HL Deb 21 November 1918 vol 32 cc363-71

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee, read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Elphinstone.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 1:

Extension of purposes of Ministry.

1. The purposes of the Ministry of Munitions shall include the supervision and regulation of the diversion to the production of articles required in times of peace, of industries established or utilised during the present war for the purpose of the production of war material, and all powers may be exercised by the Minister of Munitions with a view to facilitating the supply of war material or otherwise for promoting the prosecution of the present war may be exercised by him with a view to securing that such diversion as aforesaid shall be carried into effect in such a manner as may be most conducive to the national interests, and all orders, requirements, directions, regulations, rules, and notices made or given by the Minister and in force at the passing of this Act shall, until they expire or are altered or revoked, continue in force as if this Act had been in force at the time when they were made or given.

VISCOUNT MIDLETON moved, at the beginning of Clause 1, after the words "The purposes of the Ministry of Munitions shall." to insert "for a period of six months after the passing of this Act." The noble Viscount said: I indicated last night the nature of the Amendment that I should ask you to consider. I have communicated privately with the Government, and find they are not disposed to make any amendment in the Bill. But I desire to advance only one argument in favour of the course I suggest, and to ask for a pledge or an explanation as to be actual position. With regard to the argument, I do not think anybody who looks at the condition of affairs in the industrial world will doubt that the Government are wise in bringing in some measure of this kind, which deals with the question of time and scope. With regard to scope, if the question had been simply one of read-justment of industries for a short period and then the control of raw materials I do not think exception would have been taken from any quarter. But this measure goes infinitely beyond that, and proposes not merely to enable the Government to control war material, but to direct an immense number of controlled firms, and to tell them how to manage their business, as I contend for the whole of another year: That is putting under Government control what should be left to individual energy as much as possible.

Several manufacturers have communicated with me as to their difficulties. It was necessary for the Government during the war to take the plant of one manufacturer and say "Your plant must remain idle, or your product, in a half-finished state, must be sent to be finished by another plant on the other side of England. You must stand out either of the user of your own plant or of the profits which you might have made." The powers of the Minister of Munitions go even beyond that. He will be in a position to say, "I must turn a certain number of persons who understand making motor cars into makers of steel," or "You have made steel, and you will have this year to adapt your machinery to this new process." I am quite certain that when the Government have gone a little further into it, they will find that they have taken action which is resented by the whole of the manufacturers of the country, who have willingly accepted control for the period of the war.

On this, there arises a question as to which I should be very glad to have an authoritative assurance from the noble Lord in charge of the Bill. As I read the Bill, and as one or two legal friends whom I have consulted read it, this measure gives the Minister of Munitions, up to the period of twelve months after the conclusion of the present war or any earlier date which may be fixed by His Majesty in Council—and that is not likely to be done—the full control of everything within the scope of this Bill. It has been stated, on the other hand, that all these provisions are subject to the Defence of the Realm Act, and that the Orders made under them will expire with the Defence of the Realm Act. That is a very different thing, and if that be so I shall not address your Lordships further, though I think that the date of six months ought to be inserted in the Bill. I will, for the sake of form, move that "for a period of six months after the passing of this Act" be inserted. I am convinced that unless we have an assurance that these Orders will expire with the Defence of the Realm Act, very great industrial disturbance will be caused.

Amendment moved— Clause 1, page 1, line 5, after ("shall") insert ("for a period of six months after the passing of this Act").—(Viscount Midleton.)


My Lords, I do not know whether I may add a word in support of the contention of the noble Viscount. Having been brought in contact with a great number of transactions in connection with the trade of the country during the war, I can emphasise the point of the noble Viscount that the control which manufacturers have been quite prepared to assent to during the war has hampered and disorganised trade enormously, and, if they are to be left permanently in the hands of a Government Department, it will interfere very largely with the full employment of many individuals in this country in the future who would naturally be brought into employment by the development of trade under unrestricted methods. I do not desire to attack the Munitions Department. I recognise the great work that it has done, and I do not want to undervalue what has been done, but it was a Department created for the purpose of purchasing and providing munitions for our three great Services during the war; and if some Amendment of this kind is not accepted, it seems to me that Parliament is going to give its sanction to the permanent continuation of a Department which was only created for the purpose of the war, and is going at the end of a moribund Parliament to enable it to diverge from the work for which it was originally created and to take up other work which may be prolonged for years. I think that this matter ought to be reviewed within six months rather than that we should permanently sanction a course of this kind. The nearer that you can bring the user of any article to the purchaser, the more likely you will be to secure the economic purchase of an article, and the more likely you are to bring about satisfaction all round. I am not averse to some expert controlling the different Departments which purchase things that have hitherto been purchased by the Munitions Department, but I strongly urge that Parliament should not sanction permanently a system which ought to be reviewed by the incoming Parliament.


My Lords, perhaps I may deal first with the remarks of my noble friend Lord Gainford, who talked about the dangers and drawbacks of placing the trade of this country permanently under the control of the Ministry of Munitions, and who used the word "permanently" several times. I would point out, first of all, that that is an impossibility, for this reason. By the Act which instituted the Ministry of Munitions, that Department is bound to come to an end at the latest twelve months after the termination of the war. Therefore the permanency in this case could not be longer than twelve months.

I would ask your Lordships to consider the effect of the Amendment of my noble friend Viscount Midleton, if adopted. It would mean that for six months the Ministry of Munitions should continue doing what we all, I think, admit must be done as expeditiously and as effectively as possible, and that is to divert to peaceful industry the huge war machine which the Ministry of Munitions has built up and administered during the past three years, but at the end of those six months, no matter how urgent the need might be to continue this work, the whole of it would automatically have to cease and the Ministry of Munitions would then have no functions left except war functions. These would then obviously no longer be required. In addition to this, various industries in this country, which are dependent for certain essential commodities, might be put in such a position that they would be absolutely unable to obtain them, and so permanently would be held up.

If we consider the matter for a moment, I think that we shall see that it is really a very small difference that separates the views of the Government from those of my noble friend Lord Midleton. It is a small difference, I venture to say, considering what the noble Viscount has in view, but a very important one considering the interests of the country as a whole and the interests of peace industry in the country. Lord Midleton wants to see all control removed after a period of six months. I am asking that the Ministry of Munitions should be enabled to continue, if necessary, certain essential forms of control for peace purposes as long as the Act, or the Regulations authorising these Orders, may be in force, whatever the life may be of those Orders or Regulations.

As I have already pointed out, the Ministry of Munitions cannot. possibly last for more than twelve months after the termination of the war, and it may be for less if Parliament so desires at any time before the expiry of these twelve months. As a matter of fact, the vast majority of these Orders and Regulations objected to are dependent on the existence of the Defence of the Realm Regulations which authorise them. Though we hope so, peace may not come as soon as we anticipate, and there are certain powers which it may be really essential to continue as long as the Acts or the Regulations authorising them continue in force—for instance, the power of controlling prices and controlling the direction of supply. This will be very essential so long as the demand exceeds the supply of certain very essential articles. There is no desire on the part of the Government to continue any control of any sort a single day longer than is necessary. But I pointed out yesterday that, in the absence of all control, it will be impossible successfully to reconstruct our peace industries, as they might easily find themselves at the mercy of those who hold the all-too-limited supplies of certain essential articles.

This proposal of the noble Viscount's to limit the Bill to six months was brought forward in the House of Commons, on Monday I think, and was very fully discussed, both on Second Reading and in Committee, and the proposal was ultimately negatived without a Division. The case of building bricks was instanced, and it is a very good case. There is, and there will be for some considerable time, a very grave shortage of building bricks, which are now controlled. The demand, I believe, is more than twice as great as the supply. One of the most urgent things, I imagine, after the conclusion of the war will be the provision of cottages for the labouring classes in this country. Does the noble Viscount really think that all control of should cease necessarily after six months, and that the building programme should be liable to be held up for want of bricks, because the limited supply of bricks, instead of being controlled and used for the most urgent purposes, was being bought and used for unnecessary purposes by those who were able to pay the biggest price—which is really what it would come to in the absence of control?

The House of Commons recognises that a certain amount of control may be necessary, possibly for the whole of the twelve months during which the Ministry of Munitions may exist. The point, I think, is that if after six months it should be found that the noble Viscount, Lord Midleton, is correct in his contention, and that no further control is then necessary, not only may the Defence of the Realm Regulations authorising these Orders be then already dead and therefore the Orders null and void, but it will be possible for Parliament then to intervene at any time and to bring the existence of the Ministry of Munitions and all its functions to a close before the expiry of the twelve months.

To sum up, all the powers, or practically all the powers, possessed by the Ministry are under the Defence of the Realm Regulations, and they must, of course, cease altogether when those Regulations expire, and they form by far the greatest part of the powers of the Ministry of Munitions to-day. I venture to say that, if the war machine is to be successfully demobilised and diverted to peace purposes, this limited control may be necessary for more than the six months advocated by the noble Viscount, provided, of course, that the Defence of the Realm Regulations are then in force and that the Ministry of Munitions is still in existence. Also, as I have already pointed out, Parliament can always, if necessary, intervene and terminate the existence of the Ministry of Munitions sooner. I very much hope that the noble Viscount will not press his Amendment, as I am afraid I cannot accept it, and I trust that the reply I have given has to a certain extent relieved his fears.


I am afraid, after the explanation of the noble Lord, I am wholly unable to understand what the position will be if this Bill is passed as it stands. It seems to me, as far as my humble intelligence goes, to give an unlimited charter to the Ministry of Munitions for an unlimited time. There is no limitation of time in this Bill. The noble Viscount, Lord Midleton, points out to me that it is limited by the Act appointing the Ministry of Munitions, but I do not understand what is done by this Bill. There is a clause which contains fifteen lines and 180 words, without a single breach of continuity. How anybody is to interpret that I do not know. It is a marvellously skilful piece of drafting for making it absolutely unintelligible to the ordinary man. There is not a single word in it which tells us really what the clause does. It says "The purposes of the Ministry of Munitions shall include the supervision"—and so on; and all the things are to go on until they expire or are altered or revoked, "as if this Act had been in force at the time when they were made or given." I am afraid I am wholly unable to understand what is the enacting power in this Bill. I sincerely hope that the noble Viscount will press the Amendment.


In face of the evident determination of the Government I will not trouble your Lordships with further argument. The noble Lord has given a very reasonable account of the Bill, but, as my noble friend has just said, it is one of the most far-reaching measures, and it is for a period of six months, or probably eighteen months, for which time the whole trade of this country, so far as it is affected by the Ministry of Munitions, will be in trammels. The noble Lord in his elaborate argument gave us far more reason for fear, because he pointed out that, as another programme of the Government—the building programme—has to be considered, that might influence to a large extent what the Minister of Munitions is going to do with regard to the controlled firms. That is really a very important addition to out anxiety. I can only say that if, as I believe, the feeling in the country will not sustain the Government in continuing this control for a long period, we must endeavour, with such success as we may, in the new Parliament to put a stop to it.


The limitations to the powers of the Ministry of Munitions really are the limitations to the existence of the Defense of the Realm Regulations. The whole thing rests on that. And, as regards what Lord Balfour of Burleigh said. I am afraid he was not present at the time the Bill was read a second time, for I endeavoured then to make it clear that the object of the Bill is to enable the Ministry of Munitions to use the powers they now have for war purposes for the reverse process of demobilising the war machine and using it for peace purposes. At present they have only power to use this machine for the production of war material. What is now required is that, war material being no longer required, we should take that machine to pieces and reconstruct it on a peace basis.


I, perhaps, ought to have said that the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, asked me to intimate to the House that he thought this Amendment a reasonable one, on the ground that it would not prejudice the work which we all wish to see satisfactorily carried out during the next few months. Of course, it would really only entail the revision of the situation at the end of six months; and he thought that was a reasonable proposal, and for that reason he was prepared to support this Amendment if he had been present.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Remaining clause agreed to.

Bill reported without amendment.

Then (Standing Order No. XXXIX having been suspended) Bill read 3a, and passed.

House adjourned during pleasure.

House resumed.