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Commons Chamber

Volume 65: debated on Saturday 8 August 1914

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House Of Commons

Saturday, 8th August, 1914.

The House being met at Twelve o'clock noon, the Clerk at the Table (Sir COURTENAY ILBERT) informed the House of the unavoidable absence of Mr. Speaker from this day's Sitting.

Whereupon Mr. MACLEAN, the Deputy-Chairman, proceeded to the Table, and, after Prayers, took the Chair as Deputy-Speaker, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Private Business

Sheffield Corporation Bill,

York Corporation Bill,

In pursuance of the Order of the House of 27th July, Lords Amendments considered.

Lords Amendments agreed to.

Local Government Provisional Order (No. 23) Bill.

Ordered, That the Bill be suspended in order that the same may be proceeded with in the next Session of Parliament.

That, with regard to the said Bill, the Order of Presentation in the present Session shall be read, and thereupon the Bill shall be read the first and second time pro formâ, and the Order for referring the Bill to a Committee shall be dispensed with, and the Bill shall be read the third time pro formâ.—[ Mr. Gulland.]

Message to the Lords to acquaint them therewith.

Ordered, That this Order be a Standing Order of the House.—[ Mr. Gulland.]

Irish Land Commission

Copy presented of Return of Advances made under the Irish Land Purchase Acts during the month of December, 1913 [by Command]; to lie upon the Table.

Diseases Of Animals Acts

Copy presented of Order No. 9,190, dated 31st July, 1914, defining a Foreign Animals' Quarantine Station at Tilbury Docks, Essex [by Act]; to lie upon the Table.

Penal Servitude Acts (Conditional Licence)

Copy presented of a Licence granted to a Convict discharging her from Aylesbury Convict Prison on condition that she enters a Home [by Act]; to lie upon the Table.

Railway Servants (Hours Of Labour)

Copy presented of Report by the Board of Trade of their proceedings under the Railway Regulations Act, 1893, during the year ended 27th July, 1914 [by Act]; to lie upon the Table, and to be printed. [No. 442.]

Message From The Lords

That they have agreed to:—

Wick Harbour Order Confirmation Bill,

Education (Provision of Meals) (Ireland) Bill,

Injuries in War (Compensation) Bill,

Labourers (Ireland) Bill,

Police Reservists Allowances Bill,

Public Works Loans Bill,

Defence of the Realm Bill, without Amendment,

Housing Bill, with an Amendment.

London County Council (General Powers) Bill, Glasgow Corporation (Celluloid) Bill, Pack-Beresford's Divorce Bill,

The Lords concur in the Resolutions of the Commons with regard to the said Bills communicated to them yesterday.

War In Europe

Police Reservists (Wives And Relatives)

Perhaps the Home Secretary will answer an important question. It is whether he is aware that there are a large number of the wives and relatives of the police reservists who have been informed that, after the first payment, the men have been struck off pay, and whether he will take immediate steps to make public the arrangements for granting out of the police funds the allowances and gratuities in respect of police reservists who have been called upon for permanent service, as many of these women have been requested to pay their rent and settle other liabilities. I have seen several of the women this morning, and if the right hon. Gentleman can give some assurance and some public intimation, it will relieve anxiety.

I can give the Noble Lord that assurance. I certainly will do my best to see that the police authorities avail themselves of the special powers given to them by Statute two days ago.

Publication Of False News

May I ask the Home Secretary a question, of which I have given him private notice: Whether his attention has been called to the statements which appeared in a special edition of the "Daily Mail," published this morning, in regard to a naval battle which was said to have taken place off Holland and which appears to be absolutely untrue in every detail; and whether the Government will be able to take some steps to restrain a paper of this importance from publishing infamous and false war news in order that people may be deluded into buying their paper, thus causing very great hardship and heart-burning to the people who read this news? I am quite sure that the Government will do something to stop such infamous conduct.

On inquiry at the Admiralty, I learn that there is no foundation whatever for the statement that has appeared in the Press that there has been a great naval battle. This House, I am sure, will join in an expression of condemnation in the strongest terms of the fabrication of false news, which I cannot say, and do not say, in this case was wilfully done, but which might be wilfully done for the purpose of assisting the circulation of a newspaper.

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it is not the case that there has now been formed at the Admiralty a Press Bureau at which the representatives of all the London papers and the Press Agencies will have accommodation day and night, and whether now steps have not been taken to stop the dissemination of false news and to ensure a constant stream of accurate news for the public?

Yes, a Press Bureau, under the direction of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Walton Division of Liverpool (Mr. F. E. Smith), has been formed, and the public have a reasonable right to expect that no news will be published in the Press except such news as is furnished through this Bureau.

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is aware that it did not come into operation until to-day? I do not think that it is yet in operation, but it will be in operation from to-day?

May I ask whether the Government do not think it necessary to take some definite steps to prevent the dissemination of false news beyond a mere expression of opinion by this House?

May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the publication of false news is a misdemeanour under the existing law?

Yes, Sir, it is. The law is already strong enough to provide against the continuance of the publication of false news, but the difficulty of proof in each case is extremely great.

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider the suggestion of depriving any paper which publishes these things in future of the accurate news which is supplied to the Press?

Yes, Sir, I think that is a question which the Press Bureau will have to consider.

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman if he can take steps to prevent these men and boys calling out news which is not news, say at 12.30, 1, or 2 o'clock in the morning, not only in the West End of London but also in the outlying districts, thereby frightening people?

Yes, Sir; we are already taking steps to prevent the undue disturbance of the public by the calling out of news of any kind at late hours of the night; but we cannot expect the newsboys to discriminate between false and accurate news.

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether this newspaper applied either to the Press Bureau or to the Government for confirmation of the news before they published it.

If the right hon. Gentleman cannot see his way to introduce new legislation, can he at least address a grave communication to all newspapers requesting them not to publish any naval news not supplied by the Bureau?

I am sure that this unanimous expression of opinion by the House will have the greatest weight with the whole of the Press.

Agricultural Horses And Food Distribution

I beg to ask the Under-Secretary of State for War a question of which I have given him private notice namely, whether he is aware that the Remount officers are still commandeering all the farmers' horses in places where the harvest has only just begun, and whether in the interests of the food supply of the country he can see his way to prevent this in the future and to restore horses already taken until the harvest is gathered in?

I have received no notice of this question, but it is one exercising the War Office very considerably. I made a few observations on it either yesterday or the day before. It is very distressing to me to learn the information which the hon. Gentleman has brought before the notice of the House. I should have thought that probably it might have been a mistake, because our orders have been so explicit, and it is a great disappointment to hear what the hon. Member says. I, of course, will make inquiries, but the orders have been that horses engaged in the distribution of food and in harvesting operations shall not be taken to a greater extent than 50 per cent., and, if possible, to a smaller extent than that. I am sure that the House realises that for the mobilisation of the Army we must have horses. We do not want to interfere with the distribution of food or the gathering in of the harvest if possible, and every consideration will be given to farmers and those who are engaged in reaping the crops.

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an interview to my informant, who, if he is not now, will, I expect, be in the House in a few minutes, in order that he may get the facts?

Certainly. In response to the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford, I interviewed a gentleman yesterday who came in a state of anxiety because he had had half of his horses commandeered. I at once placed myself in communication with the Remount Department, and asked them to reduce the number of horses taken from that firm. Their prompt reply was, "Of course we will do so, if you say it is necessary, but at the same time we may have to come back and say the number of horses for the Army is not sufficient, and in that case we shall have to have more." I think the House will agree that would be worse than in the other case. Therefore, I make an appeal to all those interested in this question to ask those with whom they are in correspondence to cooperate as far as possible with the Remount Department.

May I supplement what my right hon. Friend has said with regard to the distribution of foodstuffs? We have been in communication with the authorities at the Board of Trade, and we have had the very willing co-operation of other firms in other businesses whose requirements in regard to horses and motor lorries are not so pressing. I need not mention them here, but they have shown very public-spirited attention to the distribution of food, which I hope will be copied by all those who at the present time can spare their motor vehicles or horses for this purpose.

The millers and other food distributors who had communicated with the right hon. Gentleman are anxious that as far as possible they should be released from the demand for their horses and motor lorries.

The hon. Member is now making a statement, and he is only entitled to ask questions.

May I ask if the Government are taking any steps for the more equal distribution of Government contracts with a view to lessening the inevitable amount of unemployment which will otherwise arise in manufacturing districts?

This matter has been brought to my notice. I have given instructions to the Government Contract Department, where it is possible, to make as wide a distribution as possible of the orders. They inform me it is essential that the Government requirements should be met, and the Contracts Department will naturally deal with firms that can meet the demands of the War Office. But, subject to that, there will be, of course, no objection to increasing the number of firms employed by the War Office.

Suppose a firm has an enormous contract and is working night and day. Could there not be some arrangement by which it could sub-let the work to one of the firms closing down?

I should certainly agree it is undesirable that overtime should be worked when a lot of people are out of work.

I should like to ask a question which is suggested by an answer given by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade who talked about motor cars, and the aid that owners of motor cars could give to the Government. As an individual owner of a motor car I have received no suggestion of any need on the part of the Government. I need not say I should at once comply with it. Other owners must be in the same position, and if the Government will let owners of private motor cars know exactly what is wanted I am confident they will do their best to give what help they can.

I am very glad to hear the statement of the right hon. Gentleman. Our communications so far have been with the largo distributing firms whose trade for the moment must of necessity be interfered with. I thought this was a very suitable occasion for private owners to assist the bakers for instance in the distribution of bread in the morning. By so doing they would be adding enormously to the convenience of the householders who, in many parts of the country, cannot themselves collect the bread they require. They might also in their own particular districts get into communication with the millers to ascertain if they can aid in securing better distribution. We are sending out public notices which we hope will come into the hands of all motor car owners in the United Kingdom.

Will the Under-Secretary of State for War consider, if he has not already done so, what assistance can be rendered in this matter by the manufacturers of motor cars? I gather from the correspondence I have-received that some of them have as yet had no communication from the War Office. I think they may be able to help.

I have not the actual facts by me. It is quite true that we have had a very large number of offers from individuals, from societies, and from so big a corporation as the Automobile Club, for the loan of motor cars. If the right hon. Gentleman will allow me, I will send him the exact particulars. I am afraid I cannot give them without notice.

Formation Of Automobile Corps

Will the Under-Secretary for War say whether he has not already had an offer for the formation of a corps of 10,000 motor-cars? I am bound to say that the offer was from myself on behalf of the Automobile Association, and that we are prepared to form such a corps at our own expense, first of all, for service abroad, secondly, for service with the Home Army, and, thirdly, for service for peace purposes. Is he aware that the whole of the scheme is in more than embryo, that it has been submitted to the War Office, and that we should be only too glad to place ourselves entirely at their disposal? We have already had 10,000 offers which are now being tabulated.

Yes, Sir; among the many patriotic offers that have been made, that from the hon. Gentleman opposite has been received by the War Office. All these offers are under consideration by Lord Kitchener and the Army Council, and it would be premature to say anything except to express our cordial thanks.

Censorship Of Cables

I desire to ask the Home Secretary a question with reference to cable communications between this country and the United States. As he knows, a censorship has been established, to which of course nobody will object, but as these cables are being sent in very large quantities to the United States, who naturally take a very keen interest in this struggle, will he see that steps are taken to send to the cable companies an adequate censorship staff so that these cables will not be unduly delayed?

I will represent to my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General the request made by my hon. Friend.

Orders Of The Day

Housing (No 2) Money

Considered in Committee.

[Mr. LYELL in the Chair.]

Resolved, "That it is expedient to authorise the issue out of the Consolidated Fund of such sums not exceeding four million pounds, as may be required, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session, in connection with Housing; and of authorising the Treasury to borrow money on the security of moneys provided by Parliament or the Consolidated Fund by means of terminable annuities or Exchequer bonds for the issue of such sums or the repayment thereof; and to provide for the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of any expenses incurred in pursuance of such Act." [ Mr. Herbert Samuel.]

Resolution to be reported Monday next, next.

Housing (No 2) Bill

I beg to move "That leave to bring in a Bill to give the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries in rural districts, and the Local Government Board in boroughs and urban districts, powers with respect to housing; and to make similar provision for Scotland."

It is thought to be very advisable at this juncture to press this measure through the House as a temporary measure having application only for one year. It is considered that in case there should be considerable distress through unemployment in this country, that distress will very likely extend to the building trade, and that it would be absurd in such circumstances to spend great sums of public money in giving relief to persons out of work instead of setting them to work at their own trade to make good the deficiency in housing accommodation, which has long been admitted on all sides to prevail both in town and in country. Consequently, I understand there will be general agreement in the principle of a Bill which would give to the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries the powers which were asked for in Clause 1 of the Bill which was lately before Parliament, and give similar powers to the Local Government Board with respect to the town districts, and that the Bill should also apply to Scotland. At the same time I should like to make clear that my own Department does not contemplate setting up a new branch in London, with architects and the necessary staff, in order to let contracts and itself to build houses in Manchester or Liverpool or Cardiff, or wherever the need may occur. What I contemplate doing, if this Act is passed, is to arrange with public utility societies and with local authorities for taking the necessary measures in order to provide for the deficiency which may exist in the district. The Board of Agriculture will proceed according to plans which have already been made for dealing with housing difficulties in the rural districts. While the principle of this Bill is agreed, the conferences which have taken place between the two sides have been somewhat hasty, and I should not like to ask the House to proceed further to-day than to pass the First Reading, that is to say, to give leave to introduce the Bill. There would then be an opportunity for the Bill to be printed, and for hon. Members opposite to consider its terms with a view to representing any Amendments of detail that they may consider necessary, and we should then ask the House to proceed further with the Bill at its next sitting on Monday.

I only rise to say that we thoroughly approve of the course which the right hon. Gentleman has taken. This is, as the House knows, a Bill which, at the ordinary time, would take a very long period to get through the House, but we all feel that, in a crisis like this, we must trust the Government in regard to all matters which deal with the situation which has arisen out of that crisis. I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for saying he will not proceed further to-day, but I can assure him that we shall offer no carping criticism, but will do everything in our power to facilitate a measure which may give employment where it may be needed.

The President of the Local Government Board said, in relation to the procedure of his own Department, that he will in urban districts assist both public utility societies and local authorities. I wish to ask whether the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries, both in England and in Scotland, will assist, not only the public utility societies, but local societies where they are willing to act.

While we all desire to co-operate with the Government in any proposals that they may bring for ward for the relief of distress, I hope there will be opportunities of asking questions upon this Bill and even possibly of making some suggestions for its improvement, and that we may have on Monday a more or less detailed statement from the right hon. Gentleman. There are questions which one naturally wishes to ask. For example we wish to know whether the money for the purposes of this Bill is to be part of the £100,000,000—

Then I understand that it is to be supplementary for the relief of distress, that is to say, to build houses with the view to the relief of distress. That is what I understand from the right hon. Gentleman's speech, and it makes a very great deal of difference whether the money is to be devoted to the building of houses with a view to the relief of distress, or to be employed on the old lines of the former Bill, namely, the building of houses which would involve the charging of an economic rent. There are many questions which could be debated shortly on this Bill without going into the whole housing policy which we wish to promote as soon as the House is able to deal with the question. I hope we shall have an opportunity of discussing to a small degree the question of housing and of making such suggestions as we desire to make to the House.

I desire to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the grant will cover the building of houses on areas which have been cleared for rebuilding in the County of London and in other urban districts?

Yes, it will enable assistance to be given in any direction that is necessary. At the same time it should not be regarded as a sum of £4,000,000 devoted to the relief of distress. The £4,000,000 would be spent on building houses which at the end of this period of crisis would exist and bring in revenue, and, therefore, it is rather in the nature of an investment than a charitable grant.

May I make a suggestion? I think at a time like this it is almost impossible to discuss the Bill in this House, and what I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman is that he should by some means or other enter into communication with my right hon. Friend (Mr. Hayes Fisher) and other hon. Members who are specially interested in the matter, and try to come to an agreement with them before the Bill is again brought before the House.

In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for North - West Lanarkshire (Mr. Pringle), I can assure him that the powers extended to Scotland include the local authorities in the country as well as the urban authorities.

Supposing an arrangement is come to with hon. Gentlemen opposite in regard to the Bill, will it be put through all its stages on Monday?

May I ask the Secretary for Scotland to bear in mind that this Bill is passed as a non-controversial measure temporarily and for only one year, and also bear in mind what my hon. Friend behind me said with regard to public utility societies and local authorities. If by means of this Bill we enter into arrangements with a large number of public utility societies, we might create an interest, even in one year, which it would be very difficult to deal with. Our view is that, in this one year, more regard should be paid to local authorities than to public utility societies.

Of course, the local authorities will always have the preference.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Herbert Samuel, Mr. Runciman, Mr. Herbert Lewis, and Mr. McKinnon Wood. Presented accordingly, read the first time, and ordered to be printed. [Bill 373.]

To be read a second time upon Monday next.

Royal Assent

Message to attend the Lords Commissioners.

The House went, and, having returned, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER reported the Royal Assent to

Defence of the Realm Act, 1914.

War In Europe

Unreasonable Withholding Of Foodstuffs Bill

I beg to move "That leave be given to introduce a Bill dealing with the unreasonable withholding of foodstuffs."

I was unable yesterday to give formal notice of the introduction of this Bill, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer hinted very broadly to the House that it might be necessary to endow the Board of Trade with powers with respect to the unreasonable withholding of foodstuffs. May I say as a preliminary after making very wide investigations throughout the whole country we have not, so far, seen ground to believe that the process of cornering is in general application, but there have been cases in many parts of the country which have led to great hardship, especially to the poorer classes, and that has been accentuated, if I may say so, by the panic and greed of better-to-do people who have really disgraced themselves by placing long queues of motor-cars outside the stores and carrying off as much provisions as they could persuade stores to part with. This panic is over. I hope we have seen the last of it. There is bound to be a rise in the price of foodstuffs in the United Kingdom during the next few weeks, and that rise if it is reasonable will also, I should like to point out, have a salutary effect, for it will attract to the United Kingdom foodstuffs which might otherwise go to other countries. I am glad to say that any such rise as there has been has already been in operation, and that foodstuffs are now coming more freely to the United Kingdom than a week ago we could have anticipated. After consulting the best information to which we have access, we came to the conclusion that if the Board of Trade were endowed with the same powers for requisitioning foodstuffs as the naval and military authorities are endowed with for that and other purposes, that it would have a steadying effect on public apprehensions, and if it were understood that our powers were only to be used where there was deliberate or unreasonable withholding of supplies we have been advised, and it is our unanimous opinion, that it would not in any way check the present salutary movement of foodstuffs to this country. I need say no more to the House, except to read the single Clause:—

"If the Board of Trade are of opinion that any foodstuff is being unreasonably withheld from the market they may, if so authorised by His Majesty's Proclamation, may generally or as respects any particular kind of foodstuff, and in manner provided by the Proclamation, take possession of any supplies of foodstuffs to which the Proclamation relates, paying to the owners of the supplies such prices as may in default of agreement be decided to be reasonable having regard to all the circumstances of the case, by the arbitration of a judge of the High Court, selected by the Lord Chief Justice of England."

That follows very clearly the Naval and Military precedent, and would be applicable if the need arose, but before I ask leave to introduce the Bill I ought to add that the greatest of the wholesalers and of the retailers have shown a ready willingness to fall in with such arrangements as would prevent the exploiting of the public. This afternoon the millers are meeting me at the Board of Trade. The Home Secretary has had conferences with others who have the control of large supplies, and I hope that the arrangements which have been made will enable us to dispense altogether with any exercise of the powers which we now seek; but these powers we think will be necessary and useful, and I hope the House will allow us to pass the Bill through all its stages to-day. We propose to make the Bill applicable to the present war.

With regard to the price of foodstuffs, I wish to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to the fact that the greatest danger in the matter has arisen through the Government buyers. It has come to my knowledge this morning that the Government buyers went to the meat market to buy meat on Tuesday and offered £80 a ton for meat which was sold at £65; and I have heard that they have paid 45 per cent. more for meat than other buyers at the time were paying for it.

If this is correct, it has done more to raise the price of meat in London this week than anything else, as the importers are now withholding meat knowing that they will get these prices from the Government buyers. It has had the effect of raising the price of meat by 3d. in the pound. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will take notice of that.

I have nothing to say against the provisions of the Bill, which seem to me to be extremely reasonable, and the assurance of my right hon. Friend that the Board of Trade will be very discreet in putting the Bill into operation ought to be entirely satisfactory. But I may take the opportunity of saying that too much interference in this matter may have an exactly opposite effect to what is intended. The publication of a list of prices this week, for instance, was, I think, a little indiscreet and quite unnecessary. It suggests that much higher prices may be paid than those which are generally being asked at present. I think there is very little reason to anticipate any panic. If the arrangements with regard to trade which, if I may say so, have been excellently made by the Government, acting in conjunction with the great manufacturers and bankers of the country, are carried out, as there appears to be every prospect of their being, I do not think we have any panic to fear at all. But nothing is more likely to bring about panic, and really cause difficulty to the poor, than rather hasty interference on the part of the Government or an attempt to regulate prices. [An HON. MEMBER: "Not at all."] I am only suggesting that there is a danger on that side. I hope the Government will be as careful as they possibly can in what they do.

I would like to say in one sentence that I am quite sure the Government are alive to the conditions which must govern their use of this Bill. I give it my most cordial support, and I associate myself with every word the right hon. Gentleman, the President of the Board of Trade, has said.

Will this Bill give the Government power to deal with those private individuals who, during the course of the last few days, have laid in unnecessarily large stores. I think it is rather an important matter that these people should be dealt with.

I wish to say exactly the same as my hon. Friend. I quite realise that this Bill does not, and cannot, deal with these people; but I hope the Government will not shut its mind to the possibility of something to prevent anything of the kind again taking place. It is really a scandal that a few people should use the present necessity to save themselves at the expense of the poor. I am sure the whole House would support the Government if they thought it necessary to strengthen the criminal law to deal with such cases.

Perhaps I may say at once that the traders in conference with us have given an undertaking that they will in no case supply any of their customers with more than the normal supply.

I think it is unanimously agreed that such a Bill is necessary. I was struck by the question asked by the right hon. Gentleman opposite as to whether the operation of this Bill is limited to the duration of the war. [HON. MEMBERS: "The President of the Board of Agriculture said so."] Yes, I heard the right hon. Gentleman say so.

I heard the right hon. Gentleman say so, but I want to ask whether there are words in the Bill which contain that limitation? When the operative Clause was read out I did not hear words to that effect.

Although Clause 1 is the operative Clause, Clause 2 does limit it to this extent: "That this Act shall have effect only while a state of war exists between His Majesty and any foreign country."

I hope it was a slip on the part of the right hon. Gentleman to say that we must expect an increase of prices. It is an appalling thing to think of the various consequences: people will hold back. Even after the Government price for bacon was fixed at 1s. 4d. a lb., 1s. 10d. was charged to poor people for quarter pounds, and other small quantities, and it is hitting heavily the poverty-stricken people. The big trader and the little trader between them are squeezing out these poverty-stricken people, who cannot buy sufficient in ordinary time. I hope the right hon. Gentleman does not mean we must expect an increase, otherwise many traders will hold back for that increase.

I am sorry if I have given that impression to the House; the rise has already come. But we do expect that the operations over which we have been spending a great deal of time and the rapid arrival of foodstuffs from all parts of the world will generally decrease prices.

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman if he has any objection to having this Act posted in prominent places in various parts of the United Kingdom? The reason that I ask that is that it will then be seen not only by the large traders but by the small traders, and everyone will have an opportunity of understanding what the Government really are doing in this matter.

I suppose, as was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, that we may assume that the Government will be in constant communication with the wholesale provision and traders' Committee and other trade bodies so that nothing shall be done which will discolate the trade unnecessarily and tend to defeat the object of the Government. May we assume that?

The Cabinet Committee on Foodstuffs has been in constant communication with all branches of the trade. I may say that on a question of policy, our desire has been not to interfere with ordinary trade at all, but to leave the traders to conduct their own business. We do, however, require the power behind us to enable us to see that no individual trader takes advantage of the admirable spirit which the great bulk of the traders have shown.

Will this apply to farmers as well as to general traders? I think there is no doubt that some of them have been charging excessive prices for wheat and meat. I rather gather from the right hon. Gentleman that the Bill applied to traders generally, and I think it ought to be quite clearly stated that it also applies to farmers who have wheat and meat to sell?

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. McKenna, Mr. Montagu, and Mr. Runcizman. Presented accordingly, received the first time, and ordered to be printed. [Bill 374.]

Question, "That the Bill be now read a second time," put, and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House will immediately resolve itself into the Committee on the Bill.—[ Mr. Runciman.]

Bill accordingly considered in Committee.

Mr. LYELL in the Chair.

Motion made and Question proposed, "That Clause 1 stand part of the Bill."

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman, the President of the Board of Trade, could now give me an answer to my question.

Yes. Any farmer who sells is technically a trader I understand, and therefore the Bill will apply to him. I hope the farmers are not going to be unreasonable because of the fact that their stocks this year are more valuable than ever before.

Would the right hon. Gentleman consider whether "cornering" might not be most effectively stopped by publishing the names of the "cornerers."

In Ireland we are very anxious that the action taken by the right hon. Gentleman should apply to us, and I rise to impress upon the right hon. Gentleman the fact that at the present time in the south of Ireland we are quite unable to send our butter, eggs, and other perishables to this country. That is not alone a great loss to the south of Ireland, but it is equally a great loss to this country because it must have a very serious affect upon the price of such articles here. As every one knows, Ireland supplies considerably the largest quantity of butter and eggs that comes to this country, and at the present time we are unable to send such articles across because the service between Fishguard and Rosslare has been stopped. I do not want to enter into the propriety or otherwise of stopping this service. I am sure it was not done without special reason, but I put to those responsible for stopping that service the serious effect that stoppage must have, not alone upon Ireland, but upon the supply of food to this country. I trust that as soon as possible the service will be again re-opened.

In the circumstances in which we are placed there must inevitably be dislocation of traffic, but I have no knowledge of the stoppage of the traffic referred to, and I do not see any great reason for it.

I wish to support the remarks made by my hon. Friend, the hon. Member for West Kerry. Evidently the Vice-President of the Department in Ireland is not aware that the service both ways, day and night, between this country and the south of Ireland, has been completely stopped. The hon. Member for West Kerry accurately stated the facts of the case. Practically the whole of the county of Kerry is studded with creameries. The butter is fresh butter which will only keep for about twelve hours, and we will now be compelled to send this creamery butter through Dublin, which would mean forty-eight hours before it can reach the London market. We have in the town of Tralee two large bacon factories, and the stoppage of the Rosslare service means that they will be tied up, and food will be much scarcer and dearer in this country. It ought to be quite sufficient for the War Office to appropriate half the service, and leave the other half open for ordinary traffic so that foodstuffs from the south of Ireland could reach the English market. Otherwise, it will mean not only a great loss of money to the farmers, but it will mean a great shortage of food supplies in this country. I think that is one of the things which the War Office ought to look to and take some practical steps to give us back at least half this service, If this is done it will be a great convenience to Ireland, and a very great deal of farm produce can be placed on the market here.

May I ask if this discussion is in order, because this Bill does not deal with communication between England and Ireland?

I would like to remind the House that there is also a very large trade between this country and Ireland, and it is quite opportune to remind the Government that by keeping open communications with Ireland, which exports more food than any other country, they can do a great deal to regulate prices. I hope this fact will be remembered by the Board of Trade.

I have had no complaint whatever from any part of Ireland with regard to this service. [An HON. MEMBER: "It was stopped last night."] I should fancy that the English people areas much interested as the people in Ireland in keeping the service open both to and from Ireland, because a large amount of foodstuffs is sent here from Ireland. After what has been said by hon. Members opposite I will make earnest representations on this point.

I think the hon. Member opposite who raised this question ought to be praised rather than censured. We want to have this opportunity of raising such questions. I think a very great responsibility rests upon right hon. Gentlemen sitting on the Treasury Bench, because they are practically taking over the control of this country at this time, and we hold them responsible if they do not take the right steps. The English people, and no doubt, the Irish people, are a long-suffering race—[An HON. MEMBER: "The British people"]—yes, the British people, and a great many steps have been taken which we think are extremely unreasonable, but because the emergency is so great we submit to them. A grave responsibility rests upon the President of the Board of Trade now in regard to these matters. [HON. MEMBERS: "Agreed."] I urge that the Government ought to expedite all their provisions for bringing food supplies to this country. [HON. MEMBERS: "Agreed."] Yes, I know we are all agreed on these subjects, but "what we want does not happen, and there is an instance of it. It seems to me that the business of the President of the Board of Trade is to see that this service is renewed as soon as possible.

If the Committee is under the idea that the Government has interfered with this traffic, hon. Members may be relieved at once on that point, for we have had nothing to do with the interruption of this service. We have no responsibility in the matter, and we want to see that every source of our food supply is not interrupted. If there has been any interruption of this service, it has not been done by us.

May I say, on this point, it was only last night that I was in the head office at Paddington inquiring into this matter. I asked a question definitely of the Principal Superintendent, and he told me it was done directly under Government orders. I asked, "What are the reasons?" and he replied, "I am a Government official. I dare not speak. We do not know when we shall be opening."

I desire to say that so far as the Board of Trade is concerned we have nothing whatever to do with it.

Will the right hon. Gentleman, now that representations have been made to him, see who is responsible? It is not the railway company. It may not be the Board of Trade. It must, I think, be the War Office.

The question was only brought to my notice a quarter of an hour ago. I am having inquiries made as to the fact. I cannot do more than that, except to say that, as far as my right hon. Friend and I are concerned, we heard it for the first time when we came down to this House.

I should like to say, for the information of hon. Members, that at the present time the whole of the railway and steamboat communication of the United Kingdom is under the control of the Government, and the way in which they are exercising that control we must all agree is admirable. It is being done through a committee including the traffic managers of the various railway companies. These gentlemen are sitting four times a day. The duty thrust upon them is very important, seeing that they have to control the traffic of the whole of the United Kingdom at this particular time. I hope, therefore, hon. Members will bear this in mind.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill reported without Amendment, read the third time, and passed.

Merchant Shipping (Convention) Bill

Lords Amendments considered.

Clause 29—(Construction And Short Title)

Lords Amendment: At end of Clause add the following new Sub-section:—

(5) This Act shall come into operation on the first day of July one thousand nine hundred and fifteen:

Provided that His Majesty may by Order in Council from time to time postpone the coming into operation of this Act for such period not exceeding on any occasion of postponement one year as may be specified in the Order.

Lords Amendment agreed to.

National Insurance Act, 1911 (Part Ii Amendment) Bill

Lords Amendments considered.

Clause 3—(Determination Of Question Whether A Person Is A Workman)

Lords Amendment: At end of Clause insert the following new Sub-section:—

(3) Sub-sections (3) and (4) of Section eighty-eight of the principal Act shall apply to all proceedings before the umpire whether under that Section or under any other provision of Part II. of the principal Act. Lords Amendment agreed to.

CLAUSE 8.—Lords Amendment (to leave out Sub-section (2) agreed to.

Criminal Justices Administration Bill

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Lords Amendments be now considered."

Shall I be in order in asking the House to take all the Amendments together, on the assurance I can give that these Amendments were all either moved by the Government, or agreed by the Government. They are in the main either drafting Amendments, or Amendments carried out in accordance with promises made in the House. There are only two Amendments which must be excepted from that statement. The first is one allowing Justices to give aggregate sentences of twelve months, that is to say, two consecutive sentences of six months each, and secondly, where leave to Clerks to the Justices to appeal to the Secretary of State is limited to complaints as to reduction of salary on revision. The right given in this House applied also to a refusal to increase the salaries. Both these Amendments were agreed between the proposer and the Lord Chancellor. With these two exceptions I may say that all the Amendments are either drafting Amendments or Amendments to carry out promises given in this House.

The Amendments had better be read through, and the House can express its agreement or otherwise as the Clerk reads them.

Question put, and agreed to.

Lords Amendments considered, and agreed to.

War In Europe

Returning British Subjects

Whereupon Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER, pursuant to the Order of the House of 17th July, proposed the Question, "That this House do now adjourn."

I see that the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs is in his place, and I should like to mention once again the matter which I brought under his attention the other day, namely, the position of British subjects abroad at the present time who are anxious to get back to this country. I am conscious of the fact that he is fully aware of the urgency of the matter, but I feel it is necessary that even greater steps should be taken than have yet been taken in order to meet the present emergency. I have a letter here, which is one out of many scores I have received, which I will summarise as showing to some extent the position. It is from a well-known London physician. I shall be glad to show the letter to anyone, but I am sure the House can accept what he says as being absolutely reliable. He says that English ladies almost penniless are stranded in Paris and elsewhere. One, fourteen days after a serious operation, has been compelled to spend a night in a crowded third-class carriage and a night in a coal truck on Dieppe Quay. The need was for English money at the British Consulate in Paris and elsewhere, as there was a refusal by most hotels of cheques and Bank of England notes, and the English sovereign is valued as low as eighteen francs. If, however, the Consulate could be supplied with an adequate supply of French money, a good deal of the distress would be at once lessened, since there were many in the crowd who throng the Consulate day by day who would gladly help those in difficulties.

In the papers this morning I saw a telegram from Switzerland saying that the English people are in financial difficulties, and many of them are sleeping in Salvation Army beds. I have letters here making statements which I do not think it is advisable for me to give to the House. I think the Under-Secretary ought at once to ask the House for a Vote to deal with this matter. It seems to me that it would establish confidence abroad and it would follow, although at some considerable distance, the splendid example which has been set by the United States. I do not know whether the Vote which we have already passed is drawn widely enough to cover this matter, but it is of the most urgent character, and it is really necessary that money should be sent abroad at once, and that our Consuls should be informed that they can draw on British credit. If it is not necessary to get a Vote, I am sure the House would indemnify the Under-Secretary for anything he does in this direction. All the Vice-Consulates should be informed that they could use British credit for the purpose of immediate relief. Through the banks which have branches in London they could telegraph money immediately, and place it at their disposal as was considered necessary.

There are, of course, two sides to this question. There are those who are on their way back. Some have been for a week in the war area, having left six days ago, and have never been heard of, and naturally their relatives are in a very anxious state of mind. I have several letters from heartbroken mothers, which are very touching. The power of the Government is limited so far as those returning from France are concerned, but something might possibly be done even in that direction. There are those who are willing to come back and have not the facilities. Switzerland, in particular, is a country that ought to be considered. There are, I am informed, four or five thousand Britishers there, most of them absolutely penniless. The serious situation in regard to this matter is that food is going up so much in price that I fear that the outlook before them will be grave indeed. The hotels, of course, have been contemplating closing. That is another very serious matter. I have just heard from Switzerland that a Moratorium has been proclaimed till the end of August. That is satisfactory because it will probably keep the hotels open for some time longer. I think, therefore, if the Under-Secretary could by some means, as soon as the French mobilisation is over, arrange immediately for special trains to bring all the visitors to Switzerland over, it would be a very satisfactory matter, and it would allay the alarm which I know exists there. There is another very serious matter, though it is very difficult to suggest how it could be dealt with, and that is the position of Britishers, especially women, in Germany. I know it is difficult to approach, but I think we might keep in view the possibility through the American Ambassador in Berlin, to whom I am sure we are all grateful for what he is doing, of making a bargain to return pertain Germans in this country if we could get our own people home. I do not see that that is absolutely impossible, notwithstanding the breaking of the relations between this country and Germany. A neutral power might intervene, and I am sure it would be to the satisfaction of all who are most directly concerned. I hope the Under-Secretary will be able to give us an assurance that this matter is engaging his very careful attention, and will thus allay the feeling that exists.

As my hon. Friend did not give notice that he was going to raise this question, I have not been able to prepare any considered answer. I gave an answer two days ago on the subject, and I have not much to add at present. I think it will be for the convenience of the House that I should give a considered answer on Monday as to the position in the different countries where there are now British subjects, and more especially with regard to the facilities which can be afforded for persons who desire to return, and also with regard to advances of money. I think it would be for the convenience of all parties that I should have copies of that answer printed for Members who will be able to send the information to their correspondents, and so on. But for the moment, I can deal with some of the points which the hon. Member has raised. Our consuls and vice-consuls in those countries have been empowered to make advances of money. During the financial crisis which there has been in other countries, it was impossible for them in some cases to get any money from the banks, but we are now informed that that state has passed over, or is very rapidly passing over, and that there is no question whatever of our wanting an extra Vote or anything of that kind. We are willing to authorise them to draw money on the credit of the British Government in all cases where they think it necessary to relieve distress. Some persons, of course, have been a little selfish in that matter. Persons who are only in want of £4 or £5 have asked for £100. We will not allow our consuls to advance large sums of that kind, but they are authorised to make small advances in cases of real distress to enable people to get back to this country. That can be done by the ordinary machinery which we now possess without coming to this House for any Vote to enable that to be done.

Is there any means by which the Government can notify all the people abroad who are concerned in this matter that this machinery is in operation? There are cases of young ladies near the French and German borders, and this class of subjects very often have not the knowledge to apply to the British Consuls for assistance. Can the British Government, through the British representatives or otherwise, take steps to bring this information to the knowledge of our subjects in those places?

All I can say, as I stated two days ago, is that "we cannot undertake to give our representatives special instructions in special cases. We cannot instruct them to inform specially any particular persons, or to come specially to the aid of particular persons. The only exception I make is in the case of Belgium, where I am able to make a small exception. In the case of Belgium, people have been taken more by surprise than in other cases, and we have been in a position to arrange in certain instances that the representative of the British Government should do what he can in those particular cases in the country round Liege and the actual war area. With regard to France, it is true that for some days there was a state approaching panic, and in the changing of negotiable instruments and matters of that kind, there was undoubtedly a very great deal of hardship to English people in Paris, but we have definite information that that is very rapidly passing away, and that a large number of people are coming back by the ordinary routes. Advances of money have been made in many definite cases of which we know, and people are finding it, I believe, much easier to get cheques, bank-notes, circular notes, and things of that kind, cashed. With regard to Switzerland, there are a great number who are coming into the towns. I wish they had stayed in the mountain resorts, rather than crowd into Geneva and other places. Our representatives in these places are endeavouring to arrange for trains to bring them across France. Everything must give way to the French necessity of completing their mobilisation before other arrangements are made. I can only say that I am very sorry that we have not been able to complete any definite arrangement for trains to come with these people across France. I hope that that will be arranged as soon as possible. I hope to be able to give further information about that on Monday. But meanwhile there ought not under the arrangements made to be any difficulty about small advances to British people to tide them over until those arrangements can be made.

With regard to Germany the position is different. Our representatives of course have ceased to work there, and our interests have been very kindly taken over by the United States. But we must remember that similarly German interests in England have also been taken over by the United States, and I think that we ought in those cases of persons whose whereabouts are not now known, who may be in distress in Germany, not to bring those cases individually before the American Embassy or Consulates in this country, whose primary duty, in addition to all their ordinary work, is to look after the interests of German subjects in this country. I have arranged with the American Embassy, who have been most courteous in the matter, that as far as possible we shall shelter them from particular applications made direct to them with regard to British subjects in Germany. But those inquiries ought to come through the Foreign Office. I shall be staying there during the recess, and therefore, if hon. Members will write direct to me about cases which they know, we have arranged to transmit them whenever convenient to the American Embassy lists of those persons concerning whom we wish to have inquiries made or for whom it is urgent that something should be done, and they will transmit them by whatever may be the most safe or expeditious manner to their representatives, so that whatever can be done will be done. But I would ask persons not to send particular cases to the American Embassy, but to send them, if they think it necessary to do so, either to hon. Members or direct to the Foreign Office where we will do the best we can.

The hon. Gentleman will remember that yesterday I brought to his attention the case of a young girl who has been stranded in Berlin, and he was good enough to say that he would communicate with the United States Ambassador at Washington, and that the Ambassador would communicate with Berlin, but the hon. Gentleman told me that he could not guarantee to communicate by cable. I would ask him if he could not insist on the cabling being done?

It is quite natural that the hon. Gentleman should ask that, but the arrangement which I have been describing is subsequent to the conversation which I had with him, and it is a better arrangement. We do not think it necessary to communicate at all with Washington. We shall short-circuit the matter. Lists of persons prepared in the Foreign Office will be forwarded as often as possible by the quickest route that is available to the representatives of the United States Government in Germany. I will now only add that the matter is well in hand and there is no break-down in our arrangement. It will be for the convenience of the House that I should give a more formal and more considered statement on Monday which would explain the position as far as possible. There must be a great deal of inconvenience, but I have not heard of cases of actual danger. People, especially those in Germany, must be as patient as they can, and keep as quiet as they can, and we very much hope by the generous aid of the representatives of the United States that some such arrangement as my right hon. Friend suggests for the transfer or exchange of British subjects in Germany, and German subjects in this country, can be come to before very long.

Will the hon. Gentleman try to ascertain the whereabouts of large numbers of English people who left Switzerland last Sunday and have not since been in any way heard of?

Censorship Of News

May I refer again to a point which I raised at Question time? I wish to impress on my right hon. Friend the absolute necessity, in regard to a military censorship, of having it supplemented by journalistic experience. Persons engaged in newspaper offices deal with a large amount of news by cable, and it requires great promptitude, great intelligence and very considerable training. Owing largely to the necessities of the case this Department—I am not speaking of the Department over which presides the hon. and learned Member for the Walton Division of Liverpool (Mr. F. E. Smith)—ought not to be left entirely to military men. I think that they require to be supplemented by trained journalistic experience. Last night I endeavoured to send a cablegram to the United States, which revealed no military secrets, but dealt with the ordinary political aspects of the situation in this country. And there are scores of other journalists in London who are in constant communication with their newspapers on the other side of the Atlantic. There is also a large number of business men whose daily occupation is to be in cable communication with the United States. I am afraid that if this difficult work is left entirely in the hands of the military gentlemen, there will be a great deal of unnecessary delay, and a great deal of unnecessary friction. I would suggest to the Government that the military censor or censors should have the assistance of trained journalists, in order to prevent pressure and interruption of communication between this country and the United States.

I wish to support the few words that have fallen from the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. T. P. O'Connor). There is no censorship in this country as the right hon. Gentleman knows, it does not exist, and it seems to me that what has taken its place is not working, and cannot be expected to work with great efficiency. The officers sent to discharge this duty are not men trained, as my hon. Friend says, to handle news and other literary matter quickly, and they raise technical objections which there is no great object in enforcing. For example, I can give the right hon. Gentleman an instance which occurred a few nights ago, where telegrams were stopped because a foreign correspondent sent them under a surname which is identical with a common Christian name in this country. I do not say that was not an accident which could not have been prevented under the rules which were laid down for the guidance of the officers in question. I am not blaming them. I say this red tape is a mistake, and it could be avoided if men of trained capacity accustomed to dealing with news, like journalists or others who have had the same sort of experience, were introduced either in substitution for the military officers, or in addition to the military officers. If that were done, then there would be greater case in working the machinery, which must of course be liable to friction, and which it is most necessary should be adapted as quickly as possible to public requirements.

My hon. Friend the Member for the Scotland Division (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) and the hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Harry Lawson) have raised a very important question. I agree that in the working of the Censor Bureau it is most essential that there should be what we may describe as journalistic common-sense, and that messages should not be stopped merely from ignorance of the censor of these matters. I shall represent the views which they have expressed most earnestly to those responsible for the Bureau. It has only just been established, and when the machinery is in full working order, I trust most earnestly that there will be no ground for complaint.

I wish to bring a matter which strikes me very forcibly, to the notice of the House and of the Home Secretary. We heard this morning of the dissemination of false news and of the cruelty and hardship which is inflicted in that way. The right hon. Gentleman himself is constitutionally and by statute master of telegraphs and of communications, and may I ask him to represent to the Postmaster-General that it would be very useful if the news that comes from the Official Bureau were telegraphed to all the districts in the country where there is a Post Office and telegraph connection. The public are intensely interested and have a right to know and to be placed in full information of everything in connection with this War. It is in the interests of the Government and of the country that the information should be conveyed to the people as far as it can be directly. The expense would be very small in comparison with the great public interests involved. Such news would give a sense of confidence. It could be communicated immediately, and the method would render ineffective the disposition of certain people who, in order to obtain small sums of money, try and harrow the deepest feelings of their fellow countrymen. This news is public property and is of such interest and so vital to every one of us that it should be communicated at the earliest possible moment.

I desire to refer to a matter which was mentioned earlier and that is with regard to communication with Ireland. It was then denied by the President of the Board of Agriculture that there had been any interference. [HON. MEMBERS: "Speak up."]

Privately I was assured that nothing was known, and the correction shows almost as much laxity. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh."] I do not think that is too strong an expression. We have now ascertained that communication between Fishguard and Rosslare is entirely stopped, and that the ships have been taken away to be used as hospital ships. They cannot be absolutely dependent on those particular three ships, and there must be communication with a great many places cut off. Other ships engaged with this traffic might very well have been used for that purpose instead of these three vessels. We have heard also that the communication with Dublin by Holyhead has been reduced by one-half. It seems to me a great pity that those changes should have been made if they could have been avoided. I think almost every other connection ought to have been restricted or interfered with before connection between this country and Ireland at the present time. Ireland is practically entirely dependent upon this country for its food supplies, and we, now that the supplies have been cut off from Denmark and other continental countries which send in dairy produce, are almost entirely dependent upon Ireland for such goods. Just at this crisis we find these changes made in the first few days. I think that some explanation might be given by the Government, with a promise that a restricted service, if necessary, but still a sufficient service for the supply of the necessary food for the people on both sides of the Channel will be restored without delay and maintained almost at all costs. I hope I have said nothing that will irritate my right hon. Friend; I know that his efforts in this direction are always very well conceived; but I think that this is a matter which should receive the immediate attention of the Government.

I do not think that any blame attaches to the Department of Agriculture in Ireland in connection with this matter. The three services connecting the South of Ireland with the South of England, which brings the largest amounts of butter, bacon and eggs from Ireland to England, has been commandeered by the Admiralty for an indefinite period. That was done, I understand, without communicating with the Irish Department; therefore, the Irish Department are in no way to blame.

And, it being half an hour after the conclusion of Government Business, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Order of the House of 17th July.

Adjourned accordingly at Seven minutes before Two o'clock till Monday next, 10th August.