§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. James Stuart.]
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
The speeches made yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell), and the reception which those speeches received in the House, show clearly one or two points which I should like to emphasise. The first is that the criticism of the Government is not that the Government are doing too much or are interfering where they should not interfere. The criticism is that the Government are doing too little. The second point is that those who criticise are animated by the desire and determination that the war shall be and must be won, and the belief that it will be won if we strain every nerve and put every ounce of our resources into the winning of it. The third point is that, in order to achieve victory, we feel that both property and persons must be subject to discipline. I would go so far as to say that even the instrument of Government itself might have to be changed if the war could not otherwise be won.
It seemed to me yesterday that some of the speeches, notably that of my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), debated not alone the question which is before the House, but an entirely different question. The real question before the House to-day is not whether the conscription of wealth, or the compulsion or direction of labour, is right or wrong. That question, surely, was decided by this House on 22nd May last unanimously and at the request of the Government. I would remind the House once more of the notable words, which have been cited time and time again, used by the Lord Privy Seal to describe the situation as it then was. Might I first remind the House of the thrill which went through the whole country on the advent to power of the present Prime Minister? That was on 10th May. On 22nd May, within 12 days, the very action which we expected of that Government was forthcoming. In spite of the great danger in which the country was at that time, properly described by the Lord Privy Seal, never- 210 theless the Government were able to move straight away, and the Lord Privy Seal received the full assent of this House to these words:It is necessary that the Government should be given complete control over persons and property."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd May, 1940; Col. 152, Vol. 361.]If it suits certain Members of this House to reverse the order of those words and to say "property and persons," I agree, but I am citing the words of the Lord Privy Seal. Those words referred not just to some persons of some particular class of the community, but to all persons, rich and poor, employers and workmen, women and all. All were to be subject to the control of Government. Surely the question which we should be debating—and it is on this question that we would ask for the guidance of the Government—is this: Is the situation so serious or the threat so imminent to-day, that we have to use these compulsory powers here and now? That is surely the question that should have been debated yesterday. But three-quarters of the speech delivered by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour were devoted to a general review, which tended to show that the situation was, on the whole, eminently satisfactory, that, indeed, production was forthcoming, that the unemployment figures had gone down so much as to indicate that the reservoir was practically exhausted, and that labour and raw materials were being so used together, that the flow of production was continuing very much as desired.
Three-quarters of an hour were devoted by the right hon. Gentleman to that review, and then, quite suddenly, without any explanation whatever, came the announcement of a radical and revolutionary change in the policy of the Government—a change for which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Horsham, the hon. Member for Seaham and I, and others, had been asking two-and-a-half months ago without getting a word of encouragement. On the contrary, we got a direct and immediate negative. Will anyone in the House who heard him forget the words which were used by the Minister of Labour in November, when we asked that these very powers should be used? Speaking at that Box, he announced to the House and the world 211 that what we were asking for and what the hon. Member for Seaham was asking for were dictatorial powers, and he said he preferred not to be a dictator, that he preferred to be a leader. What has caused the right hon. Gentleman, within two months, to change his mind? At least we are entitled to an explanation from someone on that side of the House. That explanation was not forthcoming from the right hon. Gentleman. I was even surprised that my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly, following upon the announcement of the change that had been made in policy, should stand at the Box on the other side of the Table and say, "Let it never go out from this House, that the House is going to compel labour." What have the Government been doing?
§ Mr. Davies
I have not my hon. Friend's exact words, but I certainly remember that he held up his hands and said, "Let it not go out from this House that we are going to compel labour."
§ Mr. Griffiths
What I said was that I did not want it to go out from this House that the House and the country at this time were taking powers to conscript labour and persons, whilst still begging for money and for the use of property.
§ Mr. Davies
With that part of my hon. Friend's speech I most entirely agree, as I have done throughout. As I have said on more than one occasion, why should we be appealing for help from charity and at the same time compelling men? All property is at the disposal of the Government, but what has the Government's policy been? There has been indirect compulsion for a very considerable time. Men were given the option of remaining in reserved occupations or going into the Army. If a man went out of a reserved occupation, he went into the Army. That, of itself, was compulsion. Now there is to be registration. That is another matter about which we asked. Now there is to be direction to do certain work; there is to be control over management, and there is to be change of management, if it is decided that such change is necessary. Those are all 212 matters which we suggested to the right hon. Gentleman in November, when, as I say, we were met with a direct negative. I do not know when this change of mind took place. I should imagine that it took place very recently, probably within the last two or three days. But the right hon. Gentleman goes no further now. May I remind him that he may have to go further within another short time and that he again will have to change his mind? What will he have to do? He has now set up a mechanism which will enable munition industries to keep the labour that they have got. It is the mechanism which may give them additional man-power, if that man-power is discovered. But what is missing is the mechanism for discovering it.
I will give an instance by mentioning training centres. These have been set up. They were set up by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland, I forget how long ago, but certainly over 12 months ago, and the machinery is all there. The teachers have been put in, although they can ill be spared, and machinery has been put in, although it can ill be spared. But what about the response of the men? Are these training centres half full, or have they ever been half full? What is the good of setting up a machinery and a mechanism unless you are also carrying on the step to supply that mechanism with the raw material? I will return to that, and I will give the right hon. Gentleman or whoever is to reply a further opportunity of dealing with it.
How do the Government propose to get hold of these men? We are told that a number will be leaving the non-essential trades. What has happened with regard to the non-essential trades? The Board of Trade have now issued Limitation of Supply Orders, which is a sort of indirect method of closing down certain trades. You cut down the amount of raw material which the factory can use. First of all, they were cut down to 75 per cent. of their normal supplies, and then some of them were cut down to 50 per cent., and some to 25 per cent. What is the result? A number of factories cannot possibly carry on. The overheads are too much for them. Business is coming to a standstill. The managements and businesses may be ruined, and the men will have to go on the dole. I am glad that the right hon. 213 Gentleman the Minister of Supply is here. He may be able to check these figures. My information is that the last batch of Orders made by the Minister in December, which undoubtedly have put out of business a number of small businesses, have resulted in the production of 75,000 men and no more, and that the earlier batch of Orders which were issued in June have produced another 75,000–150,000 men all told. These men, I assume, will be put into training, but what is that compared with what the enemy is doing, with 200 centres and the training of roughly 800,000 men in a year?
What was the next step? It was the training. All that has been done in regard to the training of these men is the setting-up of the mechanism, the centres and machinery for training. But what was the inducement? The inducement held out to these men was little better than the dole, although the men would have to be separated from their families and go along to be trained. What was the good of appealing to a man who would get no more than a bare existence on leaving to begin this training? That has been slightly changed, and the figures to-day are as follow: If a man is separated from his family, the woman gets 30s. a week and the man 27s.–57s. If, on the other hand, they are together, 15s. a week is paid to the woman and 26s. to the man—a total of 41s. Is that going to induce people to go into training? I will give the House another figure. It will be observed that, when a man is separated from his family, the amount which is paid to him to undergo this training is 27s. a week, and of that 19s. is deducted for his board and lodging, leaving him with 8s. to spend upon himself. Is that the appeal? It sounds to me—and I suggest this phrase to my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly—like an appeal for charity, the charity of the labour man. How do you expect a man to go in for training when he is to get only 8s., which is less than that which you give to the private soldier to spend upon himself?
§ Mr. Davies
Anyway, that is all that they allow for his board and lodging. How many men are likely to come in answer to that appeal? And I put it to 214 the Minister quite definitely, that to-day these training centres, which are only 40 in number, are not, and never have been, half-full.
§ Mr. Davies
I will willingly give way if an answer is forthcoming now whether these training centres have ever been, or are to-day, more than half-full.
§ The Minister of Labour (Mr. Ernest Bevin)
The training centres are up to capacity according to the machine tools that we have been able to get.
§ Mr. Davies
Is that really a fair answer? May I put it in another way? Will the right hon. Gentleman give us the figure of the numbers who are in training today? We know the figure for Germany. Will the right hon. Gentleman—I will willingly give way—give the information as to the numbers who are in training? I think his very silence shows what the state of things is, and I need not carry it any further. The House will form its own judgment.
§ Mr. Davies
Really, I do not understand the kind of smoke-screen which the hon. Member all the time seems to want to throw over the Front Bench. What is the relevancy of that?
§ Mr. Davies
I am not attacking anybody. These attacks have been made ever since the right hon. Gentleman and this Government came into power. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Bevin
To single out the training centres as in any way dealing with the training in this country is completely misleading. The concentration of training in the factories and the training scheme of the Ministry of Labour to-day are treated as a complete whole, whether in the factory or in the training centre. The facts are that, while I am unable to give the figures, practically every demand for extra skilled labour in the Ministry of Supply and the Ministry of Aircraft Production in the last six months has been met by training, and if the hon. and 215 learned Gentleman would look at my speech for the indication of the numbers I gave to the House, it ought to be sufficient to enable him to make an honest comparison.
§ Mr. Davies
I myself have all along advocated that the main source of training should be in the factories, for the very good reason that the training in the factory makes the man factory-minded and not merely school-minded. But the Government have put up training centres, and they have boasted that they have got them, and the only figure I have ever remembered that the right hon. Gentleman has given definitely was the figure he gave in July, when he gave a figure of 10,000 and said that that number had been increased by 1,000 that week, which was a record. How much increase on that figure has there been since July? Now we have this third method of keeping men in employment. They are not to be "fired" and must not quit their jobs without assent. That, I agree, is a big step forward. We now have the means of getting the people into essential work, and we must next devise means of getting them out of non-essential work without ruining businesses and starving people. The result is that it is only half a scheme. It was evident from the answers given by the President of the Board of Trade to-day that there is as yet no policy with regard to compensation, and until you get such a policy—and you will have to devise one—you will not be framing the maximum effort for getting these people out of non-essential employment.
I want to turn to what is really a fundamental matter at the present moment. Do what you will with all these matters—production, consumption, transport, shipping and labour—you will only be patching unless you go right to the top, and unless your structure of Government, of your War Cabinet and the position of your Ministers, is right. On 7th January an announcement was made by the Prime Minister that new committees were being set up. A careful reading of that announcement, which was obviously framed by the Prime Minister—nobody else would have used the word "animated"—shows that in his mind the structure was unsatisfactory, that it was unsatisfactory because of the multiplicity 216 of committees which were still in existence, and that committees which waste time are undesirable in war, when the need is for rapid and decisive action. I will not quote this against the Prime Minister; I will only quote it because no one can put it in such trenchant language as the Prime Minister used when dealing with such a situation as this. In a chapter of the book which he issued in 1930 the Prime Minister draws the distinction between a Cabinet during peace-time and a Cabinet in war-time. It is a very wonderful description of how a Government and Prime Minister should act in ordinary times. When some question arose which caused for a moment tremendous passion, the Prime Minister said he would meet this by appointing a commission and postponing the issue for a while so that gradually tempers would quieten down, the issue assume a proper proportion and the matter could be dealt with by some compromise or other. He went on to use these words:In war everything is different. There is no place for compromise in war. That invaluable process only means that soldiers are shot because their leaders in Council and camp are unable to resolve. In war, the clouds never blow over; they gather increasingly and fall in thunderbolts. Things do not get better by being let alone. Clear leadership, violent action, rigid decisions one way or the other form the only path, not only of victory but of the safety and even of mercy. The State cannot afford division or hesitation at the executive centre. To humour a distinguished man, to avoid a fierce dispute, nay, even to preserve the governing instrument itself, cannot, except as an alternative to sheer anarchy, be held to justify half measures. The peace of the Council may for the moment be won, but the price is paid on the battlefield by brave men marching forward against unspeakable terrors in the belief that conviction and coherence have animated their orders.These are memorable words uttered by a master of English, by a man who had experience of Cabinet Government in the last war and who has now given, 10 years later, to the public at large the benefit of that experience. Every word in that passage counts:The State cannot afford division or hesitation at the executive centre. To humour a distinguished man"—Was all this a creation set up rather than have, in the next phrase, "a fierce dispute," with regard to my right hon. Friend the Minister without Portfolio? I say that these words should be weighed again by every Member of the House. The 217 structure of which the Prime Minister himself complained has undoubtedly been weak, and the consequences of that weak structure are that we have no man-power policy. Even after the tremendous change which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour announced yesterday, we still do not know what the man-power policy of this Government is, even after 16 months of war. Has it been decided whether we are to have a large or small Army? Has it yet been decided whether the Army is to be fully mechanised or whether the main instrument is still to be the bayonet? If the Government think we should have a vast Army, have they decided how they will equip it, because the numbers needed behind a highly mechanised Army to-day are much greater than the numbers required behind the Army of 1914–18? How is the short-age of labour to be made up? I was amazed to hear the Minister of Labour say, although he did not give the actual figures, that the reservoir of the unemployed had neared exhaustion. It is good news if it is so, but it is surprising, and what we would really like to know are the actual figures.
I have pointed out earlier that the Minister of Labour has set up an organisation for dealing with men already on essentials. When will there be organisation for shutting down non-essentials, and how will you distribute the skilled workers after you have got them? Which comes first with regard to the call for manpower? Will it be the Army, munitions or food? I am not sure whether the Minister of Labour referred to this yesterday in his speech, because one gets the OFFICIAL REPORT so late now that it is impossible to check things, but he did refer to agriculture. I thought he would refer to it in much fuller terms. At any rate, he said it was a vital matter, and, of course, it is. But will men be taken from agriculture again and put into the Army? Will the call of the Army be prior to that of the call of agriculture? Is it denied that to-day there is a shortage of agricultural labour in many districts? That is highly skilled labour. Is it also realised that very often men of 19 and 20 are the key-men on farms, especially family farms and on land where it is impossible to use the tractor and ordinary mechanised instruments? There you still have to hold the plough and 218 struggle with a pair of horses. I know a man from my own neighbourhood who was taken away from an upland farm, where he was a first-class man, and who is to-day picking up paper at a camp. Which of these jobs is to be regarded as more important, especially when it is realised that in normal times—I do not know what is the figure to-day—more than half the shipping capacity of the country is utilised in importing food? As much relief as can be given to that shipping space should be given to-day. No, there is yet no man-power policy.
There is no consumption policy. Some foods are rationed and others are not. Consumption has been cut down by indirect methods, by Board of Trade regulations, by increasing prices, by the Purchase Tax; but these things do not solve the matter. The distribution still remains unfair. Even to-day Questions were put to the President of the Board of Trade, which I think ought also to be directed to the Minister of Food, calling attention to the shortages in the reception areas. Under the present scheme people are supplied with a percentage of what was normal in 1938 or in 1939, but the population has moved—from some places people have been evacuated, and in other places the population has trebled. Another result of this indirect control is that supplies to the manufacturer are cut down. The manufacturer is human; he prefers his best customers, and what he does is to give things to his best customers and deny them to others. What is true of the manufacturer is true also of the retailer; one customer will be refused by the retailer and the other will get the commodity. Why should there be any distinction to-day. Why should not all be treated alike? Another result is that during the course of these months we have tremendously depleted our stocks. What is the policy at present with regard to this matter? Have the Government a policy by which they intend to restore these stocks as much as possible so that there is something to call upon if transport is disorganised or a certain place bombed? As far as I know, there is no consumption policy.
There is no production policy. When is there to be a really settled plan with regard to non-essentials? When will the Government say to these people that within a certain number of weeks their under- 219 takings will be closed down, that there will be no more work for them, and that arrangements must be made to deal not only with them, but with their employés? When is there to be an order that, in respect of those who are engaged on national work, only the efficient units will be used, and not the inefficient ones? When are the inefficient either to be controlled or closed down? Then, when they are closed down, how is compensation to be paid? The only answer which the President of the Board of Trade made to an interruption from this side of the House was that he anticipated that all those people would be taken into essential work, and, therefore, compensation was not necessary, and the matter would not arise. Is that the policy of the Government? Is there to be no compensation for loss of livelihood?
May I give the House one or two instances? In evacuated areas certain businesses have been closed down. People have had to leave their stocks and go. Their goodwill, even if they have built it up over a period of years, has been destroyed. They have simply been sent out, and they have not even the dole, but only the Unemployment Assistance Board to which they can have recourse. Yet, in this war, we are told that all stand on an equal footing. Then, it may be in a reception area, there is a similar sort of man, with a similar shop, doing better than ever before, and it may be making enormous profits, except possibly for the Excess Profits Tax. When is there to be a plan to deal with this? The Government will have to form a plan—just as we have warned them month after month that these things have to be planned, that they are inevitable; and although, at the time, we are met with a negative, after a month or two have passed, there is an announcement that the suggested plan has been accepted, or partly accepted.
Power has now been taken for dealing with management and for removing inefficient managements. That is a right thing, and such power ought to have been taken long ago. But will a plan also be put forward and steps taken to make suggestions to managements for the better use of their materials, for some gadget that may be used in one factory and unknown in another, so as to increase production? Who is to deal with the bottlenecks? The 220 right hon. Gentleman, in speech after speech from the very first speech he made when he broadcast, has said that manpower is not the only problem and that we must, of course, have the raw materials and the workmen fitting in together, and that only when those are all working side by side in the proper quantities do we get the proper outflow of manufactured articles. But what is the Government's plan for dealing with this? Is it denied that there are bottlenecks to-day, essential machines, even aircraft machines, ready in every respect except for one little gadget? How do the Government propose to deal with this? When this is the state of things, is it suggested that there is a production policy and a production plan?
Let me turn now to agriculture. There is no agricultural policy. It is not enough simply to say, "Plough." It is not enough to say that we have ploughed so many thousands of acres. There is not an hon. Member here who does not know that if one ploughs an acre of one sort of land one may get five times as much produce from it as if one ploughs 10 acres of another type of land. I should have thought that the agricultural policy should be linked up with the food policy; I should have thought that the time had long ago come when the Minister of Food should be the boss and the Minister of Agriculture should be in the nature of his factory manager. The Minister of Food ought to be able to say, "Last year I imported so much and your production was so much; this year I cannot rely upon such large imports, and therefore, I insist upon your producing so much of this commodity, so much wheat, so much barley, so much oats, so much milk." There is no such plan to-day.
All that is said to the farmer is, "Plough." What the farmer puts into the ploughed land is left to his individual whim. This is a matter which should be left to the Minister of Food; he should lay down his necessities, and then the Minister of Agriculture should tell the War Agricultural Committees in the counties that their quota is so much. Then, if they are short of labour, as they are—certainly they are in my county to-day, although they are doing their utmost and ploughing up more than the War Agricultural Committee asked them—if they are short of labour, and tell that to the Minister, and 221 tell him also that they are short of implements, short of manure, short of lime, he should say, "That does not matter; indent for them, and they will be there. You have to produce. You will have to grow so much wheat. You will have to give me so much milk and so much meat." Then you will have your plan, but when are you going to say, "That belongs to the Minister of Food"? What is the position to-day? Although some farmers have got their wheat, they are feeding their cattle upon it. You make your order that they shall not sell, but you do not make your order that they shall not use it. Because of the price of cakes, and because of the difficulty in getting them, cattle are being fed on wheat. Farmers are afraid that they cannot get alternative foods, and they are using it. One day you will need to have a full census of all the food produced in this country, and a fair distribution.
There is no finance policy. Expenditure to-day is at the rate of £4,500,000,000, and Revenue is only producing £1,500,000,000; there is a deficit of £3,000,000,000. We are borrowing at the rate of £1,200,000,000, and obtaining from selling securities and other things about £800,000,000. Add them together, and there is still a deficit of £1,000,000,000. What is proposed? Is it intended to increase taxation when we know that at the present moment the limit has just about been reached? Have the Government made up their minds that the time has come for a complete change in the economic attitude towards all these matters, and have they recognised that finance takes only a secondary consideration compared with economic considerations? What follows from not having a production policy, a consumption policy and a finance policy? You have no wage policy. The right hon. Gentleman said, yesterday, in a passing reference to this, that he proposed to leave it where it was. Is it right? Are we to have a wage policy in regard to certain people and certain industries, but say to others, "Let the whole thing go on as if this war did not exist"?
We shall have increases in some cases, refusals in others, and bribes of higher wages here and there. Why cannot the Government say, "We have to tackle this problem and plan to deal with the whole population"? Is there a policy to deal 222 with children and a policy of family allowances? Have the Government even thought about it or tried to tackle it? Is some kind of assistance to be given to the children, or are they to be allowed to go on as before? There is no price policy. Some prices are allowed to go up, and then, when agitation arises, a new controlled price is put in. What follows with no wage price and no price policy? You have inflation. Time and again the Government have been telling us that they would use their greatest endeavours and take every step to avoid inflation, but whatever they have done inflation is here. What is their policy in regard to it?
Then, as I have pointed out, there is no compensation, and there is unequal distribution of sacrifice in evacuation areas, and even in bombed areas. The War Damage Bill is all that is being done at the present moment. It provides for a sharing of the burden of loss with regard to building; but that is not the main point. Bricks and mortar are only part of property, and do not represent what a man has built up in a period of years. Then there is no transport policy. The railways are not really controlled. Their primary consideration is still finance and rates, instead of service to the community. Canals are only partially used, and lorries are used by all and sundry in competition with one another. What is the result of that? Chaos and the main cause of our shipping difficulties. Colliers are only working one day or two days per week, and sometimes they go a whole week without working, merely because trucks are not forthcoming.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
Since the hon. and learned Member has referred to this question, may I point out that during the Debate yesterday I stated that the worst bottleneck of all is transport, and that scarcely a word has been said about it?
§ Mr. Davies
May I remind the hon. Member for Llanelly that I, and I alone, attacked the Minister of Transport with regard to this problem, and that my speeches were made in November or December? What I suggest with regard to transport is that it should be taken over by the Minister—the whole of it: railways, canals and lorries—and that he should work it with a transport executive. What is the shipping position to-day? Even now the Minister of Shipping does 223 not get the quick turnover. The House will remember that a Question appeared on the Order Paper to-day which showed that a ship was held for about 14 or 15 days. The Minister of Shipping should be setting up in every port people capable of dealing with the situation as a whole in order to give the quickest possible turnover for ships. This cannot be done unless he co-operates with the Minister of Transport. What is the policy in regard to coal? The same attitude is maintained now as before war broke out. The great thing, of course, is again finance, and the burden is placed upon the consumer. Inefficient mines are still being worked, and there are different prices charged to industry. Is it not time that there should be one whole policy? It cannot possibly go on as at present, with one industry getting coal at a certain price and another not getting it at all, and with shortages in some areas and a surplus in others. Why cannot we have equal distribution?
I suggest that it is all due to the weakness of the structure at the top. And now what is being suggested? The setting up of these new committees. There is the Import Executive—and it makes no difference that it is called an Executive and not a Committee—consisting of the Minister of Supply, as Chairman, the Minister of Aircraft Production, the First Lord of the Admiralty, the President of the Board of Trade and the Minister of Food. Then comes the Production Executive, with the Minister of Labour, the Minister of Aircraft Production, the First Lord of the Admiralty, the President of the Board of Trade and Minister of Supply. All of them already have full-time jobs. Even if one looks at this announcement, one finds that there are five other Committees—a Committee of Civil Defence, a Committee of Home Policy, a Committee of Food Policy, a Committee on North-American purchases, and finally comes the Lord President's Committee. Again I would refer the House to the statement that I read—The necessity is for quick decisions.May I also recall the phrase used yesterday by the Minister of Labour that you cannot pile organisation upon organisation? What is worse is that every member sitting on that Committee is a judge in his own case, and decisions will really 224 turn upon who is the best advocate. Of necessity, the Minister goes there briefed by his Department that certain things are absolutely essential. What will be his position if he comes back from that Committee day after day and says "I have not been able to get you these things; I was overruled," or how proud he would be if he came back and said, "I have done all you wanted me to do"? Has no one any pity for these men?
Take the Prime Minister himself, occupying all these tremendous positions—Prime Minister, Chairman of the War Cabinet, Leader of the House and Minister of Defence. Lord Beaverbrook, the Minister of Aircraft Production, sits on four other Committees, including the War Cabinet. The Minister of Supply is Chairman of the Imports Executive, member of the Production Executive, member of the North American Committee, member of the Lord President's Committee, and at the same time he has the full-time job of being responsible for supplies. How can he be responsible for the whole of the supplies and be called upon to attend committee after committee? The Minister of Labour and National Service has the full work of Minister of Labour, the full work of National Service and also is a member of the War Cabinet, Chairman of the Production Committee and a member of the Lord President's Committee. What is wanted is not more committees, but no committee. What I should like, and what I have suggested on other occasions, is a small War Cabinet of not more than three, the Prime Minister and two others, with no executive task of any kind, but capable of reviewing the whole situation and deciding the whole of the war policy. Of course, they would have to be assisted by a general staff of the ablest men they could possibly find, ready to go at their dictate and in their name into any office or any place, make their inquiries and carry out the instructions of the War Cabinet. I should like under them again five main officers of State, each one with not only the power but the responsibility for decision—first, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, dealing with the Treasury, not having any control over the others but being in a position to warn them as to what they are doing and where they are tending.
225 At the other end of the scale, I would have a Minister responsible for all internal affairs, having under him the Home Office, education, pensions, the Post Office and so on; then a Minister of External Affairs, having under him the Foreign Office, the Colonial Office, the Dominions, India, with the Minister of Economic Warfare and the Minister of Information responsible to him. Then in the centre, of course, is the Minister responsible for Defence, having under him the First Lord of the Admiralty, the Secretary of State for War, the Secretary of State for Air and the Minister for Home Defence. That is the position today. I attribute a large part of our success in North Africa not merely to General Wavell, to whom every credit is due, but in no small measure to the fact that Defence is under the Prime Minister who can co-ordinate the Army, Navy and Air Force, with their Ministers responsible to him. Then, under them, responsible for all production, should be all the other Ministers—the Minister of Supplies, who supplies munitions to the War Office, the Admiralty side, dealing with production, the Minister of Aircraft Production and the Minister of Shipping for the producing of ships which should certainly be removed from the Admiralty; then food, coal, petroleum and, of course, labour. What would be the good of having these materials unless you have control also of the food situation? All these Ministers ought to be responsible to one man, who could then give his decision.
It may be suggested that in that way the Ministers of particular Departments would lose their constitutional position in the House of being responsible for the whole work of the Department, but that cannot be right. To-day they are responsible to a committee. Why should not they be in exactly the same position answerable to one man? It is only by getting a small War Cabinet that you will get that quick decision and that vigorous action of which the Prime Minister himself has spoken and which are wanted at the present moment. Undoubtedly preparations have been made throughout this winter. There is a time coming, whether it is in March or in April, and all that I am begging for is that everything that can be done to meet whatever is coming to us shall be done, and done now, and not at some other time weeks hence.
§ Mr. Lawson (Chester-le-Street)
When this Debate was talked about in the country and written about in leading articles, and much more talked about in employers' circles, I was afraid of the damage that it was likely to do, because a good deal of the reason that has been given for it is not merely change and improvement in Governmental machinery. Wholesale charges have been made against large numbers of workers in factories and workshops of not doing their duty, and, in pursuance of that, there has been an adhesion of those who have stood for compulsion of the kind of people they probably do not like and who have used this campaign for their own purpose. I am glad that during the Debate the kind of story with which everyone is familiar about workers in factories has not been told. There has never been a hint of doubt about the workers, but they can take it from me that the campaign has been used for that purpose. I think the workers in factories, workshops and mines deserve a vote of thanks from the House for their splendid achievements, particularly since last June. No one has said, for instance, that if the British troops, by great daring and courage, have smashed their way through the defences of Tobruk it is not in great measure due to the fact that the workers have supplied the material, and very little attention has been paid to the fact that, in spite of the parlous condition of the Forces in the East last June, we have had a splendid victory in Bardia, the Suez Canal has become practically clear of a great menace, and we have been able to send great masses of stuff to the Greeks in their splendid stand against the enemy.
In June last what was the position in this country? The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour referred to it. It is necessary to keep it as the background in order to understand something of the achievement both of the workers and the organisation and of the Government. In June it is a well-known fact that we had lost practically the whole of our speed-up of a year or two in equipment for the troops. We lost transport on a great scale. We were reduced to a position in which our defences, if we had been attacked, were very weak indeed, and that is putting it mildly. What is the position now while we are still threatened? I agree with the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham 227 (Earl Winterton) that the job before us is still on a Herculean scale. While that is so, how different is the position to-day from the position in June last, when the new Government came into office and when Labour joined the Government. My hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) and I represent seats in the same county. I listened to his speech yesterday and thought it was one of the ablest speeches he had made in the House, but when he was at his best I disagreed with him most. My hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) is a South Wales miners' Member, and he will also agree that the position at that time, as far as the miners were concerned, was a tragic one.
I mention this because I was able from my own experience then to get a view of a mass of problems which the Minister of Labour has had to face about which I knew nothing before. I will tell the House about this, for there are apparently people in the House who need some information upon these matters. The Minister of Mines will probably agree that the county in which I live was the worst hit. We had scores of thousands of miners idle. One week we had been asking the workers to increase their output. Next week half the pits were closed. The problem was how we were to use those men. The leaders, with great courage, went to the men. This is relevant to what I am going to say because I have something very straight to say upon this matter to which the House will have to listen. If it does not, it will do infinite harm among the workers, who are co-operating heartily in the national cause. There is something below this campaign, in spite of the sincerity of some of my friends, that has not been mentioned and that has to be faced by the House before the Debate closes.
Some of the leaders, with great courage, had to go to the men and say, "We are sorry, but there is no room for you in the pits. You must go away from home into other industries and do all kinds of things you never thought of doing before." Has my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) ever faced a meeting of working men in order to tell them what they ought to do when they were in the position of these miners? They are used to calling a spade a spade, and I say, after an 228 experience of trade union organisation and of facing workmen for a lifetime, that there are not too many Members of Parliament who dare do what these leaders did. It is necessary to bring this point out because labour and the trade union organisations are making a contribution in this matter, and we are not going to treat them as if they were in leading strings. The white collar mentality and the superior note which certain people adopt with regard to trade union leaders has to come to an end.
§ Mr. Lawson
The Noble Lady knows nothing about it. There are matters of Governmental construction, there are great matters for discussion, and I am going to discuss them, but let nobody be under any illusion. I do not think any Member is. They know very well that what I say is true and that there are bigger things behind this than have been dealt with upon the Floor of the House. When the workmen's leaders faced the miners, what did the miners do? They said, "You asked us to do our duty, to increase output and to lengthen our hours, and we agreed. We realise now what the position is." And the men agreed to go away. Some of them had been old soldiers and some were old men. The friends of one man of 60 came to me and said that he was in Scotland. I replied that he ought not to have gone away from home. He was used to different kinds of seams and had worked very hard all his life. He had written about certain difficulties over food and lodgings, which were very bad. In his letter he said, "I will stay here and do my duty if I have to die in the process." That is the spirit of the British worker generally. The country and the world, and particularly our friends in America, ought to know that. They read these Debates, and from what has taken place in this Debate up to the present moment one would think we were in the doldrums and that defeat was sure and certain.
Those problems emerged one after the other. Fortunately some of the pits resumed work. There are now something like 14,000 men who have been transferred. That is a very good record; but for 10 years we were asking for a Ministry of Industry, and could not get one, for 10 229 years we were begging the Government to cease putting aircraft factories in the London and Coventry areas and to spread them about the country, but we talked to empty benches. When we spoke of unemployment it is notorious that for year after year we talked to empty benches opposite. One of my hon. Friends now present—at any rate one of my hon. opponents—did now and then put in an appearance at some of these Debates and showed some interest in them, but, my word, he was a lonely figure upon those benches. What problems arose when the men went to other places? It was found at once that lodgings presented a difficulty. Half a dozen young fellows came home from one place and one of them said to me, "Mr. Lawson, we will go anywhere and do anything, but we are not going to live in dirty huts." I remember that when reservoirs have had to be built the local authorities made villages for their workers, including schools and churches, and all the amenities of life, and I thought contracting work had undergone a revolution, but, will the House believe it, it is still in the same position as when Pat McGill wrote:Hashing it out like niggersOn a two-and-a-tanner 'sub,'Everything sunk at 'uncle's'And nothing to burn at the pub.That is pretty much the position of affairs to-day. Sometimes the men have got very good lodgings; sometimes they have been promised good lodgings but arrived to find that someone else had got in before them. The matter of accommodation is a very serious one, and while it is true that the House of Commons is now discussing industrial matters in the large sense, as seen from above, we must also consider them from below.
In regard to accommodation I am glad to say, and I think the Minister of Labour will agree, that our miners' agents have been of great assistance. One of them who has some genius in these matters placed himself at the disposal of the Ministry of Labour, and their officials co-operated in fine style. We have heard a lot of criticism of civil servants, and I daresay that criticism does all of us good, but I should not be doing my duty if I did not pay the finest tribute I am capable of to the Ministry of Labour officials, Northern Division, for the warm-hearted way in which they came to the rescue of a 230 great community and the sympathetic way in which they handled the men. If it had not been for that co-operation between them and the miners, transference would not have been accomplished on so big a scale. All this may sound very humdrum to this House which is thinking of the general position, but, believe me, these are not humdrum matters to the men concerned.
Then there is the problem of travelling. It is notorious that we lost thousands of buses in France, and in the streets of London we now see buses operating which have been sent to London from all over the country, some of them from the north. In the places from which some of those buses have come men have to get up early in the morning and travel 15 or 20 miles to their work. That may not sound very much in these days, but the prospect is not pleasant when you have to wait your turn and when there is a rush for the buses, and you have to wait for buses both when going to and returning from work. Sometimes men spend 14 hours a day working and travelling to and from work. A young man who is a pretty tough fellow said to me, "I leave home at seven o'clock in the morning, and it is sometimes eight or nine when I get back, and, believe me, at the week-end I am about done in." [Interruption.]
§ Earl Winterton
I was saying that we ought to annex all cars—but I do not want to interrupt the hon. Member's speech.
§ Mr. Lawson
Owing to a position which I hold I am in pretty close touch with a local representative of the Ministry of Transport, and he has shown himself to be very considerate, but the position is that there are not enough buses to go round. Then there is the wages question After men have travelled long distances they find the weather is against them and they are idle for a week through no fault of their own. That has happened to those who have been assisting to build aircraft factories. It is regrettable to see the position in which the men have been left. These difficulties in regard to transport and accommodation, though they have been rather focussed in my particular area, have been general throughout the country, and the Ministry of Labour has had to wrestle with them. Some hon. Members say, "Why was compulsion not put into 231 operation six months ago or three months ago?" At that time men were standing in a queue to get transferred or to get training, and the Ministry had to contend with all the difficulties of which I have been speaking. Why should they introduce compulsion at a time when it was difficult to deal with the volunteers?
§ Mr. Clement Davies
My suggestion was that a plan ought to have been ready. The plan ought to have been ready months ago, at the beginning of the war.
§ Mr. Lawson
We agree. I think the hon. Member will acknowledge that no one has striven more for the preparation of plans for industry than those of us on this side of the House, in order to make quite sure that this position would not arise; but it was there. The Minister could not, in justice to the men concerned, put compulsion into operation, because of the volunteers that were there.
§ Earl Winterton
I do not want to interrupt the hon. Gentleman for more than a moment, but I would say, with great diffidence, that I hope he will accept my assurance. I, and others of us, are not attacking the Minister of Labour; we are attacking a lack of plan. That is the point.
§ Mr. Lawson
I have taken note of the point, and I will refer to it later. The Minister could not, in face of the facts as they were then, force men, when it was a matter of dealing with volunteers. I am not a supporter or defender of people, whether they are industrialists or independent, who are not doing work, and evidently will not do work. If I said anything in the matter at all, it would be that nothing has done more harm to the decent worker, or more danger of undermining, than the U.A.B. and its means test. It has kept men lying idle for long years. If any body has been to blame for that, it is the House of Commons. We protested for years against that policy, which did the best for the foolish type of person and punished most the best. I understand clearly that the drive now is for general compulsion. What does that mean?
§ Mr. Lawson
My hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) frankly 232 compared the industrial side with the military side. He said it meant that every employable person should be subjected to discipline comparable to that operating in the Forces. It is true that later he said that there should be tribunals. The Noble Lord has had experience of the Army; I wonder whether he would like to make that comparison.
§ Earl Winterton
I think I should. I will say this to my hon. Friend who just spoke about trouble. Believe me, if you think you can keep 2,000,000 soldiers in this country, trained from every class, and expect them to be subjected to certain things, while leaving outside everybody else, whether peers or peasants, you will have trouble, if not now, in the future. If not now, after the war.
§ Mr. Lawson
I have had experience of both Army and industrial conditions. Those who want to compare compulsion in the Army and compulsion in industry simply know nothing about industry. From my experience in the Army I know that the principle there is "Obey." You have to obey. Individuality and individual thinking are to be discouraged among the ordinary rank and file when you are working with great masses, if you are to be successful. True, there are certain exceptional times and arrangements on the field of battle when the man who can readily use his individual judgment is entitled to very great credit, but, generally speaking, individual judgments are to be discouraged if you want to have good soldiers.
I well remember leaving the Forces and coming back to industry. I had to shake myself in order to resurrect the faculties which were necessary for individual thinking and for industrial work, and which had been altogether asleep. Those who stand for compulsion right through industry are not aware of the logic of their demands. The work of the soldier is to obey, but the workman has to think individually, "and never the twain shall meet." In spite of mass production, the well-run workshop, mine or factory depends, as everybody knows who is acquainted with the subject, upon individuality, personal judgments and co-operation, and the good will of the workmen is necessary to production. I warn my hon. Friends to be careful that, in working to a given end, they do not kill the very thing that they want to keep alive and develop.
233 The House has to face another fact, with which I have already dealt in some measure. There are those who genuinely want compulsion because they think it is right. I give to my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham credit for the same sincerity as I have myself, in dealing with these matters, but I do not like my hon. Friend taking the course he did. A man must speak according to his conscience to-day, and must do and say the thing that he thinks. That is what we are fighting for. There is another school, however, and another motive. Everybody knows the talk that has gone on. Everybody knows the things that have been said in this country. There is an attitude towards the worker. To put it bluntly, I know people who seem to think that because a man has a lot of letters to his name he is all right. There are intellectuals, and we have them in our movement, who seem to take that view.
Let me tell the House of experience that I have had. I had the experience of going to a university city. I went there from coal hewing, after 12 years in the pit. Those in command of the university were very kind indeed, and the late Mr. Fisher was one of the kindest at that time. When I went to that university city I was sorry for myself, but I saw young men in the university of my own age who had had great training and teaching, and when I saw how insecure their foundations were, compared with mine, I was sorry for them. This country tends to overestimate book-learning. In the industrial revolution poor families accumulated wealth and followed in the steps of what were known as the governing and educated classes of those times, and a great over-emphasis has been made on book-learning. We have had the white-collar mentality, and there is that attitude towards industrial workers in this country. The great mass of industrial employers still think of the average worker as a kind of ignorant clod there for their purposes, and they regard trade unions as something even less.
The fact that an ex-worker like my right hon. Friend is in charge of a great Department which controls the whole mass of labour in this country is not to the liking of certain sections. They are the driving force. You can see it in the Press. I am sorry to express what may be regarded as the class view. There is nobody more 234 loyal to the great cause for which this country stands or who tries to think in terms of national well-being than I, but it is sometimes necessary to say some things, and I warn those concerned in these matters to be very careful what they do. They can use their Press and their leading articles, they can bring to bear all the influence and pressure they like, and they may even succeed in their ends in this House, but they will regret it when they see the results of their work in actual fact. If the Government can settle these industrial matters, well and good, but we have the common sense to know that it takes time and material, and time is not on our side in these matters. For the moment I am pleased that the Minister of Labour is in charge.
In order to give an indication of the attitude of the workers to this conflict in which we are engaged, I would like to tell the House that just before the end of the year there was a meeting of about 150 delegates of my miners' organisation, and they attended with instructions from their lodges. They were there to decide upon a message of good will to the rest of the miners of Europe. When this message, which has since been broadcast by the B.B.C. to all the countries in Europe, was read there was not a single objector. The delegates leapt to their feet and cheered time and time again. I will read one passage from it:We are practically alone in Europe in having the right of free assembly, public meeting and free discussion. We are determined to retain that heritage. What we have for ourselves we desire others to enjoy. These are the aims of the miners everywhere with the Durham miners who live in a democratic nation and value democracy above their lives.Right through the whole of that message they have pledged themselves to give all they can in labour and sacrifice in pursuance of the great cause for which we are fighting. That is the temper of the great mass of the workers, and I appeal to every Member in this House to beware lest that temper and spirit become modified or undermined.
Flight-Lieutenant MeCorquodale (Sowerby)
We have all listened with much pleasure and a very great deal of agreement to the remarks of the hon. Gentleman who has just resumed his seat. We all know his sincerity, and those who have been in the House with him for some 235 time know how well he expresses the mind of the very best class of the British working people in this country. The trenchant criticism of the hon. and learned Gentleman who opened this Debate has its uses, but surely he overdoes it. I consider that he does more harm than good in the long run by such disruptive tactics. Possibly it is rather impertinent of me w say so, but I would beg him to believe that in his self-styled position of Jeremiah to this country he is in danger of becoming rather boring. I must confess that my job at the moment—I am attached to a large and rather remote aerodrome in this country—has kept me from being in such close touch with production, industry and man-power as I was some months ago. These problems, however, must press down so constantly and heavily on those immediately responsible for them in government and industry hour by hour and day by day, that, possibly, those of us who stand back a little way, and therefore have the opportunity of seeing the problem more in the broad sense, may have something to contribute.
I think it is obvious that no one in the country is altogether happy about production. In many directions we have done wonders. I will give an example, which I do not think has often been pointed out—the repair of crashed and damaged aircraft which became available in very large numbers, when, suddenly, heavy fighting began in the skies over these shores. Organisation was needed. The organisation was set up and the repair of those aircraft was carried through promptly and in the shortest possible time. Many examples can be cited, but, on the other hand, I think there is a certain unevenness in our production and our productive method. This is obviously felt by the Prime Minister himself as indicated by the recent changes that he has made in the Government. I would like to make a few remarks upon those changes. It would appear to me that the new plan which has been announced puts all the production powers in the joint hands of three Ministers, the Ministers of Labour, of Aircraft Production and of Supply. These three gentlemen can call in the Lord President of the Council to help them to decide some problems, if and when their special interests clash, as clash they must from time to time. The plan as announced 236 looks complicated; it did not look very pretty on paper and consequently it had a poor reception in the Press. But I think it will work, and surely that is the only test to apply to it.
These three gentlemen, if I may say so, have very remarkable if somewhat diverse gifts. Welded together into one more or less harmonious whole, with the Lord President of the Council as their manager, they should make a very formidable trinity to deal with our production and man-power questions.
But this is a point which struck me the other day when I was reading it, and I make it purely on my own initiative: surely these three gentlemen should all be either inside or outside the War Cabinet. From a production point of view, I, personally, think it would be better if they were outside, and could therefore concentrate on the job in hand. But if the Prime Minister wishes to have their advice inside the War Cabinet, and I can quite well understand that, I consider that all three gentlemen should be there together, so that they are on the same plane. I was not here yesterday, for I travelled from Scotland during the night, but I have carefully read the speech by the Minister of Labour and most of the rest of the Debate. I have always had a great admiration for the Minister of Labour, if I may say so, and I am glad he is here to-day for me to say it in his presence, misguided though I have often thought him in his political views in the past.
§ Flight-Lieutenant McCorquodale
Possibly the right hon. Gentleman thinks so also. I must confess that I, personally, have more confidence in big, rather stout people than in small people. I say this in all sincerity—and I hope my Noble Friend the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) will not take it badly that I should say it while he is not here—but I would sooner trust the right hon. Gentleman's judgment of the British working man, since he must have wider knowledge, than that of the Noble Lord. I do trust, however, that the Minister of Labour, just as he has not done so in the past, will not now and will never in the future show any lack of courage in facing any problem however difficult or distaste- 237 ful which may be presented to him in the very hard task before him.
To turn to another point, I am not altogether happy about the smaller business concerns in this country. Our economic strength and our efficiency in the past have been built up not through great industrial combines, but through a multitude of small, efficient, flexible, happy and largely family businesses. I emphasise the word "happy" because it is my belief that in a great number of cases the workman or the manager who has been in the same business as his father before him is often more happy in that family connection than those in the great organisations where each is only one cog of many thousands, even though in the latter they may be better looked after in the material sense. Those concerns, moreover, are dispersed throughout the country. They exist not only in the big target centres, but also in the little towns and the villages, and dispersal is forced upon us as the main solution of our bombing problems in regard not only to children and aeroplanes, but also factories. Many of these firms, with their organisations, premises, staff and facilities are going to the wall for lack of orders, while vast new factories arise all over the countryside.
I maintain that an efficient small concern can change over its production completely much more easily than a big organisation. We shall need these small and medium-sized concerns very badly after the war. The Minister of Supply has set up a number of area committees and area supply boards, and we heard the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply talk eloquently about them some months ago. Are they doing their job adequately in obtaining production and in training these small concerns to change over from non-essential work to essential work and keeping the workers in the localities they know, out of the way of the bombing, and where they can get on with the job? I believe there is a great deal still to be accomplished in that direction.
Finally, and this is the point which I came to London to raise, I would like to refer to Sunday night's postscript, to which probably a great number of hon. Members also listened. In that postscript Mr. Maurice Healy, with his usual bril- 238 liance, charmed us all. He said that, in his opinion, invasion in the Spring was possible, but not probable. This is the type of soothing syrup which is being put over especially in the areas which have not yet felt the full weight of bombing. In my opinion, and I believe in the opinion of everybody in this House, an attempt at invasion within the next three months, before the nights get too short, is inevitable. If Herr Hitler thinks he has any chance at all of winning the war, that invasion will be the most terrific onslaught the world has ever seen. The situation will be one of acutest danger, but will afford also unparalleled opportunity. We shall not have to rely on American aid; that will come later. In this invasion we shall have to rely on our own strength. The invasion will be by land and sea and air, with chemical warfare and all the horrors that our foes can think of. The Royal Air Force is ready to smash it at the invasion ports, the Navy to sink it on its way over and the Army to annihilate the remnants that arrive in this country, if only we give them the weapons to do so.
There is, however more to it than that. Our brilliantly successful campaign in Libya, which has so delighted us all, started, as is well known, with a limited attack on Sidi Barrani. It was successful, and its success surely has taught us one great lesson. It has taught us that in war nothing succeeds like success. I believe, if we can and do smash this invasion in the Spring, that then will be our great opportunity to follow it up and hit back on the Continent of Europe, if only we have enough weapons to do so. Victory is not inevitable, and there is too much complacency in many parts of the country to-day. I feel it up in the North where I come from. There are too many soothing articles in the Press, too many Maurice Healys on the radio. The Prime Minister has never failed in that respect in a single one of his speeches, but I would beg the other Ministers, every one of them—I would beg the Ministry of Economic Warfare, whose self-satisfied statements are a scandal, and that miserable Ministry of Information, to rally the country. I would beg every Member of Parliament to go down to his constituency and let the people know what the situation really is. Last summer we had to make a mighty effort to stave off defeat. We made it brilliantly, and in my opinion 239 we have to make another even mightier effort now, not merely to stave off defeat, but to give us the basis of victory. The margin is small, time is short. Six months ago the then Minister of Supply, now Minister of Home Security, coined a phrase which went all over the country. "Go to it," he cried, and "Go to it" the posters screamed back. All the nation, every man of them, went to it. I believe that to-day, and for the next two or three months, our slogan should be "Keep at it—keep at it every moment." If this were properly put to the country, there is not one part of the country that would not respond adequately to the appeal.
§ Mr. Scott (Wansbeck)
I rise to make my first contribution in this House with feelings akin to fear and trepidation—feelings that are only allayed by the thought of your protection, Sir, and of the tolerance that is shown by the House on such occasions. It is obvious that a Debate of this nature must cover a very wide field, but I have been disappointed to find that the still, small voice of agriculture has hardly been raised, either yesterday or today. The subject has hardly been touched upon. I wish to discuss the problem of man-power and the land. There is no need to remind this House of the tremendous importance of agriculture at this moment, an importance which is being realised by the whole country more and more as the war goes on. No matter how strong and well-equipped our armed forces may be, no matter how persevering and hard-working our munition workers, and no matter how zealous and how courageous and well-trusted our leaders, the vital problem of food supply remains. Food is the source of human energy and the source of a great part of our morale.
The people of this country have shown unmistakably that they can "take it." But the responsibility of seeing that they are not asked to take it on empty, or half-empty, bellies rests to a large extent on the shoulders of the British farmer and farm-worker. They, true to the best traditions of the countryside, have accepted their responsibility with courage, with pride, and with determination. They have accepted, too, with thankful hearts the various aids which the Government have given to agriculture, in order that this task may be undertaken. They have 240 accepted, too, with gratitude the increased wages and higher price levels. And they have accepted with patience, albeit with a certain amount of bewilderment, the almost complete control of their industry, not only the control of buying and selling, but also the control of methods of husbandry, some of which are hallowed by tradition and proven by economic results. They are doing their best to meet the nation's need. Nevertheless, great anxiety is spreading through the agricultural industry about this question of manpower. Nor are the farmers and farm-workers entirely placated by the promise of substitute labour from the Women's Land Army and other volunteer forces. I should hate hon. and right hon. Members to think that I have anything but the very highest regard for the Women's Land Army. They have done magnificent work, and will do magnificent work in future. But unless and until they are fully trained they cannot be regarded as proper substitutes for the men who have spent their life-times in the countryside, and who have been brought up within sight and sound of the seasonal sequences of the countryside.
It is scarcely to be wondered that the farmers are greatly alarmed at the thought that before the next busy season comes they may lose a large proportion of their skilled workers. I believe that only those who have farmed or have worked with crops and livestock can appreciate the amount of skill required by a farm-worker, and the long and arduous training which is necessary in order to acquire that skill. Take the farming year as it affects the shepherd. It bears extremely little relation to the outpourings of the poet. It is a time in which one man plays many parts, and plays them very well. He is a dietetist, a "vet.", a midwife, a weather forecaster, and many other things. The ploughman too has to possess much of the knowledge of the "vet.", the surveyor, the geologist, and, above all, of the mechanic. His knowledge is of immense importance at this present juncture. People used to laugh a great deal at the kind of repairs which were improvised on farm machines. I have myself, only recently, seen tractors and other farm machinery so tended and nursed that they have continued to give valuable service long after they would 241 have fallen to pieces in the hands of the inexpert or the learner.
I am making this case for the retention of a fair proportion of farm workers. I am not trying to suggest that British agriculture has any desire to shelter its personnel at the expense of the country. The response made by the countrymen to the call of the Territorial Army before the war, and to the call of the Home Guard since, proves that the agricultural community are as patriotic and as anxious to serve as any other section. I would go further, and say that we in agriculture are prepared to give as many men as possible, as many as are consistent with the ever-increasing demand for more production. I would beg the Government to spare to us as many key workers—shepherds, stockmen, ploughmen and tractor drivers—as are consistent with the demands of national security. I know that I may be accused of trying to shelter this industry, but I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture realises, and that the Government realise, that that is not the intention of the farming community. It would be of terrific assistance to that community if at this juncture the Government would make a pronouncement at the very earliest opportunity on the whole question of labour and the land. Farmers might then plan ahead and have some idea of what labour, skilled and unskilled, is to be available.
It has been my privilege during the last two or three weeks to help to apportion extra potato acreage in a certain district. Where objections have been raised by farmers, they have not been on the grounds of unsuitability of soil or of lack of capital or of seasonal risks: they have been raised over and over again on that one point, Where are we going to get the men? For a moment I wish to deal with the question of gang labour. We have heard a certain amount about that, but the farming community is waiting now to hear what the Government plans are with regard to the provision of well-organised and well-distributed gang labour for the coming busy season. I, personally, want to see not merely gangs of the Women's Land Army, and of conscientious objectors and of other suitable helpers, but above all, gangs of those most adaptable workers, the miners, when they are out of work. That applies particularly, of course, to districts adjacent to South Wales and to County Durham. I have 242 seen the miner work many times in the pit, and I have worked with him myself many times in the fields, and the one thing I know is, that he is the type of labour that we want on the land when he has not his own job to which to go.
Finally, as my last supplication, I beg the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour to use his powers with regard to those trained agricultural workers who are leaving the land in a surprising number to go to forestry. Apparently, they are allowed to do so, and it is not fair to the farmer, and it certainly is most unfair to the agricultural worker who sticks to his job and stays behind and has extra work to do thereby. I feel that I have spoken long enough, but I want to say in closing that the eyes of the country are on the farmer and the farm-worker, who cannot be severed or considered separately when it comes down to agriculture. They are perfectly willing to "Go to it" and to keep at it. They have great trust in the Government and great confidence in my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, and very rightly and properly so. They have great confidence in the future, although, at first, that may seem rather like Dr. Johnson's definition of a second marriage—"the triumph of hope over experience." But they have something for which to hope this time because they have solid promises on which to rely. They have great confidence in their own skill and in the bounties of nature, but just at this moment, between seed time and harvest, between the fold and the farm, between the lambing-pen and the market, and, if you like, between the cow and the pail, there stands a grim spectre—the spectre of an acute skilled labour shortage. If the Government can remove that ghost as they have removed many others from agriculture, then, the farmer and the farm-worker can go forward with heart, and this country will be fed.
§ Dr. Edith Summerskill (Fulham, West)
Most of us here have vivid recollections of our maiden speeches and of the poor efforts we made, and, therefore, I congratulate the hon. Member for Wansbeck (Mr. Scott) upon having made such an informative speech—one well worthy of old and seasoned Members. I want to deal with an aspect of the speech of the Minister of Labour which has not yet been mentioned. When the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. 243 C. Davies) ranged over the work of the Ministry of Labour, and asked the Minister about his policy on every subject, I listened hopefully for him to ask the Minister what was to be his policy, in the new scheme which he outlined yesterday, towards the industrial army of women workers. It is a very important matter because the Minister of Labour has outlined a vast new experiment which has no parallel in this country. He said that in 1914 the situation was entirely different. Women's labour had been used, and there was little reserve. He came yesterday to that Box and said that in the near future all women in the country, whether they have work or not, are to be asked to join in the war effort.
I am not concerned only with the women who are yawning their way through the war and wondering what to do with their time, and whose lives have been altered very little by the war, but with women who are to be recruited and will find themselves in a factory or a workshop for the first time in their lives. I think it has been suggested that the time is not yet ripe for the Minister to go to the country and say to the women, "We are ready for you." I understand that there are not sufficient raw materials and machines, but the important thing is that the Minister of Labour is to introduce a measure which I believe will cause as much social upheaval as the evacuation organisation. Therefore, the time has come when the Minister of Labour should realise that, if the women of the country are to respond—as I want them to respond—they must be prepared.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) rather illustrated my point when he said that a soldier had to get accustomed to obeying orders; that he must not think, and that when he was transferred to industry he had to resurrect his faculties. The Minister of Labour must not think that the women of the country, who have formed certain habits and are simply thinking in terms of cooking, cleaning, and looking after the household, could, almost overnight, be turned into first-class industrial workers. You have to go to these women and ask them to think in new terms. I do not believe it is necessary to wait for two or three months. Propaganda should start now. When I say that there will be a 244 big social upheaval, I am very conscious of what this means. It has to be remembered that the woman in the home, who is now to be called upon, is controlled by what her husband thinks and wants. It is not a question of saying to the woman, "It is your duty to go out into the factory." You have also to tell the husband that the first loyalty of his wife in the near future is to the State. This will be a real obstacle, and I anticipate that there will be a great outcry among many men in the country who will suggest that the Minister of Labour is Trying to disrupt family life. That is not an exaggeration.
I want this process of educating the nation to realise that the war effort must be in the forefront of their lives to commence immediately. After all, on the question of disrupting family life, we have to realise that the soldier is not asked whether or not he wishes to leave his wife. He is told that his duty is somewhere else and he must do it. So we face an unparalleled situation. I want all women—from those who have not been accustomed to doing their own work, not even making their own bed, to those who have no maid and do all the domestic work—to come out and do their bit. I understand that the Minister of Labour will do this. But he must take one step immediately. He must make the women of the country war-minded and their husbands, too, war-minded. They must realise that war will entail great sacrifices on the part of every citizen in the country.
I confess I was a little surprised that these very important points were not amplified yesterday. The Minister of Labour said he realised that if hundreds of thousands of women were to be asked to leave their homes they must be told that their children will be well cared for. For the first time in the history of this country the Government are to adopt responsibility for the welfare of the children of the country, which is as it should be. I do not believe you will get any married woman who has children to come out and give of her best, if she knows that her children are not being well cared for. The Minister said that it was proposed to set up day nurseries but it is of little use saying to women that there will be such nurseries unless you tell them what are the conditions which will govern the nurseries and what amount is to be 245 charged. Will you say to a woman who has five children "It will take all your wages to pay for looking after the children at the day nursery"? I suggest that these nurseries should be open and free to every woman worker in the country who wants to leave her children there. These new ideas which the Government have for dealing with this problem must now be conveyed to the women of the country so that they can plan their new lives.
The next point I would like amplified is that of the wages which the Government suggest should be paid to women. I know the Minister of Labour believes, quite rightly, that in dealing with workers, wages and conditions are of primary importance. Why on earth treat women, who are thinking beings, differently from men? You will not get the right response and service if you merely say "We call on the women to serve." The women who are reading about this new scheme are saying "Supposing I do leave my home, what are the conditions under which I shall work?" I want to know whether the Minister of Labour supports the principle of equal pay for equal work? In theory I know all fair-minded men say that this is a right thing, but now you are to call upon women who have never been out of their homes to work. Curiously, an idea still exists in many homes that really respectable women should not go out to work. All such ideas, I believe, will be dissipated by the end of the year, but until you tell women the wages and conditions under which they will work I can see that in a few months time the Minister may be very seriously disappointed at the lack of response to his call.
I believe that the Minister of Labour should now give a lead to all employers in the country who still use women as cheap labour and do, in fact, exploit them in factories up and down the country. They exploit them, very often, because they know that the women come out of their homes in order to make a little more to subsidise their husband's wages. I believe that the Minister should say what wages are to be paid, and whether they are to be paid on an equal basis, and I also want to know something more about the conditions under which they will be asked to work. It is proposed that women shall be asked to work in munition factories and factories which the Nazi bombers re- 246 gard as military objectives. Do not think for one moment that women will shirk from doing that; they have shown already that their courage is equal to that of men. But I am anxious to have this point clarified: Will the Minister co-operate with the Minister of Pensions who has announced his refusal to pay women workers the same compensation as for men if they undertake the same risks? There are many women's organisations—and I fully support their propaganda—making it their job now to explain to the women of the country that the Government, so far, have not announced an equitable scheme for compensation for women who are injured at work. I do not know whether the House knows it but if a single man is injured at work as a result of bombing he gets a pension of 35s. a week, whereas a woman in the same position gets 28s. a week.
Let us draw a picture of a munitions factory in the Midlands. In a few months' time it may be quite a commonplace to have women fire watchers—there may be one on this building—guarding men workers on factories throughout the country. The position to-day is that if that woman fire watcher is permanently injured doing her job, she gets a pension of 28s. a week while a single man she is guarding, who is so injured, gets 35s. a week. This, I suggest, is absolutely inequitable because it means that this woman is thrown on to public assistance or the charity of relatives. This is a position which exists to-day. If a woman who is not being paid a wage comes forward and does the job, she gets only 14s. a week, which means that certainly she would be thrown on to public assistance. When I ask the Government to tell the women of the country more about the details of the scheme, I do so because I feel this would be in the interests of the scheme. The women will not come forward, and the army of women workers will not materialise, unless they are given a square deal.
Furthermore, the Minister of Labour said that in future the Services are to be combed and that in those jobs in which women can do the work done by soldiers or officers, the places of the soldiers or officers will be taken by women. In some units I can see the whole thing being dominated by women, when I think of the number of men in 247 the Army who sit at desks and do the work of clerks. If the Minister of Labour says this is to happen, the situation will be almost revolutionary. If it is suggested that the only thing women cannot do is the physically heavy work of the Army, there will be a tremendous change over. Having said that, I should like the Minister of Labour to tell us whether, if we are in effect to have women soldiers in the Regular Army—by which I mean the Army as opposed to the auxiliary services—he is going to treat them like men. Will he allow the dependants of those women to have an allowance as the dependants of the men have one? This is a question which concerns women throughout the country, and because the dependants of the women in the auxiliary forces are receiving nothing, we find that the auxiliary forces are in a continuous state of flux. I hope the Government will take this matter extremely seriously, because, unless the new army of women are told exactly what their rights are and what are the conditions under which they will work, the recruitment will be slow. Finally, the hon. Member for Duddeston (Mr. Simmonds) more or less confined his speech yesterday to women, and he said it was disgraceful that women are not allowed to work seven days in the week.
§ Dr. Summerskill
I noticed that no hon. Member took up the point, and I feel that I should respond for women. My view, in which I am backed up, I think, by certain scientific opinion, is that it is absolutely unwise to ask any worker, whether a woman or a man, to work seven days a week, for the simple reason that if one does so, one does not get the maximum production. It is not a question of physical strength, but simply a question of production. I was astonished at the hon. Gentleman, who has so often told us that he is an employer, not knowing that a Commission was set up to study this problem, and that those were their findings.
§ Mr. Simmonds
The hon. Lady must not misrepresent what I said. The position in this country to-day is that we have too few machine tools, and for the moment those machine tools must be working as near as possible 24 hours a 248 day for seven days a week. Things may be better in two or three months' time, and we hope they will be, but at present it is imperative, to withstand the enemy in the next few months, that all these machine tools should be working night and day. One way of doing this is to allow women who want to do so, and who are strong enough, to work on the seventh day of the week during the next month or two, and not prevent them doing so.
§ Dr. Summerskill
I was talking about human beings and not about machine tools. Machine tools can be worked seven days a week, but in my opinion it is uneconomic to get human beings to work for seven days a week. The solution of the problem is to get the vast army of women who are doing nothing to-day, and who long to do a job of work, to come in on the seventh day and do it. The appeal I make to the Government is this. Women are being told that we are fighting for democracy. I understand that democracy is based on the belief that men and women are equal. I want the Government to prove this to the women whom they are asking to come forward and help with the war effort.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Lancaster (Fylde)
I should like to add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Wansbeck (Mr. Scott) on his most excellent maiden speech. I shall confine my remarks to the question of man-power and production as affecting the coal-mining industry. That industry is now being asked to provide its quota of men, and I feel sure that every hon. Member who has any connection with a coal-mining area will be the first to claim that there is no body of men more anxious at this time to give their services. But the matter is a more complicated one than merely deciding that a proportion of men shall be withdrawn from the industry. I have no doubt that the Secretary for Mines has given this matter serious attention, and he has very wisely set up tribunals to deal with questions regionally as they present themselves, but there are certain aspects of the matter in its national implication to which I ask him to pay particular attention.
As the House knows, for the second year in succession there is a shortage of coal. I think we-can reasonably be critical of that fact. Shortly after Munich, some 249 of us put forward suggestions to the Secretary for Mines which, I think, would have gone some considerable distance towards obviating this state of affairs. Be that as it may, there is a situation to-day in which certain classes of coal for certain industries are lacking. Of course, when we made those suggestions we could not visualise Germany over-running the Low Countries, the defection of France, or even Italy joining in the war on the side of Germany. What we did anticipate was that there would be a considerable dislocation in the supply of coal to our national industries as a result of sea and air attacks on coastwise trade. In a great measure that has come about. The fact that the export districts have at this moment no great demand for their coal does not mean that the coal is available for our industries. A great deal of that coal from these districts is not necessarily suitable. In general, the export districts are remote from our main centres of industry, and the question of transferring that coal is very nearly a physical impossibility. The strain on the railways at a moment when they are being severely strained in other directions rules any considerable transference of coal from export districts inland out of the question. In the meantime the internal demand for coal is rising, slowly but steadily. We have to meet that demand, and we have to recognise, in considering the withdrawal of men from the industry, the particular districts from which that demand is at present emanating. Lancashire, Staffordshire, Cannock Chase, Warwickshire and the whole of the Midland amalgamated district should continue to produce as much as they are to-day, and, if possible, more.
That raises the obvious difficulty that men will be asked to join the Forces from the export districts, where, through no fault of their own but purely as a result of what has happened during the war, they have been thrown out of employment. I think it is fair to say that no man at this moment claims exemption merely because he happens to follow a particular trade. The demands of the State in this matter must be paramount, and rather than attempt to spread this matter as between the two districts, we should hold very clearly in mind the fact that to withdraw any considerable number of men from certain districts will 250 not be to the ultimate good of our war aim. In this connection I suggest that no man should be withdrawn from Lancashire, Staffordshire, Cannock Chase or Warwickshire. Notts and South Yorkshire could supply certain classes of certain age-groups.
If I may interject a personal note, I have the honour in peace-time to be the chairman of a concern which employs the second largest number of men in the Midlands. We have at this moment something over 10 per cent. of our men who have volunteered for the Forces. I only mention that because it seems to me that that is one of the matters which the Secretary for Mines should take into account when assessing the contribution to be demanded from any particular pit. If he ignores that particular fact he may be withdrawing from a pit an undue proportion of young men upon whom the main burden of production under conditions of mechanisation inevitably falls.
The whole matter is complicated, because there are so very many aspects which have to be considered if an intelligent determination is to be arrived at. We have a situation where a man in Nottinghamshire, for instance, is producing something like 30 cwts. per man-shift, but in Durham a man is producing something over 21 cwts. and a man at Bristol something over 19 cwts. The effect at the moment is that that man from Nottinghamshire has a greater value than the man, say, from the Bristol area. Equally you have men within a pit who contribute more to the actual production of coal than others. I can visualise a situation where a flat 5 per cent. quota from two pits might affect in one case 20 per cent. of the numbers gainfully employed, whereas at the other pit the actual production might be hardly affected at all. I think there should be some transference of labour—certain age-groups of labour at this moment—because of the vital need of the maximum production of coal from those districts where the output per man-shift is highest, and where the coal is suitable and where production is nearest to our essential war industries. It is no good to say to the industrialist that he should use an inferior coal; that merely means a greater consumption. Efficiency is governed by the adaptability of a particular fuel to the particular boiler installation. It is no good saying to the 251 domestic consumer that he should use an inferior coal.
The matter needs intelligent planning, and I would suggest, even at this late hour, that the whole question of transference of certain age-groups should be carefully considered. At the same time we cannot afford to see the export districts getting into a condition which will not enable them to take the earliest advantage of any demand. That point must be kept carefully in mind. Any transference of labour on a large scale at this moment from the social point of view is beyond the power of the coal-owners to deal with. It should be dealt with by the Government, who must take into consideration all the matters which arise when men are asked to go from one part of the country to another—housing amenities and so on. Therefore I would earnestly request the Secretary for Mines, in consultation with the Ministry of Labour, to go into this matter and to recognise that if it is to be dealt with effectively, the Minister must show vision and must deal with the problem boldly. Notwithstanding the difficulties of the moment, I urge that, even at this late hour, this great basic industry, upon which possibly more than any other depends the fulfilment of our war effort, should receive the planning and foresight which it has long deserved.
§ Mr. Woodburn (Stirling and Clackmannan, Eastern)
The beginnings of this Debate, one gathers, arose from a Press campaign which demanded that in the interest of the country there should be a general scheme of compulsion. The question of compulsion has been examined from two points of view yesterday and to-day; first on the ground of principle that, because the Army are compelled, industry should be compelled. I think the aspect from which this question should be examined is not as to whether it is fair or unfair, but whether compulsion in industry is going to produce the armaments which the Army requires. If compulsion is going to produce the goods, it is justified; if it is not, it is unjustified. I contend that compulsion would utterly fail. I am reinforced in that view by my experience due to the honour that the House has done me in making me a member of the Committee on National Expenditure. I am a member of a sub-com- 252 mittee which deals with the Ministry of Supply and which has been examining a very large number of factories throughout the country and going into the whole question of production. In its latest report that Committee has recommended that the Minister of Labour should, where necessary, use his compulsory powers. The Committee includes several people with great experience of industry. The chairman has had experience of the general engineering and the machine-tool industry for many years, and I myself have had 25 years' experience of the administrative side of the engineering industry. We say, from our experience and investigation, that if you introduce a general scheme of compulsion without an intimate knowledge of the industry affected, you will slow up production and harm the national effort throughout the country. I hope therefore that those who hold a theoretical opinion that you can introduce compulsion and make it work will hesitate before they introduce the scheme.
If I may follow the hon. Lady the Member for West Fulham (Dr. Summerskill) in her reference to the work that women are doing, I am acquainted with a rest-house for soldiers where there are 400 women who probably never in their lives before have done a stroke of domestic work. They have left their well-to-do homes and have organised four-hour shifts and are peeling potatoes and supplying 16,000 soldiers with meals every weekend and a lesser number during the week. Does anyone think that, if you applied compulsion to them, you would be able to get that result? You would not. In industry also if you resort to compulsion, you will arouse resentment against unfair treatment. The workers in industry are working, in the main, as hard as their physical capacity will permit. Our experience of the investigations of the Select Committee has been such that we had to recommend that the workers should work not longer but shorter hours, because during the period after May, when a special appeal was made by the Minister of Labour, the work was so intensive that workers broke down under the strain. Last winter the effects of influenza and other diseases following from overwork were so great that the capacity of the workers for industry was greatly reduced. I would refer hon. Members who have 253 not consulted the last Report of the Select Committee to pages 6, 7 and 8. The sub-committee whole-heartedly endorses the opinions set forth in the Ministry of Labour's circular which was endorsed by the trade-union movement that it was still of vital importance to maintain war production at the maximum, and it was essential to relieve the strain on workpeople caused by extremely long hours of labour. They were of opinion that it was of vital importance to reduce the hours of work, and they recommended that the ultimate aim must be the introduction of the three-shift system, wherever possible. The committee found by its experience that when workers were asked to work more than 60 hours a week efficiency was reduced. They summed up:If general health is undermined, a reduction to optimum hours will fail to effect the required increase of output.That means that if you work the workers until their health is exhausted, you will not get maximum production even if the hours are reduced again. We must learn from the experience of the last war. In Glasgow we found women being asked to work in the munition factories seven days a week. Many of them had to leave industry because they were not able to run their homes and to find time to make their domestic purchases. They had to leave home at 6 in the morning and did not get back until 11 at night; they were working overtime, and many broke down under the strain. The committee recommended that as soon as possible the three-shift system should be introduced so that women would have a reasonable working day. That would enable a maximum production to be attained and would give a reasonable home life in the circumstances. I am of opinion that efficiency in war and in industry depends upon policy being settled by Parliament but carried out under personal responsibility. Committees cannot carry things out, but persons can. In the piece-work bonus system there has been developed the best way so far discovered of getting maximum production in mass production. I challenge anyone with experience in industry to suggest any other method that will produce munitions compared with the production attained by that method.
I see one defect in our present system. By the introduction of the 100 per cent. Excess Profits Tax there has been re- 254 moved from employers the usual incentive to put their backs into it. I must say that in our committee investigations we found that in almost every case firms were doing their best, for patriotic reasons. I think, however, that one big section of the population has been missed out in this question of incentive. Some recognition should be given to those technical and administrative staffs which have been doing such magnificent work. In one case a man by his technical ability has invented a process of producing shells which has practically reduced the time required to about one-tenth of the original time. A contribution of that kind cannot be measured in money, but some recognition should be given to people who are giving such service. There is another handicap to production. Many firms during the last war had a bitter experience. They lost their ordinary trade after the war, and the result now is that they are afraid to take war work in case they are ruined, as they were after the last war. Something must be done to reach these firms. I could give the names of firms in the engineering and foundry industries who are deliberately not seeking to do extra war work because of what happened to such firms after the last war. Therefore, the onus must lie on the Government to seek out those firms, and compulsion may be necessary in such cases. But these are some of the cases which the committee foresaw in considering compulsion and which I am sure the Minister foresaw in his statement.
A further handicap to-day is the fact that in industry both firms and workers are not clear about what the Government want. There has been a lack of specification of what is needed from the engineering trade. There are firms who are anxious to help but yet who do not know what is wanted. It is true that the Ministry of Supply have opened up showrooms, but it is difficult to get concrete details of what is required. I personally know of firms in Scotland—and there are others all over the country—who are very anxious to find out what is required. I suggest that all the Services must make up their minds early about what is required and see that firms are advised in time. There is still another cause of delay. In order to economise we are apt to pursue the old idea of asking for tenders. In a competitive industry 255 tenders are a sensible form of ensuring competition and low prices, but if there is no competition in industry, then to go through the form of tendering is simply a farce. I know of a firm which was going to produce fuses. It got the drawings in January of last year and sent in its tender immediately, returning the drawings with the tender, as instructed. When May came the firm had still not received the order, and they did not get it until June, but the drawings were not returned. Five months during which the machinery could have been got ready had been lost. I am not making any complaint about the Ministries, but only pointing out that the tendering system is the peace-time practice over the years and that we have not got out of that rut. Where firms are the only firms that can do the job the order ought to be placed with them immediately, because immediate production and the saving of lives are more urgent than the saving of a few pence.
My last point, perhaps one of the greatest importance, is that there is a complete lack of any real system of priorities. A good deal has been said about the Minister without Portfolio. I wish to say definitely that everyone who has an intimate connection with what has been happening in the matter of war production knows very well that the Minister without Portfolio had no real control over the priorities system, which was no system because it is not co-ordinated inside the Government itself. A very lovable old sea-raider has been placed in charge of the Ministry of Aircraft Production. Nobody doubts his capacity as a scoop reporter or a man who can get what he wants, but the man to put in charge of a sea-raider against the enemy is the last man to place in charge of a cruiser that is part of the battle fleet, because a different temperament is wanted. Unless he is somebody who can work in a team, it will throw things out of gear. Therefore, I was greatly relieved to see that the Minister of Labour had been made the Chairman of the Committee instead of our lovable old sea-raider, because unless we get co-ordination in this matter of priorities we shall have further chaos.
It is a remarkable fact that the man who had charge of the priorities in the last war and the men who were running the 256 priorities then and had all the experience were not called in to give the benefit of that experience. Instead we started an entirely new system of priorities by licences and restrictions—instead of telling firms what to do. Firm after firm have assured me that in the last war they and their workpeople knew what was wanted and what was the order of priority. Today they have only a collection of symbols, and I have never found one management which understands what they mean. The manager of one steel works has said, "When it comes to deciding priorities, I use my own discretion." In other words, the firms and workers of this country are guessing at what the Government want in the matter of priorities. I want to urge—helpfully, I hope—that the Government should institute a proper system of priorities at the earliest possible moment, and co-ordinate it over the whole system of production, not leaving watertight compartments from which the various Ministries compete with one another in the industrial machine.
I was very disappointed with the hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate. He could have summed up his speech very simply by saying that the Government was a "wash-out." I hope he will cheer up when he reads the rest of the Debate and the Government's reply, and discovers that the country is not quite so bad as he made it out to be. We all have our faults but, speaking personally, I marvel at the achievements that we have made, as a democratic country with our own free-will system. I assure hon. Members that industry throughout the country, so far as I have been able to examine it—and I have intimate connection with it—is working to the last ounce of energy. If the Government can make up their minds early enough what is wanted and will bring the machine into being, the workers of the country will, I am sure, rally to it, without anybody using whips, compulsion or any other method of that kind.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Churchill)
Let me begin by offering my apologies to the House and asking for its indulgence, because I am winding up a Debate of which I have been able to hear only a portion. I have carefully read the parts of the Debate to which I was not able to listen, but I have addressed my mind to the large general issues which led to 257 the fixing of the Debate. I hope that hon. Members who have spoken when I was not present will accept my apology on account of the other calls which I have upon me. I think I have said before that to try to carry on a war, a tremendous war, without the aid and guidance of the House of Commons would be a superhuman task. I have never taken the view that the Debates and criticisms of this House are a drag and a burden. Far from it. I may not agree with all the criticism—I may be stunned by it, and I may resent it; I may even retort—but at any rate, Debates on these large issues are of the very greatest value to the life-thrust of the nation, and they are of great assistance to His Majesty's Government.
Therefore, when, as we gathered, there was a wish to have a day's discussion of large questions connected with the Home Front—man-power, priorities, supply and so forth—I offered not only one day, but two days. I think two are better than one, because sometimes, when there is only one day's Debate, especially under our rather restricted conditions of meeting, one may find that the Minister makes a long statement and that afterwards there is nothing in the Debate but the criticism; whereas, after two day's Debate, it is possible to perceive the main character of the criticism and to endeavour, as far as possible, to reassure the House upon the points which have most been called into question.
I want to begin by communicating to the House the main ideas which I have formed, with much thought and some experience, upon the machinery for conducting war. I have reached the conclusion that in the present circumstances a War Cabinet composed of four or five men free from Departmental duties would not give the best results. It may be submitted that that is a very arguable proposition. Some may say that that system assisted to carry us to victory in the last war. I saw the system at close quarters, and I do not think that it was in practice altogether what it was represented to be in theory. The War Cabinet of those days was largely an instrument designed to give the great man who then conducted our affairs wide powers to deal with matters over the whole field, and in practice the meetings of that body, theoretically so eclectic, were attended by very much 258 larger numbers than those who now grace our council board.
Personally, I have formed the view that it is better that there should be in the responsible directing centres of Government some, at any rate, of the key Ministers. There is the Minister for Foreign Affairs, who always attended in the last war. There is the Chancellor of the Exchequer, because, after all, one must not forget that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has a function. There is the Minister of Labour, because, as we have been reminded in the excellent speech which the hon. Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) has just delivered, the spontaneous, sustained, good will effort of the labouring masses of this country is the sole foundation upon which we can escape from our present difficulties. Then there is the Minister of Aircraft Production, because aircraft production is the key to survival, and, if I may say so, the Minister of Aircraft Production, who was described by the hon. Member who has just sat down as an old sea raider, which is a euphemistic method of describing a pirate, is a man of altogether exceptional force and genius, who is at his very best when things are at their very worst. Then there are the Defence Ministers, the three Service Ministers. But, as the Prime Minister under this arrangement, which the House has approved, is also the Minister of Defence, he represents those Departments in the War Cabinet. We make altogether eight, and yet we hold a great many of the key offices in our body. I think it is better to work in that way than to have five Ministers entirely divorced from their Departments, because that means that when a discussion has taken place in the Cabinet, the leaders of these Departments have to be summoned, and the whole business has to be gone over again in order to learn what it is they think they can do and to persuade them and convince them that it is necessary to do what has been decided upon.
The House must not under-rate the power of these great Departments of State. I have served over 20 years in Cabinets, in peace and war, and I can assure the House that the power of these great Departments is in many cases irresistible because it is based on knowledge and on systematised and organised currents of opinion. You must have machinery which 259 carries to the Cabinet with the least possible friction the consent and allegiance of these great Departments. It is not a question of loyalty. It is a question of honest differences of opinion which arise, and there are many matters to be settled and decided which would not arise in the ordinary Departmental mind. There are great difficulties in dealing with Departments of State unless the key Departments are brought into the discussion in the early stages and, as it were, take part in the original formation and initiation of our designs.
I said the Minister of Defence represents the Service Ministers in the War Cabinet, and he, in the name of the War Cabinet and subject to its accord, directs the conduct of the war. Why then, it is asked, have we not got on the civil side another similar Minister? That, I think, was the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies). Why should there not be another similar Minister who would equally direct and concert the whole home front or a great part of it? The answer is this: The Minister of Defence is also Prime Minister, and he can therefore exercise his general function of superintendence and direction without impinging upon the constitutional responsibilities of the Service Ministers. If, however, a Minister of Defence were appointed who was not the Prime Minister—and I am discussing this matter quite impersonally—he would not have any real authority except, of course, a co-ordinating and conciliatory power over the three great Service Ministries and their responsible heads. The First Lord of the Admiralty and the Secretaries of State for War and Air could at any time appeal against him to the War Cabinet, and the whole matter in dispute would then have to be argued out there once more. If at any time it becomes necessary to appoint a Minister of Defence who is not also Prime Minister, then I tell the House plainly that that Minister will have to be in fact First Lord of the Admiralty and Secretary of State for War and Air, and hold the seals or letters patent of those Departments, otherwise he will have no more power than the various Ministers for the Co-ordination of Defence have had in the years before the war and in the six months at the beginning of the war.
Let me now apply these considerations to the civil side. Here also the Depart- 260 ments have very strong characteristics, and the Ministers at their head have definite constitutional responsibilities to Crown and Parliament. Here also are immense volumes of specialised and organised knowledge. Where am I to find a man who, without himself being Prime Minister, would have the personal ascendancy in his nature to govern and concert the action of all those Ministers and Departments on the civil side, and drive in a happy and docile team the Minister of Supply, the Minister of Labour, and the Minister of Aircraft Production, to say nothing of the Ministers of Transport, Shipping, Agriculture, Food and Trade? I doubt if such a man exists. Certainly I do not know him. We do not live in a dictator country, where people can be brutally overruled. That is our merit. We do not want a dictator. We live in a country where His Majesty's Cabinet governs subject to the continual superintendence, correction and authority of Parliament. In the last resort, only the Cabinet can exert the necessary authority over all these Departments I have mentioned on the civil side. How, then, is this process to be achieved, with the maximum of action and the minimum of pressure? There is the problem for which I ventured, very respectfully, to offer a solution in the recent announcement of the formation of the Government Committees.
Let me, at this point, make a brief diversion upon the uses and abuses of committees and the possibility of administrative action by them. Four years ago I criticised the pre-war Administration for their reliance upon an elaborate network of committees. I was answered by a quotation from my own account of the organisation which I set up in the Ministry of Munitions in 1917. In this quotation I was represented to have said, quite accurately, that practically all the work of the Ministry of Munitions was done by a council of committees. That seemed a very good answer in those days, when I had not the advantage of so much support in this House as I have to-day. Let me make plain to the House the difference between the Council Committees of the old Ministry of Munitions and ordinary advisory inter-departmental committees. The Council Committees were exclusively composed of men who had under their direct control the executive and admini- 261 strative branches concerned in the problem, and who bore the great responsibility for executing any agreement or any decision reached among them. That is the fact. They were like chieftains, each arriving with so many of his clan, and when the clans were joined together the Highland army was complete. The ordinary consultative and advisory committee is attended by representatives of many branches and Departments—and everyone likes to have his representative on any committee that may be going; they try to agree upon forms of words for a report; and then, too often, they are inclined to pass the buck to some other futile body, equally respectable. The difference between these two kinds of committees is the difference between cheese and chalk—and cheese is much the scarcer and the more nourishing of the two.
Every British Cabinet in the last 30 or 40 years has conducted a large part of its work by Cabinet Committees. Instead of the whole Cabinet sitting there hour after hour, they appoint four or five Ministers to go into this or that particular matter, to hammer it out among themselves, and then to come back and advise the parent body. Such Committees are often based upon the Ministers, the co-ordination of whose Departments is essential to the solution of the problem. They have the strongest incentive to agree, because they are all colleagues: honourable men working for a common object; and if they do agree, they can make their Departments carry out their decisions, and carry them out with alacrity and good will. This was the system which I applied at the Ministry of Munitions in August, 1917. It was certainly generally considered to be a very great improvement and easement in organisation upon what had gone before, and this is the system which, mutatis mutandis, I have applied now to the two extraordinarily difficult and vital spheres of our life which are covered by the Import Executive and the Production Executive.
The Import Executive consists of the five great importers from these five Departments—the Ministry of Supply, the Ministry of Aircraft Production, the Controllers' Department at the Admiralty, represented by the First Lord, the Food Ministry, and the Board of Trade, which also represents the minor importers. If the men at the head of these Departments, who are among the leading and most 262 active Ministers in the administration, could not settle among themselves how to bring in the greatest volume of imports in which we are all vitally interested, I should be very much disappointed, and indeed, surprised. In order that control may be effective, the handling Departments, that is to say, the Ministry of Transport and the Ministry of Shipping, the Department responsible for shipbuilding and repairs, and in this connection the Ministry of Labour, whose Minister is in the Chair on the other Committee—these Departments serve them and carry out their policy. Take all this business of the docks under the attack which is being made upon them, problems of labour and transport, of turning ships round and so forth. This group of men have everything in their hands. If they can agree—and at their service are the great Departments—they can execute the policy which they put forward.
Similar principles inspired the creation of the Production Executive, the kernel of which consists of the three same supply Ministers who are on the Import Executive and who also constitute the Committee regulating purchases in the United States. Here are these three Supply Ministers at the root of our war production business, and naturally you meet them in all these organisms of Government. This then, is the instrumentation which, I believe, will produce the most effective and rapid action. I am entitled to an opinion in the matter, because, after all, the House has laid on me the responsibility, and I have the right to be judged by the results. So far as the results have gone up to the present, they have given satisfaction to all concerned, and a number of very important and practical decisions have been taken by the complete and unanimous agreement of the parties concerned, followed by immediate action in the Departments concerned.
I see—and I am endeavouring to address myself to the pith of the argument which has been adduced—that some critics have asked, "Are you not overburdening these Ministers, each with his own Department, by making this one chairman, and these others members of this Imports or Production Executive? If they have to do all this work on these Executives, how are they going to do their own work?" But this is exactly 263 their own work. This is the particular work they have to do. The management of these affairs and its interplay with other Departments constitutes the major problem before each one of them.
I saw that someone wrote in a newspaper that this was a policy of thrusting executives upon overburdened Ministries. Well, that is like saying you are thrusting the Stock Exchange upon stockbrokers or thrusting upon general managers of railways, at a time when railway action had to be concerted, frequent or occasional meetings together. This is the very process by which our business will be discharged. As to the Chairman of this Committee, he is not facile princeps but primus inter pares, which, for the benefit of any old Etonians present, I should, if very severely pressed, venture to translate. At any rate, all these Ministries have equal and direct responsibilities. But it is asked, "Why should you not choose less busy men for these tasks?" It surely would not be any help to these busy men to burden them with the task of explaining over and over again their business to others who cannot know a tithe of what they know about it themselves and then, when inevitable differences arise, of having to carry them up to the Cabinet and fight all over again there.
The way to help busy men is to help them to come to a decision together by agreement and to give them power to make this decision promptly effective through all parts of the Government machinery at their disposal. I have my views about this, having served in so many capacities and relationships, and I can assure the House that there is no more formidable and effective organisation of power than a unit of four or five consenting minds, each of which has at its disposal full and necessary powers for the discharge of the business entrusted to them. It is not for these executives to decide how many men shall be allotted to the Army, Navy or Air Force, or how much shipping shall be used to bring in food or materials, or carry troops to this campaign or that. These particular blockings in belong in the main to the War Cabinet, and I accept the responsibility of making sure that the general policy determined by the War Cabinet is interpreted correctly 264 by the executives. In the event of differences I hope to adjust them, and if I fail the matter must be settled, in the last resort, by the Cabinet. In no other way can business in war-time proceed with the necessary despatch. However, it is most desirable that the Cabinet itself shall not be overburdened with business. Ministers must be free when they will to stand away from the intricate machinery of government and the routine of daily work and together survey the stormy skies. Therefore, in order to diminish the number of occasions on which it is necessary to have recourse to the Cabinet, we have this Steering or Planning Committee, over which the Lord President of the Council presides, which deals with the larger issues, and also deals with questions of adjustment. It is fitted to do so, because, although it is not exactly the Cabinet, it contains a very large proportion of its members. The chairmen of the two Executive Committees, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who at this point—having, of course, already approved departmental purchases as a matter of routine—comes in on general policy, the Minister charged with reconstruction, and the Ministers at the head of the Security and Home Departments, should be able to settle most things there without its being necessary to bring these matters to the Cabinet presided over by the Prime Minister. In this way I hope my own work, which is considerable, will be reduced and more effectively devolved.
I must say a word about the functions of the Minister charged with the study of post-war problems and reconstruction. It is not his task to make a new world, comprising a new Heaven, a new earth, and no doubt a new hell (as I am sure that would be necessary in any balanced system). It is not his duty to set up a new order or to create a new heart in the human breast. These tasks must be undertaken by other agencies. The task of my right hon. Friend is to plan in advance a number of large practical steps which it is indispensable to take if our society is to move forward, as it must, which steps can be far larger and taken far more smoothly if they are made with something of the same kind of national unity as has been achieved under the pressure of this present struggle for life. The scope of my right 265 hon. Friend's task is practical and has regard to national unity, on the one hand, and about three years as a time limit on the other. There certainly will be four or five great spheres of action in which practical and immediate advance may be made if we can continue on the morrow of the victory to act with the unity which we shall have used to bring that victory. I feel my right hon. Friend is very well fitted for this great task, and it gives him a grand and a growing opportunity of historic national service.
Now, I leave these matters of Governmental machinery, and I turn to the larger issues. We had forceful speeches yesterday from the Noble Lord the Minister for Horsham—[HON. MEMBERS: "Member"]—certainly, it would be no unworthy department—the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton), and from my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell), and to-day we have had a speech from my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. Clement Davies), of which I heard only a portion, but which I gather from this sample was an exhaustive treatment of the subject in all its branches and in all its aspects, which had for its characteristic the aim of saying all that was true on both sides of the different aspects dealt with, and sought for the best of both worlds during a prolonged tour through the universe. I ask myself whether our affairs are in fact as badly managed at the present time as these speeches suggest. I am sure there are an awful lot of things which could be done better, and I do not at all resent criticism, even when, for the sake of emphasis, it for a time parts company with reality.
But are my hon. Friend and my Noble Friend right in thinking that things are being so very ill done here, and so much less effectively done here, than they are in the great dictator countries? Let us look into this. At the root of all questions of man-power lies the size of the Army. The Navy and Air Force make gigantic demands upon us, but the great customers for man-power are the Army and the industries which sustain the Army. The size of the Army was settled within a few weeks of the outbreak of war. We have not altered that decision except to the extent of providing for the equipment of 10 more divisions. The scale of the Army is the scale which was settled in 266 November, 1939. I am not going to say how many divisions it amounts to; but it is a very large and formidable force, both in connection with sea power and amphibious power, and of course for the defence of these islands. Counting the Home Guard we have round about 4,000,000 armed and uniformed men who would all play their part in defence of our hearths and homes. But naturally the armies which could be put into the field and taken overseas in formed military units would be measured by quite different standards—the principal standard would be fixed by shipping tonnage available. At the time when the scale of the Army was settled, in 1939, a vast series of factories, plants and establishments were set on foot, sufficient to provide this Army with all that it would require in continuous action on the Continent of Europe against the German enemy. The bulk of these new plants are only just beginning to come into production, and many of them are still structurally incomplete. We have a very large number of plants which are all simultaneously three-quarters or four-fifths finished. That is what happens at this period in any war when you change from peace production to war production. As these plants come into operation, the construction services—the builders and those who lay on the water, light and power and make the communications—will depart and the munition workers will have to be assembled. All this takes time and you cannot go faster than a certain speed. Perhaps we might go a little faster; by all means let us try, but the stages cannot be omitted. The Noble Lord was very scornful yesterday about the Minister of Labour because he said that we had more people now employed in munitions and aircraft than we had in 1918. I was astonished that my Noble Friend, who has some experience of Government, should show himself so unaware of the slow and gradual process of munition production, because he said he had been my follower in the re-armament agitation, and I have repeatedly explained to the House in the last three or four years how lengthy and gradual this process must inevitably be.
§ The Prime Minister
I have the quotation here: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 he polite to the right hon. Gentleman I should say that it was a fatuous comparison."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21St January, 1941; col. 107, Vol. 368.]It is not possible to make a warship go to sea and fight against the enemy until the fires have been lighted under the boilers, and have got hold, until the water has got tepid, and has got warm, and finally until steam and vast power has been generated. Whilst this is going on there is no use rushing about uttering alarming cries. This is not a very good thing to do if you happen to be one of the people who did not start to warm up the boilers in good time.
I was Minister of Munitions in July, 1918, and I am therefore able to measure more or less the intensity of the effort of munitions production which was then going on. I was greatly encouraged to learn some weeks ago that in the sixteenth month of this war we had already surpassed by several hundred thousand workers the number of persons employed in munitions and aircraft production in the forty-eighth month of the last war, and it was mentioned from the Labour benches that the productivity of one pair of human hands has greatly increased in the interval. I have kept myself constantly informed of the great tide of new factories which are rising to a productive level. In the next six months we shall have for the first time an intense demand upon our man-power and woman-power. This is the problem that lies before us. We are now about to enter, for the first time in this war, the period of man-power stringency, because for the first time we are going to have the apparatus and the layout which this man-power and woman-power will be required to handle. That is the reason for the very far-reaching declaration of which the Minister of Labour thought it necessary to apprise the House and the country in his statement yesterday.
268 Now is the time when the full war effort will gradually be able to be realised as the plants come into being. It is true that we have not so many women employed as we had in 1918 but there are two reasons, one, which was given, that so many more were employed already before the war situation began—that is a reason which is very important—and also the shell filling factories are only gradually coming into being. They were only constructed after the outbreak of war.
I am, of course, aware that a mechanised army makes an enormous additional drain upon the administrative and tactical branches which lie behind the fighting vehicles. I have thought, nevertheless, for some time that the Army and the Air Force—the Navy not so much—have a great need to comb their tails in order to magnify their teeth. I have felt for some time that there was considerable scope for saving of man-power on the rearward and preparatory services in order to develop the highest economy and the highest manifestation of fighting power. I look to very considerable combings and scrapings in the Air Force and Army, particularly the Army, not in order to cut these Forces down, but in order to reduce their demands upon the man-power market as far as possible during the coming stringent months so that we shall be able to man the new factories and shipyards and to till the new fields which are corning into production. Both these fighting Departments are engaged in this process at the present time, and the Army in particular are making very great savings from their rearward services in order to promote the forward sharpening and expansion which is necessary.
In all this the Army problem has been greatly eased because, in the mercy of God, we have had no slaughter or wastage comparable to the last war. It is, indeed, amazing that after 16 months of war between the greatest States armed with the most deadly weapons not more than 60,000 British folk, nearly half of whom are civilians, have lost their lives by enemy action. It is a terrible figure, but it is far less than in a single protracted battle on the Western Front in 1916, 1917 or 1918. Therefore, while our Army is growing every week in power, strength, efficiency and equipment, and while a decisive expansion of the Air Force is in progress, it is the munitions factories and 269 agriculture rather than the fighting Services which will in the next live or six months make the chief demand for manpower upon the public. It is to these problems and tasks that we are now addressing ourselves.
Criticism is easy; achievement is more difficult. I do not pretend that there is no room for improvement and for acceleration, even apart from the methodical expansion which is going on. It is certain that the peak of our war effort has not yet been reached. It cannot be reached until the plants are all working, but my mind goes back, not to what has been said here, but to what I read outside a few weeks ago, when our critics were crying out about our inaction against Italy and wondering whose was the hidden hand that was shielding Mussolini from British wrath. At that time I endured the taunts in silence because I knew that the large and daring measures had already been taken which have since rendered possible the splendid victories in Libya—Sidi Barrani, Bardia, and it may well be that while I am speaking Tobruk and all it contains are in our hands. Apart from the Libyan victories, extremely important developments are taking place on both frontiers of Abyssinia and in Eritrea which may themselves be productive and fruitful of pregnant results.
Far be it from me to paint a rosy picture of the future. Indeed, I do not think we should be justified in using any but the more sombre tones and colours while our people, our Empire and indeed the whole English-speaking world are passing 270 through a dark and deadly valley. But I should be failing in my duty if, on the other side, I were not to convey to the House the true impression, namely, that this great nation is getting into its war stride.
It being the hour appointed for the interruption of Business, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
§ Question again proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. James Stuart.)
§ The Prime Minister
It is accomplishing the transition from the days of peace and comfort to those of supreme, organised, indomitable exertion. Still more should I fail in my duty were I to suggest that the future, with all its horrors, contains any element which justifies lassitude, despondency or despair. His Majesty's Government welcome the stimulus that the House of Commons and the Press and the public of this island give to us in driving forward our war effort, and in trying to gain an earlier inch or a more fruitful hour, wherever it may be possible; but I have no doubt that the House, in its overwhelming majority, nay almost unanimously, will wish also to give its tribute of encouragement as well as its close of correction, and will lend the heave of its own loyal strength to the forward surges which have now begun.
§ Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.