I beg to move, "That item (Ministry of Munitions) be reduced by £10."
Perhaps it would be an ungracious thing on my part to attempt to inveigle the Committee into a detailed scrutiny of the proceedings during the last four years of the bureaucratic Ministry known as the Ministry of Munitions of War. The whole case and its surroundings are so infinitely complex that even men of sound engineering knowledge, both in its technical and its industrial aspect, are apt to be confused, and, therefore, it seems to me that such criticisms as I can offer must be confined very largely to one or two specific points. At the same time, it may be admissible to offer one or two remarks of a general character. This extraordinary Ministry began, so we were told, with a chair and a table in an otherwise empty room at No. 6, Whitehall Gardens. See how it has grown! It now consists—or did very recently consist—of sixty Departments, divided into ten or twelve groups of Departments, every Department with its appropriate hotel or office, with its telegraphic address, and, like its prototype Dogberry, everything handsome about it. Though these sixty Departments may have been by some possibility either necessary, or deemed by our rulers to be necessary, two, three, or four years ago, or even six months ago, it does not seem to me that any possible excuse can be offered for their continuance.
These sixty Departments, of which I have a list here, I shall not attempt to analyse, but I do wish to offer these suggestions: that there are quite a number of these Departments which might very well be relegated to limbo; also that the Ministry might possibly be able to effect some slight economies of a few million pounds, perhaps, by getting rid of them. As a matter of fact, I am not at all sure that the Ministry itself was ever a necessity! In the first group, Group S, there are Departments for Special Services, Special Intelligence, and Priority. I suggest that those three Departments might very well be got rid of. I do not think anybody would miss them except those who are quartered on them. In Group F there are aircraft, explosives and finance, taken over, I presume, by another Ministry—or they should have been. There is a Munitions Works Board. What its precise functions may be I do not know, and I do not know whether anybody in the Ministry can tell us, but it is there and ought not to be there. There is the Department of Trench Warfare. Does the Government contemplate a continuance of trench warfare? If they do not, what excuse have they for continuing a Trench Warfare Department in the Ministry of Munitions? There is Group M. In this we have Materials (Non-ferrous), and Mineral Resources Development. I do not know what excuse can be offered for the existence of these Departments. I do not know what suggestion can possibly be made as to their use, or possible use, either now or in the immediate or even in the remote future.
Here, however, is one whole group of Departments that surely, in the face of contemporary facts, ought to be swept clean out of existence. I refer to the Iron and Steal Production Department—the Factory Construction Department, the Forgings and Castings and Steel Department, and the Department of Building Bricks. Unless the Government are contemplating putting up more and more factories, to be brought under the auctioneer's hammer and sold for what they will fetch, I cannot understand why this group of Construction Departments can possibly be explained away or apologised for. I suggest that they might all go. We have the Trench Warfare Supplies Department. How far they may or may not overlap the Trench Warfare Department I am not in a position to say. I merely suggest it, because it occurs to me, and probably will to any rational man, as something entirely superfluous; it could never have been set up for any other purpose except to find somebody jobs. There is the Department of Agricultural Machinery. What on earth the Ministry of Munitions has to do with agricultural machinery I do not know! They are not going to make any. It does not seem to me to come, in any shape or way, within the purview of their activities. There is electrical power supply which, we understand, is to be dealt with by some other Department. There is the Department of Machine Tools, which ought to have a chapter by itself. It would be too long a chapter I am afraid to enter into at this stage of the proceedings. I hope it will be elaborated and made plain at some later stage of this Session. Here, however, is the fact that the Machine Tools Department has been superintending, or supervising, or controlling in some way the output of machine tools. What the conditions are on which they have been supplied to contractors I do not know. I do not think anybody knows. I am not sure the Department itself knows. Here, however, is the fact that they have made all the machine tools they want. They are not going to run Government factories themselves; therefore they do not want to equip any. They are surely not going to build any more factories. Everybody who knows anything at all about our industry knows, and knows perfectly well, that it is already over-machined almost cent. per cent. Why is this elaborate and costly Department kept in existence at all?
There are three labour Departments of the Labour group—the labour regulation, the labour supply, and the labour advisory Department. Surely the functions of these Departments, if ever they exercised any, are handed over now to the Ministry of Labour? Why duplicate all this business? Why should there be a Labour adviser? The Ministry does not take his advice. It would have been in a better position to face the country now if it had done. That has not been done. Why should they keep an adviser whose advice they do not take? Finally, we have the Department of the Ministry of Munitions Journal. This is a silly, amateurish, and a useless publication. It is an unworthy thing from a technical point of view. It is quite unworthy from the point of view of journalism. I suggest that these are items of expense that might reasonably be cut down. I may be accused of being an extremist if I suggested, as I would suggest, the reform, if not the abolition, of the Ministry of Munitions, root and branch, fibre and particle. In my view it has never been any good at all. In my opinion, at least, it is a hopeless encumbrance. Its Departmentalism, its folly, its waste, its ineptitude have passed into household words amongst engineers. If there is some insuperable obstacle to sweeping this ridiculous, and preposterous Ministry out of existence entirely, there can surely be none in accommodating its proportions and its expense to the present necessities of the country.
The one question with which I want to deal in this special way is the question of the making, the equipping, and the disposal of a number of Government factories. The question which I put to the Ministry a few days ago has elicited the fact that some £65,000,000 have been involved in Government factories. I urge that there could have been only one useful purpose to be served by the erection of these factories, and that was to provide, and to secure, that in any future national emergency we should not be put to the ignoble extremity of dependence upon private contractors for the supply of war material. If these factories were not built with that idea in view, for what purpose were they built? A practical man would say that factories of this kind cannot be blown up in a night. They do not take days or weeks, but years to perfect and equip. I want to know whether the whole of these Government factories, which have cost £65,000,000, have ever returned the equivalent of their capital cost in production? I doubt very much whether they have. All these things have been kept secret. The cost and the output of these factories have been kept secret, the fiction being that the Germans might get to know. I venture to think that unless the German authorities have lost the faculty of counting ten on the fingers of their hand, they have known a great deal more about our munitions output than the British public have been allowed to know; for, after all, they have only had to look over the statistics of the steel and metals industries, which are not difficult to understand, and deduce what the factories are that have been built. These have been equipped at enormous cost. The whole £65,000,000 has been absorbed in buildings and machinery. Though there has been no return made, if the return has been ample, why is the Government so anxious to get the venture off their hands?
The suggestion is now made that it would be unwise and impolitic to enter, as the State, into competition with private producers. That has never occurred, so far as I know, in the case of shipbuilding for naval purposes. It has not even occurred before in the case of armaments, and the one huge factory to which I want to draw attention—I do not know whether it is prudent to mention the place—but in the North of England there is a projected factory that was originally designed to supersede in dimensions anything of the kind in the world, certainly the world outside Essen. As far as we can understand this great works was set up in order to relieve the congestion at Woolwich. These works are at Gretna Green. I suppose everybody knows now about them. I want to know, and I think the House ought to be told, whether these huge works are to be handed over to private enterprise; if so, we shall want to know how much of the £65,000,000 has been planted up there. We shall want to know in regard to that factory, especially and particularly, what are the Government proposals for its future. It seems to me to be little short of wantonness to set up a factory like that, which can scarcely be finished now, at such enormous cost, with such expenditure of precious material and more precious labour, and then practically to throw it away for hat it will fetch. We do not know under what conditions these factories are to be sold. We do know that we are here to enter a protest, as emphatic as we can make it, against the policy of the Government in selling to private enterprise all this enormous accumulation of wealth and labour that ought to be devoted to national projects in the national interest. I put a question on the Paper to-day to the Minister of Munitions asking whether the £65,000,000 Estimate includes the cost of chemical factories in explosive works. I am still in the dark as to this for, unfortunately, my question was not reached.
There is one explosive factory to which I want to call attention.
It happened near the beginning of 1916 that I was engaged at the Victoria Works, Winsham, by the Government in the capacity nominally of millwright. The whole of the equipment of that factory passed through my hands during the six months I was there, and if I were to attempt to tell the House some of the details I should be laughed at. Nobody here would believe it whether they were engineers or not, and I could not blame them, for so grotesque were some of these things that I am not at all sure, though I saw them myself, that I quite believe them. I have literally dug costly machinery out of heaps of cement and mortar, and I have found such things as economisers scattered about over three-quarters of a square mile in forty or fifty different places. The whole thing was one deplorable mess from end to end. May we be told how far that particular works exceeded in its actual cost the original estimate. When I went there I was told that the original estimate was £500,000, but they have spent more than, that already. We shall want to know whether the explosive factories of which this is a type, and the chemical works which the Government have caused to be built, are to be handed over and knocked down under the auctioneer's hammer, whether they are to be transferred or retained, and whether the Government feels the same compunction in dealing with the chemical monopoly that they had with private enterprise in other branches of engineering. Would it be so bad for the Government to enter into competition with the chemical manufacturers? Is it absolutely superfluous that, in view of future contingencies, the State should be enabled to provide itself with high explosives, or any other explosives it wanted. Has the whole of this business to go back to private enterprise, or has it not? Are any reservations to be made, and will the Minister responsible kindly tell us what, if any, reservations they are making in respect of the transfer of this immensity of valuable property?
Apart from this particular phase of the question, it does seem to me strange that, while people have been talking about profiteering, which is apparently accepted as something which has been and probably is going on—and nobody seems to deny that there has been profiteering—most of the indignation has been directed upon the exploiters of our food supply. My view is that the exploitations of the food merchants are a light thing compared with the exploitations of the armament contractors. This has all been perfectly legal, and there is nothing to be said against it from that point of view, but there may be something to be said against it from the point of view of morals. I do not suggest that there is any connection between law and morals, but there is some connection between righteousness and those who are entrusted with the nation's resources and interests. It has been an appalling thing to contemplate this Ministry of Munitions, by virtue of one of the most terrible Acts that Parliament ever passed—the Munitions of War Act—constituted a sort of Luther's Charter, which enabled lawyers and contractors in the engineering trade to plunder the national resources to an extent which is appalling, and an extent of which one is inclined to think that not even the Ministry themselves are fully cognisant. I am not here to hold a brief for the operative, but his conduct in this matter appears favourable with that of his employer. There is a very great deal to be said in the way of criticism of the working-classes with respect to what engineer operatives have done in regard to our munitions supply during the last three or four years, and I am not apologising for them. I only suggest that a most pernicious example was set them, and they were foolish enough to follow it, and I regret it. What the workers have done, however, constitutes a light, and almost negligible thing besides what the high contractors of this country have done in the matter of war munitions supplies. If the Ministry of Munitions wants to justify itself to-day, let it insist upon the appointment of a public scrutiny into the whole business from its inception up to date.
In 1916 we were told, and we have been told periodically a dozen times since, that there was a shortage of skilled labour in the engineering trade. There never was any shortage at all of skilled labour in that trade. There was mal-distribution, mis-use, and abuse of skilled labour, and it was cornered wherever it could be cornered. The smaller contractors could not get skilled labour, not because there was a shortage, for there was a plethora in places where it was not wanted. I know this is a statement, and statements are no use without demonstrations. I propose to take the opportunity to do something in the way of demonstration. I represented to the right hon. Gentleman,
who was then the Member for the Blackfriars Division of Glasgow (Mr. Barnes), this view of the case, and this was before the right hon. Gentleman had become one of our four or seven highest War Lords. He was an old personal friend of mine, and I presented this view of the matter to him, and asked him if he would take it up in the House of Commons and ventilate it in some way. He agreed with my conclusions, and he asked the following question-in this House:
To ask the Prime Minister if further consideration has been given to the question of contract prices in regard to which promise of inquiry was made in a speech made by him on the 10th November; is he aware that there is a belief throughout the country, and especially amongst the working-classes, that Government contractors are keeping men inside their factories in excess of the number required and, therefore, only partially employed, because it pays them to do so; will he pay whether numbers of contractors, including owners of controlled establishments, are paid a percentage on wages; if so, to what extent is this practiced, and what percentage is paid; and will he, in the national interest, consider the advisability of an inquiry by a small Committees with a view to a full statement of the facts?
This was the answer given to my right hon. Friend's question:
With regard to the first part of the question, constant attention is given to the matter by the Departments concerned. With regard to the second part, I am not aware of the existence of this belief, which I am informed has no foundation in fact. With regard to the third part, I understand that this practice is followed in urgent cases, the percentage varying according to the circumstances. With regard to the last part of the question, such contracts made by the Admiralty are now being investigated by a Committee, presided over by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and I will inquire whether any useful purpose could be served by a corresponding inquiry in the Ministry of Munitions.
Nothing was done. For my own part, I have availed myself of every opportunity on the platform and every avenue of publicity during the last three years available to me, to endeavour to direct public attention to the whole question of our war material supplies. It is the opinion of many competent engineers that in spite of statistical shop-window displays, from end to end the industry has had to struggle under a burden of officialism which has produced litle, if anything, but one intolerable and incessant irritation of the body politic, and all this time we have been called upon to make sacrifices. All this time the capitalists in the engineering and kindred trades have been stuffing their coffers with public money, and they have been evading by some means the Excess Profits Duty which should have obtained. To-day the suggestion is to hand over to them as old iron machinery and equipment and buildings in Government factories worth £65,000,000. This does not seem to me to be a thing that the House should look upon lightly, and it should not permit it if it has any authority to prevent it. Our own sons and brothers have done all that could be expected of them and more than anyone could demand from them. They have given up life and hope and all that life means to the young and ardent for the sake of our immemorial mission to the world. We who live at home, too old to fight but not too old to toil and sorrow, are called upon to assist at the apotheosis of Barrabas and to sing loud Hosannas at the canonisation of the impenitent thief.
We have heard an interesting speech from the hon. Member opposite, but the case is not quite so simple as he has presented it to the Committee. He has largely dealt with the expenditure of £65,000,000 as if it were exclusively upon explosives and chemicals.
The sudden cessation of War found this country with an enormous supply of explosives and a number of factories manufacturing explosives. If the League of Nations is going to succeed and we are going to have reduced armaments, it is quite clear that this expenditure cannot be looked upon as a permanent asset for the production of those particular things. I do not think that the Minister would have very much trouble in proving that large factories like Gretna have paid for themselves by the large quantities of explosives which they have produced. I know a little about Gretna, and I want to point out some of the difficulties. It was established almost entirely for the production of cordite. Cordite, of course, was an absolute war necessity, and the quantity of cordite that Gretna has produced has been of enormous assistance to the Government. I think the Financial Secretary to the Ministry would have no difficulty in proving it that it has been money well spent. The hon. Gentleman asked what is to be done with it now. It is not so easy to say. Gretna consists of a very large area of 9,000 acres, and about 6,000 of them are good arable land. There is housing for nearly 14,000 or 15,000 people, and there is a certain amount of chemical and explosive plant. If the necessities of the country prove as small as we all of us wish, it will be extremely difficult to adapt a big plant like that at Gretna to the production of about 10 per cent. of its output. That is one of the difficulties that the Government have to face and that any purchaser would have to face. The chemical and explosive plant is constructed on such an enormous scale that it is almost certain that it would have to be worked at 20 per cent. of its speed, which would present great difficulty. The problem, therefore, is not so easy as at first appears. There are other things forwhich Gretna might be used which would be of great service to the country. The buildings and all the agricultural land might form the nucleus of a very large settlement for discharged soldiers and sailors, and with regard to this particular factory I think where the nation is likely to get hope is in fitting it into some future plans for this purpose.
I am sorry that my hon. Friend opposite was so very hard upon chemical manufacturers. I know a whole class of chemical manufacturers whose pre-war activities were altogether destroyed by the necessity of having to make chemicals for munitions of war. They devoted the whole of their resources during the War to the assistance of the State, and immediately the Armistice was signed there was an absolute and total cessation of Government orders. I know firms 90 per cent. of whose output went to the Ministry of Munitions for war purposes. Within a fortnight of the signing of the Armistice every one of those orders stopped. I do not think that the industry complains, but I want the House to understand that there is another side to the question, and that large sections of the chemical industry, by the change from war to peace conditions, have been left in an extremely difficult position. I sat on a Departmental Committee set up by this House regarding two sections of the chemical industry, fertilisers and sulphuric acid, and the Report of that Committee shows that there must be a surplus of 500,000 tons for which it is impossible to find use. I have risen to make these few remarks in order to suggest that these factories have fulfilled their purpose. They have saved the country money, and it is not so easy to find a special use for them at the present time. I also want, in reply to the observations of my hon. Friend opposite, to let the House understand that the change from war to peace conditions in certain sections of the chemical industry has tended to produce great hardship.
I desire to raise one or two questions in relation to the disposal of the factories which have been built by the Ministry of Munitions. The Prime Minister, in the early days of the late election, speaking at Wolverhampton, and referring to a certain phase of industry, criticised the whole of the proceedings as sheer stupidity, and added that the marvel was that we had not the intelligence to put a stop to it. I am afraid that in disposing of these factories we are still pursuing this course of sheer stupidity, and that we are not evidencing an increased intelligence over that possessed by those responsible for the government of our country before the recent election. In 1915, when the country found itself in dire stress through the lack of the necessary war materials, the Ministry of Munitions was set up—set up more especially because of the inadequacy of private employers to supply the necessary things at that time. These factories have been built for the purposes of the War, and we are surprised to find that almost immediately after assuming the functions of office the present Government should proceed to dispense with them. They have been created at enormous expense, and have been equipped with the highest and best machinery possible. I am perfectly certain that if under normal circumstances I prior to the War—supposing it had been possible—it had been proposed to pursue the line of action that is to be pursued now, the country would have regarded it as a scandal of the gravest kind. Therefore, I would ask the hon. Gentleman to give us full information for the benefit of the House and the public as to what has been done in the direction of disposing of these factories, what is being done now, and what it is intended to do in the future. I want to know if some of this property has been sold privately to big profit-making concerns, and I want to know also under what conditions it is being sold and to what extent the Government are advantaged by its sale? I am perfectly aware that plant is being dispensed with, and I am afraid that what is left will be allowed by disuse to rust and wear out.
This policy of stopping the use of these factories or selling them to other people is bad enough, but it is also responsible in great measure for adding to the unemployment in the country at the present time. If ever the Government had any justification for dispensing with these national factories that justification has been considerbly lessened by the speech which we heard the other day from the Secretary of State for War, who told us what was going to be done in relation to maintaining a great Army. Many of these factories were created and maintained for the manufacture of things that are accessories to a great Army, and we hold that they should be retained as the property of the State. Those of us who sit on these benches hold that national property should be retained and developed in the interests of the State, and if that cannot be done we want full particulars as to how it is being disposed of. We want to know whether parts of that property had been pledged to particular firms, and if it had been pledged we want to know the purchase price arranged and the principles on which that purchase price was determined. I think that is information which we are entitled to expect from the hon. Gentleman I am of opinion there are in this House, strange to say, still many who believe in the free play of competition. Does the right hon. Gentleman know that in disposing of these factories competition is not getting free and fair play? Is he aware that what is likely to occur is that the competition that would be aroused by the Government going into the open market on every occasion is to a certain extent being stultified by a combination of interests who buy up your property in bulk, and themselves dispose of it afterwards? I need not remind the right hon. Gentleman that he has already an example of that in another Department. Ships were brought under that system and then separated among other people. I trust that that mistake will not be repeated in the particular case of the Ministry of Munitions. I am hopeful that that sort of patriotism will not be encouraged—the patriotism which is seeking to eliminate the competition of the nation in doing what it ought to do under present circumstances, in supplying the interests of the nation, in eliminating competition in many directions so that those who secure these properties may safeguard their own vested interests.
After the South African war there were South African scandals. I think during this War there has been a hut scandal. I trust we are going to have no more scandals in relation to matters of this kind. But, unfortunately, we have reason to be very, very suspicious of the action of the Government. A right hon. Member of the Government has told us that the Government does not intend to manufacture anything in the national factories, and that there will be no competition with private producers. We should like to know why. Are only those things to be kept in the hands of the State which benefit the commercial and higher classes? There is not a Member of this House who would say a word against the Post Office being retained in the hands of the nation. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that while we would not like to part with State control over the Post Office for private purposes, yet it is not the workers who alone have the great benefit of it—although they do benefit by State nationalisation, but it is also the public who benefit. The working classes send on an average one letter per week; the commercial classes average a hundred, in addition to many telegrams and a large number of parcels, and the result is that nationalisation has been a good thing for them. We think the time has come when some things ought to be retained in the hands of the State and so benefit the people of the country in a more direct manner. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to see that we are not to look on the Government as encouraging private profiteering to help the Government.
I have been told it is open to the trades unions and to co-operative societies to buy some of this property. Those of us who sit on these benches do not believe even that should be done; we hold that they should be retained in the hands of the State. If the property has to be sold it would be a good thing for the co-operators to have a share provided they get the thing they require and not the thing you want to give them; provided that they get that which will be useful to them in the conduct of their business now by procuring factories that might be readily converted for their purposes; otherwise you cannot say that they have an interest in this matter. As to the trade unions, the right hon. Gentleman must know that they were not formed for the purpose of becoming capitalistic concerns, and that money is in- vested in the trade unions for the purpose of securing certain benefits for the workers. While such a proposal might have appealed to them twenty or thirty years ago, I am sure they will not be enmeshed in that net at this late stage of their history. Therefore, we ask for the fullest publicity in relation to the sale of these national factories. We should have information to enable us freely and fully in this House to discuss and criticise the action of the Government.
Let me give the right hon. Gentleman some reasons for their retention. We believe, rightly or wrongly, that these factories can be utilised for national purposes in many directions, and that it would help the Government greatly in keeping down the mass of unemployment which is occurring now, and which recurs at periodical times in this country. It would also at all events help the Government, by the proper utilisation of these factories, to secure some aid in lessening the great war debt now burdening the shoulders of the taxpayers, and to us it would mean that the Government retained in its hands some control over monopolist prices, and thus it would, in a certain direction, decrease the cost of living to the whole community. There are other advantages, such as the Government demonstrating clearly along many lines that they can be model employers of labour, and that they can retain and control in various directions private interests. These are some of the reasons which induce us to think that some of these factories, if not all, should be retained for the purposes of the State. We believe we could put them to various uses. We have heard from hon. Members opposite that they sympathise with the principle of railway nationalisation. Railway nationalisation, if it is carried out, would mean the control of factories for the building of railway stock for the railways. The factories could also be used by the Government to carry through the housing schemes. They could be used for the supply of motor vehicles for municipal and national transport. They could be used, and much more economically used, for the production of agricultural implements and for helping the great work of agricultural production in our country. These are some of the reasons why we think that the Government should not have disposed of such of its factories as it has sold, and why it should now put a period to its conduct in that direction. I can only find two reasons why the Government are acting in this manner. Probably they want a certain income from these taxes now, to enable them to make some headway against the enormous burden they have to meet; but the second reason which has appealed to many people in this country as the correct one, is- that the Government is far more concerned with the interests of the private profiteer than for the welfare of the general community. We think they do not feel inclined to do anything in the direction of putting restraint upon those who have during the War so assiduously utilised the industries of our country in order to make more profit for themselves.
I hold in my hand a letter I received last night from the Property Owners' and Ratepayers' Association. On it there are five quotations from the Prime Minister's speech of the 23rd November last year. A wonderful man is our Prime Minister! He speaks for all of us. In the early days of the Treasury Conferences he told us he was the best Socialist amongst us, and now we have here a property owners' association quoting his speeches and asking me, for one, if I can say "Yes" to each quotation. I can say "Yes," provided we start from the same premises. Let me give the House one or two of these quotations. The Prime Minister said, "The difficulty is not with vested interests, but with vested prejudices." I hold that in the disposing of these national factories we are giving them away to those who desire to have them because of their vested prejudices against control by the State in the interests of the working classes, which mean doing away with the bolstering up of vested interests in the country. Then the Prime Minister tells us, "You must not take away another man's property." I assume everyone in the House agrees with that statement, hut after all the nation's property is the property of all of us, and you have no right to take away or get rid of the property of the nation without securing its full value in every direction. We are asking you to tell us whether you have received from the gentleman to whom you have disposed of these Government properties their full value, because the Prime Minister said it is right you should do so—that "whatever a man has got you should pay him full value for it." It is for these reasons we want to secure that the full value shall have been paid to the nation.
May I be allowed to say I trust that the war patriotism of which the nation is so proud, unfortunately sullied as it was by those who were rapacious in securing large profits for themselves at the expense of the people—may I be allowed to say I trust that that war patriotism which has brought us through so many difficulties during the last four and a half years, is going to be transformed into a peace patriotism in which the people who were co-operating together for war purpose will co-operate together for making the nation a better nation than it has ever been before? May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that there are gentlemen in this country who gave up for the time being at least the management of their own concerns and placed themselves at the disposal of the Government for the purpose of carrying through the necessary work of the country in those factories? Am I to take it now that because the War is over that same spirit of public service no longer exists in our country? Am I to understand you are disposing of these factories because you believe they cannot be efficiently maintained and utilised in the interests of the State? Am I to understand that they are being disposed of because you cannot secure men who, in your estimation, will make them gigantic successes for the interests of all? I do not believe such a thing is possible. I believe, if an appeal is made to them, these gentlemen will rise superior to any personal interest. I would regret to believe that those who have rendered yeoman service to the nation during the past four and a half years are now only too anxious to return to something whereby they can say, "We desire to add riches unto ourselves." I, therefore, in the name of my colleagues, hope we shall have a definite statement from the right hon. Gentleman, that we will not be kept in the dark in relation to these factories and the prices paid for them, and more especially also in relation to whether or not some of them were pledged before they were sold to certain individuals, or were privately sold without the public having any information on the matter.
Lieutenant-Colonel Sir F. HALL:
I have listened attentively to the speeches made this afternoon, and was rather struck with the suggestion that the whole of these factories should be worked from a national point of view. I thought they were taken over and constructed during a time of great emergency. I was par- ticularly astounded to hear the speeches of the last speaker and the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr Rose), who said that the time had arrived when these factories should be used by the Government practically to oust the manufacturing and industrial class altogether from this country. On the other hand, the hon. Member for North Aberdeen is apparently so dissatisfied and so suspicious of the Government, or of anything the Government may have to deal with, that he suggested that, in consequence of mal-administration, a Committee should be set up in order to go through the whole of the accounts of the Ministry of Munitions. I do not think the House generally will pay much attention to arguments such as that. I have risen this afternoon because I think that if a Member makes a statement in this House which is not correct, although he believes it to be correct at the time he makes it, the first duty that devolves upon him, if he finds it to be incorrect, is to state plainly that he has made a statement against a Department which he is not able to substantiate. I am in that position this afternoon. I stated in the House recently that motor cars and motor lorries—I made the statement that I had been so informed, and that the information had been given me from a most reliable source in the City of London—had been sold in a sort of block sale in a good many cases, instead of what one would expect to have been done by a business Department, putting them up and selling them in separate lots. I put down a question in the House and received a full reply from the Deputy-Minister of Munitions. He placed at my disposal the figures of the Ministry of Munitions and invited me to go carefully into them. I take this opportunity of thanking him for having done so. Nothing could be more frank than the manner in which he placed these figures before me.
While I admit that I was wrong, and that the information which had been given to me was incorrect, I would suggest to the hon. Gentleman that, in giving information in this House when a particular question is asked, and in such circumstance, his officers should show the greatest care in compiling the figures, and it is advisable that the information so given should be correct, because, if it is incorrect in one item, it is likely to be incorrect in another. As my hon. Friend knows, we found a sort of block which was given as 125 motor lorries when the answer given in the House was that there were twenty-five motor lorries which had been sold. We found a block of 125 motor lorries which realised £18,000, or an average of £144 each, which undoubtedly was a mistake. We added up the figures, and subtracted them, and, with the exception of one item of motor cycles, my hon. Friend will agree that it was absolutely impossible to identify any set of figures with the reply that had been given. My contention is that there has not been that care and attention there should have been in the Ministry of Munitions Department in the past with regard to the manner in which their accounts have been carried out. I hope that more attention and care will be exercised. We have heard in this House, and we know full well, that accounts have been paid over and over again, although the money has eventually been refunded. We have heard of open cheques that have been conveyed by officials of the Department being found on public highways. That is not the sort of thing which is likely to secure confidence from the people of this country. We have been told that it has been impossible to keep accounts simply and solely because there have not been accountants, and that we have had to put up with a sort of temporary assistance. That may be quite right. Undoubtedly, in many cases, it has been right, but the Government have not taken the necessary steps to place at the disposal of the Ministry of Munitions the large amount of good labour and the number of accountants that could have been supplied if they had taken the proper steps to secure them.
I have one instance which, no doubt, is one of many. I had brought to my notice the case of a soldier who, unfortunately, had become a casualty. The particulars of his case were sent to me. He happened to be a chartered accountant, and during the time when the Ministry were crying out for proper accountants I ventured to bring to their notice this specific case, thinking that in the ordinary course of events, as business men, they would have said they would utilise that labour, because where it was placed at the time it was practically useless. The Ministry did nothing of the kind. They said this man was under the War Office, and they could not, in any circumstances, ask the War Office to give them a man who was serving as a soldier, notwithstanding the fact that he was a duly qualified accountant. That sort of thing must be stopped. People who can be utilised for special work should be so used, and the various Departments should make an effort to dovetail their work, so that we should not have one Department pulling against another. I am not blaming my hon. Friend, but I am blaming his Department. I hope that the mistakes which have occurred in the past will be reduced very much in the future.
We have heard this afternoon hon. Members express dismay with respect to the sale of many of these national factories. I would rather congratulate my hon. Friend. The sooner these properties are disposed of, provided reasonable prices are obtained, the better it will be. They were erected and utilised for specific purposes. We are all glad to know that the necessity which did arise does not exist at the present time. But I would like to draw my hon. Friend's attention to a case that occurred only the day before yesterday. There was a factory at Barnsley—the Barnsley Shell Works—which was advertised for sale, and in the ordinary course of events a large number of business men were interested. They came from all parts of the country to Barnsley to be present at what was supposed to be an auction sale. Imagine their dismay when, at the last moment, they were told, "Oh, gentlemen, we are sorry, but we are unable to dispose of this property today!" When they asked for a reason, it became apparent that it was another case of one Government Department pulling against another. They were told, "We are sorry to say we have not been able to arrange with the other Department"—which I believe was the War Office—"with regard to a question of the title deeds relating to this property". We do not want that sort of thing. If business people get into their heads the idea that they are going on a wild-goose chase they will not be present at the next sale. I believe it is my hon. Friend's desire to obtain as much as he can for the properties of which his Department has to dispose, but it is not going the right way to obtain the highest price if, when you get the people there, you simply say to them, "There is no sale to-day." I hope that with regard to the thirteen others which are to be sold in the immediate future there will be no such trouble. We fully appreciate the difficulties my hon. Friend's Department has had to contend with in the past. We know full well that the Department was a sort of scrappy machinery that had to be got into working order quickly. The machinery was eventually brought into efficient working order. In disposing of these various factories, we do not want the Department to do anything which will be detrimental to obtaining the largest possible price for them. The last speaker referred to the question of the unemployment which is already springing up. You are not going to improve unemployment by placing the whole of these big industries throughout the country under the Government. The less you have of Government interference in commerce—and we have had plenty of it during the last four and a half years—the better it will be for the country generally. I do not want the working men, or the middle-class, or any part of the community to be led away with the idea that the nationalisation of all these various industries will bring about the millennium for the working classes. I hope I have made it plain that I put the question on the information which was given to me, and I did so perfectly bonâ fide. I am not desirous of making any suggestion against my hon. Friend without just cause, and I have taken the earliest opportunity that has presented itself to withdraw the statement, and I hope he and his Department will be satisfied that I have done it in a full and just manner.
The Debate so far has ranged over many activities of the Department, and I hope in my reply I shall succeed in covering the points raised by the critics of the Department, even if I do not satisfy them. The speech of the opener was remarkable in many ways. I think it was a maiden speech. If it was, I should like to congratulate the hon. Member on the variety, the novelty and the force of the views which he put before the Committee. But I do not quite understand what an hon. Member who takes that particular view is doing on the Labour Benches. It was the speech of a high old crusted Tory and a soured individualist. I have heard precisely that sort of speech from the right hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury), but I never expected to hear it from the Labour Benches in a new Parliament. What was the burden of his speech? Sweep away the burden of officialdom. Away with it! What has the Government to do with the control of industry? What is the meaning of the Government interfering with the production of agricultural implements? Why is the Government bothering about this, and why is it bothering about that? We heard all that from the high old Tories who used to represent the interests of capital in this House. If it was necessary for me to reply to a good part of the speech which came from my hon. Friend, who also spoke for Labour, and who took what I regard as the usual Labour view, I think I might set the speech of the hon. Member (Mr. Rose) in opposition to him. I should like to say to the hon. Member (Mr. Young), who undoubtedly put before the Committee arguments which require a considered answer, with what pleasure I heard him. He and I have met on more than one occasion in connection with the Ministry of Munitions. I do not think he would be likely to share the view taken by the opener on this part of the subject, that there was never any need for the Ministry of Munitions and all its works are evil. I acknowledge with gratitude the part my hon. Friend has on more than one occasion played in helping to smooth away industrial troubles and to keep the wheels of the munitions industry smoothly running. I am certain we shall all look forward to the part he will play in future in our Debates.
I think it will be necessary, if we are properly to understand the case which the Government has to put in opposition to that put by the Labour party this afternoon, that I should take a more general view than has been taken so far of the work which is covered by the Ministry's share of this Vote. We have now completed the work for which the Ministry was set up. The hon. Member (Mr. Rose) will at least rejoice over that. He found no need for the Ministry of Munitions. If he had had his way and there had been no Ministry of Munitions the industries of this country would now be run by the Junkers of the German Empire. I hope that is not a prospect which would fill him with any satisfaction. We have completed the main task for which the Ministry of Munitions was set up. It no longer has to engage or is engaging in the production of great masses of war material, but the very success with which the Ministry of Munitions concentrated the industries of this country on the production of munitions worthy of the valour of our Army, and adequate to their numbers, presented us with a problem of unparalleled difficulty on Armistice Day. Because of its human reaction it was a problem in many ways even more difficult than that of building up the great munitions supplies. I suppose if we thought of money only the best course the Government could have taken on 11th November would have been to say, "Not a single pound more of munitions must be produced," to put a stop immediately by a stroke of the pen to the production of munitions or of any work in connection with munitions. But to have done that I am quite sure would have raised industrial and social problems of a gravity which this country at that time could not have afforded to face. We had outstanding on Armistice Day 33,000 separate and distinct contracts, with an unliquidated liability of £312,000,000, and the first duty on which we had to concentrate was the liquidation of that great mass of contracts. The work has been chiefly in the hands of Sir Gilbert Garnsey, one of the great business men whom the President of the Local Government Board brought into the Ministry, and I am glad to be able to say—and I think it will be acknowledged that it was a great achievement—that in regard to those 33,000 contracts, on 28th February, only 5,740 were left outstanding or without notice having been given in regard to their termination. That is an achievement for which Sir Gilbert Garnsey and his Department are entitled to the public gratitude. I am not at present in a position to say what is the present liability of the Government in regard to those contracts, but the saving which has been effected on what would have been our liability if the contracts had been completed is something very substantial.
The total expenditure, in regard to which so much criticism has been made by the Ministry since its establishment up to the date of the Armistice, was £1,839,000,000 and I should not be at all surprised—no man in the House would be surprised—if in connection with the expenditure of that money there have been proved cases of profiteering such as those which have been so seriously criticised. Of course there must have been such cases, but the Department would have been criminal if it had not done its best to check profiteering and to provide machinery to make it difficult. It can never be disputed that the Department provided the most effective machinery which has yet been discovered for preventing profiteering. When the present Prime Minister and the President of the Local Government Board established the system of cost accounting, they provided the best machinery yet discovered for the prevention of profiteering. The President of the Local Government Board put that work into the hands of Sir Hardman Lever and Sir John Mann, and an estimate recently worked out in the Department shows that if our contracts up to the date of the Armistice had all been placed at the prices prevailing before the system of cost accounting was introduced we should have had to pay £300,000,000 more than we actually obtained the contracts for. I do not say that increased bulk of production would not have effected a reduction in the costs which were being paid, but it is certain that this system of cost accounting has been responsible for an almost complete check on profiteering and a very substantial reduction in the prices the country has had to pay for its munitions. The contractors at first were very suspicious of this system, for although it had been a common industrial practice in America for some years, it was foreign to the practice of this country. I believe to-day we can say that it has become an integral part of the method of most up-to-date industrial firms, and it will play a very large part in improving the industrial efficiency of this country. I think we have a complete reply to any charge which may be made against us as to indifference on the part of the Department in regard to profiteering. We have provided machinery which has been copied by industrial firms and other Government Departments, the most complete yet discovered in checking profiteering.
The first new duty put on the Department was that of liquidating the contracts, and we have now to do the best we can to dispose of what remains over of the great mass of material, part of which was provided with the £1,800,000,000 of the people's money. The Government has been attempting for some time to devise satisfactory machinery for securing that the surplus stores of Government Departments were disposed of to the best public advantage. I think towards the end of 1917 the Government put upon Lord Salisbury and Sir Howard Frank the work of supervising or co-ordinating the activities of different Departments, but the weakness of that arrangement was that that organisation was entirely outside any existing Government Department, and the Government Departments continued to go on in their own sweet way, each dis- posing of what it regarded as surplus according to its own methods. So it was decided on 15th November that one Department alone should have the responsibility for the disposal of surplus stores, and that Department was to be the Ministry of Munitions, which is to develop into the Ministry of Supply. The responsibility put upon the Ministry necessarily made us the greatest selling organisation in this country, and probably in the world, and when Lord Inverforth became Minister of Munitions on 14th January he set to work to create an organisation to carry out the responsibilities which had been put upon his Department, Particulars of that organisation have appeared in the Press. The details were fully given in the "Times," and I think, although it is inevitable that mistakes will be made, the Committee will agree with me that at any rate the commonest and the most inexcusable of all mistakes has not been made, that of putting the work into the hands of men who do not understand it. I think we can claim for the organisation for the disposal of the surplus property of the Government that every class of store has been put for disposal into the hands of men whose life business it has been to deal in that particular class of store. Some twenty separate sections have been created, and a Controller was put at the head of each and he is advised by a committee of men whose whole business it has been to deal in those stores. I think it so important that the House and the country should have confidence in the competence of the organisation which is to dispose of these great masses of Government stores that, if I find there is any general desire for it amongst Members, I shall be glad to circulate a statement of what the organisation is and of the class of work which falls to each particular controller.
Various estimates have been made of the value of the goods which the Government will have to dispose of through this organisation. Those estimates have varied from £200,000,000 to £1,000,000,000. While I could hope that the larger figure is more exact, I am afraid my experience will require me to say that the actual result must be nearer the lower figure. The stores are of the most diversified character. They vary from tanks to tintacks, from guns to glue, from petroleum to propellors—in fact, the catalogue for the goods for which I am now responsible to this House will be as large almost as the "Encyclopædia Britannica" and as varied in character, and they are scattered over three Continents. I am dwelling on the point because I think it is a reply to some of the criticism which has already been expressed in the form of questions put to me in the House. We have now surplus stores in Egypt, Palestine, the Levant, Salonika, East Africa, Italy, in this country, and in other parts of the world, and it is impossible to lay down one general rule in regard to the disposal of these surplus stores which would be applicable to the variety of their character, and the variety of the circumstances under which they have to be disposed of. I think the organisation that has been set up does secure, as far as any organisation does secure, that the interest of the taxpayers of this country are being safeguarded. I was asked whether I would not give an undertaking that we would only sell factories or other surplus stores by public auction. To give any such undertaking would be seriously to prejudice the public interest. It does not follow that at public auction you get the highest price. Public auction is as likely to reveal the weakness as the strength of the market, and if it were known we were confined to sale by public auction we should also be exposed to the danger of rings being formed which it would be exceedingly difficult to break through. We must retain power to sell either by public auction or public tender, and in some cases by private treaty. It is in regard to these sales by private treaty that there is real danger of abuse—it may be by a dishonest official. We require in regard to every sale by private treaty that it shall be recorded and the record sent in week by week to the Board of every such sale and of the reasons why it was necessary for that sale to be made by private treaty. I think we should take the utmost precautions possible to prevent sale by private treaty being abused. I think the Committee will see that there are bound to be cases where sale by private treaty enables the Government to secure the best possible price. Let us take the case of the farmer who has on his land some barbed wire. You will get a much better price out of that man if you arrange a reasonable price with him than if you pulled down the barbed wire and timber and carried them away to some centre where you will sell it by public auction.
That man knows the value of it. We must retain the liberty to sell by private treaty. I want to come to the question raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Dulwich. He completely withdrew the story to which he gave currency in this House the other day, that at a recent sale of motor-cars nine motor lorries had been sold in one lot, and before the buyer left the room he sold four of them for as much as he paid for the nine. I am sure the Committee will be glad to know my hon. and gallant Friend completely withdrew that story. I understand the gentleman who informed the gentleman who told my gallant Friend is now on the high seas. Anyhow I satisfied myself that there was no foundation for that story. I showed my Friend the record of every sale made by auction since 11th November, and there was not one instance in which motor cars had been sold except individually, and that will continue to be our practice except in very exceptional circumstances. The only circumstance I can at present visualise which would justify us in selling more than one car or lorry in a lot would be where you have two or three cars of foreign make very severely deteriorated or damaged, and where it was necessary to get one decent car to combine the three in separate parts. In those circumstances you would be justified in selling more than one in a lot. I was glad to hear the line, taken by my right hon. Friend the Member for Peebles when he opened this afternoon. He said Government expenditure is controlled not so much by the Government as by the House of Commons. I was glad to hear him say that because it was a reply to the pressure which was being put on me from various parts of the House to mix up philanthropy with the business of disposing of surplus stores. I hope I shall have the backing of the House in resisting this sort of pressure. The cases put are all cases which naturally appeal to us. I am asked why do not you allow the broken soldier to obtain his motor bicycle or his motor car on special terms? Why do not you allow the allotment holder to have special terms and reduced prices in buying agricultural implements? And so it has gone on. I hope the House will support the Ministry in saying that we have one duty and one duty only, and that is to secure for the people of this country the greatest pos- sible return which can be obtained for the many millions of money which have been so freely poured out during the War. I believe there is an opportunity of getting back something very substantial, not running into fancy figures, to which I referred just now, but some really substantial returns to the people of this country for the expenditure they so freely made. But if we start making exceptions I would like the hon. Member listening to me to have this in his mind, when he is asked to put a question on the Order Paper by this section or that, that when we start to make exceptions allowing them to have public property at less than its market value there is no knowing where that will stop. Now I come to the point particularly imposed on me by my hon. Friends opposite—that is to say, the policy of the Government in regard to the sale of national factories. I know how deep is the feeling which has been aroused in Labour circles by the action of the Government in deciding that they would dispose of some at any rate, and certainly of the great majority, of these national factories. There are130 national factories properly so-called; there are a large number of others, which have been loosely described as national factories, but which are not national factories which the Government is free to sell. The public expenditure on the provision, building, and equipment of these factories was £60,000,000. The balance of £5,000,000 of the figure of £65,000,000 which I gave the other day was spent on that other class of factory which I do not regard as being strictly described as "national." Sixty millions of money have been spent on these 130 national factories, and I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for North Aberdeen, who thought that Gretna Green, instead of making explosives, should have been kept for clandestine marriages—I can assure him that the expenditure on Gretna was included in the total I gave. Those factories have been divided into three classes. The first class consists of seven factories, which it is decided must be kept under Government control to supply munitions for the post-bellum Army, and possible military emergencies. The second class consists of fifteen factories. These factories may be leased or sold, but may only be leased or sold under conditions which enable the Government practically to reacquire possession if a war emergency should arise. The third class consists of 110 factories. A number of these will be retained to be available for the Government in the event of the Government deciding to produce goods for its own use. The majority—and I want to be quite frank with my Friends of the Labour party—the majority of this group of 110 will be disposed of, as rapidly as we can secure fair prices, to firms who will utilise them for increasing the productive capacity of the country. There remain thirty factories. These factories will, for the present, be retained for storage purposes. I have heard that described as a very wasteful use of national property. I hope the Committee will believe me that if they consider the problem as I have to do they will see it is not wasteful. There is a great demand in the country to-day for the storage of great quantities of munitions and surplus stores which are now coming back to this country from France, and other theatres of war, and where it is not convenient to sell them the storage does not exist outside some of these old gas, filling, and other national factories. It would be an exceedingly expensive proceeding to have to build storage for these factories now, and they are in fact being put to good use in being used for storage. By the time the necessity for storage has passed it will be possible, I hope, to dispose of them at better prices than can be realised now. My hon. Friend the second speaker from the Labour Benches has evidently got the idea, probably from the Socialist Press—a quite extravagant and mistaken idea—of what the Government has so far done in selling national factories. I have received Socialist newspapers, and read in them with great comfort on Sunday morning, a picture drawn of a Government composed of the friends of profiteers like those who now sit on this bench, eagerly handing over the people's birthright to more unscrupulous profiteers who have not succeeded in getting on to the Government Bench. I have to say that is quite a fancy picture. Up to the present time, so far from us having handed over Government property in this reckless condition, there has been one national factory sold, and that transaction was completed at half-past three this afternoon. I am going to give the House the figures, and I hope it will reassure the hon. Member who is under the impression that we are selling the people's birthright for a mess of pottage. This factory cost £133,000 to build. This afternoon the signature has been put to the agreement under which we get £140,000 for that factory. There are very exceptional circumstances in connection with the factory which make it a good bargain for the firm who bought it. There are two other cases in which, although the transaction has not yet been actually completed, negotiations have reached a very advanced stage. On one particular point, which was put to me by my hon. Friend—in the case of each of those factories the firms had an obligation or an option to purchase. I am not at the moment attempting to justify the terms of the obligation or option, though I think I could do so quite easily if necessary. In those two cases the sale is practically completed, but I do not give the figures.
The only two which have reached an advanced stage. I do not give the figures, because, obviously, while negotiations were going on it would not be right to publish the figures on which those negotiations were based. But my hon. Friends opposite criticise entirely from top to bottom the policy of parting with national factories. They say that you should retain these national factories for the use of the country. The policy of the Government has already been mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Sir E. Geddes). It is that the Government do not propose to use these factories for competing with private traders.
It was outside this House. I suppose it is within the recollection of most Members, and it has been repeated since. The Government do not intend to use these national factories for private trading purposes. That is what is attacked, as I understand, by the Labour party; and if they were here administering the government of this country they would use these national factories for the purpose of competing with private traders. If that really is what they mean, I am certain that they must realise that that does not involve merely the use of those factories, but that it would require a reconstruction of your industrial system from top to bottom. Is this a time in which a body of responsible men would venture to embark on so hazardous an ex- periment? That is what the young lions of the Socialist party are roaring for. They want to see the Government run all these factories, as they say, in the interests of the State. But it is not what the great majority of the people want. It is not what the great majority of the men, who returned Labour Members to this House, want. There is not a class of man in this country more "fed up," If I may use the colloquialism, with Government control than the British working man. He regards Government control and Government interference with industry as one of the necessary evils of war and thinks that the sooner it can be got rid of the better it will be for everybody. I do not want to press that too far, but it is a fact that is bound to influence and control the policy of any Government. The argument on which this case is based is, in my view, entirely fallacious. The case which is put to the Government is, that as these national factories served the country during the War, why should not you use them in order to help the country during the peace?
That is the substance of the Labour case which is presented. But there is this fallacy. During the War there was one buyer. That buyer was the Government. There was no other. Production was for one purpose, the purpose of war. The Government was all powerful in regard to the distribution of material. It could control what it pleased. It could issue its orders for priority. But now that we come to ordinary conditions of peace there is a total and fundamental change. Instead of one buyer, the Government, the industries of this country have to satisfy the multifarious needs of millions of buyers living under conditions of peace, and to satisfy the needs of a nation which is dependent for a great part of its living on its export trade. What would be the position of a Government if it decided to embark on this very hazardous experiment in regard to industries which have to depend on export trade? As a member of the Government, I am flattered by the confidence which the Labour party display in our ability successfully to run the in-industries of this country. It is most complimentary, and I hope that it is based on sound experience of the efficiency with which so far we have worked. But for a moment, closing my eye to this flattering and beatific vision, and looking at realities by an inward vision, I must say that I am appalled at the prospect of the Govern- ment having to go out on the market and compete with the producers, whether in Manchester, Northampton, Bedford, Bristol, or Glasgow. The Government would be beaten every time, and there are no men who would be quicker to protest, or would protest with more vehemence, than the men engaged in those great staple industries which have returned hon. Gentlemen opposite to represent them in this House.
There is another class of possible use for our national factories different in character from that to which I have been referring. The case is put, by men who have thought out the problem more closely that though it is not desirable to use national factories for the purpose of private trading, yet we should use them for the purpose of producing things which the Government itself needs. That is a more difficult case to meet. I am no pedant in regard to Government activities or Government entry into industries. I take no academic or pedantic view. From the time when I was connected with municipal work in this country I have always thought that there were great classes of activity in regard to which the Government and the municipalities had particular responsibilities, and in regard to some of which they ought to take them under their control. So I take no pedantic view on this question, and I want the Labour party both in this House and in the country, which is so profoundly interested in this question, to realise that it is not a question which can be settled by phrases or formulæ, but that it is a practical proposition divided into many sections, each one of which must justify itself as a working proposition. The Government has shown already that it is not pedantic. It is prepared to try proposals of this kind where there is a chance of success. We have already placed certain work at Woolwich Arsenal, not ordinary work but work for Government Departments, such as a certain number of milk churns for the Board of Agriculture and motor lorry repairs for the War Office, and a number of orders for doors are going to be placed there in connection with the Government building programme. So there has been no pedantry about it. What the Government desire to obtain is proof that these things can be made satisfactorily, cheaply, and so as to increase the total amount of employment in the country. Unless this State industry can prove that it can justify itself then this State enterprise is damned at the very beginning.
I would like here to acknowledge the assistance which has been given to us at Woolwich Arsenal by some of the gentlemen there and a small committee of workmen in working out a scheme there. They have recognised that it is an experiment and if it is to be more than an experiment it must justify itself as a commercial proposition. But we must not draw too far-reaching conclusions from the experience at Woolwich. Woolwich is singular among our national factories in having practically complete engineering equipment, thoroughly varied in character. It is almost the only one of our national factories which has so varied an equipment. We were also justified in making this experiment on this limited scale in Woolwich because it was necessary to keep Woolwich Arsenal in being as a producing unit in the event of any military emergency arising. In regard to most of our national factories, to which I have been referring, there is hardly one outside Woolwich which could be used for producing goods for the Government as they stand. A certain part of the plant would be superfluous and would have to be replaced by new plant bought from other factories or newly made. I want to take some trouble in regard to this case which has been put because, whatever may be the view of the Committee about it, I ask them to believe that there are large numbers of people in the country who think that we shall be betraying our trust unless we use these factories for Government needs, and it is worth while giving full attention to the point of view of those who hold this view. I hope therefore that the Committee will not think that I am spending too much time on that branch of the case.
This is the real difficulty in the way of the State utilising State factories for State purposes. The needs of the Government for any one commodity with the exception of Post Office requirements, to which I will refer in a moment, are not sufficiently great to enable you to produce on an economic basis. That is the fundamental difficulty with which we are faced. Whether it is a question of turning out motor lorries or furniture for Government offices, or whatever it may be our needs are not sufficiently great at any one time to cause us to produce in a quantity sufficiently great' to enable us to compete with the private manufacturer. Efficient production depends on the production of particular articles in great quantities, and if the Government were to set up or use one of our national factories for the purpose of producing, say, a thousand of one particular type of article, it could not hope to compete with the private firms which were producing tens of thousands of that article, and if we were to produce economically we should have to produce far more than the Government would need, and that would mean that we should have to sell the balance on the market, set up a sales organisation and enter into competition with the private firms of Manchester and all other parts of the country. That is a prospect which I, personally, should not contemplate with equanimity.
I believe that the more this problem is thought out the more it will be realised that there are only two alternatives for the State in such a case. It must either take entire control of a particular industry or it must leave it entirely alone. I believe that there is no half-way house. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] I see that my hon. Friends agree. I see that is what they are going to do, and I am glad that they have let us know. I am trying to meet the argument and put the practical difficulties, at any rate, which face us, and I say that there is no halfway house. You must either have State control of an industry from top to bottom or you must leave it entirely alone. I have no objection to State enterprise, but you are not going to solve this problem by fiddling little experiments of this kind, of the Government producing a few things here and a few things there for its own use. That is not how this problem is going to be solved. You have got to solve it quite at the other end, and if this were the occasion I should be glad to give my suggestion with regard to that. As to the proposal to use these national factories either for the purpose of competing with private trade or for the Government's own use it is one which will not stand examination. The last point on this aspect of the subject which I desire to put is with regard to the utilisation of the national factories as a panacea for unemployment. I was surprised to hear the hon. Member favour that policy as a panacea for unemployment. It is not lack of capacity for production in this country which accounts for the present unemployment. There is ample capacity, ample machine capacity. That is not the difficulty. The difficulty at present is lack of orders.
The difficulty is lack of orders, that is the trouble, and lack of orders is very largely due to want of confidence in the minds of those men who were responsible for the control and direction of industry in the past. I might become more controversial than I have so far been if I were to attempt to state what I regard as being the root causes of that lack of confidence. But that really is it. The Government, in my conviction, were right when they decided that the best and quickest way to get rid of unemployment was not to try these tinkering little experiments of using national factories for producing a few things which could be produced better by men producing them in greater quantity, but to get the wheels of industry running smoothly once more, and to restore confidence to all interests connected with industry, and to get us back once again to the practice and the confidence of peace days. That was what prompted the Government to decide that the best thing to do with these factories was to put them into the hands of men who could rapidly and efficiently use them in order to find employment. I am certain, if that problem had to be faced as a Government by hon. Members sitting opposite, they would have been forced to come to the same conclusion, so far as it was a problem for dealing with unemployment, that this Government has come to; that the quickest way to deal with it was to put those factories into the hands of men who could most easily and rapidly make use of them for increasing the productive capacity of this country as a whole. [An HON. MEMBER: "Without Orders!"]
Reference was made to the suggestion that some of these factories might be bought by trade unions and co-operative societies. I understood my hon. Friend spoke with certain disrespect of that proposal. I regret it. I believe that there is a possibility here of providing a means of solving some questions. [An Hon. Member: "Piecemeal!"] I care not as to that because the man who sets out to reform things in this world except piecemeal, or bit by bit, comes to disaster. There is no other way of solving troubles in this world except bit by bit and piecemeal. I do not intend to treat this suggestion with disrespect. I and glad to say we have now before us a proposal that one of the best of our factories should be utilised by an organisation of trade unions and others where the interest of the workers will be equal with the interests of the employers, the employers being in this case the representatives of the workmen. If that proposal materialises, as I hope it will materialise, the Ministry of Munitions will be prepared to consider it sympathetically and to do everything it can to give the experiment a fair chance. I hope we shall have more of such proposals so that labour can show what it can do in running the industries of the country. No doubt they will be able to do it very much better than it has been done in the past, and be able to relegate the old employing classes to the limbo of useless things, to which I think they all feel they ought to be relegated. I conclude, then, by saying that the policy of the Government was based on the conviction that the best and quickest way of getting rid of unemployment was to restore industry to its accustomed channels. The work of the Ministry of Munitions has changed in character, but I think it has become more difficult than it was before. None of us need expect to get much glory out of the sales of certain stores. I hope that the organisation set up will succeed in protecting the country from most of the abuses to which our attention was directed after the South African War. We cannot promise that no mistakes will be made, but I am quite certain that anybody who examines the organisation that has been created will agree that the work has been put into the hands of men who know it, and that we have taken every possible precaution to guard against the possibility of abuses. Our one desire is in that work to secure the best returns to the people of this country that we can secure to them for the millions of money which they so lavishly spent during the War.
My hon. Friend need not have expressed any regrets to the Committee as to the time he has taken up in the deliverance of a most interesting speech. In that speech there were many patches of most useful information, but in that speech also there was a complete absence of any appreciation of the main points put by my hon. Friend from this side, who expressed the Labour point of view. I want to express in their name our disappointment at what we regard as the failure of the Government, and it may be particularly of the Department for which the hon. Gentleman has just spoken, to handle effectively and to handle efficiently the intermediary stage in which we still find ourselves as between, the state of war and the state of peace. I would ask my hon. Friend to remember what is the effect of such an answer as has so far been given upon the Labour mind in the country, which is looking for much more hope and assurance than it has yet received from several spokesmen of the Government who have dealt with these industrial questions. I can assure my hon. Friend that all of us on this side of the House share his view as to the evil results of the state of unsettlement of the country, and as to the desirability of settling down to a state of peaceful industry and productiveness in the general national interests. I am going to put a definite question to illustrate what is in our mind. Is it better for a Government to pay in benefit nearly £1,000,000 per week of State money than, to spend any similar such sum in efficiently conducting, if only for the time being, these State factories, these great centres of employment, which were so busy during the War, in order that some 700,000 persons, who for doing nothing are receiving unemployment benefit, should day by day be producing some useful result and be properly employed? That is a fair question which I think we are entitled to submit to the Government, and to require, an answer. There is really no use in debating this question upon lines which attempt a close adherence to the doctrines of political economy. My hon. Friend has so frequently departed from those doctrines whilst appearing to sustain the case for them that he has been driven back time after time to conditions of expediency as against principle. We understand from one part of his speech that it is quite wrong for a Government to enter into competition with private traders, and he has declared that it is the policy of the Government that that must not be done.
The hon. Gentleman told us that we had a statement from one of the principal Ministers to the effect that it was the declared policy of the Government not to enter into competition with private trade, and yet the hon. Gentleman told us that the War Office and other State Departments are purchasing directly from certain of the Government factories products of those factories in which are employed State workmen paid by State wages. If those workmen did not produce those goods it is quite clear the State Department would have to be supplied by the ordinary private trader producing the required article in the usual way. Therefore it would appear to be right for the State to organise certain limited supplies for itself so long as it supplies them to other State Departments who would be receiving those necessary articles from private trades, if they were not made under State auspices. What are we to say to the suggestion that it is quite right and proper for trade unions to enter into competition with private traders, and to enter into such competition with the encouragement and assistance of the Government? We have been tempted by attractive offers to establish ourselves as manufacturers and as captains of industry. Our answer is that just as this House properly keeps itself within its "Rules and Standing Orders and discharges the functions for which it exists, so must the trade unions keep within their rules and standing orders and perform the special functions for which, they were brought into being. They were not created to be trading companies or to engage in various private enterprises. They have a special duty to discharge towards their various members, and they are doing it in their own way by improving the wage and labour conditions of their various members. I regret, therefore, that my hon. Friend has failed to give us any comfort by his revelation of policy on behalf of the Government this evening. Let me press the necessity of the Government giving further consideration to this matter from the standpoint of relieving the present tension in the working-class mind with regard to unemployment. The Prime Minister this week once more has emphasised what is perhaps the principal underlying cause of the unrest in the labour world to-day. It is the dread of unemployment. It is not merely the suffering which results from unemployment at the moment; it is the fear still lingering in the mind that that state of idleness may be continued, and may even grow worse. Economic doctrines, therefore, might well for the time being, be set aside to ease this situation, because even if the State could not be a very perfect competitor of the private trader, it would be worth the while of the State, as a temporary industrial measure, if no more, to keep a very large number of these persons at work, and instead of paying them, as I have said, a considerable sum per week for doing nothing at all, to employ them until private enterprise was able to absorb them in the usual way.
My hon. Friend answers that the real underlying cause of unemployment is the absence of demand for work. We have only to turn to the absence of house accommodation, to the state of our streets and roads, to any one of those numerous evidences of arrears of the needs and amenities of life to see how incomplete is the statement of my hon. Friend that there is no demand for work, and that that is the cause of unemployment. The Government has undertaken the responsibility of dealing with the housing problem. It has a very close relationship with the various municipal bodies, and these municipal bodies might very well, jointly with the State, turn immediately to the performance of some of that work which has become most urgent in order to improve the streets and roads of our numerous towns and cities; so I press this view upon my hon. Friend as one which deserves more attention, because the Government cannot go on interminably paying this idle money at the cost, as I say, of nearly a million a week to the purse of the State, it cannot go on merely living in hope of the labour market improving. We cannot unfortunately look to any very speedy settlement of the industrial and social life of countries like Russia and Germany, and other countries, countries which must improve their own conditions of internal peace before we can expect to find ourselves properly settled down to a continuance of our usual peaceful industrial pursuits. Therefore, if only as a temporary and as an urgent measure, I submit that it has become the business of the Government to set aside these theories and to overlook even what we have regarded hitherto as fixed and unalterable principles of economic doctrines, and so to organise the State service and its present idle factories and idle stores as to set to work a large number of people who by employment could be producing many of the things which are now wanted for home comforts instead of receiving the weekly dole, large though it may be, from the public Treasury.
It is difficult to reconcile all that one hears in this House, and it is not easy to reconcile the picture drawn by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War, asking for £500,000,000, with the picture of Woolwich Arsenal being turned into a manufactory for milk pails. We have heard of turning swords into ploughshares, but now we hear of turning guns into milk pails. I want to address myself to the question of the disposal of stores. Hon. Members who heard that long list, ranging from tanks to tin-tacks, probably thought of the particular article of which they had particular knowledge. I can only judge the position from the matter that I have some acquaintance with, and that is the question of the disposal of land and buildings. We have been assured by the hon. Gentleman that the Department which he adorns has taken every possible precaution to ensure that the matters that have to be disposed of will be, realised to the best advantage of the people of this country. I have no doubt that that is true in the main, but I cannot check it in regard to many of its aspects. I can, however, check it in regard to the very important question of land and buildings, and I want to suggest to the hon. Gentleman that whatever precautions may have been taken in regard to other matters for disposal, they have missed a very obvious precaution they might have taken with respect to the disposal of land and buildings under their charge. It will be remembered, or it will be well within the recollection of this House—I believe that is the phrase—and of those Members who were here in 1909–10, that the Prime Minister, who was commencing at that time that great path of social reform in which he has now the support of the entire House, but in which at that time he was not quite so unanimously supported, was engaged in passing an Act which was known as the Finance Act, 1909–10, and as a result of that Act there was set up in this country a very considerable Department having to deal with the valuation of lands and buildings. That Department attracted a very considerable notice at the time, and although it has since sunk into tome obscurity it still exists and is still carrying on a very important work. How important that work is may be gathered from the fact that it is the instrument of the Treasury in assessing the whole of the value of land and buildings which pass in this country either at death or on sale, amounting to some hundreds of millions of pounds per annum. This is a great Government Department. It is established all over this country, and it is a most efficient organisation. I can say that with perfect truth, because I was a member of it myself for some eight years, and it has in its possession all the facts and figures that can possibly be known in this country with regard to the value of land and buildings.
Would it not be imagined that a really efficient Department having an instrument of that kind at its disposal would take the trouble to consult it? Would it not be imagined that a Department which has at the present time, I understand, property in the nature of land and buildings to the extent of some £65,000,000 would take the trouble to make an inquiry of that Department in respect to any particular parcel it wished to dispose of? Although I have been in the Civil Service for a number of years, I am probably in capacitated by that fact from really understanding the rules of business, but from my recollections of my earlier business career it does seem to me that that would be the course expected of a Department which prided itself upon taking every possible precaution. What has been the actual policy of the Ministry? I think it has been to avoid by every possible means in its power taking that course, and it is the more extraordinary when one remembers that another great Department, the Department of which we probably are more proud than of any other in this country, and that is the Admiralty, throughout the whole course of the War, whenever it had occasion to acquire land and buildings for its purposes, did take this course. I do not know whether seamen are supposed to be better business men than landsmen, but they took the view that with this instrument in their hands, which cost them nothing the best course for them was to employ it in ascertaining some fair idea of what they were doing. Instead of which, the Ministry of Munitions ignores this great body of Civil servants. It sets up another Department. There may be some good reason for it. It may be a Department which is particularly subject to the disadvantages of Civil servants, and the Ministry of Munitions may have sound reasons for ignoring it, reasons which they have not disclosed to the Treasury or to the Admiralty, and reasons which I for one would be very glad to get out of them in the course of the discussion to-night. I invite the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to the reply which he gave me the other day when I asked him, in view of a Report that was made by a Select Committee on the working of this Department and its relations to the Admiralty and the expression of opinion contained therein, that very considerable service had been rendered by this Department, whether it was a fact that he would take advantage of this knowledge? The reply was that they were prepared to take advantage of any information that this Department cared to offer them. Is it to be supposed that one Department can ran after another Department and say, "Is there any way in which we can help you?" Would not the most sensible thing be for the Department which wants help to ask for it? I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that he should in the disposal of land and buildings take advantage of the information that lies at hand, and that he should give to this House an undertaking that he will not dispose of a single piece of land or a single building without first getting an opinion of value from the Valuation Branch of the Board of Inland Revenue.
For some years I was in charge of one of their districts, and I had this extraordinary experience. There I was, sitting in my office. I had some 80,000 files, in which were comprised particulars of every piece of land over the area in which I was placed. I had maps in my office in which were shown every plot. I received applications in considerable numbers from the Admiralty to advise them, but no inquiries came from the Ministry of Munitions or from the War Office. I do not blame the hon. Gentleman for the sins of the War Office; he has enough of his own to account for. But that was the position. I heard occasionally that men came into the neighbourhood who could not possibly have any local knowledge and who had not the facilities for acquiring the knowledge, and who never came to me for any assistance or help, which would gladly have been given, but who as best they could arrived at their own opinions in regard to the value of property. The hon. Gentleman has told us of the great work he has done, and it has been a great work and I do not want to minimise it. It has been an extraordinarily great work, but I suggest to him that some little doubt is felt throughout the House by Members who stand in the same position with regard to other things as I do in regard to land, when they find that his little boast that he is taking every possible precaution in the disposal of properties and that he is placing matters in the hands of those best qualified to help him, is not exactly being carried out. I make these remarks not to hinder, but to help him. He is at the beginning of his stage, and says he has sold one factory. He has done extraordinarily well with the first one and may be congratulated upon it. I am sure that he will not be hindered or embarrassed in any way in disposing of the remainder if he does take advantage of the assistance which lies to his hands, and consults that great Department of State which has in its possession so much information with regard to the value of land.
I think I can immediately dispel the doubts of my hon. and gallant Friend or of any other hon. Members who may hold the same view. I occupy the position of Chairman of the Advisory Committee for the disposal of all lands, buildings, factories and furniture, and I can assure hon. Members that the Committee over which it is my privilege to preside will, I am perfectly sure, under the guidance and leadership of Sir Howard Frank, who is our administrative godfather, take every opportunity, whenever Lord Inverforth seeks advice, as he has already done, as to the disposal of any land, buildings, factories, or furniture, to become seised of all the information that is at the disposal either of the Department which the hon. and gallant Gentleman mentioned or of any other Department. The other Committee to which he referred reported on the excellent work done by the valuer of the Inland Revenue and the Admiralty. Let me assure him that Sir Howard Frank has, during the War, held the office of Director-General of Land, not only to the War Office and Ministry of Munitions and the Air Service, but also at the Admiralty. He has had at his disposal every single item of information that could be of any use whatever in relation to the ownership or occupation of every acre of land that any one of these Government Departments may have for disposal. I am perfectly sure of this—and I have no interest whatever in it, other than having nearly all my life been concerned either with the ownership or management of land, and I am sure that the members of my Committee have no other interest than to endeavour, having possessed ourselves of all the information that may be of use to us before we tender advice to Lord Inverforth and his administrative officers, to be able to say at the end that we have cashed everything there is to cash at the best possible price—that of all the millions that have been spent, large amounts of money, as my hon. Friend opposite has stated, must be a dead loss. In these factories, which were fitted up for a particular form of projectile, I am advised, and my Committee are advised, that the major portion of their machinery cannot be turned to any industrial use. Therefore, I would warn hon. Members that the original cost is no indication at all as to the price we may be able to obtain. But really I only rose at the earliest possible moment to dispel all these doubts. We, I have no doubt, shall make no end of mistakes, and I hope there will not be enough lamp-posts in Westminster on which to hang us all, but I can assure my hon. Friends that everything possible is being done, and that we have our eyes on everything that is of any possible use whatever.
I had not the advantage of hearing anything except occasional passages from the very able speech of my hon. Friend (Mr. Kellaway), arid therefore I speak with some ignorance of what he said. I do not know whether he made any allusion to what the Government are doing with the munition factories in Ireland.
I cannot speak with any fullness of information, but only on rumours that have been brought to my attention. I think the hon. Gentleman will agree with me that the munition work in Ireland was extremely well done, and that some of the young men and women there were rather conspicuous by the promptitude and dexterity which they acquired during that work. It has been reported to me that some of these munition factories are being disposed of, and I will just give two or three words of warning to my hon. Friend. In the first place, I am told that the prices are not quite so good as one could expect, and that as a result, in some cases at least, the factories, having been disposed of, the purchasers are engaged not in making any attempt to continue the factories, but in disposing at the best price they can of the machinery. That is about as bad a use as can be made of these munition factories. I heard a passage in the speech of my hon. Friend, in which he pointed out that it was absolutely necessary for the country that the factories here should be in the hands of people who had the capital, enterprise and knowledge to use these factories for the very necessary purpose of increasing the production of the country. If that observations be applicable to England, I think it is still more applicable to Ireland. One of the hopes I had—and I think I was justified in that hope by some observations made, not by the hon. Member (Mr. Kellaway) but by a gentleman connected with the Ministry—from the establishment of these munition factories in Ireland, and still more from the satisfactory manner in which they had turned out, was that they might be used for the very necessary purpose of starting industrial development in Ireland. I heard I hope it is not true, that some of the women who now find themselves without employment in these munition, works have been informed that the only way they can get employment is by going to France to work there. I only repeat the rumour as it was stated to me, and I give it under all reserve. I should be glad to give the Government an opportunity of denying the rumour if it is untrue, because it would certainly work some mischief if it were true, and I should certainly strongly condemn it. I do not wish to say any more at this moment, but I think I have thrown out to the Department and to the hon. Member, and to the Chief Secretary, a hint on which they may act, and use these factories for a somewhat better purpose than getting rid of them and then allowing the purchasers simply to turn down the machinery at the best prices they can get.
I waited for a moment in the hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary would initiate himself into the government of Ireland by dealing in some practical manner with the suggestions made by my hon. Friend the Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. T. P. O'Connor), because I have been reading in the reports of the various itineries of the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor and of Lord Gladstone that the one thing in all the world upon which they had set their hearts was to develop Irish industry, and in that little Island to create the heaven on earth which the Prime Minister is going to create here. This is a very small matter. The suggestion which my hon. Friend makes is that these munition factories, which have been erected at tremendous cost to the State, might be utilised for some of these industrial purposes which have been adumbrated in the speeches of Lord French and the Home Secretary. In the distribution of the public funds which have been devoted to the erection of munition factories Ireland had a very, very small share. The excuse made for it was that Ireland was not an industrial country, and that she was incapable of doing the particular class of work that was needed for war purposes. But we got a little, and two or three factories were erected in Ireland. I think I am right in saying—the hon. Member the Minister who has spoken can correct me if he likes—that although Ireland was not an industrial country, I mean in the three Southern provinces, and although the people there were altogether unaccustomed to this class of work, or indeed to any mechanical work, yet they have manifested a skill, a dexterity, and an efficiency in the making of munitions in these factories which called forth the loudest eulogies from those in responsible positions in the Department which controlled them. If the Government close up these factories, or scrap the machinery and tear down the factories, they will be doing a greater wrong to the community than if they had never erected these factories at all. They created an industrial mentality; they developed an industrial experience, and created a new point of view for the people living in those parts of Ireland, an industrial point of view, and now, when the War is over, these people who were altogether new to this character of work and occupation, and who have completed their work, are to be thrown out and a new arena of unemployment is to be created. I think that the right hon. Gentleman, who, I suppose, is going to continue the policy of glorious and magnificent promises to Ireland on the lines of industrial development, will be the first Chief Secretary that I ever remem- ber who was prepared to put his promises into operation. This is a very small thing, and I would respectfully suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he might set his mind to work and discover whether, instead of building new factories in this country at tremendous cost, that some of these factories in Ireland might not be utilised for the purpose of taking advantage of the skill and the training of men and the fresh workers, who bring perhaps a finer mind to the task of industrialism than the tired class of workers; and that he might apply his mind to the work of trying to utilise these buildings, created at a large public expense, for the purpose of giving employment and adding to the prosperity of the nation.
As the representative of one of the few favoured constituencies in Ireland which had the opportunity of having a factory allocated to it, I desire to say one or two words in support of the statements of my two hon. Friends. I listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. and gallant Gentleman who represents Horncastle (Lieutenant-Colonel Weigall), who is the Chairman of the Committee which has the disposal of the factories and the land on which they stand. I was rather surprised to hear, at the conclusion of his remarks that his chief concern, as Chairman of this Committee, was that the outlay by the taxpayers of this country should be returned to that class. That is not, in my opinion, a statesmanlike view, or a practicable view, for the Government to take. I should say that these factories, having been brought into existence, especially new factories, creating entirely new conditions and new means of employment, as they have done in a few—only too few—portions of Ireland, the Government should rather look towards the prospect of keeping on these factories in some shape or form, and endeavouring to continue the employment that has arisen during the War.
My chief concern, therefore, is not what price the Treasury of the Ministry of Munitions should receive for these factories, but rather by what means the Government should be able to develop, and continue to develop, these factories for the benefit of the community at large. I think that it would be nothing short of an outrage to scrap machinery and plant, to sell land, and do away with the means of giving em- ployment which has succeeded so well in portions of that country which so much needed it. I think that every Government factory in Ireland should not be scrapped, but should be sold as a going concern. What I mean is that if the Government are not prepared themselves to continue giving employment in some form or another, they should, at any rate, encourage the private enterprise of manufacturers, and state openly and firmly that they will sell them only as going concerns.
I would like to make this further suggestion. In a case I have particularly in my mind, I know that the municipal authorities are desirous of securing a very fine power-house, and also the adjacent factory for the benefit, in the first place, of the electric lighting of that city, and, in the second place, for letting out the surplus electric power from the power-house to enable a factory to be thereupon instituted. In a case, like that, I think it is only right that, when the Government is dealing with Government institutions and Government property, they should give preference—I say it unhesitatingly—to a municipality or to a municipal authority who are desirous of forwarding and benefiting—and who can show that they will do so—the needs and the necessities of the community they represent. I think that the Government should give them a preference over any private enterprise, but I think that any private enterprise should be given a preference over a system of selling piecemeal or scrapping machinery which, if sold piecemeal or scrapped, might be of very little use, but which if left in its present condition might be able to be made of great service, and a means of employment for the people in the neighbourhood.
My hon. Friend the Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) mentioned a case about the alternative employment which was proposed to the women workers who had lately been employed in a munition factory. I do not know whether the Committee, or even the Chief Secretary, exactly credited my hon. Friend's description of what took place, but may I be allowed to add my own knowledge as to the accuracy of the facts he mentioned, because they intimately concern my own Constituency? As a matter of fact, only this day I have received a communication that the women workers in the national cartridge factory at Waterford have been docked, or done out of, or cut short of their thirteen weeks' unemployment benefit, because they were offered, as an alternative means of employment, that they might go to France and obtain it there. I do not say that that has been done in all cases, but I have a petition in my possession from a large body of the women workers in that factory. It has been sent to me by a mutual benefit insurance society upon their behalf, and I can state without fear of contradiction that these women, who were employed a few weeks ago on munition work, and who were told when that munition factory was closed down that they were going to get this unemployment benefit, have now been told, before the thirteen weeks have elapsed during which they should have received this unemployment benefit, that unless they are willing to go to France and take employment there, they will receive no further unemployment benefit from the Government. I think that is a very unfair and very improper alternative for the Government to make to women workers—most of them married women workers—who have been employed in Government factories.
I only mention this case to supplement the remarks and the conclusions come to by my hon. Friend. The unemployment benefit, in my opinion, has been the worst form of bribery and corruption, and has worked worse for the benefit of the community as a whole than any proposal ever brought forward by any Government in this country. I was entirely against it from the start. What the Government should have done when the munition factories were turned down was to have found other sources of employment for the people. They should not have doled out large sums of money at the expense of the State for nothing. They should have given work to the people to do. Work is good for all of us. Give them work for the benefit of the State and pay them well, and you would have something to show for the money that has been allotted to them. Instead of that, you have nothing now, and you will have a further petition to continue this Government dole. I, therefore, desire to join most heartily with my right hon. Friend the Member for the Plaiting Division of Manchester (Mr. Clynes), when he said that the Government should immediately, here and now, give employment that will be productive, such as the improving of roads, the erection of artisan dwellings, and various kinds of work whereby they can improve the lives and conditions of the people. I hope sincerely that if the Chief Secretary has anything to say on this matter, as it affects Ireland, he will take into consideration the remarks that have been made by my hon. Friends and myself on behalf of the community as a whole.
I should like to support what has just been said by the hon. and gallant Member for Waterford as to the waste of money in out-of-work donations. I think the proper thing for the good of the country, instead of giving those donations to an immense amount, would have been to have enlisted every man fit to work and said to him, "Now you go to the front and do your bit for a time, and let those men who have done their bit—"
There is one point I would like to ask the hon. Member in charge of Munitions. Can he tell us whether the high rates of wages paid for unskilled labour in monitions work is being paid now that the urgency of those munitions is gone? I had a case brought to me concerning the digging of gun-pits for the trial of guns. On those gun-pits, I was told, a very large number of Irishmen were employed during war-time. Whether they are still employed there I cannot say, but all those men received on the average
They are all leaving their work, and the farmers cannot get labour for agriculture, which is urgently necessary. I would ask, therefore, the representative of the Munitions Department to tell us whether these very high wages for the unskilled work of digging these pits are still being continued or not?
I am afraid I must ask for notice of the question. I should imagine that that work is probably already ceased. I want to say, on behalf of my hon. Friend the Deputy-Minister, that he has been feeling exceedingly unwell this afternoon, and had very great doubts whether he could get through his speech. Having got through it, he felt unable to stay any longer, and he regrets very much that ha was not able to listen to the representations of my hon. Friends from Ireland. I have taken careful note of them myself, and will convey them to him to-morrow.
Question put, "That Item (Ministry of Munitions) be reduced by£10."
|Division No. 10.]||AYES.||[7.30 p.m.|
|Adamson, Rt Hon. William||Hayday, A.||Sitch, C. H.|
|Arnold, Sydney||Hirst, G. H.||Smith, W. (Wellingborough)|
|Bell, James (Ormskirk)||Hogge, J. M.||Spoor, B. G.|
|Bromfield, W.||Irving, Dan||Swan, J. E. C.|
|Brown, J. (Ayr and Bute)||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Taylor, J. W. (Chester-le-Street)|
|Cairns, John||Jones, J. (Silvertown)||Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Derby)|
|Carter, W. (Mansfield)||Kenyon, Barnet||Thomas, Brig.-Gen. Sir O. (Anglesey)|
|Clynes, Rt. Hon. J. R.||Lunn, William||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton, E.)|
|Davies, Alfred (Clitheroe)||M'Lean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)||Thorne, Col. W. (Plaistow)|
|Davison, J. E. (Smethwick)||O'Connor, T. P.||Tootill, Robert|
|Devlin, Joseph||O'Grady, James||Waterson, A. E.|
|Donnelly, P.||Redmond, Captain William A.||Wedgwood, Col. Josiah C.|
|Edwards, C. (Bedwellty)||Richardson, R. (Houghton)||White, Charles F. (Derby, W.)|
|Graham, D. M. (Hamilton)||Roberts, F. O. (W. Bromwich)||Wignall, James|
|Graham, W. (Edinburgh)||Rose, Frank H.||Young, Robert (Newton, Lancs.)|
|Griffiths, T. (Pontypool)||Royce, William Stapleton|
|Grundy, T. W.||Sexton, James||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Mr. T. Wilson and Captain A. Smith.|
|Hall, F. (Yorks, Normanton)||Shaw, Tom (Preston)|
|Hallas, E.||Short, A. (Wednesbury)|
|Ainsworth, Captain C.||Astbury, Lt.-Com. F. W.||Baldwin, Stanley|
|Archdale, Edward M.||Atkey, A. R.||Balfour, George (Hampstead)|
|Barker, Major R.||Green, A. (Derby)||Ormsby-Gore, Hon. William|
|Barlow, Sir Montague (Salford, S.)||Gregory, Holman||Palmer, Brig.-Gen. G. (Westbury)|
|Barnes, Rt. Hon. G. N. (Gorbals)||Greig, Col. James William||Parker, James|
|Barnes, Major H. (Newcastle, E.)||Gretton, Col. John||Parkinson, Albert L. (Blackpool)|
|Barton, Sir William (Oldham)||Griggs, Sir peter||Pennefather, De Fonblanque|
|Beckett, Hon. Gervase||Gritten, W. G. Howard||Perring, William George|
|Bell, Lieut.-Col. W. C. H. (Devizes)||Guest, Major O. (Leices., Loughb'ro'.)||Pickering, Col. Emil W.|
|Benn, Sir Arthur S. (Plymouth)||Guinness, Lt.-Col. Hon. W. E. (B. St. E.)||Pownall, Lt.-Col. Assheton|
|Benn, Com. Ian Hamilton (G'nwich)||Hacking, Captain D. H.||Pratt, John William|
|Betterton, H. B.||Hailwood, A.||Preston, W. R.|
|Bigland, Alfred||Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir Fred (Dulwich)||Pretyman, Rt. Hon. Ernest G.|
|Birchall, Major J. D.||Haslam, Lewis||Purchase, H. G.|
|Bird, Alfred||Hayward, Major Evan||Rae, H. Norman|
|Borwick, Major G. O.||Henderson, Major V. L.||Ramsden, G. T.|
|Bowles, Col. H. F.||Hennessy, Major G.||Randles, Sir John Scurrah|
|Brackenbury, Col. H. L.||Herbert, Dennis (Hertford)||Raw, Lt.-Col. Dr. N.|
|Brassey, H. L. C.||Hickman, Brig.-Gen. Thomas E.||Rawlinson, John Frederick Peel|
|Bridgeman, William Clive||Hills, Major J. W. (Durham)||Regwick, G.|
|Brittain, Sir Harry E.||Hinds, John||Richardson, Albion (Peckham)|
|Britton, G. B.||Holmes, J. S.||Roberts, Rt. Hon. G. H. (Norwich)|
|Brown, Captain D. C. (Hexham)||Hood, Joseph||Robinson, S. (Brecon and Radnor)|
|Bruton, Sir J.||Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield)||Robinson,T. (Stretford, Lancs.)|
|Buchanan. Lieut.-Col. A. L. H.||Hops, Lt.-Col. Sir J. (Midlothian)||Roundell, Lt.-Col. R. F.|
|Buckley, Lt.-Col A.||Hopkinson, Austin (Mossley)||Rowlands, James|
|Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James||Horne, Edgar (Guildford)||Samuel, A. M. (Farnham, Surrey)|
|Burn, Col. C. R. (Torquay)||Howard, Major S. G.||Samuel, S. (Wandsworth, Putney)|
|Burn, T. H. (Belfast)||Hughes, Spencer Leigh||Samuels, Rt. Hon. A. W. (Dublin Univ.)|
|Campbell, J. G. D.||Hurd, P. A.||Sanders, Colonel Robert Arthur|
|Campion, Col. W. R. D.||Hurst, Major G. B.||Seager, Sir William|
|Carew, Charles R. S. (Tiverton)||Inskip, T. W. H.||Shaw, Capt. W. T. (Forfar)|
|Carr, W. T.||Jameson, Major J. G.||Shortt, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Carter, R. A. D. (Manchester)||Jephcott, A. R.||Simm, M. T.|
|Cautley, Henry Strother||Jesson, C.||Sprot, Col. Sir Alexander|
|Cayzer, Major H. R.||Jodrell, N. P.||Stanier, Capt. Sir Beville|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord H. (Oxford Univ.)||Johnstone, J.||Stanley, Col. Hon. G. F. (Preston)|
|Chamberlain, N. (Birm., Ladywood)||Jones, Sir E. R. (Merthyr)||Starkey, Capt. John Ralph|
|Cheyne, Sir William Watson||Jones, G. W. H. (Stoke Newington)||Steel, Major S. Strang|
|Child, Brig.-Gen. Sir Hill||Jones, J. Towyn (Carmarthen)||Stephenson, Col. H. K.|
|Clay, Capt. H. H. Spender||Jones, Wm. Kennedy (Hornsey)||Stewart, Gershom|
|Clough, R.||Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement||Stoker Robert Burdon|
|Coates, Major Sir Edward F.||Lane-Fox, Major G. R.||Strauss, Edward Anthony|
|Cohen, Major J. B. B.||Larmor, Sir J.||Sturrock, J. Leng-|
|Collins, Col. G. P. (Greenock)||Law, A. J. (Rochdale)||Sugden, Lieut. W. H.|
|Compton-Rickett, Rt. Hon. Sir J.||Law, Rt. Hon. A. Bonar (Glasgow)||Surtees, Brig.-Gen. H. C.|
|Conway, Sir W. Martin||Lewis, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Univ. Wales)||Sutherland, Sir William|
|Cope, Major W. (Glamorgan)||Lloyd, George Butler||Sykes, Sir C. (Huddersfield)|
|Cowan, D. M. (Scottish Univ.)||Lorden, John William||Taylor, J. (Dumbarton)|
|Cozens-Hardy, Hon. W. H.||Lort-Williams, J.||Terrell, G. (Chippenham, Wilts.)|
|Craig, Capt. C. (Antrim)||Loseby, Captain C. E.||Thomas, Sir R. (Wrexham, Denb.)|
|Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry||Lowther, Col. C. (Lonsdale, Lancs.)||Thompson, F. C. (Aberdeen, S.)|
|Curzon, Commander Viscount||Lyle, C. E. Leonard (Stratford)||Thomson, T. (Middlesbrough, W.)|
|Davidson, Major-General J. H.||Lynn, R. J.||Townley, Maximillian G.|
|Davies, Alfred Thomas (Lincoln)||Lyon, L.||Turton, Edmund Russborough|
|Davies, Sir Joseph (Crewe)||M'Curdy, Charles Albert||Waddington, R.|
|Davies, T. (Cirencester)||M'Donald, D. H. (Bothwell, Lanark)||Walker, Col. William Hall|
|Davies, Sir W. Howell (Bristol, S.)||M'Guffin, Samuel||Walton, J. (York, Don Valley)|
|Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington)||M'Laren, R. (Lanark, N.)||Ward, Col. L. (Kingston-upon-Hull)|
|Dennis, J. W.||M'Lean, Lt.-Col. C. W. W. (Brigg)||Warner, Sir T. Courtenay T.|
|Dewhurst, Lieut.-Com. H.||Macmaster, Donald||Weston, Col. John W.|
|Donald, T.||M'Micking, Major Gilbert||Wheler, Col. Granville C. H.|
|Doyle, N. Grattan||Macpherson, Rt. Hon. James I.||White, Col. G. D. (Southport)|
|Edgar, Clifford||Maitland, Sir A. D. Steel-||Whitla, Sir William|
|Edwards, J. H. (Glam., Neath)||Malone, Major P. (Tottenham, S.)||Wigan, Brig.-Gen. John Tysen|
|Entwistle, Major C. F.||Martin, A. E.||Wild, Sir Ernest Edward|
|Falcon, Captain M.||Mason, Robert||Williams, A. (Consett, Durham)|
|Falle, Major Sir Bertram Godfray||Mitchell, William Lane-||Williams, Lt.-Com. C. (Tavistock)|
|Farquharson, Major A. C.||Moles, Thomas||Williams, Col. P. (Middlesbrough)|
|Fisher, Rt. Hon. Herbert A. L.||Molson, Major John Elsdale||Wilson, Col. Leslie (Reading)|
|FitzRoy, Capt. Hon. Edward A.||Mond, Rt. Hon. Sir Alfred Moritz||Wood, Major Hon. E. (Ripon)|
|Foreman, H.||Moreing, Captain Algernon H.||Wood, Sir H. K. (Woolwich, W.)|
|Foxcroft, Captain C.||Mount, William Arthur||Wood, Sir J. (Stalybridge and Hyde)|
|Fraser, Major Sir Keith||Munro, Rt. Hon. Robert||Woolcock, W. J. U.|
|Gardner, E. (Berks., Windsor)||Murchison, C. K.||Worsfold, T. Cato|
|Gibbs, Colonel George Abraham||Murray, Dr. D. (Western Isles)||Yate, Col. Charles Edward|
|Gilmour, Lt.-Col. John||Nall, Major Joseph||Yeo, Sir Alfred William|
|Glyn, Major R.||Neal, Arthur||Younger, Sir George|
|Goff, Sir R. Park||Nelson, R. F. W. R.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Lord Edmund Talbot and Mr. Dudley Ward.|
|Gould, J. C.||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. (Exeter)|
|Grant, James Augustus||Nicholson, W. (Petersfield)|
|Nield, Sir Herbert|
Question put, and agreed to.