§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £100, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending or the 31st day of March, 1917, for the Expenses of the Ministry of Munitions."
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I wish to call attention to a subject under this head, namely, the arrangements which have been made in connection with the combing out of munition workers. I understand that my hon. Friend the Secretary for the Ministry of Munitions is prepared to make a statement on that subject. Most hon. Members are familiar with the agitation which has recently taken place in regard to what has been called the combing out of munition workers. In order to meet this outside agitation I understand that certain concessions were made by the Ministry of Munitions, and an agreement was come to that all men under a certain age would be made available for military service, and at the same time that others who in the past, apart from age, had been exempted from service because they were medically unfit, would be subjected to medical re-examination. But an exception was made, and under this exception special privileges were granted. Certain agreements were made—I do not know exactly who were the parties to these agreements—with the representatives of certain trade unions 1026 that any man who was a member of one of these trade unions, and consequently had a trade union card, would be exempted from either of these processes of combing out. Nobody would object to exemptions being granted solely on the ground of the special skill of the individual worker. If, for example, he belonged to a trade union which included all the men specially skilled in one particular craft, it would be perfectly fair that a trade union card of that particular union should give him the right to exemption, but unfortunately the arrangement, as I understand it, does not have this result. In the first place, it is not confined to unions of skilled men, unions of craftsmen. It extends to other unions, the members of which can by no stretch of imagination be described as skilled men. I understand that several of these unions are simply unions of general labourers, unions anybody can become a member of without any qualification, simply on the payment of the membership fee. Obviously, if this concession is extended to unions so constituted, we have a great abuse. You are really, under cover of this privilege to a particular union, giving exemption to men who have no particular skill at all, and consequently not retaining for munitions work the only men who ought to be retained, namely, the men who have some particular skill. I hope that my hon. Friend in the course of his reply will give to the Committee the names of the unions to which this particular privilege is extended. We want to know who it was that negotiated this arrangement. It is particularly interesting to know, because apparently—I think there is some reason for the suggestion—this special privilege has only been extended to particularly powerful unions, which were able to exert strong political influence.
This system of giving exemptions is unfair to two classes of men. It is unfair first of all to the skilled man who is not a member of any union, and who does not desire to be a member of a union. I think that man is entitled to sympathy. He is a skilled man, but simply because he is not a trade unionist and does not desire to become one, his skill is not to enable him to be secured for that form of national service for which he is specially skilled. Again, there is the other aspect of the matter, that it is only special unions which have been able to exert their influence which have been enabled to 1027 obtain this privilege. There is one particular class of men who, I think, deserve this privilege, perhaps more than any other; yet they are absolutely excluded. I refer to the whole class of engineering draughtsmen. Obviously, these men are highly skilled men, though they have not up to the present had any trade union at all. Simply, however, because they have never had a trade union these men are not recognised for the purposes of this special privilege.
I know that recently they have formed themselves into a society for the purpose of protecting their interests and communications have been sent to the Ministry of Munitions on this very point. Here, however, we have this situation, that you find men, simply because they belong to a labourers' union and possess the cards of that union, receiving exemption from military service, although they are possessed of no skill; while, on the other hand, you have these skilled draughtsmen, many of whom have taken from fifteen to twenty years to acquire skill in their trade or profession, because they belong to no trade union, are yet being combed out. At the same time you are actually bringing back from the Army in France men skilled in that particular calling. That is a case which deserves an answer from the Minister of Munitions.
The questions, therefore, I wish to put to my hon. Friend are these: First, what are the names of the trade unions specially favoured? Second, are any of the unions which are favoured unions in which there is no special skill required in the trades affected? Thirdly, is this privilege denied to a great body of skilled engineering draughtsmen of this country? If it is denied to them, will the Minister of Munitions see at once that the privilege is accorded to that class?
§ Mr. BOOTH
I would like to put a question, following on the points raised by my hon. Friend. The Minister of Munitions, as the hon. Gentleman very well knows, has very large powers in the way of taking the surplus proceeds of controlled firms. I should like to ask, in regard to this combing-out matter, whether the experience of these controlled firms, their loyalty in helping the Government and releasing men for military service, will be considered when the Department comes to deal with the amount of 1028 profit to be taken? It may be that a firm; may have been badly hit; that the combing-out process may have been severe. It may not have had the same chances as a competing firm because of matters entirely outside its control. In view of this, will these important aspects of the case be taken into account when the Government surveys the financial position at the end of the year?
§ Mr. KELLAWAY (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Munitions)
In regard to the point put by the last speaker, I can assure him—and his own knowledge of the way in which the Ministry has dealt with these matters in the past will lead him, I think, to accept that assurance and to confirm what I say—that every proper circumstance that should be taken into account will be taken into account in computing the amount to be taken. In the short period I have been at the Ministry of Munitions that work has been done with great care. Having regard to the delicacy of these operations I should think it has been done with considerable satisfaction to the very large number of controlled firms. As to the question raised by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Lanarkshire in regard to the trade card scheme, we do not say that this scheme is a perfect one. It is, however, very difficult to build up machinery under the conditions which exist during a war, or to project any scheme in which it would not be possible to pick holes, especially with such an acute critic as my hon. Friend. But this scheme has been put forward as a practical war measure. On the whole I think it has succeeded fairly well in meeting the emergency which has had to be met. My hon. Friend's case suffered somewhat from over-emphasis and over-statement. I should have been better pleased, at least it would have been of more service to the Ministry, if ho had concentrated his attention more upon showing where were the, practical defects with which the Ministry could deal in order to build up as nearly as possible a perfect scheme, under, of course, war conditions. It is not accurate to say, as he said, that all the unions which are covered by the trade card scheme are unions to which unskilled men can apply for admission.
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
Or that there are in the list of unions here unions to which membership can be obtained merely on payment of the subscription, and without regard to whether or not a member is a skilled man. There are twenty-five unions parties to this scheme. I have the names here on the list in my hand. It is rather too long to read out now, but I am quite satisfied if my hon. Friend will afterwards meet me in the Smoke Room and go through this list with me he will see that every one of these unions is a skilled union. With my knowledge of the work, I am satisfied that that is so. There are no unskilled unions parties to this scheme. May I take a typical example? There are the Society of Boilermakers, the Associated Blacksmiths and Ironworkers, the United Patternmakers, the Society of Sheet Metalworkers and Braziers, the Scientific Instrument Makers, the Society of General Union of Braziers and Sheet Metalworkers, and so on. That list is quite typical of the whole of the twenty-five unions. If my hon. Friend is correct in stating that there are members who have been admitted to these unions whose skill is not of the kind necessary to the country in connection with the prosecution of the War, that is a circumstance which requires examination.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
My hon. Friend has given us a number of the unions; can he not give us the additional?
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
I shall be quite prepared to let my hon. Friend have this list to look over, and I know the military will be prepared, if they receive any representation from my hon. Friend or any other Member of this House in regard to this trade card scheme, to hear what they have to say. If there are men outside the scheme which an intelligent and informed opinion would suggest ought to be included in the scheme, certainly that is also a matter that should be considered. This scheme is not to be regarded as similar to the laws of the Medes and Persians— which could not be revised. Having regard to the circumstances under which these negotiations had to be entered into, I think we can claim for the scheme that it is a practical, commonsense scheme which, on the whole, has been accepted with a fair amount of satisfaction, and whose defects, if shown, are those with which the Government are prepared to deal. My hon. Friend suggested, and I do not think the sugges- 1030 tion was quite worthy of him, that the unions who were parties to this scheme have become parties to it because they were able to exert considerable political influence.
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
And that those who were not parties to it were not parties because they had a negligible political influence.
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
In reply to that I should say that outside this scheme are some of the most powerful unions in the country, with considerable political influence; and included in the scheme are unions whose political influence must be accounted exceedingly small. The underlying principle on which this scheme was based was that the men concerned possessed a type of skill which was necessary for the Government for the proper conduct of the War. That consideration, and that consideration alone, was the one which influenced the Ministry in its negotiations with the unions. I have already indicated to the Committee that we do not regard this scheme as one which is not open to improvement. I think I can see the hardship, and, it may be, the illogical, position of the men possessed of a similar type of skill, belonging to unions, who were not parties to this schema. That is not a position which can be defended logically. That, however, does not alarm mo very much. That evil is not a very considerable one. The point, however, which the Government has to consider is whether the scheme, if it is to remain, can not be extended to cover the men possessed of a similar type of skill, but who do not belong to the unions which are covered, or those which were parties to the application. With the qualifications—and I am giving them quite frankly to the Committee.—on the whole the scheme has worked well. We are prepared to remedy any defects to which our attention is drawn, and if my hon. Friend is prepared to assist us in that direction, I, for one, shall welcome his assistance.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I have only one criticism to make on my hon. Friend's reply. It seems to me that there is a very easy way to determine whether one statement was or was not correct. It would not take my hon. Friend more than a few seconds to read over the names of the trade unions 1031 that he omitted. If he does so, it will probably reveal the fact that there is a large general labourers' union among the twenty-five. That would settle the question.
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
There is no resisting my hon. Friend. I will read the whole list. It is: the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, the Society of Boilermakers, the Associated Blacksmiths and Ironworkers, the Steam Engine Makers, the United Pattern Makers, the United Journeyman Brassfounders and Coppersmiths, the Society of Shipwrights, the Liverpool Shipwrights' Trades Friendly Society, the Society of United Machine Workers, the Sheet Metal Workers and Braziers, the Society of Associated Ironmoulders of Scotland, the United Kingdom Society of Amalgamated Smiths and Strikers, the Society of General Union of Braziers and Sheet Metal Workers, the Amalgamated Society of Railway Vehicle Builders, the Society of Electrical Trade Union, the Amalgamated Brass Workers (National Society), the Society (West of Scotland) Brass Turners, the Society of Amalgamated Toolmakers, the Sheet Iron Workers and Light Platers' Society, the Society of Scottish Brass Moulders, the British Steel Smelters, the Scientific Instrument Makers, the Friendly Society of Ironfounders, the Society of Coppersmiths and Braziers, and the General Plate Sheet Metal Workers and Braziers.
§ Mr. BOOTH
I should like to ask a question in regard to the explosives factories. I do not know whether my hon. Friend can give me any information as to whether there was any loss of life in a recent sad accident which occurred in the West Riding. I will not further specify the place. I heard there was no loss of life. That leads me to offer this suggestion, that as far as possible high explosives' manufactories should be removed from the immediate neighbourhood of dwellings. This should be done for two reasons: One is that there is a general fence put round in order, I suppose, to stop trespassers. Unfortunately, when loss of life occurs men are caught in the barbed wire of the fence. That would be obviated if they were removed. I understand that the last explosion took place about three-quarters of a mile from the highway. If the place were this distance 1032 in every case there would be small damage and very small loss of life. I should like some assurances on this point. I take it that the Department in tuture—nay, I feel sure that they will — have these facts in mind. I venture also to say that human nature must be studied. Close inquiry into these disasters reveals some very distressing facts. It is unfortunately true that the working man is a very brave fellow, and sometimes his very strength, bravery, and the feeling that he is on work for the soldiers in France, lead him to be not so careful, and, I am sorry to say, that some of the women are even worse than the men. Why men who work on explosives should have such fondness for cigarette-smoking I can never make out. In new factories on model lines you have experienced chemists, who are insistent on proper care, but in some of the older works, where men have been dealing with picric acid and high explosives all their lifetime, they do not quite see the need for this care, and where the work has increased and multiplied, and new people have been brought in, I think it is time for taking care. I am not complaining of the Ministry of Munitions at all. I think their effort has been uniformly for good, so far as I can gather, at all their explosive works throughout the country, but I should like some assurance that, in the recent explosion to which I have referred—I understand, a model works—a loss of life was avoided.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I should like to ask the hon. Gentleman if it is possible to give any statement as to the amount which has been spent on the item, "Headquarters and Branch Offices of the Ministry of Munitions—Salaries, travelling allowances, and incidental expenses." It is rather important to know, I think, what actual amount is spent upon the paraphernalia of the Ministry—clerks, offices, etc.—and I should be very much obliged if the hon. Gentleman could give me definite information. Then I do not quite understand why it is necessary to have two Votes. In this first Vote there is an item for guns and small arms. Then we have another Vote for Ordnance factories. I do not quite understand why that should be a very much larger Vote, and why, if there is an item for guns in the first Vote, it is necessary to have a very much larger sum under the heading of Ordnance factories. There may probably be a very good reason for it.
§ Mr. O'GRADY
I want to refer to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Booth) about the manufacture of high explosives in very crowded areas. I think we ought now to cease taking over factories for the purpose of making high explosives in these crowded working-class areas. Everybody knows the devastation caused among the working-class people by the terrible explosion in the East End of London. An explosion occurred a little while ago just outside my own Constituency—the name of the place need not be mentioned— causing a terrible devastation. In connection with that matter, there is another point I want to raise, and that is the question of railway facilities. At a place just outside Leeds there are very inadequate railway facilities for the people getting to and from their employment, and the consequence is that just before and at closing-time there is a tremendous rush to catch the train. I think the Minister in charge will agree with me when I say that the explosion just outside Leeds largely arose from that fact. The particulars as I have them are these: The whistle blew at a certain time when shells were being filled by girls, and a girl rushed away from a particular machine to catch the train and get away home on a dark, cold night. When the night shift came along, another girl came to this machine, where a shell was half-filled, with the result that there was a terrific explosion.
I suggest that there should be a warning buzzer, some time before the time of leaving off work, and that there should be an adequate train service for the people, so that they need not rush away to get home. It is clear that that terrible explosion, with its lamentable loss of life, occurred as a result of the inadequate railway facilities which exist in that particular place. I have been told—I do not know whether it is a fact—with regard to the last explosion, that numbers of working-class houses were levelled to the ground, and, although I do not accept all that is told me, this, by the way, was told me by a very eminent engineer, that the people some little time after the explosion had no home to which to go, and could not get away from the big town in question, and there they stood. I do impress upon the Government the necessity, not only for adequate railway facilities, but for such simple precautions as I have indicated with regard to an early buzzer being 1034 blown in order to warn the people that the time has come for nearly leaving off, so that the operation in which they are engaged shall not be left partly finished.
My last point is this: I do not know whether the Government themselves have taken up the matter of compensation— for instance, for the people in the East End of London. So far as I understand the situation, it has "been allowed to rest upon the benevolence of the ordinary public—in the main. What I mean is compensation for the loss of little household goods and things of that kind. Have the Government fathered a scheme definitely? I do not want these things put at the mercy, if I may use the phrase, of the benevolent public. After all, these are War workers; they are fighting our battles as are our troops, and in all these matters of compensation the Government themselves should father the responsibility and see that the people are adequately provided for.
§ Mr. DILLON
I should like to ask the Minister in charge for a few words of explanation as to the form of this Estimate. It is a very peculiar Estimate. Although we are accustomed to these Estimates, this is a wholly new departure, and I admit that I cannot exactly understand the form in which the Estimate is presented. We are asked to vote £100 as a Supplementary Estimate, and the Committee will perceive that the total amount is £20,000,000, of which £19,999,900 are Appropriations-in-Aid. I should like to know from the Minister what is the exact nature of these Appropriations-in-Aid. Even in war-time I think these Estimates ought to be presented in such a shape that the members of the Committee can really understand their meaning. Of course, we know that the Army Estimates and the Navy Estimates are now presented as Token Votes, and in that case we understand what we are asked to do. We are asked to vote each Estimate simply on a Token Vote, and upon that to have a general discussion, but are not given particulars. This Estimate, however, professes to give some particulars. Although I admit frankly I do not understand the form of this Vote, or that of the succeeding Vote, I object to it on the ground that the proper principle of an Appropriaton-in-Aid is a sum of money in regard to services done by the Department—something, at all events, outside the staff of the Department. But, so far 1035 as I understand this Vote, it is almost, although not quite, clear, on the face of the Vote, that the Appropriations are for the whole of the Headquarter Staff and all the clerical work of the Department. I venture to say that it is a wholly new departure in presenting Estimates to this House. It is not correctly described as an Appropriation-in-Aid. If the Government were determined to give us no details at all they ought to have put this down as a Token Vote. I am somewhat of a stickler for old forms, but I think there is a great deal more in that than might appear to some members of the Committee, because if you do not keep the Government to a correct preparation of the Estimates, the House is apt to be asked to vote large sums of money without knowing where they are.
The first question I would put to the Government is this: Is the amount of £20,000,000 simply a portion of the Vote of Credit, and if it be a portion of the Vote of Credit, what does it consist of? If it covers items A and B—Headquarters and Branch Offices of the Ministry of Munitions; Salaries, travelling allowances and incidental expenses; and Inspection. Research, and Store Departments—I say that it is a wholly improper heading to bring under Appropriations-in-Aid. They are not Appropriations-in-Aid, but part of the expenses of the Department, and ought to have been set out as such, so that we might know what is the growth of the expenses of the Department. If for some reasons, which I do not think myself sound, the Government were prepared to say that they do not wish, in the public interest, to allow this House to know what are the expenses of the staff, and the work of the officials of the Department, then they ought to put that in the Estimate, and have a Token Vote. I say they ought frankly to state on the face of the Estimate that they will not give it, and they ought not to bring this under the form of an Appropriation-in-Aid, when it is not really an Appropriation-in-Aid.
The other question I want to put has been also put to some extent by the right hon. Baronet. You have, under the Estimate for the Ministry of Munitions, the headings "Guns and Small Arms, Ammunition, Transport Vehicles, Miscellaneous Stores, Explosives and Propellants," and, in fact, so far as I can see, for all the munitions of war an army in the field requires. On the next page you have another Sup- 1036 plementary Estimate for Ordnance Factories. Why are the two Departments kept separate? So far as any ordinary man can see, it evidently leads to overlapping and great additional expense. I was under the impression that the question of the control of the Ordnance Department as distinct from the control of the Munitions Department, which had long divided the Cabinet, was finally settled in the autumn of last year. We all remember that there was a very great deal of public controversy when the Munitions Department was set up as to whether they should take over the Ordnance Department, and the War Office for many months resisted and insisted upon controlling that Department. I understand now that the Ordnance Department has completely passed under the control of the Munitions Department, and if that is so what is the common sense of keeping these two Votes separate with a separate charge for administration. In the footnote to the Ordnance Factories Estimate there appears the sub-heads "establishments, wages and police, materials and stores." There is a similar heading under the Munitions Department. The other headings include "machinery obtained by contract, buildings, miscellaneous, noneffective charges and Appropriations-in-Aid," amounting to £35,999,000. There is not a single item in all that for munitions and guns for the Army in the field, and I want to know what is being done with that £35,000,000. Either the Estimates have been made up carelessly or else there is some extraordinary mystery in the matter, and I cannot see why the main part of this expenditure should not come under the Munitions Vote. The question I wish answered is why the expenses of the headquarters and branch offices of the Ministry of Munitions, including salaries, travelling allowances, and incidental expenses, and the expenses of inspection, research, and store departments are entered under this £20,000,000 Vote? That illustrates a point I intend to raise upon other Votes, because it appears to me to be a wholly new departure.
§ Mr. THOMAS
The question I want to raise is one affecting the agreement with the Munitions Department, made following one of the unfortunate disputes in Sheffield. So far as I understand the matter, it was part of the settlement of that dispute that the Society of Engineers should be allowed to give cards of exemption from 1037 the Army to their own members. That is to say, instead of allowing the old system of skilled men being taken into the Army at the time when it was known there was a shortage of munitions, an attempt was made in this agreement to get over the difficulty by allowing the trade unions themselves to guarantee that no skilled man should go into the Army, and if any such man was called up they were given power enabling them to give an exemption card to prevent that man being taken. I am not going to argue as to whether that was a good or a bad thing. Clearly it is evident that it was a decision arrived at hastily, and because of a difficulty that had to be dealt with at that moment. I do submit, however, that no Government Department ought to enter into an agreement or give a privilege to any particular people that is not given to all. I am speaking as a trade union leader, and I am speaking of a particular privilege given to a particular trade union. I have never claimed, and will not claim, any special advantage for our own people. The result of this vicious system is that, instead of helping the situation and the Government, and creating a good feeling, it has engendered more friction and bad feeling, and nothing has happened since the War that has been so bitterly resented by the trade unions.
The point I want to draw attention to is that if this system was necessary, if it is the best that can be done, and if it is wise to have it in operation, then instead of applying it to one union it must apply to all. The remarkable thing that is happening now is that there are cases where circulars, pamphlets, and statements are being issued, stating, "If you want exemption join our union." That is a thing that cannot be tolerated in the midst of a war, and it is quite indefensible. The curious thing is that neither the Munitions Department nor the War Office appear to know who is responsible. I have taken the question up very strongly with the Munitions Department, and they say that the War Office is responsible. I have taken the matter to the War Office, and they tell me that the Munitions Department is responsible for it. I have had interviews with both Departments, and as a matter of fact neither of them attempt to defend the system. Unfortunately, it has gone on month after month, with the result that to-day, unless it is definitely tackled, I 1038 am absolutely certain there is going to be trouble, because of what is happening in the large engineering shops every day, where the men are saying, "Here is Smith, an engineer, given a card of exemption. I also am an engineer, but because I do not happen to be a member of a particular union I cannot be exempted and Smith can." I admit that that is a state of things that ought not to be allowed to continue, and I submit that in a question of this kind it is not the duty of a Ministry to be merely guided by a big union. If the principle is good, then it should apply to all, and if it is bad, it should apply to no one. It is because I want it applied to all or none that I ask the Minister representing the Munitions Department to give some explanation of the situation, and, above all, give a guarantee that there shall be no preferential treatment between one union and another, and that in questions of this kind all those affected should have a fair crack of the whip, and we should not allow a state of things to continue which, in my humble judgment, is a scandal at this moment.
§ Colonel YATE
The hon. Member for Leeds (Mr. O'Grady) mentioned the question of the disastrous explosion in the East End of London. I would like to inquire how it came about that there was such an enormous accumulation of high explosives in such a thickly-populated district. We quite understand that the exigencies of the War may have necessitated the manufacture of some part of these explosives in that particular district, but I think it is inexcusable to allow more than one day's manufacture of these explosives to accumulate. We can estimate the quantity of explosives which was allowed to accumulate by the blowing up of a fair-sized town, and there must have been a huge accumulation. I want to know whether the Minister in charge can now give us any explanation as to why such an accumulation was allowed to arise, and who was responsible?
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I wish to refer again to a point which I raised at the beginning of this Debate, and which was dealt with by the hon. Member for Derby. The Secretary to the Ministry of Munitions has suggested that I overstated my case, but after his reply, and after the speech of the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas), I think the Committee will agree that, if anything, my case was understated, and we have had no defence put forward 1039 beyond the usual statement that this is practically a War measure, and when nothing else can be advanced on behalf of any policy, I am driven to the conclusion that that policy is specially absurd. What is the situation? We have set up a scheme for military service under two Acts of Parliament under which exemptions have to be granted in a particular way either by tribunals or a Government Department. Now, however, we have, apart from legislation altogether, this right of exemption conferred upon a certain favoured trade union. Such a thing was never in the contemplation of Parliament. I think that is an abuse of the legislation we have passed. The hon. Member for Derby says both the War Office and the Ministry of Munitions disclaim responsibility in this matter. I asked in my speech by whom this agreement was made, but in any event by whosoever it was made, you have the result that certain trade unions are entitled, without any question by any superior authority or appeal to any tribunal, to grant exemption from military service to whomsoever they please. I think that is a most extraordinary situation that has ever occurred in regard to military service in any country. What is the effect of it? It is giving certain trade unions the means of recruiting members. The hon. Member for Derby said that circulars are issued by these favoured trade unions announcing "If you join our trade union, you will be exempt from military service." I ask any member of this Committee would Parliament for a moment think of sanctioning an arrangement whereby the privilege of exemption from military service was to be used as a means of forcing men into certain trade unions? I do not think there can be any defence of that.
This is not for the specially skilled people at all, and the list of trade unions which has been read proves that. There are a number of these unions in which there are members who have not gone through a long period of apprenticeship, and there are very highly skilled men who do not belong to a trade union who are being combed out, whereas the men who come under the shelter of these particular trade unions are receiving exemption. If this is put forward as a practical war measure, then it does not do much credit to the Department responsible, nor does it tend to create confidence in their probable success in prosecuting 1040 the War. It is neither a practical measure nor a war measure, and nothing has been said to defend it. Surely it was easier to get some means of testing the skill of the men to be exempted rather than adopting this arbitrary method of membership of a particular trade union. I think it is the duty of the Parliamentary Secretary to reconsider this proposal, and take measures to prevent unions recruiting their ranks by using the privilege that has been granted to them. If any evidence can be given to the Ministry that any union is using this special privilege for the purpose of gaining members, the privilege should at once be withdrawn from them. I think that is a fair request to make. I made another point earlier with regard to specially skilled men who do not belong to unions, and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry will be able to give us some assurance publicly in regard to engineering draughtsmen. They undoubtedly belong to a specially skilled trade, and they are at present being combed out by re-examinations. I hope my hon. Friend will give an assurance that skilled men who have had long experience in that trade will not any more be subject to re-examination, especially as at present we are actually bringing skilled engineering draughtsmen from our Army in France. It is surely absurd while bringing men of that trade from our Army in France to take those actually working in this country at the present time.
§ Major Sir WORTHINGTON EVANS (Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Munitions)
I will deal with the questions which have been raised other than labour questions. My right hon. Friend the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) and my hon. Friend the Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) both raised a point on the form of the Estimate. This is still a Token Estimate, dealt with in exactly the same way as last year, and as the Army and Navy Votes have also been dealt with. There is no mystery hidden in the form of the Estimate itself. The reason why £20,000,000 is added as an Appropriation-in-Aid is this. The Government at this moment have power to spend the amount of the original Estimate. These Appropriations-in-Aid are receipts which will be coming in in the course of this year. We are now asking for power to spend those receipts, and unless power is given, we shall have to come for that larger sum out 1041 of the Vote of Credit. The hon. Member was partly right. It partly comes from other Government Departments, and is partly actual receipts accruing to the Ministry from various articles which it is responsible to produce. The receipts come in quite properly as Appropriations-in-Aid, and, if authority is given, then there will be a less draft upon the Vote of Credit by the exact amount authorised. If this were not authorised at all, then the sum would come into the Treasury and a larger sum would be taken out of the Vote of Credit. The other principal point raised was why there were two Supplementary Estimates and not one. The reason we have a second Supplementary Estimate dealing with ordnance is really in order to have a continuation of the Estimate which used to appear when ordnance was under the War Office and not under the Ministry of Munitions, and because on the whole it is considered it is the convenient course for the purposes of comparison later. The details of the Vote are merely the heads under which in duo course the expenditure will be accounted for. They do- not profess to give the figures of expenditure under the particular heads. They merely state the heads under which the expenditure will be accounted for in due course. If the governing factor in the situation is borne in mind—namely, that this is a Token Vote and nothing but a Token Vote;—I think my right hon. Friend will appreciate the reason why this form is adopted.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I asked whether the Government would give me a rough estimate of the amount which would be spent under Item A.
§ Major Sir W. EVANS
My right hon. Friend knows very well that the object of putting down Votes in the form of Token Votes in war-time is to avoid giving information, not to Members of the House of Commons, but to the world, our enemies included, as to the totals of the heads of the Vote. The policy of Token Votes is well established, and it is one from which I certainly cannot promise to depart. The hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Booth) asked whether there were any fatal casualties in a recent explosion in the North. I am glad to say that so far as the Ministry are aware there were no fatal casualties. Various Members have referred to the position of the explosive factories, and have naturally said that they ought not to be set up in 1042 crowded areas. I can assure hon. Members that new factories are not set up in crowded areas. One of the first considerations naturally is that they should be in such a place that if an accident should unfortunately occur it could be localised, and there would be as little loss of life occasioned as possible. The position of the factory in the East End of London where the explosion occurred would not have been chosen for the erection of a new factory. I would like to go closely into the reasons why high explosives were dealt with at all at that particular spot, but, as my hon. Friend (Colonel Yate) knows, the matter is the subject of a Home Office inquiry, and I do not think it would be right for me to deal with, it to-day.
§ Major Sir W. EVANS
My hon. Friend asked that question of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Munitions at Question Time to-day, and he cannot expect me to differ from my right hon. Friend's answer. I therefore confirm it. The hon. Member for Pontefract urged that proper care should be taken, and that those working in the factories should be enjoined to take proper care. I can assure him that it is not for want of instruction that proper care is not taken. Instruction is given, inspection is made, and the managers of the factories do everything they can to ensure that proper care is taken, but human nature being what it is, sometimes it is not taken. The hon. Member for East Leeds (Mr. O'Grady) wished that warning should be given before a shift left the factory. I do not know how far that is practicable, hut his suggestion shall be taken into consideration, and, if practicable, I have no doubt that it will be adopted. My hon. Friend did not give me notice that he was going to raise the question of railway facilities, and I am not as well able to deal with it as I should have liked, but consideration shall be given to the matter. The only other point was the question of compensation. The Government, without admitting liability, are going to pay compensation in the East End explosion, and: the promptest steps were taken to see that the cases requiring compensation were dealt with. A local office was opened within three days of the accident, because it was well known that those who suffered were not capitalists and people who could 1043 afford to wait out of their money. Their claims were immediately inspected, and I am told that some of the smaller claims have already been paid. I think the Ministry in that case is entitled to take great credit for the prompt way in which the question was handled. It is the desire of the Ministry, when these unfortunate accidents happen, that those who suffer shall be treated in exactly the same way as those other soldiers who are fighting for Great Britain in the fields of France and Flanders.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
My hon. Friend tells us that he cannot give me an answer to the question I put as to the amount of the salaries, travelling allowances, and incidental expenses of the headquarters and branch offices of the Ministry of Munitions, because it might give information to the enemy. He says that the token Vote was arranged so that information might not be given to the enemy. I do not think it would give very much information to the enemy if they knew how much the different officers and officials were receiving. I cannot see that there would be any advantage gained by the enemy.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I am afraid I must beg to differ from my hon. Friend with regard to the reasons for which a token Vote was taken. I understood that a token Vote was taken at the beginning of the War, because it was impossible in the ordinary way to estimate what the expenditure would be. The Germans know now that the expenditure under this Vote is £20,000,000. It was, therefore, not because the Germans might get to know, but because the Government did not know what they were going to spend. They, therefore, asked the House to be indulgent, and to allow them to put down a token Vote of £100, and to be permitted later on to spend any amount they liked. That was quite right, but I do not think that ought to be used as an excuse for not giving us, when we are multiplying Departments and officials, the actual part of the salaries, travelling allowances, and incidental expenses of the headquarters and branch offices of the Ministry of Munitions. If my hon. Friend would consult with any Cabinet Minister, I think he would find that he would agree that to give the information would be of no earthly use to the 1044 Germans, whilst it would enable us to conserve our money and to carry on the War for a longer period than we shall be able to do if we indulge in this extravagance and the House of Commons is refused information in this way. I will not deal with the questions of Appropriations-in-Aid, because my hon. Friend (Mr. Dillon) may have something to say-in regard to that matter, but I always understood that an Appropriation-in-Aid was something which the Department had to dispose of, and the two accounts had to be kept, an account of the actual money spent, and an account of the receipts. I have never heard of an Appropriation-in-Aid which arose from the salaries, travelling expenses and allowances of headquarters or branch offices. I really do not think they ought to include it, but that is more or less a minor or book-keeping point, which is not important. I think the other point is extremely important, and I hope that hon. Members will press for an answer to it.
§ Commander WEDGWOOD
I desire to support the request of the hon. Baronet opposite, who should have a full list of the officials and salaries as soon as possible. Now that the Ministry has been more than a year in existence, I think it is reasonable that we should know what salaries we are paying to the officials there. In the ease of the ordinary Government Department, it is not perhaps so very important, because we have the check of the Treasury and the list of salaries, so that we can be sure that no one is receiving more than he is worth and no one less than he is worth. But in the case of the Ministry of Munitions there has been no Treasury check, and further than that we know that there are many civilians who have been taken in at a big rate of pay, whereas there are other patriotic citizens equally skilled who very often have gone to the Ministry without any pay at all. I do not think it is to the advantage of any public Department that there should exist side by side the fully-paid man who has been bribed to go into that Department and the unpaid man who is patriotically fulfilling his duty in that Department. To begin with, the rates of pay which rumour says are paid to the specialists inevitably get enormously exaggerated, to the great disadvantage of the rest of the public service, because, as everybody knows, when you hear that So-and-so is getting a very big rate of pay you naturally think that you 1045 are more capable of doing that work than any other person, and also that you ought to get the excessive rate of pay. Therefore, the publication of exactly what these various specialists are getting would be of enormous advantage to the country. We have a right to know what they are paid, because alter a year or two it ought to be possible to dispense with some of those specialists retained at a specially high rate, since they should now have trained people capable of doing the work at the ordinary rate of permanent secretaries in Government Departments. We know that permanent secretaries in Government Departments get much smaller salaries than they could get in the open market outside, but it is the dignity and prospect of titles which make the Government service attractive and which counter-balance the smallness of the salary. I think the same principle should apply to the Ministry of Munitions as to other Departments, and it might be possible if we could scrutinise those lists, or even if the Treasury could do so, that we should have a very substantial reduction in the cost of maintenance of the Ministry of Munitions. I think the new Ministry are very anxious to cut down expenses, and they will probably be able to take this matter up and push it through in the Department.
There is another matter I wish to mention about which I saw the hon. Gentleman recently, and that is as to the supply of forgings to the shellmakers of this country. At the present time there are not enough forgings to go round as the demand is in excess of the supply. People capable of performing the concluding processes of certain size shells are, to a certain extent, held up through a shortage of forgings. This question lends itself to an enormous amount of underhand pressure in the Ministry. We want to be assured that there is no sort of underhand pressure being brought to bear to secure for certain firms and certain districts forgings which other firms and other districts are unable to get. We must have the reasonable certainty of fair treatment between firms on this question. There are certain factories in this country known as National Shell factories which are the property of the Government and which are very often run by private manufacturers. IE there is any department in ammunition manufacture which ought to get a full supply it is such factories. In- 1046 stead of that, we hear many rumours that these forgings are going principally to the old armament firms. It is true that those firms produce many of those forgings themselves, but after all they are controlled by the Government, and it is only fair that the forgings produced by the armament firms and by the Government generally should be equally divided amongst the whole of the shellmakers of this country. I had a promise made that my district, which is unfortunately a sub-district to Birmingham—I refer to North Staffordshire—should have a minimum supply sufficient to carry on day shifts. On making inquiry I find that firms in Manchester and elsewhere are getting their full supply for day and night shifts, while North Staffordshire the week before last received one-fifth of the quantity promised to keep it going for day shifts. That sort of treatment is not, I believe, peculiar to North Staffordshire, which in this respect is no worse than some other districts, because we do not want to make trouble for any department just now, and we hear of the same difficulty all over the country. There is a serious sense of injustice that certain private manufacturers who have a pull in the Ministry are getting a full supply of forgings, while other private manufacturers are getting a far shorter supply simply because the forgings are going elsewhere. It is a small point in itself, but it is of vital importance to the Ministry to convey the impression of being rigidly fair between the manufacturers. People will put up with any kind of hardship or inconvenience or taking of hands or cutting down of productions which may be necessary, provided that the burden is laid evenly on all, but if they get the idea that certain firms or districts are specially treated that leads to discontent not only with the operations of the Ministry, but with the Government generally.
§ Mr. DILLON
I must confess that the explanation given by the hon. Gentleman (Sir Worthington Evans) has left me in a greater fog than prevailed before he rose. In the first place, I entirely agree with the right hon. Baronet the Member for the City (Sir F. Banbury) that that hon. Gentleman was wrong in his statement about a Token Vote. The main object of a Token Vote was not to conceal the amount spent from the enemy, because there was no possibility of doing that, and the rough details would be of no value since he knew the number 1047 of millions spent in each Department. The details, as I understand the matter, are subsequently accounted for and set forth when these accounts come before the Public Accounts Committee. The purpose of a Token Vote and the main purpose is that it would not be convenient in times like these for the Army and the Navy to be tied up as to expenditure and to have to make estimates which it would be impossible to make. In addition to that, it would be quite impossible owing to the War to throw a vast amount of labour on the officials at a time when they have got more to do than is possible for them to do. To give them a free hand in this War expenditure is my idea of the main purpose of a Token Vote. What I was chiefly concerned about was this: I do not believe the House of Commons meant, when giving the Vote of Credit, that a number of Token Votes were to be used for the purpose of covering the enormous growth of new Departments and clerical staffs. That is where the Minister has wholly failed to meet my point. Does the hon. Gentleman for one moment contend, or is he prepared to contend, that it would be injurious to the public interest, and giving to the enemy dangerous information, to let us know what are the number of clerks attached to these various Departments?
§ Mr. DILLON
That would to a large extent remove my difficulty. The reason why I attach so much importance to this point is that this omission of which I complain runs through the whole of these Supplementary Estimates, and is not at all confined to this Department, but applies to all new Departments created by the War Cabinet and whose salaries are thrown on the Vote of Credit and not set forth on the Estimates. What is one of the first effects of that system? We have seen an immense amount of those effects during the last fortnight, and very misehevious to my mind. The wildest reports are circulated, and stories go abroad that all kinds of individuals are brought into these Departments at enormous salaries, and stories which I have no doubt are wholly unfounded. But if you make a mystery of a matter of this kind you are bound to set in circulation extraordinary reports. This is a new departure not in accordance with the practice of this House, and in no manner covered by the 1048 plea of national necessity or the desirability of keeping information from the enemy.
I come to the second point I raised, and here, again, I must say that the explanation gave me no help at all. I asked the hon. Gentleman to explain, where the £20,000,000 or £19,999,000 came from, and what was the nature of the balance. He said that that was an Appropriation-in-Aid and came from other Departments, and that all that would be paid into the Treasury if it were not for this Vote. That staggers me, because I strongly suspect that this sum of almost £20,000,000 comes out of the Vote of Credit. When the hon. Gentleman says that all that sum and the £35,000,000 comes from other Departments for goods supplied by this Department, that equally staggers me. What other Departments could possibly pay those sums to the Munitions Department, and how can the hon. Gentleman make out that this sum would go back to the Treasury if it were not for this Vote? I take it to be out of the Vote of Credit in order to make up this Estimate in some mysterious manner and it is treated as an Appropriation-in-Aid. The objection I take is that that is not a proper way to describe expenditure of the Munitions Department and that it ought to be accurately described. The hon. Gentleman says that it does not come out of the Vote of Credit and he asked me not to press as to where it comes from. I do not think he even made an attempt to justify the action of the Government in preparing an Estimate in that way, and I do not think it would be giving any useful information to the enemy to know what it comes from or belongs to.
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
Before my hon. Friend replies to the financial point, I desire to deal with a new point raised by the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. J. H. Thomas) and others. That hon. Member asked who was responsible for the particular scheme to which he refers. That scheme was an agreement entered into between the late Government and several trade unions.
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
I think the late Minister of Munitions, the right hon. Member for East Worcestershire and the right hon. Member for Barnard Castle. It cannot be abrogated except by the Government as a whole. I think the point I took 1049 was a sound one, that if new circumstances are brought forward which show that the agreement which was entered into did not properly cover all those occupations that ought to be brought within the ambit of such an agreement, then it must be reviewed. I do not think I am giving away any confidence when I say that the question is at the present moment the subject of consideration between different Government Departments in order to see what alterations ought to be made in this scheme. When those alterations are made I am quite certain that the very strong case of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, for which the hon. Member for Derby speaks, must be considered. With regard to the point as to the draughtsmen, which was put forward by the hon. Member for North-West Lanark (Mr. Pringle), the position of those men is, I think, sufficiently guarded. The fact that they are being medically examined does not mean that they are going to be called up. A good many people have been medically examined, but are not being called up.
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
The agreements that have been entered into with the protected industries will protect them. In this practical world there are many things done which are not absolutely perfect. I have no doubt whatever that there are defects in regard to machinery of this kind, which covers the whole country and has to be administered by fallible human beings like ourselves. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] Unquestionably that may be so. I willingly make the critics of the Government a present of all that, but I think my hon. Friend need have no anxiety in regard to this particular class of men. If they possess the type of skill which is necessary for the Government in the conduct of this War they will not be called up. My hon. Friend says that if this is the way in which the Ministry of Munitions is administering this agreement we cannot expect the country to have much confidence in their ability to prosecute this War. I am sure anybody who represents the Ministry here will be exceedingly sorry not to be able to secure the approval of my hon. Friend, but, after all, I am not putting it too high when I say that, whatever may have been the mistakes made by the Ministry, the commonsense of this country agrees that it has 1050 made a fairly considerable success of its work in this War. That cannot be removed by any small points of criticism which may be urged by a skilled critic. I am satisfied that the serious point which was taken by the hon. Member for Derby will be taken into account in connection with any revision of this scheme which is found to be necessary.
§ Mr. THOMAS
Will the hon. Gentleman then say that, pending a reconsideration of the general question, the privilege, if I may use that word, now enjoyed by a particular class of worker shall be applied to all, without regard to the union with which they are connected?
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
I can go this far: In regard to the proposal to call up men between the ages of 18 and 22, an arrangement has now been come to between the Ministry of Munitions and the War Office that men possessing the type of skill desired who are members of the unions who were parties to this agreement shall not be called up. That goes a long way to meet the point taken by my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
Would the hon. Gentleman answer one point—namely, will any action be taken in regard to unions which are sending out circulars to obtain members on the ground that they are able to secure exemption from military service?
§ Mr. KEATING
I am sure the hon. Gentleman will not regard me as one of the skilled critics to whom he referred. I have been one of the silent Members of the House, and if I intervene now I hope it will be with the effect of drawing his attention to a very serious matter indeed— serious to those who are affected and to the Department concerned. The whole question of badges is one that has created a great amount of confusion and disorganisation in the industries of the country. I remember the right hon. Gentleman saying, in reply to a supplementary question recently, that it was impossible to define the term "skilled workmen"; therefore those people affected would have to bear the consequences of the ignorance or incapacity of the Government which prevented them from defining what it meant. It is not enough to say that the trade unions cover skilled men. There are many skilled men who are outside trade unions. In many cases, to my knowledge, the wide and sweeping operations of the military authorities have taken men who are actually skilled in the performance of their duties and thereby 1051 disorganised the work of the firm in which they are engaged. Many of these firms are engaged in work essential to the conduct of the War. It is not enough for the Parliamentary Secretary to reply to the discussion raised by the hon. Member for North-West Lanark (Mr. Pringle). I want him to take a very serious view of a serious matter affecting men who are not within the ambit of trade unions and who never will be.
Take, for instance, the case of accountants. There are many men engaged in accountancy who are not members of the Institute of Accountants. They are engaged in work of most vital importance to the firms who engage them. They receive a calling-up notice from the recruiting officer. The local tribunal sits upon the case and says that the man is not a skilled man, therefore he must give up the work in which he is now engaged and go to the War Office or whatever part of the country to which he may be taken to perform work for which he is not so well fitted as for that in which he is already occupied. The fundamental remedy for that state of affairs is for the hon. Gentleman to consider a suggestion I put forward. If you have tribunals deciding cases of men who are medically fit to join the Army, surely it is worth while considering whether you should not set up a tribunal of practical business men to decide whether a man is engaged in work which is more skilled and more necessary than the work he would be called upon to do in the Army. If you have a committee or tribunal of that kind, you would do away with a good deal of the confusion and disorganisation which has resulted from the somewhat arbitrary conduct of many of the recruiting officers. I am not attacking the recruiting officers. They have gone by the Regulations, and if they depart from those Regulations they criticise themselves. If the Government really desires to utilise the skilled ability of many men to the advantage of the country, my suggestion as to the creation of a tribunal to decide the degree of skill might assist the Government in the matter of deciding what "skilled" means. I sincerely hope that that suggestion, or some similar suggestion, will be adopted.
As to the existing agreements, they do not touch anything like the number of men affected by the operations of the recruiting officers. There are thousands of skilled workmen—skilled accountants and 1052 skilled officers in industrial establishments—who are hauled up upon the ipse dixit of the recruiting officer, and taken away from work in which they are useful to work in which they are of no use at all. I know many skilled men in the country who are capable of earning anything between £200 and £500 a year who have been taken away from work in which they are experts and sent down to some parts of the country where they are engaged pulling coal, or hauling flour, or cleaning drains, or some other skilled work of that kind. I hope that this matter is not going to be brushed aside by a mere reference to a skilled critic. It is not right for any Minister of the Crown to take that view of earnest criticism which are made in the interests of the country by Members of this House. At all events, I hope that the hon. Member will exonerate me from any desire to advertise myself. I hope that he will convey to those with whom he is associated that a grave situation has arisen in connection with this matter, and that a method will be found to prevent these things in the future.
§ Mr. W. THORNE
I apologise for not being in the Committee while this discussion was going on. I have learned that a discussion has arisen upon the question of exemption cards being given to members of craft unions. I have no objection to the cards being given to craft union members, because I understand that is done under an agreement arrived at between representatives of the different organisations and the Ministry of Munitions. It has, however, created very serious difficulty with a very large number of members of other organisations. As regards the union that I have the honour to represent, we have in our organisation many more members who are known as machine workers than has the Machine Workers' Union. The Machine Workers' Union is one organisation that has obtained the cards of exemption. Those cards have been given out to various members. There is a form of pinching or poaching going on. The cards are being used in a very unfair way, to which I hope the Minister of Munitions will put an end at the earliest opportunity. It has been said by representatives of what are called the craft unions, to men who belong to the union I represent, "You men should belong to the union represented by the hon. Member for Barrow (Mr. C. Duncan) and others. If you come over into this union we will give you a card of exemp- 1053 tion." Naturally the men, thinking they are going to get an exemption card, transfer into that organisation. The Parliamentary Secretary has all these facts at his disposal, because we have hammered the matter out on various occasions. There are men belonging to semi-skilled trades who are working side by side with the men that belong to other unions, doing exactly the same kind of work, and the men who belong to other organisations are getting cards of exemption, while men who belong to the General Labourers' Union are not getting any card of exemption at all. We were advised to get special forms. I have seen a very large number, at least 2,000, which have been filled up by members of our organisation, and up to the present no definite decision has been arrived at between the Minister of Munitions and the War Office in regard to this question. We were advised, rightly or wrongly, by the chief representative at the War Office, General Geddes, to go to the Labour Exchanges, but they have told us they have not got these forms. When we have obtained them they have been filled up and sent to the Minister of Munitions. When any representation has been made to the local military authorities they simply say, "That is no good to us. We do not recognise it at all. We have had no authority front the Secretary of State for War about these matters." I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether he will inquire at the War Office whether anything has been done to give information to the local recruiting officers whether they are taking into consideration that the men who have signed these forms are doing exactly the same class of work. We do not want any privilege at all. We only want to be in the same position as the craft union men. We are doing the same work and getting the same pay, and we say we are just as much entitled to consideration for our members, and even if they are outside the organisation they ought to have the same rights and privileges as men who belong to the organisation. Therefore, I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to explain what is the position at present. If ho can do that I am certain it will give a great deal of satisfaction to members of our organisation and others.
§ Mr. BOOTH
I was waiting to see if any hon. Member would question the Department on the matter of houses. I do 1054 not propose to discuss it, but I think it is of sufficient importance that we should hear from the Ministry of Munitions some account of what their policy is. I do not press for a lot of figures. The Government has met us on the whole fairly well, and there is nothing to complain of in the attitude of the Minister to-day, but if we could have some indication of what the policy is it would be helpful. If there is one thing that troubles an employer of labour it is the supply of housing accommodation. Collieries have always to consider the life of a seam, and public authorities have to consider the life of an industry with regard to drainage schemes and local improvements. I want to know whether the Government is taking the same care in their plans, because to put up substantial houses, with large local works expenses, if the industry is only to be short lived, would not be good expenditure. I am not raising this by way of criticism, but many of us have had to work on these problems on local authorities for many years, and we know how difficult they are. I think the Committee will like to know what is the policy of the Department with regard to this problem, and what they intend to do with the houses eventually. We have always been told that the Ministry of Munitions is a War Department. When they go away will hand over the houses to the local authorities or to the Office of Works, or will they sell them? Their views upon that point ought to determine very largely how far they go. I am not asking out of curiosity, but I think the ultimate destination of the property should be taken into account in deciding how far the Ministry will go. I shall not make any complaint if we do not get a mass of statistics, but I hope my hon. Friend will see the importance of this matter, especially in view of the fact that recently the builders, architects, and surveyors of the country have been issuing a manifesto that all building has practically stopped through some legislation. I suppose it was on account of that fact that the Ministry of Munitions have been extensively forced into this themselves. I should like the position cleared up. I have had one or two deputations to see me on the matter of building cottages, and we all expect to have a large boom in the building trade immediately the War is over. That is generally expected through the country. I should like to know whether the Ministry is looking ahead at 1055 what their needs are, so that private enterprise can accommodate and supplement the projects of the State.
§ Captain A. SMITH
I should like to revert to the question of men having been taken for munitions work at the expense of the Army and the retention of skilled munition workers in the Army who properly belong to the Ministry of Munitions. I can say from very great experience that the whole thing has been a scandal. I do not say you can help skilled men going into the Army, but you can help unskilled men going into munitions work and the skilled men being withdrawn. I do not agree with the hon. Member opposite when he suggests that men who are accountants or are in some other skilled trade are doing all the rough work and leave other people to have the best job. Every man ought to make a similarity of sacrifice and do the work he is put to.
§ Mr. KEATING
I never made any suggestion of the kind. My point was that there were many skilled workers who were not embraced by trade unions who were subject to being called up on military duty, and it is up to the Government to devise some scheme for preventing that.
§ Captain SMITH
It so happens that if a man belonged to a particular trade on 15th August, 1915, if it was a certified occupation, he would be kept there, until quite recently, under various conditions. But what is the Ministry of Munitions doing now? It has had a system of debadging men, and I should like to ask whether some of these men who go round debadging men are subject to examination themselves. I know several who were never in a trade in their lives who have been doing this work. Tribunals have decided thousands of cases throughout the country—at any rate, if I take my own district as a criterion they must have done—they have decided against the appellants; and what they did was to rush to Gretna Green, or some of these places.
Then I should like to ask, is there some agreement between the people who are erecting and getting into efficient working order new works and the Ministry of Munitions with regard to the time that is to be occupied in the erection and leaving in full working order of those works. I ask because these men, who have been 1056 non-exempted by tribunals in skilled and all manner of trades, have rushed there and sheltered behind these particular firms instead of entering the Army in the ordinary way, while skilled men are retained in the Army who ought properly to be at their trade. They have gone through the Employment Exchanges, and all the efforts of the recruiting officers, I am told, to get these men back to their right places have proved unavailing. I am the last man in the world to put any obstacle in the way of the Ministry of Munitions doing its work efficiently, but they have gone a long way round to get to that point. They might, during the last year, especially from March or April to the end of the year, have got thousands upon thousands of unskilled men out of the munition works and replaced them by skilled men, and the output of munitions would certainly have been greater, and even if it had not it would have, been of better quality. I should also like to ask if that system is in operation now. I should like to know whether, if a man is non-exempted he can escape into munitions work or not. I firmly believe that men ought to be doing something, and if they are better employed there, after close investigation, well and good, but it is unfair to those men who are compelled through certain circumstances to go into the Army, however ill-fitted they may be for it, while other men can go just when they please into munitions works against instructions issued both from the recruiting office and regulations governing tribunals and against statements made by the Minister of Munitions. It is in the public interest that this matter should be cleared up. The War Office and the Ministry of Munitions and the Board of Trade seem to be at loggerheads. This example of men rushing in scores and hundreds into new munition works when orders have been issued against it has done great harm and has made the conditions of the work that some of us have been doing tremendously harder than it would have been otherwise. I hope the Ministry of Munitions and other Government Departments have come to some common understanding as to what has been done with regard to these cases.
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
A number of points have been raised which require an answer. My hon. Friend (Mr. Keating) is anxious about the position of accountants.
§ Mr. KEATING
I mentioned accountants as examples of what I mean, that there are skilled workers outside the union.
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
So far as accountants are concerned I am surprised to hear that there is any grievance of the kind indicated by my hon. Friend. The Ministry of Munitions has had the greatest difficulty in getting a sufficient number of properly qualified accountants, and it has had to take into the service of the Ministry a number of men who are of military age. That fact has been made a ground of criticism against the Ministry in this House.
§ Captain A. SMITH
If that is the case, will the hon. Gentleman tell us whether the tribunals have had instructions in regard to accountants?
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
I am quite satisfied that no tribunal would take an accountant for military service if he was a fully qualified accountant. [HON. MEMBEES: "Oh!"] Of course, if my hon. Friends will bring any cases where properly qualified accountants have been taken, we will look into the matter.
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
If they are men qualified to do the work which the Ministry requires, the Ministry would be only too glad to have their services. It has been one of our difficulties to get a sufficient number of these men, and it has been made a ground of complaint against us that we have been taking men of military age into the service of the Ministry. The hon. Member (Mr. Pringle) asked if the Ministry would proceed against these unions which were proselytising members in order to get them into their ranks, because if they joined the union they would get a trade card. I am not sure that we have power to proceed against unions on that count, but it is a point well worth considering.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I think you could refuse them the benefit of this privilege for members entering after a certain period.
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
That is a point which is now under consideration. It will certainly see that that particular aspect of the case is taken into consideration in con- 1058 nection with the discussion which is going on as to the position of the whole scheme. My hon. Friend (Mr. W. Thorne) raised the position of men possessing a certain type of skill. If he had heard my reply to the question put by the hon. Member for Derby, he would see that this is one of the aspects of the case that is being considered. We have already gone to the extent of saying that men of the ages of eighteen to twenty-two who possess a particular type of skill covered by the trade card scheme are not to be called up. That is a pretty clear indication, that so far as the Ministry of Munitions is concerned, it wants the spirit of this agreement, as apart from the letter, honestly carried out. In regard to the retention of skilled men in the Army, which subject was raised by the hon. Member (Captain A. Smith), that is not a question for which the Ministry of Munitions is responsible. It is a War Office responsibility. But I know that the War Office have issued drastic instructions to commanding officers that they must not retain men in the ordinary Line regiments if they possess skill, but they are to see that those skilled men are put into positions in which their skill in the Army can be used to the best advantage. I do not want to have to reply on behalf of another Government Department, but I thought it was due to the War Office to say this, as I know that those instructions have been issued.
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
The question was also asked as to the position of the Ministry in regard to housing. The housing question was a difficult question before the War, and it has been rendered very much more difficult since the War by the increase in the cost of material and labour. I suppose the increase in the cost of building now is 60 per cent, or 70 per cent, higher than it was before the War, and that makes it impossible to build houses on an economic basis. The Ministry of Munitions recognises that if, as the result of putting up a Government factory, or carrying on Government work, a large body of labour is brought into a neighbourhood and the housing facilities in that neighbourhood are not adequate, the responsibility rests on the Ministry, so far as the circumstances of the time make it possible, to provide houses. There are now up and down the country a number of housing schemes which are, having regard to the conditions under which they 1059 had to be carried out, highly creditable to the men who were responsible for the work. They may not meet all the criticisms of those who value the æsthetic side more, perhaps, than the domestic comfort of the house, but on the whole the housing work has been well done. I am sorry that it has not been possible to do more, but schemes are now in hand in cases where the need is most urgent, and we shall continue, as far as we are permitted by the supply of available constructional labour, which is one of the large controlling factors, and the supply of material, to do our best to grapple with this housing problem. As to the position of the houses after the War and the question to whom they will belong, we have to enter into different agreements. First, it was difficult to get the local authorities to take any of the property. Having regard to the cost of the property, the local authorities are not very willing, and other arrangements are being made. The Minister may have to take possession of the property, or to hand it over to whoever becomes our successor after the War. I hope—and I am speaking now only for myself—that these cottages, many of them, good, well-built cottages, will continue to remain in the hands of some public authority. There was a point raised in regard to Gretna. My hon. Friend (Captain Smith) said men were going to Gretna and getting exemption from military service.
§ Captain SMITH
I said they had been refused exemption, and had got work at Gretna and were kept there.
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
I have had cases brought to my notice. I would prefer not to deal with individual cases, but with the general position. It is not only the case at Gretna, but at other places where similar work is going on of special urgency, and requiring a great body of constructional labour, which is the most difficult labour to obtain at the present time. Your big, hefty navvy is a good deal scarcer than your skilled men in some instances, and I am not surprised that on some occasions men who have been refused exemption by tribunals have gone to these works, and have succeeded in getting employment. I am afraid that is chiefly due to the anxiety of the man who is running the job to get his job finished in the shortest possible time. If the hon. Member will give me cases where he thinks this has been abused, I will see that the matter is 1060 gone into carefully. I do not think the Ministry has any right to complain of the temper of the Debate, and the way in which the criticisms have been put before the Committee. I know it is very difficult to deal with detailed points like these, and to give an adequate answer which will commend itself to the sense of the Committee, but I claim that, on the whole, in dealing with the labour side of the work of the Ministry, we have tried to be guided by sympathy and common sense, and chiefly by the desire to get our job done in the best possible way.
§ Mr. HOGGE
There is one question which requires attention before we pass from this discussion. The hon. Gentleman said that the commanding officers have received instructions in regard to skilled men, to use them in the best possible way which their technical skill demanded. Is he satisfied with the results of those instructions, so far as the Ministry of Munitions is concerned If he is satisfied, I know that many of us are profoundly dissatisfied. In the course of my communications with men of that type I have always found in regard to the officer commanding, or, if you have got beyond the officer commanding, General Geddes, who holds all these things in the hollow of his hands in Whitehall, that the last possible thing you could get done was to get a skilled man taken out of the ranks and put upon useful work. We had correspondence read the other day in regard to a skilled man in the tinplate industry, who was originally exempted, but who was transferred to the Highland Light Infantry, and sent off to Flanders to fight in the trenches. That is either ridiculous or it is not. It is nonsense for a representative of the Ministry of Munitions to come to the House of Commons to defend his position, and to say that he knows officers commanding have got these orders. He is bluffing us and he is bluffing himself. It is all clotted nonsense. The Army is using skilled men for its own purposes, which are Infantry purposes, instead of using those men for the manufacture of munitions. What troubles me in these matters, as in many other matters, is the question who is the real authority of the Government to sec that these things are put right. Is it the Ministry of Munitions, is it the Secretary of State for War, or who is it? It is all very well for the hon. Gentleman to say, "We have done our best; we have tried to get this kind of labour;" but the Minister of Munitions 1061 and his secretaries know perfectly well that the War Office has got them by the throat, in order to shake out of them the men they want, and they have not the backbone at the Ministry of Munitions to get their men for essential industries.
§ Mr. WARDLE
May I say a few words in reply to my hon. Friend (Mr. Hogge), not on behalf of the Ministry of Munitions, but as one who has had some experience in this matter. I should like to say that the statement which has been made by my hon. Friend is, in his own words, "clotted nonsense." I had the privilege, if I may call it so, of trying to work with the War Office and the Ministry of Munitions for some months during last year in regard to this very problem, and I know that many thousands of men were got out of the Infantry and out of the Army, both into the artificers section of the Army itself and into the munitions industries.
§ Mr. WARDLE
Then it is not true to say they have not been got. With regard to the policy of the trade card scheme, my criticism of the Government is that this policy was suggested to them last June, it has taken them six months to make up their minds that they would adopt it. Had the Ministry of Munitions and the Army authorities come to an agreement to put that scheme into operation in June, instead of in December, this problem would not have been so acute as it is to-day. I agree with my hon. Friend in his criticism, so far as it concerns the slowness of the method they have adopted. I want to know whether the scheme which is now in operation at last is working satisfactorily, and whether they are getting more men and the kind of men they want, and whether they are getting real co-operation between the two authorities. I agree that there has been between the two Departments in this matter a kind of tug-of-war, one pulling one way and the other pulling the other way. In the public interests that ought to be stopped, if it has not been stopped already. If the trade card scheme is working now, as it might have been working months ago, satisfactorily, I think that the Ministry are going the right way to secure the skilled men for the work they require. I hope in regard to that, that they 1062 will continue the process—it was going on very well last week—of getting skilled men out of the Army and using that skill to the best end.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
The hon. Gentleman who spoke last professed to contradict my hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh, but the latter part of his speech was a very effective reply to the earlier part. He began by saying that the Munitions Department were getting men out of the Army, and then ho said that it was not being done, and he expressed the hope that it would be done.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
The hon. Gentleman denies that, but it is within the recollection of the Committee that he wound up by expressing the hope that it was being done, and if it was being done it would have been unnecessary to express the hope. But I have had very recently evidence that it is not being done. For instance, only two days ago, I received a letter which I have in my hand which referred to a particular man who was a skilled worker, and who is in the Army Service Corps, since September last. During that time he has not put in a day's work at his own trade, except the day he passed the Army Service Corps test, and now his family has been notified that he has been transferred to an Infantry regiment. In view of the necessity for skilled men to work at munitions and shipbuilding, such a state of things should not occur. I wish to deal with another subheading under this Vote. I see under subhead C, "Aeronautical supplies, including Eoyal Aircraft Factory." I am surprised to find this sub-head under this Vote. We all understood that there has been complete reorganisation in the Air Service, that a new Department had been set up with a new Minister, namely, an Air Minister, and that this new Air Minister had, as is usual with new Ministers, received a hotel for his special service, one of the largest hotel in the West End, the bedroom accommodation of which is extremely good. I understood that the new Minister was to have complete control over all supplies of aircraft, and that the Royal Aircraft Factory was also to be placed under his control, not only the questions of designs, but also the matter of supplies. In these circumstances it is rather strange to find this sub-head C still occurring under the Vote for Minis- 1063 try of Munitions. I hope that some hon. Gentleman will be able to state whether the Ministry of Munitions still has control over aircraft supplies and over the Royal Aircraft Factory, or whether, if he has not, this Department has been handed over to the Air Ministry, and if it has been handed over to the Air Ministry, whether we are to have a Supplementary Estimate for the Air Ministry, so that we may be able to discuss the policy of the new Department.
§ Mr. HOGGE
This is too serious to pass in this way. The point which my hon. Friend raises deals with sub-head C, and includes perhaps the most important, or at any rate a growingly important arm of one of our offensive services, the aeronautical supplies, including the Royal Aircraft Factory. The Royal Aircraft Factory has for some considerable time been engaged in the manufacture of aeroplanes of a certain design, against which at times there has been certain criticism, the nature of which I do not need to discuss at this moment. If there has been one Committee sitting on this particular subject there has been half a dozen, and there has been quite a number of different arrangements, and recently some of those arrangements were detailed, and we were left to understand that the Ministry of Munitions was to have a certain continuing share in the manufacture of aeronautical supplies That raises the question, to which we are entitled to an answer—is the Ministry of Munitions responsible now for the building of aircraft, or, if not, what do they mean by aeronautical supplies? Obviously aeronautical supplies must have reference to all the various parts required in the manufacture of aeroplanes. Presumably they have got to do with the machinery which is required in various parts of the country. If the Ministry of Munitions has got this as part of its work, how much control has it got over the building of these aeroplanes which are produced by the Royal Aircraft Factory? Presumably there are other aeroplanes which are made outside Government institutions, but somebody must be responsible, and obviously if the Ministry are responsible only for furnishing the parts of machines, somebody must be responsible for assembling them, whether the Royal Aircraft Factory itself, the Ministry of Munitions, or your new Air Board. I understand that the Royal Aircraft Factory is practically an experimental shop of the Government 1064 with regard to the use of aeroplanes, and are we to understand that that still continues under the Ministry of Munitions Department, or that the Air Board comes in and overrides everything with its authority and that the Ministry of Munitions is simply content with the manufacture of supplies? If it is confined to the supplies, can either of my hon. Friends who are in charge give any idea as to what the Ministry of Munitions is now doing in this respect? If there is one Army service that has been criticised as much as another in this War it is the Air Service, and many improvements have been made. Can either of the hon. Gentlemen say what interest the Ministry of Munitions has in this particular Department? I do not see any objection to a short answer being given to that. If my hon. Friend will give an answer, I need not prolong my speech, but the Committee is entitled to some explanation.
§ Major Sir W. EVANS
Nothing but modesty on my part prevented me from getting up. I have already addressed the Commmittee. My hon. Friend has done so two or three times. The Ministry of Munitions is responsible for aeronautical supplies, including the Royal Aircraft Factory which is referred to in sub-head C. The position of the Ministry in this respect is that it is the supplying Department. We are responsible for all the components that go to make up aircraft, and for the aircraft. We are not responsible for design. That is a matter for the Air Board, and they as it were indent upon us, according to the capacity we have for supply, and we, to the best of our ability, supply them. Hon. Members can rest assured that that is a reasonable working practical arrangement. The hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) pointed out that Token Votes were not instituted for the purpose of keeping back information. I entirely agree. They were instituted because it is almost impossible, with the great expenditure which the Government has to make, to give any explanation which is of the slightest value to the House of Commons. But they do also have the effect of preventing information which ought not to be given being exacted. For example, under this head C, if the amount of expenditure under aeronautical supplies were stated, a very good estimate could be formed of the number of aeroplanes which were in course of construction or were about to become available. That reason does not apply to 1065 sub-head A. That is the salaries, and I see no reason why the House of Commons should not be told that the salaries and other items under sub-head A of the Vote are to-day at the rate of about £837,000 a year. That is a very rough estimate made since I have been on the bench, but I think it is approximately correct.
§ Major Sir W. EVANS
I want to deal with another point which my hon. Friend raises. I think my hon. Friend has some experience of the Ministry of Munitions, and at one time the Ministry was, as he stated, free of Treasury control. But that is not the case to-day. The Treasury have laid down the rate of salaries that should be paid, and special sanction has to be obtained for any appointment that carries a higher salary, and in fact the Ministry of Munitions has in that sense got on a peace footing, and the proper control of the Treasury as an institution is now brought to bear on the Ministry of Munitions. As regards publishing a list, that is another matter altogether, and I cannot deal with that. I hope that hon. Members will let us have this Vote now. We have had a useful, wide and discursive discussion, and there are other Votes to follow.
§ Question put, and agreed to.