§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The MINISTER of MUNITIONS (Dr. Addison)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
The Ministry of Munitions have only presented this Bill to the House with great reluctance. We have engaged in very many housing schemes up and down the country, sometimes in co-operation with the local authorities, sometimes assisting private firms, and sometimes wholly on our own account, and we have built in some cases quite large towns. Nevertheless, in many districts it has been increasingly difficult to obtain decent lodging for a large number of workers, and we have adopted all manner of expedients in order to try and provide the necessary accommodation. We are now confronted with a task which has arisen out of the shipping situation, and it is this particular task which compels us to ask the House to provide us with some such powers as this Bill confers. We are now working on a great scheme to increase the output of iron ore in this country, and it means bringing many thousands of workers into districts where the housing accommodation is poor; in some cases it is of a middle-class type, and we either have to provide a large number of huts or temporary buildings of various sorts, or to try and obtain housing accommodation in the district. This great iron-ore scheme on which we are just now getting to work necessitates either very extensive housing construction or a considerable measure of either lodging or hostel provision in existing buildings. The difficulty of undertaking any housing scheme, apart entirely from the cost of it and from the delay that it necessarily involves, is intensified nowadays very much by two important considerations. In the first place, it is difficult to get the material, and it is more difficult still to get the labour. The result is that we scrutinise with almost microscopic care nowadays any additional proposal for extra building or housing construction.
2128 There is another aspect of the question which has become increasingly important, and which, I am afraid, raises social problems of very great importance. In some places—for example, Barrow, where we have trebled the number of people working in the munition works—we have had necessarily to draft into those districts a very large number of workers quite strange to the locality, and many of them women; and it is not so long ago that I had a deputation, which I must say was one of the most difficult to deal with and at the same time one of the most attractive deputations I think I have ever had. It was from the women workers at Barrow, and the complaint was in substance that it was well nigh impossible to obtain lodgings, the number of people who were prepared to let being limited, and that in some cases they had to obtain their beds by a sort of shift system of one woman occupying it one shift and another one another shift; and then, again, we have great complaints from there and elsewhere as to the charges which are made. I am not expressing any opinion as to whether they are unfair or not. I know the cost of living has very much increased, but it was quite clear that the charges that were being made in some cases were out of all sight beyond what had previously been the case. The girls at that time were receiving, I think—whatever they may have obtained from overtime and extras—a minimum of 23s. or something of that kind, and I think it has been raised since by 4s. a week, but at all events there was a very small trifle left in consequence of the high charges for board and lodging. It is therefore quite clear that if we were to see that the people going into these districts were decently housed, we needed some additional organisation, and possibly some further powers.
With this in view we have arranged to set up a number of outside welfare committees, as we call thrill, in these large districts. They will have many things to do. They will have to see. for example, that the workers when they come there get decent lodgings, to investigate the capacities of the place before they are sent, to make arrangements for their reception at the railway stations, and all manner of domestic details of that kind, which are of great assistance to workers in a strange place. It was clear to us that we must at all events have some local organisation which could so far as possible consider and 2129 deal with the local housing accommodation, if possible on voluntary lines, and to couple up with that some organisation which would be competent, so far as it is necessary to do so, to keep us advised of anything which was wrong in connection with the housing or other social conditions of the munition workers—a sort of local welfare organisation. These two requirements are met, I think, in the Bill before the House, and it will be seen that we insist as far as possible upon the people in the locality doing the work and upon the voluntary character of the organisation. I could multiply instances, of which I have a large number on this sheet before me, of the painful cases which have arisen under existing circumstances, and which we think could be obviated by such measures as are contemplated in this Bill. We propose that where a Government Department certifies that the carrying on of any particular work is of national importance, and that accommodation is required, they can invite the Board, set up under this Bill, to provide such accommodation, and it is suggested that there shall be a Central Billeting Board set up, of which I may say at least two of the members must be women, and that it will combine the requirements of the various departments. There is of necessity a certain amount of overlapping, which we hope by this Bill to get rid of. The views and requirements of the Admiralty, the Ministry of Munitions, the Board of Agriculture, the Labour Ministry, and the National Service Department are all to be represented on this Board. There are certain districts which may have to be excluded from any such operations where military necessities demand it, and it is provided that they may be banned by an Order of the Army Council.
Then the Board are to set up in different localities where munition and other workers are required a local committee, and they are instructed in the Bill to use the services of any existing organisation. In most of the districts there are local organisations of sorts, and sometimes I am afraid there are too many, and the difficulty is to get a small number of people who can devote sufficient time to doing the work thoroughly and well, but it will be the first endeavour of the Board to get good working committees in each locality, formed of the people of the locality who know the local requirements and conditions. The local committees, under the third Clause, will find it their 2130 business where this lodging is required to obtain the names of persons who are willing to take in lodgers and to state how many they can accommodate, and so on. It will be the business of the local committee to make recommendations as to what shall be the rates of pay for lodging and for attendance. There has been the grossest possible inequality in some places. There is no doubt about it that advantage has been taken of the overcrowded state of the houses to make very, very high charges. We shall hope to get good sensible advice to meet these difficulties, and to have the power to prescribe what should be a reasonable charge.
It will be the business of the local committees to hear and settle complaints. There is an instruction in the Bill to the effect that when the workers are being allocated, so far as possible all the allocations shall proceed on the lino that those who have expressed their willingness to take in lodgers shall be those who are dealt with in the first place. Persons shall not be billeted on those not willing unless all those who have expressed their willingness to receive lodgers shall first have been dealt with. There are various provisions which make it the duty of the occupier to provide the necessary information. We hope that these local committees. I should like here to say that I think this will be their most useful function—will deal with various grievances in the locality as they arise. The House will be well aware that probably in regard to three-quarters of a million of people who are working, so to speak, in new places, the Ministry of Munitions has been in undated—and obviously so; it could not be helped—with all kinds of small grievances and sometimes large grievances. This has placed a great task upon the Department, and they have every reason to hope that both for economy of time and good temper that there shall be some sensible committee to, so far as possible, settle differences on the spot. It will be for this committee to secure that, just as the munition worker is fairly dealt with, so the person who lets lodgings is also fairly dealt with, that she receives her payment weekly, that various damages shall be made good, and so on.
The rules of the Billeting Board are, according to the Bill, to be laid on the Table of the House, and if this Bill becomes law my hon Friend behind me 2131 the Member for the Morley Division (Mr. France) has been good enough to say that he will be glad to assist in the capacity of chairman of the Billeting Board. My hon. Friend is in touch with the outside work of the Ministry of Munitions. Similarly, the local committee will go into the various complaints which may be made for or against any particular person who is billeted. I myself believe, however, that in very few instances will it be necessary to exercise any compulsory powers or extreme measures. We have always managed somehow or another—and nothing surprises me more than the way it has been done—to get a large number of workers accommodated. Nobody is more conscious than we that in many cases, owing to pressure of time, we have, I am afraid, had sometimes to draft a larger number of workers into a locality than could reasonably be accommodated. Some of them in consequence have had to take long journeys by train or tram, which added to the weariness of things after their day's work. I hope that the House will agree, when they read this Bill, that we have tried to make it as moderate as possible, that we have before us a method of setting up some local machinery which will be competent to handle and be useful in connection with the needs of war and other workers, and which, I hope, will form the basis of an organisation of a welfare kind which will be a permanent -feature in British industry.
§ Mr. GULLAND
I am sure the House is much indebted to the right hon. Gentleman for the very lucid and frank statement that he has made in regard to this Bill. I do not often trouble the House, but I should just like to say a word on this matter, because this particular Bill does affect my Constituency. I am sure in my Constituency they will welcome this Bill. They do not complain that civilians have not been billeted upon them: rather the reverse. For they say that on several occasions they have been asked to prepare themselves for the voluntary billeting of civilians, they have made all the arrangements necessary, and then they have found that the particular Minister—we are not allowed to specify the Minister of this House—has not made use of the facilities they have provided. My hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary knows something of this matter as well as the right hon. Gentleman. I think my Constituents will be rather glad that we have now a definite 2132 scheme to put before them. As I understand it, it is not considered necessary in every case to put this Bill into operation. I know, as a matter of fact, that there are some cases at present in progress where discussion is going on for the voluntary billeting of munition workers. I am told that the right hon. Gentleman in these cases will, where they can be carried out, allow it, and, indeed, prefer that it should be so done. I am quite sure that the House generally will be extremely glad that the hon. Member for the Morley Division is to be at the head of this Billeting Board. Those of us who come under this Bill will go to him quite sure that he will give his genial and generous attention to anything that we have to bring before him. I hope that he will have the wisdom—I am sure he will—to take into full confidence the local committees that are to be set up under the Bill. It is no use trying to drill and dragoon localities in this matter. You will get lots of assistance if you go about it the right way. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his selection of his chairman, for I am quite sure there is no one in this House who will devote himself more successfully to this work than will the hon. Member for the Morley Division.
I am very glad of another point in this Bill. This deals chiefly with the Ministry of Munitions, though the right hon. Gentleman mentioned other Departments. I am glad they are going to have billeting in private houses rather than in housing these girls in halls and big places of that sort. I do feel, and I have felt in many case's, that it is not fair treatment to bring girls a long way away from their homes—where many of them have been very carefully brought up—many in Scotland come from the Highlands and other agricultural parts of the country—to be brought into quite new surroundings and herded together in halls, barns, and so on, under conditions which are not desirable. The Young Women's Christian Association makes provision for some. Still it is nothing like the care they would have in private houses. Therefore, I am very glad that the idea now is to house these munition workers in private houses where they will be properly cared for. It is far better to do it that way than to herd them together in big buildings. There are a great many people, I am sure, who will be glad to take in these lodgers, and will regard it as their bit of war work. There are numerous old ladies, many single, who 2133 feel that there is not much that they can do except to knit socks or mufflers. These will be delighted to feel that they can take in somebody and, so to speak, mother them. There is a great deal of mothering open under this Bill. I hope the right hon. Gentleman, and the hon. Member for Morley, will so work that these girls especially shall be well looked after in the private houses, and that they will be specially under the charge of the local committees, many of which are in existence, and many of which can be very easily set up. I hope the Bill will be so worked that not only will these women not suffer because of their association with this new work, but that they will actually benefit by it. I welcome the Bill, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will get it easily.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I regret I cannot follow my right hon. Friend opposite in his appreciation of this particular Bill. I confess that his moving picture of his constituents who at the present moment are concerned in knitting socks and mufflers, and will now have a greater joy in accommodating some girls who have apparently invaded his constituency, does not move me as perhaps it ought to do. I ask myself why it is that those same constituents to whom my right hon. Friend opposite refers could not now, without this Bill, take these same girls under their care and mother them, instead of the absent soldier whom they are mothering by means of socks and mufflers? I do not think that there is anything in the argument of my right hon. Friend, unless he means that he is in favour of those people who previously were voluntarily assisting in the War by knitting socks and mufflers will be far better occupied by being compelled by the Ministry of Munitions to mother munition workers. I am afraid my right hon. Friend opposite must reconsider his attitude towards this Bill if those are the strongest reasons that he can advance in its favour. I think this is one of the most extraordinary Bills that was ever introduced into the House of Commons It is, first of all, an indication of the lack of foresight on the part of the Ministry of Munitions and of this Government who have accustomed us to believe that they do everything "now." For long enough everybody has known about the creation of particular munition works. Everybody interested in the production of munitions has known that cer- 2134 tain large works were being placed in different parts of the country, and it seems to me an extraordinarily strange proceeding that not until now has the Executive and the administrative side of the Government, through the Ministry of Munitions, realised that it was necessary to provide homes and accommodation for people who were going to work in these particular factories. I do not think there is any indication of foresight.
§ Mr. HOGGE
You cannot get men or materials! That again is due to the fact that this Government has not taken the proper methods of dealing with either the use of men or the provision of material. They have been warned over and over again from these benches and other parts of the House. My right hon. Friend may look around and smile. I dare say those who are in power and office do laugh at the paltry suggestions that may be made by other Members of this House. But fifteen months ago, from this very corner, I, along with another half-dozen Members, made speeches pointing out the great wastage in shipping which was being carried through by the members of the Government and which resulted in a shortage of material. Therefore, it is surely foolish to turn round to me and laugh when I say the shortage of material is due to the lack of foresight in our Government. There is the logic of the thing, and Scotsmen like my hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend opposite are usually logical in their arguments. Therefore I say, and I think I am entitled to say, that when the Government bring forward a Bill of this kind, while they may excuse themselves, at any rate they must face the facts of the situation, and if it be necessary, then the reason of it being necessary is due to the lack of foresight on the part of the Government.
Before one agrees at all to the Second Reading even of this Bill, one must have some explanation of a great number of its provisions. I am perfectly certain this Bill must take a long time to get through Committee, because there are so many Committee points, and points that affect so much the intimate and domestic interests of so many people, that I am certain my right hon. Friend opposite, who, after all, represents a type of very thrifty, 2135 canny Scots, will have something to hear from his constituents if he agrees to a Bill which may put into the best bedroom of one of his cottagers at Dumfries a man who may be turned out the next day for being drunk. My right hon. Friend knows the value of licensing restrictions in his constituency, and I advise him very carefully to read some of the Clauses further on in this Bill, and to make up his mind what type of person may be thrust upon those good ladies who have been in the habit of knitting socks and mufflers. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Munitions, in Clause 1, asks the House of Commons to give him extraordinary powers. He does not ask this House to give him powers with regard to particular departmental work which comes under his Department; he asks for a very much wider thing. "Where any Government Department"—not the Ministry of Munitions, but "any" Government Department. I see on the Front Bench the heads of a number of Government Departments. Any one of those Government Departments can certify not that any particular work, but that "any" work is of national importance. Do hon. Members realise what that means? It means that any Tom, Dick, or Harry on that Front Bench can certify any work anywhere as being work of national importance, and then this Bill becomes operative. It is not merely the Minister of Munitions, whom we know and to some extent trust in his Department—I do not mean that to be offensive. After all. the present Minister of Munitions has been in his particular Department for some time. We realise what he has been doing and we recognise it, but this Government is creating new Departments every day of the week, and any one of these new creations, if they certify—not if the Minister of Munitions certifies, not if the War Cabinet certify, not if the Board of Trade or any other responsible Department, but if any Minister in this present Administration certifies—not a particular work, but "any" work, what does that mean? If the English language means anything, it means that if any of them want to get under their particular control any particular work; all they have to do is to write a certificate and say, "This is work of national importance, and the labour that we require for it must be compulsorily forced upon the accommodation of the people in that neighbourhood," and 2136 these people will have no redress at all, except an appeal to a committee which may be set up. I do not think that that is a point which ought to be allowed to pass without some kind of explanation or reply.
I think the House will appreciate the point that if the Government came to the House of Commons and asked, in view of the fact that there were, say, ship yards, high explosive factories, or munition works in a particular neighbourhood and that for the purpose of that particular and specific war work there was, on account of the lack of material and men, due to the lack of foresight of the Government, a lack of accommodation, then they might pursue this further policy; but when my right hon. Friend asked the House to give not only himself carte blanche, but any Minister, any Department, carte blanche to name any particular business a work of national importance, I think that is asking too much, and I think the House of Commons ought to protect the people who they represent against any incursions of that kind. My right hon. Friend opposite who welcomed this Bill on one of the infrequent occasions in which ho speaks in this House, spoke out of the fulness of the knowledge of what is going on in his constituency. I have also heard stories about his own constituency—I do not know whether they are true or not—but I have heard that on certain days in the week you cannot get along certain roads approaching that constituency on account of the drunken people in the way. That may or may not be true, but if it is true, they are the people who are to be compulsorily billeted on ladies who knit socks and mufflers. My right hon. Friend had better be cautions, in view of the fact that he, a well-known exponent of women's suffrage, may be voting for the extension of the franchise to women within a few short weeks.
There is much more in this Clause, but I do not want to go into meticulous details that can be gone into in Committee. I want to refer to what I call a substantial point. We shall fight the minor points when we get into Committee. Clause 2 sets out the Central Billeting Board, and provides for a chairman who, I understand, is to be my hon. Friend and colleague the Member for Morley (Mr. France), I presume unpaid, because, as we know, every Member of Parliament is always willing to give his work volun- 2137 tarily for any of those posts. Therefore, I hope he will not misunderstand me when, having made that explanation, I refer to Clause 8—the financial Clause. What is this going to cost? Have we any estimate? Has my right hon. Friend any estimate? He has come down to the House of Commons to-night, and I put it to him as a business man, as a man at the head of the biggest business that is being run in this country to-day, that he ought not to bring this Bill to the House without saying that it is going to cost so much. He ought to know the kind of officials who are going to be appointed, the kind of salary they are going to receive, and the cost of buildings, etc., in which they may be housed. Are you going to take another hotel, for instance, to accommodate my hon. Friend the Member for Morley? There is a Morley Hotel. My hon. Friend may appropriately have ambitions to be housed in a building in London named after his constituency. We ought to have an assurance on the point from my right hon. Friend. I think he will admit at once the justice of the criticism I am making now, and I am surprised that my right hon. Friend opposite, who ought to be critical on these questions of finance, is willing to accept this Bill without any indication to the House as to what it is going to cost. My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Major Godfrey Collins), who has just come in, is keen on the question of economy. We are considering a new Bill, which is going to create new machinery, new officials, and will cost more money. Now that I have warned him, I hope he will read the Bill while I am making my speech, and give the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Munitions the value of his criticism. When is there going to be any limit to the creation of these endless officials. Is anybody going to be left in the country who is not an official? It certainly is getting ludicrous. This afternoon I was with perhaps one of the biggest business men in this country, a man who controls millions of pounds, and I asked him about his personal staff. I had been round to St. Ermin's Hotel, I had been to Montagu House and to the War Office, and seen the staff tumbling over one another in every one of those places, and also, as I am reminded, in the "Garden Suburb" in Downing Street, but this man who controls millions has three of a staff to run his huge business. If I mentioned his name Members would realise at once ex- 2138 actly the economy that can be exercised by men who understand business. I know my hon. Friend above the Gangway is a business man. I have known him long enough to know that if he is the Chairman of the Board he will exercise the wisest kind of economy in the staff. If he does not, God help him! He shall hear about it in this House, because if there is one thing Members of this House are more sick about than another it is this interminable creation of all kinds of officials, with clerks and buildings, to do what a great many other people can achieve at very much less cost. Therefore I wish to protest against the creation of a new body of officials. Has my right hon. Friend considered, for instance, whether there are not existing organisations that can do this work? The body created by this Bill is surely a new ad hoc body which will want a new office for itself. Is there not some room at the Ministry of Munitions, or some hotel commandeered by the Government where this little Committee could do its work?
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. HOGGE
That, as my hon. Friend is to be appointed, there will be no new offices, and that ho will find accommodation for his work in something that exists. Now look at Clause 3. I want to put a point which seems to me to be one which the Committee ought to consider. This is what I would term the domestic economy Clause of the Bill, and I want to draw the attention of the House to what duties are laid upon the local committees. First of all, the local committees are to ascertain the accommodation available in the locality for billets and so on. Why need they do that? It is known everywhere. I do not know any single town, be it on the coast or inland, where you cannot go, without any indication at all from anybody unless from your own personal knowledge of the locality, and know that this is the district of that particular town where you can get lodgings. It is a kind of topographical fact with regard to every town and village which exists, and it seems to me that to start able-bodied people on a new census of this kind, the facts of which can easily be obtained otherwise, is surely a waste 2139 of time. It is not work of national importance. It is not the kind of thing that you want to employ able-bodied men and able-bodied women on. You could make as many munitions with the people you are going to use and waste in this canvassing work as you will ever gain by the extra accommodation provided by this kind of systematic canvass. Then, you are going to allocate the persons to be billeted among the various persons liable to billets. Think what that means. I wish the right hon. Gentleman would consider what these things are going to lead to. Picture what is going to happen. First of all, this local committee is to find accommodation for billets. Having found accommodation for billets they get together the people who are to be billeted, and the local committee—townspeople or village people out of these districts connected with munition work—are to say, "This lot of men or girls are to be billeted here" or "That lot of men or girls are to be billeted there." What does that mean? You cannot do that by chance; you cannot draw lots. It means that this is imposing on the local committee the duty of segregating the munition workers wherever they may be, and saying, "You are a respectable class of munition worker, and had better go into the better class terrace of the village. You are a rougher type of munition worker, and you will do well enough in this poorer cottage. You are well known to be drunk at the week-end, and we had better put you in this town." Conceive the commotion that you are going to cause in the Scottish villages which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dumfries had in his mind, or about Gretna, if you are going to give the local committee, which must be drawn from the village, power to drive these munition workers in gangs, and to see that these are going here and that those are going there. If you are going to do that, you are going to establish a rival to the theatre, or to any other similar form of entertainment.
The committees have to prescribe the nature of the lodging, the attendance, meals and foods to be provided, and the scales of payment. Really, what are we coming to? Are we not dragooned enough without entrusting to a local committee, an unpaid committee and a voluntary committee, drawn from the village itself of the small town, these functions? 2140 Look what these functions are. They have to prescribe the nature of the lodging. What does that mean? Does that mean that they have the power over the health authorities in that particular neighbourhood to say how many people shall sleep in that particular bedroom. Have they the power to establish the "Box and Cox" system of sleeping in these particular villages? Who is going to have the ultimate power? The local body, or the health authority, or the Local Government Board for England or Scotland, as the case may be? They have to go into this house and say, "You are going to have a munition worker. You must bring his tea and toast at six o'clock in the morning because he has to be early at work. You have to provide this man with food and attendance, and if you do not we are going to take powers under this Act to impose penalties upon you." Did you ever hear anything more preposterous in your life? I know my own country; I know the kind of independent woman whom you get in your Scottish village, and do you mean that you are going to a woman like that—a great Government like this, a Government of eighty-four members, who would make a village themselves if they were planted out properly—and to tell her that unless she does these things in this particular way for these munition workers from all over the country—many of whom talk a language which you cannot understand, because I am sure the right hon. Member for Dumfries Burghs will never understand what a cockney will say, though he stay there for years—you are going to impose on that woman penalties if she does not carry out that particular attendance imposed on her. Then there are the meals and food to be provided. Where are you going to get to there? We get shorter of meals every day; we get shorter of food every day. We have a Food Controller Are these local committees apponted under this Bill to be subject to the Food Controller? Is Lord Devonport to be entitled to go to Sanquhar, or Dumfries, or Gretna, and examine the number of ounces per meal to be put at the disposal of these munition workers? Is the Scotswoman in her cottage in these villages to produce written proof that she only supplied two ounces of bread in the morning, five ounces of meat at dinner, and no meat on Wednesday or Friday—I forget which is the meatless day? My right hon. Friend may think I am pulling his leg at this pre- 2141 cise moment, but after all we know our own country and the kind of people you are going to deal with. Does he honestly think he can impose these conditions on a local committee, and does he think the local committee can compel that kind of woman to give that kind of attendance on a munition worker with the ease which he anticipates? Will he answer, when he replies, or when the Under-Secretary replies, as to whether the Food Controller or the other authorities are to step in and see whether that is done?
Then they have to do with the scales of payment. Has my right hon. Friend ever had anything to do with satisfying women on the basis of remuneration? You go down to any Scottish village attached to any of these munition works, and you find a cottage of one size, and one of another size. Who is going to determine whether the lodging to be paid in one case is to be 4s. 6d. or 5s.? Is the time of the local committee to be taken up by an appeal because Mrs. X lodges a complaint that Mrs. A gets 4s. 6d. while she herself gets only 4s., and that the man in her cottage eats twice as much as the man next door? If you are going to interfere with people, do not carry it into their domestic arrangements. Interfere as much as you like. You have interfered, in all conscience, with the liberty of the people of this country. You have regimented us, dragooned us, and now under this Bill, called the Billeting of Civilians Bill—all these Bills have deceptive titles—if hon. Members would read it they would see how one by one every liberty is being filched by stupid, senseless, and unnecessary measures. This is the kind of thing that ought to have been provided for in a perfectly different way; and to carry into the houses of these people the dragooning and the regimenting of the population that you have outside is, I tell you, going to meet with strenuous opposition. The next thing is the supervision of billets. Did my right hon. Friend ever spend a holiday in a Scottish village? Does he understand anything of the resentment of the woman who keeps her cottage clean and tidy, and resents having people poking their noses in to see if it is being kept as this local authority wants it kept? It is inquisition. You talk of the Spanish Inquisition, but it is nothing to this Munitions Inquisition. It is enough to make angels weep to find things of that sort being put upon the local committee. 2142 I could go through a lot more, but I think I have shown enough. I see the Minister of Labour (Mr. Hodge) thinks I have shown enough. The Minister of Labour is a representative of labour, and I suppose he was put in the Government because he was a representative of labour. Will the Minister of Labour get up from his seat and support not the provision of accommodation for billets, which is not the point I was making, but will he get up from his seat and support this inquisition into the home life of respectable women whose sons. and husbands, many of them, are serving across the water at the front now? Will he do it? I challenge him to do it. My right hon. Friend says there is not any inquisition. Yet his name is on the back of the Bill. I suppose he has not read it, and that that is why his name is on the back of the Bill. If he reads it, and if he listens to the rest of my speech, he will realise that there is a great deal of inquisition. I will put it shortly again. Under Clause 3 this local committee have power to put any munition worker into any cottage. They might put as large a man as my right hon. Friend into the smallest cottage of the village, and the smallest man into the biggest cottage. They are entitled to prescribe the nature of the lodging—the kind of meal and food the man must get. They are entitled to go in and see that these things are done; and this, that, and the other. If that is not inquisition, what is? Perhaps my right hon. Friend is so used to Montagu House and the new atmosphere of aristocracy as to believe that that is provided for the working classes all over the country, and that, therefore, there is no injustice in this Bill. After all he is billeted in a place where there is plenty of air space and no fear of over crowding, unless it be by unnecessary officials, and he ought to have regard to and sympathy for the class of people at whom this is being thrown. I do not believe there is anybody in the country affected by this Bill who understands what is going to happen, and they will not know that this Bill has become an Act until it is an Act, and these people are actually put upon them by force of law.
Clause 4 deals with the duty to provide billets. I could make as much of that Clause as I have made of the others. I have only read this Bill for the first time since I came into the House, so that if these things occur to you now, what 2143 would not occur to you if you studied this Bill in more meticulous detail? Sub-section (2) of this Clause provides:
"Any occupier of any such premises who feels himself aggrieved by a proposal to billet persons on him, or by the number of persons to be billeted on him, or by the conduct or habits of persons billeted on him, may complain to the local committee, and the local committee shall take such complaint into consideration, and if satisfied of the justice of the complaint shall take such steps as may be practicable to remedy the grievance."
Here is a new form of liberty. It is going to be applied to the cottagers in the land of the Covenanters, the people whom the right hon. Member for Dumfries Burghs, who welcomed the Bill, represents. The women in these villages—if they are saddled under this Bill with a rough type of munition worker who plays havoc with the woman's little household goods, who comes in drunk once, twice, or more times a week, or has objectionable habits—cannot say, "This is my home and castle; there is the door." They have to take it to the local committee set up in the village, set up in the land of liberty. You are going by compulsion to saddle a respectable Scottish woman with a lodger she does not, or may not, want, who may have all the filthy habits a man can possibly have, and yet she cannot show him the door of her own house. What does the Minister of Labour think about that? That is an incursion into the homes of the labouring classes of this country which one would think from his own experience of his own native country is the kind of thing he might term, along with me, an inquisition. It is preposterous, and I am certain the Minister of Munitions, when he looks at this from the Scottish point of view, and considers this discussion with the local colour we have given to it, he will be inclined to revise his estimate of the powers he is going to hand to the little Tom Noddies who try to dominate our village life. Our villages all over the country have had enough of the domination of the squires. You are going to tell these women that they must have that type of lodger and keep them if the committee says so. I think it is monstrous.
I do not think my right hon. Friend has really considered where this Bill is 2144 taking him to. What would he say, for instance, if in his own house, when he went home to-night, he found that by an Act of Parliament his wife had been compelled to take a couple of men whom she considered objectionable into her own house; what would he think if his wife said those were men of objectionable character, and if all he could do in the matter would be to wait until the next morning in order that he might complain to the local committee? Next morning the right hon. Gentleman and his wife would have to give evidence against those men showing that they are undesirable, and unless their word was taken against that of the men they would have to keep them in the house. That is the way to look at these problems, and that is how they are going to affect people in all situations of life. This kind of thing has happened in the billeting of soldiers, because they have been billeted in all kinds of houses all over the country. The only difference between the billeting of soldiers and these munition workers is that the soldier is billeted under discipline, and if a soldier misbehaves himself he is subject to military discipline. But is the munition worker subjected to discipline? Would a local committee drawn from the locality be any protection? I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman, who is not devoid of instinct with regard to what the working people of this country feel and think. I honestly believe that the right hon. Gentleman does not want to put them to any unnecessary inconvenience, although he wants accommodation for his workers.
Let us appeal to him in this way: Surely he must see that the woman who has to provide that accommodation must have more protection. Take some of the Scottish villages. Those women have given up their men for the Army, and frequently there is nobody left at home but the woman and her girls. Can my right hon. Friend contemplate with equanimity a defenceless woman and her daughter in a Scottish village in which munition workers have settled being saddled with the rough type of men engaged in munition works? I do hope when we come to this Bill in Committee the right hon. Gentleman will deal with this matter, because it is a very real danger, and one which cannot be determined by giving power to a local committee to say that this type of man shall go there and this type shall go elsewhere. You cannot contemplate, from the point of view of respectability 2145 and of what these women deserve, that you should impose this hardship upon them. I could go on through other parts of this Bill, and I might be tempted to make the same kind of criticism which I have been making, but I think I have shown quite clearly, at any rate, that these points should be dealt with before we agree to the Second Reading. I do not think there is any real purpose to be served by taking a Division, because the Government can win, and it will only waste unnecessary time. I think, after what I have said, and after what other speakers may say, we ought to have a distinct understanding from the right hon. Gentleman that before this Bill goes through the House of Commons a reasonable interval of time should elapse between the Second Reading and the Committee stage.
This is a type of Bill which you cannot rush through at intervals of a day between its various stages. You are not entitled to legislate for the domestic hearths of the people of this country at intervals of half an hour. First of all, we should get a pledge from the right hon. Gentleman that there will be a reasonable interval between the various stages of this measure. In the second place, we should get a promise that the right hon. Gentleman will seek to protect a great number of people who will be affected by this Bill and who are left in an absolutely defenceless position. I insist upon that as an absolute sine qua non of supporting this Bill at any of its future stages, and if I do not get an assurance that in a Scottish village no committee will be allowed to impose upon defenceless women whose sons are fighting at the front in this way, I shall oppose this Bill by every Parliamentary manœuvre I know. I think this point is so important that we must get an assurance that our case will be met. I regret that this Bill has been introduced at all. I think it is lamentable that the conscription which began by the conscription of life for the Army and then by the conscription of labour which has been secured since for munitions, should be extended to the conscription of the democratic hearths of the people in remote villages all over the country. Surety something is sacred from the inroads of the dragooning habits of this Government and the length they have been driven to in their efforts to combat Prussian militarism. I hope the Minister of Munitions will not erect for himself in Scotland a 2146 monument of the man who invaded the democratic privacy of the homes of the women in those villages which ought not to be invaded at all.
The House has listened to a speech of very destructive criticism from the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge), and a good many Members will be inclined to agree with a great part of the case that he has made. I listened to the speech of the Minister in introducing the Bill, and I think he would have been better advised if he had told the House something more as to the nature of the problem this Bill has been introduced to meet and to solve. It is extraordinarily late in the day for this Government to come down to ask the House to pass a Bill of this kind. We know perfectly well that the problem which has been created with regard to munition workers, certainly as regards a great proportion of it, has already been met and solved in one way or another during the past two and three-quarter years. If there is any necessity for this Bill at all, why has the Government waited till nearly three years after the commencement of the War before asking the House of Commons for the powers to be taken by this Bill? The right hon. Gentleman gave us no indication at all as to the size of this problem. It is true he indicated in an aside to the hon. Member for East Edinburgh that one of the reasons this Bill is needed is because of the difficulty of getting men and material for the building of houses. Surely it would have been possible for the Ministry of Munitions to have got a clerk in the Ministry to have sent out a number of circulars to the districts where this problem arises endeavouring to get a local committee on voluntary lines to handle the problem. It that failed they could then come down to the House of Commons and propose something on this line, or something on different lines.
I would like to know why the Ministry of Munitions, before asking for compulsory powers, has not tried the voluntary system. The voluntary system was tried in. recruiting before the House of Commons was asked to adopt the compulsory. The voluntary system is being tried in National Service before the House of Commons or the country is asked to adopt compulsion. Is it only the defenceless women of the country who have no real voice upon whom compulsion is to be imposed without being told whether there 2147 is real necessity for it or not. The Minister has told us that in a large number of districts the work of munitions is being held up, and the health of munition workers interfered with because of the lack of suitable accommodation. If he were in a position to bring a charge that people in the locality would not house munition workers, then he would be in a position to make some strong case for his Bill, but he has not suggested that for a moment, and it would seem to me that certain provisions of this Bill with regard to the compulsory powers to be taken are more in the nature of the thirst of this Government for compulsion and arbitrariness than anything else. I do not share all the fears expressed by the hon. Member for East Edinburgh. He drew an alarming picture of the interference with domestic life of the people in the various districts where it will be necessary to enforce the Bill. If the Government had to stretch these powers too far in that direction, there would be a great deal of substance in his contention, but I hope the people who would have the control and operation of this Bill would be more sensible than the Government, and that there would not be any reason for the fears which the hon. Member has expressed. At the same time I agree that we must take care when this Bill gets into Committee that there are safeguards in this and other directions and that injustice is not done as it might very easily be done under a Bill of this kind. The hon. Member for East Edinburgh gave us several illustrations of what might happen in Scotland. This Bill applies also to Ireland. Unfortunately, there are not many munition works in Ireland, and I do not suppose that the necessity for the Bill will be very great in that country.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of MUNITIONS (Mr. Kellaway)
Clause 11 says, "This Act shall not extend to Ireland."
I am sorry. I did not see that. There are, however, one or two points that I was going to mention in connection with Ireland which apply with equal force to this country. The Bill gives power to set up local committees, but it say3 nothing whatever as to how those local committees are to be constituted, or of what kind of people. It is very important, if you are going to try to work a measure of this kind, that it should be worked with the greatest harmony and co-operation, and that you should make 2148 every endeavour to work it smoothly. In most of the localities, as the right hon. Gentleman has pointed out, you have a great number of local associations of various kinds—too many sometimes—from which to choose, but my own belief is that you would secure the more smooth working of the Bill if, instead of leaving it indefinite, you were to insert some provision that the local committees were to be appointed in consultation with the local authority in each district. It would be quite practicable to do that. These various voluntary associations do not often work in complete harmony or pull together, and if the local authority in each district where it was necessary to set up a committee were consulted and had some voice in the nomination of the members of the committee the Act would be more likely to work smoothly. You take powers to compel certain people to find accommodation for munition workers, but I find it very difficult to understand whether you also take power to compel munition workers to go to certain billets. If that is so, it is an intolerable proposition. I know that no local committee would be anxious to enforce it, but I do not think it. is a measure which the House of Commons ought to be asked to pass. It is one thing to compel a person to provide accommodation, but it is a wholly different thing to say to a munition worker or to anybody else who is being sent to a certain district that he must go here or go there, and, if the right hon. Gentleman on examination finds that is so. I hope that he will introduce an Amendment in Committee to alter it.
§ Mr. ANDERSON
I am sorry I was not present when the Minister of Munitions spoke on this measure, therefore I did not have an opportunity of hearing his argument in favour of these proposals. It must have been a very short argument, because, although I was only out of the House a few minutes, it was over by the time I came back. I should like to hear what is the case for this particular measure. A great deal would depend upon the extent of the problem, how far there is tremendous pressure, and how far you have been able to meet that pressure by ordinary means, without building up the enormous organisation now proposed to be built up. Can the Government give us facts in connection with towns where munition workers are unable to find house accommodation? Have they advertised or appealed to the people in any way to 2149 find house accommodation for those munition workers? That is the first step to be taken. If it can be shown that it has been tried and has broken down, there would be a much stronger case for this Bill than there appears to be on the surface. I suppose that one ought to put his judgment on one side in this matter, and say, as did the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dumfries Burghs (Mr. Gulland), that the Bill will afford a splendid opportunity to nice, kind old ladies to mother some poor, homeless munition girls. If that is all that is in it, and you approach the matter from that standpoint, there is no need to discuss the Bill at all, either on Second Reading of any subsequent stage. I understand that there is going to be set up in London another tribunal called the Central Billeting Board. That Board is going to be duplicated by local machinery all over the country. I understand that one or more of the offices in each of these local committees is going to be a paid office; so that, at any rate, whatever else it is going to do, if it does not find many new houses for girls, it is going to find a large number of new paid jobs throughout the country.
§ Mr. ANDERSON
Then what does Clause 3 mean? That Clause sets out what the Board proposes to do, and it says:
"In either case shall provide for the inclusion as members of the committee of one or more executive officers appointed by the Board, who shall receive such salary or other remuneration (if any) as the Board, with the consent of the Treasury, may determine."
Is there no possibility of building up paid offices all over the country on the strength of that Clause?
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
As a matter of fact, it will be hardly necessary in any case, certainly in very few cases indeed to appoint paid officers.
§ Mr. ANDERSON
Surely the hon. Gentleman does not dispute that this Bill gives his Department power to create any number of paid offices so far as these local committees are concerned. If it is not so, I fail entirely to understand the Bill.
§ Mr. ANDERSON
Yes, Clause 8, which says:The salaries or other remuneration of executive officers"—at least they are to get salaries or other remuneration—of local committees under this Act and all other expenses of local committees, to such extent as may be authorised by the Treasury, shall be paid by the Board.If that does not create the possibility of a very wide extension of paid officialism, £ should like to know what it means. I should like to have had some estimate of the extent of this problem. I am really frightened that we are once more going to have repeated the farce we went through in connection with the scheme of National Service, where, because you wanted to transfer a few people from a less essential trade to a more essential trade, you built up an enormous national machinery—very expensive machinery—you sent people all over the country, held meetings in every part of the country, and money was poured out over the scheme in order to allocate between 2,000 and 3,000 workers up to the present time, which could have been done without any of the machinery being set up at all. We ought to have the matter gone into. This proposal infringes on what has been regarded as the domestic liberties of the people. It may be necessary, but it means that people can have forced upon them all manner of lodgers that they do not want—lodgers whose characters may not be in every case entirely of the most desirable nature, but the people will have no choice as to who is to rent the room under this Bill. I should like to know if the Central Billeting Board is going to have upon it any representative of the persons who are going to be affected by the Bill. I gather that they are not to be represented. It is the homes of the working people which are going to be invaded in the main in this way, because the homes of the working people are near the munition works and are convenient from the standpoint of munition works I do not believe that you have any serious intention of lodging many of these people in the homes of the wealthy people in the west end of the towns. I therefore ask whether the people who are most vitally concerned in the matter are going to sit upon the boards? If so, it ought to be definitely stated. in the Bill that the Central Billeting 2151 Board is to contain representatives of the working men and working women. A number of curious anomalies will arise under this Bill, although I suppose we ought to really talk about the mothering of homeless girls. One thing will be that you may have two workmen lodging together in the same house under entirely different conditions as a result of this Bill. One will be lodging there in the ordinary way, paying ordinary rent, and another side by side with him will be billeted in the house and is to pay merely the billeting scale. The Bill is going to create a new penal code, because a man who is billeted will be subject to punishment for his offences to which he would not be subject if he were not billeted. Sub-section (4) of Clause 5 reads as follows:If a person so billeted is guilty of violence, drunkenness, or indecency of such a character as to require his immediate removal from the premises where he is billeted, he shall be guilty of an offence against this Act, and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding twenty pounds, and a person charged with any such offence may be arrested without warrant by any constable.So that you could have two men committing the same offence—going out together and drinking, for example—one a billeted workman and the other not, and one might be subject to a fine of 5s. the next day and the other to £20. These anomalies will be created right and left, and they run all through this measure. The hon. Member (Mr. Hogge) made a great many points against the measure—some good, some bad, and some in different. In fact, he had not had sufficient time to prune his case in order to throw aside the bad points and stick to the good ones. But I think he made a number of points which will have to be taken note of in Committee. I can quite easily conceive all sorts of questions arising. I can conceive moral questions arising under the Bill. You might foist into the home of a soldier's wife someone who was entirely undesirable, and, as far as I can see, she has no means of refusing to take any man you care to send into the house. That matter will have to be looked into to see what can be done.
These are some of the points which occur to me on the spur of the moment. I think we shall have to go over the whole matter 2152 very carefully indeed, and therefore I would suggest that there ought to be some time between now and the next stage. I was very much surprised at the Minister of Labour saying that apparently there is to be no inconvenience caused, and no kind of hardship imposed under the Bill. He does not see any. He is quite satisfied with all its Clauses, and his name appears on the back of it. I am not sure whether he has really read it, but I think he ought to, to see just what is contained in it, because I see a great deal in it where objections of the most serious character might arise and where we shall have to try to see that something is done. But I should have liked, if a case had been made out, to show that voluntary arrangements have entirely broken down and proved inadequate. I have heard no case even to that effect. We might at least have had that. Therefore, although we do not in the least intend to oppose the Bill, it will be necessary to go over it very carefully indeed, and to put down Amendments which will safeguard to some extent the interests and the rights of those concerned. What I object to most of all is this constant building up at a huge bureaucracy even when you are dealing with comparatively trivial matters, for I believe this matter could be dealt with, and I least of all would desire to thwart any scheme for the proper housing of the men and women concerned, and even to do it on fair terms. That is important, because in some districts both men and women, because of the pressure for house room, are being fleeced in regard to terms by the landladies. There is certainly common ground between us on many of these points. All we want is to see a measure for the adequate housing of those concerned and for doing it under just and fair conditions, but we want to avoid, as I am sure hon. Members on the Front Bench must want: to avoid, the setting up of unnecessary machinery and of unnecessary salaried positions and the inflicting of needless hardship and restriction on the domestic privacy and liberties of individuals concerned.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
The House has become so accustomed to having Bills of considerable importance put before it in a perfunctory manner that it is not surprising that the House has not resented the perfunctory and inadequate way in which the present Bill has been presented to it. It is extremely to be regretted that 2153 a Bill of this character, which is going to affect, in a manner of great intimacy, the domestic lives of large numbers of people is being discussed in a practically empty house, in the middle of the dinner hour. No real case has been made out as to the necessity of a large and far-reaching measure of this kind. The right hon. Gentleman's case was, in the first place, that, owing to the circumstances of the War, it had been found necessary to develop our iron-ore resources in this country, and that owing to our shipping difficulties we had for the first time to mine iron ore in this country in many districts where we had not in the past been in the habit of getting the ore, that in these areas there was inadequate housing accommodation, and that as there was neither material nor labour available to provide housing accommodation it was absolutely necessary to take measures of a compulsory character for the purpose of billeting these iron-ore miners. No attempt has been made to deal with the question voluntarily. In these areas the work has not begun to develop, consequently, up to the present time, the Ministry has no experience whatever to guide it as to whether or no these people can be housed voluntarily, or with certain temporary accommodation in addition to that which may be had for them. It is surprising that such a far-reaching proposal should be made where there is absolutely no experience to show that existing resources with some supplementation could not be made available by voluntary means. Then we are not told where are the areas in which this is necessary. The House was given no means of ascertaining where the situation in regard to housing accommodation was likely to be so serious as is represented.
Then my right hon. Friend went on to say it was only in relation to this new undertaking in regard to iron-ore mining, but it was also in relation to existing munition areas that this had to be done. I have always understood that from the beginning the Ministry of Munitions had made some forecast as to housing requirements in relation to their new scheme for the manufacture of munitions. I remember hearing an early statement by the Minister of Munitions as to the great schemes he had in contemplation. New works were to spring up all over the country, and in every area where they were to be put down the very best methods were to be employed for the housing of all the 2154 workpeople who were to be brought into those areas. We had eloquent speeches, with glowing periods, picturing the garden cities which were to spring up concurrently with these new munition factories, and the House was delighted. But we find now that it has not been done. In Barrow, for example, where everyone knew that the munitions population was going to be multiplied many times, the Minister of Munitions now, more than two years after the Ministry was constituted, has to tell us that there are girls in Barrow earning 23s. a week—23s. a week at the present cost of living—who cannot get decent lodgings, but have to occupy beds on the shift system. That is an example of the foresight of the Minister of Munitions who, by advertising the deficiencies of his colleagues, has at length become Prime Minister. This is a case in which the Ministry of Munitions has to stand on its own feet. It cannot be said that it was due to other people not foreseeing this. When you ask any question about the late Government, the Press all over the country immediately sings forth in chorus that if the present Prime Minister had only had his way in the late Government everything would have been different. But he was omnipotent in the Ministry of Munitions, and here we have an example of his foresight.
The new Minister has come to the House two years after the Ministry came into existence and tells us that because girls in Barrow, paid the munificent sum of 23s. a week, have to occupy beds on the shift system, it is necessary to have compulsory billeting. I say no more tremendous indictment could be made against the Department than the admission that in these days under present conditions of the cost of living, girls should be asked to live away from their homes on a wage of 23s. a week. It is impossible, and there is no use bringing in your Criminal Law Amendment Bills when you have a situation of that kind sanctioned by the Government, because, after all. the Ministry of Munitions lays down the rules about the payment of these girls. I say it is impossible, under present conditions, for any girl to live on 23s. a week away from her home. The case as disclosed from that box to-day is not a case for compulsory billeting; it is a case for better wages. It may be true—I am prepared to admit it—that there are cases where over charges are made, both for the cost of the room and for food; but that is not the way 2155 to deal with it. The Rent and Mortgage Bill, I think, was bad in principle because it laid down a standard which admitted of no increase of rent owing to war conditions. I think there was a case for increase owing to the increase in the cost of repairs and so forth, but no increase was allowed. When that Bill was under discussion in this House it was suggested that while the occupier of the house was entitled to have a stereotyped rent, nevertheless, if he himself let lodgings he was entitled to charge anything he liked for them. It may be impossible by legislation to fix a standard in regard to the price of lodgings, but why should you set up all this machinery for allocating accommodation for people? First of all, there is a new Department in Whitehall or in some hotel or club; and, secondly, local committees in every munitions area all over the country, with executive officers who are to be paid. It seems to me that the method of this Government is that, wherever you find a difficulty you must either establish a Board or set up a control. The cure for all ills the body politic is heir to is to be found in a new Controller or a new Board.
Many kind things have been said of my hon. Friend the Member for Morley, who is to be Chairman of the new Board. I congratulate him, but I do not envy him. I congratulate every man who is singled out for the honour of preferment by this Government, even although the honour is getting very widespread; in fact, we will soon have the majority of the Members of this House connected in one way or another with the Government. But he will have a very difficult and a very delicate task to discharge. We will be told that this is analogous to the billeting of soldiers, and that many people have accepted the. billeting of soldiers without any objection. I quite agree that the billeting of soldiers has been necessary, but as a general rule the Army has always regarded the billeting of soldiers as a temporary measure, until other accommodation could be found. My hon. and gallant Friend below me (Colonel Greig) will bear me out that the effort of the Army authorities is always to get men out of the billets as soon as they can. But this is not a temporary measure. This is for the period of the War, and we know the Foreign Secretary stated only on Saturday last in the United States that this is 2156 going to be a long war, so we are going to have this permanent system of compulsory billeting set up under this Bill. It is the most extraordinary proposal that has yet been made to the House. There is this other difference between this and the billeting of soldiers: we know that the soldier is under military discipline, which makes a very great difference. The soldier is a man who is paid a bare pittance and for whom food and clothing is found. The munition worker is a man who is contracting his labour for wages at a rate at which he should be able to pay for both house accommodation and food. Thus the conditions are altogether different But the difference in respect of the discipline under which the two sets of men are treated makes, I think, a cardinal distinction and one that goes to the essence of the matter. The control which you can have in respect of the civilian, is very different from the control which the Army authorities can exercise over soldiers, and even the Army authorities know from experience that it is very difficult to exorcise control; in fact, it is the difficulty of exercising control and of enforcing discipline which makes Army officers always desirous of having their men out of billets. My hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Greig) will correct me if it is not so, but I have heard that stated.
§ Colonel GREIG
If my hon. Friend wants to know, it is because the men are rather more comfortable than they would be in camps, and it is better for soldiers to be in camps and be rather less comfortable than they would be in billets.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I think it is also, as a matter of fact, a question of control. When the men were in billets in private houses the control over them was not the same as when they were in camp, and consequently the discipline tended to be much more lax than it was when they had them within the camp. I know from the experience of many private soldiers that the idea that they are billeted under comfortable conditions in many places is a totally illusory one. They are getting the minimum comfort, and, indeed, some of them are being placed in absolutely empty rooms, so that even the worst form of camp would be preferable to some of the accommodation they are getting in billets. I will not, however, pursue that matter further with my hon. Friend, as he is now attached to the Government, and of course is favourable to any Bill which 2157 they introduce I wish, however, to point out what the situation is in regard to control. You have under this Bill a provision that
"any occupier of any such premises who feels himself aggrieved by a proposal to billet persons on him—"
it is Clause 4, Sub-section (2)—
"or by the number of persons to be billeted on him, or by the conduct or habits of persons billeted upon him, may complain to the local committee, and the local committee shall take such complaint into consideration, and if satisfied of the justice of the complaint shall take such steps as may be practicable to remedy the grievance."
I do not know what sort of complaints there will be, but one can readily imagine the kind of complaint that may arise. This Bill contemplates the billeting of iron-ore miners, for example, and of other men, many of whom are in occupations which do not tend to cleanliness. Well, there may be complaints as to the clothes in which these men come into their billets, and so forth, and you will have your local committees probably overwhelmed with all kinds of complaints as to the habits of the workers who are billeted. Then the local committee, being satisfied of the justice of the complaint, shall take such steps as may be practicable to remedy the grievance. It seems to me the most extraordinary Clause that has ever appeared in an Act of Parliament. After all, if there is a definite offence, it is right to have a definite penalty, and later on in the Bill it is provided that if a person should be guilty of violence, drunkenness, or indecency there should be a penalty. But here an occupier who feels himself aggrieved is entitled to make a complaint, and the remedy is that if the committee are satisfied of the justice of his complaint they may take such steps as may be practicable to remedy the grievance. But why such a pious opinion should be put into an Act of Parliament I really cannot conceive. Then the committee is to have still more interesting work:
"If any difference arises as to the amount of such compensation—"
that is, compensation in respect of damage clone to the premises—the amount (if it cannot be settled by the conciliation of the local committee) shall be such as may be fixed by a certificate of the County Court of the dis- 2158 trict in which the premises are situated, and the Lord Chancellor may make such rules as he thinks fit for the purposes of this Sub-section, and may, by such rules, provide for applications for certificates being made to and certificates given by the registrar, subject to appeal to the. judge.Here we have a new duty thrown upon County Court judges. There is no doubt that there is every likelihood that in any case where damage has been done an attempt will be made to obtain some rebate. When people are billeted in other people's houses, and the slightest damage is done to the premises there will be, on every occasion, under such conditions, a desire to make a claim for compensation. You will not get this arising when people are contracting freely one with another, but when a person with whom a worker is billeted forcibly and at compulsory rates finds that there has been any deterioration in the premises, there will be a desire to get some kind of compensation, and it does not take much knowledge of human nature to foresee that there will be a great many efforts to get compensation under this Clause. Therefore it is necessary that a new duty should be placed on the County Court judge, under rules laid down by the Lord Chancellor, to fix the amount of the compensation, and there is no suggestion as to whether evidence is to be taken, or by what method the compensation is to be assessed. I suppose that would be settled by the rules laid down by the Lord Chancellor. But it does seem to me that this is giving rise to a large class of disputes which would never otherwise have arisen, and for a totally unnecessary cause.
These are some of the extraordinary anomalies which will arise if this Act is put into operation. It seems to me that before bringing in this elaborate Bill of eleven Clauses, and before setting up the extensive machinery, both central and local, for which this Bill provides, it was the duty of the Government to put some really serious case before the House of Commons. As I have endeavoured to show, the case on the facts has been put on two heads by the Minister. First, in relation to the iron-ore miners, in respect to whom there is no experience at all as to whether voluntary lodging will be adequate or not; secondly, he has put another case, where the difficulty, as he himself stated it to the House, was totally due to the starvation wages paid to the girl 2159 workers The figure of the wages was given by himself. But he told us nothing about the dimensions of the areas concerned, or how many areas were affected. He did not tell us in how many areas connected with iron mining there is inadequate accommodation, or in how many munition areas all the calculations of the Ministry of Munitions for housing accommodation have proved inadequate. We are left in ignorance on all these points, and on this shadowy, inadequate, and incomplete case we are called upon to set up a new Department, and to give these compulsory powers, enabling officials to enter private houses all over the country and to force people, no matter what their character may be, upon householders at rates in the decision of which they have no choice. All this is to be done without any case, and, if the House of Commons were worth its salt, it would not accept such a measure at the hands of the Government.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
I was not so fortunate as to hear the opening statement of the Minister in proposing the Second Reading of this measure, but I gather, from observations in speeches which have just been delivered, that no adequate case was made for proposals so drastic in their interference with family life and the privacy of home life, as are proposed in this Bill. We were told by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in reply to a question to-day. that there is not, and there is no danger of there being any interference with individual liberty in this country in these days. It is rather singular that a reply like that should have been given as a prelude to the introduction of such a measure as this. It has been the proud boast of Englishmen in the past that the Englishman's house was his castle. I think we shall no longer be able to make that boast with any degree of truth. I speak upon one aspect of this question with a certain amount of special knowledge. I have been associated, in company with the present Minister of Labour, for the last eighteen months or two years in paying special attention to the conditions which exist in the munitions areas of the country, and I do not think my right hon. Friend will disagree with me when I say that that particular problem with which we were concerned has been very greatly aggravated by the overcrowding conditions which have existed 2160 in consequence of the increase of the population during the last two or three years in these munition areas. Take, for instance, the now well-known case at Carlisle. In the early days of the War, the Minister of Munitions started very extensive works a few miles away to the north of Carlisle. One would have thought that the very first thing the Government would have done or considered would be the making of adequate provision for the proper housing of the thousands of workpeople that they brought to that particular neighbourhood; but, as a matter of fact, the Ministry of Munitions did nothing of the sort. Thousands of people came into the neighbourhood, gathered from all parts of the country, and they were left to find accommodation where they could. It is said that the population of Carlisle has been increased by something like 20,000 owing to the incursion of these workpeople, and that it is impossible either to get housing accommodation with private families or lodgings in the city of Carlisle.
What the Ministry of Munitions ought to have done was to provide hostels for the accommodation of these workers. It might be urged, as an objection, that the need for these workers is likely to be of a temporary character. To that I reply that so long as the works remain there, the need of larger accommodation for the people who are brought to those works should be met, and the cost of providing that accommodation would be a very slight addition to the aggregate capital expenditure which has been incurred. Apart from the strong objection to this Bill on the ground of its interference with family life and the privacy of the home, I venture to suggest that it is not. going to attain the purpose for which it is designed. Reference has been made to the fact that an attempt is likely to be made to make provision by such a measure as this for workers in Barrow. Anybody who knows the condition of things in Barrow is aware that it is almost impossible to get housing accommodation there, to be used for the purpose of this Bill. There is not one house in Barrow to-day that is not full, and most of the houses are in an overcrowded condition. The same remark applies to the conditions in other areas. Therefore, if an attempt is to be made to billet munition workers, you are going enormously to aggravate the terrible evil of overcrowding. We know 2161 that one of the most serious results of overcrowding is immorality, and I am appalled when I contemplate what may be possibly the result of such a measure as this. If it is not too late I would suggest to the Ministry of Munitions that they are going the wrong way to try and meet the difficulty of lodgings for munition workers. I entirely associate myself with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Attercliffe (Mr. Anderson), and criticism and opposition to this Bill really arises because we are very anxious that proper accommodation should be provided for munition workers at a reasonable cost. If it is not too late, I would suggest to the Ministry of Munitions that they should reconsider their policy and instead of proceeding by these means, which I repeat will be ineffective and which will not succeed, they should tackle the problem themselves, and with the enormous powers they possess, and the enormous amount of money they command, they could in the course of a few weeks time provide proper accommodation. We are hearing just now everybody talking about the need for national economy, and we all know that there is enormous waste in the present individualistic method of life—that is to say, a thousand people could be provided for at a far less cost together, or in a few hostels, than a thousand persons can be provided for if billetted in private houses. I am sure greater economy would be effected by the Ministry of Munitions if they dealt with the problem in that way. I was rather astonished at the concluding observation of my hon. Friend the Member for Attercliffe when he said that this Bill would not be opposed on the Second Reading. Of all the interferences which have been made by this and preceding Governments in the last two and a half years, no interference with individual liberty, I think, has been more outrageous than this which is proposed. Certainly, if there were a desire on the part of those Members who are opposed to this mesure, to take their opposition into the Division Lobby, I should join them.
Mr. J. HEN DERSON
I think no Bill has been introduced into this House which has had such an evil aspect as this one. It may be necessary, I do not say it is not. But, really, how far are we going in the direction of bureaucracy, and of all the bureaucratic Departments we have set up, I give my hon. Friend the credit that the Munitions Department is the biggest. I 2162 know of no Department which so thoroughly interferes with other people's work as does the Munitions Department. I dread another Department being put under their control and direction. I also dread this eternal appointment of salaried officials, and local committees, with all the expenses of those committees, and so forth. I really do not know where we are going to. This House of Commons has absolutely lost control over expenditure, but the day of reckoning is coming when we will have to go into all this. They have got so accustomed to going to the purse and taking out whatever is wanted, without regard to this House or anyone else, that the ultimate result will be very serious indeed. The Munitions Department has had no difficulty whatever in dictating to controlled firms the amount of wages which they shall pay their men; it has insisted upon all controlled firms, amongst them engineers, raising the wages to just as much as it thinks is right. If that is the fact, I do not know why the Munitions Department should scruple to give these people who are going away from their homes to engage in work of national importance sufficient wages, at all events, to enable them to make their company desirable where they are billeted if people wish to billet them. But to tell men that they are going to some town—say, Coventry or any of those places—and that it is really so overcrowded that they must be billeted, is not likely to draw workers to the national service. It certainly would not draw ordinary men. In military matters it is wholly different. In some districts where they notified billeting the military, by the erection of huts and so forth have avoided it, or very little has taken place. I cannot see why you are to draw people to various places without providing some place whore they can live in decent comfort. I see here that every man is bound to give the local committee information respecting his premises and the number of persons residing there, and to provide such billets as may be required. If a town is overcrowded, how are they to billet a great many people in it? It seems to me you have fallen into the mistake of sending people to various places to do certain work without having in the first instance discovered what you could do with them when they were there It is little inducement to any man to volunteer for National Service to know that he may be billeted in an already overcrowded town The number of people en- 2163 gaged in these operations from first to last under the Ministry of Munitions seems to me to be getting enormous and beyond all control and knowledge. The War is a very great war and brings about this very ! extraordinary case, but I do protest. I suppose this is the first Bill of the kind in this or any other country to billet civilians. The case of soldiers is totally different. They do not ask when billeted for very great accommodation. Where I have heard of them they have been most amenable, and have accepted any reasonable accommodation. So long as they are provided with a mattress and blankets, and get their food, they are content. You cannot expect people drawn from civil appointments, especially when they are over age, to put up anyhow and make the I best they can of it. I dread this power, above all, of local committees and squabbles and disputes between people of a town going on constantly, and no peace or rest for them: and discontent at having people billeted on you when you do not want them, however objectionable they may be, and when you do get them you cannot get rid of them without going to the local committees. We know what local committees are; some are bad, and some will deal fairly and some not. You will have a great deal of unrest and disappointment and annoyance throughout the country. It may be necessary, though I very much doubt it. I think the proper course is to make provision by huts or hostels. Why not take a hotel or two? You did not hesitate to take them for yourselves in London. I look Forward with very great concern to the outcome of this Bill.
Notice taken that forty Members were not present. House counted, and forty Members being found present—
§ Mr. WING
We have heard a number of speeches critical of this measure, and in some the arguments have been so various as to be mutually destructive of each other. One hon. Member objects to the Bill because the Government have got such a way of spending money and Departments put their hands into the public purse with great audacity and without a blush. He immediately follows that by saying, why do you not spend more money, and that what the people want is more accommodation, and that the Government should continue to spend and be lavish. You cannot have expenditure and economy 2164 both prevailing at the same time. Personally, I sympathise with the Ministry of Munitions in relation to the introduction of this Bill. There are some of the evils pointed out by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden), but they are not evils of the creation of the Ministry or Munitions. They are difficulties which the Ministry have come against and for which they are endeavouring as well as they can to find a solution. The hon. Member for Blackburn pointed here and there, and said what they should have done was to make proper provision. Really, we have got to remember that the Ministry of Munitions is confronted with the question of the provision of munitions for the period of the War. The War is going on, and they cannot suspend it while they arrange conditions of an ideal character. I wanted recently, if possible, to transfer a number of miners who, on account of difficulties of transport, were unemployed. It occurred to me that it would be an opportunity for transferring the; miners from one point to another. The very difficulty of which the hon. Member for Blackburn complained was the difficulty which prevented the transfer of those miners. The Coal Controller said. "Yes, the men are wanted, but I want to know what the accommodation is for them before they are sent."
This is a practical difficulty, and. as I read the Bill, it in no wise interferes with the possibility of the creation of huts, but what it does say is that the Ministry must know what is the accommodation in the district in which accommodation is wanted. It does not necessarily mean that a person shall be forced to take in lodgers. I have as much reverence for the working man's home as any of the hon. Members who have spoken, but I can imagine there are a number of conditions in this Bill which people who take in lodgers will be exceedingly glad to have, such as what is regarded as a just payment to be given to the person who billets, and also some security that he or she will get the money for billeting. We are told by one hon. Member that we must have representation of the people who are to billet these folk, but I take it that a local committee is really for the purpose of providing that. Then it is said that we are setting up another organisation, but if we want the working people represented we must give them some organisation. Considering the many difficulties that the Ministry of Munitions have to face, I think they have 2165 looked all round the problem and have endeavoured to meet every difficulty that presented itself, and I hope the House will not stand in the way of the Ministry obtaining the billeting powers which they desire. It is quite possible to have under-tenanted houses in a district, even in an overcrowded district. Here you have an organisation with a view to knowing what are the possibilities of a particular district. If it can billet no more people, huts must be provided. I would point out that if the Ministry had said "We want to build huts for these people," the hon. Members who oppose the Bill would have said, "Why not see what the present accommodation is; why do you not get to know?" This Bill gives them an opportunity of inquiring what are the conditions and possibilities, and if the requirements are not met by the housing possibilities of the district huts must necessarily be built. With regard to all the unpleasant questions that arise out of overcrowding, I thoroughly agree with the hon. Member for Blackburn, but it is a very difficult time in our national history for us to be speaking of ideal conditions, and carrying them out, when our soldiers are requiring munitions and every form of industrial endeavour is fully occupied. I have very great pleasure in supporting this Bill, because I believe it is an honest effort to solve a difficult problem. I feel that we are getting in this House into a way of cavilling, and a determination that there can be nothing right presented by the Government, rather than of seeing the decent, points in the various Bills and realising the tremendous difficulties with which the Government are called upon to deal.
§ Mr. D. MASON
The hon Member who has just sat down made a statement to which many of us take exception. I wonder if he has read the Bill.
§ Mr. MASON
The hon. Member said that many of those who oppose this Bill complain of the Government, and ask why they do not find out what the accommodation was in a particular neighbourhood and then make new provision, but no one takes exception to the Government's finding out what accommodation exists in certain towns. In my own district, for example, which is suffering from a lack of houses, no one takes any exception to the 2166 Government's finding out whether there are lodgings available for munition workers. The gravamen of the objection to this Bill is the principle of compulsion that is introduced. We object to the idea of compelling small householders, women whose husbands or brothers may be fighting, single women, and so on, by the fiat of a local committee, to have munition workers forced upon them whether they wish it or not.
§ Mr. MASON
May I remind the hon. Member what these safeguards are? The only redress which any defenceless woman may have if she objects to a certain worker billeted upon her is to apply to her local committee. Conceive of the situation—some terrible scene taking place in this poor woman's house; perhaps she is living with daughters or sisters and has a spare room, and someone a forcibly billeted upon her; she has no redress except going to the local committee. Some reference has been made to soldiers being billeted, but the answer to that is that a soldier is subject to discipline, whereas the worker is not subject to anyone. The local committee might, in such a case as I have mentioned, give a decision that a particular worker was undesirable and must be removed elsewhere.
§ Mr. MASON
Such a case can be multiplied tenfold. Conceive of it going on in Coventry, in Sheffield, right through Scotland, and the great munition areas. There is a provision in this precious Bill that the expenses of the local committees are to be met by the Treasury. It is a fiasco of a Bill! Let me draw the attention of the House to Clause 6. Whoever drew up this Clause evidently was anxious to create expense and perhaps litigation. There are half a dozen Sub-sections which provide for cases of dispute, which may lead to expense, and which have to be settled by a local committee. If anyone either falsely or otherwise introduce to billets or suggests to the local committee that there are billets available, or in any way acts in an injurious manner, that person is subject to a fine of £100. All these cases have to come before the local committee. Let me read to the House some 2167 of these various Sub-sections. A person guilty of an offence is to be specifically fined.
§ Mr. MASON
This has nothing to do with the poor woman. If the hon. Member will get the Bill he can find out to what this particular Section refers. What I am speaking of refers to Clause 6, where, if anyone "personates or falsely represents himself to be a person authorised to demand any billet or to be billeted under this Act," he shall be guilty of an offence. These are the people who may, without proper authority, act as agents for billets. This has nothing to do with the poor woman. This is an entirely different case. This is another Section to which I am drawing the attention of the House to show the absurdity of this Bill. I had already passed away from the defenceless woman, whom I hope I have convinced the hon. Member is really defenceless. The only redress she has is to apply to the local committee. I am now referring to Clause 6. I have already quoted the first paragraph (a). What does the second paragraph (b) provide? If any person—(b) receives, demands, or agrees for any money or reward whatsoever to excuse or relieve any person from being billeted in a list as liable, or from his liability to billets, under this Act, or from any part of such liability,he shall be liable to imprisonment or fine, or both. What does paragraph (c) provide? If any person—(c) gives or agrees to give any money or reward to any person to excuse or relieve him from being entered in a list as liable, or from his liability to billets under this Act, or any part of such liability,he shall be liable. What does paragraph (d) provide? If any person—(d) gives or agrees to give any person billeted upon him in pursuance of this Act any money or reward in lieu of receiving such person or furnishing such accommodation as is required by this Act,he shall be liable; and so with paragraph (e). If any person—(e) for the purpose of avoiding any liability under this Act, gives to the local committee or an executive 2168 officer any false information with respect to any matter with respect to which he is required to furnish information under this Act,he shall be liable. All these people are apparently to be tried by the local committee, and the expenses of the local committee are to be provided in the way my hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh pointed out. If I may be allowed to say so, my hon. Friend made a most brilliant contribution in initiating the discussion on this Bill. He pointed out that in Clause 8 the expenses of these local committees are to come from the Treasury. These, then, that I have outlined are the provisions for almost every conceivable offence that any village or town may indulge in. If any man does anything contrary to the Act in introducing to billets or otherwise offends against the Act he may be punished. The committee may develop into a sort of local Star Chamber. The hon. Member (Mr. Wing) laughs. It is no laughing matter. I have not risen to create amusement for hon. Members. I speak in all seriousness. It is not a laughing matter. We are dealing with the taxpayers' money. The hon. Member apparently thinks we have an unlimited purse. We are creating committees who are to engage in this fiasco, and this billeting is to be done in the most expensive manner possible. Not only so, but you will create dislocation It is not a question of billeting or finding out the accommodation. It is quite right for the Government to desire to find accommodation for the workers, but let them set about it in the proper manner.
§ Mr. MASON
As the hon. Member for Blackburn pointed out, there are many other ways than this of finding out the required information. We wish them to find it out. But what we do not desire them to do is to compel women and other people who do not wish their houses to be turned into lodging-houses to have them so used. We wish for no compulsion in this matter. Let us have it done by option, by an organisation for finding out the possibilities of every town, so as to ascertain the measures to be taken. This country has not shown itself behind in patriotism. There was no difficulty in finding billets for soldiers. Why should there be for munition workers? The case of a, soldier is different, because 2169 he is under a commanding officer, and, therefore, liable to discipline. The hon. and gallant Gentleman, who is a soldier of distinction, will know that. The soldier feels under discipline when he is in a billet. The civil members of the community are not under commanding officers. The numberless cases which are to come continuously before the local committee will mean that it will have to sit permanently. Hon. Members will agree that if you forcibly make people take lodgers there are more likely to be cases of dispute and claims for compensation than if the matter were adjusted voluntarily. Therefore the time of the local committee will largely be occupied in settling these questions, questions of compensation, of complaint, and of redress.
Some reference has been made to overcrowding. Here, again, I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden), who referred to the probability of overcrowding which will ensue from this Bill. I know in my own Constituency that they require some 5,000 houses. There is not accommodation for all. If you are going to allow the local committee, anxious no doubt to get people housed at any cost—here is a house to spare, and there another house—put a couple of lodgers into them I—if I say you are going to allow the local committee to do that by force, we are bound to have overcrowding. Overcrowding is a question of wages. A number of the workers in my own Constituency are now, I believe, going out into the surrounding districts. If the workers are properly paid they will be able to go out into the surrounding districts. It is better they should live outside the city than crowd into narrow streets, bringing about congested areas, disease, and inefficiency as a result of their overcrowding. This Bill goes the wrong way about the cure—for we all desire a cure. It may be suggested to me: What remedy have you to offer? I think the hon. Member for Blackburn made two admirable suggestions. Some ridicule and scorn was poured upon them because, it was said, they will mean extra expense. Of course, the housing of the people does mean expense. The workers can pay for it. They can recoup a district for the capital outlay. It is not unre-munerative expense altogether. Suppose you put up an hotel or hostel? You will be getting rent for them. If you put up 2170 huts or other accommodation in a town you will get some compensation and some payment for the work.
I fail to see that, because we oppose this Bill, we necessarily oppose finding accommodation. We desire to find accommodation for these workers. I think, as has been put very admirably by many speakers, that if you introduce the element of compulsion you accentuate the evil and create other evils, injustice, and unrest, and we are very desirous not to create unrest in this country. We are anxious to have the country united. I hope this Bill will not be persisted in. Many speakers have very persuasively appealed to the Government to reconsider, not from any wish on our part to thwart them or prevent them from providing accommodation, but that they may reconsider the position, and take counsel of many Members who represent these munition areas as to the best method of meeting the difficulty. We are anxious to find a way out, and we appeal to them to withdraw their Bill for the time being and reconsider the position, so that some other method may be found. We are anxious to support and facilitate the finding of accommodation, but we believe this Bill will have the very opposite effect—that it will create unrest, that it will create discontent, which is disadvantageous to the cause in which we are all interested, and that it will lead to abuse, to probably an increase of crime, and to injustice.
§ Mr. CURRIE
It is, of course, very easy to cavil at a Bill of this kind, especially when you have a feeling of natural hostility towards this and every Government. I do not suggest that some of the difficulties with which we have been threatened to-night will not be found to have some measure of foundation; at the same time, I wish to say that, as a member of the Home Office Committee which was charged with the duty of making, if possible, arrangements for the substitution of women's labour for that of men, and of finding accommodation for women who were sent to various towns in connection with war work, I am convinced that a Bill of this kind is really required. It is all very well to say the work can be done by voluntary effort. A great deal has been accomplished through voluntary effort, but at the same time a great deal has been left unaccomplished. I can tell the House that in connection with one of 2171 the Yorkshire towns we were surprised at the difficulty we found in securing accommodation for women whose work and presence were most urgently required, and we sent down someone to Yorkshire and found out that in this town there were between 700 and 800 unoccupied houses. On pressing inquiries a little further wo found that about 200 of those houses had been condemned, and I dare say they were put out of court on that account, but between 500 and 600 empty houses were standing there, and even if it be true that you cannot send women in a hurry to live in unoccupied houses, the accommodation is there, and other people can live in the empty houses; but the fact of the matter is that in this town 500 houses, representing 2,000 or 3,000 vacant rooms, could be used very easily, and I do not see any other way except a Bill of this kind to make such houses available.
§ 10.0 p.m.
§ Mr. CURRIE
We found repeatedly that the great difficulty was to arrange for the transference of workers, simply because, although there were vacant houses and spare rooms, there was no way of getting workers into them. Voluntary effort has been found only partially successful. It seems to me ridiculous that a position like the present should be allowed to continue when the work of these women is so badly required. The hon. Member for Coventry seems to regard it, so I gather, as rather a hardship that in a house of that kind, where there may be a spare room—that is, an unoccupied room—it should be forcibly occupied. I do not agree with him. I think it extremely reasonable that a room of that kind should be occupied, and I do not know how else it can be occupied except by a Bill of this kind. The hon. Member says that this Bill will stir up discontent. I can assure him, having been through a good many inquiries, including one at Coventry, that this Bill, instead of stirring up additional discontent, will probably do a good deal to avoid still further discontent, and allay the discontent that exists at present. I confess I think a good deal of opposition to this Bill has emanated from people who are not so cordial about the prosecution of the War as they might be. For that reason I think it is very unworthy opposition.
§ Mr. JOWETT
The hon. Member who has just spoken notwithstanding his extensive experience, has used a very curious argument with regard to the 500 or 600 empty houses to which he referred, because surely it is clear that the Government could, if they chose, provide under the Defence of the Realm Act for any difficulty in getting the use of those houses. The hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Wing) was good enough to suggest that if the Government had come down and said that they wanted to provide for some hostels, those who were opposing this Bill would then have opposed hostels and advocated billets. It is rather an uncharitable suggestion, and. so far as I am concerned, I utterly re pudiate it.
§ Mr. JOWETT
I am in the recollection of the House. The hon. Member went on to suggest that local committees would provide sufficient security against any injustice or unnecessary inconvenience in the case of persons who had workers billited upon them. Is it not clear that those committees would mainly consider whether there existed empty rooms, and would much notice be taken of other representations? But what I wish specially to point out to the House in regard to this Bill is this fact: it is notorious that there is a shortage of housing accommodation in this country already, and that there is not a large town from Land's End to John O'Groat's which is not largely overcrowded. For the last two and a half or nearly three years building operations have been practically suspended.
Therefore, it follows that this Bill cannot seriously provide any large amount of additional accommodation, because of the fact that there is already overcrowding. If there is already overcrowding, then, of course, it cannot affect its purpose, and some other means ought to have been proposed by the Government in order to provide the necessary accommodation required. My hon. Friends suggest, and I think the suggestion is a good one, that instead of proposing to force householders to take lodgers there should be arrangements made for additional accommodation, because, of course, additional accommodation is required. It may be said 2173 that additional accommodation cannot be easily provided, but we see here and there in London itself how rapidly structures can be run up, structures which are not in any way, so far as one can see, lacking in stability or comfort, and which could be put up for this purpose just as well as for any other purpose. There are also country houses which could be requisitioned, and hotels, and if there are not sufficient buildings available, then recourse could be had to the rapid building of temporary structures that could be made comfortable in every respect, and a real addition to the housing accommodation thus provided. We all agree, of course, that notwithstanding the fact that there is general overcrowding, there are exceptional instances here and there where there is a spare room available. But I want to suggest that in most cases it would be improper to force a lodger on these householders who had a spare room. If Ministers themselves were concerned, they would not agree to have a lodger forced into the house, and most of them, bear in mind, have staffs of servants who are able to stand between them and any lodgers. But imagine the position—and this is just the kind of provision in exceptional cases that is now available—of a young married woman of the artisan class whose husband has been taken, after one or two years of married life, away to the Army, and she is asked to take lodgers. I do not think anybody who looks at the question fairly and squarely will be able to say that though there is accommodation there a lodger should be forced into the presence of that household.
§ Mr. JOWETT
Even a woman. Surely there is some sanctity of the household. I know it is said that soldiers are billeted, but that argument has been effectively met by the statement that soldiers are under discipline and that complaints can be laid against them to the officers who are responsible for those soldiers. It is not so with free workers, and it is a most unsuitable and, to my mind, a most unfair thing to force strangers into the household in those circumstances. This Bill is a wicked and monstrous thing, and it seems to me that the same spirit which sent the Gadarene swine 2174 down to destruction has prompted the Government to bring such an iniquitous measure as this before the House.
§ Sir J. AINSWORTH
I think we shall all agree that the Government would never have brought in this Bill if they had not required additional labour in munition factories and other works of that kind for the carrying on the War. We must all agree that other considerations must fall into the background wherever the Government tell us directly that they want extra work and mean to employ additional labour for the production of munitions. I am sure I do not need to remind any hon. Member here, as we see it in the paper every morning, of the enormous demand for shells of every description. Is any hon. Member going to venture to get up and say for one moment that he is going to raise his finger against or grudge the money for work that has to be done to provide our soldiers and sailors with these materials? Let us imagine—we cannot imagine but let us try to imagine—what we should feel like if we were in the trenches and do not we feel that the very utmost we can do is very little as compared with the work that is being done for us by our soldiers and sailors at the present moment? We all know those who make up our defences, our own sons, our brothers, members of our own families, those whom we do think of and ought to think of more than anyone else in the world, and how can we hesitate for one moment to provide the Government who are responsible for them, with these things which are wanted. They say they are wanted, and it is our business to provide them, and I am sure everyone in this House feels that there is nothing in the world whatsoever in our minds or in our thoughts which shall stand for a moment between our soldiers and those who are defending us with their lives and providing them with whatever they want. Let us put that on the one side and realise that the Government are quite right, if they feel the necessity, in coming and telling us that they want certain additional powers for finding proper accommodation for labour. We all know that you cannot employ additional labour without arranging to provide that labour with proper housing accommodation, with sanitary arrangements, food, wages, and, of course, everything they want. That is the object, I understand, of the Government Bill.
§ Sir J. AINSWORTH
The hon. Gentleman interrupts me, but I am sure he knows that the Government do not come here to ask for something for themselves but for something for the Army; and if it is something wanted for the Army it is our business to supply it. Whether this is the best method is a matter with which I will deal in a minute; but that we have to do that must be manifest to everybody here. I happen to know something as to two or three of the Army works where labour of that kind is largely carried on. Of course, work has been going on now in the United Kingdom on these lines for more than two years. We all know that when a soldier is sent to be lodged in another man's house he is under the supervision of his own officers and non-commissioned officers, and therefore every security is given for the conduct of these men and the safety and comfort of the people with whom they are lodged. All we ask the Government to do, and that is what I gather from the speakers who have found some fault with the arrangements under the present Bill and probably with some reason asked for, is to provide the same safeguards to the householder on whom the workmen is compulsorily lodged as the War Office provides for the civilian on whom the soldier is compulsorily lodged.
Why cannot the Government meet this case? I really hope that before we go further with this Bill they will be able to tell us which Clauses in the Bill protect the safety and comfort of the civilians with whom these workers are to be lodged. Who are the local committees to be composed of, and what are they to do? With regard to overcrowding, want of lodgings and the need for sanitation we are all agreed that these things must act disastrously on the health and morality of the population. We are ready to provide for all the wants of the Army, and it is the duty of the Government to tell us what are the needs of the Army. We all believe that health and morality must be carefully guarded, but why should new committees be formed? Is there no authority in the local places where this billeting is to take place, and where the huts are to be erected? Is there no local authority there already looking after overcrowding, sanitation, the health of the people, and all matters of that kind? Of course there is. I do not find anything 2176 in this Bill detailing what the duties of the local committee are to be, whether they will come under the control of the existing local committees which have been provided for many years to look after these things. With every desire to agree with the Government and let them have everything they want until the War is over it is perfectly clear to me, as it must be more or less to other hon. Members who are opposing this Bill, that all these points have been overlooked by the Government. Some of us have complained more than once that the Government is not treating the House of Commons with as much attention as it might do. Whether that is so or not it is not for me to say, but if the Government want to get this Bill at once, as they ought to if they are to look after the interests of the country, they should have no hesitation about it, and lose no time at all if they want these extra men immediately. They should tell us at once how they mean to deal with these men in regard to sanitary, moral, and other considerations of that kind, and they should tell us what the local committees are going to do.
If hon. Members knew how these places where this extra work is being done are being carried on in the meantime, they would know that these matters are attended to by institutions which have sprung up, and that everybody is willing to help. I could suggest where they might find the extra help that they want. How about National Service? Why do not the Ministry of Munitions with the help of the National Service people set to work to see that the workers are properly housed. There are excellent committees, on which all sorts of people have been appointed, helping to carry out this work, and for the Government merely to ask for power to turn casual labourers into private houses and to put them wherever they choose is really not common sense or at all on all fours with morality, health, proper housing, and proper sanitary treatment as we have been taught to understand and do now understand better than we did fifty years ago. I am reminded of the saying of a great statesman now passed away,"Sanitas, sanitas, omnia sanitns." I want the Government to take that for their motto, and if they want to plant down this extra labour here and everywhere let them take care that they do it in accordance with the principle of one of the most leading statesmen this country has ever produced. I sincerely 2177 hope that the Government will get their Bill, but they should give a, full explanation and interpretation and a plain indication that they are going to treat these people in the only way that it ought to be done.
The Government can hardly claim that there has been any great enthusiasm evinced for this Bill this evening, and I feel sure that had other Members known the contents of it more fully there would have been a very much larger volume of opinions expressed in opposition to its provisions. These small Bills are introduced in a way that lead one to suppose that they are entirely inoffensive, but when one examines them he is sure to find that there is some fresh infringement of individual liberty or an increase to the army of officials, which every day is becoming more numerous. We find both these elements in this Bill; in fact, when you look into the Bill, you find that really it is a Bill for the compulsion of unwilling householders to receive lodgers. There is no question of billeting in the ordinary way. If there is sufficient accommodation in any place and willingness on the part of the inhabitants to receive the workers, there is no need for any Bill, but it is in instances where there is unwillingness on the part of householders to receive these workers that a Bill of this kind becomes necessary. Therefore, it is compulsion of the unwilling householder. That is an extremely objectionable feature. I agree with the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire (Mr. J. M. Henderson) that probably for the first time in any assembly a Bill has been introduced for the billeting of civilians. The difference between the billeting of civilians and of soldiers has been accentuated by several speakers, and it must be emphasised because there is a sharp distinction between the two.
I cannot quite understand why temporary dwellings and hostels cannot be erected. We have seen the fabulous speed with which these dwellings can be erected in London. Every park and pond is filled with them. They look very substantial and comfortable. The Civil Service is being billeted in this manner, and I cannot see why, in the districts where there is a special pressure through a large population of this sort being imported, accommodation cannot be provided in this way. I would remind the Government that in 2178 the case of Rosyth, in which a large body of workers was introduced into a district where it was found there was not sufficient provision for housing them, a hut village was erected, I admit, after some pressure on the Government. That proved an expedient which to some extent relieved the pressure for the moment. The Government have always made this error in not looking forward to the pressure that is likely to occur through a population being sent to any special area and have not provided accommodation for the workers. To resort to an expedient of this sort by compelling the workers to lodge in billets where they are unwilling guests is asking for trouble. I should have thought that the Ministry of Munitions was the last Government Department that desired to ask for trouble in these times. They have to deal with very difficult problems, and they are setting about one of their problems now in a way which does not appear to a large body of opinion in this House to be the wisest way of settling it. It is from no desire to impede the work of the Ministry of Munitions that criticism has been brought against this Bill. On the contrary, what we are after is, first, the protection of individual liberty, and, secondly, to try to persuade the Ministry to adopt measures in these particular cases which will not produce friction, but which will ease the situation, give comfortable and sanitary accommodation to the workers, and, if possible, prevent any inconvenience to the inhabitants of the locality.
Just one last word about these local committees. The tribunals up and down the country were not the most popular bodies, but they will be popular compared with these local committees. I pity people who have to serve on them. I do not quite know how they are going to be constituted, and what exactly their powers will be, but it is pretty certain they will have a very difficult time when they are forced to come down upon certain householders and insist on their accommodating civilian workers. It will need a fresh increase in the army of officials. From all points of view, in regarding this Bill generally on Second Reading, it is objectionable, and I feel sure that if the Government could reconsider in some way the necessity of pressing the Bill upon the House they would meet the views of a far larger number of Members than have been able to speak this evening.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
I should join in the whole-hearted condemnation of this Bill if I only saw it in the light that my hon. Friend does, that it could be manipulated by the Ministry of Munitions. But I understand it is not a Bill for the purpose of any Government Department, and perhaps my opposition would be limited, or even withdrawn, if I could get an assurance on one or two points outside the operations of the Bill under the Munitions Act. I understand, for instance, that one of the great needs of the near future is to draft great numbers of workers into country districts for the purpose of greater production from the soil, which is a matter of urgent national importance. We all know the terrible housing conditions in the country districts. In no district are cottages available. Is it likely that when these people are sent down into a country district the Board of Agriculture will proceed to compel the rich people living in halls and castles, who alone have housing accommodation, to find it in their dwellings? Can we have an assurance that not only will they be compelled to provide the essential housing accommodation, but to "provide such billets as they may be required to provide under the Act, to furnish such attendance and meals or food for the persons billeted on them"? That is to say, will the proprietor of the country mansion be compelled to set to work to provide food and attendance for the agricultural labourer who may be sent
§ down into the country district? If that is in the mind of the Government, if one could have an assurance that in country districts committees would be set up which would compel the people with this excellent housing accommodation to accept the workers who will be drafted from the towns and cities on to the land, if I thought such action would be taken, to a certain extent my opposition to this Bill would be modified; but until one has such an assurance I can only see in the Bill a measure which will compel only one section of the community, which is already making the chief sacrifice, to make this further sacrifice, for it is a great sacrifice to break the sanctity of the home, which is greater amongst poor than amongst rich, who have very often many houses, and will inflict on them not only the hardship of having to surrender some of the very limited accommodation which they at present have, but also compel them to provide service for these people when already they have too much work to perform I am afraid this is a Bill which will only be operated in one direction, and not where probably it could be operated with the very greatest service—that is, in the country districts.
§ Bill read a. second time.
§ Motion made, and Question put, "That the Bill be committed to a Committee of the Whole House."—[Mr. Hope.]
§ The House divided: Ayes, 76; Noes, 31.2181
|Division No. 32.]||AYES.||[10.36 p.m.|
|Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher||Goldstone, Frank||Pratt, J. W.|
|Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte||Greenwood, Sir G. G. (Peterborough)||Pryce-Jones, Colonel E.|
|Ainsworth, Sir John Stirling||Greig, Colonel James William||Raffan, Peter Wilson|
|Archdale, Lieut. Edward M.||Hanson, Charles Augustin||Rawlinson, John Frederick Peel|
|Baldwin, Stanley||Harris, Percy A. (Leicester, S.)||Rea, Walter Russell (Scarborough)|
|Barnett, Capt. R. W.||Hodge, Rt. Hon. John||Rees, G. C. (Carnarvonshire, Arfon)|
|Bathurst, Capt. Charles (Wilts, Wilton)||Holmes, Daniel Turner||Roberts, George H. (Norwich)|
|Benn, Arthur Shirley (Plymouth)||Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield)||Roberts, Sir J. H. (Denbighs)|
|Bentinck, Lord H. Cavendish.||Hughes, Spencer Leigh||Robinson, Sidney|
|Brace, Rt. Hon. William||Illingworth, Rt. Hon. Albert H.||Rowlands, James|
|Bridgeman William Clive||Johnston, Christopher N.||Rutherford, Watson (L'pool, W. Derby)|
|Bryce, J. Annan||Jones, J. Towyn (Carmarthen, East)||Samuels, Arthur W.|
|Carnegie, Lieut.-Col. D. G.||Jones, W. Kennedy (Hornsey)||Scott, A. MacCallum (Glas., Bridgeton)|
|Chaloner, Colonel R. G. W.||Jones, William S. Glyn-(Stepney)||Shortt, Edward|
|Coats, Sir Stuart A. (Wimbledon)||Kellaway, Frederick George||Terrell, Henry (Gloucester)|
|Cornwall, Sir Edwin A.||Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement||Walker, Colonel William Hall|
|Craig, Colonel James (Down, E.)||Layland-Barrett, Sir F.||Williams, Col. Sir Robert (Dorset, W.)|
|Currie, George W.||Levy, Sir Maurice||Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Dairymple, Hon. H. H.||Lewis, Rt. Hon. John Herbert||Winfrey, Sir Richard|
|Davies, David (Montgomery Co.)||Locker-Lampson, G. (Salisbury)||Wing, Thomas Edward|
|Duke, Rt. Hon. Henry Edward||Morison, Thomas B. (Inverness)||Worthington Evans, Major Sir L.|
|Ferens, Rt. Hon. Thomas Robinson||Munro, Rt. Hon. Robert||Younger, Sir George|
|Fletcher, John Samuel||Neville, Reginald J. N.|
|France, Gerald Ashburner||Orde-Powlett, Hon. W. G. A.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Galbraith, Samuel||Parker, James (Halifax)||Lord Edmund Talbot and Mr-|
|Gibbs, Col. George Abraham||Pennefather, De Fonblanque||Beck|
|Gilbert, J. D.||Perkins, Walter Frank|
|Anderson, W. C.||Kilbride, Denis||Pringle, William M. R.|
|Arnold, Sydney||Lambert, Richard (Walts, Cricklade)||Reddy, Michael|
|Chancellor, Henry George||Lundon, Thomas||Roch, Walter F. (Pembrake)|
|Devlin, Joseph||McGhee, Richard||Runciman, Rt. Hon. Walter (Dewsbury)|
|Dickinson, Rt. Hon. Willoughby H.||MacVeagh, Jeremiah||Scanlan, Thomas|
|Donovan, John Thomas||Mason, David M. (Coventry)||Smyth, Thomas F. (Leitrim, S.)|
|Ffrench, Peter||Meehan, Francis E. (Leitrim, N.)||Snowden, Philip|
|Flavin, Michael Joseph||Molloy, Michael||Whitty, Patrick Joseph|
|Hazleton, Richard||Nolan, Joseph|
|Holt, Richard Durning||O'Neill, Dr. Charles (Armagh, S.)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Mr.|
|Jowett, Frederick William||Outhwaite, R. L.||Hogge and Mr. Ponsonby.|
Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned"—[Sir E. Cornwall]—put, and agreed to.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole. House for To-morrow.