§ CLASS V.
§ MINISTRY OF LABOUR AND NATIONAL SERVICE.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed,
§ "That a sum, not exceeding £15,108,000, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1941, for the salaries and expenses of the Ministry of Labour and National Service, including sums payable by the Exchequer to the Unemployment Fund, grants to local authorities, associations and other bodies in respect of unemployment insurance, employment exchange and other services; expenses of transfer and resettlement; expenses of training (including, on behalf of the Army Council, training of soldiers); contribution towards the expenses of the International Labour Organisation (League of Nations); expenses of the Industrial Court; expenses in connection with national service; and sundry services."—[Note: £10,250,000 has been voted on account.]
§ 3.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Owen Evans (Cardigan)
In considering this Vote, the subject to which I would like to draw the Committee's attention is the organisation and use of our man-power for the effective prosecution of the war, and when I say manpower, of course, I include women. We cannot, and dare not, leave them out of our calculations; there is much that they can do which men cannot do so well. There is work they are able to do as well, or almost as well, as men, and by women taking the place of men in such work man-power will be strengthened for the work which, generally speaking, it is essential that it should do. I am quite sure the Committee will agree that there is a special province for women as well as for men in this war, and it is for the Government, and the Ministry on their behalf, to place them in their proper places. I submit to the Committee this proposition: that the organisation of manpower is not perfect, or even reasonably good, unless as far as practicable every able-bodied man or woman is wisely and intelligently allocated to a job of work 818 for which he or she is most needed and best fitted to further the national effort of winning the war. To-day we must have nothing less than that. There is no room for idlers and loafers, be they rich or poor, nor should there be any able-bodied person compulsorily unemployed. So long as there is such a person in the country, our war economy is not adequately planned.
Make no mistake, the plain, decent man in the street, who regularly listens on his radio, without any restrictions imposed upon him, to the programme, British or German, has this problem of the effective employment of our people very much in mind. And no wonder. He knows perfectly well that this is not a war between kings or governments, but between peoples inspired by wholly opposite and contradictory ideals. The average man who listens on his radio has it drummed into his ears that this is what is called a totalitarian war. That may be a horrible word, but it is common currency to the mass of the people now, and it makes a man feel that somehow or other he himself is in the war. But he may be unemployed, and he wonders why he is not asked to do something. My experience is that this man tries hard to find some way in which he can help, but nobody seems to want him. This is not an uncommon experience to-day. He finds that there are thousands of others like himself. He sees the official unemployment returns issued by the right hon. Gentleman's Department—1,121,218 unemployed persons on 11thMarch, 1940, that is, six months after the war commenced, and 965,667 persons wholly unemployed on the same date. I know that my right hon. Friend succeeds admirably and pleasantly and certainly forcibly in reducing, on various grounds, these figures to somewhat smaller dimensions. There are many people, he says, who are unemployable and a large number who are in the course of passing from one employment to another, from one job to another. It is not my purpose now to quarrel with him on that point, but with all his subtractions and permutations and combinations he cannot get away from the fact that there still remains a large number, hundreds of thousands, of men who are doing nothing but who should be doing something.
I invite him to tell the Committee, first, what is the net residual figure from which 819 the country can draw to swell and strengthen its man-power? Secondly, what are we waiting for now; what are the precise difficulties in the way of making use of these men? Thirdly, what steps are the Government taking to bring these people into productive industry as quickly as possible? Fourthly, how soon does he hope to cure this lamentable deficiency in making the fullest use of our resources in man-power? I invite my right hon. Friend to be as precise as he can in defining fully why we are far from making full use of our man-power? No one can pretend that this country is at its maximum productivity until everybody has a job to do, provided, of course, that there is no shortage of raw material on which to work. Fortunately, there is at the present time at any rate no real deficiency in the supply of vital raw material for industry, and so long as we can buy it from abroad and import it, so long as we have the command of the sea routes with regular shipments, we need not be unduly disturbed about that. Therefore, the raw material is there. But there is a great shortage of semi-skilled and skilled labour in some industries at the moment. Why, therefore, cannot these unemployed men and women be absorbed? I invite my right hon. Friend to say a few words about that. Is it because there is not sufficient equipment for them? I might be transgressing the rules of the House if I went too far into that subject, but surely I may ask my right hon. Friend how far he is prevented from getting rid of the unemployed—I know he desires it—by any shortage of equipment, and how much does he know and can tell the Committee of the prospects for a real improvement in that regard? My right hon. Friend knows better than I that there is a shortage of labour in certain industries in certain areas, which have spare equipment but not enough men to work it to its fullest capacity.
§ Mr. Evans
I am referring to semi-skilled and skilled men like fitters and welders. Is it because there is a dearth of suitably trained labour? And upon that, I would ask the Minister of Labour what is the present position in regard to the training schemes established by the Ministry? Is my right hon. Friend satis- 820 fied with the progress and extent of these schemes? Last February it was announced that an expanding scheme which was then brought into being would provide annually 40,000 men, semi-skilled and skilled workers, mainly for the engineering industry. That seemed to many of us far from adequate when we considered the reserve of man-power in the country and the enormous need for labour in munition making and in other essential industries like agriculture. The country, to-day, expects a plan for the organisation of labour on a much bigger scale than anything yet disclosed.
With regard to the training of workmen for munition work, I would ask the Minister how many training centres are now in active operation; where those centres are situated, and whether they are conveniently situated for the purpose of drawing upon the reservoir of unemployed men? We should also be told what is the total complement of trainees in these centres at the moment. I would also ask the right hon. Gentleman to give the Committee any information which he can give, on the progress of this work of training and on plans for the future. Particularly, I wish him to answer this question: Are the existing centres actually short of the complement with which they can deal?
In the last war, I believe, only about 50,000 were trained under the special schemes of the Ministry of Munitions. At the same time, we are informed on the best authority that millions were trained in industry itself. Therefore, I put this question to the Minister: If the Ministry is unable to provide facilities adequate to reach the bulk of the men who are crying out for training, then, in view of the meagre supply of labour that will be obtainable under these schemes, are energetic steps being taken to provide training in the workshops? This, no doubt, will be a gigantic task. It can be carried out successfully only by complete co-operation between trade unions and employers. Here, I desire to pay from my own personal experience a sincere tribute to the helpful attitude of the trade unions towards this difficult and delicate problem. There can be no doubt that further dilution of skilled labour, by the employment of semi-skilled men and by upgrading, will have to be arranged on a very large scale. One can easily understand the fear of the trade unions lest 821 their skilled members should eventually lose their status and find their position damaged. It is, therefore, obvious that any undertakings on this subject given by the Government and the employers must have the complete confidence of the trade unions. I think all those hon. Members who heard or read it, will agree with me when I say that I was extremely pleased with the tone and temper of the broadcast by Sir Walter Citrine, in which he so definitely emphasised the fact that while the trade unions have their rights they had also their responsibilities. I endorse most wholeheartedly the words which he used:There are still many difficult problems to surmount before munition production can reach the maximum required. The task of solving them will in the main rest upon the trade unions and the employers' organisations whose members are engaged in the industries directly concerned. They will call for the exercise of great patience and broadmindedness; and their solution will depend in no small measure upon the degree of confidence that can be placed in the undertakings which will be required from the Government and employers, to safeguard the position of the workers.I mentioned, earlier, the question of the employment of women. What is the present position regarding the employment of women in essential industries? The First Lord of the Admiralty a few weeks ago called for 1,000,000 more women. That figure appeared to me to be an under-estimate of the requirement. It has been stated authoritatively that 1,700,000 women entered industry during the last war. We all know that women are never idle, whether they are at home or abroad. At the same time, their peace-time occupations are not necessarily those in which they should be engaged during war, and the problem is to arrange their transfer from non-essential to essential industries. I saw some figures in the "Economist" recently which showed that during the last war the textile, clothing and printing trades lost 86,000 women and domestic service lost 400,000 women. The number of women employed in the metal trades, on the contrary, increased by over 400,000; in munitions, etc., there was an increase of 223,000; in commerce and finance there was an increase of 430,000; in Government offices and schools 200,000; and in the transport industry over 100,000. The large number of women who entered industry during the last war indicates that 822 the figure of 1,000,000 given by the First Lord of the Admiralty is much too low.
What steps, then, has the Minister of Labour taken to encourage and induce employers to survey the position in relation to the persons employed by them? I, personally, visualise the employment of women on a very large scale, but serious preparation is required in order to be ready when the necessity arises. Difficult questions will surely arise, and the trade unions must be consulted. The rates of wages of women must be determined, and these certainly must not have the effect of depressing men's wages. The golden rule of "equal pay for equal work" might be applied, regardless of sex. If we adopt that principle, we cannot go very far wrong. My righthon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) during the last war used these words:If women turn out the same amount of work as men they should receive the same pay.What I wish to emphasise in regard to all these matters is the need for immediate action, instead of waiting until certain events happen. If there is a shortage of equipment and if that is the reason why unemployed men cannot be absorbed, get the necessary labour trained for the time when the equipment will become available. We have too many bottle-necks in the organisation of industry and labour in this country. I know, personally, that a great increase of production is needed in various directions. We know that if the war becomes intensified much more will be required. We have to prepare and the employers have to prepare; we have to see to it that the labour is available, although it may not actually be required now.
I turn to another side of this question, namely, the production of food and the labour which is required on the land. We know that women are particularly suited to employment on the land. In my country, and particularly in my constituency, it is a common thing for women to be engaged in very important work on farms. In many respects, they are just as suitableand just as capable as men for certain types of work, such as tending stock, provided they have the necessary experience. On small farms in Wales—and I assume that the same thing applies in Scotland and other places—the 823 farmers' daughters work daily on the farm. All their lives, from the time when they leave school, they are accustomed to doing useful farm work. There is the other question of the shortage of farm labour in certain parts of the country. The Minister of Labour, in reply to Question recently, said he understood that in Wales there was not a shortage but a surplus of agricultural labour and that there was unemployment among farm workers in certain parts of Wales. If so, there should certainly be a complete organisation of agricultural labour. If experienced farm workers are not fully employed in one place, they should have the opportunity of being transferred to other parts of the country where their services are needed. In certain parts of Wales, nothing has been done by the Ministry to prevent the recruitment of labour, drawn from farms, for work at camps and other places. The farms have been denuded of labour by the attraction of higher wages which the farmer cannot afford to pay.
Another point to which I wish to refer is the situation created under the Control of Employment Act, passed in the early days of the war. Under this Act the Minister was empowered to prohibit employers, by Order, from advertising for labour without his consent. At the time the danger of the unrestricted transfer of labour was clearly foreseen, but I am not aware that action has been taken by the Minister under the Act except in the cases of the building industry and the civil engineering industry. In those two industries I understood there was a big surplus of labour, and I should like to ask on what principle the Minister is acting by proposing that Orders should be made in those cases. I should have thought that a beginning should have been made in those industries where there is a shortage of labour, and where it is likely that employers may take advantage of any freedom they have, in drawing labour from one industry to another by offering the temporary inducement of higher wages. I foresee that before we are much further in this war many drastic steps will have to be taken, in organising the labour forces of the country. Measures may have to be taken which will be repugnant to the preconceived notions which most of us have about the freedom of 824 employers to employ and the freedom of choice of labour to be employed, but we have to realise what we are up against in this war.
Our enemy, Germany, adopted the complete machinery of State control for war purposes at least seven years ago. I believe they reached their peak of employment as long ago as 1938. According to figures published in the "Economist," between 1932 and 1938 there was an increase in the net national income of Germany of 33 milliards of marks, of which, we are told, 30 milliards were due to rearmament. It is estimated also that since the war began Germany has trained 500,000 men for semi-skilled or skilled work, and taken 2,000,000 women into industry. I am informed that most of the training has been done in workshops. What are we up against? Let us consider for a moment what were in many respects the pre-war productive advantages of Germany. In the case of steel, for instance, the combined figure of Great Britain and France for steel production in 1938 was something over 16,000,000 tons of ingot steel. In Germany, the production was 23,000,000 tons. In the case of aluminium, the pre-war production of Germany—I do not know what her present production is—was 2½ times the combined production of Great Britain and France—[Interruption.] I am trying to show what we are up against.
I want to ask what are the powers of the Minister with regard to the recall from the Services of men who could be better utilised in industry? Although a man may have joined the Territorial Army in peace time, or may have been a Reservist and therefore mobilised on the outbreak of war, it is not conclusive that the Army is the place in which he can give the best service to the national cause. I could give many examples of this, but I will give only two. One is of a caster, a highly skilled worker in a vital war industry in which there is a great shortage. He is now employed as a waiter in an officers' mess. His release has been refused. The other case is of a Royal Air Force Reservist, a wireless operator, who was discharged in 1931. Subsequently he rose to the position of assistant progress manager and machine-shop foreman in a works engaged on important Service contracts. He had to be 825 trained anew for wireless work. His release for industry has been refused. Even so, a man with such experience could be better utilised in some capacity in the Services appropriate to his industrial training. In that case, there is a first-class machine-shop foreman used as a tenth-class wireless operator. I have heard of university graduates who were Territorials and were called up at the beginning of the war, and who are still employed as clerks in offices. Surely, there ought to be some means by which the Minister can decide that these men shall be returned, even temporarily, into industry. What is the power of the Minister in this respect? I would remind the Committee that the right hon. Gentleman is not only Minister of Labour, but Minister of National Service—the highest and most honourable title that any Minister can have. I hope that to-day he will assure us that he has the power to live up to that title in the widest possible' sense.
§ 4.19 p.m.
§ The Minister of Labour (Mr. Ernest Brown)
It is a remarkable and significant fact that, although rearmament began in 1936, although the first provisional Schedule of Reserved Occupations—at the moment the Schedule is provisional and flexible—was issued in January, 1939, although the Military Training Act was passed in June, 1939, and the Armed Forces Act in September of that year, this is the first occasion on which the question of man-power has been debated as a major issue; and this first Debate takes place at a moment when we are approaching the solution of some of the problems which have been raised by the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. O. Evans) in his able speech. The answers to many of the questions which he put to me in the first part of his speech were contained in statements that he made in the second part of it. The Committee will be aware that the machine is moving faster and faster, and that in many crafts there is an obvious sign of shortage.
I welcome this Debate for three reasons. First, it provides me with an opportunity of outlining to the Committee the machinery for handling these problems. Secondly, it gives me an opportunity of making a speech on these issues on an occasion when I cannot give many 826 statistics, because if I were to do so, I should give information to the enemy. Thirdly, it gives hon. Members in all parts of the Committee an opportunity of stating, from their own experience, the matters which are troubling them. When I heard that hon. Members below the Gangway opposite wished to raise the question of man-power as a whole, and not merely unemployment, which has been debated many times, I felt very cheerful about it, because in my opinion such a Debate was overdue.
I will state to the Committee what, as I see them, are the issues that confront us in this problem of our war economy. There are involved the following issues: first, the manning of the Armed Forces; secondly, the equipment of the Armed Forces; thirdly, the maintenance of the Armed Forces, whether in the field or in training; fourthly, securing the necessary production for our war effort, our export trade and our vital civil needs, without interruption and at an increasing pace. But in terms of man-power, all these issues involve one firm basis, and that basis is the maintenance of a balance of man-power, first, between the Armed Forces on the one hand and industry on the other and, secondly, between one industry and another industry. From the beginning, that has been our basic problem. These matters are bristling with difficulties, and they all centre on a target, known to the Government, which has been fixed as to the size of our Armed Forces. I beg hon. Members, when they read the Debate, when they are discussing particular industries and crafts, and the particular circumstances of certain men and the hardships that arise, always to bear that major consideration in mind; for all inter-departmental decisions that are arrived at on the issues here involved must be arrived at in the light of that balance.
I will deal first with the Armed Forces. The hon. Member for Cardigan reminded the Committee that, in addition to being Minister of Labour, I bear the dignified and honourable title of Minister of National Service. That is true, although it does not mean that I am responsible for labour in every sphere. In the normal way, I do not bear responsibility for industrial relations and labour in agriculture, coal mines or the Merchant Navy. That has been the responsibility of the Ministers concerned, but I have the heavy 827 responsibility, which I gladly discharge, of co-operating with all those Ministers and rendering them special services without which they could not perform their own duties. I make those remarks, not because I wish to evade any issues, but in order to state the facts as they are. These problems have to be viewed in terms of the target, which is the number of ships and the number of men in the Navy, the number of squadrons and men in the Royal Air Force, the number of divisions and men in the Army; and unless we have a firm grip at all stages on that central principle—namely, that whatever decisions we make must not on the one hand render the Government impotent to discharge their task, and, on the other hand, must provide industry, agriculture and all concerned in maintaining the Forces in the field and the civil population with the labour required—unless that principle of balance is maintained, there will not be an accurate understanding of the machinery necessary in order that the man-power of the nation shall be mobilised to the full.
The problem of assembling man-power for the Armed Forces calls for an entirely different machine from the assembling of men and women for industrial purposes. I have sometimes seen the word "mobilise" used in referring to the industrial processes. I do not like the use of that word in that sense, for it is not appropriate. It is the right word to describe the process of getting men for the Armed Forces. What has been happening since the passing of the Military Training Act? There have been successive callings-up. As the result of these registrations—not callings-up—on successive occasions under the Royal Proclamations, we have mobilised for calling up or for reservation, as the case may be, 1,700,000 young men. Also, since war broke out, we have had substantially more than 300,000 volunteers for the Armed Forces, a remarkable figure when the Committee remembers what happened before the Military Training Act and the Armed Forces Act, and when it remembers the pressure on industry. I did not gather from the speech of the hon. Member for Cardigan—although it may appear later in the Debate—that there is much criticism of the operations of the Ministry of Labour and National Service on that side of the problem. The machine of the 828 Employment Exchanges offers a tremendous advantage over the machinery of the last war. We have had that nationwide machinery, in constant touch with the people, which could be used instead of our having to set up special local offices, as was done in the last war. I think I may claim that the machinery of the Employment Exchanges has proved itself to be efficient, that the successive registrations have gone off smoothly, and that the work of the Ministry of Labour, as regards presentation at the exchanges, registration, medical boards and calling up has been efficiently done.
There is one other remark I want to make on that matter. In the difficult months ahead, when the pressure gets stronger and stronger, I want the Committee to look at the situation in terms of two words—trained men. I do not mean merely trained men in the Army, although I am referring to that. It must not be forgotten that the Armed Forces, in a mechanised world, need a larger proportion of tradesmen in the industrial sense than was ever the case in history. But it is my duty, as Minister of National Service, to be certain that, in the arrangements made to maintain the balance of which I have spoken, I always have available for calling-up the numbers of men that the Armed Forces call for, as training facilities and equipment, or military necessities, demand. So I ask the Committee to bear that very much in mind. When harassed by personal problems, such as the problem about release from the colours, I would have them remember, when we are discussing the Schedule, which is our instrument of reservation, that the Minister of National Service must always be in a position to have a pool of men ready to fill up the gaps in the Armed Forces and to enable the Service Ministers to reach their undisclosed target, which is known only to the Government, when we shall be fully equipped to throw in our maximum effort. It is my task not merely to facilitate the work of those who are organising industry, who are mainly responsible, namely, the organised employers and trade unionists of the country; it is my duty also to facilitate the work of the Service Ministers, so that those who go out to fight are not merely enrolled but enrolled in such a manner that my Service colleagues can have, above all, the 829 assurance that the Minister of Labour and National Service will always be able to meet demands, however heavy the call—because while we have been having a fairly regular call, I should be a very short-sighted statesman if I did not look ahead and imagine that at any given moment the Service Ministers may call for a larger number in a particular month, and it is my duty to have the men ready—as we have them ready. The process of registering will go on, with increasing speed if necessary, in order that that position may be held thoroughly until the target is achieved and our maximum strength is made available.
Another thing I have to do is, on the other side of the balance-sheet, to make sure that when we have had the registration, the working of the Schedule of Reserved Occupations, having regard to the estimates of what I may be called upon to deliver in terms of man-power to the Services, makes the minimum disturbance possible to industry, whether rural or urban. I have also to meet possible cases of exceptional hardship as laid down in the Act of Parliament. The hon. Member asked me what powers I have in the matter of release from the Colours. I have no powers there—it is not my duty—but I have certain obligations in connection with the process, and I may perhaps tell the Committee what the machinery is, for I have helped, in happy co-operation with the Service Departments, to work the machinery out. The illustrations drawn by the hon. Member were both from the Territorial Army. I beg the Committee to be level-minded about that. [Interruption.] That makes my case even stronger, because I do not believe anyone could have said 18 months ago that we should apply the Schedule to reservists. I do not believe there is anyone who could have said that a man who was a reservist, who had signed his papers and taken his annual payment, ought not to come up. I believe there is general agreement about that. It is easy to be wise after the event, but here I do not think that we have been shown after the event to have been wrong. I believe no one faced with that problem could have taken any other stand than that taken by the Government as a whole, that the reservist must stand by his obligations.
830 The other problem is this: It is, of course, easy now to say it was a pity that the Schedule of Reserved Occupations in its present form did not apply to the Territorial Army. I am certain that the Secretary for War would have had an easier task on one side of his work if that had been so. When the decision was made not to apply the Schedule in its present form the Territorial Army was not up to strength. We were in this dilemma—either we had to apply the full Schedule in peace-time, and lay upon the shoulders of commanders of Territorial battalions the knowledge that sufficient men would not be available in the ranks for training for war, with all the effect that that would have had upon the units, on the one hand, and upon recruiting on the other; or take the risk—not the risk but the certainty—that there would be industrial key-men there who could not be left there when war broke out. The Committee may have diverse opinions about this, but I ask them to see the issue. The issue was resolved in favour of not applying the Schedule to recruits enlisted before January, 1939. We have now to face the problem of release from the Colours of Territorials, the splendid fellows who volunteered in peace-time to serve their country in the light of two needs. The first need is the need of the Armed Forces for tradesmen, which must not be overlooked when we talk about the mines and the engineering shops. All our Forces want tradesmen in large numbers. That is the issue which was resolved.
Now I want to tell the Committee what has been done. In conjunction with the Secretary of State for War we worked out a scheme in the War Office and the Ministry of Labour and National Service. The Secretary of State for War in 1936 gave a pledge to work out a machinery for a comb-out of the Territorial Army after embodiment. This is the scope of the comb-out; that soldiers whose occupation was reserved at ages 18, 21 or 23 who were at or above the age of reservation should be returned to industry unless employed with their units in the corresponding military trade. I am not inclined to go back on that principle. [Interruption.] That may be so, but the hon. Member must remember that there are three issues. The first is the instructions 831 given by the heads of the Armed Forces, second, the application in the unit, and the third is transfer inside the Army from one unit to another of men who at the moment may be in one unit in the Service but a month from now may be found in an Army or Air Force unit in an entirely different job. We started the comb-out in September, 1939. As a result of that, 8,000 men were returned to industry—no inconsiderable problem for the Adjutant-General's Department of the War Office.
It was also agreed that, if the tactical situation permitted, a comb-out in the anti-aircraft and coast-defence units should also be made. This additional comb-out was started in December. It is now nearly complete. It is different from the field Army comb-out, in that men were returned to industry only if their occupations had no corresponding Army trade. Up to date 3,000 men have been returned to industry from anti-aircraft and coast defence units, and a further 1,000 men have been earmarked to return when they can be replaced in their units. In addition releases, temporary or permanent, have been granted at the instance of other Government Departments, including my own. Up to date the total, including the comb-out figures, of 20,000 officers and men have been granted indefinite release from the Army, the bulk of whom have gone back to industry. In addition 13,000 officers and men have been granted periods of temporary release of varying duration. The machinery for the comb-out has been used to locate tradesmen who were not being employed in their trade capacity, and they are now so being used. More than that, I want, on my own behalf and that of the Secretary of State for War, to express our thanks to those trade unions, which have rendered invaluable service through their branch agencies, informing the central bodies of the unions that individual men with special skill ought to be released for key work in industry if they are not employed in the Army on work where their skill is needed.
§ Mr. Brown
No. Indefinite release, 20,000, and13,000 temporarily released for periods of varying duration. Thousands of men have been transferred already within the Army, and this process will be completed as rapidly as possible. A similar scheme is in operation in the British Expeditionary Force, where surplus tradesmen, particularly Regular reservists who have learned a trade in civil life, are being transferred. I need not go into the details of how this is done, because I informed the House long ago, in the OFFICIAL REPORT, of the arrangements.
§ Mr. George Griffiths (Hemsworth)
Do I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that they transferred to vacancies in the Army?
§ Mr. Brown
Certainly. This balance has to be maintained. That is the difficulty of the problem. It is quite right that hon. Members should claim that any tradesman having high skill should be used to the full in civil life unless the Forces themselves can use that skill. The facts that I have now given to the Committee will show that a very genuine effort has been and is being made by those at the head of the Services, and, of course, the process still goes on, as is shown by such illustrations as that given by the hon. Member just now.
The hon. Member asked what we were doing about men who were unemployed. The process of meeting the needs of industry is entirely different from that I have described for the recruitment of the Services. This is not a case of calling on men to register and calling them up at your will. This is a matter of an industrial process, and the process does not begin with the Minister of Labour. He comes in at an intermediate stage. What is the process? It means using, building and equipping factories, shipyards, workshops for war purposes. It means using the fields to the maximum for war purposes also. The Committee will understand that from the beginning of our rearmament programme it has been made perfectly clear in this House—and indeed the First Lord of the Admiralty pointed it out when he sat below the gangway—that you do not obtain your maximum in one, two, or 833 even three years, but that it is a continuous and accelerating process which becomes complete as the months go by.
This is how I view the problem of getting labour into the right place. Firstly, it must be remembered how big is the part that the machine plays in modern industrial life. The sequence is this: design, orders, material, continuity of orders, and at all stages labour. Labour, highly skilled and specialised, goes into design at the very beginning of the process. It is that process that we have to see working in production. Movement of labour takes place in thousands, in innumerable factories, workshops and shipyards, and right through the whole of the land. [An Hon. Member: "And in coal mining."] I do not want to infringe on the Minister of Mines' problem, except through my own special services where I can be helpful to the Minister of Agriculture, the Minister of Mines, and the Minister of Shipping.
Let me say one or two words about the industrial process that I have outlined to the Committee. I have already referred to the machine for registration, calling up, and releases, and I now turn to man-power for war production. The hon. Member for Cardigan rightly stressed the importance of this problem, and in my office I shall be the last to under-estimate the difficulty. I will make these general remarks on the subject. Having for nearly five years had to talk about employment and unemployment at this Box, in times when it was not easy to foresee an increase in employment, or a decrease, I do not think the Committee will wish me to quote figures now. The fact is that pressure upon the skilled man is, in many crafts, keen. The wheels have, to turn very fast so that men who some months ago had little hope of employment are being now rapidly absorbed. Against the difficulties we have some solid advantages in mobilising man-power, in which term I include, of course, women. I would rather use the word "muster" than the word "mobilisation." We must use men and women for industrial service. We have started with advantages over the last war, although I do not want to stress the last war too much. Our industrial population is much larger. We have to offset against that the fact that the demands of the industrial machine are also larger. 834 Then there is the other element, that the machine itself has greater productive value than before. We have an efficient instrument in the Employment Exchanges, whereby, if labour is available in any part of the country, we know about it, and can make arrangements to see, if possible, that men are put in the jobs for which they are equipped.
What have we done, the hon. Member for Cardigan asks, to set the process in motion and to get the maximum use of the unemployed? It is quite right that the hon. Member should speak of the use of women. But, when he quoted a statement made by the First Lord of the Admiralty about the call for 1,000,000 women, it was not quite that. The First Lord pointed out that 1,000,000 women would be wanted, but he did not say immediately. He had in view the target of which I have been speaking, not of one month, or two months, but of a period to which we are now working with all our might and main. First of all, the Government have prepared an estimate of the problem of man-power for war production for at least 18 months ahead. This estimate, of course, is secret. We have taken employers and workers in the industries concerned in full confidence in regard to the means by which labour forces for war production can best be secured. Employers and trade unions and the shipbuilding industry have expressed their readiness to help the Government, both by advice and practical action. We have set up sub-committees to maintain practical co-operation between the Government, the engineering industry and the shipbuilding industry in order to work out the practical application, in terms of employment, of the problems inolved in the estimates we have put before these industries after I received them from the Supply Departments.
§ Sir Patrick Hannon (Birmingham, Moseley)
One of the problems with which the Minister has to deal is to prevent the selling of labour from one manufacturer to another. That is one of the essential considerations in the present situation.
§ Mr. Lawson
A thing which is in the minds of a good many Members is that although we know the total number of the surplus unemployed, we cannot, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, obtain 835 the numbers in each industrial division. That is rather important. Can he give us the figures?
§ Mr. Lawson
I have looked at the announcement, but we cannot get the information in the Ministry of Labour Gazette as we did before. I have looked at the "Times" account. For a proper consideration of this problem it is really necessary to have these figures. Can the Minister give us them at some later stage?
§ Mr. Brown
I cannot now, because it would really spoil the balance of my speech. I am asking the indulgence of the Committee in order to make a statement for the first time on man-power. I do not want to be distracted. I understand that I have been criticised before for giving too many analyses and figures to the House. On the first occasion when I have been determined not to do that, I now find that the Committee is asking me to do it. I will certainly, if the figures have not been available, which I believe they have, if the Ministry of Labour Gazette is not out this week, see that the figures appear in the Official Report, so that all Members may have them. The figures we have not got are the figures analysing the numbers unemployed by length of unemployment. We do that by special counts, and I am having another count at the end of this month.
I was pointing out that we have many advantages. We have the system of collective bargaining and the growth of efficiency in employers' organisation and in trade union organisation, with a greater co-operation than was possible in any other period of British industrial history. When the hon. Member for Cardigan invites me in a rash sentence to prevent this thing and to do the other thing, I would ask him when he uses a general phrase about "repugnant steps" that we shall have to take, as he did towards the end of his speech, to remember this. Let no one advocate these steps until they have exhausted free co-operation between employers' organisations and trade unions to the full. My view is, and the Government view is, that this is the way to get results.
§ Mr. Brown
I will not prophesy, because I am certain that this country means to win this war—when I say the country, I mean all, with the exception of an insignificant minority—and that the country will pay any price to do it. It has been my good fortune to have a greater measure of active co-operation, not merely in generalities, but in practical working out of details. This has been the case more than in any other period I believe in British history. It is a very solid advantage indeed. There are two issues here. First, we have the Government—the various Ministries—themselves responsible for a great deal of production but which after all is not the greatest part of production. The bulk of production in this country is being entrusted to private firms which have had long experience. Our policy has been based on this free co-operation, with the determination to get a rapid evolution of the industrial process, and to attain the results the nation must have if it is to get, equip, and maintain its forces in the field, and to maintain civil life.
I am bound to say that the trade unions have shown themselves most ready to co-operate with us. In the engineering industry as a whole, there is no need to talk in general terms because agreement has been arrived at, and where breaches of the agreement are brought to the notice of the responsible authority, either employer or employed, they are being dealt with. The case is not quite the same in the shipbuilding industry, because, as industrial Members of the House know, we are dealing here with a confederation of a number of unions, and we have had to proceed in another way. It has never been my conception of my duty to work along abstract lines. My conception of my duty as Minister of Labour and National Service is to get a practical machine which will do the job. On the one hand we have general agreement, and on the other a number of agreements. The process, however, is going on just the same.
The hon. Member for Cardigan was quite right when he pointed out that it is universally recognised that this war will make far greater demands than any other war on the skilled worker of the country. He made one slip, however, when he exhorted me to produce the 837 skilled man. That is not my task. It is my task to see that every available skilled man registers at the Employment Exchanges and is made available for a job in his own craft. It is not my duty to train skilled men, nor could I do it. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) rather chided me the other day for not training men in shipbuilding, but if he had taken pains to put the point, either to the shipbuilding employers or the shipbuilding unions, he would have been told that the last thing the Ministry of Labour could do is to provide the equipment and surroundings necessary to train shipyard workers. We cannot claim, and we have never claimed, in our training centres to train skilled men, but what we can do is to give a certain amount of skill in quick time. The issue there is not somehow suddenly to add x thousands of skilled men. No one can do it. There is no wizard who can wave a wand and do that. The skill is there. It is the result of long experience, and no Minister or employer can improvise it. What can be done, and what is going on in industry now, is to apply that skill to its utmost. The process is to make the utmost use of all the skill available so that every skilled man shall go to the job in which he is competent, and then the semi-skilled man shall follow him, and the unskilled will follow the semi-skilled.
Let me tell the Committee the machinery which has been set up in order that workers may be given the work they ought to have so that they can use their skill to the full for the nation's benefit and the less skilled jobs can be given to those from the ranks of the unemployed and others who were previously employed in other occupations. We have adopted the principle that every skilled man must be employed where his skill can best be used.
§ Mr. Brown
We agree with that too. The general relaxation of customs having been arrived at in the engineering industry, the problem is no longer a centralized one, except by way of reference for the solution of disputes. It is a factory problem, a workshop and a shipyard problem. It is an area problem. The Minister of Supply has set up area boards or committees, for it is in the areas that this job must be done. I do not want 838 the Committee to understand that this is wholly the responsibility of the Minister of Supply. The boards and committees will operate on behalf of all production departments and the Minister of Labour will be associated with the committees. Indeed, my Ministry has provided in the bulk of cases the secretaries for the work. There will thus be in each area a constant and precise knowledge of what factories and workshops are using their men to the full and what are not. It will be the duty of the boards and committees through their production officers to see that the end which the nation must have is achieved, namely, the realisation in practice of the principle I have just mentioned. With regard to the problem raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Moseley (Sir P. Hannon), no Minister of Labour or President of the Board of Trade or even Minister of Agriculture is unaware of the word "poaching." Let me tell the Committee what we are doing in practice in this matter. In the engineering, shipbuilding and coal-mining industries the supply of labour is such that there are acute shortages occurring in some places.
§ Mr. Brown
I will only say that I have been pressed twice since the war started to alter the age of registration, because I have been told that unless men of 20 in other crafts in the mining industry than those reserved at 18 are reserved, production will not be possible. I have drawn the conclusion from that that there must be a shortage in certain areas. In the engineering and shipbuilding industries there are acute local shortages in particular crafts of skilled workers. In engineering on 12th March there were 23,379 unemployed registered, and in shipbuilding 12,586. These figures look large as figures, but they do not mean a great deal in terms of the industry as a whole, for in engineering the percentage is 2.7 of the whole industry and in shipbuilding it is 7.6. There were 50,750 839 unemployed in the mining industry on the same date, and that represent 6.0 per cent. That is the lowest figure I have known since I have been Minister of Labour.
There are numbers of workers available to be transferred to other industries if their own industries stop, and I would put the number at 500,000. I do not give that as an estimate of the Ministry, but as my own estimate from my long experience at the Ministry. Not one man or woman must be allowed to remain unemployed if he or she has skill which can be used in the present emergency. Employers and trades unions are co-operating locally with the officers of my Ministry to examine the qualifications of every man registered so that we can make sure whether he can be used locally, and, if not, what stands in the way of a move elsewhere. If we find that a man can be trained in some other craft, I have obtained sanction for the Ministry to pay his fare so that he may go from one place to another and get training in the industry for which he is suitable. In shipbuilding the process has already started. In coal-mining, I understand that instructions are to be issued at an early date. I will not go into that, because the Secretary for Mines on a proper occasion will have to explain the work of the new Coal Production Council and the discussions that are now going on. One of the things must be to get the maximum opportunity for the elderly miners who have not been employed in recent years. When we have done this it will be possible to approach the further question of additional recruitment.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)
My right hon. Friend has not answered the question of the hon. Member who opened the Debate as to what facilities exist for training men skilled in a particular trade which has come to an and because of the war in order that they may take part in those trades which are essential for the promotion of the war.
§ Mr. Brown
I would ask my Noble Friend to be a little patient, for I will deal with that point later. There have been particular problems of man-power at seaports. In order to meet an emergency situation a scheme of temporary transfer on a voluntary basis was worked 840 out by the National Joint Council for dock labour, and it was incorporated in an agreement dated 6th October. Under this scheme seaports where the local supply of labour is inadequate are able to obtain men on a day to day basis from ports within easy travelling distance. Where there is a reasonable prospect of work being obtained for six days men will be allowed to travel from more distant ports. In these cases fares and travelling allowances will be paid by the Ministry, together with a guaranteed minimum payment of 10s. a day and a subsistence allowance of 5s. a day, or the equivalent. I want to pay my tribute to the leaders of the unions for the splendid efforts they have made in recruiting volunteers for this scheme. Although I cannot give a figure, I can give the Committee the assurance that it is substantial enough to be sufficient to do all that will be required in an emergency.
May I come to the problem of training? I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Cardigan recognise by his illustration from the last war that the training done by the Government will be only a relatively small adjunct to the training effort of industry. Employers and trade unions alike agree that the proper place for training people is in factories and workshops. The hon. Gentleman asked whether this is going on. The answer is that many large industrial organisations have special sections for training and my task is to double them. As far as my own training schemes are concerned my trouble is to turn what has been a social service into an industrial war effort as an adjunct to the industrial effort. We have had 14 or 15 years' experience of training centres. As hon. Members opposite know, it was not easy to build up, expand and to get confidence in these schemes. Up to the war those schemes had always been a social service for the unemployed, not an industrial service. It was not the purpose of the Ministry of Labour to do for industry what industry should do for itself. It was the purpose of the Government training centres to give men in the hard-hit distressed areas an opportunity, if they cared, to volunteer to learn semi-skilled—not skilled—trades to enable them to make a new start. That was the case up to the war. If prior to the war we had trained too many people it would have raised infinite 841 prejudices—and rightly so—in certain quarters, because it would have been useless to train a man unless when, he had been trained, he could be placed in industry without disturbing industrial relations.
When war came, the first question he had to decide was what part the training centres should play in view of the fact that more and more civil processes would take men and women direct from employment, on the one hand, and secondly men and women who had never been in industry before had volunteered to go into shell-filling factories and other war-time occupations. The Ministry started a campaign. First of all, we recruited the unemployed, and I am glad to say that the 14 major Government training centres, and a number of smaller ones which had shorter courses, are now full. They are full to capacity at the moment with 7,000 persons in them. I would like to pay a tribute of thanks to the newspaper Press and to the B.B.C. for the help which had been afforded on behalf of this scheme. There had been 390 applicants for the training in the week the appeal was made. In the next week there was 783, in the week after 1,100 and in the fourth week 1,383. Applicants were still coming forward, and it was estimated that the centres could train some 40,000 semi-skilled workers. That was on their present basis, and if the demand arose it would be possible to put up new training centres, subject always to two considerations, first, their ability to get instructors—there was a scarcity of instructors, because there was competition for them as well—and their ability to get machine tools.
§ Sir Percy Harris (Bethnal Green, South-West)
Will the right hon. Gentleman say within what period he estimates training 40,000?
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
Does the right hon. Gentleman want us to understand that there is a shortage of machine tools even for training semiskilled men?
§ Mr. Brown
No. At the moment our centres are filled to capacity with men, and the processes we train for are, on the whole, processes in which men find their normal occupation. The women will come in for other processes. I do not of course bar women; I do not know what the situation will bring forth. When we have exhausted the volunteers from the ranks of the unemployed we shall have to turn to the second part of the problem, to see what we can do to help the transfer from the less essential to the more essential industries.
§ Mr. Owen Evans
I understood the Minister to say that already the centres were full to capacity and that he expected that they would turn out about 40,000 annually, although there are only 8,000 in them now, and it is a five or six months' course.
§ Miss Lloyd George (Anglesey)
Could the right hon. Gentleman say a word about training labour for agriculture?
§ Mr. Brown
No, that is outside my scope; that is not my major responsibility. It is my responsibility to do everything in my power to use my specialist services to aid the Ministry of Agriculture, and I did undertake certain responsibilities for the Y.M.C.A., but I understand that my right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister of Agriculture has now taken over that scheme. The hon. Lady must await the appropriate occasion to deal with her question—the Estimates of the Ministry of Agriculture.
The hon. Member for Cardigan and my hon. Friend the Member for Moseley raised questions about the implications of the Control of Employment Act. I would point out that the Bill is negative in form and not positive, and that there was an obligation to set up a consultative committee of employers and workers before 843 an Order was drafted. The first application made to me was in terms of an advertisement for certain skilled men in the building trade. There are large numbers of unemployed workers in the building trade, happily not so many as there was a few months ago, but in certain areas there is quite an acute competition for some of this labour. This was represented to the Ministry by the responsible body concerned, and after consultation with the joint council of employers and building operatives I made an Order in the manner prescribed by the Act. My hon. Friend the Member for Moseley, speaking for the industrial side—and, of course, the position is more acute on the rural side—referred to men being attracted from less remunerative jobs to more remunerative jobs. The processes under this legislation fall first as a restraint upon the employer. If there is a question of one factory as against another factory the action is not taken against the man but against the employer. This is one of the problems we are hoping to resolve in the joint consultations. The first action will have to be action in restraint of the employer.
Members of the Committee may think that stronger action ought to have been taken in some ways, but in all the arrangements made by my Department in the industrial field it has been our policy to rely upon voluntary co-operation and to avoid as far as possible compulsory powers. I ask the Committee to believe that there is no lack of determination here. If necessary, we shall use to the full the compulsory powers we have and shall not hesitate to ask Parliament for any further powers that may be required.
Surveying the work of the last four years, I believe the best results as to the best direction of our man-power will be obtained from voluntary co-operation so long as it is freely and fully used, though the strains and stress of war may set up conditions which imperatively demand other methods for attaining our common object, the defeat of the German enemy. Finally, I cannot speak too warmly of the co-operation I have received from the great industrial organisations on both sides. They have acted and will, I am sure, continue to act with a full sense of their responsibilty, not 844 only to those to whom they are directly responsible but to the country at large. I have a firm belief that they will continue to co-operate in any measures that may be necessary, and in that belief I look forward with confidence to the great tasks ahead of us. I believe that, having put our hand to these tasks, first in this broad general way and then with particular and meticulous detail, we shall reach our goal and enable the nation to win the war.
§ 5.26 p.m.
§ Mr. George Hall (Aberdare)
I have to ask the Committee for its indulgence to-day. It is not often that I have to make such a request, but my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), who was to have taken part in this Debate, is, unfortunately, indisposed, suffering from a very bad throat, and it was only on entering the House that I learned that I was to take his place. We are indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Cardigan (Mr. O. Evans) for raising this important matter. As the right hon. Gentleman said, it is the first time since the war that the important question of man-power has been debated, and everyone will agree that the position should be fully stated and fully known to the country. The right hon. Gentleman, in an excellent and eloquent speech—excellent in that he has made clear many important points without using too many figures—dealt very fully with his subject. He referred to the co-operation which has been so readily given to him by the representatives of the trade unions and the employers' organisations. I do not think that any Government has been so fortunate as this Government in the assistance it has received from organised industry since the war began.
I would like to emphasise the right hon. Gentleman's reference to certain guarantees given to the trade unions, in respect of very many of the concessions with regard to dilution and to the setting aside of some of the very excellent customs which the trade unions have built up in this country. We would ask him and any of his successors to remember that those guarantees will not only be asked for but will be expected. We shall expect the employers and the Government to see that they are carried out. The trade unions of this country have recollections of what happened after the last war. 845 Guarantees were given to the trade unions and to the industrial workers of this country. Unfortunately, they were not carried out. The industrial workers of this country have very long memories in this matter. They have given concession after concession to the Government, and we shall insist upon those guarantees being fully met.
§ Sir P. Hannon
I hope the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for interrupting him, and I thank him for giving way to me. No doubt he will recall the fact that the extent to which obligations were not honoured at that time was due, not to the attitude of the employers, but to the economic conditions from which this country was suffering and which were consequent upon the war.
§ Mr. Hall
Such an excuse could be used after the conclusion of the present war. Hon. Members must remember that at no time in the history of this country did the employers have such a good time as during the last war. Profits accumulated were so excessive that for some years after the war the employers hardly knew what to do with them. Many employers had a very good time after the war was over. In the industry which I know best, the coal-mining industry, we were asked in 1921 to suffer a reduction of more than 10s. per day in wages. It may be argued that that was because of the depression, but it was not so much because of the depression as because the Government went back upon the guarantees which they had earlier on given to the mining industry. We will see to it, as far as we can, that the Government and the employers see that those guarantees are carried out.
Before leaving the question of co-operation with representatives of the trade unions, I would like to put one further point to the right hon. Gentleman. It was put to me by my hon. Friend the Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks). The Government should take the trade unions really into their confidence to the extent of notifying them some time in advance of demands which are, or which should be made, instead of those demands being thrown at them at short notice. I understood from the right hon. Gentleman that certain agreements had been entered into with representatives of industry and that, for 18 months, as far as is possible, the demands to be made 846 for man-power are known to the trade unions.
§ Mr. E. Brown
This, of course, is my responsibility, but it is also, as I told the Committee, a matter for the Service Departments. We thought it was only right, because, unless you are dealing with reasonably accurate estimates, you cannot tell what steps ought to be taken. While I am on my feet I would like to say that I missed from my speech one thing which I should have said. I ought to have spoken about the speeding up of the call-up, and to have told the Committee that the registration of the 27's will take place on 25th May.
§ Mr. Hall
The right hon. Gentleman said that the demands expected to be made have been submitted or considered by representatives of industry, in respect of two or three industries, such as shipbuilding and engineering. Why could not the demand for other industries be submitted in exactly the same way? We have been at war for seven months. I am not minimising the tasks of the right hon. Gentleman and his Department, but it can be said that the war had been expected for a very long time. As my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) has said, not harnessing our man-power as it should have been harnessed is bringing the chicken home to roost to the right hon. Gentleman and his Department. I do not think there can be any excuse for the fact that, despite the calling-up of 1,700,000 men and the volunteering of 300,000 men, which makes a total of 2,000,000 men, and despite the acceleration of the production of munitions, we have, no matter how the right hon. Gentleman attempts to explain it away, 1,100,000 men on the registers in this country as unemployed.
We have not really tapped another source. There are 1,000,000 women who, the First Lord of the Admiralty has suggested, should be brought into industry, even, according to a statement made by the right hon. Gentleman himself in relation to training, for semi-skilled work in the production of munitions. There is a limited amount of training facilities, but, according to the right hon. Gentleman, it is the function of the employers to do the necessary training. The Government really have an obligation in this matter. Notwithstanding that there are hundreds of thousands of women who 847 would be prepared to go into industry to do some of the semi-skilled jobs, no facilities have yet been provided by the Government to give them training.
§ Mr. Hall
I do not know whether they have been asked, but an hon. Friend of mine rightly comments that all the men have not yet been trained. The full utilisation of the man-power of this country is not taking place. The right hon. Gentleman knows that 50 per cent. of the unemployment is situated largely in what were known as the Special Areas, or those covered by the heavy industries. Apart from domestic work for women who are being transferred, there are no facilities for the utilisation, not only of women but of everyone at present unemployed. I propose to deal with this fact in my speech. The full utilisation of our man-power is the real strength of this nation. We were surprised at this aspect of the right hon. Gentleman's speech here this afternoon. It is true that he said that all the plans could not, for obvious reasons, be disclosed, but the nation really wants to know what is expected of it in order to win the war. Unless plans are disclosed, how are the men and women of this country to know what is expected of them?
How is the man-power to be used? Is there to be a proper direction of the labour which is available in this country? The successful prosecution of the war and the protection and maintenance of the Armed Forces, together with the production of munitions and the protection of the civil population, are jobs of major importance, to which the Government should pay even greater attention than at present. We should know the full requirements, not only of the Services, but of industry, for the production of munitions and of other essential industries for the production and manufacture of materials, especially for export from this country. Is there such a plan? It is no use the right hon. Gentleman coming here and saying that, so far as he is concerned, he has no control over labour for the mining industry. He has little or no control over labour for the agricultural industry or shipping, but I should have thought that, at a time like this, the Ministry of National 848 Service and the Ministry of Labour would have ample power to cover the whole of the labour requirements in this country, instead of setting them up in watertight compartments, as the Minister suggested is being done.
We should know what labour is required for all industrial and military purposes. Has the Minister a plan? He said, "Here is this estimate for certain industries over a period of 18 months." What are the requirements of the three industries to which he referred? Are they far in excess of the amount of labour available at the present time? Will he have to train many more men and women to bring them into those industries, in order to provide for the production of all that is expected from those industries in the next 18 months? The industries to which he referred are all of major importance. In the case of the coal industry we ought to know the requirements in the way of increased output in the course of the next year. I interrupted the right hon. Gentleman when he mentioned that there was a shortage of labour in the coal-mining industry. He afterwards gave figures that there were some 50,000 miners unemployed in this country. We know that there may be a shortage of what may be regarded as young labour in key positions, if they have been taken away, but in many of the coal-getting districts in this country a very large proportion of the men were unemployed.
I can give an illustration from my own area, from two Employment Exchanges in my division. There must be something like 3,500 or 4,000 men unemployed there. They have worked in the coal industry during the whole of their lives. It is true that some of them have attained ages of 50, 55 or 60, but the right hon. Gentleman promised us four years ago to consider with the employers schemes for the re-absorption of these men into the industry. Nothing of that sort has taken place, although it is true, as he mentioned to-day, that a number of these men are being taken into the industry. I have been told in my area that, during the last war, 20 men over 60 years of age were taken into the industry. Until the outbreak of the present war, the Ministry of Labour looked upon men of 55 or 60 years of age as too old to do the work which would be required of them. During the last war, men of 70 years of age were 849 brought into the industry, and they served the nation to the best of their ability. They were quite willing to do it. The right hon. Gentleman appears to have given very little attention to the re-absorption of the older men into industry. I beg that something should be done at once, to see that many men who have given valuable services should again have those services utilised.
In the course of his speech the right hon. Gentleman spent some time on the question of reserved occupations and skilled men. We have raised with the right hon. Gentleman and with the Minister of Supply the question of skilled men with the Forces. I am bound to say that the figures which the right hon. Gentleman gave of the releases for temporary and limited periods were higher than I expected. There were 13,000 for temporary periods and 20,000 for indefinite periods, a total of 33,000 in all. The right hon. Gentleman did not meet the case which was put by the hon. Member who referred to skilled men who were not doing work for which their skill fitted them. Some were doing clerical work, and others, work which was not really in keeping with the skill which they had acquired. There should be a comb-out without too much reference to the commanding officers, because commanding officers rather like some of their men. A man may be a batman or a clerk, and the commanding officer likes to see Jack, Tom or Bill around the camp. He himself ought not to be the judge as to whether that man would do much more useful work if he were released to utilise his skill in an aeroplane works, an engineering works, a shipbuilding yard, in the coal industry, or in agriculture. Someone else should be the judge as between the Minister of Labour and the officers of the Armed Forces. I believe that many skilled men could be released if a proper comb-out took place.
With regard to training, I am not satisfied. The right hon. Gentleman must remember that as a result of the war there is a number of men who were employed in luxury or semi-luxury trades and who have been thrown out of employment. Many of the professions are now-suffering depression as a result of the war. Take, for instance, solicitors' offices and other businesses. Many professional men have dispensed with the services of many valued servants. I met a case in my 850 own constituency last week. A man 40 years of age who had been employed as a clerk for 20 years received an intimation that his services were to be dispensed with because of the falling-off of work. There must be tens of thousands of such cases in the country. What are the right hon. Gentleman and his Department doing fully to utilise the man-power which these men possess? They may have been clerks or shop assistants and not used to the kind of work which is essential at the present time. Are these men taken into training centres for the purpose of learning work such as agriculture or other jobs where man-power is required at the present time?
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the travel or the transfer of men from place to place. I agree that as far as dock labour concerned it is essential that it should be transferred, but I wish the right hon. Gentleman and the Government had done all they possibly could in the early days, and even now, to see that munition works are not put in agricultural areas. Instead of having to transfer the men to the works, the work should have been brought into the areas where labour power is available. I should say that a very large proportion of the munition works which have been built in this country have been put up in agricultural areas. I know of a case in regard to which my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) and the hon. Member for Breconshire (Mr. Jackson) led a deputation to the War Office complaining about the taking over of an area of land, displacing something like 78 farmers in the centre of an agricultural area in Wales. I travelled past this place last Saturday, and I saw no fewer than 10 bus-loads of men. Some of them had been transferred for a distance of 12 to 15 miles to get to this area. Possibly there will be 2,000 or 3,000 men and women permanently employed in this area, but with the exception of the 70 to 80 farmhouses, which I suppose will be demolished, there are not a thousand people living within 10 miles of where this works is to be put up. The Minister of Labour should bring the necessary pressure to bear upon Government Departments so that instead of forcing tens of thousands of men and women to travel miles to their employment, there should be suitable sites near where these people have their 851 homes, thus obviating these hours of travel which could be spent in useful work.
There is much more which could be said about this question of man-power. Even now we are not satisfied with all that the Minister has said about the Government's plans in regard to the requirements of the nation to enable us successfully to prosecute this war. We know the demands of the Armed Forces. They will not be limited to the 1,700,000 persons which the Minister mentioned. He has announced that additional calls are to be made, and it is more than likely that double the number required would be obtained for the Armed Forces. Civil occupations must be kept going. Are the Government considering the question of not producing luxury products and semi-luxury products? Are they considering the question of transferring labour from the production of those articles to the production of essential war materials? Are they seized of the fact that every man and woman in this country will have to give whatever the nation demands to ensure that this war is properly prosecuted?
The Minister and the Government should make their requirements known. The people in this country would readily respond. We know what we are up against. The Allies are faced with a very highly organised military and industrial nation. What the right hon. Gentleman said is true; they may have had four or five years' start. Under their system of totalitarian government they may be able to do things much more quickly than we can do in a democratic country, but I am not afraid of democracy provided democracy knows what is required. We are inclined to be afraid to say what we ought to say. Let us not be afraid of taking the people of this country into our confidence. We know that 40,000,000 more tons of coal are required to meet the industrial requirements of this country, and to meet the demands of an expanding export market; we know that 4,000,000 men in the Forces will have to be equipped; we have been told the number of industrial workers required to keep one man fully armed in the field, to keep one man in the air and to provide naval requirements. Why cannot the Minister let us know what are the requirements 852 to keep the essential industries going? These things are important. The Minister should have taken us more into his confidence than he did this afternoon. With regard to this census of labour, skilled and semi-skilled, which has been ordered by the Ministry of Supply, I take it that the Minister knows about it.
§ Mr. Hall
I would like to know why it is that this census of man-power applies only to about three industries. I understand that it is to apply to the engineering industry, motor building, aircraft manufacture, and shipbuilding and repairing. These industries are absolutely essential, we know, but they are not the only industries in the country, and I should have thought that at a time like this there should be a census of the manpower and the requirements of every industry. I would ask the Minister to see to it that this census is extended, and I would ask him and the Government to take the nation into their confidence in dealing with this very important question of man-power.
§ Mr. A. Edwards (Middlesbrough, East)
Before the hon. Gentleman sits down, may I put one question to him? During the course of his speech, in reply to an interruption by an hon. Member opposite, he made what seemed to me to be an astounding statement. He said that after the last war his union was asked to take a reduction of 10s. a day. Was it 10s. a day or 10s. a week?
§ Mr. Hall
Ten shillings a day. In 1921 the coal-mining industry was decontrolled some five months before it should have been decontrolled in accordance with the legislation which was upon the Statute Book. Because the miners of South Wales refused to accept a reduction of between 10s. and 12s. a day in their wages, we were locked out for seven weeks. That is why I wanted to put it to the hon. Member for Moseley (Sir P. Hannon) as strongly as I could that there must be none of these tactics when this war is over. Never before in history has greater co-operation been given to the Government by trade unions than at the present time, and the Minister and others will have to see that the necessary pressure is put upon the Government so that we are not let down.
§ 5.57 p.m.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)
We have just listened to three speeches of great point and penetration on a subject matter upon the solution of which depends our ability to win the war. While we have had those three excellent speeches, if I may say so as an old Member of the House, it is unfortunate that the Chamber is so empty. It is symptomatic of the attitude which the House takes towards the war. There is a large attendance when we discuss questions of nudism or what a soldier's mistress should be called, but on a question like this the Chamber is nearly empty, as if it did not matter. I desire to put one or two questions to the right hon. Gentleman. I think I have the assent of the whole Committee in saying that this afternoon we are discussing a question which is absolutely vital to our conduct in winning the war. I desire to detain the Committee only for a few minutes concerning a few questions of principle, and I hope that when the Parliamentary Secretary replies he will be able to give an answer to those general questions.
In the first place, I do not think any of us, from whatever point of view we approach this subject, can have any great feeling of pride as a country with regard to the extent to which we use our man and woman-power to-day compared with the other belligerents. I should like to give a few figures. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman is not here, because I desired to put one or two questions to him. He gave the number of those who had joined the Army, either voluntarily or who had been called up under the Compulsory Service Act or who had registered as a total figure of some 2,000,000. I assume—basing my opinion, not on official information which I had when a member of the Government, but on information available to any Member of the House, in the form of the Estimates presented to the House last year—that the total number serving, at the outbreak of war, in all three Forces, including Reserves, added to the total of those who have been called up or who are to be called up or who joined voluntarily, would come to something like 3,600,000. I am not going to say what the actual figures of mobilisation in France might be, but let me tell the Minister of Labour, and all the members of theGovernment— 854 although, of course, they know it already—that this figure of 3,600,000 is considerably smaller than the number of people mobilised in the different Services in France, and infinitely smaller than the number mobilised in Germany.
As to the numbers actually employed in war industries in this country, the argument of the Minister of Labour was that we had a much larger number than France. That may be so; but, rightly or wrongly, in Germany and in France every man, woman and child capable of working is working to win the war. It is no use saying that we cannot do that here. I am not arguing whether we can do it or not; that is not the point. France and Germany have the whole of their available man-power in use. I should like to pay a tribute to the way in which the leaders of organised labour, and their followers, have attempted in every possible way—and most successfully—to help us to win the war. I do not think any tribute would be too high; and I hope that it will not be thought patronising or impertinent for someone on this side to pay such a tribute. For that reason, I do not want to say anything of a critical nature on that point; but I want to draw attention to the fact that we hear hardly any reference to the fact that France and Germany are mobilised up to the last child, while so much of our man-power is not being utilised. These very vital matters are hardly mentioned in Parliament or in the Press. From the right hon. Gentleman's speech this afternoon, you would never suppose that there was anything to worry about in that respect. He tells us that in two or three years' time we shall have reached our maximum production. But a great deal may have happened before the next year is past. We do not know what may happen within the next month or two.
It was very satisfactory to hear that agreement had been reached with the engineering union. I should regard it—and so I think would my hon. Friend the Member for Moseley (Sir P. Hannon) and others in this House who are interested in industry from the employers' point of view—as an act of obligation to see that any of the trade unions which voluntarily suspend their regulations in order to help in the war effort do not suffer as a result afterwards. If such things as happened in the last war, and to which the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. George Hall) 855 drew attention, happened again, I think organised labour would have every reason to say that it had been extremely badly treated by the country. We were told by the Minister of Labour that he was very glad to say that agreement had been reached between employers and employed in the engineering industries. I should like to know how far that has gone. I have been told by the chairman of one of the big armament firms—who has given me authority to mention this, although he asked me not to mention his name—that in the industry with which he is concerned dilution has hardly begun. He also drew attention to a point to which my hon. Friend the Member for Moseley referred, in the course of a perfectly reasonable interruption, namely, the way in which labour is being stolen—I think that was my hon. Friend's word—from one factory to another. The powers which the Government have obtained to prevent employers advertising for labour in certain circumstances does not seem to have prevented that. I think we should be told how far dilution has gone, how far people are being trained and absorbed into the various industries which are essential for the conduct of the war.
It would, of course, be out of order in this Debate to make any except the most fleeting reference to the question of supply, but if one-quarter of the stories that reach Members in every part of the Committee as to the delay in finding equipment, especially for the Army, are true, and if it be true that, as we are constantly told, the lag in production is due, entirely or mainly, to the lack of available labour, the responsibility which rests with the Ministry of Labour is very heavy. Although I am venturing on thin ice, I would put this point. I can quite see that, from the point of view of the right hon. Gentleman and of some of the responsible leaders of the trade unions, it may be undesirable to say too much about the negotiations which are going on in regard to dilution. I can quite see my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary saying, "Only give us time, and the dilution will go through." That is all very well, from one point of view; but it is extremely dangerous. If we had a condition of affairs similar to that of 1915, and if it were felt that that was due to insufficiency 856 of labour in the factories, there would be an overwhelming demand from the country for a completely different approach to the matter. We cannot allow either the Minister of Labour or the trade unions or even the employers to stand between us and the proper production of munitions. I am grateful to hon. Members opposite for not being annoyed over what I am saying. As a sincere admirer of what is being done, I say that if such a state of affairs were allowed to exist, it would do a great deal of harm to the trade unions in the long run.
The hon. Member who opened the Debate referred to a matter which is of great importance to those who represent constituencies, as I do, in the South of England. Having been the most fortunate from the point of view of employment, and having experienced hardly any unemployment, these constituencies are now faced with a serious situation, owing to the practical closing down of the building trade. There is a large number of building labourers out of work. Rightly or wrongly—on the whole, I should say wrongly—the majority of those men are not organised in trade unions. A number of men have come to me and asked what chance they have of being trained and transferred, through the Ministry of Labour, to work on munitions in other parts of the country. I have been unable to get any information about that.
I do not consider that the total output of 40,000 from the training centres is anything like satisfactory; in fact, it is almost derisory. I should have thought that the number would have been more like 150,000 or 200,000—and that would have been hardly satisfactory. In this matter we ought to have something in the nature of a voluntary "Derby scheme" applied to civilian labour. All over England men or women, however unskilled, provided that their hearts are in the right place and that they are good workers, should be asked to register if they wish to support the national effort, and training should be afforded to them at the earliest possible opportunity. Simultaneously, the Minister should continue his negotiations with the trade unions if they have not yet reached a point where it is possible to say that, assuming that there is such a pool of labour trained, it can be absorbed. I am told that at present there are 857 thousands of skilled men required to fell trees for pit props. I am told that the Forestry Commission alone require thousands. These men are not available in the country districts. I am told that in the seaport towns the timber mills dealing with imported timber have practically closed down. The men unemployed as a result would be suitable for felling the trees, but I am told that there is some trade union regulation which would make it difficult for these men who are now in the seaports to work in the woods at cutting down the trees. If so, I hope that my right hon. Friend will endeavour to obtain a relaxation of that rule. I mention that as an example. It would be incredible for such a thing to happen in France, let alone in Germany.
There is one point which the hon. Member for Aberdare made which should be reinforced from this side. The hon. Gentleman said—with great courage, if I may say so, because it is obvious what he had in mind—that what the people of this country want at the present time is to be told the truth, even though the truth be unpleasant. I think that, instead of adopting the attitude that we are all jolly old boys together and nothing much matters, and that all can go on as before the war, a Minister in the position of my right hon. Friend—and I am sorry to have to make this personal criticism—should have said far more directly in his speech what the consequences would be if we did not win the war. He should have emphasised the fact which hangs over all the negotiations between the employers and the employed.
§ Earl Winterton
I do not think that, if the hon. Member listens to what I have to say, he will disagree with me. They ought to be told all the time what the consequences to us would be if we lost this war. It would mean the occupation of Great Britain and the sending to concentration camps of employers and trade unionists, I am sure. We are still too complacent in every Debate that takes place. This House and the country want to be told that we must push, shove and get on with the job of winning the war all the time. We are magnificent people in action, but terribly slow in thought and in taking the obvious steps that everybody else would take. When my 858 hon. Friend comes to reply, I hope that he will give rather a wider assurance than his right hon. Friend the Minister has done, that these problems are to be tackled upon an infinitely larger scale than hitherto.
§ 6.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
I find myself in complete agreement with the last words uttered by the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton). I am sure that he has expressed the feeling of all of us that there is too much complacency in the land, and, if I may emphasise the fact, that there is too much complacency on the Front Bench and a great deal too much smugness. It is time that they woke up to the realities. The Minister referred more than once in his speech to the fact that this is the first time that this question of the use of industrial people in this country has been raised since the outbreak of war, and that we are now approaching the eighth month of the war. It is not the fault of individual Members of this House that it has not been raised, and I would like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cardigan (Mr. O. Evans) and my hon. Friends the Members of the Liberal party for bringing this Debate to a head to-day. It is a matter of great importance to us all, and I heartily agree with the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham and the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) that the Minister has not yet replied to the question which is puzzling us all. What are the plans of the Government for dealing with this situation? We have only one anxiety, and that is to win this war, and any criticisms that we may offer arise from that anxiety and are directed by a determination that this war shall be won.
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour told us that he was about to deliver a balanced speech. I listened with very great care. It was an extraordinarily balanced speech. It reminded me of the kind of sermon with which the right hon. Gentleman and I are very familiar, in which the preacher having taken his text spends 95 per cent. of his time in explaining why he chose the text and giving the particular history of the writer of the verse, and spends only about 5 per cent. of his time in giving his message. Ninety-five per cent. of the time taken by the right hon. Gentleman 859 was devoted to telling us of the problem with which he is faced and of the machinery which has been set up, but when it came to the question of what plan he has in his mind, either he has no plan, or he refuses to tell us what it is, and we are left in the dark. No wonder, therefore, that the two speakers who followed asked for more information. I wonder whether we can get that information before this Debate closes. We are well aware of the problem, but are the Members on the Front Bench aware of the difficulties? Only the other day my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Horabin) mentioned a number of figures, and to our consternation they were not known to the junior Minister who replied. All that he could say in reply was that he thought the figures were greatly exaggerated. I wish that Ministers and junior Ministers would inform themselves before they get up at that Box and make statements of that kind. The figures given by my hon. Friend could have been got from the Ministry of Economic Warfare. If they were not known to those on the Front Bench, it is as well that they should be repeated so that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen can realise what the problem really is.
The noble Lord the Member for Horsham has already said that every man, woman and child in Germany is organised at the present moment in order to obtain the victory which they desire. May I emphasise that statement with a few figures to show the endeavour which is being made there? We know what the endeavour was from 1933 to 1939. During that period, according to Hitler himself, they spent at the rate of £6,000,000,000 on war production alone. In the last year, leading up to 3rd September, they were spending at the rate of something like £1,650,000,000 a year. At the present moment—and these figures can be checked with the figures at the Ministry of Economic Warfare, because they have appeared in papers like the "Economist," the "Banker" and so on—they are spending on war effort alone at the rate of £3,200,000,000 a year. That is the effort which is being made against us and with which we have to contend. What is our effort at the present moment? The figures given by the Chancellor of 860 the Exchequer show that our expenditure is just about half, at the rate of £1,600,000,000. The story does not end there.
§ Sir P. Hannon
I think that the estimate made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and recited in articles in the "Economist," places the burden of the war at something like £2,750,000,000, if not more.
§ Mr. Davies
The hon. Gentleman is wrong. The figure that he has given is the composite figure of total expenditure in this country. I am taking the figures upon war expenditure, leaving out education, money spent by the Ministry of Health and things of that kind.
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Colonel Clifton Brown)
I must remind the hon. and learned Member that we are discussing man-power and not money-power.
§ Mr. Davies
I realise that, Colonel Clifton Brown, but it is very difficult to deal with the figures of man-power without giving these other figures and making a comparison, so that one may realise the problem that is before the Ministry of Labour. I use them only in illustration of the point that I desire to make. We are spending at the present moment at the rate of £1,600,000,000 a year on the war. The figure they are spending in France is somewhere between £800,000,000 and £900,000,000, and if you add the two totals together, the expenditure on war effort in Germany is considerably more than the combined efforts of this country and France. That is the problem that we have to face.
What is the plan devised by the Ministry of Labour? No one can give figures or recite statistics better than the Minister can—he has a marvellous memory for the total of unemployed last month and the previous month, and can make comparisons of the figures relating to Norwich, Sunderland, and so on—but that is not dealing with the problem. He is not Minister of Labour in order to be a statistician. The real problem is the finding of work, and I would ask, What is the plan to put men and women back to work? What is our position? There is not one of us in this House since 3rd September who has not received letters, callers, and inquiries on the telephone saying, "You know me and what I can 861 do. Can you suggest anything in which I can be of some value to the Government?" There is scarcely a Member of this House who has not made his suggestion and done his best to help a man or woman into some occupation where his or her services might be of national benefit. We have referred them to the Ministry of Labour, to the Ministry of Agriculture, and to the Ministry of Economic Warfare, but, believe me, at the end of November the enthusiasm had died down, and my telephone was a little more silent, as were the telephones of so many Members of this House. Where to-day is the planning? The best that they have been able to do, as the hon. Member for Aberdare pointed out, was to call at the beginning of April for a census in three industries only. One is engineering, the other motor building and aircraft work, and the third ship-repairing and shipbuilding. This was the statement which was issued by the Ministry when they were informing the general public that they were about to issue this Order. It makes most interesting reading:The three main purposes of the census are, to provide information of the proportion of the labour in certain vital industries which is employed on production for the war effort, or in the export trade or for the home market"—These are all very excellent purposes but these are not the only industries concerned in this matter. The statement goes on—to yield valuable information as to the distribution of skilled labour among the various industries, and to assist area supply boards in dealing with problems connected with the planning of production.Then comes this significant fact:Future returns will be required not only from firms in the three industries already named, but also from others, as the Ministry may determine.When is the moment for determination going to arrive? Are not eight months sufficient in which to arrive at a decision? Is it true that this Order is a compromise, and that there were other Ministries who wanted a complete census and that somebody stood in the way? Is it true that it was the Ministry of Labour that stood in the way? Is that why we are now confined to these three industries and no more? When are we to have a general census? One of the most futile things that has been done so far was the 862 census which produced the identity card. What the object of it was, I do not know. I have carried that card about with me religiously ever since, but I have never been asked to produce it. I have yet to find out its purpose. But that census might have been made really useful, and the Government might, even now, conduct a census which would be really useful. Before I deal with such a census, I wish to refer to some words that were used by the Noble Lord when he made a comparison with France. There has been an immense mobilisation in France. They tackle these matters differently from us. Probably because of the fact that they have been invaded almost in every generation within the last five or six generations, every small boy there seems to realise that his first duty is to defend his homeland and that he must pass into Army training.
I do not think there is any need to be squeamish about quoting figures; they have appeared in all the newspapers. Roughly, on the outbreak of war France called up 5,000,000 men from industry. Perhaps the effect of that will come home to Members of this Committee if I give two personal instances. In two offices with which I am associated there were, on 31st August, 200 in one and 50 in the other. On 3rd September there were two where there had been 200 and three where there had been 50. We have to take in women who have never been trained yet the work of the office goes on. That is the kind of instance they are faced with in France to-day. Think of the effect on industry, production and export. The amazing thing is that their exports increased, whereas ours were allowed to go down, although we have not called up anything like the number called up in France. Think of the effect on their transport. Our transport is much the same as last year; in Paris every ticket collector and every conductor is a woman.
Having called up their people the French Government allocated to them jobs in which they would be of the greatest service to their country and then sent many of them back into industry. At the present moment over 1,000,000 have been returned to industry because they are of more value to the nation there than manning the Maginot Line. In France they took a census straight away; we have not taken such a census yet. All we have done has been to collect such information as has led to the issue of 863 identity cards. Now we are to have a census of those employed in three industries. Why not a census of every man, woman and juvenile, which would be complete and give the Government information as to what each person can do if called upon to do it? May I illustrate what I mean by giving an instance from Montgomeryshire? A report has just been issued by a man who conducted a survey into the numbers and skill of the tradesmen in Merionethshire, Montgomeryshire and Radnorshire. In these three counties he found that there were only 154 blacksmiths, 84 of whom—and six apprentices—were in my county. There were six apprentices in Radnorshire and only three in Merionethshire. The blacksmiths there now have an average age of 53. I know of several smithies which have closed down and I know where some of the smiths are to-day. They are chicken farming or running small holdings.
If a proper census were taken a man's occupation would be put down on the census form. If a man was a farmer, he could reply to such a question as "What else can you do?" and could be sent for when needed. Many hon. Members know of engineers who after the last war went away to do something else, such as running little shops or small holdings. Why cannot we have a real census? When are we to have a real plan so that we can conquer in this tremendous fight against an enemy who has been making preparations against us for six years? It seems as if all we can do is to meander through life as though time were on our side—the most fatal, damnable and misleading thing ever said by a Prime Minister. Are we to meander along as though time did not matter, as though we were fighting a kindly people such as the Chinese, instead of the most ruthless enemy the world has ever known? When will the Government make their plans and tell the public what those plans are?
Might I say a word about training? Some of the figures given by the Minister I can hardly understand. Forty thousand are to be trained in 12 months and 8,000 are now being trained. That seems to show that the period of training is 10 weeks and when the Minister was interrupted he said they were working double shifts. Does that mean there are 864 not enough training centres? It looks like it. Cannot the number of training centres be increased? Have they got sufficient tools? I interrupted the Minister to ask whether that was the difficulty and I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to deal with that point. Is the position such that machine tools with which to train these men are not available? If they are not available, what effort is being made to send these people to factories where they will be allowed to watch skilled men at work so that they may be taken in later and moved on gradually into skilled positions?
Finally, what effort is being made to bring in and take a proper census of women? They have done magnificent work in voluntary services. I understand that in one voluntary service alone 750,000 women are registered. What effort is being made to put them into services where they will be paid? At the end of the last war, I think, the proportion of women to male labour was 52 per cent. and at the end of last year it fell to 38 per cent. What is the proportion to-day? The enormous number of 4,000,000 women is available in this country for labour if you count single women and widows and allow that about one-third of the married women would be willing to leave their homes. What is the use of a census of men if there is no census of plant and machinery? It is not much use having a census of men unless you know where the machinery is. When we realise the efforts we have had to make to get men back into key positions—one firm alone wanted 200 men and could not get them—we are driven to the terrible conclusion that, even after all these months, there is no real decision or plan before the Government. It is time somebody took charge of this matter and gave us a real decision.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Brigadier-General Sir Henry Croft (Bournemouth)
If I disagree with one or two of the remarks made by the hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down, I hope he will understand that it is not because of his aggressive action in entering the peaceful fjord below the Gangway. I assure him that I do not think there is any harm, from time to time, in gingering up a Minister, although I think we ought to be certain that we do not inflame public opinion into the idea 865 that there is greater inefficiency than we can prove to be the fact. I want to say a word of protest about the hon. and learned Gentleman's reference to what the Prime Minister said about time being on our side. I think perhaps he took it out of its context, because I could find nothing in the Prime Minister's speech—and I read it most carefully—which suggested that we need only linger. What my right hon. Friend conveyed was that a totalitarian dictator who could plan his war, and attack any country at any moment, had a great advantage and that we in this country, at least, had not suffered from the fact that, having passed through pacifism, we could at last say we we reunited against the vile policy which is being pursued against the weak nations of the world.
§ Earl Winterton
I think in justice to the French Prime Minister it ought to be said that he put it in a far more satisfactory way. He said, "Time is only on our side if it is our ally." The Prime Minister made no such qualification.
§ Sir H. Croft
I find nothing in the speeches of the Prime Minister which could justly be described as suggesting there should be any lingering or waiting for time. My Noble Friend, who was a stout defender of defence measures for this country, when others were idle, will not deny that Providence was on our side in giving us six or seven months before we came to the grip of war.
I am a little distressed to see how little interest is being taken in this Debate as a whole, when I remember the tremendous Debates on man-power which we had in 1915, 1916 and 1917. It is a little disheartening that there is not a more acute interest in what is, perhaps, one of the most vital problems of the day. I cannot find so much to criticise in the Minister's speech as did the hon. and learned Gentleman who preceded me. I think my right hon. Friend gave a clear statement although we shall be glad to have, from time to time, more information as to the particular way in which we can obtain more results from different industries. It is impossible to speak on manpower without linking it up with our strategic needs and although I will not refer to this matter in detail, it is an outstanding fact that the German nation, which came crawling and squealing to the 866 rest of the world, and to this country in particular, on the grounds of poverty, prior to, and after, the advent of Hitler, has spent no less than £7,500,000,000 on armaments alone since Hitler came into power. Surely that is a measure of the tremendous threat which we shall have to meet in the days to come. We must realise that the German Army, which is in fact the nation, is as yet absolutely untouched. I am glad that my noble Friend and the hon. and learned Member referred to the attitude of the French nation.
§ Sir H. Croft
I am sure that hon. Members will forgive me for interrupting the exchange of compliments, but I want to say that while there must be a general feeling of relief at the great achievements of the British Navy, which is so near to our hearts, we must realise—as some of us do—that it is the French Army which has been standing between us and disaster since the beginning of the war. I want to deal briefly with one or two of the problems of man-power. The hon. and learned Member was right in expressing regret that we had not a larger number of training centres, but we must, in fairness, admit that in recent years when the idea was started there was very little response from the unemployed themselves. So little was the response that it was almost impossible to conceive that we had an expanded framework on which we could build up big training centres. As one who has been in business since the age of 19, with one or two adventures into other spheres, I must point out that there are few industries where you can train a man away from his actual work. The British nation should be very grateful for the spirit shown by trade unionists today and I think that with their good-will and with the good-will of employers, it is possible to permit trainees to come into industry and learn the processes by observation and attendance, and perhaps by waiting on the skilled workmen. If this could be done without upsetting trade union arrangements it would be the 867 speediest way of training men. I know that it would be in the interests of the industry with which I am concerned, and I think we should get better results that way than by building the machinery which would be necessary in the training centres.
I think we have to take the question of what the Minister of Labour described as "the balance" a little more seriously from the point of view of the fighting services than we have done since the commencement of the war. When one looks at the question of man-power in connection with the civil administration of the War Office during the last 18 months—I am not referring to recent changes which have taken place—we must realise the lackadaisical manner in which the building up of our armies was carried out. We have to look at the whole manpower position. We are apt to look on the British Army as if it were an adjunct of the war, instead of realising that we shall never win decisive victory without it. The Navy can save us from disaster, but it is only the Army in the end which will settle the conflict. That Army is face to face with the mightiest army the world has ever known. I can speak more frankly now as the immediate danger has passed, but I think that the rhythm of the training of the units of this country has been completely upset by one inroad after another.
In the first place, there was a comb-out. Skilled men should never have been allowed to go into the Army. There was a comb-out of something like 33,000 men. Imagine what that meant in the comparatively small force of men who were being trained to meet a most highly skilled and efficient army in a few weeks or months. There were two or three hon. Members who with all good will, supported by several hon. Ladies, said how wicked it was to send out any young man under the age of 20 to the war. What happened? You immediately took from commanding officers thousands of the pick of their units, the very backbone of their units. Just because there was a little political noise in the House the Secretary of State for War surrendered and the whole rhythm of the training of these battalions was destroyed. What a lack of foresight. The Secretary of State for War ought to have taken steps to see 868 that he had older men available to take over defensive and vital positions in dockyards and aerodromes, but suddenly every commanding officer of a territorial unit was called upon to provide 50, 100, and sometimes 150 men from his unit to take up these guard duties. I hope this is being altered. I could not mention these facts five months ago.
We are all heartened to-day by recent events, but it must be becoming more and more impressed on our minds that while Herr Hitler has been driven into what I believe is a major strategic blunder, we must nevertheless square our shoulders and ask ourselves: is our Army adequate for the task? I believe that this blunder of the enemy is going to bring the war to an end earlier, because it has widened the strategic engagements of the enemy, but it necessarily means that the ball has been passed to the Army and that we shall have to find a greater expansion of divisions than we contemplated five months ago. I cannot help asking this question bluntly: is there any excuse for any man of military age among the unemployed who is sound and fit not being either in the fighting forces or directed to go into any industry, even if it is not his own industry, which can absorb him? Failing that, is there any reason why he should not be taking duties in the National Defence Corps, the demands of which are so handicapping the training for war and instant battle which our Army have to undergo?
Again, with regard to reserved occupations. I know that the right hon. Gentleman is not responsible for mining, but I think he has considerable influence in the matter. I ask him: is it really a fact that the Government intend to take great sections of the population, and to say that they shall not take any considerable part in the fighting? Can that be for the social good of the country? We know how essential is the getting of coal for our heavy industries and our export trade, but, on the other hand, will the Government not go to the mining industry, employers and employed, and say, "Will you not let another 50,000 of your men take part in this struggle for our existence?" Are they not going to make arrangements by which more youths can be brought into the mining industry temporarily, youths of 18 and 18½, who are not allowed to enter the Army, 869 although they may be fit to play football for Wales or England or row for their universities? Could we not get some expansion of effort? I speak feelingly on this subject. I had the honour at one time to command 8,000 or 9,000 miners from Northumberland and Durham, and I say that it would be a tragedy if men of that type and quality were not allowed, fairly freely if it is economically possible, to take part with the rest of their countrymen in the great struggle in which we are involved.
There is another matter. The right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have said that they are not going to make the blunder of the last war; that they will have certain reserved occupations so that they need not bring people back from the Army. I think it is a good thing to allow people to go into the Army and then, if necessary, bring them out, when the special needs of industry require their absence from the Army. After six months in the Army it would be a good thing to bring them back to industry. You have reserved an industry like agriculture and have said that agricultural labourers shall not in large numbers be allowed to join the Army. How intolerable it is that while they are reserved from the fighting Forces they should be allowed to enter the building trade and assist in the building of camps, such as is the case in the South-West of England where the whole economy of agriculture has been disorganised because agricultural labourers, who have never laid a brick in their lives or used a trowel, have been able to engage in an industry of which they have no knowledge. If they are reserved I would say to the Government, be firm. If they are not allowed to enter the fighting Forces surely they should not be allowed to go from a reserved occupation into some other.
I do not think we have been very careful about the grading of these reservations. A man who is a gardener is in a reserved occupation. I quite understand that a man who is definitely engaged in producing vegetables is rather helpful to the country's economy, but may I point out—and here I am speaking against my own friends—that I have known gardeners who are engaged in conservatory work and I know of one case where a man volunteered three times in three months and each time was told that he was in a reserved occupation. I am certain that 870 a woman could have looked after the carnations. There ought to be a comb-out of the reservations. One word with regard to women. I hope I shall be forgiven for saying that, more than any other hon. Member, I am an admirer of the fair sex. I ask this question—when are the women of England going to be encouraged and absorbed into all those kinds of work which they are fully competent to do? When are we going to hear a little less squealing from the wife without children about her petty allowance? Everybody knows there are thousands of jobs which these women can do to supplement their incomes at the present time by 10s. or more a week. They can go out two or three mornings a week to help. They cannot be got now. I believe that if only the matter is put to them, the women of England are ready to accept just the same high level of patriotism as the women of France and of other countries which we might name.
I rose for one purpose, and one purpose only. I ask the Committee not to allow itself to take up the position that reservation is more important than fighting men. I am certain that the great shock is shortly to come. On 5th December last, I ventured to declare in the House that in my opinion—for what it was worth, as a humble back-bencher—His Majesty's Government had to face the fact that the Germans would not accept stalemate on the Western Front, and that very shortly they would attack one or other of the neutral countries contiguous to them. I felt so strongly on that subject that I urged the House to turn its mind from the loosening of belts with which we had been considerably occupied since the outbreak of war to the problem of training our divisions in the Army for fluid warfare. Mark my words—this is not the end of Hitler's adventure. If he fails, as by the grace of God and the strength of the British Navy and the resilience and readiness of our Air Force and Army I believe he surely will fail, in this Northern adventure, that very fact will drive him to desperation in other directions. We have to be ready for fluid warfare.
Therefore, I urge my right hon. Friend in all this problem of man-power, to do nothing to disturb the ready flow of men into the Army, not to fight next week or next month, but in order that they may have really adequate training to meet the finest trained army in the world. We 871 must throw off what I ventured once before to call the defensive outlook which we have adopted. Everybody will remember that in the few days before the outbreak of war and the first fortnight of war, our sole concern was the safety of civilians, panic measures, how to get defensive armaments, and so on. All that time I ventured to think that perhaps our punching power was being neglected. It is because we shall win this war only by fighting and punching power and the extension of our Army that I hope the whole of this man-power problem will be looked upon from that angle, and that my right hon. Friend will not allow political considerations to get in the way, but will give the Army all the men it wants to train ready for the terrible events which lie ahead.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Richards (Wrexham)
After the very interesting speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft), I think the whole Committee is aware of the primary problem which the Minister of Labour has to face, and that is how to utilise the man-power of the country. I am sorry to disagree with the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth, but it seems to me that the lesson which every nation has learned since the last war is that this war will be won, if won at all, on the home front rather than on the military front, in France or anywhere else. I think that conclusion was come to very clearly by all the nations engaged in this sort of warfare at the end of the last war. It appears to me that in the last war there were two quite different periods, the first being what I may roughly describe as the Kitchener period, when an attempt was made to get everybody into the Army, and the second being what I may respectfully call the Lloyd George period, when it was realised that it was of very little use getting everybody into the Army unless the Army was adequately equipped. Consequently, we have come to the conclusion that equipment is of vital importance in modern warfare, although I am not prepared to say that it is more important than personnel. The problem which the Minister of Labour has to face is to assess the relative importance of men at the front and men in the factories. That is the point of view from which we have to start. Another cognate fact which has been 872 brought home to us recently is that it is only highly industrialised nations which, for good or for ill, can engage in modern war. The agricultural nations, important as they may be, are put entirely out of court. The agricultural nations are very important from many points of view, but they are merely the hewers of wood and drawers of water for the industrial nations which are engaged in this terrific fight. That drives me to this conclusion.
§ Sir Joseph Lamb (Stone)
The hon. Member does not suggest that an industrial nation can fight without being fed?
§ Mr. Richards
I will in a moment come to that point, which raises another difficult element. My first point is that we have to realise that in this war, as partly in the last war, we have to adjust our man-power as between the Fighting Forces and the people engaged in the production of munitions. One has only to consider how tremendously the equipment of the soldier has increased since the last war. The equipment of the individual soldier has increased tremendously, and the communal equipment of the Army has increased even more. In transport, for instance, the horse has disappeared, and the modern Army depends almost entirely upon some kind of motor transport. One is rather tempted to say that a modern Army does not march on its stomach, but on petrol. Mechanisation of the Army means that behind the soldiers there must be an even bigger army of industrial workers. It is estimated that even in 1918 every soldier required two or three men in the munitions factories behind him. I suggest that nowadays he requires probably five or six men. As I see it, that is the first element of the problem.
I should like now to come to the question of man-power, which is of vital importance as between the two countries. The population of Greater Germany—leaving aside Denmark and Norway, of course—is about 110,000,000. It is rather curious that the population of Great Britain, France and the Dominions—I am neglecting the Colonies—is also about 110,000,000. So, if it is a question of mere crude man-power, there is apparently nothing to choose between our enemies and ourselves. The gross population in the two cases is approximately the same. But there are other considerations which, I think, put that proposition in a rather different light. The first is, 873 if you are going to put these men into factories and get them employed in industry; what is the available amount of capital that you should have in order to be able to employ them in productive industry for war purposes? There is there a profound difference between the two countries. The personnel is much the same, but the use that we can make of that personnel is very different. I know that many hon. Members are really interested in the fact that Germany, as far as food is concerned, is much nearer self-sufficiency than we are. That is true, but there is another side to the picture. Because she is so much nearer self-sufficiency it is true that she can stand a siege much better than we can, but it is a very extravagant way of feeding the nation that the Germans have, and the proof of that is that 9,500,000 men and women are employed in feeding 65,000,000 people—I am speaking of the old Germany now—whereas in this country we are able with only 3,000,000 men to feed 45,000,000. That gives us a very considerable advantage in man-power. I do not think anyone can deny that our standard of living is considerably higher than the German standard.
§ Mr. John Morgan (Doncaster)
What does my hon. Friend mean by 3,000,000 men? Actually, we have only 1,500,000 directly engaged in agriculture.
§ Mr. Richards
We have, roughly speaking, 1,500,000 employed in agriculture, but, of course, we have to import a great deal of our food, and, in order to pay for it, we have to have the labour of another 1,500,000 engaged in industry. In the same way Germany has 9,200,000 engaged on the land and another 300,000 engaged in producing commodities to pay for the food that comes into the country—a much smaller proportion. We have a very considerable advantage in being a great industrial nation and not a great agricultural nation from the point of view that we are able to feed our people more cheaply and with a very considerable economy of labour.
§ Sir J. Lamb
The hon. Member has left out the cost of our merchant shipping and the cost of the Navy to protect that merchant shipping.
§ Mr. Richards
That is included in the total cost of the food coming in. The 874 work of the 1,500,000 engaged in industry pays the cost of the freight. The next question is, Have we the capital to employ these people? It is all very well to say in an offhand kind of way that we are a wealthy nation. It is very difficult to apply this test of relative wealth to the two nations, but I think a good test, on the whole, is the amount of annual wealth produced in the two countries. It is not easy to get statistics, but I find that an estimate has been made that our annual production of wealth, taking the year 1937, is about £5,200,000,000.
§ Sir P. Hannon
Is the hon. Member now dealing with the whole national income or the wealth produced within the country?
§ Mr. Richards
I am dealing with the wealth produced. It is one of the most difficult things to estimate, but I am taking the figures of a gentleman who is accustomed to this kind of thing.
§ Sir P. Hannon
Is the hon. Member drawing a distinction between the value of productive industry and the national income as a whole?
§ Mr. Richards
I am referring to the national income, that is, the wealth produced in a single year. Under the same conditions the estimate in Germany, as far as I can find out, has not been put by anyone higher than £6,000,000,000. That is higher than ours, but, when you consider that there are 65,000,000 people involved there and only 45,000,000 here, you can see at a glance that our national income is much larger than that of Germany, and one result is that our standard of life is much higher. Another point is that we ought to be able to save a much larger proportion out of the much greater income relative to population that we have than the Germans can, and consequently I have no doubt that, if we do not take merely the crude population figures but relate our figures to the available capital, which the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be taking from us next week, and put it to use in the production of munitions, we certainly ought to be able to utilise our population to a much greater extent in the production of munitions than the Germans can.
It is no use having labour, it is no use even having capital, unless you have the 875 material to work on. Here, of course, we are in a supreme position as compared with Germany. The blockade has cut off a very large section of her very essential imports. She is finding the greatest difficulty in getting certain raw materials, and she finds it almost impossible to get, for example, rubber, cotton and oil. I know about the substitutes, but one point about them is that it absorbs a tremendous amount of labour to produce them. From that point of view it is very costly. Consequently, if we take this wider view of the labour problem in the two countries, I think we have every ground for encouragement, providing our Minister, who is quite capable of doing it, will see that the labour is not only put into industry, but that it is adequately equipped with capital and has all the raw material required. I have no doubt this country will give a very good account of itself in what is essentially an economic and industrial struggle between the two enemies.
§ 7.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Molson (Derby, High Peak)
I rise this evening chiefly to repeat some of the arguments that I advanced on the Report stage of the Army Estimates with regard to the more scientific use of the manpower of this country. I would like to associate myself with what has been said by the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham and Worthing (Earl Winterton). I feel that so far there has been an attitude of complacency about the degree of the war effort which has been made, which is not really justified by the progress we have made in the last seven months. I was very glad that the Prime Minister referred in his recent speech to the dissatisfaction he felt at our inability to absorb the unemployed, even after seven months of war. From every point of view, I think, it is essential that these unemployed shall first be absorbed into industry. We cannot reasonably ask the trade unions to agree to dilution of labour so long as there are men who have been trained in these industries and who have not been re-absorbed. In the second place, we cannot reasonably expect the Army to surrender skilled men who have joined the Colours until the Army authorities feel that the whole of the civilian population has been called into active industrial effort.
876 I wish to refer to the Schedule of Reserved Occupations. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour explained to the Committee with very great clarity and persuasiveness the considerations which have induced the Government to draw up the schedule and yet not to apply it to Reservists or to the Territorial Army in the months before the outbreak of war. I make no complaint that the schedule was not applied to them at that time nor that during the early months of the war it was not applied to the Air Defence of Great Britain. At that time we all felt that men who had been trained for anti-aircraft work were engaged upon the most immediate and vital service. But the position is now no longer the same. What I am urging is that we shall try more scientifically to put square pegs into square holes, and round pegs into round holes, and that for Army purposes we shall call up an additional number of men who are not as vitally needed in industry as some are who are in the Army at the present time.
I ventured during the Debate on the Army Estimates the other day to give a number of examples which have come within my personal observation of cases where there were men in the Army at that time not engaged in specialist work who had been taken from the aircraft industry, and in particular from the industry which produces instruments of great precision required for aircraft. I made certain criticisms then of the way in which the comb-out was being worked. I have received a very considerable number of letters from people who read the gist of my speech, giving other examples, and I feel, in view of the not entirely satisfactory reply of the Secretary of State for War, that I should put forward the same six criticisms again during this Debate. I suggest that the proper criterion is that urged by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), namely, that in each case we ought to consider whether a man can make a greater contribution towards winning the war in the Army or in industry. This drawing of arbitrary distinctions between different industries and putting the age of reservation at 18 in some cases, in other at 21, and others at 23, seems to me to be an unsound way of dealing with the matter. There is one criterion, and one only. It is for that reason that I do 877 not agree with the argument of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) about what he said in regard to the coal-mining industry. I know well what splendid soldiers the miners made during the last war. This war is like a race, not a hundred yards sprint, but more like a long cross-country race. Not only our endurance but the very size of the Army which we can maintain depends on the size of our export trade.
§ Sir H. Croft
I do not put this problem as one requiring an immediate answer. But what is the most important, that we should have an effective trained Army to defeat the Germans in Holland, Belgium and Rumania as well as in Norway, perhaps before the end of the year, or maintain our export trade and our home fires for the coming winter? This is a question of time. It is vital to have the trained men. That is the point that I tried to make. I know all the difficulties, but do not exclude the whole mining industry from participation in the Fighting Forces of the Crown.
§ Mr. Molson
My hon. and gallant Friend and I are not very far apart. We are only emphasising different aspects of the problem. As the Minister of Labour said, what we have to do is to hold the balance even between the Army and industry upon which the Army itself depends. In the second place, the comb-out which is now slowly taking place is intended to be just one single comb-out and not to be applied later when men reach the age of reservation. I cited cases of a boy who had been engaged in the aircraft industry, a highly skilled worker who patriotically joined the Territorial Army before the outbreak of war. He has not been combed-out because he is not yet old enough and, under the present system will not be combed-out when he reaches the age of reservation. That is surely wrong. Thirdly, I believe it is wrong that this matter should be left to the choice of the man to decide whether he wishes to stay in the Army or go back to his own industry. Fourthly, it should apply to non-commissioned officers as well as to men. Fifthly, and above all, I think that in this matter the Minister of Labour or some body associated with him should be the final arbiter, and not the Army authorities.
878 I regret the suggestion which the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) made that the reluctance of commanding officers to release these men is due to their being batmen or something of that kind. The difficulty is much more deep-seated than that. The men who are skilled men in industry and are required back by their employers are exactly the men who make the best soldiers and whom officers are most anxious to retain. That is the crux of the whole matter. I think that on further reflection the hon. Gentleman would not wish to suggest that the difficulty which the Army puts in the way of releasing these men is due to anything else than a concern to retain men who are doing good work in the Army and a natural reluctance to have to lose them and to train others.
Although I am urging that there should be a release of skilled men, I agree that the strength of the Army must not on that account be reduced. There are certain classes of the community who could be called upon to take their places. In the first place, I would urge that the registration of boys of 18 should take place. In the anti-aircraft defences, some of the listeners who are being retained for the present as skilled men indispensable for operational reasons could be replaced by boys, especially country boys and perhaps boys from the Highlands, whose faculties are so much keener than those of older men who have been for some years in industry. It would be possible to train in a very short time some of these boys to be superior to the men whom they would replace. In the second place, I would urge that the garage industry has not yet made the contribution to the Army which might be expected of it, largely because of the strange reluctance of the authorities to accept the services of some of the men who have volunteered. We have all received a memorial from the garage industry asking that something should be done to allow a greater issue of petrol for pleasure motoring in order that that industry may not be killed.
That is not the right approach to the question. Armies now are largely mechanised, and on each occasion when a country is invaded by Germany the mechanised divisions lead the way, and there is unlimited scope for men who are skilled mechanics. They could take the place of some of the men who have been 879 engaged in the manufacturing side of industry, including the aircraft industry and the manufacture of lorries and motor cars. There was a remarkable case the other day of a man aged 34 who is managing director of a large concern which runs garages in East Anglia, after going through an apprenticeship in engineering. Despite his volunteering for service in the Ordnance Department of the Army, after seven months of war he is still unable to obtain work. Cases of that kind make me feel that skilled men can be released and that men who are not urgently required for our industries should take their places. In the third place, there is the building industry, which is now so much depressed. I feel that my Noble Friend was right when he said that an industry of that kind, which is not likely to revive during the war, should be called upon to make a contribution in the way of skilled men.
The size of our Army and the magnitude of our war effort depend upon the industry of this country being able to produce the armaments that are so urgently required. It is also necessary, if we are to carry on our economic warfare against Germany and the policy of pre-emption in South-Eastern Europe, for us to have foreign exchange. Some of our operations have already been restricted there because of our lack of foreign exchange. We have had a clear and comforting description from my right hon. Friend of the work of his Department since the outbreak of war. The calling-up of the different classes has been a masterpiece of efficient organisation, but I share the general concern that has been expressed by many Members at a certain tone of complacency and satisfaction which was apparent throughout my right hon. Friend's speech. I do not feel that there is any ground for a feeling of that kind. I hope that the country will realise that in the months that lie before us an effort will be required greatly exceeding anything we have contributed in the past.
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Horabin (Cornwall, Northern)
The Minister told us something about the Government's man-power policy and the task that is to be 18 months ahead. That is a long-term programme, but we want to know what is to happen in the next six months. I want to raise the short- 880 term problem, which has been mentioned by a succession of speakers since the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) first raised it. Now that fighting has begun in earnest and the front on which we are facing the enemy has been extended, greater supplies of armaments and munitions will be called for. This output of raw material depends upon the effective use of man-power. Both before the war and since the war broke out I have been critical of the Government's organisation of our war effort. While I have been critical of their effort, I do not wish to belittle the individual work of the various Ministers. If we judge their efforts by a comparison with what was done in the last war, I admit that since last September the progress they have made is impressive; but if we compare our actual war effort after eight months of war with our potential war effort, with the full effort of which we are capable, a wide, disturbing gap yet to be bridged is revealed.
To-day we are spending on our war effort at the rate of approximately £1,800,000,000 a year. Most economists agree that we can extend that effort to something like £3,000,000,000 a year, so really at the moment we are not much more than half-way towards our full effort. Yet we are able, surely, to make more efficient use of our man-power than Germany. That is probably our greatest economic advantage in this war, but until we are doing it we are not winning this war. It is vital that we should do this quickly, because we began this war where we left off in 1918. Right from the outset this war is being waged as a total economic war. The enemy has his manpower fully organised and we are forced this time, therefore, to do in weeks what it took us years to do in the last war. Germany is already, as I said in the Debate on the Ministry of Supply, spending at the rate of £3,000,000,000 a year on her war effort because she has fully organised her man-power and her woman-power from the outset. Where we to-day, with little more than half the population of Germany, have, after eight months of war, more than 1,000,000 men unemployed, the Germans have an acute shortage of labour.
If the Committee will allow me, I should like to give some details of the German use of man-power, because I think we can usefully apply some lessons that we can 881 learn from them. the Germans have this acute shortage of labour in spite of the employment of women not normally employed in industry—since the outbreak of war 2,000,000 of them who were normally at home have been put into German industry—in spite of the labour imported from neighbouring countries like Italy and Hungary, and what is probably more important, in spite of a considerable lengthening of working hours in Germany. Moreover, whole categories of workers not normally employed in the production machine, like one-man retailers, shop assistants and so on, have been forced into the German production machine. In Germany there is an acute shortage of labour to-day because every available hand is already employed in producing goods for war purposes, and the Nazi Government want to produce still more war material. Between 1934 and 1938 the number of workers employed in Germany rose from just under 16,000,000 to about 21,500,000; it rose by the enormous total of 5,750,000 workers, and the majority of them went into the armament industry. Then, of course, Germany has the enslaved populations of Austria, the Sudetcnland, and the Czech Protectorate to call upon. In Austria the number of workers employed increased by 540,000 between March, 1938, and May, 1939; in the Sudetenland by 180,000; and in the Czech Protectorate, between March and May, 1939, approximately two months, by 67,000. In addition, to-day Germany can take from Poland approximately 2,000,000 Polish workers without interfering with Polish production; and now, of course, she has the Danish population to draw on as well.
It is by this ruthless use of her manpower for war purposes that Germany to-day is able to spend at the rate of £3,000,000,000 on her war effort. We, as I said, can increase our war effort from £1,800,000,000 a year to at least £3,000,000,000, and the French can increase theirs from somewhere about £1,000,000,000 to £1,500,000,000. In other words, while Germany is already almost at the peak of her war effort at a little over £3,000,000,000, the Allies, England and France together, can increase theirs by the overwhelming total of more than £4,500,000,000 a year by the efficient use of man-power; and, of course, the Empire comes in on top of that. But how are we to do this? To 882 my mind, there is a long-range problem, the problem the Minister of Labour dealt with to-day, and there is a short-range problem. It seems clear that during this summer we shall be engaged in a deadly-struggle with Germany on the land, on the sea and in the air, and that means that there will be an insistent and increasing demand from all the Services for more and more supplies. That is the short-term problem—how to organise our man-power quickly so as to provide those additional supplies in time. It can be done, and it can be done in time. The quickest way of all, to my mind, is to send as many of our fighting men as possible as quickly as possible, to France, so that the French can release more and more of their skilled workers from the line. The machines are waiting for those men in the industrial parts of France, and that will give the Allies the quickest increase in their war output.
Then, the Government in this country should make a quick survey of the whole of our available labour at present engaged in industry and of the whole of the productive machines available—the census referred to by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies). That would show the productive capacity in this country here and now. It would show, I believe, that the greater part of our total productive capacity in this country at the present moment is still employed on other than war purposes. Such a survey, at any rate, would enable the Government to assess what part of our productive capacity can be used for war purposes. To free man-power and machines for the purpose of winning the war means that civilian consumption must be ruthlessly cut to the bone. There is no room for luxuries, or semi-luxuries to-day. The strict rationing of the civilian population in Germany is due not so much to a shortage of raw materials as to the determination of the Nazis to use every available ounce of productive capacity for war purposes; and surely the democracies are as capable of sacrifice as the Germans in defence of their freedom and civilisation. The morale of the British people has always thriven on sacrifice and facing up to the facts. Such a ruthless cutting of civilian consumption will, of course, entail much unemployment during the transitional period. Surely the answer to this is that many of the processes used in producing for civilian consumption can 883 be quickly adapted to war purposes. I think the Government should face up to this situation by doing exactly what the Nazis do, and that is by paying the workers full wages during the re-training period. That is a cheap price to pay for getting the additional output of munitions we shall quickly require in time for them to be of use for our men in the field.
War supplies must have first call upon the whole of our productive capacity. I agree with the hon. and gallant Member opposite who said that export trade must come second. Exports cannot be cut, they must, in fact, be increased, because without exports we shall perish. The sacrifice must be borne, as it will willingly be borne, by the civilian population, who must and will accept ruthless restrictions of their consumption. In conclusion, I am not going to say much about the long-term programme, because from what the Minister has said to-day I believe that is largely in hand. It is essentially a programme of factory building and the building of machines with which to equip those factories. It involves bringing workers from outside the productive machine—from distribution, women from the home, black-coated workers—into that machine and training them for the purpose; and that, I believe, is what the Minister has in mind. They must be trained, of course, not in tens of thousands, but in hundreds of thousands. For this purpose the training centres of the Ministry of Labour, as the Minister admitted, are wholly inadequate. They will have to be trained, as he told us, by industry itself, in the way the Germans are doing to-day. Since the war broke out the Germans have already trained more than 500,000 people in this way and what the Nazis can do surely we in this country can do still more effectively. We are faced by a determined enemy, a whole people organised and equipped for total war, but I do not fear for the result. Victory will be ours because our determination to win this war will enable us, once we have made up our minds to do it, to do in months what it has taken the Nazis years to achieve.
§ 7.51 p.m.
§ Sir Ralph Glyn (Abingdon)
I am sure that the Committee will agree fully with a great many of the remarks of the hon. Gentleman, and especially with what he 884 said about the export trade. The Committee were also, I think, impressed by the Minister's speech to-day, and the fact that the man-power position is working out with increasing speed and energy. There is one thing to remember, and it is that the Germans are, so to speak, always three jumps in front of us. We should never forget that; also, we should never give ourselves too much comfort by too much thinking about the last war. Comparisons of that sort are highly dangerous. We have to think about the present position and what is likely to be in front of us in the immediate future.
There are two points which have not been raised to-day and which are, I think, of increasing importance from the point of view of morale. We cannot disguise from ourselves the fact that, as our man-power has been organised, the more patriotic and gallant men who answered the request to join the Territorials now find themselves in some cases in an inferior position to men who have been called up more recently. The circumstances that have led to that position are that the Government altered their policy and suddenly demanded the doubling of the Territorial Army, irrespective of the fact that there was not equipment with which the men could be trained. It is useless to call men up unless you have the equipment to train them. That brings us back to the point, which many hon. Members have made to-day, that it is essential in this war to have at least six or seven men in the workshops to keep the Army supplied. When the right hon. Gentleman talked about the target at which the War Cabinet had aimed being our total strength, his phrase, of course, must include the number of men in industry to keep the other men in the field.
It is often forgotten that the rate of fire by mechanical arms is at least five times greater to-day than it was in the last war. The Bren gun, and quick-firing field guns and anti-aircraft weapons, are designed for extreme rapidity of fire. It is useless to arrive at a situation where you can transport your weapons if you have not the ammunition to use. I do not think that people appreciate the tremendous strain imposed on the workshops and on transport by the necessity of actually getting the ammunition to the gun. All these matters are, I am sure, present to the minds of the Chief-of-Staffs Committee and to the minds of 885 Ministers, but, in the reserved occupation system that we adopted, there are undoubtedly many cases of misfit. It is the business of the Army so to adjust things that the right men are drafted from one unit to another. That is in process of being carried out. An experienced fitter it must be remembered, is doing work which is just as valuable as, and perhaps more valuable, when he is with a mobile workshop in the field, than he might be doing at home, and it would be useless to swap a man from the British Expeditionary Force back to a workshop here, only to take another man from a workshop here to a mechanical workshop with the British Expeditionary Force overseas. These matters can be adjusted by commonsense methods, and by not calling up more men than are necessary, and for whom there is equipment, as well as by recognising that a field Army, as indeed the Fleet and the Air Force, involves an enormous number of men in the workshops at home.
In regard to the Territorial Army, I know that it is now absorbed into the main Army, but you cannot alter the facts from a moral point of view. I know cases, and we all know cases from our constituencies, of two brothers, one of whom answered the appeal of the Government to join the Territorials and the other of whom did not. The wife and family of the first man are now dependent upon the allowances paid. The brother who refused to join finds himself in a very superior position. His wife is able to buy all kinds of things, and their children are better off, because their father did not answer the request that was made for his services, in training himself for the struggle ahead. Such a position cannot be right. We may fence with the thing in our minds as much as we like, but we cannot alter the fact that, deep down in many homes in this country there is a feeling that something is wrong somewhere with a system that can permit that kind of thing. How we are to get over it is a matter for the Government to decide. All of us must try to assist in our constituencies and in our own way, but I am convinced that we cannot be satisfied as long as there are such discrepancies in the homes of this country. The brother who did not answer the call is, I will not say profiteering out of the 886 war, but is leaving no stone unturned to get the utmost he can.
Then there is the question of trained men, either in the workshop or in the field. As the Minister very truly said, they are equally important and essential. In regard to trained men in workshops, we have to remember that there are bottle-neck industries which have assumed tremendously important positions. The Committee probably realise that you cannot use an aeroplane unless instruments of precision are in the aircraft. You must see to it by means of your man-power organisation that the people in the factories are turning out those instruments; otherwise the distribution of the machines is held up. It is not the slightest use speeding up unevenly. The progress of your war potential must be so planned that each part makes its contribution in time. Anti-aircraft weapons are coming forward, but there are many instances of shortage of skilled labour in skilled trades ancillary to the making of the actual gun. This is a matter in which trade unions ought to be taken into much closer collaboration with the Service Departments. They are far more able than anybody else to advise means by which to get young men from the universities or the high schools of the country, and to have their mind directed to the idea of going into those highly skilled trades. There is a very great shortage in some of the factories which are turning out those specialised instruments.
While the Minister of Labour cannot organise elaborate camps for training, and nobody can expect him to do so, a very great deal more could be done by far closer collaboration between the Minister of Labour and the Board of Education so as to help county council education committees. The attention of boys and girls of school-leaving age should be called to this matter so that they can be directed into a training centre.
§ Sir R. Glyn
I am very much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. I know of instances where technical institutes in some of the big cities could very well be extended by this treatment and assistance could be given to boys and girls to get into those trades.
There is one other matter which I wish to raise; I am afraid it is controversial, but hon. Gentlemen opposite must be patient with me. It is a question which I know arouses deep feeling on both sides; and therefore in what I say I shall choose my words, and I trust that hon. Members will realise that this is a matter which must be ventilated. In the North of England and in Scotland there are many unemployed persons. Nearby there is Northern Ireland under one form of government, working in harmony with the Ministry of Supply and other Departments here. In Southern Ireland there is a different situation. We have a Dominion there which is not at war with Germany. There is a German Minister still in Dublin, and the whole atmosphere, whatever it may be, is certainly not 100 per cent. with us in this war. There are also in this country very efficient Irish foremen who are engaged in all kinds of work under contractors, and a good many of these people seem to have a magnetic effect upon other Irishmen who come from Ireland. Go where you like in the North of England, and indeed in all parts of England, and where you find an Irish foreman you can be sure that in his gang there are a good many Irishmen. I have no prejudice against Irishmen as individuals, but I feel that some inquiry should be made into the habits that some of these men have of working for a certain period until they qualify for unemployment benefit and when so qualified, instead of continuing to work, a cousin or some relative arrives from Ireland and takes on the work while the first man who has qualified for unemployment benefit obtains that benefit. That is something which is going on and which I think ought to be considered and inquired into.
§ Mr. G. Griffiths
I may be very dense, but I would like to point out that if a man is unemployed and the Employment Exchange tell him that there is a job for him and he does not take the job, he cannot get unemployment benefit.
§ Sir R. Glyn
I am aware of that, but the fact remains that in a good many cases a man gives up his job and another one comes from Ireland and takes it, while we have a good many unemployed in this country who could do that work. The hon. Gentleman may not agree with me, but I feel that the position in Eire to-day is abnormal, and something should be done in order to regulate the position. There are more men from the South of Ireland who have joined the British Army than people realise, but there is also a large number of men who come over here and take work which would otherwise be very well done by some of our unemployed people.
My last point is one that is uppermost in the minds of many of us and about which we should like some reassurance—
§ Mr. G. Griffiths
May I once again interrupt? I am interested in this second Irishman whom you have been talking about. I would like to ask who invites him over for the job, and also where is the job?
§ Sir R. Glyn
Where contracts have been given and where the foreman is an Irishman, you will find that there is a regular flow of Irishmen to take on jobs. It must be left largely to the foreman to engage the men. These men do come over from the South of Ireland and take on work which, in my opinion, could be done as well by British men. The other point I want to mention is this: We must all be aware that the policy of the Germans has been by infiltration and by propaganda to prepare a way for their future actions. It has been realised by the reports which we have received that already in Norway the Germans, somehow or other, were able to operate antiaircraft guns almost as soon as they got into that country. Clearly the guns did not go with them; they must have been brought there in advance, and they occupied important strategic positions. In some of our industries there are factories doing work of vital importance, and it must be the business of the Minister of National Service as well as the Minister of National Security, the Home Secretary, to see that there is a very careful check to ensure that we are quite sure of the credentials of those who are employed in our factories. We are an unsuspecting 889 people, and we believe that other people have the same nice feelings as ourselves. We must realise that Nazi Germany is utterly ruthless, does not recognise truth from fiction and will adopt any tricks through its agents by means of sabotage and what is commonly known as the Fifth Column.
I am sure the Minister will support me when I say that we have been extremely fortunate in being able to utilise in the chemical and other industries a number of refugees from abroad who have quite honestly and genuinely made a great contribution to our war effort. I want to be quite sure—and I know there is not an hon. Member present who can say that he is sure—that there are not in this country some of those who have come here in the guise of refugees and who may perhaps be working constantly endeavouring to upset our war effort in our factories and workshops. This is a matter which can best be dealt with by the organisation of the trade unions. I believe that it is through their patriotic ideas that the best and quickest means can be found of spotting any of these individuals who are working in our factories for subversive ends. It is essential that we should not lose sight of the danger which may be in our midst of persons operating in positions of trust where at a given signal they can do considerable harm. This is not a question which can be put in the category of a sort of nightmare. It is something which has been done in almost every instance where the Germans have operated. Sometimes we in this country are in danger of not recognising how important it is to ensure that every key position is held by somebody upon whom we can rely.
The Minister should be congratulated on the speech which he gave to-day, and I am glad that there has been no comparison between the unemployment in this country and the lack of unemployment in Germany. There is unemployment in every sane country—there always has been, and always will be—and the fact that we have a reserve of man-power and an organistion to use that man-power sensibly means that we shall win through to victory if we remove what I believe to be feelings which are bad for the morale—feelings of suspicion and of unfair treatment. That can only be got rid of by the Trade Union Council, employers and the Government recognising that they 890 must collaborate in order to bring industry to that pitch which is necessary to enable us to win the war which is based on industrial effort.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Mr. George Griffiths (Hemsworth)
I agree with the hon. Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) that all the people in Great Britain who are unemployed should be provided with employment before there is any importation of workers from outside, but I do not agree that the Minister of Labour and the Employment Exchanges are as slow as he seems to think. I find them to be pretty quick. They will not allow a man to give up his job so that someone else may have it while he draws unemployment benefit. If a man leaves his job he cannot get benefit for six weeks, and if there is a job offered to him during that period, he cannot get anything if he refuses it. I do not think there are many men who throw up their jobs in Ireland and come over here expecting to get benefit. Irishmen are not that green; they have not dropped off a Christmas tree.
The hon. Member for the High Peak Division (Mr. Molson) has given a new picture of the Minister of Labour. The Minister used to be known as the "Spring man," because when we asked about the regulations which had been promised, he always used to say that they would be produced in the Spring. Now the hon. Member for the High Peak Division has stated that the Minister of Labour is a comforter—that is a Biblical name. I listened very attentively to the Minister of Labour. One would have thought, listening to him, that there was not a man or woman unemployed in Great Britain. He was in a delightful mood. No one would have dreamed that 1,200,000 people were out of work, the great majority of whom were longing to do their best in this struggle.
I rise to bring forward two specific cases. The hon. Member for Abingdon spoke of the brother who volunteered and the brother who stayed at home. I have a case to bring forward. I have written to the Minister about it, and a month ago I got a reply saying that he is thinking about it. He is still thinking about it. He is not much of a comforter to the man concerned. This man is able-bodied, but lost a leg, as a result of an accident, and has a cork leg. He cannot 891 get work anywhere. He pleaded at the Employment Exchange for a chance to go to one of these centres, in order to be trained. The people at the exchange answered that they could not send him. His wife came to me the other night in tears, and pleaded for something to be done. They are drawing public assistance. They have two children. The man wants to do something in this crisis, and there is no opportunity for him. I told the Minister that I would bring this case up; and I ask him now, across the Floor of the House, to see to it. I know that he is too busy to find a needle in a haystack, but the wife of this man wants the same chance of a little security as other men's wives have.
I come to another case, which I might describe as being a little bigger. It is the case of some miners in my division. There has been an outcry about people in London, in the South, in Worthing, wanting coal. People have been sitting with their feet in the fender, wanting to know why there is a scarcity of coal. Because they made a slip some 10 weeks ago, some men in my division are being victimised, not only at their own pit but all over the county of Yorkshire. These men are able-bodied coal-face workers, who want to produce coal. The Minister of Mines says that he wants an increase of 40,000,000 tons of coal this year, in order to assist in winning the war. These men are in a reserved occupation, and cannot get a job at anything else. In Britain to-day—not in Germany—there is in the mining industry the Hitler of starvation for these men and their wives and children. An inquiry should be made into this matter. No manager of a pit, no coal owner, should be able to say, "You shall not work." At this pit other men are fetched in, to be employed, while these men and their wives look on.
I ask the Minister of Labour to investigate this case, and to see that these men get work. I had a letter from one of the men the other day. He said, "I thought we were fighting the dictators; fighting for freedom." What makes my blood boil is that these men are stopped, not only at that pit, but at every pit in my county. When they go to a pit the manager says, "I want colliers; where do you come from?" They say they are from Upton. He says, "We are not taking on Upton men." I do not intend going 892 further, but I hope that the Minister, if he does not possess the power—and he has just said across the Table that "Comforter" is a powerful name; it is a consoling name—will pass this matter on. The men who are working at the pit will not stand for this sort of thing much longer—and they are producing something between 2,000 and 3,000 tons of coal in the 24 hours. There will be a cessation of work unless something is done about these men. I hope the Minister will deal with this case as quickly as possible.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Viant (Willesden, West)
I shall not detain the Committee for long, but I, like my hon. Friend the Member for Hems worth (Mr. G. Griffiths), would be very pleased if the Minister of Labour could give those for whom I speak this evening some measure of comfort. During the last two months there has been something like an incessant procession of people coming to this House to see quite a number of Members in respect of their being unemployed. Day after day they have come to this House and interviewed various Members, and they have put this point to us very forcibly. I am speaking now of those who are connected with the building industry. They have said, "We are given to understand that as a nation we are engaged in a life and death struggle, and in spite of that we find ourselves, as skilled men, unemployed, and a number of us have been unemployed for five or six months." A number of them apparently obtained employment in other industries, but they have been deprived of that employment because they have been reserved for the building industry, and have been compelled to continue to draw unemployment pay. Most of us are aware of the fact that there is very little chance of the building industry developing while the war continues. In the first instance, there is not sufficient timber in the country to supply even the Government's requirements, and substitutes need to be found. Therefore, these men reasonably claim that seeing that there is no possible demand for their labour in the building industry, they should be given the opportunity of obtaining employment in some other industry.
As long ago as November last I suggested to the Minister of Labour that these conditions were bound to develop and were inevitable, and, as a result of 893 experience during the last war, that he might make arrangements with the unions concerned in order to see that the labour of these men was used in other directions. I gave an instance, in which I played a part myself during the last war, of putting these skilled men on to the manufacture of munitions. I speak now of carpenters and joiners and men of that kind. We put them on to machines, and in the course of a few days they were capable of working milling machines. They also went on to lathes, turning shells, and they carried out a hundred and one different types of engineering work. They were welcomed by the engineering trades because they knew that as soon as the war was over these men would go back immediately to their own industry and would in no sense of the word be a menace to the skilled craftsmen in the engineering industry. I had hoped, the war having been carried on for eight months, that something of that kind would have been adopted, as I presumed last November that the Minister of Labour was in a position to accept such a suggestion. I thought that he would ere now have developed the idea. I felt sure that we would have at least improved the morale of these men by giving them that type of encouragement. What is more, as long as we have over a million unemployed in the country we shall have the utmost difficulty in persuading the people that things are as serious in the sense that we want them to feel, that each and all have to play a vital part in winning the war.
I suggested in the course of the Debate on the Air Estimates that a large number of these unemployed joiners were capable of adapting themselves to working on light metal. A large number of the shop fronts in our large cities and towns are to-day built and fitted by joiners who work on this light metal, and who can readily adapt themselves to aircraft work. They are awaiting the opportunity. I learned only a few weeks ago of a number of these men who obtained employment in an aircraft factory, but who, when they went to the Employment Exchange to got their books, were informed that they could not be allowed to go into that industry because they belonged to the building industry. It is no use keeping men in the building industry if there is no work for them to do. We ought to be prepared to turn them over to where 894 they are needed and to use their skill to the best possible advantage. It is unfair to keep these men drawing unemployment pay when their services could be used for the benefit of the community and they could be of material benefit to themselves. Therefore, I make no apology for again raising this question. All that I ask is that the Minister shall explore this avenue. There are thousands of men who are capable of giving a good return to the community, and, what is more important, we ought to improve not only their morale, but, by reducing the number of unemployed, persuade the country that we are sincere in our intentions to carry this war to a successful issue.
§ 8.28 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel H. Guest (Plymouth, Drake)
I will not intervene in the Debate for more than a few minutes this evening, but I want to direct the attention of the Minister of Labour to the question of the man-power available in the mining districts for coal mining. I know that this is touching on a point which is very near to the Department of Mines, but it does somewhat affect the Ministry of Labour. The hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. George Hall) said that the country has to provide this year, or at any rate in the near future, an extra 40,000,000 tons of coal a year to fulfil the national need. That is a big demand upon an industry which is partly demanded of its labour, and for which labour is required. The need for this production of coal is so great and vital to the war effort that I hope that the Government will closely consider the necessity of providing labour in the mining districts. We are finding that the lack of skilled miners and skilled technicians in the mines is conducive to electrical and mechanical breakdowns, and to dangers which occur through lack of technical skill. The nation must face the fact that, if the export trade of our coal is so vital for the future of the country's welfare in the conduct of this war, we must either send more miners back to the mines, or we must reduce the consumption of coal which is used for inland purposes. I think a possible amalgamation of both those methods might be employed with advantage to this country. We have large commitments to our Allies overseas, and also as regards the bunkering 895 of ships, and the production of coal is an absolute necessity for the carrying on of this war.
This Debate has ranged so widely—one side demanding the needs of the Army to be met and the other side those of industry—that the task of the Minister of Labour is by no means easy. I think we may congratulate him on the steps he has so far been able to take, but I hope he will not neglect this one vital industry. The hon. Member for Aberdare drew attention to the fact that men over 60 could be brought back to employment in the mines. To some extent that is possible, but he will remember that technical mining to-day requires young and active men to carry out its strenuous work. Therefore, it is technical youth which is required and which must be returned to the mines.
There is one other point with regard to general industry upon which I would like to touch. It has particular reference to skilled men in the ordinary engineering trades of this country and in those trades which are busily manufacturing munitions. We are short of tool makers and machine tool setters in the engineering trade. We are short of men for capstan and automatic machines, skilled instrument makers, assemblers and moulders. These men are of vital importance for the provision of equipment and the various gadgets which are required in modern aircraft production, and some step must be taken to enable them to come back and see that our planes and our Air Force are being equipped in a proper manner. The Minister said that 33,000 men had come back from the Army. That number is spread over the wide range of industries, and an even greater number must be spared from the Army if we are to keep the equipment of our troops up to date.
I suggest that commanding officers in this country and overseas should, where they can find men with peculiar technical skill which cannot be diluted, release them so that they can come back to industry. There was a sound suggestion made by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), who said that firms engaged on the production of munitions might be willing to take into their factories, as 896 learners, a considerable sprinkling of men who could be trained in a particular trade. I think firms would be glad to accept such an arrangement. There was one further suggestion made by the hon. Member for Aberdare which I welcome as a very courageous step. It was that as luxury and semi-luxury trades must suffer in a time of emergency, the Minister of Labour should see that the least essential trades are those to suffer and that as you go up the scale of necessities and requirements for war service, the trades which provide the necessities for the troops shall be staffed, maintained and looked after.
§ 8.37 p.m.
§ Mr. David Adams (Consett)
The Committee is greatly indebted to those who have organised this Debate on man-power, and we are certainly indebted to the preliminary speaker and to the Minister, whose colossal difficulties and burdens associated with war measures are probably unexampled among those of the Ministers of the Crown at the moment. He bears these burdens, however, with the sang-froid and stern commonsense that we might expect from such an officer. We have learned something about the labour potential available in war-time. As I understand the position, the Armed Forces will obtain, altogether, some 3,750,000 men, leaving 11,500,000 male workers for industry. The industry with which I am particularly engaged, that of the metal trades, required 3,023,000 for the conduct of its work. The Army has withdrawn, as conscripts, 1,800,000 men, and it is clear that that situation has not been adequately dealt with by the Ministry. It would require an influx into that industry of 500,000 men per annum. We know that the field for labour has not been adequately tapped, and we are advised that there are no fewer than 4,000,000 competent girls and women available for industry. While the proportion of female labour to male labour in 1938 was 42 per cent., if available women and girl labour were fully utilised, it would rise to 85 per cent. On the North-East Coast, there was a serious shortage of labour. I can give the Committee the exact words of the chief local organiser for the "Engineering Journal" of the Amalgamated Engineering Union this month:In spite of overtime and the relaxation agreement, there is a lack of skilled labour 897 in the industry. Every effort is being made to recall men from less important work to that of national importance, but even this is far from meeting our needs.That, I presume, must be the situation, not only on the North-East coast, but in other parts of the country also. When we learn that there are over 1,000,000 unemployed, there is something wrong in such a situation, and it must be dealt with in a more specific manner. It is interesting to note that the executive committee of the Amalgamated Engineering Union have asked their special subcommittees to get skilled men working outside the engineering trade to come back into the industry, and they are advertising for these at their own expense as a patriotic move. They have not had so far a fair response. The replies they have received are that wages in the engineering business are too low, the security is not good, and that they might jeopardise their superannuation. That is a position in which the Ministry of Labour has a wide field for the application of its special powers in order that skilled and semi-skilled men in other industries might be called out, subject to their obtaining the necessary security to which they are entitled if they vacate their existing employment. On the North-East coast there are certain engineering establishments which are giving instructions in machine and fitting shop procedure, machine tool operation, assembly, gauging and machine drilling, which are the customary duties and tasks of the rank and file in the engineering trade. All these are now being offered broadcast and without apprenticeship to those who are prepared to go into the factories and play their part in view of the great scarcity of skilled men. It seems to me that this patriotic outlook on the part of certain engineering establishments, which is warmly endorsed by the engineers concerned, ought to be extended to all factories where such training and tuition can be given.
There is a further point—the tardiness with which exemptions are obtained from the Services. If they are to be given, they should be given more quickly. There is the passage of a week and in some cases, weeks before a man is finally released. That is an ill-managed procedure, and certainly further adjustments are required in the Schedule of Reserved Occupations. The transference from non-essential to essential industries ought to 898 be more prompt and much more specific. There are some complaints also which ought to be eliminated and perhaps a mention of them will suffice. The engineering union complains of a breach of agreements. There are two classes of dilutees. There is first alternative labour—where a labourer works on his own account at skilled work. He receives a turner's wage of 46s., plus a war bonus of 20s. There is the second class of labour, called supplementary labour, which is only semi-skilled and is being paid by certain firms on Tyneside only 35s., plus the bonus, in spite of the agreement and understanding that for this class of machine labour the wage should be 42s., a difference of 7s. I have received serious complaints, and I think that this cause of discontent should be removed. I hope the Minister will make the necessary inquiries to have this class of labour adequately remunerated. The response of certain employers, I am advised, is that these persons are not so qualified as the people to whom they pay a wage of 42s. The reply of the engineers is that either supplementary labour should receive after six weeks' training, which is adequate for these small operations, the full wage of 42s., or that their posts should be filled by other people. When certain firms keep to this custom there seems to be no very good reason why all firms should not conform.
There is a further complaint that shipwrights and tankers are doing engineers' work in certain yards. If that is so, it only requires to be pointed out to have it remedied. There is also a further complaint of slackness due to a lack of steel. We are suffering from our short-sightedness in closing our steel works at Jarrow and at Middlesbrough and elsewhere, and certain figures have been quoted during the Debate which are a sorry commentary on the position so far as steel, one of our primary necessities in war-time, is concerned. In Germany the production is 23,000,000 tons, against our production of 16,000,000 tons. We hope that this position will rapidly improve. I ask that these points shall have the consideration of the Government, for there is no section of the community, there is no part of the labour forces of this country, which is more anxious to play its part to the fullest extent to ensure the rapid and cer- 899 tain victory for the Allies than the engineering and shipbuilding trades of this country.
§ 8.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Gledhill (Halifax)
It is not my desire to detain the Committee for more than a few moments, but I should like to refer to two small questions. First, there is the question of the Central Register. I understand that under the register a large number of names have been accumulated, but actually very few appointments have had to be made. I submit that the whole conception of this register is wrong. Originally the idea was to build up a list of professional and technical men who might be available for war work in industry or in Government Departments. I submit that these people might have been obtained quite as well through the ordinary professional and technical associations or through a regular employment agency. The result of the present arrangement under the Central Register has been that all those people who felt they would like to do war work of some description and offered themselves to any Department have been referred to the Central Register at Montagu House. This means that the Central Register is cluttered up with a large number of names of people many of whom are unsuitable for the particular job they may be called upon to do when the time comes. I have a number of instances which I will not waste the time of the Committee by quoting. One, in particular, is the instance of a sales manager of a large firm who was earning quite a considerable sum of money; he registered himself under this scheme, and was asked whether he would take a job at £400 a year; he was asked to remove from London to Birmingham, he was not offered any removal expenses; and the people who sent for him were very surprised when, naturally, he turned down the proposition. I challenge the Minister to prove that appointments made under this scheme of a Central Register are any better made than they would have been through the normal channels. I challenge him also to prove that there is any real value in the Central Register from the point of view of the national emergency.
The other point I would like to raise, in connection with the Control of Employment Act, is whether the Minister has any 900 power to prevent an employéfrom changing his designation as regards his occupation. I advised my right hon. Friend some months ago of the case of a young fellow who was called up and who, on finding that his particular occupation was not reserved until the age of 23, went to the Employment Exchange and was able to change his designation so that he came under another group reserved at 21. I submit that that is wrong. It is not fair to the young fellows who have joined the Army if, by means of a wangle of this kind, a young fellow can get out of his obligations. I submit that the question of reserved occupations ought to be carefully looked into so that those who have registered under a definite occupation cannot change it to suit their own purposes.
§ 8.53 p.m.
§ Mr. John Morgan (Doncaster)
I should hesitate to intervene at this hour were it not for the fact that I heard the Minister say that he would read the Official Report carefully in the morning, and that therefore any points made in the Debate would not pass unobserved by him. The course of national feeling in regard to offering services in connection with the war has changed from one of offering oneself to waiting to be told. There was a phase when everybody was anxious to do what he could and to offer himself for all sorts of purposes. That phase was closed. The Minister is now in the very fortunate position of having a whole community just as eager to do what it can to serve, but waiting to be told what to do and how to do it. I sometimes feel that hon. Members are in a similar position. We might welcome a tribunal which would examine us and find out what we were worth in the national effort. I understand there is some kind of inhibition with regard to that, and that it has been ruled that hon. Members cannot help in any special way. But from the House downwards there is a general desire on the part of people to make themselves as useful as possible in the national effort.
This leads me to refer to the Central Register. My information is that the Central Register has been hampered by the fact that, when it finds men and women suitable for executive and professional offices, it still finds that cousins and relatives are getting into Ministries and similar places at the present time, and that these Departments and so on are being baulked of services which they 901 would get if the test was one of fitness for the job and not relationship or any other sentimental reason. I understand that the Central Register has been definitely hampered in its work by a continuance of the patronage system to a degree that is not justified at the present time or countenanced by general feeling.
Not only do individuals want to know what they should do, but whole areas, industrially equipped parts of the country, are waiting to be told. During the last fortnight, I have received representations from the civic heads of the constituency which I represent pointing out that Doncaster is an industrially equipped area that is practically untouched by the war effort at this time, and that apart from coal mining in the immediate vicinity and railway works, there is no evidence whatever of any demand being made by the central authorities, and the Minister of Labour in particular, for its services industrially. Representations have been made in an attempt to incite the interest of the powers-that-be in the facilities which are available, but so far without result. I understand that a survey has been made by the authorities which has shown an unemployment figure of 3,000 or 4,000 for the area, but that equally the ascertainment has disclosed that there could be made available in that area up to 9,000 people from industries and businesses that may be regarded as unessential in wartime. There is, therefore, a reserve of about 9,000 people who could be actively employed in some definite form of war work. I do not refer necessarily to munitions. The area is one that looks rather askance at munitions work being brought in for fear of its being wound up as soon as the affair is over and the district being to that extent industrially demobilised. But it is felt that there should be some more executive interest in the industrial lay-out, as it were, of this industrial area. It is felt that there has not been sufficient official interest in the co-ordination of the industrial activities of this important industrial area. It strikes me that just as individuals are now waiting to be told, so well-equipped and well-furnished industrial areas such as Doncaster are also waiting to be told and to have their resources co-ordinated and mobilised in an effective way.
I know that I cannot in this Debate refer to agriculture, except to the extent 902 that the Minister has to handle, through the Employment Exchanges, a volume of men who have to be allocated to jobs on the basis of fitness to serve at this time. There are passing through the Employment Exchanges at this time men who, when they fill up forms, can say, "I was a painter yesterday, a year ago I did a certain amount of bricklaying, and I once did a turn in an engineering job." It will also be disclosed, if inquiry be made, that many of these men started life on a farm or in a village. I think an inquiry should be put on the forms as to whether these men have had such agricultural experience or upbringing, and that if so, they should be registered as available for this work. It cannot be overlooked that another 2,000,000 acres of agricultural land are to be put under cultivation. I suggest that just as the Minister will be finding out whether a man has any capability for engineering as a result of his working experience, he should make careful inquiries as to whether a man has had any kind of rural experience in order that we may get the maximum output from people who have had some experience of this work and who, with a little adjustment, could do the work satisfactorily. I feel that, generally speaking, in spite of the sparse attendance at this hour, the Debate has been useful. I finish on the note on which I began: people are waiting to be told rather than offering their services, and therefore, the onus of responsibility has been shifted to the Government and the Minister of Labour, in particular.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Sir Jonah Walker-Smith (Barrow-in-Furness)
It is interesting to observe how wide is the range of the approach to this problem which has been adopted by the various Members who have spoken. It indicates quite clearly how many-sided and complex is the subject of man-power. I feel quite sure that many of the facts submitted to the Committee by the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) were more truly and firmly founded than one to which I should like to refer. He submitted that it was customary in war-time contracts for agricultural labourers, who had had no experience whatever in the building industry, to leave their agricultural work, take a trowel into their hands for the first time in their lives and take their place as brick- 903 layers on Government contracts and earn £7 a week. I cannot believe that any self-respecting agricultural labourer would suddenly leave the work to which he had been attached for the whole of his life and venture into the realms of the building industry in that adventurous spirit. I cannot believe either that any self-respecting contractor, no matter what the conditions of his contract, would employ a man of that kind and pay him £7 a week. Neither can I believe that the trade unions are so singularly badly organised and lacking in self-respect that they would permit their craft to be brought into disrepute by circumstances such as that. It seemed to me that it was an unnecessary and irrelevant observation by the hon. and gallant Gentleman, and I sincerely hope that, if there is, as I gravely fear, no foundation in fact for it, an opportunity will be taken in the near future to repudiate it.
The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), who also made a trenchant speech, seemed to allocate a very great deal of blame to the Minister of National Service for almost everything that was being wrongly done and for omission to do many things which might be better done in regard to the utilisation of manpower. It might well be, as he seemed to think, that it would be desirable to have a Minister responsible for all circumstances and conditions attaching to the utilisation of man-power. I can well believe that it would be good to have a Minister placed in a position of responsibility of that kind. But it must be remembered that, if any particular Minister has to shoulder such a very heavy burden of responsibility, with that responsibility there must be a certain amount of power of authority and control. As it is, the power of control over the allocation and utilisation of labour, as far as it is at present exercisable by the Minister of Labour, is confined within certain definite limits. There are other Departments of the State whose policy and administration can very gravely and seriously affect the question of man-power, although over that administration and policy the Minister of Labour, at least at present, has no effective control. There is, for instance, the Treasury, 904 which has very complete autonomy in certain phases of Government administration and policy, and each of the Service Departments, if not entirely a law unto itself, can at least claim a considerable amount of autonomy. So it goes right through the whole of our governmental system, and there is scarcely a Department of the State which is not affecting in some respect, in the administration of its affairs, the man-power of the country.
I should like to put forward a suggestion which might be taken into consideration in the first place by the Minister and later perhaps by an even higher authority. The observations that I propose to make have reference to the utilisation of man-power during the war and in the transition period immediately following it. I know quite well that there would be a certain amount of impatience expressed over the consideration of anything which concerns our post-war problem which was not compatible with the conduct of the war and which would not make a useful contribution to that end. Certainly I would not do so, and I think I can show that a consideration of the solution of post-war problems is by no means incompatible with vigorous conduct of the war. My suggestion is that there should be a Department of the State specially charged with responsibility for dealing with man-power to such an extent that it might be directed into the most useful channels for the purposes of our conduct of the war and that it might be most efficiently and most economically used to that end.
I would also suggest that that particular Department of State should be charged with the duties of what one might term a Ministry of Reconstruction for the purpose of anticipating the problems, and providing a solution to the difficulties, which will arise in the transitional stage from war-time to peace-time conditions. In my approach to this particular problem, quite naturally, I think, I am inclined to view it from the point of view of those particular industries with which I am most familiar and best acquainted. I shall use the building industry for the purpose of indicating the respect in which there might be very material improvement in organisation and utilisation of our man-power during the war. I shall also use the engineering and shipbuilding industries to indicate the desira- 905 bility of considering the problems which will arise in the transition period immediately following the war.
So far as the building industry is concerned, there is man-power to the extent of 1,000,000 men. In the building industry there is a considerable amount of unemployment, and there is a greater and graver unemployment impending such as has already been referred to by the hon. Member for West Willesden (Mr. Viant). Immediately on the outbreak of war there was a sudden stoppage of all civil building. There was a natural hesitancy on the part of building owners to proceed under the somewhat difficult conditions which arose early in September. The further cause for the cessation of civil building was that the Treasury was seeking to impose on local authorities and private enterprise certain serious embargoes which would prevent local authorities from raising loans and would prevent—
The Temporary Chairman (Lieut.-Colonel Sir A. Lambert Ward)
The question of local authorities raising loans cannot possibly come under this Vote.
§ Sir J. Walker-Smith
With great respect, I was about to submit that if the local authorities had been permitted to raise their loans, and if there had not been these serious embargoes on the raising of mortgages by the ordinary building owners, civil building would have proceeded and it would have enabled a large amount of building labour to be employed. It is in that respect, in direct reference to the employment of manpower, that I raise this question dealing with the sudden cessation of civil building. There is, no doubt, a very considerable amount of building work required by the Government for war purposes directly and indirectly connected with it, but the total amount of work required for that purpose by no means compensates for the cessation and almost complete stoppage of civil building. In this Government building there is much which might be criticised in the efficient utilisation of man-power. I do not propose to go into details of the inefficiency which goes on and the lack of economic utilisation of man-power, except in passing to say that it is due to their faulty design, to their unsatisfactory lay-out, to the imperfect conditions of contracts, to 906 their uneven distribution of contracts in various parts of the country, and to their unsatisfactory location of sites for various Government building purposes. That particular phase of the unsatisfactory nature of the utilisation of man-power—the location of Government building—has previously been referred to, and I wish to endorse the views which have been expressed in regard to it. The location of this Government buiding has been such that not only is it extremely difficult in the matter of economic utilisation of man-power to carry on construction and direction of these buildings, but it is also extremely difficult in the utilisation of man-power efficiently to man and run these large factories and organisations. To that extent there is very much indeed which is a subject for criticism. If my suggestion were carried into effect, there would be a supervising and controlling authority in the person of the Minister of Health, who would have a special branch—
The Temporary Chairman
The Ministry of Health does not come under this Vote. The hon. Member must confine his remarks to matters which are dealt with in this particular Vote, namely, that for the Minister of Labour and National Service.
§ Sir J. Walker-Smith
In the utilisation of man-power, and so far as it concerns not only the present powers of the Ministry of Labour but the additional powers that I am suggesting should be vested in the Ministry of Labour, I respectfully submit that this subject is directly connected with the proper economic and efficient utilisation of our man-power. My suggestion is that the Minister of Labour, vested with sufficient power and authority, should see to it that every scrap of man-power attached to these respective industries is utilised in the first instance for the direct conduct of the war. He should see to it that each of these industries then makes its proper contribution in man-power to His Majesty's Forces. There will always be a surplus. It should be the duty of the Ministry of Labour, vested with full powers, to see that the surplus, whatever it may be, not required immediately for the conduct of the war, should be utilised to the fullest extent possible in efficient and useful civil work so that there would be a very minimum of labour having 907 need to have recourse to the dole. That is a very important duty which might very properly be allocated to a Minister of the Crown.
In regard to post-war problems which will arise, no one would suggest for one moment that matters of this kind at the present time should deflect the mind of the Prime Minister or any member of the War Cabinet. But there are many whom a Minister of Reconstruction or the Minister of Labour, exercising the powers of a Minister of Reconstruction, could bring to his aid to assist in considering all the problems that would arise and preparing adequate solutions for them in order that there might be an immediate and proper utilisation of the man-power as it would then be found to exist. There will be the problem of reabsorbing into industry the whole of the demobilised Forces of the Crown. There will be the problem of finding useful industrial work for the enormous numbers of men who, in the meantime, will have been transferred to war work which will come to a conclusion. There will be no better industry for acting as a spearhead to secure industrial revival than the building industry. I am particularly anxious that the Minister of Labour should take full account of all that concerns the building industry so that to the fullest possible extent it is maintained in being during the war in order that it may be in a condition of expansibility to undertake its now axiomatic function of acting as a spearhead to industrial revival.
Just as the building industry will be one capable of expansion, there is another and more serious problem in regard to those industries which will not be expansionist at the end of the war, but will be very seriously contractionist industries. I am thinking of engineering and shipbuilding. I am particularly interested in one town where almost 100per cent. of the population is entirely dependent upon shipbuilding, armament and munition works of one kind and another. I am bound to remember that during the last war one great armament firm in that comparatively small town was employing 35,000 people. Suddenly, at the termination of the war, that number was reduced to 5,000, and the amount of trouble that came, the confusion and the suffering which were endured by those who had 908 rushed in to assist in munition work during the war, were very serious and painful for me to contemplate. I submit that even now it is not too much to ask that someone should be charged with the duty of considering these post-war problems, in order that at least some preparations might be made to transfer the enormous numbers who have been engaged in munition and armament work to useful industrial work immediately the war is finished. I submit my suggestion for the consideration of the Minister, and, if it appeals to him, I hope for the consideration of higher authorities that it would be right and proper that the Minister should be charged wtih the additional responsibility and that he should have additional power vested in him commensurate with that additional responsibility.
The Temporary Chairman
What the hon. Member is now suggesting would require legislation, which is positively out of Order on a Supply Vote.
§ Sir J. Walker-Smith
In any case, I would like to suggest to the Minister that within such powers as he possesses, with such influence as he can bring to bear, and within the scope of his present authority, which I think is insufficient, he should set up a separate branch of his Department to consider the two problems to which I have referred—in the first place, to secure the most economic use of man-power during the war and to maintain every industrial organisation in being to the fullest extent that war conditions will permit; and in the second place, to consider the problems that will arise at the end of the war and to consider what solutions will be available when that time should arise.
§ 9.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Marshall (Sheffield, Brightside)
The hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Sir J. Walker-Smith) has directed our minds to the post-war problem. If I may expand that theme, I would like to state how difficult to a great town post-war conditions can be. I remember vividly the state of Sheffield after the last war. Sheffield played a great part in the victory of this country. It produced munitions in enormous quantities, especially steel of all descriptions, and it was generally recognised as one of the great munition centres of the country. It was left at the end of the war with a population of 30,000 which had been im- 909 ported into the city for munition work, and it had that enormous population to provide for. The rates soared up to 22s. in the £, and we were spending £1,000,000 in public assistance. It is only during the last two or three years that that burden has been relieved owing to the fact that Sheffield is once more making vast quantities of munitions. Unless something is done in the after-war years to relieve the great cities of such enormous burdens we shall go through the suffering and hardship that obtained after the last war. The hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness has done a useful piece of work in directing our minds to that great problem.
I rise to put one or two cases before the Minister which illustrate some of the difficulties that many of us have experienced in trying to get skilled men out of the Army. I know that where a sudden expansion of labour has to take place, as it had to do at the beginning of the war, initial mistakes will be made, and such mistakes are almost inevitable. This country, however, has not yet got to the peak ofits production, and before we reach it a great expansion of industry has to take place. All kinds of individuals, and probably women, will have to be introduced into industry, and in that case we can see the absolute necessity for skilled men. I am perturbed about the ruthless way in which skilled men have been taken into the Army. No appeal and no reasoned case that we can put forward seem to be able to induce the Ministry or the Army authorities to take these men out of the Army. There is a species of skilled men called roll turners. A roll turner is a very highly skilled man, and it takes seven or eight years to train him. I am not sure what the reserved age is for roll turners.
§ Mr. Marshall
There are only a few thousand of these men in the country, and that reserved age of 21 ought to be reconsidered. I had the case of a young man who was just 20. He was nearly out of his time and in the full possession of his powers and training. He was taken into the Army, and although there was a shortage of labour in the industry and the master rollers were crying out for skilled labour, and employers, as one hon. Member said, were stealing men from one another in order to carry on their work, 910 all my attempts were unavailing to get this man out of the Army. A roll turner is a key man, a great deal of other labour depending upon his activities, and I suggest that the Schedule of Reserved Occupations should be looked at closely with the idea of keeping out of the Army these men, whose services we shall require in greater numbers as the war progresses. That man is in the Army still.
Take another type of worker—rollers. Rollers are the men who put the hot iron through huge rollers from which it emerges in the shape of rods, bars and the like. I know of a roller who was the ganger of a team, all the work of the team depending upon him. He happened to be an Army Reservist and, of course, has no grumble against the fact that he was taken into the Army straight away. He was 40 years of age, had had 20 years' experience, and was a worker of skill and judgment. That man, whose work was absolutely precious from the point of view that other men depended upon him, was ruthlessly taken into the Army. He left his son in the team which he himself used to supervise, and so we have the situation that the father, aged 40 and with 20 years' experience behind him, a brilliant workman, is in the Army, and his son, working in the same team, is not in the Army because he is in a reserved occupation. That is reducing things to ridicule. There ought to be some reconsideration of the position, in order that these skilled men may be got out of the Army. There are thousands of motor mechanics who have been ruthlessly taken into the Army and are not following their trade there but are digging trenches and doing all sorts of things. Anyone whose motor car has broken down on the road and who has tried to find out what is the matter will know the value of a motor mechanic. But these mechanics are still being taken into the Army and not used there for the work in which they have been trained, and the country is infinitely the poorer because they are in the Army. I should like to see the Minister more active in the direction of making it easier to get such men back into civil life working at the trades in which they have been trained. If the expansion of labour which has been talked about is to take place—and we know that it will have to if this, country is ever to reach the peak of pro- 911 duction—every skilled man we have will be required. There will be delay and mistakes if we do not make the fullest use of our skilled men, and their release from the Army ought to be expedited.
§ 9.34 p.m.
§ Wing-Commander Wright (Birmingham, Erdington)
I should like to refershortly to the question of stealing labour which has been mentioned by many speakers this afternoon. In the Birmingham district things have got to a very serious state indeed. The Ministry of Supply are inducing a large number of firms to go in for the manufacture of armaments, and in itself that is a good thing, provided it is done in an organised way; but there are a large number of firms in that district—some of them with shadow factories—who are employing skilled men but are not producing the goods. It is not an easy thing to turn over from the manufacture of, shall we say, cycle parts to shell fuses, and it is a long time before those firms acquire the knowledge which enables them to avoid various pitfalls and to get production out of their factories. What they do is to find out a firm which is doing the work successfully and then proceed to steal their skilled men, tempting them away by the offer of fantastic wages. That, of course, merely stops the firm which knows how to make the articles from producing those articles, while it is a long time before any good effect is seen from the firm which has stolen the workmen.
I have written to the Minister of Supply and to the Minister of Labour on this subject, over a period of 12 or 18 months, and I have not been able to get any satisfactory reply. I feel that what we are doing, apart from hindering the production of parts which we so badly require, is definitely to start inflation. Fantastic wages are being paid and, of course, the money presently will be spent. The Minister said this afternoon that this is not the fault of the workmen but is a matter of controlling the employer. I most heartily agree with him. I am the last person to disagree with a. workman being paid a high wage, and no one could ever accuse me of adopting that policy, either on the Floor of this House or in any business with which I am connected; but there is a difference between paying 912 a workman the proper wage which has been negotiated by his organised trade union and paying two or three times that figure merely to take men away for temporary use in a factory. One knows that the employers in the latter case will not hesitate to discharge them the moment the war rush is over. I think the Minister should think seriously along these lines, and do something to stop this trouble before it goes any further.
The situation arises out of the absurd system of paying profits on costs. The employers do not in the least mind what wages they pay, because the higher the cost the higher the profit. A very unfortunate feature is that firms which have been trained for years to make these parts are paid very much lower fixed prices for the articles than the new firms who are coming into the trade. The excuse for this position, as given by the Ministry of Supply, is that the new firms cannot be expected to produce at the same price and therefore on their early orders they must be given a higher price during the period in which they have to learn the business. Their method of learning the business is to pay exorbitant prices for skilled labour from factories which are already producing satisfactorily, with disastrous results in both directions. My own belief—I have put this suggestion forward many months ago—is that if the Government had agreed with the trade unions upon a fair price to be paid in the construction of any particular form of armament and they had said to the contractors: "When we come to cost your production we shall allow wages only at the price agreed between the Government and the trade union," we should never have seen these absurd rises in the price of labour.
§ The Chairman
I quite follow the reasons which lead the hon. and gallant Member to bring these measures forward in this Debate and how they are related to the Vote which is under discussion, but I think he has made his remarks appear to relate more to matters which concern the Ministry of Supply than to matters which concern the Ministry of Labour. Perhaps he will bear this in mind in making his further remarks.
§ Wing-Commander Wright
I bow to your Ruling, Sir Dennis, but the matters are rather closely interlocked. I was saying in support of my argument that something must be done to control this bring- 913 ing of labour under what is nothing more or less than a system of bribery between one firm and another. I was suggesting what I thought was a means of automatically preventing it. My suggestion is that the moment the manufacturer realises that these excess wages have to come out of his profits and will not be paid by the taxpayer plus an extra profit, he will immediately cease offering bribes. I offer that suggestion in all earnestness to the Minister because, if a stop is not put to this practice, we shall have a serious hold-up in production, certainly in the Birmingham district, and at the same time we shall help very much to start inflation.
§ 9.41 p.m.
§ Sir Joseph Nall (Manchester, Hulme)
I agree with a good deal of what my hon. and gallant Friend has been saying, but as time is short I do not wish to elaborate that particular question. I will confine myself to mentioning one or two points which deserve attention at the present time. The first is in relation to reserved occupations. What is the Ministry doing to ensure that a man who is exempt from military service because he is in a reserved occupation, continues to pursue that particular trade? Is there any proper check that a man who is reserved at the time he is called up, continues to work in that trade? I rather suspect that there is not. Also, if he does remain in that occupation is there any check to ensure that he works regularly in that occupation and not merely part-time? I raise this matter not only apropos of the workman himself, but in relation to the employer as well, because at the present time there is under consideration a most important question which I cannot discuss in detail now. The Committee will be aware, however, that Lord Portal and some other people have been appointed to go round the coalfields to see how coal production can be increased. I was amazed to see that one of the points to be considered was how many derelict coal mines could be brought into production again. It is all very well to say that in some districts there is 6 per cent. official or technical unemployment among coal miners, but, against that, in other districts there is an absenteeism of 30 per cent. and some mine-owners are opening their pits only four days a week.
§ Sir J. Nall
I will not give the name of the colliery but it is in Yorkshire, where there is 30 per cent. absenteeism.
§ Sir J. Nall
I am not blaming the men. Elsewhere I understand that collieries are open only four days a week, which is wrong.
§ Sir J. Nall
Yes, voluntary. I am not putting this forward from one point of view. I am saying that the two matters require investigation by the Ministry. On the one hand, there are certain districts where absenteeism is very bad, and, on the other hand, there are owners who are not making the pits available for the men. I am not casting aspersions on anybody. I am not referring only to coal mines; the same thing applies in engineering. When men are placed in a reserved occupation, it is incumbent upon both employers and workers to see that the occupation is available to the men and that the men pursue that occupation.
§ Mr. George Hall
It is very unfair to make a statement, such as the hon. Member has made, about voluntary absenteeism without mentioning the collieries or the engineering works where it takes place. I suggest that the Committee should insist upon the places being named.
§ Mr. Molson
And the cases in which it is said that the collieries are not open. I think we ought to know.
§ Sir J. Nall
Hon. Members know that it is very easy to deflect these matters into arguments about particular cases. What I am concerned about is the plain principle. I am asking what steps the Ministry are taking to ensure that in the case of a reserved occupation, first, the employer is offering the employment indicated by the reservation, and second, the reserved worker is, in fact, being employed in that occupation.
§ Mr. Ridley
What opportunity has a Member of the Committee of protecting the Committee as a whole against a statement which appears to have no warrant at all, to the effect that 30 per cent. of the workers in the mining and engineering trades are practising absenteeism?
§ The Chairman
Hon. Members must find the opportunities for themselves. There is nothing out of Order in what the hon. Member has said so far.
§ Mr. George Hall
What protection has the Committee against inaccurate statements being made by hon. Members?
§ The Chairman
Other hon. Members are in just the same position in saying that the statements are inaccurate, as the hon. Member is in saying that they are accurate.
§ Sir J. Nall
If hon. Members will bear with me they will realise that I am not stating that the whole of an industry, the whole of an area, or the whole of the men in a particular works are practising absenteeism to the extent of 30 per cent. I am asking what steps the Ministry are taking to ensure that the employer is making work available for the workers reserved in the industry and what steps they are taking to ensure that those reserved workers are, in fact, putting in full time at their occupations?
§ Sir J. Nall
Yes. I ask that, because there are industries where work is not available throughout the week for reserved workers, and where individuals are not disposed to work 100 per cent. of the time available. I say that, in coal-mining in particular, before there is any suggestion of opening derelict mines, the Ministry ought to go very carefully into the question of whether the owners are making work available to reserved workers and whether the reserved workers are, in fact, putting in full time at their reserved occupations. As regards men who are not reserved and who are called to the Colours, there is no question of absenteeism or of the time that they put 916 in at their job. They put in 100 per cent., seven days a week. If hon. Gentlemen who have interrupted will, in fairness, consider this, they will realise that if the man called to the Colours is required to put in full time seven days a week to the Armed Forces, it is at least fair that those in industry should put in full time for their four, five, or six days a week, whatever may be the number of days worked in their occupations.
§ 9.50 p.m.
§ Mr. J. J. Davidson (Glasgow, Maryhill)
I would not have taken part in this Debate, had it not been for the very strange charges made by the hon. Member for Hulme (Sir J. Nall). As one coming from Scotland, and representing an industrial area, as the Minister well knows, I can at least say that the working classes in the shipbuilding, engineering and mining districts of Scotland, not only because they desired it themselves, but because they needed the very low wages that were paid, have always been anxious to put in the maximum effort, even in peace-time apart from this general war effort. I have never heard of any of those industries in regard to which the charge could be made that, even in one area or one firm, 30 per cent. of volunteer absenteeism took place. This question ought to be examined carefully by the Minister. I trust that some of the miners' representatives, if I may offer advice as a humble back bencher, may pose a question to the Minister in the near future asking him whether he has investigated this charge. I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman who has made the statement will, at least in confidence, give that information to the Minister, and enable him to make the fullest examination and investigation possible.
§ Mr. Davidson
I go further and say that when the hon. Member for Hulme referred to soldiers who had to do their duty 100 per cent., he ought to have recognised that in time of war a Member of Parliament should do his duty 100 per cent., and should give the names of employers who are not, he alleges, doing their full share in the national war effort. If an hon. Member of this House has information that shirking of duty is taking place—and that is what the hon. Member's statement means—he ought to be 917 prepared not to make a statement in a roundabout manner, which cannot give satisfaction to one side or the other, but to stand on his feet and, in a straightforward manner, name the employés, and the firm or employer, who are not contributing their share to the general war effort. It is something to be deprecated by the whole Committee that a statement of such a character should be made by an hon. Member without ample proof being placed before the Committee, and before the Minister in order that a considered and complete reply may be given to the charge.
There is only one point I want to raise with the Minister. Hon. Members have mentioned various areas. The Minister knows full well the tragic position that Glasgow has occupied in the unemployment lists for many years. The finest shipyards of the country were closed down, to the national detriment, by keen rationalists, who were more concerned for their directors' fees and profits than for the national interests. Shipyards which, in the early part of the war, would have been a great asset to the nation were closed. Men were thrown out of employment on the Tyneside as well as on the Clydeside. All over the country rationalisation took place and men were thrown on the unemployment register. In Glasgow we have paid millions of pounds yearly in public assistance relief to some of the most skilled men that Scotland has ever produced. We had men, whose ability as engineers and shipbuilders was known all over the world, standing in Employment Exchange queues, because of the short-sighted policy of the Government in the past. I ask, therefore, whether the Minister has any plans for the employment of such people in the future?
We in Scotland have often claimed that we are suffering from neglect and I would suggest to the Minister that a committee should be set up to deal with this problem in Scotland, instead of operating from London. The committee should be formed of Scottish trade union leaders, employers, and Scottish Members of the House of Commons. I hope the Minister will carefully consider the matter so that something may be started now. I also ask him whether it is possible, even at this late hour, to set up a committee in Scotland to deal with the question of reserved occupations. We have had 918 very great difficulty in making representations on behalf of men who would, we consider, serve the nation much more usefully in their occupations than in the Army. If a committee of Scottish representatives were set up the Minister would be relieved of some of his burdens. I do not want to refer to particular cases but I know of a man from my constituency who is 43 years of age and is serving in France with the Royal Army Service Corps. This man is a very capable engineer who served his time in the industry and he has written to me to say that he is merely doing odd jobs such as looking after hutments, keeping them clean, and sweeping up. I could spend much time reciting cases to the Minister but I will content myself with asking him to consider setting up such a committee as I have suggested so that the man-power of Scotland can be utilised in a more efficient manner.
§ 10.0 p.m.
§ Sir Percy Harris (Bethnal Green, South-West)
Everyone who has listened to this interesting Debate will agree that we were justified in choosing man-power as the subject for discussion. Great Britain and France have the man-power if properly organised to destroy the evil thing which we are up against. I think we have arrived at the most critical period in the war, and every man and every woman will be wanted to take part in the struggle. The Minister of Labour is a very old friend of mine. There was a time when we used to sit cheek by jowl—
§ Sir P. Harris
—and used to co-operate. If he will allow me to say so, I shall never forget my old friend even when I find myself in disagreement with him. He has two great qualities. He has industry. No one will question his industry and his devotion to his Department. He has courage—the courage to defend sometimes a cause which is unpopular. When he has to face strong criticism of his Department he digs his feet in and is adamant. The Department over which he has so skilfully presided for the last four and a half years is changing its psychology. During the last four years—I do not say it unkindly—he has had to explain away unemployment and refute criticisms. Now the problem has changed fundamentally. There is going 919 to be plenty of work to be done, and his task is to get the labour to do it. The war is gradually changing the industrial face of the country, and his task is to adjust the national man-power to war conditions. In the last few weeks he has organised a census of three industries—engineering, motor vehicles and aircraft. With great respect, he is several months too late in taking the census. During the last war we had a monthly census. We ought to know exactly what the manpower in these essential industries is, and what their needs are. These three trades, according to the figures of last July, form only about one-tenth of the insured population, that is, 1,500,000 out of 14,250,000 in the industries which should have been included. What we want to know is not those who are employed on war industries but those who might be. We have reason to know that there is a large amount of overtime. Many of these scheduled industries are working at great pressure; there is much overtime and there is a great strain on the men.
I would like to know what is included in the comprehensive term "engineering." It covers a great number of industries. Since the last war many new industries have come into being in which there is a large amount of skilled labour of an engineering character but which is not engineering in the general acceptance of the term. There is constructional engineering. Since 1933 to 1938 the number engaged in this occupation has increased by 106 per cent. Anyone will have noticed the large number of men, particularly in big cities like London, Liverpool and Manchester, who are now engaged in constructional engineering. Owing to the slump in building, there is depression in this occupation, and a great number of constructional engineers, highly skilled workers accustomed to using metals, are out of work. The same applies to electric wiring, a trade which has very much developed during the last 20 years, and which, since 1923, has increased by no less than 250 per cent. How far is the man-power in that occupation being diverted to war purposes? There is then that comprehensive section in the Ministry of Labour returns called the "metal industries," which are not separately specified. They have increased 920 by 60 per cent., and at the present time, no fewer than 267,000 persons are employed in this section. Is the best use being made of the man-power of these trades?
I want now to refer to other industries, apart from engineering, most of which are suffering from the effects of the war. The building trade, for instance, is an industry which has developed enormously during the last 20 years, and over 1,000,000 men are now employed in it. There is no more public-spirited and patriotic Member than the hon. Member for East. Woolwich (Mr. Hicks), and I am glad that the Minister went out of his way to pay a tribute to the building trade unions for what they have done to help the Government in such matters as camps. But here is an industry in which the masters and men are passing through a very lean time. As the war drags on, unemployment in that industry will rise to great figures. One of the tragedies of the last war was the depletion of the skilled workers in the building trade, with the result that in 1918 and 1919, when it was necessary to launch out with a forward policy in housing, the skilled labour was not available. Here is a case for leadership and foresight.
Incidentally, I am not sure whether the best use is being made of the labour actually employed in the building industry. The other morning I was walking down Whitehall, and behind the boards I saw the great new building, which is to house the Ministry of Labour, I believe, gradually going up. I cannot help feeling that this is a job that might very well be postponed until after the war. In the last war, the County Hall building was in very much the same state of construction, and it was postponed by the Government until after the war. The building in Whitehall is employing not so much bricklayers and stone-masons at the moment, but engineers and mechanics, and it is using those very valuable materials which are so badly wanted in shipbuilding, iron and steel. I suggest to the Minister that he might very well get into contact with other Departments and say to them that if it is necessary to use bricklayers, carpenters, joiners and workers in the trades associated with building, they should be used to build houses rather than construct luxury buildings for Government Departments, 921 which might very well be postponed until after the war. At any rate, the Government should set an example in the matter.
Another industry that I noticed in going through these figures which has very much developed during the past few years is that of entertainment and sport. I am not going to lay myself open to the charge that I want our hard-pressed and strained workers and visitors from the Front to be deprived of rational amusement, but there has been an enormous increase in the number of persons employed in entertainment and sport. In the last war racing was stopped to some extent. I am not going to suggest that it should be completely cut down, but it seems wrong that at a time like this, when every man and woman are required to be making their contribution to the war, dog and horse-racing should be going at full strength. Incidentally, dogs have to be fed, and so do horses. I do not know what my hon. Friend the Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) would say, whether cattle should go short of grain while horses should be well fed so as to keep up their form. I believe we are to be deprived of the Derby, one of the most popular of all sporting events, but ordinary horse-racing, I understand, is more or less going on at full blast. This is perhaps a small matter, but it is a symbol. The country must be led. It wants advice. This may make a very bad impression on our Allies and suggest that the country is not doing all that it can to put its full energies into the war.
We have had a good deal of talk to-day about the poaching of key men, sometimes by what are called bribery wages. It is a very difficult problem. I quite understand that the right hon. Gentleman, wisely, is going warily in dealing with the matter. You cannot blame the man who is offered a more lucrative job for taking advantage of it, but it is a serious question. It means in some cases delay and the holding up of important munition orders. Even Arsenal factories and dockyards, to my knowledge, are losing men because they are being persuaded to go elsewhere. I cannot entirely blame the employers. They are short of labour, and, naturally, they try to get it where they can. Nor do I entirely blame the War Office for recruiting every available man into the ranks of 922 the Army without too much scrutiny. But I blame the Minister of Labour. The responsibility is his. That is his job. We are giving him very great powers under the Control of Employment Act. What employers and employés want is leadership. It is not enough for him to sit comfortably in his arm chair and for employer and employé to knock at his door and say, "Will you stop me being offered better wages?" and push it off in that way. This is a vital issue. There is the very well-known example of the shortage of machine tools. There are comparatively few skilled men capable of making them. Some essential men are being drawn away to less important trades by manufacturers who do not know the national needs as the Minister does. The right hon. Gentleman must take a firm line on the subject and make up his mind what the policy is to be. It is leadership that the country wants to get employers and workers to co-operate and to prevent dislocation of industries by the action of certain other trades.
I was surprised that the Minister gave such inadequate space in his speech to training. He has spent a good deal of time dealing with the Ministry of Labour centres, and undoubtedly they were excellent experiments on a small scale. They were not even an attempt, and did not pretend to be a constructive contribution to industrial organisation. As originally conceived they were designed to deal with unemployment, and, according to the Minister's own statement, in ordinary normal times they accommodated only 7,000 men. After a whole year all that the Minister was able to promise as a result of the work was something like 40,000 trainees, a beggarly contribution to a very big problem. If there were to be satisfactory results, there must be co-operation from the Board of Education. Up and down the country technical and evening institutes are being closed, and many of their staff have been scattered in charge of their evacuees. Many institutes have been completely closed and depleted of staff. They present great opportunities with the experience of the staff and the excellent buildings available to train semi-skilled men to become first-class craftsmen to fill the important gaps in our industrial organisation. What is important is that they provide not only day classes but also evening classes, where 923 men working during the day could, in the evening, follow up their deficiencies by being given the necessary industrial training. We have an example of what can be done in the printing trade.
What is wanted is close co-operation between the Ministry of Labour, employers, employés and local education authorities. I think that when the Parliamentary Secretary comes to reply, he might give us some information as to what is being done in this connection. What men in the Army can learn in a few months in war time can be taught to others under pressure of war. The same, of course, applies to women. Compared with the last war the extent to which women have so far been employed is trifling. I fundamentally agree with the hon. Member who opened this Debate that so long as women will not be used to undercut wages, there is no possible objection which can be taken to the introduction of women labour.
I was sorry that the Minister dismissed so casually the question of agriculture. He rather naturally pushed the responsibility on to the Minister of Agriculture. As he is responsible for the Employment Exchanges he has an important share in the organisation to see that men who are unemployed or in industries which are not essential to the war are encouraged to look to agriculture, because it is badly in need of labour. According to the Minister, who gave some interesting figures, there are 2,000,000 men in the Armed Forces.
§ Mr. E. Brown
I did not intend to give that figure as the number in the Armed Forces. What I said was that 1,700,000 had registered, which is a very different thing, and that 300,000 had volunteered.
§ Sir P. Harris
I am glad the right hon. Gentleman has made that clear. It does suggest that between 1,500,000 and 2,000,000 will be in the Armed Forces.
§ Sir P. Harris
I am glad to know that. It shows how dangerous figures are. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of 1,700,000 who had registered since the Act and 300,000 in the Territorials. He did not mention the other Armed Forces, and in 924 jotting down the figures it was a little misleading—
§ Sir P. Harris
I am glad that that is made clear, because I was going to express surprise that the right hon. Gentleman should have given the figure. At any rate, there is a vast number of men now taken from the labour market and of men either enrolled or going to be enrolled in one section or another of His Majesty's Forces. The figure, whatever it may be, will grow during the next few months. There is, for instance, the recruitment of the new Pioneer Corps. It is reasonable to suppose that during the next few months we shall be taking over more and more of the line from the French in order to release men for the land work and munitions. We are taking on a vast responsibility in Norway. In face of that, there should be no unemployed among men or women, and we should now be at the peak load of our organisation. To make that possible there should be bold schemes and a new bias of the right hon. Gentleman's Department. There should be no lack of skilled or key men. Semiskilled men should be trained, and full use should be made of education. Most people expected that in the first six months of the war there would be a big pull on our man-power. We have gained seven precious months to organise our industrial potentialities.
If the great push had come early, it is not unreasonable to say that we might have been seriously short of many vital weapons and much equipment. It is not unreasonable to ask ourselves whether this Department has used these precious months to the best advantage. I am convinced that our men, every one of them, are willing to do all they can to help the national effort. I am not convinced that the Minister has anticipated all the problems which remain to be solved. I would have been tempted to do an old thing, to move a reduction of the right hon. Gentleman's salary, but for the fact that at a time like this, when the situation is so critical, we do not want to put the Committee to the ordeal of a Division, 925 and also we want to give him a second chance. We think that the right hon. Gentleman, who has listened to our criticism, will take a lesson from what he has heard and use the next few weeks to show more imagination and put forward more constructive ideas to deal with what is the most urgent problem of the country, the proper organisation of its man-power.
§ 10.26 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. Assheton)
I am sure the Committee will feel indebted to the hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) and his colleagues for having raised this subject this evening. My right hon. Friend the Minister is very glad that they have done so, because it has given him the opportunity of saying a great many things which for some time he has wished the House of Commons to hear. I am sure, also, that the Minister is very grateful to the hon. Baronet for what he said about him, and particularly for the suggestion that he should be given a second chance. I do not know whether that means another five years, like President Roosevelt—[Hon. Members: "Four years!"]. No, my right hon. Friend the Minister has just completed the fifth year of his term of office as Minister of Labour, and I do not doubt that he will easily see another five years out if he is asked to continue.
Among other matters, the hon. Baronet directed some of his remarks to building, and complained that the building industry was one which was suffering very much in the present emergency. It is only right to draw the attention of the Committee to the actual position in that industry. At present there are more people at work in that industry than there were at this time last year. There are, of course, a great many more at work than was the case a month or two ago, but that is only to be expected on account of the weather conditions then. A figure which I have here shows that there has been a decrease of over 30,000 in the unemployment in that industry as compared with a year ago.
§ Sir P. Harris
Is not that largely due to camps? Is not the building industry rather at a standstill?
§ Mr. Assheton
I entirely agree with the hon. Baronet. The Government have an 926 enormous building programme, amounting to more than £300,000,000, which is being carried out at the present time, and in order to do it a great deal of civil building has had to be suspended, because unless that had been done, there would not have been either the men or the materials for the programme. There are hardships in that industry, particularly in connection with some of the professional men—architects and so on. Unfortunately, when the Government are building camps there is not so much demand for architects as there would be for buildings of a more normal character. None the less, it remains true that the great majority of those in the industry are in good employment.
§ Earl Winterton
This is a matter which affects my constituency very much indeed. There is more unemployment in the South of England than there was in the last war. Is this not due to so many labourers coming into this country, with the result that builders and others are now unemployed where there was formerly great possibility?
§ Mr. Assheton
I really do not think that is the position. The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that his part of the world has for some years been free from serious unemployment in the building industry. It would be quite wrong to say that there had been any general influx into the building industry. There have been odd cases where that has happened. I really cannot believe that the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Sir J. Walker-Smith) was wrong when he held that the industry was well able to look after its own interests. It is not in their interests to permit such an influx to occur. There may be exceptions, but I think it is the general rule.
§ Sir J. Nall
Does my hon. Friend realise that the influx of men is not into the building trade? Does he realise what is the practice of the Department in the case of contracts with firms? The contract firms are engaged, on an order which they do not understand, and they engage labourers.
§ Mr. Assheton
We have a slightly different problem, because the hon. Gentleman was referring to skilled and not to unskilled men.
§ Mr. Assheton
They are in reserved occupations. I agree that a demand for building in new areas presents new problems, requiring the assistance and co-operation of the building industry in dealing with them. Progress with the coordination of the programmes of various Government Departments is not perhaps as good as it might be, but I assure the Committee that every effort is made to make it so. In the interests of workers in the building industry the Works and Building Priority Sub-Committee has been set up. During the last six months it has done a tremendous amount of work and has dealt with many criticisms such as the hon. Member for Hulme (Sir J. Nall) has made. All the Departments interested in the building programme at the present time are working together on this committee, to try to make sure of the utmost co-operation in the localities. I must not, however, dwell too much on the building industry, because I have a very large amount of ground to cover.
The hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green asked several questions. He asked whether we had been giving our attention to the question of training as fully as we might have done. My right hon. Friend the Minister made a fairly comprehensive statement with regard to training this afternoon, and I do not know that I can add very much to what he said. I would stress once again the main point which he made, that industry must, on the whole, train its own people. That is a point which is accepted, I think, by employers and workpeople alike.
§ Mr. Davidson
In view of the fact that the Government's policy in regard to war work is to give the contracts to the few very big building concerns, how can the average small building concern do anything in the training of young men for the future?
§ Mr. Assheton
I had passed from the building programme to training, but I think I may revert for a moment to that problem. Steps have been taken to spread contracts as far as possible. I would like to make it clear to the Committee that there are certain works which can be carried out only by very large firms—firms which are capable of doing both civil engineering work and building. That does not, by any means, apply to 928 the greater part of the Government s programme. The greater part of the Government's programme is spread over the country, and a careful record is kept of the amount of work in the hands of each contractor. If it is seen that the amount of work in the hands of one contractor is getting too large, steps are taken to see that no more work is given. I am not saying that the system is perfect, but we are doing what we can to spread the work as much as possible.
If I may now return to the subject of training, I was saying that in industry it is recognised that the main training must be done by the industry itself. It is not uninteresting to observe that during the 12 months which preceded the outbreak of the war over 100,000 men had found their way into the engineering industry alone. Where can those men have been trained? They have not been trained in Government training centres. They have been trained in the industry itself, and that is the best place.
§ Sir P. Harris
I agree with the hon. Gentleman as far as building is concerned, but it is common knowledge that before men can be skilled engineers they must have training.
§ Mr. Assheton
Skilled engineers can only be trained in the engineering industry. There is no possible way except by training in the engineering industry. I admit that a great deal can be done by Government training centres for the training of semi-skilled men. I do not know whether the hon. Baronet has had an opportunity of visiting any of these training centres. If he has, he will recognise the great amount of good work which they do. But none of the managers of these training centres would suggest for one moment that, at the end of six months, he could turn out a fully skilled man. The Government are giving their attention to the development of the training programme, and, as the Minister has already said, the number of people in the training centres is increasing. As a result of the broadcast by the Minister, and the Press campaign the centres were filled, and now a number of men are waiting to go to the centres as soon as they can. As soon as it is possible to find room for more, room will be found.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Guest
Will my hon. Friend deal with the suggestion which 929 has been made that men might be trained, on behalf of the Government, in private trades?
§ Mr. Assheton
It is very difficult to see that this is a problem for the Government. It is rather a problem for the employers concerned. If employers are able to train men in their own businesses, they are doing so now. Those who are not doing as much as they could, might well do more.
§ Wing-Commander Wright
Is not the Minister aware that one of the greatest troubles arises from the fact that when firms have spent time and money in training men, these men are enticed away by other firms who have no training facilities?
§ Mr. Assheton
That is a point which has not been overlooked. I will refer to it when I come to deal with the hon. and gallant Gentleman's remarks. The hon. Baronet asked about technical institutes. I am informed that there have been close consultations both with the Board of Education and the Scottish Department of Education recently in regard to training, especially for war production. They are just about to issue a circular on that subject to local authorities. The hon. Baronet thought that horse-racing should be suspended during the war—as a gesture more than anything else. I do not know that it is the Minister's duty to express any view on that subject. Horse-racing is still going on in France, at any rate.
The hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. George Hall) began the second part of the Debate by saying how desirable it was that these matters should be discussed. I am sure that we all agree about that. He spoke of the help that the trade unions had been giving. The Government are most conscious of that help, and are extremely grateful. Many trade unions are giving a great part of their time to work of this kind, which is invaluable.
There was a suggestion running through the whole Debate, rather on these lines, "The Government have planned; what is this plan?" My right hon. Friend pointed out that the Government had a series of what he described as targets. It is impossible to reveal what these targets are, so I am unable to gratify the 930 natural curiosity of the Committee. Those employers and trade unionists who have been in consultation with the Government recently with regard to particular aspects of the programme have, however, been given a great deal of confidential information in respect of their particular industries—information which can well be trusted to them.
The other main underlying point in the Debate has been the suggestion, "We have 1,000,000 unemployed; what is the Minister of Labour doing about allocating these people to proper tasks?" As far as I can see, those critics have proceeded on the assumption that the Minister of Labour can put men where he likes. I suggest that an argument based on that assumption is a false argument. The Minister has no such powers. We do not work on that system in this country. At present, we are working by agreement, because we think that the best way. I have noticed a suggestion in more than one newspaper lately—and there is something in it—that a certain number of unemployed, from which we can draw for our war effort, is not altogether a liability. We shall soon find it a great asset.
Many hon. Members have suggested that both in France and in Germany there is no unemployment whatever. I really think the Committee must recognise that that is a great exaggeration. Do the Committee believe that when the frosty weather was here a few months ago all over the North of Europe the building trade of Germany was not unemployed as much as it was here?
§ Mr. Horabin
Building for civilian purposes in Germany has absolutely ceased since the outbreak of war. There is no steel or other materials allocated for that purpose. The whole of the German population who can work are engaged in production for war purposes. Our argument is that there is also an increase of 5,500,000 in war industry.
§ Mr. Assheton
I think the hon. Member is in error. I saw the figures of the German building programme, and they are larger than those of our own Government building plan. Our Government building programme was for £300,000,000, and the German programme was for more than that. The 931 hon. Member will recall that in the frosty weather, building generally was brought to a standstill, and to suggest that under the same conditions there is no unemployment in Germany or France is not reasonable. We had it from M. Reynaud himself the other day that there were some hundreds of thousands of people unemployed in France at the present time, and I think the hon. Member should bear that in mind.
§ Mr. Assheton
I will. The reason is that we are coming to a time when there will be greater employment in this country than ever before, and our unemployed, such as they are, are a hidden reserve of strength and power for this country. That reserve does not exist in those countries where employment has already reached full capacity.
§ Mr. Loftus (Lowestoft)
Surely it would have been better to have employed that reserve power formerly so as to have had full equipment to-day?
§ Mr. Assheton
I am not here to defend what happened in past years, but I am saying what is happening now, and that the programme of the Government is proceeding apace. I do not know whether the hon. Member recognises that the building programme of the Government is likely to be £300,000,000. There are to be a lot of factories built and a lot of people will work in those factories, but until those factories are built they cannot be employed.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) complained of the lack of interest in the Committee on the question of man-power, and I can only say, from the point of view of the Ministry of Labour and National Service, the Debate has been a very interesting one and we have gained a great deal of information from it. I entirely agree with what the Noble Lord said about the agreements which have been entered into with various trades and his suggestion that the men should not be allowed to suffer after the war. It was a strong point and one upon which the Government feel very strongly.
932 I come to the question which was raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Erdington (Wing-Commander Wright), that of the poaching of labour. There is no doubt that a certain amount of poaching is going on and the Government deplore it as much as any Member of the Committee. I suggest to hon. Members on all sides of the Committee that this is a matter on which employers ought to get together and see that these things do not happen. It is a matter which certainly should be considered by employers' associations who ought to do what they can to avoid it, although I know it will not be easy to get anything done. The Minister of Labour has certain powers under the Control of Employment Act, and he has already exercised these powers in relation to the building industry. It may be that the time will come when he will have to exercise his powers in respect of other industries, and he will not hesitate to do so.
§ Mr. Davidson
Surely it is quite easy for the Government to intimate that they will penalise an employer whom they find poaching from another employer.
§ Mr. Assheton
I am not sufficiently of a lawyer to be able to answer that question. If the Attorney-General were here he would probably say that the Minister has no power to do anything of the sort.
§ Sir P. Harris
That is a rather serious statement to make. The House of Commons deliberately passed a Bill to give the Government power to deal with this problem. It is true that certain formalities have to be gone through, but is the Minister going to do nothing and to wait until the war is over?
§ Mr. Assheton
That is a wrong interpretation to put upon what I said. If I said anything to convey that impression, I apologise. The Control of Employment Act gives the Minister certain powers. He can prohibit advertising in the building trade, which he has done already, and he can also prevent the engagement or re-engagement of men by employers. His powers are, therefore, negative and not positive, and the suggestion that employers could be penalised is not one which can be supported by the present Act.
933 My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) complained that there was too much complacency, and he referred to the stirring debates on man-power which took place during the last war. I can only hope that the work with regard to man-power in this war has been done so much better that such debates are not so necessary as they were then. Although there may have been a great deal of criticism of a detailed character in this Debate there is general recognition throughout the country that the work of man-power has been done better this time. The application of the Schedule of Reserved Occupations is working well; it is a flexible instrument which can be varied from day to day, and is being constantly varied and altered as circumstances change. The hon. and gallant Member suggested that the balance between civil and military needs of the country must be maintained. Thas is a point which the Minister has made on more than one occasion. The hon. and gallant Member complained that gardeners were on the Schedule of Reserved Occupations and that some were at present tending carnations. I have this good news for him. Shortly all gardeners, except those growing vegetables, will be removed from the schedule.
The hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G Griffiths) recited two cases which need to be examined. I cannot give him an answer to-night, but I will do so, by writing to him, as soon as I can. The hon. Member for Halifax (Mr. Gledhill) made some comments on the Central Register. I think there is a certain amount of misconception about the Central Register, which it is not easy to clear up in a minute. It is not an employment register at all, but a list of people with certain qualifications who may be called upon by the Government when the Government want them. By far the greatest number of people on the register are already doing valuable work, and only a small number are unemployed. The fact that the Central Register has not placed all the people does not mean that it has not done its work well. It has placed thousands of people.
My hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) raised one or two questions about aliens being admitted to Government factories. I can assure him that the Home Office keeps a close 934 eye on these matters and will continue to exercise that careful supervision which they are at present giving. There is not time to answer all the points which have been put—
§ Mr. Assheton
I can answer one point put by the hon. Member. A reservation in one trade does not tie a man to that one trade. He is free to go to any other trade, and is only reserved from joining the Forces. Let me say this in conclusion. We will examine with the greatest care and attention all the constructive suggestions which have been put forward this evening by Members in any part of the House. I can assure the Committee that my right hon. Friend, the Minister of Labour, is in no way complacent, and that he is anxious and determined to examine every possibility for meeting a situation which is going to make the greatest demands ever made upon the man-power and woman-power of this country. Already as you have heard this evening a great deal has been done. We have had the most splendid help from both sides of industry, and I should like again to pay a tribute to the co-operation we have received from employers and trade unions alike. They realise, as we all do, that in this war we are all in it, and that there is an obligation on every man and woman in the country to do his best and to work his hardest. It is for the Government to decide how our resources should be organised. It calls upon some to fight and others to work.
In time of war the Government, representing the community, have the right to ask all citizens for their aid in whatever form will best help the country. As far as industry is concerned, it is the aim of the Government to achieve all that is possible on a voluntary basis, and this object, I feel sure, has the support of the Committee and of Parliament. The Government will not fail to use, and to use vigorously, all the powers which the House has placed in its hands, and it will not fail in its duty to come back to this House for further and greater powers if it is satisfied that it is necessary to do so in order to win the war. The country is united in its determination to bring the war to a victorious end, and the people of this country will insist that every step 935 which is necessary to be taken will be taken to achieve victory.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again," put, and agreed to.—[Mr. Munro.]
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.936
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.
§ Resolved, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Munro.]
§ Adjourned accordingly at One Minute after Eleven o'Clock