HC Deb 28 July 1915 vol 73 cc2357-95
The MINISTER of MUNITIONS (Mr. Lloyd George)

Inasmuch as I gave a promise to some hon. Members that I would make a statement before separating, I feel bound to say something about two or three questions which have been raised during the last few weeks in this House. The time really is not ripe for making anything in the nature of a full statement. I am not referring merely to the past, but to schemes for the future. It is impossible to give the House anything like an adequate idea of what has been, or what is being, or what is about to be accomplished. Naturally there is some most important work which we are undertaking and which at the present time it would be highly imprudent to say anything about in its details. Therefore, any announcement which I make must, by limits of prudence, be restricted very considerably. In regard to the organisation of an office, it is a very old question as to whether it is not better to build absolutely a new house than to engage in very large extensions of the old one. That is one of the difficulties which we have experienced. We have had to take over a part of the organisation, and a portion of that part, and I am not sure whether it would not have been almost easier to have set up a completely new organisation. That was impossible, so we had to get experienced men who had been engaged in the work, and who knew a good deal about the details of work which had been accomplished.

I give the House some indication as to the very considerable character of the work which had to be undertaken when I say that we have had more than double the size of the staff which was occupied with the work we are now undertaking. In the course of a few weeks we have been engaged in a task, the task with which I, together with some of my colleagues, have been entrusted. We have practically had to create a new staff. That is a very difficult undertaking if you have to do it immediately, because obviously everything depends upon the staff—upon the men you select. Under ordinary conditions, you would take a very long time to choose your instruments. You cannot do that when you are engaged in emergency work. Fortunately, we have had placed at our disposal the services of very considerable men in the business world—men of wide experience, men—some of them—who are in charge of very considerable undertakings. They have placed their services voluntarily at the disposal of the Ministry of Munitions, and are rendering excellent services, each in his own department. I think I can say that there are at least ninety men of first-class business experience who have placed their services voluntarily at the disposal of the Ministry of Munitions, the vast majority of them without any remuneration at all. Some of them were managers of very great concerns, and the firms with which they are connected are in most, if not in all, cases paying them salaries which the State could not afford to pay. These men are exceedingly helpful. In fact, without their help, it would have been quite impossible to have improvised a great Department on the scale on which this Department necessarily had to be organised.

The work which has been done has been of a twofold character. It has consisted in speeding-up existing contracts, and also in opening up fresh sources of supply. Most of the questions which have been addressed to me in the House are concerned with the first part. Therefore, I shall devote myself to answering some of the questions which have been addressed to me from time to time during the last few weeks. The first class consisted in speeding-up contracts in the existing armament firms. Opening up new sources of supply simply meant the provision of war material some months hence, because if you set up new machinery and new works, even with the greatest expedition in the world, you cannot hope to get any substantial output out of those works for some weeks or even some months. Therefore, the immediate supply of material depended upon our taking steps to facilitate, expedite, and speed up the work of those who had undertaken contracts and who had got machinery for the purpose. They were all—I think I can almost say all—deplorably behind contract time. More work had been allocated to them than they were capable of digesting under the conditions. It was due to two reasons: first of all, the shortage of machinery, and, in the next place, the shortage of labour. With regard to the second, there has been a clamour everywhere for more labour. I will give the House an indication of the extent to which we have suffered for this reason. There were some machines in the armament works lying idle because there was no labour to work them. In addition to that, about three-quarters or four-fifths of the machines were not working full time at their full capacity.

We had a census of all the machinery in the Kingdom, and we found that only one-fifth of the machinery employed on Government work was used for night-shifts, so that if we had been able to raise two or three shifts for the purpose of working these machines it would have increased enormously the output in existing armament firms with machinery and organisation ready. That was the first task to which we devoted ourselves at the Munition Ministry. I am very glad to say we have been able to assist those firms considerably, either through the direct agency of the Ministry of Munitions or through the most helpful co-operation of the Labour Exchanges. We have succeeded during the past month in adding to the labour available in the works connected with armaments in the country 40,000 men and women, nearly half of them skilled men, and we are still pouring in fresh labour supplies for the purpose, not merely of filling up the machinery which has been lying idle, but, in addition to that, enabling them to increase the number of night shifts. This has had a great effect in expediting the performance of the obligations of these firms, and although the yawning chasm between promise and performance has not been altogether bridged, I should say that the number of arches has been considerably increased, and we hope at no distant date to bring the two, at any rate, within crossing distance.

No doubt the House would like to know something about the munition volunteers who have been organised. As far as numbers are concerned, they have been a great success. We have enrolled nearly 100,000, the great bulk of them skilled men in the engineering and shipbuilding trades. The difficulty has been that they are not all available for Government work. Nearly all of them are engaged on work of some degree of importance; sometimes indirectly, and without the workman's knowledge, engaged on Government work. For instance, we have men who are engaged in making screws and bolts, which are used in shipbuilding, and with other firms on Government material of war. A good many of them have enlisted. Perhaps the firms themselves at the moment were not conscious that they were supplying material for the Govern- ment, but, as a matter of fact, we have ascertained that it is all material used in munition and shipbuilding work, and we have had to strike off the men engaged in work of that kind from the list of those available for supplying the armament firms. Another illustration is that of men who are engaged on work which is not munition work in the ordinary sense of the term, but which is essentially work for the life of the nation. For instance, there are men engaged in making machinery for turning out Army biscuits. We could not possibly take them on, because they are turning out biscuits used in the Army. Therefore, we cannot hope to utilise the services of even a majority of the 100,000. We should do very well if we could use one-fifth of the men who have been enrolled. Any attempt to remove them wholesale would create a dislocation, and perhaps industrial disaster. Sometimes they could not be moved at all from the work on which they were engaged. Sometimes a portion of them could be moved. For instance, you might have 100 men engaged on particular works; we might be able to take twenty, thirty, or forty away from those works, but to take the whole of them would be to do irreparable harm-to the industrial system of the country.

We, therefore, had to divide the munition volunteers—that was the first process—into three classes: first of all, those who are engaged indirectly on munition work; secondly, those who are engaged on important work where the whole of them could not be spared, but some portion could be taken away; and, thirdly, those who are engaged directly on Government work who could not be moved at all. The steps we took to ascertain which of these men were available were these: We communicated first of all with the employers of those volunteers to find out whether they had any objection to these men being taken away, and, if they had, the grounds of their objection. We have received, up to the present, protests from employers in four-fifths of the cases—that is, we have received protests in respect of something like 80,000 volunteers. We have collected a body of business men representing experience in various trades in order to investigate these protests, and we have also set up an extensive system for local investigation of these cases. The adjudicators are now sitting at Armament Buildings, or rather in Munition Offices, engaged in considering the employers' protests, and they decide whether the men are available for immediate transfer, whether they should be put in a second line for transfer only in cases of emergency, or whether they are men already engaged in highly important Government work and ought not to be withdrawn. That is the process going on. Thousands of them have already been placed under the conditions of their enlistment. The work will now proceed at an accelerated pace, and we hope in the course of the next few days to place several more thousands at the disposal of the firms who are working on Government contracts. With regard to the rest, and I think the bulk of them, we propose to organise a reserve for another project on a very considerable scale, which we are about to launch, and reference to which I shall make later on in the course of my observations.

The second point is the question of the release of men from the Colours. At first we had great difficulty in tracing them. It was no use appealing to the men themselves in the ranks, because they did not want to leave, and I think it is a very creditable story. The men who wanted to leave were not engineers at all. Engineers themselves hardly ever stepped forward and said, "We are engineers, and we would like to give up fighting." They were all anxious to go to the front, and therefore we had to take another way of finding out who they were and where they were. We communicated with the shipbuilding and engineering firms themselves, and we asked them to send us a return of the men who had enlisted from their shops, and also we asked them to give us, so far as they had information in their possession, the units which they had joined. We had returns showing that scores of thousands of highly-skilled men had enlisted. We have been able to arrange a basis with the War Office for the return of some of these men. Unfortunately, it excludes men who are already abroad, and there are a good many there. It also excludes those who are in the Armies on the point of leaving, and therefore we are confined to perhaps one-third or one-fourth of the skilled men who have joined the Colours. However, within the last month thousands have been released from the Colours, and now, as the result of fresh arrangements which I have just made with the Secretary of State for War, many more thousands will become available in the course of the next few weeks, and he tells me if that is not enough I had better discuss it with him later on. That is as far as I can go at present. At any rate, we have obtained the services of many thousands of these men who, I think, would be more useful in the engineering yards at this moment, in order to provide equipment for the Army, than in the trenches.


Can you give me any idea as to how many thousands?


I think on the whole I had better not be pressed about that, and I say that after consultation with Lord Kitchener. I would rather not give exact figures. That is the form in which he prefers I should now give it to the House of Commons, and there are many reasons why he prefers it. I come to the other branch of our late difficulties, and that is the relaxation of trade union regulations and practices. We arrived at an agreement with the engineering societies of this country that there should be a complete relaxation of trade union rules and practices in respect of the establishments which are controlled. I regret that up to the present I cannot make a very satisfactory report, and I should like to appeal to the trade union leaders to bring pressure to bear—such pressure as they can legitimately bring to bear—upon the men in their societies to work the arrangement made with the Government in a more liberal and in a more favourable and satisfactory sense. I am told—and I can only take this upon the reports that have come to me—that the men could easily turn out 25 per cent, at least more shot and shell and guns and material of war if they could shake themselves during the War from the domination of practices which have controlled their actions in peace times. This is really a very serious matter. It is really very essential, and it is equivalent to adding not merely scores of thousands, but very nearly hundreds of thousands of men to these yards to get the men to suspend these practices. That is all we ask. I should like to tell my hon. Friends associated with them that they would be rendering a very great service to the State if they were able to persuade the men to suspend these rules and practices during the period of the War, because nothing that can be done by the Government in the way of organising fresh supplies can make any impression for some time. What can make an immediate impression is that the men should fling the whole of their strength and energy, without any regard for any of these practices, into turning out munitions of war. I cannot without giving figures, which I ought not to give, make my hon. Friends realise how vitally important it is to the interests of this country and to the protection of the men in the trenches— the comrades of these men, the sons of these men, the relatives of these men—that they should, during the next few months, at any rate, do their very best and give all that is in them to increase the output in these yards.


May I ask if there is any great improvement in places where meetings have been held?


I have made inquiries during the last few days, and I am told that in some cases the position is worse. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] That is so deplorable that I do not like to speak of it.


Will the right hon. Gentleman specify a little more particularly the nature of those rules and practices—[HON. MEMBERS: "There are no rules"]—which at the present moment are restricting the production of munitions? It would be helpful to those Members who, in the next few days, will be in the country.


The trade union representatives know perfectly well to what I am referring. It is a sort of unwritten rule and it is not a written rule at all. It is a practice whereby production is limited almost by the amount which an average man could produce. No man is to go beyond a certain limit of output, in fact, it is regarded as an act of disloyalty by his comrades to do so. That is a very well-known fact, and no unionist denies it. During a period of peace there are reasons for it as well as against it. It is done to conserve the energies of the men, and undoubtedly the employers have been responsible, because in the past the moment men began to put forth the whole of their strength the employers immediately reduced the piece rates. Of course, it was a crass piece of folly, and it takes a long time to get an experience of that kind out of the minds of the men. I hope they will make not merely a promise, but a solemn undertaking put in an Act of Parliament which not merely the Government, but the whole of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, undertook that, at the end of the War, the fact of their abandoning those practices now will not prevent them from restoring the practices at the end of the War. It is so vital that this should be done during the War that even an undertaking of that kind must be honoured. It is an unpleasant topic to dwell upon, but it is so important that I must really refer to it.

There is another practice to which I must call attention, and it is that where there is a shortage of skilled men upon a particular job and there are other men who are quite competent to assist—although we have given a solemn undertaking that in these cases, where it is absolutely urgent and necessary, that the trade unions will allow either unskilled men or skilled men of another kind to come there to assist—they have refused to allow them. I have got a case in my-possession now where there is a strike at this very moment because plumbers were brought in to assist coppersmiths. There were not enough coppersmiths to go round, and the work could not be done because there were too few. The plumbers-could assist. Notice was given to the union that they were to be brought in, and the coppersmiths came out, and up to this moment they are still out.


Give them two years' hard labour.


That is deplorable, and I do hope that the influence of my hon. Friends will be exerted with all the trade union leaders to persuade the men that in these cases it is really quite impossible to stand by the rigid rules of the trade union in a great emergency like this. I know that is the view of my hon. Friends. The only other point as to labour is badges. This is a most troublesome question, as all those who have had anything to do with it know. The fact of the matter is that badges have been given quite indiscriminately, and there are-hundreds of thousands of workmen in this country who are wearing badges who ought never to have had them. The result is that the War Office found that recruiting was unfairly hampered, and I think for the moment they went to the other extreme and gave too few badges. At any rate, for the moment I think we have-been able to establish a basis upon which we can give badges only to those who should have them. We propose that badges should be given only were the Ministry of Munitions are satisfied that the men are engaged in war work, and in the-second place, that the men are of a class which, through the possession of special skill, are irreplaceable by other labour. The mere fact of a man being engaged on munitions work is not enough to justify him claiming a badge, if it is possible that that man can be replaced by another man not fit for enlistment who can do his work just as well. Therefore, we have to satisfy ourselves as to those two conditions before a badge is given, and we are taking very elaborate measures in order to satisfy ourselves on that ground. The employer has, first of all, to make the application for his men. He has to give the reasons why these men ought to get badges. Those reasons will be very carefully examined, and upon the basis of the reports we get the badges will be given. I think it is worth repeating that we have given an undertaking that the rates of wages will not be reduced when the output per piece is increased. That is all I propose to say on labour questions at the present moment.

I now come to some of the steps we are taking for organising fresh sources of supply. The first step is to extend existing factors. It is rather difficult to give any details as to the steps we are taking in this direction. A good deal has been said about the shortage of rifles and machine guns, and all I should like to say about that is that I think I can assure the House that the steps "we have taken, and are taking, to increase the supply of these essentials will, I believe, "when they are known, satisfy every reasonable critic. Unfortunately, any extension of machinery in this direction takes a very long time to fructify, as all those who have been engaged in' the turning out of rifles and machine guns know very well. But a beginning has to be made, and, unless I am mistaken in the signs of the time, the action we have taken will ensure results of a character that will impress themselves in the course of the War long before that War is likely to be brought to a satisfactory conclusion. We have also taken steps to increase very considerably bombs and hand-grenades for trench warfare, and I think the enemy know well the progress we have already made in this direction.

I now approach the all-important question of shells. The steps we have taken are of a threefold character. We have divided the country into great co-operative areas in order to use the whole of the available machinery in those areas for the purpose of turning out munitions of war. We have set up management boards of business men in those areas whose business it is to organise the whole of the available machinery for increasing the output of shells and other material. We place at the disposal of those boards of management skilled engineers in order to assist them, and in order to enable them to use all the machinery available in the district for the manufacture of shells and the necessary shell components. These areas have by no means been exhausted by the orders we have given. We have reserved a good deal of the available shell power for a special programme we are about to develop, and if hon. Members know in their districts that there is a good deal of lathe and machine-tool power which has not been used yet to the fullest extent, if they will only wait for a short time they will knew the-reason why we have not utilised those-workshops for the moment. It is because we need them for another purpose, which is, in our judgment, for the time being more important. But we have already by the organisation of these co-operative areas, by the setting up of these boards of management, increased enormously the prospect of receiving within the next few weeks complete shells for the supply of the Army.

In addition to the arranging of co-operative areas, we have also set up sixteen national factories in different parts of the country. These will be national in their control and national in their management. We are filling these factories with the requisite machinery and we are providing the necessary labour. Some of the machinery is obtained by direct orders from-machine tool manufacturers and some by requisition from existing firms, and I must say that we find the manufacturers quite ready to help us to the utmost of their power in these cases. The labour is secured in the various ways which I have already indicated. When these sixteen national factories which we place under the control of local boards of management—you cannot manage a business in a district from a central office in London, and we have set up local boards of management—are in full working there will be an enormous increase in the output of shells for the supply of our Forces.

The advantage which a national shell factory has over mere co-operation between different firms consists in economy in working. We are convinced that we can turn out the shells at a much lower price than that at which we are obtaining them. There will be better control, there will be better facilities for inspection, and we think that we shall have less trouble with labour, and that is an undoubted advantage. We think that labour perhaps will be readier to dispense with these rather restrictive practices when they are working in a national factory where no one can possibly suggest there is any profit made by anybody except by the nation. But both the systems are absolutely necessary in order to enable us to get the full benefit of all the resources of the country. We shall have national shell factories working side by side with private firms who are turning out shells, so that we shall have the full advantage of both these schemes of output. We found that some of the shortage, if not a good deal of it, was due to the fact that although you turned out shell bodies in very considerable numbers you were short of some particular component which was essential before you could complete the shell. It might be a fuse, it might be a primer, it might be a gauge. There was always some one thing of which you had a deficiency. It might be the cartridge case. We, therefore, had to set up two or three national factories in order to increase the supply of some of these special components, so that there should be no delay in turning out a complete shell owing to the fact that some one particular element or component was wanted at the right moment.

The next step we have taken is with regard to machine tools. The organisation of these new sources of supply brought us face to face with the fact that there was an alarming shortage in the machinery available for these purposes. We had a census taken of all the machinery in the Kingdom. We had about 40,000 replies from the engineering firms of the country. It revealed a considerable number of lathes and tools not used now for Government work, but which can be used for the purpose. It also showed us that the number of machine tools available in this country for the work which is essential for us to undertake was quite inadequate, more ^especially for the shell of the heavier calibre, and that is very important. We have, therefore, taken the step of placing all the great machine tool makers of the country under direct Government control. We summoned them together, and without a protest on their part they all, without exception, undertook practically to become Government factories during the War. There was not a word of protest, although it meant limiting their profits and restricting them in various directions. There was not a word of protest from a single machine-tool maker who was present at that trade gathering. This will enable them to concentrate their energies during the next few months for the purpose of increasing, and increasing very considerably, the machinery available for the output of war munitions. We have formed a strong committee of machine tool makers, who are now sitting at Armament Buildings constantly for the purpose of directing the operations of the whole of the machine tool manufacturers of the Kingdom.

The result of all this will be not merely to increase very considerably the output of shells, but it will increase considerably the power at the disposal of the nation at short notice to turn out even more than we have ordered, if the emergency demands. What causes the delay now is the fact that even if you have a sudden emergency, and you find that you have got to increase, perhaps to double, the output of a particular kind of shell, or of gun—and, after all, these things may change from month to month, for with new experience at the front it is discovered that you have to concentrate upon some more particular nature of shell or some particular gun—you are now faced by the fact that you have not got the necessary machine tools in this country which you can turn on for the purpose. The first step you have to take is to manufacture those lathes, and there is considerable delay in consequence. Therefore, we propose that we shall have an enormous increase in the machinery available for this purpose. Another advantage is that when we have got this machinery ready we shall not be as dependent as we have hitherto been upon orders from abroad. We can turn out much more of this war material in our own country, and the advantage of that must be obvious to everyone in the House. First of all, when you order a very considerable quantity of war material abroad, there is always a difficulty which arises with regard to the exchanges and the gold supply. There is the difficulty that you have not got the same control over the manufacture of material abroad as you have got here. There is the risk of transporting it across the seas, and there is a very considerable difference in the price you have got to pay, and that is important. It is very much better that we should utilise our own labour and our own machinery at home in order to turn out as much as possible of this war material, and that is a problem to which, amongst others, I am directing my attention.

I come to another point of considerable importance, and I was rather perplexed to know the extent to which it would be prudent for me to dwell on it, but I have consulted my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, and he is of opinion that it would be well that it should be known what are the preparations we are making. There is a balance of advantage and disadvantage in talking about it in public, but he has come to the conclusion that on the whole the balance is in favour of indicating what we are doing. A few weeks ago I had the privilege of attending an important conference at Boulogne with the French Minister of Munitions. There were very distinguished Artillery officers from the French Army and in the British Expeditionary Force who attended that conference, and they compared notes as to the lessons of the campaign in the matter of war material. As the result of that and subsequent conferences it has been decided to embark on a new and a great programme which will very considerably tax the engineering resources of this country for some months, and in order to meet this new, this very great, I might say this gigantic demand it will be necessary for us to set up immediately ten large national establishments in addition to the sixteen to which I have already referred. They will be establishments which will belong to the Government, and they will be controlled by the Government. The experience of existing armament firms will be used in order to manage and equip them and to provide them with the necessary staff. For that purpose they will probably be erected somewhere in the neighbourhood of the great existing establishments.

To provide these new establishments with labour the new munition volunteer army will be drawn upon. We shall also have to draw upon the men who have been brought back from the Army, and we hope to utilise to a much larger extent than has hitherto been the case the assistance of women in these establishments. In this respect we shall follow the example of France and of Germany. There is a limit to the amount of male labour which is available, especially if the War is prolonged, and I am convinced from the experience which some of the armament firms have had in this country that there is a good deal of work, especially work of the finer kind, which can be done just as well, and even better, by women than by men. It will be necessary, therefore, in these new arsenals to draw to a much larger extent upon that reserve than we have hitherto done in the other armament firms. This programme has already been agreed upon, and steps will be immediately taken to put it into practical operation. We have ordered the necessary machinery, we are taking steps to erect the necessary buildings, and I hope the equipment will be ready in the course of the next few weeks—certainly the next few months—which will enable us to equip our Armies in such a way that even the best Armies in Europe will not be able to claim superiority in the slightest respect as far as war material and equipment are concerned.

8.0 P.M.

With regard to explosives, steps have been taken to see that the supply of explosives keeps pace with the enormously increased demands which have been made and which will still be made in the future. I do not think that it would be desirable to enter into details under this head. I simply want to assure the House and the country that this essential side of our demands has not been overlooked, because an increase in shells, and especially an increase in shells of the larger natures involves an enormous increase in the quantity of high explosives and propellers. I should like to say a word also with regard to what we are doing about inventions. It is essential to the successful conduct of the War that the fullest use should be made of the best brains of inventors and scientific men. Perhaps hitherto there has been a want of co-ordination amongst the various arrangements dealing with the testing of projects of inventors. So far as naval inventions are concerned, the First Lord of the Admiralty has already set up a Naval Inventions Board, under the distinguished presidency of Lord Fisher, to deal with inventions relating to maritime warfare. I had just completed arrangements to constitute an Inventions Branch of the Ministry of Munitions, and I hope it will do for inventions for land warfare what Lord Fisher's Board is doing for naval warfare. The War Office is handing over the whole question of Army inventions to the Minister of Munitions, and careful arrangements have been made to secure that the new branch shall keep in close touch both with Lord Fisher's Board, to avoid overlapping, and also with. War Office experts, as the Army authorities must, of course, have an ultimate voice in deciding whether a particular invention is of practical service to the conditions of actual warfare in the present campaign. I have appointed Mr. W. Moir, a distinguished engineer, who has already given valuable assistance to my Department on a voluntary basis, to take charge of the new branch, and he will have not only an expert staff to deal with any project that may reach him, but also a panel of scientific consultants to assist on technical and scientific points.

I think, to save disappointment, I should say that it ought to be clearly understood that only a very small minority of inventions are of practical value, especially under the stringent conditions of modern warfare. A very large number of these projects are, on the face of them, shall I say—a little remote. Many others in which the inventor sincerely believes, as they have emanated from his own brain, have already been under consideration for a long time; all that is good in them has been adopted, and the bad has been finally ejected. Many projects fail from technical defects; many others, although technically perfect, are unsuitable for the practical conditions of war. The new branch will have justified its existence if one project in a hundred, or even one in a thousand, turns out to be of practical utility in the present emergency. We have got a good many which we have already experimented upon, and a good many others we are experimenting upon very hopefully.

I should like to say one word about the control of drink in the munition and other areas. I believe the new Board is doing excellent work in that respect. They have worked very hard. They have visited all these areas, and they have proceeded on the principle of carrying with them, as far as they can, the consent of all sections of the community. Up to the present they have succeeded, I think completely, in ensuring something like unanimous co-operation in these various areas. Their schemes have not been merely of a restrictive character. They have beyond that taken steps to supply the men in the yards with reasonable refreshment, and I am looking forward to the success of the experiments that they are making. I am perfectly certain it will conduce very largely to increasing the output of these areas. I am also taking steps to organise some form of medical supervision over the men in the yards, so that men who are failing in discharging their duty for physical reasons shall have prompt attention, and so also that advice can be given as to the best method of sustaining the strength of the men in the yards. Up to the present we have not done nearly as much work of that kind as the Germans have done and as the French, and I am sure a good deal is to be done in increasing the yield of these yards if a more sustained and more scientific effort is made to sustain the physical strength of the men, and to see that the conditions which interfere with that strength and which exhausts it are, as far as possible, removed.

I can only just summarise very briefly what we are doing. It wrould be very undesirable for me to give details of the steps we are taking—where we are placing our factories, what orders we are giving, and how the shells are coming in. All I can say is there is an improvement from week to week in the output, and I feel confident that when we have completed the developments we are now engaged upon we shall in the course of a few weeks be able to supply a quantity of shells which will not merely enable us to support our men but enable them to cleave their way through to victory. All the men who are engaged in this task are working hard. They are working very hard, and I can assure all those whom it may concern that they have neither the time nor the inclination to engage in the sorry and squalid intrigues which seem to fill the minds of evil-disposed persons. They are engaged upon their work, and all we ask is that both plotters and plot-mongers—and I am not sure which is the more mischievous in a time of emergency—shall just keep their hands and their tongues off the Ministry of Munitions. We are only occupied on one task. We have concentrated upon it the whole of our mind and the whole of our strength—yes, and many of us up to the point of breaking down under the strain. I have had to warn several of the staff off the premises because I was convinced, unless I did so, these men would be incapable of returning for weeks and months. I could see the strain in their faces, and I do beg and appeal we shall be allowed to go on with our work without interference of any kind.


I am sure we have all listened with much interest to the speech of my right hon. Friend, and with regard to his closing observations I am sure that his responsibility is more gigantic and more solemn than that falling on any man in the country. He is therefore entitled to the most unquestioning and loyal support of everybody in the country, and I am sure the appeal which he has made for support for himself and his Department will not be made in vain. Of course, I am unacquainted with the facts my right hon. Friend has given with regard to labour conditions. But a good many of the men employed in this country are men of my own race, and here in my place as an Irishman I appeal to everyone of my blood and my race to follow up by good, patriotic, hard, unsparing work in the munitions factories the gallant deeds which our countrymen are doing in the field. As far as my small influence is concerned with the Irishmen of Great Britain, among whom I have passed my life, I place it at the disposal of the right hon. Gentleman. I should like to make this further general observation. The scheme which my right hon. Friend has put before the House is of a large and daring character. Indeed some of his projects are, I may say, gigantic. But the whole of the proposals constitute an indication of the determination of this country to go on with this War till we have beaten down the enemy which threatens our security and the liberties of our people. Every preparation he makes, however costly or ambitious it may seem to be, will I am sure be welcomed by everyone in the country as an indication of the inflexible spirit which exists everywhere in this country to carry out the War to a glorious end.

There is one other observation I should like to make before I deal with the particular point I have to raise. My right hon. Friend is aware that I have ventured to bring before his attention the enormous assistance which might be gained by his Department by drawing upon the resources of our great men of business in our great Dominions. I am glad to know my friend Sir Thomas O'Shaughnessy, the president of the Canadian Pacific Railway, has already been called into counsel, and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would be well advised in calling upon many other men in Canada and Australia, of the same type, who, by their experience as pioneers in the work of civilisation, would bring to his Department many qualities which perhaps are not present to those accustomed to working under the conditions which obtain in this country. These are good observations, and I apologise to the House for making them, but they were inspired in my mind by the speech of my right hon. Friend.

The point on which I wish to address him particularly is this: We are most eager in Ireland to get our share of munition work, both on patriotic and commercial grounds. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Waterford (Mr. J. Redmond) has directed his mind to this question for a long time, and it is quite six weeks since my hon. and learned Friend was able to draw up a list of our resources. I believe our resources in Ireland are much larger than have been imagined or suspected, even by my right hon. Friend, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will direct his attention immediately to this question, and bring all the industrial and labour resources of Ireland into this patriotic work. I understand that for fuse making and in regard to many other parts of the munitions supply, Ireland has very large resources which she will very gladly place at the service of my right hon. Friend. I would appeal to him in this instance to act on the same principles as he is in other parts of the country, that is to say, to rely more or less upon local assistance and on local direction.


indicated assent.


I am very glad to see that my right hon. Friend proposes to do that. It would be well to have a central office in Dublin, and it would be desirable to send over at once—


In case I am not here to reply to my hon. Friend—I have other work, I am sorry to say, to which I must attend at once—perhaps he will permit me to say that I have sent a very capable officer over to Ireland, one of the ablest men we have in the Munitions Department. I have observed from a copy of a paper with which the hon. Gentleman was good enough to supply me, that he was at Limerick either yesterday or the day before. He is inspecting the whole of the engineering resources of the south, west, and south-east of Ireland—we have had already full returns from Belfast—so that when he returns we shall know exactly what Ireland is capable of doing. It may not necessarily be turning out shells. So far as I can see from the reports I have had up to the present, there are parts of Ireland which would be very useful in turning out, say, fuses or some other component parts of a shell, although they could not turn out the whole. However, that depends upon the full reports I shall get from this very capable officer. I have had some consultation with the hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. J. Redmond), who was good enough to give me the name of a gentleman who has knowledge of Ireland and who came over the other day to see me.


May I take it from my right hon. Friend that anything that Ireland can do in the shape of munitions will be welcomed?


Oh, yes, we propose to utilise the resources of Ireland very fully for this purpose. It is just possible that Ireland may be able to do in some districts very useful and very valuable work at a later stage.


The only other point I would urge on my right hon. Friend is that when he is ordering machinery from other parts of the world, if that machinery would enable factories to be started in Ireland, we should get our fair share. I desire to thank my right hon. Friend for the way he has met my suggestions.


The statement with which the right hon. Gentleman has favoured the House is one of extreme gravity, more particularly as respects his reference to trade union customs and their failure, as he asserts, to act up to the agreement which the various unions connected with shipbuilding and engineering federations entered into. I must confess that it was with a feeling of very great astonishment that I listened to the statement he made, more particularly when lie said that the output of munitions, if these rules were laid aside, would be 25 per cent, greater than it is. I have been pretty well round the whole of the districts where shipbuilding is carried on and where munitions are being made, and in asking questions of the various managers of many of these great establishments, more particularly with respect to that aspect of the question, they have assured me that the men were doing very excellent work, and that only in a very few instances had they any trouble with regard to the relaxation of rules, provided, as one manager said to me, the men were assured that they were in a controlled establishment. That is one of the things it would be well for the right hon. Gentleman to make known. Where an establishment is a controlled establishment there should be no dubiety about it so far as the worker's knowledge of the fact is concerned. I and my colleagues are quite conscious of the fact that in some districts and in some instances there has been great difficulty. That we deplore. With respect to the dispute that occurred—I believe it was on the Clyde—with regard to the coppersmiths refusing to permit plumbers to do work which they were accustomed to do, I am sure I echo the sentiments of the whole of my colleagues in saying that the action of coppersmiths was a disgraceful episode, particularly in view of the great national emergency that called upon them to give way so far as that was concerned.

I may say that in some instances where troubles have arisen between workmen and the employer, the workmen have not been altogether to blame. The attitude that I have assumed, when I have had anything to do with disputes of that character, has not been to be the apologist of the men. The attitude which I and many of my colleagues have assumed has been: "Get back to work at once. Until you do so, I am not going to discuss with the management any grievance, real or alleged." One episode of that character came before me less than a fortnight ago. It happened to be in regard to members of my own society, and that was the attitude we at once took up. Fortunately, the men were working on three turn shifts for the twenty-four hours. Only one of the turns refused to go on with their work after they had spent six hours and twenty minutes upon it. The other two turns rallied up and, with a few volunteers, they kept the work going without any serious detriment to the output. Notwithstanding the pride I have in my fellow craftsmen, and the way they have risen to the occasion, I felt a bit ashamed of the attitude they had taken up. When the matter was investigated it was discovered that it was because of the lack of tact displayed by a departmental foreman that the whole trouble had arisen. His action did not excuse the men leaving their work. Two blacks do not make a white, and no matter how bad the action of the employer or the manager might be towards him, I ask, is a workman going to endanger my son or brother at the front? That is the kind of attitude I would desire my fellow trade unionists, and my fellow non-unionist workmen to act up to, so far as this great emergency is concerned.

Another thing I have discovered is that you cannot drive men but you can lead them. On the Sunday after the episode to which I have referred we held a special meeting. The better the day the better the deed. I knew they would be all sober on a Sunday, and it gave me a very much better opportunity of appealing not only to their reason but to their hearts. The bulk of them happened to be Welshmen, so that I could appeal to their emotions, and I did so, with the result that they unanimously decided that for the future, even although the Heavens fell, they would go on working. I have had a letter from the management since stating that there has not been more or better work turned out since they started shell making than has been the case since that Sunday meeting. I am rather sorry that the Ministry of Munitions has not made more use of some of us who sit on these benches in seeking to drive home to the workmen the great responsibility that rests upon them. One of the pictures that I placed before them was the battle of Neuve Chapelle, where, because of the lack of high explosive shell in one corner of the battlefield, the barbed wire entanglement stood intact, and when our men got that length they could get no further and were mown down by the German machine guns. I pictured to them that if a man could make three shells where he was only making two, or even only making nineteen where he could make twenty, the twentieth shell might have been the means of knocking that barbed wire entanglement down, and probably saving the life of his own son or his own brother or his own comrade at the front, because every one of us, if we had not sons or brothers, at any rate had relatives doing their bit, and we ought to realise that if we were not doing our very best, and if casualties due to a cause such as that took place, there was blood guiltiness upon our souls.

The question is, have the Ministry of Munitions done all that is humanly possible to get the various leaders in the trade union movement to realise their duty in getting inside the factories for the purpose of talking with the men, and pointing out to them the evil consequences of failing to live up to the promises that they have made. Has the right hon. Gentleman made full use, for instance, of the Advisory Committee? That Committee is composed of the leading officials of most of the unions connected with the shipbuilding and engineering trades. How is it that they have not been utilised for driving home to their own individual members their duties in that direction? I am not conscious that they have been utilised to the extent that they might have been, and I, at any rate, would be willing at the call of that advisory committee to go anywhere at any time for the purpose of endeavouring to place before them the gravity of the situation and the seriousness and the responsibility that rests upon an individual man if he does not do his very best. At any rate, so far as the men I represent are concerned, that is the duty that I have felt it incumbent to take upon myself, and I am glad to say with very great success indeed. With respect to the shortage of labour, I do not know that as much has been done as might have been done so far as the mobilisation of labour is concerned. With respect to the relaxation of these trade unions. I do not want to be querulous, and I do not want to quibble, but really the Government ought to have proceeded on the lines that they are doing now months before they did. It takes a long time to get out of the beaten grooves, and it will probably take a month or two yet before the men in the engineering trades get out of their old grooves, their old unwritten customs; and it is always to be remembered that at the back of their heads in some instances is still the dread that their exertions now will penalise them after the War. They have still the thought in their minds, once the War is over, how will the Government compel employers to restore the old rules, written or unwritten. That does not worry me in the slightest. I am prepared to depend upon the honour of Parliament and upon the honour of the employers to reinstate those conditions, and if they fail to do so there is the last line of defence—that which has succeeded in building up those privileges. If any of those privileges are never restored, if by their abrogation we could maintain the liberty that our fathers have handed down to us, and carry this War through to a triumphant termination, I should not consider it any loss as against the maintenance of the civil and religious liberties that we enjoy.

The right hon. Gentleman made reference to the fact that so far as the Government was concerned they had appointed an Inventions Committee. I am afraid they do not do all things well even in the Munitions Department, because about four weeks ago I introduced to the right hon. Gentleman an engineer who claims to have an airship which is better than a Zeppelin.


made an observation which was not heard in the Reporters' Gallery.


No; but the right hon. Gentleman said he would introduce him within a few days to aeronautic experts who would examine his invention. There has never been another word about it, so that evidently there is as much red-tape about the Ministry of Munitions as there is in some of the other Departments. But the right hon. Gentleman need not be alarmed. Knowing to some extent what Government Departments are, the man is starting to-morrow morning with a firm which is going to try his invention. I hope it will be successful. That is only an evidence of the difficulties of any man with anything in the shape of an invention getting over the doorstep of a Government Department. May I also point out that I think the right hon. Gentleman must take some blame. In a speech that he made in the early part of the year I took the opportunity of pointing out to him that he was talking about the great captains of industry and he was neglecting the captains of labour. In South Wales at that particular moment of time only 60 per cent. of the tin-plate workers were working and if they were transferred to the forges at Barrow, to Armstrong and Whitworths at Newcastle, or to Sheffield, would they get the sustenance allowance that Government employés were receiving? It took the right hon. Gentleman four months to carry through the allowance so far as sustenance was concerned, but that did not deter me from doing everything that was possible to mobilise these men. I did so very successfully. Something like one thousand men were scattered between Woolwich, Sheffield, Barrow, and Newcastle, all engaged in the production of shells, and doing it very satisfactorily indeed. With respect to the work of the men and their doing their duties and there being no trouble, the experience that I have stated applies to Woolwich. Last Friday I had an opportunity of meeting about a dozen employers, who declared that they were having no trouble either from drink or any other cause, and most of them are employed in making munitions. I found the same thing at West Hartlepool and at Middlesbrough. At Armstrong and Whitworths, Newcastle-on-Tyne, in going through their works recently, I spoke to several departmental foremen, and they all declared that they had had no trouble. I am afraid the greatest amount of trouble happens to be on the Clyde. That makes me, to some extent, ashamed of my fellow countrymen, and I would not mind in the slightest degree, if invited by the trade unionists who control in that direction, paying a visit to the Clyde for the purpose of seeking to impress upon the men the great responsibility that rests upon them so far as their work is concerned, and the value of that work in the preservation not only of limb, but of life in the trenches.


I am sure the House will welcome with the utmost cordiality the patriotic sentiments which the hon. Member (Mr. Hodge) has uttered. I do believe that he faithfully represents the feelings and the desires of the great majority of workers in this country who are concerned in engineering production. There was one remark, however, which the hon. Member made to which I cannot adhere, and that was that the Minister of Munitions shows a disposition towards red-tape. To me it seems that the outstanding feature, so far as the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Munitions is concerned, is the absence of red-tape. The evidence is that he is starting his Department on thorough business lines, just as might be expected from a set of business men rather than from a set of Government officials. I believe that if that Department had been started earlier, on the lines it is now being started upon, the position to-day would be very different. I rose chiefly for the purpose of making one statement which I ventured to make from an experience of over forty years in the engineering trade. Like the hon. Member (Mr. Hodge), I am associated with a trade union. Like him, I have myself worked in the workshops on piece-work rates. I am sorry that the Minister of Munitions is not for the moment in his place, but, if I may have the attention of his representative, I want to impress upon him that what I am now about to state is from my personal experience. When a worker is placed upon piece-work rates the tendency is for him to get more and more skill and facility in performing the particular duties which are allocated to him. It is the custom in the workshops for piece-work to be sectionalised. One man does one thing over and over again, and the article is then passed on to the next man, who does his work upon it over and over again. The result is that every one of these men, by practice and by the facility which comes by practice, are able after a period of time to perform the job very much more quickly and with equal skill. What follows? The man's piecework takings at the end of the week gradually rise over a period of months, and the suggestion is then made that the rate must be lowered. They are lowered. The process goes on again, and I have known instances where, for no less than seven stages, piece-work prices have been lowered by this natural process in the course of a single year. That is what the workmen, over whom this terrible accusation rests, feel. It is known by them, as it is known by every practical engineer, that this process of reducing piece-work will go on, and naturally go on, especially in new manufactories; and until there is a guarantee that during the period of the War piece-work rates will not be reduced, except under Government supervision, and in such a way as will be a safeguard against reduction following additional exertions, you will not remove the root cause of this trouble. As the hon. Member {Mr. Hodge) stated in the course of his telling speech, the men ask, "What will happen when the War is over? Will the conditions that have been established by much sacrifice and much bargaining with the employers, be restored?" I say to the Government with perfect conviction that until you can convince the men that they will not suffer by throwing to the winds trade union restrictions and precautions with regard to piecework, you will not get at the root cause of the difficulty.

Such statements as I have ventured to make, coming from the Benches opposite, might have perhaps the suggestion of being interested, but coming from myself, who no longer works at the bench, and whose interests personally are rather on the side of the employer than otherwise, I venture to put them before the House as entirely disinterested, but with the full conviction that they are thoroughly well founded. It is only after the casual reminder from someone behind him that the right hon. Gentleman, in making his speech, stated that the Government had given a promise that there would be no undue reduction of piece rates. The matter cannot be dealt with by a casual reminder. The one thing needful in regard to this particular point is that the protection and the guarantee of the Government shall, to-night, I hope, by the reply of the right hon. Gentleman or his Under-Secretary, be made so clear, and shall go forth with such perfect understanding by the men that there can be no feeling of any uneasiness as to the future. If this Debate results in a definite statement by the Government, that the position is so regarded by them, and that this be made public, it will do more good from the practical point of view in increasing the product of munitions than almost any other incident that could take place in the course of the Debate. I believe that the House has welcomed the statement of the right hon. Gentleman as full of hope and full of promise, and as showing that thorough steps have been taken to remove what has been the greatest scandal, and one of the most cruel dangers that surround the circumstances of this War. If the performance of a close, hearty, thorough, systematic organisation is in any way equal to the promise, then the country will rejoice in the end that the Ministry of Munitions has been established.


I think that the country generally and this House in particular will have reason to be greatly relieved at the statement that has been made by the right hon. Gentleman tonight, because criticism has been directed very frequently against the production of munitions as though the Department itself had been in existence for very many months and had had charge of the production of munitions, of which the troops are now in need or which they should be using, instead of the fact being, as is well known, that it is a new Department which is just about to begin its work, and to begin its work unfettered by the traditions of any of the old methods that have hampered the production of munitions, as controlled by those who have been controlling it in the past. There are very many methods connected with the production of articles that have to be used every day by our troops that might very easily and very readily be improved upon. So long have these methods and these manners of producing been considered to be the only methods, that any person who has made the suggestion to vary them has found himself against a deep-rooted prejudice and has had no attention given to that which he has proposed, because he has been considered to be an outsider without the special experience which the inner men think that they alone possess.

I am able to say from an examination, which it has been my good fortune to make, of some of the systems already introduced by the Munitions Department, that there is no such red tape fettering and no such hindrance as I have undoubtedly known and experienced in connection with some other departments. The men who are concerned there have gone there with one object, and that one object has been to improve the output, without any reliance upon the past experience of others, but by getting any new help, new experience, and new associations, without of necessity tying themselves to deal with those who have been concerned in the output before. Thus it has been that at the present time all over the Kingdom— and the country had better know it— there is an activity that has never been seen in this country before in reference to the production of those things which our troops have so long needed, and which ought to have been supplied to them months ago, and the only suggestion by our workers now is, why was not this Department instituted months ago instead of being instituted at a very recent date? But it is idle to talk about the fact that the Department has only just been instituted, and at the same time to blame it, as some people are inclined to blame it, for not having already given evidence as to the serious work that it has done.

I want, if I may, to remove, perhaps, some little suspicion from the minds of my Friends connected with the Labour party, to say that my experience has been that the leaders of the engineering sections, representing the men in a very great district in this country, with whom I have come in contact, have assured me that they have visited the works and they have obtained from the men the heartiest cooperation, because they have felt that this Parliament has committed itself to the principle that this War is not to be used as a weapon to reduce trade unionism or to alter the system or habits with which the workmen in any particular trade have always been associated, and with which they have always worked. I happen to know engineering works where they are about to replace some highly skilled men by semi-skilled men, because it happens to be repetition work which the semiskilled men can do equally well with the highly skilled men, who are about to go to another establishment where their higher skill will be very much more useful than the repetition work on which they have been engaged. These men are being transferred with the knowledge that they are not reducing themselves by being transferred. They are not losing their position, and they are not going to be given away by the fact that they are allowing other people for the time being to come and do this repetition work which only skilled people have done before. I think it only right that the record of this experience, which I have myself gathered, should be recognised here, and that it should not be understood that the exceptional experience, which has been condemned by the leaders of the trade union, of certain men in the coppersmith trade, represents the attitude of the engineers. It represents only a section of men who were misguided, and who, I imagine, have long since, or will very soon, become ashamed of that which they have done as having lowered the whole system of trade unionism by the selfish manner in which they have acted.

I wanted if I could to get in the statement that the men only need to be told emphatically that this House will not permit the rate of pay that has been given to men for certain occupations to be reduced for the like occupations after the War is over, by reason of the skill, energy, and greater speed they have displayed during the time the War has been waged. Men engaged upon this work have to remember that they must look to the average man as well as to the man with the highest skill. You have in any trade to take care that all should live, because one important point you have to consider is that if men were required to work up to the level of those of greater speed and higher skill, it would ultimately prove detrimental, and might lead to a breakdown. During the War they may permit themselves to work at this high speed, and they will do so provided they feel that they are not going to be afterwards penalised by being expected to work at the same high speed. If they have that assurance then the output will be increased. I have come in contact with men whom I have assured that Parliament has solemnly and seriously declared in both Houses that the men who gave of their best during the War would not hereafter find that their pay would be reduced when the War is over; they will not be penalised because of the spurt they have made during the country's need. I visited last week very many engineering establishments, and the directors, managers, and leaders of the place, when I asked what was being done by the men, assured me, without a single exception in a very large district, that the men were working as hard as men could work, and there was no holding back. I was also told by a trade union leader in the district that if I were to speak to the men I would do no more good than he had already done, because the men had agreed that they would waive their trade union rules and let anyone come in; they felt that it was their time and their opportunity for doing, as they termed it, their "real bit" as well as the men in the trenches were doing theirs.

9.0 P.M.

That being so, I feel quite sure that the reiteration by the House, to-night, that those who work hard are going not only to assist in the War, but to help in bringing it to an earlier conclusion, without running the risk that they will suffer afterwards by a reduction of their rates owing to those increased efforts. If this is driven home to-night some of those regrettable instances, such as the strike of one trade because other men were brought in, will not occur again. After all, men engaged in a trade have given years of their lives to become proficient in it, and they have a right to be protected in connection with the industry by which they live. Therefore, if there should be an attempt, as many imagine, to break down their industry and to make of non-effect all their apprenticeship or all their training, they are apt to think that their occupation in future is at stake and that there is only one way in which to protest, and that is by refusing to work. But they are not refusing to work; they say that to "do so would be putting the country in peril. This putting the country in peril is recognised by the men, and I therefore ask that Parliament should reiterate again to-night that the men will not be put in peril, if they do their best, by waiving trade union conditions, every man working to increase his output, speeding up his tools, even if his fellows cannot work up to him. I have known of an instance— I will not say where—of a man who was told he was working too fast in the production of munitions. Lest it may be thought it was a private firm, I will mention the place—it was at Woolwich Arsenal last Sunday week. If men are told that they are working too fast it is because their fellow-workers fear that ultimately that too-fast working is going to pull down the whole of the piece-work rates. You can understand their purpose, therefore, in objecting, but if they feel that the too-fast workman, or the quick and rapid workman with greater strength, is not going to drop everybody down, then there will be no further trouble. I saw last week a man producing munitions at a higher speed than those working alongside him, but there was no trouble and no objection; the men knew that they had to produce these things and produce them at their best speed. Turning from that subject, the reassurance of the men as to their future rates after the War, may I say something in justification, perhaps, of some of the delay which has been alleged against the Ministry of Munitions in dealing with so-called inventions? There is not one invention in a hundred that are brought by people inexperienced in connection with war, that is worth the paper it is written on. That is shown by the number of patents which a person takes out and which fall through.

The War Office and the Ministry of Munitions are flooded with applications from men with tinplate models of guns to put an end to the War, and of shells which would only kill those who tried to use them. They must not be surprised to find that experience shows that they are all useless, but I suggest that there should be as little delay as possible in forwarding the reason for their rejection, that that which they have proposed had long since been done. They rush in and propose things in connection with munitions that they never would propose in connection with any other industry and imagine only too frequently that everybody has been asleep, and that no one could ever have dreamt before of the invention they brought forward; whereas while one out of a hundred inventions may have something in it, the others have only impracticability associated with them. The Department now being formed, and the Committee set up to deal with these inventions, will deal with them in no hide-bound way, nor under old official methods. They will be dealt with by men who will seek to get that which is good and throw out that which is bad. I should like, if possible, the Minister of Munitions to send out assurances that there is no fear of the workmen's wages being reduced after the War is over, and if that fear is removed there will be a great increase in the output of munitions.


After the very serious statement which has been made with regard to the attitude of the men in reference to trade union regulations, I think it only right and fair that I should state what the men in the constituency I have the honour to represent are doing with regard to this question. I had the privilege of meeting the men in a large steel works and engineering works last week. Arrangements were made whereby I could meet the men in connection with some of the leading trade union men in that district at five o'clock each afternoon, and for half an hour we had the men from various shops, sometimes to the number of 1,500 and sometimes up to 2,500. I think I went round the whole of the works, and I placed before them the situation as the Minister of Munitions sees it at the present time. I urged upon them the necessity of relaxing all trade union rules and regulations, of encouraging unskilled labour to work beside that which is skilled, and to do all in their power to increase the supply of munitions by competing with each other, rather than by doing anything which would tend to restrict the output of any individual. On that being submitted to them, one of their own men got up and proposed a resolution in which they pledged themselves to do all that was humanly possible to increase the supply of munitions, and thereby to stand by their brothers in the trenches. That resolution was passed unanimously and enthusiastically at every meeting.

I therefore think it is only right that it should be known that the engineers of Crewe, numbering something like 7,000, engaged not only upon munition work, but also upon railway repair work, pledged themselves to place themselves under the same rules and work under the same conditions as those working on munitions, in order that as large a number as possible should be drawn from railway repairs, and placed upon munition work. It is a small number in comparison with the very large numbers engaged throughout the country at the present time upon this serious and important work. But it does show, I think, the feeling of the highly intelligent engineering classes in this country towards the position which faces them at the present time. I am satisfied, as the hon Member opposite has just said, that when the matter is placed clearly before them, and when the men fully appreciate all that it means, and that the relaxation of those rules shall not in anywise prejudice them in the future, that all the rights, privileges and benefits which they as trade unionists hold at the present time shall be returned to them when the War is over, that then you will find a generous response throughout the country, similar to that which I found expressed in the town of Crewe itself, will be made to the appeal of the Minister of Munitions.


I am sorry the Minister of Munitions is not in his place. I wish he could have heard the three last speeches which have been made. The speech of the hon. Member for Crewe clearly demonstrates that in the vast majority of cases the working men of this country are putting forth their best efforts. Similar experiences were given to us by the hon. Member for the Launceston Division of Cornwall (Sir G. Marks), on whose knowledge of trade union conditions I desire to congratulate him. I also wish to thank him for the statement he has made as to the manner in which the engineers of the district of which he speaks are working. I venture to suggest the fault in the speech of the Minister of Munitions. It is the repetition of a similar statement which he made in connection with drink earlier in the Session. The right hon. Gentleman hears of one case, possibly covering a few, comparatively few, men, and with that in his mind he comes down to the House and makes an assertion, based on the one instance, of a very sweeping character, and goes so far as to suggest that if there were the maximum of output in the factories the number of shells would be increased by at least 25 per cent. If he had heard the last two speeches, I am not sure that he would have been convinced, but at least he would have heard of experiences which show that the 25 per cent. figure he quotes is a gross exaggeration. My experience is similar to the experience which has now been related. I have been addressing meetings of munition workers of late. I had the honour of addressing first a meeting at the great works of Hornsbys, of Grantham. I spoke at eight meetings representing three districts. The managing directors had no serious complaint to make. The usual thing they say when you ask, as I asked particularly, how the men are working in this connection, is "Our men are doing very well."

If the Minister of Munitions desires to get the best from the men, it will not be by making the sweeping statements he is apt to make, and which refer to a few, and by making it appear as if they had general and widespread reference. I wish Members could have had the experience I had last week. I went to Shelton Coal, Steel and Iron Works, and there you have men, day in day out, standing before furnaces. It is interesting to see, but one's interest is still maintained when one has passed on, which one is not sorry to do. You have men working for ten hours before furnaces, each of which has a capacity of 60 tons. One can imagine the heat which is necessary to make the steel bubble before one's eyes. Then the steel is dropped into the ingot, and passed on to rollers, an operation which is most interesting to watch. The men who have to stand before this terrific heat are keeping excellent time, and working magnificently, and I believe that record to be typical of the huge majority of the working men of this country. Hence, I deprecate the kind of statement which the Minister of Munitions is apt to make when he talks of trade unionists and trade union conditions. As a matter of fact, the point of view which my hon. Friend the Member for Gorton (Mr. Hodge) has put before the House, is the point of view of the vast majority, not only of the Labour Members of Parliament, but of the great majority of trade unionists throughout the whole of the United Kingdom. They are prepared, under the guarantee of the Munitions Act, to set aside their trade union conditions, and they have been recommended to do so by their leaders. What they are a little diffident about is that they should be asked to sweat a little more to add one-fifth to the reasonable percentage of profit which is being made in certain works. When they are being asked to set aside standards which have been set up with very great difficulty, and when they are being asked to augment profits which are already high, they may then be a little diffident about putting out every ounce which is in them.

As a matter of fact, it would appear that the shortage of the output of shells must be blamed on somebody. The blame is not accepted by the Government Departments. The right hon. Gentleman at a meeting upstairs told us of the very serious shortage in the matter of deliveries as compared with promises, but I blame those responsible in the early stages. They accepted promises and did not take the trouble to inspect the works to ascertain whether the promises could be in any measure fulfilled. To allow a certain firm to tender for 1,000 shells a week, and then to find, perhaps, that there were a man and two boys on the firm, was sheer absurdity. But when the shortage of delivery is ascertained, the blame has to be attached somewhere. The armament manufacturers, who are apparently responsible, refuse to take it. They endeavoured to keep others out of the ring, they accepted orders which they trusted to fulfil by sub-contracting, they could not fulfil them, and then the charge is made that the men were drinking. The new charge is that they are shirking, as the 25 per cent, extra output is not forthcoming. I venture to repudiate the charge and to say, from knowledge drawn from meetings which I have attended and from questions which I have put to the men in the management of these works, that in the main the working men engaged on munition work are working well.

The shortage is one for which the working men at present engaged on the output of munitions are not responsible. The responsibility lies elsewhere, and there ought not to be these attempts to place it on the failure of the trade unions to set aside their trade union conditions. They are prepared to set them aside, and if the Schedule of the Munitions Act is placed more clearly before them, and the pledge of the Government made a little more clear than it has been made—and these meetings are helping to make the pledge more clear—I think we may anticipate that things will be better. An hon. Member who spoke just now indicated where one of the difficulties lies. He indicated that in his own experience where men had been stimulated to put forth greater efforts and had earned more, there had been what he called, inaccurately as I think, a natural reduction. There has been an unnatural reduction of piece-rates when men have put forward their best efforts, both in former times and in recent times. Instead of the American practice being followed, by which a man puts out his best and is paid for what he puts out, his best endeavours have been utilised, not only to depress him but to depress the standard generally. We know how difficult it has been for working men to raise their wages; how the employers have consolidated themselves against them; how the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London has done all he could to keep wages down, and then mutters in this House that when men come out they should be given two years hard labour. That is a thing which in practice would be most unfortunate, because it is not by threats that output will be increased but only by goodwill. If we now make it absolutely clear that work on piece rates will be paid for, and that there will be no attempt made when wages rise to depress them by pointing out to a man that his weekly wage is now at such a figure that he can live on a good deal less—that is the kind of thing that trade unionists fear and have reason to fear from past experience. These things forced upon them by their experience in negotiating with employers cannot be driven out from their minds in a month or two, and Members have little right to expect it. To level a charge based on one or two isolated cases and to make a statement that output might be increased by 25 per cent, if these trade union conditions were waived is an exaggeration which I regret to hear in this House.

Another point I would like to make is that when more output is being demanded and better time asked for, it should be remembered that the men are already putting in from sixty to seventy hours per week. Let me give an actual case of what is happening in a town which I visited recently. Complaint was made that some of the men did not come in quite at six o'clock in the morning. I asked how long they worked, and I found that, in spite of their coming a little ate they were working from sixty to seventy hours a week, and having one Sunday off in four. It is so easy in the circumstances in which we live to be very positive about slackers and losing time. I wonder how Members of this House would get along if they were putting in from sixty to seventy hours a week on work which tends to be extremely monotonous because of its very repetition, and if they were expected to work three Sundays out of every four. When men are asked to work from sixty to seventy hours a week on operations which are monotonous, to expect them to make a great show of diligence, to put as it were more ounces of labour into what they are doing, and to keep it up week after week, is asking a great deal.


These are serious times.


These are serious times, and in these serious times the majority of men are doing it without complaint. Hence my regret that a complaint should be made which, by its generalisation, assumes a widespread character which can do no good and, in the circumstances, may do a great deal of harm. There is one thing the working man of this country will not tolerate, and that is a kind of forcing of his labour mixed up with threats and complaints of slackness. You can get better results by appealing to what is good in him. He will respond to the patriotic appeal of the needs of the country. More will be done in that direction than by the statements which are apt to be made in regard to slackers, who represent such a small minority of the working men of the country. There is a feeling amongst some of the workers that they are not getting the badges to which they are entitled. I recognise the difficulty in regard to use being made of them which the Minister of Munitions and every Member of this House would deplore. But there are men working in steel works who are keen to enlist but cannot be spared, and they feel the absence of the badge to which they are entitled. I have heard in two or three places similar complaints. These men, as the Minister of Munitions says, are engaged on work as important for the moment as work in the trenches. Let them be spared some of the looks which are apt to be directed towards them as they walk abroad, when, as a matter of fact, they are the greater patriots because they go about their daily-work on munitions instead of enlisting as their feelings prompt them to do.

The Minister of Munitions in one part of his speech made our case. He said that in the sixteen works which he proposes to establish he is going to make shells at a much lower price. Shells are now being made in works which were built under lower conditions of labour and the less cost of material. The right hon. Gentleman is going now, at the present high prices for material and machinery, and the high labour cost, to produce shells at a lower cost than they are now being produced. What is the inference? That high prices far in excess of the maximum cost are being paid for shells to-day, and the workman knows it. [An HON. MEMBER: "No, no!"] Well, the Minister of Munitions says he expects less labour troubles. Why? Because the men will realise that when they work there they are not working for private profit. They are prepared to put forward their best efforts when they are assured that their labours are to be devoted solely to the interests of the country. Patriotism is widespread at the present moment in this country. It must not be assumed that there is any considerable body of workmen who are slacking; on the contrary, they are putting out their best efforts on behalf of the country.


There are one or two points raised by the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, and some others who preceded him, which, perhaps, call for one or two observations. I will deal with the point last raised by the hon. Member for Sunderland—the issue of badges. When Members come to think about it, they will see that the question raises an innumerable host of complicated and difficult questions. I assure the House that, although the Ministry of Munitions have been almost daily for the last fortnight making promises that they are about to deal with the question of badges, that really we have not been wanting in efforts to try to get the matter put on a satisfactory footing. It is exceedingly difficult to draft rules which will be fair in their incidence between the different classes of labour involved. It is very difficult precisely to say what class of labour is such as to entitle the worker to a badge. It is very difficult to know where to draw the line, how the line is to be drawn, and who is to draw it. I am glad to say, however, that we have arrived at an agreement on this question with the War Office, and the rules which will govern the issue of badges have already been agreed upon. I hope that the process will now be carried on as expeditiously as possible. I should like, if hon. Members will, to, as far as possible, shield the Ministry of Munitions from what I am quite sure will be a whole host of complaints which will necessarily be made against us.


made a remark which was inaudible in the Reporters' Gallery.


They have been made, because as a matter of fact every employer —quite naturally—and most workmen— quite naturally, too—feel that their particular job is the one job in the whole Kingdom which certainly should be recognised. We have had to regard the requirements of the War Office for recruits. We have had to regard the sufficiency or deficiency, as the ease may be, of that particular class of labour before we decide the question of the badge. We are really doing our very best in the matter. The Ministry of Munitions is entitled to ask the House of Commons to prevail upon employers and workmen in their constituencies to shield the Ministry to some extent from the hosts of complaints which are bound to be showered upon us. We shall, we know well enough, have to stand the racket; but at the same time this is one of the subjects in which it will be absolutely impossible to give satisfaction. We may as well recognise it when we start out. However, we shall try, with due regard to the interests of the Army for men, and with due regard to the maintenance of labour for the production of munitions, to issue these badges to those who are entitled to possess them.

I quite agree with the hon. Member for Sunderland, and with, I think, almost all the other speakers in respect to the importance which the men rightly attach to assurances in respect of their piecework rates. I am sure the hon. Member for Crewe had an experience which, so far as I can learn, is almost common to all those who have been working as he has in this way. I believe it is mainly due to the fact that the provisions of the Munitions Act, Second Schedule, are not fully understood and realised in the workshop that this difficulty has mainly arisen. In order to meet this, with the co-operation of my hon. Friend beside me and his colleagues, we have prepared a poster setting out in plain language, on the authority of the Government, what are the provisions of the Act in regard to alterations in rates of wages. We propose to post that in the different works throughout the country which are engaged in making munitions of war. I believe in this way we shall make the provisions of the Act in relation to the wage question widely known. In that way we shall remove a great deal of the misunderstanding to which hon. Members have alluded. I think, with these exceptions we have received, I am glad to find in advance the sympathetic support of the House, because the entrance to No. 6, Whitehall Gardens is sometimes a little encumbered by letters which are very angry with the officials of the Ministry of Munitions because they do not immediately take up the particular device of the writer, force it upon an unwilling War Office, and thereby end the War. Being one of those employed in the Ministry of Munitions, I am glad this particular work will fall upon the separate Departments, and we also congratulate ourselves that it will not be housed at 6, Whitehall Gardens.