." That a sum, not exceeding £45,864,000, be granted to His Majesty, on account, for or towards defraying the Charges for the following Civil Services and Revenue Departments for the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1919.
§ [For details of Vote on Account, see OFFICIAL REPORT, 27lh February, cols. 1405–1408].
§ Resolution read a second time.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £100.
I desire to submit to the Secretary of State for Home Affairs some considerations with regard to one of the most painful social questions with which he has to deal and which are before the country at the present time. It is a question which invariably in public discussion creates a considerable amount of feeling and indeed passion. I will only say that I will endeavour to put the case which I have to put, and to make the observations and suggestions which I wish to make, free, as far as possible, from all prejudice or passion, and with no other desire than to alleviate the conditions which now exist. The right hon. Gentleman has now under his care the men who have been released for various reasons from the Army as conscientious objectors, and are either in prison or in the various settlements founded by the Home Office and managed by the Home Office Committee. From time to time there have been raised in this House, not one, but a number of cases of these men who have died in prison or at the various settlements and work centres to which they had been assigned. I am not going to refer in detail to these cases, which have been put again and again to the Secretary of State on the floor of this House. The only exception that I am going to make is with regard to the latest of them, which is, in some respects, one of the saddest and most distressing of the whole of these cases. I refer to the case of Mr. H. W. Firth, who died a few days ago. This case was put to the Secretary of State in this House two days ago, and he made a 1585 reply giving some of the facts of that case. I want to try to show the Secretary of State that the facts which have been revealed in connection with the death of this man show that there is something gravely wrong in the present method of organisation, and that steps should be taken by him, as the head of justice in this country, to see that it is impossible for such cases to recur.
The first point which I wish to make on the case is this: When this unhappy man was a prisoner in a prison, and again when he was a member of the work centre at Dartmoor, the prison authorities, the medical men, failed entirely to discover that this man was suffering from a mortal disease, and had been suffering from it all the time he was in prison, and all the time he was at the works centre, and that he was in a condition so serious that, in the most favourable conditions, his life was a matter of a few weeks' duration, and that he was wholly unfit to perform either heavy or light work. The first point I make is that the Home Office authorities, the prison authorities, the prison doctor, and the doctors, not of the prison, but of the work centre, failed entirely to discover the serious state of this man's health. The result was that he was put to work without any discrimination being observed in reference to his state of health. The particular work he was put on was turning the handle of a winch, which had to be done vigorously and for hours during the day, and was a particularly arduous form of work. The man was in a very weak condition. He was wasted away almost to a skeleton. He was very cold, which I can well understand, but his serious condition was never discovered until a few hours before he died, and he died at the settlement before his friends could reach him.
I want to call particular attention to the evidence that was given at the inquest in this case. It was shown in the evidence that the doctors had not found out his medical condition. Dr. Battiscombe, who is, I understand, the official doctor, said that the dead man had probably bad diabetes for some time without its being known. He said that no medical report was received with Firth, that he never saw the man at work, and he did not ask what work the deceased was doing, and he did not know that the man was on heavy work. The deceased asked to have 1586 his party changed, but did not complain of the work; he complained of the cold while going to the quarry. Then I want to call attention to this cross-examination of the prison doctor which took place on behalf of the widow of the dead man:You did not receive that complaint very sympathetically?—Not very.Did you not think he was malingering?—No ; because many people feel cold, but I did not consider his reason wag sufficient.And his physical condition.—He had plenty of clothes.I think you said something about its being colder in the trenches to the deceased man?—I. did. I treated him in a business way; I had no feeling in the matter.The doctor was then asked:Did he ask for eggs at one time?The answer was:Yes, on 5th February. I told him it was difficult to get them, as nearly all the eggs were required for the soldiers. However, [ordered him three eggs, and I heard that they were delivered.The man applied for these eggs on the 5th and he died on the 6th, before this rood had reached him. Then there was a further cross-examination of the doctor, directed particularly to showing the physical condition of the man and the utter impossibility of his doing the work, or of his being able properly to do the work to which he was put. Without desiring to give any further verbatim quotations, I would like to say that, as the result of the cross-examination it was again made perfectly clear that there was no medical history, no medical record sheet of any kind, with regard to this man, and that therefore the authorities were in entire ignorance of his condition. The ordinary course bad been followed, and, indeed, a charge had been made against the man which arose out of his state of health, and which, had his state of health been known, the charge, of course, would not have been made. I dare say the details are before the right hon. Gentleman, and I need not refer to these very painful details with greater exactitude than is necessary to make my meaning clear.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir George Cave)
I do not know about this charge. What was the foundation for it?
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
The charge was that he had occupied too long a time in retiring, and the reply to it was that he was in a serious state of health, and 1587 was suffering from constipation. These are the details that came out, and I am very sorry to have to state them in public, for they are extremely painful. That is the case of H, W. Firth. It reveals a matter for which the right hon. Gentleman is responsible, as head of the Home Office, and it is a responsibility of which, with great respect, I suggest to him he cannot possibly divest himself. It is clearly shown from this inquest that proper medical arrangements did not exist in order to detect, even these most serious illnesses, that men released from prison, and sent to a works settlement, may be suffering from. The first suggestion I desire to mate—and the right hon. Gentleman will see on this occasion that I am not raising the question of principle underlying the treatment of conscientious objectors; I am not raising the question that has been debated in this House again and again, I am directing myself now to certain failures of the machinery of justice in this country, so far as the custody of these men is concerned, and I say that the medical machinery is obviously inadequate, and broke down in this case. The first suggestion I desire to make, and it is one of detail, to the right hon. Gentleman is that these men who come to prison from the Army or Navy as conscientious objectors should have with them—if such a thing exists—their medical record, and it should be received from the military authorities, the men being in military custody, and sometimes having received medical treatment; indeed, in many cases, they receive medical treatment whilst in the hands of the military authorities. Their record, their physical record, should be secured by the Home Secretary when they are received into prison; and, when they become inmates of the prison, surely, then, a complete medical record should be kept of them, and that medical record should be handed to the authorities at the works settlement. In connection with the Works settlement, evidence was given at the inquest by the sub-agent, to the effect that no medical record was sent to him of this man when he was liberated from prison, in order to go to the works settlement. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that, in future, when these men are transferred from prison to a works settlement, their medical record should be transferred with them, and that every possible care should be taken to prevent 1588 a repetition of one of the most harrowing cases that has ever occurred in connection with prison administration.
I want to go further than that. The right hon. Gentleman was asked two days ago whether he would have an inquiry made into the circumstances of this case, which is only one of a number of similar cases? I am not giving the right hon. Gentleman's exact reply, but he will correct me, if I am wrong, when I state that he said he saw no necessity for a special inquiry, because a coroner's inquest had been held, and that there was no fairer tribunal than a coroner's Jury, or words to that effect.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
No more independent; that perhaps qualifies the matter a little. I think that statement is a serious one, which must be challenged. How long has it been the theory of the Home Office, or of any Department in this country, that the verdict of a coroner's jury is sufficient in cases having connection with our Departments. I need not remind the right hon. Gentleman that the exact opposite is true. The right hon. Gentleman's predecessor in his office, during this Parliament, ordered an inquiry into the death of a boy at one of the reformatory schools of this country. There was a coroner's inquest, and a verdict was returned similar to the one in the case of this man, Firth; but the Home Secretary of that day, so far from saying that was are as on why he should not make an independent inquiry, put aside altogether the coroner's inquiry and the jury's verdict, and set up a special inquiry into the circumstances of the death of the boy, and into the conduct of the whole institution. That inquiry was followed by the setting up of a Departmental Committee. This has been the principle to which this House has been accustomed, and on which the Government have acted. With regard even to such questions as accidents in factories, the right hon. Gentleman well knows that a special inquiry by the Home Office invariably follows any serious accident. If the House wishes a further illustration, take the case of the Board of Trade. Is there a serious railway accident about which the Board of Trade is satisfied after a coroner's inquest has returned a verdict of accidental death? 1589 The right hon. Gentleman will remember that his colleague invariably uses the machinery which has so long existed for the purpose, and holds independent inquiries into such accidents. There is this further reason why an inquiry should be held in this and similar cases that have occurred; there were gross irregularities at this inquest. The representatives of the man who instructed counsel on behalf of his widow were not admitted to the inquest until after the jury had been sworn, and when it was too late to challenge the jury. What was still more serious, at the end of the proceedings at this inquest, whilst the general public were required to withdraw, and the representatives of the widow of the dead man were required to withdraw, the two doctors, whose conduct had been impugned, remained with the jury during the time they were deliberating. The right hon. Gentleman will see, therefore, that very grave irregularities occurred in the conduct of this coroner's inquest, and it is especially to be noted that the doctors, whose conduct had been impugned, themselves remained in consultation with the jury, if the facts supplied to me are correct, as I believe they are.
I put this second request to the right hon. Gentleman. My first is with regard to the medical care of these men. My second is that an inquiry should be held in this case in view of these sad features, in view of the death of this man, in view of the irregularities at the inquest, and in view of the fact that this is not one case, but only one out of a number of similar cases that have occurred. May I say this further, and I hope I shall not be misunderstood : The right hon. Gentleman mentioned that he had the views of the hon. Member for Gloucester. I am very sorry that I do not see the hon. Gentleman in his place, not because I wish to make any attack upon him, but because I should have liked him to be present to hear what I have to say. It is very far from my intention to make any attack upon him, and I have no doubt that any duties entrusted to him by the Home Secretary would be carried out in a wholly responsible way. But it is not according to the traditions of this House on acutely controversial questions, especially on a question which affects a minority, that an inquiry should be conducted from one side of the House only, and I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that, in any inquiry he makes, 1590 either with regard to past incidents or future matters, the Members of this House who may he entrusted with certain duties should be more representative, instead of the right hon. Gentleman being content with the report of one member. Here again I wish expressly to disclaim the faintest intention of making any attack upon the hon. Member for Gloucester, but I submit that the Home Secretary, instead of being content with the report of one member, should appoint more than one member, and members perhaps not wholly holding the same social or political views. I think that if the hon. Member to whom I refer were present he would not dissent from what I say, and that he would understand the spirit in which I am making these observations. Moreover, may I put this further point, that the hon. Member to whom I refer is himself a member of the Home Office Committee dealing with these matters, and it is scarcely fitting, where arrangements made by the Home Office Committee are criticised and shown to be defective, that the right hon. Gentleman, or the Government, should send down to make these inquiries one representative of that Committee. I hope I have made the matter clear. It is not that I am making any charge, but that in view of the needs of the case and of the failure of the Committee's arrangements in certain respects that the inquiry should be of a wide character.
§ Sir G. CAVE
The hon. and learned Gentleman (Major Terrell) was not asked to go down and hold an inquiry, but went down as a member of the Committee, in order to inquire on behalf of the Committee
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
I am much obliged, but the right hon. Gentleman will probably remember that the day before yesterday, in answer to a supplementary question, he said that he had the benefit of the views of that hon. and learned Gentleman. Therefore, he will see that my remarks were not made without some justification. In this connection, let me ask the Home Secretary to give his personal attention to one other aspect of this painful question. I have in my hand a Schedule, containing, I think, between twenty and thirty names of men in prison as conscientious objectors, who developed insanity in prison. I did not catch the interruption of an hon. Member just made, but I am 1591 dealing with this matter in a very serious spirit, and it is a very painful question, and one which requires the attention of the House. This question of these men who became insane in prison has been put to the right hon. Gentleman, and when he replied he said that he had reason to believe that the insanity had developed before they went to prison, and had become obvious since they were confined. Whatever opinion anyone may hold with regard to social questions, or Conscription, or the War, or as to the attitude of these men, considered on a wider basis and on the question of policy, no one, I am sure, for a moment will wish to suggest that men who are insane before they go to prison, should in. any way be punished or penalised for any failure to observe any Act. I am glad I carry the House with me in that statement. This is an appalling list of cases of insanity, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman to give this assurance, that where there is reasonable ground that a man is insane or showing symptoms of insanity, that he will not regard him as a fit person for prison at all, but will take the earliest possible opportunity and immediate steps to make sure that adequate machinery is devised to see that men of the kind are liberated from prison and are placed under the care of their relatives, or whatever medical or friendly care is possible in such cases. I have had a difficult and painful task. The right hon. Gentleman is head of the administration of justice in this country, and to him it does not matter whether the victims of injustice are people who are in a very small minority in this country, or whether they are in a majority. He is, I am sure, a man of humane feeling, and his only care is to see that the more a small minority of men are the object, as these men are, of passion frequently expressed in very violent ways, the more it is incumbent upon him as the impartial head of the whole machinery of justice in this country to see that those individuals are treated with care and humanity, and that such unhappy incidents as those that have occurred to which I have referred shall be made impossible. I venture to submit, with great respect and deep feeling, the constructive suggestions I have ventured to make. I beg to move.
§ Mr. KING
I beg to second the Amendment.
1592 A few weeks ago, in Nottingham, the Labour Party Conference passed this resolution:The Conference demands the release of all conscientious objectors who an; now suffering imprisonment contrary to the provisions of the Military Service Acts, and further protests against their disfranchisement and calls for the repeal of that clause in the Representation of the people Bill.That resolution was passed unanimously at a conference at which one member of the War Cabinet was present and various other members of the Government, and where the business was arranged, and, to a large extent, carried through at the suggestion of the right hon. Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. A. Henderson), one of the authors of the Military Service Act, and who, until very recently, was a colleague of the right hon. Gentleman. This resolution marks ; a distinct softening of public opinion. On the other hand, I have noticed in many cases a hardening of the action of the authorities and a great increase of severity. That has been shown by the numerous cases of insanity and the lamentable number of deaths in prison or immediately after release. It culminated only the other day in a strike of practically the whole of the conscientious objectors at Dartmoor. Those men are not absolutists who will have nothing to do with service for their country while it is at war, but they are men who are ready to do, and have accepted national service. Because of the death which has been mentioned and of their feeling that there is increasing severity, and even a spirit of cruelty abroad in the administration, they struck. That is a very grave state of things. We have the country as a whole, voiced by this great labour movement, softening its attitude, and we have the authorities of the country taking the opposite direction and increasing the severity and casualties are the result.
It has been suggested that I should take one or two typical cases because I understand that the Home Secretary is of opinion that it is impossible to deal with generalities, and that chapter and verse should be given. On the other hand, I find it very difficult to quote all the cases I should like to mention. If I take the cases of insanity, and those brought to my notice are numerous, then obviously it is painful for the man and for his family, and in a case of the kind you cannot go straight and inquire of the man. Again 1593 in cases of death there are the feelings of those who remain and of the friends of the family and all the acerbation and revival of the circumstances of the death. Take again the eases of those men who are fortunately still alive and even possibly in good health. Any complaint brought forward in their case would, I am sure, be fairly considered by the Home Office, but not so by the officials where those men are. The officials in any case of complaint have trouble imposed upon them, and in the case of men, conscientious objectors who are still in duress, I feel the very greatest difficulty in bringing forward their cases because I am sure it is not in their personal interest to bring up cases which are strong and can be strongly supported because I know what the attitude of the officials may be. I have had repeatedly brought to my notice in the case of certain officials their extraordinary callousness and indifference to suffering. After all perhaps that is what we ought to expect, because I doubt whether the Home Secretary would appoint to have anything to do with conscientious objectors any man whoever expressed sympathy with the lot of the conscientious objector. There is, for instance, the case of a doctor in London who has become a conscientious objector. He might have had full exemption, but decided to join his fellow conscientious objectors in prison because he said, "I will not ride off with complete security on my profession when these men in whose opinions I share are suffering persecution and even death." That doctor is now suffering for his opinions as a conscientious objector.
I know that the right hon. Gentleman and many Members of this House would consider these men cowards. That has been a common saying here and one which has been received with applause. In the case of the medical man which I have just quoted you cannot convince me that that man is a coward. In such a case as that the man might be made medical attendant at Dartmoor or elsewhere and I ask why not? But he would be the very last man the Home Secretary or the Home Office would appoint. The men they do appoint are those they can safely rely upon to have no sympathy whatever with the conscientious objector. How can you get a decent and sympathetic administration when you start out on a totally-wrong, unfair, and inhuman principle? It is just the same in connection with the claim for an independent inquiry, and 1594 the sending down of the hon. Member for Gloucester and the verdict of the coroner's jury. That aspect of the matter has been well dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Lanark (Mr. Whitehouse), but let me ask this: If you were to ask Lord Northcliffe for an independent judgment on the suitability of the appointment of Lord Beaverbrook or to ask Lord Beaverbrook for an independent judgment on the suitability of the appointment of Lord Northcliffe, you would be doing the same sort of thing that the Home Secretary is doing when he appeals to the coroner's jury or the Home Office Committee as independent inquiries. You cannot get an independent inquiry unless you send someone down fresh to the work, without any prejudice or prejudging of the facts of the case, and I am going to ask very earnestly for an independent inquiry into some of the cases, either into the Dartmoor strike or into the case of the deaths that have occurred at Chester and Shrewsbury. I mentioned the Dartmoor strike. My information is—and it has been confirmed by quite a number of letters from Dartmoor—that this strike was not an organised, put-up affair by certain organised leaders and agitators. That is the account brought back by the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester. He declares that certain leaders and agitators organised and put-up the strike. My information from various quarters is that its was an absolutely spontaneous move, and that one of the men, charged as being the leader, and who has been put into the Army again, and will go through the whole system of persecution, hard labour for two years, etc, was a man who actually tried to dissuade them from the strike That I have on the very best authority. Of course, it is contrary to what the hon. Member for Gloucester says, but in this matter I venture to say the evidence I have got cannot be refuted. I, therefore, ask most earnestly of the right hon. Gentleman that there may be an independent inquiry into the conditions at Dartmoor, the strike there, and the deaths which have occurred elsewhere.
I will trouble the House with at least one individual case. There are several that I could bring forward, but I will, only bring forward the case of John Taylor, a typical case, which could be multiplied, but, as I have brought it up once or twice in the House by way of 1595 question, and I have the answers here of the right hon. Gentleman, we stand on common ground. John Taylor was an early sufferer under the Military Service Act. He was a strong, healthy man when he went into the Army. He was court- martialled, and he was given twenty-eight days' field punishment, and bread and water for three days at a time. That completely broke the man. He was sent to France, and he attempted suicide at a very early stage by trying to throw himself under a train. He was brought back and court-martialled again. He was admittedly out of his mind, and he attempted to commit suicide again. On the 13th November last year I asked the Home Secretary a question about this matter. He admitted that the man was insane, and he attributed the insanity to anxiety about air raids, and having been suffering from air raids. The fact, of course, was that when he was brought into touch with air raids the symptoms of his insanity, which had previously shown itself in France and had led to his attempted suicide there, were brought out. It was not the cause, but only the occasion of fresh symptoms. I suggested to the Home Secretary, in a supplementary question, that his condition was now dangerous, and that his friends had been called to see the last of him. The Home Secretary was not aware of this, and I asked him if he would cause inquiry, but he declined to do so.
§ Mr. KING
I accept it, but it is a very small matter. I do not wish to accuse the right hon. Gentleman himself of callousness or increased severity or cruelty, but I do charge his officials, whom he stands by and supports, with a policy of cruelty, increased severity, and inhumanity in this matter. But, apart from what I asked on that occasion, the fact remains that this man was kept at Wake-field as a lunatic, but for some reason or other he was kept there under such conditions that he again attempted suicide, 1596 and succeeded. He was allowed to commit suicide when admittedly insane and kept at Wakefield. I say it is cruel to keep a man you admit to be insane in a work centre. There is nothing but cruelty, inhumanity, and increased severity in that. You keep a man still in the work centre in January whom you admit in November to be insane. I cannot imagine how the Home Secretary can defend such a course as that. I subsequently put a question on this case, and the Home Secretary rode off again on the independent inquiry provided by the coroner's jury. I have respect for a coroner's jury, but a coroner's jury, after all, is not the greatest and highest tribunal, and on this occasion a very curious verdict was passed. The verdict of the jury on the death of this man, who was admittedly insane, was felo de se. Now, felo de se is the verdict given in the case of men who commit suicide who are not insane. It is a verdict given only in cases where a man, reckless of morality, cowardly of facing the facts of life, gives way to the most miserable of all murders, the murder of his own self, and that is the verdict which this impartial jury—the independent, inquiry to which the Home Secretary appeals—brings in in the case of a man who twice before had attempted to commit suicide. I ask pardon if I have shown any strong feeling. Though I wish to make no recriminations or charges that cannot be supported, I maintain that this feeling amongst the officials of increased severity, and even vindictiveness, is steadily growing, while the feeling of the country is steadily softening towards these people.
I have another charge to bring against the administration of the law towards these men, and which entirely bears out the line of argument I am taking. These men are always having promises made to them—promises which are extorted by public feeling outside the House—and these promises when made are not carried out. I have got a list of four of them. There are the prison relaxations. At first, the prison relaxations were not fairly made known to the men, and could not be carried out. That was admitted. I pass from that to Lord Derby's statement that no more excessive sentences should be passed on conscientious objectors. That was announced deliberately in the House of Lords, but it was immediately departed from and explained away.
1597 Then Lord Curzon, on 4th December, made another statement about the application for information to tribunals in certain cases, and that is not being carried out.
§ Mr. KING
There is still a doubt whether it applies to appeal tribunals. But I will take another case, of which I have definite information. Exceptional employment was offered to certain men, willing to undertake the Home Office scheme, and quite a number of men, I know, who have been working on the land at Dartmoor and elsewhere, were willing to take up land under promise of carrying through their work and continuing it after the War. There is the very greatest delay and difficulty thrown in the way of these men. and in one case I know of men who had the opportunity of beginning on a small holding at once and increasing the supply of food production for this year, after about six weeks of application, are still kept waiting for any definite employment. Which does the right hon. Gentleman want more —the punishment of conscientious objectors, or good work on the land in the production of food? You cannot have both. No, Sir; I am convinced by independent information, and inquiry into a large number of cases, that the Home Office is not satisfactorily treating this question. I have two letters in my bundle behind me which express the feeling there is now that many of these men have got to go through with it, and nothing but death lies before them. You may call them cowards, but I say those men are true to the death in the cause which they believe to be right, and I bitterly regret that the Home Secretary still, by his methods and by his subordinates, treats these men as cowards. The only alternative to death is getting out by favouritism. I can quote many cases of men who are out by favouritism. I shall only quote one, because I know it is a case in which, whatever I say, cannot interfere with the man. I will take the case of Stephen Hobhouse. Why has he been let out? Because you dare not keep him in He comes of a very distinguished family ; he had an uncle in the House of Lords; he was a. distinguished man himself. You dared not keep him in. You will keep many men in even when you are warned that if you keep them in they will die. They 1598 do, in fact, die. But you dared not keep Stephen Hobhouse in to die in prison. There is but one chance for many of these men—either release by death or release by favouritism. That is a contemptible position to put them into. I repeat, and I have well weighed my words, that there is increased cruelty, definite inhumanity, and needless severity in the way in which conscientious objectors of that class are being treated at the present time.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
I do not propose to go over much of the ground which has been covered by the last two speakers. But, in a general way, I would ask the Home Secretary if he is really satisfied with the manner in which this problem of the conscientious objector is being handled. If he takes it from the point of view of the nation, is he sure he is doing the best thing; if he takes it from the point of view of the men themselves, is he sure he is doing his best? There is a third point of view which will appeal to him as much as to any man in this House, and that is the point of view of legal right. Is the right hon. Gentleman quite satisfied that the way in which these men are being treated is in accordance with the spirit of the section of the Military Service Act under which they have claimed exemption under the general operation of that Act? It is perfectly true that under the third heading the right hon. Gentleman's responsibility is only secondary. The primary responsibility rests on the tribunal. Nevertheless, he does occupy the position of a judge when these men are handed over to him, and I do not think I am giving him more power than he will agree he possesses when I say it is the duty of the Home Office to use some common sense regarding the rights of these men under the law. I have not troubled him, either publicly or privately, with very many cases of conscientious objectors, I think but one or two. But the thing which has been oppressing me for at least two years is the knowledge I have of these men, what they were before the War broke out, what they were doing, what their interests were and what is their physical and mental capacity. I am sure that some of the best intelligence of this country have been altogether misused, and are being destroyed and pre- 1599 vented from contributing their best to the national service and the national well-being.
I heard of one case the other day, the case of a man at Wakefield. He had an opportunity of getting employment with an employer who was doing some munition work, and the man was told there was certain work in connection with the firm upon which he could be very well employed. I wrote to the Home Office, giving his case. It was work of national service, it was work in connection with which there was a shortage of labour. I received a reply from the Home Office stating that if they allowed this man to leave Wakefield to do this work the conscientious objectors' friends in the House of Commons would raise the objection that they were violating the conscience of the conscientious objector. I wrote, asking if I was to take that as a really serious answer. I was assured that I was and I dropped the matter. But by and-by an opportunity was given for this man to do wood-cutting for pit-prop work. I again took my courage into my hands. I put my pride into my pocket, and approached the Home Office again, asking whether, under these circumstances, they would allow the man to leave Wakefield and engage in this work of necessary.service to the State. I was informed that they could not deal with individual cases at all, and if this wood-cutting firm which was prepared to employ this man—I do not object to giving the man's name, it was Councillor Smith—desired labour, the Home Office would only deal with conscientious objectors in bulk, and if the firm would apply to the Home Office for conscientious objector labour, the Home Office would consider the application with a view to supplying it. Naturally, I let the matter drop, because, dealing with such frames of mind is absolutely impossible. Councillor Smith is still in Wakefield, the pit-props which are required are still growing, and the Home Office is maintaining its policy of merely punishing the conscientious objector and depriving the nation of his physical labour.
But what is still more serious is the deprivation of intellectural labour. I had prepared the other day a list of men in various work centres doing manual labour such as carting stone and driving cranks. They were university men. The list was specially prepared from the point 1600 of view of applied chemistry, in which I take some interest. I had a report also given to me about what has been done in Germany since the War started in regard to chemical experiments for industrial purposes as soon as the War comes to an end and the ordinary markets are open. That is one of the problems this country will have to face. Now the only use the Home Office has got for these men—there are thirteen or fourteen of them on this list, and I am told there are others—is, because they are conscientious objectors, to use spades, trowels, and shovels—certainly not dishonourable employment, but employment for which they are not fitted either physically or intellectually. What I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman is this: He has now had his experience of work centres and of his National Service—experience of a very rough-and-ready kind. He has had his experience of Home Office Committees of various kinds, and I would suggest to him it is time to review the whole situation from the point of view, not only of national need, but of the best thing to be done with the men themselves. You can be very spiteful to an individual, and you can deprive the State of his service, but the policy that deliberately sacrifices an intelligence trained for two or three years at colleges and universities before the War broke out, an intelligence which has been specialised to a very considerable extent, is net a wise policy, and I think the right hon. Gentleman will admit that the State should use that intelligence to far better purpose than it now does. Any policy of special punishment for opinions, however pernicious the right hon. Gentleman may deem them to be, is exceedingly short-sighted and an extravagant one. It means that you destroy intelligence in order to degrade the man.
There is another point to which I would like to draw attention. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to be a little more liberal in his treatment of certain of these men, and in his; application of certain rules and regulations. In order to make my point definite I will give a case—it is that of a man named Green, who has been handed over to the Military Service from the Wakefield Centre. I give it as a typical case, although perhaps the details may be special to the case itself. It indicates, however, a frame of mind which is operating in all sorts of different ways. This man was at Wake- 1601 field before he came under the Military Service Act. He was an assistant organiser of the Bakers Union in South Wales. For the last fifteen months ha has been in Wakefield Work Centre. A short time ago there was a Labour dispute in South Wales in the baking industry. Green has been accustomed, since he went to Wakefield, to write practically every week a letter to a personal friend who is the secretary of his union and is also secretary of the Cardiff Trades Council—Mr. Hyles. Green wrote a letter, addressing it to him at Swansea. In that letter he referred to the strike, and asked Mr. Hyles to remain true to his people and to remember that capitalists would continue the War for a small gain at the expense of the workers. I dare say that is the offending sentence. He went on to say he also hoped that Mr. Hyles would settle the strike satisfactorily. Further, he-referred to the Russian Revolution. This letter was said by the Home Office to contravene Rule 12, under which public propaganda, whether by making speeches, taking part in processions and demonstrations, or otherwise, is forbidden Under that rule Mr. Green was proceeded against by the Home Office. His letter was never published, and it could not have been because it was signed by him in his Christian name only. The Home Office apparently intercepted the letter, found out who the secretary who called himself "Jimmy" was, discovered it was Mr. Green, and construed the letter—written from one private person to another without any thought of its passing out of the hands of those who wrote it and received it—as a piece of public propaganda. The result was that Mr. Green was handed over to the military authorities, and the usual round will take place. Mr. Green will be court-martialled, Mr. Green will be sent to prison, Mr. Green will do nothing for the rest of the War, except to be a burden to the State, a heartbreak to himself, and a trouble to the Home Secretary if Mr. Green's friends get information upon which they can act. I venture to say to the Home Secretary that that is not a very dignified way of dealing with these problems, and that it is not a very just or a very honourable way of dealing with those problems. I think if he would appoint a Committee to survey the whole problem again and to give him a report from fresh minds he would be very well advised, and I think her would have far 1602 more satisfaction than I venture to think he will have obtained at the present time from his handling of this difficult problem.
That is all I desire to say with regard to the conscientious objectors; but yesterday when this Vote was in Committee, I raised a point with the Foreign Office which was partly Foreign Office and partly Home Office, and I promised yesterday that when the Home Office vote was before the House to-day I would make my statement again, so that the Home Secretary might have the chance, as well as the Foreign Office, of putting his side. It is again an unpopular subject. There are certain people and certain sections in this country who could be hanged, drawn, and quartered in the most illegal and unjust way, and great crowds of people would applaud the injustice. Conscientious objectors form one section, and Mr. Litvinoff and his Russian friends form another section. Nevertheless, when our passions are over, this House doing a little justice and keeping some sort of balance of fair-play will be honoured rather than dishonoured. I am glad that the hon. Member for Hertfordshire (Mr. Billing) is in front of me, because it will enable me to say something which, perhaps, I would not have said if those who had put the questions had not been present. Mr. Litvinoff has been the subject in this House of most scandalous attacks by the hon. Member, who has used the Order Paper without, I think, undertaking what any hon. Member ought to undertake, the responsibility and the trouble of inquiring whether the allegations they make are true or not. It is enough—Mr. Litvinoff. What do you say about him? What is his religion? What is his name? What are his antecedents?
§ Mr. BILLING
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I have gone to very, very great trouble to make inquiries, and I propose to return to the matter.
§ Mr. MACDONALD
Then I withdraw. The reason I made the statement was that to my knowledge some of them are so grotesque that I assumed the hon. Member had not made the inquiries. I am sorry, and I do not make that allegation against the hon. Member at all. But the statements are very grotesque, as I shall seek to show. I said yesterday that I was very sorry the Foreign Office allows the Home Office to give answers to questions regarding a person who, although not an Ambassador, is in a position that is very exceptional and special, because we have 1603 been told here that Mr. Litvinoff is to get semi recognition—not full, but semi-recognition—and we also know that an arrangement has been come to by which a similar officer in Petrograd shall act for us. I think it is a great pity that the Home Secretary on Monday, for instance, in answering a question put to him as to whether Mr. Litvinoff was concerned in a bank robbery at Tiflis, whether he held a German passport, what his real name was, and so on, instead of saying quite categorically that this was not the person— because that only came out on what I call cross-examination and not in the original answer—allowed it to be assumed that this person Litvinoff's name was Finkelstein, and stated thatAs to the remainder of the questionincluding the Tiflis little escapade—' my inquiries are not yet complete."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th February. 1918, col. 1101.]
§ Mr. MACDONALD
Yes; but the supplementary answer was:My information is that the man's name is Buchman.That is in the original question. I think the right hon. Gentleman's memory has failed him, because he had said before that Mr. Litvinoff's name was Buchman.
§ Sir G. CAVE
There is a mistake in the report there. Without knowing that it was going to be quoted, I have already corrected it in the proof of the OFFICIAL REPORT.
§ Mr. MACDONALD
Then I am afraid I am the victim of the report. The original answer remains. It was a perfectly simple thing for the Home Office to have asked the gentleman himself about it. In the circumstances there were some delicate considerations to be taken into account. There is such a problem as keeping Russia in as friendly relations as we possibly can do with us. I think it was most unfair, most unjust, of the Home Office to have allowed such a question as this, with such a direct charge, being made, and not to take the most obvious steps to find out, at any rate, what reply Mr. Litvinoff himself made. They need not have accepted it as final, but the right hon. Gentleman ought to have stated in this House categorically that Mr. Litvinoff said so-and-so and so-and-so, in order to 1604 make it impossible for these slanders to be circulated in the newspapers the next day without any chance of their being overtaken. The facts, as I am told, are these: That Mr. Litvinoff never was in Tiflis, never was in the Caucasus in all his life, that his name has never been Buchman, that he has never passed under the name of Finkelstein, and that, as a matter of fact—and I am amazed that the Foreign Secretary did not also apparently know this—nobody who has been in Russia taking part in Liberal politics for the past twenty-five or thirty years can possibly live under one name. The hon. Member (Mr. Billing) smiles. I am perfectly certain that if the hon. Member himself had been living in Russia he would have taken a dozen names, because he would have found it impossible to exist under one; and if the right hon. Gentleman's methods of proceeding were with spies, and agents, and telephones, it would be impossible for people who have any care or regard for liberty to remain under any one name all through. The most famous Russian of to-day, Maxim Gorki—what is his name? How many names has he, how many names has he had to have To go and allow an innuendo to go out against a man who is an envoy to this country because he has had two or three names ! The right hon. Gentleman must have known it is a mark of honour to have been compelled to have two or three names under Czardom in Russia. It is most unjust, and I think the right hon. Gentleman will admit that that answer, more by what he did not say —as it is incorrectly reported—than by what it did say, was most unjust to Mr. Litvinoff. All I can say is to repeat what I said last night. When Mr. Litvinoff came over to this country ten years ago he came over with an introduction from a gentleman, amongst others, who is a member of the Brussels Town Council and a member of the Belgian Chamber of Deputies. That introduction showed him to be Mr. Litvinoff, and so far as I have konwn him he has been nothing but Mr. Litvinoff all the time. So much for that answer. I think it is but fair to Mr. Litvinoff, whatever his merits or demerits of a political kind may be, to put that on the records of the House in view of the failure of the right hon. Gentleman to take the opportunity given to him the other day to do an envoy of the Petrograd Government fair justice and fair play.
1605 The other day there arrived in this country a Mr. Kameneff. He came as an envoy from the Petrograd Government to Paris. He arrived here last Saturday. He held an official position from the Government. There may be political consequences arising out of his treatment here or elsewhere. When he arrived in Aberdeen he was treated with unusual severity. His personal luggage was taken—I am putting the case as I have had it from a man whom I believe, so far as his statements are concerned, to be an honourable man. He was treated with unusual severity. I know, as a matter of fact, he feels he was grossly insulted. His personal luggage was taken in a way which, at any rate, was not civil. His valise with his papers was taken. Even down to such things as a box of matches taken from him and not given back to him. There was a question put to-day with regard to Mr. Litvinoff's religion. I was amazed that the Home Secretary did not give the hon. Member who asked the question some more information about Mr. Litvinoff's religion, because at the present time the right hon. Gentleman has a Bible which was taken from Petrograd for Mr. Litvinoff because he wanted a Bible in Russian. The right hon. Gentleman has it. It was seized at Aberdeen.
§ Sir G. CAVE
My answer was that I did not know anything about his religion, and I certainly have not inquired.
§ Mr. MACDONALD
I am giving the right hon. Gentleman information now. Perhaps the hon. Member will repeat the question and the right hon. Gentleman will give a fuller reply. I am stating the fact that the right hon. Gentleman has now at this moment in his official possession a Bible which was seized as being a book, along with certain French and Russian books, which might be of dangerous import if allowed to remain in Mr. Kameneff's private possession. Moreover, a cheque, I was told by the Minister of Blockade, amounting to £5,000—such was the information given yesterday—was taken from Mr. Kameneff. The cheque was drawn on a London bank, and Mr. Kameneff has been informed by Scotland Yard that he is not allowed to cash that cheque in London. Mr. Kameneff is prepared to give full information as to what 1606 the money is required for. At any rate, up till last night he had not been allowed to cash that cheque. He has been informed that if he leaves for Paris the cheque will be handed to him just before he leaves—not a very consoling or a very efficient way of dealing with the question so far as Mr. Kameneff: is concerned, seeing that the proceeds of the cheque are partly required for his personal use. From the time that Mr. Kameneff and his two colleagues, to whom I referred last evening, arrived in this country they have been persistently shadowed by Scotland Yard. I went to see them this morning to get some information which I hoped to use this afternoon, and I was very pleased indeed to find six or seven men of military age hanging about the outer part of the buildings. This showed the great vigilance of the right hon. Gentleman, a vigilance which I am sure will satisfy and gratify some hon. Members of this House, but not a diligence which will impress the Russian envoy with the vaunted liberty of this country. It will suggest to him rather parallels with the condition of things which Russia has fought against, and has finally put down, in spite of the attempts which are being made to set it up again. These are circumstances which, I say, will suggest to Mr. Kameneff dark and dead days in Russia rather than what he expected to find in Great Britain, or the capital of England, London.
Finally, they have been informed—not Mr. Kameneff, but his two associates—that when they take their departure they will be accompanied From the hotel to the train by Scotland Yard detectives, and that these gentlemen will wait about until they have finally made their departure. I venture to bring these matters before the attention of the Home Secretary himself. I hope he will be able to give a statement to this House which will be a little more assuring than the statement I have been able to give. The statement I have given has been given to me by those who have been subjected to the conduct which I have described. I think it would be very much to the interest of this country if these things were handled in a little more liberal spirit, with a little more knowledge of the human bearing of it, and a little more appreciation of what is important and what is unimportant rather than being handled with that same red tape and the same crude and unimaginative display of authority of which we have heard. It is not a credit to this country that these tales 1607 should be possible to be told, especially by gentlemen like these, who have been subjected, I think from last Saturday until last night, to what I have described Therefore, I hope the Home Office, if the stories are true, will do something to remove the very bad impression which has been made on these gentlemen; if the stories are untrue, I hope the Home Office will be able to tell me exactly what has happened, so that the truth may be known.
§ Mr. BILLING
In view of the reference that has been made by the hon. Gentleman opposite to the questions which I have put down as to Mr. Litvinoff in this country, perhaps it would only be fair if I say that these questions are put down not because Mr. Litvinoff is Mr. Litvinoff, not because he has been in this country and in other countries under many other names, but because—and I should like the hon. Gentleman to contradict me if I am wrong in this assumption—he can only be regarded as the accredited representative here if Lenin and Trotsky in Russia. If I am wrong in that assumption, then I am afraid the whole of my case, so far as it bears on the Bolshevist movement in England, will fall to the ground. The accusation of using the Order Paper of this House improperly in this connection, I am afraid, leaves me cold. I propose, with the tolerance of the House, to refer somewhat more fully to the matter than was my original intention. There is no doubt that there has grown up in this country during the last few months a condition of affairs which gives cause, or ought to give cause, to the gravest unrest amongst those who wish well to this country and who desire to see her come out of the present political, social and international chaos by constitutional means. The growth of Bolshevism in this country among many of our Labour leaders is, to me, one of the most disastrous things that can possibly occur. Labour, with the new Reform Bill, has the greatest opportunity of any country for asserting its rights and desires by constitutional methods, yet when we find representatives of foreign countries—and it is very difficult to say now whether Russia is an Ally or an enemy, or just a friendly neutral— when we see representatives, not of the Russian people, but of the Minority Government in Russia which has been set up—as I propose to submit to this House —by purely German influence and German funds—when we see these people creating 1608 chaos, confusion, death, and destruction to all that was best in the Russian nation, and inciting the working classes of Russia, as they have incited them, to turn on the bourgeois of Russia, and the thinking and the working people of Russia, purely and simply to afford the Prussian Army an opportunity of entering—
§ Mr. BILLING
On a point of Order, Sir Donald Maclean. I would ask whether the present discussion is not on the question of the Home Office attitude in regard to Mr. Litvinoff in this country, and, as such, I submit that it is relevant for me to refer to the danger that his presence here may mean. I suggest I am entitled to put forward what we may reasonably expect to be the result should he be permitted to continue his propaganda work in England. If I may say so, in requesting the Speaker's permission, to introduce this subject I mentioned the fact that it would be necessary to refer back to the attitude and action of the people whom Mr. Litvinoff represents in this country. I therefore trust I shall have the opportunity of making such remarks on the movements in Russia as are relevant to the danger which threatens England.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I thought the hon. Member had risen to a point of Order. That is not a point of Order. It is not in order for the hon. Member, in discussing the subject before the House, to enter into details as to the, internal affairs of Russia. He must confine his remarks to the action of the Home Office in relation to Mr. Litvinoff in this country.
§ Mr. BILLING
I shall only make such references, then, as are necessary to justify the action of the Home Secretary and the attitude he has taken to Mr. Litvinoff in England. I would, however, take this opportunity of calling the attention of hon. Gentlemen opposite to the fact that I have been at very great trouble to make the closest inquiry as to Mr. Litvinoff's credentials and good faith. I have consulted with an English gentleman who has recently returned from Russia, who has spent twenty years there, and has provided me with most of the information which I will use; distinctly, if I may say so, in the public interest, with a desire to 1609 strengthen the hands of the Home Office in dealing with any representatives from Russia who come to this country to endeavour to stir up strife amongst our munition workers or the civil population. Perhaps I have some bias in this case. If I have one weakness at all—[Hon. MEMBRES : "No!"]—it is that I wish to see this country governed by my countrymen; that I wish to see the privileges of this country reserved for my countrymen, to see carried out the old idiom, "Britain for the British," which might well receive the attention of hon. Members of this House.
There are some hon. Members who seem to think that this country should be not only the dumping ground for the rubbish of the commercial world, but also the dumping ground for the refuse of humanity in general. We may have followed such a policy in the past. It is against the best interests of this country that it should be continued. I called the attention of the Home Secretary quite recently to the desirability of not permitting aliens or foreigners of any description to address public meetings in this country for the duration of the War. I consider that the platforms of this country are better occupied by British spokesmen than by alien spokesmen; at all events while this War is still in progress. I would say that if the Home Office does not show a strong hand with the representatives of Bolshevism in Russia, if the Home Office does not show strength in this matter, and does not take immediate action; if it does not show the people of this country that this sort of thing will never be tolerated in England, then, I am afraid, before long the movement which is growing much faster than some hon. Members may appreciate will be out of hand. I know for a fact that in connection with some of our larger munition works now it is quite a common thing, at the close of their evening meetings, instead of singing the "National Anthem" to sing "The Red Flag." That may mean nothing. It is purely, let me say, a little weakness on the part of those employed. But it is an indication of the spirit which is growing in this country every day. If such a spirit is fostered, either by indifference or by inaction, difficult as it may be to believe, the day is not far distant when England will experience, anyhow in a minor degree, what Russia has been experiencing in the last six or twelve months. I would like to call the attention of the House to an extract from a letter which I received from Russia during the last two 1610 days. The writer is a Russian linguist of great experience of the Russian movement, and he says:The danger of this ignorance lies in the opening which it gives to Bolshevist propaganda in this country. I am not an alarmist, but the symptoms now displayed by the labour extremists here are identical with those of the Bolsheviks which I saw when in Petrograd. Of course, the inherent common sense of the Britisher may keep him away from this cancerous creed of Bolshevism, but if he is left in the belief that Bolshevism is really Socialism gone wrong, and that mistakes made in Russia may be avoided in this country, I visualise serious danger.Another aspect of the question is that our passive attitude towards the sufferings of Russia's millions will estrange us from the best Russian elements and throw them into the arms of Germany. The Bolsheviks represent but a very small minority of the Russian workmen, and the Russian peasants will have none of their creed. The Bolsheviks have no mandate from the Russian people, and the peace they have made is a minority peace, and not binding on the Russian nation. Even if we cannot give financial and military support to the tens of millions of Russians who are still loyal to the Allies, we can at any rate extend to them our sympathy, and believe me, sympathy goes a very long way in Russia.But if we persist in our passive attitude, if we do not enlighten our nation as to the Bolsheviks and their principles and thus enlist the sympathy of our people for the suffering Russians, then those loyal Russians have no alternative but to throw themselves into the arms of Germans for salvation from their Bolshevik oppressors.I would like the House to understand that so far as the attitude of Germany in this matter is concerned, surely it is common knowledge that where Germany discovered it was impossible to win in the field, she has endeavoured to undermine the countries opposed to her by creating strike and revolution amongst them. It is freely admitted by most Bolshevists that they have received German money. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] It is admitted that they have been assisted by Germany. I think I am right in stating that Lenin was provided with a special train to pass through Germany into Russia with which to support, this propaganda. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] If hon. Members think that by setting class against class and creating strife and preaching revolution in this country we are ever going to overthrow the German armies, and be in a position to discuss, let alone dictate, terms of peace to Germany, they are very much mistaken.
§ Mr. BILLING
I thought I was in order in, making a general reference to 1611 European politics. I appeal to the home Secretary to make a perfectly clear statement of his position as regards Mr. Litvinoff in this country. I would like to know whether he is a Jew of German origin, and whether those whom he represents in this country are Jews of Frankfort origin, and whether the sympathies of the group which he represents are more likely to be German than British? I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to make a perfectly clear statement as to whether he really recognises Mr. Litvinoff as a representative of Russia, or whether he is going to request him at the earliest possible moment to leave this country. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to say here and now that he is going to forbid for the future, utterly and absolutely, under the Defence of the Realm Act, that Mr. Litvinoff or any of his colleagues shall address any meetings here or issue any literature whatsoever to the munition workers or to any other body of workers in this country. I assure him that Mr. Litvinoff is only the ambassador of rebellion. I think he has freely admitted that himself when he advises this country to follow the lead of the Bolsheviks and revolt against their oppressors. I hope in his reply the Home Secretary will make it quite clear what is going to be his decision. Arc aliens to be permitted to address public meetings, and if so, to what extent does the Home Office propose to exercise control over their movements? I would like to know whether the Home Office intends to recognise any representative of the Bolshevist movement?
§ Captain CARR-GOMM
I wish to call the attention of the House to a subject which has not been raised this afternoon, and I apologise to the Home Secretary for not giving him notice of my intention. I do not, of course, ask the right hon. Gentleman for any figures in reply to my point, but I wish to bring this matter to his attention, and point out that it is a subject which should be raised on other occasions, and should be dealt with by the House. The question I have referred to is that of the prisoners now in the Isle of Man, who are being instructed in the brush-making industry. I have asked the Home Secretary if he would tell us the number of prisoners who are engaged in this trade and the cost, whether it is an actual success or not, and, if not, how much it is costing the State? I have also 1612 asked what trades were consulted and what information was taken before this scheme was embarked upon. I have been told that arrangements have been made for the Home Secretary to receive a deputation from the British Brush Manufacturers' Association. I wish to point out that, after all, it is not purely a question between this industry and this association of the trade, but surely it is a matter upon which the House should be fully enlightened.
After all, there is the question of policy underlying this matter, namely, the employment of prisoners without any previous sanction from this House in such a manner as to interfere with an established trade of this country, in regard to the cost of which we are completely in the dark, and we do not know the methods which have been adopted. I hope the Home Secretary will tell us when he is going to receive this deputation, and that he will inform the House the result after he has received it. The public generally ought to know how this business has been carried on, and such information will be most welcome, because it seems to me that when this large Government Department are spending the taxpayers' money in this way, and launching out into trade experiments with prisoners as workmen, we ought to know something of the method which is being employed. Lastly, I wish to suggest to the Home Secretary that, if there is no other occupation which these prisoners can undertake in the Isle of Man, surely they ought to be sent to this country, where they would be well employed on the land in agricultural pursuits, where they are most needed. If that is not possible, surely they could be sent over to France to work behind the lines. It seems quite unnecessary to employ them in this way when there is national work more urgently needed than that in which they are engaged.
I desire to intervene to supplement the lead given by the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Macdonald) with regard to conscientious objectors. I also wish to make some observations with regard to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for East Herts (Mr. Billing). He complained that he had grave apprehension as to the safety of this country, and he proceeds to use the Order Paper of this House in order to warn the Home Secretary of the dangers of certain individuals. No one ought to be more careful than my hon. Friend when he is 1613 warning the Home Secretary about the various names and different aliases, and the method by which people have got their living in different parts of the world. The hon. Member ought to keep clearly in mind that he himself had strong reason to com plain about many inquiries made with regard to himself, and I think at least he would do —
§ Mr. BILLING
I would like to ask the hon. Member whether he wishes to suggest that I have ever used any other name than the one I use to-day?
I suggest that in these fishing inquiries, if there is no more foundation for them than in some of the other charges he has made from time to time, at least he ought not to use the Order Paper of this House to deal with a matter of that kind. I was only reminding him of similar statements that have been repeatedly made with regard to himself, to show the kind of evidence that he uses. I want to deal with what the hon. Member said with regard to the Bolshevik policy and the labour leaders, for he intimated quite clearly that he knew a number of labour leaders so tainted with this Bolshevik policy that they were preaching bloody revolution and singing "The Red Flag" instead of "God Save the King."
§ Mr. BILLING
I never suggested that the labour leaders were singing "The Red Flag," but I said it had been sung at meetings of munition workers. I said the labour leaders were interested in the Bolshevik movement, and I consider the hon. Member opposite was by the speech he made in this House.
The hon. Member's memory is certainly failing, for he said distinctly that so dangerous had it become that he felt it necessary to call the attention of the House to the large number of labour leaders who in this country had now adopted the Bolshevik policy. He proceeded to give an illustration of the danger to the country of a number of people singing "The Red Flag" instead of "God Save the King." We ought not to lose our heads in this matter. I have no hesitation in saying that I totally disagree with some of the things that the Russian Ambassador has done. I do not think that it is the duty of anyone occupying the position that he occupies, representing a Government, to give such advice to another country. I have protested 1614 against it. I have protested to him. But that is entirely a different thing from libelling him, and I do not think that it helps the cause to libel a man instead of meeting him on the real grounds upon which you can base any legitimate complaint. There is strong complaint against some of his speeches. There is strong ground for protesting against some of the things that he has said, but he is equally justified, and his friends are justified, in protesting against the Order Paper of this House being used to libel a man without any evidence whatever, and I hope that the Home Secretary will differentiate between the two. Incidentally, I want to say that I do not think that there is any truth in the statement that the unrest at this moment is due to any Bolshevik policy. I suppose I should be as good a judge as my hon. Friend in that matter. I do not fear that part of it in the least. There are far more important and deep-rooted causes of the discontent, and in so far as the doctrine of bloody revolution is concerned it is not that which responsible labour leaders or the workers themselves are advocating, but a peaceful revolution by the ballot-box.
I would ask the Home Secretary to note the appeal of my hon. Friend to reconsider the whole position of the conscientious objector. There can be no doubt, from the evidence that we have, about these men's conscience. Take a typical illustration provided by a member of my own staff. He objected from the commencement of the War. I profoundly disagreed with his view, but he said from the start that if he were compelled to fight he would take his stand even to the risk of being shot. The Conscription Act came in. I sent for him and said that I did not want him to involve the office. He said that he never intended to do so, and he immediately left the office. He was arrested and given three months' imprisonment, then six months' imprisonment, and then another six months' imprisonment. He has gone through all manner of tortures. It is no good pretending that the man is a coward, or that he has not a genuine conscientious objection. I submit, when there are thousands and thousands of men in this position, that we ought at least to realise that the law recognises that they have a claim, and I. hope that the Home Secretary will also realise that many of these men are not anxious to defy the law. I have 1615 nothing to say in defence of men who have manufactured a conscience.. I have nothing to say in defence of men who merely use conscientious objection in order to get out of their military obligation. I am not defending those people. I am defending the genuine conscientious objectors who have proved the genuineness of their objection in many ways, and I hope that the Home Secretary will agree to some small Committee being set up to consider the whole question, as I am sure that it will be to the best interests of the State.
§ Mr. BILLING
On a point of Order. I would like to ask whether, having regard to the fact that the general accusation against me is that I have brought no evidence in support of my statements against Mr. Litvinoff, I should not be in order in referring to his associates in Russia? When I was proceeding to do so, you called me to order and prevented me from showing the type of man that he is from his associates in Russia and from what they are doing.
§ Sir Q. CAVE
The discussion has travelled over a wide field and it has once more afforded evidence, if evidence is wanted how varied is the work with which we have to deal at the Home Office. I will endeavour as far as I can within reasonable compass to deal with all the points that have been raised. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Lanark (Mr. Whitehouse) raised certain questions connected with the treatment of conscientious objectors both in prison and at the work centres. I fully appreciate the tone in which he made his criticisms, and so far from complaining of his raising this question, I am obliged to him, as to any other hon. Member who brings forward what he regards as a complaint as to the treatment of these men. I am most anxious that no difference should be made in the prison treatment, or in the medical attention or care given in prison, between these prisoners and others. If there has been any differentiation at all in the matter, it has been, at ail events for some time past, in favour of those prisoners who have claimed to be conscientious objectors.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the death of some of these men in prison and 1616 at the camps. I think that he is not quite seised of the numbers of those deaths. There have been more than 5,000 of these men in prison from time to time. The total number of deaths in prison is two. So far as I know there have been only two conscientious objectors out of 5,000 who have died in prison. Both those men, as it happens, died from sudden and severe attacks of pneumonia. In both cases an inquest was held. In both cases the jury found a verdict of death from natural causes, and in each case the jury added a rider wholly acquitting both the prison doctors and the prison authorities of any neglect or want of care in the matter. I want hon. Members, or rather others outside, who are sometimes misled by general phrases about the deaths of conscientious objectors,, to remember that fact, which I think speaks for itself, as regards the care given to them in prison. With regard to the men in the camps, of whom there must have been something like 4,000 altogether, the total number of deaths is eight, or 2.5 per 1,000 per annum. The ordinary average of deaths is 14.2 per 1,000. Of course, that figure includes persons of all ages, and I have no doubt if you take the men who are of the same age as those in these camps, that the percentage is very much lower. I should, however, be very much surprised to learn that 2.5 per 1,000 is not a very satisfactory figure, even as regards men of this age.
Let me deal now with the special cases which the hon. Member mentioned. The first case caused him, as it did me and others, very great regret and anxiety. I mean the case of the death of Mr. Firth, at Dartmoor. I admit at once that when I had brought before me the papers relating to Mr. Firth's death, I was very much disquieted by the fact that the disease—diabetes—which proved fatal to him had not been diagnosed either by the doctor in the prison from which he came or by the doctors who were in attendance at the camp until a day or so before his death. It did cause me very great concern, and, of course, I made inquiries into the matter. I found that the prison doctor had examined this man and had found no trace of illness in him, but had certified—we always have a certificate when a man goes from prison to a camp—that he was fit for labour of either class; that is, either hard work or work of an easier kind. As regards the doctors at the camp, so far as I can read their records, they had no reason to suspect 1617 that this man was suffering from this disease, and they found no trace whatever of sugar to show the presence of diabetes until a day or two before the end.
§ Sir G. CAVE
Of course, I know nothing about it, but I am told that, although in most cases the disease is detected at an earlier stage, there are cases where it cornea on very suddenly and rapidly, and one may infer that this was one of those cases. Dr. Battiscombe, the chief medical officer at Dartmoor, is a man of high qualifications and long experience. I have his qualifications before me. He is a man upon whose record no one would hesitate to say that he is eminently qualified for an appointment of this kind. After a great deal of general experience, he joined the prison service in 1907. He was transferred to Dartmoor in 1911, as deputy-medical officer, and afterwards became chief medical officer. Dr. Treadwell, who is known to many of us, speaks very highly of him indeed, and I have not the least doubt that he was well fitted for the work, and most anxious to do his duty as regards this and other matters. We all regret the result of this case, but, so far as I know the facts, there is no blame to be attached to either of the medical officers concerned.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Sir G. CAVE
I was just going to refer to the extracts which my hon. Friend gave from the cross-examination of this doctor. I believe the hon. Member's complaint was that when the man said he was cold the doctor replied that the men in the trenches were cold, too. It must be remembered that at that time Dr. Battiscombe had no reason to believe, and did not believe, that the man was, in fact, unwell, and he treated him as a well man, except that he allowed him to wear his overcoat. When one remembers that, the reply given becomes not so unreasonable as the hon. Member suggests. I would add this, the hon. Member suggests that we should in the case of these men who go from prison to Dartmoor have a medical record sent on. That is always done. Of course, if there is no illness in prison to record the record is blank, but in every case the medical record of the man leaving the prison for Dartmoor or any other 1618 centre is examined, and a report is sent showing what kind of work the man is fitted for. If there is anything in the record which the medical officer at the works centre should be informed of he always is so informed.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
Perhaps I did not make my point quite clear. I also wanted to suggest that, although there is a medical examination of his state in prison, the same medical examination should be made at the works centre, and his physical condition described.
§ Sir G. CAVE
I cannot think that the physical appearance of the man could have been such as it was represented to be to the hon. Member, because a medical examination was made before he left prison, and as the result of that he was certified to be fit for either kind of labour. The hon. Member attached, I think, too little importance to the inquest and its result. When I said that an inquiry by the coroner is an impartial inquiry I said what I know to be absolutely true. A coroner is not appointed by any Government Department. Coroners exercise their own judgment, and the same is true of coroners' juries. If there had been evidence that there had been neglect or default on the part of any Government servant, a coroner's jury would have been very ready to make representations. In this case the jury found there was, in fact, nothing of the kind. I must say that I attach considerable importance to that fact. When I referred to the report made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Gloucester (Major H. Terrell) what I had in my mind was this: After the coroner's inquest, and after the points had been raised in this House, he was good enough, on behalf of the Committee, to go down to Dartmoor and inquire into what was called the strike. That was the primary purpose of his going down. In the course of that inquiry he was bound to come across evidence and hear statements from the conscientious objectors as to the death of Mr. Firth. Having heard those statements, he was disposed to agree with the verdict of the coroner's jury. The hon. Member's last point in regard to Mr. Firth's case was that there should be a further inquiry on the ground that there had been irregularities in the conduct of the inquest. I have asked for a report from the coroner with regard to the two points made by the hon. Member to-day in 1619 reference to the conduct of the inquest. I had a telegram this morning saying that the report is on its way. I am sorry it is not here in time for me to read it at this moment. But I can promise my hon. Friend this, that if as a result of that report there should be any question as to the justice of the finding of the jury or as to the adequacy or sufficiency of the medical arrangements at Dartmoor, I should not hesitate a moment to use the powers which he very rightly says I have to order a further inquiry by some person pot hitherto concerned in the matter. I promise that I will consider it anew after what he has said, and if I should find good reason I should certainly ask for a further inquiry.
The hon. Member put a question as to the number of these men who had become insane. I have not seen the list he had in his hand, but I think he gave a number which is considerably more than appears from the report I have. According to my information there have been thirteen of these men who have become insane. In all these cases special reports were obtained. In every case the insanity emerged at an early stage of the imprisonment, and in every case the doctor advised that the insanity was due to causes existing before the conviction of the imprisoned man. Of course I make no general statement as regards the mental condition of prisoners of this class, but so far as my information goes it is a fact that in every case where insanity has been ascertained and discovered there were pre-existing causes, and in no sense was the insanity due either to the conviction or the treatment. The hon. Member said that as soon as these men are found to be insane they should be removed from prison and no longer be treated as prisoners able to exercise their judgment in regard to military service. Of course that is right, and of course that is done. The moment insanity is detected action is taken. Of these men, twelve were at once removed to asylums, and the other one was handed over to the care of his wife. I have no hesitation whatever in giving effect to the rule and in taking action as soon as insanity is detected. I have now dealt with the points raised by the hon. Member for Mid-Lanark.
With regard to the speech of the hon. Member for North Somerset (Mr. King), he will forgive me for saying that it had less effect on me because, although his 1620 general statements were wide and very condemnatory of the Home Office, he did not support them by a statement of particulars which I could test. There was one exception which, I think, will show how necessary it is that these general statements should be supported by detailed cases. In the case of Taylor his statements were, if he will forgive me for saying so, quite wrong. He is under the impression—no doubt he has been so informed—that this man attempted suicide at the work centre in November, that he was kept at the centre for some months, and then attempted suicide again. There was, in fact, only one attempt at suicide, which took place in November. He was very shortly afterwards certified to be insane; he was removed to an asylum, and he died in January, not as the result of a fresh attempt, but from the after-effects of the attempt he made in November. That makes a very great difference and cuts away a good deal of the criticism in which the hon. Member indulged, because it takes away the whole point of the somewhat severe comments he made at the end of that part of his speech. It is true that the jury found a verdict of felo de se. They probably thought that in November, when this poor man tried to cut his throat, he was of sound mind and that he became insane afterwards. I cannot undertake to criticise the judgment of the jury, but, at all events, they were not so wrong as the hon. Member thinks they were. That is the only specific case to which he referred.
§ Sir G. CAVE
I am coining to the case of Stephen Hobhouse. The case of Taylor was the only case of the death of a conscientious objector in prison to which he referred. The other main part of his speech was directed to what he called a hardening in the treatment of these men in prison. The very contrary is the case. My right hon. Friend (Mr. H. Samuel) was responsible for more than one modification in the treatment of these men. It was he, or his predecessor, who established the system of the Brace Committee under which these men are dealt with. Even in my time there has been a series of concessions under which the lot of these men has been made less hard than it was before. May I be allowed to say that when Lord Curzon a short time ago announced in another place some further changes which were to be made 1621 he was referring to changes made upon my own recommendation and, indeed, at my own urgent and repeated request. To say that what Lord Curzon announced the Home Office is not carrying out is to say what is not true, because the concessions were urged and recommended by me, and I am sure the House will believe that I am doing my utmost to carry them out. Take, for instance, the question of the release of men of this class from imprisonment. I made an arrangement with the War Office that, instead of the release of these men, who have been condemned by court-martial, being dealt with by the War Office it should be dealt with by me. More than that, it was arranged that a certificate of a prison doctor showing that the man was unfit for military service should be accepted by the War Office as conclusive, and that they should no longer call up that man. As soon as that arrangement was made I gave instructions at once that in every case in which a man of this class was in such a state that further imprisonment would be prejudicial to his health and he was unfit for military service the prison authorities should report the case to me, and whenever I have got such a report from the prison officer or from any other source I have called for a special medical report on the case, and if it does not come up to the mark I always order the release.
§ Sir G. CAVE
That is always done. I have released twenty-eight of these men since the announcement was made. The hon. Member forgets that the complaints about Mr. Hobhouse had been going on for months.
§ Sir G. CAVE
And during that time he was in fact kept in prison. It happens that his case was one of the first reported to me. It was only because the reports I received from the prison authorities came up to the standard which justifies release that I signed at once an order for his release.
§ Sir G. CAVE
Mr. Hobhouse was dealt with in exactly the same way as I dealt with the other twenty-seven, to whom the hon. Member's taunt in no way applies.
To take another point. Quite recently 1622 we began to allow special privileges to men who have been a year in prison, and quite recently, too, we arranged that men who had been working at a work centre for a year shall, if they are qualified by good conduct and industry, be allowed to apply for exceptional employment outside. Complaint was made by the same hon. Member that there had been delay in dealing with such cases. When the new arrangement was made the system had continued for nearly eighteen months, and there was an accumulation of cases qualified by time for special employment. The number who applied, and were qualified by time to apply, was, I think, 600 or 700 at the very beginning. Each case has to be examined and dealt with separately. The Committee dealt with it as quickly as they possibly could, and where proper employment was found released the men for the purpose. I do not think there is the least ground for complaining of any undue delay in dealing with these cases, and the sooner they are all dealt with the better pleased the Committee and the Home Office will be. The hon. Member was under the impression that some man who had tried to dissuade the others from striking was sent back to the Army. That is not so. That particular man was not sent back. He said he did his best to dissuade the men from striking, though he himself afterwards joined in the strike, and he was dealt with simply as an ordinary striker and not as one specially responsible, as others were.
The hon. Member (Mr. Macdonald) brought forward a couple of special cases which did not impress me very much. One man was not released from work when his friends applied for him. It is not unreasonable that in the case of these men we should not permit someone outside, a personal friend, to say, "I want that man to come and work for me." It is obvious that if we allowed that great abuse would grow up. It would be just a way of getting men out of prison into comfortable quarters with their friends. Therefore we made a rule that any application must be for a workman, and we pick the man to be sent out and not the person who applies.
§ Sir G. CAVE
This case did not come under the new plan. The hon. Gentleman wants to know whether I am satisfied with the present system of dealing with these 1623 men? It is very difficult for anyone to be satisfied with any specific which may be invented for this purpose because the problem is one of extreme difficulty. These men decline to serve their country either by fighting or in some other way, and we must not, by showing indulgence to them, discourage others by making it easier for them to evade their national duties. It would be a very grave mistake indeed if we allowed any personal feeling in the case of a particular man to militate against the general interest. Many of these men have refused even to apply for exemption on the ground of their conscientious objection. Many of those who have gone to prison have had an offer of work of national importance, and have refused. Of those who have gone to prison a very great majority have had an offer of release under the conditions laid down by the Central Tribunal— that is, that they have been asked whether they will do work in no way concerned with the military defence of the country—and on those terms they have been offered their release from prison. They have refused. When a man has had a chance of doing non-military work and declines we have done all that is reasonably required of us, and we cannot be expected to release these men altogether simply because their condition excites the sympathy of some Members of the House or other persons in this country. I do not say the whole thing is satisfactory. It is certainly a most unpleasant part of the task which is committed to me. I dislike the work very much indeed, but to go further than we have gone would be to show indulgence to men who on wider grounds are not entitled to indulgence, and would imperil very much now and in the future the success of the system of military service which has been set up. I do not dwell on that any longer, because we have had more than one discussion, and I am very unwilling to repeat myself more than I am obliged to do.
I go on to deal with a totally different question, the question of the position and treatment of what are called the Russian envoys—Litvinoff, and the others. The position into which the facts have brought us in this respect is one of some difficulty. On the one hand, these men have come here purporting to be envoys of that which calls itself the Government of Russia, and there is a diplomatic question 1624 involved. There are many hundreds of British subjects in Russia who must have some person representing our Government to whom to apply in case of maltreatment. Unless he has some kind of relation, however informal, to what is called the Smolny Government, our people there may be in serious peril. On the other hand, we can hardly expect that full respect will be paid to his representations if our Government absolutely declines to listen to the envoy of the Smolny Government in London, and there is no doubt that through the action of the Foreign Office there has been a kind of recognition of the position of this envoy. That is the Foreign Office side of the question. But there is also a Home Office side. Litvinoff is not an Ambassador. He is not the representative of any recognised Government. He comes here with the avowed object of engaging in revolutionary propaganda in this country. He is not bound by the conditions which regulate the conduct of every Ambassador and every Minister of a foreign Power. If he were in that position, he would not be allowed to remain here for ten minutes, having regard to what he has done. Not holding that position, he feels himself free to work against order and against the Government of this country. He has issued manifestoes of such a nature that we have had to seize some of them.and destroy them. He has interviewed many British soldiers, and one can only conjecture what the object of the interviews were. It has been difficult for anyone in my position to refrain from taking the action which would have been taken weeks ago in the ease of any other alien who indulged in conduct of this kind. It is a question of degree, I suppose, and as the sum of his revolutionary activities mounts up the Home Office considerations become more and more powerful, and, of course, the end must come. I cannot, standing where I am, tolerate the indefinite continuation of attempts of this kind. We are all most anxious not to embarrass the Foreign Office, but there must be a limit. I say without hesitation that this must not continue. Neither Mr. Litvinoff nor his staff, whose names I know and whose activities I know about, can be allowed to continue this course of conduct any longer. I am certain that I shall have the support not only of my colleagues but of the House in this matter.
Does that mean that you intend to deal with these gentlemen in the same way that you would deal with any British subject who contravened the law?
§ Mr. BILLING
Does it mean that Mr. Litvinoff or any of his staff will not be allowed to address any other meetings in this country, and that, if necessary, they will be deported?
§ Sir G. CAVE
Mr. Litvinoff has, I understand, given his promise to the Foreign Office that he will not engage in propaganda here. Of course, if he breaks his promise he cannot expect any further indulgence, and I hope that I shall be authorised then to take against him the steps which I should take, not in regard to any British subject, but in regard to any alien who indulges in anti-British conduct. Complaint was made by the hon. Member for Leicester of an answer which I gave to a question by the hon. and gallant Member for Christchurch (General Croft). He asked me whether Mr. Litvinoff had passed under certain other names. The hon. Member (Mr. Macdonald) has information from Mr. Litvinoff. I have my information from other sources. What was I to do? In reply to the question by the hon. Member for Christchurch I could not say No, because my information showed that he had in fact passed under certain other names. I did not feel justified in refusing information to the House, because I could not say that it was contrary to the public interest that they should know the facts. I thought the only thing to do was to tell the truth so far as I knew it. My information was that which I gave to the House, and that is that Mr. Litvinoff has passed under certain other names, not in Russia, as the hon. Member suggests, but in this country. The two names which I gave were Buchman and Harrison. Is it denied that he passed under the name of Harrison?
§ Sir G. CAVE
My information was very definite, and I gave my information to the 1626 House. As to the rest of the question, I said that the inquiries were not complete. That was the fact, and I could not properly go further. If I find that the information which I have is not supported when all the facts are known, I shall be glad to give the further information to the House. With regard to Mr. Kameneff, the facts were stated by the Minister of Blockade last night. He came here as an envoy, not to this country, but to France, and Mr. Salkind came with him as an envoy to Switzerland. They landed here and they were treated, not discourteously, but is everybody else is treated. Certain questions were put to them, they were searched, and their luggage was investigated. I think certain parcels were delivered to them, but some were detained. Shortly after they landed we were told that they were not to be allowed to land in France. Therefore the only thing for them to do was to return to Russia. I think Mr. Kameneff is anxious to leave, and I have no doubt that the other envoy will leave at the same time. Nobody likes these methods to be applied, but after all, if aliens land in this country, they must submit to the rules which govern all aliens. I am certain that no discourtesy was shown to them. A complaint is made that they are watched. Well, these persons came her for the purpose of a revolutionary propaganda. We are bound to allow them to stay a few days in this country, but if we did not during that time keep a watch upon them I think we should be doing less than our duty. I am quite sure that the police will not unnecessarily harass them, but will perform their duties with as little inconvenience as possible. I have been asked whether they will be allowed to address meetings. The answer is No. The Government have already resolved to ask for an Order in Council, which I hope will come into operation within a few days, which will prevent all aliens from addressing meetings or indulging in propaganda if it is forbidden by a Minister.
§ Mr. BILLING
Are we to understand that an alien will have to get permission before he addresses a meeting, or can he address a meeting if he has riot received instructions not to do so—there is a very great difference?
§ Sir G. CAVE
Nothing will be done to prevent speeches by any of the gentlemen mentioned. The hon. Member (Mr. Macdonald) mentioned a Bible as having been in Mr. Kameneff's luggage. We know nothing about any such book. I think that deals with the whole of the complaints on this point.
The other question came from the hon. Member for Rotherhithe (Captain Carr Gomm). I am to see the representatives of the brush-making trade to-morrow morning, and I hope that some arrangement will be come to, and as soon as I have seen them I will willingly tell the House the arrangements made.
With respect to this Bolshevik propaganda, I will add one word. I do not believe that the speeches of the Bolshevik envoys will mislead the working men of this country. I agree with the right hon. Member for Derby on that point. The bulk of our working men are much too sensible for that. Here are envoys who have come to recommend Bolshevism, the system which has brought Russia into the condition in which we see it to-day—a country which from end to end, from the Arctic Ocean to the Black Sea, from Warsaw to Vladivostock, is overrun by anarchy and disorder by night and day and is threatened with famine and with misery! Can we believe for a moment that our working men will listen to those who preach to them that they should follow the example of the Bolsheviks? At the meeting which Mr. Litvinoff addressed it was not he who recommended the people of this country to follow the example of Russia, but a British Member of Parliament. I wish he were in the House now that he might justify that advice.
§ Sir G. CAVE
What I think we have chiefly to fear is that through the action of these men a certain amount of unrest may be produced among the Russians who are in the British Army or among the Russians who are in the East End of 1628 London, or are engaged elsewhere in the manufacture of munitions. This propaganda may produce serious effects upon them, and may lead to illegal acts by these men, and possibly to conflict and riot in the poorer parts of London and of other great cities. But that is a serious matter, and I think that we are not only justified, but bound to take all the steps we can to prevent the production by these men, while they are in this country, of any such results.
§ Mr. BILLING
Can the right hon. Gentleman say who was the Member of Parliament he mentioned, and whether the Government propose to prosecute or not?
§ Major H. TERRELL
I wish to deal with a personal attack which was made upon me by the hon. Member (Mr. Whitehouse), for the part I have taken as a member of the Home Office Committee, in dealing with conscientious objectors.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
I rise by courtesy of the hon. Member to say that I made no attack of any kind, or even of criticism upon the hon. Member. I think the Home Secretary will bear me out in that.
§ Major TERRELL
I apologise to the hon. Member. I was told that he had done so, and I regret that I mentioned it. A great deal of misconception prevails in this House, and in the country, as to the position of the conscientious objectors who are serving under the Home Office Committee. It is not generally known that, with certain exceptions, the men who have refused to go before any tribunal, all the men who are serving under the Home Office Committee are men who have been before tribunals and hare been refused exemption by those tribunals after they have been heard. They have been passed into the Army, where they have refused to obey orders, and have been sentenced, and then they come to do work under the Home Office Committee. They come out under a conditional pardon, granted by His Majesty, the condition being that they should serve the Home Office Committee diligently and faithfully in work of national importance. Nobody knows who has not had experi- 1629 ence of the work the very great difficulties which beset the Committee in dealing with these men. The hon. Member far Derby said some of these men are undoubtedly genuine conscientious objectors. On the other hand, others undoubtedly are not. With regard to the really genuine objectors, the Committee have practically no difficulty whatever. They are men who do the work allotted to them, obey orders, and give no trouble whatever. At the same time, we have a considerable amount of trouble caused by the fact that large numbers of these men necessarily are kept together, and that a few can cause a great deal of disturbance among a number when they live in those circumstances. There were two or three Committees of investigation where trouble has arisen, and I went down —as my right hon. Friend said the other day—to Dartmoor to hold an inquiry into what they called a strike. Five hundred odd men refused one day to do any work whatever. They called it making a dignified protest. Of course, the Committee cannot possibly submit to that. They cannot keep these men under discipline if they are to be allowed at any time they think fit to make what they call a dignified protest by refusing to work.
The House must remember that the maintenance of these men costs the country a good deal, and it is absolutely necessary for the Committee to do its utmost to get all the work they can out of the men, so as, at least by the produce of their work, to cover the cost of their keep. I am sure it would never do, and I am sure the House would resent it very much, to have some 4,000 able-bodied men under the Committee without being able to get out of those men even sufficient work to maintain them. We have a great deal of difficulty, in the first place, in getting the work in circumstances in which they can do it. It would never do to allow odd men to go to odd employments, for you could never maintain the 4,000 under control if they were scattered all over the country. The only way in which you can deal with the matter is by doing what the Committee are doing, getting work which is required to be done by large bodies of men, and then sending these men to do that work under the control of officials. I think that it is proving now very satisfactory, for we have on works, such as waterworks and sewage works, large bodies of these men, and we are receiving applications for more 1630 of these men on these works, because the work has proved satisfactory. But we have to maintain discipline, and that is the great difficulty which we have.
When I went down to Dartmoor the cause of the disturbance was the death of this man Firth, and, therefore, when inquiring into the default of the men in refusing to work I naturally heard from them the complaints which they had to make, and which culminated in the death of Firth. They complained in very general terms of their treatment by the doctor. I put it to every man who came before me, could he tell me of his own knowledge of any fact or circumstance which justified a charge of the kind against the doctor. In more than nine cases out of ten the men said they did not know of their own knowledge, but only what they had heard. I asked if anyone could give me the name of any men who could speak of their own knowledge, and I got some names and sent for those men. The result was, speaking generally, that the doctor had not easily enough certified men for discharge, but they gave certain instances of what they called the harsh treatment of the doctor. I asked every one of them, "What complaint have you got to make of the doctor?" and the great majority of them said, "I have no complaint myself to make of the doctor. He has always treated me kindly, sympathetically, and with attention."
The complaints which were made with an amount of detail were made by a Mr. Hughes, who was the secretary of the men's committee, and I have notes, though they are not verbatim shorthand notes, which were taken of what took place. I asked him if he could tell me of any specific cases. He spoke first of a man named Shute, who was insane. It is quite true that the man became insane, and he was put in a padded room. The men were asked to take him out under protection, and they would not do it. Then he was removed, sent home, and discharged, and I understand that he is now in an asylum. I then asked if there was any other case, of which he could tell me, of improper conduct on the part of the doctor. He said that there was a man called Bardell. I said, "What have you got say about him?" He said that he was suffering from a venereal disease. I said that the doctor was not responsible for that. He said that the doctor was apparently unable to diagnose the disease. How he 1631 knew it he did not say, except that the man fell ill. Why he should say the doctor was unable to diagnose it, he could not tell. That is the bind of complaint. Then he gave me complaints of four or five men who, he said, were certainly unfit for work, and were suffering from neurasthenia and other complaints, and ought to be discharged. Again, I put it to him that this was a matter for the Committee. Then he gave me two other cases, the cases of men called Parker and Morgan, who had met with an accident, and the complaint was that there was not a masseur at Dartmoor who could massage these men after the accident. Those were the only specific complaints which he could give. Other men made other complaints. That is the sort of thing we have to deal with.
I do not know whether the House thinks that the Committee ought to keep a masseur at each of these centres to massage men in case they need it. That is not the view of the Committee. If hon. Members had the same experience of these men that I have had since I have been on the Committee, they would appreciate how easily any complaint becomes exaggerated and increases, and is believed by these men until, on the very smallest foundation, they build up a superstructure of oppression and improper conduct on the part of the officials. Speaking for myself and the other members of the Committee, I say that we have taken every possible precaution, and spared ourselves no trouble to see that every one of these men is fairly and properly treated, and whenever we get a complaint which deserves to be considered, the matter is never neglected. It is always investigated, and in most cases it is found that the complaint is unjustifiable, but if ever there is any justification whatever the complaint is immediately rectified. If hon. Members knew more of the difficulties of administering the work centres they would be less ready to make the strictures which they do on the work of the Committee, which, from my experience of that work, I can say are wholly unjustifiable.
§ Mr. ANDERSON
I am sorry that I was not in the House when the Home Secretary was speaking, because I am informed that he referred to a meeting which was addressed by Mr. Litvinoff, and that in the course of his remarks he stated that Mr. Litvinoff himself had not advocated 1632 revolution, but that it had been left to a British Member of Parliament to take this course at a meeting. I was present and spoke at the meeting, and I understand that the impression has been created among some of the Members here that it was to my speech that the Home Secretary made reference. Therefore, I should like to ask him, across the floor of the House, if he has suggested in any way that I advocated some kind of violent revolution, or if he had myself in mind when he made the reference?
§ Mr. ANDERSON
I understand that the right hon. Gentleman makes it quite clear that his remarks did not apply to myself. I am not going to apologise for any political opinions which I hold; they are certainly not the political opinions of the Home Secretary. I took the chair for Mr. Litvinoff because we were anxious to hear what a man would be able to say for the policy which is being pursued in Russia— not from the standpoint of its enemies, but from that of one who believes in it. I believe that all sides should be heard. I stated at that meeting that I was not prepared to take sides as between one group of Socialists in Russia and another group of Socialists, but that we in this country were anxious to hear all sides and make up our minds for ourselves in regard to Russian policy. That was something quite different from having any dictation in regard to British politics superimposed upon us from the outside. I am entirely against people from the outside telling us how we should manage our political affairs in this country. That is a matter for ourselves to work out in our own way. Though I hold what many people would regard as extreme opinions, and though I believe that it is absolutely certain that we are going to see in a few years from now very far-reaching changes in this country— fundamental changes, revolutionary changes, if you like—I believe at the same time that we have got constitutional machinery by which to work out those changes, and we can work out very far-reaching changes in a perfectly constitutional way. I am absolutely opposed to the idea that we are going to solve any social problems by mere blind feelings of hate. I am absolutely opposed to the idea that a mere insurrection is going to take us very far in regard to these questions. The first revolution which we need-is a revolution in the out- 1633 look of men and women, so that they may see things, high ideals, from, the standpoint of the public good. That is the view which I urge not only in this House, but that I urge on public platforms, and for my own part I have nothing to apologise for in the remarks which I made at that meeting, and my only object in addressing the House now is to have it made quite clear that the Home Secretary did not bring the particular charge against me that is involved in this matter.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."
§ 7.0 P.M
§ Mr. LOUGH
I desire to call the attention of the House to some questions connected with food control. I think that the most convenient course would be to refer to a speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Mr. Cautley) in reference to the changes which were contemplated by the Ministry of Food in connection with the way in which beef is to be sold. We had a Debate, just about a fortnight ago, on this important subject, and it attracted a good deal of attention. It turned mainly on the number of Orders that were being issued by the Ministry of Food, and the number has not diminished, nor has the serious character of the Orders, in the interval. I made special reference to an Order with regard to an article in which I am interested, and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food told me that an Order was contemplated. The hon. Member for Grimsby last night asked a question as to whether a revolutionary change in regard to the sale of meat sold in this country was contemplated, and be remarked that if the change were made it would tend to diminish the production of a vital necessity at the present time. I myself have had some little experience of this question, and I agree that no fundamental change could be made that would more greatly affect the production of the article to be sold. I protest against the Ministry of Food, in a serious crisis like this, making Orders that interfere with well-established customs that have hitherto been working smoothly, and I submit that these Orders greatly reduce the stream of production of articles vitally necessary to this country. The hon. Gentleman referred to what took place in Great Britain, but on this occasion I desire to call attention to what is 1634 taking place in Ireland in regard to this matter. We had an interesting report in the papers the other day about a pig fair in Ireland, at which there were about a thousand pigs for sale. In that report I read these words:A representative of the Food Control Committee in Ireland attended to regulate the price of the animals.I want to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food whether this is a true description of what was done by this Gentleman. Had he any power to regulate the price of the animals I Did he not go there merely in respect of the price of pork? I submit that the Orders issued by the Food Controller plunge the country into the greatest confusion, and I believe that the Order issued by the Minister of Food has been broken in Ireland by at least 90 to 95 per cent. of the men who sell pigs. It is a serious matter that the law should be broken in this way in Ireland. The bonus now paid, in addition to the price, is 45s. to 55s. for every pig, and you may take it that not 5 per cent. of the pigs sold in Ireland are sold at controlled prices. That is a most serious matter. The prices set up by the British authorities are such as to render impossible production at a profit. In Ireland more pigs are produced than in any other country, and yet the law is broken in the way I suggest. Very strong articles have appeared in our papers deploring the unrest and trouble which exist in Ireland, but it is this sort of thing which is the cause of very much of the trouble which exists in that country. Here are laws being promulgated which throughout the length and breadth of Ireland are not intended to be obeyed. There the law has been broken with impunity during the last three or four months in the matter of selling pigs. The other day forty pigs were killed in a scrimmage which occurred. The whole trouble arises from the attempt of the Ministry of Food to fix impossible prices without sufficient consideration. I wish, also, to refer to the price of beef sold in Ireland. That country has now a tremendous market in Dublin now. At that market there were 3,500 fat animals sold on Thursday. Every animal sold as prime beef was sold at a price many shillings per cwt. above the price fixed by the Food Controller. Afterwards there is added the cost of carrying the produce over here, besides a special charge of 12s. per head for Irish cattle. After all these charges are put upon the animal it is 1635 brought over here and is supposed to realise a profit at the prices which have been fixed. Can the hon. Gentleman who represents the Ministry of Food justify the promulgation of Orders which it is impossible to fulfil, and the whole tendency of which must be, in Ireland, as in this country, to throw everything into confusion, if not into crime?
I wish to mention one other point—the Butter Order, to which I called attention a fortnight ago. The hon. Gentleman admitted that it was a totally uneconomic price for butter under the Order of the Food Controller. He admitted that 2½gallons of milk had to be used for I lb. of butter, and the price of milk is fixed at Is. 8d. and 2s. a gallon, so that butter must cost between 4s. and 5s., while the Controller still maintains the maximum price fixed for butter. We try sometimes to deal with this subject by question and answer in the House, which is not the most convenient method for obtaining information, and I must complain that my hon. Friend representing the Department has not been entirely candid about this matter, and I ask him to be more candid to-night. The complaint is that the action of the Ministry of Food has destroyed the production of butter, a necessary and vital article of food, in this country. At the same time, we have another complaint in regard to which a question was put to my hon. Friend, namely, whether every effort has not been made to bring in butter that might have been brought in from Denmark, Sweden, and Holland, and whether the result has been that it has been sent into Germany, simply because we here were not willing at the right time to give an economic price for the article? Is it the fact that, because of this a food which is wanted here went, instead, to the Germans? My hon. Friend, in answer to a question which was put on the subject, said that the statement was not accurate, because whatever price was necessary for butter was paid. I ask, What price did he give? Why should there be any secrecy about it? I further ask, Why should a higher price be paid to aliens and neutrals while no such price is given in this country? Why should our sources of supply be dried up here while large sums are given, we have heard, outside this country? I ask my hon. Friend in his reply to say what are the prices which have been paid for this useful and necessary article of food. I ask the Ministry of Food 1636 whether they will not at this late hour reconsider the price of butter, and thus afford some chance of this necessary article of food being produced here? We had a most strange argument submitted to us with regard to butter by the President of the Board of Agriculture, and it was also repeated by my hon. Friend, namely, that the Ministry of Food does not want butter produced.
§ Mr. LOUGH
In effect, that is what the hon. Gentleman said in regard to the Order as to milk, namely, that milk was not wanted; secondly, that the need of butter was less; and then butter is to be sacrificed. I desire to protest against the statement altogether. We want milk, cheese, and butter, too. I submit to the House that we should encourage the producers, both in this country and Ireland, of these articles of food. I protest against these narrow distinctions which arc drawn between milk, butter, and cheese, or the suggestion that we can do without one or other of these necessary articles. I submit that if you encourage the production of milk you encourage the production of butter. I find in the letter to which I have already referred some words with regard to butter. It states that outside the Belfast area small fawners have no other outlet for their milk, except to make butter, the price of which is 1s. l0d. or 2s. a lb., and the cost of keeping a cow docs not permit of the production of butter at the prices fixed. There ought not to be these fine distinctions drawn, that milk is more important than cheese, and cheese more important than butter. We ought to get it into the minds of the Ministry of Food that the policy to be adopted is the policy of plenty, instead of the policy of starvation. It is not the business of the Department to restrict supplies. It would, be far wiser of my hon. Friend if he could; get the head of the Ministry to consider this subject of production. I hear rumours, by the way, that he has practically resigned, but if the Noble Lord at the head of the Ministry of Food retains that position, I do hope he will take the-opportunity of reconsidering this important matter, which concerns so deeply the food of the community. There are other articles of consumption to which I" would like to refer. In regard to Ireland; 1637 the three greatest exports of that country are of the greatest importance to us, and more especially in time of war. For over 100 years, when this country has been at war, Ireland has supplied food for the Army and Navy, and she would supply articles of food to-day if she were encouraged, and if the Ministry of Food did not endeavour to enforce impossible Orders and restrict and repress production. I want to call attention to another aspect of the question, and that is the meat rationing scheme, which came into existence on Monday. This House has a right to complain that longer notice of the details of that scheme was not given. For my part, I think the scheme is perfectly unintelligible, and anyone who looks at the "Times of to-day will agree that it is unintelligible and unworkable. A whole column is given in the "Times" this morning. It is most significant, because the "Times" and certain other papers seem to be completely in the confidence of Ministers, I think much more so than we poor people in the House of Commons, and it is well, therefore, to study the "Times" to see what is going on. It is announced that the London scheme will be imposed on the rest of the country in a fortnight. It is practically admitted that the London scheme is a failure, and that in several important respects it will have to be amended, while it is very doubtful if the whole thing will not break down in London. In a matter of this gravity it should receive the most careful consideration, and the Ministry might have waited until they saw whether the scheme applied to London was likely to work properly, and whether it would be a practicable scheme to apply to the whole country.
I understand that there are many difficulties, and I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether these matters are not day and night before the Ministry, and to take the House into his confidence and tell us about them? In the first place, I would like to ask whether a practically unanimous protest is coming from the butchers? The butchers say they cannot understand the Order. A woman goes into a butcher's with a food card, one for Maggie, two for Ellen, and one for Jack, and says, "Give me something for it." She does not know what she is entitled to get, and butchers are driven mad by calculating and trying to estimate from the number of the cards and the household what each person is entitled to. I ask, Are the butchers in 1638 revolt against this scheme? How can you hope to deal with this matter unless the butcher is satisfied? It is no use satisfying some ingenious speculative creatures in the Food Ministry. You must deal with the butcher and the grocer, and you must get them on your side if you are to succeed. On this day fortnight I amused the House a little by mentioning the question of offal. The Parliamentary Secretary said it was necessary to ration offal, and that there must be Orders about it, and he was as proud as a peacock about the Orders issued, and which amounted to a ½ lb. in weight on a particular day. I ask, Has not the rationing of the offal broken down? To make experiments which break down in three days is a most serious thing, and matters of the kind ought to be better considered before you go into all these details. I understand that the system of exchanging these wretched tickets, which entitle you to 3 or 4 ozs. of meat for a chicken or part of a chicken, a small chicken or a large chicken, or so many ounces of chicken, has proved to be totally impracticable, and that the rationing is about to be abandoned for chickens and hares and rabbits. The article to which I have referred says that a most serious situation has arisen about meat, and that it may take a very serious turn.
§ Mr. LOUGH
Certainly I will do so before I sit down, as I am always practical. The article to which I mentioned says:A week ago London people were standing in queues to buy meat. Yesterday there was plenty of food and plenty of beef and some mutton in all the butchers' shops, but nobody came to buy it.You start a system which does not work, and you restrict production. Then the article goes on:The position of the poultry dealer is serious. We are informed that thousands of birds are lying in the London markets and are practically unsafable as the result of the new restriction. It is stated that unless so action is taken the poultry will become unfit for food and will be wasted.Is this a time to waste food? The matter is one of very great importance, and ought to receive consideration. Let me make a practical suggestion. I say that the system is too complicated. I am not against rationing in the first place, and I am not against fixing of prices, but I say that both ought to be done as simply as possible, and you ought to have as few 1639 Regulations as you can, and you ought to issue them with the advice and assistance of the tradespeople, instead of by the speculative ladies and gentlemen who have invented these things at the Ministry of Food. What I suggest is that there should be maximum prices fixed, and leave out all the little details embodied in those elaborate Orders which are so dear to the heart of the Parliamentary Secretary. Let it be a liberal price which will encourage production. That is as much as can be done in the great emergency in which we are now. Fix a maximum price for the best quality, and everything else proportionately less. Let the buyers be registered at certain butchers, and trust the butcher or the grocer to do the rationing in accordance with the supplies which he is informed from the Ministry he can receive from time to time. The milkman does it now. I believe experiments have been made of a cautious kind and have been entirely successful. A maximum price, for instance, has been fixed for coffee, and no one has complained, and it is working well with a good supply. Why have these detailed Regulations, for which I think the Parliamentary Secretary is mainly responsible? He said give me a detailed and complicated Order which will take some ounces of literature to explain. I will quote his words, as it is not fair to say a thing like that unless I give his words. He said in the previous Debate:It seems so simple, say to fix the price of bacon, but you take a side of bacon and exports will show you that it consists of at least ten different cuts or qualities, and undergoes several different processes in its stages of treatment before it finally reaches the table to the consumer."He said that we must have a law dealing with each cut and quality.
§ Mr. LOUGH
I would have a maximum price for the best and all the rest proportionately less. I would not be too exact. I would leave all these details in these orders about rabbits and hares and chickens to work themselves out, and I think it would be a great deal a better system. I think the present system such as the meat order is too complicated. The only other matter I desire to refer to is the question of tea. A tea order was issued last Saturday with no explanation and put into force on Monday, and by 1640 that Order one of the greatest markets in London, which deals with millions of pounds of tea, was suddenly revolutionised. The price was fixed on this basis, everybody who deals in tea is obliged to buy at the same price as he sells. The Ministry charges 1s. 4d. per lb. and anybody who buys at that price has got to sell at 1s. 4d. That strikes me as impossible.
§ Mr. LOUGH
But the Ministry say that they will give an allowance or abatement but they do not mention when. The abatement is so settled that the man who lives in Ireland gets 1½d. per lb. more than anybody who lives in cither Wales or England, while the man who lives in Scotland gets 1d. more than the Englishman or the Welshman. The man who sells the least gets the most. I do not know whether that is a biblical doctrine, but the largest allowance is given to the smallest people. On the previous occasion I asked the Parliamentary Secretary whether there was not a large allowance being given to two or three houses, which was not in the Order, and whether we could get any information on that point. He said there was an allowance being made but that it had not been settled yet, and that when it was he would tell me. I do not think that that is a very straight way of proceeding. I think the Order should have contained the whole matter. There was no such hurry about it seeing that tea was being sold at a controlled price already. The retail price is now fixed at 2s. 8d. per lb. That is a very-high price. The Ministry are buying it at l0d. and are bringing it here for about l¼d. or l½d., and there is no reason why the poor should be deprived of the opportunity of getting tea at less than 2s. 8d. per lb. Thirty per cent. of the whole tea was being sold at 2s. 4d. and now it is 2s. 8d. The sum of Is. 4d. will have to be paid to the Ministry for tea not worth 8d. and Is. 4d. also has to be paid for fine tea, and how the dealer is to dispose of it afterwards is a very great problem. To-day a new Order of a very startling character has been issued. One reason why the quality of tea was so much improved during the last twenty years was because the Customs inspected every parcel and every chest that came in. I remember—I dislike to say how many years ago—when tea used to come in painted and scented, and stuff also that 1641 was not tea; but the excellent system of inspection, by the Customs put an end to all that, and a high level of tea was substituted. The first thing this Government does is to abolish inspection and to announce that no allowance will be made for any damaged or bad tea that may come in. Those seem to me to be a most extraordinary series of principles to introduce into the sale of an article which has been carried on extremely well in the country.
As I explained on a former occasion, there was no rise in the price of tea until this present Ministry came into office. There is double the quantity of tea that there was on the 1st of January. On the 1st of February there were 63,000,000 lbs. of tea in the country instead of 33,000,000 lbs., and I believe on the 1st of March, when we get the returns they will show that there are from 80,000,000 to 90,000,000 lbs. of tea in the country, so that the stock is nearly restored to its old position, and there was no necessity to make these revolutionary changes at all, and yet they have been carried out. As my right hon. Friend (Sir F. Banbury) says, when you get 3,500 ladies and gentlemen in a Ministry like the Ministry of Food you must give them something to do, and therefore this extraordinary system prevails. There is one question I should like to ask. All tea is to be carried free by the railways now, and books of free coupons on the railways have been dispatched to all dealers. Has the same been done with regard to any other articles of produce, such as sugar, and, if not, why not? Why should tea alone be treated like that? There is another question. Will the Government recompense the railways or will this article merely be carried free, as are war materials? Perhaps I may be wrong, but I think the House will be struck with some of the details I have given with regard to these new proposals, and if some few words of general explanation could be given on them I think they would prove very interesting.
I would only say, in conclusion, that I am not at all exaggerating these matters. While I regard the position of the country as serious, I do not think the position ought to be exaggerated. We ought not to make it out worse than it is. It was no use my making pathetic appeals to the Government in August and September to bring in tea. They shook their heads and said the Shipping Controller could not allow it. To-day, when the submarine 1642 menace is certainly not better, and American soldiers want to come over, it is being poured in. In the case of articles produced in this country, instead of stimulating production, they are, by worrying and irritating laws, restricting supplies and putting every difficulty in the way of people carrying on business. I am not against the fixing of maximum prices in a simple system of rationing, in order that there may be economy in consumption at the present time when the position is so serious, but I say that, instead of these complicated laws, we ought to have a simple system which everyone can understand, and it should, above all things, receive the support, and, I will even say, should be approved by and even invented by those people who handle the article, and who are quite as capable of doing so as these crowds who are now in the Ministry of Food. I back the butcher and grocer, and all ordinary people in the country, in being willing to do their duty, as the Tommy is in the trenches, if appealed to in the right way.
§ Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL
I only want to add a very few words to what has been said by my right hon. Friend, and I venture to intervene now, rather than follow the representative of the Ministry of Food, because I want to put to him a specific question, to which I hope he will be able to give a reply. I approach the problems of his Department with a feeling of sincere appreciation of the immense difficulties with which the Food Controller is faced, and certainly not in any spirit of contentious criticism. The whole of the work of the Food Controller is confronted by complications and difficulties. He is treading on untried paths, and he has had to get together an inexperienced staff, which necessarily could not have experience of the matters with which he has to deal. I think, therefore, the country ought to be grateful to him for the gallant attempts he makes to cope with the many difficult problems which surround him. Perhaps I may be forgiven for saying that I think his task is made more difficult through the fact, to which I have drawn attention on previous occasions in this House, that there is no effective, speedy, general control over matters which relate to the Food Controller's Department in conjunction with other Departments. He has to deal continually with the Department of Agriculture and with the Board of Trade, the Ministry of Labour, the Foreign Office, the Treasury, 1643 the War Office, the Admiralty, and, in the lack of co-ordination which prevails under the present system of administration, I repeat what I have said previously, that the task of the Food Controller is made exceedingly difficult.
The particular point to which I wish to draw attention, and to which I shall be glad to have a reply, relates to the new meat rationing scheme as it is to be applied to the whole country. I represent in this House a district which is populated largely by men who are engaged in very heavy labour. They are ironstone miners blast-furnace men, and workers in steel works. Those are the most arduous occupations of any in which men are engaged in this country, and I have received within the last few days from many representatives of organisations m the Cleveland district the strongest protests against the London meat rationing scheme being applied compulsorily in districts such as Cleveland. When voluntary rationing was urged upon the country there was no attempt made to insist upon a flat rate all round. It was recognised that people in different occupations, at all events, with regard to bread—I am not sure it was so with regard to meat—needed different quantities, and, proceeding on those lines, the local Food Control Committees in Cleveland—I have no doubt it was the same in other districts, but I can speak only of the one I know best—have already established voluntary schemes, which are now working satisfactorily to the whole population, for the distribution of the meat supplies available in each area. The meat comes under the control of the Food Control Committees, and they have worked out scales of distribution based upon the occupations of the various sections of the population. They have arranged that the men engaged in the very heavy work to which I have referred shall get considerably more rations than other people. They are getting, in some cases, up to 2 lbs. per head per week. Other classes engaged in sedentary work get I lb., and others get less than I lb. It has been worked out by these very representative committees in a manner which, as I say, meets with the approval of the whole of the district, and I am informed there are no complaints against this system.
Now the Food Controller comes forward, and he imposes compulsory rationing in London on the basis of a flat rate for everybody, regardless of their occupation.
1644 Young children receive less, but everyone else receives the same. The representations that reach me urge that this should not be applied compulsorily to industrial districts, such as those of which I have spoken, but that they should be allowed to deal with the supplies that are available in their own way They wish to have special consideration, in view of the fact that these men engaged in heavy labour should have more meat than persons engaged in sedentary labour. Their population has a special claim for additional supplies, but, whatever supplies are forthcoming, they ask, at all events, that they should be allowed to distribute them in their own way, according to methods that meet with the satisfaction of their own constituencies, and that is the point which I wish to urge on the hon. Member. I was told by telegram yesterday that there is danger of a stoppage of some of the great industries in that district, as a protest against the abolition of the schemes that now work well, and the substitution of another scheme which might be quite suitable for London and the Home Counties, but certainly is not suitable for the great industrial districts—so it is alleged—of the North.
I should not have risen to trouble the House with any observations were it not for the great importance that is attached to this point, and my desire to get a specific answer from the representative of the Ministry of Food. But, since I am on my feet, I should like to mention one other point. I have been told by one of the greatest experts in the country, a man well known to Members of this House, and who has a very great knowledge of all these food problems, that there is, owing to existing conditions, the gravest danger that in the latter part of the year the country will be faced with a very severe shortage in two articles which are of prime necessity for feeding the population, namely, pigs and potatoes, unless the matter is taken in hand now, and taken in hand in an effective and a practical fashion. I would ask the hon. Member whether that has been adequately considered by his Ministry, and whether the necessary steps are being taken. I hope, also, the hon. Member will give a reply to my right hon. Friend's question as to whether the principle is now being adopted of free carriage of food products on the railways, and, if so, at whose expense that is being done? Is it to be at the expense 1645 of the Exchequer, or is the cost to be recouped in the price of the articles Which are sold? We have already had direct subsidies from the Exchequer to food supplies in the bread subsidy and the potato subsidy. Is there to be another indirect subsidy to food prices at the expense of the Exchequer? If so, that ought certainly to be made known to the House. I hope my hon. Friend will be able to give answers also to the many other specific questions of the greatest interest and importance which were laid before the House by my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
May I ask the hon. Gentleman one or two questions? I wish to ask him, first, about the method introduced some six weeks ago as to the selling of sheep. The method was that a farmer and a butcher should inspect the sheep in the market, and should then make a shot at their weight. Somebody else could be called in as an arbitrator. The result, of course, has been most unsatisfactory. A case within my own knowledge occurred a short time ago, where twenty sheep were sent to the market in order to test this method. The butcher and the farmer estimated that these twenty sheep each weighed 48 lbs., and the auctioneer distributed them in two's to the various butchers, each butcher taking his two as weighing 48 lbs. each. What the actual weight of these sheep was, of course, no one could ascertain until after they had been killed, but it is quite evident that they did not all weigh exactly the same, and, therefore, the butcher who had two sheep which were supposed to weigh 48 lbs. each, but which actually weighed 60 1bs., got a great advantage, whereas the butcher who got two sheep which only weighed 40 lbs. each was at a disadvantage, and probably was dissatisfied, as was the owner of the sheep, at the sale.
I understand it is contemplated to make some alteration in that method by setting up Government slaughter-houses, whereby the sheep can be apportioned in these slaughter-houses, weighed, and then paid for. That might work if there were not a very large number of sheep to be dealt with, but if there are, then great expense is going to be incurred. I do not see how you could have very many slaughterhouses—they must be in populous centres, the sheep may have to be conveyed to them a considerable distance and a large number will probably be slaughtered at 1646 the same time, so that it will be extremely difficult to find out the particular sheep which belonged to the particular person who sold it. It seems to me that the much simpler way would be this. There is, of course, considerable difficulty in weighing beasts. You cannot always get them into the weighing machines. But sale by live weight has not, on the whole, been unsuccessful. The objection to selling sheep by live weight—of course it is easier to get them into weighing machines—is that the weight may be to a certain extent fictitious, because there is a quantity of dirt and clay in their wool and this makes the weight so much greater. I venture to suggest that the difficulty might be overcome by a slight reduction in prices. There must be a certain amount of give and take in these matters, and it would be much more satisfactory to the farmer and butcher that the live weight should be ascertained, and a slight deduction made in respect of the extraneous dirt and clay. Then, I think, the trouble would disappear. In the smaller markets you have nowadays weighing machines, and there need be no difficulty in that regard. I hope the hon. Member will give this proposition the consideration it deserves.
I should like to say a word about fixing prices. There can be no doubt that the fixing of a maximum price has some connection with the smallness of supplies of cattle. It must be remembered that the Minister of Agriculture some two years ago fixed a maximum price for potatoes with the result that there wore no potatoes to be had anywhere. Then a new policy was adopted, and a minimum instead of a maximum price was fixed. The result was a surplus age of potatoes, and I am rather inclined to think that this departure from the principle of the maximum and the fixing of a minimum had a very considerable effect in increasing production. It is most essential that there should be as large a production as possible, and I would suggest that the Food Controller should consider whether or not there should be an alteration with regard to prices. It is better to pay rather more for an article and be able to buy it than to have a lesser price fixed and then not to be able to obtain the article. I am not at all sure, especially at this present moment, when the season is getting late that it is quite wise to go on ploughing up so much grass land, and whether it would not be better to have the grass crop which may be expected within the next 1647 few weeks. Everybody will agree that, in order to produce a good crop, you must keep the soil free from weeds; and if you go on ploughing up grass lands at the present time the result, in the depleted state of the labour market, may be that it will not be possible to sow the corn in proper time or to keep it clean when sown. The result will be that you will get a small and bad crop, and at the same time you will lose a crop of grass which is very necessary for the production of meat, milk, and hay, which are very short. I hope the hon. Member will consider the points I have raised in all seriousness.
§ Mr. CLYNES
The Debate, short as it has been, illustrates the great variety and complicated nature of the problems with which the Ministry of Food has to deal, and I do not think I exaggerate when I say that if I tried to answer the scores of problems which have been put to me in this short discussion I should have to detain the House far into the night. I will, however, endeavour to deal broadly with and to answer candidly the questions which have been put to me by the various speakers. One of my hon. Friends complains that I have not been candid with him in the answers I have given. He himself chooses the form of his questions, and I hope I may be allowed to determine for myself the form and terms of my reply. I have withheld no information which could be imparted. I have not concealed facts which could be disclosed in reply to any question which has been asked. I recognise that every man must look at these problems from very different angles, but there is one type of man which I cannot understand, and that is the type which, in spite of all the facts revealed and of experience disclosed by the work of the Food Ministry, still seems to adhere to the view that there is no one at the Ministry competent to do this great work which has to be done. That idea is evidently one to the few things which the War has left undisturbed. It has shattered and demolished many things, but it has left quite unharmed the opinion which some men still hold, that it is they and not those who are unfortunate enough to be in office who are best fitted to discharge these duties. I do not mean these remarks as having any particular application to the right hon. Gentlemen who have taken part in this Debate, but they certainly have some application to some of the critics of the Ministry of Food. As a fact, we have 1648 a considerable number of men and women in the Ministry working on these questions, and for every one Civil servant so engaged in the administration of the Ministry no fewer than seven other persons co-operate and act with them in settling these problems. These seven other persons are men and women of experience in and with practical knowledge of the questions which have to be handled day by day. We have to trust to their advice and guidance in settling important points of policy, questions of price, distribution, and other problems which arise.
Attention has been drawn to the flat rate of meat, which is a feature of the London scheme of rationing, a scheme which it is proposed shall apply to the country at large. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Samuel) has pointed out that in the Cleveland district there is also a local scheme working satisfactorily which gives quantities of meat which, for the time being, are more or less acceptable. But the objection frequently urged in this House, and urged with very great force, against local schemes is that in one area you would have one ration for a particular class, while that same class in another area would get an entirely different ration, and that would lead not only to confusion, but to disaffection among different sections of the community. Apart from that very potent objection to inequality—and we ought not in these matters to countenance inequality where it can be avoided—there are two difficulties in the way of meeting the very just and reasonable claim of men for a larger ration than that which is given to those engaged in less arduous labour. One difficulty is that of supply, and, in our judgment, with due regard to the reserves for the future, there is not sufficient to justify us in meeting the claim that the manual worker should be granted a larger quantity of the more sustaining foods than other people in the country. Then there are difficulties of distribution and allocating and identifying the various classes who are to be entitled to differential treatment and to receive the excess ration, but I can assure my right hon. Friend that if it is possible to overcome these objections, they will be overcome. We are constantly trying to deal with the special administrative difficulties, and I have this week met a deputation and consulted a body of workmen who laid before the Ministry of Food their views on this point. If supplies warrant it in the future, and if the practical administrative difficulties 1649 can be overcome, the men who are per forming hard manual service in the country will receive a larger quantity of these more sustaining foods than other sections of the community.
I have no knowledge whatever, neither have I any reason to believe there is any truth in the statement which has been made as to free carriage for certain foods. The answer to other points raised will, I hope, be found in some of the general statements which I must make in reply to the questions put by various hon. Members. I was asked by my right hon. Friend who opened this Debate whether it was true that Lord Rhondda had resigned. I can only answer that my Noble Friend showed a great deal of courage and self-sacrifice in accepting this very thankless and difficult task, and I am satisfied that his sense of self-sacrifice and his courage are not exhausted, and that he will remain at his post, however difficult and troublesome it may prove. Lord Rhondda has not resigned, and he has no intention whatever of taking that course as an escape from the difficulties with which he is faced. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lough) rather chided the Ministry for receiving the confidence of the newspapers in this country. I followed his speech very closely. I have to say that on the whole the Ministry of Food is indebted to the Press of the country at large for being the conveyors of numerous facts and figures as to work and industry, and I venture to say the work of the Ministry could not have been so effectively carried out without the assistance of the Press by any section of men seeking to serve the nation. If we are to be chided with receiving the confidence of the Press, what becomes of my right hon. Friend himself, whose confidence in the papers seems to be so absolute that his whole case was made out from extracts from newspapers which he read to the House? All his facts were derived from that source. All the quotations and material on which he based his case were drawn from those quarters. For instance, he said—indeed, it was read to the House by my right hon. Friend—that in connection with a pig sale in Ireland the journalist went on in his descriptive account to say that a representative of the Food Ministry was present to regulate the prices, and I am asked if that is so. That might be the journalist's way of describing the fact, the actual fact being that the prices are fixed: they are 1650 there. It may be, for anything I know, that a representative of the Ministry was present to see that the law was enforced. The Irish Food Controller acts as representing the Ministry, and it may be, and I hope it was the case, that a representative of the Ministry was there to see that the law, which it has been alleged is so often violated, was in these circumstances enforced in regard to the sale of pigs.
On the general problem of rationing and what has happened in London, particularly in the course of the last few days, it may be proper here to say a few words. It would, be impossible to carry out effectively any scheme of rationing except on the basis of having registered in various areas the quantities of food assumed and estimated to be necessary for the dealers in those areas. That is where you begin, and having so secured your quantities of food for the defined areas, as represented by the local authorities in them, you proceed to secure registration of your various traders until you have reached the trader, who is the retailer. Then you bring in the consumer, and cause him to register himself with his retailer for his various articles of food. It is only by that means that you can secure equality of distribution and regularity of supplies. It is only by that means that you can secure, in the mind of the masses of the poorer people, the feeling that they are being treated like the better-to-do classes, that rich and poor are sharing the difficulties, and privations, and irritations even, of this rationing system to which we have been driven. My right hon. Friend points out, by way of proving the confusion and breakdown of this system, that Molly, or Mary, or Jane, goes to the butcher's shop and pleads that she does not understand these figures, and the poor butcher finds it equally difficult to comprehend what is meant. But let my right hon. Friend go back to the picture of a week ago, when Molly, and Mary, and Jane were in the queue, and the children were suffering in that way. If I were asked, my own choice would be that it is better to see Molly in difficulties in understanding, in the first few days of her acquaintance with it, the ration card, than to see her in the queue. That is the choice the Ministry have made, and that is the difficulty we are seeking to overcome.
I was asked by my right hon. Friend to give some facts with regard to both butter and the situation concerning Irish 1651 cattle, but before I do that let me more completely state what we understand the situation to be at the moment in London, and what we have done to cope with it. I am sure the House would not expect that a system speedily run up and arranged as this has been, worked out by men drawn together for the purpose, labouring, as they have been, under very great pressure, having to deal with a variety of difficulties enough to stagger the man accustomed only to the ordinary methods of dealing with administrative work, could be worked without something going wrong. Absolute satisfaction is the thing that would have surprised the House, if we had seen it, in regard to the scheme. Dealing as we are with these hundreds of thousands, with traders handling such varieties of food, seeking to supply the millions of people with whom they deal, it is highly satisfactory that so little difficulty has arisen, and that such a large measure of satisfaction appears to result from the steps so far taken. We have found that there has been some disinclination on the part of traders to purchase quantities on account of the natural uncertainty in their minds as to how this new system would work out. We have found that there has been some departure from the usual habit of the week on the part of the men who have these coupons, and who have preferred to reserve their coupons for use at the end of the week in order that they might enjoy in the family household a larger supply of meat than it would be possible for them to purchase if they used those coupons day by day. That has, therefore, created some reserve of what is termed offal, though under that head a great deal of wholesome and very palatable food must now be included. The result has been a certain quantity of offal which it appeared to us was not likely to be sold, and which, indeed, there was some risk of being condemned. Understanding this, we at once, on Wednesday night, issued a Press notice intimating to the restaurants and eating-houses that they would be at liberty to purchase this meat and sell it to their customers without requiring any coupons in exchange for such sale. This concession will continue up to Wednesday, the 6th of March, and if at that time the situation has not been eased and matters have not found their proper level, the House may rest assured that we shall take the necessary measures 1652 even, I should hope, to the extent of technically violating the Regulations rather than that any food should be destroyed.
The only other instance of wastage reported to us has been in the case of workmen's canteens attached to certain munition works, and there it has been pointed out that contractors are having difficulty with regard to disposing of a certain amount of cooked meats which are left on their hands. That is a matter which we are proceeding to adjust in the light of the experience gathered in the course of the week. There is a probability that some retailers may not have gauged the situation correctly. No one will blame them for that. This is a business in which we are all serving our time in order to get to understand it, and many of these retailers may have purchased more meat at the beginning of the week than they have found their customers required. We have, however, already made provision by communicating with the Food Control committees whereby they will be able to authorise, in cases where surpluses are available and have not been exhausted by the ration demands, the sale of any of those reserve stocks or unsold foods without the production of meat coupons, or other testimony in one form or another. I hope the House will agree with me that these are the obvious and inevitable features of any new system applied to such a variety of life and trade circumstances as we have in this country. Referring to the point about butter, my right hon. Friend complains that I have not been quite candid on this point. Figures were given in this House on Tuesday showing how extensively Ireland in pre-war days depended not on her home butter production, but upon imported butter. Seventy-one thousand tons of butter were imported annually, or some such amount as that
§ Mr. CLYNES
No; I think I am right in regard to tons. I stand open to correction as to quantity, but I know there was a very considerable quantity of butter imported into Ireland in pre-war days. The causes of the scarcity in Ireland have already been the subject of discussion and are well understood. I refuse absolutely to believe that there is any butter scarcity in Ireland on the ground of price, with which I am going to deal to a greater extent a little later on. I have en- 1653 deavoured to understand the matter, but from all the facts I can get from any quarter I say that the volume or weight of Irish butter which may now be obtainable, or exportable, is not due in any way at all to the fact that we have fixed a maximum price for it. As to Irish cattle and the situation respecting it in Ireland and in Birkenhead, briefly the position is that we have sought to apply to Ireland, subject to certain modifications necessary on account of the conditions in that country, the same system of cattle purchase and exportation as now exists in this country, We have sought to settle it by mutual arrangement and common consent on the part of the Irish cattle dealers and farmers, and have repeatedly sought their views and entered into consultation with them. We have consulted them, and have sent representatives over to Ireland to discuss matters with them in Dublin. Several matters are still unsettled, but we are hopeful that an arrangement will result which will in no way jeopardise the food arrangements with Ireland. Pending this more satisfactory arrangement, the exportation of cattle; to this country continues and considerable quantities of the meat which we are consuming are being received week by week from that country.
On the general question of the effect of prices on food production, my right hon. Friend will not take offence if I say that I think he has supplied to us, in addition to one or two more or less extravagant pictures of the actual facts, a number of mutually destructive arguments, only one of which need be recalled to be completely dealt with. Two articles of food, he told us, were coming regularly to this country in abundance, and we had now huge stocks of these commodities-—tea and sugar. It is in the case of these two articles that the price, perhaps, is more rigidly fixed than any other commodity with which we deal, and if it were true that the fixed price made it impossible to import, then it would mean starvation in these two particular articles which my right hon. Friend tells the House are here in abundance and are being received regularly week by week. I have heard the arguments, and I submit that my light hon. Friend is not entitled to choose both. Either it is true that maximum prices keep foods out, or it is not. My argument is based upon the experience of the Ministry, that our maximum prices were necessary as a shield for the consumer, to project him against the upward tendency of prices, 1654 while at the same time the application of those maximum prices has had no ill effect whatever upon food production in this country or the importation o£food from foreign lands. I have the greatest sympathy, I need not assure the House, with all who are engaged in food production. By sympathy, I mean an attitude of mind which recognises on their part the right to have as good a way as any trade can give to those employed in it; the right of the farmer and of the food producer to a fair and reasonable profit under all the circumstances of the case. They are employed in a service having many more exactions and difficulties than most trades or enterprises; they are called to work and must remain at work under weather conditions and under conditions of seasonable change which do not apply to those of us engaged in other lighter and easier occupations. It would be the height of folly on the part of the Ministry if we were to impose prices which would discourage the farmer or the food producer, or tend in any way to lessen the volume of food which we desire their labour to secure for us.
The fact, however, remains that in the past three years the work of farming generally, and the work of food production, has been proved to be highly remunerative —I will not say excessively profitable, many facts have still to be revealed to us—but on the farmers' own admission their work has been highly remunerative. We have yet to learn that there are farms to let, or land idle or vacant. I understand that on the odd occasion when there is a farm to let there is a very great demand for it, and a very high price is paid for a farm for sale, which finds a ready purchaser. It is regarded as a business now in which reasonable remuneration can be derived from the labour expended. I myself have objected at Labour Conferences, in face sometimes of the opposition of friends and colleagues for maintaining prices at a level which will not secure food, or at the level which will not increase the volume of food, when, it may be, that we will be more and more dependant upon home production of food than even at the present time. I submit to the House, however, that the prices we have fixed for encouraging food production gives the farmers, producers, and cattle rearers a guarantee, not merely of a maximun price, but of a minimum price which is in their favour. In this matter it was impossible to fix a price beyond a certain 1655 figure. A large number of people in the county of Lancashire, and many others in other places, have for a long time been working, not for the whole week, but on short time. Many do not enjoy high wages at any time. With low wages it was impossible for them to meet the high point of prices which had been reached; and we have not yet reduced prices to anything like the level that brings many foods within the reach of these persons, who are a very large number in a large area of the country. Then hundreds and thousands of people in this country are dependent now upon what they receive from the country on account of disablements or deaths in the Army. There are a very large number of poor people who have this small fixed income from the Government in the way of allowances or pensions, or money in one form or another, and it would be not only disastrous for them, but it would be, I think, highly improper on the part of this House to leave them to the margin of prices, which under the conditions of shortage of supplies, would so operate as to place ordinary foods absolutely beyond their reach. There is that large section of the community who have fixed, but still very small incomes. They have not had bonuses and advances, and they have been very severely affected by the high prices which many foods have already reached. I would also like to put to the House this point: that in foreign countries some friendly, some neutral, there is not only the war-time food shortage, but they are suffering even more severely than we are because of that shortage. In some of these countries prices are not fixed. The retailer and the food producer has free play; yet the absence, of fixed prices does not bring them content. They suffer under the double difficulty of the shortage and of the excessively high prices, which are at a level high price above the highest price prevailing in this country for any article of food.
My right hon. Friend, in asking me to touch, for a moment, upon the question of pig dealing inquired what we were doing to meet the situation. It has been said by experts that there are two ways of keeping pigs. They can be fed almost entirely on barley meal, or, under less matured conditions, on substitutes. In the present circumstances of our grain supply Lord Rhondda, I may mention, is willing to consider any suggestion of raising the 1656 price of pigs, provided he is assured that this will not impose a further strain upon the supplies of concentrated food. He is also taking steps to deal with the waste of pig-food in large towns and camps, and is having full inquiries made as to how this waste can best be utilised. We are all agreed that, while pigs cannot be kept, or sold, upon what are termed the old lines, every possible encouragement must be offered to what may be termed the new style of pig-keeping, and those many other similar matters relating to food production which are in the keeping of a Joint Committee, acting both for the Ministry of Food and for the Board of Agriculture. The point was put: As to how the system of prices operates in respect to the cost of sheeps? I have to say to the House that, in regard to sheep, either the buyer or the seller has the option of a dead-weight basis. Sheep in a market will normally be sold on the live-weight basis, but either party to the transaction can insist on the dead-weight basis, without the other being able to insist on the live-weight basis. These arrangements will surely give the contracting parties, either of sale or purchase, a very large margin of freedom to arrange matters very largely on prices which operated before there was any active interference on the part of the Government. In regard to cattle, the farmer has at present the right to insist on selling on a live-weight basis, if he so prefers.
As to the milk supply, I have to announce to the House that, in view of certain increases in the cost of the production of milk, increases in the cost of labour and of farm service, and in view of the necessity for further encouraging the production of milk, it is the intention of the Food Controller to increase the price during the month of April this year, and also to permit such increased price as will provide for the milk supply during the course of next winter.
§ Sir GEORGE TOULMIN
I would like. to inquire if the hon. Member has considered the point that the time the cattle can come out in the North is later than they can come out in the South, and that a time which is proper in the South might require to be put back in the North for about a month in order to do justice to the North?
§ Mr. CLYNES
Those dissimilar conditions were one of the causes for giving 1657 a good deal of freedom to local authorities to make certain variations. I mentioned the month of April not as a fixed date in the calendar for everywhere, but only to cover the requirements of the country. My hon. Friend referred in the course of his speech to the subject of tea, and traversed the policy of the Government with respect to the scheme for supplying it. My right hon. Friend is well aware that at present there are many different forms of tea sold at different prices, and their sale has exposed many purchasers to the risk of having to pay a price far above the quality which the consumer understood he was buying. Experience with regard to this handling of prices has proved to us the necessity of selling tea as near as possible at one quality and one price.
We do not mean that the buyer will always get the same quality of tea at the price, but he will have some guarantee against the risks he previously ran and the country will have the advantage of buying tea at a flat rate. Such an arrangement as this enables us not only to control the price, but to secure its sale under conditions as will prevent tea being an article for which the people would have to form a queue in any part of the country. The object of our system, which has been ridiculed by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Lough), was to sell to the retailer at a flat price, and at the same time secure that the customer would pay a flat price. This may mean that in the case of large tea dealers and mutiple shops a higher price will be charged than to the small street-corner shopkeeper, but traders will have to suffer this process of adjustment and this condition of levelling up, which is intended for the benefit of the consumer at large, it is intended sternly to enforce.
Let me just say a word on the subject of meat prices, so sternly attacked by my right hon. Friend opposite. We have considered recently an adjustment of the prices again very largely because of certain increases in the cost of production. We think this adjustment has become necessary in order to approximate the dead-weight price of meat, to bring it more strictly into line with the recently announced live-weight prices. The Food Controller is there prepared to increase the dead-weight price to 9s. 6d. per stone. This will be inclusive of offal, and it will have the effect of increasing to the producer the price of meat by ½d par lb., and that is a substantial improvement, 1658 from the point of view of the farmer and the cattle growers. In this way we shall encourage the production of meat this year and succeeding years.
I deny, after considering all the evidence available from all quarters, that reduced supplies of meat, so far as we are suffering, have been due to the prices which have prevailed. I am well aware of the irritation and the protests which all this interference with the parties interested has occasioned, but when I am charged with having sent out, day after day, complicated Orders interfering with the business of the production of food, I again reply that there is no business in the country which has been interfered with so little by the Government during war time as this business of food production. It was the last, and not the first, of the trades that had to come under Government interference, and it only did so when the state of absolute freedom of trade, combined with the condition of stress I have mentioned, drove up prices to more than double the pre-war food prices in this country.
There has been a cattle census, and, despite the fact that home meat consumption has increased because of the lack of foreign supplies, despite the demands made by our Army, our cattle census shows that even now the reduction in the head of cattle in this country, compared with pre-war times, is not greater than 5 per cent. If it were true that we had discouraged production, there would be a far more severe falling off than that. The reduction in meat supplies is due not merely to this greater demand, but to our having to rely upon home resources. It is due to the difficulties arising from shipping shortage in bringing in the necessary feeding stuff upon which our cattle are so far dependent. It is also due to the Army consumption of beef, to the number of people who are interned, and other national causes, and not at all to the application of the principle of prices to which the Government was driven some time ago.
May I say that, in fixing maximum prices in regard to certain of these foods, and in the allusions made to those prices, food producers and farmers usually avoid altogether any reference to the great advantage they derive from the fixing of minimum prices. A minimum price applies to potatoes which cost the country no less than £5,000,000. The farmers and 1659 food producers have guaranteed assurances from the nation afforded through the operation of the Corn Production Act. So that when they complain of interference we might very well turn to the substantial assistance which Parliament has given to all classes of food producers in order to keep up the necessary supplies. A Joint Committee is working continually on behalf of the Ministry of Food and the Board of Agriculture with a view to stimulating production in various parts of the country and in trying further to explain the Orders which have been issued by the Ministry day by day. Indeed, I can derive as strong an argument from the speech of my right hon. Friend to-night as I require, in justification of the length and number of those Orders, for he himself frequently in his own speech complained of us not having informed those concerned of those Orders, and for not having made plain all the various points contained in them in detail.
We do not issue these Orders to irritate or interfere, but in order that men shall understand the law as we have to apply it. We have actually gone the length of sending advocates from the Ministry of Food; that is to say men commissioned to explain and make quite clear what these Orders mean, into various parts of the country, and particularly into the agricultural areas. On the whole, I claim that the Food Ministry is justified in the course it is taking to extend the system of rationing now beginning in London to the various parts of the country, in order that, however short our food supplies may be, all parts of the country, from the far North to the South, shall feel that they are all being treated equally, and that no one section of the country, be it rich or poor, can derive any advantage from a food system, only in so far as heavy work and exhaustive toil might entitle them to a little more than the others may receive.
§ Mr. BOLAND
It is with no disrespect to the hon. Member, who has given a singularly frank and interesting statement to the House, that I turn to another topic which comes under this Vote. I wish to draw attention to the necessity of doing rather more than has been done to promote the production of munitions in Ireland. A few weeks ago the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of 1660 Munitions had to meet my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Water-ford (Mr. John Redmond) and other members of the Irish party with reference to the threatened closing down of the important explosives factory in Ark-low. I am glad to recognise that on that occasion the arguments that were put forward were listened to most attentively, and I am glad to feel also that a very difficult situation has been avoided, and that this absolutely important and vital industry to the town of Arklow is now being allowed to continue. The whole question of the development of munition works is so large that I feel it is impossible to deal with it at full length, but I do not believe that the position has been properly explored by the Ministry of Munitions. There arc many opportunities, both as regards labour and as regards raw.material in different parts of Ireland, which could be and yet which have not been used for the service of the State in the production of munitions, and I do Hope that the Ministry will do considerably more than it has done to extend their manufacture in Ireland.
I want especially to call attention to the necessity of developing the making of aeroplanes. During the War, and more particularly in the last couple of years, there has come home to the mind of every man in the country the necessity for an increased production of aeroplanes, and yet, in spite of all the representations that we have made, it is only within the last few weeks that the Ministry has seen its way to start the. manufacture of aeroplanes, or of aeroplane parts, in the southern parts of Ireland. These representations have been continually made during the last three months. At the special instance of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Water ford and other Irish Members, it has been increasingly pressed upon the Ministry, and I am glad to recognise, though they have been late in agreeing to our pressure, that they have agreed to a certain extent, and that there has now been set up in Dublin a board which is to control and to pass on orders for the making of aeroplanes and aeroplane parts in the southern and other parts of Ireland recognise, therefore, that the production of this vital instrument of warfare in Ireland is now to be carried out, and it will, I hope, be carried out on a growing scale. The delay that has occurred, 1661 however, has been long, and now that a start is going to be made it is only on a small scale. In these days, however, one has to be content, I suppose, to accept what one can get, and certainly so far as I and my colleagues are concerned we shall endeavour, as far as we possibly can, to assist in the development of the manufacture of these necessary instruments of war, and shall continue to press upon the Ministry the necessity of extending their manufacture in Ireland.
Why do I say that the scheme so far outlined does not go far enough? I do so because in two of the essentials for the production of aeroplanes we in Ireland are specially situated, having control of the raw materials. Practically 99 per cent. of your aeroplanes are covered with linen which is the product of Ireland. Flax is not only being grown in the North of Ireland, but practically right through Ireland and in every county of Ireland. Down in my own county, Kerry, where the growing of flax has been dropped for thirty or forty years, there has been a welcome revival, and hundreds of acres have been put under cultivation. There is no limit to the encouragement that could be given to the growing of flax in the South of Ireland if only what we grow in our own country was given to be utilised in manufactures in our own country. It is a double advantage to the farmers engaged in producing flax if they know that in its manufacture and use it is the industries of Ireland which are going to be called into play. I do, therefore, urge that in the work which is now going to be started in the production of aeroplanes every step should be taken to increase the growing of flax in all parts of the country. It is too often thought, because the area of flax in Ireland in the years before the War was practically confined to the northern parts of Ulster, that other parts are not suitable. In Cork and Kerry, and practically in every other county, the land is suitable for the growing of flax. I recognise that the necessity of growing food products is the first consideration, but there is no reason whatever why, side by side with an increased growth of food products, there should not also be an increased acreage under flax, and I look to the Ministry of Munitions in encouraging the manufacture of aeroplanes in Ireland to bring about a great increase in the growth of flax.
1662 What is the other raw material available in Ireland for the construction of aeroplanes? Timber enters largely into their construction and all through the War we have had our Irish trees, the spruce and the ash, shipped across to this country and manufactured into aeroplanes. There has been no attempt to utilise the spruce and the ash in the manufacture of aeroplanes in Ireland and thereby save the tonnage which is used in bringing the timber over to this country from Ireland. A double advantage therefore would be gained. Two out of the three essential raw materials for the production of aeroplanes are grown in Ireland, and it has been a great oversight on the part of the Government and the Ministry of Munitions not to recognize this fact earlier in the course of this War. There is another consideration, and that is the labour that is available There are hundreds and even thousands of girls from Ireland who have been proved in this country to be extraordinarily valuable in aeroplane manufacture. Girls of a similar type in Dublin are there ready and willing to be employed. You go so far through your Government Labour Exchanges to encourage these girls to come over to England and to be employed in munition and aeroplane factories, and yet you do not take reasonable steps to utilise their labour in Dublin itself. I contend, therefore, that the Ministry of Munitions should look more closely into the amount of girl labour and of male labour that is available in the city of Dublin, because there is the possibility there of an immense development in the manufacture of aeroplanes. It is not merely a question of skilled labour, but also of unskilled labour. Owing to the Government restrictions on the use of petrol, a great number of motor mechanics employed in Dublin have been thrown out of employment. If you are looking for skilled men, they are there—men who would be extraordinarily valuable to you in the manufacture of aircraft. As regards the unskilled, they are there, any number of them that you want. I suppose that the number of girls available in Dublin for an extended aircraft industry would easily run into thousands. There is not the least doubt that you have there an untapped source of labour for the production of this form of munitions upon a very large scale.
1663 I believe the argument has been used that outside the City of Belfast and some other industrial centres of Ulster there are no engineering capacities in other parts of Ireland. Such an argument applied to the manufacturers of aeroplanes is of course ludicrous. I speak from some personal knowledge on this matter, because last year for a period of about five months I used to give five hours of my day before my Parliamentary duties to working at a mechanic's bench in an aircraft factory. I had no previous knowledge of it at all, yet I found that after a very few weeks, certainly at the end of the five months, I was a sufficiently skilled man to do the ordinary bits of work required in the way of annealing, drilling, hammering, and filing, that enter into the metal part of the manufacture of aircraft. With regard to the purely unskilled work of the women who are responsible for turning out aircraft in this country, you may go into any aircraft manufacturing works and you find that girls are employed to an enormous extent. When I am told that there is no engineering capacity in the South of Ireland, and that that is one of the reasons why aircraft manufacture has not been carried on there, I ask why, dependent as you are on the turning out, by girls, of parts of your aeroplanes, you have overlooked similar capacities you have in Ireland? This argument leads you yet a bit further. You advertise for labour, your Government Employment Exchanges and advertisements have appeared in the provincial as well as the metropolitan Irish papers, and while you are willing to encourage labour to come over to this country to take part in munition work, surely you are looking forward to the time at the end of the War when these men or girls will be told, "Your work in England is over; now go back to your own country." Yes, but to what country do you ask them to go back? A country in which you have, in the course of the War, as you have here, enabled great munition works to be established and great engineering shops to be built up, which will be carried on after the War? No ! You take them from the factories over here. Why do you not establish munition and engineering works in Ireland to enable these men and women to be employed there? Then alter the War they can continue in their own country the business they have learned.
1664 I hope the Ministry of Reconstruction will look at this point. They have not looked sufficiently far forward to see what is going to become of the hundreds and thousands of Irish girls and men who have come over to this country to learn skilled work and who at the end of the War are to be told, "Now go back to Ireland. We have used you for the period of the War; now go back to the country where we have set up very little in the way of engineering shops." I feel that all the more because I am one of those who look forward, after the termination of this War, to a tremendous development of the aircraft industry. If not before the end of the War undoubtedly within a few years flying machines will be crossing the Atlantic. Ireland is the natural landing and jumping-off place for aeroplanes in the transatlantic service between Europe and America. I suppose that after the War preparations will be made for very large aerodromes at which the American machines will land. That is an absolutely necessary measure of reconstruction, and the matter of reconstruction in Ireland should be considered just as much as in this country. It is because I see in the future a tremendous development of Ireland as the landing-place for a great transatlantic aeroplane service that I ask the Ministry to consider the erection of engineering works in Ireland with a view to that future and that they will see that Ireland is treated fairly in regard to the great future development of aircraft.
§ Mr. FIELD
I am particularly interested in the case of Arklow by reason of the fact that, in conjunction with the late M. Austen Chamberlain, I had something to do with founding that factory. It is rather curious that the late Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman. who was really the means of founding that factory, should have been put out of office on the question of the shortage of cordite, although he himself, as Secretary of State for War, was the man who established the cordite factory in Ireland. The town of Arklow is practically dependent on that industry. The Ministry of Munitions ought to remember with gratitude the fact that when they required this particular form of destructive agency—it is a curious thing that all the best intellects in the world seem to be bent on destroying rather than helping one another—we came to their assistance at that juncture. I am glad to know that to a certain extent they did agree with the views put forward by the 1665 hon. and learned Member for Waterford (Mr. J. Redmond), who appeared in this matter not alone in the interests of Arklow, but also in the interests of the Munitions Ministry, because, as I understand it, the article that was manufactured in Arklow was at least as good, if not superior, to that manufactured elsewhere. If it is a fact that a reduction is necessary in the output, I trust that the Munitions Ministry will only make a reduction to the smallest degree necessary in Arklow, because that factory has done better work than any other cordite factory in the United Kingdom.
One of the several grievances we have—we always have grievances in Ireland, but I believe they are common to humanity— is that we have not had a fair amount of work in connection with munitions or anything else. It is only because of certain pressure that has been put on the Government that it gave us any employment at all. As the senior Member for the City of Dublin, I have had to make numerous complaints regarding the paucity of the number of women and men employed in the Park gate Street Factory. I understand that the work produced there was rather superior to that produced in the factories in Great Britain, yet a large number of the people have been recently disemployed, for what reason I am unable to say, because it is one of those official secrets which hon. Members are not allowed to know. The fact is that the House of Commons has lost control over public expenditure and anything connected with Government. Last night we passed the first stage of a Vote for £45,584,000. It is supposed that the House of Commons controls the purse. In the limited time at the disposal of the House it was impossible to analyse the enormous amount of money and the different phases that ought to have been introduced into that discussion. If the House of Commons is supposed to have a function, and to look over the expenditure of the nation, we ought to get some opportunity to do so in a reasonable amount of time.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend (Mr. Boland) in regard to aircraft. Flax and timber are grown in Ireland to a great extent. With regard to timber, there has been a very uneasy feeling amongst men who criticise not alone the Government but also the Irish constitutional party, that we have allowed this thing to go too far. We are cutting down and exporting 1666 timber all over Ireland. I am a member of the Afforestation Society, and have taken a great interest in this for a number of years past. From a national point of view, I agree that it has what may be called a war phase. Timber is a necessity in the country. It improves the climate and helps in many ways not alone to make the scenery beautiful, but also to improve the health of the country, yet we find that in Ireland at present nearly every tree in certain places, owing to the peculiar condition of the law with regard to the land, is being cut down and sent across to this country. The least we may expect is that a certain quantity of this timber should be used in the aeroplane factory. If we are going to have a flying passenger service, as most of us expect, from America to the British Islands, the western coast of Ireland is really a gateway. It is the nearest land to the great continent of America. Apparently you do not want to utilise Ireland but rather to exploit it, at least that has been our experience in the past. But if you want to utilise Ireland it is almost time that you started a large aerodrome in Galway, so that you may begin at once and knock the Americans out and give yourselves a chance of being the first to carry out the air service to New York. Hon. Members smile at that, but the circumstances that a man does not believe a fact docs not change the truth. It is quite within the bounds of reason that within a short time after the conclusion of the War, whenever that comes, an Air Service will be carried on to different parts of the world, and I entirely agree that the Goverment ought to take steps to utilise the natural and potential resources of Ireland and of her people. Some English people say we have no mechanical dexterity, but it is rather a remarkable thing that outside Ireland the Irishman generally gets to the top, because he gets a chance. Even in this country, when you want a clever man you frequently take an Irishman. Some of the best men in your service in various directions, generals and fighting men generally, are Irishmen. If we do not fight our enemies we sometimes fight amongst ourselves, but that is common to almost all countries. With regard to war employments, you have Labour Bureaus, you have all kinds of agencies employed to take men and women, skilled and unskilled labour, out of Ireland, and bring them across to Great Britain. The 1667 Government are telling us we roust not travel, and they put such restrictions on the railways and steamships that, unless a man has some imperative call, he cannot afford to travel. At the same time, you are bringing these men and women over from Ireland to do work in England which could just as well be done at home. There is no economy in that.
Another point I wish to address myself to is the question of the depots. I am obliged to the Under-Secretary for War for his action in that matter. I have been at that question for twenty-eight years, and it is only the pressure which has at last opened the eyes of the Government to seeing that what can be manufactured in Ireland ought to be sent to a depot in Dublin instead of being sent over here to Woolwich.
§ Mr. FIELD
I am sorry, but I have very nearly finished. It is very germane to the subject. The All-Ireland Munitions Committee have had the matter under consideration and it is quite natural to suppose that it belongs to munitions. As a matter of fact things connected with the War are received in that depot. I hope that attention will be given, particularly to the ease of Arklow, to the general fact that we want more instead of less work, and also to this extraordinary condition of affairs, that labour is exported from Ireland, and that at the end of the War you will want these people to go back. You will not desire to keep them in this country. This is a very serious question, and the reorganisation of labour after the War is a matter which will demand the most critical attention. I hope the remarks I have made will be taken in a proper spirit. We want to help you in this War and we have helped you, sometimes at the cost of a good deal of criticism and other matters I do not wish to mention. But we are right to criticise you. If you had taken our advice on a good many things the Government in Ireland would have been in a far better position than it is to-day. This is not a political question, but an industrial and reconstruction issue, and I trust the short speeches we have made will have the effect of promoting munitions work in Ireland, satisfying our people, and enabling us to carry the War to a successful issue.
§ Captain BARNETT
I wish to ascertain from the Ministry of Munitions what has been done to increase the supply of petroleum in this country from the distillation of shales, cannel coal, and other material of the same kind. The Debates we have had during the past year on the subject of petroleum have, perhaps, generated a good deal more heat than light. In those Debates we have been dealing with the production of petroleum by means of drilling. A very useful little measure was introduced authorising the Government to drill for petroleum in this country, and it looked like passing into law, but a question of royalty was raised which prevented the Government from getting the powers asked for in the Bill. I think the hon. Member for Haggerston started the question of royalties, and the moment it was mentioned one Member after another took it up in connection with the land monopoly, and so on. We heard from the hon. Member for the Tradeston Division of Glasgow that the country would not tolerate such a thing, and the hon. Member for Carlisle took the same view. There was a regular view-hallo about royalties in a few minutes, with the right hon. Member for Cleveland as master of the hounds and the Member for West Fife as whipper-in, and the result of that monopoly hunt was that the poor little measure came to grief. We are now told that the Department have found it possible, under the Defence of the Realm Act, to seek for petroleum without legislation.
To those of us who are at all familiar with the petroleum industry the excitement on the subject of royalties was some what amusing, because it: rather assumed that we were likely to find petroleum wealth such as is found in Galicia, the United States, and Roumania, that we were going to get great finds producing enormous fortunes, and that the land owners were to be enriched by the royalties. The thing was purely academic. The 9d. royalty on any supply of petroleum ever likely to be found in this country would not repay the landowner for having the surface of his land knocked about. In the course of the Debate a very remark able thing was said by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Chelmsford —
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
The hon. and gallant Member must not discuss legislation, much less dead legislation. The hon. and gallant Gentleman must also remember de mortuis nil nisi bonum.
§ Captain BARNETT
I was proposing to show that a very material question is the quantity of petroleum which is likely to be found here. The point I wish to impress upon the representative of the Ministry of Munitions is that he must not follow the shadow and lose the substance, and that he is far more likely to find petroleum in this country by dealing with shales and lignite, if he can get them, and with cannel coal and blackband ironstone than by the more heroic process of drilling. If petroleum can be found in this country it will be worth much more than the figure of £2 per ton which was put forward in this House. The cheapest and most prolific kind of petroleum might perhaps under some circumstances be brought to this country at £2 a ton, but if we ever get petroleum here I hope it will be petroleum of a. very much better type, and that it will be worth more like £5 or £6 a ton than £2. In view of the submarine peril, it is perfectly obvious that this question of increasing the petroleum supply in this country, may easily become a matter of the most vital importance to our Fleet and for other purposes and for our aeroplanes, which require petrol. The finding of oil in the distillation of shales and coal has been considered very carefully by the Institution of Petroleum Technologists, the only scientific society in this country which devotes itself entirely to petroleum research. A series of papers was read before the society early last week which I would commend to the attention of my hon. Friend, because it showed that very considerable attention has been given by experts to the problem of the distillation of these shales. As the House is aware, there is a prosperous industry in Scotland, the Scottish shale industry, which is a very fine instance of the survival of the fittest. There are only five companies which now exist as the survivors of fifty companies which existed at one time. By means of the Scottish virtues of frugality and economy they have succeeded in making a success of an industry which at one time seemed doomed to failure. What has been done with the shales of Scotland could be done with the richer shales of England, such as the shales of Dorset and Norfolk, which have lever been properly handled. This subject has never been seriously tackled, and it would be worth the while of the Ministry to look into it.
1670 There is an even more profitable source of petroleum than the shales, in cannel coal, because cannel coal contains a very considerable amount of petroleum. The petroleum, which has become so valuable, and which we get from the Scottish Shale Companies, is largely in the nature of a by-product. They were really out looking for sulphate of ammonia, but they got a certain amount of petroleum as a byproduct. Petroleum can be got not only from cannel coal but from black-band ironstone, which is also capable of being dealt with. Distillation at a low temperature, which is quite different from the process used in Scotland, might probably give amore profitable yield of petroleum, even though it yielded less ammonia sulphate. There are other sources of supply, such as coal itself, but coal is too valuable. There is, however, no doubt that coal does contain a considerable amount of petroleum. There is also lignite, and there is a large amount of lignite in this country. There is also peat, which contains petroleum, but there is a difficulty there which will probably prevent anything practical being done for the next few years. I do ask my hon. Friend to concentrate attention on the cannel coal and the black-band ironstone. He will find that there is material there for a very large increase in our petroleum production. A paper was read the other day by a very well-known geologist, supported by two or three chemists of high standing, at the Royal Society of Arts, which showed the large field that is open for the home production of petroleum. I would draw my hon. Friend's attention at this point to the fact that the Government has recently asked the gas companies to produce more tar, and another Department of the Government simultaneously has been asking the consumer to use less gas. I do not know whether this is an instance of the want of co-ordination of which we have heard. But if less gas is to be made there would be less tar. The two things go together, and it seems inconsistent in one and the same breath to tell people not to use so much coal gas, and at the same time to press gas companies to produce more tar for the purpose of getting benzol, toluol, and creosote oil from it.
There is a great deal of petroleum knowledge in this House, but I do not think that it is utilised at the present time to the extent to which it might be utilised. I hope that the Parliamentary 1671 Secretary will realise that he has got at his command in the House of Commons a considerable amount of petroleum talent. I hope 'that he will not necessarily assume that those of us who have made money and lost money in petroleum know nothing about the subject. My hon. Friend the Member for the West Derby Division of Liverpool (Sir W. Rutherford) has brought a very acute mind to bear upon the subject of petroleum for many years past and is widely recognised as an authority. The hon. Baronet the Member for Elgin and Nairn (Sir A. Williamson) knows a great deal about petroleum, and is a director of important petroleum enterprises. The hon. Baronet the Member for the Partick Division of Lanarkshire (Sir R. Balfour) is another authority on petroleum; another is the hon. Member for Inverness Burghs (Mr. Bryce), who is at the head of important petroleum enterprises. Personally, as a member of the Council of Petroleum Technologists, I would be very glad to put any little knowledge which I possess at the disposal of the Government, and I hope that my hon. Friend will realise that the petroleum knowledge which exists in this House would be freely put at the disposal of the Government at any time. In anything which I have said there is no criticism of his Department, which is doing most admirable work; but I would urge that,, in increasing the petroleum supply in this country, it should concentrate upon the production of petroleum by distillation from these natural substances that exist in large quantities, rather than on a widespread search for petroleum which may or may not exist, but as to the existence of which in large quantities many of us are rather sceptical.
§ Mr. KEATING
The case for Ireland has been put with great force by two hon. Members from these benches, but it has occurred to me that this would be a very proper occasion on which to make a suggestion to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Munitions, which, I think, would be valuable to him, and certainly would be valuable to Ireland, and especially the Constituency which I represent. The hon. Member who has just sat down has drawn attention to the fact that one of the by-products of coal' is one of the substances most necessary for transport in this country— that is petroleum. We have a very large coalfield in Leinster which has not been 1672 worked to its full extent because no proper facilities exist for taking the coal away from the coalfield to the railway. The case for the development of the Leinster coalfield has been stated very often in the Press, and by deputation, and in this House, and therefore I need not trespass on the patience of the House by repeating it. We have bad a good deal of experience of the hon. Baronet who represents the Ministry of Munitions, and know that he is disposed to bring practical remedies to bear upon practical evils. I think that this is one of the occasions on which he might help himself, his Department and us if he will bring his influence and that of his Department to bear upon those who have got the decision of this matter in their hands, and explain that the reason why they are not getting full value out of the Kilkenny coalfields is because they have not provided the proper facilities for transport. They have not done so because they say that the materials are not available, but I do not know that the materials could be utilised to better purpose than that of bringing coal to the Irish market, thereby saving tonnage from England to Ireland, and also enabling this country to have a larger volume of coal from which it can draw some of the by-products, which have been referred to by the last speaker, for the production of petroleum. I trust, therefore, that the hon. Baronet will use his influence and that of hit Department to have some practical remedy provided for the evil to which I have referred.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of MUNITIONS (Sir Worthington Evans)
I thank the House for the very kind way in which it has brought its critical faculties to bear on the Ministry of Munitions this evening. Ireland, of course, takes a leading place and has its grievances, but we recognise that what has been said is well meant in a friendly way. With regard to Arklow, hon. Members know that the matter has been receiving the most careful attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Munitions. I do not suppose that they expect me to-night to deal further with that question until it has had the closer attention which I have already promised will be given to the case of Arklow. As they have already been informed. Arklow was not singled out for ill-treatment, but, on the contrary, as things stand to-day, Arklow has been treated in a more liberal fashion than any other of the 1673 competing factories in the Kingdom. They know that when outputs have to be reduced, or from any cause stocks are such that output ought to be reduced, then hardship is bound to be done to individual worker's at factories who lose their employment in consequence. The most the Ministry can possibly do is to temper the world to the shorn sheep, and see that, in reducing, every consideration is given to those who are about to suffer from it. That the Ministry has already promised shall be done in the Arklow case, and it will be done. The hon. Member for South Kerry said that a Board had been formed in the south of Ireland, with a view to advising the Ministry of Munitions as to facilities available, and which could be brought into use for the increased output, either of aircraft or other munitions, in Ireland. We are very grateful to the hon. Member for South Kerry for the part he has taken in assisting us by forming a representative Board. I can only ask him to accept from me the assurance that, while requirements cannot be created in order to meet the desires of Ireland, yet the facilities that Ireland can give will be considered "when the requirements have come to be met. Of course, possible developments may call for larger contracts than at present exist in Ireland, but those must be contracts placed in respect of requirements which are war requirements. We have no time nor materials to devote to other than war work in the Ministry of Munitions. Really, that is my answer to the enticing suggestion that I should consider what shall happen after the War if Ireland becomes a kind of jumping-off ground for a great European trade with the United States. But I am not going into that subject to-night. That is not war work that we could now spend time upon.
Equally that must be the answer to the question put by the Member for South Kerry, as to what is going to happen to skilled men and "women that go back to Ireland. All I can say is that when they go back with their skill I hope they will help to enrich. Ireland, and to create industries there. Let me deal with the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras. He hoped we should not pursue the shadow and lose the substance. At any rate, we will do nothing to lose the substance. But, on the other hand, it is not everybody's opinion that boring for oil in the United 1674 Kingdom is so shadowy as he fears. Let me deal with the substance, at any rate. Since the War we have increased, notwithstanding shortage of labour and of material, the production of Scottish shale oil and others oils, and pure oils have also increased. The fuel oil supplied to the Navy from home sources, although it is not considerable, has, at any rate, doubled in the last few months. Fuel oil from our home sources is used for other heating purposes at home, and, although small, it has certainly made quite considerable progress. With regard to the more specific question which my hon. Friend asked, with regard to our action for obtaining oil by distillation from cannel coal, he tells us what I must say is true. I know it is true, for he has studied the question of petroleum for years, and is an expert himself. He knows very well that there are two policies in dealing with the distillation of oil from cannel coal. One school suggests that there should be erected at the mines batteries of retorts, and of a nature which at present, at any rate, have never been proved on a commercial scale.
It is quite true that a great deal of work has been done with them, but they have never, in fact, been proved on a commercial scale. But we are going ahead, and on some mines we are actually erecting retorts, but we are not banking on the retorts so erected. We are taking other means which I myself believe, and which I am advised, will bring about production a great deal quicker than is likely to be got from retorts erected at the. mines. Under the very capable advice that the Ministry is following we are setting up at various gasworks throughout the country some additional machinery which enables cannel coal to be distilled in the ordinary retorts at the gasworks. This gives us a very great advantage. No new retorts are required; it is quite true that some extra boilers and some extra plant are required, but existing staffs at the gasworks are available, and we do not have to create a new staff at the mines. The sidings and the labour are there. We do not have to put new sidings at the mines; we do not even have to use new labour, because the labour at the gasworks is available. Moreover, instead of wasting by-products, they are being treated at the gasworks themselves, and the gas which is produced from the distillation of cannel coal is available for illuminating or heating purposes, in addi- 1675 tion to recovering oil from distillation. During the next month or two there will be several of these modified plants at the gasworks actually working. Subject to the limit of materials and labour, there is not the slightest reason why all the cannel coal that is now being raised in the country should not be able to be treated in the existing gasworks. It is not truly what is known as a low-temperature distillation. I do not want to go into the technical details. I am ill-equipped for that purpose, and I do not claim to have the technical knowledge which is possessed by my hon. Friend (Captain Barnett), but one acquires some technical knowledge from intercourse with those who are experts on the subject and who give us technical advice. I hope that my hon. Friend may have an opportunity of putting his skill and his knowledge at the disposal of the Ministry of Munitions, and I shall be very glad to go into greater detail with him, and should be glad of his experience and advice at a later date.
§ Sir W. EVANS
The hon. Member, I think, knows that I have communicated with him, and I have fulfilled my promise in that direction. He knows perfectly well that experts from my Department have searched for lead and for copper in a dozen directions, and that in some centres at least one copper proposition is in course of development, and I hope it will be a credit to the whole of the United Kingdom. If it is anything like as good as it promises, it is going to be a real big thing.
There is one other question I desire to deal with, and that is the question of iron ore. I very much regret that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cleveland (Mr. H. Samuel) is not pre-Bent. As he said yesterday that his complaints on the subject had been met with silence, I must just briefly deal with them. He called attention to a statement made by the Prime Minister in April last in London, when the Prime Minister said that within a certain period the increase of iron ore which would be raised in this country would amount to about 4,000,000 tons, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cleveland claimed that that had been proved to be a bad prophecy, and that in fact only 1,000,000 1676 tons had been raised. The real truth is that up to the present moment the increase has been in actual tonnage 1,600,000 tons, but there is not the least reason why that should not be increased at any time when it was desirable to many millions beyond the present increase, and there is not the least reason why the Prime Minister's statement should not be made good in actual figures if in the present circumstances it were indeed desirable. I will show the House very briefly, as the right hon. Gentleman is not here, why it is not at this moment desirable. Let me take his own constituency, and give the figures for the Cleveland output. In 1916 the Cleveland output was about four and a-third million tons of ore, and in 1917 it had increased to over four and three quarter million tons of ore, an actual increase of over half a million tons. But early in 1917 a survey was made by those most competent to make it, those concerned in the industry itself, and it was quite clear that there could be an increase of 2,000,000 tons, and that 2,000,000 tons would give employment to about 2,700 men. It is important to remember that those extra men would be required, because the right hon. Gentleman made great play with the fact that huts had been erected in the Cleveland district, and had not in fact been occupied at all. The real limiting factor to the output in that district is not the amount of ore, but the blast furnaces of the particular class required, or what is known as the basic furnaces. So long as we can get the hematite ore imported it is better to use that ore, but if our import of hematite ore fails, we want to be ready with the native ore to use in the converted furnaces so that our steel output may not suffer.
Really what has happened is this: Knowing that we might be cut off from imported ore, we have made preparation in advance to have our home ore for the purpose and to substitute our home ore, and in order to get that home ore we had erected huts ready for the men who would be required to produce that home ore. So that when the right hon. Gentleman complains that we have erected huts ahead of time, all he is really doing is accusing us of being too early rather than of being too late. I prefer, myself, being too early than to being too late. Meanwhile the huts are not useless; there are 105 built. The Air Board are using fifty-two and the Royal Flying Corps arc occupying tem- 1677 porarily twenty-six of them, so that there are about twenty-seven out of the 105 which are unoccupied. There is one other way in which the Prime Minister's statement can be fairly tested, and that is in terms of steel. After all, iron ore in itself is not particularly interesting, but it is interesting, of course, as a means of producing steel, and that is the way in which the Prime Minister, in fact, used it, if the text of his speech is regarded. The then Minister of Munitions, my right hon. Friend who is now Minister of Reconstruction, within a couple of months of that speech by the Prime Minister stated in this House exactly what he did expect in the way of increase of output of basic steel. He estimated that within thirteen months from the date he was speaking there would be an increase in the output of basic steel of 30 percent. In fact, at this moment, after an interval of about eight months, there is an increase in the output of basic steel in this country of about 19 percent., and I have not the least doubt, given the skilled men, that within the next six months the increase of another 10 or 11 per cent. will be duly secured So that, in fact, 1678 the prophecy that was then made that there would be an increase of basic steel output of 30 percent. will in. fact be fulfilled. I regret my right hon. Friend is not present, because whether it is looked at as a statement of iron ore or whether it is looked at in the real sense in which it was made, namely, as an index of what would be our position in home-produced basic steel, I claim that it is a fair statement which is likely to be fulfilled.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.
§ Whereupon Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER, pursuant to the Order of the House of the 13th February, proposed the Question, "That this House do now adjourn."
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Seventeen minutes before Ton o'clock till Monday next, pursuant to the Order of the House of the 13th February