HC Deb 04 December 1916 vol 88 cc683-6

On Thursday last a pledge was given from the Front Bench that the name of the Food Dictator would be made public during last week-end. May we now be told who it is?

4.0 P.M.

The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Asquith)

No such person as a Food Dictator exists, or ever has existed. I do not like the word "Dictator."

If my hon. Friend will allow me to say it, this is a convenient opportunity of stating that His Majesty the King, upon the advice which I have given him this morning, has approved of the reconstruction of the Government, and I feel that all questions of personnel had better be deferred until that process is—if it is— completed. In the circumstances, I think the best course for the House to take will be, at the conclusion of to-day's business —which I believe is of a non-controversial character, and which it is desirable to get through if we can—we should adjourn till Thursday, and I beg to move, "That this House, at its rising this day, do adjourn till Thursday next (7th December)."


I only rise for the purpose of, in a very few words, making an appeal to the Prime Minister on this question of the Adjournment. Why is Thursday the day on which the House is to meet again? To all Members of the House these are very grave times, and Members naturally would desire to be here when the House reassembles, in order to be present when any announcement is made on the reconstruction of the Government. It would be impossible to imagine a more cruelly inconvenient course than to call upon us to assemble on Thursday, particularly those of us who live across the water, giving us barely time to return home and come back. It is all very well for Gentlemen who live in London to say "Stop here," but we have been here now for six weeks, and during that time business was only transacted on three days of the seven, and on those three days we generally appeared to be marking time, while on most of those days we did not do more than two or three hours' work. I quite admit if it were certain that on Thursday next a definite announcement would be made on the reconstruction of the Government, the urgency of the present situation would sweep away all considerations of private convenience, but from somewhat painful experience on similar occasions in the past my conclusion is that no definite announcement will be made on Thursday, and we shall be meeting here to be told that a further postponement must take place. I venture to suggest it will be far better frankly to face the position, and to make the Adjournment at least till Monday or Tuesday next. It is simply from that point of view that I have risen to make that appeal.


I share the view of the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) as to the inconvenience of the course which the Government has suggested. I think it is important we should know whether, when the House meets on Thursday, an announcement will be made as to what the Government of the country is. If the Prime Minister is likely to be unable to make such an announcement on Thursday, it seems it is unwise for the House to meet until we can face a Government. The second point is this: When the House is called upon to meet the new Government, the House of Commons should be given by the Government an opportunity of discussing the situation in the light of the reconstruction of the Government. On the last occasion when reconstruction took place, by the skill of the Prime Minister the House was refused an opportunity of considering what had been done behind their back, and at that time a transaction took place which, I believe, has been up to the present the greatest disaster to this country in the War. The times now are far more critical than then. The condition in which the country stands to-day is far more critical than the condition in May, 1915, when the mouths of Members of this House were closed. I think it should be the duty of the House of Commons, no matter how many men are taken in from the bench opposite, to see that here in the light of day Members are informed what the national situation is, and that they should have an opportunity in this Parliament, the great inquest of the nation, of stating their views.


ft may be in the recollection of the House that to-morrow had been allocated for a discussion on the Air Service. Of course, I cannot naturally ask for any pledge or definite undertaking on the part of the Government, but I would ask them to remember, if the reconstruction proceeds, as it is expected to proceed, we should have an early day, and that that very important question should not be put aside.


I am aware of the futility of my interfering between this House and the work which the Prime Minister lays before it of affording amusement to the entire world and jubilation to the Germans. But I want to submit to the right hon. Gentleman one suggestion which perhaps he may adopt. I would ask whether he has considered the advisability of applying to this country the rule he is now applying to Ireland, namely, to try the experiment of leaving it without any Government whatever until the English people are unanimous, which is the test he applies to Ireland?


Before the right hon. Gentleman answers, may I put a hypothetical question? If the Government is still going on Thursday, what business will be taken on that day?


I want first of all to make it perfectly plain to the House and the country that, whatever reconstruction of the Government takes place, it will involve no departure in any shape or form from the policy we have announced and pursued since the beginning of the War; and if anybody entertains the idea that there is any question of a change of policy, I can assure him he is entirely mistaken. As regards the question as to what particular day we should adjourn, I leave that to the sense of the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Thursday!" Other HON. MEMBERS: "Monday !"] I think, on the whole, Thursday will be better. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] Then which is it to be?


If the right hon. Gentleman were in a position to inform the House that he will be able to give definite information on Thursday that might settle the question, but unless he is in that position what is the good of keeping us hanging round London?


I was going to suggest to the Prime Minister, in the event of his not being able to make the promised statement on Thursday, the House might have a formal meeting, and it might be announced, through the Press the day before, that it would only be formal. I think with the hon. Member for East Mayo it is almost impossible, judging by precedent, that a full statement can be made on Thursday, and therefore, if that is so, I suggest it would really be safer to adjourn till Monday. May I ask the Prime Minister whether, during the interval, arrangements will be made for Ministers to carry on their work as usual. Having regard to the fact, as I understand, all their resignations are in the hands of the Prime Minister, it would be an advantage to hon. Members to know whether they can communicate with them at their offices on the usual footing.


There is no difficulty about that, Ministers are still continuing to perform their duties. In regard to the question raised by the hon. Gentleman opposite, the first business to come before the House, whether it meets on Thursday or Monday, will be the Vote of Credit, and therefore there will be an ample opportunity of discussing any topic any Member can raise. I think, as far* as I can gather views from the somewhat confused and chaotic consonance of voices, that, on the whole, Monday appears to be preferred. [HON. MEMBERS: "No !"] Well, then Thursday. If we find a meeting on Thursday will not be really effective notice shall be given.


Which day is it?



Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House, at its rising this day, do adjourn until Thursday next.