§ Again considered in Committee.
§ (Sir DENNIS HERBERT in the Chair.)
§ Question again proposed,
§ "That a sum, not exceeding £90, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum 1331 necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1942, for the salaries and expenses of the Ministry of Supply, including expenses of the Royal Ordnance Factories."
§ Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne
I was explaining that the estimate which I made in the House on two occasions previous to the recent Debate, and which was referred to by the Prime Minister to-day, was an estimate of what I considered to be the total possibilities of the nation harnessed to the production of munitions of war. I do not suggest, and I have never suggested, that it was anything more than an estimate. It could not be. It would be quite impossible to give figures on a basis that would satisfy an actuary or an accountant, and I gather that was one of the difficulties—I quite understand it—which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister had this morning in dealing with my statement. My right hon. Friend gave some very interesting figures of the increase in the number of people working for victory in the country now as against a year ago. He said that there was one-third more people working in factories and that our production was one-third more, and considering that there had been difficulties of the black-out, air attacks, and so on, the situation was not at all unsatisfactory. To me a comparison of that sort, if I may say so with the very greatest respect to my right hon. Friend, is quite meaningless. This is not a question of comparing one time period with another. There is nothing with which one can compare. It can only be a question of one's own idea based on the evidence one can secure as to what the country could do.
One of the objects I had in view in the speech which I made—and I can assure hon. Members that I gave that estimate only after very careful consideration—has been achieved, because it has brought to the notice of the Government that a very large number of people are not satisfied that we are pulling at the full 100 per cent. rate, which ought to be the case in our war effort. I also stated before business was interrupted that I had had many contacts and that no one has suggested I was pessimistic in making that statement—if anything It was said that I Was over-optimistic. An immense number of new factories which did not previously exist have come into operation during the last year. I do not want 1332 to quarrel with the Prime Minister's figures—I am very glad he is so satisfied— but, personally, I do not think the fact that our output is one-third more than a year ago is entirely satisfactory. I think we could do better than that.
The Prime Minister also spoke of the effect which these remarks of mine and the remarks of other speakers had had, particularly in the United States and in Australia. I very much regret, I deeply regret, that any remarks of mine should have had an adverse effect in Australia or America. The Committee will not think it strange, perhaps, if I say I am surprised that that has been the case; but I really cannot believe that in Australia or in America our cause can be permanently harmed by earnest criticism in this House, and by our showing our determination to apply every remedy and every means in our power and to make every sacrifice necessary to secure the greatest possible effort of which this country is capable. I cannot believe that in the end we suffer by having made our object plain, especially among our brethren in Australia, and I should have thought it could only be harmful, if at all, to a limited extent in the United States. I appreciate that my right hon. Friend was kind enough to say it was not the speech I made but words taken from it and divorced from their context. One appreciates that there are great difficulties for newspapers in these days, and one appreciates that every Member of Parliament has to be particularly careful in what he says in time of war. At the same time I do not think anyone who does me the honour of reading my speech on the last occasion could possibly say I failed to appreciate the difficulties facing the Government or that I attributed blame recklessly either to the Government, to employers, or to employed.
In that speech I referred to three points particularly which show that I was not putting forward merely carping criticism. Firstly, I referred to our un preparedness when the war started and that our difficulties to-day are proof of the earnestness of our efforts to avoid war in 1939. Secondly, I dwelt on the time required for the change-over from peace to war conditions. It is surely quite clear also —and here I am referring to an earlier remark made in the House by the Prime Minister—that my remarks could not be 1333 taken as being criticism of the present Minister of Supply or the present President of the Board of Trade. I believe that both these gentlemen have done excellent work, but that does not in the least detract from the point I am making, namely, the necessity to drive home to the people of this country that there is still more that we can do, and that we are not doing all we can and putting in that little extra which is necessary if we are to win in reasonable time. To me, reasonable and careful criticism of that kind is the duty of the House of Commons. If we are not fighting for free discussion in the House of Commons, for free speech and for a free Press, indeed, I do not know what we are fighting for, and, of all people, I believe my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister would be the first to support me in that view. Clearly it must be our object to be careful in what we say, but equally it is our duty to try, not to find fault with the Government, but to spur them on to obtain that extra production which is so necessary and to point out where changes are required. I have not always seen eye to eye with my right hon. Friend in political matters. I differed entirely from his view in one particular question some years ago, but he has had no better friend or stronger supporter in the last months since he took up his present heavy responsibilities. The country owes him a great debt for his determination, drive and initiative which are of inestimable value, but at the same time, however gifted one man may be, one cannot help feeling that the country might benefit if that task could be a little more spread over others and his heavy burden correspondingly reduced.
I do not wish to draw attention to-day to matters to which I referred on the last occasion. It is noticeable, however, in connection with the references I made then that there has been a change, a minor change perhaps, in the working of the Essential Work Order. I am not suggesting it is as a result of the remarks made during that Debate, but at any rate it has been a change which I hope will lead to a more satisfactory working of that legislation. I am very tempted to deal with some of the difficulties of the Minister of Labour and his Ministry, such as the inadequate training facilities in factories, vacancies in the training centres, and the further measures required to harness suc- 1334 cessfully the willing labour of hundreds of thousands who for the first time in their lives are devoting themselves to very arduous work under disagreeable and often repugnant conditions. The Prime Minister seemed to me to want to shield the Minister of Labour. The Minister of Labour is of a very stalwart structure, and he seems to me to be well able to stand on his own. I do not know of anyone attacking him although I do not think he can possibly expect to be free of criticism in a time like this when all of us are so deeply interested in obtaining the maximum results in the important work he is doing. I am sure the Minister of Labour will not desire the Committee to believe he is entirely satisfied with the present position of affairs. We all know there is a great deal more still to be done in training labour and in placing it.
There is one point, however, upon which I must dwell for a moment. The Prime Minister referred to it again—in fact, it was one of the main points of his speech. It relates to the desire in some parts of the House and among a great number of people outside to see the appointment of a Ministry of Munitions. When I spoke here a few weeks ago I dealt with that point rather guardedly. I referred to the necessity for co-ordination to avoid the difficulties which exist—and everyone knows they exist—between Government Departments and between the Departments and various factories, and I came to the conclusion that there seemed then no other way out of the difficulty except by the appointment of a Ministry of Munitions. I was well aware of the fact that a complete change-over of this kind at this stage of the war was a matter which would have to be very carefully considered. There is no doubt that it would be apt to hold up the machine, perhaps only for a few days but even possibly for weeks. I have therefore been considering since then whether there is not another measure which could be put forward as a constructive proposal to enable the Government to deal with the various difficulties which I and other Members have enumerated to-day and on the previous occasion.
It seems to me that there is an alternative which might be tried. The Minister of Labour has made certain alterations in the Area Boards. I agree with the last speaker that these changes have not gone 1335 far enough to make any radical alteration in the present procedure. These Area Boards, or Regional Boards, as they are now called, are still mainly advisory. In that capacity I do not think we shall get very much further help from them. I suggest that the Government might consider giving real power to these Regional Boards to act in their areas under one Minister in Whitehall—I do not care what you call him—a Minister of Munitions or a present member of the War Cabinet free from Departmental work and in control of the Production Executive. What we want is not advice but action in the regions. They have the knowledge there of production capabilities in their areas, and, if we could get a Board consisting of representatives of the different Minis tries, presided over by a leading local industrialist as chairman and a leading trade unionist as deputy-chairman, or vice versa, with power to act in their area, I believe we might make a very great advance in securing all the district was capable of producing; in the removal of bottle-necks and in the transfer of capacity from one part or unit in the area to another. It would be essential that the chairman, acting for the Board, should have power to refer directly to one Minister in Whitehall. What we want to stop is the present system by which problems are referred back from the area to each Department of the Government independently, from the Ministry of Supply representative to the Ministry of Supply, from the Admiralty representative to the Admiralty, and thus delay decisions and hold up output. If the Government feel that a Ministry of Munitions means too complete an upset at the present stage of the war, I suggest that they should make these Area Boards very much stronger than they are at present and give them power to control production within their areas and to refer directly to one Minister where there is a necessity to settle some question of policy. I am deeply concerned at the inadequacy of the present area organisations and I think a policy of decentralisation on some such lines is the only possible alternative to a Ministry of Munitions.
I have said that the first object of my former speech had been achieved, and that was to bring to the notice of the Government the fact that many people in 1336 the country are not satisfied with what we are at present doing. I think I might almost claim that my second object in these Debates has also been achieved, and that is to make the people of the country also realise the position. If we can make people appreciate the importance of their own individual effort, the damage done by delays or stoppages, whether the fault of managements or slackness on the part of workmen, if we can make every man and woman realise that it is individual effort that counts, we shall have gone far to achieve what we want.
Time is passing. It is a little sad that, after twenty-three months of war and three years or more since we started to rearm, we are still only directly fighting Hitler, though very effectively, in the air. Let us face the facts. I do not think for a moment that we lose caste anywhere in the world by facing them. It has. taken us a long time, although the task was tremendous and the change-over no mean one, to get into our stride, and it is a little sad, I say, that we are not any further on than we are to-day, great as our achievements are. I do not want ever again to have the Prime Minister say, in a similar kind of case, as he had to say in the case of Crete, that we could not hold it because we had not got the guns. Why have we not got the guns? Some of the reasons why we have not got them yet to the extent necessary are the very matters which the Prime Minister dismissed to-day as details. It is these details that count. I want a determined effort by every executive and every workman to get the largest output possible and to avoid waste of time, labour or material. It must be unpatriotic to waste one's efforts and to allow others to waste valuable days and months. If we have brought that home to the people, as well as bringing the difficulties and problems actively before the attention of the Government, we have done some good.
§ Mr. Shinwell (Seaham)
The Prime Minister, in opening the Debate, made a characteristic speech. I am bound to say that it was a remarkable dialectical effort, and with much of what was said about the immensity of our task, the final outcome of the war, the background of our production effort and the response of labour, I am in complete accord. Indeed, so are 1337 we all. But if the speech was intended as a considered reply to the recent Debate on production and the many criticisms made on that occasion, it was singularly unsuccessful. We expected a considered reply to the allegations made in the last Debate. Apart from one or two allegations to which the right hon. Gentleman replied, no more was said, and the only response that we received was that our criticism, which emerged from all quarters of the House, would be duly considered. The Prime Minister has again failed to appreciate the fundamental nature of the complaint which has emerged in almost every one of the production and manpower Debates. May I, therefore, direct attention to what I regard as the real and fundamental issue? It can best be appreciated if it is put in a series of questions. Do the facts—I emphasise the facts—of our actual, production justify the acceptance of the view that the position is satisfactory, having regard to the gigantic task confronting the nation? Have we organised the whole of our potential industrial capacity in the war effort? Is there any substance in the complaint made about idle and under-employed labour in factories and about inefficiency of managements? If the munitions position was showing a steady improvement under the control of the late Minister of Supply, why was he supplanted by Lord Beaverbrook? To these question we have received no adequate replies.
Before I deal with those questions I must make reference, following what was said by my hon. Friend opposite, to another issue that emerged from the Prime Minister's speech. If I may say so, my right hon. Friend is very prolific in his challenges to the Committee. He invites us to Divide and again Divide, and presumably to Divide as often as we please; he is ready to meet the challenge. There has, however, never been any specific challenge to the Government. Surely it cannot be supposed that when questions are asked or criticisms emerge in this free and democratic Assembly, the only response vouchsafed by the Prime Minister is to be the acceptance of a challenge. As far as I am personally concerned, I am willing to Divide the House at least twice a week on a fundamental issue if it does emerge, but not on the terms stated by the Prime Minister. With Whips of all parties fettering private Members, it is easy 1338 enough to challenge hon. Members. The challenge is easy when all the cards and, indeed, all the trumps are stacked on your side. I resent these challenges that emerge from my right hon. Friend. There is no occasion for them. Whether he challenges us or not, however, criticism will be continued if there is just occasion for it, but not with any desire to impair the war fabric or embarrass the Government.
In spite of what the Prime Minister said, and, indeed, in spite of this Debate, it is still not clear whether the Government regard the munitions position as satisfactory. We have had percentages and statistics which are meaningless and convey nothing. In the nature of the case nothing can be conveyed by these statistics. Occasionally we have heard statements by Government spokesmen in reply to criticisms which express complete satisfaction with the state of our munitions progress. Frequently we have read speeches by Ministers which were supremely optimistic. The speech of the Minister for Aircraft Production in the last production Debate was a truly remarkable effort in optimism. It was so easy-going, so complacent and so self-assured, probably because, as the Prime Minister remarked when announcing today's Debate, it was not a considered statement. Ministers are expected to make considered statements. If they are unable to do so, it seems likely that they have much to learn about their jobs. On the other hand, we frequently hear accounts of our munitions position which show that the Government are fully alive to the inadequacy of our production effort. Statements do not lose their force because they are made behind closed doors, and even in public Ministers manage to let the cat out of the bag.
A superabundance of evidence goes to prove that we could make a fuller use of our productive effort. Speeches and articles by responsible trade union leaders, many of which I have collected and could quote, statements by workers and by production experts and documents issued by the Select Committee provide a powerful case for criticism which, even allowing for the many difficulties which the Government have encountered, is impressive and cannot be easily dismissed. I propose to take my stand on the ground provided by the Government themselves. Take, for example, the admissions—for 1339 they were admissions, vital admissions— made by the Prime Minister during the Debate on the Cretan episode. Was it not conclusive that the primary difficulty was to provide a sufficiency of arms in all theatres of our Near Eastern operations? This is what the Prime Minister said among other things:A man must be a perfect fool who thinks that we have large quantities of anti-aircraft guns and aircraft lying about unused at the present time. I will speak about aircraft in a moment, but, so far as anti-aircraft guns are concerned, large and expanding as is our present production, every single gun is in action at some necessary point or other, and all future production for many months ahead is eagerly competed for by rival claimants with, very often, massive cases behind each one of them."—[Official Report, 10th June, 1941; col. 142, Vol. 372.]That was a quite recent pronouncement, a vital and damaging pronouncement. It should be noted that the statement was made, not in secret but in public, so that when the Prime Minister criticises the critics for making known to the country and the world our deficiencies, he must himself take a share and a large share of the responsibility when he is guilty of making pronouncements of this character. It may be urged that the first consideration in relation to the Cretan episode was strategy. But it is surely clearly established that our strategy is largely, if not wholly, determined by our capacity to produce and deliver munitions.
There is a stronger and more recent criticism. The Prime Minister, in a courageous broadcast six weeks ago, made an immediate response to the wanton act of aggression committed by Hitler on Soviet Russia. Since then we have proceeded further. We have declared Soviet Russia as our Ally. That was a wise decision. Furthermore, we promised to render all possible aid to our new Ally in her struggle against the enemy. Why have we so far failed to render assistance of a substantial kind? The air attacks on the Western Front have been magnificent, but they would presumably have occurred in any event. If the Government maintained that these attacks would not have taken place, that would itself be a ground for serious criticism. We know the Prime Minister well enough to say that he would 1340 wish to create a substantial diversion on the Western Front, to throw our strength into the attack and help to relieve our Russian Allies. Why has he failed? My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has the courage, he has the ambition, and the firm conviction of the urgent need for such an onslaught. He would be the first man to join issue with the enemy on this front. Why is he so reluctant? Surely the answer is that he has everything but the means.
It may be urged that we have to conserve our resources because of the possibility of invasion, but the Prime Minister does not rely for final victory on defence alone. He more than any other man is conscious of the need for attack if the enemy is to be brought to book. We did not enter the war simply for the purpose of defending this island. On the other hand, if we expect invasion, as the Prime Minister indicated in his speech to-day, and are conserving our resources for that event, why are we so prolific in our pledges of active support and so ready In promising assistance? If all we have in munitions barely suffices for the defence of these shores, with some provision for our Forces in the Near East which itself is known to be inadequate in the event of large-scale operations, why pretend that the production position is satisfactory and show resentment in the teeth of criticism? Facts are facts, whatever the Government may say, and the suppression of criticism will not enable the Government to take the initiative. That can only be achieved when we have an efficient scheme of production and a flow of munitions on a colossal scale has emerged.
It occurs to me, and I recall what the Prime Minister said during his speech, that the Government are relying too much on the flow of munitions from the United States. If so, it is a grave blunder. I listened with great interest to the statements of our American friends on this side. Their optimism does credit to then-intentions and sincerity, but we cannot expect the industries of the United States to repair the deficiencies of our own factories. That is asking from them more than they are capable of giving. Moreover, should America be embroiled in war with Japan, it is doubtful whether we can expect to receive a flow of munitions 1341 on the present scale. Therefore, to say that there is a vast improvement on the position a year ago, and that we are gradually bringing the nation to full production, is not enough.
It may be that the Government have a target figure in guns and tanks and in all forms of munitions, and that the target figure is being reached every month. That may be so, although it may sometimes happen that the target in a particular category appears to have been reached when, in fact, for want of spare parts or for some other cause, they cannot be put into commission. A tank is not really a tank until it is fully equipped with guns, electrical equipment and all other accessories, any more than a ship becomes a ship when it is launched but has not the engines installed. In any event, it is always possible to reach a target figure without difficulty if the figure is comparatively low. Everything depends on the target set by the Government. If the Government believe that 1,000 guns a month—that is merely an illustration—are sufficient, and that figure is reached, they may feel satisfied, but the number may be far short of what is actually required. It may be necessary that the target figure should be revised and increased.
I should like to refer to a Debate in this House on 7th August last year. On that occasion I, with other hon. Members, made a demand for the complete mobilisation of all our resources for the war effort. That demand received support in many quarters and elicited the reply—in August last, let it be noted—that the Government had a plan and that it was working to their complete satisfaction. Subsequent events seem to indicate that whatever the plan was it proved inadequate for our purposes, or perhaps the Ministers responsible for operating the plan never had a real chance of bringing it to fruition. At any rate, after all the talk of planning and the promise of full mobilisation, at the end of nearly two years of war and fifteen months of the life of the present Government, we have failed to achieve anything like the full use of our resources.
Who is to blame for this state of affairs? In the opening speech of the Debate my right hon. Friend paid a well-deserved tribute to the Minister of Labour. May I remind the Committee that barely 1342 twelve months ago the Minister of Labour received the un stinted and unanimous applause of hon. Members opposite? Now many of the same people who applauded him seek to condemn him, but he is not to blame for the present position. He has never had the authority which would have enabled him to deal with the situation. His task has been to provide the labour, not to organise the supply of munitions. Indeed, it is doubtful whether my right hon. Friend was ever consulted about the location of the new ordnance factories. They were placed in remote areas. Housing was apparently never considered; transport certainly never received any consideration. Moreover, the basic wage paid to female workers in those factories was far too low and failed to attract labour from other industries. That is why registration became essential. I hear that the basic wage for female workers in our new factories is only 38s. a week, and while they may earn more it has led to stress and strain which has caused new difficulties. That, I believe, is not the fault of my right hon. Friend, but the fault of the Treasury, who know nothing about such matters, and apparently never realised that girls earning £3 and sometimes £4 a week in non-essential trades were not disposed to enter munition factories and, when they were compelled to do so, became unwilling workers.
Moreover, when the managements in private concerns proved difficult the Minister of Labour had no power to intervene. There was no authority to displace them or to take over the factories—apart from the famous declaration by the Lord Privy Seal, which is now a standing joke all over the country. On the other hand, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour was step by step compelled to use compulsion on the workers without exercising any compulsion on the employers. That is not only an anomaly but is an impediment to production. No, Sir, the blame does not reside in the Minister of Labour or, for that matter, in any other Departmental Minister. It is elsewhere that we must search for the culprit.
Let me give another example. The late Minister of Supply, now the President of the Board of Trade, is a man with a remarkable business record and, as everyone will agree, a man of the highest integrity. In a statement issued by his 1343 Department following upon a Debate in Secret Session he gave a frank exposition of the work of the Ministry of Supply. He showed how he was gradually building up an ordered production plan. After nine months, what has he actually produced? He has not produced a scheme which commends itself to the War Cabinet or to the Prime Minister, and certainly not that vast range of munitions which everybody had been entitled to expect. All that he has succeeded in producing is Lord Beaverbrook. That is all that has emerged. Why has Lord Beaverbrook emerged? Is it because the position is satisfactory? Is it because the plan has succeeded, that smooth-working plan of which we heard so much in the Prime Minister's speech to-day? Is it because the plan has succeeded and we are now able to build up the tanks and guns which we require for a great effort? Or is it because the plan has failed, and something must be done rapidly to make up the leeway? It was suggested somewhere that the late Minister of Supply had to return to the Board of Trade because there was nobody else to go there. Surely the Prime Minister could have selected somebody from his entourage to fill that post without arousing additional comment.
What is Lord Beaverbrook expected to do at the Ministry of Supply? Apparently he has reconstructed his Tank Board. Presumably he has done so because there was something wrong with the old lot, and if there was something wrong with the old lot, there was something wrong somewhere. Immediately Lord Beaverbrook emerges he removes the old gang and introduces a new crowd. Is Lord Beaverbrook going to act as a bull in a china shop and to barge around the place? We have heard stories of his barging. Is he expected to remain for the purpose of boosting-up production? When the booster is finished, is he to retire on his laurels, or is he to be sent to another Department to boost things there; the universal booster for the Government? He still remains a member of the Production Executive. Who is to co-ordinate the activities of the Production Executive? Will Lord Beaverbrook allow himself to be co-ordinated? I wonder whether my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour would care, in a confidential comment across the 1344 Floor of the Committee but so that everybody can hear, to give the Committee an utterly frank idea of what he expects Lord Beaverbrook to do on the Council over which he presides with so much distinction.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Already? Such language to my Lord Beaverbrook? I do not ask for a Minister to run a grandiose munitions department. In that respect I differ from some of my hon. Friends. I ask for a Minister in the War Cabinet untrammelled by departmental considerations, to preside over the Production Executive and coordinate their activities. I agree with the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne) that it may not be right to introduce a proposal of this kind now, but some modified proposal might be acceptable. I have no desire to abolish the Ministries of Supply, Aircraft Production or Labour, but I want these Departments to work to a common pattern, to eliminate all competition and to abolish all overlapping in production. The Ministry of Supply will never be a successful organisation until there has been a substantial transfer of the functions of other Departments to that Ministry. There is undoubtedly too much overlapping, and I will provide an example. The Ministry of Supply and the Ministry of Aircraft Production both manufacture machines, although of different types. The Ministry of Supply and the Admiralty both manufacture explosives and shells, as well as ammunition for certain guns, while the Ministry of Supply manufactures some shells for ex-naval guns now in the coastal defences. The Ministry of Aircraft Production manufactures bomb cases, although the Ministry of Supply does the filling and supplies the fuses. The Ministry of Supply manufactures all small arms and ammunition, Surely this constitutes a prima facie case for more unified organisation?
In the last Debate on production, a demand was made for the pooling of factories. I believe it was a very practical proposal. This served to elicit a superficial response from the Minister of Aircraft Production, who regarded it as an effort to purchase outright the whole of the engineering industry. It is nothing of the sort. There are several impediments to 1345 increased production, but one of them is the fact that several of the managements —I do not put it higher than that—are reluctant to release labour and other resources for the use of their competitors; sometimes they conceal their reserves for fear of losing them to other firms. The plain fact is that they are afraid of diminishing their earning capacity. The remedy is to pool the firms engaged in certain fields of productive activity, thus providing compensation to shareholders and giving each firm an assurance that none will gain at the expense of another. That would remove much of the present difficulty, but that is not nationalisation, although I am bound to say that if the Government find that production is being retarded by private firms, the obvious course is to take them over, at least for the duration of the war.
A few words now on the question of labour supply. I have no doubt that the Minister of Labour has done all in his power to increase training, but I doubt whether the position is yet satisfactory. Perhaps he will tell us what numbers are at his disposal. Several weeks ago we accepted proposals for the concentration of industry. The main purpose was to release labour from non-essential industries for work on munitions. What is the result? It is reported that we have secured, or are about to secure, the services of about 115,000 persons. That is a ridiculously small number. The estimated labour force in non-essential industries that could be made available is from 700,000 to 750,000 persons, so that all we have been able to secure is about 15 per cent. Again, we run up against the difficulty that obstacles are placed in the way by firms who see their livelihood disappearing and by workers who prefer to remain in their old trades earning reasonable wages instead of going on munitions, where the basic wage for a man is 63s. and for a woman 38s. weekly. Not until the principle of compensation is accepted shall we overcome this difficulty, and when it is considered that workers who must leave their homes are compelled to pay high prices for billets, and have sometimes heavy transport costs, it will be seen that some of the troubles are of the making of the Treasury and not of the Ministry of Labour.
1346 This is not in reality a production Debate. We are not called upon to offer constructive proposals, and I shall tell the Committee why. Because, as the Prime Minister observed in the course of his speech, every proposal that has emerged in the course of the past year or 18 months was already well known to the Government and had been considered. I do not want to advance constructive proposals, only to be told six months hence that the Government knew all about them before I had thought of them. If the Government know everything, there is not much room for the critics in this House. Indeed, I wonder if there is much room for Parliament itself. I affirm that the case for the critics has been made out. They are completely vindicated by events and need offer no apologies for the strictures in the recent Debate.
It is the function of this House to offer criticism, and I hope they will never abandon it. I maintain that since last August we have consistently offered suggestions to the Government in a helpful and constructive spirit. If, on occasion, there is some acid about, let it not be forgotten that Ministers, not excluding the Prime Minister, have indulged in its use themselves. The faults are not always on one side. But whether in the Government, or on the other benches in this House, our objective is the same. It is, to construct out of our vast resources the arms required to give the death blow to the menace of Hitlerism. On that issue there is common agreement, whatever else may divide us. We have the skill of our craftsmen, the willingness of millions of our workers of less skill but none the less useful, our technical ability and capacity of organisation and, by no means least, the support of powerful Allies. That, properly used, is a powerful and formidable combination. Let us make certain it is effectively organised and harnessed to the national effort.
§ Mr. Leslie Boyce (Gloucester)
I do not propose to intervene for more than a few minutes, as I know that a number of Members who wish to speak may not be given an opportunity to do so. My intervention is for two reasons, first, because I happen to be intimately associated with a number of industrial concerns throughout the country which are engaged in Government work, and, secondly, because, no less than the Prime Minister 1347 himself, I felt that the recent Debate on supply was calculated to give a wholly false impression of the magnitude of our national effort.
In the present Debate, in summing up his condemnation of the results which have been achieved by our production Departments, the hon. Member for Kidderminister (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne) said, in effect, "Here we are at the end of 23 months, and we are only hitting Hitler in the air." Has he never heard of the work of the Royal Navy? Does he blame the Ministry of Supply or the industries of this country for the immense amount of equipment left behind at Dunkirk, or in Norway, Greece, or Crete? When we have regard to the fact that this country started its war production effort some five or six years after Germany, when we have regard to the enormous change-over that has had to take place in our factories and workshops from a peace-time to a war production, apart altogether from the hundreds of new plants that have had to be laid down, I submit to the Committee the result which has been achieved up to date, when taken as a whole, has been truly remarkable.
But nobody in his senses, least of all the Prime Minister, pretends that we have yet had time to reach the maximum effort of which this nation is capable. There is ample evidence that most of the shortcomings mentioned in this or the previous Debate are known to the Government, and are receiving attention. They are being brought to the notice of the Government by trade associations and industrialists all the time whenever they arise. I believe the gap between the percentage of output which the hon. Member for Kidderminster mentioned and the maximum output of which we are capable, is closing more quickly than the hon. Member would lead us to believe.
In the recent Debate on production the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones), like other hon. Members, made considerable play with the fact that industry was being held up owing to numerous alterations in designs. I know from bitter experience what it is to have a pile of blue-prints arriving morning after morning containing such alterations just when you are hoping to receive instructions to go ahead with production. 1348 There have been times when some of us have been extremely irritated by that; times when, if I had not been a Member of Parliament, I should perhaps have been sorely tempted to seek out a Member of Parliament and elicit his assistance. But we learned our lesson and modified our views at the time of the Battle of Britain. We then realised—some, perhaps for the first time—that if it had not been for the alterations which had been made in the designs of the Spitfire and of the Hurricane which gave them superiority in performance, no amount of skill on the part of the industrialists and workers and of the pilots could possibly have saved this country.
Whether we are producing aeroplanes, tanks, guns or any other form of munitions, we should adopt as a winning motto: "Get your prototype right before you go into production." This involves, among other things, having actual machines built and undergoing a whole series of trials, the manufacturer receiving, day after day, modifications in design as the result of those trials, before he can start production. But production need not necessarily be held up seriously on that account, provided that the moment the machine has reached a certain standard of performance, the manufacturer is allowed to go ahead and produce, say, 50 or 100 of that type. Later modifications may be conveniently incorporated in the next series. In that way the country will get the best of both worlds. The R.A.F. and the Army will get the machines on which to start their training, and, in due course, when the real fighting units come off the production line, they will incorporate all the latest improvements. Fortunately, at least so far as my experience goes, the Supply Departments are acting more and more on this principle, which I am certain is the right one.
There are many such practical points on which I would wish to touch if there were time, but I have reason to believe that in most cases the Government are well aware of them and are giving them their attention. I would, however, like to emphasise one very important point, and that is that if we are to maintain an even and uninterrupted flow of aeroplanes, tanks, guns and munitions, there must be continuity of orders so that fac- 1349 tories should have sufficient time to retain or engage the necessary labour, to plan and programme the production through their shops, to order and obtain the materials required so that they can be put through their machine shops and got ready as component parts for assembly, and to enable them to obtain the necessary jigs, tools, templates, etc., so that the time taken in changing from one production job to another is reduced to the absolute minimum. In years gone by we have suffered through orders being held back and only brought to us at a time when we had no alternative but to stand men off. I am glad to say, however, that: in recent times, and particularly during the tenure of the present Government, things have greatly improved in that respect. I have mentioned the matter again to-day in order to bring it further to the attention of the various Departments concerned, so that any delay of this kind which may still operate to prevent the even flow of production may be eliminated altogether in the future.
I am very glad indeed that the Government, and Parliament, as has been shown by the various speeches made to-day, realise that whereas overtime is necessary in the present national emergency, it has been proved to be a physical impossibility to work men for seven days a week and to maintain increased output. I know of a number of cases where the seven-day week has been attempted, and the output, with the best will in the world, has actually fallen below that of the normal week's output.
It has been repeatedly said that more than 90 per cent. of the managements and men who are engaged in industry at this moment are putting their backs into their jobs in the great drive for victory on the workshop front. To that view I heartily subscribe. But I would like also to pay a very well-deserved tribute to the immensely valuable contribution being made to industry by women. It is within my knowledge that many hundreds of women, who are temporarily engaged in industry to-day, and who do not expect to be continued in industry after the war, are proving themselves punctual, methodical, industrious and efficient. In a matter of days, or at most weeks, they have mastered the most complicated machines and are working accurately to the finest limits. In acknowledging, as 1350 we gladly do, the work which our fellow men are doing at this time, I hope we shall not be slow to acknowledge our increasing indebtedness to the women for the part they are playing in the national effort.
§ Commander Bower (Cleveland)
I think the resumption of this Debate today will be proved to be extremely valuable because I cannot help feeling that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister had a wrong impression of the amount of interest which was being taken in the question of production, not only in this House but throughout the country. Parliament, Press and people have been taking a very lively interest in the matter, and I feel that during the last Debate the Committee was not altogether treated with that regard and courtesy which it deserves. After all, at the present time, when so many of our liberties have been surrendered, it is all the more important that the Executive should value the critical and informative function which Parliament is expected to exercise. I cannot help feeling that my right hon. Friend, had he consulted his Sancho Panza, his Parliamentary Private Secretary, might have had a conversation something like this:'How sayest thou so?' quoth Don Quixote; 'Dost thou not hear the horses neigh the trumpets sound, and the beat of drum?' 'I hear nothing else' said Sancho, 'than a great bleating of many sheep.'When my right hon. Friend said it would be open to us to take up the quarrel, I think he was making a great mistake. As the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shin well) said, there is no quarrel here; we are all on the same line; we want to get our production up to its very maximum. Again to-day, my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne) said that he considered that our production was below what it might be. I think every hon. Member who represents an industrial constituency must come to that conclusion. Without going into figures or percentages, there is no doubt that we could do more, and I cannot see that it can do us any harm to let that fact be known in Australia, the United States, or anywhere else. It must be admitted that in the United States there are doubtless certain people and newspapers who are always prepared to take any damaging statements out of their con- 1351 text and use them against us. No Member of Parliament is unfamiliar with that type of procedure, but I do not think much harm is done by it, and I think that any harm that is done will be much more than counterbalanced by the guidance and instruction which the Government will receive from hon. Members when such criticisms are made.
I do not want to refer at any length to deficiencies in our production, but there is one point I would like to bring to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour. Owing to the Essential Work and other Orders, it is true to say that, broadly speaking, no employer is master in his own business to-day. That may or may not be a good thing, and I do not propose to argue it now; what I say is that somebody must be master and there must be some form of discipline and control. After studying matters in my own constituency, my view is that the control of the management has been in a large measure vitiated, and nothing has been put in its place. That is unhealthy, and I am quite convinced that in many instances that in itself causes a loss of production.
There is another small point to which I want to refer. My attention has been drawn to one or two instances where civil servants performing extremely useful jobs, in which they have got to know all the details very thoroughly, and in which those working with them have got to know and like them, have suddenly been promoted and removed to another sphere of action for which they have been much less suited. I suggest that in such cases, without depriving the civil servants of the extra emoluments which arise from their promotion, they might easily be retained in the same jobs where they would probably be much more useful in the war effort than they would be in new and unaccustomed jobs.
Lastly, I wish to refer to the question of anti-aircraft guns, which the hon. Member for Seaham touched upon a few moments ago. I had personal experience of this. There is no secret in the matter. Last autumn the Navy were extremely short of anti-aircraft guns and I understood that was because they were wanted for the Army. But a few months later the Prime Minister stated openly in this 1352 House that the Army were short of antiaircraft guns, and this was after nearly two years of war. I think that state of affairs was very regrettable indeed. I only mention it because Crete was a very great shock to us, particularly when some of the facts became known and we found out how very acute the shortage was in spite of all the time for preparation. I cannot believe the Government are satisfied with a state of affairs like that. I believe that if they are criticised for such deficiencies and resent this criticism, it is the duty of Parliament to say they resent such resentments. There is no hostility to this Government at all. All Parliament wants to do is to exercise its proper functions of guidance. I wish to associate myself with all those hon. Members, and there are many of them, who have said they intend to go on criticising in a friendly way, so long as they find something which should be criticised.
§ Mr. Lawson (Chester-le-Street)
The Committee may remember that when the Prime Minister made his statement to the effect that the last Debate had caused some disturbance abroad, I interjected that it had caused some disturbance in this country. That was so, not because of the criticism—one expects criticism in this House, and I have not been, as the Committee knows, inactive myself on the question of production—but because it was thought in the country that no really adequate answer had been given to the points raised. I thought that some of the points would not have been very difficult to answer. The feeling in the country— and I had seen something of it in the Press as well—was illustrated by a conversation which I accidentally overheard and which indicated the reaction among the people following what was said during the previous Debate. Part of the conversation, which I heard in a bus, was on these lines: "Well, we have pulled our guts out for the last year; we have done all we can, and if this is the way they are going to talk about us, then to Halifax with the lot of them "—I am sorry to say the word used was not "Halifax." That was the attitude of the workers.
The hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne) drew attention to the fact that he had been balanced in his criticism. He was. He stated, for instance, that the Government had worked wonders in the last year, and I 1353 am going to show that they have done so, in spite of some criticisms I have heard. That fact did not emerge, however. What did emerge in the Press, and it was not only hinted at, was the question of absenteeism, and questions affecting the workers generally. I am not going to excuse any worker who does not do his duty. I am not such a fool as to say there are not workers who do not do their duty. I have not been in industry for the better part of my life without knowing that. But I say, that the critics of the workers seldom pay any attention to a considerable section of society which never does any work at all, which has sufficient wealth to get as much food as it likes, which can roll in its motor cars to certain places and pay for what it gets, and very often get what is denied to other people. We do not hear much about that class. Neither do we hear that in the past year the mass of the workers have, in the main, almost exhausted themselves in order to contribute towards the nation's need. They have done more. Night after night, week-end after weekend, they go out on night duty, helping in civil defence, taking part in route marches, practices and manoeuvres with the Home Guard. I think we might sometimes spend a little time in telling the world what our workers have done in the last year, instead of limiting ourselves to criticism of their activities. One would have thought from some of the speeches to-day that the Government had been in office for the last four or five years, or at least since the war had broken out. It looks to me as though some critics are trying to cover the defects of previous Governments by casting the sins of those Governments upon the present Government.
What was the position twelve months ago? We had lost the bulk of our equipment in France and the Low Countries. We had a call for old shot guns for the Home Guard—and were we not pleased when we got a varied assortment of arms from America? We welcomed that gift as though it was a veritable factory armaments works in itself. We were grateful for what we got. We are very grateful to America for all she has done and for all that is coming. We appreciate the magnificent fight that Russia is putting up now and the benefit that it is giving us. But we still realise that we have to depend 1354 upon ourselves. If we have improved our position—and we have, as the Prime Minister said—we have to remember, too, that the enemy has improved his position. He has the whole of Europe at his disposal, and we have not learned much if we do not know that the enemy is just as ruthlessly efficient in things economic as he is in the miltary and air spheres. Speed is the keynote of things as far as we are concerned, and the Government, and particularly the Prime Minister, cannot sufficiently emphasise to the people of this country that one day that enemy will turn upon us. He will come back in desperation, and we shall need to be armed much better than we are at the present time if that does take place.
I have said previously in the House that I do not think there is sufficient authority in those who represent the Government in matters of production. I do not think the Government have been given sufficient credit for the setting-up of the Production Executive, the Advisory Committees and the Regional Committees. That was a wise move. There was more wisdom behind it than the Committee generally appreciates. The Advisory Committee has the effect of harnessing the experience of industry generally on the part of employers and workers to the Production Executive. That was badly needed. The Regional Committee does the same thing: I want the Minister of Labour to realise that there is something like unanimity in all parts of the House on the fact that whoever acts as chairman of the Production Executive must have time to do the work and authority to act. Both here at the centre and in the regions I have a sense of a lack of authority. Statements and complaints were made in the last two days' Debate, but, as the Prime Minister showed to-day, some of them were a little out of date. The right hon. Gentleman has only begun to operate as chairman of the Production Executive. Some of the troubles and scandals that were related in the Committee happened some time ago. When complaints can be put to the Advisory Committee by the employers' side of industry, the committee get to know what is wrong, and they get plenty of quick information. They come up, too, from the workers' side. It is expected that these meetings, representative of the workers and the employers, will keep the Production Executive informed 1355 of what is happening in the country. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour has not the time to deal with these things. It is no good saying there is a staff to deal with them, because they are matters which need the personal attention of the Minister.
Then take the regional position; the same thing applies there. It was in the regions that I saw the scheme at work. I have proposed that there should be somebody in a region directly responsible and free to act with authority in place of relying upon a committee. What happens in the region is that an employer sits in the chair and the difficulties are talked over. That employer is usually a man who is the executive of a company, if not the manager. When he leaves that meeting he goes back to his own work and the whole organisation is left in the hands of civil servants. They may be good or they may be bad, but the fact remains there is nobody with authority in charge in the region. They get plenty of circulars. That is the trouble. Instead of someone with authority being appointed to act, so many circulars are sent from Department after Department that if all are to be read there will be no work done. I do not mind saying that if I read all the circulars I get on Civil Defence matters, I should get no work done, and I may tell those who write them that I do not read half of them. We shall only cut down the issue of circulars by putting in charge someone who is really responsible.
I do not think the Prime Minister has heard the last of this question of a Ministry of Production, in spite of the explanation he has given to-day. It is the old question of the Ministry of Munitions over again, and I think he will have to answer the case in a much more effective fashion than he has done to-day, and also meet the point that we are now in a situation where we have not the incentive of private profit-making on the one hand, or the wholesale nationalisation of factories on the other. I think that is a point which will call for an effective answer before very long.
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) has come back to the Committee, because I want to speak frankly 1356 upon another side of the matter which has not been raised at all to-day. It is not without significance that from the first day of the formation of this Government the storm of criticism broke upon the Minister of Labour. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour can answer for himself in any rough-and-tumble, but the matter has gone further than that since that day. I understand that something like a shadow Cabinet is in being and, from what I can see, particularly in the Press, it is not without meaning that the Ministers who have been ousted are practically all Labour Ministers. There has been a kind of straw ballot taken, which often coincides with what are called the rumours in the Lobby. Sometimes we have heard the statement that Ministers ought to be chosen irrespective of party. That statement made in this House has usually been cheered, but I notice that there is very great caution this afternoon. I always ask myself the question: Irrespective of which party? I notice, for instance, that the last Ministers were chosen in certain parts of this House, and all of us had our opinions about them, but when it came to the meager—
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I am not quite sure under which Vote the present comments of the hon. Gentleman come.
§ Mr. Lawson
I was speaking about criticism which had been levelled at the Government and was pointing out that it had generally been side-tracked on to labour. As a matter of fact, there is a definite attempt on the part of certain hon. Members to try, by much pushing-off of criticism, to lay the whole of the blame upon Labour for the position in production. It is an old party game. All I can say is that the Prime Minister showed an understanding 12 months ago of the stage of development at which this country had arrived when he asked Labour, both political and industrial, to join the Government. It appears to me that it is not yet quite understood that Labour is not now in mean street, either politically or industrially. Something like a miracle has happened in this country. In this industrial age there is more combustible material lying about than ever before in our history, explosive material, which has destroyed many nations. The miracle is that this country is more united now than ever before in its history. If 1357 there is anywhere an impression abroad that Labour can be kicked out and yet kept in, all I can say is that that is heading for disaster. I do not want to pursue that, except to say that I have watched with very great pleasure the united endeavour of the people of this country to increase output and to strengthen our defensive organisation. That unity and that temper represent the people of the country. I do not believe that any section of society will for a moment tolerate anyone who tries to separate the various elements of this Government.
In conclusion, as some of the older Members here know, there was a time not very long ago, before artillery was mechanised, when each gun was drawn by six horses. The Committee will perhaps excuse me for saying that I was one of the unfortunate people who had to ride the horses. I never made much of a soldier, but I had much tribulation in learning to ride my horses, and I think I was about as vain about that as were some of the gentlemen who wore red tabs. One thing I learnt was that one had to forget oneself and think of the team; if not, one was soon in a tangle, there was soon trouble and maybe disaster. The horses had to move together. It was a great art: to get everything working together. I thought that was a lesson which we had learnt effectively for the period of the war, but I am beginning to have my doubts. At any rate, we did learn then, for our own sakes, to forget ourselves and remember the team. The moral of that is obvious, and if nothing else I have said is remembered, I recommend that to this House both in this and in future Debates.
§ The Minister of Labour (Mr. Ernest Bevin)
I do not think there are many points in to-day's Debate which I am called upon to answer in detail. There are, however, one or two points from previous Debates which I should like to deal with, as the Vote of the Ministry of Labour was not clown on those occasions and I think it is better that I should clear them up now. There was a statement made by the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) regarding piecework earnings which, if allowed to go unanswered, may cause some uneasiness among the vast number of people in the country who are on payments by results. Payments by results, if they are to be 1358 successful in their application, must rest on absolute confidence. There is no other way in which they can operate. It was said on that occasion that I had caused some uneasiness by the statement which I had made publicly that I did not mind what was earned on payment by results so long as it was represented by production. We were asked whether or not that represented Government policy. My answer to the hon. Member is "Yes, emphatically." When a rate is fixed through the procedure existing in industry, and the people increase their output, it is not our concern, from that point, what they earn. We assume that the industry will fix the rate justly if the proper machinery is used. But the more the people increase their earnings, the lower they make the costs of production. The greatest antidote to inflation takes place, and there is a greater production for the war effort. Therefore, it is Government policy.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)
I cannot recollect that I mentioned anything about piece rates. I did not mean to refer to piece rates at all. I was talking about total wages earned, and the point I was trying to make was whether there was to be any limit to the total wages earned in a diminishing consumption market.
§ Mr. Bevin
The hon. Member was referring to the speech I made which dealt with piece work in the building industry. I made a speech in Manchester, and the hon. Member quoted from it. I dealt in it with the transference of a body of men, after 100 years on time rates, to payment by results. In the interests of the war effort I have persuaded them to go over to the system of payment by result—no mean task, even for an unskilled labourer. Therefore, I have said to the men that when the piece-rate is fixed in the building trade, I do not mind how many bricks they lay, or what they earn; what I want is production. That is Government policy, and to that the whole Cabinet adheres.
§ Sir Joseph Nall (Manchester, Hulme)
I was present at the meeting to which the Minister has referred, and I think I am entitled to say that no one at that meeting could possibly have misconstrued what he said. It was perfectly clear to everyone who listened that he wished that those who did put their backs into the job should get the proceeds to which they were entitled.
§ Mr. Bevin
There is another point which was made in the last Debate by my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne) with regard to the difficulty of fixing rates. This is a vexed problem. Anyone who has had any experience of rate-fixing knows how difficult it is to forecast exactly what production will be, but I think that, if the procedure laid down by the Employers' Federations and the trade unions of the country is followed, and people do not go in madcap fashion fixing rates, and then complaining afterwards, it will be kept on a fairly good level. It may be that, as a result of the expedition of workers, the outcome is greater production and, again, what looks like abnormal earnings. But I am always a little puzzled about these abnormal earnings. I really think it is time that this class distinction came to an end. If somebody gets £1,000, £2,000 or £3,000, it is purely a conception, it is purely a tradition, but if a workman gets over £5, somebody thinks the world is coming to an end. For Heaven's sake, let us get into our minds that the thing that matters is cost.
May I refer, while on this wages problem, to the White Paper, and deal with the point put by the right hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris)? He asked, could not a stop be put on wages, because of the danger of inflation? That was what was tried in the last war, and it caused inflation. In 1917 the then Government decided that they would get the chairman of the arbitration tribunal to announce that it was Government policy that further increases should not be granted. What happened? My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will well remember, because it nearly ended his political career. The moment the safety valve of unfettered arbitration was taken away, disastrous disputes followed throughout the country. I beg hon. 1360 Members not to single out one class in the community and say that for them arbitration should be fettered.
It has been assumed always that wages increase prices. Actually, wages always follow prices up and follow prices down. I make a present of that fact both ways. When prices go up, wages go up; and when prices come down and wages have to follow them down, great difficulty in adjustment may result. We discovered that at the end of the last war. That is the difficulty. Therefore, on this occasion we have made stabilisation the fundamental policy. The White Paper says that if prices remain as they are now, so-and-so should be taken into account, but that if prices jump right up, you cannot close the door to adjustment of wages. We hope, by the methods we have adopted and by the policy which the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in the Budget, to create a situation in which adjustments will not be necessary. I think that is the best policy to follow.
May I say on behalf of—perhaps I should not say on behalf of anybody, but I cannot yet remember that I am here, after so many years in another place. [Interruption.] I think Transport House is another place. I would like to say this, however, on behalf of industry. Before I came here there were many discussions on this problem. I believe that both sides in industry are seized of the importance of trying to avoid such difficult times as they experienced from 1918 to 1926. Adjustments upward may be popular—I speak from sorry experience. Adjustments downward are not an easy matter. We do not want to create a situation at the end of this war in which wage policy will throw out of gear internal production, the quick revival of our export trades, coal and everything else. In that sense we are trying with the help of employers, of the trades unions, of the Treasury and everybody else to keep the balance. That you will avoid inflation altogether is very doubtful and you must have a strong machine at the end of this war to control speculation and every factor which could disturb the quick return to stability and trade. I think, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Bethnal Green will agree that this matter has been carefully studied in 1361 all its aspects in order that we may be able to grapple with this problem.
During the last Debate it was said that I, as Minister of Labour, was unskilled. I would like to take the opportunity now of saying that I do not think any greater honour has ever been done to me than the making of that remark by the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson). I am the proudest man in the country to think that for nearly 40 years my life has been spent with unskilled labourers. After all, the old navvy is not unskilled. He has done much for civilisation by the roads he has cut, by the railways he has laid and by the great works he has constructed throughout the British Empire. It has been a pleasure to serve him and to be one of his kind, and I do not want to be anything else. It was a great honour the hon. Member did me, and one which I appreciate, more especially when I think of the dockers of to-day. A few decades ago they were among the outcasts and the rejected, but to-day they are in the forefront of the organised artisans of the world. Therefore, I want to thank the hon. Member for Mossley most sincerely for calling public attention to the fact that I am an unskilled labourer. But it is a little hard when a man tries to be a cynic and only reveals that he is a cad.
I would like to deal now with the question of the Ministry of Production. I cannot, of course, add anything to the statement of policy outlined by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to-day, but I should like to make a few observations from my own personal experiences. I doubt very much—and I will place it no higher than that—whether there is any half-way house between the present form of organisation and a complete Ministry of Munitions. It is no use constantly trying to find a compromise. The task always is—and I say it as coming new to Government, although, I hope, unbiased—to keep responsibility down. I have done a little organisation in my time, and I would utter this word of warning. It is so easy to pass the responsibility up. If you create organism upon organism, there is a tendency for the responsibility to be passed upwards into a bottleneck instead of being held down to the circumference. We have been working with the Regional Boards, and we have been trying to carry out principles of devolution, I admit not 1362 with complete success. There are many industrialists in the Committee who have carried through great mergers, and I suggest that there is not one of them who, in his experience of mergers, has been able to level out everything in less than four or five years. Whenever I took a society into my large union, I always allowed three or four years before I could get the whole thing smoothed out and working properly. When you get to government, and it is a question of creating a complete organism, merging and reshaping so many things, it is not easy to keep the sense of responsibility down to the circumference. I urge that the matter be considered in that light.
As I have said, we have been carrying out devolution, which is bound up with three things. The first is the right distribution of materials, the second is the full use of industrial capacity, and the third is to bring within the orbit of the main manufacturer every possible manufacturing unit in the vicinity. That is the guiding line. When contracts are running and things are proceeding in the way in which they have to do, it is not easy to make a break. You cannot afford to make a break, and you have to change as the changing orders go on. One of the fundamental things that we did in relation to production was this. After Dunkirk, we found ourselves in a very grave position of short supplies of certain vital and essential materials. I do not think it is any good crying about the past or blaming anybody. For instance, if anybody asks me who was responsible for the British policy leading up to the war, I will, as a Labour man myself, make a confession and say, "All of us." We refused absolutely to face the facts. When the issue came of arming or rearming millions of people in this country, people who have an inherent love for peace, we refused to face the real issue at a critical moment. But what is the good of blaming anybody? We cannot make our action retrospective whatever we do. We have to start from now and try to do the best we can. We found ourselves, then, in the terrible position of being short of supplies of alloy steel—the key, the linchpin. We found ourselves in a position in which priorities were not working back to the other side, to the point of shipment. Orders and priorities abroad were not quite working together.
1363 Why was that? I do not blame anybody. There were so many fields of supply open to us until Norway went and, suddenly, France went. When the Continent and the near points of supply were closed to us, we found ourselves suddenly up against a position which nobody had anticipated or even provided for in the strategy of war. I am putting the thing quite frankly. That was the problem. We had before us the whole list of supplies. We curbed in one direction where we could manage for so many weeks, we built up in another direction. I cannot give figures to the Committee, but there is not a manufacturer or a member of a Regional Board who will deny that the problem of raw materials, and the free flow of materials, even with the Battle of the Atlantic going on, has been largely solved. I do not believe that a single works in this country is held up. unless there is a hitch in transport. I think that is a great accomplishment, with the Battle of the Atlantic and everything else we have had to contend with over the last few months.
There was then the question of balancing materials and food, a very critical thing to do. It was not an easy decision to balance raw materials in the country, and build up supplies in the Middle East, and choose between 1s. 4d. or 1s. worth of meat for the people of this country. I have been frank with the workers in the country, and I have told them why their ration has gone down. When they find the Cabinet took the decision to supply the troops in the Middle East with equipment at the expense of their rations, they cheer and say we have done the right thing. There is no reason why they should not be told. This balancing was going on every day and every week, first on the labour side and then on the production side—could we run this, or could we run that, and so on. The Prime Minister said dark as the cloud has been, difficult as is the issue we have yet to face, yet with these resources, with the resourcefulness of our Forces and the contributions made to us in many ways we can see a little of the silver lining. At any rate our people will be better off this winter than they were last winter. I have had very great difficulty in handling the mines problem for this very reason. There is no use in disguising the fact. As was so well put this morning 1364 at another meeting, it would probably be better if the men could have 2s. 6d. worth of meat to conserve their energy than take another 10,000 men back into the mines. We were conscious of what had to be faced in dealing with the problem.
It has been asked, why are we not helping Russia more? I would say to my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) that it is very clever to say that my right hon. Friend's speech was dialectical, but I doubt the wisdom of such a statement as he made. Surely it is known what problems are facing the Army in regard to the question of taking the initiative? To imply that it is because we have failed in production that we are not taking the initiative on the Continent of Europe at this moment—and that is the inference —is a little unfair to the productive side It is also unwise, when Russia is fighting for her very life, to let her think for a moment that the British Cabinet is holding back in any effort it could make. I think that that is a mistake. It does not matter what you say to us here, because we know each other. If I may say so, with all kindness, we know what value to place upon what is said. My hon. Friend will agree that I am not taking a different line from that which I took in Labour conferences for years. I used to say, "Do not carry silly resolutions, because either other people will bank their policy upon them, or they may result in unnecessarily destroying confidence." Remember a person in another country never places the same interpretation upon what you say, and that what you say may convey an entirely wrong impression. After long experience of international work—and I have tried to do my best in the international sphere—I say that there is one language for consumption abroad and another for consumption at home, and we should use language sparingly, when it is to be consumed abroad, because of the difficulties which may arise.
I should like to take this opportunity to review briefly the kind of steps one has had to take in dealing with the problems of my Department. First, I was given the task by the Prime Minister of mobilising the labour of this country. That task divided itself into three parts. First there were the Services. The Cabinet and the Defence Committee laid down in their wisdom how many men and women had to be found for the three 1365 Services. We have a population of 44,000,000. You have to delete your working population out of that, strained to its utmost limit, of about 17,000,000, and out of your 17,000,000 you must allow, over a certain period, for a certain number of people of certain ages, and they must be of a certain physical standard. So you have to estimate health standards, the rejects and the rest of it, before you can get down at all to your working population.
But there is another difficulty to overcome in connection with the Services. The number of Service tradesmen who have to be provided is about 10 times as great as in any previous war. There has been a good deal of criticism about the number of skilled men who have gone into the Services. I invite any industrialist to go through the servicing depots of the Air Force establishments and tell me whether they have ever found it possible to run industry on as low a percentage of journeymen as that with which the Air Force has managed to build up that great organisation since the war broke out. It is an amazing achievement. The overwhelming proportion of the people repairing our aircraft are semi-skilled and trained since the war broke out in terms of months, and, not only that, but they are being continuously transferred to the seats of war, with new men coming along for training. I take my hat off to the Air Force. They have done an amazing work. I have no doubt that, as the mechanical expansion of the Army takes place, we shall find, when the Committee has inquired into it, a very similar result. When I am asked, "Why are you letting these people in?" two things have to be done with this labour force. You not only have to have the men to fight, but you have to have the men to keep them on the road and keep them intact, which means so much when the fighting takes place. Then there are the women on these vital Services. I cannot give the figures, but it runs into thousands. They also have to come out of the reserves of women-power for industry.
If there is one thing that this nation has had a tremendous dividend upon, which has revealed itself in the training for industry and the training that has taken place in the Services, it is the great educational system of the country for the last 30 or 40 years. Although far too many of 1366 these people, far more than ever ought to be allowed again, passed into non-productive occupation, and have had to be taken back out of non-productive occupation into this productive effort, the ability, the agility and the marvellous way in which they have adapted themselves in learning their work is a tribute to the basic educational value of the teaching that they have received in our elementary and secondary schools. Without it, this great labour force could never have been built up. The second thing one had to do was to look at the immediate short-term policy, which was to transfer people from place to place as speedily as one could. That led to a great deal of improvisation, and I have no doubt it was the basis of a good deal of the criticism. We could not stop to put a long-term policy into operation while we had the Dunkirk position and the Battle of Britain facing us. Therefore, there was a good deal of. irritation and difficulty that had to be overcome in the short-term policy. During the time that that was proceeding we were working out a long-term policy.
One of the tremendous difficulties that was facing us was the labour turnover. From all parts of the House in the earlier Debates there was criticism that I was not stopping men from moving from one place to another. To meet that there had to be some sort of Order, and I produced for the Cabinet the Essential Work Order. I think I can claim that no one has found an alternative to it, although I have tried in discussions with industry to see whether anything else could be devised. Its main purpose was to tie people to their jobs and put transfer on an orderly basis. Another object of it was to say to the citizen, "You are not tied, as it were, to another citizen; you are tied to a responsibility to the State." The Committee must make up its mind on it. The criticism of this Order has largely been on the ground that I have not restored the system of the old leaving certificate in the hands of the employer. I have had to have regard to the last war. After all, I went through all the disputes at that time. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) and the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) will remember that the leaving certificate produced the most bitter trouble on the Clyde and the right hon. Gentleman had to go down and address the men and virtually 1367 make it inoperative. It is no good making orders we cannot enforce.
With that experience, I tried, in the good old British way, to ride a middle course, and to say, "If I tie the man to the job, I give him security, but, on the other hand, I expect him to observe certain obligations." I do not. think that that is an unreasonable position. I want to assure the Committee that the Order is working extremely well. Applications are coming forward from industry after industry to be brought under the Order so that they can get stability. It has not merely secured the retention of people in industries but it has given the Ministry of Labour and the Production Executive a chance to know how many people are retained, and it makes the discovery of superfluity of labour much easier. It is said that the Order takes away discipline. The best industries in this country do not rely upon sacking to impose discipline. We do not often sack politicians to get discipline. Possibly I shall in time discover the reason, but I do not know it at the moment. Highly developed industries in this country have introduced appeal boards and the like. I introduced the system into London transport before the last war, in the days when the passenger was always right—although it was discovered he was often wrong—and it has worked admirably. We reduced dismissals in the transport industry to below 2 per cent.
All that is needed is that industry shall work the system. Trade unionists should not confine themselves to making critical speeches at their conferences, many of which I have tested and found not to be well-founded. For years they have cried, "Give us more power of control, give us more power and responsibility." I would reply, "Do not shy at it now that it is in your hands." But the exercise of power and responsibility means taking unpleasant decisions as well as pleasant ones. If you are going to share power and responsibility for discipline in industry, it means not only telling a fellow that he is a good chap; sometimes it means sacking him. That both sides should shy-off working this Order shows a little touch of the inferiority complex, and I would beg both the unions and the employers to face up to the position. Here 1368 is a foundation on which to work, even though it has been introduced as an Order in war-time. I wish I had had the advantage of it at the end of the last war to assist in securing stability instead of the chaos which existed when peace came about. I seriously urge that this Order should not be treated as though it were something of no value. I believe that it is of great industrial value and can be a complement to the new developments in industrial relationships which have come into being in the last few years.
May I now say a word at the risk of being told that sometimes I lecture employers? They lectured me for years, lectured me so often that I knew what they were going to say before I asked for the increase. But, joking apart, I want more attention paid to management up to works management level, or we shall fall behind. We have had criticism about handling this sudden development of Governmental activity—the hon. Member for Kidderminster was quite right—there is a great difficulty in building up supervision, getting managers, foremen, costings clerks and so on. In that respect the handicap has been terrific. Such people cannot be created in a moment. Opportunities have been provided at the technical schools, and I ask employers to release their men to take advantage of these new opportunities. To do so will pay the ma thousand fold. I should like to see management become a profession. I would like to see the old barriers broken down, so that when a good trade unionist who has the confidence of his fellows in industry is to be promoted, he will not be told that he has to leave his society. That places men in a terrible difficulty.
I would make a suggestion which would help us for the rest of the war. I would ask employers not to raise a barrier. Tell such a man, if you like, that he must not take part in his trade union activities, but do not place him in the position of choosing whether he will be disloyal to his pals or render service to you. Remember that the man who has come upwards from being a shop steward to taking responsibility has an urge within him for a place in the sun and for taking responsibility in industry. If industry is wise, it will exploit that urge and develop it, and so break down the barriers between the management and the operative side in this country. Indeed, if that is done, a 1369 victory will have been won not only for the war period, but for the rehabilitation of industry after the war and for avoiding many of the troubles that we might otherwise have to face. I urge that there should be a new and enlightened approach to these problems of management in order to make an effective contribution to our effort at this moment.
I have been asked about the concentration of industry. I will send my hon. Friend figures which will correct the impression which he has obtained, but it is too late to-night to quote any of them. I will try to show what has been done in that respect. There again, a new spirit is coming. I will cite an example of one great firm from which about 2,000 young women can be released. Discussion took place between the firm and my divisional controller, and the firm is going to carry on until I am ready to take those young women one by one, two by two or by dozens, and transfer them in an orderly way. That is a great, patriotic and wise thing to do. The employer in that great establishment says, '' For the rest of the war I will retain every woman who is not of the correct physical standard for your factories, and I will take everyone who falls ill and finds that she cannot carry through. I will carry on the best I can, and I will give you the best of my staff for your great factories." Let that spirit and example imbue others throughout the country. In another case, a firm saw the men, who were needed to return to the mines, gave them a gratuity and wished them well. It told them that if they were not wanted, they could come back again. It is not only the Ministry of Labour that can do this transferring. I want to get a co-operative will between employers and everybody in the country, to facilitate the work of the officials of my Ministry, of whom the State has a right to be proud. The officials of the Ministry of Labour have made no mean contribution to the war effort and to the handling of the tremendous task which the Government impose upon us.
If I might summarise, I would put the matter in a few simple words. I conceived it my duty to keep the following objectives in mind: the complete organisation of labour for the service of the State; transference of labour on a short-term policy to meet immediate needs; building- 1370 up of reserves by registration and otherwise for a long-term policy. I would say to the hon. Member for Kidderminster that I want to have more than a 25 per cent. capacity in the kitty all the time, so that when the last emergencies have to be met, there is a last reserve of production to carry them through. Therefore, I want to keep that registration in reserve, in advance of the defence and productive plans, so as to avoid waiting for supplies. I want to establish such conditions of employment as will give a sense of justice, remove grievances and prevent disputes, I want to prevent labour turnover, and to provide the most effective methods of transfer, to establish arbitration for the settlement of differences, and to devise such conditions as will preserve the morale of our people and see this conflict through.
All that is based on the conception that this war is a people's war. I believe, and I know from the information that comes to me, that the policy that has been applied to labour in this country during this war, with great care and design, has produced general satisfaction among the people of Britain. It has brought an amazing response in feeling and confidence from the working masses of the United States, and has represented no mean contribution to shaping public opinion there, which is reflected in their attitude towards this country. It has meant a great deal to the Russian masses, and has countered the belief in their minds that this was an Imperialist war. It has brought hope to millions in Europe, who, seeing the approach we have made to industrial problems during this last year, see that we are not merely fighting to overthrow Hitler, but that Britain is going to take her place again in the vanguard of social and economic progress; that we are striving not merely to preserve liberty, but to utilise all that it means to lay the foundation of a more just age in the upward progress of civilisation. That is the great thing which has emerged from this struggle and which has inspired our inner workings. We declare that we will carry on to the bitter end to remove the Nazi regime and its spirit of aggression and domination; we will weave into the fabric of society the spirit of freedom and equality for all. Where we have to give, we will give generously; where we have to 1371 win, we will win and make our victory secure for future generations to enjoy.
§ Mr. Austin Hopkinson (Mossley)
I think it is rather unfortunate that when this Debate was originated a fortnight ago, it was held to be out of Order to discuss any questions of labour in connection with production. However, that embargo has now been removed, and I should like the Committee to bear in mind that we in Parliament are not concerned with the faults or follies of individual firms or of individual workmen. I think, if I may say so, that far too much attention has been paid during this Debate to that side of the question, which does not really concern Parliament. What concerns Parliament are Ministers' faults, and those troubles in industry and failures of production which have been due in any way to mistakes on the part of the Ministers concerned. In the previous Debate I endeavoured to point out that the last Minister of Aircraft Production had made certain very grave mistakes, mistakes in many cases inherited from his predecessors, and by giving an example of one omission on their part, I was able to get a promise from the new Minister that it should be made good. I refer to the setting-up of a technical corps in order to control the design of aircraft.
When we came to the question of labour, which, admittedly—because it is no use shutting our eyes to the fact—is in a most unsatisfactory state in this country at the present time, it was ruled out of Order. I began to put forward a view which it was impossible to enlarge upon owing to that Ruling of the Chair. What upset the Minister of Labour was my quoting something which had been said to me by an official of the A.E.U., who remarked that there was a certain feeling against unskilled labourers. That I described as snobbery, for snobbery it is, although I justified it to some extent as being based on pride in craftsmanship. There was a great cry from above the Gangway—
§ Mr. Hopkinson
I did, and if the Committee insist upon it, I will quote my actual words. I said:It was unwise to put in charge of the whole labour force of this country a man who,1372the craftsmen say, is only an unskilled labourer after all. Members may think that the craftsman is a snob. So he is, but there is something more than snobbery in his resentment at being dominated by the unskilled labourer. Pride in craftsmanship may be allied to snobbery, but it is one of the most valuable things we have got in this country." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th July, 1941; col. 241, Vol. 373.]
§ Mr. Hopkinson
I said that the man was a snob. What more the hon. Member wants than that, I do not know.
§ Mr. Hopkinson
When hon. Members state what is not quite correct, and will not be convinced when they get the actual quotation, I cannot do more. I said—
Members may think that the craftsman is a snob.
I added—"So he is.
§ Mr. Hopkinson
I have no wish to continue this topic. There were various other points of the labour situation which I wish to bring to the notice of the Committee with a view to getting them put right. From the very start the A.E.U. has been mishandled by successive Governments. To go right back to the summer of 1938, when times were becoming critical, it will be remembered that the then Prime Minister sent for the heads of the T.U.C., and told them candidly the state of affairs and asked for their assistance. But the heads of the A.E.U. were told to see the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence. Everyone who understands the A.E.U. knows that the A.E.U. and the T.U.C. have been at loggerheads from time immemorial. Taking the T.U.C. to the Prime Minister and the A.E.U. to the Minister for the Coordination of Defence, started the whole thing wrong. That is the sort of thing we are entitled to criticise the Government for doing. In the case of the Minister of Labour himself—and I am sorry to see he is not here—members of the A.E.U. criticise him personally and his actions in the past, particularly his actions in respect of the A.E.U. The A.E.U. know that the right 1373 hon. Gentleman has been a notorious poacher, and, therefore, he is not persona grata with the A.E.U. The opinion of the A.E.U. ought to be regarded in these days, for they are the key to the whole situation. I hope I have made it clear that what I wanted to put forward to the Committee, and what I now put forward, is simply what a certain number of perfectly faithful and experienced trade unionists are saying. I do not presume to say whether they are right or not; but, as a matter of practical politics, it is desirable that the views of a very important class in the country should be put before the Committee and before the Government.
To refer to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, there was one passage on which I think I can correct him from experience. That was where he said that the discipline of "sacking" was unnecessary in industry. There, of course, he was just talking nonsense. The Committee knows that for the last 15 years the whole of the profits of my firm have gone to the men I employ. But if the discipline that can be imposed by sacking could not have been used in normal circumstances, there would never have been any profits for the men to take. That sort of talk does immense harm. The Essential Work Order, as other Members have said, is wrecking the discipline of industry. Everyone knows that, in the engineering trade particularly, the majority of the men are trustworthy. But, of course, as in every other section, not even excepting the War Cabinet itself, there are people whom you cannot trust, and without discipline you get nothing out of them. What is so futile in these Debates is for hon. Members above the Gangway to get up and talk as if there were nobody on an income of less than £10,000 a year who was deficient in industry or in patriotism. There are just as many loafers in the lower ranks of industry as at the very top—and I cannot say worse than that. I shall go on as I am doing if, after mature consideration, I come to the conclusion that there are Ministers of the Crown who are really a danger to the country in its present position. In that case, I shall never scruple to get up here, no matter what sort of row is kicked up above the Gangway, and endeavour to get those Ministers replaced by people who will not wreck industry, as the Minister of Labour is doing to-day.
§ Sir Waldron Smithers (Chislehurst)
I know it is unpopular to speak at this late hour, but I have been here all day, and there is one point I wish to make. It is a point which has hardly been mentioned all through the Debate, but I was delighted to hear the Minister, in that fine peroration, talking about assisting the morale of the people. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) gave a remarkable example of team spirit when he described how he once rode in a gun team. Unless we mobilise and unite spiritual and moral forces with the same faith and vision as we are mobilising the Navy, the Air Force, the Army and industry, we shall be fighting with one hand tied behind our back. Did hon. Members hear Mr.Harry Hopkins in his brilliant broadcast on Sunday night? After describing all the material articles sent to this country, he added a remarkable sentence. He said:The biggest job the President has done has been to alter the industrial state of mind. It is the mind we have that makes the people we are.Hitler uses propaganda as a very powerful weapon, and we must forge a stronger weapon than his if we are to overcome his propaganda. Our propaganda lacks vision and imagination. This is no ordinary war; it is a war between good and evil, between the Cross and the Swastika. The occupied countries of Europe were not beaten so much on the field of battle or in the field of production; they were defeated morally, and the reason why the Russians are doing so valiantly now is because Hitler has not been able to break their morale.
§ Sir W. Smithers
We must do all we can to maintain the morale of our people and so get maximum production. To put it at the lowest, do the people of this country realise that if we lose this war there will be no wages and no trade unions and that we shall all be slaves?
§ Sir W. Smithers
Think of the effect on morale of the "V" campaign, which has been electrical in its—
§ Sir W. Smithers
Then I will say no more, except that I am sorry it is not recognised that the maintenance of the morale of our people has the biggest effect on the production of armaments.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again," put, and agreed to.— [Mr. Grimston.]1376
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon the next Sitting Day.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.
§ It being after the hour appointed for the Adjournment of the House, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.