§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
A convenient opportunity is provided for the Government making some statement before the House finally disperses on the arrangements which are being completed, I understand, at the Ministry of Shipping and the Admiralty for the provision of tonnage, for demobilisation, and for the supplies of food and raw material for ourselves and Allies which are now urgently necessary. But before proceeding to ask some questions on this subject, which will, I hope, elicit a full statement from the representative of the Government, I should like to draw attention to the shipbuilding position as it has been disclosed by recent figures, and the fact that the necessity for keeping our shipbuilding up to the maximum has become no less pressing by the return of peace. Accordingly, the figures given by the Admiralty, our Mercantile Marine has gone down during the whole period of the War by a net sum of three and a half millions gross; that is to say, of the British steamships which have been lost by marine and War risks during the four and a quarter years of the War—some 2915 9,000,000 tons—about five and a half millions, or rather under that, have been replaced by purchase, by capture from the enemy, and by the shipbuilding yards of this country; and the big deficit of three and a half million tons provides us with as grave a problem as was ever faced by a Government or by the Government Departments which are specially charged with the duty of keeping up our supplies. We have grown so much accustomed to large figures in the loss of tonnage during the last four years that there has been a tendency to regard even this net deficit of three and a half millions as a matter of little moment. Very large numbers of people in the country are quite ignorant of the fact that there is a great difference between gross tonnage and average tonnage; and even, after all our shipbuilding discussions they do not realise that 3,500,000 loss of tonnage means, if you take an average of four voyages a year, that the carrying capacity of our Mercantile Marine will have been reduced by something like 20,000,00 dead-weight tons in the course of a single year, and will affect every commercial and social problem by which we shall be faced during the period of demobilisation.
It is not only a question of bringing supplies to this country, such as were referred to by an hon. Member opposite at Question Time to-day, when he asked about the tonnage available for the carriage of feeding-stuffs from the Argentine, but it means that our total food supplies will be diminished; and until this tonnage shortage is made up, our raw-materials, metals, textiles, and timber, all of them urgently necessary, will fall far short of the requirements of industry and of those who will be engaged in industry. Twenty million tons deficit below the available carrying capacity of the United Kingdom merchant fleet before the War also means that there must be retained in our various essential and home trades a very large number of vessels which would in normal times be engaged on employment in foreign trade carrying between this country and foreign countries, and to an even greater extent by retaining them from trades which are between foreign countries and our own. The effect of that, not only on the interests concerned—because, after all, that is a minor matter—but on the financial strength of this country, and particularly on its 2916 financial position in relation to the rest of the world, naturally cannot be overlooked by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, because he must be as well aware as anyone in the world of the very large part played by foreign trade in stabilising our exchanges and providing us with those visible exports without which our exchanges are apt to remain at a discount. The necessity, therefore, is one not only for our industries here and for those who are employed in them, but also for the varied interests, national as well as personal and collective, which centre around the restoration of our foreign exchange.
One reason why the deficit is so large is undoubtedly due to the fact that our shipbuilding expectations for the year 1918 have not been fulfilled. I regret there is no representative here of the Controller-General of Merchant Shipbuilding, but no doubt my hon. Friend opposite (Sir L. Chiozza Money) will be good enough to give the House some explanation of the fact that whereas in an Admiralty Memorandum of last February or March the Admiralty contemplated an output this year of 1,800,000 tons, ultimately rising to 3,000,000 tons, the actual output, as a matter of fact, has been nothing like that, and it is doubtful whether we shall exceed 1,500,000 tons for the whole year. When I asked recently the representative of the Admiralty if the Government still aimed at obtaining the higher figure, I received a not over-emphatic reply. I hope the hon. Gentleman will be able to tell the House to-day that, although the War is over and peace is being obtained, it is still the ambition of those in control of merchant shipbuilding to raise the output to the maximum figures promised by the Admiralty. We have recently been disturbed at the falling off in the output promised, because in the months that have passed it has become apparent that nothing like the improvement anticipated has been achieved. In the month of October there appeared to have been a great fall as compared with the output in the month of March when the discussions were at their height in the House of Commons. No doubt, in the month of March, there were completed a number of large vessels which had been for a long time on the stocks, and they raised the total figures, but in the month of October the total output was only 136,000 tons. I hope November is going to show a great improvement, but the 2917 amount for the whole year will apparently be little, if any, in excess of the 1,500,000.
It is not my business this afternoon to allocate any blame for this failure to reach the high figures which were promised to the House when the subject was under discussion in the spring. I am certain it is not due to any defect on the part of Lord Pirrie, who has achieved what many people thought an impossible task in securing harmony between the shipbuilders of the country and himself and the Department over which he presides—a harmony well nigh perfect. There has been every effort made on their part to comply with his wishes, and he has adopted every possible means to secure the largest possible output from the first. But it is doubtful whether he has received the same amount of assistance from some other Departments; and I venture to suggest that the failure to give Lord Pirrie the amount of labour which he was promised last spring, which again and again has been mentioned in the House, is solely responsible for the big drop in the output. In the spring the Admiralty made a promise in the House of Commons that 20,000 men would be immediately released from the Colours-skilled men—to enter the shipyards. As a matter of fact, up to date, the number of men released is very little more than 15,500; and at the same time as those 15,500 men have been released the Ministry of National Service has actually been recruiting from the shipyard staff. One would scarcely have believed that to be possible if one did not know it as a matter of actual fact. I have had letter after letter from shipbuilding firms on the North-East Coast of England pointing out that at the very time they were crying for more labour men are actually being taken way from them, and only a fortnight ago I received a letter from the chairman of one of the shipbuilding yards in the North pointing out that some of his fitters had that very day been called up for service. This has been an obvious breach of the undertaking given last spring. It has made it impossible for Lord Pirrie to staff the yards which were at work and to reach the very large figures which he had undoubtedly anticipated when he took the work on.
But that is not the whole of the labour demand which was made by his Department. It was announced in the House on behalf of Lord Pirrie that the extensions 2918 which he had planned with great energy-would require at least 75,000 men more than were at that time employed in the shipbuilding industry. Of these 75,000 men, which I presume included the 20,000 indicated in the spring, only 15,500 have been forthcoming, and there must be a further reduction from that figure in respect of those who have been simultaneously recruited. This is the sole explanation of the failure to reach the largo figures which everybody at that time anticipated could be achieved. There has been material on the spot. In many yards there are stacks of material now lying alongside the ways which cannot be erected, and some keels cannot be laid until the berths are ready, simply because of the absence of labour. Not only has Lord Pirrie had to meet difficulty in getting necessary labour when it might have been forthcoming, but he has been handicapped by the lack of housing accommodation. In nearly all shipbuilding centres the accommodation for shipbuilders and engineers has been so short that in a great many districts temporary buildings have been put up from time to time. I believe an announcement was made in the House in connection with Lord Pirrie's programme that not only would the necessary labour be provided but that housing sufficient for the men would also be provided by the various Departments to enable the whole of the men who were to be used in these shipyards to be comfortably and expeditiously housed, and by that means in these crowded districts the yards would be extended without undue hardship being placed on the shipyard workers. Indeed, at the very time they were extending the yards it was hoped the accommodation would be so attractive that the workers would regard any change in shipyard life not only with equanimity but with pleasure. The action of the Controller-General has been gravely handicapped, He sent round communications to the shipyards, I think some six weeks or a month ago, to say that whereas in the priority list which had been in force until about that date accommodation for shipyard workers was high up in the list—I am not sure it was not first—it had been altogether taken out of the priority list by the Priorities Committee of the Cabinet. The result was in those districts where there was a shortage of houses, even if he could have provided the necessary number of men, he would have been able to give them shelter. I need hardly say that that places all the shipyards 2919 and the Controller-General at a very-great disadvantage. I cannot believe that the Priorities Committee of the Cabinet could have realised in the autumn, as they realised in the spring, the urgency of pressing on with the shipyard work, or they had scarcely removed housing for shipyard workers from their priority list. Perhaps my hon. Friend will be able to tell us, now that the War is over, that housing for shipyard workers will be regarded as of the first necessity, will be restored to the priority list, and placed at the head of that list, where it was until, I believe, the summer holidays.
The country, I think, is entitled to know what is now the policy of the Government in regard to the various types of vessels which are to be constructed. In the first place, I should like to ask whether it is intended to go on with the building of any more standard vessels? From such newspaper paragraphs as have come under my view, I gather that standard vessels are not to be laid down except in such cases as are covered by the contracts already placed, and in such yards as are already provided with material. Are standard ships to come first on the normal shipbuilding programme? That is the first question I desire to ask. The second question is whether it is proposed to continue the construction of fabricated ships, whether at the national yard at Chepstow, or private yards elsewhere; thirdly, whether the concrete ships which were part of the shipbuilding programme are now to be regarded as unnecessary by the Shipbuilding Department, and if constructed at all are to be left to private enterprise? In regard to the ownership of these standard and fabricated vessels, it will be interesting to know what steps are being taken by the Ministry of Shipping to have them drafted into private trades. We were told the other day, in answer to a question, that so far the purchasing of standard vessels by shipowning companies had not gone as rapidly as might have been anticipated, and that only one vessel—as we understood the answer given in the House—out of—I presume—some hundreds, had so far been sold. Perhaps my hon. Friend will give us later information as to the number of standard vessels which have now passed over to private ownership.
The second point I want to ask is this: whether that vessel was actually sold by private bargain or whether she was sold 2920 by sealed tender? I need hardly point out to the representative of the Government that if these vessels are to be sold by private bargain it will be impossible to maintain a uniform price—absolutely impossible! The necessities of the shipowners and shipowning companies are different. Not only does their present need for tonnage vary according to the number of vessels which they have lost, but according to the various character in the trades in which they will be employed. A standard vessel, for instance, of about 8,000 tons dead-weight would be no good in a very large number of trades unless she had spent on her, beyond what is already provided in the present specification, some £11,000 or £12,000 to fit her for ordinary traffic—so far do these vessels vary from the standard of the ordinary cargo-carrying vessels. Furthermore, a good many of those vessels will have to be much altered, and a great many superfluities, which are not regarded as being of any use whatever by many private owners, will have to be taken out before they will be able to compete in normal times with the vessels built to private specification. It therefore follows that the varying needs of the shipowning companies, and the trades into which they must go, make the values of these vessels different in different cases. Furthermore, if they are to be sold by private bargain, I can assure the Government that they will find themselves laid open to the charge, justly or unjustly—I hope unjustly—that they are making private arrangements with certain owners which are better and more favourable than they made with others. There is only one way to get over that: either these vessels must be sold by public auction or from time to time sold under sealed tender. If that is done in both cases they will be able to get rid of any charge of favouritism, and they will arrive much more justly at the market price, and at how great or how little is the demand for this particular class of vessel. I hope the anticipation of many of those who know the vessels well may be belied, that it will be possible for the Government to get rid of these vessels on favourable terms, and to have them drafted into the regular trades as rapidly as possible.
As to the fabricated vessels, I feel sure the Government will have great difficulty in finding any private owner bold enough to undertake their ownership. For two reasons—one because of their design and specification, and the other because of the unpopularity which they have already 2921 achieved in seaports. I am not exaggerating when I say that the most unpopular vessel sailing at the present time, because of the unkindliness of their type, are the fabricated vessels. Anybody who has had anything to do with the engagement of crews knows that this is the case. All these have to be disposed of sooner or later. They have to be drafted into the trades which are controlled and used by those who know how to use them best. It will be interesting to know what steps have already been taken, and what steps are in contemplation, to draft them into the ownership of companies and buyers.
I should like to say a word or two on another side of the shipping problem which does not concern shipbuilding. The changes which have taken place during the last four years have placed us at a tremendous disadvantage in comparison with many neutral flags. America, as everybody knows, is building with great rapidity, and her ambition is to be possessed of the greatest mercantile fleet in the world. Her Ministers talk about it, not only as a war provision, but as a peace provision. Mr. Herlihy has been particularly frank in his speeches, interviews, and articles. He has declared that it is the ambition of the United States to use the great effort which is now being made both on the East and West coasts of America to provide her with the largest mercantile fleet in the world. No doubt if they go on at their present speed they will be successful in achieving this. There is only one means by which we shall be able to hold our own against the American flag—that is by constructing and running all our vessels more economically than can the Americans. Let me lake, first of all, the cost of construction. At the present moment, on the figures which pass through shipbuilders' hands—and I must make a careful distinction as to this, we in this country are apparently building vessels, in spite of high wages, at a far cheaper rate than they cost under the American scheme, far cheaper. But the House ought not to be deceived into imagining that this is true in fact. What actually is the case is this: that the Ministry of Munitions is making a subsidy to the steel trade which, as we have discovered by answers given in this House, amounts to about £47,000,00 per annum.
My hon. Friend asked a question the other day and I have no 2922 doubt he has the correct answer with him. That, then, is for the steel which goes to all sorts of Government purposes, and shipbuilding has been regarded as one of them. It will be interesting to know from the hon. Gentleman opposite how much of that £47,000,000 has actually been a subsidy to the shipbuilding of this country. Perhaps he can inform the House at what price per ton plates and angles have been accounted to the various shipyards. So far as I have been able to see the accounts it appears to me that they have been accounted to the various shipyards, not at the actual cost which the country and the shipyards have to provide them, but at an artificial figure, the difference being made up out of the allocation from this £47,000,000 subsidy which has just now been disclosed. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will let us know exactly how much of the £47,000,000 has gone as a subsidy in the building of these vessels. They were vessels built for Government account, and therefore I have no doubt on this, as on other occasions, he will say it is only a question of bookkeeping. But in the matter of bookkeeping of this vast importance we are entitled to press for an answer, for if the amount given in subsidies brings the total cost per ton of the vessel constructed in this country up to the same figure as the total cost in the United States it seems that we shall be placed, because of the smallness of our output, at a very grave disadvantage in comparison with the United States of America.
The other point I wish to make is this: Whether in the running of our vessels the Ministry of Shipping is contemplating any steps whereby they can get back to anything like the old economic level? Material, of course, is of the first necessity, for in all these vessels the cost of repairs plays a large part in their total expenditure. Insurance, which no doubt will remain higher than it was until the seas have been thoroughly swept, will, we hope, sooner or later return to its old normal level, and with London as the great insurance centre of the world will be restored. What, however, is of great importance to us to know is whether the Ministry of Shipping has entered into engagements which makes economies in these directions impossible or will delay them, for the sooner we reach the economic bases on which vessels were run before the War the better it will be not only for the shipbuilding industry as a whole, but for the people of this country who rely on cheap 2923 carriage for their sustenance and for their industries. In regard to wages I would make only one remark, and it is this: It is impossible and most undesirable that the scale of wages current before the War should be the scale of wages after the War is over. Merchant seamen deserve well of their country. They deserve well of their employers. It is hardly likely that the present tremendous high figures can be maintained now that the supply of labour is likely to be increased and the perils of the sea have been decreased. I need hardly say, however, that no one desires that they should go back to the old 1914 pre-war level. The Americans will have the advantage of a large number of new vessels, but the Scandinavians will have another and entirely different advantage. Both in Scandinavia and in Holland enormous reserves of capital have been accumulated. The shipping companies there have not been restricted to the scales of freights which from the beginning of the War have had a great effect upon the earnings of the shipping companies hero. It appears to be almost entirely forgotten that from the very first outbreak of the War at least one-third of British shipping has been subject to artificial rates, the Blue-book rates having affected one-third of the mercantile fleet under requisition by the Admiralty.
As time went on and the Admiralty control over merchant shipping was extended to the Board of Trade I think this occurred somewhere about the summer of 1915, and that was the first occasion on which the Board of Trade had actual control of the allocation or requisition of ships—there was a further limitation of freights. There came into force the limitation scheme affecting all Allied ports in France and Italy, there were limitations provided under the Requisitioning Foodstuffs Committee which was presided over by Mr. Deputy-Speaker and which conducted its operations until the Ministry of Shipping was set up. Artificial restrictions were also placed by various forms of control exercised by the Committee over which Sir Maurice Hill presided. All this went on up to the end of 1916 when the hon. Member for Toxteth, an undoubted authority with whom the Parliamentary Secretary has had many a tussle in argument, declared in the House quite truthfully that three-quarters of the British Mercantile Marine was at that moment under process of requisition, 2924 limitation, or control. There was also an adjustment of control of shipping between this country and the Allies by-Lord Curzon's Committee, and all those connected with that Committee were absorbed into the Ministry of Shipping except the chairman. Those who assisted the Admiralty Transport Department, as well as those on the Committees I have named have ever since been giving voluntary assistance to the Ministry of Shipping, without which it could not have existed.
When all these limitations were keeping within somewhat reasonable bounds the earnings of vessels subject to them, a number of vessels which were free from requisition were the only vessels in the open market, and they were able to make large profits of which the Chancellor of the Exchequer declares he took a share. During this time the Dutch, Danish, Swedish and Norwegian owners were accumulating gigantic funds. I have obtained some information with regard to the lines in Holland. I have not been able to ascertain the total increase in the Scandinavian trade, but I know that the capital of the more important Dutch shipping firms has increased during the War from 98,000,000 florins to 123,000,000 florins, and their reserve funds have increased from 28,000,000 florins to 148,000,000 florins. Their fleet of vessels, in spite of losses by mines and submarines, increased during that period, while their liabilities decreased at the same time, and their dividends have been the highest on record. However, the question of dividends is not what concerns me most at the present time, but what does concern me is the fact that these companies have accumulated gigantic funds. Even in this group of companies which I have mentioned and which does not cover the whole of the Dutch lines, the reserve funds have risen to 148,000,000 florins, and no doubt they have very large secret reserves not declared which they have carried forward in order to conduct competition with this country.
The available supplies of capital are so large in those countries that the Norwegian ship-owners have been prepared to place orders for ships in British shipyards at gigantic figures, and they are prepared to pay large sums on deposit. The Norwegian Excess Profits Duty does not apply to shipping capital which is reinvested in shipping, and the effect of their law has been to give a further acceleration to the placing of orders in British yards, and at 2925 one time in American yards, by those foreign companies which have such enormous funds at their disposal. The same is true of the Danish companies and, to a smaller extent, of the Swedish companies. It follows that our competitors for new tonnage from Scandinavia and Holland will be rich beyond the dreams of avarice. They will have liquid funds at their disposal, they have already laid their hands on many shipbuilding berths, they are prepared to enter into large engagements, and they have already purchased a considerable number of vessels from other flags.
I would like to ask whether we have entered into engagements as a Government with the Norwegian companies to sell them standard or fabricated vessels. It has been freely rumoured in some directions that already some conditional sales have taken place under some restrictions as to the routes on which the vessels are to be employed. Is it a fact that standard vessels have actually been sold, or conditionally sold, to foreign flags? If so, it will be interesting to know to what flags they have gone, and what class of vessel was disposed of. These disadvantages under which the British merchant service will be placed when the War is over extend to every trade. They apply not only to the big lines, where there will be a certain amount of competition, but even more to the smaller lines engaged on the near trades, and to the trades which are usually called the tramp trades. There are no more severe competitors anywhere in the world in the tramp trades than the Norwegian, the Swedish, the Danish, and the Dutch. I do not think it is realised by those who have not come into contact with the necessities of the case how far these lines are at present handicapped, and if, with all these disadvantages, we start off in times of peace depleted in our tonnage greatly affected by the quality of vessels which are retained, it will be almost impossible to restore to the British flag the very large fleet which it possessed before the War broke out. I cannot see how it will be possible for us to Improve its quality under many years of repairs and rebuilding, or how it will be possible to retain in the shipping industry the vast sums of capital which will be necessary for its expansion.
But while foreign competition has been aided by these great accumulations of wealth, there has been another tendency 2926 which has also affected adversely, especially the cargo companies flying the British flag. Everybody remembers the degree of unpopularity, which was actually fostered in this country, some time ago against those engaged in the shipping industry, and there never was any more anti-national movement than the effort which was made at that time to blacken the characters of those engaged in the shipping industry, who were held up to the public as the worst class of profiteers. Those who indulged in this campaign in the past have now entirely altered their views. If any attempt is made to compare the rates of freight which were at that time the subject of so much declamation inside and outside the House, it will be found that since the Ministry of Shipping was established they have had to organise a scale of rates far greater than any earned by any private company in the past. I do not blame the Parliamentary Secretary for that, because he could not help it, and it would have been well if the Government had realised, when freights were going up, that even private companies could not help themselves, and they showed themselves no less generous to their customers than the Ministry of Shipping itself has done during the two years it has been at work. This wave of unpopularity against those engaged in the shipping industry led a great many of those engaged in that industry to feel if that was the kind of attitude to be assumed in Parliament towards British shipowners they had better put their capital into something else.
There was also a great tendency to sell out their vessels, because of the greatly enhanced prices which were offered, and a very large number of vessels were sold by men who were able to get a very large profit. I need not mention names, because they are well known, and some of them are now in office at the Ministry of Shipping, and as they are there it must have been considered to be an entirely blameless act on their part to sell their vessels. At any rate, they did turn their vessels into capital. And what has been the effect of this wave of unpopularity? it has driven capital out of the shipping industry to a very large extent. Companies have been wound up in Scotland, in Glasgow and on the Clyde, in South Wales, on the North-East Coast, in Liverpool and in London, and the money has been invested in other ways, and it is not likely to return to the shipping 2927 industry again. As one who has not an undue acquaintance with the trade, although my knowledge of it is as good as some people, and as one taking an interest in our own stability and strength and in the development of shipping at this time, I say that this is a national injury, and it ought to be our business to try to restore our strength by re-attracting capital into the shipping trade, and to do our best to try and regain under our flag all vessels which are likely to fly under another flag if our shipping companies are to do the work which they did in the past. I would point out just by way of illustration the kind of thing that has happened. I have had placed before me to-day some correspondence from one of the shipping lines which runs from Leith. It goes entirely to the Northern European ports to places like Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Antwerp, Denmark, Calais and so forth. It requires something like twelve vessels to run that service. They have lost eight vessels, and they have only been able to purchase back five against eight passenger and cargo liners and five cargo liners. The company say:We have now two passenger and cargo liners, three cargo liners, and four other vessels.That is only nine out of twelve, and to do this they have absorbed the whole of the capital which they received from their underwriters and the Government for the vessels which were lost. If that is going on in every company in the country it means, despite the huge insurances which in wound-up companies look so remarkably prosperous, that in going and continuing concerns the companies are at an actual disadvantage, and that they will have a smaller fleet to go on with, although there has been no actual loss of capital. What has happened in the near trades is going to happen elsewhere. In the near trades the business will be taken by Dutchmen, and to some extent by Scandinavians. It is possible that some of the Dutch competition will be really German competition. They will certainly find themselves with very hot competitors, and it may mean that the greater proportion of the traffic between England and the Northern European ports may be carried by foreign ships instead of by British ships, a state of things which would be entirely new. In the case of the more distant trades it is equally true to say that the companies, if they put their capital back into tonnage, will be at a positive disadvantage. The necessity for 2928 keeping down prices is as urgent in the shipping trade as in any other walk of life, and, unless it can be done, it seems to me impossible to restore our mercantile fleet. How far can it be done? In the first place, it is impossible to reduce the cost of merchant ships unless there is a much greater supply of iron and steel. I understand that some arrangements have been made for freeing the iron and steel industry from control, which means, I presume, that many iron and steel companies which have been engaged purely on munitions in the past, will be free in the future to build plates, bars, stanchions and so forth, and provide such material as is necessary in the engineering trade. The sooner that is done the better. It is equally certain that larger and cheaper supplies of coal will be necessary if the shipbuilding trade is to be restored. We cannot have larger supplies of coal until a very large number of miners are returned from the Army to the mines. Indeed, one comes back to the labour problem on every hand. There can be no large supply of iron ore in this country unless there is the shipping to carry it. Timber, which plays a large part in shipbuilding, certainly cannot be provided from our home supplies. In every direction there is a necessity for shipping to be increased almost as rapidly as we would wish to see an increase in food and raw materials.
I would say only one word as to the direct effect that this must have upon our social conditions. I believe that there is only one combination of circumstances which would tend to a spread of what is popularly known as Bolshevism in this country, and that one set of circumstances is that there should be at the same time a shortage of food and other necessities of life and the lack of work by which men can provide themselves with the means of subsistence. If the turn over from war work to civil work is not skilfully managed, it may be that there will be a great gap between the high wages that have been paid in munition factories and the less abundant wages which will be provided in civil work. If many men have to walk about the streets for weeks or possibly for a month or two together at the very time that prices remain high, they will find themselves totally unable to balance their household budget. Therefore, at a, time when we want to provide them with work we should accelerate by every means in our power the building 2929 of vessels and engines in our shipyards. The turnover from the building of warships to the building of merchant ships can be easily managed. The yards lay side by side, and they have already been differentiated. The labour which has been used in the one is equally suitable for the other. Let us by all means take that labour from armament yards and pour it into the merchant shipyards with the greatest possible speed. If that is done, it will prevent these men being thrown on to the streets, and we shall at the same time provide for a greatly accelerated output of the very tonnage which is required. It would be as well, in addition, to provide that amongst the first categories of those who are demobilised should be the engineers and shipbuilders in all their various classes, who are necessary to increase the supply up to the total which has already been provided for in Lord Pirrie's budget.
An abundance of vessels affects the social position on the other side. There can be no lowering in the prices of food until more food is brought into the country. Of course there can be a very great increase in the amount of food brought into the country immediately vessels are dismissed from naval employment. I do not know what the total number of vessels in naval employment has been recently, but at one time, I believe, something like 1,200 merchant vessels were in the service of the Navy. If anything like 800 or 900 of these could be at once released and start to carry coal from this country to foreign countries and food back hero in large quantities for man and beast, a tremendous change would be effected in the level of prices, which have ruled here during the last two or three years. The effect, therefore, of an increased tonnage would be three-fold. It would provide increased employment; it would enormously increase the exports from this country, thereby helping our foreign exchanges, and the coal trade and all the vast number of trades associated with the coal trade; and it would relieve the necessities of foreign countries and of our Allies, who are badly in need of fuel. If these vessels were sent on outward voyages there would be a much larger tonnage available for the carriage of food here. All these objects have their social effects, but I can imagine no object which would have a more profound effect in preventing any revolutionary outbreak in this country than that of increasing the available 2930 amount of shipping for the carriage of raw materials and articles out of this country and for adding to our supplies of raw materials and food in this country.
§ Mr. HOLT
I should like to say a few words in supplement of the very admirable speech which my right hon. Friend has just delivered. I want a few more particulars about shipbuilding than my right hon. Friend has asked for. First of all, let us have a perfectly clear and definite pronouncement that shipbuilding is going to be made absolutely free, that people are going to be allowed to order the sort of ships that they want from the people who are ready to build them, and, in fact, that they are going to be able to get these ships delivered to them. My right hon. Friend made some remarks with regard to warship construction, with which I am not wholly in agreement. I do not think that it will be at all satisfactory to switch the men off from warships into the mercantile shipyards. These warships are not being built in any special yards, but in the ordinary shipbuilding yards. The yards which have been selected during the past year or two for the building of warships are those very yards which in peace time turn out the highest class of work. If work is stopped at those yards, the British shipowner will be prevented from constructing the best class of tonnage. All the warships now on the stocks should be got off the stocks. Those very near completion should be launched, and those which have only just been begun should be taken to pieces and removed, just as a good many merchant ships were taken to pieces and removed at an earlier stage of the proceedings. It would be a great misfortune if these yards, the very best yards in the country—some of us know their names, but I do not care to give them in Debate—were prevented from turning out the best tonnage, as they have been in the habit of doing in years gone by. Take the case of some of the steamship companies which have lost very badly in the War. Everybody knows that some of the companies have been peculiarly unfortunate, much more so than others. Take the case of the Cunard Company, who, through no fault of their own, have been particularly unfortunate. It would be a monstrous thing if that company were prevented from replacing its tonnage with tonnage of the same quality as that which it has lost. It is no use saying to the company, "You can go to the yards which have been in 2931 the habit of building tramp steamers and get ships there." They cannot, because the yards cannot turn out the quality of work demanded. They must go back to their old friends—such people, for instance, as Clyde Bank, the very people who have been employed in building warships.
Standard ships, of course, are not going to be a very satisfactory proposition. It is quite plain that they do not meet anybody's requirements. They have been constructed to the designs of gentlemen who are rather theoretical and who are all the time spending other people's money. It is not a very satisfactory proceeding when the person who decides what is to be done is not going to pay the bill, because he is apt to decide on wrong principles. These ships are too costly for a certain class of business and not good enough for another. They fall between two stools. I would like to ask the Ministry of Shipping to consider how far it is possible to make an arrangement whereby some of these ships should be altered in a very early stage to suit the wishes of people who are ready to buy them. It might be possible to save a good deal by turning ships in a half or a quarter completed condition over to people who could get them altered to suit their requirements. I do hope that we shall be definitely told that standard ships which have not been actually begun will never be started at all, but that the contracts will be cancelled and that people will be allowed to build what they want.
We ought to have from the Government a perfectly clear and definite statement with regard to steel. We know that steel cannot continue to be sold at the price at which it is being nominally sold to-day because of the subsidy. I believe that these subsidies represent at the very lowest 30 per cent. of the cost of steel—possibly it is a good deal more. I was told by a very well-informed gentleman that the Government would immediately have to raise the price of steel by 100 per cent. I hope that is an exaggeration, but it is certainly true and obvious that either the subsidy must discontinue, in which case the price of steel must be very greatly raised, or else the Government will be making a very large present to every person who consumes steel. The taxpayer will not tolerate that. Surely, then, it is a matter of very great moment, in order to enable people to lay their plans for the future, that we 2932 should be told exactly what is the position with regard to steel and what is the price which we are going to have to pay! Until we know that nobody can make up his mind what he is going to do. Of course, shipowners have very large reserves from the very unfortunate source of having had their ships sunk by the enemy. My own feeling is that any public-spirited shipowner ought to be willing to sacrifice all those apparent gains in building tonnage at what may appear to be inflated prices. But unless the cost of building can be brought down there will not be much money left once those funds have been exhausted for the building of new ships. It is essential, therefore, that the Government should immediately consider the question of putting matters on such a footing that the cost of shipbuilding can be very materially reduced. I want to say a word or two about the re-establishment of industry. So far, a good many of our friends, such as the Japanese, have been kept off competition with British shipowners because of the danger of losing their ships. They have kept their ships out of the way. Directly the danger from the enemy has disappeared, we shall, no doubt, find that large numbers of these people, who were so busily occupied the other end of the world, will want to come into the trade of this country and try to get the established business of the regular lines. None of us ought to complain of that; certainly I do not, so long as I am allowed to defend myself. We are, however, entitled to ask the Government that they should at once put the British shipowner in a position to compete on equal terms with any foreigner who is to compete with him. The best method, indeed, almost the only method by which we who are engaged in running the regular lines can successfully compete with our foreign friends lies in our superiority of service. I believe we have better ships than they have, and I know that we are prepared to get them, but we must be allowed to use the best ships and acquire the best ships. If we cannot get a superior article, I am quite certain we shall not successfully compete against our foreign friends. The best hope for the British Mercantile Marine in, the future lies in actual superiority, and if we beat them on quality rather than on quantity. But we must be quite free to go in for quality. I hope we are not going to be too altruistic in putting the British Mercantile Marine at the service of our 2933 Allies. For instance, I do not believe that British shipping ought to be given now, as it has been given, to the Allies who are refusing to use their own. It was all very well to say to the British ship-owner that he must provide tonnage to meet the Allied requirements. I do not think we ought to object to doing that, but I do submit that we are entitled to demand, first of all, that the Allies should use the whole of their own ships to meet their own requirements.
I know that this has been going on. It ought never to have been allowed. Two of our Allies—I will not mention their names—have been carrying to Egypt from the Far East enormous stocks of goods and filling up Egypt with those goods. They would not take the ships up the Mediterranean for fear of losing them, and they sent their own ships back to the Far East. In some cases British ships were used to carry goods to those Allies through the danger zone, and I suppose British ships will still be used to supply those Allies. That is not fair play. We are entitled to ask that our Allies shall use their own ships entirely for their own purposes before they ask us to do anything. We ought to be particular in taking that line with the United States. After all, no one is morally entitled to use this country as a means of jumping his neighbour's business. Amongst the shipping companies it would be very disgraceful if any one of us who has been fortunate should take advantage of what has happened to jump the business of a neighbour. That would be very unsportsmanlike. I do not think that any of our Allies should be allowed to do it to us. The Government ought to see that none of the Allies are allowed to use their own shipping in order to collar the business of the British shipowners, while British shipowners are having their vessels taken from them in order to meet the requirements of an Allied State. We ought to have a definite assurance upon that point.
There are one or two small matters to which I would draw attention. I spoke the other day on the subject of fishing craft, and I will again draw the attention of the Shipping Controller to that matter. The Minister must know that there are large numbers of trawlers and other shipping craft engaged on Fleet service. If those vessels can be released speedily we shall accomplish two things at once—first, we shall reduce the charge which falls upon the Exchequer; and, secondly, we shall increase the food supply of the 2934 country. That can be done almost immediately. It is a matter to which prompt attention should be given. The fishing craft should be got away from naval service and put to their proper business that is, feeding the people of the country. How about the coastal craft? We know that the railways are congested, and that there is difficulty in travelling. If we could re-establish the coastal service we could send more goods by sea than by rail. That at once would introduce economy, and set free a good deal of coal for other uses, because it takes a great deal more coal to convey the same weight of goods by rail than it does by sea. Finally, I would ask the Government, if they really value the British Mercantile Marine, which has been a very great national asset during the War, to set the business free as soon as they possibly can. The only way to make that or any other business a success is to conduct it on proper commercial lines so as to make it pay. We want to make commercial profits. We shall want them, because we are going to have prodigious taxes to pay; and I do not know who is going to find the money to run the country if you are going to run businesses at a loss, and rely on the Income Tax to meet public expenditure. It is an urgent necessity that business should be thoroughly profitable. Therefore I say to the Government that it is most important we should be told as soon as possible exactly what is going to be done, and that we should have it put into our own hands as soon as possible to make the best of the job of repairing our fortunes.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of SHIPPING (Sir Leo Chiozza Money)
My hon. Friend who has just sat down, and also the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Runciman), dwelt upon the paramount importance of the Mercantile Marine in the economy of the United Kingdom. My right hon. Friend the Shipping Controller very fully realises that fact. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman—indeed, I think he has had the assurance in advance—that, so far as the Shipping Controller is concerned, he is determined at the earliest possible moment to restore those normal conditions in the shipping trade which are pleaded for by both the speakers in this Debate. He has already announced it in the public Press. He did it at the earliest possible moment after the 2935 Armistice was signed. He has said in the clearest terms that it is his desire to restore the normal conditions. The time will undoubtedly depend upon circumstances over which the Shipping Controller has not entire control. The War is at an end, we hope, but the consequences of the War are not yet over. We have to provide for the prime necessities of the nation in the time of reconstruction. Subject to that very necessary warning, the Shipping Controller is determined to restore the normal conditions. My right hon. Friend asked me a number of important questions relating to details, the whole of which, I am afraid, it would not be possible for me to answer without some notice longer than that which it was possible for him to give me. I am quite sure he will understand that. If you take, for example, such a matter as the proportion of the steel subsidy, which has been so far involved in the amount of ship construction that has taken place, it will be obvious that that must be a matter for inquiry, and I could not give him an answer now. He will understand that. I can tell him, however, that I believe that the amount of the steel subsidy comes to about £2 a ton dead-weight of the constructed ships, so that if you take an 8,000 ton ship, £16,000 would represent the amount of the steel subsidy. It is not such an important item in the total cost of the vessel as he imagines. I agree that it is an exceedingly important point, and I will endeavour to obtain the information for which he asks.
Will the Parliamentary Secretary let us know how much is the total amount of the subsidy as given to shipbuilding? I see the amount is 1,500,000 tons gross. On that, will the total amount of the subsidy come to about £4,000,000?
§ Sir L. CHIOZZA MONEY
Yes, on that calculation it would be about that sum, but I will endeavour to obtain the information for the right hon. Gentleman. He also asked me a question with regard to sales of standard ships. As my right hon. Friend knows, the declared policy of the Government with regard to shipping is to restore the position that obtained. It therefore follows that the Government have contemplated the sale of the Government ships to private owners, and a beginning of the sale has been made, as was announced by me in this House in answer to a question. One ship has been actually 2936 sold, and negotiations with regard to others are proceeding. The right hon. Gentleman raised a question as to the method of the sale. The sale which took place was a sale by private treaty, and in the opinion of the Shipping Controller that was the method which secured the best price for the Government. Another point of some interest was that with regard to housing and the extensions that have taken place in some of the yards. The matter of priority to which he referred has been pressed. I can give him a full assurance that in relation to every matter concerning shipbuilding first-class priority will be given, whether it is for steel, whether it is for labour, or the supply of material, or the supply of houses for workmen that are needed in connection with these extensions. The right hon. Gentleman knows that in connection with the national shipyards very extensive housing schemes are in process of completion. There have been one or two miscellaneous points which I should like to clear away before coming to the major part of the subject. My right hon. Friend referred to the cost of running vessels, and in that connection I was very glad, not only to hear his well-deserved tribute to the men of the Mercantile Marine, but also to recognise the spirit in which he spoke of the advances in wages which have been given, especially recently, to the men of the Mercantile Marine during the War. I am afraid it must be admitted that before the War our sailors of the Mercantile Marine were not among the best paid workmen, and that has accentuated in our minds the extraordinary services we have received at their hands. The pre-war rate of about £5 10s. per month for an A B, or less, as my hon. Friend says, in some cases, has now been increased, and with the war risk bonus, which is still payable although war risk has now happily come to an end, is now increased in the case of A B's to £14 10s. and in the case of firemen to £15.
After all, these are miscellaneous matters, and the very root of the matter before us is the question of the restoration of our Mercantile Marine in point of magnitude. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Runciman) referred to shipbuilding. He expressed grave anxiety as to the position which obtains now that we have arrived at peace and have to face the enormous losses sustained through placing the Mercantile Marine not only at the service of 2937 the nation but of the Allies—and, we might say, the world—in connection with the great War that has come to an end. The House will remember that at the end of March Lord Pirrie was appointed Controller-General of Merchant Shipbuilding. He took over from the Admiralty Controller the department of the deputy controller of auxiliary shipbuilding, and Lord Pirrie took entire charge of merchant work. Lord Pirrie's relations with the Shipping Controller, like those of his predecessor, have been constant and intimate. The special interest of the Shipping Controller in shipbuilding has always been recognised, and it was the special powers of the Shipping Controller which had been relegated to Lord Pirrie. The Government has now decided that direct financial and parliamentary responsibility for shipbuilding shall return to the Shipping Controller, and it is for those reasons I am replying to the questions of the right hon. Gentleman under this head. There are reasons for the change which was made originally. My right hon. Friend will remember the contest for labour and materials, the unregulated contest which constantly took place between the Admiralty and shipbuilders and the loss and disadvantages which resulted. There was therefore at that time a very good cause for attempting to make an arrangement which would secure a proper co-ordination of these supplies and these calls, and so we worked out a scheme of single control, and in place of the unregulated competition which took place we got co-operation to secure at once the maximum supply of material and its most effective use. Now the supplies of steel, I am glad to say, are ample. Supplies of labour should certainly grow in the near future. There had been a separation of yards under Lord Pirrie into those set apart for merchant work and those for Daval work, so that in these yards undesirable competition was eliminated. The change made in 1917 has served its purpose, and the time has come for uniting the building of merchant ships with the responsibility for running them, and the Shipping Controller has therefore now the financial and Parliamentary responsibility for this work. Now I come to ask the House to consider this question in its broad aspect, and I do want, if I can, to help the House to understand why it is that a number of accomplished men, including Lord Pirrie, who I am sure has the confidence of everyone, and not least 2938 the confidence of the right hon. Gentleman opposite—why these accomplished men who have devoted themselves to increasing the national output of ships have not raised the figure above that referred by my right hon. Friend. I want to endeavour to-make it clear what the output was and what it is. In 1913 we had a record output of 1,900,000 tons. In 1914, the year the War broke out, it fell to a little below 1,700,000 tons. In 1915 it fell to 650,000 tons; in 1916 it fell again to 540,000; then in 1917 it rose to a little over 1,200,000 tons.
May I point out to the right hon. Gentleman that up to the beginning of 1916 merchant shipbuilding was under the control of the Admiralty, and was only transferred to the civil department in January, 1916, by the second Munitions Act?
§ Sir L. CHIOZZA MONEY
My right hon. Friend must not misunderstand me. I am not referring to who is responsible. I only want the House to see where we have got, because if you put into operation a new movement in regard to shipbuilding it does not come to fruition until long afterwards, and the efforts of one man may overlap those of another man, so that it would be unfair to divide it into periods of responsibility, saying this man was responsible for this and that man for that. It was not in my mind to do that, but I did want the House to see why these things have occurred, and what the prospect is for the near future. Now in 1918 we have got a certain improvement, and an improvement which can be best expressed perhaps by giving the figure for the twelve months ending 31st October. In that twelve months we reached a total output of little less than 1,600,000 tons. Now what is the meaning of that figure? Curiously it coincides almost exactly with Lord Pirrie's estimate of what it is possible to turn out in British yards in a year with the labour which is available at the present time. Lord Pirrie's estimate of the possibilities of shipbuilding as they are at this moment, before further men are brought back from the Army to work in this country in the shipyards, is an output of 1,650,000 tons. I am speaking of gross tons. As was pointed out by my right hon. Friend, in some of the early-months of this year we got a rather larger output than the average of the period to which I have referred, and those better figures, I am afraid, excited optimistic forecasts by people who hoped they 2939 would he followed by better figures still. It was a rush to completion of vessels in that period which gave the figures of the months to which I have referred a fictitious magnitude. It is true that the figures I have given are rather better than they look for one thing, because they did include the completion of a number of tankers, and refrigerated meat boats, which took up more labour than would have been taken up by building plain cargo tonnage. But, on the other hand, the figure is not as good as it looks, as it follows from what I have said, that the stock of ships in hand now is not so good as it was a year ago. There are not so many big vessels coming forward for completion, and therefore the figures are not so good as they look.
I want to put this frankly to the House, because I do not want any misunderstanding whatever in regard to the facts I have related. I think it is extremely important there should be no misunderstanding. What is the position? It is bound up with an extremely important fact, and that is the victory over the submarine. How have the submarines been beaten? They have been beaten in the first place, of course, by the dauntless courage and adaptability of the Royal Navy, but if we look to the methods that have guided that personal element you may divide them up thus: Destroying the submarines, building new merchant ships, repairing all the many ships that have been damaged by the enemy, and by marine risks which have been accentuated by war conditions, and lastly—a very important factor—there has been the using of our merchant ships in such a fashion as to avoid attack. Let me deal with the last point first, because it is both a shipping point and a shipbuilding point. It was the convoy system worked out between the Admiralty and the Ministry of Shipping which played a very large part indeed, especially with regard to the concentration of ships in the North Atlantic, in the wonderful results presented. Many facts under this head have already appeared, but the House may be interested to know, if you take all the homeward bound ocean convoys from the summer of 1917 to 2nd November, 1918, the convoys included about 47,000,000 gross tons of merchant shipping and the loss was less than 4.1 per cent. Now this great result could not have been achieved, and this is what I want the House especially to note, if an 2940 increasing amount of labour had not been drafted to the Admiralty side of construction. When the convoy system was commenced, and I remember the doubts and difficulties which surrounded the beginning of it, the Admiralty—we can say it now as we could not then—had not enough protective craft to work a convoy system. It had to be begun tentatively, destroying submarines and working convoys meant building anti-submarine craft of various types in great numbers. The success of these craft has been great and increasing, but the devotion of labour and material to this successful work necessarily restricted merchant work, and a much greater show of merchant shipbuilding could have been made in all these long months if the means of attack had been neglected, and we had not made destroyers, sloops, mystery boats, and so forth. But what would have been the use of adding 50,000 tons a month to merchant shipbuilding if, through neglect of the side of attack, the enemy had sunk not only those 50,000 tons but perhaps 50,000 tons besides? I well remember going to the trials of the first standard ship on the Clyde in the late summer of 1917. The ship was the "War Shamrock," which was leaving next day for Genoa with a load of coal. One almost felt inclined to shed a tear over the deck of the "War Shamrock." Would we ever see her again I Those were the days when destruction was very high indeed, and it entailed a risk—I do not know the percentage at this time. I have forgotten—but I think I can say a ship was not likely to make four trips to Genoa without being lost. So that to be on the deck of the "War Shamrock" was really to wonder whether one would see the vessel again. I am glad to say she is still afloat. If you take standard ships as a whole, there are 145 now completed. The enemy has only disposed of five. Including one loss by marine risk, we have 139 out of 145 still afloat, carrying cargoes for the United Kingdom or the Allies. That result would not have been achieved if labour had been devoted in greater volume to the merchant side of shipbuilding instead of being devoted to means of protection and means of attack.
May I now direct attention to repairs? From January to September this year just under 20,000,000 tons of merchant shipping have been through the repairing yards, and for heavy repairs exceeding one month 2,250,000 tons have been repaired. I cannot give the corresponding figures for 2941 the Admiralty side of the repair work, but they are equally remarkable. We had to repair our increased Navy, and we have also repaired ships which have been in our waters belonging to the American Navy, and we have had to repair merchant vessels, and only the balance of shipyard labour has been available for new merchant ships. That led to the result which my right hon. Friend deplores. I can give one even more remarkable than those which he quotes. Between 1st January and 24th October of this year we brought into the shipbuilding industry from all sources 28,000 men, skilled and unskilled, of whom 14,287 were brought in from the Army Of these, only 8,000 could be put on to new merchant work. All the others were taken by the Admiralty for new work or for repair work, or were taken by the merchant repairing yards. May I put it another way, because I cannot help feeling that if these facts were once realised the explanation of what has occurred becomes perfectly plain. The facts as to the division of shipyard-labour could not be given before in the conditions which obtained, but they can be given now. When war broke out we had perhaps about 250,000 men engaged in shipbuilding, marine engineering and repairs. The precise figure cannot be obtained, but I think that is a near estimate. The number now is 381,000. That is to say, in spite of the enormous demand upon British personnel by this War we have drafted into the shipbuilding industry 131,000 persons since the war began. Of the 381,000 men employed in shipbuilding, only 116,000 are engaged on new merchant work, so that out of every three men only one is engaged in turning out new merchant ships. I have given the House the explanation why it is that now we are only able to show, with the labour available, an output from our merchant yards of about 1,650,000 tons a year. Is not the justification of the division made of the persons available in the industry to be found in the remarkable results achieved? When a thing is done, I fancy, with most of us it ceases to have its old importance, and now that the War is won we can perhaps look back rather lightly upon the early months of 1917, when Germany declared her policy of unlimited piracy and we had to meet it. Let me remind the House of the position which obtained in April, 1917. I well remember those days when we used to go to the Ministry of Shipping in the morning and find a return from the Admiralty, a sheet of foolscap paper, with a list of 2942 ships covering it from the top to the bottom—a loss of ships which if it went on meant that we should be beaten to our knees in nine or twelve months. That was the position we had to face. In April, 1917, the total losses in that month were 555,000 tons of British shipping alone. I am not speaking of the Allies. We built in that month rather less than 70,000 tons, so that there was a net loss in April, 1917, of 485,000 tons. Nearly 500,000 tons down in a single month! You have to multiply that by four to see what that means in the loss of cargoes in a year. That meant therefore that in a single month the German campaign was so successful that on account of it we lost cargoes at the rate of 2,000,000 tons a year. Obviously, if that went on for only six months we were in deadly danger. If it went on for nine months we were ruined. That was the position. We can afford to speak of those things as we could not speak of them at the time. Now contrast that with the position which obtained in September, 1918. In that month the loss had been reduced to 151,000 tons a month. I am giving both war and marine losses, so as not to disguise any of the facts. Building had risen to nearly 145,000 tons; so the net loss of shipping in September was less than 7,000 tons—a negligible figure. In short, the submarine campaign had been beaten. But it was only beaten because the Government devoted the labour supply which was available more largely to the Admiralty side than it did to the merchant Shipping side, and, although one cannot say exactly what would have taken place, it is more than probable that if that labour had been reversed, if the larger amount had been put on the merchant side and the smaller part on the Naval side—it is not an unfair conclusion that very possibly the war might have been lost, because shipping was the backbone of the Allies.
The policy of standard shipbuilding was initiated by the Shipping Controller at the end of 1916. Since then it has been developed. Has it been justified? I have endeavoured to obtain the opinion on this of all sorts of experts, and I have found almost unanimous agreement amongst them in regard to it, whether they are shipbuilders or marine engineers. Let me give a typical opinion of a well-known shipbuilder. He says there are practically no arguments of any moment to put against the advantages of standardisation. Standardisation is the only method for the most 2943 rapid and economic production of steamers. One of the best known marine engineers gives the case of a standard vessel. He points out how the hull was made by one man, the boiler came from another works, the engine came from another works, and all these were wedded together because of the standardisation which had been decided upon.
§ Sir L. CHIOZZA MONEY
That is not the opinion of these gentlemen, and they are really in the first flight of their profession.
§ Sir L. CHIOZZA MONEY
Lord Pirrie thoroughly agrees with them, and his opinion is certainly worth quoting in this House or anywhere on the subject.
I am sure my hon. Friend would not wish the House to imagine that all shipyards are organised like Lord Pirrie's. On the North-East Coast, and on the Clyde as well, it has been the common practice for large numbers of shipbuilding companies to be dependent on other sources for the supply both of engines and boilers.
§ Sir L. CHIOZZA MONEY
That is perfectly true. That is to say, my right hon. Friend is considering the case of marine engineering quite detached from the shipyards. But here is my point. If you have a number of detached marine engineers and a number of detached shipbuilders making hulls, boilers and engines under standard pattern, any one of them can be transferred anywhere, and you get a facility of wedding the parts which otherwise you could not obtain.
§ Sir L. CHIOZZA MONEY
I have not converted the hon. Baronet, but the fact remains. It is obvious, upon a moment's consideration of the case, whether one is an expert in shipbuilding or not. Then there is the fabricated ship. I cannot help thinking my right hon. Friend has been a little unkind to the fabricated ship. He says it is most unpopular among the 2944 sailors. How can that be, seeing that only one of them has been completed so far, and that is not, I understand, a typical vessel? I should recommend my right hon. Friend to go and see the fabrication.
I have, and I have conferred with those who have tried to get crews for them and who find the greatest difficulty in doing so.
To fabricated ships, one of which was built in the new yard on the Tees which is under the control of Lord Furness.
§ Sir L. CHIOZZA MONEY
There is only one. I do not know whether one fabricated vessel makes an argument, but there are not a number afloat. So far as the fabricated ship with which I am acquainted is concerned, it is a first-class engineering job. I have it on very high authority indeed not only that it is that, but that it has come to stay in shipbuilding. However, let us not enter on the domain of prophecy. Undoubtedly it is the case that the fabricated ship is a deeply interesting experiment. It has been received with something like enthusiasm by some shipbuilders at least, and certainly some shipbuilders who were at first very greatly opposed to it now welcome the conception and are glad to undertake work in connection with it. So far as the fabrication of ships in the national shipyards is concerned, one can see the process going on, and it is really a very remarkable contrast in many respects to the old kind of shipbuilding. Of course, it will not suit every purpose in shipbuilding, but it serves some purposes, and that it serves very well indeed the purpose of plain cargo vessel construction is now established. Also the conception, which originated here, crossed to America; they have developed it in their own way, and the fabricated vessels, which are being turned out in very large numbers from the American yards, owe their inception to the genius of men on this side. When I spoke of certain things being satisfactory, I hope I have not suggested more than this, that the output to which I have referred as roughly 1,600,000 tons at which we have arrived is only satisfactory in relation to the circumstances which obtain—relatively satisfactory—I do not pretend for a moment that it is satisfactory in regard to the figures to which the right hon. 2945 Gentleman (Mr. Runciman) directed attention in his opening remarks; I mean the fact that we have lost such a high proportion of our shipping during this War. Having regard to these facts can we say that an output of 1,600,000 tons is satisfactory? I have already reminded the House that in 1913 we reached a record output for merchant shipping with just over 1,900,000 tons. What else did we build in 1913? We built certain warships. Can we arrive at an estimate of what was, as it were, the total output of all our yards in 1913, whether naval or merchant work, expressed in terms of merchant work? An endeavour has been made to do it, and you may take it as a fair estimate that in the year 1913, if you have regard to the total output of all our yards, whether Admiralty or merchant, we turned out an equivalent of about 2,300,000 gross tons of merchant ship building. What are we doing this year? Taking the twelve months ended 21st October, we have already turned out nearly 1,600,000 tons of merchant ships. In addition we have turned out war vessels which are estimated to be the equivalent of over 1,300,000 tons of merchant ships, so that our virtual output in the twelve months ended 31st October, 1918, is no less than 2,927,000 tons—nearly 3,000,000 tons.
§ Mr. HOLT
Surely the hon. Member is falling into a mistake, because he is assuming that the merchant output during 1913 and the year of which he has just spoken is of the same quality. The merchant output in 1913 was of a very superior quality compared with that which has taken place in the last twelve months.
§ Sir L. CHIOZZA MONEY
I certainly think some allowance must be made for that fact, but even when allowance is made here is the broad fact, that putting aside for the moment the quality of the tonnage, you get in the twelve months ending 31st October an output of nearly 3,000,000 tons, or its equivalent in merchant shipping, as compared with 2,300,000 tons in 1913, which was the record year in merchant shipbuilding. The common conception, therefore, that our shipyards have gone down in point of output, and in point of material and personnel, is entirely wrong. We have far more men employed and we have a far larger output. In view of these facts what can we hope for in the near future as a fair estimate of merchant output? Of all the things in the world which it 2946 appears to me from bitter experience both here and abroad we ought to receive with caution, are estimates relating to future output of shipping. Every estimate that has been made in this country, and every estimate that has been made in America, has alike been signally falsified. With that caution I will give, with bated breath, an estimate of what we may expect. I have spoken of 1,600,000 tons as a fair estimate of what can be done with existing labour. The position now is that priority will be given to the return of shipyard workers from the front. That and the fact that there will be a transfer of labour from naval to merchant yards means that we can reckon upon another 1,000,000 tons apart, I think, from any output from the extensions which have been authorised and have been made in the various shipyards throughout the country and apart from the output of the national yards. That would raise the total to 2,600,000 tons, and I do not think that it would be too great an estimate to suggest that in a little while the output of the slips of the new extensions and the output from the national yards and the output which we shall get from the diversion of repair work to new work will account for another 500,000 tons, which will raise the total to well over 3,000,000 tons a year. If, therefore, we put the output at 3,000,000 tons, I do not think we shall name a figure beyond reasonable expectation.
I have been asked to state in clear terms the policy of the Shipping Controller in regard to shipbuilding. I think both my hon. Friend (Mr. Holt) and the late President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Runciman) asked whether they could have an assurance in the clearest terms that the Shipping Controller desires that private yards should in future be open to the shipowners. The answer is clear in the affirmative. I may say at once that quite a long list of urgently needed vessels has already been discussed between Lord Pirrie and the Shipping Controller and authorised. Sixty-nine ships of various types, liners and so forth, will be laid down in various yards in December, January and February. Not a single hour was lost by the Shipping Controller and Lord Pirrie in this matter. Steps were taken immediately the Armistice was signed.
§ Sir L. CHIOZZA MONEY
As I understand it, the priority is a matter of first come first served, and, of course, the national interest has to be considered. I was asked also to state whether any more standard vessels would be laid down. I want the House to see that the freedom with which we are opening private yards to private shipowners is partly in consequence of the work which has been done in the West in the national shipyards. It is intended to continue laying down and proceeding with the fabricated ships in the national shipyards, and the fact that these ships can be turned out so well and so quickly, enables this policy of throwing open the shipyards to ordinary construction to proceed.
§ Sir L. CHIOZZA MONEY
Does the hon. Member ask whether a transfer is to be made immediately of labour from the Admiralty yards to the merchant yards?
§ Mr. HOLT
There are certain yards which have been set apart for Admiralty work. These yards are the best yards in the country, and capable of doing the highest class of work. All I want to know is whether the Admiralty work will be got rid of from the slips, so that the slips of those yards will be available for building the highest class of merchant ship?
§ Sir L. CHIOZZA MONEY
Yes, certainly. At the earliest moment when the national interests allow, and I hope it may be soon, these yards now doing Admiralty work will be transferred to their old type of work. The Shipping Controller regards it of the utmost importance that this better type of ship should be proceeded with. What about the future? The gravest apprehensions have been expressed by my right hon. Friend in regard to this matter. It is true that the British Empire, in placing its shipping, which was one of its chief assets, at the disposal of the Allies, as well as of itself, took a great risk. I must say in passing that I hardly agree with the hon. Gentleman 2948 (Mr. Holt) in what he said in this connection. It was our duty to do this, and if we had not done it the War would have failed. It is true that the United Kingdom, by placing at the disposal of the Allied cause its great national asset of shipping, risked not only its present but its future. I join with the right hon. Gentleman who spoke first as to the extreme importance of shipping to the national interest. We have risked a great deal in this matter, and, as he says, we are about 3,500,000 tons down, after allowing for all building, on the cessation of hostilities. It will be five or six years—I do not know whether the House realises this—before we shall have reached in point of tonnage, and this with an output of nearly 3,000,000 tons a year, which we never before attained, shipping in aggregate equal to that which we should have had if the War had not occurned. We have not merely lost ships by enemy attack, and by exaggerated marine risk, but we have lost the shipbuilding that we should have had if the War had not occurred. Therefore the loss is very serious and very heavy, and we have to face the fact that neutral countries and Allied countries have gained by reason of the hazard to which we have put our ships. But this was part of the game; it was part of our deliberate policy. We knew that we were risking these things. We knew that we were risking in this War practically all that we had, and it seems to me at this time of day almost beside the point to argue as if the exigencies of war and the plain consequences of war could have been avoided by either one Government or another, or one Department or another. It could not have been done. We must face the position and be thankful that it is no worse. As I have said, we have escaped from a deadly peril, and our attitude ought to be one of thankfulness rather than one of complaint. Nevertheless, we have risked our mercantile-position.
What are our prospects? I have always been an optimist in these matters, and I recall that in the ten years before this War, or one might say from the opening years of the twentieth century, the course of the economy of the world was marked by extraordinary advance. Those who feared that there would not be enough trade to go round were shown to be entirely wrong. In spite of the competition of Germany and America, our exports and imports increased as they had 2949 never done before. There was more carrying to be done than ever before, and it did appear that the world had reached a point of large-scale dealings and rapid expansion that differentiated the twentieth from the nineteenth century. Is that happy expansion to be resumed after the War? I think it is. I think, among the things that have been learned, not only by one country in this War, but by all countries, is the extraordinary powers of production which are possessed by the world, given scientific application—that the world possesses powers of production which were almost unsuspected. In our own country we have found, in spite of the draining of the very flower of our men into the Army and Navy, that we were able, not only to maintain but to increase production. It is probable, apart from coal, that the total volume of production of this country has increased, and not decreased, during the War, and we end the War with not less, but more, material capital in the country—I do not refer to value, but to the actual volume.
§ Sir L. CHIOZZA MONEY
I spoke not of price, but of volume. If that view of the subject is true, as I hope it will be found to be, there will be much more carrying to do in the future, and there will be room, not only for a larger British Mercantile Marine, but for several mercantile marines, just as in the old days there proved to be room for a number of expanding trades in different countries. I hope, therefore, that the whole of this output hoped for of 3,000,000 tons a year mercantile shipping, which was never attained in time of peace, will be re-ached. There is great hope that it may be done, and that, in spite of the competition of America, which has been referred to this evening, there is plenty of room for the British shipbuilder and the British shipowner. Not only in respect of ordinary trade and manufacture, but in respect of shipbuilders, we end the War with a better plant and a larger material capital than that with which we began the War; so that, looking at the whole subject, I think that we may, I do 2950 not say dismiss the apprehensions that have been expressed to-night—I should be sorry to do that, because there is every need for the most urgent consideration—but without dismissing those apprehensions I think that, given the old qualities of British enterprise, British shipbuilding will play a part in the world in future not inferior to that which it has played in the past.
I want to refer to an entirely different subject—the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Reconstruction on Tuesday last. It lasted for, I believe, an hour and three-quarters, and during the whole of that time I listened with intense interest to the suggestions and information which the right hon. Gentleman was able to give the House. I was very much astonished that the Debate last night lasted only until a little after eight o'clock, and that very few speeches were made either criticising or approving of what the right hon. Gentleman has said. I did, however, listen to one speech, that of the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Holt), who suggested that the industries of the country were in such a condition even to-day that they could immediately absorb the whole of the available labour when the Army and Navy have been demobilised, in addition to the undoubted disorganisation which must arise when the munitions factories are also reduced in output. I cannot think that when he made that suggestion the hon. Member had really studied this problem which was before us. He stated also—which I think is a somewhat rash statement to make just before a General Election—that it was ridiculous for the Government to suggest such a large out-of-work benefit—a miserable 24s. a week to men who are to-day earning £6 or £7 working in munition factories! The problem is an immense problem. The hon. Member for Hexham suggested that these people might be employed making roads or loading and unloading ships. Those who have made a study of this question know that there is a vast demand for the strong, able-bodied labourer who can be employed on the roads and in loading and unloading ships. But the type of man who is likely to be thrown out of employment immediately is the old man, the man who has not been physically fit, and has therefore not been put into the Army; and there will also be disemployed a very large number of women and girls. I do not 2951 think that he can suggest employing these women, girls, old men, and physically unfit men, loading and unloading ships or making roads.
It is with those people we have got to deal. That is the first problem before us. I was delighted to hear that there is going to be an allowance, small as it is—I agree with the Government that probably it cannot be made larger—to tide over the difficult period of the dislocation of industries. The right hon. Gentleman said another thing which I am sure will be of intense interest to manufacturers throughout the country. He said that it was the object of the Government to remove as rapidly as possible all Government interference with industries, and I hope that the Government will carry out that promise of the right hon. Gentleman quickly. He also said the Ministry of Munitions was to die a natural death by Monday next and was to become a Ministry of Supply.
That also will be greeted with considerable satisfaction in trade circles and by manufacturers in this country. But they want to know some details as to how this Ministry of Supply is going to work, 1s, for instance, in future the entire Admiralty programme of the purchase of ships, repairs, etc., to be done by the Ministry of Supply? Are all War Office requirements going to be purchased through this new Ministry? The sooner such information is given to the country, so that everybody will know where he is, the better will our manufacturers be able to reorganise their works for after-the-war trade. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the scheme of out-of-work allowances, but did not explain exactly where these payments were to be got. Are they to be got through Labour Exchanges or through the Post Office, or by what means? It does seem to me that in some of these very large factories, which are temporarily dislocated, it would probably be in the interests of the State to pay these out-of-work allowances through the employers' organisation—that is, through the ordinary pay offices of the factory where the people are temporarily out of work. Then he said that the Government was going to accept 2952 liability for the return of overseas officers, and, in some cases, their own families, to their country. He did not say to what Department these officers had to apply. I hope that some public statement will be made on this point. I have already been asked how an officer gets some allowance to return to Australia from this country with his wife. Then he gave some considerable information about the pooling of storage arrangements on the railway and the organisation of railway traffic, so as to enable some railways to be used largely for demobilisation purposes, and the other railways to be available for ordinary trade. Here, again, it is important that some public statement should be made as to which railways would be available for ordinary trade. Otherwise manufacturers will find themselves unable to get the information, during the rush of a General Election, and will not know to what Government Department to apply and will not be able to ascertain how to get their goods moved about the country.
Then he stated that a new Department for looking after labour was being set up under Sir Stephenson Kent. Sir Stephen-son Kent was the Controller of Labour in the Ministry of Munitions. Now we all want to know whether he is head of a new Government Department or has he joined the staff of the Ministry of Labour, or is he still in the Ministry of Munitions? Here, again, I do hope that the right hon. Gentleman will realise the difficulty of the humble man in the street. It is most interesting to know that a new Government Department is being set up under such an efficient head, but it is most important for everyone to know what that gentleman's address is and in what Government Department he is working. The right hon. Gentleman dealt largely with demobilisation and reconstruction as they affect the problem of labour. There is an old proverb, which says: "If you take care of the pence the pounds will take care of themselves." I am not at all sure that that proverb cannot be applied very efficiently to our reconstruction problem. If you take care of the manufacturers the manufacturers will be able to employ labour, and the Government must apply the whole of their energies with the utmost efficiency to assisting the manufacturers and contractors in this country over the next month or two and enabling them rapidly to get back to ordinary peace conditions. If the Government can assist the manufacturers really efficiently in this way, they will assist the classes who will require 2953 employment to find work, and, therefore, the problem will solve itself. It occurs to me that there are four material and chief ways in which the Government can assist manufacturers. The first is by a rapid and sufficient supply of raw materials which they require. The second is by retaining, in the neighbourhood if possible, a supply of such labour as may be temporarily thrown out of the factories. The third is by assisting the manufacturers with finance; and the fourth is by assisting them to clear their works of Government material which is at present blocking those works. With the first of my suggestions, the right hon. Gentleman dealt fully in his speech. He said that the supply of raw materials was going to be dealt with by various methods which he outlined, and I am quite satisfied that that matter is receiving the careful attention of the Government. I say the same as to my second point, the retention and temporary retention of labour, as far as possible, in the district. I am sure the Government is dealing with that.
As to the third point, the financial assistance of contractors, I feel very strongly—and, if I may say so, I have had some slight experience in this matter during the last two months—that manufacturers are at present handicapped on all sides by lack of prompt settlement of their accounts. I know that Government Departments do their best to get these accounts settled, but when you take a business such as that of the Ministry of Munitions, which is doing a turnover of something over £200,000,000 a year, a new office which has sprung up very rapidly, it is inevitable that in an enormous business of that sort manufacturers' accounts should get somewhat behind, and when any difficulty or item of red tape, as it is sometimes called, arises in connection with their account, it gets put on one side and the unfortunate manufacturer finds himself shortly in the position of borrowing from the bank. We have to appreciate that the very fact that wages have more than doubled in the last two years means that manufacturers must necessarily have more floating capital or working capital in the form of ready cash in order to carry on their businesses. Their wages bill at the end of a week has to be met and has to be met in cash, and that wages bill, owing to the fact, even if they are not employing any more hands, but owing to the fact that wages are so much higher, means a considerable extra sum of money. All 2954 these arguments, then, lead me to this, that where the Government has to cancel contracts and has to stop the production of war material, I do hope that they will try to set up some central accounting organisation, which will be empowered by the Treasury—for it must have full Treasury sanction—to pay contractors' accounts rapidly and, where necessary, to make payments on account, so as to assist manufacturers over this trying time. I do not know whether it would be possible—I am sure it would be a very great help—if there could be some bringing together of manufacturers' accounts as at present held by different Government Departments. One manufacturer who was trying to get some money out of me the other day on a Government account told me that the sum which he wanted out of me was not so very much, but that the War Office and also the Admiralty owed him a large sum, and he said that he had spent two or three days running from one Department to the other endeavouring to raise a little cash. Eventually I saw the head of the Accounts Department of the Ministry of Munitions, which made a payment which sent him away happy for the time being.
The fourth item to which I referred was the clearance of the works of Government material. I want the House to think for a moment of the position of a fairly large manufacturer, with an efficient works, who at present is carrying on some dozen or more contracts, some from the Ministry of Munitions, some from the Admiralty, some from the Board of Trade, and some possibly even from the Board of Agriculture. I know one actual case of a large firm who are making aeroplanes, making tanks, making large machinery for the Admiralty, making agricultural machinery, and also making railway materials under the Railway Executive Committee, which is the Board of Trade. As a result of our success in the War, I do not think that we want any more tanks. We do not want the tanks completed, so I presume, and the Minister of Munitions has probably instructed this firm to stop the production of tanks. I believe the particular machinery which this firm is making for the Admiralty will also be stopped. There is no doubt that the construction of aeroplanes must be stopped, because a month's output of this firm could not be stored in the factory. I do not believe it could even be stored in the adjacent town, unless it were on the railway, down the railway embankment and sidings. What is going to be the 2955 position, is what the governing spirit, the managing director, of this business wants to know. Is he going to have an accountant with two or three experts from the Ministry of Munitions to inquire into the cancellation of the tank contract and to say what partially manufactured material is to be scrapped, what is to be handed over to him, and what the Government is going to remove and sell elsewhere? Is he to have another accountant with another two or three experts from the Admiralty to deal with their contract, and a similar batch of men from the Board of Trade? In these works, and in every works, there is only one batch of accountants, and they cannot possibly supply—short-handed as they are to-day—men who can deal with a swarm of officials from these different offices if they all arrived at the same time. And it would be equally disastrous for these works if they did not arrive at the same time, for the object of the firm is not only to get their contracts, which are cancelled, paid for and settled and the material removed out of the way, but they want to get on with their ordinary peace products, and we all of us, especially the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Reconstruction, are anxious to assist them to get on with the peace work, so that they can employ the workpeople and produce a useful article. But they cannot get on with their ordinary peace products if the Admiralty acts in this manner. I picture the possibility of firms applying to the Admiralty to send down and remove this block of material and to let them get their machines cleared. The Admiralty replies that it is doing the best it can, and then send a large staff elsewhere, and the Admiralty may then half clear works within a few miles of this one, while the Ministry of Munitions half clear this one—and the friction which will arise will prevent the employment of workpeople, and the condition of some managing directors will be such that they will end in a lunatic asylum.
I suggest that the Government should try and do what the right hon. Gentleman said he had found in so much evidence in his work in reconstruction. They should go in for co-operation. The right hon. Gentleman in his very fine peroration said that the resettlement of industry depended on industrial peace, and that industrial peace could only be obtained by wholehearted co-operation between capital and labour. Let the Government set an 2956 example, not only of whole-hearted co-operation but of extreme efficiency. Let them collect together those contracts which are cancelled, let them put them under one capable Minister with a staff collected in the best way that it can be collected in the various Departments which have been dealing with these contracts, let that Minister and his staff make up his mind with which factory he will deal and send down one staff of accountants and experts to deal with all contracts in that factory, to clear that factory and enable that factory immediately to get on with its peace work. I am satisfied that something in the nature of a Minister of Liquidation of War Contracts should be set up, and possibly the new Ministry of Supply could undertake that work. But it must be all put together, We must not have, what we have had during the earlier days of the War, competition between the Government Departments. The right hon. Gentleman said a Committee was set up a little time ago to advise and report on the disposal of war stores. I would suggest that that Committee should possibly be put, say, under the Board of Trade, and let that Committee dispose of all war stores which are complete, such as motor lorries which are capable of running on the road, which have either come back from France or which, under the Ministry of Munitions, have been completed in the factory and turned out as new. Then leave it to the Minister of Liquidation or the Minister of Supply to dispose of all partially manufactured articles. That would be a perfectly clear cut line. Everyone would know whom to go to if they wished to buy completely manufactured goods, and every manufacturer would know that the material partially manufactured would be disposed of under the Ministry of Liquidation.
In conclusion, I should like to add this: such a Minister of Liquidation will be unavoidable. Owing to the fact that he is dealing with manufacturers' accounts, that he is investigating their accounts by means of his own staff, he will know exactly in what financial position that manufacturer is, and he and his advisers will be in a position to give that financial assistance which I am satisfied must be given and must be given promptly to many manufacturers to tide over this time of change. Therefore, I would suggest to the Government that this Minister of Liquidation, or whatever you like to call 2957 him, should be directly connected with the Exchequer. I know—it is so even in my small Department of the Ministry of Munitions, where I have been endeavouring to settle claims arising out of contracts—that, over £1,000, these claims have to be referred to the Treasury. That means another ten days at the very shortest, sometimes three weeks, sometimes a month before even I get consent to pay the couple of thousand pounds that I represent should be paid to the con tractor.
That sort of delay in connection with the enormous financial responsibility which the Government are now facing in stopping the production of war material. There must not be that delay in reimbursing to the contractor the money which is found by the Government's own inspectors to be due to them. I implore the Government, either that the Treasury should give to this Minister of Liquidation a really free hand and trust him and his experts to assist the manufacturer by advances in payment or loans, if necessary, to entrust him really with the authority of the Treasury and not to have these repeated and constant delays. If only the Government can get this co-operation of Government Departments in the clearing up of these war contracts I, personally, have no fear for the future. I honestly feel that with some whole-hearted pulling together of Government Departments, and a really efficient Minister in the liquidation of war contracts, we shall be able to clear the factories rapidly, to assist the manufacturers over the financial troubles which they are bound to have to face in the next few weeks, and, by doing that, we shall get over the troublous times which are facing us. In my opinion, the Labour programme will solve itself, and we need have no fear of Bolshevism, or any other "ism," in the next few years.
The hon. and gallant Member referred in the earlier part of his speech to the projected Ministry of Supplies, which the Minister of Reconstruction informed the House on Tuesday would be constituted. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give the House some information as to when this new Ministry will be established. When the Government set up this Ministry, I hope that they will endeavour to provide in it the best points in each of the Government Departments. There are many good points in the Ministry of Munitions, and there are 2958 also good points at the War Office and the Admiralty, and in the other large Departments. I trust, therefore, that the Minister of Reconstruction will combine in this new Ministry the best points of each of those Departments. The Minister of Reconstruction also informed the House of the Surplus Disposal Board, set up some months ago to consider the resale of warlike stores. He also informed us that the value of those stores amounted to, although I do not think he stated the figure exactly, about £500,000,000. He also reminded the House of the scandals which took place after the South African War and previous wars. That leads me to ask who will be responsible for the disposal of those stores? We want to fix definite responsibility for this large sum of public money, and to know exactly who is responsible, and who will give authority for sale throughout this country and in France, and in the different parts of the world where our stores are to-day. I know that the Board has been busy for many months past, but I feel positive myself that a Board is not the proper machinery for action to-day. I hope that we may be informed as to the exact steps the Government propose to take in this matter.
The Minister of Reconstruction also told us of the large sums which are going to be spent on demobilisation and transport, food, raw materials, and other purposes. When the previous. Consolidated Fund Bills were passed during the War we had confidence in passing those Bills, although they were for large sums of money, because we knew exactly the Government who would be responsible for the expenditure of that money. We have no assurance to-day that this money will be spent by a Coalition Government in future. In previous Consolidated Fund Bills we knew the Government who were responsible, and we knew that parties behind the Government were united in a common effort. We have, unfortunately, no such assurance to-day, and although I hope personally that a Coalition Government will continue in the immediate future, we have no assurance that we shall not be returning shortly to bitter party strife. The money which the Minister of Reconstruction and various other Departments will be spending will be spent, as the hon. and gallant Member told us, on the termination of war contracts and demobilisation, and if we are to return to bitter party controversy, some of those huge payments will lose their national character. I would 2959 appeal to all parties to make this Consolidated Fund Bill a symbol of unity, at any rate during demobilisation. The money has to be spent on demobilisation, and, as the Minister of Reconstruction told us on Tuesday, demobilisation is interwoven with the beginning of reconstruction, and it is none the less a war service, just as this Consolidated Fund Bill is on a war scale. It appeals for a common effort, and the machinery of government and the Departments which have been created during the War cannot be immediately scrapped, even after the peace is signed. As the Departments cannot be immediately scrapped, and as we must continue for many months, perhaps for a few years ahead, the Departments and the conditions which exist in this country, I hope that a Coalition Government will continue to guide the destinies of this country.
There is another reason why I think we should endeavour to sink our party differences. Our soldiers and sailors are returning from Flanders and Gallipoli and other parts, and they do not want to return to a country filled with strife. They have had experience of poisonous gases for the last three or four years, and they do not wish to return to a country filled with strife, or, as has been suggested elsewhere, with poisonous gases. After risking their lives these men want to return to this country and to find better social conditions and security of employment. The question I put to the House is this: Is this money under this Consolidated Fund Bill to be spent amid the sharp and bitter quarrels of party? In my judgment it should not be so. The Minister of Reconstruction told us of the large sums to be spent on transport ships and on putting them into good repair and on railways which need repair and other demobilisation services which are common objects and not party questions. So is the restoration of civil rights and the abolition of D.O.R.A. We have fought for freedom, and we must restore it during demobilisation time, not as a party act but as a national act. We gather from the Press this morning that the Government intend to maintain the present rate of wages for the next six months. Is this huge payment of public money to be spent by a Party Government? I think it will lose its main characteristic if it is spent by a Party Government. It should be spent by a Coalition Government with all parties behind it. I ask this question. Is this 2960 then not the time when political parties, whether Liberal or Unionist, Labour or any other section, should rather endeavour to sink their differences and seek accomodation one with the other? I know full well the difficulties with which my hon. Friends who sit on these benches are faced. I do not know the decisions of the Labour Congress this afternoon, but I hope even yet at this late hour we may seek to adjust our differences and so pass this Bill as the representatives of the nation to those men who are returning to these shores.
§ Dr. ADDISON
The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Altrincham (Major Hamilton) has asked some questions which I will endeavour to answer. The out-of-work donation is intended to be paid through the machinery associated with the Labour Employment Exchanges, which is now used for the payment of out-of-work benefit under the Unemployment Section of the Insurance Act. That will necessitate a great augmentation of the machinery, and therefore we have amalgamated the different Departments to which I referred the other day under one head. In answer to the hon. and gallant Gentleman's question as to where claims should be addressed, the reply is to the Ministry of Labour, as the different Departments which have been amalgamated are under the authority of the Ministry of Labour. Both the hon. and gallant Gentleman and the hon. and gallant Member who spoke last asked some questions as to the powers of the proposed Ministry of Supplies. I gather from the tenor of their remarks that they are generally in accord with that proposal. I think the experience of everyone who has had anything to do with war services, and both hon. Gentlemen have had inside knowledge of these matters, recognises that it is common sense and a businesslike thing to amalgamate twin services as much as possible. Rome was not built in a day, and we do not propose to dislocate things too rapidly, but what is intended is that we shall have in one Department the general governmental supply services. I do not for a moment expect that for some time to come that Department will be responsible for building warships. It will need time and patience and readjustment before any such arrangement as that could be made. The arrangements that have already been sanctioned as to this Ministry of Supplies deal with the supply services of the Government generally. The hon. and gallant Member for 2961 Altrincham pointed out the desirability of dealing with the termination of contracts in a collective way. I think it is obviously common sense and the right thing to do, as far as we can. That is one of the reasons why at this particular stage I advised the Government that we ought to take a decision now as to the Ministry of Supplies, because it will enable us to a great extent to deal with this particular question.
I share, with my hon. and gallant Friend his anxiety that we should give manufacturers as little trouble as possible, and that we should expedite the clearing of their accounts as much as we can, and that they should not be bothered with the visits of half a dozen different people where it is possible to avoid that. Where you have as much as twenty million items going through in one week, and that is at least the figure of the Ministry of Munitions, you are bound occasionally to have some difficulties. The hon. Member will have noticed in the papers this morning that we have issued an order enabling certain manufacturers to use certain stocks they have already in their yards, and so forth, with a view of getting subsequent accommodation. There is every desire to facilitate the clearance of works as soon as possible. With regard to aeroplanes, the physical difficulty of dealing with this mass of material is very great indeed, and it raises transport storage problems of serious difficulty. The Minister of Munitions is to make a statement in the. House on Monday next as to the steps they are taking in connection with these matters. That Department deals with the question of storage, clearance of accounts, and other matters of that kind, and my right hon. Friend will be able on Monday to give the hon. Member more detailed information than I can. Then I was asked about the transport executive which we have set up to deal with the storage, and my hon. Friend asked me quite properly to what Department that executive would be responsible? It will be, responsible to the Board of Trade. It is a transport problem. I cannot tell you, I am afraid, at this moment, what lines of traffic they are clearing for ordinary traffic and what lines of traffic they will reserve for demobilisation. I think that is a technical matter.
§ Dr. ADDISON
We will give as much information as we can as soon as possible. 2962 Another hon. Member asked about the arrangement—it is more than a good intention; it has become a fact—with reference to the disposal of the war stores. I entirely agree with him, that as things developed, it was clear that a Stores Disposal Board was not a workable proposal. Lord Salisbury's Council surveyed the whole question of the categories of stores, and how best they could be used for other purposes, or what policy should govern their disposal. It is on that account we feel that you must have one body responsible, as far as possible, for the general disposal of those stores. The authority for stores disposal has been concentrated now in the Ministry of Munitions, but that does not mean that this body will necessarily itself dispose, let us say, of horse-shoes and blankets that belong to the War Office. The body which will advise the policy to be pursued will advise the Minister; but, clearly enough, it would be quite impossible for this body to take physical disposal of things away from the people who are already dealing with them, and, subject to that general policy, it will be for those who now have the stores to deal with them or otherwise as is desirable. To give an illustration: Supposing the War Office has a large stock of sardines—the category of stores is a very bewildering business; it varies from sardines to camels—it is clear that, if you have a particular type of stores dealt with by one Department, the sensible tiling is to lay down lines of policy and the system of accounts to apply to them all. But where you have a store like motor-cars owned by four different Departments—the Admiralty, War Office, Ministry of Munitions, and the Air Ministry—it would be very foolish for all four Departments to be disposing of motor-cars. Therefore we concentrate in one of those Ministries the disposal of things of that kind. How you are to dispose of them is, of course, a detailed matter which you can only answer with reference to the general store itself. But I may say we intend, and we have, as a matter of fact, already taken steps to secure, that the requirements of public bodies, whether at home or not, for different categories of stores shall be ascertained beforehand, because we all recognise that in some of the services, particularly rural transport, we may be able to save a great deal of time by the utilisation of some of these stores. We have to secure that we do not damage the 2963 industry of the country at the same time. Those things will all be, and are being, taken into consideration.
With regard to the appeal of the hon. and gallant Member for Greenock (Colonel Collins), I think it will go without saying that I am in cordial agreement with him. I think, as he does, that the problems of the immediate future need all the good will and unity of purpose that we can possibly secure. And I think myself it is essential that, if we can secure it, we should get a sufficient unity of action dealing with the problem of the immediate future which is represented in the form of controllership of the Government. It is perfectly true, as the hon. Member says, that there is no guarantee that the present Coalition Government will be responsible for the expenditure of the money which the House is now voting. Well, that is in the lap of the gods, and we do not know. But that does not divest us in any way of our responsibility of making the proposals to the House at this time. So long as we are responsible for their discharge, we shall discharge them in accordance with the lines of policy I set out to the House at very great length the other night.
§ Mr. D. MASON
There has been a remarkable Report recently issued by Lord Cunliffe, and, I think, before this House dissolves, we ought to draw attention to this most important Report, which affects every trading and banking concern, and, in fact, every industry throughout the whole country. This Report is entitled the "First Interim Report of the Committee on Currency and Foreign Exchanges After the War." It is signed by Lord Cunliffe, who, as is well known, was formerly Governor of the Bank of England, and amongst the signatories are some of the most eminent and most distinguished bankers and financiers in this country. I think our congratulations, if I may say so, are due to these gentlemen for the care they have taken, and the lucidity with which this Report is drawn up. I would venture to suggest to any hon. Member that it would well repay him to peruse it. As the particular subject with which it deals, namely, the foreign exchanges, which, we know, have been affected all through the War, and the fact that finance enters into every conceivable form of trade or commerce, it seems to me that a study of this Report and the recommendations which it makes are well 2964 worth the attention of this House, and I hope the attention of the Government, and that action will be taken along the lines suggested in this Report, which, I venture to think, are, in the main, sound and worthy of such support.
The Minister of Reconstruction, in a very interesting survey the other day, said that the supreme question for this country now was the maintenance of a supply of raw materials necessary for the carrying on of trade and industry. We know, of course, that to obtain these raw materials in various countries, the question of the exchange, the question of maintaining our credit, and the free interchange of bills of exchange, are essential. Therefore, to my mind, the necessary action of the Government in carrying out the recommendations which are contained in this Report, seem to me to be essential if we are to get back to peace industry, if we are to get our trade put on a solid, sound foundation, and, in fact, seem to me to lie at the very root of our future trade and commerce. The Report is really a Report on what one might term the smashing of the machine of foreign exchanges. I do not propose, of course, to survey the whole of what has taken place. It is well known to many of us how, after 1914, the exchanges got out of gear, and action was taken by the Government in the carrying through the House of the Currency Act, which tended to alleviate the situation, but which, as shown in this Report, finally smashed the machine and prevented the natural working of the foreign exchanges. The Report endeavours to show how the machine may be repaired, and the possibility, within a reasonably short period, of the machine again being put into working order.
It is said by many that the financial supremacy of the City of London has disappeared, and has passed away for ever to the City of New York. I, for one, do not believe that for a moment, though it is true that we are very much dependent on the United States of America, and I desire to pay a tribute to the enormous financial help which we have derived from credits and from assistance by the United States. But if we have the skill and the courage which we have seen so well displayed by our soldiers and sailors in battle to bring to a successful and honourable close this great War—if we are to follow in their footsteps, we also can show in our several 2965 spheres that we have the same skill and courage, and can bring back again the City of London to the great position it formerly occupied. I believe it is possible to do that. In the first place, London is still where it was, and when we know the enormous population of England and that all the great trade routes, more or less, have their centre in London, it seems we need not have any fear or craven thought that we will not regain our financial supremacy. This Report endeavours to point the way to again resuming proper trading and the proper working of these important exchanges. In certain of the paragraphs it is very lucidly laid down how it is that these exchanges have failed to work, and how it is that they may again be put into proper working order. It is explained in another paragraph how this system works. Owing to the competition by the Treasury in continually issuing Treasury currency notes, the Bank of England was unable to stop this strain, and was rendered entirely ineffectual by the tendency to increase credit and by the Treasury continually issuing paper money during the past three or four years. The Report recognises that the remedy for this state of affairs is the actual transfer to the Bank of England of the control of these matters. The problem is, How are we to get back to the natural state of affairs which formerly existed? The Report is very cautious, because the Bank of England does not wish to embarrass itself. When you have a currency issue of £290,000,000, which is still increasing, the Bank is naturally very chary about taking over any great responsibility. Therefore these recommendations have been very carefully drawn up, and the Committee have been by no means hasty in their conclusion. They suggest that the steps should be very gradual.
I for one have often recommended that if the high prices which exist to-day are to be prevented rising any further, one of the most effective methods of stopping it would be to contract the issue of these currency notes and bring trade back to its normal state. I believe you will have considerable activity in trade, but still I think we must face the fact that there will probably be a considerable decrease in that activity in certain quarters. If you artificially cheapen money you will still further inflate prices. I hope, therefore, that the recommendations of this Committee will be sympathetically considered 2966 by the Government and that some action will be taken by them to put them into force. The Report of the Committee on the cost of living has just been issued. It shows that the increase in the cost of living since the beginning of the War has been from 80 per cent. to 90 per cent., and one of the main contributory factors in accentuating this increase has been the action of the Treasury. This is rather a technical subject, but I think it is one of immense importance, because we know we have repeated attempts, many of them justifiable, to secure increases of pensions and allowances and wages. In these matters we are really working in a vicious circle. The more we increase the war bonuses, the greater is the cost of living. There is no finality, in fact, in this direction. What is necessary is that we should find some method of reducing prices. We want to do something which will allay unrest among an important part of the community. We want to get back to the sounder state of trade and industry, and if we reduce prices it will enable us the better to compete with other countries, and it will do more to stimulate our trade and industry. We want now to reduce the cost of production, so that we may stimulate our exports. We want to do everything possible to stimulate industry and trade in every direction.
I need only mention one fact to show the alarming state of our present trade. This year we may possibly have a surplus of imports over exports of something like from £700,000,000 to £1,000,000,000, and that must, of course, entail an adverse exchange with the United States. We have only been able to maintain our exchange during the last two or three years by getting further credits established with the United States and by continuous borrowing. Now the necessity for that has disappeared, and we must face the problem how we are going to liquidate our indebtedness and get back to the position in which our exchanges were and be able to cease borrowing. The essential point is to stop Government borrowings as soon as possible. In the days of the Napoleonic Wars we raised taxation at the rate of 40 per cent. During the Crimean War we raised it at the rate of 50 per cent., and during the Boer War at the rate of 33⅓ Per cent. But in this War the proportion we have raised by taxation has been well under 5 per cent. The extravagance and high prices which have resulted from this method of finance has produced a situation 2967 with which we are now faced, and it has stimulated our imports enormously, with the result that we are faced with the position that we have an excess of imports over exports to the extent of from £700,000,000 to £1,000,000,000. I may be asked what is the solution of this problem. Some financial authorities are almost in despair at the prospect of getting back that freedom which we formerly enjoyed. I believe that one remedy is this—for we may learn lessons from similar crises in the past—in 1891 we had what was called the Baring crisis. The great house of Baring was embarrassed, and likely to fall. How was that crisis tided over? By a syndicate or a league of firms getting together and forming a guarantee fund, by allowing time the liabilities of the firm were gradually liquidated without any loss to the guarantors, and the house of Baring was saved. The same principle may be applied to our national affairs, and, if applied, would probably bring about the same result. Many of us, from the Prime Minister downwards, are enthusiastic supporters of a League of Nations, and ii seems to me that here again we may well find a solution of the troubles to which I have referred. If we have within this League of Nations in connection with our financial arrangements with the United States and other of our great Allies, whereby we may gradually get back the proper financial working of the exchanges—if that, I say, could be perpetuated I think this time of embarrassment may be tided over. I notice that President Wilson, in the message to our King, just published, says:We know of the great partnership of interests and sentiment to which we belong.Of course we know. Those who have any experience of finance know what an enormous debt has been piled up in the United States. I desire to see that indebtedness removed. I am conscious of the fact, and have always paid a tribute to the assistance of the United States, but I desire to see my country free from this embarrassment. We must have co-operation in a League of Nations, not, however, still further to issue loans and to have a further plunging into debt, but rather as, in the Baring matter, to guarantee and to perpetuate this continuity of, co-operation for the purpose gradually of liquidating all our various liabilities. I hope, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman who represents the Treasury and the Government 2968 will seek rather to use the perpetuation of these powers of working together for the purpose of reducing our liabilities and of getting back as quickly as possible to ordinary and normal conditions. The other day I received a letter from Lord Cunliffe, Chairman of this Committee. I had written a letter in the "Westminster Gazette," and Lord Cunliffe referred to it. Lord Cunliffe said:I have your note. When I first read your letter in the 'Westminster Gazette'—a letter referring to the floating debt, and urging the Government to issue their proposals as soon as possible for finding the floating debt—I determined one day to ask for your ideas on a scheme for funding the floating debt.Perhaps it would be out of order to suggest a means by which that could be effected, and for two reasons. It is very difficult to work out one's ideas as to how the floating debt should be funded, not being in office, or in possession of the information which is necessary for drawing up some such scheme. It is, I say, a very difficult matter, certainly on the floor of this House to submit a scheme. Secondly, I think it would not be in order in a Debate on the Appropriation Bill to say how the money should be raised and in what particular form. I believe, however, I am quite in order in saying that I agree with Lord Cunliffe and others in the City as to the supreme urgency of this particular operation being carried out as soon as possible. We have to-day a floating debt of £1,400,000,000. We know as the vast industry of the country develops that it demands capital to be increased rather than decreased. We hope—as we all do hope—to get rid of this artificially cheap credit which is flooding the country, and has been flooding it through our methods of finance, which I believe to be quite unsound, and which may perhaps have been excusable in time of war but will be suicidal to pursue in time of peace—because of this I suggest to the Government—and I believe the suggestion will be supported by many others in the City of London and throughout the country—that it is supremely necessary to bring forward their proposals for funding these short-dated securities as soon as possible.
In conclusion, I would only—as I have already spoken of the necessity for the cessation of public borrowing at the earliest possible moment—emphasise again this point. We are now engaged in discussing 2969 this Bill. It is founded upon a Vote of Credit for £700,000,000, which we hope will be the last. We are conscious of the enormous burden which we have incurred in what we all, I think unanimously, believe to have been a just cause. Whether, however, causes are just or unjust they have to be paid for. We have to face that particular fact. It is one which many sober, serious men must realise as one of appalling gravity. Therefore, I hope that this easy method under which we have continuously lived of issuing loans and always incurring further liability either by diluting the currency by increased paper money or getting further credits, is finished, and that having now arrived at the peace period, the Government, when they go to the country, will put these points prominently before the people. I trust they will stand for a resumption of economy. While there are certain necessary reforms, I trust they will also try to cut their coat according to their cloth. Having spent our money we cannot altogether indulge in many things which we might have done at one time. One of the greatest reforms that we can pursue in this country is to maintain our solvency and to pursue drastic and strict economies. The other day I came across a passage from McCulloch, a financial authority, where he points out the insidious and most dangerous effect which flows from the excess of borrowing, which certainly we have been indulging in during the last four years. Writing on the "Advantages and Disadvantages of the Funding System" (page 428), he says:An excess of funding or loan issuing bears a close resemblance to those most dangerous diseases which steal slowly and imperceptibly on the Constitution, and do not discover their malignant symptoms until they have fastened on the vitals and vitiated the whole animal economy. The industry and economy of individuals and nothing else can effectually countervail the profusion and waste occasioned by a war…It is true that we have enjoyed in many industries a great prosperity. There has been a great plethora of money, and, as we all know, great extravagance. That is easy to see. I understand the Prime Minister is inclined now to say that we are going to have a wonderful programme of reforms of all sorts. We are going to have unlimited money spent on housing. All of this, it may be quite true, is very necessary; and certainly I, for one, in my own Constituency know, and have said, that there is a famine in houses. We 2970 have, however, to have regard to the population we are going to have, and where the houses are likely to be needed. Over and above everything we have to consider what we have the money to do, what reforms we can afford to indulge in. If we strain ourselves and we get panics, bankruptcies, and failures, and so disorder; if we have no regard to the position to which the world has come as a result of this enormous expenditure, the reforms will be false. It will be false economy to tempt the working classes of this country to indulge in certain schemes, however desirable they may be, if it is at the cost of the embarrassment of our Treasury and the undermining of our national credit.
§ Sir C. KINLOCH-COOKE
I do not propose to detain the House very long, but I should like to bring forward a matter which, on many occasions during the Session, I have brought forward in this House. I have, first of all, addressed myself to the First Lord of the Admiralty. I have then addressed myself to the Post Office Department. I have endeavoured also to knock at the door of the Treasury. On no occasion have I received any satisfactory reply. The matter which I am now introducing is one which affects a great number of people in the country. It is a matter which affects Civil Service pensioners. I am not so much concerned with the men who have large pensions. They can very well afford to look after themselves. The people whom I am particularly interested in, and upon whose behalf I make the appeal to the Treasury, are those men who have comparatively small pensions. In many cases these men are infirm and unable to do work of any kind. They are one and all—or nearly so—in what I may describe as very straitened circumstances. I have here a list of about a dozen men who held Post Office pensions which average something like 15s. 6d. per week. These men are all over sixty years of age. They have put in service ranging from twenty-eight to forty-five years at the Post Office, yet their average pension at the present moment is not so much as 15s. 6d. per week. It will be admitted by everyone here that that sum is not one upon which any man, woman, or even child can exist in view of the present cost of living. It is not, however, only the Post Office pensioners upon whose behalf I would appeal; I would also appeal on behalf of the dockyard 2971 pensioners. Not very long ago I received a deputation of dockyard pensioners. One man told me that he had worked in the dockyard, I think it was twenty-three years, when he was invalided out. His pension was 5s. 6d. per week. He had upon that to keep his family. He had, happily, children who were able to assist in the upkeep of the family, or it would have been impossible for him to live. At the same time, here was a poor man who was in receipt of 5s. 6d. a week pension. I have asked on many occasions that during the War a bonus should be given to these small pensioners, or else, if that cannot be done, a Bill should be introduced enabling the State to add something to these pensions in order that they may be able to meet in some way the extra cost of living.
It may be said that I am introducing a new principle, but this I deny. Already a war bonus has been given to officers in the Post Office whose wages or salaries do not exceed £500 a year, and if it was necessary to give this bonus to these officers how much more necessary is it to give a bonus to servants, many of whom are approaching the verge of starvation! Not only is the war bonus recognised in the Post Office, but it is also recognised in other Government Departments. Very early in the War I was one among many who called the attention of the House to the case of the old age pensioners, and it was decided, without any discussion, that the old age pensions should be raised. Why was that done? Simply to meet the extra cost of living and the smallness of the pension. The pensions I have read out are similarly small. I do not think they are exactly of the same measure, but in view of the work done by these pensioners their pensions must be considered very small, and they must find very great difficulty in meeting the present high cost of living, which has gone up, we are told, by something like 120 per cent. How can a man in those circumstances meet a position of that kind? I hardly need argue that, because the Secretary to the Treasury must be aware that it is quite impossible for a man receiving such a small pension to keep up any kind of position, much less to feed a family.
Why were these pensions given? In order that officials of the Civil Service should not be placed, after leaving the service, in a position of great hardship. That was the idea of the State when it 2972 set up a system of pensions for Civil servants. Is that intention being carried out? I submit that it is not. The hardships that these men endure are very great and they were never anticipated when the pension was fixed. Surely the time has come when if it is not possible to give a war bonus extending over a certain period until at least the cost of living reaches normal conditions, it is possible to introduce a measure which will in some way or other raise these pensions to enable these men, at any rate, to live without suffering the great hardship which they have to endure under present circumstances. This has already been done in France, where they have voted £30,000,000 to raise Civil Service pensions, and under this Vote the small pensioners are to benefit. I mentioned the question of dockyard pensioners, who are particularly in circumstances of difficulty, because they are men who are unable to do any other work at all for many reasons. I do appeal to the Treasury to consider the matter and endeavour in some way to meet what I think the House will agree is a very justifiable grievance. I do not need to press this matter any further, and I feel sure the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will in his reply sympathise with the position of these pensioners. I ask him very humbly but forcibly to give something more than sympathy and do what he can to alleviate their sufferings and enable them during these trying times to tide over a period by giving some addition to their very small emoluments.
§ Mr. BALDWIN (Joint Financial Secretary to the Treasury)
Before I reply to the last speaker I should like to comment briefly upon the speech of the hon. Member for Coventry (Mr. D. M. Mason) and to say bow pleased I was to hear his remarks upon the most admirable Report of the Currency Committee which has recently appeared, and which I hope will be read and studied by other hon. Members of this House, because I feel that the principles which underlie that Report are sound, and are principles which should guide us, as far as we are able to adopt them, in the difficult times that lie ahead. There was nothing in my hon. Friend's speech which I desire to criticise except one remark, and that was when he made the rather curious statement that in the financing of this War during the last four years we had, in his opinion, not spent enough out of taxation.
§ Mr. BALDWIN
Not raised enough, and he made comparisons of the percentages in previous wars. I should like to remind the House that no percentages can be comparable with the War which is now drawing to a close and previous wars. There has never been a war comparable to the present one in the number of men engaged, in the enormous amount of material, in the vast expenditure of that material; and what we have to look at is not a comparative percentage, but the amount of money which has been raised year by year by taxation. When we look at it from that point of view, and when people look at it in years to come, I think they will feel that the effort this country has made during the last four years has been one which is not unworthy, and one that will compare favourably with any efforts in this direction which have been made in previous wars. There is one other remark with which I am in complete agreement. It may be that only for a short time shall I be responsible, even in the capacity I am to-day for the finances of this country, but, I sincerely hope that this may be the last Vote of Credit. As far as I have any influence, my desire is to get the finances of this country back again on the Estimates, although I realise that if that be the policy, it may not be possible for the next twelve months to present Estimates with the accuracy of those presented in pre-war years, and the Estimates themselves must be, from the circumstances of the case, sufficiently wide to meet many unforeseen contingencies. Even then I feel that would be preferable to going on much longer with the continuation of a system of Votes of Credit.
I come now to the remarks made by the hon. Member for Devonport (Sir C. Kinloch-Cooke). Be has dealt with a subject which he has advocated with sincerity and persistence for a long time, and it is a question that interests a number of hon. Members of this House. I do not wonder at that, because no doubt there is a great deal in the cases of those pensioners which makes a very strong appeal to the sympathy not only of the Government, but of hon. Members who study those conditions. I want to put before my hon. Friend one or two points which we who are responsible for the spending of money here have to bear in mind, and if I have to say "No" to his request I hope he will at least absolve me to the extent that he will 2974 not attribute it to hardness of heart or to an extra dose of "original sin." He knows probably as well as I do, that all of these pensions are governed by Statute, and cannot be increased without legislative authority. That being so, it becomes impossible at this stage, even if we were desirous to make other provision. The amount at present paid in these pensions to those who derive their rights of pension from these Acts is something over £3,000,000 a year. I do not base my case-so much on what, after all, is a technical difficulty as I do on two other points. In the first place, I have a responsibility to the taxpayer, although it may sound late in the day to put that claim before the House of Commons. The House may feel that the Treasury has not realised this responsibility in the last four years, but whether that be the case or not, I am sure that at this moment it is our duty o scrutinise very closely every demand made on the public purse. Here I come to the point that moves me most in this matter.
After all, Civil Service pensioners are to-day in a privileged position as compared with a large army of men who have rendered unestablished service in the Civil Service, and as compared with the great mass of the people, who, not having been in the Civil Service at all, and having performed their duties with the ordinary risks of trade and industry, find themselves with no pensions of any kind, however small. Is it quite fair to the mass of these people with small incomes, upon whom ultimately falls indirectly a great deal of the heavy taxation of the present day, that we should take this one comparatively small and privileged class, and still further increase the privilege that they enjoy. That is quite a fair way of looking at it. I cannot persuade myself at the present time that it would be an act of justice to those much larger classes whose need is as great, or greater. It is quite true that a number of these pensioners are too old or too feeble to work, but it is equally true that a great many of them are still able to work. The House must remember that the demand for labour has been unprecedented, and that the wages for most of the labour have also been unprecedented. There have been better opportunities than at any previous time for those who were able to work to add substantially to their income. I regret very much having to say "no" to my hon. Friend. Constitutionally, I dislike using 2975 that word. I do not dislike using it so much as I did two years ago, but I do dislike it, and it is with real regret that I have to tell him that we cannot consider the case which he has put to the House with so much ability and so much sympathy. The Government must maintain the refusal that they have felt themselves bound to give to repeated questions put in the House during this Session and last Session.
§ Mr. DUNCAN MILLAR
I desire to call the attention of the House to two matters of urgent importance which have been very strongly urged upon me from Scotland and which affect the interests of the foremen in engineering trades throughout the country, and all those industrial workers who are looking forward to a better scheme of housing throughout our land. I will deal, first, with the question of the foremen. I should like especially to call attention to the unfortunate delay which has occurred in settling the claim of a most deserving class of workers, who may be called the non-commissioned officers of the great army of industry, and who, during these past years, have given of their very best in the service of their country. I am sure that my hon. Friend (Mr. Kellaway) will be the first to acknowledge the debt that his Department owes to the foremen in the engineering trades throughout this country. They have put forward their claim in a very fair manner and they have taken no means of enforcing it beyond the arguments of reason and of justice which they have presented to his Department and to the Treasury. The foremen in the engineering and allied trades—I speak especially for those who are situated in Scotland, because the numerous representations that I have received have come from my own Constituency and from other districts in the West of Scotland where the engineering shops are situated—ever since 1st October, 1917, have placed their claim before the Ministry of Munitions that they should share in the advances which have been made after due consideration to the workers engaged in our large industrial establishments during the War. Their claim now amounts to 45s. 6d., being the total of the advances which from time to time have been made to the other industrial workers, including the 12½ per cent. bonus, and to which they regard themselves as entitled. Throughout this period they have been urging upon the Ministry of Munitions 2976 that they ought to receive due consideration. I do not desire to take up the time of the House by tracing all the negotiations which have taken place, but I should like to mention one or two facts.
The foremen, through their association, have had a number of interviews with the Ministry of Munitions. After their first interview, when their claim was very fully discussed and considered in a sympathetic spirit, a circular was issued, on 29th November, 1917, by the Engineering Employers' Federaton, recommending amongst other things that an advance, on rates of 25s. per week, should be given to foremen as from 1st August, 1917, the date when the claim was put forward. That advance was to cover, first, any amounts proposed as the equivalent of the 12½ per cent., under the Skilled Time-Workers' Order, 1917; secondly, the 5s. given by the Committee on Production to workmen from December, 1917; and, thirdly, any general advance given to foremen since August, 1917, other than amounts equivalent to the award of the Committee on Production to workmen of 8s. per week. That suggestion, which came through the Ministry of Munitions, was recommended by the employers themselves to all the firms to which the circular was sent. It was put categorically in this circular that the suggestions had come direct from the Ministry of Munitions. I am glad to say that a number of firms did act on that circular. In fact, the strength of my case lies in the fact that a number of the larger firms, such as Beard-more and Denny, had no hesitation whatever in giving effect to the recommendations. Unfortunately, a number of other firms held out. A further plea had to be made to the Ministry of Munitions to bring these other firms into line. In correspondence with the Ministry of Munitions, I was informed that the Law Officers of the Crown had some doubt whether, in the event of firms refusing to pay, the Order could be enforced under the Munitions Acts. I was informed in September, 1918, that the matter was receiving consideration. Subsequently another meeting was held between the engineering firms and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Blackfriars Division of Glasgow (Mr. Barnes), who, I understand, along with my hon. Friend, was quite prepared to admit the justice of the claim and indicated that he would do everything in his power to have the advance granted. Nothing, however, 2977 came of it until a circular was issued by the Employers' Federation at the beginning of October, 1918, to this effect:The Minister of Munitions—The circular referred to an interview which had taken place—met recently a deputation on behalf of the foremen, when he stated—I am founding my case upon a view accepted by the Department—that in his opinion foremen should be in receipt of total war advances equal to 40s. per week plus 5s. 6d. per week recently sanctioned, and under-foremen 40s. per week plus 4s. 6d.It was also stated that the Minister was further consulting the Law Officers of the Crown as to whether he had power to issue an Order making these advances compulsory and if the Department wore advised in the affirmative the Order instructing payment of these amounts would be issued. The Circular went on further to say that the Representatives of the Department expressed the hope that federated firms would on their own hand, grant any advance necessary in order to avoid the necessity for compulsion being applied. One or two further interviews have taken place, and I have received letters from the Secretary of the Foremen's Association, in which he says that both the right hon. Gentleman, who is at the head of the Munition Department (Mr. Churchill) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Elackfriars Division, indicated that the case was just and clear, and that they were entitled to the advance. I understand, that since that date the Law Officers of the Crown have indicated, that it was within the power of the Ministry of Munitions to issue a compulsory Order. That being so, I put it to my hon. Friend, that steps should be taken at the earliest possible moment to give effect to the recommendations of his own Department. The only answer which so far has been given me, is that the Ministry cannot act without knowing the employers who are holding out. I imagine that by this time that information is in their hands. At any rate, they have had ample time to obtain it. I should have thought that they would have notified their recommendations to all the firms direct, and that they would have known what action had been taken. I desire very earnestly to appeal to my hon. Friend to have the matter settled without delay. I have met these foremen, and I understand that other Members representing industrial divisions of Scotland 2978 have also listened to their case. They are men who have given most loyal service throughout the period of the War, but during this long time they have been asked to stand out, although they regard themselves as entitled to receive these large war advances which have been granted to other industrial workers. I appeal to the hon. Gentleman to settle the matter now, and to make the award retrospective, dating from 1st August, 1917, when the Ministry first indicated that it should be made, so that these men may not suffer owing to the good spirit and the good feeling that they have shown.
I need hardly warn my hon. Friend that if he wants to avoid the undoubted unrest which results from unjust treatment, he must try to have this matter settled now, without any further delay. These representatives have been told over and over again that the Ministry is in full sympathy with them. Yes, but they expect the Ministry to act and do something. It does not satisfy them when they put forward a moderate case to be told that difficulties may have emerged, which are not insuperable, but which have during the whole of this long period prevented a settlement being arrived at. I am appealing to the hon. Gentleman in a spirit which he will recognise is intended to result in a settlement which is overdue and which will promote good feeling throughout the engineering establishments of this country. I believe these men have very great sympathy from a large number of their fellow-workers, and their claim, which covers the case of the foremen, under-foremen and others in similar positions, is one which ought to be settled without further delay.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Munitions is, I am afraid, conjointly liable—if I may use a Scottish legal expression—with the Secretary for Scotland for another matter which I desire to raise, namely, the question of housing, particularly in relation in the first instance to the war-workers' scheme in Lanarkshire for housing the war-workers in that congested district. I have repeatedly urged this matter upon the Scottish Office and Ministry of Munitions, and I am bound to say that in my judgment the culprit is the Ministry of Munitions, because every effort has been made to meet the case so far as the Secretary for Scotland is concerned. I know he has striven hard to see that these houses which are overdue in 2979 the Middle Ward district of Lanarkshire should be erected without delay. The position is this. These houses have been required owing to the very serious danger to public health and to the whole community from the terrible and appalling congestion which has arisen in this particular district of Lanarkshire. A claim was put forward so far back as May, 1917, for a large number of houses in the district by the local authorities, the public health authorities, including all the large burghs of Lanarkshire, and the trades councils. After discussion, the local authorities agreed to a modified scheme of 1,750 houses being built to meet the immediate needs of the war-workers in that district. Eventually, however, owing to the conditions created by the War they agreed to accept an instalment of 250 houses, which were to be divided amongst the different local authorities. On the 4th February, 1918, they received an intimation from the Local Government Board that, subject to the consent of the Treasury, the Minister of Munitions had agreed to the erection of 250 houses being proceeded with on the understanding that the same conditions would apply to the scheme as existed under the agreement with the Middle Ward District Committee for previous Ministry housing schemes. It was only on the 23rd September, 1918, that the Local Government Board wired that the Treasury had sanctioned the scheme of 250 houses. I desire to draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Munitions to the terms, which were the erection of these houses on the same terms as those existing for the mid-Lanark housing scheme—on the understanding that houses will be let at most favourable rents obtainable, not being less than may be sufficient to secure an economic return of 70 per cent. of the cost.That was a condition which was not in keeping with the conditions of the previous Lanarkshire schemes. In each previous case a reasonable rental was taken as the basis of the liability for the deficit which might arise after letting the houses at a reasonable rental. That has been interpreted throughout as corresponding to the rental of houses of similar character in the district. The condition here stated is that the rental of a two-roomed kitchen house would be £32 or £33 a year, which the local authorities consider wholly unreasonable. I hardly need ask my Scottish colleagues to support me in the view that 2980 £32 or £33 for a two-roomed house represents, at the present moment, a rental which could never be accepted or never be obtained as an economic rent. Accordingly, the local authorities decided that, if that condition were adhered to, the proposal could not be accepted. In a subsequent letter, addressed by the Ministry of Munitions to the Local Government Board on the 3rd October, no mention whatever was made of the stipulation that a return on 70 per cent. of the cost would be required. In order to clear up the matter these local authorities, representing the largest and most populous burghs in Scotland outside the two or three large cities, came to London and had interviews with the Secretary for Scotland and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Munitions with regard to the question of rent. On the 24th October they had interviews with the representatives of the Ministry of Munitions, when they were told that the Ministry was not yet in a position to give a definite reply. So far, no reply whatever has been received. I submit to the House that it is hardly for a Department, which is fully made aware of the great industrial unrest which has been created owing to the housing conditions in the Lanarkshire centres, to postpone, or, at any rate, to delay, the consideration of a request put forward in May, 1917, so that at the end of the War we are still in the position that nothing whatever has been done, and not a single one of these houses under this scheme, which was of immediate urgency, has yet been built. The local authorities have a very good case, and I hope it will be supported by my hon. and learned Friend opposite (Colonel Greig), who hails from the same district. The case they make is that it is quite unfair to fix an arbitrary method of obtaining a return which brings out such a disastrous result as regards the rental requiring to be imposed, and that the only reasonable way of determining the rental is to fix it by comparison with the rentals obtaining in the district for houses of similar accommodation and construction.
The delay has resulted in this: It has adversely affected the whole question both with regard to cost and consequent rental, while the conditions have been steadily getting worse since the proposal was first mooted. I do not desire to go into further details, but to sum up the matter, the Ministry of Munitions are undoubtedly responsible for the building 2981 of these houses. It is their scheme, at least so far as details are concerned, and it should be completed under conditions which prevail in similar schemes. I would ask the hon. Gentleman whether he is not prepared to meet this request and allow the same conditions to apply which have applied in previous schemes, namely, to fix the rents at a reasonable figure, having regard to the corresponding rentals in the district, and to meet the deficit, as he is prepared to do, in other cases? If this matter is allowed to continue its present position, I can assure him that he is seeking trouble, because the position is extremely acute, and was acute, even before the War. In Motherwell only ninety-three houses have been built since 1910. The population has increased during that interval very considerably, and the state of the housing accommodation there is something appalling. I do not want to weary the House with illustrations, but I will give one which conveys a, very full idea of the situation. During the last three months every ninth birth which has taken place in Motherwell has taken place in buildings where there was no water or any sanitary convenience. Of course, serious risks result both to the mothers and to the children. It is really an appalling situation. We hear about the dangers of revolution. I associate myself with what was said by the President of the Local Government Board in a speech the other day:He did not wonder that there had been industrial unrest. He only wondered that there had not been a revolution years ago, because the record of our health bespoke the record of bad housing and insufficient food, light, air, sleep, and recreation that reflected in the most dreadful way upon our life as a nation.I regret to say that no better illustration of that condition can be found than in these large industrial centres of Lanarkshire and elsewhere where we have had war workers engaged at the highest pressure throughout the War, sometimes working double and three shifts, having to go to their homes to find nothing there for them in the way of food, no comforts, and the sleeping accommodation either occupied or perhaps just left by someone who has gone out on another shift. These conditions involve a public danger to the nation. I hope there will be some special answer from the Departments concerned with regard to the war-housing scheme. May I say that the general policy of housing is creating very great interest? It is a matter which will arise, perhaps, almost more than any other matter that will be 2982 dealt with during the coming weeks in the General Election. In the industrial districts the women will take an opportunity of expressing themselves very forcibly upon this subject. I regret extremely that the Government have not allowed a day for the discussion of their housing policy before the Dissolution. That was refused the other day in the House. We have had no general statement on housing policy made in this House, and the only measure introduced so far is a small Bill which was introduced the other day dealing in a most inadequate fashion with the situation, and which was generally accepted by the House as being quite insufficient to satisfy the feeling which exists throughout the country. The danger is a very real one. The situation was acute before the War. The population has been increasing, and there have been large extensions of works. We are about to face the return of the soldiers. What are soldiers going to say when they come back to these hovels, many of which are worse than the dugouts they have left? There are many districts throughout the land where the Government will be faced with a demand from those who have fought for them that they shall immediately see that an end is put to these conditions and that they should not be allowed to recur. I say they are faced with a very great danger. At the present moment there is no subject which ought to receive more immediate attention, both with regard to, the provision of building schemes and of preparation to enable us to proceed immediately with the provision of housing accommodation, than this question which I am discussing at the present moment. Now, we in Scotland have had the advantage of a very full survey of the housing conditions which have been given in the Royal Housing Commission's Report. I am not going to weary the House by going into that Report in detail at all, because all Scottish Members are familiar with it. The Secretary for Scotland is as anxious as anyone to see that something can be done to carry out the recommendations of the Royal Commission, and I have urged this upon him. But when you come to sum up the situation, nothing has been done to carry out those recommendations.
I do not want to do an injustice to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but I want to prove what I say. I know there has been something done in the way of sending circulars out by the Local Government Board to ascertain the requirements 2983 of each local authority. But what has the result been so far? He was good enough to give me an answer the other day indicating that he was informed that while no schemes were in their final stage schemes had been submitted for approval. So far local authorities had schemes in course of preparation for the provision of about 9,000 houses. The local authorities themselves had indicated that they were prepared to build 110,000 houses, while the Royal Commission indicated returns placing their requirements at a much higher figure, 121,000 new houses altogether being the shortage of houses of existing standards and 114,000 houses of an improved standard, or a total of 235,000. At this moment when we have happily secured peace, they have only schemes prepared for the provision of about 9,000 houses. I do suggest that the reason why so few schemes have been put forward is owing to the difficulties which the local authorities have had to face, or we should, I think, have got a good deal more done. I want to put to my right hon. and learned Friend that there are two difficulties which are very serious. One of them relates to the question of finance and the other relates to the question of the acquisition of sites.
§ The SECRETARY for SCOTLAND (Mr. Munro)
I do not want to interrupt my hon. and learned Friend, but before he sits down perhaps he will deal with the other difficulties relating to labour, material, and transport?
§ Mr. MILLAR
I am very much obliged to my right hon. and learned Friend for mentioning that point. It is one which I certainly should deal with, but I was dealing with the difficulties which the housing authorities and local authorities had in preparing their schemes. Now these two difficulties, I want my right hon. Friend to realise, are felt by all local authorities and by all those who are interested in housing in Scotland, including the Chairman of the Housing Committee himself. He has taken a very great interest in this question, and he is following the situation to-day. As my right hon. and learned Friend knows, he came the other day to see the Scottish Members along with other representatives, and I regret very much to say that he is filled with anxiety—an anxiety which I and others share—at the situation to-day. Well, now, what are our difficulties? The first relates to finance. The local authorities have been asked to 2984 shoulder a substantial share of the burden in order to meet the deficit which will arise after all the charges have been met and the revenue has been received on the new houses which are to be built. They are asked to shoulder something like 25 per cent. to 30 per cent.—I think 30 per cent.: 70 per cent. being for the State.
§ Mr. MILLAR
Oh, 25 per cent. and 75 per cent.! With regard to the figure, I might say the Housing Commission's Report says that the State should shoulder the whole burden of the deficit, so that the houses can be provided and let at an economic rent. The proposal now is that the local authorities would meet 25 per cent. I am told that is safeguarded by a provision that it does not exceed 1d. in the rate, but my right hon. and learned Friend will, perhaps, be able to inform the House whether that stands?
§ Mr. MILLAR
Very well. I was informed there was some doubt about it. Hs will see that the difficulty which arises is that many of these local authorities are not in a position, especially the smaller local authorities, to meet that expenditure, and if they do shoulder the proportion suggested—which I am told in the case of the small authorities may not be limited to a penny rate—they may be faced with very serious difficulties. Another point in finance which affects very seriously the position of those authorities is that they have all been asked to estimate not upon an annual basis what the deficit will be, but upon a septennial basis—that is to say, they have been asked to come forward with schemes not knowing what the possible charge on the Treasury will be for a period of seven years. That is a very difficult thing for any local authority to estimate—in fact, almost impossible. If they were allowed to treat the thing upon an annual basis they would be able to come forward and do so with much greater ease.
I am told that this difficulty is one which has held back many of the local authorities in submitting their schemes, particularly when they have not been able to form an adequate estimate of what the cost of the land is to be. It would be difficult for me to discuss anything relating to legislation on this Vote, but what I want to suggest is that the absence of 2985 any definite guidance given to the local authorities as to what the basis of the land values is to be or on what basis the land is to be acquired in future, makes it absolutely impossible for them in an estimate which has got to be approved by the Local Government Board to complete their schemes. In other words, the local authorities cannot come forward with watertight schemes at the present moment until they know what the land is going to cost and to what extent provision has got to be made. Now, an answer given me the other day to a question I put was that various local authorities had represented to the Board that they are experiencing difficulties in acquiring sites at a reasonable cost. Of course they are! Nothing has been settled as to the basis on which the sites should be acquired. The question of compulsory acquisition was one for consideration by a Committee. It is rather late in the day if we are only going to get the Report of a Committee issued after the War is over for us to have the question of the basis on which the land is to be taken determined without some controversy. It may be that under the Coalition Government we shall have an agreement as to the methods by which the land is to be acquired, but I do not want to speculate as to that. I should be at least doubtful whether there would be such absolute unanimity on the subject as to enable us to get a move on within the immediate future, and until the matter is settled there will be a very unfortunate period of delay, and we shall not be able to get on with our building schemes. The Royal Housing Commission has made it perfectly clear that they regard the question of land as fundamental, and they have made a recommendation in their Report that we should take the Finance Act valuation of 1909–10. I do not see why the Government should not agree to that. It seems to me that that would be a very simple way out of the difficulty, as a primâ facie value, giving a man an appeal if he thought the figure was not fair.
The hon. Member is not entitled to go into details which will require legislation on this occasion. We are dealing with the general question whether or not the Government ought to have legislated before now.
§ Mr. MILLAR
The point I was trying to make was that the Government has given the local authorities no notice whatever of its intentions with regard to what is going to be done, and, therefore, it is not in a 2986 position to estimate what the value of the land will be. This question of housing in Scotland is arousing more attention than almost any other subject. I do not think there is any general desire on the part of the Scottish people to be plunged into a General Election, but if they are to be there is no subject which will be more keenly canvassed than the Government's policy with regard to land, and the women of this country will take the opportunity of speaking out very plainly on the subject. The situation is painful to a degree. There are throughout Scotland many buildings which pass under the name of homes to those who occupy them, but which cannot be regarded as homes in any sense, and there has been during the War an increase of population in many districts. In the Motherwell district we had, in 1915, 238 marriages, and in 1916, 264, and 75 per cent. of those who were married are resident in the houses of their parents or other sublets, and there are thousands of people who are travelling backwards and forwards to their work, at very great loss of time to themselves, owing to shortage of houses in the industrial districts. There will be a shortage after the War on the basis of population in Motherwell of 900 houses. The population, including the demobilised soldiers, will amount to a figure of something like 45,000, and yet no provision whatever has been made for the building of a single house there. I feel sure I am not speaking to unsympathetic Ministers. I have urged this matter repeatedly upon the right hon. Gentleman in the full belief that he would do his utmost to expedite the housing programme for Scotland, but I regret extremely that at this stage we are not yet in a position of feeling that the situation is thoroughly safeguarded, and unless some immediate steps are taken to deal with it we can only look forward in the immediate future to very grave trouble and industrial unrest, which certainly will be very largely modified or reduced if the industrial population of Scotland feels that the Government is in earnest over this reform.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I wish to support the plea which, in the first instance, my hon. Friend put before the Ministry of Munitions in relation to the wages of foremen. These workmen have been in an unfavourable position compared with others in relation to rises of wages during the War. They have worked hard and loyally through these four hard and strenuous years and, while there may have been 2987 discontent and threats of strikes among other ranks of the workmen, there has been throughout the utmost loyalty on their part, and it is surely only right that when they put forward a moderate case for an improvement in their position corresponding to the increase in the cost of living, the Ministry of Munitions, using the powers which it has by Statute, should do all it can to satisfy their demands.
I turn to the second question with which my hon. Friend dealt—the housing conditions in Scotland, and particularly in the Lanarkshire area. The condition of housing was bad in Lanarkshire before the War. It urgently required drastic action. The requirements had become so obvious that investigations took place as to the extent of the evil and as to the measures which would be necessary to deal with them. That inquiry was going on when hostilities broke out. But these admitted evils have been greatly aggravated during the War. You had had in the first place a large increase in the industrial population there, and while this increase has been going on hardly anything has been done to meet the growing demand for houses. This larger population, in other words, has had to be housed under the inadequate and unsatisfactory conditions which prevailed before the War. My hon. Friend is justified in his complaint that further progress has not been made. I am quite aware of the difficulties under which Ministers had to labour. They have been confronted with a shortage of labour and of material and with difficulties of transport and all these things undoubtedly have made it extremely difficult to take in hand the actual provision of houses. But that does not answer the case of my hon. Friend, that a further advance should have been made in the preparation of schemes so that the moment the conditions I have mentioned were eased the work should have been taken in hand. The number of schemes already in preparation seems to be quite inadequate to deal with the situation. I hope, therefore, that one effect of this Debate will be to stimulate administrative action, and that the Secretary for Scotland will do his best to encourage the local authorities which are anxious to deal with the problem, and to stir up those who probably are not showing such a keen sense of their responsibility. If that is to be done, it is obviously necessary that the authorities should receive clear guidance 2988 from my right hon. Friend as to the conditions under which the schemes have to be carried out, and particularly as to the finance of those schemes. I think my hon. Friend opposite has shown very clearly that the financial provisions at present prevailing are not such as to encourage local authorities to take action, but are rather such as to discourage action on their part. They are going to involve a very heavy liability upon these authorities, which, naturally, they will be reluctant to take.
There is a further point in relation to rental which from the public point of view is even more important. Anybody who is conversant with the conditions in Lanarkshire in respect of house rent will agree that a rental of £32 or £34 a year for a two roomed house, with a kitchen, in that locality is a preposterous figure. We must remember that we have in this House set up a standard of rental. By the Increase of Rents Act we stereotyped the rents at the figure of August, 1914, and I think I am right in saying that the figures then prevailing for that class of house averaged £13 to £14. It is surely absurd to suggest that when yon have people accustomed to a rental of that figure; in fact, when you have that statutory figure put before them, and when you are also setting before them the promise that that figure is to continue after the War, it is absurd to suggest that you can call upon these same people to pay a rental of £32 or £34 for houses of the same character! I quite admit that the subject is one of great difficulty, but the enormous disparity between the two figures I have quoted proves absolutely that the rent now suggested in these schemes is a rent at which they cannot possibly be worked with any satisfaction to the public. We must remember that in this matter it is essential to give reasonable satisfaction to the public. The Increase of Rents Act was passed during the War for that purpose. In my own view, as I have said more than once in this House, it was too drastic a measure, and I think that in some respects that Act has aggravated the situation, because the terms which were then laid upon owners of small house property have tended largely to increase the number of slums in these overcrowded areas. There has been practically nothing done in the way of maintenance and repairs, and houses which were habitable houses in 1916 have now ceased to be habitable houses, and were the existing 2989 housing legislation effectively carried out a very large proportion of them would be condemned, and will have to be condemned very soon after the War.
In view of all these facts, it is hardly necessary to press upon either the Secretary for Scotland or the Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of Munitions, who is to some extent responsible so far as the housing of the workers is concerned, the extreme urgency of the problem. It is not a symptom of the urgency of this problem to find such a small number of Members representing Scotland, and particularly those areas in Scotland chiefly concerned, taking part in the discussion now. Their absence, I think, is due to other considerations. It seems to me that we cannot better spend the last hours of a dying Parliament than to impress upon Ministers the necessity of immediate action and the necessity of spurring on the local authorities and the necessity of making adequate financial provision from the Treasury, so that when the houses are provided they will be provided at such a rental as will meet the reasonable requirements of the case. It is only in that way that you will satisfy the public. If public sentiment is not satisfied, no matter what is the majority returned to support His Majesty's Ministers at the coming General Election, there will be grave trouble in the country. It is only by immediate and drastic action that these grave troubles will be avoided.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of MUNITIONS (Mr. Kellaway)
I will deal with the special and local points raised by my two hon. Friends, leaving the Secretary for Scotland to reply on the general question of housing in Scotland. I take, first, the question in regard to the wages of the foremen. I am not behind my hon. Friend (Mr. Duncan Millar) in appreciating the work which the foremen, as a body, in the engineering industries have rendered to the country during the War. Taking his own phrase, which I think was a very just phrase, these men are the non-commissioned officers of our industrial array, and they have shown themselves throughout the War loyal to the cause of the country. They have never under any provocation—and the conditions of the War made provocation inevitable in many cases—done anything but carry on steadily with their work. What are the circumstances in regard to the particular body of foremen in whom 2990 my hon. Friend is particularly interested? They have asked that the Government should secure for them a war advance over their pre-war rate of wages of 45s. 6d. a week, that advance to include all class advances. The Minister of Munitions agreed that that is a reasonable request to put forward. He has agreed that an advance of 45s. 6d., taking into account and including any class advances or advances which have been given by the Committee on Production and the 12½ per cent. bonus is a reasonable request to put forward. My hon. and learned Friend said that if that is our view why have we not insisted upon the employers in all cases giving that 45s. 6d. per week advance. It is very doubtful whether a Minister has, power to make an order applying to these men. The legal authorities are doubtful about it. The practical inconvenience of applying an Order to this class of men are of such a kind that we should, if at all possible, avoid them by adopting some other method. If an Order were made in regard to this particular class of men we should be faced with similar demands from men whose remuneration is on a similar basis in practically every munition factory throughout this country. The draughtsman, clerk, or foreman in other munition works would say, "You have been able to make an Order covering the wages of this particular class of man in Scotland; we, want that Order applied to us," and it would run right through the whole of the engineering industry in this country. But it was not on that ground alone that we hesitated as to proceeding by means of an Order.
§ Mr. MILLAR
Have not some of the classes to which the hon. Gentleman referred received advances already?
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
Nothing that I have said is inconsistent with their having received advances. A great many of those for whom the hon. and learned Member has been speaking have received this advance, but what the Government is asked to do is to make a general Order covering all those who have not received these advances. We think it very much better that the Ministry should use its influence with those employers who have been backward in that respect, and we are doing everything we can in that way. My right hon. Friends the Minister of Munitions and the Member for Blackfriars saw the foremen, who put their case with great reasonableness and force. Following 2991 on that, an instruction was sent to the Employers' Association principally concerned. As a result, they circularised the whole of their members in Scotland telling them what was the view of the Ministry and asking them to see that the whole 45s. 6d. was paid. That had a very great effect, and a large number of the foremen have in fact now received the advance. When that was done we then endeavoured to discover what firms had failed to carry out the recommendations of the Ministry. A number of names was sent in to my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackfriars. We at once got into communication with those firms, told them that we were informed they were not paying the full 45s. 6d. a week and asked them at once to communicate with us their view of the facts. As soon as we got those facts we should at once proceed to use any influence we can with any firm who have been proved to be backward to secure that the full advance should be made.
§ Mr. MILLAR
Can the hon. Gentleman state what proportion of firms have not yet paid this advance? I quoted one or two large firms.
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
Up to the present I have only received the names of seven firms who have not paid the advance. If there are others I hope that their names will be sent in as soon as possible. It is only by getting the names that we can proceed to act. As soon as we get the names of any other firms who are not carrying out this policy we shall proceed to use what influence we can, as I have indicated. We would like it to be known among the firms that it is the view of the Ministry that the men are fully entitled to the 45s. 6d, a week. I hope the whole of the firms in Scotland who now remain out will fall into line with what I believe to be the great majority, and with what are certainly the firms of the greatest influence in Scotland who have already paid this advance.
On the subject of housing in Lanarkshire my hon. Friend spoke with characteristic earnestness and fullness. He used an expression to which I take exception. He said that I was the culprit—
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
It is not the Ministry of Munitions. It is the War which is the 2992 culprit. There is no use, in approaching this subject, in indulging in expressions of sentiment in which we all share, unless you recognise that what has held up housing throughout the whole of this country is the War—the fact that you cannot get material or labour, and that the labour you do get is inefficient, very dear and exceedingly scarce, and to anyone who has known anything at all about building during the War, one of the great wonders of the War is that we have been able to get any housing at all done. I have figures given me to-day which show in regard to the building of a four-roomed cottage that the actual cost, when you can get it built, is something like 200 per cent. greater than it was prior to the War. When that is the fact, what is the use of talking about the rents charged being excessive. They are bound to be excessive on figures like that, unless you are going to say that the Government should pay a very large part of the rents in these cases. But this is not a new problem in Lanarkshire. The housing in Lanarkshire was a scandal long before the War, and ought to have been dealt with by the authorities responsible, and they cannot put the blame on the Ministry of Munitions. The Ministry of Munitions is not a housing department. It was created to supply munitions for the Army. So far as it has been possible, in the circumstances created by the War, where we have by the introduction of large numbers of munition workers made housing conditions worse, we have dealt with those housing conditions, and Lanarkshire has not done badly. Whether that is due to the eloquent advocacy of my hon. and learned Friend I do not know, but Lanarkshire has done better out of the Ministry of Munitions in respect to housing than any other part of the country—England, Scotland, or Wales. I regret to say that the total number of permanent houses which we have been able to build is only 2,400, but we have housed, by other methods, fully 30,000 persons, and in Lanarkshire we have built 350 houses, and we have assisted the authorities substantially in the building of 200 others, so that my hon. and learned Friend may take comfort in the fact that Lanarkshire, serious as the situation is, has not done at all badly. I wish that we could get on with the other 200 houses, but what is now holding us up in the question of the terms on which those houses could be let after they are built. It is not an easy task for the Ministry, even where material, transport, and labour are available. 2993 We have to get past the Treasury, and then we have got to get past the War Priority Committee of the Cabinet, and then we have got to get the work carried out. I would have liked my hon. and learned Friend to show in his speech a little more appreciation of the real difficulty which has faced the Ministry in this problem. I hope that we shall be able very soon in regard to the scheme of 200 houses to come to an agreement with the local authority and set it going.
I agree with every thing my hon. and learned Friend has said on the housing conditions. Probably I know more about them, at least over a wider area, than he does, because I know that in many parts of the country munition workers have had to be housed under conditions which, if they could have been avoided, were a disgrace to this country. They have been working long hours. They have had to leave their places and sleep where it was impossible for them to secure proper rest, or such rest as would recruit their exhausted strength. And the country will have to recognise that there you have one of the greatest problems facing us. I want to see the workers of this country, the munition workers and the soldiers, housed in a state which is worthy of the great contribution they have made to the security and well-being of tins country. It occurs to me at this moment that in Fenelou's "Essay on the Education of the Dauphins of France," the author said that he desired to see the Kings of France housed worthy of their state, and the Government desire to see the workers of this country housed worthy of their state.
§ 9.0 P.M.
§ Mr. MUNRO
My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Munitions has dealt very fully with the special point which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Lanark has raised with regard to housing and munition areas. With the permission of the House, I should like for a moment or two to deal with the general question raised by him and the Member for North-West Lanark (Mr. Pringle) regarding postwar housing in Scotland. I do not in the least complain that that has been raised in the course of this Debate. I desire, on the other hand, to applaud the moderation of my hon. Friends in what they said on that subject. They do not recognise its importance or urgency any more than I or the Government do. The question is one of ways and means, and I am very glad to have this opportunity afforded me of informing 2994 the House—and I agree that the state of the House at this moment does not reflect the urgency and importance of this question—I am glad to have this opportunity of stating to the House and to the country, Scotland particularly, what has been done in the way of carrying out the post-war housing policy. My hon. and learned Friend referred to two points—first, the finance of the scheme, and, secondly, he referred to the question of obtaining sites. On the question of finance he said, that the local authorities were called upon to shoulder a substantial share of the deficit. Well, now, if one can accurately term 25 per cent. a substantial share of the deficit, I agree with my hon. Friend. But I suggest to him that he will search in vain for any scheme of housing in the records of this or any other State in which so generous provision has been made as has been made by the Government in this particular scheme, namely, the contribution of the State, which enters into partnership with the local authority, of 75 per cent., and the demand on the local authority for the comparatively small share of 25 per cent. towards the issue in which both are interested. I can hold out no hope at all that these conditions will be revised or modified in any degree. My hon. and learned Friend will recognise that this is not a Scottish question, but an Imperial question. It has been considered repeatedly and carefully by all the advisers of the War Cabinet, by the Local Government Board in England, by the Local Government Board in Scotland, and the intimation which is given of the housing policy of the Government was given after the most careful exploration of the whole subject. I should be a little less than candid to my hon. and learned Friend if I suggested that any substantial modification in the programme which has been proposed could be expected either now or in the immediate future. My hon. and learned Friend went on to refer to the difficulty of obtaining sites. I quite appreciate that difficulty. At the present moment, as I told him in reply to a question, a Committee which has been appointed by the Minister of Reconstruction is sitting on the acquisition of land with particular reference to the question of housing. That Committee, through the courtesy of my right hon. Friend, includes two Scottish representatives, Sir William Haldane and Mr. Davidson of Saughton, names which will commend 2995 themselves to my Scottish friends as those of men acquainted with and well equipped for this task. I am informed by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Reconstruction that that Committee's labours are wellnigh exhausted, and that it is now in the course of preparing its Report. I hope that Report will be almost immediately available, in which case the difficulty in that regard to which my hon. and learned Friend referred would be met. I appreciate just as fully as he does not only the difficulties of getting on with this matter, but also the desirability of getting on, and while difficulties which have been referred to of transport, of the cost of material and the scarcity of labour have formed a very serious handicap in actual work, nevertheless substantial progress has been made, as I indicated to him, and as I hope to show the House in a moment or two, in the preparation of schemes in Scotland in the last few months. The first step which was taken by the Local Government Board, was to issue a Circular in August of last year to every local authority in Scotland, intimating the Government's intention to give substantial financial assistance where the authorities were prepared to carry their housing schemes. Replies were received to that Circular from 302 out of 310 local authorities in Scotland representing 99 per cent. of the population of the country. Particulars which they sent in showed a shortage of houses of 108,902. I may, with the permission of the House, explain how that was distributed. In the seven large cities, 66,752; in burghs of a population of 15,000 to 50,000, 10,750; in smaller burghs in Scotland, 11,042; in industrial and mining areas, such as my hon. and learned Friend is interested in, 9,020; in agricultural areas, 6,226; in crofting areas, 880; and in the Outer Hebrides, 4,132. That is a very appalling shortage. One recognised that. The Local Government Board directly they had the information as to the express terms of the Government policy, namely, in March of this year, issued a Circular giving particulars of the form of financial assistance which the Government was prepared to offer, and urging authorities to proceed at once with the preparation of schemes. While awaiting replies to the Circular the Local Government Board were not idle in this matter. I want to make it perfectly clear to my 2996 hon. and learned Friend and to Scotland that the work of the Local Government Board in this particular matter has been beyond all praise. I would remind my hon. and learned Friend that one of the most active members in this matter is Dr. Leslie Mackenzie, who was a member of the Royal Commission on Housing. I am quite sure he will appreciate that nothing which could be done is left undone by the Local Government Board to get what he calls a move on in this matter. The Board have in the interval of waiting for these replies arranged a consultation among architects for the plans of the houses to be erected. In fact it has been proposed to constitute a panel of architects to advise and assist local authorities in the erection of the necessary houses. Further—and my hon. and learned Friend will approve of this—the Local Government Board appointed a Women's Committee, including working women, upon my suggestion.
§ Mr. MUNRO
They have reported. This Committee was appointed to report on the planning of houses from the housewives' point of view, and from the point of view of the working housewife, and I understand the Report is a valuable document on which, I hope, action will follow. A Committee appointed by the English Local Government Board, with a reference which covered Scotland, has also reported on the construction of the houses and on the supply of material. Lastly, in this regard, there has been the reconstruction committee, to which I have referred, on which two Scottish representatives sat, with regard to the acquisition of land for housing and other purposes. The nature of the replies which were received by the Board I indicated to my hon. and learned Friend in answer to two questions which he put to me the day before yesterday, but, with the permission of the House, I should like to give my hon. and learned Friend, who, I know, is interested in this matter, a little more detail than I was able to give in answer to questions. I said, in answer to his questions that several authorities were now preparing schemes for the provision of over 9,000 houses in Scotland, and if my information is not incorrect, that total compares very well with the total for which provision has been made up till now in England. Those 9,000 houses to which I have referred are thus distributed: In Glasgow, 2997 6,731; Edinburgh, 744; Dundee, 1,060; Peterhead, 50; Haddington, Western District, 200; Burgh of Rutherglen, 100; Maxwelltown, 100; Hamilton Burgh, 250; Wishaw, 200; Gourock, 60; Hawick, 100; Lochgelly, about 50; and in Perth District, 18; making a total of 9,663. Those are cases where the local authorities are definitely known to have schemes in course of preparation, and where they have selected, or are now selecting, the sites, and where they have the plans already prepared or in course of preparation. In answer to my hon. and learned Friend's question, I told him that there were other authorities who were actively considering at this moment the preparation of schemes. I do not feel justified in detaining the House fey reading the long list of local authorities thus engaged. The total of the houses which are thus being considered is 2,173. I would only add that, so far as the Local Government Board is concerned, by circular, by letter, by interview, and by every other means open to them, they are urging upon the local authorities the necessity of proceeding with the utmost expedition in this matter. I am not more blind to the desirability of that happy result than my hon. and learned Friend, he may rest assured. I am glad to have been given the opportunity of giving the assurance that the urgency and importance of the problem are fully recognised, and that there will be no avoidable delay in carrying out a policy of post-War housing in Scotland which will be adequate to meet the needs of the population.
§ Mr. FALCONER
Can the right hon. Gentleman say what is being done in the purely rural areas to meet the shortage of houses there?
§ Mr. MUNRO
My information is that that matter has been under the consideration of the Local Government Board and is now being dealt with in a most careful manner. I am not able without notice to tell him what has been done, but if he will be good enough to put down a question I shall be happy to do so.
§ Mr. MILLAR
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he can state what the procedure is when those schemes go before the Local Government Board to be advanced and how long does he anticipate it will take before we get the schemes brought into operation? That is what we are anxious to know, and how far the schemes are likely to be carried out.
§ Mr. MUNRO
It would be quite impossible for me to give a general answer to that very general question. I think that the length of time necessary to bring a scheme into operation entirely depends on the particular circumstances of the particular locality. It would, for instance, be easier to bring a scheme in Glasgow into operation than, say, in Kinross. I do not think it is possible, and I think my hon. Friend will agree with me on reflection, to give a general answer to such a general question.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
I am sure that the people of Scotland will read with great interest the reply which the right hon. Gentleman has made to this vital and most urgent problem of housing. I, for one, gladly welcome it, and I desire to express my gratitude for the serious manner in which the right hon. Gentleman is dealing with the question. I particularly welcome the final assurance that no stone shall be left unturned in order to attempt at least to cope with the present appalling condition of the housing question in many parts of Scotland. I did not rise to pursue this question, but in order to bring before the House another question which is, I think, equally important, and to obtain a statement from the Government upon it. I rose to ask the Government for information as to their intentions respecting political prisoners, in view of the termination of the War? It is difficult to present this matter to the Government, or at least to one representative of the Government, because it overlaps and affects so many Departments. It affects the War Office and the Home Office and the Scottish Office. I can only hope that the Government as a whole, that the War Cabinet, is considering the problem as a whole, and that it will not be left for one Department to place the responsibility for inaction upon some other Department, but that a clear and just policy will be arrived at and carried out. The first aspect of the question to which I wish to refer concerns the conscientious objector. I have throughout this War, throughout the introduction of Conscription in this country, pleaded from my place here for tolerance to conscientious objectors and for justice to be done to them. I need not remind the House how impossible it has been during the War to get a fair or an unprejudiced hearing in this connection. No question, I think, has more easily excited prejudice and passion during the War than the consideration of 2999 this question. I hope that that spirit has gone and that the Government is now going to set an example of enlightened statesmanship by getting rid of this difficulty once and for all. I hope that the Government is going to announce a political amnesty and that those men are going to be released now that the War is over. Let me first draw the attention of the Government to the case of those men in prison, who number, I think, something like 1,300, and who are known as absolutists. Those are the men who, having been sentenced to hard labour for a term of years or months, have refused to compound the matter by accepting certain specific service under the control of the civil authorities acting through the Home Office. I do not think that anyone will question the sincerity of those men. They have in many cases been sentenced to two years' imprisonment with hard labour. Before the War that was recognised as one of the most severe punishments which it was possible to inflict, and it was generally reserved for criminals of the lowest type guilty of atrocious crimes. So heavy was the punishment deemed to be that the law would not permit of a man being sentenced to hard labour for a longer period than two years. These men for obedience to their principles—I do not want to raise any unnecessary controversy now, and I will not go into the question as to whether they were right or wrong; I merely say they believed they were right—these men were acting in accordance with the dictates of their conscience, and no one who has seen that they are willing to undergo this fearful sentence, with all the mental suffering and the prison rules, can doubt their entire sincerity. Not only have these men been sentenced to two years' imprisonment, but when they have served that, or a lesser term, they have been again sentenced, again perhaps to a period of two years' imprisonment with hard labour.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
The hon. and gallant Member is wrong, and shows entire ignorance of what is done in America. Instructions have been issued by President Wilson, and a perfectly fair settlement has been arrived at, such as might well have been arrived at in this country. But I do not want to be drawn aside by the interruption of the hon. Member, who has 3000 shown in that interruption such a striking ignorance of the facts he intended to quote. I return to the argument with which I was dealing. These men have been sentenced and resentenced to the most severe punishment known to our penal law, and they have borne this with patience, with calmness, and with steadfastness, because of their devotion to their conscientious beliefs. There will, at least, be one gain from the imprisonment of those men who are known by the title of absolutists. They are giving the world a literature, and they are opening the eyes of the public to the inhumanity of certain aspects of our prison system, particularly aspects like the rule of silence and the other accompaniments of hard labour. No one can read Mr. Stephen Hob-house's wonderful article in one of the quarterly Reviews, describing, not in any complaining spirit, the influence of imprisonment upon him, and the influence of the silence rules and the other rules upon him, and his most illuminating study of the influence of the system upon ordinary criminals, without realising that we have got now material by which we shall be able to revise our whole conception of what an enlightened prison system should be. I do not think I am saying anything that is not likely to prove true, when I say that the experience of the men you have now in prison, the records they are now producing, and their influence in future, will lead us to a much more enlightened and much more humane prison system, and through the sufferings of these men the whole country will benefit. That is one aspect of the case. Are you going any longer to keep in prison these men, the absolutists, who have already borne these heavy sufferings for devotion to their conscience?
But there are other aspects of the question to which I should like briefly to allude. There are the men who have come out of prison, and who are under the Home Office, collected together in the labour centres—the men at Princetown, the men at Wakefield, the men at the other Home Office centres. Are you going to keep the men at these centres, or are you going to allow them to follow their ordinary occupations? Are you not going to give them an amnesty? Again, you have, in proved cases, allowed a number of men, amounting now to some hundreds, to leave on licence the Home Office work centres, and to follow certain approved employment under private employers. 3001 These men remain outside the work centres, and outside prison, on condition that they follow the employment under an employer that has been approved by the Home Office. In many cases these men were fit to follow other employment—employment to which they had been accustomed all their lives, but that form of employment it has not been possible for the Home Office to approve during the War, and in some cases the employment that has been approved is employment at a very considerable distance from their homes. Those are some of the conditions attached to their release on licence. It is not necessary now to maintain those conditions, and it would be a great economic gain, apart altogether from the question of justice and of mercy, to allow those men to resume their ordinary lives, and to follow their ordinary occupations. Those are the three main divisions of the problem of the conscientious objector, differing in urgency, but the whole forming one complete problem which should be dealt with as a whole.
There are a few other points which I desire to bring to the notice of the Government. There are those conscientious objectors who are not under the control of the Home Office, either in prison as absolutists, or in work centres. There are conscientious objectors who are still in the hands of the military authorities who may be in military custody, and there are some conscientious objectors who have not had the choice of leaving prison and going to the work centres, and there are some special problems like the problem that is afforded by the case of Mr. C. H. Norman. Mr. Norman, a man of high character, after being at a work centre, was returned to the Army, and is now suffering in custody in the Army. I need not remind the Under-Secretary for the Home Department that Mr. Norman was recalled to the Army in consequence of a cessation of work for one day, which took place at Princetown in connection with that most mournful of all the mournful incidents this question has created, the unhappy death of C. H. Firth. The House will remember the men at the centre ceased work for a day in memory of him, and in sympathy with his relatives, and I should like to ask the Home Secretary whether that is not a case which should be immediately considered in connection with this general question of an amnesty for political offenders. He has borne a very heavy punishment. It is time that that case, and all similar cases, were reconsidered.
3002 I have not touched upon the general question of political prisoners who are not conscientious objectors, but I want to remind the Government, and to get some reply from them, on the general question of prisoners who have been interned without trial, and prisoners who have been tried and sentenced under the Defence of the Realm Act for offences against orders made under that Act. I suggest that the time has arrived when the sentences of those who have been tried should be reconsidered and when those who are interned without trial should also have their cases reconsidered, and in connection with those who are in prison those political prisoners imprisoned as a result of trial. I want specially to bring before the notice of the Government—and here I think the responsibility rests with my right hon. Friend the Secretary for Scotland—the case of Mr. John MacLean, which has often been raised in this House. It is a well-known case, and it is typical of other cases. I am not putting it forward because Mr. MacLean is a well-known man. On the contrary, I think that those prisoners who are less known and who are in a more humble position are equally entitled to have their cases reconsidered and to come under the general amnesty such as I hope will be given. There are certain special features in the case of Mr. MacLean to which I wish to call the attention of the House. Mr. MacLean is a man of high character. He has behind him a great record of honourable work. He has given a great part of his life in the service of teaching, and I do not think I shall be guilty of any great exaggeration if I say that some of the Clauses in the Scottish Education Bill were only made possible through his devoted work in the cause of education. He is a political offender. He has received a sentence which I think is excessive, and if it were carried out it would be of a barbarous character and certainly alien to what I believe is the general feeling of the people of this country. Is there any reason why Mr. MacLean and the other political prisoners should be kept in prison a moment longer in view of the end of the War? I am going to make an appeal to the Secretary for Scotland in connection with the case of Mr. MacLean and I do not base it on the ground that that case is the subject of general agitation. I am going to make my appeal for Mr. MacLean on the ground that the War having come to an end a free and generous country has always in the 3003 days of peace shown great generosity to men whom it has attacked and repressed during the passions and strain of war.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
I think the hon. Member has not realised the point I am making. These men have held certain views with great sincerity. They have shown the highest courage when they have preferred to get up against the multitude on behalf of what they believe to be right. I say that these men are men of the highest courage and are entitled to our respect. Let me remind the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland that at the great Labour Conference to-day, which was so sensational in many respects, a resolution was passed unanimously and without a single dissentient voice by delegates representing some millions of people demanding the release of Mr. MacLean. I appeal to the Government on general grounds. I have always failed to understand how extraordinarily difficult it is to get a fair hearing in these matters. The passion of war is such as to prevent justice being done to opponents during the War. But the War is over, and surely the Government do not desire any longer to wage a war of vendetta against these men who are, after all, a minority, who have during the War held the views which they believe to be right and have shown themselves willing to hold those views at whatever risk to themselves. The problem is a most painful and urgent one. It is especially painful to me, because I have daily placed before me records of the sufferings of these men, borne without complaint, and I know of the injury that is being done to them mentally and physically in a great many cases owing to the rigours of imprisonment. It is inexpressibly painful to me because of the sufferings involved upon their wives and children. But the War has come to an end, and I ask, is there any reason why the imprisonment of these men should be continued for a day longer? I appeal to the Government, now that the War is over, to look into this matter at once and to proclaim a general amnesty. By so doing they will not only do an act of simple justice, but they will be acting in consonance with the wishes of the vast majority of the people of this country.
§ Mr. MUNRO
With the permission of the House I should like to be allowed 3004 to reply to two of the points raised by the hon. Member, leaving the case of conscientious objectors to be dealt with by the Under-Secretary for the Home Office. There were two other questions to which my hon. Friend alluded. The first was the general question of an amnesty for political prisoners. On that I would refer my hon. Friend to an answer given by the Leader of the House on the subject, in which he stated that he could make no statement at the moment, but that the matter was under the consideration of the Government. Further than that I am not in a position to go to-night, except to inform my hon. Friend that that subject is being treated by a Committee of which Lord Cave is Chairman, and he may lest assured that it will have full and fair consideration. I am chiefly concerned however, with the case of Mr. John MacLean. I am afraid there has been a good deal of misconception and misrepresentation outside with regard to the facts relating to Mr. MacLean's imprisonment. I have been represented by not a few as making an attempt to break this man, whereas the truth of the matter is very much the reverse. No prisoner, so far as my experience goes during the five years I have held office under the Government, has received such lenient treatment as Mr. MacLean has received from the time he first committed his offence.
I want to put this point first of all: It is quite unjustifiable to treat this offence of which John MacLean was convicted as an isolated example apart altogether from previous offences. I say that you cannot deal with this case apart from the two previous convictions which this man unfortunately suffered. When he first committed an offence he was leniently treated. He was tried in a Court of summary jurisdiction and the sentence, given to him more as a warning than anything else, was seven days' imprisonment. Unfortunately, he did not take the warning which was then administered, and within a short time thereafter he found himself in the dock in the High Court of Edinburgh. He was there sentenced, after a fair trial before a jury of his peers—for let the House observe this was not judge-made law—he was convicted by a jury of his fellow-citizens and sentenced to three years' penal servitude. On representations made to me following this second offence I recommended His Majesty to release MacLean before 3005 he had served half that sentence. One would have thought that surely would have been sufficient warning. Unfortunately it proved not to be so. On a third occasion he was brought before the same Court and convicted again by a jury of his peers, and sentenced this time to five years penal servitude. Let me put this to the hon. Member: A man who has been sentenced first to a short period of imprisonment, and then to three years' penal servitude, and who is brought up again before the High Court of Justice in Edinburgh, naturally receives a progressive sentence. That is quite in accordance with the practice of the Court. No distinction whatever was made in this case. It was quite in accordance with the practice of the Court that he should receive a severer sentence than on the prior occasion. I do not care who the criminal was, whether of high rank or of low rank, no distinction would have been drawn, nor was it drawn. MacLean was sentenced to five years' penal servitude.
While he was in prison he was treated with great consideration I permitted him to receive food, which was supplied from outside, in order that he might partake of it, as he objected to take the prison diet. He received that special treatment for a considerable time. On 29th June he announced his determination to eat no food, whether supplied to him from outside or from inside. I was then faced with three possible courses of action. One was to release him. If I had released MacLean because of his refusal to partake of food, I might as well have thrown open the doors of every prison in Scotland, for every prisoner would then know he had only to refuse to take his food to secure his release. I could not possibly take that course, and I did not. The second, and perhaps the logical course, although not the course I did take, was to allow him to die if he refused to take food. I have not adopted that course. I adopted the third course, and the only other course, and that was of feeding MacLean artificially.
§ Mr. MUNRO
In point of fact, if my hon. Friend will listen for a few moments he will learn that it was just the other way. If he will allow me to develop the history of this matter he will see that the various points he has in his 3006 mind have been met. I decided that MacLean should be artificially fed, which is a very different matter from being forcibly fed. There has been no force employed at any stage of MacLean's imprisonment, for the simple reason that he did not resist being fed. As I said, on the 29th June, having refused to take food, I directed that he should be artificially fed. For four months he has been fed artificially, He has offered no resistance to that course, and most skilled and experienced medical men have looked after him. Really, I do honestly put it to the House that in these times, when the services of medical men are urgently required for other matters, it is rather a pity that one should have had to tell off two medical men to watch over the progress of MacLean and see that he is carefully attended to. That has been done, and the food has been administered most carefully and skilfully by these medical men. His weight, which on the first day that he refused to eat was 133 lbs., is to-day precisely the same as it was four months ago. His health, I am assured by the medical men who attend upon him, is entirely satisfactory. I am glad to record that first of all he took one meal per day without artificial feeding, and that within the last few days he has taken two meals per day naturally, so the present state of matters is a very curious one. This man receives two meals per day in a perfectly natural fashion and has to be artificially fed on the third occasion.
I desire generally to sum up, and refute, the various allegations which have been made in the public Press, and, I think, on some occasions by letters addressed to Members of this House in regard to Mr. John MacLean. It has been alleged that he was being forcibly fed. That is not true. He has offered no resistance at any time. It has been alleged that he was held down by warders and the food forced down under pressure. That, again, is not true. There has been no holding down by warders at any time. It has been further said that under my direction food was stopped from being supplied to him from outside. That, again, is not true. Food was supplied to him from outside until he announced that he would not take any food, whether supplied from the outside or the inside. It has further been alleged that his food was drugged. That is manifestly absurd, and it is also untrue. It has further been alleged that already his health has 3007 seriously suffered. Again, that is not true. Mrs. MacLean visited him the other day, by permission, and her first observation to her husband was to compliment him upon his appearance after four or five months in prison. Lastly, it has been alleged that there was some concealment on my part of the fact that MacLean had been artificially fed. There has been neither concealment nor advertisement of the matter. I will put this to the House for their consideration: I allowed his wife to see him during the last week or two. Is it to be supposed for a moment that if I desired to conceal the fact that MacLean had been artificially fed from the public or her, that one would have adopted the course of allowing his wife to visit him. The visit was permitted before she was entitled by the prison rules to visit her husband. If there is any general amnesty of political prisoners—in Scotland we do not recognise the difference between political and other prisoners—[An HON. MEMBER: "Shame!"]—Will the hon. Member tell me whether there is any distinction drawn in England between prisoners sentenced to penal servitude and political prisoners serving a similar sentence? My own information is there is none.
§ Mr. MUNRO
Is it suggested that there should be a distinction drawn between those sentenced to penal servitude for political offences and those sentenced for other offences? If there is any general amnesty of political prisoners, of course the case of John MacLean will be considered as one of those to whom a general amnesty might apply. The whole matter is now under the consideration of the Government. I have no feeling in the matter. I only desire to do what is right in the public interest, but at the present moment I see no reason which would justify me in treating this case as exceptional, or as being different from other cases of the same kind in Scotland and other parts of the country. On what ground does my hon. Friend ask me to release this man as distinguished from others who have been convicted of similar offences?
§ Mr. MUNRO
I am dealing with the plea that separate treatment should be applied in this case because there has 3008 been an agitation, and I decline to accede to agitation or intimidation. My last word is that if there is a general reconsideration of these cases, this case, of course, will be considered; but until a better reason is alleged than my hon. Friend has put forward for treating this case exceptionally, I do not see my way, as at present advised, to intervene in the matter.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY Of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Brace)
I do not complain that my hon. Friend has introduced this discussion or of the tone and manner in which he has raised this question. I would point out, however, that the problem is not so simple as he would have the House believe. The problem of the conscientious objector has been before us since the commencement of the War. I am not prepared to contest the argument that the men who have been in prison and suffered are men who are moved by great sincerity according to their conviction; but I do really ask my hon. Friend and those who think with him to try and realise the case of the men who have gone to the front, and on the sea, and who have made sacrifices, and some of them have made the supreme sacrifice, for their country and their country's cause; and I want hon. Members to realise that these men who have fought for their country are equally as sincere as the men who have preferred to go to prison.
My hon. Friend is asking for an amnesty for these persons whether they are at the work centres or working for private employers. If he is making this claim for them because they are conscientious objectors, surely he cannot establish it as being a greater claim than that of the men who have fought in the battles for their country and their country's cause. If the conscientious objectors are given special treatment by the way of priority—I am now speaking of the men in the employ of private employers, and the men who are at the works centres—then you will be allowing the conscientious objectors to go back home and make use of that opportunity to select their own employment, whereas for reasons of State you cannot give the same treatment to the soldiers who have gone to the front. This is one of the difficulties of the problem, and I want my hon. Friends to realise that that is a phase of the question which is bound to have consideration. If the conscientious 3009 objectors are allowed to return to their ordinary occupations while soldiers and sailors and other citizens are prevented because of the necessities of the State from going back to their ordinary occupation, is there not a likelihood that a feeling would be created that special treatment is being given to the conscientious objector which is refused to the men who have fought for their country? I submit these suggestions to my hon. Friends opposite and to the House so that they may appreciate that the problem is not quite so simple as my hon. Friend would have the House believe.
With regard to the other case mentioned, the man concerned was recalled because he violated the honourable obligation upon which he had entered, and he need not have been recalled had he carried out that obligation. After all there must be some regard paid to these obligations, and this action was taken not because the Government desired to recall these men, but because they failed to carry out their obligations, made when they were released from prison, and therefore it was felt necessary that they should be recalled. I have had this very difficult problem considered carefully. I should have thought that my hon. Friend would have considered it worth while to say that the Committee of which I was chairman also endeavoured to treat these cases without prejudice. In dealing with this problem we have endeavoured to treat it without prejudice, and certainly it has been our intention to give as fair, just, and merciful consideration as it was possible to do under the conditions which control the Committee. As to an amnesty for the men in prison, this forms part of one of several problems involved on account of the suspension of hostilities. This problem, with others, is now under consideration, and I will undertake that immediately decisions have been arrived at, they shall be published and put into operation. I do not think my hon. Friend can expect me to say more, and if he does, I cannot say it on this occasion.
§ Mr. DILLON
I desire to say a few words in reply to the speech made by the Secretary for Scotland, in which he stated that this is one of the few countries that makes no distinction between the treatment of political prisoners and ordinary criminals. This question has been raised before, and this is really a modern retrogression on the part of England. In the early days of the last century, when England was supposed to be very reactionary 3010 as compared with now, there was a very marked and extraordinary distinction made between the treatment of political prisoners and ordinary criminals. If the hon. Member reads the history of the period which followed the battle of Waterloo, and which was supposed to be one of the most reactionary periods in English history, he will find that it was quite unheard of to treat political prisoners as ordinary criminals. Under what circumstances did the change come about? It was in 1848 that for the first time in the recent history of England, at all events, the principle was introduced of treating political offenders as common criminals. It is absolutely a novel doctrine in English practice. It arose under the Treason Felony Act, specially passed for the purpose of putting down an Irish insurrection. In that Act—a most scandalous law—it is enacted that anybody convicted of treason felony as distinguished from treason is to be treated as a common prisoner. As so many bad things, it had its origin in the Government of Ireland, and sprang entirely out of the desire of the Government of the day to humiliate Irish prisoners. They passed the Act evidently under the impression that there would never be any political prisoners in England, but now the bird has come home to roost, and this barbarous practice, which ought to be removed from the law of England, of course applies. Political prisoners ought not to be treated as common criminals. It may be necessary for the safety of the State to keep them in prison, but it is a monstrous thing to treat a man who has only been convicted of a political offence as if he were a common felon. I regard it as a perfect disgrace to the law of England.
Listening to the Secretary for Scotland one would have supposed that it was an immemorial practice sanctioned by the tradition of ages. The real truth is that it is a barbarous practice against which we Irishmen have continuously protested in the past and against which every right-minded man ought to protest. A man who commits an offence against the law for a higher motive than a selfish motive, no matter how wrong or how dangerous his principles may be, ought not to be put on the same level as a criminal or a felon. He ought to receive totally different treatment. In the early part of last century men who were guilty of sedition and were more or less rebels, 3011 were treated in a manner more humane than the treatment accorded to political prisoners to-day. Those men had a sitting room and bedroom in the prison, and they were allowed to read newspapers and to write books. The idea then was that a political offender, always providing that he was not guilty of high treason, was only to be deprived of his liberty, and was not to be subjected to any disgraceful punishment at all. It was only at the period that I have mentioned that the whole system was changed by the Act of 1848. I want to ask the Secretary for Scotland a question. I am informed that this man MacLean is being forcibly fed.
§ Mr. MUNRO
I am sorry the hon. Member was not here when I addressed the House and dealt with this matter very fully. MacLean has never been forcibly fed and he has never refused to take his food. He has been artificially fed for four months, and his physical condition to-day is just as good as it was at the commencement. I especially welcome this opportunity of saying that there has never been any forcibly feeding.
§ Mr. DILLON
I am glad to hear that statement, and, if my information is wrong, I accept the correction. I now turn to another subject which I raised to-day by way of a question. I want to know what is going to be done with the Irish prisoners. Of course, MacLean and the other prisoners who have been mentioned in this Debate have been tried and convicted—whether rightly or wrongly I am not in a position to say—by a lawful tribunal, but you have in prison about 100 Irishmen who have never been tried at all. They were the men arrested in connection with the alleged German plot which everybody now looks upon as a pure invention. I expressed my view at the time about that alleged plot. It has now served its purpose, and has disappeared and we hear no more about it. Supposing there were a German plot, I do not think that now we need trouble about German plots. It is finished, we have done with German plots. That being so, the cause, if ever it existed for the arrest of these men and their imprisonment without trial, is at an end. I beg the Chief Secretary to make up his mind one way or the other, and to let us know if these men are going to be released, and, if so, when. When I put the question before, the answer was, "The matter is under consideration." 3012 The Armistice has been signed several days, and the War is at an end. Germany is no longer an object of terror or of alarm to any nation on earth, and least of all to this nation. Surely, therefore, the Government ought to make up their minds whether they propose to continue holding these Irishmen in gaol without trial. I have no authority to speak on their behalf. That is why I have never raised the question before. I do not now speak on their behalf, because neither they nor any of their relatives or friends have given me authority to do so. I am speaking entirely in the interests of Ireland. The Irish people are entitled to know what is the policy of the Government with regard to them. There is no doubt at all that already a great number of them have been nominated for Irish constituencies. The Chief Secretary the other clay said that as soon as the election was announced this matter would be seriously considered. The election has now been announced, and it is to take place in four weeks' time. What is the intention of the Government with regard to these prisoners? Do they propose to allow them out for the election or to hold them, and, if so, how long and on what grounds. The position I take up is that the arrest of these men and their detention in gaol has contributed enormously to the troubles in Ireland. It has undoubtedly very seriously injured our election prospects, although that is a minor consideration. It has contributed to the unrest and general trouble in the country. When this question was raised before, the Chief Secretary replied in a mysterious way that there were certain terrible dangers in releasing these men on account of the German plot and, I suppose, insurrection in Ireland. He cannot pretend for a moment that that reason exists to-day. I maintain that any man who is in a responsible position who continues to detain 100 men in gaol, with no charge of any sort or kind ever alleged against them, and with no trial, is bound to justify his action. We are now approaching the end of the Session. It will be over in two or three days, and there will be no other opportunity of calling upon the Chief Secretary to justify his action. It is a most out rageous thing for the right hon. Gentleman to adopt this attitude of reticence and say that he is considering it and cannot make up his mind. What fresh element can arise within the next week or two that will enable him to make up his mind, 3013 which he has not before him at the preterit moment? I impress upon him that he is bound to make up his mind and say frankly whether he proposes to release or detain these men. If he does not announce his intention to release them, he is bound to justify his action in detaining men now that the Armistice is signed and all the pretence of danger from Germany is at an end. I would ask the Chief Secretary to let me know, either to-night or in answer to a question I have on the Paper for tomorrow, what is the policy of the Government.
§ Mr. TREVELYAN
I wish, in a few sentences, to remind the House, after what we have heard from the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon), that there is not only a certain number, 100 or more, of Irishmen in prison without any trial at all, but there are, I believe, seventy or more British subjects from England and Scotland who are in prison without any trial at all, but simply by the will of the Home Secretary, taking the advice of a secret Committee. I am not sure about the numbers, but I have seen it stated several times that there are something like seventy of them. The allegations and the charges against these people are unknown. They have been interned or imprisoned under a Regulation of the Defence of the Realm Act which enables men to be put in if they have enemy associations. I have personal knowledge only of one or two of these cases. One was that of a young lady who happened to have met and talked to an Indian student who very likely had revolutionary ideas towards the British Government in India. That was enough to keep her in prison for two years. She is still there. Another case of which I know was that of an English country gentleman, who happened to write a very silly letter which I happen to have had the chance of seeing. He, I believe, has been interned for a couple of years. The point for Englishmen, Constitutionalists and Liberals, is that seventy or more British citizens are in prison without any form of trial at all known to the British law, but simply by the order of the British Government under a Regulation. Their offences are not known. Everybody knows that the War is over and that the Armistice means peace. Why should not these people be let out at once? Liebknecht is out in Germany. All other countries are beginning to amnesty their offenders. Why should 3014 not we amnesty ours, and begin by amnestying those who have never been charged or tried?
§ Mr. TREVELYAN
The rulers in Germany thought Liebknecht was wrong. The leaders in Britain think these people are wrong. It is time we put an end to all these practices, of which no liberal-minded Briton approves. I have objected to them all along. I quite understand the attitude, although I do not agree with it, of men who say that in war-time you have to do very exceptional things. They say you have to drop your Liberalism in wartime. But it is no longer war-time. It is time we went back to the real British securities. It is time we went back to habeas corpus and the other securities which have been traditional in Great Britain. I see no reason why the Government, whatever other amnesty it is hesitating about, should not let out at least those people who have had no trial of any sort or kind.
§ Mr. KING
What a contrast these last two generous speeches are to the contemptible, shuffling excuses we have had from the Treasury Bench! The gentlemen on that bench call themselves the Ministers of England. Take first the Secretary for Scotland. He jumped up three times in succession before the case was stated against him, and has had to repeat what he said. Even now the case of John MacLean has not been fully or adequately stated. Others wished to state it, but he did not allow them to get up. Then, by shuffling off with platitudes and omitting many important points, he thinks he has secured a rhetorical victory. I shall leave it at that. The people on the Clyde who know John MacLean, his magnificent learning, his sacrifice of years in the cause of education, his generous impulsive desire to please and benefit his fellow men will respect and love him when they have condemned the memory and record of the Secretary for Scotland. [Laughter.] It is an easy thing to laugh at anybody who is sincere in these days. There is no sincerity on the Treasury Bench, and they do all they can to make their silly sheep follow in their flock. I would thank the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) and the hon. Member for the Elland Division (Mr. Trevelyan) for their generous, high-spirited and noble-minded protest on behalf of those who, through the cowardice of the Government, 3015 are shut up in prison, without being able to say a word in their own defence, or even communicating with their friends.
I will proceed to another subject, of which I have given notice of my intention to call attention. I refer to the remarkable case of Mr. Lockhart, our Consular-Agent in Russia, who returned to this country on 19th October and whose report upon very important events is not yet available. Now let the House realise who this Mr. Lockhart is. He has been paraded as a martyr for his patriotic efforts and it has been assumed that his life has been in grave peril and danger, that he had suffered untold miseries, and that he had been a hero in the Allied cause. What are the real facts about Mr. Lockhart? Mr. Lockhart was a young Consular servant of known popular democratic opinions, and when the Soviet Government came into power Mr. Lockhart was sent on an undefined mission to Russia. How did he go! He went with a letter of recommendation from Mr. Litvinoff. Mr. Litvinoff, with whom he was acquainted, gives him a letter of recommendation to Mr. Trotsky, and the recommendation—Litvinoff's letter to Trotsky—about this fellow Lockhart was to this effect: "This will introduce to you a gentleman of popular democratic opinions. He is a good fellow. Treat him well." He therefore went with Mr. Litvinoff's recommendation to Trotsky. After he had been there a very little time Mr. Lockhart proceeded, unfortunately, to receive instructions from England, which were that he was to use secret service money with the object of overturning the man to whom he had brought the recommendation. This Mr. Lockhart proceeded to do. Well, anybody who knows Russia at all ought to know that you cannot carry on those sort of intrigues, which might be successful in Germany and Austria, without the very gravest danger. Of course, what anyone who is acquainted with Russia might have feared did happen. Mr. Lockhart offered money to this man and that. He was the centre of an agency for sending officers with diplomatic posts to Archangel, and so forth. He went to a Lettish officer and offered him a large sum if with his soldiery he would place Mr. Trotsky and Mr. Lenin in his power. The Lettish commanding officer did exactly what any one of us would have done under the circumstances. 3016 He received the money, got documentary papers which proved the case, went and told his master, and handed over the man who was using secret service money to betray his friend, which Lockhart, our agent, did. He handed this traitor over to justice. Naturally, Mr. Lockhart found himself in a difficult position. The facts, as I state them, are known to the Foreign Secretary; he knows them, because I told him; and when I told him he told me that he knew them before. Well, there are the facts, and now the House knows why it was that Mr. Lockhart, when he returned to this country on the 19th October, only presented his report a couple of days ago. We may be quite sure it is not going to be communicated to this House before the General Election. So much for the case of Mr. Lockhart. I challenge anybody on that bench to say that the story I have told is not correct. Now I take the case of Mr. Crombie. Mr. Crombie, as far as I know, is the only British subject who has lost his life in Russia recently. A great many people say, and I notice it was one of the phrases which adorned the speech of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Asquith), that Russia is in the hands of cut-throats and that our subjects are in peril every moment of their lives. How many Englishmen have lost their lives there? One. Mr. Crombie. Why did he lose his life? Because he shot down two men first, and he would have shot down a lot more unless he had been shot down himself. These facts are known, and those people who go abroad saying or believing that Englishmen are in danger of being killed in Russia ought to know that so far as anyone has yet been able to say, even the wildest detractors of Russia and the Russian revolution, only one Englishman is known to have lost his life and he admittedly had first killed two Russians who came to his house. What were the circumstances? Mr. Crombie told persons who are well known and easily accessible—even I have access to them—that he was carrying out a most dangerous business and that he had every moment to be armed, and that he knew the peril in which he was. Mr. Crombie, when he died, knew he was undertaking a most risky and dangerous business. He was passing, with diplomatic passes, as a Consular servant, Russian officers through the lines to Archangel, where they were being gathered together in view of the attack 3017 on our troops at Archangel under the counter-revolution being started there. Mr. Crombie was not an Ambassador. He was a Consular Agent, and Consular Agents' persons, premises and papers are no more inviolable than those of any other private person. It has been represented that Mr. Crombie was, in some sort of way, an Ambassador, and that the house where he was was an Embassy. We had for months been stating that we had no Embassy in Russia, and did not intend to have one. Mr. Crombie, at best, was only a Consular Agent and was only there on a definite and unaccredited mission, because he was not accredited in any sense to the Russian Government as an Ambassador. He was engaged in passing secret service money supplied by this country. In recent months we have immensely increased the amount of secret service money, and there are papers on record which show that one officer alone passed £120,000 in one week in Russia with the purpose of getting a counter-revolution. That is the way the money goes.
These facts, which are, of course, well known to anyone who has gone into the circumstances, are amply established if you only read certain portions of the Press. If you read, for instance, the report of Réné Marchand, the French attaché, which has been published in France, and the report of Captain Sadon, of the French Navy—if you get documents which have already been published in France, and bring them into line with these facts, they support and confirm one thing in the most remarkable way. I protest against this thing, and for this reason. What is the position now at Archangel? What are all these operations which our Government do not dare for a moment disclose to us, but which any man who chooses to ferret out should know about. Why and wherefore have they been done and what is the result? What is the position of our troops at Archangel to-day? We have had reports from time to time. The troops have made advances. The Bolsheviks have fled in confusion; guns and positions taken; German officers made captive, and so on. You might imagine that our Archangel expedition had been advancing. The fact is that at the present time it is cooped up in Archangel. It is in danger at Archangel. Where is its commanding officer? He is in London. Why is he not at Archangel? He is in London asking the War Office for instant reinforcements.
3018 This expedition, which we are told in the false and misleading accounts of the War Office is progressing, is really in peril, and its commanding officer is in London demanding a large reinforcement to save the situation, I am told, and I hear it from more quarters than one. Remember that if you get officers coming back from Archangel, honest men of any sort, they will not let the truth be hidden when it is dangerous that it should be hidden. It is a dangerous position. Here you have Poole coming back to the War Office and asking for 60,000 or 100,000 men to go off at once to Archangel to save the position, and we are supposed to be at peace all the time. What is the position? Frost is setting in. The salt sea water is becoming hard ice. It may be kept open for another month with the aid of the powerful ice-breakers which in previous years kept Archangel open well into December. Ate we to send now, when the War is over, 60,000 men to spend three or four months at Archangel in the cold of winter—and for what? To make an Eastern Front, we were told, against the Germans. What is the necessity of it now? Why should it be done? I protest, on behalf of the men who are there, against this miserable plot against the revolution in Russia, endangering and playing and gambling with the lives of British soldiers when war is over, in horrible danger, in a horrible climate, and under abominable conditions. I detest it! What is to happen if we send 60,000 or, 100,000 men now? They will have to spend three or four months there waiting, because operations cannot possibly begin till March or April. Shall we be able to feed them? It was thought that when we were landing troops at Murmask, which is always open, even in winter, to shipping, we should be able quickly to get the railway round the White Sea, and by the railway support our forces at Archangel; but we have not secured that railway. In a month or six weeks' time Archangel will be closed and our troops will be in the cold. Where are they to be provisioned from? If we send another 50,000 there how are they to be provisioned and maintained until March is over? If I had a son there I should, knowing what I do of the situation there, contemplate the question of his possible return with fear and trembling.
This is not a matter for the sneers and laughter of the hon. and gallant 3019 Gentleman (Colonel McCalmont). I am ashamed of him, laughing and sneering at these men who will be kept out there this winter in danger of their lives. This is the sort of spirit which we get from an Ulsterman who sits at home while his countrymen are in danger. What is going to happen even if reinforcements are sent to Archangel, and spend the winter there? Are we in March or April to begin a big offensive? Are we to begin operations to conquer the whole of Russia? This is what it amounts to. That is evidently the policy which the Government contemplate. I saw what was evidently an inspired article in the "Pall Mall Gazette" to-day—"Russia's turn next," and the object of the article was to outline a policy of complete domination by military force on the spot of the whole of Russia. I protest that the War was not waged for that purpose, nor can it now be waged for that purpose. It may suit the international financiers, the profiteers and the concession mongers to carry on war for that purpose, but I protest, and I shall continue to protest as long as I am in this House against such wicked gambling with the lives of my countrymen, such squandering of our resources, and such a hypocritical pretence that we are seeking to uphold a great cause.
§ The CHIEF SECRETARY for IRELAND (Mr. Shortt)
I must apologise to the hon. Member who has just sat down for not dealing with the points which he has raised in his speech. May I say in explanation that when I saw him about to rise I thought that he was going to continue the Debate begun by the hon. Member for East Mayo. In dealing with the point raised by the hon. Member for East Mayo I do not propose to go into the question, which has been argued ad nauseam in this House, as to whether there was a German plot, or what these people are in prison for. They are in prison because they are dangerous people, and it is a very difficult problem to decide when the time comes for their release. It does not stand alone. It is part of the whole question The Cabinet will decide the whole question, and I can only say, so far as I am concerned, that I am unable to make any definite statement to-night. When I make that statement no one will expect me to take up the time of the House by dealing further with the question. Everyone desires, as soon as possible, to return to a real state of peace. You cannot do that 3020 in a week, after the four years through which we have gone, but if any hon. Member, whether from Ireland or North Somerset, who has any sort of influence with these prisoners will induce them to give an undertaking to refrain from acts of incitement to physical force, then the question of their release would be immensely simplified.
§ Mr. DILLON
I have no manner of influence with these people, and I think the right hon. Gentleman is entirely mistaken in thinking they will give undertakings.
§ Mr. SHORTT
He has at any rate been allowed once. With regard to what the hon. Member for East Mayo said I may say that two or three of them are out to-day, having given those undertakings and because they have given them.
§ Mr. SHORTT
That shows that the hon. Member does not know quite so much and is not so infallible in his knowledge of Ireland as he would lead one to suppose. If others adopt the same wise and sensible course it would immensely simplify our task.
§ Mr. MOONEY
I have listened with considerable amazement to the speeches addressed to the House by the hon. Member for Elland (Mr. Trevelyan) and the hon. Member for North Somerset (Mr. King). They dealt with very different subjects, but, fortunately or unfortunately, they dealt with two subjects of which I have personal knowledge, and a greater travesty of the facts I have never listened to than those two speeches on those subjects. The hon. Member for Elland referred to the case of people who had been interned under Order of the Home Secretary, known as 14B. He stated that 3021 those people had been brought before a secret tribunal, and that they had no knowledge of the charges against them and no opportunity of rebutting those charges. I desire to say that that statement is absolutely untrue.
§ Mr. MOONEY
There are certain charges which have been made and which it was not considered in the interests of the State should be disclosed, but I go further, and I say that every person charged under that Order had the charges read to them, and their witnesses were told the charges against them. The hon. Member for Elland was one of the witnesses in the case referred to, and he was told what the charge was. The hon. Member for North Somerset was, I think, before a similar tribunal. In the two cases referred to by the hon. Member for Elland the people were told what the charge against them was and the witnesses they called were told, and they were asked to explain them and they had no explanation. I do not think it is fair—
§ Mr. MOONEY
My answer to that is that those people are tried under an Act of Parliament. When this Act was passing through the House the then Prime Minister (Mr. Asquith) stated that to safeguard the interests of the people a Committee would be appointed which would have the confidence of the House and the confidence of the country.
That Committee included two judges of the High Court; a right hon. Gentleman who was a distinguished Member of this House, and is now a Member of the House of Lords—Lord Lambourne; the Deputy-Chairman of Ways and Means; and myself. I do not think you could select a committee of persons holding more divergent views. I do not think it is fair to talk about secret committees. The House of Commons agreed to the appointment of the Committee. That Committee, rightly or wrongly, represented every form of opinion in this House, and on the evidence before us—and I say it advisedly—we had no alternative but, in the interests 3022 of the State, to put these people under preventive arrest—none whatever.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset has referred to the case of Mr. Lockhart. I listened to him with great interest. I do not know what his sources of information are. I understand him to say that Mr. Lockhart went out to Russia with letters of introduction to M. Litvinski, and was treated as an honoured guest. I do not know Mr. Lockhart.
§ Mr. MOONEY
But I do know what happened to Mr. Lockhart, because one of my own personal friends was a member of Mr. Lockhart's staff. I have had the opportunity of seeing my friend since his return from Russia. The hon. Member for North Somerset said these people were extremely well treated. I do not know what his ideas of hospitality are. They were arrested, and were imprisoned in a cell about 6 feet square. They had about one meal a day. They were taken out to be shot ten times. They were lined up against the wall. At the last moment they were told they were not going to be shot that day. They were taken back. That happened ten times. I do not know whether that squares with the information of the hon. Member for North Somerset, but that was the information from a man who went through it. And they were not released on account of any representations that were made by the hon. Member for North Somerset. They were released because the Russian Government thought, after consideration, they had made a mistake in arresting them, and that by their arrest they were retarding the spread of the Bolshevist movement in England. That is the real reason why they were released, and all I can say is that, while I quite sympathise with every country fighting for its freedom, I do not think that methods such as those are likely to accelerate the freedom of any country. As the hon. Member for the Elland Division and the hon. Member for North Somerset have raised two cases of which I have intimate knowledge, I thought it only right to let the House know the facts within my own knowledge, or otherwise a wrong conclusion might have been drawn.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.