§ Considered in Committee.
§ [Mr. WHITLEY in the Chair.]
Sir H. DALZIEL
I desire to ask you, Mr. Whitley, a question of Order. The Vote of Credit is described as "Supplementary." I desire to ask you whether that fact will make any difference in your ruling with regard to the scope of the Debate which you will allow to-day? In short, will the ordinary rules that apply to an ordinary Vote of Credit apply here, or is it your intention to limit the Debate to a narrower area than is usually the case?
§ The CHAIRMAN
In reply to the right hon. Gentleman, I should say, in the first place, that the title "Supplementary Vote of Credit" does not affect the question, because Votes we have had for very large sums have been so described because they were supplemental to an original sum moved at the beginning of the financial year. Therefore the word "Supplementary" does not affect my decision on this question. On the main point I may say that, so far as I am aware, there is no exact precedent to guide me on this occasion, and therefore I feel that I must be guided by the nearest parallel, with the addition of common sense. This Vote, I understand, is asked for from the Committee for certain limited and specific purposes, which were not foreseen when we passed a Vote intended to make provision to the end of the present financial year. Therefore it seems to me that the application is exactly on the lines of what we strictly call a Supplementary Estimate, and, in my view, therefore, I ought to be guided by those questions in guiding debate on this occasion—that is 1319 to say, the discussion ought not to rove over the whole field of war operations on this particular Vote, but ought to be confined to the specific items for which the money is asked.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
On the point of Order, might I humbly suggest that the form of the Vote of Credit is exactly similar to the other Vote we had the other day? There is no difference in the form or in the number of items—and I attach very great importance to the number of items specified—and if you will look at the note at the end you will see that practically everything is included in this Vote of Credit. If that is so, would it not be in order to follow the ordinary course of the Vote of Credit and debate all the subjects that arise?
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ Mr. DILLON
On the point of Order, I beg to submit, Mr. Whitley, that you would be bound by the note which specifies the purposes for which this Vote of Credit is asked—"Navy and Army Services, Warlike operations, and other Expenditure arising out of the War." I beg respectfully to submit that those are the words which ought to control your ruling on this Debate, and I do not think—and this is the point I particularly wish to lay before you—that anything said by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in introducing the Vote of Credit ought to control the Debate, in view of the Memorandum that is on the face of the Vote, because it might be perfectly possible for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to say that these particular sums were required for certain specific purposes in order to control the Debate; but this Vote of Credit, when it is passed, will be thrown into the general sum of £500,000,000 that we have already passed, and will form part and parcel of that sum. Therefore, I say that the real scope of the Debate is fixed by the Memorandum, and not by what the Chancellor of the Exchequer says. I would point out once more that it would be impossible to imagine more general terms than that Memorandum covers. It relates to Navy and Army services and not simply to the items specifically mentioned in the Vote. The purposes are clearly specified in the Note, which states that the Vote is for warlike operations and other expenditure arising out of the War. It does not matter so much what the Chancellor of the Exchequer says because 1320 anything he might say will not control the expenditure of this money, and what controls the expenditure is what appears on the Notice Paper. We are being asked to vote this money for these wide purposes and once the Vote is passed it may be devoted to any Army or Navy expenditure or other expenses arising out of the War. I respectfully submit that the whole subject covered by the words I have referred to is open for discussion.
§ The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Bonar Law)
I have no desire whatever to interfere with the discretion of the House in this matter as to the form the discussion should take. [HON. MEMBERS: "Speak up!"] The circum stances under which this Vote has arisen show that it is for a specific amount which was not foreseen at the time the previous Vote of Credit was taken.
§ Mr. LOUGH
With regard to the point of Order, is it not a fact that this Vote is asked for simply because sufficient money was not obtained on the last Vote of Credit? We cannot place any restriction upon the Government in this matter, and if they choose to say on the Notice Paper that it is to be applied in some particular way, must it not still rest with them how to apply any extra sum which they may require? Of course this supplementary sum is small in comparison with the tremendous amounts we have voted before. The question is whether the Vote will be open to the criticism of the House only in accordance with the Notice on the Paper, which we all received this morning.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
May I point out that this Vote of Credit is headed, "Supplementary Estimate" under the figure £60,000,000, and I think it is very important that I should point out that the following words also appear:
I need not go on reading. My point is that on all the Supplementary Votes which I have just referred to we had a free discussion, and if we had a free discussion on those Votes, why cannot we have a similar discussion on this Vote?
£ "Original Vote of Credit, 1916–17 (Parliamentary Paper 16 of 1916) 300,000,000 Previous Supplementary Vote (Parliamentary Paper 77 of 1915) 300,000,000 Previous Supplementary Vote (Parliamentary Paper 102 of 1916) 450,000,000"
§ Mr. L. JONES
I submit that not even on the footnote can the Government override the heading they have given to this Supplementary Estimate. I think my 1321 hon. Friend the Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) is narrowing the point down too much when he quotes merely the words of the note. The purposes are clearly described by the heading of the Vote, and it is a Supplementary Estimate of the amount required to be votedfor general Navy and Army Services in so far as specific provision is not made there for by Parliament: for the conduct of Naval and Military Operations: for all measures which may be taken for the Security of the Country; for assisting the Food Supply, and promoting the continuance of Trade, Industry, Business and Communications. Whether by means of insurance or indemnity against risk, the financing of the purchase and resale of foodstuffs and materials, or otherwise; for Relief of Distress; and generally for ail expenses, beyond those provided for in the ordinary Grants of Parliament, arising out of the existence of a state of war.The sum voted on that heading I submit will enable the House to discuss any matter affecting any expenditure that may arise.
§ Mr. D. MASON
In view of the expression of opinion which has been given by the Leader of the House, may I ask you, Mr. Chairman, if you could reconsider your decision?
§ Major GODFREY COLLINS
Is it not a fact that if due economy had been exercised the necessity for this Supplementary Estimate would not have arisen?
§ Mr. PRINGLE
Is it not a fact that this £60,000,000 has already actually been spent upon the conduct of the War?
§ Mr. BILLING
May I ask whether, under this Vote, the Eleven o'Clock Rule is automatically suspended?
§ Mr. LYNCH
I would like to ask, on a point of Order, whether you, Mr. Chairman, have any power whatever to earmark the expenditure of the money which will be voted under this Resolution for any purposes and to restrict the discussion, not to the terms of the Resolution, but to the terms of the speech uttered in the course of the Debate?
Perhaps I may now deal with the points made by hon. Members. The hon. Member for the Rushcliffe Division (Mr. Leif Jones) has raised the point with regard to the title of the Estimate. I think he must have forgotten that in all cases of Supplementary Estimates the title of the original Vote is repeated in full, and that is part of our procedure, because it is always attached however small the supplementary sum may be. It might, for instance, be £10 1322 for pen wipers, but still the whole title of the original Vote would be repeated. Consequently that is not a point in which this Vote differs from an ordinary Supplementary Estimate. The right hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) raised a point as to the previous amounts that had been voted, which he described as Supplementary Votes. I agree with the right hon. Baronet entirely that whore a Vote has been taken for a considerable period of the War, necessarily all operations connected with the War have been open to discussion. Therefore it does not seem to me that that governs the situation on the present Vote.
I now come to the point raised by the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) with regard to the note which follows the amount asked for. That note also is a common form in all these Votes of Credit just in the same way as the heading or the title, and it is a general note which has covered all Votes of this kind. I must also say to the Committee that I took steps yesterday to satisfy myself on the point as to whether or not this money was required for certain donned and specific expenditure, and it is on that ground that I ask the Committee to adhere to the ruling which I have already given.
§ Mr. D. MASON
In view of the decision which you, Mr. Chairman, have just given, would it be in order for us to refuse to give this Vote of Credit if we are not permitted to discuss it?
§ Colonel Sir C. SEELY
I would like to ask how these specific points for discussion are to be defined? Who is going to define them? There is nothing on the Paper to show what we can discuss.
§ The CHAIRMAN
When the Vote has been laid before the Committee by the Chancellor of the Exchequer then it will be for me to rule whether those matters he refers to or any other matters are pertinent to this Vote.
§ Colonel Sir C. SEELY
If that is the case I should think that out of the 670 Members of this House the Chancellor of the Exchequer is the best man to bring that matter forward, but even he might possibly forget some of the purposes to which he intends applying this money, and if he does forget to mention some of those purposes we shall be ruled out of order in discussing them. I think we ought to have those purposes in writing.
Sir H. DALZIEL
May I suggest that as the Leader of the House has waived any technical objection to the free discussion of this Vote, and as it is the obvious desire of the House that the discussion should not be limited in regard to an important Vote of this kind, I put it to the Leader of the House: would he be prepared to accept a Motion to report Progress and allow Debate by general consent to take place on that Motion. In that way the right hon. Gentleman would get his Vote and we should have our Debate.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
As I have already stated, so far as I am concerned I had no idea that any limitation of Debate would be involved by this Vote, and I have no wish whatever to interfere with freedom of discussion in any way. The Oh airman has raised this point, but if there is any method which commends itself to the House by which greater latitude of discussion could be given than that limited discussion which will naturally arise from the ruling which has just been given, I should have no objection.
§ Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL
There appears to be on the part of some hon. Members some uneasiness on this matter, not because we desire specially to discuss specific matters on these Supplementary Estimates, but because we are a little bit apprehensive of what the effect may be of limiting Debate in this House on a sum of money voted without specific appropriation to the topics which may be raised only in the speech of the Minister who proposes that appropriation. We shall not know to what topics we are to be limited, because we shall not know from the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer the destination for which this money is intended. There is nothing in black and white before the House, and although, of course, everyone would accept the assurance of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the money is needed for this purpose, and this purpose only, the House has no means of satisfying itself that the money will be spent for this purpose and this purpose only.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
May I make a suggestion. There is really no difference of opinion between the Government and hon. Members on this point, and I would suggest that the discussion should be taken on the lines laid down by the Chairman; and if it is found impossible 1324 for you, Mr. Chairman, to give as much latitude as is desired, I can submit a Motion to report Progress.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I must point out that a Motion to report Progress does not offer a wider scope for discussion, but a much narrower scope, and on such a Motion no such matters could be discussed as those which hon. Members desire to raise on this Vote.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I could not permit a Motion to report Progress to give rise to any such Debate. As I said at the beginning of this discussion, there is no exact precedent to guide me on a Vote of this kind, and in my view I should be following the nearest parallel and also what appeared to me to be common sense in the suggestion I made to the Committee. I am perfectly aware of the point made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Cleveland Division (Mr. H. Samuel), and it would have been better if, as the Vote is intended only for certain specific items, that those items had appeared on the Paper. I think it is my plain duty, in view of the sense of the Committee and the absence of a rule or precedent, to allow the wider scope, though I can only express the hope that, as a matter of business-like discussion in the main criticism will follow the actual things for which the money is required.
§ Mr. HOGGE
On a point of Order. Will you tell us what is to prevent any Government limiting the object for which the money is to be voted by every Vote of Credit, and, therefore, preventing free discussion in this House? [HON. MEMBEES: "Agree!"] The hon. Member who is shouting "Agree" has already risen on two points of Order, and he ought to know that any hon. Member is entitled to put a point of Order. Those of us who have been following the discussions on the Supplementary Estimates have been over and over again during the past fortnight refused information with regard to the spending of the money on the ground that it was to come out of the Vote of Credit, and we have not been told of certain expenses with regard to certain Departments, because it has been put to us that there is a pool out of which money can be taken for specific purposes. How can ordinary Members of the House know that this £60,000,000 is to go for 1325 the specific purpose of ships? On the contrary, is it not the case, so far as we are concerned, that we only know that this money is required for the last ten days of the financial year, and that the £60,000,000 which we may vote to-day may be voted for many other purposes?
§ The CHAIRMAN
It is quite true that from the nature of a Supplementary Vote of Credit there is no precise allocation of the money, but the hon. Member has not raised any new point.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I wish to know whether there is any precedent for the Chairman of Committees of this House going behind the Paper which is before the House itself?
§ The CHAIRMAN
I am afraid that the unfortunate Chairman often has to deal with questions without notice, and he has to deal with them to the best of his ability.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I sincerely hope, after this preliminary discussion, that the House will not consider that I have framed in advance the few remarks I am going to make in order to limit discussion. I had certainly no such object. The House will remember that on 12th February, little more than a month ago, I moved two Votes of Credit, which were afterwards agreed to by the House. One was for the sum of £350,000,000, and it was to come into operation next year. There is, of course, no change in the position of that Vote, and the amount remains available to be made use of at the beginning of the next financial year. I also got another Vote of £200,000,000, and at the time it was thought that amount would be sufficient to meet all the expenses of the current financial year. It is now found that it is not sufficient, and a further Vote of Credit is necessary. I need not say that this came to me as a very disagreeable surprise. I did not like it as the member of the Government responsible for the business of the House, for, of course, it means two additional days of Parliamentary time. I disliked it still more as Chancellor of the Exchequer for this reason. On the face of it, one would naturally have thought, in estimating for so short a time, that it would have been possible to make a more accurate estimate, or, at all events, that it would have been easy to err on the safe side, and to have been sure that no 1326 additional Vote of Credit would be required. As a mater of fact, that is not the case for this reason. The Treasury has always acted since the War, as, of course, it did before the War, on the principle that its duty was not to ask for a sum of money sufficient to meet the expenditure under all circumstances, but that its duty to the House of Commons was to give as accurate an estimate as it could on the information that was then available. They have always regarded that as their duty; and I may say, and I am sure my right hon. Friend who preceded me (Mr. McKenna) will agree, that they would think they were making a mistake if they put before the House, of Commons a Vote which turned out to be far greater than was required by the circumstances. There is another reason. It is supposed that the shortness of the time makes it easy to make an estimate, but the exact reverse is the case. In dealing with such an immense sum, the time at which items must come against the Vote of Credit depends, not upon the contracts of which the Treasury arc aware, but upon the time at which the contracts are delivered, and this makes it still more difficult to form an accurate estimate. This difficulty was pointed out by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Asquith) in moving the Vote of Credit in May of last year, in these words:Under present conditions, with an expenditure of of this magnitude. it is exceptionally difficult to make any forecast which can be taken to be accurate, of the expenditure which is likely to be incurred in any comparatively short given period. The outgoings fluctuate considerably week by week."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd May, 1916, cols. 2004–5, Vol. LXXXIL]That is the reason why it was not easy to make quite sure that no Vote of this kind would be required. I may say, when I examined the figures which were presented to me, that I thought the margin was rather fine, and I spoke to my advisers about it. They informed me that on every occasion in the past the estimates from the Departments for the whole year had not been exceeded, that there was always less expenditure than was expected, and that there was no danger of another Vote of Credit being required. I am glad to think, even if I had taken the precaution which then occurred to me, and had added £10,000,000 to the Vote, that it would still have been necessary to have a Supplementary Vote now.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
Yes, for specific purposes. I am going to tell the House as clearly as it is possible what are the items which were not foreseen, and which necessitate this huge additional Vote of Credit. The first is an item of £18,000,000 sterling for wheat which has been obtained from the Australian Commonwealth. It is quite true that negotiations on this matter were going on before the last Vote of Credit was introduced, but they had been going on for some considerable time, and the Treasury were under the impression that no expenditure from this cause would be necessary in the current financial year, though they expected that it would be necessary in the next financial year. That is the explanation of £18,000,000 of this sum. Another sum, which is even larger— £23,000,000—is for advances to our Allies and to the Dominions. I am glad to say it does not mean that they have made bigger demands which arc likely to be continued, or that our advances in this respect are likely to be on a much larger scale than was anticipated. It is really a question of paying the money now instead of out of the Vote of Credit for next year. I do not think it necessary to say more to the House than that this amount was not foreseen by the Trcasury at the time. It is an amount which, in the long run, will not fall upon the British Exchequer, and, though it is very unpleasant to have a Supplementary Vote for it, it does not mean either additional expenditure to this country, or that the demands of our Allies or the Dominions are likely to show any special increase.
The balance, which comes to £19,000,000, is made up of two other items, and, for reasons which I hope the House will appreciate without my explaining them, I think it advisable not to give the amount of one particular item by itself, but to take them together. One is additional expenditure of the Munitions Department. For the first time, the final estimate of the Munitions Department has been greatly exceeded, but the House will understand that it does not mean that there has been any special increase to account for this expenditure in the amount of munitions to be manufactured. It only means that the items come into the Vote of Credit not at the time that the contracts are made, but at the time they are executed. The Estimate of the Treasury was made upon previous experience of delivery of contracts, and, although it is unpleasant to have 1328 this additional expenditure, it is really something which should give satisfaction to the House, for it means that deliveries now for the first time are being kept up more to the mark, and more according to contract than was the case in previous Votes of Credit. The last item which accounts for this enormous amount is due to expenditure on the part of the Shipping Controller to increase the supply of merchant ships. I do not wish to give any details as to the way in which this expenditure has been incurred. It is perfectly true that at the time the last Vote of Credit was before the House we knew that efforts were going to be made to get an increased supply of merchant ships, but they were only beginning, and no estimate could be formed as to the amount which would be payable in the immediate future. Here, again, I think it ought to be of distinct satisfaction to the House, as it certainly is to the Government, to find that we are getting these merchant ships more rapidly than at the time the last Vote of Credit was introduced we had reason to expect. This additional Vote of Credit makes the total amount for this year in Votes of Credit £2,010,000,000 instead of £1,950,000,000, and if that is added to the total of all the Votes of Credit since the beginning of the War, not including the £350,000,000 for next year, it raises the total amount since the beginning of the War to the end of this year to the enormous sum of £3,792,000,000. I should be quite certain, but for the previous discussion, that the House of Commons is always ready not only to forgive, but to approve brevity of speech. I hope it is not supposed that my brevity means any desire to limit discussion, because it does not. But in view of the fact that a Vote of Credit was introduced by me only a month ago, and that this additional expenditure is due to circumstances which I do not think could have been foreseen, I really do not think it would be the desire of the House that I should go into any of the general questions which are usually raised in connection with Votes of Credit.
Motion made, and Question proposed "That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £60,000,000, be granted to His Majesty, beyond the ordinary Grants of Parliament, towards defraying the Expenses which may be incurred during the year ending the 31st day of March, 1917, for General Navy and Army Services in so far as specific provision is not made 1329 therefor by Parliament; for the conduct of Naval and Military Operations; for all measures which may be taken for the Security of the Country; for assisting the Food Supply, and promoting the Continuance of Trade, Industry, Business and Communications, whether by means of insurance or indemnity against risk, the, financing of the purchase and re-sale of foodstuffs and materials, or otherwise; for Relief of Distress; and generally for all expenses, beyond those provided for in the ordinary Grants of Parliament, arising out of the existence of a state of war."—[Mr. Bonar Law.]
§ Mr. McKENNA
I have had some experience of the care and ability with which the Estimates are framed by the Treasury, and I hope I may be allowed to say that even before my right hon. Friend spoke the Committee might have rested absolutely assured that if a Supplementary Estimate is required it is because some unforeseen circumstances have happened involving additional expenditure. Whatever view hon. Members may take as to the apparent carelessness in framing the Estimates which led to the presentation of a Supplementary Estimate after such a short period, I for one am absolutely confident that the necessity for a Supplementary Estimate has only arisen because of circumstances which could not have reasonably been foreseen at the time the last Estimate was framed. Perhaps I may be allowed to say that I thought in one particular, when my right hon. Friend introduced his last Estimate, he was a little over-sanguine. At that time he estimated that the expenditure of the country since the beginning of the War in loans to the Allies and Dominions would amount to £890,000,000. I ventured to express a fear whether that figure was quite right, and I did so because my recollection of our liabilities when I was at the Treasury was that the amount would inevitably exceed that total. I am, therefore, myself not surprised the right hon. Gentleman should now ask for an addition of £23,000,000, which brings the total expenditure under this heading since the War began to something over £900,000,000.
As to the other item—that for Australian wheat, it is a matter in respect of a contract entered into by the late Government, and there, again, my right hon.
1330 Friend, if he will allow me to say so, cannot be in fault in not having included it in the previous Estimate.
§ Mr. McKENNA
My right hon. Friend was not responsible for the contract which was entered into and was still the subject of negotiations when the present Government was formed, and the question of when the amount should be part was still in abeyance. It was quite reasonable to anticipate it would not have to be paid until after the close of the present financial year, and if circumstances require the payment now, I shall be only too happy to support my right hon. Friend in asking for the Vote. Perhaps on some other occasion, with regard to the third item of expenditure on munitions, my right hon. Friend may be able to give the House—I do not ask for it now, because he cannot have the figures, but he might possibly include them in his next Budget statement—he might be able to give the Committee some idea as to how far this enormous expenditure upon munitions represents to a certain extent assets which we shall have after the War. When we are called upon to grant, as we do quite readily, a Vote of Credit for the year for £2,000,000,000, we should, if possible, like to hear a little on the other side of the account. We should like to be told how much of the £2,010,000,000 really represents assets which, after the War, we shall be able to realise. It includes, for instance, I believe, considerable sums for land, buildings, plant, machinery, and stocks which we are bound to maintain at their highest level dining the War, and which, of course, will necessarily be at a very high level when the War comes to an end. The public have been very generous in their willingness to subscribe money, whether by taxation or by loans, and they might, perhaps, receive comfort from knowing that after the War the whole of this vast total is not expendiure, but that there is a reasonable prospect of a considerable return.
I do not think I shall be transcending the spirit of what has been said from the Chair, or occupying at undue length the attention of the Committee, if for one minute—and one minute only—I call attention to another aspect of this expenditure. I do so particularly in reference to a statement which the right hon. 1331 Gentleman made exactly two years ago, on an occasion similar to the present. When the Vote of Credit was introduced at the same period of the year in 1915, my right hon. Friend, in a most excellent speech in reply—I read it yesterday—asked whether sufficient was being done to organise the civilian power of the nation. I would ask him now whether this figure is not itself an answer to that question. If this nation can spend on the service of the War over two thousand millions in a year, the very far greater proportion of which is spent inside this country, and at the same time can conduct all the necessary production to maintain the civil life of the people and feed and clothe them, does it not show there must have been a gigantic organisation of civil labour under the natural influence of economic forces. I say this, not at all by way of criticism of the effort which is now being made; on the contrary, I think the effort now being made is a very brave effort, and it is the duty of everyone in the country to support it to the utmost—I say it by way of caution rather. We must not expect too much from that effort. The nation already by producing goods and services to the value of over two thousand millions in one year—subject to a deduction of the amount spent abroad—has already made a gigantic effort in the War, and what can be done more the nation will gladly do. But I do not think we ought to expect too much, nor do I think we ought to be too critical of the effort which is being made to organise our civilian labour.
Perhaps, in conclusion, I may say that at this moment we seem to be getting a very real result for our great expenditure. Three months ago we had the first proposals for peace made by the enemy. As was to be anticipated at the time, those proposals have been followed by a series of successful military efforts by the Allies. We have succeeded in the East, we are succeeding at this moment in France. I do not think for myself that the occasion is one for any display of over-confidence on our part—not in the least. Rut it is an encouragement and it is a reward for the steady and constant effort which this nation has made unsparingly for two and a half years, and which it is willing to make until the end.
§ Mr. D. MASON
The Chancellor of the Exchequer has asked us not to go too much into details on this Vote, and I 1332 shall endeavour to follow his wish. The right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken referred to the fact that we had spent some two thousand millions on the War in the year, and he also spoke of our military successes. I do not propose to unfairly criticise the Chancellor of the Exchequer for coming before us with this Supplementary Estimate, because I am quite sure that when the Government are dealing with such enormous sums of money they cannot tell to a particular million the amount that may be necessary for the financial year. On the last occasion the right hon. Gentleman brought forward his Vote of Credit he divided it into two parts, one to cover the remainder of the finanical year and the rest to be expended in the new year. Therefore I do not think one should be unduly critical because the amount has not been found sufficient to carry us through to the end of the year. The right hon. Gentleman who spoke last referred to our military successes and the general purposes for which this Vote is required. I do think we might have had from the Leader of the House some survey of the War, some reference to the success in Bagdad and some idea as to the future of the War, and as to the possibilities of an early termination of the conflict. When we are being asked to vote these large sums we ought to be shown some justification for them, and we should also have some policy outlined which would justify us in taxing ourselves and incurring future liabilities.
Since the last Vote of Credit the Imperial German Chancellor has delivered a very important speech 11 the German Reichstag, and at the conclusion of that speech he made the statement that the British Government had given a scornful refusal to the German approaches for peace. I put down a question to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs as to what particular document or statement by the Government could he quoted as some foundation for this rather remarkable assertion by the German Chancellor, and I got a reply from the Under-Secretary of State to the effect that I was in the same position as he himself for coming to a conclusion as to what particular dispatch or statement or announcement made by the British Government would be covered by the statement of the Imperial German Chancellor. I was consequently thrown back on the various dispatches which have passed between the two Governments. It may interest the House to know—it is a 1333 very remarkable fact—that n we go back to the original dispatch of the German Government to this country we find one particular fact which possibly has not been observed by many hon. Members—a fact in entire contradiction of many statements made by the Leader of the House himself. I want to draw attention to some speeches the right hon. Gentleman has made. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, on many occasions when questions have been put to him in this House with regard to the approaches on the part of Germany towards peace, has stated that those approaches have always been made by Germany on the basis of Germany being victorious, and that she has always assumed the attitude of a conqueror and attempted to dictate terms of peace to this country. If hon. Members will take, the trouble to look at the first official announcement which was sent to this country from Germany, they will find no word of victory in it. The only approach to it at all was when they spoke of having victoriously succeeded in stopping our advance in Roumania and in the East. The dispatch says that the four Allied PowersFeel sure that the propositions which they would bring forward, and which would aim to assure the existence, honours, and free development of their peoples, would he such as to serve as a basis for the restoration of a lasting peace.The Leader of the House has often given the impression, both in this House and in the country, that the approaches made by Germany to this country were made in a vain-glorious and arrogant spirit. While I am not here to justify their particular method of expressing themselves, and I quite agree that their statesmen and newspapers have often adopted a very arrogant and provocative tone, still we in this House have only to consider official documents and the particular dispatch which I have quoted lends no colour to that assumption. When we come to our reply, we find in it gross inaccuracies, to which I would call the attention of the Leader of the House. It is a remarkable fact that while no word of victory appears in the German dispatch in the Allies' Reply, the Allied Governments state:As a prelude to any reply, the Allied Powers feel bound to protest strongly against the two material assertions made in the Note from the Enemy Powers, the one professing to throw upon the Allies the responsibility of the War, and the other proclaiming the victory of the Central Powers.There is not a dissentient voice in this country in regard to the justice or primary objects with which we entered into the War, but we do not strengthen our case 1334 by allowing statements to appear in a Note emanating from the Allies which are not in consonance with the facts of the case. If any Member obtains a copy of the actual dispatch from the Vote Office, he will not find a single word in it about victory. Therefore, for the Allies to issue a dispatch of this kind to the world brings us into disrepute with neutral Powers like America. We often wonder why America does not take a more definite line with regard to the justice of our cause. Can we be surprised that many neutrals distrust the cause for which we stand when those responsible for our dispatches are incapable of expressing it in straightforward, ordinary English. For a dispatch like that to emanate from the Allies does no honour to that for which we are giving our men, sacrificing blood and treasure, and for which we are asked to-day to pass a further Supplementary Vote of Credit. Therefore, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give some explanation why this statement was allowed to go forth, and why note should not be taken of the latest speech made by the Imperial German Chancellor. He has specifically stated—he has some ground for the statement, in view of the facts I have submitted to the Committee—that the British Government have given a scornful refusal to the proposals made by the Central Powers to the Allies. The Government has not given any reply as to what that scornful refusal was except the dispatch I have quoted. We are driven to the conclusion that the Imperial Chancellor had some justification for the statement he made.
I hope the Government will see their way to give us some survey of their policy and some, indication whether it is not possible at this stage to counteract the evil effects of this particular occurrence. What is going on in the country? There are two policies now before us. A. by-election is in progress at Stockton-on-Tees, in which there is a Government candidate and another candidate who does not stand for giving way over the objects for which we are fighting, but who is standing for peace by negotiation. It is now a live question before the country, and one looks to the Leader of the House and the Government to give the country some idea of the policy that should be followed. Having regard to the various important events that have taken place, the great military success at Bagdad, and other transactions which we know are going on or are in prospect, the 1335 Government ought to give us some indication of their policy. We in this House are entitled to know what their policy is, and the country looks to the Government for some definite policy, some idea as to when we may expect the termination of the War, what are their ideas in regard to a possible Peace Conference, and more or less to give them a general survey of the whole position.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I regret very much that none of the Departments concerned in this additional outlay are represented on the Front Bench.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
Until they do appear I will refer to a few of the more general observations which were made by the late Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. McKenna) and by my hon. Friend who has just sat down. I hope the Government will send for the representatives of the Shipping Controller—if there is anybody here to send for anybody. I wish to draw your attention, Mr. Whitley, to the fact that there is nobody here entitled to speak on the question of ships, which is a very important point in the Vote of Credit we are discussing. That is treating the Committee with an utter want of respect, and I, therefore, beg to move, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."
§ The CHAIRMAN
I cannot take that Motion. The representative of the Treasury, who is in charge of the Estimates, is present on the Treasury Bench.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I am quite willing to make my speech to him, although I have been informed that he is wholly ignorant of the subject on which I am addressing the Committee. I understood that the one constitutional method we had here of drawing attention to the absence of a Minister capable of speaking was to move to report Progress. However, I will draw attention to the more general questions until the Shipping Controller is represented. I am surprised to find that the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer raised some wider matters than those strictly within the Vote. For example, he desired a statement from the Government as to how far the expenditure upon munitions represented assets. It is obvious from the Chancellor of the Exchequer's statement that the expenditure under this Vote could 1336 not by any stretch of imagination be made to represent assets. We were told by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the extra expenditure contained in the Supplementary Vote of Credit for munitions was due to acceleration of delivery. If that is so, obviously it could not be due to expenditure upon land or plant, but must be applied to the production of the plant, not to the plant itself, which might be a permanent asset. I am somewhat surprised that the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. McKenna) also made some general observations as to what he called the progress of the War during the last three months. "Progress" is not exactly the word which should be applied to the change in the situation. It is true that we have taken Bagdad, but, after all, Bagdad is not in one of the decisive theatres of war. I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would have reached a more sober estimate of the exact tendencies of the situation than to have suggested that during the past three months any real progres has been made. It is true that three months ago the Germans were asking for peace. I do not think it is evidence of progress to say that they are not asking for it now. I am doubtful who will be asking for it next.
As the Shipping Controller is still unrepresented, I am inclined to go somewhat further into this matter. There is an item regarding munitions. There is nobody here representing the Munitions Department. I should have desired to ask the Minister representing that Department what are the conditions in regard to labour at the present time in munition works? For example, there was a question on the Paper to-day, a very important question indeed, as to how the provisions with regard to leaving certificates were operating in munition factories. I know, from personal experience that discontent in relation to this matter is still as rife as ever, but apparently on this matter we have the usual amount of official ignorance. There is a further matter of very great consequence, namely, the working of the system of exemption from military service in munition works. I have raised on two occasions in the House the question as to the granting of trade cards by favoured trade unions. There have been two statements in the "Times" on this question, that the whole system is to be abandoned and that the favoured trade unions are now to be robbed of the privi- 1337 leges which up to the present they have enjoyed. When we have statements made regarding the production of munitions there should be somebody here from the Department to give the House information. Members of this House should not be left for all their information on these extremely important matters to official or unofficial statements in the Press. I will now refer to the question of shipping. I have some difficulty in understanding the statement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the question of ships. He told us that the items in the Supplementary Vote in respect of ships were due to some unforeseen expenditure in relation to ships which were being built. No more amazing statement could have been made. Everyone can foresee what is going to be spent on the building of ships.
Attention called to the fact that forty Members were not present. House counted, and, forty Members being found present—
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I should have thought if there was one thing better calculated than anything else it is the rate at which your instalments will fall due upon shipping for which you have contracted. I can hardly believe that the Government is dealing frankly with the Committee. If the expenditure on this head represents a substantial amount, someone has fallen short of his duty. I do not say it is someone in the Treasury, but obviously someone connected with the giving of the orders for these ships has fallen short of his duty. We have seen statements in the Press, and indeed it is common knowledge in the City, that the Government has been buying ships. I want to know whether they have been buying ships? When the representative of the Government tries to limit discussion on a Vote of Credit to certain items we should be told the truth about that. We do not know whether it is in respect of these ships. We do not know whether they are ships under construction or ships already existing which have been bought. I want to know what are the conditions on which these ships are going to be worked. Are they to be nationalised? Are they to be hired out to private shipowners? If they are to be left to the management of private shipowners, on what conditions are they to be managed? We are entitled to know, seeing that this Question of shipping has been raised, what is the Government scheme 1338 for the nationalisation of shipping? We know that it was promised on the day on which the Labour party was bought and sold at the War Office. We know that they got a. promise of the nationalisation of mines and of shipping and of certain jobs. Up to the present the only thing that has happened is that the jobs have been delivered. This shipping being nationalised, is it being managed by the Shipping Controller solely for the profit and the benefit of the State, or have we some bogus arrangement, some quasi nationalisation which is not nationalisation at all, which leaves the ships in the hands of their present owners to be managed by them—a system under which they are to receive payment very much on the same lines as they are paid at present? We want to know that. One of the great attacks upon the late Government was on the question of freights. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Runciman) was held up to contempt and derision time and again because ho had done nothing to limit freights. We were told that the greed of the shipowner was battening upon the food of the poor. Indeed, the Prime Minister, in the first speech he made in this House, referred to freights as one of the leading factors in the increase in the price of food. I want to know, in this arrangement regarding the nationalisation of shipping, is there any limitation of freights, or are they left to go up under ordinary market conditions. Are shipowners entitled to get a, percentage of their gross takings? If so, the position is not altered from what it was under the late Government, when they had simply to pay straightforwardly Excess Profits Duty. In fact, one of the most obvious things during the present Government's tenure of office is the extent to which they have had to rely on the late Government to save them. We saw an example yesterday. We had an abject appeal from the Secretary for India to the late Prime Minister to "come over and help us." Apparently to-day we are to witness a similar situation. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench can tell us anything about these things. It is a matter of extreme relevance that we should have an answer on every one of these points. Then I think we should have been told something further about the contract under which wheat is being obtained from Australia, and about the methods by which it is to be brought to this country. The statement is made that 1339 we have spent during the latter part of this financial year £18,000,000. The period for Australian wheat coming to this country is precisely in these spring months.
Mr. PR INGLE
It may be going to other countries, and I hope we shall be told whether it is to be brought to relieve the scarcity here or whether it is going to any other country with which we are not so directly concerned. I think it is also right that we should ask the Government whether they are convinced that they have the available shipping here at their disposal to transport the wheat that they have purchased. The late Government made great purchases of wheat in Roumania which has never inured to the benefit of the people of this country. We want to know whether there is any guarantee at all that this wheat will inure to the benefit of the people of this country. Are they taking measures to protect the trade routes from Australia from submarines, or have they dealt with the raiders which are understood to be on the Australian trade route? Unless we know that they have dealt with these things I do not think we are entitled to assent to this Vote.
I think there must be universal discontent with the methods now in vogue of issuing the results of the submarine campaign. About a fortnight ago the First Lord of the Admiralty, with a great show of candour, said ho was going to tell the whole truth. Nothing was to be withheld. Everything was to be revealed. The country for the first time under the new regime would know the truth. But the country knows less.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
He did not even tell them more than was made available under the late Government. He told the Aldwyeh Club the amount sunk during February. The late Government every month told us the tonnage which was sunk, and we also had a daily list giving not only the numbers of the steamers, but also the tonnage. Under the new system we are only told the number, and it is only when the right hon. Gentleman makes a speech at some hole-and-corner gathering in the City that we 1340 get any details at all. The official announcements from the Admiralty from week to week give only the numbers sunk, but not the tonnage, and it is quite impossible to ascertain the effect of the offensive action of the German submarine. We are entitled to make a protest against this deliberate withholding of information, because after all we used to be told that all the woes from which we suffered were due to the fact that the late Government concealed the truth from the country, that they hid everything which was disagreeable in order to suit their own convenience. But what is the situation to-day? We have a Vote of Credit which is deliberately withholding the truth from the House of Commons. The statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to-day undoubtedly does not cover the facts. The late Government never gave a false account of a Vote of Credit. We want the facts. Undoubtedly this money has been spent already to a large extent and what we are voting today is going to be spent for the general purposes of the War during the last ten days of this month; but apparently there is a desire to prevent disagreeable and inconvenient questions being put, and all the Ministers who are able to give answers are deliberately withheld. I have spoken now for thirty minutes. I have asked for the presence of Ministers who are able to deal with particular items in this Vote of Credit and I once more beg leave to move, That you do report Progress."
§ Mr. BILLING
I do not know whether the hon. Member who represents the Air Service in this House thought there was any likelihood of the question of the manufacture of machines being raised on the Munitions Vote in Committee of Supply to-day, but I think it is a question which ought to be raised. I submit to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the whole of the money for which he is asking for the purpose of munitions could be well spent on the provision of areoplanes, and I would like to take this opportunity to call his attention not only to the amount that it is advisable to spend on the production of aeroplanes, but to the vast amount of money now being wasted on the production of aeroplanes. I do not know whether the House is aware of the cost of an aeroplane to this country—I mean the 1341 coat of a fighting aeroplane actually in the lines. I think, if they were, they would give very careful consideration to the voting of money for that purpose. It may be generally accepted that when an ordinary aeroplane is in the air over the German lines, if that machine is shot down, it is a dead loss to this country of something like £25,000. If we number all the effective aeroplanes that are fighting on the Western Front now, and if we divide that number by the total cost of our Air Service up to the present day, we shall find that every one of those machines has cost anything between £25,000 and £30,000. When an airman is shot down to-day it is a generally accepted idea that we have only lost one man and one machine, but the fact is that the country, apart from losing a skilled aviator—and in the present circumstances of training aviators are needlessly expensive—has also lost about £25,000 or £30,000 by the process. That is why I submit that the greatest care and the greatest control should be exercised as to the type of machine upon which this money is to be spent. What do we find? At the outbreak of this War the Government had decided on a certain type of Government-designed machine. Lack of experience in active service conditions had decided them to standardise a certain type of machine which had been proved to their own satisfaction. Within three months there was satisfactory evidence at the front that the type of machine upon which this country had expended millions was useless for the purpose for which it was necessary to employ them.
§ Mr. MacVEAGH
On a point of Order, Mr. Whitley. May I ask, if it is not permissible to hon. Members to move that you do report Progress and ask leave to sit again, what remedy is open to this House when Ministers deliberately absent themselves, and no one is here to answer the questions which have arisen on matters definitely connected with this Vote? We have only one Minister present. He is a very important Minister, it is true, but he cannot answer for all the Departments concerned—nor for any of them, so far as that goes—because he is Leader of the House, and he cannot answer for any particular Department concerned. If Ministers choose to ignore the Committee, and to deliberately absent themselves from the House when the Committee 1342 is discussing the Vote on these matters, I ask respectfully what remedy has this House got?
§ Sir GODREY BARING
The hon. Member for North-West Lanark (Mr. Pringle) put some urgent and pertinent questions on one of the most vital matters which this House can discuss, namely, the building of ships at the present time. The Controller of Shipping is specially represented in this House by the hon. Member for the Wellingborough Division of Hants (Sir Leo Chiozza Money). He was in the precincts of the House at Question Time, and yet he does not think fit to attend the Committee during this discussion and to make detailed answers to questions.
Before you reply, Mr. Whitley, may I point out how difficult it is for any discussion to take place on technical items of the Vote in the absence of the technical Minister? I am sure the Committee would not express the slightest kind of discourtesy towards the hon. Gentleman who represents the Treasury (Mr. Baldwin) under most difficult circumstances, and who has always given excellent explanations in this House, so far as his knowledge would permit. The questions that have been put by the hon. Member for North-West Lanark were of a very pertinent character. So far as I heard them, they certainly did not appear to exceed the bounds of discretion, and it is certainly of the greatest importance that information should be given to the Committee on these matters, especially as they concern not only the curiosity of hon. Members, but the whole question of shipping and freightage. I would remind my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that on every occasion on which the question of freights, tonnage or shipping was raised in this House, when I was in office, I always attended myself. I had to do the work not only of the Shipping Controller, but of a number of other Departments as well. There are now four Departments doing the work that was done then by the Board of Trade. I am sure that the House demanded my presence, but apart altogether from that, I would never have thought of being absent when questions relating to shipping were being discussed. I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman has not been well served by his subordinates.
They do not come here to give technical answers to questions with which I am perfectly well aware the Treasury cannot be as well acquainted as the Department set apart for the purpose.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I do not disagree with everything that has been said, but I must disagree with some of the things that were said by my right hon. Friend. I was under the impression that when a Vote like this, which is presumed to cover the whole ground, was under discussion, notice was given of any particular point about to be raised, and in that case the particular Minister would be present. I hoped that something of that kind had been done. I can assure my right hon. Friend that I have already sent for the representative of the Shipping Controller, and if I had had any notice, or if he had had any notice, that this particular point was to be raised, he would have been here. If hon. Members would be kind enough, on Votes like this, which cover everything, to give notice, it would facilitate matters. Of course, the Committee would not expect every Minister to be here.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
If hon. Members would give us notice of the points to be raised, we could meet them.
§ Mr. DILLON
Surely the Leader of the House cannot expect that explanation to be accepted by the Committee, when, as a matter of fact, this is one of the specific subjects, and one of the largest, for which he has specially car-marked the money concerned in this Vote. If there was any remaining respect for this House, the right hon. Gentleman would have come down to the House to-day with the Ministers who were responsible for the three or four Departments for which we are asked to vote enormous sums of money. I think there are only two or three Ministers specially responsible, and above all, the Minister responsible for shipping, because shipping forms a large part of the millions for which this Vote is supposed to be ear-marked. There is no force whatever in the explanation which has been given by the right hon. Gentleman. If somebody had raised a question not con- 1344 cerned with one of these particular subjects, then there might be some force in what he says. Ministers might, after questions, sit for a few minutes in the House on the occasion of a Vote of Credit, until an opportunity was offered to hon. Members to give notice through the usual channels, but when the usual channels have disappeared, as well as the Ministers, it is very difficult.
§ Mr. LYNCH
I would like to ask whether it is the intention of the Government to set up a kind of precedent that no more criticism of their actions should be allowed during the War. That view has been put forward, forgetful of the fact that criticism is their mother and incompetence is their father.
§ Mr. BILLING rose—
§ The CHAIRMAN
The point raised was not really in the nature of a point of Order. It seemed to roe that, in view of what has occurred, the hon. Member is quite right in calling attention to it, and an answer has been given. It rests solely in the discretion of the Chair whether or not to accept or refuse a Motion to report Progress. The Chairman must judge by the circumstances of the case at the time, and certainly he is not called upon to give explanations as to the manner in which he exercises that discretion.
§ Mr. MacVEAGH
Is there no remedy open to the Committee other than moving to report progress when Ministers deliberately stay away?
§ The CHAIRMAN
. Yes; there is the remedy that has been taken now, and we have heard that a message has been sent to the Minister who is required.
§ Mr. MacVEAGH
What is going to happen if the Minister fails to turn up? We have been speaking three-quarters of an hour. Surely to goodness there has been time enough for the Minister to arrive! If there had been any Whip in the House the Minister could have been sent for long before this. We are told that a message has been sent, but the Minister has not come. Are hon. Members to go on talking and there is no 1345 Minister here who can reply? That is reducing Parliamentary deliberation to the level of a farce.
§ Sir JOSEPH WALTON
Will the right hon. Gentleman send for the representatives of the War Office, the Admiralty, and the Ministry of Munitions, all of which Departments are concerned in this Vote?
§ The CHAIRMAN
Certainly not! If requests are made with ordinary courtesy to the Government, and they are not complied with within a reasonable period, then will be the time to deal further with the matter
§ Mr. PRINGLE
Some reflections have been cast upon me by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bonar Law). Am I not entitled to make an explanation?
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I want to give an explanation with reference to the statement that I did not give notice I intended to raise this matter. I gave no notice in view of the definite ruling given from the Chair that the discussion to-day was to be confined to the matters in the Supplemental Vote. I thought that the Ministers concerned would do the Committee the courtesy of being present.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I did not give a ruling of that kind or the hon. Member's speech would not have been in order. I submitted to the Committee what I thought was a businesslike procedure, but the Committee) took another view; otherwise the hon. Member would not have been able to make the speech he did.
§ Mr. BILLING
I was referring to the money which was squandered in the early part of the War on machines which experience in the first few months of the War proved were quite inadequate. Those were the machines upon which the 1346 Government chose to pin their faith, I would not have raised this porno if it were not for the fact that, despite two and a half years' warning, they still continue to pin their faith to the same type of machine. What makes me rather hot and bothered is that some of the £18,000,000 which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has asked the House to vote to-day may be squandered in the building of the very machines that I object to, and to which practically every man outside the Government employés —and by that I limit it to the civil Government employés — and practically every military aeronautical expert so strongly and so fearlessly objects. First of all, this is not on a point of efficiency, but on a point of economy, which I am sure the Committee is most, anxious should be studied, provided that efficiency is not affected, in the conduct of the Air Service as well as in other branches of the War. The initial cost of these particular types of Government machines is something like half as much again, and in some cases it is twice as much as that of machines of private design, which are infinitely superior, both in length of life and in performance as well as in ability as fighting machines. Why should they persist in ordering these Government machines? I think that it may be attributed to this cause, that in the early days before the War and in the early days of the War, General Sir David Henderson found himself at the head of a service which he did not understand. He had practically no flying experience whatsoever before the War beyond about three circuits round—
§ Major COLLINS
Is an hon. Member of this House entitled to cast reflections upon a soldier who is employed on the active service of the Crown?
§ The CHAIRMAN
That is not a point of Order. The hon. Member has strong opinions on the point, and it is not for the Chair.
§ Mr. BILLING
I never intend to use my seat in this House to cast personal reflections on any man, but when a man's administration is costing this country millions of pounds, I think it necessary to raise the question of his administration. That was General Sir David Henderson's experience when this War broke out. The result was that he had to call for the advice and assistance of somebody. I will say nothing more than that he was most 1347 unfortunate in deciding on the man whom he eventually called in, Lieutenant-Colonel O'Gorman, at the factory at Farnborough. Mr. O'Gorman had spent a great deal of time in developing this particular type of machine, which was at the same time the most complicated and the least efficient machine. Naturally, he advised Sir David Henderson to build machines of this type in large numbers. The manufacturers in the country—there were not many of them, thanks to the encouragement received from the Liberal Government in past years, most of them were looking round the corner of Carey Street —were called in and told that they must build these machines. Everybody offered to build them, because they wanted to get the orders. They went nap on the official machine, and the result has been so great a loss to this country through this War that it would require very considerable imagination and very careful study to ascertain what it is.
The action of Sir David Henderson at the outbreak of this War in, for some reason or other which may be traced to the factory at Farnborough, deciding on standardising the wrong type of machine, despite the advice received from every other quarter, has cost this country not only hundreds of pilots and thousands of lives of our men, hundreds of thousands of men killed or wounded, for the simple reason that it interfered with our gun-spotting, and with the movement of our troops, and, to a great extent, made our Army shortsighted instead of longsighted. It is not purely from the point of view of the air offensive that the question of the Air Service looms so large. If to-day for some reason or other we lost our Air Service entirely, our Army would be beaten in a month, for the simple reason that if the enemy could see our movements, and our Army could not see the movements of the enemy, our Army would be fighting under insurmountable difficulties. Yet the Under-Secretary for War informed the House the other day that we are losing men at the rate of 20 per cent. per week, and if only this House will insist that details of those losses shall be given, details of the number of men who lost their lives on Government designed machines, who have been missed on Government designed machines, I am perfectly satisfied that this House would see that these Government designed machines were costing this country millions of money and 1348 thousands of lives. Yet we still have Sir David Henderson ordering these same machines, and despite the fact that twelvemonths ago there was a considerable agitation against them.
I understand that a certain firm in the West of England have just had refused. their offer to build a type of machine, a monoplane, which is capable of a speed of 132 miles and of climbing over 2,000 ft. a minute, which has a better performance at 12,000 ft. than it has at 5,000 ft,, which is a very considerable gain, and which could be turned out at the rate of ten per week. Instead of being allowed to supply that machine, I understand that they have been given an order to build 250 machines which will take twice as long to produce as 250 of the other kind, which will cost this country twice as much in prime cost, which, when they arc finished, will be fitted with 90 horse-power engines, which will have a speed of about 85 miles an hour, and climb at about the rate of something like 800 ft. a minute. I do not wish to go into technical details, but the House will readily understand that to order machines which are only capable of that performance for delivery in two or three months, and to send those machines over to France and send our men up in them with engines of 70, 80, or 90 horse-power, to meet German machines with 200 horse-power. Is not playing the game by our men. Assuming that the best brain power of our country could produce nothing better, there might be some excuse. But there is no excuse when you think that we might produce as good as anything that the Germans could produce, and that we have produced, in two or three instances in this country, machines which are infinitely superior to anything that the Germans have produced.
A certain firm not very far from this City produced a machine with an extraordinary performance, winch I understand has been nicknamed the "Camel." When I asked certain officers why it was called the Camel, they said it was because it gave the official designers the hump. That just about explains the position of the official designers. Nothing breaks their hearts so much as to hear that a private designer has brought out a machine that will beat their effort. This sort of thing has got to stop. At the present moment it is the policy of the Royal Flying Corps to take over all the land machines from the Navy. The 1349 Navy are placing large orders for land machines, or they were until quite recently. When these machines are delivered, after a great deal of exchange of papers and documents, they will be assigned to the Royal Flying Corps. Before those orders were placed there were certain officials—I shall be quite willing to hand their names to any hon. Member on the Front Bench—whose duty it is to work out, by the most elaborate procedure, the stresses and strains of those machines. They can work out slide calculations and go into the differential calculus and aero-dynamics. They are most mysterious people; you could hardly understand them at all. The naval representative says, "We shall pass this design. This machine shall be permitted." After those machines are ordered, it is discovered that the duty of the Navy is essentially on the sea, and that machines should be built to help the Navy, as distinct from devilling for the Army, and so it is decided that these two or three hundred machines must be immediately taken over by the Royal Flying Corps. Then military experts in the Royal Flying Corps are called in and told that these 300 machines are going to be drafted across to them. They ask for the drawings and calculations and work out their own calculations, and they say, "We cannot have this or that; it is not efficient." They have a different scale of standardisation, and what will suit the Navy will not suit them. But these two or three hundred machines have to be handed over to the Army, and they go to the Army. And then what happens? The Army will not have them, the engines are taken out of them, and they are burned. I should not be at all in favour of voting £18,000,000 more to do that with. I think it is a very serious question how that money is spent—
§ Mr. BILLING
I am very glad that that question has been put. Of course, they both use the same type of sliding rule, they both arrive at their calculations in the same way, but one expert may say that he is in favour of getting his strength by putting in a deeper spar and another man may want to put in a shallower spar 1350 and gain his strength by putting in struts. They will differ considerably in details. They may both be working on the same principles, but the details of design are quite different, because one technical man may gamble on steel tube struts and the next technical man may gamble on another kind, and for certain purposes another says that string line-wire is the best. The result is that when one expert gets on to the work of another he immediately scraps it, principally because he has always stood for string line-wire, and how could he consent to these machines which have not got it being taken over? That is the point I am trying to get at. We should have one technical department concerned only and absolutely with aero-motor planes. If the Royal Naval Air Service is to be of the slightest use to the Royal Navy it should be in a position to serve the Grand Fleet, and to supply it with eyes. What do we find? Scarcely 20 per cent. of the entire Royal Naval Air Service is on active service at all, one-half being engaged on aeroplane carriers, and the other in connection with the Royal Flying Corps. I do not want to say anything which would be of use to the enemy, but if we want our Grand Fleet to operate when called upon it should not be unnecessarily handicapped by anything which the intelligence and foresight of the Admiralty could prevent. I do ask the Royal Naval Air Service to stop devilling for the Army in France., to stop squandering thousands or milions of pounds in building land machines which are transferred to the Army, to stop experimental work on land, and to develop all the strength and ability they possess, so that they may be of some use to the Grand Fleet, for that is the reason why the Royal Naval Air Service was called into being. If they would conduct experiments on the production of seaplanes, or small machines, capable of alighting upon ships, then they should really receive some encouragement. But it is not so.
When I was in the service we were told that it was possible to construct a small aeroplane which could land on wires between the masts. We actually conducted an experiment with an old-fashioned machine, and when it was ascertained that the experiment was a success everybody concerned received congratulations: but nothing further was done. I remember when we used to submit designs and suggestions time after time to the First Lord and the other Lords of the 1351 Admiralty for carrying out experiments—it would have been money well spent—and we endeavoured, some of us, to work on those experiments, but we were simply told that the Department had to get on with the work which they had in hand. The majority of the men in the service are quite willing to get on with the work, but I would point out that for two years the Air Service was stagnant and doing nothing. What is happening now? The Royal Flying Corps, when there was a likelihood of amalgamation, in theory if not in practice, immediately promoted all its officers, making generals out of lieutenants. I think there was one case of a man who, in about ten months, was promoted from captain to general. I am a believer in quick promotion, but there have been officers in the Royal Flying Corps who have received promotion from the rank of lieutenant to that of general, while men in the Navy, with much longer experience in the Naval Air Service, have not been promoted at all, on account of the custom which obtains in the Navy. A man has to be so many years a second lieutenant before he can be a full lieutenant, and so on. This amalgamation takes place, and men who were captains in the Army, with no experience of aeroplanes at all a few years ago, have joined the Air Service, and have reached the rank of general in the Military Wing. Men who were in the Navy years before the outbreak of the War and who have great experience in the work of the Naval Air Service, have not been promoted in the same way as men in the Royal Flying Corps, and some of these men in the Naval Service have only reached to the rank of what are known as "two-and-a-half stripers," after all the work they have done in the early stages of the Air Service. A member of the Royal Naval Air Service, in such circumstances as these, does not like to meet a member of the Royal Flying Corps, who is distinctly junior to himself, who has no adequate experience compared with his and who had undergone few or none of the risks of experimenting like the men of the Naval Air Service, with aeroplanes, risking life again and again. I say a man in that position does not like to meet a member of the land Air Service who is his superior in rank, though not possessing anything like his experience. Owing to intrigue, such a man is left high and dry, with two-and-a-half stripes, while the other is made a general.
1352 I often have said, and I repeat it, that you might as well try to mix oil and water as mix the Army and Navy men under one scheme. I do not think any better step could be taken than to give the Admiralty its own Air Service, distinguishing naval lieutenants with the letter "F," as disignating flying officers in the Royal Naval Air Service. This would tend to defeat the friction and intrigue which is at present aroused by the difference which has been introduced in connection with the promotion of officers in the Royal Flying Corps, submarine officers, and general service officers. If the suggestions which I make were carried into effect we should at least clear the air of intrigue. I do not know that I should use the word "intrigue," for it seems a somewhat unfortunate word to employ—it is an unpleasant one—but the fact is that not only do I know that intrigue does exist, but my knowledge leads me to excuse it and to quite understand why it takes place. It is this, that all the chiefs are asking for it, and it is right they should have it. If it is desired that the Naval Air Service should be better handled, it should be put back into the hands of the Admiralty, and it should stop there. Serious steps could then be taken to remove the outward and visible signs and the inward signs of dissension, and with such an arrangement our Air Force would be something like a real service, freed from the faction which exists at the present time. Everybody considered that, once we had Lord Cow-dray, everything would go well. I do not know that Lord Cowdray had ever studied an aeroplane in his life; I doubt whether he ever discussed it, and I doubt whether he ever went up in one, and I believe the duties got beyond his strength. If I were totally ignorant of a subject I should seek those men who did understand it, and Lord Cowdray is surrounded by a multitude of councillors, nearly all more or less able, but all with little peculiarities, characteristics, hobbies, and methods which they would like to use in the administration of the Department. Where a man is giving advice he sometimes goes a little further than if he were acting in his own behalf, because he says to himself that if his advice turns out to be a success he gets the credit of it, but if it is a failure he does not suffer. For myself, I cannot imagine anything more likely to cause us not only to lose but never to regain our supremacy in the air, 1353 either in France or elsewhere, or to provide our Navy with adequate eyes, so long as the present contention goes on in the Hotel Cecil.
I would suggest that some consideration should immediately be given by the Government to the formation of an air policy. We have no policy at present—no more an air policy than we have a general policy in the Government. Surely the Government must understand how exceedingly difficult it is to run this country with Government Departments warring against each other—one Department ignorant of what the other is doing till it sees something in the daily Press, and finds that the Secretary of State for War has done something entirely opposite to what had been done for the Grand Fleet. It would be much better if we had a director of the Air Services who would find out what policy should be adopted, and conduct it so that we might no longer suffer the inconvenience of indecision and of the warring opinion of twenty Departments. My experience of the conduct of Departmental business is that no matter how you may run it, if there is a dissatisfied man somewhere he will be a block. Time after time in the Admiralty I have seen papers thrown into the basket because some officer did not like the person concerned. No notice would be taken of the papers, till eventually they are sent to another Department, and they go round the Admiralty and come back to him. Then he sends them to some other Department, and they go round the Admiralty again. I know cases of documents which have travelled round the Admiralty for weeks and months simply to hold them up or perhaps simply because the representative of some firm has offended some little jack-in-office—perhaps had been short with him, or not paid him that due deference to which he thought he was entitled. So the firm's papers are shoved aside, or held up, or go wandering round the Admiralty, and the production of a hundred aeroplanes may be stopped that some small official may be gratified. That sort of thing does not happen if you have got good feeling through the Services; but the Army are always jealous of the Navy and the Navy of the Army, and they will always be so, I suppose. It is a fine thing it should be so, but let us take advantage of that spirit of rivalry between the Services and create another service which in its turn, if you like, may 1354 be jealous of both, so that we will have some more rivalry. I think the time has come when we must recognise that the air is one element so far as an offensive or defensive question is concerned. The French have had to recognise it, and have held a Secret Session, and their Minister of War has resigned. I would appeal to this House to go into Secret Session. There are quite a number of questions which it is exceedingly difficult to raise in open Debate. I know that Members feel that when there is no Press Gallery reporting them it is not worth their while talking. I think that rather a pity, since there are points affecting the numbers of machines which we employ, the training of the men and where and how they are trained, the enormous losses which we are actually sustaining, and matters of that kind, which would be better discussed in a Secret Session. If not a Secret Session, then a Committee of Members might be appointed. It is only a year ago since, in my maiden speech, I think, I suggested that a Committee of Members of this House should be appointed, by the House and not by officials who are endeavouring to cover their tracks, to inquire very closely into and to represent, if necessary, the Air Service in this House. I would ask that some such thing should be done. I am perfectly confident if twelve months ago we had taken this question seriously and had scraped all the rubbish —and here I would call the attention of the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty to the various aeronautical abortions costing millions— if, I say, ten or fifteen hardheaded men in this House, whether they understood aviation or not, simply went into the matter, I think something would have been done.
I should like to sec a profit and loss account of what has actually been accomplished and what has been spent by the Royal Naval Air Service. I think we should find that every 100 they had killed cost £20,000 or £30,000, or more. They are wasting their time at present and are operating over land which they were never intended to operate over. Only last week I found there was a captain in the Royal Flying Corps, a first-class man in the merchant service and a skipper who thoroughly uiderstands the sea. While in the Royal Naval Air Service you find people who would get sick if they had to row over to the aeroplane and who have never been to sea and know nothing about it. The whole thing is that you have got 1355 this festering sore of intrigue, and men know that if they only keep on the right side of the man who is pulling the strings they will be all right if things go well. We do not want that. We want a director of air. I suggest to the Front Bench that they have got twenty men to choose from —first-class, experienced soldiers and sailors, not necessarily generals or admirals. I think this is a war of the younger idea. I think that it is time that a great many of the more or less aged gentlemen who are conducting this War on our behalf were pensioned off. I never heard of very, very old generals or very, very old admirals making very much headway in the problems of a long and exhausting war which this is.
I would recommend the Front Bench to take some trouble to inquire as to the material they have in the way of personnel. We have the finest material in personnel in the world in this country. Our pilots are perfectly priceless both in the Army and the Navy. They are willing to go anywhere and do anything. In the Navy they are lose and bewildered with no policy, or what little of policy there is is changed from day to day. Directly there is any change of grade or command the entire policy of the Department changes. If we had a man at the head of affairs who laid down a strict concrete policy as to the building of so many machines for such and such purposes to do particular things there would be no time for intrigue or for all the various experts to be quarreling with one another. If this question had been taken seriously at the outbreak of war the War would have been over by now, and if it had been taken seriously when I first came to this House twelve months ago the War would be nearly over to-day. If instead of fooling like we have we had laid down 20,000 aeroplanes twelve months ago, we should be getting deliveries now in such quantities which would enable us to initiate such an offensive against the Germans that we would have struck terror in their hearts We have not experienced any decent daylight raids here yet. I know it is a brave thing to go up aloft, and we know how our people have behaved in connection with the raids; and I can assure you that the morale of the German civilians is not as high as ours. If hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench care to come and look over a map, I will point out parts of Bavaria on 1356 which a little bit of healthy bomb-dropping on some of their towns would do more to bring this War to an end than dropping as many thousands of tons of munitions on the Western front. I am perfectly confident, if we want to humble the German nation, the air is the weapon to employ. I am confident that 12,000 aeroplanes with men could have been secured in twelve months.
There are only three types of aeroplanes. There is the observing aeroplane for gun spotting and general observation, and those are wanted in very small quantities. They can be improved from time to time. There is the chaser machine, in which it is absolutely necessary to improve and produce new types. You can never go to work too fast on the production of fighting aeroplanes. Then there is the bomb-dropper, which could be standardised for the next two years. We have got a bomb-dropper to-day which can operate at from 15,000 to 18,000 feet, and can fly with a 500lb. bomb about 400 miles at a speed of about 88 miles per hour. That speed can be increased if you lower the altitude, which you can do if the bomb-dropper is properly guarded by chasers to protect it. That type of machine would be quite good enough for bomb-dropping expeditions in six months or twelve months or eighteen months' time. Why cannot we build a thousand or two of them, and before we build them, why can we not sit down and make some definite plan of war? At the present time a firm goes knocking to the Admiralty or the War Office or the Hotel Cecil for orders, and in order to put them off someone gives them an order, and when they have got the machines they have no idea what to do with them. They do not know whether to keep them or make a big paper army. Take the question of these Sopwith biplanes. which was putting up the most wonderful record of any machine. They were sent down to be tested in April, and May, June, July, August, September, and October passed before they were tested, athough the testing is a job that could have been carried out in thirty-six hours. They ought to have had 200 of those machines at once; and before they were ordered those people who are responsible for our policy, whatever it is—if there is such a thing—as to the conduct of this war in the air ought to have been told that "here we have a machine capable of doing this, that, or the other, and how can we employ 200 of 1357 them, and can we by them bring this War one day nearer to an end by bombing this place or that, or by carrying out some great offensive stroke" Then, if the War Office or the authorities were satisfied that something could be done, those machines could have been ordered and delivered and a new type employed in six months. Some time in October that order is placed, and two paper squadrons are ready in the Royal Flying Corps. If you went down to the Hotel Cecil now you would find those two paper squadrons there, if they have not washed them out, with their officers, their C.O.'s, their men, their aeroplanes, and everything else. The whole elaborate procedure is gone on with, and if you ask why those squadrons do not turn out and where are the machines, they have to admit that most of them are not built or delivered. In April, 1916, that machine of which I have spoken was perfect and ready for the air, and here in April, 1917, practically twelve months afterwards, I defy the War Office to say that there is one in their concern or one delivered. If they ordered these vast quantities, why are they not ready? If they did not order them, why did they not order them? I only heard two days ago that the whole order had been washed out because the firm had brought out a machine just a little better. That is quite understandable, but why do not we work on some system? If we standardised that type of machines for six months, at the end of that time we could review the position, and if someone had brought out in that period a machine the performance of which was so much better as to justify us in the loss of production which a change of type must always cause, then we should do it.
In 1914 I suggested to the Admiralty that we should use some form of standardisation for the production of machines, yet even at the present time, if you go round the factories of this country, you will find highly-skilled bench hands filing away at one or two fittings with an old cross-cut file, whereas if the thing was properly handled in Birmingham they could stamp the fittings out by millions a day, yet each little firm has its own little file and metal plant up and down the country. I shall never stop pleading on every occasion that presents itself, pleading the cause of standardisation of type and the employment of some definite offensive policy, of a constructive pro- 1358 gramme, and the creation of a single Air Service for carrying it out. If any member of the Air Board can satisfy this House that all is well in the Hotel Cecil I shall be very much surprised. I know quite well that, if anything, it is totally the reverse, and what is one to do? What can one do? If I as an Englishman know these facts to be so and know that we are squandering millions of money and throwing away thousands of lives, when I know that my own friends are being shot down in flames over our own lines day after day, with a casualty list, even on the admission of the Front Bench, of 20 per cent. of our total efficiency in one week, which means the wiping out of an Air Service in five weeks—when you know all that to be true, I ask what can a single Member of this House do if the other Members will not give the matter the very serious attention that it deserves?
I call upon the Government to initiate now a strong air offensive, and not only on the Western Front. If the Government have any political or religious scruples about employing the same methods of warfare as are being used against us, I wish they would say so. Personally, I consider that the dropping of bombs on munition works and towns and houses which house munition workers is a legitimate act of war, and if by employing those means we can bring this War to an end even a week earlier, I think it is a cruel act of us not to employ them. I think that any offensive in the air which can be carried out over the enemy's country will have a very excellent effect. We were told by our morning papers that the German nation were getting demoralised and that they were rioting, and, in fact, that all was nearly over but the shouting, but if we had enough aeroplanes to send over 5,000 to-morrow I think there would be nothing to do but the shouting. But, quite apart from whether they are demoralised or not, I contend that they would very soon become demoralised if such an offensive took place. I ask this House to give this matter their serious consideration, and not to dismiss it in relief when I sit down. I put down a question in this House in regard to Haig's requirements for the Air Service, and they had to admit that the requirements that Field-Marshal Haig made have not been fulfilled. The General Staff made certain demands some months ago for certain aeroplanes to fulfil certain duties—
§ Sir G. BARING
On a point of Order, Sir. On a very important Debate of this kind, when the time is severely limited, is there any means of limiting the speech of the hon. Member?
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member has spoken for an hour and five minutes, but I do not know that it is in the hands of the Chair to put limits to a speech without the passing of a Standing Order.
§ Mr. BILLING
I will not detain the House very much longer, and it is not very often that I do detain them. If the Commander-in-Chief in France makes certain demands for certain munitions of war and they are not forthcoming, someone is responsible, and I want to know who that man is. The man who is responsible for not producing has got to bring forth some excuse, and if his only excuse is that there is so much intrigue and trouble in the service that he cannot produce the stuff that the General Staff want, then that man has got to go. I will ask the Financial Secretary to the War Office whether it is not necessary at this stage in the War to have a very careful, not public, but private, inquiry into the administration and command of General Sir David Henderson, and whether if the facts are as I state—and I shall be very glad to render any assistance I can to see that justice is done—he would believe that he would be serving his country well in finding another sphere for his activities.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of SHIPPING CONTROL (Sir Leo Chiozza Money)
I hope my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Lanark (Mr. Pringle) will accept my apology for my absence from the House when he spoke just now. The reason for my absence he will readily understand. We are engaged, as he knows, in very important and anxious work. As a matter of fact I returned to the Ministry of Shipping to continue some work of a pressing character, and thus I had the misfortune to miss the hon. Member's speech, but I have posted myself, I hope accurately, in the points which he raised. He dealt with one point of very great importance, namely, the status of the ships that we are either building or buying to replace the losses which we are suffering from the enemy attacks. That point is of very great importance, and it can be easily disposed of. Whether we are building ships in United Kingdom yards or abroad, whether we are buying ships here or 1360 abroad, those ships are the property of His Majesty's Government, and they are run solely and entirely in the interests of the nation. That is the answer to the question of my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
Will he say how they are managed and what is the basis of remuneration of those who manage them?
§ Sir L. CHIOZZA MONEY
We employ the ordinary agents of the trade, and my hon. Friend can rest assured that the basis of remuneration, which he will forgive me for not stating now, is such as to. ensure that the ships are really in the true sense of the word run for our benefit. I am not fencing with this question, and I say that the profits of running these ships will accrue to the nation and not to any private individual. I say that without qualification of any kind.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
The only reason why I asked for the exact terms is that when these companies come to make up their balance-sheets these terms will be stated there, so why cannot we have them stated here?
§ Sir L. CHIOZZA MONEY
I do not think this is the occasion to enter into minute details of that kind. I ask my hon. Friend to rest assured that the arrangement made is a good business arrangement from the national point of view and that it secures to the nation the real profits of running these ships.
§ Sir L. CHIOZZA MONEY
No, Sir, in matters of the sea we do not wait. With regard to the commercial terms, if I have notice of a question, I shall be very pleased to state those terms, but for the moment I would ask my hon. Friends to rest assured that the arrangement is one entirely favourable to the national interests.
§ Sir L. CHIOZZA MONEY
Now I will pass to the question of standardisation. The whole policy of building standard ships has, I am aware, been called in question in some quarters, and the suggestion has been made that it might be advisable instead of carrying out programmes of standard ship construction 1361 simply to allow shipbuilders to repeat types of ships which they have been accustomed to build, and it has been suggested that that would give a more satisfactory-result than the arrangement which we have actually adopted. As a matter of fact, we are legislating, not for a few months, but for a considerable period, as I think the Committee will agree it is our business to do. The programme that we have laid down is, therefore, a very big one, and the very size of the programme enables us to carry out details of standardisation and to make economies, therefore, which would not be possible if existing types of ships were repeated by the builders who were accustomed to build them.
Standardisation, of course, goes far beyond the shipyard. It goes back, for example, to the rolling mill. To produce a large quantity of standard material for our building in the shipyards in our endeavour to carry out a programme of the size we seek to attain is a matter of very considerable importance. There are other objections merely to repeating types. The Committee will realise that what we want at this moment are what are called "tramp steamers," which serve for general purposes. We want, however, something more than the ordinary tramp steamer of the past, which has been constructed for general purposes. It is very important that the speed of our tramp steamers should exceed the underwater speed of the submarine. That point is of very great importance. A submarine has two speeds. It has a great speed on the surface, when it uses guns, and a much lower speed under water, when it is only able to use one of its weapons, and that the torpedo. Therefore the tramp steamers that we are constructiong ought to have a greater speed than the submarine has when submerged, for then it is very much less susceptible to attack by the submarine than would otherwise be the case. If we simply pursued a policy of repeating types, we should get in regard to the ships that we are building, according to previous types whose speed was 9 or 10 knots per hour, an insufficient speed. If the type to which the builder is accustomed is what is called the cargo liner, with a speed of 12 or 13 knots, it will take a very much longer time to construct, and would be much more expensive than the ships we are now building. Therefore there is again an advantage in regard to 1362 our plan. I think the Committee will see that on these grounds there is a great deal to be said for the policy of standard shipbuilding which we have adopted.
There is one other point to which I wish to refer on this occasion, because it is one which has been somewhat misunderstood. My right hon. Friend opposite, speaking the other day in connection with the restriction of imports, said that for the Army, Navy, and similar purposes, as much as 63 per cent. of our shipping was engaged. I want to clear up that misconception. As a matter of fact, I am glad to say that the proportion is less than 63 per cent. If you take the whole of the merchant shipping—I confine my remarks to steamships—on the United Kingdom and Colonial registers of 1,600 gross tons and upwards, including all the ships that are at present serving abroad, but excluding such of those ships as cannot be brought here, as, for example, ships on the Great Lakes which cannot be got at, it is broadly true to say that about half of them, not 63 per cent., are mortgaged either for the Army, the Navy, the use of our Allies, or' of our Colonies in connection with the War. So that one may say that it is broadly true that for direct war purposes one-half of the ocean-going steamships of the British Empire being used.
§ Sir L. CHIOZZA MONEY
It arose in this way: Lord Curzon, in another place, referred to the fact that 75 per cent. of our shipping had been used or requisitioned, whilst I, in this House, replying without preparation to my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Lanark, and dealing with a somewhat rather complicated series of figures, and speaking from memory, told him that 12 per cent. was used for the carriage of wheat, oil, sugar, and certain other things. Then some other hon. Member deducted the 12 per cent. from 75 per cent., made it 63 per cent., and assumed that it covered the ease. As a matter of fact, if anyone looks at the report of my speech, they will see that I named these things by way of example. I repeat that it is broadly true that one-half of our ocean-going steamships are utilised for the purposes of the Army and Navy, our Allies, and the Colonics. The House has always expressed anxiety 1363 that the ships which are thus taken out of what I may call the civil services of the United Kingdom should be used properly.
§ Sir L. CHIOZZA MONEY
On a previous occasion I gave a general assurance that this point was having the most careful attention. I am glad now to be able to inform the Committee that the matter has been specially entrusted to the care of my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Holt), who has undertaken to survey the subject in detail, and, as it were, to overhaul the use that is made of the shipping devoted to the purpose of the Army and the Navy. I hope that from this action economies may proceed. However, I warn the Committee that of the 50 per cent. of which I have spoken as being devoted to these purposes, that one-half—or perhaps I should say 26 per cent.—of our ocean-going steamships are devoted to the British Army and the Navy, so that it is out of that 26 per cent., not out of 75 per cent. or 63 per cent., that economies in that particular direction are possible. The House will not, I hope, expect too much in this connection. I hope, on the other hand, I may promise that no effort will be spared to see that everyone of these ships is properly used.
Mr. McKINNON WOOD
Do we understand that for war purposes, naval and military, the 75 per cent. mentioned in another place is now to be reduced in our minds to 26 per cent., and that the difference is the 50 per cent. of which my hon. Friend spoke, and is used for commercial purposes of one sort or another?
§ Sir L. CHIOZZA MONEY
No, I am afraid from the question of my right hon. Friend that I have not clearly explained myself. I spoke of 50 per cent. being used for our Army and Navy, our Allies and our Colonies. The latter two categories are war purposes. The ships that are devoted to our Colonies are just as truly, from our point of view, for the purposes of the War, as if they were actually employed by the Army and Navy. For our own Army and Navy the percentage is about 26.
Mr. McKINNON WOOD
I am sorry to interrupt, but I should like this matter cleared up. Will the hon. Gentleman explain for what the Colonies use ships? Is it not for commercial purposes? Does it not include bringing wheat from Australia, and sugar from our Colonies?
§ Sir L. CHIOZZA MONEY
These particular vessels transport troops from Australia, and also in some cases are used for commercial purposes. It is only fair to say also that some part of the broad 50 per cent. of which I spoke on some occasions does bring imports to the United Kingdom. The Committee, however, will be aware that it is most difficult at a time like this to say whether a ship is or is not devoted to the purposes of the War, because in the remaining 50 per cent. you have ships bringing in munitions, and taking timber to France, or something of that kind is taking place, and these, therefore, are in some cases as much devoted to war purposes as if they were transporting troops.
§ Sir L. CHIOZZA MONEY
I am coming to that. Our object in the use of shipping is this: My right hon. Friend the Shipping Controller is endeavouring to make the best use of every ship we have got. I want the Committee to understand what that means. It does not mean the best use of each ship from an economy point of view. War is waste. The best use of a ship at such a time often means that you have got to take a ship out of employment which would be the best employment in time of peace and turn it into employment which you would never dream of in time of peace. In other words, what is really from the peace point of view a wasteful use of a ship becomes in time of war, perhaps, a course to which you are driven by necessity. That has made it necessary for us to turn our attention not only to what are called tramp steamers, but to the great cargo lines. We have had to divert ships from their normal peace routes into quite other routes in order to meet the exigencies of this particular time. That has led, and is leading rapidly—here I give an answer to the question of my hon. Friend behind me—to the requisitioning of the whole of the British mercantile marine. It may interest the Committee to know that when we began work at the Ministry of Shipping about one half of our ocean tonnage was requisitioned either at Blue Book rates for the whole ship, or for a certain amount of space in the case of cargo liners at rates approximating to the Blue Book rates. Taking the whole requisitioning when the Ministry of Shipping began its work it was about one half of 1365 our ocean-going steam tonnage and it was requisitioned at Blue Book rates. I cannot at the present moment give the exact proportion that is requisitioned. It is in process of transition from day to day, but we are rapidly extending the sphere of requisitioning over the whole of the steamships in our possession.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
My hon. Friend has just said that at the time that he joined his present office 50 per cent. of the vessels were requisitioned at Blue Book rates. Since the Shipping Controller took control have the additional ships which have been requisitioned and continuously added to the fleet been requisitioned on the same terms?
§ Sir L. CHIOZZA MONEY
Yes, they are requisitioned at those arbitration rates which are commonly called Blue Book rates, and that, of course, is all subject to the measures of nationalisation on railway terms, or what, in the nature of the case, approximates to them, although, of course, the details in cases are very different; but that is the basis.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
Are we to understand that those which have been requisitioned since have to look to additional payment on the same basis as the railways?
§ Sir L. CHIOZZA MONEY
I am sorry I cannot submit to further examination of details which are now being worked out, and my hon. Friend will see that it is quite impossible for me to give the detailed answer for which he asks. I can only assure him that the principle is now being worked out in detail.
§ Sir L. CHIOZZA MONEY
So far as that is concerned, I imagine that there are very few such contracts relatively, and that they can be dealt with in a perfectly equitable way. I do not know whether there is any other point raised in my hon. Friend's speech with which I have not dealt. I have the misfortune of answering a speech I did not hear.
§ Sir L. CHIOZZA MONEY
I want to say one word, if I may, in conclusion on the gravity of the situation. At Question Time to-day I noticed one or two of my hon. Friends raised questions which were designed, as it seemed to me, towards the relaxation of the scheme of restriction of imports which was outlined to the House recently by the Prime Minister. Now on that I venture to make an appeal to the House, because I am disclosing no secret when I say that it was owing to urgent representations made to the Ministry of Shipping that this great scheme of restriction of imports was brought about. Now it was not brought about lightly, and I want the Committee to believe that never was more anxious and careful consideration given than that given by the Committee which deliberated on this question of restriction. We had before us the various trade interests, and the consumption of the people of the United Kingdom, and we had to examine in detail this thing and that thing, always remembering that we were inflicting injury either on the comfort of individuals, or sometimes, unfortunately, upon the interests of great and important trades. Not one stroke of that work, I want the Committee to believe, was done lightly, and I mention the subject now for the reason that, so far from it being a question of possibility of relaxing that scheme of restrictions, it may be only too likely that it will have to be extended in the near future, and I beg hon. Members who are tempted to feel in connection with any trade that there may be relaxation, to remember that it is not a question of choosing the quantity of articles that we shall keep out. That is not the question at all. It is not a question of saying, "Here we have so many tons of imports, and therefore we will, from motives of economy, decide to cut down so many of those tons." That is not the real question, I beg the Committee to believe.
The question is this: that our shipping has diminished and is diminishing, and that therefore when we have made the best use, as we are endeavourng to make the best use of the ships we have, the quantity of imports that we can bring in this year, when we bring them with due regard to their sources in order to economise every ton of our shipping, will be considerably less than the quantity last year. Therefore, when the Government 1367 sets our a scheme of import restrictions, what it really does is this: It says to the nation: "If you want A, then you cannot have B. If you want this thing, then you cannot have that. You cannot have them both." What a scheme of import restrictions means in this connection is that you are, by keeping out some things, making it possible for essentials to come in. I say shipping is diminishing. What are we doing to meet that situation? We are mapping out for the future, not only for this year, but for next year; we are measuring the greatest possible loss we think can occur, and we are putting against that greatest possible estimate of loss, not year by year, but month by month, for every month this year and next, what we expect in reason to build, and what we can expect in reason to buy. By doing that we are able to forcecast approximately, what imports we can expect to bring in month by month as a minimum in the future. Making that estimate we can then look the facts in the face and arrange our national affairs accordingly. That seems to me the only sane policy to pursue in this particular matter, and I have every confidence that, dealing with the matter in that way, we can so order our affairs as to defeat the purposes of the enemy in this particular matter.
§ Mr. G. LAMBERT
My hon. Friend has made a lucid and an interesting speech, and I must say he has been extremely successful in answering a speech he did not hear. I admire his rhetorical agility in being able to accomplish such a feat. He talked about restriction of imports. Would he mind telling the Committee whether the list of imports which the Prime Minister proposed to prohibit coming into this country is being adhered to?
§ Sir L. CHIOZZA MONEY
I can answer my right hon. Friend by saying this: that, apart from a few details of not very great importance, it is being adhered to. But as he has asked me this. I should like to pay a tribute of gratitude to the French Government for the extraordinarily sympathetic way in which they received our unfortunate necessity to restrict, imports in which they are interested. We have made some concessions here and there, but the whole sum of those concessions, I can say quite clearly, is not sufficient to affect substantially the scheme that was outlined by the Prime Minister.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
I am glad my hon. Friend has replied at once, and I wish to say that I do not desire to press him for any information he does not wish to give. Of course, if he can give information about these important subjects, it would be of intense interest to the country. Might I ask him this: Will the changes be published in the Press? Shall we know in what particulars the Prime Minister's list of prohibited imports is being departed from?
§ Sir L. CHIOZZA MONEY
It is exceedingly difficult to reply to such a question as that at once, but at the first blush I would give him the answer that I see no reason why we should not.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
I will not press my hon. Friend at all. Of course he would realise that such information would be of enormous interest to the country at large, and as my right hon. Friend beside me says, to the trades concerned, because those trades will bear the sacrifices, I am perfectly certain, with almost cheerfulness, though they would like to know at the earliest moment if any changes are to be made in the system of prohibited imports. My hon. Friend has also told us a good deal of what is going to be done in the future with regard to the building of merchant ships. He did not tell us—I do not know whether he could—how much tonnage has been launched since the Shipping Controller has taken charge of the shipbuilding capacity of the country. May I put another question? Is the Shipping Controller at the present moment handicapped in the turning out of these standardised ships by lack of labour? Has he applied to the military authorities for the release of labour and been refused? That is a very pertinent question, and if we could have had an answer to that I should have been much obliged. I saw the other day in a report, I think of the annual meeting of the Chamber of Commerce in London, that there was a very great complaint that the Army would not release men who were absolutely essential for the building of merchant ships. Of course if that be so, it is very serious indeed. There is another point which I hope my hon. Friend will answer. He talked about turning out standardised ships. My information is that there was a yard in the North of England that was turning out standardised ships of something like 7,000 or 8,000 tons, and they built them one after another. In order to meet the desire 1369 of the Shipping Controller, or somebody, that yard had to be turned upside down and turn out ships of different tonnage. That does not seem to me to be a very wise and economic way of utilising the resources of the yard.
§ Sir L. CHIOZZA MONEY
I am very glad my right hon. Friend mentioned that. He is repeating criticism which has been made outside. If what he said is true, standardisation is not an economic process. He says that he knows a yard in the North of England which has been accustomed to build ships of a certain size. Now he says we desire that yard to build ships which, of course, are our standard ships. What is true of that yard is true of a number of other yards, and if all those yards are to go on building the ships they were accustomed to build before we should get ships of a different type, and they would take longer to construct than our ships, consequently you would lose the great advantage to be derived from building standard ships.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
On that point, of course, I accept the authority of my right hon. Friend, but it does seem to me a little curious that you should alter the whole of the arrangements in many of the yards of the country, and if they have to turn their slips upside down you may lose all you gain. I wish to turn now to the public danger of our losses of commercial ships by submarines. May I suggest that the publication of our losses in its present form does not give a fair idea of the losses by-submarines? I do not want to press the Admiralty to publish anything that they do not wish to publish, and if they wish to keep silence by all means let them keep silence, but if we are promised full and frank publication I hope that some alteration in the form of the publication of these losses will be made. Of course the losses are added together of ships of 1,600 tons and over, and ships under 1,600 tons. On 25th February fifteen ships were lost of 1,600 tons or over for that week, and six under 1,600 tons, making a total of twenty-one ships. The figures for the same week show that the total of ships arriving is 2,280, and that would show that about one-hundredth part of our shipping had been destroyed by German submarines during that week. Surely that is not giving the position quite fairly. If you take the three weeks during which the lists have been published you will find 1370 that forty-two ships over 1,600 tons have been lost, and nineteen under 1,600 tons. Altogether, if you take account of all the ships coming in, you will find it is about 6,000 that arrived in the United Kingdom during that time, and out of that number forty-two ships have been lost. But if those forty-two ships were of 2,000 tons each, that would mean 8,400 tons of shipping lost, and if they were 6,000 tons that would mean 250,000 tons of shipping lost, and that is a very different thing. I ask that the Admiralty might give us, instead of giving the ships over 1,600 tons, the exact amount of tonnage which has been sunk, for that would give more information to the Committee and to the country.
With regard to the ships coming into the country for the week ending 4th March, the number was 2,528, and for 11th March, which were published this morning, the total was 1,985, so that if you take these two weeks, the number of ships arriving in the United Kingdom was less last week by 543 than it was a week before. Does that mean that neutral ships have been frightened away by the submarine menance? Of course, if it is not convenient to answer, well and good; but there is a very great difference indeed when in one week you have 2,528 ships coming in, and the next week only 1,985, which is some 20 per cent. less. I do not know if there is any explanation of this, but if there is, and it can be published, well and good; but if not, I do not press for it. With regard to the question of buying wheat in Australia, our purchases there give the Government control of an enormous amount, and I would like to know if it is possible to reduce the price of wheat in this country, which at present is 85s. per quarter, as this is inflicting a terrible hardship upon the poorest of our population. The price of bread is really compelling many people to do without the actual and bare necessities of life, and I would like to ask, is there any possibility of the Government selling wheat, or so placing wheat upon the market that the price to the consumer in this country might be reduced? I am speaking somewhat against the interests of the agricultural community, but I have always advocated that the prices of agricultural produce should not be forced up to the prohibitive level at which they stand to-day. I would like to ask what price did the Government pay for wheat in Australia, and what does it cost to bring it over 1371 here? Are they making a large profit upon it? I put these questions with some diffidence, and if they can be answered I shall be very glad.
There is another matter to which I am sorry to say I have very frequently referred in this House, and that is the recruitment of agricultural labourers for the Army. The course that is being pursued by the War Office to-day in recruiting agricultural labourers shows an amazing ignorance of agricultural conditions. We have been favoured with a great amount of talk on this subject, but I desire to tell the House and to impress upon the War Office that whilst you are asking our people to increase the production of the food of the country you are actually taking away the very men engaged in that production. I know of cases where within the last two or three days men actually engaged in ploughing the land have been taken for the Army, and have been drafted to a military centre. When we hear of all the schemes about putting the people on the land, if you really want to increase food production of the country, for Heaven's sake keep the men there who are already doing that work! I had a number of letters this morning, and I will give just one instance not from my own Constituency but from Oxfordshire. A farmer writes to me as follows:Carters are being taken" wholesale. Take my own case. It is a farm of 180 acres, 70 arable. I have only one carter and two horses. They took this man on Monday the 12th. The horses are idle, and there is no one to work them.That is a very serious state of things, not only for the farmer, but for the country. This farmer goes on to say:I have another farm, 70 acres arable, five horses one man and one boy. The man has received his papers this week, and if the military take him it leaves me with five cart horses and one boy to work them.I am sure the Financial Secretary must see that under those circumstances it is quite impossible for these men to do justice to the land, and I put it to the War Office that in this matter they really are jeopardising the production of food. Another man, writing from Hounslow, says:I was cultivating a holding of 10 acres under the Middlesex County Council, and producing about 75 tons of vegetables per month. Now I have had to sell my horses and my van, and my implements are idle. My land will go out of cultivation and my crops are left. I am thirty-six, and I think in producing 2½ tons of vegetables daily to help to feed the Army and Navy I am more useful than as a fighting man.1372 I want to say to the War Office that you cannot have these men in the Army and have them cultivating the land as well. There is another matter which bears upon this subject, and that is the recruiting of farm labourers and farm men for the National Service scheme. I was present at a meeting last Friday in North Devon for the National Service scheme, and a farmer asked me, "Am I supposed to enrol myself under the National Service scheme for employment? I am already engaged in cultivating the land." I understand that they have to enrol themselves under the National Service scheme to be drafted according to the discretion of the Director-General of National Service. Is this not a waste, because these men are already engaged in food production, and why do you want to enrol them, and cumber up Mr. Neville Chamberlain s books at St. Ermin's Hotel?
The same point was raised about the Admiralty, and I do not understand why my right hon. Friend should wish to draw the attention of the dockyard employés to the fact that they may enroll under the Government scheme. Surely you do not keep a man in the dockyard unless he is absolutely essential for the maintenance of the Navy. Why then do you want to cumber up your books, because all this work must employ a large number of officials with men who cannot by any possibility be brought in to do any work under the National Service scheme. Agriculturists are already engaged in the production of food, which is a vital industry, and the men engaged in the dockyards are also working upon the vital matter of repairing ships for the Fleet. I would suggest that some alteration might be made because it makes it very important when we are out in the country supporting the Director-General of National Service that we should be able to give logical answers to such questions. My right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty, with all his great experience in answering questions, did not quite convince us that the action he was taking was in the best interests of the country. I wish to suggest that in this matter of food production no more men should be taken from the land without the consent of the Board of Agriculture. You must give the Board of Agriculture more power. I hope the President of the Board of Agriculture and my hon. Friend who represents the Board of Agriculture understand that the House, and I believe the 1373 country, will support them in making a resolute stand. The President of the Board of Agriculture understands his business, and I cannot understand why the Government do not give him the same power of badging men for agricultural service as the Munitions Department have. Why not say to the military authorities, "You cannot have men unless the President of the Board of Agriculture will allow you." The President of the Board of Agriculture knows what are the requirements of the country. Really, when I see some of the productions that emanate from London I am very much amazed. This is a form sent out by the Food Production Department, in Victoria Street:The War Office is prepared to provide a certain number of men to assist in agricultural operations in England and Wales. These men, 12,500 in number, are intended for work for spring cultivation, and will be subject to recall on 15th April.Let anybody who really understands the actual conditions of farming in these very variable times ask themselves what is the good of asking a farmer to apply for men who are to be recalled on 15th April. Today is the 15th of March, and farmers may have their men for a whole month, but if it is wet weather the men will not be worth twopence to the farmers, and they will not be able to put in a single crop with them. You must have some kind of certainty in these matters. I do earnestly impress upon the Government that they are committing a grave blunder in thus reducing the food producing area in this country. When my hon. Friend talks about shipping, I would remind him that if the food were produced in this country it would not require ships to bring it from Australia and elsewhere. At the present time the country is drifting into a dangerous situation. Of course, we are very gratified indeed at the great British success in Mesopotamia, but I think to myself, "Supposing the inhabitants of Birmingham are hungry, it will not be very much consolation to them to know that we have taken Bagdad." I see that the military authorities are wandering around over all unexpected places, and it is quite possible that they may be attacking Jerusalem next. I suggest that our men are far better at home than on these wandering expeditions, and I put it to the Government, with all the earnestness with which I am capable, that they are drifting dangerously in the matter of taking labour from the land. I know it is a matter of nice adjustment, but if you want the food 1374 you must not take these men away. Of course, if the men are more useful in the-Army than they are on the land, then take them by all means. No one would hesitate. I am not here to advocate that farmers should make great profits far from it. Men must be used according to the interests of the country. But you cannot have men producing food upon the land, and it is utterly useless for all these appeals to be made from London to increase the production of the soil, when you are actually at this moment taking away men who are indispensable for these operations. You cannot do without ploughmen, and I have got hundreds of cases here where ploughmen are being taken away to-day. That is the appeal I make to the Government—that they leave more power to the President of the Board of Agriculture. The President of the Board of Agriculture summed up the situation in his first speech here when he said, "We are like a beleaguered city." I suggest that unless you take means to impress upon the-military authorities and the tribunals the-real and pressing necessity for food production you will have a great and a growing scarcity within the next few months in this country.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the WAR OFFICE (Mr. Forster)
My right hon. Friend who has just sat down has really almost represented to the House that the War Office is taking from agriculture men who ought to be left in agriculture. I think my right hon. Friend is aware what we have been doing recently. We have issued an Instruction that our military representatives are to consult with the agricultural representatives, and that only where there is agreement between the two is the case to be pressed before the tribunal for the man to be taken into the Army.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
Is that the case with regard to the men whom the tribunals did not exempt, say, last October?
§ Mr. DILLON
These men have passed the tribunals, and they were ordered to-be called up on 1st January. There are 30,000 of them.
§ Mr. FORSTER
As my hon. Friend' explained the other day, I do not know whether we are going beyond the number he mentioned, but we are instructing the military representatives to act in consultation with the agricultural representatives 1375 before the tribunals and not to press any case unless there is agreement between them.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
If my information is right, there were a large number of men who were refused exemption by the tribunals about last October. The War Office suddenly sent out an Order and said that no more men should be taken out of agriculture until 1st January. Now they are taking these men who are actually engaged in ploughing, and the matter is not coming before the tribunals at all. These are men whose cases were decided by the tribunals a long time ago before the food question became so serious.
§ Mr. FORSTER
I am bound to say that is not in accordance with such information as I have. I understand that we have given definite instructions, and that we are not calling up men of B1 and C1 categories.
§ Mr. FORSTER
No; we have given instructions that they are not to be called up. If my right hon. Friend brings to my notice cases where it is being done, of course I will have inquiries made.
§ Sir C. HOBHOUSE
I will give my right hon. Friend the case of a man who wrote me a letter only this morning. He was called up about the middle of January—the 8th or 10th—and he writes me that he and 1,187 others are in a works battalion, and during the two months that they have been called up they have not any single one of them been asked to do any sort or kind of work. That is a great expense to the country and an absolute waste of useful labour.
§ Mr. FORSTER
I do not think that touches the point that I made. The men have not been called up since the promise was made by the War Office that they should not be called up. As I understand, the right hon. Gentleman is referring to the cases of men called up some time ago. We have undertaken that we are not going to call up any more, and that is the point that I wish to make. With regard to category A men, I am bound to say that I do not think it is possible for the War Office to give any 1376 general undertaking that they are not to be called up. Men in different parts of the country have responded in different degrees to the call made upon them to come to the Colours. Some parts have denuded themselves in their spirit of loyalty; other parts have responded less generously, and I believe, in some cases, there are men in such numbers as to justify the taking of men in category A for service in the ranks. I do not think, therefore, it would be right or fitting or proper that we should give any general undertaking with regard to A men. But with regard to B 1 and C 1 men we have promised that they are not to be called up. My right hon. Friend, in his interjected remark a moment ago, referred to the number of men who are in labour battalions. We are, as part of the general hunt for skilled agriculturists, paying special attention to the ranks of the labour battalions. We became aware that there are ploughmen in the ranks of those battalions, and we are therefore making special search in them for men skilled in agriculture and we shall do our best to release them and get them back on to the land at the earliest possible moment.
§ Sir C. HOBHOUSE
Does the same thing apply to woodmen, who from the point of view of the coal mines, are really essential for the cutting of wood and supplying of timber?
§ Mr. FORSTER
I do not think I can at the moment go beyond the men who are actually needed for the production of food. I quite appreciate the importance of the point my right hon. Friend has raised, because I know how absolutely essential it is that we should secure more men for the felling of trees and the cutting of pit props and matters of that sort. I had rather hoped, however, that we might have been able to provide for that kind of work by way of substitution rather than by taking men out of the ranks of the Army. The matter certainly will not be overlooked. The main point of my right hon. Friend (Mr. Lambert) was that we were being too greedy in taking men from agriculture. I can assure him that we realise the importance of the agricultural problem just as fully as anybody else. After all, it is not merely a question of War Office action. The War Office, no doubt, presses its view before the tribunal. The agricultural community, through their representative, have the opportunity of pressing their view. After 1377 all, under our present law, it is for the tribunal to decide, and I am afraid that there I must leave it.
§ Mr. DILLON
The voice of the Financial Secretary is one entirely uncertain on this question, and that has been the case in the various Debates on the subject which have taken place during the last few weeks. It is no use for the Financial Secretary to get up and say that, so far as his information goes, the War Office are not taking further men from the plough and from the land. Every morning you take up a newspaper, you see letters from all parts of the country describing what is being done, and at the very hour when vehement and passionate appeals are being made to the people to till the land to the best advantage, the War Office is still taking essential men from the cultivation of the land, and is engineering, in fact, a famine. That is, I suggest, a, fair description of their operations. The hon. Gentleman the Financial Secretary, stated that they would not take the A 1 men. But these, I assume, are the very best men. Is it or is it not true that there is a desperate shortage of labour at this moment? Is it true, or is it not true, that there are literally hundreds of thousands of acres of arable land in this country that cannot be cultivated? Is it not a very grave danger that in this year of supreme necessity they should lie idle?
That, at any rate, is the impression I gain from the newspapers and from talk with people who are in correspondence with friends in the country, and I say, in view of that, it is monstrous that the War Office should carry on its operations for the sake of getting from ten to fifteen thousand men into the Army a few months earlier than they might otherwise be taken. Are they not thereby helping to produce a food scarcity? Can any rational man maintain that theirs is a justifiable and reasonable course of conduct? The hon. Gentleman says that the War Office, while engaged in the operation, are scouring the country and searching the ranks of the Home Army for ploughmen; yet at the same minute they are taking men away from the plough when they are actually working on the farm.
§ Mr. FORSTER
If I may, I would like to interrupt the hon. Gentleman. I was referring to a particular category—the A 1 1378 men. I cannot give any undertaking with regard to men who are working on the land who are included in that category.
§ Mr. DILLON
Does the hon. Gentleman say, in view of the condition of agriculture at this moment, that he is justified in taking any more men even those in the category of A1, who, I understand, are the pick of the labour of the country? What is the use of the Prime Minister writing letters appealing to the farmers to try and get their men to work day and night if that is to go on? Is a trained ploughman now engaged on the land not of more value to the country than he would be if he went in the Army and got the six weeks' earlier training? I say it is stark, staring lunacy to carry on such a policy.
§ Mr. FORSTER
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member again. These men are only taken where there is agreement between the military representative and the agriculture representative that they can be spared.
§ Mr. DILLON
But I am dealing with the eases of men who have already passed the tribunal. These are really important cases. They are men who have passed the tribunal and have been exempted until the 1st of January for the purposes of agriculture. Everybody who knows anything about agriculture is aware that they were exempted in order to do the autumn ploughing. But scarcely any autumn ploughing has been possible, and at a time when there is a great deal of spring ploughing to be done, when the demand for the services of these men for spring ploughing and spring cultivation —a matter of the greatest urgency—has increased tenfold the War Office, who release these men as essential men to the 1st of January, now comes forward and says that they must take them at once. Do the Government consider the appointment of the Controller of Agriculture a farce? I have come to the conclusion that most of, these new Departments are a farce. They overlap one another, they quarrel with each other, and they carry on most preposterous operations. At the time of the appointment of 1379 the Controller of Agriculture, we challenged the Government on the point of the extent of his powers.
That was in the agricultural Debate raised by the hon. Member for Liverpool. On that occasion the Controller for Agriculture came forward and said that if he got into a difference either with the Food Controller or with the Army he would go straight to the War Council. At that time he was quite self-confident. He was quite in fighting trim. He said he would go to the War Cabinet, and, inasmuch as he understood agriculture and was responsible for the production of food, he had no doubt that the War Cabinet would give a verdict in his favour. His plumes have been considerably bedraggled since that day. The right hon. Gentleman seldom appears here now, and when he does he seems a melancholy man. He has been turned down by the War Cabinet. He looks like a good man struggling against adversity. He stated publicly in the country that he had received a staggering blow from the War Office when they announced their decision to go on denuding the land of men despite his remonstrances. Now, in the midst of the general chaos and confusion that reigns, we have this sad spectacle. This is a supremely important point on which the whole fate of the War may depend, and, as the hon. Gentleman says, what is the use of taking Bagdad, and even having successes on the Western Front, if we are starving at home? It is no use adding millions of men to the Army if we cannot feed the population at home or the Army itself. We are told that the situation is grave. Language has been used at that Table by the Prime Minister and by the First Lord of the Admiralty which, if the situation is not a very grave one, ought never to have been used. It is language which has created a great sensation in this country, and yet, in spite of the fact that we appointed a special Minister as expert, he has thought fit to publish his differences with his colleagues, living as he does under a Government not controlled by any president. When asked by one of his audience why he did not resign, he answered, "What good would that do?" This is the unfortunate Minister of Agriculture, a man not accustomed to the usual penance of political life.
The Minister of Agriculture is in this melancholy position: He has been charged by this House with the responsibility of looking after the production of food. I 1380 defy the Minister of Agriculture to come and tell this House that he is getting fair play from the War Office in carrying out his duties. I believe it will be impossible to produce as much food in this country this year as we had last year. The only question at issue is by how much the crop of next year will fall short in this country of the crop of last year. I say the duty of the War Office and of every Department of the Government is for the next six weeks to recognise that the production of food must take first place over everything else, and I should say the second place should be taken by the production of shipping. I maintain that the representative of the War Office has not given a satisfactory assurance on this question and I hope the hon. Member for Devon will raise it again and again until he has succeeded in bringing the War Office to some reasonable action.
I wish to say a word on the form of this Estimate. You, Mr. Chairman, were puzzled as to how you should allow us to conduct this Debate. I do not believe in the whole history of this House an Estimate of this kind was ever introduced before. It is a sign of the rapid progress of decay manifest to all of us old Members of the House since the War commenced, and especially since the present Government took office. This is in reality a new Vote of Credit. It is preposterous to call it a Supplementary Vote. It is no more a Supplementary Vote than was the last Vote, and, therefore, the attempt which was made to confine the discussion to the objects for which the money is ear-marked was a gross infringement of the rights of this House. I do not believe in the whole history of the House of Commons we have ever had a Supplementary Vote like this. If the Government have intended, for some reason I cannot understand, to set up a new precedent—and in my opinion an exceedingly bad precedent—by proposing Supplementary Votes of Credit they are bound in accordance with analogy to set out the heads and the amounts for which the money is ear-marked. It is very difficult to know what is going to be let in by any new door which is opened. Something may be done by the Government which appears to be perfectly innocent and which Members who are not very experienced in the procedure of this House may pass over as of no consequence, and then a year or two later we may find that, some valuable privilege of the House has been 1381 swept away. Observe what the Government might do if this form were not challenged. This is a Vote for £64,000,000, a fairly large sum to bring in as a Supplementary Vote. The Government, if that had been allowed to pass, might never propose another Vote of Credit, but might introduce nothing more to the end of the War except Supplementary Votes.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I must not allow this misunderstanding to go any further. I agree it is a matter of much importance. If the hon. Member will look at the Paper he will see that of the Votes in the current financial year only the first Vote is called a Vote of Credit, and all the subsequent ones are called Supplementary Votes, so that there is no departure from the usual practice in the title. The hon. Member will be aware that on previous occasions I have allowed the widest discussion, in spite of the title "Supplementary Vote." I may say further that anything I said to-day was purely for myself in the Chair, and had nothing whatever to do with any proposal of the Government. The Vote is in a form exactly in accordance with the precedent of the five previous Votes in the current financial year.
§ Mr. DILLON
I think you will admit that my case is absolutely proved. It is true that all the previous Votes were called Supplementary Votes of Credit, but in each one of those cases, as you, Sir, truly observed, the Minister bringing in the Vote as a matter of course surveyed the whole policy of the War and opened up that subject in his introductory statement without question. But on the present occasion it was manifest from the statement made from the Government Bench and all the surrounding circumstances, so familiar to those of us old Members who understand the practice of the House, that it was expected that this Vote would go through like greased lightning and that it narrowed the discussion so much that there would be practically no discussion at all.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
The hon. Gentleman is quite mistaken as to there being any prearranged plan, or any hope on the part of the Government that there would be no discussion. It was thought that as there had been a Vote of Credit taken so recently, and as I had explained the reason for introducing this Vote, the Committee would not desire on this occasion to have any prolonged discussion.
§ Mr. DILLON
But it was only after prolonged discussion that we succeeded in establishing the principle which is vital to the liberty of the House, that whenever a Supplementary Vote of Credit is brought in the discussion is not to be tied on the principles which apply when an ordinary Supplementary Estimate is before us. That is the whole point.
§ Mr. DILLON
I do not desire to characterise it as a sin at all. I am only pointing out that it is really a serious question, and that if that principle had been admitted to-night, the Minister by declaring that the money in any Vote of Credit was earmarked for certain particular things, could and would always in future, when he liked to do so, tie down the House and bar out any subject which he thought unpleasant or disagreeable or upon which he did not desire discussion. It is all very well to say that Ministers do not do such things as that. I know how too often we have been caught by that kind of thing. All a Minister would have to do in future after the first Vote of Credit had been passed in the Session, would be to say that all further Votes applied only to certain subjects, thus barring out subjects he did not desire to have raised. The proposal to ear-mark the money is a wholly inadmissible idea. You cannot ear-mark money in a Vote of Credit. A Vote of Credit is a pool from which all the services draw the money they require. To tell me that by pouring £64,000,000 into a pool from which the services take their money you can ear-mark the money and say that it should be devoted to a particular purpose, is to show a want of knowledge of how financial proposals should be drawn up properly. I am afraid it is an illustration of the condition at which we have arrived. Although the right hon. Gentleman made a very plausible attempt to justify the enormous miscalculation which has been made by the Treasury, and which has necessitated the present Vote of Credit, he did not satisfy me in the slightest degree. His predecessor was extremely polite, as the two Front Benches are very apt to be. We are getting back to the old times of the peace days, when it was a common experience, before the Irish question arose, for one Front Bench man to 1383 get up after another and say that nothing could possibly exceed his right hon. Friend's skill and perfection.
§ Mr. DILLON
What has happened? We have been at War for two and a half years, during which time we have eight or ten Votes of Credit. It is idle for the right hon. Gentleman to say that anything has occurred during the last six weeks more puzzling to the Treasury, or that there has been any sudden catastrophe. Nothing of the kind! For two and a half years the Treasury has made its calculations with singular accuracy. I was immensely struck by the accuracy with which they made their calculations. They were seldom more than a few millions out. We never had a single case during the two and a half years upon which there was occasion to have any Supplementary Vote of Credit going beyond the period named in the Ministerial statement introducing the previous Vote. What has happened in this case? The Chancellor of the Exchequer comes down four or five weeks ago, and, on the faith of Treasury calculations, presents two Votes of Credit, one to carry him to the 31st March, in order to complete the financial year, and the other to carry him on until the middle of May. Within four weeks of that, without any extraordinary circumstance that could not be foreseen, without any fact which was in the nature of a surprise, or which justified the miscalculations of the Treasury, although the right hon. Gentleman said the whole business was an ugly surprise to him—it ought not to have been —we are asked to Vote another £64,000,000. It is the most astonishing thing ever heard in the House of Commons, and nothing was said by the right hon. Gentleman to justify or explain it. Nothing was said by him to induce us to believe that there was any more difficulty in calculating the Vote of Credit at the beginning of last month than there had been in regard to all the previous Votes of Credit. Thoughout the War the Treasury has never made this mistake before. It is all very fine for the right hon. Gentleman to try to get the thing through the Committee in a quiet way and allow all his myrmidons to depart. I am afraid that the new magnificent machinery that has been set up is working very badly. I can only admire the 1384 charity of the dispossessed Chancellor of the Exchequer when he got up and tried to throw the cloak of decency over the failings of his successor.
§ Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL
I desire to bring the Debate back to the speech of the Financial Secretary to the War Office. I am afraid I shall be departing from the rule which the hon. Member who has just spoken seems to think prevails between the Front Benches of merely interchanging compliments, because I intend to get up and say that while we listened with much attention to the explanation of the War Office action in regard to withdrawing men from agriculture which the hon. Gentleman gave, I do not think there is a single man in the Committee who regarded that explanation as being really satisfactory. My hon. Friend raised two points in defence of the War Office in connection with their action in this matter. In the first place, he said that when cases were brought before the tribunals the War Office did not press their claim for men unless the representatives of the Board of Agriculture concurred that the men might be taken for the Army. The class of cases over which the country is now so much exercised are not the new cases which come before the tribunals, but the cases which came before the tribunals six months ago, when the gravity of the situation was not impressed upon the country, and, indeed, at that time was not nearly so serious as it has since become. If the conditions that now prevail had prevailed last September and October it is to be believed that many of the cases in which the tribunals in agricultural districts refused exemption would have had exemption at that time. In deciding whether or not a particular man is to be called up now we ought to have regard to the conditions of the country now and the probable position of the country in the next few months, and not to the state of things which existed six months or more ago, when the tribunal sat upon the particular case. Secondly, my hon. Friend said that even with regard to those men whose exemption from military service the tribunal had refused the War Office were not now calling up men in the category of B or C.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
The average agriculturist of military age is a Class A man. Such men lead healthy lives, and I imagine the great bulk of cases of ploughmen, carters, or horsemen and other men 1385 urgently needed on the land who are of military age do fall into category A. Therefore when the hon. Gentleman told us that he was calling up B1 and C1 men he did not in any degree meet the objection which has been raised to the War Office action. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Moulton (Mr. G. Lambert) made an extremely powerful and effective speech on this aspect of the question. He gave one concrete illustration which must have impressed every hon. Member who heard it. He gave us the case of a farmer with two farms in Oxfordshire, who already had had his last but one carter called up, and who had been informed that within a week or two his last man would be summoned to the Colours, so that he would be left with nine farm horses and with only one boy to work them. The horses would be left in their stables, the land would be left uncultivated, and the food that was urgently required for the nation this next summer would not be produced. In my own Constituency in the North Riding, which contains a large belt of very highly-farmed land, I made careful inquiries a few weeks ago into the methods that might be adopted under the auspices of the surveyors appointed by the Agricultural Committee of the North Riding to increase the production of food, and I was told that the situation was dominated entirely by the question of labour. My correspondents there have been good enough to communicate with me fully on the matter. The one point they emphasised was that everything depended upon leaving the necessary men upon the land—indeed, in increasing the existing supply of labour. Although I am well aware of the urgent need of men for the Army, it is useless to appeal to the country to increase its food supply and, at the same time, to be withdrawing week after week more and more men who are now engaged upon the land. Within the last few weeks they are releasing consider able numbers of men who are in labour battalions and who are engaged to some extent in home service and sending them back to the land. That process is all to the good, but while they are doing that with one hand, they must not with the other hand undo the very operation which they are endeavouring to carry through. If you want to speed the plough you must not take the ploughman.
1386 There is only one other point to which I wish to allude. We were told at Question Time to-day, and we heard the announcement with considerable surprise, that the Admiralty was inviting all the men employed in the naval dockyards to volunteer under the scheme of the Director of National Service. If there are any men in the country who are already engaged on useful, and indeed indispensable, National Service, are they not the men employed in His Majesty's naval dockyards? To what more necessary service could any one of them be transferred, and is it really reasonable to put the Admiralty to the trouble of inviting all these men to enrol themselves as National Service Volunteers? Can the outcome be that any single one of them will be taken away from the work on which he is already engaged and be put to anything else? You merely set in operation a great machine, you involve the performance of a considerable amount of clerical work, you put the men themselves to the trouble of enrolling, you have to have them all tabulated, card-indexed, and all the rest of it, merely in order to leave them exactly where they are. We had no explanation at Question Time to-day as to the reason for this remarkable step. I am very anxious in every way to assist the work of the Director of National Service in the task on which he is engaged, but it causes, in the minds of many people, some doubt as to the businesslike methods pursued by the Department if great numbers of men already engaged in the most urgent form of National Service are desired and required to enrol themselves as volunteers.
§ Mr. FORSTER
I think, entirely through my own fault, a misapprehension has been created. When I was speaking of calling up men, I had in my mind what we may call current cases. The cases to which my right hon. Friend and the hon. Member (Mr. Dillon) has referred were the cases of the men who passed the tribunals last autumn, and who, I understand, are being called up now. There were a large number of men passing the tribunals who were given exemption up to 1st January, and, in view of the pressing need of agricultural labour, it was decided that they were not to be called up. By agreement with the Board of Agriculture, we settled that out of 60,000 men, to whom we were more or less entitled, we should call up not more than some 10,000 odd. As far as I know, we have kept our word, and, as I said on a former ocea- 1387 sion, if evidence can be shown that some of these men are still being called up—I agree they ought not to be—
§ Mr. FORSTER
The 10,000, I think, have been, and with regard to them there have been substitutes, but I do not think we have gone beyond our limit. If any hon. Member will give me evidence to the contrary, it shall be very carefully inquired into.
§ Mr. ANDERSON
I wish to take up the point which was referred to by the right hon. Gentleman who spoke last in regard to the economy of the scheme of National Service. In view of the present position with regard to food supplies and the like into which the country is drifting, I cannot imagine anyone who would not desire to see the wisest possible economy and use of labour; but there is a growing doubt in the minds of many as to what this scheme is going to accomplish. There has been much criticism on another aspect of the question—that in regard to food supplies and the taking away of large numbers of men from the land. What is the other side of the picture? We are supposed to get that largely put right, or at least to get substitutes to the widest possible extent, by this new scheme which is being organised by Mr. Neville Chamberlain. A great many people cannot get the hang of this scheme at all. They cannot get to understand it. They cannot get to have any clear idea in regard to it. They believe that vast numbers of men are going to be enrolled who are not in the least likely to be called upon, and that is involving an enormous waste of labour and of clerical energy and the like. I will give one or two illustrations of that. The point that appeals to the average plain man was referred to only the other day at the Surrey County Council, where one man after another criticised the scheme from the standpoint of business men who were anxious to see something done, and who certainly realised that something ought to be done. I will take a criticism which was made on the scheme by Sir Arthur Chapman, by Alderman Holland, and by Mr. Arthur Spurgeon. This is what Mr. Spurgeon said, and this stands for a great deal that is being done under this scheme: 1388There is nothing definite in the scheme. It is absurd to ask men to enrol if there is no intention to use them. It should be stated also what men are required and when they will be required. The other day I saw a report of a meeting at which Lord Rhondda said that though within a few months of 61 he intended to enrol. What would happen in the case of Lord Rhondda? His paper would be duly submitted to the authorities at St. Ermin's Hotel, then it would be sent down to Kew where it would be placed in a certain class, then ill due course it would be sent to one of the divisional centres. then it would be sent on to the local employment bureau and the authorities at that bureau would decide what should be done with Lord. Rhondda and they would decide that he ought to remain where he is. That could be multiplied a hundred thousand times, and it is asking people to do things which are unnecessary, and the waste of effort going on is very serious. looking at the stationery involved in enrolling thousands of men who can never he any good and the number of men and women involved and classified six or seven times over before they go to the Employment Bureau.Sir Arthur Chapman agreed entirely with these remarks. He said:Lord Rhondda's case is a typical one. It leaves me quite cold for him to have signed a paper when he knew that in no circumstances could he ever be taken from his present work.Alderman Holland said there was an immense waste in the scheme. It seems tome, in regard to a good many people who are filling up the forms, that their position is largely that of an attested curate in Manchester, a report of whose case appeared in the "Manchester Guardian, who, after attesting, applied for exemption, and they said," But if you attested, surely you meant to serve, "and he replied," No, the only purpose I had in view in attesting was merely to show a good example to other people." A good many of those who are filling up the forms now are doing it purely from the standpoint of showing it good example to other people, and have not the least intention of digging potatoes themselves at a minimum wage of 25s. a week. The other day a letter was addressed to the heads of all the Departments. I believe it was addressed to the Prime Minister, It appealed to the heads of the Departments for the enrolment of those under them. But it went on to say:This enrolment will not entail any disturbance in the work of your Department unless it might be in the national interest to transfer individuals elsewhere, and in such eases the Department will be consulted.In Heaven's name is there need for taking up time in entering the names of all the members of a Department because here and there it might be in the national interest to transfer an individual somewhere else with the consent of the Department? That could be done this week or next week without the trouble involved of enrolling the whole Department and sending the names of the young men of all the Departments to be indexed at St. Ermin's 1389 Hotel or Kew. From that standpoint the scheme is sheer foolery. Apparently the idea is to have a mere paper industrial army which does not help anything in the way of effective substitution and is not available for effective substitution. Under these circumstances, enlistment and enrolment in this army become an empty formality. It does so in the case of Lord Rhondda and of all the right hon. Gentlemen who are sitting on the Front Bench. I do not suppose they anticipate for a moment that they will be called upon to do some work of National Service at a minimum of 25s. a week. I do not believe they have the slightest anticipation or desire in that direction. If that is so, I think a great deal of work could be left out entirely, because whom are you going to enrol? You are appealing to all the mass of railway men. You cannot spare the railway men. You may send a few of them somewhere else, but if you wanted a few railway men to go somewhere else you could get them without this organisation at all, you would have no difficulty in getting them. The same thing is true of the transport workers and miners, and it seems to me to be the most foolish and the most uneconomical way of doing the thing that you are proposing to do, for it will give no increase in economic strength or service. I think that is a matter that ought to be met, and certainly if we are going to economise labour —and there is need for that—I think it would be well if the Department of National Service itself could show a good example.
For example, the other day it was desired that there should be a great Conference in London of the mayors and local representatives of towns, and I believe about 600 of them were invited to come, and I am told that the method of invitation was by sending a telegram, a hundred words in length, to all these people. A postcard, certainly a letter, would have done the thing just as well and with a great deal less strain upon the resources of the Post Office. When they came they heard nothing that could not have been told them by means of a circular from the Department of National Service. They were told nothing they could not have read in the various speeches of Mr. Chamberlain and others. It meant on the part of these mayors and local representatives at least three days in coming to London—a waste of three days' time—and anyone who read the speech made on that occa- 1390 sion would realise that they were told nothing at all that they had not heard before, and nothing that they could not have been told either in writing or by reading what had been done. A trade union congress on this matter was held in London yesterday, and various speeches were made, including a speech by Mr. Neville Chamberlain. I have never said, and I do not wish to say, one word in attack upon Mr. Chamberlain. I think he has been given an absolutely impossible job to perform. The method of the job is a wrong method, and I think that it is a job that no man can possibly work out. I have spoken to a good many trade unionists who were present at that conference, and not one of them came away impressed by the value of the conference. In fact, some of them used fairly strong language in regard to it. What are we going to have once more? We are going to have set up a new tribunal system in regard to industrial labour. When an employer is threatened with having a man taken from him he is to have the right of appeal to this tribunal, and when the workman is not satisfied that it is in the best interests that he should be taken, he also has the right of appeal to the tribunal. The tribunal, I gather, is going to consist of a commissioner or sub-commissioner, two representatives of the employers and two representatives of the workpeople, and over the body of every workman whose ease is contested there is going to be a fight as to whether the workman should best remain where he is or whether he should best go somewhere else under this scheme of National Service. When these struggles are taking place there will be waste of time in the Courts, because it will take very often a day of the time of the employer or his representative and a day of the time of the workman in deciding the case. Therefore, I maintain that so far from adding to the national strength and the economic strength in National Service, it will represent a real drain. I read only this morning of a case in London of a character which will be multiplied in many ways. It is the case of a debtor before the Clerkenwell County Court yesterday. (He said:I resigned my position to go into the Army and find I am not wanted there. Now under the new Regulations regarding restricted trades I cannot go back to my own work. I have volunteered for National Service but up till now I have heard nothing.There is no one on the Front Bench who can deal with this matter. There is no 1391 one there who understands very much about it. I was hoping that the hon. and gallant Member for Altrincham might have been present. He was here some little time ago. I do not in the least expect the right hon. and learned Gentlemen who are at present on the Front Bench to be able to deal with it, because it is not in their Department and it is not their work; therefore, I am not casting any reflection upon them. It would be well if some of these points were dealt with, because they are points that must be faced if you are going to have anything like proper working of any sort of successful scheme. Many people are asking this question, especially professional people, and people with very heavy financial obligations—what is going to happen in respect of Income Tax, and what is going to happen so far as they are concerned in regard to educational and other obligations in respect of their children, and so on. If they undertake this new class of work what is going to happen to them in regard to these various matters? I think they are very important questions, and they ought to be answered from the Government point of view. No one will dispute for a minute the need for making the best of the labour that you have got. A great deal of it has been used recklessly, and a great deal of it has been recklessly recruited, and you are being brought face to face with very urgent economic problems. You are being brought face to face with a very urgent food problem. In many of the poorer districts of London today it is becoming increasingly difficult for the people to get the food they need, and one hears of women standing for a long time in queues outside shops in London, while policemen regulate the queues, in order to get a pound or two pounds of potatoes for themselves and a family of perhaps six or seven children. This is bound to be a very serious thing. We hear of the same sort of problem in other places including, if rumour speaks true, the capital of Russia. This is a very serious problem in Petrograd. If this problem of food shortage can be avoided it ought to be avoided by wise organisation of all your resources, but you are not going to do it by recklessly recruiting skilled agricultural labour on the one hand and by this uneconomic and unintelligible scheme on the other. I, therefore, ask the Government to give us a clear statement of their policy. Many people are becoming per- 1392 suaded that although we are developing new Controllers every day, and developing a stronger bureaucracy every day, we arc not getting very much value out of it, and the whole thing is being done with a great deal of inefficiency and a great deal of overlapping and waste.
Mr. T. WILSON
I should like to endorse what the last speaker has said in regard to the waste of labour. I was not surprised that the Secretary to the Admiralty, replying this afternoon to a question, said that the workers in the dockyard had been advised, if not instructed, to enrol themselves under the National Service scheme. I confess I was surprised when I read in the newspapers that Mr. Neville Chamberlain invited the employés in munition works to enrol under the National Service scheme, and I was still more surprised when I heard him, in the Committee Room of this House, advocate that men who were already on work of the most urgent national importance should be invited to enrol under the National Service scheme. If you ask men or women to enrol under a scheme where you cannot make use of their labour because their services are already utilised to the best possible advantage in the national service you are simply creating work for a staff in an office.
You are not only wasting the money of the country, but you are wasting the labour of the country by that, and you are getting books and statistics that are really of no use. It seems to me like asking men who are in the Army already to go to the nearest recruiting office and join the Army again. Speaking from the trade union standpoint, I maintain that if the organiser of a trade union had gone into the country organising the men in any trade, and he had asked men who, were already members of a trade union, and whom he knew were already members of that trade union, to give their names as candidates for admission into that union, the union would very soon get rid of him, because they would not think his services were worth anything. That is what is going on under Mr. Neville Chamberlain's scheme. They are asking people to enrol who are already engaged in work of the most urgent national importance. There is something more than that in connection with this scheme. I had a letter yesterday morning from Edinburgh relating to two skilled workmen, 1393 one sixty-four years of age and the other sixty-seven years of age. They are out of employment, but have got an offer of employment in a works which is engaged making propellers for aeroplanes. I should have thought that the making of propellers for aeroplanes was work of national importance, because they are very urgently needed; but the officials of the Labour Exchange there said to these men, "Under Mr. Neville Chamberlain's scheme you are not allowed to start work there." That is absolutely wrong. I take it that a man over sixty-one years of age can accept employment and an employer can give employment to a man over sixty-one years of age. These men were kept out of employment three or four days. They were out of employment when my correspondent wrote to me, and I take it they are still out of employment. If mistakes of this kind occur in one city in connection with men one of whom is nearer seventy than sixty and the other is sixty-four years of age, we can imagine what is going on all over the country in connection with this scheme. It seems to me that instead of calling in a Director-General of National Service, better use ought to have been made of the Ministry of Labour and the Labour Exchanges, with the assistance of the trade unions and the employers. It is a waste of energy and a waste of money, and in the case of these two workmen it means a direct injury.
I want to deal with another question which I have brought forward on a previous occasion, and that is the scandalous waste of public money that is going on in connection with the erection of munition works and other establishments of national importance.
I may give the Committee an illustration of the vicious system of payment by commission. At a certain works—I can give the hon. Gentleman privately the names if he cares to make inquiries into these matters—an order was given by a representative of the firm, which was doing the work on commission, for 20 tons of lead. It is not a very large order, and it would not take more than five minutes to write it out. Lead is from £35 to £38 per ton, say, £35. The lead was delivered, and the firm doing the work was paid 12½ per cent. commission— that is to say, the 20 tons of lead were 1394 increased in price by £87 10s. as commission. At another works which was doing work of national importance the director of the firm which was doing the work suggested to the Government representative that his manager could get about the district in which the works were situated, a pretty large area, if he had a motor car. The Government bought the motor car for the manager of the firm, and 12½ per cent. commission was paid on the motor car.
§ Mr. KELLAWAY (Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Munitions)
Will you give me particulars of that case?
I will try to supply the Department with the fullest particulars. I cannot give them now. Petrol is being supplied by the Government, and my information, which is from the best possible source, is that they are paying 12½ per cent. commission on the petrol. I quite imagine that it is true, though I do not say that it is, but the statement having been made is one that should be inquired into. Then it is stated that in these works, where 2,000 men are employed, 12½ per cent. commission is paid on the insurance stamps that are put on the insurance cards. If that is true, it is more than a scandalous waste—it is a wicked waste, and is getting near to something more than a waste of public money. In connection with these public works a man of pretty long experience in the building trade, who has worked on one or two of the biggest military camps in the country, was with me this afternoon in the smoke-room, and he told me that the waste of timber in those camps made him, as a practical man, knowing the value of timber, feel ashamed of the people who are managing the affairs of the country, so far as building the camps is concerned. I see a great amount of waste myself. I know that in connection with the Admiralty lately in the North of England there was a large amount of loss and waste in connection with the aeroplanes. I have seen the materials scrapped in the yard where the Admiralty shed is with no attempt made to use the bits in the manufacture or repairing of aeroplanes. I am told that 12½ per cent. commission is often paid upon the telegrams and postage-stamps used by those firms. I may also point out that the 12½ per cent. is not the only commission. It is the highest commission paid to firms doing Government work. When they have done work over a certain amount, say £50,000. it drops down to 10 per cent., 1395 and over a certain amount again to 7½ per cent., and for a very large amount of work to 5 per cent. When it gets to 7½ per cent. some of those firms become dissatisfied with the district in which they have had the 12½ or 10 per cent., and they get themselves, their staff and plant, transferred to other districts where the Government have commenced to erect new buildings. That is the statement made to me by a member of a firm who has been working at those camps. If it is misleading, then I am misled. But those matters should not be talked about in the smoke room of the House or in clubs, or in the streets of our towns, but they should be ventilated, and if they are really going on the Departments concerned should do something to put a stop to them.
This vicious system of payment for work done by commission means that the higher the wages paid to the men who are doing the work the greater the commission, the higher the price paid for the material required, the greater the commission, and, what is more, there is no push made with regard to getting the work done, and there is no attempt to economise in connection with the material. The greater the waste the more commission to the people concerned. If the Department are not inclined to deal with the matter themselves, they ought to appoint a small Committee of practical men who understand these things to go into the whole matter and advise what shall be done. The waste of man-power is more a question for the Army; but I do know that we have skilled men—carpenters, cabinetmakers, bricklayers, and so on—who have been drafted into the Army. The services of many of these men would be of the greatest value to the country, yet they are engaged, practically speaking, in cleaning round the tents and huts where the military are encamped, and doing all kinds of menial work. The shipyards still cry out for skilled men, and something ought to be done to liberate these men who have been declared unfit for military service so that their trained services and skilled work may be utilised for the advantage of the country. So far as I am concerned, when the House is not sitting, I am going to see if there is any farmer who can give me a job, so that I may help him. By doing something in connection with a farm, such as planting potatoes, I believe that I shall be rendering a great deal 1396 better service than by rushing up and down the country addressing meetings in connection with National Service and that kind of thing. The amount of money wasted by speakers running up and down the country addressing meetings is very large. They sometimes go 200 miles with first-class railway fares to address a meeting. I am told of a case in which there were four Members of Parliament on a platform addressing an audience of sixteen, which included three pressmen. I say that that is a waste of money, and that this attempt to make what is a miserable farce a success by sending speakers and spending money as it is being spent ought to be stopped at once, and if the Government would only listen to men who have some practical knowledge of the workmen of the country and what their views are with regard to what is being done, I am certain that it would put a stop to waste that the country cannot afford at the present time.
§ Mr. DUNCAN MILLAR
The two hon. Members who have last spoken have given expression to criticism which I believe in many respects is very well founded with regard to the procedure adopted under the National Service scheme. I have supported the Government Bill, and I am in entire sympathy with the object of securing from all quarters the fullest degree of support in carrying through the present campaign. I refer particularly to the support which is required among all sections of the community in assisting the men who are at the front. Representing as I do a large industrial constituency, I am very anxious indeed that we should have some further assurance from those who are responsible for this scheme as to the objects which they have in view and the methods which they propose to adopt in these coming weeks and months. I put some questions on the Paper the other day with reference to the position of miners, and other skilled workers and of men of military age, who have been exempted from military service, and who had been asked to stick to their present jobs because they were rendering better service to the country than they would elsewhere. The right hon. Member (Mr. A. Henderson), who represents the Department, said that this matter was receiving the careful consideration of the Director-General of National Service, in consultation with the Departments concerned. He asked me to put down the question 1397 again at an early day when the procedure had been definitely settled. I understand therefore that the procedure has not yet been definitely settled, and I hope that the officials concerned will be still ready to keep in view certain considerations which I think are relevant to the question of asking the miners and other skilled workers to enrol voluntarily under this scheme. You are dealing with particular classes of industrial labour which have been for some considerable period past specially invited to devote their full attention to the work of production of coal and munitions. Miners of military age have been exempted by the Coal Mines Tribunals established for that work, and they have been asked to continue in their work. Action has also been taken by Government Departments, including the Home Office and Ministry of Munitions, and large numbers of skilled industrial workers have been exempted to carry on the work in which they were engaged. These men, I understand, are all going to be asked to enrol voluntarily under the present National Service scheme. I have had sent to me from my Constituency an appeal issued by the Ministry of Munitions, and which has been posted in all the large works in the district which I represent, asking munition workers to stay at their work. It goes on to refer particularly to men of military age, and it says:you may be serving your country better in your present job than at the trenches.It goes on further:Your country relies upon you to answer the call when it comes; till then stay at your work.
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
May I point out that this was issued before the National Service scheme came out? I only wish to make that clear to the hon. Gentleman, and I do not seek in any way to qualify it.
§ Mr. MILLAR
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that these placards are at present posted in all the large works since this new scheme has begun to come into operation. These men are now invited to offer voluntary service tinder the National Service scheme, while they are asked by the Ministry of Munitions to remain at their posts doing work in which they have been occupied for a long time past. In many instances the men are puzzled and confused by the variety of appeals made to them. Again, we have had instructions issued to speakers by the National Service Department, and in those instructions I find the statement: 1398Where a man has been exempted by a tribunal from military service, conditional upon his remaining in his present employment, the official will have instructions not to call him up as a volunteer.The point which I make is that if officials have instructions that they are not to call up these men who are already exempted, what is the reason for asking these men to fill up the form in the first instance? What is the reason of incurring the unnecessary trouble and expense which is added to the work of the Department? I dare say the House, which listened to an answer given the other day to a question which was asked, was rather startled to learn that the number of officials in connection with the National Service Department has recently grown to the figure of 692, and that the estimated yearly cost of the-present staff is £65,000. An hon. Member near me says it may be still larger in the future. Let us consider how much of this work is really unnecessary. You are, after all, anxious to secure a certain number of men to substitute for men of military age, and you have got to get them from some industries, which at the present moment are non-essential. When this scheme was first promulgated by the Prime Minister, I do not think the country was left in any doubt as to what the object of the scheme was. May I remind the Committee that the object which the Prime Minister had in view was stated very clearly in his speech of the 19th December, 1916, in which he said:Labour that is set free from non-essential and rationed industries will be available to set free potential soldiers who are at present exempted from military service, and to increase the available supply of labour for essential services.And he went on to say:This labour will be invited to enrol at once.That is the labour that he was really desiring to get, in order to supply substitutes for men of military age engaged in skilled industries. A great deal has been said as to the attitude of the people in connection with National Service. Speaking for my own Constituency, there has been nothing more striking in the course of the War than the enthusiasm which has been shown in every quarter amongst all classes of industrial workers to do the best they can for their country at this time. That applies to all classes, industrial, professional, and commercial. There is no difficulty in getting men to do their best just now. In fact, the experience of many men who have been turned down again and again has caused them bitter disappointment—men of good posi- 1399 tion, professional men, commercial men, men connected with industries, who have offered their services, again, again, and again, and have not been taken. You are also now advertising for men to serve industrially, who are and have been from the beginning of the War, engaged in most arduous labour. I sincerely hope we may have some light thrown upon the subject at the present moment, because we are asked to make a campaign all over the country for volunteers. I am thoroughly with the proposal that every man should be asked to do the best he can at the present moment in the service of his country. I do not think there will be any dispute about that. But if you are going to have a campaign of this kind all over the country you must have regard to the point of view of the men you are going to ask to go, because many of these men will say, "We do not understand what you mean by asking us to enrol when we are doing the best we can where we are." I must say that, so far as concerns the appeal made to professional and commercial men the form which has been issued is very badly drafted and seems to me to suggest a, doubt as to whether their services were really wanted at all except for industrial work. I think in that respect it might have been in much better form.
I would like to ask the hon. Gentleman who represents the Department that we should have a decision upon these questions at the earliest possible date. For example, it is hardly the thing to suggest at this stage if a question is put down that it should be delayed for a number of days, since every person would imagine that the matter would have been carefully considered and dealt with at a very much earlier stage. If the whole thing is in a state of flux again, and if we have no definite knowledge to enable us to understand what the scheme is, I think it might be well to advise those speakers going about the country to act with a certain degree of caution until the position has been fully considered. I hope we may get an answer on this subject. So far as the scheme which has been put before the country is concerned there has been a desire on the part of everyone to respond to the call for service in one form or another, and if it has not been as successful as might have been expected in point of numbers enrolled, I think that is very largely due to the form in which the appeal 1400 has been made. I do submit that a great deal more might be done yet to secure immediately labour for essential industries by transferring it from non-essential industries and by letting the men in those non-essential industries understand exactly the kind of work they are going to be asked to undertake and the places to which they will be transferred, thus making the appeal definite instead of vague. It is most desirable also in this matter that the employers and the trade unions should be consulted, and I have not the slightest doubt you would get far more men from non-essential industries by getting trade unionists and employers to meet together to consider what could be done. Then instead of having a huge reservoir of men from which you intend to take, say, 20 per cent., why not get the 20 per cent. direct from the industries which can afford to give it. I trust that what I have said will be reported to the hon. Member in charge and answered.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
We have got so accustomed to the piling up of expenditure that the Chancellor of the Exchequer very nearly achieved his object of getting the Supplementary Vote of £60,000,000, the deficit in the Estimate of only two months, through the House without a word of criticism. I do not know that it is of any particular avail passing any criticism. I only do so for the purpose of placing my views for what they are worth on record for future use. There will come a time, no doubt, of justification or retribution for all Members of this House for their actions during this epoch, and I want to take this occasion to state what I consider now to be the future before us, as disclosed by the expenditure of the country and by this particular Vote. This Vote is largely for the purpose of providing further shipping for the purpose of increasing our food supplies. It may achieve something, but it seems to me the way we are going is towards one inevitable end—that is of bankruptcy, of famine, and ultimately of revolution, which will overthrow the whole social state of all the belligerent countries.
For the moment what I want to protest against with regard to the whole question of our food supply and the state of the country relating to it is the policy of concealment or of half-truth of the Government. They complain in the Press that the people do not realise the gravity of the situation. I think the Government is to 1401 blame for that. Why do they not tell us the facts upon which they make their statements? We are accustomed to statements from the Government which we find later on are readjusted, if something absolutely contradictory is not indeed brought forward. Let me give an example. When they wanted the people's money a few weeks ago in the raising of the Loan the whole Press of the country was turned on to cry that this was a Victory Loan, that victory was in sight. But within a few days of the closing of the lists word was sent round to the Press that they were not to talk of victory in 1917. Then we had the speech of the right hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Churchill) in this House telling us we are not to look for victory in 1917, but to prepare for a possible victory in 1918. So it is that Ministers switch off from statement in one direction to statement in another. What the people want are the facts on which they base their views and make their pessimistic statements and not their views on the situation. What could be easier than to provide us with the facts as regards the world supplies that will be available for this country and for our Allies, and what is the probable production in this country and Allied countries, and what will be the probable, possible deficit, if there is to be such? Then we would know, and the people would be able to judge as to the gravity or otherwise of the situation. I do not believe they will until the calamity comes right down upon them, unless such facts are given to them. At the same time as we find the Government telling us vaguely that economy in food must be practised, and that it is a most serious consideration, and while we are told that we are a beleaguered city and that lack of food may actually determine the issue of the War, at that very time we see them taking away men from the essential industry of agriculture.
We heard the other day in this House statements made by Members representing Irish constituencies that whilst there are thousands, tens of thousands, of men in Ireland anxious to get land to till to help to save us from famine, they cannot get it. Our restricted land system and maladministration prevents this present famine being modified in the simplest manner possible by allowing the people to have access to the soil who desire to do so. That is the position created by the Govern- 1402 ment by its non-disclosure of the facts, and as long as they permit such conditions to exist, which seem to suggest that they are trifling with the position, the people will not consider that there is any grave danger. Personally, I do not take that view.
It seems to me to be highly probable that this great issue that is being waged is not going to be determined by the armies in the field, but by famine. I do not care how long you go on, how many millions of men are given to death or mutilation, I feel quite confident that famine, bankruptcy, and revolution will end this issue. Revolution may come at the same time as war or in the aftermath of war. We know that, as regards one belligerent country, from what little we have been told, hunger and disorganisation have wrought revolution in Petrograd. Strange rumours are circulating throughout the House to-night as to the result of that revolution. That does not matter; revolution is there, and revolution will spread from East to West, but something else will probably come before that in other belligerent countries, and that is bankruptcy, which is the precursor of revolution. One of the most striking pages of Carlyle's "French Revolution" is that in which he shows that the efforts of the democracy to overthrow the autocracy and the monarchy had no effect until the time came when the Minister for Finance had to annouce that the national exchequer was bankrupt. Carlyle enters into a virtual pœan on bankruptcy, and says:Honour to Bankruptcy, ever so righteous on the grand scale, though in detail it is so cruel. Under all falsehoods it works unweariedly mining. No falsehood, did it rise heaven high and cover the earth with its branches, but Bankruptcy will one day sweep it down and set us free of it.
§ The DEPUTY - CHAIRMAN (Mr. Maclean)
If I interrupt the hon. Member it is not that I raise any objection to the somewhat melancholy predictions which he is putting before the Committee, but simply that his remarks, in my opinion, are out of order on this Vote.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
This is a Vote for some £60,000,000, and both in its amount and the method of its presentation I was suggesting that it brings us nearer financial collapse, which I term bankruptcy. Therefore I thought I would be entirely in order. I do not desire, however, to pursue that point any further except to reiterate that what lies ahead of all the belligerent countries is the failure of 1403 their food supplies and of their financial resources, all of which must tend to bring about conditions which will overthrow their social system. The point I am wishing to make is this, that if such be the case, if conditions are such as to indicate that a settlement will not be by force of arms, obviously the wise course for the potentates of all nations to adopt is, as soon as possible, to find a way to peace and to the laying down of their arms. The solution of such a problem is not the provision of greater sums of money, the making of endeavours to keep from us the spectre of famine, but the true solution is to urge on the Government to make all possible endeavours to bring about the cessation of hostilities, because the probability seems to be that if the tribes of Europe who have reverted to savagery do not make haste to turn the sword into the ploughshare hunger will force them to lay down their arms.
§ 9.0 P.M.
§ Mr. LYNCH
On many previous occasions when I have risen in the course of this War I have observed the same spectacle—millions of money voted in a listless House, the papers teeming with records of victories, which are no doubt real, and yet month after month rolling by with nothing constant but the squandering of money and the rivers of blood, and at each renewal the same cries of victory, which lead us apparently no further towards the ultimate goal. With such momentous questions being discussed we have a House more empty and more listless than if we were debating the question of applying summer time to Ireland, and on the Front Bench three Gentlemen, whom I am very willing to consider the brain-carriers of the Government.
§ Mr. LYNCH
The cabalistic number, the rule of three, as my hon. Friend behind me says, makes one wonder whether they are the triple-headed Cerberus guarding the integrity of the Government or the Three Graces that decorate its premises. No responsible Minister here to answer any question! I remember on the last occasion, when I delivered a speech of a certain length, and, as I believed, a perfectly consecutive and cogent argument, one of the inner ring of the Cabinet, the right hon. Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. A. Henderson), came in afterwards, and his reply to my speech was that I had 1404 made no impression on his mind. Remember that he had not heard the speech, but that does not matter, and I hope that in uttering that phrase, which he thought conclusive, he was hardly doing justice to himself, because, can it be imagined that a more inept reply could be given to a perfectly reasonable argument than for a man to say, "That has made no impression on my mind"? The whole value of that argument depends upon the mind, and you might dispose of Holy Writ by saying, "It has made no impression on my mind," or of Shakespeare, or you might scoff at the differential calculus by saying that it never made any impression on your mind. Thank God, in all the weighty cares which have beset me, I have never been responsible for a mind of that character! But he farther went on, in the absence of knowledge of the speech, to say that no definite proposal emanated from it, and I intend now in my own justification to lay down a series of definite proposals which I have from time to time given to this House, proposals of a concrete character, and good proposals. When I say good proposals I am not flattering myself, for months afterwards the Government itself has accepted some of them, rather spoiling them, however, in the manner of their adoption. I laid down over two years ago, what might be repeated now, that the radical defect of the Government was that sort of character which seeks to evade responsibilities, and that every Minister ought to desire to be responsible for his own acts, and should in his own mind be pinned down to working out a determinate plan. I protested agaist the habit of putting up men of high reputation, and of great social authority particularly, for the purpose of hiding all the failures, all the laches of administration or of execution of the Government. That accounted for the bolstering up of Lord Kitchener. That has accounted for the appearance in office of many men of great title, of big newspaper reputation, but of complete ineptitude in administration. That is one definite defect which I have pointed out again and again.
Again, to come to more concrete matters. I have pointed out months ago, years ago, certain cardinal facts, namely, as one example, that there was no efficient range-finder even in London to help to fight the Zeppelins. I was told from one of those remarkable replies which we have from the Government Bench that a good range- 1405 finder did not necessarily mean one that would bring the Zeppelin down. I should have thought that the whole meaning and purpose of a range-finder was that it would find the range of the Zeppelin, so that the guns might infallibly be pointed to the place where the Zeppelins were.
Again, months ago, years ago, I demanded in this House what is perfectly in order at this moment, namely, an efficient air fleet, not merely to contest the supremacy of the air with the Germeans, but for once and all a complete conception which, being definitely realised, would produce a fleet of such a character that the supremacy of the air would be definitely determined. An air fleet as a separate arm—that proposition is perfectly definite and concrete. Months sifter it was proposed the Government, it seemed, was brought to entertain this new idea, and it was realised by a series of board which culminated in either a board or a ministry—that seems to have been left indeterminate—but which, at any rate, has not resulted in the production of that efficient air fleet. Let me pass to another subject, one, again, that is perfectly concrete. I throw out various sugestions for dealing with submarines, and I demanded that those suggestions should be considered. There was always the same reply to any argument or proposition put forward, some aimless chattering amongst those on the Government Benches and an attempt to bluff up their insecure position by that sort of Parliamentary mannerism. They afterwards came to this House and said that no definite suggestion had ever been placed before the House. I venture in these circumstances to quote from Germany itself:Gegen Dunimheit kä;mpfen vergebens die Götter.This being translated into English means,Against stupidity the Gods themselves contend in vain.I would pass to another concrete example. The present proposal to deal with the submarine menace means an attempt to fill up the ranks of vessels as fast or nearly as fast as the German submarines can sink them. Of all possible practical proposals which can be put forward to deal with the submarine menace, I venture to say that that conclusion is one of the most hopeless. Yet there are proposals by which this menace could be definitely countered and, obliterated. What, however, is the use of putting them 1406 before those who sit on the Front Bench and tell us that these things make no impression on their minds?
There arc other proposals. Months ago, years ago, I made a proposal to establish an Inventions Board. That proposal was not bad, for it was put into effect, the Government accepting it months afterwards. It was adopted in a very inefficient manner. Months ago, years ago, I made a proposal to establish what I called, "A Thinking Department," having in my own mind a perfectly clear and determinate plan and one which would have produced excellent results. That proposal again was not bad, because months after, years after, the Government have adopted it.
§ Mr. LYNCH
I should never propose to do the impossible. Having adopted that, it was one of the proudest triumphs of the First Lord of the Admiralty when he came down to this House, and having indicated the ravages of the submarines, showed that he had instituted this new Department. To my mind a thinking Department should think ahead. Had I the power—and a man is always entitled to say, If I were King— I should never say that myself, but if I were President, I should have instituted that thinking Department on the day after the Declaration of War. I should have so organised and established it and so selected it as to have made certain that the function of that Department, to think, should be well fulfilled, to think out beforehand all these problems. The Government never seem to realise these matters until disaster is upon them. What would have been the effect even now if the thinking Department of the First Lord of the Admiralty had produced a scheme, perfectly reasonable and perfectly valid, which might require twelve months to bring into reality. It means twelve months' lost time as things are at present, and there might possibly arise a situation, grave from the fact that the country was depending upon a plan or scheme which, although it might be perfectly valid, was, under the circumstances, unrealisable. You might have had a valid scheme realised which would have been capable of meeting the submarine menace before it became so dangerous as it is now.
Every one of these cases might be multiplied in which there would have been found perfectly definite and concrete pro- 1407 posals. Some of them have had the sincerest form of flattery in their adoption by the Government, yet we find a responsible Minister coming down in the face of a recent speech and saying, "Those remarks have made no impression upon my mind."
I would ask one question: Why was a man with such a mind placed in so exalted a position? One is forced to find a solution to that question. The solution is to be sought in the Machiavellian attributes of the Prime Minister. Those men are not in office because they are the men best fittd to be great controllers of the mighty machine. They are simply there to be so many strings in the hands of the Government to tie the machine together. I did not put this forward quite as a reproach to the Prime Minister. He has to work with the material and under the conditions that prevail; that is, unfortunately, characteristic of our party system and the manner in which government is carried on by Parliament. Yet that truth should be faced by the House, and by the country, that this Government has not been constituted as the most efficient National Government which it was possible to elect. The prevailing motive which has weighed upon, which has influenced the mind of the Prime Minister, has been the necessity of meeting all sorts of Parliamentary and party manœuvres.
Before I sit down I am going to make some very definite proposals. We have reached the time when the fate of Empires is being decided, where the penalty of failure is not merely the fall of one Government after another by all sorts of Parliamentary intrigues, but hundreds of thousands of lives of the flower of the country and endless ruin and disaster. In those circumstances, it is not the moment to weigh the value of mere social etiquette or to refrain from attacking a man because he stands high in the reputation of the Press or in the ranks of nobility. I say, in those circumstances, fighting such a war as this country is engaged in—the most tremendous since the history of the world began—we sought to have at the head of the War Office a man of greater brain power, greater originality, greater driving force, than the present occupant. What is it to me that he is a Knight of the Garter, and is often quoted in society journals as being popular here or there, or that it is not good form to criticise him? Those petty considerations, which nevertheless weigh 1408 in the minds of the rulers of the country, vanish into insignificance before the importance of events. I say if that occupant of the office had been selected in answer to the one question, "Who of all the nation is the man most endowed by intellect, by wise counsel, by cool judgment, and by determined will?" the present occupant would never have been chosen.
I will proceed. The Chief of the General Staff has also been a failure. In answer to criticisms it is often said that that man has risen from the ranks, and that, therefore, you dare not criticise him. We are prohibited from criticising one man because he was born in the purple; we are advised to keep our hands off another because he rose from the ranks. My democratic principle is strong enough, at any rate, and my Republican feelings are true enough, not to care a dump where a man comes from, but to do equal justice to all. So that that argument that Sir William Robertson rose from the ranks is not worthy the attention of serious men. I judge by results, and I ask him to produce results. He has produced so far nothing but failure. His name is most closely associated with the Salonika Expedition. [An HON. MEMBER: "And Roumania!"] The Salonika Expedition is likely to prove the Dardanelles of this Government. There, again, if I am asked for concrete suggestions, I will say that months ago, years ago. I demanded not only that the Dardanelles Expedition should be stopped, and that the troops should be recalled, but that the Salonika Expedition should either be recalled or that some reality and military meaning should be given to it. I do believe now, looking at the course of events which have proceeded, that had that advice been followed more than two years ago, it would have been possible to have made such an expedition of so great moment and importance that would have proved the very turning point of this War. That was the weak spot of the Central Empire, and has ceased to be the weak spot now, and yet this is the expedition with which the name and reputation of Sir William Robertson is most closely allied. It may be said, "Yes, but his advice is that the Salonika Expedition should be withdrawn." Then, why is it not withdrawn?
There are two possible policies. One is to declare that that expedition is fraught with danger, that it is extraordinarily expensive in the way of ships and men, that 1409 it is hazardous, that it is, as has been described, the best concentration camp which the Germans possess, and in that case it should be abandoned. The other possible plan is to say, "No; that gives us a foothold on the Balkans, that gives us a way of watching the operations which so far have been disastrous, but which have not resulted in the ruin of the Allied Armies, and which we can again take up, moving against the Germans on their flank so as to bring disaster upon them, perhaps open a way to Vienna, and subsequently to Berlin." That is a plan which is possible, which I believe a Napoleon could make possible, and not merely possible but effective, but it is a plan, at any rate which would involve years before it could be brought to its full fruition. Yet it is a plan which could be faced. Either of those plans in itself is a real and valid plan. The Government has adopted neither, and between two stools it is falling to the ground.
Some time ago I demanded the recall of Field-Marshal Sir Douglas Haig—not recall, exactly, but supersession. That occasioned amazed indignation throughout this House and country, which might have disconcerted me had I not already experience of the same shock when I demanded the recall of General French. Would anyone now put General French back again in command at the Western front? Is this House aware, although defenders of the do-nothing system, that one of the arguments put forward to me to justify the want of results of Field-Marshal Haig was precisely that when he finally reached the position of supreme command he had such a disastrous mess to wipe up that it took him months to bring his Army to condition. I have never said, and never would say, that Field-Marshal Haig was not a great soldier, that he is not a man endowed with the most admirable military qualities, but what I do say, and what I wish this House to realise, is that that man is not going to win us the War. There is the whole situation, and it is brought to absolute demonstration. He has been in command now over twelve months, and that is a fairly long time in which to test a supreme commander. He has done great things no doubt, and has made advances, but even allowing to the full the merit of those advances, is it possible that by such tactics and by the adoption of such methods that he is going to drive the Germans across the Rhine, turn them 1410 out of Antwerp, and march to Berlin? The question of time comes in. To beat the Germans on that plan would require ten years, even with an uninterrupted series of successes like those of which he is able to boast. It is evident to all that against the methodical and organised system of the Germans no man is likely to be finally successful who is simply moving by their methods and imitating their plans, and who is unable by virtue of his own genius to spring something on the enemy which is entirely new and unheard of, with which they would be unable to cope. Is that too much to ask or to expect? If it is, then the campaign is hopeless. Never in the history of the world has any great general achieved successes against such an enemy, and stamped his name on history, who has not out of his own individuality and military genius evolved something superior to the plans of the enemy.
Having deposed Lord Derby, I will now transmogrify the whole of the War Office to the great advantage of the Allies. Having superseded Field-Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, I propose now to clear out the War Office. Wherever I have come into contact with that organisation which is the most vital at the present time, I have been almost bewildered, and certainly disconcerted, at the sort of contact I have experienced. Instead of finding there men of great initiative and will power and driving force, I find mostly a number of superannuated old fogies, whose methodsmay have been good fifty years ago, but who have learned nothing ever since. [Laughter.] These are not matters for laughter, but matters upon which the fate of the country is depending. Why are they not swept out? Why is room not made for new men—I do not say necessarily younger men, because the real test is elasticity of intellectual power of thought and initiative, and that quality is sometimes to be found in old men as well as in young men. The real test is results. An hon. Member near me is a great admirer of Napoleon, and so am I—in parts—but I would put to my hon. Friend the question, "How would Napoleon Bonaparte, a man of power in military matters and a man of action, have dealt with the present situation?
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I would remind the hon. Member that there is nobody here to answer for Napoleon Bonaparte.
§ Mr. LYNCH
The Prime Minister has many of the qualities of Napoleon, and he is "enfant de Marengo"; he is the son of his own works. I have come to the conclusion that since the Prime Minister's accession to the highest position in the State he has proved greatly disappointing, and he is far on the way of proving a failure.
§ Mr. LYNCH
I gave full warning that I was going to make a kind of characteristic speech, as weighty as I could make it, and of judicious import, and the Prime Minister had the opportunity of being here. He is seldom here, and I believe that fact is part of the Machiavellian astuteness which is one of his greatest qualities. I notice that the men in this House, be they Prime Ministers or other Ministers, who come here the most seldom, are those who have the highest reputation. I repeat that the Prime Minister has been a disappointment, and he is far on the way of proving a failure, because he has lost that pristine energy and democratic faith which once inspired him, and which were the qualities which brought him to the high office which he now holds. The French have a phrase which describes his actual position, because he is not master of himself. The phrase is, "Prisonnier, de la Droite." which means that he is the prisoner of the reactionary crowd. There he is summed up in one phrase.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member must confine his remarks to matters connected with the Vote of Credit.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
This is the third time I have had to call the hon. Member's attention to his irrelevancy, and he must now deal with some specific matter connected with the Vote of Credit.
§ Mr. LYNCH
I am compelled to accept your ruling. I think I have dealt with specific matters of the highest importance, but after your remarks, Mr. Maclean, I will conclude with these definite proposals, that before this money is spent the Prime Minister should consider the general tenor of such arguments as I have put forward; that he should put his house in order, that he should make efficiency the one test of the right of a great Minister or a great soldier to hold his office, and of that efficiency he should have one test, namely, results and reality; and that standard he should apply to himself. The French Prime Minister has been described as the Minister of Realisation, but we are very far indeed from that ideal. I will conclude by saying that all through this terrible war which has brought us so many varied emotions one principle has surged upon my mind and left its impression, and it is immanent justice of the grand world of things. This country is being tried, tried in the balance, just as every individual is being tried, and the great qualities which save a nation and send it on to higher destinies are brain power, organisation, instruction, energy, and in its leaders the great moral qualities of courage and determination and will power; and many of those have been signally lacking in those who are now directing the destinies of this nation.
There have been a good many speeches made to-night criticising the working of the National Service scheme, and, as they have not been answered, I should like, as a private Member, with some knowledge of my Chief's scheme, to attempt to answer them. The right hon. Gentleman who sits for North Devon (Mr. G. Lambert) asked why the Director-General of National Service was asking farm workers and dockyard workers to enrol for National Service, and a similar question was put by the hon. Member for the Aftereliffe Division (Mr. Anderson) with regard to Government employés and miners. On the face of it, it does perhaps appear rather absurd to ask Government employés to enrol for National Service, but the general principle of asking everyone between the ages of eighteen and sixty-one to enrol if they 1413 are not in naval or military uniform is, at any rate, a simple basis on which to go. If you once start making exceptions it is so difficult to draw the line.
Notice, taken that forty Members were not present. House counted, and forty Members being found present—
When I was so Kindly interrupted by my hon. Friend behind me (Mr. Hogge) I was endeavouring to deal with the question of the enrolling of dockyard labourers and farm workers as National Service Volunteers. The general principle is that everyone between the ages of eighteen and sixty-one is asked to enrol unless he is under some form of naval and military discipline. The only exception made has been in the case of certain sections of the volunteers who have given definite pledges to the War Office to give services of a certain kind when called upon, and who, therefore, directly or indirectly, are under military discipline. The right hon. Gentleman opposite asked a definite question about farm workers. He asked whether these men could be moved without consultation with the President of the Board of Agriculture? If the right hon. Gentleman had taken the trouble to read the pamphlets which have been sent to him through the post he would have seen that the question had been answered several times by the Director-General. First of all, the Director-General considers that farm workers are at the present time doing work of the greatest national importance, and unless some extreme emergency arises necessitating moving the farm population from one part of the country to another he has no intention of moving them. He has further given a -definite undertaking that no agricultural workers shall be moved from their present employment without consultation and agreement with the President of the Board of Agriculture.
The object of enrolling dockyard workers and miners is to make their labour mobile, so that should a great national crisis arise, and I think it may arise, it will be possible to find willing men who are prepared at a moment's notice, and at the request of the Director-General, to go to some other part of the country and there fulfil some important national duty to meet that national crisis. A further object in asking all men to enrol is to show the willingness of the men in this country who are not serving in the 1414 military or naval forces to do anything which they are asked to do and to go anywhere at the request of the Government in this time of crisis. It is well known that there is a certain agitation for conscription of labour. It may be an agitation in which a good many people believe. Speaking entirely personally and not on behalf of the Department with which I am connected, I do not see how any form of conscription of labour in this country can be introduced at the present moment, but those who criticise the present voluntary scheme of National Service, both inside and outside this House, are driving the country to conscription of labour, and driving it as quickly as they can.
Who are determined to win this War, and, if we have to conscript labour, or to raise the military age, or to take any action of that sort, we shall be driven to it much against the will of the present Government by those who are opposing the voluntary enrolment of men for National Service.
My hon. Friend the Member for the Attercliffe Division read the report of a meeting of the Surrey County Council. I was trying to get some dinner when my hon. Friend spoke, and I deeply regret that I did not hear his able speech, but the letter from beginning to end was a criticism of the fact that Lord Rhondda, who is at the head of the Local Government Board, has enrolled as a National Service Volunteer. The argument of the Surrey County Council speaker was that it was a farce for the Noble Lord to enrol.
Lord Rhondda is one of the most busy business men in this country, but at a moment's notice, and at the call of the country, he dropped his business eighteen monhs ago and left his papers untouched and went to America on behalf of the Ministry of Munitions. He returned from that work and came back to his desk and his business, and took up again the reins of his many affairs. A few months ago he was called upon again by the present Prime Minister to take over the work of the Local Government Board Is there any man 1415 who has shown a finer example of national service than Lord Rhondda in enrolling as a volunteer for national service? I think it is a good example.
The hon Member is very clever, but, after all, we want National Service volunteers who have brains as well as muscles.
§ Mr. ANDERSON
The whole point of this was not to make the slightest reflection on the work of Lord Rhondda, but to point out that, through filling in the form, he is going to be indexed, his name is going to be entered up on cards, and a whole lot of other work is to be entailed simply in order to prove that he ought to remain where he now is.
I do not agree with that, and I am quite prepared to reply to the hon. Member on that point. When we are dealing with a large number of forms which have to be tabulated by a staff a few thousand more or less is a very small matter. The staff has only had to be slightly increased as it is, but the value of example is that it shows that a man like Lord Rhondda is prepared to sign this undertaking, and that example should have its effect on men, who are to be found all over the country, who are not nearly so busy, but who will not sign because they say, "Why should I sign my name to something which binds me to undertake any work the Director-General of National Service may ask me to undertake?" As one who is somewhat responsible for the enrolment of National Service volunteers, I say Lord Rhondda has assisted us greatly, and I hope the hon. Member for Attercliffe will set an equally good example by signing a form here and handing it to me personally.
I will answer that at once. The duty of the National Service Department is not to find jobs for men, but to find men for jobs, and if the hon. Member enrols in the Volunteer National Service the Department will wait quite contented, and I hope he, too, will wait with great patience until we can get him a job suitable for a man of his great abilities. We want to put a square peg 1416 in a square hole. My hon. Friend the Member for Attercliffe also read an extract from a newspaper headed "A Wasted Man." He went on to explain that that man had resigned a position in order to go into the Army, and found he was not wanted. I am somewhat astonished at that in view of the Debates we have had to-day, and in view of what the hon. Member for East Mayo has said. I thought the Army were trying to get everybody. Under the new Regulations regarding restricted trades this man, to whom the paragraph referred, was unable to go back to his old occupation, and he consequently volunteered for National. Service. He says he has waited a long time and has heard nothing. I hope he will continue to wait patiently. Up till the present time, under the Order regarding restriction of trade, employers could not engage any man between the ages of eighteen and sixty-one unless he had been, discharged from either the Navy or the Army, but yesterday the Director-General of National Service issued a fresh Order enabling employers to employ people who had signed the National Service form, the reason being that, as they had volunteered to go anywhere and do anything required of them, the Director-General could move them from one trade to another if he thought fit. I think that is a great advantage both to the National Service volunteers and to the employers in restricted trades.
My hon. Friend also had a great deal to say in criticism of a telegram sent out by the National Service Department. He said it amounted to 100 words; I did not count them, but no doubt it was a very long telegram. I sent it out, and I take the entire responsibility for doing it. I may explain the reason for sending it. We had had a conference which had extended until somewhat late in the afternoon, and we had come to the conclusion that the National Service Committees throughout the country were not going on as we thought they should, the reason, being that they did not quite understand what was wanted of them. I may have been wrong, but I thought it just as well to summon them at the earliest possible moment to London to meet the Director-General of National Service and hear him explain his scheme. Lord Rhondda presided over the meeting, and the Director-General gave an address. The hon. Member for Attercliffe suggests that the 1417 object of the meeting might equally well have been secured by sending out a circular letter. I have no doubt he is right, but the fact remains that for a period of two hours I stood up to answer questions put by provosts, mayors, and other local people, and they did not think, apparently, that the time was entirely wasted. I am glad to say I was able to answer every question put to me.
Again, the hon. Member for Attercliffe said the Director-General had undertaken an impossible task in setting up his new appeal tribunal. I do not think it will prove an impossible task. On the contrary, I hope it will be found a very useful phase of our work. We are not dealing with conscripts, and if hon. Members will only help us to get enough volunteers I hope we shall never have to face the conscription of labour. This is what the appeal will amount to. A sub-commissioner is to be appointed by the National Service Department, and his sole object in life will be to see that square pegs are put into square holes, and that a man is not taken out of an employment which is of national importance and put into employment which is not. He will have to see that men are usefully employed in the interests of the nation in these times of stress. If he finds that an Employment Exchange manager is trying to move a square peg into a round hole, and if the square peg objects and appeals, then the sub-commissioner will go into the facts and will decide that the man had better remain where he is, as he is doing work of national importance. He will, in other words, instruct the Employment Exchange manager to refrain from taking the action objected to.
§ Mr. ANDERSON
The hon. and gallant Member was not here when I spoke, and does not quite appreciate the point I made. My point is that the employer, as I understand it, in each case has the right to make an appeal to the appeal tribunal for a decision as to whether the man is better engaged to remain with him than to go into work of national importance. A tremendous number of such appeals will be made by employers, involving a waste of energy, both men and employers having to appear 1418 before the appeal tribunals, and there will be a struggle over the body of each workman brought before them.
I was trying to ox-plain to the hon. Member that if the employer can produce any written information which will satisfy the sub-commissioner, whose sole object is to see that the man is doing work of primary importance, the matter will not even go so far as the appeal tribunal, because the sub-commissioner will immediately grant the employers' appeal and instruct the Employment Exchange not to move the man. The last point raised by the hon. Member for Attercliffe is what is going to happen in the case of a man who is earning a good income at the present time, but who may be moved into some employment where he will earn very low wages. The first thing not realised by a great number of hon. Members in this House and by the huge majority of the people of the country is that the whole scheme is voluntary. The man who signs a National Service form undertakes a certain moral obligation. He gives a promise, that is all. There is no legal compulsion about it whatever. He gives that promise on the undertakings which have been given in this House by the Home Secretary over and over again, and given outside the House by the Director-General of National Service, who has said over and over again that it is not his intention to move a man who is earning a large income in one employment and ask him to become an agricultural labourer at 25s. a week. He has now gone further and says that where an attempt is made to move any man from high wages to low wages and that individual volunteer feels that his civil liabilities — his rent, upkeep of his family, Income Tax, and so on— cannot be met by him if he undertakes this work as a volunteer, he may have a right to appeal. I am only expressing my own opinion, but if I were that volunteer, if that promise was broken, if I was told to go from a job where I was earning £1,000 a year, if I were asked to work for 25s. a week, and if I had a wife and ten children to keep, I should not go. I should have given my promise under certain circumstances and certain undertakings given by the Home Secretary and the Director-General of National Service. I should have signed a form accepting those promises as a bond from the Government, and if those promises were not fulfilled by the Government I should 1419 say that my conscience—my conscience, perhaps, is a little move elastic than that of the hon. Member for Attercliffe—would allow me to break my promise, because I should say that in the first place the Government had broken their promise, and therefore I was entitled to break mine. I appeal to the hon. Member for Attercliffe and other hon. Members who are criticising this scheme, not to criticise but to help it. What we want is a large pool of volunteers. We have to find reinforcements of labour in various important industries of this country, and We have to form this pool out of which we can select men and fill every conceivable occupation in the country. We want men of brains and men capable of doing skilled and unskilled work to take the places of those men who are exempted from military service. We must have a big pool; we must have a pool for every conceivable occupation in the country, and we shall never get that pool if we do not have the whole-hearted support of this House, of the Press, and of the public of this country.