HL Deb 11 November 1918 vol 31 cc1122-48

LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH had the following Questions on the Paper—

To ask His Majesty's Government—

  1. 1. What steps have been taken to ensure that on the cessation of the manufacture of munitions of war in various works, such works can return to the manufacture of their peace products with as little delay as possible.
  2. 2. Whether any decision has been arrived at with regard to the question of the period of control.
  3. 3. Whether any plans have been formulated by the Government with regard to the necessarily large quantity of material and stores which they still possess; and whether it has been possible to make the various trades acquainted with such plans.
  4. 4. Whether any scheme has been prepared for the redistribution of labour and material, more especially with regard to those works which have been established during the war for the manufacture of war supplies and munitions for the fighting forces.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise with some hesitation to descend to the ordinary business of the House after the portentous and, I venture to say, most satisfactory announcement to which we have just listened, from the Bench opposite. But, having consulted representatives of His Majesty's Government, I think I shall be best advised in proceeding with the Question of which I have given notice, in as much as, having regard to the business for the other days of this week and next week, it is not probable that I should have another opportunity of doing so.

My Lords, I put down my Questions with no spirit of hostility to the Government, and hardly in that of criticism. If there is any criticism implied, it is an apprehension that plans for the great transformation from war to peace have not been sufficiently advanced by the foresight of those responsible. I think I am not wrong in saying that until this morning no announcement of concerted plans on the part of any Government Department had been made public, and so far as the outside public is concerned, there is no evidence of any preparation on the part of those concerned. It was on account of that fact that I ventured to go so far as to put this Question on the Paper about the middle of last week. It is common ground for all of us that this country had made no preparation for the war, and in consequence was found unprepared. Our anxiety now is that it should not be found equally unprepared for peace. It is impossible to over-state the difficulty and the complexity of all the points involved, but I hope that I shall not be thought wrong in doing so.

I venture to call attention to the fact that in the Report of the Committee on Commercial and Industrial Policy after the War, of which I was chairman and which presented its Report eleven months ago, this matter was fully dealt with. In the Report of that Committee a chapter is devoted to stating the circumstances as they then existed, and to setting forth the far-reaching methods of control of industry and of all descriptions of trade and of export with foreign and neutral countries which the war had made necessary. It is the fact that most drastic restrictions have been imposed on imports for the purpose of maintaining foreign exchanges, and for economising tonnage, while in the case of many important food-stuffs and raw materials the Government has assumed complete responsibility and is exercising the closest control over prices and distribution. The difficulties arising from the shortage of labour and materials, caused by the requirements of the Army, the manufacture of munitions, and the control of shipping have all been affected by regulations regarding production and manufacture, and as we all know, the Government have taken actual possession of mines, railways, and canals. It is not going too far to say that some classes of manufacture have been entirely prohibited and others have been very severely restricted. These are simply examples of the vast and complicated network of regulations and restrictions by means of which the numerous Departments and specially-created Committees have been controlling British industry during the period of the war.

It is obvious to everybody that under such conditions the normal commercial and industrial operations of the country have been carried on with the greatest difficulty. British merchants and manufacturers have acquiesced with a loyalty which is beyond all praise in these conditions during the war, but there is a widespread demand that these restrictions should be removed at the earliest possible date after peace is declared. In the Report to which I have alluded we inserted this paragraph— We recognise that it will be necessary to continue, for some period after the war, some portion of the control of home and foreign trade imposed during the war to which we have referred in the preceding paragraph. It is not possible for us at the present time to certify the precise measures which will be required. They will depend upon a number of factors which cannot be accurately determined. That was so at the time when the Report was drafted. But in a subsequent paragraph we recommended that the Government policy should be so framed as to keep within the narrowest possible limits such restrictive measures as it may be necessary to continue, and that every effort should be made to restore normal industrial conditions within the shortest possible time, subject always to the essential needs of the country, and to our obligations to the Allies.

The last quotation that I shall venture to make from the Report was in these words— The early restoration of unrestricted dealing in the markets of this country and the world at competitive prices is essential to the re-establishment of British industry and commerce on a sound basis. It is essentially important, with a view to the maintenance of the foreign exchanges and the recovery of our position in the markets of the world, that our general export trade should be freed, as soon as possible, from all unnecessary restrictions both as regards its nature and amount and the channel through which it would normally flow. May I go so far as to express a hope that these words embody the policy of His Majesty's Government. I know that a great variety of different circumstances will have to be taken into account. I am most anxious that this policy should be considered by some authority which has supreme control, and that a definite policy should be announced, so that all interests may regulate their procedure by the announcements made. I attach the greatest importance to there being one supreme authority so far as the public is concerned—some authority which will have power to control and to regulate the proceedings of the different Departments.

I know quite well that there are many matters which concern equally the interests of the military forces and civic interests. My Lords, it is there that I hope that the supreme control will come into effect. I trust that I am not unjust to the military authorities when I say that so far as our experience of the past is concerned we think that the military authorities are apt to regard too exclusively military interests. It may be that they cannot know, that they cannot understand, trade difficulties and trade circumstances, but I venture to say that in such matter's as agriculture, mining operations, and things of that kind, we have over and over again come face to face with the fact that these great interests have not been sufficiently considered by those who have had power in time of war in military matters. I know well that there are a great variety of things to be taken into account. There has to be taken into account the length of the service of the individual man, the place where he may happen to he stationed, and his distance front home. It is also fair to take into account his age, whether he is married or single, and what his conditions of life may be. Moreover, there have to be considered the interests of the trade and industries to which the men respectively belong, and the wants and wishes of the men themselves, whether they are inclined to go back to the same industries and whether in those industries there will be room for them. We all hope that our loyalty, and the loyalty of all our fellow-subjects, to them will be such that if those heroes who have been doing our work abroad desire to go back to their places those places will be kept open for them. But all this requires regulation and care, and unless there is some supreme authority having control I think that we run the risk of great confusion.

There is one matter to which I should like especially to call the attention of the noble Viscount who, I believe, will reply. I think that the circumstances of the young men who were studying for the learned professions, who have given up their education, who have run the risk of breaking the careers of their lives, deserve the most thorough consideration. It is also in the interests of the State that the doctors and the learned professions and the clergy should be recruited so far as it may be possible. Let me give the House—I will not occupy more time than I can possibly help—one instance which I know from personal knowledge? At the outbreak of war the number of students entering the Divinity course of the Theological Faculties of the Scottish Universities was about fifty. In 1917 there were only two left; they had all gone to military service. The average annual number of vacancies arising from deaths in the Church in Scotland is over forty; and from what I have said, I am sure your Lordships will understand—and I think the Government also will understand—that there is a case for releasing that class of young man, whose whole future career is at stake, as speedily as it may be possible.

Then there are the questions affecting the great army of women workers. These women have responded to the call of the country; they have done their duty nobly; they deserve the fullest consideration, and the fullest measure of fair play. I am certain that they would be willing to make way for those who have served the country in arms; but those women who desire it must be as far as possible continued in their employments, and continued in their employments on fair and reasonable terms. In all these matters I think it is "up to" the Government (if I may say so) to give a distinct lead. Without that distinct lead there can be nothing, in my humble opinion, but confusion and chaos.

I will make no further preliminary remarks, but will call your Lordships attention to the terms of the first Question on the Paper. That Question deals with two classes of factories and works—those which are in old-established spheres of industry and have been controlled, and those which are large new works specially founded by the Government. We are anxious to know what is to be the line taken in regard to these two great processes of institutions. Take first the matter of the firms controlled by the Government for the period of the war, and how long afterwards this control is to continue. I know the circumstances of one large factory in the North of England which was occupied in the manufacture of locomotives. They handed over the whole of their works to the Government for the manufacture of howitzer carriages in the early part of 1915, and they have not been Able to make any locomotives since. They employ about 3,000 hands. The whole of their competitors in this country have continued to manufacture nearly 50 per cent. of their usual trade. This firm was working full time on munitions, including Saturdays and Sundays at double rates. They have asked whether they cannot stop this Saturday and Sunday work, but have been told to carry on. That may now, of course, be altered. It is estimated that it will take three months properly to reconvert the machinery from suitability for munitions to suitability for locomotive making; and surely it would have been a reasonable thing on the part of the Government to allow that firm to slow down and gradually to change, letting some proportion of its premises and its hands be turned back to locomotive making.

If I understood rightly the announcement which was made earlier this afternoon, some thousands of locomotives are to be handed over to the Allies. I do not know how many of those locomotives will reach this country, nor do I know whether the gauge would be suitable if they did come here; but I can tell your Lordships, that the railway company with which I Am concerned requires eighty locomotives at the present time, and they will probably have to pay three or four times as much for them now as they would have had to pay for them four or five years ago. I know of another large railway company that wants 150 locomotives; and surely it is of great importance to the future Arrangement of trade and traffic in this country that these demands should be considered and dealt with as soon as possible.

Then what is to be done with the new factories which have been created by the Government? Are they to be leased, or sold, or pulled down, or kept on by the Government? If so, to what purposes are they to be turned? Then there are the questions of ordnance, of explosives, of projectiles, and of aircraft. What is to be done with the raw material which has been accumulated for these things? Surely it ought as far as possible to be, in part at any rate, placed at the disposal of ordinary manufacture.

With regard to the other questions, some of them have reference to the displacement of labour. Supposing that munition works can be stopped, what is to be done with those who have been working in these munition works? They cannot all be turned adrift at once. You cannot, go on making munitions so soon as we are sure of peace. If you do not make munitions you cannot instantly begin to make other things. You will have to have regard to the interests of these men and women. It is obviously not in the public interest or, I go so far as to say, even in their own interests, that they should be paid full wages for doing nothing. I saw an announcement in the paper this morning, but I am afraid that I have not had time—having regard to all the other employments of the day—to study it, and I express no opinion upon it except to say that so far as I can judge it proceeds upon sound lines; but I can see no reason why that announcement could not have been made some weeks ago.

There will be other labour questions to settle. There will be the allocation of labour to various commercial undertakings, and there will be all the intricate questions which surround what are known as trade union rules. I know something of the difficulties and complexities of the situation; I do not suppose that any intelligent man can avoid knowing something of them. I have every hope that with a wise lead, and with the wise guidance and help of the best minds, both amongst employers and amongst the men, a settlement will be arrived at on these questions; but up to the present time, although there are associations both of employers and of men endeavouring to come to an agreement, we have not yet so far as I know had any real lead on the part of the Government. It is for that lead, and for that guidance which will concentrate discussion, that I am anxious to make an appeal to-day.

Only one word more You cannot overrate the importance of this period of transition. The sooner you get through transition the better; the sooner you get back to normal conditions the better; and it is for promptitude, and for ability, and for the foresight with which the necessary changes must be faced, that. I make an appeal. The more you can give in that direction the more you will lay the foundation of getting back to the really sound commercial prosperity to which we all look forward in the times of pace for which we hope. I beg to ask the Questions standing in my name on the Paper.


My Lords, before my, noble friend on the Front Bench replies to the Questions that have been put to him by the noble Lord, I ask leave to say a few words in addition to what Lord Balfour has said. My noble friend has covered a great deal of ground in a speech of very great interest. I am going to deal with only one part of this question, and one that arises incidentally out of the broader question he has raised. I think I have said before in this House that I attach the utmost importance to our getting our export trade into free working order at the earliest possible moment. It is in regard to that matter that I have one or two practical suggestions to bring before your Lordships. It is, I think, germane to this subject because Lord Balfour's Motion refers to the works which have been employed in munitions returning to the manufacture of their peace products. If they are to do that they must have an outlet for those products, and it is particularly in regard to that part of the question that I want to say a few words.

During the war there have been in this country an enormous number of controlling organisations. In the earlier period of the war those organisations were set up for blockade considerations. There were a number of organisations, with which Lord Balfour and I are very well acquainted, for seeing that our exports did not get into the hands of the enemy, and I think I may say in regard to them quorum pars parva fui. There were also organisations set up for the purpose of discriminating between those who were our friends in-neutral countries and those who were doing their best to assist the enemy—and very necessary these organisations were. In the later period of the war the chief consideration which has been before His Majesty's Government and before Departments such as mine, which control exports, has been the necessity of conserving supplies for home purposes, particularly for the purposes of the war, and in regard to this question organisations have been set up for granting priority certificates, and indeed for controlling, almost from start to finish, many processes of manufacture. The tendency of all those control Departments has naturally been, when there is any fear of shortage, to refuse any thing for which there is a demand for export. I think there are very few people who realise how much our trade has been interfered with during this war. I never knew myself, until I had the experience that I have gained in the War Trade Department, how many valuable: trades are carried on in this country in the manufacture of what are called proprietary articles, in which perhaps some small quantity of oil or metal or something of that kind required for war purposes has been necessary. Many of those trades, as Lord Balfour has said, have had to be almost shut up, and a valuable export trade has bee for the time lost, which I think, we ought as quickly as possible to try and regain.

We have diverted and curtailed our exports to an enormous extent, for the figures of value of our export trade are no criterion to the quantities, and the quantities that are now going abroad are merely a fraction of what they were when this war began. Another thing we have done necessarily by our controlling organisations is that we have interfered with the taking of post, war contracts; by our manufacturers and merchants. The question is, how are we to salve what can be salved of the trade that we possessed before the war? How are we to take advantage of the present high prices, which certainly will not last very long? I think the answer is that we must set free as far as possible trade from the shackles which now bird it. We must abolish at the earliest possible moment—I admit that it cannot be done at once—as many as possible of our controls, and at the same time, we shall get rid, I hope, of the Departments that now grant priority certificates. I know this cannot be done at once. The shortage of shipping alone means that there must be a control of imports, and if there is a control of imports that more or less conditions what you can do with exports. There is I think, before another place a Bill called the Imports and Exports (Temporary Control) Bill; I confess I wanted that Bill introduced a year or more ago, and I am afraid that introducing it so late may have led to an increase of opposition to it. But I do say most emphatically that some such Bill is absolutely essential. We cannot possibly: afford at this time to allow ourselves to be denuded of food and raw materials absolutely essential to our industry. We must keep control and be able to prevent export of food—of raw materials for. Margarine—of cotton, wool, and a great many other commodities for the supply of which we are dependent upon other countries. But what can be done is to free as soon as possible the export of manufactured goods, and I want to ask my noble friend who represents the Government on this occasion to represent to the Government the desirability of the point that Lord Balfour has raised of their being some big controlling authority who will attend to all these various questions.

In my own Department I set up a Committee, as soon as I thought it was wise to do so, to consider our Prohibited Export List with a view to making recommendations. Those recommendations I shall have to make to the Board of Trade, but I hope that the higher authorities in His Majesty's Government will attend to this matter and see that these recommendations are looked into, and as soon as possible in regard to any goods of which we are not very short in this country that some of our export restrictions may be relaxed. I am not asking that they should be taken off altogether, but I am asking that in regard to a great many commodities they should be removed from what we technically know as List A to List C. That is to say, that they should be only controlled in the blockade area and not as regards the other markets of the world. Mr. Churchill, in his speech the other day, said that two-thirds of the munition workers were ordinarily on peace work, and he thought that the transfer back to peace work would be very much facilitated by that fact. I agree, if only we give them something to do when they are transferred to their peace work; and I think the way to encourage that transfer is to abolish as soon as we safely can all the restrictions on the export of manufactured goods. Our manufacturing capacity in ordinary times is so great, our dependence on our export trade in order that we may be able to pay for our imports is also so great, that I would urge the Government, when there is a doubt, to err on the side of freedom rather than keeping these restrictions on too long. I am told that such a scheme would encourage wild speculation. Prices are enormously high now compared with pre-war prices. Cotton goods are three or four times as high, wool and silk goods two or three times as high, and in regard to everything prices have gone up enormously. My own opinion is that there is much more fear of a dangerous slump of prices coming pretty quickly than there is of undue speculation if prices of manufactured articles are allowed to go free.

Therefore I would urge that the utmost freedom should be allowed as soon as possible in the export of manufactured goods—first, because manufacturers will be very much hampered in making contracts if they have an uncertainty as to whether they will be allowed a licence for the goods that they are manufacturing, and also by the actual delay in getting licences—about which I know a good deal when, as is sometimes the case, I have to consult some half a dozen different Departments about the matter. In the second place, I want to see our manufacturers obtaining the advantage of present high prices rather than having to wait until the slump comes. And thirdly, and most important, I do want to see us do all that we can to try to prevent the unemployment that may be very soon upon us unless we can get our export trade going into satisfactory channels once more.

I may give one concrete example—I think it was mentioned by Lord Balfour. Mr. Churchill said the other day that the flow of steel and iron for making shells and stampings and forgings of all kinds can be arrested and legitimately arrested. That flow, I take it, will now be arrested, but it is not only a question of iron and steel; there is copper and lead and a good many other metals, which have been, in short supply, but will now be, in ample supply, available for manufacturing purposes. When that flow is arrested, when those commodities are diverted from the making of munitions to ordinary peace trade purposes, then at the same time surely there ought to be a relaxation of any prohibitions of export which are on List A to List C. There ought to be a relaxation of the export prohibition so that the manufacturer will know what he can do with his goods, and will be able to make contracts without having to go to the Government to ask whether he can carry out those contracts.

We have heard to-night, in the profoundly important statement which has been made of the terms of Armistice—I think I am correct in my understanding of it—that what we know as the blockade is to be continued for the time being. Of course, I am not advocating that anything which is necessary in the way of blockade should be interfered with. The blockade is a political and military question which will be settled by our statesmen and the statesmen of the Allies, who have this matter in hand; but in any case our blockade policy is concerted with our Allies and their consent would have to be obtained to any change. I merely wish to express the hope that before long even in Europe there may be some relaxation of the restrictions on export. The reason I have urged this question to-night is that it does seem to me to be urgent and vital. If the Cabinet leaves this matter without instruction there may be delay in the Departments in carrying out the policy which ought to be carried out. I want to see delay and mischief avoided by timely and resolute action in regard to this matter


My Lords, in the four Questions on the Paper my noble friend has raised the gravest questions which lie ahead of this country. At this moment these questions are thick upon us, and unless the crucial problem of resettlement is satisfactorily settled there can be no social peace or industrial contentment after the war. The question is raised not perhaps in its entirety, but I venture not so much for the moment to deal with the labour side of it, although I happen to be vice-chairman of the Resettlement Committee under the Ministry of Labour, which has been considering these matters for the past year. The whole of the problem of resettlement depends upon the supply of raw materials, and it is not only a question of exports but also of imports that has to be considered, as my noble friend who has just spoken knows full well. I do not in the least think that the Government have neglected to take advice on all these questions, but the advice has come before they are quite prepared to act upon it, and the problems will arise not in the course of months but in the course of weeks and even days, and will have to be dealt with.

As a matter of fact, the Government two years ago appointed a Committee under Mr. Montagu, the Secretary of State for India, to advise as to reconstruction, and had presented to them also the detailed report of a body of economists competent to speak in regard to every trade, but it had to deal necessarily with conditions as they were then and could only make a forecast from the probabilities which presented themselves to their view. A great many of their conclusions are necessarily somewhat out of date. There have been other inquiries, and the noble Viscount has in his hands the Reports of the Ministry of Reconstruction. They deal with the problem of raw material in all branches of trade, but nothing can exceed the difficulty of re-establishing some of the trades unless there is a large and privileged im- portation of the raw material required for the immediate purposes of their business.

I take again the building trade by way of example. There is no stock of raw material for the building trade in this country, I believe, except a certain reserve of slates. Above all, there is no seasoned timber here. I want to know whether provision is being made for priority treatment for the importation of timber, and what applies to timber applies to other raw materials in that great industry, which had the greatest outflow of any prior to the war, and which may be expected, provided there is a sufficiency of raw materials, to recover the quickest from the effects of the war. The building trade is a crucial one because it will have the largest outflow of any when the Army is disbanded. It lost the whole of its pivotal men, and the men employed in various branches to the extent of 50 per cent.; but it is no good bringing back these men and thinking there can be any extension of the activities of the industry, unless raw materials can be provided and put to a proper use.

What I fear is that there has not been up to the present sufficient co-ordination with regard to trade necessities and I think the responsibility for providing for them ought to be very definitely fixed. You have many Departments dealing with reconstruction. They have had a multitude of Committees sitting, many of them crossing one another at every turn but not necessarily conflicting on that account. I think that in regard to these matters we have really passed the Committee stage, and that no matter how imperfect the conclusions may be at this moment, it is necessary for the Government, through the War Cabinet, to grasp the matter for itself in all its bearings and to try to see how far under very different conditions the demands of the various trades can be met. I am well aware chat they have a priority list. The priority list is not a scientific one, and it will require tremendous effort to arrange it in order to bring back the men not only in proportion to their outflow to the services of the Crown for the war, but also in conformity with the conditions of the market with regard to raw materials.

I hope that the noble Viscount will be able to tell us who is responsible for this matter. It cannot be the Minister for Reconstruction, because he is not an executive officer of the Crown. He exists only in an advisory capacity to the different Ministries, and I have no doubt he has rendered great services, but at the same time he cannot himself be charged with the responsibility because he has no administrative work of that sort under his hand. He has to work the whole time through other Departments, without any authority over them, and it is only through the War Cabinet that his influence can be exercised. It is in the supply of raw materials in all trades that the re-employment of the men depends. So far as one can see, it is the discharge of the civil workers that is coming first. It has been published in the newspapers to-day that the civil workers who are going out of employment now are each one of them to take an unemployment certificate lasting for thirteen weeks during the next six months, covering various rates of payment—24s. for men and I think 20s. for women with a smaller amount for juvenile employees. Nobody can say that that it is an illiberal grant, but I believe it may have to be extended in some cases for a longer period of time.

We are all rejoicing over the Armistice of to-day, but unfortunately in regard to the working of the machinery there has not been time to supply the Employment Exchanges with the lists of those who are about to be discharged, and they have not yet been registered. I hope that in the next week the registration will be completed, but it is very doubtful, however perfect the register may be, whether it will be possible to absorb the great mass of working people who will practically be out of employment in three weeks from now. In these circumstances, pursuing the line of policy that we all wish to see carried through—that is to say, that those who have served the State well in any capacity should have the most generous treatment consistent with public policy—I cannot see myself that the period of the unemployment certificate should be limited to thirteen weeks. I am very much inclined to think that they should be as liberally treated—I do not think I am at liberty to disclose the period of time—as the men who have served in the Forces of the Crown. Otherwise, I fear there may not be sufficient time for the re-engagement in industry of that proportion of women who mean to maintain their industrial independence.

Inquiring in the various parts of the country from those who are responsible for the Women's Department of our Employment Exchanges I gather that it is quite clear that great numbers of these women mean to pursue an industrial career. A certain proportion now leaving will quickly take themselves back to home life and domestic duties, but that is not the case in regard to the great majority. Most of them will be desirous to be re-employed. and the House must bear in mind that there are one and a half millions more women now in industrial employment in this country than there were before the war, so that there is a great number who will have to be taken on for various processes of industry which they were not in before and about which there is no general agreement with the trade unions.

Unfortunately, the time has not been sufficient for the Joint Industrial Councils which have been set up under the Whitley Report, in some cases even to meet, certainly not to consider any of these questions of principle. If there had been a longer interval no doubt they might have been able to settle, as between the employers and employed who sit there in equal numbers, what attitude would be accorded to the women by the trade unions in many of those branches of industry which they have entered for the first time during the war. That, however, cannot be now, because it has not been possible, and consequently you are facing this question of women's re-employment without any definite agreement with the trade unions or federations. Many of us think it is not desirable that women should continue to be employed in some trades, heavy trades, to a large extent at all events, but, on the other hand, some, such as lace work and others, no doubt they will be slow to leave and it is not very desirable that they should be forced out.

So far as I know there is no general agreement, and that will make it more difficult still for these women who, in three weeks, are to leave the filling factories and the munition works, to obtain work immediately. It is quite clear that the allowances made to men or women ought not to be so high as to prevent them from retaking their places in productive industry. That would be a mistake. Generous though it might be in its conception, it would retard and not advance the period of resettlement. Though I think the House would do well to consider it. I do not wish this afternoon to deal with the general question and problem of resettlement as it affects the Forces of the Crown. Lord Balfour of Burleigh has not raised it, and it is not desirable that more should be said about it.

It has certainly been fully considered by the Government. but I would ask my noble friend who is going to reply—In the first place, what arrangements have been made with regard to the importation of raw material; has a priority list been definitely settled and is it being at the present moment brought into execution? Secondly, are any efforts going to be made by the War Cabinet to settle with the trade unions the terms of women's re-employment as soon as possible?; and thirdly—most important of all—who is the Minister responsible for resettlement? I know from experience that the Minister of Labour has under his charge the whole of the resettlement, both of officers and men of the Army as well as civil workers, and that he has of course the general charge both of the Employment Exchanges and of the Appointments Department, but I do not understand what are his relations with the Minister for Reconstruction and how far the War Cabinet is now overriding both. It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of defining responsibility, and fixing it where it ought to be, and seeing to it that those who undertake it have the power to act as well as to advise.


My Lords, I rise not to prolog the discussion but in order to give some information which I think may be interesting to your Lordships and especially to my noble friend who will presently reply. The Association of Chambers of Commerce have had under consideration the position of firms engaged in munition work on the conclusion of hostilities and on the application of the "break" clause in Government contracts, and the Executive Committee have passed a very strong resolution which, with your permission. I will read— That the Executive Council of the Association of Chambers of Commerce of the United Kingdom is of the opinion that in view of the intimate connection between the liquidation of contracts by the Ministry of Munitions and the question of Reconstruction it appears desirable that the Ministry of Munitions and the Ministry of Reconstruction should be under one Minister who should be the strongest man the Government can find for the post. That is a strong resolutions, and it is a resolutions, I believe, which the commercial world will highly appreciate. I believe I am right in saying that the Federation of British Industries also approves of it. It was passed last week, and it has been communicated to Ministers and, I believe, to the Government generally. I thought that before my noble friend replied he might be put in possession of the views of a great body like the Association of Chambers of Commerce, and I am sure I am right in saying—although I have not been authorised to do so—that bodies such as the Federation of British Industries have similar views.


My Lords, in some ways I should have preferred to follow the noble Viscount in order that I might see how far he had relieved my anxieties by his reply, but I dare say it might be more convenient to him that I should raise my points first, so that he could embody in one reply anything he has to say upon them. We have heard this afternoon the terms of an Armistice which represent the final conclusion of the night male from which Europe has suffered, and we cannot wonder at the natural rejoicing in the street and elsewhere that has followed from it. But those who have to think responsibly of the future of industry and of the future of the country and of the resettlement of many questions will, I think, have all realised that an era of very great difficulty for everyone concerned will necessarily set in with the advent of peace.

Almost the first concrete reference to what was to be done was made in the speech—to which the noble Lord below the gangway opposite has already alluded—delivered last week by the Minister of Munitions. Speaking at the Ministry he gave an outline of t he Government scheme. I think there is not much to quarrel with in the picture that he drew, except that it seemed to me that in some matters he was willing to let the output of munitions go on longer than I hope may be necessary, and there was one sentence which may have been made inadvertently but which I think requires perhaps a little more explanation. Mr. Churchill said— I cannot suppose that the need of the use of war material on a great scale or the need for maintaining for a long period considerable armies will not be forced upon us. The need of maintaining considerable armies for the purposes of policing, I think, may very well be forced upon us by the conditions which we observe in Europe, but I do trust that no responsible person anticipates that there will be any longer the necessity for the use of war material on a great scale, that there will be no more engagements in the future, I hope, comparable with anything we have had on the Western Front. There are many difficulties, and there is one thing upon which I think we should all be agreed. The noble Lord below the gangway referred to it. It is that the sooner we can turn from the things we have been making to things which are useful to the community and profitable to the world, the better. We have been making implement of destruction and things which are destroyed—that is to say, using the material wealth of the world for these things instead of for useful things. We are all agreed about that. The sooner we can turn from making things which are wasteful to making things that are useful, the better. The point which has been referred to may, I think, present some difficulties in that respect, unless the Government looks at it with a rather larger eye than the Treasury is apt to give to these question.

I ask your Lordships to take the question with which I am connected. I am connected with more than one firm which has supplied the Government, and is still supplying them, with large quantities of munitions. Take, as an instance, the manufacture of aeroplane engines. One firm with which I am connected has the order to go on manufacturing aeroplane engines full blast, at its full capacity, for four months, and delivering those to the Government. I trust that the Government will not require those aeroplane engines. I can only imagine that if they are made and if they are delivered they will be put upon some scrap heap, or coralled in some field where they will rust; that they will not in all probability be used. And that is so all round, it applies, mutatis mutandis, to practically every other kind of munition industry. Is it not much better that they should be stopped not at the end of four months, but, if possible, at the end of four days?

Now comes a difficulty which I want to put to the noble Viscount, if I can have his attention for a moment. Obviously the manufacturer will make a profit out of those engines, and he will not readily consent to cease the manufacture of munitions unless there is some equivalent or some recompense for the profit he would make. He has to consider his business interests and the interests of his shareholders. Are the Treasury going to raise the usual sort of difficulty, saying they are not going to pay for things they have not got? It is a case, obviously, for a compromise, and I think it is very desirable that the Government and those concerned with these questions should consider whether it is not worth their while to pay a good deal on this account. They will not have to pay the same as for the finished product. But there should be a stoppage of the manufacture of a useless article for a period of days instead of weeks or months in order to allow the world to turn to the manufacture of articles which represent wealth to the community instead of waste. That will have to be considered, and if it is not considered will probably lead to delay, owing to the Treasury haggling over the question, and not taking a large view of it.

I agree entirely with what has been said as to the great difficulty there will be in the shortage of raw materials in every department; the enormous amount of steel and of many other important things like that, which may be, and probably will be, released by stopping the manufacture of engines, lorries, shells, and all these other things. There is a shortage of the amount of material required, a most serious shortage of timber, for instance, and other things required for the building trade, and I thing those who have control of the imports of this country will have to consider that carefully, and be ready to provide for that shortage if we are to make use of the labour when it is released.

While I am on the subject, I would like also to mention the question of the Excess Profits Duty. I saw a hint thrown out the other day that the Excess Profits Duty may be continued after the war. On what basis and for what reason that is to be continued any longer than a short period after the war, I hardly know. It ought not, I should think, to be continued until you have roped in all the excess profits which are due from war manufacturers. I think it will upset trade and industry if you do continue it long. The industries which have been manufacturing munitions have to face a difficult time; they have to face an idle period of three months or six months it may be, after the war. I do not know how far it has been considered, or how far they will want their Excess Profits Duty to be continued.

I should like also, if I may, to make a suggestion. In another part Lord Balfour of Burleigh spoke about the redistribution of labour. I think we all recognise that the demobilisation question is one of extraordinary difficulty. There is one small extent to which I think it might be eased, and I have not seen it suggested in public. I do not know what schemes are in the. pigeon-holes of the Government Departments or what schemes have reached pigeonholes and have stayed there. There is one step in demobilisation which might be taken at once, and that is the returning of men who have a definite position to return to. I will give you an instance of the personal service people, such as those who are drivers of motor cars, gardeners, estate labourers, and so on. In an enormous numbers of cases there must be people whose job are waiting for them, just the men, surely, to be wisely demobilised at the earliest possible moment. There must be a vast number of people in the position of foremen, commercial travellers, principal clerks, and people important in business, whose niche is waiting for these men to be put back into them, and where the business is suffering from want of them. Surely they should be demobilised and returned at the earliest possible moment. I do not say that accounts for more than a fraction of the whole lot, but every fraction you can get rid of out of the Army and return to civil life at the earliest moment is it definite advantage to the country, and I hope the authorities will consider those cases in arranging demobilisation.

Over and above those, there are a vast number of ordinary men, men in ordinary labouring life. An enormous number of employers have pledged themselves—and they have every intention of redeeming their pledges—to put back into their works men who have enlisted and have fought for their country, as soon as they can be got. I am not blind to the difficult question of the employers; primarily the Government have to deal with those as they arise. There are trade union decisions to consider in regard to female labour. We shall be involved in these difficulties and we shall have to do the best we can. But let us return to civil life as early as possible as many men as can be returned where they will be able instantly to fill the niche which they have occupied before. Let us turn to the making of useful material which the world is waiting for.


My Lords I think your Lordships will feel some admiration for my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh, that he has not let even an hour pass after the terms of the Armistice were settled before he has raised all these vexed questions of reconstruction and demobilisation which have to be dealt with almost immediately. But I can assure lay noble friend of this generally, that all these questions which he has raised and discussed have been, or many of them have been, for a long time, not only under consideration, investigation and examination, but that decisions also have been taken on a great many of them. Every one will agree with my noble friend that demobilisation and reconstruction are one vast question. Unfortunately it; is a question which has a great many aspects, and noble Lords speaking this evening have touched on a very large number of those aspects, and I am afraid that in the reply that I can now make I can hardly do justice to the great breadth and range of the matters which which they have dealt. Among other reasons, I cannot do so because the Minister of Reconstruction himself will very soon deliver a comprehensive account of the whole of the work of the Department, and therefore I am afraid that, in what I may say, I must be a good deal restricted.

There is one point which—I will not say it is not relevant to this subject, because it is hardly possible to conceive of any question at the present moment in our social life that is not relevant to the Question which my noble friend has put down—was alluded to and that is the question of demobilisation on the military side, and of the order in which that demobilisation is to take place. That question has been raised I think by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, also, and perhaps I shall be excused, as it has not been raised in the Questions put upon the Paper, from dealing with so large a matter this evening. The questions of export, of import, of licences of supply and amount of raw materials, the rationing of raw materials, and the distribution of labour, are of course all closely allied. On one aspect of those questions Lord Emmott made some very valuable observations to your Lordships—namely, on the subject of export, and how far it, was possible with the least delay to promote free exports from this country.


Of manufactured goods.


Of manufactured goods. He stated with his usual lucidity the bearing of the field of exports upon the imports, and also upon other questions connected with trade. There is only one matter upon which I should like, if I may, to correct the noble Lord. That is in regard to the mistake which was made by my noble friend, who has been as we all know the head of the War Trade Department, and has organised and controlled its fortunes. The only phrase which he made use of to which I take some exception was a slight misquotation. He ought to have used the phrase quorum pars magna fui. All I can do, and all I think that he asked me to do in that particular matter, is to place it before the Minister of Reconstruction, and to urge him to give it his more immediate attention. My noble friend Lord Burnham, not content with the general discussion on this subject, has put to me certain very specific questions. I am afraid that I shall be obliged to have notice before replying to them. He raised the whole question of the condition of labour in connection with trade union rules.


Particularly the imports question.


And the question of female labour, a large matter in itself, which I should not like to deal with except fully, and he also raised the question of imports after my noble friend Lord Emmott had raised the question of exports. I think that several noble Lords have asked that, at the head of reconstruction there might be placed a most powerful and competent man in the Government. They have rather suggested, I think, that one man should be placed at the head of the whole work, but I think that your Lordships must see that this would be hardly possible having regard to the number of subjects which reconstruction embraces. There is the question of restoring control over labour exchanges, and the return of civil labour to work when the demobilisation of civil labour begins. There is also the question of Army demobilisation, and the question of the rationing of raw materials and the distribution of labour. All these matters are so vast that it is very difficult to see how one man could possibly be able to control them, and decisions on these matters must necessarily be taken by the War Cabinet itself.

The noble Earl, Lord Russell, raised two questions which your Lordships will feel are, perhaps, to some extent outside the immediate purpose we are on this evening. I refer to the question of Excess Profits Duty and its application—how long it ought to be carried on—and further the detailed question as to what was to be what he called the "compromise price" paid for contracts which have been concluded on certain lines.


The noble Viscount will pardon me. I did not ask him to state what the compromise price would be. I only hoped that some one in the Government was bearing in mind that they are wasting articles.


I will take care that all the points raised by the noble Earl shall be conveyed to the Minister in charge of reconstruction. As to the specific questions which have been asked by my noble friend, I should like to do what I can to reply to them specifically. The first Question he raised was, what steps had been taken to ensure that on the cessation of the manufacture of munitions of war in various works, such works can return to the manufacture of their peace products with as little delay as possible. The Civil War Workers' Committee has presented no less than five interim Reports, and they have prepared very elaborate plans to meet the difficulties which may arise in this transfer from a war basis to a peace basis. These Reports, I may say, are now in the hands of the printers, and it is hoped that they may be circulated very shortly. The plan's of which outlines are given by the Committee in so far as they affect such questions as the breaking of contracts, the release of material, the procuring of machine tools and the preparation of jigs, patterns, and gauges, have already been the subject of detailed consideration by the Ministry of Munitions, the War Office, and the Minister of Reconstruction. As a result of those discussions definite proposals have been placed before the Cabinet Committee on Demobilisation, and approved by them, and steps have already been taken to give effect to those recommendations.

With regard to the placing of orders, the Departments have been authorised to offer the assistance which the manufacturers may require, particularly in connection with the requirements of Overseas Governments and public authorities. A good deal of information has been steadily accumulated for some time past and is now in the possession of the Department of Overseas Trade and the Ministry of Munitions. Central and local authorities also have been urged to press on, as material becomes available, with the execution of work and repairs which have been suspended owing to the prevalence of war conditions. For some time past a Committee appointed by the Minister of Reconstruction, called the Engineering New industries Committee, has been at work, and with the assistance of its branch Committees it has practically covered the whole field of engineering. These Committees have made very important and valuable suggestions as to new openings for industry, and the Minister of Munitions has agreed to assist both in spreading the information and in releasing materials, so far as is practicable at the present moment, for the preparation of samples.

The second Question is, "whether any decision has been arrived at with regard to the question of the period of control." My noble friend has put that down, but I do not think he strongly pressed the point in his speech as to an exact period. He will be aware that it is not possible at present to state any specific or definite period for the release of control; but I am able to state that the general policy of His Majesty's Government is to release industries at the earliest possible moment from every form of control, consonant, of course, with the national interest. At the present moment the whole field and the possibilities of the release of control are being carefully examined by His Majesty's Government.

In his third Question the noble Lord asks whether any plans have been formulated by the Government with regard to the necessarily large quantity of material and stores which they will possess; and whether it has been possible to make the various trades acquainted with such plans. For some time a Committee has been at work, called the Surplus Government Property Advisory Council. This Committee is responsible to the Ministry of Reconstruction, and sits under the chairmanship of the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury. As the noble Marquess knows, the Council has presented an interim Report on the work it has done up to the present time; but, as this Report is now under the immediate consideration of the War Cabinet, I am afraid it would not be possible for me to make any public statement on that subject.

The fourth Question is "whether any scheme has been prepared for the redistribution of labour and material, more especially with regard to those works which have been established during the war for the manufacture of war supplies and munitions for the fighting forces." The Civil War Workers Committee dealt in great detail with plans for the redistribution of labour and material; and decisions have been already given by the Government on the majority, I believe, of their recommendations. As regards the question of the distribution of materials, there was an announcement in the Press last Wednesday, as your Lordships know, of the appointment of a Ministerial Committee and also of a Council to deal with questions of post-war priority. This Council has already begun its work and has taken a general survey of the problem. It has had placed before it the Reports of the various trade Committees of the Ministry of Reconstruction dealing with specific materials or groups of materials, in addition to the information already available in the various controlling Departments. So your Lordships will see that the fears of my noble friend Lord Balfour that these questions have not been considered by the Government have no foundation. These questions have been long considered, and decisions have been taken on a great number of them.


The point I want to make is that, if decisions are taken, the sooner they are announced the better.


I can only express my regret that I cannot this afternoon give a more full answer to my noble friend; because I suppose it is not unnatural for the Minister himself to wish to make his own full statement on the matter. I understand that he is going to do so shortly, and that he will then give all the details that the country desires to know.


My Lords, I do not wish to detain your Lordships for more than a short time. I think we have all been awaiting the speech of the noble Viscount on this most important question, but I do not know how far any of your Lordships share with me in a certain sense of disappointment at the reply which he has given. We have all felt I am sure the significance—I might almost say the historic significance—of proceeding at once, after hearing the most monemtous announcement which has, perhaps, ever been made in this House, to the consideration of these questions affecting the immediate resettlement of the industry of the people. I think it is worth recalling the fact that while around us outside the whole of the Nation is receiving the news of this armistice with unfeigned joy and delight, we here should be sitting together at once considering the only questions which will make the joy of the people lasting and secure. We have heard the terms of the Armistice which we hope will bring peace, but unless the period during which that Armistice lasts is used by the Government for immediate and swift decisions of a kind comparable only to those that have been taken during the past days, the period of the Armistice may lead to a time of chaos and confusion in the country at home.

Why I said a moment ago that some of us, perhaps, felt a certain measure of disappointment at the reply of the noble Viscount was this, that we heard of endless Committees, Reports, and consultations; whereas, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, said in his very clear speech at the beginning, the time has come for immediate decisions of the utmost possible importance. I have no wish to take up any time on this matter for I am in no sense an expert on these subjects; but I wish on the part of many throughout the country to impress upon the Government—though I feel sure it is hardly necessary—that during this most fateful time, these thirty-six days of the Armistice, they will remember two things. First, that it is well worth while to be as liberal as possible in the treatment of those who are dislodged from their present industries as well as in the case of the men who will be rapidly coming back from the Front, and also in regard to these general questions affecting contracts, profits, and the like, to which the noble Earl, Lord Russell, referred. We would have been willing to spend millions of money upon continuing the war. It is well worth while to be ready to spend millions of money in ensuring that the war really leads to peace not only abroad but at home. The limit has been indicated by Lord Burnham, when he said that nothing is to be done to prevent those thrown out from industry being induced to seek their own places in the world of labour. But short of that I hope that the Treasury will regard any money that is spent in tiding over this most incomparably important period of the next two months as of the same class and character as expenditure demanded for the prosecution of the war.

The other point which I hope will be remembered is the one to which Lord Balfour especially referred—namely, the need at present in regard to these matters, not so much of Reports, of consultations, and of Committees, but of some driving force adequate to carry the country through these next few weeks of the same kind as the driving force which, if I may say so, the Prime Minister used in carrying the country through the most critical periods of the war. As has been pointed out, the Minister of Reconstruction is not an Executive Officer. It is impossible for all these Different Departments to be perpetually interviewing one another, settling under whose particular jurisdiction each bit of this most complicated and difficult situation comes. What is wanted now—and I have no doubt it will be provided—is within the War Cabinet, or created, if it be possible, outside it, some special Cabinet of Reconstruction with the same kind of decisiveness and of force as we have felt of late to be necessary in carrying through the war. These questions are not merely of great social and economic interest; they have become now vital to the peace and prosperity of the people.