HC Deb 19 March 1918 vol 104 cc901-25

The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs very humorously described the position of a Member of this House desirous of discussing the question of Russian policy and Russian affairs, who found himself left to follow someone who had been discussing electric lighting in Bankok, and the feelings of that Gentleman when the House preferred to listen to the question of electric lighting at Bankok. I feel in much the same position myself now because I have to bring this House, small as it is, from the consideration of very high foreign policy and glorious ideas of a Committee dabbling in foreign policy down to earth with a, bump, and to ask it to think of pigs, and onions, and rabbits, as the food of the people. I am sorry that I have not an opportunity of speaking on my Motion. I find that one Motion having been already taken I can only speak on the subject of my Motion, and make it the text of my remarks. What I have to say will not be carping criticism. I have thought out points relevant to this question, and necessary to prove the desirability of the Motion that in the opinion of this House a certain thing is desirable, and in giving those points my remarks will not be restricted to criticism or merely to citing examples which have come under my personal notice. I shall also endeavour to give one or two constructive suggestions, which I think even now will be of value if the Ministries who are represented will make a note of my remarks, and consider them worthy of action upon them. In common with other Members who represent large industrial constituencies, I have had from time to time to present to Ministers points in themselves of importance to the individuals concerned, but points which also in my opinion were of national importance if the action of the Ministry in dealing with these individual matters was representative of the policy governing their action The hon. Member who has just come in (Mr. Beck) will remember one point I put to him. In introducing these points Members have to go to Ministers to explain to them what they desire to have considered, and I want the hon. Member who represents the Ministry of National Service to note this point, because it is not one of complaint at all, but one of national importance. In giving such as those in his position these points Members do not and cannot quietly submit, when they have gone and inquired personally into the facts of the case and taken the trouble in the interest of the Constituency and of the nation, to have that point lightly turned down without some explanation.

The point I want to make for the hon. Member's consideration is the case of George Hinchcliffe, of Gleadless, in my Constituency of North-East Derbyshire. This man, at the time he was taken into military service, at the end of December, 1917, was actually producing, and had actually supplied some 13,000 to 14,000 lbs. weight of pork per month to the district of Sheffield. Now, that is a fact. If that is not a fact, then my remarks are totally unnecessary, and the Ministry has a very good answer indeed. But, in the third week of December, when I visited that place to see for myself actually what existed, that man had 135 pigs, about fifty of which were breeding pigs, and he was supplying meat at the rate which I quoted. He was called up for military service. It is no earthly good the hon. Member answering me in the way I was answered at the Ministry when I went down for a personal interview. I would like the House to understand that the matter has been the subject of about a dozen letters passing between myself and the Ministry. I visited the spot, and saw for myself the farm and the stock. It is no earthly good telling me that this man registered three years ago as being employed in a drapery shop. That is not the point. That may be a fact, but it is not the point. It is no good telling me that he changed from that employment, and then went back to his farm, and gave his whole time to it; and that the Ministry have had an anonymous or some other form of communication, saying that the man was going round boasting of the easy manner in which he had evaded military service, as I was informed in the Ministry. That does not concern my point. I would ask the Minister of National Service to remember this one fact, that while that man was in other employment, and before he went back to give up his whole time to his farm, a youth of nineteen or twenty years of age was given total exemption to work on the same farm as work of national importance. Yet when the man himself who, to my personal knowledge, has been breeding pigs for the last six or seven years, returns, and realises, with a degree of forethought that is sometimes lacking on the Front Bench, that food is a necessary commodity in time of war; when he gives his whole time to the production of food, and when he reaches a point when he produces some 12,000 to 14,000 lbs. weight, which is running into tons, he is then taken for military service. I would ask the hon. Member to realise that this was just the time when Sir Arthur Yapp was sending out letters, of which I, among other Members, received one, requesting me to ask my Constituents to be economical in their consumption of food, and particularly of meat. Could I possibly go down to that village, which turned out to a man to see the wholesale breaking up of this mans farm—could I say to those villagers, "You have got to be economical; I am asked by the Ministry of Food to ask you to be economical in your consumption of food "? Would they believe me, when they could see the destruction of the production of food in their very midst? It would be better for the Ministry if they did not believe, and the very fact that they did not believe would be a greater compliment to the intelligence of the Ministry.

I want to read to the House a letter I have received from the man in question. It was written from Aldershot, on the morning I put down this Motion. This man writes to me: SIR,—Having read the enclosed article"— He encloses me an article by the hon. Member for the Wilton Division, in which he says that pigs and potatoes are going to win this War— that we may win the War by the aid of pigs and potatoes, the Government will have to deal differently with it (the subject) to what they have dealt with me, as, after being engaged in the production of bacon and ham—tons of which. I have produced annually for human food, and this was all produced by the utilisation of vegetable waste—and when we are beginning to see the value of the pig both as a means of meat and of fat, both of which the country needs; and after years of experience in the using of refuse and the production there from of food for the nation, I am now taken away from my work and am helping to win the War in the capacity of a waiter in a sergeants' mess. My plant, which was producing tons of food annually, is now practically derelict for the want of practical labour. I think that case requires far more consideration than it received at the time, and I think it requires a very big explanation. Not to me; I do not want an explanation personally, but to the people who are dissatisfied and are short of food, and are beginning to think that these are the methods that make them short.

At the same time, I would like to say a word about the manner in which the master bakers have been taken from their work into the Army. One case I have in mind in particular is that of a man taken from the city of St. Albans, from probably one of the biggest, if not the biggest, businesses of its kind in the city. He employed several hands; he was taken away, and the whole matter of his business was left in the hands of his young wife, an extremely delicate woman, and totally unfit to attempt to begin to manage a business. The last I heard of that case a few months ago was when I saw that poor woman having to strive, literally night and day, alone, to cope with the filling in of the various forms required by the Ministry of Food. At that very time the husband, I hear, was cutting the grass round the officers' mess where he was stationed at Aldershot. These are two cases that have come under my particular notice. Another specific case I would like to give is one which refers to a big food producing works, to which I have the honour of being consulting engineer. That works devotes its whole time to food production, and is at the present moment working night and day entirely in producing food for the Army, under the Director of Army Contracts, and for the French Army—cocoa ration, chocolate ration, cocoa butter. For the troops in the warmer climates—lemonade in powders, egg powders, and a dozen such things. The firm has given back to the country the whole of its raw material granted by the Government. For instance, the whole of the sugar given to the firm is given back to the country, and not a single bit of it goes to the firm's old private customers. I submit that here is a question which requires no amount of consideration, because machinery will wear out, and this process has been going on night and day. Under the pressure of the Director of Army Contracts asking for more and more output, the officials of this company looked round to find where and how they could renew the machinery which was worn out, and they found a grinding machine, and that machine has been standing in its packing cases since the first week of last September, and it is standing idle to-day. My clients wish to buy this machine and the manufacturers desire to sell it, and nobody else wants it. It is a machine which will increase the output of food for the Army, and twice it has been refused through the medium of the Ministry of Munitions on the instruction of the Food Controller. I deeply regret that anything I have to say in this respect should appear to reflect on the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food, because I feel sure that if he had heard of these facts before the matter would have received attention. On the 19th February I got this letter from the Priority Department of the Ministry of Munitions. The remarks I am going to make do not apply to the Priority Department. From them I have always received every attention, courtesy, support, and the help that that Department has always given to private firms who are endeavouring to do national work. This is what the hon. Member for Merthyr wrote: In further reply to your letter of the 21st January, I am sorry to say that, having consulted the Ministry of Food with regard to this matter, it is not found possible to grant the release of the machine, for the Watford Manufacturing Company. That machine is still standing idle, although nobody else wants it, and it represents inefficient administration and constitutes a loss to the country. One naturally asks: Can these methods have been similarly adopted in the fixing of food prices? I do not say that the Food Controller is entirely to blame, because he has followed on the lines set up by his predecessor. I must, however, deal generally with one or two points of the food question before I come to my constructive points. I have dealt with the pig industry, and I think at such a time as this more effort should have been made to encourage the breeding of pigs in order to increase that kind of food. Take poultry. I sometimes wonder if the Ministers concerned realise the immense importance of the domestic hen as an article of food. We have been told on high authority that pigs and poultry are going to win the War, and that they are equally as important as shells. When we found ourselves running short of shells, the Prime Minister took the matter in hand and put it right, and somebody should have done the same tiling with regard to pigs and poultry, or else they should not have told the people that pigs and poultry are going to win the War. I think we should have had some more sympathetic method of encouraging the production of such food. No speech on the question of our food supplies would be complete without some reference to the disappearing rabbit. There were plenty of rabbits when the price was 4s. each. I am not justifying that price, but there were rabbits then, and the Food Controller comes along and fixes the price at Is. 9d., and, l0 and behold, there are no rabbits! We hear of some 4,000 or 5,000 rabbits being destroyed as unfit for human consumption. With regard to onions, good housewives tell me that they were quite plentiful until the price was fixed at 3d. per pound, and then came the shortage. Again we had the fixing of the prices for cattle food, followed by the price fixed at which cattle must be sold. The figures bear no proper connection one with another. In referring to these points I suggest that the method of handling our home-food supplies has been wrong from its inception, and you cannot hope in this way to control successfully the natural law of supply and demand.

Without going into the details of distribution, it seems to me that the cart has been put before the horse. The distribution of the food was first dealt with, and then the price at which the retailers could sell was fixed, while no sufficient efforts were made to see that the retailers had something to sell to the people which they wanted. What I want to put into the constructive part of my speech, first, is that all this time, when things are short, the people are quite willing to go short and are ready to make every possible sacrifice. In this respect I can answer for the working classes of my Constituency. I have been amongst them, and I am going amongst them next week. I shall hear these points raised again. The people only want to be assured by someone representing the Government that they will take the first opportunity of reassuring them on these points, because when people are going short they must know that there is some necessity for it. When they see on all hands this kind of neglect they are uneasy. I say, "Production, and more production, should have been the first thing, and everything should have been sacrificed to that." Production should be the one thing in the minds of Ministers, and they should leave supply and demand alone, for it will find its own level with proper methods of handling. Production first, then you have something to control. The result of your policy has been exaggerated prices.

I want to say a word or two about the rise in prices which is called profiteering. For quite a long time before compulsory rationing came in people had been asked and pleaded with, and talked to in order to get them to economise in their food. They were told to eat less and all this, that, and the other. The people responded honestly to the appeal, and the demand for food was less. I want to put this point to the House. The very fact that people responded to the appeal and reduced their consumption had an immediate effect upon the persons or firms supplying the goods in the consumption of which economies were exercised. I would ask the House to consider the position of a man producing a certain quantity of food- stuff who, at the end of a given week, suddenly finds that he can only get rid of 50 per cent. of the quantity that he has been accustomed to supply to the general public. Naturally, the Government not having provided for dealing with the surplus, next week he does not produce so much, but he has the same standing charges and his own cost of living is the same. The result is that the remainder that the man produces has to bear the charges of the whole that he used to produce, and the price is thereby artificially raised. It is not profiteering; it is a natural result. There is, therefore, a loss of production, and if the Government demand, as they have done, that people should try to return to their original output, probably they have got rid of most of their plant, and many of the men who were formerly excused military service on the ground that they were doing work of national importance have been taken. I want to suggest that even now it is possible to rectify some of these mistakes. I want to ask the Minister of National Service to take up this question in a broad-minded spirit and to deal with the allocation of these men who have been taken from food production, putting them back on the work to which they are accustomed. The immediate effect upon home production would be important, and, whatever other contradiction my arguments may bring forth from that Front Bench, I venture humbly to express the opinion that they must agree that the country that is going to win this War is the country which is going to produce the most per head of population. Get back those men who are skilled in the production of food of all kinds, and if in the meantime their plant has become derelict—well, I think the question is of sufficient national importance to justify the nation putting that plant again into working order and re-establishing those men in the positions they occupied before the War. The man in the street is uneasy about these points, and I want to help to satisfy him. I want to help to assure him that really the best has been done and will be done.

I want to submit one or two points for the kindly consideration of the hon. Gentleman who represents the Food Controller. There are three important factors, which, if they had been considered earlier and at the right time, would have obviated interference with the laws of supply and demand and would have helped very much the food question. I will ask him to think over these three points. He has thought over the first, but I mention it because I want to apply it in connection with my second point. First, there is the hoarder; secondly, the profiteer; and thirdly, the guarantee of supplies in congested districts, particularly among the poor. The hoarder, possibly, very often started by being a householder who took on a duty which the Government ought to have done by treasuring such stock as he could. Undoubtedly hoarding has been a very serious menace to the country and you have dealt with it. I want to suggest that you should deal with the profiteer in a similar manner. Profiteering seriously exists in our midst to-day. The profiteer could be dealt with in this way: Let the Ministry of Food engage—they could dispense with some of their deputy food controllers in order to do it—accountants and let them have the right to enter any business, small or great, and arrive at the actual net cost of the article supplied in all its stages, allowing each dealer his standing charges and his fair profit. Prices then will very rapidly go down. The mere fact that you intend doing such a thing will immediately have effect.

You have your registers, you know where the supplies come from, and you know the firms that supply the people. I submit that the work in the congested districts could be done by a number of inspectors, large-minded men with a knowledge of the people and their hardships, who would be selected because of their well-known knowledge of the conditions of labour. Their duty would be to sort out cases of hardship between the retailer and the customer and to find out if supplies were being diverted to more well-to-do districts. I feel sure that some such organisation in the early stages would have saved the situation, and it might even save it now as regards other commodities not already affected. The uncertainty and unrest among the people is due entirely to the view that they take of the present position of affairs, and to the fact that they consider home production has not been stimulated in the manner that it should have been but has been even checked.

When we who represent purely industrial constituencies go to Ministries we are told to tell our people, "Remember we are at war." These people know as well as any Minister on the Front Bench that we are at war. They are feeling the pinch of it. They want to be perfectly satisfied that the fact that we are at war is no excuse for inefficiency. They ask through their Members in this House that at this time we shall have the highest efficiency. So that the answer that we are at war at such a time is not one likely to satisfy people or settle their unrest. I regret exceedingly that I cannot move the Amendment standing in my name, because I should have liked very much to have had the opinion of the House on these questions. I trust that the right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench will realise that I have endeavoured to put what I have to say clearly, directly, and in a matter-of-fact manner, and that I have not been trying to make carping criticisms, but rather endeavouring to put to them the fact, which certainly exists, that the people are uneasy, that there is uncertainty and unrest, and that it is due to these causes, and that when we get hold of concrete cases, such as I am sorry to have had to describe to-night, which I tried to avoid bringing up here by taking them direct to the Minister, I ask them to realise that I have endeavoured to be of service. I trust they will give me credit for endeavouring to be constructive in any criticism I have made.

The MINISTER of NATIONAL SERVICE (Sir Auckland Geddes)

In the first place, I should like to acknowledge the spirit in which the hon. and gallant Gentleman for North-East Derbyshire (Major Bowden) has approached this subject. I quite understand that there is a very great deal of doubt in the minds of the public, due to the way in which many of these questions have been handled. It is extremely difficult for anyone who has not all the facts before him to understand sometimes why certain action is taken by any Government Department. There are many considerations which should be kept in view by a Department such as mine. I know it is no answer to any criticism to say, "We are at war," but nevertheless it is a fact, and the disposal of our available resources in man-power is quite one of the most difficult that any Department could have to face, more especially as no single Department is entirely responsible for the whole machinery. It was considered wise by this House that in connection with compulsory military service there should be established throughout the country a system of tribunals which would be independent of the recruiting authority, and which, through their know- ledge of local circumstances, would be able to judge whether it was right and proper that a man should serve has country in the Army or in civil life The first case which the hon. and gallant Member produced concerned a man of the name of Hinchcliffe. I had no knowledge that that case was going to be raised to-night, therefore I have not got any papers directly affecting it with me, but I have a very clear recollection of that case in my mind. It was a case which embodied a general principle. The general principle which had to be settled in that case really was this: Was a change-over of occupation from a non-essential to an essential industry during a period of temporary exemption to allow a man to escape altogether from military service? It is quite clear that every man who had a temporary exemption was interested in the reply which would be given to that general principle. If every man who had a temporary exemption could transfer into an essential industry, and thereafter be exempted, it is quite obvious that at a comparatively early date we would have all the older men, all the unfit men, crowded out of the essential industries, because younger men who were fit and who ought to go to serve, would be crowding into them, and, because they wanted to secure places there, would be willing to accept lower rates of profit. I believe that this man Hinchcliffe was producing pigs. His case was considered by the local tribunal, by the Appeal Tribunal, and, if my memory serves me rightly, by the Executive of the War Agricultural Emergency Committee, and it was also referred to the Food Production Department. After full consideration of all the facts concerning the case, and full consideration was given to the publicity which the case had already obtained it was decided that it was right and proper, in the greater interests of the country, that this man should serve. The hon. and gallant Member raised the point that he was told by the Ministry that this man was boasting that by changing from a non-essential to an essential industry he was securing exemption. That was a material fact of the case. It was advertising the fact that there was, if this man were left in civil life, a means of escape from military service.


He did not escape.


He did not escape, but that it was published he was going to escape there can be no doubt. It was suggested that the Department had acted upon some anonymous letter. I can only say that such a suggestion must be made without knowing the care with which this case and all other cases raised by Members of this House, or, in fact, raised by any responsible person, arc investigated. They are investigated locally by people who have no special interest in sending the man into the Army, and who have no special interest in keeping him in civil life. The greatest care is taken that once a case has attained a. certain amount of publicity, and once a case is clearly recognised as embodying a national principle, then the decision has to be taken along the lines of principle and along the lines which will best serves the interests of the country on a broad view. The hon. and gallant Member suggested that we should take a broad view. That is what we are trying to do all the time. We are trying to take a view covering not only food production, for, after all, supposing we produced all the food that the whole of the population would require and we required to import no food, if by doing that we had failed to maintain our Army and maintain our Air Forces and to maintain the Navy, we could not hope to win the War. It is absolutely necessary to maintain a balance between the different activities. There must be some balance in order that we may succeed in this War. To reach that balance is the constant effort of the Department. No one activity of the country is sufficient by itself tow in the War. Every effort that the nation is making, be it an effort on land, in the Army, an effort in the air, an effort at sea, an effort in food production, an effort in timber felling, or an effort in whatever direction it may be, are all essential parts of the whole. I venture to suggest that to take out one single activity and to say that is a thing which is to be principally and apparently our only concern is to overlook the complexity of the whole position.

9.0 P.M.

We have done an enormous amount to help on agriculture. We have, as a matter of fact, as is well within the knowledge of the House, increased production enormously. The hon. and gallant Member suggested in connection with production that it was being checked back by the prices which were being fixed by the Food Controller. I cannot do better than to quote the exact words of the President of the Board of Agriculture. They are comparatively few, but they cover the very point and they are from the lips of the man who is primarily concerned— The producer in this country has got a price for wheat, barley, and oats which offers him a reasonable profit, and he has a price now for beef which similarly offers him a reasonable profit. He has got a price for potatoes. I hope it will satisfy him and that we shall have even a bigger crop than we had last year. He has also got a, price for milk which, within certain limitations, satisfies him. If corn, meat, milk, and potatoes are fixed on fairly reasonable terms right away to the end of this year, the attack which has been made on the Food Controller is a little late in the day. That, I think, is right and fair in view of the increased production which is going on. Not only so, but the hon. and gallant Gentleman said the fixing of the prices had the effect of clearing supplies off the market. We all know that the rabbit disappeared when the price was fixed. The price had risen to a level at which the rabbit was becoming a great luxury, and it had to be brought back to earth, if I may say so. For a time the rabbit went, but he is now reappearing. That was inevitable in view of the way the prices ran up, but in the end the thing rights itself. No one wishes to say that no mistakes have been made in such an untried and uncharted field as we have been working in, but, broadly speaking, the results from the point of view of the consumer are not unsatisfactory. From the point of view of the producer and of labour, in taking the general view that I have spoken of, we have provided a great deal of labour for the holdings, which are producing food on a great scale. We have protected food production to a very high degree from Army requirements of recent months. It is true that there are at intervals a certain number of men released from agriculture by the Army Executive because they are surplus to requirements. Men returning from overseas are going back to agriculture and boys growing up are going into agriculture, and there is a greater and greater supply of women of an increasing degree of competence available in agriculture. German prisoners are doing greater and greater service to this country by their work in connection with food production and are becoming of more and more use, and in addition to that we have got a great chain of arrangements which provide for the emergencies of agriculture and for special seasonal requirements. I think if the whole field is investigated it will be found that the balance has been not unreasonably maintained between the needs of the country in food production, in ship production, in the Air Force, in the Army, or whatever it may be. One knows that any number of mistakes arc made in detail. It could not be otherwise with big untrained staffs at work. They are learning their business as they go on, and they would be superhuman if they did not make errors. But those errors are much less frequent than they were. We have now a much better appreciation of the broad lines of policy and the balance which is required to be maintained between the various needs of the country. I could give a large number of cases which have come to my knowledge within the last few days where mistakes have been made, where policy has not been followed, but we are never too proud to put those cases right. We reverse procedure whenever we realise that a mistake has been made.

There is the further point that this man, to whom the hon. and gallant Gentleman referred as having been taken for the Army, was engaged as a waiter in the sergeants' mess. It is always in the sergeants' mess or the officers' mess, or the cookhouse, that these men who pass into the Army are serving at the time they write to their Members— [Interruption]—nearly always. There are certain men who go on fatigue work for a day, and during that day describe what they are doing. It is always assumed that once a man is on that sort of work he stays there permanently, but that is not the case. It is true that the Army has a body of men engaged on housemaid's duties. They help the Army in that way by freeing the men who are under training for drafts for overseas from the waste of time they would otherwise experience in fatigues—carrying coal, cleaning up, and so forth. That body of men exists, but for a man to be in the housemaids' corps is quite a different thing from being employed in the ordinary routine of fatigue. The hon. and gallant Gentleman knows as well as I do that men who are fighting soldiers in every sense have fatigues to perform, and they may write a letter on any day when they are performing fatigues and say, "I have spent the day picking up paper." It may be misleading, I understand, to revert to the case raised by the hon. and gallant Gentleman, that this man Hinchcliffe was fit for general service, and, therefore, I will only assume that he was not engaged in the sergeants' mess, but was taking a turn of fatigue.


The right hon. Gentleman must not let an injustice be fixed upon me. I was pointing out that this man was in December producing two tons of food a week, and is now in the sergeants' mess. He has written to me during the last four weeks weekly, and he is still in that mess and has been the whole time. It does not matter about being in the sergeants' mesa, but it is the comparison between what he was doing when he was taken and what he is doing now.


The question is what the man is doing now. It may be that my information that he is fit for general service is incorrect, unless he is temporarily unfit for general service and that training has been suspended, and that he is doing a certain amount of permanent fatigue, pending the time he is fit for service again. I do wish to make this point in regard to this and other cases, that the Army is a complicated machine, and it is almost impossible to assess the value of any man's work in the Army on any single or short series of statements about what he is doing. We have had very long experience. We have had case after case put up from all over the country of men improperly employed in the Army. I admit that I could recite a very large number of cases where their employment did seem to me to be somewhat unfortunate in relation to their value in civil life; but, in justice to the military authorities, I must add this, that in the vast majority of cases put up there was a perfectly reasonable and satisfactory explanation why the man was employed in that particular position. I am sorry that in this particular instance I cannot go into details. I did not know the case was coining on, and I have not had the opportunity of acquainting myself with the details of the case. I quite understand that the case was used as an illustration, but to make a complete illustration and to make an absolutely fair illustration it would be necessary to possess all the facts, so that we might discuss the case aright. Unfortunately, we have not got all the facts for the purpose of this Debate. I understand the hon. and gallant Gentleman's major point to be that we are not taking sufficient care to look around the cases with which we deal—that we are not looking at them from every point of view. My reply is that we are, perhaps in a better position to see every point than anyone who is not actually in such a position as I have the honour to be, and it is only when the big general principles which are being affected by individual cases can be seen and appreciated that one really can get down to what is, perhaps, a perfectly rational explanation of what may seem to be a stupid course of proceeding. That is the position in the case of this man, who, so far as his district was concerned, so far as his exemption from military service was concerned, was not a food producer in any sense whatever. That was a secondary line.


My right hon. friend has referred to the broad lines of criticism in such a way that he challenges me to ask him for some information as to one particular class of case which must have come under his notice. I know that my right hon. Friend deals with all trades and professions; as he says, on the lines of broad principle, and seeks to preserve a proper balance of activities, so that in the main what a man can do best that he is put to do. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has a representative of the Treasury by his side and also his Under-Secretary. I wish to draw his attention to the use that is being made of men belonging to the profession of chartered accountants. It has come to my notice in certain work at the Ministry of Munitions that men belonging to that profession are very much in demand there, and, as my right hon. Friend has told me himself, they are very much in demand elsewhere. Various Cabinet Ministers are calling out for their assistance. I know my right hon. Friend is quite willing, on cause shown, to reverse the procedure, and he has told us that he is employing in various ways men who are really learning their work as they go on. The men I am talking about are men who have already learned their work, in most cases having spent ten or fifteen years in the process. At the present time it is a matter of common knowledge that very large sums of money are either being lost or are being placed in danger of being lost simply because the only class of skilled men in the country who can possibly check them properly are so small in number, or are otherwise engaged in the Army, that they are not available for what is their proper professional work. For evidence of that one has to look no further than the recent Report of the Select Committee on National Economy. I do not wish to discuss that Report at length. In many ways I think it is a good Report, in other ways I think it is an amateur document; but it does lay stress on the fact that the services of men of this kind are the greatest possible value to the Ministry of Munitions at the present time.

It is not for me or any private Member to say whether, perhaps, 50 or 150 men belonging to this profession who are at present in the Army should be brought to the Ministry of Munitions. That is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend, but I put this to my right hon. Friend and to the Government that they cannot have this matter both ways. If they attach great importance to the services of these men in the Army, then by all means keep them there: they are quite willing to stay in the Army, though many of them know they could do better work elsewhere. If, on the other hand, the Government thinks that it is of real importance to the country to save tens of millions of money that are at stake in the Ministry of Munitions and elsewhere, then it is the business of the Government to release these men without any delay so that that money may be saved. It is a question whether you attach more importance to the military value of these men than you do to their services in saving money in the Ministry of Munitions and elsewhere. My right hon. Friend has told me that he attaches a good deal of importance to saving money and is anxious to use these men as well as he can, but my experience is that often, when one brings a concrete case to the Government, it is extremely difficult to get anything done. In a small number of cases my right hon. Friend has moved successfully, and I know he is anxious to do what he can, but I think it would be well if at this stage he or his Under-Secretary would say whether they are in earnest, whether the Government is in earnest, in releasing these men in order that vast sums of money may be saved, or whether they attach more importance to keeping them in the Army. I do not pretend to dictate to the Government, but it is extremely inconvenient that the present indecision in the matter should be allowed to remain in evidence any longer, and I would appreciate it if the Government would make some statement on the point.


Seeing that the Minister of National Service is here and that we do-not have an opportunity of his presence so often, I would like to put a few questions to him as to the success or otherwise of several schemes which are under his jurisdiction and which have a material influence on the success or otherwise of our national undertakings at the moment. A few weeks ago we were told that an effort was going to be made to release men from the Colours for the purpose of sending them back to the shipbuilding yards. One endeavoured at the time to discover the process by which these men should be secured, and we were informed that the Minister of National Service was taking what he considered the best means to recover those men from the Colours. I do not know how many were required but we may assume that the number was considerable, and that the more that could be obtained the better progress would be made in the shipyards. I would like to know from the Minister of National Service or from the Parliamentary Secretary how many of those men have been recovered from the Army. There are two Departments which deal with the question of release from the Colours, and it is not always easy to know which of those Departments is, in the last resort, responsible for such release. But I do know that a number of men in the Army who have the qualifications for technical work in our shipyards are still in ignorance as to the methods by which they can get out of the Army for work on national undertakings.

Men in the ranks in the Army to-day, for instance, write and say that they have-seen no notices anywhere at the front, or between the base and the front, as to how they are to make an effort if they have the qualifications to get out of the Army. This has been done in a haphazard fashion ever since recruiting began. I remember that a number of us took part in a campaign over two years ago to try to recover men from the Army for munitions, and the conflict that there was between the officer to retain his men and the national Department which wanted the men. I will be glad, therefore, if my right hon. Friend will inform the House how far the methods which he has taken to secure those men from the Colours have been successful, and how-many of those men have been recovered for the purpose I have mentioned. Then I should like him to give some indication as to the operation and success of the new bureaux which he has set up for finding employment for men when they are discharged from service. I understood him to say a considerable time ago that, in addition to the ordinary labour bureaux at present available for the man who wants occupation, there were, under the National Service scheme, regional bureaux to be set up in what he called regions to bring the men into direct contract with some occupation, and, if I remember rightly, on one occasion, the Minister for National Service said that there were as many as ninety vacancies on a particular day which could be filled by discharged men if they were there. I would ask how far these bureaux have been meeting the new need, and whether he can tell us how long the schemes which he is setting up have been in operation, are they properly equipped, and what number of men are taking Advantage of them?

Then I should like him to make a rather clearer statement than has yet been made with regard to work of national importance, in which under his Department, discharged men are required now to engage, if they are to escape further re-examination for the purposes of the Army? My right hon. Friend will remember that he first of all issued a series of occupations, and that he immediately added to that, on representations being made to him, another occupation, namely, the whole of the teaching profession in our elementary schools and our universities, but that since then a statement has been made by one of his officers, in a letter to myself, which is rather interesting and important, and has not yet been made public, to the effect that, in addition to the occupations set out in the original Schedule of national importance the occupations in Pamphlet It 136 are now to be regarded as work of national importance. There are about twenty-eight or thirty-eight pages of occupations in R 136, and they embrace all occupations for which exemption can be claimed before tribunals. I would like my right hon. Friend to inform us, so that the outside public, and particularly the men concerned, may know whether what has been asked for has been granted by the additions to the Schedule of Occupations in R 136. There are many other questions which could be asked in reference to the National Service Depart- ment, but we shall have another opportunity when the Vote comes up, and, for the present, I shall be glad if my right hon. Friend will answer those three questions, which, I think, are extremely important at the moment.


I desire on one point to supplement the observations of my hon. Friend. That is in reference to the supply of men for the shipbuilding yards. The promise was made in this House, I do not know whether by the Under-Secretary or by whom, but the promise was made, that within a very short time 20,000 men would be sent down to the shipbuilding yards by the National Service Department, in order to supplement the men who are working in these yards at present. The time for the arrival of these 20,000 men has now passed, and we have been told recently, in answer to a question in this House, that of those 20,000 men fewer than 2,000 have arrived. Why is the fulfilment so far away from the promise, and when is the promise to be redeemed in full? In order to show how the various Departments of the Government work inefficiently, we had this premise of 20,000 men who were to arrive in my part of the country and we had to engage housing accommodation for that number of men, the accommodation having been commandeered by the Admiralty. Many houses were taken, and Glasgow clubs have been perturbed by the threat of commandeering their premises for the housing of these men. I assume that rent is being paid for the houses which have been taken, yet the men have not arrived, though their presence is very much desired to increase the output of shipbuilding in those places where that industry is carried on.


With the permission of the House, I will endeavour to answer the questions which have been put to me. In regard to the release of men, which covers the majority of the points that have been raised, the procedure I think is quite clear. Where there is any work of national importance that requires more men the Ministry of National Service, as rapidly as possible, obtains the necessary information as to the number required, and application is made to the Army to fill up the vacancies. The Army authorities have to deal with that. In dealing with men overseas under the procedure we have to consult the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief in the theatre of war. It takes a considerable period before you can get a reply from overseas. As you can readily imagine, the problem has to be considered in relation to the strength of the units at the time throughout the whole mass of the Army, and the procedure is such as to inevitably involve a certain amount of delay.


In the case of men who apply to you?


If the man is known and he applies, and if he is known to be of a certain class of tradesman, whatever it may be, then the information is received from overseas. I was with the Army in France on one occasion, and it was my duty to carry out the procedure of releasing men. The method adopted is to circulate the requirements of the National Service through the various units, and the requirements are read out to all the men. That is the general outline of the procedure adopted. My hon. Friend (Mr. Hogge) said that he knew from information he had received from soldiers in the Army that a man who was on his way from the front did not know how to apply. That is quite right; but the reason is that men from overseas have not yet received the information for the simple reason that the Home forces are being dealt with first. It sounds easy to suggest that the whole thing should be dealt with together. There is no difficulty in doing it from the point of view of the Army, but there is very great difficulty from the point of view of the shipyards. At the present time, we have got more men standing by and waiting for employment in the shipyards than can be employed because special classes of men are necessary in order to carry forward the work to a certain stage. The whole subject is to come up for discussion to-morrow, but, as I have stated, we have at the present time some hundreds of men standing by without any possibility of useful employment, except as labourers in shipyards, simply because certain classes of workers are not there yet to carry the work further. At the present time there is a shortage of certain skilled men all over the country, in civil life as in military life. There are training schools where men are trained for different classes of work, but it is not possible to get 20,000 men into the shipyards all at once, owing to the necessity of organising the work gradually so that the whole of the men can go into the yards and be usefully employed. I did not know that this question was going to be raised, and I am not in possession of the figures as to the numbers of men who have been obtained from different sources, but this subject is to come up again, and I hope that what I have said will satisfy the hon. Member who raised the question.

A specific question was raised about the release of men who are skilled accountants. A number of these men are at the present moment refused release by the Army authorities on the ground that an accurate knowledge of figures is required in those who are to be substituted. There is undoubtedly an overplus of skill in the men who are now doing this accountant work, but I admit that very real skill is required for the work that is being done. In certain cases release was refused by the War Office on the ground that they could not let these men go. As a matter of fact, the work of one of the skilled accountants was of no very important character, and his skill was greater than was actually required for the work he was doing. But in dealing with this matter you have to remember that the authorities of the Army are nervous at a time such as this, when great events are impending, and they do not want to part with men who are trained and expert in their various departments of Army work. That is the real difficulty that lies at the back of three-quarters of this question of the release of men. I am afraid I did not quite follow what the hon. Member for East Edinburgh said about the bureaux he has described. These bureaux are working extremely satisfactorily. They have only been established six or seven weeks, and they have done very good work. They are staffed by expert officials. With regard to work of national importance for discharged men, that comes under certified occupations, and it was always contemplated that in the group of occupations concessions would be made. We have tried to concentrate a stream of these men on to work of perhaps even greater importance than certified occupations. It was a Departmental instruction that individual cases were to be considered.


Why did you not tell the men?


The reason is obvious. There are certain industries which are calling for men and others which are not, and it is better to put the industries which are calling for men in the lime- light, and that is the reason for the greater publicity. I think I have covered the points raised. Even if everything is really settled, you cannot suddenly put a number of highly-skilled men from the Array into highly-skilled occupations. It takes some time to do so.


It was not my intention to have intervened in this Debate, but as the Minister of National Service is here I should like to ask him two questions. One is whether his Ministry has any authority or is in any way connected with the direction of the work carried out by enemy aliens and German prisoners which is considered to be work of national importance? I would ask him to take this opportunity, if his Department is so interested, to make a statement as to the type of work they are carrying out, the pay which they are receiving, and how it compares, if possible, with the pay which our men who are prisoners in Germany receive—for example, for working in the Westphalian mines—and whether it is the intention of the Government to treat German prisoners in this country in a similar manner to that to which our men are being subjected? I would also ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he will contradict rumours which are prevalent as to certain favouritism which is being given to certain individuals with a view to their employment on National Service for the purpose of keeping them out of the Army. It is most unfortunate if such rumours should go uncontradicted. I would like to ask him whether on any occasion since his appointment he has communicated, either directly or indirectly, with any other Government Department specially recommending, personally recommending, the services of any individual for that Department, more particularly in a case where the individual so recommended is of military age and would otherwise be conscripted into the Army, and in due course presumably take his place in the trenches?

I had occasion a few days ago to put down a question to the Minister of National Service as to a certain Mr. Solomon Monossche, who had been recommended for employment to a Department and whose services had been rejected, in consequence of which the Minister of National Service, so I am credibly informed, asked for a return of all the employés of that Department, and struck several men's names off the list as not being suitable for this work, and eventually I understand those men were called up under the Military Service Acts. I am informed that Mr. Solomon Monossche is of military age and of a comparatively useful medical catagory, and despite the fact that he is now on work of such a nature and of such national importance that it required the special recommendation of the Minister himself to secure his detention in this country as a linguist, it has taken over three and a half years before his peculiar abilities were made known or before anyone has attempted to place them at the service of the country. I would like the Minister, in reply, to tell me whether there is any truth in the statement that when this recommendation was made the gentleman in question had not even passed any examination as a linguist, and that all his abilities had been accepted at his own valuation, and that this recommendation had been sent through to M.I. 6 that he should be employed? Perhaps the Minister would tell us something more about this gentleman and whether he is still employed at M.I. 6 or any other Government Department in a more or less civilian capacity. I think it would be impossible to overstate the case for impartiality in such a position as that which the Minister of National Service holds. He has the power of placing a man either in the trenches or in a comparatively soft job in England or behind the lines. I would appeal to him to deal in a most impartial way with all cases and not to personally interest himself in the case of any man, no matter how he may be assured of his personal fitness for any Department, and to leave it to those under him to make those decisions, so that he himself may be able at all times to say with truth that, so far as the personal employment is concerned of any man on work of national importance, whether it be in the Army or munitions or in a soft job at home, that he has never taken any personal interest whatsoever. That, I am sure, would relieve a very great deal of anxiety in the minds of many men who feel that a certain amount of influence has been brought to bear in effecting the appointments of many people in this country having special reference to the Military Service Acts. I received a reply to that question by a representative of the Ministry of National Service in this House, that the peculiar abilities of this man justified this action, but I did not receive any reply to the most important part of the question, as to whether the Minister of National Service had personally interested himself in this case, and had actually written personally to M.I.6, and recommended this appointment. I do trust, if there is any explanation that the Minister has to give, he will clear that matter up now, purely on a point of principle, because, if what occurs in one case becomes known to Members of this House, one can only assume there are many cases which never see the cleansing light of day.

Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.


May I ask, is it not the intention of the Minister of National Service to answer that simple question?


Order, order.

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