HC Deb 07 March 1940 vol 358 cc542-5
13. Mr. Ellis Smith

asked the Minister of Labour whether he will take steps to secure the release of men from the Armed Forces whose technical qualifications are being wasted and who are so urgently required in the engineering and allied industries and other industries catering for the export trade?

Mr. E. Brown

The intake of men into the Armed Forces has been regulated since the outbreak of war by the Schedule of Reserved Occupations, which ensures that men from the most important civil occupations are taken into the Forces only to the extent that they are required for service in their trade capacity. As regards men already in the Forces before the Schedule of Reserved Occupations came into operation, arrangements have been made for the release to industry of considerable numbers of men belonging to the most vital civil occupations and for the transfer of many others to work in their trades in the Forces. So far as cases are not covered by these general arrangements, the proper course for an employer wishing to secure the release of a skilled man from the Forces is to make application to the Government Department on whose work he is principally engaged, which, if fully satisfied as to the exceptional merits of the case, will take up the possibility of release with the Service Department concerned.

Mr. Cocks

Is it the fact that only those men who are privates can be called back from the Army, and that lance-corporals and other N.C.Os. cannot be released?

Mr. Brown

As a general rule N.C.Os. are not released.

Mr. Kirkwood

Is it impossible to get a man back into the workshop if he has been promoted to be an officer?

Mr. Brown

I think that that question should be put to the appropriate Department. I would not like to give a definite answer, because there might be some special case where there was a very high standard of skill.

14 and 15. Mr. E. Smith

asked the Minister of Labour (1) whether he can make a statement on the consultations which have taken place between himself and the representatives of the engineering employers and the trade unions catering for workpeople employed in the engineering industry;

(2) whether he will revise the Schedule of Reserved Occupations so as to retain skilled engineers of a younger age in civilian employment, in view of the great demand, the Temporary Relaxation Agreement, and the introduction of dilution; and will he see that the services of skilled and semi-skilled engineers' services are utilised to the best advantage?

Mr. Brown

My discussions with the engineering employers and trade unions are for the purpose of considering what measures are required to secure both the best utilisation of the existing labour force in the industry and the necessary expansion to meet war demands. I should like to take this opportunity of expressing my appreciation of the single-minded desire to co-operate fully in the nation's war effort which has been shown both by the employers and the trade unions. As regards recruitment for the Forces, engineers in the more highly skilled trades are not called up except to the extent to which they are required for service in their own trades.

Mr. Gallacher

In the course of these discussions has notice been taken of the large number of skilled men who have been employed for a considerable number of years in unskilled occupations, and is any effort being taken to get them back to engineering?

Mr. Brown

That is one of the points that are being discussed.

18. Mr. Shinwell

asked the Minister of Labour whether employers and unions in the shipbuilding and engineering industry have asked for the recall of skilled men from the Forces; whether he can state the number asked for; and how many have been released?

Mr. Brown

Applications for the release of men from the Forces have to be addressed, not to my Department, but to the Government Departments on whose work the employer desiring to recover the services of the man concerned, is principally engaged. I regret that I am, therefore, not in general in a position to give the information asked for.

Mr. Shinwell

As this Question can only be addressed to the right hon. Gentleman, how are we to get the information? Is it not true to say that the employers and the unions have asked for several thousand men, and only a few men have been released, and that it is holding up shipbuilding?

Mr. Brown

That is not so. I could not accept the hon. Gentleman's premise. If he will address that Question to the separate Departments, he may get an answer.

Mr. Shinwell

Is it not the case that the right hon. Gentleman is both Minister of Labour and Minister for National Service? Surely he is the Minister who co-ordinates this matter.

Mr. Brown

That is true, but I do not decide whether a particular application is vital in the national interest. I have no responsibility for making that decision; it is the responsbility of the Department concerned with the particular Government demands or contracts.

Mr. Maxton

Can the Minister not take steps to see that the Service Ministers expedite decisions on these matters?

Mr. Brown

I know there has been considerable progress.

Mr. Kirkwood

Who supplies you with this information?

Captain Anstruther-Gray

Will the Minister bear in mind that skilled men are extremely useful in the Forces and that if he takes them away it will reduce the efficiency of the Forces?

Mr. Brown

One of the reasons for this arrangement is the problem of keeping a true balance between the needs of the Armed Forces and industry.

Mr. George Griffiths

How many coal miners are there in the Army? We cannot get a collier back, even through the eye of a needle.