Bill it is voluntary on the part of the men. In regard to the number of men who I are employed on private work in the ship 1587 yards,I say that the need for the skilled men of that class on war work is far greater. We contend that the Government should have taken steps long ago to commandeer the men they required for special war work. If we had only had a few hundred more up-to-date submarines and a thousand or two aeroplanes we should have had less visits from Zeppelins on the Tyne. If we are going to make sacrifices by giving up our craft and allowing others to come in and share it, surely we are justified in asking our employers that they ought to give up the extra profit made on that work in the same spirit. We contend that there should be equal sacrifice on the part of employers and workmen.
§ Mr. WILKIE
The Bill does the very opposite. If you vote against this Bill you will continue the unfair profits of the employer. If you vote for the Bill you will get equal service and equal sacrifice.
§ Mr. WILKIE
Oh, they do not disturb me at all. I am accustomed to heckling at meetings of my Constituents; therefore I am inured to all the interruptions of my Friends. We want to secure that the Clauses of this Bill should apply equally to the employers and the workers. If this Bill becomes law and a man volunteers to go anywhere that the Local Munitions Committee decide, they may send him anywhere where there is pressing work. We have already been doing that. We have been sending men wherever there has been a lame duck to do work for the Admiralty. By this Bill, a man at present on war work is not allowed to leave it, but there is nothing in the Bill to provide that where a man happens to think a little bit too loud for his foreman he cannot be discharged. We want the conditions to be made equal. We do not want a man to be any more a victim than a foreman. We want equal justice. If a man on war work cannot leave, it should be provided that the firm cannot turn him off without some real good reason. A good deal has been made about, the methods of dealing with men who commit a breach under this Bill. I 1588 happen to be a magistrate, and I strongly oppose any of these labour munition questions going to those people. I like the name of the court that is to be set up. I like the term "domestic court." While we are in favour of the powers given in this Bill, we are desirous that any man who thinks he may have a real grievance—in my experience I have had a good deal to do with people who thought they had a legitimate grievance, but who had only an imaginary grievance—then he can go to this domestic court where the employer and the workman will be represented and he will get justice, I hope. A question was asked of the Home Secretary whether a man would be allowed to be represented by anyone. That will depend whether the man is a member of his trade organisation, because if his organisation thinks he has been unjustly dealt with they will appear with him before the court. We do that every day.
We all admit that this Bill is drastic, and it is bound to be drastic because we are at war. All we desire is that where a man feels that he has been unjustly treated he will have this appeal to the court and get fair play. As the right hon. Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. A. Henderson) pointed out, the representative trade organisations met and agreed that all strikes should, if possible, terminate. Their views went like a fiery cross from one end of the country to the other, and that decision was carried out by the great bulk of workmen, and so far as the information goes which is available to me at my office, I am in a position to state that where that decision was not carried out it was because of the fault of the employer and not the fault of the men. I have heard some of our friends talk a great deal about compulsory arbitration. Under the present circumstances where we agree that there should be no stoppage it is essential that you must refer any dispute for settlement to some body. You may call it compulsory arbitration or anything you like; I do not care what you call it. At one time the word "arbitration" stunk so much in the nostrils of working men that we substituted another word and called it "a reference," and for a year or two that got over the difficulty. As the Home Secretary pointed out, there are two important features of this Bill. In the first there is the court, and anyone who feels that he has a real grievance can go to that court for redress. The second point is, that the Bill is to bring the establishments 1589 for the manufacture of munitions for war under more control. That has been the great difficulty. The Minister of Munitions will remember that when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer my society, on the instructions of my executive, wrote him urging that there should be this control, and that where they wanted their own work done there were the men and it was in their own hands. We were challenged by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden), and he was replied to by the hon. Member for East Leeds (Mr. O'Grady) with fiery eloquence. I do not want to say much, but I would say to my hon. Friend (Mr. Snowden) that he has come here with all his assertions and he has dictated to us, the trade union leaders, as to our position.
Only yesterday my executive, twenty of the different agents and representatives of all the organisations of England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, met—and do not forget that a lot of them are Scotsmen, and it was almost like pulling their teeth to oblige them to meet on a Sunday—and there was a unaminous vote in favour of the principle of the Bill in face of the extreme national emergency. That is the answer to my hon. Friend as to my authority. Where we have taken a vote we have had a large majority in support of the policy that I have enunciated in this House. But I would ask my hon. Friend when he talks about authority, has he the support of those for whom he speaks? I challenge him to put it to the test. He will not get it. There is any number of my neighbours who follow the hon. Member for Blackburn, who swear by him in every way; but on this one point they are entirely opposed to him. I have been for a good deal over forty years a member of a trade union, and I have been for forty years a general official, and I have never once been opposed. Surely then if my members have anything against me, all they have got to do any year is to chuck me out. That is the answer to those who say that we have no mandate for the position which we have taken up. I say that the trade unionists of the country, to their credit, are determined to maintain their country. Our trade visits nearly every part of the world, and these ships carpenters come home and tell their fellows what they think, and it is a curious thing that these men coming from abroad are stronger than those at home in urging the men to go to the front and get into the trenches, or to get into the North Sea, 1590 where we have so many of our members already. Unfortunately in that terrible explosion at Sheerness the other day we have lost some forty of our skilled men. The difficulty is that even then there is a suspicion that the others across the water had a finger in the pie. We wish we could prove it.
Mention has been made of the difficulty of the women workers coming in. Now, so far as the trade unions are concerned, if the women workers get the same piecework rates as the men they would not object. If a skilled man can do forty shillings worth of work and a woman can only do twenty shillings worth of work, we do not urge that a firm should pay her forty shillings. Our fundamental principle is equal wages for equal work. That is all we ask. What is the reason of the trade union position on this question? Simply because we realise that if Germany wins this war our industry and our trade unions will be destroyed. In response to an appeal that has been made a number of the trade unions have already decided as a start to take from their reserve £20,000 to assist the Chancellor with a silver bullet. If they thought that this Bill was going to kill trade unionism, do you think that they would agree to any such proposal? They are not only doing that, but, at the suggestion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the executive officers will act as agents, so as to get those five shilling bullets extended as far as possible, because if millions of outworkers take this up, it will show the world at large that the people are entirely behind our Government in fighting this terrible War to a conclusion. I am tempted to go into a whole lot of other matters raised by my hon. Friend because he is an adept at finance. He can put his case in the most convincing manner. You are almost carried away until you go into the facts and then you find that it is all fallacious. Now all we want to do is to urge on every eligible man to rally to the cause and demonstrate to his comrades in the trenches and to the whole world that the British trade unionist stands for all that is best in national life, national freedom and national security. If it is said after the War "you are going to be smashed up," I say, "Are we!" We have been built up during the past hundred years and we will have something to say to that after the War is over, and if we keep together 1591 as trade unionists and help the Government and help the country and help ourselves, we shall be a greater power than ever in the land and we need have no fear for the future.
§ Major BAIRD
A few months ago when on leave I ventured to ask the House when was the country going to war, that is the country as distinguished from the Army. Between now and then there has been a great deal of change. I think that that question was not unreasonable and that the answer is partly given in the Bill which is now before the House. Nothing could be a better sign than the reception which the Bill has had; practically the only discordant note came from the hon. Member for Blackburn, who said that a case had not been made out for the Bill. I think that his contention is answered in one sentence almost of the speech of the Minister for Education when he said that there were seventy-four disputes in March, forty-four disputes in April and sixty-three disputes in May—industrial disputes—at a time when we were at war. Consider what those disputes mean at this time. It will be thought that we can find time to fight among ourselves while Germany is trying to smash us. If the hon. Member knew what that meant he could not argue it at all. Let me call attention to another point of the hon. Member. He urged trade unions on no account to give up the right they have to say that a man should only make ten articles of a particular kind, whereas possibly he is able, in an emergency, to make twenty or thirty. The hon. Member said that when the War ended employers would be in a position to say: "You make twenty or thirty in war time; you have got to go on making twenty or thirty." What does that argument amount to? It amounts to this—and let the hon. Member please take notice—that I know from experience that our men at this day are being killed because shells are not being turned out fast enough. According to the theory of the hon. Member, a workman, with possibly a brother or son at the front, when, in making shells, he arrives at the tenth which he has completed, should go home, though he may be willing and anxious to make another ten shells, which, according to the hon. Member's own showing, he could produce. He is to allow his brother or his son to be killed because he will not consent in time of war to give up his trade union rights. The hon. 1592 Member smiles, and the House is disposed to treat the hon. Member in rather a laughing manner, but it is no laughing matter; it is one of life and death; and any Member treating these matters in such a manner in his place in the House of Commons ought to be amongst the German prisoners.
Perhaps I may be pardoned for speaking with some warmth. Anybody who has been in the service since the beginning of the War, I think may be pardoned for adopting that attitude. People in this country do not realise what the War means. It is nothing to be proud of to say that after eleven months that they do not realise what the War means; and least of all is it anything to be proud of if a Member of this House does not know what the War means. What mystery can there be about what the War means? You have the answer in this country. You know that there are not many houses in our land to-day which have not got their wounded man, or where they do not mourn the loss of some member of the family. Yet it is being repeated that the people do not understand what the War means. When you hear that kind of statement made you wonder whether our men at the front are fools fighting for fools at home. We have been heavily handicapped from the start, and we want such a Bill as this. If anybody came into the House suddenly at Question Time, who had not followed the trend of political events in this country carefully, and saw the two Front Benches, he would think that either he or the House of Commons had gone mad. As a matter of fact, the colossal change which he would see is the most striking kind of sanity which the House has shown for many a long day. We have got now the first thing which is necessary to a nation making war: we have got a national and not a party Government. A national Government alone is entitled to bring in such a Bill as this, which cuts right down to the depth of the social, economic and political institutions which have been gradually developed, and which lie at the very basis of our life in this country. This Bill has been justified by speech after speech from hon. Members sitting on the benches opposite, because they say, with great truth: "What sacrifice can anybody be asked to make which is for a moment comparable with the sacrifices being made by our brothers and sons out at the front."
1593 To my mind there is an undue amount of difference drawn between being out at the front and being in this country. This country is just as much in the war zone as General Headquarters, no more and no less. You have had raids by ships and Zeppelins in this country, and to talk about being outside the war zone is nonsense. At the place where I was last employed, I could be in the trenches in the morning and be at this House in time for prayers. It would have taken one more time to get from Scotland. In order that people may understand what the War really means, I think that a Bill such as this is absolutely necessary—necessary because of the fact that the Government can speak with all the authority that any Government can possess. When a national Government brings in a Bill which is going to affect every single man in this country, whether he be employer or a workman—affect him in the most drastic way, and in a way that would not be tolerated for an instant in time of peace, then I think anybody can be excused for saying: "Really, we are now at war," and if the Government demand sacrifices from the people they will be only too ready to respond. The opposition to the Bill will be infinitesimal and negligible, but must be dealt with drastically. Do not let us have any humbug about that. The Government have the power and authority, and the country looks to the Government to use that power and authority. Let us have no slobbering sentimentality, and let the Government act as the country expected them to act long ago, and if they do that they will certainly have the support of the people.
There are one or two reasons which I wish to put forward that have not yet been advanced. In addition to the necessity of bringing forward a drastic measure so that everybody can understand the importance of this War, there is this point which it is very important should be remembered, that this Bill will give enormous satisfaction to our Allies in the field. Nothing could afford them greater satisfaction. Our Allies admire beyond words the splendid way in which the country has responded to the call made upon it. They will admire equally—and it will be an immense source of encouragement and comfort to them—the step which is now being taken by the Government, and seeing that this country has really decided to organise and mobolise in such a way as will enable it to turn its incomparable 1594 resources to the best advantage in prosecuting this War. I do not profess to come as a voice from the trenches—I cannot claim that honour—but I can speak for my Constituents who have enlisted in the Army, and who are either at the front or here at home. I can say this in regard to the men at the front, that what we are now doing will give enormous satisfaction to every single man serving with, the Colours.
There are about 3,000,000 men serving with the Colours, I understand, and they surely are not a negligible factor of the situation. We have to consider them, and to encourage them in doing their work at the front is certainly not more than they deserve. You are very anxious to get news from the front, but you cannot be more anxious than the men at the front are to get good news from home; and no news can possibly be better than the news of this Bill, and that the country at last is really putting its full weight into the work of prosecuting the War with determination to win it. What does it matter to us to be arguing about what is right or what is wrong? We are at war. That is a fact which brings everything under a different aspect to every single man, woman, and child in the country. This Bill will be welcomed by everyone, because it will be seen that the country is going to organise the whole people, and it will afford to every person who has been asking to take their share in the work of the nation to do their little bit to the best of their ability. We can afford to take a leaf out of our enemy's book in more ways than one. Here is a quotation from Bernhardi:—We can only emerge victorious through this War if the Army which will fight our battle is supported by all the material and spiritual forces of the nation, and if the resolve to conquer lives not only in our troops, but in the entire united people which sends those troops to fight.That is the spirit in which Germany has taken on the War. That is the spirit in which we have got to take on the War if we are going to beat Germany. We are amateurs at the game. There is no use denying it, but amateurs have often beaten professionals, but nevertheless, the amateur has consented to undergo the same kind of training and take the same amount of trouble as the professional against whom he is contending. We have got to do precisely the same thing. Is it fully realised in this country, as every single man with the troops realises it, that although the victory must be won by the 1595 troops in the field that victory must be preceded by a victory won by the British working men working in the British workshops in Great Britain over the German working men working in the German workshops in Germany? That is where the real struggle is going to take place. We may have the honour and privilege of using the weapons which you forge for us, but unless they are forged and in large quantities, and of the finest quality, then we do not win but we are beaten—
§ Major BAIRD
Then let me ask him. How on earth is he going to beat the Germans except by force? Unless he is in a position to have ten shells for every one of theirs, how is he going to do it? Do not let us go on talking claptrap and nonsense. This is not a laughing matter or a matter for bandying words. If the hon. Member has a better means of beating Germany, then let him come forward and tell us. If he is simply going to say that there is no chance of winning this War unless we prove to be better soldiers and better men, then he is talking nonsense. That is the situation, and the sooner we realise it throughout the length and breadth of the country the better for the people. It is not worth while sacrificing the enormous amount of life which will have to be sacrificed within the next few months, and it is not fair to do so, unless you are determined to back up the gallantry and bravery of the men in the field by equal bravery, courage, and industry in the workshops of this country.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
We have all listened with great interest to the speech which the hon. and gallant Gentleman has just delivered. Few of us in this House have had the opportunity which he has had of observing conditions at the front in Flanders and in France, and we naturally listened with attention and with respect to all that he said with regard to the situation there. None of us, or hardly any of us, in this quarter of the House have been of the favoured few who have had personally conducted tours round the trenches. We do not understand the principle upon which those tours have been granted. None of us own newspapers, and had we owned newspapers we probably would 1596 have had the opportunity of observing the conditions there. But many of us are in touch with the working men in this country who are engaged in the production of munitions, and if our judgment is not equal to that of the hon. and gallant Member in respect of what is going on in France, certainly our judgment is entitled to some respect with regard to the attitude of our constituents in this country. I would remind him that if there is a misapprehension regarding the seriousness and the duration of this War, it is partly due to the staff at headquarters in France. It is only a few months since the official "Eye-witness" on Sir John French's staff was sending us reports, which were published in all our newspapers, to the effect that German ammunition was being exhausted, and that the Germans were using old patterns of shells—I think 1895 shells. Is it surprising that, as a result of these communications, many people in this country have been lulled into a sense of security, and even now only inadequately realise the seriousness of the situation?
§ Major BAIRD
It is perfectly true that they were using old shells. If the country draws the wrong inference, it cannot be helped.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
The inference was clearly indicated in "Eye-witness's" letters. I am in the recollection of nearly every Member of the House. If one thing more than another gave rise to a feeling of confidence in this country, it was these official statements by "Eye-witness" indicating the serious depletion, or alleged depletion, of German's resources in shells and ammunition. I do not want to enter into recrimination in regard to that matter, but I think that Gentlemen who come from the staff should remember these facts, and have at least a certain amount of sympathy with people in this country who are not in such a favoured position as themselves. [HON. MEMBERS: "Favoured!"] I mean so far as information is concerned. I was not seeking for a moment to disparage the services of the Gentlemen who have volunteered to go to the front; it is the last thing I should do. Had I had the training and been of the age I should have been glad to serve with them and do what I could in that capacity.
I wish very humbly and respectfully to protest against the procedure that is being adopted in relation to this Bill. We have had a fresh announcement in regard to it 1597 to-day—an announcement made on grounds of urgency. I wish to recall to the House the facts of the situation. On Thursday last the Prime Minister announced that the Second Reading of this Bill would be taken to-day, and he announced business which excluded the taking of the Committee stage on any day this week. If the Bill is urgent to-day it was urgent on Thursday; but apparently the Prime Minister, when he made his statement of business, had no notion at that time of the urgency of the Bill. In these circumstances I am not inclined to accept the Prime Minister's plea of urgency. I recollect something of the past. This is not the first time that the Minister of Munitions has come in a hurry for a Bill. He came on the 9th March. He introduced the Defence of the Realm (Amendment—No. 2) Bill under the Ten Minutes Rule. He read the terms of the Bill. He got the Second Reading that day, and had it not been for the protest of hon. Members of the then Opposition regarding the absence of provisions or compensation to owners of factories, he would have got it through all its stages. He actually got that Bill, with its very stringent powers—powers to enable the Government to take over the munition factories of this country; to close down the factories of this country. It gave him powers to be exercised by his mythical man of push-and-go. [An HON. MEMBER: "Where is he?"] What has happened since 10th March? That is a thing upon which we had no information in the course of this Debate. I think that the House, when it is asked for the drastic powers included in this Bill, is entitled to have an account of the stewardship of the right hon. Gentleman since 10th March. He announced on 21st April that a Committee on Munitions had been appointed, on which he was chairman. Apparently at that time he had taken the business in hand. Apparently we have had two separate men of push-and-go since then. We had, first of all, Mr. G. M. Booth; then we had Sir Percy Girouard. I do not know which of them suited the special tastes and qualifications which the right hon. Gentleman had in his mind, but we have not had the slightest inkling, in the whole of this Debate, of what has been the achievement of that Committee over which the right hon. Gentleman presides. That is an omission which ought to have been supplied. It is treating this House unfairly not to have supplied that information in the course of the Debate upon this Bill.
1598 On 21st April the right hon. Gentleman went even further. He gave us an indication as to the conditions regarding the output of shells. He quoted the figure for the month of September, and then he gave the corresponding figure for the month of October; then for November; and then for January. He brought the figure down to March. He gave in definite ratios the progress made in the increase of shells on the various dates. We have had nothing of that kind, either on the First or Second Reading of this Bill. Surely, when right hon. and learned Gentleman are making out a case for the necessity of these drastic powers, we ought to be told actually what has been done under the powers already conferred by this House on the Government. I do not want to enter into at any length into general principles. I know that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Munitions has become a convert to the principle of compulsion—obviously. I regret that he has become a convert. I have not. Least of all have I become a convert to compulsory labour. I believe it is much easier to introduce compulsory military service into this country than to introduce compulsory labour. If you introduce compulsory military service you are merely changing the door of entrance into the Army; but in introducing compulsory labour you are altering the whole structure of industry. You are carrying through an industrial revolution. That is why I say that the one is more difficult than the other.
I believe also that compulsory labour is going to be disastrous, and it is in respect of its present effects that I desire to examine this Bill. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Rugby (Major Baird), who has now left the House, spoke about producing ten shells for every one that the Germans produced. We are all in favour of that; but is this Bill going to increase the output? [An HON. MEMBER: "Yes!"] That is the point which has to be proved, and that is the point that no attempt has been made to prove in this Debate. I have listened to the majority of the speeches that have been made in the Debates, and so far as they have been relevant to this Bill they have only gone to show that this Bill is unnecessary. My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee (Mr. Wilkie) has told us all what the voluntary effort of the union which he represents is doing. Why? To take the rose-coloured picture which he has drawn, everything can be got by the voluntary efforts of 1599 those he represents without any compulsory action at all. We had a speech delivered by one of the hon. Members for Liverpool in the earlier part of the afternoon. He advocated the use of cast-iron shells. That use would, if it is possible—and I can express no opinion upon it, but he seemed to be very confident—would to a large extent dispense with the necessity for this Bill. I call another witness, my hon. Friend the Member for Gorton. The hon. Member told the House that the number of men available actually outstripped the supply of machines at the present moment. If that is the case, why these drastic powers, which are tending in the direction of compulsory labour?
I offered a few observations on the First Reading of this Bill. I put two questions to the Minister of Munitions on that occasion, neither of which he answered in his reply. One of these questions related to the numbers in the munition army. He did not answer it, but he told us it would be in the papers the following morning. I looked in the papers the following morning and did not find it. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is not there yet!"] It is not there yet. A colleague of the right hon. Gentleman gave a perfectly reasonable explanation for concealing it and I do not complain of it not being answered. But the other question I put seems to me far more important, and that is as to the conditions which the trade unions ask for the concessions they are making in this Bill. We know what those concessions are: they are embodied in the Bill. One is compulsory arbitration, which extinguishes the free right of collective bargaining on the part of the workmen engaged. But there is more in this Bill than the extinction of the free right of collective bargaining. There is a subsequent Clause, and I do not want to misrepresent this Clause. I hope I am not causing any displeasure to the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Crooks).
§ Mr. PRINGLE
Under a subsequent Clause, I maintain, the free right of individual bargaining is virtually extinguished also. I refer to Clause 7, which I will read:—
(1) A person shall not give employment to a workman, whose last previous employment has been on or in connection with munitions work in any 1600 establishment of a class to which the provisions of this Section are applied by Order to the Minister of Munitions, unless he holds a certificate from his last employer that he left work with the consent of his employer or a certificate from the munitions tribunal that the consent has been unreasonably withheld, or unless a period of six weeks—
Mark! not a period of six weeks only—
or such other period as may be provided by Order of the Minister of Munitions—
So that it may be indefinitely extended at the will of the Minister. It may be six months, without any reference to this House—
as respects any class of establishment, has elapsed since he left his last previous employment.
Then it says:—
(3) If any person gives employment in contravention of the provisions of this Section, he shall be guilty of an offence under this Act.
My reading of that is, that this virtually extinguishes the free market for labour. It means now that there is to be no competition between masters for the labour of the workmen. This tribunal is nominated by the Minister of Munitions, and the tenure of office and emoluments depend upon the Minister of Munitions. It is set up as a judicial tribunal, but there is no judicial tribunal in this country in which the tenure of the judges is a tenure depending on the pleasure of the executive, both as respects emoluments and otherwise, as is the tenure of this tribunal. [An HON. MEMBER: "In Ireland!"] I said in this country—Great Britain. I say in these circumstances you are extinguishing the free market for labour, and that amounts to this: That there is no competition for labour, the only commodity which the worker has to sell, whereas there is open competition for every commodity which he has to buy.
There has been open competition in regard to house rent. In many of the munitions areas in this country rents have risen to a disgraceful extent. A question was put by one of the hon. Members for the Division of Kent as to the fixing of house rents only on Thursday last to the President of the Local Government Board, and the President denied that there was any intention on the part of the Govermnent to interfere with the full and unfettered 1601 discretion of the landlord to exact the uttermost penny of rent. What I want to know is whether at any time in the course of these private conferences, of which apparently no record has been kept, the Minister of Munitions was asked, as a return for the sacrifices which trade unionists are making, to grant this concession from the State that there should be tribunals for fixing the rents of the houses the workmen are to occupy and regulate the prices of all the necessaries of life.
Apart from such a concession, the representatives of the workmen in this House, or anywhere else, had no right to make the sacrifices to which they have assented in this Bill. As the representative in this House of a very large number of trade unions—I think the greater part of the workmen in my Constituency are trade unionists, miners, engineers, and munitions workers of various kinds—and applying my judgment to the provisions of this Bill, I cannot help thinking that we are entitled, before assenting to it, to a Parliamentary pledge from the Government that there shall be tribunals for fixing rents, and some means of regulating the prices of commodities before the right of offering their labour to the highest bidder is withdrawn from the working men of this country. There is another point with regard to this matter. [HON. MEMBERS: "Divide! divide!"] I intend to make my observations on this Bill so far as I can I know it is not a popular thing to do. I formed my judgment upon this War as to the measures necessary to prosecute it without any regard whatever to the popular view taken of the War or the methods of conducting it, and I intend to express my opinion as a representative of a constituency in this House. We have had letters from hon. Members in this House in the "Times," but I wonder if some of those Gentlemen who write in the Press on compulsory service have ever put the conditions in Section 7 of this Bill to themselves. Of course it is fashionable when anybody is criticising for right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench to talk in a loud tone of voice. I know the Home Secretary once told me my opinion was worthless as a lawyer, but I think he might do me the courtesy of not interrupting in a loud tone of voice. The hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Ellis Griffith) had a letter in the "Times" this morning in which he advocated service for everybody, not only compulsory military service but compulsory labour. How would this 1602 Clause have worked at the beginning of this year when the right hon. Gentleman was doing Government service at the Home Office as Under-Secretary, a position which he gave up in order to return to his practice at the Bar? He was free to do that under those conditions, but had he been in an industry affected by Clause 7 what would his position have been? He would have required the consent of the Prime Minister to go. If he did not get it he would have to get the consent of a tribunal nominated by the Prime Minister, and if he did not do that he would have to wait six weeks before he was able to take a brief, or such longer period as the Prime Minister mentioned. I do not know if the right hon. Gentleman considered that point when he was advocating compulsory service for everybody but himself.
§ Mr. R. McNEILL
Does not the hon. Member think the right hon. Gentleman would have done it if he had thought it would have furthered the national interest?
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I merely put the point as to whether he had considered the matter at all. A great many of these questions take a very different aspect if hon. Members of this House put themselves in the place of the working man in the shipbuilding yard or the munitions factory. It is a very serious position for a man to have to work in a given shipbuilding yard without any right to change his employment except at the will either of his employer or of a tribunal over which he has no control. That is a very serious matter. It was one of the conditions of Chinese labour which used to have a certain importance in this House. But I am not proposing to use any "terminological inexactitudes" upon this Bill. Then I come to a second point. We find under Clause 4, Sub-section (5), very wide and indefinite powers given to the Minister of Munitions to make regulations, and, in case I should be said to misrepresent, I will read the Sub-section:—
"Any person employed in the establishment shall comply with any regulations made applicable to that establishment by the Minister of Munitions with respect to the general ordering of the work in the establishment, with a view to attaining and maintaining a proper standard of efficiency and with respect to the due observance of the rules of the establishment."
1603 There is no limit whatever to the powers of control given in that Sub-section. Except in respect to wages, there is absolutely no check upon the powers used by the Minister of Munitions, and there is no appeal from any decision which he takes regarding the powers. I do not think that any Minister is entitled to such a wide discretion. I do not believe in a dictatorship. We have had one dictatorship already in the course of this War, and it has been disastrous. Many of the people who were the first to initiate that dictatorship are now engaged in attacking the fallen idol, and I do not want the right hon. Gentleman to become a fallen idol. Such powers should be at least largely qualified. I think that, should any difference arise regarding any particular rules in any particular establishment, that difference should be decided by the arbitration Clauses under the Bill. I think also that any regulations which are of general application should be laid upon the Table of this House. I do not suggest that they should have to lie for any length of time, but that they should be laid upon the Table of the House so that Members might be made familiar with the conditions and the regulations the Minister is imposing. That is a very slight demand to make. It would not operate to delay. It would only secure the concurrence of Parliament to these regulations, and it might secure a certain amount of criticism, suggestion, and modification which would be in the direction of helping towards the smooth working of the system. There is a further point in regard to the abrogation of trade union restrictions. The trade unions have done well to agree to the abrogation of their restrictions, and the only point I desire to make is as to the guarantee or security that has been given to them. I find in Clause 4, Sub-section (4):—The owner of the establishment shall be deemed to have entered into an undertaking to carry out the provisions set out in the Second Schedule to this Act.What is the value of that undertaking? I do not think that it has any legal value whatever. I find that nearly every other undertaking given to any other person dealt with by this Bill has a legal sanction. There is a penalty attached to the breach, but for the loss of it there is no penalty. He is merely deemed to have given an undertaking. Indeed, I do not know whether a penalty could be enforced, 1604 because the Bill is only to be in operation so long as the Ministry of Munitions is in existence, and so far as it affects the unions the Bill will cease to have operation when these terms come to be carried out.
The only other provision is in the second part of Schedule 2, which provides that—
"No change in practice made during the War shall be allowed to prejudice the position of the workman in the owner's employment or of their trade unions in regard to the resumption and maintenance after the War of any rules or customs existing prior to the War."
They are not, in fact, to be prejudiced, but that is no real security. We know that there has been conflict regarding rules and customs between owners and men for many years. At the present time, owing to the difficulties of the labour market, the masters could have no chance of abrogating those conditions. But the masters still maintain their position that the continuance of these restrictions is a bad thing for industry, that it reduces output, and is economically to the disadvantage of the country. They will find experience under war conditions of an increased output, and they will, after the War is over, suggest it is extremely foolish that workmen should endeavour to revert to the old system. Many people will then hold that they have strong arguments to support them. But more than that, when the War is over the conditions now existing between labour and capital will be completely altered. Now the demand for labour far exceeds the supply. After the War there will be a large supply of labour and a small demand, and under those circumstances not only will owners have a strong argument on the merits in favour of continuing the War practice, but they will also have the power of economic pressure to prevent a reversion to the old system which trade unions have built up in the past.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I do not know that he is wanting to reply. This is only an example of the difficulty under which we are labouring. The hon. Member for Mansfield, who usually dilates at great length—
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I recollect that the last occasion on which the hon. Baronet addressed the House—[An HON. MEMBER: "Sit down!"]
§ Mr. PRINGLE
The hon. Baronet on the last occasion spoke at very considerable length. His speech was an attack on Lord Kitchener—a very unfair attack considering the knowledge we have at the present time, for whoever is responsible for the present difficulty, I think the facts which are available to the public show clearly that the responsibility has to be divided over a large number of men. I do not desire to prevent the right hon. Gentleman from speaking. I have only one or two other points to make. I intended to deal with the constitution of the Munitions Tribunal, and to show the extraordinary nature of that tribunal. I would draw the attention of the House to the fact that the members who sit with the president are described as assessors. That, I believe, indicates that these people have no right to go there. They may only sit in an advisory capacity, and the judgment of the Court is given by the chairman. The assessors are merely advisers. These assessors should be nominated by the unions and by the masters and not by the Minister of Munitions. That is an absolute necessity. There is one other point I desire to make, and I will make it very shortly. I think that without this new penal code far better results would have been achieved by making an appeal to the workmen, as appeals have been made for the purposes of enlistment and appeals have been made for the purposes of the Loan. In order to get enlistment we have increased the separation allowances and pensions. In order to get the Loan you have improved the terms of the last Loan. Why should not an inducement be held out to the workmen in the munition factories to give steady labour and keep good time? That inducement was held out some months ago by Lord Kitchener in the House of Lords, but since then nothing has been done. At that time I thought there was considerable difficulty in doing it.
I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman one means of doing it, which I hope he will consider. It is this. We have been assured by the President of the Board of Education to-night that at the end of the War there will be a very considerable sum to hand to the Treasury under the terms 1606 of this Bill, representing the surplus of the profits earned in these munition works. If that sum is a considerable sum, could it not be used for the purpose of offering something in the nature of a bonus to all the men who render good service in all munition works throughout this War? You would get far steadier service; you would have no sense of irritation, and these men would regard it as a favour to them representing the special efforts they have made in the course of the War. After all, special terms are to be granted to the owners of munition factories for the depreciation of machinery owing to their working double time. Why should not something be given to the workmen in respect of the depreciation of their earning capacity as a result of the hard work they do during the War? For these reasons, apart from the war medals promised by Lord Kitchener, a further promise of some inducement such as I have suggested would be of far more value, would do far more good, and would render service far in advance of anything contained in this Bill in securing an adequate provision of all munitions of war.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I hope the House will allow us to get the Second Reading of the Bill. [An HON. MEMBER: "Give us another day."] I would appeal to hon. Members not to stand in the way of our getting the Second Reading. I have listened carefully to the discussion and to the speech of the hon. Member who has just sat down, which was, in the main, addressed to questions of detail which can be discussed in Committee. I rise rather to renew the invitation I gave earlier in the course of the discussion to my hon. Friends and those who have criticisms of detail to confer with me and my colleagues with a view to shortening discussion in the House and arriving at an understanding, if we possibly can, with regard to the main provisions of the Bill. There are many criticisms which I have heard to-day on which we shall be able to agree. On some of the criticisms which have fallen from my hon. Friend (Mr. Pringle), of some of which I recognise the force, I think I shall be able to meet him. I do not profess to be able to meet him on all, but supposing we are able to meet some, it limits the area of discussion and enables the Government to get, what is very important, power to go on without any more waste of time in order to discharge functions which are so vital to the existence of this country.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I could easily go into that, but I am not sure it would be profitable—in fact, I am perfectly sure it would not be—and I would rather not enter into the question. If my hon. Friend wishes to enter into it there are other occasions. The only other point I wish to enter into is the point raised by the hon. Baronet (Sir R. Cooper). I have really nothing to add to what I have said before. I was perfectly certain he made his offer to the Government with the best and most patriotic intentions, and I should be very sorry if anything I said last time caused him any offence. I am sure his intentions are of the very best, but I repeat that, if he has any offer of shells to make to the Government he must really give us particulars. It is much more important that he should protect the country than protect the commission of any agent. I can well understand his saying, after all it is fair that these men should get their commission; but there is something more than that, and no Minister can give blind orders for millions of shells without knowing with whom he is dealing. It is a question of knowing first of all whether you are certain of getting delivery. He said there are 24,000 rifles which could be delivered in October. If there is any firm which can deliver 24,000 rifles in October, do you imagine we would not enter into a contract with a firm of that kind at once? I know there are so many offers of that kind which have been made—very wild offers—from people who have not got the slightest power to put those offers into operation. We really cannot rest the safety of the country upon offers of that kind without thoroughly sifting them.
May I put another point? It is important that we should not merely get shell, but that we should get shell that would do more harm than good to the enemy. That is very largely a question of knowing with whom you are dealing, and I cannot take merely the word of the hon. Baronet on a question which he naturally knows nothing about. I have a letter from Messrs. George Mann and Co., who are the firm he referred to, in order to show that he is mistaken. They say:—We have reason to believe that we are the Leeds firm referred to, and we wish to entirely dissociate ourselves from a statement which contains a wrong impression altogether, and is not consonant with the facts.That shows that the hon. Baronet has really been misled by these agents. I am perfectly willing to deal with these questions 1608 if he gives me the names, and I shall then investigate the matter and see whether they can carry out their promise. I hope now the House will see its way to give us a Second Reading.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read a second time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for to-morrow (Tuesday).