§ Mr. MOLTENO
I beg to move to leave out from the word "That" to the end of 1511 the Question, in order to add the words, "this House declines to agree to a Bill conferring upon the Director-General of National Service an authority which may include without further legislation powers to impose industrial conscription upon the country."
I regret that I am not quite so easily satisfied as the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member who have preceded me with regard to the contents of this Bill and the pledge given by the Home Secretary. I do not at all doubt that the right hon. Gentleman would at any time carry out his pledges, but the matter appears to me to be one of immense importance. T am not one of those who think it possible to go through with the War without taking measures of a very exceptional character, and I am not averse to the House giving to the Government powers of an exceptional character, but I do feel that in a matter of this immense importance it should Be the House of Commons and not any autocratic body whatever that gives the power. The terms of the Bill raise the whole question of Parliamentary Government. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that there is not an industry in this country which is not going to be affected by the Bill. Consequently, the whole existence of this country is going to be affected. It cannot, therefore, be denied that the matter is one of supreme importance. There is no limit in the application of this Bill to the industries of this country.
I want to put a question to the Home Secretary. He said there was no compulsion in this Bill. He said it would be for the employer to help the employé to volunteer, and it would be for the employé to volunteer, and that, in this way, the Bill was going to be the means of limiting labour. He also told us there was to be power under the Bill to limit industries, and, if necessary, to suppress them. I want to know, is that a voluntary power or is it a compulsory power?
§ Sir G. CAVE
The power is not in the Bill, but any limitations in respect of labour in non-essential industries will be imposed by Orders in Council.
§ Mr. MOLTENO
An industry may be on the point of stoppage already, and if many more men are taken away it must go under. Is the Director of National Service to have power to take these men?
§ Sir G. CAVE
There is no power in this Bill which would enable the Director of National Service to take compulsorily any men from any industry.
§ Mr. MOLTENO
Do I understand that he will have power under Regulations made under the Defence of the Realm Act?
§ Sir G. CAVE
There is no power to compel anybody to leave any industry under the Act, and there is no Regulation, under, which it can be done.
§ Sir G. CAVE
The only Regulation is to prevent men being taken into certain, existing non-essential trades. It does not compel any men to go in or come out, but> in respect of new labour, it will prevent it going into certain hon essential industries.
§ Mr. MOLTENO
I want to draw attention to the fact that this Bill is enormously important and that under it very wide powers may be exercised by the Director of National Service. What I complain of is that the Bill is a mere skeleton to be filled in not by this House, but by Orders in Council and by Regulations made under the Defence of the Realm Act or otherwise. I should like to direct attention to the Clauses in which these powers are to be taken. The Bill consists of only three Clauses, and the third merely recites the title, in the other two Clauses there are powers taken for ousting the authority of this House and that is the point to which I wish now to direct attention. If we look at Section 2 of Clause 1 we find it provided that—The Director-General of National Service shall, for that purpose, have such powers and duties of any Government Department or authority, whether conferred by Statute or otherwise, as His Majesty may by Order in Council transfer to him or authorise him to exercise or perform concurrently with or in consultation with the Government Department or authority concerned.This deals with powers already in existence, but now I come to the words to which I take strong objection:And also such further powers as may be conferred on him by Regulations under the Defence of the Realm 1513 Consolidation Act, 1914, and Regulations may be made under that Act accordingly.Here authority is taken to confer new powers upon a Minister under the Defence of the Realm Act; we know already the extent to which the Defence of the Realm Act has been stretched. Indeed, there is a question before the House whether that Act has power to override an Act of Parliament, and the Food Controller is to give us an answer on that point. I do not believe there is any such power, but however that may be, there is power taken under the Defence of the Realm Act to confer new power on the Director of National Service. What has been the usual custom of this House up to the present time? The custom has been, when establishing any authority, to define under the Act the power which that authority is to exercise. You may make certain Regulations as to how he is to exercise his power, but in regard to further powers this House has always retained in its own hands any power which it is going to give and it has laid them down in the Statute establishing the authority. Here is a matter of supreme importance. It may have been done in other cases. I do not know, and if it has, I do not like it. But I do submit that, in a matter of such importance as this is to the people of this country, it is essential, if this House is to retain its authority in the country, that it should define these powers and settle them by Act of Parliament.
Unless you do that, you will be destroying Parliamentary government. What is Parliamentary government? We have the King, the Lords and Commons, and it is essential, in any vital matter, that the concurrence of these constitutional authorities should be secured for the granting of any power over the people of this country. I maintain, therefore, this proposal is constitutionally wrong, and any action taken under this Bill will be upset by the highest Courts of the realm if we proceed by Order in Council to confer these powers. The utmost power of imagination possessed by any human being will not enable him to tell us what can be done under an Act of this kind. It is absolutely impossible—it is a case absolutely of blindfold legislation. It is really giving to the Executive power to legislate by decree. This proposal was made in almost similar terms to the French Chamber. What did that body do? They had a discussion on it; they 1514 referred it to a Committee; the Committee brought up a unanimous report against it, and the Chamber absolutely refused to give the Government the power. I ask that this Parliament should remain as free as any other Parliament in the world, and I contend, therefore, that the powers to which I am referring should be set out in and defined by the Statute.
Why is this matter one of such urgent and immediate importance? We have given immense powers to the Executive, which they have been exercising all this time. The difficulty is this, that indispensable men have been taken away from the industries of the country, and in that way industry has been disorganised. Now an attempt is being made to bring back to those essential industries the men taken away, or others to fill their places. I should like to give an illustration, from a speech delivered by a distinguished Member of this House, to whom we wore all listening yesterday with pleasure during his exposition of the naval position—I refer to the First Lord of the Admiralty (Sir E. Carson). The right hon. Gentleman's attitude in regard to taking away men from industry is really the key to what has occurred in connection with many of our industries. In December, 1915, we were discussing the Military Service Act, and the then Prime Minister laid down the principle that indispensable industries wore not to be destroyed, and that indispensable men were not to be taken away from them. The right hon. Gentleman the present First Lord of the Admiralty was then in opposition, and he laid down his principle in this way:What my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham is trying to do is to make his own measure of what is necessary to carry on what he believes to be the economic industries of this country. What he wants to do is to give the surplus to the Army. I say they ought all to be given to the Army, and the surplus ought to be given to the hon. Gentleman's business and other businesses.That is the principle he laid down. But listen to the same right hon. Gentleman a year later. On the 15th of November last year what did he tell us? Speaking on the question of the difficulties in connection with our industries, he said:I am not going in detail into all the many points upon which the right hon. Gentleman touched. He told us of the depiction of agricultural labour; he told us of the absence of mechanics and of various other matters of that kind. It really does shake one's confidence in the power of organisation of this country—I am not saying it by way of casting any slur, as the right bon. Gentleman knows, upon himself or his Department or any other Department—but it does seem to be a great pity and to shake one's confidence in the 1515 power of organisation of this country that after two years' experience of war we are only now beginning to find out that we have sent away men who are essential for the industries which go to the very root of the support of our Armies in the field and of our people at home.5.0 P.M.
That was last year's advice of the right hon. Gentleman, and we have had similar advice given us in this House time after time. Here we can see how we have got into this trouble. Are we going to get out of it by taking more indispensable men from industries? Yet that is what is being done at the present moment. There are men indispensable for agriculture being taken away from the land at this very moment—men indispensable not merely in the opinion of irresponsible gentlemen, but indispensable in the opinion of the highest authorities in this country. There are people in my Constituency who send me up certificates from the Board of Agriculture to the effect that their men are indispensable, and yet those men are now being taken away. The Minister for Agriculture himself tells us he is staggered when men indispensable to industry are sent away, and only yesterday he informed us that he could do nothing unless the Government conferred upon him the power of deciding that men were indispensable to agriculture. Yet these men are being taken away, and now it is proposed to set up vast and complicated machinery in order to try and get somebody incompetent to take their places. In this way you are destroying the resources of this country. Things get worse and worse. Look at the steel industry; you are putting up steel furnaces, but by the time they are completed you will have other steel furnaces shut down because of your labour difficulty. We have been told by the First Lord of the Admiralty that, while we are building more ships, there are vessels which are lying idle because hands cannot be got to discharge them, and the result is there is a serious shortage of steel. I think the Minister of Munitions will not deny that last autumn we had a 50 per cent, shortage of steel. You have your munition factories unable to go on because there is no material. An enormous amount of time is lost, and an enormous amount of energy wasted. Then there is shipbuilding. We are all wanting ships built, but we cannot build ships without steel. I wish that something were really done in regard to new chips, but I do not believe there is any- 1516 thing being done, because there is not the steel with which to build them. For the moment I should like to return to the position in which we find ourselves. The process of ousting the authority of this House has been getting more and more extreme. I do not pretend that this House can conduct a war. No one thinks it can, because it would be absurd. No one but the Executive can conduct the War, but the House is responsible for the Executive and also for any authority which the Executive exercises. It has been so in every other war, and it ought to be so in this War. The Executive ought to get its authority from this House and from nowhere else. This is a skeleton Bill. Who, then, is going to exercise these great powers? The House of Commons is in a position that it does not really know who is going to exercise them. We have had two changes of Ministries, but we have never been informed in the House how those changes came about or what the new Government is. There are two short passages, one in the speech of the present Prime Minister and one in a speech of the late Prime Minister, upon that subject, in which they both said that they did not propose to give any information upon that subject. The House is getting very much in the position of a board of directors who one fine morning find that their manager has been dismissed, no reason being given for it, and they have no knowledge of why he is dismissed. Then the new manager, eighteen months afterwards, is also dismissed without any reason given, and the new manager tells the board or this House——
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I do not think that the matters which the hon. Member is now opening up are at all relevant to this Bill.
§ Mr. MOLTENO
I am very anxious not to contravene the Rules of Order. I was coming to the point as to who was to exercise the powers, and who was to give the authority to exercise them. The difficulty we are in is that we do not know. I understand that where there is a question of a conflict between Departments— there must be a conflict between Departments—the eventual authority lies with the War Cabinet. We have not been informed in the House that that is so. If it be so, it appears that we are, by Bills-of this kind, establishing a bureaucracy or an autocracy which is going to decide 1517 the matter. I object to both these processes, because while we are supposed to be doing, and I hope we are, everything to fight Prussian militarism, we are really introducing Prussian ideas. It is the Prussian idea that the bureaucracy should issue orders conferring powers upon an authority. I contend this House is the only body that ought to be able to confer them. The principles upon which that autocracy acts are extremely difficult to ascertain. As the Government is now formed on a principle unknown to the Constitution, we cannot rely upon that. We have to look at the individuals who are going to exercise and establish these authorities and look at them to ascertain what view as individuals they are likely to take. If we look at the body which will eventually decide these powers, we find it is the War Cabinet. So far as I can see, the War Cabinet consists of the Prime Minister, whom we hope to see here to-morrow, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Barnard Castle Division (Mr. Arthur Henderson), to whom we can put questions in this House, and the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, who can be here, whom we can see and to whom we can put questions as to what process he is going to follow in giving these directions. As to the other members of the autocracy, we do not know about them. They are not here, and we cannot get at them; we can only look at their views. With regard to the ousting of Parliament, the question was asked last week as to where the House came in. We had Estimates before us in regard to which the House knew nothing. Now we have but Token Estimates, and in many ways the authority of this House is being set aside in favour of bureaucratic authority. Upon what policy is that bureaucratic authority going to act? We can only look at the statements of the members of that autocracy, and, when I examine them, I am very much concerned and alarmed. I find that one of the Noble Lords, who is a member of that autocracy, intends to proceed on Prussian principles. He is the greatest exponent in this country of the military principles of Prussia, and he was anxious to apply them to this country. If they are going to act on those principles it is a very serious matter, and we ought to know. This country does not want to be committed to Prussian principles while fighting Prussian militarism, and using all its forces against it.
1518 Again to-day we have had another pledge. What are we to say about pledges given in this House? We have had pledge after pledge given to us and broken. I need not enumerate them, but a very large number of pledges have been given to this House, and it is well within its recollection that they have been broken from time to time. What did the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Barnard Castle Division tell us when he was speaking on this question? He said that he had given a pledge against industrial compulsion—the very question with which we are dealing—and he said that if he had given pledges, and the circumstances changed, he was going to get rid of his pledges. How was be going to do that? This is what he said:Whereas what I said I would do—and surely my hon. Friend will give me credit for speaking sincerely—was that I would take every means open to me to get release from my pledges, and if I made my pledges, first of all, to the representatives of the great Labour movement with which I have been so long connected I will go to them; If I made my pledges to my Constituents I will go to my Constituency and ask them for release."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th February, 1917. col. 935.]I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman if, when he speaks in this House as a Minister, he is merely speaking for labour organisations and his Constituents? He is speaking to this House and the country. I want to know from the Home Secretary, was he speaking to his constituents from whom he could get a release if he gave a pledge he was going to break, or was he speaking to this House; was he giving the assurance as a Minister of the Crown or in his personal capacity? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Barnard Castle Division considers that he is quite free to break pledges given to this House if he can get the consent of his labour organisations and his constituents. I deny that. I say that when he spoke he spoke as a Minister. He spoke in this House to the representatives of this country and, through them, to the country. He cannot get a release in that way. I hope the House will not in any way be satisfied with assurances given in that spirit and on these conditions. Any pledges given in this House ought to be embodied—we have surely had warning enough now—in the very clearest terms in the words of the Statute. Nothing less ought to satisfy any of us than the most clear and explicit declaration on that point. I object to this autocratic and bureaucratic principle that is ousting the House of Commons from its proper, legitimate and essential duty to 1519 the people of this country—that is, to preserve their rights by exercising its own.
Mr. EDMUND HARVEY
I beg to second the Amendment.
I wish to associate myself with the arguments that my hon. Friend (Mr. Molteno) has placed before the House as to why it should hesitate before giving its sanction to a Bill fraught with consequences which may be very dangerous to the whole structure of our industries. I fully appreciate the spirit in which the Home Secretary introduced this measure. I am quite sure he has no intention that it shall be used in a way which would bring about the dangers which some of us foresee; but as my hon. Friend has made quite clear to the House, it is the duty of this House not to look to speeches of Ministers, or even to their intentions as expressed in those speeches, but to have regard also to the legislative forms their proposals take, and to safeguard the country in regard to the way in which measures may be used not only by the present Ministry, but by any future Ministry. When we look at this Bill, in spite of the explanation of the Home Secretary, the more closely we examine it, the more we shall feel that there is reason to be dissatisfied with it, both for "what it does contain and for what it does not contain. The provision to which most of us who object to the Bill take most exception is contained in Sub-section (2) of Clause 1. I am sorry that the Home Secretary in his explanation did not make clearer to the House all that that Sub-section implies. To an ordinary man reading it, it certainly gives the impression that it gives to the Director-General of National Service a blank cheque upon the vast bank of the Defence of the Realm Act, which he can fill in subject to Orders in Council framed under that Act, and not in any other way subject to the control of this House.
During the speech of the Home Secretary he alluded to the schedule of essential trades about to be issued by the Director-General of National Service. I ventured to ask whether it would be laid upon the Table of the House, and the Home Secretary at once said that of course it would be laid upon the Table of the House. There is, however, no provision in the Bill that the Regulations framed by the Director-General shall be 1520 laid upon the Table of the House, or that the House shall have any opportunity of expressing an opinion upon them. The rights of Parliament should be safeguarded explicitly in the Bill. Every provision under the Regulations framed by the Director-General of National Service should be laid upon the Table of the House, and the usual interval should follow in which the question may be raised. If some procedure such as that were adopted it would go a long way to mitigate the anxiety many feel as to the way in which these powers might be used. I do not want to say a word against the distinguished citizen who has taken the most onerous office of Director-General of National Service. He has done very great service already to his city and to his country, and he is a man of the highest ability and character; but if we were to get an angel from Heaven to take this post it would still be one which could never properly be filled by any one personality if you entrusted to it all the powers which are given in this Bill. There is no provision in it whatever for the association either of industry or labour with the Director-General of National Service, and that is an essential fault. His province will be to control and shape industry and to mould and modify the lives of thousands—it may be millions— of our fellow citizens; and there is no provision at all in the Bill either that Parliament should be associated with his work by any Committee or, still more important, that industry and labour should be associated with it. If this work is to be made acceptable to the great mass of feeling in the country, it is essential that the direct co-operation of the working classes should be sought and obtained to the work of the Director-General of National Service, and I believe the proper way to obtain that is to make provision for it in the very framework of the Bill which gives the Director-General of National Service his power.
It is very well for the Home Secretary to speak of the desirability of having labour mobile and giving power to the Director-General to transfer labour from one place to another, but it is an entirely different thing when you come to turn those fine-sounding phrases into what they mean in human relation to poor men and women. Your labour being made mobile means tearing and rooting up people from all their associations and all their work, transferring them as though they were 1521 pegs or cards and not men or women. I do not mean that we ought not to have any better system than we have at present. I admit that it may be desirable to have very great changes, but if we are to make those changes in the right way, it ought to be done with the fullest spirit of co-operation with the workers concerned. They ought to feel that it is not something imposed upon them from without and from above by a great autocrat of industry, a sort of Napoleon of our economic life, shifting and transferring mobile labour where he will, but they should feel that through their association, their own trade union, their own organisation, they have an essential voice in it and a right, to express themselves, and that that right is safeguarded in the Act of Parliament itself which gives these powers to the Director-General of National Service. I appeal to the Government to take into co-operation with them in this great task which they have set themselves the people of the country, through their own organisations, and not leave that co-operation out of the framework of their Bill.
My hon. Friend has said very well that a similar measure some time ago was brought into the French Chamber, and he has told the House of the way in which it was treated. I prefer in this matter that we should take France as our example rather than Germany. The Government has framed its measure confessedly on the analogy of a German measure, yet even in Germany we read yesterday in the papers of a semi-official announcement that the German Government had thought it not necessary hitherto to go beyond the voluntary system. I am very glad the Government want to maintain the voluntary system, but after what we have seen some of us cannot help having our doubts about the hopes which are expressed in this way, more especially when the whole Bill is so framed that, under the Defence of the Realm Act, compulsory powers may at any time be taken, and may enable the Director-General of National Service to transfer and move men and women under penalties from one place to another. The Defence of the Realm Act contains far more, I am sure, than its framers ever anticipated when it was passed, and far more than this House ever realised it was giving to the Government. I think we ought to take warning now and see that in the framework of the Bill we do not give such absolutely unlimited powers to 1522 the Director of the machinery that is set up, that we associate this power expressly in the Bill itself with the decision of Parliament, that we keep the ultimate control of Parliament over those decisions and that we associate with the details of his work the expression tof the life of the working classes of this country through their own organisations. Unless we can get those two essential changes in the Bill I am sure many of us must feel that it marks a further step in the wrong direction, away from the true genius of our people, in the direction which we dread, of the domination of the lives of the citizens of the nation by the iron autocracy of a centralised State. As a Liberal, I must protest against this measure. I believe unless it be modified in the way I have indicated, it must do harm and it must strike at the roots of national life and of civic liberty, and I feel it my duty, believing that, to second the Amendment.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I have always been in favour of compulsion, and if my advice had been taken we should have had compulsory service two years ago. But I am not in favour of giving to any Minister, or to any Government, power to compel people to work or to join the Army unless they have previously received the sanction of Parliament. I attach very great importance to the preserving to Parliament of the power to decide whether or not certain control should be exercised over the subjects of this Realm, and I do not believe it is right that any Government or any Minister should be empowered to make, by Order in Council or by any other machinery of that description, Regulations which will confer on him power over the life and limb of the subject. My right hon. Friend has told us that it is not the intention to do anything of the sort under this Bill, and he has also read out a statement as to an undertaking which the Government are prepared to give. Although it is quite true that the Government do not intend to take any very drastic powers under this Bill, if the Bill is passed in its present form those powers will be created. I asked the other day under what power the Government claimed the right to seize private property and resell it. I was referring then to the statement made by the Financial Secretary to the War Office that they had taken wool from the farmers and re-sold it and were intending to use that wool when it was 1523 manufactured for the purpose of regulating the exchanges. He said it was under the Defence of the Realm Act. The fact is, whether it is legal or not, the Government not only claimed, but have exercised all kinds of arbitrary powers under the Defence of the Realm Act. I believe the words on which all these powers turn are "they are necessary for the public safety," and I am informed that no one exactly knows what interpretation the Courts of law put upon those words. But the Government chose to say those words "give them power to do anything." I believe they have already said that under these words they can do whatever they like. No private citizen can go to the highest Court in the realm and ask for an interpretation of those words. Therefore, whatever my right hon. Friend says now as to what the immediate intention of the Government is, or whatever undertaking he gives across the floor of the House, is quite useless if we pass this Bill in the form in which it is now. Holding the views I do, I could not support the Bill in the form it is in now, but at the same time I could not vote against its Second Reading, because I believe it can be put right in Committee by modifying the words in the second Sub-section of the first Clause and leaving them so that they read, "The Director-General of National Service shall, for that purpose, have such powers and duties of any Government Department or authority as may be conferred on him by Statute." If that is done that is all that is necessary. Therefore, what I propose to do is not to vote against the Second Reading, but to support, or if necessary to put down, an Amendment to that effect in Committee, and certainly to go to a Division on it if the Government do not accept it. I do not quite know why it is necessary to create an enormous Department to do this work. I believe my right hon. and learned Friend (Sir G. Cave) is quite capable of doing it himself. I do not know anyone who would do it better. However, if it is necessary to set up a Department in the very serious position in which we find ourselves, I am not going to oppose it, always provided that whatever is done is done with the sanction of Parliament.
§ Mr. DILLON
I really do think that this House and the country have reason to be grateful to God that the right hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury) has not joined the Government. As he is so independent a 1524 critic, I cannot conceive why they have left him out of their ranks. I feel the greatest possible gratitude for that. There can be no doubt that the right hon. Baronet is absolutely right in his statement as to the result if we pass this Bill in its present form. It is no use any Minister giving us a pledge. We have had enough experience of Ministers' pledges. They have always been willing to give pledges in order to get Bills through the House, and they have always informed us afterwards, without the slightest shame or remorse, that the circumstances have altered, and that therefore they are not bound by the pledge. Once we pass this Bill with these words in it, there is not the slightest doubt that the Government are invested with power to impose compulsory service in this country, or as it is called, industrial conscription. I object to this Bill on the ground so clearly stated by the right hon. Baronet, but I go beyond his objection. I object to the Bill on other grounds. I object to it because I contend that we have got to discuss this whole scheme on the basis of a compulsory measure. It is absolutely manifest from the speeches that were delivered by the Prime Minister, and by the Director of National Service, that they do not in the least degree anticipate that the voluntary system proposed to be set up by this Bill will be a success. Nobody in the House anticipates that, and, judging from our previous experiences, this Bill is simply for the purpose of laying the path for a compulsory scheme, in order to enable Ministers to come down to the House in about a fortnight or three weeks—the interval in this case will be very much shorter than the interval between the Derby scheme and Conscription—and to say, "We have done our best. We have tried the voluntary system, and it has failed. We have not got the requisite number of men, and we must have recourse to compulsion." Therefore, the House of Commons must, if they are not going to stultify themselves, in considering the the Second Reading of this Bill, take a broad view of the whole question, and ask themselves whether it is wise to entrust the Government with the power of industrial conscription in this country, which is a form of servitude to which, in my opinion, no nation, under any circumstances, ought to submit. The hon. Member for Derby rather surprised me, coming as it did from him, when he said that he hoped that there would be no extravagant expectations from this measure. There 1525 are no extravagant expectations in any form. Everybody knows that this measure will not do what the Government says is necessary to be done, and the Government, to do them justice, on the present occasion have not even pretended that they expect this measure to do what they want.
The principle underlying the whole of this scheme is the compulsory principle. What is the idea underlying this scheme? The idea is that we are now asked to finally take leave of the principles on which the prosperity and the success of every industrial community has been built up since civilisation began, namely, that men understand their own business better than the State can do it for them. I should have said, a priori, that it is a preposterous idea. When we look into the experience we have had during the course of this War, and even since the opening of the present Session, with its highly efficient Government, are we really encouraged to believe that we are going to improve the condition of this country, and to improve the distribution of labour, by transferring it to a set of Government officials I Look at the mess over the production of food scheme. Is that encouraging? That really ought to be a warning to the House. We were led to believe— at any rate, I was not led to believe, and certain other Members with me protested against the whole machinery that was set up to deal with this question of the production of food—that the Government were fully confident as to the result they were going to achieve from the administration of Lord Devonport and his great Department, and the administration of the Department of Agriculture by the right hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Prothero). What has happened? I do not think in the whole history of the muddles that have occurred during this War, there has been one so disastrous, so preposterous, and ludicrous as the potato muddle. You have, in the first place, within these few weeks almost struck a deathblow at the prospect of any improvement in agriculture. You have paralysed agriculture, and we have a statement to-day in the "Daily Mail," which is absolutely true, that the farmers of this country, from one end of the country to the other, are on strike. That is the result of the unfortunate position of the hon. Member for Oxford, whom Lord Lansdowne described yesterday as a gentleman in spectacles struggling with three other gentlemen, who were too many 1526 for him, and would not allow him to carry out any of his ideas. That is absolutely true. That is one side of the picture.
We were told that this was done in order to protect the consumer, even at the risk of preventing the farmers from increasing their production. What has been the result? A potato famine all over the country. At the moment, in Manchester and Liverpool, and also in London, we are almost left without potatoes. This is the first result of this magnificent machine which the Government has put in operation to increase the production and distribution of potatoes. Are we not all familiar with the grotesque and preposterous results of the attempts already made to deal with labour in regard to agriculture. Though I am not in a position to know as much as many hon. Members on this question, instances have been brought before me of men—indispensable, skilled men—being taken from agriculture by the War Office, although they were not fit to be sent to the front, and to-day they are in the South of England, or some other place far removed from the farms where they have done invaluable work, and they are engaged in cleaning drains or doing clerks' work. Instances of that kind have been multiplied again and again, and the lesson which this House is asked to draw from these experiences, which are multitudinous all over the country, is that the entire industry of the country is to be placed at the mercy of a set of scratch officials. What kind of officials are they? They are not trained men. They are, I suppose, to be of the same class as those who are ridiculed, under the name of "rabbits," every second day in the "Daily Mail," by means of artistic portrayals, describing the funkholes in St. James's Park and in the multitudinous buildings that are rising up all over London. The whole industry of the country is to be placed under the control of rabbits located in the funkholes of London. We know about the March hare, and I think this House will be as mad as the March hare if they extend the potato muddle and the other muddles of a similar character to the entire industries of this country. It is really a terribly serious matter, which may end in chaos and do such injury to the whole industry of Great Britain, particularly in view of the temper of the War Office, as may result in seriously endangering the fortunes of this country in the War.
That brings me to the next point with which I wish to deal. On the second day 1527 of this Session, when we had a most interesting Debate on the question of labour as applied to agriculture, hon. Members who were present will recollect that the Minister of Agriculture got up and, in reply to myself and the hon. Member for Liverpool who moved an Amendment, declared in a very jaunty fashion, which I am sure has entirely departed from him now, judging from the lugubrious tones of his recent speeches, and told us that he 3iad met Lord Devonport and that they had come to an arrangement by which if they differed over any matter they would go to the War Cabinet, who would settle the matter immediately. Then he went on to say, "I have not the slightest doubt in my own mind that on any question affecting the production of food and the spread of agriculture that the War Cabinet will always decide in my favour, because I understand agriculture and Lord Devonport does not." I am a very old Member of this House, and I have had a very considerable experience of Government Departments, and I could not help saying to myself, as I listened to the right hon. Member for Oxford, "Although you are not very young, you are young at this kind of work." I should like to hear from the right hon. Member for Oxford, not across the floor of this House, but in the confidence of the Smoke Room, what he thinks now of the War Cabinet's wisdom and Lord Devonport. I knew Lord Devonport in this House long before he was Lord Devonport, and I had a very shrewd suspicion that when he and the right hon. Member for Oxford came into collision he would come out on top. What has been the result? In every single difference of opinion that has occurred on matters which, in my judgment, and in the judgment of a much better judge than I am, in the judgment of the right hon. Member for Oxford— we can read it between every line of his speeches—were vital not only to the increase of agriculture, but to the maintenance of the level of the crop of last year—we shall not produce as much food as we did last year—in every single question that arose, and that went to the War Cabinet for decision, the result has been unfortunate.
The War Cabinet, as we all know, had to interrupt their great deliberations on submarines, on the conduct of the War, and sit a whole day last Saturday on the question of potatoes. What has been the 1528 result? The Prime Minister sent a telegram to the Lord Mayor of Manchester, saying, "I have settled the potato question." The submarine question, the question of the Balkans, and everything else went into the background, and the potato—the Irish potato—held the field. But the Prime Minister has not settled the potato question. The War Cabinet itself, and the Prime Minister himself, failed before that great question, which is typical in some respects of the Irish question. The potato still holds the field. Liverpool and Manchester, in spite of the War Cabinet, and in spite of the Prime Minister, are still seeking in vain for potatoes. There is not a better business man in the country in some respects than Lord Devonport, but he does not understand agriculture, so the hon. Member for Oxford tells me. Any tyro who knew the A B C of business could have told Lord Devonport that it was an act of madness and folly at this particular crisis, when you are trying to induce the people of this country to extend and multiply their cultivation, to strangle them at the particular moment by maximum prices, and by prices which they cannot maintain. The confusion which has resulted is absolutely spreading in all directions. After sitting for hours the War Cabinet decided to add £1 a ton to the price of potatoes to meet the crisis and to relieve the famine that was threatening Manchester and Liverpool. Though, in spite of our protests, this great machinery was extended across to Ireland, at this very moment the Irish police are seizing the farmers in the markets and compelling their, to sell for £8 a ton, in spite of the decree of the War Cabinet fixing the price at £9 a ton.
The hon. Member has given a good deal of illustration, and I think that he had better begin to draw his moral from it.
§ Mr. DILLON
The moral is that we have seen confusion made worse confounded by the multiplication of Departments having authority over labour, and we have seen the unfortunate Minister for Agriculture helplessly struggling, in the words of Lord Lansdowne, against three other Departments having authority over labour, and now you propose, by way of completely solving the whole question, to add another Department to the general confusion. We have no indication in this Bill what are to be the real powers of this Department. We are 1529 entitled to a clear, unambiguous answer to this question before the Bill proceeds another stage—is this Department to be under the heel of the War Office or is it not? Is it to have any real voice in deciding what labour is essential to preserving the industries of the country? We have to leave sub judice the struggle between two or three different Departments as to whether 30,000 men are to be taken from agriculture. To do so would, in my opinion, be an act of lunacy, and in direct opposition to the judgment of this House. But the War Office does not care a straw for this House, nor for the Cabinet, as I can prove. I remember a friend of mine going to the War Office to get a certain thing done—this I can state of my own knowledge—and, speaking to the late Adjutant-General, he was refused, and he said, "This which I am asking for was promised by Mr. Asquith"—he was then Prime Minister—"yesterday to Mr. Redmond in the House." "I would have you know," said the Adjutant-General, "that we in the War Office take no notice of such promises. These promises are made by Ministers to pass Bills, but the War Office never takes the smallest notice of them." We are entitled to know whether we are setting up a mock dictator of national labour who is to be trampled upon by the War Office and Lord Devonport and anyone else who has some other Department, or whether this man is really to have full control of the labour of the country.
We are now fixed with full notice that tins is going to be a compulsory scheme and that we are now only laying the foundation of a compulsory scheme. If there is going to be a compulsory scheme, I think that the House will live bitterly to regret the day they passed it, and that on more grounds than one. It is all very well for some of the Labour leaders of the country, now that they have joined the Government, to give their blessing to a scheme of industrial conscription which they rose up against last year and denounced in the most unqualified language. I do not believe that in this particular matter these men are in a position to speak for the labouring population of England. I believe you will find that you are laying the foundation for the most serious labour troubles if you attempt to handle the labour of England in this way. I come, for a moment, to the case of Ireland. It is a very odd thing that you propose to include Ireland in this Bill. I 1530 have no objection to a Bill extended to Ireland if I could approve of one of this character, though I think that it would be quite useless so long as I believed that it was not to be followed by compulsion. But inasmuch as I know that it is the first, step to compulsion, I must resist this Bill, and when the proper time comes I shall put down an Amendment to exempt Ire land from its operation. I believe that it is utterly inapplicable to Irish conditions, and if you attempt to extend the compulsory conscription of labour to Ireland, then I do not know what the Labour leaders of this country or Labour itself will do, but I can answer for my own country, and you will not succeed in it, and you will have more trouble on your hands than you bargained for if you attempt to extend the compulsion of labour to Ireland. I read with some feelings of bitterness the speech delivered by the hon. Member for Oxford the other day——
§ Colonel BURN
It is not fair to put on the shoulders of my Noble Friend the Member for Oxford (Viscount Valentia) the so-called sins of the Member for Oxford University (Mr. Prothero).
§ Mr. DILLON
I meant the Member for Oxford University. He was addressing a meeting of Cheshire farmers, and he said, "The farmers might say that he ought to have resigned," and there was a tremendous cheer, and then the unfortunate Member for Oxford University said, "What good would that do?" He evidently wanted to convey that he wholly disapproved of the policy of his colleagues and the policy of the War Cabinet. That is not my idea of Ministerial responsibility. The hon. Member then proceeded to say, "We must get along as well as we can, though I have received a staggering blow." Then he began to recount the resources to which he thought the farmers could look. He said that they must look to women. That was received with another absence of enthusiasm; and then he said you must look to "Irish labourers." My God—the Irish labourers ! And the answer came back from the crowd, "Our men won't work with them." It is the irony of fate to rely on the Irish labourers who were boycotted here and insulted here in England last year, though I had specially asked the Minister for Agriculture whether they wanted them in England or not, so that I could tell my men—for I represent four-fifths of the agricultural labourers who come over here— 1531 whether they were wanted or not, and he said that they were wanted. They came over, and they were insulted, and now the Member for Oxford University tells the English farmers to look to Irish labourers. They will have to treat Irish labourers a great deal better than they did last year if they want to get them over. In my judgment, this Bill is a useless Bill in its present form, and in the form of a compulsory Bill, which will, of course, follow, it will do infinite mischief to the industry of this country, create labour troubles, make confusion worse confounded, add one more to the three departments, that are now fighting each other, night, noon, and morning, and coming to the War Cabinet for decisions; and finally, with regard to Ireland, I strongly advise the Government to let Ireland alone; they have done enough mischief already in Ireland.
§ Mr. PERCY HARRIS (Leicester, Har-borough)
I am not going to follow the last speaker into the larger question which he has raised as to the constitutional issues of this Bill. I quite agree that this Bill will set up a Minister with very autocratic powers. I do not suppose that any Minister has ever had more powers than this Bill will place in the hands of the new Minister of National Service, because it assumes—and, I suppose, rightly—that there will be a very large response to the call for National Service and that the campaign going on through the country at present will meet with considerable success, and, if not the larger part of the able bodied of the population which is not in the Army, at least a very considerable portion of that population will enrol itself under this scheme. Therefore there is every reason to believe that this Minister will probably have more power over the people of this country than any Minister at any time in its history. Once they enrol as volunteers they will, at any rate, according to agreement, have to go into what industry is decided for them and have to go to what part of the country is considered best in the national interest. I am not one of those who think that nothing is required. On the contrary, I think that the serious condition of the country, due to its financial position and the great calls for munitions and the submarine campaign do make it necessary, if we are going to see the War through, that there should be a national organisation and 1532 that everything should be done to prevent waste and overlapping. But what I object to in the scheme as laid down to-day by the Home Secretary when introducing this Bill, and also foreshadowed by the new Minister outside the House of Commons, is the tremendous centralised power.
As far as I understand it, practically the whole power of organisation is going to be centralised in St. Ermin's Hotel, in the new buildings placed at the disposal of the country. Industry, especially in Great Britain, is a very complicated and intricate thing. It is impossible for any one Minister, or any one Committee, to know all its complications and understand all its peculiarities. The powers are very wide, according to the Home Secretary. With those powers there will be a great temptation for a Minister to interfere unduly with the smooth running of the industrial machine of this country. With trades which are all interconnected, or interdependent, and a Government Department interfering with the labour arrangements of some of these trades, I am afraid that the effect will be not only to hamper, but to dislocate, and that there may be great risk of the whole industrial machine going to pieces. When you take a big trade, or ship ping, or a small trade like that in poultry, the small trade like the big one, must be interdependent on a number of other industries. I do not suppose that the new Minister will attempt to interfere with the shipping industry, but he may interfere with some small country trades, and he may find, in a very few days, that there is great agitation and suffering among those concerned in the trades dealt with. There are a number of minor trades. Take for instance, the hosiery trades. It may be argued that it is a luxury trade, but it should, rather, be argued that it is a necessary trade, seeing that it depends on such industries as the dye trade, the manufacture of needles and of machinery, and a number of subsidiary industries, every one of which would be affected by this interference extending to them. Another aspect of this subject is the establishment of a centralised department. Throughout the country there is great suspicion of a London Government Department. The ordinary citizen is quite prepared to come in contact with local authorities and local conditions, but is very 10th to trust his life and his living to an official sitting in London. I am not going to say anything 1533 in regard to the War Office, because I think they have achieved a great deal in two and a half years to meet the necessities of the country, but we know what the feeling about the War Office is, and it is necessary, therefore, to encourage the people to regard with confidence the scheme of National Service.
There is a proposal, I understand, to set up tribunals to judge the case of every individual to be enrolled—that is, the case of a man whose employers do not desire to part with him as their servant. We have had some experience within the last twelve months of local tribunals, who have done a very good and almost superhuman work, but it is perfectly true that these tribunals are a very slow working description of machinery, and I think it will be very unfortunate to try to work the new scheme with similar tribunals, because it would lead to a great deal of delay before anything was really done. I maintain that far better than setting up a large centralised department in London would be to leave each local district to manage the business. There are many local institutions already in existence who could be employed to attend to matters connected with National Service who know the local conditions and the local trades, and who would acquit themselves of the task in a far better way than could any centralised London department. I suggest that chambers of commerce and local trade councils have already in existence machinery which would enable them to make a very practical organisation of labour in the different localities. The local trade councils could look after the interests of the workers, while the chambers of commerce, or chambers of trade, could look after the interests of the employers.
This becomes all the more important because of the question of the luxury trade. The Home Secretary referred to the luxury trade, and, as I understand it, I think I am correct in saying that there is going to be an attempt to define what is a luxury trade. We all have our opinion upon that point, and we know there are differences of view. Take beer, for instance. Many people look upon beer as a luxury, while others regard it as a necessity. I think, in what are considered luxury trades, that if you divert labour from what are regarded as unnecessary trades to trades of a more productive character, you would in that way be more directly serving the country and doing something to justify your action. I maintain, however, that 1534 you cannot close down these small industries that may be concerned with luxuries without causing interference with the industrial organisation of the country, and without causing very serious hardship. The Home Secretary said that it was not intended to close down these industries, because if that were done it might be necessary to compensate them. I think he said that they were to be limited in their trade. I regard that as a clumsy proposal. Any attempt to limit a trade is rather a mean transaction, because it would relieve the State of any liability to compensation, while at the same time it might be bringing practical ruin on the particular trade. A far more practical way, I suggest, would be to divert, or at any rate attempt to divert, those industries, without closing down, to trades of a more productive kind. They are industries which have been built up by years of patient labour and years of experience; they are all organised, they have managers and directors, buildings and plant; and I submit that instead of allowing those buildings to lie idle and go to waste both they and the labour which has hitherto been employed in them should be directed to productive purposes. But you cannot attempt to work a system like that through a Minister in London. It must be done by the localities, and by those who have knowledge of the local circumstances, local trades, and local labour. Something like that has already been done, to a considerable extent, by the establishment, some time ago, of the local munitions committees. I would suggest that chambers of commerce and local trades councils, in connection with National Service, could at least do something in that direction.
As to the question of training for industries, and sending men to other parts of the country, I think that proposal may prove the cause of considerable personal hardship. I have heard a great deal of criticism about the proposal to make labour more mobile. It is understood that, by this use of the word "mobile," there is a desire to move men like pawns on the chessboard—to take them away from their homes and shift them to another part of the country. That may be necessary, but it should only be done where it is absolutely necessary. It is one thing to take young men of military age and move them away from their homes, but it is another thing when you come to the elder men. There are many cases amongst the older men where a removal would be resented, 1535 and would only be submitted to in case of national necessity. When you take middle-aged men from the place where they have formed practically the habits of their lifetime, and move them all over the country, you are going to cause considerable consternation and considerable annoyance. I think the effect of this proposal is likely to prevent a large number of men from enrolling under this scheme. If, on the other hand, the whole matter were left to local management, if powers were given to local committees instead of a big committee sitting in London, I believe that the adoption of such a course would hold out greater inducement to men to enrol.
There is one other point I should like to refer to, and that is the question of export trade. I think there is a tendency at the present moment, especially at the present time, to ignore the importance of the export trade. When luxuries are talked about it usually means that they are for consumption at home, but in the export trade an article which may be a luxury may also be an article of export connected with a home industry. Last year there was a very serious decline in the balance of trade, or rather there was a considerable increase in the adverse balance as between imports and exports. The normal adverse peace balance was £130,000,000, but the excess of imports over exports m 191G amounted to over £344,000,000, in fact, it is far greater, because these figures do not include direct Government purchases abroad. I submit, therefore, that the new Minister, under any scheme of national organisation, cannot ignore the export trade, in which are concerned many of our industries. That is a further argument in favour of having local control in preference to a centralised bureaucracy. The more you can leave things to the localities, the more you can take advantage of their organisation and knowledge, applying them to the well-being and welfare of the industrial organisation of the nation, the more support you will get for your scheme, and the more success you will achieve in running the industries of this country. For my part, I cannot imagine any set of officials sitting in London who will be able and competent to run the industries of this great country, with all their complications and all their interdependence. I should like to refer to a small point of which I have some personal knowledge, and in which I take a special interest. This Bill threatens in 1536 many ways to interfere with the Volunteer Force, which has been created as a result of two and a half years of very patient labour, and now is in a fair way of being a very great success from the point of view of national defence, and owing to the enthusiasm put into the movement by Lord French, who has been associated with the efforts that have given to the country this voluntary force, in which men have enrolled largely, and which is likely to be of very great practical use to the nation, and cause a very considerable saving both in money and in man-power. As the new Act of Parliament is to come into force, and the men are going to be asked to accept greater responsibility in order to-make them efficient soldiers, we have this new scheme, which is naturally going to interfere with enrolment of volunteers. Men are asking themselves whether, if they go into the Volunteer Force, and accept the consequent obligations, they are also to be called upon to undertake another form of National Service, by which they may find themselves unable to keep their original agreement in regard to the Volunteer Force, by reason of their being taken away to another part of the country under National Service.
I can quite understand that the Government is anxious that men shall not limit their industrial responsibilities by becoming volunteers, and that what they wish is that the men who go into the volunteers should not, in their working hours, be engaged in doing something of very little economic use to this country. I can, however, assure the House that the volunteers as a whole are the very men who will try to do their best to serve their country by also enrolling under this scheme. I merely mention the matter in order that the Home Secretary may give some assurance to those who are already in the force, and that he will make clear to them that their connection with the force will count for righteousness and count in their favour. It is only right and proper that the man who is giving his time, while earning his living, to help in the work of the country and in his spare time, without fear or reward, learns to drill and tries to make himself efficient in the help of his country, should be considered as a favoured citizen and be singled out for special treatment. I hope that the Home Secretary will say something to that effect. If he does, it would do much good to the men in the force and 1537 encourage men to enrol, and would give confidence that the whole machine so carefully built up is not going to be destroyed. I hope that the Bill will not be used to give undue power to any one Minister, however clever or popular, or to glorify any Department in London and give it too much power over the lives of thousands of the people of this country.
§ Mr. LOUGH
I confess I was rather alarmed by the speech of the Home Secretary. I have studied this Bill very carefully, and I think its purpose is an excellent one. It is declared to be "for the purpose of making the best use of all persons, whether men or women, able to work in any industry or service." Surely if that can be accomplished everybody would agree that it ought, and if every reasonable effort is made to secure that end I do not think, especially in the emergency in which the country stands, that we ought to object to it here. It is well in the criticism which is offered, and I agree with a great deal of the criticism that has been passed, to remember that excellent purpose set out in the first few words. The general run of the criticism is this, that there is a disposition in the Bill to evade the control of the House of Commons. I hope that will not be left in the Bill. I entirely agree with what was said by the hon Member for Dumfriesshire (Mr. Molteno) about the disposition now to ignore the House of Commons. I agree with the strong protest that he made, and I have aften used language of the same kind myself. I do hope that if the Director of National Service finds it necessary to make new experiments that he will come dutifully to the House of Commons and submit those schemes to the judgment of the House before he puts them into operation. [An HON. MEMBEB: "He will not !"] That is why I was somewhat alarmed by the speech of the Home Secretary. The right hon. Gentleman, instead of speaking about this nice little Bill, as I prefer to call it, and about those excellent terms which I have read, delivered a speech on different subjects altogether. He told us about trades, and we received some hints on the subject previously. I do say that if there is any serious attempt to proscribe trades amongst those which honest men may carry on in this country, then such a serious step should not be taken without the consent and approval of the House of Commons.
1538 The hon. Member for Dumfriesshire would insist on reading into the Bill compulsion, and consistently with that argument moved an Amendment protesting against compulsion, which I believe is now the Amendment before the House. I believe that the hon. Member for Bristol gave us the advantage of a judge's opinion and of a solicitor's, and that they differed from one another. As I study the Bill I do not find compulsion in it. I do think we ought to attach the greatest importance to the definite assurance we have had from the Government that compulsion will not be introduced in any form without the matter being brought before the House of Commons. In a far more important case than this, that of military service, I opposed the principle of compulsion. I am still opposed to it. Of course, on this question of labour, it would provoke a most serious crisis, and this House would have to discuss it with very great care. But, as the Bill stands, I believe that is excluded, and I believe that the object, as stated in the words I have quoted, is a good one. What step is to be taken to secure the great principle of the Bill, namely, to make the best use of all persons? The way that is to be done is that the Government is going to appoint another Ministry. It is always going to appoint a Minister. It thinks salvation is in the multitude of Ministers. It is a very curious thing that when they set out to carry out a programme their way of doing it is to appoint a Minister. That is an aspect of the case which ought to be borne in mind, especially by this House, which knows that the Government have already appointed thirty-four Ministers, and, if we include under-secretaries, a total of eighty-two. The House may well look askance at making any addition to-that number.
In this particular case the matter is one which the House might regard with a lenient eye on certain conditions. So far as I can study the terms of the Bill, all the powers in it may now be exercised by some existing Department or some existing Ministry. And the House, if it were in a critical spirit, might ask should not the existing Ministers who have got these powers be able to make use of them, and how is the matter remedied by appointing another Minister? Some hon. Member says that he does ask that question, and it is not a bad thing to ask so long as it is done in a kindly way. If we agree to the appointment of this Minister 1539 we ought to insist that the sphere in which his most important work will have to be done is the sphere of the Government itself and that he ought to devote a little attention to the Government offices and the various departments and organised them, especially in the existing crisis, and if he did that I think there would be a very ample field for his labours. I have paid some attention to the proposals brought forward by the Director of National Service in a great speech which he made at Westminster. I listened to that speech with considerable interest, and I think it was from that speech that the Home Secretary took most of what he said to-day. I do not say that as a reflection on the capacity of the right hon. Gentleman, for he made a most excellent speech of his own, but he followed the same line of argument as that of the Minister of National Service in that speech. The new Minister used these words, that if there was a danger of disturbance it would be disastrous if men engaged in agriculture were to leave their work. There is no sentiment with which this House is more in agreement at this moment than that it would be dangerous that men should be turned away from agriculture. I cannot help thinking that one of the greatest reflections upon the way in which this country has addressed itself to war work in the last few years is the fact that 250,000 acres of land went out of cultivation in the second year of the War. Now it is plainly said in speeches we have heard, and I wonder do the Government admit, that there is serious danger in this, the third year of the War, the extent of cultivated land throughout the country will diminish.
§ Mr. LOUGH
Then I say, if it is true, this House ought to call the Government to account before it is too late. There is a list published this morning of essential industries, and one of them is agriculture. I ask this question, and the House ought to press for an answer to this question, Will the new Minister be able to defend agriculture against the War Office and be able to hold his own for those vital industries against the War Office? That is a question I shall only ask and leave there. I do think that if any good end is to be secured it will be necessary for the new Minister to be able to 'hold his own 1540 against other Government Departments. I am not hopeless about it. I have paid a visit to the new Ministry. I went to help in a little work of organisation which would set a great deal of labour free in a business with which I happen to be associated. I laid the matter before other Ministers twice or three times during the last twelve months. I received a sympathetic hearing at the new Ministry, and I have hoped that it may prove more businesslike than some of my right hon. Friends during the last few months. If he is to succeed he must be on his guard against the obstacles that will be put in his way by those Government Departments which are entrenched in such strong positions with regard to many of our industries and their own work. I do hope that the right hon. Gentleman will see that the House has the opportunity of examining the lists of essential and non essential industries. There is another particular point mentioned by the Director, and to which I wish to refer, and that is as to the nature of the court. I think his description is one of the most question able descriptions of a satisfactory court that I have ever heard. He tells us "appeals will be sent in batches to a Sub-Commissioner who has no axe to grind and who has no bias, and whose decision will be final." That is a very strong order. We have examples already of curious decisions pronounced by the military tribunals, but now in these industrial matters, which are very subtle, and which may be very oppressive, both to trades and to individuals, if appeals are going to go to a single individual without legal training and his decision is to be final, I think it is a very serious matter. It may be thought that I am criticising a good deal for one who took a friendly attitude to the Bill, but——
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I must ask the hon. Member not to interrupt in any way. If he has anything to say there will be an opportunity given him to say it.
§ Mr. STANTON
Very well, Mr. Speaker, but call the attention of the other man who shouts, "Order !" What about the man who has been on his feet all the time?
§ Mr. LOUGH
I was quoting the new Director of National Service, and I want to make one other quotation from him. He made an appeal to trades to organise themselves, and he used words to the effect that they should organise their trades, pool their resources, and share their machinery, plant, and labour. I cannot but think that that would be a wholly excellent course to pursue, especially if it was done under a voluntary system. While I agree with the protest against any possible extension of the principle of the Bill, I think in the general principle of the Bill we have got a very useful suggestion, and that this House, subject to no attempts being made to extend it too widely, might not regard it with an unfriendly spirit.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
The Amendment protests against this Bill on the ground that it leads to compulsion. I think the whole of this Debate has tended to support that proposition. The Home Secretary, in introducing the Bill, paid lip-service to the voluntary principle. He announced that in the first instance we were to have a voluntary system, but he offered no indication and made no predictions regarding either the probable or the possible success of that voluntary system. His words, indeed, indicated that what the Government looked to was a full-grown compulsory system. How did he describe the method of setting up this new office? He described it as an answer to Hindenburg. If it is to be an answer to Hindenburg this Bill provides no answer, save a very late, a very halting, a very faltering, and a very hesitating answer. The only answer that can be an answer at all—and apparently now we are reduced purely to imitation of the Prussians— would be a compulsory system on the model of the Auxiliary Service Law of Germany. But even the most cursory examination of the details of the scheme, as they have been expounded this afternoon, proves that it has no prospect of success. 1542 First of all, it is of the most sketchy and ill-defined character. The right hon. Gentleman made an allusion to what he described as essential and non-essential industries, and he told us that a list of essential industries had appeared in the Press to-day. But what of the non-essential industries, and what was to be the fate of them? He said to the House that the non-essential industries could not be suppressed, because if the Government suppressed them they would require compensation. This is a rather strange doctrine. We have had a number of individuals in business suppressed by other legislation of the Government without any compensation, but apparently when you come to large interests and powerful bodies of men, then this Government must give compensation to people who are well able to look after themselves. The single head of a business got no compensation.
But the Home Secretary said the Government were going to limit these nonessential industries. In how many cases is it possible to limit industries without destroying them? I have heard that proposals have been made to certain trades that they should confine their operations exclusively to exports, but obviously, if that is done, they cannot conduct their business on a profitable basis. The profit of a business depends on business being carried on alike for the home trade and for the export trade, and if the home trade is withdrawn the profit is gone, and you are as utterly destroying the business as if you definitely set out to do so. But in doing it by this circuitous method you save the Government the necessity of paying any compensation. That seems to be the object in this case. What is involved in this Bill? You are giving indirect powers of ruining industries to a single man without any check, without any control, without any supervision, and without any appeal. Has there ever been a more monstrous proposition put before Parliament? I say that before this House assents to the general ruin of industries, it should insist that the industries are placed in a Schedule to a Bill to be passed through both Houses of Parliament. If this House assents to the proposition to which we are now called upon to give our assent, we are deliberately surrendering our trust as representatives of the great industries of this country.
Obviously this vague and indefinite system is not intended to work. Look at the problem from the point of view of 1543 labour. The proposal in regard to labour is that a man is at least to be guaranteed 25s. a week, but that if the standard rate in the district to which he is transferred exceeds 25s., he will receive that higher rate. But what is to happen if there is a dispute going on in the particular area for which it is desired to recruit labour? I will give an example. In the county of Berwick, and to some extent in the county of Roxburgh, there is a dispute going on in regard to the wages of agricultural labourers. They are not concerned about a paltry 26s. a week, because what these men are demanding is 35s. a week, and they are refusing to hire themselves at the customary hiring. If this Bill passes into law, is the Director of National Service entitled to draft the volunteers whom he succeeds in getting under this scheme into these counties to obtain the employment of these men whom he gets at 25s. in order to break the agitation of the men for higher wages? I think the House is entitled to an answer to that question before it gives assent to this scheme. I therefore say that, both from the point of view of capital and from the point of view of labour, the scheme is equally objectionable and equally to be refused the assent of this House. The right hon. Gentleman said that if the scheme succeeded we should not have industrial conscription. I prefer to call it forced labour. After all, that is clearer, and it brings it home better to the people affected. But the right hon. Gentleman gave us no test of success. He said that if the quantity and the quality of the labour supplied was adequate to the demand, then it would be unnecessary to have compulsion, but he never indicated what the demand was. He said the demand was indefinite, but surely it was possible for him to tell us to-day what the demand is, so that we could know if, say, during the next month the supply in quantity and quality is equal to the demand. He gave us no indication, either as to what the Government desire in regard to quantity and quality, as to the demands which they said existed, nor as to the date at which the question of success or failure would be decided.
Obviously, when the Government leaves us absolutely in the dark, the suggestion of a voluntary scheme is insincere and hypocritical. Why was it invented? It was invented to obtain the presence of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for 1544 Barnard Castle (Mr. A. Henderson) and a few of his colleagues in the Government, and for no other reason, and once it has served that purpose and a few weeks have elapsed and the right hon. Gentleman has, as he has so often before, swallowed all his pledges, then we shall see whether the scheme remains voluntary. There is a much stronger argument that this is leading to compulsion, and I am sorry the Home Secretary is not in his place, because I am very anxious to have a reply in regard to the pledge. We have had another added to the almost interminable list of pledges with which this House has been surfeited since the beginning of the War. But this is about the vaguest pledge we have ever got. I would like to point out that Sub-secton (2) of Clause 1 means compulsion, and nothing but compulsion, and I agree entirely with the learned judge who was quoted by my right hon. Friend opposite, that under this Section anything can be done. The most significant thing in the speech of the Home Secretary was his own caution. There is nobody in this House better able to tell you what that Sub-section means than the Home Secretary is, but he never gave an opinion, and that very fact justifies up to the hilt all the suspicions which we entertain. What is the Clause to which I refer?
"(2) The Director-General of National Service shall, for that purpose, have such powers and duties of any Government Department or authority, whether conferred by Statute or otherwise, as His Majesty may by Order in Council transfer to him or authorise him to exercise or perform concurrently with or in consultation with the Government Department or authority concerned, and also such further powers as may be conferred on him by Regulations under the Defence of the Realm Consolidation Act, 1914, and Regulations may be made under that Act accordingly."
We have had one similar experience of a vague Clause before. When the Ministry of Munitions Act was first introduced it contained a Sub-section not quite so wide-as that, but which also conferred vague powers not of a statutory character, and the question was taken up in this House on that Bill. I think I raised the question at that time, and then I had the advantage of the very powerful and weighty support of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir H. Dalziel), who now takes a small part in our Debates, for obvious reasons. I had then 1545 his support, and it carried great weight with the Government. My right hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, who was then Home Secretary, though he professed to regard the point as of no account, accepted an Amendment in that Bill for the very purpose of meeting that point, so as to prevent anything in the nature of industrial conscription merely by Regulation or by an Order in Council. Under this Clause the risks are far greater. The House of Commons should be content with no pledge, however high the character of the Minister who gives it. It should insist that the safeguards which are required should be in black and white in the Statute itself. What is this pledge? It is very unfortunate in this Debate that we have not the presence of the Home Secretary himself.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I note the Home Secretary has just come in, and I am Very glad that the right hon. Gentleman has returned to the House. I will not repeat the arguments I have used. I am simply going to deal with the pledge. I have, for the purposes of greater accuracy, obtained the exact words of the right hon. Gentleman. They are to this effect:I am authorised by the Government to give the House the most definite assurance——That always puts me on my guard—the most definite assurance that they will not use the powers of this Bill for the purpose of effecting the transfer of labour in any manner not sanctioned by existing legislation, and without coming to Parliament for specific authority. Moreover, they will not ask for such authority unless, and until, they are convinced by experience that voluntary enrolment has failed to furnish the supplies of labour adequate to the national needs.I want to know in regard to this what is the meaning of a few of the phrases. It is undoubted from this pledge that the powers in thi3 Bill do amount to a power over labour, because the pledge says they will not use the powers of this Bill "for the purpose of effecting," etc. The right hon. Gentleman admitted that they had power over labour, because he said an Order in Council was to be made preventing any employer in an unessential trade employing men between the ages of seventeen and sixty-one. The right hon. Gentleman therefore suggests that the Government is going to make an Order in Council under the Bill.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
Then under the Defence of the Realm Act, I presume? I am quite willing to give way if the Home Secretary desires to answer my question.
§ Sir G. CAVE
The Order to which I referred will not be made under the powers taken under this Bill, but under existing powers.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
That elucidates the point, and it is very important when we consider the phrase in the Bill,such further powers as may be conferred on him by Regulations under the Defence of the Realm Consolidation Act, 1914.That accounts for the reference to these powers in the Bill. The pledge says:In any manner not sanctioned by existing legislation.But that particular power is sanctioned by the existing Regulation. Any power is sanctioned by existing Regulations. There are Orders in Council to prevent men in certain trades moving outside an area of ten miles—this under the Defence of the Realm Act. So I say that this is a valueless thing. It simply says, We will not exercise any powers that are not sanctioned by existing legislation.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
"Will not use the powers of this Bill for the purpose of effecting the transfer of labour in any manner not sanctioned by existing legislation." But, Mr. Speaker, all these things are sanctioned by existing legislation, so that the right hon. Gentleman is giving us a pledge which means nothing. He goes on to say:Without coming to Parliament for specific authority.That is an indefinite statement. He does not say he will come to Parliament for legislation, does he? Specific authority might be got by a Resolution of the House.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
Yes; a Resolution of this House would be specific authority, and it would cover the pledge. We have had so much experience of pledges that we read them very carefully. I am not, however, really concerned with that latter phrase. I am concerned with the earlier phrase, and that is that theywill not use the powers of this Bill for the purpose of effecting the transfer of labour in any manner not sanctioned by existing legislation.1547 I have shown the House that the Government could do all this, or at least they assume they can do all this by existing legislation. We may, therefore, find ourselves face to face with this system of forced labour, because they will say it is sanctioned by existing legislation. We will, no doubt, be told that you cannot do everything under the Defense of the Realm Act, and you cannot override Acts of Parliament. As a matter of fact, they have been overridden, and shamelessly overriden. The Habeas Corpus Act has been overridden. The Railway Tickets Act has been overridden, and a large number of other Statutes. We are now told that the game laws are to be overridden. In view of all these things, surely this pledge, read out with such solemnity, was hardly worth while giving to the House unless it was for the benefit of the Labour Members of the House. Possibly it was! It seems to me to be absolutely necessary that we should have not only this pledge, but an expressed statutory direction in this Bill making it absolutely clear that if the business of individuals in this country are to be ruined, that they should be ruined by legislation; that if the labour of Britons who, we are told, "never, never shall be slaves," is to be forced, that it is forced by Act of Parliament. Until that is placed in black and white in this Bill it shall have my constant and unrelenting opposition.
§ Colonel Sir CHARLES SEELY
I think no one who listened to the very weighty and considered speech of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who introduced this Bill, would doubt that he has no intention whatever at the present time of applying compulsion under it to the people generally or to the volunteers who come forward under the Bill. I gather from what he said that there is no intention in the mind of the Government at the present time to do anything of the kind—although it is a little difficult, under present arrangements to be quite clear when a Minister speaks to know whether he speaks for the Government as a whole or only for his own Department. I am speaking, not of anything which has been said by my right hon. Friend, but in consequence of what has happened when other members of the Government, who are not of so much importance, perhaps, as he is himself have 1548 spoken. I think, however, we ought to be very careful in this matter. I would make an appeal to my right hon. Friend to consent, when the time comes in Committee, to some words being put into this Bill which will make it quite clear to the-House and to the country that it is not intended by this Bill to introduce into this country any form of industrial conscription or anything relating or similar thereunto. Because, although the present intention of the Government may not be to do anything of the kind, Governments do change their minds. Governments in some cases do change their personnel, and things move fast in time of War. The people of this country are not given to panic. I am, however, not quite certain that Governments are not sometimes a little liable to panic, and I do think it conceivable that if they had the powers under this Bill of suddenly, by Order in Council, or by Regulation or Order under the Defence of the Realm Act, to give to the Minister who is to be established with a regular staff covering the whole country,, powers for industrial conscription, that the Government might not arise—one cannot feel certain on the point—and proceed to put such power into force.
There are very grave objections to the conscription of industry. There are very grave objections to any Minister having compulsory powers over labour. Those objections are grave in the case of men. They are still more grave in the case of women. I do not, in reading this Bill, see any guarantee that the Government, acting, as I say, in a moment of panic, might not bring forward measures which in a calmer time they would not think of suggesting to the House, or of adopting. I would, therefore, press very strongly upon my right hon. Friend the necessity of consenting to what I suggested in Committee. I think he would assist us very much m our debate now if he would say that when this Bill gets into Committee words shall be inserted which will make it impossible for the Government to use it for a purpose, which, at the present time, I myself feel confident they have no intention of applying it to. I speak with some more recent knowledge of the opinions of constituents than some hon. Members, and I would like to say that I agree entirely with what was said by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Mayo, namely, that if any form of industrial conscription were introduced into this country, it would meet 1549 with the sternest and bitterest opposition from the working classes, and would lead to troubles the extent of which it is difficult to calculate or to foresee.
I know there are a considerable number of people who are very fond of grumbling at their fellow-countrymen, and I am a little afraid that some of the objects of this Bill are based on the idea that there are a number of persons who are not exerting themselves—are not working hard at the present time. I think, taking it through, that is an utterly false idea, and I am therefore afraid, when they come to act under this Bill, those of them who have that opinion will be gravely disappointed. Anyone who thinks that there is a large reservoir of labour which can be got hold of, because, as they think, there are a large number of men who are idling away their time will be disappointed, for such a state of affairs does not exist. I can see the object of the Bill, and I can see the good of it, in what the right hon. Gentleman said about essential and the non-essential trades. I can see that there is the opportunity in certain trades, if the Government Departments are careful and thoughtful, if they get full information, for them to find that such are not absolutely essential now, and that a very large number of men may be spared at the present time for more important work. But you want to be very careful. Let me give a homely instance, as exhibiting the way care should be taken as to what is or is not an essential trade. This may vary with the time of the year. At the end of August, in a dry summer, one might consider that plumbing was one of the most unessential trades. But at the end of a long frost, as recently, you will find that the plumber belongs to a trade which is one of the most essential in the world. You had of late a similar illustration in London. Men were taken from coal distribution. You had had two mild winters—two of the mildest winters I have ever known. I do not say the men were taken improperly. They were taken by agreement, and they went themselves. But the general idea seems to have been that some of those men would have been very, very useful, and were in fact required, to distribute coal in London during the last few weeks, for during and after the frost the number of men for distributing coal was quite inadequate for the purpose. I give that simply as an illustration of the fact that it is very difficult to decide 1550 exactly at any given moment what is an essential trade and what is not, and, although I feel confident that, if His Majesty's Government is careful, it will do good and not harm, I do enter a protest of the gravest and most serious kind against any attempt or any idea to apply industrial compulsion to the men and women of this country, and I should be very grateful to my right hon. Friend, and I am sure he would be carrying out the wishes of the House and of the country, if he consented to insert in the Bill words that that is not intended in the Bill, and cannot be introduced into it except by legislation in this House.
§ Sir G. CAVE
I think it will be convenient to the House if I respond at once to the invitation addressed to me by my hon. Friend, and also reply to one or two of the arguments used in the Debate. I have no ground whatever for complaining of the tone of the Debate, and if I make an exception as to the character of the criticism in the case of the hon. Member for Mayo (Mr. Dillon) it is only because I think his objections extend more to the principles of the Bill than those of any other speech. To him I would only say two things. He raised the case of Ireland, and said he would bring it on in Committee. To that I would only say, when he raises the point in Committee, we will try to meet it to the best of our ability. The only other observation I want to make about his speech is that I think he was rather premature in foretelling want of success on the part of the Director-General of National Service. He has undertaken a very, very difficult task—one which would strain the powers, I think, of the ablest man in this House. He has attacked it with great ability and great vigour, and I am quite sure he has the general good will of this House on whatever side hon. Members sit.
§ Mr. DILLON
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to set myself right. What I said was that there was nothing in the Bill to indicate that he would have power to resist the War Office and the various other Departments which are fighting amongst themselves for men.
§ Sir G. CAVE
I think the hon. Gentleman's fears will not be justified, and that the Director will have and use the fullest power. Before I come to the main point of criticism I want to say one word to the hon. Member for Market Harborough. He 1551 raised two points of importance. First, he said that the export trade was of great value to this country. I entirely agree with him, and I want to say that I do not at all shut out the view that it is of national importance to keep alive our export trade. If certain manufactures are made for export, that very fact may be a sufficient reason why the Director of National Service may regard those manufactures as being of national importance. Then the hon. Member seemed to be afraid that something in the Bill would affect the existing regiments of Volunteers. I can only say that no one could have a greater appreciation of the public spirit of the Volunteers than I have. And I am quite sure that nothing the Director will do will have, at all events, the intention, or, I hope, the effect, of interfering with the work of the Volunteer regiments. Apart from those points, the great criticism of the Bill was founded on the wide powers proposed to be given to the Director and the question of so-called industrial compulsion. As to that let me say that the actual words of the Bill itself are, I agree, and I said so, very wide. But they happen to be given exactly in the same terms which the House accepted in the case of two of the Ministries whose Departments were created by the New Ministries and Secretaries Act passed last year, and I do not think that any strong exception was taken to the words in that case. The fear seems to be that some kind of compulsion may be introduced under the Bill by some side wind. I gave an assurance as to that matter which I thought was in as clear terms as it would be possible to find. I doubt whether anyone, except my hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire (Mr. Pringle) would have been able to criticise the terms. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh !"] I do not think anybody else could have doubted, when I referred to coming to Parliament for specific authority, that I meant coming to Parliament for legislation. However that may be, I do not want there to be any question at all about this. The assurance which I gave had two branches. The second branch could not, of course, be put into a Bill.
§ Sir G. CAVE
I just want to make it clear. As regards the earlier part, namely, that the Government would not use the 1552 powers of the Bill for the purpose of effecting transfer of labour in any manner not sanctioned by existing legislation without coming to Parliament for authority, I venture to say the meaning of that part also is clear.
§ Sir G. CAVE
Transfer of labour is the process which I described in moving the Second Reading—that is, the process which we hope to accelerate of drawing labour from non-essential to essential industries.
§ Sir G. CAVE
No, I think the essence of it is that we should give power by voluntary action to draw persons from non-essential work and induce them to engage in essential work. Of course, the employer may be the State or a private individual, but the essence of this process is the transfer of labour. I would like to say this, and I think it will satisfy the House. It would be a great relief to me that the views and the intentions of the Government should rest, not upon any statement of mine, but on some words in the Bill itself. I quite appreciate the way in which the point has been put in Debate, and the desire of hon. Members to see the thing in black and white. I have spoken to my right hon. Friend who leads the House, and with his authority I say that we will frame words which, I feel sure, will reassure the House on that point. We propose to purpose or accept sufficient words so that the assurance may be found, not in a record of these Debates, but in the Bill itself. I hope with that statement the House will allow us to have, after a reasonable period, the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ Mr. THOMAS
Will the right hon. Gentleman answer the point as to whether a dispute would be considered a justification for the transfer of labour?
§ Sir G. CAVE
That is Certainly not our intention. The intention is that labour should be transferred to take the place of labour drawn upon for military or national reasons.
§ Mr. O'GRADY
Could the right hon. Gentleman answer a point raised by an hon. Member as to whether the question of transfer of labour involves the employment when the labour is transferred?
Mr. E. HARVEY
Will the right hon. Gentleman add one word with reference to the question I raised as to the association of the Director of National Service with representatives of labour. There is no provision for that in the Bill, and no mention was made in the right hon. Gentleman's speech.
§ Sir G. CAVE
The Director-General, of course, will be the Minister in charge of the Department, but he is working, and I am sure will work, with the representatives of labour.
§ Sir W. ESSEX
I have felt for some time an increasingly strong conviction that some action dealing with the labour of the country was being urgently called for, but, if I had not arrived at that conclusion earlier, the ominous tone in parts of the Debate yesterday in this House created in my mind a very instant desire for some such step as has been proposed to-day by the Government to organise the resources of the country on larger and broader lines than have at present been laid down. I listened with a great deal of disquiet to the statement of the First Lord of the Admiralty—I have not gone over the report of his speech in the OFFICIAL RETORT—but I think I can quote sentence after sentence in his speech, as well as in that of the right hon. Member for Dundee, an ex-First Lord of the Admiralty, which, if our countrymen read them and weigh them and see what is involved in them, by any reasonable method of interpretation, would make the passing of any reasonable measure the Government might introduce a comparatively easy matter. The happenings in the Channel and on all the trade routes seem to me full of threat and full of peril. We shall undoubtedly have to realise more and more the full value of the industrial resources of the country.
Although we have been told that the Director has been appointed, and has been at work for weeks, this Bill is not worded in a very retrospective form. That is a small matter, but it leads me to this, that I cannot help feeling, while anxious that the Government should have these powers, the powers will ultimately have to be compulsory. We are not going to boggle over the conscription of labour when we have sent hundreds of thousands 1554 of men to the front to suffer and die. We are not going to strain at the gnat and swallow the camel, and, from the tone of public meetings which I have addressed, there can be no doubt as to the mind of the public about this. But is this the right way of going to work? What are the facts of the case from a business point of view? You have got a great struggle going on. It has been going on all through the War between the clamour of the War Office for soldiers and the clamour of the Ministry of Munitions for workers, and to that has now to be superadded this very justifiable demand for the reorganisation of the remainder of labour in the country.
How would a business man address himself to this question? It has been a growing scandal up and down the country for some time past to see how the several demands for labour by several Departments have been conflicting with each other. It has been a matter almost to make an Englishman, who boasts of the powers of adaptability of his countrymen and their inherent ability for organisation, wellnigh to blush. I cannot go into details now, but, if I may say so, I think we have rather the cart before the horse. We want to clear the road before we take the matter up and before the Government take the matter in hand. I think this is a work well worthy of the Inner Cabinet to say to the War Office, "Take your Bill; tell us what you want and tell us what you have got; tell us how many of these people you have lying about the country by the thousand, and how many you intend to retain as part of the fighting forces of the country; we believe that a large number of them, many thousands, are by your own admission of no use to you idling away their time and degenerating, and we want to know what you want, what you have, how much of what you have you intend to use, and then we will see what we have left in the country; and that we will allocate under a well-considered scheme for the distribution of labour for essential industries." Nothing of that kind has been done.
The hon. Member for Mayo (Mr. Dillon) says that we are -throwing another competitor into this competitive struggle. I cannot help feeling admiration for the gentleman who has come down to take this office, but I think the area of his fishing ground should have been clearly marked out, and all other fishermen for labour should have been warned off. Unless we do something of that kind and 1555 do it with the authority of an Act of Parliament behind us sufficiently strong to hold these competing Departments each on the leash within, their own proper function, I am perfectly certain that not by half shall we get out of the country what the country is only too anxious to give us generously in the shape of the help we need. It is one of the evidences of the whirligig of affairs that so many old Liberals find themselves under the leadership of the right hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury). It may be, perhaps, that he has succeeded in urging arguments which would have been ignored had they only come from us in securing the concession made by the Leader of the House through the mouth of the Home Secretary to-day, that words limiting the power with regard to the compulsion of labour would be put into a phrase and inserted in a Clause of this Act in Committee. We shall all watch those words very closely.
There are one or two other small points I want to raise, and the first is that I have never been able to understand why, in a time of the nation's extreme peril like the present, there is any limitation put on the upper side of labour, as marking out the limits of usefulness. Why make the limit sixty-one? I can take the right hon. Gentleman into the domain of agriculture and I can show him in that most hardly-stressed and strained industry men who are doing good useful work, week in and week out, month in and month out, who are over seventy years of age. I have seen men within the last month working in agriculture who are over eighty years of age. I have seen old age pensioners who have gone back to their work by the thousands, and under those circumstances why limit the age to sixty-one. I am suggesting that this limit is a wholly foolish one, because you have a large number of men in the country who will look askance at this limit, and they will ask that you should not look too closely at the register. You will find elderly bucks who will claim that they are no older than they feel, which is a very wise conclusion to come to. I hope the limit on the upward side will be brushed away, because you may depend upon it that there are thousands of men who have retired, or who are being kept by their families, who will only be too glad in this moment of emergency to come and do useful work if this limit does not bar them. Many a man at seventy 1556 is better for your purposes than hundreds of men you have got in the Army in khaki in your various camps, and they are better than the men who will be left after this intense combing of industries and which you propose to use under the powers of this Bill.
I wish to say a word with regard to courts of arbitration. I do not conceive that it will be possible for one man to decide cases of dispute as to whether a person may be withdrawn from his occupation or not. I think you will have to have tribunals, and I would like to ask if you will have them of the same character as the present tribunals dealing with military service, but without the military representatives. I am sure of the large number of men you will call up when compulsory powers are taken, as they must be sooner or later, you will find a large number of them who will not be of any potential usefulness. The highest figure which has been mentioned is about 200,000. Seeing that these men will be transferred to work which they do not understand and of which they have had no previous experience, you will have to cut down that number, and on the basis of individual efficiency I think you will find that you will not get out of your 200,000 a total of more than 100,000 efficient men. Therefore you will have to ask for something like 500,000 men if this scheme is to be of any use. I think we are going the wrong way to work in not first of all surveying the field of the remaining labour unemployed of men in khaki and men who are never likely to come into the fighting line. I think those men ought to come back.
I agree that the War Office ought to> be heard patiently as to what further demands, if any, they intend to make, whether they are going to raise the military age, or what other demands they are going to make upon the country. That being done and the Minister of Munitions being satisfied, the Director of Volunteer Labour will know what he has to do, and we can consider what his powers should be and how far he should exercise them. I am sure that the country throughout, so far as I am able to gauge the opinion of audiences I have addressed, wants to help in this matter. The men are crowding up and the women are asking when their turn will come; but we do not want an ill-digested scheme which will place all these people into a cockpit as was done in the case of the Military Service Bill, for that 1557 would be giving yourselves needless trouble, accumulating a whole mountain of prejudice, unrest, and dissatisfaction, and that at a time like this, when we want to preserve the unity of the nation to win this War, would be a thing to be deplored.
§ Mr. ANDERSON
I do not propose to travel at any length over the ground that has already been fully covered in this Debate, because I feel that the statement which has been made by the Home Secretary relieves the situation very much indeed, and I think the understanding he has given in regard to the words to be inserted in the Bill will in all likelihood prevent hon. Members from carrying to a Division any opposition to this measure. The powers are very wide and very vague, and in view of the speeches that have been made by the Prime Minister and the leading members of the Government, it is not unnatural that there should be a strong suspicion incited in various parts of the House. For my own part, I should never dream of resisting any measure for the better and stronger organisation of the economic resources of the country, but I think we have a right to examine any scheme that is put forward, and to ascertain whether that is the best way in which the work can be done. Everybody will agree that at present there are industries that are wasteful and absolutely unnecessary, and which are part of the consequences of a bad industrial system which has come down to us for a good many years, and we cannot suddenly put it right, and to attempt to suddenly put it right might cause more damage than the evil which you are trying to remedy.
I am anxious to consider whether this wider scheme which is contained in this Bill has really been well digested and considered, and whether it contains within itself the things that are essential to success. I raise that point because we have been told in most definite terms that if this measure is not successful then something like industrial compulsion will have to be placed upon the country. Under these circumstances I think we ought to have some kind of assurance as to what would be considered a success. This has been put before us in the most vague terms by the Home Secretary. I think it was stated some weeks ago in the "Observer" by the president of one of the agricultural committees that agriculture alone at this moment could do with 1558 300,000 more men and women if the food supplies of the country are to be properly kept up. It has also been stated that we could do with 300,000 more workers upon munitions, and that at least 240,000 off them should be men. If you are going to begin a scheme by means of voluntary recruitment to supply this need you are-attempting an absolutely impossible thing. We know that shipbuilding needs more men, more men are needed in important trades, and on those gigantic lines there is no scheme of recruitment, neither voluntary nor compulsory, that will give you the amount you want, because there are definite limits to the resources of the country. I would like to ask what great reserve of useful and efficient labour still remains untapped in this country. The main services are very greatly depleted. The railway service and the mining service have been enormously depleted by recruitment. Personally, I believe the only large reserve available is that of women labour, and it seems to me that has been rather put into the background than in the forefront, because at first there was rather a hint given that women were not required at all. It was only when great flaming posters appeared from the usual quarters, "Women not wanted," that a sort of supplementary scheme was brought up.
Where are you going to get a large reserve of men? If you take the miners, 200,000 less men were in the mines in 1915 than in the previous year. If you take agriculture, we know that service is very much run down and that labour there has been drained away. It is not in dispute that some 6,000,000 usual workers have either gone into the Army or into munition work. Therefore, no miracle need be looked for in this matter. I really fear— and this is at the back of my mind all the time—that the failure to achieve a miracle is going to be used as a reason for compulsion in industrial matters. Compulsion will work no miracle. It will work something very different from a miracle. There are a good many people, some of them members of the Government, who rather believe in compulsion as a principle. I see that the Chancellor of the Exchequer shakes his head, and I quite absolve him from that charge. I have never associated him with the charge. No statement that he has ever made would lead me to make a charge of that kind against him. But I will quote something that will show that 1559 some of his colleagues have a rather different record in this respect. I am afraid that the scheme will either bring forward a small number of recruits or a very large number of recruits. If it brings forward a small number, then they will say that the number is so small that we must have compulsion, and if it brings forward a large number then these same newspapers will say, "Now we have got practically everybody in, why should a few shirkers be left out? Let us have compulsion all round." That is the sort of argument that has been used in the past. The Prime Minister appears always to have favoured compulsion, even if the Chancellor of the Exchequer has not, for as far back as 3rd June, 1915, speaking at Manchester, he made this statement:Two things are essential. The first is that we must increase the mobility of labour, and the second is that we must have greater subordination of labour to the direction and control of the State. The French Minister of Munitions has one great advantage over me. All the labour in France is at the disposal of the State. You must remember this: The voluntary Army that we have at the front are men who have placed their movements and their energies under the complete direction of those who represent the State. Their time, their movements, their direction, the very locality where they operate are chosen for them by the officers of the State. Their very lives are at the disposal of the State. That enables those who represent the State to concentrate them, to order them to places or to positions where they can render the greatest service to the State. That is what a voluntary Army in a military sense means.He added this:I am sorry to say it does not mean that industrially.In other words, he was anxious to have what amounts to military control over industrial labour. You are going to have two classes in the country: a very small class, represented on the Front Bench, who are to do the ordering, backed up by the Department of National Service; and all the other people of the country, presumably, are to be classed among those who are to be ordered. The subordination of the soldier is a very different thing from the subordination of the workman, because the subordination of the industrial workman primarily is to a private employer working for his own private profit and private gain. You cannot get any scheme of industrial conscription that is going to get rid of that unless, first of all you take over all the land and capital of the country out of private hands altogether and vest them in the State as well. Unless you do that, you are going to have this big distinction between military and in- 1560 dustrial compulsion. Industrial compulsion involves compulsion to work for other men for their private profit—and during this War, indeed, very large profits. That is not National Service; it is national slavery. The idea that a man must work for another man under these conditions is not National Service in any true sense. Apart from anything else, it is impossible to impose subordination of that kind upon any large numbers of workpeople. We have seen it again and again during this War. We had the case of the Welsh miners, large number of Welsh miners, for reasons into which I do not enter, came out on strike. The Government issued a Proclamation ordering them all back to work the next day. They did not go back. What could you do when you had to deal with 200,000 men? Three or four Cabinet Ministers took a special train down to Wales and conceded the terms to the men. They had ordered them back to work under all sorts of pains and penalties one day, and they went down on their hands and knees to them the next. That is bound to happen. You are attempting an impossible thing if you hope to bring the whole of labour under a scheme of that kind. I raised the question as to whether the right hon. Gentleman does or does not want everybody to enrol, and he said that he does, no matter what they are now doing. I understand that to be his position. We had a circular issued the other day from the Board of Education to the teachers of the country—I think, on the whole, it was a very wise circular—which is really a flat contradiction of the policy of getting everybody to enrol, because in that circular of 16th February the President of the Board of Education said:In several cases recently the Board of Education have been asked to advise whether teachers in public educational institutions should volunteer under the scheme of National Service. In view of the serious depletion of staffs at schools owing to military service, the Board feel bound to deprecate volunteering by teachers for full-time work under the scheme.That decision has been strengthened by the War Office Order issued the other day to take all teachers in Class A and all teachers in Class B 1 up to thirty-one years of age. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman supports that circular or whether he deprecates it, but if that is true with regard to teachers, what about miners, railwaymen, and transport labour? They are surely equally essential. I feel that you are going to enrol millions 1561 of people, most of whom will have to remain where they are and cannot be shifted and changed. It is going to involve enormous clerical labour at St. Ermin's Hotel, and a great part of that labour will be for no purpose at all, because the men you are going to get cannot possibly be used. The starting point in a scheme of this kind ought to have been the publication of a list of nonessential trades. We have never been told what is a non-essential trade. We have never had an instance of a single non-essential trade, and the Home Secretary did not give us any of the non-essential trades in the speech which he made this afternoon. He has, however, given us a list of essential trades. Are we to understand that all trades not included in that very full list published this morning in the newspapers are to be regarded as non-essential trades, and are we to expect workmen to gravitate from one to the other? Already, the demobilisation question is going to be a very difficult one. If you are going to have in any degree a needless breaking up of homes and a needless shifting of men about the country, you are going to aggravate enormously the difficulties of demobilisation when it comes. I spoke in this House last week on this question, and I would not have spoken to-night if I had got from the Front Bench a more satisfying answer on that occasion. I put the point to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. A. Henderson), because I wished to understand the scheme and to estimate the possibility of its success, but in point of fact none of the questions that I asked were answered, though I am very glad to say that on one or two of the points the Home Secretary has answered me to-night. Who is going to decide what an applicant is fit for?
§ Sir G. CAVE
The applicant is asked to say what he has been doing and what he thinks he is fit for, and then the Commissioner in the locality will consider the question and decide.
§ Mr. ANDERSON
My pity goes out to the Commissioner. The question which the Commissioner has to decide with regard to military work is as nothing compared with the difficulties in deciding whether a man is doing the best he can in his present employ, taking into account the fact that he knows his work, or whether he would be doing better in some entirely new work which in itself might be more important, but from the standpoint of the man who 1562 knows nothing about it might be less important. I would like to quote an extract from Mr. J. D. Hobson, an eminent economist. He says:The new combing out will be ten times as difficult as that for military service, and the injustices and cruelties of the latter will be multiplied accordingly. To do the proposed work properly would require a close and highly skilled inquiry—first, into the utility or inutility of the exact work that a particular man is doing, and, next, into the effect of his withdrawal on other workers and the production of the business from which he is taken. Then it would require a correspondingly close inquiry into his natural or acquired aptitudes for doing different sorts of indispensable employment that are available and the relative advantages of putting him to a less productive use in the town where he and his family live, or of removing him to another place where his work might be more useful but where a separation allowance would be necessary. Here are a few of the obvious issues that will confront these unskilled officials and committees. Does any sane being believe that they can cope with them at all or attempt to do the mass of work that will confront them, except in the most clumsy, perfunctory, and mechanical way, committing innumerable errors, each of which spells waste and human hardship?That is absolutely true. As your scheme goes on you are going to have a struggle over each workman's body. You are going to have his present employer putting in a claim for him saying that it is in the best interests of the State that he should remain where ho is, and you are going to have others saying that he should be sent somewhere else. Apparently Government officials are going to take care of everybody, look after everybody, and dispose of everybody. Do you really expect under this scheme to attract middle-class people? [An HON. MEMBER: "Yes !"] An hon. Member says "Yes !" He expects to attract middle-class people by this scheme.
It seems to me you are up against very great difficulty there. Take the case of a man fifty years of age. What security are you going to give him? He may have heavy responsibilites—heavy business commitments; he may be doing work he knows all about. What security are you going to give him if the War comes to an end six months from now, that he will go back to his old place? You will not be able to keep him on in the new employment. What security will he have that he will get back to his old employment? And if the best you can do for him is to give him some kind of unskilled or semi-skilled work, in view of his present heavy commitments, you are going to impose cruel bankruptcy on him: you will involve him in tremendous family hardships. It is true, no doubt, that the soldier has made very great sacrifices indeed, but even there 1563 you have set up a special Commission to investigate hard cases. I do not say that injustice is wiped out thereby, but at any rate there is some attempt to remedy it. What are you going to do in this case?
I come to the question of wages, and this is an important matter, because there does mot seem to me one view only among the various people who are expounding the scheme in the country, as to what is really involved. I hope the Home Secretary will clear this matter up to-night. Is the wage of 25s., which has been mentioned, going to apply to agricultural labour? A speech was made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. Henderson) at Newcastle recently, in which he said he had been taken to task for being associated with a scheme which offered a minimum wage of 25s. a week. He was not ashamed of it. He happened to know something about wages paid in this country, and he knew that today, in spite of the cost of living and high prices, there were a good many agricultural labourers who, if they got 25s. a week, and 17s. 6d. in addition subsistence allowance, would begin to think that the millennium had come. But if I understand Mr. Neville Chamberlain's speech lightly, there is no intention of sending agricultural labourers about the country, for he said he was anxious to give farmers a definite assurance that he was not going to interfere in that way with agricultural labour. It seems to me the only man who really understands this scheme is Mr. Neville Chamberlain.
I read a speech made by the right hon. Member the Minister for Labour (Mr. Hodge) the other night at Nottingham, and if he is right, then the Home Secretary is wrong, and Mr. Neville Chamberlain is wrong also. I wish to say this in regard to the question of a minimum wage for agricultural labour, that you are getting into a quite impossible position if you are going to bring down a townsman who has never seen the land, put him on at 25s. a week, and get a man earning from 18s. to 20s. a week to train him. That is a ridiculous, unfair, and impossible position. The first thing, therefore, you ought to do, if you are going to pay a minimum wage to the townsman, is to fix it also for the agricultural labourer, and lay down a national minimum wage for agricultural labour. If you do that, I am sure that that will be part of the scheme which will 1564 be most appreciated in all quarters, and if you lay down a minimum wage of 25s. a week for agriculture, you will remove a good many of the other blemishes involved in this scheme. Now the Minister for Labour said at Nottingham that in order to clear away any misconception arising from statements made by himself, Mr. Henderson, and Mr. Neville Chamberlain, he wanted it to be distinctly understood, regarding remuneration, that if a man volunteering for national work had been receiving 40s. a week in Nottingham, he would be paid as much if taken to Newcastle. I want to know if that is true?
§ Mr. ANDERSON
Then it does not apply to this scheme of National Volunteers. I have here a copy of the application form giving the terms upon which a man can enrol. It does not leave room for any doubt. I agree with Mr. Neville Chamberlain, who stated it was impossible to say that a man was going to take with him to his new place his old rate of pay. How could that be done with men taking up all kinds of new jobs'? How could a barrister, getting £300 in one town, carry that amount with him to the next town? It is absolutely impossible The only thing to be done is to see that the man gets the rate of the job to which he goes, and not the rate of the job from which he comes. That, I submit, is laid down quite clearly in the terms of enrolment, and I do wish that speakers expounding the scheme would all try to say the same thing. It is important that they should do so.
§ Mr. ANDERSON
Quite so, but still others have not said it. It is right we should have the true facts in regard to the matter. I understand clearly that if a man goes as a munition volunteer, and goes to the same trade in another town, he gets whichever rate is higher, either the rate of the town which he left, or the rate of the town to which he goes. But that applies to the munition volunteer, and not to the national volunteer under Mr. Neville Chamberlain's scheme. The Home Secretary said to-night that there were to be no penalties, if a man broke the terms of his agreement. Can he stick to that? Is it not rather the case that the Government are not anxious to have penalties at the start? This is bound to happen in private employment. A workman will be 1565 very dissatisfied with his job. He may not like either the job or the boss, and he will be determined to get away from it. Volunteer or no volunteer, he will feel he has a grievance so strong that he will go. What is going to happen to him? If your scheme is going to work at all you will have to devise some kind of penalty. The penalty is much more likely to apply to the workman who leaves his job than to the employer who gets rid of the workman. You will find it will be the labourer who leaves the job who will be penalised, and not the employer, who, because he is dissatisfied with the workman, gets rid of him.
We have had a great many pledges in the past. Of course, Government pledges are rather below par at the present time, and that explains why there has been a great deal of hesitation in this matter. We have had pledges in regard to the unfit under the Military Service Act. We have had pledges in regard to boys and youths; we have had pledges in regard to men of forty-one; we have had pledges in regard to married men, and pledges in regard to widows' sons; we have had pledges in regard to the religious and moral objector; in fact, the whole road to compulsion is strewn with broken pledges, and we do not want any more except those which are definitely embodied in legislation itself. I am anxious only that this measure should not be a bridge, a more stepping-stone, towards something more than industrial compulsion. We have had all sorts of pledges in regard to it, but I am afraid they will not count for a very great deal in the way we are going, for we are being taken along a sort of industrial press gang system, that is not British but is Prussian, and which you are copying from Prussia, and you are not going to destroy Prussianism by accepting Prussianism. A victory for Prussian ideals in the realm of British ideals rules out any other victory in a real sense. Already the industrial compulsion of workmen has been carried to very great length under the Military Service Act. I want to read an extract from the "Daily Telegraph," of 9th February last. This is what it says:The military representative at the Harrow Tribunal stated that many cases of incivility by exempted carmen had come to his knowledge, and he had notified coal owners to send him notice of cases of that sort, and had promised to lose no time in reviewing the exemptions, and would do all in his power to get the men sent to the front.1566 Cases of incivility ! The immemorial right of carmen to use unparliamentary language is going to be taken advantage of for the purpose of sending men into the trenches. We are going pretty far along the road to compulsion when that is possible. I would also point out what is being done by tribunal after tribunal. For instance, in West Ham the other day, exemptions were granted to five men on condition that they enrolled under this voluntary scheme. Surely it cannot be a voluntary scheme if carried out on such lines. There is one very important point I should like to raise now. I trust the Home Secretary will tell us what is going to be the position of men already exempted under the Military Service Act—conditionally exempted because they are doing work of national importance. Many of these men feel they are exempted specifically by the tribunal on condition that they go on doing what they are now doing, and if they are transferred to some other trade, at the direction of anybody, they fear that their terms of exemption will be broken Here is an actual case, a builder's manager, who got four months' exemption the other day at the Chesterfield Rural District Tribunal, asked as to his position under the Neville Chamberlain scheme, he inquired, "If I volunteer can you squash my exemption?" A member of the tribunal replied, "If you volunteer for National Service I should think that would strengthen your case." Mr. E. E. Barnes, the military representative, said, "Personally, I do not see why you should volunteer. You are of military age, and a tribunal is always in the position of being able to call you up should the necessity arise." The tribunal advised the applicant not to enrol himself under the National Service Scheme. Now, that applies to possibly hundreds of thousands of men, and there ought clearly to be some ruling in regard to the line to be taken in the case of the whole of the men from twenty to forty who have been exempted under the Military Service Act on condition that they go on doing what they are now doing. None of them will enrol unless you have some kind, I will not say pledge or assurance, for one does not want to speak about pledges just now—but, at any rate, unless they know what their position is, the whole of these men will be ruled out so far as this scheme is concerned.
I believe if this voluntary scheme is pushed too far you will court disaster and do more harm than good. I am not in the 1567 least opposed to the scheme, but I do wish to protest against the idea that any man can do any other man's job or that it is an easy thing to put one man into another man's job. The whole scheme of substitution, and especially military substitution, is becoming more and more unpopular in this country. Here is an instance as to what occurred the other day at Oldham. Mr. J. B. Tattersall, the chairman of the Oldham Master Spinners' Association, said that the military authorities in one case had taken two minders out of a factory and put two grinders in their place. I do not know whether there was some poetical affinity between the two names, but really that kind of fooling is not doing any good. There is a good deal of waste. There is a case reported in the newspapers to-day of a man who committed suicide because he could not do the work to which he had been put. I am not raising it from that standpoint, but I wish to quote what the coroner said. It appeared from the evidence that the dead man had been very sensitive, and that his employer had taunted him with being, according to the phrase used, "a damned substitute !" I think this employer should be reported for incivility to the military representative at Harrow, but that is not very likely to happen. There was a very outspoken criticism of military substitution by the coroner, Mr. E. F. Hadow, who remarked:He could not help feeling that this man was strangled with red-tape. Put into a composite room, he feared he was not giving satisfaction, and that undoubtedly preyed on his mind. It seemed a case of the substitution authorities trying to put a square peg in a round hole. They heard of cabinet makers being put to drive horses, which they did not even know how to harness, and of a watchmaker being put to baking and throwing himself in a pond. He thought more care should have been taken in those cases.You are going to multiply that sort of thing enormously under this scheme unless I there is a great deal of discretion shown in regard to it. You are going to have a great deal of economic waste under the scheme. When you see a house built of bricks, perhaps it does not matter if you take out a brick or two here and there, but when too many bricks are taken out the whole house becomes unstable and begins to show signs of toppling. In conclusion, I would say that good wages, good conditions, and a fair deal would put aside altogether the need for schemes of compulsion. If you want to get rid of 1568 the luxury trades and the non-essential trades—there is plenty of room for that— the best way to do it is by a good scheme of all-round taxation which will make it less easy for the people, at a time like this, to spend money quite uselessly buying the most expensive and luxurious; things. I read the other day of a boxing competition here in London between a gentleman called Jimmy Wilde and the Zulu Kid, and the prices for a single seat at that competition ranged from 44s. and 66s. to £5 10s. That is a scandal. People ought not to be able to spend £5 10s. for a seat at a boxing competition in the present circumstances and under the present conditions of the country. It is only by all-round taxation and levelling down those who are getting too much, not by taking the workman and compelling him, that you are going to solve the problem. You are far more ready to conscript life and to conscript labour than you are to conscript property in any shape or form. You are very gentle when it comes to property. The hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) talked about potatoes. You are even afraid to conscript a potato. You have the fact that the average wholesale price of potatoes in London in 1914 was £3 10s. During last year it rose as high as £12 15s. a ton. The farmers, we are told, have all gone on strike, and there are going to be no potatoes. Why? Because they cannot get the last pound of flesh in certain eases and the last bit of profit ! Surely when people are asked to make these very heavy sacrifices the farmers ought to be asked to make sacrifices too. What are you doing in the case of a farmer? You do not dream of conscripting him or his potatoes. You send him a message to say he is going to get a pound more a ton for his potatoes. That is the difference between your treatment of labour and your treatment of property. There have been far too many people making large profits out of this War.
I have examined the scheme perhaps rather critically, because we ought to see exactly what it is and where it leads. I realise that Mr. Chamberlain's task is a very difficult and thankless one. I believe there is no one better qualified to carry it out. I believe he is a business man with a clear business mind. I have read a good many speeches and a great many leading articles dealing with this scheme, but the only man from whom I have got any light upon it has been Mr. 1569 Chamberlain himself. The speech that he made at the Central Hall, and his subsequent speeches, have made the whole matter perfectly plain to my mind. If only other people would not speak so often about it there would be far less confusion as to what the scheme involved. I do not want to hinder any work for the better organising of our industrial resources or for developing the necessary food supplies, but I want to avoid the iron heel of compulsion being more and more applied to labour. I believe in National Service, but it should be a genuine thing, springing from and accepted by the people. You will never get a genuine scheme of National Service super-imposed from Whitehall, but a lop-sided, bureaucratic National Service. Therefore I say, in the words of the late Prime Minister, thatSo far as the other thing is concerned"——that is industrial compulsion—I am not in favour of compulsion in regard to any industrial work. I see no reason for it. As far as I am concerned, I shall absolutely resist it to the last.
I am entirely in favour of the principle of this Bill, but I am compelled to ask the Home Secretary a question as to the principle upon which the lists of essential trades have been made out. When I looked at the list to-day in the newspaper, I was horrified to find that under the heading of "Textile" the cotton trade was not included. If there is one trade which is more essential than another to the country it is the cotton trade. An enormous amount of material required by the soldiers is made of cotton. The wings of aeroplanes are made entirely of a particular kind of cotton, and the things which carry their cartridges are also made of cotton. Not only that, but as regards the export trade, it is the largest commodity that goes from this country. I have often said, and I would say once again, because no Minister in the House seems to properly appreciate it, and it certainly has not been properly appreciated in regard to the list of essential trades that appears in the paper to-day, that the cotton exports of this country represent more than one-fourth and nearly one-third in value of the total exports. Without that money you could not pay for imports. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman in his reply to tell us on what principle the cotton trade has been excluded from the list of essential industries.
1570 I wanted to say one or two things in answer to the hon. Member For Attercliffe (Mr. Anderson). He said he would welcome National Service if it sprang from the people. Surely this does spring from the people, because ever since the War began the people of this country have been saying, "Let the Government tell us what to do, and we will do it." It is not service for the working classes only that is found in the Bill. Everybody of every class is asked to serve. The hon. Member has admitted that we already have compulsion of labour and compulsion of the employer on a most elaborate scale. If we went a little further and had general compulsion all round, it would be fair to the munition workers, who are certainly compelled. The one objection to National Service is that a man naturally objects to being compelled or even to volunteer to do work for the private personal gain of an employer. That difficulty arose under the Munitions Act, and was settled with the trade unions by limiting the profit of the employer. If that difficulty arises under the National Service scheme, it could be met in a similar way either by regulating the profits or by a special kind of taxation, so that the volunteer, or, if it comes to conscription, the conscript of labour, will know that he is not working in order to put profits into the pockets of the private employer. The hon. Member for Stafford (Sir Walter Essex) took objection to the Director-General of National Service having been appointed before the Bill creating his office had passed this House. There is not very much in that objection. I would invite him to remember that the Germans instituted this kind of national Service by a sort of levy en masse months ago, and we are therefore late. It is an excellent thing that the Government took the bull by the horns and appointed the Director-General of National Service before they brought in the Bill. It has been said that there ought to be a tribunal for deciding disputes should they arise between the volunteer workers and their employer. That is an important matter, which also arose in connection with the munition workers. Amendments were moved in this House, with the result that the kind of tribunal which was appointed has worked extremely satisfactorily. It has a legal chairman, with an employer and a representative of the workmen sitting with them. I 1571 chiefly rose to ask the Home Secretary to tell me why the cotton trade is not included in the essential industries?
§ Mr. WATT
I desire to enter my protest against the extraordinary powers which are being handed over to this Director-General of National Service. Parliament has always been exceptionally careful in passing any legislation which might have the effect of ruining any trade or any of the citizens, of the country, and it has been more careful in passing regulations or giving power to any Department in the State to frame regulations which will have the effect of bringing about financial ruin, or anything approaching it, to any legitimate trade of the country. This measure goes a step further. It hands over to a certain individual the power of saying, off his own bat, by his absolute ipse dixit, that certain trades of this country will be ruined, and ought to be ruined, because they are non-essential, and he arbitrarily chooses which shall be in that category. We can quite readily understand that one Director-General may take one view as to essential and non-essential trades, whereas his successor, with quite different views, may think that what his predecessor considered non-essential are essential. For example, an enthusiastic teetotal Director-General might think the manufacture of beer and other intoxicating liquors was non-essential, and pass regulations dealing with them, whereas his successor might take a quite different view of these trades and think it better to stop lemonade and ginger-beer. I thought it my duty, as a representative of trading interests and of a city whose prosperity rests entirely on the trade of that city, to rise and protest against the powers which are given in this measure. The trades which are to be crushed must be crushed by legislation. In other words, it must be stated in the Schedule of this measure, before it passes Parliament, what trades are non-essential and what are essential, so that the representatives of these various trades in this House may have an opportunity of representing their interests and bringing pressure to bear on the Director-General. Unless a Schedule to this effect is proposed in Committee, there will be a good deal of opposition from Members who represent trading constituencies, among which will be in- 1572 terests which will be declared non-essential, and which will therefore in all probability be ruinously affected.
§ Mr. MOLTENO
I beg to ask leave to withdraw my Amendment in view of the assurance given by the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill. It was a fuller assurance than he had given when I addressed the House, and I accept it. I hoped it might have been wider, and I also hoped, after what had been said, that he would see his way to place in the Bill some powers of the Director-General, in addition to giving us the assurance that industrial conscription will not be included. However, he has given us a clear and definite assurance, and in view of that I wish to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ Mr. KING
I am rather sorry the Amendment is withdrawn, but I am very glad the Home Secretary has found it possible to improve on his former statement. If we press him a little more, especially in Committee, perhaps he will further improve along the line on which he has started and give us much more than we want. I should like to call attention to a very wise utterance I read the other day which directly affects this question. It was spoken by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Maclean) when a man was brought before him whom the military authorities, though he was totally unfit for military service, wanted to get into the Army. My right hon. Friend said then:The real fact of the position at the present time is this: The heads of Departments do not want to be bothered more than they can help. If they have a man fit for their service, they hold on to him, keep him out of the Army, and will not take on anybody else.That, I am quite sure, is the position generally with all businesses. They will not assist, so long as they have a man they know. He went on to say this:What is the good of talking about vast schemes of National Service when we see here a little bit of the Government machinery going on? What they want is not vast new establishments but some common-sense, and that they want very badly.In granting a month's adjournment, he added:We will give the Government Departments another opportunity to utilise a really useful man.There is a case which shows quite clearly, and the right hon. Gentleman was very emphatic in his summing up of it, how extraordinarily difficult it is to get men 1573 employing one man, to give him up. That is especially so in Government Departments, and I want to know whether Government Departments are going to let men free. The combing out, we understand, has been done extremely leniently, and there is a great number of men of military age now in Government Departments who might be set free. I do not think it is at all fair for the Government to set up a number of new Departments while they still have a number of men of military age whom they will not release.
There is another point. I have a very interesting letter from a constituent, who is a very capable man and is anxious to serve the interests of his country as far as he can. It shows how extraordinarily badly the officials are dealing with the modified and much simpler position of putting men of military age into work at present, and therefore how much more difficult and how much greater their failure will be when we come to a vast problem like that which they have before them. He writes:I am over forty, a married man, passed C 3. When I was called up I was sent home as a Army munition worker. I explained to them at the time that I was only fit for light duties, and signed the voluntary agreement on that understanding. Imagine my feelings when I received a call from the Ministry of Munitions, and was sent to work. When I got there I found I was expected to do the work of a regular navvy. I explained that I was not able to do this, and I produced two separate medical reports showing that I was suffering from rupture, varicose veins in both legs, and valvular disease of the heart. I presented these certificates after trying to work, but naturally I have had to give it up.The man goes on to say that after giving every penny that he could to the War Loan he was now practically without means. For a fortnight he had been kept waiting by the Ministry of Munitions, by the War Office, and the Labour Exchange, all of whom were supposed to have his case in hand. He is now, at the end of a fortnight, unable to get any employment. He says:Then Mr. Neville Chamberlain comes to Bristol and tells us of the terrible need of men, of the crime of indolence, of a job waiting for every man, and just the job that every man will find suited for him. All I can say is that unless they use more brains than to send a man like me into the Army there will be something worse than the potatoe muddleThat about sums it up as far as I can see. The Minister of Labour, whom we are very glad to see here and for whom we wish greater success than has been achieved by some of his colleagues, has got a difficulty before him in the Labour Exchanges alone. I do hope that in put- 1574 ting this scheme through, due regard will be had to what is possible, and not to absurd and wild attempts to achieve something which is beyond the realms of possibility. With that hope, and hoping that the Government will not think they must push the whole thing through in a week or two, but that they will go slowly and steadily forward, I shall give the scheme support.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a seond time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Monday next.—[Sir G. Cave.]