|Number of Regulation.||Subject Matter.||Limitations, Qualifications, and Modifications subject to which Extension is made.|
|2B||Power to requisition War material, stores, &c.||So far as relates to the powers of the Food Controller, and to flax.|
|2BB||Power to vary terms of sub-contracts.||So far as relates to cases where certificates or Orders have at the passing of this Act been issued.|
|2c||Power to take possession of and fell trees.||So far as relates to timber of which possession has been taken at the passing of this Act.|
|2E||Power to regulate dealings in War material, stores, &c.||So far as relates to the powers of the Food Controller, and to fax and clinical thermometers.|
|2F to 2J 2JJ||Powers of the Food Controller. Power to regulate articles of commerce other than food.||So far as relates to coal (including anthracite and all other kinds of coal, coke, briquettes, and any-other solid fuel of which coal or coke is a constituent), gas and electricity.|
|2JJJ||Power to regulate the transport of goods by road.||As if in Subsection (1) the words "and thereby furthering the" successful prosecution of the "War or otherwise securing the" defence of the realm" were omitted.|
|2o||Keeping of pigs||Subsection (5), and, so far as relates to permissions granted and in force at the date of the passing of this Act, the remainder of the Regulation.|
|5A||Power to take over control and maintenance of highways.||So far as relates to highways which have been damaged by Government use before the passing of this Act, and as if for the words "for the" purpose of securing the public "safety and the defence of the" realm," there were substituted the words" in the national "interests."|
|6A||Power to exempt factories and workshops from provisions of Act of 1901.||So far as relates to Orders authorising, subject to the weekly limit of hours allowed by Act of 1901—|
|(a) employment of women and young persons in shifts (not being night shifts) averaging not more than eight hours;|
|(b) employment of women and young persons at special times in creameries and cheese-making works;|
|(c) night employment of male young persons over 17 years of age in wire-drawing;|
|(d) minor adjustments of times of starting and stopping work and of meal intervals.|
§ Debate resumed on Amendment [24th February] to leave out Regulation 2B.—[Colonel Penry Williams.]
§ Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill." Debate resumed.
§ Captain WEDGWOOD BENN
This is an Amendment to leave out the Regulation which confers upon the Food Controller the power compulsorily to requisition material such as was enjoyed by the Army and Navy during the War. We shall come later to the Amendment dealing with the general powers of the Food Controller. The point for the moment is simply this question of the power of the Food Controller compulsorily to acquire stores, and principally flax in Ireland, at a price to be fixed by the Government. The learned Attorney-General, in speaking on this Amendment at the end of Tuesday's Debate, rather suggested that these powers only applied to flax which was grown last year, and on that ground he pointed out that the Regulation was not of very great moment. His point was that as some of the crop had been requisitioned it would be unfair not to continue the control, so that all growers might be treated alike. Whatever happens to the War, whether it be officially declared to be at an end or not before August 31st, these powers are being continued till August 31st, and it is quite possible, unless we carry the Amendment, that the Government may exercise their powers to requisition this year's crop. I have seen a letter from the Irish Flax Producers' Association of Armagh, in which they state:By reason of the action of the Flax Control Board in refusing to take off the control, 84 flax-growers are obliged to sell then-crop at least at half its value, and as this extra gain is going into the pockets of the spinners we most strongly object to any Government Department being made the instrument to benefit one class of the community at the expense of the other. There are at last fifty thousand flax growers and less than forty spinners, so that a gross injustice is being done to the farmer.That is the objection which the Irish Flax Producers' Association raises against the continuance of these powers in the hands of the Government. The delay in renewing our trade relations with Russia is at once the fault of the Government and is the argument which they themselves adopt for the necessity for continuing this control of Irish flax. There is another point which is of the very greatest importance, particularly to the Irish growers. This Bill consists of two parts. Part of it continues certain regulations till August 31st, but the other part, which is Sub-section (4) of Section 2, continues in Ireland all the Regulations for one year after the conclusion of peace. Therefore, the principal flax-growers of the United Kingdom not only suffer under this provision of the Schedule, but they may be made to suffer under the general provision which continues in the hands of the Government all the powers of all the Regulations for one year after the conclusion of the War. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman will look at Sub-section (4) of Section 2, he will see that if a Proclamation suspending Section 1 of the Defence of the Realm Act be issued, then all the Regulations then in force shall be continued. The Chief Secretary told me the other day that a Proclamation has indeed been issued for the whole of Ireland, so that we find that these powers for controlling 85 the price of flax and limiting the profit which the Ulster flax growers may make on their crop by no means terminate on August 31st, but may be continued for one year after the conclusion of the War, whenever that date is fixed by an Order-in-Council. In view of those facts, I submit that the Amendment should receive more general examination, if not more general support, and I press it on the serious consideration of the Minister in charge of the Bill.
§ Major KERR-SMILEY
This control of flax was introduced and accepted for patriotic reasons, but now that the War is over, I submit that there is no reason why the sacrifices of patriotism should be extended to times of peace. The argument of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade was, that if the Government were to allow the remainder of the flax crops to be sold in the open market, it would be obviously unfair to those who had kept their bargain with the Government and sold their crops at the price fixed. I do not entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman that this is a good or a sound argument; in fact, the old adage that two wrongs do not make a right might very aptly be applied to this case. I do not see what good we are going to do by refusing to take off the control. It will simply mean that the farmers will hold up their stocks until flax is decontrolled next year. I understand that at the present time many mills are running half-time owing to a great shortage of raw material, and by refusing to take off the control the Government will bring about a very serious situation. I do not think that the farmers can be blamed.
If a man has something to sell and he has definite information that by not selling it in May, but by holding it until August, he will double his profit, you cannot blame him. The hon. Gentleman has told the farmers that he is going to decontrol flax in August, and they will naturally hold up their flax, and by so doing they will very seriously affect the manufacturers. At a large public meeting held last Friday in the Ulster Hall, Belfast, under the auspices of the newly formed Irish Flax Producers' Association, this resolution was unanimously passed:That we hold our flax until such time as it is free from nil control.86 I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade what the Government are going to do? Will they use force in order to make the farmers sell? I do not think that the Government could possibly do that. Therefore-I earnestly ask them to reconsider their decision; otherwise, a very serious state of things will be brought about.
This question of control at the present time is very unfortunate. It is not the easy question which it would at first appear to be. Many arguments are being used on both sides in order to support the different points of view. The argument at present being used by the Irish farmers is something like this: "Because we are controlled we are only getting £300 a ton for our flax." They state that flax produced by growers in England purchased by the Irish spinners is sold at upwards of £600 a ton and that the English flax farmers are not controlled. They also state that the Continental flax is being purchased by the Ulster spinners at prices ranging from £1,000 to £1,300 a ton, and, of course, the Continental growers are not controlled. Their difficulty is this, that they, because they are controlled, are only getting £300 a ton, while other flax growers are getting double or three or four times as much. Naturally, the farmer regards that as a very difficult thing to understand. He docs not appreciate the reason why he is only getting £300 a ton while others are getting so much more. The Government's position is perfectly plain. In the spring of last year, after the Armistice, the Government were evidently under the impression that it would not be advisable to control or have anything more to do with flax, and the trade looked to be in a very precarious condition, both for farmers, spinners, and the trade generally. Under the circumstances the farmers and the spinners approached the Government and pointed out the position they would be in if flax was decontrolled suddenly, stating that there would be a considerable decrease in the sowing of flax in 1919. Although the Government Department did not wish to control flax, after the grave representations made by the spinners and the flax growers, they decided that the flax should continue to be controlled.
The House will understand that previous to this the control price of flax was 87 35s. to 45s. per stone according to grade. It is rather a technical matter, but for simplicity I would point out that flax is graded in six different qualities, and according as the grading is done, whether it is good, bad, or indifferent, the flax grower receives anything from 35s. to 45s per stone. The Armistice came, and the whole of the trade was faced with the great difficulty as to whether or not the whole of the flax would be required. The farmers were very keen to know how they stood for 1919, and whether they would get the price which they had got in 1918. The Government, so far as I can understand the situation, although they did not wish to control the flax in 1919, arranged to control it and to ensure that the farmer should get a price 10s. less than in 1918, that is, instead of getting 35s. to 45s. a stone he should get from 25s. to 35s. a stone. The Government believed that that was a binding agreement with the farmers. In June the position in Ulster in connection with the trade looked very black. The Government were no longer taking the production of the looms in Ireland, and did not require it for aeroplane purposes, but as a result of the Government having to take the products of the looms up to early in 1919 civilian orders were not in the hands of the manufacturers. The outlook was very grave, with the result that large quantities of flax and yarn ready spun by the spinners were in hand, with no orders coming from those places which usually took the production of the linen looms of Ulster. At that time there was an understanding or binding agreement that the growers should get 25s. to 35s. per stone, according to gradings. By July and August things began to improve and the farmers had meetings and insisted that so far as they were concerned they did not feel themselves bound to any such bargain, although there does seem to have been some kind of understanding. As business improved they had other meetings in the autumn. Their flax was taken out of the fields and being scutched. They were getting ready to be in a position to sell the crop of 1919 and did not like the idea of having to sell it at a lower price than in the previous year. Consequently they held meetings with a view to getting some arrangements whereby they could obtain the old 1918 control price, or flax should be decontrolled.
88 I understand that at one of the quarterly meetings of the Farmers' Union held in October they had a visit from two representatives of the spinners who asked them to send a deputation to the spinners' meeting in order that they might discuss the question, which was a very difficult question for everyone concerned. The Flax Growers' Association, the Farmers' Union, sent over twelve men to meet the spinners. A good deal of discussion took place there, and I think that eventually some arrangement was come to that the growers should get the 1918 price for their products; that is to say, not the arrangement which was arrived at in the spring, of 25s. to 35s. per stone, but from 35s. to 45s. per stone, which meant an advance of 10s. per stone for the flax produced in the 1919 crop, over the prices fixed in the spring. That, at all events, was some kind of an understanding. I am told that the Farmers' Union are not satisfied that that was a bargain, as it has been called, and for the reason that they had no idea that their twelve representatives, who were simply proposed from their meeting at the moment and sent to the meeting of the spinners' association, were going to settle the affair. Moreover, they say that of these twelve farmers sent to the meeting, seven of them do not grow flax at all. I suppose it is up to them to say whether it was advisable for them to have sent other representatives. At the same time it is open to them to say that they did not realise that this so-called bargain was about to be made. At any rate, there was some kind of an understanding arrived at. The Government did not quite like the idea of this advance over the previous arrangement which had been made; but I understand they acceded to this new arrangement. That is how matters stood in October, 1919.
In the meantime the condition of trade was getting better so far as the spinners were concerned. At the time flax was sold by the growers in Ireland at 35s. a stone, the unit of a certain quality of yarn was being sold by the spinners at 18s. 10½d. per bundle, which is the unit for sale; but as the months passed by this was increased to 78s. per bundle of the same quality and the same unit. Naturally the farmers did not like this. They said, "By control we are compelled to sell our flax at £300 per ton while the spinners, who are not controlled, are selling their spun 89 yarn at a basis of £1,000 per ton." When a farmer gets that idea into his head it is only natural that he should think that he should get some share of the very great profit, and that is exactly why we have this disturbance in Ireland at the present moment amongst the flax growers. It is a very disturbing element. Although we may reasonably enough say that the farmers understood all along that there was some kind of a bargain that they should get from 35s. to 45s. a stone for their flax, yet they argue that the English flax growers are getting between £500 and £600 a ton, the continental flax growers £1,300 a ton, and that the spinners have increased the sale price of their particular article from 18s. 10½d. per bundle to 78s. per bundle, and that they are entirely out of it, and naturally want more. I do not blame them. How is it to be arranged. I have been present at many debates in this House, when many objections have been made to Government proposals, but the trouble always has been that those who object have very rarely given the Government an opportunity of listening to their suggestions as to how the difficulties are to be overcome. Some way ought to be found out of the present position. On the one hand we have the Government control of flax, on the other hand we have the spinners, on the other hand we have the Irish Flax Growers' Association, and I suppose we have also the local flax committee who dispose of the flax to the Government. We all understand that the Government are making nothing out of the arrangement. I think I ought also to state that when those arrangements were made in the spring of 1919 by the spinners, the spinners undertook to take any risk that was going. Now we have these three parties, the Government, the flax-growers, and the spinners. According to a question which was answered to-day, upwards of 8,000 tons have already been gold by the flax-growers to the Government or to the spinners on the basis of 35s. to 45s. per stone. The argument of the Government is that it would be unfair to those who have sold their crops at 35s. or 45s. per stone to decontrol the price of flax now, thus giving the other farmers who have held their flax the opportunity of getting perhaps double the price. I agree that to some extent this proposal of the Government is a very reasonable one, but we in Ulster are in the position that 90 something must be done. We do not want the whole trade in Ulster to be held up simply because the farmers have passed resolutions that they will not take their flax out of their barns or wherever else it may be stored until flax is decontrolled. That is the position that we are in. We must not forget that even the spinners, after all, have to sell their production months ahead. I know what their custom is. It is to sell their yarn ahead on the basis of the flax prices of the day. It is just possible that large orders may have been taken by the spinners at the rate of 35s. or 45s. per stone, believing that the price of flax will still be controlled.
The farmers say to this that they absolutely refuse to hand over their crop at £300 a ton when other people are getting so much more, in some cases double that amount. I think that some arrangement must be arrived at, and I suggest that the Flax Control Board in London appoint a small committee or deputation, and that the spinners appoint a small committee, and that the Irish flax-growers appoint a small committee, and that they meet either here or in Belfast, and that the President of the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction in Ireland shall be the Chairman of that Committee, and that the Government take immediate steps to bring that Committee together in order to find some way of out this difficulty, which must be solved. We must have an immediate settlement of this trouble. What is our position to-day? Here we are in the spring of another year. The farmers are naturally saying to themselves, "What is going to happen this year?" Well, I am glad to notice—and I think everyone seems to agree that it is a proper thing to do—that there will be no control for the flax crop of 1920, and that, all this trouble will thus have been got rid of. So far as the management is concerned, I do not think we need worry about the 1920 crop. As I have said, it is to be decontrolled, and it will be open to the Irish farmers to get whatever price they can. But in the meantime there is this trouble about the 1919 crop. I am sure some way can be found to get out of it. It may be that this Committee will try to solve the difficulty by giving some more to the farmers who have already sold their flax. I beg to suggest to the Government that they should appoint representatives of each of these three bodies and try and 91 find a way out of the difficulty. But there is one thing I would like to insist upon, which is largely responsible for the trouble we are having now, and that is the question of grading. That seems to me to be the root of the whole matter. The farmer brings his flax into the market. The graders are there, and they say that his flax is to be of one quality—1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. One farmer may say: "My flax is as good as the other man's, yet I am only getting 35s., and he is getting 40s." He cannot see the difference, and naturally that causes a great deal of discontent. I do hope that instructions may be given to the graders to do better than they have been doing in connection with this grading of flax. It would go a very long way to settle the difficulties if instead of having the lowest grade of 35s., the price were raised. I understand a large quantity of the flax crop is graded as low as grades 4 and 5. In answer to a question which was put to him to-day my right hon. Friend (Mr. Bridgeman) said that the total amount of the 1919 Irish flax crop which had been purchased was 7,963 tons. Only 157 tons had been graded as No. 1 Grade; 550 tons as No. 2; 1,532 tons as No. 3; 2,507 tons as No. 4; 2,709 tons as No. 5, and so on. I think you will find the root of the whole difficulty in that grading, and if the Government will just put up that grading a little—not very much—in order to satisfy the bulk of the farmers, you will largely get rid of this difficulty. I therefore throw out the suggestion to the Government, and I hope this trouble will be brought to an end.
§ Mr. T. GRIFFITHS
I hope the Government will not accept this Amendment. It seems to me to be an object of special pleading in order to get some extra profits for the profiteers. The hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken said that in Ireland they were getting £300 per ton for the flax, and that in England they were getting £600 per ton. Foreign countries were getting something over £1,000 per ton. He did not complain that the farmers in Ireland were not getting sufficient profits. He simply complained because the farmers in England were getting £300 per ton more than the farmers in Ireland. He went on to say that probably if the Government would decontrol flax, the farmers in Ireland would go to the Irish markets and charge 92 exactly the same price as the English farmers—namely, £600 per ton. One cannot look at the newspapers day by day without seeing that the attention of the Government is being continually called to the profiteering and the high prices which are going on in the country to-day in the early stages of last Session questions were continually put down on the Paper asking when the Government were going to carry out a system of decontrol, when they were going to do away with obsolete Departments, and when they were really going to exercise control over the expenditure of the country. What has been our experience in the coal trade, in the cotton trade, in the steel trade, and in the tinplate trade? Where there has been decontrol, and where the demand has been greater than the supply, we have had inflated prices. Prices have been charged for the commodities in these trades today which have never been known before in the history of this country. The consumers have had to pay. That has been the experience of other Members of this House as well as myself. Every day I get scores of letters from different parts of the country, especially from my own constituents, asking what the Members of the House of Commons are doing in order to keep down these prices. I get these letters continually, day after day. Take all the necessities of life to-day; you have the Report about the cotton, about the wool, and about other industries. The flax-growers would do exactly the same as has been done in these industries. They would send up their prices. This would not benefit the spinners in any way, and what I suggest is that the flax should be controlled in England and on the Continent, as well as in Ireland, and the prices should thus be brought down to the level of what the Irish farmers are getting. I do not want to do any injustice to the farmers in Ireland, but I do want to do justice to the consumers in this country who have to pay for it. In South Wales to-day there are over 100,000 people idle because they have asked for an advance in wages—which has been refused them—owing to the high prices paid for steel and tin-plate. I would ask the Government to consider what time of the year is approaching. The hot weather is coming on. The time is coming when people get discontented, when they feel out of sorts, and that is the very time when we are 93 going to have unrest in the country. I hope the Government will put their foot down. Control is bad, but decontrol is a far worse evil, and I would rather see the Government controlling the industry, even if the employers have only a bare profit. While the supply is less than the demand, as it is to-day, the employers will send the prices up and ask any price that they can possibly obtain. That is always the case, and I do feel that this is the time at which the Government should really put their foot down. You have the members of the community all against you, the consumers all against you, and unless something is going to be done, you are going to have serious strikes and unrest all over the country. Therefore, I hope that the Government will control flax in England and on the Continent. During the period of the War the employers were given their chance. We now have commercialism run mad in the country to-day. The employers have taken their chance, and the Government should now take control and do something for the consumers.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. Bridgeman)
I do not know that I can add very much to what I said about the flax position last week. The point is this. The Government bought the 1919 crop at a guaranteed price and sold it again to the spinners in order to get the mills going at a time when there was a considerable shortage of labour. It is now suggested that, when some part or some fraction of the farmers have sold their flax at a price agreed upon by the Government, we should allow the other farmers to get a much higher price than the one agreed to. The hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh (Lieut.-Colonel Allen) gave a perfectly correct and very fair history of the negotiations that have taken place. I thought, however, that he somewhat minimised what we regarded as a bargain. I understand that the position of the Irish farmer is that at the time it was made they thought it was a good price, they were satisfied that it might be considered as a bargain. But when they saw the price going up, it began to be a loose understanding, and now it appears to be no sort of understanding at all. I cannot admit that that is at all a fair description of the position. If it was not a bargain, why should they have asked for an additional rise of 10s., and when we agreed to it, why did they try to get out 94 of an undertaking they made, in order to get something better? I cannot agree that it was not a strictly honourable undertaking that ought to be strictly and honourably kept.
But I do see that there is some sense of grievance perhaps in feeling that the spinners may be making much larger profits than they or anybody else expected they would make when the bargain was originally made, and there may be some fallibility in the grading of the material or the prices fixed. I have already asked those responsible for the grading to look into the matter. I do not suppose that I shall satisfy my hon. Friends in that unless everybody who is now graded as 5 or 6 is put up into grade I, but we are quite prepared to look into the question of grading, and if, as I understand, the suggestion of the hon. Member is that there should be a sort of voluntary meeting between the associations concerned, the spinners, the flax growers, and the officials of the Government, I have already been in communication with the Vice-President of the Irish Department of Agriculture with a view to seeing whether some sort of voluntary agreement might not be possible, but then my hon. Friends will agree that it would not be fair to give an extra price to the farmers who have not yet sold if an extra price is not also given to those who have already sold.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
If a voluntary agreement between the spinners and the farmers is come to, I will be inclined to agree to it unless they were not to give the same terms to those who have already sold their flax. I do not know whether that is possible, but it seems to me the only fair course. There is no intention to control the flax crop of 1920, but the House will see that we cannot do anything but adhere to this restriction, until some agreement is reached.
§ Sir R. COOPER
While we are dealing with flax, it is the principle involved which is giving the public throughout the country a great deal of concern at the present time. It is really the point that was put by the hon. Member (Mr. Griffiths) who spoke from the Front Opposition Bench. My hon. Friend (Mr. Bridgeman), in the early part of his 95 remarks, admitted that there might be some question of injustice. The point, as I understand it, is this. It is not that the Irish growers of flax are dissatisfied with the margin of profit which they are making under the agreement which has been referred to. It is that the spinners and those who supply the public generally, the users of the raw material, the middlemen and dealers, are making exorbitant profits out of the public. The Irish farmer who grows flax feels it a grievance that the material which he produces and sells in the market at a not unreasonable profit is taken advantage of by the profiteer, who is the flax spinner in this case, if the facts are as I understand them and as they are understood by the public generally. If my hon. Friend (Mr. Bridgeman) is going to control one section of production, he must be logical-and control it right through, so that one section of the industry cannot take unfair advantage of the other. We should lose no opportunity in this House of making the Government understand that there must be an alteration in some of the industries which they are controlling, or that otherwise there is going to be very serious trouble in this country.
§ Major MACKENZIE WOOD
This Regulation proposes to give special power to the Food Controller for the requisition of certain stores; but all the powers required are already given, so far as the Food Controller is, concerned, by—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
We are at present discussing the question of flax. The question of food control will come up later.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
In the reply from the Government Bench it is admitted that there may be some cause for dissatisfaction in the fact that the spinner was not under control, while the producer of flax was controlled. The consumers are paying for that fact. On the farm, those who are engaged in production are under control, and the hon. Member has given no indication as to whether the Government are prepared to put the spinner under control as well as the producer of flax. That is the sort of thing that is causing the cost of living to go up by leaps and bounds and is producing dissatisfaction everywhere. Before going to a division, I would like to know what is the intention of the Government. Does 96 the Government intend to put the spinner under control as well as the farmer?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That question does not arise on this Amendment. This Amendment is to abolish control upon flax. It is not to impose control upon other people. That could not be done by this Amendment.
§ Captain W. BENN
May I submit that the powers of the Food Controller under 2B are to be continued, and also his power as to flax. Certain powers of the Food Controller outside his powers as to flax are to be continued, and it is on that that my hon. Friend (Major Mackenzie Wood) was addressing the House.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
It was on that that I stopped him. If he confined himself to flax now, I should be prepared to consider the question of discussing food control later, but the point which we are making now is that no amount of discussion upon this Amendment could possibly induce or should induce the Government to consider the question of imposing control upon other people. The proposal is to remove control now, and not to impose it upon others.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
The point I was making was to get the intentions of the Government. They admitted that there was room for dissatisfaction on the point which I raised, and I was anxious to see if they had any policy regarding the matter.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I would ask the Government to elucidate the point. I understand that the flax grower is controlled and can only get so-much for his flax. I believe that it is about £200 a ton, while it is benig sold elsewhere for £600 a ton. It would be useful to know, as the Government buys from the Irish flax grower, at what price do they sell to the manufacturer, the spinner, or the middleman. What profit are the Government making on this transaction?
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
May I be allowed respectfully to congratulate the Government on this departure from their usual procedure. In a great many other cases the Government have been making profit which people resent very much. In this matter of not 97 making profit the Government should set the example. As this question of flax has led to a long discussion, may I point out that last year we voted £5,000,000 subsidy in spite of protests from these Benches, to assist the grower of flax and also that the supply of flax has been curtailed, largely by the Government policy of deliberately cutting off the buyer in this country from his natural source of supply in Eastern Europe, and in the interests both of the grower in this country and the public who have to buy the finished article, it should be made clear that the cost of flax, and therefore of linen, is attributable to the policy of artificially cutting off this country from its natural source of supply of flax in Eastern Europe.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Major MACKENZIE WOOD
I beg to move to leave out Regulation 2F to 2J.
I put down this Amendment for the purpose of raising the whole question of food control in this country. I am not pre pared to say that it is possible now to decontrol all food, or that the powers of the Food Controller should be entirely taken away from him. But I do say that it is now possible for the Food Controller to give up a large number of powers which he has been exercising for several years. We are entitled to ask the Government what powers they think they can dispense with now, and that we should have in the third column against this paragraph a specification of what exactly they think should be continued. If the House will look at the different Regulations referred to in this 2F and 2G, they will find an enormous number of powers, some of which have borne very hardly on the producer and the dealer. Take, for instance, the powers of compelling grocers and provision merchants all over the country to send in returns. The returns which the ordinary grocer has had to make in reference to food during the last few years have driven some of them almost to the asylum. I would like to have an assurance that the activities of the food merchant are to be curtailed somewhat in this direction. It is quite obvious from some of the announcements that we have had recently that the Government have devised a policy which is going far beyond their right, in which 98 they are taking power to continue these Regulations, and we ought now to have from the Government information of what they do intend.
§ Colonel PENRY WILLIAMS
I beg to second the Amendment.
I think that before we pass these Regulations or agree to continue them pretty well indefinitely, we should have a full statement from the Government as to their policy with regard to food. I am advised by those who have spent their lives in dealing with the distribution, buying and soiling of food, and are competent to judge, that control has a tendency not to decrease prices to the consumer, but to increase them, and that while they admit it may be impossible at the moment to de-control all articles of food, yet it is to the public advantage that control should cease at the earliest possible moment. With regard to the articles which he sold in his very large shop, my informant told me that 75 per cent. of those articles were controlled articles, and he said that whereas the cost of transit amounted in pre-War times to 5 per cent. of the value of the article sold, it now under the system of control amounted to 10 per cent. of the value of the article. He did not attribute that entirely to the rise in the cost of railway transit. He also told me something that I think must be interesting to the House. We have heard that the Food Controller has been buying, very largely, Danish and Dutch butter and bringing it to this country. He said that all that butter, after having been brought into this country, was collected at a central depot, and by some process of manufacturing—he did not like to say doctoring—by some process applied by the Government, the yield was increased. We should like to know from the Government what is the cost to the public of collecting all this butter and dealing with it in the way my correspondent suggests, if it be correct that it is dealt with in that way. He said it was a process that was in vogue sometime before the War, and enabled certain-traders dealing with butter to compete favourably with the ordinary retailer of butter who got it direct from the foreign producer.
I think we ought to have a great deal more information from the Government than we have now. What is their policy 99 with regard to bacon? I believe bacon was controlled, wholesale and retail. Then the Government took off the wholesale control and retained the retail control. The result was that the bacon sellers of the country came up to London in a great deputation, complaining bitterly that the foreigner, the American producer, was charging any price he liked, and that they were compelled to sell it retail at controlled prices. And the public did not get the bacon. That is what has happened in the case of a lot of the control we have had during the last few years. With control an article tends to disappear from the market. I need instance only the case of apples: they disappeared from the market directly the Government took over the control, and the price went up. We have had a couple of years of very strict Government control. It has been contended to-day that control prevents a rise in price. It has not been so in the last two years, and if control is continued it will not be so in the next two years. I would also like to know what is the Government policy with regard to milk and butter and cheese. I think control there, at least I am told so, has had the direct effect, first of all, of increasing the price of milk, then of cheese and then of butter. It stands to reason that it should do so. The milk seller complains that he is getting too little for his milk and that it pays him better to manufacture cheese and butter. Then the Government increases the price of milk. Next there is a shortage of butter and cheese, and sellers come and say, "We are short of cheese; you must increase the price." Then the Government increases the price of butter and cheese. And so on ad infinitum.
I think the Government ought to give us some information as to cost. What I want to know is, what is the difference in the cost between an article wholesale and that article when it reaches the public? I would ask also, what is the comparison between now and the pre-War practice? Take an article like bacon. It costs the Government now, how much, between the wholesale price c.i.f. English ports, and the time it reaches the consumer? How much did it cost pre-War, when the traders were competing one with the other and were managing the business of distribution efficiently? 100 The whole argument of the trade is this: that the policy of food distribution is one of the greatest intricacy, and that people can manage it efficiently only when they have served the whole of their lives in that trade, and that if you bring in a man to interfere with it, however clever he may be in other directions, he will make a hopeless mess of food distribution. Directly you have delay or difficulty in the distribution of food you have waste and you incur great loss. I hope the House will not agree to the continuance of these Regulations unless we have a complete statement from the Government setting forth the whole of the food policy which it is intended to pursue during the next year or two.
§ Mr. N. MACLEAN
I would like to point out that we have on the Order Paper an Amendment to continue control for a period. We are in favour of continuing control, not because we have any love for D.O.H.A., but because we believe that if you release control you are going to make things worse than they are. Our contention is that articles from which control is removed immediately soar in price. Control is not by any means the ideal thing that it ought to be if the Food Controller had exercised the powers given to him, I am confident that prices would have been much lower than they are to-day. The Food Controller has power to enter premises and to examine the books of any manufacturer of food stuffs and to ascertain the actual cost of production. That has not been done to the extent to which it might have been done. The Mover and Seconder of the Amendment seemed to desire all control to be swept away in order that they could get back to the old Manchester school of politics. The Manchester school of politics is dead in the world, and there can be no going back to it. The only thing we can do is to go forward with a more co-operative method of production instead of reverting to individualistic theories. I hold that the Amendment would play into the hands of big manufacturers of foodstuffs. It is not the little man of whom we have to be afraid, not the small grocer in some back street, but the big food combines, which are forcing the price up and selling goods to the small retailers at a price which prohibits them from making a living.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
You have only to go Into the shops and see. The sellers of butter in the small shops in working-class localities make a profit that is scarcely sufficient to cover the cost of paper and the weighing of the article. One of the arguments used to-day against the Government was that they had mixed something with the butter which made the butter go further and brought the Government larger profits. The hon. Member who mentioned that must be extremely innocent of the method of selling goods if he imagines that that has been the method of making-up articles only during the War period. All these things were mixed up not by the small seller but by the large manufacturer. You have only to look into the window of any multiple shop and see the way in which the employ½s behind the counters are making up the goods they have to sell, and making thorn up according to the instructions given by district inspectors. In the interests of the working people of this country it is necessary that control should be continued for a longer period. We, on these benches of the Labour party, hope not merely that it will be continued for the period suggested in my Amendment, but that that period will give the Government which is in power the opportunity of framing some measure whereby there may be a permanent Ministry of food control, so that there can be no longer in this country the gambling in the food of the people that went on in pre-War times.
§ The PARLAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of FOOD (Mr. McCurdy)
I believe that I am correct in saying that this is the first occasion during the lifetime of the present Parliament that the policy of the Ministry of Food has come up for discussion on the floor of this House. I suppose I may take that as a tribute to the entire satisfaction which the conduct of the Ministry of Food has given during the first twelve months. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] I cannot help thinking that it is a little unfortunate that the first occasion chosen for reviewing the policy of the Ministry of Food should be an occasion on which there is no Food Controller to deal with the matter. I must ask the indulgence of the House under those circumstances. 102 As regards the alterations of the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment in favour of the removal as speedily as possible of all controls and restrictions upon the food supplies of the country, I should like to say in the first place that certainly it is the desire of the Government that as soon as it is convenient and safe we should get rid of all the restrictions which were imposed and necessary for the purposes of the war, and the total disappearance which will be one of the most welcome signs that peace is really established upon the earth. I would also say that it was unquestionably the policy of my right hon. Friend the late Food Controller, during the last year as rapidly as he could, consistent with safety, to remove control. I doubt if the House realises how consistently and persistently the Minister of Food strove to reduce and to remove the control upon foodstuffs which came under the administration of the Ministry of Food. I am bound to say that in the carrying out of that policy my right hon. Friend had several very severe disappointments. There was, as the House will remember, a strong agitation at one time for the removal of control upon oils and fats. It was laid to the charge of the Ministry at that time that we were retaining the control in order that we might not suffer a loss on our own stocks of oils and fats. Everybody remembers how, when oils and fats were decontrolled, the result was that instead of prices falling or remaining stationary there was a sudden and very alarming rise in the price of those commodities, and a rise which, I am sorry to say, still remains a burden on the consumers of this country. If I may refer to another instance, we decontrolled veal under the impression that that might be safely done. The consequence was that within a Very few days veal rose from 1s. 8d. per lb. to 4s. or 5s. per lb., and we received urgent representations from the Ministry of Agriculture as to the slaughter of immature calves taking place in consequence of the decontrol, and that that would result in a serious diminution of the milk supply in two or three years time. We had therefore hastily to reimpose the control.
I only quote those two illustrations as to what I ask the House to accept as the fact that the policy at the Ministry of Food during the past twelve months has been a policy dictated throughout by the desire to get rid of all wartime restrictions 103 and controls as soon as it might be safe and convenient. I am afraid that at the Ministry of Food we shared to some extent that optimism which was so current in trading circles at the commencement of last year and which turned out to be so fallacious. I am afraid, like everybody else, we under-estimated the time which must necessarily elapse before the injury done to agriculture, and indeed to all the instruments of production of all industries by the War, could be restored. It is now obvious to everybody that the economic ravages of the War cannot be restored in a few months of peace. What it has taken years to destroy will, whether we like it or not, take years to rebuild. If we look at the question of the policy of control I suggest one of the principal considerations which must be present to the mind of anyone who has to determine the general policy with regard to control is this question. Is there yet any prospect as regards the production of visible supplies balancing the world's demands? So far as Europe is concerned, I am sorry to say that is still very far from being the case. We all know that we have in Russia 180 millions of people in a condition which certainly militates against effective and efficient production. The same thing is more or less true unhappily of 120 millions of people in Central and Eastern Europe. So far as the food supplies of the Continent are concerned, they are at the present time in many countries lamentably below the level which is really necessary for the physiological needs of the populations. So far as this country is concerned, we are of course in a much more happy position, but we have difficulties of our own. We all know that one of the blessings which has come out of the War has been the unexpected hastening in that process, which I am glad to think was going on for a long time before the War, by which the standard of living and the wages of the labouring classes have been increased.
In the case of agriculture, we are in this country at the present time in a position of some difficulty and some uncertainty. We do not yet know when the world supplies and the world markets will balance as regards essential foodstuffs. As regards agriculture at home, we have yet to see the standard of prices finally adjusted and finally emerge out of the economic confusion of the present 104 period, and prices which will at the same time encourage British agriculture and enable British agriculture to pay the agricultural labourers the higher wages which must remain. There is another element of uncertainty with regard to the food position of the world. There is not only a higher standard of living demanded by the workers of this country and all other European countries, but there is a remarkable change taking place in the food demands of some of the Asiatic peoples. China and Japan have become competitors for the world's wheat, and at the present time there is unfortunately no prospect of the world's production of wheat being restored to the world's normal consumption demand. I think all the circumstances which I have indicated are sufficient to show that there are grave and weighty matters which the Government must consider in determining the future of food control in this country, and those matters are at the present time receiving the careful consideration of the Government. I think I can reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean) as to the matter raised in his Amendment. I think I may without indiscretion say that I do not think there is any likelihood of the complete removal of food control, or of the disappearance of some Ministry charged with the duty of protecting the interests of the consumer of food for at least twelve months to come. But the question is one surrounded by difficulties. It is under the immediate consideration of the Cabinet, and I hope that the policy of the Government will be placed before the House more fully than it is possible, as the House will understand, for me to do at the present moment. With regard to the Amendment of the hon. Member for Govan, I am sure he will on consideration agree that an extension of the powers contained in this Bill would perhaps not be a very satisfactory way of dealing with so large and so important a matter.
§ Sir DONALD MACLEAN
The Parliamentary Secretary has given us an interesting speech on this very vital question, but a speech which leaves us really without any new information whatever. What did he tell us? He told us what we know, that the world production of food is not really showing a great advance of what the position was six or eight months ago, and that China and Japan are competing 105 severely for what was a market which was substantially our own. He has also told us that the millions of Central and Eastern Europe are clamouring for food which there is no adequate means of supplying. We all know that, but what we expect from a Minister of the Crown on an occasion of this kind is some definite information and some indication of a policy. It is very difficult, I daresay, to frame a policy, but it is their business to endeavour to produce it. It cannot be that the Department has not had full notice from the wholesale and retail traders, because one cannot take up a newspaper nowadays without finding that my hon. Friend who represents the Department, with all his courtesy and ability, has full opportunity for the exercise of those gifts in receiving some deputation or other. He must have full information of the case which the whole trade and the public are almost daily presenting to him, and he ought to have told us something much more definite. We want to know generally what is his idea of supplies in this country, and to what extent our imports are affecting prices. I cannot pretend to anything but the most general knowledge, but I understand that butter has gone down a little recently. At least, my wife intimated so to me the other day. I also learned that she had heard it was owing to a large importation of Danish consignments of that most desired article. Why cannot the Food Controller tell us something about that?
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
No, but my hon. Friend represents the Department. The public are really extremely anxious on these points, and the constant soaring of prices is one of the most potent causes of social unrest which we are at present facing. Before this Debate is finished I suggest that he should speak again, with the permission of the Chair, and I am sure the House will be delighted to hear him again. Turning to what has been said by my hon. Friend the Mumber for Govan (Mr. N. Maclean), we know why he wants to keep these things on. He wants to carry out the policy which he and his party frankly avow, and that is the socialisation of the whole retail distribution of everything. It is perfectly consistent, but that is not the position which 106 most of us take up, and a comparatively small number of people really in the country take that position up.[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Well, that is my opinion, and I am entitled to express an opinion and am going to do it. The idea that the people of this country are satisfied with Government control over prices and redistribution, such as it is, is an entire fallacy, and they want to see something very much better than that before they are going to trust it further. We have the policy of my hon. Friend here, who says, "Not only do it for six months, but fix it at once till 1921 and go on with it as far as you can." Then we have the policy enunciated by my hon. Friend representing the Ministry." A very difficult position we are in," says he, "only we must make the best of it and release control when we can, but at the present time we do not see our way to do it." My point is that we are entitled to much more information than we have received, and it is no good saying a time will come, in two or three months, when Supply is before us, or when a Vote on Account is being taken. The real Parliamentary time is always now. One never knows how business may go, and the complaint I make, with all respect, is that my hon. Friend ought to have given us much more information than he did. The public demands it.
§ Captain ELLIOT
I wish to intervene for a moment to emphasise the demand of the Leader of the Opposition for some more information than that which the Deputy Food Controller has given us. It comes to this, apparently, that with the Cabinet the thing is either always subjudice or chose jugée, and there is no possible way of getting away from that. When they are discussing it they say, "Do not interfere, because we are thinking," and when they have settled it they say," It has cost us so much trouble that we cannot alter it now." I simply wish to deal for one moment with the position in the meat trade just now. The control of meat is surely one of the things that we can have a little information about. The arrangements between the Board of Trade and the Food Controller are so complicated that it is very difficult to understand the position, but what the public knows and what it resents is that there are a large number of steamers lying round our docks, full to the brim with carcases of meat, and 107 that this meat is not being disposed of to the people of this country. There are fifteen great steamers lying round our ports, some of them being discharged, most of them lying idle, piling up demurrage, £500 a ship, day in, day out, Sundays included, and the stores in the country are bulging with meat, and you cannot get another carcase into the stores all through the country. I do not know the precise figures for cold storage, but they certainly run into six figures. There are many scores of thousands of tons of meat in store to-day in our big refrigerating warehouses, and the people see this meat definitely going bad under their eyes. They want to get it eaten, and they are told that because of some obscure arrangement that the Food Controller has made with the farmers they cannot get at this meat, because, says he, if we sell this meat cheap it will break the price for the farmers, and if we do that, the Government stands to lose money.
The Deputy-Food Controller, putting his case, said, "Where you get a shortage of supply and a high demand, when you remove control the price will go up." Yes, but there is not a world shortage of meat. He talks about it taking a long time for the economic consequences of the War to be repaired, but they have been repaired in this matter of meat long ago, and the food stocks of the world in meat have gone up, they have not gone down. There are 24,000,000 head of horned beasts more in the world now than there were in 1914, and the exportable surplus has gone up from 700,000 tons in 1914 to 1,100,000 tons of meat now. It is no use talking about Central Europe clamouring for food. It can clamour till it is black in the face for frozen meat, but it cannot get it, because there is no wharf in Europe at which you can unload enough: there is not enough storage to take it in, and there is not enough refrigerated rolling stock to take it away from the storage or from the ship to Central Europe. It has got to come to this country and to be eaten in this country. There is a surplus of meat, and the people of this country are entitled to get the benefit of this world surplus of meat, and not to be held back from it by the artificial designs of the bureaucrats. The price of imported frozen meat has been broken to 9d. per lb., but that is not sufficient. They have a 108 great stock of rapidly deteriorating meat which they have got to eat, and the price could be broken to 6d. or below that. The enormous contracts which are bringing in meat from all over the world will come to an end very soon. The big contracts with Australasia and New Zealand come to an end, I think, on the 30th June this year, and this meat, which has been bought by the Government, and which costs 9d. to sell to the people just now, will be faced with the competition of meat coming in from New Zealand, and which can be sold at 6d. a lb. The Government has produced a vast corner in meat, and it has met with the inevitable Nemesis of all cornerers, that fresh supplies will come in and break the ring; and unless they see that now, and begin selling this meat, we shall be met with the same demand that the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. N Maclean) brought forward, that control should be continued, and continued again, and continued again, in case the Government drops something on this deal.
It is not good enough. What is going to be the position of the great meat producers of Australia and New Zealand if we cannot get this food eaten here? There are 10,000 tons of frozen meat a week being eaten here, and there are 15,000 tons a week coming into the country, with the result that all the stores are full and the meat is being stored in ships lying in our ports. Unless they bring down the price to a point which will enable people to eat this imported meat, you will get this congestion occurring, and then next year you will get the inevitable reaction, when the Australian and New Zealand producers who want to sell their stock find that because of the action of the Government here they cannot sell it, and it will produce a very serious political state of affairs between ourselves and our Colonies. It is not directly the business of the Food Controller, but we are entitled to claim that the Food Controller should give us his opinion of the policy of the Government in respect to the meat situation; but he did not give us a word on that point. He has got some responsibility for it, because he controls the food supplies. He can shuffle out of a certain amount of it, because, as he says, the Board of Trade controls the imported meat, but it is the Food Controller that the people of the country are looking to to give the policy of the Government 109 in regard to the control of food, and here is a single definite case, that of meat, where control is absolutely not bringing down the price but keeping it up, and demonstrably causing the utmost indignation. You cannot speak to anybody from the London Docks without them saying "What is this Government extravagance which is causing such loss in the shape of meat?" It is causing the loss of food by its deterioration, and it is causing the keeping up of high prices in the fact that it is keeping up the price beyond what the people are able to pay, and on this point I would ask the Food Controller or his representative to give some definite indication to the country as to what steps they mean to take to deal with this great glut of food which is being produced by the action of the Government.
§ Mr. SEDDON
I am sure that everyone who has followed this question will endorse what has been said by the last speaker. No matter what port that is a landing port for food one may visit or get information from, the same cry comes that owing to some stupid regulation of the Food Controller or other Departments this food is being wasted and the people of this country are being fleeced by high prices to some extent by the wastage of this food. I am not sure whether I can now call the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean), the leader of the official Opposition, but I may congratulate him on the much more fighting attitude of his last speech than what I have discovered in his former speeches. Evidently Paisley has been a tonic. I am always of opinion that no Government is well without a good Opposition, wisely directed and ably led, and I hope the arrival of the right hon. Gentleman's Chief will also put a little more ginger into himself as well. I want to make an observation with reference to the remarks of the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. N. Maclean). He seemed to assume that the multiple shops of this country were merely a gang of swindlers, that their assistants were partners with the swindlers, and he based his opinion upon what he saw through the windows of a multiple shop. He said that you need only look through the windows of a multiple shop, and you will see these swindling multiple firms, the instructions of whose district inspectors are carried out behind the counter in the mixing of the food of the country 110 to enhance the profits. I can tell him from personal experience it is wholly untrue.
§ Mr. SEDDON
Then all I can say is the hon. Member is libelling half a million grocers' assistants in this country, and as an ex-grocer's shop assistant I deny the statement, and say they are just as honourable as any other body of men. There may be here and there some people who do it, and they may induce some assistants to do it, but it is simply a draft on the imagination, and it is not sense to think that a great firm will place themselves in the hands of their servants by making them contributory to a system of fraud on the public. I say on behalf of grocers' assistants that it is a grave charge to make that they willingly and continually ally themselves with the plunderers of this country. With regard to butter supplies, the hon. Member is only half-informed, because the control is still upon butter, and if he will make inquiry he will find that all imported butter, which is an enormous proportion of the butter consumed in this country, is controlled, and the price, I believe, is 2s. 8d. per lb. What is decontrolled butter? Here, again, I am amazed that he brought forward the argument he did. Surely he does not want forced labour in this country either for the working man or the farmer. As I understand the position; the question of home-made butter resolved itself into one of whether it paid to make the butter or not make the butter. There were scores and scores of farmers who were getting milk from their dairies for which they had no market, because of transit and distance. They originally made butter, but with the increased cost of farming for these people they had to have an increased price for butter, and therefore it is not a question of plundering but a question of the home farmer being given the opportunity of supplying an article instead of wasting it, and but for the higher price much milk for the production of the home-produced butter now on the market would have been wasted. I am glad we have the assurance and the authority of the representative of the Board of Agriculture on that point. After all, we are discussing serious problems, and it helps no cause, whether it is 111 socialisation of the means of production or not, to make unjust charges against any people, whether they are the producers or the distributors of commodities. I have a very serious complaint to make against the Department. It is their jumping-cat policy I object to. I want to call the attention of the Food Ministry to a matter, but I do not know who is at this moment representing the Department in the House.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL (Sir E. Pollock)
My hon. Friend (Mr. McCurdy) told me a few minutes ago that he had an appointment with his doctor which it was impossible to avoid, and which necessitated his leaving the House, and he asked me to apologise to the House. I have arranged as far as possible that other Members who may be called upon will be here. I am sure the House will always be ready to extend courtesy on these occasions.
§ Mr. SEDDON
I am grateful to the hon. and learned Member for his statement. I hope he will convey our remarks, because I want not merely to help the Department, but to solve this problem, which is a serious one so far as the country is concerned. I want to call attention to the question of tea. There has been a change in policy which has brought about utter confusion in the tea market, and what applies to tea applies to every other article controlled at the present time. The Department do not seem to know their own mind. They do not seem to have any vision. They do not seem to have an authority who can give them sufficient data to come to a conclusion and to take a long view. I am informed on every hand by the retailer, by the wholesaler, and everyone who is handling the food of this country, that they hardly ever know from one moment to another what is going to be the policy of the Food Department. Therefore, what is wanted is that the Department shall take the long view, that they shall take into their consultation and into their confidence the men who understand the delivery and manipulation—I do not mean manipulation in the sense in which it has been used—of the food of this country. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that those who are responsible are keenly alive to the social dangers that arise from high profits. There may be 112 some who are deliberately profiteering, but there are hundreds of thousands of those who are engaged in the distribution of food in this country who are not profiteering. They are anxious to give to the Department all their valuable knowledge which has come from years of experience. What we are suffering from is the creation of a new bureaucracy in the distribution of food in this country, and it is that which is going to bring ruin to the Government if they allow it to go on. I appeal to the Department to utilise the accumulated knowledge of those in charge of the distribution of food in this country—the great co-operative movement, and the other people who have been responsible—and I can assure him that half his troubles will pass away, and we shall get at least a clear undtrstanding that no food is going to waste, and no man is profiteering, because the Government is keeping too keen an eye upon him.
I think I ought to point out that this is not an occasion for the discussion of administrative methods of the Food Ministry. That will occur, I understand, when we reach the Vote on Account. The Question now before the House is whether or not the powers of the Ministry are to be extended under this Bill.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
On that point of Order, with the deepest respect might I suggest to you that, inasmuch as the Executive are asking for further powers, the House is entitled to urge criticism as to the way in which the powers have already been exercised; also to suggest how they might be better exercised and address arguments to the point that they may or may not be in favour of these powers being further continued? That would, in my respectful submission, lead to a rather wider scope of the debate than at the moment I rather gathered you indicated from the Chair.
The right hon. Gentleman knows well that we have different occasions for discussing administration on the one hand and for legislation on the other hand. If the discussion is limited to arguing that the Food Controller's powers ought to be terminated, for certain reasons, that of course would be all right, but it would not be proper for the Ministry to respond with details of their administration.
§ Mr. SEDDON
On the point of Order. Are we to understand that, so far as this Debate is concerned, no subsequent speaker can follow the example laid down by the representative of the Food Department? He himself widened the scope of the Debate of which I took advantage, and I believe others have done the same.
I was not complaining of anything that has taken place, or I should have intervened earlier. I am only endeavouring to guide the House as to the proper scope of the discussion
§ Sir R. COOPER
I feel in some difficulty in knowing precisely what are the lines within which one may address the House on this Amendment, because the issue before the House is whether or not we should continue the powers of the Food Controller, or whether food control in this country should be abolished. I feel that the debate, so far as it has gone, is likely to have a very disastrous effect in the country, and I think an unhappy effect upon the Government, because, as my hon. Friend opposite has just said, this really, with housing, is one of the most live questions before every man and woman from one end of the country to the other. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Food Controller, in his opening remarks, observed that, since the last election, this is almost the first occasion when we have been able to discuss matters of food control, and it does seem to me that before hon. Members in this House can really form an intelligent opinion as to whether this Amendment is one that we ought to support, or whether we ought to support, the powers of the Food Controller, this House and the country are entitled to a much more explicit statement from the Government as to what the policy of food control is going to be. I complain most emphatically that it is treating this House inconsiderately that there is no-one responsible on behalf of the Government who could deal with the speech made by the late Leader of the Opposition, or really give us that broad intimation as to the policy of the Food Controller which we require in order to deal properly with this Amendment.
My own general opinion on this Amendment is that from the financial point of view we naturally ought to 114 abolish the Food Controller, and every other one of the new departments which the War necessarily brought about. But I must say that, as I understand the economic position, and especially the economic position of food, it seems to me to be a most disastrous thing for the Government to remove all powers and all Regulations which, at least, regulate the maximum prices at which the principal commodities in the country can and shall in the future be sold to the public, because so long as supplies are short, and we have reason to think that will be the case for two or three years at least, it is only human nature that, not only in this country but in every country which controls food supplies, they will take advantage of such conditions to charge high prices.
From the point of view of the control of prices, I most ardently hope that the work of the Food Controller will be continued. The problems that face the Food Controller at the present time are necessarily very different to those he was faced with during the trying period of the War. We all realise the great intricacy and the very great difficulties which really do face the Food Controller. What I think the majority of the people of this country desire is that the Government, in their policy of Food Control in the future, should aim at eliminating to the utmost bureaucracy and officialdom. We want to see reduced to a minimum the enormous number of returns which many food distributors at the present time have to send in. We want to sec curtailed to a minimum the staff which, in the Food Departments, will have to be maintained in the future. For my part, I do hope that there will be announced, if not to-day, at any rate when we come to the Vote for the Department, the fact that the Government are taking special care to enlighten the House and the country generally as to what is going to be the policy to be adopted from now onwards.
There are one or two other observations to which I should like to refer. There is the question of mutton. It really seems hopeless to raise the matter, because there is nobody representing the Department who is in a position to deal with it. I would ask my hon. and gallant Friend just to make note of two points. There was the speech of the hon. Gentleman opposite, in which he very 115 ably represented the position of the mutton supplies. The case really is infinitely worse than he represented to the House. We have this enormous glut of mutton. The Parliamentary Secretary of the Board of Agriculture will be able to correct me if I am not stating the facts—not only have we got an enormous glut of mutton in this country, but the manner in which the sheep and mutton industry has been dealt with and controlled by the Government has had the effect of, at the present time, depleting the country, not only of its young stock, to which reference has been made by the Parliamentary Secretary of the Food Controller—but that an enormous number of breeding ewes have been killed in this country in the past winter. At present many are still being killed because of the very high prices which the farmer can get for them. That is a most deplorable state of affairs, especially in view of the fact that we have got an abnormal quantity of mutton in cold storage here. I, therefore, hope that my hon. Friend who represents the Board of Agriculture will give his most earnest attention to the serious question of the depletion of the sheep in this country, and the killing of the breeding ewes.
There is another difficulty which I think the public find it very hard to understand: that is the question of the control of wheat. The same point really occurs here that I raised a little while ago on an earlier Amendment in connection with flax. I do not believe the British farmer will object in the least to the price of wheat being controlled—we will say round about 100s. per quarter—if he knows that on the top of that there are only fair and moderate profits before the bread which is made from the wheat gets into the consumers' hands. What the farmer docs object to—and rightly—and so does everyone who is occupied with production in this matter, is that they should be controlled and limited in price far below the price paid for imported stuff, and that the difference does not even go to the Government to help the Exchequer, but to the pockets of another section of industry, either the distributor or another manufacturer, who uses the raw material, and that this latter manufacturer is really making an enormous profit of the controlled price on the farmer. That is one of the evils that attaches to a number of 116 articles at the present time, just as in the question of flax, which has been brought out so strongly this afternoon. I do hope that the Food Controller, when he is appointed, will take care that if he is going to control any particular section of industry he will not merely control the production of the article, or the distribution of it, but control that section of industry from top to bottom, and see that a fair and square game is played by everyone who is concerned in that particular industry.
§ Mr. LANE-FOX
Like other speakers, I hope this Debate will not close without some more information from the Government about their policy. Personally, I share the feeling of, I believe, a great majority of Members, that if the harassing system of food control can be brought to an end everybody will be enormously relieved. It may not be possible at the present moment—that seems evident. Still, we should like to know the reason why. For I am convinced that the complete removal of all these restrictions as regards agriculture and agricultural produce would mean that, while the producer would not in some cases gain, he would on the whole gain enormously. The effect of these things is an extraordinary harrassing and a constant blocking of the trade of the agriculturist. Consider what is involved in this!—these constant provisions and troublous and harassing restrictions before the farmer in every act of his trade, and through the whole course of his business, and the huge army of officials he has to see or who come to see him—and everybody knows the opinion of the agriculturist of Government officials!—the cost involved, the suspicion of corruption, the cost of furnishing returns, and so on. All these things, I am perfectly certain, have blocked the agricultural trade, and the general public are in consequence suffering from them.
Personally, if I am sure I am speaking for a great many of those interested in agriculture, I shall most heartily welcome the moment when the time comes completely to remove in every respect, either in relation to meat, wheat, or anything else, these restrictions which have done so much harm in the country. During the War, it is admitted, this could not be helped. But the time has now come, or it will come very soon, when a complete change is necessary. The point, however, I wished more particularly to raise was in 117 connection with another question. I refer to the announcement recently made as to the controlled price of wheat. The announcement made by the Board of Agriculture a few days ago has been very much misinterpreted in the Press. I saw a news item and a headline in a paper to the effect that the farmer was guaranteed 100s. per quarter. The heading said: "New guarantee for the Farmer, £5 per quarter for his Wheat," "Bread will cost more." As a matter of fact, one thing that that announcement does not do is to give a guarantee. By that statement the farmer is not guaranteed anything beyond what the Corn Production Act gives him, and that, I think, is 45s. at the present moment for wheat. He has no guarantee of any price whatever. All that the announcement does is to say that if and when the world price reaches 100s., then he shall have that and no more; that will not take effect until 1921. That is the agricultural maximum, and at this moment a good many farmers are considering whether they will sow their spring wheat. I admit most of it should be in, though it is a small portion of the wheat in the country. They are also considering whether to go in for more fallow land and have the wheat in the next year's crop, or as an alternative let their land go to grass, though it is going to be cropped with wheat in 1921, or possibly spring wheat this year. At this moment I say, when the farmer is faced with this decision the Board of Agriculture and the Government issue the announcement, which must have the effect of profoundly depressing the farmer and making him wonder what is the prospect.
We know that the attitude of the Government with regard to Russia requires a good deal of explanation. There have been a good many curious things done about which we do not understand. At any rate we must know that the object of our Russian policy must be, in view of the large food supplies which we hope will be released in that country. These are facts the farmer cannot get to the bottom of, and he is troubled with the uncertainty as to the price of wheat. He will require a guarantee. In announcing the maximum the Government should always, if they wanted to give confidence to the farmer, have also announced a guaranteed minimum price as well. That is one thing which will give the farmer confidence, and so secure the benefits of 118 increased wheatage in this country. As the House knows, there is a very considerable drop and shrinkage in the wheat acreage of the country. It is obvious, therefore, that we are faced with a very dangerous situation. Every effort should be made to encourage the production of wheat. I am not arguing for any form of profiteering. None of us urge that the farmer should get a preposterous price, but we do want to make sure that the agriculturist will get a price that will give him sufficient confidence in the future so that he will grow the articles we desire.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
These considerations do not seem to be relevant to the Amendment before the House. This deals with the continuance of the office, not the administration of the Food Controller. The hon. Gentleman ought not to go beyond that aspect, for this is not the opportunity to discuss the general question. What we are now discussing is whether or not the existence and duties of the Food Controller are to be continued till August 31st of this year.
§ Mr. LANE FOX
I am very much obliged to you, Mr. Speaker, for having allowed me so much latitude. I will not pursue that aspect further, but I hope that what I have said by way of argument against the continuance of these restrictions and of the office of Food Controller may have some effect. The action I have described scorns to me to be certainly very unwise, and I hope very much that we shall know something before the Debate closes as to what the Government policy is likely to be.
§ Mr. WIGNALL
I wish to say a word or two in support of this Amendment. I agree with you, Mr. Speaker, that we are discussing and considering the question whether control shall continue in its present form, or in some modified form, or whether there shall be any system of control at all. We have to consider which is best for the community at large. At a conference of representatives of national bodies and the Consumers' Council, this matter of continuing food control was under consideration for some time. It was debated and considered from every aspect, and there was a unanimous decision that we should approach the Government with a view to urging upon them the importance and necessity of continuing control. A vicious circle has 119 been created. High prices still exist, and they are going up. If food control is taken away it seems to me that we shall be giving a free hand to the operations of those engaged in producing the food of the nation, and prices will rise beyond the present level. We feel that control will have some influence in preventing to some extent, at least, the rise in prices, in regard to which the outlook is very omnious.
We are in doubt as to the policy of the Government. We do not know any more than the man in the street the reason why the Food Controller has resigned, and why nobody else has been appointed in his place. We hear that the late Food Controller has recommended that control shall continue for the next three or five years, but whether that is correct or not I cannot say. We can only get our information from the newspapers when we ought to get the facts from the Government; consequently we have to beat about in the dark. If we were in possession of the information and facts relating to this matter, probably there would be no necessity for Amendments of this kind. It is because we realise that people are being exploited, and because we realise that the Food Controller ought to have power to prevent the exploiting of the people, that we ask for a continuance of control. With regard to what has just been said, we have the important facts staring us in the face that the poor people are the greatest sufferers by these high prices, and we want a power to prevent this. After all our consultations and discussions and after debating the matter fully and fairly, we have concluded that de-control would be detrimental to the nation. It is because of these facts that we appeal to the Government to accept our Amendment and let control continue until next year. By that time we hope things will have altered. We are asking by this Amendment for control to be continued so that we can safeguard the interests of the people in some measure.
§ Sir E. POLLOCK
No one will be surprised or will complain that an opportunity has been sought and taken upon this Amendment to discuss the question of food control in order to secure as much information as possible. We all share the feeling that there is no more important question 120 in the country at the present time which is more likely to cause and continue unrest than that of food prices. Had it been possible upon this Amendment I think it might have been useful if the House had been allowed an opportunity of having what I might call a full-dress debate on the question of food prices in order to elicit as much information as possible. It is in that spirit that I rise to say as much as I can in reply to what has been said. The question before us is whether or not we shall continue until the 31st August the powers of the food control which are enshrined in the present Regulations. The point is whether we shall omit all powers from the Food Controller.
When the matter was before the Committee there was a general concensus of opinion that the powers of the Food Controller ought to be retained. That was on the 3rd December, and that is some time ago. The Amendment was not pressed to a Division, and after a statement, which I made, the Amendment to leave these Regulations out was withdrawn, and they were continued by general acceptance. I think the upshot of the Debate this afternoon is upon the whole that it is necessary to continue the powers of the Food Controller, so that as far as possible prices may be controlled, and prevented from soaring. There is a general opinion that if you withdraw all these powers, prices will go from bad to worse, and that whereas now some sort of system prevails if we do away with control disorder and chaos would ensue. For these reasons we are asked to continue the Food Controller powers. My right hon. Friend, the Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean), complained that we had not given him information on this subect, but I think we gave him a considerable amount of information. He complained we had not announced a definite policy It has just been pointed out by Mr. SPEAKER, that it would be out of order to discuss the question of policy. The Leader of the House said on Thursday night, that the question of food prices would be discussed and that the Government would try to give an opportunity although they could not provide a particular day On that occasion the right hon. Gentleman said:As I said yesterday, we are convinced that a discussion would do nothing but good, and I think my right hon. Friend himself 121 suggested that it might take place on the Civil Service Estimates, and we hope that will be arranged.May I remind hon. Members we can have a considerable Debate on the question of policy and matters of detail when the Estimates are before the House? I do not want to say any more on this point, but I want to show that I am not unmindful of the observations that have been made. I have taken note of certain points which have been raised, and I will communicate with my hon. Friend and sec that they are met as far as possible. I have no doubt it has been useful to register some of the points of outstanding importance on which greater information is desired. If I may be allowed to deal with one or two small details, I should like to say, in reference to the statement made about the large quantity of meat which recently arrived at the Port of London, that that is the basis on which the price of meat has now been reduced. That is a factor which has been overlooked, and it would not be true to say that the Government have allowed a large quantity of meat to go bad and have done nothing. That is a factor which has enabled the price to be reduced quite recently. In regard to these questions of control, it is no use exercising control at one point unless you secure it at another point. With reference to what has been said by the hon. Member of Barkston Ash (Major Lane-Fox), I may say that, with regard to home produce, the price has been de-controlled. Home-produced meat is to be de-controlled as from the 4th July. Pigs are de-controlled as from the 31st March.
§ Sir E. POLLOCK
The hon. Member for Barkston Ash has made a very ample statement himself in regard to, the misleading headlines in the newspapers which seem to indicate that the farmer was going to be given some great advantage, whereas the position is, if and when the world price reaches one hundred shillings a quarter, then for the 1921 crop the farmer would be allowed to receive the world price. Then he would be able to share the rise which would be enjoyed not only by the farmers of this country, but of a great many other countries. The hon. and gallant Member has quite correctly put the matter. He would get the world price if it was less than 100s., 122 and therefore the farmer is being put in no privileged position at all. The matter is receiving consideration, and from the point of view of what his rights are I am authorised to say that the matter is under consideration as to whether it may not be necessary to introduce a Bill to secure his position, and give him some guarantee such as my hon. Friend has indicated is necessary. I venture to remind the House that now, by common consent, control of some nature is desired, and I hope-that the House will therefore deal with this amendment. At the same time, I trust and believe that the matter we have discussed will be reported to the authorities and adequately debated on the occasion which, as I have indicated, will occur at no very distant date.
Lieut.-Colonel SIR F. HALL
I unfortunately happened to be absent from the House when you, Mr. Speaker, stated the dimensions to which this debate might extend, and therefore if I should overstep the points I am sure yon will accept my apology. My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. McCurdy), representing the Food Control, did not give the House very much information. I want to deal generally with food control as a whole, and I cannot help thinking the absence of information has been one reason why the discussion has been somewhat wide. I suppose we shall be allowed to discuss the reasons why we are not satisfied with the present control and what we think the Controller should have done to improve the control.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I do not think that would be in order. The point now under discussion is whether we shall continue the powers of the Food Control up to the 31st August. Questions of the administration of the Office clearly do not come within the scope of the discussion nor do suggestions for improvements. Those are questions for any day.
Sir F. HALL
I think I am right in saying that the Deputy Speaker did indicate that we should be justified in drawing the attention of the House to the reasons why we think it necessary there should be some alteration. I quite appreciate chat you, Sir, have given your ruling the other way. I am one of those who think that the sooner we can get rid of control altogether, the better it will be. I hold that the cost of the food of the people of this 123 country has been added to very considerably by the methods that have been adopted by the Food Controller. Take, for instance, the case of offals, which are sent from this country to foreign countries They could well have been utilised here, and surely instead of allowing them to be exported to Denmark in large quantities, as they have been, they should have been retained here for the benefit of the English farmer.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That is discussing the system of administration, and the hon. Member is violating my ruling.
Sir F. HALL
This question has been discussed, with all due deference, by the Member of the Government representing the Food Control. It is very difficult to keep this discussion therefore within the ruling which you have laid down. My hon. Friend the Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Wignall) stated that, as far as he was concerned, he had no desire to accuse the shopkeepers of this country of manipulating stocks and prices. That question was referred to by the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean), and it is extraordinary to hear two hon. Members representing the same Party making such widely different statements.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
I was following an hon. Member on the benches behind me, who had made an accusation against the Government and manufacturers jointly on manipulating stocks.
Sir F. HALL
I am only desirous of drawing the attention of the House to the great discrepancy between the two hon. Members who belong to the same party. The hon. Member for Govan made direct charges against the owners of multiple shops in this country, of causing inferior commodities to be handed out. My hon. Friend the Member for the Forest of Dean took it upon himself to say that, as far as he was concerned, he did not join with his colleague in making that accusation. I am delighted to hear it. At all events, it does prove to the country that my hon. Friends have not yet made up their minds as to what they agree or disagree upon.
Sir F. HALL
I do not expect you to agree with me, and I do not care whether 124 you do or not. I can quite understand there should be some divergence of opinion as to whether or not control should be discontinued. We have had a speech to-night from one hon. Member who made it perfectly clear that, as far as he is concerned, he would like the control continued indefinitely. Certainly, I suppose that is one of the points advocated by the Socialistic party. Personally I am bitterly opposed to control any longer than is absolutely necessary, and I will tell the House why. Cost has been added to. I suppose I would not be right, after the Ruling from the Chair, in going into that question, but I will take my opportunity when the Civil Service Estimates are under discussion, if I am fortunate in securing it But I would like to say something as to the holding up of the steamers of the country, which adds very materially to the cost of living for the people. I would also like to ask what the Government paid for the mutton delivered in this country on the 1st January this year and what they paid on the 1st March?
Sir F. HALL
Yes, and perhaps that is the better way, as one does not have to wait so long for an answer to a question as he does for his opportunity when seeking to take part in a Debate. I am surprised that the Government have indicated by their action that in their opinion the food control of this country is of such little importance that it has not been necessary to appoint a Controller in the place of the one recently resigned. I may tell the Government that the people of the country are looking to them to take the necessary steps to bring about a reduction in the cost of food. At present, unfortunately, the Government appoint to pay very little attention to this question; it is really difficult to get even slight and slender information on these questions. I warn the Government that the people do not hold the view on this question of control and its importance which the Government apparently do.
§ Mr. INSKIP
I am sorry the Government have made up their minds that it is necessary to continue this particular Defence of the Realm Regulation, and I am not sanguine that the Solicitor-General can be induced to take it upon himself to alter their decision, whatever may be said in the course of this Debate. Still, I venture to express the hope that food control will be given up. It ought to be given up, in my opinion, at the earliest possible moment. We have had some remarkable speeches from the Labour Benches opposite, where there is a good deal of expert opinion upon this question, and I should have thought that they would have been averse to continuing it, and certainly would not have favoured a prolongation of it. Food control must some day be given up, and I cannot yet understand the reason for selecting the 31st August for its expiry, unless it is because about a hundred other Regulations are to be continued only until then. The Government appear to me on this question to be very much in the position of an anxious parent with a large family which he is unable to manage. He deprecates the suggestion that any of the children shall have a right to resume control of their own movements. But on the 31st August the traders of the country will have, unless there is a further extension, to resume control of food stocks and supplies, and I should have thought that if the Government had made up its mind to allow that control to be resumed the traders would have been prepared to shoulder the task.
The hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Wignall) showed a touching faith in the power of the Food Controller to prevent prices soaring. But after the experience of the last twelve months one would have thought he would have realised the inability of the Food Controller to keep down prices. Side by side with the continuance of food control prices have risen. Perhaps we may take one object lesson which we see to-day. The Solicitor-General has told us that milk products have been de-controlled. That is so, and the price of milk now shows a tendency to fall, and for this reason, that the makers of cheese, under the policy of food control, have been subsidised and have been able to pay a higher price for milk, thereby forcing prices up, whereas under de-control the price of milk is resuming its real market value. That is an object 126 lesson which comes very timeously in this Debate, and the Government might take it to heart and appreciate that the country has sooner or later to resume the management of its own affairs. The Solicitor-General referred to the unanimity which apparently existed in Committee upon this question, and expressed the opinion, which I was surprised to hear, that this House now is unanimous in thinking that food control has to continue. I do not know whether there is the unanimity which he thinks in the House, but the Committee was apparently soothed by the hon. Gentleman's statement that these powers are very necessary to enable the Food Controller to ascertain where the food is and to make an even distribution.
When there were very short supplies of food there was a good deal of force in the power to distribute such supplies as there were and see that everyone got an equality of the available stocks. But when there is any quantity of food, as in the case of milk, mutton and many other articles, the way to make prices rise is to give the Controller power to control the article. What is wanted is to get rid of the dams that prevent the flow of trade in the proper and regular channels, and it is only when you find the Food Controller blocking the supplies and alternately starving the people below the dam and flooding them out that you have people alternately getting too much food and too little. I am not a trader and I do not think anyone would accuse me of any solicitude on the part of people who are getting high prices, but sooner or later we shall have to make the transition back to a normal state of affairs. Why on earth should we not begin to-day instead of beginning on 31st August, in the middle of the holiday season? If the Solicitor-General or anyone else can explain why on 3lst August the state of things will be so happy and food so plentiful and the prospect of low prices so near that it will be possible to decontrol food, I am sure the House will be in a much more willing frame of mind to grant this extension than it is at present. Hon. Members are flooded with requests from people asking them to take some steps to prevent prices falling. As long as the control of food prices is in the hands of a gentleman whom we cannot get at and who uses his powers no doubt benevolently, but free from any real control by Parliament we are helpless, but if the power could be 127 put back into the hands of people who can be got at and whose actions can be watched by Members of Parliament there would be some likelihood of our being able to exercise a control which it is the function of Parliament to exercise and not of the Food Controller. On these grounds I hope the Solicitor-General, with the assistance which he has got on the Government Bench, will even in the absence of the Food Controller agree to abandon these powers.
Mr. J. JONES
The object of the Amendment of the Labour party is not to protect any section of the community against the possibilities of economic opportunity. We recognise that to-day there is a great shortage of food, not merely in England but in every other country in the civilised world, and whatever our individual economic theories may be we have to face the fact, and if there is no control over food supplies for a considerable period of time we are going to be at the mercy of those who have dominated and will continue to dominate the food supplies of the people in the various countries of Europe. There is nothing to prevent the mutton that we have in the stores in London from being sold. In the dock districts in the East End of London it is said that the cold storage warehouses are being hired and food supplies are being stored. As soon as ever we remove control from the food supplies there will be an enormous demand from all over Europe for the available food supplies, and at present they are storing in every place they can get hold of all the food supplies which are being sent into the country. The hon. Member (Mr. Inskip) talked about milk. Milk is a big home supply. Let us talk about other food supplies which the workers generally use. Most of it is imported. Who controls imported food? What about the people who dominate and control the meat supply of Great Britain? Are they going to remove their control? If we cannot have Government control we are going to have private control. We are going to have the control of combines and syndicates, and although we do not like food control expressed through a Government Department we will choose the less of two evils, and the less evil is that Parliament should have some control, and therefore we ask that instead of the food supply being under the control 128 of private speculators shall be under the control of a public authority, and Parliament shall have something to say as to whether it shall continue or not. So far as our own home supplies are concerned we know what is happening. The average workman cannot afford to buy a bit of English home-killed meat. He has only got the smell of it. We are told something about the 9d. mutton we are going to get. That mutton will never reach the home of the ordinary workman unless it is in an advanced state of decomposition. It will be crying to Heaven for the 9d. Therefore we want to continue food control until such time as we are able to organise the public control of the food supply in an adequate way. Therefore we are moving for the continuation of public control until we have an adequate supply of food and until international relationships are properly fixed. When Peace is declared properly the whole world will be crying out for the available food supply, and then we shall have prices even higher than they are now. We Trade Unionists can defend ourselves in a fight for better wages to meet increased prices, but what about those who are not in as strong a position as we are? How are they going to fare? As soon as ever control is removed, as soon as international competition is resumed, there will be an enormous demand in Europe for the available food supplies. We are not asking the Government to organise the food supply; we are simply asking on behalf of the nation that they shall retain control until normal conditions are resumed.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I congratulate the hon. Member (Mr. Jones) on making a speech which really touched the root of the whole question. He was not parochial, as the hon. Member (Mr. Inskip) certainly was. The whole case for keeping on control is the international case. The question of high prices is not peculiar to this country, in fact we are comparatively rather well off, and the question of prices is not going to be solved at all until international action is taken by the Government, and if and when the Members of the Government are lynched by an infuriated populace the reason will be, not because they have not done their best to keep down prices in this country, but because they have made no attempt to co-operate 129 with other countries. These powers which the Food Controller has got were pain fully gathered together during the War. There are many administrative weak nesses in them and there are many unnecessary curtailments of personal liberty, but nevertheless, there is in these powers just what is needed to control the supplies of articles of food in bulk from abroad. It is possible with these powers of food control to go into the world market and buy up the whole supply of meat from a Continent or a sub-continent. It is possible to buy the whole of the meat supplies of South America for this country or for a group of countries. Having done that, it is possible to control the price to the consumer, or at any rate to the retailers. Until that is done on a world scale we are not going to get prices down, and when the Government wakes up to that fact and begins to take some action, we may begin to see prices reduced. I hope no one will say this is only a matter for this country, it is not only it matter for this country, but each democracy must deal with its own Government, and I hope our democracy will deal with ours in the meantime. It is quite essential that these powers must be kept on, vexatious as they may be in certain details. Without them we shall have to start to build up once more when at last the problem is tackled. The idea of doing away with these powers of the Food Controller at this moment is sheer madness. I am astonished at the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Lieut.-Colonel Sir F. Hall) suggesting such a thing. I really do not believe he understands what he is suggesting. You may control internal trade if you like, but if anyone suggests taking away the power to control the external trade of the country in con junction with our neighbours in the world he must be extraordinarily ill-informed or positively reckless. Anyone who has looked at the subject at all—
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
He need not agree with me, but he must see that the world situation is such that to throw away these powers built up during the War would be sheer madness Any Government that did it would deserve the fate that I hope it would receive at the hands of an infuriated populace.
§ 7.0 P.M.
We are discussing whether the powers of the Food Controller 130 should be continued for a certain period. It is not quite clear how far those powers extend. I would ask the Solicitor-General whether they are confined to operations within the boundaries of the United Kingdom or whether they extend to operations which take place abroad. A great deal of the food consumed in this country is bought abroad, and it will be useful to know whether the Food Controller is responsible for purchases which are made abroad. He received a good deal of criticism, and it is only fair to the late Food Controller, as well as to the new one when he is appointed, that we should know how far he is responsible. For example, take the question of the purchase of wheat. The late President of the Board of Trade addressed a criticism some time ago on that point. He said that purchases made abroad were made too late, and that £13,000,000 were expended which might have been saved. Is the Food Controller or the Board of Trade responsible for the purchases of wheat abroad? Is the Food Controller responsible for the freights that are paid on the transport of the food to this country? Within the last week or two increases in freight, for example on wheat, have been equal to 10s. a quarter.
It is assumed that there is a necessity for continuing the powers of the Food Controller, not only in regard to food abroad, but food at home under this control; but it does seem a lather curious thing that Regulations under the Defence of the Realm Act by which the Board of Agriculture may control the production of wheat at home are hot to be continued. That would seem to suggest that the food condition at home is not so serious as the Motion of the Government to extend these powers would lead us to believe.
§ Captain BENN
There is only one effective stage of this Bill during the life of this Session, and it was understood that we were to have the fullest discussion. Therefore I do not apologise for detaining the House. The difference between this Vote and the Estimates is this, that on the Estimates we can only discuss the way in which the money that is being 131 asked for is being spent, but on this Vote we can discuss whether or not the Department should exist at all. That is the essential difference, and that is a question for consideration apart altogether from whether the control is satisfactory or unsatisfactory. I do not think there is any material difference between those who moved this Amendment and some of the Members of the Labour party who have spoken in criticism of it. We all agree that in view of the dislocation at the present time in regard to the world's food, and its prices, some measure of Government control is required. Our complaint is that, instead of producing some definite, clear and far-seeing policy for dealing with these matters, the Government propose in this case, as in so many other eases, to go on simply with the scratch powers they accumulated during the War for dealing with emergencies. The Food Controller made the case for this Amendment He said that what it had taken four years to destroy would take many years to rebuild. That is something like the purpose of my hon. Friends in moving this Amendment. If it is going to take many years to put this thing right, the Government should produce a definite policy and say how it is to be done, and not ask us to go on from hand to mouth in the way we are doing, by asking us to agree to the heterogeneous schedule of this Bill.
This is a world-wide problem, and not merely a problem of the United Kingdom. That emphasises my point that it should have been considered by the Government, and that, now 13 or 14 months after the Armistice was signed, the Government should be prepared with some definite policy to put before the country. It affects very materially the question whether or not we should continue the control of, say, wheat. Our view on this is very materially affected by the Government's policy in regard to the blockade of Russian wheat supplies, and yet we cannot get a definite answer as to what is their policy in regard to food control and what they are actually doing in regard to the wheat supplies. By way of illustration of the difficulties in which we find ourselves in voting on this Amendment, I would draw attention to the Government's own proprosal for setting up new food supplies abroad. We find, much to our amazement, that instead of attempting to stimulate the growth of food supplies abroad by 132 sending out raw materials, the money that this House is going to be asked to Vote is to be used for supplying something which is totally different, namely, manufactured articles. We should have some clear and definite statement from the Government showing what course they propose to adopt. The hon. and gallant Member for Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) seemed to think that the powers of the Food Controller would come to an end at once if this Amendment were accepted. That is not so. The powers of the Food Controller will continue in force until such date as the War is declared to be at an end by Order in Council. So that even now, 14 months after the Armistice, the Government have yet time to produce a policy even if this Amendment were accepted.
Control in itself is a bad thing. It must add to the price of things. Someone has to pay for the offices, the staff and salaries of Ministers, and so on. Therefore, it is only stating a self-evident truth when one says that control does add to the price of the commodity. You cannot stimulate production unless you can assure the producer that he is going to have a free market, without interference, for disposing of his produce. To strengthen enterprise and vigorous useful production you must give to the producer the assurance that he is going to have a fair opportunity of disposing of his produce at a profit. The extraordinary thing is that the Food Controller under these powers has prosecuted people, not only for selling above the price, but selling below the price. What can possibly be the justification for that? If it is true that control is so highly desirable in the interests of the consumer, especially the poor consumer, there is no justification for prosecuting people for selling things below the price. That is a course which I cannot possibly understand. Our objection to the present food control is that it is a scratch machine. It gives the Food Controller power to prohibit people from producing. [HON. MEMBERS: ". No!"] Oh, yes. He has the power to prohibit people from growing or producing articles. There may have been reasons during the War for such prohibition, but there can be no justification for endowing the Minister afresh with this fantastic power. Some people are complaining because we put down our Amendment objecting to this type of machine. In order to illustrate 133 how extremely inapt it is, and how extremely objectionable in some ways, I would draw the attention of the House to Regulation 2 GG, which is one of the Regulations which are being prolonged. It says:Any factory, workshop, or premises or plant to which this Regulation is so applied, shall by virtue of the Order pass into the possession of the Food Controller.Therefore he can take over any factory if he pleases, and under Sub-section (4) of the same Regulation it is provided that—It shall be lawful for the Food Controller (a) to require any work in any factory, workshop, or other premises, . . … to be done in accordance with his directions, given with the object of making the factory or workshop or other premises, or the plant or labour therein, as useful as possible for the manufacture, storage, production, or distribution of food.I understand that the powers taken under that Sub-section override the Factory and Workshops Acts because this is an Act we are passing and not a Regulation. Therefore, it gives the Food Controller power to override the Factory and Workshops Acts. If that is so—and I would draw the attention of the Labour party to this point particularly, it only reinforces the argument made earlier that fourteen months after the termination of the War it is an extraordinary proposal for the Government to ask us, coming as they do to the House without any policy of their own, to continue for a further period powers of a most unsatisfactory kind which were only granted to them under the stress of hostilities.
§ Colonel P. WILLIAMS
Having heard this Debate, and having heard the statement from the Government on the matter, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I beg to move to leave out Regulation 6A.
As far as I understand this Regulation, it is one under which the Home Office have the power of suspending the Factory Acts, under certain conditions which are set out on page 24 of the Manual of Emergency Legislation—Defence of the Realm Regulations. It lays down that the power of the Secretary of State, under Section 150 of the Factory and Workshop Act, 1901, by Order, to the extent and during the period named by him, to exempt from that Act any factory or workshop belonging to the Crown, or any 134 factory or workshop in respect of work being done on behalf of the Crown, shall extend to any factory or workshop in which the Secretary of State is satisfied that, by reason of the loss of men from enlistment or transference to Government service, or of other circumstances arising out the present war, exemption is necessary to secure the carrying on of work, and that such exemption can be granted without detriment to the national interests. I think it will be generally admitted that nothing should be done to restrict production at a period like the present, and that as far as possible all regulations and restrictions which exist, and which tend to hamper production, should, if it is possible without detriment to the national interest, be modified or dispensed with. But it is a very serious matter indeed to apply a principle of that sort to the Factory Acts. When one remembers the period of continued contention which preceded the passing of those Acts, and what an important factor they are in preserving the life and safety of workmen and workwomen in this country, one feels that a very strong case indeed should be made out for any provision placing in the hands of any Department the power to exempt any factory or workshop from the operation of those Acts. We feel that no such case has been made out.
During the War the exigencies of the War were paramount, and almost every other consideration had to be put aside. The men in the field were exposed to hazard of life and limb, and it was perhaps not too much that men working at home should be exposed to something of the same hazard. But that time, happily, is past. The fighting is over, and men are returning to their employment, and there seems no reason why exemption from the Factory Acts should continue to apply. Unless such exemption is general it must operate for the benefit of those employers to whose workshops it is granted, and it seems undesirable that it should be within the power of any department to grant exemptions which should operate for the benefit of particular individuals. One knows that if these exemptions were left in the hands of Ministers no consideration of that kind would come in, but it is obvious that there must be many cases which could not possibly receive the personal attention of the Minister concerned, and one feels 135 that, whatever advantages might be gained in particular instances by the exemption they would be outweighted by the dangers I have indicated.
§ Colonel P. WILLIAMS
I beg to second the Amendment. I would appeal to the Government, even at this late stage of the Bill, to withdraw this very objectionable Regulation. It is bad enough to know that the Government has a right to exempt its own workshops and its own factories from the very necessary laws and restrictions which are imposed upon private factories; but it is almost intolerable that a Government Department should have the right to say to a factory supplying them with goods: "We will exempt you under the powers which we have." This Regulation will give to a Government Department the right of taking out of the Factory Regulations any factory which happens to be, supplying the Government with goods. I appeal to the House, and especially to those Labour Members who, I think ought to be here to-night when this Regulation is under discussion, to make a vigorous protest on behalf of those whom they represent, in order to prevent this piece of retrogade legislation. It is left to us, who are supposed to be opposed to factory legislation—although that is very far from the truth, because not only do we all recognise that these Regulations are necessary, but we believe that they should be still more tightened up. What was the reason which the hon. and gallant Gentleman who represented the War Office gave to us in Committee for the continuance of this Regulation? It was that if we ended it at the moment—that was in November, I think—at the very beginning of winter, we should throw a great many people out of employment. The winter is about over, and we are coming to the spring, so that argument cannot possibly hold water at this present time. It is, I think, time that this Regulation went altogether. The hon. Member also gave me an instance of the employment of women and young persons in factories engaged in the rubber trade, and I want to remind him that that was a very bad example of the expediency of employing women and young persons for long hours or during late hours. In the manufacture of rubber use is made of "solvent naphtha," which gives off a gas which I am told has an intoxicating effect upon the people employed 136 in that trade. If that is so, I would appeal to the Home Office to exempt any rubber factory from employing young people and women late at night in that industry. I quite admit that the Government has varied the Regulation since we were in Committee, and it now reads:(a) employment of women and young persons in shifts (not being night shifts) averaging not more than eight hours.I would like to know what that means. Do the Home Office really mean that they consider it desirable to employ a woman or a young person up to 10 o'clock at night? The only possibility of getting two eight-hour shifts in is to work from, 6 till 2, and then from 2 till 10. I think it is most undesirable that women and young persons should be employed after 6 or 7 o'clock at night. The Regulation continues:(b) employment of women and young persons at special times in creameries and; cheese-making works.That seems to me to be very wide, and I should like to hear during what hours and at what special times it is intended to employ these women and young persons. Is it possible to employ them in the early hours of the morning, say at 1, 2 or 3 o'clock, or what is proposed? Then the next paragraph reads:(c) night employment of male young persons over 17 years of age in wire drawing.I believe also that that is very objectionable. With regard to the next paragraph—(d) minor adjustments of times of starting and stopping work and meal intervals,we should also like Some explanation. I would press upon the House and the Government that it is their duty to conform to the Factory Regulations which they impose upon trade as a whole. They ought to be model employers, and I hope that, even at this late stage, they will see their way to withdraw this obnoxious Regulation. If not, I think they will stand condemned before the working classes of this country.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
In Committee on this Bill we had a pretty full discussion of this matter, and I think that all the Members of the Committee who are now in the House will agree that the case made out by the Government for keeping on this Regulation was extremely 137 weak. That was last November, and now we are in March. We are asked to allow the Government, in the urgency of the present moment—the Empire tottering to its fall, the bands holding together the Empire smouldering, and all the rest of it—to permit women and young persons to be employed at certain hours and on certain work which would not be allowed under the Factory Acts passed by the old Tory party two or three generations ago. We are asked to do that until some time when the Government propose to let go those extraordinary powers which they have got. Since this Bill ran through the Committee we have had reports of the Meeting of the International Labour Bureau at Washington, at which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Gorbels (Mr. Barnes) represented the Government with great ability. There, after long discussion and in face of fierce opposition from another part of the Government—Indian Representatives nominated by our Government—on the one hand, and, of course, the Japanese on the other, it was possible to make international regulations for better conditions of employment of women and young persons, and I think I am not far wrong in saying that night work of women and young children was excepted among those Regulations. Yet hero we are, in this honourable House, asked to pass this retrograde and reactionary legislation, making it legal to employ those women and young persons and to undo the moral effect of the work done at Washington last year. I do hope that, if the Government do not give way and we go to a Division, all Members of the Unionist party here will remember the Factory Acts passed by their political ancestors and will support us.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Major Baird)
Hon. Gentlemen opposite, who oppose this Regulation, seem to ignore the position of the people who at present are enabled to work because of the existence of this Order. We have taken all the means in our power to ascertain the views of those people, and so far from complaining of the existence of the Order, they desire it to continue. The effect of accepting the Amendment would be to throw out of employment, roughly, some twenty thousand women and young people. It would also reduce the output, and it would throw out of employment a 138 very large number of men who are only enabled to work because of the semiskilled work done previously by these women and young persons. The Women's Parliamentary Committee that was set up by the Minister of Reconstruction state definitely in their report that the question of shift control of the kind rendered possible by this Order ought very seriously to be considered, and should not be scrapped in the way suggested. They gave us a reason for that that a system of two short day shifts would help to absorb considerable quantities of surplus woman labour, prevent them from being thrown on the labour market and diminish widespread unemployment. The shifts we provide for are from six to ten. That enables two shifts to be worked. Then it would sensibly increase production with the reduction of overhead charges which is a matter of considerable importance. Hon. and gallant Gentlemen opposite agree that it would be undesirable to do anything that might lead to unemployment at the commencement of the winter, but they do not seem to have the same objection to doing it after the winter.
§ Colonel WILLIAMS
I did not base my opposition to that on the statement that it would be at the beginning of the winter.
§ Major BAIRD
Then I take it that hon. Gentlemen do not object to unemployment either at the beginning of the winter or now.
§ Major BAIRD
If the hon. and gallant Gentleman does not believe what is stated by responsible people, no argument can persuade him. We can only give the fact that this system of two shifts, which would not be legal or possible under the Factory Act, has been found to give in creased production and increased employment of labour. Women, in particular, I am told, like it. Under this system they work one week in the afternoon and the other week in the morning, and in one week they have the mornings for themselves and in the other week the afternoons.
§ Major BAIRD
Any factory where it is necessary or desirable. It is not confined to Government factories. The Government has nothing whatever to do with it. The theory that this is a method by which the Government can obtain easy and cheap labour is not borne out in the Act or in the Order as modified. Hon. and gallant Gentlemen fail to appreciate how far-reaching is the modification in the third column of the Schedule. These words were inserted in deference to a promise which I gave that we should state definitely the precise nature of the Orders we desire. At the present moment there are some two hundred Orders, affecting twenty thousand women and young persons. It would be very serious if you are going to throw out of employment that large Body of women—large numbers of men are dependent upon the semi-skilled work which they do—and also deliberately to reduce the output for no valid reason, because the reasons of hon. Members range from a rigid cast-iron adherence to an Act passed in 1901, which I am surprised to hear given as a reason by the hon. and gallant Gentleman, to the theory that this is a device on the part of the Government to obtain labour cheaply.
This is merely an indication to the House to exercise common sense and allow us to continue a system which is affording opportunity of employment to these various categories, which are seen in the third column of the Schedule, and which in any event only carries it on to the 31st August. If we desire to embody these modifications of the Factory Act in our industrial system, we must come to the House and get its authority to do so. Meanwhile, I do not share with the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite the readiness with which he is prepared to confront serious unemployment. That is what factory inspectors, who are in a position to know what would happen, say would result. I am no more prepared now than I was before, and though hon. Gentlemen may not agree with that as a reason, I am sure that they share my determination to do everything in our power to prevent unemployment. The question of the employment of women in creameries and cheese-making works is again a matter of importance. The Factory Act does authorise the employment of women in creameries, but not apparently in cheese-making works, and the conditions in which the cheese and creamery industries 140 are carried on show that the rigid provisions of the Act of 1901 are no longer applicable to the present circumstances, owing to the many alterations that have been made. All we ask is to be allowed to continue to apply the system which experience of the Act has shown to be wise in these very important branches of industry. There again the question of employment and the question of the convenience and comfort of those employed and the question of production are all intimately concerned.
There is a third point as to the employment of male young persons over seventeen in certain factories. That again is a question of output. It is in accordance with the recommendations of the Reconstruction Committee, that boys over seventeen years of age now employed on night work should be allowed to continue night work until eighteen years of age, when they are to be free from restrictions under the Factory Act. Otherwise the boys would have to be discharged. Then there is the question of adjustment. In order to fit the convenience of the factory with different starting hours, where people are working on different work, we desire to obtain the power to vary the starting hours. Those are the reasons for asking the House to allow us to retain these powers.
§ Major BAIRD
Rubber was an example which I quoted upstairs in the Committee stage, and as regards fumes if the hon. and gallant Gentleman would come down with me some day to see a rubber factory, and look into the obligation imposed on our inspectors to see that the arrangements for carrying away fumes are in working order, I do not think that he will have any misgivings with regard to danger to health. Those are regulations which are very special which we enforce to the utmost of our power. I can only speak from a short experience of the Home-Office, but there has been no complaint with regard to that particular matter while I have been there. There are fumes in certain processes which have to be carried off, but the regulations are thoroughly enforced, and I do not think that the hon. and gallant Gentleman need have any apprehension whatever that 141 danger will result. I trust that the hon. and gallant Gentleman will not press the matter.
§ Mr. BILLING
I confess that the whole position shows a little confusion as regards the Act which we are considering which amounts, I think, to Government by Orders in Council. The hon. Member who has just sat down approaches the position very much with the politeness and the exquisite sensibility of a Chinese executioner, who proceeds to tell you that it is his intention to chop off your head and then argues the reason why he should do it. The whole idea of these War Emergency Laws, as I always understood, was that because we were at war it was necessary to introduce bureaucratic legislation, so that the Government, having regard to the fact that our national existence was at stake, could at any moment act without the permission of the House of Commons. Ministers now use exactly the same arguments in asking the House cheerfully to go into the Lobby and vote away any rights it may have. Personally, if I had my way, and I am sure other Members would do the same, I would wish to have the opportunity of going into the Lobby and killing the whole thing, and getting back to Government by Parliament, instead of government by a bureaucratic council. I oppose the thing on principle in the first instance. If the Government think it absolutely essential to employ women and children, what are their reasons? Are we to understand that labour is so fully occupied to-day that there is no one seeking work; that everyone is so busy, in fact, that women and children must be employed to keep the commercial concerns going? It is not so to-day, although it was so during the War. The whole country is reeking with unemployment. Personally, I hope there will be found sufficient Members in the House to vote against the Government on this. The unfortunate thing is that the Government has such a substantial majority, and in moments of crisis such a solid majority in the Lobbies, that it is very difficult to beat them. But I hope hon. Members will vote against the Government in this matter on the principle that half our troubles to-day are due to the fact that we are governed, if. I may say so, by Downing Street inspired by Fleet Street.
142 What I want to see is the power of private Members restored in this House. The only way to accomplish that is to force the Government, whenever they want further to curtail the liberties of a subject, with all the consequent evils which that occasions, to come to the House and get the permission of Parliament to do it. So long as by Order in Council or by any War Emergency Act we give them the extreme freedom of doing just what they like, and setting themselves up, as they have done in the past and still do to-day, as very inefficient miniature Cromwells, so long will the private Member's power fail to be a power. I make this appeal to any Member who may be thinking whether it is advisable to beat the Government twice in a week. I can assure him that the Government is perfectly safe. I ask hon. Members not to destroy their own usefulness, not to destroy government by Parliament, to which this country owes so much, when an opportunity like this occurs of showing the Government that it cannot always rely on hon. Members' support when such support is opposed to reason and justice.
§ Mr. W. GRAHAM
I think it is only fair to the Government to explain that while the names of certain Members of the Labour party are associated with this Amendment, those names were included very largely for the purpose of getting information. I endorse almost entirely all that was said from the Government Bench in defence of the Government policy in this connection. The Amendment which we are considering raises one of the legacies of the War, whereby a very large number of women and young persons were brought into industry. Some of us have had an opportunity, in other connections, of ascertaining the class of women and young people who are covered by the Regulations. There is not the slightest doubt that if this Amendment were carried the effect would be to turn out of employment, immediately or at no distant date, certainly 20,000 people. Two points require to be kept in mind. In the first place, the women and young people have gone into these industries quite voluntarily, and they are continuing in those industries on the same lines. In the second place, their interests in the industries have, in the main, been carefully protected by the trade unions to which they belong, and I think I am right in saying that no objection, or practically 143 no objection, has been lodged by any trade union. Let us look beyond the effect of the Amendment itself. I happen to know that on the labour of these 20,000 women and young people the employment of a very large number of men depends. I am not going to embark on any controversy as to the employment of men or women. It is my business to see that they enter industry on terms of equality, if they can. I know, however, that employment depends very much on the work of these women and young people, and that substitutes are not available for the work they are doing. It seems to have been assumed by those who support the Amendment that they are speaking in our interests and on our behalf. I suggest that that is not the case, for the effect of carrying this Amendment will inevitably be to aggravate unemployment, to penalise certain industry now struggling to exist, and to make our task very much harder than it need be at this hour.
§ Captain W. BENN
While I agree in substance with everything said by the last speaker, I do not think it removes the objection which we have to the appearance in the Bill of the words which the Amendment seeks to remove. In 1901, a very comprehensive Factory and Workshops Act was passed. It is really a code of legislation for factories and workshops. As was proper, the conditions under which people could be employed were reviewed by the House of Commons, and suitable Regulations and restrictions were laid down. Section 150 of that Act is mentioned in the Regulation 6A, which is continued, with certain modifications in lines 14 to 32, to which the Amendment refers. Let me read the essential words:The power of the Secretary of State under Section 150 of the Factory and Workshops Act, 1901, by Order, to the extent and during the period named by him, to exempt from that Act in case of any public emergency any factory belonging to the Crown, or in respect of which there is being done on behalf of the Crown work, shall extend to any factory in which the Secretary of State is satisfied that, by reason of the loss of men who have been enlisted or lost by transference to other services by reason of the War, exemption is necessary.It was realised that certain power should be given to the Secretary of State in the case of workshops where the Crown had special work being done, and in the case of a public emergency he had the power 144 to waive the Regulations which the House of Commons had come to the conclusion were necessary in the interests of the workpeople themselves. This Section 6A enables that power to be exercised also in cases of public emergency. I would like the learned Solicitor-General, when he replies, to tell us whether the limitation in 6A, "by reason of the loss of men who have been enlisted or lost by transference to other services," is to continue to apply, or are we to understand that the general powers conferred by Section 150 are to be exercised without that limitation in respect of any factory which the Government may think it desirable to exercise it in respect of? It is a very material point, and might remove our objection to this part of the Schedule if we knew it would apply only where the factory could not be worked because men had gone to the War. I can hardly imagine that that limitation does apply, but if it does, of course it would mean that the exercise of this power would be extremely narrow. The Under-Secretary for the Home Office made an excellent case of its kind, but it was really a case not for this part of the Bill at all, but for a general relaxation of the Factory Acts. Probably exactly the same argument was urged in 1901. The hon. Baronet, the Member for the City of London, was a distinguished Member of this House in 1901, and he will remember the argument that all this legislation was destroying output and restricting the employment of people. Those who opposed the Bill in 1901 may have used the argument of the hon. Member (Mr. W. Graham), when he said that the working people voluntarily accepted it.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Captain BENN
I do not think there is any consistency in the Government's policy in this matter. I think sufficient answer is contained in the statement that it is the general argument against factory legislation. It is the argument with which we are familiar. There is also the argument that if you restrict output it is going to affect the export trade. Those may be perfectly proper arguments, but they are of a general nature and not really applicable to this particular section. They are general as to whether 145 factory legislation is desirable. What we are discussing is whether the Government should have this enormous extension of their powers by regulation. If it is a good thing to amend factory legislation, I am sure we have not any objection to a Bill for that purpose. We do think there is no case for carrying on for some months longer matters which require general remedies, if indeed they are wrong. It is an extremely unsatisfactory way. This objection applies to the whole of the Bill and particularly here. The Parliamentary Secretary said that these Regulations were necessary because of apprentices, but will all apprenticeships come to an end on August 31st? If they do not, that whole argument falls to the ground. I dare say it is desirable to relax restrictions in respect to apprentices, but that surely is an argument for a general change on the law and not for continuing these powers. Legislation relating to factories and workshops is a proper subject for debate and decision in the House, but what we object to is endowing the Minister with wide powers of this kind. The Act only contemplated the relaxation of these numerous restrictions in case of public emergency which cannot be said to exist to-day, or in the case of factories owned by the Crown or doing work for the Crown. Now we are asked, without any public emergency, to give power to' a Minister not only in respect of factories of the Crown but in respect of any factories. I understand that any employer can go to the Home Secretary, and, if he makes out a case, can have the Factory and Workshop Act, 1901, scrapped as regards these various matters and without any agreement with the trade. If it were put in that that should occur only on agreement with the trade union it would make the matter very much less objectionable.
§ Sir E. POLLOCK
The comments of the hon. Member apply not only to this Regulation but to all the others, and he holds the sincere belief that the Bill is
|9H||Power to control canals.||So far as relates to canals with respect to which existing orders have been issued, and as if the words "for securing the public safety and the defence of the realm" were omitted therefrom.|
§ The matter is of considerable importance to all interested in canals.146
§ not only bad on the whole, but in detail. He put one or two questions. Regulation 6A applies not only where the Secretary of State is satisfied there is no other alternative, but also "or of other circumstances arising out of the present War, exemption is necessary to secure the carrying on of work." The hon. Member for Central Edinburgh (Mr. W. Graham) endorses this Regulation as useful for the purpose of carrying on work. Since this Bill was introduced we have limited, in the sense of the discussion in Committee, the extension very much, and it will be found in paragraphs (a), (b), (c) and (d) of column 3.
§ Captain BENN
Do I understand that the proviso that there must be reason of loss of men will not apply to the limited use of this Regulation if we pass it?
§ Sir E. POLLOCK
I pointed out that Regulation 6A could be used in a remote contingency and in another way of a more general character, and in either ease the Secretary of State can act. In the second case the Secretary of State would have power to act more frequently than in the other. The Regulation in its limited extent applies only to works in respect of which the Inspector of Factories certifies after examination that the exemption is necessary in order to secure the carrying on of the work. It has been pointed out how very severe the scrutiny and insistence upon the Regulation is. We are asking that this power may be continued not for the purpose of factories of the Crown, where they have the power, but for other factories where it is desirable that the Regulation should be enforced and in order that they may be put on a level with the factories of the Crown, and so continue work which is extremely valuable at the present time.
§ Amendment negatived.147
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The next Amendment I select is that on the bottom of the page, to leave out "Regulation 18 A."
§ Mr. ORMSBY-GORE
On a point of Order, Sir. Do you not intend to take the Amendment in the name of the hon. and gallant Member for Buckingham (Captain Bowyer), to insert a Regulation dealing with the sale of refreshments in theatres?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
No; I think that would be out of Order. The Controller already has power to make such provision if he pleases.
§ Captain W. BENN
I desire to move, to leave out "Regulation 18A."
This Regulation reads as follows:Where a person without lawful authority or excuse, either within or without the United Kingdom, has been in communication with or has attempted to communicate with an enemy agent and is subsequently found within the United Kingdom, he shall be guilty of an offence against these Regulations, unless he proves that he did not know and had no reason to suspect that the person with whom he so communicated or attempted to communicate was an enemy agent. For the purposes of this Regulation, but without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing provision: (a) a person shall, unless he proves the contrary, be deemed to have been in communication with an enemy agent.The first point that arises in connection with the continuation of this Regulation is that there are no enemy powers, and I submit therefore that the description of 18A in Column 2 of the Schedule, "Prohibition on Communications with Agents of Foreign Powers," is not a description of Regulation 18A at all. On a point of Order. Is it in order to introduce a Bill which is described in the Preamble as to continue certain emergency enactments a description of a Regulation with an extension of the scope of the said Regulation?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I have already answered that about a fortnight ago, but I shall be glad if I can to give the same answer. The answer is this, that what is continued is Regulation 18A. We all have 18A, or we can find it. Then the second column proposes to describe 18A in a particular way. That way may or may not be correct. If it is incorrect, the hon. and 148 gallant Member can move an amendment to leave out the word "foreign" and insert the word "enemy," or something of that sort; but the mere fact that this description of the Order is inserted in Column 2 does not affect the continuance of the Order itself. The Order 18A will continue, if the House assents, quite regardless of what the description of it is.
§ Captain BENN
I am extremely obliged to you, Sir, for repeating the ruling which I regret I did not hear on the earlier occasion, but I would like to know in that case whether the Solicitor-General will accept an amendment to leave out the word "foreign" and insert the word "enemy,' which seems to be a correct description of the Regulation.
§ Sir E. POLLOCK
I cannot quite indicate that I am ready to accept it, because it may be unnecessary, and I am not sure that we have not done it already, either in the Regulations or in another portion of the Bill, because it occurs with reference to one or two of the Regulations, and I am conscious of the fact that either an Amendment of a general nature has been moved or that we have got one to rely upon. I have got the point in mind, and at the proper stage I will see that the matter is properly corrected.
§ Colonel P. WILLIAMS
Is it competent for the Government to alter the Regulation after this Bill is passed by the Committee upstairs? I understand that this Regulation 18A has been altered so as to extend it. It did apply to enemy agents, but was altered to apply to foreign agents, and I would call attention to the fact that that alteration widens the scope of that Regulation so as to include a vast number of subjects of foreign Powers, such as the French, etc.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
If they are included in Regulation 18A, this would seem to be a correct description. If they are not included in 18A, the description would seem to be incorrect.
§ Colonel WILLIAMS
We were supplied with a manual by the Attorney-General in Committee which purported to be a correct version of the Regulation as discussed by the Committee, but, if the Solicitor-General will remember, the Attorney-General dealt with this matter in Committee, and I think he said that that Regulation had been altered.
§ It being a Quarter past Eight of the Clock, awl there being Private Business set down by direction of the Chairman of Ways and Means under Standing Order No. 8, further Proceeding was postponed, without Question put.