§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn."— [Mr. James Stuart.]
§ The Minister of Labour (Mr. Ernest Bevin)
The Government welcome this opportunity to submit to the House the reasons for the changes that have been made with the object of co-ordinating and expediting our production efforts. The statement which I am now about to submit will deal with four main subjects: the newly-established Governmental machinery, the policy in relation to production, how the powers granted by Parliament have in fact been operated, and the policy to be pursued in the further organisation and use of man-power. First, then, I will deal with the recent modification of the Government machinery for exercising central supervision and control in matters of policy relating to production, imports and economic questions generally. The organisation was explained in a statement issued a few days ago by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. There seems, however, to be some misapprehension about it in certain quarters, and it may be of assistance to the House if, at the outset of this Debate, I set out quite briefly the purpose of the changes which have been made.
The basic principle of the new organisation is that the whole business of production and supply should be gripped and controlled at the top by a small and compact directing body, consisting of the Ministers responsible for the executive Departments concerned. Thus, the Production Executive is composed of the four Ministers responsible for the principal producing Departments, together with the Minister of Labour, representing manpower, the instrument of production. We shall know by the deliveries week by week and month by month whether, as the result of the allocation of materials, the operation of the priorities and the use of man-power, we are meeting the demands made upon our production effort. The Import Executive consists of the five Ministers responsible for the main importing Departments, and has at its service the handling Departments, such as shipping, transport, merchant shipbuilding and repairs.
82 These Executives, consisting as they do solely of responsible Ministers of high authority who are at the head of the executive Departments concerned, are in a position to reach rapid decisions on matters which are within their competence and can themselves see that these decisions are quickly carried into effect. These bodies are framed for action, and not for debate. There need be no fear of any inconsistency or divergence of policy as between one of these Executives and another, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has retained the responsibility for ensuring that the Executives carry out the policy of the War Cabinet.
In addition, there is the Lord President's Committee, what my right hon. Friend has called the "steering committee," which consists of the chairmen of these two executives and of the other main Committees of the War Cabinet which are concerned with the home front, together with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Minister without Portfolio. They meet under the chairmanship of my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council. This Committee is there to knit together the work of all those bodies, to settle any differences that may arise in the course of their work, to deal with any residual problems, and finally to consider the larger economic issues which the Government must keep constantly under review but which do not fall directly or completely within the scope of any one of the other executives or committees.
To assist them in these matters, the Committee have the services of a body of economists of high standing who are free from Departmental ties. In the task which the Government have to perform, regard must be had to war strategy. It is essential that some organisation should exist to make sure that the deliveries of necessary supplies and of munitions of war are kept moving forward in unison, thereby meeting the legitimate claims of the Services, so that no branch of our effort is insufficiently equipped. War in its modern development has demonstrated the imperative need for the fighting units to be able to operate as a cohesive whole. It has been alleged by some that the organisation now adopted is inadequate. On the other hand, we must guard against the danger of creating or superimposing forms of organisation upon organisation, and 83 creating opportunities for passing on responsibility for decisions and so causing delay. I repeat that the object now sought is the maintenance of the responsibility for production on the respective Ministers of the great Departments and combining them in executive groups to prevent conflict, bottlenecks and waste. I do not think I need say more at this stage on the question of organisation. If any points are raised in the course of the Debate, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will deal with them in his winding-up speech on the next Sitting Day. He hopes, however, that in this Debate hon. Members will address themselves primarily to practical matters without regard to forms and theories. After all, the real test of any organisation is whether it works.
I now propose to deal with the production position, and there are certain things which I think it as well for the House to appreciate. At the outset of this war preparations for war were on a very limited scale, and if one might take the Ministry of Supply as an example, it is necessary to make two things clear. Its first task was to use the capacity available, which before and after the outbreak of war was limited. The commercial and social life of the country was carrying on, and the available units of production could not be suddenly or entirely swung over to war production in a night. In addition, it had the Royal Ordnance Factories, but obviously their number and capacity had to be greatly expanded. There is under these conditions a long and inevitable delay between the outbreak of war and the bringing into full production of the capacity necessary for our full war effort. This determines the speed at which the organisation of man-power and its subsequent use can be brought into play. In the creation of greater productive capacity the first call is on building material and labour for general constructive work. When the capacity is created you have to switch over and provide a largely different personnel. The Services equally did not build up their forces in advance, and in this war there is, as against previous ones, the additional claim of Civil Defence. There were thus three factors operating: first, the claim of the Services for personnel—and they take largely the flower from our productive effort; 84 secondly, Civil Defence; and, thirdly, the expansion of capacity. You are also, to a large extent, governed by the total of raw materials available.
The House will remember the great drive that took place last summer and the long hours then worked. In spite of the shortening of the hours and the increased and determined air attack made by the enemy, I am assured by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply that as far as his Department is concerned, the high production reached in the summer was maintained and in many cases increased in the last quarter of 1940. Indeed, for some of the more important items, our output shows a very considerable increase over anything accomplished in any previous period. The output of all our essential weapons and ammunition is still rising and will represent a formidable advance in the first quarter of 1941. Here, again, I would ask the House to appreciate the fact that nowadays the quantities of equipment required for a given number of men are much larger and performance has to reach much higher standards, necessitating greater complexity of design. Despite all this, I am sure that if I were at liberty to reveal, for example, the rate at which we are now able to equip a division with guns and machine-guns, it would afford the House a great measure of encouragement.
I now turn to the aircraft situation. Here you have a variety of conditions with which to grapple. In comparison with 1914–1918, the production of aircraft involves a far greater percentage of skill and we began with an insufficient amount of it, so that we were faced with the twofold problem of building up capacity and training skilled workers. The expansion of training at the critical moment of the war was limited by the number of skilled men we could afford to release as instructors and by the lack of machine-tools available for the purpose. After May we had to proceed by improvised arrangements which may or may not he subject to criticism. The object was to get the maximum output possible in the shortest possible time in order to meet the imminent invasion danger. We took a census of the man-hours for which machine tools were being worked and this enabled us to make better use of this vital factor in production.
With reference to man-power, while I cannot reveal the figures, I can assure the 85 House that great additions have been made since last May to the numbers of workpeople engaged in the aircraft industry. This increase has been achieved, in the main, by training either in the workshops or in Government training centres. The aeroplane as an instrument of fighting is going through a process of rapid evolution. Scientists are working at top speed, and it is true that, owing to changes of type and method, some of our plants have at times been working at less than full capacity. None the less, the Minister of Aircraft Production tells me that since the beginning of September, with the exception of one week, his Ministry has delivered to the Air Force, week by week, more new operational machines produced in this country than have been lost by the Forces in the air or on the ground, quite apart from the whole vast processes of repair, and that production of aeroplanes continues on its upward course. In the last few months the Royal Air Force has created many new squadrons and sent many aeroplanes abroad; which as the House will know, have contributed in no small measure to the brilliant victories of our Greek Allies and our own Forces in Libya.
§ Mr. Austin Hopkinson (Mossley)
May I suggest that it would save the right hon. Gentleman trouble if one of the Clerks at the Table were to read this?
§ Mr. Granville (Eye)
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the number with which he has just been dealing includes training machines?
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall (Colne Valley)
Before the right hon. Gentleman proceeds, may I ask you, Mr. Speaker, on a point of Order, whether the House has any protection against remarks such as that made by the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. A. Hopkinson)?
§ Mr. Bevin
I would like to tell the House that I am speaking now not only for the Ministry of Labour but for the Government, and what I have to say I have had put in writing on this occasion so that accuracy might be ensured. But if the hon. Member who made the remark 86 just referred to, likes to test his ability without any such aid, I shall be very glad to take him on—both as regards intelligence and ability. To proceed with what I was saying when interrupted, it is not claimed that the aircraft industry is organised on a perfect basis. Bottle necks have arisen and have not yet entirely disappeared. This was, in our view, inevitable when a programme of production had to be suddenly and sharply speeded up. I am assured that nothing which the Ministry of Aircraft Production can contrive has been neglected and special attention has been directed to improving the flow of production. The supply of aircraft which started as a small stream, has grown to a river and will soon reach full flow, and that flow will be added to by aid from the New World. From this combination we are looking forward to the achievement of superiority in the air, which will contribute in no small measure to bring us to final victory. Many aeroplanes from the other side have already been successfully flown across the Atlantic in bad winter weather without loss. This is a tribute to the design and workmanship of the machine and to the efficiency and endurance of the pilots who have flown them.
I now turn to the Admiralty. The Navy has a task to perform that was being done by five navies at the end of the last war. Added to that, it has to meet an intense continuation of attack under the sea and from the air. It has far greater responsibilities than it had in the last war and is entitled to receive, in the use of shipping, in repairs and in production the greatest possible assistance to enable it to carry its burden. Under this head, the results that have been obtained in mercantile and naval construction and in man-power represent no mean achievement. Again, it is impossible in public Session to give the figures relating to naval and other construction or to give details of the numbers of persons employed or where they are employed. But the House may be assured that the naval tonnage under construction at the outbreak of war was already greater than the peak under construction in 1914–18 and, since the outbreak of war, there has been a further great expansion. The number and tonnage of vessels completed shows an even better picture. To appreciate this statement correctly, it must be 87 remembered that warships are incomparably more complex than in the last war.
When we turn to merchant shipping, the demands of essential naval construction and repairs have necessarily set a limit to what can be achieved. None the less, the merchant shipping tonnage completed in the last six months shows a substantial increase—more than one-third—over the figures for the first half of 1940. We must remember that a high place must be given in our effort to the requirements of conversion and repairs of both merchant and naval tonnage. Capacity has also been increased to meet the demands of general engineering and of the metal products necessary for naval work—and equally for the Mercantile Marine—and to cope with the necessities of defensive equipment for our merchant tonnage. There is, however, no doubt that the dismantling of shipyards durin[...] the lean years has proved a handicap. Some have been reinstated, wholly or in part. In the case of the others, labour had become dispersed, and the yards were too far gone to be worth reinstating. On the other hand, great efforts have been made to make the best use of the available capacity. We are also fully alive to the importance of obtaining additional output from the existing personnel, apart from the further manpower required, and active steps are being taken to achieve this object. The problem of repair and of quick turn-round of shipping is of vital importance. It has a direct bearing on the work of the executive bodies in devising means to secure speedy clearance and adequate storage, and to make the ports places of rapid transit.
The use of man-power, both in handling cargo and in building and repair, must be improved. The casual nature of the work must go. If we are to impose obligations and to insist on continuity of effort, it cannot be done on the basis of our past methods of picking up a man one moment and dropping him the next. The solution to this problem is a permanent, organised and mobile labour force, good co-ordinated management, and a utilisation of every available facility. In this connection, my colleagues and I are having frank consultations with those concerned, with a view to making 88 such changes as are necessary to improve the situation. If the question is tackled with imagination and vigour I am confident that we can enlist the great spirit of the men and of the management, which will bring us nearer to our objective, and make no mean contribution towards maintaining the supply of food and of raw materials and towards sustaining the morale of our people.
§ Mr. Bevin
They are going on now. With regard to export trade, we have had carefully to watch that in the transfer of labour we did not deprive the essential export trade of its necessary personnel and material. On the financial side of the conduct of the war, this is a vital arm; and the most careful examination will continue to see that our connections are main-tamed. We can take credit for the fact that our exports in December were £24,400,000 in value, exceeding the November figure by £2,700,000. When it is remembered that the blockade of continental Europe has deprived us of many markets into which our goods previously entered, that the supply of large quantities of material to the Army of the Nile is not included in the figure, and that our trade in the Eastern Mediterranean is subject to obvious handicaps, we assert that these figures give a great testimonial to the handling of production and balancing of our man-power as well as to the virility of our industries and to the manner in which they have adapted themselves to the changed conditions. I desire to say a word about agriculture. Food production at home is the foundation upon which much of our war effort depends. We regard it as one of the vital arms of defence, and in the terms of reference to the Production Executive it has been laid down that vital considerations affecting agriculture shall be taken into account when dealing with the question of essential imports, and that the necessary man-power shall be available to carry it on.
The building side may be divided into three parts: construction, house repair made necessary by the Blitzkrieg, and demolition and clearance. We have decided to review the whole building programme, with the object of concentrating 89 upon the most vital and urgent necessities and upon that part of the construction programme which can be brought into use at the earliest possible day. Included in our review will be the question of providing hostels and other accommodation for our workpeople to live in. This will assist us in our man-power problem, and will minimise the necessity for long travel. We have collaborated with the Army, and have suggested that the men in the Forces might be used more fully to build their own accommodation, thereby releasing labour which is now employed in building camps, so that we can tackle inure vigorously the problem of house repair. Inside factories we have organised bodies of men to deal with any damage from bombing in their own factories. Clearance requires a large amount of labour which could be employed on building and civil engineering. In passing, I would like to pay tribute to the Army for the way they have assisted the civilian authorities in this and other tasks. A review of the whole subject will, I hope, enable us to organise this building and civil engineering work in such a manner that we shall not continually dislocate the Army and so interrupt their training; and will, at the same time, provide the necessary labour for dealing with each phase of the building programme.
I now turn to the question of powers. Criticism has been made that the powers granted by Parliament last May have not been exercised. I want to correct that impression. In the main, I regard these powers as sanctions in the background, although in some cases they have been exercised. I can assure the House that unless this question is handled with very great care, we might easily do more harm than good, and hinder the war effort. Courage takes two forms. One is to know when to use powers, and the other is to know how to use powers. The fact that they have not had to be used to any great extent is the best evidence that the great majority of the masses of the people of this country are in dead earnest and willing to do almost anything to win this war. I have used, and propose to continue to use, them more in a directory sense than in what is generally understood to be the compulsory sense. I am confident that by far the great majority will be only too willing to accept the directions given, and here will be few cases in which it will be 90 necessary to take further action. The powers given to the Government also give the right to deal with undertakings and property. Generally, the policy adopted has been to institute control of undertakings, but in other cases factories have been taken over and operated under other managements on behalf of the Government. What is more, as the House is well aware, requisitioning has taken place wherever necessary.
The volume of man-power which can effectively be employed is determined by the volume of raw materials and capacity, and the use to which labour is put. I have arranged with the Ministry of Supply for my inspectors to work in close collaboration with officers of that Ministry in regard to all such questions as upgrading, training, and de-skilling of work. This is of great assistance because the Ministry of Supply is in a position to enforce its authority in these matters, and we have their backing in any action which we may agree it is necessary to take. Similarly, the Ministry of Aircraft Production and the Admiralty are arranging to put a drive behind their training effort. In addition, means of production have been adopted which will economise in the use of skilled labour. The net result of all this has been that the number of people engaged in munition production at this moment is greater than it was in July, 1918.
We have to meet the claims of the Services. Here again we have to deal with an entirely new situation. The House will have realised this, as a result of the fighting in the Middle East. The proportion of men in the fighting line is reduced, but the number of skilled men required in the Army to keep a great mechanised force moving is far greater than that required in any previous war. There has been a clamour that skilled men should be returned from the Army. Here again the War Office, as far as they have been able, have made a magnificent response to meet the claims of industry, but the balance has to be kept with very great care. We must not be open to the charge that we were guilty of so depleting the Army of skilled personnel that at a critical moment it was handicapped in carrying out some great future task. The Army and the Air Force have been instructed to examine the duty of every person at their disposal so as to prevent 91 the calling from industry of more men than they require and to ensure that the skilled personnel are put in positons where their ability can be properly used.
In calling up the numbers now required, it has been arranged that this is to keep in step with the supply of equipment, so that large numbers will not be withdrawn from industry before the equipment is ready. Once the number of divisions was determined, we in the National Service Department conceived it to be our duty to give the Services the man-power necessary to fill them. After the men have been called up, the proper use of that man-power rests upon the Services. Man-power for Civil Defence must be provided, and this represents a drain on our resources of enormous dimensions which has never previously existed. In order to meet the demands of production, we naturally looked, in the first instance, to the surplus manpower available in what has been called the manual classes who were accustomed to obtain their living in industry; and though you get these published figures of unemployment, let me assure the House that the reservoir, as far as men are concerned, is practically dry. We are carefully examining the lists of women who are registered, but we know that many of them are living in districts with families who cannot very well be moved. We are, therefore, considering the best way to bring work to them instead of transferring them away from the work. The Limitation of Supply Orders issued by the Board of Trade, which, as the House is aware, were designed to restrict production of less essential commodities for the Home market, have been operative for some time. The number of persons that have been and will be released as a result of those Orders are now known and organised arrangements have been made so that the release and absorption, as far as possible, takes place simultaneously and work of national importance is found to make use of the industrial capacity thus released.
In dealing with man-power, and especially when you have to transfer it, regard has to be had to the conditions of employment, habitation, recreation, etc. We have paid great attention to the whole question of welfare inside and outside the works, and also to personnel management. 92 In that respect much has been accomplished, though much has yet to be done. In building, the turnover of labour was appalling, largely due to the absence of adequate provision of amenities for the men engaged on those great contracts. In certain cases we found ourselves sending a regular flow of men on to jobs merely to replace those who were leaving. We have made an Order establishing authority to enable proper basic welfare conditions to be applied when the contract is issued in order that there may be proper preparation to receive the men when they go on to the job. In docks no provision had been made for a contingency such as this to feed and care for the men working under most difficult conditions. We are about to issue an Order to correct that, imposing an obligation upon port authorities for canteen and feeding arrangements and other welfare conditions to be established in the whole of the docks of the country.
Lighting was good in the more modern factories but indifferent in some of the older ones, and a new regulation has been made which establishes a new minimum standard. Lighting has a very great bearing upon the total output in any works. Feeding arrangements have been expanded both inside factories and by means of communal kitchens. I am told that up to 70 per cent. of factories employing over 1,000 persons have already provided canteens, and a new Order has been made giving power to direct employers to establish works' canteens. We regard this, under the circumstances, as vital.
With regard to personnel management, there was practically an absence of this except in the more up-to-date businesses. Discipline had been maintained by fear of unemployment, and firms who had not introduced or given any thought to proper personnel management found themselves ill-equipped to deal with the problem when the shortage of labour developed. It is bad business anyway and involves a tremendous turnover of labour, which is very costly, even in peace-time, and dangerous in war-time. Welfare supervisors and industrial nurses are being specially trained. Medical services for workers in factories have been introduced and nursing services expanded. Emergency hospital arrangements have been extended by the Ministry of Health and made available to munition workers. Some progress has been 93 made with sick bays and day nurseries. Compulsory billeting powers were secured, but in this we have had to meet great competition arising from evacuation and military and other requirements. The mobility of labour is seriously handicapped because of the want of adequate accommodation and shortage of materials necessary for new construction. In studying and grappling with these problems, so important to the use of our labour resources, I have had the valuable aid of the Factory and Welfare Board and, above all, of the Joint Consultative Committee of the Trades Union Congress and the British Employers' Confederation. Responsibility for seamen's welfare has now been assumed by the Government and a Board established. Provision for the welfare of seamen is being expanded, not only at home, but, with the assistance of the Consular services, abroad. Voluntary organisations have been grouped and their valuable activities co-ordinated. Where merchant seamen have been injured or sick and landed at a port, arrangements for their benefit and their families are being made similar to those for naval ratings.
May I say a word about wage policy in relation to man-power? To those who suggest there is no wage policy, my reply is that a wise step was taken in relying on the sense of responsibility of the organisations in industry. Wage-negotiating machinery has been expanded enormously in the last quarter of a century. That sense of responsibility is made evident by the careful consideration given by these bodies to each adjustment which has been made, and hon. Members will be interested to compare the increase of wage rates so far granted with the cost-of-living increase. Wage rates should not be confused with earnings; where workpeople increase their earnings as a result of increased production that is a thing which ought to be encouraged. In dealing with these matters, it is not only wages but conditions which have to he taken into account. These problems cannot be segregated and have to he handled delicately. As to the argument that all war adjustments should be made on one basis, that assumes stability in everything else, and rises in wages are seldom the first to occur. To prevent these differences leading to stoppages we made the Wages and Arbitration Order. I claim 94 that one of the greatest testimonies to the wisdom of the policy followed is that the number of stoppages due to trades disputes has been the lowest in history. The value of this method is that it was put into operation—not imposed upon industry, but with their full agreement.
Another advantage of this procedure is that it is not static. The parties are now considering whether there should be any change in method, and in handling this question it is essential that the State and industry should march together and maintain mutual confidence. Personally, I am not attracted by the idea of creating a condition which leads to mass movement in wages and political settlement. In the coming months there will be heavy demands for additional man-power and woman-power for the Services, for munition work and for Civil Defence. In order to meet the requirements of the Services it will be necessary to reduce the numbers covered by the Schedule of Reserved Occupations and to call up further age-groups. The age-groups already registered include men from the ages of 20 to 36. I expect that before long arrangements will have to be made for registering men of 19 as well as those over the age of 36. These demands for the Services will deplete still further the resources from which additional requirements for munitions work and Civil Defence might otherwise be met. We propose to meet this position broadly in two ways—by tapping our unused resources and by ensuring that our labour force is employed to the fullest possible advantage.
As I have said, this reservoir of unemployed men is now exhausted, and the problem of having to obtain a great recruitment of labour force from nonessential occupations of whatever rank, and from the unoccupied, has now to be faced. This will involve a careful survey of many forms of occupation. We must also examine whether work that could he done by women is being performed in the Services by men in uniform. In the case of people employed in offices and on managerial and supervision work of all sorts, firms will have to make a careful survey and see, by a rearrangement of duties, how many men can be placed in productive work instead of office work. We shall ask people engaged in all kinds of occupations, whether on directorates, 95 in businesses or professions or elsewhere, to come forward and play their part especially as capacity develops and demand increases. Although much has been and will be achieved by voluntary means, we have now reached the stage where it will be necessary to have industrial registration by age-groups and by this means to make a list of those who should be called upon to serve the State in national industry. [An HON. MEMBER: "Everybody?"] Everybody, no matter what their rank. Most people will volunteer.
We shall have to call into service many women who in normal circumstances would not take employment. There is no doubt that as more men are called up for the Forces industry will have to utilise women far more than it is doing, but it must not be assumed that there is the same reservoir of women available for munition work as in the last war. Far more women were in industry in 1939 than in 1914, for the whole situation in workshop, office and factory had changed. There will be a very great need in the women's Services, in offices and in industry for women to take the place of men who, over the coming months, will be called to the Colours. This involves intricate consideration as to the conditions of employment, transport, living accommodation and feeding. All these problems must be dealt with. In addition, where married women are concerned, and children have to be cared for, there is the problem of day nurseries or minders for the children. This has now become acute. If women come forward, then the State will have to take a much greater responsibility for the care of the children while the women are rendering national service. Of course, it is no use making these calls until the productive capacity is available to absorb them.
In addition to tapping new sources of labour, much remains to be done in order to use our labour force to the best advantage, and I call special attention to the following proposals. In certain types of vital war work it will have to be laid down that the right of dismissal must be taken out of the hands of the employer, except for misconduct. If a person's services can no longer be used in a particular place, this will have to be reported to the Employment Department in order that his 96 services may be used elsewhere. The responsibility of the State must be continuous. Similarly, no employé would be permitted to leave such vital work without the permission of a National Service Officer.
§ Mr. Tinker (Leigh)
Will that apply to all industries? Will no industry be allowed to discharge workmen without the consent of the Ministry of Labour?
§ Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
Does the Minister propose to indicate the national industries in the Order?
§ Mr. Bevin
That will be announced. I use the broad definition "war industries" because some industries will probably still remain non-essential, or at least be allowed to go on partially. We want to ensure that any person whose services the State claims and retains must be rendering those services for the national war effort in some capacity or another and not for a private person in the ordinary sense. As I have said, no employé would be permitted to leave such vital work without the permission of a National Service Officer, although in both these cases there would have to be a right of appeal. If an employer or employé broke these Orders, he would commit an offence. Similarly, if a person had been wrongly stood off and could prove that he had been so treated, he would have to be paid for time lost. On the other hand, if a person stayed away from his production effort he could be ordered to return to his place of employment. Machinery will be necessary to deal with complaints and appeals.
In addition, we propose to make arrangements for securing reinstatement in their former employment of persons directed to transfer, on similar lines to the arrangements applying to persons called up for the Forces. The whole 97 question of restrictions on production will have to be reviewed, but it will have to be made subject to arrangements for definite registration of departures from trade union agreements and customs and for restoration of such agreements and customs at the end of the war. In this latter connection I am sorry that the Bill to deal with the restoration of pre-war practices has not yet been introduced, but it is a subject under discussion between the parties and I hope to have it ready at an early date.
The question of personnel management will have to be brought under control, and where we are satisfied that the arrangements for proper labour management or workshop consultation do not exist, a personnel controller must be appointed for any such undertaking, and on him will rest responsibility for engagements and terminations of employment, and all other matters touching the welfare of the employé as may be determined. Production departments will have to replace any inefficient management. We shall have to take steps to prevent systematic and organised short time, and, if necessary, to prescribe the minimum number of hours of work in any undertaking. These changes to deal with the labour situation represent a very big step, and the directions will only be used for service in the interests of the State and for the war effort.
The winning of this war and the undertaking of the necessary tasks to achieve that purpose are the responsibility of the whole people. It is, however, the duty of the Government to see that these tasks are carried out under as fair and decent conditions as possible. I have no fear as far as the masses of our workpeople are concerned. They will readily respond, for I am satisfied that no one is more grimly determined than they to eradicate the curse of Hitlerism from Europe and from the world. I am confident that there will be a great response to wise leadership, however disagreeable the tasks may be that the people will he called upon to perform, provided they are directed solely to duties which contribute to achieving the great objective. Their overwhelming response will not only surprise the dictators, but will bring victory within our grasp.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)
I think that, as one who has 98 been long in the House and who also was a Member of his Government, it would be appropriate if I were to say that in the minds of all of us there is sympathy with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), Father of the House, one of its most distinguished Members, not only in the great tragedy which has overtaken him, but also in the very sad circumstances, making that tragedy worse, by which the right hon. Gentleman himself is suffering from a serious accident. I am sure I express the views of hon. Members in every part of the House when I say that our sympathy is most deeply with him.
I turn from that individual tragedy to the great tragedy with which we are now confronted, because it is nothing less than a tragedy, the tragedy of the war. In my judgment, it is appropriate that we should have had this Debate, because upon it literally depends our ability to win the war. At the present time we should direct our attention solely to that matter. There is not the slightest doubt that we are on the verge, on the very eve, of the most thunderous and earth-shaking events in Europe. We all believe that under the supreme and superb leadership of the Prime Minister we shall survive this, but it would be very unwise for this House to fail to realise that the perils with which we are about to be confronted are at least as great as any of those through which we have passed during the last year. This is no time for party controversy, vexatious controversy, and whether or not a person wears the old school tie—such controversy is a discredit to our dignity as a nation. What we should all do is to concentrate upon this most important question. Those of us who have asked for this Debate are grateful to the Government for having granted it. We form no organised group or movement. We represent rather the movement of public opinion, which has been on a much more rapid scale than that of the Government during the last few weeks. We sit in all quarters of the House. I found myself, for example, in the last Debate in very complete agreement with the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell), with the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne), and with the right hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha), who would have 99 endeavoured to take part in this Debate but for the fact that he is ill.
I must begin by saying that I see a rather unfortunate analogy between the present situation and the situation which was present in this House at the time of the early stages of rearmament. I think it is worth recalling the memory of the House to those days. In those days I had the honour and pleasure, in common with many right hon. and hon. Members of much greater importance in this House than myself, of supporting the Prime Minister. I should like to recall to the House what used to happen on those occasions. My right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) used to make speeches of supreme value and importance. He was supported by the late Lord Horne, by Sir Austin Chamberlain, by the two right hon. Gentlemen, the Under-Secretary of State for War in this House and in another place, respectively. We had a Debate, and then someone like the present Lord Chancellor was put up to reply. [Interruption.] Well, someone of his type. With that marvellous facility which the Lord Chancellor has possessed throughout, he showed that an indisputable fact was not an indisputable fact at all. Everyone was satisfied except those of us who had raised the question. The Government were satisfied, Lord Baldwin of Bewdley was satisfied, and the Tory party crowded out of the smoking-room and said, "Oh, it a new one of those so-and-so little stunts of his." We were told that the right hon. Gentleman's views were wild to a degree, that he had thoroughly over-estimated what Germany was doing and under-estimated what this country was doing, and then a few weeks later, and quite quietly, there used to appear little references in the Press—and Governments are very good at getting references in the Press—that the Government had decided to do this and that, the very thing that they had decided could not be done a month before, but which they were now doing in a most haphazard and partial manner. Is there not some resemblance between what has happened in the last five weeks, and what happened in those far-off and unhappy days?
We had a Debate some six weeks ago on the Address, in which very serious perturbation indeed was shown. I am sure 100 the Prime Minister will accept the assurance that it emanated with no desire to embarrass the Government. Anyone who did that would deserve to be shot, in the literal sense. It was because we represented different points of view, and because we had obtained information from all sorts of quarters that things were not going as well as the Minister of Labour and the Minister without Portfolio had told us. I do not wish to comment upon the recent changes in the organisation of the Government. I am concerned, not with persons or primarily with organisations, but with policy. I would like to see policy accepted and acted upon, because no Government or organisation can succeed, and all the things which the right hon. Gentleman has told us about are of no use without the policy. That is the situation with which we are faced to-day.
I must make one observation on this question of reorganisation. I do it with some diffidence, because I am anxious not to score silly or personal points. I find it difficult to understand why, if the right hon. Gentleman the Minister without Portfolio was such a success in the very important position he held, he has now been moved to one of much less immediate urgency. Reconstruction after the war is important, but it is infinitely less important than reconstruction to win the war. I do hope that the Minister without Portfolio is not going to occupy an unfortunate position in this House as did the Lord Chief Justice. I hope the Prime Minister will not have to refer to him, as he referred to the Lord Chief Justice, as "His right hon. and most unfortunate Friend," or compare him to Caligula's horse.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Churchill)
I should not have shrunk from such a form of controversy, but I do not think I can claim credit for that particular phrase.
§ Earl Winterton
It is within my recollection that the right hon. Gentleman referred to him as "my right hon. and most unfortunate Friend." I hope he will not have to apply the same term to the Minister without Portfolio, or indeed anyone else. What are the main facts of what I must describe as this consciousness that has arisen over this question of the use of compulsory powers? Let me recall to the House what the Lord Privy Seal said in June last year, and the situation with which the House and the country were faced at that time. We had 101 just had a very severe blow. The whole country and this House were straining every nerve and were keyed up to the last degree from the point of view of meeting the imminent dangers which faced us. Consequently, and quite rightly, the Government brought in the most drastic Bill ever introduced into this House so far as domestic affairs were concerned, giving the Government complete control over persons and property. I should like to quote to the House what the Lord Privy Seal said on that occasion:The Government is convinced that now is the time when we must mobilise to the full the whole resources of this country. Every private interest must give way to the urgent needs of the community. It is necessary that the Government should be given complete control over persons and property, not just some persons in some particular class of the community but all persons, rich or poor, employer or employee, man or woman. The Minister of Labour will be given power to direct any person to perform any service required of him and he will be able to prescribe the terms of remuneration, times of labour and conditions of service.The Minister's speech to-day seemed quite out of tune with what the Lord Privy Seal said.The job was to mobilise the effective resources of the nation for whatever tasks might come upon us.Contrast that with what the right hon. Gentleman said in the last Debate:When I took office and these powers were granted—I did not expect them when I took office—I had to consider immediately how and in what way the Department could be handled in dealing with man-power. Whatever may be my other weaknesses I think I can claim that I understand the working classes of this country. I had to determine whether I would be a leader or a dictator.No one objects to that as it stands. It was put in a slightly different way, but in the same form, by the Lord Privy Seal a short time ago.I profoundly believe you can get fullest effort in this nation only by utilising our spirit of liberty. To the utmost extent you must preserve freedom where you can and evoke people's spontaneous effort rather than dragoon them into supposed discipline.Yes. "If you can." Those are the governing words. I do not dissent from this view. The months and weeks through which we are passing may well prove to be the most critical in our history. You can make the days either golden or leaden. You make them golden if you use them to the utmost extent. Trade union leaders or dukes—what does it 102 matter as long as you make the days golden? I claim that the Government as a whole have turned these days, not into gold or lead, but into a sort of silver gilt. The answer to the Lord Privy Seal and the right hon. Gentleman would be this: If they could say, "Yes, we can do this because all possible labour that we can require in munition work, aircraft construction, shipbuilding and the other trades essential to our war effort is either being employed or trained without interference with man-power for the Forces," if they could say that all Civil Defence services are fully manned, if there is sufficient labour available or being trained for the immense effort that is required for food production, if non-essential trades are being closed down and those thrown out of work trained and transferred to essential ones, if no one, especially the wealthy, is misusing houses or land so that they are not available for national use, if neither employers nor employed in essential industries are allowed to monkey about with the movement of labour, if all who want to work are given a fair chance to work for the nation and all who do not, whether they require to earn their living or not, are made to do so, if they are capable of so doing—if all these aims had been attained, there would be no need for compulsion, but it would be demonstrably untrue to say that they had all been attained.
It may be said, "That is all very well, but we are still a democratic country. Give us time." The right hon. Gentleman's speech was full of reviews, consultations and considerations which all seemed to suggest that there was ample time, that this was a great new social experiment that he was carrying out and that everything would be well. We have not got time. We have not a second for social experiments or anything else. Only one thing matters—producing guns, ships and munitions. People have got into a most dangerous state of mind. We all know what the state of mind was last winter. We were told we only had to wait and blockade and war weariness in Germany would tell. Our propaganda would cause a revolt against Hitler. The Government are deeply to blame for that state of things. Now there is an equally dangerous point of view. You hear it in the speech of every Minister of the Crown. If we only wait long enough, the United 103 States will give us everything that we want. We only have to hang out for a few weeks or months. [Interruption.] We are always having speeches. I could quote half a dozen.
§ Earl Winterton
I say members of the Government—certain members of the Government. It is the general feeling into which the country has got. In every speech of every member of the Government there is a reference to the great aid that we are to obtain in the future from the United States. No one will dissent from that. It is pernicketty to say that there is any difference between that and the point that I made. I charge public opinion, and those responsible for making it, with getting the same kind of Maginot Line or Russian steam roller complex that they had in the past. I take full responsibility for stating this fact, which I challenge the Government to deny. Not until very near the end of this year will you get from the United States such an appreciable accretion of strength in the things you need that it will make a real difference to the war issue. [Interruption.] Because it should be known. Not until the middle of next year or later will you get that amount which will mean superiority.
There is one thing in that connection which should be known to all. I was attacked once when speaking at that Box, by the Prime Minister among others, for an unfortunate speech that I made on the question of aeroplanes. I said that the trouble about the construction of aeroplanes—a new industry—was that unless you sacrificed quality it would be very difficult to get quantity at the outset. I was told it was nonsense. You only had to ask for Lord Nuffield—incidentally where is Lord Nuffield to-day?—or Mr. Ford, and they would solve the problem. They did not solve the problem, and the Government know it. They know how small production is in the United States to-day. We have to rely upon the efforts of this country to give us the resources. That being so, it is really an act of suicidal madness for a capitalist to say, "If this is done to us by compulsion, my industry may be ruined after the war and my private fortune disappear." It is equally suicidal madness for a trade union leader 104 —I do not say that any do, any of my hon. Friends, for whose point of view on the war I have the greatest regard—to say, "If we agree to this, my union may lose its whole position and not function after the war." What on earth do other things matter? How can you weigh any of those things in the balance against the risk of defeat if you do not do it? I wonder if we all know that defeat means the concentration camp for all Members of this House, for any well-known business man or trade-union leader? Do we realise the immensity of human suffering which will overtake us? I observe that the Minister of Health, in his ecstatic reference to the benefits of country life for children, said he hoped that after the war there would be a heavenly migration of the children of the towns to the country. There will be a heavenly migration for the Minister of Labour, myself and a great many other people in this country if we are fortunate enough to be shot by a firing squad, or unfortunately, like those Jewish refugees for whose cases I have some responsibility, are tortured to death before we enter that migration. Those are the things we have to realise in this Debate and not the feelings of any particular individual.
§ Earl Winterton
I hope, at any rate, that the right hon. Gentleman, although I am criticising him, will not mind having my company whether we go up above or down below.
The main point in his speech was a point which he has made before namely, the inadvisability of the use of compulsion where it can be avoided. We are all in agreement about that, but where we differ so from the right hon. Gentleman is as to where it can be avoided and where it cannot be avoided. The gravamen of the charge against the Government is that compulsion is being applied in many cases so partially as to constitute a grave inequity. I would like to give examples. To hear the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's [...]eech one would have 105 supposed that he never ordered any man to go anywhere to work at some job at which he might not like to work. He is, in fact, doing it on a wide scale, and, that being so, why did he make so much at the beginning of his speech of the fact that it was inadvisable to use compulsion? He is doing it on a wide scale in the building trade. Men are being moved from my constituency to work in other places where labour is short. Many of them objected, and I hope that they get the same short shrift from other Members of the House as they get from me when they complain. My reply always is that it is their duty to do it in the national interest. The right hon. Gentleman has now told us that he is to apply that on a much wider scale. In the case of industries which are working on national production he is to prevent the dismissal of men and is to prevent those men from transferring. That is quite right, providing it is done on a comprehensive scale and there is no question of the Minister saying that he will not apply the power in the case of a particular firm. If the power is to be imposed it must be imposed impartially upon trade unionists and non-unionists alike and upon employers, big and small, alike. It must be applied to the whole aggregate of industries, and on no other terms would the country agree.
§ Earl Winterton
I agree, but the point, with which I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will sympathise, is that if you are to apply the power it must be applied impartially to the whole aggregate of industry and there must be no discrimination between firm and firm. It is the category that matters and not the firms. That is compulsion, and I still do not understand, therefore, why the right hon. Gentleman attacked compulsion so strongly in the early part of his speech. It is compulsion of the most drastic colour. It is not a question of using the right hon. Gentleman's position as a great leader of labour, which no one denies, although we hear rather too much about it in his speeches; it is a question of him as a responsible Minister acting for the Government giving directions which are of a most drastic and compulsory kind.
106 I hope the right hon. Gentleman will go further. I do not want to bring in what to him is my King Charles's head, the production on unfarmed and derelict land. If ever there were a need to apply compulsion in matters of labour, it is in this question. The right hon. Gentleman knows quite well that at the present time you cannot get labour for the land. He also knows that if the schemes which I and some others have put up to the Minister of Agriculture, by which there would be a special ad hoc organisation carried out by the war agricultural committees and controlled by the Government, were carried out, it would be necessary to have a large amount of skilled as well as unskilled labour. In order to do that it would probably be necessary to draft men into agriculture. I would like to put this point to the right hon. Gentleman. You could not have a more perfect example of the proper application of the principles for which I always understood my hon. Friends on this side of the House stood. Here you will have land controlled, practically owned for the time being, by the Government, farmed directly by the Government on a wage basis established by the Government—a compulsory wage basis. In these circumstances you have no political or moral justification for not saying to any man who is out of work, or even to a man who is in work in a non-essential trade, that you order him to go to work in agriculture.
We heard very little about the nonessential trades. I go as far as any of my hon. Friends on this side in saying that compulsion should be applied in two ways to those trades. They should be closed down, as they are being to some extent, and the Government should take the responsibility of switching the men employed in them over to essential trades. At the present time a business is closed because of some war-time restrictions rightly imposed by the President of the Board of Trade and the men are out of work. They go to the Ministry of Labour and they say they will put them on their books. There is no attempt, however, to fit the men into essential trades. The right hon. Gentleman spoke about the docks. I will leave to my hon. Friend on this side, who is an expert on this subject, to discuss this question more fully. We saw in the Press and were told it was authentic that the Government at last 107 were to deal with the scandal of the system in the docks. Tory as I am, I say it is a scandal that dock labour has been treated for so long as casual. It is a greater scandal that it should go on in time of war and that dock labourers and ship-owners should of their own sweet will decide how long it should take to turn a ship about. We are told that consultations have just commenced between employers and employed in the industry. Is it not a scandal that at this distance of time this matter is to be dealt with on the basis of consultation? To use a modern phrase, it just does not make sense.
I want to say a word about production and what was really a calamitous statement of the right hon. Gentleman. He said, as if it were satisfactory to the whole House, that munition production to-day was greater than it had been in June, 1918. If I did not wish to be polite to the right hon. Gentleman I should say that it was a fatuous comparison.
§ Earl Winterton
That makes the position worse. Who cares whether more people are employed? The question is whether we are getting the goods and whoever prepared the brief for the right hon. Gentleman—I suppose he had some assistance in this matter: I know that when I was a Minister we were provided with briefs—cannot be very well up to his job.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke)
The Noble Lord ought to bear in mind that the output per person employed in 1940 is considerably greater than it was in 1917.
§ Earl Winterton
I should like to point out that in June, 1918, we had on our side France, Italy, the United States, Japan—
§ Earl Winterton
—and Russia, though I do not think Russia did very much then, and Rumania and Belgium, and we had an Army which required munitions to the extent, probably, of only 50 per cent. of its requirements to-day. There is only one thing we want to know and that we have not been told. For all that the right hon. 108 Gentleman said on that point he might never have spoken. There is only one question—we want to know whether production has gone up as compared with last summer, and whether, in the opinion of the Government, it is sufficient for the terrible emergency which we shall have to meet. All the right hon. Gentleman's references to production left a feeling of the utmost apprehension in my mind. Whether it was a case of aircraft or ships or of equipping the Army, he gave me the impression of not being able to present us with a good case, and I hope that the Prime Minister, when he comes to reply, will have something to say on that subject.
I apologise for speaking so long, but we have not had a word in this Debate in support of the Civil Defence services. Surely when we are considering manpower, supply and production the Civil Defence services must be regarded as having some importance. What has happened? It is typical of the astonishing manner in which this Government do things. Long ago—and I am convinced that in saying this I am committing no breach of the Official Secrets Act—when I was in the Government, we were warned that the real danger from air action whenever it came would be from fire bombs, or incendiary bombs. I think the Lord President of the Council will agree that the preparations which were made in London were largely based upon the prospects of damage which it was thought would be done by fire bombs. In the early stages of the war we did not suffer much from that form of attack. Lately we have suffered very severely. And what happens? After a month of review, consultation and discussion, to use the phrase so frequently used by the right hon. Gentleman in his speech, we produce a partially-compulsory fire service.
We have suffered hundreds of thousands of pounds' worth of damage owing to the grave neglect, not of one class, but of employers and employed, to the gross neglect of the wage-earners and employers in certain cases—and after it all the Government produce a partially-compulsory scheme. Who is responsible for it? One Minister? Not on your life. Half-a-dozen different Departments share the responsibility, and even then the scheme is only to be carried out in a most extraordinary manner. Compulsion is to 109 be applied only in certain cases. There could not be a better example of how not to do things. I do not blame the Lord President of the Council. I think he has been very unfairly attacked. If any man is responsible for making this country safe from air attack and for the Civil Defence preparations it is the Lord President of the Council. Some other Ministers who were ready enough to criticise him when they were in Opposition, and talked largely about the great changes they would make whenever they got into the Government, are very much to blame to-day for the slackness and inefficiency displayed in the matter of Civil Defence.
Every one acknowledges that the Government, in the seven months in which they have been in office, have achieved great things. No one would want to deny that. And so they ought to have achieved great things, with the almost unanimous support of the House of Commons behind them, and with such support from public opinion as no other Government ever had, and with a leadership better than any Government have had since the days of the right. hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). In such conditions, and with the powers they have, it would be surprising if they had not achieved great things, although no one denies the Himalayan nature of the task which they were called upon to undertake. But they could, and, if the country is to be saved, they must, do more, and they will only do it if they will forget that they are Tory or Socialist or Liberal politicians. Political principles and the representation of special groups or class interests are as nought, like fading flowers in a vase. Ministers have been called to positions of enormous responsibility and great honour. They are not there as political representatives—at least I hope not. Personally, I do not care whether a Minister is a Tory, a Socialist or a Liberal; he might even be a Communist if he were winning the war for us. They are the chief executives of a great people, which is fighting the biggest fight of its life against a people fighting with the fanatical intensity of the Dervishes, and following a modern Mahdi, who is, like his prototype, of monstrous and murderous cruelty. We shall only overcome them by physical force, not by books and pamphlets or 110 speeches. Only if they are utterly defeated will they become peaceful citizens of the world, such as the Sudanese are to-day. Our motto must be "Work, work, work, supply and produce all the time."
I have no objection to the discussion of war aims, but I do not think those who are vulgarly termed the "Booksy Boys," like H. G. Wells and Priestley, with their new order, based on a sort of class-conscious humanism, will succeed in destroying Nazi-ism from within by words. Only a defeat can destroy Nazi-ism. One hon. Member has in my opinion done a great deal of harm by some of his writings in which he suggests that at this moment we can divide the Germans from those whom they regard as their honoured leaders by words. We cannot do it. The only way is by smashing into them and killing them. A short time ago there appeared in a daily newspaper an article by a very able man and a well-known writer, Mr. J. B. Firth, based upon an investigation of what neutral observers had told him of the situation in poor, tortured Poland, Norway and other countries under the heel of the Germans. He said:What has sustained them? Those who have borne the severest strain do not talk much about their moral and political principles"—I commend that to the House.What nerves them is a grim determination that Hitler and his Nazi gangsters shall never again get them down.I think I might well end my speech on that note. What we are concerned with is not so much moral and political principles: our aim should be to give to our incomparable forces the essential physical things which they must have in order to attain the victory on which our very lives and future happiness, or misery, depend.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke)
I have endeavoured by speeches and Questions in this House to deal in a specific manner with many of the issues which have been raised here to-day, but I shall not be so constructive on this occasion. I am forced to take a new line to-day, owing to the speeches which have been made and to articles which have appeared in newspapers recently. I do not like to take this line but I must do so because of the activities of certain Members of this House 111 during the past few years. The Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) said that the months through which we are passing are critical. Every Member will agree with that statement, but he should have gone further and said that the past few years have been critical. In this House and in the country members of the movement to which I belong have been advocating for years that a certain course should have been taken which would have changed completely the alignment of forces in the world. It was the Noble Lord and people with whom he associated who were largely instrumental in preventing this country from taking that course. He has appealed to-day for more compulsion. I hope to refer to that aspect of the matter later, if I have time. He referred to the present danger, but that danger is not new. Members of this House have been pointing out the dangers during some years past, and people like the Noble Lord have been responsible time after time for introducing Motions and making speeches in this House which have sidetracked the speeches made pointing out the critical situation.
§ Earl Winterton
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I think it most unfair to attach those statements to me. If he had read my speeches he would know that, on the contrary, for three solid years I have supported my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) and been in a certain amount of trouble with my own party for trying to get hon. Members to realise the truth.
§ Mr. Smith
I remember sitting here in 1935, when the House of Commons was packed as it had rarely been packed before. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) made a serious statement at that time, which he ended by saying that he had to resign from the Government. The present Lord Privy Seal had a Motion on the Order Paper criticising the Government for not using the machinery of the League of Nations, and not carrying out their election pledges. So serious was the situation then from the Government point of view that even the "Times" said in a leading article that if the official Whips were taken off no doubt the Government would be defeated. It was proved beyond any doubt that the Motion of the Lord 112 Privy Seal truly reflected public opinion in this country. It was the Noble Lord who introduced an Amendment to that Motion, cleverly worded, which sidetracked the Motion which reflected public opinion.
§ Earl Winterton
I did so because, in the then state of the Labour party, had they succeeded in passing their Motion we should have been more defenceless in a war even than we were in September, 1939.
§ Mr. Smith
There was almost complete unanimity in regard to the international situation among this party, the Trades Union Congress and the Cooperative party at that time. As a matter of fact, this party risked its electoral prospects at the General Election in order to support the principle of collective security and the necessary armed force to back up that policy. We should probably have had at least another 100 Members in this House if the party had not taken the line that it did in the General Election of 1935. Right along the developing international situation, this party, the trade union movement and the other organisations put the welfare of the State, and the need to build up collective security with armed force to back the policy that we were advocating, before their own sectional differences. People well placed in this land have been responsible for sidetracking what is now admitted was in the best interests of the country.
I was saying that, time after time, I and a small number of my hon. Friends have urged the importance of considering questions like the provision of machine tools, of training labour and of preparing armed force sufficient to back up a foreign policy which was in the interest of this country. I have become tired of talking about these things. Any hon. Member can read through the records in 1935, 1936 and throughout, in the Library. I have never been prepared to talk for talking sake. I could never enter into the old form of political opposition which used to exist in this House. I was brought up in the school of industrial life in which we have to face questions in the concrete and not in the abstract, and when we put forward theoretical ideas they must be capable of transformation into concrete reality. Otherwise, one sees that the 113 theoretical ideas were not correct. When I came into this House I could not enter into the shuttle-cocking idea of passing the buck, and all that kind of thing.
I have pleaded year after year for this House to rouse itself to the dangers and to deal with the question of machine tools, which was brought to my mind because of my experience in industry because I took a keen interest in what happened in the last war, and because I had read carefully through the evidence given before the Royal Commission on the Private Manufacture of Armaments. Anyone who read that evidence was bound to come to the conclusion that this country was far from equipped as it should be with machine tools to face the international situation that might confront us at any time. If any hon. Member doubts the remarks which I am making I invite him to read the OFFICIAL REPORT of 8th, 19th and 20th June, 1939, and many other reports which I could quote if it were necessary to do so. They will find there how we pressed for an efficient Ministry of Supply. We pressed for more powers to be given to the Ministry of Supply. They will remember how we were resisted time after time. I heard hon. Members on the back benches who represent big interests speaking against us, in order to make the Ministry of Supply more inefficient than it was even at that time. They did all they could to prevent our Motion from being accepted. We all remember how, later on in another place, certain Amendments were moved even to that inefficient Ministry of Supply Bill in order to safeguard certain vested interests in this House. I would like to ask the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham and Worthing whether he considers that the Ministry, of Supply Bill, when it was submitted to this House on 8th June, 1939, was satisfactory.
§ Earl Winterton
I think it went further. However, I am not concerned with that. What does it matter what happened two years ago? I am thinking of to-day.
§ Mr. Smith
I agree with that to a certain extent, but when one considers the way in which we have been discouraged in this House by people with whom the Noble Lord is associated, I think the time has arrived when I should be lacking in my duty if I took the normal role of being 114 constructive. It is no coincidence, but it is very significant to us that as soon as Labour Members began to speak the Noble Lord and others made the attacks which they have made to-day.
§ Earl Winterton
I have never heard a more unfair or foolish attack upon an individual. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is not aware of the fact, but I made one of the speeches which brought down the late Government. A more fatuous observation I never heard.
§ Mr. Smith
It does not help very much to refer to that, but, as a matter of fact, it was the people on this side who were responsible for bringing about that situation, along with the more far-seeing young Members on the other side who associated themselves with that view on that occasion. The Noble Lord voted in favour of this inefficient Ministry of Supply Bill, and the hon. and learned Member who will probably be speaking to-morrow and who has been writing in the Press also voted in favour of that Bill on 8th June, 1939. Should anyone doubt these statements, let him look at the OFFICIAL REPORT of 8th June, columns 763 and 766. In these days no one can charge us and the people with whom we are associated with not facing up to our responsibilities. At the present time men and women with whom I am associated—
§ Mr. McGovern
May I ask the hon. Member a question, as he is going back in history? Is he aware that in this House his party went into the Lobby against the rearmament programme?
§ Mr. Smith
At this time men and women with whom I am proud to be associated are working harder than they did in their lives, and their output is greater than it is in any other part of the world. Therefore, speaking on their behalf, it is time that people who make attacks like those which were made to-day should be reminded of something of their past in order that we may place responsibility where it really lies. I do not like taking this line. It is against my personality. Hon. Members who are friends of mine will remember that for years and years I have never been able to do this kind of thing. But I have become absolutely sick of seeing the situation develop and listening to speeches from different parts of the House 115 by well-placed people who have not been prepared to face up to the responsibility in years gone by, and who now come to the House like one right hon. Member, the late Secretary of State for War, who, had we taken notice of him and his articles in the Press, would have had us at war with the world, the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Clement Davies), the Noble Lord who has spoken here to-day, and many others with whom they are associated.
Therefore, I am going to place responsibility where it belongs. I invite the House to look at the OFFICIAL REPORT of 19th June, 1939, column 1860. It will be found that I, on behalf of our party, moved an Amendment to widen the scope of the Ministry of Supply Bill. I referred to the policy that had just been published in pamphlet form by the Trades Union Congress and the Labour party, entitled "Labour and Defence." That pamphlet was one of the finest and most constructive contributions to the defence of this nation that has been issued by any section of the community. We were supported in the Amendment by the present Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply and, much to their credit, by many hon. Gentlemen who were students of industrial affairs. If we had taken action then, we should have been much better organised to face the consequences of this war. In columns 1897 and 1898 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of 19th June, the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery spoke against giving the Ministry of Supply greater powers and preparing for the adequate training of labour. Therefore, when hon. Members speak and write articles in the way in which they have done during the past few weeks, it is time someone reminded them of what they have been responsible for in the past, in order that responsibility should be placed where it should be.
During the past 17 months there has been less time lost through industrial disputes in this country than at any period since statistical information began to be compiled. But, as the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Supply will admit, there is something more required in industry than avoiding industrial disputes. I refer to good will. The effect of good will cannot be measured. We have maintained 116 the good will of the people in this country up to now. That good will could be developed even more than it has been up to the moment. A few weeks ago I was in a large works after an air raid, and there I saw engineers working without any supervision, because supervision was impossible under the conditions, without any piece-work machinery to affect the men's output, and those men were working as hard as it was possible for men to work. That was good will expressing itself.
But now, more and more compulsion is being advocated by hon. Members like the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham. I was in the Army during the last war, and we were not allowed to strike, but we did strike. I took part in strikes in France and Germany. I was only a boy of 20. I did not want to take part in them, but the conditions produced them. The good will was absent. What is the antithesis of good will? It is sullenness. Let sullenness be produced in this country, and it will have a serious effect upon output. Therefore, I would have liked to ask my Noble Friend the Member for Horsham if he remembers this. The Prime Minister will remember it from his own experience. I have here the leaving certificates introduced during the last war, and the forms which the men had to fill in to make application for those certificates. Do my Noble Friend and those who are associated with him wish to produce conditions which will create an atmosphere of that kind again? If so, let them pursue the policy which they have been pursuing during the past few weeks in their speeches and in the articles which they have written. They are advocating compulsion for our men while the Excess Profits Tax, which has stabilised profits at a boom period percentage, remains as it is.
I have noticed as a result of reading the reports of the annual meetings of various companies that the atmosphere is being prepared for a change in the method of collecting the Excess Profits Tax. Some of them are saying that as it is it does not give manufacturers sufficient incentive. Yet they are advocating compulsion for our men, while they must have greater profits and, unless greater profits are provided, they will not have any incentive. Any hon. Gentleman who is associated with industry will know that already the trade unions and the people generally have gone as far as they possibly can. 117 Take the men of the Mercantile Marine. They are going out day and night risking their all, leaving their wives and children at home, knowing that they are liable to suffer from both underwater and overhead action, and yet they volunteer in numbers as great as ever they did. Could compulsion have brought about better service from these men? And what applies to the Mercantile Marine applies equally to the miners, to the engineers, and to the whole of the workpeople of this country.
Therefore, when people advocate compulsion in the way they are doing, it is only an indication that they are not in touch with industrial affairs. Will the hon. and learned Member who is going to speak to-morrow apply that same compulsion to the monopolies and associations with which he is associated? They go on making large profits; they are putting more aside for depreciation now than ever they did, and they are carrying on their prestige advertising in the face of agreements which have been arrived at with other distributors of food. The compulsion they are advocating is all one-way traffic. It is compulsion only for our people and not for the big monopolies which they really represent in this House.
In conclusion, therefore, I want to draw the attention of the House to a statement which I think provides us with a key to an understanding of the present situation. In the Board of Trade Journal for 24th October, 1940, we find the following:The Export Council maintains that arrangements should depart as little as possible from the normal situation of trade, so that on the cessation of hostilities the trade organisms will be sound.I believe that that statement is the key to an understanding of the situation in which we find ourselves. Too many big manufacturers in this country—and others—are not prepared to throw everything into the melting-pot in the way that the people of this country as a whole have done. Take the trade unions. The engineering trade unions, right at the very beginning of this war, agreed to a relaxation of custom agreements. Anyone who knows anything about it will agree that that was a revolution in itself, but in order to play their part in the national effort they were prepared to throw overboard for the time being all the hard-won rights and customs of generations, and I want to suggest that that policy, that spirit and that attitude have not yet been 118 applied throughout the nation. I therefore plead that what the trade unions and the masses of the people have done, the whole nation will have to do if we are to organise the nation to face up to the serious situation with which we are confronted
§ Mr. Simmonds (Birmingham, Duddeston)
Although it may not greatly please the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, I would like to say how much I appreciate the magnificent, thoughtful, and, I think, moderate speech made by my Noble Friend the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton). He had a great responsibility to this House and to the country on his shoulders to-day, and I believe he acquitted himself nobly.
I can well appreciate that the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken would not regard anybody who mentioned the word "compulsion'" in its industrial application with any degree of approval, and that he might think that they were entirely hostile to the workers and to that co-operation in industry which I think both he and I understand very well is the essence of production. But I want him to bear with me for a moment while I examine his problem, and I wish to address myself for the few moments during which I propose to speak to one problem only, namely, that we are not getting enough aeroplanes, ships, tanks and other implements of war, and that we are not getting as many as we could and should get if this muddle over manpower did not exist.
Both in connection with the great City of Birmingham, many of whose industrialists and workers have spoken and written to me about this problem, and as an employer myself in many parts of England and Wales, I have tried to look at this problem both from the national point of view and from the point of view of the two parties in industry. There is a shortage of man-hours, which is due, as I see it, to four factors. First, there is a lack of men and women where they are needed; second, there is an absence of workers during overtime periods; third, there is an official reduction of the possible man-hours; and, fourth, there is a serious loss of man-hours due to change of employment.
Now the real men and women in industry, not the slackers who go to and fro 119 for the highest paid and the easiest types of job, but the real men who put their backs into the job and see it through, understand as well as anybody that there is a section of the workers, maybe 10 or 15 per cent., who could be doing a great deal more than they are doing towards national production. When therefore one speaks of compulsion in regard to industry, what I think everyone of us who is involved in industry would like to see would be the freedom of the men and women who are fulfilling their duty but some degree of sanctions against those who are not backing up the 85 per cent. who are sticking to the job.
§ Mr. Simmonds
Everybody knows perfectly well that if you are to adopt some degree of sanctions, as I am very glad to see my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour has decided to do, you must apply it, as he also promised, widely and without fear or favour. What, therefore, is the true analysis of the four points I mentioned? First, the lack of men and women where they are needed. Even in the most urgent factories there are to-day great gaps in personnel, not only in the skilled personnel, which it might be difficult to obtain, even by training, but in the unskilled personnel too. As an example, there is the fact that we have a dire need for greater machine capacity. Many of the machines in the country cannot be added to, it may be, for six or nine months, so intricate is their manufacture. Yet in many cases those machines are lying idle all night. From the information given to me, I believe it would be fair to say that the number of workers in night shifts is now only 15 to 20 per cent. of what it should be, and of what industry should absorb in order to give the maximum night production.
I must refer in this connection to the problem of trainees coming into works, staying a few weeks, and then insisting on returning home. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour proposes to tackle this problem whole-heartedly and vigorously, but nothing breaks the hearts of foremen and charge hands—who I have seen, time and again, put themselves out to give these trainees a start—more than to find, after 120 three or four weeks, that these people go back to their own home towns. In this matter the Minister has a very severe responsibility. I am told in Birmingham that when these trainees go to the local Ministry of Labour officials and say that they do not like being in a Midlands city, and that they want to go back to Wales or Northumberland, or wherever it happens to be, a great deal too much sympathy is expressed by the officials for those people, who have taken on a national job and have failed to deliver the goods. There must be people, of course, who come up for training and just cannot go on with it. But I could give example after example of cases where, not one but a dozen, trainees have come into a factory in Birmingham, where the management and the charge hands have done their best for them, and in a fortnight the whole shift have gone back. That is an impossible position; and the Minister must tackle it fearlessly and firmly.
The next point is the absence of workers during overtime periods. Heaven knows the workers are being pressed. They are being pressed by the Ministers at the head of the Supply Departments and they are being pressed by their own appreciation of the importance of the work they are doing. Nevertheless, I believe that it would be fair to say that throughout the engineering industries working for war production there is about 50 per cent. absenteeism during the normal overtime working hours. That causes a very serious gap in production. It is almost impossible for a factory management to maintain, say, 95 per cent. of overtime hours unless there is a great deal more support from the Ministry of Labour. I believe that it is the earnest wish of the best men and women in industry, the workers themselves, that there shall be some tightening up under this heading.
Most serious of all—and I think this reflects a complete lack of appreciation of the dire straits in which we may find ourselves any day—is the fact that there is an official prevention of workers doing as much work as they would wish to do. The Factories Department of the Ministry of Labour is preventing women of over 18 years of age from working on the seventh day in the week, even if those women wish to do so. I trust that nobody in this enlightened year would claim 121 that, even in these times, women ought to be forced to work seven days in a week if they did not feel capable of doing so. But that is not the problem. The machines are there, and those machines will be idle unless women are at work on the seventh day of the week. The women want to go in, but they are prevented from doing so by the Ministry of Labour. I would emphasise the dire effect that this is having in industry and on the workers' attitude by describing what has taken place in a factory in the aircraft industry in the last few days. This notice was issued, and, at the request of the Minister of Aircraft Production, posted freely on the notice boards in works. Therefore, it is quite all right to quote it. The notice said:Your aircraft are wanted to bomb the Italians. Will you please take part in this offensive in the very front line? Give us enough spares to complete repairs to 100 aircraft. On no account must this plan interfere with production. Will you please present my needs to your men asking them to work overtime and through the night, so that these airplanes may be sent out at once to destroy that black-hearted villain Mussolini?That is the inimitable style which Lord Beaverbrook uses when approaching the workers in the aircraft industry—and let it be said that he succeeded. But think of the effect on the workers in that factory when, curiously enough, the following week the Ministry of Labour's representatives came down, and said that no woman in that factory was to work on the seventh day of the week. As a result, 330 women, all engaged on machines, were prevented from going to their machines, and 2,310 working hours of women labour were lost, contrary to the wishes of the workers themselves. Unless we are all talking the most arrant nonsense in saying that there is an emergency, we must provide the workers for whom Lord Beaverbrook has appealed. The Ministry of Labour is taking upon itself the responsibility, which it should immediately renounce, of trying to prevent people from working. Nobody says that workers must work seven days a week, but where men or women wish to work seven days a week, and where the Ministry is satisfied that there is no compulsion. on the part of the management, an instruction should be given by the Minister of Labour that it is not the policy of his Department to stop production or to check the enthusiasm of the workers.
122 I wish to refer to the loss caused by changes of employment. Of course, there must be some removals; but if you read the files of correspondence of important factories with the three Supply Departments you will see, not once, not twice, but month after month, this statement: that the Departmnts know exactly what the problem is, that the Minister of Labour has the power to require these people—skilled workmen and women—to stay at their jobs, but that the Minister of Labour is not prepared to exercise that power. I believe that that has been the great and culpable slackness on the part of the Ministry of Labour. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour has promised the House some degree of compulsion or direction, or whatever you like to call it, so that some of these worst offences against national arms production may be curbed, but, frankly, the Minister and the Ministry will have to tackle this new policy with a little more single-mindedness than when they endeavoured to operate their previous policy. They have sought to find every loophole whereby they did not prevent anybody who is working in industry from doing exactly what that person desired to do. If you saw the list of names sent by important factories in Birmingham and up and down the country to the local Ministry of Labour Employment Exchanges asking that certain workers should be retained in their employ, and showing, not that 10 per cent. or five per cent. only of them have returned to their original employment, but that week after week, month after month not one of these skilled people, stated by their original firms to be essential for arms production, have ever returned to their original employment, I think that, in these circumstances, we could say that the system is one of licence.
I was asked only a few days ago to investigate why there was a hold-up of a certain very urgent instrument for a new type of aircraft. I found that the hold-up was with a certain sub-contractor in the electrical industry. I said to the managing director of this firm, "Why have you let your production of that component fall in this manner?" and he said, "That particular part of the job is a very complicated one indeed. We have had a lot of girls at this job, but only a very small number of them seemed 123 to be competent to do this work. We had six running a week ago, and they were meeting the requirements of the Ministry of Aircraft Production. Last Friday night three of these women left to take an easier job at higher wages, and nobody on the face of the earth at the moment could get these women to come back." The production of that instrument, which was urgently required by the Ministry of Aircraft Production for a new type of aircraft, was halved because three girls thought that they would find an easier job. This is not good enough, and if the Minister is starting a new plan, a new policy, a new outlook, I am certain that this House, and industry in general, will support him.
What is needed? First, there is needed a wide degree of stabilisation of employment, and in this connection hope that there will be local tribunals, acceptable to the workpeople, set up in each area to whom those who desire to change their employment may appeal. Possibly there would be one representative of the employers and one representative of the employés, with a chairman from the Ministry of Labour. But we do not want any scheme from the Ministry of Labour unless there has been collaboration between the Minister, the employers and the employés. Secondly, there is the vexed question of the failure to work the requisite number of overtime hours without good reason. When the Minister has had a number of suggestions made to him, it may be worth his while to examine them. It has been suggested that, unless a minimum number of overtime hours are worked by a given employé, his production bonus should be reduced in some way; he should lose 25 per cent. or 50 per cent. of it. Another suggestion is that those workers who do not work a certain percentage of the overtime hours should lose the pay attaching to the annual holiday. Anyhow, it is clear that some sanction must be adopted here. And, thirdly, let us once and for all get away from this abominable interference in industry—the prevention of women from working on the seventh day in the week during war-time if they wish so to do. By all means let us bring more men and more women into industry, but, as one in industry, I would pray the Government to see that, once those people 124 have come into industry, they stay in industry and do not cause confusion by training for a few weeks and then going off to some other work.
I feel that the record of the Government to date on man-power is not one of which they or we ourselves can be proud. When it is measured against the glorious success which has attended our military, naval and air efforts, it would seem that, if these self-same people who have given us success in the military sphere, and particularly the Prime Minister, can spend a little time thinking out what must be the basic policy in order that our arms drive should be as effective as the drive across the desert, then we shall have one more thing for which we can be thankful to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.
§ Mr. Shinwell (Seaham)
It is significant that since the outbreak of hostilities our most important Debates have been focused on the subject of economic policy. Statements on the military situation, apart from the stimulating orations of the Prime Minister, have failed to loosen the tongues of hon. Members, and even when my right hon. Friend has spoken, his utterances have seldom evoked any substantial debate. It has been the economic direction of our war effort, the associated questions of man-power and production, the use of our resources, the limitation of civilian consumption and the like which have primarily—and rightly—engaged the attention of the House. That was inevitable, and, indeed, hon. Members in all quarters of the House displayed sound judgment in directing attention to these subjects. They are of overwhelming importance. Modern wars cannot be divorced from economic policy. They differ fundamentally from the wars of the Victorian era. Those conflicts, however important they were regarded, hardly disturbed the normal life of the nation. To place in the field an army of 100,000 or 250,000 men, armed with rifles and equipped with field guns, was no doubt a vast undertaking, but the industrial life of the country remained placid; nobody was seriously disturbed. Modern warfare is vastly different. The creation of a vast Army, Navy and Air Force demands a complete revolution in our economic affairs. To place an Army of 4,000,000 men in the field requires at least the efforts 125 of 8,000,000 or 9,000,000 persons engaged in munition production and ancillary equipment. It claims the exclusive attention of the nation.
In a previous Debate I stated the relative positions of both sides in the present conflict. On this occasion I shall use fewer words. The position can be stated in a single sentence. The enemy made extensive preparations over a period of at least six years for a war of colossal magnitude. Our preparations, on the other hand, were inadequate, belated and entirely unrelated to the nature of the present struggle. (An hon. Member: "Who was responsible for that?") I indulge in no recriminations. The previous Government envisaged a war in which we might rely on the support of many powerful Allies. Nobody, however wise, could have anticipated their total and ignominious collapse. But the changes in Government imparted a fresh stimulus to the war effort and aroused expectations. It was hoped that the change in personnel was the prelude to the creation of a new and unified policy of comprehensive and unified planning and of complete coordination of the national effort. These expectations have failed to materialise.
As the precious weeks go by our hopes have steadily diminished. Instead of active and unified policy, we have seen the Government resorting to a series of makeshifts, futile expedients and trifling devices, improvising without the vestige of a plan, living from hand to mouth and, what is worse, constantly waiting to be stimulated by this House and by pressure of public opinion. We recall the Government's attitude on shelter accommodation, evacuation, food production, rationing and in relation to fire-watching, but more particularly in the realm of production, the use and direction of our industrial machinery and of our labour resources. Undoubtedly, some progress has resulted. It would be folly to pretend otherwise, but the Government have stoutly resisted demands for active and unified direction. They have constantly declined to face the realities of the situation. If the initiative and courage displayed in our North African campaign had been shown in our domestic affairs, our position would have been immeasurably stronger. At matters are, it would be unwise to rely too much on the victories achieved in this campaign; to defeat the 126 Germans presents us with a tougher proposition.
In the early stages of the Government's period of office we were informed of their revolutionary intentions. My right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal made a powerful declaration. It was, he stated, the Government's intention to exercise effective control over all our resources—wealth, land and property and labour. Where is the effective control? Why have the Government receded from that decision? When the declaration was made there appeared to be some indication of a plan. If there was, it has now been placed in cold storage. At any rate, there exists no intention to operate such a policy, yet it constitutes the basis of a sound economic war strategy. At this late stage in the war—and I emphasise this—it seems we are content, with an expenditure of £1,000,000,000 less than the enemy regards as the minimum, to decline to ration our remaining stores of food and other domestic necessaries and exercise rigid control over prices. We allow more than 700,000 of this so-called tapped reservoir to remain unemployed, while several millions are still engaged in nonessential services. Trades not concerned with the war effort are still permitted to carry on as best they can. Thousands of traders are being ruined by the limitation of supplies; their employés are thrown out of work, yet no serious effort is made to absorb them into war production. Workers engaged in most essential industries are made to leave their employment on one pretext or another, and employers whose factories are employed on production of war material are subjected to no effective direction. Moreover, shipbuilding, perhaps the key factor in this war, is in a precarious position, while in transport vexatious delays impede production and throw the whole economic machine out of gear.
If this is regarded as an overstatement or unrelated to the facts, the Government can immediately dispose of the criticism by stating whether it is true or not that we have so far failed to mobilise more than 60 or 70 per cent. of the nation's resources in labour and material which can be made available for the war effort. That is the test. When the Government are asked to state what is the position with regard to production, they decline on the grounds that it would be against 127 the public interest. Nobody is so foolish as to ask for details, but we are entitled to ask for a clear analysis and explanation of our productive machinery and, what is more, an indication of a unified economic policy upon which the war effort is based in order to satisfy ourselves that we are proceeding on sound lines. No such explanation was to be found in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour. If anything justifies our criticism—the criticism of hon. Members of all parties—it is the decision of the Government to remodel their production machinery.
When I dared to indulge in criticism on this subject in August last year I was made the recipient of bitter attacks by Government spokesmen. Now the Government have transferred my right hon. Friend the Minister without Portfolio to a post where he can study the subject of post-war reconstruction and new machinery has been devised. If the existing machinery was working with satisfaction, why change it? If the Minister in charge was satisfactory, why transfer him? Furthermore, if the various orders issued by the Ministry of Labour were sufficient for purposes of proceeding with and maintaining a high level of production, why is it necessary to make the various readjustments to which reference has been made by the Minister of Labour? The changes are no doubt welcome, and improvement may result, but there are two observations to make about them. First, they completely vindicate the critics; secondly, they do not go far enough, and, in any event, they are preceded by a series of long discussions.
To appoint four or five Ministers, all of them undoubtedly men of great ability, to deal with the subject of war production, the allocation of material, and priorities—all matters of vital importance involving considerable care—when they are all engaged on Departmental activities of a profoundly difficult character, is completely fantastic. Everybody is aware that both the Admiralty and Ministry of Aircraft Production decide for themselves what material they will have. To expect these Departments to be subdued by discussions which, in the nature of the case, must be perfunctory, is absurd. Further- 128 more, the Minister of Labour and National Service is to preside over their deliberations. That is no light task in the circumstances; yet he will be expected to conduct his own administration with efficiency. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. Clement Davies) said, in a speech which he made before the Recess, that my right hon. Friend spent only a few days in his Department every month. What time will he be able to spend there now? You cannot conduct a great war on those lines.
Why does the Prime Minister resist the demand for a Minister who would devote his whole time to the subject of economic policy and who, on the basis of the researches made by his expert advisers, could advise the War Cabinet? Moreover, why cannot the Prime Minister appoint someone who equally will devote his whole time to supervising production? Departmental Ministers have more than enough to occupy their attention as it is—that is, if they are doing efficiently the work entrusted to them. On this subject I take my stand on the repeated declarations of my own party leaders. With the full consent of this party, they demanded an Economic Minister freed from Departmental duties. That proposal was vigorously backed by hon. Members in all parts of the House. If I mistake not, it was supported by the Prime Minister himself before he was elevated to the Treasury Bench. What is the difficulty? Is it because of internal rivalries? Is it because each Department wants to live its own life? Or is it because such a Minister would almost equal the Prime Minister in importance? What does it matter as long as we are enabled to prosecute the war with undiminished vigour. I predict that before long such a Minister will be found, and his appointment, however belated, will justify the criticism of the present proposal.
I turn now to what may be regarded as the most controversial subject of debate at this time. I refer to what is described as industrial conscription. The views of hon. Members who have taken part in debates on economic policy, who have demanded unified direction, and have criticised existing training schemes, have been subjected to gross misrepresentation. The criticism has been distorted by Government spokesmen, who have declared with a show of indignation that on no 129 account would they consider imposing compulsion on the workers. Yet the Government have imposed a partial compulsion on labour by reserving and de-reserving workers in war occupations and in agriculture, and they propose to extend this, without any appearance of a plan, without the right of appeal and without first of all implementing the assurances given by the Lord Privy Seal, on behalf of the Government in July last, when he declared that we must mobilise to the full the resources of the country, we must control persons and property, that this would not only apply to workmen but to everybody, and that there must be control of finance and the banks. When the Government avail themselves of their powers to acquire the machinery of production, to use wealth, property and land in the national effort, then the question of exercising compulsory powers in the organisation and direction of labour will become a real issue. But not before then.
As far as I am aware, industrial conscription has not been clearly defined in our Debates. What does it mean? It means that every employable person should be subjected to a discipline comparable with that operating in the Forces, that workers can be employed wherever the State decides, or transferred with or without their consent to any part of the country, or be employed at the dictation of the State in any occupation and at wages fixed not by industrial agreement but by the Government. As far as I have been able to follow our Debates, no such proposal has been advocated by any hon. Member, or, for that matter, by anybody outside the House. What is proposed is something quite different. But before I invite attention to the proposal, may I remind hon. Members that when the Military Training Act was passed by the House, and with the consent of a substantial majority of the Labour party, we embarked on a voyage which many hon. Members never expected to take? When you decide to conscript the manhood of the nation for military service, to subject them to a discipline to which they have never been accustomed, interrupting their careers at the most critical moment of their lives, realising that many thousands will never emerge safely from the conflict, you cannot escape the logic of your decisions. In short, it is impossible to impose responsibilities on several millions of young 130 men and at the same time allow the remaining millions of the population to escape their responsibilities. I[...] we cannot have equality in all things, we can at least have equality in service according to a maxim well-known to many hon. Members--namely, "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need."
Responsibility for service does not rest on labour alone; its corollary is the rendering of services of another kind by the owners of property, of wealth, and of land. The contribution must as far as possible be equal. Naturally, the operation of this principle depends upon its practicability, but in reality no insurmountable difficulty presents itself. No difficulty or hardship arises when a workman who is employed in an essential war occupation is ordered to remain at his work as long as the conditions of labour are satisfactory. No hardship arises when an unemployed man is ordered to present himself for training. Incidentally, when I hear that this reservoir of unemployment has been exhausted and when I reflect on the unemployment in my own area, I wonder what it all means. I say that no hardship arises when an unemployed man is ordered to present himself for training as long as his transfer does not impose any severity on himself or his family. Nor does any hardship arise when a person engaged in a non-essential occupation is ordered to report for work in an essential occupation. Nor is it asking too much of a workman in a shipyard or in an aircraft factory to remain where he is because his presence is a real contribution to victory, and not move about from place to place because the wages are slightly higher or because more overtime is available. But if there is any hardship, why not create tribunals upon which the trade unions are strongly represented, to which the worker can appeal? And surely, the trade unions can be relied upon to protect the interests of their members as regards wages and conditions. There need be no interference with that machinery.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I do my best to exercise restraint. I desire to resist the temptation, 131 because I commit my words to writing. Since my right hon. Friend has intervened, may I remind him, if he has so decided, that it is a little late? It ought to have been done long ago and we ought not to wait six months for this Government to establish tribunals. As my hon. Friend rightly said, it should have been done even before my right hon. Friend occupied his office. The essential thing is to mobilise our labour forces and use them where most needed. That is a matter which can only be decided on the basis of the Government's requirements in planes, ships and munitions of war.
§ Mr. A. Bevan
I think it is rather important that we should understand one another. Do I understand that while these forms of compulsion are to be exercised to prevent the free movement of labour between industry, industry is to remain in private hands for private profit?
§ Mr. Shinwell
I am very sorry if my hon. Friend does not follow. I think I stated the basis of my proposal. Nor can the factory owner escape Government direction. For the duration of the war his major responsibility is to the State. He must therefore do as he is told, subject to appeal, and always with the knowledge that those who order him around are equipped with the necessary technical experience, and are not square pegs in round holes. Moreover, the principle must be extended to those more highly-placed, the executives of industry, the key-men, indeed everyone capable of making effective contribution. My argument is fortified by the decision of the Home Secretary. He has decided to impose the principle of compulsion for fire-watching, because in his view the voluntary system does not satisfy our needs. That is valuable support, which is truly appreciated. My prophecy is that before this conflict is over, if it lasts as long as is generally expected, we shall be compelled to exercise more effective control over our coal industry and transport services, and employ a more rigid direction in the nation's financial affairs. That does not depend on political decisions so much as upon events. In a previous Debate I stated the principle of what many hon. Members regard as 132 sound economic policy, and nothing further need be said on that subject.
Before I conclude, may I address myself to another aspect of this matter? Is it the intention of the Government to continue calling up men for the Forces? Have they considered how many men are required for the Army? And if they have so decided what are the numbers, how do they intend to use them? If 4,000,000 men are required, then the Government must set about reorganising industrial production with the utmost speed. Have they considered the vast amount of material required to equip such an Army, and have they estimated the number of ships they require to transport such an Army overseas? Where are they to obtain the ships in face of our inability to complete our shipbuilding programme of last year, and the heavy losses through enemy action? These are questions which must affect the economic strategy of the war and the military strategy as well. What are our primary needs? They are planes and ships—large numbers of planes to withstand the enemy's assaults in the air, and large numbers of ships to carry the goods that we need and to protect our Merchant Navy. These must come first.
The next few months must prove to Hitler that he cannot defeat Great Britain. In this country at least we are impregnable. That itself is a victory. We must also ensure the utmost protection for the approaches to our Eastern Empire. The rest of the Empire can look after itself, without much aid from us. To achieve this immense task, we must organise every section of the national effort without further loss of time. Do the Government really believe that the scheme propounded by my right hon. Friend is sufficient for our purpose? I beg leave to express my doubts. That is why I have ventured on this criticism. We need not be afraid of drastic, even revolutionary, methods. In dictator countries compulsion is imposed and discipline exacted without the safeguards of a free Parliament and a free Press. We still enjoy these privileges. They can he used to correct the mistakes of Governments and to afford protection to all who in this critical period in the nation's affairs will be called upon to accept new and unaccustomed responsibilities.
§ Miss Ward (Wallsend)
I listened with considerable interest to the Noble Lord 133 lashing the last Government, when I considered that, when he was offered an appointment to it, he accepted it and joined the Treasury Bench.
§ Earl Winterton
Historical knowledge is not perhaps the hon. Lady's strongest point. I am in exactly the same position as the Prime Minister, who also lashed the late Government and also joined it.
§ Miss Ward
It is very easy to make a speech of the kind made by my Noble Friend, and I am tempted, at the risk of bringing him to his feet again, to say I wonder exactly how much experience he has had of the difficulties of production, either from the point of view of employers or of labour. It is very easy to make a speech of the type that he has delivered, but it is not always so easy to translate that kind of criticism into practice from the point of view of the national war effort. I always think it is very difficult to be fair in debate. One sometimes feels extremely strongly, and occasionally one's feelings run away with one. I have observed, while I have been in the House, that sometimes one Department receives a thrashing when the criticism really might legitimately be directed at another Department. Obviously under our system of government one Government Department never blames another Department, and I would like to ask whether the Ministry of Labour is in possession of the requirements for this year of the Ministry of Supply. I appreciate my right hon. Friend's difficulties in estimating the amount of labour required if he is not in possession of all the demands which the Ministry of Supply will make upon the labour of this country.
I want to take this opportunity of congratulating my right hon. Friend on the training schemes which he has announced. We all think that in a great many respects they are admirable, but I think, as he himself would agree, looking back into 134 history, that it is not a good thing to train people unless you can give them jobs at the end of their training. If I see the position correctly, it must be extraordinarily difficult for my right hon. Friend to assess the needs of labour supply if he has not full information of the demands of the Service Departments. I want to make one or two rather detailed points, because I am anxious upon one matter, namely, that in the organisation of the man- and woman-power of this country the people who have certain essential qualifications should be used in the employment of those qualifications. I will give an illustration. We have appeals from the Services for women to join the Women's Auxiliary Air Force, the Auxiliary Territorial Service, the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps and the Land Army, and also appeals for women to be trained for munitions production. If the appeals are forcibly put to the country, women are likely to respond and join the particular Service or take the course of training which appeals to them most and in which they think they will be of the greatest service to the country.
I was a little horrified to see the other day a paragraph in one of the papers pointing out that a trained nurse, for whom there is a great demand, had undertaken a course of training in munitions work at one of the technical institutes. If there had been a more detailed organisation and it had been pointed out to that patriotic woman that she might serve her country better by sticking to the job in which she was qualified than by undertaking training in something else, that kind of waste could have been avoided. I understand there is a tremendous shortage of qualified shorthand typists. I could give my right hon. Friend numerous examples of shorthand typists throwing up their jobs when the appeal was launched for the Women's Land Army, being trained at Government expense, and, at the end of the time, finding there was no work for them on the land. That was a waste of woman-power and of Government money. Such instances could be avoided if there were a more detailed organisation. I appreciate my right hon. Friend's difficulties now that he has to deal with big matters of policy and has to turn his mind to a tremendous variety of work. There seems to be no machinery 135 available for what I might call the smaller matters.
To organise the man-power of this country adequately, it is essential that everybody should be used in the capacity in which they can serve the country best, and there should be a detailed examination of the services that are available among the men and women who are anxious and willing to serve. An examination and, indeed, a comb-out, is necessary in the women's services. I think that the Minister of Health and the Minister of Labour have made declarations requiring trained personnel in the welfare services; this is absolutely essential to the maintenance of many of the services in this country. I can quote the case of a woman who was advisor on welfare matters to the Rhodesian Government. The last time I heard of her she was an assistant in a cookhouse in the A.T.S. That is a waste of power which ought to be used in the service of this country.
May we have a little more flexibility in the Civil Service? We are told that it is difficult to obtain trained personnel. One readily appreciates that, yet, the other day, a woman came forward who had held a very important position in the Ministry of Pensions during the last war. She has had a great deal of knowledge of the machinery of the Ministry of Pensions. When I asked whether she would be of service in the Ministry I was told that, because she was over 50 years of age, she could not be employed. When I pressed the matter I was told that she could be offered employment as a 3rd-grade clerk. Surely that is a waste of experience which should be of very great use in our war effort. I absolutely support the appeals from the right hon. Gentleman's Department asking for men who have been superannuated or retired to offer themselves for training, but there should be flexibility to enable the Civil Service to make use of the experience of people over 50 years of age who are alive and vital. The services of women should be used just as those of men.
I can cite another case of an engineer who came back from France. He escaped at the time of the French collapse. It is true that his particular form of engineering is of a rather restricted type, because he was engaged 136 in looking after machinery connected with rope making, but he is a very experienced man. He is 67 years of age, and he offered to go to a training centre to take an ordinary course in order to bring himself up to date, in order that his knowledge might be made use of in the service of his country. That man has had the utmost difficulty to get himself absorbed into the war machine. When I wrote to the Ministry about it I had a letter saying that owing to his age he could not be employed. I happen to know him, and I can testify that he is a live, vital creature. It is odd and very dispiriting, after one has seen advertisements saying, "Come along, even if you are superannuated," to find that the machine does not seem to function satisfactorily.
It is important that the right hon. Gentleman should examine that side of the machinery and try to absorb man- and woman-power. I can give a further example of a man who held a very important position and did a very great piece of national work. De retired last January at the age of 65. He has had tremendous experience in one particular line. When I asked the Minister of Health whether he proposed to make use of those tremendous qualifications he said that, though he recognised the work that had been done by that man, he did not propose to interfere with his retirement. The whole point is that there will be no retirement for anybody in this country if we do not come out victorious. We all recognise that every person is only too anxious to put his services at the disposal of the State. These people realise that the Government want their services, but I respectfully suggest that a strengthening of the machinery, and a more detailed examination into how we can use those services, would be in the best interests of the nation.
I do not think there is any tremendous need for compulsion. I listened with some interest to my hon. Friends on the Opposition Benches talking about compulsion, because in my part of the world, certainly, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour has made use of his compulsory powers. One of the collieries in my Division closed down owing to lack of trade, not entirely due to the difficulties of the district, and my right hon. Friend immediately wanted to transfer all my pitmen 137 to the Midlands, which I thought was a little hard, and if they did not go, he made use of his compulsory powers and stopped their unemployment benefit. Still, that shows that he is making use of his compulsory powers, and I am not making any observation on that except to say that much depends upon the angle from which one looks at it. I could tell a great many stories which would be contradictory of those told from the Opposition Benches to-day.
In conclusion, it seems to me that it matters tremendously in the future whether we can operate our system to give confidence to the ordinary man and woman in the street. We are fighting for democracy. The Parliamentary system is part of the democracy of this country. There is an intense desire to win the war at the earliest possible moment. I often think that if we put the point to every individual man, "If you do this job, you can shorten the war by one minute," there is not one who would not agree to do it. We have got to make this Parliamentary system mean something to the people, and as part of that they want their detailed rights, so that the function of government may mean something to the individual. If those Ministers who have big positions would, so to speak, reorganise the machinery so that the ordinary little man and the ordinary little woman who are bewildered by the appeals made to them could find out that there was somebody to whom they could go to give them the right direction from the point of view of the national effort, I believe we should soon solve all these difficulties of man-power and woman-power, and I am certain that it is the Government's earnest desire to do this as early as possible.
§ Major Ralph Beaumont (Portsmouth, Central)
The Debate which is taking place to-day is focusing our attention upon what is undoubtedly the most crucial problem we have to face in the prosecution of the war. The bombing of our centres of production, the sinking of our merchant ships, are problems serious enough, but that of man-power is, I believe, graver still, because when we allow for the proved fact that the British fighting man is superior to the German fighting man, and infinitely superior to the Italian fighting man, we are still faced with the stubborn factor of the great disparity 138 between our numbers and those of our enemies. I conceive it to be the duty of those of us who speak in this Debate to try to point either to some source from which man-power can be drawn or to some direction in which the present use of man-power can be economised. Early in his remarks my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour said he hoped that those who spoke would deal with practical matters, and I should like to deal with something which I think he will agree is a practical matter, and to point to one direction in which, I consider, there is a waste of man-power and in which economies could be effected.
In order that we may be able to take the initiative and attack the enemy when and where opportunity offers, it is vitally important that the greatest possible number of troops should be taken off purely static duties and should be able to concentrate on training to fight the enemy, and I would suggest that one direction in which an economy in the use of troops can and should be effected is in the guarding of vulnerable points. It is my duty and the duty of the staff of which I am a member to visit a very large number of vulnerable points up and down the country, and to make suggestions and recommendations as to how those places should be guarded and the most suitable form of protection which should be afforded to them. It may surprise the House to know that there are somewhere between 5,000 and 6,000 of these vulnerable points, and they consist of such places as docks and harbours, military factories and stores, Naval and Air Force establishments, railway vulnerable points, waterworks, electricity and gas undertakings and many others. Moreover, this number of 5,000 or 6,000 will undoubtedly increase as our war effort expands.
What are the threats to these vulnerable points? I think there are three main threats. First of all, there is bombing, secondly, the possibility of air-borne or sea-borne attack, and the third is sabotage. The first, of course, is dealt with by our fighters and our anti-aircraft defences. The second is covered by the distribution of troops and the defences organised by the Commander-in-Chief. It is the third, sabotage, with which we are concerned in this guarding of vulnerable points. All these vulnerable points are 139 receiving anti-sabotage protection of one kind or another, and there is a very large number of troops employed in these duties. As this Debate is in public, I do not think that I should mention any figures, but I would tell the House that there is still a very large number of troops employed on these purely static anti-sabotage duties.
I would like to suggest a principle to the Government, and I should be very glad if whoever is going to reply will say whether this principle is accepted or not. The principle I would urge with regard to the guarding of these places is that no places except Government establishments should receive specific Government protection, and that the defence of an establishment other than a Government establishment must be a matter for the establishment itself. I think that that principle may be challenged by many people. They may say that there is a large number of factories taking part in the war effort, working directly or indirectly for the Government, and that therefore they should receive some form of governmental protection. I believe it is impossible to accept that argument, and if this principle which I have suggested to the Government is not accepted, an impossible burden will be placed on the Forces of the Crown. I would like, whoever is to reply, to say whether that principle of self-help as far as these factories are concerned is accepted by the Government, because it is an extremely important point for those of us who are charged with this duty of advising as to the protection of these points. There is one other matter in this connection. If this principle is accepted, it is extremely important that these concerns should be able to provide their own protection and retain their own watchmen. I believe that just lately the Ministry of Labour have agreed to postpone the calling-up of watchmen. I think that that move on their part is very welcome, and I hope, even though they cannot entirely exempt these watchmen, that they will continue to postpone their calling-up, and will do their utmost to enable these concerns to engage suitable men to act as watchmen.
It is in this anti-sabotage protection of vulnerable points that there is a waste of man-power which could be eliminated. In the past the whole matter has been very 140 loosely thought out, and a very large number of concerns received specific Government protection that should not really have received it. Recently, however, rather more thought has been devoted to the question, and since then economies have been effected, but they could go a great deal further if the question was tackled thoroughly. It is the opinion of those of us who have studied this matter that the right type of guard for these places is the policeman rather than the soldier. Let me give the House the reasons for this. In the first place, the soldier's training does not fit him for static anti-sabotage duties, while the policeman is trained very differently. The soldier, when carrying out guard duties, is taught to march his beat in a soldierlike manner, to present compliments to officers and so forth, but the policeman, on the other hand, is trained to prowl round at irregular intervals and in places where he is least expected. In the second place, the policeman has the power of search and arrest, a power which is not possessed by the soldier. In the third place, I think it is a tragedy to see so many of these vulnerable points being guarded by young soldiers. I believe the young soldier is completely unsuitable for this type of work. He has joined the Army with great enthusiasm and with great exuberance, and it is a tragedy to find that type of man standing day after day at the end of a railway tunnel or a bridge with his enthusiasm and original exuberance being completely destroyed.
The main point, however, is the saving of man-power which would be effected by the substitution of police for troops. It may surprise the House to know that the saving effected by employing policemen instead of soldiers is as two to one, that is to say, on each static post one policeman can do the work of two soldiers. On each post three or four policemen are needed to provide one guard day and night, while six or eight soldiers are required to provide the same guard. But if you take into consideration the organisation of the Army, the existence of platoon, company, battalion headquarters, non-commissioned officers, and administrative personnel, such as cooks, batmen and sanitary men, the actual saving is three to one, and it is found that one policeman can perform the work of three soldiers. Therefore, I would put this principle, that the right division 141 of responsibility is that soldiers, Regular or Home Guard, should be the defence against attack and should be used for the defence of the coast or an area.
In this connection, I would say that I think we shall have to rely more and more on the Home Guard for this work, and I hope there will be no limit to the number of Home Guards that can be enrolled apart from that imposed by arms and equipment. Aerodromes will have to be guarded by troops and perhaps a few of the larger waterworks, because of their isolation. Otherwise I believe that the policeman or watchman is the best type of guard for these vulnerable points. This should be made clear to all managements of factories, railways, power stations and similar undertakings. The view seems to be prevalent that we are keeping vast numbers of troops in this country merely to guard these vulnerable points, and a great many people appear to forget that the main duty of the soldier is to fight the enemy either at home or in a foreign country. This principle, and this general division of responsibility, should be made clear to all managements of these concerns, which should cease to look for military protection.
There is one great difficulty to all this, and that is the shortage of police. Wherever one goes, one finds that the police services are short of men. I have spoken to a number of chief constables, and they have all told me that they cannot get sufficient men and are unable to provide adequate protection. In this connection I would stress the importance of keeping up the police services, in order to deal with the results of air raids and for internal security in genera]. In addition to the ordinary civil police there are such excellent bodies as the War Department Constabulary, the Royal Marine Police and the Air Ministry wardens, which are being used for the protection of many places but which could be used to a much greater extent. These bodies also are short of men. I know that there are schemes to expand these forces and also to start a body of service police, on the lines of the Corps of Military Police; but there are very great difficulties, and, in existing circumstances, progress is extremely slow. It is essential to expand these police forces, but it is not easy to get the men. The Government have recently announced that they are going 142 to allow men called up in the older age groups to choose service in the civil defence organisations, including the police. That is all to the good, but it is not enough. The other day I saw a statement in the paper to the effect that the vast majority of men being called up were opting for the armed forces, and not for the police force. It is to their credit that they should wish to go into the armed forces of the Crown, but that will not solve the difficulty of the police forces, and I believe that the time has come when the police will have to be regarded as one of the fighting services, and be allotted a quota of the call-up, on a conscription basis, to bring them up to the required strength. Chief constables, naturally, would prefer to get their men voluntarily, but the time has come when some more drastic method should be adopted.
Let me sum up my argument in three or four sentences. First, on the greater number of vulnerable points soldiers could be replaced by police. Secondly, it is only in Government establishments that specific Government protection should be provided. Thirdly, as three soldiers are needed to perform the anti-sabotage duties performed by one policeman, a definite saving of man-power could be effected; but only if drastic action is taken to bring the police forces up to the necessary strength.
I do not claim that the economies I have put forward will provide any large army or bring to light any new and hitherto untapped source of man-power, but they will make some contribution towards the solution of the problems that face us. In addition to these existing vulnerable points new ones will come into existence, with the expansion of the war effort, more guards will be asked for; and it is essential that we should take steps not only to reduce to a minimum the number of troops employed in guarding existing vulnerable points, but also to prevent a still further waste of manpower through the use of troops on future vulnerable points. Many interests are claiming, and will no doubt continue to claim, that their establishments should be guarded by soldiers, and are complaining and will no doubt continue to complain, that their establishments are being denuded of troops. But the truth is that we are still employing large numbers of soldiers where police could carry out the 143 duties more efficiently and more economically. We must release from these guarding duties the largest possible number of soldiers, for every soldier released from a static, anti-sabotage role, and enabled to concentrate on training to fight the enemy, will be a direct contribution towards ultimate victory.
§ Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)
The Noble Lord the Member for Horsham and Worthing (Earl Winterton) made a reference in his speech with which I should like to associate myself. He referred to the tragic bereavement of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). As a fellow compatriot, I would like to take this opportunity of conveying to him what I am sure is the feeling of every Member of this House when I say that our hearts go out to him in the days of his grief and sorrow.
The bulk of this Debate has concentrated very largely upon the political changes that have been announced by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour and also upon the proposal that he has made for the further use and mobilisation of man-power. I have listened with very great interest indeed to the political aspects of this Debate to-day and to the desire for changes in the Government that will lead to quick decisive and determined action. My one regret is that this has come rather late in the day. I believe that the country would have been better off had it been done much earlier. I have not taken part in Debates in this House before in a general way, but I remember Debates in this House in which colleagues in my party urged the setting up of a full Ministry of Supply to co-ordinate the whole of the Services. Frankly, some of the speeches we have heard to-day could have been made at that time.
I want to refer to the industrial aspects of the problem, mainly for this reason. There is rather a widespread view, which, I think, might prove very dangerous, that, if the Government had had the power to move labour out from place to place, the power to conscript labour, we would have solved our problems of production. They regard it as a sort of magic wand, and believe that if you could take a man away from here and put him 144 over there or push him there, you would solve the problem of production. I wish, and I am sure that the House and the country would wish, that it was as simple a problem as that. I came into this House very largely because of the way industry was being neglected. We are paying the price for the last 20 years in allowing our industrial equipment to rust and to rot. For 20 years we lived in a period when coalmines, workshops and shipbuilding yards were being closed down. By whom? By financiers of this country who are in this House to-day.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I cannot give way, as I have not much time, and I am entitled to make my point. I want the nation to remember that for 20 years we have pursued a policy of restricting and cutting down production, and now we are paying the price for it. I will give one example. What would this nation give to-day for a shipbuilding yard at Jarrow? Who closed down Jarrow? Who allowed the labour to rust? For 20 years men have been asking for jobs which the Ministry of Labour has not been able to find for them. I make no apology at all for saying that. The Minister of Labour is expected in eight months to make up for losses in industrial capacity and labour that this House permitted to go on for 20 years. I and other Members of this House have discussed this problem, and my right hon. Friend has my sympathy.
I want the House to realise that what we ought to have and desire to have and what we need is the best organisation. We not only want to have it at the top and in Government circles, but we want it in industry, and in any change made to ensure full production I want the Government to look at the system of controls set up outside this House. Who are the controllers? They are monopolists. People who control these commodities have monopoly and restriction minds, and I suggest that people engaged in industry for 20 years are the last people to organise full production now. I therefore urge the Government to look at this problem of control. We are anxious to secure more 145 man-power. When we have men in our factories, see that the fullest use is made of them. We have read the revelations made by the "Daily Herald" and other newspapers that there are factories in this country where labour is only a half or three-quarters employed. It is no use mobilising labour and carting men from South Wales to somewhere else unless, when they get there, you make the fullest use of them. It is obvious that in large numbers of factories in this country there is bad management and mismanagement.
Is it not time that we made production a really joint and co-operative enterprise? Why not bring experienced and skilled men into the management of industry? It may be revolutionary, but I find the House in a revolutionary mood to-day—some of it coming from unexpected sources—but I say this: I believe that, if in each factory management is not left to one or a few, but skilled and experienced workmen are brought in, production can be substantially increased. When new orders, regulations and schemes are being built up, I hope this will be considered as a possibility. Control of industry, outside Parliament and the Government, has been in the hands of monopolists. There has been failure in this country—a gross failure—to bring into broad production every factory now engaged on non-essential work.
An example of this sort was brought to my attention last week in South Wales. I was told of a factory where a scheme had been put forward in May, 1940, by which the factory could be adapted from what it was then producing to the production of war work. The plant needed very little adaptation, all that was required being the bringing in of one new machine. The workmen already engaged on the plant would know every process except the process involved by the use of the one new machine. I was assured both by the management and the workmen that if ten of the most experienced and skilled workmen were sent away for a fortnight to see the machine operating, they would come back at the end of that period able to operate it themselves. That scheme was put forward in May, 1940, and it was accepted some time afterwards; but it is not yet in operation. That is one example, but there are examples in every part of the country. I want to urge upon the Government that it is infinitely better to adapt such factories, 146 and their workmen, to war work than to close them down and start other factories somewhere else. I urge that there should be the fullest investigation of this problem. I will, if necessary, give the Minister responsible particulars about the plant to which I have referred.
The other point to which I want to refer is this. I ask the Government to consider the future. I suppose that all hon. Members realise now that at this time we are paying the price for our failure to control the distribution of factories in this country. We have allowed industry to be concentrated in certain areas and now we are looking for ways of dispersal. I wish that in the past the Government had listened to those hon. Members who urged that it was the duty of the State to control the distribution of industry. I urge it now for the future. Recently, I heard of a new plant that was to be put up in a town where there is not a single unemployed person, or a single person available for employment in that district. Thousands of men will have to be transferred to that area to work the plant. It is easy to talk about conscription and the mobilisation of labour, but if men are to be transferred from South Wales, Durham, Lancashire, Yorkshire and other places, to work in these factories, it is the duty of the State to see that those men, when their day's work is over, have decent accommodation. Many men have already been transferred and many of them have not got what could in any way be called comfortable lodgings. The problem of their habitation and welfare in the factories needs attention. I know that my right hon. Friend is doing his best to make up for the years when little was done with regard to this problem, but he knows that the problem is far from being solved. Conscript labour as much as you like, but when you send men from one place to another, do see that they have comfortable accommodation. The other day I heard of a case of coal-miners from my division who went away to do some very hard work, work to which they are accustomed and for which their skill suits them. There was no complaint about the work or the wages, but at the end of the day the men had to live in huts. Those men came from comfortable homes, to do hard work—
§ Mr. Griffiths
It is wrong for anybody to have to live in conditions of that kind. 147 These are some of the detailed problems which my right hon. Friend knows particularly well are involved in this question of increased production and transfer of labour. We have been suffering in many parts of the country in recent weeks, not [...]om the failure to produce, but from failure to convey what is produced where it is needed. Scarcely a word has been said in this Debate on what I regard as one of the bits of chaos which calls for the most immediate attention, and that is transport—the lack of co-ordination among transport, the lack of co-ordination among various railway companies, and between various kinds of transport, both rail and road, and the lack of use even now of the canal system in this country. I urge the Government to make transport a really national service, coordinated completely in the interests of maximum production. These are somewhat detailed points which I think it is desirable to mention so as to redress the balance a little, because I think it was going completely on the side of mobilising workmen and that everything would be all right after that. But there are other problems involved in the mobilisation of our industrial resources.
I have heard to-day the plea that we should as a nation mobilise the whole of our industrial resources, all available plant and all available labour. I agree entirely, but I want this House of Commons and the country to realise fully what that means. The nation cannot control its industrial and economic resources, cannot organise and mobilise and make the best use of them, unless there is effective and full control. Therefore the pleas put forward to-day are pleas which I welcome and which I support. They are pleas that the State should take over industry in this country and run industry for the benefit of the nation. If that is the plea which has been made, it is a plea which I very fully support. If I may speak to the Government in the language of the workshop, this is what I find. There is a readiness to serve, a readiness to work, a willingness and desire to serve fully in the best places where they can be of the greatest service, and the desire that the Government should use to the fullest, in the best possible way, all the powers that they have. They realise what it means to them and 148 us all if we cannot emerge from this war successfully. I am most anxious that this Debate should confirm that feeling and I do not want it to go out from this House that it has been decided now to conscript labour and mobilise labour and for them to reply, "You Members of Parliament, we as a nation backed you up, and gave the Government power over all property and all persons. You are using it so far as persons are concerned; when are you going to use it as far as property is concerned?"
Why conscript labour and beg for money? Why beg for money and leave property alone? If there is to be, as there must be, the fullest use of the industrial and economic resources of the country, those resources must be owned and effectively controlled by the nation and organised for the benefit of the nation. That is what I think can and does come out with 100 per cent. support of all the men and women of the country, and I urge the Government to rise to the full height of the opportunity to mobilise the whole resources of the country, to see to it that in all the measures that they take they mobilise everybody, and that it is not conscription of the poor but full use for national purposes of all the energy and resources of this great nation.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
I consider that the Minister of Labour, who has a great interest in the working-class movement, is allowing himself to be used in order to suppress and hold clown the working class while the monopoly capitalists carry on the process of fleecing the workers and consolidating and strengthening their own power over them. If the Minister had any experience of factory life, he would know that, as soon as word gets out, every manager and every foreman will express himself towards the active workers as, "We have got you now where we want you." It simply means that no worker will dare to express an independent thought or opinion. There has been very bad organisation. I can give any number of examples. For instance, the Minister refused to see a body of shop stewards from Rootes' factory at Liverpool who were able to show by documentary evidence that the factory was in an almost complete state of disorganisation.
149 To give another example, shop stewards were received by the Minister for Air, but he paid little or no attention to what they said and pretended that he was dealing with other business while they were talking. I will give the source of this to the Minister if he wants. In a factory in the Birmingham area employing thousands of men, 26,000 hours of working time were lost during December by taking men off one job and keeping them waiting before they went to another. There has been more time lost through bad management in the factories than through strikes, and any strikes which have taken place recently have been the result of bad management and unnecessary interference. Under these proposals, this clamping down of the workers, this first measure of industrial conscription, you will not get increased production. That is not the way to get it. The Minister has made threats against the shop stewards. The hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs 150 (Mr. Kirkwood) and any others who have had experience are prepared to prove what the Minister knows, because my hon. Friend himself was supporting the shop stewards during the last war. In their organisation you had the smoothest running of the factories and the highest production. Will the Minister deny that? Wherever you have a shop stewards' organisation the workers' conditions are protected, the management is kept in order and you get smooth and high production, and it is only through strengthening the position of the workers in the factories, and not weakening it, that there can be any progress. That is why the Convention last Sunday was of such importance, because it represents a great movement of the very best workers of the country for ensuring protection of the workers' standards against the monopoly class.
§ Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.