HL Deb 15 March 1915 vol 18 cc724-41

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, in rising to move the Second Reading of this Bill I may remind the House that by the Defence of the Realm Consolidation Act which became law towards the end of November power was granted to the Government to take over factories engaged in the manufacture of war material in the widest sense of that term—that is to say, not merely armour, cannon, or shells, but all the various supplies and munitions required for the troops serving His Majesty. This Bill, to which I ask your Lordships to give a Second Reading, extends a similar power to all factories of every kind for the same object and purposes. Its effects are to turn on to the production of war material all factories which may be capable of undertaking such work. It also gives the power to diminish the number of workshops devoted to other work, to close them altogether, or to remove plant from them to places where it may be more conveniently applied for the production of war material. It also gives the power to house workmen in unoccupied premises of different kinds where their labour is needed for this purpose and in places where there is no proper housing accommodation for them. It cannot be denied that a measure of this kind involves a tremendous interference with the free play of industry, with the free employment of capital, and with the free application of labour. We do not for a moment attempt to dispute the width of the area which is covered by such a measure as this. My noble and gallant friend behind me has explained the existing circumstances which in our opinion make this measure necessary, and he has done so speaking with an authority altogether unequalled, an authority which certainly none of his colleagues in the Government would attempt to claim to the same extent with which he is able to exercise it.

But there are one or two points arising out or the Bill on which, perhaps, I ought to offer some explanation to the House. I should like, in the first place, to point out that this is in the main a measure of organisation. It is, indeed, rather a measure of organisation than of the actual displacement of industry. That is a point which I would ask the House to bear in mind. And this means that; in bringing it into operation the Government desire to consult in all possible ways the manufacturers engaged in different kinds of production, and also those who are able in a representative capacity to speak for the workmen employed in these different branches of labour. We know, on the authority of a great political writer, that it is impossible to draw an indictment against a nation; it is usually almost equally unwise to draw an indictment against a class, and when my noble and gallant friend was speaking he made it quite clear that, although charges have been publicly brought and repeated both against those who supply the capital for manufactures and those engaged in labour, and although in some individual cases those charges may be taken to be wellfounded, yet it would be altogether unfair to bring charges of want of patriotism against either the class of employers or of employed.

For instance, it is altogether untrue to say of the manufacturers as a class, whether they be individuals or directors of limited companies, that they are thinking only of their profits and their dividends. On the contrary, I believe that among them there has been an almost universal desire to help in this great national crisis. But in many cases, just as we have seen in different branches of activity of a private kind, people who have desired to help have not really known how to set about it or where to begin, and for the provision of that information I hope that the passage of this measure may do something. Equally as regards the class of workmen. To bring against them general accusations of irregularity, of slacking off when wages are high, or of excessive drinking would, I believe, be altogether unfair. There have been such cases, but a general charge of that kind ought not to be made. I believe that especially in the ranks of skilled labour there has been an amount of loyalty and devotion to duty in giving extra work of which it is hardly possible to speak too highly. I have been told of one case—I have not got the actual facts before me—which occurred I think at Sheffield in some armour plate works where the shifts of some of the furnace men, owing to the intensely trying quality of the labour, are in normal times exceedingly short. These men, I was told, volunteered to double the length of their shift, at a cost not merely of great discomfort but I have no doubt of some positive danger to health. Those are admirable cases which we ought to remember when we hear general accusations of slackness or of imperfect work.

But it cannot be denied that there has existed a certain suspicion, as my noble and gallant friend pointed out, both in the ranks of the employers and of those of the employed, in which the other class respectively bas been involved. There have been suspicions on the part of some of the workmen that their employers were thinking exclusively of profit; there have been suspicions on the part of some of the employers that their men were anxious to do as little as they could provided they could earn a week's average wage. We hope that the general system of consultation and discussion which will take place as the result of the passing of this measure will do much to dispel on both sides those suspicions, unfounded in the main as we believe them to be, so far as they exist. Therefore, my Lords, even if it should prove as some have prophesied—I think Mr. Bonar Law made the statement in another place—that the actual transactions under a measure of this kind are not very numerous—and I think it is exceedingly difficult to say how numerous the actual transactions are likely to be—yet at the same time I venture to think that no small amount of solid national benefit may come from the passage of this measure.

We have been asked why, if an operation of this kind is likely to be beneficial, it was not undertaken before, and how it is that so many months have been permitted to pass without our having made some suggestion of this kind. That is not an unnatural question to ask, but I think that there are one or two considerations which may be adduced in reply. In the first place, if a suggestion of this kind, enormously drastic as we all agree that it is, had been made at a far earlier stage of the war I do not say that Parliament would have refused us the powers—because we most freely acknowledge the large attitude which the Opposition and the country generally have taken up in the matter of giving powers to the Government—but I think we should have run the risk of being told that we were grasping at a rather exuberant dictatorship without being able to produce sufficient data to justify us in demanding immense powers of this kind, and at that time it might not have been a very easy criticism to reply to. In the second place, it is only fair to point out that, altogether apart from this, the time of the War Office and also of the Admiralty has been taken up, as all the world knows, day and night with matters of urgent concern, and it is important to remember that there are limits even to the possibilities of devolution, and the mere operation of arranging and formulating a system of this kind, involving extensive devolution, is in itself a piece of very hard work, and it is not one which, in my judgment, we could have expected the two great Service Departments to have undertaken before this date.

Then, my Lords, there is a question to which I think my noble and gallant friend did not draw any special attention, naturally, as he was dealing with the purely military side of this demand which we are making—that of the degree and character of compensation which ought to be given to those who are adversely affected by the passage of this measure. The view of the Government, generally speaking, is this. We entirely agree that there is not and cannot be any room for that sort of vicarious patriotism which glows over the sacrifices made by other people for the sake of the country's good. If people individually are put to loss for the purposes covered by this Bill they ought not to suffer thereby. That is one side of the question. But, on the other side, we hold most distinctly that the ordinary methods of compensation for land taken for public purposes under the Lands Clauses Acts cannot be made to apply in these instances, and I am glad to know that this is not a question as between the two Parties or the two sides of the House, because I observed that in another place similar views were expressed by those who are in general agreement with noble Lords opposite.

It would never do for laymen like us to run our heads up against such arcana as the doctrine of eminent domain or such mysterious subjects as those, which I have no doubt are mere playthings to many noble and learned Lords in this House; but we do hold the view—I wish to make this quite clear—that it is not possible to admit a statutory or legal right of compensation for loss or damage suffered under this Bill. We do not in any way mean that people ought not to be properly compensated for loss which they suffer for the good of the country, but we are not prepared to embark on that vast ocean of litigation which would stretch before us if we were to attempt to include in this measure a statutory system of compensation for damage. There will be a strong Committee appointed to deal with all these matters and, indeed, to carry on the general negotiations with those who are likely to be affected. I am glad to believe that a most distinguished lawyer who is not a supporter of the Government—Mr. Duke—is likely to consent to preside over that Committee, and I have no doubt the House will agree that no more capable occupant of the post could be found. I am not in a position at this moment to give any of the other names of this small body or to give the terms of reference, which I had almost hoped I might have been able to do. Perhaps later in the debate I may be able to do so. This authority, of course, is set up in some measure to determine the principles upon which and the scope within which compensation ought to be paid to those who suffer loss.

I think anybody who has looked at the Bill will see that this measure is founded on the one principle which His Majesty's Government desire to enforce and which we wish to commend to the country—namely, that all persons should ask themselves, Does any particular action that is taken either publicly or privately, or does any abstention from action which might be taken, produce an effect for or against the prosecution of the war? It seems to me that this is the question which everybody ought to put to himself and herself with regard to any action either public or private, because I believe it to be the only genuine criterion for deciding whether any form of legislation or, indeed, any form of action in private life, is or is not desirable or admissible. That criterion applies to the intensely difficult question to which some passing allusion was made by my noble and gallant friend—that of the hours and conditions in which licensed premises ought to be opened. That is a question of great difficulty and complexity, and it is one upon which we of the comfortable classes are bound also to bear in mind what I have referred to as the doctrine of vicarious sacrifice—that it is very easy for us to deplore the mischiefs which may be caused by excessive hours for the opening of public-houses, we ourselves being, of course, altogether unaffected by those hours. But if we apply this test, Will the closing of licensed premises in certain areas for certain hours prove to be a definite help to the prosecution of the war by such means as the provision of material? then that becomes one of the questions which has to be faced.

Another question of the same sort to which a similar criterion applies is that of the restriction of the use of capital for a great number of purposes. The Government have thought it necessary to impose close restrictions upon the use of capital for private enterprise which in ordinary times we should desire most fully to encourage. We also restrict the use of capital for municipal improvements, often of the most desirable character in themselves and to which, again, in normal times we should give our full approval. We go further. We place close restrictions on the issue in London of capital by India, by the great Dominions, and by the Colonies for purposes altogether admirable in themselves, objects which would commend themselves to any thinking man. We do that, my Lords, in obedience to this same criterion—namely, because we hold that the locking-up of capital for long periods as the result of such issues is bound to have a prejudicial effect upon our national credit, which thereby becomes impaired; and the maintenance of the national credit in its full perfection is, of course, one of our main and principal objects.

Precisely the same criterion as to whether action or abstention from action is going to assist in the prosecution of the war may be applied to a great number of other things—to the continued existence of amusements of all kinds, to the carrying on of field sports to the opening of theatres, or to a subject which has, I observe, become one of much controversy, that of the continuance of racing; and I cannot help saying that, if the public attention had been more steadily fixed upon what I venture to call this ruling criterion by which we all ought to be bound, we should have been spared a certain amount of what I cannot help calling rather gushing correspondence on the subject of race-courses which we have seen in the columns of the public Press. I repeat that this criterion of keeping our eyes steadily fixed upon the prosecution of the war and seeing that we in our respective spheres and according to our respective capacities do everything in the world that we can to assist it and nothing in the world to hinder it, is the only criterion which at this moment is worth considering. Probably the most cherished single utterance in the whole of our national history is Nelson's great signal at Trafalgar. That signal is being repeated to-day, not merely to the men of the fighting Services, but to every man and to every woman in these islands it must be a continuous watchword throughout the whole progress of this war and until victory is achieved.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Marquess of Creue.)


My Lords, we are all, I am sure, grateful to the noble and gallant Field-Marshal for the remarks with which he prefaced the speech of the noble Marquess who leads the House. The noble and gallant Field-Marshal has duties which render it out of the question that he should take a frequent part in our discussions, but for that very reason we appreciate it all the more when he is able to come here from time to time and tell us not only something of the progress of events at the Front but something of his own opinions with regard to high questions of policy such as those which are raised by the Bill now on the Table, and I am bound to say that a portion at any rate of the speech of the noble and gallant Field-Marshal seemed to me to be the gravest appeal which has yet been made to the people of this country in connection with the present war.

I will come in a moment to the Bill which the Secretary of State for India has moved. But perhaps before doing so I may be permitted to express the feeling of sympathy with which we heard the noble and gallant Field-Marshal's testimony to the conduct of the British troops who are upholding the honour of this country in the field. We civilians have no right to express opinions upon purely military points, but there are some things which I venture to think we can understand quite as well as any soldier. For example, we can realise that there are qualities displayed by men quite unknown to fame, of whose performances there is no record—qualities of fortitude and endurance under the most trying circumstances—which deserve every whit as much recognition and respect as the more brilliant and conspicuous acts which are from time to time recorded in the annals of this war. We rejoice to think that after long weeks and months of inaction, or, at any rate, of mainly defensive action, our troops should have lately been able to take the offensive and to take it with brilliant success. It is particularly satisfactory—most of all, perhaps, to those who, like the noble and gallant Field-Marshal and myself, have had to do with Indian affairs—to know that our Indian soldiers have lately acquitted themselves with so much distinction. Their performance in connection with the taking of Neuve Chapelle seems to have been highly creditable, and I am glad that the noble and gallant Field-Marshal has been able to bear witness to it. The same is true of the behaviour of our Canadian troops. We all felt sure that they were only waiting for an opportunity of distinguishing themselves. They have had the opportunity, and have availed themselves of it. May I also be permitted to say how much many of us appreciate the compliment paid by the noble and gallant Field-Marshal to the Territorial Forces now engaged at the Front. I think the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack must have felt a special thrill of satisfaction when he listened to those words, for we all know the part which he took in calling those Forces into existence.

The noble and gallant Field-Marshal also singled out for special praise the manner in which our Armies had been supplied with all the necessaries which they require. I venture to think that in the whole military history of this country there has never been a more remarkable feat than that which has been performed by those military departments to whom has been entrusted the supplies both of the new Armies at home and of the great Army at the Front. It is remarkable that from almost every quarter there comes to us testimony as to the admirable way in which our troops at the Front have been fed. One other point I noted, and that was what the noble and gallant Field-Marshal said as to the health of the troops. Nothing could be more satisfactory than that he should be able to give us such a report. And may I say how gladly I recognise the credit which he is able to give to the Royal Army Medical Corps? If I may be permitted to indulge in a reminiscence, I can recall the time when a considerable controversy arose as to the propriety of giving military rank to the members of that corps. I do not think anybody now will be found to get up and express a doubt as to the propriety of allowing these gallant men, who risk their lives like all the other officers of the Army, to enjoy the distinction which a military rank confers. It was also pleasant to hear the noble and gallant Field-Marshal give an encouraging account of the progress of our operations in the Dardanelles, and of the progress made by our gallant Allies the Russians in the Eastern theatre of war.

Now may I pass to the Bill which we are asked to read a second time to-clay. The noble Marquess who leads the House described it as one conferring enormously drastic powers upon His Majesty's Government and I do not think that the expression which he used was at all too strong, but the country is certainly not in a mood to challenge demands of this kind when they are put forward by His Majesty's Government in circumstances such as those which at present confront us merely because they are drastic. The noble Marquess expressed sonic doubt as to whether it would have been possible for him and his colleagues to ask for powers of this kind at an earlier stage in the progress of these hostilities. He anticipated that the demand might not have been so readily met if it had been preferred earlier in the day. These are matters of conjecture. All I will take leave to say is that these powers are not being asked for one day too soon. With regard to the principle involved in this Bill, I think it fair to recall that we are not altogether unused to the idea of these, in appearance, arbitrary interferences with the interests of private individuals. We have already passed several Bills under which very serious interferences with private interests are sanctioned. Under the Act which we passed in the last months of last year the Government of the day already has the power of appropriating the whole of the output of all shops and factories in which anything which can be described as munitions of war is being manufactured. I confess that, so far as the principle of the thing is concerned, I do not see very much difference between annexing the output of a factory in which munitions of war are made and annexing the output of any other factory. The principle seems to me to be exactly the same. What you have to consider is not the particular kind of thing which is manufactured in the particular shop, but the kind of interference with the individual to which you are driven to resort. Therefore so far as the arbitrariness of this measure is concerned I do not think we are going so very much further than we have already declared our readiness to go.

But, my Lords, I do think that it will be held by the people of this country that, while the most arbitrary interference is permissible, you are bound to deal as fairly as you can with the persons with whose interests you interfere. I noticed with some interest what was said by the noble Marquess upon the question of compensation. What I gathered from him was that, while His Majesty's Government were reluctant to admit a statutory right to compensation, they were not unprepared in principle to recognise that compensation was due where injury is done to individuals. I think that conclusion is inevitable. Under the Defence of the Realm Act of last year we have already introduced Regulations under one of which the owner of a factory or workshop whose output is taken from him may go to a Judge of the High Court to have the amount of compensation to which he is entitled fixed by that Judge. There was another Bill which we passed the other evening under which we gave the right to people whose animals or vehicles were taken from them of going to a County Court Judge to get their claims for compensation dealt with. And in this case there is an amount of interference for more violent titan any which is contemplated in either of these other Acts. You descend upon a perfectly innocent individual, a man who may be running a highly specialised industry; you invade his premises; you convert his plant and remove it if it does not suit you; and I must say that it seems to me quite obvious that you cannot altogether exclude the idea of compensation in such a case. What I take it we should all desire to avoid is the encouragement of exorbitant claims and also any arrangement under which these claims would be likely to involve the Government in prolonged litigation. The noble Marquess said, and said rightly, that the idea of having recourse in cases of this kind to the full-blown procedure of the Lands Clauses Acts would be impossible. I quite agree. But I venture to think it should be made clear—I should have thought it might have been made clear on the face of the Bill—at any rate it should be made clear by the language of Ministers that there is no question that we recognise the right of the individual to reasonable compensation in cases where he is a pecuniary sufferer by the action of His Majesty's Government. The noble Marquess was good enough to tell us that His Majesty's Government intended to set up a Committee for the purpose of dealing with these claims, and I feel sure that no better president for that body could be selected than the hon. Member of Parlia- ment whose name the noble Marquess mentioned—Mr. Duke. Perhaps the noble Marquess will consider whether the reference to the Committee might not be couched in terms which would leave no doubt as to the intention of the Government to give compensation, which I suppose would be described as reasonable compensation having regard to all the circumstances of the ease, whenever such compensation seemed to be desirable. I can only say that I hope in these respects this Bill will afford the means of making good a part of the leeway to which the noble and gallant Field-Marshal referred, and that he will be able to tell us before we are much older that there is no longer any disappointment with regard to the manner in which the orders given by His Majesty's Government are fulfilled by the contractors.

There is one other point in the Bill as to which I should like to say two or three words. It is, I think, quite clear that under this Bill His Majesty's Government intend to take power not only to deal with the plant in these factories and workshops but also with the labour employed in them. The speech of the noble and gallant Field-Marshal left us under no misapprehension on that point. I am bound to say that if that is the intention of His Majesty's Government they are to my mind amply justified in asking for powers to deal with that part of the case. I trust that it may not be found necessary to exercise those powers or to exercise them often, but if the occasion does arise I feel sure that they will be exercised fearlessly and without hesitation. I say this although I am one of those who have always in and out of this House stood up for the right of Labour to combine, who have always believed that our great trade unions, far from being a danger to the community, were really a source of safety to it. But while I hold those views as strongly as I ever held them, I feel that at a moment like the present there should be some power in the Government of the country to interfere if the circumstances require it. I can understand—we can all of us understand—that there should be in the minds of the men at times a feeling of weariness of long hours and of overtime, that there should be a suspicion that they are not getting the share to which they are entitled of the large profits which are undoubtedly being made at the present time in some cases; but I cannot help believing that differences upon such points as these should not be beyond our power to compose, and I have no doubt that under this Bill means will be found of composing them. It is to my mind intolerable that at a time like the present our productive powers should be in jeopardy of paralysis from causes of this kind. We congratulate ourselves upon the fact that, owing to our great superiority at sea and owing to our insular position, our factories and workshops have escaped the fate which has fallen upon factories and workshops in Belgium and in the North of France. But, my Lords, it is terrible to think that our great industries should run the risk of being sapped and destroyed by an enemy within our own gates, and that the ranks of that enemy should be recruited from those who are the brothers of the men who are giving their lives for us at the Front. I trust that this reproach will be removed. If it remains, and if His Majesty's Government have to deal with it, they will have the support of the country in dealing with it vigorously. At any rate, I feel sure that when the appeal which was made just now by the noble and gallant Field-Marshal to the workmen of the country comes to their knowledge, many of those who, as the noble and gallant Earl told us, really do not realise what kind of a struggle this country is engaged in, will see that the time has come when they must settle their differences with their employers by some means other than action which would arrest the industrial progress of the country and deprive it of things which are as necessary to it as the food upon which the people live or the munitions of war with which they defend themselves.


My Lords, I was very glad to hear the weighty words which have just fallen from the noble Marquess with regard to this question, coupled with those contained in the speech of the noble and gallant Field-Marshal. I feel sure that those remarks will be read with interest, and will have great weight throughout the country. That in many parts of the country the people do not yet realise the position in which we are with regard to this war I have not the slightest doubt, and I am confident that the speech of the noble and gallant Field-Marshal as to the requirements which are necessary will do more to open the eyes of the country than perhaps anything that we have had put before us up to the present time.

This Bill has been well described as a most drastic measure. I doubt whether any powers have been asked from Parliament at any time in the history of this country so drastic as these. This Bill practically gives a blank cheque to His Majesty's Government to take over any works which they feel disposed to take over. There is no compensation mentioned, but it is left entirely to the Government to say what special compensation should be given. I realise the necessity for the demand which the Government are making. This is a time when everybody must make great sacrifices. All classes should realise their duty in the interests of our Empire, and when the facts are brought before the workmen of the country and they see the necessity for co-operating with their employers and the Government in getting the output up to the highest possible point, I cannot help thinking that the workmen will respond. I realise that there have been difficulties owing to the restrictions of the trade unions with regard to the output of the various industries, but if the trade unions were satisfied that the restrictions if removed now would not be removed permanently but only until the war is finished, I do not think that His Majesty's Government would have very much difficulty in inducing them to waive the restrictions which now operate so badly against production. I come into contact with workmen to a large extent, and I am happy to say that the two counties which I represent—Northumberland and Durham—stand highest of all the counties in Great Britain for the number of recruits they have sent to the Colours. Northumberland has sent no less than 33 battalions and Durham has sent 26. Surely you cannot accuse workmen of any disloyalty when they are prepared to come forward in that way. I cannot help thinking, therefore, that when once workmen generally realise the necessity of a Bill of this kind the noble and gallant Field-Marshal will get all the output that he requires.

Something has been said with regard to the delay in bringing forward this measure. I cannot help thinking that it would have been better if it had been brought forward earlier, because it would have had a great effect in opening the eyes of many people in this country to the serious position in which we are placed. To me it seems an extraordinary thing, when this country has probably the vastest productive power of any country in the world, that we should be deficient in ammunition, in guns, or in anything else that is required for military purposes. If the Government find that the present works which have been supplying munitions in time of peace are not equal to supplying them in time of war, surely they are justified in utilising some of the other works which have not been devoting their time to this kind of production. As soon as they saw they were likely to be deficient in munitions of war it would have been very much better had they brought forward a Bill like this, drastic though it is.

I was glad to hear the question of compensation so ably dealt with by the noble Marquess. Of course, you must give compensation in a reasonable way to any one individual or company, who suffers serious loss. These individuals pay their rates and taxes like everybody else, and the Government could not expect to get a special sacrifice from them without giving reasonable compensation. Let the burden be borne in a proper and fair way. I realise that if it were made a statutory obligation, unless it were very carefully hedged round, the demands would be exorbitant. We have seen in cases where the Government required land, houses, or property, that very often most exorbitant demands have been made. We do not want to have that in connection with this matter. But I hope that when the Committee is appointed it will be impartial and have full power to deal with compensation outside any Department of the State. I trust that it will take a reasonable and fair view of the serious losses which any particular individual may suffer owing to this great power which is given to the Government. There are many men who have worked the whole of their lives to get into their present position, and if he Government take over their works and apply them to other purposes these men will lose practically the whole benefit that they have been striving for all their lives. In many instances their good-will will be gone; their customers will have gone; and naturally they will suffer great loss. I do not ask for any unreasonable compensation, but I feel sure that any impartial Committee which had power to go into these matters would give what is reasonable and avoid giving an extravagant figure.

This is, as I have said, a great power which is being given to the Government. I fully recognise that this is a special time, and that we are in great difficulties, but I hope that this will not form a precedent in the future. It should be clearly recognised that the present is a special case owing to the serious condition in which the country is placed by this war, and the action now taken should not form a precedent should the Government wish to take over other industries at any other time. I am satisfied, too, that the Government will be very careful how these particular industries are managed. It is an easy matter to take over special works, but after all the duty of the Government is to consider whether by so doing they will increase the production above what it would probably be if the works remained in the hands of the various owners and those owners were asked to go in for the special productions that the Government required. I am not much of a believer in Government management of yards and works, and I hope that the Government will put this matter into the hands of some very able men to advise them or to control the works. On this will depend a great deal whether the concern is successful or not. It is like our great Army and Navy. Whether they are successful or not depends very largely upon the people who are at the head of them and control them. I hope that before the Government definitely fix into whose hands they will put these great powers they will see that they are men who are likely to justify the position and realise the Government's expectations. Many of the best men will not apply for these posts, but there are men who are managing great industries in the country, who have great reputations, and who could be got if they were asked to come and assist the Government in this matter. I hope that His Majesty's Government will not hesitate to go outside the ordinary applicants and ask some of those gentlemen, many of whom are pretty well known, to come forward in a time of emergency of this kind and render their valuable services to the Government.

This Bill not only applies to the Army; it applies to the Navy as well, I gather. Many people in the country do not realise what our Navy is doing. I have myself heard many complaints. People are asking what the Navy is doing. My answer has always been that one of the chief things it is doing is that of protecting our trade routes, and that we have cheap food at the present time owing entirely to His Majesty's Navy. We have seen some little advance in prices with regard to various things that we import, but the increase is nothing to what it would have been had not the Navy been on the constant watch and protected our trade routes as admirably as it has done. There is one little suggest on I should like to make to His Majesty's Government. I see in subsection (2) of Clause 1 a provision to this effect— It is hereby declared that where the fulfilment by any person of any contract is interfered with by the necessity on the part of himself or any other person of complying with any requirement, regulation, or restriction of the Admiralty or the Army Council under the Defence of the Realm Consolidation Act, 1914, or this Act, or any regulations made thereunder, that necessity is a good defence to any action or proceedings taken against that person in respect of the non-fulfilment of the contract so far as it is due to that interference. That is a very necessary subsection, but in my judgment it does not go far enough. It ought to apply to what has been done in the past, and I think if it were to be taken hack to apply to anything that had been done since the declaration of war it would remove many difficulties which are existing at the present time. Most employers are very anxious to assist the Government, but there are people who will not relieve their contractors from the covenants of their contracts because they have taken Government work. I hope that His Majesty's Government, when this Bill goes into Committee, will put in a clause to provide for that particular matter.

On Question, Bill read 2a.


My Lords, I am entirely in the hands of the House as to whether this Bill should be proceeded with now, or whether the Committee stage should be deferred until to-morrow, when there is some business on the Paper which will probably occupy a considerable time. I do not know whether there is any proba- bility that noble Lords will desire to put down Amendments on this Bill. My noble friend who has just spoken mentioned a particular point with reference to subsection (2) of Clause 1, the scope of which he thought might be somewhat extended. I did not precisely apprehend how far back my noble friend thought that the freedom given by this subsection ought to extend. He will observe that the subsection applies not merely to this Act but also to the Defence of the Realm Consolidation Act which became law on November 27 last. That was the first Act by which we had taken powers to interfere with the output of works supplying war material. Therefore I did not quite follow what my noble friend's desire was with regard to a further extension of this power. He could not, I think, have proposed that it should apply to engagements between parties which had no special reference to the supply of material to the Government. I should be glad if he would explain precisely what the point is.


I want it to be retrospective to the beginning of the war; but, failing that, certainly retrospective to the time when the Government took the powers under the 1914 Act. This subsection, I imagine, only applies to any case which may arise after the present Bill is passed.


I think any contract under the Act of 1914 would be included.


My noble friend can attain his object by Changing the word "is" into "has been." The whole of the period of the war would then be covered.


That is a matter for Committee. I hope the Government will give the point consideration.


The point that my noble friend has raised is an important one, and therefore I think it would not be wise to proceed with the Committee stage at this moment, but to take it to-morrow, if the noble Marquess opposite agrees.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House To-morrow.