§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
My Lords, the object of this Bill is to bridge over the interval between the Armistice and the conclusion of peace, and in certain cases to bridge over the interval between the Armistice and the demise of the Ministry of Munitions, which, as your Lordships know, must take place, at the latest, within twelve months of the end of the war. This Bill will enable the powers which the Ministry now has, which were given to it by Parliament for war production, to be used, until they expire in the ordinary course of events, for the reverse process of getting industry back as rapidly and effectively as possible to peace production. Although it is now reasonably certain that peace will be concluded within the next few months it must, I think, be admitted on all hands that, if all control over prices and direction of use is at once removed chaos must inevitably result. Articles which are essential to the re-establishment of our industry on a peace footing would, in the absence of any form of control, be very liable to be used, not for the most necessary purposes, having regard to the interests of the country, but for the purposes of those who were in the position of being able to offer the highest prices for those particular articles. In fact, what it really comes to is that industry would be at the mercy of those who hold after the war the limited supplies of the essential articles. That is all the Bill does.
But I would like to take the opportunity of pointing out what the Bill does not do, in order, if possible, to set at rest any doubts that there may be, such as those expressed by the noble Viscount, Lord Midleton. This Bill does not prolong the life of the Ministry of Munitions by one 295 hour; that life is regulated by the Ministry of Munitions Act, 1915, under which the Department must cease within twelve months of the termination of hostilities, or at such earlier date as may be in the interval decided. Nor does this Bill extend the life of one of the Orders made under the Defence of the Realm Regulations; it merely enables the Ministry to make use of the powers already in existence until they expire in the ordinary course of events, not to use them for the prosecution of the war as hitherto but for purposes connected with the demobilisation of the war industry and the reinstatement of peace industries. I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Elphinstone.)
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
My Lords, I do not rise to speak on the Bill, but the noble Lord will anticipate that, after what I said on the last Bill, I shall ask your Lordships in Committee to-morrow to consider the limitation of this Bill to six months. I would merely remark now that the commercial world are utterly unaware that this measure has been brought in. It was discussed yesterday for only a short time in the other House. The control which it is proposed that the Minister of Munitions should exercise has cost enormous sums of money to many firms. It has been used, and has had to be used, for the purpose of carrying forward the war, but to a degree which would make it inequitable in the last degree that control should continue for a day longer than is absolutely necessary. It should coincide, in the opinion of many people, with the period of controlled wages. I hope that the noble Lord will be able favourably to consider the Amendment.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House to-morrow.