HL Deb 09 June 1915 vol 19 cc25-44

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this Bill which I propose to ask your Lordships to read a second time and to pass through all its stages this afternoon is the first outcome of the situation that has sprung from the reconstitution of the Government on a national basis. It is common knowledge that very grave anxiety has arisen during the past few months concerning the supply of munitions to our Armies fighting in the field. It is also a matter of common knowledge that this is a. question not of local but of supreme and national importance, affecting not merely the conduct of the military operations from day to day but the destinies and, indeed, the ultimate issues of the war itself. It is a question, further, that concerns the fortunes not merely of our own forces in the field but of the Armies of our Allies, for whom we have been making and at this moment are making provision in respect of munitions on a scale of which this country is scarcely aware.

The expenditure of ammunition in this war has been on a scale that has transcended both all previous experience and all reasonable anticipation. It is not too much to say that neither the magnitude of the, Armies in the field, nor the military or strategical genius of their leaders, nor the supreme heroism of the troops themselves will avail to secure the ends which we have in view or to drive the enemy to the final and ruinous defeat which we anticipate unless they are supplemented and rendered. effective by a supply of munitions on a scale not equal but superior to those of the enemy—,a scale which alone, as far as we can see, can bring about the victory, which we all desire. Such a task as this appeared to those who were engaged in the work of reconstituting the Government to be beyond the resources of the War Department, already terribly overworked and occupied with the daily strain of raising and equipping forces so much greater than any which this country has ever previously put into the field. It seemed to them to require the undivided energies of a separate Department, presided over by a Minister of great; resource, of unbounded personal energy and driving power, and of exceptional influence with the industrial organisations throughout the country. Accordingly it has been proposed to create a special Department for this purpose alone and for the duration of the war, or rather, as your. Lordships will see, for a period of not more than twelve months after the termination of the war.

The nucleus of this new Department will he provided by officials drawn from the War Office and from other Departments, whom it is proposed to reabsorb when the work of the Munitions Department is over and it has ceased to exist. But, in addition to them, the Minister at the head of the Department intends to associate with himself a number of expert authorities and business men in close touch with the various factories that turn out munitions and also in touch with the general industrial organisations of the country. It is not possible—and I do not think it would be desirable—at this stage to attempt to define in any minute or meticulous degree the exact powers or functions which will be enjoyed by the new Minister. They will be determined and added to from time to time in the light of experience by Orders in Council, and no doubt the Minister himself will show no reluctance to taking Parliament into his confidence upon the matter.

As regards the definition of "munitions," I would call your Lordships' attention to Clause 7 of the Bill, in which there was introduced yesterday by way of amendment in another place a very wide definition of the phrase. That clause runs as follows— In this Act the expression "munitions of war" and the expression "munitions" mean anything required to be provided for war purposes, and include arms, ammunition, warlike stores or material, and anything required for equipment or transport purposes or for or in connection with the production of munitions. In other words, this Department will be charged not only with the production of high explosives and shells and rifles and guns by the ordinary methods, but also with the co-ordination of all other industries, public and private, throughout the country in so far as they are capable of being utilised for the manufacture of the implements of war.

As your Lordships know, under the powers which have already been taken by the Government the entire workshops of the country are at the disposal of the Government; and it will be for the Minister at the head of this Department, with the knowledge and influence at his disposal, to direct their activities into this particular channel. There cannot, I think, be a shadow of a doubt—indeed the investigations that have been made in the Department already convince us—that there are in this country vast reserves of industrial strength, an enormous amount of machinery, and, one may almost use the phrase, entire armies of labour, skilled and unskilled, waiting to be used and anxious to be used for this particular purpose; and there is every reason to believe, without being unduly sanguine, that when the new Department has got under way there will, before any long time has elapsed, be a steady and progressively increasing flow of those munitions which are the first condition of success on the batty fields of the Continent.

I hardly think that your Lordships will require me to enter into any more detailed examination of the provisions of the Bill, which are really very simple and which explain themselves. I may sum up by saying that the objects of this Bill are, first, to fill an admitted gap in our industrial organisation; secondly, to create an effective Department for this purpose and for the term of the war; thirdly, to give the Minister who has been made the head of this Department wide and necessary powers; and, lastly, to enable him to set to work with the least possible delay. With these objects I am sure all your Lordships will be in sympathy, and without further ado I will ask leave to move the Second Reading of the Bill.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Earl Curzon of Kedleston.)


My Lords, I listened to the speech of the noble Earl with great interest and satisfaction. His statement as to the great anxiety of the country about this question of munitions is absolutely true. Some time past I had begun to think that the grave position in which we are placed did not seem to be realised by those in authority. From information which has reached us, notwithstanding the efforts of the Censor, we know perfectly well that our operations in this tremendous campaign—a campaign such as the world has never previously seen—have been very much impeded for the want of munitions of war. It is not my intention to attempt to say where the fault lies. I have no doubt there will be opportunities hereafter for doing that. But when we realise the large powers possessed by this country in the shape of machinery and capable and skilled men to produce munitions of war, it does seem astonishing that in this campaign we have not had a sufficient supply. The only conclusion to which I can come is that our great powers in this direction have not been properly organised. I am extremely pleased, therefore, to find that one of the first acts of the new Government is the creation of such an organisation as will remove this difficulty with regard to munitions of war. When it is considered that the want of these munitions means the lives of many of the gallant fellows who are fighting for this country at the Front, surely there is reason for the grave anxiety which has been felt by all who know the difficulties with which we have to contend.

I quite realise that it was impossible for the head of the War Department to attend to the whole of this vast work. When he considers the way in which our Army has been increased in so short a time, I think every reasonable person will agree that the Secretary of State for War had far more upon his shoulders than one man is capable of bearing. I am glad, therefore, that the work is to be divided, and that the supply of munitions is to be put into the hands of a capable and energetic man, who I feel sure will be able to secure the great supplies that are needed. I recognise that we must have confidence in the Government in this matter, and I should be the last person in the present situation to refuse them the most drastic powers if the Government considered them necessary. I would have gone even farther than this Bill goes. I should like to have seen a Bill giving power to deal with men as well as with munitions. We are told that there are plenty of men forthcoming for our Army, and that the latest demand for an additional 300,000 will be met without any difficulty. All praise and honour to those who come forward voluntarily ! But we must recognise the fact that the Government have had to increase the age limit from thirty-five to forty. When yon consider the large number of young unmarried men who are shirking their responsibility, I think some means ought to be taken of compelling them to recognise the duty they owe to the State. In Northumberland and Durham, the counties with which I am more closely acquainted, the majority of those who have come forward are married men, in connection with whom greater burdens are thrown upon the State than would be the case with single men. It will, of course, be a serious matter financially if the bulk of the men who are unfortunately killed at the Front leave a large number of dependants to be supported by the State. Therefore I feel that the young unmarried amen who have not joined time Colours ought to be compelled to fulfil their duty to the country.

There are a great many young men who are prepared to go if they are fetched. They think the present system an unfair one. They seem to feel that they have no right to go unless their neighbour goes, and I am confident that if some method of compulsion were adopted it would have the approval of the bulk of the people of this country. I am certain that every man who has joined the Colours would approve of some method of compulsion in the case of these young men who are not inclined to come forward, and I hope that the Government, upon whom rests the responsibility, will adopt some method to compel these men to serve. All our Allies have a system of conscription; we are the only country which has not. I am delighted that we have secured such large forces on the voluntary principle. But does any one who seriously contemplates our present position believe, that we are going to get through our difficulties without some form of compulsion? Personally I do not think so. This is not going to be a short war; it will last for some considerable time yet, and it is the duty of the Government to take this question of compulsory service into consideration. The country is waiting for a lead. This is not a time for shirking; it is a time for firmness. It is the duty of the Government to tell the country what is wanted, and if they did so I am sure they would have the support of the country, who would be only too glad to see effective methods adopted which would bring this terrible war to an end.

It is said that there is an objection to interfering with the liberty of the subject. The liberty of the subject ! Was there ever a war waged which was more for the liberty of the subject? It is ridiculous and absurd to raise the objection that compulsion would interfere with the liberty of the subject. What are we fighting for? We are fighting for the freedom of all nations, the liberty of all peoples. Surely if ever there was a just war when every man ought to be compelled to do his duty to the State, this is that war. Consider what we are up against. Was there ever a military organisation which was more a national organisation than that of Germany and Austria? Every man, woman, and child there seems to recognise responsibility to the State; and if you think we are going to win without taking measures to combat such a force as that you are mistaken. I believe that there is not a single person in Germany who is not thoroughly inflated with the idea that they are going to win this war, and who is not prepared to make every sacrifice, both in regard to property and life, to bring it to a successful issue. Surely we should not be behindhand when we are fighting for such great principles.

The control of this war is practically in the hands of the Government. I trust that they will recognise their responsibility and go forward without hesitation, taking such powers as they believe are necessary to bring this war to a successful issue. Unless they do that, the blame of am-failure will be upon their shoulders and not upon the shoulders of the nation. I hope that nothing will he left undone, and if the Government are firm and do not hestitate to take any steps which they believe to be necessary they will, I am sure, have the loyal support of the people of this country.


My Lords, I need hardly state that I do not rise to say a word in opposition to this Bill. Indeed, I venture to congratulate my noble friend that on the first occasion on which he has addressed this House as a Minister he has done so on so congenial a topic, for I recollect that it was during his period of office as Governor-General of India that for the first time a serious effort was made to make India self-supporting in the matter of munitions, and a long step was taken in that direction. Nobody knows better than my noble friend that this Bill is welcomed on this side of the House, because he is aware that for many months past some of us have done our best to secure the consideration of this very appointment. The noble Lord who has just sat down thinks that we are somewhat late in being asked to assent to it. We may be late, but we are not too late. Great work will be done, and we all welcome what is really the first great step that has been taken to organise the nation for the prosecution of the war. Previous steps have been in the direction of calling upon people for voluntary effort, but for national organisation this is, I think we may say, the first definite forward step which has been made, and it is of good omen for the new National Government and one which we hope to see bearing fruit in other directions.

But I have not risen to voice that which I should think is in the mind of every one of your Lordships, but to ask the attention of my noble friend to one particular point in the Bill. He called the attention of the House to the limitation of time in Clause 6—I refer to the determining of this appointment and of all that follows it within twelve months after the end of the war. I dare say it is a salutary provision. It is right that we should look to as complete an economy at the end of the war as we can, and to the cessation of all unnecessary appointments. But, on the other hand, I invite the Government to consider for a moment what the past history has been of the work of providing munitions for the two Services, and to leave the door open—not by any change in the Bill, but in their own minds—for a reconsideration of the whole topic before they finally part with the Ministry which they are now creating.

Your Lordships are aware that Woolwich and the provision of warlike stores has been under the War Office for an indefinite number of years. I should myself have been glad if the title to be conferred on the Minister of Munitions had been the old and historic title of Master-General of Ordnance. But that has not been seen right. There are many noble Lords present who have been connected with the Services who can remember that up to a quarter of a century ago the War Office had such supreme control over the provision of warlike stores that the Navy gave the whole of their orders through the Secretary of State for War; and there was constant friction, because it was naturally felt that, however undesirable it was for two public Departments to be competing in the same market, the tendency of any Department must be to press on its own orders, and the Navy were at a continual difficulty as to the provision of big guns and the requisite ammunition. The second Government of Lord Salisbury's dealt drastically at the moment with that position. They gave to the Admiralty power to make their own bargains with the trade, but they left the War Office with the supreme control of Woolwich. I doubt whether the past history of that control has been altogether satisfactory. There was partly the difficulty that it had to be under Parliamentary control. Part of the work of the Financial Secretary was to take up the control of the whole of these factories. The Financial Secretary was constantly changed on promotion, and consequently the better the man the less chance there was of his having a prolonged career there. It is a difficult business to learn.

I doubt whether in recent years it has been satisfactory for another reason. The tendency of all administrators at the War Office is to buy stores in whatever is at the moment the cheapest market. The cheapest market in time of peace is always Woolwich. If you put the whole of your orders into Woolwich you leave the trade to starve, and you have no trade to depend upon on the outbreak of war. The proper course—it was laid down by many distinguished authorities at different times and by Commissions—is that you should divide your orders, keep a very large reserve of power in Woolwich, and pay the extra money necessary to the trade. But that has not always been done. The tendency of every administrator at the War Office must be, when be is hard pressed with regard to men, to get his material as cheaply as possible; and there is a great deal to be said for keeping in some form, not necessarily in the form of a Cabinet Minister, possibly not even a Parliamentary Minister, what is really a trading concern. In fact I am not at all sure whether some eminent soldier, an Artillerist or Engineer, who has had experience—and there are many—in these factories, would not be able to conduct the whole business with greater knowledge and experience and with more satisfactory results than if the course contemplated in Clause 6 of the Bill is taken, under which all the powers and duties revert to the Department or authority from which they were transferred. I have ventured to make these observations because this is a national question of a very high order. I am quite sure that if the difficulties of it had been appreciated in the earlier months of the war these steps would have been taken long ago, and I should deprecate our reverting too suddenly to the old state of things. If my noble friend is able to do so, I hope he will give the House an assurance that before the step is irrevocably taken the Government, if they remain in office as we hope they will, will consider on its merits the whole question of the supply of munitions.


My Lords, the noble Earl who introduced this Bill said that it gave the Minister of Munitions ample power to requisition all the works in the country. I do not myself quite understand, and I do not know whether anybody else does, Clause 2 of the Bill, which gives the Minister of Munitions "such administrative powers and duties as may be conferred on him by His Majesty in Council." The noble Lord who immediately followed the noble Earl delivered a speech in favour of conscription for military purposes, into which I do not propose to enter. But what I would like to ask the noble Earl in charge of the Bill is this—Does this Bill give the Government of the day power not only to requisition works but to requisition men to fill them? If it does not, I think it is a pity. But T can imagine many reasons why the Government should not have taken suck powers. In times like these we all know that we must try, whatever we do, to keep the country as nearly unanimous as we can and to advance, when we advance, all together. That is all important; and I can fancy the Government saying to themselves, with that in their minds, "If we put into this Bill a clause by which we can requisition all the labour of the country if we want it, it will be unpopular." Well, would it be unpopular? I venture to say that it depends entirely upon the point of view from which you approach this question. I can imagine its being deservedly unpopular, but on the other hand I can imagine its being acclaimed on every platform—it depends upon what you are going to do.

In putting forward my own views I wish entirely to dissociate myself from the attacks that we have heard and read against the great organised working classes of this country. Those attacks are mostly written by newspaper men who know nothing, and by club idlers who have hardly ever done any work in their lives. I happen to live near a dockyard town and I will tell your Lordships what is going on there. Every now and then there comes into that dockyard for repair a ship which the Admiralty want out again with the shortest possible delay. Do you know what the men there are doing? Hundreds of men, probably more, have been going into the dockyard on a Monday morning and coining oat on the following Wednesday night., eating how they could during that time and sleeping an hour or two on the ground as and when opportunity offered. That is how the dockyard men are working. And in the dockyard of which I am speaking they are doing more than that. They compete, in a sporting spirit, with other dockyards as to which can run the ships out fastest. If you are going to men like that and to give them the impression that you intend putting compulsion on labour, your proposals are certain to be condemned and to be condemned with justice.

There is another way in which labour is being most unfairly attacked. We constantly see it stated that at certain works most important work is being done, but that the men will not all put in overtime. Consider what overtime is. The ordinary time represents as a. rule the work which an ordinary man can do and retain his health and keep on working. But if you went to the men in any works and said, "Here is something most important on which human life depends; we must have these things shells or whatever it is—within so many y days or so many hours," I do not believe you would ever appeal in vain to any great mass of men in this country. You must remember, however, that you are dealing not with machinery but with human frames. There are few of us who at some time or other have not worked for two or three days much harder than we should. But we know perfectly well that if the human frame is strained unduly for any lengthened period the result in the long run is that the human frame will do less work in the twelve months than if no extra work had been undertaken. I believe that these are not the right lines on which the extra work of the nation is to be done.

In my opinion the extra work of the nation has to be done by bringing in more men. I do not see that it is any more undemocratic to requisition a man's labour than it is to requisition horses, cattle, sheep, hay, straw, vehicles, and everything else which you have properly requisitioned since the beginning of the war. I began by saying that if you are going to give the impression that it is working men only whom you are going to force, you will never carry a proposal of that kind. But I believe you will find it necessary to requisition labour by force before you are through with this war. You will have to send men to work whether they like it or not, and there is only one way in which to do it—you will have to begin at the top. I am not for a moment going to decry what the well-to-do classes of society have done in the way of service since this war began. I know myself, from hearing the talk in villages, that in many villages working men are saving that since they have seen the way in which the landowners' sons have served their country they are taking a different view of the position of landowners than they took before. The upper classes, as a whole, have come wonderfully well out of this great trial and call upon their patriotism; but there are idlers still among us. Everybody here knows that the great bulk of men like ourselves, either with our own work or with unpaid public work or with both, are as a rule fully occupied. But even among members of this House I venture to say that on an inquisition you could find some men who had never done a day's work for themselves or for anybody else since the day they were born. If you are going to have compulsory labour, you will have to begin, as I say, at the top.

Most of the sons of the well-to-do classes are serving, the nation, but I know quite well that even among the sons of members of your Lordships' House there are a few who are not facing the dangers of war, but are hanging about the London theatres and music-halls as they did before. While that continues you may save yourselves the trouble of going to the working men and talking to them of conscription and of compulsory service. I heard only a day or two ago that within the last fortnight a member of this House who has held high office under the King gave a dance. That does not seem to me very good taste, but perhaps I am old-fashioned. The dance, I am told, was well attended; there were lots of young men there who have never served their country and never mean to. Those are the young men whom you have to get in before you talk of the working men.

I am saving this because I believe that before the war is over you will have to call upon all the citizens of this country to do their duty in one shape or another. You may ask what would be the good of the young men to whom I have referred if you got them into works; they are unskilled. But to utilise to the full the labours of the skilled mechanic, you require unskilled labour to wait upon him. I would send these young men to do that work. If the Government approach this problem from that point of view and aim not at the compulsion of the working men but at the compulsion of every class in the country, I venture to say that that is a kind of popular service which you could advocate and obtain applause for on any platform from one end of the land to the other. I am not one of those who take a roseate view as to the course of the war. I am quite sure that victory is not yet won or begun, and before it is obtained all will have to do their share, and you can only get all to do their share—make up your mind on this at once, whether you like it or not—by beginning at the top.


My Lords, I do not wish to take up much of your Lordships' time, for I have very little of my own. I returned from the Front on Saturday, and I go back there to-morrow. But there are one or two things that I wish to say. First of all, I think I am justified in saying that we out at the Front want to know when we are going to find a backing at home. The speech to which we have just listened is one such as I do not think many of us have read in the newspapers for some considerable time, but it makes clearer the different points of view between the man in the front trenches and the man at home. The noble Lord talked about men working continuously from Monday to Wednesday night. I know of a Brigade which was in the trenches for thirty-two consecutive days, and during a great pant of that time was being shelled. Your Lordships will be able to judge what the nervous strain was upon those men. I am stating nothing which every German Staff officer does not know when I say that, speaking broadly, the French hold their trenches by a few rifles and with the support of their wonderful 75 millimetre gun, while we hold our trenches principally by rifle fire. The French system is expensive in ammunition; ours is expensive in life. That is a thing which, as far as I know, has never been said in this country since the war began. When is it going to be said on public platforms that every day wasted in our factories means so many more lives lost at the Front? Every man who does not occupy his time to the very fullest advantage in this country is responsible for the loss of those lives.

It appears to us—I think I may use the word "us"—that we are working in a vicious circle. We are told that we have as many men as we can equip. On the other hand, a great deal more equipment might be turned out if the working men realised the necessity. I am not going into the question of compulsion at any length, but it does appear to us that men who refuse to work should be made to fight. The man who refuses to do his duty in the workshop should be sent to the Front, whether he likes it or not. It would make a great difference in the point of view of every working man in the country to realise what it means to be in the trenches with support not as great as he would like from Artillery. If that were done, not only would there be an enormously increased output of equipment and munitions but the supply of recruits would also be largely increased. Having got as much equipment as you needed you would he able to have more men; and. without more equipment, more munitions, and more men you are not going to bring this war to a satisfactory conclusion quickly. A long-drawn-out war means not only an expensive war in bullion; it means an expensive war in lives.

It is no good our talking about this matter for another seven months. Early in November we ought to have realised what we required in the way of ammunition. We are now beginning to take action to supply that ammunition. How long will it be before we are—I will not say adequately, because we are adequately supplied now—but how long will it be before we have that amount of ammunition which is necessary to enable us to do all that we require at the Front? That depends principally upon the Government of this country, and it; is my firm conviction that if the Government and public men generally spoke more of the Whole truth and less half-truth there would be much less difficulty with the working men both in regard to recruits and munitions of war. It is obvious that a large amount of information must be kept secret. Every officer and man at the Front knows how important it is to get identification of enemy units and to find out whether they have moved their forces one way or the other, and every German is trying to get that information about our units. Therefore such information must be kept from the enemy, and it is impossible, as a rule, to refer specifically to the action of particular battalions or of particular individuals in a battalion, at any rate until some weeks have passed. There are, however, exceptions. When a battalion has been in action and has lost a good many men and you know that the Germans must have realised that the unit had been present, there can be no harm in the public being told what that unit has done. But where you have reason to believe that the Germans do nor know that a unit is in a particular place, it is the duty of every individual to hide that fact and leave the enemy in doubt. But the amount of secrecy thrown over the movements of our troops in the field has had considerable effect upon people at home

People here are now beginning to realise the necessity for high explosive shells. Have they begun to realise the necessity for gas? Gas has been used by the Germans, and used extensively—I know it only too well. The Germans have broken, I believe, every law of civilised warfare in using it. I think they have been extraordinarily foolish. Hitherto they have had the greatest luck in having a north-east wind continuously for some time, but the wind is prevalently west and the enemy are east of us; and as they have chosen that wicked method of warfare and have turned themselves into outlaws they must be treated as outlaws and vermin and stamped out. As they have chosen to use gas it is now "up to us" to provide gas for the use and protection of our men in the trenches. A considerable amount of nonsense has been talked, and it has been said that it would be wrong for us to use gas. Let those who take this view go into the front line trenches and see what they think about it when a wall of gas comes down upon them. They would then realise what it is to feel that those at home will not provide similar means to attack the enemy.

There are no politics in the Army and there never have been, but I cannot say that there is at present a great feeling of respect for men in public life at home on either side, and for this reason—that there has been a great deal of talk and very little action. War is a time of action, and this country will be judged not by what it says but by what it does, and public men will also be judged by the same standard. War has a curious way of wiping out unrealities and bringing us opposite to facts. I hope that our public men will realise that facts are the things that count and not words, and that action is necessary to get men for the Army and the requisite amount of munitions of war.


My Lords, I must ask your Lordships' indulgence in addressing you for the first time, but I have been out at the Front for seven months and am going back to-morrow, and I should not like to let this opportunity pass without telling your Lordships how gladly we at the Front will welcome this new appointment of Minister of Munitions. At the Front we do not think much about when the war will end. Our thought, is, When will the people of England wake up and give us the guns and ammunition that we require? Frankly I do not believe we can ever bring this war to a satisfactory conclusion unless we have conscription or some means of organising the nation under military discipline. The Minister of Munitions will have a very difficult task in organising the men in the workshops unless he can have them under some discipline and say that they have to work so many hours a day. We do not want them to work overtime. If they would only work eight hours a day they would be able to turn out enough ammunition to keep us going. I have never heard any estimate of the amount of ammunition required, and I do not think it is fair to ask the working men to turn out this ammunition unless they are given some idea of what is needed. I am not giving anything away to the Germans when I say that our guns at the Front are capable of firing over a million rounds in twenty-four hours. Mr. Lloyd George, in his speech at Manchester, asked Manchester to provide 250,000 shells a month. I do not say that we could provide a million rounds every day or that a million rounds is a criterion of the amount required every day, but a million rounds a day would be 30,000,000 a month, and I think that would be much nearer the mark than the 250,000 of which Mr. Lloyd George spoke. I hope the Minister of Munitions will recognise the necessity of encouraging our inventors and scientific men. Modern warfare has taken such an unexpected phase that we cannot afford to neglect any contrivance or invention, however small, which will help to kill the enemy or save the lives of our men. Hitherto it has been very difficult to get the War Office to examine or take up any new invention; but now that the Germans have sunk to the adoption of these barbarous and illegitimate means of warfare a very large field has been thrown open to our inventors and scientific men by which we shall hoist them with their own petard.


My Lords, I only rise to make a small suggestion connected with the working of this Bill. There are at the present moment in this country a considerable number of soldiers and sailors who have been returned as medically unfit for further service either at home or abroad. I understand that the hulk of those men are now living in barracks and occupying quarters which should be occupied by the new Armies. Some barrack rooms scheduled to accommodate twenty-five men have, I am told, more than fifty men sleeping in them at night. I know the difficulties attending the discharging of these men. The preparation of the necessary documents and the arrangements for pensions must take time. But what I suggest is this, that where these men have a prospect of definite employment they should at once be granted their discharge. That would enable them immediately to go to their work, whether on the land or in a factory or workshop. I quite admit that this is open to the charge that the men would be drawing Army pay and civilian wages at the same time, but they are drawing Army pay now and doing nothing for the country, whereas they might be able to help in the manufacture of munitions or in agriculture. Were my suggestion adopted it would be to the advantage of the country in increasing the supply of labour, and it would not cost the Treasury an extra shilling.


My Lords, before the noble Earl replies to the discussion, I desire to ask whether opportunity will be taken of this appointment of Minister of Munitions to relieve the Government of certain restrictions which they have allowed to be imposed upon themselves by which they have been prevented from taking advantage of offers of large supplies of ammunition from certain quarters. I know, on information which is undoubtedly reliable, that the Government have had an offer of a large quantity of shells from Canada, and that they have refused to take advantage of it because they have some arrangement that compels all munitions coming from the American Continent, including North America, to pass through the agency of Messrs. Morgan, of New York. I am not speaking on a matter of which I am not quite sure. A protest as regards this situation has been made in writing to the Prime Minister. These Canadians very properly say, "We are British subjects; we have from two to five million shells to offer to the Government, but, we object to being compelled to pass them over through the Morgan house." It is desirable to know whether this embargo against British subjects is likely to be withdrawn as part and parcel of this new appointment.


Lords, after the warning given by Lord Stanhope in his manly and courageous speech against words and in favour of action, I feel a little diffident in standing here even for a few moments to say anything further to your Lordships on this Bill. But one or two points have; been raised in the course of the debate, with which we on this side have every reason to be satisfied, on winch your Lordships will perhaps, expect me to say something in the nature of a reply. A good deal of the discussion as I think is, usual with our debates, travelled rather far away from the immediate subject-matter of the Bill. We heard a good many observations, some of them of a very vigorous and even impassioned nature, upon conscription, compulsory service, the control of labour, and so on, and although in some of those observations I detected faint echoes of by-gone speeches made by myself, yet I feel that for the moment it would be not only unnecessary but unwise for me to travel into those rather perilous fields. I am more concerned to deal with the direct questions put to me arising out of the Bill itself.

Lord Stanhope—whom we are very glad to welcome here in the short. interval between his two periods of service, and to whom along with the noble Lord who sits beside him I hope I may be allowed to express our earnest wishes for their good fortune in the field—asked how long it would be before ammunition would be received on a scale which would satisfy the Army in the field and the expectations of the country. The new Department is hardly yet organised, and the noble Earl will not expect me to give anything in the nature of a definite reply. Bad he been here three weeks ago he would have heard the Secretary of State for War make the statement, with the foundation for which I am quite familiar, that munitions are coming in at a greatly enhanced rate of rapidity, and I imagine that, when the new organisation is in working order the Minister for the Department; Mr. Lloyd George, will not be at all slow to communicate to Parliament the expectations which the Department Krill be justified in forming.

Upon another point the noble Earl's absence at the Front lots caused lam to be somewhat unfamiliar with what has been said in this House. He spoke about the question of gas, and seemed to be under the impression that some scruples deterred His Majesty's Government from the use of weapons like that against those who have employed them against us. I can assure him at once that that is not the case. There are many noble Lords present who will remember the statement made from this Bench by the Secretary of State for War three weeks ago in which he said, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, that they held themselves at perfect liberty and proposed to use these instruments of warfare, however cruel and diabolical they may be, against those who have initiated them against us. The question is one of time end of opportunity. We have not been devoting our resources, scientific and other, during the last seven or eight months, as the Germans have done, to the task of inventing those instruments, but it is within the knowledge of many here that active steps are now being taken in that direction, and I hope that the noble Earl when he returns to the Front may one day find the agency which he has seen work such devastation upon his friends turned against the enemy.

The noble Viscount, Lord Midleton, for whose support of the Bill. I warmly thank him, raised a very important point as to the possible continuation after the term provided for in this Bill, if not of the whole of this Department, at any rate of a portion of the organisation which it is proposed to set up. It would be premature for me to say anything definite upon that point now, lint views of that kind coming from the noble Viscount, who speaks with such authority on the question, will not be forgotten, and there will be many opportunities during the continuance of the war, which is not likely to be short, in which he will be able to press the point again upon us.

A question was raised by Lord Stalbridge about the organisation of the scientific abilities of the country. He seemed to be of opinion that sufficient use was not being made of the great skill and ability upon which in those respects we can rely in, this country. I think that is hardly the case. There is a department in connection with the War Office—whether or not it will be transferred to the department of the new Ministry of Munitions I am not sure, but I think it will be—presided over by Lord Moulton, an authority in these matters high not merely in the estimation of this country but in that of the whole world. Lord Moulton, with a number of colleagues, has been devoting himself to the study of this question for the past eight months, with results which in many cases have been very helpful; and the noble Lord may rely upon this, that there will be not the slightest hesitation in appealing to and making use of all the scientific ability which this country can provide.

The noble Lord below the Gangway (Lord St. Davids) asked a number of questions to which I will endeavour to reply. He inquired whether this Bill gave powers to requisition the services of men employed in the factories and workshops, and I think he went on to imply that such power does not at present exist. In the latter respect he is not quite fully informed, because under the Regulations which have been issued in pursuance of the Defence of the Realm Acts some such power does exist and has been taken advantage of. For instance, under those Acts the power has been taken not only to deal with business premises and plant, but to compel the occupier of the premises and his employees to obey the directions of the Admiralty or the Army Council as to the use of the factory, workshop, or plant.


I read a report of a debate in another place in which it was stated that there would be no requisition of labour by the Government until they had special legislation on the subject. But I may have read a summary which did not accurately put the case.


The noble Lord is quite right. No powers are taken in this Bill to requisition labour in any form. I was merely acquainting the noble Lord that such powers, in a limited degree, are already in existence. If the Government come to a decision that further powers are necessary, they will be asked for from Parliament in a separate Bill. There was also a point raised by Lord St. Audries which I will bring to the notice of the Department. Lord Devonport raised the question of supplies of ammunition from Canada, and asked whether we were precluded from taking advantage of those opportunities by the engagement which he quoted as having been entered into with the firm of Messrs. Morgan, of New York. I know there was such an agreement. Whether or not it is in operation at the present time I am not certain. But I recognise the great importance of the matter and will inquire into it and communicate with the noble Lord. I am sure we shall all entirely endorse the words of Lord Stanhope that the time for speech is over and the time for action has come. It is because we hold that view that the new Ministry of Munitions has been formed, and that its first act is to present this Bill to both Houses of Parliament.

On Question, Bill read 2a.

Committee negatived: Then (Standing Order No. XXXIX having been dispensed with) Bill read 3a, and passed.

House adjourned during pleasure.

House resumed.