§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ EARL STANHOPE
My Lords, an increase in the production of flax throughout the Empire and particularly in the United Kingdom is a subject that I feel sure will appeal to your Lordships' House. Within the past twelve months a very remarkable increase has been made in the acreage under flax in England and Scotland, and assistance has also been given for the production of flax in British East Africa and in Canada. If your Lordships will agree to the passing of this Bill it is hoped still further to stimulate the production of flax in the United Kingdom, and particularly in Ireland.
Arrangements have been made for a very considerable extension of the acreage under flax in Ireland, and the necessary money will be advanced by banks, part of it being guaranteed by the linen companies, and part of it (with the consent of the Treasury) by the War Department. It was found that several of the trading companies concerned who wished to advance money for this purpose had not powers to do so under their memorandum and articles of association. The companies, of course, could have made individual application under the Companies Acts to have an alteration made in their articles and memorandum. It was felt to be simpler and perhaps quicker that the matter should be put right by Statute, following the precedent of munition powers, by which companies were allowed, despite what was contained in their memorandum, to engage in munition work in the early part of the war.
This Bill enables any company, association, or body of persons in the United Kingdom who desire to come to the assistance of the State in increasing the production of flax, subject to the consent of the Board of Trade, to take shares, become guarantors, or to lend money for that purpose. The interests of the shareholders are, of course, protected by its being necessary to pass a resolution at a general meeting of the company. The Bill imposes no obligation on anybody; it merely removes an obstacle in the path of those who desire to help the country by promoting the production of one of the vital commodities required for the war. In view 855 of the ever-increasing demands of the Air Service for linen fabric, and of the large demands of the Admiralty and War Office, and in view also of the elimination of Russia and Belgium as sources of supply, I hope that your Lordships will give a not less favourable consideration to this Bill than it has received already in another place. The Bill is a very short one consisting of but one clause, and I trust, therefore, that your Lordships will be prepared to give it a Second Reading.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Earl Stanhope.)
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.