§ The purposes of the Ministry of Munitions shall include the supervision and regulation of the diversion to the production of articles required in times of peace, of industries established or utilised during the present War for the purpose of the production of war material, and all powers which may be exercised by the Minister of Munitions with a view to facilitating the supply of war material or otherwise for promoting the prosecution of the present War may be exercised by him with a view to securing that such diversion as aforesaid shall be carried into effect in such a manner as may be most conducive to the national interests, and all orders, requirements, directions, regulations, rules, and notices made or given by the Minister and in force at the passing of this Act shall, until they expire or are altered or revoked, continue in force as if this Act had been in force at the time when they were made or given.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I beg to move, at the beginning of the Clause, to insert the wordsDuring the period of six months from the passing of this Act.These are the words which were in the Bill which we have just passed, which was a Bill of a somewhat similar character. It is a Bill extending to a certain time powers connected with the War. I raise this question for the purpose of getting from the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Kellaway) 3386 an answer on this point. I do not think that it would interfere with the carrying out of the objects of this Bill to insert a period. As I understand from the explanation, there is a limit in the old Act of 1915 which provides that the Ministry of Munitions shall come to an end within a period of twelve months from the signing of peace. That is a rather long time. Six months, which is now suggested, is a considerable period, and if during that six months it is not possible to bring these powers to an end there will be nothing to prevent a short Bill of one Clause being passed extending the period. It is only reasonable that some limit should be put into this Bill, and I trust that the hon. Gentleman will accept the Amendment.
§ Sir W. PEARCE
I support the Amendment of the right hon. Baronet. The matter seems to me of great importance as time is of the essence of the contract. Take the case of a particular article which has been utilised for production of war material—sulphuric acid. The demand for sulphuric acid for war purposes has been stopped. Does the Ministry intend to direct a manufacturer of sulphuric acid to produce it only under his direction? This Bill gives him the power to do that. Does it take away the option from the manufacturer and give it to the Ministry? If it does, it is quite obvious that six months is the longest time for which they should be granted this power. The words of the Clause give the Ministry that power and enable them to gay that war plant which the manufacturer may want to devote to one purpose shall be used by him for another purpose.
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
The effect of this Amendment would be that at the end of six months the Ministry of Munitions would have to revert entirely to its war powers. It would no longer have any powers, however great the necessity existing at the time, of insisting on the continuance of the transfer of the industry from war production to peace production. While it is true that under the Ministry of Munitions Act the Ministry of Munitions must come to an end within twelve months from the conclusion of the War, it is also provided that it may come to an end at such earlier dates as may be fixed by His Majesty in Council. So, while the longest period for which the Ministry can continue is twelve months after the 3387 conclusion of peace, it may end at any earlier period if His Majesty so decide by Order in Council.
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
My right hon. Friend has forgotten more about the House than I have ever known, but he will admit that, if it was the view of the House that the Ministry ought to come to ah end, they would take good care to see that the Government carried out that view. I hope that in these circumstances the right hon. Baronet will not press the Amendment now. In reference to the chemical industry which has been alluded to by the hon. Baronet, than whom nobody has done more in helping the Ministry in this particular industry, I know that control has not been popular, but there is nothing here which will increase the power of the Ministry. This measure does not increase the duration or increase any powers which we now possess. What we want to do is to bring to an end at the earliest possible moment such powers as we now possess, but where orders which have now been made—no fresh orders can be made—are proved to be necessary to assist the transfer of the production of chemicals from the making of explosives to the making of fertilisers, from the purposes of destruction to humane purposes, we want the power to continue.
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
No; there is no extension of powers. What it says is that powers now possessed may be used for a different purpose.
§ Sir. W. PEARCE
I gave the concrete case of sulphuric acid. The Government quite properly have controlled it because it has been wanted for the production of munitions of war. That is so no longer. I know instances in which the whole of the orders for making munitions have been cancelled, and I know factories to-day where the sulphuric acid plant has nothing to do. Naturally, these people are looking for a fresh outlet for the sulphuric acid. So far as I know, this allows the Ministry afterwards, if they decide that a larger quantity of fertilisers is wanted in the interests of 3388 the country, to take away the acid from the control of the manufacturer, who, meanwhile, has been making fresh arrangements of his own, and the Ministry can come in again and say, "We are going to exercise powers of control over the manufacturers as we did before, not for the purposes of munitions of war, but for the purposes of agriculture." To give that control in a Bill introduced in this sort of way is something which the Government has no right to do. If the Bill means what I say, it ought to be withdrawn.
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
I will only repeat what I have said. The Bill does not extend the powers already possessed either in their duration or in their nature.
Sir F. BAN BURY
What the hon. Baronet says is quite correct, because the Bill deals with industries which have been utilised for the production of war material during the present War, and that has been the case in the chemical industry. If it is desired to use sulphuric acid for other purposes, to my mind it is much better to do so and more in the national interests. In these circumstances I still think it would be better if my Amendment had been accepted, but in view of what is going on I do not want to press it, and I therefore ask leave to withdraw it.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Sir W. PEARCE
I beg to move, to leave out the words "or utilised."
I do not think the hon. Member knows what powers this Bill will give him, and, if these words are left in, it places the manufacturers of a great many things in a most unfair position, and I do appeal to the hon. Member to meet what are reasonable apprehensions as I am inclined to think, though I had not seen this Bill until a quarter of an hour ago. He might bake out the words "or utilised." I am not asking him to deny himself any powers he may want for Government factories themselves, but over factories used for purposes of munitions, belonging to firms who have been established for a great many years, and now have plans of their own for using materials that have been required for munitions in other directions. If he is to have power to take away all 3389 initiative from them, I think it is disastrous, and I do not think the House realises it is giving such powers. I appeal to him to accept some limitation in this way and take out the words "or utilised."
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
I think on reflection my hon. Friend will see that this is an Amendment which could not be accepted. It would really destroy the whole nature of the Bill. He wants to except from this Bill the proposal that industries shall be utilised. The case which I gave to the House on the Second Reading was that of the brick-making industry, where for war purposes during the War we have had to control the price and direction of supply. Will anybody say we ought not to be able to retain the same control over the price of bricks and the direction of supply?
§ Sir W. PEARCE
That is all very well, but there are whole classes who have to give up the whole of their operations to help the Ministry of Munitions. They have discarded plans of their own that would have given them security in the future, and they have had to devote themselves entirely to the requirements of the State. I do not think we can have any right to come down here, and without notice, ask the House to give the Government powers to continue that sort of drastic control. I think there are four or five thousand manufacturing firms making the munitions of war. To have control of their operations, to tell them that they may do this and not do the other, and to take away their whole power and initiative is a serious thing. I think the Minister is asking something he ought not to have, because it is quite evident that these powers are going to be very drastic. Very far-reaching, and of great consequence. I feel very strongly it is not fair for the Government to come down and ask the House to give it these powers without the industries knowing anything about it, or one Member in a hundred realising what powers are being given to it.
§ Mr. WATT
I agree with my hon. Friend that the powers in this measure are very sweeping, and if my hon. Friend had acted as I advised him, he would have divided on the question of limiting to six months the action of this measure. I do not think the commercial community are aware of the drastic nature of this measure and there ought to be some 3390 limitation of the powers. My hon. Friend in charge of it is evidently desirous of having the whole Bill and nothing but the Bill and will suffer no interference in the way of limitation. The commercial community will be surprised that they are so thoroughly in the hands of the Ministry of Munitions in conducting their affairs. I would have divided on the limitation of time. But this particular limitation is a limitation of the factories which are to come under the jurisdiction hereafter of the Ministry of Munitions. The leaving out of these two words will enable the Ministry to deal with national factories, but factories utilised by the Ministry of Munitions will be left out. I think it would be an advantage, on the whole, if this limitation were fixed. It is fairly sweeping, more sweeping than the limitation of time. At the same time, the evil is so great of taking away the initiative of factories for an indefinite period that the Under-Secretary should really see his way to acquiesce in the suggestions of those who are interested in the commercial interest of the country and should take their advice and in some way agree to limit his powers.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Clause 2 (Short Title) ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Bill reported, without Amendment; read the third time, and passed.