§ But I agree with the criticism—and I should add that the Controller and his principal officers have urged this view upon me—that in a technical Department of such vital concern to the country at the present time the greatest shipbuilder of the day might, with great advantage to the country and in order to give confidence to the country, be employed. We have decided to obtain the most experienced and the most highly qualified advice and assistance that we can obtain. The Government, therefore, have asked Lord Pirrie to take, and he has accepted, the position of Controller-General of Merchant Shipbuilding, directly under the First Lord, and not on the Board of Admiralty. Lord Pirrie is the greatest and most successful shipbuilder probably in the world, and his record in this vital matter of production of tonnage in this country at the present time is unrivalled.
§ Sir E. CARSON
Might I ask my right hon. Friend whether Lord Pirrie will be under the Admiralty—whether it is proposed to retain the mercantile shipbuilding and the naval shipbuilding still under the Admiralty?
§ Sir E. GEDDES
The intention, as I have said, is to keep the merchant shipbuilding under the First Lord. Lord Pirrie will come directly under the First Lord, but will not be on the Board of Admiralty.
§ Sir E. GEDDES
Nothing to do with naval shipbuilding. I would like to tell the Committee some of the results of his work. As is well known, his Belfast Yard was not a tramp-building yard before, and it required a good deal of adjustment of machinery, labour, and yard conditions before it could be used for this purpose of building standard ships, and his results there are far better than in any other yard in the Kingdom. Lord Pirrie, therefore, has an undoubted right to express opinions on this question of standard ships, of design, and the Departs mental organisation charged with the production of ships on behalf of the Government, and his advice has been of great value in regard to the national shipyards. Lord Pirrie has built standard ships and oilers in far shorter time than anyone else has turned out identical craft. This applies not only at Belfast, but as regards oilers on the Clyde too. He has beaten all records all over the country. I think I am right in saying that more than half the standard ships completed have come from his yards, and he hopes to launch one every fortnight before long. As a matter of fact, he is already completing these ships in five and a half months from the date the keel is laid, and he hopes to complete ships in under four and a half months in future in the design I have explained. These are absolutely unrivalled results.
I do not propose to go at length into the question of national shipyards, but it will, I feel sure, be of great interest to the House—and, I think, possibly a relief to certain hon. Members—to know that Lord Pirrie is—and I have his permission to state this—enthusiastic about the value to the country of the national shipyards, and of the outlook for rapid production in them of the new "N" type of "fabricated" ship, which I have before mentioned.
Incidentally, and in passing. I would like to mention that Lord Pirrie has told me that he would have been unable to give the results he has given, or to expect the great reduction of time in building standard ships which I have mentioned, had it not been for the great help, co- 1037 operation, and common-sense treatment he has received from the Department of the Controller. Lord Pirrie will assume responsibility for the output of merchant tonnage for the State. As Controller-General, he will be invited to attend meetings of the Board of Admiralty and of the Maintenance Committee of the Board when matters of mercantile shipbuilding are discussed. While the Controller-General will be directly responsible to the First Lord, I have asked the Prime Minister to make it one of the terms of his appointment that upon all questions in which he feels that the interests of merchant shipbuilding are concerned he shall have direct access to the Prime Minister and to the War Cabinet, just as I have, and this has been arranged.
In thus making public announcement of his appointment, it should be stated that owing to Harland and Wolff being a private limited company, it is not possible for Lord Pirrie formally to retire, but he will, of course, take no active part in the direction of Harland and Wolff, or its subsidiary companies, so long as he is devoting his time to the mercantile shipbuilding programme. I feel that this appointment will give great confidence to the country. It is welcomed by the Admiralty and the Controller's Department, and I feel that we shall gain great benefit from Lord Pirrie's unequalled knowledge and experience.
I am confident that with the publicity which now, for the first time, we are able to give and which we have been urged on all sides is necessary in order to let the country understand the full situation. Admiralty officials, masters and men will throw their hearts more than ever into the production of that additional 100,000 tons of shipping per month which is necessary to overtake the present rate of net world loss; and I am confident that the men in the shipyards will feel that their duty is every bit as much to overtake the rate of sinkings as the duty of the Allied navies is to bring sinkings down below the rate of production.
Mr. McKINNON WOOD
I am sure that the whole House will congratulate my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty on having succeeded in raising the veil of secrecy which has shrouded the facts from the knowledge of the public. We can congratulate him, I am sure, on that, because we feel that one of the essential conditions to secure fresh efforts 1038 on the part of both masters and workmen is that they should be kept thoroughly acquainted with all that is happening. The right hon. Gentleman gave us a good many interesting figures, but I cannot say I found them particularly reassuring figures. They seem to me very grave and serious. We find that, while the rest of the world made a net loss of 8 per cent. of its shipping, the loss of the shipping of the British Empire was 20 per cent., and I am afraid it appeared from the figures given by the First Lord we had not made up our losses quite as effectively as the neutrals had made up theirs. The First Lord said that we had a loss of 20 per cent. of our shipping since the beginning of the War. To appreciate what that loss means, you must take off the figure of the mercantile marine which is absorbed in war services. I do not think that figure has ever been given. The First Lord did not give it to-day, but we all know it is a very substantial figure, so that a reduction of 20 per cent. of our total mercantile marine is very much more than a reduction of 20 per cent. on that part of our mercantile marine which can be used for the purposes of the civilian population, such as food-carrying, the transport of raw materials, and all the hundred and one purposes which are necessary for the life of the nation.
The right hon. Gentleman, I think, was under a misapprehension on one point. He said that it was the Shipping Controller who had first tried to separate naval and mercantile construction. He is entirely mistaken on that point. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade in the late Government (Mr. Runciman)—whose absence through illness I very much regret, because he naturally knows more about the facts of the past than any of his colleagues—initiated the policy of separating the Navy from the mercantile marine, and before he left office, as he has informed me, he had arranged with the First Lord of the Admiralty at that time—the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Mr. Balfour)—to devote thirteen private yards purely to the construction of mercantile ships. So that the right hon. Gentleman was not justified in claiming credit for that view for the Shipping Controller. My right hon. Friend also put steel for ship-construction first on the priority list. I would ask the First Lord if it still remains there. When you come to the reassuring calculation 1039 made by the First Lord, I think it requires a little examination. The First Lord told us that we were building within 100,000 tons a month of our losses. Although that was not satisfactory—he did not pretend it was anything like satisfactory—still it was reassuring. But how did he arrive at the figure? He took the quarter of our greatest construction—the last quarter of 1917–420,000 tons, and he took the quarter which in last year was the smallest quarter of sinkings.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the ADMIRALTY (Dr. Macnamara)
The same quarter.
Yes, but that is not the point. I sincerely hope he is justified in taking the lowest quarter for sinkings, but if he had taken the sinkings and the construction for the whole year he would have presented a figure to the House which he certainly could not have described as reassuring. He selected his months.
There is another point. That last quarter was a much more favourable quarter than any other quarter of last year, and, what is more important, it was much more favourable than the quarter in which we are now living. That quarter showed a production of tonnage of 420,000, but the month of January only showed a production of 55,000 tons, and the month of February only 100,000 tons; that is, 155,000 tons for the two months. That is a great falling off from 420,000 tons for the quarter, and I think we want some reassurance about the prospects of construction before we can take that reassuring estimate quite literally. The right hon. Gentleman appreciated, evidently, that no subject, I think, since the beginning of the War has caused so much anxiety as this question of the failure to build merchant ships in adequate numbers, because we appreciate that upon success in that matter depends our being able to continue our part in this War. Not only that, but upon it depends the power of France and Italy to continue taking their share. Upon it also depends the great consideration whether we shall be able to bring from America troops and supplies to assist us in the great struggle which lies before us in the immediate future. I appreciate that it is an extremely diffi- 1040 cult task for any Government to balance the claims of essential services, but, never-the less, it is the task for which a Government exists. It is the supreme task by which the Government should be judged. A point I feel bound to make is that in the past shipping construction has not had its proper share in the national effort. Much time has been lost, and it is our duty to see that no more time is lost. At the end of the year 1916 the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Runciman), who was then President of the Board of Trade, made an estimate of what we should be able to construct during 1917, and he said that he had arranged for the supply of steel for the purpose of constructing over 1,000,000 tons. That estimate was realised with remarkable exactitude, but in April came the unrestricted submarine warfare. Up to that time it had been a question of doubt as to whether Germany would risk bringing the United States into the quarrel by developing this type of warfare, and thus risking quarrels with neutral countries.
In April we knew what Germany intended to do. The figures of our losses enormously increased, both of British and neutral ships—in fact, they were more than doubled. What has been the result? In January, 1917, our output was 48,000 tons, and in February 79,000 tons, making a total of 127,000 tons in two months. In January, 1918, the total was 55,000 tons, whilst in February it was 100,000 tons. In the two months, in the face of ten months of unrestricted warfare, with all the warnings the Government have had, we have only increased our output by 28,000 tons—that is, only an increase of 168,000 tons a year. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blackfriars (Mr. Barnes) informed the House, in a frank speech, that we had only built about half our estimate. It is our business to consider the mistakes of the past in order that we may avoid them in the future. This is a matter that lends itself to no delay.
Let us look at the labour situation. How does the question of releasing skilled men for the shipyards from the Army stand? On the 14th February the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty informed us that the War Cabinet had decided to release 20,000 skilled men from the Army to work in the shipyards, and that they would come in from the middle of February at the rate of 1,000 a week. On the 12th March, four weeks later, the right hon. Gentleman informed us that they had already 1041 obtained 1,098 of these men and sent them to the shipyards. At that rate it would be the end of 1919 before we got the 20,000 men into the shipyards. My point is, Why, when we knew that Germany had determined upon an unrestricted submarine warfare, we did not in April, 1917, release those 20,000 men? That was the time to do it, and that is a responsibility which I think weighs upon the Government, and it is upon that point I think we are entitled to a very definite answer. I do not pretend to be an expert in shipbuilding, but I do know the spirit of the men on the Clyde. For eighteen years I have worked with those men. I have addressed many meetings there, and I have been heckled by them, and I can say they are the shrewdest hecklers in the world. I have talked to them in agreement and in argument. They have been members of my political association and I know them pretty well, and what I should like to say to the First Lord is that these men on the Clyde are, above all things, reasoning beings. It is no use hurling reproaches at them. If you taunt them, your taunts and reproaches are mere weapons in the hands of the disaffected minority, and they create ill-blood in the shipyards. The right way to deal with them is not to make statements which are unduly optimistic, and which only tend to cause depression and disappointment in the end. These men will listen to the stern logic of facts and nothing else. There is no audience in this country to which you can address a stiffer argument than the engineers and skilled artisans on the Clyde. I remember a man telling me at a meeting, "If you make a slip in your speech there will be a man in the audience who will be able to point it out." I think the Leader of the House would agree with me in my estimate of those hard-headed Scotsmen.
My advice to the First Lord is to continue on the path he has started upon to-day. Tell these people the facts; treat them as men of the highest intelligence, as they are, reason with them, and then you will get on with them, but you will never drive or coerce them. If you try to treat them like children, they will play like children; but if you treat them like men, they will work like men. Now you are asking people to make special effort sand sacrifices. After all, it is our nation that is in peril, and we are entitled to know everything. I hope we shall not be given optimistic estimates. Let us have 1042 the hard facts and form our own judgment. I do not form so favourable a judgment upon the facts which have been given to us as the First Lord would have us accept. The First Lord did not say very much about that very important manifesto issued by the Shipbuilders and Employers' Federation and the trade unions. I hold no brief for the shipbuilders and I do not represent trade unions, but I think they absolutely prove up to the hilt that the, charge which has been made against them as showing indifference is not justified. They point out that they met the Prime Minister in the month of November and made proposals to him, and they made criticisms of the work of the Shipping Controller, which, I think, shows that they were taking a very serious view of the situation, and, at any rate, it proves that they were interested in the question. These men complained of interference from too many quarters, and when we consider how many Departments can interfere you will not be surprised at them and blame them. There is the Minister of National Service combing for the War Office dealing with them in one direction, and I wonder if he has combed any men out of the shipping yards at this moment. Perhaps we may have some information on that subject. Then there is the Munitions Department. When I was Secretary for Scotland I used to watch the operations of that Department in connection with labour in Glasgow. Then you have the Shipping Controller and the Admiralty, and last, but apparently least, you have the Minister of Labour, who seems to have least of all to do with this question, although the shipbuilders and the men think he ought to have a good deal to do with it. I suggest to the Government a little concentration of these various Departments dealing with labour.
Then the shipbuilders complain of the change in controllers, of the varying policies, of excessive interference, and of unnecessary alterations. Shipping in the course of the last one and a half years has been under a good many different departments. First of all, shipping had to do with the Board of Trade. After that they had to do with Sir Joseph Maclay, the Shipping Controller, and then with the Shipping Controller under the Board of Admiralty, and after that there was another Shipping Controller under the Admiralty. We had an interesting letter in the "Times" the other day from a gentleman, Sir W. Rowan Thomson, 1043 whom I do not know, but who was an official, and he points out how much confusion of control there was and how much excessive delegation there has been. As for Sir Joseph Maclay, I think things might have gone fairly well under him if he had been backed up, but he did not get those 20,000 men from the Army. The First Lord assures us that the Admiralty has a most maternal care over shipbuilding. There is no class in this country for whom I have a more sincere respect than for the naval officer. He is a man with trained brains, gives the most remarkable exhibitions of courage, and as a class they are among the finest men in the whole country. Of course, they have the defects of their class, like any other human being, and it is not reasonable to expect if you put the Admiralty in control of merchant shipping that the claims of merchant shipping will have any prior claim. The probability is that a third-rate naval claim is likely to have more consideration than a first-class mercantile shipping claim. We were told the other day by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for the Kilmarnock Burghs that in regard to materials and labour used in shipbuilding 70 per cent. were used for naval purposes and only 30 per cent. for merchant shipping.
Then perhaps we shall be given the correct figures to-day, and we only want the information. The First Lord gave us a great many reasons for the frequent alterations in the designs of standard ships, and he told us that there have been an extraordinary number of alterations in those designs. I would like to ask what has it to do with the War that you should have to alter the accommodation for the crews. Could it not have been perceived that you want a certain adequate accommodation for the crews. One would have thought that that was one of the elementary things any shipping designer would have provided for. When you are engaged in building construction that is not the time to alter your plans. A wise man tries to fix his plans, talk them over with his builder as well as his architect, and if he wishes the ships to be built within the specified time he makes no alteration in the plans. There is nothing more costly than these constant alterations in the plans, and I was 1044 appalled at the list of alterations which the First Lord of the Admiralty mentioned. There is the question of inspection. There was in the "Times" yesterday a very weighty letter from a man of very large experience, Sir Thomas Sutherland, pointing out that there was an enormous amount of quite unnecessary inspection. He said that the ordinary ship-owner found Lloyd's inspection, which the whole world admits to be thoroughly competent, quite sufficient. There were some ship-owners who employed their own inspectors, but they hardly interfered at all. He thought that there was an immense waste on inspection. It caused a large waste of time, took the heart out of the works managers and foremen, and did not tend to celerity in building. When I was at the Treasury I found that the Admiralty, even in those easier days, were very fond of building without estimates on a sort of cost and percentage basis, which is probably the worst basis in the public interest. I know it may be said that you have certain difficulties at the present time, but I really think that a number of those difficulties could be surmounted so as to avoid this extremely costly way of building. It is not only enormously costly in money, but it is also extremely costly in time, because neither the employers nor the employed have the slightest interest in accelerating the work. You entirely remove the stimulus of personal interest in the matter. I hope that some means will be found of giving both the shipbuilder and the workmen an interest in getting the work done with expedition, and, if I may mention such a matter, at a reasonable cost to the public purse.
I do not propose to deal with the 12½ per cent. Bonus which several Labour leaders have told us is one of the most serious causes of the unrest. It seems to have been like a stone thrown into the middle of a pond, sending out a number of concentric waves which have not yet subsided. I hear that the women are now claiming the 12½ per cent. I do not think that I could add to the criticism of my right hon. Friend the Member for the Blackfriars Division of Glasgow (Mr. Barnes) and others on that subject. I should like to ask if there has not been too much bureaucratic interference in this business, as in some other businesses? You can easily over-inspect and thus destroy the temper and efficiency of works managers, foremen, and people. The fact is that at the present time the Government are regulating and con- 1045 trolling a good many businesses out of existence. We cannot afford to let the shipbuilders go out of business, but they are suffering. I am not an expert, and I do not like to dogmatise on the subject, but I wonder if it was altogether wise to say peremptorily to the shipbuilders who had been in the habit of building a particular type of ship at a particular yard that they would not be allowed to build them at all! There were obvious advantages in allowing them to do so. They had the drawings and the patterns, and they could start work at once—in fact, this was so well recognised that you could place a second ship at a lower price than the first, other things being equal. They were peremptorily stopped. Would it not have been wiser for the Shipping Controller to have waited until he had had his standard ship in a state of completeness, until he had known what accommodation he wanted for the crews, and what shape the bridge was to be, and to have allowed these ships to be built in the meantime? These alterations have been an enormous source of waste. We are all agreed that we have received more information than has been given before, but I hope the First Lord of the Admiralty did not mean to say that he was only going to give us the sinkings once a quarter. I presume that he is going to give us the existing weekly figures, and the precise figures of tonnage sunk once a quarter. I do not think the House would be very much gratified if they found, in place of the very partial and unsatisfactory figures, that we are only to get a return once a quarter.
§ Sir E. GEDDES
The weekly return of ships has proved to be an unsatisfactory return, and it is because it has been proved unsatisfactory and does not give the correct position that we have altered it. I doubt very much really whether the House wants to go on getting a return that has proved itself to be an unsatisfactory return, and, in fact, a misleading return, though not intentionally misleading. I would ask the House not to press me as to the exact return to be given. I hope to give the best information possible, but I do not want to give the actual tonnage figures in detail more than once a quarter, and it may be that we shall have to give them a little in arrear. I would ask the House to give me time to think over it.
I can assure the First Lord of the Admiralty that it will not satisfy the House if he is only going to give us the 1046 figures once a quarter, and if we are going to be kept in absolute ignorance for three months about these events which are threatening our actual existence.
§ Sir F. FLANNERY
Why does the right hon. Gentleman speak for the whole House? I am sure, if the First Lord of the Admiralty were to give information which might be useful to the enemy, that the House would not be satisfied.
I did not say anything of the sort. I said that the House would not be satisfied if they were kept waiting three months for the information. The hon. Member may not agree with me, but I am expressing an opinion, and I do not believe that the public outside would be satisfied. I am bound to say, summing the whole thing up, that while we have been gratified to receive the extra information we have not received much comfort for the future. At the present time we see the figures of shipbuilding, 55,000 tons in January and 100,000 tons in February—a mere fraction of the sinkings. We have had a defence of the past, but we have had no very satisfactory promise for the future, and we want to make sure that the Government are really determined that a proper consideration shall be given to the question of mercantile shipbuilding. We have had no assurance on that point. I am sure that we all respect the exceptional ability of Lord Pirrie, but it is the usual device of the Government when in a difficulty to appoint a new Controller, and we want to know whether the great ability of Lord Pirrie will be backed by adequate power. We have seen other men appointed to other posts, and they have been able to do very little, because they were not backed by the Government. It is perfectly evident, whoever was responsible for merchant shipbuilding last year, that he was not properly backed by the Government. He was not allowed to get the men essential for the industry. We have only begun to get them now, and we are getting them very slowly. The thing is still to be under the Admiralty. It is quite true that Lord Pirrie is to have access to the War Cabinet. Nominally, everybody has access to the War Cabinet, but I really think that we are entitled to ask for a very much more satisfactory promise as to the future before we can declare ourselves satisfied with the statement of the First Lord of the Admiralty.
§ Mr. FRANCE
I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £100.
1047 I can assure the House that I approach this subject without any party or historic bias. I simply desire, as a private Member, to express my views with regard to the statement that we have heard this afternoon. Frankly, I am disappointed with that statement. It seemed to me to have the same characteristics as the statements that we have had previously from the right hon. Gentleman. It divided itself into three parts. First of all, he gave the figures of losses and of building. He then turned to the record of the Department over which he presides with so much energy and ability, and he could not conceal from us the fact that he thought they had not done badly; in fact, that they had really done, very well. With regard to the future, some changes were announced which the right hon. Gentleman seemed to think were not very necessary, but which would be of comfort to the public. I think the House would prefer to know what the view of the Government, as a Government, really is with regard to the position which merchant shipbuilding should hold at the present time, and whether the Government regard merchant shipbuilding as the basis and foundation of all success or failure in the War. We have had from the right hon. Gentleman a Departmental statement—a statement from the point of view of the Admiralty. We want the wider view, the view of the Government, and a clear statement as to how they regard this matter of merchant shipbuilding. The right hon. Gentleman asked the House not to think that the Admiralty was an ungenerous stepmother to merchant shipbuilding. Why should merchant shipbuilding be put off with a stepmother? Why cannot merchant shipbuilding have a real mother? That is what we are asking for. We are asking that it should not be a forlorn foundling, or something which the Admiralty takes under her wing, but that merchant shipbuilding should take a real place, with a real Department with real push and pull to get the men necessary to build the ships.
The right hon. Gentleman has resisted the proposal that this work should be entrusted to a new Department. I can imagine in 1915 the Minister for War, if he had been in this House, making a speech of a similar character in defence of his position, pointing out that he should retain control over the supply of 1048 munitions, and resisting the taking of them away from the War Office, which had really done very well, and which was prepared to do better, in order to put them under a new Department. We did take them away from the War Office and put them under a new Department, and on the whole the country is satisfied with the change that has been made. The argument which the right hon. Gentleman used for retaining merchant shipbuilding under the Admiralty was that there was better co-ordination. It is a blessed word, but I do not quite understand what it means in this connection. I have here the interesting Report of me War Cabinet, which only came into our hands yesterday, and I turn with great interest to the considered and very recent opinion of those who are responsible for giving the record of the War Cabinet. I confess, for one, that I think it is a very admirable and, on the whole, a very fairly compiled Report, considering it consists very largely, as it naturally must, of a certain sort of self-praise. I do not mean that offensively at all; it is a natural thing that it should be so. They deal with this very question of the division of work as between shipbuilding yards particularly engaged in merchant work and those engaged in naval work. They point out that gradually a division has been made. They say:The first decision taken by the Controller of the Navy was to separate, as far as possible, naval from mercantile work. The two classes of shipbuilding are not harmonious
§ Mr. FRANCE
Yes that is what we want; but the argument was put forward to-day, and by the Leader of the House the other night, that just because work of both kinds was going on in the same yard that was a reason why a separate Department could not be established for ship building. That argument is absolutely—
§ Mr. FRANCE
I was going to use a more moderate metaphor. I will say it has been absolutely blown sky-high. It will not hold water for a moment, in view of the fact that the policy of the Government has been to separate the work and to make the yards as far as possible distinct. They go on to say—I am paraphrasing the words—that not only has the work proceeded in that direction, but that gradually the evil 1049 which still exists of the work going on in the same yard will be corrected, and more will be done in the same direction. The argument that because there is work of two characters going on in the country is not at all an argument the House can accept as one which would convince them that a separate Department for shipbuilding would not work harmoniously if the great majority of the yards are being worked on merchant shipping alone. I wish to speak for a moment about figures. I do not wish to follow the line taken by the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, except to say that he pointed out, what must be remembered, that these percentages are very dangerous, and that the 8 per cent. of the whole of the world's tonnage is particularly dangerous. The whole world's tonnage includes the whole of the Dutch tonnage, which has been out of action, and which has been safe for some time. That may or may not come into the War zone, but it has not been in the War zone; therefore, to that extent the 8 per cent. is not a fair percentage. There is other neutral tonnage which has not been taking the same risks, therefore to that extent the 8 per cent. is not a fair percentage. It must always be remembered that the losses of merchant tonnage fall upon that part of tonnage which is required for what I may describe as the civilian needs of this country. One cannot for a moment believe that the Government will take out of the tonnage employed by the Navy or for the Army what is necessary for the carrying on of the War in those directions. Almost inevitably the whole burden of loss falls upon that part of the tonnage which is used for the ordinary needs of the country. Therefore, the percentage figure is a very dangerous one, and the House and the country should not attach too much comfort to it.
I do not want to advocate for a moment a spirit of pessimism. I do not look at these figures in a spirit of pessimism, but we must consider, value, and estimate the facts as they are. Some people are inclined to say, "Oh! the American shipbuilding will solve the difficulty." In my humble opinion any assistance that can be given from America in merchant shipbuilding would be more than neutralised by the needs of America for war services, and we cannot rely in the direction of which I have spoken on any direct help from America this year in that respect. To what are we to look for improvement? 1050 First, to the sinking of submarines. That, we are glad to know, is proceeding well and rapidly. We should hear much of its success by weekly returns, and it is suggested to us—I do not want to emphasise the point—that we shall be deprived of our weekly returns.
§ Mr. FRANCE
I am afraid the right hon. and learned Gentleman was not in the Committee when the statement was made just now.
§ 6.0 P.M
§ Mr. FRANCE
We have been told that we may not have these weekly returns. I do not intend to press the First Lord, because, obviously, the matter has not been very carefully considered, and he is not prepared, therefore, to say exactly what will be done. But I do point out, if we are to know the facts and the country is to be encouraged or warned, as the case may be, of the actual position, that to deprive the country of all knowledge, not only for three months, but then only to give them information in arrears, will not put the country in that state of knowledge which is required for a full consideration of the case. The first consideration is the destruction of submarines, and the second is the building of merchant ships. What is the Government outlook with regard to that? The War Cabinet Report, which has afforded me very interesting study, is a very interesting commentary upon their intentions in this respect. As it has been published recently I suppose it contains their most recent intentions They say:At the end of 1918—I would ask the right hon. Gentleman who is responsible for the output of merchant tonnage whether or not this is to be taken seriously—the rate of output of all ships, war and merchant, ought to be double that of any previous year in British history.Will it be? [An HON. MEMBER: "No!"] Then why publish this book with this statement in it? That will make the output of merchant and naval shipbuilding approach 4,500,000 tons. I leave the House to judge whether that is likely to be fulfilled. I take the spring of 1917, when, as the right hon. Gentleman said just now this matter should have been taken very seriously into consideration in view of the unlimited submarine warfare It is now common knowledge that at that time an estimate was presented to the War Cabinet of what 1051 might be done in the output of merchant shipping under certain conditions. Figures were placed before them, as I am informed—and it is a matter of common knowledge in the shipbuilding world—as to the number of men and the amount of steel which were put forward in that estimate as the conditions of the output. If 1,800,000 tons were to be secured, it assumed that so many men must be brought back and added to the shipyards, and if 3,000,000 tons were to be secured then a seriously considered statement was presented to the Cabinet stating that 80,000 men must be brought back and added to the shipyards. In May, 1917, the control of shipbuilding was taken away from the Shipping Controller and put under the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord, who was then Controller of the Navy and who had the special mission given to him, in view of his great business capacity, to secure that output and to get something like those 3,000,000 tons, no doubt in consequence of the estimate which was given. What has been the result under the auspices and the control of the Admiralty? The steady progress—as was said the other night, steady though slow—of 1916 and up to the summer of 1917 did not continue in the same steady direction. It began to vary. It began to go up and down. It is true that the variations took a favourable course in November and December, but they have taken an unfavourable course in January and February, and the line, instead of being one of steady progress, has now continued its erratic course, and one of the causes of this Debate, one of the causes of the admission of failure, and one of the causes of the changes is the very serious and sad drop in January and February of this year. We were promised men. Remember that men were always a condition of output. We have had all sorts of estimates and answers given as to how many men have come back. I confess I am absolutely mystified as to what the number is. So far as I can gather, something under 2,000 men have been brought back from the Army for shipbuilding, although in April, 1917, it was clearly stated you could not have the output unless you had the men. The Committee is entitled to ask the Government, in view of all that, what is their view as to the need and the position which merchant shipbuilding should take in this country? I wish we could have been dealt with more fairly and frankly in 1052 this matter of men. In the Debate last week, on the 14th instant, I asked the Leader of the House if men were being brought back from the Army to the shipyards. This is what he said:As regards the Army more men are being brought back from the front.He went on to say how difficult it was, that men did not like to be brought back from their fellows in the trenches, and he added:The fact remains that it will not be for want of men if shipbuilding does not improve." [OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th March, 1918, col. 617.]The fact did not remain very long, because on the very next day one read in the newspapers that the War Office had officially announced thatThe Instruction published in all regimental and unit orders relates to units at home only.I question very much whether, when you divide the question between home and foreign service, very many men have actually been brought back from the front to help in the shipyards. I quite agree that the output of ships should not be interfered with through lack of men. If the Government were to take the view we ask them to take, I do not think for a moment we should have to complain of the output. It really is a question of whether or not the Government will make the War Office give way, if, in their opinion, it is a matter of a struggle between the War Office and merchant shipbuilding in this country. I would also ask for more frankness and consistency about this decrease of output in January and February. Many reasons have been given for it. The First Lord spoke of "masters and men" and "the weather." The Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty added "holidays." The Leader of the House—I do not know whether under a misapprehension or not—last week said it was owing to lack of material. That was the latest reason given. Some of these reasons are consistent, but the first reason, that the men had not worked, and the last that there is not sufficient material for them, are not consistent, but contradictory. If the Leader of the House is right, then the complaint against the men was not well-founded. I would remind the First Lord that this is not the first occasion when there has been a complaint about output, and when there was a dispute with regard to production. If I had the gifts of the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth (Admiral Sir H. Meux) in 1053 quoting from sacred and allegorical history I would remind the First Lord that another First Lord once complained of output, and he said this to some men who were working for him:Wherefore have ye not fulfilled your task in making brick both yesterday and to-day, as heretofore?Then the officers of the children of Israel came and cried unto their First Lord, whose name was Pharaoh,saying, 'Wherefore dealest thou thus with thy servants? There is no straw given unto thy servants, and they say to us, Make brick; and, behold, thy servants are beaten; but the fault is in thine own people.In those days labour was rather inclined to turn round and say, "Is there not something wrong with the Government Departments Will the First Lord kindly follow the next sentence which I take from the same excellent record and authority, which is not incompatible with what he said to the workmen?And Pharaoh answered and said, 'Ye are idle, ye are idle; go therefore now and work.'The result was not satisfactory, and not long afterwards the brickyards were empty, the workers had gone, and the First Lord of that day was drowned in his effort to get them back. I make bold to try to substantiate, not in any spirit of animosity against the Government or against any party or any man, the charge, which I think is held to a large extent in the country and to a considerable extent in this House, that the Admiralty has failed in this matter. I have no pleasure in saying this. Far from it. I hold an honorary commission in one branch of the senior Service, but I make a very great distinction in that matter between the Navy and the Admiralty. I desire nothing and have no object in this Debate in asking for a change except that the country may see an increased output in this the supreme hour of our need. The right hon. Gentleman has to a certain extent admitted failure, although he admitted it with an air of remarkable complacency, as to the past. The plans laid for 1916 and 1917, although no doubt there are many reasons for slowness of output, were eventually being carried out in 1917, but all the improvements which were introduced in the spring of 1917 ought by this time to have been bearing fruit, instead of which very nearly a year afterwards he has to admit very serious failures in output in the first quarter of 1054 this year. And although I do not know how this first quarter is going to turn out, because we do not know exactly what March is like, the result is so serious that everyone in every part of the House must regard it with very grave concern.
Despite the failure, which I have tried, I hope without offence, to bring home to the Admiralty, the control of this work is not to leave the Admiralty. The only relieving feature is that Lord Pirrie's name is introduced, because everyone who knows anything about Lord Pirrie must treat his name with great respect and regard him as a great figure, a man of great energy and great achievement. But what is going to happen to the standard ships in his yards when he is working at the Admiralty under the First Lord? If he is not to have any practical concern with his own yard, is the supply of standard ships to stop when he goes to the Admiralty? We are told that it was owing to his drive, to his foresight, energy, and power that a wonderful output was achieved. We ought to know a little more clearly whether the First Lord is quite sure—I ask this in a perfectly friendly spirit—that Lord Pirrie, while lie has these great qualities himself, will be able necessarily to imbue every other shipowner with thorn, so as to achieve similar results in their yards? I believe the shipbuilders of this country will work harmoniously and patriotically with any man who is keenly concerned in driving this question into a foremost position, and who will make such arrangements that the output is secured. But there is some doubt as to what Lord Pirrie's position is going to be. What is his actual control going to be? Is he to have in his own person control of the proportions of material and men supplied to the shipyards, or is he, under the First Lord of the Admiralty, to be guided to a certain extent by his views or to put before the War Cabinet a more or less modified view with regard to merchant shipbuilding needs? What about the enlargement of existing yards? We have heard nothing about that. We heard that Lord Pirrie approved in detail of the national shipyards. It is a very important question to know. How about the apportionment of material and men as between the existing yards and the national yards? If the national yards are to go on, if they are to be under the control of the energetic, and, I have no doubt, the very able military gentleman who has made a special study of them, and whose speciality they 1055 are, who is going to hold the balance fairly as between those yards and the private yards? These are all questions which I think are of importance, and which very much affect Lord Pirrie's position, as well as those who are keenly anxious to increase the output.
I should like to ask what Lord Pirrie's position is going to be with regard to labour in the yards 1 What is this Department going to do with regard to the multiplication of the authorities which are dealing with labour? The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Wood) gave a list, but I am not sure whether it was a complete list. I lost count. But there is no doubt there are at present five, or, as I suggested in a supplementary question, six, which are touching the question of labour, and, as they say, unrest in the yards. There is the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Munitions, the Department of Labour of the Admiralty, which lives at Horrex's Hotel, and has a population of 500. There is a Ministry of National Service and there is also, I believe, a promising child in the Department of Auxiliary Shipping, although as yet it is a tender plant, not vigorous enough for transplanting to an hotel. I know from my own personal knowledge, and not from hearsay, that the War Office is sending down officers to inquire into labour unrest on the Tyne. In addition to all these there are the normal and natural inspections of the Board of Trade under Lloyd's inspectors. They have their natural functions, which go on in peace and in war. The Leader of the House the other night said, in answer to a question, that there were many more men working in the: yards in January and February than heretofore. That is quite true, but I wonder if the right hon. Gentleman's informant has mistaken this horde of officials for skilled or unskilled workers, because they are literally tumbling over each other, and of course it might be, in view of their energy, that they were mistaken for workmen.
In this new Department over which Lord Pirrie has supervision there are going to be some new men. But is there going to be a change in respect of the khaki influence in that office? Is the military tradition, which is flourishing under the aegis of the Navy, to be encouraged or are we to get back to something like the ordinary commercial spirit in that office? Without that kind of control in that office, without a change 1056 with regard to labour in the yards of the country, I make certain that there will not be success either with the men or with the masters. The growth of officials I think I might compare with the growth of weeds. They grow in any soil and flourish, whereas the production of ships is a tender plant which requires encouragement, science, and knowledge. I believe the men, although there are exceptions, if they are told the facts frankly and are treated fairly, will do the work. A distinguished general said to me in France only a week or two ago, "I sometimes say to my officers, 'Loyalty is not tested when you agree with my orders. Loyalty means being on my side with the men when you do not agree with my orders.'" I think the same may be said about patriotism. It is a poor thing in these days if patriotism does not mean sacrifice. The men realise that, and if they are appealed to in the right way they will practice it. It means sacrifice to them on the sea and on all the battlefields. It must mean it at home in every branch of life, and I believe if the men in the shipyards are told the facts and treated fairly, and if the Government appeals in that spirit, they will not be disappointed.
§ Mr. LEIF JONES
At the beginning of his speech my hon. Friend moved a reduction of the Vote. It has not been put from the Chair.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Sir D. Maclean)
If that had been the hon. Gentleman's intention at the beginning of his speech it is quite open to him to change his mind at the end. He did not conclude by moving it. Does the hon. Member move it?
§ Sir E. CARSON
I think I am bound to offer a few observations, as I was myself in charge of the Admiralty up to the end of June last year. I can assure the Committee that this subject never was, and never could be, absent from the mind of anyone who had to go through the ordeal I had to go through when the intensive sinkings by submarine first commenced. The worst months were, I think, March, April and May, and really one felt at the time that the problem was almost hopeless. I am not in favour of constant changes to and fro with reference to the method in which shipbuilding is to be carried out, and I should welcome a good 1057 deal more information than we have had as regards the exact functions which Lord Pirrie is to perform. He is probably the greatest shipbuilder of the present day, but we should like to be certain that this change is not just being made with a view to satisfying some sort of public unrest, without having clearly denned what are to be the exact relations of Lord Pirrie to the Admiralty.
From my hon. and gallant Friend (Mr. France) I gathered that he disapproved of Lord Pirrie being an official of the Admiralty. I take a different view. If it will not weary the House I would like to say that when I first went to the Admiralty, in December, 1916, the very first thing with which we were confronted was an increase in the submarine menace, and I well recollect that my first conversation with the distinguished First Sea Lord, who had just been appointed, the present Lord Jellicoe, was entirely devoted to this question. Exactly as my successor, the First Lord, said to-day, we thought that you cannot look at this problem except as a whole, as one great organisation for meeting the submarine menace. You must keep up the naval shipbuilding, and you must give every priority that is necessary for naval shipbuilding. You must regulate the material and labour for repairs, and you have also to regulate the material and the labour for the construction of the mercantile ships. That really is all one problem, and a very difficult problem, and whatever way you treat it, it seems to me it is very easy to criticise, but you have to make such men and material as you have go round.
When I started at the Admiralty—at that time the Admiralty had no control over mercantile shipbuilding at all—the first thing we had to do was to make an estimate of the slips in the United Kingdom, and an estimate of what they could turn out. We proceeded to set up a Joint Committee with the Board of Trade, which dealt at that time with the mercantile marine, with a view to seeing that every yard in the Kingdom was utilised to the fullest extent. We had hardly set our scheme in motion when we were told that the mercantile shipbuilding was to be entirely divorced from the Admiralty or the Board of Trade, and it was to be handed over to the Shipping Controller, who had just been appointed. Really from that time forward until the time when my right hon. Friend 1058 (Sir E. Geddes) came as Controller to the Admiralty, under circumstances which I shall mention, we had nothing to do at the Admiralty with the building of the mercantile marine. The House will see at once the complications that arose under these circumstances, because it was our duty—and it certainly was one of the first acts I had to do—to examine into the naval programme which had been passed for the year and see whether it was sufficient, having regard to the submarine menace, to cope with the losses which would occur, and also with the necessary patrol work which had, of course, arisen in an intensified form at that particular time. When we looked into this question we had greatly to increase the building of naval ships, particularly the smaller type of ships, from destroyers down to sloops and trawlers, and the other kind of ships that were necessary for patrol. We had to take that programme before the War Cabinet, having served notice upon the defendant who was the Controller of Shipping, to come and state his case of what he wanted, and we had to fight it out before the War Cabinet as to what we were to get and what the mercantile marine were to get. I do not think that was an altogether satisfactory arrangement. However, we did it as best we could.
The House must be aware that there are very many varied opinions as to what is the best way to meet the difficulty. I remember a very eminent shipbuilder coming up both to myself and to the Cabinet and assuring me that it would be far better to build fewer merchant ships and to build more naval ships. The argument was—and there is a good deal in it—"Set yourselves to save and protect, what you already have rather than build ships which, if you are not able to protect them, will be immediately sunk." I am only putting that forward as showing the great complexity of the question. The Shipping Controller, who has rendered very great service to the country since he became the Shipping Controller, got around him an Advisory Committee of Shipbuilders, who proceeded to regulate the standard ships and to sec to them being built. I am not sure that that was a good system. I am not at all sure that it was well that the persons who were really to supervise should be the men engaged to build ships. I think it would have been far better, and at the time I 1059 made the point, in setting up that Committee, to have had it as a mixed Committee, and certainly with representatives of labour upon it, because I am bound to say that I came to this conclusion—I am not now going into the question as to whose fault it was—that it is disastrous to this country the relations that exist between some of the shipbuilding employers and their employès. Why it has been so aggravated I am sure I do not know, but my experience was that, as regards certain of these yards, there were worse relations between the employers and the employès than in any other business with which I had to deal when I was First Lord.
This system went on up till the month of May, and then a great change was made. The old office of Controller at the Admiralty, which dealt with naval shipbuilding had been abolished, and it was thought that it would be an excellent thing to revive it, and to put a really great business man with push and go into the office of Controller, and my right hon. Friend (Sir E. Geddes) became, under these circumstances, Controller. When he came as Controller it was determined that the whole matter should be taken back from Sir Joseph Maclay, the Shipping Controller, and put into the hands of the Admiralty Controller. I think that that was right. I think that it really is impossible to have different Departments running, as it were, each for themselves, where, as a matter of fact you have to deal with most delicate questions of priority in relation to the three matters I have already stated, which take an immense time to get determined unless you have the whole thing in one hand, which has a grip over the question, and which can see the relative needs of each of the particular matters coming before it. I, certainly, as First Lord, welcomed the change. My right hon. Friend immediately set about to examine into the whole question of the possible production of the yards. He was doing, while I was there, great work with great energy, with the energy which has distinguished him in everything he has taken up. I hope he will not think that it is due to any jealousy because he succeeded me that I say this, but I really believe that that was a work to which he was entirely devoted, in which he showed great enthusiasm, but he was only left at it for about two months, when he was made First Lord. The very things for 1060 which the office of Controller was revived had hardly passed into his hands, he being the man most suited for it, when he was put into an entirely different position, and somebody else—I believe a very eminent gentleman, Sir Alan Anderson—was put in his place.
What are we told now? The right hon. Gentleman gave us an account to-day of the action of the Controller's Department, which appeared to him to be entirely satisfactory; in fact, I think he said that if it were not that we were now at war and he could not deal with it as he would in time of peace, he was so satisfied with it that he would have approached it in a contentious form. Then why on earth are you going to make changes I Look what you are going to do. You set up first a Controller of Shipping and give him the building of ships. Well, the Controller of Shipping knows something about ships, but you find out that arrangement does not work. You give it then to the Admiralty and you raise a new Controller who has to take charge of the whole thing. That goes on in a perfectly satisfactory way, according to the First Lord, for a few months, and then you are not satisfied with that, and you set up a super-Controller. I am really a little anxious as to what will happen in these circumstances.
I do not know what the relations of these Controllers are to be to each other, but I know that Lord Pirrie is a very masterful man. That is one of the reasons of his success. Lord Pirrie's duty will be to see that he fights for everything for the mercantile marine, and I think he will hold his own. He will fight. But that may not be the best way to meet the danger at all. You have to consider the naval necessities above all others; and do not forget that the longer this War goes on the more your Fleet requires looking after, and the more it is likely, in the tremendous work it has to do, to be worn out. You cannot afford to allow your Fleet, whether it be battleships or whether it be destroyers or minesweepers, in any wise to be worn out. Therefore, for my own part, I should have thought that if Lord Pirrie was the best man, that the best way would have been to put him in as Controller of the Navy, and keep on doing the work with somewhat of the similar organisation that it is being done at present. Lord Pirrie is an expert not merely in mercantile 1061 ships. Lord Pirrie has built great warships, and built them in a very short time as compared with other firms.
I really am anxious about this multiplication of controllers. What happens on the occasion of each of these changes is that the new man has his own ideas, and these changes mean reorganisation from top to bottom. New men are brought into contact with the yards, with the employers, and with the labour in the yards. I do not believe that it is for the good of the work, if it can be avoided, to have these continual changes. But the whole basis of the argument which I have to put forward is that, whatever be done, whatever way this be carried out, I hope that there will be one head to the shipbuilding for the Navy and the shipbuilding for the mercantile marine. My right hon. Friend in his statement to-day gave a rapid description of the needs which have to be supplied of various services. There were the naval shipbuilding, the mercantile marine, the aeroplanes, the munitions, the tanks. These are all competing matters at the present moment. And I always notice that whenever there is an air-raid scare, or if certain people get "rattled" over air raids, everybody is told that you ought to turn on the whole of the shops in the country to making engines for aeroplanes. When there are submarine losses, you are told that you ought to turn on the whole of the shops to making engines for destroyers, and so on. That is the kind of thing that requires great steadiness on the part of the Government, and for the operation of which you want someone who will really take a wide survey and come to wise conclusions as to how far you can make a distribution when you cannot do everything. Therefore, I end as I commenced by saying that I hope this change has been well thought out, and that it is not being made merely to satisfy some public expectations—that, whatever way it is done, we shall have such a co-ordination that there will be no friction between Lord Pirrie as Controller of the mercantile marine and the Gentleman who acts as Controller of the Navy.
§ Mr. WILKIE
I want to say a word in reference to the position of the workers in the shipyards, as I believe I am the only person in this Assembly who has been a shipyard worker. I desire to refer to the statement of the First Lord in reference to the action of the workers. I have received hundreds of letters expressing the greatest indignation as to the assertions 1062 which have been made, and I want, in my own rough and rugged way, to place our case before the Committee, and I hope that the Committee will bear with me in doing so. I admit the difficulties of the First Lord. I know them, as I have been connected with shipbuilding all my life, but I regret that in his speech to-day he did not attempt to give the slightest additional proof of those statements which have caused so much unnecessary friction. I regret the First Lord's statement for this reason, that it is going to cause greater. friction where you want smoother working. Where there is friction the machinery will not run smoothly, and you will have a lessened output. I want to do away with friction wherever possible, and to get a greater output.
Now we must go back to the beginning of the War, to show what the shipyard workers have done. The last speaker was the previous First Lord, and we have had the right hon. Gentleman the other Member for Dundee as First Lord. I have dealt with a considerable number of First Lords, and have some experience of their administration. I want first to show what the workmen have done, and why they do not deserve the condemnation which has been passed upon them.
In August, 1914, when the War commenced, the representatives of the workers met the representatives of the shipbuilders, and agreed to do everything possible to expedite the output of shipping. The great demand then was for warships, and our organisation sent from 3,000 to 4,000 men from our private yards, in conjunction with our employers, to help the Admiralty in getting these warships finished, and for this work our organisation received commendation from the Admiralty and from the Government.
The Secretary to the Admiralty himself visited the different districts, especially the yards on the Tyne and the Clyde, and he personally thanked the men for the work they had done in connection with output. Then the workmen agreed to do everything possible to keep the peace, and as you know, when we come to the famous Treasury agreement in 1915, when the workers were represented, they agreed that the customs and regulations which had taken years and years to build up, and cost us hundreds of thousands of pounds to secure, should be modified. The outcome of that Treasury agreement was that a National Advisory Committee was 1063 appointed, of which the Member for Barnard Castle was the chairman, and we sat for more than two years, and did an enormous amount of work in. arranging the labour troubles in the munition and shipbuilding areas, work for which we never got credit. Then in all the munition and shipbuilding areas local committees were appointed, who did an immense amount of work in expediting output. The cry then was, "Shells, more shells, and machine guns." It was not a question of ships then.
Then we had the Munitions Act. Possibly some members of this Committee will remember that I fought certain Clauses of that very strongly for a long time. Our objection was as to the framing of the leaving certificates. Those regulating of the leaving certificates. Those leaving certificates have been the cause of 95 per cent. of all the dissatisfaction that has taken place, which could have been avoided if we had got what we understood was promised then from the Front Bench. That was that if a workman could not leave his employer without having to go to a certain committee, then, as we said, the employer should not have the right to discharge the workman with out going to the same committee. I maintain that that was an equitable proposition, and if it had been accepted a whole lot of friction which has led to terrible unrest would not have occurred.
Then another cause of tremendous unrest is the question of diluting, because, whatever they may be doing now, a great many firms did not then use the fully skilled men to their highest capacity, and still wanted to dilute them. Wherever the workers in the shipyards were consulted according to the Treasury agreement and the Clause in the Munitions Act, I do not know of a single case in which the workers failed to agree with the suggestion made and to carry out the proposals in connection with the work. It was also known that there were certain firms which kept men in their employment who would have been far better employed in other yards for the moment, and by a proper method of exchange, with the sanction of the workers themselves, the difficulties would have been overcome.
Another cause of unrest were the tribunals set up to try questions of loss of time. Certain firms were continually pro- 1064 secuting men, with the result that they had to send their manager, foreman, time keepers and even other workers as witnesses to those Courts. The result was that far more time was lost trying to prove that men had lost time than would have been lost if some other method had been adopted. Then the effect of winter on the output of shipyards must be borne in mind. Every winter, without exception, in our work we lose a terrible amount of time. I have letters in my pocket proving that hundreds of men, through no fault of their own, have not made half time during the winter. I am speaking from my own personal experience as a man. It is perfectly true that in many severe winters we could not make half a week's wages. That has never been taken into account in this assertion which has been made.
All along we have had from all the Governments during the War undertakings that shipyard workers should not be called up. What is the fact? Hardly a day passes but I have telegrams at our office stating that men are being called up by the authorities. Some of the cases in which this occurs are beyond my under standing. It is incomprehensible. They take shipwrights or skilled men in the various departments of our trade, and it has been terribly difficult to get that stopped. At the present moment even, the military authorities are calling up men for medical examination, and they are putting a tax upon the energies of the workers. In one instance the men from Cowes have to go to Winchester, 25 miles distant, and the man called up had to lose a day to get there. His day's work was worth something, and when that occurs in numerous instances a great amount of time is lost. Why could not these men be left to be dealt with later on? All these delays to which I have referred make up a considerable total of time lost, and consequent reduced output.
There is another matter which should be borne in mind. Requests to the men to give up customs in their trade have been favourably answered and we have modified most of our trade customs. But what has been the attitude of some firms? Many of them still adhere to their pre-war methods. If a man is five minutes late in the morning getting to the yard he loses a quarter day, in many cases a whole day. Surely, seeing that the men have given up so many-customs, these firms in the special circumstances of the time should at least stop that rule, among others, and their doing 1065 so would not be productive of any harm. During the air raids no less than 50 men in a North-East Coast town, being in the cellars with their wives and children, did not present themselves until breakfast-time the next morning, but were ordered home for the whole day. These are the things which are causing loss of time, loss of output, and irritation among the men.
We have had a reference this afternoon to the Ministry of Shipping under Sir Joseph Maclay, who, according to some people, was one of the successes of the Government in organising the distribution of shipping. I understand that he had a Committee of shipbuilders appointed to deal with the output of merchant shipbuilding, and we have been told this afternoon that that is so. I suppose, however, it has been changed, or swallowed up by some other Department. We are also informed that some of the employers and men were asked to go on the Merchant Shipping Committee, the idea being that they should give advice on shipping matters. Two representatives of the workers, Mr. Hill, general secretary, Boilermakers' Society, and myself, were appointed on that Committee, but the result, so far as labour matters are concerned, was that we were never called upon to advise at all. That is a part of the matter which, I believe, has disappeared, but I must say that Sir Joseph Maclay has carried out very important and valuable work, for which he deserves every consideration. In a discussion on this matter in the House, I asked the First Lord why we, as representing the workers, had not been consulted as to the new control. I saw in the "Times," of the 24th of November of last year, that no less than fifteen shipbuilding employers had been appointed on some other Committee to deal with shipbuilding, and will the Committee believe it, that not a single representative of the men is on that Advisory Committee. Is not that likely to provoke distrust among the workers? Why not trust the men? We have done a great deal for our country, and surely our workers are entitled to some consideration. I dislike changes after changes. An hon. Member remarked how well adapted were the whole of these gentlemen to the work for which they have been appointed, if so, why all these changes taking place from time to time?
The right hon. Member for Blackfriars, before the First Lord made his statement, referred to the return of output in 1066 January and February not being up to the estimate. It all depends upon the estimate which had been made, before you can arrive at the question of what has been the actual loss of output. I remember on one occasion when we were negotiating with the employers for an increase of wages we were met with the answer (which we have become used to by experience), that the firm was losing money. It so happened, however, that we got hold of the firm's balance sheet, and we found that they had made a substantial profit. We inquired what was the explanation of their statement that they were losing money, and the explanation they gave was this: When they had given an estimate for building a ship, the profit they estimated to obtain was 10 per cent., but the work only yielded 5 per cent., and it was because they had not made 10 per cent. the firm held that they had incurred a loss of 5 per cent. That may be a new method of meeting a demand for more wages, but, at all events, we succeeded in getting that increase. That illustration applies to the question of output. It all depends upon what the estimate was, and whether or not it could be secured.
There has been loss of output owing to the way in which the building of standardised ships has been dealt with, and I defy the Front Bench to prove that this has not been so. Standardised ships were being turned out by some firms at the rate of no less than 26 ships a year. Why were these firms not allowed to continue turning out these vessels, and why were not other yards selected for the carrying out of new ideas? The firms that were building these standardised ships had the men and the machinery all on hand, yet these very yards have had to change their machinery at great cost and do a lot of other things to try and meet the demands made upon them. The changes which are made call for the introduction of new machinery. That new machinery could not be got, and the firms had to use what they had, with the result that it took far longer to deal with plates than, it would have done if they had been allowed to go on as they did before, and they would have given the country the benefit of a greater output.
I have no doubt that the employers have plenty of representatives to put their case before the House, but I would point out that these alterations which are constantly being made are just as irritating to the 1067 men as to the employers. It is the belief of those whom I represent that, but for these changes and causes of irritation to both employers and workmen, many of the difficulties which have been experienced would have been avoided, and the country would have been the gainer by having a larger number of ships than it has got now.
As to the policy of the Government, it is the view of those I represent that the Government should give more consideration as to what are likely to be the results of any particular course of action which they contemplate before entering upon it. All these alterations are very costly to the nation. I could give the Committee a number of instances of delay. We have been told by the First Lord that standard ships had to be altered into oil ships. Some of these ships have been on the stocks since 1914, and have only recently been launched.
There was the case of a large ship commenced before the War, and launched, I think, in 1917. It was a first-class passenger ship, and was altered first to a troopship and then into a cargo ship. Surely that shows some laxity or want of thought somewhere! I am not blaming the Admiralty in the very difficult task they have to discharge, or blaming the Prime Minister, especially in the terrible job he has undertaken. It is through no lack of sympathy with them that I am making these remarks, but rather with the view that they may see that before alterations are made that they will pan out as they are planned out. I hope that the new alterations announced to-day will turn out as they expect. I do not want to express any doubts about them at the moment. The results will tell. I hope that we shall have some well thought out policy, so that whatever the Government Department is, it will join up both employers and employed by consultation together, to work together to get out the ships, in their own interests and in the interests of the country.
At the end of 1916 and beginning of 1917 we had the Shipyards Labour Department instituted, which undoubtedly has done good work. That Department assisted in getting labour, in arranging disputes, and settling differences between workmen and employers. I suggest that so far as labour is concerned that the Shipyard Labour Department should have 1068 full power to deal with labour matters, and in that way I believe you would secure good results. We must have the different authorities dealing with labour consolidated, in the interests both of the workers and of the country. We have heard about the release of men for the shipyards, and I have on a previous occasion stated the number of men who volunteered. What we are doing now in this respect should have been done long ago, and I suggested that it should be done in the time of a previous Government, so that there is more than one Government to blame. I do hope that every effort, will be made to get these highly skilled men back into the shipyards. At the same time, we must sympathise with the commanding officers in France who have got certain men trained to do certain work and difficult to replace. We have got to have some consideration for our boys in the trenches. Those who are not in the front line could be sent back to the shipyards.
We are told that so many men have been released, but, so far as my craft is concerned, very few have been released. One of those highly skilled men is worth a great many of the dilutees. Our men tell me that they are sending a lot of men to the shipyards who are of no advantage, and who are more or lest, in the way of the men who really do the work.
Let me turn to another subject. The Secretary to the Admiralty has had a large number of deputations from the workmen, and they have put before him a very serious position and a number of complaints. They have not yet had any answer. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will speed up the machinery, so that these men may get an answer soon, as it is most unwise to have any unrest come down South, as there is plenty of it in the North. I should like to ask the Admiralty if they have given all the encouragement they could to scientific invention to spot the submarine under the water? That is the one thing wanted. If we could only get a machine like Marconi's Wireless, or something of that nature, by which we could spot the submarine in the water, then we would be able to get over the menace. We are building flying boats and machines of many descriptions, but I would urge that they should give every assistance, so as to secure that we may be able to spot the submarine under the water. In conclusion, let me say, with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. Rollox (Mr. McKinnon Wood), given due consulta- 1069 tion and preparation, the Admiralty will find that the shipyard workmen are with them. I know that the workers are not angels any more than any other class in the community, but I do claim that we have done our share, and I say that, with due consideration and fair play, the Admiralty may rest assured that they will have those men with them and with the nation in the present moment of its peril.
§ Sir OWEN PHILIPPS
At this time of great national crisis, because in my view the position of shipbuilding is very grave, I would be the last person to rise in this House in a critical spirit. The Government and the Admiralty have been criticised from many points of view, and one point of view was as to the starting of new shipyards and for encouraging various firms to put down new slipways, the total authorised being, I believe, about forty-four. In my view, it is important that the Admiralty and the Government should take long views on this matter. There has been too much of a tendency ever since the commencement of the War only to look forward three or six months at most with the fond hope that the War would be over by the end of that particular period. I, for one, am very pleased that in this matter of shipbuilding the Admiralty have taken the longer view and have not hesitated to start new slipways and new shipyards, so that even if those yards do not, as they may not, in the current year add appreciably to the tonnage put into the water they will, I feel certain within a reasonable time, add to our shipbuilding facilities in this country. As a shipowner, and as one who spent some years on both the greatest shipbuilding rivers, in the world, the Clyde and the Tyne, when I naturally was brought into close contact with the actual conditions on those great rivers, I feel that a good deal more might be done by the Government to help forward shipbuilding if, instead of simply announcing as the First Lord informed us to-day that he was going to publish the loss of tonnage once every three months in addition to that, and much more important than that, he would start from to-morrow and publish and allow to be published in every paper in the country every ship that was launched, and allow the papers to publish full particulars of the ship and as to who built it and the shipyard it was built in, and not only that, but as to how long it was since the keel was laid. It may seem to gentlemen resident in London a matter of absolutely no in- 1070 terest, but I assure you that on the Clyde or the Tyne or the Wear it is of the very greatest interest to hundreds of thousands of people to tell them the full particulars which they were accustomed to get in peace time. Therefore, I suggest to let the papers publish full particulars of steamers exactly as they did in peace time. If the right hon. Gentleman could tell us any reason why that should not be done that would appeal to the House it would be a different matter, but up to the present I, for one, have heard no reason, and there is this great advantage, if we get this information—
§ Sir E. GEDDES
I have said, that so far as output is concerned, we will give the fullest details as early as possible for each district and for each yard if it will do any good, and for every ship if it will do any good.
§ Sir O. PHILIPPS
Thank you. I accept what the right hon. Gentleman has said with very great pleasure. The fact of publishing the district will do a great deal of good. What you want to do is to drive the matter home and to get the men interested in it. I have discussed this question with shipowners and with practically all the shipbuilders of the country. What we want is the actual particulars of the ship published, so that they know exactly that a ship of a certain size and dimensions was built in one yard, to compare with other yards where a ship, perhaps a little bigger, may take a little longer time. The workmen know exactly whether it is on the Tyne, Clyde, or Wear, or in Liverpool. They know exactly how their work compares with the other yards, and I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for promising to publish these particulars, and I hope we shall see them published from this day forward. I welcome his statement that in forty-seven yards the naval work had been separated from mercantile work, as I believe that the secret of quick construction is getting definite yards working either entirely on naval work or entirely on mercantile work. When he told us that these forty-seven yards only had 209 slips, I fear that the yards showing only an average of four slips, or slightly over, are the smaller yards in the country, and I hope, under the new arrangement, we may see more of the large yards given over entirely to mercantile work.
There is another matter that I believe has been at the root of much of the difficulties at the present time. I would appeal 1071 to the right hon. Gentleman to settle, if he has not already done so, what percentage of material and what percentage of labour in shipbuilding for the six or twelve months he is going to devote to naval work, and what percentage to mercantile work. I believe that prior to the War the percentage, roughly, was something about 70 per cent. of the whole shipbuilding facilities of the country for commercial work and the remainder for naval work. If, as the right hon. Gentleman states, the output last year was practically the same as the year 1913, and we only built under 1,200,000 tons of mercantile shipping, it is quite clear that not half the facilities in the country are at present given to mercantile building. I fully realise—and I think every shipowner in this country realises—the absolute necessity of hurrying forward especially the small craft for naval purposes for dealing with the submarines, because I regret that the conundrum of the submarine has not yet been solved. On that subject, I hope the First Lord may yet see his way favourably to consider a proposal that I put before him shortly after he entered his present office, and that was to offer a large prize to anybody in the world, whether in America or this country, who succeeds in tracing a submarine below the sea when the submarine is at rest. I believe if that problem can be solved, it will go further than anything else to settle the submarine difficulty.
I welcome the announcement of the First Lord that he has succeeded in getting Lord Pirrie to accept the position of Controller-General of Mercantile Shipbuilding, as I feel certain that this will help to harmonise relations with the workmen. I listened with some regret to the tone of the remarks of the First Lord when he was dealing with labour. I am convinced personally that the workmen in the shipbuilding yards, with very few exceptions, are as loyal as any men in the country, but they may be difficult men to handle. Many men are difficult to handle. But I welcome the fact that he has chosen a gentleman as Controller-General who has obtained the confidence of workmen, especially in dealing with large bodies of men. Therefore, I look forward to his appointment as bound to do good. There is only one other point I wanted to bring forward, and that was to stop any possible competition in taking men from yards that are doing mercantile work and yards 1072 doing naval work. It may be necessary, perhaps, for the Admiralty and the Government to take some steps to prevent that, so as to secure the greatest output possible, for I feel confident that this country can, even during this War, get sufficient men in the shipbuilding yards enormously to increase our output of new ships.
§ Mr. J. MASON
My excuse for intervening in this Debate is that, as Chairman of the Expenditure Sub-Committee of the Admiralty, a good many facts and circumstances have come before my notice which bear upon this subject, and which, I think, will be useful to the House. The statement of the First Lord to which we have listened this afternoon, I think, will be a great relief to all of us, because it will tend, so far as it goes, to open the eyes of the public to the real danger in which we stand. The position is, of course, is a serious one, and one which has got to be faced by this country, and it is one which we have to face immediately without loss of time. But in regarding it, I think it is essential that we should take a very broad view. This is not a state of things which is going to be remedied by replacing one man by another. We have got to take a view broad enough to cover not only the whole plan of administration but the whole administration of the Government. I think there are few people who know the facts at all who will doubt that the ill-advised action of the Minister of Munitions some little time ago with regard to the 12½per cent. has been reverberating right through the industries of this country ever since. We know the connection between that action and the strikes which took place afterwards on the Clyde. We know it is having a serious effect on the engineering shops of the railways at this moment, and causing a considerable reduction of their output. If that is the case, it merely illustrates the serious effect which the actions of one Department or one Minister may have on other Departments conducted by other Ministers. If actions of this kind, which are due sometimes to thoughtlessness or selfishness of particular Departments, and sometimes to jealousy, have such serious effects on other Departments, may we not also expect to find that in the case of Sub-Departments in the same Ministry you will have the same type of jealousy and thoughtlessness going on between these various Sub-Controllers? In the Admiralty the shipbuilding has been under 1073 the direction of a Controller, but that Controller has, I think, five Sub-Controllers, and among them one responsible for naval construction and another responsible for auxiliary or mercantile construction. It is not unreasonable to expect to find between those two Sub-Controllers some sort of attempt, each to get for his own Department as much as he can of what is available of the shipbuilding capacity, and I think there is no doubt whatever that, to some extent, that has been going on, and that there has not been some sufficiently tight control in the allocation of the work of these two Departments of labour.
As regards the simple facts of the case, we have heard some facts which are comparatively satisfactory. We have heard a great deal about the output of February and January of this year. We have been told that it is better than the February and January of last year. We are also told that the output in the second half of last year was better than that in the first half of last year, and we also know that the total output of 1917 was about the same as the total output of 1913, before the War, and that, in addition to that, very large numbers of men have been employed on repair work and so forth, showing a greater capacity. If you compare the years 1913 and 1917 you find that the proportion of naval construction as against mercantile construction is, of course, very different, and very much Against the output of mercantile shipping. There is another fact, and that is that we find at the present moment the supply of material is not what is holding up the construction of shipping. There apparently is a very large amount of steel waiting to be put into the ships. I believe a great deal of it is held back in the works, and that at a time when other industries are in many cases getting less than their allotted quantity of steel. I merely mention that because I think it shows that the working of the Priority Committee does not seem to be as satisfactory as it might be.
If these are the facts, what are the remedies that we may look for in endeavouring to get an increased output of mercantile shipping? It is quite clear that one way of doing so would be to reduce the proportion of naval construction. It is impossible for me, of course, to give any opinion as to whether that is possible or not; but I imagine that, owing to the international position, and even if the 1074 Russian Navy does come into the War and is seized by the enemy and tells against us, in view of the naval strategy of the Allies it will not be necessary for us to embark on the continued output of the largest type of warships. It is impossible for a layman to form any opinion as to the number of small craft which are necessary to deal with the submarine menace, but, at any rate, that aspect of the case has to be taken seriously into consideration before naval construction can be cut down and more capacity left for the increase of mercantile construction. The other method—and, of course, the more satisfactory method—is to see in what way the total output of shipping of both kinds can be increased. The National shipyards, and, I imagine, to a considerable extent the additional slips being added to the private shipyards, cannot be depended upon to give immediate relief. There is no immediate relief, at any rate, to be got from the National shipyards. They are, no doubt, a wise provision for a little later on; but, taking the existing possibilities, there is no doubt that up till now we have suffered considerably from what has been referred to by the First Lord—change of design—and if anything can be done to restrict those changes after a ship has been commenced a great deal of saving would take place, not only in the construction of the ships, but by avoiding the demoralising effect which is produced when the men are told that a particular ship is a matter of life and death, and then, when they have nearly completed it, they find it is being turned into something totally different, showing that that particular ship was not vital.
Another cause of disturbance which I think might very well be dealt with is that where employers are trying to get each other's men by offering what seem to mo in some cases almost fraudulent terms of employment. There are cases where the employer, in order to attract men away from his rivals, gives guarantees that the men shall work on Sunday for double pay although they stay away a day a week. That type of rivalry seems to me most undesirable, and one which should be dealt with. Then I am afraid that the system on which contracts are given with 10 per cent. profit, or a fixed profit, on outgoings is a principle which is not conducive to getting quick or good results out of the contractors. They have no interest in saving public money. The contractor is 1075 sure of his profits, and he will not exert himself to save money or to increase the rate of output. If some system could be devised by which the profit of the employer and some equivalent bonus for the men could depend on quick output, I think a good deal might be done to improve the state of things. I think one other step should be taken. I am perfectly sure that very large numbers of men are not doing their best. They are giving way to the temptation of frivolous strikes over small questions, such as whether one part of the men should be given a particular job or not, all causing loss of output, because they do not understand and realise the seriousness of the position and the danger in which the country stands. I cannot help thinking that if some drastic steps were taken to provide an efficient propaganda among the men, to bring home to them the seriousness of the position, a great deal of the friction which now exists would be removed. I have referred to the rivalry between employers to get labour from each other. I think that shows a bad spirit, to a certain extent, among the employers. I think equally there is want of co-ordination among men and employers. I think if more working together can be got among employers themselves, and among the men themselves, and both with the Government, a great deal of saving might be effected both in time and output.
As regards the administration, I suppose the questions of proportion of the various kinds of construction, and the proportion of material allowed to various Departments, are matters which are settled by the Priority Committee. It does not seem to me that that work or that selection is very successful. I am inclined to agree with what has been said with regard to the impossibility of separating the mercantile construction from the Admiralty. I think it is essential that the two forms of construction should remain both under the Admiralty, but I am not quite satisfied yet as to the position in which the Controller will stand. What seems to me to be necessary is that the Controller responsible for naval construction and the Controller responsible for mercantile construction must both of them meet at a point sufficiently high up the ladder to give strong control over the actions of both, and I welcome the suggestion that these two Controllers are not to meet until they arrive at the First Lord himself. What I 1076 understand the position to be is that, instead of meeting under the Controller, who so far appears not to have been able to exercise sufficient strength in judging between them, the two Controllers are only to meet with the First Lord himself, and he will make himself responsible for keeping the proportions adequate between them. So far, I think, that arrangement seems to be satisfactory, but what is essential is that the "Pull devil, pull baker" principle should be put a stop to between the two classes of construction.
It seems to me that in all these matters there is a very considerable number of facts, and a very considerable amount of information which it is essential that this House should know, if it is to form a judgment on a subject of this kind. Of course, we hope that the steps which will immediately be taken by the Government will be effective, and will produce the improvement we are all looking for. But, if this matter comes before the House again, which it may do if the improvement is not forthcoming, it seems to me essential that the House should be in possession of a considerable number of facts which it is not in possession of now. I venture to suggest that it would be desirable that the Government should consent to the appointment of some form of committee which should be entitled to collect these facts, and get all the details together, in order to put them before this House, so that if this improvement is not forthcoming the whole question can be brought again here, and the House be in a position to understand really what the position is and to suggest improvements. I would ask the Government to allow some form of investigation to be undertaken, in order to ascertain these facts.
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Lloyd George)
I do not know that I have very much to add to what was so well said by my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty at the commencement of this discussion. If I may say so, I think the discussion has been in the main very helpful. The speech delivered by the hon. Member who has just sat down was full of very interesting suggestions, which I promise him will be taken into consideration very carefully. I hope we shall be able to adopt some of them, but, as to others, I should like more time for reflection and for consultation with my right hon. Friend and the Department concerned. But there has 1077 been a very pleasant absence of anything in the nature of controversy, with the possible exception of the speech delivered by my right hon. Friend (Mr. McKinnon Wood), who is essentially controversial, I think, and I should have been very surprised to hear a speech of a different character from him. He seemed to suggest that in the days when he was in the Government the submarine menace was somewhat conjectural, but that it became a certainty from the moment we were in power. As a matter of fact, he could not possibly have looked at the figures. The losses, as my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty Very well pointed out, have not been submarine losses only, but marine losses, and you have to take both into account in making comparisons. The figures given by the First Lord to-day included both, and for 1915 the losses were 1,100,000 tons of British shipping; in 1916, 1,500,000 tons. The shipbuilding, on the other hand, for those years was 650,000 tons for 1915, and in 1916 it went down to 551,000 tons, so that there was a very serious deficiency. My right hon. Friend is absolutely wrong in assuming that this supreme need only arose in 1917. There was a very serious deficiency in those two years, and the actual output of shipping went down in 1916 as compared with 1915. That is the only comment of a controversial character, except perhaps that of my lion. Friend (Mr. France), whose speech I enjoyed very much indeed. That speech would have been more to the point had it been delivered two or three years ago.
§ Mr. FRANCE
May I just say that I delivered a speech full of the same suggestions more than a year ago?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Yes; when the present Government was in power. I heard that speech. I am referring to the period when there was a serious deficiency in shipbuilding in 1915 and 1916, and had these valuable suggestions been enforced then, with all the wit and power my hon. Friend evidently has at his command, he might have been successful in introducing the amendments which we are trying at present to bring into operation. That is all the controversy I am going to bring into the Debate. But I must make reference to one or two other things. The criticisms have been of a mutually contradictory character. First of all, my hon. Friend suggests nothing could be satisfactory except the complete severance of the organisation of marine shipbuilding from 1078 shipbuilding for naval purposes. On the other hand, my right hon. Friend the Member for the University of Dublin (Sir E. Carson) takes an entirely different view. His theory is that the proposal made by the First Lord to-day will have the effect of separating to a much greater extent than it ought to do the tasks of naval and marine shipbuilding. There are two or three questions which have been put in the course of the discussion which I will attempt to answer. My right hon. Friend was anxious to know whether there were any extensions of shipbuilding yards in this country at the present moment. He was afraid that the whole development in shipbuilding had been confined to the National shipyards. That is not so. There are 138 extensions of marine shipyards projected, and of these 107 are already in hand. I think that is an answer to the question put by my right hon. Friend. The other questions bear upon the relations of the new Controller to the Admiralty and to the Shipping Controller. Those are equally important. With regard to the relations to the Admiralty, my right hon. Friend made it perfectly clear, in his statement, that the new Controller is absolutely independent of Naval construction, subject, of course, to the First Lord, and that is an answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Dublin University. He very rightly, I think, enforced the importance of there being some co-ordinating power between Naval and purely Commercial work. The First Lord will be in the position of being in control of both, and, therefore, when there are any questions to be adjusted between the two branches—and there must necessarily be a good many—if they cannot be adjusted by discussion between them, he will come in as the supreme authority as far as the Admiralty is concerned, and, if they cannot be settled there, then they must be settled by the War Cabinet in the way all these questions are being settled at the present moment.
There is also the important question of the relations of the new Controller to the Shipping Controller, because it is of first-class importance to co-operate with Sir Joseph Maclay. I quite agree with all that has been said about the admirable work which the Shipping Controller had done. I have often borne testimony to the services he has rendered to the country during the fifteen months he has held office. It is quite impossible for anyone 1079 who is in control of either building or repairing to discharge the important functions of his office without being in constant touch with the Shipping Office. To that my right hon. Friend and the Government attach the very greatest importance. It is only by complete cooperation between the Shipping Controller, the Controller of Naval Construction, and the new Controller of Commercial Construction that it will be possible to achieve the great aim we have in view.
I am trying to deal with the questions which have been raised one by one. Another point which has been raised is the question of the supply of steel. I think that has been organised so satisfactorily that the shipbuilders at the present moment have nearly as much steel as they require, and there is no yard at the present time where any work is being stopped for lack of steel. That is due very largely to the organisation of the Ministry of Munitions, as well as to the Department of the Admiralty—to co-operation between the two. On the contrary, I have heard of shipbuilders who have been begging that we should not send any more plates there because of the difficulty of storage at the present moment. Therefore, there is no shortage of steel plates interfering in the least with the progress of building of either Naval or Mercantile ships. That is where the illustration of Pharaoh used by my hon. Friend rather breaks down. There is plenty of straw here. Pharaoh is supplying all the straw that is necessary; they are clamouring not for more straw but less straw.
§ The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Bonar Law)
In the Report I noticed myself the next morning it was there said that there was a great scarcity of steel. My whole argument, however, was that there was no scarcity of steel or labour, and I at once took steps to correct the statement.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
My right hon. Friend certainly never intended to say that, and as a rule such a disclaimer is accepted by the House. As a matter of fact my right hon. Friend, I am certain, could not have said so, because he was on the Committee discussing this matter the other day, and he knew perfectly well that the supply of steel had been adequately 1080 met by the organisation set up. The difficulty has been very largely with regard to labour.
I have heard not merely in this Debate, but I have road criticisms outside which suggests that we ought forcibly to take 20,000 men out of the Army. That is undoubtedly the figure to which we try to work up. As far as the Home forces are concerned every man we can discover who was a skilled man in the shipbuilding yard we are pulling out. But when you come to deal with men actually engaged at this moment in operations in the field, men whose skill is essential to the manning of batteries, it is a serious responsibility for us by a mere order to say we should practically immobilise batteries by taking out two or three essential men who may be a sort of lynch-pin of the whole organisation. That has got to be done with very great care, and I do not think anyone here would challenge that proposition. Twenty thousand is the figure we want; it is a figure up to which we shall work. But if the men are not available we cannot take the risk of destroying the efficiency of the Army in the field at a very critical and perilous moment by withdrawing men who are doing work where their skill is essential to the conduct of the particular operation, however important shipbuilding may be for the moment. The Army have guaranteed to us that where they find they can put in a substitute they will do so, but we must leave a certain amount of discretion to those who are in charge of these great operations in the field, to see that the efficiency of the Army shall not be impaired at this very perilous moment by the withdrawing of a large number of essential men from their units.
Those who criticise are rather apt to forget that we are now in the fourth year of the War. After millions of men have been withdrawn from industry, the demands are increasing, while the supply is getting more limited—the demand for labour, the demand for men in the Army, the demand for men in shipbuilding, the demand for men in the fighting forces of the Navy, the demand for men on the land, the demand for men in munition works. My right hon. Friend the Minister for National Service is overwhelmed with demands for men in every Department. Take the increase in cultivation. That means more men, and it means more metal workers in getting machinery. The demand for tanks, for aeroplanes, and for 1081 more guns, all these demands have constantly to be considered, and when you have all the demands before you, you have to co-ordinate them. There are men who seem to think that all you have got to do is to determine that you will build ships, and that you can do so. But you cannot do it, not with all these demands upon you.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
What is the good of saying, "You must do it"? You must do it to the limit of your power, and that is all that any nation can do. We have increased the shipbuilding from 550,000 tons in 1916 to nearly 1,200,000 in 1917. That does not exhaust the matter. Before 1917 the organisation for repairs did not exist practically, certainly not to the some extent as it has developed since. There has been an organisation to a very considerable extent of the repair of ships which were never counted before in the losses. I have a letter from my hon. Friend written, I think, to the "Morning Post" or the "Times," and he wants to know whether amongst the losses we reckoned the ships that were damaged. Those ships we made special provision for repairing, and that special provision was made for the first time in 1917. There was an accumulation of damaged ships up to 1917. We had to wipe out arrears and to deal with ships that were damaged from time to time, and I am glad to be able to inform him that the way in which we have repaired the ships that were damaged is very cheering. Those who are concerned in shipbuilding, know to what extent we have succeeded. The other point to which I should like to allude is the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor, who dealt with the importance of propaganda. I quite agree with it. When my right hon. Friend appealed to masters and men to put forth greater exertions, that is not by way of attack on either masters or men; it is really an appeal to them to realise the National danger and to put forth special efforts. That is why it is of the very greatest importance and why my right lion. Friend actually invited the criticism which has created this Debate. This criticism, which has gone on for days, is not due to any facts which have been elicited by the cross-examination of the Government, but to a statement made by my right hon. Friend voluntarily to the 1082 House on the 5th of March of the lamentable falling off in shipbuilding in January and February.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
He did it deliberately in order to invite the attention of the country to the facts, and in order to appeal to masters and men and all those concerned to put forth special exertions in order to assist the country. Here we have a deficiency of 120,000 tons to make up. We believe that by special exertions that chasm can be bridged, and I think that the suggestion of my hon. Friend is an admirable one, that there is a good deal to be said for bringing the facts home to the masters and men, the managers and foremen, and all those upon whose special exertions we depend, and to show how much is dependent upon them. That is not a question of recrimination, as my right hon. Friend said, between any section or class and the Government. It is a question of our all putting our strength into it, in order to make it impossible for an enemy who cannot defeat us in the field to defeat us by this process of destroying our shipping.
As far as the work of the Navy is concerned the results are gratifying. There has been a gradual diminution in the losses which have been inflicted by submarines. If that work continues, and if, on the other hand, these yards were able to increase the output by 120,000 tons per month, or even less—I am dealing with British shipping; as far as the world's tonnage is concerned, there is only 100,000—if we were able to wipe that out, I believe it would do far more to shorten the War than almost any individual efforts which this country could put forth, because it is not merely inflicting a defeat on the enemy, it is affecting him with the knowledge that however long he may go on with the War, he will never be able to defeat this country.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
In the peculiar conditions under which we are sitting tonight, this Debate comes to an end in another seven minutes, so that it is quite impossible for me in the time at my disposal to make anything like a general survey of the discussion. My right hon. Friend who has just sat down seemed to? think that a controversial note was imparted into the discussion by my right hon. Friend who sits beside me (Mr. McKinnon Wood) in regard to the comparative losses 1083 and comparative construction in the different periods of time. I do not think that is a matter which ought to be a subject of controversy. As a matter of fact—and it is well the figures should be known—the figures are these: In the year 1915—I am speaking of United Kingdom shipping alone—the total losses from all causes were 1,100,000 tons roughly. In the year 1916 they rose to 1,500,000, of which by far the largest item in the list is in the last quarter, when they rose from 284,000 in the preceding quarter to no less than 617,000. The total of the year was 1,500,000. For the year just concluded the corresponding figure is 3,000,000—exactly double what it was in 1916.
But it is a complete mistake to suppose—and I am sure my right hon. Friend did not wish to encourage the idea—that the Government of that day were not alive to the existence of this menace, and were not taking measures to meet it. He has referred to the fact that the total new construction in 1916 was 550,000 tons, and that it rose during last year to 1,100,000. That is quite true; those figures are perfectly accurate. The reason why the construction in 1916 was not greater than it was, was not because we were in any way insensible to this danger. On the contrary, the Government passed an Act—it was quite early in that year, in February—to include shipbuilding among munition work, thereby to give the Board of Trade control of it. My right hon. Friend the then President of the Board of Trade allocated—the First Lord of the Admiralty does not seem to know that—thirteen shipyards to the exclusive purpose of private shipbuilding, and the real reason why there was not a larger construction of mercantile shipbuilding during that year was entirely because of the requirements of the Navy, which were so exacting that to that extent private shipbuilding was contracted. But to show the gravity with which we viewed the situation, let me remind the House that in the autumn of 1916 Lord Jellicoe—who up to that time from the beginning of the War had been in command of the Grand Fleet and had rendered conspicuous service to the country in that capacity—was with his own consent removed to the position of First Sea Lord, with the express object of dealing in all its aspects with the new and growing menace of the submarines. That is the history of what actually took place.
1084 If there be disquietude, and there is disquietude, in the country with regard to this matter, I think it is largely due to two causes winch perhaps have not been sufficiently entered into. In the first place, it is due to the misleading estimates which from time to time have been put forward as to merchant shipbuilding. As a matter of fact, the only person who made an estimate which was even approximately near the truth as to the capacity of this country for turning out merchant shipbuilding was my right hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Runciman). In the autumn of 1916 he estimated that the yards would be able to turn out in the year 1917 1,100,000 tons, and that is exactly what they have done. We know very well that we have had estimates of a very much more sanguine and optimistic kind put forward since on high authority—figures of 1,800,000, and even higher. These estimates have been made, but have never been realised, and never could be realised during that time.
That is one cause. There is another cause of the disquietude which I am glad to think, after what we have heard to-night, will not exist in the future, and that is the non-disclosure of the tonnage facts and figures in regard to both losses and construction. I am not putting this forward as a matter of reproach to His Majesty's Government. I believe that they were anxious to disclose these figures some time ago, but other considerations came, into which I need not go, which for the time being made that impossible, and which now no longer exist. I am perfectly certain that the publication in the fullest possible form, and I trust at much shorter intervals than three months, of these figures, both of losses and of construction, so far from disquieting the public, and so far from giving information to the enemy which he would not otherwise obtain, would have the greatest effect in regularising the position here, and enabling us to face, as surely after three and a half years of war we can face, the facts without panic, or suspicion, or disheartenment. These, to my mind, have been the causes which led to this disquietude, and I believe this Debate has done a great deal to dispel, at any rate, some of it. Let me say in conclusion what, to my mind, is the essence of the matter. In the first place, you must establish and lay down for yourselves—and this can be done only by the Cabinet—it cannot be done 1085 by any Department: the Government must do it—how you are going to allocate your resources of men and material as between naval and mercantile shipbuilding. To have that done you must have it clearly demarcated, and then give it as a rule of action to the Departments concerned.
In the next place, you must exert every possible effort to draw more skilled labour into the shipyards. I know the difficulties perfectly well. We were at this task, as my right hon. Friend (Mr. Lloyd George) knows—this task of trying to get men from the Army—and I know the difficulties and the objections the military authorities raise, in perfectly good faith. It is nothing but the strong and direct exercise of Cabinet authority that can really bring from the front the men who are needed for this purpose, but that they can be brought is proved by the fact that they are being brought, though not in the numbers or at the rate we should desire. But anybody who is acquainted with the facts knows quite well that there is an unexhausted reservoir of resource which it is not only necessary but absolutely essential for the country to obtain. I hope, I will not say I very confidently expect, that the new Controller who is to be added to the numerous Controllers under whose sway we at present carry on our life—I hope the new Controller, a man of the highest possible qualifications, as everyone will admit, for this particular purpose, will have more success than those who have preceded him, and that this vital, primary, fundamental necessity of the nation, the construction of merchant shipping, will be more and more quickly and effectively overtaken.
It being a Quarter-past Eight of the Clock, and there being Private Business set down by direction of the Chairman of Ways and Means under Standing Order No. 8, further Proceeding was postponed, without Question put.