§ It shall be the duty of the Food Controller to regulate the supply and consumption of food in such 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 such powers or duties of any Government Department or authority, whether conferred by Statute or otherwise, as His Majesty may, by Order in Council, transfer to him, or authorise him to exercise or perform concurrently with, or in consultation with, the Government Department or authority concerned, and also 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.
§ Mr. LESLIE SCOTT
I beg to move, to leave out the words "and to take such steps as he thinks best for encouraging the production of food."
This Amendment raises an important question of principle upon which I hope the President of the Board of Agriculture may be able to make an announcement to the House. Clause 4 follows the same framework as Clause 6 about the Shipping Controller. My Amendment is to leave out the words of Clause 4, which give to the Food Controller the power to take such steps as he thinks best for encouraging the production of food, and also give to him the duty of doing that. The point upon which I hope we may have enlightenment from the President of the Board of Agriculture is this—is it intended by these words really to give the business of food production in this country to the new office of Food Controller, either to the exclusion of the Board of Agriculture or even concurrently with it? In the case of the Shipping Controller, the wording is identical in substance, namely, that it shall be the duty of the Shipping Controller to control and regulate shipping and to take such steps as he thinks best for providing and maintaining an efficient supply of shipping. In the case of the Shipping Controller, public announcement has been made already that upon, that wording it is the intention of the Government, as I understand, that the business of shipping should be handed over in fact to the Shipping Controller, and taken from the Board of Trade, where it now is. Similar phraseology is 1525 followed in regard to the Food Controller, and therefore it looks—I do not say it is—as if it is the intention of the Government that the business of agricultural development in this country during the War, and the whole business of increasing the supply of food should be taken from the Board of Agriculture and handed over to the Food Controller. If this were, in fact, the intention of the Government, as it appears to be in the phraseology of the Clause, I think the House would be unanimous in the opinion that any such course would be lamentable.
You can take it two ways, either that the Board of Agriculture is to be deprived of its powers—those powers being transferred to the Food Controller—or that it is to be left with its powers. In either case I think you would have confusion—in the one case confusion and in the other case confusion worse confounded. What is essential is that the House should know what is the intention, in fact, on the part of the Government. I do not think there can be any valid objection to a mere enabling phraseology, enabling the Food Controller to have the question of food production within his purview, so that, should it be necessary at any time for him, through the Board of Agriculture, to take steps for encouraging the production of food, he should be able to do so. I do not think anybody would say such power was undesirable. But the phrase in the Clause which puts upon him the duty of taking these steps is apt to lead to misunderstanding, and unless there is a clear statement, I think that the public will continue to feel the apprehension which it already feels on this subject. I do not think it is necessary to enlarge on the proposition that all those who know anything about the farmers of this country are clear in their own minds that the proper authority to deal with the question of food supply during the War, and to work with the farmers and to help the farmers and, it may be, in cases to control the farmers, is the Board of Agriculture, with its present President, in whom every farmer in this country has complete confidence. To hand over that business to a man or a Department that the farmers have never had anything to do with would simply be to upset every farmer in the country. What we have to do at the present time for the crops of 1917 is, above all things, to remove from the minds of the farmers the sense of uncertainty as to their future which is so disturbing them 1526 at the present time. We want to call upon the farmers for their assistance, to rely upon the farmers, and to give them the assistance they need in regard to labour and other things necessary for the crops of 1917. To introduce any new control at the present time would merely be to dislocate and to disorganise an already disorganised and troubled business.
I hope that it will be made quite clear as to what is the position of the Government, and that it will be made quite clear that the whole business of food production at home is to remain in the hands of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Agriculture. It is a tremendous business that has got to be attempted. It is absolutely essential that the food production in this country in the summer season of 1918 should be as nearly as possible doubled. That means ploughing up some 5,000,000 or 6,000,000 acres of grass land. That is what it moans in order to double our food production, and that should be the aim of the Department at the present time. That is the business which I believe the present President of the Board of Agriculture, whom we all know, can do. I hope he will make it quite clear that he, and he only, will have the duty and the business of seeing to the increase of food production here at home. I raise no objection whatever to powers being given -to the Food Controller, because I believe that we can rely upon the practical wisdom of those two men to work harmoniously together, although it is necessary that the Food Controller should be in a position to call upon the President of the Board of Agriculture to tell him what supplies he can give of home-grown food and, it may be, to call upon the Board to do its best to increase that supply. I maintain that to go beyond that would lead to nothing but disorganisation and trouble.
§ Mr. PETO
In rising to second this Amendment I shall be very brief, because of the loss of time the Government will incur this evening. The Government is very young, and has had only about a week to consider the establishment of these new Ministries and the relation between the new powers they are creating and the old existing powers. I think when the House really considers the position in regard to the powers of the Food Controller and the Board of Agriculture and other Departments, they will agree that it is a complicated and abstruse question as to what 1527 the powers of the Departments really are and as to which overrides the other. I think there are no less than five Departments of State who are concerned with this question of food production. There are the Food Controller and the Board of Agriculture in the first place. In regard to these two the Leader of the House of Commons, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, made a statement on Monday regarding their operation. He said:On the other hand, it is equally obvious that there are some points where the duties of the Food Controller and of the Minister of Agriculture overlap.That is a very candid admission when you are setting up a new Ministry in order to simplify procedure, to get to business and to avoid talking and the exchange of minutes. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say:There is no shadow of friction, and if anything of the sort should arise, if there should be any difference of opinion, the obvious remedy, and the remedy which will be applied at once, is that they should come to the War Council, state their case, and the War Council will be the final arbiter on every question that arises."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th December, 1916, col. 1160.]With all humility, I do ask the House whether that is a wise procedure. We know with what the War Council are going to be concerned. We know that this very question on which the Adjournment of the House was moved to-day—the question of the Frongoch Camp—cannot possibly be considered at to-morrow's War Council, because the whole of the meeting of that Council will be occupied with urgent military affairs. These are not questions of first magnitude; and is it really proposed to set up these two authorities in this way? I ask the House to realise that we have got in the present President of the Board of Agriculture—I will not say the greatest, because I do not want to make any invidious comparisons, but one of the greatest agricultural authorities in the country. I would like to support what my hon. Friend (Mr. Leslie Scott) said, and to say that his appointment was welcomed throughout the country and it will continue to be welcome the longer his appointment lasts. We have also the hon. Member for Wilton (Captain Bathurst), who is certainly only second to the President of the Board of Agriculture. I do not want to say which knows most about agriculture. Why are these Gentlemen not working together in this matter? Why is the hon. Member for Wilton to have one opinion on the question how to get most out of the land and the President 1528 of the Board of Agriculture to have another opinion, and then in the case of this difference of opinion we are told by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the proper procedure is for these two Gentlemen to go to the War Cabinet, which is engaged with urgent matters of war policy, and to lay their differences of opinion before those Gentlemen, who know nothing about agriculture. That seems to be an extraordinary proposal.
I pass from that. There is also the War Office concerned with this. I shall not deal with that in detail. I have another Amendment down dealing with it. But another obvious question is the supply of military prisoners' labour. The War Office still acts in consultation with the Ministry of Labour. Another Department comes in and says what rate of pay is to be given and the conditions under which prisoners of war are to be employed. This thing is bound, under the present conditions, to lead to an absolute stoppage of the employment of prisoners of war—at any rate in the Southern Command, which I know better. There are 5,000 prisoners of war who cannot be employed in the conditions under which they are offered to farmers. I want to know whether the hon. and learned Member for Oxford University, or the hon. Member for Wilton, is going to settle the conditions under which those prisoners of war are to be offered to farmers, or whether the War Office or the Ministry of Labour is the authority concerned? I have not finished my list yet. Yesterday we had in the Prime Minister's speech the announcement of another new Department, that of the Director of National Service, Mr. Neville Chamberlain, Lord Mayor of Birmingham. The right hon. Gentleman said:Certain industries are regarded as indispensable—Surely agriculture would come into that category at present!and the Departments concerned will indent upon the Director of National Service for the labour which they require for those services."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th December, 1916, col. 1352.]There we have it laid down that Lord Devonport, who is associated with the hon. Member for Oxford University, might say that a certain amount of labour is essential for agriculture to increase food production. What is he to do? He is not to say, "I am going to have that labour." He is to go to the Director of National Service and indent for that 1529 labour, and, possibly, the Director of National Service will say that there is something very much more essential than agriculture. We could not possibly have set up a more complicated and troublesome arrangement. I have the privilege of personal acquaintance with, and I hope the friendship of, the two hon. Gentlemen who are sitting there, who are designated experts in agriculture. Certainly if there are two men who can work without friction in the extraordinary position in which they are placed,* it would be those two Gentlemen. But I ask, is that any justification for setting up this extraordinarily complex machinery, at a time when we understood that we had a new Government, in order to simplify the procedure and give one person who knows his job supreme authority in his own Department, and minimise this incessant ebb and flow between Department and Department which always results in arriving at no conclusion and in endless delay? Therefore I have great pleasure in seconding the Amendment. I echo the hope expressed by the hon. Member opposite that we shall now—because I do not think that the Government have had time—have some clear statement as to whether they will not even reconsider this extraordinary arrangement and settle on one or the other of those two hon. Gentlemen as the person who is going to have this matter in hand and have power to carry it out.
§ Mr. BOLAND
The Amendment which has been moved appears to me to be extremely valuable because it brings into strong relief the question whether we can have control of food supplies and production of food supplies going on under the same hands. To me it seems to be very much more valuable, so far as the production of food in the country is concerned—I speak for the moment of Great Britain—that it should be in the hands of the President of the Board of Agriculture. I take this opportunity of congratulating the right hon. Gentleman on his appointment because during the last six months I have had an opportunity of serving with him on the Food Prices Committee, and his extraordinary knowledge of agriculture in England was of very great value of our Committee. But this matter has a further point with regard to Ireland. The production of food in Ireland is also to my mind completely different from the question of control of food in Ireland, and I had hoped later on this Clause to move a special Amendment to 1530 suggest that so far as control of production of food in Ireland is concerned that should be done by a branch of the new Ministry rather than be operated from England direct. But the Amendment moved by the hon. and learned Member opposite to my mind does raise the issue in a very crucial way. It is of far greater advantage, when we are all desirous of getting the greatest amount of food produced both in this country and in Ireland, that the Ministers charged with it should not be men who are more concerned with controlling food. It is of far greater advantage that the Departments, the Board of Agriculture in England and the corresponding Department in Ireland, should be put specially in charge of the production of food. If this Amendment does nothing else than bring that issue directly before the House I think that the hon. and learned Member will have done a very valuable service in moving it.
§ Mr. G. LAMBERT
I agree entirely with the intention of the hon. and learned Member who has brought this Amendment before the House, but it is because I wish to see the food supply of the country increased that I support the Bill as it stands. The hon. and learned Member said very truly that we want to double the cultivation of the land of this country, double the supply of food produced here. But the fact is that instead of having double the supply you will probably have three-fifths of the supply, because the labour has been taken from the land. There is no use in all these pious opinions being expressed here or elsewhere. We cannot produce wheat or oats without labour, and labour is vitally essential for land at the present moment. And when my hon. and learned Friend talks of doubling the cultivation then he must double the labour supply available for farmers at present and during the War. I have no doubt that the Board of Agriculture have been animated by the best intentions, but there is a certain place paved with good intentions, and that is where agriculture always seems to be going just now. The War Office has proved too strong for the Board of Agriculture, and there is grave uncertainty in the minds of the farmers as regards labour supplies. Over and over again questions have been asked from this side of the House, of the late Government and the present Government, as to the necessity of getting rid of this uncertainty. How can you expect a farmer to crop his land 1531 and plough it up when he does not know whether there will be sufficient labour available to harvest it or not? The War Office are taking men who are absolutely necessary for the cultivation of the land. There is really no use talking about these matters. We get the most admirable pledges. We get opinions expressed that might be expressed by bishops, but they are not carried out in the country. The military representatives seem to have absolute control of the tribunals, and the tribunals take the men.
I now come to the point why I wish the Food Controller to have some authority in the production of food. We know that the Noble Lord who has been appointed is a man of great resolution and great decision, who is not afraid to risk popularity. Therefore I am very glad that he will be associated with my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Agriculture, whom I heartily congratulate on his appointment, and of whom I re-echo everything that has been said by other speakers, that there is no man who knows the agricultural problem better or who has the confidence of farmers to a greater extent than he. I am glad that the Food Controller is to be associated with the President of the Board of Agriculture in standing up against the War Office, which wants standing up against in this matter. If we do not mind there will be famine stalking through the land in the months of May and June. I see it very clearly coming with the submarine menace, which is becoming daily more threatening, with the lessened amount of food production here, and with the partial failure of the harvest abroad. It is essential that there shall be a strong authority to stand up in favour of the increased production of food at home. I want, in this matter, to make my position perfectly clear. I am not suggesting that the farmers should have more labour in order to increase their profits. It is simply with me a matter of increasing the home production of food. I would say to my right hon. Friend—give the farmers as much labour as they can use, compel them to plant the crop that the Government think most essential, compel them to produce food, and commandeer the food when it is produced at a fair price to the farmers. Wheat at 10s. a bushel and meat at the prices at which it is now mean the infliction of intolerable hardship upon tens of thousands of people in the country who are not enjoying war prosperity. I do 1532 not speak as a farmer or as representing farmers; I speak simply and entirely from the point of view of one who sees what danger is coming through the scarcity of home-produced food, and I therefore support the Bill as it stands, that the Food Controller shall be associated with the Board of Agriculture in increasing the home-grown food supply of our own country.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of AGRICULTURE (Mr. Prothero)
I am very grateful indeed to the Proposer and Seconder and the other Members who have spoken on this Amendment for the very kind way in which they have referred to me. I feel, if I may address myself in the first place to the point raised by the hon. Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool, as to the insertion of the words which associate the Food Controller with me in the production of home-grown food, that, of course, it was perfectly plain to anyone, when it was announced that the Food Controller was associated with me, not only in the distribution but in the production of food, that there might be a conflict of jurisdiction—a friction. I have been for many years a business man, and though I cannot claim the same experience as the Food Controller I at once said to him, "Let us meet and let us arrange and define our respective spheres of duty." We met on the very first day we could, and had a talk and arrived at certain conclusions, and the Food Controller said, "Put that in writing," and that is our charter. I took the arrangement down in writing. There are four lines only, but it quite defines my position. It gives me all the powers I want, and it enables me to use the great powers which are conferred upon the Food Controller for the improvement of agriculture. I dare say some hon. Members might say that what I had put down should have satisfied official dignity. As far as I am concerned, official dignity is a very insecure perch, and, i: I am to stand on anything, I should like to stand on something more substantial than my official dignity. My position is this: In every matter affecting the production of food the Food Controller is bound to act, under our arrangement, on my advice. That secures me to all that I want. If the Food Controller does not agree with my advice, and if my hon. Friend of many years standing, my old fellow fighter for agriculture and I 1533 cannot come to an agreement, if the Member for Wilton (Captain Bathurst) cannot come to an agreement, then, as has been pointed out, we shall go to the War Council, and if we go to the War Council on a question of technical agriculture, I have not the faintest doubt that the War Council would uphold my opinion, if I may venture to say so, against that of the Food Dictator. I will be speaking of what I know, but he will be speaking of what he does not know—it is no use beating about the bush; he admits it himself—but I must say that I do not believe there is the slightest chance of any friction. We are on admirable terms, we know exactly where we each stand, and I think each of us has got what he wants.
May I put the other point? In a great deal I find the need of the Food Controller. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton said, the advantage is, I think, enormously on my side. The Food Controller has huge powers; they extend in every direction. If, for instance, a question arises of providing agricultural machinery, without the Food Controller the Board of Agriculture is powerless. We cannot get the material, and we cannot get any implement factory released from control and set to work upon machinery; we cannot get the men exempted to work on the implements which we want to have made. But now that I have got the Food Controller I can go and represent to him that I want so many machines, and he can use powers which I have not got. The same advantage runs through everything else. Questions arise of feeding stuffs, fertilisers, and other matters which bring me into conflict with other Departments. In dealing with these Departments I should be powerless, but the Food Controller, acting on my advice, can do more, a great deal more, than I ever could hope to do by my humbly going and entreating other Departments to give me priority. Therefore, as I say, I think the President of the Board of Agriculture, apart from that small question, as it seems to me, of official dignity, has gained everything and lost nothing by those words being in the Bill. That is my opinion.
I do not know how far I ought to follow other Members who have spoken into the rather wider subjects which they have touched. I myself asked the Food Controller to-day the very question the hon. Member opposite has now asked—how his 1534 powers affect Ireland? "Well," he said, "I will tell you quite frankly. I should be a fool to try and put my powers at work in Ireland from London; in all probability I should have to work through a branch." That is exactly what the hon. Member wishes. Although, of course, I am repeating perhaps what passed in ordinary conversation between the Food Dictator and myself, I think it is so obviously a matter of common sense that I should think the hon. Member may be perfectly satisfied on the point. The right hon. Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) spoke on the question of labour. Labour, in my opinion, is the crux of the whole question. We either have our labour and you have your produce, or we do not have the labour and you do not get the produce. It is no use blinking the fact.
We have in the Secretary of State for War an agriculturist, a man who knows farmers, farmers' ways, and farmers' needs, and, of course, I feel that he will do for us everything that he can, though there are, I confess, very great difficulties. He has agreed that none of the men who were called out under the arrangement of 1st January shall be called out until the present arrangements are completed. That is something. But I must say, from the farmers' point of view, that it is nothing near enough. The present system of obtaining exemption through Appeal Tribunals or local tribunals has produced a want of confidence among the farmers and a spirit of unrest among the labourers. Let the House consider what this means. Hundreds of labourers, day after day, week after week, and month after month, have been pottering about the local tribunals. Whatever system is adopted, war needs must to a certain extent be paramount; yet I think that we ought to realise, the War Office ought to realise, and the whole country ought to realise, that we are a beleagured city. It comes to that. I also think that, unless you find your food at home, we may be in the greatest possible difficulty. This is a point which in my very brief career in the House I have several times impressed upon hon. Members—the necessity of taking care of our home-grown food supply. I find myself now faced with most tremendous difficulties, and, among the difficulties, the labour difficulty is one of the greatest. The only way in which I can hope to deal with it is by carrying with me the support of the farmers in this country and by 1535 obtaining from the War Office, in some form or another, some supply of labour. But as to this particular Amendment I do not think it ought to be pressed, because it refers to powers which may be of infinite value, and it is my sincere conviction that it may be on the cornfields and potato lands of Great Britain that victory in this great War may be lost or won.
§ Colonel LOCKWOOD
My hon. Friend the President of the Board of Agriculture knows as well as any man in the House, if not better, the troubles and dangers that are inflicted on farmers every day. Only last week there was a case in my own county where men had been swept off the fields to the recruiting station, and there is no doubt that farmers, in view of the continual drafting of men, have lost all faith and confidence in the military tribunals. I know that my hon. Friend is anxious in regard to this matter, and I would point out to him that whatever is done should be done at once. We cannot brook delay; we cannot stand any further depletion of men; and I impress upon the hon. Gentleman—For I know he wants, as we all want, to increase the food supply of this country—that we need more men, and not only more men, but we must also have back some of those who have been already taken. Some localities have been swept bare of men; in others there are sufficient men, with the addition of such female labour as it is possible to employ. There is no doubt that we must stop this depletion, and it should be done at once. Apart from the necessity of there being no further depletion of the ranks of farm labourers, it is necessary that some method should be found by which skilled labour should be restored, if possible, to the localities now denuded of that labour.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I am sure Members in all quarters of the House will congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the first speech which he has made in the office to which he has been appointed. Indeed, many of us, I must say, would wish that he held a position of even greater distinction and authority, and that he were a member of the War Council; because, if we were sure that the views and sentiments which he has expressed in the House to-night were views and sentiments which would carry weight in that body, we should have a greater feeling of confidence in the future of this country and in this War. I agree with the hon. Gentle- 1536 man in the view he takes of this Amendment. I think the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment are needlessly alarmed as to the possibility of friction between the hon. Gentleman and the Food Controller. I believe that in this matter of production the interests of the Food Controller and the interests of the President of the Board of Agriculture are one. It is not friction between these two Ministers that we need to fear: it is the friction between them and other Departments which will make demands upon the agriculture of this country that are inconsistent with the welfare of this country and the successful prosecution of the War. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the matter of agricultural machinery. Well, undoubtedly the interests of the Food Controller and the interests of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Agriculture are one. But I understand that the question of agricultural machinery is now decided in a room in the Hotel Metropole by a Committee called the Priority Committee of the Ministry of Munitions. Well, as things are at present, the question of agricultural machinery will be decided by this body, whose main interest is the provision of machinery for munitions. Undoubtedly, under these circumstances, the first conflict on agricultural machinery will be between the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Agriculture and the Food Controller as against the Ministry of Munitions. Then the arbitration is left to the War Council. I think we should all be greatly relieved if we knew that on this question the War Council would have the same high opinion of the views of the President of the Board of Agriculture, as they would undoubtedly have on any agricultural question. I am quite sure that when the right hon. Gentleman the President speaks on agriculture they will say that nobody knows as much as he does, and that he is right, but when it comes to a conflict between him and the Ministry of Munitions, I am not quite so sure that he will have his way.
Then, let us take the question of food production. My right hon. Friend the Member for Devonshire (Mr. G. Lambert), as well as the right hon. Member for Essex (Colonel Lockwood), has put very clearly the view with regard to labour. There is no doubt that in many areas in this country labour has been depleted from agriculture to an extent which makes the production of food to satisfy the reason- 1537 able demands of the country quite impossible. May I remind the right hon. Gentleman opposite that some people said that when the Military Service Act was passing through this House, but we were told that there would be tribunals, and everything in the garden would be lovely. We now see how lovely is the garden, when the President of the Board of Agriculture comes here, and says we are a beleagured city, and that the question of the fate of this country will be decided on the cornfields of Great Britain. I think it would have been well if these things had been thought of when, in a burst of military enthusiasm, we were hastily and light-heartedly passing the Military Service Act. But we have to take the fruits of that, and what we now desire is that in these matters the hands of the President of the Board of Agriculture and of the Food Controller should be strengthened in their conflict with the War Department against the unreasonable demands which are now being made in view of the reckless military commitments to which this country has been pledged. What after all, have we to remember? The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Agriculture is powerless; the Food Controller is powerless. Why? Because decisions committing this country have been made by the War Council; and it is because of those decisions that I believe it is possible that peace will be forced upon this country within six months. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"]
§ Mr. SHERWELL
I think the House will universally agree that the President of the Board of Agriculture has made what may frankly be called a greatly reassuring speech. That reassurance would have been greater on my own part if I had thought that the particular drafting in the Bill, and the precise powers that are given to the Food Controller, were what they were on the assumption in the right hon. Gentleman's, the President's, mind. I have no doubt that the President of the Board of Agriculture may so present the urgent claims of agricultural men as to make a great impression on his right hon. colleague the Food Controller. But, as a matter of fact, while this Clause says explicitly that the Food Controller may take such steps for the production of food as he deems necessary, in a later portion of the Clause it is expressly provided that these steps may be authorised by Order in Council. Now I would point out that it is neither the President of the Board of 1538 Agriculture nor the Food Controller who have the determination or the framing of these Orders in Council, and it by no means follows, as a matter of course—and the whole history of the War, so far as it has gone, is conclusive on this point—because the particular Minister responsible for the particular Department holds a strong and certain view on a particular need that these who have to decide the policy or the strategy of the War will necessarily follow the advice he may give. It is precisely because the President of the Board of Agriculture himself, and the Food Controller, will have no power over the framing of the Orders in Council, which are the real hope upon which this House depends, that I am not able to feel so completely reassured as I would have like to have been from his speech. After all, it is obvious to everybody, even to those of us who are most remote in our remind the right hon. Gentleman that much of the present misfortune of the country—for it is a real misfortune, a real element of weakness in our national organisation and life—that practically the whole of that arises from the shortage of labour needed to produce the food that might otherwise be produced; and although the President of the Board of Agriculture intimated to us that the Secretary of State for War is himself a practical agriculturist, and is therefore not likely to be out of sympathy with any demand that he might make, I must, nevertheless, remind the right hon. Gentleman that hitherto our trouble has not arisen speci-ficially from the Gentleman who has been the Secretary of State for War. The whole of his confusion and muddle has arisen through the action of subordinates in the employment of the War Office, who have not followed the specific instructions or statements made by the Minister on the floor of the House. I hope in the future, especially so far as the distribution of labour is concerned, that the right hon. Gentleman will get from the War Council an assurance that any arrangement made by him through the Secretary of State for War shall be honestly fulfilled by those who are subordinate to the Secretary of State for War.
§ Mr. MONTAGU
I would just like to ask one question of the right hon. Gentleman. In order to avoid competition by the placing of different orders on behalf of different Departments for the same industry, the late Government arranged that the Board of Agriculture and the 1539 Food Controller should indent on the Ministry of Munitions, who would be responsible for the provision of such agricultural implements as from time to time the Board of Agriculture were of opinion were necessary. That arrangement was designed to cope with the difficulty of competition between the Food Controller and the President of the Board of Agriculture in what was absolutely essential for the tilling of the soil of the country. I was not quite sure, from the right hon. Gentleman's speech, whether the present Government propose to adhere to that arrangement or to depart from it.
§ General Sir IVOR HERBERT
Before the right hon. Gentleman replies, might I put one question, which I think would relieve the minds of a good many in this House. I, like most others, feel very considerably reassured by the very clear and straightforward statement which the right hon. Gentleman made, but I think that feeling of reassurance would have been carried still further if he had given us the actual terms of what he called the Charter drawn up between himself and the Food Controller. We know that right hon. Gentlemen come into their offices with the very best possible intentions; but there is an impelling force behind them which induces them to fight for their Departments when questions arise involving various different Departments of State. That is a thing which is inevitable in public life. I should like to know exactly how the right hon. Gentlemen have managed to draw up an alliance, defensive and offensive, against all those other Departments who would be involved in the various questions which must arise, such as that question, which has been dealt with many times, in regard to the provision of labour, upon which a great many Departments will have a say. The provision of labour is, of course, as has been already said, of vital importance to the production of food. You cannot produce more food out of the land of this country unless you have more men to till it, and that will not be a question that will arise with either of those Departments which are concerned specially in the Amendment now before the House. I do not wish to detain the House over this question, but I feel that, generally, we have been entirely reassured, and I hope that, in replying, my right hon. Friend will give us a little information on this point.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I should like, if I might be allowed, to tender my own congratulations to the President of the Board of Agriculture on his speech. I am sure the whole House has reason to be very well satisfied with the choice which has been made, both as regards the filling of the post of President of the Board of Agriculture and as regards another office with which he will necessarily be closely associated. My reason for rising at this moment is to remind the House that the President of the Board of Agriculture quite recently expressed in the House, in a private capacity, views very similar to those which he has now spoken of with his official authority; and it is encouraging to all of us who desire to see the past mistakes corrected to know that, in holding the great office which he now holds, he is holding office still retaining opinions which he expressed when a private Member. I remember, and others here will remember, how not so long ago—hardly more than a month ago—in the Debate which took place on food prices on the occasion when my right hon. Friend beside me (Mr. Runciman) made a speech which we all greatly valued, the new President of the Board of Agriculture also spoke. I will take the liberty of reading to the House one sentence of his speech. He said:The Board of Agriculture have appealed to farmers to pool their labour. The farmers are quite content to do that. Indeed, they are glad to do that. What happens? The military representative before the tribunal says Farmer A claims this man as indispensable. How can he say that when he has sent him to Farmer B?'"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th November, 1916, col. 878, Vol. LXXXVII.]Now that was the right hon. Gentleman's own exposure just a month ago, of the perfect absurdity with which the claims of agriculture had been met when a claim has been made to retain absolutely indispensable men. I am sure everybody hopes, now that the right hon. Gentleman is in this high position of authority, that he will be able to point out with even greater force how injurious to the public interest such procedure is, and how necessary it is that it should be stopped at once. There is another Minister on that Bench now, whose appointment has been received with general approval, and who will also be closely connected with these questions of food; I refer to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Food Controller (Captain Bathurst). He also made a speech on this occasion, only a month ago. This is what he said:—In most parts of the country, certainly in agricultural districts, the Appeal Tribunals are operating entirely under the threat of the military representa- 1541 tives, inspired by the new policy of the War Office. That is not a tribunal. It has ceased to be a tribunal. There is no object in having a tribunal if it is not going to exercise the duties of a judicial body but is going to act solely in accordance with the mandate of a Government Department."—[OFFICIAL REPORT,15th November col.910, Vol. LXXXVII.]I feel certain that we shall have good cause to congratulate ourselves and the country upon the fact that these two eminent authorities, who spoke in the language of such severe criticism a month ago, are now in a position to see that this grave mistake is corrected. In my judgment, there is no point at all in time of war in going back on the past simply for the purpose of saying that mistakes have been made—none at all! But it is necessary to go back into the past in order that we may avoid such mistakes in the future. It will be indeed a very great relief to many in this country, and, I believe, a direct contribution towards our national strength, if the right hon. Gentleman can really secure two things: The first is that, so far as may be, the men who have been taken from the mistaken view that that was the best way to use their strength, should be brought back; and, secondly, that without further delay that this vicious system should really stop.
§ Colonel Sir H. GREENWOOD
I want to intervene for only a few moments, for, I am bound to confess, I cannot allow the few remarks of the right hon. Gentleman who has just resumed his seat to pass without one word of protest. The tribunals to which he refers were set up by colleagues of his own. They are democratic in essence. They are representative of the farmers in their district, and the other districts from which it is alleged the labourers have been taken. The military representative is not a member of the tribunal. He cannot vote in the decision. I do not believe—my own experience as an inspector of these tribunals leads me to speak with intimate knowledge of them—there is one tribunal, or at any rate more than one, in any given military area that has subjected its decision to the threat of any military representative. I know it is very easy to criticise these tribunals because of the duties they have to carry out. These duties are very heart-breaking to them. The duties are very drastic to those who have to come under them, and under the law which the tribunals are carrying out. But they are the laws and regulations passed by this House, approved of and agreed to by the right hon. Gentlemen seated beside the 1542 right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Walthamstow. In those circumstances I think that the least that can be done is to speak fairly towards those civilian members of the tribunal who are not military representatives.
§ Sir H. GREENWOOD
These were the words of Ministers who occupied a position of no responsibility, but were critics of the last Coalition Government. They are Ministers now. I have long since ceased to look upon a man, because he is a Minister, as necessarily in any way superior to anybody else. The laurel wreaths fell from the brows of Ministers on the first day of the War, so far as I am concerned. My point is that, no matter what he said, if the hon. Member who is Parliamentary Secretary to the Food Controller—and I am bound to confess that no better selection could have been made—if he said that the Appeal Tribunals were operating entirely under the threat of the military authorities, then all I can say is that that is the one, and, I hope, the only time, in which he made a misstatement in reference to the work of the tribunal. The mere fact that he is a Minister now does not affect the case. I hope there is no apology necessary for my intervention in this way. I think it is a great disservice to the tens of thousands of self-sacrificing, unpaid civilians throughout this country who are carrying out the duty specially imposed upon them by the late Government to treat them in the way they have been treated this after noon.
§ Mr. PROTHERO
May I, by leave of the House, answer the questions which have been addressed to me? In relation to the question as to the Ministry of Munitions machinery being done away with altogether, I may say it has not. The hon. Baronet asked me if I could supply him with the terms of our four-line agreement. In doing so he asked me something which I am hardly able to give, because, I must confess, that I have not got the matter all off by heart. But the point is this: I am the technical adviser of the Food Controller. He cannot take any steps for the production of food without consultation with me, neither can I without consultation with him.
§ Mr. PROTHERO
If we do not agree we go to the War Council, and I am afraid I must repeat what I said before, that I have no doubt the War Council, on a question of the sort, will agree with me; I should be dealing with a subject which my hon. Friend does not know, and does not pretend to know, and which I am, at all events officially, supposed to know. As to the question raised by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Walthamstow, I myself think that the local and appeal tribunals have, on the whole, done very good work and with very great fairness and ability, and I should like to add my testimony to that which has just been given as to the infinite pains and the infinite trouble which the members of those tribunals have taken. They are utterly unpaid, and I think their work does them very great credit. They may have made mistakes. What tribunal that has ever sat did not? Yet I think their work was well done. I did say that there was a peculiar danger in the case of the farmer who lent his man to somebody else, for he laid himself open to a claim from the military representative to take the man. But—I am speaking from recollection—I do not think that I said they got the man—that makes the whole difference!
§ Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL
The statement by the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down may, I am afraid, give rise to some misunderstanding. I desire to put a question to him so that he may take the opportunity of making the matter a little clearer. He said that the Food Controller could take no action in regard to increasing the supply of food without his concurrence as President of the Board of Agriculture. This, it seems to me, is perfectly right.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
Because clearly it is a matter for the technical advisers of the Government in matters of agriculture to decide as to the manner in which an increase of the food supply can best be managed. He went on to say that the President of the Board of Agriculture could also take no step for increasing the home-grown supply without first consulting and securing the assent of the Food Controller. Presumably the hon. Gentleman means that there will be no large departure of policy from the existing methods without consulting and securing the assent of the Food Controller. But 1544 surely he does not wish us to understand that there can be no routine measures undertaken or minor measures in the day-to-day action of the Board of Agriculture for increasing the home-grown food supply carried forward without first going to the Food Controller and securing his consent? Surely the Board of Agriculture is not going to be turned into a Department of, so to speak, two chambers, where nothing can be done along lines which, it was generally agreed, were obviously desirable to increase the homegrown food supply without securing the assent of a House of Lords in the shape of the Food Controller? The observations of the hon. Gentleman give rise to some uneasiness. I hope he will not lead us to understand that under the new regime the previous freedom of the Board of Agriculture has entirely disappeared and that it is now fettered, and can do nothing without presenting those measures, no matter how detailed they may be, to the approval of another Department.
§ Mr. HOHLER
The question of labour on the land is undoubtedly a most important one. I should not have ventured into this discussion this afternoon were it not that I myself have some practical knowledge of the subject. I heard the Member for Lanarkshire make attacks upon the tribunals in a characteristic speech which, in my judgment, carries no weight whatever with agriculturists. Speaking for myself, I find no fault with the military representative of the tribunal in my own district. I do not pretend to have general knowledge of other tribunals, but I do know there they have almost invariably, though if not in every case, given relief in the matter of agriculture. What we are really suffering from in Kent is quite a matter of another sort. The fact is that in agriculture there were more men employed over the age of forty-one, and aged men, than in any other industry in this country. What has been the result? In the county of Kent relief has been given to men of military age since the Military Service Act came in force who are still on the farms. It is said that in other districts, and from pleasure gardens, men have been taken for military service. They have also been taken from the roads. What is the result? Men in the private enjoyment of the luxury of gardens have probably now men who were perfectly content to earn a good wage on the land. They have left that employments—I refer to men of over 1545 military age—and have gone into the private gardens. The same thing has happened in building operations, and in the brewing business. Milkmen, shepherds, cowmen, have all gone in the same way. That is the real difficulty with which, in my judgment, we ought to deal.
I should think, speaking from what I know from actual experience, that we ought to get some machinery which should say that men suited for a particular class of work shall stay at it, and that the luxury of private gardens should be cut down, so preventing rich men attracting away men from essential occupations. In my own district I have knowledge of men past military age who were engaged in agriculture and who are now working upon the roads. Why? Because the rural district councils could give any wage that they could possibly desire. I do not consider wages in that district are at all bad, running as they do from 25s. to 36s. in haying and harvest, with cottage rents, I think, running only between 2s. and 3s. 6d. Therefore it is not, thus far, a question of wages or housing, but the result of what I have described is that directly labour is taken for essential purposes the men left on the farms, over military age, are attracted away; hence the shortage! The evidence of the intentions of the new Government were contained in the speech of the Prime Minister yesterday when he said that it was one of the early proposals of the Government to deal with this question. That is the real question that ought to be dealt with. These attacks upon the tribunals simply serve the purpose of those who, when these Acts were before the House, such as the Member for Lanarkshire, always talked about the conscription of labour. Now he talks upon a subject he does not fully understand, and gives us a very gloomy picture of the future.
§ Sir WALTER ESSEX
I should like to have a word to say in response to the remarks which fell from the hon. and gallant Member for Sunderland (Colonel Sir H. Greenwood). There is nothing like leather. At the time when these tribunals were set up, I believe the hon. Baronet was himself at Whitehall, engaged in duties there which, I have no doubt, he discharged with his usual thoroughness and ability. But I rise to say a few words so that his statement may not be regarded as the final statement on this question, notwithstanding his experience of the action of tribunals 1546 on the military side. My hon. Friend, who gave us a very valuable contribution in his remarks about the diversion of labour from agriculture into other pursuits, also said that his experience had been, on the whole, that the military action of the tribunals had been fair. My observation of several districts is the entire opposite of that. I have found the military representatives overbearing. I can give cases where farms have been stripped needlessly. The hardship comes from the very fact that, while it is true in some districts the tribunal has acted fairly and considerately, a violent contrast is set up in others, where you have everyone who comes forward to seek exemption browbeaten, his claim ignored, and he is rushed off into the Army. Those of us who are employers of labour know how this thing operates, and I should not have spoken now, having already referred to this matter, were it not that the principle is going to be widely extended to a very considerable degree under provisions associated with this Bill. Other tribunals will be called into being, and let it be understood clearly, without any doubt, that if many of the experiences which are causing heart-burning and smarting up and down the country from the action of the military representatives on tribunals, should be repeated to any extent in any tribunals that may be set up to deal with the conscription of labour which is proposed, there will be trouble in this country, which will make the difficulty of the Government and the difficulty of carrying on the War well nigh insuperable. It is well we should have regard to these things in time, and remember there is a limit beyond which you may not put a strain upon the people of this country.
§ Mr. L. SCOTT
I ask leave to withdraw the Amendment, being satisfied with the declaration made by the President of the Board of Agriculture.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. PETO
I beg to move, after the word "him" ["by Order in Council, transfer to him"], to insert the words "and particularly all the powers of the Secretary of State for War in relation to the employment of prisoners of war in agriculture."
I asked a question this afternoon with regard to the employment of prisoners of war, and I was told by the Financial Secretary to the War Office that he had no information to show that farmers were required to find lodgings for prisoners of war without payment. That is a very 1547 small part of the matter. I want to tell the House what is going on at the present moment to show how unsuitable the War Office is for dealing with this question of the employment of prisoners of war in agriculture. The House has been greatly interested for the last hour and a half in the question of labour raised by the last Amendment, but undoubtedly in the direction of prisoners of war we have one of the most fruitful fields for recruiting agricultural labour, if properly handled. I submit that is an essential thing which should be transferred at once from the War Office authorities to the Controller of Food, and my reason is this: Only last week there were meetings in various parts of the Southern Command, particularly in Wiltshire, which I know best, when the General Officer Commanding, Southern Command, announced the conditions under which these prisoners could be employed. The conditions were as follows: The two important ones are:The rate of pay to be paid for the service?: of the prisoners of war would be the same as the current rates for similarly skilled English employés.The arrangements for the feeding of the prisoners and their guards would be made for them by the military authorities; the lodging arrangements by the farmers.There is not a word there to show that the military authorities would pay for the lodgings. It is obvious that, what with the difficulties of language and their being unaccustomed to our English ways, even if they are very willing, those men cannot at first, and I should think for a very long time, be anything approaching the value of English labourers, and yet the War Office insist that the full rate should be paid. The result is that none are employed, and the whole thing is hung up.
Therefore, I want somebody like the hon. Member for Wilton, who would act in this matter under the Food Controller, who knows what the value of agricultural labour is, who knows from his own practical experience what the difficulty would be of using on a farm half a dozen or ten foreigners. One farmer said, "We should be half the week chasing the beggars over the farm." Their labour could easily be offered cheaper at first, and then the authorities could put up the price later when the men were worth it. That is not the only sphere in* which the War Office are treading on the toes, so to speak, of the Controller. The Government appear to have no lack of experts. There was an announcement in yesterday's "Times" of 1548 Mr. Trustram Eve's appointment. He is appointed by the War Office to take steps to increase the production of oats for Army requirements. Mr. Trustram Eve is going off on a tangent, in his own direction, to produce more oats for the Army, and there is the Food Controller dealing with the whole question of food production of all sorts for man and beast. I do beg that the right hon and learned Gentleman, the Home Secretary, will accept this very simple little Amendment. Let us show that, so far as the employment of labour in agriculture, so far as the matters that directly concern the Department of the Food Controller are concerned, we shall eliminate one, at any rate, of the five authorities who are working concurrently to carry on the same work. I do want the Food Controller to have the first and last say in that, matter. He is the only person who can tell what the labour is worth, and unless worth the wages it will not be employed, though it is most important it should be employed. Therefore I ask the right hon. Gentleman to accept these words and give us a proof of his good intentions of making this Bill as simple as possible.
§ Mr. ASHLEY
I beg to second the Amendment. I think that this Amendment is one of very considerable importance, and one which ought to receive the very careful consideration of the Government. We have had some very interesting and instructive speeches during the last hour and a half, and, if I may say so, some very alarming speeches, as to the position of our food supply. The burden of all these speeches has been that we must, by some means or other, have more people to work on the land, whether it be by keeping labourers on the land who are there, or by bringing back labourers from the Army, or by using women labour, but more labour must be got if we are to increase the food supply of this country, which is a vital matter. I am very glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Peto) has brought this question up, because we have here put into our hands a very large supply of adult able-bodied labour which we can use, which all other nations who are at war have used, but which we, for some unaccountable reason, have neglected to utilise to the best advantage. How many thousands of prisoners we have I cannot say, because it is a matter of common knowledge that they are not all in this country.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. ASHLEY
As my hon. Friend says, there are 5,000 in the Southern Command, many being at Dorchester, which is a very central position. I do put it to the House and to the Home Secretary that the War Office is, from its very nature, not the office which should have the distribution and the laying down of conditions under which these men should be employed. These men are available, and we ought to use them at once. It is criminal neglect on the part of the late Government that these men have not been used at all, and the proper people to utilise them are the responsible officials who have charge of agriculture and food supply. Whether it be the President of the Board of Agriculture or the Food Controller I am not going to decide, but it ought to be somebody who is connected with the food supply. And yet we have those men left in charge of the military authorities, which might be right so far as prisoners' camps are concerned, but the whole arrangements of offering them to the farmers and landowners of the country are left in the hands of the military authorities. The consequence is that the military authorities do not push the matter. It does not matter to the military authorities officially whether we have any food or not. All that they have to do is to see we have enough soldiers, and Armies equipped to meet the enemy. Officially they do not care where the food comes from. It is obvious that the War Office will not take any active steps, unless they are pushed, to put these prisoners out on the land. Therefore we have the ridiculous position in the Southern Command that the farmer has to pay these exorbitant rates, and provide lodgings for these prisoners of war, and also, I presume, provide lodging for the non-commissioned officers who will come with the men. It is evident that, even if those men were able to do the work and were able to speak English, they would cost more than the English agricultural labourer. Surely it is ridiculous, on the face of it, that for a German prisoner of war, who naturally is not going to over-exert himself more than he can possibly help, who very likely has not been an agricultural labourer to begin with, and has got to learn his job, to whom an order has to be given through an interpreter, the farmer should be asked to pay the same price as for an able-bodied 1550 adult English agricultural labourer. Whether or not the Government accepts this Amendment, which I regard as a very great improvement, and as going direct to the root of the matter of supply of labour, I do ask that they should take steps at once. I see the Secretary for War here, and I put it to him whether this Amendment is accepted or not, that he should impress upon the Southern Command that the rates of pay they lay down are ridiculous, that the provision of lodgings by the farmer, without some contribution by the State, is absurd, and that it is essential at once in the Southern Command and in the counties he has mentioned to do this, otherwise a very serious injury will be done to the country.
§ Mr. JAMES HOPE (Lord of the Treasury)
I have been associated with one or two Departments dealing with this question of prisoners of war, and my right hon. Friend has asked me to say a word or two on this matter. There is a good deal of force in some of the criticisms which have been made, and undoubtedly the regulations already made will, in some particulars, have to be reconsidered. I think, however, that some of my hon. Friends have fallen into a misconception as to the number of prisoners now available. The number of military prisoners not employed, or already arranged to be employed, on works of national importance is not more than 6,000. With regard to civilians they come under a different category of national law, and I am speaking only of military prisoners. Of these the reservoir is by no means so great as my hon. Friends suppose. Within the last day or two this matter has occupied the very close attention of the Secretary of State. Hitherto these subjects have been considered and as far as possible dealt with by the Committee of which my hon. Friend was the Chairman, but obviously now that Committee will have to be reconstituted. I hope that will be done and the Committee reconstituted with a somewhat wider scope in a very few days, and then they can consider the applications made from different parts of the country and advise the War Office upon them. Of course, as to leading decisions it may be necessary to refer to the War Council. I ought to say that it is not from agriculture that all the demands come for these prisoners, for there have been demands from the docks and for other matters.
§ Mr. HOPE
Those are matters which my hon. Friend's Committee have considered and they are what the Committee, which is being reorganised, will have to consider. They will have to get a ruling, if necessary, from the War Council itself. That I hope will put the matter into proper shape. With regard to this Amendment it will confer powers on the Controller which ought not to belong to him. The War Office is necessarily the custodian of these prisoners, and to give power to another body to take the prisoners out of all these camps and employ them as they wish would lead to the very greatest friction. Therefore, I submit that this is not a practical proposition. If such power ought to be given to anybody, it should be given to the Board of Agriculture. It is not, however, only agriculture that makes these demands, and other Departments are concerned. To give these extensive powers against the War Office to other Departments is really not practical politics, and I am sorry that the Government cannot accept this Amendment.
§ Amendment negatived.
I beg to move to leave out Clause 6.
I make this Motion purely formally with the object of obtaining from the Home Secretary an answer to one or two questions which I venture to address to him as to the powers of the Shipping Controller. I should like to know if the right hon. Gentleman is now in a position to tell me whether the Shipping Controller will have control of all shipping to the extent of the supply of transport for Army purposes; whether it will rest with the Shipping Controller to decide whether or not those vessels which are being used by the Army and by the Navy are being put to the best use—that is to say, whether there is any waste or lack of economy in the use of the tonnage? I think it is important that we should know whether he would have the power to withdraw from the naval or the military service vessels which are not being put to the best use. I should also like to know whether the Shipping Controller is to have the power to exercise the functions now performed by the Marine Department of the Board of Trade? For instance, I would like to know, would the mercantile marine offices be under him? Would the construction branch of the Marine Department be under the Shipping Controller or 1552 would it remain under the President of the Board of Trade? Would the technical officers who represent the Marine Department in the various shipbuilding centres be subject to his control and instructions or would they be subject to the Board of Trade? Might I also ask if the administration of the Merchant Shipping Acts will rest with the Shipping Controller? For instance, would it be open to the Shipping Controller by his own decree to raise the load-line of vessels which go to sea, whether in winter or summer, or would that have to be done by the Board of Trade? Might I also ask whether the working arrangement which has existed informally for certainly the last eighteen months between the Admiralty and the Board of Trade with regard to new construction is to continue as between the Admiralty and the Board of Trade, or whether there is to be any reallocation or resorting of the duties?
Finally, I should like to inquire whether the Joint Committee of the Admiralty and the Board of Trade which has been dealing with shipbuilding labour and shipbuilding material, and which, I believe, was responsible for putting merchant shipbuilding material at the head of the priority list, is to continue as part of the shipbuilding branch or remain as part of the duty of the Board of Trade? When the Bill was introduced no information was given, and it may be that my right hon. Friend is not in a position to answer all these categorical questions. I ask these questions now in the hope that the right hon. Gentleman may give us some guidance, and because of the very natural anxiety in shipbuilding and shipping circles outside as to the functions which will be performed by the Shipping Controller, because they naturally wish to know whether they are going on having their dealings on these purely technical points with the Board of Trade or the Shipping Controller. The Committees which have been principally responsible for the control of shipping, I suppose, will go on as before. They are the Shipping Control Committee, the Licensing Committee, and the Requisitioning Committee, and there is also the Port and Transit Committee. I presume these will all go on as before. Some doubt will arise as to the position of the Port and Transit Committee. The Board of Trade has always been the authority for dealing with matters concerning ports and harbours. 1553 Will the Port and Transit Committee be under the Shipping Controller in the future or under the Board of Trade? I do not put these questions to consume time, but with the object of getting as much information as possible as to the functions to be performed by the Shipping Controller.
§ Sir G. CAVE
I am very desirous of responding to the questions which have been raised by the right hon. Gentleman, but I regret that some Amendment in his name does not appear on the Paper. If I had had the least idea until five minutes ago that I should be asked these questions, I should have armed myself with information that would have given a full answer to the right hon. Gentleman and the House. As things stand, I must be careful and not give a reply on some of the points until I get further information. I will not now attempt to answer in detail the questions which the right hon. Gentleman has very naturally put to me. I would, however, ask the House to remember the purposes for which the Shipping Controller is to be appointed. He has to deal with the maintenance of shipping and the use of all the available shipping. I understand the Order in Council dealing with this matter has not yet been officially framed. I believe, however, that the ordinary work of the Board of Trade in connection with shipping will not be disturbed, and the powers to be transferred to the Shipping Controller are powers which he may use for War purposes during the War. The ordinary administration of the Merchant Shipping Act I should think would remain with the Board of Trade.
§ Sir G. CAVE
I do not think it possible that the powers of the Board of Trade in that resepct would be taken away. If it became necessary for the purposes of the War for the Shipping Controller to make any changes in the load-line, the Controller could make arrangements with the Board of Trade. Such things as working arrangements between the Board of Trade and the Admiralty would be within the power of the Shipping Controller. So would such questions as the continuance of the Committees mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman for War purposes. He would deal with such questions as the waste in the use of tonnage. In all matters involving 1554 the use and supply of shipping which is of great moment for War purposes the voice of the Shipping Controller will be very weighty indeed. I do not wish to commit myself, but, subject to what I have said, the desire would be to leave untouched the ordinary powers of the Board of Trade. I am sorry I cannot answer all the points raised by my right hon. Friend, but I shall be glad to supply him later with the information.
§ Colonel YATE
Yesterday I was informed, in reply to a question, that there were no less than fifty British vessels trading between neutral ports. I would like to know if the Shipping Controller has power to utilise those ships for the purpose of bringing food and raw material to this country instead of trading between neutral ports?
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I would like to make a few observations upon the new office which is being created under this Clause and upon the powers conferred upon the holder of that office. It seems to me that the most important thing in connection with the Shipping Controller is that he should really control shipping. One of the misfortunes from which we have suffered during this War is that the civilian department which had control of shipping had only a very limited influence with the Admiralty in securing the economical use of such shipping as was being employed for military and naval purposes. The House therefore will desire to know that in the new arrangement which the new Government have in view the Shipping Controller will certainly be more powerful than the Board of Trade has been in seeing that British shipping will not be wasted as it has been in the past. I do not know exactly how the new Shipping Controller will be able to exercise his authority. In the past there has always been a right of appeal to the War Council. One could see from the public prints day by day that the late President of the Board of Trade, although not formally a Member of the War Council, was frequently in attendance and could thereby make his voice heard on that Council. Will the new Shipping Controller be equally powerful? Certainly the former holder of the office could have some influence on policy, and, after all, it is upon policy that the use of shipping mainly depends. Here we have a Shipping Controller who, as a mere Departmental head, is going to have no control over policy whatever. He may see thousands 1555 of tons taken away from his control by a mere stroke of the pen of the War Council and not have the right to raise a word of protest. The late President of the Board of Trade could at least have some influence upon policy. The new man has none. Consequently, it is all the more important that the new Shipping Controller should have greater powers in respect of the Admiralty use of tonnage than was enjoyed either by the Board of Trade or by any of the existing Committees. I hope, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to give an assurance to the House that in respect of the economical use of shipping the Shipping Controller will not be simply a name, but will be a reality.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.