§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Sir G. CAVE
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
I think the House will agree with me that this Bill deals with matters of very great importance. The intention and purpose of the Bill is, I think, clear. It is to give Parliamentary sanction to what is to some extent a new departure in administration that has already been announced partly by the late Government and partly by the present Prime Minister. As the War goes on certain matters are becoming more and more of pressing and indeed of vital importance, and we are obliged from time to time on those particular questions to reconsider the position and strengthen it as far as we can. Among those matters which are to-day of that degree of importance are the question of food, the question of shipping, the question of labour, and I will add the question of aircraft. We want to put more of our strength into those matters, and the best course is considered to be to obtain in each field an expert to give his undivided attention to the subject and that we should give him the fullest possible powers. There is another circumstance which one ought to mention as a reason for a great part of 1142 this Bill, and it is that, during the War, the functions of the Board of Trade have increased very much and very rapidly. It deals, as hon. Members know, with food and shipping, and has a Labour Department. All that has enormously increased during the War, and it seems desirable to transfer to new Ministers such parts of that work as can be readily detached from the rest. In saying that, I hope it will not be thought for a moment that we desire to throw the least reflection on the manner in which the work has been carried on by the Board of Trade and its officials. The staff of the Board of Trade have worked extremely hard during the War with very great devotion to their work, and with very great success. It is partly because their work has got beyond what any one Department could be expected to transact that we think it desirable to form these new Ministries and transfer to them parts of the work of the Board of Trade.
Let me first deal with the question of the Labour Ministry. That is not a new proposal by any means. It was first proposed, I think, in the Minority Report of the Royal Commission on Labour as long ago as 1894. It was again proposed in the Minority Report of the Poor Law Commission in 1909, and during the last twenty-five years there has been a long succession of Bills proposing to deal with the subject of setting up a Ministry of Labour. In some Bills it was proposed to combine Labour and Commerce in one Ministry, and in others to combine Labour with the relief of destitution. In other Bills it was proposed to form a Ministry of Labour pure and simple, such as we propose to form to-day. Among the Bills in question was the Boards of Labour Bill, which was introduced by my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Brace), whom, I think, we all desire to congratulate on being a Member of His Majesty's Privy Council. So much for the past. This matter has now become extremely urgent. The provision of labour for munitions, for mines, for railways, and for other purposes is vital to-day for the conduct of the War. It is essential that misunderstandings between employers and workmen should not be liable to interfere with the War, and perhaps bring disaster upon the country and also upon employers and employés themselves. There must be some strong 1143 authority to look into these matters beforehand, to note the rocks ahead, and when trouble arises to conciliate, if possible, and if need be to control, those concerned. The Labour Department of the Board of Trade and the Industrial Commissioner have done exceedingly good work, but we think it desirable to have one particular Minister who shall devote his energies to this particular purpose. Let me give one illustration. We all know, I think, that my right hon. Friend who has been designated as Minister for Labour has already made a beginning with his work, and we note with pleasure—and I do not want to say more than is proper—the success that up to now has attended his efforts. What we propose to do is this: to set up a Ministry of Labour, and at once to transfer to the holder of the office the powers of the Board of Trade under the Acts which are set out in the Schedule of the Bill. These Acts are the Conciliation Act, 1896, the Labour Exchanges Act, 1909, the Trade Boards Act, 1909, the National Insurance (Unemployment) Acts, 1911 to 1916, and Part I. of the Munitions of War Act, 1915—in each case as amended by any other Act. These matters involve duties which are of very great importance. I do not propose to go through these Acts because they are very familiar to Members of the House. They comprise matters of great moment that occupy, and deserve to occupy, a great part of the time of the Board of Trade.
If I may, let me deal with the work of the Labour Exchanges alone. A very large amount of additional work has fallen on this Department since the outbreak of the War, largely in connection with the supply of workpeople for munitions manufacture. The Exchanges have placed in employment over 20,000 discharged soldiers, have provided agricultural labour, especially that of women, and have enrolled and distributed the War Munitions Volunteers. They have also assisted in the dilution of labour schemes and the carrying out of the provisions relating to the schemes of substitution of men fit for general military service by men discharged or otherwise unfit, by men called up to the Army for Home Defence and by women. The volume of work of the Labour Exchanges alone can be seen from the fact that over 5,000 persons, men and women, are placed in employment daily by the Exchanges. The utility of 1144 the machinery of the Exchanges is made clear by the notification of unfilled vacancies in various places all over the country, and the advancing of over £5,000 a month for the travelling expenses of workmen transferred by the Exchanges from one part of the country to another. Other Acts, such as the Trade Boards Act, and so on, give work to the Departments enumerated; but, taking it altogether, the Exchanges perhaps attract the large volume of the work which will be transferred to the new Department. Other powers may be—no doubt will be—transferred to it by the Board of Agriculture. It is not proposed to transfer the Home Office powers relating to mines and factories. That particular Department has done the work exceedingly well during the War, and it is not desired in any quarter that the powers should be at once transferred to the new Department. Apart from these, however, the new Ministry will have plenty of work to do. Let me add just one word as to the duration of this Ministry. If created, this particular Ministry cannot, I think, come to an end at the end of the War. The Ministry is created for War reasons. But if you set up a Department of this kind, it seems almost impossible that you should put an end to it when the War comes to an end. There will be a great deal of work for this Department to do after the War. There will be great difficulties and matters of great importance which will require adjustment, not only in the demobilisation consequent on the finish of the War, but by reason of events which will happen for many years after the War. There will be need for special work in view of the effect of the insurance of munition workers, an effect which will only be felt on the cessation of manufacture.
Apart, however, from that, I myself think that most of us have long since come to the conclusion that a Minister of Labour might render great service to this country, and that such a Ministry should be set up. It is one of the most hopeful signs of the present condition of things that there is a general desire that the relations of capital and labour, and the conditions under which labour is done shall, after the War, be improved. We are drawing closer together. We all feel strongly that if a Minister of Labour can take the matter in hand and retain these good relations which are getting better from day to day, if I say he he can retain these conditions after the 1145 War he wil be rendering a great service to the country. So much for the Ministry of Labour. I have not, of course, dwelt at any length on the details of the Bill.
I desire now to refer to the Ministry of Food. The importance of setting up a food control can hardly be exaggerated. We all know that the proposal was made in the time of the late Government which determined to appoint a Food Controller, and framed and passed into law certain Regulations dealing with food which must be of great value to the Food Controller when he begins his work. The existence of this country depends upon imports of food, and upon the increase of the home production of food. Difficulties are necessarily arising to-day, not only from the wanton destruction of shipping by our enemies, but also by reason of the fact that so great a part of our shipping is required for the purpose of the transport of troops and munitions. There is also the scarcity of labour. It is these circumstances that render this subject a really pressing one. I think the whole House is satisfied that it is not at all too soon to appoint an official for the purposes I have indicated. Lord Devon-port, the official appointed, in the observations which he made the other day in another place, showed that he is taking the matter thoroughly in hand and that he proposes to begin his work at once. I do not think he can be too thorough to please the country. What we propose to do will be seen by a perusal of Clauses 3 and 4. The power we propose to give to the Food Controller is to regulate the supply and consumption of food in such a manner as he thinks best for maintaining a proper supply of food, and to take such steps as he thinks best for encouraging the production of food; and for those purposes he shall have certain powers transferred to him, partly statutory powers and partly under regulation. The Regulations already made and conferred upon him include powers to stop waste, to specify the uses to which any article can be put, and especially to regulate the mode of manufacture, the mode of sale or distribution, the fixing of prices, etc. As regards the home supplies, he will necessarily act in close co-operation with the Board of Agriculture. As regards foreign supplies, he will act in close cooperation with the Wheat and Sugar Commissions, and will be able to supplement their action if it is thought necessary or 1146 well so to do, by the use of his statutory powers. This particular appointment will be a temporary one, as provided by Clause 11. This office is to cease to exist on the termination of a period of twelve months after the conclusion of the War.
I come now to the Ministry of Shipping. This proposal is, to me, the most urgent and the most vital of all. The demand for shipping to-day in connection with the War is very very great, and it is essential that we should take immediate steps to review the position. If there is any risk of a shortage of ships in the future we should not lose a moment in appointing someone able to deal with the matter, who shall sit down at once and consider the position and take every step that can be taken both for utilising the shipping which is now available and for seeing when the need comes that new shipping of a proper character, and if need be properly armed, is available for our purposes. I venture to say, speaking my own views, that of all the proposals this is perhaps the most urgent of all. I cannot say how much importance I myself attach to this matter. At present the control of shipping is vested in two Departments: the Admiralty and the Board of Trade, and in three Special Committees—the Shipping Control Committee, the Ships Licensing Committee, and the Port and Transit Executive Committee. It is necessary that there should be closer co-ordination between the different authorities, and that there shall be one Minister whose sole business it shall be to increase our shipping and to make the best use of it. For this purpose the Controller will be able to make use of all the powers possessed by the existing Departments and Committees, and if further powers are required they may be conferred upon him by Regulation under the Defence of the Realm Acts. One of the most difficult questions of the War is to determine what portion of our shipbuilding energy shall be devoted to naval purposes and what part shall be devoted to the building of merchant shipping; also what portion of merchant shipping should be devoted to military and naval purposes, and what to civilian war requirements. It will be the duty of the Controller to study the case from the point of view of the civilian war requirements, in Conjunction with the naval and military authorities, and to make such recommendations as are necessary to the War 1147 Cabinet. The powers of the Controller are set out in Clause 6 of the Bill, which says:
"It shall be the duty of the Shipping Controller to control and regulate any shipping available for the needs of the country in such a manner as to make the best use thereof having regard to the circumstances of the time, and to take such steps as he thinks best for providing and maintaining an efficient supply of shipping."
The next matter is Clause 7 of the Bill. That provides for the appointment of additional Parliamentary Under-Secretaries for two very hard-worked Departments, the Foreign Office and the War Office.
§ Sir G. CAVE
I have no doubt that is the intention. The Clause also provides for a further Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade. It is proposed that they should be remunerated in the ordinary way, and it is also proposed in Clause 8, Sub-section (2), that the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, who performs the duties of Minister of Blockade, shall receive while he performs those duties a salary of £2,000. The House will agree with me that the duties of Blockade Minister are exceedingly heavy. I know something of them because I worked for nearly a year at the Foreign Office in connection with that Department, and it is only right that they should be recognised in the way proposed.
§ Sir G. CAVE
There are very strong reasons for combining the work connected with the blockade with the work of the Foreign Office. The Clause, as I said, provides for three new Under-Secretaries or Parliamentary Secretaries, and the Bill also provides that His Majesty may appoint a Parliamentary Secretary to any special authority or Board constituted in connection with the supply of aircraft for the present War.
§ Sir COURTENAY WARNER
Are these additional Under-Secretaries of the War Office and the Foriegn Office to be equal to the Under-Secretaries now existing or under them?
§ Sir G. CAVE
That is entirely a matter to be determined by the Secretary of State, and I am sure no question will arise. Of course, they will only be appointed during the War. I was just going to refer to the remaining provision of substance which enables His Majesty to appoint a Parliamentary Secretary to the Air Board. In that connection I want to make this observation about the Air Board. We propose by the Bill to appoint a Parliamentary Secretary to that Board. The Government desire to go somewhat further than that. This matter is, of course, of great and pressing importance, and I think many of us would desire to have a decision as to the position which the Air Board is to take. I am authorised by the Prime Minister to say:In the pressure of work involved in the formation of the Government, it has not been possible to decide to-day all matters connected with the Air Board. The work of President is still being carried on temporarily by Lord Curzon, and the Government have satisfied themselves that the service is not suffering in the interim. But I am glad to be able to say that the two fighting Departments (the War Office and the Admiralty) have arranged to utilise to the full the services of the Air Board, and I hope in the Committee stage to be able to introduce Amendments to give effect to that decision.I hope that with that statement the House will be content. Those are the points of the Bill. The rest of the Bill is really machinery, with which I will not occupy the time of the House.
I do not say that the scheme which I have outlined, and which is embodied in the Bill, is complete. It must be filled up and completed by the Orders in Council, which will, I am sure, be wide enough to give all the powers which the new Ministers may require. And, of course, the success of the proposals must, in the end, depend, not on their form, but on the manner in which the powers are used. We are all of us in deadly earnest about the War. We are determined to throw into it, without stint and without delay, all the strength and all the resources of this country, and if, as I am certain will be the case, the new Ministers take up their duties in that spirit of determination which animates the country as a whole, then this Bill, which I earnestly commend to the favourable consideration of the House, will help us to do that which we consider to be our immediate and paramount duty, namely, to get on as fast as possible with the business of the War.
§ Mr. McKENNA
The Bill which the Home Secretary has just introduced in so lucid a manner is a measure which in 1149 ordinary times we should have regarded as of first-class importance. To-day, however, we merely consider it as an emergency measure required by the conditions of war, and it is from that point of view, and that point of view only, that I shall delay the House for a few minutes to speak on the Bill. A measure of this kind, which authorises an executive Act, is one which cannot be fundamentally criticised unless we intend to oppose the measure. Criticism which does not reflect policy, but only hampers and delays its execution, is bad. I do not say it would be bad in ordinary times of peace, but when a Government responsible for the conduct of the War finds itself held up at every point by criticism in Parliament which is not going to alter its policy, then I say that a Government suffers to the detriment of the State, and without advantage to the House of Commons. A measure of this kind, therefore, has got to be considered from the point of view of whether we oppose or accept it in principle, and if we do accept it in principle, I would venture to suggest to the House that our criticism should be of anything but a contentious character. Sometimes we may be able to suggest safeguards. We may also be able, possibly, to point out useful Amendments; but anything in the nature of delay or obstruction I am sure the House does not mean to give to the Government in the passing of this Bill. There are one or two points upon which, for my part, I should like to be assured. The language of the Bill is extremely vague. Whether we look at the constititution of the Ministry of Labour and its powers, or the Ministry of Food, or the Ministry of Shipping, we find throughout the same indeterminate phrases. This Bill primarily—in fact, almost entirely—is a Bill for the dismemberment of the Board of Trade. It removes from the Board of Trade three of its main functions, and sets up new Ministers to carry out the work formerly carried out by the President of the Board of Trade in respect of labour, shipping, and food control. Upon the face of it, the language of the Bill seems to transfer to the new Ministers respectively the powers of the Board of Trade relating to labour, food control and shipping, but there are words which seem to suggest that by Order in Counnil, other powers may be transferred without those powers having been authorised under any Statute whatever. It says in Clause 4 that the powers or duties of any Govern- 1150 ment Department or authority may be transferred, and "such further powers as may be conferred on him by Regulations under the Defence of the Realm Consolidation Act, 1914, and Regulations may be made under that Act accordingly." Upon the face of it, this looks as if, under the powers so conferred, any Order in Council could be authorised containing any Regulations or any powers which might be given or transferred to the new Minister. I do not think that that is intended. I believe I am right in assuming that what is intended is that only existing, powers, whether under Statute or under Order in Council, authorised by the Defence of the Realm Act or under the existing Common Law, may be transferred to the new Minister. If that is so, I shall be quite satisfied, because I think less powers than that would be insufficient.
§ Sir G. CAVE
My right hon. Friend says, "existing powers." Of course, it would be possible, under Regulations under the Defence of the Realm Act, to confer on the Minister of Shipping powers, which have not yet been conferred on the Board of Trade. They may be powers authorised by the Defence of the Realm Act.
§ Mr. McKENNA
If I may answer the question, that would depend whether the Defence of the Realm Act authorised the issue of an Order in Council to nationalise shipping. I should very much doubt if it did; but if the Defence of the Realm Act did authorise the issue of such an Order in Council, then it would come under the powers transferred by this Act. But the actual language seems to suggest, whether authorised by the Defence of the Realm Act or under this Bill, new Regulations, and that is a point which, I think, is not intended by the measure. One other point, and this is a criticism to which I would invite the attention of the House. I have nothing to say as to the constitution of the Ministry of Labour, although it is to be a permanent Ministry. I think it probably will prove to be a valuable change. I have, equally, nothing to say as to the constitution of the Ministry of Food, a proposal which had been already-made by the late Government. As regards the Ministry of Shipping, the work has hitherto been executed by the Shipping Control Committee, presided over by Lord 1151 Curzon. In my judgment, it has been extremely well done in the past, and I can only hope that the future Controller of Shipping will be able to complete the work which Lord Curzon has hitherto so well done.
When we turn to the next part of the Bill dealing with the Parliamentary Secretaries, I admit that the measure amazes me. We read Clause after Clause providing for the creation of new paid Parliamentary Secretaries. First of all, we begin with Clause 7 by removing the limit hitherto imposed by Statute on the creation of such Secretaries. The Home Secretary tells us that the hard work of the Foreign Office and the War Office and the Board of Trade require the creation of new Parliamentary Secretaries. May I point out that the Board of Trade is having a very important part of its work removed from it, and, notwithstanding this immense withdrawal of its powers and its work, we are to have one, or perhaps two, new paid Parliamentary Secretaries to the Board of Trade. I cannot conceive why that should be necessary. I do not dispute it, of course, if the Secretary of State says it is necessary that there ought to be another Parliamentary Secretary or Under-Secretary to the War Office, but I have never heard it suggested that we require another Parliamentary Under-Secretary to the Foreign Office, and still less an additional Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade. But the Bill does not stop there. It proposes new Parliamentary Secretaries to the various new Departments of the Board of Trade into which the Board of Trade has been split. If we look at Clause 10 we find suggested the number of these Parliamentary Secretaries. We are told in Clause 10 that not more than two Secretaries in each Ministry shall sit in the House of Commons. I suppose we shall have one Secretary for each Ministry sitting in the House of Lords, so that we shall have these three new Ministries each having three Parliamentary paid Secretaries.
§ Mr. McKENNA
Then I think the language of the Bill is a little unfortunate, and I hope on the Committee stage the Home Secretary will be able to give an assurance to the House that we do not intend to turn the House of Commons into a happy hunting ground for paid Parlia- 1152 mentary Secretaries. It has never been suggested in the numerous criticisms which have been put forward that there has been an inadequate supply of paid Parliamentary Secretaries hitherto.
§ Mr. McKENNA
My hon. Friend says we have had too many, and I do not think the House of Commons can contemplate with equanimity the creation of six, eight, or ten new paid Parliamentary Secretaries under this Bill. I have nothing more to say upon the measure, and it is too early for the House of Commons to express a confident opinion as to the working of these Ministries. We must give to the House of Commons and to the public time to consider their effect, and when we have had an experience of the work of these Ministries for two or three months we shall then be in a position to judge whether we are satisfied with their work or not. At the present moment all that we can do is to wish the heartiest success to these new Ministries in the task that lies before them.
§ Mr. DILLON
The right hon. Gentleman who has just addressed the House may be compared to the burnt child who dreads the fire. He has undergone in recent days a hail of criticism which I am glad to observe has resulted in making him more inclined to extend a larger measure of charity to his successor than he enjoyed himself in office. There are some points of this Bill which I think ought to be criticised at the very earliest opportunity, quite apart from any question of agreeing or differing from the general policy of the Bill. First of all, I want to direct attention to a peculiar and unique treatment accorded to the Noble Lord who now presides over the Blockade, and I want to ask the Minister in charge of the Bill to explain before the Debate closes what is the reason why the Minister in charge of the Blockade has been selected for this extraordinary treatment? It is peculiar in two remarkable ways. The Minister in charge of the Blockade is not made a Minister. He is left as Under-Secretary, as I understand, to the Foreign Office. But while he is left as Under-Secretary to the Foreign Office a special provision is introduced raising his salary to the level of a Ministerial salary. What is the explanation of the departure in his case from the general scope and machinery of the Bill, one of 1153 the Clauses of which states that "while he performs the duty of Minister of Blockade his annual salary shall not exceed £2,000 a year." Now, if he is to be Minister of Blockade, why is he not put in the same position as the Controller of Food and the Controller of Shipping? The Blockade is quite as important to the Government as any one of the other Departments. [An HON. MEMBER: "More important."] Well, it is quite as important, and its importance is enormously increased by the explanation given by the Home Secretary in introducing the Bill.
The right hon. Gentleman said that the only explanation for this extraordinary arrangement was that it was essential to keep the Minister of Blockade in close contact with the Foreign Office. He is not only to be in close contact with the Foreign Office—we hope all the Departments are in close contact with each other—but he is subordinate to the Foreign Office, and maintained as a subordinate. That raises the all-important question which we cannot get away from in discussing this Bill, as to what is to be the relation of the Foreign Office and the new machinery under which this country is to be governed and the lines on which the War is to be run. The Minister of Blockade must be, according to the Home Secretary, in close contact with the Foreign Office. Does that mean that he is to be the servant of the Foreign Office and must he be in closer contact with the Foreign Office than with the Admiralty? 1s not the Minister of Blockade just as closely bound in his daily work to the Admiralty as to the Foreign Office? He ought to be at all events. That raises this question: Are these great questions —and they are great questions—affected by the Minister of Blockade? Is the Foreign Office to be the ultimate Court of Appeal, or must the Foreign Office take its orders from the War Committee? If so, why should the Minister of Blockade be compelled to approach the War Committee through the Foreign Office? Why should he not be an independent Minister ready to take his orders direct from the supreme committee of public safety which we are now setting up to run the War? I think the right hon. Gentleman will find that it will be necessary to give some further explanation of this peculiar treatment of the Minister of Blockade, or the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs. Why should the Noble Lord be Minister of Blockade and still 1154 be retained in the position of Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office? That is the first question I wish to ask. With regard to the functions and powers of the Controller of Food, I wish to put a further question. He is a man who will in the immediate future have enormous powers which, if they are misused, will rapidly increase the peace party in this country. It will be within the power of the Minister of Food, if he acts imprudently or harshly or in an irritating fashion, to create an amount of public disturbance probably unnecessarily, and also an amount of public discontent which would be extremely injurious to the successful conduct of the War, and might lead to very unfortunate consequences. Therefore we are bound to examine very closely what are the powers of the whole system of the Ministry of Food.
I want to express my amazement that the Minister of Food has been charged, as I understand, with supreme authority in regard to the great and vital question of increased food production. I was rejoiced at one departure made by the Government, and that was when they got out of the rut of not attempting to get hold of really able men who understood their business before they appointed them. In relation to the Board of Agriculture a great new departure was made, and three of the most competent men of the whole country, who undoubtedly were accepted authorities on agriculture, to the amazement of all beholders, were appointed to the control of the Board of Agriculture. But can anything be imagined more ridiculous than to put over the heads of these three men, apparently as Dictator, a man who is an extremely able man, but who knows no more about agriculture than I know about shipping? Are we to be told that the Member for Oxford (Mr. Prothero) and the hon. and gallant Member for Wiltshire (Captain Bathurst) are to get their instructions and orders from Lord Devonport? If that be true, a more absurd and stupid arrangement could not possibly be imagined. Supposing the Board of Agriculture, as is exceedingly likely, and Lord Devonport disagree as to what is the best method to be taken for improving and increasing the production of food, who is to be the arbiter? Are we now under this new system to have a prolongation of all the evils which the late Government suffered under, largely through their own fault, of 1155 a conflict of Departments? What the Government suffered from was largely their own fault, because they had not strength of mind enough to squelch the Departments. It was perfectly horrible to find that for weeks and months Departments were quarrelling with each other over trifles, holding up decisions as to details, and exchanging notes as if they were rival Powers. Is that to be repeated? Are we to have the Food Controller fighting with the Member for Oxford University? Instead of giving the two thoroughly competent men whom you have now got hold of, in whom the country has every confidence, a free hand, are you going to set the Food Controller over their heads? That would be an outrageous thing to do, and there is not a solitary argument in favour of it. The Food Controller's Department is a wholly different Department. He can obtain from the Agricultural Department an estimate of the crops and what they are doing, but he ought to have nothing to do with the arrangements made for the increase of our food production. His duty is to ascertain how much food he can get from abroad and from this country, and to superintend the distribution, in order that there will not be a severe shortage. I hope this point will be set right before the Bill passes through Committee.
There is another extraordinary and important point. The Home Secretary said they had now appointed a Controller of Shipping, whose position he describes as of vital and enormous importance. So it is. The Home Secretary said that the Controller of Shipping, amongst his other duties, would be called upon to apportion the use of man-power for skilled work and divide it between shipbuilding for commerce and the Navy, and to apportion the number of ships to be used for transport and commercial purposes; and he also said that the Controller of Shipping would consider this matter in consultation with the Admiralty, and be able to come to a decision. That is a very Utopian view. That is exactly what has been going for the last year. The Board of Trade has been considering this question with the Admiralty and has not been able to come to a decision. What proof have we that the Controller of Shipping will have any additional power in dealing with the Admiralty over and above what the Board of Trade had in the past?
1156 When the Controller of Shipping, as is inevitable, differs from the Admiralty—it is no blame to the Admiralty, which approaches this problem from the opposite point of view—who will decide between them? We ought to know. I do not believe that they would be able to come to a decision. I suppose it will be the War Committee. I think the Controller of Shipping ought to be in this House. The idea that he can control shipping better outside than inside the House is quite a mistake.
I do not intend to press the matter at present, but I want to warn the Home Secretary that we in Ireland have such confidence—at least, I personally have-in the hon. Member for Oxford University and the hon. Member for Wiltshire,. with whom I have had some opportunity of working, that we are not very uneasy about their rule being applied to the production of food in Ireland. But it is a very different thing with Lord Devonport. I do not want to say anything against Lord Devonport. I have no doubt that he will be a very efficient man in his own particular province, but I must enter a caveat against the Government imagining that we are going to tolerate a dictatorship over the whole agricultural production of Ireland by Lord Devonport. We are going to do nothing of the kind, and if that is intended there will be very severe friction.
Finally, I come to the question of the Under-Secretaries, and I do urge that the Government ought to reconsider the whole matter. Take, for instance, the War Office. Two excellent Under-Secretaries represent the War Office. I quite admit that they are hard-worked, but, after all, what does their essential work in connection with this House amount to? Answering questions, and occasionally taking part in debate, which is not a very onerous duty at the present time. It is absurd to say that the two men who at present represent the War Office in this House are not well able to do the work. The essence of all these matters is that the Department should be represented in Parliament by some man, or, in the case of the Admiralty and War Office, by one man on the financial side, and by another man on the administrative and business side. Beyond that, what do you want? Every Government should be extremely jealous of multiplying Under-Secretaries, and this Government all the more when it has come 1157 into office under great peculiar circumstances. Undoubtedly, if it had this more or less unlimited power of appointing Under-Secretaries, it would lend itself to the suspicion of wishing to have a number of offices by which it could buttress up its position. The Government which is in office does not require that. It will get from the House and from the country as fair treatment as any Government has ever got in the history of this country, and it is by its success that it will be tried, and not by the number of Under-Secretaries it appoints. The fewer it appoints, the better for this House.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
It might be a convenience to the House if I dealt briefly with the two speeches to which we have just listened, for, in reality, these speeches go to the very root on which this Government is being formed and on which we intend to attempt to carry on the War. I agree entirely with my right hon. Friend opposite (Mr. McKenna) that in ordinary times a Bill like this would not pass the House of Commons under weeks of discussion, and, what is more, it is obvious in making a new departure of this kind you lay yourself open to criticism on every hand, that if there were any desire to interfere with the Government getting through its work it would be quite impossible to pass such a Bill in a short time, and I do not know how long it would take to carry it. All I am going to do is to deal with two or three difficulties which have been raised. First of all, as regards the Under-Secretaries, I could imagine nothing more damaging to any Government, and most of all to this Government, which has been professedly formed with the idea of having more rapid working, if possible, than we have had in the past—and I am not now or at any time likely to indulge in severe criticism of a Government of which I was a member and for which I was partly responsible—than even the suspicion that they were creating posts in order reward political services. There is no such intention. It may be that this Bill with regard to Under-Secretaries goes further than is necessary. It was of necessity drafted very hurriedly, and, when my right hon. Friend spoke to me, I said, "We cannot tell what particular needs of this kind there may be, and it would not be a bad thing if the House gave us the power to appoint the Under-Secretaries required without needing a special Bill to create them." That is all that is going to be 1158 done. I should like to say further, with regard to what was said about the Board of Trade—it is a good case in point—that it has not been decided whether or not an additional Under-Secretary will he wanted.