§ Again considered in Committee.
§ [COLONEL CLIFTON BROWN in the Chair.]
Postponed proceeding on Question,
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.
§ Question again proposed.
As I was explaining when the proceedings were interrupted, I would like to ask what influence and what qualifications arc possessed by the individual to whom I was referring. It is my definite information that the organisation to which he belongs has been barred by the Hendon local council from doing any work for the council and that the organisation has also been the subject of serious investigation by a sub-committee of the Select Committee on National Expenditure. I would like to give one or two instances in order to strengthen my case that greater consideration should be given to important war-production contracts.
§ The Minister of Aircraft Production (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon)
Is the gentleman referred to a Scotsman?
No, Sir. That was a rather frivolous interjection. I am here as a British representative in the House of Commons, but I would say that the gentleman is not a Scotsman, not a Welshman, not an Englishman, and not an Irishman. The imagination of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is fertile, and he will no doubt understand the place to which this individual belongs. I am trying to obtain consideration of this matter, and I feel it my duty to make these things clear. The firm of Jackson, Brown and Company, who have not received a contract for over a year, are on Air Ministry work of national importance, hiring plant, worth thousands of pounds, through third parties who must make a profit and have their rake-off. What is worse, the firm are retaining indefinitely, in their yard, diggers, scrapers, and plant of that description at a cost of £ 25 per week. They have retained it for some future contract of which they have been assured from the Government.
As the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Aircraft Production is present, let me give a number of instances. In a certain area in Scotland, the extension of certain works for aircraft production was decided upon. I have raised this matter once before, and to repeat it now will do no harm. None of the Scottish firms knew about this work, but one firm with its ear to the ground heard that two men were travelling from London to the Central Station Hotel, Glasgow, with power to place the contract. The contract was divided into two parts, one part for certain little ovens and the other for a general building contract for £ 185,000, a total of about £ 220,000. Members of this Scottish firm waited at the Central Station Hotel to meet the representatives. They met one man on the train at night, who said he was empowered to place only one part of his contract. I want hon. Members and the Minister to note that this was during the time when we were in very serious difficulties with regard to aircraft production, when our boys in the air were fighting at very great odds and the House of Commons were determined that every step should be taken to secure an efficient production.
This man travelled from London, and at the Central Station Hotel told this Scottish firm that he could place only one part—the smallest part— of the contract, but that another man was coining the 375 following day to whom they could talk about the other part. So they waited for the second man, and when he arrived he said that the other part of the contract had been given out already, and they would not receive even the small part already promised. This part of the con-tract was handed to Paulines, an organisation which has never undertaken this type of work before. It had concentrated on the building of railways and had never had any connection with this type of work. Paulines had to go to the other firms which had been waiting on the doorstep for something to do and say to them, "For goodness' sake, lend us your plant; we will pay you any hiring fee you like, but let us have your plant so that we can get on with the job." They had no organisation, no labour and no plant, yet they received the contract over the heads of three Scottish organisations which were three miles from the site. That is waste and extravagance, and is not speedy production. I can prove to any independent-minded committee that seven important days were lost before the firm could start on that contract; seven important days were lost in scraping up plant from the Scottish contractors who were doing nothing themselves. That sort of thing has got to be stopped.
I have been taking this question up for many years, and I have been appealed to by many organisations to bring them before some representative. We organised a meeting of the National Sub-Committee at which six Scottish contractors were present, all of them men of undoubted loyalty, men who stated that so far as profits were concerned they did not want to make any exceptional profit at all; they wanted to keep their organisations intact by undertaking important Government work so that at the end of the war their organisations would be ready and -equipped to undertake the great work of reconstruction which will have to be carried out afterwards. I could cite case after case. There was one firm— not a big one— who had built married quarters for the police at a big ordnance factory. They did it efficiently and well, and were asked to carry on and erect the buildings for the single police. One week later the firm of Wimpeys, who are already undertaking millions of pounds' worth of work elsewhere, stepped in and got this 376 small job from the small contractor, who has since crashed owing to lack of orders. Another firm, Craigs, of Glasgow, appealed for me to do something for them. They had undertaken work for the Government, they could not get their payments, and the bank was coming down on them heavily. They have gone smash. They had been built up by one man into a sound and safe organisation for the efficient war production that this country so badly needs. Strangely enough, I have had employers in these industries coming to me and saying, "This is enough to make me into a Scottish Nationalist, when we are treated this way." They have to come down here, go to the various Ministries, appeal, beg and almost get down on their knees for some work in order to keep their organisation and their men intact. I can cite 20 cases of the same character, of the most unnecessary passing-over of these firms which are capable and efficient.
My last question is this: Why is it that, when these firms which are willing to do their part for the country can make no headway in the Government Departments, the firm of Sunleys, which went bankrupt not so very long ago, was immediately flooded with contracts when it was reformed as the Landing Grounds Corporation? This firm had gone bankrupt and had let the Ministry and the Government down because they could not fulfil their contracts. Yet when they re-formed they received contracts over the heads of these Scottish firms which have never been in trouble in their lives before. This is the sort of thing that requires investigation. I make bold to say that there must be some influences at work— there must be something very funny— that allows this sort of thing to go on, and I do hope that my representations here today will at least bring about the consideration of the whole question of the allocation of important war contracts so far as Scotland is concerned. There is one other point I would like to raise, and that is with regard to the question of labour.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I ruled out labour questions yesterday. They arise on the Ministry of Labour Vote, and not on this Vote.
Of course there is a difficulty; I was about to refer to labour being taken from one place to another for aircraft production.
I accept your Ruling, Colonel Clifton Brown, though I feel, as others have felt, that the restriction of this Debate has placed serious liabilities on some Members who wished to put their point of view before the Government. However, I will conclude by saying that I will raise this question at the appropriate time because aircraft production is most necessary. It is necessary even now that" everything should be done to speed up aircraft production, and if there are any points at which aircraft production is being impeded, I should have thought it would have been in Order to mention them to-day. I will simply say, however, that I will raise, on another occasion this question of women being transferred from Glasgow to places from which other women, are being sent to Glasgow.
§ Rear-Admiral Beamish (Lewes)
An opportunity now presents itself for one who does not usually take part in discussions concerning Supply to make a few general remarks on the situation as it strikes him. In this somewhat thin and, if I may say so, unexcited Committee, one sees an indication that things are not nearly as serious as some of the critics would have us believe. I cannot help feeling that we have been discussing to-day, and yesterday, one aspect of the conduct of the war, part of a vast picture of the national effort, which has to its credit many great achievements and to its discredit many mistakes, many setbacks and many defeats. I say that the picture, looked at as a whole, and combined with the work of the fighting Forces, is really something to be greatly admired. It would never do— and I least of all would advocate it— that criticism should be stifled. That is something to which I should never agree. I do not want, however, to embark upon what is, in many respects, the fascinating, intoxicating and facile pastime of criticism, but just to say a few words about war factories, as I know them, in a very small way, and compare them with other factories about which I know rather more. 378 These war factories have suffered from colossal difficulties and I hope that I shall be forgiven, or rather understood, if I say that their establishment is comparable with the creation of an Army and an Air Force. It is an enormously difficult task. What must we, as a nation, bring to the solution of that great task? These war facories are and have been very widely assailed with the bitterest criticism, and all sorts of crimes have been imputed to the managements and workers. I do suggest, greatly daring, that what is wanted in much greater measure is sympathy, some help, and some understanding, rather than criticisms of which we had, to my mind, a very unpleasant example yesterday from the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. A. Hopkinson). It serves no purpose, and is no help of any kind whatever to our war effort.
What happens in the case of these war factories? A great bare site is taken, a vast factory is built upon it. Management and workers are then required, and there are no managements or workers ready to hand. They have to be found from somewhere. Ultimately you get them, and you find inexperienced managers, inexperienced foremen, inexperienced charge hands and a vast body of trainees, both men and women. There is no opportunity whatever of giving these people an opportunity of being trained quietly and slowly. What happens is that you get this vast amorphous crew, so to speak, in a factory, and hope that it is going to work. Is there cause for wonder that from time to time you have the greatest possible difficulty? As far as these trainees are concerned—not to speak for the moment about charge hands and others of whom I have considerable knowledge—they have no past history connected with the industry, in which they may be taking part. They have a feeling, not unnaturally, that they are not there for all time; they do not care particularly. With the exception of a brilliant percentage you find that many of them are not at all easy people to persuade in method.-; of production. They have behind them no tradition of pride and loyalty and many other things that are acquired in the ordinary peace-time factory. There is no particular good name attached to a vast war-time factory. I ask that the public, at any rate—not the House of Commons because the House of Commons already knows it—shall be made to realise what 379 the difficulties are. That leads me to say that the Press have been, in many respects extremely unhelpful in this respect.
There is only one criticism in anything I have to say and it perhaps is due to my history as a member of a disciplined service for many years. I know that, however good the management, however good the workers in your factory, from time to time you will certainly get some men who have been, perhaps, discharged from several other factories, and who are rather difficult by nature. They are not necessarily difficult by intention, but wherever they go, in some queer way, trouble arises. I am told there are such individuals at the present time, and that they are known as "men working their passage." My criticism is that, with regard to these individuals, who are really not helping, but are doing their best for various reasons to keep back the progress of wartime factories, whoever is responsible, whether it be the Home Secretary or the Minister of Labour, should use his powers to prosecute them.
§ Mr. Mainwaring (Rhondda East)
On a point of Order. Is not this a question regarding the Ministry of Labour?
§ The Deputy-Chairman
The hon. and gallant Member is quite in Order. He is discussing conditions inside the factories.
§ Rear-Admiral Beamish
I am referring to the discipline in the war factories— the factories under the Ministries of Aircraft Production and Supply. I was going to say that I would willingly and happily extend the principle and bring pressure to bear on incompetent management, just as strongly as I would upon the incompetent and troublesome worker. I cannot imagine anybody, to whatever party he may belong, who could really cavil at that proposition. There is no comparison between the difficulties of the war factories and the difficulties of the peace factories. Even if one goes to them nowadays one finds that peace-time factories have an atmosphere of order and, as I said just now, pride, tradition and loyalty. So I would say in these very general remarks, which are largely intended for the Press, that these attacks on the war effort, whether they may be on the fighting Services, or the producing 380 Services of the national effort, are too often unfair and are very often based on very poor evidence indeed. These factories have been created at record speed, and record effort has been expended to make them the remarkable organisations that they are; and I think we should be more grateful than we are. The managers, the foremen, the workers, have all, without exception, incomparably greater tasks and responsibilities than were borne by those engaged in peace-time factories. Members may have noticed in the Press on 4th July an accusation in connection with the making and selling of model aeroplanes. The "Daily Mail" suggested that these aeroplanes, made of brass and chromium-plated, had in fact been made in war factories in what is called "idle time." They were being sold in public houses and elsewhere. I wrote to someone on the spot, and he made an inquiry. I can say that there is no foundation whatever for that accusation against the war factories. In fact, these very simple and crude brass castings were made by a small tradesman, and had nothing to do with any war factory. That they should have been made of brass was perhaps wrong. Brass should not be used in war-time for making model aeroplanes. It should be used for making cartridge cases and other things of that sort. I mention this only because I do not see why any organ of the Press should get away with stories of that kind, even if the individual who writes them and thinks he has done something clever, belongs to that odd class described as "licensed observers at the peep-show of human misery." I think it is extremely unfortunate that some sections of the Press should persist in these attacks on our war factories.
§ Mr. Stokes (Ipswich)
A short time ago my hon. Friend the Member for Maryhill (Mr. J. J. Davidson) gave a very interesting example of something which, if it is true—and I have no reason to believe that it is not—needs very careful investigation. I am not in a position to support what he has said specifically on that case, but I would suggest to the Ministers concerned that the subject-matter of his remarks call for very serious attention. The position, as I understand it, is that if you buy new plant and use it on a job you may not write it off against a contract, but that if you hire plant from an- 381 other contractor at a high price that counts as a prime cost item, and is allowed in the cost of the whole work. I can give as many examples as the Minister cares to ask for to show that that practice is very prevalent.
I had not the opportunity of hearing the whole of the speech of the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne). He and the hon. Member for Faversham (Sir A. Maitland) have both spoken on this vexed, and, in my opinion, much exaggerated, question of absenteeism. The hon. Member for Kidderminster to-day took the view, as I do, that absenteeism itself is not nearly as bad as it is sometimes made out to be. I would like to point out to hon. Members who are not familiar with heavy engineering, at any rate, that absenteeism is not always the men's fault. The first cause is too-long working hours. I should like to hear the Minister say that he is going to throw his weight on the side of abolishing Sunday work altogether. It is wrong to expect men to work seven days a week. It is a fact that when factories have been running seven days a week over a long period men naturally stand off, and if I were in their place I should certainly not choose as a day off the day for which I got most pay. It would be to the advantage of all if Sunday work were abolished, except for essential repairs and production jobs of exceptionally great urgency, and, of course, where it is necessary to keep a two-shift or a three-shift system running. I would like to pay this tribute to the people with whom I work. When this complaint was made, I had a careful check taken of the percentages of absenteeism. In one of the factories with which I am connected absenteeism is below one per cent.—and it is going to be a great deal lower, with the co-operation of all concerned. That is as low as we can expect to get.
In what I thought to be an admirable maiden speech yesterday, the hon. and gallant Member for Hythe (Lieutenant Brabner) made a most astonishing statement. May I say that it is refreshing to have somebody who has done some fighting in this war come back and talk about fighting? He referred to the experiences he had had with tanks in Greece. He said that So per cent, of the tanks did not reach the enemy, because they had broken down. Was that for lack of spare parts 382 or for lack of adequate travelling repair depots about which complaint was made after Dunkirk? That brings to my mind a matter referred to by the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) at Question Time yesterday. When returns of production are asked for, perhaps enough emphasis is not laid upon the importance of having adequate spares to support every machine in the field. The fault, I am sure, lies at the door of the Cabinet, who like to see large figures of production of machines, and are not vitally concerned as to whether the spare parts are there. The tendency is to get the machines away, regardless of whether there are adequate spares and service behind them.
I should like to make one or two observations which I think should be helpful to both management and men on this vital production issue. I want to deal with time-saving, labour-saving, and efficiency generally. I wonder, are the Ministers satisfied that sufficient and adequate immediate-cover shelters are available for all the men in the factories? We are bound to be troubled by air raids. The men are told to get on with the job, and to disregard aeroplanes overhead, to realise that they are in the front line. As I have said before, in many ways the man in the production shop is in a worse position than the man in the front line, who spends all his time looking for the enemy, and has nothing else to do. You excite the man in the factory by blowing as many sirens as possible, and then you tell him to take no notice, and not to let production down. In my experience, there is no reason whatever why adequate blast-proof shelter should not be provided for all the men in a shop, within 15 seconds of their places of work. I am not satisfied that that is being done. If it is not done, it will inevitably lead to a colossal waste of time, because you cannot expect men to stay at their jobs unless they have a really properly constructed funkhole next door into which they can get at a moment's notice, more especially if you continue the present ridiculous scheme of sirens screaming.
Cannot some arrangement be made for the centralisation of inspection? The present method leads to a colossal waste of time and money. I will give my own example. In the course of five months, roughly speaking, about 130 working 383 days, we had no visits from 25 different inspectors, many of whom came down in motor cars and the rest of it, representing a colossal waste of time and money. Surely, it should be possible to have one man resident at a factory to do all the inspection of certain classes of work for all adjustments. The present system causes trouble in the shops, which are sometimes inundated with inspectors, and it would be for the great advantage of Government Departments if there were resident inspectors who could watch the business all along the line.
The machine is getting practically clogged up with paper. Cannot something be done to cut out some of these returns? I believe that people have forgotten some of the returns that have been made. It seems to me that this sort of thing happens in a Government Department. A form of return is adopted, and then after a time someone thinks of a better one, but he forgets to stop the first one, and so you go on. One firm with which I am connected has to fill in 46 different forms, between 50 and 60 of these weekly, and has sent in something like 3,000 returns every year. I am sure they are not looked at. In many instances I have tried the game of catching out the Department by faking returns, and I have got away with it on all occasions except one. I shall be pleased to place this file which I hold in my hand at the disposal of any Member of this Committee for examination. It shows the amount of duplication involved in some of these plans. There is too much paperhanging and interference with the factory instead of getting on with the business.
§ Mr. Stokes
It is very much more Ministry of Supply, and particularly the iron and steel trade, who seem to have gone raving mad. We have at last got some sensible scheme in regard to costing, in that now the Departments are prepared to accept auditors' certificates in some cases. I want to put a ridiculous example with regard to fixing the rate of charges, and again I quote a case from practical experience. Two fully fledged accountants were sent down to a factory of my acquaintance and spent two days and a half, with the whole of the ac- 384 countancy department of the factory at their service, striving to arrive at a fair figure on which a charge was to be established during the ensuing 12 months. The firm's auditors had gone into the figures and had arrived" at the total of £ 283,693 as the overhead figure for the year. After a two days' struggle with the visiting officials and, with the whole of the accounts department held up by everybody fussing here and there, the total was reduced to £283,116. I ask that the same policy should be adopted with regard to the fixing of overhead charges as has been adopted, in some instances, by the Ministry of Supply for costing, to accept not absolutely but in the main the auditor's certificate from the firm, the department reserving the right to inspect at any time if they think that any irregularity is taking place.
There is a final point on this particular side of the business, and that is the delays which take place in decisions by Government Departments. We have heard to-day one or two hon. Members speak about the importance of canteens, and we on this side of the Committee particularly appreciate that point. I have had a case— this again is first-hand evidence— where it was decided on 12th October, 1040, owing to the difficult feeding conditions and so on, that a new canteen should be built, and the Ministry of Supply was advised accordingly. After a good deal of bickering as to what was to be done, eventually, on 28th February, four months later, the Ministry of Labour wrote a very stern letter— it was very kind and all the rest of it, but allowed of no doubts as to what he intended or wanted— asking that the work should be proceeded with. The firm had got tired of waiting and went on with the job, but the big joke is that the whole matter had to be referred to the Ministry of Works and Buildings, and the permit to proceed with the work was only received on 2nd July. The work was half completed, so it did not really matter whether they got the permit or not, but, surely, something can be done to cut out a lot of this red tape and over-centralisation which seems to be going on in all Government Departments.
I now turn to a much more major point — the problem of efficiency in the filling of factories. When the Ministry of Supply was started we had an "engineer-vice- 385 admiral scheme." We prophesied that it would not work, and it did not. That was modified by a kind of bastard regional control which, in many instances, has not worked at all. Yesterday we learned that there is to be another glorious committee to advise somebody about something. I do not know who they are so that it is difficult to criticise. I am told that they are to be nearly all officials and not engineers. That is what one expects from a Government with no engineers in it. You cannot organise this sort of thing absolutely from the top. A great deal has to be done from the bottom if you are to get 100 per cent, efficiency. I visualise it in this way: In peace-time factories as a whole are engaged in a form of planned production, and they engage an army of salesmen to go round and sell what they produce. The position has now changed around, and the factories have to sell their vacant machine hours and space to the Government. They must have some quick and flexible arrangements whereby gaps in production and idle machines will be speedily taken up by local and regional collaborators from time to time at short notice. We do not want any officials, but authority to get on with the work.
The method adopted now is so slow that the situation has completely changed by the time the person at the top reads the return. I had a first-class example of that when we were engaged on work of priority IA work. It was decided that production should be doubled or trebled, and we were asked to place all our drawings at the disposal of another firm to come and do the same job. After about a month's lapse, perhaps longer, I received an urgent telegram asking me to contact a certain firm who were carrying out other work but who would take this job on immediately. I took the night train to Scotland, got off at the appropriate station, rang up the managing director and said, "I understand you want to make these things," to which he replied, "That was three months ago. I am full up with other work now "That sort of thing is hopeless. Men do not like standing about in factories waiting for jobs, and you will never get maximum production and the machine tools you require until you organise locally so that we can get together on the spot without any interference from above and get the problem of 386 idle man-hours solved by agreement with all concerned.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply (Mr. Harold Macmillan)
Most of the 12 regions are sub-divided into local areas in which manufacturers are interchanging information about turnover and are rapidly being put into communication with those who can take it from them. We have been meeting with increasing success with this organisation, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will try to make it better known that this is so.
§ Mr. Macmillan
It does, and I can give the hon. Gentleman actual figures of the detailed contracts which have been passed on by this organisation.
§ Mr. Stokes
I am not the slightest bit interested in values or returns which the Ministry gets. All I am interested in is the fact that in my district there are idle machines and idle men who do not want to be idle, all because there is not sufficient local collaboration to put the thing right. You cannot organise it from as far away as Cambridge. Why put the Production Committee at a professorial institution? It is not an engineering institution. If you want to put it anywhere, it ought to be at Ipswich, and in saying this I do not expect them to vote for me, because there will not be an election in the time. If the Parliamentary Secretary can prove that I am wrong, I shall have to resign my position, because I shall have to admit that I am not capable of running my own business or knowing what is going on inside it.
There is another serious matter, the importance of which I am sure the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Minister of Aircraft Production realises. It is that we are running our machinery and plant to death and that we have nothing whatever wherewith to put it right. It is no use saying that by easing-up on maintenance you are helping the war effort. Paying for the war effort is "bolony" anyway. Surely, if you are to allow factories to run down— because that is what you are doing— it will not only slow up war production, but when that produc- 387 tion comes to an end there will be nothing but a set of wrecks left, and we shall not be able to face the peace issue on any level keel. I know that this is not a matter for debate to-day, but I do ask that both the Ministers concerned should realise that this is an important fact and make strong representations to the Treasury to get their dead hand removed. I suggest that some proportion of the 20 per cent, remission of excess profits should be allowed now, so that firms could keep their machines up to date and efficient. Then there is the question of machine tools. The whole issue is a matter of efficiently equating man-power with machine tools. I want to ask a few questions, because there seems to be a block. I had some important priority IA work given me in April, and the Government was given to understand that it could not be carried out in the period required unless certain machine tools were supplied to increase the output. The supply of those tools was undertaken to be completed within the period of a few weeks. At any rate it was made clear that output could increase only after these tools had been used for a certain period. We are now in the middle of July and they have not come yet.
I want to ask one or two questions about this machine-tool control. Has there been sufficient standardisation of production through each firm in this country? I do not know machine-tool makers sufficiently well myself to know whether this is so, but I am sure there is not. Are patent rights and royalty owners of new designs in any way proving to be a hindrance to standardisation, and, if so, would the Minister exercise the powers which he has to speed these out of the way? Has home production of tools been increased sufficiently? I get the inevitable reaction when I talk the matter over with the Ministry that this subject has been swept across to the other side of the Atlantic. They think it is sufficient to get everything from America. One of our great blocks is that we have not enough horizontal boring machines. A well-known firm of makers in this country stated at the beginning of 1940 that they could increase production by 33 per cent, within six months—that was by the end of June last year—if an expenditure of £68,000 for the improvement of facilities was granted to them by the 388 Government. Nothing was done. Instead of that, 40 large borers, which cost about £ 5,000 each, were ordered from America. So far as I am aware, only a dozen have been delivered up to now. Had the original scheme gone ahead with that local firm, we should have had that production already, on this side of the Atlantic instead of the other. Who is responsible for decisions of that kind?
I addressed a Question the other day to the Ministry of Supply on the subject of American tools. I am the first to express every form of gratitude to our American friends for what they have done to help us, but I believe that the second-hand tool trade in America is probably no better than the second-hand tool trade in this country. What do we find? We find the Ministry admitting this, that while the Commission making the purchases of these tools takes great care to examine new tools before they are shipped, nothing is done to examine the second-hand tools.
§ Mr. Harold Macmillan
Nothing of the kind. I said that for the purpose of getting more tools there was a certain amount of inferior material which was taken as part of a large order. It was of about 10 per cent., and that took place 21 months ago.
§ Mr. Stokes
That is just what I wanted the hon. Gentleman to say. In a consignment of £ 3,000,000 worth of second-hand tools 95 per cent, were absolute junk and had to be scrapped.
§ Mr. Macmillan
If the hon. Gentleman would put the figures the other way round, he might be about right.
§ Mr. Stokes
Well, I have this on pretty good authority, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will undertake to look into it. If it is the case, then I say it is an absolute disgrace and an absolute villainy committed on our merchant seamen, who are allowed to waste their time and effort in carrying this stuff across the Atlantic. I am complaining about the utter incompetence of our producing Committee, not the Americans. There is a second question that I want to ask about American tools. We all know the difficulties of landing cargoes in this country and the importance of minimising delays. Why is there no properly organised scheme by which machines are allocated before arrival, so that the 389 moment they arrive they can go straight from the port to the factory, or be taken away from the port to some decentralised places? The Minister may say that all this has been changed, and I hope it has been, but very recent experience and evidence given to me show that there is no pre-allocation scheme.
§ Mr. Harold Macmillan
The only non-allocated tools arriving from America are what are known as French orders which we took over after the collapse of France. We undertook to purchase machine-tools, together with all the other orders placed by the French Government in America. We were not able to pre-allocate them because they arrived without bills of lading or descriptions of the tools, and each case had to be opened at the port in order to find out what was inside. We were very glad to get them because they were an additional windfall, and, in spite of all the difficulties involved, it was a windfall worth having.
§ Mr. Stokes
The Parliamentary Secretary speaks with great confidence, but I also am not without a definite opinion on this matter, and I will gladly submit to him for examination some of the evidence which I have. Lastly, I want to ask why it was that, apparently, the two last "blanket" orders of £ 10,000,000 each for machine-tools from America were placed with a comparatively small number of firms which, from the reports I have had, were not capable of completing delivery until the middle or end of 1942, whereas if those orders had been spread over the machine-tool production of America as a whole, the final delivery would have been advanced by very many months. Again, I will submit the evidence to the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Macmillan
These orders were not placed by us with the manufacturers in the United States. We obtained permission from the United States authorities to place two large block orders. The British Purchasing Commission had to place these contracts through the machinery given to it by the American authorities. If we had attempted to do it in any other way, there would have been great diffi- 390 culties. It was a great piece of goodwill on the part of the American authorities to allow us to place those block orders, and we had to do it entirely by good-will, since every machine was subject to an export licence, and except by the goodwill of the American authorities, the orders could neither have been placed nor the machines exported.
§ Mr. Stokes
I am glad to have that explanation, but I am afraid I am still not satisfied. The point remains that, in my opinion, it would have been much more advisable to spread over the orders instead of passing them through a group of firms represented by only five agencies on this side. The Parliamentary Secretary cannot possibly contest that. If he does, I will submit the evidence to him in writing. Yesterday, we heard a very interesting and inspiring speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards). I endorse everything that he said about the complaints he had received—and which I and no doubt other hon. Members have received—about idle time and inefficiency in some of the factory construction. I do not want to waste the time of the Committee going into details, but I urge that the recommendation made by my hon. Friend should be adopted, and that there should be an all-party, non-Governmental standing group of Members of the House to whom people outside could report on inefficiencies, irregularities, and so on, without fear that they would be victimised. Such a scheme would be of the utmost advantage to everybody.
§ Sir Percy Harris (Bethnal Green, South-West)
May I remind the hon. Member that there is in existence a Select Committee of the House, and that any Member who wished to put a point of that kind could give evidence?
§ Mr. Stokes
I am afraid that is not known widely enough, and it may be that these remarks will give it some advertisement. However, I doubt whether the humble folk to whom I am referring would care to appear before a Select Committee, whereas I think they would be willing to 391 come before three or four back bench Members.
While it is true that there is such a Select Committee, I think the right hon. Member for South West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) will agree that the Committee has been so heavily engaged in the past that when it came to Glasgow it could, in a very important affair, give only about 15 minutes to each contractor.
§ Mr. Stokes
To conclude my remarks, I want to refer to the maiden speech made yesterday by the hon. and gallant Member for Hythe (Lieutenant Brabner), in which he made a very shrewd and calculated observation when he said: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 5,600 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."—-[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th July, 1941; col. 216; Vol. 373.]I am in entire sympathy with that statement, and it leads me to put the following question. We are discussing production. Production for what? What is it that we intend to do, and how is it that we shall eventually come out on top? Will it be by making a huge quantity of equipment and then rolling across Europe in armed tanks, and eventually marching into Berlin? Is that the way? I do not think so. I feel that what we ought to concentrate on is the production of ships, and particularly of fighting aircraft. Until the Government make up their mind on that matter, surely they will be in danger of importing from across the Atlantic just the material which we do not want, and using up our shipping for no useful purpose. What we ought to do is to limit our imports to essential things under the main strategy, whatever it may be, and I do not believe it is tanks. Therefore, I urge that the strategy should be denned, recognising that we shall win the war on the water and in the air, and that the whole of our shipping resources should be devoted to that end.
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
One approaches these two Votes on this occasion with considerably less anxiety 392 than one has felt certainly since 1938, or since the formation of the Ministry of Supply. There are, perhaps, two reasons for this. There has been during the last 12 or 13 months a very considerable improvement. So there should have been. Efforts have been made by all sections of the community to increase production throughout the country, and it would be criminal if we were faced with any other situation and if one had to complain that production, instead of going up, had gone down. But in the main the sense of relief which we all feel is due to the fact that Russia has taken upon herself the tremendous burden of the onslaught which Germany is pouring upon her today. Russia, like this country, is fighting for her very life, and millions of people, who hold their ideals as sincerely as we hold ours, are determined that those ideals shall be upheld against Nazism as strongly as we intend to uphold our liberty.
There is a lesson in this, too. The tremendous battle which is now raging on that long front must have convinced everyone of the stupendous effort that has been made by Germany. Hundreds of planes, thousands of tanks, tens of thousands of gums and millions of men are engaged in a titanic struggle, such as has never before been experienced and hardly contemplated. Up to less than three weeks ago, these planes, tanks, guns and men were ready for use against us alone. We stood alone, the British Empire, facing those tremendous odds. We all realise of course that we lost six precious years before the war started, and some of us at any rate realised that we were frittering away the first eight months of this war in a sort of lethargic meandering. But with a new Government there came renewed hope and fresh energy. Britain was awakened to the danger. With fortitude it faced the collapse of four small countries, the downfall of its greatest Ally, France, and even the evacuations of Dunkirk and of Norway. The people of this country were ready for any sacrifice, and there was a spirit of national unity which was sublime.
Within ten days of the advent of the new Prime Minister, Parliament, without any comment whatsoever, except one of approbation, passed the great Act of 22nd May, 1940. But can anyone pretend that we have made any real use of that Act. 393 and that the Government have made use of the immense powers which were given to them on that day by Parliament and by the country to mobilise, to plan, to direct all the resources, material and men of this country for the necessary production? Even for production, there has been little interference, so far, with profit — a restriction here, and requisitioning there, but that is about all. Labour has been only partly mobilised, and to a large extent the national life goes on unaffected. But Germany, even with her tremendous start, did not slacken her effort, and even to-day she is working full measure not only in her own factories, but also in the factories of the conquered countries. Curiously enough the measures of compulsion which have been taken against capital are, in the main, restricted to non-essential industries, while the measures for the compulsion of labour are in the main confined to the men engaged directly upon war operations. Can anyone pretend that even now, in this twenty-third month of the war, we are putting forward our full effort? Both to-day and yesterday, the Committee have listened to instance after instance, given by various Members, of stoppages, of full use not being made of machinery, of plant, factories, or men standing idle, and of spurts here and stoppages there. And are the supplies of tanks, guns and munitions, planes, fighters and bombers, satisfactory?
I am sorry I missed the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply, but I have read it with very great care. Perhaps I may be allowed to congratulate him. It was a very full speech, and it gave quite a lot of information about small and incidental problems. But it has a very familiar ring about it. It was almost the same type of speech as those to which we have listened from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Luton (Mr. Burgin), from the right hon. Gentleman who is now Home Secretary, and from the right hon. Gentleman who is now President of the Board of Trade, when they were Ministers of Supply. The brief seemed to come from the same office although the speakers had altered. We were told that everything was going smoothly, that all the criticisms raised had been thought of before, and that measures were being taken, step by step, to tackle the problem, and that the whole thing was revolving, slowly 394 it was true, but on a sure foundation. Was that the answer to the maiden speech made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hythe (Lieutenant Brabner)? I am yet to hear from that Box an answer to the charges he made. They certainly startled the Committee, and I am sure they also startled the country. Obviously his references to the tanks sent to Greece and the aerodromes in Crete have startled the Press judging by the prominence which was given to the speech in this morning's newspapers. The answer given by the Prime Minister, both from the Front Bench and in his message to the Prime Minister of Australia, was that we sent all we could, and that the only thing that stopped us sending more was lack of shipping space. But was that shipping space used to send tanks, 70 per cent, or 80 per cent, of which broke down before they even came into contact with the enemy?
That is the charge which has been made. What was the answer? Is it the one suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes), that although the tanks had been sent the spare parts were not? What is the answer to the charge that the guns which had been sent there could not reach the dive bombers? What is the good of production, unless it is production to meet the enemy, and meet him on fair grounds? The hon. Gentleman opposite seems to think this is a laughing matter. It was not a laughing matter for the men who died in Greece and Crete, and it was certainly not a laughing matter for the men who volunteered from the Dominions for the defence of themselves and this country. What is more, if things are, as suggested by the Parliamentary Secretary, why has Lord Beaver-brook been made Minister of Supply? If things were being done so well by the President of the Board of Trade, why move him? If everything was going well, as he would ask the Committee to believe, why take a good man, who is a good organiser, away from that office? The very fact that he has been removed and Lord Beaverbrook put in his place is the complete answer to the speech which was made from that Box yesterday. We know Lord Beaverbrook is a quick-moving mobile force who is put into the breach when danger is threatened. He performed miracles, as 395 all know, when he went to the Ministry of Aircraft Production. I have not the slightest doubt that he will perform prodigious feats in the production of tanks, but tanks are not the only need of this country. What I am hoping is that we shall have balanced production, not a rush for this, and then a rush for that. The needs of the Navy, Air Ministry, and certainly cargo-shipping space, must not be unduly sacrificed. As far as cargo-' shipping space is concerned, that must not be sacrificed, even for tanks or aeroplanes.
Can anyone pretend that we have that steady rhythm which was referred to in the speech of the Minister of Labour when he plaintively begged employers to release 30,000 men to go back into the mines? It seemed to me when I read that speech that the right hon. Gentleman mistook his position. He is not the chief mendicant for this country. He ought not to take up the position of being a poor beggar. He is the Minister of Labour, and we expect him to lead and to take the necessary measures which will give us the production, and not to go cap in hand and beg. There has to be rhythm. There has to be a balance of material, factory space and machinery. Can anyone pretend that the factories are working with smooth regularity to-day? We have had instances of factories and works going on short time, often stopped, often waiting for fresh orders. That is not working to rhythm. That is working to a sort of peculiar syncopation, and in any event the tempo is far too slow.
Our system is still based, even now when we are approaching the second anniversary of the war, upon the individual firm as the unit of production. Tenders are still invited, contracts are discussed and ultimately bargains are struck. Competition and profit-making are still regarded as the main incentives. So long as we continue to guide ourselves by the finances which used to form our guide in the pre-war period and do not turn to economic planning, so long as men have to bear their own losses and carry their own obligations individually, so long will they continue to struggle for profit, and what might seem to many, unfair profit, in order to recoup themselves and protect themselves against individual calamity. It is perfectly natural. 396 The corollary, too, is perfectly natural. Is it then to be wondered at that the trade unions, even in a time of national crisis calling for national unity, should feel strongly that they are an essential part of the community and that they have to continue to watch with the utmost vigilance the interests of their members with regard to hours, conditions and wages, just as they did in time of peace, in order to prevent exploitation? Is it to be wondered at in circumstances like that that there is continuous bickering and that capital and labour, even in a time like this, abuse one another, and that abuse is in the sacred name of patriotism and in the name of production?
Absenteeism and bad management have been mentioned by many. I do not think there is much absenteeism. The employers are accusing the men of absenteeism and the men, on the other hand, are accusing the employers of bad management and lack of proper mental capacity. That, in itself, would be an evil at a time like this, but it is rendered all the worse when the Minister of Labour himself joins in the battle of bickering and gives fresh slogans for the contestants to carry on the battle. I blame neither the men nor the employers. The vast majority in both sections are good and the failures are a small minority, but if there is any absenteeism or bad management which is stopping production the remedy is in the hands of the Government. The power has been given to them and it is for them to act and act quickly. Whenever a charge of this kind is made there should be an immediate inquiry into the bad management or absenteeism, finding out whether it is avoidable or unavoidable absenteeism. I quite agree that a large part of what is known as avoidable absenteeism is due to the very causes which bring about unavoidable absenteeism. Let the inquiry be made and, if the charges are found to be true, let the Government act firmly and quickly. The power is certainly within their hands. Even with this tremendous fight that Russia is putting up this war can easily be lost. It would be a crime against humanity in any event if it were lost. It would be a bigger crime if it were lost because of lack of firmness in action against inefficiency.
We are entering now upon a stage of the war when, in regard to the production of many articles, there will be a shortage 397 of raw materials. This is due to many causes, and that stage has unfortunately been brought forward by wasteful use of materials in the past, wasteful use of stocks, and of course it has been brought forward to-day by the decrease in our shipping space owing to the very large losses which we have suffered and are suffering. The time is approaching when there will be not only short time, not only intermittent unemployment, but I am afraid regular unemployment. What is the position with regard to production? The factors essential for production are material, management of machinery and tools, labour, transport, food, coal and petrol. Many materials, of course, are common for production, for war operations and for civilians. At the moment, they are the subject of competing users, though under the distant direction, I agree, of the Production Executive and of the body about which an hon. Member spoke yesterday which is under the chairmanship of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport. But they deal only with these matters in large quantities. They just settle a sort of general priority or division. Not only-do civilian needs compete with war needs but, whatever be the scheme of the Ministry of Supply on paper, we know that, in fact, war needs compete amongst themselves and are competing daily to-day. Why should there be this dual control? Why should there be, for example, a Director of Materials for Army Clothing? I assume that there will be soon a Director of Materials for Civilian Clothing, which, has now been rationed. Why should not all that be under one person? How can a man ration materials when he does not know the whole scope of the quantity that he has for distribution?
We shall have most carefully to husband our materials and conserve our stocks. We shall need every bit and every ounce of them in the coming months. But we must do something further, and this is what I am begging of the Ministries concerned to do. They can use substitutes, however expensive they may be in labour, so long as they can be efficiently used. Let them go into this matter and see what substitutes which are in this country can be used, so that nothing shall be brought on ships except those things without which we cannot possibly go on. There has been 398 a considerable change during the last 12 months. When the war started the Government Departments were in the main buyers from the manufacturers, but stocks have now run down, and individual firms are finding it more and more difficult to obtain the necessary materials, and distribution is uneven. No wonder, therefore, there are these stoppages; keen competition for some necessary material to complete a contract; a bottleneck here and a bottleneck there; some small gadget, without which the main article cannot be completed, very often some article which has been earmarked for a particular job, taken off that job and given to another, or, conversely, perhaps another article very vital for something which is immediately urgent cannot be used because it has been earmarked for something less urgent.
What is the remedy for all this? There must be more control over materials and a more unifying control, less of these dualities and less fighting for position and priority. There must also be more direction and control of industry itself. Let each industry be regarded as a whole and not as a mere conglomeration of competing individuals and of firms fighting for supremacy and even for their very existence. That is the next phase to which I believe the Government will have to come. Treat an industry as one and give it the duty of producing the articles which the individuals in the industry now produce and for which they are competing among themselves. Do away with tenders and individual contracts. Let there be only one contract with the industry itself, and leave the allocation to be made by the industry to the individual firms and companies. Do away with sealed samples and sealed patterns. The Government in these circumstances would regard itself not as the buyer from competing firms, but as the supreme director and manufacturer throughout the country, the actual work in each branch being carried out by each industry as a whole. Only then will the Government be able, not merely to control production, but to mobilise labour. There have been many disputes between us in the House with regard to the moment for more compulsion with regard to labour. I have never advocated compulsion for labour unless industry is compelled too. Until we have taken industry and directed and controlled it, I shall be sur- 399 prised if any hon. Member comes forward and says that labour ought to be controlled and mobilised.
If once we have taken hold of industry and directed it in this way, labour will not need compulsion, but at any rate, we can mobilise it. We can, however, do that only if we get a fair wage policy covering the whole of labour. That is the answer to so many questions which have been thrown from one side of the House to another. We cannot blame anybody refusing to work for less wages or slackening down because he has less wages than another man. There ought to be a fair wage policy, with commensurate proper payment for each person according to his class of work. When we have that, when we have industry and labour organised and materials under the control of the Government, there will then be no jealousies and no invidious comparisons which lead to bickering and slackening. Let there be no competition between the Services. We cannot, for example, have the Navy and Air Force sacrificed to the Army. Do not let one gain at the expense of the other. The danger, as I see it, is that the vigour, the ruthless energy and the driving methods of Lord Beaverbrook will over-ride the First Lord and the Minister of Aircraft Production.
The right remedy has already been suggested by hon. Members, and that is to have one Minister of Production. I have in and out of season asked for this. I asked for it as long ago as October or November, 1939. I have repeated that request from time to time, so that all these matters can be considered as a whole, whether they concern the Army, the Navy or the Air Force, or whether they concern the civilians— because their morale and their continuation on the best standards of living are as essential for victory as are the Army, the Navy and the Air Force themselves. All these things ought to be under one control, just as the Defence Ministers are under the control of the Prime Minister. In that way only shall we be able to do away with this disputing about position and priorities where one is pulling one way and another is pulling another, although undoubtedly every man has the desire to give the best account he can of his own Department, and we should "have one man at the head of all Departments taking a proper and 400 fair view of them all. I do not think that there is anyone more capable to fulfil that position than the Noble Lord who is Minister of Supply. His driving force and energy will get all these other Departments and Ministers upon a level, and no one will have a privilege above another. Only in that way can we get the whole country mobilised as it still has to be mobilised. A real danger at the present moment is that the great fight and the wonderful success of Russia against the full might of Germany thrown against it may lead us to a sense of complacency. This is a moment above all others when we should give our very best. We are given an opportunity now which must not be missed. Every man, every bit of material, everything should be turned to that production which will ensure the victory which we all desire.
§ The Minister of Aircraft Production (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon)
Nothing turns out as one expects. I had long resigned myself to the thought that I was to be a Back-bench Member for the rest of my life, and nothing more enjoyable than that could I imagine, but a turn of the wheel, a request from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, and I found myself Minister of Transport. In my dreams I had thought of myself as Minister of Transport as a sort of modern Colossus of Rhodes. But all I had to speak about was a railway agreement, and it was a very unsatisfactory speech, because it was what was called a delaying speech. That was in sacerdotal surroundings. That was my only experience on the Treasury Bench as Minister of Transport. Here I am now as Minister of Aircraft Production. Having thought that perhaps I would start the proceedings with a clear field and an hour in which to expound my views and paint a picture of my Department, I find I am here to start the few words I have to say by answering many points that have been made in a two days' Debate, addressing, instead of green, red benches no doubt out of respect to our new Allies.
First, I should like to refer to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. C. Davies). I do not wish to answer him point by point, but he did say, I thought in an unfriendly way, that he thought the speech of my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply was 401 a monotonous repetition of what had been said before. If that was so, I do not think my hon. and learned Friend himself kept away from that path, because I have heard him before address to the Committee speeches of such a gloomy type that it was only with difficulty that I was restrained from bursting into tears. According to him there seems to be nothing right at all in any Department of State. Anyhow, I have no doubt he enjoyed his speech, and I hope we shall be able to answer some of his points as we go along. Then we had one of those vigorous entertaining speeches from the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes). Ipswich is a town in those counties which are far away from some centres and one expects the Member to be always a little curious. He raised one or two questions which I want to answer. One was about spares for aircraft. I can assure him that the position as to spares for aircraft has been very nearly put right. As to local area organisations, I am sorry that my hon. Friend did not agree about the merits of these area organisations but we have been using more and more, and I hope that he will get into touch with his own particular branch in his own town and get it going, as I know he will, with all the efficiency he can. As to the protection of factories from the aircraft point of view I can assure my hon. Friend that that is satisfactory.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon
Within half a minute. On the tank versus aeroplane question, my hon. Friend knows perfectly well what is the policy of the Government on that point. If the House of Commons were ever to persuade the Government to take a different line from that which it is following now, I should have to reconsider my position, because it would be against my conscience to make a change of policy of that kind. But I have every confidence that the House of Commons will never persuade the Government to take that line. An hon. Member from Lancashire said that American machines when they came here had to be overhauled and were so altered as to reduce their speed by 30 miles per hour— to the disgust of Americans. If he had had the experience I have had of aeroplanes, he would know that to reduce the speed of an aeroplane by 30 402 miles an hour in order to get it operationally fit is no new thing. The aeronautical designer likes to produce a machine which looks well in a glass case. The Air Staff like a flying Christmas tree. If it is a complete Christmas tree it will not fly, and if it is a flying machine which is a pretty thing to look at it will not fight, and there is always a conflict to reconcile these two points of view, but I know that there is no real reason why anyone should take exception to having an aeroplane slowed up for operational reasons.
My hon. Friend the Member for Barnstaple (Sir R. Acland), whose speech I did not wholly hear, asked me whether I could give a guarantee that there would be no victimisation of those giving information about cases where lack of efficiency is alleged. I can assure him that no victimisation will occur anywhere. All we are anxious to do is to get as much efficiency as we can, and any information will be welcome. Then he made a lot of accusations about technical secrets. I can assure him that in the aircraft industry technical secrets are well guarded. As to the question of firms manoeuvring for post-war positions, I can tell him that firms like A. V. Roe are making Blenheim machines, which were designed by the Bristol Company, and that De Havillands, who have their own types of machine, are making Oxfords. Every firm is making different machines from those designed by itself, and there is no playing up for post-war positions. As for buying out the whole of the engineering industry in order to get on with the war, that is too big a subject for me, but I have no doubt the Prime Minister could say a trenchant word about it.
The hon. Member for Maryhill (Mr. Davidson) had a very serious complaint about a firm called Wimpeys. I am very sorry that I am unable to answer him on that point, but I do not know anything about Wimpeys, though I can see from the way in which he delivered his speech that he felt very strongly about it. It was, of course, a little out of Order. I will see that what he said is conveyed to the Minister of-Works and Buildings in order that he may investigate the matter, and I will ask him to reply.
While I thank the right hon. and gallant Member for that reply, 403 will he keep it clear in his mind that the questions concerning this firm affect every Government Department—the Air Ministry, the War Office, and the Admiralty?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon
I will bear that in mind. I know that my hon. Friend bore it in mind, otherwise he could not have brought it up at all. My hon. Friend the Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones), who opened this Debate in a very charming way, accused us of having too many American planes in this country without the necessary ancillary equipment. The accumulation of American planes was due to the fact that we took over the French orders which had been placed in America, and that a lot of alterations had to be made to those machines in order to get them operationally suitable for the Air Force. That is why there was an accumulation of that kind. They are now being sent to their operational centres and are doing great work. As to the complaint about the number of types of machines, I would point out that if we take a fighter and put in a different supercharger, we call the new model Mark I and if we put in four guns instead of two we call it Mark II, whereas if the Americans start with a machine called the Hawk the first type will be the Tomahawk, and the second the Kittihawk, and so it goes on, creating an impression that there are a number of different types, though in effect they are basically one. I am not pretending that there are not too many types in all air forces. From the manufacturing point of view I should like to see fewer, but then that is not the only point of view which has to be considered.
§ Mr. Garro Jones (Aberdeen, North)
I should be disappointed if the right hon. and gallant Gentleman passed so lightly over this aspect of the question. In point of fact, there are many more basic types now on order in the United States than there are on order in Britain for the Royal Air Force. Does he not find himself able to do something to encourage aircraft manufacturers in America towards unification of type as has been largely achieved in Great Britain?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon
It is only lately that we have had unified effort in aircraft production in America, and 404 one had to order the types that existed in America at the time. No doubt, when the industry gets organised, types which are not ordered will fall away, and concentration will take place, as has happened in England, upon certain basic types, and that will be more satisfactory. His Majesty's Government are well aware of these matters. The hon. Member referred to people not getting a pat on the back for various things that they pushed forward successfully. He referred to Mr. Fraser Nash, who was the inventor of the electrically-operated turret. The gentleman who invented the hydraulic turret was Mr. J. D. North. Many people in the organisation of the Air Force have contributed remarkable things to the war effort and do not get a reward. It is very difficult to facie this situation. Some of them make up for it by constructing the article they invented, and getting their reward that way. I deserve a pat on the back myself for advocating the cannon gun four years ago.
I would say a word about the maiden speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hythe (Lieutenant Brabner). We were very pleased to hear him and are delighted to welcome him as a new Member able to make a contribution to our Debates. He asked me about the production and dispersal arrangements of certain types of gun for our aircraft. I can give him an assurance on that point. He raised a question about dive-bombing. My function is to supply to the Royal Air Force and the Naval Air Service their requirements, besides which I can, if I like, make a totally new machine to see whether they like it. It is not for me to impose upon the Army any particular type of machine. They may not have thought the dive-bomber a machine which they wished to operate, but the whole question of Army co-operation is so active and so near us now that things may change. It may be that dive-bombers will be wanted, but up to the present I have not been asked to supply them.
In regard to the Middle East, I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend that he is mistaken. There were aeroplanes in the Middle East. The Crete position has already been dealt with in another place. He made an accusation about tanks and the efficiency thereof. I have tried my best to find confirmation of what he said, 405 but there are no details, and I cannot accept the statement that 70 or 80 per cent, of those machines were out of commission before they saw the enemy. One hon. Member suggested that when there was no work for the people in the factories they should go on holiday. I will look into that matter.
§ Mr. Woodburn (Stirling and Clackmannan, Eastern)
A great deal of dissatisfaction exists among the workers being kept idle in the factories, and nobody takes the trouble to explain matters to them. If a factory is held up for lack of material, the workers naturally believe that it is due to bad management. Can the right hon. and gallant Gentleman not make arrangements to give an explanation to them?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon
I was going to deal with that matter a little later. One of the points made was that piecework was being paid in astronomical figures. I can only say that the original rates were fixed before there was enough knowledge, perhaps, and they sometimes do rise to very high figures. In order to readjust the position certain machinery has to be used. I would not like to change them without operating such machinery.
On the question of holidays, I entirely agree. No one can work continuously seven days at a stretch. I have only recently given instructions to all aircraft factories to close down on Sundays except for work on acute bottlenecks. If I may borrow a comparison from racing parlance, I would say that you can make a good horse come once, and possibly twice, but you cannot flog him round the whole course the whole time. I am certain that the rhythm of production is only possible when you get a proper system in the factories.
Now I may be able to talk about my Ministry. When the Air Ministry was becoming bigger and bigger it was only right to separate the production side from the Service side. I have had a slight experience of the Air Ministry; it was getting so big as to be unmanageable. The Prime Minister put upon Lord Beaver-brook the very arduous task of getting the production side working as a new Ministry. It is a very unpopular thing to do. The whole of the production side had to be taken away, and he had to ginger 406 up the trade. That did not make him particularly popular up and down the industry. One must remember that when Lord Beaverbrook indulges in an operation, he is not very keen on anaesthetics. You must also remember that it was a very critical time, and when my hon. Friend the Member for Mosley (Mr. Hopkinson) said that Lord Beaverbrook got the machines because they had been designed and planned years before, that is not wholly true. It does not do justice to the man. He raided every hen-roost, he speeded up production in every factory, he produced machines which otherwise would never have been produced in any circumstances whatsoever, and he obtained that remarkable drive at a certain time which I believe he and he alone could do. I feel that Lord Beaverbrook is among those to whom the Prime Minister referred when he said that never was so much owed by so many to so few. I say that high upon the scroll of honour of this country must ever remain the name of Max Aitken, first Baron Beaverbrook. I was Minister of Transport at that time, and I could have murdered him for the way he went through my Department. He swept through every Department of State like Genghis Khan through Asia. It really was a remarkable effort.
I do not know whether any one of you ever visited Lord Beaverbrook in action, and, lest it be forgotten, I Should like to paint a little picture of him at work. I do not know if you have seen those cinematograph pictures of newspapers being produced, in which everybody is talking on telephones at the same time, and people are rushing about everywhere— which explains a lot in the newspaper world. I visited Lord Beaverbrook in his office. There were six or seven people in the outer office; nobody questioned my entry, and I walked through and found Lord Beaverbrook interviewing four people at the same time— and quite coherently. He had a telephone in one hand on which he was talking to America, and on another he was ordering his hairdresser to come round and cut his hair in the office. I never in my life met a man with more grasp, more energy, or able to do more things at the same time than that man. He really was indeed tremendous. Tremendous is the only way to describe him. And now I find myself coming in after this Colossus. It is a very serious matter, 407 because when I arrived they looked at me and said "This is a very poor fish after that great man," and I can well believe it. But, on the other hand, I am not going to be down-hearted about that, and I am going to approach my particular job, as Lord Birkenhead once said, "with no morbid feeling of lack of self-confidence."
I have been a stern critic of the Air Ministry and of their policy for many years, in fact, all my Parliamentary life. and the position to-day, which I do not consider so unsatisfactory, has been built up by the work and forethought of people years back. I have been only two months in my present office, and I am still a critic, because I know that nothing I can do can ever be expressed under a year and a half; that is one of the penalties of having any connection with the air. One must go back to people like Lord Londonderry, who urged the Government of the time to swell the Air Force. Then we come to Lord Swinton, who initiated the shadow factory, and if it were not for the shadow factory, we should to-day be in a very poor way. He did great work in starting that, and the country ought to pay a high tribute to him. If there was a mistake made at that time, I think it was that there should not have been expansion in the aircraft industry, whereas what happened was that the mass-producers of motor cars were asked to mass-produce aeroplanes. One thing you cannot do is to mass-produce a thing which was not designed for mass production, and our aeroplanes were certainly not designed for mass production. That was the mistake; if it had been the other way round— if the aircraft factories themselves had been asked to erect shadow factories — I think it would have been better. Then we come to the present Chancellor of the Exchequer. During his period there was an unexampled expansion right throughout the country, which he was not there subsequently to see.
The aircraft industry is very much maligned, especially the old firms which are called the "ring." But I have known all these people all my life, and I have seen the hard times through which they went after the last war. In my own constituency, when I represented or misrepresented Chatham for so many years, there was a firm— Shortt Brothers— which 408 for years and years I kept alive by going to Lord Ashfield and entreating him to give them orders to make the motor bus bodies for London. It was in that way that they were kept alive, and now they have come to our national need, do we not owe them an enormous debt of gratitude because they had their designing staff ready there to help us? Still, now that we have a great industry we cannot discriminate between what is called the ring and those outside it, and in this new agreement for prices which is necessary because of the termination of the McClintock agreement, I have refused to negotiate with the Society of British Aircraft Constructors alone, and I have insisted on someone speaking for the whole industry. Along those lines I think we shall reach a satisfactory agreement on prices. I should like to remind my hon. Friend that aeroplane prices are not settled at random. We try at the earliest possible moment to make a set price for each machine. There must be an incentive to the designer to make an aeroplane which is easily made, and T want to say that under that agreement, if two machines are designed and one of them can be produced at the rate of five a week while the other can only be produced at the rate of one a week, the man who produces the former should get more reward.
§ Mr. Kirkwood (Dumbarton Burghs)
Is it not the case that, in the event of its being possible to produce more than was anticipated because of an alteration in the jigs, it should be possible for the price to be reduced?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon
That depends on very special circumstances. Of course, the alteration of jigs may diminish the time which the machine takes to make, and consequently a reduction in price would be justified. Then there is the hon. Member for Mossley, whose speeches always amuse us. We always enjoy them, because they are founded on such knowledge. I do not suppose that anyone knows so much about so many subjects as he does. He made a speech the other day; he made the same speech twice. I listened to both; I know. When I heard the first one, I said, "He has dug up an old speech of mine, and he is making it again." It was a very sound oration.
§ Mr. Austin Hopkinson (Mossley)
May I interrupt the right hon. and gallant Gentleman. I made it twice before he made it.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon
We shall have to check the OFFICIAL REPORT afterwards. The gravamen of his complaint is that when an aeroplane is designed there is nobody there to see that it can be easily manufactured. He quoted the Corps of Naval Architects, who can check new designs. In the building of ships it is not really a question, very often, of mass production, but in aircraft construction it is, or should be to-day, a question of mass production. What I would like to see is the ideal, that is, to get a highly scientific designer of aeroplanes, let him produce an aeroplane, let it go through its trials, see that it is the right thing. Then I should like to get a cigar-chewing production engineer from Detroit and tell him, "There is the sort of machine I want; make it the easiest way." That could be done, but the trouble is that you can do that when you do not want a lot of machines. When you want a lot of machines in a hurry you cannot do it. There is no time to do it. It is a very tiresome proposition. I am in sympathy with what he says. I have tried to get that organisation, first of all within the firms, but I do not want to impose advice upon the firms which would in any way stop production. The old system of ordering aeroplanes was that the Air Staff said, "We want an aeroplane which will, say, go to Rome, carrying such and such a load of bombs, and come back." Some drawings of more or less suitable machines would be made, and they would be ordered from the point of view of prototypes. The making of a prototype takes from one and a half to two years. The machine would arrive and would be sent down to be tested, one of them would crash, and that would put things back for a long time. Eventually the Air Staff would come along and say that they wanted this and that arranged. Finally, the machine would go into production, and after production it would again be tested and eventually get into the squadrons. The whole of that process, which is perfectly sound, results in the aircraft, from the time it is conceived to the time of getting into the squadrons, taking six years and being well out of date before it arrived. That was a thoroughly unsatisfactory system, although one that 410 used to occur in peace-time. We cannot do that now.
We have, so to speak, to gamble on these machines. The Air Staff have to tell us what they want. We examine and pass drawings and designs which are put up, and we not only order a prototype but order the planning of production immediately. Very often within a month or two, when the prototype has arrived and is tested for aerodynamic qualities, the Air Staff come along and say they require this and that. We know perfectly well that any aeroplane must go out of date in a certain time and that there must be changes from one type to another. All these things require a tremendous lot of planning. When you see that one machine is going to disappear, from the operational point of view, you have to splice into that factory another machine. It is very difficult to get everyone in that works working whole time while that splicing takes place. In certain cases it can be done; it has been done, in some cases, with great success. One trouble of my Ministry is that it is not always making the same thing. It may be that a machine we are making turns out not to be a success operationally. The Air Staff come along and say, "We do not want any more of that." That is where I have great trouble from the point of view of production, because I have not another machine to splice into that factory. These are the worst cases I have of people being without any work. I think then that some of our highly-skilled labour must be transferred temporarily one Way or another. All these difficulties, I agree, must be explained, so that they can be understood by the workers. There has to be leadership. I have given instructions and all the encouragement I can to ensure that everyone shall be working as a team.
I have been criticised for modifications. Hampering as they are from the point of view of production, I can assure the Committee that they have, operationally, beneficial results. On our side we say, "No," to any modification, unless it can be shown that there is great operational advantage in it. After all, aircraft are for operational use, not just to make a noise in the sky. I want to say a word about the big bomber programme. So many people come to me and say, "Why have you got three?" I ought to explain something about that. When the big bomber pro- 411 gramme was envisaged it was a new aeronautical conception altogether. Here was a machine which had to fly to Berlin and back, and carry an enormous load— not a load of one ton of bombs, but of tons. That had never been done up to that time. It must have astonished the Americans, who thought they had the biggest machine in the world, when they came over here and saw three models of something bigger than they had ever seen. It might have been a success or it might not, but I think it was right to take the long-range view that we should have three arrows to our bow, and they were made. It is true that, now that they are flying, it would have been nice to have concentrated on one and nothing else. But we have three and we shall go on with three.
I am not pretending that these big aeroplanes, with all their complexities, have not given trouble. This is a very heavy aeroplane. You see them sitting on two wheels with pneumatic tyres. Do you realise that each carries a load equal to a steam roller and a half and has to gallop across the field at 90 miles an hour? No wonder they sometimes go wrong. It is true that each one of these big, heavy aeroplanes has been grounded owing to troubles— not teething troubles, jaw troubles, I can assure the Committee. My Ministry have had to rush down with all the great technical ability they can muster and put them right. They are flying, and are getting better every day. There is a wonderful system of organisation of repairs, introduced by my predecessor, to which I must pay a tribute. Relative to our production, if you can keep the repairs going, every repaired machine, from an operational point of view, is as good as a new one. There are three types of repairs. There is the type that is done by the squadrons; there is the second, which is done where the machine is wrecked by civil gangs of experts, who come to deal with it on the spot; and there is the third, under which you have to take the machine back to the works, pull it to bits, and repair it— this is the method for the very big major crashes. This system of travelling experts to go down and deal with a crashed machine has been an enormous help. Then there is the question of storage, of avoiding concentration. That has been a very remarkable thing. At one time we 412 were rapidly drifting to the storage of aircraft, tails up, in vast hangars, so that one bomb might have done in hundreds; but now the machines are well distributed.
I will speak about American production now. America is a mass-producing country. They are slow in their start and enormous in their eventual production. I do not want the Committee to think that we are getting at present anything like the numbers required. What we are getting now is the stuff that was ordered practically at the beginning of the war. It is difficult to get a general picture, because there is what we ordered on our own, with our own money; there is the Lease-and-Lend programme, superimposed upon that; and then there is the possible release from the Army of the United States. But the situation is that more and more can we get these moderate-weight-carrying bombers, and also big ones. I hope finally to get to a situation in which every single machine from the United States delivers itself by air. That must come. The great B.24 Liberator is already doing great service across the Atlantic. I want to see that service increased. My job is to keep the technicians of both Continents in tune. You can so easily waste time and get at cross purposes by letter writing, whereas you can get rid of a technical difficulty in a quarter of an hour by talk. The position is getting better in that respect, but I should like to see still more improvement.
We disclose everything to the Americans, and they disclose everything to us, both on the scientific side and on the commercial side. Now we have made a separate arrangement, so that no American machine ever arrives in this country without its godfather to look after it, to see that it is treated with respect and affection. I have seen machines flown by people who did not understand them, and given a bad name entirely through ignorance. These machines will have their technicians ready at the start to keep them serviced, and we are sending men to the other side to get used to them and to convey the technical requirements of our operational Air Force. Although there is a good deal to do, machines will come over slowly at first and faster and faster soon, equipped ready to go into operation. That will be a great relief to me.
413 As regards dispersal, I was asked whether if an enemy attack took place on one works it would ever stop the production of a machine. I can assure the Committee—and this again is due to my predecessor—that the splitting-up of production is really quite well done. An attack on one particular place could not stop the production of any single machine of an operational type in this country. And with regard to the "bits and pieces," if you have to go without one source, it does not hold up your whole production on one machine. That work has not only been duplicated but made up some four or five times, so that is really an achievement for which I bless my predecessor every night. It is a very remarkable achievement.
I would like to say a word about engines, because, as I have said before, I was weaned on petrol. I would like to rush along with new engines of vast horse-power as quickly as I can, but the development of engines is one of the slowest things in the world. It takes four years to get an engine from the original drawing to being a satisfactory engine. When I started flying I started with an engine of about 27 horse-power. I remember in the last war that 100 horse-power was looked upon as a remarkable machine. In this war we started with 1,000 horse-power, and now we have got 2,000. The complexity of aviation engines like that is not to be compared with those simpler engines that we used to make. We have adopted engines with carburettors, but the Germans, owing no doubt to the absence of good fuel, have adopted a fuel injection system rather like that of the Diesel engine. They have to be built to get very high indeed, and in order to get higher you have to pump air through their engines. That, we are chasing hard. We now get our fighters from about 35,000 feet up to 37,000 feet and several over 40,000 feet. It is an advantage—I do not say that all fighters should—to have a squadron of fighters which can be sitting on top of the others, and this struggle for height is one which is reflected in my Ministry from the point of view of the technical side.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon
All these things go together, of course. We 414 have a pressurised cabin from the point of view of general health. I have not said that I have produced 150 per cent, more than what was done last March— come Michaelmas Day. That sort of thing always used to annoy me, and it meant nothing at all. When I was a private Member, when the war started, I had in my own mind a sort of datum figure of what I thought the industry had to achieve for the position to be satisfactory. No matter what that figure is, we are to-day not quite, but very nearly at it. But do not be misled by figures too much. The engine for a fighter alone is of 2,000 horse-power, and now comes the long-range bomber, with four engines of 1,100 horse-power each—75,000 man-hours in the machine alone. You cannot compare the delivery of one of these to the delivery of one Moth. You must compare the bomb load carried, the range and that sort of thing. What does it all mean? Where have we got and how do we stand? I am not on the operational side. I have just to supply the goods, but if in the time that Lord Beaverbrook made that great effort to defeat the enemy by making fighters— if he could do it then, then the chances of the enemy invading this country to-day would be very much poorer indeed. As for the other side— the offensive side— where are we going? I do not say that we have got exactly all we want to get yet, but we are coming along. Members will remember the famous Wednesday and Saturday raids on London. It is an easy thing to raid London from France, and it is a much more difficult thing to raid Berlin from London, but I can assure hon. Members that it will not be many months before a raid like that on London will be child's play compared with that which we will be able to make on Berlin.
Now I want to say that our present position has nothing to do with me. It is due to people who worked and schemed and are now sometimes forgotten, and who were sometimes thrown into the wilderness two or three years ago. I want all to bear that in mind, because whoever occupies my office only begins to see the result of his work a year or 18 months afterwards. To me it seems very silly that we should be making this type of machine. But this destruction from-the air will pass, and I must say that I should like, at a later date, to be asso- 415 ciated with the reconstruction in which flight will be able to contribute towards a worthy future. There is a French proverb which says, "To know all is to forgive all." Those of us who started this particular movement thought it would bring the world together. All my life I have pleaded for the commercial side of aviation. Mechanical science has run ahead of political wisdom. What an extraordinary thing it is that I find myself to-day charged with making the most devastating life-destroying force that has ever been asked to be put into shape. I do not like the idea, but you have asked me to do it, and I pledge myself to do it to the best of my ability.
§ 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.