§ "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 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."
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."
Sir H. DALZIEL
The Vote which has just been submitted covers naval and military operations in connection with the War. I desire to ask the Government for a little information in regard to the military forces at present in Ireland. I think that the House generally will recognise that the policy both with regard to both military and civil administration in Ireland was left in a very unsatisfactory state when the matter was last before the House, and in these times, when revolutions are in the air, it seems to be opportune, in view of the grave state of things in Ireland, that we should have a frank declaration from the Government both as to the present position and as to the future policy. Revolutions, if they fail, are a crime against humanity, and if they succeed are a blow for freedom. I should like to ask the, Government whether they intend to leave this matter exactly where it was left in our recent Debate. At that time the Government expressed itself willing to consent to the appointment of a Commission in order to see whether this opportune moment could not be taken advantage of 1444 in order to bring about a better understanding between this country and Ireland. There are only three courses open to the Government. They may leave matters exactly as they are and allow them to drift, which is, I think, an impossible, and certainly a dangerous policy. There is the other alternative of accepting the suggestion put forward by the late Prime Minister that a Commission of powerful representative men, with a Colonial element, should be appointed to try and bring about a peaceful settlement between the two countries. And there is the third alternative, that the Government itself should provide the machinery for carrying out the declared policy of the Government, which, as I understand it, is that every portion of Ireland which is favourable to the immediate establishment of free institutions there should have the opportunity of declaring their will, or, in short, I take it that means what is commonly known as county option. I invite the Government to face this question at the present moment, because it is essentially a war question. My information from Ireland is not at all of a reassuring character, and I do not know whether anyone acquainted with that country will deny that fact. There are greater Imperial issues even than the domestic position of Ireland. There is the Irish element in America, and there is the overwhelming necessity that no domestic questions should interfere with the concentration of public opinion on the vigorous prosecution of the War. I look forward with dismay to the possibility of party debates in this House during the very serious times through which this country is about to pass. I think every Member's mind ought to be on the War and on nothing but the War, and in the interests of the Government itself, not to speak of the country, I invite my right hon. Friend, the Leader of the House, to be as frank as he usually is with regard to this question. Ten days have elapsed since this question was before us, and practically nothing, so far as the House knows, has been done. I want the right hon. Gentleman to tell us, if he can, whether the Government still adhere to their approval of the appointment of a Commission to deal with this matter. And are they willing, as far as possible, to collect the views of the House in regard to that policy. Let me point out this is no-longer purely a Government matter, it is no longer an Irish matter, it is a matter which belongs to this House. Judging 1445 by the manner in which we have pressed Governments in regard to previous procedure, I do not think we are justified in being absolutely silent so long as we have responsibility. I regard this as of a most pressing character. I would not have intervened to-day, but I invite my right hon. Friend to tell us whether the policy of the Government is still a conciliatory policy. Is it still their policy as to the whole of Ireland that desires self-government that that desire shall be fulfilled? Are they themselves prepared to take some steps in order to settle what I think is a most dangerous problem at the present time?
§ Major G. P. COLLINS
No doubt there are many causes which have brought about (he revolution in Russia, but undoubtedly one of the main causes is the lack of transport facilities in that country, which has brought about scarcity of food in that wide area. Contrast the position in Russia with the measure of success of our forces in Mesopotamia. Up that long winding river of some 500 miles our troops have gained a great success, and that is largely due to the excellent transport facilities up that river. I had hoped yesterday that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would have told us something further about the successes in that part of the globe. The House may be interested to know that I had a letter a few days ago from a responsible officer in that part of the sphere of operations, in which he assured me that the arrangements for the sick and wounded, taken by motor ambulances and by quick steamers to their hospitals, left nothing to be desired. My object in rising is to see if this country cannot gain some experience from what has happened in Russia during the last few days. The revolution there, as I have said, has come about from scarcity of food and scarcity of transport facilities, largely due to men being taken from productive industries in Russia and transferred into the ranks of the military. No amount of management will control famine. We know full well that in Germany to-day food tickets are plentiful, while the food itself is scarce, and it is true that the gaunt spectre of famine is stalking through the world today. I say let us be on guard against it in this country. The advance of famine will have far-reaching results, not only on ourselves, but on our families, and if we are to avoid being driven into any dishonourable peace we must face this matter "with more determination and more cour- 1446 age than we have even during the last few months. Scarcity is apparent, because the high prices of foodstuffs speak for themselves. Profiteering no doubt exists, but that would not exist if the supplies were plentiful, and to ward off famine I think the Government should take further steps to deal with two items. We have too long neglected our agriculture. We are neglecting it to-day if we withdraw a single man from agriculture in this country. We are neglecting it to-day if we do not return to the land its skilled men who are now in the ranks of the Army. On Wednesday I was in Scotland, and a man who came through from Edinburgh told me a large number of ploughmen had been withdrawn from the military to be lent to farmers in Scotland. But they are withdrawn only for a few weeks. Has not the time arrived when the Government should insist on those men being permanently retained on the land instead of being withdrawn for a very few weeks, and then returned to the military?
We have not only not to neglect agriculture, but we must also not neglect our transport and our mercantile shipping. I remember well, in 1915, seeing the largest yard on the Clyde, noted for building merchant ships, and not a single ship was being built in that yard. We have altered our policy, no doubt, in that respect, but to-day there are large numbers of skilled men in the Army whose place should be in the shipyards of our country and in the engineering shops of our country It was wise, perhaps, to withdraw those men in 1915 and 1916, but to-day, in the early months of 1917, they should be ordered back from the Army and sent to the shipyards and engineering shops and other productive industries of this country, and until the Government take these steps they are neglecting the vital questions which will settle this War in a satisfactory way to ourselves. I say also that the Government are neglecting our merchant shipping if they do not review our expeditionary policy. It is true to say that the failure of the Dardanelles Expedition in the early months of 1915 brought down the Government of that day, and perhaps, if the truth were known to-day, the Salonika Expedition will bring down the present Government. These matters must be reviewed in the light of subsequent knowledge, and our merchant ships should not be used for these distant expeditions, which use up such a large number of ships not only in carrying men and stores, but 1447 also in the long distances they have to follow, and their number being such that they are unable to be adequately protected by torpedo boats in the dangerous waters of the Mediterranean. It is true also to say that many engines in this country are not being repaired and many merchant ships are not Toeing repaired in our yards because of lack of labour.
On these points I do not think the military are to blame. You cannot blame the military for trying to lay hands on every available man. They would be false to their duty if they did not try to do so; but the responsibility rests, and must rest, solely on the War Council for determining these points, and I appeal to the Leader of the House to review these questions in the light of the knowledge which they possess to-day. The practical suggestion which I have to offer as a contribution to this Debate is this, that the onus of proof should not as in the past be, "Why should not men be taken by the Army," but instead the position should be reversed, and it should be placed upon the military to justify in every case why any man should be taken from a productive industry and transferred into the ranks of the Army. In addition, why should not the Board of Agriculture have the same power to give badges to their men as is possessed by the Ministry of Munitions? We know full well that there is only one reason that has accounted for that lack of power in the past. It is because in this country we have, rightly or wrongly, looked upon the Board of Agriculture as a secondary office. Their powers have never been so great in this House—with all respect to the men who have held that position in the past— and it has not been an office sought after by the leading members of the different Governments; the powerful men in each Government have sought to preside over more important Departments, and so, little by little, the Board of Agriculture has sunk in the past to a secondary position. If the Board of Agriculture to-day had power to give badges to men, we would not see the position which we have to-day.
I have only been here a few weeks, but every day I have been in this House hon. Members have risen from all quarters to urge that men should not be withdrawn from agriculture and from different trades. As far back as 1915 in this House I ventured to question the wisdom of the policy of withdrawing men, as we were doing at 1448 that time, from every trade in the country. I wondered then as I wonder now, whether we could stay the course successfully. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is worse than ever."] I do not think it is too late even yet if the Government will take definite steps to withdraw men from the Army, no matter where they are, and send them back to the vital industries without which this War cannot be waged successfully. As I have said, I do not think the responsibility in this matter rests with the War Office. It is essentially a matter for the War Council to determine and for the War Office to carry out the policy laid down by the War Council itself. The day has long since gone by when this War can be conducted with vigour in every part of the globe, and the time has arrived, I think, when we should seek to conserve our strength. The nation which conserves its strength and has the largest margin to spare at a given moment will) win this War. The War, I think, will be won on margins. Germany to-day is withdrawing to conserve her strength. Are we withdrawing to conserve our strength? Are we reviewing the actions of the past to conserve our strength? The Chancellor of the Exchequer will have noticed yesterday, after Questions, the restlessness which was shown by this House at the restrictive tenor of the Debate. That restlessness is a fair indication of the uneasiness which exists outside these doors. We are asked by the Government to pass another £60,000,000 to carry on the War. Day after day recently the public have been asked to lend their hard-earned savings, obtained after much toil and work, and before asking for this further £64,000,000,I think the Government should have sought instead to find that money from other services. They should have attempted to economise in other directions. That, I think, would have been the policy of any wise business man. Instead of coming down and asking for further money, he would have gone through his various Departments to see whether he could have got so much from one Department and so much from another, but the ease with which this House in the past has voted large sums of money to the Government no doubt would encourage them in the course which they have taken. I am sorry also that the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave us no assurance that an attempt had been made to economise in public Departments. I listened very 1449 closely to what he said in introducing the Vote. We had no assurance in his speech that any attempt, or any further attempt, was being made to economise in the public Departments. When it is considered that the amount of this Estimate is some £64,000,000, and that the first item is £18,000,000 to buy wheat from Australia, the question that at once arose to my mind was: here we are using foodstuffs for alcoholic beverages—is it not rather a tragedy to think it?—when we should conserve our foodstuffs for the vital necessities of the people. The Government in this matter will have an awkward time if, any time in the next twelve or eighteen months, there is any real shortage of foodstuffs, because the public will then say, and rightly say, "Why did not the Government take steps to conserve every pound of foodstuffs in this country, rather than allow us to drink it at our own pleasure?" I do not know the exact position in this matter. But it seems to me the wisest course to conserve our foodstuffs for the future, because the public may say, as they did in Scotland when I was there this week, "Surely the Government would not allow us to continue to make beer, or other liquors, if there was any real shortage of foodstuffs in this country!" This is the outlook of the public to-day. They trust the Government to take the necessary steps to curtail these articles, and their production, if there is any fear of any real shortage of food in the future. Although, perhaps, I have spoken in a critical spirit of the Leader of the House, may I, before I sit down, say that I appreciate very much the frankness shown by him in these matters. I appreciate very much the tenor of his speeches since the outbreak of the War. He has realised the seriousness of the situation. He has realised that the War will not be a short one, and that this country may have to undergo great hardships. I have no desire to increase his difficulties, but rather to support him in any action he may wish to take, no matter how stringent, if it reverses decisions which in the light of present knowledge have been a failure.
§ Sir JOSEPH WALTON
I ventured yesterday to draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the fact that in connection with the three Votes of Credit which he has introduced into this House he has dealt hardly at all with the question of what effort the Government are making to secure that we shall come to some larger approach to value for our money in the 1450 enormous expenditure that is going forward. It is staggering to think that the Votes of Credit this year, 1916–17, amount to £2,010,000,000. The saving of a paltry 3 per cent. on this two thousand millions means £60,000,000. If that small saving had been effected all through there would have been no necessity to ask for this £60,000,000 Vote. The expenditure of the year now exceeds the original Estimate by no less than £410,000,000, and brings up the expenditure to five and a half millions per day. The total Votes since the beginning of the War amount to £4,042,000,000, and it increases the deficit of the two years ending 31st March to £2,955,000,000. The War Loan was an enormous success, on which I congratulate my right hon. Friend. The spirit of sacrifice entered into it and made it a success. On the occasion of the last Vote of Credit I ventured in this; House to say that if the new money did not amount to a thousand millions it would be inadequate. I was laughed at for that prophecy. I am glad to say that it was realised. It included £130,000,000 of Treasury Bills which were transferred into the War Loan, and were, therefore, not exactly new money. That reduced the new money to £870,000,000. What do we find as the final result? When the War Loan closed we still had outstanding £920,000,000 of short-dated Treasury Bills, with £870,000,000 of new money to place against them with which to liquidate them. Therefore, the position in which we stand to-day is that if we pay off those Treasury Bills we shall have a deficit of £50,000,000, with £276,000,000 of short-dated Exchequer Bonds standing over. What does that mean? It means that we need to conserve our financial resources more than ever before, because after our present expenditure we shall merely have begun to pile up short-dated borrowings again.
The main object, however, of my rising is to invite the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as did the hon. and gallant Gentleman who spoke last, to make some statement to the House as to what effort the Government have been making to secure better value for the expenditure of their money to the taxpayers of this country? The control and supervision of national expenditure in all Departments in normal times is in the hands of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He tells us that owing to the enormous pressure or crises through which we are passing that that Treasury control has largely to be in abeyance during the War. The last 1451 Report of the Public Accounts Committee made some drastic strictures on the unnecessary waste of money, especially in connection with the War Office and the Ministry of Munitions. I will not recapitulate the points raised by the Public Accounts Committee. I have already banded notes of them to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and they are accessible to Members. Indeed, I stated them in the House on a previous occasion, but was not honoured with a reply from the Government. What I ask broadly to-day is: What effort have the Government made to give effect to the recommendations of the Public Accounts Committee, so that a continuance of the huge waste of money in the two places which were reported upon in the 1915–16 Report of the Public Accounts Committee is not being continued to-day? An Estimates Committee was appointed two or three years ago. It has not, I believe, met for two years. The Public Account Committee's Report deals with the period 1915–16, now so long gone by that really all it amounts to is to record the waste that took place rather than to be an instrument by which we shall effectively prevent waste for the future. The subject is of vital importance.
You substituted for the Public Accounts Committee a Treasury Committee, a Public Accounts Control Committee, and an Estimates Accounts Control Committee. We tried to get Committees appointed to endeavour to effect economies in connection with the Estimate for the Navy, Munitions, and the Civil Service Department. We have only had a Report of what work has been achieved by these Committees in connection with the Civil Service Department, and they say they have effected an economy of 4 per cent. If other Departments had effected an equal economy, this Vote of £60,000,000 would not have been required to-day. Therefore, the House is entitled to know what has been the result of the work of these several. Committees. I am perfectly certain they have done good work, and the House ought to be informed of it. We all know that millions of money have been wasted, especially in the earlier stages of the War, and millions have been wasted through the want of proper management of the commandeered shipping alone. A Controller was appointed for the Clothing Department and the clothing depots, and it is most unfortunate that the Controller's 1452 Report is not in our hands to-day, so that we could know of the economies effected in regard to the extraordinary waste of money which took place in the Pimlico Clothing Depots and the other clothing depots throughout the country. I suppose we shall receive that Report when it is too late to prevent any waste, as in the case of the Public Accounts Committee. That was not the fault of the Public Accounts Committee. We ought to be grateful to them for the evidence we have in their Report of the immense pains they have taken in investigating and endeavouring to point out the extravagances which ought not to have taken place. In the Auditor and Controller-General we have a most splendid and valuable public servant, who discharges his duties exceedingly well.
What we want is some authority that will act to-day to stop the waste of public money. We have had a new Controller appointed for the management of shipping. The House wishes to be assured by the head of the Government in this House that the Shipping Controller will be really allowed to control and that he will no longer be subject to have his control upset by the Admiralty Transport Department officials, who have been transferred with him to the new office which has been set up. We all learned with pleasure yesterday that the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Holt) is to be an additional controller or director, charged with the working of the commandeered and requisitioned ships, amounting in all to a tonnage of 12,000,000 or 13,000,000 tons. All I can say is that, glutton as the hon. Member is for work, to our knowledge, and great as is the energy he possesses, I think he has got a big job in hand. We are grateful to him and we are grateful to the Shipping Controller for coming forward and giving freely their services in this respect. I desire to know, and the House desires to know, from the Chancellor of the Exchequer how far the lack of ordinary control and supervision of expenditure which has fallen into abeyance during the War is being met by these various Committees that were appointed. I am sure that, after the magnificent response to the War Loan on the part of the nation, it would be a great satisfaction and encouragement to the people throughout the whole country if my right hon. Friend is able to give us this assurance. We know that waste cannot be altogether stopped in the middle of a great War like this, and 1453 we would not be so unreasonable as to expect that, but we ask that when the matter is being seriously considered in connection with Votes of Credit, we shall from time to time, have some statement with respect to the savings that are being effected. Since these Committees were appointed we have had no Report as to the result of their labours, and I invite my right hon. Friend to give us a statement containing information on this most important subject.
§ 1.0 P.M.
§ Mr. LOUGH
My right hon. Friends have mentioned a subject to which I desire to call the attention of the Chancellor of Exchequer, namely, the need for some economic control of this vast expenditure. If ever there was an occasion on which the House ought to be willing to consider this matter, it surely is to-day. It is only a month since we had the largest Vote of Credit which any Parliament has ever had to face, and yet within a month of that time we have to supplement it by this extremely large amount. Therefore, I think that my hon. Friends are well entitled to call attention to this question of the necessity of some machinery for more economic administration of the resources of the country. About a month ago we had the pleasure of receiving a letter from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which was marked "Private." The preliminary sentence of that letter I should like to read to the House, with his consent.
§ Mr. LOUGH
Yes, on my pocket too. The letter says:The War has reached a position in. which it is evident that the issue must largely depend upon the staying power of the combatants, and in my belief there is 1454 nothing which would do more to hasten a satisfactory peace than evidence of the financial stability of the United Kingdom.The War Loan was an excellent answer to that letter.
§ Mr. LYNCH
While not wishing to interrupt an interesting discourse, I should like to ask for your ruling, Mr. Speaker, on a point of Order. A letter has been produced, which may be an official document. Part of it has been quoted. I would like to know whether Members of the House are entitled to have the whole letter laid on the Table.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
If the right hon. Member for Islington (Mr. Lough) occupied the position which ho did at one time as a member of the Administration, he would have been obliged to produce the document, but in his present position the rule does not apply to him.
§ Mr. LOUGH
I can assure my hon. Friend that I only quoted that which was relevant to my argument. It is our duty to do everything we can to maintain the financial stability of the United Kingdom. We are concerned with the expenditure of vast amounts of money, and I can well understand that my hon. Friends feel deeply concerned if every step is not taken to secure economy. I want to make two or three specific proposals in regard to this matter, and I would be very glad if the Chancellor of the Exchequer or some other responsible Minister would give an answer. The complaint we make —it was voiced by my hon. Friends and I desired to put it forward—is that we get no answer. There were four speeches about economy in the earlier part of a debate some months ago, but no reply was given. Where a reply is given it is something to this effect—a particular case is dealt with, and there is a promise given that that case will be looked into. This House wants something more than that. We want an alteration of the system, and we want to be assured that the old economic principles which Parliament has set up are going to be brought into operation once more. I have no desire to embarrass the Leader of the House, because I think he is performing a very difficult task, but I wish to remind him that the instrument of economy in every Government is the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. We have not yet seen the new Financial Secretary, and we cannot see him because he is not a Member of 1455 this House. We know this member of the Government has been engaged on very important work, and we know that he is a man of great ability, although I have not the pleasure of knowing him myself. My point, however, is that the work that used to be discharged by the Financial Secretary in this House wants doing, and, with great respect to my right hon Friend, I do not think it is being done at the present time. What is the duty of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury? He has always been regarded as the watch-dog of economy, and there never was a time like the present when a watch-dog was so much wanted. We wanted an assurance that the will of the House of Commons will be carried out, and that is not being done at the present time.
The same point is raised in almost every criticism, and we want some machinery to control the expenditure of the country to secure economic administration. In the past the Financial Secretary to the Treasury used to be the instrument through which the machine of economy worked. We do not appear to have one now, and I want to know what is being done in this matter, which is causing so much concern in the House. I shall not be satisfied on this point with any arrangement made inside the ranks of the Government. The fault of the last Government in this respect was that whenever they saw a storm coming in the House of Commons —I would ask the present Government to be careful how they deal with storms—they appointed a Cabinet Committee. None of us knew what that Committee did, what evidence it proceeded upon, when it began or when it finished, and I have no confidence in that mode of procedure. The constitutional procedure with regard to this matter is the House of Commons itself. The great mistake made by the last Government, and which I fear will be made by this Government, is that Parliament itself, the mighty force of this House, is not used to effect the great work of economy which my hon. Friends and myself have so much at heart. I would like to ask the Leader of the House whether he could use his influence to appoint a Committee of this House to consider the national outlay, with a view of restricting the total expenditure. I would suggest that such a Committee should make inquiries into the expenditure in such a way that no delay shall be caused to the progress of any military operations. 1456 I have never been satisfied with the reasons given for excluding the House of Commons having control over the expenditure which has arisen since the War commenced. The House of Commons could, by means of a large Committee, without obstructing military operations, see that the Government get the best value for their money. I want Parliament called to the assistance of the Government, and in some safe way an arrangement made by which this House shall discharge its ancient obligations to the taxpayer of controlling expenditure.
When I see the Ministers opposite every one of their Departments suggest to me waste. When I open my newspaper in the morning I see some scandalous example of waste which shocks the public feeling of the country. Take the "Times." I saw there a very interesting leader relating the story of a field of 22 acres of young wheat, which some young officer of the Army gave instructions to dig up in order to build hutments. I am glad to see the Under-Secretary for War here. Probably he has read the "Times," and has seen this case. On one side of the road near this wheat field there was another field in which the hutments could have been erected without waste or loss, and yet the officer orders the wheatfield to be dug up. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is too bad!"] What is going to be done about this? We know the answer, and we are sick and tired of it. We shall be told that the matter will be inquired into, but we never hear the result of those inquiries. I remember in the last Debate half a dozen of my inquiries received no answer.
I will turn for a moment to another case which has been mentioned in this House. It is the case of a farmer who had some hay which the War Office had bought. He asked permission to take some of this hay away for his own necessary purposes, and he was told, "We cannot weigh this hay, but you can have some of our hay from a distance." Of course, you can never get a businesslike answer, and whenever any difficulty occurs we are told there will be an inquiry, and we get no assurance that any economy will be effected. The point I have in view is illustrated by every one of these cases, and the manner of conducting our affairs is not businesslike. The Army is a great offender in this respect, and I am the last person to say a word against the War Office, or the gallant soldiers who are doing so much for our 1457 country. We all have an admiration for them. But we are deeply convinced that, owing to their profession and a thousand reasons which I could give, they are not men calculated to carry through simple business operations. This question of 22 acres of young wheat does not appeal to them. There ought to be an authority to give the word of command in such an instance as this field of young wheat, "Go on the other side of the road." In the other case the word of command might have been given, "Supply this hay from the stock farm." But the War Office seems to be destitute of any capacity of exercising business functions. I do not want to make an attack upon the War Office, and I will now turn to the Department of the Shipping Controller. Yesterday we had made out the case of the Government—the weak case, as I thought —about the prohibition of imports, and I want to suggest that there may be great waste in this wide and broad prohibition of imports. I hear that ships are coming over from France almost in ballast or half empty because some of the goods which they might bring are prohibited.
§ Mr. LOUGH
It is very difficult to say what is a luxury, and, as the hon. Member has just addressed the House, I would rather that he allowed me to submit my own argument. The House will see how necessary it is to be careful in this matter. The Government now take all the ships it needs and sends them where it pleases. If the Government does not fill up a ship on a particular occasion, why should it be prevented from bringing some of the necessary commodities to this country? Supposing a ship is passing down the St. Lawrence to Halifax, and Halifax has 1,000 cases of apples, why should it not bring those apples? Is not this general broad prohibition likely to result in great waste, causing ships to come with half cargoes or no cargoes at all? Would it not be better if the Government allowed the commercial community to bring in all the commodities they can? It appears to me that this matter has not been fully thought out and that the operations of the Department of the Shipping Controller may involve the country in great waste and loss in a most critical time. We had a most extraordinary scene in this House on Tuesday. I went upstairs and found the greatest deputation I have ever seen in this House. It represented all the 3,500 1458 controlled establishments of the country, and we heard from my hon. Friend who introduced it that there was £2,000,000,000 of capital represented in the room. They all put one plea to the Government. What was it? It was that the various Ministers should consult with the trades that were represented there before issuing their Orders. That is all. They asked that you should speak to the people who know about things before you act. The moment we say that it appears to drive the War Office wild. [AN HON. MEMBER: "It is done!"] It is done in the most restricted way, and it is not done until the last moment. Why did that deputation come to the House of Commons? Would all those gentlemen have come here to talk nonsense and waste their time if the thing were being done? They mentioned case after case of the most ridiculous Order-having been issued. Many of these Orders were afterwards withdrawn, and they were only issued because the trades affected were not consulted. Whenever a particular trade is mentioned, attention is directed to that trade, whereas my object is to get the principle looked into and some economic machinery set up, such as any business man would create. It would be a disgrace to any business to have anyone of the thousand things which goes on in connection with the Government. Still, I will break the rule that I have been trying to lay down, and I will say a word about my own business—tea. That business was carried on in a most creditable way from the standpoint of the trade of the country until about two months ago.
§ Mr. LOUGH
I assure the hon. Member it is a perfect detail, and I will not digress and go into it. It was examined by a Committee, and I do not speak of that branch of the business at all. As lately as October last the State was buying tea at 10d. per lb., and it is now paying between 1s. 4d. and 1s. 5d. per lb. That alone represents a loss of about £25,000 per week. The House may say, "Why did not you go to the Government and speak to them about it?" I have been speaking to the Government for sixteen months, and trying to get them to consider the general interests of the country and to make a businesslike arrangement. I went 1459 to the present Prime Minister when he was at the War Office, but I could not interest him in a trifle of this kind. That was fifteen months ago. I also spoke to the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I have spoken to the present Financial Secretary. All I did was to ask them to consult the trade before they took violent steps with regard to the matter. Look at the example we have had within the last fortnight. Happily this does not affect the War Office. I do not want to be hard upon the War Office, because I believe in a great many respects they have placed the country under the most lasting obligation, but I do appeal to them that, in matters of business they should adopt the principle of consulting those who know before making their purchases. Look at what another branch of the Government did a fortnight ago. The Food Controller, a fortnight ago, plunged into this tea question.
§ Mr. LOUGH
I will leave the bacon question to be dealt with by my hon. Friends from Ireland, although I agree it is a question of vast importance. What occurred? Really, if it were a comic opera the thing could not be more amusing. The Food Controller sent for a few representatives of the business and then swept them all aside and said, "I know all about it. The price of tea must be reduced by about 40 or 50 per cent." He did not take into account the operations of the other members of the Government. He fixed a certain price, but the Government themselves were giving 33⅓ per cent. more than that price for all the tea that they could buy. What was the good of one member of the Government stating this and another member of the Government stating exactly the opposite? The effect was that the tea sales almost produced a famine. In the same way a famine in potatoes has been produced. The Government makes everything dearer it touches. It creates scarcity and famine instead of cheapness and plenty. The Food Controller said to this tea deputation, "If you do not behave well and alter the price immediately, we will treat you as we do sugar." How did they treat sugar? They doubled and trebled the price of sugar, and within a month of taking it over they made the people suffer more 1460 both in the price they paid for it and in its scarcity than ever the unhappy people thought they could suffer.
The Government are full of the idea that they have managed sugar exceedingly well. We cannot get it into their heads that they ought to drop sugar and leave it to the people who understand it. If the Government would only allow sugar to be imported freely—why should it be a crime to bring in sugar? that question has never been answered—if they would only allow sugar to be brought in by the people who understand it, the whole of their difficulties with regard to sugar, its scarcity and dearness, would be solved. There are constant complaints coming from Ireland about sugar. It is a crime for any man in Ireland who knows where to get it to bring in sugar. Would it not be safe to give them the liberty? I shall be told by the Government that they could not do it. But why not try? Why not open the gates and let them bring it in if they can? If they can, nothing but good will be done. The House will see the difficulty I get into the moment I mention any particular case, and yet there are one or two as to which I want an answer. Some of them were mentioned a month ago, but we have not yet had any answer. The House will remember that the Food Controller, as I think very wisely, recommended a system of voluntary rationing. He recommended everybody to bring down their consumption. But it was discovered a month afterwards that the Government had not put this rationing system into effect in the workhouses, or the prisons, or even in the prisons where the Germans are confined. Had they done so in the case of the German prisoners alone, and had they reduced the amount of bread to the standard fixed by the Food Controller, they would have saved 107 tons of bread weekly. I want to ask a question now, What has actually been done in this respect? Has the system been applied in the workhouses and prisons? Has it been applied to the numerous officials who are fed everywhere by the Government? Have they been put on the ration fixed by the Food Controller? If not, why not? Surely example is better than precept.
§ Mr. LOUGH
We were promised some information about the appointment of Mr. Tristram Eve by the War Office to grow 1461 corn at a salary of £3,000 a year. When this case was raised two things were said —one was, is it not extravagant, and the other was, is it not a matter which the Board of Agriculture should take in hand? We were promised that it should be in quired into. We have heard nothing more since. I want to know if the case has been inquired into, and, if so, what is the result? I do not want the Government, or the House, to think that because I have laid emphasis on these matters I desire to make any attack on the Government. I quite appreciate the fact that they are faced by extraordinary and extreme difficulties. I am only anxious to help them, but we are grieved at the waste we see going on, and every one of these things adds to that waste. They add to the huge sums which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has to provide, and enormous economies would be effected if the reforms we suggested were carried out. It is the system which is wrong; it is the system which will have to be altered. I would like to quote, in conclusion, without asking the House to endorse the sentiment, something which was said by Thomas Paine in this House, and I quote it because I want the House to realise that we here are only expressing public opinion when we raise these questions. Thomas Paine said:A change of Ministry amounts to nothing: one goes out another wines in, but still the same measures, vices, and extravagances are pursued. It signifies not who is the Minister: the defect lies in the system. The foundation and superstructure of the Government is bad. Prop it up as you will it will continually sink. England has been the prey of jobs ever since the Revolution.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
My right hon. Friend has dealt with many interesting subjects. The beauty of his speeches is always that he does not confine himself to any particular point; he has a fertile mind which ranges over the whole field of politics.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
And he has done so to-day. I cannot deal with all the cases he has mentioned, but I would like to refer to one or two. I am told to be on the look-out for storms in the House of Commons. I do not think that that warning is necessary. I do not think that anyone who occupies my position is likely to neglect that field of his duty. Anyone on this bench would try to avoid storms at any rate, and I will certainly make the attempt. But obviously a mariner in the sea of politics like a mariner on the ocean 1462 cannot always avoid storms, and when he cannot, he has to make the best pace he can to try and get through. That is what the Government are trying to do. My right hon. Friend gave a number of particular circumstances, but it is impossible obviously to judge even the value of his illustrations till we hear what the other side have to say. As it happens, I was myself able to understand one case which he gave, and that was when he spoke of the Shipping Controller. He said that if a ship was going empty down the St. Lawrence he could easily stop a little while in order to take on board some apples. That is what every sensible man who is not a shipowner might do, but it is the last thing which a sensible man, who is a shipowner, would do and for this simple reason that every hour's delay means so much money, and if the loss of freight corresponds to the amount of the delay, nothing would be more foolish than for a shipowner to stop to take on board a very small quantity of cargo.
Then take a case of which I know nothing. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the stupidity of some officer in the Army in building huts upon a field of young wheat. On the face of it, I admit it seemed a very stupid thing to do. But I understand the building that has been erected there and the work which has been done is in connection with the Flying Service, and it seems possible that the ground is needed to enable those who are flying to land in safety. The paddock is exactly suited for that purpose, and probably there was no alternative than to use the field of young wheat for the huts and the rest for the purpose of housing the air machines. I can assure the House that no member of the Government is less aware of its defects than the critics are, but, of course, it is always his business to try and make out that things are better than is supposed.
One point was raised yesterday, and that was the taking away of men from agriculture for the purposes of the Army. I am sure I do not need to tell the House that probably the most difficult of the many difficult problems which the Government is called upon to face at a time like this is to try and keep some reasonable mean between the men who must be got for the Army, if we are to keep up our forces in the field properly, and the men needed for essential services. It is difficult in every direction, and this question of 1463 agriculture has been before the Cabinet many times. None of us are so foolish as not to realise that it would be idiotic to make an appeal to the country to produce more food because of the need of it, and at the same time to take away from agriculture the men who are needed to produce it.
My hon. Friend suggested that the problem could easily be got over by giving the President of the Board of Agriculture the power which the Minister of Munitions had of deciding what men should be taken. I believe the Minister of Munitions had that power at one time, but he has not got it now. I will say this about agriculture, that we have had the Departments before us, and in every case an agreement has been arrived at between them. Of course individual cases must arise—you cannot avoid that—where the wrong thing is done. But this has been made quite clear both to the War Office and to the Board of Agriculture, that in this particular case the Cabinet regard the production of food as even more important than the sending of additional men into the Army. I do not know whether we can do more than that. The Minister of Munitions has not the power to say who is to go and who is to stop. The power has been taken out of his hands. The point put to me was that the Minister for Agriculture should be given the same powers as the Minister of Munitions, but he has not that power. Obviously it would not be right to give to any Department the final power to say whether any man should be taken. I can assure my hon. Friend that the question of extravagant expenditure is one of those which causes as much annoyance to the Government as to their critics. Since I occupied my present post it has not been a pleasant subject to me. The House knows—it must know, and it could not be otherwise—that in the stress of war the Treasury cannot exercise the same amount of control in detail that it exercises in time of peace. That is obvious. Even in time of peace nothing was more frequent than for critics in every part of the House to complain of the delay of the Treasury in settling this matter. It would be fatal in time of war. We must try to find some other means of getting a good system of expenditure. Both the last Government and the present Government have made constant efforts to secure that object. That they have been completely successful I do not pretend, but I am quite 1464 certain that much more has been done in that direction than the House imagines to-be the case. The House will easily understand that with this enormous expenditure the Chancellor of the Exchequer or anyone trying to exercise control would be very foolish if he spent his time trying to save £100 here and £100 there. The most he can do is to try and see that there is a system of control in connection with all the big spending Departments. I should like to tell the House, for what it is worth, what has been done and is being done now in that direction. Before I come to the three big spending Departments I must refer to the Civil Service. As the House-knows, a Committee was appointed in regard to that two years ago, and I think some economies resulted.
That is not so easily secured. I wish the House to realise that, on the whole, pressure from this House, even in time of war, is not in the direction of cutting down expenditure, but in the direction of increasing it. Let me give an. example. Since I went to the Treasury the new scales of pensions have gone through. I confess to the House—no; it is not a confession—I say it to the House that from the beginning of the War I have taken the view that that was not a field in which we ought to exercise economy, and it did not seem to me, because I happened to fill that office, that, owing to the universal rule that the Treasury is to try to cut down expenditure of that kind, I ought to be expected to take a different view from that which I should have taken in any other office. The result of that has been—we do not complain of it—that a tremendous new burden has been added to this country for that purpose by this House.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
Yes, quite right. I think we ought to have taken that course. I only mention it to show that while the House criticises the Government for its expenditure, the general pressure so often is in the direction of increasing expenditure. In regard to the big spending Departments, there are three of them—the Ministry of Munitions, the War Office, and the Board of Admiralty. I wish to tell the House what has been done to try to control expenditure in these different Departments. A Committee was appointed by the late Government in connection with 1465 the Board of Admiralty, a Committee which, I think, did useful work. What happens now? The Treasury Committee, on which, of course, the Admiralty are represented, meets two or three times every week, and goes over the expenditure, and knows what is being done. So far as it can be done without encroaching on policy, which is generally decided by the Cabinet as a whole, but so far as it can be done we know of the expenditure, we make our representations and, I think, have some effective say in seeing that contracts are properly placed. I do not pretend that if the Admiralty were not over head and ears in work that has to be done I would be at all satisfied with the arrangement as it is, but it is idle for the right hon. Gentleman—if he will excuse the expression—it is not correct to suggest that you can have an overhauling of these Departments during the War, to have them up before Committees, and to get them to go into all the details without taking away to an enormous extent the very men who are necessary in carrying on the War. I will take next the War Office. I think the House has the impression that it is worse than the Admiralty.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
There are difficulties in both Departments. What was done in the War Office was to set up a Committee, not from the House of Commons, but from other members of the Government, to examine the methods which are followed in spending the money. That Committee met regularly, and issued two Reports, and the result of that was useful. After all, that is not enough. I am only repeating now what I used to say in Opposition. I do not think myself that Committees are the best way to see that this kind of work is well done. I think it is best done, as a rule, by a man who under-stands the job, and can take it in hand himself. That has been done in several particular Departments, particularly in relation to the Clothing Department to which reference was made. More than that, the Secretary of State, with the approval of the Cabinet, has appointed a well-known business man, Mr. Andrew Weir, who is well known to the President of the Board of Trade, to go to the War Office, and to make it his job to look into all questions of the way in which contracts are placed, to make a report as to where he sees extravagance, and, if necessary, to 1466 suggest even a reorganisation in the way that this Department is working contracts. I only say that to show that we all realise how vital this is, and that, whether we are taking the most effective method or not, we are taking some methods to try to keep down expenditure.
Then we come to the Munitions Department. Probably because it is a newer Department—I may be wrong in my view— they have better methods for controlling the expenditure. The method adopted there is that there is a Costs Committee, which goes into the cost of every contract before it is placed. I will tell the House of what that Committee consists. It consists almost exclusively of outside accountants, who understand the business, and who go into every one of these accounts with a view to seeing how much the Government is paying for the supply of materials for the Ministry of Munitions. There is the same kind of Committee in this case, presided over by a skilled engineer, which goes into all expenditure, and in addition to that there is a general Finance Committee composed also of experienced business men, who supervise what has been done by the other Committees and try to see that no waste takes place.
But my right hon. Friend made one criticism which I really think is entirely undeserved. He spoke about the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, and thought that his absence from this House made for less control over this kind of expenditure. He is mistaken—at least, I think so. At the time the Government was formed there was great delay in filling up the post of Financial Secretary. Ultimately the present occupant of that office, who had been employed in the Ministry of Munitions mainly for the purpose of keeping down expenditure, was appointed by the Prime Minister with my complete approval for this sole purpose, that his knowledge and experience would enable him to exercise control over the other spending Departments in a way the ordinary political representative of that office could not do. That is the reason why it was done. My right hon. Friend, I quite admit, would be justified in his complaints if the Parliamentary work was not respectably done also. It is. I asked my hon. Friend (Mr. Baldwin) to undertake the Parliamentary work connected with that office. He works at the Treasury precisely as if he were Financial Secre- 1467 tary, and I say this to the House that so far as I can judge, after the experience I have had of him, I would not have the smallest hesitation in appointing him as Financial Secretary. Surely the public service does not suffer because we have one Financial Secretary who is devoting himself inside to keeping down expenditure.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
That is why he is there, and we have here a competent re-presentative doing the work here of Financial Secretary.
I think this is all I have to say except on the subject which was introduced by my right hon. Friend (Sir H. Dalziel). He did not tell me he was going to raise this subject.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
The right hon. Gentleman suggested it. I do not complain of that, except that I really should have liked to have more time not only to think about what I would say, but to consult the Prime Minister about it. The right hon. Gentleman asked me to speak frankly. I think if I make mistakes it is on that side, and I am going to risk making the same mistake now. Nothing that has happened in the House of Commons since I became a Member of it has seemed to me so deplorable as the ending of the Irish discussion the other day. There is in the House of Commons, among all parties a stronger and more universal desire to get some settlement of this question than has ever before existed in the House of Commons. That at least is my belief. If good-will would do it, it would be done to-morrow. But, as Burke said, "Idle wishes are the most idle of all things," and though what I am saying certainly shows the spirit with which I should like to deal with this question, that is not of much value unless you can find some practical way of dealing with it. I said that the whole House of Commons desires a settlement, but I am not sure that there is as much sympathy with hon. Members below the Gangway in the country as there is in the House of Commons. Hon. Members are doing what they think their duty—they must be the judges of their own action—in going into opposition in something like the old way to the Govern- 1468 ment. It might happen, because the Government could not be conducted at a time like this with the ordinary methods of Parliamentary opposition, that their action would have an effect which I should deplore above all others of compelling an. appeal to the country, and, what is worse for the future of the Empire, having to appeal largely on the ground that the Nationalist Members would not let us get on with the War. I do not think anything could be worse than that, and I am sure hon. Members opposite as well as we here would desire to avoid it. The House knows that the Prime Minister clearly indicated, and it was the suggestion afterwards made by the late Prime Minister, that if he thought there was any hope of a good result from appointing a Commission in any of the ways suggested, he would be glad to do it. Since then we have received no communication from any of the parties in Ireland, but in spite of that, we are now, as a Government, considering whether any action on our part is possible. That is all I have to say, and I am afraid it only comes down to this. We recognise as well as anyone that this is not a domestic question alone. If any method can be found for solving this old sore it would be one of the best things, even from the point of view of bringing the War to a satisfactory conclusion. I should like, if I may, to ask the House if they could not allow us to have this Vote pretty soon so as to enable us to get one or two other things this afternoon. The House heard yesterday the news from Russia. They realise, perhaps on that ground, that there is no want of respect on the part of any of us for the House of Commons, but that we really are taken up every hour with things that are pressing and vital, and I hope the House of Commons will do what they can to enable us to get through.
§ Sir J. SIMON
The conciliatory tone which the Leader of the House has shown, and which indeed we are accustomed to find in him in the exercise of his present most important duty, will, I am sure, be responded to, and I think there are many in the House who feel that the very important statement he has just made is one that they would rather think over and consider than debate, at any rate in any controversial spirit, or at any length. But as he has made on two separate subjects statements of the very greatest importance, I should like to be allowed to say a word about each, certainly not in any 1469 hostile spirit, but rather marking, for my Friends on this side and for myself, our sense of the importance of what he has said. He began by dealing with the immensely important question of the relation between the claims of agriculture at this moment and the claims of the Army, and the House will have noticed that the right hon. Gentleman made this statement. He stated, as I followed him, that at thi8 time, and in so far as these two great services may be said to come into competition with one another, the Government regard the production of food as more important even than the addition of men to the Army. That is a most notable statement, for, of course, judgment on this matter must primarily rest with those who have the facts and the figures before them, and I am sure that the country will note the great importance and the great gravity of that statement. But that being the conclusion to which the Government have arrived, we may be well assured that they have arrived at it, not because they have any doubt as to the great importance of keeping up the supply in the field. It-must be in spite of the immense importance of that that they feel there is something of more importance still, and, that being so, it must be of course for the Government to make that policy good. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman's statement on this point leaves the matter, if I may say so, quite clear. He gave us some information as to what Government Department it is which does not decide these things. He told us, for example, that it was not the Board of Agriculture that decided these things.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford University (Mr. Prothero), soon after he had assumed his office, expressed a strong opinion that it was the duty and business of the Board of Agriculture to decide this very thing, but it is conceded that they did not decide it. Well, who does decide it? This matter is vital. It so governs, it may be, and affects profoundly the whole prospect and future of the War, that the House of Commons would, I am sure, wish to know, and I think the country would wish to know, since the policy of the Government is now declared, what is the machinery by which that policy is going to be put into practical effect. Yesterday the Financial Secretary to the War Office made some interesting statements on this matter. 1470 It was pointed out to him that there were a number of skilled agriculturists who had been spared by the War Office until the 1st January this year. That was for the purpose of contributing toward the necessary work in connection with the provision of crops this year, but, since that arrangement was made, we have had from the Prime Minister the statement that, unfortunately, so far as the autumn sowing is concerned, what has been accomplished falls far short of that which was desirable, or even expected. That leads me to the remark that these skilled agricultural hands are not less wanted after the 1st January. They are more wanted, and yet the Financial Secretary to the War Office yesterday was constrained to tell us, and I use his exact words from the OFFICIAL REPORT:I cannot give any undertaking with regard to men who are working on the land who are included in that category."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 15th March, 1917, col., 1378.]That is A 1 category. Of course, from the point of view of the War Office, and those who wish—and very properly wish—to add to the utmost of their powers to the strength of the Army, any A 1 man is the best man. Of course he is, but he is also the best agriculturist, and I would venture to suggest to the Government that this declaration of policy having been made, and the House and the country now being assured that that is the Government view, surely better steps ought to be taken to secure that the very men who are most skilled and most strong for the purpose of the heavy work of the early spring should be protected from being called up to join the Army after 1st January, and as much as, and indeed more than, they were protected in the last month of the last year. If that is not done, it does not appear to me that the arrangements which at present are working for the security of agriculture are really consistent with the declaration of policy which the Leader of the House has just made.
Another subject on which I should like, in passing, to say one word is the position of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury in relation to this House. It must be admitted—and I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer will admit—that it is in a high degree anomalous, and, from the point of view of our historical Constitution, most surprising that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, who in ordinary times expounds and justifies and explains details of expenditure, should not himself 1471 be in the House of Commons. My right hon. Friend made a reference to the hon. Member for Bewdley (Mr. Baldwin), and I think we all would be anxious to join with the Leader of the House in recognising what good service the House does get from the hon. Gentleman when he answers the many difficult and intricate questions put for the purpose of obtaining information from the Treasury, only surely the way to solve that question is not to say that the hon. Member for Bewdley answers questions very well, but it is to make the hon. Member, or whoever else is discharging his functions, if not the sole, at any rate the joint, authority as Financial Secretary to the Treasury. If you do not do that, you do in effect break the historic connection between the House of Commons on the one hand and the finances of the country on the other. Accepting, as I do most fully, the assurance of the right hon. Gentleman that he has no intention of making such a breach; realising, as I am sure we all do, that anybody who is Chancellor of the Exchequer must wish to keep in touch with the House of Commons on matters of finance, I hope very much this anomaly will not be one of long standing.
The other, and by far the most important, subject raised was that upon which the right hon. Gentleman concluded. I am sure I would be doing a very rash thing if I attempted to make a speech about it. I would venture to say only this: I feel sure the whole House and the whole country will warmly welcome the news that the Government is not allowing the present situation to rest, but that the Government is itself engaged in seeing if it cannot make a contribution, as a Government, toward the solution of this grave situation. I believe it is quite true to say that in the House of Commons there is a stronger desire, and a more widespread desire, to see the Irish problem settled, and settled while the War is going on, than has ever been the case before. The right hon. Gentleman made a reference to the possibility, as an alternative, of a General Election. Whatever may be said about that, a General Election is not an alternative solution. It is no solution at all. So far from solving the question by that means, you would merely, as it seems to me, aggravate and intensify the feelings of bitterness and opposition on the one side or the other, which we are now, I trust, in a fair way to see 1472 assuaged. Two days ago the House of Commons was appealed to to consider the sentiments of one of the great Dominions of the Crown, and the House was willing to take a bold step in the face of some objection. In a few weeks, as I understand, there will be a consultation of representatives of Dominions of the Crown in order that we may be sure that we are doing all we can to make the unity of the Empire a fact and a reality. Whatever we think in the case of India or of the Dominions, no Englishman who really considers the past and the position at the present moment can fail to see that, rightly or wrongly, the present situation in Ireland is one which is made a matter of reproach among all the self-governing Dominions. I hope that nothing which I have said has been other than entirely conciliatory, or can do any conceivable injury to the good intentions which the Leader of the House has expressed. But I thought that it was right, while preserving as he must do at this moment great caution in what he said to point out that every quarter of the House has welcomed the declaration as to the Government's intentions to take up this matter again, and to take it up for themselves.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I do not wish to have any misunderstanding. I did not say that we had given any pledge to do it. I said that the Government were earnestly considering whether it would be possible.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I am glad to have the accurate statement, and to know that, at any rate, the Government is undertaking the responsibility of considering it, and that is a matter in which conciliation is obviously the only way by which this problem can be solved. It involves, no doubt, sacrifices, but it involves sacrifice from all parties and from all sides.
§ Sir W. BYLES
Some reference has been made in this Debate to the startling news received from Russia this morning. If Kings and Governments will make playthings of their people, and set them up to shoot and to starve one another, they must expect that their thrones will be shaken. I want to suggest to the Government—and I am rather sorry that the Leader of the House has just gone out—a different way of winning the War. We have been two and a half years striving to overcome our enemies by physical force. I think that a better method would be to try to arrange with them by reason. I 1473 believe that we could get a satisfactory settlement and a durable and honourable peace more easily by the weapons of diplomacy than by the weapons of artillery. I know that the Prime Minister has not got sympathy with any such suggestion. I remember very well his famous interview with an American journalist, generally known as "the knock-out blow interview," in which he warned off all influences that approached us in the direction of making peace. He said, in effect, "If a dove flies to you with an olive branch in its mouth, do not open the window of the ark to him; drive the bird away—shoot him." A few days before we adjourned for the long Christmas recess the evening paper placards —for we had placards then—announced an offer of peace from Germany. Hopes sprang high in millions of hearts in this country because people thought that this meant the beginning of the end. What happened? We waited—day by day—and no answer. The day that we sing "Peace on earth, goodwill to men" came and went, and some weeks later the whole invitation was thrown back in the face of the enemy. I think that that was a remarkably fine opportunity for beginning negotiations which might result in ending the War.
Just now there is an interesting election going on in the North to replace my old friend Jonathan Samuel, who was so suddenly taken from our midst, and a week or two ago there was an election in Rossendale. At both these elections there was a, candidate before the constituency with the simple programme of peace by negotiation. I hope for a good result on Tuesday, when the polling takes place at Stockton. I think that we had a very remarkable result in Rossendale, where nearly 25 per cent. of the votes polled were cast in favour of the peace candidate. The hon. Member who has been returned for Rossendale is an old friend and colleague of mine, and I have a great respect for him. He is a man of great influence in that valley and a large employer of labour, and I think that he has been twelve times mayor of the principal town in the valley, and he had the support, of course of both the Liberal and Conservative organisations. His opponent was a working man and a conscientious objector, and by our Anglo-Prussian militarism he was cast into gaol on the very day on which he was nominated as candidate. Considering all the circumstances, I think that his poll was a very remarkable one. I am con- 1474 vinced that there is a very large body of opinion in this country in favour of a policy such as I suggest, and I believe that Germany is quite ready to receive any proposals which we might make. I believe that the reason why the great mass of the people are so determined to defeat Germany by military methods is that then-want to punish Germany for her atrocities and inhumanities towards us, towards neutrals, towards Belgium, and towards our prisoners; atrocities and inhumanities which I fully recognise and deplore. It seems to be thought by most people that Heaven calls upon us to avenge these things. Heaven does no such thing. Heaven says "I will repay," and He will, you may be quite sure of that. I have only one word more to say. We have made England a smithy, Europe a shambles, and grim death stalks over Europe. It is not through the result of pestilence, sent by Heaven, it is the deliberate act of two powerful, educated, civilised, Christian nations that have come into conflict and are trying to destroy one another. I would ask is there no way by which to try and break this frightful conflict—by diplomacy, by conference, by reason? I long to see the rising of some statesman who will attempt it, and I cannot believe that England is so poor as not to produce him.
I listened with very great interest indeed to that part of the speech of the Leader of the House which dealt with the demands that are being made to introduce some economy into the great spending Departments. I agree for the most part with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Islington and the hon. Baronet the Member for Barnsley in all that they said upon the subject of waste. We all recognise that in the midst of a great War such as this, it is hopeless to expect that where a country is spending between £5,000,000 and £6,000,000 a day there will not be a considerable amount of waste. That is absolutely unavoidable. But I do think that the Government should direct its attention to devising the best means of confining that waste within the narrowest possible limits. I welcome the statement of the Leader of the House in so far as it indicates that the Government are taking some steps in this direction. But I do not think his statement was altogether satisfactory. He told us of some new arangement that has lately been made with regard to the War Office—he did not say much about the Admiralty—then he 1475 went on to use words of considerable eulogy with regard to the cost of the system at the Ministry of Munitions, The impression left upon my mind, and I think upon the minds of Members of the House, by his speech was that in each one of these great spending Departments there is a different system, and he praises that system most which is in force at the Ministry of Munitions. From all I also have heard, I believe that is the most efficient system. But if that be so, why does not the Government introduce that most efficient system into the two other great Departments, as well as the Ministry of Munitions?
We are told that there has been appointed a gentleman with full power to overhaul the system in the War Office, but surely, if you have discovered a system that works well in one Department, you ought to introduce that system, with any necessary adjustment that may be required, into all your other Departments as far as possible. The right hon. Member for Islington told us that in the days of the late Coalition Government, whenever there was a storm brewing, that Government used to appoint a Cabinet Committee, but that the present Government, whenever there is a storm brewing, adopts an entirely different method. I think it does, and its method seems to me to be that, whenever there is trouble, to appoint a new Controller and to create a new Department.
Apparently we have not yet come to the end of all these new creations, either in the way of Controllers or in the way of Departments. I hope, however, that the Government will be very slow indeed to further add to the enormously complicated machinery which they have now at their disposal for the prosecution of the War and the carrying on of the administration of this country. Before I leave this subject of waste, I would like to make this suggestion to the Government. The Leader of the House, I think rightly, told us that this was not a time when you could encourage the system, which we were starting on the eve of the outbreak of the War, of seeking to get some control by Parliamentary Committees over expenditure. As to the Public Accounts Committee, I think that all my colleagues on that Committee will agree with me that for the purpose of checking expenditure, and the amount of expenditure, that Committee is of no use whatever. Although another 1476 Committee did succeed in bringing about a reduction of, I think, 4 per cent. in certain Estimates laid before the House, it is not a method that can recommend itself to anybody of common sense, that officials whose whole time is absorbed in looking after details connected with administration or prosecution of the War should be brought up here before Committees of the House of Commons and have their whole action inquired into, with very great consequent delay, even if by that means you were to make certain. economies.
I think there is another method. We know that, in connection with the publication of many of these Orders made by various Controllers, the Food Department, the Ministry of Munitions, the Ministry of National Service, and in other directions, a great economy of time and money could have been effected if they had consulted, before issuing those Orders, the opinion of those who were best entitled to speak upon the matter with which the Orders dealt. I think it would be better if the Government were to set up a Committee of the House of Commons, not to supervise the Estimates or the expenditure of these Departments but to inquire into the methods of checking, and into the systems in vogue, for the purpose of seeing how to get the very best system that could be obtained introduced to the various Departments. That would do a great deal to meet the defects which undoubtedly exist and, as far as possible, would check the waste and extravagance that is going on. In the course of the discussion, in the Committee stage of this Vote of Credit yesterday we had three speeches from these Irish Benches. One of them, the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for East Mayo dealt with the financial condition and situation that has been brought about by the introduction of Supplementary Estimates: the second speech was by my hon. Friend the Member for West Clare, dealing with the military position: and the last was by my hon. Friend the Member for West Belfast, who spoke of the conditions to which the House of Commons had been reduced by admitting so many Members to the Ministry. I wish to refer to some of those very important aspects of the questions that have been raised and first the financial aspect created by the Vote of Credit. It was rightly pointed out that although we have been for two and a half years engaged in this War, and although almost four 1477 thousand millions of money has been spent, this is the first time the Government found it necessary to come to the House and ask for a Supplementary Vote of Credit and that there has been no precedent for this course. It may be said that this was an expenditure that could not be foreseen. It is very easy for the Leader of the House to put forward a case of that kind, but he gave us no evidence whatever of any real substance in his contention. I could understand if the Government, on account of the existence of the submarine peril, had found it necessary to make a new departure with regard to the purchase of foreign ships which they had to pay for on the nail. But what is the fact about this Vote? We were told yesterday that it covers a considerable and varying number of different classes of expenditure. It covers the purchase of wheat and matters dealing with ships and munitions and loans to our Allies. Mention of loans brings me to a very important and significant announcement made in the newspapers this morning in a telegram from the temporary capital of Roumania, sent by Renter as follows:Jassy, 9th March.—At a Cabinet held here yesterday it was announced that Great Britain had agreed to advance to Romania the sum of £40,000,000 at par. The loan will bear interest at 5 per cent.That is a very remarkable statement and, so far as my memory goes, is the first statement of particulars made inside or outside of this House with regard to those financial transactions. We know that these loans amount to very nearly a thousand millions. Did that announcement escape the notice of the Censor or has it been published with his permission? If with his permission, why was not an announcement of that importance made in the first instance to the House of Commons? The whole policy of these loans to our Allies is one of very considerable importance to this country. Everybody, of course, recognises that they must be helped, but neither the House nor the country has been told anything whatever before with regard to the terms and conditions of any of these loans. I would like to know when the interest on this money lent to Roumania is to accrue. How can they possibly expect Roumania in its present position to pay interest upon a loan of £40,000,000. If they have adopted that policy with regard to a country in the unfortunate position of Roumania at present, what are the terms and conditions 1478 of the loans to our great Allies in other parts of Europe? Is France and is Russia being asked to pay interest for the hundreds of millions of money that have been rightly lent to them for the prosecution of the War? What are the terms and conditions, because if details are allowed to be published in the newspapers of this country with regard to Roumania I can see no object whatever in declining to give the House and the country information with regard to the other of our Allies engaged with us in the prosecution of the War. I hope before the Debate concludes we will have some statement from a representative of the Treasury or the Leader of the House upon that important aspect of this question.
I have criticised, as the hon. Member for East Mayo did, the introduction of this Supplementary Estimate, but it appears to me -and I think a large section of opinion in the House will agree—that the real truth about this Supplementary Vote of Credit is not that it is a Vote the necessity for which could not be foreseen, but that it is one of the many signs and tokens and indications that are accumulating that this great new Government machine for the conduct of the War and the administration of this country is not working with that smoothness, skill, or efficiency that the country has a right to expect and was led to believe. I have endeavoured to show that at this stage there was no earthly reason, if the Government administration was being efficiently run, for this Supplementary Vote; for this expenditure covers not one or two special points, but many points that have been dealt with under previous Votes, why those should not have been foreseen by the Government Departments. Those are now so numerous, and there is now so much overlapping, and, as it appears to me, confusion, that for the first time in two and a half years after the House had voted practically about four thousand millions, we are landed in what looks like a financial muddle. I do not think there is anybody in any quarter of the House who is not anxious in the prosecution of this War to give this new Government, no matter what may have been its origins or the way in which it was brought about, a fair chance to prove whether or not they can run this War better than the Government that went before them. But they have been many months in office now. They have got a great part of their machinery at work, and, so far as the House 1479 and the country can judge, they have already landed the people of the United Kingdom into one muddle after another. Will anybody deny—will even the Treasury Bench deny—that there has been a muddle about the question of food production and food supplies? Will the Treasury Bench venture to deny that there has been a muddle about this new scheme of National Service? Will anybody venture to deny that there has been a hopeless muddle about the treatment of Ireland and the Irish position? Will anybody venture to deny that there has been a muddle with regard to the way in which the shipping problem has been dealt with? And new, on top of all this, we have got this financial muddle, and I say that I believe it is owing to the new, cumbrous, and inefficient machinery which this Government has set up.
That is covered by the food question. It seems to me that this Administration has got so large that an old motto may be applied to it: "What is everybody's business is nobody's business," and it is almost impossible for people from outside, who want to get things done, to know what Department they are to go to. There was a great campaign in the Press when the late Government was in office, about the Cabinet of 23. [An HON. MEMBER: "Now it is a Cabinet of 84."] I do not know whether there is a Cabinet at all, or not, but there is an Administration of 84, and I say that, so far as all the indications that one can judge by go, the country was much better off under the Cabinet of 23 than under the Administration of 84. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is now 86!"] I am told that 86 is now the correct figure, but the House must remember that the list is not nearly completed yet. The hon. Member for Barns-ley (Sir J. Walton) yesterday said there was a new Controller appointed, but I did not catch what he was appointed for— [An HON. MEMBER: "Cat's meat."]—or who he was. I am not going, on an occasion like this, into purely Irish questions, but I would like to give one or two instances that have come under my personal observation to help to prove the case I am making with regard to the inefficiency and cumbersomeness of this present machinery.
When this new food production scheme was started in Ireland it was necessary for 1480 those who had control and responsibility in that country to come over here to London to interview the heads of the various Departments of this Administration. Our chief administrators in Ireland had to come over here instead of preparing their own plans in Ireland, and as a result of having to interview one Minister, one Department, one Controller after another, the new food production scheme in Ireland was delayed, even in its coming into operation, not by days, but by weeks and weeks. Before they could do anything they had to come over here to see the Food Controller, then they had to go to the Board of Agriculture, and then of course they had to go to the Irish Office, they had to go to the Treasury, they had to go to the Ministry of Munitions; and, mind you, all these were not merely formal visits or matters of a few minutes or even a few hours, but to each of these Departments they had to produce their proposals for Ireland, and they had to argue with them, and persuade them, and convince them, one after the other, before we could get a single Order issued for Ireland or a single item in the plan for Ireland adopted. Many valuable weeks were lost through this extraordinary procedure having to be gone through, and I say that if that was our experience under one head in Ireland, you may depend upon it that the same thing is going on day after day and week after week in Great Britain, and that far from having a speeding-up, far from having a driving force behind this new machinery, it is getting clogged and confused to the detriment of efficiency and to the great disadvantage of the proper prosecution of the War.
Before I leave that aspect I want to give one other illustration again having come under my own observation from Ireland. We were told yesterday that one of the items in this Supplementary Vote of Credit is for munitions. We did not get any information as to why, in the case of munitions, it should be necessary to have a Supplementary Vote of Credit at all, but that fact brought to my mind a very glaring instance of the delay and the bungling that have gone on with regard to one important aspect of munitions in Ireland. While the present Prime Minister was Secretary of State for War last year an important question was raised in Ireland as to the setting up there of a Receiving Depot for War Office supplies. Ireland was at a great disadvantage, because whenever a contractor wanted to 1481 enter for a contract for War Office supplies he had to come over here to London to see the samples. He had to go backwards and forwards, and even if he got the contract or wanted to put in an estimate his supplies had to be sent over here, tested, and sent back again, and there were all sorts of confusion, delay, expense, and unfairness in the system. The Secretary of State for War recognised that. He asked one of his colleagues in the Liberal party—I suppose one might say, one of his former colleagues in the Liberal party—to go to Ireland. He asked the hon. Member for Loughborough (Sir Maurice Levy) to make a report with regard to certain aspects of the resources of Ireland from the point of view of the War Office. He went to Ireland in October, and spent a considerable time going up and down the country. He was in Belfast. He went to the principal cities in the South and West of Ireland and interviewed many people on these subjects. He came back, and in October or November made a report to the War Office. I asked a question, I think the day before yesterday, of the Financial Secretary to the War Office in regard to this Receiving Depot, as to the recommendations of the hon. Member for Loughborough, and as to what had been done. After six, seven, or eight months, the Financial Secretary told me that the matter was under consideration, and that they had communicated with the Chief Sescretary on the subject.
When I asked the hon. Gentleman whether the Government would publish the report he said, not that they were considering it, but that they would consider it! I want to know is that a fair way, when supplies and munitions are urgently needed, and have been for many months past, to come to a decision on this industrial question so far as War Office supplies are concerned in Ireland? What has the Chief Secretary got to do with it? He cannot establish this Receiving Depot in Ireland; that is a matter for the War Office, or for the Government as a whole. But this is only one more instance of the extraordinary methods of delay and confusion with which this Administration is run, and with which the affairs of Ireland are managed. Having given these few illustrations—which could be multiplied by the hundred and thou- 1482 sand in the case of Ireland, only I do not want to delay the House by raising purely Irish affairs, which I have only referred to because they illustrate the case I have been making, that the new administration is not working well—I only now want in a few words to deal with a few other questions. My hon. Friend the Member for West Clare, in his speech from these benches yesterday, dealt with the military aspect of the War. I do not feel competent, or possessed of sufficient information and knowledge, to raise the important questions of policy upon which he touched. I do, however, feel that there was one matter that ought to have been dealt with from the Front Bench opposite when this Supplementary Vote of Credit was brought down to the House of Commons. That was the present position of the submarine peril.
It is now many weeks since we had a statement in regard to the submarine position. There has been ample time in the interval for the Government to be able to report to the House of Commons as to whether the measures taken by the Admiralty are a success, or are likely to prove successful in the future. It is not merely idle curiosity on the part of the House of Commons, because the country ought to know the truth without equivocation or concealment; for if there is no prospect of dealing effectively with the submarine campaign the country should know, that it may be able to address itself with renewed vigour to the increased production of food at home. Under this new system of government, however, the First Lord of the Admiralty is as great an absentee from this House as is the Prime Minister. The right hon. and learned Gentleman does not think it worth his while to come here at all. He sends his Under-Secretary to answer questions. As we saw at Question Time to-day, that hon. Gentleman is not always supplied with the latest information. In regard to the list of submarine depredations, sinking of ships, and so on, he was asked to supply the tonnage. He replied that that was a matter which would have to be considered, and upon which he would have to consult the First Lord of the Admiralty. Why is not the First Lord himself here to answer these questions? Why is he not here on the occasion of the Vote of Credit to give the House of Commons information on vital matters about which the House has a right to have information?
My hon. Friend reminds me that the First Lord could go to the Aldwych Club. It appears to be the practice of the Ministers in this new Administration to give as little information as possible to the House of Commons, and to make as few speeches as possible here, but to come here, as does the First Lord of the Admiralty, as seldom as they can, and to treat the House of Commons with the utmost contempt. The House of Commons will remember the howl that was set up in the days of the late First Lord of the Admiralty in regard to the attack upon the shores of this country by German overseas craft. He was called to account. He was asked to give information, and compelled to do so—I think by an hon. Member who himself is now at the Admiralty. We were told that he must go; that he was not the man for this position, and that this sort of thing must not be allowed; must not occur again. He did go. Since, however, the last statement was made in regard to submarines, there has been another attack upon the shores of this country by the German overseas craft. English towns have been bombarded, and the enemy has got away unscathed. The First Lord of the Admiralty seems to be protected all round from attack from any quarter of this House. He was asked to make an explanation, or to give an assurance that this thing would not happen again.
All I can say is this: that I hope that the Government will not continue the policy which they pursued yesterday—to attempt to carry out this new scheme of theirs to belittle, to ignore, and to flout the House of Commons. If we are not to get answers to our questions, if speeches from various quarters of the House are to be ignored, then I say it would be better for the Government to dissolve, or to adjourn the House of Commons altogether, so as not to be going through a farce here! [An HON. MEMBER: "Russia!"] If they want a Vote of Credit, if they want Estimates, or new legislation, let them do it all by an Order in Council under the Defence of the Realm Act. The present system, so far as democratic control is concerned, and so far as public opinion, or even opinion inside this House is concerned, is very little better than such a system as that would be. We have had an assurance to-day, as we had last evening, from the Leader of the House, that he did not intend any dis- 1484 courtesy or disrespect to the House of Commons. A tribute was properly paid to him last evening by my hon. Friend the Member for West Belfast (Mr. Devlin) with regard to his own personal position in the House of Commons. But take the speech which the right hon. Gentleman made to-day. He dealt with a few general topics which had been raised in the discussion, but to-day, as yesterday, he was not able to give any information or details with regard to any matters that have been raised. There has been no other speech from the Front Bench to-day on the Report stage of this Vote of Credit. I do not know whether any of the right hon. or hon. Gentlemen who occupy that bench now are prepared to answer the speeches that have been made and to give us the particulars that we have requested. I think it will be an evil day for this country and for the democratic institutions of this country if the Government continues a policy of that kind any longer.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
It is such a rare privilege to see the Attorney-General in his place that I should like to take this opportunity of ascertaining the position of certain members of the Government who fall upon this Vote of Credit. We have at the present time, not only the ordinary official members of the Government— Ministers, Under-Secretaries, and so on— which appear in ever-increasing numbers from day to day in the pages of the OFFICIAL REPORT, but we have a new series of officials, many of whom are Members of this House. Some of them we are told are not paid, but we know they are discharging important Executive functions, and it is therefore a matter of very high constitutional importance from the point of view of the independence of this House to know first of all whether they occupy proper constitutional positions. They are understood to be discharging the Executive functions indicated by their names as Directors or Controllers. For instance, we have a Controller of Margarine and there is a Director of Enrolment. Their titles indicate that they are exercising independent functions of Government. We therefore, are naturally interested to know from the Attorney-General what is his view of the position of these gentlemen, and whether he thinks that they are occupying a proper constitutional position in the Government as Members of this House who are apparently discharging these Executive functions. I think the hon. and learned Gentleman is 1485 the only proper authority who can inform us whether the Government are pursuing proper procedure in this matter, and seeing that he has come in when we are in the midst of this afternoon's Debate, it would be well if he would place his knowledge on this subject at the service of the House.
§ 3.0 p.m.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
I wish to say a few words in reference to the statement made by the Leader of the House regarding the obstruction of the Nationalist Members and the threat which he held out that if the obstruction, as he seems to consider it, was continued there might have to be a General Election. I do not think he used the word "obstruction"; he used the word "criticism." It is, therefore, rather remarkable that if the criticism continues—as if the Government could not stand criticism at a time of war—they would have to consider the question of having a General Election. As has been already pointed out, a General Election would not preclude the Irish Members from this House. I enter a protest against the threat which was held out. A General Election would not be a solution of the problem of Nationalist criticism. The solution of the problem is to grant Home Rule to Ireland and to see that the opposition of a small portion of Ireland does not overrule the granting of justice to Ireland. I would reply to the Leader of the House that if he wants to have a General Election he could not choose worse ground for his own purpose than that of the suppression of Ireland. It would be an absurdity to appeal for support of War measures and go to the country and say, "We have spent £4,000,000,000 for the purpose of sacrificing hundreds of thousands of lives to uphold the rights of small nationalities, and at the same time we ask you to vote to enable us to suppress the legitimate demands of Ireland." There is such an extraordinary analogy between the position of those for whose liberation we are fighting and the position of Ireland that I have been trying by question to elucidate the point. I would remind the Leader of the House of the extraordinary position he will land himself into if he goes to a General Election on this issue. Suppose you go to this General Election, what will be your position? According to the statement which we furnished to the President of the United States, we 1486 are fighting for the liberty of the Slovacs. I put a question to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs on this question yesterday. I asked:Whether his attention has been drawn to the fact that the Slovaes are to be found principally in the counties of Nyitra, Treucsen, Turoez., Arva, Lipto, and Zolyon, and to a minor degree in the counties of Abuj and Saros; and can he state whether these latter counties will come into the scheme of liberation proposed by the Allies on the same basis as the other six?Lord R. Cecil: I would refer the hon. Member to my reply to his last question.Mr. Outhwaite: Can the Noble Lord say if the considerations which prevent the granting of Home Rule to Ireland are not to have effect as regards these Slovac minorities?Mr. Speaker: That does not arise on this question. The information can he obtained from any encyclopedia."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, l5ath March."1917, col. 1244.]I have not been able to find any encyclopædia which will furnish me with any information on the problem of Ireland and the parallel of granting independence and liberation to the Slovacs. How absurd it would be to go to a General Election and to say, "We are fighting and spending our money for the liberation of the Slovacs, where exactly the same problem arises as in Ireland—four counties with a great Slovac majority and two counties with a Slovac minority, and the same conditions in regard to religion." You would have to say that you are able to solve that problem amongst people thousands of miles away, whom we never heard of until we saw their names in the Notes of the Allies, and at the same time you would be asking the people to vote to suppress the men of Ireland close to our own doors. The Leader of the House would have an exceedingly difficult election to fight. On the one hand he would be asking the people to vote to suppress Ireland because Irishmen in this House are criticising the Government at the time of the War, and, on the other hand, he would have to admit that we are spending thousands of millions of pounds for the liberation of the Slovacs, where exactly the same problem arises as in the case of Ireland, for they have an Ulster there. That holds good also with regard to the Czechs, for whom we are also fighting and who inhabit the State of Bohemia. I think there are about 6,000,000 people in Bohemia; 4,000,000 are Czechs and 2,000,000 are Germans. Now we are going to liberate the Czechs in Bohemia, but what are we going to do about the Germans in Bohemia, who have different institutions and a different language? That problem of dealing with the rights of a minority arises exactly the same way 1487 in Bohemia as in Ireland, and yet we are told that we are going to have an election at which the people are to be told that the problem of Ireland is unsolvable and that they have to have martial law when it is quite easy to deal with the Czechs and the minority of Germany in Bohemia. In regard to this question of the liberation of foreign people the same difficulty arises in Dalmatia.
I pointed out to the Leader of the House what a very difficult problem he would be presenting to the country if he forces a General Election on the grounds that the Nationalist party are denied rights which he says we are fighting for in other parts of the world, and they are to be denied those rights because they actually criticise the Government. The only solution is to grant Home Rule for Ireland. These are not the days for oppression on the part of bureaucratic governments, because Russia has had to put all her bureaucratic leaders into the palace. The people of Russia have so long tolerated bureaucratic methods that they have had to deal drastically with the situation. With regard to loans to our Allies, it has been announced in the paper to-day that £40,000,000 has been granted as a loan at 5 per cent. to Roumania, and we want to know why the House of Commons has not been informed upon that subject. I do not cavil because a loan has been granted to a country that has suffered so grievous a fate, but a long time ago, at the beginning of the War, I asked questions about our loans to Russia, but, of course, my questions on those matters were always regarded and stigmatised by the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs as being unpatriotic. I have my own view of the Russian Government, and the view I held is now being disclosed to everybody. I wonder what guarantees we have for the vast loans we were granting to Russia through the medium of her Minister of Finance, M. Bark. I am told we have granted £600,000,000 in loans to our Allies, and I should think that quite £400,000,000 has gone to this Russian Minister of Finance. We have heard extraordinary stories of corruption and bribery going on in Russia, and no doubt that was with our money; and, what is more, we see now this Minister is laid by the heels as a pro-German, and he has been put into the Palace.
§ Mr. HEMMERDE
I do not think the hon. Member is right in saying that he 1488 is a pro-German, and I am quite sure anyone who has been in Russia would not say so.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
Of course, I entirely withdraw that. The Russian Government has been getting these vast sums of money from us, and it seems to me that we have a right in a case like that to make very serious restrictions as to where these vast loans are going, and if that had been done there seems no reason why the House of Commons is not informed upon the matter. It is just because we are willing to vote hundreds of millions to anybody, and because those who asked questions are stigmatised as pro-German and seditious that hundreds of millions of our money have gone to be used for purposes against us. In this loan we are expending a large sum of money on the purchase of wheat from Australia. If there is anybody here to answer a question on this subject I should very much like to know what is the sum we are paying for Australian wheat. I have seen it stated that Australian farmers last year got about 4s. a bushel or 32s. a quarter for their wheat, and I am interested to know why the Australian farmers-are getting 32s. a quarter while the British farmers have been guaranteed from 64s. to 80s. a quarter? I want to get the price that is being paid to the Australian farmer in order to compare it with what the British farmer is extorting, and I should be very glad if the figures could be furnished of the price which is being paid to the Australian farmer. I should also like to know whether the Australian wheat is coming entirely to this country, or if it is largely or in part being sent to supply the demands of Italy. It seems to me to be rather unfair that whilst the British farmer should be extorting the enormous price of 80s. a quarter from the British public that the Australian farmers should only be getting 33s. a quarter for wheat sold to the Italian consumer.
We have been speaking upon the question of waste, and we have heard a statement from the Leader of the House who dealt with the various Departments and stated that an endeavour had been made to effect economy. I would like to ask 1489 for information on one more point. It may be a mistaken view held in the country, but everywhere one hears criticisms directed against Government Departments for getting work done and making payment on the basis of a percentage on the gross expenditure. I would like to ask if that is still being done. Instances which scarcely seem credible are brought to my notice of manufacturers doing work for the State actually instigating their men to demand enormous wages, and saying to them: "Go ahead. It suits me all right. The higher the wage you get, the greater my expenditure, and therefore the greater profit I shall make out of this Government contract on which you are engaged." It seems to me that is a profligate method to adopt, and it is open to every kind of objection. It means the more waste the greater the profit accruing to the individual working for the State. I should therefore like to ask if that method is still maintained. Generally, there is a wide impression abroad that in relation to expenditure on the War anything like patriotism is left out of sight, and everybody is out to make as much as possible.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
No doubt, like many others who talk about patriotism, if I were able to make a fortune out of it, I should be able to deal more directly with patriotism, as understood by the hon. Member opposite.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
I have no doubt that the hon. Member has not made a penny out of the War, but he is the associate of people who have. He began the offensive-ness, and now he pretends, as a thin-skinned individual, that no retort should be made. [Laughter.] Let him laugh. I think it was Goldsmith who saidThe loud laugh that spoke the vacant mind.There is a general view, and there are evidences of it before us, that in every direction plunder is being made out of the needs of the State?—go wherever you will. Take the food of the people, and the huge 1490 prices being got to-day for wheat, potatoes, and all the necessaries of life. Take the question of tea raised to-day. Take the question of clothing. Everywhere we see prices enormously raised without any satisfactory evidence that the rise is due to the increased cost of raw materials or the increased cost of labour. Consequently, there is all the more reason why some member of the Government should give a reply to the query that I have raised in regard to the methods by which these contracts are given.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I wonder if I might-venture to make an appeal to the House to let us have this Vote now. We have endeavoured, as far as we could, to meet. the crticisms that have been made, but if the House will allow me I will reply to two points in the speech of the hon. Member who has just sat down. The first is in regard to Australian wheat. Of course, it is entirely a question of freight, and, as a matter of fact, the wheat could not be-brought here at all except by requisitioning the ships. It is true also that the wheat is going to Italy. Obviously that is right, because Italy is nearer to Australia, and it pays us better to bring wheat here from America.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I cannot tell the-exact price, but I can assure the hon. Member, and indeed he may trust the Australian Prime Minister to see to that, that the full price will be paid. The other point was with regard to the payment of contractors by commission. The disadvantage of that is as obvious to us as it is to the hon. Member, but there are cases where there is no other way. It is difficult sometimes to estimate exactly what is the-cost, and if you leave it to the contractor, when there is great pressure for the-article, it is obvious that he will name a price which will make himself secure, and which will result in the Government paying more rather than less. It is a kind of contract, however, which the Government does not like. I should be very grateful if the House would now give us this Vote.
§ Mr. LYNCH
I wish to rise only for a few minutes to enforce a remark of my hon. Friend the Member for Galway (Mr. Hazleton), that when important questions are being raised there is no one on the-Front Bench to hear our remarks or to 1491 reply to our questions. Last night the Leader of the House went to dinner. It was natural, but in view of the importance of the occasion it reminded me of the bad steward in the Bible who hid his talents in a napkin. To-day I listened to his previous speech with great pleasure, because he spoke with confidence on subjects with which he is thoroughly conversant, and when a man speaks on any subject, whatever, which he knows au fond, he speaks with authority. The Government are excellent men in a groove and in routine. They are excellent men to drift, but, with the possible exception of the Prime Minister, there is not one man amongst them with a formative, creative mind which entitles him to be a Minister and the Leader of a nation in a great crisis.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL (Sir Frederick Smith)
My hon. Friend behind me (Mr. Pringle) suggested that I was seldom in the House.
§ Sir F. SMITH
That is an assurance I welcome from the hon. Member. The hon. Gentleman might have reflected, in fairness, that I am never absent from my room from the time the Courts rise at 4 o'clock till dinner time, in consultation, and I am immediately available for the service of the House if the House wants me. There is no difficulty at all about the particular question which he put to me. As I understand it, the matter which has excited his curiosity is that various Members of this House. I will not say have assumed functions but have had spheres of activity given to them under the Government, and my hon. Friend is apprehensive as to the constitutional position. I can assure him that there is no constitutional ground for his anxiety. I do not pretend to keep closely in contact numerically with the various posts—
§ Sir F. SMITH
But various Members have undoubtedly attempted to discharge functions which are auxiliary to those of the various Departments, and my hon. Friend is anxious to know whether any constitutional difficulty is presented. My own Department has no knowledge of the usefulness of the functions performed by these gentlemen, but I should certainly be slow to assume that they have been 1492 invited by Government Departments to place their services at their disposal unless it is anticipated that they will be useful. My hon. Friend is attaching excessive importance, I think, to the labels. If A can do certain work which no one anticipated before the War would be required, surely it is right of the Government to require the services of any Member of this House and to invite him to undertake this work. No one can dispute that those who have been asked to discharge these services, and have willingly undertaken them have been given certain labels, but I think my hon. Friend is unduly impressed by the sonorousness of the different titles.
§ Sir F. SMITH
I do not know whether it is due to those who have undertaken these functions or those who asked them to do so. I am certain of this: that they would not have been asked to undertake the functions if the heads of Departments had not believed they would be useful. Hon. Members of this House have shown undoubted willingness to undertake the work, apart from the labels or anything else, and I do not think that any constitutional question of any kind is involved. Under the circumstances I hope the House will realise that the great readiness shown to undertake this work is but a measure of the resources of this country.
§ Question put and agreed to.