§ Order read for resuming adjourned Debate on Question [12th February.]
§ "That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, as followeth:—
§ Most Gracious Sovereign,
§ We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom, of Great Britain and Ireland in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."—[Major-General Lowther.]
§ Question again proposed. Debate resumed.
§ Mr. DENMAN
I wish to raise a point of Order. In paragraph 19 of the Votes and Proceedings it is recorded that "Mr. Speaker reported His Majesty's Speech and read it as followeth." Then follows an account of the King's Speech, which is not identical with the form in which you read it to the House. I do not want to raise the question of what is the King's Speech, whether it is the document as signed in the Council or the precise words which are spoken in another place, but I suggest that in the records of this House there should be an accurate account of what you read from the Chair, and with 112 that object in view I should like to ask you if you would have this record amended so as to agree with the words which you used?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The difficulty of doing that would be that I should have read words which His Majesty did not use. It is perfectly true that I read from a copy of the Speech which had been supplied to me by the Home Secretary, which I assumed to be accurate. It was subsequently brought to my attention that the copy of the Speech which I had read did not correspond with the Speech which had been delivered by His Majesty. I thought it was not right that I should have read a Speech a portion of which His Majesty had not delivered, and therefore I caused the official record to be amended, so that it now corresponds exactly with the actual words of the Speech' which His Majesty had read.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
We have not yet reached the Amendments. In any case, that would not be a permissible Amendment, because the form "humble Address be presented" is a common form which is used not only in connection with the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne, but also in applying for unopposed returns.
§ Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL
We have now been living for fourteen months under a new form of Administration. The Cabinet of the day consists not of the heads of the various Departments, but of a small body of men, five in the first instance, afterwards enlarged to seven, and now six, and, with the exception of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, having no Departmental responsibilities. I think the time has now come when this House can properly review the results in working of this system of government, and the Motion for an Address in answer to the Gracious Speech from the Throne is the proper constitutional occasion for a review of this character. What has been the working of the War Cabinet? How far have achievements squared with promises? Can we regard it as a successful system 113 of administration? We can only judge by results, and the Government, I feel sure, desire to be judged in no other way. I do not propose to enter into any matters of military or naval strategy or foreign policy, for on these subjects we have not got and cannot have full information, and even if we had it would not be proper to discuss it in this House. Nor do I propose to go into any minor points of detail; but I would ask the attention of the House to the main topics of domestic policy, manpower, food production, food control, shipbuilding, iron mining, finance, all domestic matters on which our economic and our fighting strength really depends. On each of these matters I shall trouble the House with brief extracts from the speeches of the Prime Minister, stating what the policy of the Government has been, and then I shall give the House the official information which I have obtained from the various Departments of the Government as to what, in fact, has been accomplished. First, with regard to man-power, on which the Prime Minister laid the greatest stress in the first speech which he delivered in this House on his accession to office on 19th December, 1916. He said:I have hitherto talked largely of the mobilisation of the material resources of the nation. I now come to the mobilisation of the labour reserves of the country, which are even more vital to our success than the former. Without this—let us make no mistake—we shall not be able to pull through It is not a question of years. It is question of months, perhaps of weeks. Unless not merely the material resources of the country but the labour of the country is used to the best advantage, and every man is called upon to render such service to the State as he can best give, victory is beyond our reach.Again he said:The matter was considered by the War Committee of the late Government, and it was unanimously decided by them that the time had come for the adoption of the principle of universal national service.I am not quite sure that that quite accurately represents the exact conclusion arrived at by the late Cabinet. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say:It was one of the first matters taken up by the present Government, and the War Cabinet have unanimously adopted the conclusions come to by the preceding War Cabinet."—[Official Report. 19th December, 1916, cols. 1341–4. Vol. 88.]He added that a Director of National Service had been appointed for both military and industrial purposes, in order to mobilise the whole labour strength of the country for war purposes. That was in December, 1916. What then was done?
114 A Director of National Service was appointed—one of the business men in whom we were told that we must put our faith. A vehement propaganda was conducted throughout the country. National Service volunteers were called for from the whole nation. Patriotic citizens were put in the dilemma of either refusing to respond to the call of the Government to enrol themselves as National Service volunteers or else to form part of a scheme which from the beginning was almost universally recognised to have been on wrong lines and to have been in essence foolish and futile. The result of that scheme of National Service volunteers was that a quarter of a. million pounds of public money were spent and 44,000 men and women were transferred from one industry to another, costing an average of £5 per head, all of whom might have been transferred by the existing system of Labour Exchanges. Eight months were wasted on that enterprise, and at the end the Director of National Service resigned. A small measure, the Review of Exceptions Act, was passed to enable soldiers who had been rejected on medical examination to be re-examined, but beyond that nothing was done until the present Director of National Service came into office. He has recently introduced a Bill which has not yet come into effective operation, and on that question, owing to the difficulties attending it, the country has been brought — in the words of the right hon. Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. A. Henderson)—to the verge of industrial revolution. Fourteen months have passed, and on this question of man-power we stand in effect precisely where we stood when the Prime Minister made his speech in December, 1916, declaring that the matter was vital to the prosecution of the War and that it was a question of weeks before the whole man-power of the land must be mobilised for the prosecution of our military and economic enterprises.
I turn now to food production, where the record of the Government is far better. Owing to the great energy and tact of the President of the Board of Agriculture, who has rendered great service to the country, farmers have undoubtedly been stimulated considerably to increase their home production. Still more has that been the case in Ireland. Last winter and spring much effort was thrown into the attempt largely to increase the acreage of land under arable 115 cultivation, even the First Commissioner of Works appearing for the first time in the role of an agriculturist, and sowing his wild oats in Richmond Park. What was the aim which the Government told the country they had set before them? The Prime Minister, speaking at the Guildhall on 27th April, on the occasion of the Freedom of the City being conferred upon him, said:We have brought into cultivation, in these three or four months of rather feverish activity, one million acres of fresh land. What does that mean? It will mean the addition of two million tons of food. We are doing more than that. I do not say the War is going to continue through 1918, but we must take no chances; we have taken far too many. Therefore, we are taking steps now for the harvest of 1918, and not a minute too soon. We have already got our plans, and if those plans are carried out there will be three million fresh acres of land under cultivation, and we can guarantee that without a ton of food-stuff from abroad no one can starve us.Let us see what results have been accomplished. In England and Wales, before last year, we had 11,000,000 acres of land under arable cultivation, and last year 195,000 acres were added; in Scotland 49,000 acres. In Ireland, owing to the activity of the Chief Secretary and the Vice-President of the Department of Agriculture, no fewer than 637,000 acres of land were turned from pasture to arable—a most admirable result. Of course, the scope in Ireland was greater than here, and for reasons which one need not particularise, there are larger resources of labour available in Ireland than in this country. The total for the three Kingdoms was 881,000 acres, or rather less than 6 per cent. of the arable area of the country. That is not a 6 per cent. net gain. By adding corn and root crops we have diminished the production of meat and milk. Therefore, this is not a net gain. The present Secretary of the Board of Agriculture, Sir Daniel Hall, has stated, in his very interesting book, "Agriculture After the War," that, on the average, land under arable cultivation produces nearly three times as much food as that under grass. We will take it at that. Therefore, if you produce three units of food now under arable where you produced one under grass, your net gain is two-thirds of your gross gain, and therefore, if you have added 6 per cent. to the acreage under arable. you have added 4 per cent. to the net food production of the country. I do not say that it was not worth while 116 achieving that result. We should be very grateful for it. Of the 4 per cent. increase which has been brought about 1 per cent. has been accomplished in Great Britain, and the remaining 3 per cent. has been produced in Ireland. Now, with respect to the forthcoming harvest, which is a matter of vital importance, on 17th April we were told that 3,000,000 more acres were to be brought under cultivation. We are now very much nearer the harvest. We are in the middle of February. Spring is upon us, and we might expect now that some definite statement could be made as to how much extra production we may expect to get. The President of the Board of Agriculture on 5th February said that no trustworthy figures can yet be given with regard to the acreage under arable this summer. In Scotland the, Board's scheme aimed at another 318,000 acres. In Ireland, I was told that the Chief Secretary was not yet in a position to estimate the figures for this year. We can have little doubt that if there were any real prospect of attaining 3,000,000 acres, or anything approaching that figure, in July or August, now, in February, the Government would be able to give us some estimate, at all events, of the area which the harvest was likely to cover. The information which reaches us from various quarters is, unhappily, that the outcome will be far less than that which was anticipated.
I turn now to food control. Here, again, the matter was entrusted to one of these distinguished commercial men who were brought into the Government when it was formed. The first six months of food control were admittedly a period of confusion. Many problems were mishandled. The situation gradually worsened, and at the end of six months the Food Controller resigned. I may mention in parenthesis that of the seven distinguished business men who were brought into the Government at the outset, and in whom we were urged to put our faith, four have already disappeared. Mr. Neville Chamberlain resigned. Lord Devonport resigned. Lord Cowdray resigned. Sir Hardman Lever has been in America almost the whole time. He has done very valuable work. but he has not been assisting the Government at home.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
He is no longer taking part in the Government at home. Three remain—Lord Rhondda, the President of the Board of Trade, and the Shipping Controller. Under the new Food Controller there have been much greater activity and a firmer grasp. There has been a wise dependence to a great extent on local effort. Here, again, as we all know, the situation is very far from satisfactory. Queues in the streets have made their appearance, and we are all aware of the extreme shortage of meat, butter, margarine, and other food products. An elaborate system of sugar-card rationing was devised, but the moment it came into operation it was recalled and a different system, to the great trouble of all the local authorities concerned, was put into operation. An active campaign was set on foot to urge the whole country to take part in a system of voluntary rationing. A League of National Safety was launched, and a very vigorous propaganda was conducted, with the assistance of large numbers of voluntary workers, and as soon as it was well launched the whole thing was abandoned, the head of it resigned, and I am not sure whether the League of National Safety still exists, but, at all events, its operations are in abeyance. Members of Parliament, who had the opportunity which the Food Controller gave them not long ago of meeting him, came away—so I am informed by many of them—with very grave doubts with respect to the whole policy and the existing condition with regard to the food supplies of this year.
I turn now to shipbuilding, as vital an element in the case as food. The Prime Minister, in the speech at the Guildhall from which I have already quoted, said:We are building ships. We have a very shrewd, able, and experienced shipowner—I am sure that everyone will concur with that—who is at the head of our Shipping Committee —Sir Joseph Maclay. With all the canniness of his race he has already made arrangements by which we shall get three times as many new ships this year as we did last year. I am not sure that with the arrangements we are making we shall not get four times the number. Here, again, with the caution of his race, he will only guarantee three times.That was on 27th April last, and the Prime Minister, speaking in this House on 16th August, four months later, said: 118In the first six months of this year the production of mercantile tonnage was 484,000 tons, but in the second six months of this year—this will include some ships purchased abroad—the new shipping acquired by this country, will be 1,420,000 tons in six months. A little over 1,000,000 tons, nearly 1,100,000 tons, will be built in this country, and 330,000 tons will be acquired abroad, so that this year the tonnage we shall acquire will be 1,900,000 tons. That is a very fine achievement.In answer to a question as to whether this excluded naval tonnage, the right hon. Gentleman saidThis is purely mercantile tonnage.Those were the figures given in April and August, but the result has been—to quote the figure given by the Ministry of Shipping—that the estimate of 1,100,000 tons, which was to be produced during the last six months, is almost exactly what has been produced during the whole year. The production for the whole year has been 1,162,474. The August estimate for the second six months has been in fact the figure for the whole year. The figure for the second six months, instead of being 1,100,000, was only 679,000. What the Prime Minister said at the Guildhall was received by the whole country with much relief, but we have only achieved half the increase estimated by the Shipping Controller and only one-third the increase estimated by the Prime Minister. I should like here to state that this 1,100,000 tons is precisely the estimate made by my right hon. Friend the late President of the 'Board of Trade in a. paper which he had circulated to the late Cabinet, in October, 1916. He had made-arrangements with the Ministry of Munitions to supply the necessary steel, and he looked forward to obtaining the necessary labour which would enable him to produce this figure of 1,100,000 tons in the year 1917. I pass from that to another matter which also is of supreme national importance—the production of ironstone, on which, of course, the production of steel depends. I find that on 23rd February, speaking in this House, the Prime Minister said"The next heaviest item"—he had been speaking of the necessity of restricting imports—in view of the shortage of tonnage—The next heaviest item is iron ore. We are melting millions of tons every year of iron ore, and we cannot cut clown the supply by a single ton. It is essential for munitions of war, essential for ship building, and essential for the machinery required in agricultural work.119 He went on to say:There are means for finding these minerals in this country; as a matter of fact there is plenty of ore in this country There are mines, I am told, in Lincolnshire; there are mines in Cumberland, and there are the famous Cleveland mines, all producing excellent ore; and I am told that if we could increase the labour in these mines we could augment by millions of tons a year the quantity of ore which can be produced in this country.In speaking on this same subject at the Guildhall and in insisting on cutting down imports, he said,Arrangements are already working which will save 6,000,000 tons in addition to the million and a half last year. We are going to save all-the timber imports.As a matter of fact, we imported timber in 1917 to the extent of 2,7400,000 loads, of the value of £23,000,000. The Prime Minister also said at the Guildhall, in addition to his reference to the saving on timber imports,We are making arrangements by which we can get most of our minerals worked in mines of Great Britain.And this is the point to which I would direct the attention of the House, the Prime Minister went on to say,We shall be getting 4,000,000 tons of ore in addition to what we are getting now out of this country by August next, and our blast furnaces will be adapted to the purpose."Four million tons by August next"; that is a very large amount. I have obtained from the Home Office the last monthly figures compared with the monthly figures of the previous year. I find that in the four weeks of January, 1917, the output of ironstone in this country was 1,061,000 tons. In the four weeks of January, 1918, it was 1,145,000 tons, an increase of 84,000 tons—not the 4,000,000 which the Prime Minister told the Guildhall audience would be obtained by August next, but equal to 1,000,000 tons in the year—a very small proportion of our imports of ironstone, which amounted to 7,500,000 tons a year before the War. I know something of this matter, because I have the honour to represent here the largest iron mining district of the country—the Cleveland Division. There, immediately after the Prime Minister's speech, active steps were taken to build huts for the miners who were to be brought into the district In my own Constituency the sum of £75,000 was spent on the building of huts to accommodate 2,760 miners. Those huts were completed many months ago—last summer and autumn. Not one miner has ever been 120 brought to occupy one of those huts. All that has been done is that about 500 Cleveland miners, who had enlisted, were released from military service and were brought back to their own homes. Several hundreds more, whose release was applied for, have not been released, and the output of iron-stone has been increased by the labour of these 500 men. So far as that purpose is concerned, the £75,000 spent by the Ministry of Munitions for the accommodation of the miners was sheer waste. I turn to another topic which is of importance in considering our food supplies, the restriction of our imports, and the shortage of tonnage, and that is the brewing of beer. I come back to the Prime Minister's speech of the 23rd February, 1917. He said:Early this year, on the advice of the Food Controller, who had gone into our stocks of food, it was proposed to reduce this 26,000,000 (the previous barrelage of beer) to 18,000,000. Let me say this at once, the Government are bound to recognise the patriotic spirit in which those who are engaged in this business have faced all the restrictions which have hampered them and reduced their profits during the War. It would not be fair for me not to recoginse that at once. It is a powerful trade, and no one knows better than my old colleagues and myself what it can accomplish when its interests are menaced. They have accepted all these interferences in a most laudable spirit of determination to do all that is in their power to contribute to the safety of the nation, and they have done it, great as is the hardship inflicted upon them by the last restrictions. We have to go beyond the last restriction. We have to cut down the balance of 18,000,000. It is absolutely impossible for us to guarantee the food of this country without making a very much deeper cut into the barrelage of the country, and we must reduce it to 10,000.000 barrels, That means that you will save nearly 600,000 tons of food-stuff per annum, and that is nearly a month's supply of cereals for this country. That is the direct saving.The Prime Minister said we must cut down the figures from 18,000,000 to 10,000,000. I have obtained the figures of the actual production of beer, the standard barrels, to which the Prime Minister was referring, in 1917, and I find that instead of having cut the figures down to 10,000,000 the actual production is no less than 15,500,000. The Prime Minister, having said that he could not guarantee the food supplies of the country without making a deep cut into the 18,000,000, has reduced the brewing by one-seventh of the reduction which he said was essentially necessary, and the other six-sevenths still continues. In the meantime the trade, which had been exposed to such great hardships, has been brew- 121 ing a beer of very low specific gravity and selling it at a very high price, and being allowed to produce this quantity of 15,500,000 barrels, has made profits, in the case of many of the companies, far greater than they obtained even in the days of their greatest prosperity. I now come to the question of finance, on which also the fighting strength of the country largely depends. In the Debate, on the first Vote of Credit introduced by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, it appeared that the expenditure of this country in the last months of the late Government averaged £5,500,000 per day. That was fourteen months ago. A question put by one of my hon. Friends on the 19th January last to the Chancellor of the Exchequer elicited the reply that during the seven weeks previously the expenditure was £7,500,000 per day. During the interval of fourteen months what has occurred to cause the national expenditure to increase from £5,500,000 per day to £7,500,000 per day? Our Armies, so far as we are aware, have not shown any vast expansion; our Fleet, so far as we know, has not involved any additional expenditure that would in the least justify an increase of that character. There has been, indeed, an automatic increase in the debt charge. The present Chancellor of the Exchequer now has to find interest on, I suppose, £2,000,000,000 more than had his predecessor fourteen months ago. That means an additional expenditure for debt charge of about £300,000 per day, and the increase of £2,000,000 can be accounted for, so far as £300,000 is concerned, by the automatic increase in the debt charge. But what of the rest? The situation has, indeed, altered in one respect. The United States has entered the War and Russia has left the War. Those two facts, as a rule, in all other respects, work contrary to one another, the advent of the United States being an immense advantage to the Allies and the defection of Russia being a great disaster. But so far as the finances of this country arc concerned, both combine to the same grateful result that both ought to lighten the, burden upon our Exchequer.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
Because the United States provides immense sums for our 122 Allies, and if we had not got their resources to assist us that is a burden which would undoubtedly fall on us.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I really fail to understand what the right hon. Gentleman means, and I would like him to explain what he means. If the entry of the United States meant that we had to give less to the Allies there would be some meaning in it, but that has not happened.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
I would like to know why it has not happened. We should certainly have hoped that it would have happened. When we had the vast resources of the United States, with the increase of American prosperity during the years when we were bearing heavy burdens, supplying the belligerents, one would have hoped, at all events, that the very heavy expenditure which this country incurred in financing our Allies would be to some extent relieved Then with regard to Russia. I presume that now— I do not know the facts, but I think we can all assume that for some time past there have not been the large calls upon our purse for the financing of the military efforts of Russia which had to be incurred during the earlier period of the War. I wish those calls were still made if they had as a concomitant the strenuous fighting of the Russian Armies still in the field. I am not rejoicing in the fact, far from it, but the fact is there. And during the last year we have had the resources of the United States on our side and we have had the charge of Russia removed, and one would have expected that that might have caused some reduction of expenditure, but still we find an additional expenditure of over £2,000,000 per day, or £700,000,000 per year, or a 40 per cent. increase in a period of fourteen months. Those are the various comparisons with which I have had to trouble the House. It is, I confess, a most ungrateful task to have to compare glowing speeches with cold statistical facts, but it has to be done. The House of Commons has the duty thrown upon it to review from time to time the promises and programmes in the light of actual achievement.
If I may venture to detain the House a little longer, I should like, passing away from these matters of statistics, to point the moral, or what appears to be the moral, of the experience of the last fourteen months. In forming the War Cabinet on its present lines the Prime 123 Minister made a very bold experiment. He threw aside the system of government to which this House and this country has been accustomed for many generations and created an entirely new administrative machine. There may be no harm, and I do not question that from time to time in a period of war it may be necessary to make audacious new experiments, but if they are made they must be justified by results. Boldness is a great virtue if the outcome is success. Let us see how this system of the War Cabinet has operated in practice. It was proposed by its advocates and by its author as a means of getting a small number of men who should in comparative leisure be able to survey the whole field of Government affairs at home and abroad—a few Olympians above the turmoil who would have time to think, to plan, and swiftly decide. The Prime Minister, in describing the new system in his first speech as Prime Minister in December, 1916, said, "I am convinced" —he was referring to the War Cabinet— "it is the best for the War, in which you want quick decision above everything."
I think that the country at large does not realise that what is called the War Cabinet is the only Cabinet. There is no other Cabinet. People, some even in this House, and many outside, seem to be under the impression that the War Cabinet is a small body like the War Committee of the late Cabinet, and that outside that there are the usual weekly meetings of the heads of the great Departments. There is no ordinary Cabinet. Even you, Mr. Speaker, fell into that error last Session, when you referred once, by a slip of the tongue or force of habit, to the present Home Secretary as a Cabinet Minister. The Home Secretary is not a Cabinet Minister, the War Secretary is not a Cabinet Minister, the Foreign Secretary is not a Cabinet Minister. They are none of them members of the Cabinet. The only Cabinet that exists is the War Cabinet, and the only Cabinet Ministers are its six members. The rest stand in relation to the War Cabinet much as an Under-Secretary stands to a Secretary of State. I would say here, in passing, that this system has many inconveniences in this House. For example, when the question of the responsibility for the Cambrai incident was debated here we received an answer from the Under-Secretary of State for 124 War, whose courtesy and energy in the conduct of the affairs of his Department is, I think, universally appreciated in every quarter of the House, and to whom we are always glad to listen, and very grateful for the information that he invariably endeavours to supply. But on that occasion he could not speak even for a Cabinet Minister.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
He was speaking almost as an Under-Secretary to an Undersecretary. The consequence is that the heads of the great Departments have no regular normal opportunity for consulting with one another, and that is a grave defect of the present organisation. I had the honour of sitting for seven years in the Cabinets of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Fife (Mr. Asquith) in his first Cabinet and after wards in the Coalition. Anyone who has sat in a Cabinet knows how much every Minister gains in the conduct of his own Department by the suggestions, usually very helpful, and by the criticisms, often quite friendly, of his colleagues. All that has disappeared. The Food Controller or the Shipping Controller is left in isolation in his own room to wrestle as best he. can with the difficult problems that confront him. Where there are differences between two Departments they have to be referred to the War Cabinet for decision. What is the result? It is, unless reports are false, that the War Cabinet is choked with a mass of administrative details, and, instead of six Olympians rapidly deciding matters that come before them with expedition and success, we have six weary men, exhausted with labour, and endeavouring day after day to catch up the always accumulating arrears of the innumerable references that come to them from the different Departments of State, and having to deal on paper, or by conference with Ministers, with matters which are new to them and which they have not had actually to handle. They have to deal also with an immensely extended administrative machine.
There has been a continual growth of new Departments. The late Ministry was a very large administration. It contained no fewer than sixty-eight members, including the Under-Secretaries, the household appointments, and the rest. The now Government, when it came in, was enlarged to seventy-nine members. 125 By last March it had grown to eighty-four. To-day the list circulated with the Parliamentary Debates shows that there are no fewer than ninety-one members of the Government. So that no fewer than twenty-three new Ministers and Undersecretaries have been added to the Government during the last fourteen months. What is the consequence of this? The consequence has been explained very clearly by one member of the Government in whom most of us have great confidence, namely, the Secretary to the Ministry of Food, whose Department has been, perhaps, the chief sufferer by this system. The Secretary to the Ministry of Food is very clear-sighted and very candid. Speaking on the 27th January to a deputation at Manchester that came to him on the food question—he was speaking on the particular point of the desirability of altering the Army and Navy rations, in view of the present shortage—he fully agreed thatthere should be more equal distribution as between the Army and the civilian population," but unfortunately, owing to the fact that somehow or other the few men who are responsible for the conduct of the War had not the time to attend to problems until the acute stage had been reached, they were rather late in the day in taking in hand this question of wastage in the ArmyThat was the general observation made by the Minister who represents the Ministry of Food in this House, that the men who were responsible for the conduct of the War had not the time to attend to problems until the acute stage had been reached. When the Prime Minister told us that he had devised the War Cabinet precisely in order that quick decisions might be arrived at which were essential in time of war, what a contrast it is that, after fourteen months' experience, we are told by the representative of what is now one of the most important Departments of State that the men engaged in the conduct of the War cannot attend to these problems until the acute stage is reached. The Ministry of Food has to deal closely day by day with the Ministry of Agriculture, and also with its fisheries side, with the Ministry of Shipping, with the Foreign Office in respect to the purchase of supplies, with the Treasury in respect to purchases abroad, with the War Office and Admiralty in regard to rations, with the Ministries of Labour and National Service in respect to production and transport, but there is no opportunity for the Minister of Food to 126 consult as a matter of routine with the heads of those other Departments. If there is, as must necessarily occur from time to time, division of opinion, it must be referred to the War Cabinet for decision, and they have not time to deal with those problems until the acute stage is reached.
I would give very briefly three other illustrations. The recent closing of the Port of London was an example of the confusion in which the Departments are now working. That was a matter that affected the Admiralty, the Food Ministry, the Board of Trade representing the Railway Executive, and the Ministry of Labour. It appeared that there was no proper consultation beforehand, and that the various Departments were not really aware of the steps they were required to take to deal with the problem that arose at that time. We have had recently, in a speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blackfriars (Mr. Barnes), I think it was at Glasgow, an illustration of the lack of co-operation and co-ordination in dealing with matters of labour advances. There was, some few months ago, an incident which very gravely disturbed the minds of great numbers of people in the country in regard to the action of the Home Secretary in making a new Defence of the Realm Act Regulation, 27 c, which, for the first time, proposed that the decision as to whether expressions of opinion by pamphlet or leaflet on any matter relating to the War were to be allowed or not should be removed from the Courts of Law and placed in the hands of a Government official. Public opinion was so hostile to that proposal that within a few weeks it had to be withdrawn, but, I venture to think, if beforehand there had been any opportunity for proper Cabinet consultation, that mistake would never have been made.
Again, we have from time to time large schemes proposed, also disturbing to the mind of the public and to Parliament, without proper consideration, which frequently soon disappear from the public eye. The Prime Minister, in his first speech, proposed that the whole system of Parliamentary control over the Government should be remodelled, and that we should establish here the French system of Parliamentary Commissions. A few weeks later the Government announced that, after further inquiry, they had decided to abandon that proposal. A 127 little later great interests were disturbed, and the mind of the country was exercised, by proposals, apparently authoritative, that the whole of the liquor trade should be made the subject of State purchase, and that at once, during the War, in order to deal with the liquor problem, it should be brought under State control and management. Nothing has happened since, except that three Commissions have been appointed which have spent a very great deal of time and trouble, which have presented Reports, of which, I have not the slightest doubt, nothing more will be heard, and the only result has been the waste of time of a number of public men.
On another occasion one of the most important members of the Government declared it was urgently necessary—and I am rather disposed to agree—that a Ministry of Health should be established in this country. Weeks go by and months go by and nothing is done there. There is one exception to be made to this rule. The Representation of the People Act was introduced into this House on the recommendation of a Conference appointed in 1916, and has been passed into law—a very great legislative achievement, for which, I think, credit ought properly to be given to the Government of the day. But for the rest, these large proposals are made one by one. They go off like rockets, with a loud noise at the beginning. We see a dazzling flash of light through the sky. There is a faint distant report, a few coruscating stars, and then "they pass, and—heaven is bare, as though they never were." Again, I say, if we had had our old system of Cabinet government, I think those matters would have been more carefully considered and digested before proposals were made by the Government. I come, therefore, to the conclusion that after fourteen months' experience we cannot say that the War Cabinet has proved successful. The Prime Minister in the year 1915, I think it was, created the Ministry of Munitions, and by so doing rendered great, and indeed inestimable, service to the State. In the Ministry of Munitions, it is true, there was great laxity of financial control. As a Department it has been very wasteful and very costly, at all events in its earlier stages, but the Ministry of Munitions did deliver the goods, and the country, I think, has been grateful ever since to the. 128 present Prime Minister for what he did in that respect. In devising the War Cabinet he has not been so successful. The War Cabinet has not delivered the goods. It has had every opportunity. This House and the other House have passed every War measure which they were asked to pass. We have voted every sum of money which we have been asked to vote. The Cabinet has had an absolutely clear field and the fullest opportunity to fulfil its promises.
I do not suggest that the system of the old Cabinet was the right system, and that was recognised. It is not true, as is frequently suggested—I see it again in the Press to-day—that the old Cabinet consisted of twenty-three members, and that all executive decisions had to be referred to them. That is absolutely not the case. There was a small War Committee of six or seven members, and that small War Committee had absolute power to carry out decisions of policy, and did exercise its executive powers precisely as the present War Cabinet does; but it was recognised that there ought to be, in addition, a Home Committee, or a Home Council, consisting of Ministers dealing with home problems, who should do for all those domestic questions what the War Committee was doing for strategy and foreign policy. That had been decided by the late Cabinet, and such a Committee was about to be set up. The question of names was under discussion with the late Prime Minister when steps were taken which resulted in the resignation of that Cabinet. The right hon. Gentleman must remember that it was discussed at our last Cabinet. I do not know I am justified in quoting those who spoke upon it—I myself was one. I do not feel at liberty to quote the name of any others, but one was a member of the present Government. It was discussed at considerable length, and names were under discussion between the Prime Minister and some of his colleagues as to who should most properly form this Home Committee. My right hon. Friend near me confirms my recollection, of which I am sure. I would suggest for the consideration of the Government whether that is not the right form of government in time of war, that you should have a small War Council consisting of the heads of the great Departments concerned with the conduct of the War—the heads of the fighting Departments, the Foreign Secretary, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and perhaps 129 one or two others—and that you should have, in addition, a Home Council consisting of the heads of the great Departments concerned with home administration—the Home Secretary, the Food Controller, the Minister of National Service, and the Minister of Labour—perhaps the two combined in one hand—the Chief Secretary for Ireland, and other Ministers dealing with our domestic problems; that each of them should meet every day, or at least at frequent intervals, and that the two should combine together in common consultation at weekly meetings such as were held by the old Cabinet.
I venture to throw out this suggestion, because I think nothing is more useless than merely to engage in negative criticism without trying to arrive at the cause of such failures, if failures there are, which one thinks one detects, and without suggesting possible remedies for them. It may be said, and I dare say it will be said, that in speaking as I have done today I have shown that I am careless of the nation's interest in the War, and that it is not proper in Parliament to make a speech in a tone which, I fully admit, has been one of criticism. I had the honour to be a member of the Cabinet of 1914, and passed through those fateful days at the beginning of August, when we had to take the gravest decision that any body of men can possibly in their lives be called upon to take. I had then no shadow of doubt but that the course which the country then took in embarking in this great conflict was the only course compatible with our honour and our duty. I have had no shadow of doubt since. I give unqualified support to the declaration of war aims recently read by the Prime Minister to the deputation of trade unionists. I do not think that that statement goes one whit too far. A peace on the lines suggested by the Kaiser and by his Chancellor would, in my opinion, be the gravest disaster that could befall mankind. It is not because I care little about winning the War; it is because I care intensely about winning the War that I have made the speech with which I have I troubled the House to-day. If there is confusion and failure at home, how can we be sure that in matters of foreign affairs, strategy, and the relationship of the Cabinet with its military advisers, over which a veil of secrecy has been drawn, all goes well in those concerns?
130 In these circumstances, I think it is the duty of the House of Commons and of independent Members of the House of Commons not to keep silent. There is a large measure of dissatisfaction throughout the country at the conduct of affairs. This is the place in which that dissatisfaction should be expressed. In May of last year there were serious strikes in many industries. Commissioners were appointed to discover the cause of unrest. They presented reports detailing those causes. I felt ashamed for this House that it should be left for strikes and for Inquiry Commissioners to discover and to declare the grievances of the people. They ought to be stated here by their representatives. The whole working of our constitutional system depends upon our institutions performing their own proper functions. If this House fails the people, the people will be driven to act themselves. We have a duty. It is said we must think of our duty to the Army. We have a supreme duty to the Army. Our duty to the Army and to the Navy is not to keep silent, no matter what may occur. The duty of this House of Commons to the Army and to the Nation is to exercise its proper functions of criticism and control, and to insist that there shall be good government.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I listened with pleasure to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, particularly to the concluding part, in which he said—and I am sure with most absolute sincerity—that his view as to the necessity of prosecuting the War with vigour and success was as strong as that of any other Member of the House. I am sure in any action he takes he has, as he said, at heart the best interests of the prosecution of the War. I accept that. Rut I am not quite sure that I agree with the very last words which he used. It is quite true that it is the right and the duty of the House of Commons to examine, and, where they think it wise and right, to criticise the action of the Government. But up till now, in the conduct of the War, the view which, I think, has been generally taken is that there should not be that kind of criticism to which we were accustomed before the War, and I venture to say this, with all respect to my right hon. Friend. I do not complain either of the tone or the manner in which he has made his case: but his case really amounts to a condemnation not only of the system but of the present Government. If that be the 131 case it is his duty, and the duty of the House of Commons, to try to put into power a Government in whom they have confidence. Until they think the time has come that that ought to be done, and can be done, I venture to say that it would be well for us all in this House to continue the practise which has prevailed from the beginning of the War—as my right hon. Friend the Member for East Fife has done—and as for ten months I did—to leave aside many opportunities for most successful criticism, because we believed that that was not the way in which the interest and objects which both the Government and the Opposition had in view could best be accomplished. That is my view.
I will deal, as far as I can remember them, one by one with the points of the detailed criticism of my right hon. Friend. I begin at once by accepting his criterion —that is to say, all Governments, and, most of all, this Government, to which, I admit, the thing applies—though started on an entirely different basis and representing a great experiment—must be judged by results. I accept that criterion. I ought to say something, however, as a preface, if you are going to judge by results, if you achieve your object—not scoring against individuals, but judging fairly—you have to take into account, not only what Governments have done, but the difficulties under which they have had to do it. That is all I am going to say on that.
Now I take the particular points of my right hon. Friend in the order in which he stated them. First of all, there is man-power. We all know in this House how common were the attacks upon the Ministry of National Service. If I am not mistaken—I see there is a difference of opinion among Members already in regard to man-power—the late Government came to the conclusion that compulsory service for internal needs would be necessary. That is my recollection, and in my belief, as the House knows, it was determined that the work should be undertaken by the Ministry of National Service. The Ministry was started with the idea of getting by voluntary means the necessary labour just as we had got men for military service. We all know that the results obtained were not equal to expectations. If my right hon. Friend thinks it is wise to say so—I think his words were "futile and foolish "—the results certainly did not 132 come up to what was expected. But I would ask the House to remember this: It might have been necessary, however much we all knew—and nobody better than I, that the country would loathe and detest any form of compulsory service in civil life — it might have been necessary simply for self-preservation, to attempt to carry it out. I would remind the House of this—it is forgotten by my right hon. Friend—that a considerable change was made in conditions by what was happening in the War itself. The sudden development of the U-boat campaign, and the immense restriction of imports which followed, had as a corollary the setting free of a considerable body of labour, and it was possible to a considerable extent to get the labour that was necessary without resorting to the means that at one time was thought to be necessary. I have no special friendship with Mr. Neville Chamberlain. I think he had, under the circumstances, a hopeless task. I listened with the greatest pleasure to what was said in this House by my right hon. Friend about his duties in pointing out what work had been done, and how difficult was his task.
But now come to the Ministry of National Service. What are the facts? One of the great difficulties, as everyone in the House knows, has been the recruiting, and the discontent which recruiting under a compulsory system has brought with it. The result of this was the appointment by this House of a Committee which was to make it perfectly clear that, however great the difficulties might be, and however certain it was that whatever yon did there would be discontent, it was absolutely necessary, if you were to avoid insuperable difficulties. to separate the taking of men in this way from the taking of men for the Army. That has been undertaken by the Ministry of National Service. I do not think anybody will dispute that to-day it justifies its existence by what it is doing in that direction alone. Do not let the House imagine that nothing has been done in the way of man-power. Last night, when I understood that my right hon. Friend was going to raise this subject, as quickly as I could I got hold of figures which I expected were more or less likely to be brought forward. They have been brought forward. I will tell the House this about man-power. In 1917 we put into the Army 820,645 additional men.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
No, altogether; I am talking about the man-power. We took altogether 820,000 men. By Government machinery we placed in employment in civil life at home 731,000, and we placed 804,000 women in industrial life at home.
§ Mr. TENNANT
Do those figures, got, I suppose from the Labour Exchanges, include those who have gone forth, perhaps for three months to one employment and three months to another employment—that it to say, the same person being counted twice or thrice"
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I have not made inquiries on that point, but I think it is very likely; I do not know. I ask the House to bear in mind that people are not running backwards and forwards in that kind of way, I say that those numbers have by Government machinery been put into the industrial life of this country. In every one of the subjects in which we have been criticised we have to remember that these 800,000 men have been withdrawn from civil life, and that, therefore, to that extent it must have been more difficult in 1917 to keep up the output which we had in the previous year. In every comparison made I ask the House to remember that that vast number in employment has been withdrawn from the civil life of the country.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I do not know. The next point was that of food production. My right hon. Friend was good enough to say that there was something of which the Government had not any reason—I do not think he put it much stronger than that— to be ashamed. I will put it a great deal stronger. I am going to tell the House what has actually been done in regard to food production. I ask the House to recollect what happened a year ago. I ask the House this—and recollect what happened a year ago—to bring this to their minds—that a large part of the Press from the beginning did everything to mock and to render nugatory the effort at food production which we were making. I say this further—since it is a case of criticism—I certainly think that anyone who remembers the Debates in the House of Commons will agree with me that we did not get from the bench opposite very much support. What was the result? Remember that this Government came into existence in December, 1916. There was not very much time to arrange a food 134 campaign for the following year. In spite of that, last year—I am not giving estimates, I am giving figures—last year 1,000,000 additional acres were brought under the plough in this country, and the amount of additional cereals produced at home was 850,000 tons. In addition we produced, last year, an extra supply of 3,000,000 tons of potatoes.
I ask the House to think what that performance means under the circumstances. I ask the House to remember that ours is the only country in the War where there has not been a diminution of food production. The right hon. Gentleman talks about estimates. I do not remember what were the exact estimates. A great part of his speech was taken up with what he considered the glowing estimates of the Prime Minister. I have not got the estimates he makes to compare them with results, but I would like to say this: I have no more interest in this Prime Minister than I had in the last. I have served both, and given as loyal support to both as I could, and I wish to see fair play given to both of them. I for one would rather see at the head of this country a man who makes the mistake of being over sanguine and over-buoyant than a man who suffers from pessimism, and is not prepared to look forward. As to this year, remember the time for ploughing of land is not nearly over. I can only give the information which is supplied to me. I know nothing of agriculture. But I am told that time is not nearly past, and already, in addition to the increase of last year, there have been brought under the plough in England 800,000 additional acres, and in Scotland and Ireland 400,000 acres more. —1,200,000 altogether. That is a. result upon which the Government have a right to look back with a considerable amount of pride. I should like to say one word more about food. The House knows, of course, that the supply of tonnage has become increasingly difficult. In spite of that, at the end of last year the total stocks of wheat in this country exceeded those at the end of December, 1916, when there were not quite the same difficulties, by no less than 2,000,000 quarters. That is also a fact for which we have a right to be thankful.
Now I come to shipbuilding. What do we find there? In judging of what was done last year the House has to take into account the demand on man-power and on steel, which is a vital element, and which is continually changing by the vicissitudes 135 of the War. They have to remember, for instance, to what extent our munitions programme has increased, and to what extent steel has been used for other items for which it was not used before. They have to take these things into account in estimating the results achieved. I will tell the House what we have done. In 1916 the total tonnage built was 539,000 tons. In 1917 the tonnage built in this country was 1,163,474, and we secured abroad 170,000 tons in addition. My right hon. Friend made great play about erroneous statements of the Prime Minister. He said he had stated at the Guildhall, if I remember rightly, that we would produce three times—and the Prime Minister was sanguine enough to hope for four—three times the estimate of 1916. But even the words read by my right hon. Friend showed that they included tonnage bought abroad.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
If you take into account the tonnage which we had a right to expect to buy abroad and add it to what was built at home, we would have had a good deal more than three times the quantity built in 1916. The difference is that we had arranged for a very large quantity of tonnage which was to be built in and supplied from America, but when the American Government came into the War they preferred, as we should have done, to take that tonnage themselves. But the tonnage is there, and it is there at the service of the Allies. I consider, when you take into account all the difficulties of labour and of steel, the result is one of which this country has every reason to be proud. I do not think it very wise to make so much play about estimates. My right hon. Friend who was President of the Board of Trade knows how difficult it is to make these estimates. My right hon. Friend said we produced in the whole year only what was promised for the half year. That shows the difficulty. My right hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Runciman), on the 15th November, in the House of Commons, said:At the end of next quarter there will be a very large addition to the number of ships completed. By the end of this year—
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
1916. And he went on:I do not see any reason why our six months' output should not approach 500,000 tons, which. is a very large advance on what we expected."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th November, 1916, col. 850, Vol. 87.]As a matter of fact, 500,000 tons represents practically the whole years output, and not that for six months. I do not complain of that. If a Minister has to give estimates at all, he will give them on a basis which may be sanguine or not. But, admitting mistakes—and I shall be the last to say. there have been no mistakes—the thing: for the House of Commons to ask itself is, "On the whole have they, or not, done-their beat in the difficult circumstances?There is another item in connection with shipbuilding to be borne in mind, and that is the use which is made of ships. That is not less important than shipbuilding, itself. We all know how difficult that is. Nobody knows better than my colleagues in the late Government how the clash of the claims of different Departments makes it almost impossible to get the best possible control of the ships. Let me give the House two facts to show the result of what has been done in the use of ships. In spite of the diminution of ships, in spite of the fact that we have lent 1,500,000 gross tons to the Allies for their use, in the three months—I have not the figures for December—but in the three months, September, October and November, we actually imported precisely the same amount as we were able to import from February, March and April earlier in the year. Before the War every 100 tons net of shipping which came into this country brought 106 tons of goods. Now,, by the arrangements which have been made to utilise every inch of space, and by taking the best method of loading, the average fur every 100 tons net of shipping into this country is 150 tons of goods.
When you look at all these things —I am not praising myself nor the War Cabinet—I say that any fair-minded man looking at the difficulties will say that, on the whole, what has been achieved is more remarkable than the failures which have been met with in the attempt to achieve it Take another item mentioned by my right hon. Friend, the case of timber. I forget what he said' was promised by the Prime Minister, but I will tell the House what has been done. The House knows that timber is vital for the War, and that immense quantities are 137 used for it. Yet we succeeded last year in reducing the imports of timber by no less than 3,000,000 tons, and that has been made good by an increase of something like 1,800,000 tons, and the balance has been made good by our work in France. All that means an immense amount of organisation, but the result is one of which the Government has no reason to be ashamed. Let me give the House two other facts which were not mentioned by my right hon. Friend, and, in giving them, may I ask hon. Members to remember that each month this War lasts the difficulty increases. Not only is there smaller man-power, because of what has gone to the Army, but owing also to the difficulty of importing raw material, which is more difficult to get. Apart from the things I have mentioned, in the Munitions Department I will give only two figures. The number of guns available in France increased last year by 30 per cent. That is a very large figure.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
Yes. And the supply of aeroplanes has been multiplied two and a half times in 1917 as compared with 1916.
I come to the last item mentioned by my right hon. Friend, that of finance. I did not quite follow the basis of his criticism. if it was an error in estimates, that I am quite ready to admit, but I hope it is not necessary to remind him or the House how difficult it must be to make accurate estimates under existing conditions. The erroneous estimate in the year before I undertook this office amounted to something like £350,000,000. I doubt very much whether the error this year will be much in excess of that. It will be in excess, but I doubt if it will be much in excess. My right hon. Friend rather took the ground—why should there be increased expenditure at all? Now, take the Army. The ration strength of the Army had increased at the end of last year, as compared with the end of the previous year, by no less than 17 per cent., and that means a great increase in itself. In addition to that, as I have pointed out in moving Votes of Credit, we have the actual figures of the cause of the increased expenses, such as our railways and the advance of our troops in Flanders. Everything like that means great additions to the cost of the Army. And when my right hon. Friend says that because America had come into the War we ought to spend less I would really 138 like the House to consider what that means. I quite admit that America is giving great help, for which this House cannot be too grateful. It is giving great help not only to the Allies, but to us. But when that help takes the form of a loan it does not appear in our Vote of Credit; it is the same as if we raise the money here. My right hon. Friend thought we should be called upon to lend less to the Allies because America had come in. I should like to point out what is the principle on which we have gone right through from the beginning of this War. It has been, I think, that we were fighting a common battle. When the Allies' Finance Ministers came to my right hon. Friend who preceded me, we did our best to cut down their demands—that is human nature. But when it came to the point that they convinced us that what they asked was necessary to enable them to carry on with full vigour, that was the test, and we gave them the money for which they asked. The pressure on our Allies, the long continuance of the War, the gradual falling off in their means of taxation and revenue, all made the burden on them greater; and although I am glad to say we have not had to give more, we have not been able to give less in consequence of the assistance which America has brought in. Of course, that is not quite true with regard to Russia. I am sorry there is a possibility from now onwards that our expenditure there will be cut down. I wish it were not so. But up till now the explanation of the increase is pretty evident.
Now I come to what is the real burden of the charge. It is that our whole system of government is wrong—the Cabinet system. Whether or not it is wrong, what is it you are going to compare it with? Are you going to compare it with what you think might be done under some ideal system, or are you going to compare it with the system that prevailed before it? That is the test. I think my right hon. Friend — unless he really. means, and I have no objection if the House of Commons agrees with him, to test whether or not the House wants this Government to continue—was rather severe in his criticism; and I am in this difficulty. In defending the present system I can only do it by contrasting it with the system which it succeeded. That has this initial disadvantage—that I was as responsible for one as for the other, and in any case I certainly 139 do not want to make that kind of comparison. But I do ask the House, and I ask my colleagues—my right hon. Friends who are on that bench—to look at the facts of the case. My right hon. Friend says, "Look at the difficulty of co-ordination." Yes, it is very difficult. It is quite true, as he says, that the Cabinet Minister's time is taken up in constantly trying to settle it, but what possibility of co-ordination was there under the old system of Cabinet government? How could there be any? Let me give the House one illustration. I had these figures taken out from the 16th of July, 1916, to the 8th of December. The War Committee of the Cabinet of my right hon. Friend (Mr. Asquith), of which I was a member, met forty-one times. The Cabinet met eighteen times. That is to say, altogether we met fifty-nine times in 146 days. What opportunity was there for co-ordination? The Cabinet met. It had this great advantage—I do not for a moment believe that the present system is the best that can be devised, and I hope that better organisation will gradually be worked out. But I want the House to compare it with what it succeeded. It was not the fault of my right hon. Friend's Cabinet that when the Cabinet met these eighteen times in nearly six months—and that is the only chance of co-ordination there was—it is quite true that a great deal of power had been delegated to the War Committee, but for all that the Cabinet had the ultimate responsibility, and it is giving away no secret, because it is obvious, to say that the Cabinet could not meet without the Members wanting to discuss the things vital to us all—the War and the things connected with it that were going on. I say how was it possible to have co-ordination in those circumstances?
What happens now? My right hon. Friend took two examples; I will take one. He said that the Food Controller had no opportunity of meeting another colleague. That is precisely the reverse of what happens. The system under which this Government works is that the Departments concerned are to work together, and when any questions arise on which there is a difference of opinion, they come to the War Cabinet, and they come constantly. When you say that the ordinary Ministers who are not members of the Cabinet do not see their colleagues, that is true in a sense. We never all meet together, but I venture to say without the smallest hesitation that there is not a 140 Minister at the head of any Department who during the last year has not been in the Cabinet Room, meeting the colleagues with whom he was dealing, five times for every time they met during the previous Government. It must be so. How does this Cabinet work I quite admit that to put five men—I think my right hon. Friend described them as if they imagined themselves to be supermen, or something of that kind—[An HON MEMBER.: "Olympians!"]—and toll them to run the War is quite apart from our ordinary principles. But if you look at the realities the Cabinet knows that it has to carry the Government with it, and the idea of suggesting that my right hon. Friends, many of whom I could name who have-been members of Cabinets before I was in the House. have become Under-Secretaries and will submit to anything these "Olympians" do is absurd. We have to carry them with us first, and beyond that we have to curry the House of Commons. We know that there are these conditions. and I will tell the House of Commons, if they wish to know, that in my judgment the question of whether a man is to be put in the Cabinet or is to be put at the head of a Department does not mean that we think that the man in the Cabinet of necessity a better man than the head of a Department, but that we think the work will be better done with the one in the one position and the other in the other. That is what happens.
I will ask the House to remember this also. Whatever else is done, we could not for a day during the War return to the old position. My right hon. Friend admits that, and the cheers of my hon. Friend behind me reminds me of something else. At the time that the Government was formed some of the men who in any other Government would be Cabinet Ministers came to the present Prime Minister and said to him, "Well now, you must have a small body"—this actually happened— "I will not be in your Government if it means the arrangement of a War Council with a big Cabinet"—and they gave the reasons—"Under the War Council we have no power over the War, but we have the same responsibility as members of that Council, and therefore, we prefer that the Cabinet which conducts the War should be the Cabinet, and should know that we are not any more bound in what they are doing than the obligation that comes to us as members of the Government.''
141 As to the way this Government works, it is quite true that they are tired men; but I do not think that applies only to the present Government. The last charge that I would make against the late Government, including myself, is that we were idle people. I think that we were pretty tired, too. The present Government are tired, but this is the system on which it works: Practically every day the Cabinet meets in the morning. Obviously, if that is to be done, the men who are in the habit of spending the day as members of the Cabinet cannot have charge of great Departments. That follows. In these morning meetings big subjects are discussed, and subjects that have to be settled by the Government as a whole are brought up. That is only a small part of the work of the Cabinet Ministers. Their main duty lies in the fact that the Cabinet delegates to individuals to go into—sometimes with power to settle finally, and at others to conic with recommendations to the Cabinet various questions, and the time of the individual member is spent in going into questions which arise in the different Departments, and in the effort—and although you may say there is no co-ordination now, there is at least the attempt—to co-ordinate what they are doing.
On the whole, I am quite willing that this Government should be judged by the results. I do not say they have made no mistakes. I do not say, either, that a better form of organisation may not be evolved; but I myself differ from the suggestion of my right hon. Friend that the late Cabinet decided on having two Committees. That is not my recollection. I know that my right hon. Friend had thought of that, and I think he was in favour of it, but I do not think the Cabinet ever agreed to it, and I, for one, was diametrically opposed to it, for this reason, and I say the same applies now; What we wanted, and what we need, however you are going to get it, is unity of control. The reason I think that that system would not work is that, if you are going to deal with it, how can you settle in the different Departments what is war and what is peace? I do not think it is possible. In almost everyone of the Departments questions vital to the War arise, and if you have two Committees with co-ordinating authority, you do not get that unity, but you get a possible clashing of authority. I am not dogmatic 142 about that at all; I am only expressing my own view. But after hearing the speech of my right hon. Friend, after being struck by the expression of regret with which he embarked on that kind of criticism, and the enthusiasm with which, as he went on, he developed the criticism, after saying that I come back to where I was at the beginning. Whatever else you may say about it, the system which we have started is being followed in all the belligerent countries, more or less—not completely, of course. The system of a War Council with control is followed everywhere, and I say this to the House of Commons—and I am sure my right hon. Friend (Mr. Lloyd George) would have said it more strongly than I, because he is head of the Government and I am not—I say that the moment the House of Commons thinks that they can get a Government which will carry on the work they want carried on better than by the present Government, it is their duty to change that Government. But till they do that, I say it is the duty of every man who wishes to see this War carried to a successful issue, to avoid any criticism which is only damaging to individuals.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
During this Debate we have listened to a number of able speeches, in the course of which there have been some criticisms and also some suggestions. I only intend to deal very briefly with three of the points that have emerged, and in dealing with them I am not going to follow the example either of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cleveland (Mr. Samuel) or of the Chancellor of the Exchequer—the one as the defender of the late Government and the other as the defender of the present Government. I will leave that to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the two Front Benches. The first of the points that have emerged during the two days' discussion with which I want to deal is the one contained in His Majesty's Speech from the Throne—that part in which His Majesty says:The struggle on which we are engaged has reached a critical stage which demands more than ever our united energies and resources."During the past three and a-half years we have always been face to face with a serious situation, but never with one more serious than that with which we are confronted at the present moment. We are, as a nation, facing the hour of the trial of our faith. As a matter of fact, we are facing such a situation that we cannot 143 afford to have any trifling or tinkering on the part of the Government or of any other section of our people.
The last stage in any struggle is always the trying and the testing time, and it is only the people who have been able to meet this stage of the struggle in a united manner that has been able to come safely through. I think this is a point that deserves the serious attention of the Government as well as of hon. Members in all parts of this House. If the unity necessary for coming successfully through this struggle is to be maintained the Government will require to be prepared to put not only their war policy, which has been under discussion for two days, but also their peace policy frankly and freely, so far as it is consistent with national safety, before the people. This Government or any other Government cannot expect to retain the confidence of the people unless their policy is understood and approved by them. The Government will also be well advised to see that even-handed justice is meted out to every section of the people.
We have had some very trenchant criticisms regarding the manner in which justice has been dealt out as between section and section. We have had Members on both sides demanding that a certain military writer should be prosecuted, and one hon. Member went as far as to say that this writer should be dealt with in the same way as another Gentleman who has been a virile critic of the Government's policy and who has been recently dealt with. All I can say is that if the Government wishes to retain the respect and the continued support of the people of this country they must be prepared to deal out even-handed justice to all sections of the community. It may be a newspaper proprietor, a military writer, or some person in a humble walk of life, but if they are dealing with the affairs of the country in a manner that brings them within the pale of the law they should be dealt with equally, and this is necessary in order to avoid criticism and in order to keep the people united.
During this two days' Debate several hon. Members have told the House quite frankly that they were in favour of the Government being changed. One hon. Member even went the length of suggesting the form of the change which he wanted, and he pointed out that in his opinion Lord Lansdowne would be a more 144 suitable Prime Minister under present conditions than the present holder of that office. Outside this House we have also had this matter freely discussed, and one interesting combination which has been suggested is a Government consisting of Lord Lansdowne, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife (Mr. Asquith) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. A. Henderson). [An Hon. Member: "And a very good combination!"] Well, so far as I am concerned, if the House and the country desire that change, I will not stand in the way. The only thing I want to say in that connection is that this is not the first Government we have had since the War began. We have had three Governments in office, and this is the third one, and before we make another change I want to be convinced that we are going to put a better Government in the place of this one. [An HON. MEMBER: "You could not get a worse!"] If I believed that we could get a better Government I would not scruple to turn this Government out, so anxious am I to bring this country safely through this very trying struggle. I do not think personality ought to stand in the way of the welfare of the State; the situation is too serious for that. But before we make any change I think that we ought to be convinced that the change is going to be for the better.
Within the past few months we have bad several very important efforts made to bring about a just and lasting peace. The first of these efforts was made by the Labour forces of this country, and that effort is by no means finished. The conditions on which Labour is prepared to enter into negotiations for a just and lasting peace have been discussed here, and have been given to the world. Other steps are being taken with regard to the peace aims of the Labour party, and in the near future representatives of the Labour forces of this country will be meeting the Labour forces of one of our Allies, and if the two agree as to the peace terms contained in the Labour party's programme, then they will be discussed with the whole of the Allies later on. The Prime Minister has also laid down certain terms on which his Government would be prepared to negotiate peace with the enemy countries. These peace terms laid down by the Prime Minister do not go as far as the Labour party's terms, but they go a considerable distance towards meeting the salient points of the Labour party's peace aims. Later 145 on we had the President of the United States making a very important statement regarding peace in which he came even closer to the Labour party's terms of peace than the Prime Minister himself. What has been the answer of the Central Powers to the conditions of peace set forth by the Labour party, the Prime Minister, and the President of the United States? Any answer that has been given up to the present moment is by no means promising. What is the next step to take? There is only one other suggestion, and I put it forward for what it is worth for the consideration of the Prime Minister and the Government so far as peace terms are concerned. I would suggest that it is worth while for the Government to consider whether they should not specify all their peace aims on exactly the same basis as they have placed their war aims at the Versailles Conference. The Prime Minister has told us in his speech of yesterday that they had come to a unanimous finding at the Versailles Conference regarding the war aims of the Allies, and I think it is worth the consideration of the Government as to whether they will place their peace aims on exactly the same footing. I very humbly make the suggestion that they should at the earliest possible moment meet the Allies and discuss seriously the conditions on which the whole of the Allies are ready to enter upon peace negotiations, and after that has been done they can be made known to the world and to the enemy. If that fails, and if it gets as cool a reception as the peace aims have up to the present time from the Central Powers, then we are face to face with one of two alternatives: We have either to accept peace on any terms, or follow the advice given in the Speech of His Majesty yesterday, and that is to defend ourselves with all the energy and resource at our command. So far as accepting peace on any terms is concerned, I am of the opinion that the overwhelming majority of the people of this country are against such a policy, and in saying that, I want to say quite frankly, that personally I stand with them. My own personal position would be one of antagonism to peace on any terms.
The second point that has emerged in the course of this two days' Debate is one contained in the speech of the Mover of the Amendment which we are now discussing. He said, and I think very truly, that the strain is going to come upon the civil population, and it is probable that the civil 146 population are going to win or lose the War. That is a statement with which I am in complete agreement. If the position of the civil population is to be of such importance, I think the Government and the House will require to see that everything is done that can be done to give the civil population the assurance that whatever suffering or sacrifices are involved in this great struggle they shall fall equally upon all sections of the community. The spirit of the civil population to-day is not what it was in 1914 when the War began. This is a fact which we had better face and face frankly. Why is it not to-day the same as when the War began? There have been a number of contributory causes. Profiteering has gone on to en extent that ought never to have been permitted either by the Government or by the Members of this House. There have been difficulties as to wages. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cleveland (Mr. H. Samuel) told us that he was ashamed to find that certain things had taken place in this country with regard to wages. That statement would have come with better grace from someone other than the right hon. Gentleman, because he was a member of two Governments that have been in power since the War began, and that had the power of dealing with these things in a more effective way. There has been a difficulty with regard to food. A huge increase has taken place in the price of food, and there has been the difficulty of food supplies, leading to some sections of the community being able to obtain a better supply and others obtaining less. There is the difficulty of housing, a phase of the social question which is having a serious effect upon the civil population of this country. Only this morning I received two letters dealing with two different phases of the housing difficulty. With one I have been sent a resolution emphatically protesting against the demolition of certain houses in that locality. There is congestion in the locality referred to, and houses are very difficult to obtain. Some of them undoubtedly are in an insanitary condition, but with the congestion it is impossible to get other houses, and they are protesting against these houses, insanitary though they may be, being closed until steps can be taken to erect additional houses.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. S. Walsh)
Is that from Scotland?
§ Mr. ADAMSON
Yes, from Scotland. The second point with regard to the housing difficulty is this. The inhabitants in certain munition areas where housing has been provided by the Government are protesting against the excessive rents that are being charged by the Government. This communication goes on to state that they are being charged rent out of all proportion to the wages which they are able to earn. Then there is the question of man-power, and the question of certain families having to give all and other families escaping without giving any of their people either to the Army or the Navy. These and numerous other things have contributed to the change that has taken place in the spirit of the civil population, and we have reached the stage when the greatest care is required to be exercised if this country is to escape disaster. We have had within recent days paragraphs in the newspapers pointing out that there is likely to be trouble here and there over the country. We have discussions going on in the smoke room and in the Lobby, in the course of which one Member whispers to another that unless care is exercised there is the, danger of a revolution in this country. That is a state of affairs that we ought to face frankly and freely in this House. We ought not to leave it to be discussed quietly with whispering voices in the smoke room and in the Lobby. If there is a danger of a revolution in this country, it is time that the Government and the House took steps to remove the causes that are producing the revolution, because under present conditions a revolution would spell disaster. It would mean the end of this nation. I hope that we are seriously going to consider this situation, and that every possible step will be taken to cure such a state of affairs. If we had a revolution in this country and no revolution took place in Germany, then, as I have already pointed out, it would spell disaster for this country. I have always been one of those who believe that the last of the nations at present at war where a revolution will take place is Germany. Before we do anything to cause a revolution, or to allow a revolution to take place in this country, we had better seriously consider the consequences. If we open the sluice gates, there is no saying what course the flood will take after the gates are open. I am one of 148 those who do not want to see the flood gates of revolution opened during the course of this great struggle.
We shall not be over the critical stage with the end of the War, and while naturally the Government may want to concentrate their attention on the greatest of all difficulties. the conduct of the War, they cannot afford, and the Members of this House cannot afford, to forget the other questions so necessary for the period of reconstruction. We have had it stated that the Government intend to take steps for the period of demobilisation, that they intend to take steps to remedy the defects of our educational system, that they are prepared to bring in a Public Health Bill, and that they are going to deal with the housing problem. I hope that these questions arc going to be pressed forward. They are all very necessary for the period of reconstruction. I hope that they are not going to be relegated to the background, but that they are going to be seriously dealt with in the very near future by the Government. The period of reconstruction will be quite as critical or, at least, almost as critical as the present stage, and I hope that the Government, while they may feel that they must give the major portion of their energy to getting successfully through with the present struggle, will not forget all these matters that are so essential for the period of reconstruction, but that they will give the House an early opportunity of discussing them, and that steps will be taken to have them put into operation at the earliest possible moment.