§ [17TH ALLOTTED DAY.]
§ Considered in Committee.
§ [SIR DENNIS HERBERT in the Chair.]
§ CIVIL ESTIMATES, 1941.
§ UNCLASSIFIED SERVICES.
§ MINISTRY OF SUPPLY.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £90, be granted to His Majesty. to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1942, for the salaries and expenses of the Ministry of Supply, including expenses of the Royal Ordnance Factories.
§ The Chairman
There are on the Order Paper to-day four Votes for four major Ministries—the Ministry of Supply, the Ministry of Aircraft Production, the Ministry of Labour and National Service, and the Admiralty. I understand these Votes have been put down in the belief, no doubt a correct belief, that the Committee desire to have a general and wide discussion in Committee of Supply on the subject of Production. The Rules of Debate in Committee of Supply would normally make this quite impossible, but. under the circumstances and in view of the emergency period, if it be the general wish of the Committee, the Chair will raise no objection. But I feel bound to add that the very rapid, I might call it exotic, growth of these departures from the Rules of Debate in Supply may cause hon. Members as well as the Chair, very great trouble in future, when it becomes necessary again to enforce some of these Rules. I trust that the Committee, therefore, will bear in mind that this is not merely an ordinary departure, but is an extraordinary departure from our Rules for the purposes of an emergency period. In view of the rapid growth which has taken place in these departures, I think the time has come—and I should like hon. Members to bear this in mind—when some consideration will probably have to be given to making some alterations in the Rules of Debate in Committee of Supply.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Churchill)
On 22nd January of this year I explained to the House the system of administration and production which it was proposed to adopt. I stated this in detail and at length, and I hope my statement may be studied again by those who have forgotten it, because it is the system we have followed since, and it is the system to which, in general and in principle, I propose to adhere. Changes in personnel are caused from time to time by the march of events and by the duty of continual improvement. Changes in machinery are enjoined by experience, and naturally while we live we ought to learn. Change is agreeable to the human mind and gives satisfaction, sometimes short-lived, to ardent and anxious public opinion. But, if Parliament is convinced, and those to whom it has given its confidence are convinced, that the system is working well and smoothly, then I say change for the sake of change is to be deprecated. In war-time, especially in vast, nation-wide and in some respects world-wide organisation, continuity and stability must not be underrated. If we were perpetually to be altering our system or lending ourselves too lightly to that process, we might achieve the appearance of energy and reform only at the expense of the authority of individuals and only to the detriment of the smooth working of the machinery, and at a heavy cost in output, which is the sole objective. Therefore, it is at the point where I left off this subject when I discussed it with the House in January that I take up my theme to-day.
There are two main aspects in which production must be considered. First, the organisation of planning and control, and, secondly the actual conditions present in the factories. Let us see first of all what was, and what is the system upon which the high administrative control of our war effort proceeds. The foundation must, of course, be a single, co-ordinated plan for the programmes of the three Services based upon our strategic needs. In my capacity as Minister of Defence, without which I could not bear the responsibilities entrusted to me for bringing about a successful outcome of the war, in that capacity, I prepared for the War Cabinet during the first three months of this year a revised general scheme, bringing together the whole of our munition pro- 1275 duction and import programme, and prescribing the highest reasonable target at which we ought to aim. For this purpose I was furnished with the forward programmes of the various fighting Departments, very much in the same way as the Service Estimates are brought before the Cabinet and the Treasury in the autumn in time of peace. I discussed these programmes orally and in writing with the Ministers and Service Chiefs of those Departments. The programmes were also examined by my own statistical Department under Professor Lindemann, now Lord Cherwell, and through the machinery of the Office of the Minister of Defence, which, as the House knows, embodies the peace-time Committee of Imperial Defence organisation. The work of these organisations proceeds ceaselessly. The strategic aspect of production is also continually considered by the Chiefs of Staff Committee, which meets every day, to advise upon or direct the conduct of the war. The general scheme, or War Supply Budget for the year 1941, a series of printed documents agreed with the Service Ministers and comprising a perfectly clear apportionment of resources and tasks, received the final approval of the War Cabinet on 31st March, and thereafter became mandatory on all Departments. There is, of course, no absolute finality in this scheme. Within its general framework revision and adjustment under the pressure of events are continuous.
So much for the framework of the general layout. The execution of this scheme on the military side is confided to the three great Supply Departments, namely, the Controller's Department of the Admiralty, the Ministry of Supply and the Ministry of Aircraft Production. The work had been parcelled out, and it remained for them to do it. The picture so luridly drawn of the chaotic and convulsive struggles of the three Supply Departments, without guidance or design, is one which will no doubt be pleasing to our enemies, but happily has no relation to the facts. The question however arises whether, in their execution of the approved scheme, the three Supply Departments have either been wanting in energy, or, on the contrary, through excess of zeal have quarrelled with each other or have trespassed upon each other's domain. There are no doubt instances of friction at the 1276 fringe of these powerful organisations, but I do not believe they bear any proportion worth mentioning to their individual and concerted efforts. It must be remembered that a very high proportion of our war production is carried out in factories working solely for one Department. That is true of aircraft factories, naval shipbuilding firms, ordnance factories, automobile factories and many others. A system has also been worked out for the allocation of the capacity of private engineering firms, either to single departments, or, in other cases, to two or more Departments in stated proportions. Probably half the factories concerned and certainly more than three-quarters of the men employed are working now, at this time, for one single Department. The Admiralty has its many firms, with their factories dating from long ago and kept alive during our rotten periods by Admiralty orders. The Air Ministry has been striving for a great many years to build up an aircraft industry in this island pending the day when Parliament should decide to have an Air Force equal to any within striking distance of these shores. The War Office, always in time of peace the drudge and starveling of British defence, had its own Ordnance Factories and was at last on the eve of the war accorded a Ministry of Supply and this Ministry of Supply has of course extended over a very large part of the remaining British industry.
At the point which we have now reached in our munitions development almost all firms and factories are working under the complete control of the Government at the fulfilment of the approved and concerted programmes. They are either working directly or indirectly in the sphere of war production, or they are ministering to our domestic and other needs. In this domestic field also, however, a very complete and searching organisation under Government control has been instituted. At the present moment, the whole industry of the country with inconsiderable exceptions, which may soon be licked up and absorbed, is assigned its function under Government authority. There are no doubt a number of minor aspects of our national life which have not yet been effectively regimented. When and as they are wanted, their turn will come. We are not a totalitarian State but we are steadily, and I believe as fast as possible, working ourselves into total war organi- 1277 sation. When we are given vivid instances of lack of organisation or of interdepartmental rivalry in some of the shops and factories, and when these are all bunched together to make an ill-smelling posy, it is just as well to remember that the area of disputation is limited, circumscribed and constantly narrowing.
In order to regulate the imports of commodities from abroad in accordance with the policy prescribed by the War Cabinet, we have, as I explained six months ago, the Import Executive comprising the heads of the Importing Departments, and presided over by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, and formerly by him when he was Minister of Supply. This is working very smoothly and I am not aware of any troubles or disputes which have arisen. I should certainly hear of these soon enough if there were any. By the side of this Import Executive we have the North American Supply Committee with its elaborate corresponding organisation in the United States. We are always trying to tighten up and make more precise and definite the work of our Purchasing Commissions in the United States. I should certainly not pretend that there is not a great deal of room for improvement and refinement, but it would be a mistake to suppose that the efficiency of our Purchasing Commissions under the supreme control of Mr. Purvis has not reached a very high level or that it is not constantly being shaped and sharpened. A year ago, six months ago, there were a lot of troubles and discordances but latterly, although again I should be the first to hear of them, my information is that they have very largely died away.
We have of course to come to very clear-cut agreements with our American friends and helpers. They are making an immense effort for the common cause and they naturally ask for the fullest and clearest information about what is happening to their goods and whether there is waste or misdirection. It is our duty to satisfy them that there is no muddle, or that muddle is reduced to a minimum and that they are getting value for their money. We welcome their criticism because it is at once searching, friendly and well informed. The improvement in the ordering of imports and of the British purchases in the United States, and in the relations of the very large number of 1278 competent persons who work night and day on both sides of the ocean, in this sphere is, I am glad to say, steady and progressive.
Now I come to the home scene. What are the relations of the three Supply Departments in the vast fertile production field of this busy island? I have already said that for their chief production each of the Fighting Services through its Supply Department or Ministry to an overwhelming extent commands its own factories and labour. Nevertheless, there is an inevitable region of debatable ground of firms which serve several Departments at once. Many of them are small sub-contracting firms or firms which make components. Besides this, a process of change is continually going forward to meet the rapidly varying demands of the war. A firm is resigned by the Admiralty and can be transferred either to the Ministry of Aircraft Production or to the Ministry of Supply. Particular lines of production acquire special urgency or importance as we gain experience from the fighting or as new ideas come along. One line of production dries up because it is no longer needed; another opens or grows in scale. Obviously there is rivalry in this part of the field between the Supply Departments. There ought to be rivalry and there ought to be zealous competition within the limits of the programme prescribed. It is this zealous competition, limited though it be to a fraction of our industry, which presents the hard cases and sometimes the bad instances of which so much is made.
It is among other things for the purpose of resolving the disputes and rivalries of the Departments in this limited field that the Production Executive was called into being in January. The Minister of Labour, himself a contributory factor as Minister of Labour to the work of the rest of the Executive and himself a Member of the War Cabinet, presides over a committee of six, three of whom are the heads of the Supply Departments, and the other two are the President of the Board of Trade and the Minister of Works and Buildings. As I explained to the House six months ago, all the members of this body have every interest to agree. They may have different interests to advocate because they have different duties to discharge, but it is a delusion to suppose that they do not feel a corporate responsibility and try to work together for 1279 the common purpose and for the execution of the approved programmes entrusted to them. If they agree they have the power to act. Each can make his contribution to the common action immediately and the movement of labour and materials can be ordered there and then. If there is a difference which cannot be settled by agreement of compromise, any Minister of Cabinet rank, and they are all such, has the right of appeal to the War Cabinet, or, as between the Service Supply Departments, in the first instance to me as Minister of Defence. During my tenure I have seen some very sharp differences but those differences have never been so sharp as they were, as I well remember having lived through it, in the days of the last war. All I can say now is that for the last four months no question of departmental rivalry or dispute has been brought to me or the War Cabinet from the Production Executive. I give the assurance to the House to-day that in the high controlling organisation there is now no dispute in progress about priorities of labour, raw materials, factory space or machine tools. Do not suppose however that this remarkable fact is the result of inertia or decay. On the contrary, as I shall show before I sit down—I am afraid I shall have to make a somewhat prolonged demand on the patience of the Committee, the subject is of great importance and must be dealt with comprehensively—production in all its forms is gaining steadily and swiftly, not only in volume, but, even at its present high altitude, in momentum.
I may say, while I am on the point, that much of this talk about the difficulties of settling priorities is a back number. The whole business of priorities has undergone a complete transformation. We have no more of these arrogant, absolute priorities in virtue of which one Department claimed all that there was of a particular commodity and left nothing for the lesser but indispensable needs of others. Although the 1A priority is still maintained largely for psychological reasons, for certain particular spheres of production such as aircraft, and tanks now, it is no longer exercised in the crude manner of the last war or in the early months of this. The method of allocation of labour, materials, and facilities has modified and to a large extent replaced the scale of 1280 priorities. Allocation is the governing principle, and priorities are becoming little more than a stimulus upon its detailed assignments.
It is at this point and in this setting that I will deal with the suggestion that a Ministry of Production should be formed. Several speakers referred to this in the recent Debate, and apparently it is regarded by some of our most important newspapers as an easy and speedy solution of our difficulties. There is however a difference among the advocates of a Ministry of Production. Some ask that there should be a complete merging of the Supply Departments of the Admiralty, the Air Ministry and the War Office, and that there should be one great common shop, or vast Department or emporium serving all fighting needs. That would be very pretty if we were not at war. Others, recoiling from the frightful disturbance and confusion which would accompany the transition and the danger of upsetting so much in the midst of war, are content to ask for one Minister, presumably assisted by a secretarial staff, who should be interposed between the Prime Minister and Minister of Defence and the three Supply Departments. Nothing would be easier than for me to gratify this request by asking one of my colleagues in the War Cabinet to call himself Minister of Production and to duplicate the work of general apportionment which I already do. But, so far from helping me in my task, or helping the Departments in theirs, this would be an additional complication, burden and cause of delay.
Moreover, the relations of this Minister of Production with the three Supply Departments would be most unsatisfactory. He would either have to trust them and use them, as I do, for the purpose of executing the prescribed programmes, or he would be left to break into these Departments, interfere with their work and try to get things done by his personal exertions. The Ministers at the head of these Departments are men of energy, experience and knowledge. They work night and day, and they have powerful, far-reaching, swift-running machinery at their disposal. If, in the sphere assigned to them, they cannot execute the programme with which they are charged, I do not myself see how a super-Minister from outside, with his 1281 skeleton staff, could do it for them. If the new Minister's control were nominal, and did not affect the Ministerial responsibility of the heads of the Supply Departments, it would be a farce and a fraud upon the public to which I will not stoop. If, on the other hand, the Minister of Production attempted to lay strong hands on the internal administration and day-today work of these Departments, they would confront him with a knowledge superior to his own and far more intimate, and all the resulting differences would have to come tome, with very great friction to the administrative machine and additional burdens upon the head of the Government.
Furthermore, these matters cannot be considered without reference to the personalities involved. I have not been told who is to be this superman who, without holding the office of Prime Minister, is to exercise an overriding control and initiative over the three Departments of Supply and the three Ministers of Supply. Where is the super-personality who, as one of the members of the War Cabinet, will dominate the vast, entrenched, established, embattled organisation of the Admiralty to whose successful exertions we owe our lives? Where is the War Cabinet Minister who is going to teach the present Minister of Aircraft Production how to make aircraft quicker and better than they are being made now? Who is the War Cabinet Minister who is going to interfere with Lord Beaverbrook's control and discharge of the functions of Minister of Supply duly and constitutionally conferred upon him? When you have decided on the man, let me know his name, because I should be very glad to serve under him, provided that I was satisfied that he possessed all the Napoleonic and Christian qualities attributed to him. In the conduct of vast, nation-wide administration there must be division of functions, and there must be proper responsibility assigned to the departmental chiefs. They must have the power and authority to do their work, and be able to take a proper pride in it when it is done, and be held accountable for it if it is not done.
Moreover, as I have tried to show, such difficulties as exist are not found at the summit but out in the country in a minority of smaller firms and factories. I do not for a moment deny that there 1282 are many things that go wrong and ought to be put right, but does anyone in his senses suggest that this should be the task of the super-Minister, that he should take up the hard cases and breakdowns by direct intervention from above? All he could do would be to refer complaints or scandals that came to his notice to the heads of the three Supply Departments, and, if he did not get satisfaction, he, having no power to remove or change the Ministers involved, would have to come to me, on whom rests the responsibility of advising His Majesty in such matters.
For good or ill, in any sensible organisation you must leave the execution of policies already prescribed to the responsible Ministers and Departments. If they cannot do it, no one can. It is to them that complaints should be addressed. It is to them that Members should write. Any case of which full particulars are provided—I must add that proviso—will be searchingly examined. We do not stand here to defend the slightest failure of duty or organisation. But let us have the facts. A kind of whispering campaign has been set on foot; there is a, flood of anonymous letters. Vague and general charges are made. And all this fills our shop window, greatly to our detriment. It is impossible for me, within the limits of this Debate, to deal with various specific allegations which were made by Members in different parts of the House in the two preceding days of this Debate. Such a treatment of the matter would be entirely out of proportion, and I should have to trespass upon the Committee altogether unduly.
I turn aside, however, for a moment to deal with one particular aspect of the problem of production, namely machine tools. The "Times," in its leading article this morning, makes the valuable suggestion that a census of machine tools throughout the country should be held. There have already been three—in June, 1940, in November, 1940, and a partial census of the principal firms in June, 1941. The Supply Ministers are responsible for the use of machine tools to the best advantage. There is, however, a controller of machine tools, Mr. Mills, a business man of the highest repute, whose sole duty is to supervise their employment by all Departments. By the joint agreement and good will of the three Supply 1283 Departments, this gentleman has independent powers. He has his own representatives throughout the country. Although he is actually under the Ministry of Supply, he can remove any machine tool that is idle from any Department or factory and transfer it to another, and he is continually exercising these powers. He exercised them on several occasions against the late Minister of Aircraft Production before the recent changes in the Government took place. This functionary is given these powers with good will by people who wish to submit their Departments to his use of them.
There are, however, three limiting factors in the use of machine tools. The first is any shortage that may exist of skilled labour, which we are striving by every method to overcome. The second is the undoubted difficulty we have found in working to the full extent night shifts under conditions of air attack. It is the third limiting factor which gives rise to the complaints which are made. I am not an expert in these matters, but I am told that there are between 200 and 300 kinds of machine tools in our census. Their effective use is governed by certain precision machine tools of which there is a shortage. I need not say how intense are the efforts to break down these vexatious bottle-necks. Moreover, the precision tools of which there is a shortage vary sometimes with the varying demands of war production, and sometimes the block is found here and sometimes there. Thus, when people go about the country and see at some garage or factory or in some small firm a number of machine tools of the lower grades, or of peace-time specialised types, lying idle and write to their Member about it, the explanation is not that the supply of machine tools is not organised to the highest degree, not that the Government do not know about these machine tools, where they are and what they are, not that they do not in general know about them and have them on their census list, it is because, owing to the shortage at key points of special precision types, many of these tools cannot be brought into action, and there would be no sense in crowding out the factories with redundant machinery.
That is a digression which I have made because I have read with some interest the thoughtful article which appears in the 1284 "Times" this morning. Hardly any part of our common organisation for war production has been more thoroughly and precisely examined than the question of machine tools. No one can be engaged, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) knows, in munition production for one day without feeling that this is, as it were, the ganglion nerve, the centre of the whole of supply.
I said just now that I cannot go into details of many of the cases which hon. Members brought up in the Debate. If they will write about them, they will be gone into in detail. There was, however, one charge made by my hon. Friend the Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones) which, as it has had wide publicity and as it affects the United States supplies, requires to be answered. My hon. Friend said:The sad feature of the United States supply of aircraft is that whereas orders were energetically placed in the last two years or more for airframes and engines, those who placed them forgot at the same time to ensure that supplies of maintenance equipment and ancillary equipment were provided. What is the result? Of one type of aircraft imported from the United States, complete and operationally ready, there are several hundreds—or were a few weeks ago—lying unpacked in inland warehouses, in their crates, for the sole reason that those who placed the orders on behalf of the Ministry of Aircraft Production did not order the necessary ancillary equipment."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th July, 1941; col. 204, vol. 373.]So far as aircraft on British order are concerned, this statement is quite untrue. All British orders for American aircraft have always been placed with spare engines and spares for airframes. There has been no failure or oversight of this kind in ordering British aircraft.
The mistake into which my hon. Friend has fallen arose from an exceptional event. When the French collapsed, all their contracts for aircraft in the United States were taken over immediately, for what they were worth, by the Minister of Aircraft Production. There was not an hour's delay. These aircraft had to be accepted in the condition in which they were prepared for the French, under French orders. This is the case to which I am sure reference was made in this passage of my hon. Friend's speech. They had to be accepted in the condition in which the French had specified them and in which they were delivered by the 1285 American manufacturers. This was a windfall, but it had its drawbacks. For instance, the French Tomahawks arrived without spare engines or spares for their airframes, exactly as my hon. Friend pointed out. They were built to take French guns. Their wireless sets did not tune with ours. Their instruments were on the metric system. They were not armoured according to our conditions. They differed in many ways from our methods of control and manoeuvre. Instead of pushing some lever forwards, you had to pull it backwards, which our pilots found most inconvenient.
As swiftly as possible these aircraft have been modified and brought into use. The "cannibal" system was frequently resorted to of necessity, leaving lots of them partly gutted, but practically all of these French American aeroplanes are in use and have been most satisfactory in operation. Now there is the whole of that story that has been paraded as a typical scandal and example of how we do our business.
§ Mr. Garro Jones (Aberdeen, North)
No one would be more delighted than I to feel that British aeroplane orders were complete with operational equipment. My right hon. Friend has told the Committee that the types ordered for the French were not complete with operational equipment. Did I understand him correctly to say that the types ordered for British use were complete with their operational equipment?
§ The Prime Minister
Yes, I said that as plainly as I could. I said that the suggestion that they had not been ordered with their operational equipment was untrue, and I adhere to it. Everything that has been ordered on British account has been ordered complete. The aeroplanes ordered on French account were lacking in this equipment. An inquiry addressed to the Minister concerned would have elicited an immediate explanation, but when allegations of this sort are given the utmost publicity in Parliament by a Member speaking from the front Bench opposite, uninformed American readers—here is where the serious part comes—must come to the conclusion that there is disorganisation and incapacity in the conduct of our munitions business, and this opinion, so damaging to us, would be based entirely on misconception and mis- 1286 understanding. It is not, I am glad to say, shared by the American authorities. I presided at a recent meeting attended by Mr. Harry Hopkins, the Lease-Lend authority, to whose words we listened with so much comfort the other night. He, with his full knowledge and attended by expert American officers, dwelt upon the trials and difficulties attending the modification of aircraft from the United States on French account and expressed satisfaction with the arrangements we had made to overcome them. But outside this circle, who know all the facts, inside the United States, where there is a vigorous campaign against the policy pursued by the President and the majority, I fear that harm has been done, and it cannot be easily overtaken or healed.
What are the other elements which produce oscillations or discordances in the process of production? They arise, of course, out of the changing conditions of the war. As new needs arise, new directions have to be given, which undoubtedly cause disturbances in the flow of production, but I must say I have the feeling that the British machinery of production, vast and intricate though it be, is capable not only of flexible adaptation but of sustaining successfully a number of inevitable jerks. These take place, for instance, largely in the sphere of aircraft production. The Minister of Aircraft Production explained to the House on the second day of this Debate the constant changes in the design of aircraft which arose from the progress of our aeronautics and our experience of manufacture and war. He showed how it was sometimes inevitable that there should be a break in the continuity of production because one type had failed and another had proved itself because one type was being faded out and another being worked in, and how this must happen when you run the risk of ordering off the drawing board and carrying out large orders on the basis of the pilot model without having the time to go though all the processes which in peace-time make the completion of the aeroplane from the moment of its conception a matter of five or six years.
It is a difficult question to decide when the mass production of a particular type should be discarded in favour of a new and better type, and to what intensity such a process of transformation should be carried. I think on the whole, at this 1287 moment, we have carried it a bit far. Aircraft of a particular type which slowly Work up to the peak of production may be discarded after too short a run at the peak level—no doubt for very good reasons, very fine reasons, greater bomb capacity, greater speed and so forth. Simplification and continuity of serial production are, of course the basic factors necessary in securing flow of output, and it is a question of balancing between the two sides. All the same, believe me, mastery of the air, leadership and command in design cannot possibly be achieved except by a process of interminable trial; and error and the scrapping of old types. Something better comes along. You cannot afford to miss it, even if you have to pay, and pay heavily, in numbers of output or dislocation in a section of the workshops. The struggle for air mastery requires vast numbers, but those vast numbers could not succeed alone unless the forward leading types constantly achieve the highest level of enterprise and perfection. Combat in the air is the quintessence of all physical struggle. To lose primacy in the quality of the latest machines would be incompatible with the attainment of that command of the air in quality and in quantity upon which a large part of our confidence is founded.
I am glad to tell the Committee that our spring and, summer fashions in aircraft are this year farther ahead of contemporary German production than they were last year, The enemy borrowed many ideas from our fighter aeroplanes when he felt their mettle a year ago, and we borrowed from him too, but in the upshot we have confronted him in 1941 with fighter aircraft which in performance, speed, ceiling and, above all, gun armaments have left our pilots with the old, and even an added, sense of technical superiority. It would take too long to describe, as I easily could do, some of the Smaller causes of oscillation which affect the execution of the Navy and Army supply programmes. I could show in a way which I think would satisfy the Committee that a certain measure of change, with resulting dislocation, is inevitable under the strenuous conditions of war, but I do not propose to enter upon either of those fields to-day.
Let me come, on the other hand, to an example of criticism which is helpful 1288 and constructive. I have read the Seventeenth Report of the Select Committee on National Expenditure. It deals with the conditions in the filling factories. These are admittedly far from satisfactory. Since the war began great factories have been built in out-of-the-way districts, without time to meet the needs and amenities of the working population. They have not by any means yet reached their full capacity and proper standards. Although we have been making many millions of shells there are still several millions of shells and their components, including fuses, which are not yet filled. But there is no need for alarm, but rather for greater exertion, because in this war we are firing shells at men and not, as in the last war, so largely at ground. Nor have we a great battlefront continuously engaged. We are making on an enormous scale, but we are not firing on any scale. It is important to remember in the battles in the desert the difficulties of getting ammunition to the places where the guns are, and since the front in France broke down there is no field of fire for our artillery. Therefore, what we have witnessed is not, as in the last war, as I know so well and as did my right hon. Friend before me, the feeling of intense effort to feed the guns from day to day, but we are piling up large and satisfactory reserves with no corresponding outflow to drain them off at the present time. Let me say nothing which would in any way remove from the minds of those engaged in the filling factories the view that catching up with the filling of the already large stores of components, fuses and shell-cases is not a work of prime and high order and of national importance.
Representatives of the Select Committee visited the filling factories in June and they produced a number of extremely shrewd and valuable suggestions dealing with transport, hostels, canteens, Sunday work and piece-work. We agree with nearly all of them. We will adopt almost all of them. We agree with them the more readily and we can adopt them the more speedily because, as I see from the records, on 7th January and on 5th February, in my capacity as Minister of Defence, I presided over two successive meetings of the Supply Committee on this very subject. Almost every one of these proposals had already been ordered to be put into operation months before, and has been or is being carried into effect with 1289 very great improvement, in spite of the many difficulties attendant upon the bringing into action of these great new plants in out-of-the-way districts under the conditions which prevailed last winter.
I have here a detailed account of all that had been set on foot or that had been done before the Select Committee visited the factories. I will send it to the Chairman of the Committee for their further observations. It is too long for me to read to the Committee in detail, but it shows that great minds sometimes think alike, and that the Government great minds had a good long start of the great minds of the Select Committee. The Report of the Select Committee is the kind of criticism that one wants—not mere vague abuse and prejudice, in which only bad citizens and bad people indulge in times like these, but helpful and constructive suggestions, many of which were contained in the speeches made from the Front Bench opposite.
I leave the first part of this subject, dealing with discordances and shortcomings alleged to be attributable to faults or weaknesses in the high control, and I come to the more general charges of slackness and inefficiency in the factories themselves, whether due to local lack of management or to lack of zeal in the workpeople. There is a certain class of member of all parties—you can count them on your fingers and toes—who feel, no doubt quite sincerely, that their war work should be to belabour the Government and portray everything at its worst, in order to produce a higher efficiency. I see that a Motion has been put on the Paper calling specifically for the appointment of a Minister of Production. I consider that to be a perfectly proper step for the Members concerned to take. I regret only that the Motion cannot be moved in this form to-day. If the Members who have fathered it do not feel satisfied with the reasons I have given against creating a Minister or a Ministry of Production, I hope that they will not hesitate to go to a Division by moving a nominal reduction of one of the Votes we are discussing. That is the straightforward and manly course. No-one should be deterred in war-time from doing his duty merely by the fact that he will be voting against the Government or still 1290 less because the Party Whips are acting as tellers.
We are often told that "the House of Commons thinks this" or "feels that." Newspapers write: "The general feeling was of grave uneasiness," "There was much disquiet in the Lobby," etc. All this is telegraphed all over the world and produces evil effects. No-one has a right to say what is the opinion of the House of Commons unless there has been a Division. We suffer now from not having Divisions. We have Debates, to which a very small minority of Members are able to contribute because of the time. They express their anxiety and grievances and make our affairs out as bad as they possibly can, and these bulk unduly in the reports which reach the public or are heard abroad. These Members do not represent the opinion of the House of Commons or of the nation, nor do their statements give a true picture of the prodigious war effort of the British people. Parliament should be an arena in which grievances and complaints become vocal. The Press also should be a prompt and vigilant alarm bell, ringing when things are not going right. But it is a very heavy burden added to the others we have to bear if, without a vote being cast, the idea should be spread at home and abroad that it is the opinion of the House of Commons that our affairs are being conducted in an incompetent and futile manner and that the whole gigantic drive of British industry is just one great muddle and flop.
People speak of workmen getting £6, £7 or £8 a week and not giving a fair return to the State. It is also asserted, on the other hand, that the workmen are eager to work, but that the mismanagement from the summit is such that they are left for weeks or even months without the raw material, or the particular component or the special direction which they require for their task. We may be quite sure that in an organisation which deals with so many millions of people under all the stresses of the present time and in view of the present conditions, as well as the inevitable oscillations of war-time which I have mentioned, there are a great many faults, and we must try sedulously to eradicate those faults and to raise the harmony and cohesion of our whole productive effort. Here again, it is important to preserve a sense of proportion 1291 and not to be led away by thinking that hard cases, wrong deeds and minor or local discordances represent more than a very small fraction of our war performance. It is no less important—indeed, in a way it is even more important—not to sum up and condemn the whole effort of the nation as if it were expressed in these discordances and failures. That is my complaint about the recent Debate and the use made of it by certain sections of the Press and the results upon our own self-confidence and still more upon opinion friendly, hostile or balancing in foreign countries.
§ The Prime Minister
I am quoting no particular person. I am saying that the effect of the Debate was to give that hostile impression. When I read the Debate, that was the effect it had upon me, and I set myself to present a complete picture to the Committee. I was distressed at this aspect of the matter. I therefore ventured to ask the House to resume the Debate, and I should be glad to have the matter brought to a plain issue.
It is on this footing and with these preliminaries in dealing with the second sphere of my subject, namely, what is going on in the factories, that I come to the remark of my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Ward-law-Milne), who said that "our people are only working up to 75 per cent. of their possible efficiency." I am well aware that, in making that statement, my hon. Friend did not wish to attack the Government or in any way to embarrass the national defence. In fact, he has been ill-used. This particular sentence has been wrested from its context and from the whole character of his speech. Nevertheless, as Chairman of the Select Committee on National Expenditure, he holds a very responsible position and is credited with exceptional knowledge. A statement like this, coming from him, although uttered with the best of motives, is serious when it is broadcast apart from its context. I have to think of its effect in Australia, for instance, where party politics are pursued with the same robust detachment as was exhibited by our forerunners in this House in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. A statement like this, taken out of its context, 1292 or in a very summarised version of what was said, becomes the subject of lively discussion out there. Australian troops are bearing with great distinction much of the brunt of the fighting in the Middle East, and it must be very painful to Australians to be told that we are only making a three-quarter effort here at home to put proper weapons in their hands. In America, such a statement is meat and drink to the Isolationist forces. Americans are being asked to pay much heavier taxes, to give up their food, to alter their daily lives, and to reduce their motor cars, indulgencies and pleasures of all kinds, in order to help Britain, and I cannot help being deeply disturbed when they are told on what seems to be high British authority that we are making only a three-quarter hearted effort to help ourselves. My hon. Friend's allegation has been wrested from its context. I have no quarrel with him, but it has gone to all parts of the country and to all quarters of the world; but nothing can be done about that.
What is important is whether it is true; but how difficult to decide because, after all, this is a double expression of opinion —first, as to whether it is 75 per cent. or not, and, secondly, 75 per cent. of what? I have tried to find a datum line, and I take as the datum line the three months after Dunkirk. Then, it will be admitted, our people worked to the utmost limit of their moral, mental and physical strength. Men fell exhausted at their lathes, and workmen and working women did not take their clothes off for a week at a time. Meals, rest, and relaxation all faded from their minds, and they just carried onto the utmost limit of their strength. Thus there was a great spurt in June, July and August of last year. Immense efforts were made, and every semi-finished weapon was forced through to completion, very often at the expense of immediate future output, producing an altogether abnormal inflation of production. So let us take those three months as the datum line; you could not have a harder test.
Now is it true that we are only working 75 per cent. of that? There are certainly one or two reasons why we cannot wholly recapture and maintain indefinitely the intense personal efforts of a year ago. First of all, if we are to win this war—and I feel solidly convinced 1293 that we shall—it will be largely by staying power. For that purpose you must have reasonable minimum holidays for the masses of the workers. There must, as my hon. Friend himself urged in his speech, be one day in seven of rest as a general rule, and there must be, subject to coping with bottle-necks and with emergencies which know no law, a few breaks and where possible one week's holiday in the year. Since what I will call the Dunkirk three months datum period, we have undoubtedly relaxed to that extent. Sunday work is practically eliminated, and brief periods of leisure have been allowed to break the terrible routine strain of continuous employment. I am quite sure that if we had not done so, we should have had a serious crack which would have cost far more in production than these brief periods of rest from labour.
Next, allowance must be made for the very severe change in the diet of the heavy manual worker. It is quite true that no one has gone short of food; there has been no hunger, there has not been the confusion of the last war at some periods, but no one can pretend that the diet of the British people and especially of their heavy workers has not become far less stimulating and interesting than it was a year ago. Except for our Fighting Services, we have been driven back to a large extent from the carnivore to the herbivore. That may be quite satisfactory to the dietetic scientists who would like to make us all live on nuts, but undoubtedly it has produced, and is producing, a very definite effect upon the energetic output of the heavy worker. [Interruption.] The Noble Lord knows I could discuss a great many matters in Secret Session, but he is one of the first to get up and say he would like to have these discussions in public, under conditions where nothing can be said by the Government in answer to the kind of criticism with which he associated himself. We want more meat in the mines and the foundries, and we want more cheese. Why should that gratify Lord Haw-Haw? Lord Haw-Haw should also bear in mind the statement of Mr. Harry Hopkins the other day, on the intention of the United States to see that we get our food, and of their intention to keep clear the sea-lanes by which our food will be brought. I know of the great arrangements which have been made to 1294 send us food in nourishing, varied and more interesting quantities. Therefore there is no need to tell me I am helping Lord Haw-Haw. If he never gets any more consolation than he gets from me, his lot will be as hard as his deserts. Every effort will be made, and is being made, to supplement this deficiency, and I share the hope of the Minister of Food and the Minister of Agriculture that our rations in 1942 will be more stimulating and more tensely nourishing than in 1941.
That is the second reason. The first is the need for some relaxation; then there is this question of food, which has come upon us gradually and which is serious. I wish it to be known all over the United States that it is serious, because it encourages them in their actions. The third reason is this: Look at all the dilution we have had. It is estimated that one-third more people are working in the war industries than there were a year ago. A great many of these are trainees and newcomers. It would not be wonderful if they failed to preserve the same level of output per pair of human hands as was achieved by the skilled craftsmen of a year or 18 months ago. Naturally they will improve. They are improving, but dilution means a reduction in efficiency per pair of human hands in the earlier stages.
Then, fourthly, there has been a great dislocation by reason of the air raids, by which the Germans hoped to smash up our industries and break down our power of resistance last autumn and winter. Air-raid destruction, extraordinary blitzes on our ports and manufacturing centres, the restrictions of the black-out, the interruption and delays of transportation, all played their delaying and dislocating parts. The remedy and counter-measure which was proposed and carried through when possible with such extreme vigour by the Supply Departments, with Lord Beaverbrook and the Ministry of Aircraft Production in the van as the inspiring force, took the form of dispersion. This was a matter of life and death, in the aircraft industry as well as in other key war industries. The great Bristol firm, for instance, was dispersed into nearly 45 sub-centres. I could give you —and the enemy too—a score of instances of the dispersion of firms to 20, 30 or 40 sub-centres. All this has been an obstacle to the smooth running of production. It has placed us, however, in a 1295 position in which we are immune from mortal damage from enemy air raids in our aircraft production and other branches of munitions. We may suffer, we may be retarded, we can no longer be destroyed. When a great firm like the Bristol firm is divided and dispersed, consider the trials of the workpeople and the problems of the management. Workpeople by the thousand have to be moved from their homes, plant has to be shifted, ruined factories have to be reconditioned, domestic affairs have somehow or other to be adjusted, often with great sacrifice and hardship, and it is a marvel what has been done to overcome these grievous and novel difficulties. That they should hamper the pace and intensity of production was inevitable.
I have now described to the Committee a number of solid factors which have fallen upon us since the Dunkirk period, all of which have tended to obstruct and reduce output. I should like to give the Committee some facts and figures to show how far we have succeeded, by improved organisation and by the smoother running of our expanding machinery, in overcoming these adverse currents which I have set out at length. But here I encounter a new difficulty. I am told we cannot have these Debates in Secret Session; they must be in public. The Germans must read in two or three days every word we say, and therefore I cannot give actual figures. In addition, I am told by my hon. Friends to "Let us have none of those comparative percentages; let us not be told that we are producing half as much again or double what we produced this time last year, because we were producing nothing last year or something like it." As my hon. Friend said—it is a Lancashire saying— "Twice nowt is nowt." So, according to these critics, I am inhibited from all vindicatory comparisons. I must not say how much better we are than at this time last year when, after all, we had been at war for 10 or 11 months, and so were presumably making something. I must not say how much better we are than at the twenty-third month of the last war, nor how our output compares with the peak of the last war, because it is contended conditions have changed. Well, Sir, this is rather easy money for the critics. A handful of Members can fill a couple of days' Debate with 1296 disparaging charges against our war effort, and every ardent or disaffected section of the Press can take it up, and the whole can cry a dismal cacophonous chorus of stinking fish all round the world. But no answer must be made, nothing must be said to show the giant war effort, the prodigy of national zeal, which excites the astonishment of friend and foe, which will command the admiration of history, and which has kept us alive.
I defy these tyrannical prohibitions. I intend to make comparisons, both with the Dunkirk datum period and with the similar and peak periods of the last war. Despite all the troubles I have enumerated, the Ministry of Supply output in the last three months has been one-third greater than in the three months of the Dunkirk period. Though our Navy, Army and Air Force are larger, the Ministry has one-third more people working in its factories. Thus, despite dilution, dispersion, reduced food, the blackout, and all the troubles I have described, each man is turning out, on the whole, each day, as much as he did in that time of almost superhuman effort. Let me present the balance-sheet. One-third more workers and one-third more output is quits. But all the adverse factors I have described have somehow or other been cancelled out by superior development of our machinery and organisation. We have made, in the last three months, more than twice the field guns we made in the Dunkirk period. The ammunition we are turning out is half as much again. The combined merchant and naval shipbuilding now in active progress is bigger, not only in scale but in current daily volume of execution, than it was at any period in the last war, and, of course, the work now is immeasurably more complex than it was then.
In aircraft production it is foolish to calculate only by the number of machines, though these have largely increased, because one machine takes 5,000 man-hours, and another, 75,000 man-hours. Judged, however, either by the test of numbers or man-hours eventuating in aircraft production, the increase even above the spurt period of a year ago is substantial. The increase since this Government took office is enormous, and I should be proud to tell the Committee what it is. I am not going to do so, because the enemy do not tell us their figures, much as we should 1297 like to have them. The Committee must, therefore, be content with my assurance that progress and expansion on a great scale are continuous, and are remorselessly spurred on. This progress has been accomplished under the fire of the enemy, under air assault, which Hitler was led to believe would shatter our industries and reduce us to impotence and subjection. It has been done in spite of the difficulties of dispersion, and has been done not only with no sacrifice in quality but with a gain in quality, both actual and relative. Now that the air battles are developing again in scale and intensity we can claim that our fighters are at least as much ahead of the enemy as when we defeated him a year ago. As for the bombers, in the year that has passed, in British production alone, taking no account of the now rapidly expanding United States imports, we have doubled our power of bomb discharge on Germany at 1,500 miles range, and in the next three months, though this time taking account of the American reinforcements, we shall double it again. In the six months after that we shall redouble it. Besides all this we have ploughed the land, and, by the grace of God, have been granted the greatest harvest in living memory, perhaps the greatest we have ever known in these Islands. So much for comparison, with the high level of the Dunkirk period.
Now I turn to some comparisons with the last war. That was a terrible war. It lasted 52 months; there was frightful slaughter; there was an immense British effort; there was a complete final victory. We are now in the twenty-third month. We have lost large stocks of equipment on the beaches of Dunkirk, our food has been rationed, our meat reduced, we have been bombed and blacked out, and yet, even in this seventh quarter of the war, our total output of war-like stores has been nearly twice as great as our total output of production in the corresponding seventh quarter of the last war, and has equalled our production in the fourteenth and culminating quarter of the last war. We have rather more workers in the metal industry than we had then. When all those now working to complete and equip our new factories become available, and the Ministry of Labour has completed its task of collecting workers from unessential industries, we shall produce even more. But to reach in two years the level only achieved in the fourth year of the last war 1298 is, I venture to submit, an achievement which deserves something better than flouts and jeers.
We are told how badly labour is behaving, and then a lot of people who never did a day's hard work in their lives are out after them. Again I claim to look back to the last war. In that war we had many bitter and devastating strikes, and in the final two years nearly 12,000,000 working days were lost through labour disputes. So far, in the whole 23 months of this war, we have lost less than 2,000,000 days. I was anxious to have the latest information about trade disputes in the country. I received, a few minutes before I rose to speak, a report that at 11 o'clock to-day there was no stoppage of work of any kind arising from a trade dispute in any part of Great Britain.
It is the fashion nowadays to abuse the Minister of Labour. He is a workman, a trade union leader. He is taunted with being an unskilled labourer representing an unskilled union. I daresay he gives offence in some quarters; he has his own methods of speech and action. He has a frightful load to carry; he has a job to do which none would envy. He makes mistakes, like I do, though not so many or so serious—he has not got the same opportunities. At any rate he is producing, at this moment, though perhaps on rather expensive terms, a vast and steady volume of faithful effort, the like of which has not been seen before. And if you tell me that the results he produces do not compare with those of totalitarian systems of government and society, I reply by saying, "We shall know more about that when we get to the end of the story."
I daresay that some of our critics will not like this kind of talk. They call it complacency. Living in comparative idleness, they wish to lash the toilers of body and mind to further exertions. To state facts which are true and encouraging is to be accused of a cheap and facile optimism. Our critics do not like it; neither do the Germans, but for different reasons. But I consider that if, for days on end, the whole national effort is disparaged and insulted, and if, all over the world, we are depicted by our friends and countrymen as slack, rotten and incompetent, we are 1299 entitled, nay, it becomes a pressing duty, to restore the balance by presenting the truth.
A number of Votes have been put down as a basis of this Debate. I do not think I shall be out of Order if I place our discussion in its relation to the general aspects of the war before we separate for a short Recess, during which Members will be able to regain contact with their constituents and Ministers to give undivided attention to their work. When I look out upon the whole tumultuous scene of this ever-widening war, I feel it my duty to conclude by giving a very serious warning to the House and to the country. We must be on our guard equally against pessimism and against optimism. There are, no doubt, temptations to optimism. It is the fact that the mighty Russian State, so foully and treacherously assaulted, has struck back with magnificent strength and courage, and is inflicting prodigious and well-deserved slaughter for the first time upon the Nazi armies. It is the fact that the United States, the greatest single Power in the world, is giving us aid on a gigantic scale and advancing in rising wrath and conviction to the very verge of the war. It is the fact that the German air superiority has been broken, and that the air attacks on this country have for the time being almost ceased. It is the fact that the Battle of the Atlantic, although far from won, has, partly through American intervention, moved impressively in our favour. It is the fact that the Nile Valley is now far safer than it was 12 months ago or three months ago. It is the fact that the enemy has lost all pretence of theme or doctrine, and is sunk ever deeper in moral and intellectual degradation and bankruptcy, and that almost all his conquests have proved burdens and sources of weakness.
But all these massive towering facts, which we are entitled to dwell on, must not lead us for a moment to suppose that the worst is over. The formidable power of Nazi Germany, the vast mass of destructive munitions that they have made or captured, the courage, skill and audacity of their striking forces, the ruthlessness of their centralised war-direction, the prostrate condition of so many great peoples under their yoke, the re- 1300 sources of so many lands which may to some extent become available to them—all these restrain rejoicing and forbid the slightest relaxation. It would be madness for us to suppose that Russia or the United States is going to win this war for us. The invasion season is at hand. All the Armed Forces have been warned to be at concert pitch by 1st September and to maintain the utmost vigilance meanwhile. We have to reckon with a gambler's desperation. We have to reckon with a criminal who by a mere gesture has decreed the death of 3,000,000 or 4,000,000 of Russian and German soldiers. We stand here still the champions. If we fail, all fails, and if we fall, all will fall together. It is only by a superb, intense and prolonged effort of the whole British Empire that the great combination of about three-quarters of the human race against Nazidom will come into vehement and dynamic life. For more than a year we have been all alone: all alone, we have had to guard the treasure of mankind. Although there have been profound and encouraging changes in the situation, our own vital and commanding responsibilities remain undiminished; and we shall discharge them only by continuing to pour out in the common cause the utmost endeavours of our strength and virtue and, if need be, to proffer the last drop of our heart's blood.
§ Mr. Erskine Hill (Edinburgh, North)
We have just heard a speech which I think will long remain with all of us. It is not easy to follow a speech of that sort by making new suggestions even though meant constructively. The Prime Minister told us that he welcomed constructive criticism, and I assure him that any criticism that I make will be along those lines. I am not one of those who think that our war effort should be despised or that all workers, employers, and indeed all the citizens of this country, have not played a great part. But it is important that we should consider not only what has been done, but how we can bring about improvements. It may be that the percentage of efficiency is not so high as my hon. Friend who was referred to in the Debate suggested, or that production has descended so low. It may be that the work we are doing is more satisfactory. But I am sure that it would be the wish of the Prime Minister that we should all get together and consider whether we can 1301 make a greater effort and whether we can improve our system. One must look not only to the aspect which was closely dealt with by the Prime Minister, but to the actual machinery in the Ministry itself, to see whether that can be improved.
It seems to me a mistake, which we cannot rectify at this stage altogether, that the system has been built up upon a Civil Service which was good in peacetime, which was the best that could be got together, and which had traditions of the highest possible order. I cannot feel that we ought not to consider why we may not be reaching that 100 per cent. which we would desire to attain. Is the machine at fault or is it the staffing of that machine? I would say that it is obviously both. Our Civil Service was conceived and evolved for small-scope peace-time operations when the production of the nation was the work of private effort. You have to build up on that to a much higher stage, it seems to me. For those purposes, while the Civil Service was admirable, I venture to think that there is in war-time something to be desired. You cannot, I admit, alter that in war-time. The change is too great, but there is something you can do. When you come to the other side of the case, the personnel, it seems to me that the standards of the Civil Service should be put on the basis of efficiency. You cannot do that unless you insist that for the time being, as the workers have been willing to concede their trade union regulations, as the employers have been willing to make every concession they can, as the middle-class shopkeepers have been called upon to make concessions greater probably than those made in any other sphere, the Civil servant should play his part. I suggest that the Civil servant would be only too anxious to do so, and would be willing to depart from some of those rules which seem to me to make for inefficiency. It is essential, and this country will insist upon it, that there should be no favoured circles, where if a man fails he can be kicked upstairs, or at any rate kicked only along the passage.
The country demands that for the time being promotion should be by merit and not by seniority. It is difficult to say these things, knowing the high traditions of the Civil Service, and the important part they have played, but I think something might bed one in that direction 1302 which would actually strengthen the working of a Ministry of Production and other Departments. These defects could be cured if promotion was altered and the question of dismissal for inefficiency during the war was taken into account. What is the fault? There are many excellent Civil servants, but there are a number who do not think for themselves. There are the "Yes-men" and the "No-men," who are only too willing to obstruct, and there are the officials who cannot make up their own minds. The national effort will be impeded unless the ordinary rules are altered for the period of the war.
I should like to say a word about the most vital question facing a Ministry of Production. The thing this country wants at the moment, bearing in mind the great dangers we have to face, are more tanks and guns. You cannot have a better policy than the Government's short-dated policy of getting as many tanks and guns as we can produce during the next few months. I think we are in grave danger. The Russian situation may be better than many of us feared, but it stands out as a menace to us. If anything happens there suddenly, and the tiger springs back, we shall be in mortal danger again. For that reason I agree with the policy of the Government in putting in a peculiarly active Minister to look after this Ministry. I agree with the policy of three members on the Tank Board. This number will be better than 13 for getting things done quickly. I do not know anything about them personally, except that everything I have heard leads me to think they will be active. But there have been delays. I know of many instances where tank production has been held up. A suggestion has been made by one works that there should be some simplification, and the Tank Board has been asked to consider it. The answer comes back, "Do nothing to these tanks for four or five weeks. Do not proceed with the work until we have made up our minds." I could give the Minister instances of this if they were required. The result is that until you get decision, work is held up. There must be quick decision when decision is wanted.
There is another thing I would like to say on this question of production. What 1303 worries a great many people in industry is the inordinate number of forms which have to be filled up. I know the Ministry are trying to do their best, but I would ask them to think again and see whether they cannot have simplified forms and reduce their numbers. With short staffs and other difficulties, the responsibility of filling up forms, however necessary, is one which ought to be dispensed with wherever possible. In the memorandum issued in response to a letter by Sir Ronald Matthews, President of the British Chambers of Commerce, that point was raised, and a promise was given that the Ministry would look into it. I hope they will, because this seems to be one of the ways by which you can give less work to the staff. This war can only be won by 100 per cent. effort on the part of everybody, and I hope the Government will be content with nothing less, whether it be from heads of Departments or the workers in the Departments themselves. We can only get that when there is complete discontent with anything but a high standard of efficiency and by rising above questions of class distinction. We have put away 90 per cent. of this question; let us put it away altogether. We must lay down a standard applied to everyone that there must be no inefficiency anywhere and that any inefficiency will be dealt with ruthlessly and effectively. The Prime Minister is a great leader, and he deserves the weapons with which he can lead us to victory.
The test which ought always to be applied is one of results. I think the appointment of a man of extreme energy to this Ministry is excellent. My right hon. Friend the present President of the Board of Trade was excellent too when he was at the Ministry of Supply. Let us not be afraid to judge by results. Let us not be afraid to see there is no more toleration because a man is a nice fellow. The national interest is the only test which must be allowed to obtain. Only in that way shall we allow our Prime Minister to lead us to the victory we all so much desire.
§ Colonel Colville (Midlothian and Peebles)
We have listened to a stimulating and reassuring statement from the Prime Minister. If I may say so, had a speech of that calibre been made at 1304 the conclusion of the Debate three weeks ago, the cry of stinking fish to which the right hon. Gentleman referred would not have gone round the world. The Prime Minister concluded his speech to-day by a timely warning to the House against complacency on this important matter. I feel that the fact that this important matter has been raised is of value, and I agree with him that it is proper that our great effort should be known and focussed as it has been focussed to-day. The subject of production is absolutely vital. It is Germany's start in war production which gave her successes rather than any individual merits on the part of her fighting men. I disagree with the proposal made by some hon. Members that there should be a Minister of Production. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister dealt with that proposal, and he gave as one of his principal reasons—I thought he put it very high—for rejecting the proposal the question of personality. I do not think that should be the principal reason. If, in fact, the proposal itself were desirable and if it were impossible to find a master Minister to control Lord Beaverbrook, the Prime Minister would have two courses open to him, one to remove Lord Beaverbrook from the Ministry, and the other to make him the master Minister. But the Prime Minister does not agree that it is a desirable proposal, and I am in agreement with him.
My reasons for opposing the proposal for a separate Minister of Production are these. In the first place, let us be clear that it would not be a Minister for long; there would be a Ministry. No Minister ever works alone for more than 10 minutes; he soon gather round him an advisory staff, and then follows the great paraphernalia which is necessary to uphold a Ministry of rank and importance, and, shortly, there is another Department in being. I speak with knowledge and confidence when I say that the industries of this country do not want another Ministry at the present time. If production were regarded as an expert science outside the responsibility of the Ministries which have to secure supplies for their services, the Army, the Navy and the Air Force, I believe that the responsibility of those Departments would be lessened, and that the new Ministry would tend to become a check or a filter 1305 rather than a spur to their activities. That system would not work in an industrial concern. To make one director alone the expert on production, having no responsibility for the other phases of activity—for design, for labour, for supply—would not make for smooth running. No, Sir, the Departments must have that responsibility in full and must exercise it. Therefore, the super imposition of a new Department—for that is, in fact, what I believe it would become—would not help us at this stage. There must, of course, be the machinery for giving final decisions as to priorities which the Prime Minister has outlined to the Committee.
I want now to make one or two criticisms on the way in which certain Departments at present discharge their functions. The supply side of the War Office, that is, the Ministry which supplies the Army with its main requirements, has in my view not developed such satisfactory arrangements with industry as have the Admiralty or the Ministry of Aircraft Production. As the Prime Minister said, that is to some extent due to the fact that the Army's growth has been more rapid and recent through a period of rapid change and quick expansion. The Admiralty have had long and tried connections with industry which are now working as satisfactorily as they did in the last war. But the Ministry of Aircraft Production have had to deal with the problem of rapid and changing production, and to my mind they have been more successful than the Ministry of Supply in adapting themselves to the problem. I do not want to make sweeping statements, because I know that the Ministry of Supply have had an immense measure of success in their difficult task, but I maintain that there are points on which they could learn and take an example from what is done by other Ministries.
For instance, to give some illustrations, the difficulties experienced by manufacturers in the aircraft industry owing to changes of design have been considerable, but they have not been so great, I believe, as those of the manufacturers working on tanks for the War Office. The changes in design, both in defensive armaments and in weapons, have caused considerable, and I believe, preventible, delays in the output of tanks. Obviously, I can- 1306 not go into details in this Debate, but I hope that with the machinery which has been set up, an improvement is already taking place. Another direction in which the manufacturers are having some difficulty with the Ministry is in the matter of testing. I am referring to the testing of metals, such as special steels. The Admiralty have their own staff of inspectors, and as I have said, their long contact with industry has led to smooth running. The Ministry of Aircraft Production generally work on the principle that, having decided on the firm which is to carry out the work for them, they select and approve of someone in the firm to be their representative and carry out the tests to their specifications, and this system works satisfactorily. On the other hand, the Ministry of Supply for the War Department almost always insist on the tests being carried out by their own staff, and from time to time there are considerable delays in having the materials tested. This is a point of detail rather than of general principle, but it is a most important point, which I hope will be looked into. The Prime Minister referred to many firms which work only for one Ministry or Service, but equally there are great firms and combines which work for all Services and have experience of all methods, and it is on the basis of that experience that my suggestions are offered.
With regard to priorities, I agree that the present machinery ought to be effective, and I was interested to hear the Prime Minister say that no major question of priority is in dispute at the moment. I will offer this observation, however; no doubt it is essential that the highest priority should go to the Ministry of Aircraft Production, as control of the air has proved the key to success not only in land, but in sea operations, but I am bound to say that I am disturbed at the low degree of priority which appears almost invariably to be given to Army supplies as compared with those for the other Services. Obviously, in a public Debate I cannot give specific instances, but I would like to discuss the matter with the Minister concerned. From my experience during the last 12 months in connection with the building up and training of the Home Guard, I can say that the degree to which that force has been equipped through the Ministry of 1307 Supply is no small achievement; it is, indeed, a very great achievement. The Home Guard is now a force to be reckoned with in the matter of armament. Nevertheless, there have been points of priority both in relation to imports and home production in which it has been found impossible to get any further, and it would appear that the degree of priority accorded to a wide range of Army requirements comes fairly well behind that of the other two Services.
If the Committee accept the view, as I have not the slightest doubt they will, that a new Ministry of Production would not, in fact, accelerate production, I hope that the Government will not go away with the idea that everybody is fully content with the present state of affairs. We have been stimulated and reassured by the Prime Minister's statement, but the Prime Minister is the last person to wish us to fall into a state of complacency. I believe that with the existing machinery an early improvement can be looked for, and I believe that a greater national effort from all is still possible. The Prime Minister referred to the immense spurt that followed Dunkirk, a spurt which he wisely said one could not expect to be maintained indefinitely, though we have now reached a higher rate of production through expansion; but when one looks back to the time following Dunkirk, everybody—and I refer to all sides of industry and not to one side only—was making an immense personal effort.
I wonder whether that degree of effort is still with us. Evidence that perhaps it is not comes to us in curious ways. Recently, I had experience of an exercise one part of which was to test security, and it was found that a very large number of people had not their identity cards with them, not for any sinister reason, but from pure carelessness. It may be asked what that has to do with production. The point is that one would not have found such a thing in the months following Dunkirk, and I do not think the same state of alertness and effort exists to-day as was the case at that time. I would point out, in passing, that no-one got through without a card, and that all those without had to report to police stations to prove their identity, so that should give little confidence to a fifth columnist who might think he could easily slip through. I 1308 mention this, however, as an indication that the whole country does not realise the degree of alertness and of effort still required. The picture painted by the Prime Minister is one which, I know, will have the widest publicity. It shows the great magnitude of our production effort and should spur us on. Just over a year ago the present Government was formed to give representation, on an adequate scale, to all parties in the State. There joined that Government Ministers with very great experience of industry, from both the managerial and labour sides, who gave hope to the people of this country that they would be able to secure the maximum effort in its broadest sense from industry. There is still much scope for their capacity in the months to come.
§ Mr. John Wilmot (Kennington)
I would not have ventured to take part in this Debate but for the fact that the small experience T have had in production during the war has led me to believe there are certain disharmonies in harnessing to the work of national war production the diverse elements of a system of private industry. The Prime Minister said that almost all firms to-day were under Government control—all those, at any rate, which were engaged on any kind of major war work. He stated that the field of this control was continually widening and that as need arose more and more were regimented. It seems to me that in carrying out this colossal operation disharmony must inevitably arise, and it is to that point that I wish to direct the attention of the Committee. The board of directors of a limited company engaged wholly upon war-time production find themselves in many instances in a curiously dual position. No doubt after victory has been won there will be differing opinions on various sides of the House as to what is the best or the most ideal form of industrial management and control, and we shall continue as we always do to debate, modify and compromise in our search for the best. This is not the time to debate these academic questions, because we have now to attain in the shortest possible time the maximum production from the present machine.
It seems to me that the position of the management of a limited company is extremely difficult. They have the overwhelming loyalty to the State to produce from their machinery, plant and the 1309 workmen under their management the maximum output regardless of all other circumstances. But side by side with that they have not been relieved of their legal and moral obligations to the owners of their capital. Anyone engaged in day-today industrial management will realise how often and in how many diverse aspects this duality is a hampering circumstance, and various devices have been invented in an attempt to circumvent it. In some instances Government controllers, with limited and partial authority, have been placed inside the works. The contract system by which firms compete by tender for contracts is still in operation, and there is the Excess Profits Tax to put a limit on excessive war profits. Necessary and desirable as it is to limit the profits arising from war conditions, I think the operation of the contract system and the absence of direct profit motive is very often inequitable and hampering. Over and over again one must come across instances where managements find themselves caught between these dual loyalties. The loyalty to their shareholders requires them to look beyond the war to the conditions in which they will find themselves in competitive industry after the war. The Committee will see at once that there is a much more urgent and compelling loyalty, but at the same time the legal obligation of the directors remains. It seems to me that it would be advisable to consider when a firm is engaged wholly upon war production whether those in charge should not be relieved from the embarrassment of that dual position, and for the duration of the war, at any rate, be placed in a position where they have one loyalty and one loyalty only, and that is loyalty to the State.
Circumstances are arising every day which compel attention to this aspect. A manufacturer was telling me the other day that for certain reasons he has recently moved his factory into an area where there is a plentiful supply of female labour. He tells me he could quite conveniently employ large numbers of women and save wear and tear upon his valuable and irreplaceable automatic machinery. That would certainly be to his advantage if he looks forward to industrial competition after the war, when he would have his machinery unimpaired, but to-day it would exhaust the supply of available labour in a way which would be directly 1310 contrary to the interests of war production as a whole. That seems to me to be one instance of the effect of this duality. Its effect is also to be seen on the workers in the factories. They have been urged, and they have agreed, to give up and to waive for the duration of the war their old-established and hardly-won trade union conditions and practices. They have done this in order the more adequately and speedily to achieve victory, but in the smaller and more out of the way parts of our industrial machine there is always the lingering feeling that they are, in part, making this sacrifice for the old management, which they remember as being the persons in pursuit of private profit. It may be that the operations of the taxation system have taken away that objection, but undoubtedly that feeling remains in the minds of the workers, and it is certainly a hampering consideration in securing maximum output.
I have seen in recent months a considerable wastage of time and machinery as the result of an intermittent flow of orders coming into various industrial establishments, A contract is proceeded with at full blast, and an effective and efficient team of machines and workers is assembled and got in production. The contract is completed, and nothing takes its place. The men are discharged and drafted off on other work and into other localities, and in a week or a fortnight a fresh contract is placed. The utmost urgency is attached to it, but the firm finds itself now denuded of workers, its plant standing idle, and no one can be obtained to operate it. The invaluable team which has been built up for that particular job in that particular way has been dissipated and lost, and very valuable time is spent building it all up again, in order to do a precisely similar job on a new contract. It would be an immense economy if some system could be devised whereby there was not this gap when the whole mechanism was broken up and dispersed. It seems to me that it is at this stage in the detailed application of the broad principles which the Prime Minister has shown have been so successful—it is in attention to those details that we can drive our production ahead to the maximum.
§ Mr. Marcus Samuel (Putney)
I was very pleased indeed when the Prime Minister informed us of the Government's de- 1311 cision to have another day's Debate on production. If the two days' Debate had taken place last year, it would have resulted in a change of Government. The present Ministry, if not a Ministry of all the talents, is certainly a Ministry of all the critics—or most of them. All the critics could not be absorbed immediately, when the change took place. Many of them were included to make the Government a Government of all parties, and there were many purely political appointments. Some of the appointees seem to have been only qualified successes, and I think I can say without fear of very much contradiction that some have not come up to their political reputations and have proved to be labourers not worthy of their hire. If the two days' Debate has proved one thing more than another, it has shown that, whilst it may possibly have done a minimum amount of good in this country, it certainly has done harm abroad. It has given the enemy every reason to rejoice. Outside this country people do not understand our methods of freespeech—and I have always maintained that we should speak less freely in war-time than in peace-time—not only we in the House, but the newspapers and the general public. The enemy is listening all the time, and our friends, too. Our friends take us too literally, whilst the enemy notes and gloats and takes our troubles too optimistically.
I have always found Ministers as anxious as any of us to put things right. Although I do not believe in suppressing free speech and criticism, I think we can and do exaggerate and magnify our troubles and scarify ourselves. In peacetime we can truly say we have stocks of almost everything. We have only to ask for goods and pay for them to get them. In war-time we have stocks of nothing. We are always short, owing to increased demands for every single item, from a bolt or a screw or a nut to the heaviest piece of machinery, or even to a pint of beer. Some of the critics of the Government—the "leftovers "—cannot forget their peace-time political habits, and, of course, Ministers are where they are because we all belong to the Ancient Order of Stone-Throwers. Ministers welcome constructive criticism in these days, when our lives and the 1312 future of the State are in the balance. There is only one thing to be done, and that is for us all to work together, to stick together and to stick to work. In my view certain Members, with the best intentions, have joined forces and formed themselves into a sort of unofficial "Ministry for the Co-ordination of Offence" —criers of stinking fish in the market place. This I believe is unnecessary and a wee bit wrongheaded. It does not produce more guns, ships or tanks. These efforts do not give anyone confidence.
I recently attended a meeting called by two Members of the House to meet representative shop stewards from a number of munitions factories engaged in war work, ostensibly to "give instances of delay and inefficiency in organisation leading to the impeding of production." I was surprised to see how very young many of these shop stewards are and how little experience they can possibly have had in this so-called skilled work which they are doing, and still less of the intricate working of a factory. But it was quite evident that they were all now, thank God, in dead earnest to put in their best efforts to win the war. I listened carefully and asked a number of questions, and I could see that many of these men before the war and since had been affected by outside influences. They have been misled and misinformed, and, as I thought, they had not yet quite got a fair and complete perspective of the scene, They seemed disposed to lay about them mercilessly, claiming the delinquencies and inefficiency of the managements in organising production, and unable quite to rid their minds of peace-time prejudices and predelections. The same attitude applies in some cases to the managements as regards labour.
Letters to the Press and speakers in this House show the enormous and endless difficulties with which the managements have to contend. Every item they produce, besides being in short supply, is, so to speak, wrapped up in a whole series of papers. A study should be made of how to cut out some of the clogging, time-wasting demands of the octopus and hidebound bureaucracy which is living on the fat of the land, or as much as they can get, and producing nothing. I pointed out to the shop stewards that we must not forget that there have been millions of tons of shipping lost; towns have been 1313 blitzed and factories damaged and destroyed, that railways have been damaged and transport delayed; and that, in spite of all the damage done, those without much experience and with a limited viewpoint, however anxious to help their country, must clear their minds of peace-time vision and predeliction and must not criticise unfairly. Many of these men must have been schooled into the idea that our economic and political system is wrong and that as a consequence all sorts of troubles and faults arise. During the speeches it became clear that many of the old-established businesses of which they spoke, with their practical knowledge and traditions, have an enormous advantage over the newer factories put up for war purposes. There is no doubt that this affects production and cannot be overcome at the start or acquired in a day.
I asked the shop stewards to remember that, even if everything had been perfectly planned, these war incidents must undoubtedly at times create difficulties, even bottle-necks, changes of direction, loss of materials, shortages here and sometimes over-supplies there; and on top of all this we have the ever-increasing demands on every industry in the country connected with war work. We are all the time working against time and destruction. The Germans had seven years' preparation and had accumulated reserves which they are now dissipating much faster than they can replace them, and the same troubles must be coming to them while we are now overcoming ours. We cannot expect 100 per cent. production at any time, much less under war conditions. It seems to me that to make calculations of exact theoretical percentages under these conditions is to use false values, seeing that there is no such thing as 100 per cent. perfection and that a certain incalculable amount of shortage must be due to causes over which neither the workers nor the managements have any control.
I believe it would pay the Prime Minister, who is our plus V. broadcaster to speak to the shop stewards and workers over the air in order to encourage them and to say how much he appreciates what they are doing and are prepared to do; and at the same time to talk to the managements and ask them to cast aside all peace-time prejudices and to keep in close touch with their workpeople so that men and women could be encouraged 1314 to understand their position and to put in their best work. It is important that in every factory in the land not only the managements but the workers should know how much depends on every man and woman working. If they were satisfied that difficulties and delays were sometimes inevitable and were not due to bad management, they would work together to minimise the troubles and to overcome them as far as possible. What is wanted, above all, is to nationalise mutual confidence between workers and management which is so obvious in some firms and wholly lacking in others. It is evident that the old-established firms with their traditions and experience have great advantage over the newer firms put up for war purposes, but I believe that confidence can be forthcoming throughout industry and that it can give us the increased production we want. The less recrimination and destructive criticism the better. There should be no victimisation of managements, shop stewards or other workers. The attention of the Ministers concerned should be called to specific cases. All parties concerned should be given the opportunity to know what the country expects of them, and they should be given the opportunity of putting into practice the only remedy for our troubles—to work together, to stick together and to stick to work.
Lord Beaverbrook has been mentioned. From what I have heard and read of that gentleman he gets things done ruthlessly and regardless of consequences. The Prime Minister knows him and trusts him. No doubt he says to himself, "I want aeroplanes now. I want tanks now. I will get them by hook or by crook or by Beaverbrook, and Beaverbrook gets them." I have a feeling that we can thank Providence there are not Beaverbrook quads—or worse still, quintuplets —each ruthlessly getting on with his job at all costs. One Beaverbrook may be able to stand, but four or five of them would produce chaos. The Admiralty seems to get what it wants by less violent and disturbing methods.
I want to make what, I believe is a practical suggestion. It is that when the House goes into Recess, Members should take a busmen's holiday and that each one of us who receives complaints should himself go and see the manufacturers and 1315 workers and talk to them, explain our position and try to straighten things out. See what might be accomplished if 400 or 500 of us lent a helping hand in this way instead of limiting ourselves merely to being letter boxes to receive complaints or loud speakers to voice them. Nothing short of sticking together, working together and sticking to work will see us through. I see that the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) is present. I have spoken of him as the unofficial Minister of Moans. To-day he seems to be a sort of Lord High Execrationer. No doubt he acts with the best intention and as a strong supporter of the Government, but I hope that nothing I have said will help the enemy and that the hon. Member's execrations will be directed direct to Ministers in their capacity as Ministers because the enemy gloats when speeches and questions of this sort are delivered in the House. The last thing any of us would wish to do is to give information to the enemy.
§ Sir Percy Harris (Bethnal Green, South-West)
I think anybody who heard the speech of the Prime Minister on our war production will agree that this extra day's Debate—an exceptional thing—has been well worth while. Criticism of our productive effort, from whatever side it comes, must not be interpreted as an attack upon either the Government in general or the Prime Minister in particular. I am convinced that the one man who is indispensable to victory is the Prime Minister, not only because of his immense influence in our own country and the confidence which the mass of the people have in his personality, but on account of his great influence in the United States of America and throughout our Dominions. There is no alternative Prime Minister. He has no rival. It was very different in the last war. I was a Member of Parliament for at least two years in the last war. Both our war-time Prime Ministers then had half-a-dozen rivals for the post. When Mr. Asquith was Prime Minister I remember the lobbying and the canvassing of names that went on, and even when the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) was Prime Minister there were always in the public mind the names of three or four men who could have filled his place if the need arose. There was, 1316 of course, Mr. Asquith himself, there was another ex-Prime Minister then sitting in the House, Mr. Balfour, there was Mr. Bonar Law and, of course, the present holder of the office.
The present Prime Minister reigns supreme, and no one who wants to win the war wishes to disparage his efforts or to suggest that he is, in any way, lacking in those gifts so necessary to guide the country in these difficult times. But I think he would be the first to agree that no one has a monopoly of wisdom. Each of us in this Committee has a responsibility to make his contribution. Mere carping criticism, mere fault-finding, is easy when we see flaws here and there, but if we have criticism to make it should always be of a constructive character. I endorse what the right hon. Gentleman said about the great efforts made, particularly after Dunkirk, I should like next to pay a special tribute to the women. We hear a lot of what the women did in the last war. As far as I can see, it is nothing to what they are doing in many parts of the country in this war. I am not referring to their work as bus-conductors or porters but to their work in the munition factories. I have seen women doing foundry work of a heavy character—refined women who had never done rough work in their lives handling heavy materials and doing jobs of a most dangerous character.
Although I agree with the Prime Minister about the in advisibility of quoting percentages, I am convinced that we are still a long way below our peak in production. I think that is a good thing, and should be an encouragement, because we want our enemies to realise, and our friends to appreciate, that we can do still more if we strengthen our organisation, in the light of the great experience gained during the last two years. We started late in the race, and it is difficult to make up leeway except by a terrific spurt. There was a terrific spurt a year ago, as the Prime Minister has pointed out, but we want more of those spurts if we are to reach the peak of our production. After all, the Ministry of Supply was started only one month before the war—two years too late. I remember a speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, I think in 1937, pressing for the production of jigs and tools. 1317 If his advice had been followed, some of the difficulties and problems which Ministers of Supply have had to face would have been largely prevented.
There is another factor which we ought not to ignore. When war broke out we had hardly recovered from 10 years of industrial depression. You cannot have the luxury of 2,000,000 idle men and expect to resume all at once efficient industrial production. The engineering and shipbuilding trades were special sufferers in that depression. Many of the more enterprising spirits in those trades left them for other occupations. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour has made gallant efforts to seduce them back. But it is one thing for a man to leave an industry and quite another thing to get him back into his old job; and we must also recollect that many of those who remained in the shipbuilding and engineering trades lost a lot of their mechanical and industrial skill owing to long periods of idleness. The same consideration applies to managers, foremen and charge-hands. Such workers cannot be made in a minute. Anyone who knows anything about industry knows that they have to be discovered, and trained. Even under the pressure of war you cannot always put your hands on the right men to fill gaps in the ranks of managers, foremen and charge-hands.
It is the same with contractors. During the slumps of 1922 and 1929 many big industrial undertakings changed hands, and in place of trained directors with an inner knowledge of the industry—often an hereditary knowledge—there came in as directors financiers whose concern primarily was to look after the financial interests of the shareholders. That is a factor which we cannot ignore, but what I have heard from men in some areas is rather sinister. The new directors that have been brought into industry for financial reasons, are rarely seen by the employees because their visits are few and far between. Generally, their visits are monthly and then only to look after the financial interests of the shareholders or the banks.
We have to realise all these things when we are talking about increasing our production, but in spite of them we still have some of the finest yards, factories, 1318 workshops and mechanics in the world. Of course, generalisation is dangerous, and conditions vary from factory to factory and from workshop to workshop. Where there is fault it is difficult to apportion blame between management and men. I am a member of a Select Committee to which the Prime Minister referred, but perhaps my sub-committee is one of the more cautious ones. It is reluctant to rush into print and publish reports, but it has been about the country studying on the spot the work of the factories and shipyards. Perhaps even more important, it has been interviewing managers and men. Upon the Committee we have not confined our efforts to the orthodox channels. We have encouraged people from outside to come to us and give us information. On the one hand we have received serious evidence of lack of planning and bad progress, and, on the other, of bad timekeeping. Every sub-committee has had similar evidence and you cannot divorce the two problems. In failure to dovetail a job responsibility starts at the very top, and goes right down to the men.
We have had evidence of men hanging about because of bad organisation and because the planning of their industries had not been well thought out. This is brought about largely through weaknesses at the very top. It applies equally to men on piecework or the bonus system and to men on hourly jobs. The men are discontented and they find it difficult to understand why there should be slack time. I do not want the impression to get around that this is universal. It varies from place to place. One of the very serious causes is that there is an impression in factories, workshops and shipyards that the work is being done upon a cost-plus basis. Men are saying, "It does not make much difference to the boss or the company because the Government have to pay." That is a thoroughly wrong principle, but human nature being what it is, it is very natural. It does not apply to all shipyards and factories alike, but varies from area to area and from unit to unit. If management is bad in peacetime and a shipyard or factory is badly run, it is very soon brought to account by competition, as it does not get orders and therefore goes to the wall. The position is quite different in war-time, when not only is there no competition, but 1319 every factory is badly wanted and there is a shortage of plant and buildings.
The Government have a responsibility to level up the laggards and the lame ducks and to bring weak organisations up to the best standards. Managements should be pooled and weak ones weeded out. Much can be done by the exploitation of local sentiment. Take shipyards, for instance. There are certain obvious areas such as Clyde side, Merseyside, Tyneside and the Bristol Channel. There seems no reason why the Government, using their vast powers, should not bring the most competent men together in those areas, as is done in the concentration of industry, for instance in the cotton trade, and put the whole production area under one control. This would present a great opportunity for the exploitation of local sentiment. There is very strong local feeling that the best ships are built on the Clyde. There is equally strong local feeling that the best ships are built on the Merseyside; and the same can be said about Tyneside and other places. The local sentiment could be exploited and the various yards and machine shops brought up to one standard by utilising and organising the ability which would be at the Government's disposal. I believe it would result in increased production and improved planning and progressing in industry and that it would improve the organisation of labour. It would be a mistake if the Committee got the idea that private companies only are at fault. There have been great complaints of Government factories and the Prime Minister admitted the reports of want of foresight in making the necessary provision for housing, transport and food. It might be well to bring the private and the Government factories into more intimate association by making use of the best available ability and capacity
I was interested to hear the Prime Minister refer to that vexed word "priority," but he brushed aside, as a bit of a farce, the suggestion that there was competition between the Departments. Nevertheless, we have heard some very strange stories about representatives of one Department going down to a dockyard and "pinching" the supplies, machine-tools or materials needed for another Department, through over-zeal, no doubt. I am glad 1320 to hear that those difficulties are being got over and that the Departments are a happy family working together without unhealthy competition. Still, rightly or wrongly, there is an absence of a long-term policy, and a feeling that we are thinking too much in terms of the needs and necessities of the moment. There was a great push for planes at the expense of tanks, and now there is a great tank "stunt" with a suspicion that it may be at the expense of shipbuilding. I suppose it is inevitable, human nature being what it is, that forceful personalities at the head of Departments shall naturally wish to assert the rights of their particular section in order to produce the goods they have undertaken to find. The Prime Minister made a challenge, and a very proper challenge. He said to the Committee, "You talk a lot about a Minister of Production—produce your man." I agree that that is a very right and proper challenge, and if we had half a dozen men of the calibre of the Prime Minister I think we should be able to answer it easily. But, just as the Prime Minister, as Defence Minister, co-ordinates the strategy of the three Services, I think the Committee will agree that it would be a great thing to have someone in a similar position to coordinate production for the three Services. We need some guiding hand to co-ordinate our effort and eliminate the feeling that very often our production is lopsided and is not thought out in the interests of the war as a whole.
I am very glad to see the Minister of Labour here. He has a difficult, and, I would like to add, a thankless task. No one envies him his job and no one accuses him of a lack of energy, enthusiasm or drive, but I do think there is a case for a properly thought-out wage policy. That in-testing White Paper published only the other day shows that his purpose is good and his objects sound, but when it comes to translate them into practice I am afraid he cannot claim at any rate this time an equal success. Obviously, if there is not enough material to go round and if wages go up, and if one section of industry has a lot of money to spend, it must run up prices, and I realise it wants courage to grasp the nettle. During the last war great courage was shown. I do not want to under-estimate the difficulties. One of the greatest tributes that could be paid to the present Minister of Labour was a 1321 statement made to-day that there was no great industrial dispute at all. That is a great tribute to him, and if he has done nothing else he will have justified his occupation of his present position.
If we are to prevent inflation, if we are to keep prices at a steady level, the Minister will have to take a more active part and not leave it to sectional bargaining. He will have to recognise that a common standard is required in war-time if the burden of war is to be evenly spread. If one section, owing to special conditions and a special demand for their skill or owing to a shortage in their particular trade, gets a high standard of wages, it reacts right through the industry and causes discontent, and we well know that in certain sections very high wages are being paid, due maybe to the demands on those sections of employment. All I am pleading is that the great power and influence which the Minister has, has an intimate relation to the problem of inflation and the need to prevent the setting in motion of that spiral which we saw in the last war. In spite of the efforts of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to keep down prices we still see an inevitable upward tendency. I believe the Minister would have the approval of labour and of trade unions, as well as of the whole House, if in the discharge of his duties he gave a real lead and put forward a clearer and more incisive labour and wages policy.
§ Dr. Edith Summerskill (Fulham, West)
Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that workers are being paid at a standard rate, and that they only get what he calls large wages because some of them work twelve hours a day for seven days a week? Does he therefore suggest cutting down the wage rates or the hours of labour?
§ Sir P. Harris
I certainly do not suggest cutting down the rates of wages. I wish labour and the whole nation to have good real wages which depend on inflation being prevented. That is the fundamental thing, in the interests of labour, of women and of the whole community. It means that we should prevent the tendency of prices to move upwards, which, in spite of all our efforts in the way of subsidies and rationing, they are doing. I therefore say that I believe it to be in the best 1322 interests of labour that a clearer and more incisive wage policy should be laid down by the Minister to protect the interests of the mass of the people, to prevent sectional increases, and to see that if there are increases they are general throughout the country. At a time like this it is vital to keep prices steady and stop inflation if we are to keep up the morale of the people and, above all, maintain the health and physical condition of the women and children.
§ Mr. Silkin (Peckham)
I am sure that the Committee must have listened to the Prime Minister's speech with very considerable satisfaction. It was indeed very gratifying to hear of the tremendous and successful efforts that we are making in the direction of the production of munitions. But I felt, right through the Prime Minister's speech, that he was not entirely directing himself to the criticisms which had been levelled—I think, quite properly, because it is a function of Parliament to make such criticisms. I think he did not direct himself to the criticism that, although great efforts had been made and increasing efforts were being made, the maximum effort was not yet being put forward, and that in fact it was possible for this country to make even greater efforts than it was making at the present time. The speeches of hon. Members in the Debate three weeks ago were, in the main, directed to that point, and when my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne) stated that the country was making not more than 75 per cent. of the efforts which it was possible to make, he was not in any way belittling the great efforts which were being made and will continue to be made.
I want to point to specific cases in which, I think, improvement could be made, and which are having the effect of reducing our effort below the maximum of which we are capable. The Prime Minister said that there was now no conflict between Departments, and that they were working smoothly and in the closest co-operation. He referred to the fact that there was complete agreement about their programmes. I do not think it has ever been suggested that there was any great dispute between Departments about their programmes. I do suggest that there is considerable difference of opinion, or competition, in the carrying 1323 out of these programmes, and particularly in connection with dealing with labour.
I want to suggest something which is perfectly well known to every Member of the Committee, that is, that the Ministry of Aircraft Production has been, and still is, holding on unnecessarily to skilled labour which is necessary for other Departments. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour knows that there has been a survey of labour in the Ministry of Aircraft Production factories, and that hundreds, indeed thousands, of skilled workers have been found who are superfluous to the requirements of those factories. It may be that there have been reasons for holding on to these skilled workers. Perhaps they were being retained because it was thought that they might be needed, if orders and work came along, but I do suggest that the Ministry of Labour has ample machinery and labour for making use of these skilled workers during the time they are not being fully used in their own factories. He has power to transfer those workers to other factories where they are more needed. It can be done temporarily, until such time as the aircraft factories are ready to use these skilled men again. If that sort of thing goes on, if thousands of skilled workers are not being used to the fullest extent in the factories in which they are employed, it cannot be said that we are putting forward our maximum effort, and to the extent that that is true, our effort is being weakened.
Another direction in which labour is being misused is by the Ministry of Supply. The hon. Gentleman who spoke for the Ministry of Supply in the last Debate referred to the fact that there had been an agreement by which workers had been given priority, for certain Royal Ordnance factories, for a period of some' months, and that that period was extended. Owing to the fact that this period was limited, the Ministry of Supply made requirements for labour far in excess of what they really needed. In a number of factories there were far more workers than could be used, with the result that, in some cases, women were found to be knitting and men playing cards day after day. It is no use my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour shaking his head.
§ The Minister of Labour (Mr. Ernest Bevin)
There have been so many of these statements made. I would appeal to my hon. Friend to send me the names and addresses of these places in fairness to the management and the men. If hon. Members send them to me as Chairman of the Production Executive, I will have every case investigated.
§ Mr. Silkin
I will let my right hon. Friend know. I can assure him that these statements are absolutely true, and have been verified. It is no use his shaking his head. They have been admitted by representatives of his own Department.
§ Mr. Silkin
I consider that I am doing my public duty in stating these facts here, to-day, and I shall do my public duty in making the proper use of the facts in the national interest. The right hon. Gentleman is perfectly aware that I am not able to state in public where the factories are. It is perfectly true, and there is no dispute about it, that there are factories where more labour has been asked for than the factories could absorb, week after week, until the Minister of Labour ascertained the facts and reduced the supply of labour by half. In the meantime, there were hundreds of workers in a number of factories for whom no work was available. They could not be absorbed, partly because the equipment was not available, and secondly, because the Ministry of Supply had forgotten the fact that, when large numbers of workers are employed, supervisory staffs are needed, and they had not applied for the supervisory staffs I hope that is not going to be denied, because it is a fact.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply (Mr. Harold Mac-millan)
Is the hon. Member speaking of Royal Ordnance factories or of contracting factories?
§ Mr. Silkin
I am speaking of Royal Ordnance factories. Those are facts which, incidentally, I have ascertained 1325 from representatives of the hon. Member's own Department.
§ Mr. Logan (Liverpool, Scotland Division)
Has the hon. Member made any complaint to the Department?
§ Mr. Harold Macmillan
Has the hon. Member communicated this information about staffing to my right hon. Friend or to me?
§ Mr. Silkin
I have ascertained the facts by evidence from the hon. Gentleman's own Department. These facts are known to his own Department.
§ Mr. Silkin
I am not disclosing details of the evidence. I am disclosing facts which are known. I consider that I am perfectly entitled to state the facts on this occasion.
§ Mr. Silkin
I turn from that point but I do submit that, if these facts are true, as I say, it does disclose a very unsatisfactory state of affairs, and shows that we are not putting forward our maximum effort.
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Colonel Clifton Brown)
Is the hon. Member talking about evidence given before the Select Committee on National Expenditure?
§ The Deputy-Chairman
That is quite out of Order. The Report has not been published, and the evidence may not be discussed until that Report is laid before the House.
§ Mr. Silkin
I am very sorry, Colonel Clifton Brown. The Report is in draft. The next fact with which I wish to deal is the statement of the Prime Minister that the Priority Executive is now dissolved. There is no question that when a priority is given for a commodity, anything else is frozen out. I suggest that when a priority is given for a commodity and a factory say that they require, perhaps, 2,000 workers, no other factory making things in a lower priority can get any labour at all until those 2,000 workers have been provided. It may be— I quote this as an example—that there are half a dozen factories whose production is very greatly impeded because they need two or three men. If they could get those two or three men they could greatly increase their output, but, under instructions given to divisional controllers, or, at any rate, because of the way in which those instructions are interpreted by divisional controllers, any priority that is given must be fully satisfied before factories of lower priority are provided with labour. That may not be the desire of the right hon. Gentleman, but I suggest that he should investigate the position to satisfy himself that the prorities are being operated in the way he desires. I think a little inquiry will satisfy him that they are not.
It has been suggested that idle time in factories is a relatively small matter, but I am informed—and this is not based on evidence which has been given to the Select Committee—that in some of the Royal Ordnance factories men are idle for two or three weeks at a time, waiting for material, or for some other cause. I recognise that the difficulty over material is a serious one, but we are to-day acclimatised to the difficulty. I suggest it is time that we prepared for those difficulties which we know are likely to arise. One cannot help the non-arrival of material which has to come from America, but it is a factor that ought to be taken into consideration. I suggest also that there is considerable delay in transporting material from one place to 1327 another, and that some of the delay is avoidable. Cases have been brought to my notice in which it has been necessary to transport materials very quickly, and it has been decided to use road instead of rail transport, for the sake of speed; but, having come to that decision, the Departments concerned have decided to invite tenders for transporting the material, which has caused some delay. Delay also arises in transport because of contradictory instructions given by different officials. The contractor may be ordered to send material by road and also to send it by rail. He is put in a difficulty, and does not send the material at all until he has ascertained which way he is to send it. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to look into this question of transport. It would be very valuable if his transport organisation could be informed as long in advance as possible when it is necessary to transport goods.
I think production could be speeded up and increased, if considerably more attention were paid to the placing of contracts. I am informed that in certain areas far more contracts have been placed than the contractors are able to carry out in a reasonable time. I understand that these contracts are placed by the headquarters of the Ministry of Supply sometimes without consultation with the regional representatives, and that if there had been such consultation, the Ministry would have been informed that it was very difficult for the firms concerned to carry out the contracts. There is an area organisation which, I understand, was set up for the express purpose of advising the Ministry of Supply on the capacity of an area, but this organisation is not being used to the extent it could be. I have referred to the placing of contracts with firms which are quite incapable of carrying out the work because they have already too much in hand; there are also cases of contracts having been placed with firms which, by reason of their lack of organisation, their lack of machinery and their lack of experience, are unable to carry out the contracts.
I know of a firm which has a very small workshop, housing a few machine tools, run by a semi-skilled mechanic and a boy. This firm was given a contract of £100,000 to manufacture gun mountings, work which they had never done before, which 1328 they are quite incapable of carrying out with their machinery or with the labour they have available. I suggest that if there had been consultation with the regional representatives the contract would not have been placed with that firm. I have mentioned some of the methods which I think would make for increased production. I suggest that what I have said justifies the work that the Select Committee is doing. I would like to assure my right hon. Friend that these criticisms are made in good faith, in the honest belief that they are true, with the sole desire to improve production, and in the hope that they will betaken in the spirit in which they are offered, and not in any carping spirit. I hope that this general Debate will have the same effect, because I am sure that there is no Member of the House who has any other desire than to help in this vitally important question of production.
§ Sir John Wardlaw-Milne (Kidder-minster)
We have heard to-day from the Prime Minister a most interesting and comprehensive speech dealing with the whole of our scheme of production of the munitions of war as the Government see it and from the point of view of what the Prime Minister considers is the extent of the effort of the country harnessed to win the war. I have no quarrel at all with that speech. I have no doubt it will be of great benefit if, indeed, any false impression has gone about in other countries as to the determination of everyone in this country to secure the defeat of Hitler. But my right hon. Friend will, I am sure, forgive me if I say that to some of us it seemed that he did not deal with the questions raised in the Debate some three weeks ago. In one of his sentences indeed he said that the criticisms made then were matters of detail. Well, they may be matters of detail, but they are very essential matters, attention to which make for total production, and while I do not in the least quarrel with the Prime Minister's statement regarding the tremendous effort which is now being made, I am bound to say that some of us feel that the criticisms made have not yet received an answer.
The Prime Minister also stated in one of the early passages of his speech that almost all factories were under the direct or indirect control of the Government. I do not quarrel with that, but do not let that be put forward as something by 1329 which we are asked to believe that all these factories are working to perfection. I may be wrong, but it seemed to me that the Prime Minister almost suggested that as these factories were working under direct or indirect Government control, everything was perfectly all right and that no criticism could possibly arise.
§ Mr. Harold Macmillan
I think what the Prime Minister was arguing was that as these factories are under the control of the Government, the question of inter-Departmental rivalry does not arise.
§ Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne
My hon. Friend is, I believe, mistaken. I think he is dealing with another point, to which I will refer later. I do not want to labour the matter unduly, however, but my right hon. Friend said that a great many factories were under the direct or indirect control of the Government, and the impression he gave me was that everything therefore must be right in these factories. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin), who does excellent work as chairman of the Select Committee's Sub-committee on Home Affairs, has special opportunities of knowing that all is not perfect in Government factories any more than in other factories. There is no reason to suppose that it would be so. In a later part of his speech the Prime Minister said that in many cases Government Departments work through their own contractors. There is no doubt that that is largely true, especially in connection with the Admiralty, for whom certain contractors have worked for many years. In those cases there is closer liaison between the Department and the factory than would otherwise be the case. But a remark of the Prime Minister's with which I especially want to deal was his reference to an estimate I made in this House that the country as a whole was not working at more than 75 per cent. of our total possibilities of production. That statement was not made three weeks ago for the first time. I made it in this House on 22nd May, and again on 10th June of this year, and at that time it was not challenged at all. With the permission of the Committee I would like to repeat the words I used on 10th June. I said:…if I had to guess what was the figure of efficiency of our effort to-day, I would not put it higher than 75 per cent. of the full possibilities of the nation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th June, 1941; col. 132, Vol. 372.]I never for a moment suggested that any 1330 one branch of engineering or one. particular factory was not working to full capacity. Of course there are cases of that kind. I know some factories which could not produce another 5 per cent. or even 2 per cent. output, but I would not like the Committee to think for one moment that I vary in the least from the conviction I held and expressed on 10th June. Taking our total effort, we are still short of what we can do, and the great advantage of these Debates will be if, as a result of them, the nation is brought to realise that we must get that extra production. Since I made that speech I have had many hundreds of contacts, both personally and by correspondence, with people of all kinds and also with many Members of this House, and at any rate I am entitled to say this, that among all those with whom I have had contact about this matter there was only one case—and that very guardedly—in which I was not confirmed in my estimate. Many have suggested that I was over-optimistic.
§ Whereupon, the YEOMAN USHER of the BLACK ROD being come with a Message, the CHAIRMAN left the Chair.
§ Mr. SPEAKER resumed the Chair,