§ Sir J. D. REES
I do not intend to follow the hon. Member for Wandsworth (Mr. S. Samuel) in his rather extensive survey, but when he said that the members of the Committee who recommended the establishment of the trade bank were unacquainted with business and desired, as I understood him to say, to some extent to make arrangements that that business should be confined to their own interest, I think that was a statement which carried with it its own refutation, and I think my hon. Friend, on consideration, will wish to withdraw what he said.
§ Sir J. D. REES
I accept what the hon. Member says, but he must remember that they were very able City men who composed that Committee, and that the chairman was, by common consent, regarded as one of the most eminent men in the City and one of the most popular and efficient Members of this House. I do not intend to follow that subject, nor the speech of the representative of the Shipping Department, who dealt with a very difficult subject, but I beg the representative of the Shipping Department, when he is making these arrangements for the con-duet of trade, not to forget the growing cotton trade of Nyasaland, which is an extremely important factor in the supply of cotton, because it supplies a kind of cotton which is not produced anywhere else in the British Empire. The restriction of imports falls heavily no doubt upon any trade affected. There is one trade which it threatens with something like extinction, or at anyrate with disas- 1420 trous loss, and that is the coffee trade of Southern India. The total output of coffee for a year is something like 5,000 tons. The coffee that comes into the country from Southern India is the coffee we all drink, and is the coffee most popular in this country. The Santos and Rio coffee from Brazil which is used to mix with the coffee of Southern India and with the better kinds of coffee is of a very inferior kind, as the hon. Gentleman opposite, to whom this is A B C, will confirm me. Though there is a very large stock of these inferior coffees in the country, and though the crop of Brazilian coffee was something like 1,000,000 tons last year, there is a complete deficiency of Indian coffee, which is the coffee the people of this country are accustomed to drink and what they require. There are only about 300 tons in the country and there are about 4,000 tons which we want to get into the country.
These planters consist of some of the most loyal citizens of Imperial Britain that exist. They live in Mysore State, the Maharajah of which is one of the most loyal friends of this country, and has done much to serve this country in this War in his degree. They have had two bad seasons and they look to recoup themselves in the present season when they have a good crop. Though this scorns a small thing from an all-British point of view, it is everything to them. When their crop comes down to the coast, though coffee is a substance which absolutely improves by keeping in this temperate climate it undergoes rapid deterioration and becomes almost useless if it is kept after the end of next May on the damp coast of Malabar to which it is sent. It is not saleable elsewhere, because it is the most expensive kind of coffee in the world. Only this country has been accustomed to use it and pay for it, and if the planters do not sell their coffee—it is a mere trifle of some 4,000 tons—before the end of May, something like ruin will stare them in the face. I beg the House to consider that this is a subject to which I refer on behalf of people who are hardly ever mentioned here. Probably the last time the British planter was mentioned was when I mentioned him some years ago before the War. He is now threatened with something like ruin. I would urge that coffee is something like a food, and I would recommend that to my hon. Friend who represents the Food Department.
1421 I do not wish to condemn Government Departments. I believe that they are doing well in extremely difficult circumstances. I do not agree with the line taken by the hon. Member for Wandsworth (Mr. S. Samuel). I admit that they have endeavoured to meet the case of the planters by allowing free export of anything which is exported before a certain date, 24th February. But I doubt perhaps if they are so conscious as I am—who have had my bones broken in country carts without springs over roads without metal in this country—of how long it takes to bring this coffee down from places where there are no roads and no railways to this Malabar coast. I hope that my hon. Friend will extend the time. The Government are going to prohibit the import of this coffee into England. What is to become of the steamers which have already been chartered under contract by the planters? I think that there is a very great danger of this happening, which the Departments would deeply regret, that a message may go out to recall the steamers which are on their way to the Eastern ports and that they may actually come back with empty spaces which would otherwise have been filled in at the very last port which they visit by an easily distributed cargo of bags of coffee containing a small amount per bag. All I ask is that the special circumstances should be so far considered that these steamers which are in the habit of calling at the Malabar coast up to and including the middle of May should be allowed to go there and load this coffee and take it home, so that these loyal planters may not lose their living and that the people of this country may not lose their coffee.
My right hon. Friend, seeing that I have finished with coffee, thinks that I have done with all the substances that I am going to bring before the House. But I will only venture to trespass for one moment on the special question of tea. Some 15,000,000 lbs. per month are allowed to come into this country. Of that, 6,000,000 are allocated to the Army, leaving 9,000,000 to feed the civil population. Of this 9,000,000 some 40 per cent. is to be allocated by a Control Committee to different retail agencies throughout the country. I understand that the producers are to be allowed to make up their parcels of tea as best they may, so as to produce a tea at 1s. a pound for the purpose of being allocated by this Control Committee. Thereby they will be at a loss of some 3d. 1422 or 3½d. per pound, of which they do not complain, provided that it is understood in respect of this matter that they are perfectly free to deliver this tea together in such a manner as is most convenient to them, and are not compelled to deliver the highest class of tea which would realise a very much higher price. It has been suggested by my hon. Friend on the Irish Bench (Mr. Flavin) that the tea industry has been engaged in cornering tea to the great disadvantage of the public. If that were so I should sympathise entirely with my hon. Friend. But I think that it will be found, and that the hon. Member in charge of the Food Department will admit, that no such thing has happened. There has only been one operation to corner tea, and that", curiously enough, was carried out by one of these huge co-operative societies who pay no Income Tax, and are able by their power and influence to carry on operations of this sort; and, even though they were successful in buying one-fifth of the whole amount, and in bidding for one-half, so well did the tea distributers and retailers behave that they did not add to the prices charged to the public except to a very small fractional extent, so that the price to the public was raised in a very small degree by those operations. I expect to hear my hon. Friend admit, as the Committee which he appointed did, that there has been no cornering of tea to such an extent as to raise the price on the public.
§ Mr. FLAVIN
Is the hon. Member aware that the Mincing Lane market has raised the price of tea, and tea in bond has been increased since last October by 8d. a lb?
§ Sir J. D. REES
Quite naturally, the price of tea has gone up. It would have been extraordinary if it had not. But that has not been the result of operations such as those referred to by my hon. Friend in his accusations against the tea trade. I am not responsible for the retail tea trade. I know something about it, as I know something about the production, but I merely point out that this is an unjust aspersion upon the distributers and retailers of tea, and I ask my hon. Friend to look into it as a fair-minded man, and he will admit that that is the case As regards imports, the hon. Gentleman who spoke here gave very good reasons for limiting the imports. I am the last man to object to that. Still, there are some superfluous imports coming into this 1423 country. For instance, I think that some of the indiarubber tyres that come in without any let or hindrance might be reduced and a little room made for more bags of coffee. An arrangement was made, I understand, with Americans to supply us with rubber tyres, but I should like less rubber and more Indian coffee coming into this country. Another subject to which I wish to call attention is the issue of licences to trade in enemy dyestuffs. This has given rise to a great deal of difficulty among our indigo growers, whose indigo crops remain unsold. If the hon. Gentleman will look into that he will find that this state of things is keenly resented by the producers of indigo, who have suffered severely and who are reduced to ruin by the invention of aniline dyes. I ask him to redress that grievance, and to look into the matter. I have suggested to the Department concerned that coffee is food; and nobody can deny that beer is also food, but there is a very great restriction on beer, and the resulting high prices of beer account as much as anything else for the labour unrest which we always deprecate at a time like this. I ask the hon. Gentleman to consider the case of dye-stuffs and the case of coffee, which I have dealt with at greater length. I do beg the House to consider the fact that the coffee trade is absolutely threatened with extinction. The growers cannot borrow money on their crops, which are lying idle. They cannot, as has been suggested, send their crops from the Malabar coast right across India to the Coromandel coast, and nobody who understands the distance, the expense, and the difficulty would ever suggest it.
§ 10.0 p.m.
§ Mr. LOUGH
I desire to call the attention of the House to matters connected with the Food Control Department. There is no doubt that the task of the Departments which are concerned in this question is a very heavy one and very onerous. In one or two respects there has been negligence, and in one or two instances they have been over fussy, interfering where it was not necessary to interfere, so that the result has been rather disappointing to the country. I propose to mention one or two of the larger matters, and ask questions upon them, and then come to a subject with which I am more particularly acquainted. There have been many questions asked why the Food Controller should not interfere with the price of 1424 wheat in this country, and the consequent great rise in the price of bread. A very useful Committee was appointed by the late Government to consider food prices, and that Committee produced no less than three Reports. The second Report was almost entirely devoted to wheat, and it gave a very specific recommendation on the 15th November, and it has received no attention from the hon. Gentleman or his Department ever since. The Report of the Committee referred to the rise in the price of home-grown supplies of wheat, and expressed opinion that there should be some controlling action, and they said:We recommend the Goverment to immediately fix such maximum price for homo-grown wheat as will protect the public while securing the farmer a reasonable profit.I do not want to elaborate the point, which has been the subject of numerous questions, though I do not think the answers by the Government have been quite satisfactory. These matters cannot be dealt with by question and answer. Maximum prices are fixed in regard to other products—such as tea, for example—yet nothing has been done with regard to the price of wheat. At the time the Report was presented the price was 60s. a quarter, and it is now 90s. a quarter. Surely, it is time that definite action was taken with regard to that matter! I ask my hon. Friend why this definite recommendation of the Committee was not taken up? Then as regards the thinning stream of potatoes, the general feeling in the country is that the action of the Government with regard to potatoes has not been successful. I would like to say that, looking back on all that has been done in the past three months, in no unfriendly spirit, I think it would have been much better if potatoes had been left alone. My belief is that if you had not touched then, at all the stock of potatoes would not have gone out so soon, and there would not have been the complaint and friction, and perhaps almost panic, that existed in some quarters with regard to this matter.
The third commodity I want to mention is very familiar to the House, namely, sugar. I do not think that the Government are getting on too good with regard to sugar, and I think they ought to restore as soon as possible liberty of importation with regard to that product. What has been the course of action of the Government with regard to sugar? Ever since the War broke out they have monopolised the control of distribution, with the result 1425 that sugar has increased in price more than anything else. Sugar has gone up 170 per cent. simply because the Government has interfered with the people of this country in regard to it. I do not suggest that the Government can give no assistance. If in the early stages of the War they could have put the sugar on the market, no one would have found fault with them, but for them, to have monopolised the sugar trade in the way they did was a great mistake. I should like to give some figures with regard to this matter. In the eleven months, January to November, 1913, that was before the War, the import of sugar was 1,750,000 tons, and in the same period last year it was 1,440,000 tons. This shows that there was only a reduction of one-sixth in the import of sugar during that War period, and these figures do not justify reducing the public supply by 25 per cent., and threatening still further to reduce it by 40 per cent. I believe if liberty were restored for handling this article to the consumer the effect would be that the shortage would be put an end to in many parts of the country, and a great many public complaints would disappear. There is one other remark I want to make about sugar. The Government have professed constantly their great sympathy with the people in the matter of high prices, and yet they have put an extra tax upon the commodity which is directly responsible for 25 per cent. of the increased price. It could do something to reduce the price of sugar by reducing the tax upon it. It may be said we want the money; no doubt we do, but there are many other ways of getting money without imposing this great pressure upon the people. I hope I have satisfied the House that there is room for consideration of the action of the Government in this matter, especially as the date of the Budget is approaching.
Now I come to another great commodity in which I am not very largely interested, although I know a great deal about it. I consider that the Government have been particularly unhappy in their dealings with tea. I hope my hon. Friend will not take offence at my saying that, in my opinion, the Government have been stampeded in taking action by interrogatories addressed to them at Question Time in this House when suggestions were made which were without foundation. Their action has not tended to reduce prices; it has rather tended to increase the difficulty and to create scarcity. There has been a 1426 substantial increase in the price, yet tea continues to be very cheap in this country at this moment. It is a notorious fact that it is being sold everywhere in the country at, roughly, 2s. 4d. per lb. It carries a shilling duty for the Government, and the increase freightage amounts to 4d. Take 1s. 4d. off the selling price, and you get the tea distributed at a 1s. per lb. everywhere in this country in the midst of the greatest war we have ever faced. If this House desires, as I am sure it does, to know the truth about this question, and if it desires, too, that there should be reasonable prices—
§ Mr. FLAVIN
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman, who is an expert in the matter, the actual increase in the price of tea in the last twelve months?
§ Mr. LOUGH
My hon. Friend the Member for North Kerry (Mr. Flavin) has been one of the culprits. He has asked some of these startling questions. My hon. Friend cannot be expected to know everything, although he very nearly does, but he certainly cannot be familiar with the details of this question. The hon. Member for North Kerry asked if he knew that the price of tea had greatly advanced, and my hon. Friend gave a very bad reply. He said the Food Controller was of opinion that there was no ground for a certain increase in prices which had taken place. Now the hon. Member for Kerry asks what the increase has been. My reply is that it has been 2½d. per lb.
§ Mr. LOUGH
I am giving the correct figures. I repeat, the hon. Member stated that tea had gone in price, and the Food Controller in consequence made a mistake. If my Noble Friend, with whom I have the greatest sympathy, had taken the opportunity of consulting the great business organisation with which he was long connected, he would not have given the incorrect answer he did. But what did he do? He said he would reduce the price to 2s. per lb. He now finds he cannot do it, and it is 2s. 4d. per lb. In reality no reduction can be made whatever, because of the way in which the business is conducted. It is conducted so well. I want to go into another point. My hon. Friend 1427 the Member for North Kerry has asked, "What about the paper?" I want to tell the House all about the paper. Tea is distributed in ¼ lb. packets at present in every part of the country, from Newcastle-on-Tyne down to the South, and it is distributed as cheaply in these packets as it is sold at the public sales in Mincing Lane, except in one detail, that the paper is weighed with it.
§ Mr. LOUGH
It comes to 1¼d. or 1½d. per lb. When the hon. Member for West Ham complained of the weighing in of the paper the other day, my hon. Friend said he would put a stop to it, but if he did it would raise the price of tea. The hon. Member for West Ham, when told that, wrung his hand. Yes, but the price of tea is to be raised 2d. in order to get rid of the paper which represents 1¼d. or 1½d., and this is done in order to yield to the clamour raised by ill-informed Members of this House.
§ Mr. LOUGH
I was always against this acute form of competition in tea. When the House inquired into it four years ago, the Committee reported in favour of giving full weight regardless of the paper, and I favoured that action being taken. But the Board of Trade looked into the question, and saw that it was in the best interests of the public that the practice should not be interfered with. The Food Controller said he would not interfere with it, but now he has yielded to the clamour of the hon. Member for North Kerry, and the paper is no longer to be weighed in with the tea. This will inflict a very great blow upon the public. Had the change been made three years ago, it would have been quite reasonable, perhaps, but to make it in the middle of a great war, at a time when paper is not to be wasted, justifies me in saying, I think, that the Food Controller has been stampeded into 1428 making a mistake by questions in this House based upon statements which had no true foundation. I have gone into so much detail because the matter is of some importance. The Food Controller was rushed into what I hope I have satisfied the House to be quite unnecessary interference with tea.
I think I can show that in another way. The average consumption of the working man's family is half a pound per week. If the price had gone up 2d. per lb. that would only be 4s. 4d. per year in the working man's family, and if 4d. it would amount to 8s. 8d. in the year. Having regard to the increase in wages, freight, and duty, I say that the Government should not have allowed itself to be disturbed with regard to the matter, which has been excellently conducted throughout the country. I tell the House with regard to tea, as one not interested in the distribution of tea, and I have never been interested in it, that there is no business carried on as creditably to this country at the present time or for many years past as the distribution of tea. There does not exist in Germany or America or any other country such a good distributing organisation as exists here, and there was not the slightest reason for the Government interfering with it. I believe if they do they will only put a heavy load on the back of the people. The Food Controller called the representatives of the tea trade—brokers, importers, dealers—and said, "You must cut the price down." As the hon. Member told us, they met him in a very patriotic spirit. They said, "Do whatever you like in this great War and we will help you to carry it out." That is the spirit in which everybody in the tea trade has acted with regard to the Government since the War broke out. Whatever the Government wish to do they will agree to it and they will try to make it a success, and if it is not quite a success it will not be their fault, because they gave the Government good advice, as I am doing here to-night. The Government said you must have 40 per cent. at a 1s. per lb. The Government also said it does not matter what common tea it is. There is no bargain in common tea at a 1s. per lb. The people do not want common tea; it must be good. This sudden interference of the Government to give an indifferent quality of tea will not be acceptable to any person. They have established a Control Committee and 1429 their duty is to sell the tea first to the wholesale dealers and they are to guarantee it is to reach the public. In all this dealing with wholesale prices you are not able to make certain that the people will get any advantage. I would like the Parliamentary Secretary to tell the House how this advantage will reach the public, because I am sure he does not intend to benefit the dealer, the merchant, or the importer, but wants the public to receive some benefit. I doubt if they will get any.
§ Mr. ARTHUR RICHARDSON
May I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman suggests that this advantage is given in the weight that the consumer may not get the advantage but that it may go to the wholesaler.
§ Mr. LOUGH
I will take the hint and leave the hon. Member to speak for himself. An hon. Member opposite referred to a statement in the Report of the Committee on tea prices, as follows:It has been strongly represented in evidence that the rise in price is largely due to heavy operations during certain months by particular tea brokers.Now, I do not believe in putting the blame on a broker in this way, because it is notorious that if there was a culprit in this matter it was the Wholesale Co-operative Society. I would ask whether there was not a member of that society, which is the greatest trading concern in England, and which deals with more tea than any other business, on the Committee, and should not the Committee have obtained from the society an account of that transaction? Because they report here that the price was raised a penny a pound and more by this broker. I do not believe in setting up dummies. Let us get at the root of matters. I do think, as there was a representative of the Wholesale Cooperative Society, which is the great organisation of the working men of the country, that if the Report finds that their agent put up the price of tea, the Report ought to state it plainly and not put the blame on to a poor broker, but on to this great and wealthy society which was responsible for the action taken.
There is one other matter I would like to deal with, and that is in regard to hoarding; and here I want to give a 1430 warning to the Food Controller. About three or four weeks ago there was another attempt made to stampede him, and a reply was given that nobody should have more than a fortnight's stock of any commodity. I noticed an article in the "Times" next morning—and perhaps more attention was paid to that than to a protest by a poor Member here—but a more foolish statement than that made by a Gentleman in the position of the Food Controller could not be made to a reasonable assembly. Take the case of tea. A fortnight's stock of tea is a quarter of a, pound. Is nobody to buy more than a quarter of a pound of tea? A fortnight's stock of cocoa is an ounce, and of coffee half an ounce. How can you say it is hoarding to buy a little more than those quantities? The truth is that this idea seems to be borrowed from slum shops in large cities, because in country places farmers cannot go in so frequently for their commodities, and all this about hoarding is, I will not say perfect nonsense, but at least a very dangerous proposition to advance. If these stocks do exist, they will be a very useful reserve for this country to have. They prevent people coming for supplies, and if there should arise a period of great scarcity that would be the time to look into it, but to begin early and threaten people that they must not have more than a fortnight's stock is a most foolish proceeding. I will only say in conclusion that the distributive organisation of food throughout this country is an extraordinarily good organisation. There are the Wholesale. Co-operative Society, the other co-operative societies, and the great businesses well known to everybody. So far as I know, there has been no profiteering during the War. The profits in these businesses have not increased materially; indeed, I do not think they have increased at all, and many of them have been reduced very much, while they have all served the country well and recognise that they have a patriotic duty to perform as well as that of carrying on their business. I earnestly appeal to my hon. Friend not to interfere without sufficient thought and without being quite sure that he will be able to substitute a better system than that which exists at the present time.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. G. Roberts)
The hon. Gentleman who represents the Food Controller will no doubt in due course reply to my right hon. 1431 Friend opposite. I only intervene for a few minutes to make a brief reply to one or two questions introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for East Nottingham (Sir J. D. Rees). He was good enough to give me notice of his intention, and I promised to reply. One point he submitted to our notice was respecting licences to trade with the enemy in dye-stuffs. I have to give him an assurance that all licences to import German dye-stuffs were revoked in March, 1915, and no licences of this description have since been issued. All importation of goods ordered under revoked licences were to be completed within a reasonable period. It is safe to say that no such importations have been made under the authority of the Board of Trade for well over a year. In respect to the importation of coffee from India everybody is aware of the interest of the hon. Member in the question. He also knows that the importation of coffee from all sources was prohibited by the Proclamation of 23rd February last. He informed us that the greater part of the Indian crop is brought to the coast of India before the middle of May, and that unless it is taken away round about that time it is liable to suffer materially from the monsoon. Of this year's crop 1,100 tons were in transit to Calcutta at the time the prohibition was imposed. It will consequently be admitted, in accordance with the general regulations governing the administration of that import prohibition. There are 3,000 tons more to come. That figure, I think, the hon. Member himself mentioned. The Board of Trade has been in communication with the India Office concerning this matter, and it is now recommended, with the concurrence of the India Office, that the importation be permitted of not more than 50 per cent. of the total crop, that is, 2,050 tons out of the 4,100 tons which constituted the crop. This, of course, includes the 1,100 tons already mentioned. This, therefore, will allow a further 950 tons to come in. The hon. Member will, I think, at least appreciate the fact that we understand he has a case, and that we have made an honest endeavour to meet him in the matter.
A speech was delivered by the hon. Member for Wandsworth which, I presume, one also may describe as of a disinterested kind. He may be regarded as not without authority in the matter. I only propose to deal with one portion of 1432 the speech, that of his criticisms upon the proposed establishment of trade banks. He said that probably the Board of Trade and the other Government Departments had never heard of these banks. I think my hon. Friend the Member for East Nottingham reminded the hon. Member for Wandsworth that the proposal for trade banks is a result of the recommendations of a strong Committee, presided over by Lord Faringdon, which was appointed to consider requirements in the way of financial facilities for British trade. Everybody, I think, will acknowledge that Lord Faringdon and his Committee can at least be regarded as not Licking in authority on this subject. A bank with a capital of £10,000,000 is not likely to have a monoply of financial operations, nor is it intended that it should have such a monoply. Respecting the other matter raised by the hon. Member for Wandsworth, it has been the subject of some correspondence between himself and the Board of Trade, and I had concluded that the misunderstanding that exists in his mind had been removed before now, but it appears from the speech he has delivered to-night that such has not been the case, and I fear-that, even if I occupied the House for a long time to-night, I would not effect any progress with him. I can only say that I feel he is labouring under a misapprehension. There has certainly been no intention on the part of the Board of Trade to discriminate as between Japanese and British traders, and I feel that when he reconsiders the matter he will acknowledge that no such discrimination has actuated the Board of Trade.
§ Mr. ANDERSON
We have been discussing for some time the food question, but not, I think, from an entirely satisfactory point of view. One hon. Member actually rose in his place and used his influence as a Member of Parliament to suggest that Government ships should be specially placed at his disposal for the purpose of bringing his dates to this country. I do suggest that it is degrading the function and work of the House of Commons if private interests are to intervene in that way for the purpose of furthering their own ends. The hon. Baronet the Member for Nottingham is exceedingly interested in the tea trade, and exceedingly anxious to preserve the honour of the tea trade, and we recognise he is likely to be so when we find he is a director of fourteen different companies, 1433 including three or four tea companies. We can quite understand the standpoint from which he regards these things. But I do wish to suggest that Members in this House, at any rate, should, in all these matters, disregard personal interests, and regard these questions purely from the standpoint of the national interest.
I want to raise the question of the food supply and the food distribution, and I want, if I may, to speak a word of restraint, warning, and counsel to the Government in regard to the matter of industrial unrest in certain areas, and especially munition areas, at the present time. The food problem is becoming a serious problem for many of our working people. Since the outbreak of war the price of the 4-lb. loaf has gone up in London from 5½d. to 1s., and the bread is of a coarser quality. It may be a matter of argument as to whether it is less nutritious, but it is certainly of a coarser quality. Wheat prices are soaring mountains high. Wheat actually changed hands the other day at Sheffield at 90s. a quarter, the highest for more than a hundred years. Oats were sold at Berwick the other day at 66s., which is absolutely the highest price on record. And when we come to other foods of working-class consumption, you find in regard to things like potatoes, for example, that there are long queues in London and in other towns, sometimes a quarter to half a mile long, and women and children standing in those queues the whole forenoon on the off-chance of getting a pound or half a pound of potatoes, and at the end finding that there are no potatoes available. I believe that in Manchester the average supply in the working-class districts is I lb. of potatoes, and very often even that is entirely unobtainable. In Tyneside, Sunderland, and other districts we are told of long queues waiting for hours, and of disappointment following the long hours of waiting. Quite recently a deputation of women, many of them the wives of soldiers now in the trenches, went to the Lord Provost of Glasgow in order to tell him their difficulties with regard to food supplies and the shortage. I am sorry to say the Lord Provost of Glasgow, for reasons best known to himself, refused to discuss that question with these women, and he made the remark that food supplies depended upon the elements and upon Almighty God, and that the best thing they could do was to go home and mind their children. 1434 Remarks of that kind at times like the present will not go far to promote good relationship or the right spirit. Vegetables have gone up in price, there is an increasing shortage of margarine, and butter is entirely out of the question in working-class households, and during the last week the price of margarine has increased 4d. per pound.
I do not think the Food Controlling Department is shaping well. We were quite right at the start to wait, because the Food Controller was given an exceedingly difficult job and a new one and there was no precedent as to how to proceed. Consequently he was rather in the position of the blind man tapping in the street with his stick to take soundings as to the path on which he treads. What we complain of is that in this case whilst these tappings are going on the blind man makes no progress. There is a tendency to establish increasing bureaucracy in war-time, but what I am convinced about is that the people will not accept an inefficient and incompetent bureaucracy. and I am afraid if the present state of things goes on we are going to have a superabundance of food controllers and an increasing scarcity of food, as far as the working classes are concerned. I suggest that there is far too much friction and too little close working and co-operation between the different Government Departments, and very often one Department seems to be entirely out of touch with the work of other Departments and that remark applies to the Food Controller's Department as much as any other, and they all appear to be waiting for each other to see what each Department is going to do, and consequently their action is paralysed. They remind me of the story of the Earl of Chatham—who was so often late in keeping appointments that he came to be known as "the late Earl of Chatham" and Sir Richard Strachan about whom the epigram was written;Lord Chatham with his sword undrawn,Keeps waiting for Sir Richard Strachan;Sir Richard longing to be at them,Keeps waiting for the Earl of Chatham.That represents the policy of some of the Government Departments at the present time. Whenever the Government is beset with a certain difficulty they appoint a new controller, and if the difficulty does not yield to this they commandeer an hotel, and if that fails then committees are set up. We actually had the spectacle the other day of one Committee in regard to sugar being set up to 1435 consider what had been done by a previous Committee on sugar to see if another policy might not be adopted. In regard to fish two Committees were appointed on one day—one to consider the supply of fish from fresh water and another the supply from salt water. The position is becoming increasingly serious. Since the outbreak of war the price of foodstuffs has gone up practically 100 per cent., and without going into matters too minutely we know that submarines and raiders are making the position more critical still. I would like to ask the Government whether they are really preparing people for what may be the hard facts ahead of us. We were told the last Government was condemned because it was a "hide the truth" Government and because it always told the pleasant things and kept back the dark side of things. I am convinced that the very worst thing that could happen in this country would be that the people should be involved in a kind of false optimism, and should not be told of any extra hardship they may have to face, or any extra sacrifice they may have to make. Some of us have been hammering away at this question for the past two and a half years. We have urged that the food resources of the nation should be organised and conserved. Sometimes we have been told to wait until June when something might happen, and again we have been told that there could be no revolution in the middle of a great War, although in point of fact in Russia and elsewhere revolutions are taking place during the War, and will probably not be the last revolution that will take place during the War. We have suggested, and I suggest to-night, that men like the farmers and the shipowners ought from the very start of the War to have been regarded as great public servants, and to have been generously treated and paid for their work, but, on the other hand, the element of exploitation ought to have been eliminated altogether. In my opinion there has been too much money made out of the War. There is great public feeling on the matter. In spite of the fact that people find it increasingly difficult to get food, they open their newspapers and read that instead of getting the £86,000,000 the Chancellor of the Exchequer expected to get he has actually got £140,000,000 out of the excess 1436 profits that have been realised, and we know that many more millions have gone into private pockets.
I am convinced that a blind chaotic system is incompatible with the conditions of war, and if the only alternative is a stupid or unimaginative bureaucracy then this country is, indeed, between the Devil and the deep sea. We have got to this point with regard to the food problem. We have some kind of voluntary system of rationing in regard to certain articles of food. I made a speech some time ago at Leicester, and I tried, with a good deal of restraint and without causing panic or alarm, to bring the people face to face with the difficulties. I said that in my opinion—I only gave it as my own opinion; I never pretended to be giving away Government secrets; if I knew them, I should not proclaim them from the public platform—the food problem was such that the Government would be brought to some system of rationing. That was denied, and stated to be unauthorised, but within a few days a voluntary system of rationing was brought about, and it has been tried ever since. The system does not seem to work fairly between the good and the bad citizen. The food problem is changing every day. If to-day you establish rationing in regard to bread and then suddenly potatoes disappear from working class households, are they still expected to go on with their bread rationing, and, if not, how are they going to be advised? There is far more organisation needed. The problem is becoming very difficult throughout the whole of Europe, and famine is beginning to stalk through many countries, not entirely on one side. The Prime Minister would appear to be fully alive to the position with regard to food supplies. In a letter the other day he referred tothe grave perils which threaten our food supply at the present time.What I want to do more particularly tonight is to ask the representative of the Ministry of Food Control what the Government's policy in this matter really is? Can he tell us before we adjourn for the Easter Recess what that policy is exactly and how far it has been carried? I believe a great campaign is to be begun by the Ministry of Food. We are told there are going to be meetings of mayors convened, exhibitions of cookery, a house-to-house canvass, information bureaux, classes, conferences, lectures, armies of helpers for canvassing, speaking and distributing literature. All that means an 1437 enormous amount of energy and expenditure. I am personally convinced that a great deal of it will run to waste. If any attempt is made to deal with the food supplies, there should be some attempt to establish the matter upon a fair basis as between the various sections of the community. The length of a family purse ought not to determine how much food is going into a house. That should not be the test of the amount of food, but rather the actual family needs and requirements. I suggest that the manual workers, who are doing hard physical work, ought to have the first claim on the food supplies of the country. It ought to be seen to that they are well looked after and cared for. Many of them are working long hours of overtime, and giving a large slice of their health, constitution, and strength at the present time. They should have the first claim to whatever food supplies are available. Questions have been raised from time to time about compulsory rationing, food tickets, and so on. I have never committed myself to any particular system in regard to food distribution.
§ Mr. ANDERSON
If the hon. Member who is sitting below the Bar will come inside the House and speak, I will deal with that matter. I am as much opposed as anyone to the idea of setting up in this country some 30,000 new officials to deal with indexing, tickets, and that sort of thing. I do not believe it is necessary. The matter can be carried through without that being done. Let me take as a concrete case the question of sugar distribution. The present system is bad. It is unfair as between the rich and the poor, unfair as between one family and another, and unfair between one district and another. It will lead to a good deal of extravagance because people have to buy other things in order to obtain sugar. It can be carried out through existing agencies, with a check so as to see that each family gets its share of the sugar, and no more than its share. I am convinced that if the traders and the great co-operative societies were called in they would be able to give the Government far more assistance than the Government has yet asked them to give in this matter. It can be reduced practically to a question of arithmetic—how much sugar is available, how many families need it, and how it can be distributed through existing agencies 1438 without calling in the hierarchy of officials, which everybody dreads. The position in regard to sugar appears to rest on the basis of personal honour plus police visits. We are liable to have our houses raided if we have more than a fortnight's supply in our houses. What is to happen in the case of people who, out of their proper allowance, put by a little sugar in order to make jam when the proper season comes? These are the practical difficulties in regard to the matter. One would like the Report of the Food Controller to say, if some family obtaining no more than its fair share of sugar puts by a certain portion of it to make jam when the jam season comes, what would happen to those people in the case of a police raid? I understand that there is a liability to a police raid.
There is one proposal which has come from the Ministry of Food which I want to support very strongly—that is the idea of communal kitchens. If that policy is carried out, it will lead to economy in regard to labour, fuel and food itself. The one thing you must not do is to put about the idea that it is merely a matter for the poor people and that these are to be a kind of soup kitchens for poor people. I see that one was opened to-day in Stepney by Mrs. Lloyd George, and the heading isStepney's Soup Kitchens.Food for the Poor.If a communal kitchen will save great labour of cooking in each home, and if it is a good thing for a poor district, it is a good thing for a rich district as well, and there ought to be no question of charity attached to the matter at all in regard to getting food under the very best conditions. My opinion of public control is that although it is a good thing it must have efficient public control, and I should like to have a much fuller statement than we have had as to the future policy of the Ministry of Food.
The one remaining thing that I want to say is addressed to another Department. I wish to speak a word in regard to the labour unrest in certain districts, and I wish to refer to the fact that upon munition workers, as upon others, there has been this increasing cost of living and scarcity of food supplies. During the last two and a half years there has been a great strain upon munition workers. There have been all sorts of wild, foolish, and exaggerated stories about their having pianos in every house and fine dresses for their wives, and that sort of thing. It is humbug. Some of these men have been 1439 earning very high wages in a purely monetary sense, but they have given a great deal in exchange for it and in many cases their health has been sapped and the sanatoria of this country will be filled with many of these men and women after the War is over. They have given a large slice of their health and strength, and after two and a half years many of them are run down in health, their nerves in certain cases are a bit on edge, and if we require anything at present in regard to dealing with these people, whether it is at Barrow or Sheffield or elsewhere, it requires to be done, so far as the Government is concerned, with insight and human sympathy and imagination; otherwise you will have some trouble. Very often the workpeople are blamed very sternly for going on strike, and I do not believe anyone wants to see strikes added to all the other difficulties which are upon the country at present, but we have a long list of cases where workpeople have tried, not by a strike but by perfectly constitutional means, to get a wrong put right, and sometimes it runs to a matter of six months before their case is heard by arbitration. I could put case after case where four, five, and six months have elapsed after the case has been submitted to arbitration before any kind of conclusion can be reached. That shakes all kind of faith in constitutional action and effort if that sort of thing is going to happen. I see to-day in the "Times" that the employers' assessor raises this very point in dealing with the points at Barrow-in-Furness. Again, you are not going to get on very well if the Government is always standing on its dignity, and you speak about Barrow-in-Furness as though it were Washington, in America, and you know no more about what is happening at Barrow than if it were Washington.
In regard to the Munitions Act there is no doubt at all that certain aspects of that Act are causing considerable trouble in some districts. In Sheffield in the month of March there were 965 cases brought before the Munitions Tribunal. I believe half those cases were not over any question of loss of time, but over some breach of this or that rule; and 254 cases were so trivial that they were dismissed. A further 256 were adjourned on probation. These men lost their work in attending the Court, and no doubt many of them brought witnesses. These 1440 men suffered loss of time and irritation, and go back as centres of discontent in the various shops. I am sure you have lost 1,000 days of work in one month as a result of this. Another question which is causing a good deal of trouble in Sheffield is that of the leaving certificate. When a man has gone idle for six weeks—which is a particularly foolish form of punishment, because you lose the man's work for six weeks—the man cannot get a certificate which will allow him to get work elsewhere. I shall be told by the Minister of Munitions that technically and theoretically the man is able to get work elsewhere, but though he may be theoretically able, he cannot get any job without a certificate. I know of one man in Sheffield who has gone round to twenty-three shops, and has been refused entry there. Even after he had been idle six weeks he was not allowed to get employment. If anything is going to cause trouble and unrest it is that sort of thing. I saw a very remarkable article to-day in the "Manchester Guardian," which I would commend particularly to the Minister of Munitions. It points out that so far as these workpeople are concerned in Barrow the Minister of Labour has no more power over them than Lord Curzon or Lord Milner. It urges a policy of more sympathy on the part of the Government, and says that this question of leaving certificates ought to be gone into from the standpoint of the Government. Is it not possible for the Minister of Munitions to have some kind of inquiry into this matter. I have always said that compulsion is no remedy for these industrial troubles. You have to increase the dose all the time, and so you begin to talk more and more about industrial compulsion in different grounds. We ought to appreciate the toil of these men and to realise that they will give their very best as free men. Labour in chains will not give its best, but labour free will render the best service to the country. I should like to impress upon the representative of the Ministry of Munitions that we ought to have a searching examination into the grievances of these men under the Munitions of War Act with a view to avoiding these grievances in so far as is compatible with efficient work.
§ 11.0 p.m.
§ The MINISTER of LABOUR (Mr. Hodge)
I should like to say a few words respecting Barrow, in view of the statement of the hon. Member (Mr. Anderson). 1441 He evidently does not know the facts of the case. The executive of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers were handling at the very moment the strike occurred the dispute which the men had with respect to a firm there. When I received information that the men were on strike I immediately communicated the information to the executive of that union, and they were astonished when they heard the men were on strike. The executive immediately proceeded to Barrow for the purpose of getting the men to resume work. A day later the whole executive met me, when we considered the problem, and a deputation representing all these societies went to Barrow for the purpose of reasoning with the men on the ground that the subject under discussion between the employers and their executive did not warrant a strike. Later, the employers and the workmen came jointly to me for the purpose of asking that the Government should stay their hand and give them an opportunity of settling their differences, if there were any, by joint action. The arrangement between the various unions and the federation of the shipbuilding and engineering employers was that no negotiations should take place so long as the men were idle. They went to Barrow and promised that the very morning the men resumed work direct negotiations as between the men and the employers should take place and that they should sit from day to day until they had exhausted the whole of the alleged grievances. All those efforts having failed there was nothing else left to the Government than to put in execution the powers that they had. I think that it is a matter for congratulation that the men even at the eleventh hour realised the foolishness of their action and went back to work. Direct negotiations are taking place now and I may say that the Government have no desire to be vindictive towards those men, realising something of the things that the hon. Gentleman has said that during the two and a half years of the War the whole of the men have worked very strenuously, working overtime, and working Sundays. They have not had the same recreation that they would have had in ordinary circumstances. They take all those things into consideration, and as a result of arrangement between the employers and the unions there will be no vindictiveness so far as any of the men at Barrow are concerned, but I think that it is only right 1442 to know that it was a revolt of the local men against the executives of their own unions, and not because of any delay in settling any grievance that had been placed before any Government Department.
§ Mr. ANDERSON
I did not express any view—I am not competent—as to the actual happenings of that particular dispute. I said nothing about it.
§ Mr. HODGE
As a matter of fact, the matter was being considered by the executive of the men's union. There was a revolt against the executive authority, and I do not think that my hon. Friend with his great trade union experience would say that that was a thing that could be supported or that it was in the general interests of trade unionism. Probably there have been some delays in hearing cases, but it must be realised that Sir George Askwith's Department has been very hard worked, and one of the very first things that I did, knowing from my own experience that there had been a number of cases of undue delay, was to make an endeavour to speed up the machinery, and I am satisfied that in the course of the next week or two there will not be any room for complaint with respect to the speed with which decisions are given. My desire, at any rate, is that the machinery should be speeded up, because no one knows better than I do the irritation caused by undue delay in reaching a decision.
§ Mr. TICKLER
I desire to call the attention of the Government and the House to the serious state of affairs existing in the fish trade at Grimsby owing to the War. It is well known that the majority of the fishermen at Grimsby are being requisitioned by the Government, and they have volunteered to man vessels engaged in mine-sweeping and patrol work. The consequence is that the fish trade of Grimsby is practically at a standstill, and seeing what is the state of trade in the town, it is a matter of grave concern to those who are responsible for the trade which does exist. The Food Controller will agree with me that fish is a very important article of food, and it is of 1443 the greatest importance that this source of food supply should be preserved for the use of the people. At present there are about fifty vessels arriving at Grimsby with fish per week—not as many as arrived in one day previous to the War. It is a very considerable quantity, however, which these fifty vessels bring, representing one thousand to fifteen hundred tons per week. The conditions at Grimsby are such, by reason of men being called up for military service, that it is next to impossible to deal with this limited quantity of fish and pack it and get it away to market. This business can only be done by men who are accustomed to the work. It is not work which can be done by strangers or imported labour. Only this week there was a large arrival of Dutch fish, and a great quantity of this had to go for manure owing to the limited number of hands to pack it and send it to market. We have heard a great deal about the depletion of labour on the land, but I think the attention of the Government ought to be directed to the depletion of labour for the purpose of dealing with this very valuable food supply. The harvest of the land is liable to the seasons. Seed has to be sown, the land has to be cultivated, and the harvest has to be gathered, a thing which is very much dependent on the weather. But the harvest of the sea is available at all times and at all seasons; it only needs to be gathered in. The fish at present being brought into Grimsby would be sufficient to supply at least 2,000,000 families with a good meal of valuable food. I think the Food Controller will admit, therefore, that this is an industry which calls for some consideration. I appeal to the Government to make full inquiry into the state of affairs which exist at Grimsby. When I visit Grimsby I am asked, "Is it the intention of the Government to close Grimsby, or what do they mean, because the way they are taking men and depriving the trade of labour can lead to no other result than to close the fishing trade altogether." I do not think there is another town in that part of the country or in the country altogether which has sent so many men to the War as Grimsby has done. There are at the present time 6,000 men manning mine-sweepers—all Grimsby fishermen—and I believe, too, that Grimsby has done as well as any other town in the matter of sending men into the Army. Seeing the 1444 great importance of this article of food, the unfailing supplies of it, and the fact that it only wants to be gathered in—it is there at all seasons—I suggest that the Government should give their attention to this matter, and, after making full inquiry, should take such steps as will leave sufficient men to carry on the trade and not so deplete the workers as to put a stop to the trade altogether. I appeal to the Government. I am sure if the Food Controller will put the matter before the military authorities steps will be taken to prevent any more men being drawn from this industry.
The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of FOOD CONTROL (Captain Bathurst)
I am sure the House will not expect me, at this time of night, to deal at any great length with the somewhat serious problem of food supply and distribution. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Islington (Mr. Lough) has a wonderful command of powerful language when he wishes to stigmatise the offences and backslidings of Ministers, but he will forgive me if I suggest to him that he distinguishes in a somewhat marked way between certain branches of the food trade in the crticisms which he makes. For instance, he emphasises the fact that the price of wheat and the price of bread ought to have been fixed by the Food Controller some time ago, before they reached their present high point, while, on the other hand, as regards other trades—particularly sugar, tea and potatoes—he expresses very strong objection to the fact that the market has not been allowed to slide at its own sweet will, to the detriment, as I suggest, of the consumers of these commodities throughout the country. He draws attention to the recommendation of the Food Prices Committee appointed last year by the Board of Trade, which undoubtedly did suggest the desirability of fixing maximum prices for wheat and, if requisite, for bread, but they went on in the succeeding paragraph to suggest that the maximum price should be fixed for the wheat to be raised this year upon British soil. To show to what extent it is dangerous to prophesy with regard to maximum prices, the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Agriculture, who was one of the signatories to the recommendations of the Committee, has decided that it is not in the best interests of the country and is not likely to stimulate the increased production of 1445 wheat that maximum contract prices should be fixed this year, and the War Cabinet has approved his decision to make a fixed minimum guarantee and not a fixed contract maximum price. As regards the price of wheat, the Government have, to a large extent, kept down the prices by their own imports and the sales of imported wheats. It must be borne in mind that the market price of wheat depends to a very small extent on the amount which is raised in this country. Unfortunately, that represents something less than one-fifth of the whole breadstuffs consumed at home, and the very fact that five-sixths of our supply comes from abroad will, in itself, indicate how difficult it is to control the market and to estimate what the price of wheat should be by consideration of the price of English or British wheat, taken by itself, as sold in the British markets.
There is a very small amount of British wheat remaining in the hands of farmers at present. It is perfectly true that during the last few days, in certain markets, the price of wheat has risen considerably, but it is an error to suppose that the price has in most parts risen to anything like 90s. or 91s. per quarter. The Gazette price for British wheat on the last day of last month was 81s. per quarter, but, in consequence of the recent more rapid rise, the Food Controller has decided—and the matter is under the consideration of the War Cabinet—that the price for British wheat shall be immediately fixed at a substantially lower figure than that which has been mentioned by the hon. Member for Attercliffe (Mr. Anderson), and a corresponding price, after taking into account the cost of conversion and reasonable profit, to the miller and also the baker. There is every reason to suppose that that policy will be adopted in the course of the next few days.
I said the price as regards the miller and also the baker, assuming that the War Cabinet approve of the proposal.
Yes. The proposal is that the price of bread should be fixed on the basis of the price fixed for wheat—that is to say, the proposal is that the Government should take entire control 1446 of all the breadstuffs in the country, in whatever' form those breadstuffs may be. As regards grain, it does not necessarily apply to wheat only, because there are other cereal grains which now enter into the composition of bread, and it will almost necessarily apply to those other cereals. It is also proposed to make the price of bread a uniform price as delivered over the counter of the baker's shop. As matters stand at present, as possibly the House realises, the person who receives his bread from over the counter, in fact pays for the cost of delivery.
In the course of trade it necessarily follows that part of the breadstuffs are delivered to purchasers and part over the counter, and those who buy over the counter are, in fact, paying for the cost of delivery to others. It is proposed to bring that process to an end. I may mention, in passing, that one reason for the recently increased cost of bread is the fact that an Order has been issued insisting on bakers giving full weight for the bread they sell. I am not quite sure of the figures now, but there is a difference as between eighty-one and ninety-six loaves as the result of compliance with this Order insisting on full weight on the part of the baker. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Islington suggested that the Food Controller and myself were being stampeded into action as regards tea. I do not know any man less likely to be stampeded against his own good judgment than the Food Controller, and certainly that expression does not apply to any action that he has taken in regard to tea. What actually happened was that, after the pronouncement of the Prime Minister in this House in reference to the restriction of imports, the price of tea began suddenly to leap up, and it went up by something like 4d. a pound in the course of a couple of days. A Food Controller certainly cannot justify either his name or his existence if he is going to stand by and take no action under such circumstances as that.
With all respect to the right hon. Gentleman, I have every reason to know that in many parts of the country it rose by at least that amount, and after a conference with representatives 1447 of different branches of the tea trade-who took the most patriotic action at my Noble Friend's suggestion—the upward rise in the price of tea was checked; but in order to safeguard the supplies of tea at a reasonable price to the poor sections of the community, it has been decided through the medium of the Advisory Committee on the Tea Trade, consisting of importers, buyers and brokers, that 40 per cent. out of the total imports of tea shall be handed over to a Special Control Committee for distribution to retailers at a price not exceeding from 2s. 2d. to 2s. 4d. a pound. I do not specify exactly the price of the tea, because the recent decision with regard to selling tea by net weight, apart from the package, has to be taken into account in estimating what the exact price of this low-priced tea shall be; but, at any rate, I can assure the House that, in spite of what the right hon. Gentleman has suggested, it does not necessarily follow that it is going to be tea of very poor quality, because a certain number of importers import no teas except of the highest possible quality, and the rule is to apply to them as to others, and 40 per cent. of their tea, or tea they can provide by way of substitution, after purchasing other tea in the market, has got to be brought into account in providing the poorer classes with this tea at a reasonable price. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lough) also referred to the Hoarding Order. That Order is not yet issued, and his remarks were largely anticipatory. I have reason to believe that when the Order does appear there will be no mention of the police whatever, so that he can put the police comfortably out of his mind. There will be no danger of a police raid upon his domestic premises.
I beg pardon; it was another hon. Gentleman. I have also good reason to know that the suggestion of the supplies being limited to what is required for a fortnight only will not appear in this Order about to be issued. In consequence of an announcement in the Press I was myself pressed in this House to reveal the contents of an Order which I had not seen, and I declined to do it, and that was the last occasion when this was mentioned in this House. So far as that Order is concerned, I have 1448 reason to know that the onus will be upon the vendor of excessive quantities of essential foodstuffs to show good reason why such large quantities of goods are being sold to one purchaser, apparently with the intent of supplies being hoarded' to the detriment of others less fortunate.
§ Major HUNT
How is the hon. Gentleman going to prevent a purchaser buying a certain amount from one shop and then going to another shop and buying there a. reasonable quantity?
That is one of the unfortunate effects of trying to discuss an Order which no one has yet seen and which has not yet been issued. I shall be able to deal with the criticisms of my hon. Friend when I myself have seen the Order to which he refers.
§ Mr. H. SAMUEL
Has the hon. Gentleman really not seen the Order, in spite of the protest of the House the other night?
I have seen a draft of the Order. I have not had the opportunity of seeing what its final form will be. The matter is now before the War Cabinet. The right hon. Gentleman referred to potatoes. He suggested that it would have been better if potatoes had been left entirely alone by the Food Controller. My only comment on that is that if potatoes had been left alone the price per ton would now have been nearer £35 than £25. The real trouble about potatoes is the almost unprecedented scarcity of the crop of 1916. The Department I represent could not, I venture to say, have taken a wiser course than it did. The suggestion still holds good that all those who can afford to go without potatoes and obtain substitutes should do so, and leave potatoes-alone for the rest of the season till the new crop comes upon the market. There is best of all reasons for this. Potatoes are, as the hon. Member for Attercliffe suggested, in their constitution and in the nature of their consumption, one of the cheapest substitutes for bread. Bread, like potatoes, is most largely consumed by the poorest classes. If the supply of potatoes runs out at an early date it is not going to be too easy to find suitable substitutes. Up till now it has been possible to find substitutes, like turnips, parsnips, swedes and similar vegetables. Supplies of these commodities are coming to an end. That is. the strongest reason for abstention from potatoes on the part of persons like ourselves, so as to extend the 1449 period over which they will be available for the poorer classes. Exactly the same applies to sugar. The right hon. Gentleman would like the so-called laws of supply and demand to have their scope in the matter of sugar.
It is perfectly true that sugar has gone up considerably above the pre-war price—170 per cent. the right hon. Gentleman said, and I think it is correct. There is a greater shortage of sugar than of any other imported food commodity. I think the country has reason to be very thankful for the foresighted attitude of the last Government, which decided, at an early stage of the War, to set up the Sugar Commission. This enabled us to get the fairly substantial supplies of sugar that we. have been able to ensure during the War. After all, more than fifty per cent. of our total sugar supplies before the War came from enemy belligerent countries. If the Government had not taken the far-sighted course they did, the price of sugar by now would probably have been beyond the reach of our poorer classes. As regards the suggestion of the hon. Member for Attercliffe (Mr. Anderson), he seemed to think that the Food Economy Campaign might result in a considerable waste of effort and of money. The strongest reason for having a campaign of this sort is that, obviously, the country is by no means well informed to-day as to the directions in which it should practice economy, and, as to the best method of making the most of commodities that are within the reach of the poorer classes of this country, I have no reason to believe that that campaign is going to involve any substantial expense, either to the Government or to anyone else. The hon. Member referred to the difficulty, which we all admit, in the distribution of sugar. A Departmental Committee has, as the hon. Member knows, recently sat to consider the improved distribution of sugar. They have been sitting de die in diem, and have taken an enormous amount of pains. The Report is just about to be issued, and I have reason to believe that, as a result of that Report, improved methods of distribution may be decided upon and adopted at an early date.
The hon. Member referred to communal kitchens. The municipalities are being approached with a view to instituting communal kitchens, and I hope they will be 1450 of a character to satisfy the hon. Member. There is also a central kitchen being instituted by the Food Controller, under the control of a Committee, and over which the lady directors of the Department will preside, to instruct the public how food may be made to yield the maximum of nutrition with the minimum of waste. I think the hon. Member will agree that that is a great consideration in view of the unsatisfactory results of indifferent cooking and also buying without knowledge. But I do not think time permits me to elaborate more on this subject. I should like, in conclusion, to say this: the hon. Member suggested that nothing should be kept back from the House on so important a subject as that of food in critical times like these. When the times comes—if it does come-that I have to keep back from the House of Commons anything with regard to the food supply which the House ought to know at that time, I shall resign the position I now occupy.
§ Commander WEDGWOOD
I am loath at this late hour to raise a new subject, but I do not want this House to go into recess for a fortnight without bringing forward at the very earliest opportunity questions which seem to me to be at the present moment of vital importance. I think everybody in this House must realise that the revolution in Russia and the entry of America into this War have changed fundamentally the whole character of the War. Instead of being a war carried on between rival States, it is now become a war between the democracies of the world and one single autocracy. It seems to me that this change in the character of the War must have a repercussion not only on our own politics, but the attitude this Government ought to adopt towards the question of peace terms. In the first place, I cannot believe that any one of us who has been inspired, as we have been, by the spectacle of the Russian autocracy ending in the freest and youngest Republic, can fail to be impressed by the urgent necessity binding on us to set our own house in order in so far as we possibly can. Everyone in this House has realised that that revolution alone, without even the addition of America as an Ally, has fundamentally changed the Irish problem to begin with. We all know there is a very strong movement in the Irish party in order to secure a settlement now of the Irish problem, the natural result, I believe, of the breath of fresh air coming 1451 from the East and the West. Then I do not think we can go on indefinitely satisfied as Englishmen to reconcile with our conscience the present Government of India. We have got to see how far we can, with the new ideas put in our possession by these new Republics, rectify our position in India relatively to the Indian population. I pass over both these questions as matters of internal politics which will come up later on. But I do want the House to consider now whether the adherence to our cause of three Republics—because China is now against Germany—does not give us an opportunity of not only suggesting possible terms of peace by negotiation, but also of doing that which the President the day before yesterday so ably began—the driving in of the wedge of cleavage between the autocracy in Germany and the people in Germany, I would say that we realise just as much as the American people do, that there is a profound difference between the Kaiser and the Hohenzollerns and the people of Germany, and that so long as they are there we have no security that the people of Germany will revert to the position of good friends and neighbours that they were before this outburst of insanity came upon the nation.
§ Commander WEDGWOOD
I do not want to say anything contentious in this matter. Goodness knows, I do not like the Germans, neither their names, their accent, nor their appearance, but I believe everybody realises that there is a profound difference between the rulers of Germany, the last race of autocracy in the world, and the people of Germany themselves, and anything that we can do, without injuring the great causes for which we fight, to hasten the end of this struggle by inducing the German people to believe that they would be better treated, that they would be decently treated if they were no longer the mere puppets of an autocracy, the better for our cause and the cause of our Allies. [An HON. MEMBER: "Do it by victory!"] Yes, do it by victory, but the question is how long are we going to wait for victory, and how long will our sons, our brothers, and our families survive? I am perfectly content to get a satisfactory peace, if possible, by negotiation instead of waiting for an indefinite victory, if I can get 1452 what I want in these terms of peace. In, common with every Member of the House, I read through the President's speech yesterday with admiration. I believe that in that speech we find exactly what we want. Let me read to the House the final peroration:Right is more precious than pence, and we shall fight for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts, for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own government, for the righis and liberties of small nations, for the universal dominion of right by such a concert of free peoples as will bring peace and safety to all nations and make the world itself at last free.That is something that is worth fighting for, and that is something which, if we can get it now, will satisfy the people of this country in the long run and will satisfy the whole world. What risk do we rum by opening this question now? We have seen in the papers to-day and yesterday that the Kaiser is contemplating a fresh offer of peace. If there is any risk of that offer being made, for goodness sake let us forestall him, because by doing so we shall strengthen our position in Germany, we shall strengthen our position with our Allies, and we shall strengthen our position with the whole world. See what happens! Suppose we start, instead of leaving it to the Kaiser to start, the immediate result will be that the people in Germany will say, "It cannot be out of weakness, because it is made now on the immediate eve of the American declaration of war." The danger in the past has always been that if you made any sort of step towards a pacific solution you would be charged with weakness. The Germans sought to get out of the difficulty by a piece of conceit and bumptiousness, but we are able to open the question without undue conceit or offensive language simply because at this moment we are being joined by the greatest nation on the earth. It seems to me that is one result. We have here now a unique opportunity for making an offer without being charged with weakness. What is the next result? Directly we make this offer there will be an outburst of indignation, not only from Conservatives, but also from a large body of Liberals in the country. To be perfectly frank, as we have seen from the results of elections in South Edinburgh and elsewhere, the people of this country are afraid of peace from a horribly narrow but perfectly explicable standpoint. They do not know where they will be when peace comes. They do not know where they wilt 1453 get jobs. They do not know that they will not go back to the frightful struggle for existence which we dimly remember as going on before the War. The people of this country will be very indignant at the very suggestion of peace. Do you not think that it will strengthen our hands to be able to show that the Government is more pacific than the people when we know perfectly well that in every other country in the world the people are more pacific than the Government? That will show Great Britain at its very strongest. Next, do you not think that there will be also a certain amount of protest from the people in the trenches. We know perfectly well When the German peace offer was made that the German Army were acclaiming the offer and begging for peace. I do not believe that our people will be. Perhaps of all the nations they are the most warlike and the most inclined to carry on the War. I do not say that the War is as popular in the trenches as it is at home, but at any rate it is not so unpopular in our trenches as it is in the others. Therefore you will have the spectacle of your Army, unlike any other Army, protesting against the Government approaching Germany for peace. They will do so largely because they have not yet smashed the Germans—a very good reason—and they will also do so because they do not object to fighting as much as other races do. I think that, too, would have a tonic effect upon the German frame of mind. They would be more ready to agree to our Government's terms if they felt that the people of England and the Army of England were inclined for stronger action instead, as elsewhere, of weaker action.
Now comes the question whether we can reasonably put forward terms which will meet those admirable words of the President which will meet the epoch-making letter or message sent by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Balfour) to America in reply to their message, and which will meet what we want in this War—whether we can put forward terms of that sort which will tend to separate the German people from the German autocracy. I believe that we can lay down terms, based upon all the fundamental ideas of liberty, which it would be impossible to gainsay by any liberal-minded man and which yet would be all that we want and most of what our Allies want. Surely we who have watched this struggle all these years know that the real kernel of the 1454 situation is the unity, the independence, and the reconstitution of a Polish Republic. There has been a great deal of talk about the Czecho-Slovaks. I do not attach any importance to the question of Austro-Hungary because in all these cases Austro-Hungary will be quite ready to give the widest measure of autonomy to all these races; therefore the question of the breakup of Austro-Hungary falls to the ground, because on this question autonomy will satisfy America and us. When you come to questions like that of Alsace-Lorraine or Poland you come to the kernel of this War. When we put forward, in support of President Wilson's speech to the Senate two months ago the re-establishment of an independent Poland, we put forward something which every Englishman, to whatever party he belongs, whether he be pacifist or militarist, would support, because it is based on those fundamental doctrines for which we stand and we are also putting forward something which even the liberal-minded in Germany cannot oppose, because what can be more unjust than that the people of one race should be governed by what to them is an alien nation? We are putting forward something which, so long as the Kaiser sits in Berlin, he will not accept. That seems to me to be not only a sound proposal, sound from the point of view of those principles for which we stand in this War—the liberty of the smaller nations and the right of the people to govern themselves—but also politic, because being in accordance with all the principles of justice it is yet such that the territorial claims of the house of Hohenzollern make it impossible for that house to accept it. I do not think that Alsace and Lorraine raise as much difficulty as Poland. The question is, Is it worth while putting forward any terms of peace now? I do not pretend—nobody in this House pretends—that by making an offer of this sort you are likely to get a rapid peace. The War is bound to go on. But I maintain that by taking a more or less reasonable line you strengthen that public opinion upon which the success of this War ultimately depends, and by doing that you place yourselves and the whole of the Allies in a position immeasurably superior to the position of the autocracy in Germany. That is one of the main good things that have come to us from the Russian revolution. After all, we need no longer consider certain shamefaced agreements with the agents of Russian autocracy. We know where 1455 we are now. There is no doubt but that after the War there will be no question of will not Russia dare to strike in fifty or sixty years here or there. We need only consider the one thing President Wilson has put before us—the crushing of autocracy and the establishment of a live, democratic union. That is what has come from Russia to America.
I want to urge upon the House one other great lesson we may learn from the Russian revolution, which, if we learn it to-day and take the hint, will do more than anything else to cement our friendship with the new Allies and with America itself. I allude to the question of an amnesty for political and military offences. We know that there has been such an amnesty in Russia. We know that a great number of our prisoners at the present time are either conscientious objectors or Irish prisoners. With both those classes of prisoners there is an enormous amount of sympathy in the United States. It is no good ignoring the fact that there is a very strong Quaker element in the United States which has heard stories of the woes of conscientious objectors, and there is also, of course, a very strong Irish element thoroughly imbued with the woes of the Sinn Fein prisoners. I have not much sympathy with either class, but I have sympathy with the spirit that says when you are in the throes of a terrific struggle, when you find yourselves with all the democracies against the autocracy of Germany—for the first time a union of democratic countries—that is a magnificent opportunity to give an amnesty, not only to conscientious objectors in prison and to Irish prisoners, but also to all military offenders. Anyone who has had any acquaintance with military law knows the extraordinary way in which courts-martial differ one from another. Mild and? severe sentences are given for almost exactly the same offences. I have known sentences of two months and six years for shooting off a finger. The variation is so terrific that people imprisoned for military offences might reasonably be given an amnesty after serving, say, six months. I do not think you can let the conscientious objector out directly he goes in. He must do his bit. But six months is enough, and it would be a good deal more useful to the State if that particular person were outside working instead of inside being worked for.
§ Commander WEDGWOOD
No; he went in because he would not do what he was told—a feeling with which I have a great deal of sympathy. When he comes out he will work for himself or will starve, and that is the best pressure I know to put on anyone. There are not very many of them. Most of them have accepted the Home Office scheme.
§ Commander WEDGWOOD
No; 800. The people who have accepted work under the Home Office scheme are as happy as they can be. They go away every weekend and smoke cigarettes all day. I am thinking of the absolutists who are in gaol. There are 800 of them. There are many friends of my own—people for whom I have not lost respect because they happen to have come down on one side of the fence while I have come down on the other. These are people known to every Member of the House. I have put this particular point of view before hon. Members because for every one who is in there are any number who have been exempted who have not been put in because the Director knew they were not wanted—they were conscientious objectors, and were ruled out. The hon. Member (Mr. Anderson) I suppose is of military age. and has never been summoned. There are any number of people outside as well as those inside, and it creates a sense of injustice when some are put in and some are not. Would it not be possible to copy Russia in this matter and let all these people have an amnesty after six months' imprisonment, so that they might then serve their country voluntarily and therefore actively and be of use, because any sort of work done now is of military importance. The Government might well take in hand these questions of the opening up of peace negotiations and a general amnesty for political and military offenders. They would redound to the credit of the Government and the advantage of the country.
§ Major CHAPPLE
My hon. and gallant Friend wants to shorten the War by driving a wedge between the German people and the German ruling classes. I suggest that that is premature. I wish a wedge to be driven in, not there but between Turkey and Germany, or between Bulgaria and Germany or between Austria 1457 and Germany. I made a suggestion this afternoon to the effect that if the Foreign Office, in conjunction with our Allies, made an announcement that no terms of peace would be discussed or concluded with Germany on behalf of Turkey, Bulgaria or Austria, it would do a great deal to induce Turkey, Bulgaria and Austria, when they are ready, to appeal for a separate peace. I think the moment is ripe for that announcement. No possible harm that I see could come from making that announcement jointly with our Allies. Turkey is not firmly attached to the Central Powers, and in my opinion she could be easily detached. She is not prepared to fight to the same extremity as Germany is prepared to fight. She is being pressed on all hands now—defeated in Mesopotamia, defeated in Egypt, hard pressed in Persia and the Caucasus; and she has internal troubles which make the moment ripe for separating her from her Allies. She sees that Germany cannot assist her further, and that she might have to apply direct to the Allies. Therefore, I think such an announcement would encourage her to seek a separate peace. This would be a step towards a final peace with Germany. I am not anxious to discuss peace with Germany until we can. dictate terms to her. We must dictate terms to Germany, because for our future safety we must bind her firmly. Turkey will not fight to the last extremity, neither will (Bulgaria, nor Austria; but Germany must fight to the last extremity, and it is no use trying to discuss terms of peace with her while she thinks there is any possible chance of success. The advent of the United States into the War, and the epoch-making pronouncement of President Wilson must have a profound moral effect on the whole world, and it must have a profound effect upon the Allies of Germany. It will be brought home to Turkey, Bulgaria and Austria before it is brought home to Germany that they have no possible chance of winning. If Germany can be of no more military assistance to Turkey, and there is evidence of that; if she can give no more financial assistance to Turkey, and there is evidence of that, the moment must come, if it has not already come, when Turkey must detach herself and look to the Allies for terms of peace. The detachment of Turkey would have an immense effect in increasing the pressure upon Germany.
1458 12.0 p.m.
It would release our Army in Mesopatamia and Egypt, it would release the Russians in Persia and the Caucasus, and it would release an enormous amount of tonnage which is now being used in these far-flung fields of battle. There is no necessity for our crushing Turkey. She will be no danger to us in the future as the Germans would be, and it seems to me that any terms of peace that would be acceptable to Turkey now offer such an opportunity of detaching her from the Central Powers that the pronouncement I suggest should be made. Germany cannot save Turkey now. There are appeals from Turkey to Germany which Germany is forced to resist. Turkey wants money, munitions, and men, and she wants her army back from the Roumanian front, but Germany cannot satisfy her demands. There is abundant evidence also of internal disorders in Turkey. If the announcement I suggest was made by this country and our Allies it would so encourage an appeal from the collateral powers of Germany that we should finally have to deal with Germany only, and it would be a very much simpler matter then for us to deal with Germany than if we were to discuss peace terms with her now. Germany is not ripe for that. She would not agree to any terms that we would require at present. But, on the other hand, there is evidence that Turkey, Bulgaria, and Austria and Hungary are ripe, and by a proper announcement I think that we can do a great deal to bring about a position which could not otherwise be secured without a great expense of life and of money. The suggestion is that an announcement be made jointly with our Allies, that in no circumstances will terms of peace be discussed or concluded with Germany on behalf of Turkey, Bulgaria, Austria or Hungary, but that each of these countries should make a separate appeal.
§ Mr. A. WILLIAMS
I feel it my absolute duty to make a protest against a line of conduct on the part of the Government which seems to me to be endangering the country. We all know that we have now arrived at a point when there is a dearth of food in this country. Potatoes certainly cannot last until the next crop comes in. Bread, we are warned, may not last. Cattle we were told this afternoon may have to be slaughtered because there is no fodder to keep them going, and yet 1459 the Government is countenancing and rendering itself responsible for a great destruction of food that is going on in this country from day to day and from week to week. The Government takes great credit to itself for having reduced the output of beer, and particularly for having stopped the conversion of barley into malt, but, as I elicited by question this afternoon, the destruction of malt itself in the production of beer is going on at the rate of 40,000 quarters of malt per week. That is all good for human food. In the condition in which the country now is, can we afford to go on destroying food at that rate? I am not in the least raising this as a temperance question. I have not the slightest objection to a moderate consumption of beer in peace times by those who think that they can afford it and that it is desirable; but I raise it as a food question, and I say that at the present time it is dangerous to the country and that we cannot afford it. I am told, of course, that there is a bargain with the brewers that brewing is to be allowed to go on at this rate. If a bargain of that sort has been made it is an improvident bargain, which is dangerous to the country, and some means must be found of cancelling it, and, if necessary, of paying compensation to anybody who loses on account of it. I am told that the working men of this country would not if the brewing of beer were stopped. I do not believe it. I am perfectly certain that the men in the North of England, at any rate, whom I know pretty well, if it were put to them clearly that it has now become a question whether their children were to go short of bread or whether the brewing of beer was to be stopped, would not have the slightest hesitation as to which course they would follow. If the brewing of beer were stopped it does not follow that there will be no more beer available. There are large supplies of beer in this country which would last for some weeks. I am not in a position, to say for how many weeks, but I have heard it suggested that it might be perhaps for a couple of months.
Much stronger is the case against the destruction of malt and grain in the production of potable spirits. Yet that is going on at a great rate still. Some figures were given in reply to a question by the hon. Member for North-East Lanark on Monday which seemed to indicate that it was going on at the rate of about 8,000 quarters per week. I cannot tell the exact amount, but, at any rate, it is a very large 1460 amount. This is a question of food and of the wastage of food that is going on at present. But it is a great deal more than that. It is a question of winning or losing this War. We are engaged in a race with Germany. We cannot smash Germany in a day or a month, or probably several months. The question is—can they starve us out before we can smash them? That is the question, and I say that the Government, by allowing this great destruction of food is endangering our success in that race against Germany. It is a very serious responsibility for the Government to undertake. I asked, the other day, if this country falls short of food, what Minister is going to be hanged for it, and I ask, in all seriousness, that if this conduct goes on and endangers the food supplies of this country, and if the food supplies give out and we, in consequence, lose this War, what Minister will bear the awful responsibility of allowing such a calamity to occur? As a humble independent Member of this House, I venture to say that the Government should take some strong action in this matter, and if some strong action is not taken I shall take an early opportunity of raising the matter again in this House.
§ Major HUNT
I would like to ask the Food Controller, because I have heard it asked in several country houses, what are the people to do where they can afford to eat other things than potatoes if they have got potatoes which they grow themselves, which in ordinary times they would eat themselves? Are they to sell those potatoes or are they to eat them? It is paratively small guarantee as it was then, given to the people who are well off not to use potatoes at all. The hon. Member for Attercliffe (Mr. Anderson) made a great point of the hardships of working people at the present time owing to the shortage of potatoes and bread and agricultural produce. He and his party were, to a large extent, responsible for preventing the Government at the beginning of the War giving the farmer a guarantee, a comparatively small guarantee as it was then. I remember asking for a guarantee of 35s. a quarter, which Radical farmers and Conservative farmers were anxious to get. That is all they were asking for then, and when it was asked for a chorus of dissent came from the Radical and Labour parties. It is to a great extent the fault of the hon. Member and his party that we have not got a very fair amount of food in the country at present. If the Govern- 1461 ment at the beginning of the War had taken the matter seriously and done as it is doing now, and urged the people to grow as much food as they can, there would have been no serious shortage of food to-day. Therefore, I really think that for him to complain now about the shortage of food is rather a strong order, seeing it is the fault of his party and himself that the position is so bad as it is.
I want to say a few words about our very serious losses in the air since last October. It is a matter I happen to know something about. Notice was given that this subject would be raised, and I should have been glad if some member of the Government had been here to tell us that things are really being put right at the present time. Up to the middle of October last year the fighting scouts of our Army were about as good as those of the Germans, but about that date Germany brought on the front in France a new fighting scout which has proved very superior to our own. They climb from three or four thousand feet, or higher; they rise up high over the German lines and then dive down on to our scouts, thereby gaining an enormous advantage. They are much better and faster climbers and as they carry two machine-guns, and so can send a double stream of bullets out against our machines which admittedly had become obsolete. That accounts to a very great extent for the enormous losses we have sustained among our airmen since that time. The reason for the existence of this state of things is that the late Government refused to give the people who are responsible for the construction of aircraft a free hand. They were so afraid of letting anybody have any power except themselves, and so they did not give as much assistance as they might have done. They were in consequence unable to compete successfully with the Germans, with the result that the German machines are infinitely better than our own, and we have lost so many of our gallant airmen. I understand that the present Government since it came in has done all that it can to help the Air Board. The late Government allowed the difference between the Army and the Navy on this question to go on. and, as a matter of fact, while at that time the Army machine was inferior to that of the Germans, the Navy had some machines quite as good as, if not better than, the German machines.
It must be remembered that this could not have been a good arrangement because 1462 the Army was doing very much the most of the fighting. The present Government have been and are doing all they can for the Air Service, and I believe there is now no useless competition between the Army and the Navy. I should like to know if the system has been stopped of ordering a certain number of machines—500 or something of that sort—which through the Government's own fault were very much delayed. When made they were found to be obsolete, but the Government would not scrap them when delivered and made our men fight on them although better machines were then invented. The War Office made General Henderson head of the Air Service. He admittedly did not know anything about the. Air Service at all when he was made head of it. Whether that is a good plan or not may be a matter of argument, but for all I have learned at all events, General Henderson has done his very best. If he is hampered by want of knowledge in having to rely on other people that is not his fault but the fault of the late Government for appointing a man as head of a highly-skilled technical arm of which he had no previous knowledge whatever. I do not differ very much from my hon. Friend opposite, but I do hope we shall have a statement from the Government that those things are being taken into consideration, and that every effort will be made in future that shall prevent sacrifices of the most gallant men we have got. Let me give an instance that happened last November or December, to show how faulty some of our aeroplanes were. Four machines went out to protect a bombing party of aeroplanes against the German lines. Three of the engines of the four went wrong and stopped, and those had to go back home. In the case of the one man who was leading, the engine did not go wrong and he had to go on to protect the whole of the bombing aeroplanes. When he was fighting with one of the superior German aeroplanes another German aeroplane came behind him and shot him in his back. He was thus wounded and had to come down in the German lines. That is only a small example of what has happened through not having good aeroplanes. I hope we shall have a statement that things are better than they were in 1916.
§ Mr. LYNCH
The Leader of the House said this evening that there was a kind of criticism which was stimulating and 1463 helpful to the Government, that he appreciated this, and that no one had a right to apply any other kind of criticism unless he desired to bring the Government down. His objections have no reference to myself, because I have arrived at a point of profound disappointment with the present Government, and I think that no harm would result to the country if they were brought down and forced to give way to another Government. The entrance of the United States into this War has certainly modified the conditions, for whereas previously I was extremely anxious as to the ultimate issue, now I have no longer any doubt. Nevertheless, that argument applies in this way also—that whereas it was always held out, to frighten us from any attack on the Government, that it would be a case of extreme danger to the country, now, with the protection of the United States, it seems to me to matter little whether the present Government remains in power or not.
In whatever great field of exercise—in the air, in the sea, or on land—I contemplate their actions and weigh their value by results. I find them signally deficient If I should sum up the deficiencies of the Government in a word, phrase or principle, it would be this: That there is never manifested in face of any great problem the courage to look that problem in the face, nor intellect applied to a rational solution of the problem. Instead of tackling these great problems in a truly scientific manner the Government, and each individual member, and the leader of any great Department, always fall back on the old stereotyped plans and tricks, and evading responsibility by putting up a sham and hiding himself behind it; or, in the last resort, appointing a commission or Committee, always doing something that off shoulders responsibility; never anything that supplies a radical solution to the great problems which interest the nation at large. In view of the lateness of the hour, I will pass very rapidly over several points to which I shall refer later. The criticisms on the Air Service to-day have none of them touched the real essential problem, which is that never since the War started has any man responsible for the Air Service taken a large enough conception of the whole possibility of his functions and of the whole character of the work which the Air Service is competent to perform. Again in face of difficulties the old stereo- 1464 typed plan has been adopted of putting up the Board or a Commission, and of hiding responsibility behind it. The position reminds me of the story of the Duke of Wellington, who, on being asked what he said in the face of a grave situation, when an officer was manoeuvring in the face of the enemy, replied: "Gad, I said nothing; it was too serious!"
Some time ago there was an agitation against the present Minister for Foreign Affairs on account of audacious raids by the Germans in the Channel. Under the regime of the present First Lord of the Admiralty such raids have been repeated. The acts of the German Navy have become more and more audacious and more and more successful. If some time ago it was necessary to raise the cry on account of the raids in the Channel that the First Lord of the Admiralty must go, now, by an equity of reasoning, there ought to be a much greater agitation against the present First Lord, who has been proved by trial, by results, to be unequal to the situation.
I will come to the question of the land service and deal with one point—that is, in respect to the Expedition to Salonika. For a long time it has been. difficult to treat this problem candidly because the interests of Russia were so vast that the whole authority of the Russian Government was massed against a proper solution of the question. Now, however, that the bad old Russian Government has disappeared and we have the good fortune to find established in Russia a Republican Government, a Government which is not bound by the old traditions which have hindered operations in Salonika, we are entitled to ask what is the meaning of the inactivity of the Expeditionary Force at Salonika? What is it intended to do? What is to be the ultimate result of the sending of that expedition? It seem to me that Salonika may be the weak link in the whole chain of the combination against Germany, because whereas we are now stating and believing that the lines are being drawn closer and closer round the Central Empires, that they are being strangled, so to speak, in all the cordons by which they are bound, it is certainly not the opinion of the Germans themselves. Only the other day I saw in a Spanish paper, what we are not permitted to read in England, an account of the boldly conceived plans which the Germans have formed, and of which Salonika is the very keystone. If the Expedition to Salonika were 1465 abandoned the Germans would at once use that port as a base for building such a large number of submarines that they would then dominate the Mediterranean. In their own imagination they have described Salonika as the Hamburg of the Mediterranean. Having dominated the Mediterranean, they would become masters of the Suez Canal. Masters of the Suez Canal, they would block the communications of England with the entire East. Having diverted the whole traffic of England and her forces in this way, they would have a free hand in carrying out the famous plan of expansion which has been referred to again and again in this House.
There are many points on which I will not touch to-night with regard to the policy which has been pursued in Salonika which are of extreme interest, and indicating a character of dealing with that problem which, if brought to light, would probably cause the fall of the Government, or, at any rate, the fall of the Government in a coresponding case in any other country but this.
I will pass rapidly on and say only a few words now to point out broad, general lines with regard to the settlement of Ireland, and I will indicate a plan for the responsibility of which I desire to involve no one but myself, because the House, in spite of repeated failures, seems to be reverting again and again to those futile negotiations which, from their very inception, were bound to lead to nothing, and which in two notable instances already have ended in failure and in disgrace. That was to have been expected, because, on the one hand, the representatives of Ireland are never likely on that basis to come to an agreement at all; and secondly, because if in this House an agreement were reached, that agreement would have no chance whatever of being ratified by either of the two sections which the leaders represent in Ireland itself. Therefore, if two series of negotiations have ended in futility, is it not reasonable, in face of the persistent and perhaps increasing danger of the problem itself, to say: Those plans having been a failure, is it not to the last degree foolish to revert to them again, and simply try to tinker and patch up the details of that plan? Does it not stare us in the face that we much adopt some new cast of thought, some entirely new situation, and form some new plans on entirely different 1466 lines? Now conies a proposal which will seem almost beyond the range of practical politics in its boldness, but I am encouraged in putting it forward by this reason: that when Campbell-Bannerman was working out the plan that finally settled the question of South Africa, until that plan had been formulated you would hardly have found one man in this House who would not have declared it to be beyond the reach of practical politics. The plan that I have in mind is this: That as leading up to the settlement of Ireland, it will be necessary to consider the relation of the great Dominions to this country, and I hope that, as the outcome of the deliberations of this so-called Imperial Conference, the representatives of those Dominions will determine that in their new condition each of them will be in itself totally and absolutely independent—adopting the Republican form for each one of those Dominions—and not that they should be bound together simply for purposes of mutual defence; that once having introduced this principle—which, remember, is inevitable, which is bound to come because it corresponds with the march of time—Ireland should be allowed, in the terms of the express promise of that Government, repeated again and again, and in accordance with the ideal which this country holds up on its banner of war—Ireland should choose the government which Irishmen themselves desire, and that the question of Home Rule should be entirely lifted out of the rut of mere little cheeseparings of financial conditions, of mere little adjustments of this or that, of greater latitude in the extremely restricted area of local control. It should be recognised that Ireland has the same right to work out her own destiny as Poland or Serbia or Belgium. Once having formed that great conception, the matter should be so lifted up and made so great and attractive, and we should seize the possibility of a brilliant destiny, that that solution would appeal to the men of Ulster themselves. And if there be still any lingering objection—as-to any possibility of disadvantage—not to speak of persecution—on the score of finance or religion, I say it would be easy when once that conception had been reached, to safeguard their interests, so that it would be impossible that any man in Ireland should suffer any detriment on account of his religion.
Although I believe that this plan would prove the salvation of Ireland, and 1467 although all my political life has been immersed in this struggle for Ireland's nationhood, yet I would say that if I thought there was a possibility under any scheme of Home Rule that a man would be subject to any kind of persecution, or in the least degree of detriment whatever on. account of religion, even now I would turn my back on Home Rule and fight as tenaciously for its destruction as I have ever fought for its adoption. In that spirit I appeal to the men of Ulster to expand their imaginations, to lift their minds above the petty strife of politics, to realise the pride of Ireland, and to do their best in this way to work out this plan for Ireland and send her free to a new splendid destiny.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
I desire to say a few words because of the speech which we have heard to-night from my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Commander Wedgwood), a speech which, I may say, it gave me very great personal gratification to hear. Nobody had a greater right than he to make such a speech, because he, at any rate, has borne the heat and burden of the day, and there are few in this House who have lost so many of those who are near and dear to them. Some while ago his cousin fell in battle, and a few days ago a brother, and so on; yet with the feelings which must necessarily afflict a man in that position, he was able to-night, in the new circumstances, to suggest a possible means of entering into negotiations for peace. The reason which has enabled my hon. Friend to take a somewhat different point of view has also very much affected my own point of view. From the very beginning my views on this War have been tinctured by hatred of the Russian autocracy. I and many other Members probably, have studied for years past the association of the British Government with the Russian Government, and it has been a matter of shame, and I think of humiliation, to this country that through the power which that association gave we have seen the suppression of the rights of Finland and the abolition of its autonomy; we have seen during that association the destruction of the constitutional effort of Persia; we have seen the promotion of a policy of aggression by Russia in the Balkans; and we have seen a long venture in Galicia for the purpose of its ultimate conquest and of adding it to the Russian Empire. I believe that for the origin of the War and the responsibility 1468 for it we have not to overlook these facts; at any rate, I do not; they largely coloured my view when the crisis came in July, 1914. Look at such a date as 22nd July. At that time the revolutionary movement in Russia was gathering full force; in Petrograd alone there were 100,000 men on strike, not for industrial reasons, but for political reasons. In all the great cities of Russia the same circumstances existed. The Dynasty was in danger again. When the crisis was at its most difficult and delicate point, and just at the point at which Austria had given way to our demands, the Russian Czar and his brutal camarilla gave the order for a general moblisation, which enabled the military party in Berlin to declare that the country was in danger and to secure full power over the parties that were endeavouring to maintain peace.
I believe that Russian mobilisation was ordered by the Czar and those around him for the purpose of destroying the revolutionary movement. It had that effect. They raised the cry of Constantinople, and of Slavdom; they said that they were going to raise the cross at Constantinople once again. The revolutionaries were all swept into the army. A popular cry was raised, the revolution was at an end. It would have been the end of the uprising of the people if the objects of the autocracy had been achieved and if war had been successful. But there came a point when the prolongation of the War and its lack of success provided again the opportunity for the development of the revolutionary movement. That movement for eighteen months or more past had been gathering force in Russia, and when the Government saw that the Dynasty was in danger they set themselves to work in order to save it. They then tried to make a separate peace with Germany. At that time, when Steurmer was in office and I knew that this was being attempted, I asked different questions on the subject. It was then suggested that I was unpatriotic, and it was now said that all was well. That is what we have been told all through. We have been absolutely deceived as regards the relationship of the late Czar and his Government, as to the objects of the Allies. That has been my view of the Russian Czar and his camarilla as to the responsibility attaching to his action in relation to the War. Consequently no one rejoices more than I do at the end of that bloodthirsty regime. 1469 In Russia a new condition altogether has arisen, and I would supplement by this argument what my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme has said as regards new peace possibilities arising through the revolution in Russia—that with the fall of autocracy in Russia falls despotism in Russia, and inevitably Prussian militarism. The Prussian militarists have lost their one means of successful appeal to the people. The present Prime Minister pointed out in 1908 what was the reason for militarism in Germany—that it was the fear of Russia on one side and of France on the other. He ended the powerful speech which he made in the Queen's Hall in 1908 by saying, after referring to the fears of the German people of an aggressive despotic Russia, "Would not we plot, would not we arm? Of course we would." As late as January, 1914 (New Year's Day), he gave a message to the "Daily Chronicle" in which he again pointed to the same circumstances—the German fear of Russia at one side and of France at the other—their enemies in case of Continental war. To the Prussian people their Army was what our Navy was to us. Now that menace is removed, and I say that the removal of it will cause the militarist party in Germany to lose their grounds for a popular appeal.
But we can still enable the German militarists and the German autocracy to maintain their hold upon the German people if we state, as we have stated in the past, that it is our determination to crush Germany, to dismember Germany, and to destroy the German people. If the Prussian militarists and the Prussian autocracy can say, "We stand for the salvation of the Fatherland; we stand against the destruction and dismemberment of Germany," then they will retain their power. That is why I think such statesmanship is shown in the speech made by my hon. Friend (Commander Wedgwood). In that speech he was undoubtedly following the lines of the statement made by the President of the United States. It is essential that you should show to the German people that this is not the object of the Allies. Show them that the object of the Allies is, in the main, and broadly speaking, to ensure their institutions, and to ensure that there shall be no aggressive policy for the acquisition of territory. Once that is recognised by the German people, I am confident that the power of the militarist party will wane.
1470 For my own part I feel certain that you need have no fear whatever that peace, if it were granted to-day, could bring a restoration of pre-war conditions. We are past the possibility of that. I believe there will undoubtedly be, with the despotic Russia removed, a democratic upheaval in Germany, sweeping away all autocratic conditions in that country by the only influence that can sweep them away—that is, the influence of the German people. We have reached a point of the piling up of debt, with a subsequent increase in taxation, where bankruptcy and famine are certain to ensue after the declaration of peace, even if it came to-morrow You have in every belligerent country all the conditions that engender revolution I feel certain myself that every belligerent country will be swept by revolutionary movement; by these economic and social forces autocracies throughout Europe will fall, and it is because I am so confident that these economic forces will achieve the objects which we are stated to have in view that it seems to me futile and useless to go on one day longer than is necessary fighting and sacrificing the lives of the young and the brave of this country. It is because my hon. Friend has opened up this new vista of possibility and pointed a new way as a result of this great movement of revolution in Russia and because of the coming of another Republic into the fold of the Allies, that I have been glad of the opportunity of saying these few words of appreciation.
§ Colonel Sir HAMAR GREENWOOD
I apologise for rising at this late hour, but I would make an appeal to Members of the House to consider the great inconvenience some of us living at a distance will be put to if we miss our trains. The last train on the District Railway is one o'clock, and I appeal to the hon. Member for East Herts, who is a chivalrous sportsman in a certain sense of the term, and to the Member for North Somerset, not to let us miss our trains.
§ Sir H. GREENWOOD
I appeal to the? hon. Member for East Herts to have some consideration for those Members who remain. Many of us have supported him in many of his splendid advocacies of the Flying Corps. I ask him to allow us to catch our last train, and to save us the great inconvenience of having to walk several miles to our respective homes.
§ Mr. BILLING
I have a very great and deep appreciation of the domestic advantages of the Members of this House, but I would sooner every Member of this House and every member of the Government should miss the last train home than that one of the best men in this country should be killed by being sent up in a deficient machine. I have sat in this House since half-past three o'clock this afternoon with the object of raising a question which, to me at least, is one of most vital importance. It was suggested to me while I was on the Back Benches that I should lend an atmosphere of occupation to the Treasury Bench, but I must say I consider I should not have been doing my duty to this House if I had allowed any stranger in the Gallery, if only for a moment, to believe that some member of the present Government considered it a compliment, if not a duty which he owed to this House, to occupy that bench until the Motion for the Adjournment was carried. Evidently there are certain obligations in this House which have ceased to be respected, and therefore I must address myself, not for the first time, to an empty Treasury Bench. Although that bench is completely empty I do not think that the impression I shall make on it is any less than the impression I have succeeded in making on the bench when it has been full. There are many points that I wish to raise before this House adjourns. First of all, I wish to say that I must withdraw, or rather I must ask this House to excuse me, if at any moment I have claimed the right and the privilege of having stated that some of the best men in this country have been murdered by maladministration. I was looking through the OFFICIAL REPORT since the last time that I addressed the House, and this is what I find—I have no weakness as a right hon. Member said, standing at this box yesterday, for reading my own speeches. I am referring to the OFFICIAL REPORT of 17th June, 1913. This is what I find:Captain Faber (Hampshire. W.) asked the Secretary of State for War if he would state whether the responsibility for allowing the aeroplane, that lately led to the deaths of lieutenants Harrison and Arthur being allowed to fly in their deteriorated condition rested upon the officer commanding the flying wing?Colonel Seely: I cannot admit that these aeroplanes were in a deteriorated condition as stated in the question. As regards the first accident, the Cody aeroplane had recently been thoroughly overhauled and returned as being in a safe condition for flying. As regards the second accident, the investigation of the question as to who was responsible for the condition of the wing tip which broke has not yet been completed,1472 Replying to a question by the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton),Colonel Seely said that most careful reports were furnished when an accident took place and lie deprecated any suggestion that the officers did not do their work-well From all the information he had it appeared that they were doing their work admirably and the aeroplanes were in excellent condition.Captain Faber asked whether officers of the Flying Corps did not hold a very different view, and did not some of them hold the opinion that the two officers mentioned were murdered by carelessness.And that is the historical occasion when the word "murder" was first used in the House of Commons in connection with the maladministration of our Air Service. Therefore, whatever reputation I may-have gained in this country or in this House for having used the word "murder" in connection with the Air Service, I am afraid I am doomed to lose it. What was the result of that speech? The result was that a Special Committee was appointed to inquire into and report upon this very accident, whereby one of the best airmen we had, Desmond Arthur, had been murdered by carelessness at Montreux. What was the result of the Committee's Report? I should like to read an extract from it. The Investigation Committee of the Royal Aero Club, upon whom Colonel Seely placed reliance, issued a Report on 19th May, in which they state:The Committee is of opinion that the aircraft had structurally deteriorated from one cause or another since it was originally built in 1911, and that its condition at the time of the flight was precarious.The Committee's recommendation was as follows:In view of the fact that aircraft are built of perishable materials, the Committee strongly recommends that those which have been in existence for some time, whether they have been in use or not, should undergo a critical examination both as regards their framework, and the fabric, with a view to ascertaining to what extent deterioration has taken place, and the conditions of the aircraft generally recorded at the time.The Committee is of opinion that the primary cause of the accident was the failure of the fruity joint in the repair to the rear main spar. The Committee is further of opinion that the repair referred to above was so badly done that it could net possibly be regarded as the work of a conscientious and competent workman.1.0 A.M
That Report has a very peculiar significance. When I had the honour, if not the pleasure, of appearing before the Committee specially appointed by the late Prime Minister—as I had occasion to say before, I did not have the opportunity of appointing my own judges in this case—when for eleven days, from eleven o'clock in the morning to four o'clock in the afternoon, I handed them out facts, which, if ever there is a history of aviation, I trust will be read; when I told them the exact 1473 and absolute position of the administration of our Air Service, that I never can have the opportunity of telling this House, as I do not wish to exhaust its patience; when I tell you that I brought up that very case as an instance of maladministration and criminal negligence, tantamount to murder, what was the result? The Committee came forward with an Interim Report, which I hold was a political manoeuvre—a political manoeuvre by a discredited Government to discredit a critic—and said: "We have no reason to believe that there was a patch or repair on this aeroplane, and we do not believe a word of what Mr. Pemberton Billing has said." Yet I read them this actual Report, and they would not believe it because I was unable to obtain a copy. I am very glad to see a Member of the Government (Sir F. E. Smith) on the Front Bench at last. There we have an instance of the Committee to inquire into the administration and command of an Air Service which has been the toy of the military and naval forces of this country, and is yet likely to prove the tragedy of the Government of this country.
I listened with considerable interest to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee (Mr. Churchill) to-day, I listened to the queries he put forward, and to the statements he made as to the condition of our Air Service to-day. I was interested, but I cannot say that I was surprised. That the right hon. Member, with all his faults, and I am quite sure that this House is not blind to them, possesses more originality of mind and more imagination than most Members of this House, and if I ever presume to give this Government advice on any point of its administration, I would suggest that if they are seeking—and I hold no brief for the right hon. Member—for a man whose wealth of imagination could be turned to a useful purpose to-day, whose vision, at least so far as aeronautics are concerned, is not prevented by polities and carries him beyond the Front Bench, they might do worse than to ask the right hon. Gentleman to handle the question of our Air Service with a firm hand to-day. To-day the Air Service is in a state of flux. We were told that an Air Board would be appointed; that it would prove the salvation and solution of this great problem which has been dismissed as an incident in this War instead of being recognised as what it may ultimately become, if this War lasts long enough—and it will have to 1474 last some time longer if we are going to dictate terms to and not listen to terms of peace from our enemies—the deciding factor in the terms of peace. When I rose in May, 1916, after I had been a Member of this House for only a few weeks, I told the House what would happen. I told the Government—not that I wish to read my speeches—"You appointed a Committee, and the Committee failed." I told them: "You have now appointed a Board; the Board will fail." I said: "When that Board fails you will call it by another name. You will take the name of another man who has won the confidence of the country in some other sphere; a man of no aeronautical experience, a man of no mechanical experience, but a purely political expedient. You will take that man, and you will throw him as a married woman will throw a bone to an angry dog; and the public will swallow him for a time." The public will put up with a very great deal, but I do not know whether this Government has yet put the measure on the credulity of the public, as to what they will put up with before they act in such a way as will make it absolutely necessary for the Government to take this matter seriously.
The other Board was appointed, and I think I am right in saying that Lord Curzon presented such a Report to the late Government that they had at his hands, I am suggesting, an ultimatum that either he would have supreme control—and just exactly what he was going to do when he got supreme control I do not know, because he had not the foggiest idea of what was wanted. He was harassed, as all these political nominees are harassed, by a multitude of counsellors. On the one hand they were saying, "Do this," and on the other hand they were saying, "Do that," and he did not know which advice to take. Eventually he redeemed a character and reputation which he was rapidly losing in the eyes of an awakening public by resigning his position. He was the second to throw in his hand, and then the new Government arrived.
The first time I entered this House after the new Government came in I asked the same questions, and, God bless my soul, I was answered by the same people. I found that the same Government, the same men, were doing it. There was a political shuffle—a shuffle of the political cards. One or two fell out and one or two came in, but that was all. We were watching 1475 carefully to see that there was no likelihood of a repetition of the mistakes of the last Government, that there was no recurrence of the policy of procrastination, of live and let live Any Government which has adopted such a policy has never been successful in a great war. The mistakes of yesterday of our Friends in Opposition were not to be repeated. I should have been considerably elated if the honour which is supposed to exist in all classes, even in the classes which politicians sometimes so strikingly remind me of, had been forgotten for one moment, and if the honour, safety and welfare of the country had been given the first and the paramount consideration. I should have been more pleased if the new Government, arising Phoenix-like out of the ashes of the late Government, had admitted the mistakes and blunders which have been made, had admitted that one or two of their members who had been with the late Government were also responsible, and had said that they were going to turn over a new leaf. I should have been more satisfied if they had told this House, without any dissension, that they had a legacy of muddle, inefficiency, and procrastination, and that the failure of the late Government to handle many tasks which we regretted they had not handled had much to answer for. If they had made a perfectly straight statement, I am confident that the position which has gradually become more dangerous to the present Government would not have arisen.
To an independent Member of this House this political reshuffle created a situation which it was very difficult to know how to confront. I came to this House not with the assistance of but in spite of every political organisation in this country. If I had to use the most unclean machine that I have ever met with in the course of my experience in many parts of the world in order to enter this House, I should refuse to use it, preferring to remain outside.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Whitley)
This is rather an abuse of the privilege of speaking on the Adjournment Motion. We are supposed to deal with some administrative action of the Government. The hon. Member will, perhaps, if he has some point of that sort, deal with it.
§ Mr. BILLING
I will see that I do not fall out of order again, but it is difficult 1476 to dissociate the administrative actions of the Government in relation to our land and sea warfare from their political manoeuvres, and I would, therefore, crave the indulgence of Members of the House, or, at least, those who are here. As regards all the actions of the present Government I have supported them in the Lobby, and I shall continue to do that. I am afraid that one vote is not a matter of any great assistance, but so long as their policy is for the successful prosecution of the War and makes for the efficiency of both our Air and our Sea and Land Services I shall give them my whole-hearted support. I regard my peculiar duty in this House to give effect as far as possible to the mandate upon which I was sent here. The mandate I received was to endeavour to put our Air Service into that state of efficiency which would make it capable not only of maintaining its position, but of improving it, and of ensuring to this country the supremacy of the air. I desired not only that we should be able to believe and rest upon the assurance of the late First Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. Balfour) that we might sleep comfortably, safely and restfully in our beds when Zeppelin bombs were dropping all around, but that we should be able to regain the supremacy of the air on the Western Front which we have lost. In March, 1916, our losses at the front seemed to those of us who were studying the problem closely one of the most serious incidents in this War. It appeared to us all the more serious because it was not a question of numbers. The proportionate number of pilots who were being killed was not so serious in relation to the terrible losses we were sustaining in other branches of our naval and military forces. I know that when I have put forward in this House the argument that thirty or forty of our pilots had been killed it has been remarked to me, "After all, what is that to the five or six thousand who are being drained away daily in our military operations on the Western front, to say nothing of our operations in other parts of the world." But what we have to remember is that the training of a pilot for the purposes of observation and air fighting—and without first-class air fighting pilots we cannot retain the observation pilots—is not only a very difficult but a very long task. Before we can train a man who is fit to do observation or air fighting in France, we first have to get the type of man who is suitable, and to get that type of man 1477 we may have to take him from fifty. I do not think I am exaggerating when I say that not 25 per cent. of the pilots who go into training are proved to be suitable for either air fighters or observers. Perhaps another 50 per cent. prove suitable for bomb-dropping raids, and the remaining 25 per cent. prove absolutely useless for any active service conditions. What does that mean? It amounts to this, that when we are throwing away a hundred lives, as we have been throwing them away in the case of our first-class observers and air fighters, the efficiency of 400 of our pilots is taken away. The matter is much more serious than hon. Members of this House appreciate. The matter is so serious, Sir, that if this Debate degenerated into a heart to heart talk between yourself and myself I should continue. The position is this, that if we go on losing pilots, first-class pilots, at the rate we are losing them to-day, the day is not far distant when we shall have no first-class pilots and no first-class observing pilots. What does that mean? It means that our Army on the Western front will be blind, and if our Army is blind we are beaten. If our Army is blind we are at the mercy of the manoeuvres of our enemies, we, are at the mercy of their guns, and our own guns, which, for the last two years at least, have not only depended, but absolutely relied on the information supplied to them by the gun-spotting machines, would have to fire blind into the enemy's lines, and would be throwing away all those wonderful munitions which we are making a gigantic sacrifice in this country to produce. I cannot understand how any Member of this House who possesses enough? intelligence to come in out of the rain to save himself from getting wet can fail to see the possibility and the necessity of our Air Service to-day.
My whole life since 1903 has been not only closely associated but absolutely identified with the Air Service. In 1903—I do not wish to make anything of a personal statement, but I consider it necessary to justify the act of a Service pilot throwing up his commission in the middle of this War to come to this vacant House and talk to empty benches. I want to justify my action. If I had been a pilot of a couple of years' experience of flying I should have felt that my action was wrong.
§ Mr. BILLING
I raised a question of my own identification with the Air Service for the pure and simple purpose of satisfying such Members of this House as are listening to me that any criticism I may offer is not offered from any desire to aggravate or to irritate the Government, but is criticism based on experience; and I submit most humbly that any Member of this House who is speaking hereon a matter which is essential, and a technical subject, should at least have the privilege of submitting to this House the very briefest of statements, such as I propose to make, as to my qualifications and my justification for keeping the House so late.
§ Mr. BILLING
I refrain from making any further personal statements concerning myself. It was not my intention. I would appeal to Members of the Government if they were present. I sincerely trust that in their moments of rest they occasionally refer to the columns of the OFFICIAL REPORT. That is the only justification I have for continuing my remarks as to the position of the Air Service today. It is more serious and more critical—I am now referring to the Royal Flying Corps—than it was twelve months ago, because the position of the whole of our fighting forces is more critical. We have a bigger Air Service, we have more pilots in the air, we have more aeroplanes at our disposal. But you must remember that twelve months have passed since then, twelve priceless months; millions of bullets have been fired, hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost, and still we are pondering, still we are intriguing, still we are hesitating, and when I think that since I first stood up in this House to raise this question dozens of men, dozens of the most priceless men this War has produced, personal friends of mine, have been killed, have needlessly thrown away their lives through this intrigue and inefficiency, it is difficult to speak without passion.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
The hon. Member has been speaking over half an hour now with considerable repetition. I have twice warned him, and I must now request him to resume his seal.
§ Mr. BILLING
On a point of Order, Sir. I would like to say that the remarks I was 1479 making then were that the inefficiency of this Air Service—I was distinctly on the question of the inefficiency of the Air Service—has caused the needless sacrifice of lives of our pilots, and if you do not consider that this is a point to be raised in this House I am not in order. But I ask you before you give your ruling in this matter to consider very seriously the question whether it is not in order for me to say that it is to my knowledge that men whom I have known have been killed. I submit that if I said they were men of whom I knew nothing it would be hearsay; but it is necessary to support my point to say that these men who have been killed were known to me, and I want to satisfy the House that I am talking from first-hand information and not from hearsay, as I have been accused of doing. I ask you to say that I was in order in referring to the fact that these men who were killed were men personally known to me, and they were killed through inefficient machines.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I have given the hon. Member every opportunity, and I must ask him now to resume his seat.
§ Mr. KING
Though I have never agreed with the hon. Member for East Herts, I feel now that it is a great loss to the House that he had not a full House to listen to him. I also greatly regret that there is no Minister here to reply, but I am perfectly sure that what the hon. Member has said will be read in the OFFICIAL REPORT and will receive due consideration. As the hour is so late and as no Ministers 1480 are present, I propose to call attention to the matter of which I have given notice on the adjournment on the 17th of this month.
§ Mr. BILLING
On the point of Order, ! Sir, I beg to protest against the ruling of the Chair. I do not consider that the ruling is in order.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Resolved, That this House do meet Tomorrow at Twelve of the clock, and, at its rising, do adjourn until Tuesday, the 17th April, and that Mr. Speaker, as soon as he has reported the Royal Assent to Bills agreed on by both Houses, do adjourn the House without Question put.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.
§ It being after Half-past Eleven of the clock, upon Wednesday evening, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put. pursuant to the Standing Order.
§ Adjourned at Twenty-nine minutes before Two a.m., Thursday. 5th April.