§ [13TH ALLOTTED DAY.]
§ Considered in Committee.
§ [SIR DENNIS HERBERT in the Chair.]
§ CIVIL ESTIMATES, 1941.
§ UNCLASSIFIED SERVICES.
§ MINISTRY OF SUPPLY.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed,
§ "That a sum, not exceeding £90, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1942, for the salaries and expenses of the Ministry of Supply, including expenses of the Royal Ordnance Factories" [Note.—£10 has been voted on account.]
§ The Chairman
There is another Vote on the Order Paper, a Vote for the Ministry of Aircraft Production. Representations have been made to me that it would be convenient to discuss the two Votes together and that it would give rather more elasticity to the Debate. That can only be done if the Committee is prepared to give a general assent to that course. May I take it that assent is given?
§ Mr. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
Can you give some further guidance to the House, Sir Dennis, as to the extent of the Debate? Will it be possible for references to be made to the relationship between produce lion and man-power which cannot be gone into in detail without also going into the administration of the Ministry of Labour?
§ The Chairman
Anything will be in Order which would be in Order on either of these two Votes. That being so, there will be a fairly wide scope for debate. The hon. Member asked me to answer a question as to what will or will not be in Order. I do not think I can go into details as to what will or will not be in Order.
§ Mr. Garro Jones (Aberdeen, North)
I might perhaps be allowed to say a word or two about the scope of the Debate, because I know that a number of my hon. 198 Friends have expressed some disappointment that it was not so arranged as to enable them without qualification to bring in all questions of man-power. I know it is always possible to make out a case for the extension of a Debate. But it seems to me that if the Debate on the munitions supply Departments is to be so extended as to enable Members to deal with the question of man-power as a whole, it becomes impossible to deal with the question of man-power without dealing also with subjects like agriculture, coal production and shipbuilding. Therefore, if we are going to be allowed to discuss administrative subjects falling within the purview of any individual Government Department, it seems to me that we might equally well reason that it is rather one sided to partition Government administration into Departments at all. In my experience and opinion, for what they are worth, it seems to me that the wider these Debates extend, the less productive they are of effective suggestions and criticisms. The reason is plain. Each succeeding Member who speaks tends to switch the attention of the Committee, so wide is the range of subjects covered, from the subject that has been raised by the previous speaker, and, when the Minister comes to reply, either we have to have half-a-dozen Ministers replying, or one Minister has to speak from a brief supplied by other Departments of which he is not the administrative head. In those circumstances, a Minister may be excused if he collects from the Debate those points which he finds it most convenient to answer and allows other criticisms to evaporate, perhaps unnoticed.
At the same time, I should not like my hon. Friends behind me to think that I do not believe that sometimes it is of the greatest value to have a Debate ranging over the whole field of Government production, but in such case I think we ought to exclude matters falling purely within Departmental administration. I think almost everybody is now agreed that there should be one higher Minister, who has a wider horizon than the heads of the three Service Supply Departments which now exist; who is informed of the requirements, in labour and materials, of competing Departments and who must know the changing allocations and priorities for every part of the war machine, entrusted to him for his supervision by the War 199 Cabinet. His would be the task of putting an end to the jostling for men and materials which undoubtedly still goes on in the industrial sphere of munitions supply. There are, at present, three Government Departments concerned with the supply of munitions for the Services. The most important of these, in my view, is the Ministry of Supply, not only because it performs to a limited extent common services for each of the three Service Departments, but also because its particular care, the Army, is, at present, the most ill-equipped, or the least well-equipped of the three fighting Services.
During the last few years we have had a great many Debates on the Ministry of Supply, and no fewer than four Ministers have tried their hands at administering that Department—Ministers with motley qualifications. We have had a lawyer, a renowned political administrator, a distinguished business man, and now we have a famous newspaper proprietor. I venture to say that up to date not one of them would admire the organisation of the Ministry of Supply as he found it. I further say that not one of them was operating the Ministry of Supply as an administrative machine. Each one has had to operate it by meeting daily needs as they arose, by breaking this or that bottle-neck, by rushing some improvised scheme into the gap or by appointing a new man or a new tank corps to deal with some weakness as it appeared in the administrative machine.
I am going to express the hope that Lord Beaverbrook, before having recourse to what may be described as traditional methods, will attempt to operate the Ministry of Supply as a machine, even if it is necessary to make some readjustment in its organisation first. He will not find it an easy matter any more than his predecessors did. I do not know whether the Committee is familiar, for example, with the complexity of the organisation for the production of tanks. I see that Lord Beaverbrook has appointed Mr. Rootes, whose record is one of success, to be deputy-chairman of the Supply Council. Under him there will be the Tank Board, which presumably is still functioning. There will be Mr. Geoffrey Burton, who is Director-General of Tanks and Transport:, and there is Vice-Admiral Sir Harold Brown, who is 200 Director-General of Munitions Production. There is also a Director-General of Mechanisation, a Director-General of Programmes and a Director, or Director-General of Plans. My feeling, which is based on some little information on the subject, is that if one heavy tank per week could be produced for every Director-General and Director concerned in the administration of their production, I should be pleasantly surprised.
The output of light, medium and heavy tanks—heavy tanks comprising those of 50 tons and upwards—is, in my view, a subject which should have the largest claim on our attention at this moment. It is just over a year ago since my right hon. Friend the present Home Secretary, then Minister of Supply, tacitly admitted that up to that time at any rate, the output of new types of tanks was far from satisfactory. He told us plainly that the War Office had not been able to clarify what their needs were in regard to heavy tanks and that there were then a dozen views about what type of tank was required. Therefore a very wide list of tanks was then being constructed. My right hon. Friend acted with considerable vigour. He constituted the new Tank Board to clear up the muddle and gave directions that existing models of tanks should be pressed forward with the utmost rapidity and with as little modification as possible, or none at all. Fortunately for our security against air-borne invasion, that policy yielded a good "catch crop" of certain lighter types of tanks.
But what of the medium and heavy tanks? I am certain the Government will not wish to pretend that the output of medium and heavy tanks is what the Committee would expect, and I hope that the Minister who replies in this Debate will not hark back again to the old form of reassurance by taking an unknown figure of former production of medium and heavy tanks, and multiplying it by two or by 10 or by 12 and attempting to show. by methods of that kind, that progress has been made. I have even heard the Prime Minister having recourse to that method recently. He told the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha), a month or so ago, that there were 12 times the number of heavy tanks now in the Army that were there when the right hon. Gentleman left the War Office. That form of reassurance does not reassure the House 201 of Commons or the country. In fact, it has directly the opposite effect, after all these long years of misuse of the method. Neither does it impose on the enemy. I think it is not only in Lancashire that they have a proverb which briefly runs "Twice nowt's nowt" I do not suggest that that applies as regards the figures in this case. I know it does not but that is the principle and I implore the Minister not to attempt to use that method of reassurance to-day.
The truth is that tanks are still being held up by countless modifications—I shall have some examples to give the Committee. Tanks are still awaiting decisions as to what engines shall be placed in them. Tanks are lying in batteries awaiting parts like gear boxes and clutches. It seems to me extraordinary that, with the need so great, insistence should be laid by the War Office upon the incorporation of modifications in tanks which are only improvements on a fine balance of technical and military opinion. I can give the Committee one or two flashes of harmless illumination on the secret scene. In the case of one tank in production at a slow but fairly steady rate since September, 1939, the factory has until last month been continuously prevented from going into quantity production of that weapon by the endless stream of modifications received from the War Office, passing through the Ministry of Supply. During this period the number of individual modifications received in the drawing office of this factory—I am sure the Committee will hardly credit it, but they have been recorded, and I can give the facts to my hon. and gallant Friend —was in excess of 5,000. I am not an engineer, but I know enough about engineering to say that while some of these modifications might have been easy to incorporate such as changes of rivets, some might have been less easy, such as the change of position of a seat, because the man who has to drive the tank felt according to his taste that it would be more convenient if the seat were on the other side. Some of the modifications which were sent to the factory not only involve enormous wastage of time and labour in incorporating them into the design, but place a permanent brake upon the production of the weapon which makes quantity production impossible.
202 I will give an example which has led in the case of one tank, to a serious and continued delay in its production. The makers of the tank chassis were ordered to grind the edges of the armour plating at a certain joint true to an accuracy of two-thousandths part of an inch. They were astonished to receive these instructions. They asked, "Why is this necessary? It is something new in tank accuracy." It was explained to them that if bullets struck the junction of the two armour plates at the point of junction, there would be a certain amount of lead splashed from the bullets, some of which might penetrate into the interior of the tank. What was the result? Special grinding machinery had to be made. There was none in existence for grinding the edges of these armour plates to such' a fine point of accuracy. Even when special machinery had been made there was a constant continuing brake put upon the production of that weapon. [Interruption.] Does my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) wish to make my speech for me? If he does, I should have been obliged if he had given me notice. I have had a lot of interruptions from him lately; and it would have saved a lot of trouble, and perhaps a better speech would have been delivered.
§ Mr. Kirkwood ( Dumbarton Burghs)
There is and has been for years this type of machinery in operation for grinding edges of armour plating to less than two-thousandths part of an inch.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
I am speaking about the size of armour plating required for this particular job, and I am satisfied that the authority upon which I make my statement would be accepted by my hon. Friend if I gave it to him.
§ Mr. Austin Hopkinson (Mossley)
Can my hon. Friend give that authority, because he has made some technical statements which to my own knowledge are inaccurate?
§ Mr. Garro Jones
When hon. Members are approached in confidence in the public interest, as my hon. and gallant Friend has been, it is an easy method to discredit statements made upon full responsibility by asking for a name which, obviously, in good taste and honour, cannot be given. A year ago General Hope and Brig.-General Pratt 203 were appointed to the Tank Board by the then Minister of Supply, now Home Secretary, in order to cut down the number of modifications which come streaming in from the War Office. Since then I have been rather horrified to learn, although I know nothing about General Pratt, who may be an officer of the highest qualifications, that he has been sent to the United States to give them some instructions in design and production. I hope that he is clear that in this matter he will be expected to act from the point of view of common sense. I hope that the Minister of Supply or the Parliamentary Secretary will see these two' War Office officers and make sure that this cause of delay, at any rate, will be removed. It would be possible to go on and give a catalogue of this kind, but I will give one or two examples.
§ Mr. Hore-Belisha (Devonport)
It should be made plain that the Ministry of Supply is responsible statutorily for design and that while my hon. Friend said that drawings were altered by the War Office 5,000 times in a certain period, it would be within the province of the Ministry of Supply to make those alterations and not of the War Office, except in a general way.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
I accept what my right hon. Friend says about the ultimate responsibility for design. The last word, I believe, rests with the Minister of Supply, but he acts upon the recommendations put forward by the War Office. If the War Office press with vigour and say they must have the modifications, and if the Minister of Supply refrains from pointing out the enormous difficulties of production and does not explain that five good tanks are better than one slightly better tank, then I lay the blame at his door and not at that of the War Office. Before I go on to say a word or two about the Ministry of Aircraft Production, I want to make this clear to the Committee. I do not want to be a prophet of woe, for so far as the supply of aircraft is concerned I know that enormous strides have been made, particularly in the last twelve months, and I have very little concern about the preparedness of the resistance to invasion of the Royal Air Force and its equipment at the present time, but we want more than that. In dealing with the Ministry 204 of Supply I think the position is not quite satisfactory. I am coming, however, to the Ministry of Aircraft Production.
In the case of both Ministries one of the weakest branches is the ordering and supplying of equipment in the United States of America. The Ministry of Aircraft Production has under order in the United States no fewer than 30 types of aircraft for the Royal Air Force. That is wholly unsatisfactory. We have long ago succeeded in reducing the number of types being made in Britain. Why have we not been able to secure a proportionate reduction in the United States? I know that there are difficulties. The result of having so many types produced in the United States is not that it is more difficult to produce the air frames and air engines, but that for every single type of aircraft produced in the United States a separate set of equipment has to be made, such as bomb racks, bomb-lifting cranes, maintenance tools and equipment, and so on. The sad feature of the United States supply of aircraft is that whereas orders were energetically placed in the last two years or more for air frames and engines, those who placed them forgot at the same time to ensure that supplies of maintenance equipment and ancillary equipment were provided. What is the result? Of one type of aircraft imported from the United States, complete and operationally ready, there are several hundreds—or were a few weeks ago—lying unpacked inland warehouses, in their crates, for the sole reason that those who placed the orders on behalf of the Ministry of Aircraft production did not order the necessary ancillary equipment. That is not a difficulty that was not foreseen, because I remember that when the Air Ministry were resisting pressure by this House and from other quarters to place orders to build aircraft in the United States one of the reasons given against that policy was that it would also involve the provision of innumerable additional sets of equipment. Therefore, the Air Ministry and the Ministry of Aircraft Production must have foreseen this difficulty, and must recognise that it is a difficulty which was not faced.
In my view many of these difficulties— and I will not weary the Committee with a catalogue of them, although I have several more instances—are due to a lack of higher control in the administration of 205 the three Supply Departments. I do not propose to occupy time in going at length into the causes. Our situation is such that we can better devote our time to devising remedies for these difficulties, and we may well ask what remedy there is for this defective organisation in the machinery of government which can be applied without risking confusion. One suggestion I would put forward is that it is now time for us to take at any rate one step by appointing a higher control over the Ministry of Aircraft Production and the Ministry of Supply and, if possible, the Admiralty as well. I realise that the Admiralty is not, perhaps, ready to come in at present. I can picture the admirals turning their telescopes upon the machinery of the Ministry of Supply, and it is not altogether surprising if they refuse to sail in its company, let alone join the ship; but if the Ministry of Supply is made into a more effective machine, I believe the Admiralty would be quite prepared to contribute, as they might greatly, to that organisation. I should like the Committee to notice that I did not use the word "merger" of these Departments. A merger would take a lot of time and we have not a lot of time. I used the phrase "higher control." The Committee may think that it shows some temerity in my part if I venture upon a suggestion in the higher realms of Government control, but I have long thought that there is a serious gap in our Ministerial system between the Prime Minister and the 25 or 30 heads of the great independent Departments over which he is supposed to exercise administrative authority.
§ Mr. A. Bevan
Has the hon. Member not forgotten that there is a Production Executive of the War Cabinet, over which the Minister of Labour presides, which is supposed to exercise effective control over all these Departments, and does he suggest that that Committee should be given over-riding authority?
§ Mr. Garro Jones
Personally, I am not in favour of committees being given overriding authority. As far as the Production Executive is concerned, whatever may be its nominal function, it exercises only an adjudicative function, and that is not enough. What I would like is that one of the several Ministers whom I am suggesting should be interposed between the Prime Minister and this long line of Ministers over whom he has authority 206 should be a Munitions Supply Minister. I do not contemplate that he should be a Departmental Minister. He should be a member of the War Cabinet but have no administrative duties. He would exercise an adjudicative and what is more important, if I can use this word, a "visitatorial" authority over the Supply Departments, an authority similar to that which the Prime Minister is supposed to exercise along the whole long line of the Treasury Bench, though I venture to say that very few Ministers of the great independent Departments have had more than a very few minutes of consultation with the Prime Minister in the last 12 months. I think it would greatly ease the burden of the Prime Minister and would greatly improve the machinery of the higher control of Departments if these five, six, or seven, it may be, were given this visitatorial authority over groups of appropriate Departments.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)
Ought not this Minister to go even further? Ought he not to be a sort of Deputy Prime Minister, with the authority—if such a man can be found—of the late Lord Milner in the last war?
§ Mr. Garro Jones
I would favour giving these Ministers the maximum possible authority. What their title is to be, whether Deputy Prime Minister or not, I am not saying. The only title I would bar would be "Deputy Fuehrer. "I think" Minister of State" would be quite a good title. But I would strongly favour giving these Ministers authority. Give the war leaders authority, and they may make mistakes; withhold that authority and they are sure to fail. Therefore I am in favour, so far as my opinion is worth anything, of giving the maximum possible authority, subject, of course, to War Cabinet supervision.
That is all I propose to say about the machinery of government. There is one all-important aspect of our war production upon which I want to say a few words. I refer to the choice of men for responsible positions in the whole range of the war effort. There is no priority committee in this all-important sphere. How are the key men chosen for all these great positions? Can we be quite sure that the choice is not too often based upon considerations of personal friendship, of whim, of immediate convenience, of 207 seniority, of reluctance to displace failures —or is it on no organised principle at all? Everybody knows that when a man is taken into a Government Department, to place his great experience at the disposal of that Department, he has to work in joint harness with the Civil servants, who completely stultify the whole purpose for which that outside man was brought in. I will give an example which occurred recently in a Supply Department. A prominent and energetic industrialist was brought in and had under him an invaluable Civil servant. Working under his direction that Civil servant was of the utmost value. One morning the Civil servant comes in to say, "I have been posted to. …" Naturally the head of the Department had a considerable shock. He asked "Why?" The Civil servant said, "Because there is a vacancy in my grade abroad, and there is no vacancy here, and I am going to be sent out in order that I can take advantage of my due promotion." That sort of thing is going on in the Supply Departments, and the attention of Ministers ought to be given to it. There are wrangles in the Service for good men, and they result in the retaining in jobs of men who are inefficient. I heard one Supply Minister caution the House against changes in his Department. He said that a State Department was a delicate piece of machinery and had to be handled carefully lest the Department became demoralised. Can anything demoralise a Department more quickly than retaining in office and authority men whom the whole Department know to be inefficient?
We have been slow to recognise both success and failure, especially in the case of men lower down in the social grades, among the good craftsmen. I do not know how many hon. Members have any skill in particular grades of craftsmanship and who realise the endless patience and skill required to turn out a good job. One never hears a Minister of Information turn the microphone and the spotlight on these men in order to give them courage, yet we owe them an enormous debt of gratitude. [Interruption.] It is true that Ministers have given full credit to the skill of the workmen, but it is not enough to tell the public these things in general terms. We want the public told what skill it requires to work to these fine 208 tolerances in order to produce accurate machines. Imagination is required. I could not do the job. Men are available who could explain to the public what is being done on their behalf by way of craftsmanship as a contribution to the war effort.
Let me give other examples. Take the question of 8-gun fighters. I remember pressing upon the Government in this House years ago to incorporate four guns in our fighters, but I did not know that a tremendous struggle was going on within the Air Ministry all that time to resist the incorporation of eight guns in our fighters. The Air Ministry resisted that for a long time. There were men of vision and experience who forced that change upon the Air Ministry. I have never heard any recognition given to those men, but what they did was of enormous consequence in our victory in the Battle of Britain. A decisive scientific and technical achievement, which was also a decisive production achievement, was put into operate on by the same man. I often see Captain Fraser Nash in the uniform of a Home Guard, but upon his breast there is no indication that the Government appreciate his enormous services. Failure to recognise success in achievement has a bad effect upon war production.
I am not sure that the Prime Minister himself sets a very good example of sound principle in selecting men as Ministers. Everybody loves the Prime Minister for his loyalty to his friends, but, if carried to the point of adhesion to persons who have proved unsuccessful, it is not profitable. The Prime Minister is unrivalled in our history in his acknowledged leadership, and our loyalty to him is not affected by the criticisms which we sometimes make of some of his Ministers. I notice at times an atmosphere of expectation on the Treasury Bench that the House and the country should treat everybody who is appointed by the Prime Minister as though they were gentlemen who had received their commissions from the mountains of Galilee. If men who have failed do not go, the abilities of men who have succeeded cannot be harnessed to the war machine. Last summer a few hundred airmen won for Britain a short respite. Now it appears that Providence is to give us another respite, thanks to the stubborn resistance of the Russian Army. Let us use it this time not merely 209 to fend off defeat, but to marshal our men and weapons for victory. That is what the nation asks from the Government.
§ Sir Adam Maitland (Faversham)
I do not propose to follow the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken into some of the wider issues that he has raised. He said we should have a Controller of the three heads of the Service Departments. I am suspicious of supermen and prefer that the heads of these Departments should themselves be men of competence, ability and courage. We would then like them to act with the highest degree of co-ordination. It would be much more satisfactory in practice to have this system than that there should be one Minister largely responsible for the many acts and decisions which might help our various efforts in war production. Nevertheless, I shall not venture into the speculative realms of high political appointments, but will deal with one or two matters which have been the subject of inquiry by committees of this House, particularly in regard to aircraft production. I refer to some of the work of the Select Committee on National Expenditure. Perhaps the Committee will be interested to know about this, because the Air Services Committee have taken a great deal of evidence with regard to the production of aircraft, labour questions, the efficiency of management and the thousand and one other things which are wrapped up in this very important subject. There has been such a great expansion in the aircraft industry that it is not surprising that there should be defects. It would indeed be surprising if there were no defects, and I hope that in the few words I shall utter I shall not be accused of speaking in an unduly critical manner of either managements or men.
I should like to bring to the notice of the Committee certain aspects of this very important question of aircraft production. I was interested to hear the hon. Gentleman refer to the aircraft which had come from America. I have no doubt that when the Minister comes to reply he will deal with that, but I should like to ask him, on the same subject, if it is true that in the early days when France collapsed this country took over the whole of the aircraft which had been ordered by France from America. I believe it is true, 210 both with regard to France and with regard to this country, that in the ordering of planes not sufficient attention was paid to the question of ordering equipment, and I believe that the same thing applies in great measure to many of the aircraft we are producing to-day. This is very important, because the time comes when you must choose between a larger number of new craft, or determine whether simultaneously with the production of a lesser number of new craft, you will also at the same time produce the proper quantity of spare parts. I am not sure that sufficient regard has been paid to that important aspect. It is a good thing, and of course it is a picturesque thing, to be able to say that in a certain time so many new craft have been produced and the figures are mounting, but it is not necessarily the wisest thing if at the same time there has ' not been provided the necessary equipment for maintenance, replacement and repair and provision for accidents.
I should therefore like to emphasise that particular problem, and to say that I believe that in industrial affairs, and I think all engineers will agree, that even in war-time, the best results over a long period of time are likely to accrue when you have, as far as possible a well balanced production. From time to time, because of some particular event, you may have to change over speedily for some special purpose which has arisen; but when changes of that kind are made it almost inevitably follows that there is a disturbance of the general balance of production. For example, before the Battle of Britain—and everybody pays tribute to the gallant airmen who fought in it—there must have been a big demand for fighter machines, but shortly afterwards we had the appeal over the wireless from the then Minister of Aircraft Production to "Roll out the bombers." It must be obvious that as the result of the greatly increased production of fighters there must have been some corresponding reduction in the output of bombers. I do no more than just refer to it in order to emphasise that the best results, from the point of view of industrial production, are to be obtained by retaining as even a balance as possible.
I would like to ask one or two questions. Are the Ministers concerned perfectly satisfied that the best use is being made of our man-power? The hon. 211 Gentleman referred to the degree of craftsmanship and skill which many of our people possess in unrivalled degree, but modern mechanism is such—and it may be alarming to some of my hon. Friends who have stood so long for the preservation of well-earned trade union rights—that many operations which 20 years ago were looked upon as being the preserve of particular craftsmen can now be mastered by unskilled labour and by women in a very short time of training. Are we utilising our skilled and versatile workmen to the best advantage? In this war men whose skill is unusual and personal should not spend their time in routine work. I think it will be found today that a very large percentage of these skilled. men are being utilised in routine jobs. I would also like to suggest that we are not using our plant and machinery to its fullest capacity. It is essential that there should be a greater use of night shifts. A great many of the new factories which are building would not be necessary if present plant and machinery were used to their fullest extent. We have had complaints about the inefficiency of management. The experience of my hon. Friends and myself on this particular Committee has demonstrated to us the difficulty which arises, in this vast expansion, of finding just the best people to do the most important executive jobs, and I therefore say at once that there are many cases where the efficiency of the management is not at all what could be desired. I am very glad to be able to tell the Committee, from the evidence we have, that old-established concerns, compared with the shadow factories, have certainly generally impressed us by their efficiency and the way in which they are doing their work. There have of course been exceptions, but I am giving the House a general picture in general terms.
§ Mr. J. J. Davidson (Glasgow, Maryhill)
Is my hon. Friend suggesting that these old-established firms have not had the same opportunities as the new shadow factories?
§ Sir A. Maitland
No. What I meant was that because they were established prior to the war they had been able to build up their organisations gradually, gather around them efficient personnel and in this crisis were doing a better job of work—which is understandable—than 212 the shadow factories, with new managements, and new workpeople, set in a new part of the country often far from their homes. It is quite natural and it would be a serious reflection on our pre-war industrial methods if it were not so. I desire to put that point of view, because it is sometimes assumed that shadow factories, Government factories, are so much better than the ordinary industrial concern, and I wish to put the balance right.
Another question of some importance I wish to raise is that of wages. I our Fifteenth Report we have reported regarding wages in the aircraft industry. I think we have been very fair in our comments. We have pointed out that some stories with regard to high wages are grossly exaggerated. We have also pointed out, quite fairly, that wages in the aircraft industry are much higher than those in the engineering industry generally. I believe it is very important, if the productive effort is to be aided to the best advantage, that regard should be had to the wage rates which have been fixed by the various organisations, and federation rates of wages observed. I am not at the moment discussing whether wages are too high or too low, but thinking of the fact that we are at war. I can give an instance to illustrate my point. In one case, in a Government factory, 50 men whose services could no longer be utilised were asked to go to another Government factory. They refused, because the rates of wages at their first factory were higher than they would get at the other. That was a perfectly understandable point of view of the men. What happened was that for a fortnight these 50 men remained at their first factory, and had no work. They were paid but there was no production from them. Something is sadly wrong if, in war-time, that kind of thing can happen. I put it forward not with any intention of suggesting interference with existing arrangements regarding wage negotiations but to stress that it is important that the authorities should exercise influence to see that there is recognition of federation rates and that these should be honoured as far as possible. We cannot forget the State is the highest purchaser of almost every commodity to-day and increased costs—whatever the cause—have mainly to be found by the State.
213 One word on the very thorny subject of absenteeism. There are two kinds of absenteeism, avoidable and unavoidable. The Committee will find that we have been very careful to distinguish between the two. I must say that when Ministers suggest that there are exaggerated stories with regard to absenteeism they should not stop there. It does not answer the charge. They must deal with the facts; which are, as can be seen in our report regarding the aircraft industry, after we had had evidence submitted to us by representative employers to say that absenteeism was one of their greatest problems. In some cases the percentage was from ten to 12 and in one case was as high as 20 per cent.
§ Mr. Austin Hopkinson
I trust that the hon. Member will be careful what he says. In a recent speech in Manchester the Minister of Labour said that those who say there is absenteeism in the works must be members of the Fifth Column.
§ Mr. Woodburn (Stirling and Clackmannan, Eastern)
When the hon. Member makes this statement regarding percentages, does it relate to the week-end and not to the rest of the week? Is he referring to the whole labour time, or to particular days in the week when it is suggested that absenteeism is prevalent?
§ Sir A. Maitland
The figures which I gave were a fair average over a period, and not of an exceptional period. I appreciate all the implications involved in the interjection of my hon. Friend the Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson). Having promised the Chairman not to occupy too much time, I must conclude by saying we all wish to see mobilised to the full our industrial strength, and it is in that spirit that Members generally will take part in this Debate.
§ Lieutenant Brabner (Hythe)
I ask the indulgence of the Committee for a Member making a maiden speech, particularly as I have been away from this House for the best part of a year, and have not had the opportunity of listening and learning here. I am also conscious of the danger of young officers coming back to the House and discussing the war, or the sinews of war, when it is quite obvious they can have seen only a very small part of the gigantic whole. I think that, however, if one has had some personal experience, however 214 brief or violent, one has a privilege to bring the matter up in the House with the idea that other people may benefit from that experience afterwards. I wish to tell the Committee a little of the needs which we had in the Middle East, and of a suggestion or two whereby these needs might possibly be met by the productive resources in this country. May I say that I got out of Crete in an extremely battered aircraft before the German parachutists landed? That is why I am here to-day to take the time of the Committee for a few minutes. In the Middle East and Greece, in Crete, Libya and in Syria there has been an almost chronic lack of most of the important materials of war. I say "has been", because I have been given the highest assurances that this matter is being attended to, and I accept those assurances. I hope that the Under-Secretary will to-day be able to reiterate those assurances from his knowledge of our production capacity and the materials which we are producing.
First of all, aircraft. The R.A.F. will know, with anger, the unpleasant fact of having constant German fighter patrols over our own aerodromes in Greece, so that our own pilots could not take off. It is, perhaps, incredible, but I can assure the Committee it is true, that we who were at Maleme in Crete were rarely in a position to put more than two aircraft into the air for continuous patrol during the daylight hours. It is improper for an hon. Member in uniform to talk about his own Service, so I am making my remarks particularly about the other two Services which were concerned in the Middle East. These are the facts; there were no aircraft. I cannot help feeling that at this stage of the war we ought to have had them.
That is not a constructive remark but I hope, if I may be allowed to discuss two or three more details, to make a constructive suggestion later. It is common knowledge in this country and elsewhere that the anti-aircraft position is lamentably short. We have been building antiaircraft guns as hard as we can, I presume, but we are still short of them, and grievously short. At Maleme there were eight or 10 Bofors guns —the Germans have now got them, so I am telling them nothing which they do not know. These were knocked out, because there were no 215 heavy anti-aircraft guns to keep off aircraft, which were out of range of the lighter guns. There is a great shortage of multiple half-inch machine guns, which are much sought after for attack against low-flying aircraft. I wonder whether the Parliamentary Secretary could tell us whether he is satisfied with the production of Browning guns and 20 mm. cannon for aircraft, and whether he is satisfied with the distribution of that production over the country, so that it cannot be knocked out by one German attack.
May I bring to the notice of the Committee two more details? Our tanks in Libya, Greece and Syria did marvellously against the Italians. Against the Germans, they did not do so well, because there were not enough of them and they were too slow. In Greece between 70 per cent. and 80 per cent. broke down before they ever saw the enemy, for reasons of which I am sure the Minister is well aware. This question of tanks is one that must be viewed with some concern at the moment, when there is quite obviously going to be a drive put into tank production. I am coming back to that point in a moment. Another matter is the importance of dive-bombers to our Army and our Air Force. It is quite clear that in Syria, Libya and Greece a dive-bomber of some description was necessary. In Greece the German troops debussed in sight of, but just out of range of, our troops. I do not think we had enough aircraft anywhere; certainly we had not enough to hit those debussing troops. It is quite clear that neither the Army nor the R.A.F. has resolved its difficulties as to the production of this type of aircraft. I would like the Parliamentary Secretary to say a few words about that. I do not believe that we can hope to compete in production with Germany, if we want to win this war in less than five or six years, in all three Services. We have got to have a large Navy, because of our geographical position. It seems to me that we must make up our minds, from a productive point of view, whether we are going to beat the Germans by obtaining decisive superiority on land or in the air.
If, as seems to be the case at the moment, our productive resources arc strained in all directions to obtain a little of everything and a decisive superiority of nothing, conditions will arise such as 216 have already arisen in Libya, Greece, Crete and Syria. If you strain these productive resources all over the map, you will have to wait until the production of America has a total effect. That may or may not be a long time; I do not know. But we in this country have to make up our minds whether we want tanks or aircraft. There is an absolute strategy in this. If we could produce 20,000 aircraft to hit the Germans with, we should win the war. If we had 5,000 tanks and 5,000 aircraft, I do not know whether we should be much better off than we are to-day, except from the point of view of numbers. I have tried to point out some very crying needs in the Middle East—and I am certain that they exist, if not quite so severely, in this country. While the details I have given are not, perhaps, constructive, and merely point out a lack hon. Members perhaps already knew, I would emphasise that it is time that we made up our minds that we can obtain a decisive superiority in one sphere if we go all out for it; and the sooner we obtain it the better. This Committee has the power to make its urgent desires known. I, for one, would like very humbly to underline as strongly as I can the urgency of this matter. Everything we produce to-day is worth twice what it will be worth in twelve months' time. I am quite certain of that. If we make our urgent desires known, let us make them known quickly and impressively in every factory and to every general staff in the country.
§ Major Oscar Guest (Camberwell, North West)
It has fallen to my lot to congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Hythe (Lieut. Brabner) upon his maiden speech. I do so with very great pleasure, because I think that his words were very apposite to the occasion. He gave a picture of the needs of our Fighting Services, and of the urgency of those needs. My only excuse for intervening in the Debate is that it has fallen to my lot to manage two factories engaged in producing munitions for the three Fighting Services. In that way I have had a close picture of the difficulties of the manufacturer, and some idea as to the remedies which might be successful. I will deal with only two or three points.
The first is the machine-tool situation. Because of the assistance of the United States and the organisation of the Machine- 217 Tool Control, great numbers of machine-tools of all kinds are coming into this country. I am not clear how the machine-tool departments of the three Fighting Services are co-ordinated, but I presume that there is one central control. If we get great machines coming to this country, worth £2,000 or £3,000 at least, they should come with all the equipment that they need. There have been several instances of machines having to wait for vital parts, which are not supplied with the machines. I know that the point is engaging the attention of the Machine-Tool Control, but I would like it to engage their attention more. The manufacturers' difficulty is the servicing of these machines. They need accessories in greater numbers than ever before. If the accessories are not found, the machines will not operate; and they are expected to operate all day, and sometimes all night as well. It would be a useful development if the Machine-Tool Control had a section to co-ordinate the obtaining of the necessary consumable tools for these machines. Possibly it is the new fact of the problem. It is one of growing urgency at the present time. An hon. Member spoke of various equipment he was anxious to see and with which I happen to be closely connected. Nothing is going to assist the production of that equipment so much as machine tools, and the difficulty we are all up against is that of obtaining these in sufficient numbers at a sufficiently rapid rate. I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to consider whether machine tool control could have a department which would particularly deal with the regulating and servicing of the machines.
The other point to which I would like to draw attention is the technical control supply, whether it be research in design or in specification. We heard from the hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate about those 5,000 modifications in a certain design. We have heard from others about model specifications and from others about standards which are acceptable and serviceable and standards which are not. In this war, which is essentially a technical war, not enough attention is being paid to the staffing of the technical services of the three fighting Services, and particularly of the Ministry of Supply, which supplies such a large proportion of the supplies. I would like to see the Designs Department and the Inspection 218 Department of these Ministries very much strengthened and enabled to employ the services of high-grade technical men. I do not know whether, to some extent, that is a Treasury matter, but, if so, it is a matter upon which the Treasury is unwise to be stingy. The Inspection Department supplies the standard of the stores which it requires for the Services. It decides the technical points which arise, and it has the technical control of output, and that Service is under-staffed and is unable to obtain more staff because it has not the Treasury wherewithal to do so at rates which will enable technical engineers to be obtained.
This war is very much one not only of bravery and valour, but of the best technical equipment—the strongest tank, the fastest aeroplane and the best automatic gun—and we have not sufficiently emphasised the necessity for a strong and highly efficient technical staff to control the technical end of production. I believe that if the Treasury would realise this and would allow Departments to strengthen that side of organisation. we would receive immediate benefit.
There is only one other point I would like to raise, and that is the question of the power of decision. We find, as manufacturers, that it is very difficult to obtain from departments clear-cut and quick decisions. Curiously enough, we are all visited by enormous numbers of officials of all kinds, all trying very hard and all anxious to do their best, but very few of them are empowered to give a decision on anything whatever. In view of the enormous expansion of production with which we and the Ministry are trying to compete, it is impossible for everything to be referred to every Department again. Would it not be wise to take a chance and spread the power of decision to lower grades, even if mistakes were made? The slowness with which it is possible to obtain decisions is very marked, and I am sure that other manufacturers would agree with me in what I say. It is only when you can get an official to overstep his powers to give a decision that you get things done. I ask the Ministers of the Fighting Services who need these stores seriously to consider the derogation of powers.
§ Mr. Loftus (Lowestoft)
Can my hon. and gallant Friend tell us whether the power of decision in one Department, 219 such as the Admiralty, is greater than it is in the other two Departments, because that raises an important point? I understand that the Admiralty do derogate power of decision, but that the Air Ministry and the War Office do not.
§ Major Guest
I should say that there is a tendency to increase the powers of decision in all the Ministries, but it is one which might very well be increased. I believe that, if that could be considered more and we could get our marching orders quicker and know what our marching orders were, and if decisions were not changed more than was absolutely necessary but could be adhered to, it would quickly benefit output.
I would like to refer to one remark made by the hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate. He said that not enough recognition was given to workers, staffs, technical staffs and so on, who have done good work in the factories in this production drive, and I agree with that suggestion. I would like to see recognition of all grades engaged in munitions production. It is difficult to say whether it could be shown by the award of a meritorious order or how it could be done. I live in a munition factory all day, I see all grades, from the youngest worker to the factory manager, working 12 hours a day, every day, and I would like them to receive some recognition of the good will and work put in by all grades throughout munitions production. I have visited a great many firms, and if it were possible for the Ministry of Labour or some other Ministry to organise some scheme of recognition for good, hard work, without any absenteeism, and for inventive work in the more skilled grades, I think it would have a very great effect.
In conclusion, I think we ought not to be too depressed as to the work which is being done by the three Supply Ministries and by the munition factories throughout the country. The amount which has been done is very great. It is due to the individual good will, which is shown by all in the factories, in the Ministries and throughout the country, that it has been achieved. Still, there is always room to do better. I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to consider the two or three suggestions I have put forward, which, I think, might ease the working of the machine and assure that the muni- 220 tions that we want to see reach our Fighting Forces reach them at the earliest opportunity.
§ Mr. Mander (Wolverhampton, East)
I cannot help thinking that in a Debate of this importance it is rather regrettable that the representation of the Government is left at the present time to one of the Joint Parliamentary Secretaries. In view of the very admirable speech to which we have just listened, there ought to be a representative of the War Cabinet and of the other Ministries interested. I understand that the hon. Gentleman who represents the Ministry of Supply in this House has to be absent for a certain amount of time, but the absence of a representative of the Ministry of Labour and of the War Cabinet is very regrettable.
In the remarks that I intend to make, I shall criticise the present organisation of supply, but I intend to do it in a spirit of helpful criticism. I am most anxious that the Government may be stimulated to adopt a course which will produce very much better results than at the present time under the most unsatisfactory working of the Production Executive, which is not delivering the goods in the quantities that are desired or of which it is capable. I want to make it clear that I am not attributing any blame to the present Ministers of Supply or of Aircraft Production. They have been in office for only a short time. Nor am I blaming managements, except to a minor extent, and I do not intend to blame workpeople at all, because I do not think conditions have been favourable to them. What has gone wrong is the business of proper central control of production from the beginning of the war until the present time. We must make a fundamental change in the arrangements which are now in existence. Let me make this point clear too. The enemy cannot draw any possible consolation from the criticisms that will come out of this Debate because we all recognise that there has been a tremendous output of war equipment of all kinds and that valuable services have been rendered in various theatres of war. But we do feel that there could have been a very great deal more achieved than actually has been the case.
The workers have that feeling, as is well shown by the recent Gallup survey 221 published in the "News Chronicle," which shows, for what it is worth, that 60 per cent. Of the workers of this country think that a much greater output could be obtained if things were in proper order. I want to describe, first, the situation as I see it, to give a few examples and then to suggest some remedies. The Select Committee on National Expenditure in their 15th Report referred to conditions in the aircraft industry, and made a suggestion that there was labour in the industry which was not fully employed. They said that there was no reasonable prospect of full productive employment in the near future and that idle labour was becoming a permanent and undesirable feature in industry generally. These are very serious criticisms and I believe they are fully justified. Certain examples have come to my knowledge, examples which are by no means confined to any one factory. They have come from the North and the South and other parts of the land. A question I have been asked is: "How is it that hundreds of aircraft workers are being discharged from different aircraft factories at the moment when they are told there is urgent need for aircraft?" Workers simply cannot understand it. I heard of a factory recently where, in one week, there were 1,000 hours of idle time in the machine shop. There is no possible justification for that kind of thing.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply (Mr. Harold Macmillan)
I think the point made by the hon. Gentleman was that if it is a large factory, it was a small figure?
§ Mr. Mander
I heard of another case where, owing to failure to plan and organise properly for the change-over from one type of machine to another, there was the prospect of 2,000 men having nothing to do for five months. To some extent that has been put right, but it was a shocking example of bad planning. In another case, that of a moderate-sized machine shop, there were 32 machines idle for weeks and the work- 222 people strongly criticised it. Nothing has been done about it. Another case is that of a factory where only an average of 16 hours a day is being worked, leaving aside Sunday, on which day I do not suggest that they should work. The workers asked, "Why cannot our machines be used for 24 hours a day instead of 16?" Men in these factories are disgusted with this sort of thing. It is very bad for morale and if anything will break their spirit it will be that feeling of frustration and the thought that the facilities are not being properly used. Workers resent being paid simply for playing cards, which they have had to do on many occasions.
Suggestions have been made recently that it was too easy to get into certain factories and the hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Aircraft Production did take up one particular case to which his attention was called. But I would ask him to look further into the matter as I understand that that sort of thing applies in other cases. Factory managements, as a whole, should be warned of the grave dangers that arise in this connection. One minor remedy, but important in its way, is that there ought to be established joint consultative machinery in the different factories. We were told the other day that the Minister concerned was doing all he could to bring this about but he made it plain that he was meeting with a certain amount of resistance and a lack of good will. The Committee ought to be told where is the absence of good will. Is it among employers or workers? Every possible step ought to be taken to see that there is machinery whereby employers and employed can discuss points of the sort to which I have been referring. This machinery ought to be set up at the earliest possible date.
The fundamental cause of the trouble is, I think, the way in which the Ministry of Supply was originally set up. We know it was set up in a very feeble hesitating way, after immense pressure and tremendous delays, and then only just before war broke out and not with the proper powers. The proper powers do not exist at the present time; the whole thing was wrongly conceived from the beginning. The Ministry of Supply was made far too much into a buying organisation instead of an organisation which could not only buy but see that it got, by co- 223 ordination in the factories throughout the country, the goods which were so urgently required. The proposal I want to make —one which has already been referred to and which commands general support is this: that we should now have a real Ministry of Production. There should be appointed a Minister of Production with the same sort of powers as the Minister of Munitions had in the last war, so that the Ministry could really do what they wanted and get things done. Under that Ministry of Production you would have grouped together the Ministry of Aircraft Production, the Ministry of Supply and the Admiralty purchasing side which would become Departments and cease to be separate Ministries. They should be linked together so that, by careful planning, they would be able to effect all that is required throughout the country.
We recently had the announcement that Lord Beaverbrook, with his great energising talents, is going to the Ministry of Supply to do, I suppose, work similar to that which he did at the Ministry of Aircraft Production. I am bound to say that I view this with some alarm. It is not that I do not appreciate Lord Beaver-brook's qualities, but it is rather alarming to think of the Noble Lord once again coming into the arena and taking part in a battle of production between aircraft and tanks. I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hythe (Lieutenant Brabner) who said that we must make up our mind, as the Cabinet must make up their mind—which I believe they have never done yet—how we are going to win the war. Is it to be done in the air, as I venture to think, or by landing an army in France and striking through to Berlin, a thing which I do not think anybody seriously contemplates? The Cabinet must make up their mind very definitely on this matter. There is a danger of a struggle once again; Lord Beaverbrook will want to make his Department extremely successful; he will do everything he can to get the best men and the best materials, grabbing the might and left, as is happening already to some extent. There is no doubt that he will make the fur fly, but will the final result be to the advantage of the war effort as a whole? I venture to think that the right place for Lord Beaverbrook would be as Minister of Pro- 224 duction in charge of all the sources of supply. He would then have no temptation to isolate himself in his own Department, but would use all his energies for supplying the three different agencies that exist at present.
My suggestion is that there should be a Minister of Production with the three Departments under him. The present production Ministries would become production departments, each controlled by the chairman of a production executive committee. These chairmen would be the members of a national production executive committee, the chairman of which would be the Minister of Production. Decentralisation would be achieved by greatly enlarging the powers of the Regional Area Boards. Let me say here that I do not think the announcement made yesterday by the Minister of Labour and National Service went far enough with regard to the Area Boards. Although it was a step in the right direction, it did not give the Area Boards executive powers to do things. The right hon. Gentleman said that they were purely advisory, but I feel that as long as we work on these lines, we shall not make the progress that is desired. According to my scheme, the Area Boards would be reconstituted as regional production executive committees, and would be exact replicas, on a regional basis, of the new Ministry of Production. The chairman of the regional executive committee would be responsible to the national production executive committee, and there would be members on it representing aircraft, supply, and the Admiralty. Each of these members would have under his control an expert full-time staff to deal with the four important sections to which I shall refer in a moment.
The present production Ministries, which would become departments under this scheme, would be re-organised so that the fundamental elements of production could be effectively planned. I suggest that the pattern for each Ministry could be as follows: There would be (a) the chairman of the production executive committee, and under him there would be (b) a department dealing with research, development and design, which exists already; and (c) a department dealing with contracts, payments, finance and costing, which exists now. There would then be two new departments, the first (d) dealing with planning, timing and progressing, 225 and the second (e) a "helping-hand" department to improve production, management, and technique in industry. The chairman would be the chairman of the production executive committee, and there would be governing directors-general covering the four departments. The planning division would plan the fundamental elements, in relation to production demands covered by contracts. The subjects to be dealt with would be labour—in collaboration with the Ministry of Labour—materials, machine tools, tooling, which is a matter of enormous importance, because when there is a change-over from one design to another, an immense amount of labour and time is needed. Then there is the question of programmes and timing.
That is something which goes on all the time, and it is a vitally important task, not properly done at present. It is also one involving foresight in order that there shall be no gap such as occurs at present when one type is finished and a new type is being brought in, and nothing is done or thought out for the purpose of filling the breach, with the consequence that the workers become discontented. There would be a progressing department which would follow the actual production week by week in relation to demand. All the causes of shortages would be analysed objectively for the purpose of giving a helping hand to industry to eliminate bottlenecks. A proper progressing department is essential. People would look at the statistics coming in week by week, and if it was found that in one particular respect supplies were falling off, somebody would be sent immediately to find out why, and take the necessary steps. I think also it would be desirable, before the contract was given out, to see that the contractor concerned could really deliver the goods, for it happens too often now that he cannot do so, and the whole work is handed over to sub-contractors. Proper steps ought to be taken beforehand in order to prevent such things from occurring.
The new department to deal with production, management and technique seems to me to be a very important matter. The management have not been able in all respects to cope with the great tasks now placed upon them. I do not altogether blame the management, for this is a totally new thing and they have never been trained to deal with immense 226 tasks of this sort. They need help, guidance and encouragement in carrying out these tasks. This department should be organised to give a helping hand to industry, and especially to the inefficient units, in the vast field of production management technique. This is really the key to efficient production. The department would function largely as an educational force, spreading its influence from within, and in performing its function it would harness the cooperative spirit and ability in the more efficient productive units, so that through close human contacts these benefits might flow along the whole production front to the advantage of the weaker units in the cooperative group. Of course, there would be directors-general to deal with such main sub-divisions as fighter aircraft, engines, bombers, and so on.
Let me add that an organisation of this kind could not be run by civil servants. Civil servants are admirable people, and in this country we all think highly of them in their place, but they are not trained to carry out a production programme. Steps should be taken to see that engineers are employed to the fullest possible extent in association with the civil servants required to carry out the work of production. I should have thought that the time had come when we could advantageously end the system by which the Treasury control the Civil Service. Let the Treasury be separated from the Civil Service, and let the Civil Service stand by itself. I believe the Government ought to consider whether the time has not come when the head of the Civil Service, Sir Horace Wilson, might not properly be put on pension. If we are really to succeed in producing what our fighting services require, we shall have to go in for some machinery of this kind, which, I think, commands general support in the House and in the country, whatever support it may command inside the Government itself. You have the choice between planning and laissez faire. Laissez faire will lead to chaos and demoralisation. We have to plan or lose the war. A very eminent personage, who is familiar with what is going on in production both in this country and in the United States, who has paid visits to the leading authorities here and who knows what is happening in the United States, stated the other day that if we lost this war it would be because 227 of our failure to plan. He knew what he was talking about, and I urge the Government to go to it as rapidly as they can without losing another day.
§ Mr. Quibell (Brigg)
This has been a very interesting Debate, and I think we can relate our difficulties chiefly to labour and its proper utilisation. The hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) has mentioned planning. My view is that half the time of employers should be devoted to looking after the efficiency of machines, instead of being taken up by filling in forms of one kind or another. That may not be the Committee's idea of planning, but I have found that half the Government officials are spending their time in wasting the time of others instead of getting on with the winning of this war. I wish to say a word or two about factories, because, after all, if we are to win this war it can only be won as a result of their work. I believe that hitherto no attempt has been made to obtain and use a lot of skilled labour for the erection of these particular factories. The other week a certain firm was asked by another firm with a big name to give a hand in the work they were doing. The reply was, "Yes, we will willingly give you our aid." A letter was answered in a week, and direct contact was made with the firm in question.
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Colonel Clifton Brown)
I think the hon. Member is now discussing the subject of the supply of labour which comes under the Ministry of Labour Vote. That is not the Vote we are discussing to-day, and therefore I am afraid he is out of order in dealing with this subject.
§ Mr. Quibell
I was trying to relate it as best I could to the subject which is now under discussion. If I am unable to refer to this question to-day I will reserve the rest of that part of my speech for a more appropriate occasion. I know factories, which in this and in the last war were making tanks where not one quarter of the employees have been engaged on war production. I think it is a scandal to import machines from the United States when three out of four men employed in tank-producing firms are engaged on private work. It is a scandal that full use has not been made of the 228 experience of the particular firm I have in mind. It is a firm which first made tanks in this country, and, as I say, a month or two ago I found that only one in four were engaged on war production. Tribute has often been paid to certain workers, and particularly to what are called the technicians. My description of a technician is that he is a man without any trade of his own who organises work for other people.
Take the case of our steel trade. They are making a handsome contribution to this war, but I have heard very little said about them. They have increased the number of shifts per week from 17 to 19, and each man is on an average working an hour per day more to help this country win the war. One of the essential needs for this industry is coal, and that is a question which ought to be dealt with as soon as possible. I should like the Miners' Federation and the miners to consider increasing their hours proportionately to those of the steel-workers to help solve the coal problem. I know it will not be popular; it was not popular with the men in the steel works, but it has been done without the slightest trouble in our district. It is a great compliment to the industry, both to the employers and employees, and I commend the same spirit of toleration, and the desire to pull the heaviest weight in order that we may win this war, to those engaged in the coal industry.
§ Mr. Higgs (Birmingham, West)
The problem which confronts us to-day is that of demand exceeding supply. That is where the majority of our difficulties lie. Undoubtedly we are getting contradictory instructions from the various Government Departments, and unfortunately there is no co-ordination between one Department and another. I do not particularly blame the Government, the employer or the employee, but undoubtedly there is a considerable amount of confusion. I am not altogether sure that the best men are selected for various jobs. I do not know whether it is in order to refer to the movement in labour, but I consider there is too much movement going on at present. It may cost £20 or £30 to move one individual from one job to another. I agree that dilution has to take place, but greater discretion is wanted.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
The movement of labour is definitely down on the Labour Vote and not on that for the Ministry of Supply.
§ Mr. Higgs
Considerable efficiency has been lost because firms which have learned their job in the years of competition have been induced to go over to the manufacture of other commodities. I know of one firm which in the first six months of 1939 turned out 135 tons of metal per employee and in the first six months of 1941 103 tons, a reduction of 23 per cent. It may be management or labour trouble, but the fact is that inefficiency in industry exists to a far greater extent than one realises. Considerable reduction of output is due to wives having to leave their work in order to do their shopping;. No one will work overtime on a Friday evening, for that reason. I cannot see that it is not a feasible proposition to stagger factory paydays, particularly in a city like Birmingham. I feel convinced that, if that was done, a lot of production time could be saved. It would be a very simple experiment, and T do not think anyone would object, particularly the workers.
Then considerable complication is caused through different instructions from different Departments, and there are the various purchasing Departments wanting delivery. If the Admiralty want their particular order delivered, they have not the slightest respect for the Minister of Supply or the Minister of Air. They tumble over one another and do not care at all what happens to other Ministers provided they get delivery of their particular contract. If it was an ordinary commercial concern, there would be a head who would be able to say which job should be put in hand first. There is a solution to the problem, and I cannot think why it has not been put into force. It is to have a real priority system. It is impossible to run an organisation such as this nation has to run without it. It would solve a great many of the manufacturers' difficulties and problems. If a battleship was the first thing wanted, everything in connection with it should have first priority. Surely it is not beyond the power of the Government to organise such a system and let the manufacturer know which job is wanted first and not allow one Department to push another out.
230 With regard to the placing of contracts, sufficient consideration is not given to where the contracts should go. We in Birmingham have a complete organisation for the manufacture of beds. A contract was recently placed for 100,000. The powers-that-be sent us 17 per cent., and the rest go to other parts of the country, with the result that we shall have men standing idle. Is it efficient production? Does it contribute to bigger output by starting a new organisation 10 miles out of Birmingham when the existing plant is in position in Birmingham and has to be changed over for other purposes? Then there is delay in getting full information. I came across a case the other day in which thousands of tubes of a certain type were required. To give some idea of the tubes I may say that they cost 1s. 3d. each. On 9th April they were ordered verbally. The firm got written authority on 14th June. On 24th June they got the contract. They are still without the official order, and all the time the Department concerned has been worrying the firm to get the delivery time reduced from 12 to 10 weeks. I know that all those concerned have their difficulties and are doing their best. I know that the majority of people, whether Government officials, employers or employed, are doing their best. On the other hand, I think that a Debate of this description in which constructive criticism can be made, will be of some use to the country, and I hope the Government will listen to the advice that has been given.
§ Mr. Granville (Eye)
We have had a number of Debates on supply and production, and I am glad that this one will not become a series of recriminations on absenteeism, because we shall never deal with the problem of getting the maximum output in that way. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Higgs) that this House can make a contribution by offering constructive suggestions and criticisms. Since the last Debate on this subject the Government have announced certain changes. Lord Beaverbrook, who was previously in charge of aeroplane production, has gone to the Ministry of Supply to be in charge of a tank drive. My right hon. and gallant Friend the former Minister of Transport has followed him at the Ministry of Aircraft Production. Yesterday the Minister of Labour announced the setting-up of a new Central Committee 231 and the re-forming of the Area Supply Boards. Also, since the last Debate the Government have announced certain changes with regard to the Production Executive, the personnel of the Defence Committee on Supply and the Imports Committee. Everybody wishes well to the Minister of Aircraft Production. He has a great reputation for courage and an unorthodox mind, and it is rumoured that on one occasion he referred to the Civil Service as being like an inverted Micawber waiting for something to turn down. I hope that we shall not have to remind him of that and that the Government will bear in mind that we still require aircraft production as well as tank production.
The single test of all these changes is output. In January the Government said it was hoped that by the end of this year or the beginning of next we would, in the air and on land, be at no disadvantage so far as equipment was concerned, with the German foe. We may not for various reasons be able to reach that end, but, as the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones) said in his interesting speech to-day, what is happening in Russia is giving industry in this country another great opportunity to reach equality with Nazi mechanisation. Germany is losing and using a great deal of her equipment in that vast war extending over a whole Continent, and it is our opportunity, i£we can but create an efficient war organisation with the help of American supplies, to reach equality for the battles that will be beginning in the autumn. On the whole, I welcome the changes which the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour announced yesterday. Anything which is in the direction of closer cooperation must be right, and yet I must confess that I felt some sense of disappointment. There seems to be no new ideas about this question of production. It is an extraordinary thing that with so many Labour representatives in the Government and, with the Minister of Labour—speaking with the greatest respect for his efforts—as Chairman of the Production Committee, there is such a lack of new ideas upon this vital problem. There seems to be a belief that if you can get the unions and the bosses sitting together at a table, you will get increased war production.
232 The experience of the last few months has shown that speed in decisions, in emergencies and in applying new methods is the key to output under war conditions. The Minister of Labour's new committee will not deal with wages but will advise in the main upon production. Production, particularly war production, is run by production engineers, designers, executives, metallurgists, and skilled organisers. They are the brains of modern production methods, but that type of mind, which is essential to modern production, will not be represented upon the committee which the right hon. Gentleman has set up. There seems to be a good deal of confusion in the minds of some people as to what industry represents to-day. It is not a question of shareholders, employers, and trade union leaders sitting round a table. Most of the management in almost all this newly extended war production industry is undoubtedly in the hands of executive staffs. These are the individuals whose methods, whose mind, and whose production ideas are responsible in the main for organising, planning and running this industry. Yet they will not be represented on this new committee. The general experience—and it has been referred to by the Minister of Labour and the President of the Board of Trade—is that where in industry there is individual leadership, perhaps over the whole of the industry, there is little trouble, but where, as my hon. Friend opposite has said on a number of occasions, there are new factories, there is a shortage of skilled management. It is here in the main that the troubles begin. Under war conditions you are bound to get a certain dislocation of transport, you are bound to get a certain amount of what is called absenteeism. In my view absenteeism is not always the fault of the worker. There is nothing so demoralising to a workman as to stand by an idle machine when the management do not appear to be unduly worried. This problem really comes under the head of war industrial maladministration.
Under war conditions you get a certain shortage of materials at the actual machines, but we are fighting the Battle of the Atlantic, and we have to put up with various difficulties because of the dislocation of transport. The greatest problem that the Government and those 233 Ministers who are responsible for running the war industry of this country will have to face in the coming months will be to get the maximum output from the actual materials which we are able to get to the machines. That is a problem which designers, production engineers, the Royal Aeronautical Society and the Society of British Aircraft Constructors have to face every day. The more the experts can save materials, machines and man-power by new methods, new ideas, new systems and new organisation the more tanks and planes we shall get—under war conditions in which we are subject to attack from the air. Frankly, I believe that to be the crux of this problem, and industrial leaders will have to deal with it in the coining winter, but I do not see the minds that understand that point of view, understand the importance of the technician and of the skilled modern organiser, represented on this Committee. I see them in industry, I see them among some of the younger technical workers in the country, and I see them at the Ministry of Aircraft Production and at the Ministry of Supply, but I do not see them at the top and in the Government planning programmes and production.
There are two ways in which to get production under war conditions. One is the method of drive exemplified by Lord Beaverbrook, and the other is the method referred to by the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) on numerous occasions, of engineers planning and organisation. If they compete on priorities one simply robs the other, although of course war strategy should be the determining factor with priorities. I agree with the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro-Jones) that after all the experiments which have been tried in personnel and method the best thing would be that this whole problem should be under a single Minister for War Production. I read in the Press, yesterday I think, that the Prime Minister is to make a broadcast on the home front. There should be a loud speaker in every workshop. It is just as important for him to be heard in the workshops as it is for him to visit the Services, or gun positions, or R.A.F. stations, for, as has often been said, the lessons of Crete are to be applied in the workshops, and the victories of tomorrow, if we are to achieve them, must be planned in the workshops.
234 It is not enough to say that 200,000,000 free men are fighting 70,000,000 slaves. We have to match them in organisation, in production and in mechanisation. As Mr. Wendell Willkie has said, if free men and democracy cannot match Nazi organisation and Nazi mechanisation, then our way of life is on the way out. I appeal to the Prime Minister. It is not enough to leave it to the departmental mind, because we often get conflicting pronunciamentos in the country over the week-end. The Prime Minister has an authority that no one else in this country enjoys. Let him do what I believe he has not yet been able to do—go to the microphone and appeal to the workers, telling them what is wanted, telling them of some of the difficulties. By such direct contact between the Prime Minister and the workpeople we shall make them feel that they are a vital part of the war effort. Every workshop should have its own loud speaker, to enable the executive to explain delays and difficulties in production and to take the workers into their confidence. Every factory on war production should have a joint committee of management and men on output.
I observe, Colonel Clifton Brown, that you are looking at the clock, and I must make my speech short. In conclusion I would say that it would seem that there is a period in the life of every Government when compromise and committees tend to take the place of bold action. We ask for an Empire war cabinet, and we get an extension from Washington to Cairo and Transport House. We ask for a Ministry of Propaganda and we get the Lord President and another committee. We ask for a Ministry of Production, and the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for Labour announces another committee of trade unionists and the employers' federation. What we have to learn is that committees produce only recurring troubles. In my judgment, this Debate will have served some purpose in that it has enabled the Government to get contact with the House of Commons and public opinion, which is the best antidote to the committee mind. I hope that when the Minister of Aircraft Production and my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply make their replies they will tell us that we are to undertake an industrial drive which will give this country equality of equipment by the time we have to face 235 the coining battles in the attempted invasion of this country.
§ Mr. Austin Hopkinson (Mossley)
I am very glad that the Minister of Aircraft Production is in the House, because in the main my remarks will be addressed rather to him than to the Minister of Supply. I think we may congratulate ourselves on his promotion to that office, and already there are signs that things are going to be better in the future than they have been in the past at that Ministry. What I want the Committee and the country to understand in the first instance is that the vast majority of people are labouring under the most fallacious impression that it is possible to imagine. The general view is that among all the failures of the various Ministries there is one bright star, and it is the Ministry of Aircraft Production. As a matter of fact it is not fair to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman who has the task of cleaning out that Augean stable—and it is an almost superhuman task—to say that the stable is like a modern hygienic cowshed to start with, because it is not. We must remember that aircraft production has been run on the lines of a cheap newspaper stunt for the last year or thereabouts.
§ Mr. Hopkinson
The goods were not delivered and are not being delivered yet. If the hon. Gentleman doubts what I say, I may as well tell the Committee some of the facts. We are told that, in the Battle of Britain, owing to the efforts of the late Minister of Aircraft Production, we were able to put many Spitfires and Hurricanes into the air and overcome the attacks of our enemies. I must ask the Committee to believe me in this matter, when I say that not one aircraft took part in the Battle of Britain that had anything to do with the late Minister of Aircraft Production. People seem to think that a man can go to a Ministry of this sort and produce aircraft in five or six weeks. One of the elementary facts about the industry is that it takes about one year and a half to get anything going. The results of the late Minister's methods will develop from now onwards. The unfortunate gentleman who has to clear up 236 all the mess will be criticised again and again for his apparent failure to produce the goods. I warn the Committee and the country that they will be treating the present Minister with the grossest injustice if they expect him to put the thing straight within the next six months or so. It just cannot be done. The whole thing is chaos from top to bottom. Having said that—
§ Mr. Hopkinson
Yes, Sir, my authority is myself. I have been an observer in this matter for a long time as a manufacturer, and in my official duties. I would ask the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to for give me if I read him a small lecture on the subject of aircraft production. No doubt he is aware of nearly all the points but they will reinforce what he is doing. I think he will agree with me that the main trouble with aircraft production is that we started wrong, back in the days of Lord Swinton. We perpetrated every possible mistake. We never realised that, in the absence of competitive tender there is no instigation to a manufacturer to be either efficient in his designs or in his contraction. In the ordinary industrial world the man whose designs are bad or whose construction is inefficient does not get the order, which goes to someone else whose designs are better and whose methods of production are more efficient. When you remove that stimulant from industry you must put something else in its place or you get the result that we have at present.
Anybody who has investigated again and again, as I have, the designs of details of our aircraft knows that, in many cases, they are preposterous. They seem to be aimed at making the thing immensely difficult and immensely expensive. The reason is that designers are men who are just as lazy as anybody else and that fact shows in their work. You have to watch your draughtsmen to see that they do not wriggle out of the technical difficulties of design. I have brought to the notice of the Minister recently the case of a part that has to be carved out of a solid block of steel by sheer craftsmanship, because the design is bad. I pointed out that as the draughtsman went along he shirked every technical difficulty until they all 237 accumulated on this particular piece. That is not an isolated case; we get the same thing again and again in aircraft production. Again, we have cylinders designed with a blind end that have to be bored to half a thousandth of an inch to a depth of about 24 inches. The Minister knows as well as I do that that is a perfectly mad way of doing it. The thing should be open-ended if you wish to produce on a large scale with reasonable speed. The ends must be made of a separate piece from the rest.
I do not want to go into all these technical details, but I want to show that something must be done to take the place of the spur provided by competitive tender in order to secure efficient production and design. Good design is when the particular apparatus fulfils its function in the simplest possible way. Bad design is when it fulfils its function, but not in the simplest way. Bad design of aircraft has cost the country hundreds of millions of pounds. I see the First Lord of the Admiralty present. His Department solved these problems many years ago. There is no real competition in naval construction, but over many years the Admiralty has gradually built up two things that take its place in regulating design. The Admiralty has the Corps of Naval Constructors and it has the Royal Dockyards, and the Aircraft Ministry ought to have their equivalents.
Long ago I put this matter up to Lord Swinton, and I have brought it up again and again in this House. What is wanted in the Aircraft Ministry is a corps of technicians of such standing that they can talk severely to the designers of aircraft. Secondly, having got control of design, you must have a Government-controlled works where processes can be tried out in order to get some idea as to what should be the cost of production. I remember that 30 years ago the Admiralty used to think that, if a ship cost £750,000 at Devonport, that was a suitable price to offer contractors. The contractors used to rejoice, but by long experience the Admiralty has learnt a great deal and now if any particular job would cost £750,000 in a Royal Dockyard, the Admiralty knows perfectly well that £600,000 is a suitable price to offer a contractor.
§ Mr. Hopkinson
I can give an example where certain engine parts were handed over to be made by a contractor, at a cost of 2¾d. each. Subsequently a dockyard took charge of them, and I think their price was is. 6d. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will see what he can do.
§ The First Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. A. V. Alexander)
I agree with all that the hon. Member says about the value of the Royal Dockyards, but I do not agree for a moment that costs in the Royal Dockyards are higher than in private shops.
§ Mr. Hopkinson
It is all very well to say that building up a corps of technicians is very difficult. How are we to find the right men, and afterwards to get them, to serve—on the scale of salaries the Ministry is in a position to offer? Both these difficulties can be overcome, and I have taken the trouble to investigate them. First, it is possible to find out who are the right men. The Air Inspection Department have their own inspectors in all the aircraft and engine works in the country. Although the lower ranks of the A.I.D. are not very capable—they can just use a micrometer and nothing more—the upper ranks are real engineers and are capable people. They know exactly who are the real workers in the aircraft industry. The public knows of Mr. This and Mr. That, who get the rake off and talk of themselves as manufacturers, while really they are financiers and share pushers; but someone is doing the work somewhere in the aircraft industry, and the people who know who is doing it are the A.I.D. inspectors who are always on the spot. So the A.I.D. inspectors should be able to tell the right hon. Gentleman who are the right people to get hold of.
Now I come to the question of salaries. Salaries are grossly inflated in the munitions industry, and particularly in the aircraft industry, partly as a natural result of 100 per cent. Excess Profits Tax, and Government Departments cannot possibly offer anything comparable without getting into trouble with the House of Commons. The question is, therefore, how to get the best men to come. One fact in the situation is that all these technicians know that after the war it is highly probable that they will be on the street. They were after the last war, and 239 it is very likely that it will happen again. If, therefore, you are seeking to build up a Corps of Aircraft Constructors, on somewhat similar lines to the Corps of Naval Constructors, with security of tenure, I think you will find that even men with family obligations would accept much lower salaries than they can now obtain from private manufacturers. I offer these suggestions to the right hon. Gentleman because I think that on these points my mind works more or less on the same line as his.
Another mistake is the method of contract, which in essence depends upon the wages expenditure. Everybody in the aircraft world from the office-boy upwards knows that the more man-hours that are consumed, and the more man-hours of overtime, the better it is going to be for everybody, because where you have a fixed percentage on wages cost for standing charges, doubling the wages cost leaves twice as much money to play with, twice as much to buy another Rolls-Royce car "on the firm," to buy a house "on the firm "—as I believe is done sometimes —and to employ all your poor relations at exorbitant salaries. If you spend too much in such ways, all you have to do is to make the jobs cost a little more in wages, and then things are square. It is all very well to say that the contract system has been revised, but it always come back to the same thing in the end, that it actually pays to use 80,000 man-hours to produce an aircraft that could be produced with 20,000 man-hours.
A further point is this; for, unfortunately, every mistake Lord Swinton made has been perpetuated ever since. He announced first of all that he was going to adopt a big programme of Air Force expansion, and those who know something about commerce and industry at once concluded that his policy would be to enlarge the market as far as possible before going into it as a purchaser. It is the first thing one learns in business: if you are going to buy, go to the biggest market. However, what does he do but say he is not going to deal with any one except certain selected people? Of course, they formed a ring straight away, and to make certain that the ring did not break he went further and said that there must be some one to see that the ring spoke with one voice, and to see that no one reduced prices to the Air Ministry. 240 It was a most remarkable performance. I brought these matters up before Lord Swinton years ago, and I was met with the objection that we had a cost accounting system which would act as a control. I would, however, venture to point out— I did so years ago and have done so in season and out of season ever since—that a cost accounting system does not control costs; it merely registers them. It tells you that such an aircraft has cost so much to produce; it says nothing as to what it ought to cost. There is no way of finding that out except producing it yourself. That is why I would very strongly advocate not that we should have a second Farnborough, as in the last war, where we tried to produce aircraft in bulk without much success, but that we should have some works where all the operations can be performed, possibly on a fairly small scale. One or two aircraft which were unsatisfactory might be produced, but the knowledge which the Ministry would gain as to the processes and what the costs ought to be would be valuable. It is said again and again that money is no object. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has made that obvious to the House and the country; but man-hours, which are another name for money, are valuable.
That brings me to the last part of the indictment. The labour position in the aircraft works and in munition works generally is really getting appalling at the present time. The men themselves say that they are not producing what they should because of the incompetence of the management. The management say that it is due to the laziness and absenteeism of the men. The horrible fact of the matter is that both are right up to the hilt. It is due to the laziness of the men and the incompetence of the management, and anyone who knows anything about aircraft factories must be bound to endorse that. But I find, up and down the country, in the aircraft firms, an unofficial movement starting among the men themselves, who are absolutely disgusted with the state of affairs and the circumstances in which they are working. I have had the case of a craftsman of my own who, unfortunately, like many good craftsmen, was a little bit "difficult." This gentleman, having picked a quarrel with the management, went into another aircraft factory. After a few weeks he came back, and on inquiry, when we took him on 241 again, he said, "I was just fed up and disgusted. I could not do any work and did not see any prospect of being able to do any." He came back to the old job at a lower rate. I tell that because it is simply what is happening in the workshops at the present time.
Men have still a pride of craftsmanship in spite of all these automatic tools and processes, and that pride is undoubtedly being harrowed by the incompetence which exists in many workshops, and above all by the incompetence with which labour is being handled by the Government at the present time. It was unwise to put in charge of the whole labour force of this country a man who, the craftsmen say, is only an unskilled labourer after all. Members may think that the craftsman is a snob. So he is, but there is something more than snobbery in his resentment at being dominated by the unskilled labourer. Pride in craftsmanship may be allied to snobbery, but it is one of the most valuable things we have got in this country.
§ Mr. Hopkinson
My own information is not in accordance with what the hon. Member says. If the Committee really sits down and thinks over this matter it will, I imagine, agree that to some extent the handling of labour during the past twelve months has been stupid to the last degree, that enormous powers have been taken to effect all sorts of drastic compulsion of labour, but have not' been exercised.
§ Mr. Hopkinson
I was referring to him when I said that the labour question had been grossly mishandled for the last 12 months.
§ Mr. Marshall
Would it not have been fairer to have made that remark when the Minister was present?
§ Mr. Garro Jones
The hon. Member has made a most offensive remark in relation to a Member of the War Cabinet, that in regard to his origin he was an unskilled labourer. Even the skilled labourers who, he alleges, refer to the Minister in that way—and I do not believe that for a moment—were once unskilled. Because a man has the ability and skill to raise himself from the ranks, to a position of a high administrative responsibility, as has been done in every walk of life by Cabinet Ministers in every party, it is most unfortunate and offensive to make such a remark.
§ Mr. Hopkinson
On the question of being offensive, I give way to the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken. We cannot pursue this matter now, but it may be possible to pursue it further on the Ministry of Labour vote.
Another point in our policy that appears to be totally wrong is this. In ordinary commercial engineering, for instance, if a mistake is made the customer insists on it being made right, but in aircraft manufacture it is different. If a mistake is made it becomes a subject of a '' modification '' and payment is made for putting right the mistake. It does not make for efficiency in design if an aircraft designer knows that the more errors he makes in his design the more money he is going to gain for his firm. I hope that point will be looked into. But, as I have said, the labour question is really the most serious of the whole lot. There is however this movement of which I have spoken developing among the aircraft workers themselves, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman and others in his department will look out for it and will endeavour to guide it into proper and reasonable channels, so as to make use of the good spirit which really exists among the workers. From my experience of employing labour my own conclusion is that the vast bulk of skilled labour has a very definite idea of what constitutes a day's work. I admit that my own view of what constitutes a day's work does not always tally with that of my men, but nevertheless they have their standard and, in the main, act up to it. But at the present time everyone knows 243 that the standard has gone down very seriously indeed, and I think it is for the right hon. Gentleman opposite to go very carefully with his advisers into the matter to see if he cannot improve a state of affairs which, at the present time, is disgraceful to the aircraft industry. It is really shocking to see the waste of labour. I had an example the other day. A particular part of a certain type of aircraft made by a firm of worldwide reputation, was paid for on the supposition that fitting and assembling it would take 8¼ hours. The first time one of my men undertook the job, he completed it in 2½ hours. And that sort of thing is well nigh' universal. Unless such substitutes for competitive tender as I have advocated to-day are brought into action the aircraft industry will continue to be, as in the past, the worst blot of all the blots on the productive system of this country.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards (Caerphilly)
I have been looking forward to this Debate for some time, because I anticipated that the apprehension which is fairly general throughout the working class in this country would be expressed. The hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) has confirmed, from an expert point of view, what is being felt by the workers. There is a sourness in our national effort, because of the lack of will being displayed in our production. Our people realise that the tide has turned, and that we can win the war if only we get down to it. But they fail to see that resolution in production which alone will bring us victory. There has been much loose talk about the responsibility being upon the workers, about absenteeism, both in aircraft production and in production under the Ministry of Supply. Much of that talk has been regarded as a smoke-screen to cover up widespread managerial inefficiency. When that criticism has come from Members of this House who occupy two full-time jobs, and draw two full-time salaries, it causes a sullen anger that goes to the very root of our industrial effort. Equally, in this House there has not been that response which one would have expected from the Government. They have shown considerable touchiness over criticism, especially in regard to these two Departments. My hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) 244 has only to make one of his trenchant criticisms—which are invariably right—in order to get scowls from the benches opposite. Apparently, all the brains and all the directive ability remain on that side. There has been a resentment of criticism.
§ Mr. Edwards
I agree that prejudice has been shown on both sides. If criticism is to be resented, why not do the right thing, and shut down this House? The enemies of criticism are the enemies of democracy, and this House can flourish only if we can represent here those points of view which are expressed in our constituencies. It is surprising that every time this question of managerial proficiency and general production is raised, those most abject in their general loyalty to the Prime Minister seek every opportunity to be as disloyal as they can to his Cabinet colleagues, as if they give too much with one hand and therefore want to withdraw with the other. The Minister of Labour has been attacked, as though he had any control over labour after it had entered the factories.
§ Mr. Edwards
It is true that he has power to stop a man from being sacked; but he has no power to make an employer take a man on, and no power to see that a man's time is usefully occupied. The employer controls the man. He may misuse skill and man-power, and the Minster of Labour cannot interfere. It is wrong to blame the Minister for the misuse of labour; and my hon. Friend is wholly misinformed. As for all this criticism of absenteeism, especially when it is uttered in this House, I would suggest that there might be something in the demands for penalties if such demands were first implemented here. Let us have an absentee penalty for Members of Parliament first. What is good for someone else is good for us; and if it is not good for us, it is not good for others.
Why did we want public criticism of these two Departments? Is it not because it has been the experience of Members that whether we make representations direct to the Minister in this House or in secret, we are unable to get any satisfaction? 245 Many Members have raised questions, and have been unable to get any satisfactory answers to give to their constituents. My experience has been no different probably from that of many others. Up and down this country there is a loud demand that this fooling with our resources should come to an end. I think everybody is satisfied that resources are being fooled with in a very general way. Here we are, on the very knife-edge of catastrophe, and still we get this tremendous wastage in industry. Let me give examples to show the treatment that Members individually have had when attempting to raise these questions by the usual Parliamentary method. Some time ago an hon. Member put down a Question to the Minister of Supply about a certain factory which was engaged in the production of both shells and aircraft. Most of the capital had been provided by the State. It was being run by the subsidiary of a Birmingham firm. It was run in such a way as to ruin completely the morale of the people in the valley where the factory was. Signed documents were submitted to the Ministry as to conditions in the factory. The firm was charged with financial manipulation, with inefficiency, with nepotism, with allowing drunkenness on the premises, with wastage of labour and of materials. There was a charge that men had to buy their jobs and that, having bought their jobs, they had to share money that they had never earned with members of the management. A Question was put down, and the answer was just a formal one, that a report had been received from an inspector. That was an end to it. It was only when there was a threat to raise the matter in this House that thorough investigation was made. What was the answer?Most of the troubles at this, factory have been attributable to inefficiency and the improper behaviour of the managerial and supervisory staff. Radical changes have been made; in the staff; those members of it whom my reports show have been thoroughly unsatisfactory have been dismissed and others have received severe warnings as to their future conduct.That answer was received four months after the question was originally raised, and it would not have been given then if the hon. Member concerned had not threatened to raise the matter on the Adjournment. My criticism applies both to the Ministry of Supply and to the Ministry of Aircraft Production. There is no satisfactory examination of questions 246 raised in this House by hon. Members. With regard to complaints from persons employed, neither Department has an adequate staff to make an investigation; and even to-day, I have no confidence that any complaint in this House will be satisfactorily investigated by Ministers.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Aircraft Production (Mr. Montague)
Does the hon. Member say that that is true of the particular works referred to? Does he not agree that the matter had the most complete examination possible, and that, as a result, conditions have continually improved, until there is at least a prospect of all his complaints being completely met?
§ Mr. Edwards
I am extremely sorry that my hon. Friend should have intervened. It may well have been that I created a situation in which he could not help but intervene. I am satisfied that if a Member puts a Question upon the Order Paper he will get a formal reply, and I am equally satisfied that, unless he is prepared to make himself a nuisance, it will not go any further. I am not quite satisfied that the investigation in relation to the incident to which my hon. Friend now refers is going to produce results. What are the facts? They are, that a widow of 40 years of age, whose only son is entering the Air Force this month, had employment in a factory. She was there for five weeks, and because she asked for something to do she got the sack. That is the question which is being investigated, and it has been going on now for six weeks, and the woman, who may have to sacrifice her only son, is still on the dole because she asked for work in order to assist in providing the tools for her son to do his job. The Ministry of Supply may take up the attitude that they are inadequately staffed and that they will make an examination. I have been trying to get some satisfaction about another Question that has been put down on the Order Paper, and to which a merely formal reply was given. I was so disturbed about the matter that I put four questions into a private letter, and this is what I asked:Was this man dismissed in order that a re-examination of a stock of some 10,000 shells might be proceeded with?There are 10,000 shells which have been rejected and have been lying there wasting 247 for 12 months, with all these clamant calls for salvage. I asked also whether this examiner had been dismissed so that this stock might be re-examined. The next question I asked was whether the allegation that this man had supplied information to a Member of Parliament had anything to do with his dismissal. I further asked whether it was because this examiner refused to dine at the expense of the firm generally that he was dismissed, and whether his membership of a trade union had anything whatever to do with it. I had a reply, and I was told that these things had nothing to do with it. But the man has not been seen or interviewed, and his view has not been taken into account. I am satisfied that, on this side of our war effort, there must be an adequate staff. I am not blaming the Minister. The present Joint Parliamentary Secretary who has recently gone into the Department, I know, has taken a strong line, and I know that he had to take a strong line in his Department to get done what is now being done, but I am satisfied that these examinations must be strengthened in both Departments.
Let me come to more general matters. The hon. gentleman who preceded me said that there is among the workers in our factories a new feeling, and that they are beginning to show their resentment at the way in which their labour is being less used. I had recently a large number of letters dealing with the wastage of labour in these factories. I want briefly to quote some of these which I have sanction and authority to use here. A man in a Welsh aircraft factory says that from the way the work is carried on, one would think it was controlled by the fifth column. He refers to being idle for a week as there was nothing to do, and calls attention to the case of one big aircraft firm that sent down jigs. These were operated and worked upon for three months, and at the end of that time were discovered to be wrong, and the whole of the work had to be scrapped. That is in an area where you are asking miners to sweat themselves to death in order to get more coal, and yet we hear of this wastage of labour and material. Here is an extract from a letter from an engineer at a works in South London, vouched for 248 by a man with a very distinguished name. It says:Still at X Factory but not happy. One would not dream there was a war on, if you knew how little is done. The best part of time is spent getting rid of time.I take the case of another great factory, one of the big five, one of the aircraft ring. What do they say there? Here is a man who says that he was so fed up that he tried to join the Army and the Air Force. He was a top-rate fitter earning or receiving money for wasting time. He says that he is not the only one. The 2,000 men employed here are not earning one-third of their wages. He says: —I am willing to take anyone around, to talk to the men, even if it means losing my job.… I got fed up and tried to join the Army and the Air Force. Nothing doing. I am reserved.I have a letter from another great aircraft factory in Coventry, one of the big five. It says: —It makes us sick to go to work day after day and having nothing to do, when we know that not only service men, but civilians too, are having to work beyond their endurance. … Have not done a day's work in over a week. We spend the day there trying to make cups of tea. … If we ask our charge-hand or foreman about it all they can say is 'It's a pity, but there is nothing we can do about it.Those are samples of letters showing the apprehension in the minds of the workers in these various factories. You charge men with delaying production because of absenteeism, but what is the use of keeping a man in a factory kicking his heels all day and then blaming him because he takes a day off at his own expense? The Ministry of Supply is in the same position. I want to tell the Committee of an interesting experience I had on Monday. A number of Members of Parliament, including myself, visited certain factories. The first factory, which is producing aircraft components, was an excellent factory, working, I should think, to maximum pressure. The next factory, producing plugs, was working at equal pressure. There had been certain bottlenecks in the factory. There had been certain delays. The manager said that he would not hide it from us. There was a process board on the wall, and it said that for a certain section, there was no work on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The manager said, "I wanted you to see that. I would rather explain these 249 delays to you myself than that someone else should tell you about it." He was decent and open about the whole thing.
We went to another factory engaged on aircraft engines. I do not know whether the management of the factory thought that we were a lot of inexperienced fools or not, but when we got into the shops we found first a great stock of aircraft engines which had been pulled out for examination. We got into the first shop where things were fairly busy. When we got into the next shop everyone had on a gleaming white coat. Everybody was standing over the benches. The place had been swept out. We just stood there and watched. I watched one man, with three other men looking at him, for ten minutes. He turned a nut on a bolt five times and took it off five times, and I said to the fellow who was showing us round, "Will you tell me what he is doing or are you deceiving us?"
That is the sort of thing that was going on in that section of the factory. We went to other parts of the factory, and when I looked back to see what was happening in this great shop they were all having a general conversation. Not only that, but I heard about half an hour before our arrival that the shop bells had been rung to let them know we were coming. The men picked up bits of old machinery, put them on the bench and fiddled about with them in order to create the impression that they were doing their job. That has a worse effect on the men in that factory than on Members of Parliament. We felt we were being deceived. Here was a job which was being financed by Government money, yet hundreds of thousands of skilled men's time was being wasted while Members of Parliament were being deceived into believing that this was a hive of industry.
I do not want to go into the general considerations about absenteeism in some of the factories which have responsibility for arranging the transport system. They ought to exercise far more care than they are doing. The week-end before last a deputation representing 300 men came to see me. They were men who had travelled to an aircraft factory by train for several weeks previously. Then the factory altered the time of the train, and the men were left without any means of getting to the factory. The same thing can be said 250 about buses and general transport. A country that allows buses to be hired for race-meetings and cannot find them to convey workers to munition factories is asking for defeat. That is what is happening in South Wales. Moreover, by our present rationing system the women who are most patriotic and go into a factory to do a Government job are penalised for their patriotism. They get their ordinary rationed goods but have to hunt round for other unrationed goods. They are penalised because of the rotten rationing system we have in operation.
I do not want to talk about the lack of co-ordination and planning in connection with aircraft production, but I do want to submit that the will to victory on the part of our men is being sapped by these obvious, unexplained deficiencies in our war effort. It is the job of those responsible to explain to the men what is happening. In my street there is a collier who is being asked to work himself to death in order to produce more coal. He receives £4 a week, yet his daughter who works in a munition factory and comes home and says that she has been gossiping all day, gets more money than he does. What effect will that have on the enthusiasm which ought to be brought to our national effort? There must be proper planning of our war production and I would like to see a committee of Members from both sides of the House, unconnected with the Government, to whom anybody in the country might complain of any lack of efficiency in the section with which he or she is concerned. There ought to be put up in each factory engaged on Government contracts a notice inviting the management or men who see anything wrong in our national effort in that factory, to come immediately to that committee, with the guarantee that there will be no victimisation. I am sure that applies as much to managements as to men.
§ Mr. Edwards
And the Civil Service. We have complained that our boys do not get the tools with which to do the job. Members of Parliament are not getting the information. Too often have military defeats been the occasion for Parliamentary triumphs in this House. Mili- 251 tary victory can only be secured in the workshops. Victory depends entirely upon effective workshop production and unless we see to it, we shall deserve our fate. Fate has treated us kindly so far, but she will not continue to treat kindly those who are always too late.
§ Mr. Horabin (Cornwall, Northern)
I do not intend to follow my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards) in the details of the important questions he has raised. I want to speak for a few minutes on a more general question. Apart from Lord Beaverbrook, we have had three Ministers of Supply since the war broke out. We have had the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Luton (Mr.. Burgin), the present Home Secretary and the present President of the Board of Trade. Each in turn assured us that production Was well in hand. They appeared to satisfy the House of Commons for a time and certainly the Government have been satisfied by those statements. We have had a Production Council which met with a great deal of criticism from Members in all parts of the House, including my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies). The Government were warned that it would not work. Now we have the Production Executive and the Minister of Labour, who is the chairman of the body, who told the country not so many months ago that we would attain parity with Germany in something like six months.
After all this, what is the position of the Government at the present time? They have had to appoint Lord Beaverbrook as Minister of Supply to speed up production. That is a reflection on his predecessors; it condemns the organisation that the Government evolved for our war production and shows that their efforts have not met with success. Obviously, that must be so, because, if our organisation for war production was effective, would it have been necessary for them to reduce Lord Beaverbrook from the high peak Of Minister of State to the lower level of Minister of Supply? I will not bother about details to-day but I want to say that we shall not get the high level of production we require unless we achieve the pooling of our factories. I think that is 252 borne out by what the Minister of Labour is reported to have said in the country last Week end. He said that he has over 1,000,000 workers waiting but has not the factories into which he can put them. Did the right hon. Gentleman say this or not? Has the Government 1,000,000 workers waiting, or is that statement so much ballyhoo? Are there the factories? If we have not the factories at the present moment, Why, after nearly two years of war, have we not got them and whose responsibility is it? Is it the responsibility of Lord Beaverbrook or of the Minister of Labour? How long will it be before we get these factories? These methods of the Minister of Labour seem to me to be on a par with his appeal to the employers to release 20,000 coal-miners for work in the pits at the present time. The coal situation is serious, as we all know, and the Government even admit that it is serious. Suppose that the eloquence of the Minister of Labour fails to achieve his aim, suppose that he fails to get the employers to send these men back to the pits, what does he intend to do? Will he force the employers to send them back, or will he make another speech?
What ought to be done to build up our production to the high levels which all of us recognise to be required at the present time? What is needed? Surely, it is something which has been said again and again in the House, and which has been said again to-day by a number of hon. Members. What is heeded Is a single Ministry of Munitions covering all fields of war production. One hon. Member said that a superman would be required for the job. I ask hon. Members not to be misled in this matter. That is not what is required. What is required is a cleat statement of Government policy about production, and then they must find the men—and plenty are available for the purpose—who will execute that policy under the control of a single Minister responsible for the whole field of war production.
Many detailed questions have been raised to-day, questions which show that shocking conditions exist in our factories on the production side. What reply is the Government going to make to the Debate? I can tell hon. Members what the reply will be. The Government will say, once again, that our production is 253 all right now because he have got Lord Beaverbrook on the job and he will deliver the goods. Nothing that hon. Members have said to-day, or will say in the course of the Debate, will influence the Government one little bit. They will simply reply that we have got Lord Beaverbrook now, and they will shield themselves behind him. What is Lord Beaverbrook going to do? Is he to deal with the bottlenecks that affect a few of the primary weapons, or is he so to organise production that at last we shall get all our divisions fully armed, and get the guns for our airfields and our merchant ships, which are so sadly lacking at the present time? I can tell the Government with absolute certainty that Within a month the House will want to have some report on the progress which Lord Beaverbrook is making. Is the Prime Minister then going to carry out another temporary adjustment of his team in order to allay criticism? Will he then conduct another of his games of musical chairs in which the losing Minister is exiled to one of the four corners of the earth? Is the Prime Minister at long last going to face what almost every hon. Member believes to be necessary at the present time? Is he going to appoint a Minister of Munitions" with full powers over the whole field of war production?
§ Mr. Hammersley (Willesden, East)
I do not propose to deal with the whole problem of the production of war weapons, but only with a very limited aspect of the problem. I would like to lead up to what I have to say by making one or two preliminary observations, and I hope hon. Members will forgive me if they consider that these preliminary observations are as trite and obvious as they appear to be to me. The rapid production in large quantities of materials of war in works requires three things. It requires a planned supply of raw materials, efficient management, and the wholehearted co-operation of the workers. The planning of the supply of raw materials involves the very large question of priorities. The co-operation of the workpeople involves the grave and serious problem of a national wages policy. I do not propose to deal with either of those two very large aspects of the problem. I shall confine myself to the question of efficient management, and efficient management in respect of one 254 specific part of our war production effort, that is, the efficient management of the production of tanks.
I use the word "management" in its widest possible sense. In the management of the production of tanks, one has to bring in the Ministry of Supply, because the Ministry of Supply are virtually responsible for the management of tank production, and in that respect there is room for great improvement. In effect, a tank is an assembly of parts which are made in various places in the country and taken to the assembly shops and there put together. The Ministry of Supply have taken upon themselves the duty of seeing that these parts arrive at the assembly shops in good time and in good order. The crux of the problem is that they do not. At present, as the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones) said in his opening speech, there is a very large number of tanks— it would be wrong to give the number—which are held up in the assembly shops because the various parts have not arrived in their proper order and in due time. There is a great discrepancy between the estimates of the Ministry of Supply and the numbers actually turned out, and that discrepancy would be greater still if it were not for the fact that the War Office are accepting delivery of tanks which are not complete in all respects. Indeed, the position is worse than the figures reveal. So many of our tanks are of doubtful reliability and the programme of spares has been so incompletely carried out, that in various works in the country tanks now in process of erection are taken down in order to provides spares to complete other tanks in the field. In a nutshell, the position is that the numbers which have been promised are inadequate, and even those inadequate promises are not being fulfilled.
I do not think I have said anything that is not pretty well known to the Committee, but it seems to me that I ought to make one or two suggestions for remedying a situation the seriousness of which I leave to the Committee to assess. It is imperative that greater responsibility should be put upon the parent manufacturing concerns. By parent manufacturing concerns I mean those concerns which have the duty of assembling the tank and delivering it to 255 the War Office in its final and finished form. They are the firms to whom the orders for finished tanks are given. At present, the organisation of the Ministry of Supply is such that the responsibility, instead of lying with these parent manufacturers, lies with a number of departments in the Ministry of Supply designated by elaborate letters and lying about in different parts of the country. I am sure the Committee will agree with me that the Ministry of Supply should so organise their tank production management, that they could help the manufacturers to carry out the job. They should not organise it in such a way as to enable the manufacturer to say, as he can say, that the responsibility for the delay is not his but belongs to somebody else. In this respect it is important that the Ministry should consider whether it would not be desirable drastically to limit or to abolish completely the free issue of the various component parts which the Ministry of Supply now arrange on their own responsibility. The other suggestion is that there should be in the works of each parent company, an engineer in charge of each particular type of tank. He would be a responsible person under the Director of Tank Production. He would look after that particular type of tank, and he would be the focus of interest in respect of everything to do with that type. It would be his duty to act as a kind of "superchaser," to see that his particular type of tank was not being let down—he would, as it were, be the guardian of that tank and care for it as his ward.
The hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) made some suggestions which have some bearing on this proposal. for an engineer-in-charge. He suggested that there should be set up for the Air Ministry a corps of constructors of the same type as those who now act for the Admiralty, I think there is something to be said for that suggestion being applied to tanks. At present tanks, as finished fighting vehicles, tend to be nobody's business. This is particularly true of the Infantry II tanks. It is nobody's child, and because of this absence of parentage there are avoidable delays in production and many regrettable mistakes. The hon. Member for North Aberdeen mentioned that there were 5,000 modifications in a particular type of tank. I do not think it is right to suggest that 256 these modifications are primarily due to the War Office or the Ministry of Supply. The responsibility lies with the designers. The design was made before the war, and it was not a good one, in the sense that it was unrelated to commercial practice. The lengthy grinding operations about which he speaks were really the result of inadequate and unco-ordinated design. The main function of the design department is to help manufacturers in the design of tanks and parts of tanks. In that they have not been too successful. Certainly one would expect to find that difficulties which have been previously overcome should not be reproduced in tanks now coming into production. The country has a right to expect something better than repetition of past mistakes. The tanks which the Army are now receiving were mainly designed before the war, and there has been enough time to bring about a higher standard of reliability. The hon. and gallant Member for Hythe (Lieut. Brabner) in his maiden speech dealt with the lack of reliability of tanks used in the 'Middle East. I feel that the Ministry of Supply must urge upon their Design Department the necessity for improving the reliability of the tanks now in service. I appreciate the desirability of increasing public interest in tank production, and it is one of the means that the new Minister in his own inimitable way is using to spur on production But is it necessary to describe a particular type of tank which was in production before the war as our new tank? Will those who know the job and the facts really be stimulated by these highly coloured public statements, many of which are misleading? I doubt it.
§ Mr. Loftus (Lowestoft)
In the brief time at my disposal I would like to refer to the remarks made by the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards). I feel that those remarks deserve and demand an answer from the Government Bench. Every Member of this House has heard of many cases of skilled fitters standing idle by their machines, not through any fault of their own, but because there is no work to do. That is a most heartbreaking job. To pretend to do work in order to fill in time is bound to affect morale. A great deal can be said for the suggestion that capable inspectors should call unexpectedly at factories 257 to keep a check on that type of thing. Let us recognise that there are several causes for this gap in production. In many cases it is certainly a result of inefficient management, and in other cases it is due to the supply of raw materials; but there are unavoidable cases where factories are switching over from one type to another. In the last case there must be delay and slackness and insufficient work for the personnel But how are we to deal with that? What happens to-day is that in some factories the men are kept and there is a pretence of doing work. There are odd jobs which the men can do, possibly a little sub-contracting, but the men stand by the machines grousing and condemning the management, imputing that men are being kept in the factory to get extra profits on the plus system. We must stop that.
The appeal I make to the Minister is to instruct factories, where there is a gap of a few days or weeks, not to insist on the men staying by their machines. Let the management take the men into their confidence and say: "Here is an unavoidable gap; it is not our fault. What we propose to do is this. Every man will get his 48-hour guaranteed week's pay. There is no work, and we will not pretend there is. Therefore, half of you will have a fortnight's holiday, and the other half will remain in the factory in case there is work to do." That would be good for the men, and it would improve their morale and physical health, so that when they came back to work you could appeal to them to put in that little extra ounce of energy which makes all the difference. Better still, if there is a short delay, why not tell the men to go out and play cricket or work on their allotments instead of standing-by in this hot weather? They would have their guaranteed week's pay, and when they came back they could put their heart in their work and do their best. I hope the Minister will consider that suggestion.
I wish to refer now to the speeches made by my hon. Friend the Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) and my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Horabin). I regret that Lord Beaverbrook has not been made Minister of Production, because, quite frankly, I feel that his dynamic energy, plus his powerful position as Minister of 258 State, may expedite tank production and production of munitions for the Army, at the expense of our vital shipbuilding programme and possibly at the expense of our aircraft production. I think it would have been much better if he had been general Minister of Production allocating supplies; allocating work, and allocating priority to the three Services. We have had a most interesting maiden speech from my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hythe (Lieut. Brabner), who pointed out that you could not discuss production or priority until you had decided on your strategy and, because of that, I feel that the atmosphere of this Debate is unreal. You cannot discuss allocation to the Ministry of Aircraft Production or to the Ministry of Supply for the Army or the Admiralty unless you first make up your mind on what branch of the Armed Forces your main concentration is to be. For instance, you cannot possibly really grasp the supply of tanks for the Army until you have made up your mind how big an Army you want and where the Army is to be used.
An hon. Member has suggested that decision is slow in these various Departments. I have heard from manufacturers making for the Admiralty, the Ministry of Supply and the Ministry of Aircraft Production that the Admiralty inspectors come into a factory and decide on the spot, but the other two Departments have to refer back. Another inspector comes down, and again it is referred back, and so on. Would it not be possible to give the inspectors of either of these two Departments the same power to decide that the Admiralty inspectors have? Behind the Ministry of Supply and the Ministry of Aircraft Production the basis is coal production, and, to speed up your coal production, you need to carry out what is recommended by Sir Francis Joseph in correspondence in "The Times," the setting-up in every coalmine of a canteen to provide the extra meals that the ordinary munition workers get, meals that the workers can take underground. If we want to accelerate coal production, we must make it a matter of priority that every coal mine shall have a canteen to provide that little extra food which the munition worker gets but which the coal miner requires infinitely more.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply (Mr. Harold Macmillan)
I ask the indulgence of the Committee because, when this important Debate was first arranged, I expected that my task would have fallen to my right hon. Friend who was then Minister of Supply. Since then certain changes have taken place in the Government which have given me the onerous but honourable duty of representing this great Department in the House of Commons today. It has fallen to me in the course of some 14 months to serve three Ministers of Supply—the present Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, and my Noble Friend. I have observed in these statesmen some differences of political background, of administrative methods and perhaps I might even say of temperament, but in one thing they have all agreed, of one truth they have all been persuaded—not merely the magnitude but the urgency of their task. After Dunkirk the Home Secretary's slogan and the fillip which he gave to production are well known. After the Battle of Britain it was the last Minister's daily preoccupation, and, in the light of this sense of urgency, he laid his plans, which are just beginning to bear fruit and will do so with increasing yield every succeeding month. The first quarter of this year showed an increase in the production of both guns and tanks of more than 50 per cent. over the last quarter of 1940, and the second quarter of 1941 shows an increase of more than 100 per cent. over the last quarter of 1940. The same sense of urgency will inspire my Noble Friend. His cry will be, "More shells, more guns, more tanks —above all more tanks."
To-day's Debate—I have listened to all the speeches—has naturally divided itself into two separate streams. There have been questions relating to the Ministry of Supply itself and questions relating to the general organisation of the production Departments, of which the Ministry of Supply is one. Perhaps it will be for the convenience of the Committee if I deal with these subjects under those two main headings and reply to the criticisms and constructive suggestions which have been made. On each of those large, majestic themes important constructive contributions have been made, and, if I am not able to take up every point in detail, I assure my hon. Friends that their sugges- 260 tions will be carefully studied. The hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones) who opened the Debate, pointed out the immense magnitude of the task of the Ministry of Supply itself. It is true that its work is divided into two quite separate businesses, the business of the raw material controls and the other central services which the Ministry of Supply performs. Apart from all these central services, the second part of the work of the Ministry is the organisation of production of weapons, ammunition and equipment, either through the ordnance factories or through the main contractors employed by the Ministry. Linked to this is the great question of raw materials, on which I have been glad to hear very little criticism so far. There has been the important question of economy in their use. With the good will of the Service Departments, the late Minister some six months ago appointed in the Ministry of Supply a Director of Economy, and immensely valuable work has been done in the saving of raw materials in every way, by saving in design, by saving in the use by the Service Departments themselves and by careful bringing into really scientific relation the actual demands as experience has shown. A great deal has been done in this direction. More perhaps still remains to be done.
Linked with raw materials is the question of salvage. I expected to have questions raised on it, for it is a common subject for Parliamentary questions, and I do not blame Parliament for being interested, because it is a vital matter. It is also a very difficult question and a rather intractable problem. The local authorities are with increasing effort giving us of their best to bring it up to 100 per cent. efficiency. We had difficulties with the collection of waste food, but I think that the Waste Food Board recently set up under my hon. Friend the Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R. C. Morrison) is already beginning to get this matter in hand. With regard to the removal of scrap, which is also a subject of frequent questions in the House, I would ask Members to be patient, remembering that it is a problem of labour and transport. If we are to use labour and transport efficiently we must organise the removal of dumps in villages and towns only when they have reached a size and character which will most economically repay the transport put at their disposal.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)
What we need an assurance upon is whether the Ministry are aware of the existence of these dumps.
§ Mr. Macmillan
Of course they are. I would remind Members that it is of vital importance that we should not merely be able to continue to import scrap, but that we should have some reserves at home which can act as it were as strategic reserves for the production of steel.
I come to the question of machine tools and their equipment. On this an interesting speech was made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North West Camberwell (Major O. Guest), who has told me that he is not able to be present while I am speaking. He is excused of any charge of absenteeism, for, after making his speech here, he has returned to his work. The whole problem of the supply of aeroplanes, tanks, guns, munitions of war, ships and transport centres round the provision of machine tools, the equipment used on or with the machine tools, and the provision and training of the labour to use them. We have had to supply all Departments—for this is a central service—with a great complexity of types to the number of many thousands a month tooled to meet the varying types of manufacture. There were two sources from which machine tools and their equipment could be obtained—our normal machine tool factories at home and importation from America. At the outbreak of war the machine-tool industry was already working at high pressure, and immediately after the war it was decided to extend it still further. We had to balance the requirements of industry with the need of providing plant to bring about an expansion of the country's capacity to produce machine tools, and to-day the output of the machine-tool industry is six times that of the normal peace-time level.
As important as the machine tools is the equipment, and at the same time we have had to make provision and have made provision for the supplying of jigs, gauges and small tools. We have enormously increased the capacity of the firms that specialise in that work, and at the same time we have enormously increased the capacity of the engineering firms themselves to make this equipment in their own tool rooms. There has been 262 a parallel expansion in the tool rooms of the engineering firms and in the new works especially delegated for the sole production of machine-tool equipment. In spite of all these efforts, we have, partly because the total volume was not sufficient and partly because of the character of the specialised machines which could only be imported, had to rely upon our American friends. All through these months we have worked closely hand in hand with the American Government. We have had the most understanding assistance from the American authorities, including the Army and Navy. We are now perhaps in a position to reciprocate what they have done for us, because our demands are becoming smaller. There are certain specialised machines we shall still require, but we shall be able to make smaller demands on their production, thus releasing it for a production which we hope will be to our ultimate benefit. It is, perhaps, a picture of the degree to which the machine-tool problem has been tackled that we have already been able to swing over machine-tool producing capacity from the production of tools proper to the production of jigs, gauges and equipment. As the war goes on, we shall reduce the production of machinery and increase the capacity for producing the equipment which is always needed and without which machine tools are of no value to the engineer.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
Can my hon. Friend indicate why in so many cases firms, other than Royal Ordnance factories, are not adopting the night shift system?
§ Mr. Macmillan
I will come to that point later. I have dealt with the centralised functions of the Ministry of Supply—raw materials, the provision of machine tools and the service which it performs on behalf of the production ministries. May I come to its immediate duty, the production of weapons and equipment through the Ordnance factories, for which we are solely responsible, and through contractors? I had feared at one time that the Ruling of the Chair meant that this Debate might become a debate on labour and might result in a series of mutual recriminations and accusations of incompetence between Members whose sympathy is mainly attracted to one or the other of the sides of industry. Fortunately, that has not been so to-day, and 263 I hope that it will never be so, because the tendency in the Press and the country in this direction is not a healthy one and is not a very valuable one. Exaggerated statements about wilful absenteeism on the one side and negligence or inability to promote the production effort on the other can do nothing but harm. Let management and labour continue as they are doing in 99 cases out of 100 and concentrate upon the enormous task which lies before them. To the extent that there are complaints and criticism, which I certainly do not resent, let them be put upon the broad, hardened backs of His Majesty's Government. I am sure that that agreeable task will be much less dangerous to production and may be of greater value in the long run. I would only say that generalised criticism is not much help to His Majesty's Government. If we can get criticism directed to a special service or establishment, it makes it easier to institute an inquiry.
It would be out of order for me to refer to this subject except in so far as through the Ordnance factories, and our responsibility for our contractors we obviously are interested in the whole problem of labour utilisation. I was struck by the words used by my hon. Friend who opened the Debate, when he said, "Let us hear a little more of the men who do the job—the foremen, the production managers, the skilled men in the factories. Let praise be given there, much less than to some of those who are more in the public eye. "I think my Noble Friend has the genius for striking that note. We are all" the boys in the back room "now, and I think it is just that recognition of where the actual work is done that is an important part of the propaganda for war production.
With regard to the factories under our control, the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards), in a very impressive speech, told us that the temper of industry was in danger of becoming sour. I look to him to help us in curing that. The degree of acidity which is generated depends partly upon personalities. If he continues his power to spread what Matthew Arnold used to call "sweetness and light," I am sure he will be very well employed. I admit at once that there have been mistakes, difficulties— follies if you like—but who has ever 264 attempted to build up an organisation of this kind on so great a scale in so short a time and has avoided all mistakes?
In ordinary private enterprise it is regarded as quite a good achievement to have built up over a long period of years a business employing 5,000, 10.000, or 20,000 men and after long experiments in management, in selecting the right people and all the rest of it. We have had to do this work quickly. We must recognise also the difficulties which confront us. The recruitment for the factories—I think this explains the reference by the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Horabin) to a speech by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour—depends not merely on the amount of labour available but on the power of any individual factory to take that labour as the factory comes into production. It cannot take to-day the whole of the labour which will be its final complement. The labour must come in at a rate at which it can be trained and got into work. The Ministry of Labour, through a special scheme which was launched for us during the last three months, has, broadly speaking, with, possibly, one exception, been able to provide us with labour at a rate appropriate to our power to absorb it. In the six months between January and June we have more than doubled the labour force employed in the ordnance factories— mechanical, filling and explosive. The Committee would not expect me to give in public the total of those employed.
§ Mr. Stokes
The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Horabin) referred to a speech by the Minister of Labour in which he said we had a million people available for factory work and asked whether that was true or not.
§ Mr. Macmillan
He was quoting from a speech in which the Minister said he had a million people registered. I was only saying that the rate of intake must have relation to the technical power to build up production. We have had great difficulties, and we admit them, with what I would call the human side operating these new undertakings, and we have now???
§ The Minister of Labour (Mr. Ernest Bevin)
I must intervene. I think the Committee ought to be put right upon one point. What I said in my speech was that I had registered one million women, 265 but that it was rather striking to note how few of them there were who were not already on national work. That is quite a different story.
§ Mr. Macmillan
One of the chief contributions which my right hon. Friend who is now the President of the Board of Trade was able to make in his time was to put all the filling factories on to a three eight-hour-shift basis. Already we have all the explosive factories upon a three eight-hour-shift basis, but we have not been able to change the mechanical factories on to that basis, although we are hoping for and contemplating such a change. With the help of my hon. Friend the Minister for Works and Buildings and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour, who is going to provide the labour, we hope to have a great scheme of hostels and married quarters accommodation, which we must have before the winter sets in if we are to keep our factories properly employed and our people happy. We hope to have accommodation for some 60,000 men and women in our hostels, and to provide accommodation for 7,000 in married quarters. Rather than waste time trying to build up anew organisation within the Ministry we have entrusted the management of these hostels to organised agencies which are well acquainted with that art, and the Y.M.C.A., the Y.W.C.A., the Holiday Fellowship, the Co-operative Holiday Association, and the Workers' Travel Association, will on our behalf and as agents undertake the actual management of these hostels.
Then we come to the problems, some of which were touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly, in labour management itself, the avoiding of the friction and mistakes which must sometimes occur but ought to be reduced to the minimum. We have felt that the technical tasks entrusted to the Director-General of Ordnance Factories made it impossible for him or his technical staff to undertake this work themselves, and we have therefore appointed for this work an officer, and under him a number of superintendent labour management officers. I prefer the phrase "labour management" to the word "welfare," with its somewhat restricted and patronising appeal. I mean labour management in the broad sense in which it has been practised in recent years by all the most progressive companies. We have been 266 fortunate in obtaining for these posts men and women who have had experience in large industries and who have been lent to us for the purpose.
Finally, we have tried to grapple with what was last winter one of the worst problems from the labour point of view, the transport problem. Whether these new factories were well sited or badly sited is not now worth arguing. They are built. Whether too much care and attention were given to the. danger factor and to placing them far away from great centres of population it is not for me to say, and, of course, what seemed likely to be a danger area a year or two before the war may not have proved to be so in the actual developments of the war. But there they are, and if we are to make the best use of them, it is the transport of the workers to and from them which is the major problem. I believe that in open Session we are not allowed to refer to the weather, but in the middle of last winter there was a period in which there was some snow upon the ground, and undoubtedly there was a breakdown in some respects. My right hon. Friend thereupon laid the foundations of an organisation which would be capable of dealing with this problem. We borrowed from the Canadian Pacific Railway, by the good will of its president, a distinguished traffic officer. We have set up a system of factory transport, with officers at the centre and in each factory, and I think we can say that by rail and bus and all the methods available to us we have got on top of the job.
With one or two parts of the country we still have some difficulty, but it is nothing to what it was. We are convinced that we are on top of the difficulty and" can overcome it. We have built up a system of internal transport in the larger factories which will very much relieve the worker, from the outer platform where he arrives to the place where he actually works. This service is available not only to the Ordnance factories but to any factories that ask for our help. Where a factory is working with as many as 5,000 people we station a permanent officer to look after transport problems.
Now I come to the question raised in the Debate by my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Sir A. Maitland). Are we satisfied with the use of the second shift and the use of our machine tools? 267 Are we getting the full amount out of the existing plant? Those questions have been in everybody's mind, and we have asked them of ourselves and tried to improve all the time. Of course, we are not satisfied, but we must not put impossible targets in front of ourselves. Double shirts for the whole engineering industry would be an impossible target because they would take a figure of additional employment quite outside what we should be likely to achieve.
§ Mr. Macmillan
There is very little treble-shift work, except in those types of production for which it is most suitable. Filling factories are not mechanical engineering plants. It would be quite impossible to fill such a demand immediately. The most important thing is to concentrate upon the parts of the programme where it is absolutely vital to push forward at the greatest speed. It is very dangerous to use the figure of employment on the second shift in order to compare it with the figure of employment on the day shift. There are many men, such as maintenance men, who are employed during the day and who would not normally be employed at night, even if the second shifts were working. The production factor is the important figure. The amount of skilled labour in the country cannot rapidly be increased. It is almost fixed, and the problem of bringing unskilled labour into the industry depends upon two main factors.
The first of these factors is the degree to which the piece of work in question has been designed from the start as a mass-production job. In the newer factories, set up when the present size and kind of Army was contemplated, that has been done. These factories were designed and organised so that the work could be done by unskilled people and as a mass-production job, but this is not true of some of the older works which were not so designed. The second factor is the degree to which we can improve the actual utilisation of skilled men. You can employ unskilled and semi-skilled people only under the leadership of the skilled. The problem of getting a better use of unskilled and semi-skilled labour lies in more 268 skilful use of the skilled men. Some firms have been pioneers in that respect Their proportion of skilled men to semi-skilled is a very small one and they have done very good work. Others have been laggard. We have to put the maximum support we can in the production Ministries and the Ministry of Labour, and the maximum pressure upon our contractors, to go on with this system of reducing the ratio of skilled men in order to make the use of unskilled labour available and attract the great army of the unskilled and the semiskilled, who can be employed only under the guardianship of the skilled men.
I have dealt with many of the points that have been raised and now I want to say a word on the very important point of continuity of orders. This was raised by the hon. Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Higgs), but the example he gave was something a little different. He said that a firm he knew had received instructions to do the job but had not yet received the completed contract. That is a very common position. The instructions to proceed are regarded as the legally binding contract, and the elaborate contract, with its phraseology so beloved of lawyers, comes along later. Nobody takes much notice of that part of the process.
§ Mr. Macmillan
Yes, Sir, but that does not affect the result. It is a well-known practice to operate upon the instructions to proceed. Changes in design and in the service required are responsible largely for lack of continuity of orders. We are producing for the purpose of making the kind of weapon we want and not merely to get a nice flow of production. We can do far better than we have done. We are always pressing our Departments to adopt the principle that where there is a known job there should be continuity of order or, what is better still, an order to produce at a certain rate till further orders. If we are to keep the high quality of design by which alone we can make up for our numerical inferiority there must be changes and improvements, which may have the effect of temporarily interrupting the flow of production.
§ Major-General Sir Frederick Sykes (Nottingham, Central)
Would my hon. Friend say something about planning?
§ Mr. Macmillan
The difficulty in some cases is that of purchasing far enough ahead. It is not always possible to say that the exact amount of raw material will be in the right place every day. During peace-time we do not operate within that narrow margin. Great industries invest large sums of money in stocks to ensure a flow of production, even when there is no black-out, no blitz, and no interference to the transport. We find it more profitable to buy our stocks to continue the flow of production than to rely upon buying from hand to mouth. In war-time the raw material is used right up to the hilt, and we work on very narrow margins. The men should be told. They should be given an opportunity to understand that we are bound to get temporary breaks. I will summarise it in this way: The flow of production must occasionally be interrupted. It is the almost inevitable result of the urge to produce more. We have to smash bottlenecks, but we also create them; it is very easy to obtain a perfectly balanced production at a very low level—complete balance is obtained at zero, and, if I may say so, the most perfect balance of all is death.
The Ministry is sometimes censured for being slow in adopting new processes and new inventions. A reference was made to that by one hon. Gentleman to-day. A Select Committee recently referred to a specific case of our malpractice, an important, but not vital one, a method alleged to lengthen the durability of boots by putting a particular preparation on them. I will not deal with that, for it is still under experiment, but I would ask the Committee to remember that the course we have to steer on the question of new inventions is not an easy one. Behind the inventor there frequently lurks a company promoter; indeed sometimes the two figures are combined in the same man. We have to be neither too rigid nor too elastic. We do not want to miss a good thing, but we do not want to be had for "mugs." We have to remember that any process which is accepted and approved by the Ministry, if it is in the hands of the wrong kind of people, may easily be used for the purpose of using our hall-mark to help a satisfactory flotation in New York. If anyone is really dissatisfied with the important work of scientific invention and discovery, although I may not refer to it in detail 270 in open Session, I suggest that he should put his mind to the question of how rapidly the means were found and brought into production for dealing with some of the lurking dangers which came with the blitz last Autumn. Inventions were found and put into production by the skill of our scientific investigators. And in many cases I regret to say lives were lost in the work.
I would like to take the opportunity of congratulating the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Hythe(Lieutenant Brabner) on the very charming speech which he made in to-day's Debate. The House always likes to hear a maiden speech, more particularly in time of war, from an officer in His Majesty's uniform, recently returned from those operations with which we are here concerned. I was very much impressed by his speech, and I know it will receive the careful study of Ministers far above me in the hierarchy of power, because he raised a good number of matters connected with the wider strategical questions which, of course, could not come within my ambit. He made a reference to the immense importance of the anti-aircraft gun of all kinds, and, of course, we are doing everything we can to press on with its production. I cannot give figures, but I can say that the present production of antiaircraft guns was determined by the Defence Committee of the Cabinet in August of last year, and it covered deliveries expected until November of this year. In spite of some set-backs last autumn, we stand by our estimates and forecast, and we believe we can substantially improve upon them. But when it comes to the allocation and use of these weapons, that is not in our sphere at all. It is in our sphere to make them, but when it comes to allocating them among the many strategical and practical purposes, that is a matter for the Defence Committee and for the Chiefs of Staffs concerned. The hon. and gallant Member also referred to anti-tank weapons, and again I can only make a brief and carefully studied reference. I believe the Army is satisfied with the types and performance of the weapons they have had, both for use in tanks and in formations, and I believe they will be still more satisfied with the weapons which are on the point of production. As regards deliveries, the whole effort of the Department under my Noble 271 Friend, as under his predecessor, will be to press forward with its production.
My hon. Friend who opened the Debate made some references to the organisation of the Ministry, and I think that quite by mistake her at her unnecessarily painted a picture of great confusion. The organisation of the Ministry, so far as tank production is concerned, is not at all the concern of the Director of Programmes. The "Director-General of Programmes" is a pompous way of describing a statistical Directorate which serves the Minister by telling him what the programmes are, what he is going to do and what is going on. The actual tank programme, as is the production of weapons, is under a separate heading: Sir James Lithgow is Controller-General of Mechanical Equipment, Mr. Burton is in charge of all the production side, and Mr. James Weir is in charge of all designs and development. The Tank Board are advisory and not executive. The Army do not make modifications in design; the whole responsibility for design and development is under an officer who is a servant of the Ministry of Supply. The Tank Board, upon which the Army is represented, may make non-technical modifications or may request that a certain service need should be met, and it is then the duty of the design department to try and translate this into designs.
I would like to tell the Committee quite frankly that there is really not the confusion which the hon. Member suggests. We are now trying to make tanks of very clearly defined and settled designs. I think the best comparison would be to compare them with ships, and say that we are now manufacturing two types of battle-cruiser, two types of cruiser and one dreadnought, and that is all. I think it would be quite a good analogy to say that they are for the purposes indicated by these descriptions of ships. With regard to our orders in the United States, we are relying upon one type and one type only, which is in process of production. It is, of course, the purpose of my Noble Friend to press on with the production of tanks with all his power, not, however, at the expense of other weapons, and, I certainly believe, not at the expense of the other Services. He has far too many memories of his work at the Ministry of Aircraft Production to allow this particular drive to interfere in 272 any way, but tanks we must have, tanks we shall have, and we rely upon the designers and the workmen together to push our production during the next few weeks and months.
I come now to the last part of my task, which is to answer those questions not related to the Ministry of Supply in its immediate special responsibility, but as part of the Government's organisation for production as a whole. Many hon. Members have referred to this question as to the machinery of Government and have expressed a desire for a greater coordination of that machinery. Some of them expressed the view that my Noble Friend ought to be appointed Minister of Production. I shall certainly convey that opinion to my Noble Friend, and I have no doubt it will give him great gratification, but the Committee will recognise that there is nothing very much that I can do about it.
§ Mr. Macmillan
I shall not be expected to reply for a member of the War Cabinet, nor, at five minutes' notice, when winding up the Debate for the day. That brings me to what I was going to try to do in a few minutes, that is, to try and disprove this popular fallacy that there is complete" disorder in production and a completely wild competitive system going on between Departments. We often see it in the Press. It just is not true. On the problem of priorities, I must keep clear of the vexed question, argued for months now, with almost theological bitterness, though I think it is true that these arguments are rather dying away and seem almost as foolish as the debates of the medieval school men. I know it has been said that during last year the 1 a priority given to the Ministry of Aircraft Production caused confusion to manufacturers and unnecessary injury to other Supply Departments. I am not going to attempt to deliver a judgment on that point. I have not been able to consult my Noble Friend, but I feel no hesitation in giving to the Committee a positive assurance that from now on, at any rate, this special bias in favour of the Ministry of Aircraft Production is not likely to continue.
Seriously, the real answer to this is that this movement towards a centralised 273 machine of government is going on all the time, and has gone further than most people recognise. There are three methods by which we have been, in fact, creating a Ministry of Munitions all the time. I would ask the Committee to allow me to give some details, dull but important. First, by central purchase of stores by one Department on behalf of all. It is not generally recognised how far that process has gone. The responsibility of the Ministry of Supply goes far beyond responsibility for the Army. We manufacture a large proportion of naval guns, and some anti-aircraft guns and spare barrels for the Navy, rifles and revolvers for the three Services, all automatic rifles and, with a few exceptions, all small arms ammunition for all the three Services. We are responsible for the filling of all ammunition and bombs, all high-explosive bombs for the Air Force, explosives for all propellants, and all the wheeled vehicles for all Service and Civil needs, including, under arrangements recently made, spare parts for vehicles already in private hands. Under mutually agreed arrangements which have gradually been built up, we have undertaken on behalf of the Air Force and the Army and the Navy the purchase of all the woollen fabrics, cotton fabrics, boots, shoes, underwear, hand-tools, cordage and many general stores. In addition we are buying for the Air Force their uniforms, hats, clothing, medical and surgical supplies, and camp equipment. We supply steel helmets for all Services, civilian as well as the fighting Services, and have made steady progress towards unified buying. On the whole, there is one Department making the purchase of goods on behalf of the three Services. We have purposely gone at a steady rate in order not to put too heavy a strain on the administrative machine which had to undertake this enormous task.
The second method is that by which, although contracts are still in the name of the three Service Departments, the planning of the job is done by one Ministry on behalf of all—what I would call a centrally controlled plan of production. Under that method, the Ministry of Supply has undertaken responsibility for wheeled vehicles, cranes, static internal combustion engines and pumps. The Admiralty has undertaken chain cables. The process is continually being studied 274 by the committee of the Production Executive, over which I preside, and the list of products so treated is growing. Whenever we find an industry overloaded, we call the Departments together, and arrange that one of them, usually the greatest user, shall undertake planned buying on behalf of all. One of the most interesting developments in this direction has recently taken place in respect of automatic rifles and guns, whether they are made for the Air Force, for the Navy, or for the Army. Twenty different types of rifles, revolvers and automatic guns of all designs are now under a single specialised control. The hon. Member for Edgbaston (Sir P. Bennett) is the chairman of the Board which deals with this matter. All those guns to which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hythe referred come under that Board, which is a very interesting experiment in co-ordination, since it consists of the leading manufacturers, under an independent chairman. The contractors represented include the Director-General of Ordnance Factories. The Departments are also represented. The idea is that the buying should be done for all those classes of weapons as a co-operative enterprise, so avoiding some of those difficulties which have arisen through each Department acting separately.
I have described the first method, which is that of central purchase, and the second method, which is that of co-ordinated planned buying. Thirdly, there is in the case of raw materials of all kinds a system of allocation by a Committee presided over by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport. All Departments come to this Committee, and allocations are made for each quarter in respect of all materials of all kinds. There is no competition, and no disorder.
§ Mr. Macmillan
No. We preferred a certain amount of common sense to unreasonable following of rules. My right hon. and gallant Friend has done this job for 18 months, and has done it exceedingly well. Just because he has had a change in his other ordinary work, it is not reasonable to say that he should not go on doing this work of sitting as a judge, so to speak, on allocations for the Departments. 275 Finally, there is the allocation of industrial capacity. By arrangement, one Ministry can take, say, 60 per cent. of a firm's production, and another Ministry 40 per cent. These products can be reallocated and re-entered, and in case of doubt the firm can apply to the regional officers for guidance. I have attempted to cover a great deal of ground, but I think I have dealt with some of the criticisms. I have tried to describe the central machinery for giving harmony to the needs of the three Fighting Services. In all these matters the Board of Trade also receives an allocation, to meet the civilian needs of the country. I have told the Committee of the growth of a variety of methods, apart from the general supervision of the Production Executive, to reach that ideal.
Perhaps in order to complete the picture I may say a word or two about the regional production boards. The more we can get manufacturers to use them, the better work they will do. The essential purpose and object of the regional board is not so much to deal with the main contractors, the great businesses, but to arrange the use of the capacity of the small men. In London there are several of them operating like telephone exchanges, where a roan who has unused capacity available can be put into touch with the man who requires it. That is spreading throughout the country. The object is to organise continually to see whether it is possible that when machines are unused, those who have the unused capacity can be put into touch with those who need it. Time is of the essence of this business, unless it is done in two or three days, a week's or a fortnight's work has gone.
I have thought it wise to attempt to convey to the Committee an impression of the vast organisation that is required for the planning of production. It is a subject which I tried in the old days to study in theory. During the past year I have learnt something of the difficulties of putting it into practice. We have been faced with the task of converting the whole economic organisation of the country from a basis on which it was regulated by the pull and push of the price system to an economy in which every consideration must be subordinated to the maximum production of weapons of war.
276 We are confronted with an enemy who devoted himself to this very task for a large number of years and achieved it by ruthless means, overthrowing as he went everything that matters in the social life of a country. It may be that we move slowly, but I am convinced that we are building upon a more secure foundation. The organisation we are producing is built upon the solid rock of democratic consent, and it will perhaps endure when the harder and more brutal Nazi totalitarianism has cracked under the stress of modern war.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again," put, and agreed to.— [Major Dugdale.]
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon the next Sitting Day.