§ Mr. Simmonds (Birmingham, Duddeston)
I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That"to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:this House urges upon His Majesty's Government an effective and courageous use of the powers granted by Parliament so that all His Majesty's subjects of all classes who are not engaged in the armed forces or in duties essential to the life of the nation shall, in such manner as the Government may direct, use their industrial energies in the total war effort.The last occasion on which the fortune of the Ballot gave me the opportunity of introducing a Debate was some four years ago, when I raised the question of the inadequacy of our air defences, and I recollect particularly how my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister came down to the House and supported me with his usual weighty words on that day. I have since read that that Debate 1026 marked a turning-point in the attitude of the Government of that day towards the strength of the Royal Air Force. If that be true, it was not a day too soon, and I respectfully submit that the question of industrial man-power is, to-day, as urgent and as serious as was the question of air power four years ago. How profoundly relieved we would all be if the Debate to-day should also prove a turning-point in Ministerial policy.
The principle of admonition by one's peers has been proved throughout the ages to be a sound one. It seems to me that, in these days of national unity and of an all-party Government, it would be a distinct advantage when we are discussing subjects, into the consideration of which the politics of the past or the problems of the present tend to introduce cross-currents, if the criticism of any Minister came primarily from the Members of his own party. That would, indeed, relieve Members of other parties of a responsibility which, in these days, cannot fail to disturb one's conscience. The issue must always arise in present circumstances "In the name of national safety should one speak? In the name of national unity should one be silent?" The consideration of all this complex of industrial man-power — in which term I include of course woman-power — suffers somewhat from party perplexities. The issue however is causing such widespread uneasiness, not only in the House but throughout the country, that, in spite of all qualms, I must raise it again to-day. For my part, I shall forget that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour is a Socialist and trade unionist, and I am sure that he on his part, or anybody who may speak for him, will forget that I am a Unionist and an employer. Those matters do not enter into to-day's considerations.
Before proceeding to examine the current situation in the war industries, I would recall for a few minutes the earlier history of this question. On 22nd May, 1940, only a few days after my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister came to office, the Lord Privy Seal asked the House to pass through all stages the Emergency Powers Defence Act, 1940. This is what my right hon. Friend said:It is necessary that the Government should be given complete control over persons and property, not just some persons of some particular 1027 class of the community, but of all persons, rich and poor, employer and workmen, man or woman, and all property. …. The Minister of Labour will be given power to direct any person to perform any services required. …. It does not only apply to workmen, it applies to everybody."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd May, 1940; cols. 152 and 155, Vol. 361.]My right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal moved the Second Reading of that Measure at 3.36 p.m., and by 6 p.m. on the same day the House had learned of the Royal Assent. Hon. Members who had prayed perseveringly for more action and more action to be taken quickly, were in a state of exaltation. The "phoney" lassitude of the "phoney" war was to be ended by a Minister of Labour armed with more powers, if not with more offices than Pooh-Bah himself. What would he not do to fill the war factories with men and women, day and night, Monday and Sunday, leaving no bench empty, no machine idle? That was the promise but I would recall thatPromises may get friends, but 'tis performance keeps them.Those vast and formidable powers— how have they been wielded? Could any hon. Member, suffering from class-consciousness, claim that the Government have been reluctant to use them against property and wealth, to make those play their part? "All property," said my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal, and, indeed, we have since seen wholesale requisitioning. Homes, factories, offices, hotels have been requisitioned without reference to goodwill or value, which in many cases has meant virtual expropriation. The roots of years have been severed in a few hours all too frequently never to be restored. Never indeed shall we know the casualty lists of those elderly folk for whom the stress and strain of losing their homes without compensation and without payment of any kind have proved too much. "All property" said my right hon. Friend, and indeed we have seen great corporations scheduled as controlled establishments industry required to make substantial disbursements—investments in dispersal factories for example—and a hundred-and-one other provisions essential for the war effort. We have seen machinery and similar assets working night and day and tearing themselves to pieces, without any proper recompense because the Excess Profits 1028 Tax of 100 per cent. has forbidden that. Then we have the Orders of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, in connection with the concentration of industry. There we have a somewhat rough-and-ready form of justice. The Government have, in fact, conscripted the wealth of industry without, in many cases, any appropriate reward. It would thus be the wildest nonsense for any hon. Member to pretend that the Government have shown any tenderness for wealth or property.
Now let me come to the second part of my right hon. Friend's promise. "All persons," he said, and I would like to examine this part of the promise from two standpoints: first, as regards those who are not in industry but who ought to be, and, secondly, as regards those who are in industry but are not pulling their full weight. With regard to the first, it is notorious that the war industries are short of men and women, not only of skilled workers but, strange to say, of unskilled workers also. As far as skilled men and women are concerned, I believe the Government are at last making a consistent and determined attempt, many months overdue, to bring them into the war industries. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade is doing what he is able℄what many hon. Members feel is more than he ought—to bring men and women of skill into the war industries, and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour is following this week with the registration of men from 41 to 43 years of age outside certain industries. I trust he will hurry with other age groups. With regard to this matter, the assumption appears to be that all, or nearly all, who are in these excepted industries and will not need to register, are properly occupied. This is notoriously not so. Many engineers, for example, are still engaged in maintenance and repair work, much of it immediate and essential, but some of it most definitely not. How soon will the net bring these men into more important work?
Equally urgent is a quick and large influx of unskilled men and women into the war industries. I stated in January —and I have seen my estimate widely quoted without any dissent—that the number of workers on the night shifts in the war industries was only 15 or 20 per cent. of what it should be. Hundreds 1029 of thousands of machines doing important work during the day are idle at night for lack, mainly, of unskilled workers. Yet, worse still, we continue making and purchasing new machines, each of which has to be tooled-up, when the tool-maker's time is worth its weight in gold. That situation is incomprehensible. It is a heavy responsibility, which lies upon the shoulders of the Minister of Labour, that these things should continue.
The Minister of Labour will shortly register certain age groups of women. Let him move women into the war industries quickly. The need is very real, and in many factories training can be better given in the works than in the training establishments. But in this matter of the registration of women, and indeed of men, let us be quite clear on one point. Will my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour, or his Parliamentary Secretary, give the House an assurance that, whatever be the station of life of any man or woman whom he selects to serve in industry, such man or woman, subject to the system of appeals which he has announced, will be under as firm and definite an obligation to perform that industrial service as if he or she were called up for the Armed Forces of the Crown? The time has passed when the country will placidly forgive any further vacillation in this matter.
Now may I turn to the second classification of persons, those already in war industries? First, perhaps, I may mention the employers, or, as we should more properly call them to-day, the controllers, because they are in almost every case the heads of controlled establishments under one or other of the Ministries. Here again the Government have not feared to use their powers, and, although it would not be kind to mention names, men with names famous in British industry, the creators of great businesses, have been shown the door and have left their life's work behind them. There has been no undue tenderness for the employers. Let us not complain if the decisions were just; on the contrary, let us applaud the firmness of the Minister. But what has been the Minister's attitude towards his powers over workers in industry? These are his own words:I have used, and propose to continue to use, them more in a directory sense than in what is generally understood to be a compulsory sense. I am confident that by far the 1030 great majority will be only too willing to accept the directions given. …."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st January, 1941; col. 89, Vol. 368.]That was surely exemplary wisdom, but what of the small minority who did and who do refuse to toe the line of the Minister's wishes? Should he not, in statesmanlike vein, have continued his speech thus: "Those who work will receive my support, and I will endeavour to remove their difficulties, but I will see that the laggards at this supreme and perilous hour have their just reward"? Such an utterance would have been to industry both an encouragement and a tonic. It would have indicated a policy which the workshops would have understood and applauded. The 85 or 90 per cent. fine, patriotic men and women in industry up and down the country would at last have seen that which they had long waited to witness, the reward of the ungodly. But what did my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour say? These are his words:… there will be few cases in which it will be necessary to take further action."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st January, 1941; cols. 89-90, Vol. 368.]These words were the slackers' charter. From that moment the slacker knew that my right hon. Friend was not so much in earnest as to be troublesome to him; provided he jogged along as in the days of peace, the Minister of Labour would not worry him very much. Moreover, we have in this connection to-day to bear in mind that this was the Minister's policy at a time when there was a natural temptation for some workers to slack, increased manifold by two factors—firstly, the shortage of workers and, secondly, the high weekly earnings. The moment for a necessary steadying hand on the shoulders of those who needed to take a stand against themselves was missed. Worse still, the policy further greased the slope down which many of the workers were slipping.
But what of the harvest that the country is reaping from this limp and vacillating policy? First we have the widespread failure to work overtime, even in the most urgent war industries. I estimated in an earlier Debate that there was 50 per cent. absenteeism during the scheduled overtime working hours. Everything that I have heard—and I have heard much since I have had this Motion on the Order Paper—has confirmed that figure. Let me cite one example. I am told that in many 1031 of the ports the boilermakers almost to a man walk out at 5 o'clock, or whenever it is that the whistle blows for the end of the normal working day. Overtime is not in their category of thinking, even in these days of peril. It may be said that with the increasing daylight hours there will be an improvement. I hope there will be. But when the decreasing daylight hours come, let us see that there is no worsening of the situation. With regard to absenteeism, there are serious temptations to those who cannot stand against them. There are high wages on Saturdays and, above all, on Sundays, so much so that I am told— and I have seen it mentioned in the Press —that some men are now assessing the period in the week at which they will become liable to Income Tax, and are refusing to work any more after that point has been reached. That calls for, as it has received, the condemnation of the decent men and women in industry; and the condemnation of the Minister also. We have the Essential Work Order and the promise that absenteeism will be curbed; but hon. Members who are in industry will know that the provisions of that Order are so cumbrous that if much absenteeism is prevented it will be more by a fluke than by design. The unwillingness of a large number of workers to go on night shift has not been sufficiently circumscribed by the Minister.
With regard to dilution, I am told that in some areas it has been carried out loyally; and the workers in those areas deserve our thanks. But in some other areas that is not the case. I am told that in Coventry, particularly, the resistance to dilution on the part of some unions has been scandalous. Anti-production practices still continue. I was amazed to receive, only a day or two ago, a letter from one of the most esteemed shipbuilders in this country, saying:In the days of depression, as various labour-saving devices and methods were introduced, the trade unions fought to keep their men employed —One does not blame them for that—and on repair work when pneumatic hammers were introduced, which enabled one man with a tool and his holder-up to do the same work as two riveters, it was insisted that two should stand by to take turns. This practice still obtains on repair work.It is incomprehensible, when we require our ships to be repaired with the utmost 1032 speed, that these trade practices are still allowed by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour. And what shall we say of strikes? Every hon. Member knows that strikes still continue. Perhaps my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour would care to tell the House, at some convenient time, the extent of these strikes, and what he has done to prevent them. Let us be quite clear. These strikes are in contravention of Order 1305 of 1940. If my right hon. Friend is not taking action, it is not because he has not the power. A very sinister situation occurred the other day in connection with what has been called "the apprentices' strike." It may be that the apprentices have a great deal of which they could justifiably com plain, but from time immemorial it has been an established principle that those who strike in industry improperly must go back to work before a committee of inquiry is set up. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour gave those youths —who, above all, needed saving from the malign influences which are still prevalent in some quarters of industry—their court of inquiry before he asked them to go-back to work. I consider that that act of weakness will lead him a long way in the future. In all this disgraceful catalogue, where have we seen the righteous indignation, the energetic intolerance of wrong things, for which in other times my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour showed himself to be the man?
This policy of faiblesse has failed to get the best out of those in industry. In the aircraft industry, Lord Beaverbrook has done much, by his own energy and drive, to make up for the failure of the Minister of Labour. For that, the country will always be profoundly grateful. But in many war industries there is shocking slackness—and by "slackness," I mean a wide gap between what is done and what could be achieved. I can scarcely have a more weighty supporter than my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour himself. It is reported in more than one organ of the Press that on Saturday last, appealing to shipyard workers at Bristol, he gave this estimate of the extra output that they could give:Thirty per cent. more won't hurt you.Think on those words. After more than a year and a half of war, and when ships are needed to save this country, 30 per cent. more will not hurt the shipyard workers. The tragedy is that my right 1033 hon. Friend was correct. In spite of the Battle of Britain, in spite of the Battle of the Atlantic, in spite of the threat of invasion, the shipyard workers, on my right hon. Friend's own estimate, could increase output per man by 30 per cent., without its hurting them. Did ever a Minister, after holding office for nearly a year, more frankly admit the failure of his policy?
What of the future? I believe— and I am not alone in this—that industry is entering upon a peculiarly perilous period. As we have seen, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour has failed to reprimand those who are failing the country, and has thus induced increasing indiscipline in industry. Whether it be a Cabinet Minister, a Member of Parliament, or a workman at the bench, what is an essential sanction for failure? It is dismissal. And, for the sake of discipline, the power of dismissal must be in the hands of the selector. Now my right hon. Friend is about to flout even this basic canon of organised society
§ Mr. Lawson (Chester-le-Street)
What does the hon. Member mean when he says that the power of dismissal must be in the hands of the selector?
§ Mr. Simmonds
I suggest that the hon. Gentleman will understand completely. In his own case, the selectors are his electors, and the power of dismissal will be, very properly, in their hands when he comes up for re-election to this House. I think that principle is sufficiently established not to require further discussion.
§ Mr. Lawson
You mean that the power of dismissal should be in the hands of the employer? If that is what you mean, say so.
§ Mr. Simmonds
I am speaking of the general principle, and I am perfectly entitled to do so. If the Minister feels that the employer should remain responsible for his business—and I contend that he should—there clearly ought to be some co-operation with labour, but in this Order we are departing from sound basic principles. Dismissal under this Order will no longer be the function of the management, but of a National Service 1034 officer who has probably never learned in practice even the elements of management. In any event, it has been stated on more than one occasion in this House, and not refuted, that undue consideration has been given by some of these National Service officers to slackers in industry and to those who wanted to migrate and throw up their hands. They have already done damage enough.
§ Mr. Messer (Tottenham, South)
Does not the hon. Member think that such an Order is justified in the case of an incident which happened last night, when 60 men presented themselves for work at a certain munitions factory and were summarily dismissed?
§ Mr. Simmonds
I would not like the House to think, nor, indeed, do I think, that the power of dismissal, as in times of peace, should rest unfettered with the employer, but this Order is not based on sound principles. I entirely agree with what my hon. Friend says, though he would not wish me to go further, because, obviously, neither of us, I expect, knows the full details of that case. The question of dismissal must be handled with great care, because it is the nation's interest which both employer and employé must consider primarily at this time. I ought to say that a large number of industrialists, of whom there are hundreds in my own constituency, and many others up and down the country, who have written to me regard this particular proposal with undisguised alarm. They claim—I think rightly—that my right hon. Friend me Minister of Labour has taken away the power of dismissal without putting anything effective in its place. Perhaps the Minister of Labour would suggest that employers' organisations have gone along with him in this matter. I believe that it would be fairer to say that they have been presented with a fait-accompli decision by the War Cabinet, and have been asked to do little more than dot the i's and cross the t's of that policy. Let responsibility, therefore, lie where it rightly falls. It is time that employers' organisations should seriously consider whether it is in the national interest for them to remain in a position which is both ambiguous and misleading.
In short, industry is lacking hundreds of thousands of hands which are available yet not available. It is lacking, on 1035 account of slackness and indiscipline, a considerable percentage output which is available yet not available. Worst of all, the policy that has been followed is being pressed further home. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour is therefore playing for high stakes. Yet I believe there is still time to save the situation, if he will take steps to ensure that all persons of all classes who are not otherwise usefully engaged do their industrial duty. Let him fearlessly displace inefficient management and punish all in industry who slack. Let him treat strikers in harmony with their own selfishness. In short, let him give to industry an esprit de corps backed by authority and discipline, so that each man at the bench and each woman at the machine shall, when this war is over, be proud to face even our doughtiest fighters and say, "We too made our sacrifices; we too played our part."
§ Mr. A. Edwards (Middlesbrough, East)
I would like to ask the hon. Member a question and to give him the opportunity of making a reply. He has referred to the slackers' charter, and he quoted the boilermakers, I think he said, of the North-East Coast.
§ Mr. Edwards
But the hon. Member quoted the boilermakers, and said that they always left work when the buzzer went and refused to work overtime. My evidence is that boilermakers have been criticised for working too much overtime. In fact, we have evidence—
If the hon. Member wants to speak, he will have an opportunity later. A mere question is permissible, but not a speech or an argument.
§ Mr. Simmonds
May I answer the question? I stated, as the OFFICIAL REPORT will show, that in certain areas, so I am informed, that is taking place. I make no further statement.
§ Mr. Edwards
I rather want to get the evidence on record, because I can give the hon. Member very important evidence to the contrary.
§ Sir Patrick Hannon (Birmingham, Moseley)
I beg to second the Amendment, which has been submitted by my 1036 hon. Friend in a complete and powerful speech to the House.
All of us who are concerned with industrial activities relating to the war have the deepest sympathy with the Minister of Labour in the difficult situation in which he finds himself, and the last thing that would occur to any of us would be to make any comment in the course of this Debate which would embarrass him in the smallest degree in the execution of his very menacing and heavy duties in these difficult days. At the same time, as my hon. Friend has stated, there is a sense of dissatisfaction throughout the country that the mobilisation of labour has not been carried out with the vigour, efficiency and boldness which the perils of the time through which we are passing demand. There has been a good deal of disturbance of mind among those who are engaged in vital work for the war. In February last the National Union of Manufacturers, which in its Birmingham branch numbers 600 of the smaller people—those engaged in the smaller industries, in almost every case in war production—adopted a resolution which was forwarded to my right hon. Friend the Minister. These are the terms of that resolution:That this meeting of the Midland Council of the National Union of Manufacturers is emphatically of the opinion that compulsory powers be immediately applied to reduce the labour shortage, particularly in the Midland area.The feeling is that, when, no doubt, the Minister, the Parliamentary Secretary, and the whole machinery of the Ministry of Labour are actively engaged in promoting production for the war, there is something still left undone in bringing into the total war effort that volume of active productive capacity and power which is still available. On that occasion the Midland Council stated how difficult it was to mobilise labour for the requirements of industry in the Midland area. I am associated with one of the largest munition factories in the country, and we have very great difficulty from time to time in maintaining anything like the man-power and woman-power essential for the continuity of output of articles essential hour by hour in time of war.
More than 12 months ago the Prime Minister appealed for 100,000 women workers to come at once into war production, and I would like to know, and I am 1037 sure the; House too would like to know, what response has been made to that appeal. Only a fortnight or three weeks ago the Minister of Labour himself also appealed for 100,000 women workers. But mere appeals will not be sufficient to bring the available labour into industry for war purposes. While there may be a difficulty about making a wholesale demand for the application for compulsory powers, we feel that the Minister has not made enough use of those powers which he received from Parliament in order to secure the largest possible contribution of man and woman-power for the war effort. So, I hope that we shall be told to-day to what extent women have responded. My Noble Friend the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) came to Birmingham on a recent Sunday afternoon, at the greatest inconvenience to herself, and made a striking and touching appeal to the women of Birmingham to come forward in response to demands made by the Minister of Labour. It is true that a certain number did come forward, but I am sorry to say that the response was not so good as one might have expected.
The Minister is now making an appeal —a pathetic appeal—for 50,000 men for our shipyards, and here, too, I hope we shall be told to what extent his appeal is being met. As my hon. Friend stated in his speech, nothing at the moment is more important in the continuance of the total war effort than the output of ships in our shipyards. Is the Minister really successful in his recruiting in this somewhat desultory way? In Debates of this kind we do not, I think, need to dwell on what may be regarded as negligence or indifference in the past. The function of the House of Commons today is to give whatever "ginger" it can to Ministers in order that they shall carry out to the fullness of their power the effort necessary for the conduct of the war. With regard to the expansion of the present training system, the training of war workers has been in process for a considerable time, but I do not think it is sufficient in capacity, and it does not provide opportunities for the immense numbers of unskilled people to undergo training. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us to-day to what extent the present system of training is operating and how far it can be usefully expanded.
1038 There are only two ways in which the Minister reviews the recruiting of labour for war production. The first is by his appeals for volunteers, and the second is through the concentration of labour, which is now being carried out by the President of the Board of Trade. No doubt we shall get, through the second of these processes, a considerable contribution to the volume of available labour, but it seems to me that there is a danger, in this concentration of industry, of doing a certain amount of harm to the non-essential industries on which other essential industries rely for maintenance. Certain distributive trades, for example, cannot give their working personnel to munitions production without at the same time injuring essential industry which is dependent upon them to a greater or less degree.
§ Mr. Rhys Davies (Westhoughton)
Would not the hon. Member in present conditions regard the distribution of food through shops as a work of very great importance?
§ Sir P. Hannon
That is a point I have in mind and the point I was trying to bring to the notice of the House. There are limitations to the extent to which you can mobilise people from non-essential industry to essential industry without doing harm to the non-essential industry which is contributing in some way to the successful efforts of the essential industry. The Minister, of course, has compelling power at his disposal. The other day, when he made a statement with regard to the recruitment of 100,000 women for war production work, he said that if the response was not satisfactory, he would take certain steps with the powers which he possesses, and I hope to hear to-day the extent to which his appeal has been successful and whether he proposes to introduce at once the necessary measures in order to secure all the women required. How are we recruiting women for the Army? The Secretary of State for War said in the House the other day that every time a woman took up war work she liberated a soldier for fighting purposes. Originally the figure of 60,000 was aimed at for the A.T.S., and I think the House would like to know how many of this number have been recruited. One is glad to observe that the Minister of Labour has lately exercised to some extent the powers he possesses in 1039 the taking-over of dock labour and the interchangeeability of labour for the docks. In doing so, he has performed a service which the country recognises is of great value, and I hope that the good work in that direction will continue to be applied in other directions.
We have in this country a mass of people—it is said that they are in the minority—who will not join the Army, go into munitions production or have anything to do with any other phase of national activity unless they are compelled. In these cases compulsory powers must ultimately be applied. The tendency where the voluntary principle prevails is, "Let the other fellow do it," and I think the time has come when the Minister must exercise his powers, so that there is no excuse for planting the responsibility on the other fellow. There is some difficulty in understanding what a war worker is. We say that everybody who is contributing to war activity, either indirectly or directly, is a war worker, but it would be as well if the Parliamentary Secretary would define the precise dividing line between what is a war worker and what is not, and the extent to which people who have been mobilised for war production cross the line which divides these two categories.
In their very essence, appeals for volunteers indicate weakness, and at this moment they do so more than ever. Fighting for our lives, as we are, we cannot depend upon the voluntary system of recruitment in industry to-day. In the "Birmingham Post," or in any of the daily newspapers in the provinces, one finds on the front pages columns of advertisements of jobs available at industrial works. Instead of having some means by which such labour becomes available, the employers have to advertise in the newspapers. It is a fact that at the beginning of the war the trade unions showed a magnificent spirit and sacrificed a great many of the principles and privileges for which they have in the past fought so hard, but somehow or other, the vigour of that initial effort seems to have faded away in recent months. Some time before the Christmas period, it was clear that in the labour organisation with which I come into contact there was a softening and a weakening of that effort which had been so vigorous and hopeful before. The 1040 Minister is now giving his personal attention to these curious ups and downs in the industrial life of the country, but in these days we cannot put too much vitality and stimulus into the whole labour effort, managers as well as men.
I am glad this Amendment has been moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Duddeston (Mr. Simmonds). I do not think there is among the younger generation of industrialists in this country—at all events, among manufacturers engaged in vital industry—anyone who has given more striking evidence than my hon. Friend has of his capacity to handle labour problems and create that sort of atmosphere in industry which is so essential to maximum production, and especially production in the war period. If anybody would like to see something of a highly organised industry, I suggest that he should visit the works of my hon. Friend at a certain point in the immediate neighbourhood of London. Anybody doing so will be satisfied that every consideration affecting the welfare of the workers, every consideration of their security and safety in the works, every consideration for establishing a bond of understanding between employer and workpeople, has been brought into play in the organisation of that undertaking. My hon. Friend has done more than that. When an appeal was made by the Government that industries should be started in the Special Areas, my hon. Friend, at very considerable risk and taking a very heavy burden of financial responsibilities on his shoulders, undertook to start a factory in the Special Areas. To-day he is the largest employer of labour in that particular type of factory in the Special Areas. I know that hon. Members who were, and still are, interested in the Special Areas will appreciate that action on his part.
In conclusion, we all realise the heavy burden which the Minister of Labour has to bear, and we appreciate his services to the country. He has been an outstanding figure in our national life, and particularly in our industrial life, for a generation. I remember how, many years ago, when he had not at the sides of his forehead those patches of greying hair— when he was young and fresh and fit— he faced an audience at Bristol when I was first standing for Parliament. He had an amazing faculty for command over the 1041 people he addressed. Since those days he has done great work for the nation. He could not do better work now than by just putting a little more energy, more drive, more push, into the man-power necessary for productive work in this country. I hope he will assure the House and the country that this is being done. Everybody in this country is willing if he knows where to go, but there are masses of people who do not want to go until they are sent for under compulsory powers. I have had a great deal to do with labour organisations. I am associated with industries which employ very large numbers of people. I pay my tribute to these people for their loyalty and devotion. In the presence of great dangers, these men and women have showed courage and fortitude of a very exalted quality. Nevertheless, there are things here and there which have to be looked into, there are gaps to be filled, and it is the filling of those gaps, the recruitment of the necessary man-power to fill them, that has caused so much dissatisfaction in the House and outside. I hope we shall have from the Minister a declaration of policy indicating to the country that, with the powers in his hands, he intends to do his job and make the mobilisation of manpower for war purposes a first principle. In the discharge of that duty he will have the complete support of the House.
§ Mr. Lawson (Chester-le-Street)
I think the House is pleased, as I am, that the hon. Member for Duddeston (Mr. Simmonds) has moved this Amendment. Although I shall strongly disagree with the hon. Member on many points, I believe he has rendered a service by bringing this matter before the House, for undoubtedly there are whispers abroad concerning workers in particular and workers in general. I listened to the hon. Member's speech, and to the speech of the hon. Member for Moseley (Sir P. Hannon), as I listened to the Debate on the last occasion when this matter was discussed, and I heard astonishingly little to justify many of the criticisms that are made outside. If the hon. Members had any particular criticism on any scale to make which they did not think it right to divulge to the House because of the publicity which might be given to it by our enemies or otherwise, it would be another matter. I am pleased that we have this opportunity to debate this 1042 matter, because we can also talk to the employers' representatives about the position of organising labour. How does it come about that the employers' organisations are so late in the day in their deep desire for the proper organisation of labour for war-production purposes? Where were they two or three years ago when the Trades Union Congress was asking the Government to show some foresight and organise and mobilise labour, and put it in its proper categories in order to obtain full advantage of the available man-power?
§ Sir P. Hannon
There is an obvious retort to the hon. Member's question. While it is quite true that the Trades Union Congress did pass resolutions, the fact remains that trade unionists in this House voted against every Defence Estimate.
§ Mr. Lawson
That is an old one; we can easily go on and discuss the grounds upon which we voted against the Defence Estimates, but in doing so we should get into the diplomatic field, where, I think, the hon. Member and his friends would probably find they had a worse case. What I was referring to was the simple A.B.C. attitude of the Trades Union Congress. Repeatedly deputations came to the Government asking that steps should be taken to organise labour, and these took place even before war broke out. I have looked the matter up very carefully, and I find that the representatives of organised industrial workers have documented statements and dates. They have also documented the requests they made to the Government, calling for the proper organisation and utilisation of labour to get ahead with the job. I can tell the two representatives of the employers who have spoken to-day—
§ Mr. Lawson
I can tell the hon. Members that when 'this matter is closely examined, it will be found that the employers, who are making the criticisms at the present time, will come very badly out of it. The Minister for Labour has been 1043 an outstanding figure in the trade-union world. May I say, in his presence, that he and one or two others had much to do with the constructive side of trade unionism which has given it a great deal of its power? The Minister of Labour, by coming into the Government with his influence in the trade-union world, has been able to do things which very few men would have been able to accomplish. He has been able to do this because he carries the confidence of the great masses of the workers. Whatever criticism there may be about defects in organisation and lack of good will on the part of certain people and groups of people, the tendency of the critics is always to overlook the terrifically multiplied power which the right hon. Gentleman has brought about as a result of his influence and command of the confidence of the great masses of the workers of the country. The seconder of the Amendment paid some tribute to the workers. In war-time we always tend to overlook the great things which are being accomplished, and the criticisms which are made go into the enemy's camp. I do not say that we should not make criticisms, but all the same they go into the enemy's camp. For my part, I believe that this should go into the enemy's camp too, that in no country in the world which is governed and dominated by dictators, and where workers are lashed to their work as were the workers in the days of Pharaoh, can such excellent results be achieved as in this country, where free workers give their services willingly.
I was surprised to hear the criticisms about overtime. One of the things to which I was going to draw the Minister's attention, to-day, was the fact that from my observations this overtime working is getting into the danger zone from the point of view of the exhaustion of the worker. Quite recently I have met workers who have been giving long hours for weeks and months, and wish to continue to do so, although they feel they have come to the limit. Their readiness to work overtime has been an outstanding feature, but I think the right hon. Gentleman would do well to go carefully in the matter because of the effect upon the physique of the workers. But there is another side to this question of the willingness of the workers. I represent an industry which, if there are any sweets being given out, has had very little of them. 1044 They have had hard times working in a very important industry. At the time that France fell we were asking them to increase their output, and they said, right willingly, "We will." They would do anything. At that time a half of the collieries in my part of the world were idle, and their leaders had to tell the men that they would have to go away to other pits. Do employers know what it is to face workers and ask them to do things like this? It takes a very courageous man to do it, because the worker has so much right on his side. He has always worked on the edge of necessity. The wages have never been very high. But irrespective of the changed conditions these men in various coalfields have left, gone to other pits, gone to any job the Minister of Labour has asked them to go to, and I think he would be the first to pay tribute to them.
Now there is criticism about employers not having the right of dismissal. The hon. Member failed to look at the other side of the picture. Before I came here on Monday morning two young men came to see me. They said they were working for So-and-so. They had been offered a job in another industry, but he would not let them go. I said that was a matter for their trade union, and I had nothing to do with it. They said they were not in a union; their employer would not let them be in one. That is another side of the question. Does the hon. Member think that if the employer has a right to keep men there, he should still have the right to dismiss them? The control of employment was demanded by public interest. Surely the employer ought to be governed by the public interest too. I think, if the the hon. Gentleman had a second look at the matter, he would hardly continue that line of argument.
I am not out to defend any workers who are not doing what they ought to do and are not making their proper contribution in a great crisis like this to a victory which is essential for the very freedom that they would claim, but I think, when these matters are raised in the House, those who raise them ought to be more explicit, and they ought to be dealt with either here or somewhere else, or this business ought to be dropped in the country. I have heard a good deal about what the industrial magnates are 1045 sacrificing. It is true I could speak of one-man industries, for instance, where gallant young people have built up an industry at very great personal sacrifice, and they have had to go into the Army and all their goodwill and everything have gone. It may never return. I think that is a pathetic and a very grave thing from the point of view of the drive in the build-up of industry generally. I know small businesses which have gone down. Will the hon. Members who moved and seconded the Amendment assert that profits are still not being made by interested people? I do not know how it is done. I am not familiar with these things, but, as I look around, there is not exactly that state of poverty that one might have expected from the expressions that are used. There are no signs of grave poverty in quarters connected with company promotion. I would not import any bitterness into a Debate of this description.
§ Sir P. Hannon
Is the hon. Gentleman referring to industry as a whole or to a particular section of industry? What test will he apply when he talks about every appearance of wealth? Is he forgetting that many of these industries were in a state of misery up to a couple of years ago?
§ Mr. Lawson
I know that many of them were in a state of misery before the war, and I know that if it had not been for undiluted profit-making of some concerns, some very essential industries would have been going to-day which would have been very useful to the country. I am pleased that the workers were organised to such an extent that when the Government of the day had the good sense to take advantage of their experience they were strong enough and able enough and influential enough to command the respect of the great mass of the workers. In the last war the workers were at the tail-end of the national procession. You had not names like that of the Minister of Labour known in the country then as they are now. Interruption.] That is true, but the fact remains that it was 1916 or 1917 before the Government had the good sense to take hold and command the respect of the industrial workers. The position is different to-day. I hope that the respect shown for the horny-handed sons of toil, for the men at the bench, in the field and 1046 in various classes of work will continue after the war. I hope, too, that the organised trade union forces will play a much bigger part in the reconstruction of industry than they were allowed to do last time. One of the things which the hon. Gentleman kept off was land. Land is escaping wonderfully from all the criticisms that are being made. I know that there is a certain amount of control.
§ Mr. Lawson
There are millions of acres that would have been in good use but for private ownership and lack of drainage and the desire to leave it unused for the purposes of future profit. I have had to beg for a man who has been on a farm nearly a quarter of a century, and if it had not been for the local agricultural committee he would have been out of his farm, for the landlord, the private interests, did not care even though hundreds of acres were unused. That is still going on to a certain extent. I do not want to blame the Ministry of Labour for that, but they have influences in quarters where I have no influence, and I ask them to be as enthusiastic with manufacturers and in quarters where land counts as they are with the workers. If there is any real criticism against the workers that impedes the production of war necessities they should be tabled frankly, and those responsible for the workers' side will not hesitate to face any problems placed before them.
§ Sir Adam Maitland (Faversham)
I am always happy to be able to follow the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson), and I would like to join him in the tribute he paid to the Mover of this Amendment, my hon. Friend the Member for Duddeston (Mr. Simmonds). We are all under a debt of gratitude to the hon. Member for having raised a subject of such importance. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street has spent an honourable life in the service of mankind, and I hope he will not think me guilty of any discourtesy if I do not follow some of his arguments in detail. I can perhaps deal with his reference to land and his regret that the hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment did not refer to it. It seems to me that that subject is outside the terms of the Amendment, and I might 1047 incur the displeasure of the Chair if I pursued it. I do not construe the Amendment as making the slightest reflection upon the workers. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street suggested that no tribute had been paid to those engaged in industry. Let me say that it is my firm conviction that under inspired leadership and with confidence in efficient management the industrial capacity of British labour is matchless and unbeatable. I pay every possible tribute to the great service which the ordinary common men and women of England are rendering to the service of their country to-day. I do not think that either of the hon. Members who supported the Amendment suggested that their criticisms were against those people whose work we admire. Their Amendment dealt with the responsibility of the Government.
We all recognise that it is the un-escapable responsibility of the Government in war time to see that the best and most effective use is made of the manpower of the country. It is not in any sense any criticism of a personal nature which disturbs the minds of people to-day. On the right hon. Gentleman's appointment as Minister of National Service everybody appreciated that he had great experience in the industrial life of the nation, that he commanded the great confidence of a large section of the community and that he would bring to the House knowledge, experience and wisdom which we should be glad to have. But because we feel that, it must not seal our lips if there should arise questions about which we wish to have some information, nor should it seal our lips if we feel that some kind of friendly criticism is necessary to help him in his important task. I heard the right hon. Gentleman the other day in answer to a Supplementary Question say something which, because it was in answer to a Supplementary, might not be his considered view. He said that you could not treat the ordinary worker as you treated the soldier. I thought at the time that that was rather doubtful psychology. I believe that the workers of this country are always ahead of the Government in what they are prepared to do. I believe that the Government can introduce such legislation as they think proper and that if it is administered vigorously and effectively the people will readily respond. I say to those in the 1048 Government who are particularly responsible for directing man-power, "Do not be timid; be bold, be courageous, be audacious and be daring. The more courageous, the more audacious and the more daring you are the greater will be the measure of response which will be given by the people." My hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street asked for a concrete example as to what was exercising the minds of hon. Members and why there was disturbance, hesitancy and doubt as to whether or not we are really putting into this great national effort all that we possibly can. Are the responsible Ministers really satisfied that we are making the best possible use of oar industrial man- and woman-power?
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke)
Would the hon. Gentleman apply that policy to finance, land and in other ways?
§ Sir A. Maitland
We are dealing with industrial man-power, and when one is concentrating on a particular topic one cannot be drawn aside to answer a question of that kind when there is no opportunity of developing the argument adequately.
§ Sir A. Maitland
I will say one sentence in reply to the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith), and that is that the Government have already the power to take possession of persons, property and land, and it is not a question of my individual view, because it is the inescapable responsibility of the Government. If the Government think it is right to take land as well as to control industry the responsibility is theirs. All we can do in this House, in these days of restricted Debates, is to take every opportunity to encourage, to inspire and to spur the Government on to appreciation of what is expected of them by the people of the land.
There are four points which I should like to put forward for the consideration of the Minister. They are derived from lessons which the last war brought home very forcibly. They are: The supply of skilled men is and will always be inadequate in war-time; that it will be necessary to bring in the largest possible number of unskilled workers to dilute 1049 skilled labour; that women must be employed on the largest possible scale; and that in order to get economic production machinery must be worked fully at night as well as by day. Those were the four obvious lessons which the last war brought home to us, and at that time mechanisation of the fighting forces was practically in its infancy. If they were important then they are more important now. As my hon. Friend who moved the Amendment said, there are directions in which things ought to be improved, and if we get at the source of the trouble we can then begin to treat it. The Minister said at Bristol the other day that he was calling for a 30 per cent. increase in output. Every hon. Member knows there is a very large percentage of avoidable absenteeism.
§ Sir A. Maitland
I happen to be serving upon a Select Committee of this House, and I cannot divulge information until it has been presented to the House in the form of a report, and so I must ask my hon. Friend to forgive me if I do not give him the specific information, but perhaps in private I may have an opportunity of showing him some evidence which will satisfy him as to the absenteeism in Government factories; and if he wants another example—and this is more generally known—absenteeism is rife in the coal industry. Avoidable absenteeism is a very important matter. Everybody recognises that in any large organisation there will be a certain amount of absenteeism which is unavoidable, as it arises from sickness and other similar causes, but there is much more absenteeism than can be justified—if any of it can be—having regard to our circumstances. However, that is a matter for the executive authority.
Another point which has already been referred to is that in Government factories, and in many munition factories controlled by the Government though managed by private firms or individuals, we are not getting the production which ought to be coming from them, and that there are too many attempts to throw dust in the eyes of those who visit those factories. If a Government inspector is coming round everybody is told to be very busy, or to look as if he were busy. These things are known, and the tragedy 1050 is that they are going on when the nation is in dire peril. If this Debate has done nothing more I hope that it has at any rate indicated to the Minister of Labour that there is grave concern about the position of affairs, and that in any courageous steps which they take they will have the full support of every section of the House.
§ Mr. Stokes (Ipswich)
The hon. Member for Faversham (Sir A. Maitland) made one comment which I really cannot allow to pass without a reference. He spoke of the astonishing paradox, as it seems to me, that in time of war there is invariably a shortage of skilled labour, whereas he would be the first to admit that in peace there is often too much skilled labour available. I am not going to develop an argument about that, but will only say that I hope that he and all other hon. Members will realise that when this war ends there must not be a return to that state of things, that if it is possible to employ all skilled labour in time of war for the production of things which we do not really want, it must be possible when peace comes to see that that labour is not thrown upon the scrap heap but is employed in producing goods which we really do want to use.
I am sorry that the hon. Member who opened the Debate on this Amendment has gone, because I wanted to take him to task on one or two matters. He spoke of his experience of the falling-off in works output and a certain reference was made to the action of boiler-makers. In my experience I have not found the hanging back to which he referred. I agree that all men are not archangels, with wings sprouting out of their backs, but, broad and large, my experience has been that the worker has buckled-to in a good and proper manner. As to boiler-makers in particular, I am interested in a firm which makes nothing else but boilers, and my experience has been entirely the contrary of his. The boiler-makers have insisted upon as much overtime as possible and upon carrying on with their work in spite of air-raid warnings and have given the maximum of production.
The hon. Member went on to refer to the new Regulation concerning the right of dismissal. I understand his point perfectly—that it is the ultimate weapon, if you like, which can be used against a refractory person; but I also would point 1051 out that it has always seemed to me to be a most unjust state of things that in my industry workers are on what is called a day-to-day contract. In my opinion it is fundamentally wrong that skilled men, or semi-skilled men, or even a floor sweeper for that matter, should be liable to be turned off at a day's notice. I am delighted to see the New regulation which requires a week's notice to be given. My hon. Friend was not correct in saying that in this way power has been taken away from managements. All that has happened is that people cannot be turned off at short notice. You can give a man a week's notice, and in that interval can discuss his case with the local representative of the Ministry, and if it is agreed that the man ought to be turned off then he will be turned off.
On the question of absenteeism, my experience has been a little bit like that of the hon. Member who spoke before me. It arises, I think, from several reasons. I do not think it is primarily due to the unwillingness of the workers to work, but that it may be put down to the fact that there has been a great deal too much continuous overtime and too much working of seven-day weeks. These things wear the people out, and they are naturally apt to say, "I want a day off. I'm stale." I am sure that is the reason. It ought to be laid down that people should not be put to work seven-day weeks. I say, at the same time, that managements ought to be encouraged to run machines seven-day weeks. By shifting your workers round you can make them do a six-day week whilst your machines are doing a seven-day week.
Some workers do not realise sufficiently, and it is an awful job getting it drummed into the noddles of some of them, that if you lose time on a batch of machines, you can never make it up again. I wish the Ministry could do something about this. It does not come very well from employers, because the men always think there is a catch in it. Take, for example, a group of horizontal boring machines. If horizontal boring drops off, you upset the production of the whole shop about three months hence, and you can never get it back again. It is no use saying, "I can pick it up again next week." You cannot. Lost time can never be recovered. I do not think that people ought to be 1052 regarded as guilty of pernicious absenteeism, but it ought to be drummed into some of them that time lost can never be got back and leads to a dreadful falling-off in production.
At the risk of being regarded by the Minister and his Department as trying to teach my grandmother to suck eggs, I will endeavour to discuss whether the way in which we are setting about the collecting of labour for essential purposes is the right one. Government officials, particularly, seem to have an airy-fairy idea that you can get the maximum war effort by picking people out of jobs which they can do and dumping them down somewhere else to do jobs about which they know nothing. Let me ask a question or two about the comb-outs which may or may not have taken place. I would like first to ask about Government offices. Have the Ministry had a look at Government offices to see how many people are really doing what I call a 100 per cent. day?
Is the machinery right? Let me take one example. We are having difficulties in business to-day in getting ordinary shorthand-typists. Some of these workers have been dumped by the score into Government offices, yet you can find many people there who do not know how to dictate an ordinary letter. My contention is that anybody who understands running an industrial machine is aware that by mechanising an office you can reduce the number of clerical staff required. I was disappointed to get an answer the other day from the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the effect that in Government Departments all over the country there is a total of under 400 dictaphones in use. I have 40 in use in my own business. You could reduce the clerical staff in Government offices enormously by a bit of clerical mechanisation, apart from the result that you would achieve in the increased efficiency of the people who do the work. I should die an untimely—or perhaps a timely—death if I did not have a dictaphone by my bedside. I ask that Government offices should be properly combed out before a general assault is made on industry.
When we were discussing the centralisation of industry the other day I was surprised to hear no reference made to banks. I do not propose to discuss questions of banking now, but I want to point out to the Minister that in practically 1053 every town all the joint stock banks have one or more branches. Is it not possible to do a bit of centralisation there? I cannot believe that it is really necessary to have all those branches of all those banks. Centralisation would probably free a fair amount of necessary clerical labour. Another, but altogether different, point is horse-racing. I had a Question on this subject on the Paper to-day, but it was not arrived at, and has been deferred. I do not know what the answer will be. I am not a kill-joy by any manner of means, and I did not put the Question down a propos of anything in this Debate but how many people are involved in keeping horse-racing going? I know the arguments about the. necessity of racing for bloodstock breeding, and the rest of it, but would it absolutely demoralise bloodstock if horse-racing were suspended for six or nine months? As to dog-racing I do not feel quite so strongly, because there are not so many people employed, but double the number of horses are in training to-day as compared to during the last war. Is that right? Is it really necessary? And could not the people be better employed elsewhere?
Before I leave the subject of industrial works, I have another point to raise. We all know what a tremendous amount of interruption there is in centres of production because of air raids and air-raid warnings. I ask the Minister to consider issuing very definite instructions that really proper immediate cover should be provided as a protection for all the workers. This is an important point in production and in the use of man-power. It is no use having your Observer Corps' warnings distributed indiscriminately in works. I have a record of what happens, and I could talk for an hour on the subject and give an entertaining account of our own experiences. People talk about industrial workers being in the front line; they are in a far worse position. The soldier in the front line is busy defending himself and is doing nothing else. He is looking out for the enemy because he has nothing else to do. The industrial worker is told, "You are in the front line, but you must get on with your job and not pay any attention to what the enemy are doing." The only way to prevent loss of time in industrial works is to give men such blast- and splinter-proof cover that they can get into it within 15 seconds 1054 of the sounding of an alarm. I am sure that is the right way. I have had experience of it, because we have done it at our works. Men will work right up to the time that the enemy aeroplane is sighted, if you have your own spotters. A lot of works will not pay attention to this matter, but the workers ought to have good protection. It may have been all very well during the past winter. Not all the towns in England have been blitzed, but when the next time comes you may find that the production will cease altogether unless you have protection for all the people. You cannot blame them for stopping production unless they have something into which they can get quickly. It ought to be obligatory on all employers to offer that protection.
There is an appalling waste of manpower in the spotting system. Take the case in my own area. There are six or seven industrial works, and every one of them has, I believe, its own roof spotters. If a roof-spotting system is to run efficiently, it must go on all the time the workers are in the factory, so nowadays you have to have a 24-hour system of roof spotters. It is no use having solitary men. You must have three shifts of two men each. The result is that you need 56 men for all these works, doing nothing but gaze at the sky. That applies to engineering works as well as to others. If you count the people who are standing on other roofs, it means that, in a comparatively small town, 200 or 300 people are gazing at the sky. Is it not possible to centralise the spotting system so that an immediate warning can be given that enemy aeroplanes are appearing overhead? We appear to be one of the Clapham Junctions for air raids, and we get rather more of them than other people do. Scarcely a day passes but that we have six or seven warnings. If labour is to be economised, it is essential to have a central watching system organised in every town so that time is not wasted.
An hon. Gentleman criticised Government training centres. I agreed with much of what he said, but with other statements I did not agree. The training centres have served a very useful purpose, and I would not like to see them reduced, but I agree that training in the workshops is usually far more effective and quick than training anywhere else. I understood the hon. Member to say—and I 1055 am sorry that he is not here—that he did not think that there was sufficient training in the workshops. Again, that is not my experience. We have not had any difficulty with the union men or others. They have been very good in collaborating as much as they can in training the maximum number of people, and sometimes to their own disadvantage, because you cannot train a man unless you actually let him do the job, and if, when he does the job, he makes a botch of it, the skilled worker is likely to be penalised. [An Hon. Member: "Including the pieceworker."] As my hon. Friend points out, that must affect the piece-worker.
I wish to say a word about the new age reservations. I am assured by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary that I have misread the Regulations. I hope I have, but I would put at least this point to him. He will fall into a profound error if he thinks that those new age limitations are necessarily right, and I hope that he will give representatives of organised labour and employers an opportunity for discussing in their districts exactly how those age limitations will affect industry in their particular districts. On the figures that I have seen—the hon. Gentleman has told me that I am wrong— it is going to have the effect of shutting me up altogether.
§ Mr. Stokes
I am sorry if I am boring my hon. Friend. That might be very desirable, but it would probably take more than my Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to do it. It is really a serious matter that what applies in one district does not apply in another, and in general engineering especially what applies in one engineering works applies quite differently in another. It is a great mistake to classify clerks as clerks. I know that that sounds silly, but in an engineering works clerks are experienced people. They do not just write notes and type letters. I found, for instance, that under this new registration the whole of our wages and costs office is going to be wrecked. It is no use telling me that I must get some older men to do the work. The poor old chaps could not do it, especially when there is a multiplicity of arrangements and interruptions over which we have no control. I hope that point is being attended to.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. Assheton)
If the hon. Member would allow me to interrupt him, when the schedule is published it will be seen that careful provision has been made to distinguish between those working in protected industries and in unprotected industries. Without knowing full details of my hon. Friend's business, I do not know how it will affect his important work.
§ Mr. Stokes
I am sorry that I must differ from my hon. Friend. I am a protected industry. The employers held a meeting on this point a few days ago, and they are very upset about it. Of course, we may have had the wrong papers. With all respect to my hon. Friend, his Ministry have a habit of changing their minds.
§ Mr. Assheton
We have an enormous number of representations from all over the country, and if, upon those representations, we change our minds it is not our fault.
§ Mr. Stokes
I do not dispute it, but from the papers that have come to us, we are in for a sticky time. I am really trying to help my hon. Friend, and I thought it easier to make a speech to him than to write a letter.
§ Mr. Stokes
My hon. Friend should not give me away like that. The point which disturbs me is this: We seem to be decided on the fact that we have not enough men, women or anything, that they must all be pooled and put into a central boiling pot. But for what purpose? I would like to know what is the war strategy. Where are these people to go? Are we to have an Army of 10,000,000? For what are they wanted? We are not killing people off at anything like the same late as we were able to do in the last war; and I hope that no one is so insane as to think that we shall try and invade Europe without American help, and we have already declared that we do not want man-power from America. What is it all about? Why should not the House be told the general strategy of the war? I fail to understand the necessity for raking up all the people, taking them out of one industry and putting most of them into a useless industry without any assurance as to what they are to do ultimately.
§ Mr. Granville (Eye)
I have listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) with the greatest interest, as I always listen to his versatile speeches in this House, and I hasten to assure him that I should be the first to regret it if any action by the Minister of Labour were to create a zone of silence on the third Bench below the Gangway. I do not wish to follow the hon. Member on his tours with regard to dictaphones and whether the Minister of Labour should have a dictaphone beside his bed; neither do I wish to follow the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson), who always speaks with great experience and authority on these matters, on the question of the motive of private profit in the armament industry. The only observation I would make upon that subject is that I hope that if we ever resume those peacetime Debates which we used to hold in this House upon the private manufacture of armaments, whatever the outcome of that may be, we shall never allow the armament industry in this country to get into the state it was in before this war broke out. I remember the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) deploring the fact that we allowed the skilled men connected with the armament industry to go out of the industry, and it is a deplorable fact that we always reach these acute problems of man-power in time of war. I think the last occasion on which we had a Debate on man-power touching on the problem of production and the supply of materials was in January, just over two months ago, and it was then recognised by the Prime Minister that this would be one of the most serious problems that this country would have to face.
Therefore, I think we are all indebted to the hon. Member for Duddeston (Mr. Simmonds) for giving the House another opportunity for discussing this vital question of man-power in relation to the war effort. I listened to the whole of his speech, and I agree with almost everything he said. I noticed that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour was taking notes, and I hope he took note of many of those points which were brought forward by my hon. Friend, because they come from a good deal of experience and a knowledge of the industry. I do not desire to deal 1058 with the part of this problem which concerns the demand by the Services for man-power. Neither do I wish to deal with the aspect of this problem which is freshly created by the Bill which was introduced by the President of the Board of Trade with regard to centration of industry. I would like to deal more particularly with the organisation of the war and the armament industries themselves in relation to man-power. We have had a very quiet, useful, constructive and sedate Debate on this subject, and I hope that we shall not forget that the subject that we are debating is one which vitally affects the fortunes of our war effort in the future, because the supply of equipment, aircraft and other vital materials depend upon how this problem is dealt with.
In my view, the single test of the organisation of industrial man-power is war output. In war we cannot afford to look at this problem from the theoretical point of view; we cannot sit down and make plans and graphs and deal with it on a normal, idealistic basis, because we are subject to war conditions in industry. I am sure my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour, when he approaches this problem in his office day by day, has to approach it not from the point of view as things as he would like them to be, but from that of the situation as he finds it in reality. The approach of the War Cabinet and the Minister of Labour to this problem must be, therefore, largely upon an emergency, flexible basis. Nothing can be rigidly fixed and unalterable. They are dealing with a situation in industry which, for its supply of raw materials or machine tools, may be dependent on whether or not those things successfully negotiate the Atlantic. They are dealing with a situation subject to the emergency of a factory being bombarded from the air. We have heard from questions put in the House to the Minister of Transport that there are serious transport difficulties. We know also that materials and man-power are subject to War Cabinet priorities. We know it may be necessary—it may in fact have been done already—to disperse a large percentage of the concentrated production of armaments in the country. Those are all conditions obtaining in war. I should therefore have thought that, just as I believe that the single test of the 1059 organisation of man-power is war output, the cardinal factor in this situation, in which you have a worker with a roof over his head, with power and machines and with a supply of raw materials, would have been to obtain 100 per cent. human output from that worker. If you take that as the cardinal factor, quite obviously there must be much give and take, and there must also be many compromises which would not normally be entertained.
The hon. Member who moved this Amendment quite rightly said that in actual fact the control of managements exists now. I am not going to join in the discussion, which I think was construed upon a wrong basis, as to whether trade unions or employers are associated with this or that point of view, but let us face the fact that anyone who has had experience in the war industries in this country must know that there is fairly complete control of such industries from the points of view of management and of men. No management, if it is engaged upon the production of an important article associated with the war programme, can refuse to carry out instructions which may be given to it by the competent authority. It has been rightly said that the competent authority, which may be the Ministry of Supply, the Ministry of Aircraft Production, or the contracts side of the Admiralty, has complete power to change any management either which is reactionary, which is not co-operating in the war effort, or which is inefficient. So there is complete power in that direction. Moreover, the direct contractors or constructors are told what to produce, how to produce it, and very often where to produce it. The supply of labour and materials comes under direct Government control. I do not wish to be led down the side street of a discussion on the question of profits, but the fact is that the price, the profits and the capital of industry engaged in war production are definitely controlled, and power is in the hands of the Government to extend that control under the Defence Regulations. I put it to some of my hon. Friends opposite that that goes a long way towards the conception of a war utility in the British armaments industry to-day.
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour has the power to control the 1060 workers. I have never been in favour of the conscription of labour, and to a certain extent I have agreed with the Minister of Labour on this point. There was a very strong case to be made out for it at the beginning of the war, but bearing in mind the description I have attempted to give of the actual working conditions in the war industries to-day, any attempt to change over from the present system would, I think, produce disastrous results. Anyone who has had experience of war production, whether it be of shells, aeroplanes or Army equipment, knows very well that in theory you can conscript workers and give them a uniform, appeal to them to act as industrial soldiers under attack from the air and working in warlike conditions, but you cannot guarantee that conscripted they will give you output. When my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Sir A. Maitland) was dealing with an aspect of this question, I thought that perhaps we were prone to forget that output is the cardinal factor upon which this should be approached and decided. Last September the workers were told that they had to get the fighters into the air. There were no ideal conditions—and this also touches on the question of overtime—and I pay my tribute to the British workmen, because they were prepared to work all the hours of the day and the night to put those fighters in the air. Suppose to-day there is an overwhelming desire in the country for offensive bomber attacks. It will therefore be necessary to appeal to that section of the industry which has the materials, machine tools and concentrated productivity to work day and night to produce bombers so that we can have an abundance of those machines to take the offensive. I therefore say that these questions cannot be approached on any idealistic or peace-time basis. They have to be dealt with not in a situation as you would like it, but as you find it, subject to the changes of war.
Several hon. Members in the course of this Debate have drawn the Minister's attention to questions such as absenteeism or staying put—the workers staying put in the factory and not leaving bombed areas —and I would like to add my emphasis to any appeal which the right hon. Gentleman makes to the workers of this country —if that method of an appeal is chosen, rather that complete enforcement of the 1061 Order—to stay put. They may be a vital factor on a production belt. As the hon. Member for Ipswich said, loss of time on that kind of work might endanger production for months. I do not complain about high wages. That is another matter, which would take a long time to debate. But my right hon. Friend might appeal to workers, if they are not to be conscripted and put into an industrial uniform, to stick to their jobs.
§ Mr. Granville
I am dealing with the criticism, which has been made by several hon. Members, of a tendency for some men to leave bombed areas, or to indulge in absenteeism. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour himself referred to this question recently in this House. It is important that workers should realise that there is no more freedom to leave industry, to work where they will, and to compete for bonuses and high wages; but if you are to make this appeal, you must have uniform wages and bonuses. I know there are many difficulties, but if the temptation is to betaken away from the workers to go to the next factory, in order to get bigger bonuses or rates of pay, the right hon. Gentleman must exercise his powers to make uniform rates throughout the war industries. When the Minister goes around the country, making his hotting-up speeches, appealing for greater output and greater sacrifices, I hope that he will remember that there is a management side of the industry as well. The Minister of Labour is the Chairman of the Production Executive Committee, which is delegated to deal with all the problems of production. Although the Prime Minister defined his powers on 22nd January I am certain that it is true that the right hon. Gentleman has a great appeal to the trade unionists and other workers of this country, but I would ask him not to forget the management side. He is not responsible for production in all its aspects. But he cannot make speeches, asking for great output from the workers, without extending his appeal and to take in the management as well.
The hon. Member for Duddeston said that he did not speak as representing the employers, and an hon. Member on the Labour benches said that he was not dealing with the point of view of trade unionism. There is an overwhelming desire for 1062 unity in this country in working out the great problems of the future. The management side of industry come into this question, because they are responsible for the final results. I believe that we shall get the maximum production, that we shall get the best use of organised labour in this country, that we shall be able to supply that equipment which is vitally necessary if we are to achieve a speedy victory, if we appeal to the whole of industry to work together on a kind of "victory industrial plan." If this appeal is made to the workers and those who represent the management of industry, I believe they will give us that equipment which will enable us to defeat Nazism.
§ Mr. Naylor (Southwark, South-East)
I have listened with very great pleasure to the speech made by the hon. Member for Duddeston (Mr. Simmonds). I could not help feeling that he based one or two general criticisms of workmen upon cases which were merely individual. We can all agree with the hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Granville) that the immediate need in the industry is the maximum production and the introduction and maintenance of methods of production that give the best results. I was surprised that it should be said that certain men were not doing all they might, and that when the whistle went in the evening men walked out satisfied with their day's work, leaving the machines idle. [Interruption.] I understood the hon. Member to mean that when the time came for ceasing work the men were not prepared to work overtime. I do not know whether the hon. Member will agree that that is the correct deduction. Another hon. Member contradicted that suggestion, which seems to add point to my criticism that it is unfair to cite certain instances as necessarily reflecting the general position throughout industry. With regard to restriction of output, we have no evidence that it has occurred, except perhaps the operation of certain trade union rights that may be a hindrance to the dilution of labour. I have had some experience of trade union action. I remember that in 1918 we were asked to allow women to come in and to forgo some of our rights relating to production, and we were told that when the war was over all the customs of the trade would be restored, but they were not restored in all instances. It was only the strength of the trade unions in certain industries that made it possible to get 1063 back to the normal condition of production as required by the trade unions. Can one wonder then why we are not too keen as trade unionists to forgo those rules. which, in the main, are intended for the protection of our members?
I agree that at a time like this we ought to strive for unity and to get the trade-union rules relaxed to such an extent as to make a maximum production possible, and we also want the managements to bring themselves up to date in regard to methods of production. When we speak about refusing overtime⁁by the way, I have found very few men in my industry who were not willing, and they found it necessary, very often, to earn the necessary money that overtime brought them— why does not the criticism extend to the management of a firm, in order that it might provide means to offset the very natural inclination of men to want to go home when the day's work is done? We know that there is a war on. These men know that there is a great deal that depends upon their labour, but a great statesman in this Chamber once said that there was a limit to human endurance. It is a question of the proportion of sacrifice to which a man working at the bench or in any other place should be called upon to submit. These are considerations which are sometimes overlooked in a debate of this kind. We do not want the reputation of the British workman sullied in any way at a time like this, and I agree with the hon. Member who preceded me that, while we do not like the idea of conscription being placed upon British labour—and a few years ago not one of us here would have agreed to anything in the nature of conscription for any purpose whatever—in the day of national emergency, we can do no more than join in every effort which aims at the defence of the interests of the men and women of this country.
Therefore, we say to the Minister of Labour that we are behind him in this effort to make the best of the man-power and woman-power in this country. We are quite confident that his experience will not lead him to ask us for more than he has a right to expect. We believe that the methods that have been outlined in respect of man-power in this country are absolutely necessary, and nothing surprised me more than listening to the hon. 1064 Member who spoke below the Gangway a few moments ago as to why all this manpower is wanted. Can anyone who approaches in a practical way the position in which this country is placed to-day doubt why all this production is required. The answer, of course, is the fact that we are at war, and we have to produce these things if we are to win the war. The best way to win the war, I agree, is to get the nation united in an effort of common sacrifice, not the sacrifice of one section on one side or on the other, but equal sacrifice among all classes and among all men and women who are engaged in the work of production.
§ Mr. Higgs (Birmingham, West)
I am sure that the House is grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Duddeston (Mr. Simmonds) for introducing this Debate. I would, first, like to express my appreciation of his contribution and the forceful manner in which he delivered it. I believe that if we had more speeches of that description it would contribute greatly to the efficiency of British industry. The difficulty in which we find ourselves is due to the demand for labour and material exceeding the supply. We are trying many devices to overcome that difficulty. We are bringing more women and elderly people into industry, the hours of labour are being extended, and experimented with, labour is being moved from one district to another, and we are endeavouring to train unskilled workers. There are many other items as well, but I will refer for a moment to the question of women.
This problem was debated in this House at some length a week or so ago. It is the only large reservoir of labour that is left, and I congratulate the Minister on the compulsory registration of women between 20 and 21. It has already had its effect. Women are coming into industry to-day quicker than they have done since war was declared. They are anxious to be able to choose their jobs rather than being put into them, and I hope that the Minister will continue issuing orders of that description. Women are capable in industry, and in a lot of industries they have been employed for a considerable time, in the electrical industry in particular, and that is heavy engineering. We are used to seeing them working on certain operations that are suitable, and, therefore, we do not find it difficult to extend their usefulness in time of war. If one 1065 industry can do it effectively, then another can.
The outlook of a woman is different from that of a man and her physical strength is limited, but, with these exceptions, they can practically perform all the operations that men can perform. The Government perhaps are not as discreet at times in selecting occupations for women. I came across a case the other day where a woman was out on a railway dray with a man delivering goods. The object of the second man on these occasions is to help to move the goods on and off the lorry. The result is that the driver is confined to driving his lorry. The woman is there as the second person, and the receiver of the goods has to unload them. I could cite several cases of a similar nature. I would also remind the Minister that, in connection with the voluntary registration of women, he might consider that domestic servants are necessary. Their numbers may be considerably reduced, but there are many cases where the woman of the house is doing voluntary work, and if the domestic labour is taken there will be no gain because the woman of the house would have to discontinue her voluntary work.
§ Mr. Higgs
I expect there are many other instances as well. I am certain that in regard to the hours of labour to which many hon. Members have referred, the Government made a great mistake nearly 12 months ago in forcing the hours too high. I consider that a normal working week, under normal conditions which are satisfactory to a man and a woman, should be something in the order of 47 hours. It could be extended to 54 hours, but beyond that the gain is not great. The average worker who gets time and a quarter or time and a half, as the case may be, may be prepared to be at his job but I do not consider that he is producing efficiently. I think it was Napoleon who found out that an Army marched on its stomach. It is just as important that the industrial worker should have his rest because he is doing as much as a man in the Army. When this state of affairs alters, inasmuch as the Army have to take a definite share in defending the country, then we may alter the conditions in their favour again.
1066 The soldier cannot fight every hour of the day; neither can the worker work every hour of the day. The worker wants to work eight or nine hours a day, with one hour for meals and may be two hours for travel. He wants his rest and with that rest he will be far more efficient.
Following on this forcing of labour I have been making some investigations at one of the factories in the district in which I am interested. I came across a case of Government inspectors working at night —and here I may say that I do not contribute to the idea of 100 per cent. night shifts. I prefer two day shifts when possible. As an example of the inefficiency which occurs at night a works manager went into the factory where 14 inspectors were employed. On the Monday night their normal hours were 8 p.m. to 7 a.m., with a break of 1 a.m. to 2 a.m. On this night the break lasted from 1 a.m. to 3 a.m. and from 3 a.m. to 4 a.m. all the men were reading. On Tuesday the break lasted for two hours instead of one hour and on the Thursday three-quarters of an hour after starting time no work was being done. Hon. Members who have worked at nights know exactly what goes on. There is not that efficiency of production which we get in the daytime, although even this is not too efficient. So I say I do not support unnecessary night shifts. Industry is in a deplorable state through bad time-keeping. Before the war started it was normal to lock out employés if they were not there to time. It cannot be done to-day and it is not being done. People who are supposed to get to work at 7 or 8 o'clock in the morning get there at 8 o'clock or 9 o'clock and no effort is being made by the Government to assist manufacturers to keep better time. We have to remember that in industry departments depend upon one another and that when certain machine tools are not running during the first hour of the working day, the whole factory may not be producing efficiently for the first two hours. The Minister of Labour ought to enforce workers to attend better and be more punctual.
In regard to the movement of labour some of this is necessary, as I think we all agree, but I have come across cases of young men who have been moved to different parts of the country and have no sooner settled on their job than they have been called up for military service. What 1067 sense is there in spending money in moving people about if they cannot remain on the job to which they have been moved? Women and children have been moved from vulnerable areas for safety's sake and then the Government have moved men and their wives and families back into those areas. The argument has been that the men will not stay there without their wives and families. But men have to stay in the Army and they are not paid as well as industrial workers. It is problems of this description that are contributing to inefficiency, and I hope the Minister will take note of some of these things. It seems as though spending money does not matter; that if we win the war it does not matter how much we pay for it. But this might be our downfall even before the war is finished, as well as after. If we can get 50 per cent. more output for the same amount of money it is our duty to do it. The shifting of people about from place to place will not win the war.
I would prohibit the general public from travelling during certain hours when munitions workers have to travel in congested areas. Thousands of pounds are being spent on placards which ask people not to travel between 4 and 6 p.m. I say, do not let them travel. That is the way to deal with this matter. We are at war and we must win it, and the sooner we take a stand the sooner we shall be at peace and have our freedom. People are not supposed to leave their jobs without permission, under certain conditions, of their employer. Is the Minister aware that I can state cases of people who have left their jobs for others and their insurance cards have stayed with their original firms for eight months? Duplicate cards are issued. That is the way the difficulty is being overcome, and if what I say is doubted I can give concrete examples. There seems to be no effort at all to stop this movement.
Labour turnover is altogether too high. In the majority of munitions factories it is about 100 per cent. whereas before the war it was about 25 per cent. Every time a man leaves a new man has to be taught and more money is lost. Efficiency in production is not high enough; we want output at a price. There are others who wish to speak and I will refer only to one other matter—the training of labour. Some engineering firms before 1068 the last war developed the training of labour to a fine art and did it very efficiently. They did the job themselves and knew how to train labour. Now, to a great extent we have Government training departments and with all due respect to their instructors they do not know the job like the man who has to make the goods. Those training departments have cost money and have had to have plant and buildings supplied. I contend that if the training was done in the particular industry in which the people are to be employed, it would be far more efficient. They could utilise existing charge hands, existing tools, setters-up, and so forth, and what is more, they would be learning on the job in which they are to work. There is no argument about it. I shall never be convinced that training at a training centre is nearly as efficient as training at the factory where the individual is to be employed.
Dilution is essential, and there has to be a great deal more of it. It is difficult for manufacturers to see how it can be done, but with additional women it will be one of the factors that will give us a far greater output. It is not plant that we want; it is personnel. We have enough machinery; machinery is lying idle all over the country, and yet more is being made. It is labour that we want, and there must be dilution if we are to get it. I should like finally to ask the Minister of Labour, when he replies, to tell me to what extent he has been able to bring dilution into the sheet-metal industry. That is a very important industry in the production of aircraft, and I am under the impression that very little has been done and very little is being attempted at the present time. I consider that this is one of the vital problems that the Minister should look into.
§ Mr. Austin Hopkinson (Mossley)
There are one or two points I should like to put forward for the consideration of those Members who are not intimately concerned in industry, and who, no doubt, wish to take a rather wider and more general view of the subject than those others who are actively engaged in industry in one form or another. Surely, the fundamental trouble at the present time is not that there is a shortage of labour, but, as the terms of the Amendment rather imply, that the proper use is not being made of the labour which is 1069 available. I hope hon. Members above the Gangway will not think I am making an attack upon them, for I am not; but the fact remains that the rate of production, particularly in the engineering industry, at the present time leaves a very great deal to be desired. My own works, where I employ an unusually high class of labour, even for the engineering trade, unfortunately seem to show that the effort which is being expended is not up to what I regard as normal in peace time. Some inquiries which I have made locally from other works in my own industry have convinced me that my own works are still maintaining a margin of production above what is customary in the district.
Although I am masquerading at the moment as a sailor, I have hitherto been a soldier, and the first thing that was inculcated in me in the Army, when first I joined the Army in the latter part of the reign of Queen Victoria, was that if the men failed, it was the fault of the officers. There were occasions in the Boer War when I learned that lesson from experience. The same principle applies in industry. If we find that our men are not really putting a proper effort into their work—and I am sorry to say they certainly are not at the present moment —we must look to see whether there is some fault on the part of the employers which would account for that state of affairs. The House will remember that from time to time during the two years before the war, and in the earlier part of the war, I put forward practical proposals for dealing with the question of labour during a national emergency, pointing out that the most important thing of all was to convince the weekly wage-earner that somebody else was not getting away with it, and that any extra effort on his part would not necessarily lead to his employer getting a totally exorbitant reward.
We found in the last war, that one of the chief troubles in dealing with labour in the munition industries was the fact that, undoubtedly, large numbers of people were making gigantic fortunes out of their country's troubles. If anyone puts that point of view forward to-day, the Government at once point out that there is an Excess Profits Tax which takes 100 per cent. of any extra profits made. But that tax is exactly like the Excess Profits Duty of the last war, which we always used to say was never 1070 paid except by honest people. The means of evading the Excess Profits Tax are obvious to anyone who has had experience in industry. It is just ridiculous to suppose that one cannot evade it, if one wishes to do so. I could show any hon. Member how it can be evaded.
In actual fact what is done is this— indeed it is encouraged by the form of contract which some Government Departments put out. One simply employs one's poor relations at exorbitant salaries, and adds more and more to the salaries of the staff and to expenses, and buys more Rolls-Royces "on the firm," and generally runs up the standing charges until they absorb all the excess profits there are. My own particular method, which is probably illegal, is, that being a member of the Fleet Air Arm and producing at my works something which it requires, if I find I am making more profit than is necessary, which would be taxable, I simply let the Fleet Air Arm have the stuff they want without charge. That is a perfectly simple method of avoiding the tax.
I want the House to consider for a moment the fact that we have to convince the ordinary wage-earner that, first of all, some other person is not getting away with it. The Excess Profits Tax of 100 per cent. does not convince the worker because he sees his employer getting away with it. He sees the local drunkard, or the village idiot, setting up as a subsidiary to an aircraft manufacturer. He sees that man suddenly becoming an engineer in spite of the fact that he has had no previous experience, and he sees the Government providing the money for the works and filling the works with the necessary apparatus. Then, when he has broken down as a manufacturer, I have to come to his help and do the job for him. Undoubtedly that sort of thing knocks the whole morale of our workers on the head.
The worker will do his best if he knows that someone else is not getting away with it. My experience is that if he finds his fellow-workman benefiting he dislikes it extremely. Still more does he resent his employer getting away with it. The only way of preventing what is happening is by adopting the method which I have been using experimentally for the last 15 years in competitive industry. It works particularly well, and there is not the 1071 slightest difficulty in applying it to all manufacturers engaged on Government work. It is based upon the principle that profit is a crime if it is earned out of the agony of the country, such as the profits which are being earned at the present time in the munition industry.
The scheme is that you do not allow the public to hold ordinary shares for the period of the emergency. Instead, the shares are held by Government trustees. In the case of each firm the beneficiaries are the people employed. I need not give the House any further details, except to say that I have worked it out and have applied the scheme successfully for 15 years. It removes the fear of the ordinary worker that somebody, for whom he has no respect or regard, is benefiting as a result of a national necessity.
As the Minister of Labour is here, I should like to put this point to him. Enormous harm has been done to the whole labour situation by some of the speeches of Ministers of the Crown during the last nine months or so. The ordinary Englishman or Scotsman amongst the workers loathes being praised when he knows that he does not deserve it. Nothing makes him more annoyed. The men who have been dashing to the air-raid shelters as soon as the siren went hear that these lads in the Air Force and the Navy are not the heroes of the war, that their sacrifice is nothing, that the workers in the aircraft factories are the heroes and theirs is the sacrifice—those noble fellows! That sort of thing has done an enormous amount of harm, and I hope Ministers of the Crown will stop that sort of nonsense, cant and humbug, as it is. The sacrifice of the man who works on Sunday for double wages and overtime for time-and-a-quarter or time-and-a-half, compared with the sacrifice of some of the men in the Air Force! Let us have, an end to that sort of nonsense. I would also request the Minister of Labour to make a little more study of labour conditions and the principles upon which work is based. One of our chief troubles has been that ridiculous performance of his last summer. How on earth anyone pretending to know anything about work could have suggested the hours that were practically forced upon us at that time I do not know.
§ The Minister of Labour (Mr. Ernest Bevin)
The Minister of Labour did not do that. It was the Minister of Aircraft Production.
§ Mr. Hopkinson
I am glad to hear that the right hon. Gentleman is innocent and that it was the Minister of Aircraft Production who perpetrated that folly, but a Minister of Labour is not of much use if he cannot stop another Minister interfering with labour to the extent of which I have spoken. Our principal trouble at present is that tempers are bad; men are not doing the work they might do, they are disgruntled, unhappy and discontented, and it is largely due to a number of factors all coinciding. One is the silly speeches of Ministers and another is the black-out, which means that a lot of men have been working in artificial light for months on end and, unless one disobeys the rules laid down, that will continue all the summer. Another thing is this, and it is particularly bad in the North of England. Wages on the whole, everyone must admit, are grossly inflated and yet the man who, for doing next to nothing in an aircraft factory, draws £9 a week, when he goes to spend it, finds that he cannot buy anything. [Interruption.] Within a radius of five miles of my own works there are scores of men drawing that, and doing extraordinarily little work for it too. All this pretence that trade union rates are observed in aircraft factories has been a farce ever since they began with guaranteed bonuses of 100 per cent, on trade union rates. The hon. Member who has just interrupted me knows works within 30 miles of his own constituency where there is a guaranteed bonus of 100 per cent., to start with, apart from overtime on Sundays. The fact is that when peeple have lots of money and find that they cannot buy anything, not even enough food, they get their backs up. With one thing added to another, things are in a bad way. To my mind they have reached such a pitch that we have to deal with it by drastic methods. It is no use trying to patch up the present system. It has gone too far. We shall have to have some sort of organisation of industry, something more or less on the lines I have suggested, before we can get that real effort in the national interest which is essential.
§ Mr. E. Bevin
I hoped when this Debate was instituted to-day that, as Minister of 1073 Labour, I would receive from the House some constructive suggestions for the improvement of the policy which I put before the House only a few weeks ago. The policy which I then submitted is being worked out in great detail and, I believe, with the approval of industry on both sides. The whole speech of the hon. Member for Duddeston (Mr. Simmonds) in introducing the Amendment was really a condemnation of private enterprise in peace-time and a demonstration that private enterprise is incapable of adapting itself to meet the needs of the nation in a crisis. He said in effect to the State, "You must keep your hands off industry; it is not your business. We, the industrialists, are the people who know how to manage business." I suggest that no institution can claim the right to perpetuation unless it can survive and serve the State in its most acute crises. That is the great test to apply. I make that statement generally and do not apply it to one side more than another. Immediately a crisis comes, what do the great industrialists do? They run to the civil servant —the very man who is condemned by the great industrialists; they go to the man to whom they have denied the correct training because they say it is not the State's business. They ask the great State Departments— [Interruption.] You deny the State the right to interfere in industry in peace-time and say that it is the prerogative of the management. Surely that has been the claim made in this House for a long time, and that has been the opposition set up to my political philosophy. You have voted on it dozens of times. Immediately the State gets into war or in a situation of that character, then, in order to meet that crisis, you have to call upon State institutions to bring you together, to organise you and to take control, and you have to put men in charge to whom you have denied the right training in peace-time to cope with such a situation.
§ Mr. Craven-Ellis
The right hon. Gentleman states that he is going to state a 1074 fact. May I state this to him? Had it not been for Government interference with private industry at this time, private industry would be supplying the Defence Services with a far greater quantity of material than they are doing.
§ Mr. Bevin
I did not in making that statement intend to be controversial. I have stated a fact. The hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) referred to Ministers' speeches, and I suggest he has not a single quotation to support what he suggested. It was just a flight of rhetoric and fancy. I listened to him with complete patience. I always say that if I am willing to take my medicine, hon. Members should be willing to take theirs. The second point has relation to what happens in the factory. The Minister of Labour is charged with the crime of not making people do the right thing in the factories. Let me remind the House that the Minister of Labour only supplies the labour, and that it passes entirely out of his hands when it goes into the factory. It passes then under the prerogative of management. That is its place. In fact, there has been a claim from every branch of industry that the Minister of Labour, except as regards diluting and upgrading and examination, should not interfere. No one in industry will deny that fact. Then you cannot hold the Minister of Labour responsible if something is wrong in the management. Management is not the Ministry of Labour's function, and we have never attempted to undertake it, though I confess that sometimes when looking into things I have felt, without any egotism, that I could reasonably improve on them.
But let me turn to the question of the turnover of labour. Some hon. Member, I do not remember who it was, said that industry relies upon the power of dismissal to maintain discipline. What does that mean? It means that there is an economic drive on the workman to work, the ability to force your will on another by the imposition of starvation, which inculcates fear and resentment in the other man's mind. By relying on that you do not get the right kind of discipline. Recently I met the whole of the Clyde shipbuilders— it was on a Sunday, and in view of the recent vote in this House I hope I may be forgiven—and what was their cry? They said, "You, the Minister of Labour, must undertake discipline." I said, 1075 "Why?" They replied, "We cannot." I said, "Why can't you?" They replied, "Because sacking is no good." That means that the basic condition upon which your system is run has been starvation or the ability to make another citizen unemployed. Well, that has meant war. In no industry in this country has there been more war than in shipbuilding over the last 20 years. The other day I appealed to, or directed, or whatever you like to call it, everybody who has been engaged in shipbuilding to register. In the first few days there were registered 49,000 persons, who had left or been driven out of that industry in the last 15 years. Happily, most of those men, after three or four years' unemployment, had found new jobs, some of them, I am glad to say, good jobs, secure jobs. Some are in business. I now have to take those men out of those secure jobs to go back to the shipyards. There were men from insurance companies, men employed by a university, and in all kinds of capacities, many of them in secure jobs and some with pension rights. I have to put them back into this industry, where they will help the nation. Some are going back with £2, £3, or £5 a week less than they are now getting in their permanent jobs. They have already responded' and are going back to help the nation. No word of praise has been given to them. These people say to me, "I have a weekly income. Am I to go back to the Tyne or the Clyde to-morrow morning to find that somebody has forgotten to send the materials, and then I shall have to go to the Employment Exchange? Am I to have no security?" We have no right to ask them to accept that position.
Secondly, industry says, "We cannot hold our labour force of essential workers." I have made an order which freezes labour to the job or the undertaking as long as there is work for them there.
§ Mr. Bevin
Certainly. It will be enforced, but it was put into operation only this week. Why did I do it? First of all, in order that labour might be immobilised. I have to deal with this war. This House in the past has allowed large industrialists to close down shipyard after shipyard. In 1076 fighting the battle of the Atlantic to-day, the hindrance is not with men. You must get back the places in which to put the ships to repair them, in order to take the men back. We have a grave responsibility, in the struggle and crisis through which we are going now, because of the policy which this House allowed to be followed for 15 years, in driving the best skilled men out of the industry and, what was worse, driving out the facilities as well. People say to the Minister of Labour, "Make that position good in nine months," when the facilities are not there and the men have been driven into other employment. I ask hon. Members to be realists; it cannot be done. They would not respond themselves if I applied to individuals of this House in those conditions.
I have tried to get over the position by carrying the men with me. I know the British workman. I claim that I have done more to get a response to the national call in numbers, considering the numbers that have been called up for the Army—and not only a response to the national call, but to get the workers to the right places—than in any previous period either during the last war or prior to my taking office. When you meet in conference two parties who have been in this economic struggle, this bread-and-butter struggle, up to the war and after the outbreak of war, it is very difficult to overcome the feelings that exist. A little conciliation sometimes wins your way, in those circumstances, better than the big stick.
There seems to be an assumption that, when the House carried these Orders and directed me to implement them, the function I had to perform was not to get willing service but virtually to use the Orders in some conscriptive method in order to make a nation of industrial slaves.
§ Mr. Bevin
I am told that I ought not to make these appeals and not to persuade people, but to order them. Every decent manager in this country knows that if you overdo the ordering business, you get a reaction and disaster; that is not the way to get output. Therefore, I decided to interpret these Orders in a perfectly reasonable manner. If it is ever 1077 decided to tell in detail the story of what has been accomplished under these Orders, I think it would stagger the country and the House.
Let me deal with the women's side of the question. Before I come to that point in detail, however, let me say that one of my great troubles in getting women into industry is that of management. I have issued—and it is now being sent to every works in the country—a manual of advice on how to grapple with this women's problem. In hundreds of works where we have had to send women there has been no reception for them and nobody to meet them. Let me give a case in point which came to my hands to-day. Fifty women responded to the appeal that I made at Newcastle. They left their job sand went into a works. In a fortnight they were sacked, and their original jobs were gone as well as the jobs which they had newly taken. Nobody cared. Now I have to intervene and try to put it right. Take another case where men have been bombed twice in one works. An hon. Member brought this case to me to-day. Only last night 60 men turned up at 7 o'clock to work all night, and brought their own food; there was no material, and they were sacked and sent home. How can you expect response when you get management like that? I can multiply that into a great number of cases in which I am constantly intervening, and, if I may say so, one of the most difficult places is the great Birmingham area, where they have given very little study to the problem of welfare and management of the people.
Take the vexed problem of drop forgings. The industry has done nothing for itself. My hon. Friend knows that in the aircraft industry special training was established and that special payments were arranged. Efforts were made to get men to come to the steel trade, at a great sacrifice of wages, to go and learn the business in order to make good the personnel in drop forgings. In that great Midland district they allowed that state of affairs to go on, and they have not even rationalised it according to the demands of the industry. Labour is not the only factory in this question. The industry was chaotic. Therefore, when I am told to get the proper use of labour I have to get the proper conditions under which labour can be used, if our purpose 1078 is to be accomplished. Reference has been made to my speech at Bristol, where I said that it was possible to obtain an increase of 30 per cent, in output. What did I say? Why not quote me completely? My complete statement—and it has appeared in the Press, was this: I referred to the public authority which was responsible for the dock management, the ship-owner, the ship management, and shipbuilder or repairer, and the men, and I said that by a combined effort of all these factors an increase in output of 30 per cent, was possible. I did not only say the men. The men cannot do it if all the other factors are not there.
§ Mr. Simmonds
I did not say the man. I said that the organisation which my right hon. Friend has tolerated would allow 30 per cent, more to be done without much effort.
§ Mr. Simmonds
When I say organisation I mean the whole organisation of this part of the industry. I am not speaking of the trade union movement at all.
§ Mr. Bevin
The Boilermakers' Society was referred to in the hon. Member's speech. He followed it up by saying what a condemnation of the Minister of Labour it was when he said that a 30 per cent, increase was possible. Then he linked that up with the questions of output and overtime. I say to the House that an increase is just as capable of achievement as it was in the docks. I knew what output could be got from the docks. I went to the Liverpool Docks myself; it was a wet day like to-day, and there were complaints that the men would not work overtime. The men had been carrying quarters of beef. There was no canteen, there was no food, there was nothing. Cannot the employers realise that the men are as human as they are, that they have feelings and the same right to proper treatment? I say that proper treatment should be given. Then we have heard these complaints regarding shipbuilding. I have been in office nine months; I have had to issue orders for canteens to be put in the shipyards on the Tyne. The hon. and learned Member for Greenock (Mr. R. Gibson) has been pressing hard week after week. I have sent inspectors, but it was 1079 not until the "Blitz" took place on the Clyde that I was able to get them to get a move on, and the canteens are not there yet. The argument against it was that it was a Ministry of Labour fad and would not be necessary after the war. I am not responsible for the operation of the industry, but when I am attacked for these defects, you must allow me to say in return that it was not I who took that line. Is it not strange that in the majority of industries which had highly developed Joint Industrial Councils, the modern industries in which these things had been introduced prior to the war, the industries which had all kinds of relationships with the trade union movement arising out of the Whitley Committees, there should have been the least trouble since the war began, both internally and in everything else?
The Essential Work Order is designed to accomplish three or four purposes. As the man-power position became more difficult, I came to the conclusion that one of the best ways to deal with it and to stop the turnover of labour was to get the industries sorted out. In view of the urgency of the question, I began with-shipbuilding. I found out how many men could be employed, assuming that the yards were fully used and that there was full material available. I am happy to say that the bulk of those men have been supplied. As the transfer of skilled men takes place, the number will be completed. But if there is a lack of yard space, lack of docks, that is not my responsibility. I cannot put men where there is nothing for them to do. Then I applied the Essential Work Order. That holds the man to his job. It is suggested that, notwithstanding the fact that you tie a man to his job, the employer should have the right to discharge him. I am not going to introduce the old leaving certificate system, if that is what is asked for. If the State says to a man that he must not move from one employment to another, surely the right of the employer to discharge him must be taken away. If he is put there by the State, he must be released only by the State, and when he is released the State, knowing where else he is wanted, must transfer him to that essential work. I am trying to grapple with the tremendous problem of the building industry. It is a vexed 1080 problem, which it is very hard to overcome. There, again, I have had to deal with casual labour.
Then I proceeded to deal with the docks. I began with a great experiment in Liverpool and the Merseyside generally—an experiment which, I believe, will not only help to win the war, but will be of great social benefit to that area afterwards. The effect of that is that you do not pick a man up and drop him again every day, or every half-day, but you utilise him over the whole of that great area. Already, I am advised by the Ministry of Transport, there is a marked improvement in output. As the scheme progresses, there will be further benefit. The scheme is intended to apply to Glasgow, and then we shall adapt it for elsewhere. On the engineering side and the aircraft side, we are told, there is great waste. I join with hon. Members there. One of my greatest worries has been the amount of idle time in factories. The men have been disgusted with it. There is only one way to keep up output. That is not by driving, but by keeping the rhythm and the timing and the flow of material. A lot of factories have been affected. I am not accusing this, that, or the other person; but it is a source of worry. There is another big factor in the case of the great aircraft factories. Types are changing constantly. As they get into a rhythm on one type of production, they get pulled up for an entirely new design or invention. Then they go back again. In general engineering work, which is more varied, the rhythm does not break down so much as in a segregated industry like the aircraft industry. Then there have been tremendous difficulties over machine tools and the effect of sinkings, and all sorts of other things which have interfered with production. But my effort has been to do all I can, when I have discovered that production has been checked, to move the men where they will be more efficient, or to get the production Departments to get a move on.
I have been asked what is the response to the appeal to the women, and what I propose to do? I hope I shall not be pressed for figures. They are very good, and they are daily improving. But I did not, in that speech at Newcastle, put in an appeal for the enlistment of women as a substitute for registration, as it has been called. What I said in that speech, and 1081 what I think was quite clear, was that it was proposed to register women in age groups, but in the meantime they should not wait for registration. There were urgent vacancies that I wanted to fill. Those were perfectly sound methods, I would have thought. If I had created a psychology that nothing need happen until the registration was completed, then I would have held up production considerably, but during all these weeks, as they are going on, we are filling up vacancies and helping to fill the armament factories and all the other working places. But there is very great difficulty. Housing accommodation is not easy, and transport is often a terrible problem. The factories were built but somebody forgot to provide places in which the workers could live near to the factories, and I have not had a chance to remedy that disaster in nine months. You can do lots of things in nine months, but you cannot remedy everything. In some cases there are working places which involve travelling of an hour or two or three hours a day, and it is difficult to meet that position. My Department, with the Production Departments, have introduced now the three-shift system which has got rid of the long day. We have introduced methods of feeding which facilitate matters, and workers are given hot food when they arrive in the morning at the beginning of the shift. I am glad to say that under the three-shift system wastage has gone down by 30 or 40 per cent, and each week the reduction of wastage continues.
We come now to the registration of women of 20 and 21. I was asked what was war work? I will give a general answer. Anything that is essential to the life of the community in the prosecution of the war, and only that which is essential. It may be that distribution has a claim and that the girl behind the counter who is efficient and can handle customers properly may be making a great contribution to the morale of the country. The handling of customers' food in proper distribution is a very vital thing in order to keep up morale. I do not want managers grabbing people for war work and probably demoralising whole industry. Therefore I propose as far as possible to fill up these factories by making use of people released from the concentrated industries, others who are in non-essential occupations, and people who do nothing 1082 at all and would not normally do anything, and to direct them to these places of employment. I cannot find a more ordered system than that. I am asked why I have not done it before. The short answer is that the factories were not ready into which to put them, and what in the world was the use of going on with all this machinery of registration, creating hopes in the people's minds, and then not being able to put them anywhere? That would have been a perfectly ridiculous suggestion. I had to time the thing, and I have timed it in conjunction with the Production Departments, according to the availability of factory space and the growth of housing accommodation. I cannot think that this House can expect a more organised and definite plan than that. When I pass in these people the responsibility is on the management and production departments, and nobody will be happier than I if management can be improved.
As there is a Bill, in which there is an element of compulsion, to be discussed later, and as the House is in a compulsory mood, I will make only two further points. One which concerns me very much, and to which I have referred already, is the development of the efficiency of welfare officers for the handling of women's problems. We have introduced a training scheme for welfare officers, and there has been a good response. Indeed, we are turning out some efficient welfare workers, and industry should regard them as just as important as their engineering and technical staffs. One thing which troubles me very much, and which I am now considering is this: I find that on the managerial side there is a great shortage of charge hands and works managers, and that there are little or no facilities for training them. As industry has developed all kinds of people were obtained and put in charge. I am now considering the possibility of creating a scheme by means of which I can give a month or six weeks' intensive course for those desirous of being charge hands and of taking other positions on the managerial side, and I hope I shall get a good response from industry. By releasing men for this course they will undoubtedly repay themselves a hundredfold afterwards. It is often said that one of the troubles in industry is that a good man never gets promotion, and I suppose 1083 that is why I became a Cabinet Minister. So often a man is good at his trade —
§ Mr. Bevin
I am always in favour of making "Left Wingers" foremen. I would enter only one caveat. Every democratic "Left Winger" becomes such a tyrant as a foreman that people are afraid of him. However, I am extremely anxious that this training scheme should be established, because at the moment there is no opportunity for teaching the psychology of industry or the technique of welfare to men connected with the right handling of people in the workshops. So much depends on avoiding disputes and the difficulties which occur on the managerial side. Another great weakness is this: Conferences take place, at which wage conditions, dilution and all the rest of it are settled, and then the greatest handicap which I find is that the employers go away from the conference and send a circular to their members, but that there is very little attempt to carry the spirit and atmosphere of the conference room right down to the foremen, so that they understand what their principals have agreed to. I assure hon. Members that that is a tremendous weakness. If the shop steward gets his advice from the union as to the attitude he is to take up, it is essential that the manager and the foreman should have equal knowledge in order that they may all meet together on common terms. That is a common sense thing to do. There is not time for me to deal with the whole programme of the Ministry of Labour, but I hope I have said enough to convert all members of the coalition on my right to my political philosophy, and all my friends on my left to increased production.
§ Mr. Simmonds
Will the right hon. Gentleman answer a question to which I directed his attention particularly in my speech? I asked whether he could give us assurances that all men and women, and particularly those of no occupation, whom he directs to come into industry will be under as firm and definite an obligation to fulfil that duty as anybody he calls up for the Armed Forces?
§ Mr. Simmonds
If those people do not elect to go into that industry, does the right hon. Gentleman propose to allow them to stay away?
§ Mr. Hopkinson
Can the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that, under the new Regulations, if a man, without notice or with notice, throws up his job on urgent aircraft work in one works in order to go down the street and get a job at another works, he will take all steps to deal seriously with the matter?
§ Mr. Simmonds
In accordance with precedent, but for no other reason, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Question, "That Mr. Deputy-Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.
§ Supply accordingly considered in Committee.
§ [Colonel CLIFTON BROWN in the Chair.]