§ 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.
§ Sir John Wardlaw-Milne (Kidderminster)
The Committee and the country have every reason to feel that in the past few days the course of events connected with the war has made the position and the outlook a little more satisfactory to us than appeared to be the case a few weeks ago. It is, however, still true to say that the war may, and in all probability will, be won in the factories and workshops of this country. In a recent speech in the House the Prime Minister referred to the fact that in the defence of Crete we were extremely short of guns, and it is probable that in this, the 23rd month of the war, we are still behind in the supply of guns, tanks, aeroplanes and everything in the way of munitions of war that is required to bring us victory. This Debate, therefore, is of considerable importance. The country has made great progress in these 23 months. That progress has been due, I think, in the first place to the Government's foresight in realising that we were in for a long war, and in harnessing our resources and those of the Empire and seeking the help of the United States, so that we might wage it successfully. But it is wise that we should take stock of our position in connection with the production of war munitions to-day, and see where we stand after these 23 months of war.
Over 18 months ago the House set up the Select Committee on National Expenditure, consisting of some 32 Members, representing all parties. It has 336 been the task of those Members, almost day by day since then, in London and in other parts of the country, to examine Government expenditure on the war and the results of that expenditure. It is fair to say that one of the first conclusions to which that committee came was that it was impossible for them to examine expenditure without examining efficiency, because efficiency is economy and any inefficiency or misdirected effort is waste. I think it is probably true to say that the members of that committee to-day have as comprehensive a picture as anybody could have, outside the Government, and perhaps even more comprehensive than any member of the Government could have, of the means we are employing, the successes and the failures of our effort. It is necessary to bear in mind the very considerable difficulties involved in the change-over from peace conditions to those of war forced upon us, and it would not be wise to suggest that, even to-day, that changeover is complete. We are not working at full efficiency. I said in the House not long ago that I did not believe that our people were working up to more than 75 per cent, of our possible efficiency and I cannot alter that opinion yet. There are bottlenecks in connection with production which require clearance. There are efforts which are wanting in direction and there is a certain number of people, both in the managements and among the workers, who require discipline. A large number of war factories are still coming into production and the task of recruiting the immense labour army required for this new effort cannot be accomplished even in a period of months.
I turn to some of the difficulties which face us and will try to indicate some of the methods by which we could attempt to deal with them. I take, first, the management side, and in my remarks in this aspect of the matter I propose to deal both with those managements which were previously engaged in private enterprise, and with the managements of Government factories because most of these problems affect both classes equally. As regards the private industries which were harnessed to the war effort, their response has been magnificent. There is no doubt about that. The response of private enterprise in this war has been splendid and that is the more commendable because 337 the financial policy which we adopted in relation to private enterprise was not entirely calculated to produce that result. There is a catch phrase which it is very natural and very agreeable to use at a time like this, to the effect that "no profits should be made out of the war." I think we should all agree that, in an ideal programme, no profits should be made out of the war. It may not give us the best results but actually we have gone further than that. Not only have we effectively altered the outlook of private enterprise in regard to the making of profit— that may be reasonable— but we have actually destroyed a certain amount of private capital and of private profits without: any return at all. I consider that the depreciation of machinery and the amount allowed for obsolescence in certain private enterprises is inadequate, and the losses due to the exceptional war effort will not be recovered. Therefore, looking at this matter, as I do, entirely from the standpoint of the necessity for securing production, I wonder whether we have gone too far in that restraint upon private enterprise to get the best results. The losses in that connection cannot, as I say, be made good now, and must at the end of the war be paid for out of previous profits or in some other way and, from the point of view of getting the best results, I am not sure that we have followed a very good procedure. The actual rise in wage rates, whether basic rates or excess earnings, has little effect upon employers because the only real purchaser of the production is the Government who indirectly foot the bill. Therefore the effect of the rise in wages is not directly felt by the employer.
Although I have no intention of encroaching directly in this Debate on matters connected with the Ministry of Labour, I am bound to say that 1 think the Minister of Labour— whose absence at the moment I regret, though I note that he is ably represented— has been definitely unfair to the employers in some of his public statements. Undoubtedly there are faults on the parts of managements, but such as have come to light are not less evident in the Government controlled factories than in private enterprise concerns and I think it a pity that the Minister of Labour should have gone out of his way to make some of the statements which have been made publicly in this connec- 338 tion. There is one clear, definite matter, however, which affects employers, or managements as I prefer to call them, both in Government and privately controlled factories and which should be attended to at once. That is the operation of the Essential Work Order. The Order only came into force in March and has not had a long run yet, and I do not wish to be dogmatic about it, but it is not working well. Both trade unionists and managements— in fact trade union leaders take perhaps the stronger line in talking of this matter— are having great difficulty over this Order and it will have to be redrafted in such a way as to get rid of its cumbersome machinery, enable quick decisions to be made and restore to some extent the power of the employer to deal with his labour force.
I suggest that that should be done by a system of local tribunals giving prompt judgment in cases in which it is clearly evident that men have to be dealt with for inefficient work or attendance. There are always a few in every community who have to be dealt with drastically and need discipline and, clearly, in cases of that sort the Essential Work Order must be made to function much more expeditiously than it is doing at present. At present the Order is mainly one-sided in its operation — in favour of the worker. With the exceptional cases which cause the most trouble there is nothing to be done, as I see it, except to put into force the power of de-reservation. If a man is reserved, he ought to understand clearly that he is reserved in order to work in the national interest and if he is not prepared to work in the national interest, there should be the power to a local tribunal to remove his reservation. The motto should be "Work or fight" and if a man will not work, the best thing to do with him is to send him to fight.
There has been, on the whole, a great improvement in co-operation between employers and trade union leaders on the problems constantly arising in new conditions and a great deal of agreement on what is required. I would like at this stage, because I may have to say something on rather a different aspect of the matter later on, to pay a tribute to the work of the Ministry of Labour officials throughout the country in their efforts, often successful, to smooth over difficulties and bring disputes to an end. I hope 339 that on another occasion we shall be able to deal with matters which affect the Ministry of Labour itself, such as the whole training of labour and this I appreciate would not be in Order to-day.
But there is still one matter connected with management to which I must refer, and that is the difficulties which have arisen over priorities. It is a matter which the Select Committee have brought to the notice of the Government over and over again. On paper and viewed from what may be described as the Cabinet level it seems as ideal as it could possibly be, but it does not work in the factories. It is a cause of trouble to the management in almost every factory to-day, in spite of all that has been done to remedy the difficulties. I suggest to the Government that they must again consider how they can get their excellent intentions carried right down to the workers in the factories, because that is where our troubles exist. There are still gaps and hold-ups in the supply of controlled materials, and there are misunderstandings in connection with certain people working in the factories owing to want of knowledge of the difficulties of the management in view of the hold-up in the supply of controlled materials. The more the worker is consulted and advised of the position in his own factory the better.
I turn to the position as it affects the workers themselves, men and women. The great bulk of labour is working extraordinarily well. New recruits are putting up with discomforts, and even hardships. The increased earnings have in some cases resulted in injustice. I am not now referring to basic wages, nor do I want in any way to touch upon the negotiations which take place between employers and employed, because that is outside our scope to-day, but what I am entitled to point out is the difficulties arising first from inequalities in earnings. By that I do not mean the inequalities as between the fighting man and his brother in the workshop. That is a difficult question which Parliament may have to face but I am not referring to that to-day when I speak of inequalities in wages. I mean the inequality in earnings between one man or woman and another doing almost similar work, very often in the same factory. It is a matter which is 340 extraordinarily difficult to deal with when one realises the position in which the Government are placed. We started all these new factories, in which there had been no previous experience. In some cases piece work rates were fixed before those concerned had gained sufficient experience of what the rates should be. They were fixed before the present output conditions were ascertained, and in some cases they have resulted, undoubtedly, in very large extra earnings.
But I am concerned merely with what prevents us from getting the production, and I say definitely that the present inequalities in the cases in which the Ministry of Supply, through their officers and managements— because this mostly refers to Government-controlled factories — have fixed the rates for piece work Have resulted in some cases in men deliberately concealing the work the' have done. In other cases it has resulted in men going out of the works carrying perhaps a pocket full of pay-slips which they would not present for payment at the moment because they were afraid to show the amounts they had earned. My point is that it is not a question of what a man has earned but of the holding up of production. The man does not go on with the work because he does not want at the time to make any more. He is afraid to make any more, and it is not unnatural.
Let me take instances of what is happening in factories under the Ministry of Aircraft Production, and I may say that perhaps I had better turn to them because I do not want the Minister in charge of aircraft production to think that I am not dealing with his side of the question also. In the early stages a factory started with, perhaps, a production of two or three machines a month. Gradually the output extended to six or ten a month, and as experience has been gained the output has extended to perhaps twenty. The piece work rates fixed in the early days are out of all proportion to the conditions to-day. That results in inequalities in wages and, what is worse, to the concealment of the possibilities of work that can be done and therefore to the loss of production. Let me take another kind of case in a certain aircraft factory near to the part of the country with which I am politically concerned. The other day there was a demand from a number of the young women in that factory to change over from one side 341 to the other. I shall be careful not to mention any details of the work. It was a case of merely going round a corner of an ordinary wooden boundary inside the factory. They were asked why they wanted to change over, and they answered "Because over there they are earning double our pay and it is work we can do just as easily as our own." And that was, in fact, the case, arising from the arrangement made for want of knowledge when the factory had been set up and in its early days. It is not a question of blaming the Government for these things, but these are difficulties which have arisen either because we did not plan sufficiently well to ensure that we should procure the best returns or because of this vast change over to which I have referred and the immense scope of the national effort necessary.
§ Mr. Stokes (Ipswich)
Do I understand the hon. Member to be suggesting that it is advisable to alter piece rates once they have been fairly fixed?
§ Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne
No, I particularly wish to avoid that idea. When the rate has been fairly fixed there should be no question of altering it. The difficulty is to decide how to make the pay fairly equal for equal work, and that is what we have not done at present. In the example I have given we have two sets of girls working in a factory and one set being paid half as much as the other; naturally we do not get the best results.
Leaving the difficulties connected with the workers themselves, I turn to another, the Government, aspect of the matter. A mere rise in money wages without the control of prices is leading definitely to inflation. The worker is not benefiting at all.
§ The Minister of Labour (Mr. Ernest Bevin)
I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend, but in view of what he said about the wages in the works he mentioned I should like to know whether those rates were fixed originally by agreement between the Employers' Federation and the unions or whether they were fixed by the employers direct with the workpeople?
§ Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne
I cannot answer that off-hand. I can certainly find out and will give the right hon. Gentleman that information if he wishes. The factory is a Government factory and not a privately-owned factory and so perhaps 342 one of the right hon. Gentleman's friends can give him the answer.
§ Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne
I spoke of "Government-controlled," throughout these remarks. There are many Government-controlled aircraft factories. I was turning to the difficulties that face the country in connection with possible inflation, and I was saying that I cannot see that it is possible for us to go on with increasing costs of production without some control of prices. The position of the worker to-day, as we know from the" published figures, is no better than it was before the war. The cost of living has gone up considerably, and the workers certainly will not gain if the spiral gets really going, as it well may. I suggest that the Government consider now a definite policy about prices and wages.
Now I would like to say a word upon another aspect of our difficulties with these factories, the much discussed question of absenteeism. There has been a very great deal of misunderstanding about absenteeism and a very great deal of loose talk about it. There are two distinct kinds of absenteeism, and they must be separated and recognised, before we can effectively understand them. One kind is the avoidable, and the other the unavoidable, absenteeism. The latter is to some extent, however, due to the same causes as the former, but I want to deal first of all with the greater evil, avoidable absenteeism. Let the Committee be under no delusion; there is definite and considerable absenteeism in the works of this country. I could give plenty of figures. I have them beside me, but I do not wish unduly to detain the Committee. Let us not pretend that it does not exist, and let us consider why it is there. For every evil of this kind there is a definite cause, and there should be a definite cure.
We got our great effort first of all after Dunkirk, when there was a marvellous spirit in the country. Perhaps we expected it to go on, but we were wrong. It could not go on, as many reports clearly show. It has also been made perfectly clear that you cannot expect people to work continuously for seven days a week. Still more definite is it that, in trying to do so, you do not gain, but you lose, in production. It was made clear to us upon 343 the Select Committee that greater results are gained if you cut down hours of labour and demands on labour for overtime and Sunday work. We have been trying to work these factories beyond what is humanly possible, and we have had bad results. There is also the difficulty of the loss of production caused by monotony, especially in industries where it is accentuated by long hours and the inability to secure recreation. Other factors are want of outside interests, bad housing, bad heating and want of ventilation. All these causes are operating in the factories on which we depend for our production. There is also badly planned or insufficient supervision. Badly planned supervision is sometimes worse than insufficient supervision.
Many of the new factories for which the Ministry of Supply is responsible are set down in areas far away from the amenities to which the people working there have been accustomed. Long distances have to be covered to reach those amenities, and there are no houses in the neighbourhood. How can you expect people, already under such difficulties, to work excessive hours and to give the best production? I noticed yesterday that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply said:With the help of my hon. Friend the Minister of Works and Buildings and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour, who is going to provide the labour, we hope to plan 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."—-[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th July, 1941; col. 265, Vol. 373-]I entirely agree with that statement, but why did we not do those things a year ago? We knew that these factories were going up miles from anywhere— in some cases perhaps 10 or 12 miles from a main town. Why did we not think of these things then?
Those are some of the things which are affecting our production and retarding our war effort. I intend that we shall face them, if anything I, can say will have that effect. We put those factories in the country districts. Why we did so cannot be gone into here, for obvious reasons, but there was no housing or transport. We put 5,000 or 10,000 workers into the factories. It is urgently necessary that 344 we should put into them 20,000 or 30,000 workers, but there are no canteens of a sufficient scale, no housing and no transport. The Minister said that whether those factories were well sited or badly sited was not worth arguing; I think it is very much worth arguing, but I do not propose to argue it now. I say we could have planned much better than we have done to meet the necessities of the people who work in the factories. I am not spending time on these matters merely to fix blame, but to assist the Government to decide what can be done to put things right. Something upon a much bigger scale than we have done hitherto is needed in the provision of amenities, transport and housing.
Unavoidable absenteeism is due, to some extent, to industrial fatigue, which has undoubtedly taken place throughout the country, since the workers were asked to put a special effort into their work. You can work machinery to the fullest capacity, but you cannot work human beings for more than a certain time. The sooner we realise the truth of that statement the better. Another matter which is undoubtedly affecting production is the want of realisation on the part of a large section of the workers of the urgency and necessity for their work. Even now a large number of workers do not appreciate the serious situation of this country.
§ Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne
The right hon. Gentleman was not present, I think, when I referred to the employers' side. I am taking these two sides separately on purpose, and now I am trying to deal with the general situation connected with the workers. Ministers of the Crown are to some extent to blame. It is no use putting out slogans like "Go to it" at one moment and saying what marvellous people the workers are in the next breath. That will not get us anywhere. There is far too much of it. Addresses might well be given in various works by people like commanders of submarines who could speak with effect in the shipyards, and fighter pilots in aircraft factories. Gentlemen who, besides being gallant officers, are also good speakers, are of great value in this way, but for politicians, or people like retired generals, to talk to the workers is really no good at all. Our propaganda, if we are to use 345 that word, is not to instil some idea of a novel character into the minds of the hearers but to impress upon all connected with the war effort, from the top to the bottom, the absolute urgency of getting that extra 25 per cent, of production which we are still wanting.
To recapitulate shortly, I would therefore say to the Government that there are certain steps which I think it is essential to take to secure the production we want. Hours of labour should be reduced to give the highest output over a long stretch; that is to say, hours of labour should be fixed in connection with a long-term policy to obtain the maximum output; apart from exceptional circumstances reduce overtime and get rid of Sunday work. More attention than hitherto should be paid to the questions of housing, transport and canteens, especially in the new Government factories. I know my right hon. Friend may accuse me of being one-sided in this matter, but I suggest that the private employers have done very well on the whole in the last matter, especially as the canteens they have provided will be of little or no value after the war and they have been made to pay for them. It is mainly in the new factories that the need is most felt.
The minority of slackers— and there are slackers— must be dealt with drastically by an amendment of the Essential Work Orders, so that there can be immediate decisions, restoring to the management, whether Government or private, the power to deal with and discipline their own people, and a quick working local tribunal set up. There should be Treasury re-examination of the position in regard to allowances for depreciation and obsolescence of machinery, and an overhaul of contract terms. As soon as possible, and wherever possible, the "cost plus" system must be eliminated. It is the most fatal of all forms of contract. A still greater number of small firms should be included than at present. It is quite true that there has been a very gratifying change in that direction in the last 18 months and in the last year in particular, but there is still production power in the hands of some of the smaller firms which has not been harnessed to the war effort. The Government should again examine the priority organisation and get the matter cleared up. We want to stop 346 competition between Government Departments to secure production. In spite of the Production Executive, you still see Government Departments fighting to get production out of certain works, and contrary orders, contrary statements about priority, and contrary demands for immedate attention are made. We want a wages and prices policy to secure the country and the workers against inflation, the worst thing of all for the workers. We must not destroy all recreation or eliminate holidays; if we do we shall not get the best work. I know that nine-tenths of the workers are as keen as anybody else to do everything they can, but it will not do to depend on that alone, because you will not get the required production.
Finally, may I stress the necessity for Government action to restrain the competition which is going on among Departments, and to reduce the very large number of "chasers"? That word may not be well known to all hon. Members, but it means the people sent down from the different Ministries to follow up production. There is a number of them in all the areas of the country, and it is hard not to believe that some central organisation is really required. The more I see of these problems the more I come to the conclusion that we want a Ministry of Munitions. There must be co-ordination. This continual competition between the Government Departments must be stopped. Before my right hon. Friend came in I paid a tribute to the work of his officials. It is excellent, but let me give the Committee an idea of what it means. In one industrial district of England you have the following officials: a Chief Conciliation Officer, a Divisional Controller, a Divisional Welfare Officer, a Superintendent-Inspector of Factories and staff, a Chairman of the Labour Supply Committee, a Regional Ministry of Supply Representative, an Area Officer of the Ministry of Aircraft Production, an Admiralty Area Officer, another Area Officer of the Ministry of Supply, a Chairman of the Regional Board, a Divisional Labour Supply Inspector, a Labour Supply Inspector Assistant, and so on— all in one industrial area. Most of these men are doing excellent work, but if the system remains as it is, I want them to have more power, which I believe is more common in the Admiralty than in other Depart- 347 ments, so that there shall be less reference back. I want more power in their hands. It seems to me that all that shows the necessity for co-ordinating machinery at the top.
§ Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne
My right hon. friend surely does not tell me that he is in charge of the regional representative of the Ministry of Supply, the Area Adviser of the Ministry of Aircraft Production and so on?
§ The Chairman
This is entirely out of Order. It is a little difficult, because on questions of Supply one cannot entirely shut out matters which are connected with labour, but the Ministry of Labour Vote is not before the Committee, and if we were to go on to matters of that kind we should be very much out of Order, and it would make it impossible to have a satisfactory Debate on the subject when we do come to the Ministry of Labour Vote.
§ Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne
I fully appreciate that point, and perhaps you will allow me to draw your attention to the fact that I have carefully avoided any reference at all to the enlistment of labour. I have confined myself to the employment of labour in the factories, and I am concerned with the control of labour. In conclusion, I hope the Government will appreciate that I am not putting these matters forward in any spirit of carping criticism. I realise the difficulties and, as I said at the beginning, on the whole we have done wonders. The point however is that we are not getting the full production we could get and we must have it.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke)
The hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne) is in a unique position, which enables him to make the sort of speech he has made to-day. May I remind him, and all others who cheered his speech, that some of us have for a long time been advocating the setting-up 348 of a Ministry of Munitions and have been calling the attention of the House to the deplorable housing conditions of our people? We have got very little support for all the things he has mentioned to-day. At one stage in his speech he referred to the fact that earnings are abnormal.
§ Mr. Smith
Earnings generally. I want to call his attention to the fact that in this country there is almost complete confidence in the piecework machinery in the heavy industries, and that confidence has been built up as a result of years and years of hard work by the employers of this country and by the representatives of the workpeople. As a result of that, agreements have been arrived at which provide that, when a change takes place in the method of production, or when there is a change in design or in the quantities of products being produced, the prices are automatically open to revision by mutual agreement. Therefore, the charges which the hon. Member has made, and the charges which have been made in the public Press with regard to piecework machinery, are only an indication that the people making these charges are not conversant with the machinery which is in operation in industry in this country. I wish to begin by deprecating the statement made by the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. A. Hopkinson) yesterday. It would be out of Order to proceed too far with regard to this, but I want, on behalf of my hon. Friends and myself, yes, and on behalf of the movement they represent outside, to deprecate the statement he made yesterday of a personal character. Some of my hon. Friends on this side think he was referring to the Minister of Labour; I have doubts as to whether he was. If he was, I wish to say to him that he or anyone else can bring forward the best university-trained personnel in this country, and I will support the Minister of Labour on any current question in regard to our needs in the war situation.
To deal with something that is in Order, the hon. Member made a number of statements in which he was critical of the designers in our factories, of the people engaged in the hard work of development and research, and in regard to the engineers. I wish to say that, beyond a shadow of doubt, our aircraft and other 349 products manufactured in this country are qualitatively superior to any produced in any other part of the world, and these products can only be produced in this way because of the whole-hearted cooperation between research workers, designers, development workers and the engineers. I hope this House will be on its guard about this, because I know the danger from a certain quarter which now has a large influence in the Ministry of Supply. I want the country to be determined to maintain the standards it has set up. I have had the experience of meeting representatives from all parts of the world, including the Russian trade representatives. They say that they prefer British products to those from any other part of the world, even though ours often cost more than the products of other parts of the world. They go on to admit immediately that the maintenance charges of our aircraft, our mechanism, are considerably less than those of products made in other parts of the world: they are more reliable. Therefore, ours are preferred to those of other parts of the world. I hope that the Minister of Aircraft Production, in particular, and the Minister of Supply will be determined that we are to maintain the standards we have built up in the past.
One of my most fruitful experiences of the past few years was to work with a very fine group of experienced young engineers, who pooled their ideas and experience. In 1938 this resulted in a memorandum setting out the need for a Ministry of Munitions. Then, because the House at the time turned that down, they got to work and produced a memorandum, which was circulated to a number of people now holding prominent positions in the Government, advocating the setting up of a Ministry of Supply. Later, this same group were responsible for that constructive contribution entitled "Labour and Defence." Some of us long ago saw the danger of the growing expansion of German armaments, and our consciences stimulated us to work. Ronald Cartland was an example of what I mean, with his clear-sightedness, his great energy, his far-seeing qualities, his courage— and it took some courage in those days— drive, and dynamic personality, all those qualities that find avenues of service in America and Soviet Russia in particular.
350 Though I have not time to develop this aspect too far, I have directed attention to it in order to prepare for a constructive suggestion which I intend to make later on. In this country— and there is historical reason for it, but we cannot afford to allow it too much opportunity in wartime— there is an organic weakness in the Government Departments, in industry and in the area machinery in the Ministry of Supply in particular. There is an example fresh in the public mind in the changes brought about in the A.T.S. in the past few days. There are now great waves of renewed energy in this country, determination, and interest in our problems, throughout the industrial area. The Minister of Labour and his Parliamentary Secretary would be able to inform the House of this development. The renewed vigour and energy of our people are now at a greater height than ever in the past. The effect of the great strain on our people has now been removed. As you move among them you can feel there is a new effort beginning to manifest itself. I wish to ask the Government, and the Prime Minister in particular, Are we going to capitalise this new feeling, are we going to harness this energy, are we going to profit by our past mistakes, are we going to take steps to maintain this new feeling? I desire to make a few constructive suggestions with that end in view.
In my view, as a result of careful examination, the Ministry of Supply organisation is not yet satisfactory. At the beginning of the war, when some hon. Members were demanding that small units of production should be brought more into the picture, I often felt a little annoyed, as I knew, as a result of experience, that large-scale industry, generally speaking, obtained the best results. But I do say that we should have organised the small producers more than we have done at this stage. They have still too many idle machines at night and during other hours in the day-time. The Board of Trade have carried out their concentration of industry policy. They are driving together nucleus firms. Surely, the Ministry of Supply could do the same, not by closing firms down, but by making each small unit produce the maximum number of parts of products which it is best able to do. This is a mechanised war, and we cannot afford inefficiency and lack of organisation of the kind which we have at the present time.
351 I believe we need to reorganise the area machinery. I wish to emphasise what I am going to say to all the Ministers on the Front Bench. Too many people who were retired in pre-war times are running the present machinery. Too many people who were retired in pre-war times are running the area machinery in particular. The result is that when the young, virile representatives of the employers and workpeople get into touch with these people they go away disheartened and heart-broken, and it has an effect upon them that we all wish to avoid. Here is an example taken from the "Times" of 24th June. This is the first time I have ever quoted the "Times."
§ Mr. Smith
For very obvious reasons. If the hon. Member remembers the policy that the "Times" and those associated with it have pursued during the past few years, he will realise that they have a great deal of responsibility for the present position. The "Times" says:It is an amazing thing that a regional commissioner, when asked to advise an important industrial undertaking on measures in anticipation of invasion, could only reply that he must wait and see what form the invasion took.What bigger condemnation could you have of a large number of people filling important positions in industrial centres in this country? That kind of attitude is too common. If the Prime Minister had adopted such an attitude, where should we have been now? We must have an efficient regional organisation for production. In my view, there are too many advisory committees. I believe in advisory committees where necessary, but what we want is a regional organisation with real power and with full authority to obtain the maximum production in the areas in which they function. Victory will not come of itself, as many people think it will. It will be secured only by efficient organisation, determination and courage. I know of one factory— I want to emphasise this— where a young production engineer was given full power to study methods of production. He made surveys, and checked up on delivery dates. He was very tactful as you have to be, especially when you are young, and used his authority with care. Within a 352 few months, there was a steady increase in aircraft output from that factory. In a year, there was a great increase. The board of directors of the group of factories called him to the board room, and highly congratulated him on the results. That policy could be followed in many factories.
The Minister of Supply and the Minister of Aircraft Production should set up a small corps of young production engineers, trained in large-scale industry, and give them full power and authority, to be used with discretion. I guarantee that that would result in a great acceleration in production. I want the Ronald Cartlands of industry to be given a chance, as they are in America and in Soviet Russia. Owing to historical reasons, which we cannot afford to perpetuate in war-time, they are being held back in this country. There are exceptions, I know. I know of one production engineer in the Midlands, who is about 70 years of age, but who in energy and in physique is many years younger. I want men of great experience like that, who can command the confidence of young men, to be asked to form groups of young production engineers. I put a Question the other day to the Minister of Air-'craft Production, and the Parliamentary Secretary replied:Undoubtedly there are certain factories where improvements could be affected by the institution of more modern methods."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st July, 1941; col. 1202, Vol. 372.]That is a condemnation. We must have the maximum production. It is well known among aeronautical engineers that our fighters are considerably superior to those of any other country. Why cannot we produce more and more of them, in order that people who are fighting our battles in other parts of the world, as we have been fighting theirs during the past two years, can have the benefit of our machines? The Minister of Labour spoke at a very representative conference in Manchester last week-end, at which there were delegates from the trade unions concerned with some of the largest aircraft and engineering factories in this country. He made a speech which was greatly appreciated, and which would send the men back to the factories on Sunday and on Monday reflecting the atmosphere of that conference in a way which would be of great value to the men with whom they worked. He referred to the need 353 for maintaining rhythm in production. I want to quote from a letter from a Midlands manufacturer, which appeared in the "Daily Telegraph" yesterday, on the subject of rhythm in production. I shall take only one or two extracts; but it is a very important letter, and I hope that the Minister of Supply will study it. The writer says:Mr. Bevin, speaking to representatives of employers and trade unionists, made good use of the word ' rhythm ' as the chief ingredient in a prescription for continuity of purpose. Nowhere, however, in production is rhythm more important than in continuity of orders to firms which have specially laid themselves out for certain supplies.He goes on:The result, uneconomical and discouraging to a degree, is that not only is the rhythm of manufacture destroyed, but the carefully and expensively trained semi-skilled labour is either dispersed and lost or employed in work of no importance in order to retain it in readiness for expected orders (incidentally spreading the ' disgruntlement ' through the works). If this trouble is anything like general there seems to be need for a co-ordinating section acting with the various regional area officers in order to maintain reasonable continuity of work for firms whose circumstances are known.That letter supports the plea that I have been making, for an improved regional organisation. In order that our people shall be encouraged, I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will take note of that matter, and deal with it as soon as possible. In regard to management, I do not want to open up a controversial issue, but I want to make one or two constructive suggestions, which I think will assist in eliminating suspicion and unnecessary friction, and will lead to an increase in output. Shop stewards are elected because, generally speaking, as a result of their record of service and general character, they have the confidence of their fellow-workers. Generally, these men are not lackeys or touts of the boss. They would refuse to stoop to anything of an underhanded character, and they have the complete confidence of those engaged in the factories. Where the management have been big enough to provide machinery to allow the men to speak in a representative way, there is very little friction. Grievances are dealt with immediately, with the result that they do not gather momentum. The Ministers of Labour, Aircraft Production, and Supply should get together as soon as possible, and consider what steps they should take in order to 354 get representative committees of that kind set up in all factories. Had there been more time, I would cite evidence, which I have here, to prove what I say. Committees were set up in 1918, and it is agreed that they played a big part in maintaining production.
One of the biggest difficulties of the present time, with regard to absenteeism and other problems, is the question of transport. Members on this side have raised that matter time after time during the last twelve months. The transport system is still far from satisfactory. Here are one or two instances of how it affects our people. Even in the summer time, owing to the lack of transport, it is the common practice for them to have to stand for ten or twenty minutes, and longer in some cases, in queues in the early morning, waiting for an omnibus. Imagine what that sort of thing means in the winter time, when there is more omnibus traffic. In the summer, thousands of our men and women travel to and fro on bicycles, and some by motorcar. As soon as the bad weather comes these men and women have to travel on the omnibuses, with the result that in large industrial centres there is congestion of a kind of which no one has any idea unless he has seen something of the traffic. This is how it affects production. Everyone has to turn out earlier in the morning which is bound to have an effect upon production. Workers have to stand in queues, often being almost starved through, and often in foggy and rainy weather or after standing in the snow, they arrive at their work in such a condition that they have to attend to their clothing. The cumulative effect of all this has an important effect upon morale and upon output, and I suggest that before the bad weather comes again the whole of the Ministers responsible should get to work in order to plan co-ordinated transport facilities in every industrial centre as early as possible.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)
The hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. E. Smith) always gives the Committee a most thoughtful examination of the industrial problem, and he has done so again today. I would also like to congratulate my hon. Friend the member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne) upon his magnificent speech. It seemed to bring fresh air and vitality almost for the first 355 time into this Debate. I returned to the House a day or two ago after an absence, with the exception of one or two fleeting visits, of over eight months on military service. During the latter part of that time it fell to my lot to see and to learn something of the day-to-day progress of the war in the Middle East. There was made available to me in particular something of the real character of the supply position out there and its effect upon the strategy of that campaign. I give away no military secret when I say that the account given to the Committee yesterday by the hon. and gallant Member for Hythe (Lieutenant Brabner) is abundantly true.
In the office in which I was placed there were laid on my table each morning the cables that came from the Middle East. Each morning there were placed beside them the casualty lists; and as the grim drama gathered momentum— in Libya, Greece, Crete, Iraq and in Syria— there seemed to come a cry from the fighting men in those countries; a cry for arms, for guns, tanks, anti-tank weapons, aeroplanes, ships, for weapons and arms of any and every kind with which to defend their lives and their homes and the country for which they were fighting. It was a cry that pierced the heart of everyone of us whose duty it was to read these dread documents. One had visions of men— Scots, English, Irish, Welsh— comrades whom we knew—lying there battered and bleeding, parched and hungry, thousands upon thousands of them, left there to die or fall into Nazi captivity. Why? Largely because, as the Prime Minister has said, they were denied the weapons with which to defend themselves.
That was my daily experience for many weeks. Often I felt desperate, yet I could do nothing about it. Supply was outside my province. It was in part in order to endeavour to help in some way, however small, to meet that dire need for greater arms that I sought release from military duties. For this House is the Council of Action of the nation. It is to Parliament that the cry of these gallant and forlorn men is directed. It is we here who should answer and must answer that cry to-day if freedom is to be saved, and further grievous and unnecessary sacrifice is to be avoided. I mean no disrespect whatever to hon. Members, and still less 356 to this House, which I revere, but with thoughts of that kind burning in my mind you will perhaps appreciate the disappointment, nay dismay, with which I listened to the Debate that took place yesterday. Although I sat through nearly the whole of the discussion I could discern no sign, no spark of realisation, on the one hand, of the tragedy of those lost divisions out in the Middle East, or on the other hand, of the vast and immediate problems demanding solution in our factories here at home. Even the Minister who replied yesterday, though his speech was admirable as an exposition of the work of his Department, seemed to me out of touch with the immensity and real nature of his task, and, above all, with its urgency, and that is the point which was so admirably dealt with by the hon. Gentleman earlier to-day.
It is not enough to assure the Committee, as did the Minister yesterday, that one Department now purchases for all the Supply Services; not enough to tell us that close co-operation now exists between the heads of the Services, and that that delicate problem of priorities is now a little less delicate than it was. It was not nearly enough for the Minister of Labour, who, I am sorry to say, has now left the Front Bench—I was hoping that he would be here—to present the House, as he did a few days ago, with yet another advisory committee on production, with other satellite advisory committees to be established in different parts of the country. There is no comfort in his boast a few days ago that "Britain has reached the highest point of production per man in history," because I do not think anyone believes that to be the case. It may be true of one or two selected trades where machine power has been multiplied— it would be appalling if it were not so. But for the munitions (including aircraft) industry as a whole, it is a statement unsupported, and, I believe, unsupportable, by any kind of evidence that is available either to him or to the House. On the contrary, as the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkin-son) said yesterday, and as evidence which has reached me from many sources, some of which I have been able to check, proves abundantly, the output per man in many kinds of war work is less, and in some cases much less, than in the last war 25 years ago.
357 But indeed the Minister of Labour disproves his claim by his own words and actions. If output is so satisfactorily high, why these endless, pathetic appeals for higher production to workers in almost every trade engaged in war supplies?
§ The Chairman
I would remind the hon. Member that the Vote for the Ministry of Labour is not before the Committee to-day.
I was thinking of the Minister in his capacity as Chairman of the Production Executive, which, I believe, would fall within the scope of this Debate. Why the amazing statement of the Chairman of the Production Executive of a few days ago, "I do not care how much you earn, so long as you give us the goods. … We will pay you, but we want the output"? Had there been time or a more favourable opportunity, I would have paused to examine that announcement, which I regard as the most serious and certainly the most questionable of all the many extraordinary utterances of the right hon. Gentleman in recent weeks. I can only ask him, or whoever is to reply to the Debate to-day, one or two questions. Does that announcement represent the considered policy of the Cabinet? If so, are we to assume that money, and money alone, is to be the inducement— I do not like to say bribe— offered to British workmen to produce arms in time of war? Is there now to be no limit at all to wages paid in the supply services?
§ Sir Robert Young, (Newton)
Has the hon. Gentleman ever heard of piece work, and is it not quite a legitimate thing for a Minister to say that men should make whatever they can if by so doing they are supplying an ever increasing quantity of equipment?
I want to know what that means. Is the same principle to apply to related services, such as agriculture, and will it extend to salaries and to profits? If all this is so, what then becomes of the Chancellor's Budget, which, in his own words, was based on the assumption that "the wages situation will be held where it now is "? Already since the Budget wages in 28 different trades have risen, and there are demands for further rises in many other trades. These are serious questions vitally affecting the war effort 358 and the effort of the two Departments concerned, and I think the Committee is entitled to an answer from the right hon. Gentleman or another member of the War Cabinet. I do beg the Government to abandon once and for all this degrading, timorous and futile business of appealing to men to do what is their duty in time of war. If there is any doubt about the futility of it, let the Minister of Labour say how many miners he got as a result of his appeals to men to move. These appeals are resented by conscientious men, and I believe they are demoralising to workers in all parts of the country.
The right hon. Gentleman is rather free in his denunciations of other people. He has called some of us "fifth columnists," but he had better be careful that he is not soon dubbed by the nation as the most dangerous "fifth columnist" of all. Certainly, the Fighting Services, who get neither bonus nor double pay for Sundays, and whose womenfolk are living on an allowance not more than one-fifth of the income of neighbours working in a munitions factory, have already a suitable title to offer.
§ Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)
The hon. Gentleman has just made a very serious statement. Does he suggest that the Fighting Services in this country regard my right hon. Friend, who is Chairman of the Production Executive, as endangering the war effort?
What is the complaint of the Fighting Services? It is that whereas the neighbour next door is receiving £ 10 or £12 per week, their wives are getting only 35s. a week. This is not the way to fight Hitler. This is playing at production. What is worse, it is playing at politics. One is tempted sometimes to feel that there is more blatant politics in some phases of this Government administration than in any war administration of the last century. Let us have done with it. It is neither appeals nor mollycoddling that the people want; it is inspired direction. The people are ready and eager to serve, but because; there are lazy and dishonest men among us you must lay down your laws and you must rule.
Thirteen months ago, in this House, a great speech was made on behalf of the Government, in which it was said:The Government are convinced that now is the time when we must mobilise to the full 359 the whole resources of this country. We must throw our whole weight into the struggle. Every private interest must give way to the urgent needs of the community … it is necessary that the Government should have complete control over persons and property— not just some persons of some particular class of the community but of all persons, rich and poor, employer or workman, man or woman, and all property. … The Minister of Labour will be given the power to direct any person to perform any services required of him. … The Minister will be able to prescribe the terms of remuneration, the hours of labour and conditions of service."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd May, 1940; cols. 151–155, Vol. 361.]These words were delivered by the right hon. Gentleman the Lord Privy Seal and were received with acclamation in all parts of the House. The Bill which was introduced was passed unanimously and at once and was accepted with enthusiasm by the whole country. The nation was thrilled; new hopes sprang in men's hearts; everywhere it was said, "Thank God, at last we mean business!" How the mighty have fallen during the last 13 months. The bright flame has spluttered and fizzled out. There is no longer fire but only noisy fury. Let us rekindle the flame. Let us recapture the temper and policy of the Emergency Powers Act which this House passed. Let us do that big, courageous thing which we undertook to the nation to do, and if the spirit has gone out of the present production chiefs, let them give way so that a new and more manly force may inspire our effort. There is one such available now— tried, tested, proved and to-day, I believe, as vital and as vigorous as before. Where he now, that old war leader, that champion in danger, that matchless organiser? Where is the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George)? He ought to be serving his country; the nation needs him. Has he been invited to join the Cabinet? I cannot believe that the Prime Minister has not sought his assistance at the present time. Has he declined the invitation? It is incredible that so valiant a patriot has not heeded the call. With such a spirit as his revitalising the War Cabinet, buttressing and supporting the Prime Minister in his lonely vigil, we can regain that first fine fighting rapture of last June and make the tools for early victory.
§ Sir Robert Young (Newton)
To-day we have listened to three very interesting speeches, and I have no doubt that what 360 was said by the hon. Member who opened the Debate will be considered by the various Government Departments. We heard many excellent suggestions from my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke (Mr. E. Smith). The hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) was inclined to criticise a little bit unfairly. He spoke of what was being said by the men in the Army about the allowances made to their wives, and I have no doubt that one can find criticisms of that kind, but it was my experience during the last war— and I daresay it would be my experience during this war if I were to move among the men in the Army, as I did then— that the first thing they said to me, and to the representatives of Labour in the House and in the Government, was that whatever happened we must not lower their wage standards against the day when they returned. I regret that the hon. Member for East Fife goes about encouraging people to find fault with the agreements arranged between employers and workmen. That is not something which helps the war effort.
§ Sir R. Young
In rising to express a few thoughts on the important topic we are discussing, I do not wish particularly to controvert or to confirm any special points raised by the hon. Member. I take it that every hon. Member is of opinion that our duty is not so much to criticise the Government as to help them in the very great, responsible, and difficult task which confronts them in speeding up the production of war materials, of which there is at present a very great shortage. If any special blame devolves upon anyone for hindering production, those in controlling positions are best able to tell us where that blame lies. In that connection, I was very glad to read that the Minister of Labour has publicly stated during the past few days:The number of lost working days during the past year was small compared with the number of lost working days during any and every year of the last Great War.I do not say that any of those lost days during the past year were excusable, but I do say that it is our job to find out how and why they were lost, and as far as possible prevent the causes from reappearing in the days that lie immediately ahead. Those who take part in this Debate will render no useful service if their 361 contributions are based on a readiness to advertise ill-informed statements of what is taking place in our workshops and munitions factories. Neither will it be fair criticism to forget the shortages caused by the disasters in France, Greece and Crete, plus the loss and interruption to our manufacturing agencies through enemy action in this country. In the main, we salvaged the men— which is the proper thing to do— rather than the war materials in those theatres of war. Moreover, I think that certain critics should not ignore their own attitude towards rearmament in the years immediately preceding the war. If we are not now in the required state of productive efficiency which is necessary for victory, I have no hesitation in telling my fellow workmen that the complacency of the House, as well as the failure of some managements and some men, is to blame. In any case, I do not think we have any right to blame the Prime Minister, the Minister of Labour or the Minister of Aircraft Production; they have given warnings and made appeals to the country to get a move on in its productive effort. I remember when the Prime Minister sat on the Front Bench below the Gangway opposite and asked for the healthy growls of 50 Government supporters. In the Division Lobby, I asked him whether he would get them, and he replied that he would not get five. I do not think he did.
What is hindering production at the present time? Reference has already been made to the method of fixing priorities for this, that, or the other essential manufacturing commodity. Is that method working smoothly and swiftly? Is it too rigid? Some of us think that it is. Or is it flexible enough to be switched over to the thing that we want to-day as against the thing that we wanted yesterday? During the last war, we had periods of acute shortage of war materials. My duty as general secretary of a large trade union was to assist in speeding up production. That was not an easy job. Production was hindered by war profiteering on the one hand, and by industrial disputes and stoppages on the other hand. I am glad to say that only to a limited extent do these things exist to-day. At that time we had to bring skilled men out of the Army. Now we have in the Army, and need in the Army, more skilled men than 362 we did then. I remember that in the last war some of those skilled men, after a conversation I had with them at Ypres, said, or rather shouted it after me, "Hurry up with the shells." There are many shortages to-day. Every Government Department admits this. During War Weapons weeks the hoardings advertise the fact aloud. The shells must be hurried up in many different directions to-day, by the Government this time as well as by the country.
After going from factory to factory, and going among the workmen, I believe that the Government, the employers, and the workmen, know that increased production of those on war work is necessary to make up the shortages. The question for us to decide at the moment is whether those shortages are unavoidable or blamelessly explainable, whether they can be prevented, and if so how, and how soon in the very near future. Perhaps the Government will be able to tell us that. Provided we have the luck to escape the dislocation and destruction of our factories and shipyards and of our airfields, provided we have sufficient supplies of the materials required for the manufacture of urgent war supplies, and provided we have workpeople in sufficient numbers in our factories to do the work, then only bad management or mismanagement on the part of the Government; or the employers, or absenteeism or ca'canny on the part of the workers, can restrict production.
Let me take these in their order, and if the statements I have heard are facts they may serve as examples, although I do not vouch for accuracy, because only investigation will prove that. Such statements are the basis for much misunderstanding. Some of these statements arise to my own personal knowledge from observation minus correct information. Here is one against the Government. I am told that some American aeroplanes are overhauled on delivery. I can understand there being inspection, examination and adjustment, but it is alleged that these overhauls reduce the speed of these machines by 30 miles per hour, much to the annoyance of the American representatives. If that be true, there must have been something wrong with the drawings and specifications in the first instance, in so far as they were incapable of producing the kind 363 of machine wanted by our airmen. As a result of these overhauls time, money and labour, which might very properly have been used in other directions, are expended.
I will now give an example of bad management on the part of an employer of labour. I was at Colchester on Saturday last. I was told of men who had no work to do being kept in the works. That in itself is not wrong. It may arise as a result of a breakdown and the repairs taking up more time than was anticipated. It may arise through non-delivery of a component part of the product to be constructed, or it may arise through the want of correlation of production between one part and another of the same machine. The bad management arises from the fact that the men are regularly kept in the works and paid overtime for which no work, or practically no work, has been done. There can be only one explanation of that. Either the contract price is so high and this method of payment hides it, or there is some provision for overhead charges which benefits the financial position of the employer. No employer should be allowed to do that. It should be prohibited, and the employer penalised if such methods are adopted.
Mismanagement arises from a number of factors. As has been said by the hon. Member for Stoke, one of the chief factors is the inability of some employers to appreciate the strain endured by men working so many hours. There is an absence of consideration for their comfort, lack of proper feeding arrangements, and a readiness to penalise workers if they are late because of poor transport facilities. Again, no attempt is made to inform the workers why they are standing idle, or why the job which they are supposed to be doing is held back. I will give an instance of that. The workers in a certain factory complained to me that they were marking time when they wanted to be busy. I felt sure the factory was not responsible, and on inquiry I found that enemy action had temporarily placed another factory out of production, with the result that a certain component part was not obtainable. I suggest that it would be a good thing if a representative of the workers, trusted by employers and workers alike, was told, without giving away detailed 364 information, why work had been held up. That would remove the causes of complaint and the feelings of anger against the employer, who for some reason or other was thought to be holding up production. I pass the suggestion on, because work in our factories must not be lessened as a result of withholding information which would explain to the workers why certain things take place.
I now turn to the other side. The main complaint against workpeople is absenteeism and short time. In peacetime you can analyse the causes, but in war-time that is impossible. In industrial areas air raids are responsible, and longer travelling distances and inadequate transport facilities contribute to the problem. The employment of husbands and wives and other domestic adjustments, as well as fatigue, and short periods of physical and mental indisposition, are other factors. The strain is too great for many of the workers, not so much because of the hours worked, but because of the infrequent and ill-arranged periods of prolonged rest. Many hours of work with intensified application can be worked, providing there are regular periods of 24 hours or 315 hours' rest. I speak from personal knowledge and observation in the workshops. There is another cause of absenteeism due to the fact that if a man is a little late he is kept out of the factory, and he is unlikely to present himself until the next meal hour, or perhaps not at all that day. I do not know what general arrangements are now made under the changed working conditions for dealing with accidental and unintentional lateness for work. In some factories it means a loss of a morning. I was more fortunate in my place of work, and I believe the loss of working hours was lessened thereby. If I was not in at 6 in the morning, I lost a quarter of an hour. If I was not in until 6.15, I lost half-an-hour. If I was not in until 6.30, I lost an hour. That loss was not sufficiently large in its penalty to keep me from going to work at 7 o'clock in the morning. Ca'canny, or taking it easy, is certainly much more reprehensible in war-time than at any other time. The lives of our soldiers, sailors and airmen and of our women and children depend on the increased production of those on war work.
365 My own opinion is that it is the duty of those who work to supply those who fight with the essential machinery of warfare for their safety and our security, for their victory and our reward in helping to bring a righteous peace to a war-stricken world. I have no doubt—that is why I say I try to look at these things from the point of view of the person I am attacking-— that political considerations are responsible for some of the workshop difficulties during the past year. It appears, now that Russia has been forced into the war, that some of these difficulties will be removed, but for myself I cannot see that the urgency of concentrated activity in the factories is greater now than it has ever been since the war started. The unparalleled danger recently discovered by some of our Communist friends has always been with us, and they did not help very much to counter it. We are told that every minute counts now. We must go on increasing our production and must throw all our weight into the fight, so that we shall batter hell out of Hitler and Fascism. I hope that, with unity of industrial purpose, the Minister of Labour will have fewer lost days to report and our production departments greater and speedier supplies of war material.
I am of opinion that production can be hindered or increased by faulty or wise direction, but I am also of opinion that it can be neutralised by publicity in certain directions. We should not warn the enemy of his danger. If the enemy knows that you are producing an instrument which will effectively deal with his offensive weapons, he will transfer them for more intensive use to some more vulnerable area. Is that wise from the point of view of production? I have read in the papers about the special features of a predictor, and I daresay I could get further information from the technical journals. Is that wise from the point of view of production? Our enemies are not ignorant. They get to know. They can put these things together. This is an example. The fact that it exists warns the enemy and sets him to making a similar and better instrument, with the result that the effectiveness of our production is decreased, whereas if we destroy a hundred aeroplanes by an unknown weapon, we in fact increase our superiority to that extent. Also by doing so we save time, 366 labour and materials for other things. I trust that information thus given away to satisfy useless home curiosity will be checked in relation to these instruments of war. I trust that employers guilty of mismanagement and of, shall I say, careless manufacturing, of which I have heard cases, will be penalised. I trust that the workman who does not accept the arrangements laid down by the trade unions for settling labour difficulties will be told to toe the line laid down for his guidance. Let the responsible organisations do the work. If he is not willing to do it, I agree with the hon. Member opposite that he should have to choose between that and being immediately asked to join one of the Fighting Services. We have to win this war on production as well as other things in the interest of production and the well-being of our workers.
§ Sir Richard Acland (Barnstaple)
The Parliamentary Secretary, in summing up yesterday, told us he would very much like definite information about things that are going wrong. Obviously the information that we have is second-hand, and, if it is to be of any use, we have to produce our original sources. Can the Minister give and implement an undertaking that when we bring evidence of anything that is going wrong, even if that evidence when sifted appears capable of carrying an interpretation other than that which we supposed, neither the witnesses nor the firms they represent shall be penalised under the Official Secrets Act or shall be subjected to bludgeoning by the major financial interests in the industry in which they are engaged, against whom they will usually have been testifying? Can the Minister with his lips give and in practice implement that guarantee, because if it can be given, there are hon. Members who have shoals of cases to give him of things that are utterly wrong about which they know?
It is no use my saying to him that I am told of this, that or the other fact, such as that one of his controllers has resolutely killed and stifled any project for increasing the output of something or other, because an incidental effect of that proposal would be to leave at the end of the war productive capacity outside the control of the controller and his gang. It is no use my giving such a case because somebody will get up and say, "Who is it?" If I then go to my friend and say, 367 "I told them in the House what you told me; can I tell them that it was you who told me?" He will say, "No, you cannot, because I shall be prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act, even if my evidence is accepted to the extent perhaps that some underling of this gang gets a rapping over the knuckles. I do not mind about getting the sack myself, but I am thinking of my managing director who has helped me throughout my life and who will be let down because he will have no more contracts and will have obstacles put in his way." Are the Government strong enough to give and to implement a guarantee that if people come forward with evidence, the witnesses and the firms they represent will be safeguarded and will not be prejudiced? If so, there is not an hon. Member who cannot tell the Government of things that are going wrong. In 50 per cent, of the cases there may be an explanation, but in the other 50 per cent, the complaints will be worth looking into. I ask for that guarantee to be given in the speech that concludes this Debate. If it is not, it is no use asking Members to give specific instances.
I want to make one comment on the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne), with every word of which I agree, so far as it went. He talked a lot about equality. Would it not be a splendid thing if somebody from trial side mentioned the case of the tax-free director who is getting £2,000, £3,000, £10,000, and even £25,000 a year? It is pathetic to argue in terms of shillings and sixpences about inequalities between one grade and another and one factory and another, when all the time there is this monstrous inequality of which everybody on that side of the House seems to be utterly unaware. It would mean an enormous increase in the morale of the country if action were taken to provide that no company director should receive more money for the duration of the war than a field-marshal. I ask any Member on the other side of the House to get up and say that in his opinion there is not any company director who deserves to receive more than General Wavell. If anybody says that a company director does deserve more, let me hear it, but if nobody says that, I trust that back benchers on the other side will put their names to a resolution that all company 368 directors' salaries should be reduced to that of a major-general.
This is but one small part of a single phenomenon. You cannot organise for maximum war production through channels which are inevitably compelled to have more than half their attention fixed on the question, "What will be the position of my firm when the war is over?" I submit that to the Government and to every hon. Member as absolutely fundamental. I read a letter in the "Daily Telegraph" a little while ago from the managing director of a firm producing munitions. He said:My quarrel is not with the courteous Government Departments, but with the whole national policy which still seeks to reach maxi- ' mum production of war supplies without seriously interfering with the competitive, individual and profit-making basis of our industrial system.I have been saying this kind of thing in the House almost since the outbreak of the war. Nobody has ever answered it and no Minister in replying to a Debate has ever commented upon it. With their heads buried in the sand every Member is treating the problem as if it does not exist. I say that it does exist and that it is widely felt to exist among the common people. The sooner we make up our minds to the fact that we must interfere with this old economic system of ours before we can get through the war or have any chance of reconstructing ourselves in the peace, the better it will be. The letter goes on to say:My firm desires only to produce and to keep on producing, but we are daily forced to do things which are contrary to the public interest and to omit doing things which would be in the public interest, because the system imposes upon us as a first consideration the need for making our own living and ensuring our future.That is the fundamental problem at the basis of all our difficulties. May I give a few of the things which result from the fact that the actual managers who are responsible for running firms are themselves either shareholders or responsible to shareholders who have their eyes inevitably fixed on their own position after the war? You cannot get the machine-tool industry to take women into their factories in many cases because the firms know that if at the end of the war they are staffed largely with women, the women will go and they will be left without staffs. 369 So, in the interests of their future, they sacrifice our present. You cannot get firms to pool their secrets. The Ministry of Supply has not compelled and in many cases has not asked firms to pool their secrets because the firms want to keep the one thing which may be of some value to them in the future exclusively to themselves. When firms through circumstances beyond their control have no work to do for a fortnight or three weeks, they will not send their skilled men to work for other firms because they ask, "What will happen to us if we lose our skilled men?"— once again looking upon themselves as a little unit, as they must in this economic system, instead of looking on the national effort. You cannot persuade factory A to concentrate on product A, factory B on product B, and so on. You are compelled even now, 23 months after the war, to have factories A, B, C and D making product A, B, C and D. These firms resist your efforts at concentration of production, because they say, "If we fall in with this suggestion of yours what will our position be after the war, when we have got out of the habit of making B, C, D, E, F and G after two years of concentrating on A?"
Lastly, some, but not all, of the controllers, drawn almost always from the biggest firms, arc deliberately stifling proposals which would increase national output because those same proposals would result, after the war, in there being competitive productive capacity outside the control of the powerful organisation from which the Government controller was drawn and to which he intends to return. I have often expressed the view that without a complete revolution of our way of life we shall succeed neither in production for war nor in reconstruction for peace; but leaving that point of view aside now, I do say that we shall not straighten out this production tangle until we buy out the whole engineering industry. I leave it to the Government to try and explain how, short of that, they can organise national production. They cannot do it through the medium of people who are bound to look first and foremost upon their own firms as individual units, and only secondly at the national effort as a whole.
§ Mr. J. J. Davidson (Glasgow, Maryhill)
I want to start on rather an explanatory note, because so often when 370 a Scottish Member intervenes in such a Debate and refers, as is only natural, to events in Scotland, he is looked upon either as a rabid Scottish Nationalist or as one coming from a foreign country who is disgusted with English methods of working. Therefore, I want to make it clear that my only object in speaking to-day is to draw attention to some of the glaring examples of waste which are occurring in the Scottish heavy industries through a lack of Government planning and proper direction. I would strengthen the plea made by the hon. Baronet the Member for Barnstaple (Sir R. Acland) that when evidence is submitted to the Ministers at the head of Departments those submitting that evidence should be assured that there will be no victimisation, because it has been my experience that when certain firms in Scotland made representations to Departments with regard to contracts they afterwards found themselves suffering from a spate of complaints from those Departments such as had never been made to them before. To corroborate my statement I will give one or two instances of our difficulties in Scotland, at the same time reminding hon. Members that in my maiden speech in Parliament in 1935 I expressed the hope that whatever any hon. Member said here, no matter for what party he spoke, would result in decisions and legislation that would be representative of the thoughts of the majority of Members. 1 take that attitude to-day, and trust that it will be understood that when I refer to Scottish organisations and Scottish industries I am referring to them in connection with the past they are playing in war production for the defence of the Empire.
I have been very busy dealing with the question of contracts given to organisations in the North, and I feel that it is time that the Government or the Treasury, or whichever Minister is responsible, got down to the question of setting up a central organisation for the allocation of contracts for important war production In connection with the erection of ordnance factories in Scotland, certain representations have been made by reputable civil engineering and building contractors, some of them firms more than a century old, who have always in the past carried out their contracts within scheduled time and always worked to the 371 satisfaction of the various Departments. Since the war started an organisation has grown up called Wimpeys Limited, who are undertaking roughly £ 40,000,000 worth of work in this country. I consider that my figure of £ 40,000,000 is a moderate figure. When I raised the question previously the late Prime Minister stated that he could not agree that the figure was £65,000,000 but he did not say whether it was £66,000,000 or £ 63,000,000. My information is that this firm of Wimpeys Limited have undertaken roughly about £40,000,000 worth of contracts on behalf of the Government. As an ordinary man, with ordinary common sense, I say that at a time when we want to speed up the war effort there is no one organisation in this country which can undertake. £ 40,000,000 worth of Government work and do the work speedily and efficiently.
Firms in Scotland have protested against this position. One firm who had worked at Rosyth Dockyard in their day and done a good job complained that they had had no opportunity to tender for certain work. They are a firm with an efficient organisation, with a weekly pay roll of £ 5,000, and with all the plant and machinery necessary to do good work for the Government. After they had protested against this other firm receiving contracts they encountered a spate of complaints from the Departments concerned about the work they had done in the past. They were a firm who had never had a complaint raised against them before, had never had one criticism of their work before, who had done work for the Admiralty and been complimented upon it; but as soon as they raised an objection to Wimpeys receiving contracts without competition complaints came in from Government Departments, and they had to send for Colonel Arthur, from Edinburgh, and a Mr. Reid, of a firm of architects of world-wide repute, to go over their work, draw up an independent report and submit it to the Government Department in order to make them retract their implications against their workmanship.
I have the papers here about another firm in Glasgow, Jackson Brown and Company, which firm is 100 years old. This firm has undertaken important work. Jackson Brown and Company built St. 372 Andrews House, the Scottish Government buildings, without complaint. They built Lewis's Polytechnic without complaint, and they have been retained by the great organisation for future work. They have undertaken work at another ordnance factory, to the extent of £ 500,000 or more. Since they stood up against the other firm and said that they would not collaborate as sub-contractors with that firm, because they had all the building materials and their own organisation in Scotland, they have been blackmarked, and, for more than a year, £ 40,000 worth of their plant has been lying idle. They have been hiring about £30,000 worth of plant out to third-party firms who have come hundreds of miles to do Government work for which they have no organisation, although the work was practically upon Jackson Brown's doorstep.
This reminds me of Tammany Hall politics, and I say frankly— I do not intend to mince my words— that there must be some sinister influence at work when reputable firms can be smashed although they are controlled by business men of undoubted loyalty to this country and have carried on for more than a century with out any complaint. To-day these people are refused even the opportunity of tendering, while another firm can go to the North or South of Scotland, the North or South of England or to South Wales, and can be given millions of pounds' worth of Government work to do. I want to know who is the bigger in the woodpile. Who is backing the other organisation? The chairman of the organisation which is carrying out £ 40,000,000 worth of work for the Government has recently been appointed by the Minister of Works and Buildings to be controller of building materials in this country. I am making a straightforward statement and—
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Colonel Clifton Brown)
I would remind the hon. Gentleman that he is now introducing matter which concerns the Ministry of Works and Buildings, which does not come under this Vote.
§ Mr. Davidson
I am referring to the appointment of an individual, whose firm is engaged in building ordnance factories for aircraft production and for general war production all over the country. I was endeavouring to make it clear that this man, who is the head of the organisation 373 concerned, has now been appointed to a responsible position.
§ Mr. Davidson
I bow to your Ruling. I agree that it must be so, but indirectly it is related to the subject that is before us. I would point out very respectfully to you that this —
§ It being the hour appointed for the Consideration of opposed Private Business, and there being Private Business set down, by direction of the Chairman of Ways and Means, under Standing Order No. 6, further Proceeding was postponed, without Question put.